Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | October 19, 2010

Cambodia to Vietnam

After exploring Angkor Wat for a couple of days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I took a bus down south into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The bus ride was overnight and bumpy enough to keep me from sleeping. We got to the Vietnamese border around 5:30am but had to wait until around 7 for the border crossing to open so that we could pass. We hung out at a little family run restaurant and then drove another 3 minutes to the border once it was open. We had to get off the bus and walk through to get our passports and bags checked. We met the bu on the other side, re-loaded our bags, sat around for about an hour wondering what we were sitting around for, and then finally got to Ho Chi Minh around 11am or so. 

It was so interesting to see such an extreme change from Cambodia to Vietnam. We were barely 100 meters across the border and the atmosphere, lifestyle, and developement was already noticably different. The Vietnamese drive around on their motorbikes wearing surgical facemasks made stylish by using fabric with pictures on it. People pushing food carts or selling snacks walk around with the conical hats made from straw. Bandanas are used to both fasten the hat to their heads and to block the dust and motorbike pollution from their faces. The scenery outside the window slowly changed from the endless, lush green rice fields of Cambodia with palm trees scattered around to the busy city of Ho Chi Minh with its jaw dropping amount of traffic and still present French influence. Vietnam is light years ahead of Cambodia in terms of developement. During a 5 hour bus ride through Cambodia you might pass through a few small towns that are made up of some homes and a few shops selling snacks or gas from empty coke bottles. On a bus ride of that length in Vietnam you see tons of big towns whose streets are lined with shops arranged like stacks of mismatched blocks. That being said, you still come across random cows wandering down or crossing the streets.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, was an eye opening welcome into Vietnam. The sidewalks are jam-packed with street vendors and motorcyclists who have gotten tired of the traffic on the streets. Narrow, winding alleys are laid out like mazes that lead you to guesthouses or homes that double as restaurants, or sometimes just spit you out onto a random main road where the amount of motorcycles makes you think twice about how badly you really need to get to the other side of the road. Fortunately there is a method to getting across if you really can’t avoid it- you inch out into the street, one step at a time, and let motorcycles and taxis swerve around you until you reach the other side. Waiting for a gap in traffic is impossible because there are none, and trying to run across really quickly wouldn’t give the motorcycles enough time to react and go around you. Therefore the only option is to hold your breath as the wind from hundreds of bikes washes away the hot fumes that linger on your legs from their exhaust pipes.

I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of the city, which is where there are miles of underground tunnels that were used by the Vietkong during the Vietnam War. We got to walk/crawl through some of the tunnels, which was really cool. They’ve actually been widened for western tourists to be able to fit through, but even so, I was nearly on my hands and knees to be able to get through them. The size was a huge help for the Vietnamese who used them, though, because since they had a lack of food they were skinny enough to fit through them. If anyone other than them tried to go through the tunnels they would get stuck.

I had met another girl traveling alone while on the bus from Cambodia. We shared a room and hung out while in Ho Chi Minh and then took a bus about 5 hours north to the small beach town of Mui Ne. There isn’t much going on here, but for $5 each per night for a room right on the beach, it’s a nice place to just chill for a couple of days. There are some sand dunes a few miles outside of the city, though. I decided to rent a bike and try to find them on the second day we were here. About 5 minutes into my ride I met up with a handful of cows walking down the road coming my way. I couldn’t help but smile as I rode through a gap between two of them to get by…I feel like a kid when I’m amused by things like that, but I know for a fact that I’ll never forget biking through a small herd of cows walking along a road overlooking the ocean…in Vietnam.

We’re now on the bus again heading to another beach town called Nha Trang. It’s supposed to have more going on than Mui Ne, and the beaches are supposed to be even better, so I’m looking forward to getting there. For now, though, we’re just sitting on the side of the road…travel is slow in Southeast Asia, but I always seem to end up in the right place, even if it’s not at the right time.

