Asia

Moving to…JAPAN!

As most of you already know, our next big step is Japan! We’ve spent the last year visiting with friends, getting back into old habits in San Diego (hello GOTR), and planning our next move.

As of this week, my ticket is purchased, and I’m off to Japan next month!!

Image Source: Daily Signal

Image Source: Daily Signal

Zac is not really interested in teaching English anymore, so he signed up for Japanese classes, and I’ve been looking for jobs nonstop for two months.

Finally, after lots of interviews, some okay options, and some really big corporate companies, I’ve accepted a job and will be leaving January 22nd! My feelings are slightly mixed: I’m very excited to have a plan, and I really like the school I’ve chosen, but I have to leave 2 months earlier than Zac (he has to wait in the states for his student visa), and the schedule will mean that we will go back to not having a day off together. Which is not my favorite thing. But, it might not be so bad, so we’ll just have to see!

We’re currently trying to figure out what to store/toss/sell/take, and we’re both in the market for warm winter clothes, and I’m trying to build up my business professional closet without spending a fortune. (Oh, how I’ll miss you running clothes, sweats, and slippers!)

And for those of you looking for the deets:

We’re heading to Yokohama (see weather details here), which is about 30-45 minutes by train south of Tokyo. It is the second largest city in Japan, with a population of almost 3.7 million. (Kinda around the same number of people as Los Angeles.) It’s on the water (a port), but surf is about an hour train ride away. (Poor Z Heis!!)

Yokohama January Weather

Plan is to be there for the foreseeable future (minimum 1 year!). I’m leaving in January, and Zac will follow at the end of March. Hopefully we will become super pros at Japanese!

I just wanted to share this with everyone who has been keeping tabs on us, and hopefully we’ll have some fun adventures to keep you guys entertained in the next year(s). Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain inside our apartment in Japan!

Categories: Asia, Japan, Teaching English | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The End of Asia

First of all, thanks to all of our generous and hospitable hosts – Jayme, Danny, and Jaime – for taking us around your respective cities. We owe you a foreign couch and a whole lot of cookies!

Also, thanks to all of you guys for following our journey and letting me know that the blog wasn’t a TOTAL waste of time…even though it went from a running blog to a travel/food blog!

Asia 2012 has come to an end, and it was an experience I think everyone should have. We were able to hit up 8 (9? Hong Kong?) countries – Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. We saw some of the world’s most amazing sights – Angkor Wat, The Great Wall, and Mount Fuji. And we met plenty of amazing, nice, rude, polite, friendly, standoffish, and unique travelers and locals, and had an all-around great time.

I’m looking forward to showering without shoes, eating green vegetables, and burning the 4 outfits I’ve brought on this trip. I think Zac is looking most forward to surfing, and to using a real razor again. (You guys gotta see his homeless man scruff.)

We definitely learned a lot from our experiences! Don’t take overnight buses in Thailand. In addition to “thank you,” learn to say “no thank you” in Indonesian and Thai. Always buy your flight before you get to the airport, but never take money out of airport ATMs. Get used to your own body odor, but keep mouthwash handy. Take pictures, even when you don’t feel like it. And if you don’t like the picture, take another one because you won’t get that chance again. And never trust a Vietnamese discount travel agency!

Even though we’re done with Asia (for now) our traveling is far from being over! We touched down in San Jose, CA at night on Tuesday, and will spend the summer driving across the country. San Diego – Omaha, NE – St. Louis – New Orleans – Charlottesville, VA – New Brunswick, NJ – New York and then back to San Diego/San Jose! After four months in California, we’re off on our Next Big Adventure: Peru.

Instead of heading back to the daily grind in California, or going to grad school, we’ve signed up to teach English in Peru for 1 year. Starting January 2013, we’ll be in Peru until around the same time in 2014! And I expect each of you to visit.

Stay tuned for views from America as we start our domestic travels!

 

Categories: Asia, Travel, United States | 5 Comments

The Streets of Beijing

Link for pictures!

I don’t know how anyone explores Beijing without a fluent tour guide. When we planned this trip, I expected places such as Vietnam and Cambodia to be especially difficult due to the language barrier. Instead, those countries were easy, and as we learned throughout the trip, we’d be in for a rude awakening in China.

Luckily for us, Zac’s buddy, Danny, has lived and worked in Beijing for about five years, and is fluent in Mandarin. It just so happened that he only had to work one day of the whole week we were there, which was incredibly lucky for us. He lives right near Hoihai Lake, which is pretty close too the grimy and exciting action.

After a 24-hour train ride, Danny met us at the train station and helped us navigate the city with our ridiculous backpacks. In the evening, we headed to Wang Fu Ging St. for some interesting street food and a really fun night out.

We started the night off with some simple Chinese breads and meat skewers (“chuan’r” or something like that). We quickly progressed to lamb legs, fried scorpions, and some sort of a Bejing hot dog.

