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Mount Poppa

One of the guesthouse workers asked our plans for the day while we enjoyed bread and bananas. We found out then that the guesthouse actually offered the same tour to Mount Poppa that we'd booked yesterday. Usually the staff were quick to offer to book plans for us or tell us about their services when we checked it, but since we hadn't heard anything like that yesterday, we assumed that they didn't and booked next door.

We went over to Memory's stand for 8:45 and waited around twenty minutes for the van to come. After picking everyone up, we were over capacity by one. The driver said that we'd get another car. Twenty minutes later, we found out that he meant that he'd call his friend and offer us a 2,000 kyat (or $2) discount if we were willing to ride in the trunk. Yikes, and he wasn't kidding. We all declined and decided the slightly overcrowded van was a better option.

Our first stop was the sugar workshop where they had an ox turning a grinder to smash peanuts and create oil.


Inside the buildings palm sugar was boiled a whole day so it would clump to be used as candy and to make jaggery with coconut, a delicious treat. We got to try tasty samples. They were also fermenting the clumps of sugar for three days then boiling it to make liquor or wine. They had samples to try as well. A few friendly people explained the process to us while our driver was absent.


Our group proposed that the smallest people should squish in the roomier back section. My turn for now. The drive took awhile and some climbing to reach the town around Mount Poppa. The mount was a volcanic plug that stood out quite prominently in the green landscape.


We could already see the monkeys leering at us from the steps. We passed them with caution and made it up unscathed. Just after we had to take off our shoes, a monkey snatched glasses right off an American man's face and ran up to the roof. They were attracted to shiny objects. We'd placed all of our unnecessary items in zipped backpacks. A woman offered to climb up on the roof with a broomstick and retrieve the glasses for a small fee.

Mount Poppa had many temples dedicated to various nats, evil spirits. Praying and donations would help keep them at bay. We also weren't supposed to wear red, black or green, swear or bring meat while at the temple to avoid offending the nats.


Unlike trip advisor complaints, we found the many stairs leading up to the temple clean enough with people scrubbing the floors all the way up. The views were decent but we'd been spoiled by Hpa An and found these ones just okay. There were many donation plaques for amounts of $20 and up. There was a monastery and several shrines atop the mountain along with more monkeys. A man with a slingshot scared them away.


Many people had left donations to support the building of this temple. The walls were beautifully golden with Buddha statues inside. In one of the shrines you could leave a donation based on the day of the week that you were born. We also set some money aside to give to the cleaners since we hoped most of it would go to that person and they had done a really great job.


On the way down, a monkey approached Ryan, stared at him then grabbed onto his leg for a hug. Luckily, he had his jeans on and a local lady came with a stick to scare off the animal.

We had some lunch where other foreigners were as there was an English menu. We both got fried rice that was surprisingly expensive. That was the downside to not asking prices beforehand. They had a neat spice collected all housed in reused water bottles. There was also a cute toddler running around the restaurant with squeaky shoes set on exploring the fire-fueled kitchen as well as the pantry. Surprisingly none of the staff tripped over her.


We wandered a bit to find other restaurants and a temple with a woman performing a dance. On the drive back, we stopped for some viewpoint pictures and to see petrified wood. It was hard as a rock.

The back seat got hot and sweaty after some time plus cramped. Why did small people usually get the short end of the stick? It's not like we ever had an advantage going to shows or being able to reach things in the cupboard.

We found a restaurant with wifi not much better than our guesthouse. The fact that there was so much wifi around was showing some big changes, even if it didn't really work. We had some tasty potato curry and fruit pancakes to enjoy. The restaurant filled up fast too. We chatted with the man who'd recovered his sunglasses from the Mount Poppa monkeys. He was from St. Louis and had come out here to work. He was on vacation for a week between his assignments to save the company money and avoid having to recover from jet lag twice over. Ryan was excited as he was from the same city as the Blue, his favourite hockey team.

