Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chiang Mai: Temples & Hookers, Two Peas in a Pod

   Finally, we arrived in Bangkok but only to find we couldn't extend our stay at our hotel.  So, what the heck, we decided to just speed up our plans and head to Chiang Mai on an overnight train and explore Bangkok on our way back.  The train ride was a great experience besides Bobby of course not fitting in his bunk.

Nat fits

Bobby doesn't

   Chiang Mai is a city located in the northern highlands of Thailand and claimed to be the 'cultural center' of Thailand.  Although there are too many people there for the streets to handle, the town has a relaxed fun vibe.  The town is scattered with fake antique shopping, night markets with amazing local food, and tons of beer pubs.  It is also home to the Night Bizarre, a street lined with endless huts selling anything you can imagine. 

Bananas, chocolate, sprinkles, and a waffle....Pure Genius!!

A little Bailey dog, only around 50 bucks.

     We found out Bobby passed the bar our first night in town, soooo we decided to celebrate with Muay Thai boxing and beers.  A description of the boxing match basically describes Chiang Mai, and the greater Thailand for that matter.  As soon as we arrived at the entrance, we were bombarded by young women in high-heels directing us to our seats which happened to be infront of their bar.  As we soon found out, because they sat us there, we could only buy beer at their bar.  GETTING OUR MONEY BY LYING.  Although there were several fights, they all began wtih the same, whiny instrumental music while the fighters prayed to each corner of the ring.  RELIGION IS EVERYWHERE....EVEN WHERE A GUY IS ABOUT TO GET HIS NOSE BROKEN.  Later, before the main fight, the lady boys, all topless and dangerously feminine looking, did the YMCA dance and made drinks while the real ladies (mostly real) tempted many of the old-foreign men into their services for the night or week.  THE SEX INDUSTRY IS COMMON, OBVIOUS, and MAKING A KILLING.  All in all it was a great experience that both of us will never forget.

Celebrating Bobby passing the bar with some bad Mexican food.

    If there are three things to know about Thailand, it is these three.  No woman in Thailand, no matter how much she enjoys your conversation, is free.  There are more temples than you could ever seen.  And absolutely everyone is a liar.

   But other than those few tips, we absolutely loved Chiang Mai.  Besides the muay thai event, we rode elephants and got soaked going down rapids on a bamboo raft.  Also, just like every other city so far there were tons of temples and loads of shopping.  Hint Hint we also bought some awesome Christmas presents.

These guys are both so happy

Finally, to cap off Chiang Mai we decided to learn how to cook some good eats.  We took a full day cooking class where we both cooked 6 meals.  The best part, after eating all the food, was that we got recipe books for over 100 Thai dishes. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Palau Perhentian: Island Semi-Paradise

So Bobby has been dreaming of diving in the Perhentian Islands for months before the trip even started way back in South America.  However, we had decided to go to Bali first, instead of heading straight to the islands;  all the travel books said we had until early November to avoid the monsoon season.   Getting to these amazing islands is pretty complicated, involving a plane, cab, and speed boat..  We took a speed boat from mainland Malaysia to Long Beach on the 'big' island of the Perhentians and arrived to unpleasant news.  Although the beach was spectacular and the sky was cloudless, a typhoon in the Philippines had sped up the monsoon season and the beach was literally closing  down.  For example, there were two restaurants open, but by the following morning, there would only be one.  When we questioned the only open dive shop, we were informed it was their last day to dive.  Talk about disapointment.  Soooo here we are...We are in the middle of the ocean, hours away from any airport or large town with buses and we will soon starve...Great!!!

Luckily, Bobby befriended a local man who mentioned just walking across the island to the other beach.  It is only a 10 minute walk so we were unconvinced that the scene would be much different.  However, upon arrival to the other side of the beach, we were greeted with smiling faces, several restaurants, and a dive shop operated by a crazy English man.  Success!!!  So our disappointment turned to hope. 

We switched beaches and started dive classes the next day.  We both finished our open water certification, then with much encouragement from our money-hungry dive teacher, we signed up for advanced open water.  We went for a night dive, wreck dive, deep dive (100ft), fish identification dive, and a horrible attempt at a navigation lesson.  After 5 days of 2+ dives a day and studying (yes, studying), we became advanced divers! Thanks Jamie-

Dinner right on the beach

Bobby is messing with his waterproof camera

Nat is thinking about her upcoming dive


Yes this is a three legged turtle

Nat is doing great

Our dive master

We're OK!!!

Bobby failing at navigating

We planned our last day to be at the beach just relaxing. In true Griswold style, it rained constantly that day.
Goodbye island semi-paradise, hello busy streets of Thailand.