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | October 11, 2010

Jaded Beauty

When my plane from Bangkok broke through the clouds on its way to the airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, all I could think about was how untouched everything looked. Normally when you land somewhere, no matter how remote you think the place might be, you can see from the air that there is typically still no virgin land; the ground below is sectioned off into rectangles and squares of varying colors depending on what kind of crop is being grown there. Roads usually zig zag and swirl throughout neighborhoods and cities, and cars look like ants scurrying across them. That’s not the case in Cambodia.

 As we slowly continued our landing, the dark green and lush earth below me showed no signs of being overtaken by farmers, roads, or cars. I could see some squares of land that were being used as rice fields, a few red dirt roads stretching from one place to another, although I couldn’t see what they came from or led to, and it didn’t seem like cars even existed in this part of the world. There was also water…everywhere. It’s monsoon season in this part of the world, but in Thailand it hadn’t been so obvious. Cambodia looked like it was mostly water with some soggy land and palm trees washed up here and there, and the few houses that I did see were built on stilts.

 It wasn’t until it looked like we should be over the airport landing strip that I saw signs of city life.  Roofs and a few paved roads started to pop up just minutes before we touched the ground. There was a small city clustered around a bend in the brown river below, but no skyscrapers or sleek office buildings made any appearances in the capital of this curious country. I couldn’t get over how uninhabited Cambodia looked, and honestly wondered how a public transportation system could even exist to take me from one city to the next.

After landing we made our way to the immigration and customs area, which is where I got my first taste of how a truly underdeveloped country differs from most. To get into Cambodia you have to pay $20 US for a visa upon arrival, along with your application form and one passport size photo. There was one long counter with immigration officials stationed behind it. My flight was the only one that had come in, and we formed into a line in front of the very left side of the counter. When I got up to the front I gave all of my documents and money to the worker who proceeded to motion me over to a small mob of people gathered around the other end of the counter. It was a good thing that my flight was the only one there at the time because the method for getting back your passport with the newly placed visa inside was a little unorganized. One of the workers was being handed everyone’s passports after they had been looked over and then calling out people’s names to come up and get their documents. Imagine having multiple flights to deal with…

I had organized a pick up from the airport with the guesthouse that I was staying with, and upon exiting the airport I promptly saw my name written on a piece of paper that was being held up by a six year old little girl. The shy looking Cambodian girl was accompanied by her two and half year old brother, Sam, and her non english speaking mother.  I gave them a quick smile and wave and made my way around the gate to meet them.  Sam immediately reached up to hold my hand, and the mother handed me her cell phone so that the guesthouse owner, Martin, could let me know that this woman didn’t speak any english, but that she was there to pick me up and being me to the guesthouse. We waited a few more minutes for another person who came in on the same flight and then headed off in their tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with a bench seat attached to the back) into the city.

Phnom Penh (pronounced Puh-nom pen) is a dirty, noisy, and crowded city. The sidewalks are broken, covered in litter, and are mostly used as parking spaces by cars and motorcycles. Rats crawl around the shattered pavement beside buildings and the stench of raw meat lingers down side streets that are crowded with outdoor markets. After having traveled through quite a few Asian cities by now, none of this really phased me, but it was interesting to see this kind of city in a country that looked so untouched upon arrival. When the French were in Cambodia years ago they left behind bistros and cafes along the riverside in Phnom Penh. The architecture in that area is definitely inspired by the French, and bakeries nestle themselves in alongside Cambodian food carts selling cooked animal tongues and meat on skewers. Cambodians with missing limbs from land mines or attacks by the Khmer Rogue beg on the sides of streets or sell used books outside of cafes. Children are sent out by their parents to sell jewelry to foreigners or to simply beg for food or money, and tuk tuk or motorcycle taxis almost beg you to use their services.

Cambodians are mostly reserved and extremely friendly, their country is stunningly beautiful, but they have seen atrocities that no one should have to witness. They live in a place that shows signs of slow progress from the war-torn days, but are constantly reminded of their past by war victims missing hands or legs and deadly, rural areas that still contain land mines. In this case, sometimes it’s best not to wander off the beaten track.

