Monday, June 12, 2006

The start of a new adventure...
So I've decided to try and keep a travel blog, since throughout my lifetime I manage to do quite a bit abroad and I don't intend on stopping anytime soon. So that way you guys can keep in the know of my jet setting lifestyle :) I got this idea from my friend, Jane, who is travelling the world this year and dedicted to blogging. I'll try to sum up my past travel experiences, but before that I'll start with my first new adventure to SE Asia - Thailand and Cambodia.
I've been interested in going to SE Asia since the end of college. My long time friend, Jane, planned on being there in May/June in the midst of her travels, so I jumped at the opportunity to go. Finagling 2.5 weeks off from work, I met up with her for Thailand and Cambodia. I had a date (May 24,2006) and location (Bangkok, Thailand) to fly into and a date (June 11, 2006) and location (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) to fly out of. Inbetween we had rough plans, but anything goes!
First stop - back to old stomping grounds.
Narita Airport in Tokyo
My polar flight went from JFK to Tokyo (~14 hrs) and then from Tokyo to Bangkok (~5 hrs). I was thrilled to at least touch foot in Japan, a place very dear to me. I had mixed feelings from memories of 2 1/2 years ago when I packed my suitcase in one months notice and moved to Tokyo, but the second I landed in Narita, my Japan love was back. During my 3 hour lay over I amused myself with all that is Japanese.

YES! It was only $5.

And fond memories of the organized trash.

I wanted to stay in Tokyo but onward to BANGKOK!


OK, these posts will be mostly pictures since Jane keeps an extensive blog. So, for more details on our actual doings and more pics or just more world travel stories, definitely check out her blog A lot of the pics are the same, or just replace her with me, but that's because certain photos jsut really tell the story!

This bustling city has been developing rapidly in the past 15 years. Most of the buildings are still old, but extensive public transportation is in place and it is the hub for S.E. Asia to the rest of the world (in 2.5 weeks I came in and out of Bangkok 4 times!).

I get into town around midnight and am soooooo excited to see Jane!!! We haven't seen each other since Christmas and here we are re-uniting ... in Bangkok!

Everything is still hopping on Khoa-san road, the main crazy backpacker strip, which we unsuccessfully tried to avoid.

The next morning we get straight to business. Jane enjoying her roti (like flat indian type bread) and chicken curry. And note, since the food was sooo amazing, it gets a post all on its own, although it will inevitably show up here too.

DAY 1: mandatory tourism
We do the obligatory visit to the Grand Palace. Despite "Professors" telling us the Palace is closed and trying to send us off in a tuk-tuk (carriage-like thing pulled by a motorbike) to who knows where (never believe those guys!) and circumferencing the whole outer wall, we make it into the Palace. It is grand indeed. We've seen many, and this one definitely ranks high on the list.

The Grand Palace

The tile work is amazing. There is so many intricate details and it is well maintained by many workers daily.

A sign of good things to come.

We pop on over to Wat Po (Wat = temple) to see the famous reclining Buddha.
It's HUGE! And I thought Japan had big Buddhas. This is also the place to get a massage in Bangkok, but we hold out.

Ahhh, to relax forever.

DAY 2: Chatachuk Weekend Market
After patiently waiting in the middle of the street to flag down the public AIR-CON bus #3, we make the comfty 30 minute ride to the famous weekend market that has endless stalls of clothes, arts and crafts, food, plants, everything and anything you want and don't want. We spend the whole day there and were so overwhelmed that we forgot to even take a picture. Sorry!

but here's Jane showing off her new dress in our guesthouse. We actually couldn't fit into most of the clothes at the market, not to mention it was too hot to try on clothes. Thai people are tiny! And it probably didn't help that we were consuming coconut and sweetened condensed milk (it's in everything!) like there was no tomorrow.

Day 3: fleeing the city...
A two hour supposedly-air-con-but-clearly-not bus ride and tiniest tuk-tuk ever later, we were so glad to be out of the city and breathe fresh air. Our goal was to steer clear of big cities as much as possible, so we found safe haven in the small town of Kanchanaburi.

