Posts Tagged ‘Southeast Asia Travel’

48 cities. 16 countries.

July 20, 2010

London (England)

Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice (Italy)

Vienna (Austria)

Prague (Czech Rep)

Berlin (Germany)

Amsterdam, Utretch, Rotterdam (Holland)

Brussells (Belgium)

Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, Vancouver (Canada)

Cheong Un, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Andong, Okpo, Daejeon, Jeonju, Kyongju, Boreyong, Seoul (South Korea)

Kuala Lampur, Cameron Highlands, Georgetown, Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)

Singapore (Singapore)

Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchanabury (Thailand)

Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kaam Samnoor (Cambodia)

Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi (Vietnam)

Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang (Laos)

Taipei (Taiwan)

48 cities. 16 countries.

What a journey! I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Although I was able to unpack my luggage for an extended period in Korea, it always hung over my head that, especially by month 7, I was going to be leaving. And, wow, who knew how much crap you can accumulate over a year?! Oh my! In any event, I’ve lived out of a couple cases of luggage for the last 1.5 years. I backpacked through Europe for a month before heading back to Canada to apply for my South Korean work visa, then jetted off to SoKo to teach English for a year. Deciding to stay in Asia for summer vacation, I travelled through Malaysia and Singapore before returning to SoKo, only to be quarantined at my apartment during the swine flu epidemic. Once my contract finished, I headed to Bangkok and, deciding that I no longer wanted to work there, I flew down to Phuket to do some Muay Thai training. After three weeks of intense training, I rested my shins (and possibly a broken thumb) as I bussed to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Volunteering in Cambodia for a month left me with a choice to go to Vietnam, which I took, and spent 2.5 weeks there before taking the cheap, but long, bus ride to Vientiane in Laos. Three cities in Laos and then it was back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading back to Bangkok to arrange my flight back to Canada. Not wanting to go back, I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week and absolutely loved it, I even started looking for jobs! But, it was time to return to Canada. Vancouver-bound, I stayed for a week with some friends and then booked my ticket back to my home town, Winnipeg.

Fascinating, that’s all I can say. I did that? I seriously travelled all those places?

Yep, says my bank account.

Yep, say the numerous self-portraits.

Yep, say the friends who politely smile when I ask what they’ve been up to lately.

Now I sit in Winnipeg putting some things together and meeting my family and friends. But I’ll leave that to another post at a later date. For now, it’s time to sit back and remember the good times.

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Taipei? Fuckin’ eh!

July 15, 2010

I’m glad that I decided to stop over in Taipei for a week before heading back to Canada. I never thought I would go to this small island so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that they manufactured half of the world (70% of LCD displays, laptops, and computer chips; about 30% of servers and dsl cameras; and don’t forget that the company HTC built the Google phone), but I didn’t know that they had some great coffee :), good music, and very nice people. Not only that, I was offered three jobs within the week that I stayed.

With GN’R’s Chinese Democracy running through my head (if only because of the title) I take to the streets of Taipei. My first impression is that the city is a mix of Korean Kpop and Family Marts mixed with western novelties such as Starbucks, 7-11s and good sanitary conditions all covered by a blanket of funny characters called Mandarin (like the fruit).

I find a place to eat: spaghetti with meat sauce, bacon, fried egg and tea with honey in it. Yes, it was THAT good.

Calorically satisfied, I venture out of the restaurant saying “Thank you” in English because everyone here (except one taxi driver) is able to communicate with me in near-perfect English. I go find a proper up of coffee made by a local joint and then go sit in a park. While in the park I see in the distance a few old men sitting on benches and I couldn’t help but think that they were thinking up the next thing they could manufacture and sell to the world.

I decide it is a good idea to get my teeth cleaned. Ow. Not a good idea. Though the dentist was cute, she drilled my teeth hard, and it hurt. What would be used to tighten bolts on a race car in Canada is what they used to scrape my teeth. What I found most amazing is that they let me walk out without paying so I could get money from the ATM. I wonder if they trust everyone like this? I return and pay the $800 NTD (~$24) for the abuse and say “Shey shey” (Thank you).

Looking for a coffee fix after having my teeth “cleaned,” I stumble across Monument Coffee. Here, you have a choice of how you want your coffee prepared. If you want it prepared the Chinese way (which gives it more caffeine than a solo espresso or Americano) it will cost $1 per minute to make, topping out at $5.85. But it was phenomenal. I’m no pro coffee taster, but this coffee ranks up there with one if the best. A stronger cup of coffee, marked by dark chocolate and maybe brown sugar flavours (really? Sure.) And since it was raining cats and dogs that day, I decided to order the hazelnut milk tea. Costing somewhere around $2.60 per preparation minute ($160 NTD = $5.20) this cold beverage was just as good as the coffee.

