Tuesday, May 15, 2012

WTF were we thinking.

So our last couple of days together were spend in Patong, on the island of Phuket. Clearly, I've spent a significant amount of time there in my travels. On our last full day I convinced Meri and Paige that we should go bungee jumping. WTF were we thinking.

We chose to go with this particular company because: a) they're the highest in Phuket, 60 meters off the ground and b) they stated they were operated to Australian standards. We figured, if it's up to Australian standards, we won't die. That, at least, was true, but I think that was more luck than anything else.

The brochure, which I am loath to admit I do not have a picture of, showed a well kept adventure complex, with a bar, nice lake, mini golf and bumper cars. The cost also included transportation to and from our hotel. We talked them down by 200 baht per person and signed up.

The vehicle that picked us up was a run down 1972 Ford Taurus (or something equally as offensive) with no air conditioner and pleather seats. After sweating our asses off (unfortunately, I do not mean that literally) we pulled up in the parking lot of the equally run down attraction park. There was no operational bar. There was no available mini golf (well, a couple holes were there. They formed the side walk.) The nice lake was actually a cesspool with a depressingly inadequate 'fountain' in the middle.

All of these should have been clues that we should turn around, say "fuck the money" and go home. However, I urged the three of us on. I'm now going to show a series of pictures that describe our experience far better than my oh so eloquent words can. We thought there was a video too, but, well, I won't mention that for Meri's sake. (Infer all you want at this point. Am I not mentioning it because it's a video of Meri peeing her pants? Did Paige do something equally as embarrassing that I'm not mentioning, because Meri promised I wouldn't? Or did Meri think she was filming when she was actually doing NOTHING? Well, you'll never know, will you?)

There are several things you should notice about these pictures. Most importantly, Meri is a giant with weird hands in the last picture. (I'm literally laughing out loud as I write that and continue to look at the picture. It's hilarious.) Also, you can actually see the guy pushing Meri off the platform. Pretty sure that's illegal. Additionally, we are only strapped in by our legs, and only by foam wrapped about and a rope around the foam. Thank goodness we're relatively...substantial in that area. Finally, and definitely not the least important point, our stomachs all look fucking awesome when we're hanging upside down. At least we're all alive.

After bungee jumping Paige and I went to get fitted for our custom suits that we got in Patong. Yes, we finally said 'yes' when someone asked if we wanted a suit. She got a bad ass (not Rockabilly) white linen jacket and I got two skirt suits. Awesome quality and it's pretty cool that they were made to our specific instructions.

Paige and I spent our last day pampering ourselves with massages, facials and manicures and pedicures (unlike Paige, I refuse to say mani-pedi. Or bestie. WTF again.) Then at 8 p.m. we headed to the Phuket airport for an 11 p.m. flight to Bangkok. We landed and got our luggage and were camped out at 1 a.m. for the long wait. What followed, for each of us, was pure madness. Meri wins the contest, though.

Paige was able to check in to her flight at 2:30 a.m. So as to avoid being stuck in Tokyo for several days, she changed her direct to Atlanta flight to a direct to Detroit flight, where she connected to Atlanta. Delta, making her pay to spend more time on an airplane, for a connecting flight instead of direct: fail. However, she made both flights and even got first class on the long haul flight. First class=worth it.

I was able to check in at 6:30 a.m. for my 8:40 a.m. flight to Mumbai. I left Meri at about 7 a.m. and managed to only cry a teeny bit (come on, it's sad. I won't see her for 2 months!) I asked for seats by myself, because my earlier flights were so awesome when I could lay down and sleep. My luck ran out, though, because all my flights were full. Bangkok-Mumbai: Miserable, smelly, no sleep. Layover in Mumbai where my cards didn't work, restaurants didn't take the GBP coins I had and I was starving. Mumbai-London: Crazy man shouting at flight attendants because it is clearly their fault that he didn't book his family's seats together caused us to take off 30 minutes later than scheduled. Freezing cold, couldn't sleep, but decent food (finally.) Watched Blood Diamond solely to hear Leonardo di Caprio speak in South African accent. Worth it. Also watched We Bought a Zoo; different than I thought it would be. Cried a teeny bit more (come on, it's sad.) Landed in London, navigated three trains to get to my hostel. Starving again so went to a pub for dinner. Of course, it's a Thai British pub. So I said, no mister, I've been in Thailand for 3 months, I'll take a cheeseburger. He understood and acquiesced. 40 hours without sleep and I fucking passed out.

