Neak Poan Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Neak Pean (or Neak Poan) (in Khmer: ប្រាសាទនាគព័ន្ធ) was built by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century as a Buddhist temple.

Walkway to Neak Poan temple (over the reservoir)

The site is within a large reservoir (which measured 3500 meters by 900 meters). The walkway takes you to the man made island that contains the Neak Pean temple.

photo of water temple (large pool of water with stairs into the water and a central stone structure)

The temple is within the Angkor archaeological park area. I rode my bike between the many large and small temples while living in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a couple months. You can easily see 10 of these small temples and few large ones by bike in one day.

You do get some exercise (which for me was a plus) and it isn’t very hard as the entire area is very flat. Of course the area is also usually hot. You can rent bikes in town for a few US$ a day. You can also rent a tuk tuk or electric bikes.

Related: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaTa Prohm Temple (Banyan trees)Borobudur, an amazing Budhist temple built in the 9th century in IndonesiaWat Lok Moli, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám, 文廟) Hanoi, Vietnam

Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám, 文廟) was established in Hanoi, Vietnam in 1070. The temple is located in old town Hanoi along with many other items of interest within easy walking distance (see Curious Cat Hanoi Tourist map). The temple grounds are enjoyable and provide a respite from chaotic Hanoi, and the history is interesting.

Temple of Literature courtyard

In 1076, Vietnam’s first university, the “Quốc Tử Giám” or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. The university remained open from 1076 to 1779. In 1802, the Nguyễn dynasty’s monarchs founded the Huế capital where they established a new imperial academy.

bee on orange flower with yellow flower in background

Bee on flower in the temple grounds.

The temple layout is similar to that of the temple at Qufu, Shandong, Confucius’ birthplace. It covers an area of over 54000 square meters.

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My Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part Two

My early experience as a digital nomad has been enjoyable. It has also been filled with a series of small missteps and some small things that have worked out well that I haven’t read about from others (several might just be so simple that no-one bothers to mention them, but they may give you something to think about if you are planning to try the nomadic lifestyle.

Also see – My Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part One, Technology

Choosing to start in Chiang Mai, Thailand was fortuitous. It really is very convenient for digital nomads. Monthly renting is easy in Chiang Mai. Lots of great food and co-work spaces options. Good internet all over. It is an easy and enjoyable place to live.

Maybe I missed it but one very small mis-step was not packing a towel. I don’t recall that on the list of things to bring but there hasn’t been a towel at three of my stays, including Chiang Mai. Small missteps are the best ones.

I started my digital nomad ways a bit differently than most (though largely in similar ways). I lived in Malaysia a couple years first and then set off to be a nomad. I just sent two boxes a bit bigger than those for a ream of paper back home before I left. And I gave a bunch of stuff away I had picked up (books, printer, basketball, plants, cloths, etc.). But I decided just to start the nomad life with my large suitcase, carry on sized suitcase and my small backpack.

Those suitcases have been fine for my travels so far. But I have done what is probably sensible and create a much better system for packing. I don’t normally leave stuff behind but so far I have left behind; the electric cord for my shaver, two hats, 2 socks (not matching so I know have 3 socks of 2 types) and something else that I can’t remember right now.

I also spend way more time looking for stuff than I should. I think I would be wise to create content pouches that then go in specific places so I know where to find stuff. I do that in a half-hearted way now that works in general but those few items that fall in can waste a bunch of time. I have a house for this stay and room to fully unpack and arrange things, so hopefully I will be in a bit better shape after this stint in Vietnam.

I also managed to rip a pair of my shorts pretty spectacularly on a hike. I managed to get home ok, my uncool belly-pack hid the ludicrous tears to some degree. Luckily for me as part of my packing up I took a couple extra pieces of clothing, so I didn’t need to replace the shorts. I have extra cloths I don’t really need and probably wouldn’t take if I go the large backpack route when I relaunch as a nomad next time (which I think is what I will do, and also take my current backpack).

Photo of my shorts with massive tears

Large tears made while I did the wonderful Chompet hike across the river from Luang Prabang.

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Chomphet Hike, Luang Prabang, Laos

The Chomphet Hike is nice hike across the river from Luang Prabang, Laos. I used this wonderful map for the hike. My hike probably was about 8 km and I went in a circle around the whole hike on the map. The hike would be very difficult (next to impossible) to follow in several places if you didn’t have the map.

Vat Nong Sakeo, on pond (covered in plants - so it is green)

Vat Nong Sakeo on a pond.

Ladder over the fence

Much of the hike is through rice fields. I like this ladder over the fence (to keep out goats and other animals I imagine. This part of the trail was a bit difficult for me to follow on the map, I wasn’t at all sure I took the right path but I got where I need to eventually.

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Circumhorizontal Arc (Fire Rainbow) in Hoi An, Vietnam

I saw my first Circumhorizontal Arcs (Fire Rainbows) display in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A couple days ago I experienced them again in Hoi An, Vietnam.

photo of palm trees and fire rainbow

The scene looked much more spectacular than this.

