Friday, July 15, 2016

Upstate New York, Finger Lakes region

My geographic knowledge of this country was tested recently when my husband and his friends suggested a trip to upstate New York for the long weekend. New York state? Isn't that a city with Times Square?  Is New York city the capital of New York state? Obviously, I failed.

New York state is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania  in the south and Connecticut, Massachusetts to the east and Vermont to the northeast. This state hosts some of the most gorgeous water bodies found in the US. The majestic Niagara, waterfalls in the finger lakes region, Adirondacks, Lake Placid to name a few. Distance and time being the trade offs, we covered only a few of these above mentioned places.

The Journey to Corning: Friday Evening

Driving to Corning from Massachusetts was smooth. Moderate traffic and changing landscapes with moody weather, a perfect scenario to start our trip...almost. About 3hrs of the drive completed, to our surprise we noticed a LED board on the freeway which read, TORNADO WATCH till 10pm. That was a first for me, I frantically started scanning the Internet on our phones (with limited data bandwidth)  for more information. We began noticing the temperamental clouds rolling in and the dark moody clouds lying low. No wonder that we had up till then encountered no traffic. To make conditions more mysterious, two men near a parked motorcycle on top on a bridge over the freeway wildly twirled their tee shirts in a tornado like fashion and pointed to the left. With no idea what they could have meant by that, we continued ahead. After contemplating and discussing it over and over again, we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts at the nearest exit. It was about 8:45pm and we thought for a while on waiting out till 10pm. After a few inquiries at DD and fellow travellers who stopped there, we carried on. The TORNADO WATCH was a WATCH as the name mentions, a watch by the Met department as the weather conditions seem most ideal for one and not because of any suspicious weather movement noticed. What a relief! We reached the address Google routed us too, but it wasn't the place where we had booked our reservations, instead the board read Motel 6.
We based our trip from Corning, hence taking the budget option of staying at Budget Inn and Suites, Elmira at Horseheads. We searched for the exact name on boards for a wasteful 25 mins and called the reception up. Turns out that google routed correctly and Motel 6 was to change to Budget Inn and Suites.  The bookings were messed up and we had a tough time sorting it out at the office, all in all, not the best option to stay there.

Letchworth State Park and Cherry Springs State Park: Saturday 

We reached Letchworth State Park by late morning. At the Castile entrance, there's a lovely overlook that opens up the view of the valley with the Genesee river flowing through it. Unfortunately the river looked dried up. With very little water in the river, we wondered if the waterfalls would be a pretty sight. We parked the car near the visitor centre and hiked our way to the middle falls and upper falls. The path wasn't much of a deviation from the tar road, although we found a beautiful viewpoint below a bridge. The hike to the middle falls was relatively simple with not many ascends or descends. The Middle falls view point was stunning with the milky white gush of water roaring as it hits the rocks below. A faint yet remarkably clear rainbow adorned the falls.
Rainbow over the Middle Falls.

This waterfall seemed to me the best amongst the three. (Upper, Middle and Lower)
We continued and hiked to the upper falls, a small ascend but an easy climb along the tar road. To watch a goods train chug along the 140-yr old rail road atop the upper falls was an incredible sight. Hiking up to get a closer view of the upper falls, we stopped by a bubbling brook and rejoiced in the cool waters. Much needed respite from the heat of that summer day.

Train chugging along over the Upper Falls.

Refreshing brook

Walking  back to the visitors centre cost us time  and we decided to drive down till the lower falls overlook. There are steps leading down to the lower falls, but the only way up was to climb those steps. Already exhausted and running short of time, we followed the signs on the board for quick look of the lower falls. The lower falls didn't charm us, although it was a pleasant sight.
Lower falls from an overlook.

