Our trip through Southeast Asia

This is the diary of our 6 months in Southeast Asia hope you enjoy our trip and become inspired to travel.

Our first week was spent in Khao Lak, a small resort village on the Andaman Sea near Phuket, Thailand. There happen to be a bunch of Swedes and Germans here,they have charter trips from there. Yesterday we walked through Lamru national park, saw tons of birds and a giant moth, no tigers or bears though, I guess we have to go deeper in to see them. Steven saw a black jungle monitor, big lizard about 3 feet long. Bats fly around at night and so do these giant gray beetles with pinchers. Today I joined Steven on a snorkel, dive day trip to the Similan Islands, it’s a three hour boat trip out. I snorkeled and saw an 8 foot sea snake, very poisonous, 4 octopus, 2 turtles and tons of other fish. Steven has seen three leopard sharks, one brushed right by him, they are not dangerous though. Anyways the dive master convinced me to dive tomorrow instead of just snorkeling so we’ll see how I react if I see a shark. I will be on the lookout. The beaches are stunning, remember the James Bond film “The man with the golden gun” it was filmed nearby if that gives you an idea. Food is good and dirt cheap, you can get a great plate of Thai food for about $1.00 and sometimes even less. Thursday we leave here and head for Ko Tao an island in the gulf of Thailand, it’s another island catering to diving.

Didn’t see any sharks but saw a giant potato grouper, another turtle and a huge moray eel, I decided to snorkel instead and was happy with that, of course Steven dove and was very impressed by the diving. We are now on Ko Samui a very built up island, a bit more expensive and quite sleazy if you know what I mean, we are leaving here tomorrow to head for a more relaxed and smaller island called Ko Tao. It takes sbout 2 hours by speed hovercraft boat. We did one fun thing on this island though and that was to witness some Thai Boxing, it’s pretty brutal. There is a crazy band playing during the matches that speed up and slow down with the pace of the fight. Today we had a beach day the water is so shallow you can walk out a half mile before you are in knee deep water, we also saw a baby elephant come down to the beach for a swim, he was with a person though, not wild, probably part of some turist attraction show. Anyway he was very cute.

We are still on Ko Tao, the island in the gulf of Thailand. We plan on staying a few more days, we have pretty much done and seen everthing this place has to offer. Steven has been diving alot and has been lucky enough to get a bunch of them for free since he volunteered to lead dives when the shop was short people. We have had a couple of storms that had some heavy winds luckly they only last for an hour or less. The other night we were having a nice dinner and conversation with our Burmeses waiter at an outside restaurant and all of a sudden the storm came and blew the booze bottles off the shelf, bottles were flying amongst everything else on the tables, one bottle flew and clocked the waiter in the head, Steven stormed in behind the bar to help rescue the booze, it was quite a scene. Monday we are leaving for the next island over koh phangan we’ll spend some days there then we head north again to Bangkok and up to northern thailand to Chang Mai the great walled city, I am looking forward to that. We will stop along the way because there is town we have to see, it’s overrun by monkeys and they throw crap at everything, really. The people are buddhist so they can’t kill them, they just took over the place.

We are on another island in the gulf of thailand called koh phangnan we found a really nice bay on the northeast side with just a few restaurants and bungalows, we have a bamboo hut right on the beach with french doors facing the ocean, it’s a great view. If we don’t get too bored we’ll stay a week or two. There’s not any good diving here but there is hiking, although it looks rough. We may just keep working on the tan. Tonight there was a BBQ at our bungalows we had fresh prawns (shrimp), they were huge, one was enough for me, it was like eating a good-sized lobster tail.

We are actually back on Ko Tao for the night, we head back to bangkok tomorrow before we go north. We decided 3 days of the beach on Ko Phangnan was good enough. So in the morning we get on a boat for 3 hours and then get on a nice a/c bus to bangkok for a 6 hour ride. We’ll email again from there and hopefully get the pictures posted. We have a few days in bangkok because we have to get our visas for laos, cambodia and vietnam and they take a few days to get. We will be spending my birthday (May 24th) in bangkok, hoping to see some traditional thai theatre and a nice dinner somewhere or maybe a rivercruise.

In Bangkok-We went out for Indian food and went to a club to listen to some live music. We have been doing a lot of sightseeing the last couple of days, The National Museum, and a couple of walking tours through different neighborhoods, one being Chinatown. Chinatown is loaded with wholesale shops selling tons of junk, if you need flip-flops let me know, there are mountains of flip-flops on flipflop alley and I can get them by the dozens, (please don’t make me go back there) also tons of costume jewelry but mostly just junk. Street food there was disgusting aside from the great fruit. I saw BBQ pig face skins hanging like pig-face masks, nothing goes to waste, stomachs, brains, intestines everything goes right into the wok or soup. Friday we have tickets for the National theater, it’s a 2 hour traditional performance for a mere buck fifty. Tomorrow we are going to walk around the Indian neighborhoods and see what they have to sell at their market. We reserved our tickets for Vietnam today we leave Bangkok on June 3rd and land in Ho Chi Min City, from there we travel over land and river through Laos and Cambodia.

