Monday, March 30, 2009

And so we move on to Vietnam...

After a week in Cambodia, we headed off to Vietnam- starting in the South and working our way North. We took a bus from Siem Reap, with a change in Phnom Penh all the way to Ho Chi Minh city, also known as Saigon. We used the same company as before- Mekong Express- and were happy again with the trip.

We stayed at a place called the Yellow House in the main part of the city- I do not recommend this place- very loud at night with lots of backpackers and fixtures coming off walls and doors. We only stayed 2 nights and then left to go to Danang, but would have found new accommodation otherwise.

While in Ho Chi Minh, all we did was go to the Cu Chi tunnels and to the War Remnants Museum. I recommend both of these things if you go to Saigon.
The Cu Chi tunnels are outside the city aways, we took a bus trip with the place the hotel booked us through which was fine. The tour was not long, but you get to climb in the tunnels that were used by the Vietnamese during the war as escapes and hiding places. Contrary to the statement that the people lived in these tunnels during the war, our guide informed us that this is not true, and I am inclined to believe him- the tunnels are too cramped and small for anyone to live in- an average person cannot even turn around in them- it's one way out for us taller people- and yes- I fall in to that category.

We also went to the War Remnants Museum (the tour from Cu Chi Tunnels will drop you here on your way back to town if you want, then you can make your own way back to your hotel) and so we wandered around this for a little over an hour. It's obviously got a different slant to the war in favor of Vietnam, but I think I still learned more about this war in my time here than I ever did in school. The atrocities in war are both expected and surprising, and they spared no feelings when they created the displays here- photographs of victims and stories create some distant mental images of what occurred here.

From Ho Chi Minh, we fly to Danang. It's really inexpensive to fly on Vietnam Airlines if you book more than a week in advance and saves you a lot of ground travel time. If you are going to stop along the way, I would do it in your journeys in Southern Vietnam, as there are a few towns that friends recommended as nice stops along the way, whereas from Hue to Hanoi (the northern half) there were no recommended stops from anyone.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


The sound of a cello is like listening to the echoes of heartstrings breaking from sorrow and the urgent need to help in times when you feel that each move you make barely makes a dent in the place you are trying to move from. I love this sound- heartwrenchingly sad, yet bringing from the depths of your soul such strong emotions that you can feel moved to make an effort towards change, to act.

On our last night in Siem Reap, we attended a free cello concert performed by Dr. Beat Richner, who runs the Children's hospitals throughout Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The man is amazing- he was first in Cambodia with the Red Cross as a volunteer when the Khmer Rouge first moved in and began to cause chaos. He left the country shortly after the conflict started, and when peace was later restored in the early 90's, he was asked by the government to return to Cambodia to build a children's hospital.

And thus Kantha Bopha was born. A foundation that started with one seemingly impossible task of building a children's hospital with western standards of medicine, that would be free to all children that came. This was a success and over the years, through the astounding management and planning of Dr. Richner and the generous donations of independent donors, he has built 5 hospitals and a maternity ward. The hospital we went to the concert at in Siem Reap is a beautifully designed building and is built for function as well. The hospitals have treated more than 8 million children through the years, and what's amazing is that 90% of their funding comes from private donors. Only 5% comes from the Cambodian government and 5% from the Swiss government. The hospital was rated by 2 independent agencies to determine it's effectiveness with regards to cost and results, and it is the highest rated hospital in the world- meaning the best treatment at the lowest cost. The hospital employs over 1,900 Cambodian employees, and has only 3 non-Cambodian staff. This alone is tremendous as the hospitals train the staff as well in their careers, and they are payed a fare wage, which is was keeps the hospital from becoming corrupt at all.

If you are in Siem Reap, I highly recommend being there on a Saturday evening so that you can attend this concert.

For more information...

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Favorite Photo

I took this in the Angkor Thom area- we were followed by these 2 young monks for a good while as we walked, and I got a few pictures with them in it. This is my favorite shot....

Beng Meleay

This temple is the furthest from town that we ventured to- about 60 K out of town. It's in a very quiet secluded area and is falling apart piece by piece. This temple is less regulated than the others, and so you are free to climb about and wander along the crumbling walls. Our guide led us through some pretty tight squeezes which I looked at and thought- yeah right- but we got through with a bit of maneuvering.

