Monday, December 17, 2007

Oh Bangkok...

This place is mad! I tell ya, it makes me just that much more anxious to get home after being here in Bangkok. It's just manic here. Kho San Road especially, but I must say, the shopping is phenomenal!

So I took a series of vehicles to make sure that I would get to BKK in time and not miss my flight. I started in Luang Prabang with a bus that took me to the capital city of Laos Vientiane which is where I wrote to you from last. From there, I rode in a tuk tuk, and then in the back of a truck to cross over the border in northern Thailand. Bangkok is central (which is quite a ways if you check the map) so I decided to take the sleeper train from the northern border to Bangkok, which was and always is a great move. I took one in the beginning of my trip from Bangkok north, and now I was set to do just about the opposite. It's so fun and relaxing, you get your very own little bed and there's food and drink service as well. I met some friends to hang with this time, so that made it doubly fun!

We arrived in Bangkok at 9am and went our separate ways to find accommodations and more importantly showers! I decided pretty much as soon as I got into town that I wouldn't stay the night in a guest house, but rather use the money I would spend on accommodations for Christmas gifts and a last dose of Thai food. I decided that sleeping at the airport was a good, cheap and efficient option, and I was game! It actually turned out to be quite fun, but more on that later!

I was happy to be on my own for the day as I needed a day to collect my thoughts and of course do some power Christmas shopping on the legendary Kho San Road (famous for great shopping at great prices), and I didn't want anyone to get in my way. After storing my back and buying a shower at a local guest house, I spent the rest of the morning shopping. I was on a mission, and on no body's schedule but my own, which felt great. I went to the same shop 2 or even 3 times, and really put a lot of thought into my purchases. Around lunchtime, I was pretty shopped out and took the local bus to Lumphini Park to eat the other half of my sandwich from breakfast. It was perfectly quiet and tranquil, the ideal escape from the madness of tourists in Bangkok. I took what I thought was the last bus back to my bag spot, and ended up at the end of the bus route, necessitating an expensive cab ride back.

Grabbed some dinner with a friend that I had now met up with 3 times along my journeys and had a really great conversation about recovering alcoholics (which he is) and passed the time rather quickly. After dinner, he wanted me to come with him to the tattoo parlor to help him confirm the perfect tribal tattoo for in between his shoulder blades (lame, but I played along with my teeth clenched the whole time!)

We said goodbye, and I headed to the bus stop where I met a lovely girl named Laura from England who was in the same boat as me with the airport-guesthouse situation. We hit it off instantly and stayed up till 3am in the airport eating Asian Ramen noodles and drinking a few cold ones. I slept for 2 or 3 hours on the bench seats, and hopped on the plane to Taipei where I sit now awaiting my connecting flight back to the good old U S of A!

I can't believe it's over. So much has happened in such a short time. I met some amazing people, saw incredible places, had life changing experiences and suffered a rather large cultural slap in the face...all for my own good. Traveling is so important. I urge each and every one of you to do everything in your power to travel as much as you can. If you want to really open your eyes, ears and heart up to the world, it's the only way.

I've already got my next trip in the works...more on that later!

See you all real soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trek #2: Louang Prabang

After searching for just the right price with just the right food, we decided to go with the cheapest trekking option we could find (which was fine by me with my end-of-the-road diminishing bank account) and were to head off for a trek in the Louang Prabang wilderness at 8:30am Wednesday morning.

We were picked up and shuttled off to the start of the trek with a hurtin' Lily and Emerald. I wasn't feeling so hot either to start. We all had a bit of a sore throat, and tried to convince ourselves that the achey muscles we aquired were not the warning signs of Dengue Fever, but rather the aftermath of some radical rope swinging. We trekked for about 5 hours through jungle and a few Hmong and Khamong villages seeing a scorpion (dead) and a few other unwelcome insects. Our guide wasn't much help in the field of information since his english was limited and he was fighting a hangover from drinking too much Lao Lao the night before.

We arrived at our home-stay in the Khamong village, and Lily wasn't feeling too hot. While I went and played with the village children (pulling out all the tricks that I had on the last trek including air guitar, follow-along songs, and the human swing), Lils had developed the chills, and wrapped herself in warm clothing and blankets by the fire...chills...another sign of Dengue, but we were all determined that she didn't have it. Everyone gets a bit of a scare when traveling in SE Asia, and because she is so sensitive to skeeter bites, she was especially worried. We had a late dinner in the bamboo hut, and called it an early night, hoping to get a good night's sleep and wake up feeling rejuvinated. This was impossible due to the sound level of animals and people at the village. Roosters crowing every 20 minnutes, large animals scattering near our heads, and village men drinking and talking loudly were not condusive to a good night's sleep!

In the morning, Emerald and I still had a trace of a sore throat and some sore upper body muscles which I accredited still to the rope swings, but Lils was not feeling any better. She decided that she would go back to town and check into a guest house and get some antibiotics so that she could get back on her feet. She was lead by one of the men in the village an hour down to the main road, and made it back safe and sound, and Emerald and I continued on.

We hiked 4 hours to the next village and arrived early enough to get to spend some good old QT with the village kids. We taught them Karate moves, and dance moves and played games with them for a couple of hours. We marveled at the simplicity of the village, especially their shower and cleansing system...3 bamboo "pipes" that carried spring water to the village from the mountain. This is the place where everyone bathes (in their undies) washes clothes, dishes and brushes teeth. Pretty darn amazing actually. I've got photos to better tell the story.

We spent the evening sitting around a candle with 6 of the village kids and 2 of the women singing campfire songs like "Old Mac Donald" (they loved that one!) and BINGO. The kids responded with their favorite songs and we had a good old fashioned sing-alog. Amazing how much you can do even when you can speak a single lick of a language. After the sing along, we walked around and poached a couple of camfires and talked to the elders for a bit. We learned how to say a few words, and they laughed at our horrible attempts at pronunciation. It was such a special moment when we were sitting among the tribe teaching them the english words for body parts and them teaching the Khamong words.

The next morning we woke up, found a "toilet" aka, a pile of leaves, and rinsed in the bamboo shower which was phenomenal. So refreshing to rinse in nature like that. It just feels so organic and right. After breakfast, we packet our things, and on the way out of the village we stumbled upon their morning "excersizes". This consists of every member of the village joining in somewhat of a field day, or competition between the 30 families that inhabit the village. They were doing piggy-back races and fill the beer-bottle with a plastic bag full of holes races! (I got video, don't worry!) Everyone was laughing and cheering eachother on. Such a great feeling of comeraderie. We trekked another 3 hours, stopped off at a waterfall for a quick swim, and made it back to the main road in one piece, and feeling great! We were hopping that Lily was feeling better.

She met us at the trekking office in town, and seemed to be feeling a bit better. She had gone to the pharmacy and the pharmacist looked at her throat and immedietly gave here some antibiotics. We don't think it's Dengue, hopefully just a bad case of strep that the medicine will cure up in a few days. I was releived to see that she was feeling better, and up to walk around and share our last hour together. She and I did some quick shopping before I had to catch my bus out of town headed back to Vientienne where I sit right now. It was sad to say goodbye to Lils after the great time we spent together. We made so many memories and met so many great people. I'm just jealous that she has another week to go!

Had an 11 hour bus last night, an d killing time until I get on the bus headed for the Thailand border, and then onto an overnight sleeper train (yessss, love those!) I'll have a day to shop in Thailand, and then it's back on the plane headed towards the good old U S of A!