Our Vietnam Airlines flight was better than anyone could have imagined. The hour long new airbus 320 flight with a full meal service, left on time and arrived early, better than any airline in the states. We arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City, took a cab to our hotel and walked around town to find something to eat. Our room is on the 5th floor has cable, hot water, AC and a fridge all for a whopping $17. The only draw back is walking up all the stairs, luckily they hoisted our backpack up on a cable in the stairwell. This morning we walked to the Reunification Palace aka the old Presidential Palace where Diem and Nhu used to run the show. Steve (Brother #1) got up to the podium and gave a speech to the 5th party congress with Uncle Ho looking on from behind. Pictures to come. We also got a motorcyle ride to the War Remenants Museum where the collection of War photos, was overwhelming, I actually had to go outside for awhile, very rough to see. Steven wrote in the their guestbook  “A testament to the criminal nature of the imperialist US regime, then as now”.  (See Iraq!!!!)  They also had French and US torture devices and military hardware in abundance. In the courtyard we met a man about Lena’s age who had had a leg and both forearms as well as one eye blown off by a US planted mine in the Mekong Delta when he was ten years old.  We bought a copy of Grahm Greene’s “The Quiet American” from him.  It should have been titled “The Ugly, Horrible, Vicious, Evil, Imperialist American”.  Then to break the emotional tidal wave we walked through a market and picked up some gifts for the kiddos. Later, while I took a nap Steven went out for some Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) and when he came back he had an 11×17 framed portrait of Ho Chi Minh and a huge Flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  I wonder where they will hang? He just can’t be left alone. That was about it for this day, tomorrow we are going to a couple more museums and to Chinatown.

Today we went to the CuChi tunnels that the Viet Cong used, it was quite interesting. I only walked into the tunnel and then back out, it was too small, I felt claustraphobic, the ceiling was very low and you had to be on your knees to get through. Not to mention the place was covered with big centipedes. Steven went through and came up through some other hole all dirty and sweaty. We also went to Cao Dai temple it’s a mixture of all religions, we were there for the 12 o’clock ceremony, they have this ceremony 4 times a day. I don’t how to explain the ceremony, I will have to show pictures. Also at the CuChi tunnel grounds you could shoot a gun, in fact you could shoot just about any gun you wanted, Steven stepped up to the counter and said I’ll have 10 ak-47 bullets please and off he went to shoot, kinda crazy if you ask me. It’s not a place you’d want some lunatic to discover. We also drove through one of the villages that was napalmed, you know the famous photo of the little naked girl running down the street burned by napalm, that’s the one. Her brother runs a noodle shop there still, she actually lives in the US now. On Wednesday we take a bus to the Delta, we will stay in a town on the Mekong river called Cantho. There we will go on river tours which is suppose to be a lot of fun.

Well we have been to Cantho and back, the minivan ride there and back was hair raising, lanes don’t matter here and you see a lot of passing with lots of close calls with oncoming traffic. We were happy to have made it alive. In Cantho we did a 10 hour Mekong river trip it was just Steven, me and the boat guy in a 18 foot canoe like thing. We were really able to get a feel for life in the Delta. We went up through small lush canals and villages, two busy floating markets, a rice noodle making place, pig farm (one sow had just given birth to 20 or so piglets, she was just laying there grunting and nursing), some sort of make shift zoo/fruit orchard/restaurant where Steven ordered baked shrimp which consisted of our lovely waitress building a BBQ on our table and tossing big live shrimp onto the grill while holding them down with chopsticks until they stopped trying to jump off the fire. What else, oh ya a floating dead dog (DISGUSTING) and numerously people swimming, doing dishes, rinsing vegetables and bathing in the very polluted Mekong River. By the end of the trip we had said Hello to so many smiling, waving kids. We were definitely an attraction. The trip made us think of the movies “Apocalypse Now”, “Deliverance”, the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney, and “Anaconda”. It was well worth the $30. Now we are back in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for the night we are on another 6 hour bus ride to Dalat tomorrow, they hilly terrain, lake, culture and cooler climate is why we are going, we will probably be there just a couple of days.The thing to do there is to hire a motorcyle driver to show you around. They go by the name “EASY RIDERS” and they ride old German and Russian motorcyles. Everyone speaks highly of them so we’ll try it out. Then we are going to the beach resort town of Nan Trang on the east coast.

