Tom's Trip to South East Asia

Out of the 'Boat for a few months of tropical travel. No lease, No Dog, No work, No snow, might be the best time of my life to do something extreme. Watch from your office as I soak in sun and culture in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam this mud season.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I took a five hour minibus that my waterfall crew and I chartered from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng two days ago. The trip was impressive with constant curves and up and down steep mountainous terrain. The road was sealed but not in great shape so it was slow going over the rugged terrain. Vang Vieng is located on the lazy Nam Song river with breathtaking limestone mountains shooting up from the other side of the river. The steep rugged mountains remind me a bit of the tetons and are nearly as high topping out around 9000ft I think. Yesterday we spent the day tubing the river. As you make your way down to town beach side bars pull you in for refreshments and many have trapeze like swings that launch you out over deep parts of the river for jumping. I was nervous to try at first but a beerlao for courage got me started and it was really fun. The only mishap was losing my sunglasses on one jump, oops. No one was injured worse than a bellyflop and the whole day was quiet fun. I made it an early night after sun and beer all day. This morning I wi woke up to catch the Pats stomp the Vikings on Tuesday morning Monday Night Football. Team looks pretty strong but the vikings didn't put up much fight. This afternoon I have been exploring the dry side of town today, looking for some kinda Halloween costume for tonight as the western crowd is planning an impromptu celebration.

Tomorrow I will probably hit the river up one more time, or take bike to some local caves. And then it will be travel time with Siem Reap and Ankor Wat in Cambodia as the destination. It could take a few days on the road or if time tables work out I might do it as continuously as possible and make it in a day and half. Time is running out on me and I have to guess at what will be the best timetable, but I don't think I will go wrong. New Zealand is definitely not gonna fit in as there is still way too much to see here to move on. Sorry Tim, Mom and Dad. I'll hit a computer either on the way or on arrival in siem reap.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The last three days in Luang Prabang have been incredible. Not much has really been done, but that is just fine. I've nearly lost all track of time and think it is saturday. This town is very laid back, with friendly locals that are curious to speak with you about everything. The first day I toured local 16th century budhist temples by bike. Yesterday I went out of town a bit by mountain bike and climbed the hill in the center of town for sunset. And today I took a tuk-tuk out to local waterfalls on the nam khong river. Town is very picturesque, however I don't think my camera is gonna work on this computer, and the next one over gave me a shock just for trying to plug in the usb. Not much else to report on the last few days. Tommorrow I will be bussing down to Vang Vien with the folks I went to the waterfall with today. Should be another very relaxed small river town, where tubing the river is the most popular tourist activity. Sorry for the short post but I dont have much to say and am getting hungery for some more tasty Lao food.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I arrived in Luang Prabang tonight after three days of travel from Chiang Mai. This city is very relaxed and small and I think might turn out to be one of my favorite stops on my trip. It is an old style French colonial city with temples dating back to the 1500's. I haven't explored much but it has a wonderful feel. No one hassles you at all and my accommodations are cheap, 5 bucks, with clean rooms comfortable beds and western baths including hot water. It is located right off the main strip down a quiet foot and moto lane lined with trees. I just had my first Laos meal, vegetarian Laap, a dish with tofu cilantro, lemongrass and a taste I couldn't identify but reminded me of gorgonzola. It cost 1 dollar as did my tasty Laos beer.

Speaking of food my last day in Chiang Mai was my cooking course. I learned how to make spring rolls, green papaya salad (similar to cucumber), a chicken and basil stir fry which had a good bit of chili heat to it, a medium spicy green curry, pad Thai (fried Thai noodles), and a banana toffee dish. The course was fun and informative, and if your adventurous I'll make some of it for anyone who wants. Chiang Mai was a fun town with a real thainess to it and was a good departing note. Maybe I'll get some more time in Thailand if I don't spend too much time in Laos.

