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Entries about sunsets and sunrises

Trekking in the Himalayas

or how to tackle the 3 Passes and the Everest Base Camp


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A longer post this time, to relate about my recent trek in the Himalayas. Indeed, this was always my goal, to finish on a high note this amazing trip around the world, near the roof of the world: Mount Everest....

Obviously I could forget about actually climbing Mount Everest (even if that would have been quite cool!), as for that you would need a lot more money that I could have and more importantly some very good ice/rock climbing skills (and at least another two months). Just the permit to climb the Everest is around 18,000 Euros if I remember well, plus the cost of your equipment, wages of the Sherpas, food, etc... and you could find yourself having to pay easily around 50,000 Euros. Well anyway that wasn't an option for me and I was fine by just trekking to the base camp, located at 5,364 metres high, on the Khumbu glacier, a few hundred metres below the deadly icefall which killed 16 Sherpas this year, forcing them to cancel all the expeditions to the top for this season.

So before coming to Nepal and reading the news about this ice fall, I got a bit worried that trekking in this region would become difficult as a result and would force me to trek somewhere else. I mean it is not like Nepal is lacking of nice hiking trails to explore (the Annapurna circuit for example) but being able to see the Everest for real was kind of something I had been looking forward for a long time. Fortunately when I arrived in Kathmandu, in the beginning of May, everyone told me that there weren't any problems for trekking in the region and that only the climbing expeditions were cancelled. As a result the Everest Base Camp (EBC) would probably be completely empty but at least still accessible.

Everest_Trek_map.gif

The next thing to do was therefore to choose a trekking route to reach the EBC. Actually to be honest, anyone who is an average walker can do the EBC trek, no matter how young, old or unfit you are. The trails are well marked, wide and there are no difficult climbs as the path goes up following the valleys so the only difficulty lies with the altitude. Indeed from the starting point in Lukla (located 30 minutes away by plane, east of Kathmandu) at 2,800m to the Everest Base Camp at 5,364m there is quite a difference and if you rush too much, without taking a few days to acclimatise to the altitude, then you will suffer what people call AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) which is basically headaches, nausea, vomiting, etc... all the effects that the altitude can have on your body. And it doesn't even matter if you are fit and young, you could be more affected than someone older and less fit than you. In front of Altitude sickness, everyone is different and the only thing you can do is to take your time when going up.

But to come back to the choice of the route, instead of walking just the EBC trek, I decided to go for the "loop" which is also called the 3 passes trek. This one is definitely more challenging as it makes you cross 3 high passes at more than 5,300 metres high and also let you combine with 3 peaks (around 5,550 metres each) and of course the Everest Base Camp. And as a result, while the standard EBC trek would usually take around 12 to 14 days, this one is meant to take longer, from 18 to 21 days, depending on your speed. And now I can say it, YES, this was definitely the harder and most challenging trek I have ever done, by far. But the views were so fantastic that it was definitely worth the pain!

The next thing was to choose whether to go independently, with a guide or with a tour operator. And in Kathmandu it is hard to make an objective opinion as the people who know the best are also the ones trying to sell you a guide or a complete package which includes a detailed itinerary/schedule and guide + porters. They would tell you that you ABSOLUTELY need a guide and porters because it is a hard trek so you cannot possibly carry a big backpack and a guide is needed because the trails can be hard to find... Well they are wrong, the choice is entirely up to you and depends hugely on your budget, on how much you can afford to spend during this trek and if you have done some similar treks before.

My personal opinion is that if you are between 20 and 40 years old, fit and with already some trekking experience then you probably don't need a guide and even less a porter to carry your stuff. Actually the guide can be a nice bonus if you can afford it as he would be a local, you will be able to ask him all the questions you want and in case of a bad weather, he will help you find the correct path in the mountains. But a guide costs around 20-25$/day so that is quite a budget if you are not prepared for it. Besides if the weather is clear, then the trail are really easy to find so no problems about that (it is always recommended to take a good topographic map anyway and if you can, a GPS device).

If you are a bit less fit and/or have more money to spend, then you can hire some porters or sign up with a tour operator in Kathmandu but you will end up paying at least twice as much as the ones doing it independently and will have to share the trails constantly with another 10 to 20 people... So much for being alone within the nature...

So by reading the lines above you can now guess which option I chose... Indeed I decided to go on my own, with my big backpack (weighting 18kg without water at the beginning). Well not entirely on my own as I had met one Dutch guy in the hostel in Kathmandu, and we had decided to do at least a part of the trek together. It is not really recommended to trek alone in those mountains anyway as it is always possible to twist an ankle for example and to be stuck in a bad situation, without any help to call for.

