Same same but different.

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In Bangkok for a 2nd time.  As Thai’s would say, it’s ‘same same but different’.  Tomorrow, we leave Bangkok.  Martin heads back to Berlin and I head to Mumbai for 4 days before flying home to Atlanta.

To summarize…

Highlights from this 3 month adventure include:

  • Thai Lady Boys
  • Hoi An, Vietnam.
  • Halong Bay
  • Thai food
  • My artwork purchase from Siem Reap
  • Children’s Orphanage in Sri Lanka
  • The satisfaction of climbing Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka
  • The glory of visiting Kerala, India.
  • A massive 3 day Indian wedding.
  • Taj Mahal (for a 2nd time)
  • Angkor Wat
  • Luang Prabang, Laos.
  • The Saigon congested traffic.

Transportation taken from place to place (not including day trips):

  • Planes: 18
  • Buses: 10
  • Trains: 3
  • Van/Car: 9
  • Ferry: 2

Costs:

  • Most we paid for a hotel (for 2 nights only): $50
  • Least we paid for a hotel: $5
  • Most expensive meal: $15
  • Cheapest Meal: $2
  • My overall trip budget: OVER budget (darn)…however, it was worth every cent.

Minor Setbacks:

  • Kerala driver.
  • Gecko flying out of a drink.
  • Leech on me while trekking.
  • Drunk tuk tuk driver taking us home in Laos
  • An angry English man yelling at a Thai lady saying she was all sorts of things and that he was going to kill her and burn down her business: slightly traumatizing to witness.
  • Getting ripped off by a bike taxi.
  • Getting downgraded to crap hostels.
  • All the drunks of Koh Phi Phi
  • A Thai massage that left me sore for days.
  • Overnight buses that are 11 hours long.  And, overnight Thai buses that are 11 hours long…

Current Feeling:

  • Looking foward to not having to figure out where I am going to sleep each night.  Excited not to be a nomad.  Thrilled not to be lugging my backpack everywhere.  Stoked not to have to worry if I have my passport on me every 2 seconds.  And, most of all, looking forward to having a break from curry and rice for a while (I forsee a lot of Mexican in my diet next month).

This trip goes down as one of the greatest adventures I’ve ever had.  And, this post goes down as the last one from Asia.  I have had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I have kept you mildly entertained for the last 3 months.

– Rali (signing out!). xo

Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Lots of greenery, perfect cloud formations and bigger houses.   Those were my initial thoughts as we made the descent into Chiang Mai.  No foreigner on our flight was expecting it to be a major city; however, Chiang Mai proved us all wrong. And an incredibly spread out one at that.

Our first day here, we all explored the local temples during the day.  At night, we all took an outdoor Thai cooking class.  This was awesome because we got to go to the local markets and we were taught the art of Thai cooking afterwards.  I now have a local cookbook and I definitely plan to experiment once I am back home.  We met 2 English girls in the class as well.  Afterwards, we all decided to go to the night market.  After about 20 minutes, we lost the English girls, had a beer and called it a night.

The next day, we went to the Golden Triangle (where the Myanmar, Thailand and Laos borders meet).  We were at the northern most point of Thailand we took a ferry to get to this meeting point.  It was a long journey to see this.  And, on the way we also stopped over at a ‘Magic Kingdom’ looking temple.  It was white and had skeletons all around it.   Inside the temple were bizarre paintings of Spider Man and aliens.  I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.  We got home super late and had dinner.

On Day 3, Martin did an intense trekking and m0untain biking excursion on his own.  The Canadian lady we met decided to join me in exploring even more temples in the area.  We bought our bus tickets for Bangkok and enjoyed a fruit smoothie outdoors.  In the evening, we went to the Sunday Night Markets.  These markets were the best I’ve seen on our trip so far.

Today, we will get a Thai massage before we board our overnight bus to Bangkok.  The journey is 12 hours by bus and I am certain that I won’t get any sleep if it’s anything like our last bus journey through Thailand.  On a more positive note, at least this is the last bus I will have to take on our trip.  I also hope to finish reading The Beach on the bus.  Though I saw the movie over 10 years ago, I have a newfound appreciation for the story line.  I finally get all the subtle hints about backpacker life through East Asia.  Once I finish this book, I will start Survival in the Killing Fields (about the Khmer Rouge).

We have 2 more days in Bangkok before I make my way back to Mumbai, India.  Martin flies directly to Berlin in a couple of days.

I will write one more post from Bangkok.  I hope that we can see the floating villages since we weren’t able to fit that in the first time around.

Enjoy the post!

– Rali. xo

Last post from Laos.

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Since I am in bed sick today, I thought I would write yet another post..out of pure boredom.  Martin’s rented a bike for the day while I stay in bed and try to get over this miserable cold.

