Look at this photograph

Oh the confusion. In the title I tell you to look at a photograph and yet the post only consists of text. Guess you’ll just have to read it then. All the while having ‘Photograph’ by Nickelback playing in your mind.

I got to thinking about photographs.
Whenever I travel I take many and I love to look at them later. I like to see photographs of the travels of my friends and I like to show visuals of my travels to my friends and family.

During my time in Asia I remember somebody telling me that we are kind of weird with our picture taking. We all want to get that perfect shot of the Borobudur or a beautiful picture of a sunset. And we all think our photo is the best. We like our photos much better than those of others, even the professional photos that are circling the web. Yet if you wanted to actually show people the beauty of the sights you have been seeing, it would perhaps be better to show them the pictures that are on Google. Except maybe if you’re the one taking the pictures that appear on Google.

I keep realizing more and more that everybody has another focus in life, which also shows in their photos. Some people just take pictures of landscapes, of buildings, of inanimate objects. They like to capture the atmosphere of a place, to see it later as it was when they viewed it at that time in their life.  I like a picture of an old building as much as the next gal, but add a person to that photo and I’ll pay more attention.
I am a people photographer.

I love taking pictures of locals, living their local life, doing local things. I like to watch people (not in a creepy way) and I like to interact with people. So it makes all the sense in the world that I also like to see them in photographs. A picture of a person that is laughing can really make me happy and taking them… I simply take pride in the fact I can capture a persons happiness on camera.
And me liking photographs of people also means that I don’t mind being in the pictures, because later, I will have proof for my old forgetful self that I was there. That I lived. And that I loved it.

And yes, this also means that I like selfies.

Just a quick update on my current status, which is Sunny. Literally. I’m currently in France and it was 34 degrees with sun today. I’m getting a tan without even putting in an effort. I’m not sure if all of you knew, but I am in Lyon right now, working a summer job. Basically what I do is answer the phone when people call because they are stuck on the side of the road with car trouble. I put all their information in the computer, I call a garage to help them out and I keep them updated on the progress of their car. It’s more fun than it sounds and I like the job, although I do foresee a lot of stress when the volume of calls will be even higher in a few weeks (or even days).

I have been jogging, I have been doing yoga, I have been drinking my signature smoothies every morning, I have been going to the local market twice a week, I have been practicing my French, I have been watching reruns of Gilmore Girls (in French), I have been writing down all the crazy story ideas I have constantly flying through my mind and yet I still find time to hang out with a bunch of awesome people from Couchsurfing every week to play boardgames.

The summer will be awesome, I already know the fall is going to be awesome, and plans are always in the making to be able to keep that trend going. I have so many amazing ideas for things I can do in the future that I can hardly find the time to do them all.

But if I can even realize half of the plans that I think of, my life will still be one hell of a ride.

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Why I didn’t ride an elephant during my time in Asia (and you shouldn’t either)

I could have, trust me. They are available to ride in a lot of places. But even before I went on my trip, I had already researched a few places and found one of which it was clear they treated the animals well and that means, there would be no riding.
At first I thought I wouldn’t get to go here, because it was in the north of Thailand, and I wasn’t planning on going there. But plans change because there is something to be said for spontaneity and so I ended up going to the Elephant Nature Park after all.

The morning started with a pick up in Chiang Mai, and during the bus ride there we were shown a video where we learned some basic rules for interacting with the elephants, but we also saw some of the horrors they go through. A lot of elephants are still used for logging (dragging huge tree logs), but there are many elephants that are being used as touristic attractions as well, not to mention the circus shows that feature elephants, because they are insanely smart and can do tricks.

The thing is, no elephant in its right mind wants to do these things. It is unnatural for them and in order to get an elephant to do these things, their spirit has to be broken. Which basically means that they are being tied up very tightly and beaten until they will comply. Until their soul leaves them and there is just a shell of an animal left.

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All elephants have an owner, and as long as the elephant still does what they have to for them, they will be of use. But as soon as they get older, or the abuse has been so bad that the elephant shows wounds or isn’t able to work in any other capacity anymore. That is the point where the elephant rescue center shows up to offer them money to take the animal, because they won’t sell them earlier, which means that all the animals in the center are pretty damaged – except for the baby elephants that are born there.

Nevertheless, their new life in the park allows them to heal, and the high prices charged to visit the elephants in this park and to hear their stories, allows the park to continue this work.

