What To Do When in Asia

Although we can divide our trip thus far into roughly four parts (Europe, South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia), we’ve spent the vast majority of our time in Asia. We’ve had the time of our lives and I think everyone should visit Asia (if not travel it extensively). It truly has something to offer everyone, so I’ve made the following guide and tribute to the great continent.


India: just show up and something exciting WILL happen


Maldives: go sailing and snorkeling on remote atolls


Nepal: go trekking


Thailand: explore the entire country


Laos: travel and live on the Mekong


Cambodia: yes its cliche, but you HAVE to explore Angkor


Malaysia: take in the diverse cultures and food


Brunei: meet characters at the Pusat Belia (not pictured)


Singapore: visit the Botanical Gardens


Indonesia: DIVE!!!


Vietnam: eat!


China: meet the friendliest people on earth


Korea: go to a baseball game


Japan: once again, EAT! (especially the seafood :) )

The Maldives


Our resort, Embudu

us 150pxThe past week was, as Joylani called it, a vacation from our vacation. As you can imagine, we didn’t spend much of our Maldivian anniversary trip writing. Suffice it to say that it was a great week, couldn’t have asked for anything better. The clear waters of the Indian Ocean were steps away from pretty much any point on the island, and we could hear the water lapping on the shore as we fell asleep each night. Our days in the Maldives were more or less spent according to this wondrous schedule:

6am wake up, watch the end of the sunrise

7am breakfast buffet…mmm French toast and sausage

9am snorkel

12:30pm lunch buffet, afternoon lazy time

3pm snorkel

6pm watch sunset

7:30pm dinner

9:00pm fall asleep because we’re tired from all the snorkeling and eating…

Here’s a few tidbits of our week:


Joylani with a baby hermit crab….one of dozens she picked up and played with all week.

  • It was really nice. Embudu, the island resort we stayed at, is a small atoll of white sand and surrounded by turquoise water and an amazing house reef. Meticulous landscaping completed the look as carefully placed and pruned trees and bushes provided both shade and the suggestion of paths. Coconut palms, hibiscus, and plumeria trees added color and character. Personal-sized beaches dotted the perimeter of the island where the gardener had been sure to leave a space between the bushes, and for the more social types, there are sandy bars at either end of the island. There are a few over-water bungalows with windows in the floor looking down over the reef, but most of the rooms are simple but spacious bungalows built along the perimeter of the island in clumps of four. Maldivian hammock swings were hung from the trees throughout the island, and beach chairs could be found by all the sandy coves. Each morning the grounds crew would rake the paths and the waterline alone the shore to get rid of any plant debris and sharp bits of coral deposited the day before. The island had a good balance of natural and artificial elements. It could be compared to a tasteful French manicure—the addition of gloss and white tips without tacky decals and neon nail polish. Aside from the obvious natural (and naturally enhanced) beauty, Embudu was nice because it was a tropical island resort aimed at western holiday-makers. All this was amplified by the fact that it wasn’t India. The beaches were absolutely beautiful and good place to hang out at, enhanced by the fact that groups of Indian guys weren’t staring at the women. Having a nightly turndown service was nice, but so was having just regular room service in the mornings. Imagine: fresh towels…every day. The other wonderful point about out getaway was the food; that deserves a bullet-point of its own.


right outside our room…

  • Buffet time! With no other place to eat except the buffet, meal times became relaxing as we no longer needed to deal with selecting a restaurant from a “gauntlet” of anxious (desperate) restaurateurs vying for our business as we had the last month. Not only that, but we didn’t have to pick-up a single menu. All we had to do was walk up to a tray of food, and if it looked good, put a little on our plates. The buffet was unbelievable and the table of European desserts absolutely amazing. Fresh lychee parfait, tiramisu, crème brulee, chocolate strawberry cake, passion fruit, papayas, watermelon…Even the veggies were amazing: steamed brussel sprouts, fresh salads, caramelized carrots, grilled pumpkin. It had been so long since we’d eaten a veg not coated in masala or curry sauce. Our favorite night of all was BBQ night during which we loaded our plates with BBQ chicken, pork, grilled corn, and, of course, good ol’ American-style tangy BBQ sauce. All week long we filled up on beef and pork (the “forbidden foods”), fresh bread, fruit, veggies, and, of course, dessert. We got excited when we saw “Asian Night” up on the menu board one day, only to find that Asian meant Indian food. Even though we had been hoping for chow mien and miso soup, Indian night didn’t disappoint us as we were able to try some new dishes like banana flower, bitter gourd, and (our favorite) egg hoppers (actually, that one is a Sri Lankan dish). All in all, is was simply nice to take a break from our Indian diet and to be able to eat western food period—not futile Indian attempts at Chainese, Maxican, or Countintal , the food we were being served was the real deal. And even though we love a good chana masala and porota for breakfast, we have to give the edge to French toast, hashbrowns, beef sausage, non-greasy eggs, and bacon—pretty much a grandslam breakfast at Dennys. It was just what we needed for our vacation from our vacation.