I ate a fried scorpion!

The man-boys and their legs of lamb.

Our Beijing culinary journey later included a donkey meat burger, Peking duck, a Taiwanese hot pot, and a handful of successes and misfires.

Donkey "burger." It tastes kind of like corned beef.

Wednesday was the only day Zac and I were on our own, so we went to Tianamen Square, which is notorious due to the massacre by the Chinese government on citizens in 1989. We also checked out Beihai Park, Hoihai Lake, and wandered the streets for a bit.

Tiananmen Square

Now it’s on to the very best part of Beijing: The Great Wall!

Got that ticket to The Great Wall!

Hearing about a slide down the hill from the Badaling section, we headed there.  Or so we thought. Our taxi driver took us to Jinshanling instead. We didn’t realize there was no slide until we were all the way at the top! Ah well, he kind of paid for it in the end when we took the bus back instead of riding back with him.

Beers on The Great Wall? We were probably the most fit tourists there, so why not rub it in?

Even though our taxi driver sucked, we really liked Jingshanling, and I’m glad we went there. The hike up to the top of that section of the wall is pretty strenuous, and the views are really great.

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

We went to Badaling afterwards, but it was much more crowded with tourists, and not nearly as great of a climb to the top. The slide isn’t fast or intense, but it was still pretty cool, and probably a little dangerous.

Slidin' down Badaling.

For those of you that don’t know, the closest portion of The Great Wall is about an hour or so outside of Beijing, and there are several different sections of wall. Some are renovated to look the way they did during the wall’s heyday, while others are a bit dilapidated, untouched, and slightly dangerous. Both Badaling and Jinshanling are reconstructed sections, so it was pretty cool to see how it looked back it the day. It took us about an hour and a half to climb up Jinshangling, but just 30 minutes to get to the slide at Badaling.

Over the next few days, we climbed the pagoda that overlooks The Forbidden City, went to the viewing of Mao’s embalmed body (probably fake, just like Ho Chi Minh), got jostled on the subway, had drinks in a Reggae bar, went to a private rooftop terrace party, and bought cheap DVDs in the Silk Market. It was definitely a very successful and enjoyable stop on the trip, but I still can’t imagine doing it all so seamlessly without Danny. Thanks, Danny!

Also, we saw a lot of messy eaters.

A group left their table in a restaurant looking like this. What?

The Forbidden City

We’re now finding our way around Shanghai for a few days, and heading over to Japan on Thursday morning!

Categories: Asia, Beijing, China, Food, Travel | 6 Comments

It's So Happy in Hong Kong!

Ah, how relaxing to leave a cramped, 12-person dorm room, sharing 1 toilet, to arrive in a 3-bedroom apartment with 3 bathrooms, and just 3 people. Hong Kong was a serious break from our regular traveling. It was really nice, and the entire area was kind of like an Asian Manhattan. Most people spoke at least a little English, and in the SoHo area, there were definitely more expats than locals. Imagine a modern banking town, complete with perfectly dressed professionals and lively happy hours, right smack in the middle of Asia, and you’ve got Hong Kong down to a T.

Overall, it’s easy to like Hong Kong. My dad might hate all the stairs, and fighting through throngs of people to get anywhere, but that’s par for the course in many big cities. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to live in Hong Kong unless I was a baller (i.e. loaded) with the financial ability to enjoy the city, but visiting was a lot of fun! It’s definitely a bit of a break from the rest of Asia, and in some ways is kind of comparable to Singapore.

Zac and I were able to get in some much-needed exercise and vegetables. It was a little strange going grocery shopping for the first time in 2 months, especially when all of the products are different. We made dinner just about every night, and experienced a lot less of the local flavor than in the other places where we visited. Though it’s always nice to check out as much local food and street food as possible, we were ready to detox a little bit from our previous binges. We ate out a few times, but we were more interested in cooking dinner most nights. (Plus, Jayme really seemed to appreciate that!)

Night view from Jayme's balcony. That middle building is kind of famous and was in The Dark Knight.

So Hong Kong is a city bordered by the bay in one direction, and the mountains in another. Most people live up in the hill areas, and restaurants and offices are down in the flatter parts, close to the water. (Flat is a relative term here.) Jayme’s apartment is right at the top of a set of escalators, so you can literally take the escalators from the hopping part of town directly to the driveway of her apartment building. That was nice. The escalators go down until 10am for all of the worker bees, and up until midnight.

Occupy HSBC.

First stop, The Peak! Everyone talks about Victoria’s Peak as a must-see part of HK, but nobody seems to love it as a hike. Luckily for us, the entrance was only a 10-minute walk from Jayme’s from door, so we hiked up a different path about every other day. We wanted to explore other hikes in the area, but a) they were far away, sometimes further away than the hiking path itself and b) it rained almost every day for a few hours, so getting stranded so far from home wasn’t very appealing.

