Archive for the ‘RTW’ Category:

Shayna leaves for Cali

May 27th, 2007

After 4 countries and 10 weeks of traveling with the lovely Shayna Cohen, today she got on a plane to head back to California. I’m still here in the beautiful town of Luang Prabang (more on my Laos adventures later). It’ll be another 2 months or so before i make it back to Cali.

This was our second big trip together – first was last fall when we did our month long road trip in my faithful Jetta. This time we spent even more time together – 10 weeks – and it was great. We saw tons of budhist temples, had cocktails in a roofless bar on top of a 60-story hotel, wandered through amazing religious ruins, took cooking classes together, learned to weave on a loom, hiked mountains together, saw amazing caves and other natural wonders, hung out with local kids on the beach in Cambodia, spent the night in hill village tribes, met tons of expats and tourists (some super super cool, some not), had many tasteee local beers, received many massages, endured the extreme heat, and rode planes, trains, buses, boats, motorcycles, and bicycles in all parts of SE Asia.

But most importantly, these last few weeks Shayna has made me really happy. And thats a really good thing. I will miss you these next 2 months, miss shay-coh.

Laos Wins

May 9th, 2007

I made it to Laos – Vietnam is Finished. I’ve been here only 5 days, but its already significantly different than the rest of SE Asia. The biggest thing is that there is way less people – almost nobody asking to buy something, rent a motobike, or .. “money?”. The other main reason i love this country is the mountains and clean air. Its kinda like Sapa .. but .. better.

Right now i’m Vang Vieng, a small backpacker town 4 hours north of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We arrived in Vientiane on Saturday, spent a few days there, some in the rain, some with sun, all good fun. We checked out the Beer Lao Brewery – had the shortest brewery tour ever – only got to see the bottling section, about 5 mins. We also did a traditional Laos Weaving class – We got to dye some silk in Indigo, then spent the rest of the day weaving a pattern using a Loom. Looms are cool. Plus i just like to say the word … LOOM. Good name for a band. Anyway, I now have alot more respect for all hand weaved items. However, my favorite thing in Laos was the herbal sauna and massage. The herbal sauna is like a regular sauna with steam filling in a small room, but mixed with all kinds of herbs. I bet you never would have figured that out. Anyway, it left me feeling very invigorated. Alive. Then the massage made me relaxed. Alive and relaxed. Great combo.

Vietnam ended on a pretty good note – after Sapa we went to Hanoi and the famous Halong Bay. We only spent one night in Hanoi, checked out a water puppet show and had some tasty food. We took the 4 hour bus ride to Halong Bay and spent a night on one of the famous junk boats. It was gorgeous – the rock formations in the bay are quite unique, and there are hundreds of them. Sadly it is foggy 10 months out of the year, so you can’t see them all very clearly. We did get to go on one, inside a cool cave, kayak, swim, and do a little karaoke on the boat. Then we headed back to Hanoi, and the next day took a flight to Vientiane.

We just left Vientiane yesterday, so we plan on being here in Vang Vieng a few more days – need to do some tubing down the river and a bit more exploring. There is no rush, i’m enjoying the relaxed Laos vibe, friendly locals, beatiful countryside .. as well as the free wireless, the 50 cent mango shakes, $1 meals and beers. Then we head north to Luang Prabang, a day bus ride from here, then we’ll get into some more remote action in northern Laos. Then back to Thailand.

Beautiful Sapa

May 2nd, 2007

Still in Vietnam, and just got back from 10 beautiful days in Sapa. Mmmmm… Sapa. It’s a small town in the mountains north of Hanoi, and a must for anybody who goes to Vietnam – unless you hate mountains, fresh air, relaxed atmosphere, and colorful locals. We spent our days hiking around the hills and mountains, visiting waterfalls, renting moto-bikes and seeing the countryside, as well as sitting around inside reading on a few cloudy and rainy days. Yes, the weather was not perfect – but close. The people were great, too, except for the the “you buy from me?” we got from many local villagers who hang out on the street, in front of hotels and bars, trying to sell jewelry, arts, and crafts. Also, the food was not terrible, but definitely not great anywhere in sapa. But it has the cleanest air in vietnam, and definitely the best scenery. You really have to check out my flickr pictures tagged with Sapa to get a feel for it.

