Sunday, December 30, 2012

All I Want For Christmas Is Electricity

Just kidding, we were living the dream Swiss Family Robinson style and I loved it!

Christmas 2012 was very surreal. Every year I take a moment of silence for people celebrating Christmas in the Southern states because I just cannot fathom how 80 degrees and sunny feels festive and Christmasy in any way. I have now lived it first hand and my opinion hasn't changed. Despite the crazy pop-Asian Christmas shows and twinkling lights everywhere, it felt like any normal day.

Just because it didn't feel like the holidays didn't mean we weren't going to force it. First we foraged for the best Christmas tree we could find and trimmed its brown, ant infested branches with beer caps, leaves and tied up pieces of Wipe On DEET sheets.

Vertical Christmas tree made possible by lots of dental floss securing it to the post.

Next we followed our crossdressing waiter to a Christmas Eve party down the beach. It wasn't very 'umpin but we succeeded in procuring free Santa hats for everyone, got a few dances in and made our new friends sing Christmas carols all the way back up the beach.

The best part of Christmas was meeting two Polish girls, Goja and Ewalina, at our bungalow. I spend every Christmas Eve at my Babcia and Dziadzia's house celebrating Wigilia. Part of the celebration is that before dinner, everyone gathers in the living room, we say a prayer and then we break oplatek. Oplatek is essentially edible cardboard with a pretty design carved on top. Everyone gets a sheet of oplatek and you go around the room giving every single person a hug, telling them "Merry Christmas, Peace be with you." Then you each break off a piece of the other's oplatek and eat it. You have to be careful around children in the group as they will try to take the majority of your oplatek before you have a chance to get to all the people in the room.

So when Goja and Ewalina told me they had oplatek I almost started crying from happiness. We gathered all our new friends together and broke oplatek. What I didn't realize is that traditionally people give personalized well wishes, not just a simple "Merry Christmas". My family must skip this step because there are so many of us, it would take 2 hours before we could eat.

Trying to come up with personal well wishes for people you've only known for 1 day can be a bit of a challenge so you frantically try to remember what they've told you about themselves then make a lot of assumptions. Let's've quit your job to go traveling indefinitely...sounds familiar. "My wish for you is that you have safe travels with not very many mosquitoes or cockroaches and that when you return home you find a fullfilling job and meet the man of your dreams." Or to the lesbian couple trying to get pregnant via the sperm bank: "May you find potent sperm from someone with a high IQ that will produce a baby that resembles your beautiful wife." There is no way you can walk away from breaking oplatek without a huge smile on your face.

Breaking oplatek in matching pants

Christmas morning we opened $1, will probably break in two days, night market bought gifts under our tree. We also gave some Light My Fire sporks (best spork EVER) to our new friends.

Goja & Ewalina doing their best "American smiles"

We finished the day with a scary hike through the jungle, in the dark, with only 1 working headlamp and then feasted on an all-you-can-eat, Thai style Christmas buffet.

Merry belated Christmas to all our friends and family!!


Head to Toe in a Bungalow

Koh Jum, Thailand.  December 21st-26th.  4 nights, 1 bed, 3 people, 1 mosquito net, 7 cockroaches, one love. (see Reggae reference below).

Koh Jum is SO BEAUTIFUL.  It's a remote island just a couple hours boat ride from Krabi with about 6 different bungalow resorts lining the empty beaches, a tiny adorable town just a 20 minute jungle walk from the resort with the most friendly locals in the world, and an off the beaten path feel.

Giddy after jumping off the ferry onto a long tail boat that would take us to the island

Kim & Kyle walking to the beach to enjoy sunset with a Chang
It was almost everything we hoped it would be in terms of relaxation and beauty, but we just could never get 100% comfortable there.  I'd say for me it started with a conversation I overheard on our first trip to town to get water.  We trekked through the jungle behind the bungalows until we popped out into a little town with a small school, 5 convenience type shops selling the same things, and a few homestyle (as in out of someone's actual home) restaurants.  As we walked up to one of the shops there were some travelers hanging out having a beer and I overheard one guy say to the other "so mate, were you ever able to get that sn@ke out of your daughter's room??"!!!!!!!!!!!  WHY OH WHY DID I HAVE TO HEAR THIS?  I wanted to run away and cry but I was scared that anywhere I ran I'd trip on a $nake or something- plus I realized I was on a tiny island and there was nowhere to escape to.  I guess this is that part when traveling makes you stronger?  