The next thing one has to organise for this trek is to book some flight tickets to Lukla (or choose to go by bus to Jiri and then walk for 5 to 6 days). And for me this was a surprise... I knew I had to take the plane (I wasn't really keen on walking 6 days on bad trails and with a probably very bad weather because of the low altitude) but I didn't know how much it would cost... And in 2014, a one-way flight to Lukla costs around 165$! Make it return and you have already spent 330$ even before you started walking... whoops! But the alternative of walking takes quite some time so I emptied my wallet and bought my return ticket.

Turned out that actually because of the weather, it is really common for flights to be cancelled, even for a few days in a row so even though it sucks, you need to be prepared to that possibility... And it is exactly what happened to us, the day we were supposed to fly out to Lukla, all flights were cancelled, which left us waiting at the domestic airport for hours, until a last minute deal was offered to us in the afternoon: flying in a helicopter! (for about 35$ more obviously...)
And on the way back the same thing happened, very few flights each day because of the weather deteriorating as the day goes by, so we had to wait almost two days before being able to fly back to Kathmandu... (no helicopter option this time unfortunately).

Itinerary

  • Day 0 - Kathmandu to Lukla (2,840m)

Instead of catching an early flight and starting to walk straight away, we wasted a whole day waiting at the airport for a flight, only to take a helicopter in the afternoon. By the time we arrived in Lukla, it was too late to start walking so we decided to stay there for the night.

  • Day 1 - Lukla to Monju (2,835m)

Nice walk without a lot of elevation
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 2 - Monju to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Short hike up to Namche but with a 600m elevation. I started to find myself out of breath quicker than usual due to the altitude.
(walking time: 2.25 hours)

  • Day 3 - Acclimatisation day around Namche Bazaar

As the altitude starts to be felt, we took the day to do a nice hike around, up to the Everest View Hotel (3,880m), to get the first views of the Everest of this trek! Then went back down to Namche via Khumjung and Kumde.
(walking time: 4 hours)

  • Day 4 - Namche Bazaar to Thame (3,820m)

Hike up to Thame.
(walking time: 3.25 hours)

  • Day 5 - Thame to Lungden (4,368m)

Not a difficult hike but we missed the last section of the trail and found ourselves having to climb the last 200 metres on a very steep section. The headaches started to appear...
(walking time: 3.75 hours)

  • Day 6 - Acclimatisation day around Lungden

Acclimatisation day a bit failed as we didn't go high enough that day. Usually for a good acclimatisation day, it is recommended to go quite high and come back down at the altitude where you were the night before so that the body can get used to the altitude changes. Headaches were still there...
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 7 - Lungden to Gokyo (4,790m) via Renjo La pass (5,360m)

Probably the hardest day of the trek and also the longest... It took us 5 hours to go up to that pass (1,000m elevation) with the last section made of steps but still being really challenging. The headaches came back stronger and by the time we arrived in Gokyo, François was almost crawling on the floor due to his headaches and I wasn't a lot more better...
(walking time: 8 hours)

  • Day 8 - Rest day in Gokyo

A well deserved rest day after the previous one.

  • Day 9 - Gokyo to Dragnag (4,700m) via Gokyo Ri peak (5,360m)

Waking up at 4am, I started to climb (alone, François still suffering headaches) a peak nearby and after about 1h30min of efforts, I arrived just in time to see the sun rising behind the Everest. Magic... (see video below).
Later that day, after a nap, we resumed the walk by crossing the glacier and finally reached Dragnag, ready for our second pass the next day.
(walking time: 2 hours)

  • Day 10 - Dragnag to Dzongla (4,830m) via Cho La pass (5,420m)

Another very challenging day, especially the last 200 metres which was a climb among lose rocks and also with some falling from the top of the mountain. A few scary moments. On the way down, we crossed a glacier which was kind of cool.
(walking time: 7 hours)

  • Day 11 - Dzongla to Gorak Shep (5,140m)

Gentle hike to Gorak Shep with a lunch break in Lobuche. We were joining back the official EBC trek trail and it was definitely getting busier.
(walking time: 4.5 hours)

  • Day 12 - Everest Base Camp (5,364m)

