Posts Tagged With: Travel

Indonesia – Round 1

Balinese Dancers

Balinese Dancers

My first trip to Indonesia came after a week spent in Malaysia, and yes they are different countries. I had spent 10 days hiking in national parks, sleeping on a wood floor under a mosquito net and drinking tribal moonshine while wearing a feathered hat, and even though all of that was totally awesome, I was ready for a little bit of beach (even though I hate sand) and relaxation.

Fishermen in Lombok

Fishermen in Lombok

My first stop on this trip was an island called Lombok. Upon arrival to the small airport, I was the last one through immigration because my ATM card wouldn’t work to take out money for my visa, unsurprising but still annoying. I walked out of the airport and was immediately bombarded by no fewer than 20 guys frothing at the mouth, yelling at me for a taxi. Nope, I’m over it. Several years living in the developing world and I’m finished putting up with this nonsense. So, I just put my hands up, football referee touchdown style and yelled “STOP, ALL OF YOU STOP! [and they actually shut up] Who can give me the cheapest taxi?” Let the auction begin. They continued yelling, but now it was a bidding war.  200, beach is so far madam, 175 I have nice car, 150 I carry your bag now ok?, 125 you very beautiful, 110 is best price, 75 ok? Sold.  I got the price down to less than half of the original fare. I don’t know if it was actually a good deal, but it seemed fair to me, 6 bucks. In the end I got a really nice young guy who was clearly new to the game and spoke excellent English.

Outriggers

Outriggers

DSC_0802I got a (cheap) little resort right on the water and parked it on a lounge chair (not in the sand) to read my book. This was the closest to the equator I have ever been, and my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere. Lombok taught me one very important lesson: the sun near the equator is really, really, really intense. I got the worst sunburn I have ever gotten in my life after just a couple hours outside. Besides that minor mis-calculation which resulted in me having to sleep flat on my back and not move for 3 nights, I enjoyed my brief stay here. Lots of fishermen, surfers and very aggressive sarong vendors.

My next stop was one of the Gili Islands. There are 3 small islands off the northeast coast of Bali/northwest coast of Lombok. There are no motorized vehicles on any of them and they are absolutely beautiful. Since I was not on my honeymoon, two of the islands did not interest me because I have already been the weird single person on the honeymoon island eating unlimited bowls of banana chips at the bar (see: Maldives). So I headed to the island where this boat was headed:

Bintang Express

Bintang Express

Shell Art

Shell Art

In case you’re unfamiliar, Bintang is the local brew. I met my friend Kate on Gili Trawangan to spend a few days in party beach paradise. We stayed in a really cool hostel which gave us free beer and free bed bugs. I’m highly allergic to these vampiric little monsters so I was soon covered in oreo-sized welts. The worst sunburn combined with the most maddening itching ever is awwwwwesome. But, the postcard perfect beach and the Bintang were a good antidote from my extreme physical discomfort.

This was the most covered up I could get from the sun with the clothes I had

This was the most covered up I could get from the sun with the clothes I’d brought

We rented fins and masks from some guy and spent a day in the water. Gili T has great snorkeling right off the beach. I didn’t care how much worse I would sunburn my skin, I was going to see a turtle god damnit. And I did. A lot of them. Unfortunately, in most easily accessible (ahem, tourist) areas of SE Asia, the reefs are all dead and snorkeling off the beach is a depressing reminder of how it’s all over. On Gili T, there is still some mostly alive stuff to see.

TURTLE!

TURTLE!

Photo taken from a safe distance

Photo taken from a safe distance

Since there are no cars or motos, horse drawn carriages are everywhere in the town. I soon found out that I spook the horses for some reason.  Whenever I walked past one of them, despite having blinders on, they would violently swing their head towards me and chomp their teeth.  I’m sure I’m probably incriminating myself right now, because “animals know the truth”. I always like a good story, but going to a developing world island “hospital” for a horse bite just didn’t seem worth it, so I quickly learned to avoid these guys.

After a couple days of sun, sand and weird backpackers with gross beards, I took the ferry to Bali en route to Ubud. The best word I can use to describe Bali is magical. BUT, you can only really get that feeling if you head away from the packed tourist hot spots along the beaches and get into the center of the island, Ubud.  So that’s what I did.

I woke up to this every morning.

I woke up to this every morning.

Usually I am a psycho planner with my trips.  Before I leave, I have everything booked and at the very least a plan of where I am going to be on which day. I’m not so psycho that I have things planned out to the hour, although just thinking about it doing that makes me very happy, but I recognize my organizational psychosis problem so I have to actively try to stop my planning before I totally go off the deep end and have plan A, B and C for every minute of the day. However, for some reason on this trip, I didn’t book my Bali accommodations and on Gili T, the internet sucked. There is nothing that makes me more anxious than the “show up and find a place” mentality so I asked Bom to just book me a place on Agoda (a hotel website) for 2 nights that had good reviews. He followed my exact instructions, which didn’t include a price… I was furious when I found out the place was $60 a night. Luckily for him, it turned out to be my favorite place that I have EVER stayed and honestly a reason to go back to Bali, which I have done, twice. The place is called By Dorry and it’s a bed and breakfast right in the middle of rice paddies outside the city. It was designed by an artist and is run by her daughter. The bottom line is that I woke up in the most serene, peaceful place and had a great breakfast before heading out for the day. I immediately knew I wanted to come back.

Tirta Empul

Tirta Empul

I only had one full day there so obviously rather than relaxing, I packed it full of activities. My first stop was to a water temple called Tirta Empul where people go for ritual purification. Bali is different from the rest of Indonesia in that it is primarily Hindu (not Muslim), but it’s a very unique kind of Hinduism that really only exists here. The architecture, statues, flower arrangements and jungle flora make the whole place seem like something out of a movie.

Morning Prayer

Morning Prayer

The driver for By Dorry is SUPER friendly and we got up early to drive to the town of Tampaksiring. We stopped along the way so I could see the rice terraces and some of the countryside. When we arrived at the temple, I had to tie a yellow sash around my waist before I could enter. And pay the white person fee… 

Tirta Empul

Tirta Empul

In addition to all sorts of moss covered Balinese statues, the temple has an underground spring that feeds a series of spouts where people go to wash away sins and get blessings. The complex isn’t huge, so it was easy to walk around in an hour or so. Since I had a full day ahead of me and since I always feel a little uncomfortable and sometimes disrespectful doing ritualistic things for a religion that I am not a part of, which is basically all religion, I sat back and observed what was going on around me. People get into the pool and stop at each station to pray. Sometimes they leave an offering above a particular station depending on what they are praying for.

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Patient 0

Going early in the morning was key because after an hour, the place was PACKED with tour groups. As I was about to leave, an Indonesian woman approached me and asked “photo?” I thought she wanted me to take a photo of her and her group. Wow. Was I wrong. What I agreed to set of an uncontrollable spiral of photos and I learned that I never, ever, ever want to be famous. After I took a photo with her, her friend wanted one, then another woman from the group, then some dude, then the crowd started to form… Pretty soon there were 50+ Indonesian people taking photos of the white girl. I hadn’t experienced this in Lombok or Gili so I didn’t know what to expect, but after this moment, on all my future Indonesia trips, it happened. It was like the paparazzi, but much nicer. When I tried to leave, they followed me, taking photos while I turned around and smiled and waved. Eventually I shook them and was able to get outta there.

