Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

21 05 2009

Selamat Detang
May 18th, 2009 – May 21, 2009

Selamat Detang means ‘Welcome’ in the Malaysian!!

Getting to the Perhentian Islands was no easy task let me tell you!!! First we had to fly into Kuala Lumpur… then take another flight to Kota Bharu. From there we took a one hour taxi ride to Kuala Bessut, and then we had to take a ‘fast’ boat'(which was quite a nauseating and semi-traumatic experience) to the Perhentian Islands. Our day started at 6:00am and we finally got to the Islands at 5:00pm!!!

Everything that we were told about the Islands was true… it really is paradise here! The water is by far the most crystal clear emerald green water I have ever seen! If you look far into the sea, it slowly changes to a light and then a sapphire blue.

The Perhentian Islands consists of two Islands within the Island. Besar, which means ‘Big’ Island is on one side and then ‘Kecil’ which is the smaller Island. One side of Kecil is called ‘Coral Bay’ which is the rocky, coraly side of the beach… good for snorkeling. Long Beach is on the other side of Kecil which is just pure sand and water… good for just relaxing and hanging out in the water or catching up on a good book while tanning. We were staying at the ‘Shari-La’ which is on the Coral Bay side… though we did end up spending most of our time on the Long Beach side. Both sides are nice, but if you are going to venture out to these Islands, which I strongly recommend… I would suggest staying on the Long Beach side – it’s just a little more inviting. And then you can always take the 8 minute trek through the woods to Coral Bay if you decide to snorkel!

When we first got to our Chalet, we were in for quite the treat. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that Zaileen and I have put the backpacking lifestyle behind us and are sadly pure city girls… through and through! So when we were greeted by a little lizard crawling on the floor as we entered our room… we were slightly less than pleased! Fortunately we had bought a massive bottle of ‘Raid’ just before we came here, so we were able to get rid of it before it ate us!! I won’t go on and on and on about the ‘toilet in the shower’ fiasco that we had to experience again… but lets just say that we spent most of our time outside of our room!!!

There wasn’t much adventure at the Islands… these few days have been all about relaxing and soaking in the sun. We spent an entire day in the ocean and on the beach… most amazing day ever!!! Because we were at long beach all day, by the time we were actually ready to go to back to our chalet on the Coral side, it was too dark to walk back so we had to take the night ‘water taxi.’ This entailed sitting in a little boat and sailing into pitch dark, enduring the incredibly bumpy ride while our boat driver steered us for the next 15 minutes to the other side. I think this is one experience that all four of us will probably remember forever as a highlight of this trip!

The Perhentian Islands is definitely the place to be if you want to experience true ‘Island Living’… taking long walks on the beach, having fresh seafood meals everyday, meeting random people who just decided to pick up and move to the Islands on a whim because they realized how awesome it is, spending countless hours in the water… getting completely burnt to a crisp because of it… but loving every second of it!!!! If this is your idea of a vacation (minus getting burnt of course) try to fit this place into your schedule when planning a trip to this side of the world.

Oh one last thing… we finally got to have some ‘Roti Canai’!!! A must if you ever travel to Malaysia! It’s one of the dishes this country is known for…. warm roti with a choice of a number of different fillings… they even had snickers with banana!! Sooooooooooooooo yummy!!!!


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

18 05 2009

Angkor What… Angkor Wat!!
May 15, 2009 – May 18, 2009

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 7:00pm on May 15th and arranged a taxi from the airport to our hotel… Mr Souvath was his name I think. Mr Souvath was a nice enough guy I guess, but he was so persistent on being our ‘tour guide’ while we were in town and I hate being pressured into things… so this made me slightly cranky (I know – hard to believe right!).

Siem Reap is a super cute little town that neighbours the famous Angkor Wat which is about 15 minutes away from the town. Angkor Wat is an enormous temple complex that was built for the King in the early 12th century…though I think parts of it were constructed in the 6th-7th Century. The temples are really a city in themselves. There are a bunch of different ones, with Angkor Wat being the biggest and the main one. The Wat was originally a Hindu religious site, and then later became Buddhist. During our first day there we went to see Bayon and Angkor Thom in the morning and then Ta Prom in the afternoon. The next day was dedicated to exploring Angkor Wat itself.

If I could actually explain in words how massive and amazing these temples are, I probably wouldn’t be doing it justice. They were HUGE and so beautiful!!!!!! It really looks like they all came straight out of a fairytale. Farhan put it so perfectly when he said there is something so “majestic” about Angkor Wat. To think something like this was actually build in the 6th century completely blows my mind. We got up really early in the morning on our second day there to go and see the Temple at sunrise… so 5:00am (minus Zaileen who is now the sick one of the group), and then went again in the evening to be there during the sunset at 6:00pm. It started to rain quite a bit during the sunset period so we really didn’t get one, but the sunrise was breathtaking. As soon as we are back home, we’ll but up some of the 700 (not exaggerating) pictures Farhan took of all of the temples, including the sunrise.

Oh yes, that driver that I told you made me cranky at the beginning of the trip… we ended up giving him a call and using him to drive us to and from Angkor Wat during the two days we were there. In fact, he even took us to the pharmacy when we need to pick up some meds for germy Zaileen… and to drop off and pick up our laundry – twice! By the end of it he had won my heart and I decided he was the sweetest guy on the planet.

