Chiang Mai and Koh Yao Yai

The sunset caught the all gold at Wat Chedi Luang beautifully.
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Chedi Luang.

Chiang Mai is well known as the city to visit in Thailand if one is looking for traditional crafts and the more ethical elephant sanctuaries. Like everywhere that has a large tourist industry, it has undoubtedly changed over the years to better accommodate the demands of travellers, it is impossible to go for a walk without spotting a hostel. Despite this, the city appears to maintain a precarious balance between the tourist and the local, selling local crafts to customers wanting that authentic piece of Thailand to take home with them. There is room for everyone to profit selling the genuine to the less genuine that looks just as good for half the price.

The complex at Wat Chedi Luang was beautiful. Something that created some confusion researching temples in Chiang Mai was that every source spells the names differently.
The sunset catching Wat Chedi Luang.

Night markets are saturated with goods demanding the attention of tourists and I can’t help but wonder how anyone makes a profit selling the same scarves and clothes as every other stall. By day the temples charge tourists for entry while worshipers can enter for free, an excellent scheme that helps to maintain the temples. The only issue being that “tourist” is often based on skin colour, an understandable method but it did raise a few eyebrows as bus loads of Chinese tourists walked in for free.

After arriving Chiang Mai, we headed straight out to the Saturday night market. The Chiang Mai night markets are the biggest I’ve ever visited and definitely have the most variety.
The Three Kings took us a while to find so we took a break until we realised we were sitting opposite them with only a tree shielding our view.

In addition to temples and night markets my mother and I visited San Kamphaeng Road. This road is the location of many local craft shops and at several miles long we carefully picked a few destinations within walking distanace to visit in advance. These were Baan Celadon pottery shop where we looked around the factory where celadon pottery was being made, the intricacy of the patterns painstakingly painted and carved was astounding; the Thai Silk Village which I talked about in a separate post; two silver factories, one more questionable than the other; and a lacquerware factory that was fascinating.

The front of the temple at Wat Phra Singh.
Scaffolding – the bane of every tourist. This is the Phrathatluang Chedi at Wat Phra Singh.

Something that we found a little disconcerting was how in many of the shops and factories, we were closely followed by a member of staff, ready to help at any moment. While I presume it is normal practice in Thailand, for us, who are not used to it, it came across as somewhat stifling and just made us want to leave instead of taking the time to properly enjoy looking around. The only place we were followed and it didn’t feel suffocating was the lacquerware factory, Lai Thong. We were greeted at the door to the factory and given an excellent demonstration of the lacquer making and decorating techniques before being shown into the store. Once there, while attended, we were given enough space to look at items and the members of staff were helpful but managed not to make it feel too much like we had to buy anything.

This is the interior of Warorot Market, full of dried spices and fruit. We also got some lovely fabric at a nearby shop.
We ended up in Wat Phan Tao by mistake while looking for Wat Chedi Luang. I’m glad we did as it was a nice break from all the gold.

We finished up our stay in Thailand at a resort on Koh Yao Yai island near Phuket. This was a nice break and I spent most the time revising and doing assignments but at least I had a good view while doing it and the breakfast allowed me to indulge in my pancake obsession and ongoing pancake photo war with my father.

This set of pancakes were devoured in Chiang Mai and I have no regrets.
Revising hard on Koh Yao Yai
At least revising is easier when this is the view.

Museums and Temples in Taipei

After a lateish breakfast I set off northwards towards the Confucius temple. This was really well laid out (plenty of English) and explained the basic concepts of Confucius’ teachings as well as having amazingly intricate detailing within the architecture. The temples here seem so lavish after the relative simplicity and refined grace of the Japanese shrines. The differing architectural styles have put a new wind into my sails, otherwise I think I might be fully templed out by this point in my holiday.

Emerging from the temple, I found myself caught in a large procession, all wearing matching yellow and purple hats and following a dragon towards Baoan Temple. I have absolutely no clue what the event was and couldn’t find it anywhere online when I returned to the hostel, but it was fun to watch, even with the increasingly heavy rain.

