Southeast Asia Adventure

Angkor Wat in Black and White

I had so many pictures to share from Angkor Wat, I decided to do a separate post with the black & white shots. Click here (or just look at the previous post!) to see the color photos.

The main entrance

I think this was the west portico just inside the main entrance.

Stone window with lathe-turned balusters

Part of the 800 meters of bas-relief carvings detailing battles and epic events, completed from the 12th to 16th centuries

Outside wall of the central temple.

Detail of the central tower

On the moat surrounding Angkor Wat

Stay tuned for more photos and reflections from Cambodia in the coming weeks!


Cambodia: Angkor Wat

I am so excited to finally be able to start posting photos from my adventures in Southeast Asia in June and July of this year.  I should probably start by explaining how I got to go on the trip, why I chose Cambodia, and why I’ll be doing so many blog posts about it.

Angkor Wat: Central Temple Hallway

This past February (on my birthday, no less), I found out I received a Teacher Creativity Fellowship from the Lilly Endowment to pursue my proposed project.  After hearing about Cambodia from my friends who are living and working there and doing a book study about the problem of human trafficking with the book Not for Sale by David Batstone, I had a great desire to learn more about the country.  I also wanted to see what the organization my friends are working with, Center for Global Impact,  was doing to help with the problems prevalent in the country.  So, I proposed to study photography and go to Cambodia over the summer to capture Light in the Darkness:  Beauty and Trauma in Cambodia.  Through these blog posts of photos that I took in Cambodia, I hope to share a piece of my experience and some information that will show both the beauty and trauma that I saw in Cambodia.  It is my hope that these posts will show both the needs that are present, as well as the hopeful and productive things occurring in the beautiful country of Cambodia.

I’ll begin with my first day there, which was spent outside of Siem Reap visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.  My friends Katy and Alan were gracious enough to endure a very hot day exploring this area and brought their friend, Ryana, along for the fun too.  There was so much to see and I know we only touched the surface.  This post is dedicated to the mother of all the temples, Angkor Wat.  The grandeur and scale of these constructions are difficult to show on a screen like this, considering the manpower, hours, and labor that must have gone into this back in the 12th century.  Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument.  It was built between 1113 and 1150, with many additions built later.  It was built to represent a microcosm of the Hindu universe with the five peaks symbolizing Mount Meru, though over the years more Buddhist symbolism was added to the sites which you will also see in some photos.  Click here to see an aerial photo of the area… it really helps you to see the magnitude of it!

The view from outside the moat and the sandstone causeway

The Main Entrance

Looking to the left in the main entrance gate

Angkor Wat Temple in the distance after crossing the moat with the libraries to the left and right along the path

I think this is the Library, but don’t quote me on that. 🙂

The central temple view from the pool

A little monkey outside the central temple entrance

An example of one of the intricate carvings all over the temple

The roofed section covering help to cover the 800 meter long series of bas-relief carvings that go the whole way around the temple.

One of numerous aspara (heavenly nymphs) carvings found all over the temple

Working our way up to the towers…

Laterite blocks were used for much of the structure, but were hidden and covered with stucco before being painted.

This is a lathe-turned baluster (so says the Ancient Angkor book that I bought!).

Originally built as a Hindu temple, it now holds many Buddhist shrines scattered throughout the temple.

At one of the Buddhist shrines

Central tower of the central temple- Rising 55 meters above the ground

Looking out to the main entrance facing west (note the big yellow balloon in the distance)

Weathering over time and vandalism from the time of the Khmer Rouge have left many artifacts damaged.

The way back down. The original flight was steep to symbolize the difficult task of reaching the kingdom of the gods.

Looking out at the retaining wall and a view of the sightseeing yellow balloon in the distance.