A quick refill of lunch and we routed our GPS to Cherry Springs State Park to catch a glimpse of the milky way. A little detour as it falls in Pennsylvania, but the view of the night sky was well worth it. This particular state park is known for the clear views of the night sky and through summer, they organise night sky viewing. Google routed us through the countryside and what a silent eerie countryside that was! Surreal the experience of being one of the only two cars on those muddy roads(yes you read right, no tar roads here!), and vast expanse of fields on either side with few or no houses. Almost haunting the drive turned out to be. All through the journey we kept thinking of what would happen if the car broke down. When we finally reached the destination that google routed to - we ended up..nowhere. Did google just pull a fast one on us? Middle of nowhere and were we going to be the ones ones watching the sky that night? Couldn't be. We just continued ahead and looked for signs to the Cherry Springs State Park and there it was. A huge open ground converted into a parking lot with the park volunteers guiding us to park and towards the night sky viewing area. We were handed out red film to mask our torches and phones, as white light robs our night vision. The main volunteers used a powerful laser to point out the interesting stars and clusters. There were powerful telescopes set up for viewing of the planets. I was able to see Saturn with its magnificent rings and a double star with the contrast evident (one blue and the other red), through the telescopes. Unfortunately for us, the night sky was gradually getting disguised by the clouds. We patiently waited to be able to spot the milky way, and there it was. Just there for about 5 seconds, we could see the cluster that resembles the gigantic galaxy we live in, the Milky way. It was my first time viewing it with the naked eye, I was enamoured. Just a brief view of the milky way influenced me in the most poetic way. I was truly amazed.

Corning Museum of Glass and Watkins Glen: Sunday

The Corning Museum of Glass should definitely be on your list if you're planning a visit to Upstate New york. The museum is exclusively for glorifying glass in all its lovely forms, there are sections on the history of how humans have been utilizing it in various forms. Each exhibit was captivating with a lot to learn and a lot to awe at. I thoroughly enjoyed the contemporary glass art exhibit. A few pointers I would suggest to anyone planning a visit here, be sure to plan for half a day, it's vast with many live demonstrations and an opportunity to make your own glass as well.  The Make your own glass experience, is highly hyped. All that I or the 6-yr old along with me did was, pick the structure of the glass, the colours on them and get the opportunity to blow into the molten glass when required. It wasn't all exciting as I had pictured it to be, I suppose the museum has their own limitations while working with high temperatures of molten glass. The souvenir shops is an interesting array of glass artifacts, be sure to take your time here.

Making My own Glass.

Art installation at Corning Museum of Glass.

Once done with the museum visit, we head to Watkins Glen State Park near Ithaca. By far, one of the best places I've ever been to. The beauty of the hike in this park was the gorge path that spans about 2.5 miles with spectacular views of over 14 waterfalls with my favourites being the Cascade Falls where one can feel the cold spray of the waterfalls and the rainbow falls which opens up a mind blowing scenic view.

Gorge Trail
Cascade Falls

Rainbow Bridge
We were almost the last ones to leave the state park. The stay at Ithaca was at Embassy Inn Motel. A satisfyingly good place.

Taughannock Falls, Lake Cayuga and Howe's Cavern: Monday

I didn't feel like leaving Ithaca the next morning. The City is lively with a thriving student population and colourful with interesting art murals. After a sumptuous brunch at Indian restaurant "New Delhi's Diamond's, we drove to Taughannock Falls. Parking very close to the overlook, we peeked over in anticipation to be awed by the waterfalls. Instead we were greatly disappointed, the width of the water was reduced to that of a thread. What a shame! A google search gives me such glorious pictures of this place, it's unfortunate that we had to see it when it was dry. It might not have been the best time to witness the falls, I would suggest visiting here after summer, probably August and September.

We passed by the longest of the famous finger lakes, Lake Cayuga  on our way back, the blue waters beckoned to us, we had to make the stop. We took a quick swim in the chilly waters, refreshing and much needed after seeing so much water on our trip and unable to physically be in the water. Happy campers, barbecues and families relaxed by the lake. It was a blissful morning!