Our guesthouse complex (but not our room) was on the river front. Now this is the Thailand I imagined! Lush and green.

Home of the famous death railway which was built by POW from the Allied forces during WWII under Japanese orders to make a path from Burma to Thailand. Many lives were lost. Yes, it has a lot of historical significance, but really, it looks just like a bridge.

We venture into the local night market for our usual dinner fare. A little bit of this and a little bit of that = dinner and dessert for two for $2.

Day 4: ERAWAN National Park
The reason for coming out to Kanchanaburi is to make it to the gorgeous waterfalls. After standing on the side of the road to flag down the public bus (yes, again!) we catch it for the 2 hr ride into the mountains.

There are 7 different tiers of the falls and each one is quite unique and lovely.

Tier #2: and this, my friends, IS THAILAND!!!!!

We make it all the way up to tier #7 with a few hard falls.

If you can climb it, why not? The limestone made for easy gripping.

Back to tier #5 for swimming. Ahhh paradise! Well, only after these two old sketch Thai guys stopped staring at us and left and we could've done without the snappy fish, but who is to complain?


Day 5: In and out of Bangkok with a quick sneak at a Thai house
We spend 3 hours coming back in on a bus with ridiculously loud Thai karaoke music. We spend the afternoon at Jim Thompson's house, a guy from Deleware, who ended up in Thailand during the war and help start up the silk trade again.

Beautiful traditaional (albeit fancy) thai house and lovely gardens.

We take the overnight bus to Chiang Mai (10 hours long). We had to abort our train plans because of the terrible flooding in Northern Thailand.

The seats reclined pretty far back! We rode VIP baby! (Thanks for the travel pillow Mom!)

NOW... off to Northern Thailand for more adventures!!!


The main resason for coming to Chiang Mai was that it's a good base for trekking. We decided to add in an extra day so that we could take a cooking course too.

Day 6: We arrive at 7:30 in the morning go straight to our chosen guesthouse, Smile House, pick a suitable room and crash for two hours. We spend the afternoon checking out different trekking options, cooking courses, plane ticket options to get us to our next destination in Cambodia.

Now for some fun. Motor-biking!

Hey we had to get around the city somehow and there are no public busses :) It was manual and we had no clue how to ride one. But, don't worry mom and friends, we DID NOT crash. It was definitely a miracle considering all the other horror stories we heard. We were going 50 times slower than anyone else and always wore our helmets (which screamed WATCH OUT FOREIGNERS!). Because of our "sign" two Thai guys pulled up alongside us, and asked "Where are you from?" Are you kidding me? Are they trying to hit on us? Jane shouts back "WE ARE NOT TALKING WHILE ON THE MOTORBIKE!!!" and they zoomed off.

Me on the bike. We went to get massages at Let's Relax to alleviate the stress of the "death grip" on the motor bike and then the night market from some dinner and shopping.

TREKKING IN DOI INATHON: on elephants, with leeches, through rapids
Day 7-10: A group of 12 of us head off into the mountains led by our guide Doh for a 2 night 3 day hike.
First stop, elephant park.
Our elephant was mischievous and our guide was singing Thai pop music.

I actually got to ride on the elephants neck. It's surprisingly stable, though the skin is tough, spikey, hairy and dirty!

Feeding the elephant bananas after the ride. Jane wanted to me to get a nice peaceful looking picture, but it was hard! That trunk is big and quite nimble (when I was on the elephant my sunglasses flew off my head, and it picked them up off the ground with its trunk and handed it back to me! and also upon command, its trunk sprayed jane and i with water!)

Now for the hiking. After a long ride, we got dumped off on a dirt road and began to hike. River crossings and rice patties abound.

Rice patties.

Yes. I survived another river crossing. Jane makes me pose.

One of the unique things about this trek was seeing the local villages and staying in their huts. An infant from a Karen village. We asked for permission to take the pic so as to not steal their souls.

On top of the mountain at the first village we spent the night at.

All of us stayed in one hut. Thank goodness for mosquito nets.

