Five tips on Friday

Every Friday ( until I run out of tips) I am going to share five tips I wish I new before going to SEAsia!

1. Don’t be afraid of the bum gun. — Let me start by saying these are not some fancy bidet that you will want to wiggle up next to. This is a toilet with a kitchen sink sprayer attached to the side. So I’m not going to lie. It is a little intimidating at first … but after the third bus stop with no toilet paper I should have sucked it up and tried it out. (It really isn’t that hard to aim.) But no I waited almost two whole months! Major mistake. Don’t wait. Embrace the bum gun.

Continue reading

Gotta Get to Malaysia!

8pm, Krabi, Thailand: “Hi can we book a bus to the Perhinthian Islands, Malaysia for 7am tomorrow morning?”

Lady, looking at us like we’re morons: “It’s Ramadan, buses are full the next few days.”

Right. That’s an issue.

Next and only option- fly. Fly directly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or fly to Singapore and snag a bus to KL to save $45? Why not make what could have been a four hour journey into a 16 hour journey? For the sake of saving $45, we took option B.

After flight, boarder crossing, and several city buses later, we found ourselves on our last (coach) bus of the night wishing it was an all nighter. That’s how you know traveling has become part of you- you’re actually wishing you could stay on the bus, because you know that when you arrive at 2am you still need to find accommodation. Hostel shopping at 2am is always a good time. We actually didn’t think we’d get into KL any later than 10pm. HA.

We never book in advance. The only other time we couldn’t get on a bus the next morning was from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Siem Reap and that was only a minor inconvenience. Trust us, we’ve been on our fair share of buses (over 65 hours in Vietnam alone). Throw in Ramadan and you get our second fully booked bus incident.

Unfortunately this cut off the Perhinthian Islands. We spent a little to much time in the Thai Islands (mainly because we couldn’t get ourselves to leave Koh Tao), so that cut into our Malaysia time already. It would have consumed too much time for us to travel from KL to the north in order to dive in the Perhinthians. That’s okay though, it was and adventure!

Honestly, times like this just make travel hilarious. All we could do is laugh, and I’m actually happy about how things turned out. It was an interesting journey with more thrills than just getting on an organized bus. We are so patient with transportation and being in travel mode from one place to the next it’s not even funny. We joke “Hurry up and wait!” because they’re always rushing you, just to make you wait.

Basically, we hung out in KL for five days walking around the city, window shopping at the mall, sleeping in, eating WAY too many sweets, chilling in the most lively China Town I’ve ever experienced, and climbing the countless stairs of the Batu Caves.

I really liked Malaysia. It was exciting to be in a big city- a really nice one at that! Malaysia was very different from any other country because it had so many different ethnicities but was mainly Muslim. I had never been to a Muslim country so it was nice to experience a new culture. I found the people of Malaysia to be the friendliest I have ever met. They always said hi to us and were willing to help us in any way they could.

I left Malaysia with a smile on my face, ready to concur Singapore!

DSC_0324
2012-08-04 11.15.02
DSC_0279
DSC_0017
DSC_0037
DSC_1041
DSC_0022
DSC_0304 DSC_0311
DSC_0272

Next up- an odd time in Singapore!

Phuket, Phi Phi, Railay

Phuket: Glen, Nick, Mar and I spent two days in Phuket doing nothing. We set foot on Patong beach for about ten minutes and spent time walking around this oddly modern city filled with home favorites like Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry’s. In the evening we discovered a bar that like to blast classics from Bon Jovi to Joan Jett. I wasn’t complaining.

We said goodbye to Glen who was off to Singapore and eventually Tokyo. We didn’t want to see him go because the four off us were having such a good time together. I feel like I’ve known Glen and Nick for a long time.

After another lazy day in Phuket, the remaining three amigos went to Koh Phi Phi, the infamous island where the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” was filmed.

photo2-4

Nick and I-First day on Phi Phi. Safe to say the tide was out.

And then it rained for two days. And by rain I mean it was the wrath of Titan raining down on Phi Phi. The streets were filled with water up to my shins in some areas! Thankfully we had a covered porch where we all read and relaxed. I kind of loved it 🙂

We also discovered that our room came with a cat, who Nick named Bernie Cat. I kicked him out several times but for some reason he stilled loved me. I guess I did pet him the most.

