Friday, December 25, 2009

Australia

This is my first video blog. SHARE with me if you like it or not. video

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bukittinggi Part 2

Once we parted ways with Gioele we were directed to our bus—a sketchy, rundown looking one for that matter. Marc looked a bit hesitant allowing the driver and his helper to toss our bags on the roof of the vehicle. Once inside, we were nagged by street touts trying to sell us everything under the sun. As one left the bus another one would immediately take the person’s spot. There must have been a tout line outside to board our bus. Even after our bus hit the road, the driver would annoyingly slow down in order to allow more of them to hop on and off. Grrr…

At Lake Maninjau our bus dropped us off about 5km from our guesthouse—and it was raining. A local police officer waived down a couple of guys with motorbikes to take us there. The guesthouse we stayed at, Arlens, is interestingly located about a quarter of a mile from the road on the lake, down a narrow, muddy path. Arlens is run by a very accommodative family who keep the business well maintained. It has pretty flowers and vegetation with a nice gravel path leading to the beach. It also has a pleasant lounge and dining area where one can enjoy the view of the lake. Oh yes, Arlens had the laid back atmosphere that I desperately needed.

We met a real nice Dutch (the Netherlands) couple that evening while we were eating. They were on a RTW trip as well. They had just come from northern Sumatra and very graciously tore that section out of their Lonely Planet Guide book for me. They were able to give me some great information, which was great for me, as I intended to head in that direction next. One of the employees at Arlens asked if we would enjoy a campfire on the beach. Sounded great! So we all moved and continued our pleasant conversations to the beach, where we talked for hours. Very good night.

The next morning after breakfast—I always have the same thing here in Indonesia: banana pancakes—we decided to rent a motorbike and cruise around the lake. This was my first time on a motorbike and, I must say, I had a blast. I let Marc do most of the driving as I almost wrecked when I drove. Hey, it was my first time!

When we returned, Marc and I edited some videos of our travels before eating dinner. You canview them here: http://vimeo.com/user2544346/videos. The sunset was gorgeous that evening and we chilled out on the beach and spoke with some locals from Bukittinggi. One of them, Muhammad Ali, who actually prefers to go by Ali—he says Muhammad is not a popular name with westerners—was quite interested in NGOs. I told him about HODR and he seemed extremely eager to learn more. After he expressed interest in volunteering for the organization, we went to a local internet café where I wrote a few emails to HODR notifying them of his interests, allowing him to volunteer by the end of the week. Ali was very appreciative. Marc and I went to bed fairly early that night as we were tired from the night before. The next morning after another delicious breakfast, Marc and I decided to head back to Bukittinggi. The previous night I expressed interests of climbing volcano Merapi to some of the locals from Bukittinggi. The locals said they would be leaving for Bukittinggi the next morning as well and suggested we stop by their café, Café Bedual, where they would set us up with a guide for the volcano trek.

It began to rain as we walked back to the road from our guesthouse. This wasn’t good as the guesthouse staff said it could take nearly an hour before a bus would arrive. However, within five minutes, a truck pulled up. ‘Bukittinggi, Bukittinggi?’ The driver hollered. After I managed to understand his going rate, which was only 30 cents more than the bus, we threw our bags in and left. Instead of going into detail about our ride back, it’s safe to assume that every ride, to anywhere, there’s white knuckles involved. We had the driver drop us off at the café the locals recommended. Ali greeted us upon arriving, ‘You made it!’ he said. ‘Come in, sit, sit.’ Marc left for the nearest internet café as I negotiated our arrangements for the volcano trek. I managed to get Marc and I a bit of a discount and scheduled our trek for that night at 11 p.m. in order to see the sunrise. With a few hours to kill Marc and I went to the grocery store to buy some snacks and water for our upcoming adventure. Afterwards, we ate our last meal of the day at a Pizza Hut. I couldn’t afford to risk not enjoying my last meal before our long trek, and Pizza Hut was a guarantee good meal.

We met our guide, Ryod, back at the café at 10 p.m. before leaving for the volcano by motorbike. It looked liked we chose to climb Merapi on a good night as there were stars in the sky. With our day bags latched around us and our flashlights in hand, we headed up the dark volcano—and I do mean up. Within a few minutes I realized that there was not going to be many areas of the trek that would be level. My lunges quickly began to feel heavy. This was not a good sign, as we still had 6.5 hours before reaching the summit. I managed to hear something

off to the side of us as my body loudly gasped for oxygen. We all stopped. The three of us shined our flashlights into the thick vegetation, slowly panning right to left. Complete silence. I then

heard the most terrifying sound one could hear while in the dark, on a volcano, and away from any form of civilization for miles: the sound of an unidentified animal growling at you.

‘What the hell is that?’ I asked.

‘Um…it is a pig,’ our guide responded. Not sounding too sure of himself.