There isn’t much else I can tell you in this post since all we really did was explore the temples, and when we weren’t doing that, we were relaxing by the pool at our hotel. During our last night there we did go and watch some Cambodian dancing which was a great cultural experience. I thought Indian Costumes were extravagant… you should see Cambodian stage dressing – wow!!!

And before I forget… everytime our driver would drop us to a spot at the Wat, or pick us up… a slew of little kids would surround us and try to sell us things “You want post card ma’am, one dolla. Here flute…nice – you buy one dolla.” One little girl pointed to the sweat band I was wearing on my wrist and said to me ‘This nice. I like it… when you come back, you give to me because I like it okay.” – too cute they were! When we were walking towards one of the temples there were 4 or 5 little girls playing a game and they came up to us for a moment and asked us if we wanted any postcards, after we politely declined, they went and continued playing their game. There was one little girl there in her cute little purple outfit who didn’t really say much. She just looked at me with her big brown eyes and smiled, and as we all walked away she yells out… ‘Good Luck for you.. Good Luck for you.” I almost died… she was the sweetest little pudding ever! After we finished our exploring of that place and walked by them again to leave, I don’t think any of us could help ourselves, we had to stop and chat with them… gave them a little money and bonded with them as they explained to us this game they were playing. I’ll never forget that little purple cutie… she’s probably the cutest little button I’ve seen so far.

The best story of all of them is Farhan’s experience I think. The driver had dropped us off to Angkor Wat in the early evening at around 4:15pm and as usual, a swarm of little kids jumped all over us… selling postcards, bracelets, necklaces, instruments… you name it! One little girl went up to Farhan and asked him his name. Farhan knew she wouldn’t be able to say ‘Farhan’ since most non-ismaili’s can’t… so to save her the trouble, he said ‘Ali’. The little girl says to him, ‘Okay I write a letter for you when you come back.’ So off we went to the temple, and when we came back, Farhan had decided to buy some things from the kids so we could remember them. You probably guessed it… the little girl who had developed an instant bond with Farhan actually did write him a letter on the back of a postcard she had set aside for him. It started with ‘Dear Ali’. I laughed a little when I read that part. I’d like to quote the whole letter she wrote but it’s already stored away for safe keeping. As soon as I get my hands on it… I will come back and update this part. I do remember that she had drawn a flower on the card for him and said something to the effect of ‘ I hope you like this flower I drew for you. Please always remember me and come back one day. You are very handsome and have a very nice smile. I wish you good luck in your future. I wish you lots of good luck. ” So sweet right!!! She was a cutie…. they all were. I think one of the best parts of this particular trip was definitely the kids!!!

Now onto the Perhentian Islands for some relaxing beach time!!!!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

15 05 2009

Eye Opener
May 14, 2009 – May 15, 2009

Our Cambodia experience has been document worthy right from the moment we boarded the ‘Bus’!!! So at 6:30am we arrived at the bus stop we were told to wait at in Vietnam and we waited patiently for our bus… and we waited and we waited. We thought for sure that we had missed it – but really the driver had decided to wait down the street and assume people would just know to go there! WTF!!! Anyhow… eventually we got onto the bus that was playing very loud Vietnamese music and a Vietnamese movie as well. It was … different! I wish I knew Vietnamese though because this movie was apparently hilarious!

Tip – If you ever do decide to be adventurous and take a bus for one route… take it between cities rather than countries!! See when you are taking a bus between countries, you still need to cross the boarder- one tiny detail we forgot. In order to cross the boarder, we had to get off of the bus after about 2 hours, go through customs at the Vietnam Boarder… which entailed everyone giving their passports to the attendant and then waiting for your name to be called before going through the gate! I had to wait to hear my name among hundreds of others in this little room.. no heat, no microphone… just wait! and of course, my name was the last to be called… naturally!! Then we get back on the bus, drive for about 3 minutes to the Cambodian Boarder and go through it all over again to get into Cambodia! It was a good experience and I’m glad I did it… but 6 hrs later, I think I will fly next time!

We were only in Cambodia for a day… from 2:30pm on the 14th until 6:30pm on the 15th. Considering it was only one day… we accomplished quite a bit…

As soon as we got to the bus station… a bunch of tuk-tuk / cab drivers swarmed us. Finally we told one guy all of the luggage we had and he said ‘no problem – $2.00USD.’ Can’t really go wrong with that can you… we followed him, thinking it was a normal car if it was going to fit all of our luggage… but, I was wrong. This guy managed to fit 3 huge suitcases, 2 duffle bags, 1 carry-on and four people onto his little tuk-tuk! We were all completely cramped in.. squished by our bags, but – as they say… when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

Once we got settled in our room… our room where the toilet is actually in the shower, we set out to do some exploring. The first thing I have to tell you… Cambodia officially has the cutest kids ever! I kid you not, everywhere you look, there are these cutie little kids and babies smiling and laughing and being all sweet and shy. So flippin cute!! Good on you Angelina!!!

Phnom Penh consists of about a million people…many of them on scooters or driving considerably nice cars!! Farhan described it as the “Dar-Es-Salaam’ of Cambodia. It’s a very slow paced environment here… Kiosks and food stands everywhere. People are out and about, if not actively working or doing something, than just sitting on their bikes on at a table, chilling and not really doing much. It’s incredibly hot in this city… make sure you have tons of water with you when you are walking about!

