Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Zealand

I am tired of updating the blog, so Amanda is going to take over for the next 2 weeks. New Zealand looked absolutely stunning on the flight into town...I am excited!

Hope you all don't mind an inexperienced blogger taking over for awhile. Tucker was gracious enough to let me join up on his world travels so I asked to be allowed to share our wonderful adventures...
Monday March 2
I arrived in Christchurch a few hours before Tucker so had some time to explore the city. Christchurch is very much a walking town and I was able to get around most of the city. I visited the Cathedral, saw some street entertainers in cathedral square, and visited the beautiful botanical gardens. The rose garden and carnation display were definitely worth the stop if only for the amazing colors...plus it was free! :) It was colder than I expected so I also grabbed a hot chocolate from a local coffee shop - it was much better that the Starbucks that seem to appear on every corner even here in New Zealand.
The highlight of the day for me was when Tucker surprised me. I left a note with the front desk that I was waiting for him in the square behind the hotel and he snuck up on me - a fun surprise and a wonderful start to a great trip.
We were also able to meet up with a long lost friend of Tucker's, Gabby. He met her in Argentina and hadn't seen her since ...the wonders of facebook! We grabbed dinner and a drink with her and her boyfriend. Pizza and pasta for Tucker and I. Little did we know this would be one of the best meals we had on the trip.

Tuesday, March 3
Today was a lot of driving -a theme of this trip since we put over 3000 km on the car in two weeks. On the way to Queenstown, we stopped at the tiny town of Lake Tekapo. This was the definition of a tourist trap but the brilliant blue of the lake was worth the stop. We also forged our own path up a hilltop for a pretty great view.

Upon arrival in Queenstown we learned a few lessons- 1. Calling is the easiest way to find hostels 2. Hostels should be booked a day in advance. Luckily we were able to find a relatively cheap hotel just outside of town.

Wednesday, March 4
A truly adventurous day. We started by zooming around a canyon in the Shotover Jet - coming within 6 inches of the rocks of the canyon wall at top speed and whirling around in complete 360s. The best way to describe it is a roller coaster ride without tracks. Let the adventures of New Zealand begin...in the "adventure capital of the world!"

After a quick wine tasting for some courage, we were off to bungee. (Sorry Mrs. Jones!) We tandem jumped off the original bungy bridge plunging 45 meters straight down. There is no way to describe standing with your feet over the edge and forcing yourself to dive. As Tucker says "very unnatural." [note from TJ - I was scared to death...as my toes hung over the edge all I could keep thinking was "why am I doing this? why am I doing this?!?!] The day was complete with a self conducted wine tasting tour. The area is known for its pinot noirs and there were many great wineries but our favorite by far was Brennan's. A small family owned winery - our
tasting was given by the owner, Sean Brennan. He had a bocci court right by the tasting room, and we had a great time sipping wine and playing a few rounds. I managed to win the first game but then Tucker took over. :)

Thursday, March 5
We had an adventure getting to Milford Sound. Due to a lack of lodging we ended up driving all the way there and back in one day (at least 4 hours each way) but the Sound totally spectacular!! We hopped on the "best value" boat (cheapest for most time) and off we went on a tour of the sound. It's truly a unique place - the mile high rock formations are surrounded by water and they all have "scars" from tree avalanches. We saw the lion rock and got sprayed by a waterfall that takes 10 years off your age...
After this it was back on the road again all the way back to Queenstown but TJ did a great job driving on the opposite side of the road and didn't even mix up the turn signal with the windshield wipers[like I did many times throughout the trip - steering wheel on the right side of the car takes a little getting used to]!
We also picked up a hitchhiker for some additional adventure. This girl was EXTREME! She was a German medical student doing multiple day tramps on her own and staying in a one man tent. Not my idea of fun but she was interesting to talk to even if she did smell like she'd been in the wilderness for awhile!

Friday, March 6
No adventure for me today- I don't know if it was a stomach bug or something I ate but I did not leave the hotel room. Sad!! Tucker managed to have a great day though- white water rafting on a boogie board down a class IV river, surfing the waves along the way! Check out the really cool
video on facebook!

We also enjoyed a ferburger (only a few bites for me) - huge, delicious, and cheap! A must have if you're ever in Queenstown [best burger in the WORLD!]. One thing to note is that NZ is not cheap! After Thailand and Bali the expensive price tags have not been a pleasant surprise for the unemployed TJ.

Saturday, March 7
I managed to get out of bed and do a short hike in Queenstown. The views in NZ are spectacular!! After another stop at Fergburger for TJ to have what "may be the best burger of his life" we were off to our fave winery Brennans for some more wine and bocci. I think Sean was excited to see us again. :) We then waved goodbye to Queenstown and headed to Lake Wanaka. The scenery along the way in New Zealand is so spectacular, it takes your breath away to see such beauty everywhere you turn...wow!

Friday, March 13, 2009


Feb 23
I arrived in Darwin, Australia at about 3 am, with a terrible layover in the airport until my 8:30am flight to Sydney. The good news - I don't have to pay for a hotel tonight (unemployed people live for some free lodging). The bad news - there is no where comfortable and quite in the entire terminal so I barely got any sleep! ugh. Finally get on the plane to Sydney, and it is a 4 hour flight. I jump on a bus to Bondi Beach and get a room at Noah's Hostel. So, in a span of 1 hour in Australia (the 2 bus rides and paying for a night of lodging), I have already spent more than I would in several days in SE Asia - this is not good. In addition, I have gone from a private basic room with bath to a 4 bed dorm. Fortunately, the place is pretty nice, and actually has views of Bondi Beach. I enjoy the beach for the rest of the afternoon, take it easy and watch a movie at the hostel and call it a night.

Feb 24
I grab breakfast...for US$9 - ridiculous! I need to find a good bakery and fruit stand, no longer do I get to enjoy all the good meals in restaurants...as I have. I rent a surfboard and go surfing for the day. Well, I guess you could call it surfing. Sometimes it is more like trying to drown, or running spin cycle in the washer machine under water - for some reason I am just not that good, oh well. After lunch in the afternoon, I take a spectacular run from Bondi Beach to Coggee Beach and back, 12k along the beautiful coast with exercise areas (e.g. pull up and dip bars) along the way. Pretty amazing run, so nice for a big city to have access to a great beach area like this, only 15 min from city centre. I go out to dinner with a German friend I met the night before, then we hang out at the hostel.

Feb 25
I catch the train to central Sydney and get a dorm room in the Kings Cross area. I didn't think they could fit 4 bunk beds in such a small room...it was a sight to see! I then tour the city from 10am-6:30pm, and am totally wiped out but have great pics of the Opera House, bridge and botanical gardens. I enjoy a cold beer at the Opera Bar as the sun is setting and then head back to the hostel. Along the way I grab a tasty tiger meat pie. At night, I head out with a group from the hostel and we bounce around a few bars with free drinks and no cover charges - pretty good deal the hostel sets up. The people in Sydney are very trendy and upscale, and we have a good time.

Feb 26
So, I had booked a trip out to the Blue Mountains to go hiking today, but I oversleep my alarm. Now, I am totally irritated about this. I can handle oversleeping on my own account (it has been known to happen), but the fact that the dorm room was so loud all night and getting no sleep drives me nuts. During breakfast at the dorm, a few of us our planning our days. We decide we want to pet a koala, and I head to Featherdale with 2 Swedish girls I met the night before. We get there, and it is amazing. We are able to hug a koala, feed a kangaroo - so cool! We have a great day. I get back and grab some take-out Indian food, only to realize that the chicken is raw in the middle...but I realized this a little too late as half my food was already in my stomach! I can't believe it, all through SE Asia I was so cautious about food, and I thought I was safe when I arrived in Australia. So, all night long I am so worried about my stomach, and whether it will be ok. Some of my friends at the hostel tell me alcohol will kill any bad bacteria - sounds good to me so we go grab a few drinks at the local bars.

Feb 27
The owner of the Blue Mountain tour company said I could try to catch the trip again today, as a walk-on. So, I actually wake up, waiting for the bus and jump on. But, the bus fills up and we have no more space, they call me up and I assume I am getting kicked off and bummed about it, but they bounce me over to another bus. I get out to the bush, we see some wild kangaroos, and then go on a nice 3 hour "bush whacking" hike. It is funny how all countries have a different name for a hike! I see the 3 sisters rock formation at the end of the trip, a full, tiring day. I get back at night, grab my pack and head to Circular Quay to catch the ferry over to Manly Beach. The ferry ride at night is absolutely spectacular! The Sydney Harbor is probably the most pretty in the world, and at night the Opera House and bridge are all lit up - breathtaking. I get to a hostel in Manly and call it a night.

Feb 28
I meet up with a friend of friend, Jay, who is going to take me sailing. We hang out at Manly Beach and the surrounding areas for a while, then head up north to where his boat is docked. He has a great 38' catamaran with 3 staterooms. We head out for a little sail, dock in a cove, and cook some dinner and enjoy the night.

March 1
Jay and I fire up the sails and sail a few hours to a bay, where we enjoy a beach and a waterfall, then head back to his dock. Jay is 3 years into a trip sailing around the world, and we enjoy some more great conversations about travel and life.