View of the city from The P

On the first day we went up The Peak, and as soon as we got to the top, it started raining incredibly hard, and we were forced to take the Tram back down, which was a pretty cool experience in itself. This dropped us off way down in the city, and we had to figure out how to get back to the escalators.

The Peak Tram - goes down the mountain at about a 45-degree angle.

On the second day, we decided to walk around the bay, and we found this secluded little stair path to a bay-front overlook. Again, it started pouring. This time it was a pretty intense storm, and we were a little scared. We ran back up to street level and jumped on the first bus we saw, where we relied on the kindness of strangers to help us get to the city. We had no clue where we were dropped, but were able to follow signs to the escalators again!

Not sure what to do with our rainy afternoon...Mancala and wine!

We got caught in the rain a couple more times, and then decided to do museums and the movies (I still hadn’t seen The Hunger Games) on Saturday, since apparently Mother Nature didn’t want us outside. Zac broke out his only pair of pants, I stole some jeans from my sister and we were ready to brave the weather. It turned out to be the sunniest and hottest day of the HK trip. Go figure.

We did a lot of wandering around the city, and explored some of the other districts such as Wan Chai and Sheung Wan. One day we took the MTR over to Kowloon Island where we checked out Tsim Sha Tsui, and walked along the bay walk. Here our view included the entire city of Hong Kong Island, looking like it was cut out of the Financial District of New York.

View of HK Island from Kowloon

Dried seahorses in Sheung Wan (old city HK)

During the week, we were able to meet up with Jayme for lunch a few times, and on Friday we explored the bars and restaurants. After a delicious Moroccan meal, Jayme took us to the party block of Lan Kwai Fong just to say we’d been there. This town really knows how to cater to the people. LKF is about a two-block long roadway that’s blocked off from cars, and just loaded with bars and restaurants. I can imagine it being a great spot for Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day, and it was packed with expats. Did I mention that you can drink in the streets in this city? That makes it even better.

On Saturday, we headed over to check out Deep Water Bay, which is a lesser-known version of Recluse Bay, the popular tourist spot, and we just kind of hung out for a bit until our afternoon festivities!

Deep Water Bay

The afternoon consisted of a Wine Walk in Stanley, which was a ton of fun. It’s similar to the “Taste of…” series in San Diego and other cities; 16 restaurants offer a red or a white to try, and several offer some small bites of food as well. There were even a few frozen yogurt places in the mix, but they didn’t have wine. Apparently these restaurants don’t understand what a “taste” portion is, and poured us full glasses. We were in a group of about ten people, and it was definitely a lot of fun! Jayme’s neighbor brought her little nugget along as well, which was a form of entertainment in itself. Everyone had to take turns carrying the baby backpack. Afterwards we enjoyed some surprisingly delicious pizza, and I succeeded in throwing my (Greg’s) camera away (oops). We got it back though.

Rockin' the baby backpack like a gentleman. (And showing off all his wine passport stamps.)

The nugget-sized mascot.

Got all 16 stamps! Challenge completed!

On our last full day, we headed over to Lantau Island, where we took the longest cable car of all time up to the top of a mountain to see another Big Buddha. The cable car ride was the best part.

Looking through the glass floor of our cable car.

View of the valley on the way up.

It was really foggy up there, so we couldn’t see the Buddha very well anyway, but we still got some pictures. There was also a little touristy village area at the top, and some sort of a monastery.

Another Big Buddha

This vegetarian chicken looks zero percent appetizing and 100% toxic.

These chopsticks look like The Elder Wand!!

Just a bull on a mountain.

After a quick lunch with Jayme on Monday afternoon, Zac and I lugged our belongings to the subway, and took a series of lines to the station for intercity travel, and boarded a 24-hour train to Beijing. It was definitely cleaner and nicer than our previous overnighter, but you know you’re in China when people are allowed to smoke on the train. After about 3 hours, the engine broke down, and we sat in one place for a while as they fixed it, but we eventually arrived safe and sound in Beijing. Here we are staying with Zac’s friend from high school for about a week, which should be lots of fun! There’s no Facebook in China, and lots of other random sites are blocked as well, but I’ll do my best to keep you updated here!

Categories: Asia, Hong Kong, Travel | 1 Comment

Hanoi'd

Link for pictures!

I hate to say it, but I was annoyed by Hanoi. The food was the best part, well really, the only good part. At the risk of sounding like an expectant, spoiled Westerner, I must say, I can’t really recommend Vietnam to fellow travelers. There were some things I enjoyed, and we met some really nice locals and travelers, but as a whole, the standoffish, and sometimes flat out rude nature of the locals put a damper on the whole thing. If you’re lost, don’t expect help unless you are prepared to tip. If you need to use the restroom, be prepared to bring your own toilet paper for a squatter, and STILL pay to use it. At museums, you pay double, sometimes quadruple. At restaurants you pay double, at train stations you pay double. It’s all about the money-money-money…

So on the flip side, if you have the ability to travel from any western world to Vietnam, you’ve probably got a lot more money than they do, right? Unfortunately, Vietnam seems to have three main industries: rice, tourism, and corruption. When your police officers take bribes left and right, and your government has no money, and you lie about your taxes, how is any sort of infrastructure supposed to form? When Americans bombed and gassed the s*** out of your country, and the French forced you into serf-like subservience for a century, and naive tourists are taking over your town, why should you be nice to westerners?

