Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Here are some pics:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time to go solo

I'm taking advantage of my last free access to a laptop and internet here at Steph's new spot in Udon Thani, Thailand.
We arrived here in Udon after a LONG stint of traveling.  It started after killing a day / recovering from the Full Moon Party.  We then hopped on a boat that was basically a floating dorm.  Each of the two levels of the boats held ~100 mattresses and pillows/rocks in pillow cases.  It was a pretty weird set up, but a good way for us to travel since we didn't really want to spend a night in Surat Thani (the mainland port).  The boat was really slow, taking 7 hours to cover a slightly longer route then the ferry took 2.5hrs to cross.  
Our travels were just starting though.  We arrived at the dock at 5am where we were ordered into a van (that's only a minor exaggeration) that would take us to the airport.  Or so we thought.  In fact the van took us around the block (after we paid) and we were then told to get out and wait an hour.!  We convinced them that actually we were ready to go now thank you very much.  So instead we transferred to a personal car.  The result was that Steph and I were dropped off at the airport at about 5:40...with NO ONE around.  The place was absolutely deserted!
To cut the story short we ended up getting in 45mins later, cleaning up a bit and then waiting for our flight that was changed from 8:40 to 11 (aargh!).  We were sure that meant we were going to miss our connecting flight to Udon.  Not to worry though!  Nok air came through and canceled our flight, moving us to one at 5pm (they were nice enough to feed us while we waited for 4hrs though).
Eventually we arrived into Steph's new town around 6pm and were picked up by her school which was gracious enough to put me up at her apartment (well Steph was gracious enough actually) and then take me out to dinner as well.

I've been really impressed with Steph's situation so far.  The school is very well equipped and as ridiculous as teaching 3-4yr olds English sounds, it seems to work really well (it's basically a language immersion preschool/kindergarten).  The best part for Steph, in my opinion, is that there seems to be a really great group of 20-something girls already here teaching (from 1yr-6-weeks experience). We've gone out with them both nights now and they've all been very friendly and helpful.
So now I'm getting ready to head out on my own.  I was imagining that I would stay here a bit longer and help Steph get settled in, but I don't think I can do as good as job as they can!  I'm think I'm now going to head out either tomorrow afternoon or Friday morning (Steph is of course cheering for Friday) and go up to Laos.  Traveling with Steph has made the experience so much more easy, but more importantly, enjoyable, but I am excited to set out on my own for a few weeks and then of course excited to welcome mom to SEAsia!

The blogs may now be fewer and farther between (without Steph's laptop), but I'm sure the fun and sights won't be!  

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A holiday from the vacation

This posting might not be my most coherent; if that's the case, my apologies.  You'll have to understand that a night at a Full Moon Party will leave you... tired.

For those that have never heard of a Full Moon Party, it's developed into a bit of a legend in the backpacker/traveler culture with imitations all over the world.  There's only one original of course and that just happens to be the Island of Phangan where Steph and I have been for the last 3 days.  The island is full of nice beaches and some jungle, but more than that it seems to be jam packed with Brits and Aussies (many fresh out of college or high school).  The party is more than a little ridiculous with one particular beach lined with bars and drunken people from all over the world dancing to rave music and playing with black lights.  I didn't make it as late as I hoped (those booze buckets (and yes I do mean a bucket) are deadly), but the party was still going at 8am apparently.
Our time on the island went pretty quickly and without us doing a whole lot.  The first day we did rent a MoPed and checked out the western half of the island.  It was a lot of fun, once I realized that Steph wasn't going to crash into anything (actually I was more concerned about the other tourists crashing into us!).

Before getting to Ko Phangan Steph and I had made a stop at a really nice jungle national park called Khao Sok.  We only spent one night there, but it would be a great place to check out more.  We took a canoe trip down the river as soon as we arrived.  I think Steph enjoyed it more than I, as the jungle is a little less of a novelty to me now.  Seeing some snakes and frogs was new though.  As was nearly flipping the boat!

Khao Sok was basically just a way to break up our travels from Phuket to the big party.  Phuket was nice enough, with some beaches and we also did a tour out into the bay which is filled with limestone islands.  The islands were very beautiful, but after El Nido I just wasn't as impressed.  The water wasn't nearly as nice, but the limestone was a little different and just as stunning.

