Tuesday, July 21, 2009

America the Beautiful

When people say they want to go some place beautiful and then complain that they have to travel so far, I wonder whether they've taken some time to see our own country. Now don't get me wrong, some of the places in southeast Asia that I've seen in the last 6 months have been absolutely stunning but I have to take this time to highlight the beautiful Pacific Northwest. As some of you know, I spend a lot of time flying back and forth to Seattle to visit my "soul sister" and her husband. We usually take a side trip to visit our other dear friend down on the Oregon coast. This stretch of coast is amazing, truly breath taking...from what seems like an endless Pacific Ocean to the gorgeous headlands and the beautiful mountains. After spending good quality friend time in Oregon, we spent the next weekend hiking through Whidbey Island. Between the beautiful weather, the fabulous look-out points, and the wonderful friends, this was a perfect day (well minus what seemed like the endless Phish concert playing in the car...sorry DAL & JML)! Special thanks to my very bestest friends Darci & Jacob for letting me stay with them and showing me the beauty of friendship, love, laughing, vegetarian cooking, and the Pacific Northwest!


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After 2 connecting flights, 1 screaming 15-mth-old baby, and 24 hours of travel, I landed safely in Seattle (with my bags, passport, and wallet...nothing lost or stolen in 5 months, yipee!). I filled out my entry card like I had done in so many other countries before and waited in line at customs but this time was different. I was in the local line staring back at the foreign line that curved around and around. I approached the customs desk waiting for the usual questions but this time no questions about where I'm staying and what I'm doing here...just a friendly smile and "Welcome Home, Ms. Turnof". My 5 month journey could not have ended any sweeter than that.

I will be on the west coast for the next month AND my iphone/old number still works! Looking forward to catching up with everyone soon!!

HAPPY 4th of JULY!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bali, baby!

After a couple of days spent with some friends in Singapore, I moved onto the beautiful and what I thought would be over hyped Bali. I was sure it was never going to live up to what everyone says about it...boy, was I dead wrong! It was beautiful, enchanting, serene and peaceful. I spent my first couple of days diving off the east coast and staying in Candidasa. We went to the USS Liberty Ship Wreck, diving through the caves that used to be the different compartments of the ship and checking out all the amazing aquatic life that now calls the ship wreck its home...beautiful. The next day we ventured over to "Shark Alley"...that's right I saw a number of sharks and one turtle that had to be the size of a small car. It was amazing...and I still have all of my limbs, fingers and toes! After Candidasa, I headed to Ubud. Ubud is known for its artists and Balinese handcrafts. The galleries, filled with local and international art work, were incredible. I stayed on a rice field pension overlooking the small river that runs through the town of Ubud. Each morning over breakfast, I would watch the rice field workers push the mud from one side to the other. After 5 months of rice paddies it's still unclear to me exactly what they are achieving by this task. When I was finished with the hippy artsy crew of Ubud, I moved south to the famous beaches of Bali. I spent my final days of my Southeast Asia Adventure relaxing on the beach watching the surfers make ever attempt had finding their perfect wave. I met some wonderful local surfers who tried so hard to convince me to take a lesson with them but I was happy sitting this one out. They then introduced me to this wonderful woman who made the most amazing Indonesian food and needless to say I had lunch and dinner at her stand everyday after that. When I would arrive at the beach I would stop to say good morning and she would tell me what specialities she cooked up for me for that day. On my final day, she made me a special dessert and had all my new Indonesian friends come over for a going away party...sooo sweet!! Bali is just as good as everyone says...if not BETTER!!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thanks for the memories, Malaysia (& Tova)

After purchasing my first rough guide/lonely planet book for Malaysia (that's right I went 5 months without ever purchasing my own tour book...oh yeah and it was from a Borders NOT a second hand book store where the pages are photocopied), I was ready to plan our jammed packed 8 day adventure starring my dear friend Tova.  What a great time we had...we packed in the city life of Kuala Lumpur, the beautiful scenery and fresh air of the Cameron Highlands, the old British colonial architecture of Penang, and the beach resort feeling of Langkawi.  As always it's an adventure trying to decipher the menu (the ultimate fusion of Chinese, Indian, Thai, Malay), decide transportation methods that get you from point A to B safely (clearly safely is the key word), and explaining multiple times to the locals that we are not sisters just friends (that happen to look alike with our big brown curly hair).  Special thanks to Tova for a spectacular trip (and bringing a little piece of home to Southeast Asia for me)!  

**Tova had the fancy camera so those will be up soon

Unfortunately, the rest of my Malaysia trip did not work out as swimmingly.  Yet again, I was locked out of hotels for local holidays...I really should have a local calendar handy!  So instead, I've landed back in Singapore saying a final farewell to my friends here and then I am off to Bali for my last stop before heading to the states. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Destination: KL

That's Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for those of you not in the know. I certainly have arrived back in civilization and a damn good one if you ask me. While I await my dear friend Tova's arrival before we embark on 8 days worth of pure Malaysian fun, I have had some time to reflect on some of my new surroundings (while sitting in air conditioned malls and eating the newest Japanese frozen yogurt/gelato/ice cream craze...gosh they come up with some great stuff!):

1) I've now been pooped on 3 times by birds during my trip. Do I have a big bulls eye on me or am I just REALLY lucky...I love when people tell you that it's good luck because I just think it's super gross!

