Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Zealand: "The Land of Sails"

Day 1:
September 29th we caught a plane at 10:30am from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, the last stop on our Asian Adventure. The flight was a quick two hours but we felt the affects of the 3 hour time change. We got our bags quickly, oddly scrutinized by the immigration guy, then we were on our way. We are staying at another hostel, K Road City Travelers, and it's pretty nice. It seems to be in a good location so we are excited. We dropped our stuff off and then walked down to a local pizza place for dinner and then we went back to the hostel to map out our week of activities!

Day 2:
Our first full day in Auckland and we got a pretty late start...stupid time change. But the weather was pretty crummy so we didn't miss out on too much. We walked to the downtown area where we literally just walked around all day looking at shops and people watching. Around 4:00pm, we decided to walk to the Auckland museum which I told Andrew probably closes at 5pm, but we walked what seemed like forever anyways. Of course, being right at usual, we arrived at 4:58pm and it closed at 5pm. By this time are legs are aching, we are sick of the drizzling weather, and a little hungry. So we grabbed a bite to eat and went back to 'actually' make a plan for tomorrow.

Day 3:
Since we missed out on the Auckland Museum yesterday, we decided to start our day off with a little New Zealand history. When we arrived, we were a little irritated at the sign in the front entrance. "Admission is free however a $10 donation per adult is appreciated." Then we went to the ticket office where the lady told us the fee would be $20. I understand a donation to be of any denomination...they need to change the sign to, "Admission fee $10 per adult," and just do away with the word 'donation,' it confuses people.

The museum was HUGE and we ended up spending 3 hours there! It's made up of three large floors each hosting different galleries. The ground level was all about the history of the 'Pacific People,' Which included a large exhibit about the Maori people, New Zealands native tribe. It was full of old ships, pottery, baskets and clothing from the tribal people. The first floor was a gallery of Natural History. This included early sea and land life as well as a really cool interactive volcano exhibit, and a pretty cool kids center, 'Weird and Wonderful.' The second floor was appropriately titled, "Scars on the Heart." This was dedicated to all of the wars that New Zealand was involved with. They had a really neat set up with trenches and planes and respectful display wall to all of those who had fallen in battle. The time went fast and we witnessed a lot in three hours.

After the museum we went to walk around the water front looking at all the boats and restaurants. We ate at a Mexican place and then made the long walk back to the hostel because we couldn't figure out which bus we could take.


Day 4:
Andrew and I got up extra early today in order to walk to the pier and hopefully get a seat on a sailboat this afternoon. This is no ordinary sailboat folks, this one actually sailed in the America's Cup in 1995, which is a sailing race and the oldest active trophy in international sports. This prestigious race, also known as the Millionaires Race, began in the UK in 1857. The name was then changed to 'America's Cup' after a boat from the USA, named America, won the first race. The Americans held on to the title of champion until 1983, making it the longest winning streak in sporting history. The particular boat we were on was raced by the Japanese. It's interesting to note that just because the boat is representing a country doesn't mean that's where the crew is from. Anybody can sponsor a boat in the race, (if you have about $80 million extra bucks laying around) and then they put together the best sailors from around the world to sail it. This boat for the Japanese had a crew of 16 men from Australia, New Zealand and Japan. It ultimately made it to the semi-final round in '95.

Since there were only four crew members on our boat all of us passengers got to participate in the sailing process! There were about 25 people on this boat including Andrew and I (who were the youngest) but unfortunately not very many people volunteered. So Andrew and I, and the same six other people ended up doing the majority of the 'grinding.' That means we were frantically 'pedaling a bike with our hands' in order to control the sails. My back is hurting but it was so awesome to participate. I was a little nervous at first, I don't have the strongest stomach for movement..ie: puking over the boat in Thailand, but I was assured that no one has gotten sick before. (I didn't want to be the one to break that streak.) Most of the tourists on the boat were from Australia, one Canadian, a few Germans, some French, and then Andrew and I. There were plenty of America jokes...I particularly liked when the skipper converted the meters to feet and looked and Andrew and I saying, "Those Americans don't understand the meter talk." Haha. The crew was a lot of fun. The day was gorgeous, and really really windy. They said that an America's Cup race wouldn't race in this much wind but it was a good day for us to be out there. The wind was really cold and I was really cold but how many people can say that their first experience on a sail boat was on a racing boat in New Zealand?! It was well worth the time, money, and back pains!

After the boating experience, Andrew and I decided to check out the ice bar along the harbor. All I can say is that thank goodness we had a two for one coupon to get in. It was quite a disappointment. The draw to the bar is that it's called minus 5. You walk in and are given a huge coat and gloves. The bar in freezing cold and everything is made of ice. The bar, the seats, and even the glasses. They had some pretty neat ice sculptures but of course we weren't allowed to take photos. One of the staff members would take you picture and then sell you one for $12...no thanks. The place was neat but it wasn't much of a bar. The whole area was about the size of a medium sized bedroom...and well...it was freezing! I can't complain about the temperature, obviously, but Andrew and I just felt like the whole thing was so hyped up and it was a waste of money. Oh well...it was an experience.

Day 5:
On the road again! Today Andrew and I decided to embark on a short road trip. We rented a car, a mid 90s Nissan Cefiro, and Andrew braved the opposite driving. It might actually have been to his advantage to have not driven for a year because although it was strange, it wasn't terrible. He did a great job! We ventured about three hours south to Rotorua, a city with a population of about 56,000. The main draw to this city for tourists and locals alike are the geysers, bubbling hot mud pools and the hot thermal springs. We only had to stop once for directions which I thought was pretty good considering we didn't know where we were going and I wasn't much help on reading the map to Andrew because I get sick looking at anything while in a moving car. The dive was absolutely stunning and this was the first time we really got to see all the beauty that New Zealand has to offer. From the lakes to the rolling green hills and the trees...it was just gorgeous.


We arrived in Rotorua at about 1pm and decided to see what this place had to offer. We walked the streets a little to stretch our legs before getting back in the car where drove to Sulphur Bay. (Having a car was awesome...mobility is key!) When we got out, the stench hit us like a wall. The sulphur aroma was so strong we both got light headed pretty quickly. It was a little eerie to see that the water was a milky white color and in certain spots it was bubbling and sulphurs steam would rush out. New Zealand has lots of volcanoes and the whole time we were there all I could think about was the movie 'Dante's Peak.' Once the smell got over powering, we decided to check out another site, the Whakarwarewa Forest. We got back in the car, (I love saying that) and drove to the forest. It;s famous for its tall redwood trees, much like the ones in California. The trees were planted in 1902 and have not matured into the tallest and most beautiful trees I have ever seen. There were all sorts of paths you could take depending on if you were walking, biking, horseback riding, or jogging. We decided to take the 30 minute walking trail. It took us a little longer because we were constantly stopping to take pictures. These trees were so beautiful and there were thousands of them!


After the forest walk, we just drove around to look at the scenery. We drove by some beautiful tree covered hills and we pulled over at a look out point overlooking a lake. Again, the scenery was breathtaking. No wonder Rotorua is constantly voted one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand. Being that it's Springtime here, everything is green and in bloom. I don't think we could have picked a better time to be here.


After the drive, we checked into our hostel and then went to get something to eat. Before finding some food we stopped or gas. $70NZD ($52USD) later, it was just about full!!! We weren't even on empty yet...we could not believe it was that much! We split a sandwich and then called it a day.


Day 6:
The reason for our visit to Rotorua was for two main reasons. To get out of Auckland and see something different, as well as visit the famous Wait0mo Caves about two hours southwest of Rotorua. We had tried to book a black water rafting cave tour that looked really cool, but yesterday we got an email saying that they were now full. We were really bummed but decided to go to the caves anyways, we were already halfway there.