2012-07-30 18.28.25

Kitty Kitty

DCIM101GOPRO

Nick, Mar and I at “The Beach”

2012-07-30 10.38.48
DCIM101GOPRO
DCIM101GOPROIt turns out that the actual scene from the movie was a longtail boat ride away. We finally got a nice day to make our way over there. Along the way we stopped to see monkeys on a different beach and went snorkeling in another location.

I didn’t expect to have to climb through a wet rock tunnel and into a patch of palm trees in order to see The Beach. That made it feel so adventurous like the movie, since they had to find the beach as well!

The next day we unexpectedly said goodbye to Nick because he realized he needed to be in Bangkok sooner than he thought to fix his visa for India. He is filming in India for the next few months but his visa wasn’t long enough. He got it all sorted out thankfully. After a month of being with the same interchanging group, Nick was our last friend to leave. Mar and I were on our own for the first time in a month! AH!

We went to the viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi. This view is certainly in my top five favorite views I’ve ever seen! The colors of the water and surrounding hills were vibrant and serene.

2012-07-31 09.35.36
2012-07-31 09.37.03

Our last Thai Island was Railay, a very small and underdeveloped island a short skip away from Phi Phi.

Upon arriving via long tail boat, we were surprised to be dropped off in knee deep water. I barely made it out of the boat without falling over because my backpack was so heavy! Then as we walked toward shore this random lady said to me in a puzzled tone “Why don’t you walk on the sidewalk?”

Oh, of course there’s an under water sidewalk, why didn’t I think of that? **fist to head. Because that’s normal…

There isn’t much to do in Railay unless you’re going deep sea rock climbing (it wasn’t the right season for it apparently). We stayed one night in a very interesting hut that literally just had a mattress on the floor. I think it was maybe $5 for the night…

We walked to the beach on the other side of the island where you could see a pretty rock karst in the ocean. We were a bit puzzled by the view point because we didn’t understand where the path to it was. Well that’s because it’s just a rope hanging from a cliff. We didn’t notice it on the way there but found it on the way back. I had to coax Mar into going because she was afraid we would run into snakes. Once I convinced her she would still be alive at the end of the journey we climbed up and up until we found a beautiful view!

2012-07-31 13.09.46

Railay

2012-08-01 09.31.36

This way to the view point? You got it.

2012-08-01 09.14.56
2012-08-01 08.28.112012-08-01 10.55.01
2012-08-01 09.41.16

That’s all for Thailand! We made so many unforgettable memories in the islands. We also met some really incredible people that I feel so thankful to have met. See https://easternendeavors.wordpress.com/category/martha/ for more on our friends and recent places:)

Later Thailand

Next up: MALAYSIA!

 

It’s all about the people

The month of July 2014 was easily one of the best of my life.

I was in Cambodia and Thailand. I was traveling with my best friend. I was on lounging on white sand island beaches . I was dripping with sweat on some of the largest religious sites in the world. I was walking on dirt, teeth and bone fragments at one of the most powerful genocide memorials in the world. I was watching bubbles float past my face as I learned to breathe under water. I was slowly allowing my face to peel off after the worst sunburn of my life. I was befriending some of the funniest, smartest, most unique and rambunctious people I’ve ever met.

Continue reading

Where are you now?

Obviously a key part of traveling is … traveling! We knew we would be taking lots and lots of taxies, buses, trains, planes, tuk tuks, boats, metros, motorcycles, and on and on.

We were aware. Anna went all over New Zealand and Australia. I went all around Scotland and Western Europe. We already knew how to travel.

The other evening around 7 p.m. we wandered into a travel agency and tried to book a bus for the next morning at 8 a.m. We wanted to go from Krabi, Thailand to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

Continue reading

Continuing through Cambodia

Our next few stops in Cambodia were comical to say the least.

We met our soon to be best friend forever and ever — Brett — on the way to Sihanoukville. Unsurprisingly another Canadian. We just love our Canadian beauties 😉 Even more unsurprisingly he was another solo male traveler. Derp.

Fam-a-lam

Fam-a-lam

We modeled for a hotel brochure after a day spent on the beaches of Sihanoukville. Earlier in the day we were assaulted by gang of rambunctious Cambodia teens. They were diving underwater trying to touch our butts. I might have “dunked” a few of them as pay back.

Later, Anna came down with heat stoke and puked on my feet. Great times! Oh .. and we got a little sun burnt.

