Tokyo: Best sushi value at Katumidori

Sushi at Katumidori

People often ask me about recommended places for sushi in Tokyo.

If they are after a top-notch experience they better check the Michelin guide, but for some bang-for-the-buck without luxury but with variety and freshness, I can recommend Katumidori the kaiten sushi of sushi midori - that translates literally to green sushi. There are many branches, but most likely the one in Yokohama or in Seibu Shibuya A (gourmet zone located at floor 8 of mall A), here is the map to an Italian restaurant in the same floor as I just realized that Google Maps pin for Katumidori was WRONGLY marked.

I'm not a foodie, but this place always makes it into the stops whenever I return to Tokyo. This time was more special because of being the first time for us to come back together since 2014, of course we booked time for a lunch here!

The ordering system is simple and straightforward:
  • Pick from the belt (kaiten)
  • Pick with iPad (easy picture menu) and get your order by waiter if you are in counter sit or by cute-train if you are in table
Below come some or our favourites - how about yours?

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Shibuya summer nights

Shibuya summer nights
Mental note - never grow up

While Tokyo is often known as the city that never sleeps, having experienced its nights I would instead call it the city where anything can happen, you know where nights start but you never know when, where and how it will end.

After 17km walk around Kamakura, nearly 3h train ride and a yummy izakaya dinner we were pumped enough to check out the teen side of the night, with a walk around Shibuya's main attractions. At night. You can see the look of the pachinko fella pictured below, it did not seem like a good idea.
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Tokyo: Yoyogi Rockabilly「代々木公園ロカビリー」

Shibuya rockabilly gang
ロカビリー (Ro·ka·bi·rii)
Me atrevería a decir que los ロカビリー (Ro·ka·bi·rii) son la atracción favorita de Enrique en Tokyo, desde que los vio por primera vez bailar allá por la primavera de 2012. Aunque el rock no sea lo mío, hasta a mí me hacían gracia, quizás por lo inesperado de la situación: Quién hubiera dicho que nos íbamos a encontrar una panda de rockeros de mediana edad a la entrada de Yoyogi, el parque en medio de Harajuku aka corazón teen de Shibuya?

Resulta que la costumbre venía de lejos. En los años 70-80, se puso de moda bailar en las calles de Harajuku - movimiento conocido como hijos del bambú「竹の子族」- estableciéndose grupos de todo tipo, incluidos los rockabillies. Sin embargo, esto se prohibió en 1998 con lo que se desplazaron a la entrada del parque de Yoyogi donde estos grupos con edades entre los 10-50 años mantienen viva su pasión todos los domingos.

Cuando los descubrimos en 2012 había 3 bandas:
  • Harajuku Lebels「原宿レベルス」
  • Strangers (Greaser on the road)「ストレンジャーズ」
  • Street Rockers
Pero el año pasado, sólo vimos chaquetas de los Strangers - estarían los demás de vacaciones? O simplemente se habrán disuelto? El caso es que sigue siendo un vicio volver a verles bailar y echarles fotos, repartiendo chulería al ritmo de temazos del rock'n'roll Japonés.

Si te entusiasma el tema, échale un vistazo a los Lebels aquí y me comentas si también son tus favoritos! Si al final eres más team Strangers, allá va un vídeo de uno de sus miembros!

If you think you are too old to rock 'n roll, then you are.
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Bangkok - Wat Suthat

Bangkok, Wat Suthat

Despite having royal temple grade (the highest) Wat Suthat is relatively unknown and much less transited than neighbouring temples located closer to the riverbank, started by King Rama I in 1807, it's quite nice to visit given the lack of crowds. If you ask me, this is how temples should be explored.

Wat Suthat features Thailand's largest main chapel, where Phra Si Sakayamuni aka the largest (8m high) surviving Sukhothai style Buddha (from the 14th century) resides. It also features 28 chinese style pagodas surrounding the main building, as a representation of the 28 buddhas born in this World.

The most memorable piece though are the huge mural paintings that decorate the walls surrounding the Buddha and the use of Western style elements, like the clock above. Murals are extremely mesmerizing to me, as the technique used to connect different stories across the wall into a narrative thread seems nearly magical.

Mural paintings are a common element on the walls of Thai temples and palaces. While we see the Ramakien myth depicted in the walls of the Grand palace, it is also common to have the paintings capture one of the 10 jatakas, or stories describing the ten final lives of the Bodisattva who would finally become Buddha. These are known in Thai as dasajāti jātaka ทศชาติชาดก. The last 10 lives capture the main virtues of renunciation, vigour, benevolence, absolute determination, insight, morality, patience, equanimity, reality and generosity. Usually the lower parts of the murals, capture Jataka scenes, while the life of the Buddha is depicted higher up.

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Bangkok - Soi Ari 4

Pretty murals

Soi Ari 4 is deeper in the neighborhood but displays a large variety of eating and staying options for those daring to explore that far. We have tried places though with varied results. Rokukyu69, the Japanese restaurant with the colorful wall turned out to be cheap, but not so good - somehow they thought that frying gyozas was cool, so I would not recommend it. On the bucket list are Pakalolo the tiki bar and Yuzawa another Japanese that seems to be of Chinese influence due to the variety of hotpot options - not sure how keen you are on soup considering the heat.

On the caffé side we have Porcupine - nice for hanging out, but with disappointing menu heavy on most-likely-warmed-up-pasta and little else, Bar storia del Caffé - very hyped, good meals if you can handle the extremely slow velocity.

I noted a couple of hotels for the stay bucketlist Josh and Rest which you may want to consider if you are after a chill local time in Bangkok.

Soi Ari 4 está bastante escondido y quizás por eso, no esperas encontrar semejante variedad de restaurantes, cafeterías, bares, hostels y hasta un SPA. Al comienzo de la calle aparecen Rokukyu69, un Japonés cuyo mural es bastante mejor que la cocina - por alguna razón pensaron que freír las gyozas era una buena idea, seguido de Yuzawa, que todavía no hemos probado; Porcupine un café con potencial para beber algo - pero no comer salado; Pakalolo un bar Tiki con un concepto cuando menos sorprendente y un par de hostels que pintan bastante bien, Josh Hotel y Rest.

La estrella de la calle se reserva para el final, sin duda Bar storia del Caffé es un hotspot super instagrameable, donde se reúnen cámaras y huevos escalfados a partes iguales. Quizás sea una buena opción para empezar el día antes de emprender una dura jornada de compras en Chatuchak.

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Bangkok - Bangalamphu walk

Bangkok, walk around Bangalamphu
A place where the clock stopped ticking.

Bangalamphu, the place of Lamphu
Bangalamphu is the old Bangkok encapsulated in a leafy district.

