Sunday, June 6, 2010

All Good Things..

I can't believe that today is my last day in Southeast Asia. Blogging when I first got to Singapore really seems like a long time ago- especially because we've done so much between then and now. On Wednesday we went to Young and Rubicam which is a company that works in advertising, public relations, etc. Thursday and Friday were filled with another meeting, walking around the city, and shopping. On Saturday we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market which is just massive- it covers 35 acres and has more than 15,000 stalls. It was definitely easy to get lost inside. Yesterday we went to visit the mall that was set on fire during the protests. We noticed bullet holes everywhere- even where we were walking. After that we got some lunch, shopped a bit, and then came back to relax and grab dinner.

You really get used to the Asian culture when you are around it for so long. You get used to not having trash cans, napkins, or benches anywhere. You get used to the fact that they never bring all the food out at the same time. And you get used to using their currency. I think in each place that we stayed it took a little time to get used to the currency. For example, in Thailand 1 baht is around 30 American dollars. So for them, it's normal to see things that are 1,000 (in baht), which for us is only about $30. But my mind is constantly working to figure out how much everything is and for the most part everything is much cheaper. But I really have enjoyed Bangkok- it's easy to get around using the sky train and it's a great city with a lot of history to it.

While I'm sad to leave Southeast Asia in general, I will be glad to get home and let my body adjust to the time difference...again. My flight leaves at 5:30am tomorrow morning (that's around 6:30 pm back in the states. We are scheduled to get back home at 6:30pm on Tuesday. Stephanie and I will most likely just stay in the airport tonight since we would have to be there at 3:30 anyway, and leave at 2:30 to get there. We might catch a movie today, get a little more shopping done, and then have a big dinner with everyone.

I know I've definitely made friends that I'll never forget. It's been an amazing trip and definitely the best experience I've ever had.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Less Than a Week.

I can't believe we are approaching the end of our trip. Less than a week now. The day after I blogged last we went to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, along with visiting S.21 and the Killing Fields, which were both pretty intense experiences. If you don't know much about the Cambodian Genocide, research it. It's hard to explain just how I was feeling at the time. It's one of those things where you don't really want to talk about it- you just kind of take it all in and try to process it in your own way.

The next day we left for Saigon which was a 7hr trip by bus, but not as bad as some of the other transportation we've had. We stayed at Madame Cuc's which was interesting because we were all split up into three different buildings, but still with the same hotel. Saigon was great for the afternoon that we were there. We did a little shopping, got some dinner, and got foot massages (which were a little disappointing) I do wish that we had gotten to spend a little more time in Saigon but the next day we left for the airport, and headed to Bangkok. The flight was only an hour, although it seemed a bit rougher than most flights and I was glad to have landed when we did. When we got here we grabbed a taxi to Suk 11 which is one of the best places we've stayed so far. It's like a big tree house in the middle of Bangkok. It's surrounded with plants and it's all wood. Each hallway looks like it stretches on forever but it's pretty awesome. We took the train system to the MBK Center which was pretty much just a big mall. Afterwards we had a relaxing afternoon followed by some dinner and drinks. Yesterday we just kind of roamed the city. We took the train system to a water taxi which took us to Wat Pho which includes the Recling Buddha. We went to Chinatown and then came back to Suk 11. That brings me to today- one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.. the Tiger Temple. On top of getting to pet, walk with, and watch tigers play, we saw all other kinds of animals as well. I took lots of pictures because this was definitely one of the best experiences so far.

We will be doing different things for the rest of our trip in Bangkok and I'm not really sure what we have in mind but hopefully I'll be able to blog once more before we leave :-)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Road Less Traveled

The rest of our time spent at Siem Reap was great. More temples, an elephant ride, an amazing massage, Tonle Sap, and our service project. The temples are just indescribable. Just the size alone of Angkor Wat is something to marvel at- to imagine each individual stone being carried in and placed specifically to create something so massive is hard to imagine. The other temples were the same way- some weren't as big or as famous as others but obviously they all take a great amount of time to create. We also got to ride elephants up the mountain which I have to say was a bit expensive for what we got- but to say that I've ridden an elephant is well worth it. We also got to see the temple where tomb raider was filmed. I don't really remember much of the movie so I can't say that I remembered seeing specific things from the movie at the temple but it was still an amazing sight. Our visit to Tonle Sap Lake was one I'll never forget (not that any other part of this trip is forgettable) The houses in that area (and all over Siem Reap) are not houses you would ever see in the US. It's kind of what I pictured when I first learned of the trip to Southeast Asia- bumpy dirt roads, flat land, and poverty. The ride on the boat to see one of the villages on Tonle Sap was quite eventful. I had already been feeling very sick before- but add a boat ride that's an hour each way and it makes things 10 times worse. I really tried to suck it up and just focus on what was going on around me but nothing really seemed to work. Anyway it was still a good experience and I've taken away alot from it.