‘A pig? I’ve never heard a pig sound like that!’

‘Okay. Let’s keep going,’ he said.

And just like that—snap!—my body was flowing with adrenaline. Having enough energy would not be a problem for the next few hours. I was recharged.

It was amazing how the weather conditions on the volcano changed. It went from clear skies to a thundering rainstorm within moments. While waiting the rain out under some thick trees, my body began to experience such changes as well. I went from being hot and sweating profusely one moment, to being wet and cold, to the point of shivering the next. I also got to the point where I didn’t enjoy our breaks because my body would cool down too fast; I had to keep moving to stay warm.

There were many times throughout the trek that I questioned whether I could continue on or not. I felt as if my body was shutting down again. Despite how tired and slow I thought I was moving, our guide said that we had actually gotten ahead of schedule as we made it to the edge of the summit about an hour early. He told us that we needed to wait an hour before continuing any further because of the weather conditions at the top. It was beginning to rain again and there were not any trees present at the top that would be able to protect s from elements such as wind and rain.

Finally, after about seven hours of trekking we made it to the top. We journeyed from hell to seeing a glimpse of heaven. And it really was heavenly at the top. The view was spectacular. No picture or video I took could capture the pure beauty or ethereal atmosphere we witnessed. The three of us chilled out for an hour at what appeared to be the highest peak of the volcano, with our feet hanging off the edge. It was a great moment to sit back, eat some cookies, and just bliss out.

After twelve hours of trekking we finally made it back to town and decided to splurge a bit and get a room with hot water and power outlets to recharge our electronics. The hot shower was glorious too. Marc and I lounged around for the remaining of the day and prepared for our departure the following day. This was our final day together as Marc would be heading off to Australia in a few days, while I would be heading north to explore the rest of northern Sumatra.


It was really strange when the moment came for Marc and I to part ways. The bus honked and the driver opened the doors for Marc to put in his luggage. We looked at each other like, wow, this is really it.

‘Well, Broski,’ Marc said.

‘Alright, man,’ I responded.

‘Travel safe.’

‘You too, man.’

We proceeded to tell one another what an amazing six weeks we’ve just had and how we loved one another. And off he went…

A new chapter of my trip was about to begin. I was about to vagabond solo, and as I turned around and began walking up the street, I began to experience something new for the first time on this trip: butterflies.

-Adam


video

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bukittinggi Part I

About fifteen volunteers from the project planned to leave together for Bukittinggi the very night Marc and I had decided to leave, so we decided to pitch in and joined them. A girl from the project arranged for three trucks to escort us there. The ride is normally supposed to take about two hours, however, it ended up taking nearly 4 as the drivers got their directions confused. The ride, to say the least, was quite frightful. Marc commented to me that it was the most horrific ride he’s ever taken. Marc had every reason to feel this way, as the driver speed racered his way in and out of traffic without touching his break often. I think the scariest moment for me was when we were driving up the mountain from Lake Maninjau, zigzagging around cars and sharp turns while it began to rain. The slightest mistake from the driver would have, without any doubt, sent us into a dark abyss off the mountain. As one can imagine, we were quite relieved when we arrived.

It was nearly past 1 a.m. before we ventured off through the deserted, sleepy streets of Bukittinggi desperately trying to find a hotel with vacancy. We finally found a hotel, Hotel Orchid, which had a few rooms left and snatched them immediately. After we were shown to our room we were awaited by some creepy crawlers in our beds—ants. Now after Marc’s bedbug incident in Bangkok, he wasn’t about to take any chances and requested that we get another room. Unfortunately, there were not any rooms left. However, the man from the hotel staff was very apologetic and changed our sheets and swept our floors for us. That said and done, Marc and I were still skeptical and decided to sleep on top of the sheets and covers—with our clothes on too. We awoke the next morning pleasantly to find ourselves bedbug bite free (tongue twister).

In the hotel lobby Gioele, Marc and I decided that we would see the rafflesia sanctuary, about 16km north of Bukittinggi. The rafflesia is the world’s biggest flower. Our hotel staff told us it would be the last day the flower would be in bloom, so we hurried to find the bus station. Once we finally found the “bus station” we found that a minivan, already about fourteen people deep inside, awaited us. “In. In!,” said the bus driver. Gioele, Marc and I looked at each other like he couldn’t honestly think we could fit inside. Again, bear in mind, the minivan was already fourteen people deep and the three of us are tall, big guys. “Maybe we should just go to the zoo,” Gioele said, with a disgruntled look on his face. “No, No. In. In!” After which the driver began yelling at the women in the vehicle to make room for us, but to no avail. Somehow the three of us defied the laws of physics that early afternoon and managed to squeeze in enough to have the door slam shut. Now packed in the vehicle like a jar of sardines, we all couldn’t help to laugh at the situation. Let’s just say we got to know the people sitting next to us fairly well.

