Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And then it was all over...

So first a little surprise/disclaimer....
I've been home for 3 days!
Sorry to all those I've been misleading, but I came home a week early in an attempt to surprise some of you (hopefully I've been successful). As an added bonus I'm now able to put together a coherent sentence. As you'll see below, that is an achievement.

When we last heard from me, I had returned to Bangkok and picked up some more clothes during a rainstorm. Later that night I was able to catch up with a friend of Steph's (actually the teacher she replaced; I had hung out with her a fair amount in Udon). It was fun to talk to a fellow backpacker; with traveling with mom and then a week on my own, it had been a while. We ended up planning her travels to India until nearly 12.
Which didn't seem late except I never really got sound asleep and woke up at 6am, and due to motorcycles and a hard bed, didn't fall back asleep. Which was probably good since Steph called at 7am asking which room we were in! I knew she was getting in at 7am, but I thought that was the bus station not my room!

After waking up a bit, the 4 of us (another one of the teachers I'd met before had come down too) went off to a palace (one of several in Bangkok) which included a huge wooden mansion that had been constructed as a 5-yr temporary house for the royal family. This thing was HUGE! And kind of unique because it was built in a Victorian style, but with Thai influences. And the whole building was constructed with out a nail; I was impressed.
Next up was heading to a massive weekend market. We're talking 35 acres of absolutely anything you could want. The prices were pretty decent and while there was a bunch of poor quality things, a lot was also pretty good. I managed to finish off my clothes shopping (minus shoes, but my feet are definitely not Asian-sized!). It was fun just walking around and it was really good to reunite the Duo!

After a little nap time we headed out. We had a lot to celebrate, Steph's b-day was the next day and it was my last night in SE Asia. The highlights (that I'm going to share/can remember) were going up to the top of the highest building in Thailand (thank you Steph's dad for the tickets!), and then heading back to Khao Son Rd for some drinks and dancing.

Apparently it was a little too much drinking and a little too much dancing because the next thing I knew I had missed my bus to the airport! Yeah, that's not good! But luckily, with a huge amount of help from Jemma and Steph, I got another bus and managed (I don't know how) to get to my flight to Singapore where I promptly passed out. My time in Singapore was mostly just riding the transit to pick up my bag (I swear that thing got heavier) and then back to the airport where I spent a night trying to sleep on a cold concrete floor (all told maybe 1.5hrs) before checking in around 4:30am. I was greeted with the news that I had to pay $250 because my ticket was moved, though my travel agent assures me he already talked to United and I wasn't supposed to. It made no difference to me though since I was going home!

My flights were: ~7hrs to Tokyo, enough time to get to the next gate and then 9hrs to San Fran (managed maybe an hour of sleep there), followed by a mad dash through the airport that got me to the gate for my PDX flight, only to find the gate was closed, but because they were waiting to fix a seat I made it on and got home to Portland about 5 hours after I had taken off from Singapore (crossing the dateline does wonders!).

So all told, I traveled around 10,000miles, in 3 days, on less than 10hrs of sleep! Now you see why I haven't been calling all of you to talk just yet!

I suppose I should do some big wrap up about my time abroad, but that will need to wait for another time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The last trip

Another post-dated blog; this one was from the 20th or so.

Leaving early in the morning from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (~3hrs) was a pretty nice/easy train trip; plenty of room with alternating views of fields and little cities along with some, of course, ornate temples. I was surprised by some of the squalid living conditions we passed, but I've actually seen much worse.
The ride from Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok (~2.5hrs), along the Bridge over the River Kwai and the 'Death Railway' wasn't anything special. The museum at Hellfire Pass was really good however, and provided a lot of information about the 'Death Railway' (briefly, during WWII, the Japanese felt they needed a land connection to their new territory in Burma. The subsequent construction of a railroad was completed by POWs and 'hired' locals. 3 years later or so the nearly 500km of track were finished at the cost of over 100,000 lives). The museum was not too big, but informative and well laid out. Walking the railroad wasn't anything too special, but pretty amazing to think they did that all by hand in such conditions; I wish I'd had more time to walk as the views were pretty nice.

Finishing up there, I returned to Kanchanaburi. I was less than impressed with the town unfortunately (a wanna be backpackers hangout, but just seedy), but was able to get a nice place right on the river for cheap. The town was too empty to be fun and no other solo travelers or place to meet. I did have the best papaya salad I've ever had though: crispy fried fish and a salted egg as well as the sticky rice I'd been craving since leaving Laos!