A few days later we jetted over to Koh Rong (so right, Koh Rong) where we somehow gathered a gaggle of Americans to roll in the Fourth of July with. Ben, D.J., Nick, Kevin and I (Anna was still indisposed) screamed Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones into the wee hours of the morning. One bar even imported Budweiser for the occasion. It was a pretty sick evening! I mean I love Wapo Fourths but this was one for the record books! We even had some Canadians pretending to be from ‘Merica. *cough Brett cough*

Happy camper

Happy camper

Beautiful Koh Rong

Beautiful Koh Rong

Anna banana

Anna banana

Classic long-tail photo

Classic long-tail photo

3k beach on Koh Rong

3k beach on Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

From the coast we took a detour back to Phnom Penh before hitting up Siem Reap with Brett. We met up with our fellow brochure models — Nev and Jo from England — on our first night, and made plans to hit Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Boy did Angkor not disappoint. I’ll let the pictures to the talking.

IMG_4286

This little light of mine …

IMG_4315

Temple time

IMG_4255

The A-team

DSC_0888

What is everyone taking pictures of?

DSC_0905

Beauty

IMG_4295 IMG_4317 IMG_4271 DSC_0164 IMG_4206 DSC_0126 DSC_0107 DSC_0100 DSC_0089 DSC_0073 DSC_0050 DSC_0049 DSC_0042 DSC_0017 DSC_0986 DSC_0969 DSC_0957 DSC_0954 DSC_0932 DSC_0919 DSC_0872 DSC_0867

 

A quick pub crawl here, few more temples there and we were on our way back to Thailand!

10523840_703614576376830_5733872868142903603_n

Pub crawl!

IMG_4143

Little Pub Street action

10418460_703631693041785_4917575824375411168_n

Woohoo!

We were wrapping up our mainland loop! It was a sad milestone. Over a month finished, four countries, countless pals and memories!

Next, the full moon party and Thai islands!

xx

Is it misinterpretation or do they actually just not care?

Ahhh signs. Meant to direct and instruct. Give tourists some sort of hint of what in the world is going on. Not in Southeast Asia, though!

It may be a pool sign that roughly says ‘if swimming after 9 p.m. not response.’ Not response? The hotel isn’t responsible? They won’t respond? What if I were drowning?! Nope. No response.

Or it might be a sign directing you up a mountain, except the translation is so butchered that no meaning can be interpreted.

 

Anyways! Here are a few of my SEAsia signs:

 

I do not want to know why this sign is necessary.

I do not want to know why this sign is necessary.

Formality is key during border crossings.

Formality is key during border crossings.

Usually

Usually

Wait. Wait just a minute!

Wait. Wait just a minute!

Every city needs one.

Every city needs one.

Solid attempt

Solid attempt

And my personal favorite!

And my personal favorite!

 

To Nam

Anna and I just wrapped up three weeks in Vietnam. We stopped in seven different cities and rode approximately 300 buses (it was actually nine buses, and around 60 hours.)

Quick recap of our time:
Three nights in Hanoi.
Two nights in Halong Bay.
Pit stop in Hué.
Seven nights in Hoi An.
Two nights in Nha Trang.
Two nights in Da Lat.
One night in Mui Ne.
Two nights in Ho Chi Minh.
Add a few nights on sleeper buses and you have our itinerary!

Every stop was completely different. Hanoi was wildly busy and bustling.

20140709-170508-61508487.jpg
Halong Bay was an oasis.

20140709-170757-61677800.jpg

20140709-170802-61682116.jpg

20140709-170759-61679787.jpg

20140709-170800-61680927.jpg
Hoi An was a city of lanterns and our week of pure bliss.

20140709-171238-61958725.jpg

20140709-171242-61962168.jpg

20140709-171243-61963833.jpg

20140709-171240-61960521.jpg

20140709-171247-61967339.jpg

20140709-173212-63132597.jpg

20140709-173208-63128805.jpg

20140709-173211-63131964.jpg

20140709-174158-63718392.jpg

20140709-174157-63717541.jpg
Da Lat was mountainous and refreshingly chilly!
Mui Ne was rolling sandy dunes colored with paprika and curry spices.
Everywhere we went the people were kind (and always eager to sell you something!).
Some days were pure relaxing on the beach.
While others we challenged ourselves to learn about the Vietnam War from the other perspective.
Beginning I was a little bit worried about how people would treat us. Would they resent us? Or blame us? But in actuality most people were incredibly kind. Many people told us the past is the past and they live in the present.
We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh. I can’t remember the exact number but there were thousands of soldiers and civilians living underground to avoid being killed. There were entire civilizations underground with schools, kitchens, living areas.
We climbed through one of the tunnel that has been widened so westerners can climb through. It was 100 meters long and even with the expansion I was feeling very claustrophobic!
There was also a larger display of the traps they would set for US soldiers. I didn’t really listen at this part because our guide was kind of laughing as he said things like ‘Ah! And then we killed another American! Got him!’ I think going out of your comfort zone to better your understanding of the world is extremely important, but the way he talked about death so casually bothered me.
But the country was mostly fun! We spent a lot of time trying to NOT get hit by motorbikes while crossing streets. In Ho Chi Minh there are 10 million people and five million motorbikes. They have two rules of the road: honk constantly and there are no other rules.