We have been to Nha Trang there we took advantage of the mineral mud and mineral hot tub park we had a few good meals there and that was about it aside from walking along the public beach which lines the city. Then we took the most uncomfortable 10 hour bus ride to Hoi An, this place was great lots of charm, great quiet beach (except for the ladies trying to sell everything from a mango to a foot massage, at one point I had 10 of them around me telling me my skin was too dark, they prefer white skin) this town is also the place to have clothes tailor made I was sized and had 5 pieces of clothes made in one afternoon and the quality was great too. We also took a ride to My Son the ruins of the Cham people, part of which was blow to smithereens by the US during the war, fortunately there is some still standing and it is quite remarkable. After Hoi An we took another very long bus ride to the Imperial city of Hue, kind of a boring place not much to see accept the walled forbidden city and the picturesque perfume river. After a day there we got on the overnight bus to Hanoi so far we have seen Ho Chi Minh in the flesh at the mausoleum he looked a little pale. Tomorrow we are taken a boat trip around Halong Bay, we stay one night on the boat which is a replica of an old Vietnamese Junk (I’ll send pictures) the trip also includes kayaking in caves, should be fun. When we get back from that we are taking the overnight sleeper train to Sapa in the way north near the Chinese border. Sapa is a spot to start treks to the Hill tribe villages we will be trekking the two days that we are there with an overnight in Sapa town, luckily the temperatures are in the 70’s so it’s not so painful. Hanoi is blistering hot it’s almost impossible to walk around and enjoy yourself.

Well we made it to the Central Highlands of Dalat. The bus ride went fine. It was a very scenic drive through the mountains and valleys. It wasn’t so scenic though for the truck hanging off the side of the road over a very long drop down the mountain side. Whoever he tried to avoid hitting did go over the edge, not sure that person or persons made it. I’m telling you it was a long steep way down.  Once in Dalat we were surprised by how different this place was from where we just came from (Saigon), it’s like being in Europe, right down to the cool air (65), rain and mini Eiffel tower. We actually had to put on socks and coats. We did do the all day Easy Riders tour on motorbikes today, it was quite fun and would have been fantastic if the rained had stopped. Since we had full rain gear on it was OK. First we stopped at a place called Crazyhouse which was once the house of one of the presidents daughters. She designed the house, it was like being in Alice’s wonderland, very free form. It is used as a hotel mostly for honeymooners. Then to a mushroom growing greenhouse, next some farms where we walked through the fields (slippery and muddy, we were a complete mess after that) where they were harvesting cabbage and other vegetables, then we went to a Lat Village which is the minority peoples of this area, they are very poor, we were invited to see the insides of two houses which weren’t more than shacks with dirt floors (now mud) and a fire pit in the corner, they live off the land farming, some women weave beautiful blankets and things and sell to people like us tramp-sing through their village. The dream of these people is to be able to move back to the forests where they first were, but the government has trouble with this. They say it’s because they slash and burn the forests for farming. We were offered tea by the people where ever we stopped to look. Back on the bikes again we went to a waterfall and then to a Buddhist Monastery, that had the most beautiful flower gardens. That was our day today all for $10. Now to get our muddy clothes cleaned and dry.

Just a short note while we wait for the overnight train to Sapa. We just got back to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay, it was fun we met two English couples with the best English dry humor. Day one was lots of tooling around in the bay the scenery was very cool, limestone islets shooting straight out of the water at all angles. We stopped in at a cave which was huge inside, it’s said that many years ago a dragon lived here with her baby dragons. They were supposedly protecting the land from invading Chinese. The 2nd day was suppose to consist of 2 hours of kayaking it was raining and the guide suggested kayaking wouldn’t be fun, some people wanted to go anyways, what’s a little rain going to do. Just as people were deciding to kayak or not the boat was hit with a gigantic bolt of lightening, we all luckily were sitting inside the salon of the boat. All we saw was a huge white flash, a crack and then fizzling smoke. Then we all notice one of the Vietnamese staff on the boat sitting in the couch holding his hand with a grimace on his face. He had has his finger on the steel safe next to him which had conducted the bolt through his hand, the dude was basically struck by lightening. I asked to see, it was gross the top of hand had a 3 inch long gash blown through it, it was where the electricity exited him. He just dabbed it with ice wrapped it up and went back to his boat tending like nothing ever happened. Needless to say the guide said “see that’s why we shouldn’t kayak today” we all agreed. So we just cruised some more before going back to port.