I’m primarily referring to the big tourist spots in the country. We didn’t do a great job getting off the beaten path here, but when we did, it was a different world. In Danang, the city was harsh, and the people ignored us as much as possible, unless they were driving taxis. When we were in the outskirts – in China beach, where we stayed, it was relaxing, pleasant, friendly, and fun. We met cool travelers, and had some of the nicest, friendliest hosts of the trip. The coast just north was lined with high-end beach resorts, but we stayed at Hoa’s place, the only guest house in the area. It was still a tourist spot, but for surfers, budget travelers, and beach bunny backpackers.

Aside from eating our faces off, we went to a few museums, walked around the city, and took a 2-day, 1-night trip to Halong Bay, where we slept on the boat in the middle of the water. We also met up with a couple we met in Danang, got ourselves pretty lost, and found some peanut butter at the store.

St. Joseph's Cathedral

The Museum of Ethnology was probably the best museum of the city. They had all of this great information about the different ethnicities that make up Vietnam. Prior to modern-day wars and tyrants, they enjoyed a rich history and vibrant culture. We’d also visited The Revolutionary Museum, but it was kind of boring, super biased, and not nearly as informative or interesting as the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.

Water Puppet Show at The Museum of Ethnology

On the last day, we went to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. They embalmed his body, and have it on display Tues-Thurs from 8:30am-10:30am. You’re all herded through this single-file line for a few blocks, and you’re not allowed to speak, stop moving, bring food or drink or cameras, or cross your arms while in the mausoleum. Zac and I both think the body is fake. Wax, probably. The two women in front of us were in a traditional get up, and cried.

There were some adorable little kids on a field trip to the mausoleum. They were all so excited to wave and say, “hello.” They were very proud of their English skills.

Halong Bay

Our worst experience was our time in Halong Bay. The crew on our boat made it perfectly clear that they didn’t want us there. Our tour guide, named Banana, wasn’t much of a guide at all, and quite obviously took a cut from some of the “not included” activities. He also seemed to have anti-gay opinions. Zac says he was just ignorant, which is probably true, but I couldn’t understand it, and it infuriated me. There were 4 couples on the boat, 1 of which was made up of two girls, and there were only 3 private double rooms. He refused to give a double room to the girls. In fact, someone else gave it to them, and he snatched it away. The girls were too nice and polite to cause any trouble, and wouldn’t let anyone else switch with them. They ended up getting twin beds right next to the generator, which goes all night and seeps smoke under the door. Awesome. Banana was a jerk.

 

Banana

Everything on the boat was 3-4 times as expensive as it is on the shore, but if you brought any of your own food or drinks, you had to pay a service charge almost equivalent to the cost of the item on the boat. What is the service for? For me walking off the boat and buying a beer and opening it and drinking it and throwing it in the garbage? You’re probably throwing that can in the water later anyway, so why the fee? I get that you’re trying to make money, but that was overboard. We couldn’t even borrow their playing cards without forking up a few bucks.

We were able to make the most of it, and all of the travelers on the boat were really pleasant. We went to the caves and did the included kayaking. (Which they were going to skip until a guy from Italy forced them into it. Then we got a solid 25 minutes.)

 

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend going to Halong Bay unless you do a booze cruise. We aren’t the biggest drinkers, especially while on this trip, and a booze cruise didn’t sound attractive at all, but when comparing the stories of each type of trip, they definitely had more fun. More people on the boats, cheaper food and drinks on board, friendly staff and crew, real guides, and a party environment. They had included rock climbing and hiking as well.

Back in the city we comforted ourselves with the delightful street food, and the knowledge that soon enough we’d be comfortable at my sister’s apartment in Hong Kong.

Categories: Asia, Hanoi, Travel, Vietnam | 6 Comments

Hello From Ho Chi Minh City

Link to pictures!

In just 4 short days here in HCMC, Zac and I have both had quite a history lesson. Vietnam has a very interesting past, and what’s more interesting is how the people try so hard to forget it, but the government tries so hard to glorify it.

A lot of people say they don’t find much of interest in the city, but I really like it. The food is good, and relatively inexpensive. The traffic is epic. Imagine a 4-lane road covered in motorbikes about 30 deep and that’s a typical afternoon in HCMC. You have to just walk into the street at the right moment, and trust that the bikes will navigate around you. It’s a little scary, but I just never look at the traffic head on. Apparently we got quite good at it though, because one morning an older woman grabbed on to my arm and followed me across the street because she was so terrified of the traffic.

