Posts Tagged With: Border Crossing

Ruins of Angkor

After our week of fun with the family in Phuket, Thailand half of them headed home, but Jen and Paul were able to stick around and join us for the next leg of the journey into Cambodia. The four of us booked it out of Thailand and into Cambodia so that Paul would have enough time to see as much as he could before heading home one week later. It took us only one full day to make our way from Phuket to Siem Reap, Cambodia–the gateway to the ruins of Angkor.

By this point in our trip Sarah and I were seasoned land-border-crossers, but it was a first for Jen and Paul. There’s really not much to it. You get an exit stamp from the country you’re leaving, walk through some sort of buffer zone to a building to pay for and receive your visa, and the finally walk a bit further to get an entry stamp for the country you’re entering. Most of the time this process is pretty straight forward, but occasionally you encounter someone trying to run a scam. In this case the only scam we encountered, but avoided, was a fake visa issuing building that charges double the going rate for a visa. In the case of Cambodia a visa costs about $23, which is what we paid.

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The contrast between Thailand and Cambodia was immediately obvious at the border. As soon as we entered Cambodia the feel of everything changed. Cambodia was less organized, a bit more hectic and there was far more trash lying around. Sarah and I had seen places like this and worse but it was interesting to see it settle in for Jen and Paul. Thailand is a pretty clean and well organized country by most standards, so leaving it and entering Cambodia created a whole new vibe for the trip.

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From the border we took a two hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. We researched the trip ahead of time and knew approximately what the two hour journey should cost. With a little negotiating we easily reached that price ($12 per person). Our taxi was a fly Toyota Camry from the early 90’s. Cambodia is full of Toyota Camrys. It seems like it’s the only car on the road at times. Maybe they get some sort of bulk discount. ūüėČ

The taxi driver dropped us on the side of the road in an unknown location where a few tuk tuks (I think they call them Motos in Cambodia) were waiting to receive us. We’d read that the tuk tuk drivers will take you to your hotel for free if you agree to use them as your mode of transport around the Angkor ruins. The ruins area is a massive complex and so this is the most popular and easiest way to see them. Before knowing what the going rate for this “tour” around the ruins was we didn’t want to agree to use these particular tuk tuk drivers. So we instead negotiated on a set price to take us to the hotel of our choice. With the four of us and our luggage we had to hire two tuk tuks.

Instead of taking us to the hotel we requested, and that they originally agreed to take us to, they took us to a different hotel where they presumably hoped to receive a commission for bringing us to. We don’t like to support this kind of tactic and so refused to even look at the rooms and insisted they take us to the hotel we requested. Either because of language barrier issues or shear stubbornness, they wouldn’t take us to the hotel. So we grabbed our bags and walked away without paying them the fare. We quickly found another tuk tuk driver who was willing to take us to the correct hotel and at a reasonable price. Being the nice, honest fella he was, we decided to hire him to be our driver for the next two days to make our way around the Angkor ruins complex.

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The Angkor complex contains many temple ruins, with the most well known being Angkor Wat. We spent two full days touring the temples via tuk tuk and walking. Both days had beautiful skies, though the heat was a little oppressive at times. The first day of the tour consisted of seeing the temples along the large loop road (green road shown above). The second day we arose early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the largest religious temple in the world) and then continued along the small loop road (red road shown above) to see a few more ruins sites. The complex dates back 1200 years and more temples are still being discovered.

For more info on the Angkor ruins check out Wikipedia or the UNESCO site. It’s an amazing place and I feel fortunate to have seen and walked in such a fascinating historical site. The pictures below don’t do it justice but I hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the images to view all of them in a slideshow format.

Categories: Ruins, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Goodbye India…Hello Nepal

Sarah and I have long awaited our trip to Nepal. The biggest reason being the great trekking that the country has to offer. I’m not talking about the crazy mountaineering that involves hiking to extremely high elevations, for instance, climbing Mt. Everest. Nepal is well suited for amateur hikers as well and provides relatively easy access to the amazing Himalayan mountains. Beyond trekking, Nepal is known for its great people and other natural attractions like low land wildlife and forests.¬†The other reason we were so keen to get to Nepal was because we’d grown a little road weary from our two months of travel through India. Don’t get me wrong, India is AMAZING! But, it’s also an exhausting place to travel. We’ve related some of the challenges in previous posts.

Before heading to Nepal we spent our last couple of days in India in its capital city, Delhi. We’d already been to Delhi briefly in order to catch a train east to Agra (Taj Mahal), but had to make our way back in order to catch another train that would take us close to the Nepal border. We didn’t do anything noteworthy with the rest of our time in Delhi except for some minor sightseeing, eating some of the tasty street food and lounging around in one of the city’s parks.