Taking off on day #2 after a good night's rest. ahh, so optimistic before the uphills and the battle of the leeches during the afternoon.

Passing through the local village. This 78 year old was pounding and sorting rice for chickens, pigs and humans. It's hard work, but no work, no eat.

Leech destruction! Once you get them off with tobacco or oil (if you pull them off, the head stays in you!), you bleed and bleed.

Sharing a meal on our second night. The leeches bonded us pretty well. By dinner, we were swapping stories, playing cards, accents and advice. Do you choose outhouse #1 that has the largest spider you've ever seen with scary eyes? or outhouse #2 where the spider is dangling right above the hole in the ground?

Our third day started with....
Bamboo rafting: no easy feat. There were rapids and rocks and trees! Our claim to fame is that our guide lost not one, but two of his steering bamboo sticks, which left us to crash head first into a huge rock! Bamboo is strong. We did not sink.

To the right, you can see the sticks of bamboo which were assembled that morning and tied with some type of plant. hmmm... are we sure about this? Keep smiling... Michaela (before she nosed dived during the rock fiasco), Jane (glad that they added the extra stick on the side so we at least started off floating) and Gary (before a tree nearly whacked him off the raft).

After, our team is happy to survive!

Last stop, Wachiraton Falls. We were actually dodging the downpours, tired and dirty and just wanted to go back and shower!

COOKING mania farmside!

Day 11: OK, enough of being dirty and ghetto in the outdoors. Let's get in the kitchen! Our infactuation with Thai food naturally led to us taking a cooking course. How do they make this yummy stuff?

We cooked on this organic farm. Who could say no to that? We got to wear farmer's hat and taste herbs and vegetables picked right from fields.

Cutting up ingredients for green curry paste. My chopping skillz were below par and morter and pestle-ing was quite the workout. It's not easy!

in the kitchen. we met these great girls, Consuelo and Karly. Now if my kitchened looked like this, maybe I'd cook some more!

We liked Chiang Mai as a city. It's much calmer and intimate than Bangkok, but we only spent a day and a few evenings in the actual city. The things we did out of the city were absolutely fabulous!


After a pleasant one hour flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and a delightful 5 hr layover (we got into the Bangkok Airways Lounge!) we flew into Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is the hub for the famous Angkor Wat (which we deemed THE MOTHER OF ALL RUINS). You might recognize it from a little blockbuster film called Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But Angkor Wat is just one of the many magnificent crumbling temples from the Ankor Empire back in the 1200s. While these temples are all over Cambodia, many are clustered in the Siem Reap area. (so warning: many temples ahead. bear with me!) Day 12-15....


Jane and me at Angkor Wat
We woke up to catch the sunrise on our first day ... at 4 am. Yes, that's right folks. And this is suppose to be vacation?! A once in a life time opportunity and all that. It was so worth it!
Angkor Wat - you can see the 3 signature peaks. Everyone goes here for sunrise, but from other recommendations we continued on to ...
The Bayon... we apparently were a little too late for sunrise at 5:30 am, but we were the ONLY ones at this temple!! We had it ALL to ourselves! Nothing could be sweeter. Let the games begin...

Lara - saving the world!

It's not easy to save the world at 5 am!

Quick - before the sun fully rises!

Ahh... the faces, the hallmark of this temple, look upon the rise of a new day.

Faces present and past smiling together.

so peaceful. so magical. mission accomplished.

onward ...

We visited a lot of smaller temples too (Ta Prom shown). Since the area is naturally a jungle terrain, many of the temples had massive trees engulfing the ruins.

Exploring amongst the ruins (hmm, does that sign say do not climb?). Such in depth exploration will probably not be allowed in 10 years because of ppl like us running all over them. oops. quick, visit now!

well, by 11 am the first day we had already seen 4 temples and saved the world - we were pretty exhausted.

we weren't the only tired ones! while we climbed, our tuk-tuk driver napped.

but we were resting up for our first afternoon grand visit to .... (drum roll.....)

