Saturday, December 31, 2016

A day and a half touring in Ayutthaya

We flew into Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport because it is on the north side of the city, closer to Ayutthaya where we would be staying while near Bangkok because it is the hometown of my brother-in-law Chingchai.

It took us 1500 baht to hire a taxi large enough to hold the five of us and all the luggage that Sam and Nafisa had brought to accommodate their eight-month old son Abe; about a hour later we were at our hotel, the Kuangsri River Hotel,  chosen mostly for its proximity to Chingchai’s house (more in a later blog post about the pluses and many minuses of this hotel).  He and my brother Dan came by after we had settled in to walk us over to the house, about a 10 minute walk away, that Chingchai bought for his sister Walee and mother. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Roadside views of Siem Reap and impressions of the scene

This is a placeholder for a post I'll write after posting about Ayutthaya

A day in and around Siem Reap

On our final day in Siem Reap, I was ready to go out and seen a few more of the Angkor-era temples, but I was decisively outvoted, so Boxing Day was a relaxed day in and around Siem Reap.  Nancy and I did head out to the War Museum,, a 20-minute tuk tuk ride from our hotel out along the airport road, just past the Defense Ministry’s regional headquarters. 

This museum consists of a large field with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, a helicopter and a fighter jet on display, surrounded by shelters with displays of various weapons – here machine guns, there landmines, or mortar shells / aerial bombs and with other artifacts from Cambodia’s three decades iof struggle against the Khmer Rouge, against Noth Vietnamese invasion, and against American bombing of the part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that went through Cambodia.  Each shelter also housed a chart with educational information and photographs.

The black uniform shown here was the initial Khmer Rouge outfit

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Angkor Wat at Sunrise, Banteay Srei and the Landmine Museum: venturing further from Siem Reap

Our (inadequate) guide from our first day in Siem Reap was not available on Christmas Day and our hotel was unable to secure the services of another, but we were determined to see more temples, so we hired our tuk tuk drivers from the first day who agreed to pick us u well before dawn so that we could catch sunrise at Angkor Wat.  We were instructed to be ready at 5 AM, although as it turned out the dawn did not begin until after 6:15, so a later departure would really have been possible.  We positioned ourselves in a grassy area outside the temple, with a small body of water separating us from the temple; the inner towers were only dark shapes against the dawning sky.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our visit to the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom

The final temple visit of our first day in Siem Reap was to Bayon, at center of Angkor Thom.  It was built as the state temple by King Jayavarman VII, last of the great Khmer kings, and the first prominent Mahayana Buddhist king of the Khmers.  The temple was built in the aftermath of his final battle with the Cham, who had invaded the area from their home in southern and central Vietnam.  At first, they Cham defeated the Khmer, but Jayavarman eventually led the armies that defeated them; the friezes on the exterior galleries showing battles with the Chams.

The posts throughout the temple, by contrast, are decorated with apsaras

Proceeding past the exterior galleries, we climbed into the interior of the temple where we could see towers, 49 in all, each decorated with four faces facing in each direction, and with a lotus on top.  Our guide said that the faces were of the King Jayavarman, but my reading suggests that they are the bodhisattva Lokevara, albeit perhaps with a resemblance to Jayavarman.  But then, the huge faces bear an uncanny resemblance to the Olmec heads we saw when traveling to Mexico City a few years ago.

Our guide helped us pull off the neat trick of being photographed nose to nose with one of the big faces

On the way out of the temple, I took a photo of a frequent sight – tuk-tuk driver waiting for his riders while sleeping in a hammock, usually as here in the tuk-tuk but sometimes in a nearby tree.

On the way out of Angkor Thom, we paassed through the western gate: which also had the mysterious face.

The bridge across the river to the Angkor Thom Gate had demons on the right side, gods on the left side

and naga on the end

Here are some of the individual gods

and here the demons


Now, the guidebooks all assure one that you don’t have to worry about having amateur guiding because all guides have to be specially trained do guiding within the Angkor Wat Architectural Park, but our experience  helps teach that training is no guarantee of quality.  Our guide, Mr. Sameta seemed to be having trouble staying awake, and he was definitely low on enthusiasm for what he was talking about;, answering questions sometimes seemed to pain him.  And he was determined to take us on an itinerary that he had selected because, he mentioned at one point, these are the three temples that most tourists want to see  At my behest, we stopped at one building as we were rushing by on the way one place to another; it turned out, when I did some research afterward, that the answers to my questions contained misinformation.  All in all, an unhappy part of the experience. 

Considering all the effort I had put into organizing this trip, it was too bad i put so little into making sure we had a good tour guide available.  However, I do pout some blame on our hotel because it was that staff that obtained his services.  The hotelier later told me, when I mentioned these problems to him so that he could avoid recommending this guide to future guests, that, had I emailed him in advance to ask for the services of a guide, he would have made sure to arrange an excellent guide.  And I get that, the best guides should be the busiest,  But my view is that because the hotel advertised itself as providing a booking service, as one of the advantages to staying there, they bear responsibility for the quality of the guides they book for their guests).

