Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fire Dancers of Ko Phangan

I really don't have anything new to say here except look at these pictures of the fire jugglers we saw while staying on Ko Phangan (and yes these are real, unaltered photos)! Which one is your favorite?

This one and the top one are my favorites

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bangkok 2.0

After all night upright in 2nd class before, we had learned our lesson and reserved our first class sleeper cabin well in advance. This made the journey back far more pleasant, though the train unfortunately still arrrived far too early (6am). Since our flight didn't leave til 2am that night, we had one more day in Bangkok.

We started the day by leaving our backpacks at the train station and caught a tuk-tuk to Wat Po, home of the Reclining Buddha. What is the Reclining Buddha you ask? This ...

It's a 120 ft long statue of Buddha laying on his side. It was of course surrounded by an impressive temple complex and crazy statues.

From there we tried to catch a tuk-tuk back to the train station but ended up on a nearly free tour of that part of Bangkok. Of course since nothing in life is free, our ride was part tour, part sales trip. We were taken to two suit-makers and one jewelry/everything store in the course of our "tour". They actually had some good deals which we nevertheless politely but firmly refused. We did choose to each get a tshirt at the last store as a momento of Bangkok (mine is bright pink and yes I can pull it off). We probably would have objected to this roundabout drive except that we had few plans for the day and it was an entertaining experience.

Our tuk-tuk tour

From there we headed to a Texas BBQ restaurant which had food so authentic I would have sworn we were in Texas if I hadn't known better. I was in heaven! We spent the rest of the day exploring, catching a movie and eating whenever possible until it was time to head back. Overall it was a great trip and a very different experience than anything i've had in the US or Europe. I can't wait to see where my travels will take me next!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ko Phangan

After a short stint in KL it was time to head for the oceans and beaches of Thailand. But instead of taking the normal (read boring) route of flying there, we opted for a day of train travel through Malaysia and Southern Thailand. Unfortunately they were out of sleeper berths, so our first leg of the journey from 9pm to 9am was in normal second class seats. Let's just say i've had better nights. But the second half of our journey made up for it. We bought 3rd class tickets for an 8 hour train ride for $1.83 each. I can't clearly explain why but i loved that train ride because it felt like we were able to touch the heart of the area. However since that sounds corny and I don't have any way to clarify it, just trust me that wooden benches, a hot train car with only open windows for cooling and random food sellers walking through the aisles combined to produce a strikingly pleasurable experience.

We stayed the night in the town of Surat Thani and the next morning headed for Ko Phangan via Ferry and Tuk-Tuk (what is a tuk-tuk you ask. look below)

Once we arrived we happened to meet up with a couple of our friends from Jeju who were leaving the next morning. This was fortuitous since it gave us some good info about the island as well as some excellent company for the evening.

We had 9 days on island. We started at My Way bungalows on Haad Salad (literally Salad Beach). It was "authentic" but extremely small for 2 guys to split, so we opted for a boring but much bigger place with 2 beds next door at the Haad Salad Villas.

I repeat, too small

Our 2nd room turned gorgeous the instant you stepped onto the porch (as you can see)

The next week consisted of some limited exploration, beachside massages (the hut in the picture above was one of those massage places), a couple huge parties (including one that didn't finish until the sun rose) and mostly a lot of beach bumming. We swam every day until we couldn't move, beheld breathtaking beaches, luxuriated in consistently outstanding food from all parts of the globe and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Part of one of the big parties

Unfortunately all good things come to an end and before we knew it we were on our way back to Bangkok for our final day of vacation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas Twin towers

We left Singapore via the overnight train Thursday night to Kuala Lumpur (or KL). Two things surpised me about our 2nd class sleeper berths. First they were nearly big enough for me (almost nothing in Asia is big enough for me) and second they never turned off or even dimmed the lights in the sleeper compartment. Still it got the job done and by 7am we were in KL.

At this point a problem emerged. I had left the planning for KL entirely to Jason and as this was his first major trip, he accidentally forgot to plan for our means of travel within the city. So we knew our hostel's name but not how to get to it. Fortunately my Kindle came to the rescue by getting us onto the internet and finding directions when there wasn't an internet cafe to be found

A nice quiet place to sleep (that and a shower are all i require when traveling)

After finally finding the place, getting checked in and showered, we decided to head for easily the most famous landmarks in the city. The Petronas Towers. The Twin Towers are each 1,483 ft tall and dominate the KL skyline. They contain a lovely mall on the lower floors and an exquisite little park in the back. We were supposed to meet Jon there but a miscommunication delayed our reunion until dinner.