Probably my biggest complaint with the tour and really all of Thailand has been how touristy it is.  There are more bule than locals it seems.  To be frank, I haven't really cared for Thailand.  Granted we have only visited the tourist locations, but the vibe here just doesn't fit my style any more.  A big part of this is my dealing with coming out of Indo.  Just lately I've been realizing how special of an adventure I have been undertaking, but a 'downside' is that now I like to travel 'on the beaten path'.  I actually feel out of place and more than a little awkward being in a big tourist location.  It's a really catch-22, but I'm a tourist that doesn't want to be a tourist.  Like I said, I think this is at least partially about my reverse culture shock, but so far Thailand has not been by favorite.  It certainly is a very nice place, but I think it's better for someone who doesn't want to explore as much or is new to the travel bug.  My assessment of the bay tour we did pretty well fits my whole opinion of Thailand: it's beautiful and I like it, but I feel like I'm 30 years late.

Oh well poor me right!  What problems I have to deal with!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Into Thailand

Just a quick note, we've arrived in Phuket, Thailand.   It seems like we've been traveling for about 3 days and my head is still trying to catch up with my body (the cold is not helping).  We did some serious walking around Singapore (little India and the food was great!) before sleeping in the airport and flying to Phuket yesterday.  We met Dani, one of the other ETAs, who handed off a bunch of Thai info before she left last night.
Right now we're just waiting out some rain and going to head up to the north of Phuket.

That's all for now...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finishing up The Philippines

Who knew seeing such beautiful settings took it out of a person so much, but I’m tired!  I’m writing this from Puerto Princessa where we just arrived.  

After El Nido we bussed over to Taytay for a little quiet time.  We were the only tourists in the entire town, and while there wasn't a ton to do we had a good time meeting some locals (and having beer bought for us!) and also taking an adventure out to a jungle lake where we borrowed some local guy's dug out canoe!  The rest of the time was really just spent enjoying the quiet little town and it's beautiful sunsets.

Next up was a longer than expected ride down to Sabang and the longest underground river in the world which is also the only underground river in the world which drains directly into the ocean.  It was very cool, but after the seclusion we've been having, the 90 Koreans that swarmed to the place right after us was a bit overwhelming, though it did mean that we pretty much got a private tour, but that could have been better if the guy had cut out the corny jokes and let us enjoy the caves. Oh well I'm getting picky now!  The hike over to the cave was also really nice, if a little sweaty and surrounded by mosquitoes!

Upon getting back we decided we were in no hurry to get back to civilization and enjoyed the nice beach and comfy hammocks!  Luckily most people come from Puerto Princessa for a day tour of the caves, meaning the town was very quiet, though we did manage to find some more Filipinos to buy us beer (traveling with a girl has its perks)!

Oh I also managed to find time to try another interesting food.  Nicknamed adidas (after the shoe) I munched down on some grilled chicken feet...yum!

We’ll spend tonight here and fly tomorrow evening and then to Singapore the next day and onto Thailand the morning after that.  Lots of flights!

 All in all Palawan was absolutely horrible.  Make sure you never come here, the beaches aren't gorgeous, there aren't really nice people, the snorkeling isn't pretty good, the scenery isn't stunning and the prices aren't really affordable.  So please don't come here!  I however, will try to suffer through and return sometime soon!

I'm trying to update the pictures when I can so check the same facebook album.

Becoming a beach person...

When Steph and I started this trip she mentioned that she was a beach person, and I said I was definitely a mountain person; I may stand corrected!  Our time in El Nido was that fantastic. 

We initially flew into Puerta Princessa and were able to get a good deal on a hot water and AC room as well as a share mini-van with AC up to El Nido.  After checking with literally every place in El Nido we found a decent cheap room.  Our next step was to book a tour; that’s the deal in El Nido (a small tourist town right on the water and up against some limestone cliffs), all the various tour operators, and there are a lot, run more or less the same tours with the same letters.