The infamous Khao San road may be the most known attraction in the area, it is definitely most interesting if you ask me. When general Chao Phraya took the Taksin down and established the capital as Rattanakosin, moving the city proper to the river's eastern bank(click to read more about the history of Indochina, where Siam and Khmer empires succeeded each other). He had new fortifications built around these boundaries and dug new moats and canals (Khlongin Thai) that give Bangkok the Asian Venice vibe, which are still in place today. Within these boundaries we find a myriad of monks, temples, artisans and monuments worth visiting.

Today we take a walk around the other Bangalumphu shown in this map. I walked from Nathional Monument BTS, I would rather recommend you to take a tuk-tuk or taxi from there instead:

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Ari brunch - Bar storia del Caffé

birthday brunch

Tucked away towards the end of Ari soi 4 (map) is the extremely popular Bar storia del Caffé, which shares location with a very interesting spa called Calm, which is in my bucketlist.

Bangkok, soi Ari 4 and brunch at Bar storia del Caffé

The  decoration as great as the fare they serve. Staff is a bit slow - good things take time seems a recurrent motto in Thailand - but the dishes are well worth it. If you are a sucker for bread, make sure to order the extra toast as some brunch plates (eggs benedict, as an example) come without it. As usual in Asia, if it ain't in the picture, then it ain't included.

I felt brave and ordered the sunny side eggs, which were thankfully NOT fried but grilled #beyondhappy. It gets extremely packed during the weekend so you may have to queue, but it is anyway quite interesting to observe the army of blogger-influencer wannabes taking shots at the door and capturing the food, even if when it eventually turns out to be a shared dessert among 5 people. Price wise is on the expensive side of Bangkok, but still ok for foreigner I guess - less than 12EUR for the eggs, a coffee and some soda water.

If you are staying in any of the hostels in the very same street, sincerely recommended option for a fancy breakfast! Someone at work recommended this place, guess it is some kind of celebrity hotspot, based on the continuous attention and photography it gets from local girls.
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Bangkok - Siam square

Bangkok, shopping at Siam square

Siam square
Siam Square's first buildings were constructed in 1970 on land belonging to Chulalongkorn University, as a way to provide rental income for the University. Streets West of Siam Square One shown in the map below are a labyrinth of local fashion, high quality counterfeit, cheap accessories, tailors, cafés and restaurants, particularly popular among teenagers.

I don't go shopping much, but sometimes I drop by Siam square - so far I've come back with some cool clothes for dance class and more goodies from Hamburger Studio, as they had stuff that never made it to EmQuartier. I have to say I find this area way more exciting than the surruonding malls (both Central World and Siam Paragon are very confusing to me), check the streets west of of siam square one out and let me know!

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Bangkok - Ban Bat

Bangkok, Ban Baat

La práctica de cultivar generosidad es uno de los pilares del Budismo. Al desprendernos de las posesiones materiales no sólo nos alejamos del sufrimiento que conllevan los impulsos adquisitivos sino que además tenemos la oportunidad de mostrar nuestro respeto hacia los monjes que muchas mañanas te encuentras en las esquinas de Bangkok, sentados con su bol, esperando a que alguien deposite comida - ojo! el dinero no es una ofrenda aceptable.

El bol que tradicionalmente usaban los monjes budistas para recoger limosnas tiene una historia que se remonta al comienzo de la Tailandia moderna con el reinado de Rama I (1782-1809) cuando el rey estableció 3 pueblos de artesanos especializados en esta labor. El bol de limosnas tradicional está hecho con 8 piezas de metal, que representan el Noble Eightfold Path o noble camino óctuple aka los principios de la fé budista, que se agrupan bajo 3 categorías:

Sabiduría (paññā)
  1. Visión (dṛṣṭi • diṭṭhi): Entender que las acciones y pensamientos tienen consecuencias más allá de la muerte.
  2. Intención (saṃkalpa • saṅkappa): Cuando alguien abandona sus pertenencias y adopta la vida de monje, lo hace renunciando a la sensualidad, la maldad y la crueldad.
Conducta ética (sīla)
  1. Discurso (vāc • vācā): No mentir, no hablar con malas palabras o por detrás de la espalda.
  2. Obra (karmānta • kammanta): No matar ni herir a nadie, no robar, carecer de deseos materiales y sensuales.
  3. Medio de vida (ājīva • ājīva): Alimentarse de limosnas, poseer únicamente lo esencial ara sobrevivir.
Entrenamiento de la mente (samadhi)
  1. Esfuerzo (viāiāma • vāiāma): Evitar los pensamientos sensuales.
  2. Consciencia (smriti • sati): Estar siempre presente.
  3. Meditación (samādhi • samādhi): Practicar hasta culminar en la unificación de la mente.
Ban Baat
Aunque los monjes sigan abundando en las calles de Bangkok, los artesanos que construyen estos boles a la antigua usanza han quedado reducidos a las 6 familias que habitan Soi Ban Bat, una pequeña calle congelada en el tiempo. Gracias al turismo, siguen vendiendo boles (cuyo precio oscila entre 500-2000THB) de tediosa fabricación - normalmente finalizan un bol grande al día, alguno más si son pequeños.

Esta calle, situada bastante cerca del Golden Mount se puede visitar gratis, pero nos deja con una lección desgarradora acerca de la artesanía que corre el riesgo de perderse en el olvido si no contribuimos a mantenerla. Un poco a lo Jim Thompson, los turistas son hoy en día los que más contribuyen a la supervivencia comprando boles.

Aunque los artesanos que veis en las fotos son bastante mayores, también estuve con un chico joven (no llegaría a los 20 años) que se mostró muy atento enseñándome sus creaciones - la estantería de boles finalizados que veis al final del post.

Una calle por la que no pasa el tiempo, muy recomendable.
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Este hombre andaba cortando pétalos de metal.
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Me enseñó sus fotos de joven
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Es impresionante ver a la persona fotografiada muchos años antes y ser consciente de que lleva haciendo lo mismo, día tras día, en el mismo sitio, durante toda su vida.
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Por otro lado, esta especie de cestos están listos para soldarles los pétalos.
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Al darse cuenta de mi presencia, dejó de soldar para tenderme un recorte de prensa extranjera plastificado, que relata la historia de esta pequeña comunidad.Bangkok, Ban Baat
Por último, esta señora refina la forma a martillazos, hasta que queda suave y uniforme.
Bangkok, Ban BaatTras esto, se hornean para darles más consistencia y ese color oscuro, como muestra el resultado final!
Bangkok, Ban Baat
Dos potenciales compradores de camino a la calle.
Bangkok, Ban Baat
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Ari Fridays - Frank mansion

Frank mansion, Ari, Bangkok

Sometimes we go out - when we do it's hands down Levels, sometimes we stay in da hood. One of the best things about living in Ari is how of a lively area turns out to be - plenty of cafés, restaurants, bars with live music, small hipster gigs, massage, nails and tiny cute little shops - without the sensorial overload of traffic, hustlers and tourists that await in Sukhumvit. Just a very nice feeling to be able to reach places like Frank thorugh an uncompromising 2 min walk - let's see what the night has to offer.

