Cheow Lan Lake


164_6445-4.JPGToday we took a guided tour of Khao Sok. Specifically, we explored Cheow Lan Lake, which is actually a man-made lake that was created when the Rajjaprabha Dam was built in 1982. Despite being man-made the lake was gorgeous. The entire region around Khao Sok is dominated by the hundreds-of-feet high limestone cliffs and karts that rise up off the jungle floor. Similarly, the lake sits in this high-sided bowl of limestone. It was a two hour drive to the lake, at which point we moved from the sawngthaew to a long-tail boat. Setting off into the misty morning, the green of the water really stood out. It was a clear and pure green color, not light or dirty green like most green water. Limestone formations rose straight out the water all around us. Hundreds of feet high, some were cliffs that held the lake in and some were islands created when the dam flooded the valley. From what I’ve read, we’ll see a lot more of this type of geological landscape in places like Phang-Nga and the more famously known Halong Bay. But today was the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this and I thought it was absolutely amazing. Jungle was growing all over the limestone, except on the faces that were beyond vertical and had inverted slopes.


admiring the lake and karsts from a bamboo raft
The boat ride across the lake was about an hour at which point we arrived a group of floating bungalows. Its kind of a tourist thing to sleep in these floating wooden shacks, but we were just stopping for lunch. While we were waiting for lunch, Joylani and I took a kayak out on the water and paddled around a bit. We don’t kayak that often, so its always funny when we do; going in circles, splashing each other, and our good-humored exasperation with each other. I jumped out and swam a bit, while Joylani paddled near me. It felt great to be out in the middle of the lake swimming, jungly cliffs rising up all around. We had an excellent meal with about 5 dishes, which was different from the one or two dish meals we’ve been eating. Then, we took another boat to a little island, which we walked across for just 1 km, where we took a bamboo raft to a nearby cave. The cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, which reflected all sorts of cool colors from our flashlights and made all sorts of interesting formations. Some formations were wavy and looked like curtains hanging down from the cave ceiling, while others looked like coral. Our guide warned us not to touch anything, as the chemicals on our hand could cause reactions and destroy what took millions of years to form. Unlike some other caves in the region, this one had never been inhabited or explored until recently since the damming of the lake made the water rise to a point where the cave was accessible (many caves were submerged with the creation of the lake too though). Overall, the tour was better than I had expected and Khao Sok has been a nice place to spend the past few days.




No longer at the beaches/sneeches with leeches upon thars.


joylani 130pxToday was full of surprises. It all started when I took out my toothbrush and discovered it had grown pink mold overnight. So I pulled out the spare toothbrush. It was new, but I had taken it out of the original packaging and popped a travel case on top. As a pulled the toothbrush out of the case, a little cockroach scurried out. Don’t ask—I have no idea how it got there, much less what country the cockroach calls home. Matt and I walked to a nearby mini-market to buy breakfast…and some new toothbrushes. We had a fun day planned ahead of us: a visit to the nearby Khao Sok National Park where we were going on a 16km, 6hr hike to a waterfall/swimming hole (3 there, 3 back). Things seemed to be going well and we enjoyed the coolness of the canopy as we observed interesting plants, bugs, and even a few snakes.


