By , August 9, 2013 12:00 pm
We're writing about Canada a bit ahead of schedule. We're still trying to polish off our South East Asia posts, and we will be getting to them eventually. But... THIS JUST IN! Our friend, and one of our favourite Canadian artists - Pat LePoidevin - has released a new music video from his new album, American Fiction. Enjoy. We had the chance to visit with Pat (briefly, we're getting too old to stay up as late at night as we used to) at Sappyfest just a few days ago. We've written about him before when he played in Regina before we ever left on our RTW trip.  If you've never heard him play, he's definitely worth checking out.  He describeshis music as a looped orchestra of folk.  We've never seen anyone quite like him, and between his powerful voice, story-telling lyrics, and layered compositions, his live shows are something to see.  So, for all our Canadian friends out there (or international friends that just happen to be travelling around Canada) - he's coming to a town near you... check out his tour schedule here.
Pat Lepoidevin at Sappyfest 8

Pat Lepoidevin at Sappyfest 8

 
By , August 5, 2013 8:04 am
I must admit that before I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, I had no idea that there had been a genocide in Cambodia. Knowing what I know now, I find that disgraceful. I'd like to blame my schooling and cultural upbringing for sheltering me from this world-scale bit of history, but I'm not sure that I rightfully can. It is possible, after all, that I'm the only one who grew up without hearing the tales of the Khmer Rouge. Maybe you could weigh in with a comment when you're done reading this, and help me figure that out. It'd be interesting to know if I'm with the majority in this or just disgracefully inattentive. As mentioned, this was my first introduction to the Khmer Rouge's genocide. For the benefit of those, like me, who didn't grow up hearing all about the Khmer Rouge, here's a brief outline of what went on. It's missing lots of detail, but it gets the general gist across.
  • During the Vietnam war, the prince of Cambodia had allowed a large North Vietnamese military presence into the country.
  • This resulted in the wide scale bombing of Cambodia by the Americans, trying to disrupt Vietnamese supply lines.
  • In 1970, Lon Nol, the Cambodian pro-American minister of defence staged a coup and ousted the left-leaning prince from power.
  • From 1970-1975, Lon Nol cracked down against the communist parties and peoples living inside Cambodia. He massacred around 30,000 Vietnamese living within Cambodia.
  • Meanwhile, the ousted prince allied himself with the communist/rural Khmer Rouge and made pleas to the people to join with them and resist Lon Nol's oppressive rule.
  • In 1975 the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia.
  • Almost immediately, the Khmer Rouge made wide sweeping changes:
    • The prince was returned to the country and placed under house arrest
    • All people were forced out of the cities and placed in rural work camps
    • Families were separated - children, wives, and fathers were each sent to different villages
    • The monetary system and private property were completely abolished.
  • From 1975 to 1978, about 3 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge
Naturally, there was a lot of opposition to the Khmer Rouge's rule, and they were paranoid of an uprising against them. To suppress the opposition, they began massacring anyone who they thought may oppose them. This list of unfortunates included anyone who was educated (teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, people who wore glasses, artists), and those who had previously lived in cities. Even though the cities were abandoned, and virtually everyone was working long days on rice plantations, the reign of the Khmer Rouge was marked with famine and starvation. In an effort by the government to increase revenues, rice exports were kept at unsustainably high levels leaving their own people with nothing more than a few bowls of thin rice porridge to compensate them for working full days in the fields. In 1978, the Vietnamese army marched into Cambodia and liberated them from the Khmer Rouge. At this time, torture prisons such as Tuol Sleng were discovered, along with fields filled with mass graves. During the Khmer Rouge's 4 year reign, the population of Cambodia had decreased from 8 million people to 5 million. Nearly 40% of the population died during those 4 years. Astonishingly, western powers, through the United Nations, backed the defeated Pol Pot and the Khmer rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia after the Vietnamese overthrew them. This was more related to the fact that the Vietnamese had been the liberators, and the west could not accept any Cambodian government that was supported by the Vietnamese. The result of this decision saw Pol Pot receive the U.N. chair for Cambodia and all the aid that went along with that until 1992. The Khmer insurgency dragged on until 1996 when the majority of remaining Khmer soldiers abandoned the party because of a division in party leadership. The remaining party leaders were captured by 1998, and trials began in 2007.

