Baliloca

Inspired by the World

  • Houston, largest city in Texas, is not only oil & gas and hospitals. Nowadays somewhat distanced from its original cowboy roots, the city has exploded in population like no other US city in recent years, and on the way has picked up all types of foreign cultural influences which determine its current multi-ethnic flavor. Lip-licking tex-mex restaurants share the spotlight with sophisticated new fusion restaurants, while shiny new clubs pop up to compete with old two-stepping bars.

    So you’re in Houston for a weekend, what should you do and see? As insiders for a number of years, we’re in a great position to give you some advice. Let’s assume you arrive Friday afternoon and leave on Sunday. Grab your cowboy hat, and let’s go!

    Houston Skyline

    FRIDAY

    Make sure you rent a car to get around the city, because the word “sprawl” hardly does Houston justice. It’s like someone had dropped a whole city from the stratosphere and let the pieces fall where they may. No zoning laws plus horrible traffic equal highway disaster, so try to stay clear of driving during rush hour for your own sake.

    You’ll probably be hungry after all that traveling, so why not start with a nice Tex-Mex dinner? Several places compete to serve the best fajitas around. Our pick is El Tiempo Cantina on Washington Avenue for its flavorful filet mignon fajitas, but you can’t go wrong with Pappasitos, a local family owned restaurant, or with the original Ninfa’s on Navigation Boulevard, which claims to have invented the fajitas back in the 70s.

    You may want to take it easy after such a powerful dinner, but resist the temptation and grab your dancing boots to head over to a truly Texan two-stepping joint, where you can spend the night dancing in a counter-clockwise manner like the locals. Check out the cheap beer and great atmosphere at Wild West on Richmond Street, or the slightly more upscale Rebels on Washington Avenue.

    SATURDAY

    Saturday in our books is just a synonym of brunch, and Houston has plenty of places to curb your craving of bacon, eggs and pancakes. Some of our favorites are House of Pies on Kirby Street for some excellent eggs benedict, Tiny Boxwood on West Alabama Street for more sophisticated fare, and Buffalo Grille on Bissonnet Street if you want a nice and usually uncrowded terrace.

    Nobody said the tourist life was easy. If you finished brunch before noon, it’s time to explore space, but from the comfort of an air conditioned museum. The Johnson Space Center is around 45 minutes south of the City, and boasts a huge collection of space rocks and shuttle materials, a humongous rocket, and an imax screen. The facility closes around 7pm in summer, so check out their website for updated closing times because in order to properly see the museum you’ll need at least 5 hours. Tickets are also cheaper if bought online!

    We hope all that walking and dreaming of space made you hungry, because it’s time for stuffing yourselves with some famous Texan BBQ. The competition is fierce among BBQ restaurants which strive to outdo each other as the best barbeque of Houston year after year. Arguably the king of BBQ meats, brisket is the most requested cut, so make sure to have a few pieces along with those pork ribs. Killen’s barbeque is probably the most sought after BBQ joint, but its far away location in Pearland and its long lines may steer you to Goode’s BBQ on Kirby Street, a delicious feast of mesquite slow cooked meat. Be sure to leave some space for the pecan pie!

    Night time has probably come by now, and we can think of no better way to commence the nightlife portion of our Saturday than having a cocktail at one of the great bars around the City. For a straight up great crafted cocktail, we highly recommend the hip Anvil on Westheimer Street, but if you’re feeling chattier, Boheme Café and Wine Bar on Fairview Street offers a more social atmosphere and alcohol-intense margaritas.

    If you’re still in the mood for clubbing after such a long day, you probably want to head out to Midtown, where the nightlife scene is Houston’s most rowdy, and where new clubs substitute old ones at an alarming speed, so any namedropping we make now would probably not be relevant when you finally arrive at Houston. Just drive around Brazos, Smith or Louisiana streets along the crossroads with McGowen Street and you’ll find many options.

    SUNDAY

    If you’re reading us you’re probably a very wise individual, so after a quick breakfast head over to the Museum District and choose your favorite museum out of the many options available. The Museum of Fine Arts houses jaw-dropping works of art spanning from Roman times up to contemporary works of masters such as Cezanne, Botticelli and even Andy Warhol. The Museum of Natural Science showcases huge and very complete dinosaurs. We know; it’s a tough choice.   