The last visit before heading back home, Howe's caverns. We were making a dash for it, because the last guided tour was at 6pm. We luckily got in at the nick of time. As the car pulled over to the destination, we see an enormous building. Quite confusing, I assumed these were natural caves in a more natural setting, a state park or so. We bought our tickets and waited in line. The tour guide, a very jovial and entertaining one, accompanied us in the elevator, down to the cave. The cave was an underground one and rather cold (Do bring along a jacket!). The caves must be explored with a guide only, and it's a path that involves a small boat ride. The experience was interesting and the cave in some parts was beautiful. I wasn't very impressed, probably because I've been biased with my experience of the vast cave "Gua Tempurung"  in central Malaysia ( The tour was definitely made more interesting by the tour guide and kids would enjoy it immensely. It wasn't my best cave experience for sure.

The drive back was smooth with no traffic. In fact, the drive for the entire journey was divided into equal distances for every attraction and hence manageable on time. I'm sure this isn't going to be last time visiting New York State.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Philly and Washington DC.

The United States of America is truly a vast country. It's only been two months living here, it doesn't seem like even two years is sufficient to fully explore the country. We are on a mission to travel the most we can then!
Using our long weekend and the advantage of the glorious summer, my husband and I planned to go to Washington DC with a pitstop at Philadelphia.

May 27th 2016, Friday:

The handsome shining black Audi A4 was charged up and awaiting us. It's far more than just show off statement, this amazing car. For a car ignorant person like me, I began to admire the stability at high speeds and the turning capabilities.
We started off at 3:30pm and joined the weekend traffic at its busiest. Google maps or any computer-based GPS would guide one to use the I-95S for more than three-fourths of the journey, but we found it too busy with frequent traffic crawls or accidents.
Instead(and I suggest) we started off on I-84 East, forked off at Danbury to join I-684 and continue on I-287. Later we joined onto I-95S to reach Philly after about 5.5 hours. Although this deviates a little to the west than a more direct I-95S, it helps avoid the heavily traffic congested junction of New York. We halted for the night at the Red Roof Inn at Trevose. Basic amenities and perfect for a quick stopover.

May 28th 2016, Saturday:

The morning was surprisingly hot. A sunny day with pristine blue skies with no trace of a cloud. I found it mandatory to have breakfast at an "American" style diner. With no dearth of this quintessential diners around, we found one right next door called Andy's diner.
Vegetarians, like most places in this world have limited options. Luckily, I consume egg in most forms. After a delightful breakfast buffet with freshly made double-layered cheese omelette, we drove to Philly Downtown.
Entering the the many one-ways in the city, one can't miss the colourful murals. The street art led us to the Magic Gardens. This place has been beautified by artist Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia. The mosaic work and the creation of something highly appealing with eclectic pieces is amazing. We were hugely impressed. For art-lovers visiting Philly, this should surely be a stop.

Our next pit stop was the essential Philadelphia attractions such as Independence Hall(viewed from outside) and the Liberty Bell.  The Liberty Bell has historic significance but one must plan to spend at least 25 minutes or more in the queues for a closer look at it. Since we were in a hurry, we caught a lateral glimpse of the bell through a glass window. I'd recommend taking this view instead of waiting in line unless you're a complete history buff.

The last place to tick off on our list in Philly was the Rocky Balboa statue. The statue and the steps Rocky Balboa is seen training in the movies(Rocky series starring Sylvester stallone) is near the Philedelphia Musuem of Art. We reached here around 1pm and not many people were waiting in line for a picture, it was mostly empty. Although we were passively hoodwinked by "the homeless" to take a picture of us and the statue. A bad picture even ! Wriggle and find a way to escape this if you're in the situation when you visit here. (I'm sure there are a lot of other encouraging ways to help the homeless).

Mildly satiating our hunger from a food truck parked by the Museum, we started out 2 hr journey to Washington DC.

Relatively gentle traffic, we checked into the Sheraton Pentagon City around 5pm. (We got a neat deal on priceline to stay for a night here.) Resting the car at their parking lot for 24$ a day, we coordinated to take the bus and then the train from Pentagon station towards Downtown. The station had a vibe of secret excitement, felt like we were part of a secret service boarding our train for a secret mission!

