Exploring Siem Reap – The Crown Jewels and the Lotus Flowers of Cambodia

We are officially at the temples of Angkor. These are the crowning jewels of Cambodia. For several centuries Angkor, was the centre of the Khmer Kingdom. With impressive monuments, enormous temple complex just jutted out of the surrounding jungle, the site is a unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilisation. We’re already blown away!

It’s overwhelming and it’s hard to take it all in ’cause there’s so much. It’s the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life.

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Awe-inspiring crown jewels of Cambodia, the Angkor Wat

As we are about to explore the temple complex, I noticed that two children is following us asking for money and food. We gladly hand them over our takeaway sandwiches from the local restaurant near the temple area where we had our breakfast. These Cambodian children which I considered metaphorically as lotus flowers which is one of the most plentiful flowers in Cambodia. The flower is not only beautiful, it has symbolic meaning in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Significant meaning of the lotus flower is that, since it grows in mud it represents the rise from hardships and struggles. It also represents the transformation to beauty, a powerful symbol of rebirth.

Lotus Flower

The lotus flower is one of the most plentiful flowers in Cambodia.

Lotus Flowers of Tonle Sap

We spent our second day traveling through the Cambodian countryside and visiting Tonle Sap lake. I would highly recommend this day excursion from Siem Reap, but you might enjoy it most if you hire a guide who knows how to avoid the problems including $35 rice scams.

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Jhona parading the lotus fruit we just bought from the local vendor after our boat ride from the floating village in Tonle Sap. The seeds can be eaten, not quite delicious but they say it has medicinal value

My group of friends and I loved the chance to observe a world. We are a decent photographers, so we had a great time photographing the colourful homes on stilts, the women working around their homes, the children, the men fishing, and the lake itself.

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Just read a rather bias travel advice on how to avoid worsening the plight of the children of Cambodia during your visit. To make a bold initial statement “Poverty is a big plague in this part of Asia” is a rather bias generalisation and an arrogant delusion “I wanted to save the world and solve the third-world problems (me coming from a first-world country)”. Poverty is ugly and it’s everywhere. A day spent in the floating village of many ethnic Vietnamese and numerous Cham people in the floating village of Tonle Sap or a three-day wandering aimlessly in the magical temples in Siem Reap doesn’t make you a local expert.

The next time you get an advice from someone that already visited Cambodia to not give anything even food or sweets to children who beg you and donate to charities instead, my advice is just to follow your instinct. Help especially if it benefits these children directly. Take note even a Cambodian charity supported by Hollywood stars and celebrated by the American media had been exposed for broad deception.

So cutoff the bullsh*t “As long as there are tourists giving money to children or buying their useless goods, there will be reason for their parents to keep them out of school and on the street…”. We should avoid the delusion of making ourselves as protagonist who saves the day particularly if we never experience to go to school regularly with empty stomach. As a traveller, we have to train ourselves to pause for a moment before judging something that is unfamiliar or that is bias.

Cambodia is still slowly recovering from years of civil war and poverty, and both are still very evident today. It is still emerging from its turbulent past, yet its citizens often embrace optimism and positivity. You are for sure likely to be met with a smile and a kind word from your typical Khmer. So who are we to tell them a different way, you know?

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Angkor the Crown Jewel of Cambodia

Why such beauty in this place? It feels like one of those big accomplishments, you know? When you do a wonder of the world and have that under your belt, it feels big.

I would perhaps suggest getting up very early to watch Sunrise at Angkor Wat, in order to make the beautiful golden pictures of the temple with the morning sun.

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You will notice the statuette of Vishnu going inside the temple, that’s how old this is, when there was still a Hindu influence and this stuff is kind of pre-dates Buddhism.

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Make sure to take water with you, as this is the by far the mother of all temples. We explored Angkor Thom city, Bayon temple, the 49 towers and Buddha stone faces on the top, Bapoun temple, Phimeanakas temple, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King and Taprom temple known as Tomb Raider temple.

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It’s crazy that the roots, the trees and how nature kind of slowly took back what man has created.