March 2
Up early, jump on a train and off to the airport for my flight to New Zealand!! Stoked!

thoughts on Sydney:
- expensive
- really expensive
- beautiful harbor
- nice city
- great beaches so close to the city
- not sure I will visit again, value is not very good

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bali (continued)

FYI - pics are posted on facebook, have had issues getting them up on the blog, sorry!

Feb 19
Slept a little later than I was hoping to, but found just enough time to squeeze in some pineapple pancakes before I left the bungalow, and they were great! I had to run to the boat dock so I did not miss my boat back to Gili T (I ended up soaked in sweat b/c it was hot and my shoes were all wet with lake funk b/c the lake had flooded the trail and I had to wade through it b/c I didn't have time to go around). Once back on Gili T, I talk to my ping-pong friends to see if they can help me get a deal on the expensive speedboat back to Bali (1.5 hours versus about 6-7 hours). They were able to help me out and got me a $40 vs $60 fare, def worth the price of the tee shirt I gave up the day before. On the speedboat, we have dolphins swimming along with the boat, pretty cool!

Thoughts on Gili T:
- tropical paradise
- friendly people
- good nightlife
- secluded beaches and beachfront bungalows on Gili Meno
- very inexpensive

I get back to Bali on the speedboat, and jump back on my moto. I first explore a bat cave Temple which is interesting, then I head up through the village of Sideman with spectacular cascading rice fields everywhere, beautiful. I then drive around the peninsula through Amed - this drive ends up being on a very narrow road which was very windy and not in the best condition. The drive took considerably longer than expected, but was very pretty. Along the way, as I pass through villages all the kids yell HELLO to me and the boys want to slap me 5...it was like I was a celebrity - pretty funny but once again enjoying the great sense of happiness and friendliness of the Balinese people. I finally get around to Amed, and it is 5pm so I debate staying the night or moving on. I decide to go for it b/c I don't want to lose a day of travelling, but have a long way to go to get to the base of the Batur Volcano. I push hard and fast up the north coast, enjoying some great views. I then turn south and start to head up into the mountains with the sun setting, when I reach the top I am rewarded with a spectacular sunset!! Beautiful! Once the sun fully sets, true misery sets in. I have been on the moto for 6-7 hours, with rain through most of the day, and now the sun is down and it is very cold in the mountains, still raining some, and extremely misty providing terrible visibility on the moto. I am too close now to give up, throw on all the dry clothes I have with me (not many as I have is my small day pack), and push on. I finally arrive in the town close to 8:30pm, wiped out and cold, so I reward myself with a hot water shower room. I meet some of the local trekking guides, don't have the energy so shop around for prices, so I just negotiate hard with the dreaded HPPG trekking agency and book a trip for $30 for the long hike and breakfast on the top. I grab a quick dinner then enjoy a hot shower before hitting the sack.

Feb 20
I wake up at 3:30am to hike the Batur volcano and watch the sunrise. I am very tired but happy to get going, using a torch/flashlight to lead us up the mountain. Just 3 in the group plus the guide. It is looking to be a clear morning and starting to get some great views as we hike up the steep section of the red lava rock from previous eruptions. I push fast to the top, and am rewarded with spectacular views of the sun rising over the Agung Volcano and Batur lake, magnificent and powerful. The views are amazing, and I can see Lombok and beaches on the south side of Bali, very lucky to have such a clear and dry day in the rainy season. We enjoy the views, and then enjoy hard boiled eggs (that were cooked in the steam of the volcano) and a banana sandwich (a first but pretty good as I was very hungry from the trek up).The eggs take about 15 min to cook in the steam. It is very cold and windy up top and can see my breath. We continue our hike, and see hot steam rising everywhere along the top crater. While hiking around the top of the crater, we pass a section that the path is only ~2 feet wide, with huge drop offs on both sides. The woman in our group crawls across it, funny. After looping around the volcano, we head down and have this cool section of the "black lava slide." This is a section where the black lava sand is very fine and deep (like beach sand), and you leap your way down it like you are skiing, pretty fun. Our guide Bigong was great throughout the day, very enjoyable. Once we get back from the hike, I head out to the cultural center of Ubud. I get a room for $3.50, then visit a local market. I eat a late lunch at the famous Warung Iba Oku, specializing in the Balinese style roasted suckling pig. I then check out the town, and head to a Jegog (Bamboo Gamelon) show in nearby Bentuyung Village. The sound from the bamboo was amazing, the drummers were excellent, and the dancers were very skilled with amazing head, eye and hand movement. I really enjoy the show. I grab dinner at Norad, where they start you off with a flower in your ear and deliver an excellent meal. The reputation for food in Ubud is very high, and it is living up to it so far. When I get back to my room, there is a huge 3" long cockroach in my room...I think I will upgrade if I stay another night!

Here are a few stories I have forgotten about:
When in Cambodia at the Chinese New Years celebration, my lips were chapped from the bright sun, so I pulled out my chap stick and applied. Everyone started cracking up b/c men probably don't put anything on their lips (they probably thought it was lipstick). Note to self - no more chap stick applications in front of locals.
When in Chaing Mai, at the market with the cooking school, one of the Westerners in the class had gotten some star fruit and offered it up to all of us. I had a small piece (since it was a peeled fruit figured it would be ok) - bad idea!~ My throat started itching immediately. I got some water to ease the itching, and then my throat started closing up, making it difficult to talk. This is bad, I am thinking I am heading to a Thai hospital soon. After about 15 min, it eases up and I am ok. Phew! Note to self - no more weird fruit we don't have in the U.S.

Let me also tell you about driving the moto in Bali:
- there are no street signs
- there are way too many motos for the size of the roads
- 2 way streets are typically more narrow than a 1 way street in the U.S.
- I would normally fill up my gas from a street side stand, pouring gas from Absolute bottles.
- dogs believe they own the road, they do not move for anything (saw one get hit, many gave me a heart attack as I was driving by and they just run or walk into the road)
- speaking of dogs, I saw a guy on a moto with 2 dogs, impressive
- families normally use moto to get around, it is typical to see a mom, dad and 2 kids on one moto.
- merging lanes or streets on the moto is very scary, you just have to go for it and trust that others won't hit you

Feb 21
Today is a sad day, as my trip is half over and I am heading downhill now - bummer. 2 months is just not enough time to travel, I think 4 months would have been better! I enjoyed a great breakfast at a restaurant named Casa, then visited the Ubud Palace. Next I left for the Monkey Forest Sanctuary/Temple. I was very cautious of all the monkeys after my experience at Ulu Watu, but soon realized that these monkeys all seemed much nicer and less aggressive. I loved watching the monkeys, and did it for 3 hours, watching them play, fight, jump in a pond, race to fallen branches and fight over who got it and watched baby monkeys try to climb a tree for the first time - very cool! My foot is now at 80%, which is good, walking with shoes is much more comfortable. I drove through a few of the villages around Ubud, and stopped into some wood making shops to check out their cool wood products. It starts to rain, so I eat lunch at the much-hyped Indus, which had amazing river views but not very good food. The rain continued, so I stopped into Eve Spa and got a tremendous 2 hour traditional Mandi Lulur Javanese massage for $13. It included a 1 hour massage, exfoliating body scrub, yogurt covering to eliminate toxins and wrapped up with a flagrant blossom bath - pure relaxation! I then got a $3 haircut which included 15 min of shoulder/neck massage. While picking up my laundry that evening, I meet a local guy who is very helpful, finds me good lodging ($4.25 including breakfast at a homestay - staying in a room in a local persons complex), and we decide to meet up later in the evening. I head up to the Ubud Royal Palace for a Legong (traditional) Balinese dance show, and it is tremendous. I meet up with the local guy I met earlier and we go to a bar with a live local band cranking out cover tunes - fun times. On the moto ride home, there are tons of stray dogs in the streets running around, weird.

Feb 22
I enjoy a good free breakfast from the homestay, which included eggs, fruit and toast. It is raining again, so I decide to kill time with another [and my last cheap] massage at Eve Spa. This time I get a 1.5 hour massage, mud body mask and spice bath - best massage I have ever gotten, all for $13 - I will miss Bali! I stop at a local market and buy a really nice canvas painting, eat at a warung (Balinese cafe) for $1.25, then drive back to Seminyak (it finally stopped raining!). I meet up with Chun, clean up, then we head to KuDeTa for a drink on the beach watching the sun set, grab dinner and off to the airport where I catch the red-eye flight to Darwin, Australia.

Thoughts on Bali:
- very inexpensive
- magical
- friendliest people I have ever encountered travelling
- terrific, cheap restaurants
- amazing culture
- great, cheap spa's
- love it, miss it like crazy, want to go back!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bali and Gili Islands

Feb 12

Take a flight on Asia Airlines from Krabi to Kuala Lampur, where I have the worst meal of my trip. 3 hour layover and from what I experience in the airport, not a huge fan of the people (or food) of Malaysia. Catch the flight over to Bali, where I hit the ATM and take out 1,000,000 Ruphiah. Sure makes you feel rich! Of course, that is only about $85! Ed and I grab a taxi to Chun Ghee's house. Chun is a friend of a friend, and when we arrive at his villa in Seminyak, it is amazing! I know I am going to enjoy my free stay at this amazing place and the insight from a local expat from the US. His villa is the essence of living in Bali, for $500/month it his 2 very nice luxurious bedrooms and an outdoor living area with a fish pond around it, an outdoor kitchen and nicely landscaped yard. He also has a maid come daily for $45 a month, as well as a gardener. Now this is the good life! All just a block from the beach and some of the best restaurants and bars. One very cool thing that Chun tells us about is that in a month if his maid continues to work hard and be motivated, he will send her to English school to become his personal assistant to help with his business. Very cool as it will help advance the ability and skills of a local Balinese person by teaching her English and business skills.

