Monday, April 28, 2008

Before we left Bangkok

We had to stop by the weekend market for a tasty snack...

...How about some grub worms and grasshoppers?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In And Out

Pretty much sums up our time in Siem Reap, Cambodia...

After flying in from Bangkok we checked into our hostel. And usually I wouldn't even mention a small detail like that, except that it is the best hostel we've stayed in to date! We're talking spacious rooms, air-conditioning, clean bathrooms, a pool, home theater (right next to the pool), and free breakfast buffet! All for 10$ a in luxury at The Siem Reap Hostel!

Anyway, because we arrived in the evening, sight-seeing was out the question. So we did what we do best whenever we first arrive in a new place...walk around and ultimately get lost, then find our way back. We also booked a Tuk-Tuk ( and driver to take us to Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding temples. We heard the best time to view Angkor is at sunrise... needless to say we took it easy that night.

There's nothing like waking up, riding in a tuk-tuk, wind in your hair... and still too early for the rising sun. However, when the sun did come up, we were lucky enough to be in the temple and it was beautiful. I don't know too much about it, and instead of just copying what other people say read about here We stayed at Angkor for at least couple of hours exploring the maze of hallways and smaller rooms. The hand carved reliefs on the walls were so expertly carved that even 800 years later their detail hasn't been lost.

After Angkor Wat we moved on and saw some more temples in the area. We lasted until about 2:00. Its easy to get "templed out" after seeing just a few of them. So we called it a day, and headed back to our luxurious hostel.

The next day, our final full day in Siem Reap, we saw some more temples and visited the Land Mine Museum. Cambodia's lands are riddled with un-detonated land mines, from the civil war only 30 years ago; now injuring and killing civilians. Even while walking around town you notice the high percentage of locals missing arms and legs.

That night we had some of the local food, checked out a Snooker Hall (still don't know how to play) and got some sleep. And so concludes our adventures in Cambodia.
With no time to spare we left the next morning... back to Bangkok!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Budhas, Baht, and Boxing

Welcome to Thailand!

Will and I decided after Bangkok, we would head north to Chiang Mai, check that out, then make our way south seeing some places along the way. However, true to form, we started talking to some people that recommended going across the border into Cambodia and seeing Angkor Wat, a huge 1km x 1km temple built in the 12th century (a post soon to come).

We were lucky enough to arrive during Thailand's New Year, Songkran. Its a massive country-wide celebration of partying in the streets, throwing buckets of water on people and smearing others' faces with concoction of chalk tablets and water. You can only imagine what are reactions were upon our arrival into Bangkok when we see the people, painted white faces, showering each other with buckets of water... "uhhh, is this what they do in Bangkok!?"

During our stay in the country's capital, we were able to visit many temples (unfortunately after a while they all start to look the same). The most memorable had to be the Reclining Budha, a 50m long golden Budha which almost looked too big for its temple housing. We cruised down the Chao Phraya River in the public ferries, shopped the local markets for knock-off band name clothes, and ate our fair share of Thai cuisine.

Example: One night Will and I decide to dine at a little street cafe for dinner. The food was amazing, spicier than anything I've ever had before, but delicious! We're sitting at the table in the outside dining area (the sidewalk) finishing up our beers, when we see a man on a strange bicycle roll up, honking a horn, and stops literally in front of us. Before we know what he's doing, a line of people line up in front of him, money in hand and a mysterious eagerness in their eye. We examine more closely his choice of transportation and realize on the side of the bicycle is a rack... a rack of dried salted squid of various sizes! And behind the seat is a small table and cook pot with burning coals fastened to the frame. We intently watch the first sale...

Money is exchanged, a brief conversation is spoken, designating which size squid the customer prefers. The driver/ salesman/ chef, then heats up several squids over the pot of coals, lays them on the table, runs them through a hand cranked roller to flatten them, places them on a plate with a delectable chili sauce, and Voila!... Squid Chips!... delivered right to you!