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Cambodia has spent a lot of money on tourism to bring people in hoping to stimulate the economy and even alleviate poverty problem. Thus, I encourage you to hire a reputable local tour guide to help the economy and to avoid being scammed. We collaborated in advance prior to this trip with our tour guide Chantrea Chhuon regarding our itinerary.

Our tour guide Chantrea who picked us up& drops us off at the airport, and toured & shared his expertise to learn more about Khmer ancient heritage and their cultures

Our tour guide Chantrea who picked us up & drops us off at the airport, and toured & shared his expertise to learn more about Khmer ancient heritage and their cultures

One of the side comments that Chantrea had told me that it’s kinda sad for him not to see many Khmer but to see many Western tourists here. We thanked him for us to experience some of Khmer culture beyond just sightseeing which to me is the most important thing for travellers. It’s remarkable at the same time inspiring that they not only survived Cambodia’s turbulent past but that they have been able to achieve so much under such harsh circumstances.

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Before you go: Remember you are on holy grounds when visiting a Buddhist temple and you really ought to pay attention to the Do’s and Don’ts. You should be covered down at least below your knees. Try to respect the culture and tradition of this place and don’t be a douchebag like this visitor who even strips down his shorts for his girlfriend to wear.

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My friend Jhona is showing a good example even if she knew she’ll be jailed by fashion police.

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The Happiness of Travelling Solo on Valentine’s Day Weekend in Belgium

Hans Zimmer‘s musical score playing in the background with Kate Winslet telling me things so freaking clearly “It was Shakespeare who also said “Love is blind”. Now that is something I know to be true. For some quite inexplicably, love fades; for others love is simply lost. But then of course love can also be found, even if just for the night. And then, there’s another kind of love: the cruelest kind…it’s called unrequited love. Of that I am an expert. Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other. But what about the rest of us? What about our stories, those of us who fall in love alone?” (from The Holiday).

Brussels-Midi 06:57 now flashing in the LED screen signalling that I have to wake my half-sleep self to board on the train. I’m travelling from St. Pancras – one of the things I like most about living in London is the ease with which you can travel throughout Europe.

Most of my time I don’t engage in this kind of existential pondering about love, about being single but it’s Valentine’s day and I haven’t had my coffee fix yet. But travelling itself is romantic and it has been my love affair for 4 years now.  I’ve got to taste Brussels’ classic-contemporary chocolate dichotomy.

Young couple in Grote Markt, Bruges

Young couple in Grote Markt, Bruges

Couple lost in Bruges Square

Couple lost in Bruges Square

Hungry couples enjoying frites/friten on Grasmarkt, Brussels

Hungry couples enjoying frites/friten on Grasmarkt, Brussels

Good friends in Grand Place, Brussels

Good friends in Grand Place, Brussels

Day 1. Brussels

It was really early when I checked-in at Hotel Carrefour de l’Europe which is just a stone’s throw from the prestigious Grand Place. Some free chocolates at the reception desk which is from the nearby Chocopolis shop. I also tucked a free €5 voucher in my pocket which reduced my purchase of a box of truffles and pralines into €17 only.

I had my first taste of pralines at Chocopolis. Belgians classify Pralines as any chocolate shell filled with a soft fondant center. The lady shop assistant handed me a passion-fruit-infused praline which is exquisitely tasty.

View from Hotel Carrefor de L’Europe

View from Hotel Carrefor de L’Europe

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Selecting truffles at Chocopolis

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Couples in front of Chocopolis

I spent the afternoon circling the Grand Place (Grote Markt), sampling no fewer than five chocolatiers: Leonidas, Elizabeth, La Belgique Gourmand including the first Godiva’s shop established in 1926. Grand Place is surely one of the world’s most beautiful squares with its splendidly Gothic and architecturally stunning Hotel de Ville.

Super-panorama van de Grote Markt in Brussel

Credit: KhaledF Photography Super-panorama van de Grote Markt in Brussel

A few steps away from the square is the rickety 300-plus-years-old Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, in which I was just in time for the next demonstration. The big chocolate shops are great but seeing then tasting real handmade chocolate is something special.

