Southeast Asia

IndonesiaSoutheast Asia

Bali

Bali-2

After saying goodbye to Elly’s parents in Vietnam, we headed south to Indonesia. We spent almost a month hanging out on the island of Bali, heading to a few different places on the island. We stayed in Kuta first, which is basically Cancun for Australians. Most of our days were spent relaxing on the beach and hanging out with our new friend, Bejo.

From Kuta, we went north into the jungles and settled down in Ubud for a bit. Ubud has a much more relaxed vibe than Kuta and we had some of our best meals here as well. There was a fantastic sushi place we went back to almost every other night… From here we also took a tour of the surrounding area to see some temples and other sights.

Not all was fun and games in Ubud though… Our hotel was a little outside the center and when we were walking down to dinner on our first night we ran into some trouble. Walking past an open gateway, an angry dog leapt out and bit Elly on the leg before running off. Not wanting to take our chances with Indonesian street dogs, we went to the clinic for them to check it out. She ended up having to get a course of 4(!) rabies shots. Thankfully, we were in Bali long enough to be able to get all 4 at the local clinics. Not a fun way to spend our time though.

Elly:

Last, we stayed in Legian, which is also right on the beach. Cory hung around here while I went off to get scuba certified! I had always wanted to get scuba certified and figured why not here since Bali has some amazing diving and we had the time for it. I had to complete an online learning course before starting the 3-day training program. The first day was training in the pool. I had to learn how to put all the equipment together and get comfortable in the water. I had to practice all sorts of scenarios such as taking my equipment off underwater and putting it back on again. The second day we visited a shipwreck and went diving! It was a warship from WWII that sank in 1942. It was pretty incredible swimming around it and seeing all the fish life nearby. The last day was diving at another spot that had tons of really neat coral and fish. I even saw 2 green turtles!

We had another scare in Bali while we were in Legian. We were out to dinner when suddenly we started to feel a little dizzy while eating. We then looked up and saw some the lights on the ceiling were shaking slightly, and then EVERYTHING started shaking. People were looking around very confused, and then some of the staff started running out of the restaurant into the street. We followed suit and waited for the earthquake to settle down. It only lasted 15-20 seconds, but that was bad enough. It turned out the nearby island of Lombok was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. We were on the island next door so the effect wasn’t nearly as bad but it was still scary. Throughout the rest of the week we continued to feel aftershocks every now and then. Sadly, Lombok was devastated by the quake with 80% of buildings damaged or destroyed, and hundreds dead or injured.

Despite some troubling moments, Indonesia was a great spot to chill for a bit before heading off to start the European leg of our trip. Next up would be a 37-hr travel day heading to Croatia; with a quick stop on the way to explore Istanbul, Turkey!

CambodiaSoutheast Asia

Cambodia

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Our first stop in Cambodia was the capital, Phnom Penh. During our drive to our hotel from the airport we were actually surprised at how western the city was; we saw big car dealerships we recognized, and lots of chain restaurants. Our hotel was so cool, the lobby had detailed wood carvings all around it and we had a rooftop pool and restaurant. Our first day we went to explore the Royal Palace, which is one of the few buildings that survived the Khmer Rouge era. It was built in the 1860’s and now continues to be the residence of the King. It reminded us a bit of the Grand Palace in Thailand and was interesting to learn about. Our first day in Phnom Penh was also Cory’s birthday! We decided to do a food tour at night – the same company that we did a food tour with in China. This was so much fun! It was just us and one other guy from the states, Pierce, who fit right in with us. We drank local beer the whole time while riding around town in a tuk tuk going to local spots to try to the food. Everything we tried was delicious. The last stop was a small BBQ place that served us a grilled chicken – the entire chicken, body, head, feet, etc. I also emailed ahead, and they brought out cupcakes with candles in it and we sang happy birthday to Cory.

Our second day we took a tuk tuk around town to see a couple more of the sites which was fun. We went to a huge market that was selling everything you could think of. In addition to the local currency they also use US currency in Cambodia so we were able to get lots of souvenirs for just $1.

