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Am I a Boxer?

No. Definitely no. BUT, I am learning Muay Thai (Thai Boxing); probably the most brutal of the martial arts. I write for a local expat magazine and they wanted me to do a piece about learning how to fight. It will get published in the magazine in Thailand, but for everyone at home, here it is!

Eye of the Tiger

Eye of the Tiger

“Well, I’ve been roundhouse kicked in the head by my 6 foot tall Muay Thai trainer…” That’s usually my answer to the question, “So, have you ever been hit??” People frequently ask me this when I tell them I am learning Muay Thai. I admit, I am one for the dramatic and I do enjoy the shocked response I often get when I give that answer, but I assuage peoples’ fears by following up with, “…but luckily he got me right in the cheekbone so there was no serious damage and it only happened once.”

As I write this, I want to first and foremost say I am absolutely no expert on Muay Thai and I want to emphasize the word learning. I’m a reasonably fit person, and about a year ago, I was getting a little bit bored with my usual gym routine. I decided that I wanted to try something new and different. I have no background in martial arts whatsoever, except watching all of the Ninja Turtles movies, including that horrible new one. So, choosing Muay Thai as an alternative workout was way out of my comfort zone. I’m too lazy/uninterested to learn to speak Thai fluently and I felt like I should probably learn something quintessentially Thai so I have something to show for my three years of living in Bangkok. In the end, boredom, complete ignorance on the subject and academic laziness drove me to learn to fight. Seems like a recipe for disaster, but a year later, I’m still loving every minute of it.

In my first session, my trainer attempted to teach me how to wrap my hands. This was disastrous. It was so easy for him to weave the wraps in and around my hands, but trying to follow his pattern was like watching the Jumbotron at a sports game with the 3 cups and a ball game.  I never know which cup the ball is under after they mix them all up. After my 3 failed attempts to do it myself, we just gave up, and he still wraps my hands to this day.  Off to a good start.

After the hand wrapping fiasco, I started learning how to throw a simple punch, which when you really get down to it, isn’t so simple. I was bad. Really bad. So bad that my trainer has no problem telling anyone who asks, “At first she very bad, but now only a little bit bad.” I take that as a great compliment because when I started, whatever I was doing didn’t resemble boxing at all. I couldn’t follow simple combos and would “punch” left when I was supposed to go right. My trainer has always been extremely patient with me, but that may be because I bring him American candy and teach him bad words in English. There is a serious learning curve, but I love it because it’s something that challenges my mind and body at the same time and every day, I get a little bit better (I tell myself this, it’s unverified).

For anyone considering trying Muay Thai, beware, the initial physical side effects can seem somewhat alarming. My arms were covered in bruises, so much so that a woman came up to me in a public bathroom and told me there are people who can help me. My knuckles were beat up because my form wasn’t correct and after each session my hands shook uncontrollably and when I wrote on the whiteboard at school, you’d think it was the first time I had ever held a pen. But now, while my ability has only improved from very bad to a little bit bad, all of these side effects are long gone.

After learning basic upper body stuff for a few weeks, we moved to lower body. Hilarity ensued. To be able to kick, you have to have good balance and flexibility, neither of which I possess. I have uncontrolled power, but I can only stand on one foot for about 7 seconds and on a good day, touching my toes is more like touching my shins. This is a dangerous combination, not for me, but for my trainer’s nose. I haven’t kicked him yet though.  Soon enough. Imagine a kick called the crocodile. You have to kick with the top of your right foot while spinning around and landing a second kick with the heel of your left foot, like the tail of a crocodile. I can’t even describe what I looked like doing this, but all of the trainers in the gym stopped what they were doing and watched me like, what the….?? I still can’t do it, nor do I think I will ever be able to, and I am at peace with that. I am just not built like a crocodile.

For anyone thinking about learning Muay Thai, I would totally recommend it. I have a couple pieces of advice. First, don’t worry if you have no experience, you have to start somewhere and it’s better to learn the correct form from the beginning so you don’t develop bad habits. Second, if you’re not in great shape, don’t be scared away. You can start slow, and it’s such a fun workout that you’ll start noticing changes in your body really fast. Lastly, find a trainer or a group that you can laugh with because chances are, you’re going to feel like an idiot for at least 50% of the time, or in my case 90% of the time. If you’re not having fun and laughing, what’s the point? Harness your inner crocodile and give it a shot. Just remember to duck when someone tries to kick you in the head. I’ll never make that mistake again!

My gear

My gear

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My Origin Story

This is somewhat of a prequel. When I graduated from college, I set a goal for myself that I wanted to travel to 30 countries before I turned 30. This monumentous occasion happened in January, but I actually accomplished my goal at 28; I’m now up to 36.5 (Nigeria sort of counts). Most of this blog has been about living abroad and travelling while living in Thailand, but I figured in the spirit of all this “throwback whatever” stuff, I would post a short story about each place that I’ve been to.

As part of my origin story, I’ll also include why I decided to write about this stuff:

  • I like writing.  I used to write a lot in college, sometimes because they made me, sometimes because I liked it.  Never because I was any good at it.
  • I am lazy and when I come back from a trip and everyone asks me how it went, I just say good, really good (except for Laos) and then change the subject.  There, my secret is out.  I mean, what else can I say?  I’m not going to stand there and describe every awesome detail to someone who is just asking me how it went because they feel obligated, unless I’m drunk and then you’re in for it.  I am also never sure who really cares and who is the obligatory “how was your trip” asker.  So, here’s a place where people who care, and people who don’t care, can hear about it.
  • I want to be able to remember my trips.  This was brought to my attention when my friend John was talking about the “Chicken and Cheese” sandwich that we had in Amsterdam.  It was arguably the best thing either of us had ever eaten and yet, I didn’t remember it until he mentioned it.  What happens if I can’t store all those memories in someone elses brain?  They get lost, but if I put them on the internet, they are here forever, and ever and ever.
  • I’m banking on a multi-million dollar book and movie and action figure deal.  I think it’s a solid plan that will bail me out of the mountains of debt I am sure to incur on my quest.

Every story has to start somewhere, so here goes:

Me and the old man at Bryce Canyon

Me and the old man at Bryce Canyon in 2012

My hometown in the fall

My hometown in the fall

1. USA — I’m counting it.  It fits my criteria, it’s a country, that I’ve been to, before I turned 30.  This is my list and I make the rules so it counts.  To be fair, I have been to 46 states (gotten speeding tickets in 5) and driven coast to coast thrice, so there.

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho

Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts

Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Rodeo in Utah.  Yee Haw.

Rodeo in Utah. Yee Haw.

Thanks mom for dressing me in this watermelon belly shirt

2. Bahamas — I went here when I was 8.  It also counts because I wrote a special report and presented it to my second grade class.  This was also my first memory of Dusty the Delta Lion.  Favorite memories — braiding all of my super long hair Barbie’s hair into braids because I wasn’t allowed to get them – the beggar kid in Nassau who said he would sing us a nice song for a quarter – adding conch to my list of 2 sea foods that I will eat (haven’t had it since) – getting attacked by fire ants — swimming with barracudas — going to the “wave beach”, where I always thought I was going to drown, as opposed to the “hammock beach” which, as the name implies, was more appropriate for a second grader.

3. UK — I went when I was 13 and the only thing I cared about doing was going to the Doc Martin store.  It was a great trip, and my first trip to a place where people talked funny (I didn’t go to the south until I was 18).  Motivated by watching Braveheart, Meg and I went back for spring break 2005.

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

4. Canada —  Everyone remembers their first strip club.  Mine was on a sailing team trip in 2005 in Windsor. I had an out of body experience when the boys bought a $9 lap dance for me in the champagne room and the stripper asked if I wanted some gum for when we make out later. Besides that memorable trip, I have been to Canada a couple other times and it’s one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been.  Go to Banff, you can drive there, I did, no excuses.  Just do it, you won’t be disappointed.  Plus you can go camping and there is nothing like falling asleep holding on to a claw hammer because that’s the only thing in the sailing tool box that would maim the bear that is going to come eat you in the night.

Sneem Ireland

In Sneem, Ireland

Ireland

Ireland

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

5. Ireland — This is my favorite place that I’ve ever been.  My first time there was coincidentally over St. Patrick’s day (part of the Braveheart trip).  Talk about a bunch of crazies.  I’ve been here 4 times and every time is just so awesome.  The people are the best of anywhere I’ve traveled, the scenery is beautiful and it’s relatively affordable.  The second time I went, Meg and I hailed a cab at the train station, and before we knew it, Patrick, the 50 year old cab driver, was walking around Blarney Castle with us, giving me extra camera batteries and giving us the tour of Cork.  I also met Usher and drank a Guiness with his crew at a pub in Dublin after he performed with Justin Bieber, NBD.

Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Sainte Chapelle, Paris

Nice, France

Nice, France

Sacre Coeur, Paris

Sacre Coeur, Paris

6. France —  Been to Paris, Nice, Cannes and had a 2 hour stop at the Avignon train station where it was so hot I became unconscious in the train.  If anyone ever tells me they dislike Paris, I will call them a liar or a Republican.  I won’t go into too much detail about it, but it’s just great.  Go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night.  The south of France is awesome, mostly because the beach in Nice is made out of really smooth gray rocks; they remind me of river rocks.  And I hate sand, so it’s a match made in heaven.  When I was in Cannes, it was during the film festival so the city was really alive, I don’t know what it’s like otherwise, but they have the red carpet all rolled out and all sorts of cool stuff set up for the festival.

Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp, Belgium

7. Belgium — My first Belgian experience was when we met the Tram Wizard.  We were transferring from Luxembourg on our way to Amsterdam and we (me, Meg and John) decided to go get some Belgian waffles.  The tram wizard walked us through how to do everything like we were born yesterday and herded us to the door of the tram to make sure we got on it.  After our gauffres, that’s waffles in French, we went back to the train station to give the tram wizard a lovely gift, a can of Jupiler beer that we bought in a vending machine.  He said that our smiles were his gift.  And that’s why he’s the tram wizard.  John drank the gift on the way to Amsterdam.

Bridges in Amsterdam

Bridges in Amsterdam

8. Netherlands — Chicken and Cheese??  I’ve been here 4 times, twice on my own, once on an “architectural” trip while I was studying abroad and once for 4 hours on a layover to Greece. In college, our professor basically bussed us into the housing projects of Amsterdam and dropped us off and made us sketch pictures of the buildings. People in those neighborhoods aren’t skipping around in their wooden shoes with bouquets of tulips.  I tell everyone the same thing about Amsterdam:  It’s like adult fun land, and has all sorts of “bad” things, but you could also take your grandmother on a really nice walk through the city. And that’s all I’m going to say about that on the internet.

9. Monaco — Yes it’s a country.  Doug and I sat on the steps of the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo the day before the Grand Prix and just counted Ferraris.  In an hour, I think we saw like 40 or something.  I have never seen a higher concentration of nice cars in my life.  I almost barfed on the bus back to France, I remember that vividly.