After that I strolled down narrow streets lined with friteries and waffle stands. So the procession of chocolatiers continued in Les Galeries St-Hubert which was Europe’s first shopping arcade. The more I sampled nougats, truffles, bonbons and different exotic flavours of ganaches like wasabi, pepper, rum – the clearer the level of sophistication is evolving. I ended up around €100 lighter after more chocolate sampling in Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and Mary’s.

Galeries Royales St. Hubert.

Galeries Royales St. Hubert.

Pierre Marcolini

Pierre Marcolini

Neuhaus

Neuhaus

Mary's

Mary’s

Godiva

Godiva

At nighttime, I initially did plan to have dinner in Rue des Bouchers as I accidentally came upon this pedestrian while chocoblazing during the day. This pedestrianised thoroughfare is tag as “the belly of Brussels” because of the plethora of cafes and restaurants. This make it seem an interesting place for the tourists to go for a dinner but my advice is to stay away from this crowded street as you might feel harassed by people calling you in their establishment.

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At Rue des Bouchers

Instead, I picked Falstaff restaurant opposite the Brussels Stock Exchange – you basically end up with the same price for your mussels bucket + fries + beer. On top of that, it seems to have bottled the atmosphere of 1903 with its authentic Art Noveau decor.

Falstaff restaurant with its Art Noveau decor

Falstaff restaurant with its Art Noveau decor

Day 2. Ghent

Talk to strangers when travelling as they usually have great firsthand experience travel tips. My original plan is to go to Bruges but I spontaneously ditched it and explored Ghent instead after hearing amazing stories from an Australian couple on the city centre’s maintained medieval look.

You see, travellers more that lovers generally get along so well because they understand each other. We are all away from home and they’re also looking for new friends and new adventures.

Ghent is only 1-hour train ride from Brussels Central station and only €10 roundtrip.

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St. Nicholas’ Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium

Second day is all about Belgium’s second national passion: beer. Khaled, a photographer based in Gent recommended to visit De Trollenkelder and Dulle Griet. I first checked Trollenkelder near the Grasmarkt and Sint Jakobs church but it was closed. My bad, I only checked Dulle Griet which is open during Sunday from 12 PM to 7:30 PM. Most shops are closed on a Sunday in Belgium.

Trollenkelder front window is full of Trolls

Trollenkelder front window is full of Trolls

Dulle Griet advertised that it has largest range of Belgian beers in Ghent. The bartender asked me what beer do I fancy whether Blond (a light and tangy pale ale) or Bruin (a classic brown ale with full body), see The Top Twenty Best Belgian Beers. I started with Delirium Tremens but my favourite so far is Kriek which has base beer with added cherries. The atmosphere is great. If you asked some kinds of beer that come in special glasses, you should give one of your shoes as a warranty that you will return the glass.

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Dulle Griet bartender

Augustin, Delirium, Kriek‬ and Gentse Triple

Augustin, Delirium, Kriek‬ and Gentse Triple

shoes as a warranty that you will return the glass

Shoes as a warranty that you will return the glass

Day 3. Bruges

Bruges is pretty with all the nineteenth century gabled buildings, the famous Belfry, and the old bridges perfect as romantic backdraft. But it was just too touristy in the Gross Markt square, so I decided to take the chill pill and walked in the quiet, cobbled streets while trying to channel my inner Collin Farrell in the movie In Bruges.

Foggy day in Brugge

Foggy day in Brugge

House with red window near the Belfry

House with red window near the Belfry

At Driekroezenstraat

While walking in the narrow quiet street of Driekroezenstraat, an old man named Wiem invited me to his private house museum which is a bit creepy but turned out to be the best surprise of the day. He showed me his World War II collection and his Nat Geo magazines 1935 edition and even asked him to rock his punk 1970’s leather jacket while holding his Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK album.

Wiem in Driekroezenstraat

Wiem in Driekroezenstraat

This is one of the reasons why I love travelling to meet people like Wiem with interesting life stories to tell. It would have made for a much better anecdote if I also learn his love story.