Obviously, we're not going to pass up this opportunity to try this tasty little snack that apparently is quite popular to the locals, given by the line of people awaiting their plates.
After the line diminished in size we motioned to the man that we too would like to order, we choose our size squids, a choice between S, M, L, XL... we chose small. Again the process starts, and before we know it, on our table is a freshly (sort of) prepared squid chip snack.
Together, oceanic chip in hand... "cheers!"... chewing... facial expressions of displeasure (but not disgust)... chewing... swallowing... frantically searching for a beverage... gulping down the little beer we had left... "...That wasn't that bad." "Yeah, not bad at all, you want another?" "No!" "Ok, good, me either..."

And so goes the Bangkok Squid Chip story...

2 days later we left Bangkok for Chiang Mai via the night train. For about 20$ you ca get a nice bed in an air-conditioned car ( almost a necessity in the hot tropical humidity) for the 10 hour journey. For a fee you can also be served food and drink. So my first night train experience was quite pleasurable.
We walked around our first day in Chiang Mai and quickly found that walking in the heat caused an excessive amount of perspiration that was neither pleasant for us or the people we were around. And that the city is spread out so much that everyone else either drives a car or a motorbike causing the congested roads to virtually un-crossable (cross walks... what are those?).

It was only natural that we made the decision to rent motorbikes... check out the previous post and watch the video. Using my digital camera, some borrowed duct tape, my helmet, and a little bit of engineering skill, we had a helmet cam... and a source of entertainment for our visit!

Driving in Chiang Mai is just short of sheer madness. People on motorbikes swerving around other motorbikes and cars, pedestrians, the occasional farm animal (cow, chicken, dog...). The streets have designated lines, but no one pays attention to them, as goes traffic lights during rush hour (you kind of just have to go with the flow).

The motorbikes were also our transportation while there. We went exploring one day, about an hour and half out of the city. We started out on main roads, then it narrowed into a mountainous one lane paved road, and finally into a 6 ft. wide dirt trail. We stumbled across a coffee farm. We drank a cup of fresh coffee while admiring the view of the same farm where the coffee was harvested (you don't get that opportunity too often). That was the same day that I ended up with a flat tire and had to travel back in forth 2 extra times on the back of a mechanics motorbike... but that's a story for another time.

The Thai Massage Experience: Unlike a Swedish Massage that is intended to relax the subject, a Thai Massage is used to stretch and loosen the muscles. It consists of the Masseuse aiding (sometimes forcing) your body to stretch itself out, while using oils and an IcyHot like substance. Now we didn't want our Thai Massage in just any old place, we wanted it to be done with character.... So where did we go? Why the local Chiang Mai Women's Prison, of course!

Now, its not what you think. Its actually quite nice. The prison has a program for its inmates that are being released in the next 6 months to be trained in Thai Massage and can use it as a means of making money upon their release (I now consider myself an International Philanthropist). So for almost 2 hours I was twisted, stretched, and pounded by elbows, feet, and fists. And when it was all said and done... I felt like I had gotten beat up (surprise surprise). I have never been so limber like that in all my life. My flexibility had improved dramatically in the course of 2 hours!.. albeit I was sore for the next couple of days, but that's why the locals consistently get them.

Cooking School: Another little activity we participated in was The Thai Cookery School. For a whole day we were introduced to the culinary world of Thai cuisine. We started off at the morning market, each of us in the class was instructed to pick out 1 or 2 ingredients after a brief lesson in vegetables, fruits, and meats. I picked out some of the best kale and bananas you could ever imagine. Once the shopping had been completed we headed back to the "classroom", was given a lecture and demonstration how to prepare our first dish, rice noodles and vegetables. Then it was our turn!...Surprisingly, mine turned out very well. And for the rest of the day we made 5 more dishes, spicy prawn salad, chicken with cashew nuts, steamed fish in banana leaves, yellow curry with chicken and bananas in coconut milk. All of which turned out to be delicious... although i have the sneaking suspicion that when i try to duplicate these dishes at home the results will vary...