It’s a little hot and crazy here, and we weathered quite the storm yesterday. Apparently there was a typhoon, so we stayed in almost the entire day.

Ben Thanh Market

 

The largest and most plentiful market in the area, the Ben Thanh market was just a short walk from our hostel, so we went there for a little souvenir haggling and cheap eating. The market goes up at 7:30 pm, so it’s really weird to walk down the empty street during the day. They somehow put up 100-person “restaurants” complete with tables, chairs, grills, refrigerators, and tents in a 30-minute period. Then they have to take it all down at the end of the night. Either way, we found a great little place with cheap & filling food that I highly recommend…though I couldn’t tell you what it’s called.

War Remnants Museum

 

Banner hanging from the War Remnants Museum

I’ve read that some people are disappointed in bias found at the War Remnants Museum, but considering it was previously given names such as, “Museum of American War Crimes,” I didn’t expect it to be fair and balanced.

Nonetheless, it was very interesting, and tells a side of the war that Americans rarely hear. An entire room is dedicated to the effects and third-generation devastation of Agent Orange. Pretty depressing to see those pictures. There is also an entire room dedication to protests against the war by countries all over the world, including images of the Kent State Massacre.

If you’re able to go in with a curious attitude, and understand that it’s run by the communist government of Vietnam, it’s definitely worth a look.

Notre Dame Cathedral

 

The Notre Dame Cathedral - HCMC

It’s still a church! For some reason I didn’t expect this to be an actual church any longer, since I assumed a lot of catholicism fell by the wayside when France lost control of Vietnam. It was a really cool building, and the stations of the cross carvings were really beautiful. You couldn’t go beyond the foyer unless it was to pray, so I didn’t get too many pictures.

Inside the Cathedral

Central Post Office

 

The Central Post Office

Extravagant is an understatement. This post office is known for it’s architecture and design, and looks more like a grandiose train station than a post office. It’s right across the street from the cathedral, and we saw it as we were trying to find it, and I said, “Zac, what do you think that building is?” Him, “no clue, so how far away is the post office again?” Yep, true story.

 

Sheraton Saigon

 

View from Sheraton Saigon

Lonely Planet let me know that the Sheraton Saigon has an apazing view of the city from it’s rooftop bar. We went to check it out, and it was pretty cool, but HCMC’s skyview isn’t nearly as impressive as many others we’ve seen. We made it just in time for happy hour to start – buy one get one free! But, only the same person gets the free one. So if there are two of you, you have to buy two, and then you get two free. Stupid and dumb. NO THANKS!

Caodai Temple

 

Inside the Temple

We opted to add on the Cao Dai Temple to our Cu Chi Tunnels tour, since it was just a dollar. I don’t recommend it because it’s a lot further away than they tell you, and we spent an additional 3 hours on the bus because of it. It was pretty cool, and the tour bus dropped us off there just before a procession of the priests. Cao Dai is a monotheistic religion composed of Buddhism, Taoism, and a third that I can’t remember.

Cu Chi Tunnels

 

Entrance - hidden very well.

The Cu Chi Tunnels came highly recommended, and would have been much more enjoyable if we hadn’t been so sleepy from the long, long, long bus ride. For your history lesson: some people say that the Cu Chi Tunnels are the main reason why the north one the Vietnam war. The tunnels were build by the Cu Chi people (communists). The series of underground tunnels had three levels, bunkers, kitchens, and more, all completely underground and hidden. Messages, supplies, and weapons were transferred with the help of the tunnels. They expanded the tunnels when the government turned them into a tourist attraction, so when we crawled through the tunnels, they were about twice the size than originally.

Zac crawling through the tunnels.

Our tour guide grew up in south vietnam during the war, and fought for the south alongside Americans. He was a very content man, about 60-70 years old, and spent the entire tour subtly bashing the communist regime and the current government. He told us about the propaganda everywhere, and warned us before we arrived that the video they show at the beginning is “communist propaganda” so don’t pay too much attention. He also said that when he went through the tunnels was the one and only time he had flashbacks of the war, and he hasn’t gone through them since.

Reunification Palace

Reunification/Independence Palace

On our last morning, we headed up to see the Reunification Palace, since we kept missing the operating hours. This is the official place of south Vietnam’s surrender during the war, and the estate takes up over two blocks. We paid the $1.50 each to check it out, and were immediately disappointed. The first floor is the only part that’s accessible to tourists, and the entire building is basically just a government building. There was nothing to see, so we just walked around the grounds and left. We were BAMBOOZLED! Ah well.

aaaand Zac

Also, I took a picture of the Pho restaurant where Bill Clinton ate when he visited Vietnam.

Pho 2000 - restaurant where Clinton ate.

