asia

Lions, Tigers and Lady Boys… O My!

I love me some Chiang Mai. What a cool place to visit and a fun place to hang around for a week. Marina and me were only supposed to be in chiang mai for a couple of days, but after checking the weather down in the islands, we decided to stay longer. The weather was supposed to be pretty ugly and considering the only real things to do in the islands is water related, I decided I would hang in Chiang Mai.

thailand-chiang-mai-tigers-baby-payI have a friend living in CM who I met last december when I was here last so I was looking forward to seeing him and also just looking forward to staying in one place for a little while. We’ve been constantly moving and only spending a few days in any given city. I was really happy to just hang in CM and spend some time with my friend, Phil, and just relax for the last part of my trip. (more…)


Hoi An: Cooking Classes and New Friends

Our trip to the quant little town of Hoi An was a pleasant one. We stayed at the Hoi An Ancient House Village Resort and Spa, which was beautiful. It is surrounded by rice paddies and our villa (we got upgraded on arrival) overlooked the fields. It was excellent.

vietnam-hoi-an-rice-fields-sunset-blue

Trip advisor was a great resource all throughout our trip. If you haven’t used it for travel, you really should. A lot of the restaurants and group tours that we found throughout the month of traveling came off of TA. (more…)


Vespas, Wine Bars, Wind Chimes & Fancy Hats

Saigon

So I made a bit of a booboo when booking our first stop in Vietnam. I honestly had no idea that Saigon and Ho Chi Minh were the same place. I had heard not so great things about Saigon but good things about HCM (in conversations with different people who referred to the city by different names). So after I booked our trip to HCM and realized later that it was Saigon, I was a bit hesitant. However, after spending a few days there, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised.

We got to HCM around 4pm, checked into our hotel (Pullman Saigon Centre) and got up to the room. The hotel is really beautiful and modern looking with funky light fixtures, couches and tables in the rooms. There is also a beautiful pool overlooking the city and the hotel staff (namely the concierge) were excellent.  I was waiting for a replacement debit card and they kept an eye out for it and made arrangements with me incase it didn’t arrive in time. They also had plenty of suggestions for restaurants and helped set us up several times with taxis and transportation to and from the airport. A+ service.

vietnam-saigon-locksmith

We booked a Vespa tour of the city while still in cambodia and we got picked up right around 6pm. It was raining but after confirmation from the tour operator that the trip was, indeed, on, we met the guys on the vespa’s outside the hotel. They had super fancy ponchos ready for us and in a few minutes we were on our way.

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Pig Roasts, Scuba and Bday Parties in Sanur

Our last stop in Bali was in Sanur. We were able to get hooked up with two villas in the same complex, about 200 feet from each other. Our first night there we had a suckling pig on a spit cookout. We made a feast. It was the 15 of us and also some friends of one of the girls parents. It was Sue (julia’s mom) birthday week and we had a great time celebrating with Sue, Allan and their friends.

bali-sanur-pig-on-spit

The next day was an early one as we got picked up for scuba around 730. The whole group was going this time which was great. Some would be snorkeling and some would scuba. We got to the boat dock and headed out for Manta Point (where we’d swim with big manta rays) and Crystal Bay. It was a great day of diving and it was nice to have everyone together.  (more…)


Ubud: Monkeys, Cock Fights & The MOST INSANE VILLA EVER

We left our awesome villas down in seminyak and headed into the mountains. Not knowing what to expect I was about to be pleasantly surprised. We split into 3 vehicles for the approx 2hour ride up to the villa ‘compound’ in Ubud. We stop along the way at Indus, a beautifully situated mountain side restaurant. The view overlooked a deep valley and the mountains on the other side were striking. The food was excellent and we all proceeded on towards the villa.

When I pulled up to the villa and walked around the wall obstructing the view, my jaw dropped. I tried my hardest to get a good shot on my camera, but the angles just weren’t working out. I’ve included a shot from vrbo below. The places was SICK!!! 2 huge villas connected by a tremendous infinity pool all with a view out across to a mountain in the distance. The staff working at the compound was superb and they made us dinner 2 nights and breakfast both mornings. All the food was superb and the large 20 person table was well displayed/presented with food and table settings.

ubud bali whole crew from below

Dinner the first night was chicken satay, rice, veggies, fruit and some kind of curry. All excellent. Breakfast the next morning was american style with eggs, bacon, fruit, sausage, etc.

