Uppsala – Worth the Drive from Stockholm

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A long weekend in Stockholm sounded like fun.  And off I went last October with a college friend, John.  While Stockholm was the focus, I have always wanted to see something of ‘rural’ Sweden:  lakes, charming homes, and lots of green.  At least, that is how I envisioned it.  So, once in Sweden, I was eager to get on the road at least for a day of driving around.  As I looked at the map, Uppsala caught my eye:  I knew it was a university town AND it was approximately 1.5 hrs away from Stockholm so not a stretch for a day trip.

The streets of Uppsala

After veering west and exploring, the day ended in Uppsala.  It was getting dark but we got to walk around the pedestrian friendly town center where we saw the university grounds, the cathedral, and the shopping district.  Being fall made the streets by the main cathedral and university a lot more charming with all the fallen leaves.  It was beautiful.

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Around the commercial area

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Charming architecture

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Around the university

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Canal lined by yellowing trees

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Beautiful cobblestone street covered in leaves

Uppsala’s Cathedral

Erik the Holy -or Saint Erik-, patron saint of Sweden, is buried at the cathedral, the site where he was killed a long time ago (12th century if you want to know!).  The cathedral itself was finished in the 15th century and it claims to be the largest church building in the Nordic countries.

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The cathedral of Saint Erik

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Cathedral at night

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Saint Erik’s tomb

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We happened upon a recital rehearsal when we visited

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Drink, please!

We were a tad surprised that a university town did not have an obvious ‘bar scene.’  Perhaps tainted by the U.S. college town experience?  Probably.  But we were wondering where to go hang out and grab a bite to eat; a place with personality.

And an online app suggested what turned out to be the perfect spot:  the Churchill Arms gastropub.  We sat at the small bar where I ended up teaching the young bartender how to make a Manhattan.  Then the loungey chairs (just two of them) by the bar freed up and we decided to grab them instead of going to one of the regular tables in one of the wood-paneled eating rooms.  There, we could see everyone coming in and out.  I enjoyed some mussels (moules marinieres) in a white wine sauce – mmm!!

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Nice collection

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The bar

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My moules marinieres and French fries!

Once again, going off the beaten path proved rewarding.  If you ever go to Stockholm, hop over to quiet but charming Uppsala.  It was beautiful in the fall, I can only imagine how it would be in the summer and spring.  After dinner, we headed out back to Stockholm to wrap up a day of semi-aimless driving around and seeing what we came upon.  Another post will share more of what else we saw that day!

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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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).
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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!

 

Trees Take over a Temple: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

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Before my trip to Cambodia, I knew about Angkor Wat (of course!).  But, I did not know about Ta Prohm.  I had seen pictures of it but did not know that it was a specific temple close to Angkor Wat and, much less, its name or extent of the wonders it contains.  I did hear about it more concretely from someone who had been to Siem Reap before right before I got there so it got on the “itinerary” of the temples to visit while in Siem Reap.  It is hard to say that it is my favorite over Angkor Wat or Bayon.  In fact, it is hard to pick any of those over the others; each has something that feels unique enough to lift it in my “estimation.”

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Amazing place

Ta Prohm’s claim to fame, if you will, is how trees have taken over the ruins of this former temple complex from the 12th/13th century.  We are able to see this because the temple has been left in the same condition it was found (for the most part; some work has been done to stabilize structures, make it safe for visiting, and enabling access).  This uniqueness earned it a spot in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and rightly so!

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Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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The most famous trees growing through the structures are Tetrameles nudiflora, which is like a mouthful for a non-botanical person like me (so I had to look it up!).  They create surreal images – and surely, if the trees were cut, many of the structures would collapse!  These trees grow super tall and the roots look like the buttresses of pre-Renaissance European cathedrals and can be quite gigantic as one of my pictures shows.  Banyan trees can also be found.  These trees grow their roots downward from where the see landed (not directly on the ground but, say, on a tree or building) and they end up enveloping the “host” tree or structure, eventually seemingly strangling the host.Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan

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Yea, these trees are HUGE!

What to Know

  • It will be hot and humid as the day progresses so starting with sunrise is ideal though it makes for a short sleep night…
  • Visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and a couple of other smaller sites, starting at sunrise, took us until noon/1 PM at our speed of walking, stopping to take photos, etc.  That is quite a long day already considering hotel pick-up (for us anyway) was at 4:45 AM.
  • Bring water, snack and sunblock!