Feb 13
Happy Birthday to me! Grab a nice breakfast, then pick up my moto for the next 10 days ($3/day). Decide to get out and explore town with the moto, and before I know it I am a little lost (tough with no street signs). The traffic is totally insane with cars and moto's weaving in and out of traffic at crazy speeds! Luckily I had some practice up in Chaing Mai, so I'm up for the craziness. We explore south Bali, and visit Ulu Watu, a nice Temple in a spectacular setting up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. There are monkey's everywhere, and you can purchase some peanuts to feed them. I do this, and get into the Temple and pull out a peanut to give to a nice little monkey. Next thing I know a huge monkey starts coming towards me to take it. So, I throw it down so he can have it, but he keeps coming. I throw down 2 more, but he continues after me as I am walking very fast to escape (I guess he wants the entire stinkin bag of peanuts?!?!). I suddenly have a flashback of a few days earlier in Railey when a monkey jumped on a tourist, and I freak out and throw down the bag and he gets them all. Oh well, at least he didn't attack me, that was one aggressive dude! We continue to enjoy the Temple and the spectacular views. At the back of the Temple, I am leaning my elbows on a stone wall to get a great photo, when all of a sudden I feel something hit me hard on my hands. Next thing I know, another big monkey has run off with my camera case!! Yikes! He opens the case, looks in, shakes it upside down, then starts gnawing on it! I don't know what to do, but the people who work there throw him a few bags of food, and he finally drops the case for the food. I quickly grab it back before another monkey grabs the case. Crazy! I give the people a tip, and keep a close hold on my things. Ed said he saw the entire thing go down and the monkey sprinted 15 feet down the wall to grab it from me - impressive tactic by the monkey! Then we watch a traditional Kecak and fire dance show, with the sun setting behind the show. Very nice way to end the day. We grab dinner in Seminyak, where there are countless nice restaurants. We decide to get some Italian food, and I enjoy a great dinner at a very classy restaurant for $8. Then we head out to celebrate my b-day, we hit the 5 most popular bars/clubs in Kuta, Legion and Seminyak into the wee hours of the morning. Great ladyboy incident in the middle of the night. We are walking down and narrow street, and this drunk Australian guy strikes up conversation with us. We are all talking when a moto with 2 lady boys pulls up. Now, these were the types of lady boys that are so obvious, I don't even know whey they try. Well, one jumps off the moto and starts messing with the Aussie. This goes on for about 2 minutes, and he is laughing and enjoying the attention when the ladyboy quickly jumps back onto the moto and they speed off. Ed quickly asks "dude, you have your wallet?" and without even responding the kid takes off in a full sprint. We all start laughing hysterically at the scene we just saw go down...it was a classic ladyboy strategy you hear about, and I must say it was quite well executed!!

Feb 14
Head to the southern beaches in the morning. Get to Geiger Beach, which has a great view and vibe with beach chairs and restaurant serving great smoothies! I enjoy a nice ocean swim. There are seaweed farmers in a small village here, working hard to pull it out and get it dried. We head out on the motos and grab lunch at Ulu Watu town, which has spectacular cliff top views of one of the best surf breaks in the world. Then we head to Dreamland beach, boogie boarding as the sun sets. Great day of beach hopping! We head out at 9:30 for a beer at the ultra schwanky Hu'd Bar in seminyak. This restaurant/bar has probably the nicest ambiance I have ever seen, with lounges in a garden and pool (where I don't think people swim - more just for looks) in the middle of it. Amazing place. Then we head to KuDeTa on the ocean for dinner, and it is just as trendy. These places put places in the US to shame, and cost a fraction of what you would pay for a nice restaurant in the US.

Feb 15
Decide to head north today to visit some beaches. After doing some exploring, we head back to Kuta/Legion to surf (or attempt to). The surf was big, and I got "laundry machined" under water and thought I was going to die I needed air so badly. After that, I stayed in the smaller surf, I was wiped out! Next some bad weather moves in (first rain of my entire trip), which we expected at some point as it is rainy season in Bali. A total monsoon hits as we are driving back to Chun's house on the moto, with the surfboard. We get to his house, and the rain is full-on - actually flooding his yard and we had to prevent water from getting into the bedrooms. We had massages scheduled back at his house that evening, 2 women came and Ed and Chun got the first massages and I got the best - 4 hands massage (I think the massage count is 7). then we headed out to a dinner party that an expat was throwing, the rain had stopped but the streets were flooded! The dinner party was lots of fun, and the food was fantastic! I really enjoyed talking to all the people from around the world on the businesses they do in Bali (many exporters). Fun times.

Feb 16

Ed's trip is over, and he heads off to the airport. I wake up at 6am, to get an early start on the day over to the Gili Islands on Lombok. All I have is my day pack for this adventure, I hope my clothes last me for the 5-6 days I will be gone. I have to get to Padangbai on the scooter, and this proves to be quite a challenge. First off, it is raining again, so road conditions are pretty bad. Also, I think someone forgot to wind-test my poncho as the one side has ripped under my arm and is flapping wildly in the wind and not providing optimal protection against the rain. Secondly, there are barely any street signs of directional signs in Bali. So, I end up driving and driving and driving...I think in a circle. I would ask one person which way to go, stop 2 min later to ask another and they would point me the direction I just came from! ugh. I finally get heading the right direction, up the east coast. I hit a nice stretch of pavement and get my moto up to 102kph. I am within 10 min of the town where I will catch the ferry, and I see a cop with lights on in my mirror...great, this is not good. I slow down, and luckily they pull by me. Phew! I finally get to Padangbai, buy my ferry ticket (which leaves in 20 min), but I can't find a safe place to leave my moto while I am on the islands. I finally find a hotel which hits me up for a steep fee, but I am desperate at this point (next ferry doesn't come for 90 min), so I pay it and run to the ferry, just barely making it on before it pulls out. At this point, I am starving as I didn't have a chance to get food, and only had an orange for breakfast. All they have on the ferry is cookies, oh well. The ferry is rocking big time in the waves, so I head to the top for fresh air. But, since I am tired, I decide to try to get some sleep, local style - on the hard floor of the ferry. Not comfy, that is for sure. We are finally pulling into the port, and I realize we are not in the town I thought we'd be in, and I thought I caught the wrong ferry. Later on, I found out that all the ferries go to this same town. We get into the port, and I start the haggling process with the taxis and motos. I settle on a fair with a moto driver (to be on the back), and off we go. Literally, off we go. This guy is flying, heading the wrong way against traffic, taking corners (in the rain) at 80kph, passing buses and then having them practically run us off the road. For the first time on my trip, I am a little concerned about the driving. Looking back on it, I should have gotten off, especially considering I didn't have a helmet on. A man sure can do a lot of praying sitting behing a crazy moto driver!! It then starts pouring rain, and he pulls over. I am getting worried, as it is after 4pm, and the last boat to the Gili Islands leaves Lombok at 5pm. He flags down a van, they exchange some money, and off I go in the van, hoping I get to where I need to go. It continues to rain like crazy as we work our way up through a rainforest. What makes this more fun is that this van has no windows, and the window wipers don't work...no visibility in this hard rain. We get to the town where I need to go, I catch a horse buggy for the 1km to the port where the boats are, and get there and work my way through all the touts trying to rip me off with a more expensive boat rid. I barely catch the last boat, and off I go on the 45 min ride to Gili Trawangan. On the ride, I meet some people from San Fran. Once on the island, I find a room for $5, grab dinner and catch a movie. In the middle of the night, I wake up and freak out as I went to sleep with the light on while I was reading...and now the light is off. I grab my torch, look around, and realize the power has gone out...phew - I wasn't robbed! Now, with the power out, the fan is obviously not working and it is rather hot in the room.

Feb 17
So, wake up in the morning with much more light then when I saw the room last night, and it is way dirty. So, I check out and find a much nicer room for the same price. I bump into the girls from CA over breakfast and decide to join them on a snorkeling trip. The boat had a glass bottom, which was pretty cool and gave you a sense of what you would see before jumping in. The clarity is not nearly as good as Thailand (I think b/c it was rainy season b/c it is supposed to be amazing in the dry season). I see some nice fish and reefs...then the coolest part was seeing a manta ray and then swimming along with a turtle for 5+ min - awesome! The trip wraps up on the 3rd island, Gili Air where we enjoy a nice lunch on a secluded part of the island. We get back to Gili T in the afternoon and I see some locals playing a heated game of ping-pong, so I challenge them and beat them all (winning a Bintang beer in the process). Then I decide the best way to see the island is to run around it. I enjoy a beautiful 8-9k run around the island as the sun is setting, very nice! The island is very pretty with a great vibe and very friendly people. A big difference from Bali is that it has a heavy muslim population, and the mosque loudly broadcasts prayers in the morning and evening. For dinner, I join friends from the snorkeling trip and we enjoy a nice dinner right on the beach. So far, the Indonesian fare I have had has been average. We grab a few drinks at a local establishment, and on the walk home at night I am always offered every sort of drug you can imagine...hopefully they realize the answer is always going to be no and leave me alone!