*Also, I forgot to include this: The reason that the little girl and her brother were there to pick me up from the airport was because it was a few days before a big national holiday in Cambodia and most of the guesthouse staff were gone on holiday. Martin, the english speaking owner, had to stay at the reception of the guesthouse, and the only other person there who could read the departure and arrival boards at the airport was the 6 year old girl. Without her, the woman would not have known if my flight had been delayed or anything like that. The little boy Sam was just along for the ride, though. 😉

Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | October 5, 2010

Leaving the Islands

It’s interesting how different each island or coastal city is. The first beach I went to was Ao Nang, which was a small town that was based solely off of tourism. There were lots of resorts and expensive restaurants marketed for foreigners. It wasn’t a big party or backpacker place; it was a more laid back beach for families and a slightly older than college crowd. The reason I went there was because I wanted to find a quiet place. I could have gone to the other coast of Thailand and experienced the most famous party in Asia, the “Full Moon Party,” but I was looking for a perfect secluded island that I knew existed somewhere in Thailand. While Ao Nang wasn’t exactly secluded (it wasn’t even an island), it was still relaxing and a fun place to stay for a few days. It’s also the low season here because of rain that comes every few days in the evenings, so everything was cheaper and I was able to afford it. 
Near Ao Nang was Railay beach which is a mecca for rock climbers. There was just a small stretch of white sand in between cliffs that jutted straight out of the water. Railay is also part of the mainland, but the only way to get there is by boat because the mountains and cliffs surrounding it keep any roads from reaching the pristine beach. Railay was seriously quiet when I went there. Only a few people shared the quarter-mile stretch of beach with me. A few restaurants and resorts bordered the beach, but other than that, it was me, a few other tourists, and some Thais combing the beach for people interested in massages or cold drinks. I didn’t stay the night in Railay, so I’m not sure what else besides a beautiful beach and endless rock climbing the place offers, but it was definitely worth a day trip by boat. 

Phi Phi Island was next, which I still can’t stop raving about. I had read that a lot of people didn’t like Phi Phi, but I think it’s because they were looking for secret untouched bays like the ones that Leonardo Dicaprio found in the movie “The Beach.” Visiting the bay where the movie was filmed puts you amidst crowds of people, even in the low season, but I thought that it was beautiful nonetheless. Granted, like I said, I went during the low season, so I can’t comment on what it’s like when the real crowds are there. During my visit, though, I found quiet beaches with crystal clear water and soft white sand. There were no cars which kept traffic jams limited to luggage trolleys crowding around bikes and pedestrians. I found a 26 bed dorm room for about $4.50 a night, but there only ended up being about 3 other people in there with me. The island was a mix of foreigners running dive shops and Thais running guest houses and restaurants. Every single one of them was welcoming and more than willing to sit down and talk about anything and everything with you. I ended up staying longer on Phi Phi than I had planned to, and to be honest I would love to go back, but my Thai visa is running out, so I’ve had to force myself to move on. 

From Phi Phi I took a 1 and a half hour ferry to Koh Lanta. (Koh means “island” in Thai, so sometimes I refer to a place as “Koh Phi Phi” or “Phi Phi Island,” for example, but they both mean the same thing.) Lanta was a bit farther south and was like a different world compared to Phi Phi. The island is very big, which means that cars and motorcycles are allowed. There is only one main road that goes from one end of the island to the other, though, so even with the cars it seemed very quiet. It’s very obvious that it’s the low season when you’re in Lanta. Almost all of the businesses are shut down and you are maybe one of 5 people staying at your guesthouse or resort. The good thing about that, though, is that I got the seclusion I was looking for in the first place. I found a resort through some recommendations that ended up costing me about $9 per night. With that $9 I got my own room with a TV and fridge, a pool, and a staircase leading straight down to the beach. I stayed there for 3 nights and saw about 5 other people the whole time. The people were so friendly, and it was an amazing way to just sit back and enjoy life. It’s hard to worry about much when you have absolutely nothing to do besides walk down the road to buy fruit, hang out on the beach, or lay by the pool. It was interesting to see the culture change when I went to Lanta, as well. The farther south I go, the more Muslim Thais I see. In Lanta most of the Thais are Muslim, which means that they’re extremely reserved, but very genuinely welcoming and friendly. Everyone was very modest, so you didn’t see people walking around in bikinis or swimsuits, and in the Muslim/Thai culture you typically take your shoes off when you go inside a home or family run shop, so every time I walked into the “Fresh Mart,” which was a small convenience store owned by a Muslim family, I had to leave my flip flops at the door. 