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Cambodia: Not For Human Consumption

Visa Schmeeza

So here we sit. We are in the airport in Cambodia (siem reap), where we’ve been stranded for a few hours. Poor planning on our part, but apparently you need a visa prior to arrival for vietnam. We thought we could grab one on arrival as we did in cambodia and as you can in many places. Once we were denied checkin, we jumped online to myvietnamvisa.com to try and get our visas arranged. they have an expedited option for 79.00 for two people. After 2 hours, and having not received our email yet with our visa letter, I asked one of the agents at the desk if they could recommend another site. They said to try govietnamvisa.com. I chatted with a support rep there and they assured me we could get a visa within the hour. I canceled the request with myvietnamvisa and paid the $140 for a guaranteed 1 hr turn around. We got our new visa and, having missed our flight, rebooked for a 20$ fee for the new flight. It was an adventure and a lesson learned for sure. Just one more thing in the list of things that cambodia kicked our asses on. More to follow.angkor wat temple in cambodia at sunrise from the front hdr

Back to the start

We had two flights to take to get from Bali to Cambodia. The first was a 4+ hour flight from bali to bangkok and then about 1+ hour flight from bangkok to cambodia. The flights were pretty standard although neither had any entertainment. Getting into cambodia we needed a headshot (again, didnt know this). I happened to have a copy of my passport so they used that. After, I realized I could have just paid a $1 and they would have made a copy of my passport photo.

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Bali Butt, Roosters, BBQ, Sushi and Submarines

Our first stop in Bali was over in Seminyak. Once I got through immigration I was greeted by the driver from our villa. We made a stop to pick up sim cards for my phone (unlocked iphone) and mifi unit (this one). It took about 30 minutes and cost about $40 for everything. There is just something very reassuring and comforting knowing that you have cell service wherever you are. Lots of the other people on the trip relied on wifi at restaurants or bars, but I prefer to have the constant connection. It gives me a bit of peace of mind to know that if I get separated or lost, I can just pull out my phone and make a call or pull up google maps.. It’s also important for me to have ‘reliable’ (this is said with a grain of salt in asia) wifi seeing as most hotels or in this case villas have TERRIBLE wifi connections and I would need to be doing some work during the trip.

Seminyak is pretty accessible although it is a complete free-for-all when it comes to driving on the road. Between the scooters and taxis, you really have to pay attention to whats going on. The area we stayed in was pretty well populated and our villa was located just a few short turns off the main strip. The beach was about a 10 minute walk and all the shops and restaurants we need were between us and there. If you are interested in getting a villa here in bali, you should check out Villa Zara in seminyak.

our villa and cabana in seminyak, bali indonesia

I arrived at the villa and was greeted by everyone with a big “happy birthday” (it was my 30th on the day of my arrival).We had secured two villas right next to each other which made making plans and partying super easy. We divided up the rooms and starting boozing. Each villa had 4 bedrooms surrounding a large pool area.

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Japan: Food Poisoning & Saki Bombs

I apologize in advance for the lack of detail on this post. I really slacked and waited a month to write it… oops.

So I arrived in tokyo after a very long day of traveling between phuket and kuala lumpur and then on to Tokyo. We deplaned and went through immigration where they absolute TORE apart my bag. I really think these guys get a kick out of this. They rip your bag apart and leave it up to you to put everything back together. I understand WHY they look through the bag, just think they could be ‘nicer’ about. 

japan-shibuya-two-girls-walking

After getting through immigration I exchanged some money that I had brought with me from thailand. My hopes of getting a sim card (i knew the chances were low seeing as it was 1130pm) were squashed pretty quickly. There was really NOTHING open in the airport between leaving security and leaving the airport. 

I was nervous as I didn’t have any way of getting in touch with my airbnb host or knowing if the driver was going the right way without internet or phone service. I knew that taxis were EXTREMELY expensive (about $75 to drive less then 5 miles and less then a 15 minute trip) but at that point of the day I didn’t want to have to try and figure out the local subway. I made it to the airbnb without any troubles though and checked in with my hosts who were super nice and had a really sweet spot overlooking tokyo tower.

The plan for my 4 full days in Japan was to spend my first half day around tokyo and then head to kyoto on the bullet train for two nights. After a good nights sleep I ran around tokyo and got as much done as possible. I hit Harajuku (this crazy busy block with so many people walking down it that you could barely move). I got over to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I got more street/people photography done in a half a day then almost the entire rest of the trip. Tokyo was a cool place and was pretty easy to get around via the subway. I only had about 5 hours to roam around town before getting to the bullet train station to head to kyoto. 