Blue Fern




As most of the trail was covered by a thick canopy, it was somewhat damp. Just a kilometer or so from the waterfalls Matt stopped ahead of me because he thought he has an earthworm stuck on his toe. Matt hates earthworms and generally anything slimy—snails, slugs…you get the idea. I noticed a leech on his ankle. It turned out the “earthworm” was actually a leech to. He had more on his toes and a couple hiding under his sandal straps. I’m thinking that I probably don’t have any since I hadn’t felt anything crawling on my legs—plus I was wearing shoes and long pants (Matt was wearing sandals and shorts). But I decided to check anyways, just to be safe. To my horror, there were almost a dozen leeches sucking on my ankles above my now blood-soaked socks.
It was so gross. There are two ways we knew of to get the leeches off—fire or salt. Preparing for the unlikely event we happened to get a leech or two, we figured a lighter would be easier to carry around than salt. So all we had was a lighter. Unfortunately, we neglected to consider that burning a leech of your body can also burn you. So there we stood, on this narrow ledge of trail while Matt tried to get the leeches off me and him. It went something like this: hold lighter to leech, keep flame on as long as possible before it starts to hurt; at which point the leech has hopefully unattached and started to squirm; kick leg to flick off leech before it re-attaches; try to keep your balance; shriek at the blood now oozing out of the wound and onto the trail; use stash of emergency TP to try to stop bleeding; move on to the next leech. We were both in a bit of a panic. There was no where to sit, and no where close to go. I had blood dripping off my feet, Matt kept singeing the hair on his feet, and we both kept letting out yelps and shouts each time the lighter got too close. To make matters worse, Matt swung his backpack around to take something out of it as he was bent over trying to help me. Not realizing that it was open, a brand new water bottle and a box of food went flying down the hillside. A few minutes later as I bent to flick more leeches out of my shoe, my prescription sunglasses slipped off the collar of my shirt and fell 20 or 30 feet down the hill as well. Luckily, the items were retrievable.
If I was watching the scene unfold on film, I think I would have been laughing and squirming at the same time. We must have looked ridiculous with all the leech flicking, freaking out, and our belongings flying down the hill. But still, it was pretty awful. I bleed all over my socks, pants, and shoes. Since we had no Band-Aids or anything, and I was totally freaked out by the whole thing (Matt was pretty grossed out too, he made some faces and noises of disgust and horror I’ve never seen before), we decided the wisest option would be to turn back the way we came, foregoing our destination even though it was so close. I’ve never gone on a trail so fast in my life. Those of you who know me know that I am not a runner. But I even ran on part of it, dodging roots and branches along the way. Even Matt had never seen me move so fast before.
After a while, we arrived at the main trail and we took a break to eat some cookies before finishing the last few kilometers back to our bungalow. Matt noticed an article on leeches posted on the signboard. Too bad we hadn’t seen it the first time we passed the signboard. Turns out those leeches are pretty high-tech. They can sense you coming from ground vibrations and heat. Once they get on you they use their heat sensing ability to “leech on” to a suitable spot—a place with thin skin and blood. It generally takes 20-30 minutes for them to fill up, after which they can go without eating for 6 months. How long do these guys live anyways?

Finally, after a brief stop to buy some salt (in case of more leeches), we arrived back at our bungalow. I untucked the blood soaked hems of my pants from my shoes and peeled off equally gross socks before making a quick dash to the shower so I could wash my feet and ankles. But when I turned on the water, nothing happened. The electricity was out meaning the water pump wasn’t working to fill the tank. Sigh. I was tired of surprises by this point. Thankfully, one of the guys at the hotel gave us a couple of bottles of water so we were able to rinse off our feet before a much needed lunch. After lunch, the electricity came back on and we were able to shower. That’s when I got my final surprise of the day. One last leech had made its way all the way up my thigh where it had eaten, undetected, until falling off. What a day.


Leech Bites—the next day they looked like normal bug bites with a scab on top and itched A LOT. One week later they were still itching. I read online that the best way to get a leech off isn’t fire (obviously) or even salt as they can cause a leech to regurgitate the contents of its stomach (gross). The recommended way is to break the suction by gently pushing on the leech with your fingernail until the seal breaks and it can be flicked off. Sounds easy, but I don’t know if I could do it. With my luck the leech would probably reattach itself to my finger. Maybe I could use a credit card to break the seal…or maybe I just won’t get anymore leeches.

