Tag Archives: temple

Majestic Kyoto

While I did enjoy many parts of Osaka, by comparison, Kyoto blew my mind!  It is one of the most darling, quaint, beautifully stunning and enjoyable places I’ve been.  The energy there was fabulous.  Quiet, very zen-like with one beautiful place after another.  I spent about a week there walking miles upon miles everyday through its majestic beauty.

Kyoto was the place I first noticed the raccoon dog statues, and made it my mission to find one for myself as a souvenir.  While many people I asked said I would have to travel to a different city to find one, I was relentless in my pursuit and was ultimately successful in finding a raccoon dog about 2 inches tall.  Perfect for travel!  He currently resides in my home in NOLA:)

One of my favorite memories of Kyoto was seeing a man tending to the landscape with tweezers!  I was in awe watching him go about the business of keeping the grounds in spectacular shape with only a pair of tweezers.  Absolutely incredible!  And it speaks to the dedication of their craft.

From what I recall, Kyoto had about 10 zen gardens that were scattered throughout the city.  While each place offered unique sights and feels, along with mind-boggling displays of perfectly crafted landscapes, probably my favorite was the kare-sansui zen garden at Ryoan-ji.  Its simplicity was breathtaking.  I found myself just staring at the various parts of the garden, for what seemed like an eternity, allowing my mind to wander into a quiet space.

Another favorite part of the city for me was the Geisha neighborhood.  The homes were lovely, the streets quiet, and if one was lucky enough, they might get a glimpse of a young, beautiful Geisha walking about with her, shall I call her her Madame(?) sheltering her from the sun with an umbrella.  I was fortunate enough to see one Geisha walking about, but respected the posted signs to not take pictures.  I was also fortunate enough to sit next to one on a train.  Again, while other tourists asked to take pictures of her, I refrained out of respect.  While the Madame did allow others to take pictures with her, I felt it was better to simply keep those memories in my mind.

Those are my most fond memories of Kyoto.  I certainly could have spent so much more time there exploring even more portions of the city that I hadn’t gotten to, but alas, I always try to leave something to go back to every place I go:)  Needless to say, I would highly recommend anyone to visit majestic Kyoto.

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On to Fujisan aka Fujiyama

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Osaka, Japan

Admittedly, it has once again been YEARS since I’ve update this blog… And I still have so many experiences to get through until I’m caught back up, all thanks to the shelter-in-place mandate due to COVID-19.  May as well take advantage of my down time!  Forgive me for not being as thorough in these next series of posts.  Its not to say I didn’t absolutely adore my time in Japan, as it’s an amazing Country, but since it has been so long since having been there, with so much happening in between, I’ve forgotten so many details.  I stayed in Osaka 3 or 4 days, and while it wasn’t my favorite part of Japan, it certainly still has it’s undeniable beauty!  Enjoy!

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On to Majestic Kyoto

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Hiking Khao Lommuak

Jo and I rose early to meet a local and her son who had invited us for a hike to the top of Khao Lommuak.  We had met Ploi and her 13-year-old son Noi Noi several days prior to the hike at a restaurant called Da-DoDo (by Dubai) that she and her husband (a native Italian) run.  From the first time Jo and I had gone to Da-DoDo, the reception was unbelievably welcoming and warm.  The food was also very delicious, and since it was only located a couple of doors down from where we were staying, well obviously, we had Italian more than just a few times, much to the dismay of my waistline, but NOT my taste buds! 🙂

We really weren’t all that keen about having to get up so early (we met Ploi at 6am) but knowing how hot it gets as soon as the sun rises around here, it made the most sense to get the hike started as early as possible.  We hopped in to Ploi’s car and headed out to Khao Lommuak, one of the tallest of the islands in Prachuap that divide Ao Manao and the Prachuap bay.  It really was a good thing that we had gone with a local because though Jo and I had already planned to do the hike at one point, we would have gone to the wrong place for it to begin with!  See, we had already walked to the Ao Manao beach several days earlier and had spotted signs for the National Park just before reaching the beach.  But this entrance is NOT the entrance to the hiking trail… So had we gone on our own, we would have been very lost as to actually finding the place.