When we made it to the sanctuary, we were immediately greeted by our guide. He led us through a small, charming neighborhood before entering the jungle. The beginning of the trek was beautiful but quickly turned treacherous. Thoughts of our trek in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia came to mind. “Oh, great. Not again.” I thought. After many slips and falls in the wet, muddy jungle we found the flower. “Is this it?” I thought. We all looked at each other in somewhat disappointment. Apparently we were one day late, as the flower was closing and beginning to darken. Oh well. It was still pretty neat to see, though.

As we trekked our way back I found myself, again, praying for dear life. It was amazing to see our guide just trek with ease, as the three of us looked like a bunch of uncoordinated cavemen. Seriously, it was amazing to watch. Our guide was trekking in sandals, shorts, and with his hands behind his back. Not exaggerating. We made it back to town safe and sound, but, again, we managed to have another packed bus shuttle us back.

After the three of us regained feelings in our legs and bums we ventured off to explore the town. When we were walking we were approached by a few school girls who inquired if they could practice their English with us. We said it was not a problem and they tagged along, as we strolled through town answering whatever questions were thrown at us. Not before long, we were approached by the students’ teacher and their classmates. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by students bombarding us with a million questions. At one point a student requested to see American currency, and as Marc began to hand out some coins, he was nearly stampeded by the children (see Bukittinggi video). All good fun.

We finally managed to make it to Sianok Canyon View; however, again, we were approached by a teacher and his students who were on a field trip. We spoke to the teacher for sometime before being invited to where he lives, in the Harau Valley. He said he would love to show us around the area for a few days. We told him we were indeed interested, and he gave us his number.

After a long, fun, and eventful day we decided it was time for bed. Earlier we decided that we all would share one room, pushing the two beds together and sleep on it sideways. Yes, it must have looked absurd to see three grown men sharing two beds, but these are the kinds of sacrifices you make during long-term travel in order to save money.

The next day, sadly, the three amigos parted ways. Gioele took a bus back to HODR base camp where he would volunteer for another week before traveling back to Montreal, Canada, and Marc and I decided to take a local bus to Lake Maninjau.
Next stop: Lake Mininjau.

-Adam

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Padang, Indonesia

Adam and I split ways a few days ago in Bukittinggi. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be leaving him. After all, we did spend almost 6 weeks together 24/7. I hear when two people travel together they are bound to fight and eventually hate each other, but we didn’t get into any big fights and really enjoyed each others company. I am thankful for those six weeks with him because we definitely became closer than we ever were. That being said, I think it was time that I get out and see/navigate the world on my own. My first stop would be Padang, Indonesia. I was going to Padang because that is where my flight leaves from, as I will be heading to KL for two days and then off to Australia on the 16th of this month. Padang was supposed to just be a stop where I didn’t do anything but sit in my hotel room for a few days and relax. Little did I know I would end up seeing the city in a way only the locals do.

My first night I would meet up with a friend, Gioele, I met while volunteering with the HODR project that Adam has recently written about. Gioele was leaving from Padang to go home to Canada and he let me stay in his room for his last night there. Thank you Gioele for the accommodations! That night we went walking around the town and were watching locals play football (not American), when a girl approached us. She told us she was studying to be an English teacher and invited us to sit with her and friends so they could practice their English. Now a lot of people have come up to us on this trip and some on kind of shady so we told her we could sit and talk for only five minutes. We ended up going to dinner with them and ended the night with ice cream. Since Gioele was leaving the next day they asked me if I had any plans for my time in Padang. I told them I had nothing planned and they invited me to hang out with them for the weekend.

The next morning they picked me up from Gioele’s hotel and helped me find a hotel of my own. I then hopped on one of their motorbikes to have lunch at one of their houses. They cooked me authentic Indonesian food and we ate sitting Indian style with our hands. You wouldn’t think it, but there really is an art to eating with your hands. Lets just say I wasn’t the best at it. After lunch it was off to a scenic river where the water was rushing passed us. There was also a waterfall and a cliff where a bunch of locals were jumping off. I of course couldn’t pass the chance to jump off something high into water. I was the only westerner there so I was getting a lot of attention. People would look at me with such curiosity. Especially since I had my shirt off and if you don’t know, I’m definitely not the darkest person in the world. Sometimes people would get too close for comfort but my new crew was very protective of me.

The next morning I was picked up again and we headed to a really nice beach. There was an island within sight and we were able to walked through the water to it. It was a very relaxing part of the day. We then hopped back on those motorbikes and headed for a secluded waterfall. It was quite the journey to get there but definitely well worth the trek. I met lots of locals along the way and was glad to have an interpreter, my new friends. We ended the day with coffee from a local woman’s home. My last morning I was picked up by Sabtu and he took me to the airport. After these couple of days here in Padang I know what it feels like to be a celebrity with all the staring and attention. I am extremely fortunate to have met my new Indonesian friends and learned so much from them. My last two and half days in Indonesia were the most unique and educational since being here. Thanks to Facebook I will be able to keep in touch if none of us can make it to each other’s home countries in the future. Thank you Novie, Nadia, Asang, Sabtu, and Aroon for such a wonderful weekend.

