Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Ten of my favorite places on the trip

It was pretty hard to come up with this kind of list but I managed to squeeze it into my busy schedule.  There were definitely other wonderful places (Mae Salong-Thailand, Meung Ngoi-Laos, LiJiang-China) that just barely missed out on the list.

How many years would it have taken to discover all these places if we hadn’t went traveling for so long?

Here they are in chronological order (with a corresponding picture or two):

Koh Jam (Jum), Thailand-This island near Krabi doesn’t have full time electricity and is better off without it.  Great food and an amazing stretch of beach…think ‘quiet time’.

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Koh Jum sunset

Hongsa, Laos-It takes a while to get to dusty Hongsa and there isn’t a lot to do when you get there.  However, it is incredibly peaceful and you can ride an elephant along trails.

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Luang Prabang, Laos-Former colonial town that is a lot of fun to hang out in. Everyone in E Asia passes through Laos eventually.

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Kalaw, Myanmar-Off the beaten track in Burma where you can do hiking or just relax in the hill country.  One of the best bars in Asia (Hi Snack and Drink).  Great Nepali food.

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Hong Kong, China-Absolutely beautiful yet gritty.  Incredible food and excellent shopping.  One of my top 5 cities in the world. 

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Songpan, ChinaOne of the few small towns in China.  Horse trek in the gorgeous Sichuan Province and rest up afterwards at the fun tea houses.

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Wolong, ChinaFreaking Pandas man!  Everyone loves Pandas! 

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One year old Panda

Francie, shifu Wong and shuo yi

Outside of Lhasa, Tibet-Definitely in the running for most stunningly beautiful place on earth. 

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Gili Trawangan (Lombok), Indonesia-Incredible atmosphere with no cars on the small, beautiful island.  Incredible snorkeling right off the beach and a vibrant nightlife.

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Kaikoura, New ZealandThe beautiful coast and unbelievable plush hills were actually remarkable topped off with a small town and lots of seafood.  Seals, whales, dolphins and sheep–oh my!

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November 7, 2007 Posted by | Beach, burma, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, New Zealand, SE Asia, Sichuan, Thailand, Tibet, Travel, Wolong | 11 Comments

Trip Half-Way Point

Francie and I realized that, with our return home date of November 17th, we have just passed the half-way mark.

It is interesting because, for me, the longer we are away traveling–the less time seems to have actually gone by.  For instance, that month in Laos now feels like just a day or two of my life.   I guess that a few years after this trip is over I will look back on the year and remember it as a month or two off from work.  Bummer.   

Well, to celebrate I thought I would post and talk about a few of Francie’s new pictures (see Flickr on the right).  Here we go:

These kids are from outside of Kalaw, Myanmar.  They were very disappointed that the camera wasn’t a Polaroid.  It really is a beautiful picture.  We gave them some stickers and pencils in exchange for the picture…oh yeah, and a bouncing ball.

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This large pig and his friend scared the devil out of us when the big guy snorted at us toward the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. He was actually very excited because he was expecting his slop dinner–which sure enough a woman came out with, climbed into the stone pen, and fed him.
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This line of ponies passed us high up in Tiger Leaping Gorge.  I was immediately reminded of every time I read a fantasy book (e.g. Lord of the Rings) where a group of adventurers ride horses through a mountain pass (I know several of you are rolling your eyes and thinking ‘geek‘).

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Race horses busting out of the gate at Happy Valley in Hong Kong.

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The future of China looks bright according to Chairman Mao in Lijiang.

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Beautiful stone building and landscape near the Naxi guesthouse on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike.  The Naxi are an ethnic group in Yunnan province (pronounced Na sha).

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Me and my new friend checking the bus schedule. 

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We took off running after this kid threatened us (He was demanding our milk money).  They grow up quick in China…

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The park at Black Dragon Pool in LiJiang.  Unfortunately, the black dragon was not available for pictures that day.

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Ok!  I have to quit procrastinating and get back to my Mandarin.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | burma, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Travel, Wildlife, Yunnan | 2 Comments

Francie’s 5 month Top Ten List

Greg & I have been travelling now for over 5 months!  I can’t believe it’s been that long.  Roughly half-way through our trip, at 6 months, we were going to do a Top Ten travel experiences list (geez, how self-absorbed is that), but we’re impatient so we’re doing it now. 

Francie’s top 10: (in no particular order) 

  • Scuba diving/snorkeling in the Andaman Sea, Thailand.
  • Thai Beaches: Rantee (Koh Phi Phi), Koh Jam, & Koh Ngai.
  • Thai lessons in Chiang Mai.
  • Motorbike trip through the Bolaven Plateau, Laos.
  • Working elephants in Hongsa, Laos.
  • Village trek in Kalaw, Myanmar.
  • Water festival in Mandalay and Yangon, Myanmar.
  • Eloping in Bangkok and our subsequent “Honeymoon” stay at the Banyan Tree. 🙂
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, Yunnan province, China.
  • Everything in Hong Kong.

Greg’s list will follow shortly.