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Around Katarina Church in Stockholm

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While I like seeing the main sights of any city I visit, I also enjoy walking around aimlessly and seeing what I discover.  Katarina Church (Katarina Kyrka) in Stockholm (Södermalm) was one of those discoveries.  Perhaps if I had done my research ahead of time, the church and its neighborhood would have ended on a ‘must-see’ list.  But it was a lot neater to run into this neighborhood by sheer luck and wanderlust!

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Church as seen from Gamla Stan

Katarina Church

The church grounds were pretty in the fall colors and in the gray weather I experienced pretty much the entire weekend I was in Stockholm.Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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The church was undergoing renovations

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Cornelisparken – good views of Stockholm

I then walked off a side sidestreet on the opposite side of the square from where I had entered it, Mäster Mikaels gata, with quaint homes that ended with a park, Cornelisparken, that offered a great viewpoint that overlooked Gamla Stan and other parts of Stockholm.  I seemed to be on a roll discovering great spots with great views in Stockholm (another was from City Hall)!Mäster Mikaels gata, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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View towards Gamla Stan

This part of my longer walk was probably my favorite of the whole weekend and I think yielded some of my favorite photos from the trip!

 

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…

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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.

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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!)

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Here the library…

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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One of the inner courtyards

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Looking upwards from the terrace level

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First, a standing Buddha…

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… and then sitting Buddhas…

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… and finally, a reclining Buddha!

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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!

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

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Before my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I took advantage of a cheap airfare to spend a long weekend in Stockholm. I had been there a while back on a day stop from a cruise with my family. It was summer time and it allowed us to get a flavor of this city by walking around Old Town, visiting the Vasa Museum, and enjoying a nice lunch. Of course, Stockholm was charming and I hoped for a return visit someday. And that materialized when a college friend found the special fare and asked if I’d be game for a slightly mad short trip there. Having not used vacation time in the year, I thought “why the heck not!”

The plan for the trip was to just go with the flow. I had already seen key sights so that was good with me. Serendipity can yield interesting experiences!

One place I discovered on this trip was Stockholm’s City Hall. My hotel was maybe 2.5 kms / 30 mins’ walk away and we were making our way from our hotel in Kungsholmen towards Old Town. We ran into the the City Hall and wondered what it was. It faces the water with great views of Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Sodermalm across the water – excellent photo opp spot!

Here are some of the images of the building and the views from its unique spot in the city.  If you find yourself in Stockholm, go the extra distance outside of Gamla Stan to get to this spot!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Angkor Thom’s Main Temple: Bayon

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While Angkor Wat is the better known of all the temple complexes in Cambodia, there are others that are a must.  Bayon is one of those.  It is imposing and a veritable maze, making it fun to explore.  Bayon (built in the 12th-13th century period) sits in the middle of Angkor Thom which was the capital of the Khmer Empire back when (it is said between 80-150K people lived there at its peak back then).  Bayon was at the center of that capital city as its most important temple.  If you look at a map, the moat around Angkor Thom is much larger than the one around Angkor Wat.  (All these sites got “lost” in the early 1600s for a few centuries.)  Movies like Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider have had scenes shot at Angkor Thom.

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Bayon (Angkor Thom is the larger square around it) in relation to Angkor Wat

We approached Angkor Thom and had a great view of the wall around Angkor Thom and a bridge (or causeway) decorated on either side with sitting statues.  One drives through a gate that towers at the end of the bridge with each side of the tower carved with the face of a divinity.  I believe we went through the south gate.

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Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

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View across the causeway of the south gate

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Statues on the causeway

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The south gate

In any case, one approaches the main temple at Angkor Thom, Bayon, among a green field with palm trees.  Having first seen Angkor Wat with its dramatic towers and monumentality, Bayon felt a little less imposing yet so different it looked magnificent.

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Approaching Bayon – majestic!

From then we walked around different former hallways and around many towers and carvings.   It is said Bayon is more baroque while Angkor Wat is more classical Khmer style.  I am not an expert but certainly can tell that Bayon was much more loaded with carvings and more elaborate.  Bayon is certainly striking due to the many towers carved on four sides with faces of deities or other figures but it lacked the big open spaces within it that Angkor Wat had.

