Sunday, March 20, 2011

Egypt I - The Great Pyramid


Walking through the airport was quite eerie  We imagined that the Cairo airport normally is quite bustling at any given hour of the day. After picking up our bags at the baggage claim we met our driver just outside. The other drivers were eagerly waiting for exiting tourists which would never come. There were more drivers than folks needing to be driven. Unfortunately as we would discover the tourism industry would be hit the hardest during this time of transition.
Our driver was a man in his young thirties. He was medium build with short hair. He was of course Egyptian and spoke English well. His name was Khalid. He walked us to his car which was not too far from the exit. We then loaded up and made our way to Giza just outside of Cairo. In order to get there we had to pass through the city though.
We were only stopped a couple of times at a few check points on our drive to the hotel. The Egyptian army had the city on lock down during curfew. It was not too much of an inconvenience however. They would just asked for our passports and Khalid's papers. They were quite intimidating with their guns at their sides with tanks and barricades.
After the long drive we finally made it to our hotel. We were really happy with our accommodation. The hotel was really nice. We asked to arrange a tour for the days we would be there. We walked over to the tour company near the lobby and arranged for the same driver that drove us to the hotel to be our guide for the next four days. We gave him the destinations on our wishlist and we negotiated the price. We were happy to have someone who spoke the language take us around. We told him that we wanted to see the Pyramids of Giza first thing in the morning.
We were pretty tired at this point and headed up to the room and crashed out. But it did take a little while to fall asleep due to the traffic outside. Yes, there was still traffic on the road in front of our hotel. It was quite noisy. We were surprised to see so many cars still on the road. It was a major road though.
The next morning we woke up and took a look out the window of our room and had the most amazing view of the Pyramids of Giza. We took advantage of the breakfast buffet downstairs before we headed out. There were very few guests dinning with us, as to be expected. Our driver met us in the lobby and then we headed to the Pyramids.
Before we entered through the gates we made a stop at an ATM to pick up some Egyptian Pounds. As we drove into the parking lot of the entrance there wasn't a single car parked in the lot. We did not need to wait in line, we went straight to the ticket window. We bought tickets to enter the Pyramids and a separate ticket to go into the Great Pyramid. With tickets in hand we were finally ready and went through the entrance gate and behold, in front of us was the Great Pyramid.
We were instantly blown away. We saw it from a far and again as we drove up. But walking to it and being in front of it was another story. The sheer size of the Pyramids were so mind boggling. We had to pinch ourselves several times.
Leading up to the Pyramids were many camel owners offering rides and tours. We politely turned them down. Our driver offered us to listen to his friend's pitch but we again politely refused. We would rather walk around the area. Our driver said he would wait in a designated area for us when we were ready.
At this point we were ready to climb the Great Pyramid and go inside. Climbing the outside wasn't too difficult. We didn't have to go high up to enter it. Once inside it got really narrow we had to start to descend. Corridors in pyramids were narrow and tight. In order to climb down you had to crunch down. Imagine going down a steep slope with about three feet from floor to ceiling. It was uncomfortable to say the least. Yet for some reason it was also exhilarating
We hit a point where it flattened out  and opened up a bit. So then we climbed back up again where we reached the tomb. There was only one other person in the room with us. We sat in almost complete darkness just taking in the history and the peacefulness of the tomb. It was hard to believe that we practically had this entire Pyramid to ourselves. We must have sat there for at least twenty minutes without a single soul entering. After awhile we made our journey out. Latanya was a trooper. She normally does not do as well as she did in such confined spaces.
Once out we drove with Khalid to the other Pyramids. From there we explored around the Pyramids. We took lots of pictures. We wanted to get at least one on camel. We found a guy who gave us a decent price. We hopped on the camel. It is not as easy as it looks to get on one those things. He was quite bumpy but swayed similarly to an elephant but even more so. We had our picture taken and then dismounted. I thought I was going to face plant on the way down.
From there we made our way back to the Great Pyramid. We were next to the smaller pyramids built for the wives of the pharaoh and we ran into some local Egyptians in their young twenties. We got to talking for a bit. We asked them how they felt about the recent step down of Mubarak and they were just elated with joy. They spoke of freedom, relief, and a better more prosperous future. It was really interesting talking with them. We said our goodbyes and made our way back to our driver.
Honestly, I could have spent all day with those pyramids. It was a truly great morning to say the least. I have seen countless pictures, watched dozens of documentaries, read many articles and texts on the Pyramids of Giza; but to actually see them in front of us was truly an absolutely amazing feeling that cannot be expressed in words.
Our driver took us over to the Sphinx next. We have of course seen hundreds of pictures of the Sphinx before. It was really neat to see it in person as well. The history we continued to see throughout our trip was so great. It is amazing to think how ancient this civilization is.
After the Sphinx we headed to an older stepped pyramid. This one we really did have to ourselves. We got to see some hieroglyphs and just explore. I felt like an archaeologist. For those of you who don't know, I wanted to be Indiana Jones as a kid. Well for today I was.
The weather was quite comfortable. Not hot by any means and not too chilly. We were getting a bit hungry at this point so our driver took us to a restaurant near by. But not before asking if we wanted to go to one of those ridiculously priced tourist traps. He was nice enough to  be up front and say that he would get a commission  He just wanted to offer just in case we were actually interested. We politely refused as usual and went to the restaurant instead.
We had a delicious meal. We had grilled chicken and vegetables with rice and Egyptian flat bread. It was a really great meal. We ate outside and met a few other travelers. They were a family of four and also made the decision like us not to cancel their trip of lifetime regardless of the political unrest.
After dinner we called it a night and were dropped off back at our hotel. We said goodnight to Khalid. Day one in Egypt was epic!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Flight to England and...

Even though we saw and experienced so many wonderful things in India, we were sure ready to leave, Latanya especially. We had an extremely early departure out of Delhi. Once again the hotel owner arranged a cab for us. When we arrived at the airport we were really nervous. You see, our next destination was still a bit undecided.
Our flights from here on out were all on British Airways. So needless to say, checking luggage would not be a problem this time around. Which was good because of that extra Puma bag.
The flight to London Hethrow was just fine and smooth. As we touched down the decision started to weigh pretty heavily on us.
Our family was under the impression that we had canceled our original plans and that we were going to stay in London for five days, but we had an opportunity of a lifetime sitting right in front of us. We sat down in front of the gate at which our decision was to be made. The question was, to get on the plane or not.
The flight attendant started to call out the boarding groups. We were boarding in the third group. We realized that very few people were getting on the plane. There was no way that this plane was going to fill up, it was a 747! We took a deep breathe, emailed our parents and then hopped on. We were doing it. Forget about what you read about in the news, we would be fine. As the cabin doors closed we were stuck. This was it, we were on our way.
The flight was shorter than the one from India to England. Like I had thought before, there was hardly anyone on the plane. We had an entire row to ourselves as well as the one in front of us and behind us. But we were not surprised by this under the circumstances.
By the time we started to make our decent it was nightfall. We looked out the window and said to ourselves, wow! We are here! We had just landed in Egypt and had no idea what adventures/dangers we were about to encounter. Mubarak had just stepped down just two weeks ago. There was still a curfew in Cairo and the military is in charge. What have we gotten ourselves into?

Friday, March 18, 2011

India Part V

At the train station we really felt uncomfortable again. Train stations in general are not the safest places. The Agra station was no exception. We felt uneasy and were ready to get back to our hotel in Delhi. After we waited an hour or so our train finally arrived. We eagerly hopped on and headed back to the big city.
Once back we made our way to our hotel, this time by subway. It was easy enough to navigate by now. When I study a cities subway system for a few minutes I am usually able to make my way around without any problems. We fell right to sleep as soon as we got to the hotel. But before we laid our eyes to rest we noticed that a wedding or some sort of ceremony was held on the street in front of our place. There was a tent set up and it looked quite festive. Too bad we missed it. Oh well the next day we were going to have a great cultural experience.
We only had two more days in India, with one more item on our checklist. We had to take a cooking class. Just like in Thailand we were the only pupils. We took our class with a lovely woman named Jyoti. She runs her own culinary school out of her house called Gourmet Desire (found on TripAdvisor). After talking to her on the phone via Skype (wonderful invention for travelers  we made our way to her home by her instructions via motor rickshaw. She told us the amount we should pay so that prevented us from being ripped off. Awesome!
When we arrived we were greeted by her and her assistant. It was a very intimate experience. We were able to go at our own pace and really ask all the questions we wanted. We made Naan from scratch  We also made Chicken Tika, Masala, Somosas, and a few other dishes. It was wonderful learning about all the spices in her spice tins. We were now familiarized with the subtle differences of them all.
Of course after we made everything the three of us sat down and feasted. We sat and chatted over some Chai Tea in the living room over dessert too. It was great getting that real one-on-one with her. We learned a lot about her family and about Indian cuisine and culture as well.


