Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ethan's Backpacking SE Asia Notes

Notes for our post teaching trip...

VISAs suck so here's the information we need!
Laos: VISA on Arrival (~$30)
Vietnam: In Advance in Luang Prabang (~$30-$40)
Cambodia: VISA on Arrival (~$20)
Thailand: VISA on Arrival (Free)
Bali, Indonesia: VISA on Arrival ($10 for 7-day transit; $30 for 30-day tourist)
Singapore: Visit pass for 30 days (free)
Malaysia: 30 days for free
Thailand: VISA on Arrival (Free) 

Travel: Tha Wang Pha to Nam Ngen (INFO) border crossing in Nan province by bus. Bus to Pakbeng (INFO) to get on the slowboat to Luang Prabang. (MORE INFO)
VISA: Visa on arrival for Laos OR Tha Wang Pha to Chiang Khong by bus and 2 day slowboat to Luang Prabang
VISA: Laos Visa on arrival

Luang Prabang, Laos
Get our Vietnam Visa ($40/2 day service)
1.) Pak Ou Caves
2.) Kuang Si Waterfalls
3.) Phu Si

Travel to Hanoi: Bus - approximately 24 hours ($20)
VISA: Vietnam Visa will be obtained in Luang Prabang

***Other possible routes through Laos:
Luang Prabang to Phonsavan
1.) Plain of Jars
Naluang Minibus Station - 09:00, 100,000 kip
Naluang Southern Bus Terminal T - Departs 08:30, costs 105,000 kip, takes 10 hours

Phonsavan to Sam Neua for Vieng Xai
1.) Pathet Lao Caves
Departs at 08:00, takes 10 hours and costs 80,000 kip

Phonsavan to Vietnam for Hanoi
Can get to Vinh or hopefully right to Hanoi (no information at this time- check bus station)

Sam Neua to Vieng Xai daytrip for Pathet Laos Caves
Rent a motorbike!! If not...
Phoutanou bus station - costs 25,000 kip, departs at 08:00 and takes 1 hour (arrive at least 30 minutes early)

Sam Neau to Thanh Hoa, Vietnam (for Hanoi/ Halong Bay)
Phoutanou bus station - costs 180,000 kip, departs at 08:00 and takes 11 hours (arrive at least 30 minutes early)


Hanoi, Vietnam
1.) Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (UNESCO)
2.) Electric Train Loop around the Old Quarter
3.) Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc  Son Temple
4.) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Halong Bay, Vietnam
1.) Cat Ba Island
2.) Bay Tour

Travel to Hue: Overnight train - approximately 13 hours from Hanoi ($25 for soft seat air con; $40/$39/$33 for hard sleeper air con lower/middle/top berth; $43/$42 for soft sleeper air con lower/top berth)

Dong Hoi (On the way to Hue, maybe? maybe not?)
1.) Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Hue, Vietnam
1.) Complex of Hue Monuments (UNESCO)
2.) Imperial Enclosure of the Citadel
3.) Thien Mu Pagoda

Travel to Hoi An: Train to Da Nang goes through a beautiful pass that the bus does not - approximately 3 hours ($3.5 for soft seat air con); bus to Hoi An from Da Nang - approximately 45 minutes (bus approx $3; taxi approx $9-$15)

Da Nang, Vietnam (time permitting?)

Hoi An, Vietnam
1.) Quan Cong Temple, Hoi An ancient town (UNESCO)
2.) My Son Sanctuary (UNESCO)
3.) Japanese Covered Bridge

Travel to Nha Trang: Bus back to Da Nang (45 minutes); overnight train to Nha Trang - approximately 10 hours ($16 for soft seat air con; $24/$23/$19 for hard sleeper air con lower/middle/top berth; $25/$25 for soft sleeper air con lower/top berth)

Nha Trang, Vietnam
1.) Beach
2.) Hon Chong Promontory
3.) Long Son Pagoda (Buddha statue on a hill overlooking the city) 
4.) Po Nagar Cham Towers (North Tower)
5.) Vinpearl Land
6.) Thap Ba Hot Spring Center

Travel to Ho Chi Minh: Overnight train - approximately 8 hours ($10.5 for soft seat air con; $17/$16.5/$14 for hard sleeper air con lower/middle/top berth; $18/$17 for soft sleeper air con lower/top berth)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Also known as Saigon. Reunification Palace, Cho Quan Church's view from the belfry, Giac Lam Pagoda, Notre Dame Cathedral, Jade Emperor Pagoda, water puppetry, Saigon Race Track, Cu Chi Tunnels

Travel to Phnom Penh: Bus - approximately 6.5 hours ($11)
VISA on arrival for Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Silver Pagoda of the Royal Palace, Psar Thmel central market, Tuol Sleng Museum about the killing fields, the killing fields themselves in Choeung Ek, Wat Phnom (or will we be templed out?), Phnom Tamao animal sanctuary, Olympic Stadium for some football, Wat Ounalom, Nail Bar for cheap pedicures...