Next Stop: Malaysia → Australia!


-Marc

Sunday, December 13, 2009

HODR in Indonesia

Marc and I were quite anxious to leave Kuala Lumpur after spending nearly five full days there. Don’t get me wrong, KL is a great city, but a few days there is plenty. Plus, we were excited to head to Indonesia where we would be volunteering for Hands On Disaster Response (HODR). After the 7.9 earthquake that hit Western Sumatra on 30 September, 2009, HODR went there to assist survivors.

Our flight for Padang, Indonesia was scheduled to leave early, early in the morning. So Marc and I decided to take a bus—conveniently located across the street from our hostel, Pudu—the night before our flight. We figured this would save us money, as we wouldn’t have to pay for another night at our hotel, and just sleep at the airport. Save money, we did; however, I didn’t get any sleep. Marc, on the other hand, had no problem getting some shuteye. Shocker. I swear he can fall asleep anywhere. All he needed was a clear spot in order to lie down on the cold, hard airport floor. And he was out cold, too. I think I kicked him at least three times before he woke up.

Anyways, the flight to Padang was quick and painless, as we arrived in about an hour or so. Our descent was quite beautiful, as well. Indonesia looked like an amazing, scenic country. I was eager to see it. After we successfully made it through Customs and Immigration we were greeted by our driver, hired by HODR. HODR base camp is actually located about an hour and a half north of Padang, in Sungai Geringging. Once we arrived we were given a tour of the house, the rules of the house, as well as all the rudimentary procedures we were to follow in order to keep the house somewhat functional. Oh, it was also explained to us that the night we arrived would be the last night the men would be able to sleep inside the house. Apparently, the local Muslim police felt that it was improper for unmarried men and women to sleep under the same roof, regardless if they are sharing a bed or not. When in Rome, right? So the next night an enormous tent was constructed where tents and bunk beds were placed. However, the heat made it nearly impossible to get any sleep during the day. And at night, because of the humidity, the tent would trap the moisture. And it didn’t help that it was the wet season. Thus, my mattress and clothes were wet the entire night. Also, my lunges in the morning felt as if there had been a gallon of water poured into it. As one can imagine, the sleeping arrangements were not too conducive for a good night’s sleep.

Our daily itinerary at the project looked like this:
• wake up at 6:30 a.m.
• eat breakfast
• leave at 7:30 a.m. for job site
• work from 7:30-11:30
• lunch break for 2 hours
• work from 1:30-4:30
• dinner
• nightly meeting at 6 p.m.
• free for the rest of the night

The people at camp told us that there had been a case of pink eye going around. Also, there had been some stomach virus going around, as well. Within three days, unfortunately, I ended up getting sick too. I decided I couldn’t make it through our second shift one day and walked back to base camp, where I threw up violently for a half hour. One of the women who worked there came outside to check on me but to find me along side the house hovering over the drainage system.
“Adam, is it bad?” she asked.
“Blaahhhh!” I responded.
“Oh, okay. It’s bad.”
I never did recover from getting ill while I was at camp.

The work we did was definitely not a cake walk. You were either sledging, chinking bricks, wheel barreling heavy rubble, etc, for seven hours a day. However, hard work is nothing new to me as I’ve been doing hard labor for nine years at UPS. That said, after I got sick, I could not perform the job to my fullest ability. And I never enjoy doing any kind of work half-ass.

The locals were really wonderful people. They seemed to be quite appreciative that we were there. Everywhere you went they shouted, “Hello, Mister!” “How are you?!” “What’s your name?!” “Where you from!?” The children especially were a joy to be around. Everyday as we rode on the back of the truck to our job sites, the children would run outside towards us in groups, waiving and shouting, “Hello, Hello!”

The people volunteering for HODR consisted mainly of people from the US and Europe, with a few from Canada and Australia. Oh, there was one girl from Lebanon as well. After conversing with many of the volunteers, I found myself amongst a group of avid travelers. As I think I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, I was turned on to HODR by my friend, Suzi, after stumbling across one of her blogs last year. You can find her blog here: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/travlinfool/. She has been traveling for three years now. Geesh! There were many other people there who have experienced a lifetime of traveling already—at least by American standards. I think I can listen to stories of people’s travels for hours. I just love it. It’s inspiring, I think. And everyone has their own unique way as to how they fund their travels.

Marc had an unfortunate accident while out in the field (job site). He was sledging some concrete walls—which, very frequently, turn into flying shrapnel—and cut his foot. It was pretty ugly, I must say. Not only was it a long cut, it was pretty deep as well. After much debate, he opted not to go to the doctor to receive stitches. This incident also debilitated Marc from working.