    After hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, many NOLA locals moved on to nearby Houston, where love of Cajun food grew exponentially. Nowadays there are plenty of excellent choices in Houston for experiencing the sweet and spicy Cajun flavors, especially so during Crawfish Season (March to June), when you can enjoy these ugly critters in all their glory. Head on for lunch to the unmistakable Ragin’ Cajun on Richmond Street for a taste of real jambalaya, or enjoy some oysters and gumbo at BB’s Café also on Richmond Street. “Laissez le bon temps rouler!”

    Tags: America, USA

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  • Perhaps you want to know yourself better, or you´re feeling like you need an adventure. Perhaps your friends bailed on you and can´t join you on the trip, or maybe you don´t have any friends (we don´t judge). The matter is that you want to travel, and being solo will not stop you - and it shouldn´t. We´ve done it before and here are our tips to maximize your enjoyment in this situation!

    SECTION 1: Motivation is the most important factor.

    We live in a society which is very focused on “what will others think of me?” The good news is that nobody really cares for long, and even if they did it shouldn´t matter anyway. Some people may tell you that you´re crazy and that it´s too dangerous, but many others will just be profoundly jealous of your courage to grab your backpack and fly solo.  We can assure you that you´ll experience very satisfying personal growth as a result of the challenge.

    Backpacking freedom

    What are the pros and cons of a solitary trip? Let’s start with the cons:

    1. You and only you are responsible for all aspects of the trip, so you’ll have to plan in advance and there will be no way for you to blame anyone else for any mishaps occurring during the trip.
    2. A large part of the time you’ll be lonelier than the Count of Montecristo. (Not necessarily a bad thing)
    3. You’ll have to exercise more caution, as you won’t be able to fall back on anyone else in the event of a problem taking place.
    4. There will be no friends with you to create common memories which you can reminisce about for years to come. (But you can make new friends).
    5. You’d better LOVE taking selfies because after a while you will be tired of asking other tourists to take a snap of you with a picturesque background. It should go without saying, but selfie sticks are prohibited for any self-respecting fashionable traveler.

    Now let’s focus on the pros of this adventure:

    1. You’ll have plenty of time to think, meditate, and know yourself better.
    2. Most probably you will experience an increase in your level of confidence that will carry forward in your life after your trip. Less second guessing yourself.
    3. Obviously there will be no arguing with others in regards to the travel plan, itinerary, or whether or not you really should have that fourth margarita. (You probably should).
    4. You’ll meet exponentially more people and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in the foreign culture much easier.
    5. Self-reliance is the name of the game. The solo traveler learns early on that he/she is all they need to survive and have a great time.
    6. Your extroversion qualities will grow in leaps and bounds, as it’s a position in which you either learn to block out social pressure or go home.

    The truth is that tens of thousands of solo travelers take that first step on an adventure every year, and they are not better or braver than you. Go get them!

    Traveler holding a map

    SECTION 2: Be prepared.  

    You’re brave but you’re not foolish, so this is where we will give you tips to minimize any risk factor that could make your vacations turn sour. Prior to commencing your voyage:

    1. Spend some money buying a good travel guide, preferably one including a general road map of the country to use as a reference if you get lost.
    2. Depending on your destination, consider investing some hard cash on travel insurance. You never know what kind of tropical disease you could catch, and if your credit cards will decide to go on strike at that precise time in which you need to pay for a hospital.
    3. Try to learn in advance some basic facts of the destination country and their culture, so as to not offend your hosts. This includes some basic communication in their language, which is always appreciated by locals, such as these phrases: “Hello”, “another beer please”, and “where is the bathroom”, (in that precise order).
    4. Learn the basic geography of your destination and general traveling times, to avoid being over optimistic and missing essential landmarks.
    5. If your destination is a country on the rough side, make sure to be up to date on the political situation. If the situation spirals out of control once you’re there, head for the embassy immediately.
    6. Make sure to carry a safe purse in order to keep your valuables far away from sticky third party hands. We obviously highly recommend the Baliloca Travel Purse since it can go over or under the clothes, fits all essentials and is fastened using two separate straps which makes it completely theft-proof.