So we got up and left the hostel at about 8:15am. We had no clue where to go, and after trying for a few minutes, we turned around and went to an information center for help. It took longer than expected but we weren't in too much of a hurry and the scenery was just so beautiful it didn't really matter. All this driving gave us a great chance to see the country side. We arrived at the caves and were able to take a 45 minute tour of the famous Glowworm cave. Sadly, no pictures were allowed inside. It's really too bad because it was unbelievable but I can understand that the flashes would probably disturb the glow worms. Our tour guide was great. She was witty and gave us a lot of good background about the caves and the worms. I learned that glowworms aren't really even worms, the are maggots. But they figured glow worm sounds more appealing than glow maggot. We were guided through the cave and then we all got in a boat. It was really dark in the boat and the only light was the glow from the worms. There were thousands of them and they looked like thousands of dim white Christmas lights. It was very cool and I'm glad we took the time to go even though the rafting part didn't work out.


When we left the cave Andrew wanted me to try driving, just for a minute or so. I was really, really nervous but agreed anyways. I think I drove for about two minutes before pulling over. It was a small country road and I couldn't judge how far over I was and it was all so scary. The speed limit was 100KPH and I drove at a comfortable speed of 30KPH while the cars whizzed past me...thank goodness there was a shoulder so I could pull off and let Andrew take the wheel again. I guess i can say I did it though.


The drive back to Auckland was smooth and easy. We stopped in a small town called Hamilton and ate at a local cafe for lunch. It was very cute and nice to get out of the car. The scenery home was awesome and I snapped a few more car pictures.


All in all, renting a car was a great decision and I'm glad we got to get out of Auckland and see another side of New Zealand!

Day 7:
Our flight didn't leave until 7:30pm and we had to be out of the hostel by 10am...which meant we had some time to kill. We started out spending an hour at a coffee shop just because we had nothing better to do. Then we decided to hop on the city bus and drive for a bit until something looked interesting and then we'd get off. About 30 minutes into the ride we got off at a shopping district made up of lots of different little shops. We ended up being able to spend our time here until returning to the hostel to collect our bags and then head to the airport.

Being at the airport was a little surreal. We had been anticipating going home for such a long time that we couldn't believe it was actually here. It was also strange knowing we were leaving at 7:30pm on Oct.5th and after 20 hours of travel time, we would arrive in KC at 9:15pm on Oct. 5th...we basically got to live the same day twice :)

The first flight wasn't terrible, but it wasn't much fun either. I don't sleep well on planes so I ended up watching three movies, a few TV shows and a documentary before landing in San Francisco. I was so giddy to actually be back in the US, I was almost jumping up and down until Andrew told me to calm down a little bit.

Security took us forever to get through and the longest we have had to wait since we left on this trip. After being in the terminal an hour or so, we noticed that our flight still wasn't on the board yet...we got a little worried. Finally we figured out we were in the international terminal, but there was no sign indicating where we were and where we needed to go. Good thing we had plenty of time.

We left San Francisco on time and our three hour flight felt like it took forever! I was so tired but so excited to finally see everyone that I was able to keep my energy up. We arrived and my mom and dad as well as Andrew's parents and a few of Andrew's friends were there to greet us. Everything seemed a bit surreal, (partly because I was in a daze from the lack of sleep). All of our stuff made it and we were so excited to finally be HOME!
......
After 10.5 (We were only in Japan 8 hours) countries in 13 months,
using countless modes of transportation,
hearing 8 different languages,
using 11 different currencies,
eating interesting local delicacies,
seeing several world wonders,
meeting countless amazing people,
hearing plenty of heart wrenching stories,
and experiencing cultures many people only get the chance to read about,
I feel so blessed have been able to run and relish in this opportunity to learn about myself and an entire ancient world. I want to thank those of you who have been following my endeavors and for all of the love and support you have strengthened me with. God Bless :)

Australia: The Land Downunder

(Sorry no photos...still really slow internet)

Day 1: Melbourne

Having never flown Air Emirates before, we were excited to see what was in store. It was great! Every seat had it’s own TV screen with music galore, tons of movies, TV shows and news at our finger tips. The coolest feature however was the plane cameras. You could click and either view the camera on the front of the plane or one attached to the bottom. So since we didn’t have a window seat we could still see out, I thought that was very cool. The food was great and the whole flight experience was awesome. So enthralled with our entertainment options, Andrew and I only spoke about two words to each other the whole 6.5 hour flight!

We landed at 7:30am, September 23rd Australia time, which was 5:30am Singapore time. Having not slept the whole plane ride, needless to say we were exhausted. We went through customs collected our bags and then found the van we needed to take to the hostel. We were met with quite the temperature change. Australia is just coming out of their winter so there was a distinct chill in the air. I hope neither Andrew nor I get sick from such a fast temperature change. The ride to the hostel took about 20 minutes. Pint on Punt is where we would reside during our stay in Melbourne. Sounds like a pub…which it is. The hostel is built on the two floors above the bar. The reception girl was really sweet and although it looks and smells like and old dorm, it will do just fine. The washer is a HUGE plus! And get this….there is a DRYER! Haven’t seen one of those in 13 months!! Our clothes will actually shrink down to size and not be all stretched out! We are pumped about that.

Not wanting to waste the entire day sleeping, even though we wanted to, we set the alarm for 2pm and took a quick two hour re-energizing nap. We decided to just walk around and see where we ended up. We walked down Fitzroy road where cafes lined the streets and cable cars lined the roads. We stopped for a bit at a pizza place and then continued to walk down by St. Kilda Pier. The site was beautiful, and I’m sure it’s much busier in the summer time.

We called it an early night to ensure we caught up on our sleep and we were excited for what day two had in store.

Day 2: Melbourne

Today Andrew and I decided to make our way into the city center. Only about 15min via the tram, our hostel ended up being in a really great location. We boarded the tram and had no idea how to buy/get a ticket. There was an on board machine but no instructions. We messed with it for a bit before then realizing that it only took coins. So two stations later we had to get off in order to fins somewhere to make change. Once we boarded the tram again, I asked how to work the machine. $7.40 later…we arrived at the city center. We quickly noticed just how many people were there. Everyone was dressed up in either red, black and white, or just black and white. My curiosity got the best of me so I finally had to ask what was going on. The older gentleman told be that the Australian Football Grand Final was the next day and today was the parade of the teams. It was very cool because the two teams in the final are both from Melbourne and only a few miles apart. It’s between St. Kilda (where we are staying), and Collingwood (working class) from just across town. I think it would be a lot like the Rams and the Chiefs in the Superbowl…but the proximity of the towns here are a lot closer. Having some time to kill before the parade, we decided to walk around the Promenade. This was a very cool area of shops and cafes that lined the river. Once 12:15pm came around, we went back to where we got off the tram in order to see the parade.

Not really much of a parade, it was more just the players being escorted down the street in the back of trucks two at a time waving to their fans. All an interesting site to see and I wish I knew anything at all about Australian football.

The rest of the day we pushed our way through the massive crowds and walked around exploring all we could. We spent some time in the famous Federation Square where activities were being held in correlations with tomorrow’s big game.

We then decided to just walk the streets and take in all that Melbourne city has to offer. We heard about a large flea like market, Queen Victoria Central Market. Well, by the time we got there most of the shops were closing up. It was mainly a farmers market and then some souvenir shops that were all selling the same things. We made the long walk back, quickly stopping in Chinatown which was nothing and then sat at a little café to have dinner.

Day 3:Melbourne

The big game! Kickoff of the game was at 2:20pm so we knew we didn’t just want to sit around until then. We decided to go and visit the Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial to Australia’s fallen soldiers. Originally completed in 1934 to honor those that fought in WW1, where it opened on the 11th day of the 11th month on the 11th hour, which is Remembrance day in Australia. They didn’t think there were going to be any more wars, so the main building is a memorial to the soldiers of WWI. It wasn’t until later that smaller memorials were added to commemorate all the fallen soldiers in all the wars in which Australia was involved with.

The grounds of the Shrine are beautiful and the inside was gorgeous. On the bottom floor for a limited time, they had six Victoria Crosses, the highest honor an Australian military person can receive. Only 94 have ever been given out, and the six on display also had their story as to why they were awarded them which was pretty cool.