dining room

  • Our disastrous night-fishing trip. One of the three “excursions” we took was a three-hour night-fishing trip. At sunset, we set out for a nearby reef, armed with line wound around a block of wood, a weight, and a hook with a chunk of fish on it. Most of the people caught at least one fish, while the captain must’ve caught a half dozen fish by himself. Some people hooked and pulled up coral formations, as well. We finished the night fishless. Joylani hooked a big fish, so big in fact that one of the boat crew had to take over her “pole” to reel the line in. Unfortunately the fish was so big that it snapped the hook right off the line. Joylani went on to lose her hook three more times during our nocturnal fishing adventure. Unfortunately they weren’t as obvious as the first time, and sometimes she went for a while without realizing that her line no longer had a hook on the end. I (Joylani) believe this is to account for the lack of fish I caught. Matt on the other hand…I’ll let him explain why he didn’t catch any fish. I (Matt) actually hooked Joylani’s line once and I got the captain’s once too. Once, I pulled up a big ball of fishing line (note: if you try to “cast” further, don’t ball up your line, weight, and hook and then throw it- it won’t untangle underwater). Despite our failures, they graciously gave us one of captain’s catches for dinner.


  • Dress Code. The Maldives are a predominantly European destination and Embudu was geared towards Germans. The dress code for men was generally Speedos. There were a large number of black bikinis, rather than colorful ones you see in places like Hawaii. Women generally dressed up for dinner, while the men wore the same t-shirts every night. With sand covering most of the island, including the hotel lobby, going barefoot was the general norm.
  • The water. 80F temps year round. Perfect visibility. What more to say?


  • Snorkeling. Three years ago, the Maldivian reefs showed me that snorkeling could be awesome, not just some touristy gimmick to do when on Oahu. Although I’ve (Matt) snorkeled quite a bit since then, this is by far the best snorkeling since my last visit. Reef fish, stingrays, sharks, turtles, coral, and so on inhabited the reef just off-shore from our island. We could snorkel at our leisure, not needing to schedule a boat to take us out to the reef. Swimming out over the channel connecting the shallows to the outer edge of the reef gave a flying sensation as the sea floor below us dropped off several meters. Each time we went out snorkeling we would notice something new from the funny little polyps growing on the coral to dainty jellies floating near the surface. We made up our own names for the fish we saw—Laker fish (for the yellow, black, and purple stripes), unicorn fish (actually the real name), the ones-with-the-blue-eyeshadow…God was sure having fun when he made all those funny little fish and sea creatures. Seeing the sealife out of the water was exciting too. I guess I never really thought about fish and stuff doing fun things, but when we were out there on the water, we saw all different types of fish jumping out of the water or dancing across the water on their tails. On our island-hopping excursion, we ran into a pod a dolphins and dozens of them were just jumping in the air doing flips or rolls. It was cool to see wild animals doing these things.


talk about a “sky-on-fire” sunset

  • The Characters. Some our highlights were the other guests on Embudu. From the old German guy on our excursions to the Spanish lady with the nephew, to the animated Austrian guy, our fellow guests were interesting and hugely entertaining. After typing the stories, we realize they’re not going to be as entertaining to you as it was for us to observe the other guests, but here are a few short descriptions of our aforementioned favorites. Night fishing was where we met the man in the black socks. He was a friendly old fellow who always seemed to be striking up conversations with the other guests. Later encounters with this friendly German fellow included our island hopping trip, sightings at dinner, and once Matt spotted him walking backwards 20 yards from his room to the water in full snorkel gear and a turquoise speedo. He had traded in his black shoes and socks for fins. The first couple nights we shared a table with other guests; our favorite was the Austrian guy who was happy to practice his English with us. We conversed on the fish, food, and, of course, Arnold. Between meals we’d spot him around the island doing various things from snorkeling to walking on his slack line. (If you’ve ever read Go Dog Go, it was kind of like the poodle and the spotted dog.) Our other tablemate was a Spanish woman who filled us in on the plight of her nephew who was unhappily stuck in a contract working at one of the other Maldivian resorts (what a tough situation right- stuck on a Maldivian atoll). She had come to comfort him and even though she couldn’t stay at the island where he was working, she planned to speak with him on the phone each day to help coach him through his crisis. At the end of her stay, she informed us that her nephew had decided to terminate his contract and would only be working for 2 more months, per the early termination terms. Happily though, the nephew had managed to pick up a Filipina fiancé during his short tenure in the Maldives and the auntie now had a new project to focus on: finding the fiancé work in Spain. Oh the life of a Spanish auntie: snorkel by day, solve the family problems by night. All our musings about our fellow guests made us wonder one thing…what must they think of us?


we might’ve looked kinda funny to other tourists…


Anniversary Voyage


164_6445-4.JPGFor our first anniversary, I took Joylani to Yosemite National Park. Ignoring the low tire treads we noticed on the way there, we consequently spent the entire morning of our first anniversary in a tow-truck (using all of AAA’s maximum allowance of 100 miles per tow) to Modesto. Needless to say, I was hoping the morning of our second anniversary would turn out better. I had inquired about sailing a couple of times during the week and knew to head for the Watersports Office (a shed covering windsurfing gear and kayaks) and look for a guy wearing sunglasses (Haleem). So after breakfast (which also beat the meager meal of left-over champagne and fig newtons we had a year earlier), we headed all 200 feet to the “office.” Sitting in chair-swing hanging from a tree next to the shed was sunglasses man, Haleem. Aside from the sunglasses he was sporting a Embudu polo, shorts, and bare feet. If it wasn’t for the Embudu shirt, I may have mistaken him for a tourist relaxing. He wasn’t doing anything, just slightly swinging and staring off into space. He looked like a kid just daydreaming there. Assuming he was awake, I asked, “Is this where we line up catamaran sailing?”