    And some advice on how to be prepared during your travels:

    1. Get in contact with your family and friends periodically, explaining where you are exactly and where you plan to go in the next few days. Try to do this every few days, for both their peace of mind and for them to have a starting point to search for you if something terrible happened.
    2. Think of what will you need to carry with you to that day trip. Will it be hot? Carry extra bottled water. Will you need a hijab to enter a mosque for example? Buy one and carry it with you.
    3. Common sense is key. Don’t take unnecessary risks, and try to appear as low key as possible. It’s better to under-dress than to look flashy and attract muggers. Think “broke backpacker”- this is the safest appearance.

    SECTION 3: How to socialize and fend away loneliness.

    There are two types of people in the world, the introverts and the extroverts. The former will flourish during the lonely parts of the trip, and will struggle with the meeting people part of the journey. The latter will very easily meet new friends but will become restless and bored during the purely solo parts of traveling. Nevertheless, both types of people will learn new skills that will make them more well-rounded individuals in the long run.

    Obviously during a long trip you WILL have to meet fellow travelers, but even for a short trip you should make an effort to connect with locals or other backpackers. It’s worth it and very easy to do. Most people are incredibly nice anywhere in the world. So who are the easiest people to befriend? We’re going to teach you a psychological hack that will speed up your friend-making!

    Human beings develop friendships faster and easier with people who have the following characteristics, (in order of importance):

    1. Similar age.
    2. Same gender.
    3. Shared values and pastimes.

    How does this work in practice? Try to remember a situation in which a group has assembled together for the first time, and think of how the relationships have developed. First, people will instinctively reach out to individuals of the approximate same age bracket; young ones will reach out to young ones first, more mature individuals will gather along with their equals. Within the similar age group, males will tend to most easily develop friendship with other males, and females will instinctively look to bond with other females. Finally, these new established groups will be further segmented into gaggles that share similar points of view.

    Knowing this you can bypass many introductions and aim preferentially at meeting a similarly aged traveler of the same gender. This will be the fastest way to develop and acquaintance and perhaps a friendship.

    The perfect day trip purse

    Any time a social group meets for the first time, (for example an impromptu guided tour) there is a certain paralysis that lasts for many minutes and even hours, in which the members of the newly formed group share space but do not create relationships with one another, and sometimes may even shy away from speaking to each other. It’s critical to employ these first minutes of paralysis to launch your first conversations and establish social relationships. But who should be your first targets? (In order)

    1. Other solo travelers: These people share your same situation and will probably appreciate your company, as their travel plans may be flexible and they may be in dire need of conversation. This is the easiest type of person to meet, the only introduction required is asking “how long have you been traveling solo?”
    2. Fellow travelers from your same country: The second easiest traveler you will be able to befriend will be a group hailing from your origin country. If you happen to catch a familiar accent, don’t hesitate and just ask them where they are from and take it from there!
    3. Other foreigners (which are non-locals): The inhabitants of some countries like the US, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany are very extensive travelers, and some of them are very outgoing and happy to meet people.
    4. Locals: Meeting locals is always a bit more challenging depending on the country, but very doable nevertheless. To make it easier, catch them when they are not in a group.

    And finally, some tips on some very good places to meet people efficiently:

    1. Youth hostels and backpacker hostels. These are the most outgoing places to hang out and share a couple of drinks with fellow adventurers. This is the Valhalla of solo travel. A typical backpacking hostel will have shared bedrooms which make it impossible to NOT meet people, but also smaller rooms for the more privacy minded travelers (or for those with a dislike for snoring), but with a bar nearby where you can still mingle. Most of these hostels have notice boards to share car rides and split gas prices, kitchen, etc…
    2. If you look around you when you’re in a tourist hotspot such as the Taj Mahal, the Sydney opera house, or the Eiffel tower, you’ll notice that you’re in the midst of a large scale backpacker hostel. Travelers from all over the world gather at the same places for a few hours. You can definitely meet travelers in these hotspots, especially if you see a solo traveler resting with a drink or trying to unsuccessfully take a selfie. The phrase “need someone to take a photo for you?” works wonders in this setting.
    3. Guided tours and package travel: Although most of the time unnecessary, if you travel solo, these tours can be heaven sent. A group of travelers from all over the world will be sitting in the same van or bus for hours, making it a great opportunity to meet cool new friends.

