Okay, I always keep my promises eventually, so now I’ll put up my
pictures from my southeast Asia adventure. Here’s how I’m going to
do this: I’ll make two posts. This one will be full of pictures that show
you all the places I went to. The second post is one that Micah put me up to—he
told me before I left to keep my eye out for awesome patterns, and if possible
to send some back for him. Little did I know before leaving that I was going to
a land where covering a building with awesome patterns is considered the best
way to decorate it, and all buildings are given this treatment. So, this post
will mainly be pictures of whole buildings and places and such, and the second
will be full of details.
This picture and the next few
are from the Rajbophit temple complex in Bangkok. It’s the first big monument
I found after landing in southeast Asia. And it was practically empty, which I
never figured out. The nearest I could guess was from a plaque telling the
complex’s story; it’s supposed to be a fusion of ancient temple-building styles
and modern French-influenced architecture. So maybe it doesn’t have enough
history, or maybe no one likes the colonialism built into it.
But in any case it wasn’t
totally empty—the occasional kid was wandering around in it.
Everything was made with the
utmost care. Consider how much effort must’ve gone into creating those walls.
Painting the patterns, sculpting the molding, inlaying the colored glass. And
then there’s making an elephant, and growing a bonsai.
One of the few places I found
people in Rajbophit was in an actual temple with a Buddha in it. Almost every
temple I found in southeast Asia—modern or ancient, whole or nearly
rubble—had an assortment of people doing this: sitting, bowing low, leaving
money, and often burning incense.
The only other tourist I met
in Rajbophit was Glenn from Colorado. We talked about how puzzling the
emptiness was here, and he told me about his trip to Nepal. In this photo he
does a good impression of someone totally lame.
Together we moved on to Wat
Pho. It was a collection of lots and lots of temples, monuments, and statues of
various sorts. For example, here’s the Buddha sitting on some rocks under an
These are stupas. Wat Pho has
dozens of them. Again, consider the details.
This plucky fellow was
guarding the way to the next courtyard.
The walls of the courtyard
were lined with dozens upon dozens of these Buddhas, each one representing a
long time of intense craftsmanly devotion.
More guards, these ones with
awesome hats. I believe Micah has some similar hats.
Inside an elaborately
decorated purpose-built building lies the largest Reclining Buddha statue in
the country. This is one of a few permissible poses for depicting the Buddha.
It represents him at the moment he passed into final nirvana.
We’re talking about a
Feet are looked down upon all
throughout the region as the cesspool of the body. But the Buddha is so holy
that even his feet are worthy of high respect. The kind of respect that
involves inlaying hundreds of intricately detailed auspicious symbols into
Later, Glenn and I stuck
together and got on a boat across the Chao Phraya to see another wat. Every
public transportation vehicle the whole region through is packed tight on
pretty much every trip. But hey, the trip cost three baht—a dime.
Here’s what we came for: Wat
Arun, the Temple of Dawn.
It’s nice to have someone
Here’s the top of Wat Arun. I
have a lot more pictures, but, perhaps more than any other building I saw on
this trip, Wat Arun was made completely of patterns, so the other pictures will
mostly be in the second post.
These creatures were all over
the wat, holding up higher levels.
Here’s Glenn, still around.
They build their staircases
steep around here.
Up as high as I could get in
Wat Arun, I took this not-the-greatest picture of a bunch of railing
decorations. But you can tell how high up I am.
Here’s Mom’s friend Yoshi,
who I met and had dinner with in the evening in Bangkok. With his hand he
demonstrates that you can take the Japanese out of Japan, but you can’t take
the Japan out of the Japanese.
He took me to the bus station
to get out of Bangkok. There, they were selling this enigmatic product.
The bus took me to Chiang
Mai, and I got a tuk-tuk to a place right near the main city gates. There’s
more city outside the gates than inside nowadays, but most of the coolest stuff
is still inside. Having these walls took Chiang Mai, for me, out of the realm
of the real, and made me feel like I was staying someplace fantastical. It’d be
even more amazing if there weren’t so many neon signs and hipster coffee shops
right next to it. What this place must’ve looked like before it became so full
I quickly found a guesthouse
with several massive tamarind trees. This one hung over the entrance. Another,
bigger, one shaded the tables and lounging places in the yard. Its aerial roots
hung down far enough that you could bat them around while lying around
Chiang Mai is temple central
for Thailand. All of them were beautiful.
All appearances to the
contrary, these three men aren’t real. I did a series of double-takes before I
realized they were wax.
Somewhere, an old stupa in
the city wall, or perhaps a standalone stupa, is taken over gradually by
nature. This bird has pretty much the coolest home any bird could ask for.
Well, except maybe the birds that live in Angkor Wat.