Feb 18
I grab breakfast then walk through town, saying hi to many people (locals and tourists) I have met since I have been on the island (you meet lots of the people b/c it is so small). I then chill out at a secluded, private beach all for me. While laying there are relaxing, I decide I want to go out in search of a more private beach front bungalow, and hear about a place on Gili Meno that offers it. So, I check out of my place to grab the boat over. Walking by the ping-pong table I see my local friends, and the one really wants my Arsenal tee shirt (one of my fave's). I decide I will give it to him, but challenge him to a game of ping pong for it. I win, I get a Bintang, he wins, he gets my shirt. He was the best player of the group, and we had a heated battle, but he is now the very proud owner of a new tee-shirt! I bounce over to Gili Meno, and find my great ocean front bungalow on the beach and on the secluded west side of the island. It is perfect, and I am the only person there (other than the employees). Very cool traditional bungalow style room for $10, with open air outdoor shower (very desirable). I have the beach to myself, perfect for some good R&R. I decide to run around the island, it was smaller than Gili T, probably a 5-6k run. I get back and jump in the ocean to have a good float about while the sun sets, and get a spectacular blood red sunset, awesome! I eat dinner at the place, get a noodle dish, and I ask for it to be spicy. It comes and is spicy and pretty good, then while slurping up a noodle I somehow had some of the sauce flip into my eye...oooouuuucccchhhh!! Seriously, I have never had sauce flip into my eye before, and it has to be some super spicy Indonesian sauce! My eye is burning, I am calling the waiter for some water (all I have is a beer) and he gets it after what feels like an eternity. I get it flushed out, but still not good, how did this happen!?! In about 10 min starts to feel ok again. I enjoy a nice quite and relaxing evening and night, just what I was looking for. I call it a night in my great bungalow, only to wake up at about 2am to a screeching gecko right by the headboard of my bed. It was seriously so loud that it made me jump up b/c it freaked me out!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thai Beaches - Krabi, Railey Beach and Koh Phi Phi

Feb 6
Get to the airport, and luckily running on time as the plane actually takes off 15 min EARLY! Crazy. I tend to leave no fluff time, and one of these days I am going to miss a flight (right Jeff?). Flew through Bangkok, then on to Krabi Airport. Shuttled into Krabi town and found K's Guesthouse for $3 each. I don't think Ed is too happy with only 1 queen bed vs 2 singles - oh well! While hanging out at a reggae bar (big celebration in town - it was Bob Marleys b-day), meet some fellow American travelers (there aren't many in this part of the world). Very interesting couple with some great stories. They were actually traveling with the proceeds of a $100,000 marijuana sale. They grew it in CA and sold it, and supposedly the whole deal was legal, who knows?!?!

Feb 7
Catch the 9:30am longboat to Railey. It was supposed to be a 9am departure, but the boat drivers make you sit around until enough people fill the boat before the leave the dock. The views to Railey beach were spectacular. Beaches surrounded by huge karsts rock formations, I have never seen anything like it! Arrived and Railey beach and huff around looking for lodging. We meet some kiwi's while looking, and decide to join them on a sunset snorkel adventure they had just booked. We get a room at YaYa's on Railey East, and the prices here are steep at $10 each with no hot water. The YaYa resort was very nice, great vibe and large room with great views from the balcony. We leave at 1:30 for the snorkel trip, and had just enough time to fit in another great thai meal...love this food! We head out on the boat, and have great clarity and amazing fish. I feel like I am swimming around in the saltwater fish tank we used to have. Great reef and I really enjoy 4 different stops. Best snorkeling I have done in my life...so far. I also see ropes set up for a deep water solo rock climb. This is where you start from a boat rock climbing, then climb as high as you can (or dare to) before just falling back into the ocean - awesome!! We then continue on to a small secluded island with a great beach. The water around the beach is like bath water, so nice and warm! One strange thing on these beaches is that there are no waves, I mean NONE! The water just laps up gently against to the beach,. We enjoy the sunset while floating around, then we have a great dinner on the beach. During the sunset, huge bats (the size of dogs) migrate from one cave to another, so neat to watch! We boat back to Railey and enjoy a few cold beers (Beer Changs and Singha) with our Kiwi friends at a chill bar right on the water. Then we enjoy a fire show and call it a night.

One really cool thing about Railey beach is that it is a very small area with no cars, scooters, etc. The only way to reach it is by boat, so the vibe of the beach is great.

Feb 8
Ed and I decide to take a little adventure before heading to the beach for the day. We take a death-defying hike/rock scramble up to a lagoon and cave. We then continue up to an amazing viewpoint and decide to push on to the highest point on the island with the best view. No one goes up this way, but there is a trail. This trail is extremely technical with razor sharp rocks we have to climb up (I have never felt such a sharp rock - sharper than lava). Ed and I are both trying our best not to slip on anything as the rock would just shred our skin. We make it to the top, with a little tear in Ed's shirt being the only casualty. On the way down, the path gives way under Ed and he catches himself before taking a good fall...yikes! We get back down and earn some well-deserved chilling out time on a beautiful beach with spectacular views of all the karsts jutting out of the ocean. We have dinner on Railey West (just a 3 min walk from Railey East) and enjoy a pretty good sunset. Our CA friends from Krabi are walking by and join us for dinner. We then head to our fave bar, The Last Bar, for drinks and to meet up with friends. We hang out with a group of Australians. As the night goes on, Ed decides to bet me $150 that I would not wade out into the ocean off the bar and walk across a log balance beam. Now I get to thinking, that is the equivalent to 30 nights of lodging, 30 massages, about 50 meals, etc. Ok, I'm doing it. BAD IDEA! On the way out, wading chest high in water, I step on something sharp, VERY SHARP! I get to the log, pull my foot up and instantly the log is covered in blood. At this point, I am quite mad at myself for doing this, as I have 6+ weeks of travelling in front of me. Ugh. Well, you better believe I am getting across that log for pay day at this point. I somehow wobble across it, get back to the bar and am very concerned about my foot. I stop the bleeding with a napkin compression, and hobble home later in the night.

Feb 9
So, I wake up in the morning to intense throbbing from my foot...once again reminded of my stupidity the night before. I am very concerned as the pain is pretty bad, and I cannot put any weight onto my foot. So, I set out to find a doctor. I find a pharmacy, and sure enough there is no doctor in town (I assumed this would be the case). The pharmacist asks what is wrong, and I tell her I stepped on something. She said she could help me out, and I thought I'd give it a try. So, she started cleaning it out, which was incredibly intense pain. I was actually sweating profusely from pain for the 20 min it took to get it all cleaned out. Good news - no glass in the foot (which I was worried about). I had rock climbing already booked for the day, and I was determined to give it a shot rather than lose my money I already paid. Since I could barely walk, I told Ed that I would just meet them at the wall and to grab some climbing gear for me so I could give it a try. As I hobbled there (at an extremely slow pace), I was sure I would not be climbing. But, we got there, and this climbing wall was true beauty. It was right on the ocean, so you climb up and look out over the ocean, unbelievable. The guides get a good laugh from me hobbling around. We strap on the gear, and I give it a shot. Surprisingly, if I just kept the weight on the tip of my climbing shoe, I was ok...so I was in business! We got in about 7 awesome climbs, with one being over 50 meters with the most amazing view from the top. Def a great afternoon, and I am very happy I didn't miss out on it. We were starving after the climb, and decided to check out one of the resort restaurants. Surprisingly, the prices were about the same as the regular restaurants, and the Thai meal ended up being spectacular (possibly best yet on my trip). After dinner I grabbed a well deserved massage in an open air place overlooking the ocean, very relaxing. We went back to The Last Bar at night where they had a Thai boxing match and snake show with King Cobra's, very cool!

Feb 10
My foot has gotten considerably better since "the surgery." I can walk now, but with a limp, still pretty slow. We have a day trip booked to Koh Phi Phi, which are the islands where The Beach was filmed. We hop around to 7 diff islands/locations with a big speedboat. We have some more really good snorkeling at one of the stops. The trip ended up being quite touristy, with lots of speedboats pulling up to the locations and dumping people onto the beach - not really my kind of trip, but cool to see Phi Phi. The price paid was def not worth what we got from it, oh well. Got back around 4pm and hit the beach with some people we met on the day trip. We decide to grab dinner at the next beach over, Hat Son Tai and go through a 15 min rock scramble with our flashlights to get there. This ends up being a bad decision as it was the worst meal of my trip and a very quite nightlife - strange as we heard it was a great scene. Heading back, the tide is too high and we have to take the 30 min jungle hike through the forest. Back on Railey beach, we enjoy a full moon party at a small bar on the water with a group of Aussies.

