Cambodia: Part 2 – Distant Temples, Floating Villages, and a Country Recovering from War

Sunrise over the staircase leading up Phnom Krom, Cambodia

The country of Cambodia is a vast and mystical place, with literally thousands of historical sights and places to visit. A large concentration of these famous temples and ancient cities can be found in the Angkor region, near the city of Siem Reap.  I visited this area in January 2011 on a stopover immediately following a business trip to Vietnam and explored the area in as much depth as I could in the short time I had.

The sights I visited in Cambodia were so numerous and so picturesque that I made the decision to break this blog entry into two posts.  The first post detailed my visit to the temples in the Angkor region, including the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. This second post covers some of the temples further afield, as well as my visit to Tonlé Sap lake to visit a floating village.

As I discussed in my earlier post, these temples and city complexes were constructed around a thousand years ago during the Khmer Empire, and rivaled other famous architecture forms of the time in terms of beauty and balance. After visiting the temples in the Angkor region on the first part of my trip, I headed further east of Siem Reap to visit two particularly interesting temples, Banteay Srei and Beng Melea.

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Cambodia: Part 1 – Angkor Wat and the Lost Cities and Temples of the Angkor Region

Early daylight shining on the towers of the Center Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The jungles of Cambodia are home to one of the largest concentrations of ancient ruins in the world. Massive city and temple complexes in the Angkor area, built in the time of the powerful Khmer Empire are are believed by historians to have supported upwards of a million people, making this area the largest pre-industrial age city complex in the world. After the fall of the Khmer empire, the cities and temples fell into decay, and many were quickly lost to the encroaching jungle. Re-discovering the ruins of this lost civilization is a major goal for many modern tourists, and my trip there in January of 2011 was most definitely a major highlight of my travels.

Because of the enormous breadth of sights I saw on this trip, I have divided my travel experiences in Cambodia into two unique blog posts.  This post, the first one, deals solely with my visit to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, Angkor Thom and its temples, and the nearby temples in the immediate Angkor Area.  The second blog post deals with my visit to the faraway temples of Banteay Srei, Beng Melea, and also my trip to visit the Floating Village of Chong Kneas on Tonle Sap Lake.

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Escape from the Ash Cloud: Journey Across Italy, San Marino, Vatican City, Spain, and Andorra

Cesta (De la Fratta), the highest of the Three Peaks on Mount Titano in the European microstate of San Marino

In every traveler’s life, there comes a time when things don’t go according to plan. Flight cancellations, lost luggage, and breakdowns in transportation inconvenience thousands of travelers every day. But on one week in April, 2010, the travel plans of millions of travelers in Europe were interrupted simultaneously by a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland, grounding thousands of flights and throwing the entire continent into panic mode. As it happened, this little travel ‘disruption’ caught me and my fellow travelers Joel Oleson and Paul Swider while we were in the Balkans (blog post on that trip here), stranding us on the continent and interrupting our plans to continue on to an event in London.

In the strange world of happenstance, I had actually driven right by this Icelandic volcano earlier in the year, a trip I covered in an earlier post on Iceland. It still seemed oddly coincidental that it decided to erupt a few short months later, but I promise that I didn’t deliberately pour any baking soda into the volcano when I was there to try to make my life more interesting.

In any case, after a fascinating and education trip through the Balkans, Joel, Paul and I had a decision to make. Sit out the ash cloud on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia or try to get home via other methods? Stirring the spirit of adventure in the three of us, we opted for the second option, making the determination that we would make every effort to get out of there as soon as we could. We were able to identify that flights were still leaving from Barcelona, Spain, and it looked likely that we would be able to get home from there, IF we were able to make it there in the first place.

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Remnants of a Hapsburg Empire: Serbia, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Montenegro, and Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mention of the Hapsburg Empire conjures up images of Mozart, Viennese waltzes, and Austrian Dukes.  But outside of the aristocratic musings in the capital, Vienna, a vast empire was stitched together over the years through various alliances, allegiances, and wars.  While todays map of Europe may make this easy to forget, at one time the Hapsburg Empire controlled vast swaths of Europe, including a large portion of the Balkan peninsula, an area I visited in April, 2010.

On an invitation from a fellow colleague who lived in Croatia, Toni Frankola, a speaking team of Joel Oleson, Paul Swider, and I set off for Zagreb to speak at an event there, with the final destination of our trip being a large conference to be held in London a few days later. No Problem! We figured we’d tour the area, then fly from the city of Dubrovnik to London the day before the event was to begin.

