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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Nepal – Buddhist Stupas, Rice Paddies, and Everest Flights

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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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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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