So this was a pain in the ass. I bought my bullet train ticket (i thought) all through a website i found online. Essentially i only paid for the ticket but still had to go pick it up. One thing to note about Japan, they LOVE heat. They love it on the subways, they love it in restaurants, they love it in stores and shops. They blast the heat in some places at like 85 degrees. It was so hot in the bullet train ticket office that i literally gasped when I walked in. Spending an hour in there to get my ticket actually printed was no fun. Suggestion to anyone looking to take that train, I’m sure there is an easier way of getting your ticket… figure out what it is and do it. 

The bullet train itself was actually really nice. I don’t spend much time on trains here in the states other than back and forth to manhattan, but these trains were pretty upscale. They had power outlets at every seat, wifi, beverage and food service, etc. The seats were really spacious and the overall experience was great. It didn’t really feel like it was going any faster then a normal train, but it sure did look cool when it pulled into the station. 

Kyoto

I am going to talk about 2 things in regards to my trip to kyoto. First, I had one of the coolest experiences at dinner while at my airbnb. Second, that great experience was followed by one of the worst nights of being sick in my life. 

I got to my airbnb which was an old 2 story home which featured a “samurai” style japanese restaurant on the first floor and a small 3 bedroom apartment on the second floor.  It was by far the least modern place I had stayed at throughout the whole trip but did have a bit of ‘charm’ to it. The rooms were all small, the ceilings were low, and the bathroom was just barely big enough to were I could close the door while sitting on the toilet (this would be important later as I spent much of the night cramped in this little hole of a room). 

The host was nice, spoke english and showed me around. I figured the place would suffice as I didn’t plan on spending much time there other then to sleep. I had a lot of places to visit and sites to see. Kyoto features some of the oldest temples still standing in Japan after WWII so I was looking forward to getting some great shots.  It has features Geishas in certain neighborhoods and I was looking forward to trying to get some photography done for that as well. 

I went down to the restaurant to grab some dinner and figured I’d just pass out early and get an early start to the day. The whole restaurant seated maybe 20 people and I was put at a table next to a group of 10 japanese young adults. I don’t really remember how it happened but we engaged each other in conversation and started chatting. About an hour later we were all laughing and sharing drinks and talking about our respective cultures and ways of life. They were all extremely interested in what it was like to live in the US and what I wanted to do with my life and what I believed in, etc. It was kind of flattering that they took such an interest but I think it was a matter of respect for them as well. They had welcomed a new friend into their group and really made me feel like a part of their crowd.

We sat on the floor for 2 hours and shared stories. Ikumi , the 26yr old girl I was sitting next to, refilled my glass when I finished each drink. It is bad form to fill your own glass as I would learn so I was more than happy to oblige. They each shared their business cards with me and they presented them to me like a gift, with the utmost respect. It was just a very interesting experience. 

I brought my own “flare” to the exchange as well. I couldn’t believe it, but they had never heard of saki bombs (dropping a shot of saki into a beer and drinking it all at once). So that lead to about a dozen saki bombs which they really got a kick out of. They told me about their favorite comic, “One Piece”, and Nobu (one of the guys) shared his love of “Bushido” (the samurai way/lifestyle) and recommended a great book to read (which I am currently reading now). We all did some laughter yoga at the table (which is essentially just belting out some great big laughs.. its invigorating).

The whole dinner experience was just one of the most interesting and enlightening experiences during the whole entire 7 week trip. It was, unfortunately, followed by the worst experiences of the trip. As we neared the end of dinner I started feeling some stomach cramps. I didn’t think much of it though and we all said our goodbyes,  expressing our gratitudes and pleasures to meet each other and went on our way.  I retired back to the apartment upstairs and got some photo editing done. 

The next 7 hours was filled with the worst food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. I could not keep anything in my system. My body rejected anything that came in. Without getting to graphic, I don’t think that little 4 foot by 3 foot bathroom will ever recover. It got to the point, around 3:30am, that I decided I had to go to the hospital. I was completely dehydrated and had no nutrients in my system what-so-ever. I was cramping up and could barely move from exhaustion. 