Meri's journey went a tad bit differently. I left her at 7 a.m. and she hung out till 10 a.m. when she could check in. When she talked to the IndiGo agent, they told her she couldn't enter the country again until June 18th because her 10 year visa only allows one entry per 2 months. She landed in Delhi and went through immigration on April 17th before immediately taking a flight to Bangkok. She barely avoided an embarrassing public emotional breakdown and made her way to a hostel, before heading to the Indian embassy to beg for permission to go back in the country. They understoon and acquiesced. With conditions; she has to hang around in Bangkok for a couple days, who knows exactly how long, till the Indian embassy gives her passport back to her. So she's currently stranded in Bangkok until further notice. Hey, every day is an adventure.

As of now, Paige is at home, probably craving guava, Meri is in Bangkok eating Black Forrest cornettos, and I'm in London, enjoying the following:

Totally touristy day tomorrow, going to the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. Had to get some warmer clothes today, as it's 55 degrees and rainy here. On Thursday, back to ATL! Nothing makes you appreciate home like 3 months away from it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Phuket, Thailand

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dubstep belongs on a beach in Thailand.

Aaaaand I'm back on Phuket.

When I last updated you, I was in Cambodia heading back to Bangkok, and on to Koh Samui via Bangkok Airways. After the debacle of that trip, Bangkok Airways can suck it (sorry, Grandmama...) Meri and I paid to change our tickets so that we would arrive on Koh Samui by 4 p.m., instead of our scheduled 7:30 p.m. Arriving earlier would give us plenty of time to catch the last ferry to Koh Phangan, leaving at 6:30 p.m. We left Siem Reap on time at 9:30 a.m.; the 35 minute flight put us in Bangkok, through immigration, at around 11 a.m. Our flight to Koh Samui was due to begin boarding at 1:30 p.m., so Meri and I ate a quick lunch (fun fact: Suvarnabhumi airport has a Popeye's chicken) and headed to the Bangkok Airways lounge to hang out till we would board. Our flight was delayed by two hours. Finally at 3:30 p.m. I went to the Bangkok Airways attendant and (somewhat) politely explained that we had paid a large sum of money to change our flights in order to guarantee our arrival in Koh Samui before the departure of the ferry. She was as helpful as she could have been in the situation and assured us we'd be airborn by 4:30 p.m. We finally took off at 5 p.m. A 50 minute flight and baggage delayed by 20 minutes put us in a taxi to the pier at 6:20 p.m. We were the last people on the boat, but we made it. Extreme patience during the frustrations of the day was rewarded with this sunset over Koh Samui:

It seriously looked like the clouds in the sky were a painting. Probably the most incredible sunset I've ever seen. Just look at it again:

Awesome. However, we discovered that my small Nikon, my Swiss Army knife and Meri's bathing suit somehow went missing during one of those flights. Hence, Bangkok Airways can suck it and I will never fly with them again (I know, I was going to have so many opportunities to do so while living in Atlanta.)

We met back up with Paige in Koh Phangan and proceeded to party hard for the next four days. Seriously, that beach is designed for dancing. Our hotel had foam parties daily and the parties on the beach at night were incredible; we never went more than a couple hours without hearing WAY too much dubstep and techno remixes (turns out, that's the only way to enjoy Enrique's music.)

The day of the much anticipated Full Moon Party, we went on an adventure snorkeling/kayaking tour of the island. The tour kind of sucked, snorkeling had terrible visibility and a propeller almost took off Paige's head, but we met some cool guys and hung out with them for awhile.

Rules for Full Moon Party:

1. Wear Shoes. This one was tough for me, dancing in the sand barefoot is super tempting. However, glass bottles (and the rare but creepy hypodermic needles) are a real threat to remaining infection free.

2. Don't take anything you aren't prepared to lose. This meant no cell phones (easy for Meri, since she dumped her's in the pool the day before the party) no cameras and no valuables. We were getting ready to go out and Meri comes out with her purse, which has all of her credit cards and her passport. Oh, Meri...if you don't get mugged, you'll definitely just lose it when you're drunk.

