Archive for the ‘SE Asia’ Category

SE Asia – Lasting Impressions

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Luang Prabang Sunset

As Jeff and I sat down for one of our first meals in Siem Reap, I asked him (probably prematurely) what would be his lasting impressions of the trip. His response was simply “the little things”. I figure to a large extent, mine will be the same. I kept a log of daily events in my notebook so that I could remember as much as possible but my friend Gerald very wisely commented, “The best memories are the ones you don’t have to write down.”

While memories of this trip may fade, my primary takeaway from this trip has little to do with Thailand, Laos or Cambodia. It’s a realization of how much I love to travel. Seems silly to say but I enjoyed every part of the experience. Why am I so surprised? Well, before taking this trip, I worried about just about everything when it came to international travel. I figured it would be hard to communicate, hard to get around and hard to find things to do without tagging along on some watered-down tourist tour.

I’m well aware Jeff and I took probably one of the more touristy routes through that part of the world. The spots we visited are heavily dependent upon tourist dollars and have no choice but to be as accommodating as possible. Jeff also took care of the majority of the travel arrangements. All of these things helped make my first real international travel experience in over 10 years quite comfortable.

Given this newfound love of travel, Jeff and I have starting planning another trip for later this year or early next. It’s looking like Europe in the Fall or South America in the Winter for another New Year’s adventure.

Can’t wait.

Southeast Asia – Ramblings

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I wanted to share a few odds and ends from the trip that didn’t warrant their own individual post…

The national currency of Cambodia is the “riel”. However 11 of 24 national banks in the country won’t accept deposits in the currency. All ATMs (that I used) dispensed US dollars, all items were priced in dollars and we only paid in US dollars. It was weird.

The serving size of food in Asia is perfect. Jeff and I would typically have an appetizer, a main course and often desert as well. Very few times did I leave a meal feeling stuffed. I can’t remember ever leaving food on my plate which happens a lot at home and is usually accompanied by some guilt.

While I am right-handed, I play pool left-handed, shoot a gun left-handed and apparently zip line left-handed.

Put this on the list of memories I never thought I’d have… returning the fist bump of a falling down drunk Asian girl at a bar in Chiang Mai, Thailand as we listen to an awesome all-Asian band cover American music like U2, Jason Mraz and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As we passed the gate at the Chiang Mai airport, we noticed the lone security guard asleep… with his gun in his lap. Security FAIL.

You don’t realize how limited a point-and-shoot camera is until you travel with a real photographer.

During a three week trip, I was never able to get more than one side of a Rubik’s cube completed. Despite this futility, it’s a great way to kill time on a one hour flight.

$1 US = 34 Baht (Thailand) = 4000 Riel (Cambodia) = 6800 Kip (Laos). It pays to be good at math… literally.

Nearly 1500 photos taken this trip consuming 5.96 GB. And this doesn’t even hold a candle to what Jeff took. He filled his laptop’s hard drive as well as 10+ DVDs.

Since we were always on the go and knowing that food portions were a little smaller, I wondered early on whether I would lose weight on the trip. Turns out I lost 6 or 7 pounds dropping me to my lowest weight since college. Let’s see how quickly I put that back on.

Stray dogs are EVERYWHERE in SE Asia. One temple alone that we visited had about 200 strays.

Traffic in Asia is an odd mix of chaos and calm. There are no stop signs and a scant few stoplights outside of Bangkok but traffic moves slowly enough through intersections that most people don’t need to stop… they just slowly merge into the flow of traffic whether they are within the painted lines or not. Everyone just kinda lets you in. For example, our Chiang Mai tour guide, Peter, decided he wanted to pass three cars that were moving a bit too slowly while a pickup truck was in the oncoming lane and obviously too close for us to actually complete the pass. No worries though… he just pulls out in the lane to pass and the pickup slides over to the shoulder to avoid the head-on collision. No stress though… Peter and presumably the pickup driver didn’t even bat an eyelash.

A few things about being American…

  • Americans don’t travel much. This surprised me but seemed to be something Jeff was well aware of. Apparently we think we have everything we need at home.
  • Americans still have a bad rep abroad. Arrogant, loud, obnoxious, etc. And from what I observed, it’s fairly warranted. Most of the few Americans that I met on this trip thoroughly annoyed me.
  • The first thing people wanted to talk about when they found out we were Americans was Obama… what the sentiment was in the US, how people we reacting, etc
  • Also after finding out we were Americans, most were surprised we weren’t fat.

While in Chiang Mai, we walked by a girl selling paintings although when Jeff stopped for a brief second to take a look I could have sworn the girl said, “Would you like to see my panties?”. I did a nice double-take on that one.

And finally, Bizarre-o moment of the trip: While waiting for the 8am taxi (that never showed up) to take us home on New Year’s day and after having been up for 24 hours straight, Jeff and I ate breakfast in a restaurant that had “Friends” on their TVs in English but with Thai subtitles.

Good times.