We left the Shrine and then headed back to St. Kilda in search of Acland Street, a recommendation from my friend Jessica. This was a really cool area. Bars lined the streets and everyone was decked out in their St. Kilda Saints gear. They even had a big screen set up on the lawn for people to enjoy the game. We walked around for a bit and then took our seats on the ledge of a fountain to watch the game. It was a fun atmosphere to be a part of. I probably would have enjoyed it more had Andrew and I not been to wrapped up in trying to figure out how the game was played. It seemed to be a mix of rugby and soccer and I’m not really sure. A very physical game and entertaining to watch. We left at half time because we were so uncomfortable. We took a walk by the beach before heading back to he hostel. On our way, we noticed the score was now only a point different. When we left, St. Kilda was getting killed. We stopped on the sidewalk to watch the last few minutes of the game trough a bar window. The game actually ended in a draw!!!! Can you believe it? They let a championship game END IN A DRAW!! Well, we later found out instead of extra time, they will just play a WHOLE new game next Saturday…

Day 4: Sydney

September 26th, Andrew and I left the hostel at 7:45am to board our flight to SYDNEY! Our flight left at 9:10am so we were a bit worried about not being there 2 hours ahead of time but the company that picked us up to take us to the airport assured us that we were fine. We made it o the airport at about 8:30am and the line for JetStar was really, really long. I began to freak out a bit and after some waiting they let us along with the others going to Sydney to cut the line. We finally made it to the gate at about 9am and immediately boarded the plane….whew…safe with 10 min to spare J

We landed in Sydney after only about and hour and a half. Our hotel is beautiful and right on Darling Harbor and within waling distance to the famous Opera house. The day was beautiful so we decided to walk around the harbor for a little bit. It is a very cool area and it will be fun to spend some more time here. Later in the afternoon, we walked about 25 min to The Rocks. A really neat area that was built in the late 1800s they had all sorts of little tents set up with people selling handmade things. I wish we would have gotten there sooner because we weren’t there that long before shops started to close down. We then walked along the waterline and got to see the Opera house for the first time, from a distance. It looks different in real life than I would have thought but still such an icon that it was cool to see both that and the famous Harbor Bridge. The air started to get chilly so we walked back to the hotel, grabbed some dinner and then rested up for an exciting day tomorrow!

Day 5: Sydney

Dun dun dun DUN! The famous Sydney Opera house. This iconic Australian architectural marvel was the vision of a Danish architect, Jorn Utzon who won the design contest for the opera house. A building design well beyond it’s technological years was quite the process to build and it went over budget by about 200X! The entire story is quite remarkable and I wish that I could remember it.

Andrew and I arrived at the Opera House and walked around the outside of it snapping pictures for about 45 minutes before we decided to take the actual tour. Taking the tour is the only way to actually get inside. So for $35 each, we began our hour long tour. It consisted of two different videos, a walk through one half of the house (the other is being renovated) and then a look at three different concert halls. Although it’s called the Opera House, opera’s aren’t actually that common here because the size of the theater’s are actually quite small. They host everything from plays, comedians, jazz concerts, ballets and more. Anyone can pretty much rent it out by the day for a hefty price of $15,000 for a larger hall, to $7,000 for one of the smaller concert halls. They just call it the Opera House to simplify it from, “Sydney’s Multi-Purpose Entertainment Venue,” or so I guide told us. They are currently in the middle of an eleven year renovation. The inside although clean, does look quite dated. Because of the shell like shape, the ceilings are fairly low and you have to watch your head when walking near the side of the stairs. The tour was very informative and I wish we had more time here so that we could have caught a show here that interested us.

Later in the day we decided to visit the Sydney Aquarium. The biggest reason for this was the Great Barrier Reef display they have because we were not going to be able to witness the reef in the ocean. It was a very cool set up and they had so many animals there that were indigenous to only Australia. They also had quite an impressive walk through of a shark tank and the biggest stingrays I have ever seen or even knew existed. It was really great and we were glad we took the time to do it.

Day 6: Sydney

For our last day in Australia we wanted to go out with a bang so we saved he best adventure for last. Well...not quite. The wind was let out of our sails when we went to talk to the concierge. The famous Harbour Bridge has a guided bridge climb where you can actually walk up and over the summit of the bridge while looking at the Sydney sites from such a high perspective. We had our tennis shoes on and everything. Then the concierge told us that it was going to cost us $400!!! We looked at each other with sad eyes because we knew we couldn't pay that much to climb a bridge. Disappointed, we decided the next best thing to see would be the Taronga Zoo, or "the zoo with a view." Built on the side of the harbour, the only way to get there is via ferry boat. It really does have a stunning view of the water, the city, and the opera house. The zoo wasn't much different than one at home except they did have a really neat kangaroo exhibit. You actually walk through their habitat with no fences separating you and the animals. They were very calm and pretty lazy when we were there, only one was actually standing up. We had an absolutely beautiful day and we really enjoyed our last day in Australia.

Australia is one of those places that I definitely want to visit again. I would love to go back during their summer to enjoy some of the summer events they have to offer and I would love to see the Great Barrier Reef. Overall, it was such an enjoyable week and I can't wait for our last stop...New Zealand!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Singapore: Land of the iPhone?

Seriously...everyone here uses an iPhone, I have never seen so many in my LIFE!
(There are no pictures in this post because we have been without internet for over a week and this internet is way too slow to load pictures...sorry.)

Day 1:
Spetember 18th Andrew and I boarded a train at 9am for the eight hour journey to Singapore, Singapore! Yup, you read that right...it's a small little island off of the southern tip of Malaysia. The train ride was not fun and they pretty much starved us. No food was served and we didn't have the option to buy any...so it was a long, hungry ride.

When we arrived, we were a bit confused because all we saw at the tiny station were Malaysian flags and a giant sign that said "Malaysian Tourism." Trying to figure out how to get to the hotel, we gave up 10 minutes into the walk and picked up a cab...best decision ever. The cab driver was one of the nicest I have ever met, and he was very informative. He told us about the hot spots to check out as well as the best food. When I asked him what we should do during our three days he said, "Eat!" A lot of people come to Singapore for the shopping and all of the unique food. When we arrived at the hotel you could tell it was new, the Aqueen Lavender Hotel. The room is small and is designed as one of the new concept, space saver rooms. It's perfect for what we came here for and it's safe. We looked at several cheaper options but the reviews all complained about being able to hear the prostitutes working and not to leave the hotel after 7pm....umm....no thanks.

After settling in, we walked two blocks or so the the food court. It was an outdoor eating area made up of about 30 different vendors. Anything Asian you could think of from pigs feet soup to pigs tail ramen to anything in between. I'm not THAT adventurous so I settled for some wanton soup and a water :)

Day 2:
Well I left Malaysia without any souvenirs but I didn't leave empty handed. Yesterday before boarding the train I woke up and my eye was really sore. Not thinking much of it, it continued to hurt a little worse as the day went on. Well, I woke up day two with my right eye swollen shut. So our first full day in Singapore, and we spent 2.5 hours in the morning in the emergency room. A very nice hospital where everyone spoke English (one of the four main languages in Singapore) so my nerves were calmed after we checked in. Not wanting to scare anyone, I kept my sunglasses on the entire time I was in the waiting room. Once it was my turn, they took my blood pressure, checked my blood sugar and then I had to go back to the waiting area. Being called again, I saw another nurse who told me my eye "looked angry," and I needed to wait about 30 more minutes for the eye specialist. I began to get nervous at this point. Finally the eye doctor came and got me. After looking at my eye through a contraption much like one at the eye doctor at home, he seemed confused. Another doctor came in and did the same exam. Now I was freaking out and thinking, "O gosh...they don't know what it is..... they are going to have to remove my eye.... I'm going to be blind...!!!" Finally, with a smile he said it's just a bad eye infection, it's gross, but very curable. Anyways, I was relieved and the doctor wrote me a prescription for some drops. I also couldn't believe that a visit to the ER and a prescription only cost me $67!! Yeah for Asian health care!! Dealing with some embarrassment and a lot of discomfort, I'm going to be just fine, and my sunglasses are my new best friend!