While there, we also visited the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It’s really hard to try and fathom the events that occurred in these places, but we thought it was important to go see them. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia in 1975. His regime looked to turn Cambodia into a socialist agrarian republic (not unlike what Mao attempted in China) by emptying the cities and forcing citizens into rural labor camps. This led to malnutrition, diseases, abuse, and mass executions of millions of Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. Pol Pot took to executing any of his perceived political opponents, as well as most of Cambodia’s educated class due to the regime’s extreme paranoia of anyone that could oppose them. Choeung Ek is a mass grave and the most known site of the so called “Killing Fields” where the Khmer Rouge carried out their executions. Almost 9,000 bodies were found at Choeung Ek and there are thousands of other mass graves scattered throughout the country. Today the site is marked by a Buddhist stupa filled with thousands of human skulls and bones that were found there. It was sobering to visit and hear horror stories of what happened there. Many of the murder weapons were also on display; they often used objects such as pickaxes in order to save bullets.

Around 20,000 people passed through Tuol Sleng Centre, which was then known as Security Prison S-21. The prison cells had barely enough room to move, and the people contained there were tortured in numerous ways before being shipped off to places like Choeung Ek. Of everyone who entered, only seven adults survived. Two of the remaining survivors were actually there selling their stories about what happened to them. We learned of their stories and couldn’t imagine being in such a position and the choices they had to make. Seeing the Killing Fields and visiting the Genocide Museum was an intense experience that won’t soon be forgotten.

Our 2nd and last destination in Cambodia was Siem Reap. We crammed in a van and drove five or so hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We got to see a little more of the country side, and it was definitely a huge contrast to the city, driving through some really small villages. Our hotel was right near the center of town and just a short walk to the main street, Pub Street, which is lined with restaurants and bars and blasting music. Siem Reap is another backpacker haven, and Pub Street is the main hangout. They have multiple 50 cent beer and $2 cocktail deals which we had to take advantage of. Our first night there was actually the World Cup final so that was pretty fun to watch in one of the bars. It seemed like more people were rooting for France so I’m sure there were loads of celebrations that night.



The main reason people go to Siem Reap is to go see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is just the name of the most famous temple in the Angkor Archeological Park, and there are tons more of all different shapes and sizes. Since it’s such a huge area we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us around and we spent two days exploring it. It was all pretty amazing to see in person, and really crazy to think that it’s over 1000 years old. All of the sites we saw were huge and completely different and unique from each other. Angkor Wat itself is the largest religious monument in the world and also the best-preserved temple in the park. We enjoyed wandering through all the sections of it and seeing it from all different angles. Bayon is another of the famous temples and has lots of huge Buddha heads carved in the stone decorating the temple. The faces were all over and some were all tall as we were. Ta Prohm is also famous because of being the most recognizable temple featured in Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. The trees growing out of the ruins, coupled with the surrounding jungle leads this temple to being super photogenic and was one of our favorites.

Our last day in Siem Reap we just spent exploring the town a little, trying different restaurants, shopping, and even getting a $5 foot massage (not sure if that’ll become a new thing for us). Overall, we really enjoyed Cambodia! It was actually not as hot there as it was in Vietnam which we were surprised about. But the food was cheap and delicious, and there’s so many interesting sites to see and so much history to learn about.

Vietnam

Vietnam

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Leaving China, we took a short flight over to Vietnam. After meeting Cory’s parents in Japan, now it was time to meet mine. We started up north in Hanoi and made our way south through the country, stopping over for a week in Cambodia as well (coming up in the next post). Hanoi was a good intro to Vietnam. We stayed at a resort a little out of town, and it was nice to feel like we were on vacation for a couple days. We did go into town and take a walking tour through the center, so we were able to see local life going on. Some of the markets were interesting to walk through; most animals being sold were alive and they would get them ready for you right there. We were also able to see some of the city’s attractions, such as the Ho Chi Minh museum and his mausoleum which was also nearby.

Next, we took a cruise to the famous Ha Long Bay, which is known for its clear waters and many limestone karsts and isles. This was amazing! We just spent one night on the boat, but we were able to fit so much in. We kayaked, explored a huge cave, learned how to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and had dinner in traditional clothing. The views around us the whole time were incredible also.

From the bay we went to the airport and flew to Hue, the Imperial capital of Vietnam. My dad managed to bump us up to first class for the 1-hour flight, and we had a lot of fun taking advantage of the exclusive lounge. We were only in there a couple hours, but we managed to eat all food offered and drink multiple beers. Hue seemed to have a lot more backpackers there, so we had fun walking around and checking out the nightlife and trying out some different restaurants. The first full day in Hue we took a dragon boat down the Perfume River to see Thien Mu Pagoda and the old Imperial City. The pagoda and its surrounding temple complex was pretty cool to see, and it is regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city.