Feb 11
Last day in Railey, so I hit the beach in the morning then another great climbing session in the afternoon. We hit a different set of walls, and they were more challenging after our successful climbs 2 days ago. Our guides at Thai'd Up really pushed us with some difficult climbs, and it was a bunch of fun! My foot is continuing to get better, so that is good news. We have a late dinner and then meet up with our climbing guides and buddy from CA for a few refreshing Beer Changs.

Feb 12
Catch a boat in the morning for Ao Nang Beach.

Thoughts on Railey Beach:
Great climbing
Crystal clear water and amazing snorkeling
Beautiful karsts formations
Great beaches
No cars, streets or pollution (a nice refresher from other SE Asia areas)
Friendly people
Cool bars with nightly shows
Great Thai food
Everything is too low in Thailand, Ed and I were always banging our heads on something (including door frames that are too low) or toes on uneven sidewalks

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Laos - Luan Probang

Jan 31

So the adventure continues, and I am loving the flexibility of an unplanned trip. Landed in Luan Probang, tiny airport. But, the fact that we landed safely was really good news. Laos Airlines does not have the best safety track record (sorry mom!), so those wheels touching down safely was great. Got ripped off by a taxi to the downtown area for $5 (it appears at every airport I arrive at they have created a monopoly with set fares, ah well). Get into town and I am totally amazing. This city is amazing, quite different than I expected from one of the world's least developed countries. The city has such a great feel, is very pretty and surrounded by rivers, and has terrific restaurants with great views! After a 45 min trek to find a guesthouse, we settle on one that is a little nicer and more expensive than what we were looking for, but the hot water shower will make it worthwhile. I am surprised that the lodging is not less money, and there are actually quite a few luxurious options for $100+, crazy. Wander the streets of town, then grab a very good pad thai dish for $2 at a very ritzy restaurant, nice. We then go out for the night to a spot called Hive Bar, and the place is an amazing bar/lounge. If this place was in Arlington, they could easily charge a $10 cover and it would be hopping. We then walk next door to Lao Lao Garden, and it is also very cool with a big bonfire pit and great vibe.

Feb 1

We decide to rent bikes and tour the town and surrounding areas. We get out of town and happen to pass a house with a ping pong table and some young people lounging around (there seems to be lots of chilling out in Laos). I see this as a golden opportunity and swing into the driveway. I ask if we can play, and I take them on in a game. A little rusty at first, I got going to beat them one at a time, with them laughing and loving it (especially when I hit a really good shot). The competition was good, but I was able to edge them out and win games. After a few games, I go find Ed engaged in a fierce game of bocce ball. They love this game here, and are very good. They beat Ed and I in every game of bocce ball. they tell us that this is the first time they have met Americans (they are about 20 years old and in University). We are starving and decide to move on, but then the dad wants to play me in ping-pong. He states he is no good, and I quickly realize that is not the truth. We battle it out for 2 games, splitting them. We say thank you and head out to grab food. On the way, we see a nice temple up on the hill overlooking the city, but on the way out Ed's chain falls off his bike. We get it repaired and we are back in business, although his bike is not running very smoothly...oh well. We have a good lunch, then swing by this place called Utopia (bar/restaurant). It is amazing, with the most unbelievable view of the river. People are just laying down on the deck, reading and eating and enjoying the view. Probably the most nicely decorated open air place I have ever seen, spectacular. Ed and I decide we have to come back later in the week and enjoy it. We spend the rest of the day biking around and visiting temples. We return the bikes and hike up 350 steps to watch the sunset from a temple on the mountain, beautiful view! I then get a 2 hour Laos massage (massage count = 4), great massage but painful. Grab dinner and swing by Utopia and call it a night.

Feb 2

We wake up at 5:30 to watch the monks collect alms in the morning. They are sustained by the community reaching out and giving them food every morning. It is a very neat thing, and we give food to the monks as they go by collecting their meal for the day in a pot-like container. I get a great coconut waffle for breakfast, then we pack and head over to the boat association to boat up north to Nong Khiaw. The boat is NOT what I expected, and is rather rustic. We luck out though and 30 min into the ride get switched to another boat where it was just Ed and I on the boat, sweet. The 7 hour boat ride up river was absolutely spectacular, with breath taking views the entire way up river. It was also exciting when we would battle through some rapids on the long boat. It was a very majestic feeling going up the Mekong and Nam Ouk River, with OAR and U2 Beautiful Day cranking out of my ipod! I feel so free and happy, living life. I feel alive! As it is low season, there are many exposed rocks, with the long boat driver navigating his way through them. We stop on a sandbank and have a lunch with sticky rice and some mystery meat, then continue on. The boat driver would randomly stop at times, once to shower and brush his teeth in the river, and another time to fill 15 sandbags...so random. Maybe he is making a beach somewhere? We arrive at a small village called Nong Khiaw and find a great bungalow overlooking the river for $5. Great views, hot water shower, but squat toilet. We hang out that night on a little beach enjoying a fire with som English guys we met, good times telling travelers stories.

Feb 3
Head out of town to the next village (Ngoi Neau, just a short 1 hour boat ride (which was totally packed), once again with spectacular views. Ed and I find a good deal on the nicest bungalow in town, and book it. Then we head out on a hike to the nearby villages. Great hike through rice fields to a small village with friendly and smiling people. we grab a beer (always good to help out the local economy) and talk about village life. For dinner we experimented with 2 meals, both were terrible and we had to order 2 more. Sometimes it doesn't work out, others you eat great food. Ah well. Then we hung out with some travelers we met in Nong Khiaw, and our Spanish friend ordered a bottle of Lao Lao Whiskey. we had not tried this yet, and when I did...oh man, no good. This stuff was totally nasty. It actually tasted like rubbing alcohol. So, there were 5 of us, and a bottle to finish. At first, I had some...then I was done with it...but my glass kept getting re-filled. So, I thought, what should I do? Being a strategic and quick thinker, I started throwing it over my shoulder off the restaurant deck! Ed on the other hand kept managing to drink it...which he regretted in the morning! At one point, some spilled on the table and we actually lit in on fire - I don't think we should drink that moonshine!

Feb 4
We took the boat ride back to Nong Khiaw ( jsut as crowded as on the way up - makes it interesting to navigate rapids. we then got on a "bus" which was really just an oversized tuk-tuk and somehow fit 25 people onto it. I mean, I think capacity on it was aroudn 12, but he just packed them in, then added some chairs to the middle for additioinal passengers, then had 3 people stand on the rear bumper for the 3.5 hour trek back to Luan Probang. The driver then had the nerve to try to pick up more passengers as we passed through villages, crazy! After 2 days of village food, my stomach wasn't feeling great so I was very happy to make it back into a town with good food. Upon retunring to Luan Probang, we found a great guesthouse for $3.50 with hot shower, sweet! After a great dinner, I visited the night bazaar and got a very cool rice paper painting. We dropped by one of the uber-trendy bars and enjoyed a game of bocce ball against some other westerners. Then we decided to experience the "bowling alley." all the establishments in LPB close at 11:30pm, but the bowling alley is outside of town and stays open all night. We got there and it was quite a sign. After a playing a few rounds, we called it a night.

Feb 5
We had heard a great deal about this waterfall 30km out of town, and decided to check it out. When we got there, it blew me away with its beauty. I was expecting something really pathetic, but it really was beautiful and amazing, cascading over many different layers and several great swimming spots. We climbed to the top and enjoyed the spectacular views. We hung out with some Aussies (who gave me great insight into my trip to Australia), then I decided I needed to jump into one of the pools of water. I had been avoiding all rivers, streams, etc as I didn't want issues, but jumped right in and we called it the "parasite swim." Actually, the water was quite clean, refreshing, and views were spactacular!! Got back into town and I enjoyed my 5th massage of my trip. Watched the sunset at a great bar called Utopia, overlooking the river. This establishment is super classy. Then I grabbed a crepe, which was amazing, before showering up and walking the 2 short blocks to the center of the city for dinner. We at at the Lao Lao Garden and enjoyed a great Lao BBQ experience, where we have smoking hot coals in the center of our table and cook our food (similar to the Melting Pot back home - well, same same but different). Really a great dinner and great vibe at the restaurant with fire pits and social scene.

Feb 6
Off to Krabi for the Thai beaches!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Jan 26
Arrive in Chiang Mai after a short 75 min flight from Bangkok. Take a taxi over to Julie's Guesthouse, which is a great guesthouse and good spot to meet other travelers with pool table and lounge area. Also, can't beat the cheap rooms ($4 two of the nights and $3 for each of the other 2 nights) with hot water showers! We decide to rent scooters with 2 other travelers we met, and off we went, darting through the crazy traffic of the city. It was actually pretty dang scary at first, and I was glad I got that travel insurance after all...but before you knew it we were whizzing in and out of traffic like the locals! We tore all around the town, stopped at this great spot for a bite to eat, then shot to the top of Do Sumui to watch the sunset from a temple overlooking the city. Great view and very pretty temple. Then we buzzed down the mountain, flying along under the weak headlamps from the scooter, wild ride! We then proceeded to be lost and driving around the city for 30 min trying to find the guesthouse (which was tough to find b/c it was down a little alley). We finally made it through the confusing network of streets, and quickly headed off to a Muay Thai boxing match (main event was a Swede vs. Thai). Very fun to watch, and very good seats close to the rink. We then headed to a bar with our friends, and it was a loungy place where you had to remove your shoes. I had sandals...and when we left at the end of the night, well, I guess someone liked the way those sandals looked, b/c they were long gone! Sheeesh! oh well, I am sure I can find some new ones for cheap.

