Apr 12 11

Portraits of Petra

by Emily Benjamin

Petra is unbelievable. Seriously, it is – I did my research before we left, checked out heaps of photos, and thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t. Every corner of the siq, every valley, every peak, every tomb and every camel – they all had me gasping for breath and wishing I knew better adjectives than amazing, incredible and spectacular. Phenomenal might be a good one, but I still don’t think that covers it.

I’m not sure how much of the area we covered, but we had 13 hours in there to explore, with sunburn and blisters to prove it. When we arrived at lunchtime from Amman, Monkey was chomping at the bit to get out of the hotel room and down into the valley to explore, so we set off. A guide accompanied us, and he was brilliant. Mahmood is a local, and lived in Petra until 1985 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Bedoiun people were relocated. He knew everything there was to know about the area, and let us walk at our own pace. Which ended up being slowly, because we were so awestruck by the sights, and busy snapping photos.

The first afternoon took us through the siq and down to the Treasury, before making our way down to the basin. By that time it was too late to climb to the Monastery, but just in time to miss the crowds back at the Treasury on our way home. I’d seen photos of the Treasury, Petra’s most famous tomb, and often wondered how the photographer managed to get photos with no one in them – just the spectacular scenery. And now I know – wait til 5pm and everyone will have left. Amazing!

The next day we aimed for the Monastery, Petra’s second most famous tomb, but got a little sidetracked. We were offered an ‘Indiana Jones’ horse ride and as we’d bargained them down from 75JD to only 40JD, we figured we may as well say yes. Quoted as a 45minute ride to the top, it was almost 2 hours long and took us around and over the siq, to a spot hundreds of metres above the Treasury. Once again we got photos of the Treasury with no one else in it – this time from above, where no one could see us. Back to the horses and we were dropped off near the High Place of Sacrifice, some 700 steps from the valley below. We check that out, then headed down slowly, winding through the valley seeing the side of Petra that others miss when they only visit for one day.

A quick picnic on the mountain top and we set off for the Monastery. By now we’d covered countless kilometres and my feet were sore and blistered, so we bargained to get two donkeys to escort us up the 800 stairs to the Monastery. It is bigger and better preserved than the Treasury, which is surprising, as we were whipped and blasted by wind and sand while up the top. It’s a wonder that it has remained in such pristine condition. We trekked a little higher to the ‘best view in Petra’ and were not disappointed. I’ve seen a few incredible views in my time – including a handful already in the day – but this was spectacular. Blue skies, red and orange rocks, and sprawling valleys below.

By 4pm we’d made our way back from the Monastery, through the basin and back through the siq just in time to get a free horse ride for the last 700metres. Which is lucky, because my legs gave up. We’d saved our last 2JD for the cab back up the hill and collapsed into the hotel just before 5pm. Dehydrated, aching all over but with a few hundred photos waiting to be reviewed. I took over 400 photos over the two days but have culled it down to 170, a handful which I’ll share below, and back on the main page.

Petra was one of the most phenomenally (there, that one works!) spectacular and jaw dropping places I have ever visited. I can’t even imagine how long it would have takes for the tombs and facades to be carved from the coloured sandstone, and over such a huge area as well. Absolutely incredible. If you’re ever in the area, give it more than a day, maybe even three. It’s tiring of course, and it ended up being quite expensive with entrance fees, a guide, and horse/donkey rides. But it is so, so worth it.

The more scenic shots are back on the main page, but here are a handful of photos of Monkey and I from the last two days in Petra.

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Apr 12 11

Petra

by Emily Benjamin

Jaw-droppingly awesome. Absolutely surreal. Petra is surprising, spectacular and amazing. From the moment we arrived in Wadi Musa, the view of the orange mountains in the distance called to us, and we rushed down the hill to enter Petra for the afternoon. We spent five hours in there with a guide on the first afternoon, but it only took an hour to realise that this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen on the trip so far. Within two hours, I was wondering if it might be the most unbelievable sight I’ve seen, ever. Fortunately we allowed more than just an afternoon for the area, and had the next day to explore. My words will never do it justice, but hopefully this set takes you on a journey of Petra, and you can see what took my breath away.IMG 0758Output1Output12IMG 0849Output10Output9IMG 1101Output14IMG 0888Output6IMG 1026Output3IMG 1249Output7IMG 0962Output5Output8IMG 1266IMG 1276Output13IMG 1278Output11IMG 1373IMG 1401

Filed Under → Travel
Apr 10 11

Fala-fulls

by Emily Benjamin

I’m sitting on a bus right now with 19 men and one Monkey. Before you go getting all excited, no, it’s not a Wild Boys Afloat tour – I’m on my way from Amman to Petra! And it would appear very few women travel or walk around in Amman/Jordan, because I feel like I’m sticking out like a sore thumb here. Albeit an attractive sore thumb… the sort that might get me some hand modelling work :)