20140709-180422-65062305.jpg

20140709-180424-65064296.jpg
We met so many amazing people — local and other travelers. We watched World Cup games and saw the sun rise!
I could have stayed waaaay longer. It was just truly amazing. I can’t wait to go back!
Now we are in Cambodia and heading to the islands soon!!

xx

Still without a computer charger so posting from a cell phone. I’ll try to update again soon!!

20140709-180713-65233703.jpg

Learning as we go

Two years ago I studied abroad in Stirling, Scotland. My pals and I did weekend trips and some longer stretches at the end of the semester. I also traveled for a bit around Europe with my parents before heading back to the states, so I like to think that I wasn’t a total amateur traveler before this trip. I’ve slept in some sketchy dorms and used some nasty showers.

With that said, things have been quite different traveling in Southeast Asia, and I am learning everyday.

Backpack fully loaded!

Backpack fully loaded!

 

Realizations:

  1. Two long sleeve shirts are not necessary.
    Right before I left Wisconsin I had a conversation with my cousins, Kelly and Ellen. They have both spent time in Costa Rica and warned me that I might get use to the heat. ‘It would be 80 degrees and I would have a hoodie on,’ Ellen said. But man. The heat in Asia is not a heat you ‘get use to.’ I would definitely ditch my heavier shirt at home and stick with the light, hiking material for long shirts and pants.Also, I made the strange decision to purchase two pairs of pants over here. Why? No one knows. Thiapants have a hold on my heart and they won’t let go.

    Thai pants for days

    Thai pants for days

  2. Clothes need to be durable.
    With packing my clothes I was only thinking about light clothing that I could mix in match. I had planned on throwing away a lot of the tanks I brought over before returning home because I imagined I would be sick of them. But I didn’t account for the wear and tear that would happen when I wear the same tank top every other day. The cheap tops I picked up at Forever 21 before I took off from home are already running thin and are significantly stretched out. Anna and I may have to do some shopping before too long! Bummer, right? 😉
    Shoes also need to be durable.
    Back home I NEVER wear flip flops. I have my Birks and my Chacos and that all I need in life (little dramatic but I love my Birks). I almost forgot to bring a pair but my doc stressed that shower shoes are a must for SE Asia. The morning of my trip I frantically recovered a pair of pink Victoria’s Secret flops from the back of my closet (high quality, right?).
       Anyways, it was week two and Anna and I were a bit turned around in Chiang Mai, and when I say ‘turned around’ I mean we forgot the name/location of our hostel so we just followed the AC around town. Well, this scorching hot day was about to get even better and my flip flop blew out in the middle of an intersection. I continued to wander aimlessly around town with one shoe dragging until a random Thai man — my saving grace — jumped out of a passing by car, showed me a piece of wire in his hand, and fixed my shoe for me! Whoever you are Thai man, I owe you my life! Or a hug!

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Moral of the story: Don’t bring crappy quality anything with you when you will be living out of a backpack for a few months. Now I’m sporting some super fashionable Abercrombie and Finch flops from a super legit street corner vender. What up!

  3. Plan for accidents.
    Our pals Maddy and Desirée are traveling with what they refer to as a pharmacy. Before they left they stocked up on motion sickness meds, Benadryl, creams and pills for swelling, bug bites and allergic reactions. I brought or took in advance the stuff my doctor recommended (like prescribed pills for typhoid fever, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea) and I brought Tums, Advil and some Band-Aids and Neosporin. But it was definitely not enough. Being the accident-prone klutz that I am I have a handful of bruises cuts. In Laos I slipped in a waterfall and bashed my leg against a SHARP rock. In Laos we got locked out our hostel and had to jump the front gate. Trust me. The spikes are effective.