After getting a bite to eat at this little Cambodian Restaurant near the riverfront, (and seeing an elephant casually walking the streets as we were in mid meal… i swear it’s true!) we of course somehow stumbled upon Phnom Penh’s famous night market. They were playing Justin and T.I, Fergie, Ciara… all in Cambodian! It was awesome… I had to stop and really listen before I realized that none of what I thought sounded familiar was even in English.

We ended our day with a Khemer Massage!! I was surprised to see that the person who would be my masseuse looked like quite a young girl… I think it was like that for all of us actually. So anyway, as soon as we got in there, the ladies all sat us down in this lobby area, washed our feet and then lead us to another room together…. and then they said, ‘take off your clothes.’ We were just like … ‘All of them? Really? Ummm no thank you?” I’m not sure if they actually understood what we were saying, but they could definitely tell by the body language that we weren’t feeling it… and once they realized that, they separated us and we all ended up getting amazing massages! Felt so bloody fantastic after that… definitely needed it after that bus ride!!

So the place we are staying at is called ‘Hotel Cara’ – not a bad place actually… free internet! Can’t go wrong. There is a club across from it called “Emerald’ and then a bunch of little restaurants next to it. Our plan was to go to one of the restaurants and then maybe check out Emerald. The first couple restaurants were closed so we went to the one that was obviously open and looked quite lively. We walked in, Farhan and I hand in hand, likewise with Zai and Haji, and about 12 young girls are sitting at the front lined up sitting in chairs. As soon as we entered, they all stood up and started to greet us. I thought it was rather unusual, but we continued on into the restaurant anyway… the moment we sat down – about 4-5 waiters/hosts rushed our table asking us if we wanted any beer, and what we wanted to drink. I was so confused by all of it. When I told the guy to give us a minute to look at the menu, he looked a little bothered by it, but was still polite and let us be. The lady on Farhan’s side of the table wasn’t so accomodating though. She stood there persistently, waiting. Zaileen and I started getting a little uncomfortable with it all… so we looked around to see if anyone else was maybe experiencing what we were. It seemed like the place was filled with couples… younger made up girls with slightly older men. Draw whatever conclusions you’d like from this description… all we knew was that we walked into the wrong place at the wrong time and this was definitely our cue to leave!!

As soon as we walked out of the ‘restaurant’ there was a tuk-tuk sitting there… the driver insisted on being the one to drive us to where we wanted to go…. Mara was his name. We drove to a place called “Metro’ based on recommendation. Apparently they have really good Ambli (Tamarind) Martini’s there. Not too often you can say you had one of those! We decided we were going to eat at the place across from Metro first and then go there for a drink or two, and then we’d catch a tuk-tuk home for an early day tomorrow. But Mara insisted on waiting for us until we were ready to go home. Even though we said we’d be a while, 2-3hrs later…. Mara was sitting and waiting patiently for us when we left Metro (very cool and trendy place by the way… good Ambli Martini). When we got home, Mara asked us if he could be our driver tomorrow. Since we weren’t totally sure of what we were going to do, we told him it was okay and that we were actually going to the airport the next day. He said ‘No no, its okay. I sleep here, wait for you tomorrow.’ We told him again that it was okay… such a sweet man he was.

The next day… you guessed it, Mara has slept in his tuk-tuk outside, waiting for us. Since we didn’t have to go to the airport until about 430pm, we did some site seeing and Mara was with us every step of the way! We went to the Central Market and then to the Russian Market! There really wasn’t much bargaining to be had here… these sellers weren’t having it – most of them didn’t even entertain the idea of the word ‘discount!’

After the markets, we hit the museums… National and Tuol Sleng (S21). The National Museum was beautiful…. very well manicured. It’s very clear that Cambodian’s take a lot of pride in their home and their history. The National museum was full of artifacts from Angkor Wat which is the temple we are going to see in Siem Reap, Cambodia after we leave Phnom Pen. If you are planning to go to Angkor Wat and happened to be in Phnom Penh first, the National Museum is a good place to go to so you can get some background on the ‘Wat’ before you get there.

Tuol Sleng (S21)… this was the main site to see of all sites in Phnom Penh. Tuol Sleng Museum is an old high school that was turned into a detention centre during the Khemer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979. Over two million people were killed in Phnom Penh during this period… and this includes small children, to teenagers, adults and especially educated professional people. The detention centre was converted into a museum to honour those who were murdered during this regime. The museum holds a lot of evidence and pictures of all of the people who were killed. We saw pictures of babies, women, little boys, men. We saw the tiny cells they were held in, and actual pictures of them victims after they had been killed. This truly was the most eye-opening and tragic site we’ve seen. My heart still hurts a little everytime I think about what all of those people must have gone through and how not only Phnom Penh, but all of Cambodia was affected. If you google ‘Khemer Rouge’ a ton of sites will come up if you want to learn more about it. Here are a couple that I found.

Overall, Phnom Penh was a very short but such a worthwhile trip… We saw yet another way of life for people in the world, gained some education about Cambodian History and got to see some of it first hand. We ended our time here by seeing a bunch of monkeys running across the wires near our hotel after our good friend Mara dropped us home!

See you in Siem Reap… home of the Angkor Wat!

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

14 05 2009


May 12, 2009-May 14th, 2009

“Come on” means ”Thank You” in Vietnamese! We are now in Ho Chi Minh City, which actually used to be called Saigon… and Saigon means ‘Cotton Tree.’ Another cool fact… there is no letter ‘F’ in the Vietnamese alphabet. So here… we would be known as Arhan and Arah!!