Marc expressed his wishes to see more of the island of Sumatra, as he felt that his chances of traveling here again were slim to none. And because he would be leaving for Australia in a week, plus, the fact that his foot had debilitated him from working, it seemed like good timing. So in the end, with much discussion, Marc and I decided to leave the project early.

Despite leaving earlier than planned, volunteering for HODR was a great experience. It is an excellent organization that does a lot of good for a lot of people. I hope to volunteer with them again. For more information, check out the website at: http://hodr.org/.

-Adam

New blogs and VIdeos

Sorry about the delay in posting blogs and videos! Indonesia has made it tough to post anything. But no worries, new blogs and videos will be posted soon!

-Marc

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

We left Penang at 6am for the Cameron Highlands, which ended up being quite the journey. It took us about an hour to get across the ferry to even start our trip to the Highlands. This was because the bridge was closed due to a marathon race going on the same morning. So the traffic went from crazy to insane. Our bus driver didn’t like slowing down as drove through the mountains into the Highlands. He would lightly tap the brakes even when there wasn’t a guardrail to protect us from plummeting down the mountain to our death. Needless to say, it was quite scary! Other than being terrified on the way up, it was really a nice ride because the scenery was beautiful. The mountains are so thick and lush I thought we were being taken to Jurassic Park.

We ended up staying at Kang Travellers Lodge (Daniels Lodge) when we got to town. It was a nice little place with very friendly people. Cameron Highlands ended up being very chilly and I was happy that I had my pants and raincoat on me, especially since I had almost thrown them away because it is so hot here in SE Asia. It rained off and on (mostly on) while we were there, as well. So after Adam and I got settled in we started exploring the area.

There were posts for all kinds of jungle tours and treks but they were a little pricey for Adam and I. We opted to get a map and find the trails ourselves to hike. So off we went into the jungle. The start of the trail was amazing. It took us by a really big waterfall called Robinson Falls, and the jungle was singing with animals. It was really cool walking through such thick jungle and having such vegetation, rocks, and trees over the trail. Little did we know that our hike was about to take a turn for the worse. It was raining while we were on the hike and we didn’t think anything of it. That was until the trail began to erode away, making it very difficult to pass. We were carefully maneuvering our way around this almost impassible trail with the mountain edge just a wrong slip away. We finally got to a point where we looked at each other and said, “Do you want to go back?” We decided we were too committed because of what we had already trekked through. The next difficult pass the ground slid out from under me and I started falling down the mountain. I was able to grab the loose rubber pipe that was following the trail and held on tight. I guess my adrenaline was pumping because we just focused on the trail and got to the end. When we finished I was shaking pretty bad thinking about what had just happened.

The trail ended up spitting us out very far from the town we were staying in, so we hit the road and started our long walk back. We decided to try hitchhiking because we had heard that it was fairly easy to do in Malaysia. People were right because we were picked up within 5-10 minutes of walking. That night at the guesthouse I needed a drink and went to the bar. I ended up meeting a group of people my age from Wales, Ireland, Amsterdam, and New Zealand. It was a nice evening after a long day.
The next day we decided we would take it easy and just visit a tea plantation. We were accompanied by Dav from Wales, whom I had met the night before at the bar. The tea plantation was beautiful! We walked down to all the tea plants and took pictures of the workers and the scenery. It was very peaceful and relaxing being in the mountains, breathing in the crisp air.
It began raining when we left the tea plantation. We couldn’t find a taxi home so we decided to hitchhike again. When we left the Highlands the way down the mountain ended being a little nerve racking because there were frequent mudslides that covered half of the road, but we made it down safely.

I wish we had more time to experience all the Highlands had to offer but it was time for us to head to Kuala Lumpur. I definitely would like to visit Cameron Highlands again someday!

-Marc

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

VIDEOS!!!!!

We have finally posted the New York City video and the Bangkok video. Watch them on Vimeo! Just click the link and enjoy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Since Marc spoke about Koh Tao in our previous blog, I will just write briefly about our journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao. We left Bangkok for Koh Tao in an overnight bus which was suppose to take us to the pier at Chumphon, and, from Chumphon, a ferry to Koh Tao. Of course our travels to Koh Tao didn’t go as planned. What are the odds in that, right?!

When the bus driver herded us out of the bus in the morning, we found ourselves in some desolate little town. We waited there for about an hour or so before some random guy in a pick up truck boarded us onto his vehicle. And off we went to the pier in Chumphon—so we thought. Wrong! It was just another drop off point where, to our dismay, we found ourselves in Surat Thani! This city is quite south of Chumphon. So we ended up island hopping from Surat Thani to Koh Samui – Koh Phangan – Koh Tao. And lets just say the ferry rides between the islands are not too pleasant. That said, Marc and I had a wonderful time. Koh Tao was great. Oh, I also got to watch the Pacquiao/Cotto boxing match from our restaurant.