3. Don't expect that you'll ever find your friends again if you get separated without a plan. There's a place on Haad Rin, the beach where the parties are held each month on the night of the full moon, that serves chicken schnitzel 24 hours a day. They call it Chicken Corner, fittingly enough. Our plan was to meet at Chicken Corner if we got separated for more than 15 minutes. Yes, we had to put this plan into place...with more than 10,000 people partying in a relatively small space, getting separated is a given.

4. If you want just the alcohol, your bucket will be more expensive. Buckets are exactly what they sound like - a small sand bucket, which looks like a beach toy, filled with the drink of your choosing. Standard recipe is one small bottle of liquor, one mixer and an energy drink. You can mix and match ingredients, choosing whatever you'd like, but the sellers have to mix it for you. This is so they can short you and not pour the entire bottle of liquor in your bucket. For example: A bottle of Smirnoff vodka costs 219 baht in the store. We found a lady, Emma, who would give us buckets for 150 baht. Paige decided to be sneaky and buy the bucket and just take the bottle of alcohol. Emma was having none of that, so we had to pay 250 baht for that fiasco.

5. Neon colors are REQUIRED. This includes wearing a tank top in some outrageous color as well as copious amounts of body paint. The more brightly colored you are, the more fun, right?

6. Only jump the fire ropes if you have leg hair you're willing to lose. This is Meri's rule, but I guess it's a good one. Fire ropes are jump ropes that have been set on fire (like you couldn't have figured that one out.) They are scary and dangerous but extremely tempting once you've had a couple of buckets. To avoid burns, don't do it. To have a bad ass story to tell, definitely do it. Same goes for breathing fire - kerosene can't possibly taste good, but it sure does make you look like a fucking hero.

7. If you're still planning to be out when the sun comes up, try not to lose all of your clothes. Self explanatory. Walking around in just your thong means everyone WILL make fun of you and assume you hooked up with a rando sometime before sunrise. Also included in this rule: try not to actually get caught having sex on the beach when the sun comes up. That is just embarrassing for you.

8. Don't don't don't buy drugs. Of any kind. Chances are, the person selling it to you is going to go straight to the cops and rat you out, and then you'll go to the Bangkok Hilton. You do not want to end up there. (This shit really does happen in Thailand all the time.) Side note: While I was flying to Malaysia, my boarding pass read "Be forewarned: Death to drug traffickers." They take that shit seriously here.

Ok, that's my last rule. Clearly, we had a fucking awesome time. The goal way to make it through the night with no blood or tears; even though we ended up with both, I'd say the night was a success. Here's Meri before the party, in her "This is what I'd look like if I'd just gotten sold into sex slavery" pose:

Here's Paige in her sweet throwback outfit:

The next day Meri and I rode elephants again. Meri was groomed by a baby monkey who could not understand why she would have bobby pins in her hair, and Meri and I were molested (well, lightly molested; we can laugh about it...now) by creepy Thai mahouts. Elephants, however, are awesome and worth being touched inappropriately sometimes.

After Koh Phangan we headed out of the Gulf of Thailand to return to the Andaman Sea. We crossed the mainland via Surat Thani and made it to Ao Nang in Krabi. Ao Nang is the worst smelling city I've ever visited. Also, the electricity went out one day and there was no where available for food. And we SERIOUSLY value our nourishment. We had one whole day in Ao Nang so we decided to take a boat to Railay. I'd heard it was one of the most beautiful places in Thailand, so of course I was excited to see it. Boy, was I disappointed. The full moon made the tides act crazy, so the water level was really low. Also, it just wasn't that impressive. Instead of laying on the beach, we took advantage of the cliffs and decided to go rock climbing. Best decision ever. We paid 800 baht ($25) to rent equipment and have a guide for the day. We did four different routes (and all three of us were injured) but it was awesome. Here we are:

I made Paige pose like that.

Meri was pretty much the only one qualified to belay the guide.

The big ass wall we climbed!