Travel to Siem Riep: Bus - approximately 6 hours (Mekong Express - $12; Paramount Angkor $7) or Speed Boat - approximately 8.5 hours ($35)

Siem Reap, Cambodia
The top site here is Angkor Wat (UNESCO). If you haven't heard of it, shame on you, and Google it. Angkor Balloon offers balloon rides with "great" views of the temple. TripAdvisor sounded skeptical, but those that went in the afternoon were generally happy with the experience. Ta Prohm is as seductive as Lara Croft according to Lonely Planet and that is good enough for me. Angkor Tham, Prek Toal bird sanctuary, the flooded forest of Kompong Phhluk, and maybe Bar Street.

Travel to Bangkok:
VISA on arrival for Thailand


Travel to Bali: Plane
VISA for Indonesia


Travel to Singapore: Plane
VISA for Singapore



Travel to Kualu Lumpur: Train from Singapore to Johor Bahru to Kualu Lumpur - Buying the train ticket to Kualu Lumpur in Johor Bahru, Malaysia is 2x cheaper - approximately 7 hours ($15/$30 for 2nd/1st class)
VISA for Malaysia 

Kualu Lumpur

Travel to Penang: Train to Butterworth - approximately 7.5 hours ($5/$10/$20 for 3rd/2nd/1st class)


Travel to Ko Tao: Train from Penang to Surat Thani - approximately 11.5 hours - ($30 for 2nd class sleeper)
VISA on arrival for Thailand

Ko Tao / Ko Pha-gnan

Phuket/Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi is the setting of "The Beach" featuring Leo DiCaprio. Need I say more?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Three days in Malaysia

Our trip to Kuala Lumpur (KL) was definitely not my favorite, but it could have been worse I guess. We took a bus from Singapore over the bridge to Malaysia where we went through customs and then walked to the train station to wait for our train to KL. The train was like the trains in Thailand, but air conditioned (which was nice, but it was a little too cold at times). Anyway, the train was just slow and seemed to take forever, but eventually we made it to KL. We hopped off the train and bought tokens for the city transit train to take us to the area we wanted to stay in. We got off near Chinatown and found a place (not a very nice one, but they had air conditioning) to stay. Once we were settled, we got some food and walked around the area which was pretty cool and consisted of three market streets and an indoor market/mall with a food court. (E- We could have taken the train from Singapore, but there was some weird conversion rate going on so it was about three times cheaper to take a short bus ride over the border and then hop on the train in Malaysia. Weird stuff.)