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Clear Cafe Salad

After the temple, I got dropped off in town to have lunch and wander around.  There is some really awesome shopping here, which I took fullllll advantage of. I also ate at a delicious place called Clear Cafe, which has subsequently burned down and changed locations. The town is filled with new-agey, yoga themed, organic, raw everything which was a nice change from my Bangkok brand name, consumerist mall life.

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Can you find the monkeys?

My afternoon activity was the Monkey Temple. This place is wacky and if I have ever felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, minus the tourists, this would be it.  I felt like I was supposed to find some kind of secret magical monkey amulet. The Monkey Temple is just that, a temple over run with monkeys and probably magic.

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Lady monkey picking bugs off her man

Even though they are wild, these monkeys have also become very accustomed to tourists so they will not run away if you approach them. Rather, they will be like where the F is my food, and then climb all over you and steal all your stuff and try to eat it. Turns out that monkeys are kind of a-holes. Monkey also get into the garbage and eat non-food items such as tape and paper towel rolls. They are not open to negotiation on this. They are going to eat it no matter what you do. I watched this mohawked monkey try to eat scotch tape for like 15 minutes; he was not interested in sharing.

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Good luck trying to find the end.

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Welcome to the afterlife?

There was also a cremation temple as part of the complex. Balinese Hindus have elaborate cremation ceremonies. Typically, they bury you for a certain number of days, depending on your status and then exhume your corpse and cremate it. This part of the temple had some pretty wild statues.

Further into the temple, there were some more statues that were just so cool.  Everything is covered in moss and vines and it is unlike any place I have ever been. There was a small river going through the temple, and this photo is the bridge over the river.

 

 

 

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Where’s Indy?

After more wandering, I found some other cool stuff.  I don’t have anything to write about it so I am just going to post the photos because I think they speak for themselves.

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Roar.

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Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.

 

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I took like 50 photos of this guy trying to get a good one.

After I had enough of these annoying monkeys, I walked back into town for dinner and then went to a (100% for tourists) Balinese dance show at the former Prince’s palace. I usually hate this kinda stuff, but it was totally worth it. The dancers were really made up, to the point where I had some trouble trying to figure out who were the men and who were the women. There was also a full gamelan orchestra. I only know what this is because I went to the Field Museum in Chicago and they had an orchestra on display from when they brought the “savages from Java” to play at the World’s Fair. Basically, it’s an orchestra of xylophones with drums and bells. When they perform, they open their eyes really big and use them as part of the dance. They move every part of their body with great precision. This was the perfect way to end my trip.

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This is a man.

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Not sure about this one…

My first trip to Indonesia just gave me a taste of some of the awesome things this country has to offer.  Stay tuned for Round 2…

Categories: Bali, Beach, Indonesia, Nature, Paradise, Snorkeling, South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

White Elephant Mountain – เขาช้างเผือก

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White Elephant mountain is the highest peak at Thong Pha Phum National Park on the western border of Thailand. I went there last year with some friends to do a really cool hike. The park is heavily protected and you can only hike for a couple months per year.  On top of that, they only allow 60 people per day on the trail and you must go with a military guide because it’s right on the border with Myanmar. It’s also VERY Thai; there is almost no information about it in English online.  In fact, it’s so Thai that when we got to the gate of the park, they didn’t know how to charge Neil and me to enter because the rangers had never had to deal with a foreigner.  The price was supposed to be higher for us, but they were so confused that we just got the Thai price.

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

Sunrise in Kanchanaburi

DSC_0547We spent the night outside of Kanchanaburi before entering the park and went to a little local market in the morning to watch the sunrise. The road to the park is really windy and dangerous with like one guard rail. To add to the danger factor, we let the guy with the least amount of driving experience (Bom) drive the car. The night before he hit some rail road tracks going about 75mph and kept the car in control when we landed on the other side, so we figured he could handle the switchbacks. Upon arrival, we paid our Thai entrance fee and stopped at the rangers’ station to get set up with a guide. I’m not really sure what happened here because it was all in Thai. I spent most of my time looking at the terrarium full of dead beetles and this diagram of footprints. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wild elephants or sun bears, probably because they are all dead.

Village

Village

Village girl

Village girl

We drove to the hillside village where we met our guide, porters and a couple other people who were in our group.  We saw our guide like three times on the whole hike because the other people in our group were so slow that we hiked away from them like 2 minutes into the trek.

Strongmen

Strongmen

We hired porters to carry our food, water, tents and sleeping stuff.  Technically we could have carried all of it ourselves, but when it’s like $15 for someone else to carry it up and down, it’s tough to turn down.  They also set up/broke down our tents. These guys were unbelievable.  They carried 50 kilos each (over 100 pounds) wearing a pair of old broken Crocs and did the whole thing in about half the time it took us.

We hiked through forest, grassland, tall reeds, and scrub.  The temperature was great and there was a nice breeze all day. It took us about 4 hours to hike up to our camp. In the picture you can see our camp in the small clearing on the bottom (with all the tents already set up by the porters) and the path up to the summit along the mountain ridge.

Camp at the base of the summit

Camp at the base of the summit

Happy hiker

Happy hiker

We took a short break at camp and took a nap since we’d only gotten about 4 hours the night before. We planned to hike to the summit to see the sun set. It’s hard to see from the picture, but on either side of that path, it is a steep drop off to either side, so it was fairly challenging.  There were also some sections that we had to climb up the rocks.  The guides had ropes tied up to the rocks so that made it easier.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing

The last part up to the summit was really steep and was all loose soil. Prim, Neil and I were fine, but Bom was wearing Converse with no tread.  For the parts that he wasn’t crawling on his hands and knees, the guide literally had to drag him through the dirt. That guy earned his fee on this section of the hike.

The little engine that could

The little engine that could

We got to the top right on time and were able to watch the sun set over the Thai/Burmese mountains.  It was so peaceful. Then it was time to hike back down to camp and cook dinner. Bom slid on his ass for most of the way, but we all got down safely.  I brought stuff to make s’mores. These things are so American, it was even a first for Neil.  I couldn’t find graham crackers, but I found something that was close enough.

Victory

Victory

Prim and I were fine in our tent, but they were definitely not made for someone Neil’s height so he had a rough night. We started the next day pretty early, and it was cold so it was nice to hike.  Luckily our only job was to wake up and go.  The porters took care of everything else, and then blew past us on the trail on the way back down.  The return trip was obviously way easier and only took about 2 hours.

Camp in the morning

Camp in the morning

This was a really cool experience and I definitely recommend it if you can figure out how the heck to get there and arrange it.

Wilderness

Wilderness

Categories: Camping, Hiking, Kanchanaburi, National Park, Nature, South East Asia, Thai Jungle, Thai Mountain, Thailand, Travel, Trekking | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vietnam

Eggshell Paintings

Eggshell Paintings

I think I should start this story from the real beginning which was at the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok.  I had to get my visa there and it was easy to find, because it is located across the street from the American Ambassador’s residence.  I don’t know if this placement was intentional or some kind of sick joke, but the Vietnamese Embassy is literally falling apart (like there were construction workers trying to put it back together) and across the street in America, behind an iron fence, it looks like the Garden of Eden.  Anyway, after I procrastinated until the last minute and got my visa, I was off.

My 3 conclusions about Vietnam:

1. America lost.

2. Vietnamese food is boring.

3. How is it possible for so many motorbikes to exist per square foot of road space?

Their horns are probably still on.