Did somebody say Lobster and Pizza Regina?

One more update before I get back...hopefully!

Tire Tubes, Ziplines and Organic Farms...

What do all of these things have in common? They were all part of a fun-filled trip to Vang Vienne. Once we recovered from our intense bus-trip, we arrived at our guest house on an organic farm in Vang Vienne. The farm was complete with organic fruits, vegetables, goat cheese and mulberry wine...yum! Much needed after city food and grueling travel!

We settled into our dorm-style room where me, Lils, the 2 Aussies and Hulk shared 4 beds, and then headed down to the restaurant for some great eats where we made some friends quickly. Aite, a dutch guy from Holland who was working as a bartender on the farm (one of the stops on the tubing trip) invited us down to the river for the bonfire that he was starting up. We all agreed, and continued our beers and conversation in front of a view that we wished we could see in the darkness of night. A few beers and some dutch cigarettes later, we were ready to turn in. Apparently the Hulk had a bit much to drink, because he wasn't feeling so hot the next morning and missed the float, which was the highlight of the trip!

We rented some tubes (which were actually just inner tire tubes complete with valve and all) and began the infamous float down the river joined by hundreds of other westerners primed with a decent morning buzz. Aite started us off with some Mojitos, and in the water we went! Business owners on the river have strategically figured out that liquor and rope swings and zip-lines seem to go perfectly hand-in-hand and are capitalizing on this noble idea. Without the tubing, the town would be nothing but a few bamboo huts along the river with some stunning limestone scenery. Sad, but fun all the same.

We floated the river for 4 1/2 hours stopping at every bar for a zip or swing launching us into the water sometimes from 30ft in the air. Soooo fun. That night we went to the bar that everyone who floats ends up at and ended the night off nice and late once again. Lils and I took it easy because we knew we were headed north for Louang Prabang early the next morning and didn't want to make that mistake again.

The Aussie uncertian of his sexual orientation had a jealous freak-out when we got back to the room because we were trying to get the shy Hulk to take his shirt off (what...girls just wanna have fun!) and threw a hissy fit! We were glad to get out of there the next morning and be back on our own again after traveling in a herd for the past 3 days.

8:00am and we were off to the bus station in the back of Mr. Tea's school bus (he's the owner of the farm). Another bus ride, another destination..for me this was my second time in Louang Prabang, and I was anxious for Lily to see it because of the phenomenal beauty and shopping. She appreciated it as much as I thought she would, and we met another girl from CA named Emerald who stayed the night with us and decided to trek with us the next day. After a night of great vegetarian buffet and some quick shopping and emailing, we were off to bed to get a fresh start in the morning.

And I think this next bit deserves it's own entry as well. It's like one of those shows that you just keep getting sucked into because they play re-runs back to back, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Laos...need I say more?

Well, yes I do! Such a pleasant change from 'Nam, and we felt it the moment we got into the country! Well, that is, after a 21 hour bus ride over the border...that's right 21 hours!

I know that sounds like a lot, and most of you will probably think I'm crazy when I tell you that I actually enjoyed it! From Hanoi, we shared bus with 2 more Australians (one definitely gay and the other we still haven't determined yet) and a 20 year old Norwegian guy whom we refer to as Hulk due to the nature of his bulky shoulders. These guys became our friends quickly as we boarded the "disco bus" after our first bus broke down a half hour into the trip!

Believe it or not, the trip went quite quickly, and as soon as we sat down at a cafe in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos, the speed of life instantly slowed down about 75%. No touting, no begging, just smiling faces eager to help you and beautiful countryside to boot! For a capital city in Asia, or anywhere in the world for that matter, Vientiane was quite surprisingly quiet. We met a really cool guy from San Fran and settled in with some beer Lao and some Lao Lao (rice whisky) to start the night up right!

Once we finished our drinks and had some street food (Pad Thai....yum!) we headed off to the "disco" inside a huge hotel decked in Christmas lights and trees. You'd never know it was there unless someone told you, and what was behind the doors of the club was equally surprising. We found that about half the girls inside the club were actually "lady boys" which are Asian transvestites (mostly post-op) who were exceedingly friendly... especially to our gay friend(s). One of the lady boys pulled Rene (out of the closet) into the bathroom to show off his/her recent operation goodies! The stories were hilarious to say the least. Ended up being a late night and we awoke the next morning feeling it for sure.

We woke up slowly and jumped on another bus headed toward Vang Vienne, which is famous for it's river tubing. Groggy as hell, but excited, the 4 of us boarded the bus ready to sleep for the short 6 hour trip up the coast. Sleep was absolutely out of the question once we saw the local-packed bus we were about to step into. Once we each found a single seat, we plugged in our ipods in an attempt to drown out the sounds of the horrible Lao karaoke and local chit-chat. Just starting to settle in, Rene tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the man sitting across the aisle from us. I looked over annoyed that he had interrupted my near slumber to see the man carrying a concealed AK-47! I nearly shit my pants, and so did Lily. We looked at each other with cloudy eyes wanting to scream, cry, jump out the window, anything to get us out of this vacation gone-wrong. We sat tense and completely silent for 20 minutes running through every possible

scenario in our flustered minds. Maybe he had just bought the gun and was bringing it home? Maybe he was a hijacker? Maybe he was a security he was too young to be a security guard. Why was he concealing it? Did they let him on the bus with that? Did they even see it? Why didn't anyone try to stop him? Should we just get off the bus and can the measly $3 we spent on the cheap bus out of town? Was the window big enough that we could jump out of the moving bus if need be? It all whirled around in our heads just long enough to really freak us out. Luckily, on the other side of the "hijacker" was a Western Expat (or angel as I'd like to call him) who explained to us the purpose of this man. He was indeed a "guard" of sorts who is meant to protect (or shoot back) in case the bus is shot up by local terrorists. Don't ask me what the hell good it would do, especially because he was asleep nearly the whole ride, but that's what he was! I guess that explains why he was so anxious and clenching the seat in front of him for the first half of the ride. But what it doesn't explain is why he would cover the gun anytime someone walked towards him...still seems kinda fishy to me.

We made it off the bus in Vang Vienne and hi-fived to each other's well being...I think I'll start a new blog to explain the rest of our time in VV... One of the Aussies got a picture of the gun, sespite the fact that I begged him not to during the melt-down....whatever you do, I said, don't take a picture! HA!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Photos from "Back in 'Nam"!

A couple to tide you over...a rickshaw, Halong bay, me, lils and our new Spanish Friend Ingrid,
and all the crazy kids on the motorbike...there's 5 nationalities in that picture!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Vietnam by Bus!

What a long strange trip it's been! Sorry about my last blog, I know the last half of it got cut off, but for some reason, I can't check it and see where I left off. I know that I was in Dalat when I last wrote, so I'll continue on from there...

So, I think I wrote this already, but you can get an Open Bus Tour ticket which takes you from the south to the north (Saigon to Hanoi) for only $22, and you can stop all along the way and spend as much time as you'd like in each place. After Dalat, we stopped in a bustling little beach town called Na Trang.