The trip to get here was a long time traveling but not too bad as an experience. The first day we had a mini bus to the border town of Xiang Khong, where we stayed at a packaged guesthouse for the whole bus. The group stayin there was good fun with a bunch of crazy Irish and some fun Canadian girls. Most of us headed out the next morning to cross the Mekong river into Laos and get on the slow boats to Luang Prabang. The boat fit about 75 passengers, mostly falang (foreingers). Our seats were tight but everyone did there best to stay comfortable with constant seat swapping and socializing. One guy had a guitar and entertained the crowd as a couple of the Irish got rowdy on there first taste of Beerlaos, the local brew with a nice taste. That night we stopped just before sundown at a tiny village that seems to exist for the sole purpose of housing boat traffic between Thailand and Luang Prabang. The next day was more of the same on the boat, although I should mention that the scenery made the time well worth every minute. I'll probably stay here at least there days before heading south to Vang Vien. This is the first stop for me that hadn't been booked in Bangkok, so I am on my own schedule now and pleased for it. I'll write again before leaving her as internet is widely available. Pictures forthcoming, no camera with me now and trek pictures failed to upload twice before I gave up.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The trek was great fun. Real light hiking compared to Colorado standards, but it still tired out some of my less mountain oriented companions from Ireland, England, Brazil, Spain, and Canada. The first day we drove to the trailhead and made our way 45 minutes to a camp for a picnic lunch of fried rice. After that we finished off our 9 Km hike up to a White Karen Hill tribe village. The Villagers live a rural but slightly modern life style. They have some electricity from solar panels and running water from a nearby spring. They still practice plenty of hand crafts, making hand woven bags and using steel hand tools to build their homes out of natural materials. While I was there they framed and thatched a roof for an extension onto one of the buildings. Quiet handy folks. They have been substantially influenced by Thai and modern culture through tourist groups like mine. The villagers have converted to Catholicism after being visited by an American missionary. My guides tell me many of the hill tribes have converted in the past 15 years. Different families around the village host groups just about every night and much of their cash income comes through goods sold to trekkers including beer and water. Our guides cooked us a fantastic meal that evening and my British mate Dave, whom I picked up at the Bangkok airport, entertained us all with games and songs on the guitar he lugged in. It was good crack, grand and class as the Irish girls in our group would say.

The next day we woke to a relaxed breakfast and headed on to another village about two hours away for a lunch of ramen noodles and local produce soup. The second village was a good bit larger and had building with corrugated steel roofs and a school for children from all the surrounding villages. Thai schools are on holiday now so school was not in session, but it would have been interesting to visit. This village has been settled for over a hundred years and has decent dirt roads running through it. I think the town is accessible by car allowing them to get more outside supplies in town. From town it was a short hike down to our camp for the evening set beside an impressive waterfall. We all took a nice swim under the falls before another amazing dinner cooked by our guides. After dinner we had more of the same campfire entertainment.

Our final morning had a short hike out to paved roads and a truck to an elephant camp. We climbed on two each to elephants sitting on scary benches and got carried on a short circuit up a hill for a view and back down. These animals are incredibly strong. However the ride was treacherous as they have little concern for keeping you balanced on your bench. Everyone hung on tight and it was fun but not something I need to do again. After the elephants we made our way to a river that runs about as wide and strong as the Yampa at the end June and boarded 25 ft long bamboo rafts that we steered by a guide in front and a trekker in the rear with bamboo poles to push off the river bottom. I took the aft on my boat and it was fun ride with a few decent rapids to maneuver through. Definitely could have done better with a paddle to rudder the ship but we got through it without dumping any passengers, probably due more to the expert work of our guide than my fumbling with the pole. At least I didn't screwup bad enough to flip us, as all the other boats did. After that the trek was over and we returned to our guest house for some rest before heading out for some clubbing. Chang Mai has bee amazing and I think I will extend my stay by a day. Cooking class is tomorrow and there are still many sights to see before I go to Laos, probably on Tuesday. Thanks to everyone for updates and hellos (GG, you were successful).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Just got to Chang Mai an hour ago after a long boring, tiring day of boat bus and air travel. I leave on my trek tomorrow morning and wanted to scheck in before heading into the jungle and out of contact till the evening of the 20th. The trek includes stays at a hill tribe village, elephant rides and bamboo raft riding. Sounds awesome. Totally exhausted and need rest before hiking tommorrow. I'll write soon after I return.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Its my last day on the beach and I don't want to leave. Ko Samui has been more fun than I expected but it is crowded and touristy. I have been staying on Lamai beach at Surat Palm resort bungalows. I'm a few rows back from the beach front but it doesn't really matter as all I'm doing at my bungalow is sleeping. The main strip at this beach is a couple blocks away with endless sunglass and clothing shops, restaurants, bars and massage parlors. I just had my first Thai massage, and it was amazing. The traditional massage involves pulling your muscles loose with the full weight of the massuesse bending and stretching your body. Not so much kneading or deep tissue, and a bit of pain but very relaxing and enjoyable.