Recommendations for temple tours: I would recommend 3 days of temples total- you get tired of them after that. I would book the Angkor Discovery tour with the Villa as previously mentioned, but for the other 2 days I would not book the tours that we had done. Instead, I would hire a driver only (do this from the Villa as they are reliable) and just have them take you around to the temples I've listed here and any additional ones you'd like to go to. This will save you money, and really you don't learn a huge amount of info that I think is worth paying the guide for.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Banteay Srei

This temple is further out from town and I think is worth the visit, as it has some of the most elaborate and detailed carvings of the temples. I don't think you really need a tour guide for this one, so just hire a driver to take you out to look at it.

Ta Prohm

It seems like visiting the temple that Tomb Raider was filmed at would be a cheesy touristy thing to do and that it would be a real disappointment to see- right?- since we all know that movies make things out to be a lot more impressive than they tend to be. Well, Ta Prohm is the temple where Lara Croft had some of her adventures, and while it is not what is pictured in the movie- it was my favorite temple and is none the less impressive.

We did learn that the movie involved shooting at approximately 6 different locations in Siem Reap for the scene that looks like she is just in one temple, and there are really only about 2-3 shots from Ta Prohm- mostly of her climbing through holes in walls and the impressive trees around- some of the shots are in the photos here.

My favorite part about this temple are the trees- they are called Spung trees- and they are overtaking the temple inch by inch. It's amazing. The trees have been growing for hundreds of years- some seem to be causing the walls to crumble, others are the only thing holding the pieces together. Ta Prohm is a huge complex and you can easily wander around here for a hour or more. I highly recommend going to this temple.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do not try to pet the pretty pony...

This pony tried to kill me. I'm not kidding- Jim witnessed it- here I am wandering on up to the pony from the front and he's just eating and minding his own business and looking at me, then when I get to about 2 feet away from him, he decides he doesn't want to be bothered and starts grunting and turns around to kick me. I got out of the way and wandered off in time, but it's absurd that for something that a child might wander up to as well, that this pony is just wandering the Angkor Wat grounds as it pleases.

Beware the pretty ponies...

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom is a seperate complex from Angkor Wat. It houses several different temples which were used for different purposes.

Angkor Wat

If you don't have it on your list of places to go- add Angkor Wat- in big capital letters- and then star it and highlight it.

This place is amazing. An ancient atmosphere and marvel, the area around Siem Reap has more than 147 temples, of which you can actually only visit about a third of them. We spent 3 days wandering through temples, and only saw about a dozen. Which was plenty though, after a while you do get "templed out." I'll try to post these chronologically as we saw them, so there will be a few posts with temples. Some of these temples are built with sandstone- which is what you see the elaborate carvings done in, and then they also used bricks and lava rock as foundations. Some older temples are made entirely of brick. Some of the temples are based on Hindu beliefs and deities, others on Buddhist. We were fortunate to have cloudy skies which made it cooler, though the pics weren't as opportune. I'd rather it be cooler though.

Book a tour called "Angkor Discovery" with the Villa Siem Reap- it's a full day and will take you through most of the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom complexes- the guide speaks English and gives you a good amount of information in regards to the history of the temples- this is the day I recommend having a guide- it's much more interesting if you do. The tour includes a really good Khmer lunch at the villa as well.

Treak Village

Sojourn resort is located just outside of the main city of Siem Reap in a village called Treak Village. It's quiet and peaceful at night and you have the option of booking a walk with a guide through the village to learn more about everyday life. Da was our guide, an enthusiastic young man who found it quite hilarious that most of the questions he'd ask about things I had the answers to, while Jim was left with a blank look. Most of these questions revolved around what different plants were. I got more points than Jim in this game of Da's, though I think at some point in the end he gave Jim 20 points to trump mine for correctly answering one question. Cheating if you ask me.

Anyways, this tour is great because half the funds go towards funding different projects to either install water filters or to arrange trash removal from houses in the village. You can also donate directly to this cause, and it's great to see the results of this effort in the village itself.

Driving in Cambodia

All the same rules as Thailand apply except add these in:
1. If you are passing someone you politely honk your horn several times to tell them you are doing so.
2. If there is someone coming at you head on it's all about who honks louder and longer to get out of the way.
3. There are very few traffic lights, so if you are at an intersection, it's best to wait for a group of you that needs to cross at the same time- send the motobikes in first- I think the theory is that if they won't run over the little guys then of course they'll stop for the bigger ones.
4. We always stop for cows and dogs crossing- no need to honk.
5. Roads are more of a dirt path that's hoping to be a road someday- which means lots of potholes. This also means face protection for your eyes, and a support bra if you're a girl.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Killing Fields

On our second day in Phnom Penh we took a taxi out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The grounds are deceptively peaceful when you consider the history of this place. When Pol Pot came to power and during the rein of the Khmer Rouge, more then 3 million people were killed at the killing fields. They brought them here by the truck load and either immediately executed them, or they kept them in dark rooms in groups to wait to die because they were bringing in so many people at one time that they couldn't keep up with killing them. There were mass graves that were dug up later and hundreds of skulls were put in to this tower you see here as a remembrance to them. The grounds do not have many of the original structures but there are signs explaining what was once there and what happened.

