Visiting legendary UNESCO world heritage temple Angkor Wat

As the world’s largest religious monument Angkor Wat is an architectural masterpiece from the Khmer period.

Disputed Preah Vihear Ruins on the Thai-Cambodian Border

Cambodia, the 27th of January 2020

Inside the Preah Vihear temple ruins.

A three hour long road trip with our local guide Oeum Rida through the Cambodian „outback“ brought us all the way to the northernmost part of the country to the Preah Vihear temple. Located at the natural border of Thailand and Cambodia atop the Dangrek mountain range, these Khmer ruins are still highly disputed by both Thai and Cambodian government. While it is only accessible from the Cambodian side as of 2015, the original entry into the temple used to be in Thailand. Despite an official ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the temple is located on Cambodian territory both parties continue to lay claim to the temple. After many years of refusal to accept the ruling, the Thai soldiers finally retreated, but the national flag of Thailand that had been flying over the temple was never taken down. Instead, Thai solders rather dug up the whole pole with the Thai flag still raised and relocated it to the nearby Pha Mor E Daeng cliff where it can still be seen today. In the background of the picture above you can see the tiny Thai flag flying over the neighboring mountain. Furthermore, until today the province of Preah Vihear is among the most most heavily mined areas in all of Cambodia and still bears legacy to the Khmer Rouge regime which fell as late as 1998.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There appeared to be unusually many soldiers stationed at and around the Preah Vihear site compared to the other temples we have seen. We never felt threatened by them personally but it was clear that this area was still under some kind of armed conflict. We had to book a jeep escort to drive us up the hill, for one because the road that was build after the original entrance from the Thai side was closed was VERY steep and only a heavy duty four-wheel drive type of car could climb up the road. For another it seemed that the military also had a hand in limiting and controlling the number of visitors coming to the temple and thus provided the vehicle to go up the mountain.

Since 2008 the temple of Preah Vihear is listed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. Among all the Khmer temples we visited during our four day tour of the Siem Riep area, Preah Vihear in the far north is still the most spectacular one. While all the ancient temple ruins are quite unique and showcase their own piece of history, the location of the Preah Vihear temple alone is a stand alone feature that makes it an unforgettable place to have visited.

One of the gopura courtyards blocking the view through the temple complex. There is no one place in this temple that allows visitors to see through the whole building.

The architecture of the 800m long Preah Vihear temple is modeled after the home of the gods, the Mount Meru and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Construction started at around the 9th or 10th century and continued throughout the reign of various Khmer kings. Five pavilions, called gopuras, each of them reached by a flight of stairs to increase their impact lead up to the final sanctuary at the southern most end of the temple complex. Different from temples we visited in Thailand, where windows have been strategically arranged to allow the sun to shine through the whole temple, the courtyards of the five gopuras have been build to obstruct the view of the next part of the Preah Vihear.

Lichen covered many of the walls and floor of the ancient temple ruins and while some parts of the structure remained in a fairly good condition, other areas where reduced to little more than a pile of rubble. Slowly strolling through the different areas of the temple I felt quite humbled by these Ancient remnants of Khmer culture. When we reached the central sanctuary and got an unobstructed view of Cambodia‘s northern plains it was already late in the afternoon. The sun had not yet set but the clouds were already illuminated by the low light and glowed above the barren land. If you have the chance and the time to come and visit this place I can only highly recommend it! Except to pay around 150-180 US dollars for a round trip by car with a local driver, plus 10 US dollar each for entrance fees and an additional 25 US dollars for the shuttle Jeep up the mountain. It is definitely worth it.

 

Ximen Rainbow Crosswalk in Taipei

Taipei, 05.10.2019


It’s been already a few month since we traveled to Taiwan but I still think back on this trip often. There were so many moments where we simply got lucky – like with this photo of the popular Ximen rainbow crosswalk which usually attracts way too many other tourists to get a good picture of. We accidentally walked past it on our way to another sight and found it almost deserted. The taxi that is turning right in the background parked on the crosswalk only moments before and drove off as we wanted to take a photo.