We didn’t plan on 10 days – we just happen to get up there before a big holiday weekend. April 30 is Liberation Day in Vietnam, where they were liberated from the Americans in 1975 (end of Vietnam war). The whole country gets 5 or 6 days off (maybe Thursday, and Friday-Tuesday), and everybody heads to the beach or to the mountains. When i asked vietnamese about the holidays, most didn’t really know what the holiday was for. I guess many americans don’t know labor day from memorial day – they are all just holidays.

The overnight train ride back to Hanoi was booked till after all those crazy kids left (i say crazy cuz all the male vietnamese were drunk the entire weekend) which made us do a 3 day 2 night homestay tour. And we’re both really glad we did – it was one of the most interesting parts of my entire trip. First night was in Ta Van, about 13km from Sapa down river, and the next night was another 15km or so down in a village called Ban Ho. They were 3 types of village people we saw, the H’mong, the Red Zao, and the Zai (not sure spelling). Most were H’mong, and i ended up buying a H’mong vest and pants. Our guide was On-Shee, a 17 year old H’mong girl who spoke quite good english (no education, just talking to tourists). Our homestay dinners were also the best food i’ve had in vietnam – 10-15 people sitting around 6-8 different dishes, all you can eat. Awww yeah. And the houses and beds were not that bad. Our view from our room at the Cat Cat Hotel was the best view in all of sapa, though. Definitely stay at that hotel if you’re going to make it to Sapa (thanks to Croan for tha tip).

Before Sapa we spent our time going up the coast of Vietnam. That was also quite nice. We were only in Saigon (HCMC, Ho Chi Minh City) for a couple days, then we spent 4 days in Mui Ne, a really nice beach town. We didn’t do much there, its a one road town with some nice resorts – just ate well, sat on the beach, swam a little bit, and relaxed. One hotel had a nice pool right by the water with the fastest wifi i’ve had in Asia. I love uploading pics, and i totally caught up there. Sihanoukville in Cambodia was the first time i got to chill, but not till Mui Ne did i felt like i caught up on my need to chill. Ya feel me?

After Mui Ne we spent 3 days in Hoi An, an old colonial city in central Vietnam. Yes, we skipped the beach town of Nha Trang – not interested in another semi-big city or snorkeling. Hoi An is known for good food, cheap, custom clothes, and colonial architecture. The city was a major trading stop between China and India/Europe for centuries. But the river is shallow, and about a hundred years ago the boats became too big to navigate the shallow river. As a result, Danang (just 100k north) became the trading city, and Hoi An froze in time. Shayna and i both bought some clothes here – i got a wool coat and she got a nice dress, shirt, and coat. All custom made for like $10 to $30. After Hoi An we worked our way to Hanoi, stopping for less than a day in Hue, which was quite nice. Saw the old citadel, an old pagoda, and got a better feel for some old school Vietnamese culture. We were only in Hanoi for a day before taking the night train to sapa. Ahhhh… Sa Pa … (every syl la bull is its own word here).

Tomorrow we do the famous Halong Bay, then Saturday we’re flying to Laos (Vientiene). We’ll prolly spend 2 weeks in Laos, then a week in Thailand before Shayna heads back to the good ol’ USA. Then i’ll prolly kick it in Thailand another week or two before India.

In Vietnam

April 9th, 2007

I made it to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. So far we’re just in Saigon, ahem, i mean Ho Chi Minh City (locals still call it Saigon), which is the biggest city in Vietnam (greater metro area about 9 million peeps). Parts of the city are as clean and modern as any american city, but not all parts – its still apparent you’re in SE Asia. It is much nicer than Cambodia, but suprisingly not always more expensive. You can get a nice big bowl of delicious Pho (beef noodle soup) for like 40 cents. And already we found a place that has draft beers for 25 cents .. way cheaper than Cambodia. Moped taxis are also slightly cheaper, but i’m sure i was paying a tourist surcharge for things in Cambodia. Rooms are more ($10 for a nice AC room), and many restaurants charge american prices. I’m not really on a budget, but Shayna is, so finding a good deal is always welcome.