Khao Sok


164_6445-4.JPGWe arrived in Khao Sok National Park yesterday, where we’ll spend a few days before heading north again. It’s a beautiful place with massive limestone karsts rising up out of the jungle. Well, I shouldn’t say out of, as many of the cliffs are covered in jungle. Khao Sok is a bit of a tourist trap, but a really nice place nonetheless. We’re staying at guesthouse in the small village of Khao Sok, just outside the NP headquarters. There’s a nice river nearby, everything’s green, which is probably because it rains in the afternoons. The jungle is filled with interesting trees and plants that are growing everywhere and all vying for sunlight. Today we saw bamboo growing horizontally out of the side of hills, we saw blue ferns, tiny plants that pull their leaves in when touched, and trees trunks that have giant airplane fins coming out of their base (to borrow Alex Garland’s description). Besides the flora, there’s a lot of wildlife around here too. From the giant ants outside our room to the fat toads that hang out near the dining room, Khao Sok is like a zoo. Although Joylani’s post probably told you enough about the leeches, we also saw several large snakes, lizards and chameleons, and interesting insects on our hike. (sidenote: I will say that you should carry salt rather than a lighter to get the leeches off- it will save you some shrieks in the ear if the flame gets too hot for your wife and it will also save you dozens of singed foot and ankle hairs). The most annoying insect in the world could be the cicada, at least a certain species found here that emits a constant, high-pitch screech. At first, I thought it was the power lines, as many transformers around Asia make dysfunctional high pitched noises. Last night, a cicada decided to hang out near our room for a couple hours- what a nightmare. Other than that and the leeches, Khao Sok is a beautiful and relaxing place.

Change of Plans


164_6445-4.JPGIf you read my last post, you know that the Northeast Monsoon is hitting the Gulf Coast of the Malay Peninsula all the way down into Indonesia. We kind of just learned that ourselves and after some thought have decided to change our itinerary. Originally, we were going to work our way down the Malay Peninsula and across the Indonesian Archipelago, before circling back north to see northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and on into Vietnam. But after checking weather charts and seeing that January and February are by far the rainiest months in KL, Singapore, and Jakarta, we’re going to transpose our northern SEA and southern SEA plans. So we’ll soon head north, back through Bangkok, en route to northern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, before returning south in March-ish. We usually don’t aim for high-season/nice weather when we visit places. In fact, we usually do the opposite to avoid the crowds and high prices. But there’s some places that are very difficult or impossible to visit in the off-season. We can stand the Asian heat of summer, but you’d be crazy to attempt to visit many places in the Himalaya during the off-season. In fact, there’s many parts of the Himalaya that are simply inaccessible during winter and spring. Similarly, we wouldn’t mind the torrential rain in Malaysia and Indonesia, but the monsoon effectively halts any transportation on the Gulf. And so, what’s the point of visiting a place if you cannot go to the places you want to see? Although we’ve come this far south, its not THAT far and its not too late to turn back. We’ll have to backtrack a bit, which is frustrating because of the corresponding money and time wasted. However, we feel our new plan is a better decision and the aforementioned are small prices to pay.

A Few Days in Ko Samui


164_6445-4.JPGWe’ve spent the past two days exploring the island by bike. Usually we just rent scooters, as I don’t like manual transmissions. But after a quick lesson on motorbike gear-shifting from our guesthouse owner, we were off. Yesterday, we circumnavigated the island clockwise. Driving east, we passed a few small beach towns before curving southwards towards the developed side of the island. First, we stopped at Chaweng, a super developed and touristy area. Although the main road runs alongside the beach, you cannot see any beach from the road. It’s a total Waikiki. We parked the bike, grabbed some snacks, and walked through a resort to get to the ocean. It was a really nice stretch of sand with constant waves. The water was nice- warm and shallow out past the waves. It wasn’t white sand and crystal clear waters as our guidebooks claimed (but after the Maldives, I take those descriptions literally), but it was nice. Ko Samui is surrounded by beautiful colored water. The clarity is good, but from our guesthouse in Maenam, we can see turquoise waters all the way to neighboring Ko Pha Ngan. Chaweng is similar with absolutely beautifully colored water.


