Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Okay... I've mulled it over...

And I'm cool with it. Really... I'm down. I dig. I'm satisfied... but characteristically not. (Also, movie possibilities anyone? You know the wheels are TURNIN!!!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Days 3 through… er… 6. In which the happy travelers discover swindling, nudey beaches, Russian oblivion, chubby monkeys, and the existence of ethereal paradise.

After Bangkok, and honestly, after 24 hours of travel, it was time to head to the beach. I made CERTAIN, when planning this trip, the most time we spent in any one place (see 4 days) would be fraught with powdery beaches, magnificent sunsets, blue lagoons, and piercing equatorial-esque sunshine. Now that’s a vacation; and Phuket, Thailand was the place to find it.

We caught a plane via Bangkok Air (yep! More praise to come of international airlines, even the domestic airlines), where we were given a ‘refreshing towel’ and sandwich. The flight was MAYBE 1 ½ hours and we got a sandwich, I tell you! What does Southwest give you? Well, you get to sit on their plane! That’s good enough! And they may give you some sad peanuts and a shot of diet coke, but if you expect to hang out in an airport lounge with snacks, free WiFi, and cushy chairs while you wait for your flight, you can just go fly with Bangkok Air “Asia’s Boutique Airline”! Which… we did.


We landed in Phuket and promptly created an itinerary that promised a great deal of sand, sun, and ocean front lounging about. We took a taxi to the famous (infamous?) Patong Beach; the most touristy place on Phuket Island. And I don’t mind that. Shore, we all want to find that isolated island completely empty of all other life except the swaying palm trees, the rushing waves, and a few falling coconuts. Well turns out, everyone else really wants to find that too, and they all find it in the same place most of the time. Patong Beach is one of those places, and it’s one of those places for a reason; it’s beautiful. It also has some fantastic hotels (I’ve never seen a schwankier Marriott… not that we stayed there… but we walked by it to the beach a handful of times). We stayed in a lovely little place called “Nice and Om.” Like Zen “om.” Read so: “Nice and Ooooooooommmmmmm.” I think that bodes well right? It does. It did. It was a pretty fancy little dig. No Marriott of course, but for $12 a night, Terilyn and I were deeply impressed. Everything was new, everything sparkled, and they had the most powerful elephant showerhead that has ever been my good fortune to enjoy. And enjoy I did. Yes sir.

Anyway, showerheads and airline praise aside, Patong Beach was not only beautiful, but it was where I consumed my first Thai smoothie… seen below.

It is also a place of intense shopping; and thus naturally some swindling. What do I mean by intense shopping? Well, it doesn’t lie only within the abundance of goods, goods, and goods for the perusing and choosing, but the almost uncomfortable aggressiveness, boarding on sheer desperation (see: civil unrest causes tourists to flee country), of the vendors, selling their various wares for various prices, all at “very good price fo you, lady. Very special price, only fo you lady.” We were accosted from every angle! Everywhere our eyes wandered, we had an eager salesperson right in our ear “Oh, you like? Very nice! I make special price! You American? Special price just went up 300baht…”

SO! I bought a dress, a bracelet, another bracelet, aaaaaaand some wooden elephants for friend/family souvenirs. How could I not? Truly? I don’t like being pressured. I don’t feel I was swindled though… or at least, I don’t THINK I was.

After one day in Patong, the next day we boarded a rickety little bus that took us to the Pier where our boat to Phi Phi Island awaited (yes yes yes... where the filming of Leo DeCaprio's "The Beach" took place... blah blah blah. I've not even seen that show - but come to think of it - parts of the little island OFF the coast of Phi Phi were super creepy... super creepy...). Best travel decision ever. It had been recommended to me from several individuals who had likewise visited Phuket Island that all the island’s “round about” were a better way to spend some days in paradise – and kinda thins the tourist herd a bit. We found this to be wonderfully true. Observe the peaceful bliss below…

Some contentment on the boat ride over to Phi Phi Island. Easily one of the most relaxing ‘en route’ journeys I’ve ever taken; as the pictures illustrate.

Yon Bungalow we stayed in for our stint on Phi Phi Island. Definitely adds to the ambiance of the whole ordeal. We were a little nervous when the cobble-stoned street we were following our ‘bungalow manager’ down cracked and turned to a little dirt road for a few yards. Hmmm, little off the beaten path it seems. But all turned out swimmingly… pun intended…

Ah the beach… the beach. There was much reading, smoothie drinking, reading, laying about, floating, floating… and sighing in paradisiacal bliss. There was also a lot of nudity; but only of the topless kind. Those Europeans… not limits. See picture below…

BWAH! Just kidding! What were you expecting you sickys?!?!

However, my favorite activity throughout the whole Island trip was our all day snorkeling venture around the various islands around Phi Phi Island. I’d never been snorkeling before… and will now make it mandatory anytime I happen to be near a tropical paradise.