Yesterday was an incredible day- after taking a walk around a local village, riding an ox, and visiting a local elementary school, we started on our service project- building a compost toilet for house in the village. We laid brick, dug the trench, drilled holes in the pipe, and created walls and a roof out of their materials. It was probably one of the best experiences so far because we were able to interact with alot of the people in the village- the children in particular who seemed to be fascinated with whatever we were working on and some of them actually helped.

Although I think all of us were a bit sad to leave Siem Reap and have to say goodbye to the awesome staff and our Tuk Tuk drivers, we came to Phnom Penh today- after what was possibly the worst bus ride ever. With the way they drive around here, honking is everything. They pretty much pass whenever they want and out of courtesy to the driver they're passing, they honk to let them know. So every few seconds out driver would pass someone, and therefore honk. But he couldn't honk just once, it had to be several times. Anyway The Billabong is amazing and their salt water pool was just what I needed when we got here. We did a little shopping (ok I lied it was more than a little) but we got some great deals. Tomorrow we have quite a bit planned- the killing fields, S21, possibly the royal palace, and the Russian market. We leave Saturday for Ho Chi Minh City and only have the afternoon there. Sunday we fly to Bangkok- our plans changed again because apparently Bangkok is fine now. We will spend the remainder of our trip in Bangkok. It's all going by faster and faster now. Will blog again soon.. I hope.
ps my spelling might be off since I'm doing this from my iPod :-)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is amazing so far. After staying up all night in the Kuala Lumpur aiport, it's been just what we needed. The flight was only an hour and the time is also different here. It's 11hrs ahead instead of 12. Anyway, we got off the plane and walked through the tiny Siem Reap aiport only to find Tuk Tuks, flower bracelets made of Jasmine pedals, and drinks waiting for us. The Tuk Tuks have been great- it's just a motorcycle with a little carriage attached and there is one for every two people in the group. They take us where we need to go, wait around for us to do what we need to do, and then take us to the next place we want to go (wherever that may be) Anyway, they grabbed our bags and took us to The Villa at Siem Reap (definitely my favorite place so far). Siem Reap itself is more rural than most of the places we've been. Lots of hotels and shops and people trying to sell you things. But the Villa itself is incredible. They greet us with cold towels and then take us to Angkor Wat which was amazing to see. It is massive and just plain incredible. After that we got lunch back at the Villa and headed out to see Angkor Thom. That night we went to a concert for Kantha Bopha(a hospital free of charge for children and pregnant women set up in Siem Reap and also in Phnom Penh) Today we woke up at 4:30 am to see the sunrise at the temples. We also visited the temple where Lara Croft Tomb Raider was filmed. After that we came back for breakfast, naps, showers, and then back out to see more temples, have lunch, and visit a landmine museum in the area. Overall I've enjoyed Siem Reap so far. Our hotel is incredible (they offer 90minute full body massages for only $16 American dollars and 60minutes massages for only $12..needless to say we will be getting one) It is beautifully decorated, the staff is very friendly, and the service is great.

I have noticed that the main modes of transportation here are definitely motorcycles, Toyota cars, and Tuk Tuks for visitors. It is sad to see little children on motorcycles though sitting on the front riding around wherever their parents take them. Even infants are taken on them and just carried in their parents' arms. Also I have to say that while at first it was entertaining to have children swarm you asking you to buy things from them for "only one dolla!", it can be quite the annoyance. When we are ready to leave somewhere we get in our Tuk Tuks and they surround it like a mob begging us to buy things from them. This morning, however, they were scared away by a police officer because they are supposed to be in school. One second they were there and the next they weren't.