Once our stomachs were too full we walked it off by going to a local spice market. She was able to get us great prices so we could take lots of spices back with us. After that we said our goodbyes and Latanya and I walked around the rest of the Bazaar. We bought a few other things like a couple of spice tins, a flat Naan pan, and of course a big bag to put all of our purchases in our backpacks were not going to be enough. We picked up a knock off Puma bag for really cheap. I am still convinced that you cannot tell it is a knock off though.
We finally made our way to the hotel. We made sure to pack up all of our stuff to get ready for yet another destination. The next day we really did not do a whole lot. Just puttered around the neighborhood. I think we sure got enough of an Indian experience. The next morning we were on our way home via England or were we?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

India Part IV - The Taj!!!

Let me first start by explaining something. The Taj Mahal is best described as a diamond in the middle of a piece of (pardon the vulgarity) shit. Now that you have a real visual let us tell you about our day in Agra in and around the Taj. 

Rashid our tour guide and our driver took us straight to the Taj from the train station. Just like the streets of Delhi driving through Agra was quite the same, an unorganized jumbled mess we heck of a lot of motor rickshaws, people, and cows. After a few close calls we shortly arrived to the outskirts of the area surrounding the Taj. Our driver found a spot to park and our guide told us to leave any bags that we had in the car. Our scam watch alarm immediately went off. Luckily we did not have any valuables in it: just water and snacks as well as our guide book. Rashid assured us that it would be safe with the driver. He also said that we would not be able to take them in with us when we enter the Taj grounds. So we decided to leave it and hope that we weren't falling for a scam.
We then got out of the car and began to make our way to one of the three entrances. The main reason we went straight from the station was to avoid the big big crowds. This was a grand idea that worked out wonderfully. We had to walk down a long walkway about a half a mile or so. As we walked we were constantly being asked if we wanted a ride to the Taj by elephant or to buy something, you know little trinkets and such. Luckily Rashid kept these touts to a minimum for us. It was great having someone who spoke the language to help us out.
After a ten minute walk or so we finally made it to the entrance. Rashid had to enter a different entrance, he said that he would see us on the other side. The line was really short at this time and we went through security rather quickly. They did the usual pat down and that was that. Once in, we slowly started to take it all in. We knew that we were about to witness something miraculous  We were just outside the main walk through to the main court of the Taj. Surrounding the Taj is a giant brick wall that blocks any view from the majestic scene we were about see. We were waiting just out side the gated entrance into the main courtyard. when Rashid finally arrived. He then provided us with some good historical information that I really appreciated.

So it was time. We slowly walked through the gateway and there it was. The greatest tribute to love, according to our guide. The Taj Mahal took our breath away from the very moment we laid our eyes on it. As we walked into the main courtyard it felt really surreal. The Taj did not seem to be really in front of us. It was almost too perfect to be true. You see such beautiful places in magazines and in pictures or even Google Earth, but this was it. It was truly a Wonder of the World. Every piece of marble perfectly laid created a building that will remain ah-inspiring through time.
As we walked around, Rashid was not only our tour guide he was also our photographer. We just had one little problem. The battery was fairly low and we did not know if it was going to shut off on us. That did not prevent him from getting some really great shots though. Of course we took the typical picture on the Princess Diana bench as most do. The line for this was non-existent at this point in the day. After a few more shots we walked closer to the building so we could go inside.
In order to even go up to the platform we had to wear little booties on our shoes so not to scuff any of the marble up. Rashid took us inside and explained loads of interesting facts about the history of the building. I of course presented him with several questions. It was just one beautiful moment after the other. I kept wanting to pinch myself. It really was a dream come true. But not only that it was a once in a lifetime experience.

After exiting the mausoleum we were able to see the river that runs behind it. From that vantage point we could see the Agra Fort that we would later go to. We then decided just to stroll around the grounds for about an hour or so to really take in every angle. The Taj is perfectly symmetrical. It looks identical from all four sides. Rashid knew the best places to take photos and we trusted him with our camera at this point. He was truly a godsend.
We never grew tired at just staring at the Taj. I can honestly say that it is the most beautiful building I have ever or will ever see. I couldn't get over its perfection. As we exited we took one last look and said goodbye to it from up close. By now the crowds were starting to really roll in. We were elated to avoid them but a little sad to leave.
Driving through Agra and seeing the poverty and chaos was really puzzling. It is amazing that the Taj Mahal is so calming and pristine and just outside its walls is utter madness and filthiness. It really sums up a lot of India for us. A reality check on one side, this world is far different than ours. On the other side seeing these places and experiencing these moments really affect the way I feel about my own way of life and how I live it. As said earlier, in order to really grasp the environment in which we were in you really have to take my analogy to heart, a diamond in the middle of a piece of shit, I am not exaggerating. India has not been easy traveling and is not for the novice.
After visiting the Taj it could only go down, right? Luckily that would not be our last time seeing it however. From there we went to the Agra Fort where the emperor would be put on house arrest by his own son the successor. We were able to see the emperor's quarters. We were also able to see that from his balcony one can see yet another magnificent view of the Taj. How horrible that must have been to stare at your greatest achievement while being in exile, so to speak.

Rashid also took us to the "Baby Taj", I do not recall the actual name but the nickname explains it all. It was built before the Taj Mahal and was just that, a kind of smaller version. The architecture was definitely different but the concept was similar. The gardens were wonderful to walk around. We also had the chance to really get to know Rashid and just chat for a little while. We learned a lot about Agra and local history.
We later went to lunch. We had a couple of curries that were not impressive. It was one of those touristy places. Of course just like any hired car we were more or less required to go to other tourist trap shops. We had no problem going along with it. Rashid was very open and told us that he would get a commission for everything we bought and warned us that the prices are steeper. I have gotten into a good habit of being able to politely say no to just about anything. Latanya on the other hand sometimes has trouble. But we were able to come away without spending a penny. Later Rashid took us to a cheaper souvenir store to pick up some magnets.
Our final stop was at a lack luster garden area. It was nothing special. In fact it was quite sad looking. Apparently there was a foundation laid out but it looked like construction had started and never really took off. According to our guide it was suppose to be a mirror image of the Taj Mahal and it was going to be made of black marble instead of the white marble that was used for the Taj. It was to be the emperor's mausoleum. From this foundation we were able to see the Taj across the river. It was still grand in all its magnificence. We were again able to get some great pictures. This was a great send off for the most beautiful tribute of love. What a wonderful day and experience.

Rashid then took us back to the train station. We said our goodbyes and got his card. He truly made the experience that much better. If you travel to India please let me know. I would gladly recommend him in a heartbeat.
So long Taj, so long Agra, maybe we will meet again in another life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

India Part III - Journey to the Taj

We woke up the next morning in the wee hours of the day. In order to get to Agra we had to take a three hour train ride. The owner of the hotel arranged a cab for us to take to the train station. He also warned us that as soon as we exited the cab we were going to be bombarded by several touts and to head straight to the entrance and not accept help from anyone.
Latanya and I have obtained really good tunnel vision when it comes to traveling up until this point. Well it paid off for sure here. As we exited, keep in mind it is 5 am, several men immediately bombarded us. They tried to tell us that we needed to go this way and that way and that we needed to get tickets first and that the ones we had were not the boarding passes. It was just like the owner had said, one attempted scam after another. Outside the train station was so lively and hectic that you would have never known it was this early. But I guess the scam game never sleeps.


After pushing our way to the entrance we finally got into the station. It was a little difficult to find our platform so we had to use a little logic. Follow the other foreigners, works most of the time. There weren't that many so we were banking on everyone else going the same direction we were. It worked out because our train finally arrived so we hopped on and took our seats. It turns out we were sitting across from a really nice family from Korea. Go figure. We got to chatting and had a really nice conversation with the father and mother. The dad worked for a University in Delhi and the family was visiting him.