Frank Mansion [WEB]
Address: Frank Mansion, 3-4/F, Ari One, Ari Soi 1, Bangkok, Thailand
Phone: 02-048-3225
Website: Frank Mansion
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 6pm-1am

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Bangkok - Dice!

Dice space in Ari, coworking, coffee, games and lounge

I have passed by Dice!s door a gazillion times on the way to my beloved nail salon (Happy hours) few meters further down Ari soi 2. Judging by the entrance and claims about coffee / coworking, it stroke me as a hipster barista where entrepreneurs in rounded Oliver Peoples dropped by and debated business ideas over creamy cappuccino.

Once again, Jorge proved me wrong.

Dice! has a lot more to offer than coffee, in fact it is a whole building of amazing opportunities to work, play and chill at the terrace, where hipster parties are arranged on Saturday evenings. It felt like time travel to my beloved Stockholm, specially that day when Fer and me ended up in a VICE Magazine party thanks to some tickets I grabbed in the air, while being thrown from a mysterious van touring my hood, Södermalm. People wearing vintage, home-made projections, plastic cups and a cool crowd. We were too hangover to drink, but we def enjoyed the time and the chat.

Quite a lovely plan to wrap up a rainy Saturday, hanging with the locals.

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Shibuya center gai「渋谷センター街」

If you give me 1 day in Tokyo, I'll take you to Shibuya. If you give me 1 hour in Tokyo, I'll take you to Shibuya. If you give me 1 min in Tokyo... It'll be Shibuya.

Tokyo is not a monumental city in the sense of Rome or Paris, where there are clear sights that one must see surrounded by charming streets and little corners, tucked away the crowds here and there, often by and for the locals. In Tokyo anything can happen, but you can never tell where, how or why. 

Tokyo is a magic tale where all the people you cross by, play a character.

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Baan Khrua - la belleza de lo inesperado.

Baan Khrua neighborhood in Bangkok
Khlong Saen Saeb canal

Baan Khrua
Al salir de la casa de Jim Thompson decidí continuar caminando a lo largo del canal por el que había llegado allí, desde Ratchatewi BTS. Supongo que el tránsito de los barcos me llamó la atención, en contraste con las casas tradicionales cada una con embarcadero y barco propio, en cuyos porches pasaban varias familias la lluviosa sobremesa. Todo tenía un regustillo tradicional, pero en ese momento no llegaba a ser consciente de hasta qué punto.

En el mapa se ve un poco raro, la mayor parte del tiempo caminé a lo largo del canal.

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El rey de la seda

Jim Thompson the king of thai silk
Ayer visité la casa de Jim Thompson, cuya vida es una de las más fascinantes del Sudeste Asiático. Quizás por ser una persona con empeño, visión y positividad me resulte un perfil tan inspirador al nivel del inimitable Rauschenberg. En un nivel abstracto mi propósito es similar: Divulgar, entretener y crear entusiasmo en Occidente, acerca de las maravillas que esconde Asia.
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Ebisu「恵比寿西」- Daikanyama「代官山」aka the place to be

 A walk in the cool hood of Tokyo, Ebisu and Daikanyama
Ebisu, god of the fishermen.

If you've been following our steps for a while know it wasn't easy to find a place to live in Tokyo.

We started in Aoyama - damn so young, happy and optimistic about the future... But i couldn't read a word of Japanese yet - and had a background of other expat acquaintances living Kamiyacho or Shinagawa. But we kept searching for an apartment we liked aesthetically which was well connected to both Shimbashi (where I worked) and Yokohama (where Enrique worked). I clearly remember the day we visited Park Axis Daikanyama - just like with our apartment in Söder or my home now in Bangkok - I knew it was our place to be. Time went buy and every day, we grew more fond of the choice.

For you as visitor in Tokyo, it may not be so easy to find a hotel around Ebisu station (unless you can afford Westin) but if you do, man that's the perfect base to explore the city, connected to JR Yamanote, Hibiya metro line and various JR lines going North-South, making it easy to reach Kamakura or Odaiba. Walking distance from Shibuya, with a vibrant-yet-local restaurant scene to explore. This is the place to be.

The post today is a nostalgia walk, for all those who came visit us and an exciting portrait of what the beginning of this route can provide for the newcomers in town! You can also check out some more additional information on the dining scene of Nakameguro (also very close from Ebisu West exit) and how pretty it turns during hanami season (cherry blossom watching) which is superb here.
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Izakaya「居酒屋」: The soul of Tokyo Friday nights

Izakaya friday nights
Friday night, at the Izakaya

My godfather visited Japan last week, with his wife and kids. The initial plan was for me to tag along and play local guide, but dates didn't work out as my work event in Malaga aligned with the only remaining week in their packed summer calendar. It did not matter though, I created a few condensed guides of our Tokyo highlights (Kamakura, Shibuya, Asakusa, Odaiba) and spoke with him almost on daily basis. Somehow his words would always transport me back in time, to various different experiences throughout the years and visitors.

We spent summer 2017 in Seoul and reserved took a long weekend to visit Tokyo. A very emotional experience as Enrique had not came back since we left in April 2014. In 3 super packed days together, we did a nostalgia journey to our favourite things - you may move out of Japan, but deep in your heart you never really move on from Japan.

Friday night, our friend Tomomi booked a table in a popular izakaya near her job. Eventually she got tangled at work - which is why you can't see her pretty face joining us at the table - but gifted us with an amazing opportunity to revive one of the best parts of our salaryman life, the Friday escape.

Japan like Korea, is a country with an amazing cultural heritage. Beyond arts and temples, one could highlight the high morals, taste for perfection, pride on a work well done and honorable behavior, which turn the tourist experience into the most amazing on Earth but the daily life into a high-pressure endeavour. A double-edged sword of all sorts.

When Friday comes, salaryman run to the izakaya - sometimes followed by the karaoke, like we did once... Get some skewers, secure cold beers or high-ball (coloured soda with whisky) and let the packed tiny space become noisier as their faces turn red. There are some famous places - like Ebisu Yokocho - but I find more interesting the real ones, that only those who work in the surroundings know well.

... and culinary advice
People planning their vacation sometimes contact me, asking about good restaurants, which I try to capture here. When it comes to Tokyo, the FAQ revolves around sushi places. The spectrum of Japanese cuisine is broad, with an unbeatable price for value and null chances of food poisoning. We always brought guests to experience sushi at Katumidori but in general,  my overall recommendation would be to would rather aim to use food joints in Japan to get a taste of the local lifestyle.