Vianden Castle, Luxembourg

Vianden Castle, Luxembourg

10. Luxembourg — Also a real country and the grandest Duchy of them all.  I was there for about 3 months when I was studying abroad.  I lived in a section of the city called Howald with Claude and Ching.  The national beer of Luxembourg is Bofferding, it’s not really exported, but it’s like Budweiser.  I remember my last night in Luxembourg I got drunk and stole some frozen sausages out of a case in the bar and ran home to my friends house.  On the way I rolled and nearly broke my ankle.  Needless to say, the hangover the next morning was almost as painful as waking up with one cankle and the realization that I fell asleep on a velvet couch with a bunch of frozen Luxembourgish sausage.

America's Cup 2007

America’s Cup 2007

11. Spain — Who knew that they killed the bulls at the end of the Bull fight??  Well, now I do.  Gruver took us to a fight in Valencia and we literally walked in as they were stabbing the thing in the back of the neck with a giant sword.  We went on rookie night, which usually results in some human goring, but no luck for us. I was hoping for something more gladitorial.  After the fight, they drag the bulls out to a shed and string them up and hack off the spine with an ax, butcher the whole thing in like 5 minutes and send the meat to the restaurants for the night, pretty cool to watch, yeah vegetarians, I said it.  We also got to see the second to last race of the America’s Cup and go to the team banquet on the roof of the Prada compound, thanks to Gruver, where Mr. Bertelli (Prada’s husband/business partner) cooked steaks for us that he had flown in from Italy. When I die, I believe this is probably the richest person thing I will have ever done.

Il Duomo, Florence

Il Duomo, Florence

Rome

Rome

Pompeii

Pompeii

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Trevi Fountain, Rome

12. Italy — This place can almost be talked about as all separate countries.  Been to Rome twice, Florence, Chianti area and Pompeii.  For all you fellow history nerds, Rome should be like Mecca for you, make one pilgrimage in your lifetime.  There is so much cool stuff to talk about here, but in the end, I would be perfectly happy if someone hooked me up to an IV of Italian food and sat me in front of the Pantheon for 5 days.

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

13. The Vatican — Technically a country, so I am counting it.  Still no sighting of the Pope mobile, despite 2 trips.  I’m so holy.  The first time, we waited in line for the Sistine chapel for like 4 hours, put that in the record book God.  It’s one of those things you have to see, but the whole experience was so unholy, you are literally herded into a room like cattle and told “no photo!” but everyone who has been there has the blurry picture of Adam and God that they show to their friends and try to explain what the blobs of color are — guilty.

Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Eisbach River, Munich

Eisbach River, Munich

14. Germany — Loved Munich, loved Trier, did not love Berlin.  Now this is probably just my preference, but Berlin is weird, and ugly. I’m willing to give it another chance, but the first impression was not great. If you are going to Germany, go to Munich, go on a bike tour, get drunk, bike through the nudist park and jump in the river like I did.  Also, go to Neuchwanstein Castle.  It’s what Disney modeled the Magic Kingdom after and some crazy German king built the thing in the Bavarian Alps right next to his other castle, which is yellow.

Cathedral in Prague

Cathedral in Prague

Prague in March 2007

Prague in March 2007

U Fleku, Prague

U Fleku, Prague

15. Czech Republic — I hate when everyone says, Prague is SOOO cheap.  What they meant to say is “beer is cheap, but since everyone says Prague is cheap, I am going to say it too”.  Prague is not cheap, it’s on par with what stuff costs in the US, if not more expensive, at least when I was there.  Doug and I went to Prague with Marks for Spring Break 2k7.  We drank real Absinthe in the completely wrong way.  If you go to the club here, note that people don’t show up until 3AM, unless you’re American, then you show up at 11 when the place is just an empty cavern of Euro-beat, play Foosball, get tired and go home at 1.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

16. Austria — Didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, but would like to go back and check it out for longer.  The Schoenbrun palace is pretty cool and I went to a concert in one of the same places where some of the musical geniuses of the 18th and 19th century played.  Vienna was also the site of my first ever Big Mac.  Everything was closed when we got there except for le Macdo and I hadn’t eaten all day so I went for it, and that was the first and last one I ever had.

Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Beach on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Rincon National Park, Costa Rica

Rincon National Park, Costa Rica

17. Costa Rica — I went here courtesy of Carearbuilder in 2010.  So beautiful and we didn’t even go on the tropical side.  Rincon is a cool place to hike, lots of mudpots and hot springs.  We hired some guy and his buddy to drive us to the park in their van and then take us to a traditional Costa Rican restaurant in Liberia. There also happened to be the annual pony show or something in town that day so there were ponies everywhere.  Yee haw.  I ordered something with the spine still attached, and can you believe it?  I got sick.

Arabian Desert

Arabian Desert

18. United Arab Emirates — After going here, it puts real perspective on how ignorant Americans really are.  Not like I am some bastion of smartness, but Dubai and the UAE was, hands down, the cleanest, safest place I have EVER been.  I am more scared at a Chicago bus stop than I ever was here.  Granted, the UAE is way different from the rest of the middle east, but I will talk your ear off about how awesome this place is. We went to the Arabian desert outside Liwa in the evening one day. There were no other people or buildings as far as the eye could see. Except, I found a guy, Mohammed, with a sweet dune buggy. He spoke 0 English, but I understood his hand motion of “get in my dune buggy”, so I did. Risky? Eh. Turned out not to be. He drove me and my friends all up and down the sand dunes, brought us to the top of one and made us tea over a little fire while we watched the sunset in the complete absence of any other people. We randomly saw him at the gas station the next day in his white robes and headscarf. Is that Mohammed???

19. Oman —  The joke about the Sultan of Oman is that he loves fast cars and young boys.  And I can’t speak for his boy love, but the roads in Oman are immaculate.  Everything is lit, and perfectly paved, even in the middle of nowhere.  There is a coastal drive along the Arabian sea that is absolutely terrifying and gorgeous.  I went to the Mussandam region and took a dhow (boat) through the fjords near the Strait of Hormuz.  There are no people here, except for fishing villages (only accessible by boat) and just rocks and beautiful water with dolphins and fish and Iranian smugglers, they waved at us.  The crew on our boat caught a fish and cooked it for us for lunch.  I even tried some.

Cabo San Lucas

Cabo San Lucas

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Green Turtle

Green Turtle

Being a tourist in Cabo

Being a tourist in Cabo

Rio Grande, on the border somewhere

Rio Grande, on the border somewhere

20. Mexico — My first wake up call in Mexico was by the border patrol on the bank of the Rio Grande.  Apparently there were some Mexicans that crossed over the border in the night right through our camp.  Mexico trip numero uno was not the typical Mexican Spring break.  Instead of getting wasted on a beach in Cabo (I saved that for after college), I canoed down the Rio Grande for 90 something miles with Jess; she capsized every day, had to say it.  It’s literally a river of liquid mud.  My 2 other Mexico trips were via the CB presidents club trip, and they were amazing but I’m not writing those stories here, partly because I don’t remember them, partly because I would like to be employed in the future.

Woman drinking bil bil (fermented millet)

Woman drinking bil bil (fermented millet)

Kids in Duroum

Kids in Duroum

Meg's neighbor Howa, the most amazing woman I have ever met

Meg’s neighbor Howa, the most amazing woman I have ever met

Amulets to protect me when I travel

Amulets to protect me when I travel

21. Cameroon — What can I say about this place…I really should just write a whole long blog about it because there are so many hilarious stories. First of all, I’ll save you the time of looking for it on a map. It’s right at the “armpit of Africa”, that joint where west Africa turns South. I spent a total of about 2 months here on 2 separate trips because my sister was volunteering in the Peace Corps in a village with no running water, cell phone service, or electricity. After 2.5 years of living there, all of those things arrived within about 2 months of her departure. I have never experienced heat induced lethargy like I did in Cameroon. There are 0 tourists here and no infrastructure to support them even if there were, so everything I did was as local as it gets including eating spoiled meat, attending festivals and using a hole for a toilet. This is also the first place that I have ever been where people just straight out yelled “nasara!” or “white!” or “la blanche”, which means what you think it means. I’ve never been so aware of my skin color.

The Crab Sorcerer of Rhumsiki

The Crab Sorcerer of Rhumsiki

Teacher Joc

Teacher Joc

Giraffe at Waza National Park

Giraffe at Waza National Park

While 95% of my experiences here were amazing and wonderful (including teaching 100 students at the high school, eating many home cooked meals, having the best chicken I have ever eaten, seeing what’s left of the wildlife and experiencing truly welcoming hospitality), I can also say that I spent the worst night of my life here. Gaston “forgot” to buy our train tickets to get down to the capital for my return flight, so we had to take an overnight bus/van which even the Cameroonians warn against because of the bandits. Bandits are basically guys who roam the bush and rob and kill people.  No other options, so we had to do it. The van was completely overloaded and had about 6 feet of luggage stacked on the top of it, and a goat for a little while. This was the first of only two times in my travels that I thought I was going to die, like hands together praying to God thought I was going to die. We took a road through the jungle along the border of the Central African Republic which is currently in the midst of a war. It was raining, the red soil road wasn’t paved and there were 10 foot deep ditches on either side of it . Semi-trucks were jackknifed all along the road from what we could see out the front window because the red soil has completely covered the sides. The driver was basically skiing the van down the hills of mud. We made it somehow, but I haven’t even gotten to describing the night. For 17 hours straight, there was a Christian preacher in the row behind us who wouldn’t shut up. Not only that, but he felt the need to tap us on the shoulder every 8-10 minutes to try to get us to talk to him. When night fell, the border police stopped the van every 40 minutes or so to check for bandits.  HUGE guys dressed in all black with guns that I have only seen in Terminator movies and in the boys section of Toys ‘R Us got on, demanded our passports and looked at them upside down because they can’t read. We just hoped that they wouldn’t pull us out of the van. Like we were the ones they should be worried about… All the while, the preacher, talking, talking, talking, tapping, tapping, tapping. Finally at about 2 in the morning, I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned around and politely asked him to be quiet.  Ahhh 15 minutes of sweet, sweet silence (except for the loud Cameroonian music that had been blaring through the broken speakers for the entire trip) until the border police stopped us again and the talking started. On top of everything, we had a seat on top of the wheel well so I was basically sitting in a ball for half the trip.  Meg and I switched on and off to prevent the full plunge into insanity. When we arrived in Yaounde, I can’t even describe the feeling of elation to be out of that van.

One of many stories I hope to write about Cameroon in the future…

Greek Island

Greek Island

Parthenon

Parthenon

Mykonos Harbor

Mykonos Harbor

Wreath on Mykonos

Wreath on Mykonos

22. Greece — My first trip to Greece was during their huge protests and near government collapse. Abby was working there for a few months so I made up an excuse at work and booked my flight for a long weekend 3 days before I left. This trip seemed to spark my late quarter life crisis at 27 because I went back for 2 short trips within 6 months of the first one. Ah, disposable income from sales and a complete lack of financial responsibility, I miss those days. It’s probably good that I experienced Mykonos at this point in my life because if I did this party scene any later in life, I would feel a bit ridiculous. I’ll never forget Greece and neither will the 6 inch section of skin on the inside of my right calf from burning it on the tailpipe of a motorcycle.