We just got back from our Sapa excursion, so far I think I enjoyed it the most of all the things we have done. It was incredibly scenic, we did a trek (totaling about 20 km) both days we were there, we went into the countryside where the hill tribe people live, we had little girls in there traditional outfits and huge earrings, following us around for a lot of the time asking us questions and us asking them as well, (some of them spoke almost perfect English as my 9 year friend did) of course they wanted to sell us some of there handicrafts and we did. We came across a small pond with 3 water buffalos in it, I was excited for I had been looking for the perfect water buffalo photo opportunity, well as I brought the camera to my face 5-6 small boys came running from their house arms flailing and yelling no, no, no, no photo, bandidos!!! It didn’t stop me and they really went bananas, they ripped off their clothes and jumped in with the buffalo (which made an even better picture) and started splashing us to get away so we did.  Our group of little girls said the boys wanted us to pay to take the photos. It was quite a funny site. Throughout the day I think I got some great pictures of waterfalls, countryside, animals and people, which I will try to post soon. Oh ya the story of the Vietnamese eating dog is true and I got a great shot of dog meat including it’s head and tail for sale at the market, poor old Fido. I got yelled at for taking that picture too, later when we walked by it was covered with a towel. Tomorrow evening we leave for Laos by bus.

We have arrived in Laos, 27 hours later on the bus from Hell. It started out bad from the beginning. A taxi picks us up and drops us at a travel agent with a nice big bus sitting outside, we were told that’s not your bus, we wait around with 3 other backpackers and are put on minivan which takes us 30 minutes outside Hanoi and tells us we are suppose to wait in the dark at a truck stop until the right bus comes. Needless to say we refused to leave the minivan until our bus came, thinking we were going to be stranded. Well a local bus stops finally and we are told to get on. Steven approaches the bus to see what’s up since we paid extra to get an A/C tourist bus not this local bus piece of junk bus. The Swedes on the bus said “don’t get on we have been struggle for two days to get out of the city to Laos” we got on anyways and were off to Laos. After about 3 hours of picking up sacks of who knows what from small villages in the boonies, late in the night we thought now finally we are on our way. Nope, we pulled over with a flat tire, it was changed and we were off again. Then we had to stop to have the punctured tire fixed. While waiting at border control we see a semi truck flatbed filled with cages of full grown dogs, some looking like very nice golden retrievers, I have a feeling their days were numbered and we all sighed at the sight. After the border control which went quite smoothly we headed for the steep, dirt road mountains where we encountered another bus broken down and blocking the way for us to pass. After a lot of head scratching and a couple of attempts to scrape by, the only thing to do was to widen the road. The team led by a Swedish girl and Steven gathered some sticks and got to work, while Vietnamese men looked on. Even the Vietnamese women joined in after a while and then only when they (the men) felt embarrassed did any of them lift a finger. Then out of the blue a motorized road grader came and polished off the job. Everyone cheered when we actually passed the dead bus. Everything was good again except for the miserably sweaty and dirty passengers. We drove along for many hours before we had another blow out, thank god the tire from earlier was repaired. The last two hours were long and tiring through the heavy thunderstorm. Everyone was so happy to be at the hotel with a bed and a shower. After a great nights sleep Steven and I did a walking tour of the Capitol City of Laos, Vietenne. It’s a very laid back city compared to the big cities of Vietnam, which is a nice break. We walked through 4 temples and that was pretty much what there is to see here. Tonight we are going to see some traditional dance and tomorrow we jump on a 3 hour bus to Veng Vieng to take in the sites.

We have arrived in Vang Vieng, Laos a small riverside village on the way to Luang Prabang. It’s a great little place, our new $5 balcony room looks over the river and across to the limestone mountains. Last night it rained heavily and the river has flooded everything on the banks of the river, luckily we are up high enough. If the weather calms down tomorrow we plan on tubing down the river, which is the thing to do here. Other attractions are the multiple caves to explore. So far we have found that the Lao people are very friendly and a lot more mellow and laid back compared to the Vietnamese. It’s a nice change, the pushing and shoving in North Vietnam did get annoying. And I like the food better too. Everything is dirt cheap even compared to Vietnam. All in all I think I will enjoy this place.

We are now in Luang Prabang, a very old and intact town in northern Laos, surrounded by mountains. There are about 60 temples to see here one on top of a mountain which we walked to the top of today, it wasn’t to difficult as there were steps. Silversmiths are big here as well as silk weaving, also this is the town that is famous for those star shaped paper lamps, you see them in stores like Pier One Imports in the states. There are caves, waterfalls, rafting, hill tribe villages and elephant treks to do. Tomorrow we will do one or two of these activities. It’s rainy so it will depend. We’ll stay here probably a few days before we head for the Plain of Jars. I have noticed that since the population of Laos is low that traffic is almost nonexistent and therefore we feel a lot safer on the buses, unlike our experiences in Viet Nam. And yes they eat Rats too.. I saw them at the market on skewers over the grill.

