One afternoon in Hua Hin, I strolled down Takiab Beach at low tide. All around me, vacationers were enjoying the sunshine. A woman galloped by on horseback, kicking up the pristine white sand. Swimmers splashed playfully in the aquamarine water. Couples relaxed in oceanfront cafes, sipping lattes. I was so focused on the macro world that I nearly tripped over a giant jellyfish that had washed up on the beach. As I reached out tentatively to prod it with my flip-flops I was startled to see the sand move. On closer inspection, I realized the movement was from thousands of tiny ghost crabs that scurried before my feet and ducked into tiny holes in the sand.
These translucent, dun-colored spiders of the beach were nearly invisible as they dashed between the holes of their web. Piles of round, dung-like sand balls fanned out from each crab hole, creating a mosaic pattern across the broad expanse of beach. If I stood Read More
In the 1920′s, shortly after World War I, the Southern Railway was constructed in Thailand, allowing people to travel overland from Bangkok to the Malaysian border. Almost immediately, the town of Hua Hin, located just two and a half hours south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand, became a popular seaside resort town where visitors could swim, fish, and golf on the country’s first standard course. Among those who were lured by the area’s natural beauty and serenity was the King, who ultimately built a summer home in Hua Hin. Perhaps because of the King’s patronage, the town has excellent infrastructure and blessed with amenities such as a movie theater, shopping mall, scores of restaurants, and orderly and clean streets.
As someone who is considering getting my retirement visa for Thailand, I noted all these amenities with interest, but for me the most fascinating thing about Hua Hin was the plethora of Buddhist Temples (including a Tibetan Buddhist center), and the remarkable number of Buddha statues found throughout the town. Some are highly visible, like the giant standing Buddha on Khao Takiab hill at the southern end of town, while others are tucked away in corners or stand in out-of-the-way fields of thigh-high grass that surround disintegrating temples. Come with me as I share a few of these Buddhas in the following Photo essay:
My visit to Cambodia was simultaneously intoxicating and exhausting. Each morning, rested and ready to tackle a new day in no-holds barred Phnom Penh, crumbling Battambang, or mind-boggling Angkor Wat, I stepped from my air-conditioned hotel room into the summer’s suffocating heat and humidity. Within minutes I was drenched from scalp to toes, clothes stuck to me and sweat running down my glasses. By the time I had climbed to the top of my 18th temple at Angkor Wat I needed a rest. Fortunately, I had a perfect place in mind to kick back and recover; Caranee Thianthai, the owner of Nern Chalet Beachfront Hotel in Hua Hin, Thailand had invited me to stay a few days. I packed up and hopped a bus to Bangkok and the following day caught a shuttle for the 2.5 hour ride down to Hua Hin.
Upon arrival, the smiling front desk clerk checked me in and toted my small suitcase up three flights of stairs, apologizing as we climbed. “Sorry, it is a long way up but a very nice room.” He threw open the door and led me into the gigantic bedroom. My jaw dropped open. Khun Caranee had arranged for me to stay in the top floor Seafront Suite, the most luxurious room in the hotel. On the opposite side of a king-size bed where towels were twisted into kissing swans, wrap-around picture windows framed a stunning view of a brilliant beach and the sparkling turquoise Gulf of Thailand. Read More
I’m a sucker for Buddhist temples. The sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle design differences from country to country fascinate me and the pagodas of Cambodia were no exception. In contrast to the lavish decadence of Thailand’s gilt-covered monasteries, the pagodas in this poverty-stricken country were simple, with one notable exception. As if to make up for their general lack of opulence, electronic rainbow-colored discs rotate behind the heads of Buddhas statues.
There were more than enough pagodas in Siem Reap to satisfy my obsession but one in particular caught my eye. As I passed by every morning on my way to the Angkor Wat ruins and again on my way back to town later in the day, I noticed that this tiny sanctuary was always overflowing with locals, while the larger pagodas I had visited were fairly deserted. My curiosity got the better of me, so I took one afternoon off from exploring ruins to join the faithful at Preah Ang Chek and Ang Chom Shrine.
Ever since I visited the ruins of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2007, I’ve been itching to go back. Back then, I was on a six-month around-the-world journey and I had allocated only three days in Siem Reap. I was under the mistaken impression that the ancient Khmer site that most refer to as Angkor Wat was a single temple and I assumed three days would be more than sufficient. How wrong I was!
Angkor is the umbrella name for an archeological site that encompasses the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 15th century. Angkor Wat, though an admittedly important religious structure, was a single temple in the Angkor kingdom. Ruins of the Khmer kingdom dot the countryside for more than 400 square kilometers around Angkor Wat. In three days, I barely scraped the surface, visiting Bayon, Ta Prohm, and a number of the more well-known sites. This time, I was determined to see the many of the smaller, lesser-known ruins. Read More
Cigarette dangling from his mouth, our wiry Cambodian engineer yanked the starter rope on a small motor mounted to the rear of our open-air rail car. The engine sputtered momentarily, then roared to life. Straining at the weight of the iron frame, he pushed our rudimentary vehicle down the tracks a few feet, hopped aboard at the last possible moment and broke into a wide grin. Within moments we were speeding down tracks that looked as if they had melted in the sun and dried warped. I sat back and let the breeze dry perspiration that had beaded on my brow and upper lip in Cambodia‘s unforgiving summer heat and humidity. A pair of butterflies parted before me, narrowly escaping being plastered on my nose, and jungle vines reached out on the narrow right-of-way, whacking me in the arms and face as we sped along at our top sped of 25 miles per hour. Gaps between the kattywampus rails caught the steel wheels; their jarring clunk-clank set my teeth rattling. With no railings on either side and only a thin bamboo platform separating me from the ground rushing by below, it was totally unsafe. And I loved every moment of it!
After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979, locals needed a way to move people and goods around the country. Trains no longer ran but the track were still in place, so with typical Cambodian ingenuity, they salvaged old train axles and wheels, built iron frames and laid a platform of bamboo on the top. Initially, the cars were pushed along the tracks with large wooden paddles but eventually small motors were installed. When the country reopened to the outside world, tourists discovered this curious means of transport and christened it the Bamboo Train. Today, the train carries visitors and locals alike on the six-mile route between two tiny villages just outside of Battambang. Read More