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

The 5 pound Lobster

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Holy shellfish.  Right before we left the islands in Indonesia, Greg, Randall, and I decided to finish with a bang and ordered this 5 pound lobster at the local seafood restaurant on Gili Trawangan.  Definitely the biggest one I’ve ever seen (in person). It was plenty to feed 3.

Mmmmm…. Delicious.

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October 13, 2007 Posted by | Indonesia, SE Asia, Travel | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life lessons in the Kuala Lumpur Airport

I am writing this from the Kuala Lumpur Airport (in Malaysia).  Yes, we are supposed to be in New Zealand right now.  But sometimes things happen when you’re travelling…

Some things we’ve learned in the last 48 hours:

  • Kuala Lumpur Internation Airport is very nice indeed, with many food selections and inexpensive internet terminals,
  • The Pan Pacific Hotel is a fabulous place to stay, and is conveniently connected to the terminal, AND
  • If you book connecting flights on different airlines, and the first flight gets delayed, causing you to miss your connections, and your plane tickets are non-refundable, you are up a crik withouts yer paddlez!

Yes, that is what happened to us.  Our flight on AirAsia from Bali to KL was delayed 6 hours, so we missed our connection on Jetstar Airlines to Sydney.  Fortunately though, we were able to call Air New Zealand before our flight was scheduled to leave Sydney and change to a different date, although we had to pay a fare difference and change fee.

So, you know how when you buy a plane ticket, there is always an option for an extra charge to buy “insurance” that you never really think you need?  Now I know that it is for cases like this!  Otherwise, a carrier such as AirAsia claims no responsibility for connecting, non-refundable flights you might miss according to their fineprint.  All is not lost though, as Greg and I both have Travel Insurance through World Nomads and can recoup some of the costs through them (fingers crossed).

I have to say though, this situation, however frustrating, made me realize how lucky we’ve been in general this year with air travel.  This is the first flight delay we’ve had of more than an hour and the only time we’ve missed a connection, out of the countless airplanes we’ve been on these past 10 months.

So… 48 hours and two new plane tickets later, we’re waiting to check-in for our flight to Sydney.  Just a small bump on the road. 🙂

October 9, 2007 Posted by | SE Asia, Travel | 2 Comments

Climbing Gunung Rinjani

September 30th – October 2nd 2007, Greg, Randall, and I climbed up the Rim, down the crater, then up the opposite Rim of the active volcano Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia. The last eruption was 2004!

Practical info: We arranged the trek through Lightning Fast internet cafe on Gili Trawangan in Lombok. We paid 725,000 Rs a piece and this included transport to and from Rinjani, all meals and equipment (except clothing), and porter and guide for 3 days and two nights. From talking to some other travellers on the trail, this appears to be a really good price.

Day 1: We started the trek in the town of Sembalun, which is actually the opposite of most treks – usually you start in Senaru. We did it backwards so that we could arrive in Senaru early enough on the 3rd day to get back to Gili Trawangan that evening. It took us about 5.5 brutal hours of steep climbing to get to the first camp, just below the crater rim. A couple hours in we passed some other hikers who told us how tired they were and informed us that we still had “a REALLY LONG way to go”. Thanks! I really wish they hadn’t said that.

We have a long ways to go:
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Day 2: We could have woken up at 3am the next morning and climbed in the dark to the summit (the highest point on the crater rim) to watch the sun rise. That didn’t happen… instead Randall and I were woken up by our guides at 6am and we stumbled out of the tent and proceeded to hike for 1 hour on a very steep gravel trail in a delirious state to get to the crater rim. Greg stayed behind in the sleeping bag; what a smart man.

We were greeted by this troublemaker when we returned to camp. He stole part of my breakfast and a container of margarine! Just look at the evil gleam in his eyes:
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This is a view of the crater, the lake, and the smaller cone on the morning of day 2:
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You can see from this photo how steep the rim walls are. That is why my legs were severely sore (mostly from the downhill) for 3 full days after we finished the hike.

After eating breakfast under duress (i.e. threat of monkey invasion), we hiked down the crater to the lake and the nearby hot springs. We spent about 3 hours there hanging out. The hot springs were excellent and felt great. The only disappointing thing about the otherwise idyllic spot was the profusion of garbage all over the area, some of which appears to have been deposited there by travelers, not Indonesians. I think it’s really sad that people who should know better and who have every advantage of a thorough environmental education would choose to litter in a National park. Shame on you.

Here is the lakeside view, with Greg the explorer:
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A shot of the hotsprings, from above:
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Our lunch break was long enough for some of us to take naps:
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Following our leisurely break was a brutal 3+ hour scaling of the opposite crater rim and then a 45 minute steep decent to get to camp.

Day 3: The hike from the second rim down to the town of Senaru (our endpoint), was through some totally different scenery and foliage than the way up, which was mostly grasslands. It was jungly, more lush and green, and more humid:
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We saw some more Macaques (the trouble maker monkeys) and also a few of the rare Silvered Leaf monkeys (which are actually black) from a distance. The trail wasn’t quite as steep as the one on the opposite side. My legs were already so sore that I resorted to taking a Vicodin about halfway down. It served the double purpose of both taking away the pain and making me feel like a sparkling individual!

