Archive for August, 2008

Quick Update

Just wanted to let everyone know that my new tour started today and we’re leaving for Cambodia tomorrow.  I don’t know how great the internet connections are there and the first week or so of the tour is fairly fast-paced.  I’ll update when I can.

I’ve spent the last week indulging in a little rest and relaxation.  I had another one of those lovely $7 facials last night.  I also bought some lightweight, cotton pants for about $6, hopefully they’ll keep me cool in the jungles (and hopefully they won’t fall apart!).

On to Bangkok

My last day on Koh Pha Ngan (paradise!) I decided to do something more than eat, nap, and laze around the beach all day.  I arranged for a cooking lesson with a local restaurant.  It was great because I got to choose three items from the menu and it was one-on-one.  I chose the Massaman curry, which I was obsessed with back in the states but it is twice as good in Thailand and ten times better at the Bamboo Hut Restaurant where I cooked in a small kitchen barefoot.  I also made Pad Thai and sweet and sour vegetables stir-fry.  I packed the dishes up and dragged them back to the hotel where some of my tour mates were thoroughly impressed.  But, I have to give credit to Gane (I think that’s her name) and her recipes.

The next day we left on our mammoth journey bck to Bangkok: 30 minute pick-up ride, 3 hour ferry, 1 hour bus, 12 hour overnight train and then we did an all-day tour to the River Kwai and the Floating Markets.  We finally arrived at our hotel at 6pm- a full 30 hours after we left the island!

Yesterday was the official last day of the tour.  It was sad to see everyone go but I’m looking forward to the next phase of my journey.  I had a busy day yesterday as well.  I had to go to the US Embassy to add more pages to my passport.  I also needed to find a new, more budget friendly hotel and organize getting the visas for the rest of my trip.  Proud to say that I had success all around even though I had a few bumps in the road.  I found it difficult to get a taxi to take me to the “US Embassy”.  They just didn’t understand me until I finally said “AmericanEmbassy.”  I used a visa agent recommended to me by the tour leader and will pick up my passport on Friday with, hopefully, a Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos visa in it.  I found a great hotel near the famous Khao San Rd but not on it.  Two years ago I stayed on Khao San Rd in a small, smelly room for around $15/night.  Now, I have a larger, pleasant smelling room including breakfast for around $20/night.  I guess my days of roughing it in cheap, budget rooms (hello? $5/night in India!) are over.

Khao San Rd hasn’t changed much other than some bigger neon signs, more streetside bars promising strong drinks and not to check id’s (but when have they ever checked id’s).  Also, the tuk-tuk drivers are still there annoying as ever but after asking me if I want a tuk-tuk they ask under their breath “ping pong?”  Do I look like I want to go to a girly show?!?

Khoa San Road is the epicenter of all SE Asia backpacking travel.  Travelers have either just arrived or are awaiting their departure home.  Everyone comes and leaves from Khao San Road.  It’s frantic, but fantastic!

Last night, I had an amazing facial on a noisy street with honking horns and blaring music.  And all it cost me including a generous tip was just over $7!!  I have forgotten how cheap Thailand is.  I might be getting some more of those before I leave.  The lady also gave me a shoulder, neck, and arm massage well more like a beating (and I’m not kidding a beating… I surprised I don’t have bruises).  No one said that Thai massage was supposed to be relaxing during the actual massage but boy do my shoulders feel much better now.

Tomorrow I am going on a day trip to Atthuya (I think that’s how you spell it), Thailand’s ancient capital.  I was planning to do the trip on my own as it’s just a 1.5 hour train ride a way but when I found out that the organized mini-bus trip including lunch was around $17 I signed up quickly.

Wish you all were here!  Bangkok and Thailand are great.

Return to Paradise

After Kuala Lumpur, we went up to the Cameron Highlands.  It was nice to escape the heat for the first time in six weeks.  The Cameron Highlands are known for their tea plantations which is very similar to the ones in Sri Lanka.  So, I got to visit a little bit of Sri Lanka afterall.  We got to see the entire process from picking in the fields to processing it.  They have been using the same machines since 1935.  Afterwards, we got to sit down to a cup of tea and eat a yummy scone.

After the Highlands, we made our way to our last stop in Malaysia- Penang.  We stayed in the colonial town of Georgetown.  It was very hot and since there wasn’t much to do other than wander the streets I ended up in a nice air-conditioned mall.  I had some extra ringgits to spend before heading to Thailand.  I opted to not buy anything because I don’t have much space in my bag.  So, instead, I jumped head first into the fierce hair salon competition.  I wanted to cover what my stylist at home affectionately calls “pre-lightened” hair whereas the Malaysian stylists bluntly call it “white”.  I had no less than four sets of hands in my hair at one point or another and came out two and a half hours later with 2.5 inches lopped off and blonde highlights.  Overall, the result turned out good and it’s nice to brighten up my look since I haven’t had a haircut or color since March.

The next day we made the long journey (10 hours!) into Thailand to the small town of Surat Thani – the jumping off point to the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.  I came to Koh Pha Ngan two years ago this month to the same beach resort and it is still the paradise I remember.  So, for the next couple of days I will be getting some well-deserved rest and relaxation and if I’m lucky some color on my ghostly legs.

Tonight, some of us are going to see Thailand’s top Reggae band (our Tour Leader is a big fan), apparently they’re well-known, but then again I wonder if there’s really a competition for the top spot because seriously how many reggae bands are there in Thailand?  All well it should be interesting.