Natrang is a trip. There are tons of hotels right on the beach (a perfect sring-break situation, and it almost feels like it!) The crazy part about Natrang is the beach beggers, or should I say "merchants". You'd think it would be great having people come right to your beach towel and offer you everything from beer to sunglasses to fresh fruit to hair removal, but I'll tell ya, it got old QUICK! As soon as you set foot on the sand, you are nearly bombarded with touters. They will literally come back to your towel 3 or 4 times until you either be very stern with them and say leave me alone, or cave and buy something. The water there however was beautiful, and again, the seafood was great. The waves were incredibly strong. One Vietnamese girl got sucked out to see and died there the day we arrived, so needless to say, we were very careful. Lily and I met a couple of guys (who were really fun, but turned out to be kinda sleezy asking if we thought "Happy Endings" were okay) and we went out and danced the night away at a really neat beach bar and dance club. Lily says I did the worm, but I conveniently don't remember ( I never do!)

The next morning, we thought it would be a good idea to do a little boat tour to the 4 islands of Natrang. For me it was a blast, but Lils had a bit more to drink than I, and was feeling pretty sickies the whole day. The water was a bit rough, and not very condusive to hangover status! The tour was fun though, we went snorkeling around some pretty mankie reefs, swimming, had some red wine at the floating bar (which was basically a guy in an innertube handing out free wine and pineapple) and stopped at a beach for a dose of dry land which helped sober us up a bit. They had some really dodgy parasailing, and two tourists got stuck in a tree during their sand-landing, we saw the whole thing happen. Everyone was okay.

We ended our trip and hopped on the "sitting bus" (not to be confused with the sleeping bus) on the first of December for an overnight trip up the coast to Hoi An. The bus played really bad Vietnamese Christmas music complete with red, green and yellow flashing lightbulbs until 4am. Luckily, Lily had a valium that came in handy and allowed us to sleep until the wee hours of the morning.

We arrived, and after a heated search for the best hotel deal, checked in. We headed to the market to check out the highly sought after tailors who will make anything and everything you want perfectly coutured to you exact size. I had a lovely jacket and pair of jeans (that fit amazing!) and Lily had 2 suits and jeans made. These people are incredible. They whipped up our clothes in the same day, and we went back for second fittings to make sure they were exactly what we wanted. We also visited the beach there and had quite a nice swim, and and even better dinner on the river. Hoi An has a lot of very interesting arcitecture, with a mixture of Chinese, European and Vietnamese buidings. I got some great photos. They also do a lot of wood carving there. If you had a shopping problem, you'd be in big trouble here too! Lily and I had a hard time restraining ourselves!

From Hoi An, we hopeed back on the open bus tour up to Hue for a quick lunch stop before our overnight sitting bus to Hanoi. I met back up with a really cool girl named Ingrid from Spain! I had met her in Cambodia, and wanted to travel on with her, but we were going in different directions. We had a great connection, so I was bummed to not travel with her, and equally as excited to meet back up with her on the bus! She has been with Lily and I for the past couple of days, and she is just a doll. I have been practicing my Spanish for my next trip which I'm thinking will defintely be to South America!

Anyways, after the quick lunch stop (where we also re-acquaineted with the Sweedish girls) , we parted ways with Ingrid and the Sweeds as they were using a different travel agency than us. We chose the cheaper option with the 11 hour overnight sitting bus....BIG mistake.

The cute little Vietnamese girl that was curled up like a cat on the seat behind us turned out to be not so cute when she starting vomiting violently into her hands and onto Lily's seat. She continued to vomit all night long into a plastic bag. When we realized that she was quite sick and sweating profusely, we decided we'd fare better setting up a bed in the aisle between the seats on the floor and sleeping there, which worked out a bit better. We also met some really nice Argentinian guys who offered us their seats half way through the night, and we took them up on it.

Once we arrived frusterated and worn in Hanoi, we met back up with the girls, and the Argentinian boys! Ingrid, Lily, Hanna and I all got on the same tour to Halong bay which was simply phenomenal. We did 2 nights and 3 days on the boat visiting the 4000 limestone jutting islands of Halong which are simply breathtaking. We made some friends on the boat that we shared meals and conversations with, did a trek in the Cat BAh National Park, stayed a night on Cat Bah Island, and this morning, we kayaked at 7am, and jumped off the top of the boat after breakfast. It was such a great time. Only $40 for the trip with everything included! Not bad, huh?

We are staying a night in Hanoi with the crew of Spainiards, South Americans and Sweeds. Tomorrow we part ways, and Lily and I go onto Laos which we are quite excited about. I anxiously await the calm demeanor of the Lao people after being hassled like crazy in Vietnam. 'Nam has been great, but I'm ready to move on.

...And we go!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some of this, some of Da-Lat!

Hey kiddies,

My travels have found me here in Dalat, which is just North East of Saigon, which is quite a change from the beach that Lily and I were sitting on in Mui ne. It is also very beautiful here. Rolling hills and countryside along with incredible farms and coffee plantations.

We rolled in yesterday afternoon, and after getting off the bus, we were immedietly followed by a member of the "Easy Riders"... self-proclaimed motor bike drivers eager to take tourists on one of thier signature "tours of Dalat". If you have enough money, they'll take you all the way to Nothern Vietnam on the back of their Hondas!

A little background on the Easy Riders: there used to be only 10 members, magically wisking travelers away to destination spots not offered by tourbuses and treks. Today, there are over 70 Easy Riders, complete with Jackets and badges that strategically find you as soon as you get into town. It's like they can smell you or something (despite the fact that foreigners stick out like a ladyboy defrocked at a strip club in Bangkok in this small town of Dalat). Once we realized that he wouldn't let us go without reading at least 3 testimonials in his little journal of goodies, we sat down for coffee and planned a day trip with Mr. Lou Lou and Than, and depsite the fact that it was a bit pricier than we had hoped ($20 for 8 hours) I think it was a good choice.

After a great night of dinner and market shopping, Lils and I retired to a movie and the cozy confines of our $6 guest house complete with winter blankets. We woke up at 8 and met up with our pilots for a day in the countryside. We hopped on the hoggs, and headed out of the hustle and bussle of downtown Dalat and into the winding forest roads. We saw everything from the silk factory, to "Crazy House" (you'll see in the photos later) to coffee plantations,

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Partner in Crime Has Arrived!

Lily is here! She made it safe and sound, and boy, is it great to have her company. Lily is one of those friends who even though we've been apart for 7 months, it doens't feel like a day has passed! We met at a little retaurant on Thursday, which so perfectly happend to be Thanksgiving!

Instead of going the traditional Turkey route (which is quite difficult to track down in Vietnam anyways!) we met up with a friend of a friend named Nick who has been living here for 3 years working for a University. Boy did we live it up from that moment on! He treated us to a wonderful Sushi dinner downtown. We stuffed our faces. I would say that if there is anything I would rather eat than traditional food on the holidays, it would have to be Sushi! Mostly because I can eat so much of it! We gorged ourselves and then jumped on the back of his motorbike (that's right, 3 people on one!) and went to a really fancy bar downtown and had some cocktails. We ended up staying out pretty late and were feeling it the next morning!

We got up at 7:30 and went to the Cu Chi tunnels, the infamous tunnels of the Viet Cong during the war. We had a killer tour guide (complete with Karaoke songs including "In the army now" and "we are the world" with an adorable Vietnamese accent) and got to crouch through the tunnels briefly. You wouldn't believe how small the Vietnamese people would have to be to fit in these tunnels. Some of them lived there for months (maybe years!)hiding from the Americans. There were also still craters from the B-52s that we dropped there. It was pretty crazy, and quite the experience, despite the fact that it was pretty touristy and loaded with a healthy spread of cheese!