After a couple hours, we got back on the bike and headed to Lamai, supposedly another developed-yet-nice beach. However, an unnamed bay caught our eyes, so we pulled over and walked down to the beach. We think the name is Crystal Bay, based on the name of a nearby resort, but regardless I think we stumbled onto one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. There’s not too many people, the water is perfect- warm, shallow, amazing hues; huge Hampi-sized boulders border the cove (like if you’ve ever seen photos of the Seychelles), powdery sand, and palms right on the beach to provide plenty of shade.


Crystal Bay

We just swam and took in the scenery for a bit, before deciding to be on our way so we could finish our circuit before dark. On our way to Lamai, we did stop to hike to a little rocky outcrop with two well-known rocks, known as Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock. Then we rode straight back to Maenam covering the southern and western sides of the island. The island reminded us of Maui- a lush tropical mountainous island. Would’ve taken some photos to provide here, but we were on a bike.


grandfather rock


grandmother rock

One thing I didn’t mention is that we got a flat tire yesterday. So after investing 100 baht in a new tube and 100 baht in gas (which as it turns out is a lot more than we needed), we decided to take the bike out again today. Oh, also the marine park is closed as its rainy season right now. Anyways, we followed yesterdays morning itinerary of hanging out at Chaweng in the morning and then heading to Crystal Cove in the afternoon. The trouble began when the dark clouds out over the ocean moved in and it began pouring. We ran back through the resort behind us and found a restaurant/internet café. We had some hot chocolate and spent some time replying to emails, while we waited for the rain to subside. It took a little over an hour before the rain really lightened. It was past three when we decided to go- it was still drizzling, but I certainly didn’t want to be driving on wet island roads in the dark. So we hopped on the bike and began the hour-long journey back. The rain wasn’t so bad, as I had sunglasses to protect my eyes from raindrops that stung our skin as we drove. The thing that was bad was the drainage on the road. More than once we were driving the bike through puddles, streams, and huge flows of water on the road. The reddish-orange water came up to my ankles a couple times, as I drove in the wakes of the vehicles ahead of us. I’ve walked through plenty of monsoon floods before, having lived in India, but I’ve never driven through floods before. It was an experience to say the least, but we made it back safely. Its been a fun past couple of days and we’ve seen a lot of Ko Samui, from it beautiful beaches and mountains to its flooded roads.


Ko Samui


Greg: Your dad has totally turned you against me.

Jack: I didn’t turn her against you. You did that to yourself.

Greg: Jack, please. You didn’t like me from the second I walked in here.

Jack: I’m a very accepting person, Focker. All I ask for is honesty.

Greg: Oh, honesty? You wanna talk about truth and honesty, Jack? Okay, let’s talk a little truth and honesty. Let’s talk a little “Operation Ko Samui,” Jack.

Pam: What’s he talking about, Dad?

Greg: Yeah, that’s weird, ’cause I thought there weren’t any secrets…inside the circle of trust, Jack.

Jack: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Greg: You don’t? Huh? What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Hey, Pam, guess what. Daddy’s planning a little covert operation in Thailand for the day after the wedding.

Pam: You are?

Greg: Round and round we go, Jack. Hey. I bet everybody would love to hear about your rendezvous…in the parking lot of the Oyster Bay Drug and Sundry. You know what I’m talking about. Where the guy gave you the passports and the documents. Or how about your little phone call in Thai?

Dina: Jack can’t talk Thai.

Greg: Oh, no, Dina. Jack can talk Thai. Jack talk Thai very well. I’m sorry, Pam, but your dad is not retired. He’s still very much in the C.I.A.

Jack: He’s right. My cover’s blown. I-l-I am planning…a secret operation the day after the wedding.

Pam: What?

Jack: A surprise honeymoon for Deb and Bob. You stupid son of a bitch! You just blew it!

Greg: What?

Jack: Ko Samui is an island off the coast of Thailand!