S-21 - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Over the Khmer Rouge's 4 year reign, they became increasingly paranoid. They accused anyone they suspected of plotting against them, and sent them to torture prisons like S-21. S-21 has been largely left the way it was found by the Vietnamese. Photos of the dead bodies they discovered are hanging on the walls of the still furnished torture chambers. You can freely explore the prisoners' cells. You'll still see blood stains on the ceilings, walls, and floors. There's a wealth of information available, including a selection of interrogation documents from the more than 10,000 inmates who resided in this torture facility for 2 to 7 months before being sent to the killing fields. The interrogation records seem to indicate that the inmates were tortured until they confessed to whatever manner of crimes they were accused of (usually involving the CIA or KGB) and they had named their accomplices. My understanding is that anyone accused and their entire family were imprisoned and subjected to this forced confession before being sent over to the killing fields. Nobody was ever released as innocent from this prison. It's a humbling experience. If you are planning on visiting the killing fields, make a stop here first to get the back story.

The Killing Fields

This is where life ended for 20,000 Cambodians. You can still see bits of bone, teeth, and clothing that are brought to the surface every time it rains. There is an excellent audio tour included with admission, and a small museum where you can see some of the implements used in the executions.  
By , July 21, 2013 9:00 am
Siem Reap was hot. It was something like 37°C outside every day. Not the hottest weather we've experienced, but combined with the crippling near 100% humidity, it sure felt like the hottest. After a few days of bicycling between temples in that heat, combined with the mandatory daily drinking of 8 litres of water, my skin became waterlogged. All my pores were swollen, red, and itchy. I had sweat too much.

The prickly dots of heat rash.

A quick Google search informed me that I had contracted what's known as a heat rash. The good news was that it's fairly common, and there's no need to see a doctor. The cure: Keep cool, stay in the shade, and try not to sweat. It sounds simple, but our main mode of transportation was a bicycle. Our guest room not only didn't have air conditioning, but what's more, it was on the top floor of the hotel. The mid-day sun practically turned it into a human-sized toaster oven so even if I wanted to avoid the mid-day heat, I couldn't do it there. There was no way I could just go on the way I had, my skin would eventually dissolve. We asked the hotel staff if we could have a room on a lower floor that didn't get so hot during the day. We had to wait a few days for their current guests to move out, but it was no problem. The room was probably 15°C cooler during the day. Now, you may be wondering why we didn't spring for a room with air conditioning, given that I had this heat rash and all. The answer is simple. I despise air conditioning. It has nothing to do with the added cost, I just don't like it. No seriously, I really really hate it. I'm not sure if it's because I'm Canadian, but I find it very difficult to acclimatize to temperatures in the 30's and 40's. If I spend all my time at ambient temperature, I eventually do adjust, but it takes about a month. If I spend any time during that month in an air-conditioned space, I just don't adjust. What's worse, it'll destroys any acclimatization I've managed to build up to that point. And it doesn't take long. It's really quite amazing. Something as simple as 15 minutes inside of an air-conditioned bank will take me almost a day to recover from. I go from being comfortable outside, to shivering uncontrollably, and end up feeling  sweaty, hot, and exhausted as soon as I leave the chill. I'd take this rash over AC any day. Add to all of this the fact that huge temperature swings seem to have an even more adverse effect on Ashley's migraines that just extreme heat alone, and you can see why we have never willingly stayed in accommodations with AC. The cooler room helped, but it wasn't enough on it's own. I had to give up bicycling every day. So we took the opportunity to hire a tuk tuk driver and explored some of the more distant ruins. In a single day we visited the somewhat distant temple of Beng Mealea (40km from Siem Reap), and the Roluos Group (13km from Siem Reap)
Infobox: Tuk tuk for the day - $30 Entrance Fee for Beng Mealea  - $5 each (not included in Angkor pass).

Beng Mealea

This is an un-restored temple. It's huge, partly collapsed, and overgrown. The best part: you can climb on anything you like. Nothing is off limits. That is, assuming you can muster up the courage. There's a sign just inside the entrance indicating that the area was once heavily covered with landmines. The majority of which have now been removed. We left Siem Reap as early in the morning as our tuk tuk driver would agree to take us, and had the place to ourselves for the first few minutes after our arrival. Despite it's distance from Siem Reap, tourists are no strangers. The tour buses began showing up soon after we did, and the temple was nearly as full as any of the temples we visited closer to the city.