I’m en route to the east coast of Thailand as I type this. I took a mini bus from Lanta across two ferry passings and back into Krabi town, which is where I first started exploring the islands and beaches. I was dropped off at a little travel agency office in the middle of who knows where, and am waiting for some sort of transportation to take me across the mainland to Surhatthani. I’m supposed to arrive there around 11 pm tonight and will take an overnight ferry to an island called Koh Samui. From there I’ll explore the east coast islands and eventually find my way back to Bangkok to catch a flight on the 5th into Phnom Penh, Cambodia. At least that’s what I’m hoping for because that’s also the day that my visa runs out. 

So it’s a week later and I’m back in Bangkok. I made it to Koh Samui after having to spend a night in Surhattani; the ferry couldn’t cross overnight because of storms. I ended up staying on Koh Samui the whole time. The vibe was very different there. I stayed on Chaweng beach in a cheap guesthouse surrounded by huge resorts. I thought Ao Nang was a resort town, but Koh Samui has the real resort scene. The coast was actually so packed with resorts that I had to walk through one to get to the beach (which was amazing, by the way). The beach had clean white sand with clear water that had a slight green/jade color to it when you looked out over the ocean. While standing in the water, though, I could watch as little gray colored fish gathered around my feet, probably wondering if I was food or not. I stayed in a cheap dorm every night except on my birthday, when I felt that a resort was necessary. I stayed in Nora Buri Resort which was about a ile away from Chaweng beach and what felt like a completely different world. The resort was secluded and took up an area that stretched from the beach all the way up a hillside. There were two infinity pools that looked out over the ocean, and my room was about half the size of my house at home. I’ve said this before, but it’s amazing what your money can get you in Thailand. What would have bought me a normal and basic hotel room in the US got me ultimate luxury on a Thai Island. A shower with hot water, air conditioning, and a comfy bed were very much welcomed. 

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | September 26, 2010

Shark Watching and a Beach Cleanup

I left Phi Phi Island yesterday and took a ferry to Lanta Island. I was supposed to go from Phi Phi to Phuket Island to take a flight to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. A few days before I was supposed to leave some people I met told me about protests that were going on in Chiang Mai. The same group that caused huge conflict in Bangkok earlier this year were apparently having a rally in Chiang Mai. It was supposed to be peaceful, but that’s what everyone said about Bangkok and that lead to killings and bombings around the city. So instead of flying to Chiang Mai I went a little farther south to another island. I was having a really hard time thinking about pulling myself away from the islands anyways, so I’m completely okay with still being in the south. I would actually stay here even longer except that my one month visa is going to be running out soon.

We ended up not seeing any sharks on our day tour, so I booked another tour with 3 other people I had met to go shark watching the next morning. We went with an actual dive shop at 7am and swam around with our guide for a few hours. We saw black fin sharks which are completely harmless. It was amazing to be able to swim with sharks in water that had perfect visibility. They weren’t very big; I’d say the biggest was about 3.5 feet, but it was amazing nonetheless. We had to swim with our arms behind our backs because if we had them in front of us the sharks would get scared and swim off. They pretty much just hung out near the ocean floor and didn’t come closer than about 15 feet to us.

One of the divers at the shop mentioned that some people from other dive shops around the island were planning to do a beach clean up the next day. A combination of ships dumping trash and waste coming over from Phuket Island has left the bay a complete mess.