Restaurants in Japan are "themed" meaning that they often revolve around one single thing they excel on e.g. ramen, sushi, katsu-don (beef rice bowl), unagi-don (eel rice bowl), but you cannot have something else and definitely, you cannot change the menu options (swapping rice by greens is NG).

Given my culinary preferences (raw, green, wine) and my fascination for cultural nuances, izakayas aka the Japanese tapas bar are my favourite pick. Here you are almost expected to get drunk, while ordering from a picture menu illustrating a wider variety - grilled fish, chicken skewers, gyoza, salad, sashimi... If you come in a group, it is often possible to book a separate room to hang out with your friends, where you are allowed to spend as much time as you like - but hey if you have nobody, just grab a seat at the counter and chat with the other loners (pictured above).

Below two are authentic izakaya where my local friends took me during my visits to Tokyo last year. Hopefully you can squeeze them in and catch a glimpse of salaryman cooling down.

石志水産品川店 Shinshimizu Izakaya (near Shinagawa station) [MAP]
〒108-0074 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Takanawa, 3 Chome−26−33 京急第10ビル

魚真 渋谷店 Uoshin Fish Restaurant (near Shibuya station) [MAP]
2 Chome-25-5 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0043

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Thai made-to-order

Thai order made, Tuzani at Ari, Bangkok
Hace un tiempo, os contaba la historia de mi madre junto a mi visión acerca de las personas creativas (en un sentido abstracto), esas que están llenas de curiosidad, que no temen salirse de lo establecido e innovar.

Crecí junto a mi madre cosiendo desde casa, yendo con ella a la tienda de telas tanto que me conocían por el nombre y me invitaban a coca-colas. Quizás sea por eso, que entendiera muy pronto y muy claramente las 3 claves para hacerte algo a medida (y no fracasar en el intento):
  1. Conocer la forma de tu cuerpo, saber lo que te favorece (y lo que no) e.g. si estás plana, con espalda y brazos de nadador, los tirantes spaghetti no son lo mejor.
  2. Conocer tu estilo, evitar copiar lo que no encaja contigo. Ir con una idea lo más clara posible.
  3. Contar con imaginación para visualizar el resultado. En su defecto, probarte prendas de corte/tela similar para hacerte una idea de antemano.
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Tokyo city lights

Sometimes in life we have to decide, to stay, to move. Sometimes in life we wonder, how things will end up. Sometimes in life we make the mistake to bother about others, what if they fail to understand. Should not really matter as long as we stay true to the voice deep inside, that one we can clearly hear when we are alone at night.

There is too much purposeless jealous mediocrity in the world. People who lack strength to do anything and shift focus into dragging others down, as extremely draining dark holes of energy. I have come to appreciate that such attitude shows correlation with some underlying psychological issue - light depression, insecurity... - that they don't have the guts to acknowledge, address or overcome either.  Nobody is lazy by nature, they just failed to find enough motivation for whatever reason.

This kind of people typically fill with envy, while failing to apprehend that the true value of experiences, that magic which got you there, often originates from struggles which were dealt with consistency, patience and curiosity. That the outcome of dealing with challenges, even when not fully positive will at least result on some learning. Any experience is valuable, as long as you learn the lesson it was meant to teach you.

On the other side of the spectrum, I feel deeply inspired but people who try, who dare, who do. They are the engine that moves the World.

Experiences and knowledge are not easily portrayed by the camera or shared in instagram - pillar of our society of inspirational imagery but to me, these are the most valuable assets we can reach for. Nobody can take them away from us. That's maybe while writing is valuable to me, as self-reflection but also as means to share my experiences hoping for others to leverage from them. As humans, this is all we leave behind right? Memories.

Today marks 2 years since my father left us all of the sudden, with a heart-stroke at his favourite beach.

Rest in peace, he was not an easy person, his soul partly broken by all the difficulties that he had to go through since early age. Back in the 1940s life was not exactly easy for a post-war half-orphan half-literate child from a tiny village in Galicia.

My father taught me the importance of the ability to look at ourselves from an outside-in perspective. It's key to achieve balance and success. Schools hardly train us in soft-skills or psychology, but I strongly believe it is critical to develop a way to understand and deal with our personality, as first step to manage and anticipate everyone else, of course. Both valuable in business and in life.

His life proves that anything is possible as long as you are committed to it, but that does not mean it will be easy...  Growth and comfort never coexist.
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The ultimate Tokyo Sunday

The ultimate Tokyo walk around Shibuya and Shinjuku
As there's no picture which can capture it all, I'll leave you with our main tip... WALK THE CITY!

This map shows the first phase of our favourite Sunday walk ever  (avoid weekdays if possible):
  1. Start from Ebisu West exit where the statue is
  2. Find Ebisu Ichiban aka the street lined up with steel flowers
  3. Walk all the way up - reaching near to our former home, Park Axis Daikanyama
  4. Walk downhill and explore Daikanyama log road - brunch here is amazing.
  5. Then left, till you get to Daikanyama T-site and its lovely Tsutaya Book shop branch
  6. Walk along the main street, passing by Junie Moon aka Blythe heaven
  7. Continue straight and under so you reach the street that goes parallel to the train tracks
  8. Follow all the way till Shibuya station (West exit), reaching Hachiko and the crossing
  9. Then comes teen shopping at Shibuya 109 and the craze of Shibuya's Center Gai - best manicure in esNail if you are up for a beauty souvenir
  10. Remember the Katumidori Sushi branch located on the top floor of Seibu - best sushi ever
  11. With full tummy, it's turn for the cool Harajuku Cat Street - plenty of shops and an interesting atmosphere, much more welcoming that the usual glassy Asian mall

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Nerds on fire: Comiket, Odaiba and summer fireworks

How I felt when realizing my family is visiting that weekend...

The lucky ones visiting Tokyo the weekend of August 10-12 get a chance to experience the summer highlights, all in one packed 11th of August at Odaiba , shown in this map.
  1. From Ebisu station, take Rinkai line and get off at Tokyo Big sight.
  2. Follow the masses to the entrance of Comiket, the main otaku event (10AM-4PM, August 10-12 2018) where you can both buy manga and watch some of the World's best Cosplay
  3. Once you've had enough, walk towards Odaiba, explore the area near the Rainbow Bridge where the fake Statue of Liberty is and some of the malls - Gundam may be renovated, but the wow factor remains untouched!!!
  4. Make sure to come to the seaside 1-2h before the fireworks start, grab your spot and wait.
  5. Enjoy the event and be patient trying to get home! Japanese fireworks are famous because of their complexity, beauty and length. Edomode is one of the best and most crowded!