I think we have decided on what to do about our trip now. We are staying at Siem Reap awhile longer than planned (until Thursday or so), then taking a bus to Phnom Penh for two or three days, then taking a train or bus to Ho Chi Minh City until the 7th, when we will fly to Bangkok and then fly home on the 8th. I am sad that we won't be staying in Bangkok or in Chiang Mai because that has also been impacted. We were supposed to ride elephants in Chiang Mai but I think we will be doing it here instead. We get one more day of the temples whenever we choose, visiting Tonle Sap, and helping to build toilets for a village during the rest of our stay in Siem Reap. I'm definitely excited for the rest of our stay in Siem Reap and hopefully will blog again either before we leave, or when we get to Phnom Penh.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quick Updates

We are sitting in the Kuala Lumpur airport for the night waiting for our 7am flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were supposed to go to Bangkok in our third week of the trip but if anyone has been keeping up with it, the situation in Bangkok is continuously getting worse so we will not be going there. We aren't quite sure what we are going to do instead but we have quite a few options. We do have to fly home from there though so hopefully that works out. I'll update more at some point in Siem Reap. We have a super busy day tomorrow from the minute we get off the plane so I'll blog again whenever I can.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I'm alive!

I realize it's been quite a while since I've blogged last. Thinking that we would have more internet access in Kuala Lumpur I decided to try and wait, but when we got there we didn't seem to have much luck. Right now we are in Taman Negara and today is kind of our free day so we all headed up to the internet cafes. My writing probably isn't the best but I'm just gonna try to catch up on everything we've done. Anyway, Singapore was an amazing city- and it was definitely a great transition from America because it's very westernized. Everyone speaks English, it's easy to get around, there are PLENTY of places to eat. The only differences were really just the basic- currency, people, and the food. But I think it definitely made it a little easier for us because it wasn't all that different. Our first day we walked quite a ways- out to the harbor area, and then back towards where we stayed to grab some lunch. Transportation was easy as well I might add, because they have taxis everywhere and the MRT which is their name for the subway. Later in the day we headed to the National University of Singapore and got a brief history as well as learned quite a bit about government influence. One of the things I thought was crazy was that if you are even caught with a gun, they will kill you for it, unless you are military, police, etc. That night we went to Chinatown and checked out the local street vendors. By this time I think the jet lag started to kick in because when it was 2pm my body still felt like it was 2am and that I should be sleeping so I was all over the place. I wasn't feeling very well for the first couple of days so I didn't eat a lot either..but I will say that everyone else thoroughly enjoyed it I think. The next day we headed to a local coffee place to meet up with a friend of Dr. Kennan's. After that we decided to head back to Chinatown and then Little India. However, my camera battery decided to fall out along the way so while everyone else went ahead, Stephanie and I retraced our steps to see if we could find it. No such luck. Instead we headed to a camera place and I got a new one. That night we went to Lau Pa Sat night market for some food with another friend of Dr. Kennan's.

Sunday we headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Once there, we checked into our rooms at the University of Malaya and then headed to Petaling Street. This was definitely an experience- and the place to put your haggling skills to the test. If they say 75 ringgit, you say 40 ringgit. And eventually you'll get a price you want. The next day we met with Lucy, yet another friend of Dr. Kennan's and she took us first to meet with some of her colleagues at the university. After that we headed to the Batu Caves (272 steps to the top) This was absolutely amazing to me and definitely worth walking the steps to the top. However, the monkeys are a little crazy there. We got some lunch, and then headed to Putrayjaya which is where most of their government offices are.

Tuesday we headed on our way to Taman Negara. Took a bus ride to a boat and from there are 3 hr boat ride to where we are staying. It started to pour so most of us ran out in the rain for a little bit and then headed to dinner. The next day (yesterday) we took a short boat ride up towards the canopy walk. Since it was closed we decided to come back later. We came back for lunch and then from there they took us through some rapids to a village called the Orang Asli. Their huts are from leaves and whatever else they can find but they are still heavily influenced by modern culture (crocs, normal clothes, etc..not that I blame them) That night we went for a long walk through the forest with our guide to try a see any animals. We really didn't see a whole lot- some birds and deer, and lots of ants. Today we went back to try the canopy walk and it was incredible. It's the longest canopy walk and the view from there is beautiful. That brings me to where I am now. Their main mode of transportation is boats and bikes. Because where we are staying is separated from the restaurants, internet cafes, etc by a river, we take a boat back and forth every time we need to go to the other side (it's not far)