Posted by Sarah.M 16:45 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple volcano myanmar nat mount_poppa Comments (0)

Bagan Temples

semi-overcast 32 °C

After lunch, we were off on bikes to explore Bagan, a temple wonderland. This was largest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, payas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. Bagan's history began in the 9th century, but massive temple construction began in 1044 with King Anawratha founding the Bagan Empire. He'd been influenced by the Mon with regards to both the script and Theravada Buddhist religion. At one time there were an estimated 10,000 structures but today there are approximately 2,200. Many were damaged in an earthquake in 1975 and some restored in 1990, but not always to historical accuracy.


Not even five minutes past our guesthouse, down a flat dusty road, we found several temples. The structures weren't huge, but they were quite relaxed to visit given the lower number of visitors. A few vendors wanted to give their painting sales pitches and tell us about the temples. They had been damaged by smoke during the war as well as in the earthquake. Golden or red robed Buddha statues sat behind old brickwork. There were staircases up to the top to see the view of just how far the temples extended. For miles there were big, small, golden or red bricked pagodas populating the plains.


The next paya, Tha Kya Bon, had a statue that the vendor called the grandfather Buddha. The second head poked out of the main Buddha's stomach and had been built in the 11th century while the larger Buddha that encased it was built in the 13th century.
Further back, there were more rectangular buildings from the same reddish bricks. Trees with purple flowers grew nearby. The overall vegetation was fairly sparse in terms of groundcover, just small bushes and a few trees, almost desert-like.


We rested back in the room to ease our stomachs and beat the heat. We got a free map and figured out a good sunset temple.


On the ride back out to the temples, we found a few more temples to explore including Htilominlo, meaning 'Blessings of Three Worlds', which was large and impressive. It was the last temple known to be built in the Myanmar style. The temple was erected because on this spot King Nantaungmya was selected from among his five brothers to become the crown prince. We wandered around inside where old faded paintings lined the arched ceilings and walls. There were sitting and standing, also old and newer gold Buddha statues.


This temple had a staircase to the top to view the pagoda landscape as well.

Some of the vendor's offered to take us to a photo area for a fee, but the best photos were from a further distance so we declined, sneaked our bikes around the outside wall and walked to an area where we could get our own shots.


We continued to U-Pali-Thein which was a single level rectangular gray building that was gated off but there were old paintings inside on the arched ceilings of Buddhas and other motifs.


We biked down to Buledi temple after failing to reach the further ones. We scaled the steps to join the growing crowd of observers for sunset.


There were some clouds but the colour still came through quite well. There were plenty of other temples around to liven up the sunset shots and create silhouettes at times. A sleepy dog managed to climb up a few levels of the temple and joined us. There were less hawkers now than during my last visit when people offered cold drinks to bring up to the top and post cards. They had some clothing at the bottom with the large pile of tourist shoes as we had to leave them out of respect. The sun sneaked below the horizon dozens of temples and stupas in the distance.


Our return cycle was in the dark down a dusty road that could be a bit too soft and sandy at times. At least there wasn't a parade of horse carriages to pass on the way, another popular form of tourist transportation out here. We popped back on the main road at the rental shop. It was quite nice considering how exhausted we were.


At supper, I was feeling quite awful so after staring at the menu for far too long, I just went back to the room to sleep under the heavy blankets. Ryan finally got to try his local Star Cola and had a chicken burger from the place where we'd rented our bikes.



Posted by Sarah.M 12:43 Archived in Myanmar Tagged temple bagan pagoda bike heat tha_kya_bon htilominlo u-pali-thein buledi Comments (0)

New Years Eve in Ubon Ratchatani

sunny 29 °C

It was nice to wake up in a soft bed in the morning and go downstairs for a complimentary breakfast. They even had tasty cookies to go with our jam toast. We did some research in the room to try and find attractions to visit here and how to get around. The wiki-travel was a touch bare for Ubon Ratchatani. The girl at the front desk helped us figure out the locations on the map. Some were close and others far.