After that, Lils went to check out the War Museum that I had visited a few days earlier. She agreed with me that it was pretty depressing (obviously) but was glad that she saw it. After our big day, we went to the market, then to the travel agency that we used for the Tunnels and booked out Open Bus ticket for Vietnam. For $22, you can book this tour that takes you all along the west coast of the country from Saigon all the way up to Hanoi, the northern "capital city". Once you buy the ticket, you are able to stop wherever you want (mostly more developed areas) and stay for as long as you'd like. When you are ready to leave and travel on, you just catch the but the next day and off you go! Our next stop will be in Dalat, which is one of the most poular honeymoon spots for Vietnamese due to the fact that the scenery is spectacular. There are waterfalls and every sort of outdoor activity you could ever want to do including rafting, climbing, mountain biking, hiking, everything! We'll probably do another trek in the mountains there, which we are both really looking forward to. They have an excellent eco-tourism program in Dalat much like they did at the place I trekked in Northern Laos.

Yesterday we arrived here in Muine, and I'll tell you, now I feel like I'm on vacation! We are staying literally 15 steps from the sand (I counted) and the South China Ocean is beautiful! For some reason, there are not a lot of tourists around, (maybe the weather scared them off, or perhaps it's just not so well known yet!) and this place has such a peaceful charm to it. Short palm trees that just fit above your beach chair, endless flesh-toned sand that stretches for miles, the hint of an island off in a distance, killer Pina Coladas, and the freshest seafood. Last night we got Crab (that we picked out live) steamed in coconut water, and it was simply fabulous. We are going to have it again tonight it was soo good...and cheap! Only $4 which is nothing compared to your other options of noodles and chicken at $3!

First thing we did this morning when we woke up was jump in the ocean. Feels like home. What a great opposite to the city life of Saigon! INstead of falling asleep to the sounds of motorbike horns, we are now falling asleep to the sound of (loud) crashing waves...Oh, and did I mention the weather is perfect? 80 degrees, and barely a cloud in the sky! We plan on sledding in the multicolored sand dunes, and boogie boarding while we are here. I've heard that the sledding is awesome. Little vietnamese children rent you the sleds, and help you get up the hill! Sarah, I'm wondering if this is where you did this?

Ahhh, rough life I tell ya! More in a few days! Only 30 shopping days till Christmas!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Photos from Cambodia!

Here are some shots that I loved from Cambodia. Hopefully this helps you get the idea! Haven't quite figured out all the functions on this thing, so excuse the format. A bit screwy!

(below) Ta Prohm: Where the movie "Tomb Raider" was filmed. This amazing fig tree has grown right down the center! Incredible.

(R) Me and the kids at the orphanage. If you can zoom in, please do! The little girl in the green towel was too sick to play with us :(

(Above right) A bed located in one of the torture chambers at S-21 in Phenom Penh. So scary.
(Above) a temple...can't remember the name, but sooo cool, isn't it?
(R) Bayon. This is where I spent sunrise at Angkor Wat. You can imagine how eerie the faces looked in the early morning light!

Enjoy! Another post to come soon!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good Morning Vietnam!

You knew that title was coming, didn't ya! Here I am, in the heart of it all, formerly Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. What a crazy place it is! If you can believe it, people drive even crazier here that they do in Cambodia. I've got some great video of it, that's the only way I can possibly describe it.

I ended up spending another night or two in Phenom Penh realxing with some English and Irish friends that I made. The backpacker area gets a little old after 4 nights of playing pool at the same 2 bars, so I decided to move on, though I am still awaiting the arrival of Lily to Vietnam. She'll be here Thursday (just in time for the Turkey...hopefully!)

Today I went to the War Remnants Museum. It was really tough to be an American walking around that incredibly sad place. I read up on a lot of history, and studied the photographs and captions on display. So many atrosities in that damn war. I'm still not quite sure why we were there other than to "save" our country from the Communists. It just doesn't make sense. What really didn't make sense to me is a little thing called Agent Orange. Just to type the word gives me the chills.

I just can't believe that human beings are capeable of this tremendously inhumane act against one another. Some of the photos of the children born with disease and deformities were simply atrocious, not to mention adults who were so sadly affected by the dioxins. I felt disgusted by the past of our nation. Traveling really helps you put into perspective the fact that we are all of the same blood and bones. That none of us is better or more righteous than the other. While some of us most CERTAINLY are much more fortunate than others, it simly does not make us "better" than them. Different is fair, but those differences should be met with respect. War is the ultimate sin, no matter what your religion. War is no different that killing a loved one. This is why we all need to travel, and stop living in our sheltered, selfish little worlds where the white man rules and materialism is a goal. What are we doing to ourselves? This is the lesson that I hoped I would learn on this trip, and although I already knew it, I can finally embrace it and make sense of it.

Not quite sure what I'll be up to for the next couple of days, but I'll tell ya, the city just aint for me! I've got a TV in my room which is pretty nice, so I think I'll catch up on some movies. That'll help me save some dough too! It's good to get out early and sight see and then hang out for the afternoon and evening. I'm 99.8% recovered (no more bandages! YAY!) so swimming is in my near future! I may have to spend the day at the pool at a nice hotel tomorrow...mmm, that sounds pretty good!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dying Young...

I spent the day yesterday with 22 8-16 year olds with H.I.V. at an orphanage yesterday. I asked what I could bring and the woman who runs it said they have no food and really need rice, so I hopped on the back of a motorbike and bought 40 Kilos of rice ($40) and brought it to these poor unfortunate kids.

They were so beautiful. Some of them were very very sick. Many of the girls had sores all over their bodies and their poor little complexions were so pale and sickly. All of the kids' parents died of AIDS and the orphanage was set up by 2 Irish girls who wanted to do something to make a difference. The sad part is that they have no funding for food or supplies, so they rely on tourists to visit and bring them much need provisions.

We played all day. I racked my brain for ideas on games that would work despite to the language barrier with limited options. I chose "duck duck goose" and "musical chairs" to which I figured would work if I hummed the tune to "Pop Goes the Weasel". It was brilliant. The smiles and laughter that came out of these tortured souls was amazing. It makes you wonder if they understand the world of hurt that they live in. We played soccer, laughed, drew, and just had a good old time. Some of the kids really took a liking to me and almost had tears in their eyes when I left. I got some great photos that I will send along later. What a privileged life I live. I feel so fortunate to be able to give something back. My next mission is to spread the word about this orphanage so that other travelers will visit them as well. When you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, please think of them, and although it's a lost cause, please pray for their recovery. Cherish life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cambodia...same same, but completely different!

Cambodia has been such a whirlwind so far. I got off the plane from Laos and stepped into the thick and muggy air of the Siem Reap, home of Angkor wat. My first impression was that it was incredibly poor and unfortunate, which it certainly is. ..but i was surely surprised when i whizzed past Lexuses on the back of a moto (motorbike taxi). Cambodia is the poorest of all the countries I've been to so far, but I didn't realize how poor until I got under the skin a bit.

The first day i arrived, I checked into my guest house and immediately went for a tour of the "floating village". Hundreds of families literally living on a horribly polluted lake filled with plastic and crocodiles. Their existence seemed rather peaceful, but I just cannot imagine. t Needless to say, these are some of the poorest people in Siem Reap, and possibly in Cambodia. As you cruise along the water, kids in long-tailed boats creep up to you with coolers selling beer and soda, or anything they possibly can! It's hard to say no, but I did. You really don't want to encourage the kids to beg because the money goes right back to their parents to gamble with.
A crocodile farm (cage) and a few kids with water snakes wrapped around their necks and I was back at my guest house to find bed early in preparation for my big day at Angkor Wat.