2) American movies, made in America, with mostly all American actors cost less in Malaysia than in New York City. (Movie in Malaysia: RM 11 or $3.14, Movie in NYC: $12)...incredible.

3) Malaysia defines multiculturalism. After arriving at Kuala Lumpur Airport, you are immediately greeted in four languages (Malay, Chinese, Hindi, English) and I couldn't help but notice how well everyone interacts. The Chinese teeny boppers hanging out with the Muslim headscarf wearing teens, the Christian Indians and the Mohawk wearing rockstars all enjoying their lunch in one of the many hawker stalls...it's really nice to watch.

4) One thing I did find curious was the number of women wearing burqas and shopping in jewelry stores looking for earrings, bracelets, and assorted other accessories. One of these days, I might need to ask why. If I find them in a bathing suit shop, I promise I won't tell a soul.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yup that's right...

I'm still in Koh Tao, Thailand. Now I'm sorry to those that look forward to seeing and hearing about the next stops on my journey. My bungalow is still the same just a few added geckos, cockroaches, and a new bunk mate from England. I am now a certified Rescue Diver and can kick back and enjoy some fun dives. I'll say hello to the turtles and barracudas for y'all and maybe I'll rent a waterproof camera so that I can get some nice photos to show.

Next Stop: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Friday, May 22, 2009

Still in Koh Tao...

There is just something about this place that keeps people here. After my Open Water Diving Course, I was convinced to take my Advanced level course too. I switched beaches from being close to the pier on the island to a beach called Sairee (more dives schools than you can imagine). Before starting my new class, I wanted to go out one more time to make sure I wanted to do it. I met some really great people and decided to sign up right away for my next course. After successfully completing a navigation dive, cave dive, night dive, and couple others, I was officially an Advanced Diver. Of course, I celebrated with some of the guys I met during my fun dive and they convinced me to stay a couple more days. Who knows, the next course is a Rescue Diver...maybe I'll stick around for that!

A couple of other things keeping me here:
1) I had my first Western meal in 4 months (cheese calzone & tomato mozzarella salad...amazing!)
2) I have ESPN in my bungalow and I can watch the Yankees games live before I go out for my morning dive
3) There's always someone (usually British) really great to hang out with and chat about how both our countries' economies are in the crapper

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thai Islands

Koh Samet:
One word of advice to anyone thinking about travelling to the Thai Islands during a Thai holiday...DON'T DO IT!! I was so eager to get out of Bangkok I quickly booked a trip to Koh Samet (4hrs outside Bangkok) without checking the Thai holiday schedule. Well it turned out I arrived on this beautiful island with no place to stay because every local had planned a 3 day weekend with their family. So as I paced back and forth up and down the beach looking for a place to stay only to be slapped in the face each time with a sign that said, "FULL"...I really started to get worried. After about 1 hour of searching and literally asking every shopkeeper if they had a place I could stay in, I fell upon 9 Thai friends also looking for a room. They were college buddies that decided last minute to get away and didn't make any reservations (like me). They were so sweet and kind they asked if I wanted to join them (that's right 10 people in a room meant for 2). Needless to say it was a 3 day adventure with my new Thai friends and of course it all worked out like it always does...

Koh Tao:
After my adventure in Koh Samet, I was really looking forward to some quiet "LT Time" on the beach. I exchanged my Chasing Harry Winston (I do love my chick-lit book and the book stores here make it so easy to fine them) for a good Jodi Picoult book and I was ready to go. After my 10hr bus that arrived on the pier at 4am and the ferry that doesn't leave until 7am, I finally arrived in Koh Tao. I made friends with a nice Christian girl that shared the same passion for Israel that I do and we decided to find a place to stay together. We stayed on top of the cliff with a beautiful lookout to watch the amazing sunsets. After a day in no-mans land, I was ready to get back to "town". I switched bungalows and signed up for my 4day Scuba diving certification. (Back to school Back to school...said in my best Billy Madison voice). It was early morning wake up for class and then afternoon's spent at sea. It was amazing. I had an incredible time and of course passed my final exam for flying colors. I am officially an Open Water Diver (so if anyone wants to be my buddy...). I made friends with my Aussie Instructor and she convinced me to stay a couple more days to dive with her on her free days. So here I am still on Koh Tao and lovin' it! I might even sign up for the Advanced course but we shall see...


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


After my jungle experience, I decided to join the rest of humanity in what Laos calls a big city...Luang Prabang. Previously named the capital (until Vientiene took that title over), it was so nice to be back in a place where my neighbors had opposable thumbs. Luang Prabang was very enjoyable squeezed between two rivers and sprawling with french cafes. I continued my journey with my British friends through most of Laos playing cards and enjoying our evenings dining at the Veggie Buffet for 8000 Kip (8000 Kip = $0.93). We spent most of the day bicycling around to see the sight and after we travelled to the most well known tourist attraction of Laos, "Tubing in Vang Vieng". I liken it to the lazy river at any water park in the states, but with drunken college age kids swinging from ropes and diving into the river. After tubing, everyone goes back to spend their evenings watching marathon Friends episodes showing in every restaurant in town. Since I was never much of a Friends watcher, Harry, Elle, and I watched the new X-men 4 (Wolverine) movie. Since it was clearly the pirated version, we had a couple of scenes where all we saw were the digital graphics (either way still enjoyable!). Needless to say, I spent very little time here. After moving on from Vang Vieng (or as I called it Spring Break 2009...Old School Style), we took our first local bus to Vientiene (sharing the journey with all sorts of farm animals and clearly going past the capacity limit after 1 stop of 50. Quite the adventure and certainly not one I plan on doing again. I had to say goodbye to my British friends as they were off to Vietnam and I was making my way back to Bangkok. Laos was beautiful, filled with incredible scenic drives through the mountains and enjoyable conversations with locals...although definitely a place that runs at a slower speed than I'm used to.