As can probably be ascertained simply by reading this blog, I tend to be a fairly methodical logistical planner when it comes to my trips.  All the logistical planning in the world can’t help you, however, if a massive Icelandic volcano spews ash all over Europe, shutting down nearly all flights across the continent over the period of a week.  And as a result of this turn of events, our journey changed from a leisurely trip to London into a frenetic journey across Europe to escape the Ash Cloud.  That, however, is another blog post, as I must first start the story in the Balkans, where it all began.

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Kuwait – Scars of War and Hope for the Future

Kuwait Towers, Kuwait City, Kuwait

Kuwait is not the type of place that most people would think of traveling to. When you think of Kuwait, you often picture either vast deserts, huge oil fields, or the invading armies of Saddam Hussein.  The desert and oil are still there in large quantities, but the Iraqi army is long gone, replaced by a country that has one of the largest per capita incomes in the world (currently #11.)

I visited Kuwait in February 2012 as part of a visit to the local Microsoft offices and to speak at an event here. While it is not the type of place I’d normally recommend planning a vacation around, it is interesting and unique in a few significant ways.  First off, it still suffers the scars of a violent invasion of its borders in 1990, and secondly, but more subtly, Kuwait City, the capital, is the predecessor to modern-day Dubai.  Before the invasion, it was the most modern and forward-facing city in the Gulf region.  After the invasion, however, local and regional investors looking to build a modern metropolis in the area focused their attention on the cities of the United Arab Emirates, most notably Dubai, as they were skittish about making too significant of an investment in Kuwait for fear of another invasion.  For this reason, Kuwait City, while modern, really missed out on the boom that hit Dubai and changed the face of that city.

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Seychelles – Islands of Granite Rising from the Indian Ocean

Anse Royale Beach, Eastern Coast of Mahé Island, Seychelles

The Republic of Seychelles, which I had the good fortune to visit in February 2012, is a nation comprised of numerous islands far out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  This, by itself, is an intriguing enough fact.  What is not mentioned in this description, however, is exactly what these islands are made of.  This is NOT your typical island chain, made of up either flat atolls, volcanic rock, mangrove forests, or the like.  Instead, what makes this country distinct is the unique geology of the islands themselves.

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Nepal – Buddhist Stupas, Rice Paddies, and Everest Flights


Kathmandu, Nepal. If there was ever a place that invoked a sense of wonderment simply by invoking its name, this is it.  The proximity of Nepal to India was one of the reasons we decided on a tour of Northern India, and we factored it into our plans for our crazy, 2500km cross-India trip that I covered in Parts 1 and 2 in previous blog entries.  After taking a dip in the Ganges in Varanasi, the crack team of Joel Oleson, Neo (Majid) Favarshan, driver Ashok Kumar and I headed north to the border of Nepal, the mountain kingdom!

Because we are all slightly crazy (or at least Joel and I are)…we drove through the bulk of the night yet again. This final night drive was the most bizarre, however, as we passed through remote northern Indian villages in the inky darkness of the middle of the night. In the dark, we could catch glimpses of thousands of people in the street dancing and celebrating a festival as we slowly drove through. Their dancing bodies were reflected in the light of bonfires, the only source of light aside from our headlights. It was as surreal of a moment as you could get, and reminded us that we were truly in a different world here.

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Incredible India – Part 2: Truck Stops, Sacred Rivers, and the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal Mausoleum, Agra, India

In case you missed it, Part 1 of this blog post details the first portion of this trip, which involved a visit to a temple swarming with rats, car breakdowns in the desert, and a long drive across Rajasthan.  We pick up where we left off in this blog, on a crazy journey 2500km across Northern India and Nepal with my friends Joel Oleson and Neo (Majid) Favarshan.  After an incredible ride through Rajasthan, we once again drove straight through the night, this time headed for Agra, India, and the famous Taj Mahal.

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Incredible India – Part 1: Rat Temples, Street Cricket, and the Palaces of Rajasthan

View of the Blue City of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India from the top of the Mehrangarh Fort

India. Just saying the world itself conjures up images of a mystical place, full of smells, sights, and tastes that are foreign to the rest of the world.  For a world traveler such as myself, it was a place that simply had to be visited.  And, not surprisingly, my trip there in September 2009 ended up being one of the classic ones I still speak glowingly about to this day.