After that lovely start to the day, we decided to hit up Orchard Road, a famous shopping district. Filled with at least a half dozen malls, the shopping was extremely high end but the atmosphere was amazing! We loved just walking around this place. There were street singers, and performers and we sat and enjoyed one lady sing for about 2o minutes...it was great! We spent the whole rest of the day there just soaking in the atmosphere, the people and all the luxury items we couldn't afford :) We are really loving it here so far and we are excited about tomorrow!

Day 3:
Today we got a later start than we wanted, by the infection had spread to my other eye and I was in a lot of pain. I wanted to wait a bit for the swelling to go down so I could open my left eye before we left for the day. We left the hotel at about 12:30pm and headed for China Town...yes another China Town but this was a "must see!" The food is a big draw to this part of the city. We walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere. They had just finished up a festival so there were decorations everywhere and it was really neat. We walked the streets in hopes of finding some treasures, but we didn't buy anything. We sat at an outdoor restaurant and sampled a local chicken and rice cuisine as well as the most delicious chocolate milkshake I have ever tasted!

After leaving China Town we continued "our journey around the world" and checked out Little India. Smelling of curry and garlic nan, we took in the sites and shops for about an hour. Not as much to see here but I am glad we checked it out. We returned to the hotel earlier than I wanted because my eyes were so uncomfortable it was hard to keep them open bit Andrew was a trooper and we rested the rest of the day in hopes of being able to stay out in the city longer tomorrow.

Day 4:
Today Andrew and I were excited to explore Sentosa Island, a very small island off the tip of southern Singapore. When we arrived we were met by yet another mall and not much direction. We thought we were on the island and then we spotted the cable cars. We went in to inquire the price to get to the island and they told us $50! We thought that was a bit much for a super short ride and not really knowing what was on the other side. We also knew that we wanted to ride in the famous Singapore Flyer and we knew that was expensive also. So we chose the latter.

We decided to change our plans and so we headed out to the promenade. The Singapore flyer resembles a Ferris wheel and it stands 165 meters; making it the world’s largest rotation observation deck. It was interesting to hear the stories about how everything that deals with the flyer in some way is in line with the idea of Chinese Chi. The flyer originally rotated counter clockwise, but since that wasn’t in line with this idea, it now rotates clockwise. Eight is considered a lucky number in many Asian cultures. There are 28 observation capsules, which can hold 28 passengers and it takes 28 minutes to make a full rotation. The flyer is also surrounded by all four of earths elements and it is said that if you make a wish at the summit, then it will come true. The views of the city were awesome and it really gave us a different perspective of things. You could also see the Formula One race track that they were putting the final touches on for the big race on the 24th. Despite it’s expense, it was well worth the experience.

After the Flyer, Andrew and I walked to the Marina Bay Sands Shoppes. It’s a brand new multi-billion dollar resort/extremely high-end shopping center. It’s such a unique looking building that we were really interested in see the inside. Too bad much of it wasn’t even open. The majority of the store windows said, “opening soon.” It was a little bit of a bummer because I felt like we wasted a lot of time getting there and walking around. It will be a spectacular site when it’s completed though. Entirely out of our price range, it would still be a cool place to walk around on a rainy day.

We had hoped that the mall’s food court would have been open, but of course it wasn’t and there was no food around us. We were getting…correction, ‘I’ was getting hungry, thirsty, and cranky; so we decided to go back to the nearby Orchard Road for an appetizer and drinks. Guess what we found there?! An APPLEBEES!! My favorite…we went in spilt a small meal and then walked around a bit before calling it a day.

Day 5:

Today was our last day in Singapore and we pretty much had all day since our flight didn't leave until 10:50. But we didn't really know what we wanted to see. Most of the things on our list had been checked off. So we decided to explore the area around our hotel. We went for another really long walked and ended up once again looking at another mall; which happened to be Singapore's first Eco-Friendly shopping center. We walked a bit more, ran into Little India street and ran into a 24 hour mall. We were so shopped out, but needed to kill some time so ventured inside.

After our long time killing walk, we went back to the hotel lobby, soaked in some of the air conditioning and then caught a cab to the airport at about 4pm. Being there 6.5 hours early you might be thinking how crazy that is but the time flew. Thank goodness Air Emirates let’s you check in early, so we would go through security and then wonder around the airport. A very nice airport, we found stuff to do. We looked at a few shops and then we came across some games. Sponsored by the Formula One race the next day, we could race remote control Formula One cars…FOR FREE! Not passing up free entertainment, we did our best but were embarrassingly bad. However we got a chance to redeem ourselves. They had a racing simulator set up for four people. After waiting our turn, Andrew and I as well as a couple from Hong Kong took the wheels. A very hard game to get the hang of because the wheel was so sensitive to the turns, I was constantly slamming into the walls. But after a tough battle….team USA was victorious with Andrew placing first and I took second!

We collected our prizes and went to find a place to sit down. After playing several games of Gin, we decided to walk around and venture back to the free racing simulator. The workers remembered us and wondered why we were still there but laughed and let us drive again. This time, Andrew and I were racing against a New Zealander and an Italian. The race was close but the unstoppable twosome did it again taking first and second!

Singapore was a great experience and it's one of those places that I wouldn't necessarily want to visit again, but I wouldn't mind living there for a while if a job brought me there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaysia: Truly Asia

Day 1:
September 13th Andrew and I left the beautiful island of Phi Phi aboard a ship at 9:00am. Our destination was Phuket airport and then onward to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The early boat was not our first choice. There is one that leaves at 2:30pm, but the travel agent said we would be cutting it too close. Our flight didn't even leave until 6:05pm, so we knew we had a long day ahead of us.
Once off the boat, we crammed in a van with about 10 other tourists and their luggage and were off to the airport. We couldn't check in until 4pm...so that gave us...4 hours to just sit. There wasn't much to look at or many places to sit. Outside of the fact that there was a Subway which we ate for lunch, we were bored out of our minds. The time passed slow and we were more than ready to leave the airport when 6:00pm rolled around. Our flight was a measly 1 hour and 20 minutes. We landed around 8:15pm (another time change) and were nervous about navigating our way to the hotel. We took a train for 28 minutes to the central station where we then were able to catch a cab. It went a lot smoother than it usually does, so we were pleased with ourselves.

The drive in was beautiful! Everything looked so new and lit up and clean. Kuala Lumpur is definitely a multi cultural city and on the cutting age of architecture. We were very excited to be here!

Then we pulled up to our hotel. Let's just say a lot of things can be disguised using the Internet. The hotel is under construction. There is no lobby...just a lot of ripped up flooring and tools and wire hanging down from the ceiling. In the back corner was a little table set up with a computer and a lonely hotel staff member. Not sure what to expect when we got to the room, we were pleasantly surprised. The room wasn't nearly as bad as the lobby. The only concerning thing in the room was a letter that greeted us stating that due to construction the water temperature wouldn't get any hotter than "luke warm." (After showering, I would have paid extra for this so called luke warm water...the shower is freezing...and miserable.)

Day 2:
Reading about the bustling excitement of Chinatown, Andrew and I made this our first stop. And sadly our only stop of the day, here's why: After asking for help at the front "table," we got lost trying to find the train station. Grabbing a bite to eat at a nearby Starbucks, we asked for directions which were not the same as the ones from the hotel, but we found it this time. Confused as hell at the station, we bought a ticket for wrong train. Realized we were going the wrong direction we were able to talk our way out of buying another ticket which again we got on the wrong train. We ended up at the correct platform unaware that there were two trains, we got on the wrong train again, and again, we got to bypass another ticket. Frustrated and waisting time, a man offered his assistance where we stood for about 15 min waiting for the "right" train. After this train, we had to switch stations where we had to buy a more expensive ticket. Our first clue that we were still going the wrong way should have been the vacant station. We were the only people there except for the workers. We had about a 30min wait time for this train. Somewhere after about 20 mins, I was reading our little city booklet when Andrew spotted something. We were about to get on a train that was going to take us 1 hour and 30 min out of town! We quickly left and went to find someone for help. We ended up back at the center station where we picked up the cab last night. Our tickets were declined when we tried to get through and they kept telling us we had to pay more money. We tried to explain that we hadn't even used these tickets yet because we had been lost for the past three hours. Finally the let us through, probably because they were tired of listening to us.