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Old to new to cool: Asakusa, Ginza, Roppongi, Naka-meguro

Today we explore the oldest, the newest and the coolest of Tokyo. Depending how early is your start and how much energy you've got for the walk, you can start either from Ueno or from Asakusa.

This map shows the morning route:
  1. Start from Ueno station, visit Ueno koen a park that often feels like a bit of time travel.
  2. Walk towards Kappabashi Dōgugai where local artisans perfect knives and wax models of food, great spot for souvenirs
  3. Continue the way towards Senso-ji - if you visit May, do not miss the Sanja Matsuri the Yakuza-run festival, where huge drums are played while mafia tattoos are honored - the main temple in Tokyo
  4. Streets around Senso-ji are quite crowded, but also amazing for traditional souvenir shopping.
  5. If you feel hungry, engage on the tabearuki aka Japanese art of snackin' on the road.
  6. Alternatively find some lunch in the old style restaurants around or take a quick walk to the Asakusa station for a quick subway ride to Ginza.
  7. Do not miss a chance to take a picture with the Asahi building right on the bridge. You could also keep walking and go up Skytree - but it felt a bit of tourist trap....

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Kamakura - Waikiki meets the Shōgun

Kamakura, Tokeiji

Nos encanta Kamakura [map], desde aquel primer día de Noviembre hace ya 7 años que nos dio por "hacer una escapada" antes de que empaquetaran a Enrique a Korea, se convirtió en visita obligada para todos nuestros guests y recomendación para todo el que nos pregunta.

Kamakura, que fue capital de Japón durante el shogunato Kamakura (1185-1333)「鎌倉幕府」ofrece historia, naturaleza, templos y playa, todo a la vez, condensado en un formato reducido que encaja perfectamente en un día muy agradable a pie - como podéis ver en las fotos, es posible hacer todas estas rutas con una sandalia plana cómoda, pero si vais bien con zapatillas en verano también es una opción aunque sea más plasta en la playa.

La ruta perfecta para explorar Kamakura en un día:
  1. Tren hasta Kita-Kamakura (e.g. 49' desde Ebisu, línea JR Shonan-Shinjuku trenes cada 30')
  2. Engakuji「円覚寺」templo a la izquierda de la estación nada más bajar del tren
  3. Tōkei-ji「東慶寺」templo-cementerio algo elevado con escaleras que en Junio están plagadas de hortensias
  4. Continuar caminando hasta el cruce de caminos que muestra la imagen
  5. Entrar en el sendero del bosque, justo donde está el pozo Kanronoi「甘露ノ井」
  6. Caminar entre raíces y bosqueshasta llegar al punto más alto.
  7. Explorar el templo dedicado al amor  Kuzuharaoka「葛原岡」y retomar fuerzas cual tortuguita
  8. Caminar montaña abajo hasta llegar a la misteriosa entrada de Zeniarai Benzaiten「銭洗弁財天」
  9. Tras lavar dinero, seguir caminando hacia abajo hasta llegar a Hase
  10. Seguir las indicaciones hasta el Gran Buddha de Kamakura 「鎌倉大仏」
  11. Explorar la calle de tiendecitas y restaurantes hasta llegar a la playa de surf - ojo con los halcones!
  12. Volver caminando al pueblo y seguir hasta Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu「鶴岡八幡宮

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Bangkok - My top three fashion shopping spots

Bangkok shopping in EmQuartier and Terminal 21
Completely unrelated pic - I don't eat sugar and this is mostly about fashion, but still SO CUTE ^_^

Malls are something which we are not exactly short of in Bangkok. Sukhumvit road is lined up with super fancy super huge super glassy complexes which would take days to visit thoroughly. With so much variety, it's confusing to know where to go, but for us seasoned locals... It´s another story!

Disclaimer: I am not fond of street markets. I don't do counterfeit. I hate bargaining, not getting a chance to try on clothes and overall, I can't stand that feeling of being tricked - which I more often than not get on the street stalls where us whitetrash seem to appear like walking cash registers to some vendors. I give you one example, the Cult Gaia copycat original retails at 150USD, similar versions are sold at 25EUR in Chatuchak - very similar price to what you can find in Europe a friend told me... Similar experience I had with the Lanna style embroidered bag, which I ended up buying in Fuengirola (Málaga) for half the price one of the street vendors was asking #truestory.

Here come my favourite spots and brands in Bangkok (so far!) - this is for you, visiting this summer!

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SIMming around the World

local SIM
A small sample of the remainder of my SIM card collection

As someone without international data roaming in my work subscription, this is a post I've been thinking about for  some time, just waiting to have a sufficiently large collection of used SIM cards to make the point, but somehow with the relocation to Thailand combined with the TOC habits of our cleaning lady, half of it got lost.

Considering 2017-2018 combined (so far), I've been to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Sweden and Germany (before EU roaming). In all these places, I bought a local pre-paid SIM card and you, as seasoned traveller should do too.

For us Europeans roaming within EU is pretty much a seamless event - just turn it on and don't go overboard on live video. What about those Asian friends coming to visit? Guys have hope - in general 10EUR will get you 1.5GB - much less than what you get back home, but at least something.

Jumping to the East side becomes another story, so I want drop some numbers here and make a strong point to buy a local SIM as soon as you land (in fact there are plenty of counters as soon as you exit the airport) to avoid nasty surprises. Advice inspired by a conversation to a fellow Aussie, who was paying 10AUD a day for less than 500MB roaming in India.

2018 pricebook follows below, decreasing price per GB:
  • Japan: Find all details here, I hope it gets easier and cheaper for the Olympics, bit sad they are only sold at BIC Camera - in contrast with ASEAN countries and even Australia, where you can get it at the airport.
  • South Korea: Local tourist SIM at KT shop, 38500KRW roughly 30EUR for a SIM valid during 15 days. In the web it says data free, but last summer I was paying nearly 10EUR per 1GB data, cash and in-store top up.
  • Australia: 10AUD for 5GB valid during a week, various packs available here, comes with a cute little "yes" thing to open the SIM card place in your iPhone that I am keeping with me at all times, best branding ever.
  • Thailand: DTAC tourist SIM bought right in the airport (cash only), 15EUR for 6GB during 7 days - several combinations available.
  • Indonesia: Telkomsel tourist SIM from mall, they call it internet vaganza and comes in various options e.g. 5.6EUR for 14GB during 30 days.
  • Malaysia: Digi tourist SIM card bought in the airport incredibly cheap, 4EUR for 9GB during 7days, 8EUR for 25GB during 15 days.
  • Bangladesh: Grameenphone tourist SIM card bought in the airport (in fact the only reason to bring local cash, as VISA on arrival can be paid in USD), 4EUR for 3GB valid 28 days
  • India: Airtel Bharti SIM card, 18EUR fo 1GB per day