Now it’s off to Siem Reap, Cambodia for two days to check out Angkor Wat! Wish us luck on another 12-hours bus ride…eek!

Categories: Asia, Travel, Vietnam | 5 Comments

Guest Post from Sir Heisey

Sup Wit All Deez Posts!? Caitlin has asked, nay, demanded that I provide a guest post on her blog to address all my friends and family members who have been commenting on her fantastic posts.  Sorry that my blog sucks compared to Caitlin’s, ok!?  Also, it’s much harder to come up with content for a surf travel blog when there has been no surf during your travels.

I’m really glad that Caitlin is such a great communicator when it comes to our experiences, because without her blog, we would have no pictures or details of our trip at all.  When people ask me how the trip was when we get back, their only impression would be “it was pretty sweet”, which obviously tells nothing of our culinary adventures, motorbike crashes, bouts of TD (Google it), sun burns, and daily forays into local cultures and languages.

Personally, I am in this weird place where I feel like we have been on the road for much longer than a couple of weeks, but not in a bad way.  On one hand, I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family in CA and telling them all about our travels, while on the other hand, I am getting into a “traveling groove”, and could see going from country to country for a long time.

Thanks to everyone who has been supporting us during our travels.  We love all of you, and look forward to seeing you guys soon.

Zac

Categories: Asia | 6 Comments

Malaysia – Journeys, Not Destinations

Our hostel in Kuala Lumpur was not easy to get to from the airport. The sky opened up as soon as we landed, and we were stuck in a lightning and thunder storm. We took the first bus we found to a SkyTrain to a bus station, then we had no clue where to go. After finding a ritzy hotel and pretending we were guests in order to get the free Internet code, we were able to map out directions to our destination via my iTouch. We wandered a bit, cause the street signs in KL are garbage, but finally found our hostel. It smelled like veteran hippies and cat pee, and it was full. Even though we put down a deposit and reserved our beds, etc., it was full.

They took us to their “guest house” accommodations 5 minutes away. Not great, but at least it wasn’t full of smelly kids.

Neither of us really loved Kuala Lumpur. It was unbelievably hot, and all of the attractions cost more than our meals and accommodations, put together. We only had a day there, so we went to the KL tower, which is supposed to have the best view in the city. It was too pricy to go to the top though, so we satisfied ourselves with pictures from the bottom.

Kuala Lumpur Tower

Zac

Our hostel was in the heart of Chinatown, which was very interesting.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

We wandered around the shops and vendors, and Zac just had to try some weird dried meat. It tasted like I imagine dog or cat food would taste.

Zac's Dried Chicken, aka, DOG FOOD

Dried Pork, Dried Chicken, and Bacon

Lots of towns in Southeast Asia seem to love Reggae, so we ate at a nearby reggae bar, which felt a little out of place, but kind of awesome.

The coolest thing we tried came at dinner time. We happened upon a food stand that had tables in the back with boiling water pots in the middle. They offer up some raw foods on kebabs, and you can cook them to your own preference. One section had meats for grilling (which they do for you) and the other has veggies and dumplings and such for boiling. It was pretty fun, and really delicious!

Malaysian Fondue?

It’s the journey, not the destination, right?

Beware: long story ahead. End here if you’ve had enough of me.

Well, we had quite the journey getting from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand. It seemed easy as pie at first. We’d take an 8-hour bus ride to Hatyai, and then a 12-hour overnight bus to Phuket. Then we’d find a place to stay, drop our stuff, and go exploring.

We were only a 5-minute walk from the bus station, so we bought a ticket to Hatyai for 40 Malaysian Ringgit each, which is about $13. Everything in Malaysia is like a Chinese Fire Drill, from getting off the SkyTrain to getting on a bus, it’s frantic. Now deemed the Malaysian Fire Drill. We waited for the bus for about 30 minutes, and then had exactly 45 seconds to throw our bags underneath, and board the bus before it started pulling away. Some people were in the wrong seats, so we all had to wait, as the bus drove away, while they moved in slow-motion to their proper seats.

Our Comfy Bus

The first bus was very comfortable, and we didn’t mind too much that the 8-hour ride took 9 hours. There were women dressed in head-to-toe burkas. Gloves, socks, veils over their eyes, the whole deal. I can’t say that I’ve really seen that before, and it was very interesting. The bus driver stopped at all the immigrations and custom stops, and bam, we were all set for Thailand. The journey was relatively uneventful, though we did actually see the victim of a motorbike accident sprawled out on the street, partially covered with a sheet. That was kind of intense.

We arrived in Hatyai at about 7:30pm, and found a bus company with a bus headed to Phuket at 8:30, and they said for us to be back there by 8. We frantically bought the ticket, scarfed down the only remotely meal-like item in the place (the spiciest cup o noodles I’ve ever had), used the bathroom, and stocked up on snacks for the overnight journey. As we sat waiting in front of the bus, watching Thai soap operas on the fuzzy TV, the minutes ticked by, and nobody was getting on the bus. Finally, at 8:40, I went to the counter to see what was up. In a miming skit only found in foreign language conversations, he let me know that the bus was in fact on schedule and would leave at 8:30, which was 50 minutes away. Apparently Hatyai is an hour behind Kuala Lumpur.

