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 :) )

Leaving Thailand and Arriving in Malaysia

joylani-thumbnail.JPGWe mistakenly read one of the departure times as the arrival time for our van to reach the Thai/Malay border. I guess we’re out of practice after not taking any long rides in a while. The ride through the southern tip of Thailand was surprisingly Keralan-esque with numerous coconut palms, mosques, and men in longhie-like sarongs and caps walking or cycling on the side of the road. We passed through several military checkpoints, a reminder of the ever present tensions in the south. Thankfully things turned out fine and although we arrived at the border 3 hours later than expected, crossing was much easier than we thought with hardly a wait on either side, and just a short walk between the checkpoints. (We prefer to not arrive in new places, especially new countries at dusk/dark because it is difficult to orient oneself, and we never know how long border formalities will take.) As we walked out of immigration I was surprised that no one came up to us to offer a cab or money changing services. After a short wait, we caught a local bus to Kotu Baru, where we would spend the night. I was impressed by so many people’s ability to speak seemingly great English, even the local bus drivers. It definitely made arriving an easy process. As we got off the bus a couple people seemed to want to tout us to a hotel, but after asking the usual, “Where are you going?” They responded to our answer with directions on how to get there on our own. It was really refreshing. We went India-style on the hotel and looked at several before choosing a clean and friendly place. Despite having a shared bath down the hall, it reminded me more of dorm-life than other shared-bath places we’ve stayed which mostly just feel gross. Our first 24 hours in Malaysia began the same way Thailand ended with confusion about the time, this time about the actual time and it wasn’t until a day later that we realized we were in a new time zone. (Which could have potentially messed us up with transportation this morning, but luckily we were ok.) Otherwise, the transition to Malaysia has been smooth sailing…until we went to Perhention.

Into Malaysia

164_6445-4.JPG Today was another long border crossing day. We didn’t have to go from Krabi to the border all in one day, but let me explain the alternatives. One alternative would have been to stay in Hat Yai or the Thai border town of Sungai Kolok tonight and cross the border tomorrow, but both places have reputations as seedy prostitute-filled towns catering to Malaysian and Singaporean men looking for some action. We could have stayed elsewhere on the route between Krabi and Sungai Kolok, such as Yala. Yala, however, is the epicenter of violence that has engulfed several southern Thai provinces. Every few days, the Bangkok Post reports bombings in the south. The bombing campaign is being carried out by southern separatists. Although there is much pubic discussion on the possibility and consequences of giving the south some degree of autonomy, the separatists have continued their bombings. So with the option of staying in a hooker town where hotels charge by the hour, staying in a region with several bombings a week, or embarking on a long travel day, the choice was somewhat easy.

            I don’t think we’ve ever woken up past six on a border crossing day and today was no different. By seven, we were in a van on our way to Malaysia. The only funny thing to report about were these two British college students. One was in the back row with us and one was in the middle row, when we stopped and our driver jumped out real quick to run an errand or something. The guy next to me said to his mate, “James, can you let me out, I gotta piss.” James, apparently, replied, “Uh, I don’t think this is a stop.” I’m not sure why the guy James didn’t move his chair for his buddy, but the dude next to me went ballistic: “James! I don’t give a f#@&! You don’t know how desperate I am!” He proceeded to climb over the seats, open the door, and run to a field where he relieved himself. I don’t know why I found it so funny, whether it was his elfish face, his bipolar outburst, or his British accent, but it was pretty entertaining. In Hat Yai, we discovered we had to switch vans, which was an unpleasant surprise considering we assumed the bus was direct to the border. We never assume, which is why Joylani said we’ve lost our edge after traveling with my parents. We did have to stop at about 10 different military checkpoints on the highway and once even had to show our passports, but the military presence did add a sense of security to our drive through terrorist land. We finally did arrive at the border at around 3:30. Luckily, the border crossing was perhaps the easiest land-border-crossing we’ve had yet.

Last Meal



joylani 130pxIn the last few weeks, bbq chicken sticks and sticky rice have risen to the top of my most desired foods lists. Matt and I first got into these when we spent a few days in Kanchanaburi. The chicken lady parked her stall right on the main road outside of our guesthouse in front of the 7-11. Initially the inviting aroma started my craving, but after my first bite, the delicious flavor kept me going back each day to buy more for either lunch or a pre-dinner snack. The chewy texture of the glutinous sticky rice is a perfect compliment to tender, marinated and grilled to perfection—not too dry, but a little crispy on the edges. Tonight I poured a bag of brownish-red chili sauce on my chicken stick and was delighted by the tangy sweet flavor which was reminiscent of A-1 sauce with a Thai twist—the addition of fiery chilies. I’m not tough enough to actually eat the chilies, after pouring the sauce over my chicken I flicked off all the red peppers and white seeds, but they had been in the sauce long enough to impart that sensational not spicy but more like “ahhhh”—a fiery burning sort of sensation into the flavor of the sauce. Basically, it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted.