More lathe-turned balusters in the stone windows

A monkey under the dragon as we left the temple

Booths set up outside the modern day wat with food and souvenirs and very eager sellers. 🙂

Another view of the food and souvenir sellers with the modern day wat (temple) in the background

Between the central temple and the outer wall

Part of the 190 meter-wide moat that goes around the complex, measuring 1.5 km by 1.3 km. Note the little girl’s outfit: a pajama set (a trend I would love to see catch on in the U.S.) 🙂

With my wonderful friends, Alan and Katy, who endured a very hot morning in Cambodian heat so I could explore the Angkor temples.

A picturesque spot to rest. 🙂

I still can’t believe I was there!

I hope to be more consistent in my photos posts from this trip in the coming months.  Look here for some of my previous posts with observations from my time in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore.  Thanks for checking in!  Feel free to leave some comments, observations, questions below!


Singapore: An Island, City, and Country All in One

I’m still working on editing the pictures from my fancy camera and preparing more detailed blog posts about my time in Cambodia, but I did want to give Singapore it’s time in the spotlight like I did for the others.  Here are some of my thoughts and observations from my brief time there a couple weeks ago.  I realize that one week in a place doesn’t make you an expert.  Since I spent most of my time with my cousin and her family, I didn’t really get to know the native Singaporean culture.  Nonetheless, here are some thoughts and highlights from my time there:

  • I had to work a little harder to come up with fun stories or interesting observations from my time in Singapore because, well, I felt pretty comfortable there since it’s pretty western.  It’s a very modern city/country/island and reminded me a lot of London or Sydney since there’s so much British influence.
  • I definitely experienced a bit of culture shock when I flew from Phnom Penh to Singapore and saw this recycling display in the airport.  There is recycling in Cambodia, but their methods of collection are pretty different.
  • Another form of culture shock came when I saw the prices of things.  We paid $2 for an unlimited amount of time for the fish massage in Cambodia.
  • It was really fun to hang out with my cousin (ok, technically she’s my second cousin, but we grew up in the same town, so she feels like a first cousin) and her family on the other side of the world.  It was great to reminisce about growing up in New Wilmington, PA and the quirks and fun of having lived in such a small town.
  • Singapore is two hours behind Sydney, so we were able to Skype with my sister’s family while I was there… a mini family reunion via Skype.  I loved it.  🙂
  • The Night Safari next to the Singapore Zoo was really fun and unique.  I got to see wolves howling in unison.  It was pretty funny to see raccoons on display as a novelty (since I just had to go outside on trash night to see a raccoon in person when I was little!).
  • Singapore is very orderly, clean, and organized.
  • They take this order and cleanliness so seriously that they have signs like this in the subway station:
  • (Durian is a fruit that is quite smelly… I tried it once and remember it tasting a bit like what I imagine dirty feet might taste like)
  • I learned a new word: alight.  Instead of saying “get off” or “exit” at a stop, they say “alight.”
  • My cousin had an app on her phone to request a taxi.  The taxi was pretty much waiting for us at the curb when we got off the elevator from four floors up.
  • They have signs in the buses and subways that tell people to be polite and give up seats for elderly and pregnant passengers.
  • I was on one bus where the bus driver stopped the bus to ask people to move and get up for an elderly passenger.
  • Singaporeans are very hard-working people.  The morning I went to catch the bus to Malaysia, I looked a bit like a backpacker.  It felt like the song “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” from Sesame Street as I stood there surrounded by a bus full of businessmen and businesswomen dressed up for work.
  • I rode on the Singapore Flyer (their version of the London Eye) on a rainy day and enjoyed seeing the very unique Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino (three towers with a “ship” on top) from a different angle.
  • Also, I discovered that if you take enough poor attempts at long arm photos of yourself in a place, people will offer to take your photo for you. 🙂
  • On the Singapore Flyer

  • When I saw the sunshine the next morning, I hopped on the bus to go down to check out the view from the top of that building and experience the “ship.”

    The view from the top of the Marina Bay Sands

    Stay tuned for some more posts of what I’ve been up to lately and many posts of pictures of my adventures from the fancy camera!


Back Home Again in Indiana

Hello all!