Key Caulker, Belize

Key Caulker, Belize

Rainforest in Belize

Rainforest in Belize

23. Belize — I can’t believe more Americans haven’t been here.  I’m not complaining, just surprised.  It’s closer than a lot of Caribbean destinations and way cooler. We stayed at a jungle hotel run by a former jaguar hunter from Texas.  The bungalows were all lit with gas lamps and had thatch roofs, no electricity and so peaceful.  I tried bread fruit for the first time and rode a horse at a terrifying gallop through the jungle and didn’t fall off and paralyze myself.

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala

24. Guatemala — I wasn’t here for very long because I just went for a day trip from Belize.  I wanted to see Tikal, which is an ancient Mayan city that is still largely buried under the jungle.  It’s also the site where they filmed some Star Wars scene, but even I am not nerdy enough to know which one.

Pauly Shore and that Baldwin brother live here

Pauly Shore and that Baldwin brother live here

25. Singapore — This was my introduction to Asia, which hardly counts because Singapore is so nice. Allison was living here and she put me up for a few days before I officially moved to Thailand. The botanical gardens are beautiful as are the giant terrarium gardens of the future. The first night there, after I had flown for 20 something hours straight, we were out until sunrise. My body clock was smashed into a million pieces.

Thai Monks 2012

Thai Monks 2012

26. Thailand — I’ve now been living here for almost 3 years.  Can’t. Get. Out. Hmmm, if I could tell just one story from Thailand, what would it be… Maybe that I lived through a military coup and subsequent military dictatorship and it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as it sounds.

Monestary at sun set.

Monestary at sun set.

27. Laos – I spent a couple days in Vientiane shortly after I moved to Thailand to get my visa.  To get a Thai non-immigrant visa, you have to leave Thailand and go to an embassy then come back in.  Efficiency in it’s purest form. This place was boring as F. I also got molested by a “monk” at the big golden temple, and had to punch him in the neck to get him off of me, so be careful ladies. But, they have good bread. Heyyy, criticism sandwich.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Am I in a movie?

Am I in a movie?

28. Cambodia — John, Meg and I had a romantic 36 hour trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. I was awake for about 32 hours, Meg for 33 and John was the winner with 35:40.  Meg and John get bonus points for a night of heavy drinking included. I get a bonus point for not clawing their faces off when they came home and aggressively spooned me at 4AM, 1 hour before we had to meet our guide, Robin Hood, to take us around the temples.

OMG ELEPHANTS!! - was basically my reaction

OMG ELEPHANTS!! – was basically my reaction

29. Sri Lanka — This was an unexpectedly awesome trip.  I only ended up here because I had a week off and I planned to go to the Maldives, but I was/am too poor to spend a week there and the cheap flights all transferred through Colombo. I saw lots of wild elephants, ate delicious food and almost murdered someone at the airport when they told me that the flight was full and they had to put me on another one the next day (which screwed up all my plans).

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

30. The Maldives — For my 30th country, I wanted to celebrate somewhere really awesome. The Maldives are so indescribably beautiful, probably because there aren’t any humans there. I stayed at a resort with a bunch of honeymooners. I told the reception that I am a travel writer and got upgraded to a huge room. Ka-ching.  Again, since I am poor and couldn’t afford their meals (which started at $40 each), I had a good food strategy: eat for free at the breakfast buffet until I was shallow breathing, survive on that for the day and then have a Cliff Bar, buy a cocktail and  gorge on bowls and bowls of free banana chips provided at happy hour. When I paid my bill at the end, they couldn’t figure out why I only had 4 cocktails on there and nothing else.  I beat the system.

me and a constrictor

me and a constrictor

Vietnamese people wear great hats

Vietnamese people wear great hats

Our awesome student guide Ken

Our awesome student guide Ken

31. Vietnam — I think I need to give Vietnam another shot. I enjoyed my trip, especially the historical stuff, and I got an awesome free tour from a university student who wanted to practice his English, but I would say it falls on the lower end of my favorite places. Like this summary of my trip, Vietnam was eh.

Burmese monk near Mandalay

Burmese monk near Mandalay

Shwedagon stupa at sunset

Shwedagon stupa at sunset

Inle Lake fishermen.

Inle Lake fishermen.

32. Myanmar — It might almost be too late to go here and have a truly amazing experience because tourists, like myself, have been flooding in at a break-neck pace since they opened the country a few years ago. Even when I went a year and a half ago, it was starting to get obnoxious.  As I mentioned in the Cameroon summary, I have only thought I was going to die (while travelling) twice in my life. Taking a flight from Air Kanbawza from Bagan to Inle Lake on a re-purposed Soviet era airplane is number two. I should have known from the minute I got to the airport and there was no electricity that this was going to literally be death defying. Or maybe I should have just assumed that since the airline is named after the villain from Super Mario, it was not going to be a smooth ride.  I prayed to every God I could think of that that airplane would land in fewer than 4 pieces.

Richie, the alpha male

Richie, the alpha male

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

33. Malaysia — Don’t go for the cities, go for the wildlife.  Borneo was amazing, although depressing because the earth has been raped to make palm oil. The flora and fauna that remain is worth the trip around the world to see.  Or for those living in Asia, a $60 flight. See the Orangutans, soon.

Bali

Bali

Me and Lukki at Mount Merapi

Me and Lukki at Mount Merapi

Bali

Bali

Let's take a photo with each person individually now...

Let’s take a photo with each person individually now…

Monkey time in Bali

Monkey time in Bali

Me at Prambanan

Me at Prambanan

34. Indonesia — I’ve now been 3 times (longer blog post in progress) and I love it. I’ve been to 3 of the major islands, Java, Bali and Lombok and they are all awesome in their own way. I’m obsessed with Bali though, like been 3 times to the same place obsessed.  The beaches in Bali aren’t great, but in the center of the island, it’s magical. Green moss growing everywhere, monkeys, organic food, yoga. The islands off Lombok have beautiful beaches and I’ve seen a bunch of turtles when I go snorkeling just off the beach. The temples near Yogjakarta on Java are impressive, and thank god for Lukki when I was there.  He made that trip worthwhile.  The funniest thing about Indonesia for me is that everyone wants to take a picture with me. At first it’s kinda cute, but after hoards of people started coming up to me wanting photos with every peace sign, head tilt, winking and tongue sticking out combination possible, and then the big fat guy kisses me on the cheek, I know that you could not pay me enough money to be famous. Maybe I won’t be writing that book….

Girls from the largest slum in Mumbai at a women's empowerment leadership retreat

Girls from the largest slum in Mumbai at a women’s empowerment leadership retreat

If I were a man...

If I were a man…

35. India — I had a brief trip to India to visit Meg when she was working in Mumbai last year.  Surprisingly, there were no major snafus to speak of and technically I didn’t get sick.  It did rain for almost 24 hours a day for 6 days straight but besides that, I think it was just India as normal, which is intense as fck. I have spent a lot of time in the developing world now, so there’s not a lot that can really shock me, but the slums… WOW. The living conditions are as bad as you read about and see photos of, I can’t even describe them.  And the most difficult part is that not 1 mile away, people are living disgustingly lavish lifestyles with no care for the people who are literally living on top of a medical waste dump and being raped when they get up in the night to use the public bathroom. That disparity was really hard to rationalize.  The men have something that Meg termed “the cold dead stare” or CDS for short.  In public, the male/female ratio is about 10:1. And the men just sit and stare with an unflinching, soul piercing intensity. Even if you stare right back at them, they do not stop. This coupled with the gross overpopulation was maddening.  So maddening that one day I just locked myself in my sister’s room. I wasn’t sick, the intensity of it all just made me feel like my brain was melting out of my head.  I just could not go out there. I’ll go back though.

Kangaroo peanut theif

Kangaroo peanut theif

36. Australia — I actually just got back from here about a month ago.  I went to Perth to visit a friend who gave me the most amazing tour which totally made the trip worthwhile. The weather was beautiful, the food and wine were amazing and the people were super cool, although as an American, we’re conditioned to believe Australians are cool, so maybe it was like a self fulfilling prophecy. And the men are hot.  I ate everything in my path: beef, wine, cheese, honey, nuts but the most exciting thing was a pear.  Just a regular pear.  When you have lived in Asia for nearly 3 years, a ripe green pear is the most delicious thing you have ever tasted. I also got scratched by a wild kangaroo trying to steal my peanuts in a park.

36.5 Nigeria — I’m almost counting this because while in Cameroon, we hiked into Nigeria twice and being so close to the border, had a lot of interactions with Nigerians, ate their delicious cake bread, listened to them speak Hausa and saw the effects of the crazy street drugs they sell.  Upon our second entrance to Nigeria via a goat path in Rhumsiki (the photo on the header of the blog that looks like the moon), a young boy greeted us with a knife that he had lashed to a stick and  yelled all sorts of things at us until we passed back across the border.  Welcome to Nigeria.

Next up… Japan? Korea? Philippines? New Zealand? China?…..

Categories: Bagan, Beach, Buddhism, Buddhist Monks, Burma, Camping, Hanoi, Headhunters, Hiking, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, National Park, Nature, Orangutan, Paradise, Ruins, Saigon, Snorkeling, South East Asia, Thai Culture, Thailand, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Malaysia: Penang, Borneo and Headhunters

richie

My trip to Malaysia was a mix of modern, tribal, beautifully natural, foodgasmic, environmentally depressing and biologically diverse experiences.  Most importantly, I had one goal: must see wild orangutans before humans kill all of them. Despite all the other awesome things I did, if I had not seen one of these apes, I would have been really disappointed. Misson accomplished.

I should have asked for commission

I should have asked for commission

Bom joined me again on this trip and we started on Penang Island, which was an important British colonial hub and is currently one of the big commercial cities in SE Asia. The thing that Penang is known for is its diversity of people, and therefore food. It’s also very modern; Bom had never been to a place where the power lines are underground or seen a bus that kneels for handicapped people. Upon arrival in Georgetown, at 10PM, we met a vacationing, all adult Thai family of 7 who had no English skills, no hotel reservation, no map and truly had not thought to plan any of this stuff before arrival. This was not surprising to me at all. We shepherded them to the hotel that we were staying in. Luckily, there were two rooms left, so the 7 of them shared 2 double beds. Sounds relaxing.

Bag 'o juice

Bag ‘o juice

I couldn’t wait to gorge myself on all the delicious street foods that I had been hearing about, so even though it was late, we went eating. First stop was some street juice in a bag, followed by meat on a stick, which was something like chicken satay, and finally some kind of noodle dish. Things were starting to close down at around 11, so we walked a few blocks into the Indian section of town and continued eating things that looked good. I ate until I was shallow breathing, walked back to the hotel and took a photo with all my new Thai friends who were sitting in the hallway playing on their phones at midnight. I finally passed out in an intense food coma and drooled on myself. The plan for the next day was more eating, punctuated by visiting local historical sites. For breakfast I got a poppy seed bagel, which doesn’t sound exciting but when you haven’t had a bagel in 18 months, it’s pretty f-ing exciting. And a bowl of Greek yogurt with walnuts and fresh yellow mango. Obviously I took a picture of it, but I am too embarrassed to post it.

