A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok and Beyond

One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster...

Well Bangkok is the center of the universe when it comes to SE Asia, but our senses were surely shocked even before hitting that crazy place. When Michelle and I left Sihanoukville heading west to Bangkok our thoughts and emotions centered around the sad fact that our trip was coming to an end. Reminiscing about our long journey thus far, our bus stopped for our final land crossing of the trip. We thought once we landed in Hawaii that our body and minds would be out of sorts after traveling through 3rd world countries, but walking into Thailand, one would think they were somewhat back in the States.

There are freshly paved roads, manicured shrubbery along the highway and after about an hour driving from the border, our bus broke down and stopped at a 7 Eleven. Shocking that our bus broke down, right? After another very, very long 14 hour bus ride, we were dropped off at Khao San Road, Bangkok.

For many of you who haven't been to Khao San I would safely say that it's the largest concentration of backpackers on the planet. At night, it looks like a mini Vegas strip all condensed in one city block. You can get everything from a fake college diploma, brass knuckles, tattoos and a double tall nonfat latte from Starbucks. When I was here 7 years ago, Khao San was a much different place. You couldn't go to a 24hr Burger King, get a foot-long sub from Subway or get a latte from Starbucks. It's now become a brand.

In Cambodia, Michelle and I decided we would actually stay in the center of Bangkok, away from Khao San. We soon realized this was a mistake. Our hotel was very nice, but the location and its surroundings were geared more to the chic tourists and not the mellow backpackers we've been used to. We really felt out of place. We already paid ahead of time for our three nights stay, but outside of sleeping at our hotel, we spent the majority of our time on Khao San.

Our time in Bangkok centered around drinking Chang beer, getting a Thai massage for Michelle and doing some last minute shopping for ourselves. Actually our last big purchase was a beautiful Thai pillow for our new apartment. We didn't realize at the time, this purchase would cause us problems.

Fast forward...Landing in Honolulu and going through customs, our pillow was confiscated due to the contents within. Customs cut the pillow open and showed us that the stuffing inside contains a particular straw that is dangerous to agriculture. Hawaiian agriculture and customs are sticklers for items coming onto the islands. 7 years ago, I brought one of these pillows home, although the customs agents in Los Angeles didn't bat an eye.

Other than this slight bump arriving to the States, our trip in Hawaii was a great place to decompress and reflect on the past 6 weeks of travel. We watched Justin graduate Magna Cum-laude in Information Systems from Hawaii Pacific University, hung out with my family and stared for countless hours from my dad's amazing view from his condo.

Michelle and I spent a week in Hawaii, although less than 24 hours from landing in LA, we got an emergency phone call from Sean, the person helping us find an apartment in San Francisco. He asked "how quickly can you be in SF?" But let me back up a few days...Imagine Hawaii, two days in, Sean calls about an AMAZING apartment in SF. The place allowed pets, totally remodeled, close to a dog park and in a neighborhood Michelle and I wanted to live in. Perfect...we want it. Unfortunately, the policy of the company that owns the building is that we must see the place first before we can sign the lease. Well this wasn't too convenient. For 5 days we went back and forth with phone calls, emails and faxes to see if we could get around this problem. This was way too much stress and anxiety for us to cope with having just landing in the states. Flying home was out of the question. So we left it to fate. When we get home, we would stick to the original plan of driving up to SF the following weekend and see the "fantabulous" apartment at that time, that is assuming, of course, that no one had snapped it up before then. Sadly, things don't necessarily work out the way you want them to.

Sean's phone call gave us less than 24 hours to get to SF, view the apartment and sign the lease, or else the apartment would be given to someone else. Michelle and I got into the car at 9:30p (we had been home for less than 24 hours) and drove north, 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, arriving at 3 am for a quick sleep at Motel 6. By this point the two of us were physically and emotionally exhausted. We saw the place early that morning, signed the lease and drove back home...

With the pressure of finding a place in San Francisco away, we are all geared up to start this next adventure in our lives.

Thank you all for taking the time to read our blog and following our journey.