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The day consists of feeding the animals, walking around to pet them, to take some pictures (of course), but mostly to watch them in their natural habitat, which has been recreated in this park. They mostly eat. Sometimes they play a little, or throw some mud on their backs to keep the sun off their skin. We also go to do something that was advertised as ‘river bathing with the elephants’. This basically meant you could throw buckets of water on them, so that wasn’t really what we had envisioned.

One of the highlights was the vegetarian (but basically vegan) lunch. I could eat everything that was being served and the buffet was huge. Needless to say, I was stuffed after lunchtime and almost felt like walking at the same pace as the huge elephants.

 

 

And after reading this story, what if I told you that here in Asia, they have slaughter houses where they kill elephants, in order to be able to eat their flesh. Maybe they sell elephant flesh in every restaurant*.

You would be horrified.

And I feel the need (I’m sorry) to point out the hypocrisy in that**. Because this is exactly what happens to so many cows, pigs, sheep and chickens every day. Each year there are 9.000.000.000 (LOOK at all those zeros!) animals killed for factory farming, in just the US.
By spending your money on meat, you are encouraging this industry to keep doing what they are doing. And if you’re all about death and despair, then, by all means, keep doing that.

But if you feel bad for abused elephants, or dogs, or cats, or kangaroos for that matter, please just ask yourself why them.

Tell me, what is the difference between these precious elephants, and a ‘regular’ farm animal? Because to me, they are all the same.

*The elephants are not killed to eat, this was hypothetical.
**If you eat meat.

The temples of Siem Reap

When visiting Siem Reap, it is basically a crime not to visit the temples there. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world. There are so many temples on these sites, you can spend weeks there. But, for those of us who don’t want to look at temples for weeks on end, you can do a one-day trip as well. And even then, you can choose the short circuit of the big one.

I ended up doing the short one and even though  I would have wanted to see more, the price for a second day was too much for me, plus, the first day was so exhausting, that after that I was kind of done for a while. Maybe it would be best to go back again a few weeks later, but who has the time…?

The entrance fee is 20 dollar for one day, 40 dollar for 3 days and I think 60 dollar for a week. You get a personalized ticket, so they take your picture at the booth. My 20 dollar bill was actually rejected because it was not new and pretty enough, so I had to give them another. Ridiculous. It is unbelievable how much money a place like this must make. There are so many people and they all pay these high prices. It’s bizarre.

The best way to see the sights is to hire a tuktuk driver for the day. For the short circuit this shouldn’t cost more than 15 dollars, so find three other people to fill the tuktuk and it’s pretty cheap. You can also rent a bicycle, but I get the feeling that every single person who does that seriously underestimates the heat. You are fully in the sun, almost the whole day. It is insanely hot. For real.

So, the thing you all have been waiting for… The pictures.

Enjoy.

 

Running into an old friend

After roaming Phnom Penh for a morning, I wasn’t feeling too well. My back was hurting (I strained it a week and a half ago, and it’s gonna take some time before it will be completely back to normal) and besides that, I was suffering from some thing that some women suffer from approximately every month, but about which I won’t go into detail, so the guys reading my blog won’t freak out.

Suffice it to say, I was not feeling so well. I went back to the hostel and waited there until it was time to get to my bus, which would take me to Kampot. I was feeling bummed, because I wanted to see more of the city. I was also feeling bummed because there was an earlier bus which I could have taken, and which a bunch of the people from my hostel took.

But when the time came for me to go to the bus terminal (which was really just an office), I was feeling a bit better. I walked in and looked next to me, seeing a guy in sunglasses that looked slightly like somebody I knew. This happens to me a lot while I’m traveling… I guess it’s my brains way of telling me I’m missing my friends.

So I walk over to the counter to ask about my bus and they tell me to just sit and wait. So I do. I put my stuff down and sit in one of the chairs, while sneaking peeks at the guy sitting there. He looks so much like him…

I open my Facebook app, to just look him up and see if maybe he could be in the area. He’s currently living in Vietnam, so it’s not that much of a stretch… But it still is.

And what do you know, he put on Facebook that he was going to Cambodia for a few days… But it couldn’t be. It could not be possible that I am actually bumping into somebody I know all the way across the world. It is not possible. It just isn’t…

“- Sanne?”

Oh my god. I guess it is possible. And it is the biggest coincidence I ever had in my life. It’s so weird to run into a friend in a country so far from home and it took us both a few moments to realize it.

And not only did we run into each other, we were taking the same bus, to the same place.

So we spent the next day together, riding a motorbike across some of the country. The views were beautiful and the freedom that comes with driving through such rough terrain yourself, with nobody telling you where to go, was wonderful.

We had a great day and saw a lot, and after having dinner in the evening, we went our separate ways.