Watching “Meet the Parents” was the first time I ever heard of Ko Samui and ever since I’ve only heard good things and have longed to visit. It’s the end of our second day here and I’d have to say its been a pretty good past couple of days. The overnight bus was, in Joylani’s words, “the nicest bus I’ve ever been on.” It was a ten hour trip down to the Don Sak pier near Surat Thani and then another couple hours on the ferry to Ko Samui. At the Ko Samui pier, we reboarded our bus and drove 15 minutes to the bus stand- makes me wonder why the bus even goes all the way to Ko Samui only to drive for a few minutes. Anyways, from the bus stand we caught a sawngthaew (basically a truck with two parallel benches in the back) to Maenam, on the northern coast of the island. Wanting to avoid the super-touristed and heavily developed east coast of the island, Maenam turned out to be a good choice. We found a nice beach bungalow within 30 meters of the beautiful water, run by a jolly fat Thai man and his family. Although we got here yesterday morning, it was kind of a wasted day as I caught up on sleep and slept the day away.

Today, Joylani and I explored the village and beach a little more, both of which are spread out over several kilometers. This was, of course, between our eating, swimming, and napping. The atmosphere here is really, really laid back, which is a huge contrast from urban fast-paced Bangkok. We’ll probably rent a bike to explore the island tomorrow, as its quite big, and then do a one or two-day tour to nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park. Thailand issues 30 days visas on arrival, which means we have to be in Malaysia by January 2nd. There’s so many other places to see in southern Thailand, between the Gulf Coast, the Andaman Coast, and the peninsular interior. I thought we’d spend only a couple days on Ko Samui before moving on, but location and guesthouse are awesome and its so tempting to just stay here for longer. I guess I just have to remind myself of one of our premises of this trip: there’s more out there. We were comfy at home, but we decided to go and explore the world. Even just five months in, we’ve been greatly rewarded thusfar. And we’ve traveled, we’re continually surprised and amazed. So even though I like it here, I know that I’ll probably see and experience even more incredible things in southern Thailand before December ends. So we’ll take my grandmother’s advice, which she passed down from her parents: don’t be a frog in a well. I like Ko Samui, but we’ll continue to travel, explore, and learn.

A New Place

old and new

The old and the new.

joylani 130pxSigh of relief. And amazement. Bangkok is awesome. I admit, even though I was super excited to get here, I tried to have low expectations—probably the result of Matt retorting, “What did you expect? This is the 3rd world,” each time I would complain or freak out at the general mildew and bugs in guesthouses, and general rundown atmosphere of inefficiencies we were experiencing throughout India and Nepal. He warned me that this is what the rest of our trip would probably be like (probably just trying to keep me more realistic and not trying to dash my hopes). Well, he was wrong. Bangkok is nothing like India. I guess that’s obvious; different country, different region. But beyond the obvious, some things really stand out. [In general] people aren’t loud, lines get formed, shoes get removed before going inside, even street food appears more sanitary…did I mention there’s not too much shouting? Like I said before, Bangkok has been a sigh of relief.

As we rode on the shuttle from the airport to downtown, I was amazed by the city that surrounded me. It reminded me a lot of Honolulu, only bigger, and fresher. So many buildings looked new. And serenely standing in the midst of housing, hotels, and businesses both downtown and through out the city are dozens of wats behind walled compounds, their fiery roofs sparkling in the sun. All the roads were smoothly paved, and at the sight of big familiar cars cruising along the highway, I thought to myself, “Oh look, they even drive on the right side of the road.” Only they weren’t. After another minute’s observation, I realized that traffic was still flowing down the left. After months of seeing Indian-made Marutis, Ambassadors, and an assortment of 3-wheelers, the sight of Hondas and Toyotas (real trucks!) had tricked my mind into thinking the flow of traffic was normal*—that, and the lack of livestock on the road, the increased speed, presence and use of lanes, and the absence of incessant honking…Traffic wasn’t the only orderly thing in Bangkok.
On December 5th families clad in yellow shirts roamed Bangkok in celebration of the king’s birthday (also father’s day). As evening fell, Matt and I walked down one of the main roads in the direction of our hotel. We noticed people had started lining the side of the street. We stood on a bench behind the crowd to get a glimpse of what was going on. It seemed they were awaiting the king’s motorcade, as indicated by the approaching vehicle on the large tv screen nearby. To my complete astonishment, about a minute before the cars arrived, the crowd went completely silent. If I was a blind person walking down the sidewalk, I would have had no idea that there were thousands of people lining the street. Forget about the 0% likelihood of that ever happening in India, I haven’t ever seen anything like it anywhere. As the motorcade passed, the crowd responded with a polite cheer (cheer, not shouts) and lit candles. While the Thais were satisfied to have gotten a glimpse of their king, I stood there amazed at the calmness of the crowd. Silence in the midst of thousands of people was just so strange.