On the way to the first temple. we stopped at a restaurant with an advertisement for vegetarian food. Ryan had fried rice and pork and I tried the fried rice paprika, forgetting that paprika in Asia is ultra spicy. I was even slurping down my soup to make my mouth stop burning. I don't think I've really experienced such pain eating before without losing my wisdom teeth.

We found the tourism authority of Thailand (which abbreviates as TAT without explaining what it stands for) who gave us even more maps that were quite helpful. The first temple, Wat Tung Sri Muang, was easy enough to find. It had an ornate archway. We followed another woman past a tower and statue.


In a small pond stood a wooden building among the lotus plants. We walked the bridge to go inside and discovered it was a scroll house to keep religious documents. There was a small shrine in the middle and we walked around, able to take in Wat Tung Sri Muang from the open windows. The building had a musty smell.


The main temple had white pillars and gold nearing the roof. Inside, there were paintings. A monk had another woman translate for him to tell us that they depicted the life of Buddha. They were both quite friendly.


Next, we visited Ubon museum to learn more about the history of Thailand and the region. The exhibits went through different compositions of soil and resources in the area today. It detailed the introduction of Buddhism to Thailand then to the Dvaravati and Khmer periods. Another section had artefacts from Laos and Thailand. The Laotian Buddha statues had smaller and rounder faces. There were also animal traps and handicrafts.
Although the museum covered a lot, it was a manageable size, not overwhelming and considerably cooler than it was outside.


Afterward, we found the entrance to Wat Sri Ubon, past the bustling New Year's market. We walked around the exterior a bit but didn't really go inside. Lots of people were sitting around almost picnicking by the temples.


The next temple would require transportation: songtao eight or twelve according to our map. We walked awhile, tried flagging down two trucks with no luck. They saw us, stopped, but wouldn't let us on. Though other Thais further down the street could board. It felt quite anti-foreigner and frustrating, though we didn't fully understand their reasons. It got pretty hot so we flagged down a tuktuk who took us a on a short pricey ride.


We made it to the impressive Wat Ban Na Mueng, a boat temple. Statues of dozens of people rowed with giant oars fixed over the sides of the boat temple. At the back there was a row of golden Buddha statues, gleaming in the hot sun. The whole area was fun to photograph and not too busy. We could walk around on the boat as well as in the temple in the cabin area of the boat.


Toward the back of the grounds, sat the main temple on an island in a large pond. This boat temple was wider and sparkled. In the water, small whiskers surfaced attached to hungry catfish fed by the locals. Turtles came to the surface frequently too, though they were easily spooked. Blue Naga (snake) tails rose out of the back of the boat and their bodies traced the path of the bridges. The boat was white unlike the previous brown wooden one. On the way out, we passed another white temple under construction along with the bell tower.


We were a bit worried about transport back as we were now in the boonies and our tuktuk had taken off as soon as we handed him cash. A man in a black car stopped to offer us a ride but our destination was not on his way, though he wished us good luck (chok dee!). At the main road, we saw a taxi right away who offered to take us. He was nice and friendly, though he spoke little English.

We arrived at Wat Phra That Nong Bwa with some daylight still illuminating the white and golden tower. It was more boxy and tall than the others.
At all the temples, we had noticed white strings tied just above head-level in a grid pattern. Bundles of string were attached as well. Inside the temple, gold glistened as high as the eye could see and a large Buddha sat in the middle. Several people dressed in white were praying.


The back area of the temple was reserved for those buying products to donate in the new year festival. A couple explained it to us as we accidentally wandered into the space. We went to 7-11 for a snack then sat on the sarong in the grass by the temple until the sky went dark and the temple lit up in gold. It was quite beautiful to see. More families arrived for the ceremony, lying down bamboo mats and tying the white string to their donations.


