I Used to Not Know How to Spell Phnom Penh

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, gold, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, ilivetotravel

Early last fall, when I was planning my itinerary for the SE Asia trip, there was an extra day to spare.  With 5 days already in Bali and Singapore (and the phenomenal 57th story infinity pool) awaiting, the options became extending Siem Reap by one day, jumping from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, or stopping in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.  As you may be aware due to my post about the Killing Fields, the choice was “PP” simply to avoid crossing another border (much as I wanted to “hit” Vietnam for the first time!).

It was a good choice.  The sites related to the Pol Pot genocide of the 1970s were important to see.  But it was also interesting to see this capital which seems to be booming (I suppose “booming” can be a relative term…) out its past as capital of a Communist regime.  I wish I had gotten to see the “before” Phnom Penh so I could better grasp how far it has come.

Needless to say, the modern building boom is probably good for the economy but some of it is just more of the same glass buildings one sees everywhere.  I seemed to have stayed in a good area (right by the Independence Monument) as main streets and side streets around the hotel felt much better than in other developing countries.  The park by the Independence Monument and the park towards the Royal Palace were very pleasant spaces near the Mekong River.  Lots of families walking the area and hanging out!

Though only 24 hours intown, I feel I did a good bit for such a limited visit – including a massage at the hotel I stayed (La Rose Hotel & Spa).  Phnom Penh was pleasant and relaxed, and it was a good stop as the trip began to wrap up.  And now I can spell Phnom Penh!

Here some of the scenes from Phnom Penh.

Around Cambodia’s Royal Palace

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Botumvatey Pagoda

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Dragon keeping an eye out on things…

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Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument

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Around the Royal Palace

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Caught cross-walking! (Thanks Phil!)

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The Royal Palace entrance facing the Mekong

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I mean, check that Palace OUT!

Independence Monument Park

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The Independence Monument

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The Independence Monument at night

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Gotta have a photo…

By the Mekong

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Looking down the Mekong from the Royal Palace Park

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Fishermen on the Mekong River

And real life happening in the smaller streets of Phnom Penh…

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Street scene

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Curiously looking at the tourists walking by

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Beautiful colonial style architecture

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When it is too hot inside, bring the sowing machine outside!

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This kid’s parents smiled when I asked if I could take their son’s pic – my favorite!

One Spectacular Pool in Singapore

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As someone who likes to read about travel and far-away places, I come across many places around this planet which I hope to see someday (and some perhaps that are not as interesting to me…).  Sometimes I think I will never get to see places that catch my eye because my imagination fails me:  I fail to picture the how and why of me getting to those places.

One such place for me was an iconic hotel structure in Singapore:  the Marina Bay Sands.  You may have seen this hotel in a magazine or a travel show on TV.  You know, the one with three tall towers holding up what looks like a surfboard.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoWhile Singapore seems an interesting place, it is certainly too far from my home to go on a whim just because this hotel caught my eye.  But, as things sometimes unfold, what seems a random window of opportunity opened up for me to go to Singapore.  If you have been following my recent writings, going with a friend to a wedding in Bali took me to -what to me is- a far corner of the world.  The happy couple actually lives in Singapore so the chance to see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel came up.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoBut just seeing it was not enough – I had to stay there:  I wanted to enjoy the 57th floor infinity pool!  And so I did.  Sadly, my visit to Singapore was only over two nights and one day (Bangkok and Angkor Wat were also on the itinerary) so I only got to relax poolside one long afternoon.  But it was WAY cool and well worth it.

We arrived at the hotel at night and we learned the pool was already closed but that certainly was not going to keep me from going up there to see the view!  The gentleman had just closed the pool area but was kind enough to let us walk in.  Check out the amazing night view!Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

The next day, when we got to the pool in the early afternoon, the skies were incredibly dark.  I expected the storm to come our way and the pool summarily closed.  So with no time to waste, I urged my friend Phil to jump in quickly so I could snap his photo and then we would swap places and at least we each would have “the” picture of the city behind the edge of the infinity pool.

