Saturday, January 30, 2010

Culture shock in Bangkok

Mason and I successfully met up at the airport in Korea (we easily spotted each other since we were wearing idential outfits.) After an entire day of traveling we made it to Bangkok, where Mason's friend Zach kindly met up with us to escort us into the city. We stayed at a pretty swanky hotel our first 2 nights- with cable TV and AC! Yesterday we ventured into the humidity and ate lunch at the food court of the MBK center (a massive, airconditioned, multi-story mall). We met up with Mason and Zach's friend James, who guided us to the other side of Bangkok where we boarded a river taxi to Wat Po- home of a very large reclining Buddha. The water taxi is quite an adventure because it's extremely crowded and it's difficult to tell which stop to get off at since most docks look the same. On our first attempt to disembark Mason, James and I got stuck in the crowd and watched as Zach- who got off first, had to jump back on the taxi as it pulled away. Finally we got off and made our way to Wat Po. We didn't even get to see the reclining Buddha because it was closed off for some event that was being set up. Wat Po is also home to Thailand's original massage school. We figured this would be the perfect place for our first massage in the country. After wandering around the complex we finally found the school, where 3 ladies intercepted us and said they would lead us to where the massages take place. We followed for about 5 minutes until the ladies began to leave the complex- at which point we got a bit sketched out and decided just to go find a cafe. We went to the Kao San Road area- a major backpacker mecca- and spent most of our time sizing up other people's backpack sizes and trying to reassure ourselves that our aren't that bad! (But they really are.) Already dreading lugging them around.

At the end of the day we headed back to our hotel- as we had been wanting to swim at our hotel's 6-floor balcony pool all day! Unfortunately we would have preferred to be there in the heat of the day (the water was quite cold!) but it is an awesome pool with fountains and jets and we took a quick dip. There is also a sauna and we thought that would be a perfect way to warm up after the cold pool...unfortunately it wasn't on and didn't heat up in the 20 minutes we waited. We got too hungry and headed to dinner at a yummy Tapas Cafe!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Mason and I are flying out tomorrow from our respective hometowns and we are still making last-minute packing decisions! As of earlier this afternoon my backpack weighed in at just under 30 lbs. (not including my day pack, which is probably another 5 lbs.).
My nerves are definitely starting to kick in- mostly I hate saying goodbyes! It will be very hard to leave this face! Stefano will be so big when I get back! If anyone is interested in puppy-sitting while I'm gone I'm sure my mom would appreciate it!

Tonight Katie and I are watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs- a funny and entertaining distraction on my last night home. I recommend it! My one criticism is that it doesn't rain Pad Thai.

Wish Mason and I luck!...Together we'll have 70 lbs. of crap to lug around Asia and that doesn't include stuff we don't yet know that we've forgotten. Let the fun begin!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The route

Thanks to Mason's awesome cartography skills we have a mapped out route.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some history & the plan

Mason and I met in Jan. 2008 as we stood in line in the sweltering Bahamian sun, waiting to board the MV Explorer, Semester at Sea's floating campus and our home for the next four months. On Jan. 28, 2010 we will reunite after 2 years (almost to the day), when we meet up at the Seoul airport. From Seoul we will board a flight to Bangkok, Thailand where we will commence a 2.5 month tour through Asia. (I am hoping it will not be a wheelchair tour of Asia as Mason is currently getting her knee scanned in an MRI!)

Upon arrival in Bangkok we hope to a. Catch up on sleep in a cute guest house, b. Get a Thai massage, c. Scramble to obtain visas for and flights to the other countries we will visit!

Even though we haven't seen each other in quite some time (other than on Skype and Mason & Evan's quick but memorable visit to Lewisburg, PA), we are pretty confident that our time on SAS proved our traveling compatibility. At least we know our priorities are aligned: eat ice cream in every country, take lots of pictures with our newly equipped Nikon dSLRs, and laugh our way through any situation.

Above is a photo of us at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China - eating ice cream and still laughing about a certain culturally-specific potty-training technique that the Chinese employ with their toddlers: the ass-less pants.

You'll also notice that in both of these photos we are dressed almost identically. We noticed early on in the Semester at Sea (SAS) voyage that we happened to pack many of the same items (including the very handy j.crew skirt/dresses that transition from temple to beach quite seamlessly!). In the photo at top we are wearing them as dresses in Langkawi, Malaysia.

I think we will try to bring a little more variety to our outfits this go-around.

After a few days of recuperation in Bangkok we hope to catch a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh to partake in a training program with the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank was founded by Muhammad Yunus in order to provide micro-loans to poverty-stricken Bangladeshis. Now Grameen programs (and programs based on the Grameen model) are in place all over the world.

From there we will hop over to Nepal for a few weeks of adventure, and hopefully a sighting of Mt. Everest! (Or if we feel up to it we'll try to beat the world record and summit Everest in less than 8 hours. Wish us luck.) I am really looking forward to Nepal as I have gained a lot of insight about the country from my coworkers here at the American Himalayan Foundation.