We've seen these open barber shop stalls all over India.

We’ve seen these open barber shop stalls all over India.

Shot from outside the gates of this Fort on a very hazy day.

Shot from outside the gates of this Fort on a very hazy day.

This guy was repairing and ironing money. Does this count as money laundering?

This guy was repairing and ironing money. Does this count as money laundering?

There was a Valentine's Day promotion going on. If you buy one Love Nut donut you get the second for free. Sweet. By the way, the coffee tastes just like it does in the U.S.

There was a Valentine’s Day promotion going on. If you buy one Love Nut donut you get the second for free. Sweet. By the way, the coffee tastes just like it does in the U.S.

Lounging in the park. This is where all of the love birds hang out. Here is where we saw the most contact between the opposite sex. In this case they were all young, mid 20's or so.

Lounging in the park. This is where all of the love birds hang out. Here is where we saw the most contact between the opposite sexes. In this case they were all young, mid 20’s or so.

There aren't many green places to hangout so the park gets pretty crowded. This the security checkpoint to enter.

There aren’t many green places to hangout so the park gets pretty crowded. This is the security checkpoint to enter.

The line to enter the park.

The line to enter the park.

Yummy street food. Potato sandwich with a side of potatoes.

Yummy street food. Potato sandwich with a side of potatoes.

The potato chef at work.

The potato chef at work.

The omelette chef at work.

The omelette chef at work.

Happy customer with her bread omelette in hand.

Happy customer with her bread omelette in hand.

Though we didn’t take in many of the sites during either of our visits we did enjoy a couple of fun conversations, one of them with a group of touts “working” the New Delhi train station. I decided to interview them to better understand the scams they try to run with tourists. Surprisingly, though slightly reluctant at first, they were willing to share, and even let us observe, as long as we didn’t warn the unassuming tourist.

Here’s what they shared. A group of about eight of them work two shifts during the day. They stand as a group at the entrance to the parking lot of the train station, perched on the highest platform they can find in order to spot their prey as he or she approaches (prey being anyone that looks like a tourist). One of them leaves the group and starts walking in pace with the tourist, almost as if they are stalking them like predator with prey, and eventually meets them at their side to tell them one of many lies in order to divert them from their intended task of either buying tickets or entering the train station to board their train.

If the tourist is trying to buy tickets the tout will pretend to be someone official or just a friendly citizen and tell them that the foreign tourist ticket office is closed or provide some other reason why they can’t purchase tickets at the station. The tout’s goal is to take the tourist to one of the many private ticket reservation offices nearby to purchase their ticket there. If the tout is successful in this endeavor he will share a portion of the profit made from the tourist buying their ticket. This profit is then shared with the rest of the touts working that shift. So it’s both fair and unfair at the same time, I guess. I wanted to stay longer to ask more questions and observe a few more hunts but one of the touts was being a little to “friendly” with Sarah so we had to move on.

Another scam we were not told about but encountered on our way to Agra during our first stop in Delhi went down like this. Our train was scheduled to depart very early in the morning. So early that there weren’t the usually crowds of people hanging out near the train station. We entered the parking lot without encountering any touts–we assumed that they didn’t start “working” until later. But upon entering the train station through the security checkpoint a man greeted us with a clip board and pen, reviewed our tickets, and then told us that the tickets were not valid and that we would have to purchase new ones. Sarah and I immediately realized what was happening, took our tickets back and entered the station. As we passed the man Sarah yelled, “you suck!”. After determining which platform our train was located at we made our way towards the raised walkway that would take us there. To our delight there was yet another official looking guy with a clip board and pen in hand ready to check our tickets. This time we didn’t bother handing him our ticket and walked right passed him, again, sharing our disdain for him. We were slightly concerned that this guy did actually work at the train station. But it turned out we were correct in assuming that he was a tout.

Aside from the touts, the other fun conversation we had was with a retired U.S. citizen that was born in the northwest region of India, near the modern day states of Kashmir and Ladakh. Ifty is his name. We ran into him while trying to buy grapes from a fruit stand at the market near our hotel. He had been traveling through India for a few months at that point. We exchanged stories of our experiences in India and he shared what he knew of the history of India and his opinion about the changes taking place in the country. He loves India and is proud of the progress the country is making. Because he can speak Hindi so well he was able to ask for recommendations on where to get the best masala chai. It turned out that the best place was at the market where we met. Sure enough, it was most definitely the finest masala chai we had in all of India. We spent another 30 minutes or so with him chatting before we parted ways.