As the train ride grew deeper in to the journey the sun was beginning to rise. It was really wonderful looking out the window to the country side seeing the beautiful landscape while the sun began to shine a new day.
Breakfast was served a little later. Train food in India, as one can imagine is much different than train food anywhere else. It was vegetarian and consisted of a curry or two along with a couple of other Indian sauces. It was served on a cafeteria tray. It was actually not half bad.
By now it was getting closer to eight o'clock and we were nearing Agra, the city known for many things but most famously the Taj Mahal. I had forgotten to mention that during this journey via train we were giddy with excitement knowing that we were going to see the Taj. We did not know what to expect at all. And to come to think of it, how were we going to get there from the train station.
When we arrived, we looked out at the train tracks leading into the station. The sight was pretty poor. There were many people actually living on or near the tracks. People were using the restroom right on them in fact as if it were their toilet. It was quite a reality check. It turns out that there is a lot of poverty that normally surrounds most train stations in India, this was no exception.

The train finally came to a halt and we got off. We now knew exactly what to look for because we borrowed a travel book from our hotel and got to reading it. We needed to find the taxi stand just outside station. Just like any adventure in India up to this point we needed to put our blinders on, avoid scams and walk  briskly. It felt like it was an episode of the Amazing Race. Once at the taxi stand we were constantly being pestered, politely however by a man, a tour guide in fact. He wanted to know whether we would want to rent a driver and tour guide for a whole day instead of just a one way taxi to the Taj. The man was persistent and we knew that we were booking through the taxi stand so it should be legitimate. Also a return trip was good enough for me. I did not want to think of how we were going to get back from our day out and about in Agra. Anyways, we finally decided after a few moments of discussion that it was a fantastic deal and that it cost less than $20 for a private car, tour guide and drop off back at the train station later that night. What a deal!!! Our guide's name was Rashid. Rashid took us on journey through Agra and through time that day. What an experience, let me tell you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

India - Part II



The next day we headed to New Delhi via metro, the metro is really cheap and easy to use. Aside from the hundreds of uncomfortable stares the metro was quite pleasant. It seems that the Indian men just wanted to eat Latanya for dinner, in this case an early breakfast. We got off the metro, found our bearings, and checked out some government buildings along with the Presidential residence. From there we made our way to The India gate. During our stroll to the India gate an auto rickshaw driver constantly tried to gives us a lift. His prices went lower and lower as we got closer. We repeatedly told him we liked to walk and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. It was quite funny how persistent he was . As planned we arrived to the gate by foot some 10 minutes later. The India gate resembles the Arc de Triumph in Paris.

Near the gate Latanya’s hand was grabbed forcefully by a tiny old Indian woman with henna ink in her hand. She proceeded to apply henna designs on Latanya’s hand. I yelled to Latanya to pull her hand away because once applied she would demand payment. However the price was good and Latanya got one hand done for $1. After the henna application, we hopped in a rickshaw (not with the guy from before) to the Humayun tomb. The tomb was an inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Taking a nice stroll around the tomb we were able to admire its beauty and size. From the tomb we went to the Lodi gardens, saw some more temples and tombs. Then we regrouped on what our next destination would be. Latanya decided to go to the U.S. Embassy area thinking we would be able to find some place to eat and/or stroll around. Little did we know the only thing around the embassies were embassies guarded like small fortresses. During our walk, the henna on Latanya’s hand began to itch, it had been a few hours since the ink was applied. Not knowing how long to keep the ink on her hand, Latanya decided to rub it off. Once it was removed she was quite disappointed that the ink was very faint. At least the itching had stopped (morale of the story henna for a $1 really means henna for $1). So we regrouped again and took a rickshaw to Connaught place. We were expecting a western style mall and got an Indian bootleg version of an outlet mall, a very bad one at that. It was crowded, smelly, dirty, and loud. We stuck around only long enough to buy a shawl for the Taj and some floor cushions. From there we headed back to our hotel and ordered some delicious Indian take out. We called it a night because we had to be up early to catch a train to Agra home of the TAJ MAHAL.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

India - Part I

INDIA!!! We could not believe we are in India, landed in New Delhi and are beyond ecstatic. The first part of our journey home is a six day layover in New Delhi. We went through the airport wondering what great and interesting adventures were to unfold. We had contacted our hotel and arranged for a pickup. When we exited immigration and customs the driver was not there. Our flight had arrived a little early so we waited for about 15 minutes until we became a little antsy. We asked an airport worker to call our driver and then sure enough there he was. He was a nice man, shorter, and quite skinny. He grabbed our kart of bags and we were off. He was power walking so fast. Latanya and I felt like we were working off all the airplane dinner calories. I just knew his walking speed was going to translate into his driving speed, and sure enough it did. Luckily we made it to our hotel safe and sound. It was about 9pm and we were tired, met the owners of our hotel and then crashed. The Tree of Life hotel is fantastic, clean, modern, and it even has a big white fluffy down comforter that makes you melt when you crawl into bed.
The next morning was spent having breakfast downstairs and attempting to arrange our train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. After a few hours of frustration the manager called a friend to book the tickets for us. We were happy about that yet a little worried because the trip was not finalized yet. After getting ready we decided to hit the streets.
We took a deep breathe and made our way knowing the streets of India were about to be an experience. Though we knew all this, we really knew nothing. We exited our hotel making our way to the subway. The map we were given was easy to follow and the station was about a three minute walk away. Our area seemed a little run down but in reality it was a nice area. The buildings were newer yet the streets we a mess.
Our destination was Old Delhi. The hotel manager told us about a great restaurant in Old Delhi that is a must see. When we arrived in Old Delhi we stepped out side of the station our jaws dropped. Pure chaos on the streets, pure madness, really. Rickshaws were everywhere, cars and motorbikes honking, people lying on the sidewalks, dust in the air from the roads, wires slung from building to building, random smells not for the weak stomached and so much more. We needed to walk about a mile to the restaurant. Luckily I have a natural gift for direction and lead us the right way. The lack of street signs or any landmark made it difficult.
While heading down a crowded and congested road we witnessed a motorbike accident. A man who fell off his bike promptly stood up and approached the driver at fault. He then proceeded to slap the man at fault not one or two times, but five times in the face. All of a sudden a rush of people came to watch the confrontation. The man at fault ended up just taking the slaps and did nothing but argue verbally. It was quite a scene. Actually because of this incident everyone stopped staring at Latanya and I for at least a minute or two. This was a nice moment, though it was short lived.
We spotted a landmark, the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. We walked around the extremely crowed streets and found Gate 1. From there we spotted the restaurant, Karim's. Karim's is located down a narrow alley and full of people. The restaurant has been open since 1913 and we know why, it was delicious. We tried the recommendations our hotel manager gave us and we so delighted. We had the Chicken Noorjahani, Seekh Kebabs and two Tandoori Rotis. Everything was just great. Latanya is taking to the take charge persona here in India. She did not hesitate to grab a table even though others were there before us. You kind of have to have an aggressive attitude, otherwise you wouldn't accomplish anything. After lunch we went back to the crazy streets. We walked through what seemed for miles of a street market. People were selling clothes, shoes, toys and so much more. It was a mad house. Latanya began to get claustrophobic. Luckily we made it to the Red Fort and got away from the crowds. From there we walked to a park just southeast of the fort. We saw Ghandi's grave, memorial site, and the Ghandi Museum. From there we grabbed a motor rickshaw back to the subway and made our way back to our hotel. Before we went to our place we grabbed a Kingfisher at a local bar and then cruised around our neighborhood. Overall it was an exciting day. It was packed full of so much. India is definitely a different experience. Well, tomorrow we will check out some more of the city this time more of New Delhi.