Shibuya Baby

One of the busiest intersections in the world is the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. When you are right in the middle of it you don’t really feel it, but especially during rush hour – like during lunch break or after work – and you stand to the side and wait, thousands of people cross this intersections at once. It’s either cars or people, when one group moves the other has to wait. Pedestrians cross from all directions, you can walk the streets diagonally during your turn together with this crazy flood of people going their ways. It’s the perfect place to feel the power of sonder.

Chinese New Year escape to Indonesia

Indonesia, 29.01.2019 – 09.02.2019


Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 1.07.04 PM

2018 has passed in a rush and the lunar new year provided us with a whole week of (extra) holidays yet again. Every year we contemplate to just stay in Beijing and boycott the exorbitantly high prices airlines and hotels charge for travels on these Chinese holidays, and every year we remember that first year we did stay in the city and had virtually nothing to do. Close to no one is originally from Beijing and people living and working here return to their hometowns or provinces to spend time with their families. It’s the equivalent to “Western” Christmas. During this time, even in a city as huge as Beijing it becomes hard to find an open convenient store to shop for food, and restaurants and delivery shops all over China close their doors and kitchens to participate in the world’s largest human migration. Over the last three years, we got very used to the conveniences of ordering breakfast, lunch, and diner online, and when these services come to a halt we struggle to feed ourselves. So staying in Beijing wasn’t our first choice.

Much like Christmas, the imminent arrival of Chinese new year surprises us every year and we have to hurry to find the last affordable travel destinations. This year, that turned out to be Indonesia. Ultimately, the goal was to spend at least some days at a beach enjoying the sun so as to escape the dreadfully cold Beijing winter. Direct flights were out of budget with prices spiked to three to four times the normal costs. Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, offers domestic flights to their islands at acceptable rates, and since we have neither been to the big durian nor Bali, we mentally prepared ourselves for the long journey to our island escape.


Early into our research into Indonesia as a travel destination it became pretty clear that its capital is a buzzing melting pot of millions of people that promises almost everything except relaxation. Impossible numbers of scooters squeeze through its narrow one way streets, shopping malls dominate the surprisingly short list of sights and to do’s, and apart from some of the largest mosques in all of Indonesia, Jakarta seemed to have little cultural appeal.


Our preferred way to discover any new place is either by scooter or on foot, but neither seemed very feasible in Jakarta. Having bought an Indonesia SIM card we were able to install Grab instead, which is the Asian equivalent to ride-hailing services such as UBER in the US or DiDi in China. The difference with Grab is that you can also order a scooter to pick you up. I would guess that at least 25 percent of the scooters on Jakarta’s streets were available for hire in that way. You can identify them by their Grab branded jackets or helmets, which they offer their passengers to wear so everyone is constantly exposed to their advertisement. A scooter can only take one person at a time, though, and so we used the app to get a cab to the Northern districts of former Dutch occupation.


The side streets around our hotel were a little easier to navigate and we discovered a few very interesting food courts. On our second (and last) day there we came across a man selling Rambutan from a cart he pulled behind him, and when we took a coffee break later that morning we also had a sweet local snack to go with it.


Not long after settling down in the coffee shop we received an e-mail notifying us that our domestic flight to Bali will be delayed. We called the airline and they suggested that we might want to come to the airport earlier and try our chances to board an earlier flight. We weren’t convinced that would work, but lacking better alternatives we found a pastry store en route to the airport, packed our stuff, ordered a cab, and made our way through Jakarta’s stuffed streets. Why a pastry store? Apparently Indonesia has some of Asia’s best deserts, and after our coffee and Rambutan snack a perfect ending to this day would have been a Martabak Manis. Now get this: cars with certain license plates are only allowed to drive on designated streets and districts. Our cab had one that led him to take the most unlikely side-streets and detours forcing us to abandon our desert plans and get to the airport directly instead. The evening before we also took a car home and we were convinced that the driver has never navigated through the streets of Jakarta before. Both drivers completely ignored their navigation system and instead took any street that they were allowed to take. You wouldn’t believe the detours we made. A distance of four kilometers took us more than two hours (no kidding!). Every once in a while a person would stand in the middle of a random intersection and act as a sort of traffic police man, accepting small amounts of cash money from drivers he granted preferential crossing. That didn’t help to speed up our journey to the airport. We did arrive eventually and even managed to change flights to one that would depart earlier. Or so we thought. The new flight was already delayed an hour and initially we couldn’t believe our luck in having reached the gate in time to go to Bali earlier. Until we realized that all the passengers there were told that the plane will depart in the next thirty minutes – over and over again. Although we rushed to the boarding zone we spend the next three hours waiting until we eventually were able to depart. My guess is that this domestic budget line “collected” passengers from all the flights scheduled on that afternoon in order to save gasoline on four under-booked planes to fill just one.