We have been to the Plain of Jars, it was a one day thing, not much to see or do in that dusty town. Getting there was interesting the rain combined with clear cutting the trees caused a bunch of landslides and one dropped minutes in front of our bus. Again we had a road block situation and this one was way bigger than the last, there was a 3 meter pile of earth in the road. We thought forget we are going to have to stay here overnight. About 30 minutes later a bulldozer came to save the day. I guess this happens a lot on these roads. Anyways, The Plain of Jars consisted of these various sized stone containers ranging from 500 kilos to 5 tons and about 2500 years old. They are still trying to figure out where they came from and what they were for. The latest theory is that they are burial containers. The other significant thing about the area is that it is one of the most US bombed places and there are still unexploded mines around, the landscape is riddled with bomb craters. The area we walked through of course is safe from mines. We decided to head back to Vang Vieng for a few days since it was not raining there and we liked it when passing through the first time. Our 7 hour bus ride was interesting, I would say that 40% of the people were puking from motion sickness. I was fine but felt queasy after seeing everyone else heaving. It was a swervy, fast ride at times through the mountains. This will be our last stop before going to the south where it is said to have less tourists, more untouched wilderness (including elephants) and the old Lao traditions are strong.

We had a Wonderful bus ride to Pakse, the trip even included a bus hostess to serve us a meal including dessert. We slept most of the time and right through a flat tire I was told. Pakse itself is a sleepy town, nothing to do, but it is close to Champasek the oldest ruins in Southeast Asia. We are going there tomorrow by car, we hired a car and driver for the day to take us there and to a weaving village. It’s also close to the countries coffee growing region on the Bolvean Plateau. Steven bought two kilos of it, it’s ranked the worlds best and is almost impossible to get in the states. The place also has large black poisonous scorpions roaming the streets as we encountered last night while walking home from dinner, I have a distant photo of the thing. In two days we are going to one of the Four Thousand Islands in the middle of the Mekong river, there we are suppose to see Irrawaddy dolphins, dolphins that live in the river and look more like baluga whales. I hope we get to see them, they are becoming extinct. From there we bus it to the Cambodian border to soak up some more history at Angkor Wat, Phenon Penh, Killing Fields, etc. Back to the room for more Lao TV, everything is dubbed so the only thing we could watch and figure out was the StrongMan competitions in Australia, Joy!

From PAKSE we took a bus and ferry to the Island of Don Khong an island 8km by 18km in size in the middle of the Mekong. The island was very mellow and scenic, we rented bikes for the day and rode around through the countryside. We only stayed one night as the food stunk and we were eager to get to Cambodia. From there we took a boat across the river and boom we were in Cambodia. We paid our border fees (which varied from person to person) it’s such a scam. There we had to bargain to get a good price on the speedboats that go down river to Kratia. The speedboats fit three people sort of comfortably (you sit on a cushion on the floor, knees bent to your chest and are given a motorcycle helmet) we fit seven people somehow and off we were for the 3 1/2 hour, 40 mph, loud ride down river dodging logs and tree branches. We arrived alive in our contorted positions. We stayed a couple of nights in Kratia, the only tourism draw here is the Irrawaddy dolphins I spoke of in Laos (never saw them in Laos). I took a boat ride out to see these dolphins that live in the Mekong river, and it is true they do exist, I saw probably about eight of them the closest at about 25 feet away. They are very shy and only saw glimpses of them as they came up for air. No way to get a photo. After a not too terrible 7 hour bus ride we are now in the quite fun city of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Our hotel over looks the National Museum and is a block from the river. Every night hundreds of bats fly out from the roof of the museum and we have rock star seats to see it happen. Last night we had pizza for dinner and it’s not your regular old pizza. Along the river front are a bunch of pizzerias advertising happy pizzas, they are sprinkled with not your regular oregano herb, if you catch my drift. You can choose from the menu a “happy” or a ”very happy” we choose the happy to see what the deal was. After some people watching from the balcony of the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club, the only one in the world where you don’t need to be a member and a press person) ”Happy” meant sleepy for me and a night with our fifty satellite channels. Tomorrow we are going to the Killing Fields and S21 Museum (the high school that was used as a torture prison by the Khmer Rouge) we thought we’d get all the depressing sights done in one day.