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Imposing

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The explorers look diminutive as our guide tried to capture it all

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Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Interesting things no matter where you look

As in many places, it is fun to watch other tourists engage with the site – and take their photo while they do so :)

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Strike a pose!

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, ilivetotravel

One of the many tourists :) (thanks, Phil I. for snapping this winner!)

While Angkor Wat is overall more imposing, Bayon is definitely different enough to warrant the time to explore it – hope you get to do so!

Sunset over Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

As I mentioned in an earlier post about arriving in and exploring Siem Reap, we had asked the hotel to organize a drive that took us out of the town and into the countryside.  The hotel arranged for a car to take us to see the the sun set over the Tonlé Sap lake.  That was a great suggestion.

I don’t know how long it took us to drive out far enough to the part of the lake that looked west.  Was it 45 minutes?  Can’t recall.  In any case, there were small boats on the lake, I assume for tourists but not sure.  However, we had a private car take us around because we just felt like taking it very easy.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, Tonle Sap, drive, countryside, Samsung Galaxy, S7, photo, travel, Asia, explore

Driving past the local market intown

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, Tonle Sap, drive, countryside, Samsung Galaxy, S7, photo, travel, Asia, explore

Beginning to leave the town

Having our own transport allowed us to go into areas that I would guess tourists do not visit – our driver did really well (I thought he had said his name was Seagull – we found out a little too late it was Sygold – lol).  Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, tuk tuk

A real tuk tuk: cart attached to motorcycle

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

We got to walk around the humble homes of folks who live by the lake which not only afforded us great opportunities for sunset photos but also to see more of local life, even if for too short an experience.Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, kids, soccer Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

And the combination of the setting sun with the lake, the vegetation, and the local homes certainly made for a beautiful sunset.

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

My poor attempt at a subtle photo of a family picnicking…

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7
Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

It was a great first day in Cambodia to see the sunset and a different reality than ours at home and even folks in the town of Siem Reap – if you have the chance to do this while visiting Angkor Wat, I recommend it!

What to Know

  • Going to the lake is pretty easy and does not take too long.
  • As it is sunset, when mosquitoes get more active, put on some bug spray; I have to say I did not feel mosquitoes and I forgot to put on bug spray but Cambodia has malaria risk so I was glad I was on anti-malarial.
  • Bring water.  And there were no nearby facilities that I could see – but plenty of bushes!
  • Be ready to kick a football/soccer ball if the opportunity arises!

 

Siem Reap – Cool Place in the Tropics

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The plans for my visit to Cambodia were anchored, as you may well imagine, in seeing world-famous Angkor Wat.  For that, we planned to spend 1.5 days and 2 nights in the town of Siem Reap which is just less than a few handful of miles from the historical sites.  There are many many more temples to go explore and one can certainly spend 2-3 days just focused on that.  I felt I was more on a sampler visit due to the overall travel plans (anchored on a wedding in Bali) and the limited time off work.

Paradise in Siem Reap

We arrived right in Siem Reap (very nice and modern small airport) from Bangkok after noon and headed to our hotel, the Borei Angkor Resort right in the town.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, landing, flight

Final approach (thanks to my bud Phil I. for the photo – he had the window seat!)

The hotel was a phenomenal spot as may be others.  The spaces were very open.  The pool was big enough and had a section with jets which were great after a lot of walking around the next day.  And it helped that I stayed at the Privilege Floor :)  (Disclosure:  No freebies, discounts, etc. were given to me for me to write about the place – I paid for it all myself and I write about it because I really enjoyed it.)

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Welcome!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The main lobby

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Looking up from the pool

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The pool…

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, pool, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Not the fanciest of photos but it sure takes me back there!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Looking out from the front lobby to the hotel entrance

The staff was super eager to help and no one more so than our hostess, Judy, who ensured all the logistics of our sightseeing and the hotel stay were in order (everything was perfect!).  We also enjoyed a server at the lounge who had a peculiar way of laughing and who called everyone “fabulous” though I could swear he called me “father” instead…  He definitely made the place very lively!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

With Judy, the hostess, and Chicago Phil

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

View of the town from the room at sunset

In any case, we had decided not to hit the temples that first afternoon for a couple of reasons:  one, it would be peak heat and ‘suffering’ wasn’t high on the list of priorities…; two, people had said it was best to hit the sites at sunrise and then stay on-site through the morning, when some or many tourists would return to their hotels for breakfasts and/or extra sleep.  (More on the visit to the temples in a future post.)  We quickly dropped our bags, changed and headed to lounge by the pool for some nice R&R with some Angkor Wat beer :)  I think I ordered a sandwich or a pizza poolside for lunch – scary that I can’t fully recall! (Phil, ayúdame!)