    SECTION 4: Document it all!

    Unfortunately considering that you won’t have an old friend with you, it will be impossible to reminisce with him or her about the trip years later, so you may even forget some of the incredible experiences that you have experienced during your trip. This is solved by carrying a diary with you, and taking notes profusely. No need to write like Charles Dickens, this diary will only be for your personal use.

    Or start a travel blog and tell us about your trip!

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  • How to wear the Baliloca purse.

    We know we've invented something quite unique which needs a bit of an explanation. The Baliloca Purse is a completely new concept, which we've designed to try to help you carry your valuables as effortless as possible, but novelty also means that nobody has seen it in action before, so wearing it is not completely intuitive.

    • It's not exactly a cross body purse. 
    • It hangs from a shoulder but it's not 100% a shoulder bag either.
    • It's not a backpack even though it's fastened over both shoulders... 

    Since you probably will never have seen a Baliloca purse before, when you receive it by mail you may have some questions like "why is there more than one strap?" or maybe "how can I avoid strangling myself while putting it on?" :) Don't worry, you're not the first and we've got you covered! Without further ado, this is how to wear the Baliloca. Check out the lovely model below:

    How to put on the Baliloca purse

    FIRST STEP: The purse hangs on the left side of the body.

    The main part of the purse, (where you keep your valuables), hangs from your left shoulder. It will hang high and close to your body for balancing purposes and to avoid theft. 

    SECOND STEP: The extra strap (the stretchy one) goes across your back and is fastened to your right shoulder.

    To get to this position, simply pass your right arm completely through the loop of the extra strap. It should feel like if you're putting on a backpack. The main strap will rest around your left shoulder and the second strap over the right shoulder.

    THIRD STEP: Adjust the fit of the extra stretchy strap.

    The extra strap is fully adjustable to fit all sizes, so simply adjust the length of the strap in order to best adapt to your physique.

    And voila! You're done and your purse is unshakable and very comfy, so be careful, you may even forget that you're wearing a purse!

    They say that images speak louder than words. We've found out that videos speak even louder than images. So here is a video on how to put on the purse. Enjoy!

    Tags: Baliloca

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  • We’ve all seen them on TV or on the beach. That gloriously tan surfer gently holding his or her surf board almost like cradling a baby, and heading for the shore to enjoy one of the most popular water pastimes in the world. You’ve always been slightly jealous, but now you are in the famous Waikiki Beach, in Oahu, Hawaii, and want to finally join their ranks. How should you proceed?

    Although surfing was practiced by local people throughout most of Polynesia prior to contacting with the first European ships, Waikiki Beach is the birthplace of modern surf. The waves in this beach are very gentle most of the year and therefore perfect for beginner surfers, which you’ll see all over the beach attempting to surf.

    Wakiki Beach View

    Find a reputable school on the shore

    There are numerous surf school on Waikiki beach, some a mere small hut on the beach, and some a more permanent establishment on Kalakaua Street or inside the area hotels. Although probably all of them have reasonable teaching standards, some are better than others and your training may be more comprehensive if you choose well at this stage.

    For our first lesson we went to the Hans Hedermann school inside the Park Shore hotel, which offered several advantages such as introductory video presentation, and relatively small groups, but some other competitors seem to also offer these items.

    Choose your class

    As always, money talks loud and clear. Do you want to be alone with the instructor or are you comfortable with entering a group class and letting others see your failures on the board? (To be honest most of them will be struggling just like you).

    Probably what makes most sense for a beginner is the group class, since you won’t be advanced enough to fully appreciate the private lesson and you’ll be spending most of your time paddling to return to the instructor at the point where the surf breaks anyhow. Having said that, we noticed some schools offering ultra-packed classes, which are not in your best interest. Make sure before you purchase to ask how many people will be in your class, anything more than 6-8 would be too many unless you have more than two instructors.