Nearly everything costs money too- internet usage, sometimes the bathrooms, boat rides, etc. Anyway, as I said my writing isn't what it usually is but I had a lot to write in- hopefully I'll have more time the next time to write a little better. And I probably should have listened to my dad a little better when he was asking me what they use for the bathroom because they don't use toilet paper- they just have a hose so we've had to buy more and more as we all use it. Where we are staying is a pretty nice resort though-and we're staying in the hostel part of it. Anyway I think I'm done writing for now- hopefully I'll write again when we get to Siem Reap- or maybe I'll just clean this one up a little bit. hope everything is well back in the states for everyone reading this..I miss everyone a lot.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Made It!

So after a grueling 26hr trip, we made it to Singapore! I have to say that although I haven't slept in over 24hrs, I feel quite least for now (I'm sure it'll hit me soon enough)..considering my body probably thinks it's still 3:07pm. The flight left from Dulles at 11:30 to Minneapolis- we (Stephanie and I) got there around 1pm central time. From there we had about an hour and a half to kill waiting for our next flight (the longest of them all). This next flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was about 12hrs, and completely exhausting. Mainly because it was during the time that we would normally be sleeping..and it was a bit too uncomfortable to sleep for more than 45minutes. As soon as we got to Tokyo we went straight on to the next flight.

We had soooo much food on the planes which would've been nice had Stephanie and I not gotten Subway in Minneapolis. Everything from chicken with potatoes and corn to beef with vegetables and potatoes- as well as shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, a salad, a roll, and a dessert. And I think we had two full meals on our flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo as well as a snack. Our flight from Tokyo to Singapore (7hrs) consisted of one meal and one snack. This flight was actually really nice because Stephanie and I were the only ones in our row, and had two seats between us to stretch out a bit and get some rest. This flight also had monitors in the headboards to choose from movies, music, games, and more. Although I must say that having to go to the bathroom nearly once or more every hour from drinking so much water can be quite the annoyance.

When we got to Singapore it was very refreshing to know that most people speak English and the process of leaving the airport was much simpler than I had imagined. We hopped off the plane, waited about 5minutes for our bags, and proceeded to convert some money as well as buy international calling cards. We both called our parents and then headed out to find a taxi. I really enjoyed the taxi ride- and I'm not sure whether it was just being in Singapore and being able to see it lit up at night, or if it was just the giddy excitement of being on the opposite side of the road, with the driver on the opposite side of the car.

So we get to Sleepy Sam's bed and breakfast, which is very quaint. Inside the door is a lounge area with computers and a futon on the floor..and also no AC in this part (it is really hot, and really humid by the way) We have a kitchen after that, then sinks and showers. Past this point we take our shoes off and proceed upstairs, where we are sleeping. It has a very camp-like feel with old wooden bunkbeds (but at least there is AC).

Tomorrow we will get up in the morning, probably around 9am (which is probably why I should go straight to bed after writing this) and take in the sights. I'll let you guys know what happens from there! :-)

"The world is like a book, and those who don't travel are only reading one page."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Getting Excited

We are leaving so soon for our big trip to Southeast Asia. I cannot even express all the emotions I am feeling up to this point. Of course I'm excited that I'm actually traveling somewhere out of the country that isn't Canada, and of course I'm excited that I have this incredible opportunity that has been set in front of me that most people never get. But at the same time, I'm nervous about all of the "what ifs". However, I'm keeping myself in that optimistic state of mind in the hopes that my excitement completely outweighs my nervous energy. Right now they are both about equal and I'm thinking the closer it gets, the more excited I'll be. And I can't exactly help that I worry and that I get nervous- it's party of my personality.

The time change is 12 hours ahead. My flight leaves sometime in the late morning on May 12th (not sure exactly what time) and lands in Singapore around 11:40pm (11:40am here) on May 13th (next Thursday). And yes, that makes it a 24hr flight. We will be gone for about four weeks and going to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Teman Negara, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then back to Bangkok to fly home.

If you guys have questions, send me comments. We'll be blogging just about everyday so keep reading!