The next day we headed for KL's most famous buildings, the Petronas Towers. The towers (or Twin Towers as they're called in KL) are 88 stories tall and connected by a skybridge and really look like they could have been built in Oz. The buildings are made entirely of shiny steel and glass that has a green tint to it. They belong in Oz... I'm sure of it. Anyway, you can tour the towers in the morning, but it's expensive so we didn't partake. But there is a mall in the bottom part that houses stores way above our budget, but we walked around in it anyway. There is also a really nice park behind the towers that has a huge fountain, lots of green space and even a kids pool. It's pretty sweet. Anyway, we hung out around the park and took some photos for a while, then ate lunch in the mall. After that we walked to another one of KL's famous buildings, the KL Tower. It kinda looks like the Space Needle in Seattle, but not nearly as cool. There really wasn't a good spot to hang out there so we headed back to Chinatown after only a few minutes there. That night we walked around the market again and enjoyed the a/c in our room.
In the morning we headed out of town to see a Hindu temple in a cave. The caves are known as Batu Caves and we took the public transit train to get there. The public trains in KL are really nice by the way. Anyway, there is a huge gold statue outside the caves, which was probably to coolest part about it. It's just enormous. To get up to the caves you climb 250-ish steps past hungry monkeys. Once you get to the top you walk down into the first big cave and then back up mores stairs to the second cave where the temple is. The inside of the cave is completely concreted with stairs and even a souvenir shop so really the coolest thing is just how big it is. There are monkeys, which some people thought were cool, but I'm not a huge fan. They are really used to people and are ready to snatch food from your hands at any time. It's kind of creepy. After we watched a monkey steal some guys juice and try to get into it with it's teeth we gladly left the crazy monkeys behind and headed back into town on the train.
We didn't do much of anything that afternoon, but we did head back to the towers that night to see them all lit up. We both agreed that they look cool during the day, but they look really cool at night. Every level was lit up with big bright lights and it made the towers look very futuristic. The following day was our last in KL and we decided to see the movie The Host at the mall in the towers. The movie was great, except they skipped over all the kissing scenes, which we didn't realize until half way through the movie. Public displays of affection are pretty taboo in Malaysia and I guess we didn't really think that would apply to movies, but I guess it does. Oh well! We still really enjoyed the movie.
We left that night to stay the night at the airport since our flight was really early in the morning. We could have taken a cab early in the morning, but it would have cost an arm and a leg and it was cheaper to take the bus there at night. Unfortunately, the terminal we flew out of was the worst airport ever and had nowhere good to sleep. We ended up laying on padded seats at a restaurant. We thought they would be mad and kick us out, but they didn't bother us. It was really bright in there so I probably slept for about a half an hour. Eventually 4am rolled around and we headed over to check in to our flight. Once we were past security there was a big bunch of padded benches that would have been ok to sleep on and I was really annoyed that we didn't have access to them until then. It was my least favorite night of the entire trip, but we were headed back to Thailand and I was very excited :]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Singapore: Phenomenal City, Itty Bitty Living Space!

From our few moments in Singapore, I knew I was going to like it. The airport had free internet and was one of the nicest I've ever been to. Reportedly, there is a pool and a garden somewhere in there, but we didn't have time to check it out. We met up with the girls, grabbed our bag and took one of the lovely city buses to Little India where we hoped to find a reasonably priced room. Singapore is a highly developed little country, which means that, unlike most SE Asian countries, things aren't significantly cheaper there than in the US. So finding a place that fit our little budgets, was a bit difficult and we ended up in a dorm style hostel for about 15 US dollars each.
Marina Bay Sands and the Helix Bridge