    Beware

    Beware

 

Differences/Hints

 

  1. While traveling in Europe, aside from a few exceptions, we mostly stayed in hostels with dorm-style rooms. Sometimes the rooms would be as many as 16 people to a room. Here in Southeast Asia, Anna and I had intended on the dorm life, but with private sweets charging only a buck or two more than the dorms, we are high rolling a little bit.
  2. Another difference is towels and bedding! Most places required you to pay a few dollars for a towel … sometimes even for sheets! We definitely don’t need to be toting towels around.
  3. Another thing we are dragging around … TENNIS SHOES! We brought Chacos, light, water-proof hiking sandals that fight great and stay on in water or on land. So far I haven’t even considered touching my runners. I was thinking I would be working out a lot in SE Asia, but with this heat I would have to be getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the sun. No thank you!

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

4. It was also very unnecessary to bring a water bottle with. I was hoping I could use it to live a little eco-friendly on this trip but the only water you can drink comes from a vendor (sorry Mother Earth!). My water bottle has sat in the hood of my bag and it isn’t going anywhere fast. Do I leave it behind? But I love my water bottle. It’s been a month and I haven’t ditched it yet … but we will see.

5. Oh and for anyone out there thinking they will be writing and blogging while traveling, invest in a tablet. This beat-up, slow, janky MacBook Pro is driving me nuts.

6. The last tid-bit of information I’m going to share is the beauty of a neck pillow. Most people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Well, duh Martha. Everyone knows neck pillows are quite nice for airplane travel.’ But you don’t understand the love I have for my neck pillow. I would choose it over my computer as a travel necessity. Anna and I bought neck pillows in LA as a last second decision prior to our 14-hour flight. I use it constantly and people stare on with envy as we whip them out on overnight trains and buses.

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Maybe I’ll update when I realize more mistakes I’ve made. Until then, Anna and I are doing well!

xx

Bangkok, Thailand

 

I have never sweated this much in my entire life.

I have done long runs on endless country roads in blistering summer heat. I have spent nights in agony camping on river banks. I have lived an entire summer in a college house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin with no air conditioning. But the heat in Thailand is something I have never experience before.

I tip my hat to the people of Thailand. There were men in suits and women in sweatshirts unfazed by the humid heat beating down on my ill-prepared Midwest skin. With a high of 95 degrees 70 percent humidity, I was struggling. I won’t go into detail but think butt-sweat.

It took four days, three planes and a few long layovers, but our trip has finally begun!

DSC_0325

Anna Langer at the MSP airport

 

On the 25th we landed in Los Angeles. Our pal Morgan took us under her wing, and the three of us checked out Hollywood Boulevard the first night and Venice Beach the next day. It was beautiful in LA, but the pollution was very noticeable. In our light tanks and Chacos, it was evident we did not blend in well. No night scene for us!

DSC_0361

Venice Beach boardwalk

DSC_0364

Venice Beach

 

 

 

We hopped a 1 a.m. flight to Taiwan, an island off the coast of China. We slept for a majority of it (it was a 13 hour flight!), so the next day wasn’t an issue. We left the airport and explored Taipei and Tamsui. The costs were pretty similar to the costs in the U.S., so we struggled to stay as close to our budget as we wanted. Mostly we just jumped from one air conditioned building to the next!

DSC_0405

A glimpse of Tamsui, Taiwan

Finally after another late night/early morning flight last night, we found our way to Bangkok. We got to our hotel pretty early this morning and allowed ourselves to sleep until we woke up. We probably would have slept longer, but we didn’t realize there was an air conditioner in the room. It was so hot. So, so hot. (I’m sorry – hot will be a theme throughout this blog. Please assume that I was sweating during every activity.)

We spent today bobbing and weaving throughout busy city streets on a tuk tuk — a three-wheeled motorbike — with our incredibly kind driver JoJo. For a very small price (less than a dollar) he drove us to various stops around the city to beautiful temples and shops.

 

DSC_0454

DSC_0460

DSC_0445

DSC_0466

DSC_0483

DSC_0499

DSC_0527

DSC_0521

DSC_0538

For anyone concerned about our safety due to the military coup, you can breathe with ease. We saw a few soldiers today, but after talking with other travelers (for example a 60-ish couple from Hawaii who was leaving after a few weeks of traveling and two 20-something women from England) and some locals, it seems that peace is in order. From what I have read and learned from locals, most people are not in support of the coup, but they cannot deny that the presence has brought peace back to the country and the city.

Tomorrow we are taking a night bus to Chiang Mai. On Sunday we will leave for a three-day trek to spend time with some locals and see what the city has to offer!

xox