Muay Thai Boxing: Nothing like a good ol' boxing match... Thai style! Kicks and knees are allowed as well as fists. We were a little worried when the first match was between 2 boys no older than 11 or 12... "uhh, is this legal?" But eventually the matches moved beyond the realm of "little league" boxing into the real deal. And one of the best "between match entertainment" we saw was 4 person blind folded boxing. Pure genius! No other time have I seen 4 people frantically swinging punches and kicking, sometimes connecting with another contestant that almost every time would come as a complete surprise. The final match, the best of the night, was an intense 5 round spectacle. And yes, there was some money put down, just like the Van Damme movies (Chris, you owe me 100 Baht).

Chiang Mai quickly came and went, and before we knew it we were back in Bangkok... impulsively at the ticket counter buying a plane ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

... next post!

Monday, April 21, 2008

For 5$ a day...

You'd be crazy not to rent motorbikes...

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Monday, April 14, 2008

Not even 2 hours into Thailand...

... I'm standing amidst hundreds of people shooting water guns and smearing my face with a white paste.
Happy Thai New Year!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Down Under, and Way Down Under

3 weeks in Australia is not nearly enough time for this beautiful and amazing country. But we did our best, and had a great time doing it!

We started out in Sydney, and spent a couple of days exploring the city. We walked through some of the streets, briefly experienced King's Cross, saw the Botanical Gardens, had a beach day at Manly beach, and of course visited the Opera House.

The Opera House, Sydney's number 1 icon was beautiful. Set upon the backdrop of the Sydney Harbor and the Harbor Bridge, it has become a major cultural destination for tourists and locals alike. The square is filled with hundreds of people, taking pictures, walking around, and just admiring the beautiful views. It was a fantastic place to get a beer at one of the cafes and relax.

After Lindsay arrived, the Australia team was complete. We flew from Sydney north to the eastcoast city of Townsville. Here we disembarqued for a 4 day 3 night scuba diving excursion to The Great Barrier Reef and the SS Yongala, considered to be one of the world's greatest wreck dives.

Our vessel for this trip, the Sea-Esta, was anything but a relaxing afternoon nap...a little rough around the edges, but that's what gives it character. And the crew and the dives definitely made up for it. It was 2 full days of diving, starting out in the early morning and ending with a night dive in the evening. With each dive we saw crazier and crazier marine life, tons of different fish species, white tipped shark, eel, rays (one at least 1 1/2 meters in diameter that almost razzed William... when marine photography goes horribly wrong...), sea snakes, sea turtles, dolphin, and yes even a nudibranc and a wobbegong (go ahead, just ask me what they are...)

The final day of diving was 2 dives on the Yongala. For some reason everything here is bigger, the sea turtles were massive, sea snakes twice as long as we had seen before, and yes, we even got to see V-dubs.... the groper that got its name because....well, he's the size of a VW bug! The Yongala dives were amazing and a great finale for the diving trip. After getting back to land, taking some time to get our land legs back, we caught up with the crew got some drinks and said our good-byes.

From Townsville, we drove south to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands; 74 of the most beautiful islands I've ever seen. But before we got too far we made a quick stop at the Billabong Wildlife sanctuary. What could be any better than getting to hand feed some open range kangaroos, hold a koala, see some sleeping wombats, and view a crocodile feeding!?

We got some good beach time at the Whitsundays, all of us getting burned at some point or another, with some inconclusive results on the "tan-off" competition. We toured the islands by yacht one day, exploring Whitehaven Beach, the jewel of the Whitsundays, with the some of the purest sand in the world, 98% silica. We also had teh opportunity to travel some of the islands by kayak. There's nothing like rowing through beautiful blue green water to a deserted beach and exploring a desolate island! The Whitsundays absolutely amazing!

Next stop was Melbourne. This little gem of a city surprised us all and for us ranked just as good if not better than Sydney. Here we explored the little alleys, met up with old friends, walked along the waterfront, and saw footy game! Its back to Sydney for a couple days, to do some planning...some laundry, and figure out our POA... plan of action...

Here we are at the end of our Australia leg. Sad to go but excited for what lies ahead... in 24 hours William and I will be on a plane to Singapore!

Monday, April 7, 2008

I know...

I know... I haven't posted anything in awhile, but I will... I promise!!

give me a couple of days...

ps. Australia has been AMAZING!