Seoul and Malaysia Again

We were so excited to get to the airport we could not wait. But before we left Korea we spent a night at the Sky Love Motel in Seoul. Love Motels are a great way to save money on accommodation in Korea. They are essentially what the name implies, a by the hour place yet very clean, modern, and affordable. Used mostly for young couples to spend quality time away from their parents and extra martial affairs. We shared the elevator with a young couple when we reached our floor they both said, "Have a good time"...LOL. We spent our last day just walking around downtown Seoul. We enjoyed just roaming the streets and taking in the city one last time. In the evening we made our way to Incheon to catch our flight to KL. We were so happy to be at the airport knowing this would be the last time we would ever be going there. On our way to check in a familiar bright neon green sign caught out attention, JAMBA JUICE!!!, the first Jamba Juice in Korea. Of course we had to have a smoothie being that it has been so long. Latanya was dancing around the place all giddy. When we passed through immigration it felt real, real that we were finally leaving. It had been a long two years but finally we were done. Done with Korea. Done with teaching elementary school children. Done with the struggles of being away from friends and family. When the plane took off we both looked at each other and said how proud we were of the other. Our relationship has became so much stronger because of this experience.
Originally we were going to fly home via a layover in Japan. Instead we found a cheaper and much more exciting route. Our first stop was in Malaysia. You may remember we had already been to Malaysia twice before, specifically Kuala Lumpur. When we arrived in the airport we had to make a decision, go into the city or spend 13 hours in the airport waiting for our next flight. We checked to see how much it was going to be to leave our bags in left luggage. It was rather expensive so we decided to wait in the airport. The time actually flew by. We set up shop in a Coffee Bean where we could plug in our laptops. I took a nap and Latanya watched some TV. When I woke up we caught up on our shows the week before. We watched, Survivor, 90210, Gossip Girl, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, and Modern Family. After our shows Latanya took a nap. It was finally time to check in at this point. Thus far on all our budget airline flights we have never had to check our bags, with the exception of this one, our last one. We have flown Air Asia at least five times thus far and never had to check our bags, even though our carry ons were clearly over the seven kilogram max. Well, they finally caught us and made us check a bag each for a total of $30. Ouch! Oh well, we got away with it plenty of times before. Anyways, it was time to take off. We were definitely ready for a hotel room at this point. The flight was about five hours and went by quickly. When we touched down we pinched each other, wow are we really here?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

End of Another Era

Well our time in Korea is just about finished. We are currently moving out of our apartment. This apartment has been our home away from home. When we just did not have the strength to handle Korea, it was our little getaway, our oasis. This blog has evolved much as most things do in this world. It began as a way to let our family and friends know about our lives in Korea. It has transformed into a blog letting anyone know about our travels in general. I think we blogged more about our time out of Korea than in it. Whatever obstacles we had to overcome these past two years they were all worth it. Korea gave us so much in terms of financial freedom, character building, patience sculpting, and life experience. There are too many things that we will miss about Korea, far too many to express in one post. But we are going home to our loving family and great friends. We can't wait to step off that plane at LAX. Before we step off that plane we do have a little bit more traveling to do. So stay posted, we are not finished yet...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DESK WARMING!!!!

Grr!!! I should be singing school out for the summer but instead I'm singing to the tune of desk warming. Desk warming is where native English teachers have to come to school and sit at their desks for eight hours (YES EIGHT HOURS!!!). At public schools there are around 4-6 weeks vacation in the summer and 6-8 weeks vacation in the winter for the students. During these vacations, teachers have summer and winter camps, but they do not run the entire vacation period. So when there is not a camp we the teachers have to sit at our desks for EIGHT HOURS! There is only so much T.V. and Internet surfing one can do.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trip Summary


















Here is a run-on describing our vacation:

Landed in Malaysia, boy it's hot and humid; love it! much better than the Korean cold; found the airport bus, only 8RM; arrived at Reggae Guest House 2, small room but not bad; Batu Cave's!!! Batu Cave's!!!, jump on bus; oh look at the giant gold statue; walk up a huge set of steps; just missed Thaipusam; beautiful offerings; Latanya watch out for the monkeys; super cheap and delicious lunch; check out the Petronas Towers; man I thought they would be bigger, still big though; still humid; let's check out the city; ooh there's a national Mosque; Latanya, "I gotta where what?", a burqa; but you look beautiful; it's sooo clean, they must have to sweep every day; Malaysia is so multi-cultural; Malay food is delish; flight to Cambodia, we have no idea what to expect; flying, the country side looks so nice and peaceful; picked up on a tuk tuk; check in; straight to the temples of Angkor; AMAZING!!! wow this place is so huge; you mean we can climb on, in and around the temples, sweet; no thank you we don't want any water, tuk tuk or postcards; did she say 30 postcards for a dollar; man I am tired from all that walking and we had a ride; let's rest; time for Khmer food; oh this is a great surprise, we will have to come back here tomorrow night; time to see the town; you mean that's it, we saw it all; back to eat some more Khmer food, still great and cheap; no postcards or guide books thank you; OK I will buy you dinner, wait who are all your friends? sorry too many friends; tuk tuk back to hotel; it's time for a bus ride; these roads are really narrow; I don't think this one and a half lane highway is made for buses, tuk tuks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, cows, and pedestrians all at once; I feel like my knee is in my lung; the country side is very poor; simple houses; those cows look too skinny; the land looks too brown, I guess that's the remnants of years of war and the dry season combined; six hours later arrived in Phnom Penh; hustle and bustle; hire a tuk tuk to the killing fields; hey he has an American flag on his tuk tuk, oh, it's upside down; that could mean a number of things, but more than likely it's in protest; so we are from Canada; killing fields, ridiculous; Pol Pot, genocide, crazy; look at all those skulls; how depressing; back to the city; look at these palaces, do you remember the country side; city life her is fast; so many motorbikes; bus to Vietnam; border crossing, we beat all the buses behind us; wow, immigration was easy; back on the bus; six hours of a bus ride we are in Ho Chi Minh formally Saigon; and I thought there were a lot of motorbikes in PP, this place has it beat; reunification palace, well this is an interesting take on the war; War Remnants Museum, war is horrific; why in the hell was the U.S. in Vietnam, oh that's why; it's a bit different from our history books; did that really happen; let's walk around the neighborhood; man the weather is so perfect, warm but not too humid, Cambodia was much dryer; let's have some Pho, mmm this is good; no, Latanya don't drink that, it has ice! oops; time to fly to Hoi An; hey this guy keeps shaking his legs next to me; oh I think he has never flown before; he's like 30; wow it is his first flight along with 20 other Vietnamese on their feet to look out the window in amazement; arrive in Da Nang let's take a metered taxi to Hoi An; bad idea with the meter; check in and go get a suit made; let's shop around; boy Latanya is in heaven, custom tailoring everywhere; the town is so quaint; got our order for suits, shoes, dresses, shirts, skirts and blazer; let's try some more Vietnamese food, mmm it's so good; wait, 20 cent beer!!! oh yeah! time for a fitting and another fitting and yet another one; hey we look great in these clothes; strolling on the streets of Hoi An is so relaxing; power outage; what about your blazer; good you got your blazer, barely; time to fly to Hanoi; brr; more motorbikes; how do we cross the street, just like Frogger; to Halong Bay; wow this is truly an amazing sight; it sure is cold though, I thought we left the winter; back to Hanoi; walking around the city is a difficult task; time to check out Ho Chi Minh himself; he looks like he is sleeping; wow look at his neck, cool; that was interesting; let's check out the palace and the surrounding grounds; everyone is setting up for Tet, the Vietnamese new year; time to fly to Singapore; this place is too expensive already; this place is so clean, why? because you get a caning for graffiti, ouch; Singapore Sling, it feels like my wallets been slung from my hands; chili crab, it's OK, too much for what you get on the street corner; this pillow does smell like mold; let's just sleep in the lobby, OK; time to fly to Thailand, yeah!!! ooh Thailand is even more beautiful than I remembered it; oooh the heat feels good on the skin; Phuket town, is this it; let's go to the beach; wait how much for the ride? you said 40 Baht not 400, oh well; this beach is crowded but the water is nice; this is a great fusion, Green Curry Pizza, championship; ferry to Koh Lanta, one transfer and five hours later, where is our free tuk tuk transfer? this is our hotel? wow it's perfect, on the beach; the beach is so secluded; Thai cooking class; learned a lot; we just made that; mmm I missed great Thai food; that was easy we can do that at home; thanks for the private lesson; back to the beach; eat; beach; what do you mean you don't sell alcohol from 2pm to 5pm? drink and eat; sleep; eat; beach; eat; beach; eat and drink; beach; sleep; walk; watch out for the dogs Latanya; eat; beach; eat; beach; eat; drink; wait, ooh free T-shirts! wait, what about our free T-shirts? Snake blood and scorpion juice!!! yuck, not too tasty; sleep; walk; beach and eat; ferry to Ao Nang; that beach looks crappy, maybe it's better at midday; check in; this hotel is nice; Sun is very helpful; oh my, look at all those bugs, let's move tables, good idea; long tail to Railay; I could get used to this; watch out for the monkeys Latanya; I swear I don't see any fish, trust me; ahh, look at all those fish; they are only babies; getting a little sunburned now, but I don't want to get out; Latanya, to snorkel, your head has to be in the water, nice try though; long tail back to Ao Nang; hey man, stop hitting me with that hammock, gosh; let's get some good Thai food; the Massaman Restaurant is the best; 80% spicy please; the next day 100% please, perfect; time to go back to Phuket Town; time for another Green Curry Pizza and another to go; this hotel is not too bad, except the mosquitoes and that cockroach the size of California; Super Bowl time at the Roxy Bar; mmm Bloody Marys; Chad stop talking; did Bill just go throw-up? yeah; touchdown!! game over; good times guys, take care; time for another pizza and one to go; flight back to KL; one more look at the Petronas Towers; I still thought they would be bigger; flight back to Korea.