The next day was out to Erawan Falls which was nicer than I thought it might be. The place was very well trodden and not as nice as the one in Laos however. Getting to the falls was a nice drive as it reminded me a bit of Brazil in the scenery as well as the numerous little places to stay (pousadas in Brazil). It was also nice to see that Thailand did have some nice scenery and relaxed places considering all I had seen was the southern beaches and Bangkok.
The bus ride out to the falls was quite an experience and took longer than I expected, but that was ok as I never paid for the bus ride. While still in Kanchanaburi I ran into a French mom and her son who I knew were going to the falls. They were waiting on the side of the road, and had tried to stop the bus a couple of times, but to no avail. The next thing I knew, a Thai woman that had been helping them was picking us up in a truck to take us to the bus station (we guessed, she didn't really speak English, but she pulled the clothes in the truck out so that we could hop in and we took off somewhere). We arrived at the bus station and she then made it obvious that she wanted us to get back in the truck with mention of '2 minutes'. We ended up being able to catch the bus (that had left 2minutes before us) and she got us on! All of that and I don't know any of those people's names!

The scramble up to the top of the falls was more difficult than I really expected, but lack of food made me a bit tired; I ended up slipping at one point and bashing my nose on my hand which was on a rock in front of me, ouch! My lack of food also made me less than social most of the time I was around Kanchanaburi, but also my timing of things is not making me social. I can see then end coming and I just don't care to meet many new people.
There were also way too many Frenchies at the waterfall being loud and annoying. It was nice to take in the serene setting of a gorgeous 7-tier waterfalls getting a free foot cleaning by fish... until I was inundated by shrieking and yelling French teenagers (I can accept that) and middle aged vacationers (you're 35, stop). Nonetheless, the experience was a memorable one. The entire stream was full of the fish that they use at the spas to clean your feet; it was a really weird feeling (sort of a sucking sensation mixed with some nibbling...definitely freaky at first), but if you got used to it and relaxed, it felt pretty nice, and my feet did come out cleaner!

The last night it looked like a huge storm was coming in as I was sitting in front of my room right on the river watching the sunset (tough life!), and it sure started like a major storm, but it never really materialized.
The last morning I walked all the way down to see the Bridge over the River Kwai, and was, as I expected, not too impressed (just a railroad bridge). That was after having a breakfast of some fiercely spicy vegetable soup with noodles: I was crying, but for some reason I ate the whole thing, much to the enjoyment of the old woman selling. I then ended up getting to Bangkok in the early afternoon and getting caught in the down pour which just meant I needed to shop to pass the time. Also had some really good dim sum, Chinese chives was the best, but the others were all really good, better/less greasy than what mom and I had in Melaka.
Next up was a reunion of the Duo for Steph's B-day, but that will wait for the next post...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I'm writing this one out of order a bit since I haven't written about Melaka, but that one needs a little more time since it is the last one with mom. Also, I have all my Bangkok thoughts on the mind...and I've only been here 24hrs!
But what a 24hrs they've been!

The ridiculous-ness that is Bangkok is only rivaled by such stunning cities as Jakarta and Manila. Bangkok is incredibly big, hot and noisy, and pretty dirty (mom, you would have freaked out), but for some reason, I like it. Maybe it has more to do with me and where I'm at after so much time in SE Asia, but the craziness didn't get to me; I kind of enjoyed it!

My flight to BKK with Malaysian Air was really nice, it only took about 2hrs, but we still got a meal with some wine. It was so short it was easy to forget it was actually an international flight.
I got into the very nice new airport Bangkok has and eventually got a bus into the city center. The bus is just one example of how hard the Thai gov't seems to be trying to make tourism easy and appealing here; I don't know if it has anything with trying to re-image the city after the riots, but I've not seen nor heard mention of those.
Hopping off the bus at the backpacker mecca of Khao San Rd, I was able to walk the 5mins directly to my place where I was happily surprised with a double (though I paid for a single) with windows out over the street and very clean surroundings.
That night I went straight away back to Khao San Rd where, after some bargaining/heckling with a few different shop owners, I walked away with 2 t-shirts of good quality, thick well made 'Diesel' jeans, and a nice, 40-liter 'Deuter' (a German company) day-pack. If all of that had actually been real (i.e. not counterfeit), you're looking at a hefty price tag. the jeans alone would have been more than what I paid for all of them! But I checked the quality pretty carefully and it seems good to me.
With my important purchases done (I needed a day pack since I had sent mine home with mom), I got some noodles at one of the many shops (price tag: $1) and talked to an interesting, dreadlocked Israeli girl. She was traveling for 4years make and selling jewelery as she went to pay the bills. The people watching at Khao San Rd it unbelievable. The only other place I saw anything near that diversity in age, class, sex, appearance, etc was at Mardi Gras and this blew that away!