Vietnam has been an absolutely fantastic experience! In our cab ride on the way from the airport to the hotel… the first thing we all noticed was that ours was one of the few cars on the road. Everyone here drives a scooter! They even have separate lanes for cars and scooters in some areas. And from the looks of things, I don’t think there is much of an age limit on when you can own one of these things. It was 8:00am when we arrived and the road was packed to the max with scooters…souped up ones too. We even saw one with a Louis Vuitton seat on it! Hilarious!!! I think all of our jaw’s dropped when we saw a pregnant lady (at least 7 months) sitting on the back of one sideways…. and of course, there were tons of people who were sitting one behind the other and then a teeny weeny little baby in the middle… on a scooter, speeding, on the road, with other fast cars… and no car seat or safety precautions in place! Have I mentioned that I am a Child Protection Social Worker? This is a social worker’s worst nightmare come true!

After the shock of the whole infant on a seat-beltless scooter was over, we began to appreciate this city for the fantastic place it really is! We got to the hotel, dropped off our bags and away we went!

Our hotel is walking distance from most of the tourist places which is in district one. The first place we went to was the famous Benh Thanh Market. Pretty much like all of the other markets we’ve been to but wow are these sellers aggressive!! We walked in and before we could even turn our heads to look at something in a store, sellers were on us. One lady told Zaileen that she was just going to find her size in something and Zaileen had to sit and wait at her store… she wasn’t allowed to go and browse anywhere else!! Well, one this is for sure… mine and Farhan’s bargaining skills are slowly getting better.

 After the market we went to eat at this great restaurant we stumbled upon called Pho 24. Great Pho!!! We were so proud of ourselves for finding it and then we realized that Pho 24 is actually the McDonalds of Ho Chi Minh; there is one restaurant on pretty much every street.

 Walking down the street is even quite the adventure here…which could be a problem since my blogs are so long as it is! Everyone is wearing straw hats and masks here… people are making omelette’s and waffles on the street… and life s wonderful. Well except for the fact that we went to a ton of pharmacy type places and not one person had any Calamine Lotion! I may come back to Calgary with no legs if I don’t find a remedy soon. So as I was saying…. walking down the street can even make for a great story. As we were walking, trying to find some Calamine, this young guy- maybe 18-19 years old, starts talking to us in Vietnamese, waving his hands to give him five. Now whether that means five dollars or some sort of a sign for drugs or the five knuckle shuffle… I have no idea. I just know that it was creepy and even though we did our best to ignore him and his antics…the guy followed us down the street. So we slowed down… he did too. We stopped and went into a random store and when we came out we thought we lost him… but, he showed up again a few minutes later when we were in some other store. Luckily he didn’t actually follow us out of that one or I think I would have made a scene. The truth is the guy was pretty tame and obviously harmless but still, he was scary…kind of like seeing ants or spiders – you know that can’t really do anything to you, but you scream a little inside whenever you see one.

In the early evening we decided to venture out past district one which is the ‘touristy’ district… and head on down to district 5 – Chinatown!! We asked out cab driver to drop us to a specific Pagoda which is supposed to be the biggest and oldest one in Vietnam. He obviously had no clue where he was going seeing as he circled the same place three times. Finally he dropped us to a pagoda in Cholon (means Big Market) which is in Chinatown… even though it was the wrong one, it was still a cool sight to see.

The minute we set foot outside of the cab in Chinatown- what a culture shock it was! I felt like we may as well have all had six legs, twelve arms and be painted purple based on the way people were looking at us. I have never felt so many eyes on me at once… and I think all four of us felt the same way. It was really like they had never seen tourists before. Seriously people… the next time you go to South East Asia – please go to Vietnam so it doesn’t seem so strange!

Since the cabbie dropped us to the wrong Pagoda, we figured we may as well try to find it on our own. This is where we learned quickly that crossing the street in Vietnam “truly is an art” as Farhan would describe. You have to take two steps forward, a few steps back, time each step perfectly… and as you are doing this, the most important thing you must do is pray! There are tons and tons of cars and scooters everywhere… and they don’t stop for you or even slow down! There are hardly any cross walks, and even if there are… they aren’t really used so much. There aren’t really even any sidewalks… in Haji’s words “they end up being parking lots for the scooters”. You just have to be aggressive and go…and hope that the scooters will at least attempt to dodge you when they see you… and lucky for us, they did! Haji was actually telling us that this morning as we were sitting in the lobby of our hotel, these two older North American ladies were getting directions to go somewhere, and five minutes later they came back into the hotel saying they ‘got lost and couldn’t cross the street so they would just take a cab.’ – If you saw the chaos… you would totally see why!

 As we were exploring Chinatown, we saw a ‘pointed roof’ amid a bunch of buildings in the distance… so we walked towards it, weaving in and out of roads and crossing all sorts of life threatening streets. It turned out to be a Church rather than a Pagoda and since services were actually going on inside we couldn’t really go beyond the gate. We did manage to ask someone to point us in the direction of at least another pagoda seeing as Chinatown is supposed to be full of them. We were given really good directions and the guy even led us there with his scooter. I was happy because even though it wasn’t the one we planned to see… at least we’d get to see a couple of them since we came all the way here. Well… at least that’s what I thought – the guy ended up leading us right back to the first one we were dropped off at in the beginning! Ah well… at least we got a good laugh out of it.