June 7, 2007 Posted by | China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar, SE Asia, Thailand, Travel, Yunnan | 1 Comment

The Water Festival in Myanmar

I finally have photos to aid me in my attempt to describe the undescribeable – the insane Thingyan holiday, aka “the water festival” in Myanmar.

First a little background:

  • Thingyan is the name of the Burmese new year holiday.
  • It’s celebrated over the course of 5 days in April according to the Buddhist calendar.
  • It’s the most important public holiday in Myanmar.
  • It coincides with the both the peak of the dry/hot season and the beginning of kiddies summer vacation from school.
  • In the past, it was a traditional part of the festival to sprinkle water into a silver bowl, to metaphorically “wash away ones sins” before the beginning of the new year. This has morphed into an all out water fight involving buckets, hoses, and water guns that persists through all 5 days, hence the modern name “Water festival”.
  • For more info, check out the Thingyan wikipedia entry.

Now some more specifics about the “water” part. Here are a few typical street scenes during the festival. This is what it looked like everywhere in Yangon and Mandalay over the five days of the festival:

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Everywhere, and i mean EVERYWHERE, there are people in the street with the buckets and hoses just waiting for someone to walk or drive by. From my observations, no one is exempt except for monks. Women, young children, the elderly, a car with a window rolled down, everyone gets a bucket of water poured on them if they are out in public. Foreigners are especially popular to douse. It appeared to me that anyone who spots a foreigner coming (such as greg & i) informs everyone else nearby so they can have their water spraying implement ready and/or begin an active pursuit of the targets. There are no exceptions, for example, if you’re holding a camera, which made it challenging to get photos of the action!

Clustered around town are sponsored “hose stations”; a stage facing the street with a dozens of hoses for partakers to use:
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Lots of folks, especially teenagers and young adults, pile into trucks and jeeps and drive slowly around town getting repeatedly soaked with water and throwing their own buckets at random people they pass (such as Greg & I). In the areas with high concentrations of hose stations there are also crowds of people dancing in the street amidst the spraying water.

The night before the start of the festival, Greg and purchased some water guns so we could participate. Here is an action sequence of Greg engaging with some partakers:
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We realized later that compared to the buckets and hoses we were up against we were way outgunned.

This is one way to participate if you don’t want to get wet!
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This kid wanted to look cool while getting sprayed with hoses:
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Looking back, the water festival was an amazing experience, a lot of fun, and a great way to interact with the locals. There were some downsides however… As much fun as it was I would actually recommend to prospective visitors to Myanmar to avoid it unless it is something you definitely want to experience. During the festival everything shuts down – the markets, many restaurants and shops, transportation in and out of town… so you can get stuck in Mandalay or Yangon for the full 5 days unless you take a flight, which still run on schedule but fill up in advance. The water fight continues for the full 5 days of the festival which means that you cannot leave your guesthouse or hotel without getting soaked, and lets just say that the water used is not clear or clean. You will feel trapped in your room at some point because you don’t want to get your last dry t-shirt soaking wet. You may even go hungry because you can’t get to the restaurant down the street without being sprayed with a hose! That said however, it was so hot there that the water felt good and generally our clothes dried quickly. And wow, where else you can go in the world and be able to throw buckets of water on anyone, anywhere without violating any social norms and/or getting arrested? 🙂

May 10, 2007 Posted by | Myanmar, Photography, SE Asia, Travel | 5 Comments

First trip injury (some might say Francie had it coming)

I feel it is appropriate after Greg’s post about my exploitation of Asia’s animals (hahaha) to recount to you the first (and hopefully only) major injury of our trip and how it happened.  First though I want to say that I am perfectly fine now so you don’t need to get scared while you read this or spend even a second worrying about me ;-).

April 23rd. We had just arrived in Kalaw, a small mountain town in Myanmar.  There was a little black dog that hung out near our guest house.  I petted him, rubbed his tummy, told him what a good dog he was, etc. etc. 

The next day, I see him lying in the sun.  I’m waiting for Greg who is finishing up on the internet.  I reach down to pet the pooch.  The second my hand touches him he turns into a crazed animal and with a snarl clamps onto my wrist.  I pull my hand away.  I think he must have been having a scary dream.

I survey the damage.  I have a deep puncture on the top of my hand and a deep cut on the side of my wrist.  I’m thinking to myself; “I’m so glad I have that special wound closing tape in my first aid kit, cause there’s no place that can stitch me up out here!” 

The lady and her son who work at the guest house are horrified.  I’m trying to hide the cut from them so they don’t freak out too much.  I’m telling them I’m fine, it’s no big deal, etc.  The lady gets a glimpse of it though and starts running around in a panic looking for her medical supplies after chasing the dog away with a stick.  Greg comes out to see what happened.  I tell him its no big deal, just a scratch, but at some point he sees it too and his eyes get big and he turns a shade whiter.

Greg collected himself and bravely squirted the iodine provided by the woman into my cuts.  We went back to our room, taped the cut and puncture closed, and wrapped my wrist up.  Greg went down the street to find a pharmacy.  Luckily there was one, and it had amoxycillin that was niether fake nor expired!

Now a week and a half later, its mostly healed and it looks like I might not even have much of a scar.  wee.

