Thursday, July 29, 2010

Swimming with the fishes (and so much more)

Ok hopefully I don't get kicked off this time! And if I don't, I may add to the last post so go back and check that when you get a chance.

This post is coming from outside of Sandakan, Sabah (which is the Eastern 1/3 of Malaysian Borneo) in the B&B/base of Uncle Tan's. UT's is a wildlife/jungle tour company, and one of the things that I have been looking forward to the most. The other thing I was really looking forward to was the snorkeling we did out of Semporna. I've done a fair amount of snork'ing lately, but with the exception of the ridiculous-ness of Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef, this was the best I've ever done. The number of what I would call exotic or rare species/sightings was awesome. I had always wanted to see a lionfish...check (2 species, several times)!. Turtles? Greenback and Hawksbills, several times! Eels? At least 3 species (including the Great Moray), several times. I also saw my first Scorpion fish, a ray, a green shrimp or lobster (not sure which!) and of course tons of the 'normal' reef fish, but also some really big examples of those. The coral was pretty good in spots, but the fish life was definitely the highlight.
All of this was organized with Scuba Junkies which did a great job organizing things while still being friendly. And their gear was better than other stuff I had rented. The 6 times I went out were all off of Mabul Island where we stayed for 1 night. It was interesting to see that there were still some local villages and sea gypsies despite this location being such a tourist/diver 'hotspot' (constantly called one of the best dive sights in the world).

I can't believe it, but mom is about half way through her time here. That means I have a month-ish left! It's going to be really weird to be home after a year abroad, but I think I'm going to need it. I've been feeling really run down lately even though we aren't traveling as hard as I had been before, not keeping me from enjoying these incredible sights though!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Big caves in Borneo

Another quick post to let everyone know that we made it into and out of Mulu and it's stunning caves. The trip ended up being a bit (ok a ton [to me]) more expensive than I had expected, but forgetting that it was really fantastic! Deer cave is the biggest thing (not just cave) I have ever seen and a couple of the other caves were packed with some stunning formations. Deer cave was also cool because of the Abe Lincoln profile (wait for my pics) as well as the Garden of Eden. I enjoyed Lagang cave largely because it was much less touristy than the others and we needed flashlights to actually see anything, and the formations we did see were some of the best I've ever seen. The cave was also cool because you could really see how it was formed (melting limetstone and flowing water).
I've done a fair amount of caving elsewhere so some of the novelty had worn off, but then again it made me appreciate how amazing some of the sights within the caves were too. The novelty had also warn off on some of the jungle trekking, but it was pretty fun to see mom see it all for the first time. I was a bit disappointed with the rangers there though as they seemed mostly interested in rushing us along. For instance, on the night hike we did, I found the vast majority of the 'wildlife' we found (mostly insects). Oh well, we jut didn't pay for it!
The bat exodus was a also a great experience. We ended up having to go two nights, but it was worth it I thought as I had never seen anything like that. Literally million upon millions of bats come out of Deer cave, but they don't come out all at once, instead coming out in groups and the circling waiting until they hit some sort of critical number and a bunch of them leave. That's when it gets really cool because this huge mass of bats comes up and is literally a pulsating, twisting/turning ribbon of bats. Definitely a unique experience!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angkor Wow

Sorry about the horrible pun to start things off, but our time in Siem Reap really was that good! After spending a day touring around Phom Penh and introducing mom to what a real SE Asian big city is like, we took a bus up to Siem Reap. The next two days were spent jam packed with temple'ing. I can't even begin to do it justice here in a quick post, but both mom and I really enjoyed our time. You could see a lot in just one day, but to be honest that wouldn't really be worth all the trouble of getting there. That being said if you're going to go back for another day (which you could, there are more than enough interesting temples), you might as well stay for a week, because 2 days and we were both temple'd out!
I didn't really know what to expect of the whole thing, but the temples were much more impressive than I expected. I was also surprised by the lay out of everything. You have to buy a ticket to enter the area, but the temples are spread out all over (some an hour tuk-tuk drive away, others even further).
I couldn't even begin to pick a favorite temple. Angkor Wat itself is massive, and the carvings very impressive considering they're 900 years old! The best carvings were at Bantrey Srei, the famous tree taking over the temple is from Ta Prohm, but I really liked Bayon with it's ~200 giant faces. Our time was really made because of the good guide we had. Kerry took care of everything for us (even rec'ing Jasmine Lodge, the great place we stayed (minus the flood that happened, but that wasn't really their fault)).