I find it interesting that we learn so much about Hitler and the concentration camps in school when we are young, yet half as many people were killed during the 3 years that this was happening in Cambodia as were killed during WWII. And this was in the late 70's- something that we should definitely be more aware of. This was a sad thing to visit but I think important because it illustrates a huge portion of recent history in Cambodia. Our tour guide for Angkor Wat was in Siem Reap during this time frame and he lost his father and brother to this genocide. He said he was lucky to escape death because even though he was a student (which were killed off) he was not a high enough educated student so he wasn't killed. The Khmer Rouge killed off women, children, men, students, teachers, rich, poor- anyone that would be considered a threat to them- and anyone who thought capitalism was okay. They were essentially trying to kill free thought among the people.

Siem Reap

There will have to be several posts just to get all the pictures loaded from the time we have had in Siem Reap. This is one of the places I highly recommend getting to at some point in your life. We arrived on Tuesday after a 6 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh. This bus ride was note worthy for the following:
1. It was cheap- $11 with a company called Mekong Express- very good company to book with.
2. It was bizarre- the whole trip was spent listening to the driver honk the horn every few minutes at something in the road- which was quite loud on a bus. There was a tour guide who at random times would start to give you some information on what you were seeing- he did this all in Cambodian and then translated in to English. To add to this, there is a TV on the bus playing THE WORST karaoke videos you can imagine- horribly written songs, which thank goodness you can barely hear in the background- but reading the lyrics was painful. And the videos are all of one woman in a horrible 80's business casual outfit looking up in to the sky longingly. That's if the song is a love song. If her man cheated on her or left her, she's frolicking through the fields and doing ballet stretches on tractors in her business casual outfit. It was like a train wreck- you couldn't look away. We had a rest stop about half way through and then when we got back on the bus we got to watch Mr. Bean for the last couple hours.

We arrived in Siem Reap in the afternoon and our driver, Mr. Seng, was waiting at the station to take us to the hotel we had booked. Now I think that the hotel deserves a mention on it's own as well. We had originally tried to book at The Villa Siem Reap, but they did not have enough availability, so they offered for us to book at their new resort called Sojourn. The resort is a 5 star resort by all standards that I can tell, and the rooms are normally $200/night. We got a killer deal at $40 a night. It just opened in January, so I think they are trying to build a clientele, and we were more than happy to participate. :) I didn't really take any pics there so I am linking the website to this post for you to look at- it was amazing. There are 12 private bungalows- which were very big and had huge beds, a sitting area, and the bathrooms- wow- this is how you know you're in a 5 star resort- they were bigger than some rooms we've had and there was no spray hose by the toilet- only toilet paper. :) There was a huge bathtub with a waterfall faucet- so the water poured down one side of the tub to fill it, a separate shower and then a separate outdoor private shower. There is a pool with a swim up bar and the restaurant serves excellent food. So we splurged for a few nights- and it was so worth it. The staff was fantastic too! I cannot recommend this place enough if you can afford to stay there. It's out of the main city- out in the country and it's so nice and quite. Our first night there was an amazing lightening storm in the clouds we sat and watched during dinner. There are frogs and lizards on our porch at night, and the sounds of birds and cicadas all the time. Amazing.

We've spent the past few days doing tours with the Villa, so I will post those individually as I can- I've taken about 800 pictures in the past 3.5 days- so unless you've got a separate bank account that funds film development a digital is a must here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On to Cambodia

So we took an overnight bus from Koh Tao to Bangkok- it was the cheapest way to go and we went with Songserm. The company itself was fine- but I would not recommend the overnight bus- pay the extra to take the train. My first thought on the bus within a couple hours was "I'm too old for this s***." And since most of you know that I''m not that old, you can gauge where you fit on this scale of tolerance. :)
The bus was a bunch of 20-somethings drinking and being loud- some people asking them to be quiet and wanting to sleep- them being rude and not caring. On top of that, the bus reeked of the bathroom- outhouse smell for 7 hours is not a way to spend your night. And the seats weren't that comfortable- if you are tall- forget about it- your knees will get smashed by the person in front of you. We got in at about 4am to Bangkok, and thank goodness that Shanti let us check in to our room to get some sleep. We spent the rest of that day once we woke back up running some errands. Then to top it all off, I have no idea what we got or where or how- but we both got some kind of 24 hour stomach bug- So I spent most of Friday night up sick, and then it hit Jim sometime on Saturday, so we were both pretty miserable that day. I recovered by that evening, and he's finally better today.