For Dinner we went to Siroc at 15th street NW.  We thoroughly enjoyed the wine, food (all three courses) and the service. I highly recommend it!  We decided to walk to the rear end of  the White house after dinner. The view of the White House from the White House north lawn is about 10 minutes by walk. Not many people at this hour, we were able to comfortably admire the structure.

Choosing our options of travel back to the hotel, we opted for Uber pool, which worked to be equal to or rather cheaper than a metro and bus combination.

May 29th 2016, Sunday:

Sunday was the day to fully engage and immerse in what Washington D.C has to offer.
Nearby was an Ethiopian cafe (Dama Pastry and Cafe) which offered some delicious vegetarian options. My first with this cuisine, I was fascinated the most by the Kinche and mouth wateringly exquisite Baklava. I'm salivating just writing about it!

We decided to split up and I went to explore the Smithsonian Air and Space museum and my husband got off at the next station to explore the National Gallery of Art. In spirit of the memorial day weekend, the entry to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum was free and accordingly crowded. The museum is huge with a lot of information and interesting exhibits, I looked up the map and dived into the exhibits that interested me. My favourites in the museum was the walk inside the international Space station, the section on the history of navigation and the aircrafts on display. The crowd though was overwhelming (for USA standards), it's definitely a popular spot.

We met for a quick bite by the lawn after our museum visits. Lots of food trucks are parked in this stretch and a quick bite is necessarily not a quick bite. Huge queues were lined up to each truck, so the easiest seemed to be froyo. Unfortunately, that was the worst frozen yogurt I have tasted and a little over economical. The White lanky washington tower is visible from here. The clouds hung low and all our pictures captured have the white monument hidden in the white clouds.

We walked by to sight the US Capitol, and last one on our list was the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial is charming, and the view from it is amazing. This was undoubtedly my favorite visit in DC. Unable to ignore our hunger pangs, we went to an Indian restaurant "Flavors of India" at 2524 L St NW.  Service was terrible, the evident disinterest in fellow indian customers was offending and we were pretty frustrated. Clearly disappointed, we were in two minds whether to strike off the the 15% gratuity that was conveniently added in the cheque.  

The rains had subsided by now, we took an Uber back to the hotel and had just enough time to head to the DC cruises tour at 8pm. The washed up harbourside looked placid and inviting. Our cruise started at around 8:20 pm and we were toured around on the grand Potomac river for about an hour. The sights were pretty and their reflections on the water. There's a enchanting charm in seeing the city from a boat in the middle of the river. After the cruise, we leisurely indulged in Nick's Grillside and Bar, and I felt indulged the moment I had my first taste of the Cinnamon Fireball, one cracking drink!

May 30th 2016, Monday:
The last day in this entry.
The beauty of nature, as most of us agree is unmatched and hence a vacation isn't considered complete without visiting such a place. We started for the Great Falls Park around 9 am and after a small queue at the parking, we were there in less than an hour. There are three overlooks within short walking distance where one can get marvelous views of the Great Falls. Apart from these three smaller paths, there are a lot more hiking trails this park offers.


Planning our route back home, we decided to weigh our options. Most GPS show the fastest route to Boston which uses 95 for majority of the way. This interstate is often slower because of the density of traffic and more likely to have more accidents. We started on 95 till Wilmington where we then branched out west on 202 Interstate. Around the New Jersey area, we diverged to join 287 Interstate eastward -- 684 north and finally joining to 84 East. Although it delayed us by an hour, we comfortably covered the distance without the frustration of being stuck in heavy traffic.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Bangkok and Railay, Thailand