I didn’t take many pictures
at my cooking class, but it was a pretty enjoyable time. We all got to take
this mesh bag full of ground-up coconut and learn how to make coconut milk.
Since I made this one, pad
Thai has rapidly become a staple of my diet.
Another day, I took a
trip to Huay Kaew waterfall with H.
We were pleased with it.
On the way out, we were
greeted by this selection of allegedly delicious insects and other arthropods.
Eventually I left Chiang Mai.
My bus stopped on the way once and I took a picture of this, something that
intrigued me but left me entirely flummoxed.
The bus left me at Chiang
Khong, just across the Lao border from Huay Xai, where I got on the slowboat
down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. The Mekong is not a gentle, lazy river. If it
were a person, it would be a grizzled-faced old man with hands like boot
But it’s friendly with its
neighbors, at least.
I’m pretty sure there’s a hut
hiding somewhere on this hill. But as far as the hill is concerned, it’s tiny
enough that there may as well not be.
Arrived in Luang Prabang. It
looks different from anywhere else in the world. I think you could show me a
picture of just about any street in the city and I’d be able to tell that it
was a Luang Prabang street.
It, like Chiang Mai, is full
But of course there’s other
stuff, like markets. Several of them, in fact; this one is the morning market.
These cages each contain two
little live birds. You take them to a temple and let them free. I don’t know
what it signifies, but it seems like a really quaint, interesting ritual.
Now that I know how to cook
fish, this looks delicious to me.
I think this is a place where
they were carving Buddha statues.
There were a few peculiar
little things about Luang Prabang. This guesthouse seemed like they must’ve
named it with a phrase randomly picked from their English textbook.
Unfortunately, when you say it out loud properly, it’s less funny because it’s
And they fly Communist
sickle-and-hammer flags all over the place. This one is next to a rather
And here’s the bamboo bridge
that they rebuild every year.
I climbed up Mount Phou Si in
the middle of the old town, where they have their most visible and (I think)
most meaningful wat, Wat Chom Si. All along the path up were Buddhas from
various days of the week (or with other names), in different poses, none of
which lore I understood.
whatever that may mean, with worshipers.
And here we are at Wat Chom
Si itself. I didn’t take many pictures because I was too distracted by the view
decided not to duplicate here any pictures I already posted).
A sunset seen from a
Mekong-side deck restaurant is one of the better experiences this life has to
Down below the restaurant
were kids playing in the water. Those boats are the same kind I traveled in
from Huay Xai.
The place is magical, I tell
I took a “minibus” from Luang
Prabang to Vang Vieng. It turned out to be a minivan. To cope with Lao roads,
every driver takes along some good luck charms—for instance, lotuses made of
folded Lao money.
This picture and the next few
are why karst topography is awesome.
Besides karst, I also saw a
clutch of kids getting out of school.
Apparently I didn’t actually
take any pictures in Vang Vieng; I don’t remember if I kept forgetting my
camera or if it was refusing to turn on or if I was too demoralized by the
bacchanalia around me. So this picture is from a few days later, when I got to
Vientiane. It’s a pretty modest capital city, and I’m not sure what this
building is, but it might be the most ostentatious thing in the city.
I was gratified to note that
there were kids wandering around on its front steps.
There’s also the Wat Si
Saket, with several thousand Buddha images. Each of those little cavities on
the wall has not one but two tiny seated Buddhas in it.
After some intensive
bus-riding, I got to Phnom Penh, and in the morning went to the Chœung Ek
Killing Fields. This was one of the biggest killing fields, but by no means the
only one. Yet even just here the brutality was devastating even to view from
over thirty years’ remove. Each of these pits, I believe, was a mass grave.
In the glass box are bones
that were found when they did a comprehensive clean-up of the site some years
back, having already dug out all the mass graves. But people are still finding
bones even now, and when they do, they pile them on top of the box. There was
another box like this full of victims’ clothes. I was pretty sure I saw a scrap
of clothing along one of the paths in the pile of dirt, but I didn’t pick it up
to put it on top of that box.
The sign on the right says,
“Please don’t walk through the mass grave!” The sign on the left says: “Magic
Tree… The tree was used as a tool to hang a loudspeaker which make sound louder
to avoid the moan of victims while they were being executed”. To clarify, the
sounds being amplified were propaganda songs glorifying the Angkar and the
Khmer Rouge, and when they say “avoid” they mean “drown out”. In the last stop
on the audio tour, there’s a recording of what this would’ve sounded like when
mixed with the drone of a Diesel engine that would’ve been running nearby—the
last sounds victims here would’ve ever heard. It was
Back in the city, I went to
Tuol Sleng prison, where people were kept before going to Chœung Ek. It used to
be a high school.