Under construction

Under construction

Men...

Men…

Georgetown is the historical city on Penang Island.  It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has an interesting blend of colonial era architecture and modern street art. The buildings from the 150 year colonial occupation have been preserved really well. Since it’s so diverse, there are churches, mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples and even a synagogue (although it’s not used for religious reasons anymore) all within a few blocks of each other. There are lots of wrought iron sculptures that explain important or interesting facts about different parts of the city.  This one about Love Lane, where all the prostitutes lived, was one of my favorites. There were also huge paintings on the sides of the buildings, like this “little” girl.

"Little" girl

“Little” girl

Boom.

Boom.

We checked out a photography museum, some kind of community art cafe and a few of the street art installations before heading to Fort Cornwallis.  This star-shaped fort was built by the British East India company in the 1700’s and hasn’t been used in any battles…yet.  There were some pretty cool old canons here.  One of them was cast by the Dutch in the 1600’s and given to the Sultan of Johore.  Then the Portuguese took it and brought it to Java.  Then, pirates or something, then a magical curse, then the Brits took it and brought it to Penang, then the Japanese took it.  But it eventually ended up at Fort Cornwallis.

Flowers in Gerogetown

Flowers in Georgetown

Next stops, a flower market, India town, Chinatown and a food market to eat some kind of noodles that had dried shrimp mixed in so I didn’t eat them. No matter how much time I spend in Asia, I will never develop a taste for these things.

Sunset on Penang Hill

Sunset on Penang Hill

Being a tourist

Being a tourist

After our self guided walking tour, we took a quick break at the hotel before heading to Penang Hill.  We took a local bus for about an hour and got to see the rest of the island.  An old lady got on the bus in a wheel chair and Bom was so excited about the fold out ramp that he did all the work for the bus driver.  The old lady and, presumably her daughter, appreciated it. When we arrived, I used my Miami Student ID card, with my 18 year old photo, to get a discount and made a scene when they didn’t accept it at first.  Works every time.  We took a cable car up a mountain side with a bunch of Chinese tourists and saw a great, albeit hazy, view of Penang and peninsular Malyasia.  Watching the clouds roll over the mountains during the sunset up here was really nice. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to use my extremely powerful camera and “auto” just didn’t cut it for this photo.

Kuching

Kuching

The next morning we had an early flight to Kuching, which is the capital of the Sarawak province of Malaysia.  It’s on the island of Borneo. Even though it is still part of Malaysia, you need a special visa to go to Borneo.  We stayed at an amazing place called Traveller Homestay that was run by a Chinese/Malaysian brother and sister.  There are many ethnically Chinese people whose families have been living on Borneo for generations.  We got home cooked breakfast every morning and there was always a bowl full of oranges in the common area which Bom and I took FULL advantage of. Kuching is pretty sleepy.  Like really sleepy.  But, it’s the perfect gateway to lots of amazing national parks and wilderness.

Mango time

Mango time

Show me ya moves!

Show me ya moves!

As I mentioned, my sole mission for this trip was to see orangutans who are not living in a zoo. We took a bus 25K outside of Kuching to a preserve called Semenggoh where there are 20+ semi-wild orangutans being rehabilitated with the goal of releasing them back into the wild.  So as far as I am concerned, seeing as National Geographic hasn’t gotten back to me, this is the closest I was gonna get to the real deal.  I was totally psyched.  Bom, less psyched, but happy to take a nap while I indulged my great ape obsession. I saw a couple females, one with a baby, and some young males.  These guys can break a coconut open with their bare hands.

Milk party

Milk party with Richie

We happened to be there at feeding time which means the rangers put a big pile of fruit on a platform and if the orangutans want to eat it they come, if they don’t, they don’t.  The real treat of our trip was that we got to see Richie, the alpha male (the first photo from this post).  Apparently the day before, Richie got a little testy and attacked some Chinese tourists. So, they warned us to keep our distance from him.  Someone asked the ranger, “What if he starts to come towards us?” and he just answered, “run.”  Ok great. Big bad Richie also enjoys drinking milk from a bottle like a baby and could probably crush your skull with one hand. Anyone who would argue that humans and apes don’t have a common ancestor should be put a little too close to him. The last bus back to town was leaving and Bom had to physically drag me away from the orangutans and we ran/walked the 3K through the jungle to get back to the bus stop on time.

Bako National Park Sarawak

Bako National Park Sarawak

The next day was our visit to Bako National Park.  I saw more wacky PBS nature show animals here than anywhere else in my life. Bako is really cool because it’s a jungle/rainforest on the South China Sea. So, I saw weird beach creatures and weird jungle creatures including endangered proboscis monkeys, mud skippers, a Borenean bearded pig and my favorite, the dung beetle.

DSC_0268

Jellyfish

To get to Bako, you have to take a boat which drops you on the shore and you wade through the water across a huge beach.  I don’t like this situation because I am always the one that loses balance getting off the boat and falls in the water with all my clothes on. I kept the tradition alive, but luckily it was very shallow so I didn’t totally soak myself.  That day, the beach was littered with these giant jellyfish blobs.  They were about a food across and presumably dead; I checked by poking them with my bare foot.  I’m not sure why there were so many of them.

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

Baby Proboscis Monkey

Baby Proboscis Monkey

Our first land wildlife sighting and arguably the coolest, although I have already stated my feelings about the dung beetle, was a big group of proboscis monkeys.  They are endemic to Borneo (meaning they only live on this island) and endangered so it was really cool to be able to see so many of them, including a baby.  These things are comically hilarious because of their giant noses. They are Seussian, especially the babies which look like Whos from Whoville. They were really active and I was able to get close to them because they aren’t as aggressive as other apes. These guys also honked a lot.  I mean with a schnoz like that, what else do you expect.

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

Wagler's Pit Viper

Wagler’s Pit Viper

Next sighting was a snake curled up in a tree. Upon doing further research when I got home on Encyclopedia Internet, I figured out that this snake was a Wagler’s Pit Viper. They’re not commonly seen because they are arboreal and camouflaged well, but this particular one decided to park it in the single tree that overhangs the entrance to the park.

As per usual, I began my anticipated 6+ hour hike into the tropical jungle with one 500 mL bottle of water and a Luna bar that was already melted into a blob.  I have literally made this same mistake so many times, you would think I am incapable of learning anything or that I should be dead. There are a couple trail options and we decided to do two of them; a short one to get to a beach and a longer one to  go to a nice viewpoint.  In total, the hike was about 12k and the weather was 95 degrees and humid. I was well prepared.  Not.

Mangroves

Mangrove Wasteland

Ubiquitous Seabird

Ubiquitous Seabird

To get into the jungle, you have to take a boardwalk through a wasteland of dead mangroves.  It’s pretty creepy actually. There were some sea birds and fiddler crabs walking around in the mud, but nothing particularly interesting. The low tide smell reminded me why I can’t eat fish.

Once we got off of the boardwalk, we found a HUGE jungle hermit crab.  I should have put my hand next to it so there was some scale to the photo.  He had a mossy green shell and was surprisingly fast for his size.

Hermit Crab

Hermit Crab

One of the coolest things about this park is the crazy root systems of the trees. We had to climb over these things everywhere.  Because it’s so humid, they are also very slippery so I wiped out more than a few times.  I’m also very clumsy so it’s not 100% the roots’ fault. Before I ever came to a jungle, this photo is almost exactly how I pictured one. But in my mind, there was a dancing bear and a kid in a loin cloth.

The Trail

The Trail

Butterflies at Bako

Butterflies at Bako

At this point in the hike, we hadn’t yet seen my favorite wildlife (dung beetle!), but the biodiversity of this place was already very apparent.  In less than 1k, we had seen endangered monkeys, lots of crabs, ants marching in a row, jellyfish, a pit viper, butterflies and birds and there was still more to come. And the best part, we had only seen like three other people! The cure for every disease in the world must be in these jungles.  Good thing we’re cutting them all down to make palm oil, because if we found those cures and humans lived longer, the planet would truly be doomed.

Bako beach

Bako beach

Tide pools!!!

So. Many. Tide Pools.

The first hike was short so it only took us about 40 minutes to get to the beach, where the wildlife party continued. This wasn’t the stereotypical “paradise beach” with white sand and blah, blah, blah. But I hate sand and this place had awesome tide pools filled with all sorts of cool stuff so it was my paradise beach. They all had little minnows in them, and there were a lot of hermit crabs and snails. I spent a long time on those rocks working on my sunburn and looking in each pool to find critters.   I think at this point, Bom was sitting in the shade being patient while I reverted back to my childhood activity of finding animals in tide pools, putting them in a bucket in the beating sun with the goal of eventual transport to their new home in my yet to be built extravagant sandcastle and then learning about the circle of life. Unfortunately  (for me, not the sea life), yellow plastic bucket from Mr. Amazing’s was not on my preparation list; neither was water or adequate sunscreen.

This beach crab is more stylish than the jungle crab

This beach crab is more stylish than the jungle crab

Mudskippers on a date

Mudskippers on a date

Probably the coolest fauna sighting at this beach were mudskippers.  At first I couldn’t figure out what they were because they are really fast and really skittish and also because I did 0 research about what I might see beyond proboscis monkeys.  I figured out that I needed to approach them slowly in order to see what the heck they were. I dug back into the random thoughts section of my brain and remembered Muddy the Mudskipper from Ren and Stimpy. Just kidding Mom and Dad, I never watched that show, not even at my friends’ with absent parents houses….

Bako Trail

Bako Trail

After I was finished indulging myself at the beach, and when I started to feel bad about making Bom sit and wait for me, we headed back into the jungle to continue the hike.  We had only gone about 2k, and my water was 3/4 gone.  We had another 8k round trip ahead of us in the midday sun.

Dung Beetle!

Dung Beetle!

This part of the hike was particularly exciting for me because this is when I finally saw the beetle. He was just right in the middle of the trail.  OMG.  I know it sounds nuts and I don’t know why I think they are so interesting but I just do. I should have probably been more excited about seeing whatever animal left the dung than the beetle rolling it into a ball.  For anyone who was not subjected to hours of nature shows on PBS as a child and got to watch cartoons instead, a dung beetle is simply a big black beetle that rolls poop into a ball. (see the video) I don’t know, care or remember what happens with the ball. These things are just mesmerizing.