Since I had already spent $200 to get there and an additional $70 in 24 hours, I decided that Angkor Wat ($20 to get in per day) would be conquered in a day...and for me, it was. I simply cannot imagine going back for another day, let alone an entire week which some travelers do.

I woke up at 4:30 to make it to the gates for the 5:30 sunrise. I opted to go to a less visited wat for sunrise since the big one Angkor Wat is magnificently crowded with an influx of Japanese and Korean "photographers". I wanted some peace and quite, and I'll tell ya, probably the best decision I could have made. I was the only one at Bayon (for those of you who looked it up, sunrise made the amazing faces even more erie). Went to 10 other wats throughout the day including the one where Tomb Raider was filmed and ended my temple day at 3pm. The original plan was sunrise to sunset, but i was spent after 10 hours. I think that'll do for temples for a while!

The next morning, I caught a bus to Phenom Pen (the capital city) where I am right now. Last night I took it easy, explored a bit and had a few drinks with some other travelers over a game or three of pool. This morning, I stepped into a world or Cambodian Tragedy by visiting "S-21" and the "Killing Fields" where thousands of Cambodians and Asians were held executed by the Khmer Rouge in the mid-seventies. What an atrocity, and what an experience. It's weird when you are in a place like that learning about something so disgusting and so tragic. Everyone around you is silenced and you can barely muster up a smile, but it feels like that's how you are supposed to react. S-21 was a former highschool that the K-R overtook and made into a holding cell for the pre-destined detainees. Soooo erie. Then to the Killing fields where the dropped the prisoners and executed them on site, cutting off their heads, raping them, and throwing them into ditches to be buried dead or was heart wrenching. I had a pit in my stomach all day and still kinda do.

Tomorrow morning, i'm going to an orphanage for kids with HIV. There are 22 kids there and they just love having visitors. I think I 'll bring them some paints and crayons. I can't wait for this experience! I'll be in Cambodia for a few more days, and then off to Vietnam. I'll write again before I cross the border!

Love you all!

A few long-awiated photos!

The village children are sooo beautiful. This boy can't be more than 8 and he's carrying his infant brother around on his back all day long. Look at the cuties in the background too! Soo cute!

The dreaded they are in all their glory. Don't worry, they look much better now. I just look like I have a skin disease! Didn't get any shots of the old'll see the scars!

I am with one of the village locals at sunrise! Holy cow was it amazing! See the crazy bamboo huts that the village people live in? No doors, barely floors, and all made out of bamboo and palm frons. Remarkable!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Trekking to the corners!

Trekking (or hiking) is a very popular traveler's past time in Southeast Asia. You can trek from so many different places in Asia, that it is hard to decide where to begin. Although I was tempted to trek from Chiang Mai in Thailand, I'm glad I waited until I got to Laos to undertake this once in a lifetime extraordinary experience for a few reasons:

From Luang Nam Tha, we caught a sangthaew to Muang Sing, which is in the western corner of Laos bordering China on one side and Burma on the other. The first night we arrived there, we met 4 Irish kids, 2 girls and 2 boys, and man, were they everything they're cracked up to be. After drinking Beerlao after Beerlao with them and dancing at the "disco", Mick and I decided maybe it would be better to let them do their own trek (they got a bit loud, but hilarious all the same!)

The next morning, we got up early and headed to the morning market to gather provisions for our trip including snacks, a $2 backpack, a novice monk beanie and a sarong for bathing. One of the main reasons we chose to trek from Muang Sing is because the only place you can book a trek is through the eco-tourism office. This is excellent because unlike so many other trekking companies, all of the money you pay goes directly to the village, and helps fund research for eco-tourism. Brilliant.

We met our 19 year old student trek guide(who would also be our cook, translator and friend), Phone (Pawn) and headed out for a 3 day trek through the forest of Northern Laos. When you trek here, instead of camping in a tent, you stay with a local hill tribe village in their guest house (more on that later). Our first stop was at an Akha (hilltribe) village to gather up the chief of the tribe to accompany us on our journey...crazy huh? Chief was about 5 ft tall and an ex Lao soldier...he wore the hat and everything. We had lunch at his village and started walking.

The first day was pretty hot. We had to go about 7 km (5 of them uphill) which wasn't too bad despite the heat of the afternoon sun, but the reward was more than worth it. At about 5pm, we arrived at a huge village of Akha Pouli (sp) people. I can't even begin to explain what this experience was like other than to say it was as though we had jumped in a time machine and traveled back 100 years. People living completely off the land in every way. The children almost never had pants on (and it was pretty cold at night) and the women would breast feed in the middle of the road. Children age 8 had an infant sibling tied onto their back with a sarong and 40 year old women had 90 lbs of rice on theirs! The men stay at home and feed the children and look after the home while the women work in the rice fields all day. A remarkable number of children frolicked around half naked, so did goats, water buffalo and countless cats and dogs all living together in and around bamboo huts made by hand. I can't even explain what it was like, but I'll certainly include some pictures as soon as they are done.

That night after playing with the children and trying to find a common ground between the language barrier (facial expressions and games worked well) we settled in for dinner. Every meal consisted of rice (surprise surprise) and some sort of vegetable, chilies, and usually pickled fish. Yep, breakfast too! After dinner, we enjoyed some lao lao (rice whiskey) and in came the teenage girls for a massage which is traditional in these villages. The girls were dressed in their nicest clothes and giggled back and forth to each other about how cute our guide was while they massaged us. It was certainly not your typical serene massage, but so fun all the same.

The next morning, we had to gear up for a big hike. 8 hours up and down the mountain side straddling China and Burma. We did about 15Kms that day, most of it uphill as well. The views were breathtaking and again, the reward of another Akha village made it so worth while. Upon arrival, a shower was in need... so I tied on my sarong, and headed to the water spicket, followed by every child in the village. They watched as I struggled to keep my sarong on while washing the important was pretty hilarious! After that, more food, and some excellent interaction with the children. I had them all playing air instruments in our own little pretend band! Sooo fun. They got the biggest kick out of it. I could hear them singing all the way up at the house 20 minutes later!

Another massage, similar to the previous one, but a bit stronger (which was nice) and then layed down and had a great conversation with Phone. He told us all about the Akha culture. Everything from their religions, to societal roles, to sex lives. Really amazing stuff.

By the next morning, we were about ready to get back to "civilization" if you can call it that! We trekked for about 4 more hours through a couple more villages and finished up at the tuk tuk to take us back to town my 3pm to catch the last bus back to Luang Nam Tha.

Yesterday morning we woke up and jumped on a 8 hour bus to Luang Prabang in central Lao where I sit right now!

Whew. I didn't even come close to saying everything that I'd like to, but the photos should tell the story, don't worry, they're on the way!

Off to Cambodia tomorrow or the next day to visit Angkor Wat...just google it, trust me!


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Halloween inThailand...of course!

In my last blog, I was taking it easy and trying to let my wounds heal up, which I am still doing...but I did take a pause to celebrate Halloween of course! Mick and I decided, what better way to celebrate Halloween than to make fun of ourselves, plus, it was pretty darn cost effective!