I wanted to visit Taipei Fine Arts Museum but on arriving found that it is currently closed for renovation. Unwilling to have walked through the rain for nothing, I visited the Story House next to the museum.

Built in 1913 by a tea merchant, this quaint little Tudor-style house seems extremely out of place halfway around the world from England. Inside there was an array of different Chinese woodworking plains, which as a crafting and handiwork enthusiast I couldn’t help but admire. There were a couple of lovely art pieces made from the wood shavings and I really enjoyed looking around.

With the rain only worsening, I headed to the National Palace Museum via Cixian Temple. I ended up spending the entire afternoon here, my imagination captivate by lustrous paintings and intricate carvings. My favourite exhibit was one of the temporary ones named Story of a Brand Name and was succcinctly summed up as “The Collection and Packaging Aesthetics of the Qing Emperor Qianlong”. This brevity does not do justice to the exquisite attention to detail that Qianlong afforded his collection. In the creation of unique cases and boxes for each item, new pieces of artwork were born. Small display boxes were carefully constructed to house jade marvels, each shelf specifically shaped for each piece. All in all, a trove of beauty and the part of me that strives to create order in all things was most pleased.

A close second in terms of favourites was some of the intricately carved jade and gemstone artefacts. There were also a number of ivory pieces that were stunningly carved, including fourteen balls all contained within one another and carved from a single elephant tusk. While these displays of ivory were undeniably amazing, the killing of elephant and rhinos is much less so and I was most pleased to see the following sign:

A visit to the Shilin Night Market concluded the day and left me pleasantly full with delicious street food.

Last Day in Kyoto

Today was a relaxed affair. I briefly visited Tofukuji Temple and Toji Temple to stroll around their respective gardens before wrapping up my sightseeing in Kyoto by visiting the Jonangu Shrine. The gardens of all three were lovely, with my favourite being those of Jonangu Shrine. Instead of going into detail about each of the gardens (there are only so many adjectives one can use to describe gardens and after four days my creativity has run dry) I’m just going to leave a little montage of photos.

Tomorrow I travel down to Tanabe from where I will set out to walk part of the Kumano Kodo. This set of UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage routes is a really beautiful part of Japan and hopefully it will be a nice chance for me to recharge my introverted batteries before continuing with the rest of my trip. I am excited to be visiting the three Kumano shrines over the New Year when there are bound to be lots worshipers doing Hatsumode, the first Shinto shrine visit of the year. Since walking isn’t the most interesting thing to write about, I will most likely leave off covering my journey on a daily basis and instead sum up my entire Kumano Kodo experience in one or two posts after the fact. So, ta ta for now and I’ll see you in the New Year, may it be a pleasant and joyful one for all.

Walking Kyoto

As a tourist it is easy to jump on and off buses or trains, only every seeing the “must sees” and never stopping to look at anything else. To try and combat this, today I decided to walk between the temples and shrines that I planned to visit. This proved to one of my better ideas and, other than the gardens at Ginkakuji Temple, provided the best scenery of the day.

I started by looking around the gardens of the Heian-jingu Shrine. Sadly, while the gardens had the potential to be really beautiful, I felt that winter definitely wasn’t the intended viewing period. There were a lot of bare trellises and empty spaces that were waiting for spring so they could be clothed in greenery once more. This isn’t to say the whole garden was a dissappointment, I felt childish glee crossing the pond via stepping stones and the second half felt a little more winter orientated with a larger selection of evergreens.

From Heian-jingu I past a few minor shrines and temples and walked through a graveyard as I headed in the direction of Ginkakuji Temple. I ended up ambling next to a quaint little stream which was boarded with picturesque houses and shops. Part way along, I came across a little studio that offered the opportunity to try using a potters’ wheel and had a promising amount of English signage. Deciding this would be the perfect souvenir, I attempted to spin a (somewhat wobbly looking) bowl, which will be fired and sent back to Guernsey in due course.