March 6th,2015
  Last minute emails and urgent deadline rush. Sending out the last email at 3:30pm, my smile instantly switched when I sat in the backseat of the cab to the airport. Vacation time ! In a new country and with a good friend. How often do vacations like these come by?
   At 10:40pm, the airasia flight landed at Don Muang airport in the city of Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok has two airports, Don Muang is the Old International airport. After quick navigation, I reached the Visa On Arrival area, to see a long line there and only one counter open and paraphernalia for the process! The photo's that I carried along with me didn't suffice, but luckily they provide the services to take your photo and pin it to the visa form which you'd later have to fill out. After a good 40 minutes in the line, I finally got my form verified by the officials and validated for Visa On Arrival. The things you'd need to get a VOA :
  (a) One Photograph on a white background.
  (b) Visa form with the valid address of place of stay.
  (c) Valid passport with minimum remaining validity of six months.
  (d) Visa fees of 1,000 baht in Thai currency only.
  (e) Tickets of the return journey from Thailand.
  (f)  Thai/other currency equivalent/credit or debit card to show the equivalent of 10,000 Thai baht per person or 20,000 Thai baht per family.

Exited the airport at midnight in a striking pink cab towards the city centre at Sukumvit Road where I had to meet my friend. It was a quiet journey in the middle of the night. The city seemed to be getting it's beauty sleep to be presentable for me by the morning.

The night wasn't over for me, there was one place I'd heard a lot about: Soi Cowboy.
Soi Cowboy is a little stretch of road with only go-go bars and strip clubs. Mostly frequented by tourists and expats. As you walk by this famous red-light area, be ready to be picked by women and enticed to buy a drink or watch a show.My curiosity was dismissed after the short casual walk and we headed home.

March 7th,2015
  An early breakfast of cornflakes and cold strawberry milk is a kick start to the hot day at Bangkok. We took the BTS Skytrain from Ashok station to Saphan Taksin that leads you to the Chao Phraya River transport.
Commendable infrastructure in Bangkok. 

The Flyover, a metro track in between and the river transport below.

From the Chao Phraya, they have boat service to the temples "Wat Arun", "Wat Pho", Grand palace and a few other places. Chao Phraya , loosely translated to "Chief River" is the main artery for transportation in this city. It was a 20 minute boat ride to "Wat Pho" in the muddy waters.

Wat Pho, more commonly known by the name "Temple of Reclining Buddha" is a huge temple complex with stupas (known as Chedis) and shrines with Buddha statues.  The biggest of these shrines has Lord Buddha in the reclining posture rested on his hand. The soft curls on the head and the wide feet with 108 engravings was visually appealing. Visitors were encouraged to drop coins into the 108 copper bowls around the structure, in the belief of receiving good fortune.

Reclining Buddha

I did read somewhere that this place was originally built as a school of Thai medicine. Probably that's why I noticed some stone structures around the complex in yogic poses.

Yogic Poses.

After taking a self tour of Wat Pho, we took the cross-river boat to Wat Arun. The distinctive phrang (tower) of this temple is noticeable from anywhere. The main phrang at that point was under renovation, so we walked around the surrounding phrangs instead. These phrangs are such unique and vividly created using colorful and exquisite looking porcelain.

Porcelain work.
Wat arun.
We headed over to Siam Paragon  for a quick lunch at their food court. Thai food is interesting, but I hadn't started my culinary journey as we decided on eating some neutral Italian food. Trying to fit in the maximum time for the upcoming shopping at Chatuchak market, we cut short our lunch although the desserts looked delicious.
Chatuchak Market !! Where do I start? For the folks who know me, I dislike or better said, shop very rarely and until absolutely necessary. I went in there unbiased and with no will to shop and only pick up a few interesting souvenirs. As I walked passed the numerous stalls filled with assorted tidbits, my will was slowly crumbling like small temptations as the rocks that fall off from the boulder off determination into the sea of consumerism. It had fascinating and creative stuff to choose from, diverse range from tee shirts, junk jewelery to clocks. The shopping took up a great amount of time, but left one feeling exhausted and good about the time and money spent. It was worth the visit.
The things I liked a lot about Bangkok: Infrastructure with good metros, the river transport, pink buses and colorful cabs, the vibrant nightlife,  the stoicism yet warmth of the locals towards the hive of tourists it receives.