Best masala chai in India!

Best masala chai in India!

Our friend Ifty and us. Great guy!

Our friend Ifty and us. Great guy!

The master at work. Really, this was the best masala chai we had. He would change the intensity of the flame from time to time and watch the foam on top. Though I tried, I couldn't figure out his secret. Guess we'll have to go back some day.

The master at work. Really, this was the best masala chai we had. He would change the intensity of the flame from time to time and watch the foam on top. Though I tried, I couldn’t figure out his secret. Guess we’ll have to go back some day.

Later that night we caught the last train we’d take in India on our way to Gorakhpur, the nearest train station to the India/Nepal border crossing location where we chose to cross. During that trip we met a fellow long term traveler from Brazil, Jorge (George). He was also on his way to Nepal and after a couple hours of chatting we all decided to make the trip across the border together. Little did we know that we’d run into him again in Kathmandu, Nepal and travel with him for a few more weeks still. More on that in later posts.

To see a funny video of people frantically trying to board the train to Gorakhpur, click on this link or the image below to be taken to the YouTube video.

Mad dash to get a seat.

Mad dash to get a seat.

After arriving in Gorakhpur we had to take a bus to the border town of Sunauli. The experience boarding the bus was one last reminder of the joys of travel in India. When boarding a bus in India with no assigned seats you have to get on the bus as soon as possible to try to procure decent seats, i.e. not over the tires or in the back of the bus. So Sarah and I agreed that I would take the luggage to the back of the bus while she got in line to board the bus and save our seats. As the bus pulled into the pickup location it had to turn around. But a moving bus does not deter people from boarding. Sarah knows this and attempted to board the bus but was stopped by the attendant who asked her to wait until the bus was fully parked. Sarah being the polite person she is obliged and waited at the door of the bus, being sure to stick close to the door as the bus moved in order to save her spot in line.

The request of the attendant may have been followed by Sarah but fell on the deaf ears of the rest of the passengers trying to board the bus. So after returning from the rear of the bus where I had stored our luggage, I found Sarah physically pushing people away from the door to defend her place in line. While pushing them she was also yelling at them to stay back, all the while her mouth was full of samosa, which she had just taken a bite of moments before. With samosa flying through the air and Sarah continuing to push the assailants away, I approached her to lend a hand. Before I could get there another attendant jumped in to save Sarah by forcefully pushing the crowd behind her aside. Thanks to this guy and Sarah’s bravery we were secured four seats, two for us and two for our friend Jorge and his friend Giselle. Too bad I didn’t have the camera handy to capture all of this.

Last train in India. So sad. We love the trains.

Last train in India. So sad. We love the trains.

Sarah soaking up her last ride.

Sarah soaking up her last ride.

The last bus to the border was a little tight. Good thing Sarah fought for our seats.

The last bus to the border was a little tight. Good thing Sarah fought for our seats.

Hello Nepal!

Hello Nepal!

Once in Sunauli the border crossing was pretty straight forward. We got our exit stamps from India and paid for our tourist visa for Nepal and were free to roam. But we weren’t yet at our final destination. We had two more buses to catch before we could settle in for the night. Jorge took the lead on finding the next bus and also securing our seats. Thanks to him we got a bus and the best seats we’d gotten thus far on any bus we’d taken. For the short right to the next bus station we were given the privilege of riding on the top of the bus. It was a great welcome to Nepal and a fun experience to share with our new Brazilian friends.

On top of the world/bus in Nepal with Jorge, Sarah and Giselle (hiding behind me). Oh yeah, the sun was in my face. Give me a break.

On top of the world/bus in Nepal with Jorge, Sarah and Giselle (hiding behind me). Oh yeah, the sun was in my face. Give me a break.

Jorge and Giselle were off to Kathmandu and Sarah and I were off to¬†Chitwan National Park, so we split ways at the bus station–or so we thought. It turns out that Nepal is fifteen minutes ahead of India, so Jorge and Giselle missed their bus due to the time discrepancy. Because of this we all ended up on the same bus one more time, though, they were dropped off an hour or so later at another bus station to find a bus to Kathmandu. Sarah and I continued on with what turned out to be a less than desirable bus ride to Chitwan that arrived at around midnight. The bus stopped and the attendant told us that this was our stop. Seeing no one on the streets and no hotel signs we were hesitant to exit the bus before he showed us where the hotels were. We spotted a hotel sign and reluctantly left the bus, hoping that someone would open up for us. We stopped at the nearest hotel we could find, banged on the door until someone answered and finally settled in.

Welcome to Nepal!