Not wanting to take up space for the celebrations and getting hungry, we started walking to the main street to catch a cab. Since it was New Year's Eve, the cabs going to the city were all full. The ones travelling the other way looked that way too. Figuring we might as well cover some ground as we attempted to hail a cab, we made it all the way to a mall where we stopped for supper in MK restaurant known for its hot pot dishes. I had a veggie suki and mango drink, Ryan a chicken dish and later we also had some pretzels. Outside we met a family from Rayong as pumped about Koh Samet (a Thai island and few hours from Bangkok) as I was.


We walked down to the NYE fair to see alleys of games, shops, food and even carnival rides. We braved the Ferris wheel as it seemed safer than the fast spinning one in a country where we weren't familiar with the safety standards. It gave us a nice bird's eye view of the tents, stage, crowds and lights. The military had also set up a cap gun shooting range. We were tuckered out by that point and went back to sleep at the hotel. Ryan woke me up at midnight for a moment.


Posted by Sarah.M 22:13 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple market new years cab ubon ratchatani Comments (0)

Holiday Bus Travels

semi-overcast 28 °C

Our mission for the day was to get to Ubon Ratchatani and we arrived at the station to catch the 9:30 bus. It was unfortunately full. Christmas wasn't really a big deal, but New Years was a cause to celebrate in Thailand, meaning everyone was trying to get back to their families. We asked about tickets and the official information was to get our tickets on the bus itself. Another man came to try and buy tickets from him, but we declined as we thought it may be a scam. We waited it out.

At 10:15 another bus came. People asked or told us to get on the board so we did. The Thai vendor came running and yelling at us. I stayed with our bags near the bus in case there weren't seats while Ryan dealt with him. He'd been quite condescending but sold Ryan the tickets. When we boarded there weren't any seats, so Ryan ran back to try and get tickets for the next one. The guy threw his hands up and walked away, clearly not his problem anymore.

The driver pulled out plastic stools for us and the other Thai passengers who had purchased oversold seats. The same thing had happened to me in Malaysia a few years earlier so I wasn't too surprised. Once enough people left, we'd take their seats. This was technically the VIP bus, a private company so unlike the local bus (where you bought the tickets inside) they didn't say they were full, they just created more seats. Ryan was still pretty upset and wanted to punch the vendor.

After an hour and a half of hanging onto the backs of seats, handles and armrests, we got one of the big seats, larger than the average just so they could charge a high price per ticket and overfill the bus anyway. We even got to sit together later as the other passengers reached their destinations.

In Ubon, we took a tuktuk straight to Sri Isan Hotel. It had an actual lobby, unlike most of the budget places we stay, with couches, tables and lounging areas. We were led up to the second floor to our snazzy room which came with a couch, desk, hair dryer, kettle, fridge, TV and even free water in glass bottles. Weren't we special, usually our budget rooms didn't come with such luxury. It would be a nice place to spend the new year.


We went to the market to eat, passing a neat park in the process with a big track filled with joggers and runners. It gave me a good feeling to see so many active individuals engaging in basketball, running, and aerobics. There was a big gold statue area in the middle of the big park that we'd explore later. We passed the city shrine temple with animal statues in front of the white, gold and red building.


For supper, we found Vietnamese baguette sandwiches which were crunchy and a touch bland, but vegetarian friendly for me. Ryan tried some fried chicken and I had some taro dumplings. Back at the room, I managed to get my belated Christmas Skype in with a decent connection.

Posted by Sarah.M 21:01 Archived in Thailand Tagged temple bus market thailand ubon ratchatani overcrowded Comments (0)

Temples of Nang Rong

Prasat Muang Tam and Phanom Rung Historical Park

semi-overcast 30 °C

In the morning, we managed to send off some laundry, book a tour of the ruins with Kris and visit the day market by the lake. We got a familiar breakfast from 7-11 plus market oranges and barbequed eggs. I'd had them last time in Laos, and even with a weird texture, I find them pretty good. Ryan wasn't a fan and let me finish them.

The drive to the ruins went past fields of harvested crops and grazing cows. The sky was incredibly blue. It was reminiscent of Cambodia, except these cows weren't chained up. Kris kept down the back roads to avoid the traffic congestion. We got stopped at a checkpoint once and we found out that Kris was a retired army sergeant with slightly expired insurance that the police didn't care too much about.