Vietnam's Reunification Palace Our first night we hooked up with Shayna’s friend Kelly, from the states – she’s been living here over a year. She took us around to some eating, drinking and Karaoke spots. We met lots of locals and expats – their are alot of westerners here and they talk about how fast the city is growing and changing. The next day we slept in but the made it to the Royal palace (aka Reunification Palace). It was completed in 1966 but hasn’t been used or modified since 1975, when the war ended and the VC (north vietnam army) took over. It was interesting to be transported back in time to the 70s – the architecture of the place as well as seeing old radio equipment and helicopters and tanks. It was also interesting to learn how the Freedom Army Liberated Saigon from 1975. No civil war here, just the good Vietnamese versus the bad Americans and their Vietnamese sympathizers. After that i had some real tasty beef BBQ – i cooked the marinated beef right at the table. Besides the beef, the place had frog, crocodile, rats, crickets, snakes, and worms. Umm.. yeah.

Tomorrow we’re doing a tour of Mekong River, then the next day we’re leaving Saigon for the Vietnamese beach town of Mui Ne. Then we slowly work our way North (Hoi An, My Son) to Hanoi, Sapa, and Halong Bay, then to Laos after Vietnam.

Cambodia Done

April 9th, 2007

Cambodia was great.  We spent 15 days there, visited 4 cities, saw Anciet Ruins, villagers in the coutryside, the beach, and the busting city of Phenom Penh.  It is cheaper than Thailand, but not everywhere, and if you’re not careful you can pay american prices for things.  The people were really friendly, smiling while waving hello, especially the kids. There were kids everywhere – 40% of the population is under 15.  There was also plenty of expats and a few modern conveniences to remind you of home (yes, i enjoyed the big AC mall by the bus station in PP). There were some sad aspects – people missing limbs (from old land mines) and some general disfigurement, and they did hassle you for money alot, so it was not perfect, but not so much in your face that i had to leave.   I really only got annoyed when i was trying to relax on the beach and they kept coming up.  But at places like Angkor Wat, I was glad to have ones selling a cold drink (it was really hot the whole time in cambodia, april is like their hottest month).  There were lots of organizations trying to help cambodians – orphanages to businesses employing homeless are people who need help in one way or another.  It was good to be able to funnel money through something like that which you could trust, as opposed to a kid on the street, who get exploited by many adults.

To recap the journey, we spent 5 days in Siem Reap, getting 3-day pass to Angkor Wat.  I recommend the 3-day pass, but if you’re not a big fan of ruins, the 1-day pass would suffice.  We then do a boat to Battambang (boat was way more scenic than bus), spent a couple nights there, taking a khmer cooking class and a ride in the countryside, before heading south to the beach.  We spent 4 nights at Sihanoukville (the beach), mostly chilling and eating, then 4 nights in Phnom Penh, where we saw the killing fields and learned more about the horrible Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge.  Even though he lost control of the country in 1979, there was still fighting till 1993.  So it’s only been a little over a decade since cambodians have felt … free.  But the attitude is still live for the present.

My favorite things include the friendliness of the people – they’re always around, either trying to sell you something (usually bad), but good if you need something; obviously the magic of Angkor Wat, the good, cheap food; easy, cheap transportation; our clean beach room and nice sand; our beautiful lakeside place in Phnom Penh, and the monkeys of Wat Phnom.

If you’re going to SE Asia, definitely goto Cambodia.

Three Dollars

April 6th, 2007

Three .. is the magic number .. yes it is, its the magic number.