Anyway, after we got settled we got some food right outside the hostel (I think it was Indian) and spent the rest of the day not doing much of anything. The girls wanted to go to Universal Studios the next day, but wanted to buy tickets online. They ended up going on a pretty wild goose chase to find one, but said that Singaporeans were very helpful people! When they got back, we were chatting about Universal and they were making it sound really fun. Since we had planned on going to the aquarium, we decided to flip a coin to see which one we would go to. In the end, Universal Studios won and we just hoped they would take our American credit card since we didn't get enough Singapore dollars out to pay for it.
In the morning, we tried to get ready quietly, but it was pretty useless. We felt bad for the other two people in the room with us. Oh well! We hopped on a bus and headed for Sentosa Island where Universal and the aquarium are located. When we arrived we had that "little kid going to Disney World" feeling... yes, it still happens even at 25 years old! There were no issues with our credit card and as soon as we got our tickets we headed straight for Battle Star Galactica - the dueling roller coasters. We actually ended up running at one point, I have no idea why, but we were overly excited about this ride. We got to the line and the wait was 5 minutes - a dream come true. The rest of the day, we did the Mummy Ride, Transformers the Ride, the Jurassic Park Ride (against my better judgement given my irrational fear of dinosaurs), the Shrek 4D experience and even the Sesame Street children's ride. And when we had ridden all the rides that there were to ride, we rode a couple of them again. The whole day we didn't wait more than 20 minutes to get on a ride and it was awesome. The park is a lot smaller than the one in Florida, but it took us all day to get through and we left very happy, albeit tired, campers.
The next day was the girl's last full day and we decided to check out the Gardens by the Bay. It's essentially a huge garden right next to Singapore's coolest resort - Marina Bay Sands. The gardens have two huge domes that house man made forests, an outdoor grove of "super trees" and a really neat light show at night. That day we walked around the gardens for a bit, but I wasn't feeling so good and we decided to go to the aquarium instead to get out of the heat. On the way to the aquarium we got caught in a pretty intense downpour but made it to the walkway to Sentosa just in time. In typical Singapore fashion, we could walk all the way to the aquarium under a roof - you can't do that elsewhere in SE Asia. You just can't.  The aquarium was really awesome, although I still prefer the Georgia Aquarium (they have whale sharks and beluga whales... you can't beat that). The one in Singapore does boast the world's largest oceanarium though, which really was spectacular. They had a couple of manta rays and one giant manta that was really fun to watch roam around the gigantic tank. (E- There was an English family there and the little girl kept saying, "Mummy!! Look at that massive manta ray! Mummy! It's massive!" It was hilarious! There's something about kids with English accents.) Once I had had my fill of the underwater world we headed back to meet up with the girls. Once we were back we got a message from them that they ended up going to the rooftop bar at Marina Bay Sands and were going to eat dinner around there. So we were on our own and ended up getting Subway (Ethan's favorite) for the 3rd night in a row.
Oceanarium at the S.E.A. Aquarium
The next day we all went to see the giant merlion statue and said our goodbye's there. Alexis and Shannon's flight left around 5 back to Bangkok where they spent a few days before heading back to the USA. The rest of the day we spent getting lunch at the mall and drinks at the rooftop bar. That night we headed back to the same area for dinner and to see the light show at the gardens. The trees, which are giant metal structures with real plants planted around their trunks, are covered in lights that are timed with music and really neat to watch. There was also a laser light and water show from the boardwalk of the mall, which was arguably the coolest one I'd ever seen. The show involved projecting images onto a wall of water created by fanning the water from a huge fountain and it was awesome. It also involved lights and music and even bubbles at the end. Well done, Singapore. Well done.
Merlion Statue
 The next morning was another early one as we packed up and headed for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning to SCUBA!