I am really enjoying Laos and this town is so easy going that I feel right at home.  Yesterday, we went to a massive waterfall and lagoon area called Kuang Si.  It was honestly so beautiful…in the middle of a rainforest.  The water was a pale aqua color.  And many people went swimming there.  Martin jumped off a tree with a jungle rope and straight into the lagoon-ish area.

We went with 4 other English people that got talked into taking a tuk tuk as well.  On the way back, our driver decided he was going to slam a few beers down while he waited for us.  He told us to be back at 4 PM and it wasn’t until 5 PM that we left since he was busy talking to his pals and drinking.  The lot of us were a little concerned as to whether he should drive us back to our hostels (it was an hour long ride through windy, tiny roads).  However, we went with him anyway and hoped that luck would be on our side as we make the trek back home.  On the way, we nearly ran over a girl, a biker and side swiped a car coming from the opposite direction.  We then took a detour to his house (in a small tiny village) so he could use the bathroom.  Finally, we all made it back in one piece.

Martin and I went to the night markets and sorted out our travel plans for the next couple of days.  In the end, we decided to leave tomorrow for Chiang Mai, Thailand.  And, so today marks the last day in Laos (not nearly enough time here) as we head back to Thailand.

I will write more from Chiang Mai.  And, at some point, we’ll have to upload some photo’s as well.

– Rali.

Halong Bay + Luang Prabang, Laos.

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Halong Bay did not disappoint.  It deserves to be a natural wonder of the world in its own right.  We decided to do an overnight trip on a boat.   The van ride to the bay was 3 hours long.  And let me just tell you that in Asia, they pack these vans full.  There were about 24 of us on this extended van and pop up seats were flying in from every direction to accommodate more and more backpackers.  I had a freak out moment when I realized that my small bladder might fail me and I would have to ask the van to stop before our destination point.  Luckily, as I was about to explode, we got to the harbor and I immediately bolted for the bathroom (toilet for my ozzie friends ,)).

After boarding the boat, the group of us got to know each other over lunch and drinks.  We headed for the famous part of the bay which was extremely mystical looking.  Through the thick fog, you could see faint outlines of rock formations that were never-ending.  The gray clouds added an especially creepy feel.   We all gathered on the top part of the boat and took a million photo’s.  Once it got dark, we came back down and had dinner and more drinks. 

The next morning, we all woke up to rain and had our morning coffee.  Then, some of us went kayaking (not me).  We explored some floating villages and made our way back to the boat. 

After returning to Hanoi, I felt a cold come on.  Hanoi is extremely cold (16 degrees C) and I really did not enjoy the city at all.  The next couple of days were spent doing a walking tour through the rainy, cold weather and visiting the Ho Chi Minh museum.   Through our time traveling, I have never wanted to leave a city more than I wanted to leave Hanoi.  The next morning, we had an early flight out and while we were enjoying breakfast in a small tiny village (with NO tourists around), I saw a glimpse of a woman on her moped, hauling around a dead, bloody pig on her backseat.   This was my last image of Hanoi and confirmation that this vegetarian needs to leave asap.

We are now sitting in Luang Prabang, Laos.  Last night, we enjoyed the night markets and today we have explored the city on foot.  We visited an ancient temple and saw the local museum.  The best part about Laos are the Buddhist monks.  I like to call them modern monks because they are all about iPhones and taking pictures on their digital cameras.  I am pretty sure monks back in the day weren’t privy to these luxuries and that is why the modern monks here are the highlight of my trip so far.

Supposedly, this is the most beautiful city in Southeast Asia.  I love Laos so far and I love it because it is in its natural form.  It hasn’t been commercialized yet and there are fewer tourists here than any other place we’ve traveled to so far.  In the coming years, I am sure that Laos will start to get noticed and be flooded with tourists in no time.  At present, I am happy to enjoy it here without loads of people all around me.

I think we will probably stay here for another couple of days before we make our way somewhere else (perhaps Vientiane).  From there, I think we will take a bus to Northern Thailand and make our way back to Bangkok before I fly to Mumbai and before Martin flies back to Berlin.

Only a couple of weeks left and Southeast Asia will be yet another travel chapter that’s closed.  Right now, I plan to enjoy Laos as much as possible (it is an easy place to love). 

Martin is trying to persuade me to do another overnight trekking trip where I may be subjected to  even more leeches.  I am leaning towards no. 😉  Instead, I plan to stay here and finish reading I hope they serve beer in hell.  This book is shocking and slightly addicting.  On a side note, I did finish the entire Millenium series by Stieg Larsson and The Girl in the Picture (the famous girl in the photo from the Vietnam War).   I am so happy to have found my local used book store in each city we’ve been in.  It’s a place where I feel most at home.

I’ll write again in a few days.

