Saturday, November 28, 2009

Borneo attack fish

In the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu you must be weary when crossing streams and rivers by foot. Something lurks beneath the surface...

Crown of Borneo

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, tallest peak in South East Asia, and the youngest granite mountain in the world... Mt. Kinabalu. Traveling a few hours into the jungle from the coast you really feel like you are entering Jurassic Park. First you realize you are entering some serious jungle territory, then you start climbing into the mountains, and then you get the first glimpse of this amazing mountain of rock that emerges from the green forests like a crown on a king overseeing his kingdom below.  Our guide hailed from a former head hunting tribe in Tambunan in the interior of Borneo.  If you every really want to learn about the culture of a new place a local private hire guide is a great way to go, and often you find they are as interested about your culture as you are theirs.  We lucked out on this trip.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

An evening on a river in Borneo

Our first critter hunt... southwest Borneo. On the lookout for monkeys... your average run of the mill macaques to your big honkin' proboscis monkey. We hired a boat and took a cruise down a river near Kota Klias. The monkeys are interesting, but the river we choose is also known for a type of firefly which swarm in the thousands on certain trees. What makes these unique is their apparent ability to communicate and flash in unison as if they are all operating as one organism. And then of course Borneo has some crazy critters of the amphibious sort. Me: "What the f*$# is a crocodile doing in that tree above us", Guide: "The crocs stay in the water. The water monitors are in the trees". Yeah that's right, not only do you have to mind your arms hanging over the sides of the boat in Borneo but 7ft lizards can climb trees. Christ! And apparently the adult monitors grow up to 9ft.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Borneo hustle and bustle

On the coast of this jungle land lies Kota Kinabalu, with all of the fixin's of any other East Asian city. The pubs and restaurants, the music and sports cars, as well as the malls and markets sporting everything from Polo to Burger King. It represents a very interesting convergence of the agrarian culture that supports the majority of the populace and the prosperity found in many larger Malaysian cities. You can buy conch shells and stinky fruit; in one market stand and Timberland boots and a Spears CD in the next (not that I was looking).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Singapore colonial

Singapore is a real melting pot. Much more so than NYC or any other city I have lived in, let alone visited. Not only can you find transplants from all over the world working here or walking the streets, but you can find some noticeable evidence in the real bones of the city. The Malay, Chinese, Indonesians have played an integral role in building this nation to what it is today and it shows in the layout of the city, the textiles, the food, as well as the architecture. The architecture of the Chinese colonial period is probably one of the more visual notable points, and luckily the government has done more in recent years to help ensure the old world is not completely engulfed by the new.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Singapore sling

It's a damn expensive town. But its easy to forget about when there is so much eating to do. Actually, the food ain't so expensive when you sit down for grub, only the booze (the namesake Singapore Sling costs $26US at the Long Bar). Singaporeans, and those that call Singapore home, do their best to eat as often as possible. Food is at the center of the culture and meals tend to be smaller but are taken more times throughout day than in the West. Curiously contrary to the flashy nature of a culture that has an established class system, getting down to some good eats need not be a flashy affair. Many meals are eaten in open air food markets, "hawker centers", on make shift tables sitting in plastic chairs (I personally prefer the green). Construction workers sit along side investment bankers at their favorite eating spots, each known for its own famous dish. It almost seems like their may be a disdain for fanciful ambience as it may only be a cover for poor cooking which is the only real measure of the quality of a Singaporean dinning spot.  So the cheap food almost makes up for the $8 beers... almost.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Lao Disneyland

Deep in the hills of northern Laos there is a river. On that river the backpacker kids rent old truck inner tubes. They take those inner tubes north of Vang Vieng and they float down that river. On that river exist pubs built on rickety bamboo platforms overhanging the river. At those pubs can be found free all-you-can-stomach Lao whiskey shots all day long, $1 Beerlao tallboys, and buckets of vodka for $3. Above those pubs tower even more rickety bamboo towers reaching 15meters or so. Climbing those towers to find the risky end of a rope swing, zip line, or bamboo waterslide are those Lao whiskey drinking backpacker kids. Now if you want real adventure try floating down the river and attempting to dodge the flying day-glo painted bodies of drunk backpackers. I am not really sure how to explain it better, its either like a water park for spring breakers or a lighter version of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. For a kick after dark you can eat outside any of the restaurants in town and chuckle at the gangs of mumbling partiers stumbling up from the river barefoot, limping, and nursing various wounds trying to figure out what happened to themselves and where the after party will be.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Life along the Nam Song

After exiting the Laos capital of Vientiane, we headed a few hours north to a riverside town called Vang Vieng.  An awesome little town set against the backdrop of some amazing pinnacles that rise behind the Nam Song River.  It is really a majestic mountainous scene reminding me of a tropical version of any of the settings you might find along rivers of Montana or maybe Argentina.  Very cool vibe here with lots of outdoor adventures to help you risk your life if you are into that kinda thing.

Fluffy marshmallows

I never really enjoyed flying, and it doesn't help when you have to leave the confines of an 'international' airport of a developing nation and walk across the hot tarmac to board a prop plane from the tale.  Particularly, when it is Lao Airlines with the worst reputation in Asia.  No worries though, this airline seems first rate and it is nice and soothing when it looks like you are flying over a sea of big fluffy marshmallows.

Temple Mania: Cambodia Edition: In high dynamic range

I usually do not condone the overuse of high dynamic range, but Angkor deserves it...


Temple Mania: Cambodia Edition: Agkor Wat

We woke up at 4:30 on this day and walked out to our tuk-tuk in the pitch black.  It was an awesome ride out in the cool air and we got to this morning's temple just as some light could be seen over the horizon.  No trip to Cambodia is complete without a sunrise at Angkor Wat.  All together the Cambodian Angkor temple complexes is one of the biggest in the world as well as oldest.  Angkor Wat is an amazing set of structures surrounded by a moat that is more like a Great Lake than anything else.  It is really the most impressive temple complex as well as the most impressive structure I have seen that was built by human hands.

Temple Mania: Cambodia Edition: Agkor Thom

My second favorite of the Angkor complex is Angkor Thom.  It was one of the longest sustaining capitals of the Khmer empire and was home to more than 100,00 people.  It was built by one of the most narcissistic kings in Cambodian history.  Why carve your face in stone once when you can carve it thousands of times?  And that is what this temple is so photographed for, its stone faces resembling that of the king.  This site was also widely used in Tomb Raider.

Temple Mania: Cambodia Edition: Bante Samreay

This temple has the finest and most detailed stone carving in all of Cambodia.  It was said to have been built by women, because men could have never carved in such great detail.  Small temple, far from the rest, but very cool carvings.  This temple is also one of the best preserved with a great exhibit on the grounds explaining the history of the temple as well as the language and people of the time.