Matt actually had the pork, not the chicken, but you can still see how good it tasted.

In the waters around Ko Phi Phi


joylani 130pxNo fish were harmed in the making of this photo.  Only Matt suffered a small bite to the throat from a confused fish.


And yes, this father and son are Russian, in case you were wondering.


Koh Phi Phi


 164_6445-4.JPGSince my parents left, we’ve had a few disappointing days and destinations. But today we broke that streak. Today was one of those days that makes the bad ones worth it, one of those days that reminds us why we travel and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Today we ventured to Koh Phi Phi, which is actually two islands, the large and overly touristed Phi Phi Don and the smalled uninhabited Phi Phi Leh. Both are within a protected marine area, although you wouldn’t know it by Phi Phi Don’ mini Khao San. Our first stop was to Monkey Beach, a beautiful beach on Phi Phi Don which is inaccessible from land. It was an inexplicably beautiful beach: white sand sandwiched between clear green water and thick green jungle. We jumped off the boat and snorkeled for a while before swimming in to the beach. Looking out, I thought about Thailand is a land of green water, as the various islands and beaches we’ve visited have always had the most beautiful hues of green. Even in places where the water clarity wasn’t perfect like here, the colors of the ocean have always been superb. I think I read somewhere that Thailand’s green-tinted shores are the result of dissolved limestone, but I could be mistaken.

            Our second stop was at the mythical Maya Bay, which embodied the dual nature of Phi Phi: beautiful beyond belief and so crowded with tourists the place itself is barely visible. Made famous as the filming location of “The Beach,” hordes of people have since descended on it, kind of like in the book and film. It’s a pale green bay almost completely enclosed by limestone cliffs. Speedboats waited for daytrippers on the left end of the beach, with longtails at the right end, and all manner of pink and sun-burnt people covering the beach. Despite the crowds, I’d still say it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Here’s some photos, you can judge for yourself.

            Following Maya Bay, we saw a couple other bays, stopped for some snorkeling at an offshore reef, and stopped for lunch at Phi Phi Don. There was nothing really to note about the overbuilt Phi Phi Don, except to remember the thousands of people that died there in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Geographically, it was one of the worst hit areas and the casualties were worsened by the fact that tons of Christmas partiers had slept on the beach the night before. The highlight of our afternoon though, was our final stop at Bamboo Island. It was another white sand beach, which curved around the perimeter of the small island. We contented ourselves at one of the far ends of the beach, near a black rocky outcrop of volcanic rock. Coral was more prominent than sand in some places, but the water was warm and clear. It was a peaceful and uncrowded beach, which was the perfect way to wind down our excellent day.


Monkey Beach- not a bad way to start our day…clear water and white powdery sand


Maya Bay, a surreal place


Oh yea, all these people came to see Maya Bay too…



this is what happens when you drop a banana in the ocean



and this is what happens when you drop a piece of bread in the ocean…


Bamboo Beach to end our day…

Where are we again…


joylani 130pxI keep forgetting we’re in Thailand still. The relaxing stint with Matt’s parents, followed by a couple of nights at freakishly Waikiki-like beaches has left me stumbling off the longtail into Southern Thailand. Southern Thailand is different enough from Northern Thailand that after our luxurious interlude and not so luxurious transition back, I feel as though we’re in a new country. Malaysia perhaps? There are many more women wearing headscarves, we haven’t seen any Thai-pop karaoke in a while, and the people look different. But no, it’s still Thailand. Malaysia will come soon enough.