It’s hard to say what my expectations of Jordan were before I arrived here, but whatever they were, I was wrong. I really liked Amman, for the two days that we were there anyway. Maybe it was just the awesome falafel, or the cooler temperatures, or the blue skies. Maybe I was just revelling in the fact that I was getting all the looks again finally, after 8 weeks of Jamie being ‘flavour of the month’ in Asia. Everywhere we turned in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, some man or woman would come up to us and exclaim how handsome Jamie is, how much he looks like David Beckham/Brad Pitt, and how lucky I am to be with him. Very tiring stuff I tell you, and I’ve had to make a point to insult him regularly now to keep his ego in check. But now in the middle east, I am the highlight of the Baskin Robbins ice cream selection. White, blonde, and female. Finally, Monkey is my minion again!

We arrived in Amman at 6am after a 9 hour flight from Bangkok. I’m getting better with each of these long flights – apparently I was asleep before we even took off at midnight from Thailand. Maybe there were a few scotches under my belt… but still, I’m sleeping on flights which is progress! We had a rest for the first half of the day in Amman (Friday) and then went out for food – I hadn’t eaten in 17 hours, which might be a new record for me :)

First meal was at Hashem’s Restaurant, about 100m from our hotel. It was epic. Falafel, pita, hummus and ‘fool’ which I think is just refried beans. Served with tea and a Coke for me – can’t beat a good can of Coke I tells ya! Those who know me well might wonder now if you’ve ever seen me indulge in falafels before and you’d be right in thinking you haven’t. I might be one of the biggest carnivores in existence – or at least, one of the biggest consumers of chicken in Australia. But I was looking forward to testing my taste-buds with some vegetarian delights here and I was not disappointed. It was simply delectable. And only $7 for both Jamie and I, which is expensive, we were told – but well worth it.

Then we saw some sights. The view from the Citadel was spectacular, with blocks of buildings stretching over hills and valleys as far as I could see. Then the amphitheatre which was pretty amazing, but now I’ve seen 3 in 2 days I think I’ve had my ‘fill’ of amphitheatres. Pun intended. Then we walked around some more, caught the sunset from up on Rainbow street, had dinner and a relatively early night. I was searching for good falafel again but was disappointed. We sat down at the most local looking spot and were told that they only sold pizza. Force fed pizza when I felt like falafel – who’d have thought I’d ever say that.

On Saturday we took a day trip to Ajloun, Umm Quays and Jerash. Umm Quays took us to the north-west edge of Jordan, with a view to Israel, Lebabon and Syria. Pretty surreal, to be standing on a hill looking out to three different countries. I mean, I’ve stood at Tweed Heads and jumped from Queensland into New South Wales, but this might just top that! Then we were down to Aljoun for an old crusader castle, before driving back towards Jerash. The sprawling landscape and ancient pillars of Jerash were amazing, but after 2 hours of roaming through there I had shoes full of blisters and was well knackered. We returned to Amman, had dinner at Hashem’s again and had another early night.

Early start this morning to pack, upload some pics and get on the bus to Petra. It takes about 3 hours, so we’ll have the afternoon to check out some of the first sights in Petra before a full day tomorrow. We’ll probably go with a guide for either today or tomorrow – I know a lot of people find guides at popular tourist sites overpriced but we got a guide for 2 days in Cambodia for Angkor Wat and found it really worthwhile. So hopefully Petra is the same. That will be today and tomorrow (Monday) then on Tuesday we’re off for a day trip and overnighter in Wadi Rum. Famous for Lawrence of Arabia, apparently. Spectacular scenery, jeep tours, camel rides and camping in the desert with local Bedouin people. If I go missing, that’s where I’ll be!

Back to Petra on Wednesday where we pick up a hire car and make our own way back up north for Madaba, Mt Nebo and the Dead Sea. We’ve got three nights in Madaba which is more than enough, but should give us a day to relax before heading into Egypt on Saturday.

Now I’m not sure what inspired me to write such a long post about the middle east, when I maybe only offered a few sentences here and there for all of Asia. I’m creating a favourites list on my new iPod as I type though, so maybe the rocking beats are fuelling creativity and communication again. The joys of good music to block out the loud Jordanian radios playing. Time to go start a Mark Ronson sing-a-long on this man-filled bus, I think! Wish me luck! :)

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Apr 9 11

Trial of the Lightroom Presets

by Emily Benjamin

Most of my photos so far have been in or close to their original form. Besides a little cropping, minor colour adjustments and a vignette here and there, I try to edit my photos to show just what I see – in all it’s beauty or ugliness! But spending my days taking photos, and many nights looking at photo blogs, I see many people using more imaginative editing techniques to give their photos a surreal look. Some use HDR , some are trying assorted plug-ins, and others are using crafty filters or editing presets.