We finally made it to Chinatown exhausted already and it was nothing really too exciting. It was a lot like China...just bartering for goods which neither of us bought. We then braved it back to the train station where it actually only ended up being about three stops and 15 minutes from our hotel. We were so pissed that the man at the front table sent us on such a wild goose chase and we pretty much waisted a whole day.

Day 3:
Not wanting a repeat of yesterday's disaster, we decided to make our first stop the Tourism Center. After leaving, armed with a map and information we were ready for the day. We first went to the Petronas Twin Towers which are the tallest twin towers in the world and a world renowned icon of modern Malaysia. They were quite a site to see. However, we were not able to make it to the sky bridge observation deck because tickets are on a first come first serve basis and we didn't make it in time :(

We then walked our way to the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower. It's a tower used for communication purposes and the 4th tallest in the world. A bit expensive to go up in we thought but the view was worth it. We had the chance to get a 360 degree view of the city and the sites were just awesome!
After the KL Tower, I wanted to check out the local craft center for some traditional handmade crafts. This took us a while to get to and our legs were achy by this time. Andrew was a trooper for going with me and we were so bummed when we arrived. This "don't miss" site was nothing more than a few handmade baskets, some framed silver pieces and home decor. I was envisioning a warehouse type place filled with little booths and people selling what they have made. A HUGE disappointment, Andrew and I headed back exhausted and ready to take on day 3.

Day4:
Excited to explore another city in Malaysia, Andrew and I got up early to catch the two hour bus to Meleka, a historical town south of Kuala Lumpur. Well, we had directions to the bus terminal that the tourism center gave us but when we got there, we could see signs but we didn't see the terminal. Finally we went into a hotel and asked. The man said that we have to take the buses parked outside about 20 min to the actual terminal. So we payed our 75 cents and got on without really knowing where we were going. When we arrived at the terminal about 10 people met us at the door yelling at us asking where we were going. Overwhelmed, we just said no, and passed them. Well they were recruiters for the different bus ticket places that were crammed into a white tent. Finally we followed one lady who we bought the tickets from and then we had to wait until 11:30am for the bus. Well this was a little aggravating because now we have such a late start. We didn't take off until about 11:50am which put us in Meleka at about 2pm. When we arrived in the Meleka bus terminal we were stared at like zoo animals. The only tourists in the whole place, we looked as lost and confused as we felt. We went to an information booth as asked how to get into town. She told us, "Bus 17." We grabbed a quick burger at McDonald's to curb our hunger and then we went to find the bus.

We waited for about 30 min but no bus pulled into the bus 17 slot. Finally after what seemed like forever a bus pulled in. When we got on and confirmed where we were going the driver said wrong bus and said you need bus number 17. Confused again, he pointed a few buses down. We saw bus 7 and assumed we misunderstood both of them. We then asked the driver where she was going and she said you need bus 17. Andrew and I were like...ok...is this some kind of joke?! She then pointed to this little piece of paper crammed in the bottom part of the windshield that said bus number 9. Totally confused, we realized that the slots the buses were in didn't mean anything, we had to look for the number that you could barley see! We waited about 15 minutes longer before sadly we had to blow off the entire excursion. We were there only as a day trip and the last bus for Kuala Lumpur left at 7:30pm. By the time we waited for the bus to take us to town that still hadn't showed up, and had to make sure we were back to this terminal before 7:30pm...we only had about an hour to see anything.
The whole thing was a giant frustration and ended up just being the longest trip to McDonald's EVER! At least the drive was pretty :)

After that whole debacle, we went to the tourism center again to ask a few questions, took some night pictures of the towers and then ate some Malaysian food next to our hotel.

(As newspapers do, I would like to print a retraction, in regards to the shower situation. I shower at night and Andrew showers in the morning. I thought that maybe the showers were just cold at night since he hasn't hand any temperature problems. Well turns out, I had a bit of a dumb moment...after complaining about the shower being so cold again Andrew told me about an observation he had. He said that when he got in the shower this morning, he noticed that the nozzle was turned all the way to the right. I responded with an annoyed, "Ok...your point?" He says with a smirk, "Well that's the cold side..." Point is, I apologize for bashing the hotel on the account of my own human error...I think I've been traveling too long :)
Day 5:
First on our last day's to do list was to go to the Central Station to buy our train tickets for Singapore tomorrow morning. We successfully booked them for 9am and it's going to be an 8 hour ride...eeek!

After leaving the station we decided to go check out Masjid Negara, the national Mosque of Malaysia. Malaysia is a Muslim country and never really being around the Muslim religion, Andrew and I decided that it would be an interesting site to see. This Mosque is able to hold 15,000 people and it's most noticeable structure is the 73-meter high minaret and the 18 pointed start blue roof. (Upon arrival I wrapped a black sarong around my legs to cover my knees out of respect...the last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone since the ladies there have everything covered but their faces. So if you notice the awkward black skirt in the pictures...that's why.) When we got there we had to wait about 45 minutes before non-Muslims were allowed in, I think it's was some sort of prayer time. This gave us ample picture taking time on the grounds! After 45 minutes passed we took off our shoes, signed in, and were given long purple robes to wear. All the women that entered had to wear the hood which is why mine is on and Andrew's isn't. Once inside, there wasn't really a whole lot to see. It was mostly just a big open space with lots of pillars. I'm not sure what I expected it...but that wasn't really it. It was still very cool just to be inside and see what it actually looked like.
Leaving the Mosque, we ventured over to the Central Market, a 'must see' according to all the tourism brochures. I can't say much other than it was a bunch of trinket stores. You could really see the Indian influences in their clothing and paintings which was interesting. We just sort of walked around and took everything in. Again, we left empty handed but we were happy to have seen it.

Later in the evening we had dinner and then packed our bags to get ready for our journey to Singapore!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beautiful Thailand

Day 1:
We arrived in Phuket Thailand on Sept. 5th to rain clouds and light drops. Our one hour ride to the hotel was a never ending sales pitch from the transportation company about all the tours they offer. The lady was really putting the hard sell on but I Andrew and I couldn't really look at her maps because we both get car sick. The sales lady made some comment that was meant to be humorous about Andrew's last name and kept saying it's spelled wrong, it should be "L-A-Z-Y," then cackled a bit while Andrew and I just looked at her, like....what? Anyways, she continued with the remarks. Some we understood...most we didn't and then she said something about how she didn't believe us that we were from the USA because of Andrews eyebrows. It was all very strange and we were so happy that we made it to our hotel and could GET OUT OF THAT VAN! (Well, the weird lady one, we booked out boat tickets to Koh Phi Phi , Island with her two days later...)

The drive to the hotel was beautiful and the lobby was gorgeous. All this for $36 a night....SCORE! Well, then our elated faces dropped when we entered the room. To say it was outdated would be an understatement. I think the last time this room had been decorated was...well...at least a decade before I was born. The bathroom was the worst...no, the mosquitoes flying around were...no, perhaps the army of ants along the outside wall of the toilet...nope, probably the unidentified worm/caterpillar/slug in the bathtub takes the cake. Oh an within the first four hours we had to call the front for someone to come fix our toilet...TWICE!! We ended up giving up on the whole toilet thing and walked to the pool bathroom instead...it was ridiculous.
There is a bright side to the hotel though...the 5 pools were amazing! Well, make that 3.5, the swim up bar pool was under construction and the baby pool only counts as half. But sadly, we didn't get the chance to enjoy the pool the first day because of the rain. So we found something to eat and went back to our room and watched the one English channel we had...Discovery.

