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.