We got to Cambodia yesterday- we took a flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh- which I recommend booking at least 7 days before you go and book with Air Asia- they were pretty inexpensive. You will have to pay baggage fees- so be prepared for that as well- pay them online in advance to get a discount- it's pricey to do it at the airport.

Arrival in Cambodia was interesting- it's a small airport- and they have you line up and hand over your passport, which then disappears down a line of officials that are going through them and stamping them. Then you get in a different line, and they call out the names as they are finished with them. So it's a funny sort of match the picture to the person next to you in the crowd while you wait for your turn. As for getting from the airport to the hotel- this is nothing like Thailand- there were 2 Tuk-tuk stands right as you exit the airport- they offer transport to the city centre for $7USD (though ours took us straight to the hotel- so i think it just depends on if they know where you are staying- get an address from your hotel and give it the the driver- most of them spoke decent English at the airport and the street system is pretty easy to explain an address.)

As for currency- it's interesting- everything in is US dollars, and so you'll want to bring small bills with you, ATM's give out US dollars, and the Cambodian currency- Riel- is used for change. So for example- our lunch bill was 9.50, so i got back a 10 dollar bill and then 2000 Riel as the change.

You can negotiate a tuk tuk ride just about anywhere in the main city for about 2- 2.5 dollars. These are safe to use in Phnom Penh (where as they are not recommended in Thailand).

We are staying at the Bright Lotus Guest House 1 which is very centrally located- we are across the street from the National Museum and the Royal Palace. It's a good place to stay- inexpensive and basic accommodation. We went to Wat Phnom today which is a small temple on the only hill in Phnom Penh. We got to feed Sam Bo the elephant some bananas- he was very cute! We also went to the National Museum, which will only take about an hour to see everything so don't plan for a whole afternoon like we did.

We then went to a store called NCDP handicrafts which sells good made by local artisans and supports local community organizations that provide the disabled and disenfranchised with training for future employment and business management as well as steady income. This is an excellent place to pick up gifts- high quality items that are beautiful and so well made. I'd tell you what I bought, but it's a surprise for some friends so you'll have to wait. :)

We also ate at a cafe called Friends which supports a local NGO as well- and the food is EXCELLENT! The service was great (on par with excellent service in the states), the kids are friendly, and it's for such a great cause, that I can't help but feel better just by knowing I'm supporting something worthwhile. They take street kids in and train them in the restaurants to give them a skill set for working. It's great to have a meal here and watch them work and see how much they are getting from this foundation. They seem to form strong friendships with each other as well. The Lonely Planet guide has a few restaurants that support NGO's- eat at them if you can. We're trying another tomorrow I think, so will report back on that as well.

We tried to go to the Royal Palace as well, but it's closed for the time we are in Phnom Penh for some random reason, so we won't get to see that.

Another thing- there are a lot of beggars and children either begging or selling things. Just prepare yourself for it if you come here. It's sad, but if you are going to give something, the lonely planet guide recommends food, or purchase something from them if you want- but don't just give money. The words "No Thank You" will come out of your mouth a hundred times a day either to the kids, beggars, or tuk tuk drivers. That's the way it is. The kids can be very persistent, a firm no is best, don't entertain the idea of purchasing something unless you actually might- they will keep coming back to you. There are dozens of charities and organizations that you can give money to instead- that is what I'd recommend.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Assorted Random Recommendations and Tips for Thailand

Travel Tip #17- Get a Western Digital My Passport Hard drive- they are incredibly small- fits in the palm of your hand- and you can get a 500 GB one for about $110-$130 dependent on the deal you can find on the internet. This is a great thing to transfer all your photos to as you go along.

Travel Tip #18- All outlets in Thailand will work with US plugs so don't worry about an adaptor.

Travel Tip #19- Go to the MKB shopping center in Bangkok when you get to Thailand. On one whole floor there is just cell phones and such- get a SIM card here for your phone. You will have to get the unlock code for your phone from your service provider- (if you're looking to purchase a new phone I would recommend getting a Sony Ericcson as they provide the unlock codes readily at no charge. Phones like the I-phone will not give this code to you.) Anyways, so once you get that code and how to do it- you can google the how to- then get a SIM card with a local Thai number- this cost me 200 baht- about $6. Then you can pick up a top up card at just about any 7-11 store and it's much cheaper to use this number to make calls- both local and international. It costs me about 3 cents a minute to call home with this card, and from what I can figure the local calls cost even less.