Ah well. We finally boarded the bus, which was not nearly as nice or as comfortable as the first one. The TV was playing Thai music videos, and blaring the Thai pop songs over the loudspeaker. I figured it would stop when the bus departed, or at least when the karaoke DVD ended. We found entertainment for about 3 songs, but then it was unbelievably awful. I considered all means of escaping the torture – from throwing myself out of the bus the next time it slowed down, to ripping the speakers from the ceiling. When we stopped at midnight, Zac fished our earplugs out of our bags underneath, which did little to soften the screams of cuckolded Thai lovers. I even asked the porter if they could turn the music down, but I’m not sure if he understood me. (Pointing to ear, “music?” Pointing down, “down?”) Finally, around 12:30, they turned the music off, and Zac and I both faded in and out of unpleasant sleep for the next few hours. Oh and that 12-hour bus ride? It was only 7 hours, which means we arrived at the Phuket bus station at 3:30 am, rather than the originally expected 9:30am. We waited/slept/whined in the bus station until the tourist information office opened at 6:30. Then it was off to finally find a place to stay in Thailand.

We’re safe in Kata Beach, Phuket (pu-ket), Thailand for now. Thanks for sticking with us!

 

Categories: Asia, Food, Malaysia | 3 Comments

Ubud, For My Luck

Throughout our time traveling, we’ve mostly avoided the shops and markets, primarily for two reasons: 1) haggling is sucky, 2) getting harassed and pressured by locals is suckier. Ubud is a lot more posh than Kuta Beach, with swanky shops, hip and trendy bars, and Ralph Lauren Polo stores on more corners than Starbucks. We did a little “just browsing” on the first day, and learned that when they decide to give you something for a cheaper price, they agree to it and say, “for my luck.” Then they take the money you paid with and touch it to certain items in the store, that I’m assuming they desperately want to sell.

It’s very intriguing, and makes you really hope they get good luck for selling you that $10 souvenir for 4 bucks. Zac and I got the haggling thing down right away. Before we decide we want something, we pick a price we want to pay. If they don’t agree to the price, we leave. Simple as that. It helps that we’re both outrageously cheap and on a skimpy budget, but it’s worked every time, and they always agree to the price.

Ubud is really nice. It’s higher up, with much cleaner air than the other areas of Bali. Our home stay is super sweet, we have a luscious green, tropical setting off of our deck, and rice fields just beyond that. They bring us a different breakfast every morning, always with tea, coffee and fruit! Our porch overlooked some of the rice fields, which are EVERYWHERE in this part of Bali. We even had lunch practically IN one!

Lunch by some rice fields.

On the second day there, we met up with two British friends that we met while in Kuta Beach and did some touristy things. First, we went to Monkey Forest. This place is pretty small, but it’s loaded with monkeys; it’s unreal. We thought it was nuts when we came across a few monkeys on our hike in Singapore, and when I was in India, the monkeys were such a novelty that I have more pictures of them than of my family. There were over 600 monkeys in this forest, and they were not at all afraid of people.

"Just cleaning my friend's butt over here. Don't mind me."

 

Family Photo

Luke and Tessa had the adventurous spirit, I was even a little jealous of it. They bought bananas at the little stand and fed the monkeys, letting them climb up on their heads to get to them, like the “monkey experts” advised. These monkeys were serious about bananas. (Bananas for bananas, if you will.)

It begins as a timid friendship…

Tessa was holding a banana up for one of the monkeys to get, and he just grabbed the whole bunch instead.

And ends with a sneaky monkey!

Luke's monkey wanted to make camp on his shoulder.

There’s always a price to pay for the adventurous spirit. Luke’s fee was monkey poop on his brand-new Bali t-shirt. I wasn’t jealous anymore after that.

MONKEY POOP!

 

This monkey is in the process of lunging at Zac for the attack! He got away though, whew.

Keeping a safe distance.

The older monkeys weren't fun or cute, so in order to get attention, they would just sprawl out in the middle of the path so you practically had to step over them to get by.

Later, we went “trekking” following a poorly-marked path in The Lonely Planet guide. It was pretty spectacular though. The walk was probably about 10 miles. We first walked through the center of Ubud, then followed a stone-and-grass path up a gigantic, never-ending hill.

The green valley below us.

At the top, we found some great views, and then stumbled upon a little village, and a whole lotta rice fields. There were a bunch of little huts for sale or rent, and then we passed through the town, getting ourselves thoroughly lost in the in process. Our goal was to get back to the center of Ubud without retreating, and we succeeded about 2 hours later!