I did some research and experimenting with HDR but found I could achieve very similar looks with simgle images in Lightroom rather than merging three images in Photoshop. Filters would be great, but I’m attempting to travel light with my camera gear this time around. Presets on the other hand seem endless, with many photo fanatics out there contributing free editing templates for Lightroom. So I’ve begun experimenting with a few presets and so far, I’ve been pleased with the results. I have used a range of presents for the two Jordan sets below, including Dramatic Horizon, Edgy Church, PH in the City and B&W. They seem to suit the photos and in some cases, they result in images that are not too overdone from what I saw on the day.

An example…

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I’m interested to hear what anyone else thinks on this style, as it varies significantly from my usual style of ‘less is more’. Have a look, enjoy the sets, and let me know what you think!

– Em :)

 

Filed Under → Words
Apr 9 11

Umm Quays, Ajloun and Jerash

by Emily Benjamin

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Filed Under → Travel
Apr 8 11

Amman

by Emily Benjamin

Although we were only in Amman for two night, I can’t rave about it enough. From the minute we stepped out of the airport, the Jordanians made us feel welcome. We made the most of the blue skies and warm temperatures and saw the city on foot, seeing the Citadel, Amphitheatre and local markets before finding the perfect falafel, right outside our hotel.IMG 0413OutputIMG 0390OutputIMG 0488OutputIMG 0504OutputIMG 0530

Filed Under → Travel
Apr 7 11

South East Asia – Highlights

by Emily Benjamin

Four countries, eighteen stops, fifty-three days, seven boat trips, two overnight buses, four flights, and an unknown amount number of tuk-tuks, buses, and taxis. The people we’ve met have been Thai, German, Canadian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, American, Australian, English, Welsh, Dutch, Irish and Kiwi.The nicest locals we’ve met were from Cambodia. The worst traffic was in Vietnam. The best weather was in Thailand. The most secluded spot was in Laos.The most expensive dinner was steak and red wine in Hanoi for my birthday, and the cheapest was actually last night – two serves of rice with chicken or duck and mixed greens with two drinks for only 87 Baht, or $3. The most expensive flight was from Bangkok to Hanoi – because we never used it. The worst boat ride was from Thaton to Chiang Rai. The best was Halong Bay. The most beautiful spot we visited… well that, I can’t decide.

Each country has had it’s real highlights and lowlights. When I try to think where my favourite place has been, I come up with no answer. It’s only when I break it down to each country that I can choose spots that I loved more than others. It may be the weather, the people, the food, or the comfort of the bed – each place has had something to define it.

In Thailand, Chiang Mai was outstanding. Laid back, plenty to do, with lovely people to meet. The air was clear, the mountains were cool, and the sights were amazing. Our accommodation here was a highlight – Sawasdee Guesthouse, if you’re ever in the area. Down south, Bangkok had fantastic food, ease of transport, but terrible humidity and pollution. The days were hot and long, but you could find great and inexpensive food right outside your front door. Accommodation here was great, too – Udee Bangkok, with clean, cool rooms to escape the hot concrete city outside.

Laos was mostly unexplored, but absolutely beautiful. Some of the best indian food you could get was in Nong Khiaw, as well as some of the cheapest beers and accommodation. The people were lovely, if not a little shy of the tourists that have discovered their tiny village amongst the limestone cliffs. In Luang Prabang the streets were filled with people, markets and crepes – Nutella ones, of course! Again the people were lovely and the city was quiet – but the mosquitoes weren’t.

Vietnam was surprisingly the most expensive country on the list. We went from Hanoi to Halong Bay, through Hoi An, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island. Admittedly these are all tourist spots along the coast – but Vietnam is so narrow, there wasn’t much more to visit if you went west! The beef curry pho was delicious, the chicken and cashew nut stirfry fresh, and the rice fields were endless. The people were lovely, as were the sights. Halong Bay, Cham Island, sand dunes in Mui Ne and the Mekong Delta – all beautiful. But Vietnam is where the unlucky turtle literally reared its ugly head and resulted in my phone being stolen, so I’m still a little sour about that!

Cambodia. I wish we’d had more time in Cambodia. With only 10 days we managed to see Kep, Rabbit Island, Phnom Penh and Siam Reap, along with countless monkeys, temples and sights. Cambodia has been, as expected, the cheapest country we visited in Asia. Accommodation for as little as $7 a night on an island would be unheard of anywhere else, but on Rabbit Island it was ‘top dollar’. The people in Cambodia were the kindest and most helpful we met. Tuk tuk drivers helped us cross busy roads by blocking traffic for us, and hoteliers recommended full day tours for no commission, and encouraged us to move on to the next city to see more sights, knowing full well that they were losing another nights room fee. Speaking of which, the absolute best hotels we stayed in, in the second half of this Asian leg, were here. Campus Guesthouse in Phnom Penh – speak to Tepy Ban, the abovementioned hotelier. Her brand new hotel is perfect, for only $20 a night. And in Siam Reap, try Motherhome Guesthouse. Five star service, unbeatable for $18 a night. Also n Siam Reap, a man named Long offered to drive me around town while I looked for a store to buy a replacement iPod. We found one after 6 stops, then he waited patiently while I picked up groceries as well. All to be helpful, because they know no other way. Absolutely heart warming.