March 8th, 2015
  We reached Krabi town around 9am but the bus ride till Ao nammao pier took a very long time after many stops in the town. There are public buses that ply from the airport to the common area in Krabi Town, it's the cheaper option to travel as compared to taking a taxi. From Ao Nammao pier, we took the boat to Railay. The bluish green clear waters and the towering limestone boulders, such a soothing sight. The waters of Thailand , wonderful waters of Thailand.

Closing in on Railay.

Sitting at the head of the motor boat with wind in my hair, bright sunlight on my face and the humming sound of motor, the scene opened up: Railay Beach with white sands and clear emerald waters. We disembarked from the  boat and carried our luggage a small walk away to "Railay Princess Resort ". The accommodation at Railay is on the the higher side, but it is a valid price to pay for privacy. The Railay Princess was fantastic and gets a five star rating from me. We decided to chill out on the gorgeous sands of Railay for the evening. Railay is clearly the best beach I've lounged in. The tide was low and we could walk in a good distance into the sea and the sand was sensuously soft on the feet. Watching the sun get swallowed by the sea and floating in its vast expanse with the mountains towering over us, seemed like nature disapproved yet pampered our existence.

Cooling my heels.

The sun plunged into the sea as we watched the sky emoting different hues. After a good round of Frisbee on the beach, we headed back to feed ourselves a good meal.

Soft sensual sand.

Leaving an imprint on the canvas of earth.
I won't be gone for long.
The "Last bar" was a good find. As the name suggests, being the last bar at the end of the only road in Railay, they had live music. A little after midnight, there was a fire act performance. Very entertaining. Unlike Phi-Phi and Bangkok, railay had a more sober and relaxing vibe about it.

March 9th,2014
The resort had a wide spread of breakfast buffet, enough to stuff us up. We walked towards the view point only to realize it was a steep climb. A climb, with a rope for support. I thoroughly enjoyed it as I reached the view point. The view was phenomenal. Nature is highly under appreciated, the difference of the water on either side of the same bay was remarkable!
Climb to the viewpoint.

The remarkable view from the top.

 Panting my way down from the view point, my mind still remain in disbelief of what I had witnessed. Little did I know that nature has far more to offer here. A little ahead of the way to the viewpoint is the path that leads you to phra nang bay. The path belies the enormous beauty the end of it holds. It was unbelievable.

The path that opens up into the phra nang bay.

phra nang cave and bay

the tempting emerald waters.
As the heat got unbearable, we headed off to some shade and food. Treated myself to Red curry and pad thai which I enjoyed. At 3pm, we had a boat tour of the 7 islands with Sunset and dinner at Poda Island and 2 snorkeling stops and a plankton tour.

Out first destination was Tup island and Si Island. These radiant white sands and shallow waters was heaven to swim in. The highlight of Tup and Si island, is it is connected and only by a strip of white sand. So basically you can walk to Si island from Tup and vice versa in between the vast Andaman ocean. To put you in perspective, we are walking in the middle of the ocean!!
Taken from a google image search,to give some perspective.

Notice the strip of white sand between the islands.

Notice the darker blue to the left corner of the pic.

Incredible. I continued to shake my head in total disbelief crossing over to Si island. It was overwhelming, the excitement, the beauty, the pristine white sands, the crystal blue waters and the walking on the exact divide where the water to your right is darker blue and getting darker and water on your left is transparent cyan.

The boat took us to Chicken island, the rock juts out looks like a chicken head and visibly does. Our first snorkeling stop, we jumped into the water and snorkeled around for about 20 minutes. Stunning fishes and corals.


We headed over to one of the deep water solo diving spots,climbing up a limestone cliff of a head-spinning heights and letting go to jump into waters of depth 80 feet or more. CRAZY for the guys who did do it. I was a silent spectator at the courage of the brave ones, for I didn't possess a fraction of that courage after looking at the cliff and gauging the waters. The adventurous ones swam from their boats towards the limestone cliff face, use a ladder (pre-laid many years before, I suppose), use that to climb up and get a hold to start climbing. Then comes the scary part of climbing free hand, no harness, no shoes, no anything ! Probably the most animal-like natural and shit scary way of climbing there is! One of the Thai locals climbed a dizzy height and plunged into the deep uninviting waters, I caught my breath because this was the first I was seeing someone do such an act. Terrifying for me to watch and exciting nonetheless, but he seemed to have done it far many times before to have even an ounce of fear to do it. 
The dizzy heights.