Our home is always open in San Francisco to anyone that wants to visit. We have plenty of room:)

Posted by charley08 11:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Leave You Hanging? Never

Back to Phnom Phen and Sihanoukville

rain 31 °C

Phew! What a trip! Kevin and I are now back in Los Angeles after an exciting 6 weeks in Southeast Asia and 1 week in Honolulu (Congratulations Justin on your graduation). Unfortunately, the last entry we posted was on August 2nd and therefore there are 10 days we did not share...or capture in words.

So, after Angkor Wat, we headed back to Phnom Phen for just a couple days. Both of us are really glad we did it. We arrived there in the afternoon, and this time, rather than staying near the river, we decided to stay in Central Phnom Phen near the big central market (perfect for shoppers of course). After resting from the relatively uneventful travel day (this is one of the few bus rides that was "easy")
Anyhow, we had dinner at the Foreign Correspondent's Club (recommendation from a friend) where we had an awesome meal and tasty drinks and then headed out to the Heart of Darkness. For those of you who have not been to Cambodia, I am sure you are wondering "What is the Heart of Darkness"? If you look it up in the Lonely Planet, it is described as this crazy place where all the rich Cambodian teenagers hang out. The book mentions that these "kids" have a tendency to start "trouble" with the Western tourists that try to hang out there. If we had only relied on Lonely Planet we might never have gone but Jeff had recommended we check it out and so we did. At 10pm, we grabbed a tuk tuk and headed out for our first "party" night.

Well, to cut a long predictable story short, the Heart of Darkness was not nearly so sinister. The scene can be described as follows: imagine a bunch of western tourists (our age and younger) mixed with some older, fatter male western tourists and a few conspicuous Cambodian prostitutes, all thrown to together on a dance floor with a lot of loud dance music. So, I am sure that all of my friends are thinking, ha, Michelle must have loved that, a loud crowded dance club. Well, I did. I had a great night and Kevin and I danced until about 2am...yes, that is incredibly late for me.
Second day in Phnom Penh started late and with a bit of frustration. We woke up, with the intention of going to the central market near our hotel. We figured we would grab breakfast first and then go shopping. Of course, there was not one place near our hotel or the market that served anything resembling a western breakfast (a.k.a.fried eggs and toast). So after about 45 minutes, we got in a tuk tuk and headed to the "Russian" central market and finished all of our purchases...many dvd's for $2 and few other items. (It really is not worth detailing all our money spending adventures here).

About 2pm that day we took a bus from Phnom Phen to the southern beaches of Cambodia (SihanoukVille). I think Kevin really provided the best description. Sihanoukville is basically a very small beach town (it is actually made up of four beaches, we stayed at Serendipity beach) that is a little less "developed" than Hoi An with a kind of Western influence. In many ways, it is easy to see how this small coastal down in Cambodia has the potential to become a larger vacation destination for back packers given the town's hip, laid-back energy, but the rich Europeans will always be more comfortable on the coast of Thailand. Let me see if I can paint you a better picture. I will start with our hotel and go from there.

The hotel was owned by an older, biker from Montana. He had lived in Thailand before deciding to open up this little boutique hotel. The hotel has about 20 rooms, a medium size swimming pool and has a restaurant that served some of the best mexican food in Southeast Asia (it might be the only place in Southeast Asia that served mexican food) and a good size cup of coffee with tasty breakfast menu options (apparently westerners like to have baked beans with their eggs and bacon, who knew?).
Next store was a very yummy Japanese teppanyaki type restuarant and a few doors the other way was a little "movie" theatre where you could watch some great DVD's in a room similar to a cozy living room, cold beer, couch and all.

While the town could be described as small and quaint, it has a very "vibrant" nightlife. The "bars" stay open until late (4am) and if you are looking for some late night munchies there is a guy that grills hot dogs at a small "convenience" store conveniently located next to our hotel. (I should note that the town is not only good for drinking but other "mind" blowing activities). We also found a monthly newsletter that describes is sort of like a mini guide book for Sihanoukville visitors. It includes: "Things to do during the rainy season", "How to bargain with your tuk-tuk driver" and "ways to prevent dehydration...more than just water".