Jan 27
Had breakfast at the guesthouse b/c we were in a rush. Not very good and an expensive at $3, ah well. Head off for a day of Thai cooking class. When I read about this in the Lonely Planet, there is no way I thought I would actually do it. But, after several positive reviews, I thought I would give it a shot...especially b/c I LOVE Thai food! We have a great group going, and first we start at a market to see where they shop and what to buy. We then head to the cooking school, where we chose 6 diff courses to cook and eat during the full-day session. It was so fun, and the food was so good. I have this amazing video of the flame from my wok shooting 3+ feet into the air, I really loved it. The video is hilarious, and I will post (along with pics) when I can get a decent internet connection. Ed and I grabbed a late dinner and beer at a bar called The Beach, where they had a local band blasting American tunes. If I closed my eyes, I would think it was a cover band in the US, funny.

Ok, let me take a minute to give some insight in using bathrooms here in SE Asia. It is a disgusting experience for the most part, and they do vary greatly from one to the next. Some do have western toilets, but I am going to explain the majority of the others. You walk into the bathroom to see 2 footpads and a hole in the ground. There is never toilet paper, but instead a little thing that I will refer to as a "butt sprayer." First off, who wants a soaking wet butt? Secondly, does that really do the job? I have not had to use or tough one of these yet, and I can only hope I am never in a situation where I have to. If you are using toilet paper, you can never put it into the toilet, and need to place it in a trash bucket in the bathroom. Gross. Ok, after you use the toilet, there is then a bucket filled with water next to it (normally way too close in my opinion), where you dip in a small bucket type contraption and dump water into the "hole" in the ground to flush. I really hate to do this, and usually cover my entire arms with sanitizing lotion after entering one of these types of toilets. In the hotel room, there is no seperate shower. You have a bathroom with a toilet and basin, then just a shower head sticking out of the wall. It is like a powder room with a shower head (normally with only cold water). Therefore, the ENTIRE bathroom gets totally soaking wet whenever you do shower, very crazy.

Jan 28
Today we are departing on a 2 day trek through the countryside and remote villages in the hills a few hours outside of Chiang Mai. After being in the tuk-tuk for about 1.5 hours, we stop to see a "waterfall" and have lunch. It was such a pathetic sight I did not even take a picture of it, I hope it gets better than this! We drive another hour, and get started on our trek. We hike for a few hours,, through a village, enjoying funny stories from our guide as we go. We arrive in a small village of 60 people where we are staying for the night. We have a good dinner, hang out at a campfire drinking, dancing and singing...good times! The accomodation is...well, what do you expect in a remote village? There was 1 big open room for the 9 people on the trek, with sleeping mattresses that were about 2" thick and 2 thin blankets. It got very cold at night up in the mountains, and I was glad I brough my fleece. Went to bed, and the 2 thin blankets were proving to be quite inadequate for the temperature (probably low 40's). So uncomfortable, FREEZING cold. I had one blanket covering my lower body, and the other covering my head, and nearly froze to death. It was like camping in the fall without a sleeping bag, no good. Then the roosters started going...I check my watch, 4am. Ok, Mr. Rooster Man, there is NO WAY the sun is coming up now. they go again at 4:30, 5am, etc...not a good night of sleep!

Jan 29
After a terrible night of sleep, embark on 3-4 hours of hiking out of the mountains. Ride an elephant...which I was very excited to do, but it wasn't as good as it was cracked up to be. Very slow, and the elephant was begging for food with his trunk the entier ride, and if we didn't give him food, he would snot us with his trunk...grreat! Also, the elephants were not treated very well. Off to bamboo rafting, now this was REALLY fun! It was like 10 big pieces of bamboo strapped together, and then down the river you go. 4 people per raft, one in front and bag with long poll pushing us along. The other 2 on my raft fell in going down a rapid, very funny! Beautiful scenery during this, and throughout the entire trek, lots of fun. Head back into town and back to Julie's Guesthouse.

Jan 30
Have a huge pancake for breakfast, then off to an big downhill mountain bike ride. It was really expensive at $70, and I nearly didn't do it, but heard good things about it. So, off we went. We started at the top of the mountain, had a short uphill climb all the way to to otop and then started the extremely technical descent. It was amazing downhill biking, the best I have ever done. I had 2 crashes, but luckily not too bad. I went down a few sections in total fear, but was stoked when I got through them. The vertical drops were huge at some points, big rocks everywhere, I mountain bikers dream! Head out to dinner at a really ritzy restaurant Ed had found during the day, and it is a great meal, very cheap, and had the nicest bathroom I will see in SE Asia. Very loungy vibe, cool. Go to the night bazaar to do a little shopping, street prositutes keep calling out to us but we ignore them and continue on.

Jan 31
Ed and I wake up without a game plan for the day. I was supposed to head to the beaches of Thailand next, but other travelers have continued to rave about Laos. We do a bunch of research, and decide to try to catch a 3pm flight. But, it is already 1pm, so we have to hustle to the airport. We arrive at the airport at 2pm, and luckily they have room on the flight, so we jump on. I feel like I am on the show Amazing Race sometimes when I travel! Good times! Only a 1 hour flight to Luang Probang, Laos. I can't believe we actually get a snack on the flight, what airline gives you that!!

Thailand - Bangkok

Jan 25
Short 1 hour flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok. I see another backpacker in the taxi line, so we split a cab downtown. Great guy from Germany with lots in common. We grab a few beers at a local spot, then I venture out to find some lodging for the night. This proves to be quite difficult, as place after place has the dreaded FULL sign out front. The sun has gone down, and my hunt continues. I am exhausted after climbing 4 flights of stairs in 3 guesthouses only to see dumpy rooms. I finally find something for a reasonable $5 for the night, and settle in. My buddy Ed just booked a ticket 30 hours ago to come join me for a few weeks, so it will be nice to have a travel buddy. While I wait for him, I get my first Thai massage in a beautiful little garden setting. Now, a massage is supposed to be nice and relaxing, which is what I expected. Little did I know that a Thai massage was very different. It was more like forced yoga/visiting a chiropracter. I was cracked and thrown around for 60 min, but felt great after and def worth $4!! Massage count = 3. I go enjoy another cold shower (ugh) before Ed arrives in town. Ed gets in town and we head to Khoa San Rd for a few cold beers to tell stories about the trip. Lots of lady-boys on this road, beware!!

Jan 26
We wake up early to explore the city before flying to Chiang Mai. I enjoy some french toast for $1.25 to energize me for the day. We arrange for a tuk-tuk driver to view some of the sights in town. We see a 60 meter tall standing buddha, impressive. Then it is time to grab our packs and head to the airport, but the tuk-tuk driver is insisting on taking us to see a tailer. I tell him absolutely not, then he won't take us on. So, we pay him a partial fare and get out. We are running out of time to get to the airport, and it seems there isn't a tuk-tuk on this side of town! YIkes. We finally find one, grab our bags from the guesthouse and then head to the airport. We arrive with 45 min to spare, and Ed is even able to buy his ticket at the gate.

Thoughts on Bangkok:
- dirty
- terrible traffic and pollution
- trashy
- ugly
- cheap
- don't stay more than a night

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Sorry for the lack of updates - been a very busy first week and a half - and having an amazing time!

Jan 22

Just arrived in town and decided to go out exploring. It seems like there is a massage place on every corner, some very nice like a spa and other...well, I don't think I will be visiting them. I walk around the town and explore, and decide to grab a drink on the main strip of restaurants and bars. I quickly meet an Australian and some of his local Cambodian friends, hanging out and shooting pool...with us running the table. Next thing I know, one of the "girls" starts talking to me...and I am quickly told by the Aussie that it is a lady-boy! The first of many I have seen on the trip, but I have to tell you, no one could have guessed that "she" was a boy. Really did look like a girl...weird.

Jan 23

I wake up to pounding on my Guesthouse door, only to realize I have overslept my morning moto ride around the temples (I guess a little bit of jet lag had set in). I quickly get ready, the bathroom wreaks so I rush on out of there. I paid the driver $10 for a day of taking me around to all of the temples. I start off at Ankor Wat, which is the largest and most impressive of the temples. You really have to see it to believe the scope of it, absolutely huge and very detailed. I believe it took 25,000 people 37 years to build it (this needs to be verified). The details on the walls which were chiseled and totally perfect 800-900 years later is amazing.

We jump on the dusty and heavily polluted roads to continue our adventure, and arrive at Bayon/Ankor Thom after a very good Thai lunch (gosh - I really love Thai food)! This temple is not as big, but still very majestic with huge faces.

Next I visit Ta Prohm, and really like it. It is like I was in an Indiana Jones movie with the jungle literally growing up through the temple (they have decided to let it grow wild). It is so cool and I really like it. I then hiked up a mountain to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sun set over the temples, fun but slightly overrated and touristy.

I then set up my next day with the tuk-tuk driver to go see the floating fishing villages, but I feel like he is telling me it costs too much and rip me off, I will research prices. I go get a foot/leg massage (for $4) to help my legs recover from a strenuous day of hiking. I ate dinner at The Temple Club and watched a traditional dance show - pretty neat and great atmosphere in the open air restaurant.