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Dark skies! (Me on the right… thanks Phil I. for the photo)

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My quick jump in the pool (thanks again Felipe!)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoGod smiled upon us.  Not only did lightning NOT strike while we were in the pool for the prize-winning photos, but the storms stayed away and we got to enjoy a whole afternoon poolside, even if under a cloud cover.  Lunch and drinks were part of the picture as was people watching – and some pretend-jumps off the pool into infinity.

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Great seating all around

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Chill time!

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Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Great place to teach a kid to swim!

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One of the many “great” jump-off photos (because no one else thought to take one before)

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He was never seen again after this jump-off…

I have to say that those few hours may have been short and the day may not have been picture perfect but I would not trade a minute of enjoying that pool and those views!

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Spectacular view of the city

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Look at all those ships!

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View of old Singapore

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View towards the financial district

What to know about the hotel

  • The hotel is conveniently located across casinos and a luxurious shopping mall, if you are interested in those things.
  • A neat pedestrian bridge can be accessed from the shopping center to get to town.  It offers great views back towards the hotel.
  • Only hotel guests can enter the pool area; they control access which makes sense as space is limited.
  • There are a few different seating areas poolside.  I enjoyed the pool chairs right at the edge of the pool but you can be further removed from the water action (yea, we got splashed a couple of times by kids playing in the pool but no big deal).
  • There is a kids’ pool.
  • There are restaurants and bars up at the top of the hotel and those are accessible to non-guests.  It is enjoyable up there!
  • You can choose city-viewing rooms or sea-viewing rooms (where you can see all the ships going through the straits or going to port).
Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

One happy puppy!

I paid for every penny of my stay (no discount or freebie or anything else from the hotel) – I just wanted to share this amazing place!

 

Angkor Wat: Finally!

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It is pretty daunting to write a post about Angkor Wat.  Not only how to do the place justice but there are probably a million write-ups out there about it.  All I can do is share (words and photos) how I saw it and perhaps it will help those who have not been there visualize it, and those who have been there remember their visit…

We were told by a few people to not miss sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Considering all the travels away from home at that point (ATL to Chicago, Chicago to Bali (via ATL!), and then Bali to Bangkok to Siem Reap), waking up at an absurd time in the morning did not seem as absurd as it would at any other point in my life.  So, arrangements were made for a 4:45 AM pick-up at the hotel to go to see our local star rise behind Angkor Wat…

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

Yea, looking a little rough after the 4AM wake-up (thanks, Phil, for capturing this winner!) – but happy to be there!

First stop:  Get the darn ticket.  One can get a day pass or a multi-day pass.  I was sorta scratching my head as to why the people taking us had not gotten the tickets ahead of time.  I found out why soon enough:  they take your photo and print it on your permit to enter the temple ‘zone.’  Since we were packing it all in into one day, the pass cost us $20US.  Not bad really, especially considering the scale of the area ‘littered’ with temple complexes.  All that has got to be kept up, etc.

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My pass to enter Angkor Wat; skillfully photo bombed by my friend Phil

After getting our ticket, our  guide took us to the main vantage point from which one can ooh-and-aah one’s way through sunrise.  There were clouds in the distance so we did not see a beautiful orange-yellow disk rise from the horizon.  But seeing the temple with the sky around it changing colors from dark blues, to mid-blues, to purples, to orange-ish, etc. was pretty neat.

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

Sunrise

I decided to take a fast-pace video over a 15-minute stretch to see what that would look like.  No, it did not result in a magical show but it still was worth the effort to hold the smartphone as still as possible in my hands for that long.  Since I was half asleep anyway, I barely noticed the 15 minutes had elapsed.  (The 15 minutes are compressed into a one minute video below. Let me know if you think it was worth my 15 minutes!)