Top of Bako

Top of Bako

Ok, enough on the dung beetle.  The next part of the hike was particularly grueling because we had to hike up, and up and up. We weren’t exactly sure what we’d see at the end of the line, but we knew it better be f-ing worth it.  The water was completely gone, and we still had a long way to go. As we got closer to the top, the flora quickly changed from Jungle Book to Lion King.  It became dry and scrub brush-y and sandy. And hot as balls. This photo looks like it’s just missing a pair of impossibly attractive, middle-aged white people wearing full linen outfits and leather sandals going for a romantic stroll.  It was anything but that. First of all, I was completely red and Bom was black skin (as Thai people say, but actually mean tan).  I was wearing the nerdiest shoes known to man, Keens and Bom was rocking a pair of baby blue, knock off Converse. We were hangry and had run out of water hours ago. There were rusty nails jutting out precariously all along the path and broken boards with spiders under them. It was like a death march. The only positive thing was that, by all of our calculations, it was almost over.

I'm still alive, barely

I’m still alive, barely

We were correct. The trail finally opened up to this breathtaking view of a bay from a cliff.  It was totally worth it, even if we might have died up there. We sat and rested up here for a little while and then headed down to the beach to check it out.  We saw some French people who had been dropped off there by a boat enjoying a full picnic. At this point, we were so thirsty that we contemplated going and asking for water. Instead, Bom went and asked the boat guy if he had any.  Thank God he did or we might not have made it back.  He gave us a liter and we drank the whole thing in like 30 seconds.

Just take one more step back...

Just take one more step back…

After chilling on the beach for a little while, in a cave because neither of us could be in the sun anymore, we began the trek back.  I ate my Luna bar, which I would NOT recommend doing if you don’t have any water to wash it down. As is evidenced by my complete lack of photos from the return trip, I just wanted to get the F out of that jungle and get some real food and water as soon as possible.

Oink

Oink

When we got back to the Park HQ a couple hours later, and got food and water, we had another super cool wildlife sighting.  The Bornean jungle pig.  Apparently these guys hang out around the HQ because of the food and if you rumple a potato chips bag, the go bonkers.

Man vs. Wild

Man vs. Wild

Also, around the HQ are the macaques.  These guys are such little shits.  They are all over SE Asia and the ones that have gotten used to people try to steal your stuff and scratch you and climb all over you with their weird little monkey hands. Bom had a show down with one who tried to get our peanuts. Man vs. Wild. Man won.

IMG_3749

Kuching Jungle Curry

We took the last boat out of the park and went back to our homestay to shower, eat a million free oranges and re-hydrate.  We tried to get a pirated copy of Game of Thrones to watch because everyone loves to spoil it on the internet (I’ve read the books, but Bom hasn’t), but after 10+ failed attempts, we gave up and walked to get food on the Kuching river front. I got some seriously awesome jungle curry and lime soda that was so good, I tried to replicate it at home.  Fail.

Skulls

Skulls

Knowing that Borneo is home to some of the most interesting indigenous tribes in the world, most famously the head hunters, the Anthropologist in me was not about to leave without interacting with some of them.  Bom was less than thrilled about this, but I was hell bent on doing a trip into the heart of the rainforest and staying with a tribe for a night.

Delicious jungle ferns

Delicious jungle ferns

So we found a  guide to take us into the interior.  It took a couple hours from Kuching so we stopped along the way at a market and sampled some local fare.  It’s a lot of the same stuff that you would see at other SE Asian markets, bananas, papayas, leafy greens, a butcher section etc.  This market had a few unique things due to its proximity to what’s left of the rain forest.  They had lots of ferns, which I later ate in a stir fry and they were delicious. I also found this guy cooking chickens with a very high powered blow torch.  He wanted me to take a photo of him.  No problem pal.

Blowtorch Chicken

Blowtorch Chicken

No thanks.  We prefer junk.

No thanks. We prefer junk.

When we were at the market, the guide suggested that we buy some food to take to the host families. I was totally down for that and ready to shop for all kinds of produce.  I was even ready to buy and haul watermelons into the jungle.  Then the guide informed me that they would prefer packaged stuff (i.e. high sugar processed corn/wheat puffs and crackers and cookies in individually wrapped plastic bags). I bought the absolute least amount of crap that he said would be acceptable.

One thing I did read a little bit about before going was the destruction of the  primary rainforest for the production of palm oil.  Everyone has seen the photos on the “Save the Rainforest” campaigns with the ragged stumps creeping toward the towering trees that remain.  This is what it actually looks like and it is depressing.  Palm oil is a cash crop that is dominating agriculture in Borneo. Look on any kind of packaged/processed food, or hair/soap product or cosmetics, or detergent and chances are, it contains palm oil, or some derivative of it. You can read about it here (Everyday Things With Palm Oil).   The demand has skyrocketed in the food industry because it can be used to fry at very high heat and doesn’t contain trans-fats. You can’t really get an idea of just how bad the environmental impact is until you see it.  We would drive for 30 minutes at 60mph and it was just palm oil trees as far as the eye could see.  It all used to be rainforest. In the areas that are being logged to be transformed into palm oil plantations, the earth just looks like it’s in pain. I don’t know how else to describe it. The soil is red and the tree trunks are thrashed to shreds. I don’t eat much processed food, but seeing the destruction had such an impact on me that palm oil is the one thing I look for on the ingredients list and if I see it, I absolutely will not buy it.  Unless I’m drunk and those Snyder’s cheese pretzel sandwiches are in front of me.  I’m only human.

In we go.

In we go.

After lunch and 4 hours of driving, we finally stopped at a river bank where a boat was waiting to take us up the river to the tribe.  There is no road access to the place we were going and it took about 40 minutes by boat via a shallow river. There was a woman on the front of the boat whose job it was to push us off the sandbars when we got stuck.  But we still had to wear crappy old life-jackets… #Asia.

Boats at the village

Boats at the village

Iban Longhouse

Iban Longhouse

When we finally arrived at the village, we were welcomed by someone with a gong and a old woman wearing only a sarong.  Thumbs up for indigenous nudity.  I think the gong was more to warn people that the foreigners had arrived than to welcome us. Some brief notes on the group that we stayed with: They were members of the Iban tribe. Traditionally, they practiced headhunting, but in modern times, they’re not our warring and chopping off peoples’ heads.  They live in longhouses.  Basically it is one long house with a common corridor that connects all of them. Nowadays, they have electricity and running water systems, but it’s still very new. The tribe that we were staying with has hosted foreigners for a number of years so we were definitely not a shock to them.

Iban man with tatoos

Iban man with tatoos

When we got there, we just hung out for the afternoon. There seemed to be a lot of that going on, just hanging out. They brought us some tea and we wandered around and relaxed.  One thing that was surprising was that they smoked like chimneys.  Everyone.  The guide brought them tons of cigarettes. There were a couple old guys roaming around who had badass tatoos.  They each mean something, but I can’t remember exactly what. The neck one is to protect you from poison and the flowers on the shoulders are for coming of age. They obviously can’t speak a word of English so we used a lot of body language to communicate.

Masks

Masks

Tribal drunk

Tribal drunk

After our afternoon hang out, it was time for dinner followed by a show.  We sat on a mat and ate with one of the families.  It was pretty standard fare.  Some stir fried vegetables, eggs, rice, dried fish and fruit. When we finished, we headed back out to the common area where everyone was gathering around the chief’s door.  He came out and welcomed us.  Then the local women played some instruments while a little girl danced in traditional clothing.  After that, two men did a tribal war dance that simulated a fight. Then the party really got started when they gave us shots of moonshine that they distill from rice (?) and gave us straw hats so that we could join in the dance. A giant cockroach fell out of mine into my lap right before I put it on. Good thing we had those shots.

The orchestra, the dancer and the chief

The orchestra, the dancer and the chief

Snack time

Snack time

After we danced around in a circle for a little while, it was time to present our gifts.  We gave our Costco sized bags of snacks to him and he was very appreciative.  He must hoard this stuff for months and we were there on redistribution night.  He brought out a ton of snacks and each little bag was separated into a different pile and distributed evenly among all of the families.  The men hung around drinking and throwing dice and the women gathered all their snacks and went to bed. We were invited to stay up with the men and get hammered on jungle moonshine, but I feel like that would end in a story line for episode of some show on the Discovery Channel.  They gave use a mosquito net and mats and we just slept in the main corridor.  I slept like a rock.  It was so peaceful that I slept through the roosters in the morning until about 8:00.

After breakfast, we got to shoot stuff with their blow guns. They used to use these to shoot poison arrows. I was terrible, Bom wasn’t bad.  I think my weapon of choice is the Thai wooden crossbow.  I was lethal with that thing in Chiang Mai.

mmmmm ferns

mmmmm ferns

And that was the end of my brief and touristy anthropological trip. My biggest take away from the experience is that while it may seem that these people have a lot to learn from the “modernized” world, in reality, we have a lot to learn from them. I couldn’t go back to the hotel without one more jungle fern feast though.

Back in Kuching, we wandered around the town for a little bit and I freaked out at a mini-mart when they had Crunch Bar ice-cream. Bom thinks I’m super weird. We ate more jungle curry and called it a night.

Borneo is amazing and even though I only spent a short time there, I am glad that I had the opportunity to go and see what little bio-diversity is left before it’s all totally destroyed.  Here are my two pieces of advice about Borneo:

1. Go, soon.

2. Don’t buy things with palm oil in them.

Bom went back to Thailand the next day, but my trip wasn’t quite over. I had a night in Kuala Lumpur before heading down to Indonesia for a few days. I can’t say much about KL because I was literally only there for a few hours but I made sure to go to the Petronas Towers. When I was standing in front of them, I had a major realization….

I travel because when I first see something with my own eyes that I have only ever seen in pictures, it’s like I am alive in my own imagination.

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

Categories: Headhunters, Malaysia, National Park, Nature, Orangutan, Paradise, South East Asia, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Bouncing Thai Meat

I am going to write about that thing that happened in Bangkok a week ago, oh no wait I can’t because there is no free speech… so instead I am going to write about something equally as consequential: bouncing meat.  Why do Thai people like bouncing, processed meat?  This is probably a question that has been asked by few, but I have dared to ask it.  I noticed that in all of the advertising for canned/processed/other grossly prepared meats, the meat always bounces.  Like someone drops a pile of hot dogs from the heavens onto a plate and they all bounce in slo-mo followed by someone saying how delicious and fresh they are.

Bouncing Hot Dogs

Bouncing Hot Dogs

Maybe the bounciness of the meat indicates freshness?  Stuff all the parts of a pig and some chemicals into an intestinal casing, and if it bounces, people will believe it’s fresh and healthy?  Well, this meatatarian is convinced.

Bouncing Nuggets

Bouncing Nuggets

Don’t worry chicken nuggets, we don’t want to leave you out, if you are fresh enough, you can also bounce to affirm your breaded deliciousness.

Bouncing Burger Bun

Bouncing Burger Bun

Not to be outdone by a bird, if you drop a bun on this fresh beef (?), the bun will bounce a solid 2 inches.  2 inches!  The QA/QC department ensured that this beef (?) is bouncy enough for human consumption.  That’s right, this beef (?) is so bouncy and fresh, it causes other naturally unbouncy foods, like buns, to bounce.  How could I NOT devour this burger (?)?