Day trip from Gorak Shep to the Everest Base Camp. Apart for a few tents, the camp was mostly empty like people had told us but it was nice to see the place where so many legendary climbing adventures had begun. The only thing is that from the base camp, seeing the Everest is not possible as the mountains around, Nuptse and Lotse, block the view.
(walking time: 3.5 hours)

  • Day 13 - Gorak Shep to Lobuche, via Kala Patthar peak (5,643m)

Another early wake up (still alone) and another sunrise view from the top of the Kala Patthar peak, with amazing view of Mount Everest.
Later that day, we made our way back to Lobuche, to prepare the crossing of the last pass of the trek.
(walking time to the top of the peak: 1.25 hour - walking time to Lobuche: 1.30 hour)

  • Day 14 - Lobuche to Chukkung (4,730m), via Kongma La pass (5,535m)

François still not feeling well, we decided to split, him starting going down and me going up to the pass. It was a scary start for me as I took an old path through the moraine/glacier, only to see that path stopping after 15min. I then tried to make my own path through the falling rocks and thought more than once that I was going to find myself in a crevasse or under some big rocks... Luckily after more than an hour I finally managed to get through that section and the steep climb started. I took me a total of 3 hours to get to the top of the pass, a good time considering the time lost in the moraine. The views at the top were fantastic. Going down took actually a bit longer even if it was more pleasant.
(walking time: 7 hours)

  • Day 15 - Chukkung to Deboche (3,820m), via Chukkung Ri peak (5,550m)

My last early bird start to climb the peak called Chukkung Ri. It's always quite fun to start hiking with only your flashlight to light the path but it can also lead you to take the wrong path (and wrong mountain) in the dark. Fortunately thanks to the map and the sun rising I could catch up with the right trail and it took me 3 hours to get to the top. And there was a nice reward because even though you cannot see the Everest (hidden), you get a splendid view on several valleys around you. Definitely worth the climb! Later that day I decided to cover as much ground as I could to go down until Deboche.
(walking time: 8 hours)

  • Day 16 - Deboche to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)

Not a big day but not that easy though as the path is going up and down with some steep sections.
(walking time: 3 hours)

  • Day 17 - Namche to Lukla (2,840m)

Finally, after having caught up with my friend, we made that last walking day through a path that we knew already, back to our starting point. Not that easy as we had a good pace and didn't want to arrive too late in Lukla, so that we could change the date of our return flight ticket.
(walking time: 5 hours)

  • Day 18 & 19 - Waiting for a flight back to Kathmandu...

About the money, one should count around 2000-2500 rupees (20-25$) per day on average throughout the trek, covering meals, accommodation, snacks and the occasional shower, battery charge and internet access.

Elevation Profile

And here is the elevation profile of the trek, with its highest point being the summit of Kala Patthar (5,643m).

About this peak, it is to note that even though all maps record Kala Patthar with an altitude of 5,545m - 5,550m, I met a guy who had a Garmin GPS and who told me that on its highest point, his device recorded 5,622 metres. That's quite a big difference but after a few researches online, I found out that other people had found the same discrepancy, leading me now to consider that Kala Patthar is actually the highest point I have ever climbed in my life (though not the hardest).

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Conclusion

Definitely one of the best treks I have ever did and without any doubts the most challenging. Unless you are blessed by the gods and belong to the 10% of the population which adapts well to the altitude, you WILL experience at least once the headaches and exhaustion that comes with trekking at high altitude. But given time, your body will adapt and will start to produce more red blood cells to carry more oxygen. And once this side of the things taken care of, this trek offers some of the best mountain views in the world. After all this is not the "roof of the world" for nothing...

Photos & Videos

Short video taken on top of Gokyo Ri. It's in French but I have added the English subtitles... ;)

The airline check-in desk in Kathmandu where we waited, waited, waited...

The airline check-in desk in Kathmandu where we waited, waited, waited...


Our nice Russian helicopter (with a real Russian pilot!)

Our nice Russian helicopter (with a real Russian pilot!)


The streets of Lukla

The streets of Lukla


Let the trek begin!

Let the trek begin!


Swing bridges can sometimes become really crowded

Swing bridges can sometimes become really crowded


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Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar


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One of the several Stupas I came across during the trek

One of the several Stupas I came across during the trek


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Stunning

Stunning


Yak yak yak! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Yak yak yak! :)


On the way to the first pass, Renjo la

On the way to the first pass, Renjo la


The lakes are getting colder as we go higher...

The lakes are getting colder as we go higher...