The next day… our last actual day in Vietnam, we took a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels which is an underground tunnel system designed by the Vietnamese during the war to avoid capture and American bombs. The actual tunnels are about an hour and a half away from the city centre… even though it’s only really 17 km away – this is the kind of traffic there is here! Our tour guide was named ‘Doong.’ Super cool guy, didn’t look more than 25 years old… and full of knowledge. I did find it rather hilarious that Doong had a full on Australian accent but he was born and raised in Vietnam!!!! He has never even been to Australia, or left Vietnam for that matter! He said he just ‘picked it up.’ I guess it’s kind of like Canadians and Americans who go to the UK for a few weeks and come back with British accents all of a sudden… you just want to shake them and say ‘Dude, you’re Canadian!!!!!’ (obviously not you Tash and Al). He actually turned out to be a super cool guy so I decided against hassling him about the whole accent thing.

On our way to the tour we stopped at the “Handicapped Crafts” shop (obviously there is always a catch in the tour). Everything that we saw… all of the paintings, sculptures, and carvings were all made by Handicapped people…I know it’s not really politically correct – but these are the words they used. Anyway… the art and the pieces that we saw were so incredible, such intricate detail and so professional….in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a piece of art in your home right now that was made here!

 Finally the main attraction – the Cu Chi Tunnels!! They were so so amazing… the tunnels were so deep underground and sooo tiny and narrow that they’ve actually widened them since the grounds became a tourist attraction in order accommodate North American bodies since Vietnamese people are so small and these tunnels were originally made solely to fit Vietnamese bodies. We actually went inside one of the tunnels (that ran for about 270kms) and had to squat inside of it and crawl through for about 20 metres. I was freaking out completely for just those three minutes… I can’t imagine having to do it for days on end the way they had to back then. Some of the traps that the Vietnamese made and set for the Americans were unbelievable… they really thought of everything in order to stay safe and protect themselves during the war. I was in total shock and amazement through all of it. If you want to learn more about it, check out the site….

 3/4 into the tour… we stopped at the shooting range that was on site. All of us got to shoot an AK47 and an M16! I don’t know a lot about guns… but I know those guns were unbelievably powerful! There were so many people there and the headphones we were given to cover our ears weren’t the greatest… I think all of us lost our hearing for a good 5-10min afterwards. It was a neat experience to be able to hold a real gun that huge and shoot something…. but I’m definitely not cut out to kill people that’s for sure!

In the evening, we set out to find this random little local place Doong told us about that makes Vietnamese Subs… or Hamburgers as they are called in Vietnam. Doong only remembered that the place had the word ‘Hoa’ in it and it was number 26 on a street he didn’t know the name of. He circled the place in a general location on a map… and now it was up to us to find it. This truly felt like an Amazing Race test to see if we could find the ‘famous burgers’ in time!! And of course we did or I wouldn’t be telling you this story… but it wasn’t easy!!! Only after walking for about 25 minutes, getting lost a couple of times, having to cross a traffic circle/roundabout, ask a bunch of people who could barely understand us and actually led us the wrong way the odd time… we landed at ‘Huang Hoa’ on Ben Trieg’ street… at least i think that’s what the street is called. It was well worth it too… great sub and only $0.90 Canadian!!!

After the sub came Benh Thanh Market!! It was one of the more impressive markets we have seen so far…. and I can proudly say that mine and Farhan’s bargaining skills definitely have improved!!!

A few hours later we went to ‘Wrap n Roll’ for some salad rolls…again, it turned out to be a chain more than an authentic place, but still – a cool concept. You choose from a bunch of different salad rolls and spring rolls and then you ‘wrap and roll’ them on your own! Ohhh and I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet how amazing the fruit juice is in South East Asia… Zaileen and I can’t get enough of it!!!! It is soooooooooooooo fresh and sooooo bloody fantastic!!!!

 Throughout the day, the four of us had been talking about how even though there is no structure or any enforced rules here when you’re driving… it still somehow works in this city. We hadn’t seen any accidents and everyone still gets to where they need to go… including pedestrians. What was ironic was that about 10 minutes after we had that conversation… we saw a scooter clip the side of a car and the car’s entire bumper fell off. The scooter… not a scratch. In fact, it just drove away as if nothing happened. Then… at the end of the night, right before we were about to walk into our hotel and say good-bye to this great city, two scooters collided and one looked pretty damaged. Still though… only two accidents in the entire day of that madness… makes you wonder whose system is actually safer?

I’m a little sad that our Vietnam experience has come to an end so quickly. It’s definitely become one of my favorite’s and Farhan’s too. Zai and Haji are pretty amazed by the experience we’ve had here and it’s definitely unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It was such a culture shock and so great to see such a different way of life than what we are used to. Rush hour is literally from 12:00am-11:59pm, the whole city is so alive and always soooo so busy… and we learned so much here about Vietnam’s culture and history. Even the getting lost part was a great experience!!!

 Well… as all of our parents say, “all good things must come to an end.” Now we have to get back to packing and leave for our 6:30am bus ride tomorrow to Cambodia!!!!!