After this little aside, I continued on to my original destination, speeding up towards the end so as to avoid a tour group that had just offloaded from a bus. Unlike the crush of people at the Golden Pavilion, Ginkakuji Temple had a steady flow of people that didn’t get congested around singular points. This immediately won it a few brownie points in my book and then the exquisite landscaping did the rest.

There is very little grass within most of the temples, instead moss covers the grounds and here was no exception. There was a multitude of mosses from emerald to forest green, all creating a lush carpet. The large number of evergreens kept the garden feeling alive and created a mystical air. I was extremely impressed with the attention to detail, from the veined stones used in the pathway to the bamboo grids used to discreetly hide the metal gratings of drains, no step was too far to ensure visitors felt fully immersed in nature.

I next looked around the Shimogamo-jinja Shrine, where tents and awnings were being pitched in preparation for New Years celebrations. The surrounding woodland was very scenic, though I will admit to feeling a little superstitious when a murder of crows started cawing at me.

I wrapped up the day with some rather bland yakitori skewers in the Gion district. I think in the future I shall have to avoid the “recommended for overseas visitors” option on menus.

Shrines and Cable Cars in the Snow

The first thing I realised this morning is that everywhere closes on Monday. And I mean everywhere. Or at least everywhere that I wanted to visit. Hence, Deoksugung Palace, the Seodaemun Prison History Hall and Changyeonggung Palace have all been delegated to the future. After over an hour of trawling guide book, map and internet to figure out what was open I set out, revelling in the falling snow.

I walked to Jogyesa Temple via the Bosingak Belfry. The Belfry houses a bell that used to be rung 33 times in the morning to signal the opening of the city gates and then 24 times in the evening to signal their closing. I could not see the bell but there was a wall in the nearby station that explains its full history. The Jogyesa Temple is the centre of Buddhism in South Korea, and was a beautiful splash of colour in the snow. It was extremely restful to walk around and warm myself by the outdoor heaters as I listened to the melodic chants of worship.

I wound my way through snow clad streets, admiring the many hanok style buildings as I left the busiest roads behind on my walk to the Jongmyo Shrine. Arriving at the gates, I was alarmed to see a large number of people milling outside the gate but no one entering. Had perhaps the opening times online been wrong? Or was it closed because of the snow? Heart sinking, I walked closer until I saw a board bearing a list of languages, and a separate time for each. Somehow in all my reading I had missed that entrance to the Shrine was by tour only. This is done to preserve the UNESCO world heritage site. By some wondrous miracle, the next English tour was only two minutes away and within no time I had entered the breath taking shrine. I expect that it is normally picturesque, but the snow laden trees and rooftops were straight from a wintery postcard, if not better.

The shrine was built to house the spirit tablets of the Joseon kings, their queens and some of their most devoted government officials. The central stone path to the main shrine, Jeongjeon, is comprised of three lanes, the two outer lanes are for the king and crown prince, while the centre one is for the spirits to make their way along. The shrines are undoubtedly impressive and just a little imposing but I must confess it is the surrounding woodland that captivates me the most. In Guernsey the world stops at the sight of a single snowflake, but here in Seoul life continues as normal, it is only among this forest that the snow lies untouched and winter reigns.

The bark of the juniper tree is used to make an aromatic incense used in the ancestor summoning rituals held at the shrine every year. The circular island represents heaven while the square pond is Earth.

With the tour over I head to Namsan Park and take the cable car up to Seoul Tower. This is a pleasant way to spend some of the afternoon, just meandering the various attractions, although there were a lot of “coming soon” signs. I particularly liked the Ssentoy Museum which had a large selection of Marvel figurines, models and dioramas. The view from the observation deck of the tower was rather limited but I did get a lovely aerial view of some of Namsan Park and the section of the old city wall that runs through it.

Deciding the to relax for the remainder of the afternoon I head back the to hostel, stopping at an underground shopping centre to browse a some pretty shoes and handbags.