Travel Tip #20- Bring bug spray- and I don't think it matters what kind- make sure it's got Picaridin or Deet in it though- I don't know if I'm just sweating it all off, or if the mosquitoes just don't give a hoot, but I've been bit about 30 times so far. REI sells something called Jungle Juice and it's like 98% DEET- now I'm not sure what the effects of DEET will be in the future when they figure out it causes cancer like the butter flavored microwave popcorn- but I can tell you this- the Jungle juice ate through the paint on the table at the place we are staying- this freaks me out a little. So I'm using the Picaridin roll on that I brought now- they seem to work equally. I'm so sweaty all the time it probably doesn't matter.

Travel Tip #21- My FAVORITE skin care product is by a line called Dermalogica and it is called After Sun Repair- I recommend splurging on this if you tend to burn. It has ingredients that actually stop your DNA cells from altering which is what eventually leads to cancer as well as had feel good ingredients to help with the burn. And bring good sunscreen that's waterproof/sweatproof.

Travel Tip #22- Get a massage at least once- it's like $7 for an hour of a little Thai woman working out all the knots- it's awesome.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A point about our US Healthcare system- or lack there of

I just had to make a quick comment about the mess that our US health care system is- I could go on and on about this, but here is a very short example of how grossly overcharged we are and how obscene the costs are...

I went to the Red Cross here in Bangkok today to finish up my Rabies Vaccinations. First, you should know that I started the series in New Zealand before coming here because the exchange rate in New Zealand was so good when I got off the Ice that I decided to go all in and had several shots done over a week- I did Yellow Fever, Rabies Shots 1 and 2, Typhoid, and a Polio Booster. Now these are not required to travel here, but they are recommended. The shots and doctor visits cost me a total of $250 USD, if I had done them stateside it would have cost me a minimum of $600 dependent on where I went and how much the office visit fee was.

So I thought I got a killer deal on these right?

Well, I went to get my shot at the Red Cross here today for the 3rd one in the Rabies series and the office visit fee was 20 baht- that's about 75 cents. While I was sitting and waiting for the doctor, I looked at the list on the wall of other shots they offered. The Japanese Encephalitis shot which would cost me about $250 per shot stateside, was 450 baht- that's about $13.
The Rabies shot was 350 baht- about $10 (this is $130 in the states.)
And the one that totally blew me away- last year I looked in to getting the Guardasil vaccine against HPV (it can cause cervical cancer)- When I priced this with the county health department and Planned Parenthood- the 2 places that would be the least expensive- it was $500 per shot, plus the office visits. The shot is about $100 here. This is also a series of 3 shots, so I had the first one done here and will be able to get the second before I leave. The third I'll have to take care of later, but as another separate travel tip- if you can wait to get any immunizations here, do.
Plan accordingly and several shots that are only 1 booster or 1 shot I would wait and have done here.

Rules for Driving in Bangkok

DO NOT- I REPEAT- DO NOT even think of attempting to drive in Bangkok. I think I have witnessed how I would die in a traffic accident at least 5 times per taxi ride. I don't know what traffic laws there are here- but they seem to be something like this-

1. I think I can fit through there let's try and see (there will be less than a couple inches to spare on either side.
2. I need to get down this road a little faster than I'm moving right now- as long as there are no cars for the moment because the light is red I can drive on the wrong side of the road.
3. I need to change lanes- you all better get out of my way or I'll just merge in to the side of you.
4. I'm on a scooter- I can fit anywhere!
5. Pedestrians don't have any rights- much less the right of way- HA!
6. Lanes are more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule- and they are only as wide as they need to be- no leeway.
7. Stopping on the train tracks- no big deal.
8. Light just turned green- better hit top speed as fast as I can or I'll get crushed by those behind me.
9. If there are speed limits- I have no idea what they are.
10. Last but not least- as long as there are no accidents- anything goes.