It all started with an invitation for me and Joel Oleson, a fellow Microsoft SharePoint speaker, to speak at several cities in Southern India.  The speaking schedule allowed for a break of around six total days in between speaking locations as well.  This was our chance to see some of what India had to offer!  We jumped on the opportunity, and hatched a plan to travel across Northern India and Nepal, seeing as much as we could in the time we had.  Joining us would be SharePoint MVP Neo (Majid) Favarshan from Iran, a good friend who unwittingly got himself involved in an insane journey halfway across the sub-continent.

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Santiago de Chile – Snow Covered Mountains and Mouthwatering Markets

View of Santiago de Chile from the 14th floor rooftop terrace of the Universidad DUOC, our conference venue in Santiago, Chile

Santiago de Chile is one of those cities that, after visiting for the first time, you think to yourself, “How is it that I never really knew about this place?” Sure, I vaguely recall it as the capital of Chile from my 8th grade Geography class, but I can honestly say that I had no idea what an amazing, modern, first world place this is.  I had the good fortune to visit Santiago for the first time in January 2012 as part of a trip to South America for the Sharing the Point speaking tour, and penciled this city down as one of the locations I really need to make sure I return to soon.

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Montevideo, Uruguay – Up Front and Beachfront

Plaza Independencia, Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay fills an interesting space in South America.  It was originally created to exist as a buffer state between the Brazilians and the Argentinians, to help balance the power struggle in the region and to put an end to a war between the two regional powers. It is culturally close to Argentina, both in language and in history, but also shares some similarities to Brazil. In fact, I was told that closer to the Brazilian border you can hear a form of Spanish known colloquially as Portuñol.

I visited Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, in January 2012 as part of a speaking tour of South America and Antarctica called Sharing the Point. We arrived via ferry from Buenos Aires, and spent a few days here on the shores of the Río de la Plata, just enough time to get a feel for this laid back but yet cosmopolitan Latin American City.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – Tango Rhythms and an Immigrant Soul

The museum ship 'President Sarmiento' docked in the Puerto Madero district with the Puente de la Mujera (Woman's Bridge) in the background - Buenos Aires, Argentina.

As the second largest city in South America, you’d expect Buenos Aires to be like most large metropolises…with a population that is constantly rushing off somewhere, giving tourists the cold shoulder in the process. Surprisingly, this cosmopolitan city is nothing like that, and the population maintains a sense of calm contentment, despite the hustle and bustle all around.

I had a chance to visit Buenos Aires as part of the Sharing the Point speaking tour I took with several of my fellow colleagues in late January 2012, and spent a few days in the City exploring the sights and sounds of this Argentinian capital city.  My impressions were solidly good in this case, Buenos Aires is a wonderfully relaxed city with a cosmopolitan vibe all of its own.

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Antarctica – Fantastical World without Borders

Elephant Seal Beach, King George Island, Antarctica

What can I say about Antarctica? It really does occupy a different world than the one we live in. First and foremost, the human factor is such a minor one on this continent…we simply haven’t had the time to make our imprint on this frozen landscape.  Much of this has to do with the fact that it was only discovered relatively recently, in 1820, and since then has been more or less shielded from human habitation or industry.

True, I journeyed to Antarctica in January 2012 for the penguins and the glaciers…but what really made this place unique to me was the international aspect of the land.  Though some may dispute this, it belongs to no one country, but is instead shared by researchers from around the globe. For a traveler like myself used to the hoopla of passing through international borders, it was fascinating to see how easy it was for nationals of Russia, China, Chile, Korea, Uruguay, Argentina, and other countries to freely intermingle and walk unopposed through each others bases. Nowhere else in the world that I know of is this possible…it’s a phenomenon to be experienced, to say the least.

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“Darkest Africa” – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya) from the Zimbabwean side

In the southern part of Africa, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world sits virtually untouched by the world’s tourist hoards.  It is called Mosi-oa-Tunya by locals, but most of us know it by its western name, Victoria Falls.  The trip I took to Victoria Falls in February 2011 was an eye-opening experience to a place seldom visited by foreign tourists.

I traveled to Victoria Falls with my good friend Joel Oleson while we were both on the way to a speaking trip in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had both wanted to get to the Falls, and also had a desire to see some of the countries in the area, which neither one of us had traveled to recently.  Not to mention the fact that it’s not often you get to travel to two countries that start with the letter ‘Z’ that often. We booked a flight from Johannesburg airport to Livingstone, Zambia in advance, but discovered that that flight first makes  a quick stop in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Since we knew we would fly out of Zambia to get back, Joel and I made the quick decision to simply deplane in Zimbabwe and start our tour of the area there.

