Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One year ago today ...

One year ago today I was in southern Thailand, island hopping.  I was almost one month into a ten month trip around the world.  That first month was probably the toughest for me.  I was anxious about having quit my job to be a nomad.  I worried about spending every minute with my boyfriend, Jim.  Would we drive each other crazy?  And if we did, then what?  Waking up each day and deciding what we should do and where we should go was new to me; I found myself wondering how to measure my worth, my productivity.

It took some getting used to, but between the worrying I still managed to have a pretty amazing time.  There was snorkeling and jungle walks, both firsts for me.  There were breathtakingly beautiful beaches, like this one.

While packing up and moving our belongings every few days felt strange, it also meant staying in some amazing places, like this bungalow on the beach.

We spent much of our time laying on the beach reading, eating and drinking.  I had a daily dose of fried rice, fresh fruit and banana shakes.

We rented a motorbike to get around one of the islands.  We drove it to a national park.  We tested the motorbike's limits by riding up steep, windy, dirt hills.  We bottomed out.  We, as it turns out, are much heavier than your average Thai person.

The national park had monkeys.  "Cute!" you say?  You might change your tune when they're stealing your backpack searching for food.

There were boat trips to get to and from the islands.  Here Jim shows off his freshly shaven face having spent the previous day scuba diving.

There were long tail boats.  We rode on a few, but I was just as happy to look at them.  They're beautiful lined up on the beach contrasting the turquoise waters.

So, the first month wasn't so bad after all.  With each day that passed, I grew more confident in my travel smarts, more able to relax, enjoy each day and look forward to the months and adventures ahead.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wherein I Sing the Praises of Public Transportation

Public buses are, by far, my favorite way to get around the city. Here are three reasons why:

1.  So, so much cheaper.  It's been my experience that the taxi drivers in each new city we visit are the group most interested in trying to overcharge tourists.  Even when taxis have meters, either they refuse to use them or their meters run too fast.  

The bus fare is the same for everyone and always less than a dollar.  Most recently, in Hanoi, fare was a mere fifteen cents.

2.  More interaction with the locals.  We are often the only foreigners on the bus.  Typically we find fellow passengers eager to try out their English and hear about our trip.  Occasionally babies cry when they see Jim.  Either way, it's vastly more interesting than sitting in a taxi cab.

3.  Better orientation of the city.  Taking the bus requires you to learn the city and not just stick your hand in the air, moving blindly from one attraction to the next.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bus Ride

Oh boy. Where to start?

We had a long journey ahead of us; a 24-hour bus ride. We decided we'd splurge and spend a little extra to get a deluxe, sleeper bus. One bus to take us the whole journey. You've probably already guessed, that's not exactly what we got.

We started the trip switching from one crappy bus to another. About ten hours in, an hour or so from the Cambodia/Laos border, we were told the bus was arriving late, we wouldn't make it to the border before it closed for the day, so we'd have to get a room in a guest house for the evening.  So, not only was this delaying our final arrival, we had to pay for another night of accommodation. The next morning we boarded a bus and then a mini-bus and then we waited. Then, we got on another mini-bus, which brought us to this final bus where the story continues.

I'm going to remind you here that we paid a bit extra for a nice, comfortable, air-conditioned sleeper bus.

Here's the bus we boarded.

Rice. The aisles and the space where your feet should go, covered in giant rice bags.

As the trip began, we were optimistic, trying to make the best of it.

Here, Jim's making his way back to his seat, climbing over the rice bags.  The woman in the front of the photo  had her eye on Jim.  The man sitting next to us translated, explaining that she was impressed with Jim's, shall we say, manliness, since he's the size of approximately 2.5 Lao men.  Also, he has a beard.  Jim is still talking about how much the middle-aged Lao women can't get enough of him.

The first few hours we were having a great time.  We "chatted" with the families around us and shared snacks.  Jim held babies.

The bus stopped often, picking up more passengers.  That nice woman in the photo is sitting on the rice bags in the isle since all the seats were full.