Today I got off to an early start and did my usual walk everywhere and cover way too much. Though I did cut myself some slack and not do any more temples after I went to the Grand Palace. Before that though I had walked and found some, what I considered at the time, ornate temples and monuments. At that point I didn't realize that pretty much every temple in Bangkok (and there are a lot!) are decked out. I eventually ended up at the Golden Mountain where I walked up the 329 (by my count) stairs to the top for a pretty good view of the city (damn, it's huge).
What I neglected to mention is that I got there only after fighting off 3 different guys running the same scam (though I think the last 2 were in connection). So in less than 12hrs I've had the full Bangkok experience: bought faked clothes and come this close to hopping in a tuk-tuk with a guy who was trying to scam me (the gist was that today was a big special day so the temples were open at different times and he would take me all over the city to time them out right, and as a bonus, the gov't was giving him free gas so he'd do it all for less than $0.70). Maybe there was some truth to it, but it seemed too good too be true and then I found out one of the temples that was supposed to be closed was in fact open. I stuck to myself the rest of the day.

The highlight of the sights was the Grand Palace. 'Amazingly ornate' doesn't even begin to do it justice. I probably took a few hundred pictures because everywhere I turned there was something else gorgeous and amazing. The little museum I passed through housed all the national treasures of Thailand and the delicate gold carvings jam packed on every square millimeter of the pieces was stunning. The entire compound is very well maintained and the colors and 'sparkle-y-ness' of the various buildings is unlike anything I've ever seen; just wait for the pics. Even for a cheapskate like me, the palace is a must see.
Included with the palace grounds, and probably the biggest attraction is the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha figurine (which is actually jade) has a bit of a history passing back and forth between Laos and Thailand. It has been firmly in Thailand for a few hundred years now however, and the temple where it is housed is considered one of the holiest sights in all of Thailand.

After forcing myself through the last of the palace I couldn't take any more temples or walking around so I instead headed off to get my ticket for my next trip. With all of one day in Bangkok I decided I should head out while I still have positive thoughts so I went and bought a train ticket to Kanchanaburi which is the town that includes the Bridge over the River Kwai. I'll kick around there for a while and see the sights before meeting Steph for her B-day celebration back here in Bangkok. Then...who knows?
Getting to and from the train station was a bit of an adventure, but I'm glad I did it today because now it'll be much easier tomorrow morning. I then ended by walking city tour with a hair cut! The guy paid incredible detail for a $2 haircut!
Now it's time for some more noodles and probably some more shopping.

What a city, what a day!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cooling off in Cameron

So my initial impression with Cameron Highlands was spot on! Great food, cool temperatures, cheaper prices and scenery that reminded me more of home than anywhere else I've been in SE Asia.
For spending 3 complete days there, mom and I didn't do all that much. We spent a lot of time just hanging out and enjoying not sweating. We did manage to eat a lot of delicious Indian food (so much naan, and roti canai with dahl!) and, get ready for this, fresh STRAWBERRIES! Mom assured me the berries weren't anywhere near as good as Oregon berries, but for someone who hasn't had any for 2 years, they tasted pretty damn good to me! And oh yeah, scones! Oh, how could I forget steamboat, that was a real highlight. Basically steamboat is like a soup fondue. We got two plates filled with vegetables, noodles and a bunch of sea food that we then cooked in the boiling broth of the soup we had. Not only was it delicious it was entertaining too!
We did do enough walking to deserve all that food though. The biggest walk was when we hiked through the jungle to the top of Mt. Brinchang which stands at over 6,600ft. The walk up was really nice, through a more temperate rain forest (i.e. we weren't completely drenched in sweat and the mosquitoes weren't in clouds). The last part of the climb was pretty difficult, but mom hiked up it like a champ (and it was me with the sore legs the next day).
When we reached the top we were greeted by some nice views, but also a ton of radio/cell towers and tourists coming up the road on their package tours! Phshh, lazy bums! We had a much better appreciation for the view.
On the way down we walked to a tea plantation that also included a tour of a tea factory. I had no idea that's what went into making tea. And now I can't drink tea-bag-tea without thinking of rubbish!