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle...Northern Laos

After my exhilarating experience zip lining in Chiang Mai, I decided I didn't have enough time in the jungle. I wanted to really experience the true jungle of Southeast Asia...and so I signed up for a 3 day/2 night Live and Learn the Jungle in the Bokeo Conservation Park. We were thrown together as a group of 8 (3 English, 2 Kiwis, 2 Germans, & me...the Yank) and our 2 Lao tour guides. After a 10 minute safety video, they were sure we were ready to zip line at 1000 meters high on the first go around...thank goodness I practised in Thailand. Anyway, it was incredible!!We ate strictly from the fruits and vegetables grown throughout the jungle and of course sticky rice 3 meals a day. The views, the trekking through the jungle, living in a tree house 950 meters high with all kinds of insects/rodents/animals (you name it I probably saw it), and using the zip lines as our form of transportation were all adventures that I will cherish (notice I didn't include details on the bathroom...you can use your imagination!). I've included a video of my last zip line through the jungle and some pictures.


After 3 fun-filled days in the Jungle, I was very ready for some form of a shower (as I do not believe the waterfall that we swam in counts as a shower). And of course, upon my return to the guesthouse the water was shut off as it hasn't rained enough to keep it on all day. My English friends and I sat around counting down the minutes until we could shower. We figured we can only hang out with other sticky people as not to offend anyone. Finally, it was night time and the water was back on so we got squeeky clean for our 12 hour bus ride to Luang Prabang.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


or 3.14 as my brother so fondly calls it. It's almost like I've been transported to the psychedelic era of the 60s. Pai is an incredible cross between a hippie nation and crunchy new age granola folks seeking refuge from their alternate life. Either way, I've really enjoyed my stay in a delightful bungalow type accommodation overlooking the riverfront. I spent the days scootering around the hills, caves, canyons, and waterfalls of northern Thailand. That's right...I rented a scooter (and of course they gave me the pinkest one in the shop...they clearly don't know me) and just for those who don't know they drive on the left side here. So not only did I have to worry about cows, dogs, and chickens jumped into the road I had to also drive on the "wrong" side...eek! Don't worry I survived and it was actually super fun!


Now, I'm on my way to getting dreadlocks and assorted tattoos of Bob Marley...kidding! I'm actually on my way to Laos tomorrow, taking 3 buses so that I don't get Monkey Butt on another slow boat (I really don't like those slow boats...). If you can believe it, I'll actually arrive sooner with the 3 buses than with the slow boat...gotta love SE Asia!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai

After a couple of days in Bangkok, I was on my way to the north. After a brutal overnight bus with a seat that didn't recline, I arrived in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is beautiful, slightly less chaotic than Bangkok, and for sure less pollution. The streets are easy to navigate, the food is delightfully tasty, and the people are always joking around. I arrived in Chiang Mai at the beginning of Thai New Year (Songkran Festival). This festival is like no other holiday I've ever experienced. Imagine a 5 day constant water fight/street party with every neighbor, store owner, friend, family member in the entire city...intense! It's clearly not documented as no one wants to ruin their camera (but I did sneak in a couple of pictures). The traffic is at a standstill around the old city and water from buckets and water guns fly through the air. When driving around the country water comes flying from every direction...good thing the temperature is 95F so that we welcome it. After a couple of days of sheer madness and enjoying a wonderful cooking class, I started my 3-day Jeep Adventure through some of the north of Thailand. I was the only American in the group of 17 Israelis and it was quite the experience. We had such a nice time together traveling around and sharing stories. Not only was my trip to learn about Thailand, I also got quite an education on Israelis...lots of fun!!

I've always wanted to try to do a zip line course. Needless to say, I never thought it would be in the jungles of Northern Thailand. After my 3 days in a Jeep, I felt I was ready for my "Jungle Flight". It was incredible...22 zip lines, 2 free falls, 3 shaky bridges and 1 day of complete fun! I survived to tell the story and even learned a bit about the village that lives down below (they of course climb the trees without harnesses...maybe I'll do it next time!)


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passover in Bangkok

After a 2 hour journey from the airport to my guesthouse (due to an obscene amount of traffic), I arrived in Bangkok to the heart of the travelers area (Khao San Rd). The hustle and bustle of the streets, the cabs outnumbering the people, and the rats scurrying around made me feel right at home as if I were in NYC. I treated myself to a bit of an upscale guesthouse that included air-con (instead of a fan)...pretty nice! After I got settled, I took a stroll over to the Chabad House to sort out my reservation for the Seders. As I walked down the street, I noticed more signs in Hebrew than in Thai and I knew I had to be going in the right direction. The following day I spent wondering around the Banglumphu area exploring and getting prepared for Passover (not to make anyone jealous but my Passover cleaning consisted of emptying my daypack and refilling it...tough I know). Upon arrival at the Chabad House, there was intense security from one end of the street to the other after about 5mins of checking each people I entered the room that was set with long tables to seat about 1000 people. It was incredible. Since I arrived almost on time (and most Israelis show up 1hr after set time), I had my choice of seats. I sat down and was immediately introduced to this guy and his group of friends. They made me feel right at home and were very welcoming to my desperate attempt to speak Hebrew. About 2hrs after the time stated on the ticket, the Rabbi began with an opening Passover story and so it all began. Singing, dancing, storytelling and jokes filled the room all night. I really appreciated the openness of Chabad in a place that is so far from my home (the food needed a little work but that's OK). The week should be interesting...