Well that was our vacation!!! Only three more weeks in Korea and then on to our next adventure.

Thailand Part IV

Back in Phuket town. We were familiar with the area by now. We had another couple Green Curry Pizzas and chilled on our patio. Later that night we had a visitor. The visitor was quite unexpected. Thus far we have had really good luck with accommodations (except Singapore). As we were watching TV there he was, moving up the curtain, looking straight at us. It was the largest cockroach I have ever seen!!! It was the size of Latanya's head! Normally Latanya might be brave enough to kill a bug and if I had to I would have. But this was an impossible feat. We asked the front desk to take care of it. There was no way that I would try and tackle that mutant of a bug. The small little Thai woman was equally shocked at the size. She did not hesitate and swept it out with a broom and pan. She apologized and that was that. By now it was time to get some shut eye. We had to get up at 5AM to see the Super Bowl.
Most people who know me, know that the Super Bowl is like my favorite day in the world. It is my holiday. There was a bar opened up all night for the occasion. It was called Roxy Bar and the owner was Nuno from Turkey. He just got into American football so he had to host a party at his bar. For $8.00 I had all you can drink Bloody Marys. Talk about championship!!! Latanya stuck with beer and the drinks that were bought for her. There were about twenty of us total. About half were just travelers and the other half were local foreigners. There was Chad from Alaska that kept talking Latanya's ear off, cool guy though. And there was Bill who would buy us a drink every quarter along with the rest of the bar. Keep in mind most of these people have been up and drinking since the night before. It was a classic atmosphere and we had a great time watching a great game. I had no preference to either team so the outcome was just fine. After several hours of Bloody Marys, Red Bull and Vodkas and Beer, Latanya and I were ready to get another Green Curry Pizza for lunch. We made sure to pace ourselves on drinks. We had a flight to catch. We got back to the hotel and checked out. It was time to say goodbye to Thailand. Thailand is honestly our favorite place. We will definitely be back and we can't wait.

Thailand Part III

When we arrived in Ao Nang it was the afternoon and the beach did not look too nice. The tide was low and it seemed more crowded from Lanta. Our hotel was further up the road from the beach and was nice. We really enjoyed our time there. The owner, Sun was so nice. It was great talking to him. We were able to learn about what it takes to own and run a hotel. His family owns it and he runs it. The place had only been open for nine months. He said there was lots to do. Ideally Latanya and I would love to own a small hotel of our own in Thailand. That would be a dream. You never know. We pretty much chilled out for the night.
The next day we took a long tail boat to Railay. The Ao Nang beach looked much better in the morning and was already busy when we left. Railay is part of the mainland too however because of the drastic steep cliffs the beach can only be accessed by boat. The beach was pretty crowded but the water was amazing. I borrowed a snorkeling mask from our hotel and looked around for a bit. I could honestly swim all day and all night. The water felt so great. If only the California Pacific felt this good. After a day at the beach we went back to Ao Nang and went to a reggae bar. They had a live band who played a lot of familiar cover songs. It was a great atmosphere. We made friends with their promoter. He had long dreads and was super friendly. We hadn't really done a night out on the trip so this was a nice change.
The next day Latanya did a spa and I just chilled on the beach. It was great to be relaxing. Our trip was coming to an end. That night we went back to a restaurant we ate at the day before. They had the most amazing dry spicy curry. The day before I had it at 80% spicy and that night I went for the full 100% and it was so good. Any more spice might have killed me. Not only was the food great but it was also cheap. We ate there for breakfast the next day too. After breakfast it was time to head back to Phuket for the night.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Thailand Part II

In order to get to the island of Koh Lanta from Phuket we needed to take a ferry. The boat we took was about an hour and a half to Railay beach where we had to change boats on the sea. Both boats came together and we made the transfer. The next boat took over two hours and landed us at the harbor on Lanta. We were told that we had a free transfer to our hotel but all we could see were annoying taxi drivers charging ridiculous rates. Luckily a nice woman offered her help and arranged a free ride to our hotel. The island of Lanta is quite large with several beaches running along the west coast. Our beach was further to the south about three fourths of the way down the island. Our hotel was small. The grounds consisted of only nine rooms. The room was nice enough but the view was amazing. The hotel was right on the beach. For the next five days we were to be beach bums. We ate beach side nearly every day and night.
We took a cooking class at Lanta Thai cookery school and made some amazing Thai dishes. We learned how to make Green Curry and it's curry paste. We also made Tom Yam soup, Panang Curry and Phad Thai. Our teacher was such a great chef. We took the morning class and because of this we were the only students and had a private session. It was great just to talk to our teacher one on one. We learned about how he got into cooking and about his family. He taught us a lot about Thai food and culture. Everything we made was made fresh and grown on site. Even the coconut milk was made from the trees right outside. Because we made four dishes each there was no way we could eat it all. We took it to go and saved it for lunch and dinner. We were really surprised how easy it was. We can't wait to experiment when we go home.
Most other days were spent in the water and on the beach. We would wake up have our complimentary breakfast, omelette, toast, jam, fruit, tea and juice. After that we would take a dip. Then we would lounge under our umbrella. After that repeat several times until our afternoon nap. Our beach was often quite empty looking. Most other hotels were as small as ours. We felt isolated from the world. The only western anything was a 7/11 about a 15 minute walk away. The island of Lanta was much to our liking, seclusion and relaxation. At dinner time we would try a new restuarant.
The last night we ate on some axe pillows on the beach. The waiter told us after dinner to grab a free shirt at the bar. We were excited, a free shirt. We wondered what the shirt could possibly say. Perhaps it said Koh Lanta or maybe our beach or perhaps the restaurant's name. When we finished our meal and drinks we walked up to the bar in antticipaton of these free shirts to discover they were not free shirts afterall. Instead we were offered free shots. Big difference. We were laughing so hard because we were seriously discussing these free shirts for the past twenty minutes. We each had a different shot. Latanya had a shot of scorpion and spider juice. Which was a tequilla tasting liquor. There were about three scorpions maranating in the bottle. One of which was huge. I had a snake blood shot, which was a rice wine with snake blood mixed in it. It tasted like cough syrup with tequilla and Jagermeister. It was not tasty but surely an experience. The next day we were going back on the ferry to Ao Nang.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thailand Part I

The all nighter wasn't too bad. I managed to get a few minutes of sleep here and there. Our journey to Thailand was much anticipated: we were really eager to get back to cheaper living. Singapore was a little too rich for our blood. In Phuket we took a bus to Phuket Town. Phuket town has a little charm in it's older buildings but it wasn't anything special. We were using the town as a starting point for flying into Thailand. When checked in we immediately wanted to go to sleep however we could not go into our room until two. It was still 11 am at this point so we went for an early lunch. We wanted to dive right into the Thai food so we to a local restaurant recommended in our guide book. On display were about 15 dishes with their names in Thai. Latanya asked the waiter for the spicy dishes with 4 dishes to choose from she chose a chicken dish. We were so excited to try an exotic Thai meal. The food was tasty it had the right amount of spice and coconut milk.  We washed it down with a  Singha beer. So excited about trying food that we picked at random, Latanya asked what the name of this exotic dish was. The waiter responded, chicken curry not exactly an exotic  dish in Thailand. Boy were we happy to be back in Thailand. The weather was quite warn and felt so good. It was easy to forget about the Korean winter. 
At two we went to our room and didn't leave until the next morning. We only had one more night in Phuket so we wanted to see a beach. We took an overpriced taxi to Patong beach and chilled out for the day. The beach was nice but overly crowded with tons of Europeans sunbathing. The water was magnificent. Later that night we had green curry pizza which was to die for and walked through the Phuket town night market. The next day we were to take a ferry to Koh Lanta to get some real beach living. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Singapore...Singapore