Why is having a local SIM so important in Asia and particularly in South East Asia? 
  1. Grab App is the ASEAN Uber - they shut down operations - so you need data connectivity and preferably a local number to be able to order taxis and pay with card, without being busted with the tariff.
  2. Traffic jams are our daily bread and butter, trust me, 2h locked in a vehicle go much faster if you have mobile data (you can work or bitch in social media or a combination of both)
  3. Taxi drivers may get lost and you would be shocked how many of them cannot use Google Maps - yes this is based on personal experience - so it's great to be able to guide them
  4. On-the-fly check in, hotel rearrangements or a tripadvisor investigation, as hotel WiFi is not as stable as you would expect.
  5. How else would you learn about the environment while generating a bit of social green eyes?
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Bangkok - Yodipman aka Pak Khlong Thalat, a 24x7 flower market

bangkok flower market
Bangkok's streets can be a bit overwhelming - noise, cars, smells, rats, people, heat... You name it! But hey this is our lifestyle, take it or leave it. Here's a video where my favourite Thai brand so far, Hamburger Studio, illustrates our daily struggles in the concrete jungle - the taxi driver and the water under moving tiles on the street, boy they are just SO ACCURATE.

After a day of sightseeing the main temples - or the Golden Buddha in Chinatown - visiting another noisy-smelly market, may not be the most appealing thing to do. Which is where Yodipman (also known as Pak Khlong Thalat) comes in. Located just south of Wat Pho (the temple of reclining buddha), Bangkok's flower market is open 24x7 and ready to deliver a quick yet memorable experience of color, perfume and beauty.

Pending a visit to the Museum of Floral Culture I can just say that I have never seen a country where flowers are so ingrained, ubiquitous and central to daily life. Everywhere you go, there are stalls and people buying. I am not 100% what they do with them - just bring home? or to temples? large or mini-sized ones - like those you'll see in your hotel, mall and respectable office building.

I am a sucker for beauty and perfume, so of course a visit to this market was one of the highlights of my Thai life. I will continue to bring home flowers, think of a bunch of roses and a beautiful arrangement of delicately packed jasmine for less than 5EUR and to bring all my visitors to this magical place.

Las calles de Bangkok pueden saturar un poco - ruido, ratas, olores, gente, calor, basura, motillos... No falta de na! Así es la vida en esta jungla de asfalto, como podéis ver retratada magistralmente en este video de mi marca favorita, Hamburger Studio.

Después de una mañana explorando templos, quizás meterte en un mercadillo no sea lo más apetecible y por eso os propongo la alternativa zen que representa el mercado central de flores de Bangkok que tiene dos nombres, Yodipman flower market o Pak Khlong Thalat. Situado muy cerca de los otros templos - nosotros llegamos caminando desde Chinatown, pero realmente está más cerca de Wat Pho - abre 24x7 y ofrece una experiencia memorable, sin desviarte mucho del plan inicial.

Nunca he visto nada comparable a lo que tienen los Thais con las flores y por lo tanto, visitar este mercado es una forma de experimentar la cultura local, un poco más de cerca. No es un sitio demasiado turístico, carece de Chinos y de explicaciones, que tendremos que encontrar en el Museum of Floral Culture que anda todavía en mi bucketlist.

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Miss Amy vs me

Pronto se cumplen mis primeros seis meses en Tailandia y en general, estoy bastante contenta porque he conseguido reconstruir mi vida bastante rápido y adoptar nuevos hábitos como ir al gym por las mañanas antes del trabajo, darme algún masaje de vez en cuando y bailar en Domingo, que me ayudan a mantenerme sana tanto física como mentalmente. Me pena no estar estudiando Thai, ni viajando tanto como cuando Enrique y yo estábamos en Japón, pero mi realidad es muy diferente - tengo más responsabilidad, viajo bastante, trabajo overtime por defecto y algunas noches o findes si la situación es lo suficientemente crítica, con lo que hay que priorizar. La salud, es siempre lo primero.

Hace casi 6 meses, conocí a la señora Amy. De hecho, el mismo día que visité mi condo por primera vez. Imaginad a Isabel Preysler Thai, manos cubiertas de diamantes, Vuitton colgando del brazo, piel nívea, peinada y maquillada, de una apariencia tan impecable como sus refinadas maneras y su acento Británico. En aquella ocasión, la señora Amy se presentó y trató de llevarme a ver uno de los muchos apartamentos que posee y alquila en mi barrio, Ari. Pero tenía a unas amigas y al final no fue posible.

Me volví a encontrar con ella, de nuevo en la recepción de mi condo, el día que me mudé aquí. Muy amable, se alegró de que hubiera encontrado casa y me ayudó a contratar el servicio de limpieza, haciendo de traductor espontáneo con los que trabajan en recepción.

Entre tantos viajes, no la volví a ver hasta el Sábado pasado, cuando salí de casa a dar un masaje mientras estrenaba pantalón de finde chillax, en amarillo me encontré con ella de nuevo, como no, en la recepción de mi condo. Andaba sorprendida "porque hacia mucho que no me veían los de recepción, a los que pregunta por mi" y le expliqué que había estado de viaje, enganchando inesperadamente las 2 semanas en España con otra en Singapore. Como siempre, me dijo que me veía muy guapa y me halagó, por llevar "un color tan acertado" para este mes.

Al notar mi sorpresa, que crecía mientras procesaba su blusa (también amarilla) con microplisado a la Pleats Please by Issey Miyake - marca que por cierto, tiene una notable popularidad en Tailandia - procedió a clarificar la situación:
En Julio, nos vestimos de amarillo para honrar el cumpleaños de nuestro rey.
Sonreí y seguí mi camino.
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Siem reap - Il Forno

Siemp reap italian restaurant
When you see the bright lights of temple street, turn around and dig deep so you can find the fountain of  reasonably priced food with excellent quality.

Il Forno [WEB] is hidden in a small inner alley, where several good looking restaurants are tucked away from the noise in a relatively small yet welcoming space. We picked it because of its good rating and high probability to deliver on my veggie expectations.

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Angkor VIP tour - Angkor Wat「អង្គរវត្ត」

Angkor VIP tour, Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat「អង្គរវត្ត」
  • Date: Early 12th century
  • Style: Angkor Wat
  • Highlights:  Angkor Wat literally means 'the city which became a pagoda'. It is the World's largest religious monument, apogee of classical Khmer architecture built by king Suryavarman II as capital and state temple dedicated to Vishnu, complete representation of the Hindu universe featuring a broad moat, towers in temple-mountain formation and carvings extremely rich in detail. Dedicated to Vishnu, symbol of Cambodia featured on the National flag. Save for the last of the first day, its W orientation provides gorgeous lightning during the golden hour.
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Angkor VIP tour - Le pit stop

Angkor snack, coconut shake
Back off b**ches - he mine.