We came to Bali hoping to get some relaxing beach time in, but when we walked into Padang Bai we were slightly surprised by its lack of beach. Let me rephrase: there was a beach, but it was being used as a dock for about 100 boats, so it wasn't quite the beach scene we were looking for. We chose Padang Bai because we had read that it was a good place to learn to dive and had some nice beaches, but after seeing the main beach we weren't sure we were going to stay. We sat down to talk it out at a  guesthouse for a while and a little bit more at the restaurant next door, which was also a dive center. We decided eventually to give it a night and see how we felt the next day. Ethan and I really wanted to try scuba diving and Alexis and Shannon could hang out at the "hidden" beach we discovered on the internet while researching beaches nearby. So, we checked into a place a bit off the main beach because it was cheaper and walked over to the hidden beach to see if it was as great as we had read it was. It was pretty cool so the girls decided they could hang there while we did our diving. After the beach we ended up going back to the restaurant/dive center after dinner to see if we could do a "discovery dive" the next day.

When we got there we were greeted by Elena who was really, really nice and talked us through the whole process of the discovery dive and what level of scuba certification it would get us. Since we arrived in Thailand and heard how cheap it was to scuba dive we knew we wanted to try it. So when we decided to go to Bali, where we heard there were great dive sites, we thought it would be a great place to try it out before we took the plunge and got our open water certification. After hearing all the information we decided to go for it. I told her how scared I was of deep water and large fish and she said that there would be three experienced divers there including herself, which made the decision much easier. In fact, she made it sound so appealing that Shannon and Alexis decided to join in! Yay! After we left our info and a deposit with her we played a round of cards and called it a night. We had a big day of scuba ahead!
In the morning we met Elena (who is from Slovakia) and our two dive masters Zdenka and Martin (also from Slovakia) at the swimming pool where we would learn the basics of scuba diving. We donned our scuba gear, which included a full length wetsuit, booties, weight belt, BCD (buoyancy control device) and eye mask. We didn't actually put the BCD (a big vest that inflates and holds your oxygen tank and all your hoses) on until we got in the water, which was a great thing because they are not light! Anyway, once we were in the water we learned how to inflate our vests, breathe through the regulator and do other basic scuba things like clearing water out of our masks. Once we had gone through all the basics, scuba diving seemed a lot less complicated than we had imagined. I was still really nervous to get in the ocean though!
We left the pool and headed for the boat, where they loaded our gear and we hopped on. Well, I tried to hop on but got caught on a rope and fell in front of like 10 people and got about 2 pounds of sand in my wetsuit... it was only slightly embarrassing. Anyway, we got on the boat and headed to our first spot called Blue Lagoon. We put on all our gear and got into the water. The way down was pretty scary, but we could see the bottom, which made it much easier. Once we were at the bottom I felt a lot better about the whole experience, but still opted to hold Elena's hand for the first 10 minutes. We swam around the lagoon for about 35 minutes, but when we surfaced we realized that Zdenka, Martin and Alexis weren't with us. So Elena went back in to find them and about 10 minutes later they joined us on the boat. Alexis was apparently having a mask issue and had to surface early, so Martin and Zdenka went with her and when they came back down they were a bit behind us, which explains why they didn't know when we had surfaced. No harm done though!
Elena, our dive instructor
The second dive we did at another site not far from the first. Everything went really well and we both felt more comfortable under the water. We saw lots of fishes and coral and really enjoyed it. When we got back to the dive center/restaurant, Elena had us write down all the info about our dive including all the animals we saw. After a lengthy chat about our dives and getting open water certified we decided to stay in Padang Bai and do our open water training with Elena over the next two days. We felt very comfortable with her and we would be the only ones in the "class," which sounded awesome. She gave us each a book before we left to read a couple chapters of and answered some questions. Later, we met back up with her to go over the questions and make sure we got them right. That night we went to bed very excited to get started, but sometime during the night Ethan was awoken by what we can only assume was food poisoning. He spent most of the rest of the night in the bathroom...
MSU fan?
In the morning we informed Elena about his issue and she was extremely kind about the whole thing. (E- Elena called the restaurant and had them bring a guava shake to the pool right away for me. She also kept me hydrated on Pocari Sweat water. She swore by both of these for any stomach issues. I couldn't get over how incredibly friendly everyone at OK Divers was.) She assured us we would take it easy and if he needed any breaks, it wouldn't be a problem. In the pool, we learned more skills such as taking our masks off and using our buddies emergency regulator in case we ran out of air. We spent about 3 hours learning and practicing skills in the pool and were even more excited to get back in the ocean when we finished. We had to wait until the next day though for our last two dives. Later that day we had more studying to do and since we finished reading all the chapters, we decided to take all the quizzes and tests in one sitting. It ended up being a long evening, but we were really glad we got them out of the way and that we passed!
The last two dives we went to the same locations, except on the first dive we had to practice a few of the skills we learned in the pool. After we did the skills we spent another 40 minutes or so roaming around and it was awesome. The visibility was perfect and we even saw a little stingray! On the second dive, the visibility wasn't as great but we saw a sea turtle and got to watch it for a while, which made the entire experience worth all the time, studying and money. It was great! With each dive, being under the water was much easier and we were really happy we decided to take on scuba. :] After our second dive we got cleaned up and headed to Kuta (very touristy, Cancun Mexico type of place) to meet up with Shannon and Alexis who went there the day before. When we arrived we found Shannon in a panic because Alexis had come down with some stomach issue too. Our plan was to sleep at the airport, but Alexis was in no condition to do that so we found a place to stay for a few hours until our very early flights. It was quite possibly the most disgusting place we've ever stayed, but it worked in a pinch.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ubud, Bali

Our plane to Bali left at 6am and we got to the airport before they even opened the check in station. It was brutal being up that early, but the excitement made it easier. The plane ride was a blur because I slept most of the time. After we landed and got our bags we grabbed a taxi to our first destination - Ubud.
Good morning, Bali!
The taxi took about an hour and a half and dropped us off near some places to stay. The first place was full so we kept walking til we got to another, where we ended up staying. We got a huge room with a/c that had floor to ceiling windows on the 2nd floor so we had a lovely view of the palm trees. There was no hot water, but aside from that it was great. Once we were settled we took a walk around to find a place to exchange our money and get some food. We also tried to find our friend Josie who was also staying in Ubud so we made plans to visit a volcano with her in the morning. I desperately needed a nap so I went back and the other three continued the search. They found her eventually then came back for me and we all went for dinner. We called it a night after that so we could get up to see the sunrise (third time in a week!) on top of this volcano.