After making some new friends at the Seder, I decided to travel to the north of Thailand with some of them. We leave tonight on our overnight bus and I'm looking forward to the upcoming adventures.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To all my Friends and Family who are "Members of the Tribe"...

CHAG SAMEACH! I've landed in Bangkok and will be joining 800-1000 of my nearest and dearest Israeli and traveling friends for a seder tonight at the Chabad House. Stories to follow.

Angkor, Cambodge, Kampuchea...

...it's all Khmer to me. I wrapped up my Cambodia travels with a couple of days spent back in the capital city of Phnom Penh. A bit relaxing considering you are pretty much out of commission from 11am-3pm due to the exhausting heat and humidity. Spent the last couple of days reflecting and trying to plan stop. A few thoughts:

1) Food gets a check-plus in my book...I could have Fish Amok & Tofu Veggie Curry pretty much every night and be really happy...dessert was some form of potato rice patty that was sweet (don't ask me what the name of it is but it was delicious!)

2) EVERYBODY works on commission. As much as I appreciate getting the hooting and the hollering of every moto driver and tuk tuk driver...I will be hearing "Moto Lady? Madam...tuk tuk?" in my sleep for awhile.

3) Overall, I would say the people that I have interacted with have been extremely friendly and proud of their country. I often have a laundry list of questions to ask them to find out just a little more about the culture and their own personal story...and let me tell you once you get them started they love to chat!

I would like to dedicate this post to the children that are just barely surviving each day and the organizations that help. Cambodia is filled with both expats and locals trying to help improve their country. Thanks to all of you who have helped me understand the difficult times both past and present in Cambodia.




Saturday, April 4, 2009

Batta-bing, Battambang...

...said in a voice straight out of The Sopranos. OK not really but that's what popped into my head every time I said I was going to Battambang (pronounced: Ba-TAM-bong). Located in the Northwest region of Cambodia (not far from the Thailand border), Battambang is the second largest city in the country. After my glorious 10hr boat ride from Siem Reap, the monkey butt was most certainly back. It was OK because I was greeted by the nicest moto driver (Bun is his name) waiting to take me to my hotel. After the usual questions of 'what's your name' and 'where are you from', Bun almost drove us straight into oncoming traffic when he heard I was from the US. He was sooo happy to be able to practice his English and tell me all about his studies. The trip from the dock was only 10mins but I felt like I already knew everything about this guy. Upon arrival the drivers always try to get you to book the next day of touring with them. Usually, I say no thank you because I like to do it on my own BUT this time I couldn't resist. This guy was so excited to be able to better himself with both English and worldly knowledge how could I turn him down. It was such an amazing day of touring, teaching, and trekking...at the end of the day Bun invited me to come meet his family that he told me so much about. His parents survived the Khmer Rouge regime and his father worked for the new government. Soon after having 5 children, his father died of malaria and his mother was all alone to support them. Bun tells me stories about his sister the nurse, his brother the mechanic, his other sister the hairdresser, and all about how they all gave up going to school because they knew Bun (the baby) was the smartest. They gave all the money they made so that he could go to Junior High and High School. Now he's finished his studies and working towards making enough money to go to University ($1000/year) so that he can be an English teacher. Bun and his entire family have an incredible spirit and are the warmest people I've met considering the difficulties they've endured. After dinner, Bun, 1 sister, and I went over to his Temple to attend the carnival that takes place for 1 month before Khmer New Year (April 14 this year). (It reminded me of the Greek Festival that I used to go to near my house). Food stands, games, music, a movie projecting on a white sheet. It was really wonderful to be able to join in the celebrations with Bun and his family! Battambang is a city filled with wonderful people, gorgeous views, and amazing spirits.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Siem Reap

Wow, what a place. Siem Reap has been more than just temples for me. Don't get me wrong, the temples of Angkor are awe-inspiring and are truly wonders of the world but on top of that I've really enjoyed my stay in the city of Siem Reap. I've been staying in this cute little old colonial house renovated to be a guesthouse (on the outside it has a poster saying, "Looks expensive but not!"). They are incredibly friendly, helpful, and truly service oriented. Siem Reap is jammed packed with all sorts of international food...as I am more of a "when in Rome" type I stuck to the local cuisine which is as always amazing. The focus in Cambodia is often on the children in need and Siem Reap is no different. One of the nights I was here there was a Puppet Parade with a bunch of different NGOs (non-government organizations) and the children they support. It was amazing to see these children so enthusiastic about their creations and their organizations that help them survive (pics included). Each time I see children working hard to rise above their own poverty I am supremely inspired and proud of them.

