Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crash Test Dummies - Part 2

Adam has posted part II of his account of our trials in Laos. The hospital was a real dive, not the facility we had hoped for in the least, although it far surpassed the first and Dr. Xax was there to save the day. Read on...

Further update: We're all good. We parted ways with Adham in Pakse, Laos and aside from being sore after the sleeper bus from Vientiane, which was clearly built with the common Laotian sized person in mind (imagine 2 grown men in a bed smaller than a standard twin that jostled through the night), he seemed well on his way to a complete recovery. I'm still travelling with Adam and he's sorting out some wound infections here in Siem Reap, but nothing critical.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crash Test Dummies!

Life happens. Some things hit you and you never even see them coming, but with a little luck you pick yourself up and move on. For seven of us travelling together to Nong Khiaw, Laos this is exactly what happened. We were on an exciting journey off the beaten path taking in the farmlands, the wind cooling our sun kissed faces, and the next second we found ourselves in a heap on the side of the road.

Adam has taken the time to put together a very well written account of the events as they unfolded so for anyone wanting the scoop, here it is. Part 2 coming soon... Thanks Adam!

Oh, and FYI, I am perfectly fine and everyone is on the mend.

The Walking Wounded!

L to R: Adham - sprained shoulder, various contusions, stitched head wound, Hanna - various contusions, stitched head, leg and arm wounds, Joanne - broken collarbone, various contusions, stitched head wound, Adam - various contusions, stitched head and back wounds.

Photo by Me - sore ribs and a bruise on my elbow, lucky me!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bangkok and Chiang Mai

After island hopping a bit in Thailand it was time to race north for the border before over staying my 15 day VISA. An overnight bus from Chumphon dropped us who knows where on the side of the road in Bangkok at 4:30am where the pink taxi's notorious for overcharging and not using meters were waiting like vultures. Not knowing where we were and seeing no other options most of us were stuck paying the excessive fees to get where we needed to go. I headed for the train station, got myself a ticket on the next available train to Chiang Mai, and decided to explore a little of Bangkok.

The train station in Bangkok

I landed there on May day so it was pretty quiet as most shops were closed for the holiday. The flower shops and various markets were poking along though and it was pleasant to just walk through and observe with out anyone trying to sell me a ride, tour, or massage. I passed by numerous temples and parks and eventually made my way (not intentionally) to where all the Red-Shirt activity is going on. It was quiet, not much happening, and aside from the obvious military presence and barb-wire topped barricades you wouldn't have known anything was brewing.

A flower display in a roadside market in Bangkok

A barbwire barricade in Bangkok

The train ride to Chiang Mai was an overnighter through some beautiful countryside. Nothing like hot, sweaty travel to the rhythm of the rails!

Chiang Mai was a great town. I really liked its vibe. Lot's going on, but of a manageable size (some good used bookstores too!). Wanting to get in as much as possible with my 1 full day there I packed it in with a day tour. Got to see orchid and butterfly farms, several hill-tribe village folk, ride elephants through the jungle, cross a river in a suspended cage, river raft, ride a slow bamboo raft (or bamboo submarine as our guide put it).

One of many temple entrances in Chiang Mai

An orchid at the orchid farm

A karen longneck tribe woman weaving a scarf while her little one snarfs a banana

My elephant asking for more bananas, she wasn't always so polite with that snout.

The caged river crossing, weirdness.

This is how you hold an oar right. Suited up for the trip down the river.

Our bamboo raft captain, he was all grins and really sweet. Loved his hat.

The next day was my run for the border and I along with a french couple managed to make it out of Thailand, across the Mekong, and into Laos with 5 minutes to spare. Yippee!

Cruising across the Mekong with Thailand in the background

Friday, April 30, 2010

Under the Sea!

Scuba April

So for those that don't know, I'm a self admitted water weenie. Sure I can throw down a cannonball or flip into a pool or lake every now and again with the best of them, but large open bodies of water, especially being under them, scares the snot out of me. I figured it was high time to confront this and in the best way possible, scuba diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. They say that the Ocean is most vast and undiscovered frontier left on the planet and the abundance of wildlife seen underwater in 10 minutes far exceeds what could be seen in 10 days in the forest (or something like that).