Next stop is Bangkok in a couple of days.  And I start a new tour that takes me to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos soon after.  Stay tuned and don’t forget to leave me some comments I love reading them.

Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

The last five days have been a whirlwind- learning new tour mate names, two different countries, and hot, humid weather.

Singapore is a lot like any big city America.  Two of the big tourist activities are having a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar (which I didn’t because it was $16 USD) and the Night Safari at the world-renowned Singapore Zoo (which I did and it was amazing).  A flying squirrel came right at us and veered off at the last second.  So scary!  The zoo is unlike any other I’ve been to.  There are natural barriers so it does not feel like you are looking at a caged animal.

I met my tour group the next day.  I’m the only American (naturally) and apart from four Australians the rest are from the UK.  We all get along great and have already had some great laughs.

I really love what I’ve seen of Malaysia and it’s so cheap!  Meals for around $5 including a drink.  I also replaced my broken watch with two new ones and only paid about $10 for both.  Right now, I’m in Kuala Lumpur (or “KL” as us cool kids say) where the top two things to do are the Petronas Towers (tallest building in the world until 2004) and the Batu Caves.  While I didn’t quite get over to the Petronas Towers we did, however, went up the Menara tower and got a good view over the city including the towers at sunset.  Today, we took the public bus out to the Batu Caves where I climbed over 200 steep steps with relative ease (which I would not have been able to do a month ago).  Oh, and there were monkeys all over the place but not nearly as scary as my run-in with monkeys in India.

I’ve been trying for an hour to upload pictures directly to this post but I’ve given up for now.  But, I have uploaded new photos to my annoying Photobucket site.  I know it’s not the easiest way to view my photos but it’ll have to do for now.  Click on the “Photos” tab at the top.  It’s not much but enjoy.

A New America?

Once I landed in Dubai, I couldn’t help but smile.  In fact, I smiled the entire time.  It may be cliche to say but there’s an energy there and it felt like Dubai is the future.  If America had started about 30 years ago I would imagine it would look a lot like Dubai.  It was around that time that the Sheik gave big tax breaks to people or companies who come in and develop Dubai (even Donald Trump is here).  And develop did they ever!

Dubai has also adopted the Texas’ slogan about everything being bigger.  The tallest building in the world- the Burj Dubai- is currently under construction and boy is it impressive.  From a distance it looks like it is double the height of the surrounding buildings.  The architects designed it so that they can “add more” in case anyone (Dubai or anywhere in the world) tries to out do them.  There are also plans for the largest airport in the world in which up to four planes can land at the same time.  That’s in addition to the current airport which will stay open and the new Emirates Airlines terminal is scheduled to be completed next year.  There’s also the iconic Burj Al-Arab the world’s only 7-star hotel.  Also, Dubailand- Dubai’s answer to Disneyland- is under construction.  I’m sure it’ll be bigger and better than anything else in the world.

I had a great three-day stay.  I probably could have stayed for longer but my budget wouldn’t allow it.  Dubai is known for beaches, desert, and shopping.  I didn’t quite get to the beach nor did I want to but I did do the other two.  On the first day, I took a day tour that included the wonderful Dubai Museum (which was directly across the street from my hotel), a trip across the creek, and a visit to the boring souks (I’ve been to better souks).  The next night I went on a Desert Safari where we went dune bashing in 4×4 vehicles and then had a buffet dinner at night surrounded by mounds and mounds of sand.  I also got a henna design on my hand.  My last day I spent at the Deira City Centre shopping mall.  I chose this particular mall because: 1) the Mall of the Emirates (the largest one in Dubai which also has an indoor skiing facility) was too far from my hotel, and 2) this mall had more inexpensive, non-exclusive stores so that when I showed up in my backpacker clothes I wouldn’t feel out of place or like a hobo.  Even the mall’s logo was “Where you can be you.”  The reason why people come to Dubai to shop is because everything is tax-free.  You can get stuff for cheaper than if you got it at home.  The line to get a taxi after I was finished was at least 200 people deep.  I waited an hour.

Dubai is not as expensive as you may think.  Once you get over the sticker shock of the cost of hotels the prices are pretty comparable to the US.  Go during the summer and save up to 75% over the high-season (December-January) hotel costs.  It was hot but in reality you’re shuffling from one air-conditioned space to another air-conditioned space.  I felt hotter in Egypt.  So, don’t be put off by the hot, humid temperatures.  Now, there are direct flights from the US (Houston, New York and then San Francisco and Los Angeles starting in the fall) to Dubai on Emirates Airlines (which is fabulous).  The in-flight entertainment system is the best I’ve seen and the food generous and excellent.  There are some airlines that like to put a lot on the food tray to disguise a small main course entree.  Emirates was definitely different.  So, the next time you want to take a big trip think outside of Europe and go to Dubai!  Currently, Dubai gets about 7 millions tourists a year and they’re projecting 70 million-a-year in 10 years.  Because Dubai immigrants outnumber the actual UAE nationals, English is the common language so there’s no need to worry about a language barrier.  So, go now!  You won’t regret it.

Right now, I’m in Singapore awaiting the start of my next tour which will take me through Malaysia and up to Bangkok.


Where’s Stacy?

Stacy is in West Virginia and totally amazed by the power of Math. (Nerd, I know!)

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