This is the culprit the day after asking me for a tummy rub.  I said to him “You’re not getting off that easy Bity McBitersons!”
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May 3, 2007 Posted by | Myanmar, Pets, SE Asia, Travel | 2 Comments

Special Alert: Francie traumatizes animals across Asia

I know she can’t resist but Francie has got to respect these animal’s rights.  I have already told her that we can’t get a dog until she learns to behave herself.   Seriously, here is a quick glance at some of the animals she has traumatized.

The Ox–Ride em France!
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This rooster gets it good!
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These dogs and cats have no option but to submit!
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FZ & teeny pup

awwww, he's so cute

A sleepy, exhibitionist cat

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This water buffalo is smart enough to keep her at horn’s length
Francie & water buffalo

 This frog didn’t stand a chance…
Francie (hearts) frogs

Giraffes are not immune to her trickery
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This puppy tries to bite the hand that feeds it.
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Poor poor pony!
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And she has done exhausted these little puppies out!
They were up all night partying

The Panda is just grateful for the zoo barrier and the guards…and the bamboo, always grateful for the bamboo (munch, munch).
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May 2, 2007 Posted by | burma, Laos, Myanmar, Pets, SE Asia, Thailand, Wildlife | 2 Comments

Amazing Bagan

Now that we have a better internet connection I wanted to post some more pictures and a video of Bagan. 

Bagan is a major archaeological site in SE Asia and is one of the primary reasons people travel to Myanmar (it sure isn’t to marvel at the great job the junta government is doing).  At one time there were several thousand functional Buddhist sites at Bagan and now there are about 300 temples. 

While the individual temples are not as impressive as, say, Anghor Wat, the area is amazing because everywhere you look is a temple.  Here is a video from atop a Buddhist temple.

Here are a number of scenic pictures of both the horizon and inside the temples.

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Here are some new friends Francie made while we were watching the sunset.  Many of them wanted to sell us postcards (see post below).

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May 1, 2007 Posted by | burma, Myanmar, SE Asia, Travel | Leave a comment

Bird flu here I come!

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Who you lookin at?

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Rooster video (sorry, I don’t know how to rotate this thing.)

May 1, 2007 Posted by | Misc, Myanmar, Pets, SE Asia, Travel | 1 Comment

Those UNICEF Christmas Cards

Remember a decade or two ago when everyone was buying those UNICEF Christmas cards? 

Well, last week Francie and I were on a two day hike through Myanmar and I was really impressed by UNICEF’s work.  In 1988 UNICEF apparently went through a large amount of the Myanmar country and built water systems for villages that brought purified water to the doorstep.  These water systems are still working today and the purified water is incredible considering that the city’s water supply is polluted and everyone has to drink from water bottles.   

I guess all that money for UNICEF Christmas cards was well spent…now someone just needs to fix this hose.
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May 1, 2007 Posted by | burma, Myanmar, Photography, SE Asia, Travel | 1 Comment

Myanmar cultural anecdotes

Greg and I are now back in Bangkok after 3 weeks in Myanmar.  Looking back on our time there I have to say it was by far the most interesting country we’ve been to. Here are a few observations that might give you an idea of what a trip it was just to walk down the streets.

  • Locals sometimes yell “Hey you!” at foreigners (i.e. us).  It’s a pun – in Burmese “yu” means crazy.  har har.
  • The Burmese are incredibly warm and friendly people.  Sometimes it made it hard to get anywhere in town.  Every block we’d be stopped by a curious person wondering where we were from and what we thought of their country. We were also constantly pausing to say hello to people who would see us and yell whatever words they knew in English, e.g. “Goodbye thank you!”, “Hello! You’re welcome!”, etc.
  • One of the first questions people ask us is; “What is your religion?”  Here religion is intertwined with the culture and everyday life in a totally different way than in the US.  Explaining what it means to be an “atheist” is almost impossible with the language barrier, and answering “we have no religion” is an unknown concept.  They think we are strange indeed.  They are correct.
  • In restaurants you summon the waiter by making kissing noises at him or her with your lips.  This confused me greatly at first.
  • I went running several times.  I have never been such a spectacle in my life.  Everyone I passed yelled something at me in english or burmese.  people pointed me out to their friends and stared open mouthed.  Some laughed.  Groups of people would yell “Run!  Go!  Good!” and give me a thumbs up.  Some would run with me for a little ways before walking back to their group of friends.  So supportive!  I waved to everyone who shouted at me & felt like I was doing my victory lap after winning the gold medal. 
  • Several times in a crowded place a child would hit me (not hard) as they were walking by or being carried near me by their parent.  I wonder if they curious cause they don’t see many foreigners?  They wanted to see if I felt any different than a “normal” (to them) person?
  • I think that in small towns just about every other Burmese male knows how to play the guitar, and everyone, everyone, sings – while walking down the street, while doing laundry, while herding the goats, etc..  In the one bar in the town of Kalaw, there was a group of about 15 guys who went there every night to play and sing their hearts out.  How cool is that! I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that there is electricity only every other day and it cuts out for 5 minutes out of every hour… 
  • May 1, 2007 Posted by | Myanmar, SE Asia, Travel | 2 Comments