Construction began on the Imperial City in 1804 and it was the seat of power for Vietnam until the French obtained control of northern Vietnam in the Sino-French War in the late 19th century. Later, the city of Hue would become the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War, which destroyed large swathes of the city. Right near the Imperial City is the outdoor War Museum, with several tanks, aircraft, and artillery pieces on display.

On our second day we explored some of the famous tombs from past kings. These were interesting to see after learning about the kings in the Imperial City. We visited three and they were all huge and extravagant. Vietnam was going through a heat wave while we were there (highs of 110 F) so every day we were drenched in sweat when we got back to the hotel. To combat this, we of course went straight to the air-conditioned bar for happy hour.

We drove from Hue to Hoi An, going through the Hai Van Pass which was really cool to see. Hoi An ended up being our favorite stop in Vietnam. It is a former port city and as such it is a melting pot of cultures, as evidenced in its architecture. There is a blend of eras and styles mixing together Chinese, French, Vietnamese, and Japanese. The town was so cute to walk through and had a lot of restaurants along the river. The food in general in Vietnam was great and everywhere we went we enjoyed it. Almost every other shop in Hoi An is a tailor shop so of course we had to get some clothes made, and they all came out really good! We also rented bikes one day and rode them down to the beach. We saw some water buffalo along the way which made my mom happy. The ride to the beach was fine, but shortly after getting there it started raining. We still hung out under some cover for a bit and tried to time our ride back when it slowed down. Riding back the traffic was pretty heavy and it was an experience biking through it. It reminded us why we did not do this trip on bicycles! Overall, Hoi An was a very walkable town and was really relaxed so we just enjoyed being there. We also found the cheapest beer of our trip so far here – 13 cents!

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. This was definitely more of a big city feel compared to the rest of Vietnam. We did some sightseeing here, including seeing Independence Palace, which was the home of the South Vietnam President during the Vietnam War. We also visited the Vietnam War Remnants Museum which was obviously presented from the Vietnam point of view but was still interesting to walk through. The war was known as the American War of Aggression there. The museums depiction of it was hardly objective, and a lot of it landed in propaganda territory. That being said, the war still had severe consequences for civilians in Vietnam, including the terrible legacy of Agent Orange and the fact that unexploded ordnances are still a threat today. It was quite an experience to visit and see the war from the other sides point of view. The rest of our time in Ho Chi Minh City we spent relaxing and getting ready for our next stop. We couldn’t believe that the 3 weeks with my parents were over. We had so much fun with them! Overall, we really liked Vietnam (even with the crazy heat). We all loved the food and everyone we met was great.

Thailand

Bangkok

Bangkok-5

Our time in Thailand was bookended by Bangkok. Here we explored many temples, went to some shopping malls, wandered through neighborhoods, and just discovered what the city had to offer. One of our favorite activities was just taking a boat ride down the river to whichever destination we were headed towards. This is also where we started our love affair with 7/11. Thailand has more 7/11’s than any other country and it was always a welcome sight when we found one. We frequented these, picking up everything from snacks to full blown meals, and it was always good. We definitely used it as a crutch when we didn’t want to go out to a restaurant for a meal.

On our first full day we took the skytrain into the city, then hopped onto a longtail boat to bring us down the river and to the Grand Palace. Getting off the boat we were swarmed with people trying to sell us all sorts of souvenirs. We ended up getting a skirt and pair of elephant pants to cover ourselves up, since you’re not allowed to wear shorts into any temples in Thailand. Built in 1782, and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Grand Palace was a quite impressive sight. There wasn’t much shade anywhere on the grounds and it was scorching hot and very crowded with tourists. That aside, it was still really cool to walk through and see the sights. Also located with the grounds was Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. One of the most important Buddhist temples in Thailand, it contains a Buddha carved from a single block of jade (no pictures were allowed). After wandering through the Grand Palace we went over to Wat Pho, another famous temple complex. Here is home to the Reclining Buddha, which was way bigger than either of us had expected.

In Bangkok we also met up with our friend Kellen, who has been living there for some time now. It was nice to have someone who knows the area give us tips on places to go, how to say certain phrases, and answer any questions we had. One of the things we wanted to do while here was visit a night market. Suggested to us was Asiatique, a market slightly down the river with loads of restaurants and vendors selling all sorts of clothes and crafts. We had such a good time here that we returned when we came back to Bangkok with Jackie.