The view from the top of Renjo La

The view from the top of Renjo La


François and myself, happy to have made it so far!

François and myself, happy to have made it so far!


Mount Everest, finally...

Mount Everest, finally...


Buddhist prayer flags on top of Gokyo Ri

Buddhist prayer flags on top of Gokyo Ri


We can see the Everest behind me, in the background on my right

We can see the Everest behind me, in the background on my right


Glacier crossing after Cho La pass

Glacier crossing after Cho La pass


A yak

A yak


More yaks! (old style photo filter)

More yaks! (old style photo filter)


On the way to the Everest Base Camp

On the way to the Everest Base Camp


The famous Khumbu glacier

The famous Khumbu glacier


Better be careful where we step in the moraine/glacier

Better be careful where we step in the moraine/glacier


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Sometimes the balance of things is very fragile...

Sometimes the balance of things is very fragile...


Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp


Behind us, the famous Khumbu Icefall where 16 Sherpas lost their life less than two months ago... Unfortunately from the Nepali side, this is the only way to reach the Everest...

Behind us, the famous Khumbu Icefall where 16 Sherpas lost their life less than two months ago... Unfortunately from the Nepali side, this is the only way to reach the Everest...


Sunrise seen from the top of Kala Patthar

Sunrise seen from the top of Kala Patthar


A bit more artistic this time, with Mount Everest

A bit more artistic this time, with Mount Everest


View from the top of Kongma La pass

View from the top of Kongma La pass


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Mount Ama Dablam, also quite nice during sunrise

Mount Ama Dablam, also quite nice during sunrise


On top of Chukkung Ri

On top of Chukkung Ri


A golden eagle

A golden eagle


Finally we could catch our plane back to Kathmandu...

Finally we could catch our plane back to Kathmandu...


Lukla airport

Lukla airport

Posted by manolo84 06:54 Archived in Nepal Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises mountains english treks Comments (0)

De Ko Lanta à Ko Tao, petite visite des îles Thaïlandaises


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Et un article en français de plus!
Je voulais à l'origine combiner ma visite des îles avec mes photos et aventures odysséennes sous la mer mais je pense que j'ai assez de contenu et surtout trop de photos pour ne faire qu'un seul article...

De Bangkok donc, je pris donc le bus de nuit qui me fit arriver au petit matin, après environ 14h de bus, 3h d'attente et 30 min de ferry, sur Ko Lanta, l'île dont forcément tout le monde a entendu parler en France, du fait du jeu télévisé. Mais Ko Lanta est en fait composé de plusieurs îles, certaines plus grandes que d'autres et l'île principale sur laquelle je me suis trouvé est en fait appelée Ko Lanta Yai et j’eus bon chercher mais je ne vis point de caméras de TF1 nul part dans l'île ou aux alentours...

La raison principale qui me faisait venir sur Ko Lanta était donc comme mentionné plus haut, de pouvoir faire de la plongée dans l'un des meilleurs endroits au monde (pas le moins cher non plus par contre). En effet même si le golfe de Thaïlande (Sud-Est de la Thaïlande, voire la carte) est réputé pour ses certifications de plongées à prix très abordables, le côté Ouest de la Thaïlande, coté mer d'Andaman, possède les plus beaux spots de plongée et il n'est pas rare de croiser raies-manta et autres requins-baleine...

Mais entre deux plongées, je pris donc le temps de visiter ces îles que je ne qualifierai pas de paradisiaques car le développement du tourisme de masse en Thaïlande (avec tous ses bons et mauvais côtés) a fait un peu perdre le charme et caractère unique de ces îles je pense, mais c'est quand même bien sympa: le soleil est au rendez-vous, les plages de sable blanc aussi pour peu que l'on s'éloigne quelque peu des sentiers battus et surtout la mer est chaude, atteignant facilement les 30 degrés.

De plus certaines de ces îles sont aussi connues pour leurs apparitions dans des films tels que La Plage (avec Di Caprio) ou encore un des anciens James Bond (L'Homme au pistolet d'or) et même si les excursions vers ces îles étaient vraiment trop touristiques à mon gout, cela n’empêche pas moins que ces sites sont de toute beauté et ont été choisis pour de bonnes raisons.

Bref, je conclurai en vous disant que sur les îles de Thaïlande, il y en a vraiment pour tous les goûts, que vous soyez à la recherche d'un coin isolé pour pouvoir vous reposer à l'ombre des cocotiers, que vous ayez envie de visiter toutes les îles dont vous avez entendu parler à la télé ou dans les magazines, que vous soyez ici pour faire la fête non-stop avec la Full Moon party par exemple ou encore que vous désiriez cocher de votre liste de plongée la Thaïlande et ses eaux turquoises, le choix est vôtre!