Rice Fields on the Trek

We stumbled upon a photo shoot. It looked like they were taking traditional wedding shots. I was trying to be stealth with my picture-taking, so this was the best I could do.

Bride and Groom, I think.

 

Zac & Luke

We wandered around this temple area for a few minutes, then realized we probably weren't supposed to be there without proper dress.

And after it all, this little guy followed us home. I love his coat!

Our nameless guide.

Ubud was pretty nice, and our time there was pretty relaxing. We were able to work a lot, read, and re-charge a little bit. We only stayed there for 3 nights though. All of my hippie/lovey friends would appreciate the posh bohemia.

Most of the restaurants were covered in self-reflection quotes like this one.

Next stop: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 

Categories: Asia, Bali, Indonesia, Travel | 2 Comments

Sleepy Lembongan

Zac and I both love it here. It’s far from the dirty, smelly, traffic-filled Kuta, and the loudest noise is the sound of waves crashing on the shore.

The sleepy island of Lembongan is popular among tourists, but with limited boats arriving and leaving each day, it remains the quiet, younger sister of the Gili Islands.

Our ‘hotel’ is called a ‘home stay’ here. The name of our place is called Made (mah-day) Inn, and is apparently named after the host’s mother, who opened the first ever home stay on the island. There are just 4 rooms, each with a bathroom, and a deck overlooking the ocean. ($15 a night!) Also, side not of trivia, there are only 4 Balinese names (the first 3 have female/male versions):

  • Wayan/Putu
  • Made/Kadek
  • Komang/Nyoman
  • Ketut (unisex)

If you have 5 kids, you’ve got to use the same name twice. The middle names are the “special” names, which are different for each child.

The front of our little home stay on the beach. Notice the BUG SPRAY.

The owner/host of the home stay is very pleasant, with impressive English. Her little 2-3-year-old daughter is a cute, but bratty little menace. She is obviously the one in charge around here and she let’s everyone know it.

View from the home stay - Made's Inn

We rented a motorbike – at about $6 for the day, and rode around the island, passing through some pretty incredible scenery. I spent the first 20 minutes terrified – riding on a bike with no helmet, any faster than 20 mph, with someone else controlling the steering and the brakes is my worst nightmare – but we survived.

Lookin' hardcore on that pink motorbike.

We headed up to the Mangrove Forest, which is basically a watershed where they harvest seaweed. The western side of the island is mostly used for tourism, while the rest of the island is covered in plots of drying seaweed. They export it to be used in beauty products.

Mangrove

Seaweed for exporting

The water on Lembongan is remarkably clear, but was kind of murky the first two days. There are two main surf breaks about 500m out on the reef – Lacerations and Playground. We didn’t get a chance to do any snorkeling while on the island, but we’ll definitely do that in Thailand.

Later we took another attempt with the motorbike and found the suspension bridge to another tiny little island called Ceningan. The bridge is no wider than a sidewalk, and is slightly terrifying, but we crossed it with aplomb! (And by aplomb, I mean, speed and terror.)

We headed back to our little home stay, and as the heat started to die down, I felt comfortable enough to go for a RUN!

Despite the 95% humidity, and 90-degree heat, it was great to run. Zac and I were sick for about a day and a half from something we ate or drank in Kuta (Bali), so I wasn’t quite sure how my stomach would react. I made it a paltry 4.6 miles, and was soaking wet when I finished.

Running is not something people do around these parts. I got a few stares, and one woman reacted by saying something loud and fast in Indonesian, which I couldn’t understand, but it sounded like she was quite aghast. The tiny little island is a nice place to run, with small roads, and unmarked trails, loops, and random paths. It was worth the 2L of water I had to consume to feel normal again. Then off to find a six-dollar meal.

Our dinner guest

We’re both covered with bug bites, and there were tons of ants, lizards, and other creatures to keep us company on the island, but we had a great time anyway!

Last morning on Lembongan

We took the fast boat back to Bali, which was quite an enjoyable experience. Rather than an hour and fifteen minutes of the slow and steady ebb and flow of the sea, we bounded through the ocean and showed Poseidon who’s boss. But seriously, they helped us get our stuff on board for no charge, helped us get on board, provided cushy seats, and even gave us each a bottle of water! It was twice as expensive as the slow boat/ferry/public boat that we took to get to the island, but it was definitely nice. (On the first boat we were sitting on planks and water jugs with a vomiting girl and a snorting pig as our shipmates.) They even hooked us up with an air-conditioned shuttle ride to our next destination – Ubud!

Fast boat!

I’m trying to figure out how to create and embed an interactive map for those of you with stalker-like tendencies. (Just kidding.) Can’t quite do it, so here’s an image instead. In case you’re wondering, Sanur is the Bali port, and Denpasar is where the airport is.

10 Days in Indonesia

 

Categories: Asia, Indonesia, Running, Travel | 8 Comments

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