After snapping a couple of pix of each other, my friend and I moved on from that spot to get to the causeway that would lead us to the main temple we all know as Angkor Wat.  It still was not full light so the pictures were either brilliant or so-so, depending on how demanding a viewer of photos you may be – I will let you reach your own conclusions :)  We were also advised to not go back to the hotel after sunrise, as many do to nap and have breakfast, but -instead- to have the hotel pack us a breakfast and just eat it on-site so we could then explore the complex before it got crowded later in the  morning (it was also a good idea since it only gets hotter as the day goes by so the earlier the visit, the less suffering!).

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About to enter the causeway

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STILL looking rough but with a great backdrop! (thanks again, Phil!)

On the way to the main temple, I especially liked ‘the library’ ruins on the left-hand side of the causeway – mainly because it gave me a good way to frame the main temple!  (Always looking -not always successfully- for a good photo spot!)

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy, library

Here the library…

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy, library

… and what I did with the library! I kinda like this shot!

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

Getting closer to the main temple – this is a great photo spot

We entered the main temple area from a side entrance by climbing some stairs and our guide explained some of the carvings as we headed to the inner courtyard.  From there we walked along the side of the central ‘structure’ (I struggle with what to call the different parts of the complex), and observed a couple of places where the stuff under the exterior stone was exposed.

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Amazing carvings – could spend hours there!

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Our entry point into Angkor Wat

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A look at what’s under the outer stones… more stones! (though different looking)

After turning the corner, we saw the staircase that would lead us up to the top terrace of the main temple.  The staircase to be used was not the original steps; rather, a staircase was built on top so that our visitor feet would not destroy the ancient stonework – and probably to keep us safe too.  It was a very steep climb but going up was not as scary as going down.  I am not scared of a steep climb or descent, but I also do not want to suffer a bad fall!

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

After getting up

Once we got upstairs, it was REALLY cool.  From up there you see above the tree tops and can easily see how the jungle took over complexes like Angkor War once abandoned.

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View down to the upper terrace and the jungle beyond

There were four inner courtyards atop the temple and it was neat walking the outer hallway looking out in every direction in the compass while then turning inward and seeing the various temples or altars with Buddhas.  I do not recall how much time we spent up there but I enjoyed admiring it all.

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

One of the inner courtyards

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Looking upwards from the terrace level

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First, a standing Buddha…

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, Buddha, Samsung Galaxy

… and then sitting Buddhas…

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, Buddha, Samsung Galaxy

… and finally, a reclining Buddha!

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, Buddha, Samsung Galaxy

Father and son (I assume) in prayer – nice to see it is an active faith site

So, Angkor Wat delivered on my expectation on seeing something quite unique in my experience and, clearly, from the experience of many as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (not one of the token ones, mind you, but a real one!).  Seeing the father and son praying made it even better as it is not just an archaeology site, but a site of living faith – very cool to see.

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I am dumb as doorknob when it comes to selfies – I could not get out of the way of the tower much as I was being instructed to do!

Angkor Wat had been on my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list and definitely the top spot for me to see in Southeast Asia.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see it in person and explore it – photo bomb on my credential or not :)  Now I need to decide what will go in its former spot in my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list…  nice problem to have!

Bali – Getting There Is (or Isn’t) Half the Fun

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I arrived in Bali after a long journey that started in the U.S. (about 37 hours, to be more precise).  The airfare to Asia was a steal at $750 from Chicago to Singapore round-trip with Delta, my main airline (so all the points counted towards status!), so after getting to Chicago and spending a couple of nights there with great friends, the journey began.