Bateau de plongée près de  Ko Ha

Bateau de plongée près de Ko Ha


Drapeau Thaïlandais avec l'archipel de Ko Ha en fond

Drapeau Thaïlandais avec l'archipel de Ko Ha en fond


Un bébé éléphant sur Ko Lanta, ici en Thaïlande les éléphants sont souvent maltraités pour des fins touristiques donc une certaine éthique recommande de ne pas faire d'excursions à dos d'éléphant

Un bébé éléphant sur Ko Lanta, ici en Thaïlande les éléphants sont souvent maltraités pour des fins touristiques donc une certaine éthique recommande de ne pas faire d'excursions à dos d'éléphant


Le phare de Ko Lanta

Le phare de Ko Lanta


Coucher de soleil sur la jungle, Ko Lanta

Coucher de soleil sur la jungle, Ko Lanta


Toujours Ko Lanta

Toujours Ko Lanta


Ko Lanta

Ko Lanta


Ile au large de Ko Phi Phi

Ile au large de Ko Phi Phi


Ko Phi Phi Leh, qui a servi pour le tournage de "La Plage"

Ko Phi Phi Leh, qui a servi pour le tournage de "La Plage"


Ko Phi Phi Leh

Ko Phi Phi Leh


Maya bay, où "La Plage" fut tourné. On réalise alors que l'équipe de tournage avait bien fait en sorte de ne choisir que certains angles de vue car la baie est beaucoup moins "enfermée" en vrai qu'elle ne le paraît dans le film.

Maya bay, où "La Plage" fut tourné. On réalise alors que l'équipe de tournage avait bien fait en sorte de ne choisir que certains angles de vue car la baie est beaucoup moins "enfermée" en vrai qu'elle ne le paraît dans le film.


Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh

Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh


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Ko Phi Phi

Ko Phi Phi


Coucher de soleil sur Ko Phi Phi

Coucher de soleil sur Ko Phi Phi


Les îles de Phan Nga Bay

Les îles de Phan Nga Bay


Phan Nga Bay

Phan Nga Bay


La fameuse îles de James Bond à Phan Nga Bay

La fameuse îles de James Bond à Phan Nga Bay


Coucher de soleil sur Phuket

Coucher de soleil sur Phuket


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Le Bouddha géant sur Phuket

Le Bouddha géant sur Phuket


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Coucher de soleil sur Ko Tao, golfe de Thaïlande

Coucher de soleil sur Ko Tao, golfe de Thaïlande

Posted by manolo84 03:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises beaches boats islands diving jungle french Comments (0)

The Magnificent Angkor Temples


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This is probably one of the moments I was expecting the most in South-East Asia, the visit of the temples of Angkor, in Cambodia...

My first surprise was to realise that there was actually more than the famous Angkor Wat, as indeed in those times, every king of the Khmer empire (9th to 15th centuries) wanted to build (well not him personally I presume but his slaves) his own temple to "his" glory. So instead of building a big temple and increasing its size year after year, Cambodia is now left with about a thousand temples close to each other, some now not bigger than a pile of stones but others being able to contain up to a million of people back in those times, the most famous being indeed Angkor Wat as it is one of the only one which has never been abandoned to the nature (but which is also not the biggest of all temples, by far).

When deciding what and when to visit, the most interesting entry pass is the 3 days one for about 40$. And I can guaranty you, by the end of the third day, you will definitely have enough of seeing stones everywhere, no matter if those are nice stones belonging to nice temples, by the end of the third day, a stone is a stone! And the other inconvenient is when trying to take pictures, it is very very hard not to have another tourist on it. If one wants to take amazing pictures of Angkor, one must learn patience... :-)

And I could write a lot about the temples of Angkor but the best is probably to show you this selection of pictures I took, with a bit of explanation underneath. If you want to have more information about Angkor, I could refer you to the wikipedia article (in English) or this one (in French).