We arrived back in Senaru around 12:30 or so and were back on the beach at Gili Trawangan by 4pm.

The trek was amazing and beautiful, but the feature of it that stands out most in my mind at the moment (probably because today is the first day I haven’t been in pain) is what a physical beatdown it was. The trail was either very steep uphill or very steep downhill without much in between. It makes it all the more impressive that the guides and porters do this hike carrying about 60 pounds each, packed into baskets hung onto the ends of a larger bamboo stick, which they balance on their shoulder. Wow.

Another awesome hiking adventure. Hopefully we’ll have some more during our 10 days in New Zealand, starting Oct. 9th. 🙂

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Indonesia, Photography, Rural, SE Asia, Travel, Wildlife | 3 Comments

Randall-tastic

As you know our friend Randall has been travelling with us these last few weeks in Bangkok and then Indonesia.  Say hello to Randall!

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Randall is an old friend of Greg’s and I didn’t know him too well before he came to meet up with us.  Since then I’ve gotten to know him and learned what an interesting guy he is (as well as a good travel companion).   One of the benefits of globe-trotting with Randall is that he is very sociable and does all the work of befriending locals and other travellers.  All Greg and I have to do to feel like we’re hanging out with a bunch of buddies is just show up at the bar!  Awesome.   He is also a trooper under duress.  Our recent beatdown trek at Mt. Rinjani could have ended in disaster if he had turned out to be a whiner or a big baby.

Another interesting fact that I’ve learned is that Randall has a special connection with monkeys, as you can see from these two photos:

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And finally, here is a shot for the ladies:

Randall on beach

Yay for Randall!

October 4, 2007 Posted by | Indonesia, Misc, SE Asia, Travel | , , | 1 Comment

My busy day in Indonesia

We haven’t posted in a few days, not because we don’t want to, but because we’re on these small islands in Indonesia where it’s hard to get online, and when we do, it usually consists of 6 people sharing 1 dial-up connection.  But we persevered and finally the photos are updated on flickr so I can tell you about a recent day here on the beach!

 I started out the morning by borrowing a ferry from the Indonesian government and taking Greg and Randall out for a spin.  Here I am behind the wheel:

Francie driving the ferry

Next I decided to go surfing. I’ll have you know that the wave I’m riding is a lot bigger than it looks!

Francie Zurfing

After tiring myself out surfing I was looking for a more mellow activity, so I decided to go hunt around some tide-pools. I found some cool stuff, including this star fish:

Upside Down Starfish

After a few hours of staring at tide pools I had some energy again, so I put on snorkel gear and decided to help a local clean his glass bottomed boat. There were some hard to reach places on that thing!

Francie under the boat

The beach was so beautiful – I had to just lie in the sun for awhile. Meanwhile, Greg fell asleep while working on his tan:

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A late afternoon at the beach is best spent building things in the sand, so myself, greg, and randall made this lovely alligator, which is so good that it looks like maybe we didn’t really make it and someone with actual skill at building things out of sand did…

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To finish the day off right, we ate some fresh seafood and drank some reedeeculous cocktails. Here is a photo of Randall with his pina colada:

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And that was our day.  I wonder what I will do tomorrow?  You will find out soon!

September 27, 2007 Posted by | Indonesia, Photography, SE Asia, Travel | 1 Comment

Elephants at Ayutthaya

Today we caught a train to Ayutthaya (an ancient capital of Thailand) to see some of the old Wats.  Randall shot a great video of us riding around on bikes that we will try and get up tomorrow.  During the day we stopped and hung out with a bunch of Thai elephants which may have been the highlight of the day.

Of course, Thailand ‘freed’ all their elephants from ‘working’ (for example, logging) and now many of them earn their keep in the tourist trade.

Here at Ayutthaya the elephants train to give rides and do a few tricks. Unfortunately, they were out of blocks of ice that we could feed to the elephants (it was really hot).

Francie feeding 3 year old Elephant
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Randall posing with Elephant
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Greg posing with elephant.
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September 18, 2007 Posted by | Bangkok, SE Asia, Thailand, Travel, Wildlife | 2 Comments

The smell of the Mekong

En-route back to Bangkok Greg and I have a 24-hour stopover in Jinghong, a small town on the Mekong in southern Yunnan province, not too far from the border. As soon as we stepped off the plane the smell of the river, the tropical vegetation, the humidity, and the rich soil hit me and it brought back all these wonderful memories of SE Asia, but Laos in particular, where we spent lots of time on the Mekong as well as many other rivers. Thinking back about all the countries we’ve travelled through I realize just how much I loved being in Laos. Right now it is still not over-run by tourists (as Thailand is in many places) but that’s starting to change as it becomes “discovered” as the special travel destination that it is. So people, go visit Laos now! You will not regret it. However, don’t go with a big list of must-see destinations and sites. Instead, take some good books, ride the slow-moving river boats, eat lots of river fish, and visit some remote villages.