Thanks for the fun day, Tom! Maybe I’ll see you somewhere in Europe the world again.

 

 

Phnom Penh

This capital city of Cambodia has plenty to offer to enjoy yourself for two days. One of the most popular things to do here is to visit the Killing Fields (which I wrote about here). But also in Phnom Penh itself are some sights. You can visit the Palace, or go to the National Museum. Or, you can be like me, and just walk around the city, which gives you the chance to stumble upon a temple and a few other iconic views that make for a few lovely pictures.

 

A few snapshots from Vietnam

All of these photographs were taken in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam.

As you’ll notice, a lot of the famous buildings in Ho Chi Minh City look European, because before they were in war with the USA, they were occupied by the French.

You’ll see some photos of the city life, but I also visited a park where they had some sort of flower exhibition.

Pictures of Cambodia will soon follow!

 

 

Why touristic tours may not be my cup of tea

Because they just want money, that’s why. And when they get money, they want more money.

So I don’t know if I really won’t do any tours anymore. They are a great opportunity to see some sides of a country, mostly of the nature. If the price is right, I may be tempted again in the future. But my current experience is not great. I did two tours in Tenerife more than a year ago and those were not great experiences either. I guess I thought Asia was different.

I booked a tour to the Mekong Delta. It was just for one day, and while I was waiting for the bus in the hostel, I already met somebody who was also doing the tour alone. In the bus somebody casually mentioned that it was the fanciest bus they had been in in Asia and yeah, the bus was comfortable. The seats were a bit small, but there was airco and the chairs reclined, so I guess that’s okay.

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The first stop was at a place where there were three huge buddha statues. Great to take pictures with and the tour guide gave us a riddle. I didn’t realize we could win something, and by the time I did, somebody else already shot up to answer the question.
There were three buddha’s and they represented the past, the present and the future. The huge smiling chubby buddha was the present. The question was which one was the past and which one the future. Well, I would have guessed wrong, because the lying down buddha was the future and the standing buddha was the past.

We continued on the bus and ended up at a small harbor, where we got on a boat. We saw a bit of the waterfront there and eventually got off somewhere for lunch. There were many options to buy something extra but the basic lunch was included.

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Coconut house

After this lunch we went to a place where they made coconut candy. Would be great if we could make some ourselves, but we could just watch the people do it and guess what, we could even buy it afterwards! I didn’t, but I was shortly tempted by a coconut that was turned into an amazing little statue of three monkeys. I decided I could make do with a picture of it. They had many more things made out of coconut, including an entire house.

We also tried some coconut whiskey and you could take a picture with a snake, which seemed very random and strengthened our belief that this trip was very touristic. After that we continued on by small boats, to the next stop.

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What was interesting and a little annoying is that they basically asked for a tip everywhere, when actually, we already paid for the tour and shouldn’t have to pay extra during the tour. Everything was supposed to be included.

Which made it weird that when one guy offered the tour guide a tip in the end, he refused it.

The small boats were very cute and fun to go on, while sailing through a mangrove-like river. But it was a very short trip and when we got off, we sat down again to try some sort of tea. The day started to feel a bit like a tasting and when I asked the guy that sort of hung out with our small group if he had a good time, he said: “I just don’t understand why we are here…”

Me neither. I could have done with more sightseeing and less tasting of stuff.

But the people I was with made the day more fun. Besides the girl from my hostel, who was Israeli, by the way, I hung out with two girls from Germany and a guy from the USA, which was a nice group.

After we drank the tea the tour guide announced another opportunity to win a price. Well, I wasn’t gonna let this one pass me by, but when I heard the challenge, I was sure I would win them without any problem.
He said you could taste some fruit and if you could identify three of them, I would win some chopsticks made out of coconut. Great! Challenge accepted.
So, after being blindfolded and tasting five kinds of fruit, I won the price. I stupidly forgot what I was tasting when eating jackfruit… my mind went completely blank. And he had me try a fruit of which even he didn’t know the English name, so that one was hard too. But I easily identified the watermelon (duh), dragon fruit and the guava.
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I shared my price with my daily friends and gave them all a pair of chopsticks. After this we walked back to the bus that had already driven to a new pick-up point and we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City.

So just to be clear, I do like what the tours can offer, but I feel like the authenticity is nowhere to be found and everything is just way too focused on tourists. That’s why I love meeting people through couchsurfing. It just gives you a chance to meet locals and hear about their daily life.

But one thing these tours definitely know how to do, is make sure you get some amazing pictures to capture the day.