I signed up for a PADI Open Water course with New Way Diving in Sairee on Koh Tao. The bookwork was easy enough, the pool scary but confined, and the open water terrifying. After having a freak out and coming up just after going under in my first open water dive, I resolved to steel myself against my fears and try to get all zen like with my breathing. All with the help of my instructor Stefan, his heavily German accented instructions, and my dive buddy/assistant Anna. By dive number 3 I was nice and calm, by the time dive 8 rolled around I was doing the James Bond water entry and quick with the BCD trigger to get down and check out the dive site.

The sun rising on my last diving trip in Koh Tao

The views were amazing! Schools of yellowtail barracuda, christmas tree worms, giant anemones and their resident fish, butterfly fish, banner fish, baby harelquin lipped fish, giant groupers, morays, needle fish, angel fish, gobi's and their shrimp, corals, and the list goes on and on... While I didn't take any pictures under the sea you can check out the gallery at Ace Marine Images (,com_phocagallery/Itemid,4/id,2/view,category/) All the shots in the marine life gallery are from Koh Tao dive sites.

Above sea, Koh Tao was beautiful. Almost miserably hot sometimes, but nothing a little swim and a cold beer or water couldn't cure. The dogs on the island were hilarious. They'd follow folks around, lay next to you at the beach, and even walk right into the ocean and sit in the water with the rest of the beach goers. The Thai food was amazing and I ended up eating from the same spot almost every night. A walk out from the Sairee village took you to bungalows nestled in the palms, roadside clothes racks (Thai dryers), mopeds darting from place to place, and locals resting in cool spots along the shade.

The Thai dryer

Thanks to New Way Diving for a great first diving experience. If you're headed to Thailand and interested in diving I highly recommend them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ton Sai, Bonzai!

My first stop in Thailand was a great one!

After taking the night train from Kuala Lumpur, a 5 hour bus ride, a 30 minute long-tail boat ride, and a 30 minute hike/scramble I arrived in beautiful Ton Sai. Sunset would be arriving soon, there were climbers on the beachside rocks and bathers on the beach. Only took one stop to find a good budget bungalow that seemed luxurious relative to some of my recent accomodations.

My first peek at Ton Sai, climbers, beaches, perfect!

The next day I headed out on a deep water solo climbing trip. They basically boat you out to limestone pillars in the Andaman Sea that are good for climbing and have adequate water depth for when you either jump or fall off the rock. You get old and hole ridden climbing shoes and they dump some chalk in a hole near the start, but it comes off quick. It was a blast to be climbing in such a beautiful area and I met the folks I'd pal around the place with for the rest of my time in Ton Sai.

Our first climbing site, 2 ladders out of the water and lots of rock to play on

Me perched beneath the roof

Since I literally tore the skin off my hands deep water soloing, climbing was out of the question for the rest of my time so I took the opportunity to explore the area. Their hikes reflect the climbing vibe of the area though cause not a one of them didn't involve a hand line and steep scrambling. (The locals here climb like monkeys, it's impressive!) Great views, hot and humid weather, what more could you ask for. Afterwards it was time for the beach at Phra Nang, the best beach in the area and home to the phallic Princess Cave. Apparently a mystical sea princess died in the waters just offshore and fisherman go the cave and make offerings that they believe will make them successful in their fishing and safe at sea. The offerings are more representative of fertility though so I'm not sure what to think about this one.

Phallic offerings at Princess Cave on Phra Nang Beach

Met my pals from the DWS trip and we made a trek through a system of caves (in the dark with bamboo ladders and hand lines) to the other side of a huge limestone pillar which looked down on Railey West beach. It was a great little afternoon adventure! The way back we all got caught, clad in our swimsuits, in a downpour so we had to seek refuge at a convenience store and have a Chang to appease the rain gods. It must of worked since we walked the rest of the way back in dry skies.
The view from the cave hike down to Railey West

Night life on Ton Sai was great, not too crazy, but a good selection of things to do. Be it Ping Pong, Pool, taking in a fire show, slacklining, or the occasional live music night (which was amazing!). I was sad to leave, but excited to move to my next local on the East side of Thailand...Koh Tao, to try my hand at Open Water Scuba Diving.
My last images of Ton Sai before hopping a long-tail out

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So I was within 3 hours of leaving Kaula Lumpur on a night train bound for Thailand. Just as a precaution I figured I should go to the internet cafe and print out the paperwork they say you need for a Thai tourist VISA, although they rarely request it. I had my back pack locked up at the train station and my day pack with me for the mission with all my special stuff.