Their horns are probably still on.

I spent a week in Vietnam and had the opportunity to do and see a lot, or at least a lot of whatever the government controlled tourism industry would allow me to see.  I started in the capital, Hanoi (in the North for everyone that forgot their high school history lessons).  Upon arrival, I learned very quickly that the way to cross the street is to just walk at a slow pace and the sea of motorbikes will part.  It’s miraculous.  However, if you walk quickly, they seem to be attracted to you like moths to a flame and you will certainly die.  And I swear to God, they must have some kind of locking mechanism on their horns that just allows them to drive with the horn on, like how you would drive with headlights on.  Please imagine this scene in your mind and laugh.

Lanterns galore.

Lanterns galore.

My only remarkable meal.

My only remarkable meal.

Hanoi has an amazing old quarter that was built by the Frogs when they were the colonial power.  The architecture is French Colonial but the buildings are tired, overgrown with all sorts of tropical flora and decorated with lanterns, baskets and other bric-a-brac.  On my first day in Hanoi, I ate my only truly remarkable meal.  I went to a place called Cha Ca La Vong, which serves one dish: fish cooked in oil.  I hate fish, I usually avoid it, but this place was in my 1000 Things To See Before You Die book and I love to check things off the list, so I just went.  It was absolutely delicious.

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The definition of a square jaw

Caligrapher

Calligrapher

I wandered around the old quarter for a while learning the ways of the motorbikes.  In the center of the city, there is a big park with a lake (Hoan Kiem Lake) and a temple on a small island in the middle.  It’s called The Temple of the Jade Mountain and is dedicated to Taoist and Confucian principles.  I must have been there on portrait day or something because there were a ton of women taking photos.  They were all beautifully made up and were wearing long, traditional Vietnamese dresses.  It was very peaceful and you could feel the French influence in the park and street design.  I kept plodding along taking photos and just being a tourist.  I tried asking what was going on, but they couldn’t understand me so I just remained ignorant about this whole situation.

An exciting photo

An exciting photo

Next stop on my meandering, self guided tour was lunch.  I just went to a street vendor selling noodles.  They were fine.  This is how I would describe 95% of the Vietnamese food I ate.  It’s fine.  There isn’t much flavor and there is no spice.  It’s not bad, it’s not good.  It’s food that I can eat and it will keep me alive.  If American restaurants served Vietnamese food the way it is prepared in Vietnam, they would go out of business in a month.  The photo was the most exciting part of this meal.

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Scales of Fruit

In Hanoi, many of the roads are named after what they sell, or traditionally sold, on that particular road: basket road, lantern road, silk road, shirt road, meat road, vegetable road etc.  There are also lots of mobile vendors wheeling bicycles laden with fruits or carrying bars with baskets on either end.  A lot of people also wear these woven, triangle hats, which I thought were just a horrible, racist Asian stereotype, but turns out, the Vietnamese wear them for real, even in the city.  The local barbers just set up shop on a wall.  Literally, they have a chair on the sidewalk and a mirror and little table bolted into a cement wall.  I admit, I was tempted to get a trim just for the experience.

Just a little off the ends

Just a little off the ends

Portrait Day

Portrait Day

Up next was the Temple of Literature, where portrait day continued so you better believe I took full advantage of the chance to take a million photos like an obnoxious tourist. I think maybe it was graduation? I tried asking again, but no luck. I paid the obligatory white person fee and grumbled my way into the college/temple. The Temple of Literature was originally built about 1000 years ago as the first university in the kingdom and it’s dedicated to Confucius.  There are large tablets engraved with the names of people who passed the royal exams.

What's black and white and red all over?

What’s black and white and red all over?

At this point, I needed to start to wander my way back to the hotel because I had been walking in unguided circles almost all day.  I took a route through what I call propaganda park.  I’m sure it has a real name, but the giant statue of Lenin and large Vietnamese flags everywhere lent themselves to a more “state controlled everything” sort of name.

What a beautiful day.

What a beautiful day.

Day 2 was my Ha Long Bay day trip day.  Ha Long Bay is well known for its limestone karsts and picturesque scenery.  The tourism here is largely controlled by the government at it’s difficult not to go on a group/herd package tour, so that’s where I found myself.  I was picked up early by an oversize van and luckily since I was travelling alone I got a good single seat.  There were some enormous 50 year old Australian men that got on after me and had to sit on an aisle jump seat that was made for someone about the size of one of their legs…. for 4 hours…. on roads that were almost all under construction.

Duck Egg Smasher

Duck Egg Smasher

Our first obligatory tour bus stop was at a factory where disabled people work to make art and handicrafts for tourists. It’s definitely presented as a “we do this to help these people” factory but I couldn’t help but feel like it was a borderline slave labor operation set up purely to use the handicapped people for profit.  Nevertheless, they were amazingly talented craftspeople.  There were women smashing duck eggshells to make canvases, silk weavers and painters.

Seafood Delight

Don’t be fooled, there’s no flavor

On the way to Ha Long Bay, there were lots of big open air restaurants along the street with like 100 chairs at them, and no people. We probably drove past 200 of these places over the 4 hours, and I saw fewer than 10 customers.  On top of that, it seemed like there were just no people… anywhere, even in the big towns.  No one walking on the street, no vendors, nothing.  It was very odd, especially coming from Thailand where there are people all over the street.

S.S. Minnow

S.S. Minnow

We finally arrived around lunch time and were herded on to our boat for the 3 hour tour (not a Gilligan reference, it was literally a 3 hour tour).  They served us lunch, again it looked better than it tasted, and we started our government approved cruise.  Unfortunately, it was a pretty gray, drizzly day and since I was there in October, there was also a bit of a chill in the air.  But after spending a year living in 90+ heat everyday, some natural cool air was nice.  Also, my definition of chill has changed dramatically; now “a chill” means that it was below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The fog and drizzle made for a sort of mysterious, eerie scene. At the risk of sounding incredibly annoying, I will also say that the karsts weren’t super interesting to me because I’ve already seen the same thing in Thailand so the fact that the weather wasn’t great was ok.

Hey where do you think you're going??

Baby wants to go for a swim

Our first stop was a floating village with a population of about 100.  These are people who literally live in floating houses with the karsts towering above them for their whole lives.  There is a school and a little store and, of course, a government building. There was an option to paddle your own marginally seaworthy kayak, or to pay a small amount of Dong (yes that is the name of their currency, and the Dong jokes never get old) for a guy to row you around. I was on vacation and feeling like I didn’t want to sink, so I opted for the latter and hopped on a boat with this guy and his awesome helmet hat:

Vietnamese people wear great hats

Vietnamese people wear great hats

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Taking the kids out for a walk

When I got back to the raft/grocery store, our guide was smoking “Vietnamese tobacco” out of a giant bong.  He said it was very strong and offered me some, but I’ve watched too many episodes of Locked up Abroad and I feel like Vietnamese prison isn’t forgiving to Americans.

Apparently some of these islands are hollow and filled with caves.  That was our next stop; an awesome cave.  The cave, Dong Thien Cung, was discovered fairly recently and they have the whole inside lit up with colored lights so it is a really cool sight.  I haven’t been in a cave in a long time, so this was a nice treat, especially since I wasn’t expecting it.  It was nice to see something different.  I was there during the off season, so the herd was smaller.  Apparently during high season, it’s so full that you can barely walk.  If there were such things as cave fairies, this is where they would live.