Singapore, Singapore

12 05 2009

May 11th 2009 – May 12, 2009 

Our flight to Singapore was at 6:55am today! A word of advice… an itinerary may look stellar in the ‘planning stages’, but everytime you are about to book a flight for some ungodly hour in the morning… you should really just take a minute to close your eyes and try to envision yourself waking up at that time. So if your flight is at… 6:55am, you have to be at the airport at least by 4:55am (international) so you have to leave your hotel by 430am, which means you need to be up by at least 4:00am to get ready – NOT FUN!!!! 

Fast forward past the flight and the cranky morning stages… we are now in Singapore!!!! We’re literally only spending one day here. We arrived at 8:00am today and are leaving at 5:30am tomorrow. So this day needs to be as productive as possible!!! 

We got to our hotel, checked in… did about 4 minutes of freshening up and were out the door again. Our agenda for the day… Little India, Chinatown and the Night Zoo Safari. 

Firstly… it’s true what they say, Singapore is spotless!!! It’s so clean that even if you are the messiest person of life, you will feel guilty leaving any sort of a trail here! I was in the airport bathroom, and as I squirted the little soap dispenser to wash my hands, a bit of the soap missed my hands and went onto the counter. In Canada, that would go unnoticed; here, I felt it was my duty to clean it up right away! Second, the subway system here … amazing! Canada seems archaic compared to these guys. If I went into detail about the how’s and why’s of this system… this blog will be waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than necessary considering I’m only going through one day!! Just believe me… its awesome and so efficient! 

We took the train to Little India… and really felt like we were in India. Indians everywhere… we did feel like we were at home sort of. So much so that it dawned on us that one of our Ismaili Mosques are built in Singapore. And hey… maybe it’s near little India. Only one way to find out… starting looking for people who ‘look Ismaili’ and ask them if they know where our Mosque is. As we were walking along, Farhan did exactly that… ‘excuse me’ he says, ‘you know Ismaili…Agakhan? We’re looking for mosque’ – we got a few responses with a bit of hope but in the end… nada. It was a good try though… worth a shot. 🙂 We did eat at a restaurant called ‘Blue Diamond’ in Little India though… great food if you’re looking for Indian food in Singapore! 

Chinatown… yes you guessed it, we felt like we were now in China! Huge market… selling the same types of nik-naks everywhere… glad we saw it, but still left there empty handed. 

In the evening we went to the Zoo for the night safari! Aside from the ridiculously expensive nuggets and fries meal with a few ‘happy drinks’ (about $60.00USD… more than a few whole days of eating like Royalty would cost in Thailand!), the Safari was really cool. First we saw a tribal show which was basically people dancing and spitting out fire and flipping around sticks with fire on both ends. Very entertaining!!! The night Safari itself was awesome… we took a tram through the forest and saw all of the nocturnal animals in their natural habitat… no cages or fences – just there, some of them were so close to the tram that you could touch them. We saw Lions and Tigers.. Giraffes, Zebras, Hippos and Rhinos… not too many words I can use to describe how awesome it was to see animals like that soooooo close up, and so free! Amazing! 

What wasn’t so amazing is that during one of the shows… I realized that while we were in Phuket, I somehow managed to get over 30 mosquito bites on both of my legs… even worse, Farhan counted 55 on one leg! I know… I am so disgusted at even the thought of it! If you travel…. not only is insect replant key – but Calamine Lotion… so important!!! I hope I can find some in Vietnam!! 

Lastly…. to end our trip in Singapore, of course our flight it at 7:00am yet again, so at 5:25am just as I am about to close up the duffel bag of clothes… the seam rips right along the zipper! Luckily we had a sewing kit… how convenient!! At 5:30am, when most sane people are sleeping… I am sewing a bag together! 

Well… there really is no where else to go but up from here, so Vietnam has to bring me better luck!!! 

By the way… it was my intention to put up some pictures on this site, but time has been super short! Hopefully I can do that when we’re back in Calgary… I’m sure I can find some good ones within the over 1100 we’ve taken so far!

Phuket, Thailand

11 05 2009

May 7th 2009 – May 11 2009

After our long and tiresome day of travel, we finally arrived in Phuket at about 10:30pm, just enough time to check into our hotel and have a bite at the restaurant downstairs. Our hotel is at Kamala Beach which is around 15-20 min from Phuket Town and from Patong -the touristy area I guess.

Since the last few days have been all about treks, tours and tasks, we decided that Phuket was going to be all about relaxing and maybe pampering ourselves a little bit. So Zai and I started out the day with a workout at the hotel gym and then we all went to ‘Mama Fatima’s’ restaurant for some lunch on the beach. It was great… this cute little hut right on the beautiful Kamala beach – and cutie little Mama Fatima was there all ready and excited to cook for us… again, it was just like being at home. Fatima told us that she’s been in Phuket and has owned this exact restaurant for over 25 years… she told us about how the Tsunami completely wiped out everything she had. Her son would have been 24 years old this year if he hadn’t been killed in the Tsunami. It’s unfortunate that stories like that aren’t really uncommon in this area… and when we look around, most of the people we see have likely lost someone or been affected by the Tsunami in someway or another…stories like this really humble you and make you appreciate what you have. Okay everyone- hug whoever you are sitting beside and tell them you love them… and if you’re alone, send a text!! 🙂

We didn’t really do a lot during our first day here… walked on the beach, dodged a few white spiders scurrying all over the place, checked out the Kamala town and that’s about it. Now the evening was a bit of a different story… We went to Patong Beach to check out the Phuket nightlife and just like everyone says… tourist central! Big flashy onings, insanely loud North American music, girls dancing on tables everywhere…lady boys all over the place. Phuket really is like the Cancun of Thailand, minus the lady boys. But I didn’t really mind it… I guess it’s like it was our vacation from our vacation.