Moving on…
Determined to make it to Indonesia in a few weeks, where we will be volunteering for Hands On Disaster Response (HODR), we decided to venture south to Penang, Malaysia. To get to Malaysia we traveled overland, which consisted of taking a ferry, bus and train ride, with many stops and waiting periods in between. I was quite anxious to board our train from Thailand to Malaysia, as I have never ridden an official train before. Plus, this was an overnight train where we would be given our own sleeper/bed. When I awoke the next morning I was greeted with pleasant scenery from the Thai and Malaysia countryside. Unfortunately, there was much poverty to be seen as well. Not unfortunate to have witnessed such dire poverty but unfortunate that such poverty exists.

Once we arrived in Butterworth, we boarded a ferry to the island of Penang. My initial thought of the island as we approached it from our ferry was how its skyline reminded me of Hong Kong’s. Now I’ve never been to Hong Kong but from pictures that I’ve seen, Penang’s skyline is reminiscent of it. We found a nice guesthouse within the city of Georgetown—a UNESCO World Heritage City—called Banana New Guest House. The employees there were extremely helpful and accommodating.

I was extremely amazed with the city’s multi-culturalism. There are many ethnicities that reside here: Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Achehnese, Burmese, etc, etc. Apparently, during the British rule here, they brought labor from Indian and China. This city is a melting pot to the fullest. And it’s not like these ethnic groups are segregated from one another either. For example, each one of these ethnic groups’ religious buildings—Mosques, Churches, Chinese and Indian Temples—can be found on the same block, as well as their restaurants and other business establishments. Speaking of which, the food. Ah yes, the food. The most delicious food on the planet can be found here as a result of the city’s diversity. And not only is the food here delicious, it’s cheap! Dirt cheap. One can seriously eat like a king here. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that there is any racial/ethnic tensions either. They all seem to co-exist quite peacefully. The rest of the world needs to take notice of this wonderful city.
There is something else great this city produces: the people. The people here in Penang have been incredibly accommodative, kind and friendly. Sure you’ll come across a knucklehead every now and again, but, for the most part, everyone has been great. It has also been refreshing to escape from all the touts and scammers that we’ve encountered in Thailand.

Some of our highlights here on Penang: Penang Hill; viewing the historical and religious sites within the city of Georgetown; trekking Penang National Park (this included walking across a 40-50ft canopy); and, of course, eating the delicious food.

-Adam

Next stop: Cameron Highlands.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Koh Tao, Thailand

I was a little frazzled when we left Bangkok. I was just ready to get on a beach and relax for awhile. So we headed to Koh Tao. The island of Koh Tao is located in the gulf of Thailand just north of two other popular islands, Koh Phangan and Koh Sumui. It is also the smallest of the three. It ended up being a prettay…prettay good decision!

Our first night we decided we would pay extra to get some air conditioning and reclaim our sanity back, or at least mine. The bungalow was right on the beach and it was 500 bhat per person, which comes out to about $15 per person. This was well worth the $15 because I had a great night of sleep and was ready to explore the island. Adam knew that there was a fellow couchsurfer on the island and wanted to meet him. Ironically, the resort we were staying at was right next door to his scuba diving establishment. What are the odds?! He gave us helpful information about the island and was very nice. We then hiked a road (rough dirt path) to a nearby bay that ended up being quite the hike. Towards the end of the trail, the road was almost straight up & down. Seriously, you would start falling backwards if you stopped walking. The beach was amazing and we spent a couple of hours there before the trek back. When we got back to our resort we checked into a cheap bungalow that overlooked the ocean. This bungalow was $5 dollars per person, with just a fan. To flush the toilet you had to fill up a bucket of water and pour it down the toilet. Oh yeah, you also had to throw your toilet paper in the trashcan. But it was actually a pretty good room. However, before we went to sleep, I spotted a giant cockroach on the curtains. This was the largest specimen I have ever seen. Adam and I had to tag team it to kill it and it still took about 5 stomps.

The next day we walked almost the whole length of the island. We went to the popular beaches and saw some pretty amazing lookouts. That night I just sat in the ocean for a couple of hours and watched the sun go down. I was really sun burnt from walking around in the sun all day so this felt amazing. The next day consisted of lying around on beaches. The water was so warm and pretty on Koh Tao—it was very relaxing. Our last night, we moved back into the air-conditioned bungalow to end our stay on the island. The a/c rooms were the only ones with outlets, and we needed to charge our electronics.

My general thought of the island was that it was beautiful. You need to watch out for the locals trying to scam you sometimes, but that was easy to deal with. If on a budget, walk to where you need to go (a good way to see the island), and don’t rent the motorbikes because the island is small. The food is amazing and we found a place that became our regular spot. The restaurant was called Tropicana. The workers would wave and say hi to us each time we entered because they knew what we were going to order: Phat Tai with chicken. Keep it coming please!!!

