The Great Wall Part III & Central Beijing

Our first excursion, with our out of town guests, on our capital city tour of Asia was to visit Beijing 北京. For the third time this year we ventured north to see both the Great Wall and the capital of China 中国. We departed from Shanghai 上海 early in the morning landed in Peking just before noon. We hired a driver to take straight from the airport out to the Mutianyu portion of the wall. The skies opened up, the temperature increased and it was a gorgeous day to hike on the wall.

IMG_4309

The first look of the Great Wall for Bs father. Always a plus to have the flag blowing in the wind.

IMG_4310

Distinguished gentlemen ascending to the top of a tower.

IMG_4312

Break atop the tower so we can test out the selfie stick.

IMG_4318

On guard! Who goes there?

IMG_4321

Group shot along the Great Wall.

IMG_4330

Revisiting the tower we camped in.

IMG_4336

All lined up along the wall.

IMG_4339

Taking on the Great Wall. Bs father hiking along the path like a young guard.

IMG_4340

Shot through the doorway.

IMG_4343

A and Bs Dad taking a break at the top.

IMG_4345

The picturesque view of the Great Wall.

IMG_4351

Self of B and A alpine sliding down the Great Wall.

After venturing down the Great Wall we headed to central Beijing. We took the night to explore noodles in the city and walk some streets. The next day we visited the world famous Forbidden City and Tiananen Square. We also stopped at the Temple of Heaven before boarding our return flight to Shanghai.

IMG_4355

A first look at Tiananmen Square for Bs Dad.

IMG_4357

Posing before the Forbidden City.

IMG_4360

Father and son at the Forbidden City.

IMG_4363

It was a hot and crowded day at the Forbidden City.

IMG_4364

One of the many temples inside the walls of the Forbidden City.

IMG_4365

A canal running through the inside of the Forbidden City.

IMG_4366

Our guests posing with a few other people.

IMG_4367

An artist inside the Forbidden City depicts an image of Bs Godfather in less than five minutes while walking next to us.

IMG_4371

Selfie stick time inside the Forbidden City.

IMG_4378

The crowd inside the Forbidden City.

IMG_4379

IMG_4387

IMG_4389

A little girl conducting a traditional Chinese dance routine inside of the Temple of Heaven Park.

IMG_4393

Group selfie at the Temple of Heaven.

Shanghai Spring

With family in town again, Bs Dad and Godfather, we took to the streets in Shanghai once more. In between our excursions in our home city we visited Beijing, Singapore and Malaysia (those posts to come). For now enjoy the pictures of our time in 上海.

The trip began with a rainy evening on the Bund.

1 Bund

As seems to be the norm in Shanghai, it was a rainy spring.

2 Bund

Bs Godfather and Father on the Bund.

3 Bund

B and his Dad on the Bund.

5 Bund

Bs dad at the Bund on a rainy evening.

We visited an old friend on food street to sample a variety of breakfast options.

7 St

We sampled both old and new options including our favorite breakfast burrito (Dong Bing).

8 St

A rainy food street.

We also took some time to visit the world famous skyline in Luijiazui 陆家嘴.

10 LJZ

It may have been overcast but the Shanghai World Financial Center was still an impressive sight, not to mention the added bonus of blooming cherry blossoms.

11 LJZ

As night crept in the glow from atop the skyscrapers left an impressive image in the sky. Here you cannot quite see the top of the Jin Mao (the nearly completed Shanghai Tower in the background)

12 LJZ

Our guests on the elevated walkway in the center of Shanghai.

13 LJZ

The SWFC glowing in the mist of a spring evening.

14 LJZ

Bs Dad posing before the famous Pearl Tower.

We also spent one night downtown in Puxi.

15 PS

A view of Shanghai through the rain clouds as weekend traffic flows through the heart of the city.

17 NS

Getting freshly made noodles.

18 NS

Noodles for lunch on the street in the former French Concession neighborhood of Shanghai.

19 NS

Delicious and enjoyable outdoor dining with all of the standard Shanghai elements to complete the ambiance.

20 NJ

Taking a walk on East Nanjing Road (Shanghai’s version of Time Square)

21 NJ

Bs Dad reaching celebrity status.

22 NJ

Our guest in one of the busiest and most populated areas of the city.

23 NJ

When celebrity status multiplies and gets out of control.

24 NJ

The beautiful colonial buildings of Shanghai.

26 NJ

One more shot from a busy night of exploring.

27 PS

The castle like hotel we stayed at by Peoples Square in the morning fog.