When it was over the people slowly began to disperse, and Matt and I continued our way down the street towards our hotel in hopes of catching the fireworks along the way. We weren’t exactly sure where they would be shot off from, but decided to follow the crowd and stopped walking when everyone else did. Soon the show started. We heard them go off before the explosions hit the sky—dthoom, dthoom, dthoom. The explosions came in sets of 10-15 each time. The whole show was like a finale, except for the actual finale which was just a few smiley face bursts. The spot where we stood was just under where the fireworks were going off; it was exciting to watch the sky light up above us. Thankfully we weren’t too close to the launch site though. In the middle of a set, I exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, the fireworks are falling on the people!!?!” Some of the fireworks seemed to be exploding prematurely. From where we stood it looked as though some of the sparkles were going into the crowd. We watched the show a little bit more attentively, and brushed some ash out of our hair. I liked the combination of order mixed with a little bit of chaos. Some things in the States are just too sterile—they’ve lost a sense of adventure and spontaneity in the fear of being sued.

falling fire

Fireworks in the crowd.
Some things Matt didn’t mention—the king’s picture is everywhere in elaborate displays of affection and nationalism. He’s the world’s longest reigning monarch and an element of stability in a country that has seen many coups in the last several decades, as recently as 2006. It seems that everyone loves the king. From what I know, he seems like a nice guy. One of my favorite pictures is one where he has a slightly concerned look on his face, camera strap around his neck, and a bead of sweat dripping off the tip of his nose. It’s quite a different shot from those posed pictures of royals were conditioned on seeing, and definitely gives the air of, “He’s one of us. See that sweat? See the concern?” They really did a good job with the whole campaign, it’s got me sold.
*Normal as in normal flow of traffic in the States.



Tributes to the king.



164_6445-4.JPGWe’ve been in Bangkok for six days already. We’re actually leaving tonight, which means its one of those waiting/lets-kill-some-time days, which is why I finally have a chance to write. Bangkok has been non-stop since we arrived. And while I’m on the topic, I need to write a little bit about arriving. Last time I was in Thailand I spent the majority of my time building a rural village on an island in the Andaman Sea, with only a day in Bangkok. So it was with much surprise that we arrived in a vibrant, thriving, modern city. I’m not sure how Thailand is classified from a development perspective, but Bangkok is first-world all the way. The bus from the airport was the nicest one we rode since Turkey, the roads are immaculate, and everyone’s driving what looks like brand new cars. The culture seems to be much more liberal than anywhere we’ve been since Greece, although I’m unsure if that’s intrinsic to Thai culture or Western influence.


One of the first things we noticed upon arriving was the king. We arrived the day before his birthday and the city was just electric. The gangways at the airport had photos of him and phrases like, “Long Live the King” or “Happy Birthday to Our Beloved King.” Riding into the city, it seemed that just about every building displayed a large photo (or billboard on the larger buildings) with flowers and shrines. Most people were wearing yellow polo shirts too (yellow symbolizes Thai royalty), although some were wearing pink polos (apparently the king had recently made his first public appearance, after a long hospital stay, wearing a pink shirt). The city was decorated with golden gates, giant flower arrangements, water fountains, and dozens of song/dance performances dedicated to the king. We walked around our first night and enjoyed the festivities with the thousands of other Thais that flocked the streets; watching the light and water shows, admiring all the decorations, and snacking on street food. That’s another thing we really like about Thailand- so much good food. The street stalls sell everything from your basic pad thai and noodle soup to Joylani’s favorite breakfast mango with sticky rice or desert banana pancakes (both of which are topped with a sugary coconut syrup). I’m also a fan of the red pork, whether in a bun or atop rice, as well as the plethora of kebabs- chicken, pork, beef, sausage, etc, etc.