September 11, 2007 Posted by | China, Laos, SE Asia, Travel, Yunnan | 2 Comments

Some Favorite Photos

I was just organizing some of our Flickr pictures and decided to highlight some of my favorite photos at this 7 month travel milestone.

Francie pretending to be on the phone in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I mean, who would we call?

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Simon coming up out of the crazy green sea. Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand.

Simon snorkels

This eel man was quite delighted to have his picture taken. Bangkok.

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Lam Duan hiding under our bed in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was very hot that day.

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Koh Ngai, Thailand.

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Girl in field outside of Meung Ngoi, Laos.

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Girl with Laughing Cow cheese in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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The Eye of the Elephant. Hongsa, Laos.

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Girls carrying supplies to remote village after school. Laos.

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View from the back of a funky little car on a rainy day. Mandalay, Myanmar.

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Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk.

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Street boy in Yangon. We gave him a squirt gun to be used in the water festival.

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Postcard selling boy in Bagan, Myanmar.

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Bagan, Myanmar.

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Boy washing his water buffaloes. Kalaw, Myanmar.

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Francie in front of a wall of corn. Naxi Guesthouse on hiking trail at Tiger Leaping Gorge, China.

Holy Corn Cobs!

Stone building at Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

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Do you want some cigarettes with your buns? Dali, China.

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Round Door at Great Mosque, Xi’An

Round Door at The Great Mosque

Bicycle and sweeper at Great Mosque, Xi’An

Bicycle at Great Mosque-Xian

Francie in the back alleyways of the Forbidden City

Francie at Forbidden City

Jellyfish at Ocean Park, Hong Kong

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LiJiang, China

LiJiang Square

Great Wall Watchtower

Great Wall Watchtower

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong

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Greg’s new friend. Ocean Park, Hong Kong

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Streets of Hong Kong

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Macau Door

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Macau Square at Dusk

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Look at me. Wolong, China

Panda looking at us from Stump

Getting wet in Wolong, China.

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Ok. That’s it for now! It is nice for us to walk back through all the photos to remember all the places we have been.

August 12, 2007 Posted by | China, Photography, SE Asia, Travel | 6 Comments

Best of Asia- Little known places

Now that we have hit the seven month travel milestone I wanted to highlight some of my favorite places of the trip that are not well known. No Hong Kong or Bangkok on this list. Here is a selection of eight places that I will resist ranking until the end of the trip. I have included a picture or two for each of them.

Koh Jum, Thailand–This small island with limited electricity (3 hours a day) has beautiful, quiet beaches and crystal clear water. Located between Krabi and Koh Lanta it is still off the beaten path for most people. The food at the ‘New Bungalows’ is excellent with the glass noodles with shrimp, banana shakes, and onion rings as particularly noteworthy.

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Koh Jum sunset

Wolong, China–Located 4.5 hours northwest of Chengdu, this area of the Sichuan province is absolutely beautiful. In addition to the unbelievable forest the fact that you can see a crazy amount of one year old Pandas playing makes the trip well worth it.

Keeping it real

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Lijiang & Tiger Leaping Gorge, China–Cheating here a bit with two locations in one but Lijiang is the old Chinese town that takes you back in time. You can drink it up with Chinese tourists all night long and then head off to one of the more beautiful treks in the Yunnan province.

LiJiang Square

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Mae Salong, Thailand–This small town is located up in the hills that border Thailand and China. Not much to do but drink tea and hang out with the locals who are exceptionally friendly. The spicy lemongrass soup I had there definitely lands on my list of top eats. You can also hike through rows and rows of tea and then have a cup in a giant teacup building–you can’t beat that.

Mae Salong Tea Fields

Francie and horsie

Hongsa, Laos–Take a boat down the Mekong River for a day. Hop in the back of a truck for 2 hours and you get to the dusty town of Hongsa. Known as elephant central this place doesn’t have a lot going on except bike or elephant rides through the surrounding countryside. If you are lucky the nice people may even force you to go to a Lao wedding.

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Kalaw, Myanmar–Truly, one of my favorite places on the trip. Located to the east of Bagan up in the mountains. The people were incredibly friendly and we were invited to sing and play guitar at the Hi Snack and Drink bar. The trekking was fantastic and the Golden Kalaw Hotel goes down as the best guesthouse in Asia. The Nepali food here is divine.

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Meung Ngoi, Laos–From Luang Prabang you take a bus or pickup truck to a river in the north. Then transfer to a little boat and go another hour up the river. There are no vehicles here and you can do day hiking (or longer) to small towns even farther out. The rate at one guesthouse out there was fifty cents a night but be careful–they eat dog out here.

Francie & water buffalo

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Bolaven Plateau, Laos–Hop on a motorbike and explore the Bolaven Plateau. This area in the southeast of Laos can change quickly from dry and dusty to lush and beautiful. There are a number of different waterfalls that may soon be used by the Lao government to generate electricity. See them while you can and don’t forget to get a cup of the legendary coffee.

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That’s the list for now. Let’s see what the next month brings because I am betting that Songpan will land on the list where Francie gets to ride a horsie again (oh joy of joys).

August 11, 2007 Posted by | China, SE Asia, Travel | Leave a comment