Enjoy my pics of the glorious Temples of Angkor and don't laugh at my 5am sunrise pics...pre-coffee/tea!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Current Events

Upon heading back to a place with toilets that flush (rather than a hole in the ground or the scooping method) and TV in my room, I was quickly switched back into reality. These are a few of the interesting things that grabbed my attention:

1) People hate AIG executives (and let's face it, all of Wall Street) much more than when I left (I think I'm going to tell people I used to be a chef...people like chefs)

2) Barney Frank got MUCH greyer and grumpier while dealing with Geithner & Bernanke's testimonies (I wasn't sure it was possible)

3) Apparently there's a drug war going on with our dear neighbors to the south...who knew?!

4) Toyota has joined our American automakers...in the crapper...nice work boys!

5) Crazy octuplet mother fired her nanny...brilliant!

Just arrived in Siem Reap and off to see Angkor Wat (one of the wonders of the world) tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sihanoukville/Bamboo Island

As if the chilling out in Kampot wasn't enough, I found myself in one of the best beach towns I've been in so far. Ah Sihanoukville, pronounced Si-nook-ville (local westerners call it snookie). It has been a great little vacation from the everyday sight seeing. The first day I was on the beach I met this girl, Eda from Sweden, who has been living here for 2 years. She taught me about the local culture, people, businesses, and the interesting stories about the children that roam the beach front trying to sell crafts all day long. As in many countries here, the parents must pay for their children to attend school so as a result lots of children do not attend school. There are a number of charity organizations that have come in after the Khmer Rouge regime fell to help with rebuilding the countries. Setting up schools for children to attend for free was one of their priorities. The countries needs a lot work but hopefully it will get there.

While Eda and I were out we bumped into her friend Kate who works for a tour group to go out to this remote island called Bamboo Island (1hr from Sihanoukville on a boat that could make anyone seasick). It was incredible. So peaceful, filled with a couple of bungalows, 1 outhouse, couple of hammocks, and a Bar/Restaurant/Reception area...that's it! At night we all went snorkeling to see the fluorescent plankton, pretty cool!



After the sights of PP and a broken down bus on the side of the road for about 4hrs, I finally arrived in Kampot. Some people might know it as an important place of black pepper exporting, I know it as a place to do some chilling out on a hammock...AWESOME. I rented a bicycle for the day and did some venturing out to the riverfront and down to some caves and concluded my day watching the beautiful sunset. The English guesthouse owner where I was staying (chef by trade) employs Khmer people so that he may teach them skills that they may use in the future. I think this is wonderful as some of the people of Cambodia have this mentality of who knows if I'll be alive tomorrow or if everything will be taken away from me again. He teaches them to cook both Western and Khmer cooking so that they may work anywhere. Best quote from him after I asked why all the staff are women..."Because if you want a job done efficiently and correctly you hire a woman!" Love it!

Phnom Penh

After various boats and buses coming from the Mekong Delta, I finally arrived in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). It was late at night so I was very interested in finding my guesthouse having some dinner and going to sleep. I found this interesting place called the Top Banana Guesthouse on one of the websites that reviews SE Asia. It worked out to be perfect, very chill vibe with a little meeting area for the visitors to come and chat with each other. Conversations usually revolve around where you've been where you are going and where you're from...and of course since I'm American, "Aren't you glad you have Obama now". As always, I like to rate a place on it's food...top notch! I ended up staying up a bit longer than expected as I started talking to some really interesting people (and one of my first Americans along the way...sometimes it's nice to catch up with the fellow citizens). After a nice night of food, drinks, and some laughs, I woke up the next morning ready to see the sights. Off I went to see the capital city including sights of the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, a stroll down the riverfront, and I concluded my day with a documentary about Pol Pot & the Khmer Rouge regime. I'm not much of a history buff so I needed to do a little preparation before my sights tomorrow of the Killing Fields and S-21 (Genocide Museum). It was informative but of course nothing can really prepare you to see locations where there were mass murders taking place. I couldn't help but draw comparisons to when I was in Poland visiting the concentration camp remains. Extremely moving and to think we still haven't learned as this continues to go on today.

Phnom Penh is an interesting city with complete extremes of rich and poor, ancient temples and modern cars (they love the Lexus SVU here and as if it wasn't clear it is a Lexus they put a huge decal on the side so you are well aware it is before it comes barreling into you).


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mekong Delta

After spending a short visit in HCMC/Saigon, I went on to visit one of the most fertile and desired pieces of land/water in all of the region. The Mekong delta is the where the mighty Mekong River (which starts up in Tibet) empties into. The start of the trip was the usual take a bus to a boat to another boat to a bus and then wait. I know some of you are thinking, LT isn't very good at waiting, but I'll tell you after spending just over a month in SE Asia I've gotten really good at being patient. I stroll through the coconut, rice, fruit & fish farms. I learned about the annual life of the people who live in this area and their struggles during the rainy season to keep their house intacted while at sea for months at a time. As always, when the boat passes by the children you hear "HELLO" from the distance. They love to say hello and then of course we respond with hello and a wave and then they go off giggling because that's all they can communicate. It's super sweet!