Roluos Group

These three temples are small in size, but I really quite enjoyed them. There were nearly no other tourists getting in the way of our photos, and the crumbling plaster reliefs offered us something different and unique to look at. There is a children's school at one of the temples that we gave a bit of money to. Apparently we are now paying people to torture us. During the course of courting us for cash, the school's teacher fed us a bit of cheese fruit, also known as vomit fruit. I can't really describe it except to say it's flavour has a vague resemblance to strong blue cheese mixed with vomit. Yuck!
By , June 4, 2013 8:00 am
As we've already said, our first month in Thailand was a bit of a whirl wind tour. There's no doubt that we were feeling a bit short on time. We were short on time. Contrary to the open-ended, unplanned, free-to-do-whatever-we-want schedule that we'd grown accustomed to over the past 20 some months of travel, we arrived in Thailand having already purchased plane tickets out. We knew the day and the hour that we'd be leaving before we ever showed up. And when one is short on time, one rushes to squeeze everything in. Kind of like when procrastination finally catches up to you. You spend a few sleepless days and nights working like a dog trying to get things done just in time for that important deadline. That's something like what the whole month had been like for us. Rush, rush, rush... Folly. But we were not only rushing to plan out what we wanted to see during our short time in Thailand - we were also trying to figure out just exactly what we were going to do when we did get home. This is the important setup for the rest of this post. We weren't just planning on coming home to visit. We were coming home to live. After Egypt, we'd kind of gotten it into our heads that we were done with travelling. At least the way we had been travelling. Our intention was to return home and get jobs. The full time, life-long career kind. We'd also take the shrivelled remnants of our travel funds and do what was nearly unthinkable just a half year ago... lock ourselves into a long term mortgage, hopefully purchasing a fixer-up that could be made into a split rental home. Half for us, half for a renter. Ashley would return to teaching and enrol in what they call a "four in five" or deferred salary program. That allows her to take every fifth year off from work (along with the pay). We hadn't completely abandoned travel, just limited it and deferred it by four years. Me, I'd have to fix up the house, then find some career where I could also take every fifth year off along with summers. That pretty much rules out engineering (which I'd all but ruled out anyways because it made me unhappy). The plan: become a self-employed, home-based baker. Seriously, I love good German style bread and you just can't find it in the "bread basket" that is Saskatchewan. Our bread is spelled "Wonder", and it's a wonder they are allowed to label it bread (Please don't sue me, it's a joke. You know, ha ha). But the plans didn't stop there. Oh no. Next up, we were starting to talk about children. Or, more likely a child. I'm very much a believer in China's 1 child program. I mean, if you honestly look at it, pretty much all of the world's problems are a problem of overpopulation. Destruction of natural habitat, extinction of wild animals, global warming, high energy costs, high food costs, industrial chemical based farming, disease, etc, etc, etc. So you're probably wondering what all of this has to do with Koh Samui...

Koh Samui

Mike, Tigger, and Talon

Our good friends Talon and Tigger from 1 dad, 1 kid, 1 Crazy Adventure had a house sitting gig on Koh Samui while we were in Thailand. It had been exactly one year to the day since we last said goodbye to Talon in Utila, Honduras, and we were really stoked to meet up with him again. Just a little background for those that don't know... Talon was Ashley's certifying scuba dive instructor in Utila. He did such a great job of getting us to enjoy the sport that we stuck around to do a half dozen more courses including our divemaster certification. Now we were coming nearly direct to Talon from Koh Tao, the only place we'd been diving in the past year. We were looking forward to reminiscing about diving. As expected, seeing Tigger and Talon again was great. They are fantastic people and we really enjoy their company. But there was one conversation that stuck out above all others. And it was this. Ashley relayed to Talon the plans described to you above. You know, the whole going home, done with travelling plan. But she didn't just tell him the plan as if it were set in stone, she tried to convince him that the plan was a good plan while she told it. In truth, Talon was the first person that either of us had told our coming home plan too.  She realized, as she explained herself, that she wasn't so much trying to convince Talon that it was a good plan, she was trying to convince herself that it was indeed a good plan. After patiently listening while Ashley spoke, Talon's reaction exactly summed up what we were both feeling after hearing our own plan said aloud, "Nah, I don't think I could do that." Whoa, yep. We can't do it either. And thus began our research into teaching abroad, which eventually led us to our current plan of volunteering a year in the Himalayan country of  Bhutan. So there we go, three small days in a 627 day journey may have changed the rest of our lives - they've certainly changed the next year or so. Thanks Talon, you really saved us from ourselves. We're not ready to settle down, who were we trying to kid?