food stalls, where we eat every night


all the wats have roofs like this and most buiildings have similarly shaped architecture

The king’s birthday is a national holiday and Bangkok was just crazy all day. Many streets were closed and other roads were consequently parking lots. We took a morning walk to a park near the Royal Palace and took in the madness. Dozens of stalls filled the park, giving free box lunches of rice/noodles/meat to lines of hundreds of people. I guess some organizations were just sponsoring all these stalls, so we joined the thousands of other Thais for some free grub. Oh, and everyone was still wearing their yellow polos, although today everyone was also carrying Thai and Buddhist flags. Those that weren’t eating lined the streets to wait for the king’s motorcade to pass. We thought there was going to be a parade, based on the crowds lining the streets, but they dispersed after the small motorcade passed into the palace. We explored a little bit more of the city later, heading to city center of Siam Square. Besides being the transportation hub the city’s buses, taxis, SkyTrain, and Metro, it’s a shopping Mecca. We found everything from small clothes stalls to the upscale mall, Siam Paragon, filled with stores like Hermes, Armani, and Versace- I think I’ve only seen knock-offs of all those brands since we were in Milan. Movie theaters, auto showrooms, food courts, and anything else you could want can be found in Siam Square. Our visit to Siam Square had me thinking that Bangkok is more modern than most US cities.


7-Elevens are everywhere and are all open 24/7 to accomoddate the city that truly never sleeps


the infamous Khao San Rd.

We returned to the park near our guesthouse and the Royal Palace that evening to take in the festivities. We watched the king give his speech and the monks chanting on giant screens set up all over the city. Then we stood and ate our kebabs and pad thai as we waited for the kings motorcade to pass on a circuit of the city. We saw the king as the lights were on on the inside of his car. We later learned that people come from all over Thailand just to glimpse the king as we had…Then we just looked up and watched the fireworks explode above us for about 30 minutes. It was really cool because they were being shot off not too far from us and they were exploding right above us. If I’m any judge, it seemed that the king had a pretty good 80th birthday.


birthday decorations all over the city


people in the streets to sing to the king and watch fireworks


this guy must’ve partied too hard…couldn’t help taking a photo
Our third day was spent exploring the area between our guesthouse and Chinatown. We took a river ferry down to Chinatown, which was quite interesting. Joylani enjoyed seeing all the fruit, while I liked the meat/seafood. We walked around for a couple hours, including exploring a giant indoor market that sold everything you could ever need. We didn’t buy anything, but we did have to make way several times for motorcyclists who were driving through the market- some things will never make sense to me. Afterwards, we headed over to Wat Pho to see the wat and largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. Quite a sight, although I much prefer to just admire the Thai architecture of the temples. Sorry if my Bangkok run-down is more of a list of the things we did, but it was quick week and I’m just trying to recount what we did. Hopefully more observations and reflections will follow. I guess my realization that day, since we explored a lot of the city, is that food and shopping can be found anywhere in the city. Street markets and food stalls are absolutely everywhere- its good to be here.

Day four was a productive one. Joylani got her stomach checked out at the hospital in the morning, before we headed to the Southern Bus Terminal to buy our ticket to Ko Samui. After getting our ticket, we took a bus to Lumphini Park in central Bangkok. We hung out at the park for a few hours, seeing among other things, meter-long monitor lizards catch foot-long fish in the pond and hundreds of Thais showing up for a daily aerobics class in the evening. Afterwards, we spent a few fruitless hours wandering the thousands of stalls at the enormous Suan Lum Night Bazaar. We got a little lost on the buses on the way back, but managed to get back okay. The next day was much the same, first visiting the weekend-only, sells-everything, dwarfs-any-market-you’ve-seen-in-your-life Chatuchak Market in the morning. Afterwards, we got lost on the bus system, but ended up taking the Metro, SkyTrain, and bus back to our guesthouse. If you’re wondering why we went to so many markets, its because we’re ditching much of our belongings in Bangkok and need some warm weather clothes. So two days of shopping and getting lost- not something I want to repeat anytime soon.