Yes, I really am single on this travel in the unexpectedly beautiful country of Belgium. Yes, I know the wonderful feeling of being loved and in loved. But boringly happy single me who is brave to eat dinner in a restaurant by myself on Valentines day . There are such traveller and you never know I might surprise myself and fall in love with someone on the road in one of the travelling days.

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Grand Place at night

Grand Place at night

10 reasons I’m falling in love to London

Today is my tenth month living in London so I am motivated to write the 10 reasons why I’m falling in love with the City.

I initially feel apprehensive about the whole moving to London thing because it is a big deal when you go alone. But I take a change in direction and thankfully, my employer help with my transfer as it would be difficult to arrive with no money, no living arrangements and no job prospects (if planning to find job here), it’s a huge load to take on.

To anyone who wants to come here, let me quote Rachel Weisz –

“I think London’s sexy because it’s so full of eccentrics”.

Ten months here and I still feel like it’s the first day of a new love story that I’m starting to fall in love. There are downsides especially that I came from a warmer country but London has more upsides as it is absolutely fantastic, everything you imagine and more.

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I love London because of…

10. The City has some of the world’s greatest modern and historic architecture Image 9. Natural History Museum is totally free as well as British museum, Science museum, Tate Modern. Plus lots of really, really good parks. Image 8. It’s not all pretty – there’s a gritty reality to it. I’ve fallen for its dingy, artsy, narrow streets. I especially like Brick Lane – its street artists, musicians and food artisans. I love that it’s rough because if something is too perfect it loses its character. Image 7. Saturday weekend markets. My favourites are Borough, Portobello and Greenwich markets. Yeah, free food tasting as well (comte cheese, paella…) Image 6. Music and sporting events. Every band who tours plays in London. It’s home to some of the most famous sporting venues in the world – Wembley, Twickenham, Wimbledon. I was able to watch John Mayer’s concert & the Djokovich vs Nadal ATP Finals in O2 Arena, and One Republic in Royal Albert Hall. Image 5. Oyster card. Public transport works most of the time, replacement buses are free, and sometimes conscientiously and unconscientiously thought DLR is free. When you understand the tube map you’ll realise how painfully simple it is. Don’t laugh at a station called “Cockfosters”. Image 4. Listening to Hillsong Christian band almost every Sunday. I consider myself as an agnostic, non-practicing Roman Catholic and non-baptised Christian but I am a sucker for any genre of good music. No haters please, believers or non-believers.

I know some religious people who are potentially fake and non-religious people who are genuinely the most kind-hearted. At the moment, I have more belief in human talents and human kindness in general.

Image 3. Going to Canary Wharf to work (most of the time I think? Lolz.) Image 2. Influence of Londoner’s diverse sense of style and fashion. I am learning how to get dressed like a man now. You know when you don’t have to go to an office or be anywhere in particular, it’s easy to let sweatpants and t-shirts become your default. It’s cool for a while, especially since it’s kinda like faking sick and staying home from school. I’m gonna watch Game of Thrones! I’m gonna eat yogurt on the couch! But then reality sets in and you remember you’re no longer a fifth-grader. You’re an adult who has shit to do. and adults get dressed for the day. Image 1. It’s multicultural. With over 300 different languages spoken here, nobody f***king care if English is your second or third language just Stand on the Right of the escalator and you’ll be OK. Another benefit of diversity, is of course, there is always something good to eat. So I can always find my xiao long bao, char kway teow, pad thai, beef pho, chicken adobo… Image

A contrast of Zen Historic Kyoto vs. Eccentric Modern Tokyo

Last year while having dinner with our friend from Sydney who came to visit us here in Singapore, she asked me where am I going next?

“Probably Japan or Australia.” Japan is a random choice while Australia is intentional choice as she can tour me around Sydney and treat me to dinner overlooking the stunning Sydney Opera House. But she suggested going for Japan.

“I need a holiday!” I told myself as I had been constantly stress from work lately and may be suffering from burnout. After checking the forecast of “Sakura” (Cherry Blossoms) season from here, I immediately booked a ticket in Scoot (low-cost carrier flights based in Singapore) bound to Tokyo.