Our return was supposed to be another 4km down (I wasn't looking forward to that since the previous 3km straight up and 7km down had fried my knee) and then a bus ride back to town...then it started to rain...then it pored! To shorten the story, the result was mom and I hopping in the back of a truck from the tea plantation that was going to town. That was a new one even for me, but yet again mom was leading the way and loving it!

Those were the highlight stories of our time in CH, but it was really just the relaxing atmosphere that was what made the time there. I'd definitely recommend it, especially anyone who's been in SE Asia for a while and needs to cool off a bit.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Escaping the heat (and the bed bugs)

The last posting I commented about how much difference a day makes, well about about 8 hrs?! The post I put up was written around 6pm before mom and I went for a AMAZING seafood meal right on the beach with a great sunset and (gasp) actual service (not a common thing in SE Asia). Honestly that was probably some of the best restaurant seafood I've ever had (that leaves room for some of those ikan bakar meals I had in Indo), The seafood salad had big prawns on it as well as half a crab and some fish. My plate was the best toger prawn I've ever had as well as perfectly cooked mackerel and barracuda. Yum! Mom worked hard and thoroughly enjoyed her curry crab too.
Life was good!
...until about 2 am
It was at that point that I woke up to bed bugs crawling on me...and mom woke up with stomach troubles...then I tried to turn on the water heater to take a shower...that flipped the circuit breaker for the entire resort...which meant no power until about 7am. On the upside the lack of power meant that the fan and or AC were no longer making obnoxious sounds!
Needless to say we were ready to go as soon as we could. I have to say the owner was as helpful as could be expected and we ended up paying 50RM for the two nights. Maybe he should have speant his time giving the place some maintenance and care though! I can honestly say that was the dirtiest/worst place I have stayed at in all of my travels!

Yesterday was spent on traveling to here (the Cameron Highlands). The travel took longer than I expected, but the 3hr wait we had in Ipoh was actually a nice break considering that we found a really good Indian buffet and spent our time there. I've been eating a ton of Indian food lately (lunch and dinner yesterday and lunch today), that alone makes Malaysian food better than Indo food for me (though I am missing all the tasty ikan bakar, itik, and vegetable soups).

The full report on Cameron Highlands will have to wait since today has really just been a relaxed day (after 2 nights of not really sleeping I needed the nearly 11hrs I got last night). So far CH has made a great impression with the scenery, cool temps, cheaper prices and tasty food (scones!)

That'll have to be enough for now

Sunday, August 8, 2010

One week left

This one is post dated: Aug 8th

That title is for mom, since she is leaving on the 16th and that day will be all travel.
We've seen a lot though in the 3+weeks she's been here.

Since the last post we landed in Penang, checked it out, and came down to Pulau Pangkor for one last beach trip. We spent all day today laying out on the beach, and I'm red enough to prove it!

We arrived here on Pangkor after a day of travel yesterday only to be greeted by a dingy small room and hordes of locals here for the weekend. Let's say I was less than pleased even though the beach was pretty nice. It was a little hard to appreciate it with people tearing around on JetSkis and screaming jilbab'd women in the water. Nonetheless, we hung out on the beach for quite a while hoping for a sunset, but mostly because we didn't want to go back to our dingy little room.
What a difference a day makes though! This morning we packed up our bags because the very helpful owner of Seagull Resort agreed to move us to a nice room and charge us the same cheap price since there had been a mis-communication (I didn't knowingly book us into the ultra-budget place). The night before they had been too full to move us, but they were nice enough to let us switch. The morning also got off to a good start because we slept in later than we had the whole trip and were greeted by a whole tree full of green doves and hornbills! The morning also greeted us with some good weather which held out for our entire beach day. The Coral Beach we were camped out at was completely different without all the local tourists around. There were a few in the morning, but by the afternoon the place was pretty sedate and beautiful; pretty nice even for a spoiled beach snob like me!