The first temple we visited was Prasat Muang Tam, a smaller Khmer temple. The Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia came from the same empire. This one was built for the god Shiva and was in a direct line from Angkor Wat. Historically, people would often visit between them and use this area as a place to stay.


The exterior had a triangular peak with carvings in the light brown bricks. It was a long building with a couple side entrances. The lintel over the central entrance depicted Krishna fighting Naga (snake) Kaliya because it had poisoned the river used by Krishna's people. Between the three entrances were windows with carved vertical pillars.


Inside the temple were four L-shaped ponds with pink lotus flowers. The outer walls had similar entryways in each direction and we explore the space left open in the wall, taking photos through the frames. We found the side of the main temple in the sun and waited our turn to take pictures in front of it.


Inside the main temple were four towers and a fifth larger one that didn't quite stand the test of time. It represented Mount Meru. We could go inside the four towers, although there wasn't much more than a concrete pedestal and the dome ceiling. There were also remains of the libraries where people would have kept scrolls and religious manuscripts.


We found Kris sitting nearby, strumming on a guitar. We took off to the top of a dormant volcano to visit Phanom Rung Historical Park. The name was from the Khmer word Vnan Rung which meant 'vast mountain'.


We perused the museum first which had all the information we lacked at the first temple. It went through many different Khmer monuments across the country. Many in Thailand served as rest houses on the journey to Angkor Wat, the mother temple. Phanom Rung was actually build before Angkor Wat in the 10th and 13th centuries. There were other exhibits on its history and how one of the lintels went missing last century. 'Give us back our lintel, take back your Michael Jackson' an activist had said. There was also information on different religious practises: the deflowering of young teens particularly unsettling from a human rights point of view, but that was ages ago.


We went through the museum backwards so the pertinent information came last. Prasat Phanom Rung, the one we were currently at, was a Hindu temple designed for the God Shiva to resemble Mount Kailasa, Shiva's pantheon. The whole complex had been restored but due to lack of settlement or battles around the area until recently, the temples had been quite well preserved.


After a few snacks, we tackled the lower stairway that at one time would have had a wooden gateway. Once we climbed the stairs, we came to a one story structure with stone pillars. Since it wasn't the main attraction, there were no crowds so we could explore the narrow gallery and ante chamber. It had been known as White Elephant House, now as Changing Pavilion since the kings used it to purify and prepare before a ritual at the main temple.


After the Changing Pavilion came the Processional Walkway not as long as I anticipated given the description I'd read, but still long enough to have seven sandstone posts with lotus bud tops. The view of the main tower up ahead had most people excited. We passed one Naga (snake) bridge and challenged another set of stairs. Once at the top, the views of the fields off to the South were beautiful and made us realize we were pretty high up.


We crossed the court and outer gallery, past more ponds to reach the impressive main tower. Carved from pink sandstone, the temple had a VIhara as well as an inner sanctum that at one time had enshrined the linga phallic symbol of Shiva. Above nearly every entrance, and there were many, were lintels depicting different scenes from Hindu epics. Some doors had a second lintel as we went inside to explore.


We also visited the outer galleries, similar to Prasat Munag Tam, but with false windows. The library or Bannalai here was still standing completely and was one of the last structures built on the site. In contrast, the oldest brick sanctuaries had become ruins.


Kris called to tell us that 'something', obscured by misunderstanding, was empty. I thought phone, Ryan thought gas tank so we visited the final entrances quickly, got a picture of the two of us and headed back.


For supper, we went the other way down the main street and found a bilingual menu and a lady who understood 'Mai gin...' (don't eat...) and my list of animals that followed. We had fried rice and shared a veggie dish. Success!


Posted by Sarah.M 20:07 Archived in Thailand Tagged park temple historical khmer hindu tam vegetarian nang_rong muang prasat phanom rung lintel Comments (0)

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