11 countries in 2011

At some point during the year, probably when I realized that the travel gods were on my side, I decided that I was going to attempt to visit 11 countries in 2011.

And lo and behold, I did.

I started my travels this year with a much needed getaway to culturally rich and geographically diverse Nicaragua. That was followed by the legendary banana pancake trail and a Europe camping trip. It was very poetic that the 11th country I visited was in Latin America as well, the beautiful Panama.

If I were to talk about all of those individual trips, this would be an excruciatingly long blog post that no one will read (because, let’s admit it, we don’t like long blog posts). Instead, here is a little photo montage of my most amazing year for travel ever.

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The Kuala Lumpur Detour

(First and foremost, apologies for taking a break from writing about the most amazing trip ever. That being done, enjoy the post!)

To go from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Luang Prabang, Laos was either going to cost us $250 one-way each or a day and a half. Laos doesn’t have well-developed railways and only one airline: The Laos Airline, which enjoys monopoly over the Laos skies and jacks up the prices. Already sulking over the fact that we didn’t have enough time to take in all of Southeast Asia we really couldn’t afford to loose 30 hours on a bumpy bus ride. Even worst, recent graduates with the last of our savings spent in this trip, $250 ONE WAY was just crazy.

There were tons of options: stay longer in Siem Reap (and visit more wats? No Thank You!), go to Chiang Mai a day early (but that was costing us more or less the same), hang out in Bangkok (or not)…

Man and McDonalds - It's a strange relationship

OK I lied, there weren’t tons of options. Since tour planning is my calling in life (along with being a detective, a photographer, a film director etc.) I found $80 tickets to Kuala Lumpur and 80$ tickets from there to Chiang Mai a day later that would put us right back on our original itinerary. God bless Air Asia!

We boarded a plane out of the gorgeous Siem Reap airport and were dropped off at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur – probably the most non-glamorous airport I have ever been to. But, it redeemed itself. It presented us with a McDonalds! We love trying foods of different cultures (in my case, fruits and rice because everything else in Asia was meat) but sometimes you just need a reminder of the junk food life back home and what better way to do it than treating yourself to some McDonalds.

Since we were on a vacation from our backpacking vacation, we decided to spoil ourselves a bit by staying in the newly renovated Mi Casa hotel. If that wasn’t bad enough, we tacked on two hearty meals on the 28th floor restaurant of the G-Tower (which, by the way, has the best view of the Petronas Towers at night and the greatest service in the whole world). We also checked off some KL must-sees off our list. Continue reading

Phnom Penh: The Prison

Walking through a row of cells in Prison S-21 of Phnom Penh

After spending a better part of our day in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek near Phnom Penh, our tuk-tuk driver, Pom brought us to the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, more commonly known as the S-21 prison. During the Khmer Rouge regime of late 1970s, all the Cambodian prisoners were brought here to be tortured. Our guide walked us through this former high school, telling us about the atrocities that were committed here. But it’s not his words that break your heart, its the fact that every preserved artifact, marks on the walls and dried blood drops on the floor are a sad story of their own.

Even though my hands were trembling from the horror of what I was witnessing coupled with heat exhaustion, I turned on my camera and captured everything I could in this historically important, but scary place. Also read about Sachin Seth‘s impressions of S-21 on his blog.

And here is part two of the two part series from Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

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Phnom Penh: The Fields

About 15 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. During the Khmer Rouge Regime of 1970s that killed an estimated 1.7 million, many prisoners were brutally murdered in these fields. This peaceful and quiet location has been the sight of the cruel genocide of Pol Pot’s regime and to remember those who lost their lives, the Cambodian government has built a 17-story memorial stupa, which displays skulls and bones that are still being dug out daily from these fields.

Skulls of the victims in the memorial stupa at the Killing Fields. There are more than 800 skulls in this stupa.

No photo can do justice to the heart-wrenching emotion evoked by the sadness of the fields. We tried to capture the experience of walking through these grounds on video and but nothing compares to being present there and hearing about the tragedies from people, directly affected by it.

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Temples of Angkor

Roughly six kilometers north of Siem Reap are the majestic temples of Angkor. Angkor Thom city was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and the complex, spread over nine square kilometers, houses some of the best temples in Cambodia. We got a chance to whirlwind the Wats (or temples) on a still, scorchingly sunny day.

We visited more than half a dozen temples in one day, but here is a photo-essay of three of my favorites.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is not only the big brother of all the temples in this complex, but also the largest monument built by the Khmers.

The four corridors of Angor Wat are covered in mythical carvings from wall to wall. The sculptures start with the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and move on to the evolution of religion into Buddhism.

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