Greetings from Cambodia – Shayna and I are in Phnom Penh, the capital, and its great. We’ve spent about 2 weeks in Cambodia, first seeing Angkor Wat, then by boat to Battambang, a city most tourists don’t hit, then by bus down to the beaches of Sihanoukville. Our cooking class in Battambang was great, as was the countryside – seeing how most of Cambodians live. But the beach was my favorite – we stayed at a very nice guesthouse 50 meters from the beach, everything we needed was right there – white soft sand, clear ocean waters, cold beverages, Asian and western food, and lots of kids – both annoying by when selling but fun when they played with us. Shayna wrote more on her blog.

So what about 3 dollars? Well, lemme tell ya. Cambodia is cheap. Cheaper than Thailand and prolly anywhere else in the world. Here’s what you can get for 3 bucks:

  • Bus from the beach (Sihanoukville) to Phenom Penh (4 hours, actually $3.50)
  • Hotel room in one of the many lakeside guesthouses in Phnom Penh ($2-$4 a night)
  • Good Asian meal ($2) and a cold beer ($1) anywhere in Cambodia
  • Tuk-Tuk (taxi) to anywhere in any city ($1-$3)
  • 1-hour massage in Phnom Penh.
  • Most any book from street vendors
  • 2 CDs (albums) downloaded to your iPod from Boom Boom Room
  • 2 T-shirts from the Russian market (one Tiger beer, one Angkor beer)
  • many more …

So ya see, not a bad spot to live. Sadly, we leave in 2 days to goto Vietnam. But i hear they have great Pho!

In Cambodia

March 28th, 2007

I made it to Cambodia. My 5th Country on my RTW tour, after Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. So far we’ve only checked out western Cambodia, Siam Reap, and Angkor Wat – the largest religous structure in the world. Angkor Wat is actually one of many temples in the region, but also the name of the park housing all the temples. One of the others, Ta Prohm, was used in the filming of Tomb Raider. I definitely like Angkor Wat the best, its columns, hundreds of door frames, carvings, and sheer size – big enough to get lost in. But Ta Prohm was more interesting due to the jungle immediately surrounding it – trees are literally gorwing out and on the walls. At moments the tourists become overwhelming, you can barely walk, and at other moments you might not see any. Shayna was here in 2003 and would see only 30 people in all of Angkor Wat, whereas now you’re lukcy if you see less than 300 at any given time of day.

The town of Siam Reap is quite nice and more modern than expected – 10 years ago it was nothing more than huts and dirt roads, and now has dozens of high-end hotels, plenty more of the cheaper guest houses, western and cambodian bars and restaraunts, 24-hr ATMs, internet, at least 2 free wi-fi cafes (i’m at one called Figo right now), and markets where you can buy everything from mopends to rice, fish, shirts, and jewelry.

After Siam Reap we plan to head to Battambang and then the capital, Phnom Penh. Perhaps a detour to some Cambodian beaches, then its to the land of Vietnam for a month, then Laos, then back to Thailand.

BTW, I updated my Round the World Itinerary to arrive back in the USA at the end of July, instead of end of June.

Seven Weeks

March 28th, 2007

Here I am, traveling for seven weeks. That’s the longest I’ve ever been traveling without a home, and altho i’m not really homesick, i definitely notice a difference in the way i look at things. I lost some excitement, and i have more desire to chill. It’s only natural it would happen sometime, and it here it is.

Before this, the longest was 6 weeks in Europe in 1995. I went with my college buddies, and by the 5th week we were all like .. no more churches, no more castles, no more museums. Just a place to sit. Thats kinda how i feel now. However, Shayna just joined me last week, and she’s all siked to be traveling. Her energy in contrast with mine made it obvious to me that i do feel different than i did when i first left SF.

Specifically i want to slow things down more, spend more time thinking, reading, writing, exercising, and chilling. Normally traveling for me is see this, do that, most days full of action. Most days i love it. But these days i’m not loving it more.. just tolerating it. The other thing that sux is that i don’t get to regularly exercise. When i was a wee young lad, that didn’t matter, but as an old man, i get grumpy when my body is not taken care of. I can still drink and dance. In fact, that was some of my best moments in Bangkok – drinking, dancing, meeting people. No sightseeing. Just chilling and having fun. But here I am in Cambodia, seeing Angkor Wat, one of the coolest things ever, and i’m not too excited. So from here on out, i’m gonna switch up my game plan and start planning in more chill time.