And here...

Here are some monkeys! This is a beach fittingly referred to as Monkey Beach. I must say, though it was cool how the monkeys just ran up and sat right next to you, hoping for a smidgen of mango or a shred of watermelon, I was ALSO a little morally tainted by the fact that these chubby monkeys (excellent ice cream flavor) could never, at this point, find their own food and essentially, be the wild monkeys they were meant to be. Should some catastrophe ever happen to the area (see: Tsunami and civil unrest), and the tourist population terribly reduces, well there goes the monkeys of Monkey Beaches primary food source! Anyway… there’s my environmentalist rant for the day. I hope you enjoyed it. Now for the monkeys...

Taking a dip in a secluded Lagoon. The water was so clear you could see right to the bottom. I didn’t ever really believe places like this existed on earth anymore… that there were just too many people to leave these places truly, relatively untouched. I’m glad to have been proven wrong.

Also, can I tell you about the Russians one our boat tour? Soon they were lovingly referred to by us, 4 French people, and a British lady as “The VIPS.” Talk about having no concept of ‘I believe they're called 'other people' your highness.’ They went ahead and crowded us out of our well-staked out front of the boat seats with their large Russian bums... stood up and blocked the view for everyone behind them (again... with their large Russian bums) AND! when we stopped for lunch on yet another beautiful island paradise where we had an hour to eat, take pictures, and mull about before heading on to other locations and snorkeling fun, these two individuals decided to go on a hike around the Island and thus, when it was time to ship off, we nearly left them. "Dasvidaniya, Suckers!" We were all thinking it. Our guide responded to our questions of “er… how are they going to get back?” by saying “Meh… they’ll catch another boat I guess.” So we all kinda looked at each other like “I think we’ve all just learned a very valuable lesson on Thai punctuality standards.” As we rounded the tip of the Island, already taking bids on who gets the Russians camera and beach towels that were left in the boat, we saw them waving from the shores. Darn it. Luckiest Russians in the Soviet history! We pulled onto shore and they climbed aboard, unapologetic and unperturbed that they were nearly left in the middle of the ocean on a tiny spit of land; their only hope being they could catch another random boat back to the main Island. I guess worse things have happened in Russia. The other incident of Russian oblivion was apparent in the male counterpart of the couple’s wearing of  very tiny speedo; not thinking that being a very white, rather oddly put together, extremely hairy man would gross out more than just conservative Americans. Sick.

Let’s move away from that mental image, shall we? These will help:

What can I say about watching the sun dip gracefully below the earth, framed by a rolling sea, and dotted by glowing islands? Nothing that would do it any sort of justice. Even the pictures can’t capture the beauty of this moment – it was truly – inspirational; even spiritual. A time where you can really feel that this earth is a gift, a beautiful incredible gift; which in turn, causes you to pause in humble gratitude for everything beautiful that’s been your privilege to enjoy; like sunsets.

We made it back to the main Island and proceeded to eat more Pad Thai, pay $10 for a one hour Thai massage (you heard me!), and I purchased a few more knicks and knacks. The next day we were at the dock by 8:30am and on our way to, what I’ve come to call, the more… ‘character building’ leg of our journey… starting with Siem Reap, Cambodia. Until next time, Island paradise. Stay cool. Don't change. Have a great summer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Great Indonesian Adventure and one expensive Suckering (Days 1-2, respectively)

So, turns out that when you leave for two weeks, a lot of things can pile up! Like, a lot of things! So, bloggy buddys, you may have to wait for the intricate details of what I've now begun to refer to as "The Great Indonesian Adventure!" to come in daily increments.  I also realize that's not an original title at all, but I'm going to blame jet-lag (still suffering from... phew... it's like 4am in Bangkok right now and I FEEL like it's 4am... soooo tipsy) for my lack of creativity. Give me a few days and perhaps the "The Great Indonesian Adventure" will morph into something more clever... then again... maybe not.