We also knew we had to go to one of the many rooftop bars in the city. There was a ton to choose from but we ended up going to the Sky Bar, which was made famous by “The Hangover Part II.” 63 floors up, it offered amazing views of the whole city.

After visiting both Northern and Southern Thailand, we returned to Bangkok for a few days before we flew out to Nepal. One of the temples we explored this time was Wat Arun. Also known as the Temple of Dawn, it was an impressive sight. On our last day in Bangkok we took a tour to a floating market that was just outside the city. We boarded a longtail boat and we took us down the river. The boat ride over to the market was really interesting because we went down some side canals and got a view into some of the more local houses on the river. The market itself was pretty small but we ended up buying a bunch of really cheap, really yummy snacks.

We spent an entire month in Thailand and overall we loved it! The food was great, the people were great, and we were really just starting to get accustomed to daily life there. We could have easily spent another month there, and we definitely hope to return one day. We would want to explore the north a little bit more and check out some of the other islands, but we wouldn’t be opposed to revisiting any of the places we went.

Thailand

Phuket & Ko Phi Phi

Phuket-6

We’ve been busy this past month! We wrapped up our Thailand adventure by going to Phuket, exploring some of the islands, and then returning to Bangkok for a few days. Then it was off to Nepal to explore Kathmandu and trek through the Himalayas to Annapurna Base Camp. We’re currently staying in Pokhara for a couple days and sorting out our plan for our next destination – India!

We flew from Chiang Mai down to Phuket, a large province in Southern Thailand, and got to explore a good chunk of it. Our first few nights were in Phuket Town, and somewhat like Chiang Mai’s Old Town, it was definitely real Thailand and not a super touristy section. We spent our time here walking around and relaxing a bit. One night we even stumbled upon a local arts festival, where we saw elementary to high school age kids performing traditional dances, singing songs, and playing in bands.

After Phuket Town we went to Ko Phi Phi Island, which one of the top places Elly wanted to see in Thailand. It definitely met our expectations. The island was more touristy than anywhere we’d been so far, but that didn’t detract too much from the actual beauty of the island. Plus, we knew what we were getting into. We took the 2 hr long ferry from Phuket over to the island and the first day we spent exploring the island and the beach. The island is super small – there are no cars and you can easily walk from one end to the other.

The main thing we did here was a sunset boat tour which ended up being one of our favorite days of the trip so far. The first stop on the tour was to a place called Monkey Island – which is exactly what it sounds like. It was so cool – tons of monkeys running around everywhere!

The 2nd stop was at a place called shark point – again the name says it all. We snorkeled here and only saw one shark but also saw a ton of colorful fish. Then we finally headed over to Maya Bay which is a main tourist destination in Thailand and it was easy so see why – easily one of the prettiest places we’ve ever seen. It was made famous by the movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. After spending the afternoon at the beach we got to see the most amazing sunset from the boat. We ended the night by snorkeling in the pitch black – and when we would wave our hands through the water the glow plankton would light up.

After the tour we experienced the crazy island night life. All along the beach every night are fire dancers, buckets of alcohol, drinking games, all to blasting EDM music. The fire dancers were really fun to watch – twirling fire and throwing it up as high as they could in the air.

After 3 days on Ko Phi Phi we headed back to Phuket to meet Elly’s friend Jackie. This was a really fun week! It was nice to see someone we knew and we spent the week lounging on the beach, eating delicious street food, doing another island tour, and playing with more elephants! We stayed on Patong beach the whole time which was pretty crowded but that was fine. Right off of Patong beach is Bangla Road – which gets crazy after dark. You can’t walk 2 feet without someone trying to get you into a bar for a deal on a drink but it’s still fun to experience.