(side-note: I’m sitting on my bed typing and just noticed a frog in my room. Not going to lie, though…it’s better than the roach that was in my bed while I was staying at that bungalow in Phi Phi.)

I figured that if I was fortunate enough to be able to appreciate Phi Phi Island, I should do something to help keep the place so beautiful. I asked for some information on the clean up and went out with 7 dive instructors to a remote bay on the other side of the island the next morning. The people were all really nice and laid back. A couple of them had come to Phi Phi on vacation and just never left, which I can completely understand. We took one of their diving boats to get to the bay, which would have actually cost hundreds of Baht to do if I were to hire that type of boat to do some sightseeing. The bay was beautiful with perfect white sand and jade colored water, but trash was just piled up along the coast and floating in with the tide. The seven of us spent a few hours filling up 60 big black trash bags with trash. It was ridiculous how much garbage there actually was; you could literally stand in one place for an hour and just pick up the pieces as it floated onto the beach. After about 3 hours we took a break to eat some lunch that they had packed and then ended the day by weighing all of the bags before loading a second boat with them. The end result was 610 kilos of trash picked up as well as a huge chunk of wood that one of the boat captains kept to use for his motor. We took our boat back while the one with the trash headed for the “rubbish boat” to take the bags back to the mainland.

 

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | September 18, 2010

Koh Phi Phi Don…THE island of all islands

I got to Phi Phi island yesterday morning after taking the ferry from Krabi. The ferry took about one and a half hours, but the ride went by really quickly because of the amazing scenery. Non-stop islands dotted the horizon and bright white beaches drew a distinct line through the blues of the ocean and sky. The second the boat docked, I knew I had made the right choice in coming here. Looking over the side of the ferry revealed the most clear blue water I’ve ever seen absolutely cluttered with fish of every kind and color. The fact that I could see the fish so clearly from the deck of the ferry about 15 feet up actually brought a smile to my face. This is the kind of beach I had been looking for.

I had not booked any sort of accommodation before heading to the island, so the first thing I had to do was find a room. It’s monsoon season here, which means that it’s the low season and everything is cheaper. (I haven’t seen rain yet) The great thing about this island is that nothing motorized is allowed, besides boats. It’s so small that you can get anywhere by walking or riding a bike. This let me walk around to pretty much every guest house to compare my options. I had finally decided to “splurge” a little bit and go back to some nice bungalows that literally sat right on the beach. They were 500 baht a night (roughly $16), and since I seem to have stumbled upon paradise I figured I would spend the extra money and make my stay even better. After returning to the reception desk, though, I found out that they were full. Apparently while I was assessing my options someone else took the last room. I was a little disappointed, but decided to stay in some other bungalows just behind these, which meant that I would have a 45 second walk to the beach instead of a 10 second walk. After staying the first night in my bungalow I realized that I was actually sharing the room with lizards, roaches, and an unknown species of bug, but that’s another story….

Yesterday and today I just hung out on the beach. After laying out and swimming for a few hours today I decided that I had exerted myself enough to deserve a traditional Thai massage. For about $6 I got to spend a full hour having my body walked on, massaged, and bent in ways I had no idea were possible. The Thai woman had my arms bent backwards at certain points, her legs wrapped around mine with my back pulled into the most awkward arch you could imagine, and her feet jammed into various parts of my body so as to stabilize herself while she pulled another one of my extremities nearly out of its socket. I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt, but I felt good enough afterwards to already plan on getting another at some point. What better way to end a day at the beach?

I’m really excited about tomorrow. I just booked a tour that includes some beach/island hopping (one of them has monkeys), kayaking, a visit to Maya Bay, which is the actual beach where the Lionardo Dicaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed, and……snorkeling with sharks. Yes…sharks. I can’t handle the bugs in my room, but I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about snorkeling with sharks. Apparently they’re a completely harmless type of shark that don’t really even acknowledge people swimming around them, but still…sharks. I can’t wait. I already bought an underwater camera.