Day 2:
Rain. Rain. Pouring Rain. Literally all day. We made an effort to sit by the pool and even stayed out there determined with the umbrella up. We finally gave in and went inside. Not wanting to spend our limited time in Phuket in the hotel, we went to the lobby to 'buy' a Wi-Fi card to look up things to do when it's raining. Well, the lady at the front desk hardly spoke English and what we understood was that there was no Internet, or it was too slow to buy.

Being desperate we went to talk to the taxi/car/scooter rental guy to find out how much it would cost to get to Phuket Town via taxi. He says it's about $25...EACH WAY! That's crazy! Especially when you can rent a scooter for $11 for the entire day. When we went to look at the scooters, the guy asked Andrew if he had ever driven one, where he confidently said yes and the man left. I looked at Andrew and was like, "Why would you say that! Now we don't even get a quick run down on how to use it." Andrew just smiles and says, "How hard can it be?" I made him do a few laps around the parking lot before I hopped on. And we were off! (Don't worry Mom, we wore helmets and Andrew drove really safe the entire time.) It was great! We had freedom to go where we wanted and when we wanted. Our first objective was to find a place where we could purchase our Kuala Lumpur plane tickets. (We tried several times a few months ago and even went to a travel agent who couldn't help us, she just said to buy them here, they'll be much cheaper without all of the taxes and fees. They were already cheap at $15 but ok. ) We finally found a ticket place and I almost passed out at the price! Let's just say they were WAY more than $15 a pop because apparently there is some festival that ends the day we were leaving...even the next day tickets were expensive. We had to do it....we were already here...so we bit our lips, used few choice words amongst each other and bought them. On our way back the clouds looked angry again...sure enough, it started raining...hard. The kind of rain that actually hurts a little when it hits you. And remember we were still on the scooter. Well, we made it back in one piece, laughing at how ridiculously touristy we looked so ill prepared when everyone else on a scooter had on a poncho. We then went to a wonderful restaurant, Two Chefs, and called it a night.

Day 3:
Rain, RAin, RAIn, RAIN!!!! Pouring, ALL DAY trapped in our crappy room. There is nothing to tell about day 3.

Day 4:
September 8th, (Happy 21st Birthday Jill) it was actually gorgeous outside...NO RAIN! But we were boarding a boat bound for Koh Phi Phi Island, about 1.5 hours from Phuket. Concentrating on not getting sea sick, Andrew and I tried our best to go to sleep. It worked and I wasn't too woozy when we arrived. Phi Phi is so small that motorized vehicles aren't even allowed on it. Bikes only. It's all sandy beaches and really narrow walking roads full of street vendors. We liked the vibe compared to Phuket and just prayed for good weather. Our 'hotel' is the Ivory and is about the size of a dorm room but very comfortable and perfect for us :)

Day 5:
B-E-A-UTIFUL weather today! We had sunshine and just a light sprinkle in the afternoon...aww, this is the gorgeous Thailand island that I pictured. Walking around with our towels in hand, Andrew and I were off to search for a beach with water. A beach with water? Confused? So were we, another rookie tourist mistake. When we arrived, we noticed that the water was really far from the beach and it looked like the water had dried up. There were boats in the distance just sitting in the sand where water should have been. Well when we walked by that beach again today, the tide was so high up the beach, you would never know it was barren just 18 hours earlier. Well, what we later realized is that during the morning until about 2pm, the water comes high up onto the beach but then after 2pm it recedes extremely far...quite an interesting site. It looks like two different places! After a relaxing day of reading on the beach, we got a bite to eat and tried to figure out which excursion we wanted to go on while we were here.

Day 6:
Life's rough...see Day 5 :) Oh, but instead of just reading on the beach, we played catch today too!

Day 7:
Today Andrew and I booked a half a day boat tour where we would see Monkey Beach, Viking Cave, Pi-leh Bay, Loh Samah Bay, and Maya Bay where the movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed sum eleven years ago. We arrived at our location at 8:40am like we were told and then departed the port about 9am. There were two other couples, one from China and the other one from Israel in our group. We rode in a what they call a long tail boat, but it was more like a Lewis and Clark canoe with a small motor. Sea sickness was inevitable but I'll get to that a little later. Our first stop was Viking Cave where we just rode past it, snapped a picture or two and then we were on our way to the next stop. Why it's called Viking Cave I'm not to sure, our skipper didn't speak English. We then pulled into Pi-leh Bay where we were given some snorkel gear and had the chance to check out some of the marine life. There wasn't a large variety of fish, but the ones we saw were so vibrant and their colors were amazing!

After some snorkeling we rode a little further to the main event...Maya Bay. Our guide anchored the boat in front of what looked like a ropes course. He gave us no instructions but to swim to the steps. Well, not realizing the purpose of the ropes until I was swimming with them and witnessed the power of the ocean water as it smacked again the rocks. Without hanging on that rope, we would have smashed our heads in to the rock cave. Once we made it to the stairs, the other side was a bit dangerous. The water would come through the holes in the cave quite powerfully and kind of knocked you around as you walked over the already unstable slippery rocks. Once we finally made it through, beautiful scenery awaited us. The perfect spot for a movie location. However unlike the exclusive looking beach in the movie, this beach was PACKED with tourists! It was a gorgeous beach with sand that was so soft it felt like we were walking in cooking flour. I have never felt anything like it. I wish there wasn't so many people there and we could have spent the day just soaking up the beauty of it all.

After Maya Beach, Andrew and I became a bit sea sick. That little boat felt every wave and I was doing everything I could think of to get my mind off the sickening feeling. I don't have too many pictures after Maya beach because I couldn't do anything but sit, in fear of vomiting. Our next stop was Monkey Beach, and it is what it sounds like. A little island filled with old man looking monkeys. Didn't get to really enjoy it in my current state.

Our last stop was Loh Samah Bay where luckily we got to get out of the boat and swim a bit in hopes of getting rid of the sea sickness. We swam for about 10 min before retuning to the dock. As soon as I got back in the boat from swimming I lost it. I was that tourist that was puking over the side of this little boat in front of all the other tourists parked in the bay. I only had to make it 10 more minutes, but I couldn't. With a bruised ego, I did feel better on our short ride back to Koh Phi Phi.

The rest of the day we stayed out of the sun because we got a little bit burnt the day before but we were also feeling quite queasy from the boat ride. We enjoyed a nice dinner then rested up for our last full day on the island.

Day 8:
Today was our last day. We woke up to pouring rain but it cleared within the hour. We spent the whole day reading at the beach and enjoying our final hours in Thailand. That evening I got another manicure and Andrew relaxed with a foot massage. We reflected on our time here and hope to someday make it back when it isn't rainy season!

Tomorrow we leave for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia...and the adventure continues!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Kingdom of Cambodia


Day 1:
On August 31st Andrew and I boarded a bus in Ho Chi Min city at 7:30am. Our destination, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was a six hour bus ride and I'm pretty sure we got stuck with the worst bus driver in all of southeast Asia. He basically screamed when talking on the phone and found it necessary to honk his horn at least twice a minute. Sometimes he would honk his horn just for the hell of it and there would be NOTHING in the road. He had a bad case of "Alpha Male Syndrome" and he wanted people to know that he was coming. It was terrible, forget sleeping during the ride because off all the honking and phone screaming...not a great start to Cambodia.

When we made it to the boarder, we had to carry our luggage inside a small office for "inspection." I use quotes because I'm pretty sure you could take anything into Cambodia. The X-ray machine was a joke. Then we had to wait for them to call our names. We got our visas and then we were on on way. After about twenty minutes of driving we pulled off the road to a large tent. The driver said we would stop for a twenty minute lunch break. The food looked real sketchy so we bough some chips and called it good. The remainder of the bus ride consisted of more shouting and honking...we could not get the fast enough.