For serious bonus points, can anyone ID the restaurant inside the KL Towers this picture
taken from?

After a much needed afternoon nap back at the hostel we were ready to go again. This is when a group of expats from Singapore came in. The group included a couple beautiful girls and since i'm so shy around women, it was nearly 2 1/2 minutes before we were invited to join them. The next couple hours were occupied with wandering around the huge mall next door and playing in the 7 story indoor amusement park it contained. However, all to quickly it was time to leave the group to meet Jon for dinner (which was fantastic as usual).

Part of the expat group we joined (the part with the guts to ride something crazy)

Us at dinner (and yes I know my eyes are closed here)

The next day we headed for the KL Tower on the theory that the coolest thing to see in KL was the Petronas Towers and the best place to view them from was the KL Tower. The picture below should confirm that. After a morning of aerial viewing, we then decided to head for the Batu Caves. This is one of the most popular Hindu sites outside of India. We arrived 2 days after a major festival. Frankly I was unimpressed. There was a huge statue, a monstrous cave with a large hole on in the roof, some dumpy looking temples and mountains of garbage. I was expecting better.

View from the KL Tower

Batu Caves entrance

It was extraordinarily filthy everywhere around the caves

The one bright spot here was that I met Abu. I guess he mistook this for the Cave of Wonders. I first saw Abu as he ran up to a guy on the stairs and sat one foot away staring at him. The guy had his hands down and ready to deal with anything the monkey might try. Suddenly quick as lightning, Abu reached out, snatched his bag of candy and was safely scampering to a nearby roof. There he used his teeth to tear open the plastic and started pulling the candy out. Our street-rat friend trained him well.

Jon and Abu

I found their dresscode sign amusing

That evening we parted ways again with Jon. Unfortunately there were no sleeper berths available from KL to Thailand. Only 2nd class seats could be had. I would be guilty of severe understatement in saying it was a long night. But we kept our spirits up as thoughts of sunkissed beaches danced in our heads. The tropical Thai Island of Ko Phangan awaited.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


We arrived in Singapore late in the afternoon on Tuesday. It was quite a contrast compared to Bangkok. Where Bangkok is still in the process of growing up, Singapore is a fully mature, 1st world city in every sense of the word. It's cosmopolitan (the population is split evenly between ethnic Brits, Maylasians, Indians, Chinese and the almost 50% of foreigners who live there), clean (littering, chewing gum and spitting in public are all illegal) and safe (they had signs saying "low crime doesn't mean no crime". Their crime rate is so low they have to remind people that it even exists!). It was the reverse of most travel destinations. It looked like a great place to live but only ok to visit. I say ok to visit because it is definitely light on tourist attractions (unless you like shopping). It was perfect for a 3-5 day trip.


It was certainly our easiest destination. We hopped on the MRT (metro) at the airport and took it straight to our hostel that was right in the middle of Chinatown. And right before Chinese New Year, Chinatown is the place to be! The streets were colorfully decorated and bursting with temporary stores and fantastic food. We actually got lucky and met another teacher from Korea named Jonathan. He is Chinese-American, speaks Mandarin, is laid back and great company. We spent our first evening exploring the street vendor foodstalls of the area. We were working under the assumption that the places with the longest lines were probably the best. This was a good assumption.

The next day, since there aren't any must-see tourist attractions per-se, we simply decided to explore. This led to the discovery of restaurants with great names (one example below) and a much better understanding of the city. It's a city that's all business. It's clean (nearly sterile), new and shiny. To me it felt like stepping into the future. Some of the laws are downright draconian but it seems to be a price the residents willingly pay. In short, I was impressed.


stockbroker lunches

The Merlion, the symbol of Singapore

Notice anything odd in this picture of Jason and I?

Of course these pictures beg the obvious question ....

That evening we headed to Orchard Road to see Singapore's famous shopping malls. They went on for 3 metro stops. As a poor teacher and more importantly a guy, I was enthralled for 3 full minutes before I was ready to find food. We ultimately decided on dinner, followed by drinks at a nice bar and then headed back before the MRT closed for the evening.

Jon looking thoughtful, Jason looking drunk and me smiling

After careful study, we decided to spend the next day exploring the zoo. The Singapore Zoo is reputed to be the best zoo in the world and for good reason. Because it is. It's amazing how close you can get to the animals there. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Close huh?

No bars or glass cages

The Elephant Show was quite entertaining

Since I've always been a kid at heart, I decided feeding the elephants would be fun

After a long and delightful day at the zoo, Jon took off for the airport and Jason and I headed for the train station. A reunion the following day in Kuala Lumpur awaited.