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | September 14, 2010

Krabi beaches and islands

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been hard to pull myself back to reality and away from the dream that I feel like I’m living in. I’ve been having such an amazing time in Thailand already. I had been told that in a tour of China and southeast Asia that it’s sometimes best to see China first and go south from there. People had told me that once you get out of China everything gets easy. China was difficult. I loved it, but it was difficult. The culture is obviously different than what I’m used to, but it’s the type of thing where you have to at least have some sort of an idea about what to expect before going in or you will be shocked. I had read some books on China before going, so I knew to expect mass crowds, non stop spitting, shoving, yelling, public urination, and so forth. Lots of people had told me so many negative things about China, but obviously I had to go see for myself. I found out that all of the things I had read about are true; you will get shoved, you will get very lost, you will walk through a lot of spit, and you will fail in every attempt to find a quiet spot. What I had not read or been told about were all the good things, though. The history is amazing, the landscapes and architecture are really breathtaking, and the people are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. The negative things that most tourists write home about are the things that they most likely have not stopped and taken the time to think about. People spit, but with the insane amount of pollution I can understand why you might have some issues with that kind of thing. The mass crowds of people make it inevitable that you will get shoved. It’s not that people want to push you, but imagine growing up in a place where you have to make some body contact to get anywhere. Sometimes it’s just necessary…I did a lot of shoving myself. The things that foreigners aren’t used to are things that you really just have to accept before visiting. At least those are my thoughts because I went in educated and loved it.

That being said, Thailand is absolutely amazing. And everyone was right; it is easier. There aren’t a TON of people, so everything is much more relaxed. People still tend to stare at foreigners, but as you walk by they smile and say hello, too. Everyone is always smiling. People are eager to sit down and just have a conversation with you, regardless of what you have going on. I took a boat to another beach the other day, and on the way back some people were giving our driver some trouble. I didn’t know what was going on, but I could tell he was upset about it. Later that day I was walking by his ticket booth and asked if everything was alright. He stood up, gave me his chair, and sat down next to me to talk. It turns out that the people had not given him enough money and said that they didn’t even have anymore with them, except that the driver had seen one of them put the rest of his money back in their pocket. I was irritated that anyone would give this incredibly friendly guy such a hard time, but the driver shrugged it off and continued the conversation by asking me questions about my trip and giving me suggestions. Everyone is just so nice.

Right now I’m in Krabi, which is on the mainland. I’ve taken a boat to some other beaches and went on a tour to 4 surrounding islands. The water is absolutely crystal clear and the beaches are white. It’s perfect. Tomorrow I’m going on a kayaking/elephant riding through the jungle tour. I’m REALLY looking forward to that. O the 17th I’m taking a ferry to Phi Phi island, which is where the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio was filmed. It looks picturesque. Right now I’m just enjoying the sun and the very laid back atmosphere. Someone told me that if I like Thailand, I’ll love Laos. I don’t see how it could really get much better.

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | September 7, 2010

Hong Kong is Crazy and Thailand is Refreshing

I was only in Hong Kong for two nights, so I tried to pack in as much as I could. The first day I was there I literally kept myself occupied for 7 hours by walking around the city. There is so much going on that it’s really hard to even pay attention to where you’re going. I ended up intentionally getting lost by taking the subway and getting off at a few random stops and then just walking…and walking. The buildings are huge with countless stores in each of them. What looks like an office building or a hotel might actually be tons of restaurants and Chinese healing stores or an apartment building/20 different hostels. My hostel was in what I think was an apartment building. There were a ton of different hostels spread out around the building. I was on the 14th floor and my room was like a small (very small) apartment. There are so many people and so many buildings in Hong Kong that absolutely everything is packed in as tightly as possible. Since there are so many shops and restaurants in every building there are signs extended from the sides of the buildings all the way over the streets. Everyone has to advertise somehow.  Walking is really difficult, which was amusing since I was only there for 2 days, but I think it would have gotten frustrating eventually. There are so many people that crosswalks need to quadruple in size to allow everyone to walk across the road within the allotted space…and even then you would still be shoving your way to the other side. I took a picture looking across the road waiting for the light to change. The mass of people waiting to walk was the same size on my side of the road…it’s actually a little intimidating.