As we were driving in Cambodia Andrew and I exchanged worried glances. It was not quite what we had expected. The scenery itself was beautiful and lush, however the houses looked like unstable shacks on high stilts which makes me think it floods a lot. There were water buffalo all over the places and trash everywhere. It was nothing but poverty until every few miles there would be a beautiful Buddhist temple. Very strange.

Once we arrived in Phnom Penh, we began to get a little more comfortable because it looked more like a city. We got off the bus to a heard of tuk tuk drivers wanting our business and we were happy when we spotted our hotel driver. He took us to the Billabong hotel where we went to settle in. We then decided to walk a short distance to check out the Central Market. Pretty much a tourist trap of all sorts of souvenirs. We found a pizza restaurant and waited out the down pouring rain that we were in. Well, the rain didn't let up for the rest of the evening so we ran back to the hotel and rested up for a full day of touring tomorrow.


Day 2:
Our taxi driver from yesterday offered to take us around to the sites, for a small fee of course. We agreed for two reasons: 1) It was an air conditioned car, 2) He spoke some English. Our first stop on the tour was The Killing Fields. A named coined after the 1987 movie of the same name. Immediately following the end of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge regime took over the country from 1975-1979. These fields were all over Cambodia, but we went to the one at Choeung Ek where 129 mass graves were found. Our driver said that during this time there were about seven million people living in Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge killed about half of them. What I understood was the the Khmer Rouge arrested and eventually killed anyone they thought had connections with the former government or foreign governments. I had researched this site before we went and i had prepared myself physically for what I was going to see. However mentally, it was very hard for me to handle. Because it's rainy season here, after heavy rainfalls (like the day before) sometimes teeth, bones and clothes of the victims surface. As we were walking, we could see bones and clothing and it was just horrible. It's one thing to visit a memorial or museum, but it's a completely different experience to be literally walking over innocent peoples bones and clothing. It was very disturbing and difficult to take in.


Some of the mass graves had several hundred people in them, and some graves were full of headless bodies. Some were just of women and children and some were just of babies. The regime killed the babies by hitting them against a tree. They feared of a later revenge from the youth which is why they justified killing everyone, even the children. Of the 129 mass graves at this site, 89 have been excavated. The monument at the entrance is 62 meters high and contains 17 tiers of skulls, bones, and clothing of the victims. You could take pictures inside the monument but I felt that it wasn't right, so I only have one from the outside. This was really such an emotional experience and I'm ashamed to have never even heard about this horrible genocide that took place only about 35 years ago.

After visiting the killing field, we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This was formally a high school, but during the regime it was transformed into an "office" known as S-21 which was designed for detention, interrogation, inhumane torture and killing. The prisoners would be brought here to be photographed and documented. Some would stay here in private rooms, known as VIP rooms. The VIPs were those that were considered knowledgeable like doctors, teachers, and police officers. Their condition wasn't any better as they were still tortured and killed. These are the actual rooms and the victims blood is still stained on the floor. Again, this place was very creepy and filled with nothing but torture weapons, brick cells and tons and tons of barbed wire. If the prisoners weren't killed in here, they were taken by tuck to the killing fields where they were tortured, blindfolded and then killed.

After leaving the museum, our driver told us a story about his experience during this time. He was only six years old. He said he went to the rice fields to collect crickets and dry them in the sun for food. He stuffed his pockets with them to take them back to his family. However, he was stopped by a member of the regime and his pockets were checked. They took him to a prison where he had to stay for three days without food or water as punishment. After three days he was set free and told to go home. However he was too weak to walk to the dropped him off in a grassy area on the side of the road. He was found by some of his neighbors where he was taken back home.

After these two gut wrenching experience, our driver took us to the center of town where the was a beautiful Temple and surrounding area. We walked around and took some photos before getting back in the air conditioned car. Our final stop was the National Museum. Here were artifacts dating back thousands of years. But what I couldn't get over was the beautiful building that it was in the the beautiful garden that was in the center.
After this museum our driver dropped us back off to hotel where we relaxed for a bit and just tried to digest what all we had just seen and heard. Later that evening we went to the riverside by tuk tuk and enjoyed a nice dinner.
Day 3:
We left for Siem Reap at about 12:30pm...we said nuts on the early morning bus. Again, it was a six hour ride. We had much better driver this time, hardly any honking. The downside was that the seats were much close together and less comfortable than the last one...I guess you have to take the good with the bad. The drive was long and there wasn't really a whole lot to see. It looked a lot like the flat pastures of Kansas...swap corn fields for rice fields and sprinkle in a few palm trees and wahlah....the Cambodian country side.

We arrived to find that Siem Reap was much calmer and better kept than Phnom Penh. And to be honest, after only 2 days in Phnom Penh I was ready to leave. We piled all of our stuff into a tuk tuk and about ten minutes later we were at the Tara Angkor Hotel...not to shabby at all :)


Day 4:
Wahoooo Angkor Wat! Again we took a tuk tuk, paid our $20 each and were off to Angkor Wat to experience something that truly took our breath away. A 12th century temple built for King Suryavarman II is the main temple and was our first stop. It is a pyramid covering an area of 4,250 by 5,000 feet surrounded by a 600ft wide moat, it's absolutely amazing! (I do have to say that I was super bummed out. You are allowed to climbed up a very steep staircase into the middle tower but since I was wearing shorts they wouldn't let me in. An Asian man came over to me and said that I could borrow his wife's sarong when she came down. So there was a glimmer of hope!! But sadly, when his wife came down the stairs I noticed that she was all of five foot nothing and the sarong that was covering her knees would not come close to covering mine. Not to get discouraged, I tried tying that thing every which way I could so that my knees were covered. I went back to the "guard" three different times with a new 'skirt' but he wasn't buying it and every dang time he turned me away. I'm sure it was quite amusing for them and you can't blame girl for trying. So Andrew got to go up and take pictures for me.) There is WAY too much detail and history to write in this blog and frankly I don't have time for it. But if you have roughly 52 min and 21 sec, I highly suggest you make some popcorn and type in "Angkor Wat BBC Documentary" into youtube, it should be the first link. It's a great snap shot of the main temples that we visited and it gives you some really interesting history about it.

The next temple we visited was Bayon and my favorite. There is only one word to describe it....awesome. It's not nearly as big as Angkor Wat, but the detail was amazing. You instantly notice all the faces kind of looking at you. They all have this smirk about them that just makes you smile. There are 54 towers on the upper level of the temple and each one has for large faces carved in it facing in cardinal directions, totaling about 200 faces in all. The sad thing about this temple was before the Khmer Rouge took power in the 70s, a group or archaeologists began restoring this temple and took it apart keeping a detailed log of where each stone brick went. The Khmer Rouge ended up killing all who were restoring this building and destroyed their record books. So sadly, the world largest jigsaw puzzle remains incomplete and there are thousands of stones just sprinkled around the temple with no place to go.

The next 'main temple' we visited was Ta Prohm, the famous site in the Tomb Raider movie. This was was so unique in that it really is "a jewel in the jungle" as they call it. Trees and other vegetation have literally grown around the structures. Some of the largest trees I have ever seen decided to take residence literally on top and around some of the buildings. It was such a site to see. However they have problems restoring some parts and some parts are off limits and deemed unsafe. My guess is that the trees are uprooting the structures and they could collapse anytime. That's part of the reason it's so hard to restore. They are torn between destroying the trees, (which are part of the attraction) and fixing the falling structures.


We visited several other temples sprinkled in between. It was a lot to take in, not to mention hot as heck and exhausting walking around all day. Overall it was an amazing experience and something everyone should witness for themselves to get the full effect of the enormity of these structures.

We went back to the hotel relaxed a bit and then went to the central market for a traditional Khmer dinner, some people watching and some shopping!


Day 5:
Andrew and I woke up with a little pep in our step and decided to see some of the sites via bicycle. So we borrowed two very athletic looking bikes and putzed around in the heat. Our first stop was the Angkor National Museum. $12 bucks and eight galleries later, we had about all the Angkor history we could handle. I have never seen so many headless statues in all of my life! We we left the museum we rode around a little more and then stopped for a small bite to eat. After riding through the rain we decided to call it a day on the cycling. All in all, Cambodia was a very interesting and historical place to be. Out of the two cities we preferred Siem Reap but we were very glad we made time to see the sites in both places!