I've expressed my sincere coconut romance along innumerable occasions - from my local Bangkok joint through Bali sunset drinks down to PR's cocotazo I haven't yet managed to find time to write about - but here comes another one. We hardly ever eat lunch during our tropical escapes, blame the love for humongous breakfast combined with the heat, fact is the only thing that goes through my throat for as long as the sun shines has to be liquid & chilled - as my friend Jorge calls it "la puleva".

I don't know about other Cambodian street foods. We both drank a couple of those during our short stay in Siem Reap and had no tummy issue. They are about 5$, widely available and a perfect option to refuel without risking it much in terms of flavour or calories. Now that I remember... We also ate some boiled eggs our driver bought for us - completely confused by our consistent refusal to eat lunch whenever he offered the possibility to stop - no tummy issue either!

Definitely one of the best things about South East Asia is the ubiquitous availability of freshly cut fruit to go and fruit based smoothies. It is very common for people to have them as afternoon snack in office, quite funny when they all come back from lunch with a tiny little bag featuring transparent fruit and a wooden little stick that serves as minimal fork. With this, I encourage you to give it a shot!

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Angkor VIP tour - Bayon「ប្រាសាទបាយ័ន」

Bayon temple, ancient Angkor
  • Date: Late 12th to late 13th century
  • Style: Bayon
  • Highlights: 49 towers with 4 faces of Lokesvara, bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Extreme clutter with towers and architectural elements compressed and place irregularly, seems to indicate change of construction plans after the start e.g. it is believed that the central tower was originally not planned for to respect Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei but eventually placed there. The charm is ruined by the extreme amount of tourists.

To understand the relevance of Bayon and the reason why it is so compressed, it is important to consider that it was located at the exact centre of Angkor Thom which you see in the map below. Roads lead to Bayon directly from the gates at each of the city's cardinal pointsthe last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire, where only temples were built out of rock, reason why there isn't anything left in terms of palaces or daily life - which was all built on wood - and we can only account for temples, city gates and walls.
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Angkor VIP tour - Baphuon「ប្រាសាទបាពួន」

Baphuon temple, ancient Angkor
  • Date: Mid 11th century
  • Style: Bapuon
  • Highlights:  Intricate carvings, huge size, temple mountain with varied elements that combine Hindu with surprise Buddhist elements. One of our favourites.

Baphuon started as Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva 'the destructor' just like Elephanta Caves, which are reachable from the Gateway of India in Mumbai - that I never really found time to visit despite spending 3 weeks there.

Hinduism also has a trinity:
  • Brahma the creator, often depicted as 4-faced man, like towers in Bayon.
  • Vishnu the preserver, often presented as a 4 armed man, but also appears incarnated in 10 different avatars, that we have met in art or previous trips like Kurma the turtle who churns the sea of milk; Rama, the star of Ramayana loved from Thailand to Bali; Krishna who rights wrongs and brings happiness to the world; Buddha at least for Vaishnava Hindu who belief the human ascetic Gautama Buddha to be an avatar), he rides the Garuda
  • Shiva the destroyer, by no means a negative force - with his dance, Shiva ends a kalpa and begins a new one, often wearing Vasuki snake on the neck.
Baphuon it is the archetype of the Baphuon style with intricate carvings covering every available surface. The temple is huge 120mx100m at its base and stands 34m - estimated 50 with the tower which is no longer there, adjoins the southern enclosure of the royal palace. Its appearance apparently impressed Chou Ta-kuan, an envoy from Yuan dynasty of China during his visit from 1296 to 1297, who said it was 'the Tower of Bronze a truly astonishing spectacle, with more than ten chambers at its base.'

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Angkor VIP tour - Ta Keo「ប្រាសាទតាកែវ」

Ta Keo temple, ancient Angkor
Ta Keo「ប្រាសាទតាកែវ」
  • Date: Late 10th century
  • Style: Khleang
  • Highlights:  This giant temple-mountain stands out for being the first one to be built entirely of sandstone, a stone used exclusively by Khmer builders taken from the nearby Kulen mountains. Sandstone made it possible to create elaborate carvings and bas-reliefs, despite its tendency to flake when used for upright supports (against the way its layers were laid down). Together with Pre Rup, Ta Keo is a temple-mountain, with 5 sanctuary towers arranged in a quincunx (like the 5 side in a dice) built on the uppermost level, with one central gopura higher than the rest as symbolic depiction of Mount Meru - home of the gods, surrounded by moat that represents the sea. It was left unfinished as carving had just begun when the works stopped, hence the lack of decorations in many of the blocks.
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Angkor VIP tour - Ta Phrom「ប្រាសាទតាព្រហ្ម」

Ta Phrom temple, ancient Angkor

Ta Phrom「ប្រាសាទតាព្រហ្ម」
  • Date: Early 13th century
  • Style: Bayon
  • Highlights: Initially named 'the Royal monastery' founded by the king as a Mahayana 'greater vehicle' Buddhist monastery and university, this half-collapsed huge flat temple site where strangler ficus and silk-cotton trees grow at ease is one of the major temples in Angkor. Chosen by the École française d'Extrême-Orient to be left it its 'natural state' as an example of how most of Angkor looked during its Western discovery on the 19th century, Ta Phrom has not further collapsed but keeps the romantic appeal of imperial decadence. Maybe because of this, it was picked as a location in the film Tomb Raider which took visual liberties with other Angkorian temples, but kept Ta Phrom scenes quite faithful to its actual eerie qualities.
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Angkor VIP tour - Banteay Kdei「ប្រាសាទបន្ទាយក្តី」

Banteay Kdei temple, ancient Angkor
Banteay Kdei「ប្រាសាទបន្ទាយក្តី」
  • Date: Early 13th century
  • Style: Bayon
  • Highlights: Just opposite to Srah Sang, delivers a contrasting view of ruined temple where the shades of nature alternate with the changing colours of the stone. Completely ruined but at the same time well preserved. One of our favourites.
The Khmer Empire lasted from 802 to 1431, the religion changed. It started under Hindu beliefs up to the end of the 12th century, when it turned into 'lesser vehicle' aka Theravada Buddhism. This last period was a time when temples of grandeur came to be built, like Bayon or Angkor Wat.

The closer an Empire comes to its end, the larger the constructions it dares to build.
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Angkor VIP tour - Srah Sang「ស្រះស្រង់」

Srah Sang temple, ancient Angkor

Srah Sang「ស្រះស្រង់」
  • Date: Mid 10th century
  • Style: Bayon
  • Highlights: Srah Srang stands for "The royal bathing pool". Its baray (artificial lake) was a square dug to 700m x 300m during the Hindu period, set amidst large trees, able to deliver turquoise blue waters all year round. The approaching steps to the water edge are flanked by two stone statues of lions with ornamented nāga-garuda balustrades. The pond was reserved for use by the king and his wives. A stone base seen at an island in the centre of the pond once housed a wooden temple where the king did meditation. The water from the lake is now used for rice cultivation by farmers of the area.