Zaileen and I had split up from the boys for a few when we first got to Patong and when we finally met up with them again, they were at the bar having a ‘disagreement’ with the bar-tender. The issue was that the bar-tender swore Hussein gave her a 500Baht bill for his beer and he was certain it was 1000Baht, so the change back was obviously inaccurate. Zai and I get there half way through without really knowing what’s going on, and Zai being true to her man tells the bar-tender she is a Liar! Oooooh – not the best idea to be pickin’ fights when you’re in a foreign place!! The bar-tender was maaaaaaad! ‘Who are you calling a Liar? You weren’t even here!’ By now we had about 5 people behind the bar just totally starring us down. In the end… Hussein thought about it a little more and realized the bar-tender was right and he was mistaken. He apologized gracefully and we eventually left after playing a couple of rounds of connect four (there were connect four stations set up all over the bar… cool but weird at the same time) and getting a million death looks from the staff!!

The next day… I wasn’t feeling well at all. I had a bit of a headache and I think I may have got some food poisoning the day before because my stomach was hurting quite a bit. No matter though… can’t let that stop you when you are in Thailand!! We decided that this day we were going to go and check the Internet and just hang by the pool at our hotel for the day. Well I didn’t last at the Internet for more than 5 minutes because my I just felt like junk. So… we started to walk home – and as we did, I somehow managed to kick my big toe nicely into the concrete because the sidewalk is so uneven… it was an extremely painful experience and although I had a nice bruise to show for it… again, it was fine – I had the pool to look forward to! As we continued walking home I hear this super loud and slightly high pitched yell…it was Farhan… poor guy thought a spider was crawling up his leg when it was really just an acorn he stumbled upon.

After a day of relaxing by the pool (when we finally got back to the hotel), we all got ready and began our walk to ‘Phuket Fantasea’ which is basically a huge amusement park of games and kiosks…a few elephants walking about – and a Cirque Du Soleil type of performance is played in the theatre as well. I was feeling much better by now… tons of energy, nicely relaxed and rejuvenated. As we are walking… somehow the uneven ground manages to find the exact toe I stubbed this morning, and before I know it I am screaming as I’m looking down at my fully cracked and bleeding toe! As blood is being lost, panic is in the air and the locals are even trying to help… we manage to get some band-aids and wrap this bad boy up! I’m not gonna lie… fainting was definitely at the top of my list of things to do after I ended up vomiting in the near by bathroom from the sight of my own toe. In the end… we did make it to the show, though I think I have now officially become the gimp of the group.

The Phuket Fantasea show itself was great… we really got to see a glimpse of the Thai culture through the show… and the way they used the animals – amazing! I’m talking elephants, chickens, sheep, birds… all somehow trained to play a role and they did it really well! Who knows, maybe ‘Phuket Fantasea’ will be the next Vegas show!

The next day was our last day in Phuket and the plan was to go on a tour to Koh Pi Pi. After everything that happened last night with my toe and feeling so crappy, I had to pass on the tour, but everyone else went and said it was great. Koh Pi Pi has the whitest sands and the clearest and most blue water to date!! Farhan and Hussein even went snorkeling…. they had a blast and definitely recommend a visit to Koh Pi Pi if you’re ever going to one of these islands.

This is pretty much all there is to say about Phuket…. hopefully I’ll have better luck in Singapore!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

7 05 2009

Just Like Home…
May 5 – 7th 2009.

We get to Chiang Mai and of course, Farhan and our new cabbie… Mr Surisit become best friends. Zai, Haji and I are sitting in the back and all of a sudden we hear ‘I am Farhan de Canada. Where you go laundry? Clothes washing?’ I’m not gonna lie… I am slightly concerned about my boyfriend’s language abilities when we get back to Canada, but I do love him for being so friendly with everyone all of the time.

Chiang Mai is very different from Bangkok. It’s actually quite the opposite. Chiang Mai is like a little town or a village with small shacks for homes… and then hour tall hotel smack in the middle of it – an odd set up, but it works. So far this city has been one of our favorites. It’s a really quaint little city and you can walk everywhere!! The air is clean and the people , as usual, nice as ever! Eating our here is the best because it really is like your getting a home cooked meal everytime. The first place we went to eat was at this cute little place next to our hotel. It wasn’t the place or even the food necessarily that made this restaurant so delightful. It was the sweet little old Thai Lady who was cooking our food. Farhan and Haji called her ‘Maaji’ which means grandma in our language.

Finally we got our long awaited Thai massage here in Chiang Mai!!! All I have to say is ‘wow’! These Thai ladies do not mess around! There is no appropriate ‘massage etiquitte’ when it comes to getting a Thai Massage! They will climb right on top of your to get the job done….but man oh man do you feel like a million bucks when it’s all over!