Next stop....Thailand :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam!

August 27th, Andrew and I embarked on our six week tour of Southeast Asia. Our first stop was Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. We arrived at around midnight a little dazed and exhausted and a bit relieved when we saw a man holding a piece of paper with my name on it. He was our ride to the hotel and because we arrived over an hour later then expected we were afraid he might have left us high and dry.

Our ride to the hotel was a bit overwhelming. I had never seen so many scooters in all of my life. There are hardly any traffic lights and people just ride at their own risk. We were pleasantly surprised with our Hotel and went to sleep right away, anxious for what our first full day in Vietnam would be like.

Day 1:
We woke up and started our day around 10:30am. We walked outside and that's when it hit us...we were in Vietnam. It was such a chaotic scene. Scooters were literally everywhere and horns were constantly honking. We walked down the street to look for some breakfast. We found a little bakery and enjoyed some danishes and two waters for less than $2.50. I had read that it was cheap to visit Vietnam...but I didn't anticipate it being THAT cheap. We walked a little further just trying to figure out what was around us. Our first tricky task was crossing the street. With no stop lights or crosswalks, pedestrians just walk at their own risk. There is rarely a break in traffic so you just walk slowly into the middle of the street and the scooters sort of just go around you. This was extremely uncomfortable at first but then we got use to it. (Except when Andrew got hit by two kids on a bicycle, he has the tire marks on his new shoes to prove it.)

We wandered into the Ben Than Market and were shocked at what we saw. Much like the Silk and Pearl Markets in China, this place was HUGE and booths were crammed even closer than in China. We didn't put our bartering skills to work too much, we were just there to soak it all in. Since many things are 'made in Vietnam' their knockoffs looked awesome! I am kind of glad that Vietnam was out first stop because we can't really carry a bunch of purchases...I would have had a hay day if it was our last stop!

After a quick look around Andrew and I went back to the hotel to find out how to get to the War Remnants Museum, formally known as Saigon's Exhibition House of American War Crimes. The second name was more fitting. The stuff they had in this museum was absolutely unthinkable. I am ashamed to say that I don't know much about the Vietnam War...and after visiting this museum, I have begun to read up on it. I am sure the tortures went both ways, but some of the things the American soldiers did were horrific. There is too much information to go into detail, so I have included some photos. It was very interesting and heart wrenching to see and read the captions of both the photographs and the artifacts. This museum is definitely a must see for anyone who visits Ho Chi Min City.

After the museum, Andrew and I went to grab a quick snack and then head back to the hotel to get out of the down pouring rain. Around 6:30pm, we decided to brave the rain and find a place to eat. We went into Pho 2000, a local spot where President Bill Clinton dined back in 2000. It was delicious! We each had pho (a Vietnamese noodle dish), a beer, ice tea and a fruit smoothie for $5.50! After dinner we took in the sites at the outdoor market and some live local music.

Day 2:
Andrew and I booked a tour that left at 8am and wasn't to return until 6:30pm. I will have to say that the tour was a bit of a disappointment. We didn't know that it was a 2.5 hour drive there and back. Our first stop was the Cao Dai Temple. Your guess is as good as mine as to what it is. Our "tour guide" spoke unrecognizable English and didn't explain anything. He just said to meet back at the bus in one hour. There were no signs to read telling us what we were looking at. We just sort of wandered around for a while and then we had the opportunity to witness members of the Cao Dai community sing beautiful hymns in a solemn ceremony. That part was very cool, but again, I wish we knew what we were witnessing. I'm going to have to do some research.

After the temple, we rode for about 20min to a local restaurant. The place was very cool and the food was pretty good and of course really cheap. After lunch, we drove for about an hour or so to the main event, the Cu Chi tunnels. This is where the guerrilla war was fought during between the Viet Cong and the Americans in the Vietnam war. This is where the local people of Cu Chi struggled to survive against the saturation of bombings. Over the course of the war, the people of Cu Chi dug nearly 200 kilometers of tunnels underground, some as deep as 10 meters down. The tunnels were where they lived, created boobie traps against the Americans, and were even able to sneak attack the American soldiers on the bast because the tunnels were so far down that the Viet Cong could go virtually undetected. That is until the Americans caught on and found some of the secret air holes. They then used German Shepard dogs to follow the scent from the air holes and then they knew where the tunnels were. All this is what we kind of understood from our "guide," and again, I wish we had someone who spoke a little bit better English so we could fully understand what everything was.

The traps that the Viet Cong created were absolutely horrifying and I can't imagine falling into one. They were all constructed underground and cover by leaves and brush so when then enemy unknowingly stepped into one the would fall into some type of blade.
After witnessing the traps and feeling a bit uncomfortable being Americans knowing in a sense that those were built for us, we ventured over to a shooting range. This was no ordinary shooting range. For a fee, you could shoot a round of bullets out of an AK47. Being a person that doesn't really like guns and feels uncomfortable when I see one on a police belt I thought to myself, "When in Vietnam," and Andrew and I shot one. It was the loudest and scariest thing ever and frankly I can't believe that I did it. After we were finished Andrew and I talked about what it must be like to be in a war and hearing those things go off in every direction around you...I can't even imagine. I was almost in tears shooting that thing and I didn't even aim it, I just wanted to get it over with. It just really gave me a whole new perspective on what soldiers go through.
After the terrifying gun experience, we enjoyed another uncomfortable experience. We had the chance to crawl through one of the tunnels. You could have either crawled 20, 60, 0r 120meters. Well, Andrew and I only made it 60 meters. Before you think we wimped out let me paint this picture. It was about 10 feet underground and you had to hunch over and duck walk...in the PITCH BLACK! Not a place to be if you are claustrophobic. We had no idea where we were going, how far we had gone. Once you start, there is no turning around because there isn't enough room to. Our legs were shaky, we were so discombobulated and once we made it to 60 meters, we got out of there. I had read that these teeny tiny tunnels had been widened for western bodies...I can't believe what their actual size was. Nor can I imagine living like that or fighting like that or digging that for 200 kilometers! The guy in the picture isn't Andrew, it's the only picture I have that shows the narrowness of the tunnel. Again, it was pitch black and I had no idea what I was taking a picture of.

Exhausted and shaky we had one last stop on the Cu Chi tunnel tour. We had to watch a short film about the war. It was really uncomfortable because the entire film was about how horrible Americans are. They called the US soldiers devil people and other degrading names as Andrew and I sat there as the only Americans...it wasn't the best feeling.
After the tunnels, we boarded the bus for another hour and a half ride back to Ho Chi Min city. It was a long bus ride overall, but it did give us the chance to kind of take in another part of Vietnam.

Andrew and I then went to dinner and then I got a manicure AND pedicure for $2USD TOTAL, while Andrew got a 30 min massage for $3USD. Overall it was a successful day and the Cu Chi tunnels are a definite must see for anyone who visits Ho Chi Min City!

Day 3:
Our last full day in Vietnam we again visited the Ben Than Market for one last look around. After grazing the booths for stuff we didn't need Andrew and I decided to check out the Ho Chi Min City Museum. But this time instead of taking a taxi, we lived like the locals and 'scootered' it! No Mom...we didn't drive one, (although you are allowed to rent them yourself if have a death wish) so Andrew and I hopped on the back of two scooters, bear hugged our drivers and took off. This was such a great decision. It was amazing to see Vietnam this way and Andrew and I had an absolute blast!

The museum was....well a museum. It was an old mansion converted into a history museum for the city. They had several cool artifacts there and it was nice to learn more about how the culture of Vietnam has evolved.

Later in the evening we again ate at Pho 2000 and then took in all the night life culture. This is really a city that never sleeps and there is so much to just feast your eyes on. So we sat down, enjoyed a local cocktail and reflected on our short but amazing trip to Vietnam!