It has been almost two months since I left home in Brisbane for this massive around-the-world adventure, and already a third of the trip is finished. I’ve managed to keep myself out of harms way for this whole time, handling only a few short instances of colds, flus, stomach upsets and mood swings. I’ve discovered that Magnum’s taste the same everywhere, but they are heaps cheaper than in Australia. Bottled water ranges from 25 cents to a dollar, and Coke is the same. The cheapest beer was 20 cents, but it tasted best after you’ve already had a few. We discovered that eating street food will always be cheapest, and often it will be the tastiest, too. Unless it is chicken necks – those things are foul… :)

Next up is Jordan. We fly tonight at midnight, arriving in Amman at 0515 local time. Amman is seven hours behind everyone back in Australia, should anyone be interested. We’ll be there for 8 days to see the city, Jerash, Dead Sea and of course Petra. Then onto Egypt for the pyramids, the Nile, and maybe an oasis in the middle of nowhere.

Until next time…

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Apr 3 11

Templed-out!

by Emily Benjamin

We arrived in Siem Reap late from Phnom Penh, and after a 6 hour bus ride we were exhausted. Fortunately we had arranged to be collected by our hotel, Motherhome Guesthouse, and we were greeted by Mr Michael and his shiny new tuk tuk. Off to the hotel we go!

The hotel was fantastic. Number 1 on TripAdvisor and with good reason. It is the same price as most of the others around it – only $18 – but far better value. And I can say that with confidence, because when they ran out of rooms for us after two nights, we checked out three other options all within the same price bracket, but none of them came close to the service, hospitality and inclusions offered by Motherhome. But enough of that, I’ll save my gushing for Trip Advisor!

Before bed we felt energetic enough to book 3 days of temple trekking, based on a detailed itinerary offered by the hotel. Jamie Talbot has been waiting to visit Angkor Wat for almost 2 decades. Yes, he is that old! A game he played as a little tyke had Angkor Wat in the background, and ever since then he wanted to visit this historic site. NOT because of Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider,  or so he says…

Over the three days we visited as much of Angkor Archaeological Park as we could possibly handle. Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Pre Rup – to be honest I can’t remember which one is which anymore, but Jamie Talbot does, so check with him! It’s not that they weren’t all very different – in fact they each had something unique about them, whether it was the Buddism or Brahmism influences, the size, the shape, or the number of towers. But in seeing maybe 20 temples in 3 days, I should be forgiven for forgetting the names!

The temples themselves were magnificent. It is really unbelievable that these buildings of sandstone, rock and laterite were built as early as the 9th century and have lasted over 1000 years. Even more surprising is that many of these temples, including the one we visited today, were only discovered within the past 100 years. The work that has been done to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site is outstanding, with many of the temples delicately restored to some of their natural glory, painting a clear picture of what awe-inspiring structures they must have been so many years ago.

This is where Jamie Talbot will probably excel – his written words are often far better than mine, and he’ll be able to use his words to convey just how beautiful and awe inspiring Angkor Wat was. Considering I can’t even remember the names of most of the temples we’ve seen, I think I best stick to photos and let them tell the story of our 3 days of temple trekking in Siem Reap. You can see what I saw here.

Now we have a day of rest in Siem Reap, where I might try to buy an iPod and we’ll get massages before a long bus ride to Bangkok. Then, two more sleeps in Thailand before we fly to Jordan on the 8th April. No more pho, khmer spices, spicy green curries and morning glory (minds out of the gutter people, morning glory is stir-fried water spinach!). Let’s see if my stomach can handle what the middle east is offering!

– Em :)

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Filed Under → Words
Apr 3 11

Angkor Wat & Angkor Archaeological Park

by Emily Benjamin

Three days battling the humidity through Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap left us tired, dehydrated but fulfilled. Finally, Monkey could check this World Wonder off his list, and I could quickly add it to my list and check it off as well. Unbelievable temples and cities spanning kilometres in lush green settings, and only discovered again in the last 100 years. No wonder it is a popular spots for tourists and movie makers alike!IMG 9849IMG 0254OutputIMG 9500OutputIMG 9660OutputIMG 9573OutputIMG 0275OutputIMG 9636OutputIMG 0309OutputIMG 0038OutputIMG 9734OutputIMG 9939

Filed Under → Travel
Apr 2 11

Monkeys in Cambodia

by Emily Benjamin

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Filed Under → Travel
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