In Phnom Penh we have been to the Killing Fields, there 86 of the 128 mass graves have been opened revealing the 17,000 men, women and children that were murdered here. All of their bones and skulls are on display inside of a memorial monument dedicated to them. You can still see pieces if clothing sticking out of the dirt. After the killing fields we had our motorbike driver take us to Prison S21, this is where you were held and tortured by methods I won’t even go into until you went to the killing fields to be finished off. Anyone who wasn’t backing the Khmer Rouge was simply eliminated. This went for women, babies, elderly as well. Anyone who was an intellectual, doctor, teacher, lawyer, policeman or not a peasant farmer was considered the enemy along with anyone related to them. Pol Pot was by far one of Humanities worst, he died in 98 avoiding all the accusations. Still many of the Khmer Rouge murderers still live there lives with their families. Most of the Khmer Rouge combatants were under the age of 15. I can’t imagine what this city was like in 1975. Phnom Penh was emptied of every single person for 45 months. Now it has a thriving population of over 6 million. Cambodians can thank the North Vietnamese for that, they won their city back.

Enough of that… we also have been to 3 huge markets selling everything from uncut Gems to deep fried, Huge, HAIRY SPIDERS!

We just picked up some traditional Khmer woven scarves (krama) at a measly 50 cents each. To add to my wall of textiles, where ever that wall will be??? We also went to the Palace to see the Silver Pagoda, the entire floor is covered with silver tiles. And the grounds are exquisite. This afternoon we are walking over to the National Museum, just across the street from us. You know I was all excited to see the bats come out at dusk from it’s roof and then someone told me they had left for good, bummer. There are still a few flying around as I sit on the balcony though.

The day after tomorrow we are going to the south coast town of Sihanoukville, we hear it’s a new up and coming beach resort town. We’ll see. We are saving the best for last Siam Reaps, Angkor Wat is what we are excited to see.

Today we finished our 3 day tour of the temples of Angkor we have seen 30 temples, so we are templed out for a while. We have taken so many pictures around 300, with the digital it’s easy to go crazy and just burn the pictures to a CD as the memory cards get full. Some of them were just incredible, the artwork on them is great and in good condition for being so old, some dating back to the 8th century, but most from the 11th. As we were getting ready to leave the last temple we heard chanting and saw a march of about 50 people (thought it was a political rally), it was a funeral procession. So I went over to watch, they marched into a small cemetery and walked around a not yet lit fire pit, they stopped and unloaded the casket from the chariot wagon onto the pile of branches, took the lid off for viewing, (I didn’t go over out of respect, little girls tried to get me to go, they went and came back with their noses pinched, must of stunk) prayed and chanted some more and then set it on fire. It took about an hour.

Tomorrow we are going to the Mines Museum, It’s mostly set up for education on mines and the entrance fee goes to mine victims. The have a fake mine field set up which you can trudge through to test your mine ditching skills. Fun, Fun and it better be fake.

Tomorrow we take the super, dooper, comfy bus to Chang Mai in the north of Thailand, where I will be taking a Thai Cooking class for a week. Chang Mai is also known for trekking and its Hill tribe peoples. We’ll be there a few days and work our way back to Bangkok passing through Lopburi (the town over run by monkeys that I mentioned months ago), a elephant rehab center and Authaya, the Ancient old capital of Thailand. On Sept. 1st we fly Thai Airways to Bali, we will spend a month in Indonesia.

Wrapped up my Thai cooking class today and found that with the right ingredients it’s easier than a peanut butter sandwich. I am able to cook you up a feast given the opportunity. I tried two different schools, one in town which was quite professional and one located 17 kms out of town on a farm. I prefferred the farm one, we picked our own fresh organic ingredients, cooked in a traditional Thai home kitchen and ate our masterpieces outside, by a pond looking at the mountains. I had extra special treatment because I was the only student therefore I had extra time to get to know “A” my instructor and the “Noi” the assisitant. Noi means little so I am guessing it was her nickname as she was no taller than 4′ 7″ with tiny hands and feet, a little munchkin especially next to me. I had so much food left over so I decided to find a hungry, beggar which are usually always approaching us. I carried my 10 lb bag of food around all around town and couldn’t find a single one, not even a dog seemed hungry. Too bad it all went to waste.

Tomorrow we are going to go handicraft shopping, it’s super inexpensive here and a great place to pick up Birthday and Christmas presents. A massage is also on schedule, our pillows and mattress have given both of us severe neckaches.

The next day we are going to Pie pronounced Bye. It’s a hilltribe village where we are going to do a little trekking and finally get on an elephant (providing they don’t look abused).

Happy to be back on my feet I was sick as a dog for three days, it was I guess something I ate (hopefully not something I cooked). Three days of antibiotics cleared it right up. Thank God!

We are in in Pai, it’s a very hippie like town in the mountains. Our thatch hut is very rustic, as I write we have five mosquito coils burning around it in the hopes of killing every last one of the malaria/dengue carrying bastards. It took four hours in a minivan to get here, it was very swervy and fast. I had to concentrate on a little old guys (from florida) conversation with me to keep my recovering stomach from rejecting my morning banana, my first solid food in a while.