While we were walking around we happened across a place that offered an overnight trip on a private island; after getting some more details we jumped on it.  With the food, and a combination of all the tours as well as one night accom the deal was about 2x what you could have done on the ultimate budget, but it was worth every cent (~$100/person)!  Not only did we get 5 great meals, a night in a private village on a tropical island, and a combination off all the tours (covering pretty much the entire Bacuit Archipelago) the best part was that we had the boat to ourselves and were able to avoid the ‘crowds’.  Literally the entire time there was only one sight that I even noticed other people; basically we felt like we had the entire archipelago to ourselves!

The first day started off with breakfast on board and a small lagoon all to ourselves; this was one of my favorite moments because it gave us such an intimate introduction to the stunning limestone rock-forms.  I think the limestone would be stunning anywhere, but when you put it in such a dramatic setting and throw in some white sand-beaches the result is truly excellent.  I could go on and on, but just look at pictures once I get them up.

Along with just cruising amongst these gorgeous islands we also spent some time swimming into ‘Secret beach’es, hidden and extra secret (i.e. we just stopped and explored them on our own) caves, as well as 10meter cliff jumps!  The other main activity was increasingly improving snorkeling that cumulated in good coral, a great diversity and number of small reef fish, and crystal-clear, bathtub-warm water.  Other than that this really boring 2 days included a solid spread of fresh fruits and vegetables and delicious seafood as well as spending a night on our own private beach fighting mosquitoes and finding bioluminescent plankton and fish.

By the time we got back into El Nido the evening of the second day, Steph was sunburned, I was in an infinitely better mood (and couldn’t stop smiling) and we were both exhausted from a truly unforgettable trip!

We left El Nido the next morning, but that story and those that follow will have to wait for another posting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More from Manila

I'm taking advantage of the time and internet to get the latest pics up. These will at least give everyone a taste of what we've been doing and seeing.

Has it really only been a week?!

Ok no I guess 9 days, but wow the Philippines has been amazing.

And I’m saying that 3 days after getting pretty bad food poisoning (at this point I’m kind of an expert on ranking severity), and the evening after spending a night in a pay by hour hotel. Obviously I have some ‘splaining to do…

Last we joined The Duo they were just returned from 2 nights in Batad hiking amongst stunning rice terraces. Immediately after that we hopped a local bus to Bontoc for perhaps my favorite bus ride of all time. We got to the bus stop an hour early only to be told that the bus wouldn’t be coming for 2 hours. Less than 10mins later the bus came around the corner and we hopped into surprisingly comfortable bench seats at the back. The next 2hrs were spent listening to good country music (I don’t know, or care, why, but the soundtrack in Php is much better than in Indo), as we drove along a road that skirted along the edge of VERY steep mountains. The road was in great condition and you could peer down the mountains, where they had blasted the road in there were easily 200ft drops in a matter of 5 horizontal feet, and the road was basically right on the edge. I absolutely loved it and was entertained the entire time! It almost felt, to me, like I was in the Andes, or how I always pictured the Andes.

A jeepney ride later (just as beautiful to me) we were into Sagada a mountain town that has, for the past 20-30 years, become a tourist spot. The vibe really reminded me of Lake Toba, but less developed; no less hippy however! The first night Steph and I just scouted out the town after finding a twin room with a shared hot water bath (though we were the only ones in the entire hotel) for $5/night! I was really impressed with the dramatic limestone formations and the sheer mountains as well as the pine trees and general cool, mountain climate.

The next morning we picked up a guide for some pretty intense caving. I was expecting more of a stroll through a hole in the ground glancing at stalagmites/-tites. Instead we were crawling through gaps that were tight for me, climbing up and down ropes, peering over perilous drops, wading through chest deep water inside the cave and generally trying not to fall to our deaths! Steph’s slip count was at least 3 times, once her tumble ended around my leg and another time our guide caught us just as she was about to fall off a 10 ft initial drop followed by many more. There were several times I had to just go and not think about it too much; there wasn’t really an alternative. The cave was really beautiful and the fact that you had to work to get there just made me appreciate it all the more! And all of that was without any harnesses, training/preparation or insurance and for $10! Not gonna get that in the US!