Bye Bye PIs-just waiting for the boat

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bali Time

We arrived in Singapore from Texas after about 24 hours and 12 hour time difference.  Singapore was an easier introduction into Asia with its westernized shopping malls, clean streets, and good food.  We only stayed for two days and mostly walked around exploring the culture close by.  We slept close to Little India which felt like a world away from Singapore or anything familiar to us.  The street was lined with Indian shops and restaurants blasting Indian music or shops with traditional Indian clothing. Surprisingly, we took few photos to captrue our exploration.  But in a nut shell, Singapore is a huge metropolitian and uber-modern city whose jungle almost reaches as high as its skyscapers.  It is a rich city, with every car either a Mercedes or Jaguar and Fendi, Cartier, and Bvlgari at every corner.  Hence the reason for not staying long.  Although our bathrooms and sheets were clean, the rooms were small and ant-filled and way over priced for what you got.

So we traded up (or down literally) and bought a ticket to Bali.  Bali was a pleasant surprise, especially considering our first impression of Bali was on the shores of Kuta.  Kuta is one of the main surf/beach towns in Bali and if you go to Bali, it is hard not to stay here at least a night on your way somewhere else.  The streets are small, filled with motorists of every kind, and are just as littered as its beaches.  The town will make any one feel closterphobic.  Yet Kuta has a care-free vibe that is echoed throughout Bali as it is filled with surfers from just about everywhere.  However, you don't want to dip more than a foot in Kuta's so-called 'famous' beaches as you will be overcome with trash (and even dead joke). 

From Kuta, we escaped into the inland paradise of Ubud.  Bali is not very big, so even with the never-ending traffic, you can get everywhere in a few hours.  Ubud is in the middle of Bali and although it does not have a beach, it is the jumping off point to see Bali's impressive rice fields and Hindu culture.  We were bombarded upon arrival in Ubud wtih offers of housing.  Luckily, we found a homestay with a helpful owner and great view.  One of the best things about Bali is its religious culture. Thier houses are like individual palaces with temples.  You can't see anything from the street because each compound is guarded by a wall.  But you step inside and you are amazed that this is simply somebody's house....somebody that charges 13 dollars a night to support themselves .  This house had several rooms, each with their own balcony overlooking the garden and temple in the middle of the house grounds.  Each morning, we awoke to little offerings outside our door.  They were not for us, but it was a ritual performed by each local each morning as an offering to the gods.  As you drive down the streets of Bali, you see a constant flow of temples.  Each town has a temple, each business has a temple, and each family has a temple.  No family uses another's temple, but a person gives offerings and pray to their family's temple, their work temple, and the local temple.  So also expect,, while in Bali, that a bartender will not be there to serve you a drink because he is at the temple or that your guide is late because he is at the temple.  But with all that Bali has to offer, you won't mind running off local time. 

The dogs here are not interested in moving for vehicles.

Not only did we enjoy the Balinese culture while in Ubud, we also did some serious sightseeing.  We saw numerous temples, active volcanoes, rice fields, and visited the monkey sanctuary. 

The most impressive and one of the largest rice fields in Bali.

A temple outside of Ubud.  Locals come to cleanse their minds with water rituals.

Guardians of the Gods.

Rice field on the walk to Rock Temple.

Religious statues carved into stone cliffs.

We went to Spicy, a local coffee and tea plantation.  Best part: free samples.

View overlooking active volcano.  Last eruption left the ground covered with volcanic rock.  It is continuously gathered and is the most used building material in Bali.

A large temple in Northern Bali.  Decorations were being made for a festival the following day.

MONKEY Sanctuary in Ubud!!!  Soooo awesome.  This little guy was getting a cleaning.

What's he lookin' at?

While at the monkey sanctuary, we managed to outshine the monkeys!  A tour group from West Papau found us white folk way more interesting. 

Next, following a friend's recommendation, we headed to  Ulu Watu in the south of Bali.  When we arrived, we quickly learned that the town has no center but is simply home to roadside accomodations that end as the road does: into the ocean.  As expected, the area is littered with surfers who rent scooters.  Following suit, we rented a scooter to explore the beaches and local culture.  Southern Bali has mostly steep cliffs puncuated by breathtaking beaches.  It is also home to the most famous of the Kecak dances, which we had to experience for ourselves-thanks Eric.  The rest of the time down south we enjoyed numerous beaches and basically just riding around on the scooter. 
Beach in Ulu watu

This guy seriously got tired of Bobby taking pictures and almost jumped on him

Kecak Dance in a temple on the cliffs of Ulu watu

Surf board sign pointing towards the beach.

Nat's first attempt at driving a scooter.

Sunset off Ulu Watu Beach