I think you have to either have nerves of steel or be on some kind of herbal relaxant to drive in this city, but I guess you'd get used to it after awhile. Amazingly enough, I haven't seen a single accident. And the cars are all in pretty good shape and they are mostly new. So I guess it works. But as for me- I'll stick to paying the 2 bucks to get just about anywhere I want.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Koh Tao

Life is real rough here on Koh Tao. Ha! This island is beautiful! We came here so Jim could do his open water diving certification- which he is off finishing up today. Since I have an irrational fear of things touching me in the water- I have not ventured to go diving, but I did go abseiling and rock climbing yesterday instead with the only company on the island that does this- Good Times Adventures. The company does a ton of non-standard stuff around the island, it's owned by one guy Tim- was started by a group of them that worked together at another dive company on the island. They didn't like the way things were run everywhere else- same sites, same times, overcrowded, etc. So they opened up their own place- they don't dive at the same times as everyone else, they don't offer courses in diving- so it's just for fun, and they do the climbing and some other things as well. And their days always end with a cold beer. :)

So I booked the Up and Over day trip and it was great! The abseiling was awesome! 35 meters hanging in the air above the ground on just a rope- I love it! It's a slow week here- so it was just me and the guide, Slade, for the morning- which was spent abseiling off of 2 boulders down in to the jungle below. I didn't get pics of this- I should have but probably would've dropped my camera so it's probably better I didn't. The first abseil was about 20 meters, and was spent launching myself off the rock and letting out my rope to drop down. The second abseil was my favorite- I went by myself, and so Slade was at the bottom controlling the rope as a back-up and so as soon as I was hanging in the air, he'd have me let go of the rope and then he'd have control of it and so I got to free fall about 20 meters on the rope which was really fun. I also got to lay back and hang upside down to view the world from a different perspective. :) The afternoon was spent with a different guide, Andre- who is very funny- and I was joined by another guy- Matt from England- and we went climbing. I banged up my knees, my feet and fingers hurt, and my body aches- but it was awesome. I climbed 5 routes- ranging from about a 10-7 to a 10-9, faces and cracks, again not many pics- but oh well. The pic on here of me climbing was the last route of the day and it was tiresome and hard- I had to get to that position that I was at which is about 2 meters off the ground in about 3 moves- one of which is me sideways (both my hands were where my left foot is and my right foot was still where it was on the rock and i had to get my left foot up to where my hands were- very tiresome since it took me a dozen tries and falls.) Other pics are views from the top of the island where I was climbing at and the local weather forecast system at the scuba place Jim is taking lessons with.

Travel Tip # 9- The island is small- roads are crappy- taxi drivers are everywhere but I haven't used a single one except with the company up to the top of the mountain for climbing- which was a scary climb up- insane. Anyways, you can walk any distance from Mae Haad beach up to Sairee beach in about 20 minutes- it's not far. If you want to go elsewhere, you'll probably want to use a taxi. You can rent a motorbike if you want to- but be very careful on the steep slopes up any hill. Also, if you are coming up on a dog laying in the road- there is a 99% chance that he could care less and is not going to move, try honking, but be prepared to swerve around them.

Travel Tip #10- Pick up the Sabaji Jai booklet- its' floating around different places- has maps of the island and lots of info- this is where I found Good Times Adventures in- this book has lots of ethical/eco/responsible companies on the island listed in it. I got mine at the Cappuccino Bakery on the Main Road- very yummy frozen lattes here- get one!

Travel Tip #11- We stayed at Utopia Suites, which is about a 2 minute walk from the Pier on the south end of Mae Haad- great place- big room with A/C- Tick is the manager and she speaks English. The place wasn't busy when we checked in so she upgraded our room for free. There was lovely acoustic guitar and sax playing in the restaurant one evening and we opened up the windows to listen to the music waft up from downstairs. Also, the along the road to Utopia Suites are the best places to use the internet as it's cheapest here (1 baht/minute) everywhere else is 2 baht/minute. I recommend the one further down the road from the main road with the sign that says it's internet is via satellite- this place seems to have the most reliable and quick connection- and I've tried 4 places.

Travel Tip #12- We didn't go to the Full Moon Party (we got here right after it) but I did ask around about it. It's basically a big drunken (some drugs) party on a beach at a nearby island. It's very popular among younger crowds- but I've heard that the Black Moon party is much more what the Full Moon used to be like. I would check out the Black Moon party if we were here longer, but we won't get to it. I've been told by some people to be sure to make it to the Full Moon party to check out. So I guess it's really a preference thing. There is a Underwater Festival from March 21-23 (which we'll miss) that looks interesting if you are around for that. If you are coming during the Full Moon party- I'd book well in advance for a place to stay as they are very busy. If you come a few days after- places are much slower- Jim is having a private open water diving course right now.

Travel Tip #13- Eat at Zanzi Bar if you want an awesome and HUGE sandwich. They have a huge menu- and it's SOOO good! On the main road in the Sairee Beach area.

Travel Tip #14- Have a pancake at one of the stands pictured here- it's a dessert type thing- I had the one with Nutella and Banana- good stuff! Be warned- I'm sure that this is not the healthiest thing since I think it's fried in some kind of butter lard looking stuff. :) You can get a mixed fruit shake at several street stalls for about 40 baht- which is about a $1- a nice and refreshing treat.