28 Bund

One last visit to the Bund before Easter brunch.

 

When 2 becomes 3, a magic number…

The Brianja family has completed a roster move. With the receipt of their recent LOA they have completed a player transaction to acquire the adorable and lovable free agent T. Jerseys are already being printed with his nickname on the back, though he has yet to select a number. His contract stipulates that he must complete a physical and an abundance of paperwork prior to joining his new team. There has been a lot of speculation about when he will join the team but the latest reports indicate that T is expected to join the active Brianja roster this summer. The Brianja team highly anticipates T’s arrival. They are anxious to bolster their roster with his highly touted skills. T has a knack for stealing hearts, captivating fans and drawing loud cheers. Asked about his arrival, team co-captain A said, “We love him so much already. We can’t wait for him to be with us.” B, the other co-captain, had this to say, “We need his spark, the added noise, and of course good looks to round out our roster, add depth and increase talent.” The team looks forward to having T join them in Shanghai and travel with them to the United States. A spokesman for Brianja said that once T has adjusted to his new surroundings in Shanghai he will be available for photo ops, play, hugs and kisses. 

T

Dearest friends and family, find us on Facebook to find out T’s full name.

Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields

The Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975. Led by Pol Pot they immediately began to restructure society. Pol Pot believed that Cambodia should be a rural, classless and agrarian society. As a result, within just a few days of the Khmer Rouge coming to power, families were separated, jobs taken away and the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced to march into the countryside and work as slaves for up to 15 hours a day. Anyone who tried to disobey was immediately killed.

The Khmer Rouge declared it Year Zero, stopped the postal service, closed its borders and abolished currency, schooling, private property, foreign clothing and traditional Khmer culture.

Senior members of the former government and their families were executed. Pol Pot believed that all the various factions of the Khmer Rouge needed to be cleansed. This lead to an unknown number of people being killed, outside and within the Khmer Rouge party. The Khmer Rouge were finally toppled by the Vietnamese in 1978. While no one knows the exact numbers, during these 3 years and 8 months it is estimated that 1 in 5 Cambodians were killed, perhaps more than a million people. They were killed in executions, in killing fields, and by being starved and worked to death. We learned that one saying of the Khmer Rouge went something like this: Better to kill ten innocent people than let one enemy escape. With this motto, entire families, from newborns to the elderly were executed. During this time the world was clueless. The Khmer Rouge had completely closed Cambodia’s borders. They only invited those sympathetic to their cause, and took them on staged tours of their country.

While in Phnom Penh, we were able to drive a half hour to visit one of the many killing fields. It is estimated that about 17,000 men, women, children and infants were killed at the Killing Field of Choeung Ek. Bullets were expensive, so they were often bludgeoned to death. Previous to becoming a killing field, this land was a Chinese burial ground, where those who passed were honored and respected.

There are killing fields, such as this one, all over Cambodia, many surrounded by land mines or hidden in jungles. At Choeung Ek, when it rains, pieces of human bones and cloth rise to the surface. Below is a picture of the memorial at Choeung Ek. It is home to skulls and other bones from many, but not all, of the victims at this field. Many of the mass graves in this field have been left untouched, the Cambodian’s preferring to let the victims of the Khmer Rouge rest in peace.

IMG_4903_2

A memorial and place to pay respect to those murdered in this field, as well as those who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

IMG_4899_2

1 of 129 mass graves

IMG_4900_2

Bone fragments and pieces of cloth will come to the surface after it rains.

IMG_4901

A tree that was used to kill many babies. All it took was one tiny head and one hard swing.

During the Khmer Rouge rule all schools were closed. Anyone with an education became an enemy of the state. The Tuol Sleng Museum was once a high school. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned it into a prison, giving it the code name S-21 (Security Prison 21). Those killed at the Choeung Ek Killing Field were first tortured here. Similar to the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge kept detailed records and today you can visit and look at the photographs of those who perished and the few who survived. Eventually, the Khmer party turned on itself and began torturing the killing their own.

IMG_4904

Due to the closed borders and a few Westerners’ lobbying on their behalf, the Khmer Rouge continued to be given a seat in the United Nations. In fact, from 1979 to 1990, the masterminds behind this genocide, were recognized as the only legitimate representative of Cambodia (at that time the country was called by another name).

The Cambodians, also known as the Khmer people, are recovering from a genocide and civil war that didn’t end until 1997. Those that we met were kind, helpful and proud of their cultural heritage, a heritage that was almost lost.