Last but not least, and the winner of the bouncing meat Olympics, pepperoni.  It’s true meat source is so mysterious, which is what makes it so sexy; pork? beef? chicken? dog? borax?  Maybe all 5?  No, not maybe, probably…. plus some “natural flavorings”.  The pepperoni in this Italian food commercial bounced an incredible 3 inches when dropped from a standard meat dropping height.  AND THEN, they rolled, while those lazy, disgusting, unhealthy tomatoes just sat there, not bouncing.  Well done pepperoni, based on your slow motion bounce, I can say with confidence that you are the freshest, healthiest, most delicious meat in Thailand.

Bouncing Pepperoni

The Gold Medalists

Who’s hungry?  Or should I say, hee-ou mai?

 

Categories: Thailand, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

A place like this exists??

Words can’t describe The Maldives.  You have to watch this video I made to understand.

It must be the most beautiful place in the world because even in my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine somewhere more picturesque than this small island nation.  The Maldives is a string of islands in the middle of nowhere in the Indian ocean.  Google Map it.

I arrived from Colombo at Male airport, which is a man-made sand island.  From there I boarded a 15 or so passenger sea plane to my hotel.  Go on one of these if you ever have the chance.  When I made my reservation, I told them that I was a travel writer, which I technically am, here’s the proof.  So when I arrived, it was nice to see that they had upgraded me to a beachfront bungalow at no extra charge.  The hotel is just an island.  The staff lives there in a small staff village that the guests don’t go into.  No cars, no motorcycles, you walk everywhere.

Everything was INCREDIBLY expensive…but I had a plan:  Eat as much food as I can possibly fit in my face hole at the included breakfast buffet (which went until 10:00).  Lay in the sun, fall asleep in a coconut pancake induced food coma and get sunburned.  Wake up and rent snorkel equipment for $14/day and snorkel on the reef outside my room and sunburn the whole back of my body since I only managed to get the front while I was drooling on myself/sleeping after breakfast.  Walk around the entire island, alone, (only took 45 minutes) while all the honeymooners stare judgementally at me.  Do that again.  Take a shower, eat a Clif bar and watch BBC news have a jolly good meldown about the birth of the royal baby.  Watch the staff feed fish guts to a bunch of sting rays and smile awkwardly at me while they try to deduce where my husband was and who left whom at the alter.  Go to the bar and buy one drink for $17 (at happy hour price, obvi) so I could eat 3 bowls of free banana chips.  Sleep for 10 hours straight.  Repeat X3.  This place was so beautiful, it never got old.  Although, one day I did go on a boat trip to another island for my daily snorkelling/sunburning activity.  The guide talked to me, as I was the only person without a spouse, and was surprised when I asked about Maldivian culture because apparently no one had ever given a shit about it on any of his other trips in the last 7 years.  I guess when you go on your honeymoon, your brain temporarily melts out of your head and gets replaced with those little paper umbrellas.  So that was a little disappointing to hear, but whatever, at least I was the one whitey this guy had ever met that actually cared about his culture.  Either that or I was the only solo female traveller on a small paradise island and he wanted to try his luck…

Anyway, this post is kind of short because that is literally all I did and it was awesome.  Photos can describe it much better and also provide you with a new desktop backgroud at your depressing office, sorry had to say it, and if you’re offended it’s cause you know I am right. Smiley face.  So check out the video I made of my photos (anyone who can guess where the theme song is from had an equally nerdy childhood).  Here are a few of my favorites:

Hello paradise

Hello paradise

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

The ocean was my husband on this trip so we color coordinated

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

This is an actual photo of where I lived for 3 days

Where's Gilligan?

Where’s Gilligan?

My day's find

My day’s find

Time for re-thatching

Time for re-thatching

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

There were a lotta selfies on this trip

Categories: Beach, Maldives, Paradise, Snorkeling, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Sri Lanka

DSC_1551

Oh Sri Lanka, that’s interesting.  So,why did you go there?  A lot of people ask me this question when I tell them I went to Sri Lanka.  It’s unfortunate because it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been.  Maybe the fact that no one sees any particular reason to go there is why it’s still so awesome and not overrun with neon tank-topped backpackers.  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no better than anyone else, I didn’t really have any intentions of going there either.  When I was booking my flight to the Maldives (more later), everything transferred through Colombo so I thought, oh what the hell, I’ll spend a couple days there and see what it’s all about.

Sri Lankan Rupees

Sri Lankan Rupees

Since I had such a short amount of time (only 2 full days) I splurged and booked a private tour so that I could maximize my time.  And when I say splurge, I mean I spent $300 for a veteran, fluent English speaking guide/driver, 3 nights in a hotel, food, and all transportation.

I was as grumpy as this eggplant man

I was as grumpy as this Sri Lankan eggplant man

Things got off to a bit of a rocky start when I arrived at the airport in Bangkok and Sri Lankan airlines told me that my 7:30 PM flight (which I was confirmed on and checked in to) was full, sorry, but they could put me on a flight at 11AM the next day.  Um, what?  That wasn’t going to work at all since Raveen was supposed to pick me up at the airport at 10:00PM that night and drive an hour to the beach town, Negombo.  Basically, Sri Lankan decided to change to a smaller plane and as a result 20+ people got bumped.  I put away my recently acquired Thai sensibilities and went American on them.  I stole so many faces at the airport.  But, long story short, I got on a 10PM flight that night, which still disrupted my plans, but only by a few hours.  A pregnant lady wasn’t allowed to fly and I’m convinced that since I made the biggest scene at the airport, they gave me her seat because they probably just wanted to get me the F outta there.

I arrived in Colombo without any other problems and Raveen picked me up.  He was a 50ish year old, smiling Sri Lankan guy and he was really friendly.  Since it was just going to be the two of us for 2 days, the 14 passenger van that the tour company provided us seemed like a good, economical transportation choice.

Tuk-tuks for all

Tuk-tuks for all

The next morning we got an early start.  We had a long trip ahead of us to Dambulla, a town in the middle of the country.  The long drive was cool, I got a chance to see a lot of stuff.  The whole 7 hour trip was on a 2 lane road; about 30% of the time we were in the correct lane.  There are also more tuk-tuks in this country than I have ever seen anywhere.  For a developing country, Sri Lankans have an amazing appreciation for nature, unlike I’ve seen anywhere else.  Everything was so green and lush. We drove past textile factories, brick factories, rubber plantations, and small towns and there was no scarcity of trees.  It was also a holiday and every 10 miles or so, there was a group of people with flags and whistles giving out free food and drinks.

Modern meets colonial

Modern meets colonial

We got to the hotel around 2:00 and Raveen told me to meet him at 4:00 and we would go see elephants.  I totally forgot what my itinerary was for the trip and when he told me this, honestly I was kind of like, oh great, this is going to be one of those “let’s take the white person to see some elephants chained to trees and feed them bananas” situations.  I decided to get an Ayurvedic massage during my 2 hour break and it was relaxing and not painful which was a nice change from Thai massage.

Family photo

Family photo

At 4:00 I headed to “see the elephants” and I was not excited.  That sounds very spoiled of me, but I have already done the elephant thing in Thailand like half a dozen times, and while it is cool to see them up close, I didn’t come all the way to Sri Lanka to do the same thing I could do 2 hours from Bangkok.

This elephant has 5 legs

This elephant has 5 legs

Wow, I was totally wrong.  This was a safari.  We drove through a national park for several hours on dirt paths and I saw probably close to 100 wild elephants.  Despite still being endangered, Sri Lanka has the only growing elephant population in the world.  They were in big herds in open fields hanging out and eating grass and making funny noises.  I saw some tromping through the forest ripping off tree branches and just chowing down.  They eat a lot. I also saw peacocks, water buffalo, monkeys, a not that exotic tree squirrel, lots of birds, and I ate some kind of delicious tree nut that a Sri Lankan guy gave me.  So unexpectedly awesome.

Me and Raveen

Me and Raveen

DSC_0757

The king of coconuts

On the way back to the hotel, I wanted to drink one of the ubiquitous orange coconuts that are for sale everywhere.  They are aptly calle King Coconuts, and they are appropriately huge and golden.  I had to pee about 10 minutes later.  One of the things I will miss most about the tropics is the ability to buy a coconut for 50 cents, get it hacked open horror movie style with a butcher’s knife and drink it on the street, as opposed to going to Whole Foods to buy an 8 oz. bottle for $5.

nom nom nom nom nom

nom nom nom nom nom

That night I ate lots of Sri Lankan food at the dinner buffet.  The chefs were all surprised at me because A: I was a woman travelling alone, and B: because I passed by the big vats of Macaroni and Cheese and went for the small pots of delicious, spicy Sri Lankan foods.  I couldn’t believe how many foreigners just ate pasta and Chicken Piccata and bread.  What the hell is the point of coming here??  Whatever, more for me.

Girls going to school

Girls going to school

The next day was kind of a mish mash of different activities.  We were generally centered around Kandy, which is an important religious city in the center of the island.  The “Temple of the Tooth” is located here which is supposed to house one of Buddha’s teeth.  Apparently the monks at the temple have been corrupted and charge lots of money now to enter the complex, so I was ok skipping that.

Downtown Kandy

Downtown Kandy

Cocaine

Cocaine

We went to a spice garden first.  The central part of the country is like a Garden of Eden for spices.  The gardens are all regulated by the government and you drive down the road and they are all numbered.  Like they just have a big sign in front that says “16”.  Raveen was surprisingly open about the fact that anything I buy here, he gets a kick back for.  It’s something that is always assumed by the saavy tourist, but there was something refreshing about him telling me straight up instead of pretending like he didn’t.  They grew so many things: nutmeg, rubber, jack fruit, cinnamon, peppercorn, rose something, something else, another thing, and cocaine but they said they don’t produce enough to make it illegal.  Then I got another massage, this one for free, with a special Red Oil.  After the tour, I’ll just say that Raveen’s honesty with me from the beginning paid off for him, pun intended.

Dig in

Dig in

The next stop was really cool.  Many people know that there are huge textile factories in Sri Lanka.  When a company like Polo has shirts made, they produce roughly 110% of what is required so that if there are defects, it’s like an insurance policy.  However, if the order is perfect, that extra 10% gets offloaded into the local market basically at cost.  So we skipped over some of the touristy stuff on our itinerary to go to Raveen’s buddy’s house to shop, both of us.  We took the massive van down a way too small back alley and wedged it in between a rock wall and a tree and went shopping.  I got like $500 worth of clothes (at retail) for like $25.  It almost beats the Nantucket Dump prices.

Progression of how a Batik is made

Progression of how a Batik is made

Elephants in progress

Elephants in progress

I wanted to see a Batik factory so we went there next.  Batiks are cloth paintings made with wax.  They paint with hot wax, then dye the cloth, peel the wax, paint again, dye the cloth again, peel the wax etc.  I remember doing something similar when I was like 7, but the stuff these women were making was amazing, way better than an elementary school student from Connecticut.  Sometimes they stitch gold thread into them when they are done.

Batik artist

Batik artist

After the Batiks, it was lunch time.  We drove into downtown Kandy and wandered around for a little while before going to a tourist trap restaurant just outside the city.  Despite not being local at all, I got a really awesome meal  of 9 different bowls of Sri Lankan food so that I could try everything.  I loved almost all of it except for the sardine paste.