We spent our evenings in Chiang Mai at the night bazaar which is very very different from the Bangkok Market. Chiang Mai’s Market was clean, orderly, structured and full of great shopping!!! This city is a must if your are planning a trip to Thailand anytime soon and plan to shop. I think my favorite was when Zaileen was bargaining for a piece of jewelery and the guy must have started at 1200Baht. Then Ms Zaileen “balls to the wall” Haji says… ‘oh no no no… 150 Baht. I was like “Are you kidding me? You just basically asked this guy to give you this for free!’ They finally did settle on a number… 500baht I think it was, and then Mr Haji steps in and was not having that… ‘no no, best price or no buy’ he says.200  baht later Zaileen gets her wish! Farhan and I have a lot to learn!!

Our second day in Chiang Mai was all about the tour… and what a great tour it was!!! We started out with some elephant riding!! Yes it’s true… I actually sat on an animal – don’t get me wrong, I was definitely a baby about it, but I still did it! Farhan and I were on one elephant together and Zai and Haji were closely behind us. These things are hungry ass mofo’s let me tell you. Along the path of the elephant walk, there were stations where you can buy banana’s and sugar cane for the elephant. We bought four bags full of food for this hefty dude we were riding in the span of less than one hour! I had to be ballzy and attempt to feed it because Farhan was busy trying to take pictures…so as we are walking, all of a sudden there is a big wet snout in my face, waiting for me to stick a banana up his nose… not gonna lie – I was super grossed out by it. Still though… we got to ride an elephant!! How awesome is that… not something you can do in Calgary on a random weekend that’s for sure.

After elephant riding we went to visit one of the tribes in Thailand called the ‘KarenTribe’ – these people are originally from Myanmar and were forced to leave their home when the Burmese took over. We learned all about their heritage and where they came from…and as expected, like everywhere you go in Thailand, they were also selling things! There was one cute little old man who was selling all sorts of nick-naks, and when he smiled, his teeth were all black from the beetlenut he’d been smoking for so many years. In their culture… it was actually encouraged to have black teeth because it was seen as ‘make up’ or ‘lipstick’ on your teeth and considered to be fashionable. Now a days though, with the latest generation of their people they are taught to have clean, and white teeth in order to be accepted in mainstream society.

From the Karen Tribe we did a trek and it really was the true definition of a trek too! We hiked up hills, crossed over rivers by walking on thin little tree barks, went over shaky bridges… a couple of times I thought I was going to fall in! It was really insane. This trek lead us to the next tribe which is the Moong Tribe. To be honest, I don’t really remember a lot of what we learned here, because we weren’t here for very long. But according to Farhan… the movie ‘Grand Turino’ is completely set around this tribe – so that’s a pretty cool fact in itself.

Next was Bamboo rafting! Experience of a life time for sure. Seeing as I have a major water phobia – this was huge in my books. Basically… you have a bamboo raft that consists of about five long pieces of bamboo – all attached by shreds of car tires. You have your rafting guide at the front who is actually standing on the raft the whole time, directing the raft with a stick… and then come the passengers. Me, Zai and Haji were sitting behind each other in a row and then Farhan had to stand at the back… steering on his end. This is really something people should get some sort of training for… but – I gotta say, he did pretty well! The waters were generally calm, except for the odd bouts of intense currents… or huge trees in the way where the guide and Farhan would have to duck – and that was usually when you would hear Farhan yelling.. ‘oh shit oh shit. Okay, it’s over. I’m done… right now, I’m done right here. This is it, I’m going in.’ – He had to do some serious dodging and ducking all over the place… but kudos to him, he didn’t fall in once and actually made it the whole way! We all looked so serious while we were sitting there on this thin raft… slowly getting drenched with ants and other weird insects crawling all over us, that when we would float by the locals, they’d start to splash us like crazy to make us laugh. I was annoyed that I was now completely soaked from top to bottom… but I will admit that it did make me laugh a little :). Three quarters of the way through the ride, Farhan and Haji switched and he had to stand… which he did quite gracefully actually. Ahhh the joys of being a girl… never had to worry about being called on to do the tough stuff! All in all… fantastic tour – you have to do this if you ever go to Chiang Mai!!

So we’re finally done Chiang Mai… get to the airport on May 7th at about 1030am for our 11:45am flight and the baggage attendant says in a very casual tone ‘ your flight cancelled… sorry.’ Of course, being the paranoid Canadians that we are (minus Haji who is always calm and happy) we started freaking out. To make a very long story short… they cancelled our flight because there weren’t enough people on it, bumped us up to the next flight, but also changed our connecting flight to Phuket to a later time too… so all is good – just have a few hours to kill at the Chiang Mai airport now… then switch to the Bangkok Airport for a while and then at 8pm… finally board our flight! Though this stop over was not so ‘breezy’ for all of us. We figured while we were waiting from 4pm to 730pm, we would have enough time to drop off our extra shopping we had done in Chiang Mai, at our hotel ( we stored some stuff at the hotel the first time, and will be coming back to Bangkok at the end of the month). So Zaileen and I stayed at the airport while the boys went to the hotel. We called our good friend ‘Mr Boongerd’ to pick us up… he sent his friend ‘Sam’ who got to the airport promptly at 430pm. It turns out that this wasn’t really an easy task… they ended up hitting major traffic and this happened to be the day that South East Asia was having a major conference on Swine Flu… in Bangkok!!! The boys barely had enough time to get to the hotel… throw our extra baggage to the doorman, in hopes that he knows what to do with it… and barely make it back. Poor Sam was driving like a mad man to get them back to the airport in time. Luckily they made it with a couple minutes to spare.!!! 🙂

Phuket here we come!!!!