Oh yeah, we did some stuff in Koh Samui too

We were only there for 3 days. If you're really interested in Koh Samui, you should probably read Talon's write up of it. The coolest thing that we did see, in my opinion, was the under-decomposed monk. This fellow famously predicted the date of his own death and left instructions to his followers to leave his body on display if it should fail to rot or decompose. Supposedly his body didn't rot, so they stood him up, gave him some sun glasses and he's been on display at this temple ever since. My conspiracy theory is that he died from an overdose of formaldehyde or perhaps aspartame. Every time I hear of someone predicting the date of their own natural death, I can't help but think of self-induced poisoning. But, maybe the whole thing is just proof of the divine. I don't know. What I can say is: I think he's looking pretty good for a dead guy. Wouldn't you agree?

Dead monk in a box

Looking good

Grandfather rock

Grandmother rock. Do you get it?

Red Temple

Night market

Fire Dancing at the night market

 
By , May 15, 2013 8:16 am
We love diving. We really, really, love diving. That's why a little over a year ago we became divemasters in Utila, Honduras. Utila, as far as I know, is the world's cheapest place to learn to dive. It compares favourably with the island of Koh Tao, Thailand, which appears to be the world's cheapest place for a certified diver to rent tanks and go on a fun dive. All in all, we're doing a pretty good job of frugal living under the sea. Well, not exactly. The truth is, we've had to balance our love for diving with our love for travel and our love for not working (aka, our budget). That's kept us landlocked and feet-dry for the past year. So, when we arrived at Koh Tao we could hardly keep ourselves out of the water. We arrived sleep deprived from an insane night bus/ferry schedule that found us dropped off at the ferry depot at the ungodly hour of 3:00 am, only to have to wait until 7:00 am to actually get on the boat.  We spent that first day looking for a dive shop and were in the water first thing the next morning.

The Dive Shop

We dove with a company called Phoenix Divers. We chose them for a few reasons. Primarily, it was the vibe. We're professionals, and we wanted a laid-back shop that would let us dive the way we wanted to dive. Most dive shops wouldn't even entertain the idea of allowing us to dive on our own from the boat. They also wouldn't all guarantee a small group size, and ensure that like-qualified divers would be paired together. Phoenix Divers came through on all of that. They weren't pushy, and their price was right. So they got our business. Of course, being certified, we tend to be overly critical about our dive shop. Especially when it comes to following the standards to keep everyone safe. I like a relaxed shop but in the water, things have to be done right. After 4 days of diving with Phoenix, there were definitely some things I didn't like.
  • No drop tanks on deep dives. They used them from the wreck dive, at our insistence, but it wasn't typical.
  • We didn't get a boat briefing until day 4. It would have been nice to know that there was a dry room for our stuff on board a bit sooner.
  • One of the divers we dove with requested a tank of Nitrox. It's required that the the diver using the tank personally verifies the oxygen percentage before using it. Phoenix didn't have an O2 sensor, and they wanted him to use it anyways. That's a big no no.
  • Dive briefings were done individually, instead of as a group.  We had no idea which divers were in our group until we were in the water.
On the other hand, there were some really great things about the shop.
  • The price for diving with accommodation was the cheapest we found the day we spent looking. 2,700 Baht ($91 CAD) for four dives (two dives each) and 200 Baht ($6.70) for a private bungalow with hot water.
  • Our divemaster "F" was really good, except for skipping the whole boat briefing thing.
  • The dive boats had free food. Fresh fruit some days, and cookies every day.
  • Their equipment was in really good shape.
  • They took the boat out twice a day, giving you a choice of diving in the mornings or afternoons. They tried their best to schedule dive sites a day in advance giving you an informed choice of diving in the mornings, afternoons, or both.