Before Pangkor we spent two pretty full days in Penang. Having flown directly from Kota Kinabalu, we took a bus into Georgetown (the old historic area on the island) and walked to our hostel, which was a little eclectic, and had some THIN walls, but certainly served its purpose well.
The next day we got up and literally saw about the ENTIRE historic district! Needless to say that was a little much for one day! I was a little surprised by the historic area because it was still a big, busy city (not necessarily such a good thing!), but I was impressed with Penang due to its diversity. On one block I saw a mosque, followed by a Chinese (huge influence there) Buddhist temple, followed by an Indian food restaurant, a British\colonial style building and a Hindu temple. The Boon San Tong Khoo Kongsi temple was the only one we paid to enter, but was far and away better than any other we saw. The wood carvings and the general decoration as well as the information was impressive. Another good temple was the (something) Teow temple. I also had never seen anything like the clan jetties: basically Chinese houses built out over the water organized by the various clans the families belonged to.

The next day, feeling a little overwhelmed, we started a little later and instead left the city proper. But that wasn't until after going to check out Fort Cornwallis, the starting point for the British on the island. The fort was about as I expected: not a whole lot, but I was glad to have gone in and seen it nonetheless. It's kind of weird in that the city now seems to use the place as a event location.
After that we spent the day on public transport, first heading up into the ritzy part of the island and eventually got to the National Park in the NW corner of the island. Having spent the last 5 or 6 days in the city both of us, but particularly mom (who is still WAY overwhelmed by the crazy absurdness that is SE Asian cities), were glad to get out into some peace and quiet for some walking around.
Our next goal was to get to a very spectacular looking temple outside of Georgetown that we'd seen pictures of lit up at night when it looked even more spectacular. We didn't however look at any fine print and thus missed that the place closed at 5:30pm! Oh well we got to see another part of the city!

All right time to go for (hopefully) a sunset and a 'mom-treat' for dinner

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Moving on from Borneo

I can't believe it's gone this fast, but this evening mom and I will fly from Borneo and head back to the Peninsula of Malaysia!

Since I last posted we went to and returned from Uncle Tan's and then bussed up to Kota Kinabalu. In all honesty, Uncle Tan's was a bit disappointing. I was going in with very high expectations to be fair, but I was definitely hoping for more. I certainly do not blame the guides or the company itself. Everyone was fantastic and the guides were great at spotting anything that was there, the problem was that there just wasn't much wildlife. The camp is set up on private property between conservation bubbles that are connected by 30m-deep connections along the river. The result is that while you cruise down the river (which we did a lot!) you're seeing trees, but right behind them there is a bunch of daylight or even worse visible palm oil plantations. This isn't the case everywhere, but the majority for sure.
Even with that we did manage to see some things I had never seen before. In total we took a night cruise, two morning cruises, a (rainy) evening cruise, a night walk and a mid-morning walk. And during all that time we saw (just the highlights, to me) Bornean Gibbons, civet cats, a bunch of hornbills and kingfishers, some crocs, proboscis monkeys, and a bunch of other monkeys/macaques and birds.

Along with that we got fed lots of good food and met some interesting people. The guides were a blast. Exclusively young guys, they were always smiling and having a good time playing games and singing a lot. I think mom had a good time meeting all the other travelers too (it's been fun to see her become a SEA traveler), but I was/still am a little over that, and after the normal pleasantries I just kinda hung out; basically I'm tired of not really getting to know people, but instead just getting the basics and their travel info.
Then again it could have just been being tired that made me less social. I've been fighting some sort of cold lately and sleeping in open jungle huts with 6 other people didn't exactly rest me up. We each had our own mattress and mosquito net and then our hut was connected to the board walk to the dining hall as well as the smelly bathrooms. A lot of other people were commenting about the basic conditions, but I didn't think they were all that bad...I was still glad to get back to Sandakan afterward and get a hot shower though!

Sandakan was a bit nicer than I expected as most people we talked to made it sound pretty bad. We didn't really do much there, just spent the night and then caught a bus here to KK where we were going to do a white water rafting trip, but after 7hrs on a bus we decided that the trip (which was 8hrs of traveling split by 3hrs of rafting, didn't actually sound that good). So instead we just walked around yesterday, saw a few museums, and mostly just have been killing time. One highlight was the best Italian food I've had in over a year, and really the first meal I've had in a while too (I mean not just eating, but staying there for a few hours, over several courses and with good conversation, etc).

But now we're done with Borneo and Mom will stay a little less than 2 more weeks...time is flying by!