I will have to give some major credit to my airbnb host who drove me to the hospital and translated for me for 2 hours. Thank god he was there because I don’t know how i would have gotten the medical attention I needed without him. The whole hospital visit including an IV drip and other medications cost me a grand total of …. wait for it…. $190. A trip like that would have cost easily several thousand dollars here in the states. By the time we left I was feeling a bit better and at least got some electrolytes in my system via the IV.

That was my whole kyoto experience. What was supposed to be a big highlight of my trip with views of old temples and geishas and the real “old japan” was summed up to a great meal in a restaurant and a hospital visit. I had no energy to do anything the next day and while I was supposed to stay another night, I really just wanted to get back to the much more comfortable airbnb in Tokyo. I got back on the bullet train and headed back where my hosts there was nice enough to open their place to me a day early.

The next day and a half I spent trying to keep some food down and doing a bit more touring around and grabbing some photos. 

I did not get to eat all the food I had planned on eating while in Japan and certainly am planning on going back and doing it right. Overall, thought, it was a great experience to add to the entire journey. The japanese 20 somethings that I met gave me some really cool perspective of japanese culture and left me wanting more for sure. 

japan-yoyogi-park-tree-on-top japan-minato-statue-and-pinwheel japan-minato-water-dripping japan-shibuya-girl-cryingjapan-shinjuku-women-with-statue


Lady Boys, Elephants, Muy Thai and more

Thailand continues to get better. My next stop on my trek was Chiang Mai, which is south of Chiang Rai but still north of Bangkok. I had my friend Elyse from Chiang Rai set me up with a friend of hers in Chiang Mai which ended up being a really great connection. 

I took a 3 hour taxi ride from the hotel in CR down to my hotel in CM. I had a few other options but this seemed best. Considering all the gear that I had with me, this felt like the best bet. A bus would have cost me $5-$10 and the taxi ended up costing me about $85. It was a pleasant ride, with water provided and the ability to stop when I needed to. 

I arrived to my hotel around 7pm and got checked in. I was hoping for a better experience than I had up in CR and seeing as it was the same hotel brand, I was a bit nervous. I quickly realized that the staff here spoke much better English and they seemed to understand some of the more “complex” questions that I had. I was able to convince them to get me free Internet (the fact that hotels (especially expensive) ones still charge for Internet is a joke) and get an Ethernet cable sent to my room as well. 

street art in chiang mai thailand

A front desk agent took me to my room and showed me around a bit. It was nice, well laid out had a nice big bathroom and that same comfy bed and pillows I had in CR. The view from my room faced the mountains outside the city. The hotel food options were the same as in CR so I was really motivated to get out of the hotel. We were more centrally located this time so I figured it wouldn’t be as difficult. The hotel is about 20 minutes by foot to either the south gate or west gate. The old city is surrounded by a moat with “gates” on all 4 sides. The hotel is also locate literally one minute from the very famous night bazaar (more on this later). There were plenty of restaurants to go to during the day and plenty of street food stalls to try at night when the markets were going.  (more…)


Chiang Rai… Now HERE is Asia….

So I cancelled my plan of going to Bangkok because of the protests that are going on there currently. I decided instead to head to Chiang Rai. It came highly recommended by several friends and I had a friend of the family living there (teaching abroad) so it seemed like a good option. It turns out it was!

My friend Elyse is teaching in Mae Chan (?) and her friend Katelyn is teaching in Chiang Rai city center. They also had a few friends from their program (who are teaching south of bangkok) come up for the weekend. It was great to meet everyone and catch a glimpse of what these youngster are doing in there lives (early twenties). I wish I had the balls or the foresight to do this when I was there age. It seems incredible. They work during the week and travel around Thailand a lot on weekends. They have plans to go to Phuket and Malaysia for new years and once they are done with their 6months-1year of teaching they are going to continue to travel. It just seems like an awesome way to travel through Asia on the cheap and being able to take your time while doing it. Super jealous!

So, I arrived in Chiang Rai after a travel day from Singapore to Bangkok to Chiang Rai. I got to the airport here around 6pm. I had to buy a taxi ticket in the airport and unfortunately all the sim card stands were closed. So I was hoping for the best that my driver knew where he was going and that he wouldn’t veer off course. The taxi cost me about 200 Bhat (1USD=30bhat).. Everything in Thailand is SUPER CHEAP!!! (more on that later). I had forgotten what the exchange rate was when I went to the ATM at the airport so I had only taken out 1,000 Bhat (about $35) lol. I made another trip the next day after meeting my friends.

marionette horses at the night market in chiang rai

I have an entire post about the hotel so I won’t get into any detail about that here.