In any event, once we arrived at the hike entrance, we were greeted by some lovely monkeys that live at the base of Khao Lommuak.  I had never seen this particular primate before and came to learn they are called dusky leaf monkeys or spectacled leaf monkeys!  They were quite the friendly bunch and eagerly accepted any food items we gave them.  I had some peanut butter crackers I had bought for breakfast and as a snack on the way up the hill, but of course ended up giving them all away to the beautiful monkeys!  Apparently, while the adults have a brown/black coat, the babies have yellow fur until they are about a year old, then it changes to the adult color:)  We didn’t see any babies during our first visit, but were fortunate enough to see one when we came back down.

After about 20 minutes playing with the monkeys, it was time to get the hike on!  The hike in total was 6 kilometers (round-trip) to a height of 240-ish meters from sea level.  Honestly I was shocked to hear how little of a height that was, since it seemed a lot higher as we climbed up and looked down!!  We started up the trail which first was just a series of steps with Noi Noi in the lead.  I can’t recall now exactly how many stairs there were, but generally to keep myself distracted from the pain of climbing stairs I simply count.  If memory serves however it was over 500!  We were all taking breaks of course to catch our breath, drink water and collect ourselves before moving on.  And of course I had to use the excuse that I needed pictures in order to rest a bit 😉

It was just before the stairs turned to a natural dirt and rock path that little Noi Noi decided to turn back.  He had done the hike the day before and wasn’t up for doing the whole thing again, so he headed to the car.  I had gone ahead up to the end of the stairs and started to climb up the rock path until I reached a little cave.  Not sure of whether anyone else was going to join me however, I headed back down a bit to see what the plan was.  Ploi also had apparently gone back down and Jo seemed uncertain of how far she would make it since Ploi had described part of the trek as ‘only using ropes to hoist yourself up to the top’…  She was game to try as far as she could, but wasn’t certain yet how far that would be.

I was determined however no matter what lay ahead so I continued on.  The natural path was outlined the entire way by a rope that clung to trees along the path.  Honestly, as you can see from the picture above labeled ‘safe and secure’, the rope really didn’t seem to be all that secure (though it felt secure enough) because sometimes the trees that the rope was attached to were barely thicker than my ankle and they were rooted on the cliff edge!  Kinda scary, but again it did feel secure enough.  Up and up I went, at times literally feeling like I was rock climbing with the rope as a guide and assistance at times but otherwise just feeling my way up the rocks (which were really petrified coral so very sharp at times!!) until the next area to rest a bit.  As I climbed, the views became even more spectacular as the vistas opened up to a panoramic view.

I won’t lie, there were some times while climbing up that I honestly questioned how in the heck I would get back down!  Ploi had told us that the day before there had been a class of 40 students and a teacher doing the trek and all I could think of as I lay flat against the rock, trying NOT to look down and freak myself out, was that if we were in the States, there would be NO WAY a trek like this would be allowed for students to do without all the proper safety measures in place!  It was quite impressive to think of, especially for the fact that it was 40 or them scrambling along the teeny path!

Finally, the end was in sight as the teeny Temple that stands at the top of Khao Lommuak began to come into view.  The view from the top was absolutely incredible and though I was absolutely dripping in sweat, it was well worth the climb!  I hung around enjoying the views for about 10 minutes or so, but since I didn’t know whether Jo and Ploi were behind me or whether they had gone back to the car, I didn’t want to spend too much time at the top making them wait on me.  I was just about to start heading back down when both Jo and Ploi rounded the corner!  Happy day!  Now we could all enjoy the views and chill for a bit!  As we relaxed and enjoyed the rest, more and more people started to show.  It was nice to see that no matter the age or fitness level of the hikers, everyone was dripping in sweat as they climbed to the top (so it wasn’t just me being out of shape, lol!!).