Travel and change of place always impart new vigor to the mind. This quote from William Least Heat Moon always rang true and reminded me of why I travel:  to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the old familiar pillow in my single mattress.

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”

Japan is filled with interesting places to visit for your holiday. Whether you’re an old-timer or a modern maniac, you’ll definitely have a choice of your own.

Pictures speak volumes. Here are the pictures of my awesome Japan travel contrasting Zen Historic Kyoto versus Eccentric Modern Tokyo:

UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinkaku-ji (Gold Temple)

UNESCO World Heritage Site Kinkaku-ji (Gold Temple)

Japanese teen at Kinkaku-ji

Japanese teen at Kinkaku-ji

UNESCO World Heritage Site Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple)

UNESCO World Heritage Site Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple)

The Philosopher's Path, a pleasant path besides a canal that connects Ginkaku-ji

The Philosopher’s Path, a pleasant path besides a canal that connects Ginkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Gundam at Odaiba

Gundam at Odaiba

Where the character Chiyu is running under the Torii gates in the film "Memoirs of Geisha"

Where the character Chiyu is running under the Torii gates in the film “Memoirs of Geisha”

Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Kinkaki-ju Temple Entrance

Kinkaki-ju Temple Entrance

Sakura at Hirano Shrine

Sakura at Hirano Shrine

Cherry blossom blooms

Cherry blossom blooms

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

Rain drops in Tokyo Skytree

Rain drops in Tokyo Skytree

Takeshita at Harajuku

Takeshita at Harajuku

Fashion-forward teens at Harajuku

Fashion-forward teens at Harajuku

Beautiful lady in Takeshita at Harajuku

Beautiful lady in Takeshita at Harajuku

Nara Park

Nara Park

Deer at Nara Park

Deer at Nara Park

A "miko" - woman consecrated to a Shinto deity at Inari Shrine

A “miko” – woman consecrated to a Shinto deity at Inari Shrine

Giggling with Shinto ladies

Giggling with Shinto ladies

Sumo impression while wearing a "Yukata" a casual summer Kimono

Sumo impression while wearing a “Yukata” a casual summer Kimono

Tao Expedition from Coron to El Nido, Palawan: Let Travel Unravel Itself

Tao Expedition: Let Travel Unravel Itself

When travelling, you should always surprise yourself on discovering new places, new cultures, new acquaintances — instead of going to the familiars. You should always get yourself lost.

Snorkelling at El Nido’s Secret island

I’ve always thought my country Philippines fell behind in terms of their execution of great eco-tourism travel initiatives, well, Tao Philippines proved me wrong. Without a doubt the best trip I’ve ever done. Sailing and snorkelling at remote islands in idyllic tropical seas with no other tourist and conversing with amazing people from different countries.

Expeditioners – Strangers at Day 1, Friends at Day 5

Tao Philippines created a buzz in the online community on the extraordinary experiences of the crazy, adventurous expeditioners not only because of their isolation on gorgeous remote islands from touristy routes but also because of the impact on the social welfare projects of Tao. Tao projects includes building kindergarten schools on remote islands as well as sponsoring the payroll of kindergarten teachers and creating sustainable agriculture via Perma Culture based on applying gardening pattern that set-up a stable semi-managed ecology for the island farmers.

The Tao Farm – Organic, sustainable, providing a future for both the residents and Tao

This is my first blog post with the goal of reminding Fred not to be too serious in life. A great start to kick-off of sharing my travel and culinary adventures to the world…sharing joy and happiness from these adventures.

“When you’re smiling the world will smile with you, when you’re laughing the world will laugh with you.”

Always smiling Fred

More amazing pictures with Tao friends from the unspoilt Paradise of Palawan…

Gorgeous Cadlao Island - really is a Paradise

Gorgeous Cadlao Island – really is a Paradise

The "Karaoke" island

The “Karaoke” island

Boys cheering Sara FlodenBoys cheering Sara Floden

Head first dive from Ilya

Head first dive from Ilya

Sulin Lau is hungry

Sulin Lau is hungry

Missing Tao friends already

Missing Tao friends already

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