Chicago->Atlanta->Tokyo->Singapore was the outbound part of the trip.  Yes, Atlanta was my first connection airport – for those of you who do not know, that is where I live!  Oh, the irony:   Had I started the itinerary from Atlanta, skipping the Chicago bit, my airfare would have been DOUBLE at $1,500!  So it made good sense to save all that money and spend it DURING the trip :)  At least Delta upgraded me from Chicago to Atlanta…

The flight to Tokyo was just plain long and it seemed daunting as I looked at my itinerary.  At 14 hrs., I think it is (and will likely remain) the longest flight I have taken.  But between wine and, later, an Ambien, the flight did not feel as long.  I did not sleep fitfully or for a long time but perhaps 5-6 hrs. of sleep was enough to break up the flight.  That and a couple of movies and it really was not as bad as I expected.

The flight to Singapore was another eight hours.  Mercifully, the connection time in Tokyo was short and with access to a Delta lounge (where, of course, we had to sample and cheer with sake!), it was no biggie.

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Sake time!

I don’t remember much about the flight to Singapore.  I believe I slept an hour here or there.  It is a bit of a blur.  I may have watched a movie.  Or two.  Or none.  <blur…>.  We landed in Singapore at midnight local time (12 hrs. difference or so from my body’s time).  We had to retrieve our luggage as the final leg to Bali was not part of the ticket to and from North America so the baggage was not checked through.

Gladly, at that time of the night, the airport is pretty empty and the counters of our next airline (JetStar, a low cost regional airline) were open through the night.  So, we were able to quickly go through customs and turn in our luggage.  We had 5.5 hours total in transit in Singapore but we were coming back at the end of the trip so no pressure to hire a cab to drive us around and show us the city (I was so tired that I likely would not have done that anyway…).  So, we went off to find a lounge where we could shower and, hopefully, feel a little less worn from the journey.  We also discovered the free leg/foot massage machines that dot the Singapore airport.  I imagine that the massage was helpful in getting the blood circulating after so much time in the air!

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Singapore’s Changi was empty in the middle of the night

We were scheduled to land in Bali around 7:30AM.   Hotel rooms are normally not available that early in the day for check-in.  But my friend and I are ‘smurt’ (sic) so we were prepared for that.  We had our pool gear (trunks, sunglasses, etc.) in our carry-on so we could leave our luggage with the bellhop upon arrival at the hotel (the W Resort in Seminyak) and head to the pool after grabbing breakfast!

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Approaching Denpasar (Bali)

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Final approach to Bali’s airport

Well, the hotel did deliver a super early check-in but the plan of record remained.  We grabbed breakfast at the plentiful buffet and then proceeded to go enjoy the pool and several Bintang beers for the next few hours (mind you, as we watched U.S. election results stream in into our smartphones!).  It was a great way to decompress from the journey, from work, etc. and connect with vacation mode!

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The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

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Refreshing!!

While the journey to Bali was long and tiring, thank God, there were zero hiccups (delays, lost luggage, etc.), and few or no bumps during the flights.  But the best part was the arrival and how it could not have been better set up for entering the R&R zone!  And had I known how great the two weeks would be, I most certainly would NOT have regretted a single hour of the 37 it took to get there!

A Trip around Southeast Asia Is Born

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This month I was able to spend two weeks on vacation traveling to Southeast Asia.  Clearly, two weeks far from enough time in an area as diverse and rich in experiences as Southeast Asia but if I waited until I had ALL the time it merits, I may never get started.  An opportunity arose a few months ago to travel there in November with a good friend, anchored on a wedding that was to take place in Bali.  I had not taken a real vacation this year yet so I had the needed time off from work to go do it.  It also happened to be a good moment at work to take the time off.  As I discussed the possibility with my friend, it became clear we had similar interests whether it be in the things to explore, the way to travel (hotels, flights, etc.), and what we were hoping to get out of a vacation like this (R and R!).

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This is the picture of R&R!!