Map of the main Angkor temples

Map of the main Angkor temples


The first thing that each tourist does is to witness the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, which was first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world

The first thing that each tourist does is to witness the sun rising behind Angkor Wat, which was first a Hindu, then subsequently a Buddhist, temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world


Unfortunately it can become quite crowded.... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_sad.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':(' title='' />

Unfortunately it can become quite crowded.... :(


Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat


A little prayer to Buddha inside Angkor Wat

A little prayer to Buddha inside Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat is also decorated with thousands of "Devatas" which have now been nicely restored

Angkor Wat is also decorated with thousands of "Devatas" which have now been nicely restored


Angkor Wat surrounded by the dense forest

Angkor Wat surrounded by the dense forest


the pathway leading to Angkor Wat

the pathway leading to Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat with the sunset light

Angkor Wat with the sunset light


Monks visiting Angkor Wat

Monks visiting Angkor Wat


No idea who is this woman but the picture looks nice, inside the corridors of Angkor Wat

No idea who is this woman but the picture looks nice, inside the corridors of Angkor Wat


A lion and myself... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

A lion and myself... :)


The Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.

The Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.


That temple has also been decorated with at least 216 faces of the former king himself...

That temple has also been decorated with at least 216 faces of the former king himself...


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East Mebon temple

East Mebon temple


The Ta Prohm temple, among the trees, like most of the other temples were found before being restored

The Ta Prohm temple, among the trees, like most of the other temples were found before being restored


Still Ta Prohm and you can actually see how the trees are so tightly integrated to the structures now

Still Ta Prohm and you can actually see how the trees are so tightly integrated to the structures now


Ta Prohm was also used in the movie Tomb Raider and unlike some scenes taken from other temples, the scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance

Ta Prohm was also used in the movie Tomb Raider and unlike some scenes taken from other temples, the scenes of Ta Prohm were quite faithful to the temple's actual appearance


large_Ta_Prohm__41_.jpgThe Ta Som temple

The Ta Som temple


The third eastern gopura, with strangler fig, still in Ta Som

The third eastern gopura, with strangler fig, still in Ta Som

Posted by manolo84 10:42 Archived in Cambodia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises temples english Comments (0)

Chilling out in Laos

sunny 35 °C
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I know I haven't given news for a while and my trip now approaches to an end so prepare yourself for a bunch of articles in the next days! :)

After the hectic months I had just spent in New Zealand, Korea and Hong Kong, I really felt like I needed to take a break and to slow down the pace of my journey. Indeed people back home keep telling me that "you are on holiday, how can you be exhausted?" but the truth is that when you pack and unpack your bag every few days to go to another destination, visit another museum or another "amazing" waterfall, you start feeling a bit less impressed and more and more tired. When at the beginning I was finding myself craving for new adventures, I now enjoy a lot spending days relaxing and not doing much.

So in that perspective, Laos was quite a breather for me. After an overnight stay in Bangkok airport because of the cheap flight I had booked from Hong Kong, I arrived in a really hot day in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The temperature change after a freezing Korea and a sometimes chilly Hong Kong, was quite a shock. But in a way I adapted myself quickly to that environment by incorporating the local motto "hum... it's really too hot to do anything today, let's chill out..." ! :)

And here are how my days in Laos were mostly spent...

  • Vientiane

The capital of Laos is actually quite small compared to the ones of the countries around. But it has still a definite atmosphere of South East Asia, with tuktuks, markets and street food stalls all around. I was also surprised to see a lot of signs (like for the official buildings) written both in Lao and French, but as Laos was a former French colony (used to be part of the Indochina with Vietnam and Cambodia) it all made sense. However nowadays French is only being spoken by older people, the younger generation learning English, which is more useful for tourism purposes.
One of the only sites I visited in Vientiane was Buddha Park, a statues park where 60 years ago, a monk who integrated Buddhism and Hinduism, tried to gather and build statues to revere the Buddha. Here are a few pics:

Buddha Park

Buddha Park


Patuxay, the War monument in Vientiane

Patuxay, the War monument in Vientiane


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  • Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng has been known for a long time has a party place, where the main attraction was to go down the river in a tube, and to stop every 100 metres or so at the several bars along it. No need to say that everyone was ending up really drunk and of course with time accidents happened (even deaths). So the whole thing has now been downsized a lot and out of the 50 bars or so, only 4 remains. And where maybe in the beginning it was really about tubing and going down the river, now the first and last bars are only at a mere 500 metres from each other so most of the people stop at the last bar and get a ride back in a tuktuk instead of carrying on for 2 to 3 hours on a perfectly still river (that was just before the rainy season so the river was at its driest level). Anyway the whole experience was quite fun, we met nice and funny people, but I could definitely see how it could go wrong if you keep drinking and don't pay attention to the time (it gets dark right after 6pm). Being drunk and on the river in the dark for a few hours was probably not a good idea... :)

Anyway Vang Vieng is not just about tubing but also has stunning landscapes to offer with limestones mountains covered by vegetation, caves to explore, lagoons to jump in, etc...