Climbing was pretty much the only redeeming thing about Krabi for us. Oh, and this view:

And this one:

The next day we took the ferry to Koh Phi Phi. We climbed to the viewpoint (260 steep ass stairs and a tough uphill walk) to see the sunset. I'd done that before, the last time I was on Phi Phi, but it was nice to be able to experience that with them.

We also went on a snorkeling/kayaking sunset adventure in Phi Phi. First stop was Monkey Beach, where all of Meri's dreams came true and she was able to play with real monkeys in the wild. These monkeys also tried to pull her bobby pins out. It is scarier when they are big, adult monkeys instead of a little baby.

Yes, that is a baby monkey clinging to her belly.

From Monkey Beach we went snorkeling on Phi Phi Ley, and then to Maya Bay. It was just as beautiful as the first time I saw it.

While on Phi Phi we also saw a fire show, and one of the performers just won the title of best fire dancer in Thailand. If you're in Phi Phi any time soon, the show is at Carlito's at 10 p.m. Adorable bar and awesome show.

We just got back to Phuket today, and Paige and I headed to a tailor to get custom made suits. Hilarious experience. We're going for our first fitting tonight at 9:30 p.m. before we go out on Bangla (and we're going to a ping pong show.) Should be interesting...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Patong, Phuket Thailand

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Angkor What??

When I last updated you guys I was hoping for the power to stay on in Vientiene, Laos so I could publish my post with the shit wifi in that city. The next day, after surprisingly few additional power outages, we boarded an overnight train to Bangkok. What an experience.

Our tickets were for second class, upper bunk, air con sleepers. We boarded when all the beds were still upright seats and, for some reason, the porters kept moving Meri, Paige and I around. We then ordered dinner, which threw everyone into further confusion because, at the exact time our dinner was delivered, they decided it was time to put the beds down. At 7:30 p.m. Just so you have the right mental picture, each pair of seats has a removable table in between. When they put the beds down, the person on the upper bunk no longer has a chair to sit in, so they have to crawl up top and just...hang out. Alone, behind their little curtain. So, at 7:30 p.m. with our plates of dinner (sweet and sour chicken for me, soup and fried rice for them) that were utterly non conducive for eating in bed, we had to find an abandoned pair of seats to squeeze all three of us into for dinner. And of course we had a great time, laughing way too loudly and disturbing the people around us who decided 7:30 p.m. was a good time to go to sleep.

After that we crawled into our little bunks and passed out for the next 8 hours. Example of our teeny, yet comfortable, pods:

We managed to make it in to Bangkok only 3 hours late. Thailand's trains are NOT like Germany's. We spent about 24 hours in Bangkok, seeing the things Paige and Meri hadn't gotten to see yet, and then we went our separate ways. Paige took another overnight train down to Koh Tao to do her Open Water PADI certification, and Meri and I flew into Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat.

In a rather dubious arrangement, which I'm not entirely sure is legal, Bangkok airways holds the monopoly on providing direct flights from Bangkok to Siem Reap. They run five 35 minute flights back and forth daily. For the privilege of having a roomy seat on one of those half empty flights, Meri and I paid $400. Apiece. When most SE Asian flights run between $60-$100 one way, that is fucking highway robbery. However, because we were short on time and couldn't sacrifice 12 hours of travel time each way, we had to pay.

The Siem Reap airport is, like most things in this city, freaking adorable. You disembark from your plane and just walk in the door of the airport like you're going into a shopping mall. No security to speak of. From someone very used to flying into and out of the Atlanta airport, this was extremely strange. We got inside, went through the quick and painless process of getting a Cambodian passport, meeting some of the nicest immigration officers in the world, and were outside looking for our driver about 20 minutes after we walked off the plane. Ridiculously quick.

When I book hotels, the first thing I look for is the ratings, then the price, and then the location. I picked a cheap hotel in Siem Reap, $19/night, with decent reviews and a location right between Angkor Wat and pub street. Holy crap, we were treated like royalty by the staff the entire time we were here! Here's our driver, that's been with us the whole time:

Nicest Cambodian boy ever. After the 10 minute tuk tuk ride from the airport, the staff greeted us by name at the door with cold, minty towels and a super refreshing welcome drink. They brought our luggage to the room, which has a mini bar, ice cold air con, room service and an awesomely clean bathroom. You'd think we were at a 4 star hotel in the States instead of (what we thought was going to be) a cheap guest house in Cambodia. The hotel also has a pool with a pool bar. It seriously doesn't get much better than this!