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Angkor - Tales of the Mandala

travel guide to a weekend in Angkor, Cambodia

I spent my early teens amazed by the mysterious Tomb Raider landscapes. In a way, I was fascinated by Khmer architecture without having come to the realisation of its very existence in the real world.  When I visited Wat Arun (for 2nd time) 3 years ago, I spent some time reading about Khmer amazed by the similarities of the pastel hued Bangkok stupas and the typical Angkor Wat picture wondering how could one style influence another so heavily?
One empire during 700 years, related mandalas for thousands.

Maṇḍala मण्डल is a Sanskrit word that means "circle". When used to describe political power it draws a comparison with the mandala of the Hindu and Buddhist worldview, emphasising the radiation of power from each power center, as well as the non-physical basis of the system.

Ancient entities in Southeast Asia did not conform to classical Chinese and European views of a territorially defined state with fixed borders and a bureaucratic apparatus. In fact, they diverged considerably in the opposite direction with a polity defined by its centre rather than its boundaries that could be composed of numerous other tributary polities without undergoing administrative integration. The emphasis on personal relationships is another defining characteristic of the mandala system. The tributary ruler was subordinate to the overlord ruler, rather than to the overlord state and the overlord-tributary relationship was not exclusive e.g. a state in border areas might pay tribute to two or three stronger powers, creating buffer zones.

I used to mentally associate mandala to Tibetan monk sand art which is also captured in the intricate patterns of some Hindu inspired adult colouring books, when it turns out to be the recipe for business success in South East Asia and one key concept to understand its historical development.

Angkor, the site of the capital city during the zenith, is the greatest legacy of the Khmer Empire. Its majestic monuments bear testimony to their immense power, wealth, art, culture, architectural technique and aesthetics achievements in relation to its multiple belief systems. But like all great empires, its splendour came to an end and the nearest neighbour was ready to take over...

Cambodia - Thailand history

As the power base shifted to Thailand, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was established.This was not a unified state but rather a patchwork of self-governing principalities and tributary provinces owing allegiance to the king of Ayutthaya under the mandala system. As shown in the map, Ayutthaya intersected other mandalas - Lan Xang, Lanna, Sukhothai, Khmer and Champa.

Lan Xang - precursor of modern day Laos - existed as one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms of South East Asia from 1354 to 1707, but was eventually torn into pieces by adultery, committed by the crown prince with a palace attendant - forcing the King to order him dead. King Sourigna Vongsa died in 1694, leaving 2 grandsons, 1 nephew and 2 daughters behind all with claims to the throne. Lan Xang was then divided into 3 (Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak).

On the Thailand side, things were calm but not for long. The Burmese-Siamese war broke in 1765, with Taksin playing a star role in it.

Taksin - the only Thai king of blended Chinese-Thai ascent to date - was born on 1734 in Ayutthaya. His father was a tax collector from China, his mother was Thai. The Prime minister was impressed by the boy, adopted him and changed is name to Sin (สิน) meaning money-treasure. The 7 year old boy was assigned to a buddhist monk and educated in a monastery. During the time Sin and his friend Thong-Duang were Buddhist novices, they met a Chinese fortune-teller who told them that both had lucky lines in their hands and both would become kings. Neither took it seriously, but eventually they both did - first Taksin, then Thong-Duang betraying his old friend to become Rama I.

Taksin worked his way up, from royal page into armyleader in the liberation of Siam from Burmese occupation and drove the unification of Siam after it fell under various warlords. In 1767 he established the city of Thonburi (modern day Bangkok) as the new capital because Ayutthaya had been destroyed by the invaders. While his reign was short and intense in war (repelling new Burmese invasions, subjugating the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna, the Laotian kingdoms and Cambodia), he paid a great deal of attention to politics, administration, economy, and the overall welfare of the country. Under his rule, foreign trade and relations with China, Britain and the Netherlands were fostered. He invested in arts and infrastructures. In recognition to his contribution to the Thai people, we know him as Maharaj "The Great".

The strain took its toll on the Taksin, turning him into a religious fanatic who in 1781 believed himself to be a future Buddha, expecting to change the colour of his blood from red to white. Meanwhile, the economic tension derived from war was serious. Famine spread, looting and crimes were widespread. Corrupt officials were reportedly abundant. It took his long-time friend General Chao Phraya (born Thong-Duang) to devise a coup d'etat, take him down and assume the throne.

The Rattanakosin Kingdom (1782-1932) was founded by General Chao Phraya, the first member of the Chakri dynasty, which has since ruled Thailand. The most remarkable achievement is that Siam managed to remain the only Southeast Asian nation to maintain its independence from Western Colonial Powers while all the neighbours fell under Britain or France. It ended with a revolution and the abandonment of absolute monarchy in favour of the constitutional monarchy we have today.

Cambodia - Thailand history

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire and largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure system connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core. Its ruins are located in Siem Reap (Cambodia), easily accessible from Bangkok:
  • Visa on arrival is available for majority of tourists - check with your embassy to avoid surprises, always 6 months validity and often at least 4 pages free... Which I don't currently have!
  • Return flights from Bangkok less than 100EUR - rather hop onto an island before coming back. 
  • Hotels offer excellent value for the price - we spent 2 great nights in Anusa Residence and Spa.
  • Full day tuk-tuk driver is a must and can be arranged with the hotel, but we recommend you to hire a tourist guide separately to truly understand the meaning of the decorations, the historical phases etc. I bought a book as we decided to skip this part as we don't get much time with each other, but everyone else I know hired a guide - this is my friend's recommendation - and felt it was well worth the money.
  • Cambodia has certainly a lot more to see, but if you are short on time but keen on scoring Angkor as part of your trip in Thailand, I suggest to drop by and opt for the VIP tour (where it is is possible to cover the main temples in 1 day - say 2 days if you are like me, a true sucker for ancient architecture.
    • VIP tour includes Srah Sang, Banteay Kdei, Ta Phrom, Ta Keo, Baphuon, Bayon, Angkor Wat, covered in separate posts. 
    • Day after tour includes Pre Rup, Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, Preah Khan and a final stop in Phnom Bakheng aka temple of sunset which you can skip - too much wait, too many Chinese for minimal awe, humidity renders the sunset invisible.
  • Near the pub street there are western style restaurants, we stopped by Il Forno for some reasonably priced Italian fare.
...are you ready?
Angkor Tour
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