Fairy pond

Fairy pond

That was all we did for the day tour.  Our junk boat cruised us back to the traditional Vietnamese tourist port and we took the van back to Hanoi, with a stop at another handicapped factory of course.  Halong Bay was definitely cool, but it’s a shame that the government controls so much because I have never felt like such a sheep.

Vegetables and brown water

Vegetables and brown water

I didn’t get back until around 8ish and I had to find my other hotel which was a huge pain in the ass because their Google pin wasn’t in the correct location so I literally walked back and forth down the same street like 7 times and was on the verge of losing my mind.  Oh “A Dong Hotel”, you were such a mystery.  Yes, I partially picked it because of the name, how could I not?  It turned out to be a good place and I went out and got some boiled vegetables for dinner.  So delicious.  Not.  I think these stir fried vegetables were literally just boiled in water with some oil.  There was no flavor at all, not even MSG.  But again, it sustained me which I guess is the purpose of food.

On my first day I bought oranges, 2 kilos of them by accident, so that was breakfast the next day.  Day 3 was Vietnam war/Commie/shopping day.  I went to a really cool store called Craft Link where everything was made by local craftspeople.  It’s a non-profit so it seeks to support local artisans.  I got lots of silk for an absolute killing by American standards. In retrospect, I probably should have saved this for later because I had to carry everything for the whole day.

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The blushing bride… in dress number 2.

Next stop was little park where it seemed to be wedding photo day.  In Thailand and the rest of SE Asia, the wedding photo process appears very strange to westerners.  First of all, they usually rent their wedding dresses and they will take photos in several different dresses.  But even more unusually, they take their wedding photos well before the actual wedding, like sometimes weeks or months in advance.  When I tell them in our culture it’s bad luck to see the bride in her dress before the wedding day they are surprised.  But since America has an incredibly high divorce rate, maybe we have the whole luck thing backwards….

Happy couple

Happy couple

Choo Choo!

Choo Choo!

I did lots of wandering on my way to Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.  Hanoi is really cool because it’s laid out like a French city with big tree lined streets.  And there are almost no street vendors, unlike in Thailand, so I could walk without crashing into Grandma Daeng selling noodles in the middle of the sidewalk.  I went to the train station which is cool because the sides are old French architecture from the turn of the century, but it was damaged during the war so the center is like a big Commie cement block.

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30 minutes of my life for this

I had a small detour where I tried to take a photo of this butterfly for like a half an hour.  I still don’t know how to use my incredibly powerful camera (100% my own fault) although when I hold it I think I am a National Geographic photographer.  It’s smarter than I am.

In the afternoon I went to Uncle Ho’s final resting place.  He is lying in state in a huge granite tomb, which means that his body has been embalmed and is on display. This specifically goes against his will, in which he said he wanted to be cremated and scattered all over Vietnam, but the government didn’t do as he wished, weird.  Unfortunately for me, since October is low season, Ho Chi Minh was in Russia for his annual cleaning.  No joke, he goes to Russia every year to get cleaned and say what’s up to those dead Russian guys.

Ho Chi Minh's Mauseleum

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

Musicians

Musicians

In the shadow of the mausoleum, and the giant Vietnamese flag there was a really nice concert of traditional Vietnamese music going on so I hung out and watched that for a little while.  The musicians were really talented. As an American who has been conditioned to think of Communism and propaganda going hand in hand, it was hard to look at the scene and think that American’s are so different.  Go to Washington DC and go to the Lincoln Memorial and listen to people play music with American flags everywhere.  We’re not so different.  Except at least our dead guys haven’t been preserved for 40+ years.  Even Ho Chi Minh thinks that’s weird. To be fair, the propaganda in Vietnam is way way more blatant than in the States, but it’s not to say that it doesn’t exist in America too.

Wrecked B52

Wrecked B52

The final stop was the wrecked fuselage of a B52 that the Vietnamese shot out of the sky over Hanoi. The B52 Victory Museum isn’t highly publicized so I was the only person there which was a nice change.  Seeing an American plane wrecked and displayed in that way was probably one of the most foreign things I’ve ever seen.  Besides the bad English, the language used on the plaques was something that would never be written the US:  Sume Types of Boms – Used by US Army during the Air War of Destruction over the north of Vietnam during 1964-1972 — Wreckage of US B52 Bombers – Shot down by Hanoi’s people and army during the US Air Defense Attacking to the North of Vietnam in December 1972. Seeing this American plane (that I usually see in all its glory in the US museums/air shows) totally blown to pieces put some things into perspective. It still makes my brain go upside down because as an American, we are indoctrinated with such a contrasting message to what I saw here.  That concluded my short stay in Hanoi.

Shooting down a B52

Shooting down a B52

I made it to the airport without any issues, but when I got there I made a HUGE scene.  I went to the self check in kiosk and got my boarding pass, ok no issues.  I went to wait in the security line, but apparently I was waiting in the wrong one, and had to go wait in another one.  This is when I started to de-rail.  So I waited in the other line for about 15 minutes, and when I got to the ticket checker, the woman told me, in terrible English, that I needed to go back to the counter and get a stamp.  So I went all the way back to the check in counter to get my stamp.  Ok not a huge deal, I arrived with some extra time so I was ok.  I went back and waited again and had my bags scanned and a woman asked “Have Swiss knife?”  I was like what the hell is going on here.  Then I remembered that I have a multitool credit card in my purse that I have carried through security probably 50 times with a 1 inch dull blade and a pair of scissors with blades as long as my thumb nail.  Tooooooo dangerous.  So she was like “scissors can’t have, knife can’t have”  and I was like “WHAT?! Are you kidding me?  Fine, I will check my bag”  because that multi tool is like the most useful thing I own.  So I went back to the check in counter again and told them I needed to check my bag.  I was raging by this point, I feel bad for that guy at the counter.  He told me, “ok it’s not included with your flight, it’s $13.”  So I said, “ok fine, I don’t have cash or time, I’m not checking it.”  But it was already on the scale and he said, “carry on limit, 7 kilos, must check.”  My bag was 10.  FINE.  He said I could take 3 kilos out and carry it.  So I took out the oranges, changed my shoes and moved a bunch of stuff into my purse carry on, right in front of him.  I was ready to play my crazy white girl card, which I rarely have to use, but this was one of those moments.  Then, he pushed me over the edge when he pointed to my purse and said, “Your bag too? limit 1 bag per person.”  I lost it.  I used lots of profanity and threw my raincoat down on my open bag like a WWE wrestler and was like “WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!”  but seriously wtf.  I had already gone to security twice and this was my second time talking to that check in guy and I stood right in front of him furiously unpacking my backpack into my purse and THEN he decides to tell me one bag.  He deserved it.  I stole his face so badly, he just waved me away.  I put the knife in my glasses case and the scissors in my camera case and breezed right through security with 10 minutes to spare. I’m glad to know that someone as insane as I was in that moment was allowed on the airplane.  Saigon, ready or not here I come….

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Looks so flavorful….

I met Bom at the airport and it was really exciting because it was his first time outside of Thailand.  We stayed at a super cool  hostel/homestay run by a Vietnamese family.  After we finally found it, we went to get some pho down the street. Unfortunately, it was as disappointingly bland as the pho in Hanoi.  This was bowl number 3 or 4 and I still don’t see the obsession. It must be better in America because there’s no way the real stuff would ever sell in the US restaurant market. After Pho, we went to sit on the backpacker street, Pham Ngu Lao and be tourists.