First, I WILL tell you this. 24 hours on a plane is sorta intense. I guess we weren't on a plane for 24 hours strait - but we were in the air for that long at various points; broken up by a lay-over here and there. Announcement: Thailand's far away everyone! Very far away. We began "The Fantastical Foreign Fiasco" (better? mmmm... noooo), in Salt Lake City airpot (naturally) catching our first flight to Seattle. We were bright eyed and bushy tailed! Ready and willing to begin what we KNEW would be a fantastic 2 weeks!We had a 3 hour lay-over in Seattle in which I tried to take some good mental pictures of this city I've never visited and have always wanted to. Someday Seattle. Someday. But as for today, you are merely a means to an end. Alas. We boarded our international flight via Korean Air (of which I will sing praises throughout the remainder of my descriptions of the "Incredible Indonesian Adventure") for an 11 hour ride to South Korea. Honestly, long plane rides SEEM like they might suck out your soul and very well COULD suck out your soul IF you are not prepared. I, my friends, was prepared. I had two books ready for the reading; Anthem by Ayn Rand ( My first Ayn Rand and it was brilliant I tell you! I finished it the first handful of hours and subsequently LONGED to find someone to discuss it with, "Excuse me sir? Yes, will you read this and then let me know when you are done so we can discuss it? Thanks... ... ... what part are you on now? Now?") and The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. MaartenTroost (which I rather identified with as I continued to read it throughout the trip... and I highly recommend it. Hilarious.), a fully charged I-pod for the listening, a newly acquired sleep mask and Advil PM for the snoozing, and of course, a line-up of movies awaiting me on the plane via a little screen on the back of the seat in front of me (of which I watched Lovely Bones (fail), The Fantastic Mr. Fox (success!) and half of New Moon (shut up)). That flight wasn't not only 'not bad' but almost good! Here enters my first praises of Korean Air. What service! What food! What hot towels! What bean buns! What nice big individual blankets and personal pillows! Truly, this airline KNOWS how to fly internationally. I felt they did everything in their power to make what could've been a life-sucking plane ride for 11 hours, something almost pleasent! Oh and the meal? Excellent! Yes, you are thinking "she must be a little jet-lag loopy if she just called airplane food excellent" and though you may be right about the loopy, I am serious about the food. I had myself a little Korean dish of something or other and was quite impressed with the enjoyable flavors. Flavors! It had flavors! Go ahead, call me a liar to my face... I know the truth. And the truth lies with the excellence of Korean Air (you better believe I'm writing them a letter... Dear Korean Air, Come to America and teach us the right things. Sincerely Yours, Andrea).


We landed in South Korea and had to make a run for it to catch our 5 hour flight (this was soul-sucking) to Bangkok. We had been delayed about an hour in Seattle, and thus making our connection to Bangkok hang precariously on the line. We made it though (rounding the corner at the final boarding call) and since the flight was fairly vacant, I proceeded to stretch out across a couple seats and snooze the whole time; once again, avoiding the soul-sucking effects of long international plane rides. Plus, it was Korean Air again, which is an excellent airline! Have I mentioned that yet? Well, if not, might I recommend Korean Air should you ever be in a "Korean Air" part of the world? Excellent airline. Here we are with our souls in tact after landing in Bangkok... finally...

(Maybe we do look a little "soul-sucked")

Landing in Bangkok, we disembarked and were immediatly struck with swaths of moist air. They call it "humidity" in them parts and it made the Aveeno moisturizer I'd totted along from the US obsolete for the rest of the trip. Naturally, because of the 'civil unrest' issue Bangkok had been experiencing not 2 weeks prior to our departure, we booked a hotel about 30 minutes from the city center just to be on the safe side. How smart of us. I was a little nervous about 'blind-booking' a cheap hotel in Bangkok, not knowing what exactly we could expect for $20 a night (in the end being the most expensive place we stayed... wha?!?!). Well the Silver Gold hotel did not disappoint (see below), and I felt we got our trip off to a nice start with a decent hotel (encompassing both the silver and gold) and hitting the sack at midnight; a tummy full of Korean Air food (which is really good by the way...). Not bad at all I'd say. Newope.

The next morning we planned to spend in Bangkok. One day in Bangkok ("One night in Bangkok!") having heard from several Bangkok visited veterans that one day was PLENTY of time to visit this exotic Indonesian Captiol of Thailand. Turns out... they were plenty right. We got a lot done, but didn't feel rushed or that we "squeezed" anything in. It was the perfect amount of time.... one day.  See picture documentation below:

Behold! The Silver Gold Hotel, Bangkok Thailand. Not bad, right? Not bad at all. Though, it was our first experience with the tubless, curtainless, pretty much you just spray down the whole room while you're at it, shower. It's just you, the shower head, and a drain in the floor. May or may not have soaked our toilet paper... but only once. We adapted quickly.

That sweaty little river bug is me! Let me tell you about those sunglasses, they lasted the ENTIRE two weeks (see: Andrea notoriously loses and or breaks sunglasses frequently... vacation increasing that likelihood immensely). Well, they lasted until our Halong Bay trip in Vietnam when not a day before we were supposed to fly home they may have slipped from my head right into the ocean, sinking into the void. Ahem. Anyway! This is me on our river boat tour of Bangkok Thailand! The only way to tour Bangkok, Thailand.

The Goldon Buddah. Hey you! Turn this way! Look over here! He's shy...

Approaching the floating market in our boat. Easily my favorite part of our day in Bangkok. They cook the food on their boats and then hand it up to the servers on the pier. It's pretty awesome. Oh and the smells! Delicious smells! Kinda how Korean Air smelled when they were preparing good food.