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The Blue lagoon

The Blue lagoon


Renting a motorbike is a lot of fun but can be a bit risky...

Renting a motorbike is a lot of fun but can be a bit risky...

  • Luang Prabang

The journey continued in Luang Prabang, a small city classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995 and located between the Nam Khan and Mekong River. Here tons of tuktuk drivers will approach you in the main street, asking you if you want to go to the waterfalls, elephant villages or some temples... then later in the evening the same people will change their offers for the bowling alley (the only place opened late at night) or to sell you all type of drugs or again to take you to the "ladies boom boom"... Hum.....
Anyway I had a good time there, and we even managed to find a place completely randomly where to play pétanque (french balls game) while enjoying some cold beers with the locals, great fun!

One of the main temples in Luang Prabang

One of the main temples in Luang Prabang


Every morning around 6am, monks go down the main street for the Alms giving ceremony, where locals give them food for the day

Every morning around 6am, monks go down the main street for the Alms giving ceremony, where locals give them food for the day


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Jonathan with new friends <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Jonathan with new friends :)


Pétanque time!

Pétanque time!


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The Kuang Si Waterfall

The Kuang Si Waterfall


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Too hot is not good for the mind... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Too hot is not good for the mind... ;)

  • Phonsavan

Another painful bus journey in a packed bus through the dusty roads of Laos and my friend Jonathan and I found ourselves in Phonsavan, in the middle of northern Laos. This region faced a tragic history some decades ago during the second Indochina war with American fighter planes dropping tons of bombs in the area, either when on their way to Vietnam or at their return, to avoid bringing them back to their base. As a result Phonsavan and its region Xieng Khouang were devastated by mass bombing (it is the most heavily bombarded area in the world with at least 262 millions cluster bombs dropped on Laos between 64 and 73, more than during the entire World War II!) but the sad story is that around 30% of those bombs didn't explode right away, leaving inhabitants at risk of stepping on them by mistake and dying horribly. The children especially are concerned because they don't always recognise it is a bomb before it is too late. And it took the U.S a long time to recognise all their mischief here, as this was meant to be a Secret War, meaning that even the U.S Congress didn't know what was going on at that time. Nowadays the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) work with the locals to try to find out as many bombs as they can and to neutralise them before anyone can get hurt. But the task is huge and still around 10-20 people die each year as a result of those left over bombs...

But the main reason to visit Phonsavan is to get a glimpse of the famous Plain of Jars. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BC to AD 500) but very little is known about the jars signification. There are about 50 different sites filled in with megalithic jars, where in some burials human remains were found but no one knows exactly if this was the main purpose of these jars or if there was another meaning...
Another problem also when visiting those sites, is the presence of unexploded bombs as I mentioned above. As a result, visiting can only be done on the clearly marked paths and this also slow down the restoration process of the jars and new discoveries.

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  • The 4000 Islands (Si Phan Don)

Finally, my last stop in Laos was at its most southern point, in an area called the 4000 islands, an archipelago located in the Mekong river. As its name suggests, there are several islands here, most of them being submerged by the Mekong during the monsoon season. There is not much to do there except chilling out and relaxing, going on a kayak or tubing tour, visiting huge waterfalls nearby or trying to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins (an endangered specie due to the Mekong river's pollution).

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On a kayak tour

On a kayak tour


Waiting for the dolphins to appear

Waiting for the dolphins to appear


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Massive waterfalls on the Mekong

Massive waterfalls on the Mekong


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Nice sunset..

Nice sunset..

Posted by manolo84 22:43 Archived in Laos Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises temples rivers kayaking monks english Comments (0)

Adventures in Kiwiland


View Around The World on manolo84's travel map.

I feel like a post is now long overdue but I have been quite busy these last weeks or too tired to take the time to upload pictures and write something. So rather than a long post, here is a selection of about 40 pictures taken during my 7 weeks in New Zealand, on both the North and South islands. I have also tried to update the map to show you where these pictures were taken. Finally, I will post a bit more in the next few days to cover some of the big hikes/treks I did and which I think all require separate posts to avoid surcharging the blog with pictures.