Yesterday I toured the island with a moto guide seeing beach views and waterfalls as well as the Big Buddha shrine which is about 12 meters tall and out on a little island just off the north coast. A good day, but hot and tiring. The night before I arrived around 6 for sunset on the beach and then ventured out to explore the strip. As I was headed back to the bungalow after dinner I ran into the three kiwis from my dive class eating in McDonald's and spent the rest of the night carousing with them. We caught a lady muay Thai boxing match at one of the bars on the strip then went to a night club. Everyone is very friendly and the club was great fun with a decent dj spinning American hip hop. My ferry ride over was the most comfortable travel I have had yet with spacious leather seats in an air conditioned cabin. I slept the whole way. I took the last ferry from Ko Tao to maximize my time there, as it has been my favorite destination so far. I spent the morning snorkeling in shark bay where many people had reported seeing small reef sharks. My dive instructor had told me they are very safe to be around and will be scared off if you make a splash on the surface, so I venutured into the water in search of sharks. I didn't see any but snorkeling was still fun. Dad, I can't understand how you fail to float when snorkeling, baffling, but at least its proof your not a witch. The night before was a bit of a celebration after finishing our dive course. Alcohol is very bad for you when scuba diving so we abstained for the length of the course leaving us all a bit thirsty after our last dive. The kiwis are quiet good at partying and got all reilled up with a giant communal cocktail and a rousing game of cards through the afternoon. After card we watched a professionally edited video of our dives that day, maybe something Tim would be interested in. Diving was an awesome experience that I will definitely seek out future opportunities to participate in.

I will miss being on the beach but can't stay here forever if I'm gonna see everything I have planned for. I'm in high spirits and my health has recovered from the cold I got on my flight over. Tomorrow I take boat and taxi to get to the airport in Surat Thani to fly north through Bangkok to Chang Mai. I'm looking forward to experiencing more traditional Thai culture in the north. I have cooking class and a three day trek through the mountains scheduled. Hopefully I will get to a computer before heading into the jungle.

How is everything at home. Playoff baseball? Snow in Steamboat? Anything else of note? I know it hasn't been long for you but news from home, or a hello is always appreciated.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Finally found a computer that had my software so here are photos. The first is from Wat Pho in Bangkok. At this temple we had our fortunes told by shaking a canister of sticks until one came to the top with a number on it that corresponded to a fortune. Perhaps a bit more accurate than cracking a cookie but similar in message. But I have kept mine to see how it corresponds to my trip. The second photo is from the grounds of the grand palace and temple of the reclining Buddha. Featuring yours truly with a copy of "The Local" our independent rag in Steamboat.

The next two are from Ko Pangan. The first is my bungalow which was rustic but comfy and relaxing. I think after staying here a hammock will be a quintessential possession wherever I go. The fourth photo is with the crew I spent most of my time on Ko Pangan with, Oosii our bartender and my Finnish friends Jonathon and Inaa. The Finns are here on Ko Tao at the same dive school with me.

The last photo is from about an hour ago as we wrapped up our second day of diving. It is the reef and shore that we have been exploring from below for the last two days.