Me and the Floating Market. Still a sweatball but no longer a bug!

Our first $3 Pad Thai meal in Bangkok at the floating market. Excellent!

Namiste. The Temple of Dawn. The details on this temple are incredible. What a beautiful edifice right in Bangkok! Simply perfect! (Also, do you like how my dress kinda matches the etched flowers around me? Totally planned that (not)).

Up Up Up we go, precious! My legs were shaking the whole time. Turns out, I'm a little adverse to heights. And this thing had some serious height. Phew. Gave me the jimmy legs!

Can't get enough of the Temple of Dawn. Just lovely.

Temples make one pensive, right? On the Roof-tops of Bangkok. What a sight!

The Hall of Buddahs in a Buddhist temple. That's not an official name or anything, but it makes sense. It's a hall, and there are many Buddahs. THUS!

One of many Buddist Temples.

Of course there are many tales to tell of our first day in Bangkok and mucho more pictures that were taken. I tired to summarize as best I could. The river tour was fantastic and the food even better! It rained a bit while we were there which kept the temperature very moderate and rather refreshing. There are plenty of temples to see and a plethora of outdoor markets to weave through. They have anything and everything at the outdoor markets, from food to jewlery, "wooden" elephants, clothes, dresses, shoes, trincets and trappings... everything. And all "fo special price, lady! I make special price fo you! You want Tuk-Tuk, lady?"

However, we actually did get completely suckered once our first day at a seafood restaurant our very obliging Tuk-Tuk (this is a Tuk Tuk) driver recommended. We quickly learned that most Tuk-Tuk drivers have deals with particular establishments. If they bring tourists to their establishment and the tourist buys something, then the Tuk-Tuk gets a cut. Well, one particularly smooth Tuk-Tuk driver took us two an-hungerd Americans to this seafood restaurant that seemed just bells and whistles initially. We picked out our own fish (note... us thinking the price as 300 baht total (about $10US) NOT 300 baht/gram... yeeeeah, our eye for detail greatly increased after that), and then asked if we wanted our salad, soup, and rice served before the fish? Well here in America, a lot of these little 'side items' COME with the entry, right? Most of them. So here we are, enjoying our delicious meal and recounting the happy events of the day, congratulating ourselves on navigating this extremely foreign bit of the world with savvy and smarts, when our check arrives. And wow... super check it is. Our mental conversion calculators still a little rusty, Terilyn gave the dude her credit card to pay for the food before we fully computed what the cost actually was... oh ya know... 2800baht (read $100 US!)

"Wait wait wait!" I said, when the dude returned with the receipt, "You tricked us! This wasn't listed! There was no menu! You totally suckered us into paying these ridiculous prices we wouldn't even pay in AMERICA!" (The Thai people (vendors mainly) are very smart in figuring out "American prices" and inflating their prices to match... very clever) Well, dude acted like he didn't know what I was saying, which I knew FULL WELL he understood EVERY word I was saying. But alas, the damage was done. The card was run. And we were suckers for the day. Luckily, all OTHER meals we had were about $4-$5 apiece and we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that if we had been in Italy (which by the way, will be my next vacation spot), we couldn't get away with paying less than $10 per meal most likley - thus our 'sucker money' would be made up throughout the trip. I guess you have to suffer at least one 'suckering' on your trip to an extremely remote foreign country or your basically... well... un-American, right? And who are we to be un-American? No one. As further revenge, I didn't tell the Tuk Tuk driver how much we paid, because then he'd know what percentage to expect and not get suckered himself. I said "We paid too much and YOU suckered us into coming here so I'll be damned if I'm going to let you get a reward from it!" Well... I thought that... what I really said is "We paid enough, my friend, and we're not happy. Not happy at all." I definitely didn't tell him the amount. He should suffer too! Vengence was mine!!.. ... ish.

To further assuage our pride, we did end up purchasing tailor made suits for a STEAL of a deal (thank you Thailand for finally living up to the dream) which helped make up for the Great Tuk-Tuk Suckering, amongst many other super bargains and general cheapery of travel. I only got suckered once more after that... ;) And it wasn't as pricey... more lame. But that story for another day!

I took a picture of the million dollar meal. See what getting swindled in Bangkok for $100/meal will get you!

And that was Days 1-2 of our great adventure. It seems like we did alot because we did ALOT! Which ended up being the theme through the entire trip. Turns out there are a lot of hours in a day and a lot can be done within one day with those hours. Makes you reflect on how much time you really do waste watching LOST each week. Alright, not true. LOST isn't a waste of time.

Stay tuned for more "Excursions of the Orient" (getting better!) in the following days. We've got Phi Phi Island to explore, a monkey to taunt, a bus ride from hell to muddle through, intestinal bacteria to battle, and Australians to love. A lot happens in 2 weeks...