San Antonio and the Missions

An angel fixture at Mission San Jose in San Antonio

An angel fixture at Mission San Jose in San Antonio

For 4th of July weekend this year I took a road trip to San Antonio and Austin. The weather was incredible and I had a lot of fun driving through the Texan farmland. I went to San Antonio first and visited the Alamo and other missions, all of which encompass a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture is incredible and entrance is free to all the sites.

In addition to the Missions, San Antonio has amazing Mexican food and crafts centers. It was definitely worth the detour on my way to Austin to spend an afternoon there.

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Mole Creek Caves

A column (when a stalactite and stalagmite meet) in Marakoopa Cave

A column (when a stalactite and stalagmite meet) in Marakoopa Cave

After Sheffield I drove down to Mole Creek, which is home to a massive karst cave network. Marakoopa and King Solomon’s caves can be toured over a couple of hours and the experience is unreal. The pictures barely begin to do it justice. Marakoopa is a much larger cave and has what’s called “The Cathedral”, a gigantic cavern with gorgeous formations. King Solomon’s Cave is smaller but has more intricate and colorful formations, and the tour focused a bit more on the history of the caves. The cave is named after the historical King Solomon and his collection of treasures.

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Kakadu National Park

The natural infinity pool of Gunlom Falls in Kakadu Natioanl Park

The natural infinity pool of Gunlom Falls in Kakadu Natioanl Park

After our Mary River cruise we finally made it to Kakadu National Park, a sprawling 20,000 square km area (that’s half the size of Switzerland!) whose geological history extends millions of years and human history of over 40,000 years. Of course you can spend months exploring the park and not see everything, but the tour I was on just hit two highlights: the rock art of Ubirr and the swimming holes at Gunlom Falls. Both were extraordinary and I hope to make it back to Kakadu during my months working in Darwin. During the wet season the waterfalls are even more stunning and the wildlife is even more abundant.

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Street Art in George Town

A pink elephant and a cynical message on a wall near Lebuh Armenian in George Town, Penang

A pink elephant and a cynical message on a wall near Lebuh Armenian in George Town, Penang

I had just 9 days in Malaysia and I was feeling a bit worn out on the bus rides, booking new hostels, getting orientated to a new place and so on, so I decided to just spend the whole time in the UNESCO heritage site of George Town. It’s a very tourist-friendly small city that’s pretty cheap, and almost everybody speaks English. It’s also famous for two of my very favorite things: food and street art. I was quite a happy camper!

The street art in George Town is dominated mostly by a series of murals that are advertised in a popular tourist map (Marking George Town). Most of these had at least a handful of other tourists snapping pics when I found them. The common theme is protection of animals – particularly cats – and promoting responsible pet ownership. There were a few other nice pieces that I found scattered about as well.

In addition to the murals, there are wrought-iron caricatures with messages about George Town’s history all throughout the city. They’re a fun reminder of the history behind all the streets.

 

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Cambodia Roundup

A dubious way to transport a ladder in Phnom Penh

A dubious way to transport a ladder in Phnom Penh

I spent 16 days in Cambodia and an average of $30 per day. I didn’t see too many places, just Banlung, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap. The buses in southeast Asia were really wearing me down and I was concerned about my budget, so I decided to take it easy. I ended up spending more money than I had wanted to, though, mainly on the delicious western food I found near the beach.

I don’t have a burning desire to return to Cambodia. I found the people there to be a bit too aggressive and untrustworthy. It’s not that I felt unsafe there or like I’d be attacked, but rather that the people I encountered weren’t too concerned about my well-being and were always trying to rip me off. Also, the traffic was terrifying, especially when going for a bike ride.

I suppose if I do ever find myself in Cambodia again I’d like to explore more of the coast. I didn’t get to any of the islands or the smaller towns, and although the beach at Sihanoukville is beautiful, the town completely lacks culture and charm.

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Ta Prohm and Preah Kahn at the Angkor Archaeological Park

The Yank without a Chain posing at Ta Prohm

The Yank without a Chain posing at Ta Prohm

My final day of my tour of Angkor included the temples Ta Prohm and Preah Kahn, both famous for the magnificent trees and vines that grow amongst the ruins. These ruins are also where the Angelina Jolie movie Tomb Raider was filmed. You can definitely see why! It is truly striking to see how the trees have overtaken the sites and it’s a reminder of the power of nature over man. Unfortunately I didn’t get the timing quite right to take great pictures – early morning or late afternoon are best to avoid the sun, and of course I went between 11-2pm, probably the worst time!

Over my three days, I didn’t see quite as much of the Angkor Archaeological Park as I had anticipated, but after three days of biking around in the heat and surrounded by huge crowds of tourists, I was ready to move on! It takes a truly dedicated tourist to see more than 5 or 6 of the temples in three days.

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Biking to Banteay Srei

The ruins of Banteay Srei in the Angkor Archaeological Complex

The ruins of Banteay Srei in the Angkor Archaeological Park complex

On my second day visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park, I biked all the way from my hostel in Siem Reap to the ruins of Banteay Srei, nearly 40 km outside of town. It was New Year’s Eve and honestly it was the best way I could have finished out 2013, a year filled with adventures, learning, and growth.

The ruins of Banteay Srei are small but impressive with their well preserved and highly intricate carvings. Built in the 10th century, the ruins pre-date Angkor Wat by about 200 years and it’s believed the temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

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