The alarm went off at around 2 and we hopped on a van for an hour until we reached the base of the volcano. Alexis ended up staying behind because she wasn't feeling well, so I took her camera for her. The volcano is active, but hasn't erupted since 2000 or so. Anyway, our guides gave us flash lights and led us through the dark, taking several much needed breaks. It was pretty chilly when we got there, but about 30 minutes into the hike I was drenched in sweat. The steepest part was fairly short, luckily, and when we got to the top they had breakfast and hot drinks for us. The breakfast consisted of bread with pineapple jam, peanuts, chocolate bars and juice. It wasn't exactly what I would call breakfast, but whatever. The sunrise was pretty awesome and after we took about 100 pictures we explored the opening of the crater that was left after the last eruption. There is quite of bit of steam coming out of the crater and at one spot it created a cave that they called the sauna. It was pretty neat. After the little tour we headed back down, which was actually harder than I imagined it would be. The rocks made it very slippery and we all slipped a few times. We all made it back uninjured though. Once we were back at our room, Shannon and I took a nap and we didn't do much of anything the rest of the day.
In the morning we rented two motorbikes and set out to see some of the sites. The first one was a temple in a cave and a ruin of a temple that used to be over a river. The temple wasn't super interesting so we decided to take a stroll through the jungle to see a different temple. Again, temple wasn't so cool, but the jungle was really pretty. Extremely hot, but pretty. After that we got some lunch and headed over to another temple that is set into the side of a cliff surrounded by rice paddies. It was really beautiful and peaceful. As we were leaving (walking up a seemingly endless stairway) it started pouring rain. We made it to the top of the stairs and ended up having to wait under a pagoda for the rain to ease before hoping back on our bikes. (E- I looked in a couple of stalls for souvenirs and slipped on the rain soaked tile and fell on my butt. Everybody started laughing and whenever I walked by a new stall, the owner would say, "slowly. slowly. more slowly." It was fun.) Of course, we all left our helmets with the openings pointed up so they were all filled with rain water - it did not make for a comfy helmet! By the time we left it was getting late, but we wanted to try and make one more stop and crossed our fingers that it wasn't closed.
(E- Skye left out an important part of our Bali trip. I led us through a "shortcut" to save time that took us on roads that weren't clearly on the map, but we got lucky and I found the way perfectly. However, the shortcut took us through some very rural villages where we were witnesses to a woman standing on the side of the road, smiling at us, while peeing down her leg. We also saw a woman that had her traditional Balinese dress not pulled up all the way. In other words, her female chest parts were out over her dress. Again, she just stood there with a big grin on her face.)

We pulled in and to our surprise it was open an hour later than we thought it would be. Hooray! The place is a coffee plantation that uses cats to ferment their coffee beans. The cats eat the raw beans and then poop them out and that's what they use to make coffee. They also use normal beans to make coffee, but the Luwak coffee is their specialty. So we got a tour of the plantation and then got to sample all of their coffee flavors for free! Except the Luwak. That was $5/cup, so we got one for everyone to try. Anyway, we tried 7 different coffees and 2 teas. I pretty much hate anything that tastes like coffee, but I really liked their chocolate and vanilla flavored coffees. I also never drink coffee, so I was a little buzzed after we asked for 2 more cups of those flavors. It was too good not to drink though. After the tasting they send you out through the store, but we didn't buy anything because it was all way overpriced.
The next day we checked out of the room and made a quick trip to what is known as Monkey Forest. It's essentially a sanctuary for hundreds of monkeys and people go there to feed them and watch them run around. The monkeys are used to being fed and know exactly where to find food on people. If they see you with a plastic bag, they know you have food. We brought a bag of bananas for them and Ethan was handing them out to some of the monkeys. As we continued walking the monkeys got less afraid to approach him and eventually a couple of them ended up climbing right up his legs and onto his back and shoulders for their snacks. Monkeys are cute, but I really don't want them touching me so I was really glad Ethan had the bananas. At one point a very large monkey aggressively yanked the bag out of Ethan's hands. Ethan wasn't about to try and get the bananas back, but he wanted to throw the bag away, so he tried to pick it up. Big monkey did not like that and hissed very loudly at us - we let him have the bag too and ran away. After the monkeys we walked back to get our stuff and grab a cab to our next destination.
Trying to negotiate to get my bag back.
As we were walking toward the main road in town, Alexis fell behind a bit (happens all the time). After a few minutes we stopped to see where she was and saw her walking very quickly toward us. She had an interesting look on her face and blurted out "Ummm did you guys see who that was back there? That was Tyra Banks!" I was totally lost, but Ethan and Shannon said that they thought it was her, but couldn't believe that she would just be casually shopping on this random street in Ubud. I was in disbelief and turned right around to check it out for myself. Sure enough as we got closer I saw her - it really was Tyra Banks. Alexis bravely walked right up to her and told her we had to stop and say hi because we were huge fans. I said nothing because I was so starstruck and in such disbelief that this was happening. She asked what we were doing etc and Alexis told her our whole spiel and Tyra asked where we were from so we each got a chance to proudly tell her our home states. It was awesome, but I  am sure I looked like a an idiot with my mouth hanging open and my "deer in the headlights" look on my face. Anyway, we said goodbye to Tyra and continued down the street in a complete state of shock. We talked about our past celebrity sitings the entire way to our next spot - Padang Bai.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bye bye Emily!