Diving in Koh Tao

We don't actually have the greatest frame of reference when it comes to diving, as we've only really dove in two spots - Utila and here. But I can say that the diving was really enjoyable. Compared to Utila, there's just more fish to see. A lot more fish.  The coral seems to be in fairly good health. There's much worse visibility and much stronger currents. One of the most interesting things to me was the predictability of the local fish. They showed us a map of one of our dive sites with with a clown fish drawn on it, labelled Nemo. Our divemaster Eff said simply, "This is where we'll see Nemo." And he was right. That little clown fish spends every day hovering above a small tuft of anemone. He's just always there. Likewise, he was able to show us some large shark-like fish called cobias. They were just swimming circles right where he said they would be.

Movies

One of the saddest things I've ever seen, I saw while diving in Koh Tao. A fishing net had washed up and covered the Chumphon Pinnacle dive site, trapping several fish. A collage of clips from our 4 days of diving in Koh Tao

Photos

In general, I find underwater movies are much more enjoyable than photos. At least with our little point-and-shoot camera. We'd probably have taken nothing but movies, but our underwater enclosure is damaged (I'm kind of upset that I couldn't get warranty from Canon) and we can't change the camera mode back to movies once the camera is installed inside the enclosure. Inevitably, it gets bumped to photo and stays there for the rest of the day.

Our dive boat

Checking the aim on the sunken wreck's artillery.

A bit rusty, but only a bit

Colourful christmas tree worms

Butterfly fish

Another butterfly fish

The effect of long term exposure to pink snorkels while diving.

A happy eel

Neat coral

Checking out all the silvery fish

Lots and lots of silvery fish

Sea cucumber

Hard Coral

Worms

Awesome

By , April 11, 2013 4:08 pm
Surprise! We're home!  Not in Bulgaria, silly... in Saskamoose-a-bush, Canada, the land of ice and snow. Okay, maybe you've already been surprised. Probably because we've already been home for three weeks as any astute Facebook follower would know. If you didn't know, don't feel bad. It just means we get to surprise you now. Surprise!

How long are you home for?

Ah, right to it. The first question everyone asks. We're going to be home for a while, but not forever. Our rough plan/dream is to go to Bhutan where Ashley will teach math for a year and I'll either work online or, more likely, go hiking every day and work on my photography. It can always use a bit of work but unfortunately doesn't pay so well.

Where the heck is Bhutan? 

This is the second most common question we get.  Bhutan is a small country located in the Himalayas. It's south of Tibet, east of Nepal, and north of India and Bangladesh. Aside from its premium geographic location, the kingdom is most well known for its so called "happiness legislation". Basically what they've done is given up on the traditional measure of GDP employed by most of the world to determine how well the country is doing, and instead have decided to use the measure of happiness. I have no idea how they measure it, but they do. Government policies are thus made with the goal of increasing national happiness, which has had some interesting results. The most relevant to would-be travellers like us is their restrictive travel visa. It turns out that cultural preservation makes the Bhutanese happy, while being surrounded by throngs of foreign tourists does not. Travel visas are limited in number, short on time, restrictive on movement, and are very very expensive. Which is why for years, Ashley and I had written Bhutan off as a dream travel destination that we would likely never see. Until now... What we've found is a volunteer job opportunity that Ashley is qualified for. Applications open in May. Successful applicants are announced in September. If she's accepted (fingers crossed), we'll be moving to Bhutan in January 2014! If not... we'll do something else. Probably something like teaching English abroad.
Map of Bhutan

Map of Bhutan

Whoa, January! Is Traveled Earth shutting down until January? What will I read on Fridays?

Don't worry... we're not going anywhere. We've got a back log of, oh geeze, like two months of stories from our time in Thailand and Cambodia. I'm working really hard on getting our photos ready to publish, I promise. By that time, this ice ball we call Canada should have thawed a bit, school will be out (relevant as Ashley is working as a substitute teacher right now), and we'll be travelling Canada. We currently have a poll on our facebook page. You can help us decide which way to head out (East or West) by voting and sharing the poll with your friends. After our brief (2 month) cross country tour we'll be headed home for some more work until the cold sets in. Having skipped two winters, and finding this spring quite unbearably cold, I've got a pretty good feeling we'll be re-locating someplace warm a few months before our scheduled arrival in Bhutan.