I arrived on Ko Tao Monday afternoon and checked in to our school with my Austin Tx friend Brett, who was at the same guesthouse in Ko Pangan. We got books to study and came back on Tuesday fro a morning instructional video session with three Kiwis who comprise the rest of our class. Our instructor is a French Swiss guy named Lieber, with a training instructor from the states, Channel. Wednesday got us into the water after some classroom time in the morning. They keep things moving fast enough to keep you from getting too nervous, although I did get a bit panicked a few times as breathing underwater is quiet unnatural. After an hour of getting acquainted with our gear in shallow water we went for a dive along the edge of the reef getting to a depth of 6.5 meters. It was an amazing experience, but a bit scary. Today we returned to the same reef for some further exercises in the shallows and again along the same reef. Today I was substantially more comfortable and had a great time.

This town has a dive community that reminds me a lot of steamboat. Lots of international expats teaching and working in the dive industry. Everyone is pretty cool and the Thai locals are quiet westernized and speak great English. If diving gets under my skin I could see living here long enough to get trained as a dive master. So yet another place that I really want to return to, this one perhaps for an extended period. Tomorrow is an early morning dive then I move onto Ko Samui for a few nights on Saturday. Samui doesn't appeal to me much from what other travelers have told me but it is part of the package I am booked on so I will check out the tourist mecca of the gulf of thailand. I will be staying on Lamai beach there. Here I am in the bay of Kao Baan (so mom can look down on me from google maps). I'll write again from Samui.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hi everybody. I'm still in Ko Phangan, staying in a bungalow a little south of the pier right on Bantai beach. It is really relaxing here. Haven't really done much activity other than hanging around the grounds. It is lots of fun because the other people staying there are friendly and fun to have conversations with. I have spent most of my time talking with a young Finnish couple who also work at a ski resort in Laapland. Last night was the full moon party a big beach rave that attracted maybe 10,000 people to dance all night on the beach. It was fun but the music wasn't my taste, mostly heavy industrial techno. The Isreali's are on holiday in force right now and they seemed to love it. But there are people from all over who came to the party and lots of thai's. The thai's seem to love really poppy American hip-hop for dance music. So there were sound systems catering to that. People were launching hot air balloons with fire balls in side them and they populated the sky above the beach like stars as the soured high and far away. It was pretty cool as more and more launched and got away from the beach. I have never been to such a big party and it was cool to be around so many people getting crazy. I was always with one group or another of travelers from my guesthouse or people I have met along the way. I was worried before I left about being alone and it is hard to find a moment to myself.

Tomorrow I take the ferry north to Ko Tao about fifteen kilometers away to start dive classes on Tuesday. By Friday I ought to be an open water certified padi diver. Pretty cool. I'm excited. I'll let you know how the class is going after I've started but it sounds like it might be a bit of a drag, until we get into the water on Thursday. But nothing has gotten me down yet, I don't think a classroom will.