Buddhas and the Market

Today dawned bright and late. After yesterday’s hike, I decided to have a more relaxed day, with considerably less walking. So after a leisurely breakfast I naturally headed to the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple north of Kowloon. While the train ride was relaxing, the 431 steps up to the temple were slightly less so. Fortunately, the marvellous golden Buddha statues that lined the path cheered me on with the promise of beautiful views and level ground when I reached the top.

Despite my visit coinciding with a group of school children who were all trying to complete some kind of questionnaire or scavenger hunt, the temple itself was undoubtedly impressive. The name of the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple is something of a misnomer as there are in fact almost 13000 Buddha statues in the main hall alone. Sadly the nine level pagoda was under maintenance and I was unable to climb to the top. Nonetheless the views were still spectacular, offering a stunning contrast between the urban and natural landscapes of Hong Kong.

After descending, I made my way back to Hong Kong Island and headed over to Stanley. This was a little nerve wracking as I had forgoton to make a note of where to disembark and of the bus number I needed to catch. There was a part of me worried that I was going to end up in some tiny village with no idea how to get back. Thankfully my memory didn’t fail me and I made it safely to Stanley.

Stanley is possibly the earliest settlement on Hong Kong as records of the initial Chinese fishing village date back to the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620). My reason for going to this scenic little town was the market. There is just something about narrow roads lined with trinkets that draws me in. I often find myself humming the one or two lines of Portobello Road from Bedknobs and Broomsticks that I can remember as I wind my way through piles of keychains, electronics and authentic looking knick knacks.

Stanley market was no different and is perhaps my favourite market so far as it truly had a mix of everything except food and I was hard pushed not to buy more souvenirs than I could carry. After thoroughly exploring it, I meandered along the waterfront, enjoying a little of the tranquillity that always comes from being near the sea. A full stomach later and I once again boarded bus and then train back to the hostel in time for an early and relaxed night before a planned hike tomorrow.

Angkor Temples #2

Day two rolled around and after an very early start to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, we began our trip around what we thought was going to be the grand circuit.  The map below shows the small circuit, which we had done the previous day, in red and the grand circuit in yellow.  However, as we set off, the trees and temples fell away to be replaced with rice paddies and cultivated fields.  After about forty-five minutes it was pretty clear that we weren’t following the grand circuit.  Despite a slight worry that we were being taken to the floating village on Tonlé Sap, somewhere our driver had tried to persuade us to visit the day before, we sat back and enjoyed the passing scenery.

angkor circuits
Map taken from here.

Fortunately for us and our laid-back attitudes, we eventually arrived at Banteay Srei, a temple well outside the most well-known parts of the Angkor Temple Complex.

In part because of the early hour and also the temple’s remote location there were very few tourists.  This was not the only reason for Banteay Srei being my favourite temple.  As can be seen above, the carvings in the walls of the temple and over doorways was absolutely exquisite.  The details were marvellously preserved and the temple was a little smaller so we were able to explore it thoroughly.  We also to the opportunity to sit down and eat out breakfast just outside the temple.


Over the years, thanks to the hard work of looters, vandals and time, a lot of statues are missing their heads.  I just couldn’t resist standing in to do the job for this Devas as he pulled on the Nāga Vasuki to help churn the Ocean of Milk.

Preah Khan provided another fix for my love of taking photos down corridors, they just seemed to go on forever.  While a lot of the temple was falling down there were still some extremely detailed carvings intact.  It also felt very tranquil in comparison to some of the other temples.

This little gate pavilion at Neak Pean reminded me of the entrance to the river Styx in Greek Mythology, a feeling underscored by the walk across a lake of dead trees to reach the island temple.


A lot of the Angkor temples seem to have a similar architectural structure whereby four smaller buildings surround a central building or peak as shown here at Pre Rup.  This layout was normally at the centre or top of the temples and then surrounded by a series of galleries.

Angkor Temples #1

The wonderful thing about travelling solo through hostels is that the opportunities to meet new people are endless and there is something freeing about hanging out with a group for a week, a day, or even just an hour with no commitment to be friends beyond that time frame.  You can see the sights, drink together and share tales of adventure but at the end of the day you go your separate ways, a mere paragraph in each other’s lives.  The drinking together is particularly apparent since hostels seem to have free beer more often than they have free water.