Our awesome student guide Ken

Our awesome student guide Ken

The next day we met up with Ken. Ken is a university student who is part of an organization called Saigon Hotpot.  Basically, students who want to practice their English apply for this club and then they will take tourists around the city.  And it’s FREE.  FREE!!  This was one of the best tours I have ever been on and all it cost me was a bus ticket and lunch for Ken, which I was more than happy to pay because he was awesome.

Names of people to pray for

Names of people to pray for

First, he took us to a temple in China town. In Thailand, there are temples and religious shrines everywhere you look; but in Vietnam it’s the other end of the spectrum.  I’m sure this has something to do with religion being the opiate of the masses etc.

What up Jesus

What up Jesus

Next stop was a big local market.  This was 2 stories and bustling with local people selling all sorts of stuff.  Saigon has a bad reputation for theft and Ken warned me to keep my camera in my bag so I didn’t take any photos there.  After the market we took the bus, on which Ken politely answered all of my American questions about Communism.  We got off in a different area of town and went to the cathedral, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica.  Since Vietnam was colonized by the French, there is a sizable Catholic population.  It was cool to see a Cathedral especially since I have been away from this kind of stuff for so long.

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Return to sender?

Next to the cathedral is the Saigon post office, which is especially cool because it was designed by Gustav Eiffel when Vietnam was part of French Indo-China.  Yes, the same guy. There are large murals on the wall depicting the borders of the colonial powers in the early 20th century and old wooden phone booths.  I bought a nice postcard of Uncle Ho and sent it to my parents in America, but it seems that it still hasn’t arrived, 11 months later… When my kids send me a post card from Afghanistan, I will remember this moment at the Saigon post office.

We walked through some big parks and everything reminded me a lot of France; big tree lined streets and actual city planning where the street numbers make sense.  I miss that.  Like #64 is next to number #66 which is across the street from #65.  In Bangkok #64 is next to #105 which is next to no number which is next to #21B/4.  I think people just make up whatever address they want in Thailand so the organization of the streets in Ho Chi Minh was refreshing.

Looks beautiful

Looks beautiful

Lunch time was next.  We went to the same restaurant that Ken went to with his family for his birthday.  It was good food, but again, nothing shocking as per the general theme of all the food I ate. Not bad, but not really special.

After lunch, we went to the famous war museum.  Wow. This really put a lot of perspective on the Vietnam, or as they call it, American War/Independence War.  I’m not a Vietnam War scholar, nor do I believe the museum isn’t strongly biased, but there were photographs that I would NEVER see in an American museum.  The villagers running out of their homes with their skin melting off, the torture at the prison camps, corpses of people blown to pieces, the side effects of Agent Orange… It was really eye opening.

An American soldier with the skull of a Vietnamese patriot.

An American soldier with the skull of a Vietnamese patriot.

There was one photograph that I found to be particularly interesting because of the caption. The caption says “An American soldier with the skull of a Vietnamese patriot.”  This is a photo that I probably would see in a US museum because it doesn’t really show the horrors of war, but it shows just enough to pique peoples’ morbid interest.  However, I think the caption would read something like this in a US museum, “An American patriot with the skull of a Vietnamese rebel”  It made me really think a lot more about how there are two sides to every story, but we’re often only taught one of them. We stayed until closing time and then parted ways with our fantastic guide Ken.

nom nom nom fro yo

nom nom nom fro yo

We went to check out the main night market in town which was pretty similar to all the tourist markets in SE Asia.  Lots of hippie pants (which I bought a pair of because I can’t seem to get enough), tourist knick knacks and costume jewelry. I was very excited to see that they had self serve froyo.  Bom had never experienced this because Thai people really don’t like to serve themselves so these don’t exist in Bangkok.  Due to his inexperience, he loaded his bowl with all the heaviest “condiments” and it was something stupidly expensive like $12.  I think mine was 3 bucks.

After spoiling our dinner with dessert, we went to Pho 2000 which is where Bill Clinton got pho when he came to Saigon. I didn’t expect it to be the best pho in town because it’s definitely touristy, but this was probably one of the most boring ones I tried.  It was like warm water and noodles.  The coolest thing about this place was the view of a major intersection with no traffic lights.  I still can not comprehend how this works.  Or maybe it doesn’t and I was just lucky enough not to die while I was there.  If you watch the video, you can see a herd of motos just converging on each other with bikes and cars and trucks and pedestrians all trying to go somewhere.  It’s truly remarkable.

The next day was an early wake up for a 2 day tour of the Mekong River delta. I will preface this by saying that while we saw some cool stuff, this was probably the most “package toury” experience that I’ve ever had. We were just herded from one tourist thing to another.  There was almost nothing authentic about it unless we went a little away from the group but then we were promptly herded back.  The tourism industry is HIGHLY controlled here so I assume that’s one of the major contributing factors.  I can’t believe that this is how some people travel all the time.

Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha

Stop number one was at a Buddhist temple.  I don’t think there was anything particularly significant about it besides the fact that it was a good stopping point for bathrooms and food.  It wasn’t ancient or special but there were some big statues.  We continued on, and when we arrived at the mighty Mekong, we got on a boat to begin the tour.  We had to put on our “life jackets” of course.  I’m all for safety first, but I know that these things would probably cause more harm than good if a situation arose where we actually needed them.  There were lots of barges filled with goods floating down the river.  They all had a design on the front that looked like eyes.  There were fishermen in the shallows on simmilar, but smaller boats.  And then there was the fleet of boats filled with whiteys.

Fisherman

Fisherman

The boat took us to get lunch at a traditional Vietnamese tourist trap. I would say it was a restaurant but it was definitely only set up to serve the people on the Mekong boat tours. We were served an egg, boiled vegetables, white rice and some oily slabs of meat that must have been pork?  I tried to look at the bright side though and the one thing about this place that was good was that they had pomelo trees, so I got to see how the fruit grows.

BEES!

BEES!

So powerful

So powerful

Next government approved tourist stop was a coconut candy and honey operation. This stuff was delicious, but the coolest part was being able to hold the bees and the giant snake.  It must have been some kind of constrictor because it was huge and heavy and wrapped all around me.  I felt like Britney.  So touristy but totally cool. I got Bom to touch the snake with one finger but that’s as far as he went.

After our coconut and honey binge we got on little wood boats and floated down a small canal or tributary of the Mekong. The water is really murky since it’s a delta and along the banks are really tall reeds. We also got to wear the triangle hats to complete our transformation into full on tourist. At the end of our float, they took us to another tourist set up and we watched some “traditional musicians” and ate “traditional jungle fruits” such as banana and pineapple.  If they’ve learned anything about foreigners it’s that the content of the tour doesn’t matter, but if they don’t feed us every 45 minutes to an hour, they can expect 1 star on TripAdvisor.

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Never thought I’d be on a boat, it’s a big (brown) watery road.

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Sunset on my bungalow porch

The day was coming to a close so it was time to go to our “homestay” which we paid extra to do as opposed to staying in a hotel.  When we arrived in the small town, it was definitely not a homestay, but was still cooler than a hotel.  It was thatched bungalows along a slow moving tributary.  No hot water, no AC and the beds had mosquito nets.  They served our tour group dinner and rice whiskey, which as usual, was just fine, literally nothing to write home about.  There were some really cool Polish girls who sat with us and I had to chance to see them again in Bangkok so that was a bright spot.