We awoke bright and early to catch another early flight. Enjoyed a hearty complimentary breakfast of omelettes, bacon,  sausage, fried rice, spring rolls, dumplings washed down with water, tea, coffee, and apple juice. Checked out of the hotel and headed to the airport via the Asian Ruby Hotel van. It's amazing how a $12 taxi ride can get you to the airport in 45 minutes. By now we have the airport check-in routine down or so we thought.  At different counters we both got stopped by immigration, the officers wanted to take an extra look at our passports. They said my picture did not look like me and they questioned the authencity of Dan's passport. With the line growing behind us and 5 minutes of nervously waiting for clearance we were cleared. The flight was about 4 hours long and not fully booked so there was enough room for us to strech out and get comfortable. 
Landed in Singapore, hopped on a bus, onto a train into the city, and walked about 10 minutes from the stop to our hostel. We saved money by booking two beds in a 16 bunk bed room. Checked in and headed into the city we were able to see a lot of Singapore's main sites: the Opera house, Singapore river, the Marina Sands hotel, Singapore flyer, etc.  Singapore is a clean, multicultural, modern, expensive, and heavily regulated city. There were two main things we wanted to do drink (Singapore sling) and eat (chilli crab).
First stop was the Raffles Hotel Long Bar the home of the Singapore Sling. The signature drink was created by Ngiam Tong Boon a bartendar at the Raffles Hotel in 1915. The Raffles Hotel is an upscale establishment that charges $20 per drink. After budgeting for the last few weeks we decided to splurge a little. The drinks were delicious and came with complimentary salted peanuts that you can throw the shells on the floor when finished eating. So I figured the $20 would be going to something useful like the clean up crew. 
Next on our list was the search for chilli crab. Chilli crab is a famous dish in town. We first saw them on Top Chef at a hawker center (a open center food court where inexpensive food is sold, the food is safe and inspected by health inspectors) and we were so excited to try them. The first center we tried had no chilli crab I asked an employee in the train station if he had any recommendations. He was extremely helpful and called around to get information for us and recommended a seafood restaurant. We took the train to the restaurant and ran into a talkative older man who told us there were hawker centers in the area. He also told us how Singapore maintained its orderly societey. He said, Singapore is a multicultural city that is extremely clean and it's maintained by the government enforcing heavy fines, jail time, caining, and public embarrassment for offenders. While he was telling us this story I almost passed out from hunger pains. We parted ways and looked for the seafood restaurant which turned out to be too expensive and kept looking for a hawker center. Finally we spotted a center that sold chilli crab.
In a big fish tank live crabs moved around as the owner picked out a 2 lb 3 oz crab for us to eat and disappered into the kitchen. A few minutes later he returned with a big plate of chilli crab and shrimp fried rice. All the build up I had to eat the chilli crab and it was just OK. I know Dan really enjoyed it. I was expecting a spicy fiery chilli crab but the taste was more sweet and tangy. The meal was overpriced $31 for eating on the street corner in plastic chairs with no table cloth or napkins. Slightly disappointed yet full we hopped on the train and headed towards a touristy area. We walked through many different cultural districts of Singapore trying to avoid going back to our 16 room bunk bed room.
The envitable can only be postponed for so long I tried doing multiple things on the Internet to pass time till I felt tired. Finally, I mentally prepared myself to go bed I turned on the light in the room to find my bed and woke some people up. Sorry but I didn't get the bunk bed room memo. I laid on the top bunk for 5 seconds just enough time to smell the moldy sheets that was long enough for me to pull an all nighter. The main hall of the hostel has a big couch Dan is asleep and I'm writing on the blog 2 more hours to go.                                                     

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vietnam- Part III

Before heading to the Da Nang airport we arranged a ride with our hotel. At this point Vietnam has been great. The only downside to the country is that they do try to ripoff tourists. Even our hotels. For example the hotel tried to charge us $15 to the airport according to the South East Asia on a budget book we knew the cost would be cheaper finally settling on $10. The same thing happened in Hanoi. The hotel started at $20 we bargained them down to $12. A warning before traveling is to know what services cost so you have an idea of what you should pay. Luckily we researched and did not lose out on a lot of money.
We arrived in Hanoi and were shocked by how cold it was in the low 60s. After speaking with many locals they said this was the coldest it has ever been but it was funny to see them dressed up in hats, scarfs, and gloves. We took a mini shuttle bus into the city due to traffic it took almost 2 hours. The driver also tried to scam us from a ridiculous $6 to $2 dollars each. Motor bikes were all over the road. We could not decided which city was worse Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.  
We walked to our hotel from the shuttle drop off point. It only took about 15 minutes or so. Our hotel was in the middle of the Old Quarter. The quarter consisted of small streets with lots of action. There were motorbikes wizing past you left and right, while rickshaw drivers hollered at you..."ride..ride", and the locals squatted at curbside resturants watching passers going by. Hanoi was a rather large city with a few good sights to see. The main attraction for us was the Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh's body is persereved in a floral wodden carriage covered by a glass case. Just like Lenin and Mao, anyone can visit just no talking or pictures. Security was obviously pretty tight.  I have alreay seen Lenin I knew what to expect but Latanya did not. It was an eerie experience, the body of Ho Chin Minh was well preserved with an extremely pale face looking like he was in a deep sleep. Next door to mausoleum was Ho Chin Minh house on stilts, where he lived and worked from 1958 to 1969.    
The other must see was a day trip to Ha Long Bay. The bay is famous for it's dramatic natural wonder. It consists of around 1600 islands. All of which are absolutely beautiful. The islands had dramatic cliffs and caves. We took a four hour tour by boat. The weather was quite overcast however as we went out to the bay we were able to see perfectly. We visited a floating village and went into a couple of caves. The day trip was great. The sheer sight of Ha Long Bay made us just fall in love with Vietnam even more. 
While in Hanoi we definitely only needed the two full days we had there. We were getting a little tired of the fast paced streets. They take a lot out of you. Our next stop is a short trip to Singapore.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vietnam- Part II

Our trip to the airport was an early one, a short flight but long enough for a nap.  The flight left at 6:45am arriving in Da Nang, Vietnam around 8. Our destination was Hoi An ultimately we decided to take a metered taxi into the city...bad idea. It cost about 17 dollars for a 30 minute ride...lol. At home that's a great deal but in Vietnam thats a whole lot of money. The drive to the hotel was alongside a developing beach side community fit with casinos, condos, a Greg Norman golf course, and several 5 star beach hotels.
We arrived at our hotel and checked in right away. The hotel was a brand new boutique hotel about a 10 minute walk from the city center. The boutique hotels in South East Asia are a great deal they are the median between hostels and hotels. Also they have all the bells and whistles of the pricey hotels including free breakfast for $15-$20/ per person.
One of the big reasons for coming to Hoi An was to get some tailoring. The ancient little town is known for great tailoring for cheap. Our first stop was to take a look at some recommended shops and get some quotes. After about three hours of looking and inquiring we decided on the first shop we went into called A Dong Silk. We felt their qualitity and customer service were a perfect match for our needs. It would have been easy to settle for a taloired suit for under $50 however you get what you pay for. I ended up getting two suits and a tie for $170. Latanya got three suits with pants and skirts as well as two shirts for $400. Latanya also got some custom made sandals, the sales person traced her foot on a piece of notebook paper and in 24 hours she had three pairs of sandals.
The next couple of days were spent doing about four fittings and a lot of strolling around. The small town of Hoi An was quaint and rustic. It was really charming. The people were very friendly and welcoming.
We had some amazing food like, Cha Mia, Banh Bao, Banh Vac, Hoanh and Cao Lau. All the food we have had in Vietnam has been just great. So after all our fittings and adjustments our suits were finished the day before we left. All together five suits and two shirts took a total of two nights and two days. Our shop did such a fantastic job. We definately would recommed them. Like I said before you can easily find a cheaper place but for the piece of mind, the quality and the service was impecable. We have added a bag each along with our backpacks now. Well our next stop is Honoi. It will be our last destination in Vietnam. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vietnam Part I