Just wanted to post quickly and let you know I made it safely back to Indy yesterday evening after 30 straight hours of travel from Singapore.  I’ve never been so excited to sleep in my own bed as I was last night!

Now I have some unpacking, photo-editing, and family visiting to do, but I will leave you with a sneak peek of what is to come…

A view inside Angkor Wat

A Muslim fishing village outside Phnom Penh

The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

I hope to post a review of my adventures through photos over the next couple months.  My friends and cousin were amazing hosts and I saw some beautiful sights in Southeast Asia and while seeing some of the sad realities of what’s happened in Cambodia, I also saw some really encouraging things happening.  Stop back on the blog if you can.  Have a great week!


A Day and a Half in Malaysia

With the Porta de Santiago in Melaka (fort built by Portuguese in 1511) and wishing for a cold Coke and some AC right about then…

Hello again!

Wanted to check in quickly before my summer travel adventures comes to an end.  This week I had a quick excursion to Malacca (spelled Melaka in Malay), Malaysia to explore a new place for a couple days.  It’s a town on the Strait of Melaka a few hours bus ride northwest of Singapore.  To all you motherly protective types out there: Yes, I was careful and yes, I’m back in Singapore with my cousin and her family safe and sound now.  I still have lots to see in Singapore, so I’ll hold off posting on that for now (save this one comment:  Yes, I agree with what I posted previously, Singapore really is the antithesis of Cambodia).

So, since I’m now obviously an expert on all things related to Malaysia after the 30 hours I spent in the country ;), let me share some thoughts from my time there:

  • The trip between Singapore and Malacca is almost all palm tree plantations with mountains in the distance… really beautiful.
  • After my time in Cambodia and Malaysia, I have a renewed appreciation for encountering a western style toilet with toilet paper supplied (it’s possible to find them in both places, but not always probable)
  • Knowing absolutely zero words in Malay, I had fun trying to figure out some cognates of English words from the language when I read their signs (a nice change from not being able to read any Khmer letters/signs in Cambodia).  See if you can figure any of these out:  motosikal, polis, komuniti, sekyen, taksi, bas ekspres
  • I sat in the first seat on the way there and noticed that the bus driver waved to every single coach bus that was driving the other way on the highway… and there were many.  I don’t think the driver on the way back was quite so diligent in his friendliness.
  • A lady gave me directions to find a restaurant on the second floor of the mall.  I searched and finally asked someone only to be reminded that when they say second floor, that means third floor in America.  🙂
  • There are such a wide variety of cultures represented in Malacca (Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc.), that I have no doubt that I was accidentally offending one or more at a time at various points in my journey.  I think I read somewhere that you’re supposed to only eat with your right hand… well, that’s kind of a struggle for left-handed me.  Consider this my apology to anyone I offended while I was there.  🙂
  • Blue eyes are quite the novelty there.  While I was taking a picture of the fountain in the town square, I had two strangers ask to have their photos taken with me… sweaty, grungy, overheated me and my blue eyes.  Some people in Vietnam are really going to enjoy those vacation photos for years to come.  🙂
  • The malls and rest areas where I was have prayer rooms designated for Muslim men and women.
  • I met a lovely woman and her daughter from Brunei on the bus ride back and we had a great conversation where I learned all about Brunei (a country on the island of Borneo) and I told them a bit about my life as well as the Amish culture around where I grew up.  It was a really fun way to spend the bus ride.
  • I was a bit startled when the woman introduced herself and assured me that she wasn’t a terrorist even though she wore a head covering.  It made me sad to think that she assumes most Americans think that way.
  • She offered me some cherries.  When I declined, she taught me that in Brunei when you decline food, you have to touch the food as you decline it.  Interesting custom!  I wonder what things we Americans do that they would find a bit weird…
  • I tried a food in Malacca called Cendol… it involves coconut milk, syrup, iced shavings, green noodley things, and red beans.  It was actually quite refreshing after a hot morning of sight-seeing, though I could have done without the red beans.
  • The river going through Malacca made for a really lovely place to walk and have breakfast.  I look forward to sharing pics of it when I go through them all.
  • There are these rickshaw type bikes for people to ride in called trishaws.. they’re covered in gaudy decorations and each one has a blaring sound system.  Sometimes a whole hoard of them will go down the street at once with lots of different music blasting… photos and videos do not do them justice though I’ll try to share what I can when I get back.  🙂

Thanks for reading.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend!!