The next morning, I think they served us a traditional breakfast of Kellogg’s cereal or something, I can’t even remember.  We went for a bike ride around the village and then took motos to a market where we would meet up with the main herd.  It was a pretty standard Asian fresh market: fish, fruits and vegetables, meat, rice etc.

They're watching you, just like the government

They’re watching you, just like the government

We got on our day tour boat at the pier to go to the floating market. Basically this is a bunch of barges anchored in the river selling their produce. They had big sticks hanging pineapples or sweet potatoes or beans to show what they were selling.  Little coffee boats zipped around to the barges and tourist boats. The whole scene was pretty cool.

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Floating Market

Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express

Our tourist boat stopped at a barge selling pineapples. They were obviously ready for us and spoke standard “buy stuff from me” English.  Luckily everyone else on the boat bought pineapples but couldn’t finish them so I benefited directly from that.

Our next few obligatory stops were fairly uneventful.  A rice paper factory and an orchard which had both been outfitted to handle the package tour coming through.  I just can not believe people travel like this all the time.  The best part of the trip was seeing the things outside of the tour, but whenever I wandered away, I was quickly found and shuffled back to the herd.

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

Spooky

Spooky

Upon returning to Saigon, Halloween celebrations were in full effect.  We were staying in the backpacker area so that obviously made it more of a scene, but I think the American influence makes Halloween a little more popular here than in surrounding countries.  The road was completely gridlocked with cars, motorcycles and people.  I have never seen anything like it.  Usually people can at least weave their way through all the cars and motos, but this was complete gridlock.  It reminded me of when you fill a jar with rocks (cars) then add gravel (motos) then add sand (bikes) then add water (people).  It took an hour to walk one block.  So that was enough of that for these old bones.

OMG get me outta here.

OMG get me outta here.

The final day was Cu Chi tunnels day.  For those unfamiliar, these are the tunnels that the Viet Cong used during the “War of Independence/American War” or “Vietnam War” depending on where you come from. The network is massive and this particular section was critical in the Tet Offensive and a base for Viet Cong operations. After going down into these things, I understand why America lost. I can not believe people actually lived and functioned from here. That’s a victory in and of itself. We went into one of the large upper sections, close to the surface and I had about 1 inch of clearance on either side of my shoulders and I was on my hands and knees.  We crawled through about 100 meters and it was unsettling. We were allowed to go further, but after 100 meters, I was so disoriented and I had to get outta there.

A world of pain

A world of pain

The complex is situated in a forest where there are still craters from B52 bombs and the frame of an incapacitated American tank, they’re really proud of that.  They also have a gun range where you can shoot all sorts of things, including an AK47.  The whole thing was creepy because as we walked through the forest, you could hear machine guns in the distance.  They also re-constructed all the jungle booby traps that the Viet Cong set and they look absolutely f-ing brutal. Spikes everywhere.

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The fried bread was the best part

That afternoon, back in Saigon, in the quest to find Pho that was as impressive as it should be for all the hype, we went to a restaurant that is supposed to have the best Pho in all of Saigon, Pho Hoa Pasteur.  It was fine. I just wish I could say more about it.  One thing I can say though is that it looks great in photos.

Around sunset, I grabbed a drink at a famous roof bar where the American war correspondents used to hang out during the war.  That was my last stop before flying out. All in all it was a great trip and put things into a lot of perspective. I never thought I would be so excited to get back to the peace and hornless-ness tranquility of Bangkok.

Categories: Hanoi, Saigon, South East Asia, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Krabi

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Despite getting scratched on the boob by a hungry, wild monkey, daily rain storms and a day trip on a marginally seaworthy boat that had me convinced I would be meeting Gilligan, Krabi is still my favorite area in Thailand.  A friend of a friend bought a package trip at the Thai vacation expo and she couldn’t go, but it aligned perfectly with one of my 10 weeks of vacation, so I got the last spot.  I’ll preface this story by saying, that the package price was what they would charge a foreigner for 3 nights, 2 days and a boat trip, but there is no way in hell that a foreigner would put up with the quality of the services rendered.  Everything was fine, but it was like the leftovers that they don’t give to foreigners anymore, not even the hippie budget tourist foreigners.  Everything included on the trip had seen it’s prime about 15 years ago.  I admit, it felt kind of good to see that the Thai tour agencies also screw their own people, not just me.

Thai style fish

Thai style fish

My first day was fairly uneventful.  The hotel was a series of standalone rooms scattered on a property with lots of trees and grass.  Bangkok has like 1 tree so it is always nice when I get to see nature.  In keeping with the theme I stated earlier, the hotel was probably really nice 15 years ago, but the electricity didn’t work, there was no shower curtain and the paint was peeling off the walls from the humidity.  I didn’t care, but some snooty tourist who flew from across the world for a 2 night paradise vacation would be understandably unhappy.  It was rainy and wet all day but to be fair, I did go during rainy season so this wasn’t unexpected.  I ate some delicious fish at a shack on the beach that had been destroyed by the Tsunami 10 years ago and rebuilt.  They had some interesting photos on the wall that showed the devastation.  They also had 2 very sweet women working there that had some kind of dwarfism that made them about the size of a 2 year old, maybe even smaller.  I wandered around the beach town, Ao Nang, got a foot massage, watched the sunset, ate dinner and called it a night.  PS, I mostly wrote this paragraph about my boring day so that I can remember what happened in 5 years, not because I believe it was a particularly interesting day.

Sunset on Ao Nang

Sunset on Ao Nang

Such a majestic yacht

Such a majestic yacht

Boat trip day.  I woke up to pounding rain, exactly what you want to hear when you’re about to spend the whole day riding around on a boat.  We got to the pier, still in the rain, and boarded the SS It Floats, Promise.  It was all Thai people, and me, which was clue number two that they only sell this package tour to Thai people.  It was raining, but there was only enough indoor space for about 12 of the 40 people.  We got some of those spaces, and when I say indoor, I don’t mean dry, I just mean not outside under a sunshade.  Whelp, off we went.  The rain started to clear up by about 10:00 and then it was absolutely beautiful.

Safety First!

Safety First!

Our first stop was an island that has a small sand spit that connects it to another island when it’s low tide.  They put all of us into a longtail boat and shuttled us to shore.  Of course, we had to wear lifejackets on the shuttle boat.  Most Thai people can’t swim, and when I tried to explain that I can swim and that I used to teach swimming and that this oversize life jacket with broken straps and minimal, UV damaged flotation would actually hinder my ability to swim safely, the deck hands didn’t understand… weird.  You must always follow the rules, especially if you are ignorant of the facts, because someone else said those are the rules, and that’s that.  My American brain couldn’t handle this, but I wore it anyway, and since no one could understand my squawking, I just said whatever I wanted and it actually made me feel better.  As did my ceremoniously throwing my life jacket like a boomerang onto the beach when I got off the boat.  Wait, why do these people get annoyed by foreigners?  It would have been safer if I had just swum from the big boat to land, at least then I wouldn’t have people clinging to my life jacket and drowning me when the shuttle boat capsized from being overloaded.

Good thing I had my life jacket to protect me in these raging seas

Good thing I had my life jacket to protect me in these raging seas

All the islands around Krabi are beautiful.  There is amazing Karst topography (yep I’m a geologist now) as far as the eye can see.  We were fortunate enough to have a beautiful day so it made the colors of the sea against the islands really vibrant.  One of the advantages of the all Thai boat was that no one wanted to be in the sun, so I got the best spot right on the bow.  Helllllllo skin cancer, and awesome photos and a tan I could brag about.