We akwoke the same way as we did the prevous day. Quickly grabbed breakfast and then waited for our transport to the bus. However this time was a little different. The transport was 30 minutes late. Not knowing when our bus is coming or even where to catch the bus we were quite frustrated at this point. Latanya asked the reception lady to call the company twice but her response was they were coming. But when? After a few more minutes passed she called again and the same answer, but when? A taxi arrived I asked if a taxi was picking us up and she said no. Latanya asked the taxi driver but he did not speak English very well and shook his head. We waited some more, and so did the taxi driver. He called his boss and the receptionist called the company. We were about 20 mintutes from departure and extremely nervous. Not wanting to miss the bus we headed for the taxi which turned out to be the transportation we were waiting for.  The driver frantically drove us to a group of buses. 
We tried to get on the first bus but the driver said no, it's not our bus and points to the bus behind his. We try to get on the second bus but this driver points to the first bus. In complete frustation we head back to the first bus, the driver points to a random bus ticket office. However there are several offices, which one? He just points again. So we start showing our tickets to everyone and they all say no. Finally one lady says yes tells us to get on the first bus. We tell her that the driver said no. We try again and again he countines to say no. Not taking No for an answer we go back to the lady and she says yes that's the one. Finally she talks to the driver and we are able to get on the bus! 
Once on the bus we realize that it's rather nice and full of mosquitoes. It's practically identical to the airport bus we take in Korea. We departed on time and headed out of the busy city. We tried to take a nap here and there to catch up on some sleep but due to the poor road conditions and constant honking we were unsuccessful. It was about a 3 hour drive to the border. Just before the border was a mini Vegas we almost forgot where we were. All the passagers had to get off the bus to go through Cambodian immigration to exit the country. We got back on just to cross the border and then back off to go through the Vietnam immigration to enter their country. We were one of the first buses to pass through so the whole process took around 20 to 30 minutes. After we finished several buses started to pull in. What great timing!
As we drove to Ho Chi Min city we noticed the country side was a little different than in Cambodia. Vietnam appeared to be less rural, with less huts, and more concrete structures. It probably took another hour and half to get to the city. Once we made it into the city limits it took another 40 minutes to get to where we were going. We were looking at the chaos of the city. We thought Phnom Pehn was congested, but HCMC was far worse. Unlike Cambodia Vietnam does not have tuk tuks, instead they have taxis. The amount of motor bikes were astounding. The streets were just filled from curb to curb of erratic drivers. As we continued to drive through the city Latanya was reading a street sign and I quickly asked her to repeat it. She did and I said this is our street. Sweet we could just get out here. The driver had been letting off passengers throughout the city, no problem right? Well he said no. What? NO? No, you open this door now, that's our street. No. We were so mad. Finally after argueing for 3 blocks he let us out into frogger like traffic of motor bikes. Once safely to the curb we walked back to our street and found our hotel easily. Our hotel was the best yet too bad we couldn't stay longer. 
We checked in and then hit the sites quickly. We saw the reunification palace, a giant pagoda, and the war reminants museum. All were educational but educational in the sense that you can see how a government can control what is learned in history. It was all very anti-American. We already knew that it would be. 
After walking around some more we had some delicious Pho and the strongest Vietnamese coffee that was great with the first sip but the after taste was extremely bitter. Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel. We planned not to spend too much time in the big cities like Phnom Pehn and HCMC because we wanted to spend time else where. The next day we were off yet again. This time we were flying to Da Nang, Vietnam to go to Hoi An. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cambodia Part III

We had to make the bus for 7am. The bus company included a mini bus pick up at 6:15am. The man was on time and we were his first passangers. Thus far everything was going to plan. We picked up several other people and then arrived at the bus. But this was not our bus yet. We had to take this bus to a bigger bus. Mind you this bus was quite big itself. But once we arrived at the bus station terminal we realized buses do get bigger. We got on and our seats were number 1 and 2. The seats were almost in the very front of the upper section. of the bus. The bus driver was right underneath us. We had a great view of the road and the surrounding areas. There were a couple of make shift seats in front of us that were not numbered. We would find out later that these seats were for locals that we would pick up randomly on the side of the road in the country side. We only sat for about ten minutes or so and then we took off. The bus was giagantic. It's too bad the roads were not. The Cambodian Highway aka, barely paved road was more like a paved road for one way of traffic. The kicker was that it was for two ways of traffic full of multuple types of transportation. On the road were, cars, buses, tractors, huge trucks, motos, bicycles, dogs, cows, and pedestrians. It was an adventure already.

By taking the bus, which was a six hour long journey, we were able to see the Cambodian country side. We were able to see the Cambodian life was really simple. You could tell right away that it is very poor. In fact the average Cambodian lives off of less than a dollar a day. I was told that teachers make $30 a month. Most dwellings along the country side were simple huts on stilts. The were mostly made of wood with some made of concrete. Because it is the dry season there wasn't much water along side the roads. But one could tell that in the wet season there would be. The huts were tiny in size and housed whole families. We passed many schools along the way too. All of the children were dressed in the little white shirts and blue skirt or pants uniforms. They looked so cute. They would either walk to school or ride a bike. It looked liked the older ones would have bikes and younger ones would just walk. The schools were not too big. They mostly consisted of three long structures all facing each other and thus creating a school yard. In each structure there were several rooms to make the classrooms. It was so fascinating to see.

Other highlights of the country side were many cows searching for food. They looked malnourished. I think the dry season had something to do with that. All the fields were mostly yellow and brown, hardly and green apart from the trees. When we entered Phnom Pehn we realized we were in a different area of Cambodia all together. Phnom Pehn was a big city. It's the capital of Cambodia and full of motos, tuk tuks, cars, and buses. We could feel the difference from the countryside right away.

When we arrived at the bus station we were looking for our driver that was supposed to pick us up. However he was nowhere to be found. We ended up grabing an annoying resilient tuk tuk driver and gave him the address of our hotel. He was happy to get the work. Since we were only staying in Phnom Pehn for the night and taking a bus the next day we had to see the sights quite quickly. At this point it was after 2pm and most things closed at 5pm. He dropped us off at the hotel and waited to take us around for a tour. We checked in quickly and hopped back in the tuk tuk. We had to go straight to the Killing Fields, about 30 minutes drive outside the city.

For those of you familar with the histroy of Cambodia will know about the Khmer Rouge and the mass killings that took place in the 1970s. It was a much needed visit for me. I felt almost required to pay respect to the victims of the genocide of Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge. The fields themselves were quite eye opening. I've been to a consentration camp in Germany and this was much of the same feeling. The only difference was that it was much more recent. It's just so hard to take in. Genocide is still happening. But why? What kind of world do we live in? As human race we have yet to evovle. These are the emotions that arise when you see the mass graves that held hundreds of bodies. The worst part were the torturous tactics used to kill the people. If interested in the history of the Khmer Rouge and what actually happened please don't hesitate to do a little further reading. It's an interesting tale. It can be quite graphic and depressing, but knowing everything.

So after an emotional walk through the fields we were taken back in to the city and shown the rest of the city. We saw the palace and a few statues. We went to the river bank and then finally back to our hotel for dinner. It was a quick few hours of events. We felt we had a good overview of Phnom Pehn and were preppered to take our next bus ride the next day to Ho Chi Min, Vietnam.

Cambodia Part II

The next morning was a lazy one trying to catch up a little on our sleep. We took our time when we awoke. After breakfast and a shower we picked up our bus tickets from the manager. It was so helpful of him to arrange it all for us. The first leg of the trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn went for about $10 a piece. The second leg was $12 each. A lot better than flying. The flights were so expensive when we first looked. They were about $200 each. That's a heck of a difference.

We decided to take a look at the town in the daylight this time. We first made our way to the Royal Residence and the gardens. They weren't that wonderful. They were quite small and not too exciting. We found that most of Siem Reap would be much of the same. But we did like that though. We walked along the river bank which looked a little dirty with the brown color of the water. I mean we were in Cambodia! We checked out a few more temples and then mailed some post cards. The post offce seemed really unorganized and maybe the post cards will make it. Finally we made it to town and walked around the market for awhile. We stopped at an Indian restaurant to get a bite to eat and a cold drink to cool off. The weather was great. It was nice to be out of the freezing cold of Korea. We were absorbing the city as much as we could. After the snack and drink we went back to the hotel to make our massage apointment.