Checking in from Phnom Penh

Bayon Temple near Angkor Wat

Hello again!

Just wanted to check in quickly before I fly out tomorrow morning to visit my cousin and her family in Singapore.  Everything has gone really well here in Cambodia.  The past few week included some fun venturing out and exploring parts of Phnom Penh on my own while Katy and Alan were in meetings.  I’ve enjoyed visits to Wat Phnom, Central Market, the National Museum, and the Royal Palace.  We just returned from a quick weekend trip to a seaside town, Kep.  The place we stayed was up the mountain a little ways and we had a great view of the mountain and the sea… one of my favorite combinations.  🙂

I need to get back to repacking, but wanted to share a few more observations, highlights, etc. from my time here.  I head off to “the antithesis of Cambodia” (Singapore) tomorrow.  We met up with a man who has lived in both countries last week and that was how he described it to me.

  • I wasn’t allowed into the Royal Palace last Wednesday due to my non tank top shirt’s lack of sleeves.  Oops!  I returned Thursday more appropriately dressed.  🙂
  • After my tour, I went back in to take a few more pictures of the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace. Everyone had left for lunch, so I had the place to myself to take pictures of the beautiful gardens and stuppas around the pagoda… it was very peaceful and a nice break from the city for a few minutes.
  • The amount and variety of items that I’ve seen balanced on bicycles and motos here is unbelievable (from IV bags attached to people to live chickens to rice bags to TVs and hundreds of other things).
  • Cambodians always return your change (bills- they don’t use coins) using both hands (something I didn’t realize until a couple days ago… another cultural mistake I’ve made!)
  • On Wednesday I got to buy some fabric in a home on stilts with bamboo floor from the woman who made the fabric on the looms under the house… it was a really unique experience.
  • When you get gasoline at the stations, they thank you/try to get you to return business by giving you pop cans and tissues… it kind of feels like you’re getting treats for buying gas there.  And who knew that they still make Pepsi Twist in other countries!?
  • We went to church on an island that used to be a killing field.  We took a boat to get to it… I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had to take a boat to get to church.
  • They sang a song at church called God is Good (in Khmer) that I loved to sing in my church in Honduras in Spanish.
  • The Khmer people are very friendly.  Kids love to yell hello when they see foreigners.
  • They have these raquet things here that have the special light and shock thing to use as a mobile bug zapper.  best.invention.ever.
  • Alan and Katy’s neighborhood has a bunch of dogs that like to sing together in harmony a few times every night. That, plus some repetitive croaking (or maybe its chickens… I really can’t identify the animal that never stops making noise), plus some roosters thrown in, make for lovely white noise to fall asleep to.  Here is a clip Alan made of the dog choir:  http://www.alanandkaty.blogspot.com/2012/02/dog-choir.html
  • The Daughter’s Project girls are currently making some purses.  When they make a hundred, they get to go out for ice cream.  When we arrived on Friday, over a hundred were completed.  They’re excited for ice cream now.
  • A woman who was at church on Sunday and we saw again Wednesday told Katy that I’d gained weight since Sunday.  Apparently Cambodian food agrees with me.  🙂
  • I’ve found that my taxi bargaining skills that I perfected in Honduras have transferred pretty well to getting a TukTuk deal.
  • Crossing the street here is quite the experience.  You kind of follow the same rule that the moto and car drivers follow:  pull out without looking and then look left right left right left right left the whole way until you make it to the other side.  It’s very much like a game of Frogger.
  • It’s really nice to be able to skype with my sister in Australia when we’re both in similar time zones.
  • Have I mentioned that it’s really hot and humid here?!  Thankfully the experience of getting to know Khmer people, their culture, and their country makes it worth it.  🙂

Well that’s it for now.  I hope you’re well and staying cool whever you are!