Feast! ...for one....

Feast! …for one….

Photo I took while waiting for the car to start

Photo I took while waiting for the car to start

You may be thinking, wow, it seems like this trip went so smoothly except for the flight issue in Bangkok…  After lunch our trusty van wouldn’t start.  I am no mechanic, but I have spent enough time in the developing world that I know everyone around me inherently has more knowledge about how an engine works than 95% of mechanics in America, so I wasn’t too concerned.  I learned something new that day.  On a standard car, if you push it and pop the clutch it will start.  So 10 guys and a dog showed up out of nowhere, literally, we were in the forest on the top of a mountain, and pushed the car through the dirt parking lot while I helpfully stood and watched.  Well, that didn’t work.  So I learned something else new that day.  If you push a large van down a mountain and pop the clutch, it will start.  Voila, we were back in business and on our way to a tea plantation.

Fresh tea leaves

Fresh tea leaves

DSC_0816The Geragama Estate produces what is known worldwide as Ceylon Tea and has done so for over 100 years.  They grow the tea, ferment it, and package it at this estate in the mountains outside of Kandy.  I took a walk around and then sat and drank tea in a colonial-esque wooden room.  The tea was flavored with 19th century British imperialism with undertones of Portugese occupation.  There are several different types of tea that range in quality.  In this particular area, they grow mostly black tea.  By the way, the van was on the whole time, sitting outside of the factory.  We asked a local guy to make sure no one stole it or any of the stuff inside.  Thanks bro.

That was pretty much the end of my whirlwind tour.  My only regret is that I didn’t have more time.  I know that I only saw a fraction of all the amazing things this small country has to offer.  It has everything that a mega tourism destination requires, minus the tourists, so go while you can, before the neon tank tops get there.

OMG ELEPHANTS!! - was basically my reaction

OMG ELEPHANTS!! – was basically my reaction

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Things I will not miss (America version)….

Let me begin by saying, I love America.  While it’s tough to compete with Thailand (the land of ass hoses and lazy gym goers), I still think America is the best place in the world despite its flaws, of which there are many (FoxNews?).  With that being said, when you spend a significant time abroad, you view your home country in a totally new light.  The following is a list of things that always annoyed me when I was living in America, but became so much more pronounced when I went home over the holidays.

Frostbite will ensue.

Frostbite will ensue.

1. The concept of “Wind Chill Factor”. I actually completely forgot about this weather term while living abroad.  When I was in Chicago, there was a day when the high was -15 degrees Farenheit (-26C).  That’s pretty f-ing cold to begin with, but when Al tells me that it’s going to be -53 with wind chill…?? WTF.  The liquid in my eyeballs was literally freezing so I had to pull my scarf up over my eyes and walk blindly down the street which was covered in ice. Good thing I had health insurance…not.

2. Snow/Cold Hysteria, especially in the city. I think people watch too much apocalyptic, “end of the world” programming these days.  The media certainly doesn’t help by naming every snow storm and cold snap something that triggers people to hysterically prepare for the second coming of Christ.  I’ve managed to survive Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, a Polar Vortex and something in January called “Hercules”.  If the end of the world comes in the form of snowflakes rather than fire raining down from the heavens and a bearded, Jewish ghost judging the living and the dead, then I am pretty fucking happy.  What ever happened to just: Winter.  In winter it’s cold and snowy, that is not news.  In the near future when it stops being cold and snowy in January, well then that is news.  Also, in the US (not counting Alaska) when has it ever been so cold or so snowy that the average, non-Rascal riding person couldn’t go out to get food?  Like once every 15 years.  And on those very rare days, do these people really not have ANY food in their houses to sustain them for 24-36 hours?? Then why do all the grocery stores look like they’ve been looted?  There can’t possibly be that many handicapped and or elderly people clearing out all the shelves in the grocery store in preparation for a 4 inch snowfall.  Worst case scenario Americans, if you don’t have any food and you are too lazy to shovel your front steps to get outside, you can survive off the blubber you’ve been storing up for the last 20 years for this exact situation; God knows you have plenty of it.

My favorite Thai food - This is 4 times the portion size that I get in Thailand

My favorite Thai food – This American portion is 4 times the  size that I get in Thailand

3. Celebration of obesity.  I am sick of hearing about people who are obese being raised up on a pedestal and regarded as a good example for young people because of their “confident, I don’t care what anyone thinks about me attitude”.  I am NOT saying that it is ok to be cruel or mean to someone who is overweight, or to anyone for that matter.  But it is even less OK to elevate fat people (yes, fat people, not curvy, not big boned – fat) to a place where they are regarded as “role models”, UNLESS they are making changes to get healthy. To tell children and other people that it is ok to be overweight and it’s the person inside who really matters is exactly the same as telling people it’s ok to smoke 2 packs a day if you are a kind person with a good heart.  Health and personality are two totally separate things and someone’s obesity and the dangerous health effects associated with it should not be excused because they are nice and baked you cookies.  If your friends smoke, you tell them they gotta quit smoking and it’s totally normal and fine.  If your friends are fat, you should be able to tell them they gotta lose some weight and get healthier without looking like a total bitch.  This concept is VERY uncomfortable for us, and even as I am writing it, I feel uncomfortable.

So much charm.

So much charm.

4. Public Transportation. The El is so charming.  Look at all that charm strewn all over the floor and seats.  The NY subway is also so charming, especially when I saw a homeless, black-out drunk man start dancing in front of a guy playing the trumpet at Union Station and then slip in a puddle (of pee?) and break his fall with his forehead, on a vertical I-beam.  American individualism and independent attitude is a great thing in many ways.  However, the lack of “we’re in this together” mentality that Asian cultures seem to have nailed means that, unlike American public transit, their trains are not covered in garbage, feces and vomit.  They don’t smell like urine and they are not a make-shift shelter for homeless people.  In fact, the trains in Bangkok, many places in Europe and even in Cameroon (despite being old and life threateningly dangerous) are some of the nicest, most well taken care of places to go in the city.  If Thomas the Tank Engine were American, and not British, he’d have a black eye, be covered in gang graffiti and probably be drunk.

So thanks America, it was great to come home and see you, but I am just not that into you right now.  I’m going to go back to Bangkok now where it is Tropicpacalypse every day.

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Things I Won’t Miss…

I love Thailand.  In fact, most of what I write about on here is about how great it is.  However, on the eve of my return to America (for 3 weeks), I want to reflect on the things in Thailand that I will not miss.  Not even a little bit.  If I never had to deal with/see any of these things ever again, I would be happy, but I know they will all be awaiting me upon my return in January. I’m sure just to even out the fact that I won’t have to encounter any of this stuff for 3 weeks, I will probably have to deal with no fewer than 3 of these things on my first day back, triggering a reverse, reverse culture shock meltdown.

10 Things I won’t miss:

hose

Mine enemy.

1. The slip and slide on the womens’ bathroom stall floor caused by the ubiquitous Thai ass hose.  You don’t want to use toilet paper?  Fine. But could you at least exercise some control when using the hose so that I don’t have to step in whatever you hosed off your butt?  This thing is so gross in so many ways.  I just can’t even….

2. Taking, at minimum, 8 minutes to order/attempt to order one cheese pizza on the phone.  I say “attempt” because only about 60% of these missions end in success.  Sometimes when nearing minute number 7 of explaining that I just want a cheese pizza (not seafood supreme or hot dog explosion), the person taking my order will say “Chee pizza finit” – which means, we’re all out of cheese pizza.  As an American, imagine this scenario occurring over an 8 minute phone call.  Feel my pain.

3. Paying a significant amount in taxes and still being charged a “foreigner” fee at national monuments/attractions because I am white.  Ok, I am willing to meet Thai people halfway on this one and say that maybe it’s ok to charge tourists more because they don’t pay taxes here.  Fine, that’s reasonable.  However, when I am charged this fee and I am paying more taxes than the majority of Thai citizens, and my expat friends of Asian descent get to walk in for free because they are Asian, I get mad.

Please put your hand in this water to use the scoop to "flush"

Please put your hand in this water to use the scoop to “flush”

4. Squat toilets.  And the people who say “oh they’re not that bad”.  I’m not sure which thing annoys me more. I think the latter because there is no way that standing precariously on the edge of wet, polished porcelain, often when drunk, while trying not to pee on your feet or soak your clothing in standing “water” or accidentally slip and end up with your foot in the hole is “not that bad”.  It’s pretty F-ing bad.

5. Being literally twice the size of most adult women (and many men) despite wearing a US size 4/6 and then having those same women say to me “I so fat! I need to lose my weight”.  I take solace in knowing that part of the reason I am bigger is because I have muscles, that I could use to punch those women in the face with.

I'm not kidding, I couldn't use this machine because the sad bear was using it

I’m not kidding, I couldn’t use this machine because the sad bear was using it

6. Going to the gym to do a real workout while Thai people hog all of the equipment and literally do nothing with it except take photos to put on Facebook.  Thai food is not forgiving to the waistline of Western women, but Thai girls can eat it like Kobayashi and not gain an ounce.  So I find myself at the gym cursing them while they walk at a .5 on the treadmill and I try to jumping-jack away the green curry.

7. Saying the phrase “I just want a god damn sandwich!” after trying for 40 minutes to find one that isn’t – A: prepackaged Wonderbread and mayonnaise, B: prepackaged Wonderbread and tuna (?) or C: prepackaged Wonderbread and some kind of brown paste.

Waiting to use their phones until they get in the stalls

Waiting to use their phones until they get in the stalls

8. Having to pee really badly and waiting 5 minutes for each Thai girl in front of me in the bathroom line to update her facebook status then take, edit and post a selfie from inside one of the two bathroom stalls.  Besides spraying the ass hose everywhere, this is the only other logical explanation for what’s going on in there. 

9. People not knowing who Adolf Hitler was or thinking he was just a “bad army guy” or even worse (yes this is true), that he is a comic book villain like Doctor Octopus.  I’m not sure if this is more annoying or frightening.  When I tell my students to choose someone famous and tell the class about them, someone always chooses Hitler; and then proceeds to talk about how he was the president of Germany and other benign facts, with no mention of the Holocaust.  Geez, no one ever gives that guy credit for all the positive stuff he did.

10. My archenemies – Bangkok taxi drivers, for so so so many reasons.  Even Thai people will agree with me on this one.  It is illegal to refuse a ride to someone, apparently, unless you are a taxi driver.  They have perfected a look of disgust that they use when they refuse to take me to where I want to go that would be appropriate to use if I were telling them that I just shit my pants and want to sit in their cab, not that I want to go 10 minutes down the street.  I’m not even going to get started on how they shamelessly rip off everyone, even Thai people.  I saw an article recently from hotels.com, that ranked Bangkok’s taxis as #8 in the world, and my immediate reaction was, oh there must have only been 8 cities surveyed.