Squawk Squawk!!

Squawk Squawk!!

Next photo op, Chicken Island (Koh Gai).  I’ve found that a lot of land formations in Thailand are named after animals.  This is one of the only ones that I understand because it actually looks like a chicken head.

Our main squid fishing competition

Our main squid fishing competition

Sqiudworth

Sqiudworth

After the standard boxed fried rice and watermelon lunch, it was time for some snorkeling.  Screw that 30 minute rule, we can cramp all we want because we have “life jackets”!!!  Needless to say, I jumped in with that thing and it wasn’t even fully wet before I took it off and clipped it to Bom’s life jacket and swam away.  Freedom.  There wasn’t much to see since, unfortunately, Thailand has destroyed most of their reefs, only about 25% of the reefs in Krabi are in good condition.  After our post lunch dip, we went squid fishing.  This involved a plastic bottle with a lure and some fishing line.  I was happy to see a plastic bottle being recycled in order to damage another part of the ecosystem.  We did throw the squid back though… I think… or maybe they were lunch for the next day’s group.  I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention because I was too busy being childish about the fact that I didn’t catch one.

Me in the penis cave

Me in the penis cave

Our next stop was the beautiful Railay Bay which is famous for it’s beach side caves, one of which is filled with penises.  Yes, penises.  The local fishermen bring them as offerings to an apparently very horny sea goddess to bring them good luck on the water.  There are also TONS of rude monkeys.  They have been tamed since there are lots of tourists here, which was cool because we got to see them up close, but not cool because the earth is being destroyed and that is sad.  When I first got there, I was thirsty so I got a coconut and after they hacked the top off with a butcher knife (this is normal), I gave the top to a monkey so he could eat coconut instead of potato chips and a bottle of Coke like this monkey:

Anyone who says humans and monkeys don't have a common ancestor needs to be culled from the herd

He must be an emotional eater

Thank god this was captured on film

Thank god this was captured on film

On the way back to the boat, I got some peanuts, which must be a favorite of the monkeys.  There were two trees on either side of the path: one with tan monkeys, and one with black monkeys.  It appeared that there was some tension between the two groups.  I threw a couple peanuts to the nearby monkeys and one of the tan monkeys got greedy after a black monkey grabbed a peanut before he could get to it.  Tan monkey wanted more peanuts.  I admit, what ensued was my own fault because I got them riled up to begin with.  It all happened pretty fast but before I knew it, I had a monkey climbing up my leg, swatting at the peanut bag trying to steal it.  As the larger ape form, I resisted and tried to shake the little monster off of me, but he was persistent and scrambled further up and grabbed me right between my boobs, and gave me a monkey scratch.  He also had big monkey teeth so I relented and gave him the rest of my peanuts.  Anyone who says apes and humans don’t have a common link is an idiot and needs to be culled from the herd.

That was pretty much the end of boat day.  I looked on Dr. Internet when I got back to the hotel since I am a hypochondriac and thought I had some kind of monkey disease, but I was fine.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

One of the things that is really cool about Krabi, and why it’s my favorite place is because you can get the jungle and beach in the same place.  The next day we rented motos and drove to the Tiger Temple.  There used to be tigers here, but they have gone the way of much of the other wildlife.  There are monks here who live the ascetic lifestyle and guard the caves because they hold a lot of spiritual significance.  Luckily, there were hardly any people here so we had our own monk cave guide.  We walked through part of the jungle and found the little settlement next to a giant Buddha and a cool cave system.  The monk told us the legends of the caves, which were then translated to me.  Basically the monk talked for 3-4 minutes and then I got: “a spirit lives behind that rock”, so I am not really sure what the full story is.

Spe-monk-ing....

Spe-monk-ing….

Climbing out of the cave

Climbing out of the cave

We got to crawl around the the dirt and mud and see some cool stuff.  It was nice though because it was so hot and humid in the jungle that the caves provided a nice respite.  I think that people come to see these caves, but they definitely are not in any guidebook or group tour itinerary, which was great for us.  After the caves we walked along a jungle path and saw some cool stuff.  When a tree is really old in Thailand, they wrap it with these colored cloths.  There were a lot of really old trees in this jungle area, which was nice to see.

Grandpa tree

Grandpa tree

Let's go legs

Let’s go legs

Next was the hike to the temple on the top of the mountain via the ultimate stair master.  1237 steps to the top.  Which is about 120 flights of stairs.  Ok, not too bad if you are on the stair stepper, at the gym, in air conditioning, it’s a good workout but it’s not gonna kill you.  Try doing that same work out on stairs made from concrete that are all different heights, most are knee high, some have only enough room for you to step on them with the ball of your foot and it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity.

One of many breaks

One of many breaks

We finally made it to the top after about 45 minutes.  And the view was totally worth it.  The temple was fairly standard, but being on top of one of the humps and seeing the view from above made it all worth it.  I also had plans to go to a cooking class that night, so the work out justified the impeding pig out.  My calves were so sore for 3 days that I could barely walk.

Victory!!  And a LOT of sweat

Victory!! And a LOT of sweat

After we walked 1237 steps down the mountain, which was not as hard as going up, but I am convinced was the cause of my calf soreness, we went into the “tiger’s cave/meeting hall”.  Literally, that’s what the sign says.  If I ever own my own business….

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

That night, I cooked up a storm at Thai Charm Cooking School.  I would highly reccommend it.  The guy speaks great English and the recipes were delicious.  He runs the school with his wife out of his house so it was a really great experience.  I cooked and ate 5 or 6 different things including mango sticky rice for dessert.  It’s a total bitch to make your own curry paste, but the flavor is so much better and there’s no MSG!  Food coma….

It's more of an aqua color

It’s more of an aqua color

On the last day, we had a flight in the afternoon so we got up early to go to the Emerald Pool.  We drove a little over an hour on a moto which was fairly painful, plus I was the navigator and I accidentally took us down a dirt road, whoopsy.  There is a beautiful green pool in the middle of the jungle that was created by mineral deposits from some of the hot spring activity in the area, I’m a geologist, I know this now.  Of course, since I am white, I had to pay an entrance fee; I can’t even get started on this because it pisses me off so badly, but I don’t make the rules, so whatever.  Once again, I was the only foreigner here, which also means that I was the only one swimming in a bikini.  All the Thai women were swimming in jeans and t-shirts.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Thailand is not sexy time fun land, it’s actually pretty conservative.

After that, it was time to go home.  We were in an airport shuttle full of Thai people and on the way we stopped at a totally unauthentic “souvenir shop” and the Thai people were all about it.  Everyone bought something.  Apparently this is something Thai people do.  Does not compute.  We still made it to the airport on time, and it was back to the concrete jungle.  But don’t worry monkeys, when I come back, I’ll be ready for you…

Don't try to hide behind Buddha

Vigilant monkey

Categories: Beach, Krabi, Paradise, Snorkeling, Thai Jungle, Thailand, Thailand Beaches | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Songkran 2013/2556

Chiang Mai: Epicenter of Songkran

Chiang Mai: Epicenter of Songkran

I trained every summer for my whole childhood to prepare for this moment: Songkran.  Songkran is a 3 day celebration of the Thai New Year that occurs at the peak of hot season (Mid-April).  To celebrate, people spend 3 days in the streets soaking each other with water.  My sister, friends and I rang in the year 2556 in Koh Phi Phi and Chiang Mai so we had a taste of two VERY different celebration styles.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, but there are still no flying cars in the future.