Anyway, temple viewing day one dawned bright and early and I set out with the three people I had agreed to share a driver with.  We knew we were doing the small circuit which visited the big three temples; Angkor Wat, our second visit here but our first opportunity to see all of it; Bayon Temple with its many faces; and Ta Prohm, slowly being reclaimed by nature.  However, we had little idea what else to expect.  You can read about our three visits to Angkor Wat here so I’ll skip straight to Bayon Temple.


Bayon Temple is one of the must-see temples when visiting the Angkor temples.  It’s covered in these faces that look out over the mass of tourists that come to visit every day.  With their little half smiles, I couldn’t help but think that the statues knew more than they let on.  Just what have they seen?


Like Angkor Wat, Baphuon Temple has a long causeway to walk up before you enter the temple.  It definitely seems like a good way to humble the lowly visitor.  It originally had a huge tower on the top but I kind of like these four arches, they make me think of magical portals to lost worlds.


Mr Bunna, our tuk tuk driver pulled over on the side of the road so we could take photos of a group of monkeys.  I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of this guy chilling on a motorbike.


I’ve always found taking photos through holes or down tunnels irresistible and visiting the temples certainly provided a lot of opportunities for me to do so with, arched corridors, doorways and collapsed roofs.


These seven headed snakes are used as balustrades throughout the Angkor Temple Complex.  They represent a reptilian race, the Nāga. In particular the king of snakes, Vasuki, who was used to help churn the Ocean of Milk by wrapping around Mount Meru.  Artisans Angkor have a really good description of this piece of mythology.


Used as a set in Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm has not escaped the Cambodian jungle’s grasp.  Without a moat to protect it from invading trees, parts of this temple have been reclaimed by nature.  The real trick though was trying to get a photo of the beautiful trees in the split second between everyone having their photo taken directly in front of the marvellous interlocking roots.  We were particularly unfortunate and managed to arrive at the same time as a large (and very loud) tour group but did find a moment of quite in one courtyard, at least for a couple of minutes.

Angkor Wat

 We visited Angkor Wat three times in total; once when we attempted to watch the sunset but were forced to leave because it was closing; the second time we took the back entrance but were forced to share the temple with hundreds of other tourists, all clamouring for photos; the final time for a somewhat anticlimactic sunrise.  Despite these not fully successful endeavours I was astounded by the shear effort and patience that must have gone into creating such an amazing and beautifully carved triumph of ancient architecture.


This was my first glimpse of the temple.  The long walk certainly gives one plenty of time to mull over its grandeur, I wonder what visitors thought of it 800 years ago.


My version of the classic temple reflection photo after deciding that I didn’t fancy vying with the crowds to use one of the ponds on either side of the walkway.


Unlike most other Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces west not east.  This is thought to either be because it is dedicated to Vishnu or because it was intended to be the resting place of the Khmer King Suryavarman II who had it built.  This was the best shot of the sunset I managed to take before the whistles of the guards drove us back to our tuk tuk.


At least everyone leaving meant some nice (relatively) tourist free photos.


What’s a trip to the temples of Siem Reap without a few monks?


Seemingly every surface save the floor is engraved in breath-taking detail.  I was particularly impressed with the engraving of the story of how the gods’ and demons’ quest for the elixir of immortality led to the churning of the sea of milk and the creation of the cosmos.


Why take the public steps when you could take the Indiana Jones route?  Or as my German friend liked to shout, “TEMPLE RUN!”


The best photo from our sunrise outing and I have to admit, my camera made it look considerably better than it was.


Since we were at the temple early we planned to try and make it up to the very top of the temple as the queue had been too long the previous day.  However, it was not be as we would have had to wait a further forty minutes for the central stairs to open.  Fortunately, I at least got this rather nice photo before the sun was too bright, causing all my other photos to have blindingly white skies.