Let me first say this again: I love Thailand. Secondly, I am aware that all Thai people are not like this, just like all Americans aren’t fat, but we are all loud.  If these are my biggest gripes, I’m in a pretty good place.  Don’t feel left out America, I will be doing the same for you in 3 weeks upon my return to the Land of Smiles and 8 minute pizza ordering.

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Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

As an American, the idea that “Bigger is Better” is the number one most important thing I think about every day.  So, it was no surprise that I thought Angkor Wat was

Heyyyyyyyy, sexy lady

Heyyyyyyyy, sexy lady

awesome because it is the largest religious monument in the world; we should relocate it to Texas.  Angkor Wat was built by a Khmer King in the 12th century, originally as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu.  The Khmer empire was the largest pre-industrial empire in SE Asia, but I’m sure everyone already learned that in their history classes.  Incidentally, the Angkorian Empire was brought down when the Ayutthayans (see previous entry) sacked the city in the 15th century.  Over the years, the religious observation of the people in the Khmer empires changed.  As a result, Angkor Wat is now recognized as a Theravada Buddhist temple.  Luckily for the historical sites, when the Khmer Rouge were in power in the 1970’s and during the subsequent civil war, there was not a great deal of damage done to the 1000+ temples.  They were too busy committing unimaginable crimes against humanity.

I first learned about Angkor Wat in an art history class at Miami, and I remember distinctly when I was sitting in that class thinking, “Man, I am so hungover right now, thank God we are learning about something interesting”.  I had a few days off from teaching and my sister Meg was visiting, so she, my friend John and I headed via bus to Siem Reap.

As some people know, I have a tendency to faint when I am standing for 1 hour+ in really hot areas (i.e. waiting in line for roller coasters).  When it came time to cross the border into Cambodia and I saw that line of people, I knew exactly what was going to happen to me in about 55-65 minutes.  I almost made it.  When I got to the counter to get my passport stamped, I was literally holding on to the finger print machine so that I wouldn’t fall.  My eyes were half blacked out as the guy was asking me what my intentions were.  After we got through all that biznass, I crouched down in front of the counter so that I wouldn’t completely lose it and I think he was very surprised to only see a set of fingers gripping the edge of the counter when it came time to return my passport.  On the plus side, I didn’t completely black out (only about 75%) and I’m sure I gave all those bored people waiting in line something to talk about.  One of the guards offered me some kind of smelling liquid with Chinese symbols on it, but I politely declined and headed back to the bus.

How is this a good idea?

How is this a good idea?

At the border, there are lots of casinos.  Poi Pet, the border town is like no man’s land.  Unfortunately, since my brain was melting out of my head, I couldn’t go in, but Meg and John had a chance to go gamble some Bahts and came out with a significant win of about 60 cents.  We continued through the countryside of Cambodia on our way to Siem Reap and I noticed that it was significantly, but not surprisingly less developed than Thailand.  When we got there we took a Tuk Tuk to our hotel.  It seems like every city has a different style of Tuk Tuk and so far, Siem Reap has the most death defying version.  It’s literally a motorcycle with a hitch welded on to it and it tows a cart that seats 4 people.  So safe.

The beginning of the end.

The beginning of the end.

After checking in to the hotel, we went to Pub Street which is the main nightlife road.  The food was delicious and draft beers were only 50 cents, and since Cambodia’s currency is worth shit, they take USDs everywhere.  We were well prepared with a stack of Washingtons.  We also got a fish foot massage.  Fish eating skin off your feet for 30 minutes is a strange sensation.  Since I still felt impaired from my fainting spell, I thought it best not to drink, but Meg and John carried the torch…

Massage + can of beer

until 3:23 AM when I woke up to both of them spooning me at the same time.  I reminded them that the alarm was going to go off in 36 minutes because we were going to meet our guide to take us to Angkor Wat at sunrise.  I think John got 12 minutes and Meg got about 30.

I want some of what he's on.

I want some of what he’s on.

At 4:30, we were greeted by our guide.  Robin Hood.  That was his name.  He had an unbelievable amount of cheer and energy and every time he said Angkor Wat, he said ANGKOR WAAAAAAT! in a loud cartoonish voice.  I think maybe he had been a little bit rattled over the years.  He was a child during the Khmer Rouge rule and was then in the army during the civil war.  The Khmer Rouge separated children from parents so that the children wouldn’t try to get revenge for whatever happened to their parents and then used the children to carry out torture.  About his time in the army he just said, “We had to just keep shooting because if we weren’t shooting them, they were shooting us”.  Now, he’s a teacher and a tour guide to support his family.  The English in Cambodia was excellent compared to Thailand.  Robin Hood spoke very well and we met several other people who had been taught by Peace Corps volunteers.

The herd

The herd

Upon arrival to Angkor Wat at 5:00 AM, I had a better understanding of what a million tourists a year breaks down to on a daily basis.  The one thing that was kind of disappointing about the trip was the number of tourists.  The sun rose over the main temple like a giant red ball in the sky.  It was pretty cool to see, and unfortunately my lack of photography skills prevented me from capturing it, but I won’t forget it.  Robin Hood took us all around the temple and explained different carvings and buildings to us.  The temple is covered in Apsara dancers (because of it’s Hindu origin) and they are all different.  There are also amazing bas reliefs of big battles and important religious events.

Work it girl.

Work it girl.

Our last stop was the top level of the temple which now represents Nirvana.  We had to be covered to go up there so John and I went first and checked it out.  There was a really peaceful lady monk singing at one of the small shrines which was quickly ruined by obnoxious Russian tourists yelling about getting her photo.  I came down and gave Meg my extra shirt so she could check it out and John comfortably fell asleep on a rock.

Am I in a movie?

Am I in a movie?

When we were finished with the main complex, Robin Hood hiked us through the jungle to the Ta Prohm complex.  It used to be a university and is also where parts of

The jungle is hungry.

The jungle is hungry.

Tomb Raider were filmed.  We did not see Angelina, but we did see many trashy looking Russians posing like her for photos.  They love to pose, I don’t get it.  This was probably my favorite site.  The buildings were significantly more ruined because they had been constructed more hastily than Angkor Wat.  There were Banyan trees growing out of the tops of several of them and piles and piles of ruined stone.  Robin Hood had us climb over them to get to other areas which I am sure is not in line with any sustainable tourism standards but, meh.  Some areas had been restored, but most of the former university was being eaten up by the jungle.

Legend of the Hidden Temple

Legend of the Hidden Temple

Narcissism to the max.

Narcissism to the max.

Our next stop was the temple of faces called Angkor Thom.  At the entrance to this complex, there is a large gate with a 4 sided face tower and balustrades supported by Naga (the snake god) and demons and humans playing tug of war.  By this point, Meg was about 95% dead so she stayed in the Tuk Tuk and chatted with the driver while John and I made one last push to see this temple.  It was really cool.  The highlight of this building were the many 4 sided towers with all different faces of the narcissistic king that built it carved into them.  Robin Hood had drank a Red Bull so his energy level was reaching cocainic proportions but the rest of us were exhausted so we hopped back in our death cart and went back to our hotel for nap time.

Faces everywhere

Faces everywhere

Kermit is delicious.

Kermit is delicious.

We checked out the night market where I got some cool stuff and then went to have dinner at the same place as the night before.  We got some BBQ frogs which were delicious and more Khmer food.  Meg went back to the hotel but John and I stayed out for $2 foot massages.  He was on a 2AM bus back to Thailand, but Meg and I stayed until the next morning.

Our trip wound down fairly uneventfully except for when our bus drove in to on-coming traffic in Thailand on a 4 lane road.  In Cambodia they drive on the correct side of the street, but in Thailand they drive on the left.  I made it through the border without passing out which was a big victory.

We accomplished a lot in just 2 days.  We saw the largest temple in the world, ate some frog, spent USDs as legitimate currency on the other side of the world, all passed out from different causes and survived riding on the most dangerous machine I have ever encountered.

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Ayutthaya

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Test Your Might.  Excellent.  Kano, Liu Kang, Rayden, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub Zero, Sonja…. MORTAL KOMBAT!  Ever since I saw Liu Kang’s sweet moves and flowing locks, I’ve wanted to be transported to Outworld.  Just kidding, that would be weird.  BUT, before I went to Ayutthaya, I did some research and found out that this is where the 1995 masterpiece, Mortal Kombat, was filmed.

DSC_0577Ayutthaya was the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam and interestingly, it was the largest city in the world in 1700, not London or Paris.  It was the trading capital of Asia at the time and because of its contact with the Arab world and Europe it was arguably the largest trading city in the world.  Yet, most people have never heard of it because:

A: According to US history classes, history of white people is all that matters.  Except for the Ancient Egyptians, because they built cool shit and The Rock used to be their scorpion king.

B: Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in the late 1700’s and subsequently abandoned.  All that’s left are stone ruins of palaces and temples.

Rocket/Tuk tuk hybrid

Rocket/Tuk tuk hybrid

It’s only about an hour from Bangkok, so on one of my precious days off, my friend Bom and I got in a van for $2 and headed out of town.  When we got there, we hired a rocket ship/tuk tuk to take us around for the day.

The town has been repopulated, but the ruins were declared a UNESCO world heritage site so they have been largely preserved.  Although, you could easily still climb all over them if you wanted to.  The modern town is interesting because since the former city was so large, the modern buildings co-exist with the ancient ones.  We’d be driving down the street and a business would be built next to the ruins of a small temple.  The more expansive temple/palace sites had larger “grounds” surrounding them though.

Where's Johnny Cage?

Where’s Johnny Cage?

Tree hungry.  Tree want eat Buddha.

Tree hungry. Tree want eat Buddha.

At one of the temples, there is a Buddha head that is slowly being swallowed by the roots of a large tree.  I imagine that if I go back to Ayutthaya someday, I probably won’t see it again.  That tree is hungry for Buddha.  There is also a huge reclining Buddha statue draped in an orange cloth.  He’s real sleepy.

How dare he show me the bottoms of his feet.  Rude.

How dare he show me the bottoms of his feet. Rude.

After checking out the ruins, we went to a floating market.  They had a theater there where actors portrayed the brutal sack of the city by the Burmese.  I mean, the attack was unquestionably terrible.  Innocent people were killed, raped and enslaved, but as an outsider, the play was the one of the best examples of propaganda I’ve ever seen.  They must have taken lessons from American war movie producers.

I hope that elephant tramples you.

I hope that elephant tramples you.

One thing that really pissed me off was the ivory section.  Because of the time I spent with Meg in Cameroon, I’ve read a fair amount about how their elephants are being slaughtered so that ivory can be sold in Asian markets.  But this was the first time I’d actually seen it and it really shocked me.  I was just gawking and the sales people were saying to me “real, real, special price for you”.  In a very un-Thai like way, I gave them my best scowl and just said “This is awful.  So bad.”

After trolling the market and “zoo” for a little while, we decided to head back home.  To complete the full cultural experience, we sat in traffic for over 3 hours.  The ancient Ayutthayans probably could have walked back to Bangkok faster.

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Categories: Ayutthaya, Ruins, Thailand, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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