I stayed on Kowloon which is where all the craziness is, but I took the ferry a couple of times over to Hong Kong Central island. I wandered around markets that wound down stairs and alleyways as far as you could walk. I got to watch the symphony of lights which happens every night at 8pm. You sit on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor and watch a huge light show that takes place on Hong Kong central island. Music is played over speakers on the promenade along the shoreline of Kowloon and all of the buildings on the other side have lights that sync with the music. It was really cool to see…there were spot lights, lasers, and lights of every color on all of the buildings. The show lasts about 15 minutes and tons of people crowd around the entire shoreline to watch it.

After my two days in Hong Kong I took a flight to Bangkok, Thailand. This is my second day here and I’m already loving it. I got here late in the afternoon yesterday so I just walked around the area that I’m staying in. If you search Bangkok, Thailand you will definitely come across “Khao San Road” a lot. It’s known as a backpacker ghetto, haven, or central. It’s where all the cheap guest houses and hostels are, which means there are also countless street vendors and food stalls. You can buy anything here from incense used to pray in temples to whole deep fried fish to elephant statues. One of the best parts is that everywhere you walk smells amazing because of all the food stalls and carts. The food in China was okay, but I didn’t come across anything to really rave about. Thailand is different. The flavors are amazing…they mix salty, sweet, and spicy in a way that is actually good, and they have such a variety of food. You can find just about anything you want. It’s also insanely cheap. What would probably have cost me $15 in the US was about .95 cents here. So good. When I was walking around today I came across a food stall that had about 20 different bowls of who knows what. I I pointed to cooked vegetables which cost 20 baht (about 70 cents US) because it came with rice, and then some eggs cooked with vegetables which was another 10 baht. The woman working at the stall put everything onto a plate, and I sat down at a plastic table next to her cart to eat. I could probably do that everyday, and I think I might.

I just got back a little while ago from taking a walking tour around this section of the city. I got out my map this morning and drew a route that would take me through a few sites, China town, some temples, and some parks. It was funny just leaving China and then visiting a China Town in another country. Everything in Thailand is so foreign now, but walking through the market was so familiar. The fruit, people, jewelry, and fabric is all different in Thailand and going back to seeing Chinese things seemed a lot more normal. After going through there I made my way across one disgusting looking river (parts of it were literally black) to what is apparently the oldest wat, or temple,  that is still active in Bangkok. It was built in the 18th century and its name, Wat Arun, means “Temple of Dawn.” It was really amazing to see…it had one point going up in the middle with the steepest stairs I’ve ever walked up. The outside is covered with Buddhas and different colored stones and tiling. I’ll add a picture of it when I get them loaded to give you a better idea of what it looks like. During my walk back I passed a muay Thai boxing gym that was actually just a space under a bridge that had a chain link fence around it with a boxing ring inside. Completely random, but obviously Muay Thai is a huge thing over here.

I’m back at the hostel now and am about to go find dinner and book a bus ticket to Krabi Island in the south of Thailand. I have a week booked on Au Nang beach and am planning on making my way to other islands in the area after that. There are tons of islands in the south of Thailand, and the ones I’m going to are known for their beaches (obviously), jungles (with elephants), and sports like rock climbing and sea kayaking. I’m definitely enjoying Bangkok, but I cannot wait to get to the beaches.