Travel Tip #15- we ate dinner at Baan Yai for dinner one night (along the road from the pier towards Utopia suites) this is in the lonely planet book- I had the Pad Sai Ewe (I think that's spelled wrong but it's close) and it was so good!

Travel Tip #16- The tourism industryon this island is pretty much here to cater to the diver- there has to be at least 25 places you can book with for diving, probably the same number for round the island boat tours, scuba trips, etc. They pretty much all offer the same kinds of things. I would pick one of the companies listed in Sabai Jai since they are more eco/ethically inclined- make sure that the company you go with has a good reputation- there are schools listed in Lonely Planet and Rough Guides that have been checked out. Also, if you are doing a dive course, you can typically get cheap accomodation with the school you book with- this might be very basic- ask them what it is. Also, there are very few bungalows that actually sit right on the beach and look out over it- most resorts have bungalows that go from the beach- inland at right angles, so they are very close to the beach- but chances of a beach view are more slim.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ko Samui and An Thong Marine Park

So we took a overnight train/bus/boat from Bangkok to Ko Samui on 3/11. This was fine, except I would recommend earplugs for the train and take something to knock yourself out- it's a pretty bumpy ride. Using the squat toilet on a moving train was a little bit of a challenge, but there is also a toilet (which i discovered later) in the opposite stall. While on Ko Samui, we stayed on Bophut Beach at the Sandy Resort (see tip 8 below.) We did go to the Fisherman's Village for a night and had dinner at Baia which was good- thin crust pizza and gelato- mmm....
We pretty much layed around and worked on our tans, or in Jim's case- a burn that is bringing out more freckles- but we did make it out to An Thong Marine Park for a day- which I recommend. An Thong is made up of I think 42 Islands and is about 1.5 hours by boat from Na Thon. We went with High Seas Highway Travel which was a good company. We kayaked, snorkels, and did a couple hikes to see some things- a cave and the Emerald Lake. Very pretty area.
Also, I HIGHLY recommend splurging and having dinner at Zazen- this was one of the best meals I've had. It was more expensive- I had the Goat Cheese Salad- which had lavender and blueberry dressing- SO GOOD!! Dessert was unbelievable- I should have taken a picture- I had the Vulcano Chocolate Fondant- basically a small chocolate lava cake and violet ice cream (YUM!) and some fancy chocolate swirl pieces and sugar work and a truffle and some kind of sauce- I'm still thinking about it obviously. Jim had some kind of Thia dish that was minced chicken and slightly spicy and then creme brulee- also both very good.

Travel Tip #7: Songserm was the company that did the bus/boat portion of our trip- they were very efficient and I'd recommend them. They had a few guides on the bus that met us at the train terminal and told us which bus to load on, they then explained where we were going and how long the individual portions of the trip would be. They can arrange transport once you reach Na Thon in Ko Samui as well to your individual accommodations for 150 baht on a minibus which I think is one of the cheaper ways to go and you can avoid any of the hassle of dealing with the taxi drivers at the pier.

Travel Tip# 8: We stayed at a Sandy Resort, which is right on the beach, they have a decent restaurant and the bungalows with A/C were a good deal- the bathrooms are older tile, and there are ants- but from what I can figure you'd probably have ants anywhere. We sprayed them down in the bathroom and that seemed to eliminate most of them. You can stay in more expensive places and they are probably nicer, but you'll get what you pay for for the most part. Oma at the front desk is very helpful- they can book pretty much anything you need- she took care of our An Thong tour as well as our boat tickets from Ko Samui to Ko Tao.

What Ever Happened to Your Bread Crusts that Mom Cut Off Your Sandwich?

We walked by these stands selling bags of bread crusts and loaf ends and I wasn't sure what they were for, until the next day when we went to board the water taxi and it turns out this must be their version of "feeding the ducks." You can buy the bags of bread to feed the fish in the river- and you would not believe the number of fish that appear when you throw in some bread crusts.

Evening Pics from the Water Taxi

So I'm trying my best to post chronologically on my blog, but some pics are loading faster than others, so I think that this plan may be more of a general by week outline rather than by day. :) These are some pics of buildings and temples from our water taxi back to the Shanti Lodge in Bangkok at sunset.

Wat Pho

This is the temple of the Gigantic Reclinging Buddha- and they do mean gigantic. It's the full length of this temple and it probably stands a good 20+ feet high and he's laying on his side, so the length is easily 100+feet I would think. The entire thing is coverred in gold and the bottom of his feet are covered in intricate mother of pearl work. The gruonds are quite beautiful as well and have several different buildings. There is also a well known school located on the premises that is famous for thai massage as well.