The local market in Siem Reap

We had planned to do a drive in the countryside later that first day – more about that in another post – but after that drive, as we were passing the local market, we decided to jump out and do a quick walk-around of the market and that area of the town.  I have to say it was definitely a chill place.  While there were certainly tourist-oriented market stands and eateries (goodness, there was even a Hard Rock Café – yikes…), the market also served locals and it was neat to just meander through it.

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Not the type of ‘meat market’ I’d hoped for :)

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

“Vienna Calling”, perhaps?

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

All sorts of goods from food & spices to textiles

Colorful town

The town felt lively and the colorful lighting on the bridges certainly contributed.  Overall, I felt very safe and maybe I should have explored more and sat down somewhere to watch life go by.  But I don’t always enjoy full clarity every moment of every trip – in hindsight!  No worries, I still can say it was a neat place.

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town – market on the left

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town –  maybe I should do that to the bridge in my backyard…

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town – the fast lane!

What to Know

  • The town is very walkable and felt safe.
  • There are good eateries around the market – get a good recommendation from a trusted source, be it your hotel or an online review!
  • If you are looking for souvenirs, what you find in the market will be the same touristy stuff you will find elsewhere in the country – and at a slightly higher price since it is, after all, a very tourist-centric town.

 

A Quick Bike Tour of the Thai Countryside

Bike tour, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure

One of my friends mentioned how in her time in Bangkok, she enjoyed bike rides in the countryside.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she also recommended visiting the unique railroad market by the Mae Klong rail station, about 1.5 hrs. outside of Bangkok.  My friend and fellow traveler Phil and I agreed that it sounded like a great idea so I contacted the individual that had taken her to both places and arranged for the bike tour as well.  We did not have a full day to spare so, unfortunately, the bike ride would only be about 2 hours.  Nevertheless, it would allow us to see something much different than the city so we felt it was still going to be worth it.

After visiting the railroad market to see the 9AM train go by (we almost missed it!), we headed towards the Amphawa Floating Market (which, unfortunately, was closed that day) to begin our bike ride.  Amphawa, floating market, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure, photoAmphawa, floating market, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure, photo

It had been a couple of years since my last bike ride (a bike tour in Buenos Aires that went flawlessly) so it took me some pedaling to re-learn balance and I had a couple of mishaps early on due to that (one of those more painful than the other…).  I found my biking groove and, combined with fairly easy terrain, went forward with the bike tour for the next 1.5 hrs or so with no further issue.

Bangkok, Thailand, river, Mae Klong, bike tour, travel, adventure

Awaiting the river crossing with our guide (photo courtesy of fellow traveler Phil I.)

Bangkok, Thailand, river, Mae Klong, bike tour, travel, adventure

About to cross the river on this beauty

Riding by farms and plantations

Bike tour, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure

Our guide in the lead, followed by me (photo courtesy of Phil I.)

Bike tour, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure

Passing a bunch of empty coconut shells at one of the farms  (photo courtesy of Phil I.)

Bike tour, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure

Beautiful water (topped by some algae?) at one of the banana plantations

Bike tour, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, adventure

Love the shadow of a banana plant on the surface of the water

Bang Kung Camp

We made a stop at the Bang Kung camp which is a former navy camp from wars past (with Burma, I believe) dating from the late 1700s.  The camp has statues depicting the fight training the soldiers went through.  The camp also had a temple that was overcome with vegetation as the camp was abandoned for a couple of hundred of years (but is now open for the faithful – and bike-tourists!).

Bangkok, Mae Klong, railroad market, Bang Kung, Amphawa, bike tour, thailand, travel, adventure

Map showing the market, the floating market and the camp

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

Outside of the temple; and our guide Andy and I taking a break (photo courtesy of Phil I.)

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

In front of the temple

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

In front of the temple

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

Inside the temple

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

Training for a fight!