After the sn@ke-conversation-incident I was permanently a bit on edge, but Kim and Kyle aren't scared of them, so they were doing just fine.  It wasn't until we got back to our room and Kyle opened his backpack to find 7 cockroaches scurry out that he was pretty rattled too.  Kim held strong until she had a bug fly in her eye, a giant flying creature land in her hair, and got a slew of mosquito bites within a 15 minute time span that night.  On top of the critter-stress we were all under, the icing on the cake was realizing that the three of us were going to have to sleep head to toe in our two person bungalow.  

We three thrifty individuals thought we could save a few bucks by getting just one bungalow and adding an "extra bed", but since the extra bed turned out to be a blanket on the wood-planked-cockroach-ridden floor, we realized none of us were trying to sleep there.  That left us one option- and it was a very uncomfortable sweaty awkward option.  The three of us, for four nights, crammed under the mosquito net in one bed.  Did I mention how hot and muggy it was??  Ok just making sure you get the picture.  

Our Christmas in paradise wasn't exactly what we anticipated, but we made the best of it and ended up having an awesome time (when we weren't applying bug repellent or trying to sleep).  In true summer camp fashion we made some great friends and learned some new games.  And also like summer camp- it all culminated in a Reggae Night Party where we danced our faces off with all our new friends until the wee hours of the morning.  One Love!
Awesome Reggae band complete with matching mustaches
Let the dance party begin!
The most eclectic group of people all celebrating together 
Time for bed!

Alert! This post is out of sequence!

Hi! Just a quick post that is totally out of order because we still have lots of things to post about the past week or so that we haven't done yet- like how we were on a remote island in bungalows with lots of mosquitos and without electricity for 4 days over Christmas. And how we spent the next 4 days in Phuket in paradise despite so many people telling us not to go there (pro tip #47 you can't always trust what other travelers tell you because it turns out you might like different things than them!) Anyways, I digress. What I'm saying is that I just wanted to write a quick heyooo to say OMG we are obsessed with Chiang Mai. And after this post you have to pretend it never happened and I'll pretend we're still on the remote island so I can write all about how I did nothing for four days and survived to talk about it.

So, Chiang Mai. We just flew in here from Phuket early this afternoon and had the very best day ever! It is this beautiful sort of jungly city in the north of Thailand and the weather is perfect, the people are so nice, the food is delicious and even better- everything is half the price that it was everywhere else we've been! As my dad likes to say- its not how much you spend, it's how much you save :) and knowing that massages were 300 Bhat ($10) an hour everywhere else, and are 120 Bhat ($4) an hour here... Well I'm going to have to spend a lot of time saving money.

We were lucky enough to arrive on a Sunday which is the day they have the most giant night market in the world, and we spent about 4 hours wandering through it tonight delighting over all the trinkets and useless crafts we could buy for under a dollar. We got more hammer pants, more jewelry, a new backpack, more clothes, and tasted lots of delicious (and mostly too spicy for me) street food. After about 13,000 steps on the Fitbit we treated ourselves to a 30 minute foot massage that cost literally $2. Then Kyle did not have a McFlurry and we did not decide to hit the hay early instead of grabbing drinks because we wanted to be ready to party tomorrow night for New Years Eve. That totally did not happen. And I'm not in a bunk bed laboriously writing this on my iPhone. :)

And the most important thing we need to add to this super "quick" post... HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNICHIKA!!! WE LOVE YOU!!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

After 2 awesome jet lagged days in Bangkok, Kyle and I were off to meet up with Kim in the South of Thailand in a beautiful coastal town called Krabi.  The second we arrived at our hotel, she ran up to us, gave us a great big hug and said "OMG so happy to see you, you're finally here!  Guess what?!  I think we have bedbugs!"  Well don't beat around the bush, friend.

So we went in the room to check things out.  She said she wasn't sure, but then she practically got out her magnifying glass and a chart showing all the different places bed bugs may hide, what they look like dead and alive, and well, I was pretty sure she was sure.  I snapped a couple of pictures of the nasty things that we found hiding on the side of the mattress and we headed to the front desk lady who barely spoke English to try to get our money back.  It took a lot of pleading and frowning and semi-angry hand gestures, but she finally gave us the cash back, then INSTANTLY RENTED THE ROOM TO SOME POOR SAPS WALKING IN AFTER US (they didn't speak English either and it's harder than you think to act out bed bugs, so there wasn't much we could do!)