Ok sorry to rush it, but we've got a flight tomorrow morning first thing flying to Miri then on to Mulu for a cave adventure. After that it's even more Borneo. It's going to be expensive, and I'm having a hard time to travel like I'm on vacation with mom than as a backpacker, but I'm doing my best and she is humoring me. All the great experiences should keep me occupied!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Time is flying by

It's been a while since I had time to put up a blog, but that's because I've been enjoying myself too much!
Rather than trying to fit everything in here, I'll give a quick hits list...
Nong Kiau was an interesting if quiet town. I ended up meting an Irish girl that I did a STEEP hike with the next day and took her advice to go up to the next town on the river. That was a weird little place in that it still felt very remote and a bit primitive, but it was jam packed with tourists. I did a bit of hiking there as well, but mostly just chilled out.
The next main stop was Phonsavan which I headed to for the Plain of Jars. In the end, the jars weren't all that spectacular, but I was really glad I went as I got to see some much different scenery in Laos, and also enjoyed the tour I did there which took us to some bomb craters'. I didn't expect to actually be moved or impressed, but I was both. To see just how many craters were still obvious in a country that wasn't even really in the war (the US bombed the hell out of the area to break up the Ho Chi Minh Trail). The worst part was that they are still finding unexploded bombs here and every year at least 300 people are injured. In fact, we found a bomblet on our tour! I didn't believe it at first, but it really was. All in all the tour was very good (I'll have to give more details later).
My last stop in Laos was a backpacker hangout that I could have missed, but all in all I found Laos to be a very nice place, and one quite apt for solo backpackers; the whole time I was traveling 'solo' I was with people, just different people on different days.

Leaving Laos meant going to KL to pick up mom! We were able to make connections no problem and then spent the next day and a half sight seeing in KL. It is the 2nd most western city I have seen in SEA (behind the runaway winner, Singapore), but that was good as it served as a bit of a stepping stone for mom getting accustomed to the pandemonium that is SEA. The city did have some highlights including the National Museum and the Islamic Arts Museum,

We've since left Malaysia and are now in Phom Penh, Cambodia. This city is much more along the lines of what I have seen throughout SE Asia; I think mom is understandably a bit overwhelmed. She has been doing really well though; I don't think I could have jumped off the plane and started sightseeing like we've done. She's even had street food already, and with no ill effects!

Obviously I'll need to post a LOT more details at some point, but that honestly won't be until I get back (6 weeks left) and have a chance to catch my breath...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Luang Prabang: Nice balance

I'm hiding in one of the few cool places right now and certainly one of the cheapest Internet cafes I could find.
Since I posted last I've arrived in Luang Prabang and been loving it ever since. On the ride up I met up with 3 travelers who themselves had just met the day before. The result is that I was able to save a good chunk of money on accommodation here as well as a ride to a SPECTACULAR waterfall yesterday. It's looking like pictures will be harder to get up before I return home so just trust me, it was great!
I have really enjoyed LP largely because of the feel here. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, mostly for the large number of temples (or wat) here. There is also some interesting colonial architecture and the places to stay or eat range from local food stalls and cheap guesthouses to fancy, nearly 5-star hotels/guesthouses. The result is a pretty interesting mix of tourists to watch!
Tomorrow morning I'm headed out though, not exactly sure how (if there is a boat I'll take that, but no one knows until tomorrow morning), but I do know I'm headed to a small village up north that is just starting to show up on the backpacker, tourist radar (i.e. there is info on the Internet and it's in the guide books, but not much more than a name and a few places to stay). I'm hoping to get some trekking in and then end up at Phonsavan for the Plane of Jars. More than likely that means no Internet until I move on from there. So until I return to civilization...

Friday, July 2, 2010

In another country

Here's the first posting from Lao!
I arrived in Vientiane yesterday afternoon after saying goodbye to Steph taking a bunch of different buses and such, but eventually getting across the Friendship Bridge arriving in Laos. I was pretty out of it yesterday )not enough food, and too much Thai whiskey the night before!), but stumbled into the cheapest place in town, walked around a bit, was over charged for some food and tried to pass out (the heat and mosquitoes had other ideas).
I woke up in the morning without a definite plan, but groggily made one. I decided to head up north on a night bus to Luang Prabang (I leave in a few minutes). The downside was that I missed out on meeting up with Steph who was ironically enough coming up to Laos this weekend on a last minute plan to get her visa squared away.
With my plans decided (and me of course still thinking about them and how I could change them) I set out to explore the capital city of took me about 8 foot! I like Vientiane, but let's say there isn't a whole lot going on considering that it's a national capital. It is a nice place though with several worthwhile tourist sites. I walked first to the Lao version of the Arc de Triumph (yikes, that spelling), which the sign on it describes as more of a 'concrete monster' (I'm not disagreeing, but I thought that was a bit harsh). From the top of the monster (all f 7 stories up) you can look out over the top of all of the city. Yes, that's right, the 7th floor is pretty much the limit of the capital city! The rest of my time was spent walking (at least 5 miles, maybe 6 or 7) to various temples and museums (you can find wats everywhere!). One of the weirder highlights was the Buddha Park, you'll just have to wait until I put up pics.

Ok gotta run or my bus will leave me!