Bang Kung camp, Bangkok, Thailand, bike tour

I had to blow up one of the photos because one of the fighters looked life-like…

Bang Kung, camp, navy, Thailand, Bangkok, temple, Buddha, travel, explore, bike tour

Statue honoring an important leader of the war with Burma

Along the way, a church

We pedaled mainly either on well-paved roads or minor side roads along coconut farms and banana plantations.  It was all very serene and it was a very enjoyable, pleasant bike ride.  Along the way we passed a Catholic church, not quite labeled that way, it was called Our Lady of Help Christion (sic) Church.  It looked closed so we did not go in.  I have to say it felt out of place but it was also cool to see!Our Lady Help, Mae Klong, church, Catholic ,Bangkok, Thailand

Our Lady Help, Mae Klong, church, Catholic ,Bangkok, Thailand

In front of the church with my fellow adventurer and much better cyclist

Lunch time!

The ride ended with a late lunch in a small restaurant perched on the river bank of the Mae Klong River, upstream from where we had started.  And just as we got there, it started to pour!  It was perfect timing, great food, and a cool setting to rest from the busy morning while enjoying more of the delicious Thai food (see my post on food in Bangkok!)

Mae Klong, river, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, bike tour

View of the Mae Klong River from the restaurant

Mae Klong, river, Bangkok, Thailand, travel, explore, bike tour

View of the Mae Klong River from the restaurant

food, foodie, Thai, cuisine, travel, explore, eat, Bangkok, bike tour

Shrimp tempura and chicken curry – delicious

The bike tour was a phenomenal idea and a good change of tempo, especially as it got us out of the hustling, bustling city to see a beautiful countryside and breathe some fresh air – I need to be sure I always look for options like this in future travels!

What to Know

  • We hired Grasshopper Adventures for the bike tour (fully paid by us, no freebies given for me to mention them).
  • Wear your helmet.  You are in the developing world and, should an accident happen (like it happened to me!), it is better to be safe than sorry when you may or may not get access to the medical care you are used to.
  • While it is hot and humid, it was very pleasant while on the bike.
  • You can do a short bike ride like we did or a day-long one.

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Bangkok – A City of Amazing Food!

Bangkok, Thailand, food, pad thai, travel, foodie, explore, photo

Thailand is well-known for its diverse cuisine and great flavors.  One does not have to have been to Thailand to know this or to experience the greatness of the cuisine.  Enjoying the food was certainly one of the things I planned to do in my short visit to Thailand a few weeks ago.  With guidance from a local we found two neat spots in Bangkok where we greatly enjoyed the food as well as just going to places where the locals also dined.

Tuk tuk fun

Of course, getting there is half the fun so we took our first tuk tuk that night.  It was a crammed space (there were three of us).  Since the driver wove in and out of traffic (fairly safely), the time to get to places was not as much as if we had taken a cab.  A tuk tuk is definitely the way to go unless a little exhaust from cars around you bother you (in which case, you need a car so you can close the windows…).

Bangkok, tuk tuk, Thailand, exploring, travel, adventure, photo

Fun and colorful rides

Bangkok, tuk tuk, Thailand, exploring, travel, adventure, photo

Of course, a selfie was required

Phenomenal seafood in Chinatown

The first spot was a seafood place in Bangkok’s Chinatown, named Lek and Rut Seafood.  We liked it so much we went back to it the next night! Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo

Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo

Corner in which Lek & Rut is located

The menu was quite extensive, the food was served quickly AND it was superb.  That and a big bottle of beer (or two) (or three) and we were in business.

Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo Bangkok, Thailand, street, food, seafood, travel, explore, photo

Getting pad Thai’d !

Our second stop that first night was a place known for its pad Thai – Thipsamai on Maha Chai Rd..  Basically, one moves in line past the cooking station set out on the sidewalk itself until one gets to the front of the line when a table opens up.  Until 7PM, the only tables available are inside (a small space) and in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk.  We got there right before 7PM and the line was long!  I figured we’d be there forever.  All of a sudden, the line sorts of clears and we are being walked to a table!  Basically, at 7PM they can set out tables in front of neighboring storefronts, greatly expanding seating capacity.

Bangkok, Thailand, food, pad thai, travel, foodie, explore, photo

The extra seating area

Bangkok, Thailand, food, pad thai, travel, foodie, explore, photo

One of the food prep areas

Bangkok, Thailand, food, pad thai, travel, foodie, explore, photo

Waiting for the pad Thai (thanks, Phil I. for the photo!)