You see, in Thailand, many many Farang (foreigners) get injured in motorbike accidents. 5 a day just in the 3,000 person town of Pai, so needless to say, we were quite a spectacle with bandages wrapped all around us. Everyone was very sympathetic to our condition, but it got old after the first day having to tell the story of the magically appearing speed bump! We thought the best way to combat the comments would be to play it up a bit. Mick had a set of paints in his bag so we did up the bandages with some "blood" (we also added one around our heads for dramatic irony!) and made signs to hang from our shirts that had a motorbike with a circle and line drawn through it. We accessorised the sign by writing Farang in both English and Thai so that everyone would be able to read it. As soon as we walked in to the Halloween party at the nearby bar, everyone was laughing! There was one thing that we didn't calculate however...the fact that no one believed that our wounds were real! After about 3 slaps on my open wounds, we decided that it would be best if we told everyone that they were real (it started to get really painful). The pain paid off though, because, surprise surprise, we won the costume contest! One bottle of 100 Pipers Whiskey sure helped to ease the pain. One of the judges had slapped me twice because he didn't believe me, so that might have helped in the win as well!

The next day, we were feeling a bit better and decided to chill in Pai for another day. We decided against the Raiki due to the fact that it was both pretty expensive and time consuming and after having spent 5 days in one spot, it was time to move on. On our last day in Pai, we felt like celebrities! Everyone remembered us from the night before and was calling us "costume champions"! It was great to spend some time in a beautiful place and really get to know the locals. They really accepted us and appreciated our humor in making fun of ourselves. It made for a pretty memorable time!

I was originally planning on going South to the beaches by today, but after careful reassessment, I've decided that I will stay North for a bit longer until I heal up for a couple of reasons. 1:I can't swim, and being at all those white sand crystal clear beaches would be shear torture. 2: It's still raining there and again, can't get the dressings wet 3: I've been told by so many other travelers that Laos is the place to be, and that Southern Thailand is just another huge tourist trap. There is so much to explore in Northern Laos, and some really good environmentally friendly trekking here, so I decided this would be a better option. I should be all healed up by Tuesday, and then the trekking shall begin.

Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos was quite interesting. You simply jump on a ferry across the Mekong River (about 1/4 mile) and you're in a different country! Got to buy your visas, and you're in! That's it! I must admit I felt kind of embarrassed checking into the country with an American Passport after the tragedy we caused this beautiful country during the Vietnam War. Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the world, and they were neutral. I think I'll tell everyone I'm Canadian from here on out (which is never a bad idea, except when someone tries to speak French to you and you don't understand!)

Right now I am typing on a computer located in the most remote town I've been to yet called Luang Nam Tah which is in Northeastern Laos. 35,000 people live here, but I'll be damned if I know where they all are! Heck, all 12 people from the bus-ride here got into the same Sangtheaw (truck-taxi) along with luggage and 2 chickens!

More in a few days kids! I love you all!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Day in Pairadise...kind of!

Well, since my last blog, I've been here chillaxing in Pai, (Northern Thailand). It's a beautifully quaint little hippie town surrounded by natural wonders. Waterfalls, jungles and a great bunch of great restaurants make up the town of Pai. It's very quaint, and the hill tribe women are always around selling their goods as well.

Mick and I did a 24K hike on Sunday. We made our way up to a ridiculously beautiful waterfall, winding through jungle and crossing the river numerous times. It was perfect, and we were the only ones up there! After we got back down, we were pretty hungry, so we jumped on the motorbike and headed out for a bite to eat. The light was getting dim, the adrenaline was flowing and we were pretty hungry, so neither of us was thinking completely straight. A speed bump jumped out of nowhere, and Mick slammed on the breaks...or shall I say break. Only the front ones worked well, and the bike tipped over throwing us on our left sides. We slid on the loose gravel and pavement and got some pretty good road rash. Everything is all superficial, and we went directly to the hospital to get it all treated and cleaned. We're gonna hang low here for a couple of days until the wounds dry up, which is a good thing. I don't think there is anywhere I'd rather in Thailand recovering from something like this.

Mick has been really nice and looking after me. He payed for a nice place where we can recuperate and out in the shade for a few days. I am just taking the whole thing with a grain of salt, knowing that everything happens for a reason. I keep telling myself that someone was trying to tell us to slow down a bit, and I am listening. Perhaps if this hadn't happened, I would have had something much worse happen. I've got to believe in stuff that.

We're going to look into doing some Raiki training and a Thai Cooking Course here for the next couple of days. Good old low-impact activities. Maybe after 4 or 5 days, it will be trekking time. Just need my knee to heal up well. No infections though, so that is a major positive. I'll try and round up some pictures for you for my next update. Mick has a camera and is going to burn me a disc of whatever we take. Still haven't found a camera worth purchasing yet...

I'm doing just fine, don't worry!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Team Pun Pun

At the counter of the Internet cafe where I printed the directions, a nice young British guy offered me a ride to the truck on his motorcycle...I normally wouldn't do this, especially in a foreign country, but he was friends of the owner of the Internet cafe, and he seemed very well respected, so I though, what the hell. IF I don't take him up on it, I may miss the truck!

I gathered my things quickly, tied up all my loose ends, and made it to the pick up spot with 10 minutes to spare. Joe (whom I later found out is the owner of the farm) greeted me with a big Thai smile and explained to me that the truck would take about 2 hours, and that it would stop at a few village markets on the way to drop off produce and fish for the people. HE said not to worry, and to sit back and enjoy the ride.

They began loading the back of the truck (the sangthew again with benches in the back) with heaps of fresh produce, and about the biggest fish I'd ever seen dead. I mean, the whole back of the truck was filled to the brim with stuff including me and two elderly Thai women. We began our journey down winding corridors of Thai garage-warehouses. I realized that this was the very place where all those little do-dads that say "Made In Thailand" came from. We continued out of town and into the countryside, stopping at local markets and dropping off produce, and boxes and rugs. It was really cool to be a part of how it all works. To actually be the middle-man! I helped in the best way I could.

When we pulled up at the entrance to the Pun Pun Organic Farm, it was almost exactly what I had imagined given Peggy's description in the directions, except turned around a bit. What I found when I walked onto the farm was a totally different story.

I was greeted at the beginning of the rice patties by an English-speaking Monk (every village needs at least one) who lead me through the patties and up the hill to the farm. I took my flip flops off and greeted the residents, none of them speaking any English except for the broken vocabulary of the monk. HE offered me lunch, and I was famished, so I accepted. I asked if Peggy was around (I'd never met her before) and the showed me to where she was working.

She greeted me up to her elbows in mud. I gave her a hug, and thanked her for having me, already completely amazed by what my eyes had seen, but the best was yet to come! Peggy was right in the middle of working on a project in one of the Earthen houses. It was then that I realized what amazing treasure I had stumbled upon. This place was like an ewok village! She led me up to the project, and I asked if I could help. She smiled and said "of course, we'll put you right to work". I walked with her to the site and got my hands dirty with work...literally. She had made a mixture of mud, water and tapioca to "paint" the walls of one of the earthen houses. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it looks like an Adobe house, but it's made out of mud instead of clay, and boy are they beautiful. It would literally blow your mind if you could see what just mud is capable of, it blew mine alright! I stuck my hands in the mud mixture and began smearing the walls in a reddish brown colored natural paint, and loved every second of it. I even covered my arms in mud so that I felt really connected. I guess that's kind of a childish instinct, but it was fun!