A few days later I want to check out some museums. Taipei has many great museums. I visit four: the Taipei Astronomical Museum, Fine Arts Museum, Contemporary Art Museum, and the National Museum Of History. All were worth the money, and it’s hard to pick my favourite. If pressed, I’d say the National Museum of History simply because it had a vast collection of paintings, sculpture, ancient artifacts, and a special exhibition on the three kingdoms of China.

Visiting museums often makes me wonder what the museums of the future will keep from our time? DVDs? Books? McDonald’s toys made in Taiwan? It fascinates me to think what future generations will marvel at and consider “museum worthy.” (Serker berker merker lerker “BOOK.” Ashen bashen goin sacken lieven “Read” blacken slacken macken “with eyes.” Gerble gobble jabber babble “English.” <Crowd> Ohhhh!)

And Taipei even has a tall tower, Taipei 101. It was the tallest tower in the world until Dubai finished their Burj Dubai in January 2010. English teachers in South Korea will appreciate me stopping in front of the entrance and exclaiming, much to the confusion of those around me, “Look at the tower! What a tall tower!”

Though the entry fee was quite steep, up I went, some 89 floors, in a very sleek and quiet elevator. After taking some pictures of myself looking out into the Taipeian night, I stopped by the crystal shop on the 88th floor. Looking over the sparkly coral ornaments in the glass enclosures as if I had the money to buy one, a nice looking lady came over and asked if I’d like to see any of them. After politely asking for the price in Canadian dollars, I couldn’t stifle my laugh when she told me the price ($6,000 for a necklace?). I told her that I’m not looking to buy, just look. And then she left me alone.

But what really got me was the description of the citrus crystal. After suggesting that the crystal should be placed on one’s desk, the little card read “Citrus crystal will attract the opposite sex.” Well no shit. Who wouldn’t be attracted to someone who has a $10,000 crystal sitting on their desk? Feeling kinda out of place, I decide that I’d spent enough time to have justified the over-priced entrance ticket and it was time to go.

After a week in the Taiwan capital, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I could live in Taiwan, especially after researching jobs. But, to Canada I go. I haven’t seen my family or many of my friends for over a year and a half and the heart string are tugging at me.

Good-bye Asia! See you again… soon?

Thailand Part 2: Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury: Coffee, zip lining and tigers oh my!

July 7, 2010

And this is part two of my travels through Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

Chiang Mai is a lovely little city, said to be the intellectual centre and former capital of the old kingdom. We stayed at a beautiful and cheap place called Namkhong Hotel which was just outside of the old city gates. 250 baht per night. Very helpful staff, including Noo who also arranged our day of zip-lining (thrilling! Got some good videos made here) and a tour to see the long-neck tribe – the women who wear heavy iron rings around their necks in order to extend their neck, making them “beautiful.” (Some cultures, to me, are odd.)

One of the best things about Chiang Mai is the, you guessed it, coffee! You know how some of those coffee bags we buy back in Canada say the beans came from “Asia-Pacific”? Yea, southeast Asia is in there, including northern Thailand. Fresh Arabica coffee here I go! So as my travelling companion is knocked out from the nasty dengue fever, I hang around only two places: the healthy breakfast shake place in the morning, and Momo’s coffee shop in the afternoon. I managed to get quite a bit of writing done on those two days (sorry babe!) and get the third draft of The Musician done. I also brought back a kilo of coffee from Thailand (in addition to the kilo from Laos. Can you imagine the looks of the pretty airline bag checkers who politely told me that my luggage was overweight when they saw the bags of coffee?)

Zip lining is an interesting experience. We zipped for two hours and after that, I was pretty zipped out. Every time I zipped from tree to tree I couldn’t help but think about how far it was to fall. The guides, however, were having a ball. All spoke pretty good English and acted like monkeys, seriously. These guys would zip upside down, side by side, laughing and howling all the way. Is it the Jungle Book that has the monkeys that are always laughing? I can’t remember, but these guides reminded me of cartoon monkeys.

After Chiang Mai it’s back to the bustle of Bangkok for a day before taking a bus to Kanchanabury. We leave our bags at our hotel in Bangkok (which I didn’t know you could do. You can check your bags for as long as you want and they’ll keep them under lock and key for you! In theory, you could move from, say, Korea, with a lot of junk, then check your bags in Bangkok, and travel around SE Asia for an extended period of time. 10 Baht per bag per day.) From Bangkok we go to Kanchanabury.

There isn’t much in Kanchanabury except relaxing and wondering how those non-flush toilets seem to always maintain the same level of water. Oh, and tigers! The visit to the tigers is quite expensive, $30 for a 45 minute visit including some free photos. But if you want to have that memorable tiger-on-your-lap photo, that’s another $30. 😦 So we settle for the free photos. There were tigers of all ages. The cutest were the 4 month olds. It is here, amongst the tigers, that I think about the headlines that report a child or tourist being mauled to death while on vacation and the powerless trainers watching in horror. It is because of those types of episodes that there is a code of colours to be worn: no orange, pink, or red. The trainers wear those colours and the park doesn’t want the tigers to think you’re a trainer. And neither do I. I choose to wear black, and the shirt shows the amount I sweat because there are salt rings all over. Yummy.