I will say it was quite impressive to watch the locals walk around the top of Khao Lommuak.  It was just their comfort level being up there!  While I kept being very cautious of where I stepped and not getting too close to the edge, the locals just walked about and went freely to the edges as if they were walking on sea level.  I was amazed and in awe of their bravery!  At one point, an older falang made it to the top and stomped rather hurriedly past us to get to the Temple to ring the bell.  He stayed for all of a minute, then headed right back down the path.  Ploi explained to us that that particular gentleman did this hike 3 times EVERY DAY.  Every day!  Up to the top and back down 3 times in a row every day…  His speed was remarkable as during the time that we were heading back down, he had passed us on his way up for the second time, down for the second time and up again for his third!  Absolutely unreal!  And he wasn’t a spring chicken either!  He claimed the only reason he did the hike was to keep in shape so he could drink more beer… I can relate to that!  Lol!

After all the pictures were taken and our energy was refueled by rest and water, we headed back down ourselves, stopping again to feed the monkeys (Noi Noi had spotted a baby this time!) some fruit purchased from a nearby fruit stand.  It was only about a quarter to 10am, so instead of going back, we opted to head to the Ao Manao beach for some R&R.  Though I did get a little R&R, and while the water did feel great on the muscles, I was exhausted more by the beach time than the hike!  Little Noi Noi (who doesn’t speak a lick of English) and I came up with game after game to entertain ourselves and each other while playing in the water.  First it was a hunting game where I stalked him pretending to be a shark, his only defense being to splash me, to which I would immediately retreat.  Then we became hunters of the sea life on the ocean floor finding all sorts of crabs, hermit crabs, and huge clams!  Of course everything was returned to the ocean floor, especially since Ploi kept saying things like ‘oh, those clams are really great to eat!’.

It impressed me that even without speaking each others language, Noi Noi and I were able to communicate and play for hours on end in the ocean.  Just goes to show you how unnecessary the spoken word really is.  We left the beach in the late afternoon (they had to get back to open the restaurant) and of course ended up having Italian for dinner that night.  It was such an amazing day!  The only ‘downfall’ was that the blister on the bottom of my foot that I’d gotten the day before popped open during the Khao Lommuak hike and stung like crazy as I swam in the ocean.  But heck, for a day with so many other blessings, I can’t really complain!

On to Ao Manao

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Wat A Cave!

While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat.  ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave!  In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling!  Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.

I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens.  The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road.  The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park.  The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!

I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade!  I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead.  But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared.  The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)!  I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.

As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi.  I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!).  Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat.  The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular!  I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff.  Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat.  A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.

Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :).  I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness.  I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out.  An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha.  As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor.  I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!!  They lived in the cave!!

I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid!  I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs…  Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave.  Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉

I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position.  Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there.  And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.

I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again.  I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness.  There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it.  There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.

As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed.  At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them.  As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water.  One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.

I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests.  Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi.  The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community.  After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.

I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch!  I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me!  One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet.  It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…

On to Hiking Khao Lommuak

Back to Thailand

The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

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Temples and Monks

I’m not sure why, but whenever I step into a Temple or see a monk passing by, something about it brings me chills and tears to my eyes.  There’s something so powerful about a place and people who dedicate their entire lives to a single belief.  A belief in peace.  A belief in harmony.  A belief in loving your fellow-man, animals and Mother Earth.  There is a powerful tranquility being in that space.

I will say it is funny to see monks riding on the back of motorcycles, smoking, talking on cell phones (not all at once of course) and that some have tattoos, lol!

So many other religions are full of corruption and are misguided in my opinion, that the true teachings of them are clouded by power and personal need or gain.  Of course, just like in all religions, not every person who believes in one religion or another are perfect.  But that’s not the point.  The point is to live being the best YOU that you can be.  If we were all the best versions of ourselves, for the betterment of the world and those who live in it with us (not for ourselves) then we would finally have a home to live in without fear, injustice and hate.

Just my two cents.

On to Gecko Hallucinations

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