When the work was done for the day, Peggy showed me around the farm. She gave me the full tour of the orchards, all of the 10 or 12 buildings that they had made from the ground up, and introduced me to all of the residents along the way. She showed me to my house which turned out to be the VIP house (how I scored that I had no idea!) The place was lovely. Terra-cotta in color and decorated perfectly. IT had bottles protruding through the walls to allow for light, and an open floor plan in the entry way. The bedroom was separated by an archway clad with various bottle caps. It was marvelous. Before I knew it, the dinner bell rang, and it was time for a beautifully organic dinner.

Everything we ate at Pun Pun, 3 meals a day was grown there on the farm (except the mushrooms I think), from the rice, to the herbs and vegetables to the passion fruit wine. Everyone contributed to the meal in one way or another. Some helped gather while others cooked and others cleaned. It was quite symbiotic. It was perfect. You could walk around the farm all day pulling fresh berries and passion fruits from the trees and drinking rain water. How much better does it get?

I don't want to call the farm a commune, because it didn't fit my exact connotation of one. To me a commune means that there is a leader and a lot of little worker bees, bu that everyone benefits from the fruits of their labor...and there is usually weed involved. Not Pun Pun. Pun Pun was simply about living healthy, helping each other, and making things with your natural surroundings, and not wasting a bit. I mean not even a seed or a piece of wood or your own urine! Everything had a way to be re-used. It was quite remarkable really. I could go on and on about the operations there and everybody's jobs, but I'll wait to tell you all in person.

During my time on Pun Pun, I learned a bit about farming and permaculture, natural architecture, construction, cooking, and living a perfectly harmonious life with the people, plants and animals that surround you. I learned how we should all be living, and I think I learned how I'd like to live. I could seriously consider living there for a few months and learning the ways of the farm in depth. To me, this was heaven on earth, and I was lucky enough to spend three waking days on it.

I could write so much more, but in the best interest of your eyes in mine, I'll end it there. Dont' worry, I wrote about 10 pages in my journal while I was there too!

Back, and better than ever

From a world that many of us have never traveled to, and for me it is one that I'd always dreamed of...the world of a completely sustainable organic farm....

More on that in a bit. I've experienced so much in the past 5 days, that I have to split it up into two blogs. Before I get to my favorite part of my trip thus far, let me tell you a little bit about what I did to get there.

In my last post, I was on my way from Kanchanaburi to Ayuthya. Ayuthya was really cool. Met back up with another friend who I met in BKK named Mick (another Aussie), completely randomly. Dylan was sitting in the common area downstairs finishing his beer and I had just come back from the bathroom at my guest house, and there he was! Kind of divine intervention, because he would be the one I would travel with for the next week or so.

Dylan, Mick and I traveled together to Ayuthya, the old capital of Thailand to visit some amazing temples. We rented cycles and rode all around town, quite a beautiful ride through a park in the middle of town and to three Temples. We had a bunch of laughs as well. It was really sad to see the destruction of the Buddhist temples. Years ago, the Burmese came in and raided the old king's dwelling and stole all the gold off the large Buddha and decapitated all the smaller ones. When they were finished with the mass religious homicide, they burnt the city down, leaving it in ruins, which remain today. It was quite impressive and disappointing to see. How could someone ruin something so beautiful? The Buddhas had been reconstructed, but there was just this erie sense of bad energy there that I simply cannot explain. On the contrary, it was actually somewhat peaceful...

The next day, the three of us parted ways. Dylan and Mick went a bit east, and I north to Chiang Mai. I had a few hours to kill before getting on the sleeper train (which was soooo awesome) so I grabbed a cocktail at a local pub. I was the only patron. I looked behind me only to find a complete instrument set up just collecting dust waiting for someone to play it. Naturally, I asked to play it! I played guitar and drums for a bit, and then had a game of pool with a Thai woman...that's the good old bar girl in me I guess! At 9:30pm, I jumped in an overcrowded sangthaew (a truck with bench seats in the back) and headed to the train to Chiang Mai.

What a great way to travel. You get your own little pull down bed and a curtain(I got top bunk!), and you just sleep on the train! It's your moving guest house for the night! I had this crazy-eyed German guy across from me, so I pretty much crawled right into bed as soon as I got on board, read for a bit and passed out. I woke up at 8 am and had a couple of hours of taking in the sights from the train window. We had begun winding through the mountains, and I had eye fulls of rice patties and green rolling hills, a sight I embraced whole-heatedly after being in the city and flat lands for a week. This was more up my alley.

Upon my arrival in Chiang Mai, I immediately rented a motorbike and started cruising around town. IT's amazing. In Thailand, you can rent a motorbike for 200 baht or less, which in dollars equals out to about 6 dollars or so...for 24 hours! IT's a hard deal to pass up, and having a motorbike really allows you the freedom to do and go as you please, and believe me, I did! I loved the feeling of being on a motorbike. The breeze on your face, and the power of the machine were enough to give me perma-grin all day. I drove around the moat that circles the downtown area for hours sussing out my new surroundings. I found a guest house for 100 baht ($3), set my stuff down, and went back out to paint the town red!

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, except for the exhaust and traffic, it doesn't really feel like it, except when you go to the Night Bazzar. It's just loads and loads of merchants on the side of a closed road that sell everything you could imagine. If you were a shop-a-holic, you'd be in big trouble here, because everything is sooo cheap. I had to try really hard to resist buying anything. I'd told myself that I would rather get things at the end of my trip so I don't have to carry them around for the next 6 weeks...I did buy one small thing.

The next morning I woke up and decided that I'd had enough of the city life and that I would look into heading up to the Organic Farm that I'd heard about. The girl who invited me, Peggy, had sent me an email with the directions and timing on when I needed to be where in order to catch the truck 2 hours north to the farm. As I read through the directions, I realized that If I wanted to make it to the farm that day, that I needed to meet the driver at 12pm, and it was already 11:30. I still had to get my laundry, return my motorbike, and check out of the guest house...and arrange transportation to meet at the rendezvous spot, but I knew that if I hustled, I could do it...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kanchanaburi on a Motorcycle!

The last two days have be quite adventurous...

After spending the last few days in the crazy city of Bangkok, I was about ready to get away to a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere. I heard that Kanchanaburi, just west of Bangkok, was home to some rolling hills and amazing waterfalls, which sounded just about right.

Dylan, the Australian, yoga-hippy-friend that I made at the last guest house in Bangkok accidentally missed his flight to India where he was headed on a yoga retreat for 6 months, and ended up tagging along with me to Kan'buri. He couldn't get another flight until Thursday. We get a long well together. He's very polite, easy going and pretty damn hilarious. It's nice having a male to travel with for a few days too, rather reassuring.

We took a 3 hour bus ride ($2) and arrived at a lovely guest house with some excellent single bungaloos on stilts above the River Kwai for 200 baht a night ($6 or so). The place is great. Family owned and operated, and really genuine. I made friends with a couple of youngsters, gosh the children here are adorable! We threw tree fruits at a lotus leaf for hours together! The only strange thing that I found about the bungaloos was that the toilet doesn't flush...we'll not the way we would flush it. The bathrooms come equipped with a bowl next to the toilet which you fill with water and pour into the toilet once you've done your business. The pressure from the weight of the water forces it down...kinda strange, I just now realized that you are supposed to pour a large amount in at one time rather than lots of small little bowl. Oh well, live and learn I suppose!

