Monday, February 22, 2010

Around Bangkok

Instead of writing about the Myanmar Embassy, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Khao Yai National Park and Ayuthaya, I'll give a link to Daniel's blog whose has already written about it. Daniel was my traveling partner for the following 3 weeks or so. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, I'd been following his blog prior to my own travels and invited him to join me to Myanmar. Daniel is from Australia and has been traveling for over a year. So without further ado, here's his account of our travels:




-The waterfall below was made famous for its appearance in the movie "The Beach."

-I met Brian and Joceny at the Ntl Park (see below).


-As Daniel mentioned in his blog there was a curfew set at our hotel, which, I failed to adhere to, and had to bang on the door until they let me in.
-There were also an ungodly amount of stray dogs in Ayuthaya. When I was walking back to my hotel one night, there were millions of them sprawled all over the streets. It was a bit disconcerting walking around all of them since SE Asia is rampant with rabies.

View my pictures here:

Floating market:

Khao Yai Ntl Park:



I took an overnight bus from Phuket to Bangkok. The bus ride was actually quite comfortable. Thanks to Josh, who purchased the ticket for me, he managed to get a me a front row seat which as the most leg room. Thanks, Josh!

I made it to Bangkok earlier than expected, at around 4:30 a.m. And because I made it to BKK insanely early, I killed a few hours before calling my host, Zcel. When I did finally manage to call and get a hold of her, she didn't sound too enthused, as she thought I'd be arriving in the evening and she'd had just gotten to bed after a long night out partying. So I decided to head to the city and find the Myanmar Embassy to apply for my visa. However, upon arriving, I found out that it was closed for the next two days. Ugh! So I found an Internet cafe and got caught up on a few things.

I finally managed to find Zcel's place which was further outside BKK than I had expected. After getting acquainted we went to the mall and had lunch with a few of her friends. Afterwards, we went back to her friend's before heading out to Khao San Rd--a backpacker ghetto full of cheap accommodation, shops and street bars. Let's just say: Hanging out with pretty Filipino women + Khan San Rd = A good time.

The next day I slept half the day away. And after I managed to get myself out of bed I walked over and sat down to use Zcel's computer. However, when I sat on the chair one of the legs broke off, causing me to fall awkwardly to the ground. Oops!

Later I would meet Elan, Josh's best friend. Man, talk about a nice guy. I can see how Josh and Elan are best friends. I ended up spending the rest of the night hanging out with Elan. Thank you Elan for your kindness and hospitality. The next day I woke up early and headed back to the Myanmar Embassy where I would meet Daniel and apply for my visa.

View pictures here:


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Phuket, Thailand

The flight from Medan, Indonesia to Phuket, Thailand took about an hour. I decided to CouchSurf again after having such a nice experience in Medan. Also I was traveling to Phuket in the high season, i.e. the most expensive time of the year there. So I figured that CS would be, again, another great way to save some money on accommodation. At the airport in Medan I ran into a guy named Greg, from the United Kingdom, who I'd met previously at Bukit Lawang. Greg was meeting someone in Patong the following day and ended up CS with me that night before continuing his travels to Patong the following morning.

My CS host, Josh, lived in a lovely, quiet Thai neighborhood in Phuket Town. Josh is from the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and teaches art to kindergartners at a school located within his neighborhood. It literally takes him 3 minutes by motorbike to travel to work. Josh turned out to be an amazing host, too. He was extremely kind, funny and accommodating, who loved to have a good time and party. Hey Josh, "I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good good night..."

I initially intended to stay just an few nights, but ended up staying for 9. I really just felt the need to take it easy--which I did. Oh, and another CSer from Italy, Simone, had also been staying there for a few weeks when I arrived. He departed a few days before I did. My days basically consisted of reading, writing, beach hopping, viewing beautiful sunsets, watching movies, and, occasionally, going out a few nights. Of course I made sure to visit the infamous city of Patong where every other person is either a Thai prostitute, ladyboy, or a flamboyant homosexual--Hey, not that there's anything wrong with that!

While I was in Phuket I decided that the next country I wanted to travel was Myanmar (Burma). So I contacted Daniel, whose blog I'd been following prior to my travels, to see if he would like to join me, as he was in the neighborhood--India. After purchasing my plane tickets for Myanmar I realized that I wouldn't be able to stay in southern Thailand as long as I had planned, and I still needed to see Koh Phi Phi.

Short on time I decided to take a one-day tour to Maya Bay, Leh Lagoon, Koh Phi Phi and Khai Island. I really didn't want to see Koh Phi Phi like this but time was of the essence. At least Josh was able to arrange a discount for me, as he knows the staff at the tour agency. I'm sure he brings them a lot of business, hosting CSers and all. That said, I really had a great time. The people I met on the boat really made my trip enjoyable. I met a really nice couple from Cyprus and an Iranian family who live in Sweden. I ended up hanging out with the Iranian family all day.

The movie "The Beach" featuring Leonardo Dicaprio, was filmed at Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi Leh. And it definitely lived up to my expectations! Maya Bay, I have to say, is the most beautiful beach I've seen in my life. Just stunning. It's a shame that I couldn't have stayed longer; I guess I'll just have to come back. We ended the day at Khai Island, where I was able to do some snorkeling. It was nice there but I was wishing we could have spent more time at Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi. Oh, well.