Thank you Koh Tao for restoring my faith in Thailand.

-Marc

Next stop: Penang, Malaysia.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bangkok & Koh Tao, Thailand Pics available on Flickr


There has been some confusion as to where to view our pictures. When we update our pictures from now on, we will post a blog to notify everyone. Just click on our Flickr link on our the right side of our site.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just Move Along

I was sad to leave NYC. Marc and I had an amazing time. Thank you both, Joe and David, for your hospitality. And maybe we will see you guys on the trail soon.

Our flight to Bangkok, Thailand went really smooth. It was just, well, long! We probably spent almost 24 hrs in the air, with stops in Anchorage, Alaska and Taipei, Taiwan. We flew with China Airlines. The airline played, maybe, a few movies the entire trip to Bangkok; however, the food was pretty good and the lady flight attendants were quite attractive. Seriously, I think you have to be a Chinese model to become a flight attendant on China Airlines. Even the lady who sat next to me on the flight said something to me about it.

Bangkok's climate was not very welcoming. I was instantly drenched once we exited Bangkok's airport sliding doors. It smacks you across your face instantly, to the point where it felt hard to breath initially. But maybe that had to do more with Bangkok's pollution than its heat and humidity. Honestly, there was so much smog that when we were descending, I thought it was a real foggy day.

The streets of Bangkok are quite chaotic--horns honking; exhaust pipes coughing and blaring from the cars and motorbikes; the buses squealing, weaving in and out of traffic, loud mouthed touts everywhere; children playing soccer within Bangkok's decrepit buildings and alleys; stray dogs everywhere, etc.

Oh yes, quite chaotic indeed.

My brother, Marc, wasn't too impressed nor thrilled. I could see it in his face, it was saying, "is this what SE Asia is going to be like?!" By the end of our first night in Bangkok, Marc was talking about going to Australia. Poor kid. I think it was a combination of things that contributed to his loathliness towards the city. For one, he did not recover from the flight as well as I did. This led him to be pretty tired, thirsty and irritable. And this is NOT the city to be in with these symptoms, as we walked for miles aimlessly in the heat as annoying touts and scammers bombarded us from every direction. So he was more susceptible to being on edge and miserable than I was. And to top it off, as Marc mentioned in his blog, he got bedbug bites from the place we stayed. So he didn't feel at ease in his own bed. No sanctuary. He was ready to go.

I initially planned for us to stay in Bangkok for three days but I realized that Marc wasn't going to make it. So when Marc asked me if we could leave the next day--a day earlier than planned--I responded, "Well, why don't we just leave tonight?" And that was that! We bought a joint bus/ferry ticket to Koh Tao and headed south that very night. Bye-Bye Bangkok.

This is exactly how I wanted to travel, i.e. having that time to move deliberately in any direction we want to go. When we come across a city we don't like, that's fine. Just move along. Boom! Done.

-Adam

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One Night in Bangkok

We Finally landed in Bangkok and our first mission was to get to The Overstay. This is the place we found on CouchSurfing.com that would provide us free accommodation. It was much more difficult to communicate with the locals than expected. Especially since no one knew where The Overstay was located, even the people that knew English didn't know. After a long taxi ride, which included many stops in order to read our hand written directions, we finally made it to our destination.

What can I say about The Overstay? Now I knew we were going to be staying at some pretty gross places but this was a little too much for my first overnight experience in Asia. The idea of the place is very unique and cool. It has four floors plus a rooftop. First floor being the bar and chill out area; second floor being rented private rooms; third floor was an art gallery, sort of speak; and the fourth floor was a dormitory with 5 bunk beds and the rooftop had a few hammocks. This place was unbearably hot because it didn't have any a/c. That's fine, but there were only 2 fans in the whole place (If you didn't know, Bangkok is extremely hot and ridiculously humid). Also, when we first arrived at around 2p.m. the owner was still sleeping. We'll get back to The Overstay in a bit.

My first impression of the city was that this place is just a different world. There are so many people in this city and it was extremely dirty. I really felt like I was in a movie walking down the street with all the street food vendors, beggars, and people (scammers) trying to sell us stuff. We ended up seeing a lot of cool temples, Buddhas, and unique architectural buildings. I just got sick and tired of all the scammers trying to get us to do stuff. If someone looked like they were being nice they were just fronting and directing us to their to their scammer friends. It didn't help I was extremely tired from the flight.