Jan 24

I talked to other tuk-tuk drivers and found a ride to the lake and ride should be $10 less than what my originally driver quoted me. I meet him in the morning (b/c I owe him $3 more) and tell him I am not going with him. He gets very angry, tells me I owe him for the day b/c I booked him and he reserved a boat and I owe him for that. I tell him not a chance, I will give him $2 extra for inconvenience. Lets just say he got very, VERY angry at me, but I did not back down. I bet it is not the first time there has been a fight with a tuk-tuk driver!

I went and met up with my new moto driver for the day, and he took me around for the day for $5. First we started at the floating fishing villages. They were really amazing to see, and sad to see the way these extremely poor people have to live. To top it off, tourists like me go in loud, polluting boats to look at the way they live...making them deal with the heavy pollution and noise all day long (I saw one in a hammock trying to rest - not sure how he could in this environment). It really was amazing to see their life, they even had floating boats with basketball and volleyball for the kids! Next we visited a few more spots, and I asked my driver (Som) if I could see his village. He took me up to his local village, about 45 min outside of town. What a great experience. You could not take a car up the road, and at one point the path was flooded and he had to drive the moto through the water. I am able to see many villages along the way, and lots of poverty in the countryside. Som used to work in a hotel for $30/month (24 hours a day), and over 5 years he saved up enough money to buy his used moto (scooter) for $700. Now his earnings potential is much higher as a guide, making $5-10 per day, giving a lot of that money back to his family. We got to his house, and it was a 2 level home with the cooking/eating area on the main level, and sleeping upstairs with a sheet dividing into 2 rooms. They have car batteries that power a few lights in the evening. They offered me food (which I should not have accepted), and i had a few bites of it and all the rice. The local people of Cambodia put the entire chicken (meat and bones) in their food, and it is just not very good. We enjoyed some time together. His family thought I was only 18-20 years old, which we all got a good laugh out of when I told them I was 30!! We then went out to a lake to relax and chill out, it had hammocks on the beach and was really nice and relaxing. I played cards with Som and a few of his friends, good times. I shared my iPod shuffle with him during cards, and he thought it was so amazing and cool. We had a great day, lots of fun hanging out. Som dropped me of at 6pm,, and then invited me to a Chinese NewYear party at 7pm. I couldn't pass up this opportunity, so I obliged. I had so much fun with his family and his uncle (the host of the party). they served warm beer, and I was afraid to use the ice cubes, so I sucked it with the warm beer. I think they thought I was really weird to drink warm beer - oh well!! They prepared a great feast, and we really enjoyed the night. I also got a 4 hands massage before the night was over...pretty amazing!

Jan 25
I wake up and get another good cheese omelette. Som picked me up at 8am, which is feeling pretty early in the morning right now! I head over to his house for my second Chinese New Year celebration (I ate first so I could just pick through the food!). My big backpack was riding on the scooter with us, making me quite nervous!! We took his Uncle's Jeep to tour the countryside and visit the poor market. On the way, we filled up with gas out of blass bottles from a small store on the side of the road! We have a meal, better than yesterday and a few things I eat, and then go upstairs in their home for their celebration and prayer. Before leaving, I received a New Years present from Som's brother, very nice and thoughtful. We then rush to get to the airport, and I arrive 50 min prior to departure...I always seem to have a tough time getting to the airport on time. Off to Bangkok.

Thoughts on Cambodia:
- friendly people
- cheap good food
- dusty roads
- people trying to rip off tourists (especially the tuk-tuk drivers)
- crazy driving - nearly died 1- times I think
- love the open air restaurants

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Travel to Southeast Asia

I embarked on my big journey on Wed, Jan 21, with a departure at noon. First leg was a 15 hour flight on Korean Airlines to Seoul, South Korea. I never knew I would take a flight where I would watch the sunrise and sunset on the same flight, amazing! Ok, so Korean Airlines is the best airline I have ever flown. The in-flight entertainment and customer service was spectacular! 50+ movies to choose from, video games (I got in at least 2 hours of blackjack), good food, and drinks flowing. After a good meal and a few glasses of wine, I settled in for a few hours of sleep (stayed up really late before I left, and want to start sleeping on my new time zone to eliminate jet lag). I ended up watching 3 movies total, and we had arrived before I knew it.

Second leg of the flight was from Seoul to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was a 5 hour flight, and not nearly as good with the in-flight entertainment, but I lucked out and got the entire row to myself...which I enjoyed stretching out. Towards the end of the flight a Korean man start asking me some questions, then introduced me to his son to chat with (people love to practice english with me I guess)!

I finally arrived in Cambodia at 9:45pm on Thursday, Jan 22nd...WAHOOO!! It was a balmy 75 degrees upon arrival, much better than the freezing weather in DC!! My first encounter with tuk-tuk drivers was not a good one. A tuk tuk is a moped with a rickshaw attached to the back and they are famous for ripping people off. I was determined to not let this happen to me, so I negotiated like crazy with 10 of them, but could not get them below $4 for a ride from the airport to my hotel (whichmy "Lonely Planet"said should only cost $1). Oh well, we settled on $13 for a ride from the airport, and driving me around all day on Friday to tour the temples.

Checked with the first hotel room, and they had no availability (I didn't have a reservation and am just winging it). The tuk-tuk driver said he had a recommendation...which I was VERY skeptical about. He took me to the other hotel, which was nearby and great location to the center of town, and it was a great room that I negotiated to $9. Private room and bathroom (cold water shower - yikes)...and great location, this is going to be a great launch point for my adventures!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Southeast Asia

My next big adventure is upon me, a 2 month trip to southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I am so stoked, and can't wait for the fun adventures and stories that will occur over the next 2 months. I am going to try to keep the blog updated, but it may be tough.

Projected itinerary:
Cambodia - Jan 21-25
Thailand - Jan 25-Feb 1
Thai beaches - Feb 1-Feb 12
Bali - Feb 12-Feb 22
Australia - Feb 22-March 1
New Zealand - March 2-20

Costa Rica...round 2!

Good times in Greece

I enjoyed a 11 day trip bouncing around the islands of Greece, pretty amazing trip!!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Caymans Vacation

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Argentina Vacation

pics: http://www.dotphoto.com/Go.asp?l=jonesth&P=&AID=3248295&T=1

Day 1 Friday

Well, after a short 1.5 week planning period for my trip, it is time to head out. As I had out the door to the airport, I quickly realize that my "travel/hiking" shoes are not quite as comfortable as they were 5 years ago backpacking around Europe. I am no more than 100 yards out my front door, and one of my toes is starting to rub. I decide I don't have any other good shoes, so they will have to do!!After a short flight to Chicago, I am about to entertain my SEVEN hour layover...all the while thinking "how did this happen?" Well, priceline is how it happened, and it saved me $200!! Luckily I have a friend in Chicago, so we met up so she could show me her new place and grab a bite at a local restaurant. Did I mention how COLD it was...and my toe was really starting to rub in my shoe, causing me GREAT concern!! Ah well. Back to the airport a few hours later and soon up in the air for the long flight down to Buenos Aires.

Day 2 Saturday

OK, trying to sleep overnight on a plane is about one of the most miserable things EVER!! Luckily the seat next to me was open, so I got a few hours of shut eye. I get into BA and grab a remises to the hostel I am staying at for the night. All I want at this point is a nice shower...cold water, cold water...wait, it is getting warm...PHEW! I jump in the shower, only to hear something come crashing down around me! WHAT!?! The shower head and pipe have come out of the wall, and water is just spewing all over the place...gotta love the great stories that come out of staying in hostels!!After getting cleaned up, I head out to explore the posh Recoleta neighborhood in BA. It is really nice, reminds me of New York City. As a true Skins fan, I spend the second half of my day locating a bar that is televising the game...and watch our boys go down in ugly defeat! Yikes. Oh well.

Day 3 Sunday

I grab a breakfast at a local cafe, and have a not very good, burnt omelet, but it was a nice spot for some people watching. My friend Ed arrives and we head out to check out the Recoleta cemetery. It is unlike anything you can imagine. The graves are these huge burial monuments. You have to check out the pics to appreciate them, many costing $$$.For dinner we head to Puerto Madero, and have an excellent dinner at Puerto Cristal, where champagne is served immediately, the Malbec wine is excellent, and dinner is great, all for about $30US. After that we hit the local Kilkenney's and Shamrock's establishments.

Day 4 Monday

Ed and I sleep in, still trying to catch up on sleep from the overnight plane flights. I think we finally head out to Florida Ave around 2pm for some shopping. We find a $3US alarm clock, one of our better investments on the trip! We walk around the city for several hours exploring, and end up at the casino river boat. After losing some money, decide I don't like the casino, and it is time for us to roll out. We hit up the Kilkenney's happy hour. Then we head over to San Telmo to try to find a tango show. We end up finding "tango on the square," pretty cool!! We then head to dinner at 11pm, down to Siga La Vaca on Puerto Madero, only to have a ONE HOUR wait at 11pm...amazing! I guess everyone was right when they said Argentineans ate dinner late! After that we try to find a bar called Cha Cha Cha that a local told us about, only to find it had shut down. Off to Shamrocks...and then only 4 hours of sleep!