Anyways, we’re off tonight on a night bus/ferry to Ko Samui. Bangkok was a pleasant surprise coming from South Asia. Developmentally, it feels like home. And while it’s a city, there are still a lot of things to see and do. The food has been good and the people helpful. I do miss three things so far though: English, chai, and shaves. Nonetheless, Bangkok has been great and I’m ready to explore the rest of Thailand and South East Asia.

Good Bye South Asia, SEA Here We Come!

164_6445-4.JPGI’ve felt kind of reflective lately, which usually happens around times of transition. It’s the holidays, the end of this year, my transition from the first half of my 20s to the second half, the end of the South Asia portion of our trip, as well as the five-month mark of this whole thing. Relevant to this blog, I’ll summarize what I’ve been thinking about those last two topics. South Asia has been great. Exploring India has been incredible, “vacationing” in the Maldives was unbelievable, and trekking Nepal was fantastic. Thinking over everything we’ve done in the past four months is simply astounding. Even just thumbing through photos from the past four months silences me with a gratitude and thankfulness that we’ve been able to do everything we’ve done. It’s been a good time and I’m going to miss the places and experiences. Now, after a month in Europe and four in South Asia, we’re on to South East Asia. I’ve been wanting to travel around SEA for a long time. Although I’ve visited once, I’m ready to delve into this beautiful and historically-rich part of the globe. The region contains some of Joylani and I’s most anticipated destinations and we’re ready to begin Phase III of our trip: SEA.

Calcutta and Small Reflections on India


joylani 130pxAs you may know from Matt’s last post, despite getting on the wrong train last night, we still ended up in Calcutta for what will truly be our last stop in India. We arrived early in the morning, just as people were getting ready for their day. As we left the train station, the sights before me matched with images painted in Dominique LaPierre’s book City of Joy. I saw families sleeping in the rail station, children begging (practically pulling a teacake, which was meant for them anyways, out of my hands), busy food stalls along the Hooghly River serving cheap breakfasts, hand-pulled rickshaws (the last in India), and men bathing at water pumps along the road throughout the city. I felt satisfied to be ending our India leg of our journey here, in such an iconic place—a place that’s iconic not for the sights, but for the people such as Mother Theresa and those she loved, captured so poignantly in LaPierre’s book.


It would be difficult to sum up India and do it justice while avoiding clichés, and I won’t try. Instead, here is a list of some things we liked over the course of our trip.

Top Five Foods

J: Sweet lassi, muesli banana honey curd, Keralan porotas with channa masala, tandoori butterfish, dal makhani.

M: Chai, Kashmiri kava tea, Kashmiri pulao, Keralan porotas, palak paneer

Place with the Most Character

J: Hampi

M: Leh

Favorite Beach

J: Varkala

M: Varkala

Favorite Guesthouse

J: Varkala (Never actually got the name, but it was on top of a family’s house, had hot water, a comfy bed, and a great ocean view from the balcony.)

M: Calangute (Also never got the name as it was a small place run by the family who lived next door. The water was hot, the refrigerator cold, and it was close to the beach.)

Most “Bizarro World”

J: Manali (This is due to many factors, one of which was the music store across the street from our hotel that would play the same 3 songs all day. I’ve never been so happy for a power outage. Other reasons Manali earned this ranking include: the many buildings are also hideously painted in obnoxious colors like purple, lime green, and pink; the mule operators union and random donkeys in the street; and randomly numbered shops lining the road up the mountain renting out cold weather gear—snowsuits that would make Harry and Lloyd happy and faux fur coats Cruella DeVille style. I could go on, but I won’t.)

M: Orcha (Matt says he has no comment.)

Favorite Region

J: Ladakh

M: Ladakh