You can read more at these websites:

Day 2 at the Angkor Temples

For our second day at the temples we decided to get up early to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat (the most famous temple). We heard it was gorgeous, but also crowded. So we found ourselves biking at at 4:45am in the dark to see the sunrise. The sun rose slowly, between 5:30 and 7:30am, providing opportunities to take many pictures. Here are a few of our best.

IMG_4998_2

IMG_5004_2

IMG_4997

The massive amount of people at the temple to see sunrise.

FullSizeRender

No I didn’t shrink, nor did B grow. He is standing on a rock.

We took a break from watching the sunrise to explore the inside of the temple, while most people were still outside.

IMG_5019_2

IMG_5020_2

IMG_5021_2

Look closely and you can see B!

IMG_5024_2

IMG_5025_2

IMG_5068_2

Taking a break with our friend from Shanghai, who was also visiting Cambodia.

 

It wasn’t long before we headed back to the front of the temple to catch more of the sunrise.

IMG_5069_2

IMG_5029_2

IMG_5071

At this point it was around 7:15am. So we decided to go ahead, take our bikes and see what else we could find. We headed straight to Bayon, the temple of many faces.

IMG_5035_2

IMG_5036

IMG_5039_2

IMG_5042_2

IMG_5045_2

IMG_5047_2

IMG_5048

IMG_5054_2

IMG_5051_2

We explored a few more temples and then went back to town, thoroughly exhausted and ready for a nap by the pool.

IMG_5056_2

IMG_5064_2

IMG_5057_2

IMG_5066

IMG_5078

Day 1 at the Angkor Temples

The temples at Angkor were abandoned for centuries, allowing the jungle to overtake them. The temples are what is left over from a 600 year period between AD 802-1432. During this time the Khmer Empire was one of the greatest in southeast Asia. The city of Angkor had a population of one million, when London was still a small town of 50,000. At that time houses were built of wood and therefore no longer exist. The temples however, were an entirely different matter. Angkor is the earthly representation of Mt. Meru, the place where the gods lived. One king after another tried to out build each other in the 400 square kilometers that make up the area. According to Wikipedia over one thousand temples remain, ranging in size from just a few bricks to the lofty Angkor Wat.

On our first day out we hired a tuk tuk driver and had him take us to the temples of Preah Khan, Preah Neak Poan, Ta Som, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm. Sadly, except for the biggest named ones we lost track of which temples were which. However, some of the smaller temples were the most amazing. So without further ado, here are pictures from our first day.

IMG_4923_2

IMG_4922_2

IMG_4924_2

IMG_4927_2

IMG_4928_2

IMG_4920_2

IMG_4929_2

IMG_4931_2

IMG_4934

IMG_4937

IMG_4942_2

IMG_4945_2

IMG_4955_2

IMG_4959_2

IMG_4973

IMG_4986_2

IMG_4989_2

IMG_4994

IMG_4993_2

IMG_4991_2

IMG_4990_2

 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Over Chinese New Year we decided it was time to explore Cambodia. Arriving late on Friday night, we started our trip in the capital, Phnom Penh. We awoke the next morning, excited to see the city by day and begin our exploring. Phnom Penh, is a city full of charming cafes, fantastic food with a lovely river walk. 

On Saturday we decided to start our day before it got too hot. The Royal Palace was reminiscent of the one in Bangkok, however a little less ornate. It is still the official residence of the king, so parts of it is off limit to tourists.

IMG_4832

View of beautiful landscaping and a gorgeous building in the Royal Palace. Check out that tree!

IMG_4833_2

The detail in the buildings were impressive.

IMG_4837_2

There are many beautiful stupa’s containing the ashes of former kings.

IMG_4842

The Silver Pagoda is named for its floor, which is covered in silver tiles. You are not allowed to take photographs inside and most of the tiles are covered up. The ones you could see have delicate carvings on them. Inside are many artifacts from when the Khmer civilization was at its peak.

IMG_4844

IMG_4872

The city itself reminded us a little of HCMC and Hanoi. Motorbikes were everywhere, electric wires were a tangled mess and you could see the French influence in the architecture.

IMG_4847

IMG_4845_2The easiest way to get around was by tuk tuk.

IMG_4874

IMG_4897_2

IMG_4911_2

The roads could get very dusty!

We decided to take a sunset cruise on the Mekong River.

IMG_4855

River homes and homes by the river.

IMG_4869_2

IMG_4876

Enjoying the fantastic breeze.

IMG_4857_2

IMG_4878

Phnom Penh has many monuments.