We’re in Krabi town right now. Matt’s taking a practice test, and I am trying to catch up on the blog, which is sadly over a month behind. We’re in our hotel lobby/restaurant, taking advantage of the free internet. It just finished down pouring outside, and cars are breezing by on a wet road beneath a grey and gloomy sky. Rugby is silently being played on the TV, and an eclectic mix of music loudly plays over the speakers—Dixie Chicks, Johnny Cash, Eminem, lots of punk and some weird Irish song about green alligators. It’s an afternoon that feels just right. Just about anyways. Our last couple days until now were a bit restless as we tried to find the right spot to unwind at a beach before heading to Malaysia. Unfortunately our first stop reminded us of Waikiki only there were no spam musubi, Leonard’s malasadas or Hawaiian Suns. After less than a day, we hightailed it out of there for the Railay beaches, hoping for something a little less billabonged-out. The west and south facing beaches were stunning with gem-toned waters and striking limestone outcroppings (karsts) bursting out of the landscape creating sheer vertical cliffs along the shoreline and islands in the sea. Unfortunately the weather was unfavorable, and the food was not that great. After an afternoon and a day, we left for Krabi town where we hoped we’d at least find a food cart selling bbq chicken or something…thankfully, we did. :) Krabi has a really great night-food market as well as a great regular market. Neither is too big nor too small and many tasty treats can be found in each. The abundance of good food has been a consolidation for our failed attempts at staying closer to the beach. Unlike the other places in Krabi province, Krabi town is so far so good. Thankfully, Krabi is located close enough to make day-trips to neighboring beaches and islands, such as Ko Phi Phi where we plan to go tomorrow. So hopefully that will be ok.

Krabi…the place

164_6445-4.JPGAfter two unsuccessful attempts at finding a chill beach to stay at, we called it quits and headed to Krabi, Our rationale was that, from Krabi, we could make day trips to various beaches, while enjoying the comforts of a real town: a normal room, quality food, and local atmosphere. The past two days have fortunately proven that rationale to rational. We’ve found a cool American-run place (foreign-run places know what foreign travelers want/need), amazing street food which is to be expected in Thailand, and a plethora of options for exploring the area’s beaches and islands. Its not the idyllic beach getaway we were originally looking for, but its so much more normal here; Thais populate the town, there’s regular stores and eateries, and its overall more conducive to life rather than tourism. Upon leaving Phuket, our plan was to find a place we like and stay for a few days. Although we had a couple of misfires and will probably only stay in Krabi for three nights, we feel like we’re back on track.



164_6445-4.JPGYesterday we departed Ao Nang in search of something better, but it seems we’ve found the opposite. It was a short boat trip from Ao Nang to Railay, a trio of mainland beaches that can only be reached by boat due to a limestone cliffs. Approaching Railay and hopping out of the boat into the pretty beach’s clear, warm water, made a pleasant first impression. Beautiful limestone karsts framed the green bay. We walked across the narrow isthmus from West Railay where we were dropped to the budget-oriented East Railay. East Railay, itself is not a very good beach, but its just a five minute walk to two spectacular ones. Unfortunately for us and like Ao Nang, we found the quality of guesthouses in Railay to be severely lacking relative to the rates they charged. I am fine paying more for quality, but it’s the worst feeling when we shell out a lot of money to stay at a junky place. In fact, even though our rooms in Ao Nang and Railay were mediocre at best, they were two of the most expensive rooms we’ve stayed in this trip. On the plus side, Railay was scenic, but the food and prices were disappointing. Despite those two factors, we would have left today anyways, due purely to the demographics here. Its only tourists here- no Thais except workers, no permanent residents or families, no regular stores other than souvenir shops, and no local food- its not a “real” place, just a destination for Europeans to be served in bars, clubs, and expat cafes.

This morning, we beat the crowds to beautiful Nang Phra beach and enjoyed the quiet beach. Nonetheless, one night in Railay was enough for us, so when checkout time rolled around, we grabbed our packs, waded out into the ocean, and tossed our bags into the next boat leaving for Krabi.


Low-tide at East Railay

Back to Backpacking


The context of this post: We woke up in a villa suite at a five star resort and went to sleep in dark cube with a bed in it.

164_6445-4.JPGThis morning, we bid farewell to my parents as they headed to the airport to catch their flight to Bangkok and eventually home. Joylani and I hitched a ride in their taxi, which dropped us off on the main highway. After waving goodbye as they drove off, we were back to our former vagabonding. It was only ten or fifteen minutes before we flagged down a bus that was headed to Krabi. We talked a bit on the three hour bus ride, but Joylani mainly slept as I thought (I think I still need a few days to process the past ten). We were back in form when we pulled into the Krabi bus station though, waving away touts and finding a sawngthaew to take us to Krabi’s main beach, Ao Nang. Arriving in Ao Nang, we reverted to our old strategy of finding a room in hot weather: Joylani stayed with the bags, while I scoured the town for a room. Most places were full (it was past 4pm), but I did find a couple available rooms and chose the one I disliked the least. It was terribly overpriced due to the high demand this time of year, but it was a room. Walking to and from dinner, we decided we’d seen enough of Ao Nang. Boats cluttered and polluted the beach, senior package tourists infested the touristy town, and the quality and service in the restaurants and our guesthouse was low, yet overpriced. We know standards and comfort will lower than they have been of late, but this is ridiculous. Tomorrow, we’ll be on the move again.