We have reserved our elephant for tomorrow, the ride takes two hours and we go through jungle, hills and a small river. If anything exciting happens with that I’ll let you know. I’m hoping Dumbo is in no hurry and that it’s a nice relaxing ride.

I don’t have much news about Steven he’s been real quiet, he’s trying to quit smoking, he’s doing good but on edge. He’s reading a lot to take his mind off of it and went on a two hour trek outside the village looking for hillbillies..(I mean hill tribes).

The elephant ride was fun, Steven and I shared Mai the 30 year old female pachyderm, she was huge, way taller than the other 35 year old that came with us. We rode bareback with just a blanket to sit on. Our handler sat on her head and guided her using his feet behind her ears and making noises that sounded like he was constipated. Since she was so huge and wide it was like doing the splits for 2 hours, not very comfy. When we got in the water she thought it was time to sit, ( I guess she was hot, I certainly was) our handler frantically grunted at her not to, we where six inches from getting completely soaked, my camera would have been toast. Finally she straightened her legs and off we went in a very slow, swaying gait down the river and through the woods.

Later we hired a couple of motorbike drivers to drive us around to see the hill tribe villages, we weren’t too impressed with the local ones nearby, I guess you have to do the 3 day hike version to see the more interesting villages. We have seen more hill tribe people in town selling their wares on the street. Besides that I think we are a bit jaded after having been to the northern Vietnamese hill tribe areas. Anyways the ride was nice and it was something to do for a couple of bucks.

Tomorrow afternoon we make our way back to Bangkok, anxious to get to Bali.

Apa Kabar? means How are you?

We just got back from 2 nights on Lembongan Island, very quiet place, diving was so so says Steven, he did get to see a 10 foot round stingray. It is Mola Mola or the oceanic sunfish season so everyone was looking for this strange looking 12-15 foot long fish that is completely harmless. Unfortunately did not get to see one. Go here to see a picture of the Mola Mola   http://scuba.terong.com/underwater-pictures.php?id=34

Other than eating and hanging on the beach there was not much to do except watch the seaweed harvesters in action.

Now that we are back on Bail for the night we found out about the bombing in Jakarta and wanted to let everyone know we are nowhere near that city, we are safe and sound.

Tomorrow morning we get back on a boat and sail to the Gili Islands off of Lombok, I have been there before and it should be interesting to see the differences if any in the past seven years. More beach and diving is on schedule.

We are now on Gili Trawangan the biggest of the tiny three islands on the northern tip of Lombok. The six hour boat ride was pretty nice, a bit wavy, we did have a few seasick people, not us thankfully. Things have changed a lot in 7 years, but still it’s a pretty mellow island. There are still no motorized vehicles. The only way to get around is by boat, horse drawn carriage or the handy feet. There is a strip about 2 km long with restaurants and bungalows all along the beach. Steven says the diving is great, he has seen all kinds of cool animals including lots of sharks, sea snakes, turtles and scorpion fish. Our bungalow is right next door to a Mosque, as we found out at 5 am this morning, I nearly had a heart attack when the mosque sound system blasted the morning prayer. Alllllaaaahhhhhh….. I ‘ll get used to it and besides it’s all part of the cultural experience.

We witnessed a tragic day yesterday. A good chunk of the main village on the island burnt to the ground. Many families are homeless as if they had much to begin with. It was a sad site watching people carry their only possessions out onto the street while the fire hopped around from roof to roof. Kids everywhere were wandering and crying. It’s been bone dry here and grass roofs go up in a blink, to make matters worse the power was out and any running water that they did have was not being pumped, people were carrying water from the ocean and swimming pools to try and smoother it which they did eventually, but a lot of damage was all ready done. Thankfully our bungalows were far enough away, but had there been any wind I think it would have burnt everything. Oddly enough Steven and I had just explore this village an hour before it torched. No one knows what started it yet. Thankfully no ones was hurt.

Enough about that, we are still enjoying ourselves despite the chaos. A couple more days on this island and we head back to Bali’s northside.