While we spent most of our time lounging and relaxing, we had a few interesting adventures. The first day we took a "crazy" ride down to Otres beach. (Let me qualify crazy by saying that the road that we traveled to get to this particular beach was probably typical of most of the roads in Cambodia; rocky, full of land mine "holes", and, because it was the rainy season, incredibly muddy). Our plan was to walk along the beach and hang out for a bit, but 30 minutes in a rainstorm, that can best be described as a monsoon, came through the area. We found shelter and food at a place along the beach and waited out the storm. We might have hung out there longer but we and our food were being "attacked" by flies.

The next day we went and walked through the main town and had a "blind" massage. (All the masseuses were blind....and it was honestly one of the best massages I had). The remainder of our time was spent being lazy and watching the Olympic opening ceremony (very cool except for the fact that the commentary was in either Chinese or Thai so aside from the procession of athletes we had no idea what was happening). We were in Sihanoukville for about 3 days total, until August 9th and then we headed off to Bangkok...and like a Jamacian from track and field, I will hand the baton to Kevin to provide a happy ending to this part of our adventure.

Posted by charley08 14:39 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

"Brillant" Bus Ride and Ruins

From Laos to Cambodia and a taste of Angkor Wat

rain

Hi guys...
We cannot believe that we are writing you this email on the 2nd of August (yes I know it is the 4th today but just pretend). Only 10 more days and our journey through southeast asia will be finished. We are certainly a bit sad but at the same time we really have had a wonderful time and we know there will be more travelling like this in the future. There is just so much of the world to see.

Okay so where to begin.
Why don't we start with the bus ride to Phnom Phen. Okay that was a nightmare. Our journey began at 8am that morning. We boarded a boat to take us from our island to the main island. We got on a bus. We drove for 45 minutes and we stopped at a small shack on the side of the road only to realize we were at the Laos Department of Immigration. We submitted our departure card and then walked in between two gates (not Laos not Cambodia but no man's land). We found our second shack which was the visa office, the department of immigration and the bus stop for Cambodia.

During this process, our Laos bus dropped our stuff on the street and drove away. Another bus arrived and we drove yet another hour (it is now about 11am) to another town in Cambodia (strung treng)...it was apparently lunch time, for an hour and a half. Again our bags were taken out of the bus and we boarded yet another bus (only this one had no floor...i shit you not, a girls flip flops actually melted due to heat coming up from the engine or whatever below the minibus)

So now we are off (1:30 pm) on our way no more stops PP here we come. Not quite. at 3:30 pm we stopped again for another 1 hour. Our stop this time was in Kratie another Cambodian town. At this point we just wanted to get there already but instead we sat for another hour (mind you we had not really eaten anything substantial since breakfast). Okay so another bus arrives at 4:30 we board and then it was another 6 hours before we reach PP (so let me review we left at 8am and we arrived in PP at 10:30 or so with no hotel.
We learned quickly that hotels in PP do not stay open for 24 hours we ended up driving around in a tuk tuk and finally found a relatively cheap place to stay for a couple night.

So yes, the process of getting to PP was a bit painful but the city itself is actually quite cool. The next morning we headed off to the old Khmer Rouge prison. (It was a very very sad place.) Pictures of the dead adorn the walls and their skulls and torture chambers are still in place (we saw a movie prior to touring the site) I am not sure words can do the horror justice. It was terrible. Nearly 2 million Cambodians were exterminated during this period.
Then we were off to the Killing Fields (the place outside PP where they took the people to be executed) (Remember this atrocity happened between 1975 to 1979 so everything is still in place or remnants of the dead remain alive in this field (their clothing, bone fragments and skulls) It was again another stop I am not sure I can do justice to.
From there we had lunch (what our stomachs could handle) and then I went and rode an elephant (yes, me on an elephant.) It was practice for when we go to africa ;-) (for all of you wondering, Kevin wimped out...since I am entering this blog post I have the right to make fun of him)

Okay then to the central markets which is basically a maze of booths selling everything you can imagine (DVDs, food, kashmir scarfs, tea sets) all to be bargained for. It is bustling and hectic and if you spend too much time there you could go crazy)
So we finished up the day and had the plan set to head to Siem Reap and then head off to a Thai beach...but we changed our minds. We had enjoyed our day and we truly were rushing through Cambodia so we made the executive decision to eat (possibly...we are trying to dispute the charges) our 450 tickets to Ko Samui and are going to go back to Phnom Phen, explore a bit more and then take a ride down to the beaches of Cambodia for a couple days.
Today (August 2nd), we had our first of three trips to Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, the rainy season hit hard today so it was wet and muddy and definitely no so great for picture taking. Needless to say, we could still get a sense for the enormity and beauty of this ancient place. Again there are some sights that defy words or pictures but when we get home we will try our best. The bad news is that i slipped and fell and believe i sprained my foot. I refuse to not see Angkor Wat so we will be moving and hiking slowly through the temples.
So that is story for now.