We have had quite a few massages in Thailand and we thought that a Cambodian one would be much of the same, but it was not. First off it was a lot cheaper. In Thailand they run for about $9 for a full body massage of an hour. In Cambodia it was $5 for the same. However the technique was much different. I left the session in so much pain. These two little masseuses were so agile and put us in positions we thought we could never be in. They also did this Matrix move on us that swung our torse around so quickly and popped our backs with several consecative pops. That part felt great. I think my lower back was brused though. After our massage we went back to town to have dinner. We went back to the same place Khumer Kitchen as the night before. We had the same curry and then had the Amok (a famous Cambodian dish). The Amok was so favorful and the curry was even better than the night before. Were we really pleased by everything in Cambodia at this point. The people were friendly, the food was great, and the scenery is so beautiful. The next day we were going to catch our first long distance bus in Cambodia. Latanya was so nervous.

Cambodia Part I

So, getting up at 2am is not fun at all. We were so tired but also excited about seeing Cambodia yet also really nervous. We had no idea what it was going to be like. You have an image of a place in your head but it's not until you actually get there when you can really visualize it for yourself.

We decided to walk to Central train station instead of taking a taxi to save ten bucks. We had walked the majority of the route the day before. So I had a good idea of what to expect. It was dark however and no one was out. It ended up being a 20 minute walk and we found the station without a hitch. We got on the airport bus which left the train station at 3:15 sharp. Once we arrived at the airport it was all a breeze. Checked in on the computer kiosk, hopped on our flight, and landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was dawn at this point and the country side looked so beautiful. The airport was a quite small modern hut and immigration was an assembly line of visa officers that only accepted US currency. The wait was not too long to get our visas on arrival.

Our tuk tuk driver was waiting for us when we got out of the airport. For those of you don't know a tuk tuk comes in many shapes and sizes. This one was a small motor bike with a two wheeled covered wagon. Our driver was really nice. He took us straight to our hotel to check in.

The manager was very nice and helpful. He told us a little about the area, set up our tuk tuk tour of Angkor, and got our bus tickets for us to Phnom Pehn and Ho Chi Min. We
quickly threw down our bags and headed to our driver. It was 15 dollars for an all day driver around Angkor. Angkor was not far from our hotel, only about ten minutes or so. We arrived at the main entrance and bought tickets. Our driver showed us the area map and together him and I mapped our route. We both decided to keep Angkor Wat for last. Angkor Wat is the most famous of all the temples of Angkor. As we drove we were amongst many other tourist also on tuk tuks, tour buses, and tour vans. This is the most touristed site in Cambodia and we could already see why.

We headed for the area known as Angkor Thom which was the capital city at one point. It was great to see these temples which were over 800 years old. Each time our driver dropped us off at a temple we were able to climb, hike and touch the history. It was so amazing to be up close and personal to these historical monuments. All of the temples were pretty much free of any original statues. They were replaced with replicas because of theft. The grounds of Angkor is just too vast to be able to protect against thieves. My favorite temple was Ta Prohm. This temple is so magnificent. The jungle has not been removed from the surrounding area and over the years it has taken over the structures. Humongous trees are growing over and through the walls. It really was an amazing sight to see and made famous for it's backdrop in the first Tomb Raider movie. Ta Keo was another interesting temple. It was never completed because it was struck by lighting. The lighting was a bad omen and the people refused to complete it.

After a about 10 temples or so a lot of waking and climbing we were ready for Angkor Wat. We entered from the back and were taken back by the sheer size of it. Each conical tower resembled a lotus flower bud. They soared high in the sky. We began our ascent and took in each little passage way. It was really fun just to get lost. We eventually made it to the top and took it all in. We sat for awhile and just relaxed knowing that we are sitting in a true wonder of the world. After taking it in for awhile we slowly made our way down. We checked out other areas and passage ways. When we went out the front and down the main path we were able to be amazed once again. The whole view from the front was just beyond words. We finally found our driver after a few minutes of searching. It was pretty hot at this point. He drove us back to our hotel. Man what a long day already. After Angkor we took a much needed nap. We were so exhausted.

We woke up and took a tuk tuk into town to grab some dinner. I read about a good little restuarant called the Khmer Kitchen. It serves up some good local dishes. We had a Khmer Curry and Loc Lac, as well as a beer to share. It was delicious!!!! We were already planning our meal for tomorrow. After dinner we strolled for a little bit had another beer at a resturant serving up 50 cent draft for happy hour. How awesome is that!!! Oh and dinner was 8 dollars for two dishes anda big beer. Boy do we love it here. After our happy hour drink we grabbed a tuk tuk to our hotel and called it a night. What a sucessful day. Tomorrow was going to be a little more relaxing for sure.

Malaysia- Part II

After a good night sleep for me and not so much for Latanya we awoke slowly. Not having a lot on our itinerary we decided to take our time. We had some toast and coffee then headed out. First, we wanted to see the National Mosque which was quite big. We had to put on the garb to go in as well as take off our shoes. It was interesting and the first mosque we have ever been in. After the mosque we continued our walking tour to the Lake Gardens which were really pleasant. The park was huge with beautiful scenery like fountains, grass, and play areas for children. We made our way to the National Monument where they had a few statues representing Malaysian freedom from colonial rule as well as a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for freedom.

Other sights we saw were the old train station, city hall, the Colonial district, and Chinatown. We had some great chicken fried rice washed down with a couple of Tiger beers at a little resturant in Chinatown. After Latanya looked through the petaling street of knock offs then went back to the guesthouse to regroup and plan our Indian dinner.

After a little rest we headed back to the streets to explore Little India. Little India was full of Indians, imagine that. There were many fabric stores and stalls. People were walking up and down the alleys trying to find the best deal. Little stalls were set up throughout the area serving up curries. We walked around for awhile then headed back to our area to pick up some parathas and curry to go.

We brought it back to our guest house, had dinner, and played a UNO, where I dominated, of course. Took a shower (there were only two showers and toilets in the hostel: one for the males and one for the females, repacked our bags, and called it a night. We had to wake up at 2am tomorrow morning to make an early flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat here we come!!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Malaysia- Part I

We left Korea at 11:20pm on a Friday. Boy did it feel good to be on vacation. Latanya and I were giddy with excitement. We flew Air Asia which is a budget carrier. It was truely basic basic. No meal, no drink and not even a bag of peanuts. The flight went by quickly for six hours. When we arrived the imigration line was long but moved frequently. Our immigration officer had his radio on and was singing along to FloRida, Low (shorty got low...low...low) It was sooo funny. Of course I had to start singing along too. As of right now we are on a bus into Kalua Lumpur, KL!!!! We are waiting for the sun to rise. We should be tired but we are too excited to think about sleep right now.

We arrived at our Guest house and were pleased at how easy it was to get there. We couldn't check in yet seeing as it was only seven in the morning. So we settled and dropped off our bags. We ate some toast and asked how to get to the Batu Caves. The manager was really friendly as well as really helpful and informative. We walked out of our place and went to the bus stop. We rode bus 11 for about a half hour and we had arrived.



There were a huge set of stairs leading up to the caves. The cliffs of the surrounding area were absolutely beatiful. So it was then when we began our assent. It wasn't too bad of a climb. The real obstacle for Latanya was the wild monkeys running along the hand rails. Once to the top we were able to take in the beatiful scenery. The caves were magnificent. Many people of the Hindu religion made the journey to give an. offering of some sort. After a short stroll around we headed out and back down. On our way out we picked up some munchies for the road. When we looked for our bus stop we peered into a small resturant filled with locals. Latanya was game and so was I. We both had two different types of Parahta's with some differnt curries to go with. Add a bottle of water to share and we had lunch for one dollar! That's right one dollar for all that. And it was so delicious. With the exception of one of the sauces. After lunch we headed to our place to check in. It's time to take a small rest and head out to see to formally known as the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers.

Well we saw the towers, pretty impresive. However I thought they would be bigger. Oh well, cool none the less. After the towers we walked around the city for awhile. We really took to KL. We were getting a really good vibe from the people and the atmosphere in general.

We stumbled upon a busy restirant full of locals and the pictures of the food looked appetizing. We ordered some wontons. Latanya thought they were too greasy. I liked them though. We also had some Nasi Goreng, a mix of fried rice, egg, veggies, and shrimp meat. The other dish we had was a noodle dish packed with delicious veggies, shrimp, and meat. All in all it was a good helping of Malaysian food. Tomorrow we want to try some Chinese and Indian food. The Malaysian culture is diverse and has so much to offer as far as local cusine. When we left the restaurant we went to a reggae bar and had a couple of beers. Then back to our guest house to shower and relax for the night. Day one of our trip was such a success. Let's hope we keep it going.