So looking forward, we got a couple weeks in Cambodia, about a month in vietnam, 2-3 weeks in Laos, than back to thailand. Shayna goes home, and i head to India in june for about a month. Then a couple weeks in europe (maybe), then home by end of July. I hope to go from tolerating most days back to really loving them. I’m sure i will.

Australia Outback

March 20th, 2007

I orginally didn’t plan on heading to the middle of Australia, but then i decided i had to. I mean, why go all this way and not see the part of Australia that is really unique to Australia? It added a thousand bucks, 10 days, and definitely a worhwhile experience to my trip. Sarah and I booked a 6 day package tour thru Groovy Grapes that spent about 3-4 days in the middle, then the other days driving south to Adelaide. It was a fun trip, met some cool people, had a nice hot desert experience, learned about Indigenous culture, and saw one big ass rock – Uluru.

Uluru is the most recognized natural wonder in Australia. It was impressive, and i’m glad i saw it, but its not the most amazing thing i’ve ever seen. I appreciated learning about the indigenous tribes and the overall experience more .. sleeping under the stars, enduring the heat of the outback, getting pissed at hundreds of flies in my face for days, and doing hikes and walks around Uluru, Olgas, and Kings Canyon. Specifically the little swim in Kings Canyon was great – refreshing and unique. We also learned about 2 types of trees that are poisonous – thats right .. a splinter from the wrong tree and its off to the hospital. Australia is not the safest place in the world. You knew that.

The Groovy Grapes tour was totally fun – Joe, our driver, was a very easy going guy. Almost too easy for some – he would often be late in the mornings, but i’d much prefer that than to somebody who was strict on schedules. Our fellow travelers were all cool – everybody could take the heat and hiking with a smile, would help out with dinner, cleaning, loading the truck, and whatever else needed to be done. I liked sleeping under the stars in a swag (a durable sleeping bag thing). I’d also learned a few more drinking games. Coober Pedy was a nice bonus for the trip. I really liked all the underground stuff – the mines, the houses, our hotel, and the museum. But it was alot of driving, especially the last 2 days .. i’d say 2000 km the whole week.

The trip ended in Adelaide – not exactly the outback, but i’ll sum it up here as well. My last 3 days in Australia were in Adelaide, and it was nice. Our first night most of the groovy grapes crew went out, starting off at a thai place before having a few beers. At the thai place i finally ate kangaroo, and it was delicous – kinda like a nice cut of beef. Adelaide was the first time i felt no desire to see all i could see. I wanted to chill and enjoy myself – and i did. I stumbled upon the Future music festival – an all day DJ music event in the park. Green grass, lots of people watching, dancing, good music, and a few beers. Soo nice. The next few days i basically hung out, Sarah and i did a little exploring and had a nice Indian dinner as my last real meal in Australia.

Australia was great. A bit pricier that i expected, so i didn’t want to chill out there too much – much prefer to do that in SE Asia. I got roughly 3 months there , then a month in India, then it’s back to the USA (maybe a week in europe). Wish me luck in Thailand!

In Thailand

March 15th, 2007

Sawadee Krap! That’s Hello, in Thailand. I got here a couple nights ago and haven’t done anything. I’m staying with my friend chin, who moved here 3 years ago from SF. He lives south of downtown bangkok (about 9km as bird flies). I’ve just been chillin, catching up with some email, posting some pseudo blogs, uploading a couple pics, etc. I’ve also had the pleasure of eating some home-cooked thai food from his girl, .. oh, sooooo good. We even went out for lunch yesterday and had amazing papaya salad, some chicken/basil dish, some noodle dish with mushrooms, plus sticky rice, all we could eat, for about 25 baht each. 5 peeps. thats like 75 cents each in US. This is cheaper than most meals, but still, one of my best meals on the trip, and it was 75 cents. Damn thailand is cheap.

Now i just check out bangkok till Shayna arrives on tuesday night, the 20th. I can’t wait !!!