Ready to jump?

We had another snorkeling spot to cover, we quickly took to the water, I was quietly waddling around with my snorkel masks amazed at the pretty fishes enticing me. The sea beds and rocks had many black sea urchins, a noticed a puffer fish ! two of which I hadn't before. The puffer was small, maybe a young one but an adorable ball of spicules!

Sea urchins.

The sky was orange and the mood was contemplative. It's been one of the best days I've had so far. Our boat halted at Poda Island which opened the view to a magnificent sunset. The gorgeous orange ball sunk into the ocean and we watched remarking at its beauty. The true giver of life, the reason for our existence. I felt overpowered by nature, by her beauty, feeling small and wonder-eyed watching the sun submerge.

Plankton viewing, the next stop. I was quizzical about this one, not even having heard of viewing plankton and wondering however that was possible. Aren't they too minuscule to be seen? And we have to spot them glowing? Are these tour operators robbing us blind? We were all instructed to get down into the dark waters with our snorkel masks. Our instructor asked to create movement inside of the water and keenly notice the glowing dots of plankton around the area of the movement. Wow! it was glowing. Microscopic glowing dots. I was utterly fascinated that I came up to exclaim my child-like joy of seeing something that was not comprehend able.Amazed.
 The boat journey back was silently contemplative, running over my emotions for the beauty I was privileged to see today.

March 10,2015
 To take advantage of the remaining hours in Krabi before we headed back to the airport and our respective countries, we had an early start.
Walking down to Phra nang cave and bay, the beach was isolated, the scene permanently etched in my brain. Sublime.
Since the tide was low, we could walk,swim a good distance into the waters. A small cove was accessible. Private and magical. Finding that was equivalent to discovering new lands, I wonder what the great explorers truly felt like when they did discover our existing countries.  

Morning walk by Phra nang bay.

When we saw the first set of Kayak bring rented out, we rented out ours and start rowing. I hadn't done sea kayaking before and was excited yet anxious to balance the kayak right. With a lot of help from my friend and fellow rower (if I may term it that), we set a pace and headed for the waters around a limestone cave. We reached it and wandered lost along its borders. The sunlight glistened on the clear waters, the depth of which was gorgeously visible. The white sand sea bed, the green glowing fluid above and the pale brown uneven,rugged structures guarding it. It occured to me, this is the best view I've had in my entire life. It was peacefully sublime and overwhelming. Tears of joy rolled down my face. I felt privileged to have witnessed what I did sitting on that kayak  far from the shore in the ocean.

Although this picture might not justify my write up about this place.
I left Krabi knowing that someday I will return to experience everything and more again. I am bewitched by her beauty.
My heart was immensely sad to leave such a lovely place but ironically very happy to have been there. Thank you Krabi, thank you Thailand. It was one of the best vacations I've had.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flipping through the pages of my history textbook in Cambodia: Day TWO

21st September,2014
Siem Reap

Awake by 5:30 and uncontrolled excitement! The taxi driver was punctual and we set off to buy our tickets to enter Angkor archaeological park ; lack of pre-planning made us spend 20$ again for a one day pass instead of which a three-day pass of 30$ would have saved us 10$ each. Nonetheless, the view was far more valuable than any amount of $$.

Sitting on the library steps and waiting for Mr.Sun to show up, how crowd was building up! Watching the number of people coming in, I was reminded of what the guide told us the day before that I didn't think was plausible at that time but believed with no doubt now; he said an average of 3 million pictures of the Angkor were taken in a day.  Most of us crowded by the lotus pond which is clearly the most scenic to view the three domes of the temple.
6:15 and he rose, made his presence felt to the mere humans who reacted by going camera crazy. The indescribable beauty left ALL of us in a collective meditative trance. Divine, the sunrise was divine. The reflection of  sun rising above temple domes in the humble pond was no doubt the best view I've witnessed so far. The humble pond betrayed the enormous pride it was capable of; for its untold responsibility was immense. I bow my head down to you King Suryavarman II and the exquisite craftsmen who built this place, respect and appreciate the thought and intellect behind the architecture of this place. Many centuries after we continue to pay respect to this captivating structure,so intelligently built to augment the beauty of nature.