IMG_4910_2

The Independence Monument was built to commemorate the country’s independence from France in the 1950s. It also serves as a monument to those who died at war. It was modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat.

IMG_4912_2

This monument honors King Norodom Sihanouk.

Overall, we enjoyed the city. It was a great introduction to Cambodia, Cambodians and their delicious food!

We Just Wanted A Photograph

In the days to come we will share many photos from our CNY trip to Cambodia. However, we will tell the story of just one picture. While observing the grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and taking various photographs A and I decided that we would stop to take a picture together (before it got too hot). We took a quick look around and found two people nearby, so we asked if they would take our picture. One kind gentlemen obliged and I handed him my phone. He snapped a quick shot and then the three of us began to discuss common traveler topics like where are you from etc. Eventually, we were discussing selfie sticks and how we had forgot ours at the hotel (thus the need for someone to take our picture). He acknowledge that he was familiar with selfie sticks. We continued to chat for a brief moment and then each of us went our separate ways to continue exploring the Royal Palace. As we walked away another man approached us and asked, “Do you know him?” We shared that we did not and that he was just a stranger we asked to take our photo. The man then told us that we had just been photographed by Gary Latham, but we were not familiar with the name. The man talking with us was touring with Gary Latham and a few other people on a photography tour. It turns out Gary Latham is a renowned photographer who has taken photos for National Geographic, Lonely Planet and more. The lone picture below is Gary Latham’s quick snapshot of us. You can be the judge as to where it ranks among his best work. For comparison here are some samples of his previous work. Afterwards we looked into these trips and learned that they are multi-week excursions throughout Asia where those traveling with him refine their own photography skills. Just think, we chose to discuss selfie sticks with him and how they eliminate the need for asking someone to take your picture.
IMG_4872

Mui Ne & Phan Thiet, Vietnam

We kicked off 2015 with a ride up the coast of Vietnam to the gorgeous resorts of Mui Ne & Phan Thiet. We stayed in a lovely beach resort in Phan Thiet just a short trip to the busier streets and beaches of Mui Ne. It was a perfectly warm way to relax and recover following a busy series of travels through Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and HCMC. We were able to eat more delicious food and enjoy extremely affordable massages. It was a great way to end a long trip.

1

B and A at the beach in Phan Thiet.

2

Beautiful view from the resort in Phan Thiet.

3

Temple in Mui Ne

4

White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

5

Waves of Vietnam.

6

The coast of Vietnam as seen from Phan Thiet.

7

K and A enjoying delicious Bah Mi (delicious street food/sandwich) on the beach.

8

A and K biking on the streets of Pham Thiet. Worth noting the alternating Vietnam and Communist street flags.

9

Vietnam and Communist flags flying high all over Vietnam. Just in case you forget where you are or who is in charge.

10

Phan Thiet street art.

11

Beautiful fishing village in Mui Ne.

12

K, B and A taking a break from biking at a local cafe.

13

Beautiful sky, ocean and dunes from the red sand area of Mui Ne.

14

A sledding on the red dunes in Mui Ne.

15

K sledding on the red sand dunes.

17

B sledding on the red sand dunes in Mui Ne.

18

A coming down the hill.

19

K and A at the bottom of the dunes.

20

Shot of Mui Ne from the top of a hill and nearby temple.

21

White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

22

A and K hanging out on the white sand dunes of Mui Ne.

23

A and B throwing deuces out on the windy hills of the white sand dunes.

24

B riding the atv on the white sand dunes.

26

K and A riding in the back of the ATV as B drives across the white sand dunes.

 

And on the 5th Day…

…recreational fireworks began at midnight and continued until 2am. A few hours later they started up and continued on and off for the rest of the day. So, with sleep in our eyes, we began the first day back at school and quickly learned about the fifth day of Chinese New Year.

The day is commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu. There are many stories about the origin of this festival, but the most popular one is that it is the birthday of the god of fortune. Therefore, people shoot off fireworks in order to gain favor with this god and good fortune for the entire new year.

The fireworks in China are intense, and by intense I mean the shows at night (they are often set off during the day) are often as good or at times even better than what we see on the 4th of July. What makes this so surprising is that the people setting them off are just like you and me. Hopefully one day we will get to see fireworks set off by the government. They are probably outstanding. To get a small taste visit B’s facebook post to view a video our friend took right after midnight. It is long, so be sure to watch from 1:30-2:30 for the best portion.

PS – As I am posting this fireworks are going off and we expect that they will continue until midnight. In fact, we may visit our firework guy after dinner and set some off ourselves.