Sorry no photos but my camera requires software that I can't find on any computers.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I arrived in Ko Phangan this afternoon after a long overnight on a full tourist bus and a couple hours on a ferry. It is gorgeous here and very chilled out. This Saturday is the full moon festival a monthly tourist party on the island, and it is drawing lots of young people although everything has been very relaxed so far. I got to my bungalow and immediately went for dip in the warmest water I have ever swam in. The view is pretty awesome and the water is that turquoise green I have only seen in commercials. After swimming my first monsoon weather came in with a gusto of hard rain. It cleared through quickly and has left the skies a bit overcast and the weather cooler. A welcome change as I have been sweating my ass off since I got in country. After the rain I had lunch and lounged all afternoon with a couple of British guys on a year long trip around the world. I got quizzed on US politics and Buddhist religious theory, and you'll be surprised to here that I had an answer for everything, and some of them may have been accurate. It is pretty lazy beach chillen around here so not much to report but I am very happy to be here and recommend this experience to anyone. Being alone has afforded me constant opportunities to meet new and interesting people that I probably wouldn't if I had company. Was hoping to get up photos but the computer won't recognize my camera. Just gonna be relaxing and might check out a Muay Thai boxing match tonight.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Heading to the beach tonight. Yesterday Juliana and I switched accommodations in Bangkok after finding a super cheap place in the same neighborhood. Our second night was at River Guesthouse for 100BT each about 2.50USD. It was bare basics with a bed a fan and shared baths with no hot water. And it was comfortable enough for a slug like me. After moving we headed to Wat Pho by river ferry and explored the complex of Buddhist shrines for the afternoon. The most amazing one their was the giant reclining reclining Buddha statue that was about 100 yards in length. After that we took a tuk-tuk (three wheel motorcycle with a bench behind the driver) ride to the lucky Buddha and eventually to a tourist information office. En route we stopped at three different tailors. Tuk-tuks apparently get their gas money by bringing tourists to be sold suits. The sales agents were persistent and kind of annoying but for agreeing to go we had a personal driver for about three hours for 20 bt. The tourist info office was very helpful and set me up with tickets and accommodations for the next three weeks through Thailand and into Laos. First I will be going to Ko Phang An for the full moon festival this weekend then on to Ko Tao to get my dive license then Ko Samui for sight seeing and sunbathing before returning to the mainland to fly North to Chang Mai in the Northern mountains where I will go on a backcountry trek and get a cooking class. After Chang Mai I will travel into Laos and go by boat to Luang Prabang. This whole itinerary with transport activities and accommodations will cost me 836USD for the next 25 days or so. Mom, I'll email dates to you after I pick up my tickets.
Last night was spent exploring Kaoh San rd and the backpacker nightlife. This morning we went to the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha before hitting mid day computer. I'm very happy to have my plans confirmed. I will miss having Juliana along as we got along quiet well, but hope to meet some new partners soon. I'll write again soon. Sorry no photos this time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Made it. Took 28 hours from when Joe dropped me at DIA to touch down at the brand new airport in Bangkok. No visible signs of military control has me feeling secure enough to spend a few nights here before heading to the beach. On my way over I met a really interesting people on all of my flights and we always had a seat open between us. From Denver to LA I sat with a Afghan-american third year CU med student who was quiet jealous and also very interesting to discuss international politics with. At the bar in LA's Tom Bradley Airport I met a brand newly wed couple from Joplin Missouri on their way to Bangkok, on the same flight, to begin their honeymoon. My flight to Taipei introduced me to Jason an American who has been living and traveling in Asia since he was eighteen. He now lives in Phnom Penh working for an NGO and has offered me advice and some hospitality when I make it to his town. Waiting in immigration line I met Juliana from Minneapolis, whom I later ran into as I was agreeing on a guesthouse room. We ended up sharing our room last night to save money and are headed off to The royal palace to sightsee and maybe spot a tank. We are staying in the backpaker district in a clean and basic room in guesthouse called At Home for 225 Bt each (around 9USD). Everything seems to be falling into place for now and I am very happy and excited to continue.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Leaving on a jet plane,
Dont know when I'll bee back again
Well I geuss I do but its a ways away. I'm at DIA waiting on my first leg of my flight and I'm very nervous. I began my trip yesterday morning leaving steamboat with my friends meghan and joe to head to the great american beer festival in denver for my last night in the states. We met their friend chris at his place oout by the airport and headed back downtown to find tickets. Sold out signs told us we would have to find scalped tickets bringing me back to phish days. Of course, the scalper we found sold us three counterfeit tickets which left us locked out of the beer fest, sober, and 50 bucks lighter. I was impressed with myself for being rippped off even before I left the country. Sweet. So we went back to chris house for cocktails and rummycube. I woke this morning with my stomach flipping with nerves and eventually relieving itseelf of last nights dinner. Never done that before. Been sick and ripped off before leaving the country, this is gonna be an adventure. Not looking forward to flying for the next three days. Oh well at least I have my fancy new Ipod to keep me company. Airport internet is a bit pricy so, bon voyage. Wish me luck, cause Im out.