Perfect

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

“Perfect”

Jeff probably said that literally hundreds of times on the trip. I don’t mention this because it was an annoyance but rather because everything on this trip seemed to fall into place. If we needed to book a flight, we’d get the last two seats on one that had previously been booked for over three months. Twice we flew into cities without concrete plans for where we would stay. Once we stumbled upon a brand new guesthouse with the most friendly and helpful staff imaginable. The second time, we had a gentleman and his wife waiting at the airport for us with a “Mr. Jeff Nyveen” sign and a free ride to their guesthouse.

This trip certainly wasn’t perfect or without it’s bumps in the road. You only have to read Jeff’s post about our New Year’s adventure to understand that. But more often than not, things did work out… almost like it was meant to be. I’m very thankful for that.

Home at Last with Thanks

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Cleared customs, picked up our bags and after another generous ride from my friend Don, finally made it home yesterday at around 2pm. First order of business was to put my clothes from my suitcase directly into the laundry machine and hop into my first shower that didn’t involve also drenching the sink and toilet for the first time in about 10 days. From there it was fighting off every urge to take a nap in an effort to convince my body it was really on east coast time.

My first meal back was from my favorite take out place, El Pollo Rico followed by a late night drink in DC to celebrate the birthday of my friend Alyssa. All of this managed to keep me awake until about 1am. 12 hours later, I finally woke feeling like I could have slept for another 12.

While I am glad to be home, clean and (somewhat) rested, the larger part of me wishes I could be back on the road. Jeff and I agreed another week back on the beaches of Thailand with a much more leisurely pace – and by leisurely, I mean laying on the beach doing nothing – would have been a great alternate end to the trip.

Today I’ll enjoy a little NFL playoff football and begin the arduous task of organizing photos. I’ll have a couple of more posts in the next few days to wrap up the experience but before I get to that, I wanted to publicly thank the people that made this such a great experience…

Thanks to Dung, Joslyn, Bob, Laura B, Ginny, Caesar, Sally, Jules and anyone I may have forgotten for all of the suggestions, advice and assistance related to the trip. Special thanks to Jules for keeping suggestions coming as things changed on the fly while we were in Asia.

Thanks to Michelle OL and Ginny for help with my exhaustive search for the perfect travel bag. Sometimes I go a little overboard weighing pros and cons. This was one of those situations but I ended up with the perfect bag and would be happy to lend my knowledge to anyone in need.

Thanks to all of my friends and family who put up with my emails, read or commented on my blog, followed along with Jeff’s blog and sent emails just saying hello. I feared being a little annoying with the updates (especially via email) but hope you enjoyed following along half as much as I enjoyed being there.

And finally, thanks to Jeff for making this a reality for me, for taking care of all of the travel and accommodation plans, for putting up with any annoyances I may have provided over the past 21 days (there had to have been some), for keeping up with his blog that I know I’ll go back to read time and time again and for being a near perfect travel companion.

Nearing the Finish

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Two days near complete in Cambodia and I think the pace of the trip is beginning to take its toll. Jeff and I are both pretty beat and probably a little grumpier than usual but all-in-all, we continue to enjoy every day to the fullest extent.

After spending the afternoon and evening of our first day here at Tonle Sap Lake, our schedule during the day in Siem Reap has included little more than exploring the historic and ancient temples of Angkor Wat. You can purchase one, three and five day passes to the archeological park which should give you an indication of how much there is to see. We’re on a three day pass and feel like we’re only scratching the surface.

Jeff and I hired a Tuk-Tuk driver named Voy (the same one that picked us up from the airport) for $12 a day to transport us from temple to temple each with its own unique architectural twist on the standard Hindu design. Many of these temples are 800 or 900 years old so it’s quite incredible to tour each one and try to imagine what they were like in their prime. Most were adandoned hundreds of years ago allowing the jungle to creep in and overtake them. Since rediscovery of the temples, each is in its own state of restoration… my favorite being Ta Prohm, one that has been almost left alone since being rediscovered in the 20th century. Used as a set for shooting Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, this temple is comprised of a maze of corridors (Jeff got lost inside) and toppled stones that have been knocked over by the enormous roots of massive trees. Of the 1200+ photos I’ve take so far on this trip, over 200 have been taken in just the past two days.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

After our daily temple explorations are complete, nights are spent at the local “Pub Street” just a kilometer or two away. Geared specifically towards the tourists, the street is packed with restaurants offering both traditional Khmer and western food coices, has English speaking staff and even offers Wi-Fi in a few spots. We are off in just a few to enjoy some more traditional Cambodian BBQ.

Pub Street

Southeast Asia 1262

Tomorrow is our last day in Cambodia before we pack up and begin our journey home. We’re up at 4:30am hoping to catch a glorious sunrise over the Ankgor Wat main temple. From there it’s off to see as much more of the park as we can before one more wild night on the town. We’ll have a 12 hour sprint through Bangkok before boarding our Air France flight home late on Friday night.