Today was a special day, little did we know of this when we planned our trip and it turned out to be our bonus! Today, the 21st of September was two days away from the Equinox and more specifically when the sun shines directly on the equator and the sun rises due east. The exquisiteness with respect to the temple was that the sun rose directly over the central temple dome, a rarity that happens only twice a year.
I hope the picture does little justice to how celestial it really felt.

Feeling grateful to have witnessed this morning, we headed back to the hostel for a quick breakfast.

This 10th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva lies north east of Angkor Thom and took us a journey time of half an hour. The stark difference between Banteay Srei and the temples we went to yesterday is this temple is largely made of red sandstone. Much of it looks like its been ravaged by pilfering and vandalism, but the carvings that remain are elegant. The apsaras, the motifs and the depiction of Lord Shiva. An interesting carving I noticed was that of the fight between Vali and Sugreeva. This temple,for a change was not built by a monarch but by the spiritual leader to King Jayavarman V.  The lotus pond added to the charm with the pink blossomed lotuses.
The smaller temple complex makes a vivd statement with the intricate carvings and pinkish sandstone.

  Tucked away to the east of the Angkor , this temple was my favorite visit. The entrance to this broken down temple complex has huge blocks of stone lying in a pile and a broken down naga .This temple is privately owned and an entry ticket of 5$ has to be purchased. This mostly unrestored out-of this world place was built in the 12th century and remains enchanting in shambles. A maze of wooden planks and walkways constructed make it easier to explore around. The generous trees support the existing structures, giving them shape and beauty.I was exploring the temple awestruck and in silence. The emotion was that of romance between the trees and stones, intertwined in love. The inseparable two formed scenic beauty that takes you far away from reality, back in time to a different century. Surreal! I'd strongly urge fellow travelers to include this temple in their itinerary.

   These two smaller temples were devoid of tourists. Bakong is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva  built like a mountain, the structure ascending vertically. The four levels guarded by Rakshas, Nagas, Garudas. Some restoration was going on with wooden scaffolding on one of the towers on the ground which I believe would be one of the libraries.
Preah Ko, was similar to Bakong and one thing I instantly noticed as a Hindu- the Nandi statue. Pleasantly surprised to spot the Nandi Statue (Sacred bull of Lord Shiva).

This was the last of our temple visits in Cambodia.
After the enriching journey in history, we were sadly drawn to the present.

Back in the central town, we wondered what we could do for the evening. After weighing our choices ,we decided to watch "Phare, The Cambodian Circus" and amble about Pub street later that night.

  PHARE, A Cambodian Circus :
This unique entertainment has a great cause behind it. They had a social mission and that of promoting Cambodian modern art and provide sustainable employment to Cambodian youth. The performers for the night did an amazing job! A refreshing and new performance. The performance was Sokrias (the eclipse) ,with a blend of dance, song, acrobatics and interesting storyline, it was thoroughly enjoyable! One of the best I've watched. Hats off to the performers, the high energy, the charming expressions, the dedication. Absolutely worth the money!
Please explore more .
Squeeze it in your itinerary when you are in Siem Reap, you won't be disappointed.

We ambled by Pub Street and the night market. Bought small bayon,apsara souvenir and the famous "elephant" print pants.

*Do consider including the other farther off temples in your itineraries, including Koh Ker(the incan temple), Preah Vihear,  Kbal Spean(The valley of a 1000 lingas), the waterfall at Phnom Kulen (the mountain from where the stones used to build the Angkor Vat were sourced).

 The "one dollar, my lady" ringing in my ear as I board the flight for KL.Thank you Cambodia for a unique vacation!