In each of these rooms is an exhibit about what happened
For example, in here are
pictures of the people who made all the death happen. Appropriately, the
pictures have been defaced, presumably by people who lost family or friends.
In this room are farm
implements that were pressed into service as killing tools.
Unfortunately, I didn’t
really take many pictures, or any good pictures, of the parts of Phnom Penh
that aren’t given over to gloom and death. Those are of course far more
numerous, but I wasn’t as prepared to find them, I suppose. At any rate, here’s
a group of people celebrating Chinese New Year, who I witnessed as they came
out of a building, finished dancing animatedly, and then packed up their stuff
and got on a truck to go to the next place that needed a Chinese New Year
I went to a riverside walk
lined with flags from every country in the world and had beer with a friendly
Belgian girl while watching the cars go by on a main city thoroughfare lining
the river, and yet the only thing I took a picture of there was this sign that
says enigmatically, at the bottom, “Mr. Toilet Public / Funded by the World
Toilet Association, Republic of Korea”.
I left Phnom Penh and arrived
in Siem Reap. This was probably the most well-kept temple I saw during my whole
journey. Its courtyard walls were covered with these very well done
Dozens of them.
Inside the courtyard was a
building housing two Buddhas—a typical seated one, and this one that’s
apparently been sinking into the ground under its own weight since it was made
long ago out of a legendary monk’s canoe’s hull.
As far as I can gather, these
lotus petals each say the name of a donor and how much they donated. For
example, at the very end, you can see that this donor gave US$10. (They use
different numerals in Cambodia. Their 1 looks like a 9.
what they look like.)
The next day I got to Angkor
Wat. The sun rises behind it.
There are tourists aplenty.
The outside walls have these
tremendously detailed bas-relief stories.
I don’t know the story, but
whatever it is, it looks like these carvings tell it pretty well.
And at length.
Opposite the carvings is the
It’s been bouncing light onto
these carvings and columns for centuries.
What the carvings’ corridors
look like from outside.
Here’s another story,
apparently about a god with many heads wielding a tremendously long battering
ram with the help of about a hundred soldiers.
There’s a stupa in the lawn
of Angkor Wat.
On the stupa offerings are
left for the Buddha. A monkey gladly accepts them as his proxy.
On the left is that same
stupa. This is a view of one of the several entrances to the temple.
They left nothing
undecorated. Every column is adorned with, at a minimum, this much carving.
I got farther into the temple
and eventually got to the top, or at least as high as anyone’s allowed to go.
It’s pretty high up.
But the giant lotus flowers
are still higher up.
You might not have realized
how big the lotus flowers are. Consult this picture while viewing the previous
Cambodia has some of the most
amazing-looking trees I’ve ever seen. They look like something that exists in
fairy tales. This gate between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom had some good ones
Here’s the thoroughly
disassembled temple of Bayon.
It has faces everywhere.
While I was at Bayon, I found
someone wearing the most aggressively nonsensical “English” shirt I’ve ever
Another excellent tree.
A lizard living in the ruins
of Preah Khan.
It looks like it should be
collapsing on you at any moment.
And in plenty of places, it
Now trees grow through the
old walls and rubble.
Trees that can only exist
because of the incredible vigor of the tropics.
And now, getting away from
temples, here are pictures from my trip to the Tonlé Sap. This is what it looks
like to live in a floating village. The term is pretty literal.
I think this may be a general store of some sort. Or maybe the people who live
here are just packrats.
Here’s the view from the deck of the restaurant that Graeme and I got to
on the local teenagers’ boat.
These are the alligators in
the tank there that Graeme was unafraid to swim with. Though he wasn’t swimming
in this tank, but rather in the Tonlé Sap itself.
And here are the alligator
skins they had hanging there.
One of the kids who went
around letting people hold his snake, then asking for a dollar.
Before we leave Siem Reap,
here’s the view from my hostel’s roof restaurant.
Lastly, back in Bangkok.
Here’s the Chinese market. Or rather, a tiny portion of it.
You can get every
miscellaneous kind of goods here, including things you can’t even figure out.
Or, should you prefer, you
can get a lantern or a stuffed hand or some useful breasts.
That’s a weird place to end these pictures, but hey, I’m doing it
chronologically, and that’s where I finished my trip. The only other
things I did after this were walk back to Khao San Road and find a minivan.
And, I guess, come back to Korea and continue living my life—but it seems like
that hardly counts, since everything was so lively there.
Anyhow, I still haven’t written about any current events, but I’ll
get to it next blog (not counting the one about patterns). For now, enjoy
these, and if you now look at the Chinese market and wish I’d gotten you
some breasts or hands or a Jem Hook, I apologize. I don’t know when
I’ll be able to get back to the market again. But I do hope it’s