Monday, March 16, 2009

South Coast Cambodia Preview

Fell upon this very recent article about where I'll be after Phnom Penh:


Thank you, Vietnam

The month in Vietnam definitely flew by. After I got the hang of it, I have to tell you, I really enjoyed my time here. There's something about the hardworking & mostly friendly people and the ability to go from rolling hills filled with rice paddies to the scenic beachfront to the madness of the city that made me really enjoy this country. Just a short list of things I've learned here:

1) In order to get married, the bride's family must exchange a water buffalo for the groom (OK then, guess I can't get married here)
2) Green is the color for Hope (can't go through a village without seeing all shades of it)
3) Mo, Tai, Bah...Joy -- Translation: 1, 2, 3...cheers! -- said when taking shots of rice spirits
4) Children are taught at a very young age to say hello to all strangers as it is a sign of respect (very different than in the USA)
5) Matriarchal society -- These women are extremely hardworking and dedicated to their land, people, & family.
6) The people of Vietnam are nicknamed "Bamboo" as bamboo is very tough and hard to break.
7) Mostly Buddhist & Catholic
8) Government discounts TV/Satellite to control population as well as educate the ethnic minorities and people in small villages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Well it's a quick visit to the big city. I'll tell you one thing, this is as close to NYC as I think I'm going to get while in Vietnam. Paved roads, stores that include price tags, and even a stop light once in awhile. I had a power tourist day -- Jade Emperor Pagoda, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral & the War Remnants Museum...all in about 200% Humidity & 90F. Although it was a short visit, I think I got the feel for it...Saigon, you're all right!

Off to the Mekong Delta tomorrow morning. Filled with boat rides, floating markets, and ethnic minority villages. After 3 days, I'll be in Cambodia. Catch you on the flip side.

Easy Riders Tour -- Dalat to Saigon

Gosh it's been so long and I have so much to tell. Well since we bought the open tour bus ticket in Hanoi (making stops throughout the country), we thought we should use them. Boy, did we figure out after 1 sleeper bus that things were gonna change. Trying to sleep on a bus that is weaving in and out of lanes at 65MPH while honking at a decibel that is inhumane we decided to take the advice of our frenchie friends and inquire about a special tour called Easy Riders (http://www.dalat-easyrider.com.vn/Websites/English). Basically you hop on the back of a motorcycle for a set number of days with a set destination...the rest is in the hands of your guide. We told our guides we wanted to see the "real Vietnam" and that's just what we got! It was amazing (but my bum is still recovering from 4days worth of motorcycling through the countryside...the offical term is "monkey butt"!). My guide, Rocky, was incredible...his passion for his country and its people was so evident. I learned so much about the culture, history, ethnic minorities, and daily life. He even took us to his hometown and let us stay at his parents house with him. They are Catholic and were holding a special service for their village in their home that night. As we finished eating a fabulous meal, the rain began (they are coffee farmers and couldn't be happier that it was raining). They ended up not having enough people for their service so instead we all sat around and enjoyed some rice wine spirits and each others company. We were the first foreigners some of them had ever seen in person. When they found out I was "A Member of the Tribe", they were so excited to discuss the Old Testament with me (good thing I was a Bible major at JTS...knew that would come in handy someday). Anyway, it was so enjoyable and incredibly nice of them to welcome us into their home. There are so many stories to tell of this adventure but I will have to share when I return.

(For my own sake, I'm going to include a list of our stops)

Day 1 (Dalat):
Dragon Pagoda
Veggie Farm
Flower Farm
Coffee Plant
Silk Factory
Elephant Falls
Chil Village
Ma Village
Lak Lake

Day 2:
M'nong Village
Broken Church
War Veteran couple
Doay Sap Water Falls
Gia Long Water Falls
Rocky's Home

Day 3:
Ho Chi Minh Trail
Cashew Nut Factory
Bamboo Basket Making
Dog Xoai

Day 4 (HCMC/Saigon):
Broken bridge
Cu Chi Tower

If anyone is coming out to Vietnam, I would strongly suggest looking up the Easy Riders and most certainly use Rocky...he is the MAN!!


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hoi An

Well I haven't been to France (yet of course), but if I were to imagine what the old colonial towns looked like this would be it. Hoi An is packed with these little cafes serving the most delightful Banana Chocolate Pancakes (we know cause we've now tried them in almost every city we've been in so far!), little art galleries with incredible workmanship (from artists to woodcarvings to model ships), & rooftops with flowers & ivy growing all around. The temperture is stupidly hot so we figured the best way to spend the day is for a nice bike ride out to the beach. I lathered up in my SPF 50 got my long sleeves, hat, & sunglasses and off we went. As you would have to be completely insane to sit out in the sun for too long, they so generously provide little tiki umbrella things free of charge (of course you do get accosted by the touts every 5mins but when something is free in this country you take it!). The beach was followed by a delicious meal at a little cafe called Cafe Des Amies. Chef Mr. Kim asks if you want meat, seafood, or vegetarian (I opted for the last) and then he cooks up a 5 course meal with whatever is fresh in his kitchen...let me tell you it was amazing. Hoi An pretty much shuts down by 10pm which is fine with me as there is always another full day of touring coming my way tomorrow. Hoi An...C'est Magnific!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hue (pronounced: Hoo-A)