The bus ride from Siem Reap to Bangkok wasn't too bad, but the border crossing was down right awful. We had to change buses (because Cambodian's drive on the right and Thai's on the left) so we had to bring all of our stuff with us to the outdoor departure counter and then walk across the border to the arrival office where we had to wait in line outside for at least 45 minutes while they let probably 30 inside at a time to get their Thai stamp. It. Was. Shear. Torture. Somehow Shannon and I got separated from the rest of the group and they got inside ahead of us. About 10 minutes after they let them in they let 30 people from the other line in and I came seriously close to passing out. I had to take off my backpack and sit on the ground to avoid falling face first into the pavement. Luckily, it wasn't long until they let us in and we jumped ahead in line with the rest of the gang and the process was really fast. As soon as we got outside (where we had to wait under a tent with about 20 chairs for about 75 people) we bought a bunch of water and I think I drank a whole bottle on the spot. I felt terrible and was shaking uncontrollably. It was not fun. Soon after we got the water they taxied us to a place where we could get food then we were on our way to Bangkok. They let Ethan and I sit in the front seat so I didn't get car sick on top of already feeling miserable and we stopped at a 7-Eleven for some much needed sugar. After my favorite snack (banana muffin) and some Pepsi I was feeling much better. :]
Illicit drug trafficking will be punished with death penalty.
We got into Bangkok much later than expected, but still with plenty of time to shower and roam around Khao San Road. The next day morning we roamed Khao San looking for a place where Emily could get a tattoo and after she was freshly inked we headed to Shannon and Alexis' favorite place - the mall. (E- Em really liked the bamboo style. It didn't hurt her at all...(coughtearscoughlotsoftearscough!) We decided to see Oz and it was terrible. Entertaining, but awful. After which we ate dinner and prepared to send Emily back to the US of A. We sent her on her way very early in the morning and went back to sleep.
Later in the day Ethan and I had decided to take another bag to the storage place we had been to 4 weeks earlier to lighten our load even more. What was supposed to be a 1 hour journey ended up taking 2.5 hours, which slightly messed up our reunion with Alexis and Shannon at one of the malls. We got there and went to the place where they said they would be, but they weren't there. So we waited a little bit, but decided we were too hungry to wait any longer. We got some Pizza Company and on the way back down to the first floor decided to stop back by the meeting place. It was a good thing we did because there they were! Hooray! They hadn't eaten yet so we went back to the Pizza Company with them and then went to the grocery store to replenish some necessities for the rest of the trip. We didn't do much of anything that night because our alarms were set for 2am so we could get to the airport in time for our 6am flight to BALI!!!  

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Killing Fields and Angkor Wat

The border crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia was the easiest cross we had so far. We barely had to walk and the bus driver filled out all of our departure/arrival cards for us. After we got our visas we hopped back on the bus. Super easy. (the bus driver did accidentally leave my passport at the counter where he filled out our forms, but ran back for it when we realized what had happened). When we got off the bus in Phnom Penh we were immediately assaulted by a wave of intense heat unlike any we had experienced. All of S.E Asia is hot - let's be honest - but this was the hottest I had felt in our entire time here. It was brutal. We found a place to stay and paid an extra dollar per person for air conditioning.