    Get your paperwork in order

    Yes, you’re on vacation, but you still have to get the paperwork in order. After choosing your class and paying, you’ll need to sign a waiver absolving the school for any mishap. This is good because it will remind you to be careful out there!

    They should lend you a longboard, rash guard and special shoes. Now you’re completely decked out like a surfer, but don’t puff your chest too far out because your generic gear clearly signals your “newbie” status to other surfers.

    Surfboards at Honolulu

    Practice on the sand

    The instructor/s will take it from here; after the video presentation showing you basic rules and surfing etiquette, they will guide you to the beach just like mother duck with her ducklings in tow. Once on the sand, they will set you up to practice paddling, passing waves, and finally standing up on the board.

    The instructors will lead you to the best beginner waves at any given time, as they know the beach like the palm of their hand and are in tune with the weather conditions. In our case, the chosen spot was east next to the closest pier to the Waikiki aquarium.

    Commence your surfing safari

    Paddle, paddle paddle! Your arms, neck and back will probably be sore for several days after today, but don’t think about it now –you’re surfing! Follow the instructors out to sea and start paddling to catch the waves whenever they give you the signal. Some instructor may decide to push you to launch you at the correct moment.

    Get up on the board and hang loose, you’re doing this! You’ll feel a rush of excitement when you first stand on the board and see the Diamond Head volcano crater, the line of hotels on the beach, and feel the wind on your face. Unfortunately it will be short lived because you’ll probably fall off sooner rather than later. It doesn’t matter, for a few brief seconds, you were surfing. And now you may have caught the surfing bug, and it may never let you go.

    Tags: Hawaii

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  • Romans were awesome. Other than their incredible engineering achievements and their love of a good pair of sandals, they left us a large number of beautiful ruins through which we can now imagine how it must have been to live in a bustling Roman city around 2000 years ago. We’re going to show you the 8 best preserved of these ancient sites so that you can visit them and imagine yourself dressed up in a white toga.

    Theater in Merida, Spain

    #8 EMERITA AUGUSTA (Merida, Spain)

    Originally conceived as a retirement city for veteran soldiers of the Roman army, this city was built over a pre-roman settlement whose inhabitants were declared Roman citizens by Emperor Augustus. Since land in the city in which to build and raise crops was granted only to older troops, this site can be considered a kind of ancient Florida.

    In order to keep the citizens entertained, Marcus Agrippa, brother in law and close friend to Emperor Augustus ordered the construction of a theater that has been very well preserved due to being covered in sand and rock for centuries. Nearby, one of the largest amphitheaters of the Roman world complete the entertainment district, in which presumably the words “are you not entertained?” were uttered by gladiators frequently.

    Leptis Magna bas relief

    #7 LEPTIS MAGNA (Libya)

    Following the Punic wars, in 146 BC the Carthaginian city of Leptis Magna switched hands and became one of the largest Roman cities in the north of Africa. Later on, when Leptis Magna born Emperor Septimius Severus rose to the throne, he obviously dedicated plenty of recourses to improve this provincial capital, and created buildings which still stand proudly in his former “hood”. The forum, theater and main arch are among the best preserved of ancient Rome. Or at least they were until the recent Libyan war. Their future is uncertain.  

    Jerash columns

    #6: JERASH (Jordan)

    Obviously, Romans are going to Romanize. And following the conquest of the city of Jerash by the all-powerful military legions, the administrative legions took over and began construction of a mini-Rome, erecting numerous infrastructures which include the impressive oval shaped forum, which earned this city the nickname of the “Asian Pompeii”.

    As Monty Python well said in the film Life of Brian, “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

    Ostia Antica floor mosaics

    #5 OSTIA ANTICA (Italy)

    The great port of Rome, this city located just 18 miles from Rome grew in importance along with its powerful neighbor throughout the years, until in the second and third centuries AD reached around 75 thousand inhabitants who lived off fulfilling the shipping needs of Rome.