Here's where it really gets good.  A few hours in, we stopped and they shifted all of our baggage from the lower compartment onto the roof of the bus.  Then, tractors pulled up and they started loading livestock onto the bus.  In the photo below, the young men are lifting a bag of live chickens that they'll then tie to the roof of our bus.

Here they're loading pigs and goats into the compartments under the seats.  Live pigs and goats.  The ten or so foreigners on the bus were crowding around taking photos.

They tied the doors closed propped open a bit with sticks, so the animals could breathe.

The bus ride went downhill from here.  As the animals above and below us started doing their business, the bus started smelling.  Jim wasn't feeling well, so at each stop, he was running off the bus to use the toilet (and by toilet, I mean ditch).  More than once I had to stop the bus from leaving without him.  Also, while we were all trying to sleep, the bus driver started blaring Cambodian pop music, maybe to keep himself awake?

Still, easily our best and worst bus ride all wrapped in one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For ...

I realize I won't get much sympathy from folks back home complaining about the weather, but I'm going to anyway.

For most of our trip it's been HOT. The temperatures have been in the 80s, 90s and even above 100 most places we've been.

The heat has had me wishing for some cooler temperatures - a bit of a break. Last night, we arrived in Hanoi. It's been raining ever since we arrived. And it's about 50 degrees. Also, our budget accommodation doesn't have heat.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A couple of weeks ago we were in Kuala Lumpur (KL). It was the first destination on the trip that was new to us both. It was fun to navigate a new city together, and also to catch a break from a certain traveling companion saying, "The last time I was here ..."

Here are a few of things I liked about this city:

1. Affordable and accessible public transportation. KL has a great light rail system that we used multiple times each day we were there.

2. New money and conversion rates. The Malaysian currency is the ringgit. Three ringgits amount to approximately one US dollar.

3. Culture and religion. KL is the first place I've visited that's predominantly Muslim. It was interesting to be surrounded by women with head scarves, hear the call to prayer each day and see the items for sale at local markets.

We visited one of the mosques.

4. The Petronas Towers. The towers are one of the must-see attractions in the city. They sell a limited number of tickets each day to go up to the sky bridge. We tried not once, but twice to acquire tickets and, unfortunately, weren't successful.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Anyone looking for restaurant recommendations in Thailand? Good, I've got just the place. May I suggest Aroon Rai in Chiang Mai?

Here's what we ate. We started with their locally made sausage. A little too spicy for me, but Jim enjoyed them.

Our hotel proprietor insisted that we try kow soi gai while in Chiang Mai. It didn't disappoint. It's a delicious curried egg noodle and chicken soup.

We were having a bit of trouble finding a place that served kow soi gai, so we asked a nice English-speaking gentleman working at a bookstore we visited. He suggested Aroon Rai and insisted we try their gang garee gai, a yellow curry with chicken and potatoes. Good recommendation, bookstore guy. Delicious.

You can kind of see in the photos that we also had a beer with dinner. I can't remember exactly how much our bill was, but it was probably about eight U.S. dollars.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

And so it begins ...

The adventure has begun.

We're a little over a week in and up to this point we've spent A LOT of time traveling. At my count, 41 hours on a plane or train ... and that doesn't include the time we waited at the airport or train station.

That said, the travel has been mostly fun. While I was worried about spending 14 hours on a plane, it was, in reality, uninterrupted time to read. It was great. I finished my book.

We spent a few days in Bangkok, our first stop. Bangkok, for me, was busy, noisy, dirty, full of annoying tourists, in other words not my favorite. We did go to the Grand Palace (click for photos), which I very much enjoyed.

On the overnight train North to Chiang Mai we met two Swedes who made great company.

Chiang Mai is my heaven on earth. The weather's more comfortable (80s instead of the 90s we experienced in Bangkok, and cooler at night), the people are friendly and the food is amazing.

Also there's a bookstore on every corner. Speaking of which, I better get back to it. Stay tuned ... more to come!