All I had with me at the time, was my iPad mini and this is the best photo I could get. Zooming in on the fire rainbow provided very poor photos. The iPad mini and iPhone (and other smart phones) have remarkably good cameras for many shots. But for a few types of shots they are very poor. Getting a good shot of this rainbow was one such case.

I biked home and got my Canon PowerShot SX60 HS and took this photo.

close up of a fire rainbow

Close up of circumhorizontal arc (fire rainbow) in Hoi An, Vietnam with Canon

I had actually posted about the phenomenon of circumhorizontal arcs on my science blog in 2006 before I had seen them for myself.

A circumhorizontal arc (also known by the exciting name, fire rainbow) is an optical phenomenon – an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. If the cloud is at the right angle to the sun, the crystals will refract the sunlight just as when rainbow is created.

Fire rainbows can only occur when the sun is 58 degrees or higher above the horizon and when the clouds or haze contain plate-shaped ice crystals. The arc has a considerable angular extent and thus, rarely is complete. When only fragments of a cirrus cloud are in the appropriate sky and sun position, they may appear to shine with spectral colors.

Related: Curious Cat nature photosMagical Day at Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park (USA and Canada), which also ended with a rainbowWater Buffaloes in a field in CambodiaPhotos of clouds

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My Early Experience as a Digital Nomad: Part One, Technology

My early experience as a digital nomad has been enjoyable. It has also been filled with a series of small missteps and some small things that have worked out well that I haven’t read about from others (several might just be so simple that no-one bothers to mention them, but they may give you something to think about if you are planning to try the nomadic lifestyle.

Choosing to start in Chiang Mai, Thailand was fortuitous. It really is very convenient for digital nomads. Monthly renting is easy. Lots of great food and co-work spaces options. Good internet all over. It is an easy and enjoyable place to live.

In this post I will explore my experience with technology and in part two I will discuss other topics.

Getting a large data plan has been great (10 Gb+). That is the biggest tip I have for digital nomads. If you only work in a cafe or co-working space I guess it doesn’t matter. But I like to work when I wake up and late at night in my room. And making video calls, uploading photos and videos or streaming video also required a good connection. Sometimes the place I am staying has good or great wifi and things are good. But it is very nice not to have to worry about connectivity.

photo of Lizard on golden Buddha statue

Lizard on golden Buddha statue in Luang Prabang, Laos (see more of my photos from Laos)

My first 3 destinations (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) has had 10 Gb plus high speed data plans for about $10 (for a month). My 4th, Vietnam only offers 3 Gb for about $10 and Viettel blocks a personal hotspot, I thought only the USA was that lame). I think I will try another that offers 5Gb (I still need to find the price – a hotspot will let you tether your laptop for them).

I went to 3 Viettel stores and none were able to help or really seem to know what personal hotspot or tethering was. An authorized Apple reseller understood but was unable to get Viettel to work and could see Mobifone worked fine so suggested I just use that.

I went to a mobiphone store in Hoi An (location marked on our Hoi An map) and with trouble got the new sim card. They eventually went to the back and got a supervisor (I suppose) and then things went fine. It still didn’t work so the supervisor took me to a nearby mobile phone store where their tech person was able to get it to work quickly. You need to update the APN listing for cellular data and personal hotspot (she forgot the 2nd one).

The first APN field is m-wap with username mms and password mms (I think). There is lots of stuff online about editing APN to get Viettel to work, none of that worked for me or the various people that tried it (1 Viettel employee did and the authorized Apple store did).

In Luang Prabag, Laos I was 95% on my data plan as the great place I stayed didn’t have wifi essentially at all (much worse than ancient dial up). By using a data plan I could stay there.

I actually brought an extension cord (again I probably wouldn’t have but I had the room so…). It has been very helpful: I only need one converter (though I have 3) and can attach lots of devices with them all sharing the right type of connector (laptop, dumb cell phone, razor, battery charger (for my camera). It is also helpful in stretching from the power outlet to a convenient place.

I keep a dumb cell phone because some places require 2 factor authentication (credit card for making a payment online and I have some sites setup to require 2 factor authentication also). I get sim cards in whatever country I am in and only have an iPad mini (data but no cell phone capability). So even if I could get the phone number updated in each country (probably could for sensible places like Google) I don’t have one to update too. But even more critical to keeping the dumb phone is I can’t image getting the bank to make something work. Getting normally stuff is like pulling teeth. Changing my phone number all the time seems like it would be a recipe for trouble. I added money to my long life mobile phone plan in Malaysia (it lasts a year for something like US$10 and you just pay per call – I figure it is also an emergency phone in case something happens) and I have gotten text messages (for those 2-factor authentication needs) everywhere I have been, for no charge as far as I can tell.