The next day we finally relaxed after 10 days of non stop travel and a different city every night. Then we got our first glimpse of Angkor Wat when we went for sunset. Unfortunately, we went to Phnom Bakheng first. We tried to ride the elephants to the top, but we got there right at 5 p.m. after the last one had left. We climbed the hill, which was not as arduous as everyone says, and saw the LONG ASS line of people waiting to climb to the top of the temple to see the sunset. This was our first impression of Angkor Wat, and we were not impressed. The temple was ok, unremarkable really, and because of the location the sun didn't set on any of the temples, just on the jungle and the Tonle Sap lake. We didn't even wait on the sun to actually set because of the OUTRAGEOUS amount of people and the unbearable heat of the afternoon. We took a couple pictures and left.

We got to the bottom of the hill as the elephants were returning. Meri has developed as obsession with these animals and had to have a moment:

That night we went down to pub street for dinner, to a restaurant called il Forno. So. Fucking. Good. After so much Asian food we decided we needed a break (who am I kidding - I don't even really like Thai food) and Italian was just what we needed. The bruschetta was incredible. Seriously. Like best ever.

The next morning we left the hotel at 4:45 a.m. (I know, how the hell did I get Meri out of bed that early?) to head to Angkor Wat for sunrise. For those that don't know a lot about the temples, Angkor Wat is actually about 400 square kilometers of smaller temple complexes, the most famous of which is actually called Angkor Wat. So, we actually went to the small area called Angkor Wat, as it's supposed to be one of the best places to see the sun rise. It's been super cloudy here, though, so it wasn't the most satisfying sunrise ever.

After leaving Angkor Wat we headed to the Bayon, another famous temple complex. This one has between 30 and 40 towers made up of four huge, carved faces. It feels like legends of the hidden temple as you're walking through it. Because we started the day before 5 a.m., there were very few people there and we got some great shots without strange people in them. Also, it wasn't unbearably hot and humid yet.

The Bayon temple is located inside Angkor Thom. We explored the rest of the area of Angkor Thom and came across some great ruins.

At this point my camera died and it was starting to get hot, so we called it a day and headed to the pool. We had dinner at the Temple Balcony, a Khmer restaurant that does a nightly, free Aspara (traditional Cambodian dancing) show. Dinner was average, but the dancing and atmosphere were great, so it made up for it. After dinner we spent too much money at the night market buying hippie pants and artwork. Then we headed to a bar on pub street called Angkor What?? and drank absinth and gin. Great night.

Today we left the hotel at 7 a.m., another early day, and headed to the coolest temples ever. We started the day at Ta Prohm; when they were restoring the temples at Angkor Wat, they chose this one to remain looking as it would have when it was discovered (or re-discovered, rather) in the early 1900's. The temple has piles of rubble and trees growing out of it - extremely badass. This was definitely our favorite place in Angkor Wat.

Next we headed to Ta Som, a smaller temple from the same time period as Ta Prohm. Coolest thing about this temple is the entrance:

After Ta Som we went to Preah Khan, which was a temple as well as a Buddhist university.

We definitely made a great choice by going early in the day - again not too hot and not too many people around. We beat the hoards of people arriving on huge tour busses. We were temple'ed out after that so we came back to the pool for awhile. We tried to go see the sunset again, but the clouds were awful and the sunset was utterly disappointing. It was nice to see Angkor Wat one last time before going back to Thailand.

Dinner was at Raja Angkor, a Khmer barbecue restaurant. The food was so amazing. I ordered red snapper, thinking I'd get a nice, easy to deal with fillet. Nope. I got the whole fish, scales, eyes and all. Stuffed with lemongrass and bay leaves, it was incredible. Meri had noodle soup, also delicious, and we had creme brûlée and apple tart for dessert. We've had the best food in Cambodia.

Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok, and then on to Koh Samui. We're going to try to get on earlier flights so we can catch the last ferry to Koh Phagnan so we don't have to pay 8,000 baht for a speed boat...we'll see.

Until next time!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Taphul Rd,Siem Reap,Cambodia