After Nepal we will return to Bangkok to begin a round-trip tour through Northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Southern Thailand, flying out of Bangkok in mid-April.

One of the main reasons Mason and I chose to return to this region of the world was that neither of us were able to visit Cambodia during SAS due to lack of space on the field excursions from Vietnam.

One our way home we will spend a few days back in Seoul, South Korea (4 for me, 10 for Mason). Mason spent the last year teaching English to youngsters in Seoul so she knows the ropes on that one. (And I think she has every meal and outing planned out for me!)

This is a brief overview of our itinerary, more to come...

SAS recap

For those people who don't know about our Semester at Sea voyage in 2008 here is the itinerary and some highlights. It should give you a better idea about our travel experience and the countries/cultures we are familiar with:

Jan. 24- Departed Nassau, Bahamas

Jan. 26- Arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Spent days at the beach, went kayaking, fort-touring, salsa-dancing and even observed a cockfight.
Jan. 29- Out to Sea

Feb. 5- Arrived in Salvador, Brazil in time for the last night of the pre-Lenten celebration of Carnival! Successfully avoided getting robbed or punched. Also chose a horrible port in which to do a walking-tour of the city as it was ungodly hot.
Feb. 10- Departed Brazil, headed toward South Africa!
At some point Evan joined us and we traveled as a trio from then on! And some time after that Clint made our group complete. (Most future excursions include some combination of the four of us together.)

Feb. 19- Arrived in Cape Town at 0500 (5am). Watched the sunrise over Table Mountain as we pulled in! Amazing!! I Safaried for 3 days at Kwazulu Natal National Park. On our last days in Cape Town the four of us visited Khayelitsha Township and played with the adorable kids; Ferried to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela carried out many of his 27-year term); Took in the view from the top of Table Mountain, and more!
Feb. 25- Departed Cape Town and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. (We survived the roughest waters in the world!)
While at sea we went to class, watched movies, hung out in the piano bar, ate LOTS of ice cream on the 7th deck, read by the pool, and exchanged photos.

Feb. 30- Arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius (A little tiny African island past Madagascar).
We went on an amazing ship-family outing to La Vanille Crocodile & Tortoise Park where we ate chocolate cake and watched the tortoises get intimate. Swam in the amazing blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Mar. 5 - Departed Port Louis.

Mar. 11- Arrived in Chennai, India (formerly Madras). India was perhaps the most colorful, dirty and overall most eye-opening port experience. Mason made it to the Taj Mahal and I lived vicariously through her. I taught her all about the temples of Mamallapuram. Neither of us got sick thanks to pepto bismol before and after each meal!
Mar. 16- Departed Chennai. Watched stragling and intoxicated SASers get dock time for being late to board the ship. So entertaining.

Mar. 19- Arrived in Penang, Malaysia. Took a sleeper train to the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL) and visited the Petronas Towers (then second, now third tallest building in the world). From there we flew Asia Air to Langkawi Island to get some R&R.
Mar. 24- Departed Malaysia and sat on the ship in Singapore while she refueled. Oh well, we didn't want to be bound by their stringent laws anyway.

Mar. 27- Arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Our parents did not join us here on the SAS parent trip so we spent lots of time at Fanny's Ice Cream Parlor. Mason went north to Hanoi & Halong Bay. I stayed in HCMC and bought pirated DVDs. Once reunited we visited the very graphic War Remnants Museum and crawled through the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Apr. 1- Departed Vietnam.

Apr. 3- Arrived in Hong Kong. High school friends Miho and Shobo showed us a good time on our one day in HK. The next day Mason and I flew to Beijing as part of our Tshingua University program. In China we really had to rely on each other for entertainment, hence the infatuation with the ass-less pants. We also climbed the Great Wall. It was all for naught since we couldn't see a darn thing through the smog.
Apr. 9- Ship met up with us in Shanghai and we departed from there.

Apr. 11- Arrived in Kobe, Japan! With bullet-train passes in hand we were off and running for a jam-packed 4-day tour of Japan. We spend the first day in Hiroshima and saw many remnants of the A-Bomb destruction. We also hit up Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka! One over-rated experience: Staying in a morgue-like capsule hotel.
Apr. 15- Departed Japan for long haul accross Pacific Ocean!

Apr. 22- Arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii for an 8-hour stop-over. Enough time to visit Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach! (And apparently enough time to lose my digital camera. whoops.)
While here we stocked up on chocolate for the next stage of the long-haul.

May 3- Arrived in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We ventured to the cute beachy town of Montezuma for our last SAS adventure.
May 5- Departed Costa Rica. Heading home....

May 9- Arrived in Miami, USA. Sad day for all. Mason's family greeted us at the port. I rushed off to catch my flight and subsequently lost my cell phone. whoops again. (Amazing how I only managed to lose things in America.)