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  • North Island

First stop after Auckland was in Hahei and I took the opportunity to explore the sea while kayaking

First stop after Auckland was in Hahei and I took the opportunity to explore the sea while kayaking


Still Hahei, which apparently as an air of Thailand...

Still Hahei, which apparently as an air of Thailand...


Cathedral Cove beach, one of the main spots in Hahei. The rock forms an arch and link the two beaches on each side.

Cathedral Cove beach, one of the main spots in Hahei. The rock forms an arch and link the two beaches on each side.


Next to Hahei was "Hot Water Beach", a beach where streams of really hot water comes from under (almost 80 degrees). So people gather when the tide goes up and try to get a hole in the sand while mixing this hot water with the sea water, to have a nice bath... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Next to Hahei was "Hot Water Beach", a beach where streams of really hot water comes from under (almost 80 degrees). So people gather when the tide goes up and try to get a hole in the sand while mixing this hot water with the sea water, to have a nice bath... :)


Next stop was Raglan, the most popular surf spot in New Zealand

Next stop was Raglan, the most popular surf spot in New Zealand


And they even named the beach after me! :D

And they even named the beach after me! :D


Learning to do the Haka with some Maoris... I'm definitely missing a few tatoos... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Learning to do the Haka with some Maoris... I'm definitely missing a few tatoos... ;)


Nice water reflections near Rotorua

Nice water reflections near Rotorua


Fishing eels at night in a lake, here is my only catch of the night, but what a catch!

Fishing eels at night in a lake, here is my only catch of the night, but what a catch!


Bridge near Whakahoro

Bridge near Whakahoro


Waterfall, Whakahoro

Waterfall, Whakahoro


Same waterfall, Whakahoro

Same waterfall, Whakahoro


A few days later, here we are in the Tongariro National Park. Here is a view of Ruapehu.

A few days later, here we are in the Tongariro National Park. Here is a view of Ruapehu.


Next to it is mount Ngauruhoe which was used to represent Mount  Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Next to it is mount Ngauruhoe which was used to represent Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.


And still about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, here is the Tahui falls, used in a scene with Gollum (the second movie of the trilogy)

And still about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, here is the Tahui falls, used in a scene with Gollum (the second movie of the trilogy)


Tahui falls again, different angle.

Tahui falls again, different angle.

  • South Island

Beginning of January, it was time to take the ferry and to cross to the South Island, reputed for its amazing landscapes and home to a lot extreme sports.

First stop was the Abel Tasman National Park, where you can hike or even rent a kayak and explore the surroundings that way.

First stop was the Abel Tasman National Park, where you can hike or even rent a kayak and explore the surroundings that way.


Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman


Seals relaxing on the rocks in Abel Tasman

Seals relaxing on the rocks in Abel Tasman


I call this bird the "day kiwi" for its resemblance with the kiwi which has a longer beak.

I call this bird the "day kiwi" for its resemblance with the kiwi which has a longer beak.


More seals around Punakaiki

More seals around Punakaiki


Here in Punakaiki there is an interesting rock formation called Pancake rocks, because of the shape of the rocks which look like a stack of pancakes one of top of each other

Here in Punakaiki there is an interesting rock formation called Pancake rocks, because of the shape of the rocks which look like a stack of pancakes one of top of each other


Pancake rocks

Pancake rocks


Beach near Punakaiki

Beach near Punakaiki


Punakaiki

Punakaiki


Sunset on Punakaiki

Sunset on Punakaiki


Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier


Waterfalls near Franz Josef Glacier

Waterfalls near Franz Josef Glacier


Thunder Creek Falls

Thunder Creek Falls


And also on our way that day, we made a short stop to Lake Matheson. Splendid...

And also on our way that day, we made a short stop to Lake Matheson. Splendid...


Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson


In Wanaka, I decided to sign up for a course about piloting a stunt plane and doing loops and other stunts... I'm glad my stomach held up until the end!

In Wanaka, I decided to sign up for a course about piloting a stunt plane and doing loops and other stunts... I'm glad my stomach held up until the end!


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Wanaka's team <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Wanaka's team :)


A day later, we arrived in Queenstown, little town set in a amazing location, between mountains and lake.

A day later, we arrived in Queenstown, little town set in a amazing location, between mountains and lake.


Our group in Queenstown

Our group in Queenstown


View from a hike I did near Te Anau, in the Fjordlands

View from a hike I did near Te Anau, in the Fjordlands

Posted by manolo84 21:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls sunsets_and_sunrises lakes beaches birds nature kayaking english Comments (2)

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