It is fascinating to watch the guys cook the pad Thai right there.  They are masters!  (Check out the video to see them in motion.)

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An army of cooks!

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Video courtesy of my fellow traveler Phil I. who wanted credit :)  Gracias!

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Pad Thai – the final product!

What to Know

  • Street food is said to be very safe in Bangkok.  We did not hold back and we were OK.  Not promising you will have the same outcome but I felt comfortable.
  • Chinatown is worth exploring and sitting down somewhere.  But there are likely many places in town to explore.  We barely scratched the surface as our stay was too short.
  • Tuk tuks are a cheap and probably faster way to move around town.  As long as you are OK with some exhaust around you (it wasn’t horrible but it may make a difference).  I found the tuk tuk more fun than a regular taxi (though taxis with A/C are not a bad thing!).
  • Thai food goes very well with a nice cold beer!

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A Unique Railroad Market in Thailand

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

As I was researching all that there was to do in Bangkok so I could narrow down the options to fit our time there, a friend who had spent a few weeks in Bangkok recently gave me an excellent pair of recommendations on what to do off-the-beaten path.  Liz, my friend, suggested that she put me in touch with a local guide that had taken her outside of Bangkok for a day trip exploring the countryside and a peculiar market.  We did not have a whole day to spare so I asked the local guide, Al, if it were possible to shrink the trip to half a day.  Thankfully, it was doable despite the 1.5 hr ride each from and to the city.  My fellow traveler, Phil, also thought it would be cool to get out of the city so I confirmed with Al that it was a go.

Both of Liz’ recommendations would take us to the Samut Songkhram province, just about southwest of Bangkok towards the sea.  And the first of the two items on the agenda was to see the unique railroad market there by the Maeklong train station.  We had to be there by a certain time to catch the train passing through the market but it looked like we were going to miss it by like 5-10 minutes; I was bummed but was accepting that it was just going to have to be this way.  But, we got lucky!  The train actually passed through like 5-10 minutes AFTER we arrived at the market.

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, vegetables

The Maeklong train station at the end of the market

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, vegetables

The railroad tracks

Space is at a premium in this market and, as you can see in the pictures, the goods spill over just about to the railroad tracks.  Shoppers -and tourists- walk within the railroad tracks to cross the market.  The market in this part is a food market:  vegetables, fruit, chicken, fish, crabs, etc. abound – and all look pretty darn fresh.

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, vegetables

Keep at eye out on the baskets on the right when you watch the video below

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, chicken

Lots of chicken

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, crab, seafood

Fresh crab

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, squid, seafood

Fresh squid

Announcements are made over loudspeakers (in Thai) to warn folks ahead of time that the train is approaching.  I was wondering how these folks would clear out quickly; they barely seemed to be moving or noticing that the train was coming except for the folks closing the canopies that provide shade to the market.  A couple of items on the ground were moved but most stayed put.  I was unclear how well the train would clear the goods, especially the two baskets left between the tracks (you can see what happened in the video clip).

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

Clearing the way for the train!

Then the train came.  It was crawling as it crossed the market which made sense given the tight quarters around it (also, unbeknownst to me, the train station was at the far end of the market).

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

The train goes through the market

The slow speed allowed us to enjoy the moment.  As soon as the train passed, canopies were opened again and things returned to normal!   It was fascinating to see this place – here is a very amateur video showing the scene:

Bangkok, railroad market, Thailand, Mae Klong, travel, photo, train, market

Yep, it came that close! (Photo courtesy of my fellow traveler Phil I. – I crouched low taking video, he stayed standing for photos!)

What to Know

  • The train does not come through all the time.  We aimed for the 9AM passing of the train; the next train that day was to be sometime around 11AM.  I did not have to look up the timetable as we were being taken to see it but be sure you know that day when it will come through.
  • I would have, with more time, walked around more outside of the part of the market on the tracks.  The area looked interesting.
  • If you plan well, combine doing the railroad market with visiting the Amphawa floating market which only opens certain days of the week.  It is one of the more famous floating markets near Bangkok and, from everything I heard, well worth the visit.  Unfortunately, we only had a full day to go see the railroad market and it happened to be on a day when the floating market was closed.

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