– Rali.

Hoi An, Vietnam.

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While we were in South Vietnam, an American girl asked what my favorite city in Asia has been so far.  I honestly couldn’t answer her…I hadn’t really felt a strong connection to a singled out city.  Had she asked me this question a few days later, I could easily have responded Hoi An.  Especially during the lantern festival (which we happened to be there for).

This old trading town is located along the Bon River in the South Central part of Vietnam.  It is influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Dutch architecure; however, it looks more European to me.  It has about 120K people.  And, it’s absolutely lovely.  I could have stayed here much longer.  The weather in the evening is perfect for strolls along the river.  We happened to be there during the Lantern Festival, which happens when there is a full moon.   The entire city is lit by lanterns only.   Dinner along the riverside (with floating colorful lanterns)  make for an especially magical night.   We also rode along the river in a canoe and could place our lantern in the water.

The town was booming with local musical and dance performances.  Crowds gathered everywhere to enjoy this one special evening.  I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end our time there.

Prior to the Lantern Festival, we visited My Son (prounounced Me son), which are a set of ruins built by Hindus.  We also spent an entire day at the local beach there.  We rented motorbikes and made our way over to this pristine beach.  It was breathtaking.

I loved everything about Hoi An.  The tiny cafes, the street donuts, the cobblestone pathways and the Japanese bridge that divides the old town from the new town.   Another plus?  The hospitality.  And, being vegetarian has not proved to be a problem in the slightest.  I’ve enjoyed a healthy dose of Vietnamese and Western foods.

Now, I am writing you from Hanoi.  Not to be confused with Hoi An.

Hanoi is obviously huge in comparison to Hoi An.  But, not quite as cool as Ho Chi Minh City.  We found a great cafe to have dinner at this evening.  From there, we took a bike taxi to the lake (though, they severely tried to rip us off).  We made it just in time to purchase tickets for the Water Puppet Show.  If you ever find yourself in Hanoi, I highly recommend that you see this hour-long show.

Tomorrow, we are doing an overnight cruise along Halong Bay. I am excited beyond belief, as I have waited many years to see Halong Bay and also one of the 7 wonders of the world.   I will write more about this in my next post.

By the way, Happy March!

– Rali xo.

 

Cambodia and Vietnam.

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We arrived to Siem Reap around 7 pm….after a dodgy 6 hour bus ride.  We were greeted by loads of tuk tuk drivers and before we knew it, we found ourselves on a tuk tuk headed for our hotel.  We pulled up to a grand palace looking hotel.  I was wondering if it was the right place because what we booked was only supposed to cost us $.7.50 each per night.  But, it totally was the right place and we ended up with a really sweet room.

We had dinner at the Old Market along the river and woke up early the next morning to explore Angkor Wat, or what is referred to as the 8th wonder of the world.  We picked up a local as our designated tour guide for the next 2 hours as we explored the ruins of Angkor Wat.  We had our tuk tuk driver take us from one end of Angkor to the next.  We managed to also see Angkor Thom as well as some other forts that were enclosed in a jungle.  I will have to post the photo’s from our time there because words can’t describe it.

The rest of our time in Siem Reap consisted of eating lots of good food, walking along the riverside and enjoying the street markets.  I did manage to fall in love with a piece of artwork and went back every day to admire it.  It wasn’t until 30 minutes before we left for the airport did I decide to break down and purchase the painting.  My only purchase so far on this trip.  And, an expensive one at that.

We got to the Siem Reap airport and took our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, though I still prefer to call it Saigon.  Getting to Vietnam is no easy task in regards to the visa.  We applied for pre approved embassy letters that needed to be verified at the visa counter at the airport.  The only setback? Every other tourist had the same idea and it took close to 2 hours before the chaotic system approved everything.  Got my visa stamp, collected our bags and got a taxi to our next place.

Saigon.  Damn, this is a cool city.  I don’t know what I was expecting but this definitely was not it.  A city center with insane amounts of mopeds and bikes circling around cars and pedestrians.  The key is to move slowly when crossing the streets so that the mopeds navigate around you.  This system works pretty well.  If you have not already done so, you should view the  clip that went viral really quickly, all captured by an English photographer my age with a natural talent. His name is Rob Whitworth and here’s the link: http://vimeo.com/m/32958521

Once you see this clip, you will understand what I have been exposed to for the first few days here in Saigon.  The ultimate moment of thrill had to be when the driver threw me on the back of his moped and zipped me across the city at lightening speed.  I have never had such an adrenaline rush.