It was that night that I got sick unfortunately and I was out of commission for a day and a half; missing Steph’s trip to a nice looking waterfall, subsequent abduction by ‘devil-children’, and a delicious meal.

The following morning, still feeling a little weak and tired Steph and a Swiss guy we met set out the see the Hanging Coffins of Echo Valley. The coffins were interesting (how did they get some of those up there!), and we had seem some in the cave as well, but I found the limestone formations more interesting. After that Steph and I took a trek, got a bit lost, had to make a U-turn, but were rewarded with some beautiful views of the landscape (mountains, terraces, etc).

We chilled out that night and then took a bus first thing in the morning to Clark…which is where we reach the pay-by-hour hotel. In full disclosure this is a hotel chain that is fairly prevalent in Php and is very clean, simple, cheap, and logical (do you really use a whole day?), but the situation was sketchy because of the location: Clark, a former US Air Force Air Base, and easily the seediest place I have ever seen! The population along Fields Ave, was largely middle aged Euro men and young Asian girls…you figure it out.

We had come to Clark because we wanted to hike to a local volcano, but the prices were just a little too ridiculous and we were too last minute to properly plan. Instead we just spent the night in the actually very nice and cheap hotel before continuing on to Manila.

Some other quick notes that hopefully I will have time to explain later:

· Steph’s addiction to Yoghurt House in Sagada, particular their cookies

· I would like to do a driving tour of Northern Luzon, the region is beautiful, the weather nice, the people friendly, and the roads well-maintained.

· My nice-to-scam-tour of Manila

· I ate balut, a partially formed duck embryo

· Meeting Christina, a private museum owner in Sagada

· Some interesting introspection on my part.

I’ve been taking plenty of pics, but don’t have them up yet. At some point I will and I’ll let everyone know. Steph has also been taking a ton of videos so we’ll be sharing those somehow, sometime!

Ok that’s enough for now. Steph and I fly down south to Palawan tomorrow afternoon and the internet, as well as the electricity, will be even harder to come by so there may not be much more until we’re back on the 19th.

Until then…!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Leg one of the leg one

Phew, it's been a whirlwind tour lately.

I enjoyed my time in Singapore and eventually got to see some of it: Dani and I walked around the Arab quarter, which is an interesting mix of Singapore's organization and the culture of the area. We then caught up with everyone that was around and had one last night hanging out eating and drinking.

I was up early the next morning and flying to Manila!
All of that went pretty easy, but I wasn't able to meet up with my fellow intrepid explorer until the evening because she was off seeing sights like a good backpacker should! Eventually we got caught up at her hostel, Friendly's which lived up to its name and let me hangout there while waiting.
The next thing we knew we were on a grungy, but AC bus up to Banaue. The bus took longer than we expected, but we got in, grabbed some breakfast and then started the most extensive hiking I have done in along time.
The landscape here is VERY steep, yet 2000-4000 years ago the local people decided that they needed to make some enormous rice terraces. I'd seen pictures, but they didn't do it justice at all!

Our first walking was around Banaue. It was very impressive, but in retrospect it paled in comparison to our next stop: Batad. The hike to get to Batad was grueling in itself because we missed the Jeepney and had to walk up to the saddle (i.e. mountain pass).
We eventually got down there and got ourselves a place. We were lucky and found some fellow travelers from Germany who went with us the next day as we hiked ALL OVER the area. You'll have to wait to see the pictures, but the area is astounding. It's described as amphitheater like and it really is, but the elevation change is somewhere around 1500 feet! I was also a little surprised by how remote it was. There was electricity, but everything that wasn't grown there had to be packed in by foot on a 45min hike down from the saddle.

You really have to see the pictures to appreciate it, but the area was gorgeous and after 2 days of non-stop up and down, my legs are fried. The drugs have kept my knee from being too sore, though I had to go really slow downhill and was always bringing up the rear with my weird one foot at a time. I was able to redeem myself by hauling ass up the hill, particularly this morning when Steph and I weren't sure if we were going to make it to the Jeepney back to Banaue; where we are now waiting for a bus to Bontoc and hopefully on to Sagada.

The fun has just started!