I was just about done. I was cautious with my things taking them with me to the toilet and to retrieve copies. Someone bumps the back of my chair, I turn one way, the guy next to me hastily gets up and I turn to see his head dropping down the staircase. I look down for my day pack that I had at my feet and it was gone.

So there I was, no identification, not a ringit left in my pocket, and stuck now in Kuala Lumpur. While it's a bummer to have lost my camera and a ton of photos, my journal, sunglasses, daypack, and various little things that were precious to me and are probably now lying in a dumpster back in Kuala Lumpur, I was moved by the swift and generous action of people to help get me back on track.

The internet cafe let me use the computer for free to start sorting things out. Jan back home took my call at 4 in the morning and got on the ball to wire some funds. An aussie next me gave me 30 ringgit. The officer on duty at the US Embassy gave me some good advice and his cell number in case I needed anything else. An interesting and generous Malaysian man at the train station helped me sort out a trip to the police station to get a police report and get my bag out of storage without paying a 50 ringgit lost key fee (which I didn't have).

Come morning the ACS officer at the embassy was a wealth of knowledge and helped me out with a typed letter from the embassy so that I could receive the funds Jan sent with just my passport copy. One of the Officers that took my call the night before had me shuffled to his que so he could see how it was all going and gave his contact info should I need anything else before leaving. By just after noon, I was off to the Malaysian immigration office with a temporary 8 month passport in hand. The taxi driver on the way there gave all his tips for not getting ripped off by taxi drivers. The immigration office had closed the line for VISA application, but they let me in the que anyways. And by 4pm that day I was back at the train station with another ticket for the night train to Thailand.

While it took 1 or 2 bad apples to take a bag, it was swiftly countered by the generosity and assistance of many many GOOD people. THANK YOU to all who helped me get up and running again so quickly!


Note: Pictures are borrowed from various places on the internet. I'll explain later.

I was so confused for a bit about what was Malaysian. In my first 4 hours in Malaysia I'd wandered through Chinatown and Little India and had no idea what a Malaysian looked like, what exactly Malaysian food was, etc. I guess this is part of the beauty of Malaysia. Many cultures and ethnicities living together harmoniously (at least now, history has record of the unfriendly times).

There were mosques and temples abound of Islamic, Hindu, and Muslim faiths. My favorite the Batu Caves. A bit of a jaunt outside of Kuala Lumpur, but worth it. It's teeming with little macaque monkeys that I thought were so cute at first. On the way up the stairs though I watched the little buggers steal a lunch bag out the hands of a girl I met on the bus. They're aggressive and sneaky little buggers. After making your way up the steps you arrive in a cavernous limestone cave with light pouring in from the opening on the other end. Lots of shrines adorn the cave and there are two areas for prayer and offerings.

The Hindu shrine at the entrance to the Batu Caves

Inside the Batu Cave

While in Malaysia I also spent some time in the Cameron Highlands which were a bit more temperate than the sweaty heat of Kuala Lumpur and its surrounds. Did a good jungle tour, visited a tea plantation, strawberry fields, waterfalls, and an Orang Asli (aboriginals of Malaysia) home where the use of a blowdart was demonstrated and a bit of dancing and drumming was done. The main Orang Asli looked a bit like a washed up Mowgli as he pet his monkey (tied to a post with rags) with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth.

The Tea Plantation was cool. As you travel through the highlands you see fields and fields of tea so it was neat to learn a bit about it. Every 3 weeks they trim the plants. By hand on steep slopes and with a machine on gentler slopes. They then allow the tea to wilt a little to remove excess moisture. To promote oxidization they then bruise the tea using these rollers that press the leaves. Next up is more oxidization in a climate controlled area. The amount of oxidization allowed affects the flavor and quality of the tea. To stop the oxidization at the desired time they put the tea through a firing. After all this is done they shape the tea, dry it, sift it, and then it's ready for packaging...or steeping.

Tea fields in the Cameron Highlands