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Egypt – Ancient Civilization on the Verge of a Revolution

Pyramid of Khafre, Giza, Egypt

Egypt is, of course, one of the world’s great tourist destination. As the location for the last remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and a host of other archeological gems, Egypt will always be a ‘must see’ for any world traveler. Indeed, when I received the invite to speak at an event here in June 2009, I knew I couldn’t turn it down. I would be getting a chance to see the Pyramids and the death mask of King Tut! What I didn’t realize is that I’d also have the chance to see a society on the verge of a major revolution, and witness one of the last years of an Egypt under the control of Hosni Mubarak.

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Bali – Monkeys, Bats, and Paradise on Earth

Monkeys at Uluwatu Temple, Bali

There is just something about monkeys that brings a smile to your face, whether it’s at the zoo, in the wild, or running loose around a temple in a tropical paradise. The latter applies to numerous locations on the Indonesian island of Bali, a place I had the good fortune to be able to visit after an Australian speaking event back in May of 2011. It was a short stopover, but I saw an amazing amount in that period of time.

To understand Bali you must first understand its history. Bali is the home to the vast majority of Indonesia’s Hindu minority.  While a minority in the country as a whole, on the island they comprise over 90% of the population. This is no small accident, but the result of the fall of the Hindu Majapahit Empire, whose intellectuals, artists, and Hindu religious leaders fled from the island of Java, where Jakarta is located, to Bali. This exodus led the Balinese people to be very strongly attached to their Hindu roots, as many of them still are today.  For example, nearly every house on the entire island has its own personal temple.

An example of a pura (Hindu temple) within the confines of a home in Bali

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Peru – Ghosts of an Incan Empire

Machu Picchu, Peru

In May of 2010 I was invited to speak at my first event in South America, this one in Lima, Peru! Peru is definitely one of those places that were at the top of my ‘must do list,’ so it was exciting to finally get a chance to get down there, not to mention that South America was the last populated continent that I had yet to speak on.

The speaker list for this trip included many of my closest friends and acquaintances from around the world, Joel Oleson (SharePoint Joel), Agnes Molnar from Hungary, Toni Frankola from Croatia, and Jose Morales, the coordinator of the event, a Peruvian who lived and worked in Slovenia for years. I was also fortunate enough to be able to join my younger brother David for this trip, a college student with a Jesus-style haircut that would later earn him wide fame across Peru.

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Iceland – Where Fire and Ice Meet

Haunting Beauty of the Icelandic Winter

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at an event in Iceland back in 2010.  What wasn’t so fortunate was that the event was scheduled for the month of February.  Considering Iceland’s proximity to the North Pole (just south of the Arctic Circle) I knew I was in for a colder travel experience than what I typically experience. And while I live in San Francisco, a place that hasn’t seen snow since the 60’s, I did grow up in Northwest Minnesota, so I figured I could handle it.  Turns out that Iceland in winter was and still remains one of the most hauntingly beautiful places you can visit.

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Fiji–Kava Shots and Holi Wars

Sri Siva Subramaniya temple near Nadi, Fiji - the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere

My visit to Fiji in March of 2011 was significant in several ways.  First, it was my 100th country visited overall, but secondly and more importantly, it was one of my most interesting travel experiences yet.  By the end of the trip, I was covered from head to toe in pink dye and I had a belly full of kava root. But first, let me make one thing clear…this wasn’t the typical Fiji visit.  I was traveling with fellow world traveler and close friend Joel Oleson, and secondly, we weren’t really interested in the typical Fiji experience of lying on the beach, drinking from a coconut, etc.  Not to say that isn’t a nice thing to do overall, but on this trip we were really looking to connect with the Fijian people and get a feel for life on this beautiful island.

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Nicaragua–Not just for Communists Anymore

My first trip of 2012 involved a speaking engagement to my 121st recorded country, Nicaragua! Before this trip, when I thought of Nicaragua, I thought of Sandinistas, civil wars, communists, and Daniel Ortega.  Ortega is still there…in fact, he’s the president again, and the Sandinistas are still around.  But communism and the war are long gone and, let me tell you, Nicaragua is one unbelievably beautiful place.

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