Categories: Cities, India, Nepal, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Hello Peru! Chachapoyas, Kuelap, and Gocta

Our trip from Ecuador to Peru was quite exhausting…

We had started our first of two days at 6 am in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. We coincidentally met up with a couple from Montreal Canada, Ariane and Jon, that we had met the day before. The four of us were all headed for the same border crossing into Peru. We opted for the less popular border crossing in La Balsa because it was closer to our first destination in Peru, Chachapoyas.

Our first mode of transportation was a 7 hour bus ride to Zumba Ecuador, then an open sided truck called Ranchero, for another 1.5 to La Balsa, Ecuador. We crossed very easily into Peru as we were the only ones. We took a Taxi from the border for another 1.5 to San Ignacio, Peru. After 12 hours of travel time, we had some beers and stayed the night in San Ignacio.

Dave and I in the Ranchero

Check out the massive security between Ecuador and Peru. It was crazy.

Our taxi ride from the border to San Ignacio with our new friends.

We thought we were getting some yummy dark beer finally. Turns out it’s really sweet. Oh well.

We woke up early the second day too and started with a tuk tuk ride to a colectivo, a 15 passenger van, to Jaen. Once we were in Jaen, we took another tuk tuk to a colectivo to Bagua Grande. Once there, we took our final colectivo to Chachapoyas. In total, the second day was 8-9 hours of travel.

Crammed into the back of the dusty colectivo. A nice peruvian couple did offer us some of their freshly cut pineapple. We couldn’t say no, it would have been rude. We survived, there were no bugs in the pineapple and it was tasty. Thanks again nice Peruvian couple!

Finally in Chachapoyas!

Chachapoyas was a hub for some of the local attractions. We decided to visit two of them. The first was a trip to the pre-Inca civilization of the Chachapoyas people called Kuelap. It was quicker to get there if you booked it through a tour, so we did.

One the way to Kuelap we stopped at another pre-Inca civilization site that was build on the side of a mountain face. There were estimated to be about 200 people living on this cliff. Not sure how they did it or how they got from house to house.

A little hard to see the actual rock walls, but they are there on the side of this mountain.

Close up of the rock walls they build on the side of the mountain for their houses.

Kuelap fortress was recently rediscovered in 2006 and is on top of a mountain at 9,842 ft high in the cloud forest.

Kuelap park  entrance

It was originally built by the Chachapoyas people and was estimated to house anywhere from 2400-4000 people as it has 400 round house structures. To put it into comparison, Machu Picchu is estimated to house 200-300, if I remember correctly.

Map showing the layout of the round house structures that were found inside the Kuelap Fortress.

Kuelap was eventually invaded and taken over by the  Inca and then several decades later, the Spanish and Chachapoyas people worked together to reclaim Kuelap Fortress.  It was determined to be pre-Inca as all the structures are round and Incas always build things in squares. Here are many great pictures from the site.

This wall surrounds the fortress and can get up to 19 meters (62 ft) high. The fortress is about 600 meters (1,968 ft) long and 110 meters (361 ft) wide.

Entrance #1 into the fortress. It might be a little hard to see, but they started out wide and then got narrower as it got closer to the entrance for safety reasons.

Top view on entrance #1.

View from above entrance #3, this shot does a good job showing how high up this city was.

The tight squeeze up to the second level where the most important people lived.

Human remains were found in the walls of some of the buildings.

Dave and I standing next to the reconstructed building to show what they looked.

The three sideways diamonds represent the earth, sea, and air.

A face carved into the highest structure.

Dave with the cloud abyss behind him.

One of the densely population sections of Kuelap.

The second attraction we decided to go see was the Gocta waterfall. The waterfall has two falls with a total height of 771 meters (2,530 ft). If you talk to the local tour guides, they’ll say it’s the third tallest in the world, but if you google it, it’s actually the 16th tallest. Still, pictures doesn’t do it justice, this is a tall waterfall.

The view from the road towards the waterfall.

Dave in front of the falls trying to get some perspective on size. Also, note Dave’s facial hair.

It was a 3 mile hike through the Andes Mountains and through some farms near the village. This trail and some of the roads to the village were not there prior to 2005. Before these were created it was a 4-day trek to go see the waterfall. I’m glad these were constructed when we were visiting.

Trail along the mountains towards the waterfall.

This section was a little scary because there was loose rock and a steep fall to the river below.

A small section was very jungle like.

Overall the waterfall was very beautiful and a lot prettier than we thought it was going to be.

Getting close enough that you can’t see the first of the two waterfalls.

Dave and I and Ariane and Jon at the bottom of the falls.

It’s hard to show just how tall it actually is.

Categories: Nature, South America, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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