We have since been to Sengigi, a coastal town on Lombok, we stayed just one night to check it out. It’s a town that in 2000 was built up for tourisms, nice fancy hotels and restaurants, there’s even a huge fancy Sheraton there. Well after the Bali bombing in 2002, tourism was hit hard and now the town is struggling, there are lots of closed up shopping centers and very desperate hotels and restaurants. Therefore you can stay in a $80-100 a night room for about $20, so we did and it was quite nice, right on a gorgeous beach. From Sengigi we explored the craft villages (tribal masks and weaving villages) and main market in Mataram, the biggest town in Lombok. Our personal driver turned us onto a another small Island off the south end of Lombok called Gili Nanggu, he claimed it was a complete paradise with white sand beaches where the fish come to you. So the next day we had him drive us to the town where we could hire a small (and I mean small, not much bigger than a canoe) boat to get us there. After about 45 minutes we could see a small island ringed with white sand. We hopped out at the beach and found that the island had one bungalow establishment, it consisted of Sasak (the hill tribe people of Lombok) style houses with grass roofs. You had to climb a ladder to get to the upstairs where the bedroom was and outside and downstairs was the saltwater shower and toilet. It was more like camping, except our bed had a mosquito net over it, which didn’t keep the roach from getting in under it and waking us as it explored Stevens feet. I didn’t sleep much after that and keep hearing things scurrying around. Once morning came I realized we had had a mouse in the house, he ate a hole through my backpack to get to my apple I’d been saving for breakfast. We did however walk around the whole island along the beach in about 30 minutes, during our walk we saw two baby blacktip reef sharks in about two feet of water, they were only about two feet long, lots of beautiful seashells, a fantastic sunset and a nearly nonexistent population (there were only two other tourists besides us). The next morning we got a slightly bigger boat back to the mainland where we hopped onto the big four hour ferry back to Bali. So now we are in Ubud a town in the middle of Bali, filled with artists and surrounded by the famous terraced rice paddy fields. The town is teaming with shops selling all kinds of arts and crafts. We have gone outside town to visit smaller workshops to see how things are made. Woodcarving, silversmiths, weaving, kites, pottery are all found here. Steven went on a shopping spree the other day when I wasn’t feeling well AAA-gain. He has become a textile and weaving enthusiast and went a little berserk buying some, he has also become a great bargainer. To bad we can’t bargain the prices down at our own shopping centers. While he was walking around town he saw something move in the sewer where the cover had been removed, he watched for a few seconds and discovered it was a crocodile about three feet long, no one said that crocs where a normal thing around here, I think someone dumped him there, kind of like the movie “GATOR”. I don’t think the town knows what kind of super crocodile is growing beneath their feet. Last night we went to see a traditional dance called “Kecak” it was very interesting, instead of having an orchestra play music they had 100 men make noises (CHAKA,CHAKA,CHAKA) and sing together as the background music as a very old Balinese love story was told. We plan on seeing all the dances offered here, they have different ones each night. Today we hired a driver named Made to take us to Denpasar the capital of Bali. We explored the two main markets and made some great deals on handicrafts.

Ubud in Bali was great, we really enjoyed that place a lot and wish had had more time there. Since it was a full moon while we were there every Hindu Temple was having a ceremony, I should say ceremonies, they last several days. There ceremonies are quite extravagant, it includes fantastically colorful costumes, huge offerings of fruit, rice and flowers, dances, live gamalan music, parades and sometimes the sacrifice of an animal. We visited several temples, took a trip to Mount Batur Volcano, trekked on our own through the countryside and rice fields, went to the monkey forest sanctuary (complete with monkeys), went to Ulawatu temple out on a cliff to see the surfers (there a monkey came along, smacked me in the face and stole my sunglasses) I did get them back after bribing the monster with peanuts. Tonight we are off to Krabi to enjoy the last few days of our trip.

We are now in Krabi, it’s on the southwest coast of Thailand and because of it’s unique karst formations (limestone cliffs jutting out of the water) it’s a stunning place to see. Today we took a whole day trip to Hong Island (an uninhabited karst island with white sand lagoons) first we snorkeled in the crescent shaped lagoon and hung out at the beach, after a picnic lunch we kayaked around the whole island, ducking into nooks and crannies. We saw lots of interesting birds (blue herons, kingfishers and swiflet swallows(famed for their nests - egg nest soup, the nests go for $2000 per kilo) and water monitors (big lizards). It was a great day! Tomorrow we are changing hotels, we found a great deal at one on Rai Leh beach, a gorgeous bay accessible only by boat with cliffs closing in around both sides. From there we can also kayak and do other fun beach stuff. After a couple of days of that we are going to check out two other islands for a few days, Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi Don and then sadly we will have to head back to Bangkok to prepare for the hustle and bustle of the states again.

Well we tried to get more beach days out of Krabi and the nearby islands but the weather was just not in our favor. It’s monsoon season and boy, it showed. We did however manage to get in some swimming, kayaking and peeling noses during the three days that were sunny. We decided to go back to Bangkok (where the weather is still ok) and enjoy the rest of our days here. There is plenty to do here and there are many day trip options to choose from. We decided we will have to come back during high season to make the most of Southern Thailand, and that we will.

Hope you enjoyed our adventure, it was the best thing Steven and I have ever done, I wonder when we will be able to take 6 months to travel again, it was awesome.

Skrivet torsdag 21 augusti, 2008, av lenagoo

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