Not moving, he replied, “Yeah.”

“Uh, okay, well what options do you have?”


“Yea, like you have a one-hour sailing and a four hour sailing? What things can we do?”

He still hadn’t changed positions, except to twist his chair a bit more towards us, but replied, “What you want to do?”

“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking. If we do the one hour what can we do?”

“I take you snorkeling, see some big shark. Big stingray.”

“If we go snorkeling, how long are we in the water?”

“Depends on the weather. Some days we can sail fast, some days slow.”

“How about the weather today.”

“Weather is good today.”

“And the four hour sailing?”

“We can do the same thing. Maybe go to some sandbank, maybe another island.”

“Yea, that sounds good.” Unmoved by my comment, I added, “We’d like to do that.”

“You want to do four hour sailing?”


“When you want to go? Now?”

“Yea, now’s good,” I replied, at which point he chuckled as if he realized he would finally have to move.


Joylani before the sailing….notice storm in background

We met at the catamaran five minutes later. While Joylani and I had grabbed some water, sunscreen, and waterproof camera, Haleem had beached the craft. We threw our water and sunscreen in one of the hulls and secured our snorkel gear to the netting. We hopped in before Haleem pushed off from beach and hopped in himself, frantically pulling all sorts of ropes and lines. We were immediately racing across the lagoon towards the reef. The catamaran went right over the reef and into the open sea, easily clearing the shallow coral below. I haven’t yet mentioned that it was the windiest morning yet, producing the first white caps we’d seen all week. Once we got out on the water and were on the other side of the island, we could see a storm obscuring any view of Male and the nearby islands. Apparently the reef was below the storm, because we headed straight into it. Within five minutes of leaving sunny Embudu, we were being tossed about in a storm. Sheets of cold rain pelted us as we rode the endless dunes of water. As the wind picked up, Haleem had us all sit one side to weigh it down- the other hull bounced up and down off the ocean’s surface with each wave and gust. Our side bounced quite a bit too, but it was nice as the splashes of ocean water felt incredibly warm (Maldivian waters are about 80 F year-round). Splashing is an understatement, as each walls of water that came at us could easily completely drench even a dry person. Haleem remained calm in the midst of all this. Almost too calm in light of the fact that it seemed the wind would blow us over, but it somehow reassured me. He also verbally reassured us that it would be good weather after the storm passed through. Once the winds calmed, we got going again, making our way to a large underwater plateau of coral.


Joylani 5 minutes later…


Hopping out into warm neck-high water, we were soon surrounded by huge stingrays. They were by far the largest ones I have ever seen. Even the cloudy storm water, we could see them circling around us, their long tails trailing behind them. One had a half-dozen fish swimming on its back. The larger lemon sharks eluded us, although Haleem claimed he spotted a few from the boat. After 30 minutes or so in the water, we hopped back aboard and set off for a sandbank. We had been to the same sandbank on our island-hopping excursion the day before, but I enjoy sailing (at least all the times I’ve been) and Joylani really enjoyed the sandbank the day before. The wind was strong and we sped south. Again, we all sat on the left hull. We pretty much sailed the entire way on the left hull, while the right one just skimmed and bounced off the surface of the water. It was kind of like watching those old rap music videos where they’re driving old Cadillacs on just the left wheels. But just as before, we got drenched. The hull crashed up and down as we traversed the waves coming from the west. Every couple of minutes, the front of the hull would momentarily dip below the surface, digging up and tossing buckets of seawater on us. The hour sailing south was spent mostly hanging on to the boat with one hand and continually wiping water from our eyes with the other. The sandbank was enjoyable but not very eventful. We walked around the small beach and took a couple pictures and spent the duration of our time snorkeling around the perimeter of the surrounding reef.


sandbar in the middle of the Indian Ocean!

The trip back to Embudu was much the same as the trip to the sandbank- rough and wet. I’ve written a bit about my daydreams leading up to this whole RTW trip; one of them was instigated whenever I browsed through Lonely Planet’s “The World Book” (which was always on our coffee table) and stumbled across the Kiribati page or the Solomon Islands page. The large spreads depicting men sailing or kids playing in the blue water. Not deep blue or dark blue water, but blue blue. The truest blue imaginable. And here we were, sailing across just that. Our anniversary sailing trip was the highlight of my week and I cannot think of better way to spend our anniversary than sailing across the endless ocean blue. Well, it beats a tow truck at least.


Is there anything better than this?


and how could I pass up posting this post-sailing pic of Joylani :)