My first day of Songkran was spent on Koh Phi Phi.  On my way to the boat (see previous entry about Phi Phi), the few Thai kids who live on the island were out splashing around and being adorable.  They squirted us with little guns or splashed some water on us as we headed toward the harbor.  We had no idea what an absolute drunken farang (foreigner) shit show was awaiting us upon our return.

Firearms + Farangs + Flames = Songkran Phi Phi

Firearms + Farangs + Flames = Songkran Phi Phi

When we got back to the island around 5, the children were gone and the farangs were in full war mode.  No wonder Thai people hate us.  Farangs significantly outnumber Thai people on Phi Phi.  As a result, Songkran in Phi Phi reflects how Western people would celebrate this holiday rather than how Thai people celebrate it.  It was like war.  While Thai people shoot you with a water gun and smile, cheer, and dance around, farangs drunkenly shoot a highly pressurized jet of water straight into your eyeball or ear.  Their aim after drinking 2 bottles of Sangsom is unbelievably accurate.  Luckily, Songkran on Phi Phi was only one day which is good because I think the Thai people would literally kill the farangs if they had to deal with one more day of that moronathon.  Even though it was highly aggressive, I still had a great time, but one day was enough.  We left Phi Phi the next day (some of us more hungover and wounded than others… ahem…) and flew to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is an awesome city to begin with, and then to be there to celebrate Songkran was a blast.  We had a big group of people, and we were there on the 3rd day of Songkran which was apparently less wild than the previous two but still really fun.

Neon tank top time

Neon tank top time

We started around 10AM and went to meet our other group of friends.  They were staying at a hotel with a baby pool full of water so we loaded up with water and went to the center of the Songkran celebrations.  The street was totally packed with cars, pickup trucks full of people and barrels of water and motorcycles.  A lot of the barrels are filled with ice water.  So, even though its like a gabajillion degrees out, Songkran can actually get really cold.  Getting a bucket of ice water splashed on you 100 times eventually takes its toll, but it’s so much fun you don’t even notice.  Some people also carry around bowls of powder and put in on your cheeks if they feel inclined, but it gets washed off in like 2 seconds.

Faces of Celebration

Faces of Celebration

Around 1:00, the foam party started.  Now, we were all completely soaked, standing in street water that came about halfway up our calves and had foam pouring all over us.  When the foam stopped spewing, we just kept walking/splashing/shooting.  Of course, in my clumsiness, somehow my foot slid off my flip flop, and I cut the entire ball of my right foot open and broke my shoe that Meg had just brought me from the US .  This was also only two days after my “performance” in Phi Phi so now I had a fat lip, and multiple open wounds.  The foam mixed with street water will just clean those out right?  Eh whatever, I could still walk.  It was a Songkran Day Miracle that none of my self inflicted wounds got infected.  Ironically, the only post Songkran damage I suffered was an ear infection from the damn farangs on Phi Phi.  Happy 2556!

We're the 3 best friends that anyone could have.  And we'll never never never leave each other.

We’re the 3 best friends that anyone could have. And we’ll never, ever, ever, ever, ever leave each other.

Categories: Chiang Mai, Koh Phi Phi, Songkran, Thai New Year, Thailand, Water Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Dangerous Market in the World

Choo Choo!

Choo Choo!

No joke, Google it.  That’s where I went last week.  It’s called the Maeklong Railway Market.  It is literally a market on the rail road tracks, which would make sense, if the tracks were out of commission, but they’re not.

P1010533

Spiderman beating up John

We met up at 8AM to head about 3 hours south of Bangkok via 2 trains.  I’m not sure what kind of train we were on, but I’ve never heard anything like it.  It sounded more like we were in the back of a really dilapidated dump truck than on a train.  The train rides were pretty uneventful except for when we hit some kind of construction equipment that was parked right where it belonged…on the tracks…  We were in the first car, so imagine the sound of a small train hitting a backhoe and that’s exactly what it sounded like.  Eh, no big deal, that didn’t stop The Little Engine That Could.

P1010554We actually got to experience the market from two points of view: riding into the market on the train, and standing on the tracks.  At about noon, we rolled into the train station, which also happened to be the market area.  The stalls were literally less than a foot away from the side of the train so while I was sticking my head out the window, I had to take precautions not to get decapitated.  Basically what happens is when the train is coming, the people retract everything into their stalls and pull their awnings in, and within 30 seconds after the train passes, their goods are back out on the tracks and the awnings are deployed.

The second point of view was when we were walking through the market and the train was coming back the other way.  As the train was coming, we had to position ourselves in whatever small pocket of space we could fit into so as not to get run over by the train.  You’ve gotta be fairly confident that you have measured your proportions correctly and fit all of your body into an appropriately sized space, because when a train is coming at you and passes within inches of your face, there isn’t much room for error.

P1010565

Back to bidnass.

Why is the market ON the train tracks?  I have no idea, and neither does anyone else.  It just is.

P1010576

A pig, turtle, Powerpuff girl, Hello Kitty and a fish (?)

After making it out of the most dangerous market in the world intact, we got some noodles.  In case you were curious, if you boil blood, it turns out kind of like Jello.  I passed that along to my Thai friend as it is still one of the few foods that is just a little to strange for me to eat.  We then got some street pancakes and boarded a Tuk Tuk to take us to Amphawa, the floating market.

I'm foreign therefore I automatically love tuk tuks

I’m foreign therefore I automatically love tuk tuks

Food boats.  The ubiquitous moustache graphic indicates quality

Food boats. The ubiquitous moustache graphic indicates quality

Aaron “misplaced” his iPhone in the tuk tuk and with some creative teamwork, he and Bom were able to find it.  While they were on the iPhone treasure hunt, the rest of us did some wandering around the market and bought grassheads.  It’s a stocking filled with soil and grass seeds and then tied in specific places to look like a dog or a fat man or a turtle.  It’s now sitting on my kitchen counter; no growth yet, but I am optimistic.

Boating.

Boating.

Next activity: riding a long tail boat on a tour of several temples along the river.  At the second temple, there was a monk giving blessings so we sat with him and he sprinkled some kind of holy water on us (I’m “Catholic” so this is the closest analogy I can make).  Then he gave us a necklace and a bracelet and sent us on our way.  We also stopped at one with animals.  I think they call it a zoo, but it was mostly just animals in poor condition chained up or caged in a way that would make a PETA advocate cry themselves to sleep for a thousand moons.  But we got to feed them bananas and grasses so at least they seemed to be eating well.  The coolest animal was a peacock in full bloom (?).  He had all his feathers displayed, I thought it was pretty rad, but the lady bird was just not that into him.  After our Tour de Temples, 5 to be exact, we motored back to the floating market.

P1010623

PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEE!!!!

En route to the van, we stopped to get some delicious juices served in bamboo mugs which we got to keep.  I got real coconut water for like 10 cents.  The exact same stuff I can get at Whole Foods for $5.99 a bottle.  Our van obviously got stuck in the horrific Bangkok traffic on the way home, but it was a small price to pay for an otherwise really cool and unusually problem free trip.

This is the gayest picture of 4 straight guys I have ever seen.

This is the gayest picture of 4 straight guys I have ever seen.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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