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | August 30, 2010

Yangshuo and Beer Fish

Yangshuo is awesome. Before I came I knew I was going to like it because of what I had been told about the city, so I went ahead and planned to stay here for about a week. It’s the perfect way to end my month in China. The city is on the edge of the Li river and in the middle of tons of limestone mountains. The town is definitely touristy, there’s no going around that, but it’s so much different from all of the other tourist cities. It’s so much more laid back and relaxed, at least by Chinese standards. There are tons of cafes, places to rent bikes, a giant fruit and vegetable market, and lots of sun…aka no pollution haze. Yesterday I met up with a girl staying at my hostel and we decided to rent bikes and ride to a place called moon hill. It’s a hill/mountain that has a big hole in the top that looks like a half-moon. It took about an hour to bike there because we ended up taking a few wrong turns, about 30 – 40 minutes to climb a path of stairs all the way to the top, and then about 45 minutes to bike back. The view from the top was really cool and the hill itself really did look like it had a half moon cut out of it. After getting back we decided to lock our bikes up next to the river and go for a swim. There were a few Chinese girls about 10 years old who were swimming near us and we all ended up having a splashing war. It turned out to be a ton of fun..the river was the perfect temperature and you could surprisingly see all the way to the bottom because the water was so clear. Today I got up and had breakfast on the roof looking out over the river and mountains. A couple of people from Israel were up there making Turkish coffee with a portable mini stove and let me try some…it was actually very good. After breakfast and coffee I decided to go for a walk to a park that I had passed by. There is a hill in the middle of it with a pagoda looking thing at the top that I had seen, so I decide to find a way to get to the top. It turned out to be the perfect point to see the entire city of Yangshuo spread out below me…there was also a Chinese fortune teller that everyone knows about who was hanging out at the top. I decided to pass up the opportunity to get my fortune told, though. I came back to the hostel after that and booked a tour to the “silver cave.” I normally don’t like to do tours, but the girl at reception looked scared for me when I said I wanted to bike there and also told me that you have to go with a tour because there are no normal buses that go there. I decided to take her advice and booked it for 2:30. A mini bus came and picked me up…I ended up being the only non-Chinese person at the cave that day, which I’m assuming is not unusual. We were given a tour guide and were supposed to stay with the group, but after about 5 minutes of listening to Chinese and being packed into the big group I decided to just walk ahead and explore it on my own. It got a little creepy a few times because the tour guide operated the lights and only turned them on when the group arrived at each point of interest, so a lot of the tunnels were pitch black. For the most part, though, there were dim lights scattered along the path. I think it was more fun like that anyways. The cave itself was actually really amazing. It was huge…I don’t even know how many stories high some parts of it were, but the walking path through it was about 2km. I enjoyed it, but would have liked to have known what the guide was saying about a lot of it. I just got back a few hours ago and decided to go out to eat and try “beer fish,” which is a dish that’s specific to Yangshuo. I’m not sure what type of fish it is, but it’s caught in the Li river and is cooked with local beer. The dish wasn’t too bad, but it was definitely not like anything I’ve had before. The flavor was good; it didn’t taste anything like beer, and I honestly don’t know how to describe the taste, but it was good. The interesting part (and I snuck a peek and watched as the cook prepared this) was that a whole fish was taken, cut up into about 1/2 inch slices from tail to head, and then cooked. Nothing was skinned or de-boned or anything like that. I had to peel off the skin before I ate it…I ate one piece just whole and the skin just wasn’t really my thing. The fish came in a bowl and wasn’t necessarily in a soup, but there was a couple of inches of a type of broth/sauce at the bottom of the bowl. I got to the very bottom of it, fished around with my chopsticks a little bit (no pun intended), and found a rather unappetizing surprise…

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Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | August 29, 2010

Boat trip from Guilin to Yangshuo

Yesterday I traveled by “bamboo raft” from Guilin to Yangshuo. It was one of the most amazing boat trips I have ever taken. This is what it looked like:

I’m sitting on the roof of my hostel right now, surrounded by those mountains. This is why it’s impossible not to travel.

Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | August 27, 2010

My route through China

I’ll be leaving China next week, so I figured I would post  map showing the cities I’ve been. I’m in Guilin right now, which is in the south, and have one more city to go to until I cross over into Hong Kong on September 3rd. The cities  and order I’ve visited them in are this:

Beijing – Shanghai – Hangzhou – Shanghai – Xi’an – Guiling – Yangshuo …from there I will take a bus to a Chinese city right next to Hong Kong to cross the border. I fly from Hong Kong to Bangkok on September 6th.

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