Since our travels have no defined end date, it’s not always easy to decide how long to stay in one spot. Being able to take our time and thoroughly explore our destination is one of the best parts of slow travel. It’s a luxury that we rarely experienced during our working years and we don’t want to take it for granted. Conversely, staying too long in any one area means that we could end up bored. After all, not every place has a lot to see or do. One of the easiest solutions to keep things fresh and interesting is to simply change locations. The first few days in a new spot are always exciting. But even for us globetrotters, the actual act of travel is still no fun. So how do we strike the proper balance?
In yesterday’s Penang Street Art post, I focused mostly on the official Penang street art scene. Many of those images are found on t-shirts, bags, postcards, and anything else an entrepreneur can sell to a tourist. While those are fun, I also want to show you some of the less publicized pieces. Much of this art would be hard to find if you only spent a day or two here. But since I’m in the enviable position of being able to spend 4 weeks, I’ve been able to get off the standard walking tour path and explore the Penang street art underbelly.
It’s everywhere! The Penang street art scene is thriving and the creative and playful atmosphere can be felt throughout George Town. It wasn’t that long ago that the colonial architecture was the main draw to this island. While a lot of the art feels old, most of the iconic pieces debuted in 2012. Since then, Penang street art has exploded in both quantity and popularity. And while I am really enjoying the architecture, I can safely say that the street art is the number one reason to visit.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been wandering around George Town on the island of Penang. It’s an absolute joy to walk through and it’s no wonder why this whole area was named a UNESCO Heritage Site. Everywhere I look I’m finding a beautiful scene. The historical architecture that remains from the colonial era provides a feeling of stepping back in time. It’s scattered everywhere throughout the city and while not all of the buildings are in pristine condition, that just adds to the charm.
Most people are familiar with batik as a style for creating patterned clothing. Originating in Indonesia, it’s been a part of Asian clothing design for a couple of centuries now. During that time it’s also spread throughout the world and batik is now used in the making of all types of clothing, not just traditional wear. Over the years, I’ve even owned a few batik t-shirts featuring my favorite bands. But until we landed in Penang, Malaysia, I never knew that it was also a painting technique. In the heart of downtown George Town, there is a compact Batik Painting Museum (map) that showcases this unique style of art. It was pretty fascinating and a delightful place to visit.
After Siem Reap, Katie and I took the bus to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where we stayed for 16 days. This was a big change from the laid back smaller town, as Phnom Penh is a large somewhat chaotic city with heavy traffic and a certain grittiness. While rough around the edges, it still has some redeeming qualities. Considering that only a few decades ago the city was practically destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh has made some remarkable progress.
The reason that Siem Reap, Cambodia exists as a tourist destination is because of the sprawling Angkor Temple complex and the world famous Angkor Wat. That’s why everyone travels there, and we were no exception. We had so much fun during our three days at Angkor that I couldn’t even squeeze it all into one post. But there were many other things to see and do, and we had no trouble filling the two weeks we spent there.
After visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom on day 1, we took a few days off before returning to the role of part time explorers. Getting up early to climb temples all day in the Cambodian heat can be pretty tiring, so it’s nice to get a break. This is one of the reasons the 3 day (or 7 day) Angkor Pass is great, as it allows for visits on non-consecutive days. Fully rested, we headed back into the jungle.
Most people are familiar with Angkor Wat, but that’s only one of dozens of temples within the enormous Angkor Temple complex. While nearly everyone who visits Siem Reap will set foot inside Angkor Wat, there are plenty of others that are worth visiting as well. Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei, and more are all worthy stops. These temples and others throughout the sprawling jungle site range from amazing old buildings to piles of rubble where your imagination is required, sometimes even within the same grounds.
Foreign travel is nothing if not a continual learning experience. Travel in Thailand specifically, and Asia in general, is particularly different from Europe or Latin America. While I had been to Asia once before, it was a whirlwind trip of only ten days. Katie and I visited Hong Kong and Vietnam in February as our last official vacation before retiring. Therefore, the following learning experiences are from the perspective of someone who is mostly a novice to Asian travel and a complete newcomer to travel in Thailand. I had a lot to learn.