From the minute we got to this city I knew I liked it. There's just something about it. It's both Asian yet European, clean yet has a mysterious side, and most of all has the most magnificent food so far. I like to consider myself a bit of a foodie so I will try to describe to my foodie friends and family about this place. The food has a simple yet very enjoyable sensation. Hue local food includes a white noodle (rather than the yellow noodle served in the north, like the kind that comes in the ramen noodles packages at home), vegetables other than just cabbage/carrots/onions (I got to see mushrooms & I love mushrooms, cucumbers & something that looked like an apple but didn't taste like it and I wasn't allergic), and last but not least they have the ice cream man that comes around morning, noon, and night! I mean what could be bad about getting morning ice cream and it being totally socially acceptable (don't worry I wait until at least after 3pm to indulge!). He scoops the white almost coconut tasting ice cream into an ice cream cone pours some sort of sugary syrup and tops it off with some fried what seems to be caramel...MMM all for 5000 Dong/$0.28! With all that said, I've really enjoyed Hue for it's slower pace yet still urban environment. The riverfront is calm and that's where all the young kids hang out and socialize (definitely beats the mall). Good times in Hue and off to Hoi An tomorrow morning...gotta get my shopping on (Hoi An is known for it's tailor made clothing)


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Special Thanks

Just wanted to say thank you for all of your special birthday notes and cards while I'm in Hue. It's much appreciated while I'm so far from Home.

Ha Long Bay/Ninh Binh

As many people have told me, it can be very grey in Vietnam. For those of you who know me, this can be a great thing for my skin....I only had to pull out the SPF 50 one day. Although I like this, many people on my Ha Long Bay trip did not. It was grey, cloudy, and rainy for most of the boat ride. I found it to be very relaxing after many days in the craziness of honking motorbikes and trucks in Hanoi. We stayed overnight on the boat and stopped at the Amazing Caves to take a look around.


After Ha Long Bay, we took a short bus ride to Ninh Binh where the bus driver barely slowed down to 5mph to dump us off on the side of the dark road. When people say it's organized chaos, I really understand it now. The bus driver dropped us at the exact hotel that we wanted to stay at and even called ahead to ask to keep the kitchen open. I mean come on, is that not perfect. Some say it's a scam to keep the business in the family, I say it works for me! We rented a motorbike both days and had a great time touring the countryside, trekking in Cuc Phuong National Park, and visiting some local towns.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Reality Check

While I'm still having phone and photo uploading issues, I thought I would devote this post to some interesting things about this country (Vietnam):

Price Check
1.5L Water bottle -- 8000 Dong/$0.46
Large plate of tofu, mixed veggies, & rice -- 25,000 Dong/$1.43
Cute everyday purse (I was sure I needed it!) -- 50,000 Dong/$2.86

Etticate Check
1) Never settle for the first response to a question (they are usually just trying to get rid of you as soon as possible!)
2) Always smile when trying to ask for directions (along with #1 ask many people for directions as they usually don't understand you the first time anyway)
3) 2 mins & 2 hrs are basically the same thing to them (I'm still working on appreciating this quality)

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from an Australian I met about her take on Vietnam..."It's a beautiful country, but they are all f**** crazy!"

Hopefully, more pics and posts to follow in Hue. I'll be there after a 12hr bus ride...woohoo!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sapa/Lao Cai

After seeing all that Hanoi has to offer a Westerner, we started our planning for the north...what an accomplishment that can be! You have be aware of every thing they tell you as they are most likely leaving out the most important pieces of information...for example the hotel name, your tour name, and perhaps getting the taxi to pick you up at the right time to not miss the train that only leaves once a day. Well we certainly lived and learned a lot from our first tour booking AND surprisingly enough we actually went back to the same travel agent(to book Ha Long Bay) as she is pretty much the only one we trust after shopping around for a bit. Once we were squared away on the sleeper train up to Lao Cai (9hrs), we figured we were well on our way to a good time. Well, after a couple of times of them not having our names or not knowing where we were going we truly were on our way and it was BEAUTIFUL up there. We were picked up by our local village tour guide, Coo, to begin our first trek to her village Black H'mong. It was so interesting to see all these ethnic minorities in the north of Vietnam. They're so rich in culture and extremely strong willed in their dedication to the land. After trying to get pushed out of their land, of course, the government realized they would make more money if they turned it into a tourist attraction. So like many places they now resort to selling their handmade items in exchange for money. I really enjoyed meeting with them, hearing their stories, and of course enjoying their home cooked meals. We (Me, Derek, Elodie & Marie -- our 2 new Frenchies, and Anthony the Kiwi) were so graciously invited to stay with a family at a homestay. They cooked us a feast and they even made me this amazing tofu dish special for me (don't worry i got the recipe...1 pinch of this and 1 pinch of that taste and serve). After our 2 days of village people and trekking, we went over to their big Sunday market (Bac Ha Market). It was clear the difference between the local market and the tourist market (see pics...beware: those living animals will not be alive by dinner time). The landscapes and the people were amazing...Good times in northern Vietnam.


We came back this morning on another overnight sleeper train and booked our Ha Long Bay trip with our friend the agent...she was so happy to see us and don't worry we had a few kind words to share with her. She laughed when we wanted a minute by minute play by play itinerary for this trip. After Ha Long Bay we will be making our way down to Saigon with some stops on the way...stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So my day started at 3am getting to the airport for my first budget airlines of Asia and let me just say Continental as alot to learn from these guys! Anyway that's another story, got in line to get my seat and this very nice girl behind me started to talk to me (pre-coffee I might add!). It was so nice to start up my journey with a friendly face. We ended up sitting with each other on the plane and taking the cab ride into the city together. After the cabbie tried to drop me at the wrong hostel (of course a sceme...doesn't he know he's dealing with the LT), i walk up and Derek (my travel buddy) is sitting there on the porch waiting for me...couldn't have worked out any better (well my phone could be working that would be nice). We walked around the Old Quarter enjoying the local sights and then had some pho (Vietnamese soup). Today we are off to do some of the sights and will probably move on from the city pretty quickly as it's pretty stressful when you spend most of your day crossing roads without traffic signs or rules.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