For dinner, we went back to the Khmer Kitchen where we had dined our first night, and had another fine meal  My dish, chicken with fried ginger, included sprigs of green peppercorns that had a very nice flavor in addition to their peppery kick.  There is a great deal to like in Cambodian cuisine.

Our first day touring the Angkor temples: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and on into Angkor Thom

We rose at about 8 AM to have the free breakfast included with our hotel room.  Served in the small Socheata restaurant (our hotel, Neth Socheata, combines the names of husband and wife) across the alley from our hotel's entrance, we were offered a fairly simple meal consisting of a plate chunks of local fruit, two slices of bunny bread toast with butter or strawberry jam, a two-egg omelette with either vegetables of ham and cheese, or a couple of other egg/meat choices, and coffee or jasmine tea  With the rest of our party rising an hour later, we were not ready to head off for our first day of temple touring until nearly 10 AM, a bit late as we were to find out. 

The hotel had secured the services of an English-language guide, I thought for our entire time in Siem Reap.  I had read that the light is best at Angkor Wat in the afternoon, and at Bayon and Ta Prohm in the morning.  I has also liked the idea of going to some of the “lesser” temples first and building up  to Angkor Wat as the grandest of all; and I was thinking of a two- or three-day touring plan.  But our guide said that the crowds get worse and worse at Angkor Wat as the day wears on, so that we should go there first (only when the day was over did I learn that our guide had no incentive to schedule based on a two-day schedule, because he had a commitment the following day anyway and so could be with us for only one day).  Thus, we went to Angkor Wat first.

In the end, I am not so sure that I agree with the premises of the second reason for postponing Angkor Wat.  Although Angkor Wat is the biggest and the most famous of the temples in the Angkor Architectural Group – when I told people I was going to Cambodia I just said I was going to see Angkor Wat, and that is the name that everyone recognized. I confess I had not appreciated that Angkor Wat was just one of several related buildings near Siem Reap.  And after having seen several ruins over the past few days, I am not ready to agree that it is the best: I rather liked a couple of the other temples we visited, Bayon and Banteay Srei, a bit more.

Anyway, we arrived at Angkor Wat by tuk-tuk and had to park outside the grounds. As we walked in, our guide reminded us that this wat was built in the middle of the 12th Century (dedicated in 1150) by Suryavarman II, a king whose religious was Hindu, and as a tribute to Vishnu.  We followed a a path through the forest until the trees opened up to reveal this awesome sight:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Our Southeast Asia Adventure Begins

On Wednesday morning, December 21, Nancy and I flew on All Nippon Air from Dulles Airport outside Washington to Bangkok with a change of planes at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.  I had booked the flights through United Airlines the previous spring and had not quite focused on (or recalled) that as a code-share partner United was unable to book seats for us, and it was not until about a week before departure that I noticed that we had no assigned seats for most of our round-trip flights.  Might we not even be sitting together? When I called ANA, I was told the best thing for us to do would be to show up three hours before flight time, when the check-in desk opened, and try to get seats together.  I got some relief when I did online check-in: we did have seats together, but a quick glance at SeatGuru told me that we would be close to the bathrooms.  So when we arrived early I asked if we could sit further from the bathroom.  The airplane employee took one look at me and said, you need extra legroom!  SO she gave us bulkhead seats, which not only gave me extra legroom; it also let Nancy put her feet up on the wall while sleeping and made it easier to get up and down without disturbing other passengers. We were both able to get a fair amount of sleep in this first leg of our flight.   We’ll have to ask for such seating on future long haul flights.

I was also trying out new flight pillow that I head read about online and decided to try instead of the inflatable neck pillows that I have been using in recent years.  The TravelRest pillow worked very well for me!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Few Days In and Around Palo Alto

Last week Nancy and I had the opportunity to spend a few days on a trip that combined work with vacation. After a case in which I had partnered successfully with the Juelsgaard IP Clinic at Stanford Law School to protect the identity of an anonymous Georgia resident who had posted a YouTube video about a series of abuses perpetrated by a prominent local dentist, I went out to talk in person with the students in the clinic.  While I was around campus, I did a more general talk at the law school about public interest lawyering and online free speech litigation, and presented a CLE course on online free speech litigation to the Bay Area chapter of the Reed alumni association, went into the city to talk about anonymous speech with the subpoena enforcement and safety teams at Twitter.  Beyond that, there was the chance to get together with friends and family, sample some excellent area cuisine, and get out onto the local hiking trails.

Stanford hosted us at the lovely Stanford Terrace Inn;  after dropping our bags, we headed our to look for lunch.  The eating choices within an easy walking distancer were not overwhelming; we settled on a pizza place called Pie-ology (apparently, this is a national chain, but I had never heard of it), which made “custom pizzas” – an unlimited choice of toppings and flavorings can be chosen, with a small choice of sauces, then placed on a thin round of dough which is baked in a very hot oven and ready to eat in about five minutes.  It was an interesting concept, and the toppings were a good assortment, but the dough itself baked so hard that it felt as if I were eating pizza on a matzoh.  The Palo Alto branch does not “yet” have a liquor  license.

We headed back to our motel to get a couple hours’ work in before we had to head off for my evening presentation.  The Inn was a motel with a pair of lushly planted courtyards