The Vietnam War Rememberence Museum? The entire museum is dedicated to photojournalists who were living and breathing the Vietnam War. The photo’s are a tribute to their lives and a passion to capture the truth.  It was also interesting to see all the anti-war propoganda posters from around the world.  It seems that every country was against America attacking Vietnam (for obvious reasons).  Many countries regarded this war to be a war of aggression, and as such, this goes down in history as one of the worst international war disasters.  These photo’s were not easy for me to digest (especially as an American) and were also a nice reminder for me to brush up on my American History.  I plan to read more about the Vietnam War in the coming days.

Today we went to the Mekong Delta.  In all honesty, it was a bit of a let down.  It was a muddy, trashy river…with a strong current.  They organized for us all to take a row boat on the river (and through the jungle); however, it just wasn’t that exciting.  I will say that it was cool to experience something that I once learned about in 7th grade geography. though.

Tomorrow, we are headed for Hoi An.  We will stay there for a few days before making the trek to Hanoi.

Vietnam has made an impression.  And, I am looking forward to the rest of my time here.  I also can’t access Facebook in Vietnam since it is blocked by the government.  Once we are in Laos, I should be able to post some pictures.

Enjoy the viral video…it’s better than any blog I could ever dream of posting!

– Rali.

The Genocide.

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After being hassled by the Air Asia staff at the Bangkok airport, we finally came to a resolution.  I handed them my printed airline ticket and proved that we did pay for the tickets.  They claimed there was a system failure at the time of purchase and the charge never went through; therefore, we didn’t actually have seats on the flight that would soon be departing for Cambodia.  I whipped out my credit card and paid for the tickets straight away at the airport counter.  And, soon we were on our way to Phnom Penh.

Upon arriving, we did our normal routine check.  Bags? check.  New SIM card? Check.  ATM? Check.  Wait.  Why did the ATM just spit out American Dollars?  Oh, I get it.  Because in Cambodia, their currency is in thousands so they also use American Dollars in addition to The Riel.   And taxi? Check.  A sigh of relief as we made our way to the hotel.

The hotel check-in proved to be just as un-successful as every other one.  There is a water leak in our room so they would  like to send us to their crappier sister hotel.  Not again, but okay.  We arrived at the crappier set up, got dinner in town and called it a night.

The next morning, we ventured to the S-21 museum.  If you don’t know what this is, you should look it up.  This massacre could be compared to what the Nazi’s did to the Jews.  Except it was Cambodians against Cambodians.  They were all Khmer and the destroyer, Pol Pot, was head of the Khmer Rouge.  Admittedly, I knew very little about Cambodian history before coming here.  How could I have been living in such a bubble? Am I really so ignorant to have not really known much about the Khmer Rouge.  And, here I was, at the S-21 museum looking at photographs of tortured innocent individuals who had no hopes of leaving this prison alive.  The photographs were appalling and left many dried tears on my face.   From 1975 to 1979, 3 million innocent people died because of 4 men.   It was a tragedy that has (as I have recently come to find out) undoubtedly shattered the entire nation and has also sent numerous chills down my spine.

After having toured the prison, I found myself aimlessly wandering around the grassy fields and straight to the stall of the last S-21 prison survivor.  A 78  year old artist by the name of Bou Meng.  He was spared only because he could  paint whatever the Khmer Rouge deemed necessary.  He was witnessed to women being tormented, children being smacked against the trunks of a tree only to die and men being tortured, abused and beaten.   He is now deaf and toothless as a result of numerous beatings.  He had a biography written about him and he was selling copies of this book.  As I purchased the book, he looked me straight in the eye and started crying, which brought many tears to my eyes.  He signed the book and I gave him a side hug and could only imagine the horrid images that will haunt him forever.  All because of one individual with one strong vision.  I couldn’t help but think of my visit to Dachau, Germany as I left the prison camp.

The next day didn’t prove to be much better as we organized a day trip to The Killing Fields where the S-21 prisoners were brought to be executed.  There we actually witnessed teeth, bone fragments and clothes still on the fields.  Every few months, new bones and clothes suface to the land only to be collected by the personnel working there.  Then they are  stored in a glass container for tourists to gawk at.  It is almost as though the ghosts of these civilians haunt the fields as a reminder to never forget the evil that happened for those years.  Each night on a speaker, loud music would be played.  At the time, the prisoners didn’t know that this music was played to disguise the loud yells of hundreds of people dying in a mass execution.  Pol Pot’s vision was simple.  He wanted all intellectuals dead and he thought it was better to kill an innocent than to spare a spy.  He also thought it was worthwhile to kill the roots and seeds of an intellectual (the wives and babies) so that they could never seek revenge on him.  He was a sick man indeed.

This ended our time in Phnom Penh (we did explore the city and the street markets as well but that seems irrelevant to my newly discovered history of Khmer Rouge).

I left with an uneasy feeling as we boarded the rickety bus to Siem Reap.  And I also made a mental note to buy a copy of Survival of the Killing Fields as soon as we got to our next hostel.