ANGKOR WAT!!! here she is in all her glory. We searched hard for this postcard perfect picture. The reflection pond is actually this rinky-dink pool of water off to the left maintained by an over-eating horse.

It was like Disnelyand inside! People everywhere. We even had to wait in line to get down. Um, I don't think you have to worry about landmines here anymore (Mom!).

so we did a little more clmbing, always being appropriately safe of course. (look - no rails!)

We actually ended up coming back the next day at off-peak hours and lo and behold .... we had the whole temple to ourselves practically. Score again!

Day #2 of templing:

we arose with the sun at 5:30am and ventured into the countryside where we passed by some traditional Cambodian looking homes on stilts (hmm, is this Angelina Jolie's hut? We don't think so.)

Banteay Samre temple, 30 km out of town, is known for it's intricate carvings

and also for the Jane-in-a-window painting.

Our favorite small temple. Each temple had something unique about it. This one had doors that got smaller and smaller and smaller. How far does the rabbit hole go?

Gazing intently upon the ruins for some clue.

By day 3 we were pretty templed out but we pressed on due to advice from our friend, Steph. We took an easy day, sleeping in until 7am. Although we went to the wrong temples (oops), we amused ourselves just fine.

Whoever told you that it was easy to climb a stone elephant?

morning nap.

Jane and I love trying to get a glimpse of real life in whatever country we are travelling in so we asked our driver to take us to the small local town of Ruluos.

the market is the center of town and no foreigners came by. we were definitley stared at, and probably laughed at, but we still wanted to check it out so our driver graciously showed us around. vegetables, fruits and fish abound.

And our driver even took us to his home to meet his family. We had an extensive conversation about Cambodia with his old one-large-toothed father-in-law who had surprisingly excellent English (very rare).

The neighbor's kids were shy at first, but once the camera was out they were all smiles. Deep down, kids are all alike in all countries.

OK, 3 days and 15+ temples .... it's time to TAKE OFF!

to Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital

WAIT! hold on. Prompted by Jane's reminder, i must say that before heading off to Phnom Penh, Jane and I did some pretty crazy shopping buying table cloths, scarves, purses, more scarves and skirts :) and then a few more scarves. hey, we are only coming to Cambodia once!

We took the risky bus ride. But luckily they finish paving the roads so the ride was brilliant not only to Rulous, but all the way to the capital!

PHNOM PENH: a crazy past and present

Day 16-18: This city was crowded, dirty, and overall pretty crazy. We were basically the only tourists in our ghetto part of town and were pretty exhuasted so we just wanted to hibernate, but we came to try and fathom a bit of history.

The killing fields. The main reason why we came to Phnom Penh is the visit the killing fields. From a short, but destructtive period of 1975-1979, Pol Pot led the cultural revolution with his group called the Khmer Rouge. Attracting a lot of youth to follow his twisted ways of an ideal peasant society, he led massive genocide on anyone who did not follow his regime.

At the Killing Fields, 12 km outside of the city. There were mass graves, big holes in the ground where hundreds of bodies were tossed in. The fields became a memorial in 1989. Bodies were dug up and skulls are displayed by age and gender.

Tuol sleng (aka S-21) was a public secondary school in the city that was converted into a prison/investigation area during the Khmer Rouge Regime. Of the 14,200 ppl who were imprisoned including men, women and children of all trades, only 7 survived.

On a lighter note...

The Royal Palace. Yes, every country out here has one. This one was OK. The famed silver pagoda with silver tiled floors wasn't that impressive. Maybe it was because we were tired, or maybe it was because the silver tiles were duck taped together. There just isn't the funds to really maintain these beautiful grounds.

People were very helpful in directing the way for us though.

They really like their king. He is on billboards everywhere, helping the people of course.

After seeing what we came for, Jane and I were ready to leave this city , but not ready to part our separate ways. We spent the last day chilling, enjoying our last moments together before I sadly headed off back to normal life in New York City and Jane continued on her adventure to Laos. It was a grand vacation full of many laughs, adventures and good company. If only it could've lasted longer...

Until next time ...