As usual, I opened a map to envision all the possible destinations outside of Bali.  We opted to spend the bulk of the vacation in Bali since there were going to be pre- and post- wedding events but then the balance of the vacation had to be solved.  I figured that if I never got to go back, there were two places I had to see:  the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, and Bangkok (made famous by Murray Head with his one hit wonder in the 1980s!).  We ended up doing those and adding Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) and Singapore (our Asian entry/exit point in our travels) to the trip.  We were flying around a bit so Phnom Penh we chose because we could just take a car and avoid a plane; but then also seeing the infamous killing fields of Pol Pot and the Genocide Museum were a strong draw as we felt they were memorials that we had to see to grasp better Cambodia’s past.

Thanks to websites like TripAdvisor and Kayak, doing research and planning was not too hard (this is not a sponsored post, lol!).  The information in TripAdvisor was key in choosing hotels that fit what we were looking for (for example, a great property in Bali by the beach with a cool pool area).  Kayak I find easiest to use to compare and contrast not just airfares but routes – I had to solve the sequence of our destinations by ensuring I could find direct flights at the time of the day we wanted to leave or arrive at a given destination.  It all seems to have worked out well though at least one morning the departure was earlier than I really would have wanted – hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?

The itinerary:

  • Bali:  5 days
  • Bangkok:  2 nights, 1 day (a FULL day!)
  • Cambodia: 3 nights, 3 days
  • Singapore:  2 nights, 1 day, and a few hours overnight at the airport
  • Delta airplane seat:  tons of hours!

So, in the next few weeks, I will be writing about each of these destinations and my favorite things.  A lot may have been on-the-beaten-path but there was some off-the-beaten-path that was spectacular and I can’t wait to write about it!

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Swayambhunath – A Special Place in Kathmandu

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Kathmandu is an amazing city.  Colorful and busy.  Yet, somehow spirituality seems to permeate it.  Among the many places that back that impression is the Swayambhunath site – also just known as the monkey site.  I don’t know that it is technically a temple but it is certainly an important Buddhist religious site.  Claims about when it was first established range from the 6th century A.D. to the 3rd B.C.!  Let’s settle on “it’s old.”

Beauty everywhere

The site’s shrines and other structures dot the hillside and are packed at the hilltop.  I wish I had had a guide to make sure I understood the meaning of the different types of structures and figures sculpted in them.  Here is a glimpse of some of the sights on the site.Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung GalaxySwayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung GalaxySwayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

Prayer wheels

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The earthquake changed it

The many shrines and temple-like structures included more than you can see today.  Sadly, the earthquake of April 2015 knocked down one of the two towers, and severely damaged the other one and many other structures.  Yet, it seems many survived OK which is a blessing at such an important site.

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

The surviving tower

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The base of the collapsed tower

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Damage from the earthquake

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy, earthquake

Serious crack under the large stoupa with prayer wheels around it

Eye gotta stupa for you…

More impressive than anything else on the site is the stupa with the painted eyes on it.  They follow you around…  They are Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows…  It is said it is over 1,500 years old though it has been renovated many times in its long life.

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

The eyes on the golden tower in the stoupa

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

See? They are watching you…

Monkeys R Us

But, the way I heard of this place for the first time was because of the monkeys.  The many monkeys that reside on the place.  Big and small, they are everywhere.  Yet, much as they must be used to people, they were not climbing over folks.  They were very well-behaved!

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

Baby monkeys – a fertile place!

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

Curious monkeys

Getting to view Kathmandu from up high

The site is located on a tall hill that offers great views of Kathmandu.  The main approach is a rather long and steep set of steps on the east side of the hill.  LOOOONG! (365 steps to be more precise) But, unbeknownst to me, our driver was taking us to a point that maybe was 2/3 of the way around the back so our climb was not as severe.  Now, now, don’t be poking fun.  I had just spent 5 days hiking on the Everest Base Camp trail so saving steps was relief of sorts…

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

Sweeping view of Kathmandu – and a passing bird!

I must say that though at first visiting a place full of monkeys did not thrill me, the place’s charm and the faith it represents was captivating.   I enjoyed spending time there and would recommend taking the time to connect with this bit of Kathmandu!

 

 

 

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