    Although the city was sacked following the collapse of the Roman Empire, on the bright side, some of the marble was reused many centuries later to build the much more modern leaning tower of Pisa nearby.  Nevertheless, Ostia Antica is still a great place to see Roman city planning at its finest, as their streets and many buildings are mostly intact, including the public latrines, which were cobbled up together creating a social endeavor out of the most unlikely of activities.  

    Palmyra desert ruins

    #4 PALMYRA (Syria)

    When General Marc Anthony, in a short break from his beloved Cleopatra, commanded his legions to take the Syrian city of Palmyra, he found the city completely empty of anything he could sack. News had spread fast of his advance and the wise citizens had left the city. Despite this, the city would come to be ruled by the Roman Empire and a key stop in the silk route to Afghanistan and beyond.

    Palmyr’s stunning desert ruins are an impressive reminder of the power of the Roman Empire, in which the temple of Baal is the key piece. A victim of the recent hectic situation in Syria, we sincerely hope that this city can survive for another 2000 years. [EDIT: Unfortunately barbarism has ravaged this stunning city, and it is no more. History weeps for the senseless destruction. Substituting this city in our list would be any of the honorable mentions at the end of the article.] 

    Efesus celsus library

    #3 EPHESUS (Turkey)

    Once the third largest city of the Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus’ destiny was tied to its access to the Cayster River. When after several centuries of sedimentation, the river skipped passing next to the city and its harbor, Ephesus was mostly abandoned. But this once rich city still conserves plenty of attractive ruins to let us know of its faded splendor.

    Among the most important, the beautiful library of Celsus was built by a rich governor for the use of the people of Ephesus, (and also to be used as his tomb). The rich fachade is a testament of the opulence of the region, which is further demonstrated by the monstrously huge theater that graces the city. With a maximum capacity of 24,000 thrilled spectators, this theater may be the largest outdoor theater in the whole Roman Empire. 

    The roman Pantheon

    #2 ROME (Italy)

    The stuff of legends, this City emerged from the mists of time to become one of the largest and most powerful empires the world has ever known. A source of enlightenment but also debauchery, Rome suffered through the barbarian invasions that culminated in the fall of 476.

    The forum, once the center of a whole Empire, is a shadow of its former self. Fortunately there are many structures still standing that let us catch a glimpse of the power of this civilization at its peak: The Constantine arch, the majestic Colosseum, Trajan’s column, the Caracalla baths, etc, are all world class sites.

    But one particular building overshadows all the rest in its magnificence and state of preservation; the Pantheon. Originally constructed by Agrippa and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian, this site’s stunning portico and graceful dome are architectural wonders studied and copied by architects up to this very day, nearly two millennia later.

    Pompeii vivid fresco

    #1 POMPEII (Italy)

    The great historian Pliny the Elder was watching mount Vesubius from afar when the volcano erupted and rained chaos over the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Among the many victims was his uncle Pliny the Elder, who instead of fleeing in the opposite direction, decided to sail to Pompeii to attempt to rescue survivors from the city, but was met by a storm of ash and stone and was never heard from again.

    The volcano created a whole city frozen in time for centuries, which allows current travelers to admire not only ruins of official buildings such as the forum or the theater, but much more rare everyday constructions like bakeries. The most intimate way to know how the Roman everyday life unfolded is to pay attention to the numerous graffiti etched on the walls throughout Pompeii. Some examples are:

    - “Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here.  The women did not know of his presence.  Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.”

    - “If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend.”

    - “Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here on October 3rd 78 BC.”

    HONORABLE MENTIONS: Among the other cities we shouldn't overlook in our list, we have to make reference to the beautiful aqueduct in Segovia, (Spain), the city of Herculaneum, (Italy), the Hierapolis theater, (Turkey), and the anphitheaters of El Djem (Tunisia) and Pula (Croatia).

    Tags: Rome

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  • We get it, you don’t have as many days as you’d like in order to travel around Cambodia and get lost like Lara Croft within the Angkor area ruins. We’re going to help you optimize your time if you’re in a rush so you can get to see the essentials. Three or four days are optimal, but what if you have less?