The last night, Josh invited many of his Filipino friends to his house and cooked some Filipino food. Delicious. Everyone there suggested that I should visit the Philippines. And why not? Maybe I will. If people in the Philippines are half as nice and kind as this group, I can see the Philippines being amazing. Hmmm...the Philippines? Decisions, decisions.

I was sad to leave Phuket, as Josh really made my trip so enjoyable. But I had to be back in Bangkok where I would be meeting Daniel in a few days. Josh contacted a few friends in Bangkok before I'd left who said that they'd be willing to accommodate me for a few nights. Nice. At this point I'd gone two weeks without paying for accommodation. "I gotta feeling..."

Next Stop: Bangkok, Thailand


Friday, February 19, 2010

Medan, Indonesia

After waiting over an hour for a bus--I was told that a bus leaves every 20 minutes--I settled for a mini-van bus. The ride to Medan was ridiculously uncomfortable. Shocker. Moving on...

The plan was to make it to Medan and to get in contact with Andi, my CouchSurfing host. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to do this, as I only had his phone number and no phone. I told myself I'd figure it out once I made it there. And once I made it to Medan's bus station I walked across the street and gestured to a random local girl if I could use her cell phone. She kindly let me use it and I called Andi. Due to the high noise level around the bus station I couldn't hear Andi that well, so he text messaged the info (in Indonesian) that I needed to get to his place. The girl whose phone I borrowed read the text and directed me to the proper shuttle. Problem solved.

Andi was still at work so he had his friend, Thiaz, who lives across the street, accommodate me when Andi was unavailable. Thiaz was an extremely gracious host who immediately made me feel at home, and offered me some Indonesian pastries and tea. He was accompanied by his friend, David, an Iranian. David, who spoke very little English, tried to explain to me how he ended up in Indonesia. From what I could gather, he had attempted, twice, to enter Australia illegally and was deported to Indonesia where he now lives with his wife and son at a UN refugee camp. After tirelessly attempting to understand his story, which was difficult due to the language barrier, I gave up.

Andi and Thiaz are part of a large CouchSurfing community in Medan and have frequent social gatherings. Once Andi's friends got word I was in town they came over and took me out. The CS gang--Dewi, SiSi, Kalvin aka DeeJay, Fenny and Adam (who we would refer to as Adam #2)--were extremely nice people. This was humanity at its best. They all had quite diverse backgrounds as well, with differing ethnicities and religions. When the topic of religion was brought up (by me) I found myself in the presence of a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and an agnostic. "Where am I?" I thought. I loved it. I brought up that I'd never been to a Sikh Temple and would love to see one. DeeJay, who is a Sikh, said his temple is the largest Sikh Temple in southeast Asia and that he could arranged a tour for everyone. Sounded great!

Later I would meet Andi at dinner. He had the physical build of Rambo and aspirations to join the military. He has quite the work ethic, too. He works all through the night and attends school during the day, and still manages to squeeze in his workouts to maintain his Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque physique. Basically, when he is spending time with me and other CSers he's sacrificing his sleep. I told him that he's a machine!

The CS crew love to take pictures and after we finished eating, we must have taken hundreds of them. Even our waiters, who, I might add, were ladyboys, joined in on our photo taking extravaganza. Afterwards, Andi and I went back to his house where I would sleep.

The next day I hung out with Andi, going to the barbershop, Internet cafe, gym, etc. Andi really went out of his way to make sure that I was having a good time--what a guy. Later that night we met the CSers at the mall where we would see the movie "Sherlock Holmes." The movie was played in English with Indonesian subtitles. Apparently in Indonesia when you buy a movie ticket you are assigned a seat. This was a completely foreign concept to me. I was wondering why everyone was looking at me crazy every time I suggested that we'd leave in order to get a good seat. It was great arriving the movie theatre knowing that you had a reserved seat. Why don't we do this in the U.S.?

The next day was the big day, where we would see the largest Sikh Temple in southeast Asia. The entire CS gang attended. Before we entered the temple, both men and women had to remove their shoes and cover their heads. Oh, and before I continue, I would just like to say that I really loved DeeJay's shirt which said, "Green Your Mind." I loved it. Especially since my email address says "freeurmind..." I want that shirt DeeJay! Okay, moving on...
Once inside DeeJay gathered us around and explained his religion to us. Soon after, one of the temple's high ranking religious leaders arrived and allowed us to take a few photos with him. I don't think he spoke one word but his facial expressions spoke thousands. Just take a look at the picture. Later the head Sikh of the temple gave a nice Q&A about Sikhism. This guy looked like on of the villains straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. He was tall and massive, with a full beard, large rings, and a turban. I definitely could envision him kicking some serious ass on horseback, swinging one of those ginormous swords that they carry. Unfortunately in Indonesia it's illegal to carry a life-size sword so they are reduced to carry little keyring swords--so emasculating! I would have loved to have seen one of the swords harnessed from his side. I don't have a picture of him but this picture of the painting should suffice.

The next day I sadly had to leave. I had a plane to catch leaving for Phuket, Thailand (and only for only $16! Hurray for AirAsia!). Andi and the CS gang really made my trip in Medan enjoyable. Thank you all for restoring my faith in CourchSurfing!!!

Next stop: Phuket, Thailand