Southeast AsiaThailand

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

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One of the main things we wanted to do in Chiang Mai was to visit an Elephant Sanctuary. This turned out to be one of our favorite things we’ve done so far. We started the day by cramming into the back of a pickup truck (there were benches for seats) and driving north almost 2 hours into the jungles of Thailand. When we got to the Sanctuary, we changed into traditional Karen tribe clothes and hiked through the jungle to see the elephants. It was even better than we expected once we first saw them. There were six adults and one baby (only a year old!) It was so fun feeding the elephants bananas and having them take them out of our hands with their trunks. We were told an adult elephant normally eats between 200-600 lbs of food a day and spend a good chunk of their time looking for food. After feeding them for a bit, we went off to have lunch for ourselves, which consisted of traditional Thai foods. In the afternoon it was time to bathe the elephants. It was pretty funny watching them walk into the small watering hole and plop down into the water. The baby was the most energetic, rolling around in the water and splashing everyone. After getting wet it was time for their mud bath. Elephants need the cooling effect of mud to regulate their body temperature, especially when it can get so hot in Thailand. The mud acts as a protection against sunburn and also provides relief from mosquitos and other insects. After the mud baths we said goodbye to the elephants and rode back into the city. An amazing day!

Southeast AsiaThailand

Chiang Mai

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After a couple days in Bangkok, we took the night train to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. We bought the 2nd class Sleeper tickets and were a little nervous about what our situation would be like but it ended up being totally fine. We had two seats opposite each other and after about an hour or so one of the train workers came around and turned the seats into beds; one on the floor and one hanging down above it. After the 14 hour journey, we arrived in Chiang Mai around 9am.

Thankfully, we were able to check into our hostel right away, so we could drop our bags and head into the city. While Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, it is pretty relaxed and way less hectic than Bangkok. We stayed right outside the Old City, the main center which is bordered by a 600 year old moat and surrounded by walls. Within this area there are over 300 or so temples. We ended up walking through a lot of the bigger ones, and they were all very cool to see.

Tuk Tuks lined up waiting for passengers

Not bad for $1.27 !

Our first couple of days we wandered around through the Old City, looking for whatever cool place to eat or temple to walk through. We saw signs for Muay Thai fights almost everywhere we went, and we definitely wanted to go to one – so we headed to Thapae Stadium to see what they were all about. The ‘stadium’ was really just a large hall with plastic chairs and tables set up around the boxing ring. Some of the fights we could tell weren’t real; with fighters falling over at the slightest hit and all smiling to themselves, and there were also some more straightforward ‘joke’ fights, such as a few blindfolded guys flailing into each other. As the night progressed though, there were some real no holds-barred fights. The main fight was between a local Thai fighter and a contender who came in from South Korea. It was a close match, but in the end the South Korean won – luckily, since Cory bet 50 baht on him.

Every night of the week there is a market of some sorts in different areas of Chiang Mai. One of the biggest is the Sunday Market. Here, people from northern Thailand sell all sorts of goods, crafts, and food. It was really fun just wandering through and taking it all in. When looking for somewhere to eat (we settled on crocodile skewers) we also saw a stall selling all sorts of creepy bugs. We stood there looking, debating if we should actually spend money to try any or not. A Japanese mother and her daughter next to us were thinking the same thing themselves, but curiosity eventually overtook them and they ended up buying a cup of worms. They were kind enough to share some with us, so we all got to try them together. We’d be lying though if we said they tasted any good…

We spent our last few days in Chiang Mai checking out a couple more temples and really just relaxing. One of our favorites was Wat Chedi Luang temple, which was built sometime between 1385 and 1402, and actually used to be twice as tall as it is now. We explored the temple as the sun was setting which made it even more spectacular.

Overall, we really enjoyed Chiang Mai but now we’re ready to escape the concrete and head south to the beaches! Phuket is up next.

SingaporeSoutheast Asia

Singapore

Singapore-5

When we were looking at flights from Australia to Thailand we saw that most of the ones we wanted went through Singapore, so we decided we may as well stop there for a few days. Singapore is a melting pot of all different Asian cultures, and English is the main language, so what better way to ease into the Asian leg of our journey. We stayed at the Marina Bay Sands (the building with the three towers), a luxury resort containing a mall, museum, two theaters, skating rink, casino, and more…

…just kidding, we stayed in a 12 person dorm in the cheaper section of the city. It wasn’t bad though, and we spent most of our time outside of it anyways. We didn’t realize our timing until we got there, but we happened to be there just in time for Chinese New Year! There were loads of celebrations going on all through the weekend all over the city. Our first night there we went down to the River Hongbao to get some local street food, partake in some festivities, and watch some fireworks. On our first full day, we went to the Gardens by the Bay. We went into both the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest and thought both were awesome; loads of cool plants and flowers. We spent the rest of our time checking out Chinatown and some other neighborhoods. Overall, a pretty cool city and now we’re ready for our next stop, Bangkok!