On Saturday night when we arrived, we strolled 3 km to the Bridge over The River Kwai (built during WWII) and watched the train pass on the rickety Death Railway. Before dinner, we rented a 200cc Honda Phantom motorcycle for our driving pleasure, and boy was that a good move...quite possibly the best of my trip so far, especially because Dylan knew how to drive the thing! He was actually quite adolescently pleased by the whole idea of the bike. I caught him giggling afew times while driving...I was giggling too!

After breakfast yesterday morning, we hoped on the hog, and drove 1hr south to Erawan Falls National Park, home to a 7 tiered waterfall. At about the second tier, we accidentally disturbed a wasp nest, and I got stung about 7 times. Dylan grabbed my arm as I let out a girlish screech at the top of my lungs and pulled me into the water to divert the attention of the wasps, but what he didn't realize was that I had my digital camera around my waist...still hoping it dries out and miraculously comes back to life. Everything else was alright sans a couple of soggy bills and a damp passport. It could have been a lot worse I suppose.

We made it all the way to the top and swam in an absolutely majestic pool at the top pool. There was a neat little cave that was really special with some impressive stalactites hanging inside it.
Hopped on the bike and back to Kan'buri for a late dinner on a floating restaurant on the river Kwai overlooking the Bridge at dusk. Amazing fish dishes fresh from the river here.

I settled in for an early night, and got a great sleep in. Probably the best since I've been here. I just came back from a ridiculously perfect massage that only cost 100baht ($3...I gave her $5, it was just not fair)

Now it's off to Ayuthya, the original capital of Thailand before the Burmese invaded and looted the king's palace and forced the royal family to the Bangkok area. I'll stay there a night and then north to Chaing Mai, where I will stay on an organic farm with a friend of a friend and possibly with Brian the Boston guy I met in BKK.

Oh, the life of a traveler. I may be hooked...

Friday, October 19, 2007

3 Nights in Bangkok

Whoa! What a trip. Bangkok is the hub for all travel, so I'll be back before I know it. Gosh, where to begin. Talk about sensory overload! BKK is a place a million smells, we'll start there...then throw in a million or so people and a huge tourist population along with endless shopping, eating, touts and did I mention smells? Given all of these factors, it's amazing that I stumbled upon the Villa Guest house just outside the city near Khosan Road in East Banglamphu. This is about as good as it gets, although my first impression wasn't as promising...

As I hoofed it across town to search for this guest house which was explained in my guidebook as "not well sign-posted" I thought to myself that it would be nearly impossible to find. A few finger points and broken English conversations later and I was there. I walked down a long front corridor down a side street or "soi" just off the main road to a wooden door. I rang the bell, and a small elderly Thai lady came to the door and greeted me. She said the room was 250 Baht (about 8 dollars a night) and that she did indeed have a room open. I took my shoes off at the door (as is customary) walked my bare feet across the old teak floors and to my new room. Upon setting backpack down, I was excited to hear some other travelers speaking English in an Australian accent. I introduced myself to Shane and Dylan, and we immediately got to chatting. Dylan a bit more on the timid side, and Shane rather lively. Dylan and I went to get a bite to eat, and came back to Shane and another guest named Brian (actually a high school teacher in Cambridge from Boston!) finishing off a bottle of whiskey. We followed them down the street to a blues club and had beer or two. This was the smallest pub with live music I'd ever seen, but, man did it rock. A large Thai (a rarity) stood belting gout American classic rock while her 4 piece band sat squished against the wall and not phased by the lack of space. We somehow managed the only remaining 4 seats right front of the band. We capped the evening with deep conversations and a second bottle of whiskey. We joked at how we were the Fantastic Four (all staying at the same guest house) the next morning at breakfast.

Before breakfast, I jumped on a local bus at 8am amidst many Thai's on their way to work in order to head to the train station to get my ticket in advance for my travels north. I ended up at the wrong end of town (which was just fine by me) and had to taxi back to the train station. Something got lost in translation when I told them I wanted to go to the train station, they took me to the bus station. I have since learned how to say these phrases in Thai! The bus ride was worth it though. 15 baht (about 50cents) is cheap price to pay for a tour of BKK, especially cuz I got to ride shotgun in the bus! They drive on the left side, and the shotgun seat on the bus is the best! It feels like you should be driving! So fun.

I returned to find the boys back at the house ready to eat. We did, relaxed a bit after a long night, and welcomed in two new travelers names Sandra and Michael also from Australia. We had dinner and a chat with them and woke up and did some great yoga in our front sitting area this morning at 6:30am.

Today it's off to Kanchanaburi, which is a river town just west of BKK. About a 3 hour bus ride. It is home to the Bridge over The River Kwai, right near the POW camp from WWII. There is a 7 tiered waterfall there and 3 rivers that converge to make for an amazing weekend getaway for Thais. I've heard there's a floating Karaoke boat that should be a hoot!

Living page to page i a guidebook is really something. I feel so free...

Pictures next time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Arival in the Land of Smiles

18 hours (12 of them completely dark) on a plane, 3 Hollywood blockbusters, 6 hours of sleep and 3 square meals of 10,000 year eggs (don't they were green and brown!) and other various rice and vegetable dishes...and voila! I'm in Thailand!

Needless to say, it's amazing here. I am just outside of Bangkok in a part of the city known as Kho San Road, which is basically a landing pad for travelers all over the world. The ratio is certainly heavier on the "farang" (foreigner) side, but the smiles and shopping are abundant... the shopping actually too abundant!

I decided to take the bus instead of a cab from the airport mostly because it was cheaper, but also because I didnt' want to get harassed by the cab-driver wanting to take me to his "business parnter's" shops. I also wanted to have a bus experience right off the baht (Thai humor!) I slept on the bus a bit and woke up to photos of the Thai President strewn across a major intersection which housed more motor bikes than cars! Pretty impressive.

I got off at the Kho San Road stop and began my journey to find a guest house which is basically a single hostel room. The first 2 I saw were on the 5th floor...arg, too hot. Then I found this one. 2nd floor, modest, yet smart room with a single bed, a fan and a shower that runs over the toilet like on a boat! For a cool 190 baht (about 6 dollars) it was for sure my best choice.

I checked it, set my stuff down, strapped on my fanny pack which contains all my valuables and headed out to the street markets to see what I could conjure up to eat. I also looked for a brief moment for flip flops and a tank top (pretty damn humid here!) I settled for a bowl of Pad Thai noodles from a very kind street vendor about my age whom I had the chance to speak with for a few minutes. She was very nice and had a wonderful smile. After that, back to the the room to rest my weary head. I was so tired from the traveling that I passed out at 8pm and slept almost uninterrupted until 6am. The walls are thin and people have an urgency to slam their doors late at night.

Woke up this morning, got some sticky rice and mangoes for breakfast and here I am! I'm off to explore Bangkok a bit more today. I'm sure I'll have plenty to talk about so stay close! THIS is the city that never sleeps!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Virtual Journal

Hey kids,
Just want to get you all familiar with using a blog before I head out on my trip. This'll give you a month or so to get familiar, save the link, and maybe even experiment with your own blog spot! It's really easy to do. It only took me 3 minutes to set up this one! The advantage of this versus email is that anyone and everyone can check your blog at their convenience. This way, you can follow me wherever I go! I can upload photos and text pretty easily...don't worry, I'll still send some personal emails as well. Welcome to my virtual journal!

Much love,
mekristilee ;)