After Kanchanabury, it’s back to Bangkok. My friend books her ticket to Siem Reap and I put off booking my ticket back to Canada for another day.

Thailand, I can see myself returning… if only to see the ping pong show.

Thailand Part 1: Bangkok and Phuket: Excess and The Art of Eight Limbs

July 6, 2010

Thailand bracketed my entire south east Asian trip. I flew in from Korea in March and flew out to Taipei in June. I only visited 4 cities: Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury. The only way to capture Thailand’s awesomeness is two cut it up into two parts. Part one is about the craziness that is Bangkok and my attempts to fight in Phuket. Part two is about the much more laid back trip to Chiang Mai and Kanchanabury.

At first I wanted to move to Thailand to find work as an English teacher while I trained in the brutal martial art of Muay Thai. But it was not to be. About a week before I was to leave for Bangkok, a friend of mine suggested I go and see what it’s like before committing to anything. Well, once I saw Bangkok for myself I realized it wasn’t the place for me to live. Visit? Absolutely! But not to live. Dirty, polluted and full of noise, Bangkok is a Dionysiac playground (“See, Athenians, THAT’S how you do it! Look at them lady boys!”) The heat, lady boys, martial arts, cheap food, night life, and a dozen other things are all over the place, and these are the things that make Bangkok so remarkable.

The first night I was actually in Bangkok I stayed at a hostel where the owner was willing to organize a night out for the boys. Sparing you the mundane details, I will share with you the knowledge I acquired that evening: Gentlemen, in Thailand, you are not the hunter, you are the hunted.

Mr. Hostel Owner informed us that Thursday night was particularly good for us to go out: the working girls were looking for weekend boyfriends which could mean any number of things. It was at this point we, our group of 20-something men, learned about the four types of hunters you will find in a Bangkok night club:

  1. The high-class workers. These girls will laugh at all of your stupid jokes and make you feel like a big superstar. Anything more, and you’ll pay somewhere in the neighbourhood of $60 plus hotel expenses, etc. for their “company.”
  2. The not so good-looking but good enough women. Price negotiable, these girls are often looking for the weekend boyfriends. When you get traded up depends on how big your bank account is.
  3. The girls who will buy stuff for you. Good luck bedding these girls, they just want to be friends and probably are locals who want to watch the scene.
  4. Lady boys. Well, I never got a price for these folks.

Those are the four types you’ll probably run into in just about every club in Bangkok. As for the bars, once the legal bars shut down, don’t forget to ask to be taken to the Spicey Club. You shouldn’t have to pay for a cab ride there since they get commission for bringing you there. Once that’s done at 6 in the am, if you haven’t been sucked into a purchase already, you can join the fun in another club right across the street.

After that night of fun I spent the rest of the week unwinding and prepping myself for training in the art of the eight limbs: Muay Thai. (Eight limbs? Yes: shins, knees, elbows, and fists.)

I spent three weeks in Rawai, Phuket at a Muay Thai camp. From what I could tell by walking around and some research, Rawai is one of the better camps in Thailand, especially for foreigners. If you want harder training than they do here, you’d probably have to go to Bangkok and get your ass kicked there. The workouts were early in the morning (7:30-9) and early afternoon (3-4:30 or 4:30-6). Before each training session, you had the option to run 4kms. Training sessions consisted of stretching, 5 rounds on the punching bags, 5 rounds of pad work in the ring with a trainer, and then sparring or some lessons on technique. In between each round you were expected to do either 10 push ups or 10 sit ups. Once the session was over, 150 sit ups. Not going to lie, after 3 weeks I looked good. Even I’d pay myself for the privilege of being with me!

Once of the cool things about the Muay Thai camp were the people who were training. Some people trained to fight (including a mammoth American Muay Thai fighter who works in Antarctica for six months and then fights in Thailand for the rest of the year, and a whole bunch of Thai kids who could kick the shit out of me), but most were there for fitness (including a Canadian contingent of rugby players, a big-buxomed beauty from Down Under (who informed us that she had some enhancements made, which we all agreed looked great), and more folks from around the world. I also met a Canadian chick who gave me a picture of her dressed in some royal clothes. Hoping that she was a princess (from Canada?) and could foot the bill for all of my creative movie and music endeavours, I asked where she was from. Vancouver. The picture was Photoshopped 😦

After my three weeks were over I returned to Bangkok to catch a bus to Cambodia (see the first few posts of this blog, Day 0 to Day whatever). I only stayed for one night and paid for a bed to sleep in only to get chatting with this cute hair stylist who then took me out on the town. I seriously walked in there only for a hair cut, but Bangkok won’t ever let you do just what you want to do.

Thus my introduction to Bangkok, the city once known as the “brothel of the world”, and the martial art of Muay Thai. Part two will cover Chiang Mai and Kanachanbury.


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