The Jim Thompson House

If you're not familiar with who Jim Thompson is, you should google him- an interesting guy. He is basically responsible for the bringing to the mainstream market Thai Silk. He built some very beautiful houses from teak and they have been relocated to this site we went to, and they also have a store which sells Jim Thompson silk products. He disappeared mysteriously in 1967 which according to the Chinese Astrology charts was an unlucky year for him in which he should be careful, obviously that didn't work out for him. Here's a couple links with more info...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Grand Palace

Wow it's hot and humid here. I'm dripping sweat as we speak- and it's the cool part of the day. Today we went to the Grand Palace and then also to Jim Thompson's House- both of which are amazing and you must put on your to do list if you come here. I'm trying to get pics to upload right now, but they are taking awhile, so you may only get to see a few for now.

(Jen and Dean- hope these notes help you out some for your trip :)

Travel Tip #4: If you are on your way to a major tourist site, you will inevitably be stopped by a tuk-tuk driver of some sort and they will ask you where you are going, they will then insist that the place you are going is closed- they are lying. Always walk to the place you are going to and find out for yourself- it's a rare occasion that these places are closed. The drivers are trying to get you to go with them instead.

Travel Tip #5: Carry a handkerchief with you to wipe the sweat off of your face and neck- it helps.

Travel Tip #6: Buy a pass for the Skytrain- you'll use this to get around quite a bit, and use the water taxi's- we seem to be using the one with the orange flag a lot. Cheap and efficient to get around to several places.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


So the start of this trip was in LA, and when I got in, Jim picked me up along with Taryn who got in that same day so we had lunch together and hung out for a bit. I love seeing friends off the ice- it's so great. Taryn caught a train that day to head to San Diego, and Jim and I spent some time with his parents who had flown in to see him. We ran some errands, mostly hunting down drugs for me since I managed to get sick in the past few days and am fighting off the remnants of it still. We left LA and after 18 hours of flights, made it to Bangkok. Our flights were good- a little behind schedule because of bad weather at the Tokyo airport, but this was more than made up for by the fact that we got to go in to the lounge at the airport for the first flight- which was really nice! Then we got upgraded on our flight from Tokyo to Bangkok to business class- oh my goodness there was so much room to spread out- i just slept the whole way!! I think this has to do with our platinum status with American Airlines, I'm not sure, but I'm not asking either. :) We got to our hotel at 0200 in the morning after getting scammed by the taxi driver- oh well- lesson learned. There is no visa fee right now which I guess balances that out. :) Travel tip #1: for those of you coming here- take the metered taxi- and don't just hop in one that tells you he is metered- they are clearly marked on top of the car if they are metered or not. There are a few different companies- one is green and yellow, another is pink, another is red- we've used a couple and they all seem fine to me as long as they know where you are going. That's the hardest part- the language barrier- it makes me a little mentally exhausted by the end of the day, but we'll get there. Yesterday we just went and picked up a SIM card for my phone to get me a local number and then went and saw a movie- the Watchmen- which was pretty good. Wandered around a shopping center for a bit, and then came back to the hotel to take a nap and have dinner- well we took a nap- we never made it to dinner- and about 13 hours later we emerged to get breakfast and here I am at the computer now. I think we're caught up on some of our sleep now. Off to Chatuchak market today and maybe the Grand Palace. Pics to come as I take some... I may be posting and then uploading pics later.
Travel Tip #2: Stay at the Shanti Lodge in Bangkok- fantastic place- thanks to those who recommended it! Good food, and the staff mostly speak english and are super helpful! They can book most things for you- they took care of our train tickets to Ko Samui for us, and then we got out visa to Vietnam taken care of by them too- plan for 72 hours for the 2 day service since it won't get back to you til the evening of the 2nd day which you might be leaving before it arrives.
Trvel Tip #3: Get a business card with directions from the place you are staying at to give to your taxi driver when you need to get back to where you are staying- this makes it much easier as they rarely speak english.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Short Visit

I made it to Utah for a few days to see some very close friends of mine. It was a whirlwind visit and my sleep schedule is all sorts of hosed up, but I'm so glad I got some time with all of them. The few days I was here were spent unpacking bags, packing bags, moving Kristin and Enoch in to their new house, running errands, seeing a few other friends, playing some games, laughing a lot, and catching up as much as possible over the 72 hours I had with them all. I'm off to LA for the start of my 12 weeks in Southeast Asia tomorrow morning!! Thanks to everyone who crammed in some quality time with me while I was here!