After we got settled in we headed out to get some food and check out the Tuol Sleng prison where Cambodian's were held during the Cambodian genocide because they were thought to have been against the regime that had taken over. If you've never heard of the Cambodian genocide, first Google it, then read 'First They Killed My Father' - a book written by a girl who survived the genocide. Anyway, the prison is actually a school that they turned into a prison and now it is a memorial and museum. They left most of the prison the way they found it after the genocide so you could walk into the teeny tiny prison cells the Cambodians were held in and see the rooms where the kept people shackled together. It was very sad, but we're glad that we were able to learn more about how this tragedy happened and who was behind it. As we were leaving, one of the (two or three remaining) survivors of the prison was selling signed copies of his book about his time there and Ethan got to hear him talk a little about it. We bought the book and took a photo with him. After the prison we walked to the "Russian Market," but it was closed so we headed back to our room.

The next day we hired a tuk tuk (open air taxi of sorts) to drive us to what is known as the Killing Fields - another memorial to the Cambodian genocide. This particular killing field, known as Cheong Ek, (there were hundreds all over the country) was used to execute the prisoners from Tuol Sleng. Today it is set up as a walking tour and they give you a set of headphones to listen to information about the site. You can also listen to some survivors talk about their experiences. First, you see where they dropped the prisoners off and then you walk by some of the mass graves that were used to bury the bodies. A couple of them have been preserved and are surrounded by fences and have roofs over them. Others were dug up so the bones could be analyzed to find out how they were killed. Then you walk around a "lake" and listen to some survivor stories and make your way back to more mass graves. The graves just look like big depressions in the earth and if you look closely you can see bone fragments and small pieces of cloth that surface from the graves. The last stop is the memorial stupa that houses thousands of human bones that were dug up from the graves. Cheong Ek was another very depressing, but worthy experience in Cambodia. (E- They truly did an incredible job at the site. With a lot of things in SE Asia being halfway thought through, this was a very impressive memorial to the genocide. It was a very intimate experience that provided a lot of first hand accounts of the horrific acts that occurred here. There were stories about the victims as well as from the soldiers' point of view. I can't believe humans have the capability to do this kind of thing...)
After that we felt a bit down, but really glad we went. We headed to the Russian Market and bought some souvenir shirts and some bathing suits. I have no idea why it's called a Russian Market because most of the stuff that you could buy there are things that are sold in the US. I bought a bathing suit that would normally be sold in Target - weird. Anyway, after that we had our tuk tuk driver drop us down by the river where the bars and western food restaurants are plentiful. We ate dinner and then tried to check out the night market, but it wasn't open. After that fail, we called it a night and headed back. We had an early morning bus to catch to Siem Reap!
The bus was extremely slow and stopped to pick up random people on the side of the road at what seemed like 10 mile intervals. We were very relieved when we pulled into Siem Reap that day. The place we stayed in Phnom Penh had told us that they had a sister hotel in Siem Reap and that if we stayed there they would pick us up from the bus station. So when we got to the "station" (it wasn't much more than a rickety shack on a patch of dirt) there were two tuk tuks waiting for us. It was great, but when we got to the hotel they told us it would be more money than what we had originally been quoted. After we got a bit frustrated the woman went to speak to her boss, who let us stay there for the price we had been told, but there was no a/c and no hot water. No hot water is not a big deal, but I wasn't sure if I could deal with no a/c.

After we ate some food we headed to one of the places I have been wanting to see for a very long time - Angkor Wat. It is an ancient temple that is huge, was built a gazillion years ago and from what I could tell is awesome. So we got a ride out there in hopes of watching the sunset. It wasn't quite the sunset we were looking for but it was still really pretty. The temple was much bigger than I thought it would be, but looked much older than it does on TV. We walked around a little bit then headed back after the sun had gone down. We were saving the serious tour for the sunrise the next day. We ate dinner at our hotel and went to the night market where we got massages and I got my toe nails painted. That night I think I slept about 2 whole hours due to the lack of a/c in our room - they put us in a room with an air conditioner (without the remote of course), but that means no ventilation. I was not a happy camper.
The alarm went off at 4:15am and we were headed to Angkor Wat by 5. The sunrise was pretty awesome and we met a super cute Cambodian kid who called himself Justin Bieber. He was promoting his mom's shop for breakfast so after the sun rose we headed over there for some grub. The rest of the day we spent roaming around Angkor Wat and the other ruins in the area, sweating bucket fulls and consuming unheard of amounts of water. That night we were dead tired but went to the night market again anyway. Shannon and I didn't stay long and went back to pack up to be ready to head to Bangkok in the morning. Cambodia - you were hot, beautiful and we learned a lot from you... see you again next time!