After about my 20hr journey (completely missing 13Feb -- hope it wasn't that important in my life) and my bag still intacted, I arrived in Singapore around 12am 14Feb.  I was greeted by my dear friends Brian & Naoko and we quickly hopped into a cab back to their place.  Couple of things about Singapore (aside from not chewing gum):

1) Brian and I agree it definitely reminds us of Florida (color scheme is circa 1970s with pastels and all & palm trees everywhere)
2) The humidity could absolutely kill you.  When I said I wanted to get out of snowy NYC, I didn't know this was the only other option.  To be fair, there is something fabulous about the tropical air.
3) This is one of my favorite things about here.  It is the craziest melting pot you have ever seen.  You have your Chinese, Malay, Indian, & the 4th group made up of mostly Expats (Euro & American).  So having this be the situation, you can only imagine how fun communicating is.  I mean I fit right in, no one else understands anybody so everything becomes a productions...it's great!

Big shout out to my dear friends Brian & Naoko for being the best tour guides and letting me crash here for a little bit.  Off to Hanoi tomorrow on my favorite flight...6am baby!  Check out my pics from Singapore so far...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Checked Baggage / Rough Draft Itinerary

Checking/losing my bags at the airport is one of my biggest travel fears...crash landing in the Hudson River, no biggie BUT after I spent all that time deciding what I'm bringing to have it lost would just be awful. Thank goodness after a 6hr flight to Seattle with 2 empty seats next to me, my bag arrived and my first flight is over and done with...only 2 more flights to have nightmares on about losing my bag en route...ridiculous, i know!

Some people have asked for a little more detail on where I'm going. So here is a rough draft of my next couple of months:

Singapore (12Feb)
Vietnam -- Hanoi (17Feb), Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Min City (Saigon)
Cambodia -- Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Kampot, Kratie
Laos -- 4 Thousand Islands, Pakse, Tha Khaek, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang,
Thailand -- Chiang Khong, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi, Bangkok, Some islands (TBD)

Any helpful hints or travel ideas are always welcome!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wise words from BBG

Some people get their horoscope from the newspaper, others receive them as daily emails, personally, I look to my good friend the bloomberg terminal to share with me some words of wisdom as I gulp down my first cup of coffee (very important) in the morning. As today was my last login to BBG, I felt especially inspired...

"Life is a risk." Diane Von Furstenberg via My Bloomberg Terminal Quote of the Day

It's almost as if Shawn (My BBG HELP contact) knew it was my last day in the office and put in a good word with the quotes people for my morning inspiration. Either way, here I am signing out of Leh systems for the final time to take on some of the biggest risks of my life so far. (wish me good luck!)

Peace out to "The Brothers" (although to most of the world this happened on 15Sept)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sneak Peak

For those of you who need a little help visualizing some of the places I've chosen to visit, here's a little slide show of Laos (courtesy of NYT).


In a couple of months, let's compare photos...clearly mine will be better!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Moving Day 2009

How appropriate that I would begin my first post on my first blog on this very momentous Inauguration Day. Change has been the catch phrase of the last year and who am i to not join in the fun. Join me on some of the biggest changes in my life...Moving out of NYC after 10yrs, leaving 6yrs of Lehman behind, and traveling the world with 2 backpacks (and only 3 pairs of shoes...eek!). So here it goes, hope you enjoy and I can't wait to hear what you think...

The sun was shining and I was waking up to a full studio apartment filled with boxes, garbage bags filled with clothing, and very heavy furniture for the "troops" to carry. It's good that my brother had faith that it would all fit into the 12ft truck because I was having some serious doubts (flash forward: Always trust the big brother!). As the "troops" arrived, they were greeted by a good ole box of joe and munchkins (had to bribe them to help some how). They were the best helpers I could have asked for...they carried, they arranged, they directed traffic all while I "supervised" (best job of the day). As one of the "troops" said, I did the hard part...packing. I didn't have the heart to tell her that was not nearly as hard as all the carrying they were doing. Approximately 1.5hrs and 1 casualty later (just a half of a coffee table broke but don't worry Billy Joe (one of my buildings maintenance men) to the rescue...he took a hammer and fixed it right up...most say it looks even better that way). Billy Joe played a vital role in the day's activities, he was on traffic ticket patrol so that we wouldn't get caught (as I'm giving kudos to Billy Joe you can tell he was successful in his mission!). After the truck was loaded, we said farewell to 2 of our "troops" and off to the NJ we went. As the snow started to fall and we made our way to the NJ, Mom was waiting with hot chocolate in hand and one of my favorite meals (stuffed shells) to provide us with energy. We were going to need it as we were 2 "men" down with what seemed like 2x the amount of stuff (how did that happen?!) . Although there were some difficult/interesting/"I-might-hurt-my-brother" moments, it was a success! All items successfully made it to the NJ, although it would have been more fun/not as tiring if we didn't have to carry the couch up AND down the stairs (those damn door frames will get you every time!).

Special thanks to the "TROOPS" (the BEAST, the BEEFCAKE, and Billy Joe)