Day 5 Tuesday

After an early morning 6am wakeup call to catch our flight to Bariloche (in the lakes region of Patagonia), we board the plane. The flight is a quick 2 hour flight over beautiful Patagonia...awesome! We explore Bariloche for a while, then head up to Cerra Catedral to go downhill mountain biking. After befriending the mountain bike guides (they were so happy to have a fast biker to bomb down the mountain with...and they sure did BOMB down...these guys were fast)!! Our guide Damien and his colleague Gabriella joined us after the ride for a beer, good times hanging with the locals! Damien gives us a ride back from Cerra Catedral in his classic Ford pick-up truck. We then grab dinner at a highly recommended restaurant, Alberto's. AMAZING!! Never before have I had a steak melt in my mouth like this...all for $10US! WOW. We head over to the local hotspot Wilkenney's for a few cold ones.

Day 6 Wednesday

We wake up pretty early for a big white water rafting trip. After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrive at the launching point for a class III and IV rafting trip. The campsite is great, and we enjoy a quick breakfast before we get geared up and head out. After about an hour of pretty easy white water, but SPECTACULAR views of the Andes mountains, we start hitting some fun rapids. The entire time, awestruck with the beauty of the country. AMAZING! We pull out of the river right on the border of Chile, then head back to camp for an excellent asado and wine lunch!! Nothing can compare to these excellent Malbec wines we continue to enjoy!! We then get enticed into a game of football between the guides and the rest of us. Good times, Ed and I end up with huge blisters on our feet (no shoes) and we still lose by a few goals to the locals. What a great time.After the full-day rafting trip, we meet up with our local friend Gabriella , and her friend Martine, and we have a nice dinner, then go over to Roxy (locals bar) and Wilkeney's where we meet up with Augu and Ivanna. We have a great time hanging out with all of them!

Day 7 Thursday

After sleeping in late (several 4 and 5 hour nights of sleep are catching up), we go grab some delicious pastries and fruit for breakfast (total cost each = $.50). We then head out on a half-day horseback riding excursion up into the mountains overlooking the lake. Spectacular vistas the whole time...good times! We get back and grab some more filet mignon (Lomo) at Alberto's and head over to the too crowded Wilkenney's.

Day 8 Friday

Ed and I jumped into a one hour bus ride up to Villa La Angustura to meet up with our friends Cesar and Ali. I received Cesar’s name from a local DC adventure racer as a great person to get in touch with in Argentina. Cesar is the CEO of a local adventure travel company (Quest Patagonia, http://www.questpatagonia.com/). , and manages several top adventure races in Patagonia. Cesar met us at the bus station, and we caught a ride to his house and then checked into our hostel (this was an interesting one!!).

We grabbed some lunch meat, cheese, and bread at the local supermercada and joined Cesar and Ali (his business partner) for an awesome 6 hour trek to the top of a mountain. After a grueling climb, we were all rewarding with beautiful panoramic views of the Andes mountains, and lakes every direction we looked. Truly spectacular! After starting our hike back down, we diverted from the original path and headed over to an awesome waterfall. The crystal clean glacier melt water was too tempting, and I decided I had to jump into the waterfall…quite refreshing and FREEZING!! Ed took up the adventure and followed…while Cesar and Ali thought we were crazy!! SO COLD!

After getting back and cleaning up, Cesar picked up Ed and I and we grabbed drinks at a great restaurant overlooking the lake and watching the sun set. We then shot over to a restaurant and grabbed a late dinner before calling it a night.

Day 9 Saturday

Cesar took us to the bus station to catch a bus up to San Martin….only to have all the buses booked!! What a disaster, and luckily Cesar was with us to translate and get us on an afternoon bus. So, with extra time to kill, Ed and I rented mountain bikes and headed out to the Arayannes forest for a 24k mountain bike ride. We started running short on time, and Ed and I had to fly home on the bikes…at a pretty fast clip!

The bus ride up to San Martin de Andes was spectacular. The locals call this drive the “7 lakes route” and it is beautiful. We get into San Martin, scramble around town to find lodging for the night, and end up at a great hotel (a little pricey at US$30 each, but worth just having a bed to sleep in – versus the local park)! After exploring the small town and beach nestled off a lake in the Andes mountains, we grabbed dinner. We then headed to the “locals” bar and got beat in foos by some locals. We then went over to Downtown Matias, and had a pretty good time.

Day 10 Sunday

Headed out in the morning to the local pastry shop, grabbed a couple pastries and sandwiches for lunch. We then headed to the beach for a few good hours of R&R. The water was cold to swim in (like Lake Tahoe), but certainly a nice refresher from the powerful sunshine. In the afternoon, we went out kayaking and had stunning views of the lake, beach, town and Andes mountains. A pretty powerful wind kicked up in the afternoon, creating some small whitecap waves…good times! I spent a few more hours that afternoon exploring the city, and taking in the local culture. This town is very nice, where the wealthy people vacation from Buenos Aires. Caught part of the NFL playoffs at The Dublin and then headed back to Downtown Matias.

Day 11 Monday

I headed out fairly early in the morning to the local bike shop where I grabbed a Specialized Stumpjumper for a mountain bike ride. The trail map was terrible, and I continued to get lost on trails, but finally got pointed in the right direction after seeing another biker. After several miles of riding, I reached my destination point at a cool, secluded beach on the lake. After getting back in town, it was time to jump on the bus back to Bariloche. This was a long 4 hour bus ride without a bathroom…luckily I made it!! (secret to buses in Argentina, total dehydration the day of the bus trip to ensure you can make it)!! We got back into Bariloche and checked into the Marco Polo Inn Hostel. Great social hostel where we hung out for a while, grabbed another amazing dinner at Alberto’s and went out to Wilkinneys to try to find some of our friends.

Day 12 Tuesday

I decided I was in need of a nice relaxing day, and we didn’t have any adventures scheduled. After walking around town and doing some shopping, I decided to take a pilates class in town. Great way to relax and work the muscles a bit. For dinner Ed and I tried Alberto’s pasta, and after an hour wait, enjoyed the most delicious lasagna ever!! An Israeli girl who was traveling by herself joined us for dinner and then we went out for drinks…another big late night out! Argentineans live for staying out late! We went to Roxy, then a local’s bar to play some foos (which we heard was very dangerous the next night). At first the locals wouldn’t let me in the game, but after they gave me a chance and I hit a few good shots…they were going nuts and laughing and offering me some of their 32oz cerveza!! Good times.

Day 13 Wednesday

Today was a day we were hoping to go canyoning, but unfortunately, the guides all had conflicting schedules and were not able to take us out…a real bummer. We decide to go on an all-day trek, where we saw some beautiful waterfalls and glaciers…but HUGE horseflies were out in full effect, and I did not like them! That night we went out with our friend Silka from Germany, and then met up with our friends Gabriella and Augu…stayed out until 5:45am and had a heck of a good time.

Day 14 Thursday

9am alarm clock - we sleep through it
10:10 - Ed says...DAG, what time is it?
10:10 - I launch out of bed...no way we are going to make flight from Bariloche (Patagonia) to Buenos Aires, but must try
10:18 - get in cab
10:38 - arrive at airport
10:50 - flight takes off...and WE MADE IT!!

I can´tbelieve it. we arrived at the airport 12 min before itwas going to take off...a NEW record!! ha ha.

After finally making it to Buenos Aires and getting lodging (after trekking all around town), we crashed for a nice (and much needed) siesta. That night we had an awesome adventure to a Boca versus Bolivia soccer game. These fans were going nuts, and very passionate for the home team Boca. Boca won 6-0 in the season opener, and fans were going nuts, very excited about the prospects of a great season! That night we headed to a local club…which was interesting.

Day 15 Friday

We went out on a 4 hour bike tour of the city. This was great b/c we got some history on the city, and were able to really get around and see a bunch of the city. In addition, Ed and I found a little restaurant in Camanito that had some free tango lessons if we bought a beer for $1.66. Now this was the best use of $2 the whole trip...you can't leave Buenos Aires without getting in a good tango!! I found a little spot for lunch that had a gyro for $1.23 and you could add a beer for $.30…what a deal and DELICOUS!! I spent the afternoon on Avenida Florida shopping, and found a guy in an apartment to make me a fitted leather jacked….this should be nice! We had dinner with a friend from the hostel at the famous Cabana Las Lilas was excellent, but by far the most expensive meal we had in Argentina (about $30 each), then headed to Shamrock for a few beers.

Day 16 Saturday

I headed back down to Avenida Florida to pick up my leather jacket…where the guy was asking for more money that I thought we agreed upon. He spoke no English, and I spoke no Spanish, so this was a difficult situation. I decided not to buy the jacket for his price, and will have to get a nice custom made leather jacket on my next trip to the country. I spent the afternoon hitting wineries and enjoying wine tastings to decide what 6 bottles of wine I wanted to bring home.

Time for the airport…and totally beat ready for good sleep…doubtful that will happen on a cramped overnight flight home!!

What a trip. Excellent food and wine, everything very inexpensive. Beautiful outdoors and adventures. Friendly well educated people…and great times!! I hope to make it back for 2 weeks in December…to further explore southern Patagonia.