The not-so-relaxing fish foot massage in Siem Reap

With Katy and Alan in Phnom Penh

With Katy and Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh


Update from Cambodia

Hello again!  I’m finally getting a chance to sit down at a computer and thought I’d send a reflection your way via this blog.

I continue to have a really great time seeing the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hopeful here in Cambodia.  It’s been an slightly overwhelming time with so much to take in in the short week I’ve been here, but really great overall.

Instead of giving you the play by play on all I’ve seen and done, I’m just going to share some fun tidbits along with some other thoughts on my brief time here.  Please note that I realize that I’ve only been here one week and I am a clueless American.  Being someone who loves to experience new cultures and knowing that our culture is equally foreign and strange to those who visit it, I hope these comments do not offend anyone and the non-expert source will be considered while reading.

  • Gas bottles are sold on the side of the road in old Coca Cola and other clear pop bottles, but they also have regular gas stations.  I rode a moto up a mountain to a temple and cave and the guy had to stop for gas. He  filled it up with a coke bottle of gas and we were on our way in about 10 seconds!
  • They use US dollars here and their bills for small change (no coins).  I’m a pretty big fan of not exchanging money and knowing how much things are.
  • Walking around a foreign country with a pregnant friend has its advantages:  when people stop, stare, and talk about us, I can just assume that they’re talking about the pregnant foreigner and not me.  🙂
  • It’s REALLY hot and humid here
  • People wear pajama sets as normal clothes here…  and you can wear flipflops with everything.  This is my kind of place!
  • Angkor Wat is actually a temple complex of many temples built in the 12th century and covering tons of land.  We explored three temples and barely scratched the surface.
  • Khmer is not a tonal language (I thought it was since Thai is tonal.  I was wrong).
  • Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh have many NGO projects that are helping provide livelihoods for Khmer people.
  • It’s been a privelege to get to see some of those projects in action.
  • The Green Mango Cafe & Bakery in Battambang not only helps train young women in culinary arts, but it also has really good food… I had the fried pickles everyday I was there.
  • Today I went to the workshops of the Daughters’ Project and byTavi (www.bytavi.com), two sewing projects of the Center for Global Impact(www.centerforglobalimpact.org).  It was so great to see the place where my ID holder and my mom’s purse was made (Buy their stuff, it’s great!).
  • Seeing projects like this and seeing women learning about God’s word has been an experience that has left me encouraged and hopeful for further progress in this country.
  • A cultural thing that people do here is to get their picture taken at these studios… basically Khmer glamour shots.  Since it’s super cheap, I decided to jump in to said cultural experience.  Let’s just say that fake hair, fake eyelashes, and a tiara were involved in this process.  One of the funniest experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
  • Tonight my friends had teachers from their Khmer language school over for dinner.  I had a great time talking with three of the young women (in English) about teaching a language and their perspective on refugees as they asked me about the refugees at my school.
  • When your main purpose in being in a country is to take pictures to document it, I’ve discovered that you end up without many pictures of yourself due to your big fancy camera being too big and fancy to give to other people for self pics.  However, due to the climate’s effect on my outer appearance, I think that I’m ok with this fact.  The Khmer glamour shot is the best I’ve looked all trip, so maybe that’s all I need to prove I was here.  🙂
  • Have I mentioned that it’s REALLY hot and humid here?

If you made it through the list, thanks for allowing me to share a few pieces of my experience.  Tomorrow is going to be a tough and heavy day as I visit the Killing Fields and S21 museum to learn about some of Cambodia’s darker Khmer Rouge history.  Tough stuff that I’m not sure how to take in, but I’m thankful that it’s something people are willing to learn from today in hopes that history will not repeat itself.

Thanks again for reading.  Until next time…

jenni