Phew, I can live with that. So how's home?

It's good and bad in ways, but mostly it's just a little weird. It feels so familiar and yet so different from what we're used to.  It's been great meeting up with family and friends. We surprised both of our parents (we told them we were coming home in mid April and showed up without warning at the end of March). Their reactions were priceless. We've rekindled our love of board games. We're cooking up a storm now that we have not only a kitchen, but a whole array of seasonings and spices.  Ashley's even started watching a little TV and movies again (I haven't gotten there yet, but probably will soon). Price shock has been hard. Rental rates in this city are unaffordable for us at $1,000+ a month for a single room apartment. A single restaurant meal for one person costs more than what we are accustomed to spending for the two of us during a whole day. It's also impossible for us to get by using only public transport. To get to work on time, Ashley needs a car. To visit my parents we need a car (there are no buses). So we bought a car.
Toyota Echo - The newest member fo the Family

Toyota Echo - The newest member of the Family

As you can tell from the picture above, it's been cold. It was 38 °C the day we left Bangkok, and -14°C when we arrived back in Saskatchewan. That's a big difference.  We knew the weather would be iffy coming home this early, but a windchill of -27°C on April 9?  Come on! Some other odds and ends:
  • Vegetables/fruits are expensive and taste terrible here. We've always known that. Everything is picked green and trucked long distances. At least in the fall we can hit up farmer markets.
  • It's nice being able to control what we eat again. Having a full kitchen is bliss. It's been a glut of whole grains and beans. My bread starter is almost done, so fresh bread should be on the table soon.
  • It's weird not seeing/hearing chickens. Especially in the morning. I miss them. The factory eggs they sell in our stores are the most flavourless, sickly, pale food items we've seen since we left home (maybe the zero calorie peanut butter we saw in Florida was worse). Fortunately, we found a source of free-range eggs.

News from Bulgaria.

We got some bad news from Bulgaria this week. Our car has been stripped. They removed the LPG kit, broke the rear window, and stole the tires. And no, we don't have insurance. It was a $500 car.
Broken rear window - no rims

Broken rear window - no rims

Missing LPG kit

Missing LPG kit

Our house was also broken into. We didn't really have much in there, maybe $100 worth of tools which I'm sure are now gone. That's pretty sad news for us. Not so much because of what was stolen/damaged, but because our dream has been squashed. Our plan for the house was to visit it over the next several years and slowly improve it and the yard when we had money. Our goal was to only move there full time once we could afford to do it. But now, we've come to realize that any improvements we could make, like installing new appliances, toilets, cupboards and the like would most likely end up as somebody else's improvements in somebody else's house when we're away. Not sure what we'll end up doing with the place now, but if you're looking for your own house in Bulgaria we're open to offers... If you missed our Bulgarian House Saga, you can read more on it here and here.

Back to the regular schedule.

That's our real-time update for now. Stay tuned for posts on S.E. Asia. Our final trip stats and reflections will be published after that.
By , April 2, 2013 9:19 am
Luxor is full of Ancient Egyptian sites. Really, really full. There's so much ancient stuff here that it would take weeks (months?) to see it all just one time. Historically, the ancients built their city of Thebes (later Luxor) on the eastern bank of the Nile. To the ancients, the East was the side of the living, while the West was the side of the dead. On the West we find the great mortuary temples and the tombs. On the east, the temples that were used for day to day worship.

Typical luxor street Roof tops - unfinished to avoid paying the steep construction tax

The East Bank

Karnak Temple

Entry was 65£ Egyptian per person ($11 CAD). It's massively impressive, as in really big and full of cool stuff. It houses many obelisks, many more statues, covered temples, a huge columned hall, carved walls, and even an artificial lake. Just about every surface was originally covered with detailed carvings and hieroglyphics. Original colour can still be seen in many places where the stone managed to avoid direct sunlight. Unfortunately, almost everything you see has been badly damaged at one point or another. The temple is mostly a recreation made from a conglomerate of concrete and the original stones that managed to survive the ages. The good news is that the restoration was very well done. I think, given the options of displaying a field of crumbled blocks or a rebuilt temple like they have today, they made the right choice. One interesting thing that holds true for just about all of the temples in Egypt was the presence of official scammers/beggars. These guys would wear a uniform and sport a set of keys. Invariably, they would come after you while you were off by yourself. They'd usually signal you to stay quiet and beckon you over to a locked door. Pretending that he'd be in trouble if he were caught, he'd look all around while getting you to hide behind some blocks. Finally he'd quickly unlock the door and usher you inside. Nothing more than charades designed to squeeze a bit more money from the unwary tourist. We found that if we clearly said "La Baksheesh" (no tips) up front, we would still get the "secret" tour but wouldn't have to part with our cash after it was done.

