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