Getting around town is pretty easy. Chiang Rai “central” is pretty small and you could probably walk the whole thing in about 20 minutes. My hotel was a 10-15 minute cab ride (20 or so by tuk tuk). The people in town are all really friendly and they’ll often exchange a head bow or smile. The town is pretty touristy too with lots of white folk wondering around. There are backpackers and also lots of non locals that appear to be living here as well.

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Le Meridien, Chiang Rai

The ride to the hotel (Le Meridien, Chiang Rai) from the airport took about 15 minutes. The lobby was very welcoming and smelt nice. I was able to get checked in without TOO much trouble with the fact that no one spoke decent english. I chalked it up to the fact that I was in Thailand and I had prepared myself for a lack of communication. However, I was not prepared for how bad it was at the hotel. This is supposed to be a five star resort here in Thailand and it is a Starwoods property… I was very disappointed. I’m going to go on a bit of a rant so I apologize in advance.

I had several issues the first 24hours in the hotel and they were all made considerable worse by the fact that I couldn’t voice my issues to anyone in the staff and get any kind of feedback or support. After spending more than an hour on the phone with Starwoods my second night at the hotel, they told me the day manager would be in at 8am and he has a note to call me. I had a very nice conversation with Stephen, who is australian, and speaks perfect english. I really needed that and we were able to get a few things resolved.  (more…)


First stop in “Asia”, Singapore

So my visit to singapore was short lived. I was only in town for a few days. I was excited to visit Asia for the first time and seeing as my friend just moved here a few months ago, I figured this was a good place to start. He works in the film industry in a managerial role for a visual effects studio.

I came into singapore with really no idea of what to expect. I had seen some pictures but really have spent more time focused on other parts of the trip like Europe and Thailand. So, with no expectations I arrived in Sinagpore around 5pm, picked up some sim cards for my cell phone and mifi and headed to my buddies place. It was about 25-30 minutes from the airport and the cab cost around 35 singapore dollars (.80 USD = 1 Singapore Dollar). I was pleasantly surprised by how many people in my initial interactions spoke pretty good english. It turns out that english is the official language in Singapore.

girl in broken tooth buddha temple in singapore

I immediately noticed that Singapore looked a lot like a western city. Big buildings, lots of familiar car brands, etc. The skyline is beautiful for sure and the new installations of the Marina Bay Sands and the Art and Science Center and the Gardens by the Bay are really nice standouts against an already well developed skyline. The city just looks very modern. (more…)


Rental Car Headache

Dealing with a big headache right now that I have been known about and have put off for a couple weeks. Automatic Transmission rental cars in Europe.

I visited France last year and needed to rent a car for about 6 days. I needed a large van type car because we were going to be traveling with 4-5 adult males with some camera gear and luggage. I realized then that the price difference for an automatic vs a manual transmission was pretty stark.  While my father (who was accompanying me) said that he could drive manual (he hasn’t done that in about 35 years) i thought it best that we fork over the extra money for a car that we could both drive. Besides, he graciously agreed to cover the cost of that since i was making most of the other arrangements for the trip.

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Im Nervous…

We all get a bit nervous when planning our travel and during it. Its just human nature (in my opinion). There are a few things I am nervous about and thought that it would be good to share. After all, that’s what this site is going to be all about. Sharing who I am and the travels I embark on.

Im Nervous About… Where I’ll Stay:

I am not super nervous about the first leg of my trip (the Spain and France part). I was in both of these countries last year, stayed with the same people and had a GREAT time. However, I will also be visiting 4 cities (Seville, Barcelona, Cadiz, Paris) within those countries which I have NOT been to yet and also staying in 2 of them with accommodations I found on AirBNB (see below if you don’t know what that is). Furthermore, I will be visiting Thailand and Tokyo and Singapore all of which are completely foreign (no pun intended) to me.

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Initial Plans…. READ FIRST

This may be a bit hard to read, but the table isn’t importing correctly from excel so this will have to do.

Here is my airfare. I’ve included flights (to and from and dates) as well as duration and cost (point cost and dollar cost). I used a lot of points to make this trip happen and I’ll explain all that in another post. The crazy thing is, while I will be taking 14 separate flights, flying 26,000+ miles and stopping in 8 different countries, the total cost of airfare is less than a single round trip ticket to my first destination.

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