Karnak Temple Karnak Temple Kissing by the butts (in one of those "secret tour" areas Obelisk A classic shot Rams Playing with Sepia

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple is the smaller of the two and is highly accessible. By this I mean that there are no "block out fences", and the temple complex is surrounded by roads. This meant that we were free to walk completely around the perimeter and get a surprisingly good glimpse of the temple without paying the steep entrance fee. Unfortunately, it's located at a hot-spot for horse and carriage drivers. If you want to "enjoy" seeing the temple, you are probably best off to purchase a ticket, get off the street, and view it from inside.

Luxor Temple Luxor Temple

The West Bank

Our original plan was to spend a few days renting bicycles and try to see as many of the West Bank sites as we could. I still think this would be a reasonably good way to see the West Bank, but we didn't get the chance to try. Instead, we relented into taking a tour. It was paid for by the hotel we had booked our felucca tour through in Aswan. They did this because we threatened to go to the tourist police and complain about how our felucca tour abruptly ended leaving us stranded in the wrong city, without taking us to the two temple sites that were on the itinerary. Thus, our tour was free, but we did have to pay our own entrance fees which amounted to 150£ each ($25 CAD). The tour included an English guide, transportation to the Colossi of Memnon, the mortuary temple of Hatchepsut, the Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu Temple, and a mandatory shopping stop. Unlike the East Bank sites, the West Bank sites are in a very good state of preservation. I rate the tour quite highly, but it could be improved quite a bit by exchanging the hour long shopping stop for a lunch break.

Valley of the Kings

Not all the tombs are officially opened. Supposedly, the humidity from the breath of visitors causes damage to the decorated stuccoes. To solve the problem, the tombs are on a steady rotation giving them time to recuperate. On any given day, only a half dozen tombs are open to the public. Interestingly, the entry ticket does not give you free run of the tombs. Your ticket only buys you entrance into three tombs. The three tombs that we saw were very interesting, and totally worth seeing. The tombs were constructed for the duration of the pharaoh's reign. Thus, you could tell how long the pharaoh had ruled for by measuring the length of his tomb. And they were long. Even the shorter tombs that we were in didn't seem short. The walls and ceilings were covered in smooth white stucco which was covered from floor to ceiling by various paintings and writings. The artwork had a general theme. According to our guide they depicted scenes and prayers from the Book of the Dead which would help guide the deceased pharaoh during the first few days of the afterlife. The tombs were also very similar. After seeing three of the tombs, I didn't feel like I really needed to see a fourth, so the ticketing scheme seems to be okay in my opinion. Besides, there's always the not-so-secret system of bribery if you want to see more tombs. We didn't pay any bribes, so we don't know exactly what the prices are, but we saw a lot of money changing hands between the tomb guards at the entrance and the throngs of tourists entering. Here's a basic run down of what you can get with a bribe:
  • Entry into a tomb after you've used up your three entrances
  • Permission to take photos (normally cameras are not allowed inside the complex)
  • Entry into one of the sealed, not-for-the-public, undergoing-restoration tombs
  • Permission to chisel off a large piece of painted plaster from the tomb wall as a take home memento. Crocodile paintings seemed to be especially popular.

Hatchepsut (a.k.a. "Hot Chicken Soup" Temple)

This three story complex was used as a stage for Verdi's opera Aida in modern times. That all came to an end after a terrorist attack in 1997. Gunmen stormed the complex and shot and killed at least 70 people. Since then, there hasn't been much trouble.

Hatshepsut Temple Hatshepsut Temple

Medinet Habu

This was my favourite temple near Luxor. It was unique, having very deep carvings. And, there were very few tourists to get in the way of photos.

Medinet Habu - Deep carvings Medinet Habu

Colossi of Memnon

A quick photo stop.

Colossi Colossi