Not having a local number is actually a bit annoying, but not critical. I wanted a larger screen to view maps while walking around (so didn’t want an iPhone – and I didn’t want Android). I would likely get the new iPhone 6+ instead of an iPad mini if making a decision now.

Continued in: Part Two

Related: Online Plane Reservations (also on my trip I have found online is not always the cheapest airline fares) – Extending Your Visa in Chiang Mai, ThailandCurious Cat Gadgets Blog

Mosaic Art at Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

I really like the mosaic artwork on the walls of buildings at Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos.

close up view of mosaic wall of Wat Xieng Thong temple building

Luang Prabang is full of interesting temples and is a great place to walk around. The old city has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UN and I highly enjoyed staying in Luang Prabang.

buddha statues in front of a mosaic wall inside Wat Xieng Thong temple building

Buddha statues in front of a mosaic wall inside a Wat Xieng Thong temple building.

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Curious Cat as a Celebrity in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

As I visited site in and around Yogyakarta, Indonesia I was frequently asked to be in photos. As a non-celebrity this was an odd experience. One of the things I enjoy about travel is the odd experiences or just seeing things that are a little different. These are usually small things many people wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care about but I find it a fun addition to seeing amazing sites.

School kids photo with curious cat

Now I suppose some people may try to explain that Curious Cat isn’t a celebrity in Yogyakarta, but I think they are just jealous. Sure lots of other people seemed to be asked to be in photos during my visit. I determined they must just be celebrities I didn’t notice (how many people would recognize me after all?).

I just imagine the Indonesian tourists in the Yogyakarta area are very observant and appreciate internet celebrities (even super minor ones).

I suppose an alternative explanation might be they just liked having foreigners in their photos to show friends. That might seem a bit odd but most things we do seem a bit odd if you have to explain it to someone. Why do we take photos with even more famous celebrities than me? Why do we share photos of our cats sitting in boxes? Why do we post photos of our lunch on Instagram? Why do we like to get together with our friends while each of us texts with other friends using our smart phones?

I enjoyed being able to do people a favor just by being in their photo. I like to help people especially when it doesn’t require I suffer much. I don’t know why the girls in this photo wanted a photo. They didn’t speak English so I could get answers from them. But they were at a very minor temple, Candi Sambisara. During the time I was there only one other couple that showed up, who were also celebrities (based on the girls getting photos with them too) – they were too far away for me to recognize them.

I suppose in this instance it might be some sort of exercise to get kids to practice interacting with people. They spoke a few words of English. If so, it seems kind of silly, but lots of what I was put through in school was pretty silly. Or maybe they just thought it was a fun way to hang out with their friends and occasionally go get photos with whoever came to this minor temple.

The other asking to have me in photos were usually from people I think were tourists from other parts of Indonesia. It was definitely a concentration of such request that I don’t normally see. I do occasionally get such requests, as I travel. Usually I think just people having a bit of fun interacting with other people. But they are rare, in my trip to China it happened once.

The more remote your destination and the fewer tourist the more likely for people to be interested in just you as a stand in for something but not anything significant (so basically a stand in for a celebrity), I find. Which is one thing I find out about it being common in Yogyakarta, there are tons of tourists for the amazing Borobudur and so much more.

My other experience with drawing crowds just to see me and be around me was in the Sahel (Niger and Burkino Faso). My brother and I were distinctly rare – white kids. White adults were rare there, but kids extremely so; I would imagine rare enough we easily could have been the first ones any of the kids saw and even maybe even so for the adults in many of the places we went.

Related: Jianshui Market in Yunnan, ChinaPrambanan Temple, YogyakartaPura Dalem Desa Pakraman, Ubud, Bali

Grand Mosque of Shadian, Yunnan, China

Grand Mosque of Shadian in Gejiu City, Yunnan, China is one of the largest mosques in China. The mosque can hold 10,000 people for prayers. It is patterned after the Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia.

Grand Mosque of Shadian, Yunnan, China

One of the things I enjoy about traveling is the exploring local areas and finding interesting sites that were not what drew you to an area. All the photos are by me during my visit in 2013 (see more photos by John Hunter).

The Mosque of Shadian was established here during the Ming Dynasty (1488-1505). According to the plaque it has remained in service since, though with several destructions of the buildings. The version of the mosque seen in the photos was completed in 2010.

view of the prayer room on the Grand Mosque of Shadian

Grand Hall, prayer room

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Jianshui Wet Market in Yunnan, China

Jianshui, Yunnan, China has several tourist destinations including an old town with a restored Qing Dynasty mansion and garden and the Jianshui Temple of Confucius. The Jianshui wet market is primarily for the locals with a few tourists, like me, that take in some local culture.

vegetables for sale at the market

The market isn’t really much different than many such markets all over South East and East Asia. They each vary a bit but are pretty similar.

caged chickens for sale at the market

Some of the rest of this post might be a bit much for some, so if you are squeamish you might want to skip it. One of the interesting things about traveling is seeing how differently people think and how our culture guides our thoughts and feelings.

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