All in all, it was still a good idea to go to Jakarta first and experience this quite unique metropolis for ourselves. As the second largest conurbation worldwide, visitors are acutely aware of the close to 30 million people who live in the area, which makes Beijing appear surprisingly structured. It’s an interesting stopover for one or maximum two days, but I wouldn’t make Jakarta my main destination of travel. With images of soft white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets already filling our minds, we were now on our way to Bali anyways!

Traveling through Yunnan – First Leg: Lijiang

May Day Holidays, 28th – 30th of April, 2018


The May Day holidays were spent traveling through Yunnan province! Its a beautiful place with very friendly people, delicious food, and incredible sights to visit. Just sitting in one of the rooftop cafes and enjoying the view of the city is a great start into our travels. The weather was cooler than expected, even though we knew that we were traveling in somewhat higher altitudes than usual.

Its not only available in Yunnan, but breakfast every morning consisted of Xiaolongbao, local bread, and a bowl of Doujiang, which is a sort of Tofu drink. In the background is the oldtown of Lijiang, a UNESCO protected part of the city famous for its cobble stone streets and traditional buildings.

Streets like these are a typical sight in Lijiang, with narrow stone paths winding through rows of old traditional Chinese houses. Many of them are used as hostels now, but it is easy to imagine how people used to live here in the old days.

A well-known feature of Lijiang are the small water ways running through the whole city. In former times these were used to channel water to every part of the city, and today especially the older generation still uses it to wash vegetables.

During the day there are still a lot of quite places to enjoy the architecture and serenity of this ancient town, but come nighttime many of the shops turn into booming tourist bars with loud blaring music and bright disco lights. A lot of local tourists seem to enjoy this as well, we preferred to the quite Lijiang, though.

Exploring Beijing’s White Cloud Temple

Sunday, 26th of November, 2017


Apart from the many well-known tourist attractions Beijing has on offer there is a surprisingly large number of remarkable sights that draw a lot less attention to themselves. Beijing Bai Yun Guan is honored as the chief temple of the Three Ancestral Temples of the Quan Zhen Taoist tradition. Originally called Temple of Eternal Heaven, it was built in 741 A.D. under Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty. In the Song dynasty it was renamed Tai Ji Gong. At the beginning of the Yuan dynasty, Master Qiu Chang Chun was appointed to this temple by Genghis Khan to preside over Taoism in China, upon which it was renamed Temple of Eternal Spring. After Qiu Chang Chun’s death, Chu Shun Tang was built to enshrine his physical remains, a hall located east of the Chang Chun Gong. In the early Ming Dynasty, the temple was ruined by war. Since only Chu Shun Tang remained it became the center of rebuilding and the temple was renamed White Cloud Temple. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the temple has undergone three extensive renovations with support from the Chinese government and so the traditional magnificence of this time-honored temple had been revitalized. At present the temple buildings cover an area of approximately 10.000 square meters, including nineteen deity halls carefully aligned along three north-south axes, with a rear garden, the overall area of the temple is about 60.000 square meters. Listed as a historic site under the protection of the Chinese government in 2001, it houses the offices of the Chinese Taoist Association, The Institute of Chinese Taoist Culture, the Chinese Taoist College and the Editorial Department of the Journal of Chinese Taoism.