Now I am fast forwarding to August 4th (no comments from the readers please) Today was/is our last day in Siem Reap. We saw 18 temples in Angkor Wat over our 3 days. All of them were spectacular in their own way. I am not going to speak for Kevin, but my favorite was this temple about 20 km from Angkor Wat called Bataey Srei. It was a small temple but the stone carvings that adorned the walls made it the most lovely of them all. I took over 200 pictures of Angkor Wat (which means Kevin took about 550 or so plus video), we will see how well my pictures come out...Kevin''s will be spectacular.

I seriously wish I could do this all justice in words but it is impossible to capture the scale, the intricacies, and the sheer manpower it would take to create these things over 1000 years ago.

We did buy a book to help guide us through the temples on our second day (which unlike the first was not nearly as rainy) and that helped. It was like a mini adventure in each temple trying to understand the purpose of each temple and the meanings and stories behind each carving. I guess that was the most magical part (for Michelle at least). Each carving was a story and had some significance. It was like reading a book with pictures carved in a wall.
In any case, after our 18 temples we are now chilling out for the next few hours and then will head off to dinner, sleep, wake up early and get back on a bus to head to Phnom Phen.
More adventures to come...
Kevin and Michelle

Posted by charley08 02:11 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The 4000 Islands

Living a Life of Luxury in Laos

all seasons in one day

Amazingly we found an internet cafe on the 4000 islands. of course there is no hot water and electricity lasts about 4 hours each evening but yes there is internet...funny. So let me see if i can give you a brief summary of what has been happening here.

So we left pakse on the 26th in the morning and took a 2 hour bus ride to the islands. While we did not really realize it at the time, it was going to be the people on the bus that would make this part of our trip.

We arrived on the island and found a guest house that is literally sitting right on the mekong. our balcony / deck or whatever sits on the water. it has two beds, a private bathroom, and a fan that only works when the electricity is on...it was totally nice compared to other options. (oh and it is only a cold shower) So as i was saying the best part of this portion of our adventures were the people we met.

There were a total of 7 of us.
pete; a british guy travelling on his own with a 'brillant' sense of humor
John and Greg: brothers from a town outside manhattan who bought bikes in Vietnam and have been riding the country side of Laos. (They were to youngest of our group 19 and 21)
mitch: totally unsuspecting guy from new york. he comes across as kind of sleazy but he is incredibly cool. he has travelled all over the world. teaches 5th grade kids. loves to compete in triatholons and climbs the crazy mountains you read about in books. he has been in africa (tanzania) mongolia etc.
John;: another british dude that has been teaching at international schools (history) around the world. (He spent a while in Africa and will end up in Hong Kong this year)
Kevin and Michelle (that rounds out the group)

Activity: not much to do here on the island. We took a bike ride the first day we were here. one i hardly remember how to ride a bike and two it was not the leisurely bike ride we were expecting...it was an experience that has to be told about in person.

We took two walks: one yesterday to see this waterfall that is the largest waterfall by volume in southeast asia (it was pretty cool) and today we headed over to another island (Don Dhet) to check it out, use the internet and figure out what we are going to be doing for the next two weeks, which changes constantly so i am not even going to bother writing it here...
Sorry for no updated pictures but the upload time is just freaking ridiculous. No comment invisman
Michelle and Kevin

Posted by charley08 02:05 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sabaidee from Laos

So...On July 21st Michelle and I boarded a bus at 6a heading toward Savanaket, Laos. This bus ride like many of our long rides was pretty exhausting. The total time it took us to get to our final destination was close to 13 hours. Beyond the long ride, we did have some pretty nice memories. This was Michelle's first time doing a land crossing (Vietnam to Laos). I'd say this was the first land crossing I've seen where farm animals are littered all over the place. Once we crossed into Laos, you can definitely see a huge difference between the two countries. Vietnam is certainly much more developed and in the 2nd world. Laos on the other hand is definitely 3rd world.