So we finally get back to The Overstay after a long night of trying to find our way back. That was a whole ordeal in itself. The owner was awake and we introduced ourselves. Long story short he ws not a cool person and Adam and I did not get good vibes from him. We did meet some interesting people there. I went to bed very early because I was so tired. Adam stayed in the bar area for a while longer talking with other travelers. When I woke up in the morning I had red marks all over the back of my arms and a few on my forearms. I ended up getting bedbug bites (gross I know), I even checked for them when I went to sleep but there wasn't a light in the room. I do hear all long term travelers eventually get them so I'm not too embarrassed; however, the two month mark would have been better than the first night!

The next day we did more sight seeing and then went back to The Overstay. Their internet was working so we did a few things and then looked up some train and bus rides for the southern islands in Thailand. We were planning to leave in two days but we actually found one for that night and took off at 7p.m. from Bangkok to the island of Koh Tao.


The traveling gods tried to throw a damper in my trip but I will not allow it.

-Marc

ps. we will try to put up pictures up as soon as we can.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NYC Day 2


NYC: Day 2

Wednesday was jam packed, and I loved it. We started around 11:30 and made it to Battery Park from Brooklyn. It was funny how quickly Adam and I got comfortable with holding our cameras out all the time. We were at first reluctant to keep them out because we knew we would look like major tourists, but, hey, we are tourists and what do we care, right? We had no plan where we wanted to go after we got to Battery Park, all we knew is that we were going to wander aimlessly and soak it all in. We headed towards Wall St. next and stumbled into the charging bull that you always see in the movies. It was hard to see it at first because it was surrounded by Asians, but we joined the mix and took a few pictures. It reminded me of the movie Hitch while it reminded Adam of Michael Moore’s most recent movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. You can tell we have the same interests, huh?! We got to Wall St. and that was pretty neat to see. From there we walked to ground zero. I was here 7 ½ years ago right after the 9/11 attacks happened and they were still working on nearby buildings. We then walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, which is about a mile long, I think. When we got to the other side we weren’t too happy that we had to walk back across. Chinatown was the next stop. I guess we wanted to get a taste of what the next few months would be like. After this, it was time to go relax back in Brooklyn. It was a very long day of walking! I don’t know how you can live in NYC and be overweight.

When Joe got home from work, he and I went to this liquor store to get a little drink during the Yankee’s game. It ended up being the most amazing liquor store experience EVER! We asked the man for an inexpensive to medium priced bottle of vodka. He immediately put a bottle on the counter and told his wife, who helps run the store, to go get some samples from the back. Little did we know that we would be taking 5 shots in three minutes and learn that American vodka, besides Kettle 1, is garbage. The owner was from Poland and enlightened Joe and I with some serious vodka knowledge. Needless to say I was feeling prettay… prettay… prettay… pretty good on the walk home. Oh yeah, the vodka was actually very good and Adam even liked it.

The Yankees won game six of the World Series. Now everyone knows that I am not a baseball fan at all, but you wouldn’t have guessed it that night. Adam even put on the front and we headed to the Bronx with Joe to celebrate a Yankee World Series win. Our taxi driver was from India and him and Adam hit it off. I think Adam knew more about India than he did. The Bronx was crazy with people all over the streets by Yankee Stadium. The cops ended up coming out in great numbers (at least 100) trying to get everyone to go home. We have a lot of good footage and will post it soon.

Very good Day!

-Marc

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome to New York!


Welcome to New York!

Well, Marc and I have officially made it to NYC. We’re staying with a friend of ours, Joe Middleton, until Sunday, November 8. I have never been to New York before, so I’m pretty stoked about being here for five days.

It has been a pretty long day so far and it’s not even 5 o’clock yet! Our flight was at 6 this morning, so we were up and about by 3:45 to be on the road by 4:20. It was pretty difficult having my parents see me off at the airport, especially because I didn’t—and still don’t—know when I will be returning.

The flight from St. Louis to NYC was pretty uneventful. However, some Indian guy who sat in front of me in the plane tried his best to make it otherwise. This guy had a serious case of dandruff, and when the plane began to take off, he laid all the way back in his seat and began scratching—and I thought the forecast didn’t call for any snow today. Marc and I slowly looked at each other and exchanged one of those “Jim and Pam” looks—ya know, from the television show The Office—like, “you’re not actually doing this, are you?!”

Oh, and I’m still slightly deaf in my left ear from the flight. My ears wouldn’t pop on the flight to New York so I was pretty much in agony as we descended. My ears haven’t hurt like that since my trip back from Ireland, some years ago.

Once we made it to LaGuardia Airport, we began our hour and a half voyage to Brooklyn. Once we arrived, Joe’s roommate, David, a real cool dude, greeted us. In fact, he said he recently just got back from teaching English in South Korea for one year. Nice.

First impressions: If I had to describe NYC in one word, it would have to be…ENORMOUS!


On a final note, I think Marc must have said, “Dude, we’re going to NYC and SE Asia” probably about…eh…a million times to me. I love it. Hey Marc, in the words of Krammer, “oh…you better believe it!”

-Adam