    It’s not like the inhabitants of Siem Reap are in a hurry to do anything. They seem very happy and content just to nap in their hammocks or tuk tuks while the sun is too powerful to sell souvenirs to tourists. But as soon as the hottest hours of the day are gone, they resurrect full of vigor with their cries of “one dollaaaaar” to sell their merchandise. Theirs is truly a life on the slow lane. 

    Angkor Wat from above

    Forgotten in the midst of the jungle for centuries by everybody except Buddhist monks and stray cats, Siem Reap is a frenzy of steps, bas-reliefs, statues, domes and towers. Jaw dropping in its intensity, the old IX to XVth century Khmer structures defy explanation and require – no, demand – detailed exploration. You could spend weeks exploring and finding solitary stones to admire, but we’ll give you the essential temples in a platter. So grab your bike, tuk tuk, motorcycle or other selected means of transportation and be sure to check out these beauties before you leave Angkor: 

    1) SOUTH GATE OF ANGKOR THOM

    The Angkor Thom citadel was the capital of the Khmer empire from approximately the thirteenth century up until the early seventeenth century when it was finally abandoned, and contains many of the temples we mention in this quick and dirty guide. But the south entrance deserves a mention in its own right.

    All throughout the ruins you’ll be able to find expressive “naga” sculptures, an ancient representation of a long cobra snake with many heads, but none as impressive as the one found here. On one side of the snake, Devas (good gods) pull with all their might opposing the Asuras (evil gods) which pull from the opposite side of the snake. From the friction that these opposing movements create on the sacred mountain Meru onto which the snake is coiled, the sky and the earth were formed according to their traditions. 

    Roots in Ta Prohm

    2) TA PROHM 

    Better known as the Tomb Raider temple, this stunning beauty appeared in the movie of the same name, in which Angelina Jolie shows off her fighting chops while scouting for her first adopted child in between scenes.

    The uniqueness of this temple lies in the fact that the archeologists decided to maintain it in the same wild state as the first European explorers found it. Trees and ferns run the show, and the ancient buildings are forced to adapt to their organic hosts, in an accurate metaphor of how nature always finally prevails in her battles with humankind.  

    3) PREAH KHAN 

    This temple has the distinct advantage of being huge enough to dilute the number of tourists inside, so you won’t be shoulder to shoulder with other fellow travelers, and you’ll be able to enjoy a leisurely stroll through time on your own.

    Almost one hundred thousand souls used to live in this area back in its heyday, as it was a center for culture which included a college. For bonus points try to find the structure within that seems to have been transported by helicopter directly from Greece.

    4) ELEPHANT TERRACE AND LEPER KING TERRACE 

    “It’s good to be king”, would presumably think the Khmer regent from under a shade in the terrace, while watching his army march below under the scorching sun along the main avenue of Angkor Thom.

    These terraces were places of honor and celebration, and were decorated by master sculptors with incredibly detailed carvings representing elephants and gods. The elephant terrace’s name is self-explanatory, but The Leper King Terrace received its name from to the poor state of preservation of the statue found on top, which made early archaeologists mistakenly believe that it represented ancient king Yasovarman I who had contracted leprosy.

    5) BAYON 

    Among the most narcissistic people in history there must be a special place for king Jayavarman VII, who basically commissioned the Bayon temple depicting his face in stone over two hundred times. Under the pretense of representing the Buddhist bodhisattva, artisans used his facial characteristics to carve these smiling statues which will creepily watch you as you wander through the archeological site.

    Faces of Bayon

    6) ANGKOR WAT 

    This astonishing crown jewel of world architecture was described in the sixteenth century by explorer Antonio Da Magdalena as being “of such an extoardinary construction that it’s impossible to describe it in writing”. So we’re not going to try.

    Nevertheless during your visit you’ll be able to admire the gracious arches which appear to float like fluffy clouds over the columns. This mammoth work of ancient engineering was extremely complex to build due to the intense monsoons that would hit the area with regularity, which had to be taken into account during construction. Don't forget to check out the superb Hindu bas-reliefs that surround the main temple.

    The above temples can be visited in one intense day, but we recommend you stay one or two days more. You'll thank us later!

    Tags: Asia, Cambodia

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