On the bus ride, Michelle and I were very fortunate to meet a very well travelled man from Austia, Gerhardt and his 11 year old son Julean. Once we arrived in Savanaket, all of us sat down for dinner together and heard about their travels.

After spending a night in Savanaket, we left early the next morning for Pakse, about 280k south. Another super long ride, but this time we were on a public bus. This bus ride we stopped constantly. No bathroom break, no food break, only breaks to pick up people in various villages. On one of these stops, the bus was overrun with people offering food of many kinds. I mean many kinds. Picture 30 people holding in each hand 20, 24" bamboo sticks consisting of a chicken, frogs and/or bugs. As hungry as I was, I grabbed one with chicken. When I say chicken, it's a whole fricken chicken. Claws, head, neck...you name it. The problem was, I didn't have a place to put the bones and other various parts I didn't eat. Not a great choice of food to eat on the bus.

We arrived in Pakse after about 9 hours, completely exhausted. We were in no mood to lug our backpacks around looking at multiple places to sleep. We settled on a place recommended to us from our Austrian friends. Not a bad choice at all, but more money than we wanted to spend in Laos.

Okay...so, from multiple travellers Michelle and I have spoken with that have taken a similar route as we are doing, they didn't have many good things to say about Pakse. For many, this is a place that people just pass through. We really feel differently. After spending the first night in Pakse, we rented a motorbike and headed south to see an amazing temple (or Wat). This place was pretty amazing! Built into the mountain, I can't really say how old it is, but originally it was built by Hindi followers. It has since become a Buddhist place of worship.

The next day Michelle and I packed up a little backpack with some toiletries and headed out on the motorbike. We drove out to the Bolvean Plateau, 80k northeast of Pakse. There we saw multiple stunning waterfalls. I might add that Michelle had never seen a large waterfall and over the course of two days, she saw many. Words can't do it justice.

After driving this first leg, we went on a different road heading north by another 60k. On this stretch of road we saw where all the Lao coffee is grown. I might add, on this ride, there really aren't any cars or motorbikes around. We passed through multiple villages, but the biggest hazard was the occasional slowing down for various farm animals crossing.

Our final destination on the bike was Tad Lo. This area has three different waterfalls, all epic. One in particular I really can't describe. Picture looking over a granite face about 400-500 feet, straight down. You are all alone here. No barriers. no signs telling you to be careful. If you are afraid of heights (mom), forget it.

We ended up staying in Tad Lo which really is an oasis. It reminded me of the movie "The Beach." You're passing through all these villages, go down a dirt road for 4k only to end up by an amazing waterfall with a couple of guest houses. I can't beleive backpackers haven't found this place. We walked around a bit once arriving, which by the way, our asses were sore as all hell after riding for 5 hours. We ended up having dinner at a place called Jom's Restaurant. Now this is where the fun starts.

Jom, he's a great guy. Michelle and I were comfortably drinking our Beer Lao, sipping on some Lao Lao, when I got the urge to go to the bathroom. Turning the corner, there were four guys around a table, one holding a machette scrapping what I didn't believe he was scrapping. I pointed to the pig walking by, they shook their heads. I pointed to the dog next to the pig and they smiled. I saw a dog on a spit the last time I was here. Now here layed a dog dead on the table. I got out the video camera and watched them open the guy up and gut him. Holy shit. Jom asked if I wanted to try...I immediately said, "Fuck that, I've got a dog at home."

Fast forward, I went back to the table where Michelle and I ate dinner, all the while constantly checking out what was going on with the dog. So...I decided to do it. When in Rome right...I totally ate dog. I had this Dutch guy video tape me and all. Woke up in the morning feeling a bit guilty, thinking of Oliver. Jom told us how they got the dog. The villagers need money and they sell them. It's a delicacy. Foi Gras in Laos.

So now we're back in Pakse. We head out early in the morning for the 4000 Islands. There for about a week and head south to Cambodia. Not sure when or if we'll have email.

I love you all. We're thinking about everyone!

Kev & Michelle

Posted by charley08 06:17 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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