Exhibits A and B
He's actually indifferent to Krabi
We then left Kyle with our backpacks and started running around in search of somewhere to stay for the night in a resort town, on the water, at 8pm, on a Friday night.  We tried I think 4 places that were all super fancy and about a million dollars a night- AND refused to haggle with us (more on this later- but I'll just say people aren't quite as interested in haggling as everyone leads you to believe!)  Finally we found a fairly empty fancy resort that was actually willing to negotiate and we were able to get a 3 person room with glorious AC, free wireless, AND AN INFINITY POOL (I know!!!!) for $33 each for the night.  It was approx $23 outside our budget each, but worth every penny.  We threw down our bags, jumped straight in the pool, and had an amazing bedbug-free nights sleep.   -Ashley

Reunited and it feels so good!
To infinity pool...and beyond!

Ipoh, Malaysia

I intended to stay one more night cuddled up under some blankets in the Cameron Highlands before meeting up with Ash and Kyle but I met a Polish guy named Mat who convinced me to join him and two other people from our inn on a trip to Ipoh. They had hitch-hiked earlier in the day with a man from Ipoh who said he would take us on a food tour to sample the best food in town. I couldn't say no to delicious food and a fellow Pollack so I jumped on board.

We arrived in Ipoh with no place to stay and ended up walking around town for 45 minutes trying to find a hotel that rented rooms by the night and not by the hour. Apparently a lot of tourists don't make it to Ipoh, at least not to stay for very long. We eventually found a place, dropped off our bags and headed out to Masjid Ubudiah. This is probably the most beautiful mosque I have seen yet.

After we finished our urban hiking, during which we were all bitten by the kind of mosquito that carries dengue fever (updates to come after the incubation period arrives), we returned to town in anticipation of our food tour. Except we were stood up. We couldn't get a hold of our foodie friend and so we wandered around town trying to remember the name of dishes we should try. We didn't succeed. A little disappointed that our food tour didn't work out, we stopped by a convenience store to get some water before heading home and then this happened and made the whole trip worth it:


For my Foodie Friends - Singapore/Malaysia

The food in Singapore and Malaysia was pretty delicious. Most meals cost between $1 and $3. Breakfast was usually a banana pancake (roti) or dim sum with Chinese green tea. Yes, I am eating street food and no, I haven't gotten sick.

Sometimes I'll eat something like this for breakfast:

Lunch and dinner:

And beverages to go:


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Does Anyone Not Speak English?

Everyone I've met, except the one other American girl I've seen, speaks two if not three languages. And while they are traveling, they are constantly speaking in their second tongue with other travelers who also are speaking in their second tongue. Makes me feel pretty useless and uneducated. That is why I try to learn at least hello, goodbye, thank you, how are you and the numbers 1-10 in each country I go to. 1-10 really wins people over for some reason. Probably because you remind them of their child or niece learning to count when they were 3. "Oh how cute! Look at the silly American trying to count to 10!"

So here I am, talking to foreigners about education, politics, economics and terrible reality TV and all I can think is "How in the world do they know all these words????" Literally the hardest thing I have to do is speak slower because sometimes these over-educated, trilingual people have a hard time keeping up with my pace. Other times they speak faster than me.

I was mulling this over one day while hiking through the forest with a bunch of French people, wishing I had continued with my French or Polish classes. I decided, well you're amongst a lot of French people, why don't you try and say something simple.

We were coming to the end of our hike and were faced with walking back the way we had come or scaling down a steep rock. It was one of those situations where the guide says "Let's have a vote" and only one person says anything and of course that person chooses scaling the rock so that's what we were going to do. I couldn't see said rock, just the fearful expression on the French people in front of me.

Here was my chance....I conjured up the simplest phrase I could think of and asked with the best French accent I could muster: "Facile ou difficile?" I was so proud of myself. The man I asked gave me a puzzled look and replied "I'm sorry, my English not so good. Could you repeat?" Thank you Frenchman for simultaneously making me feel better and worse about myself :)

Fortunately I can now practice French with Ashley and Kyle.


Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

I found heaven in the highlands! I can't even remember how I decided to go to the Cameron Highlands but boy was I giddy when I got there. I stepped off the bus and the weather was gray, drizzly and a perfect 60 degrees. I was one happy girl.

A British man named Sir William Cameron discovered the highlands in the late 1800s and when he realized that not only could you escape the heat but that you could throw pretty much any seed into the ground and it would grow, he decided the British should set up shop. Some unfortunate things happened, like he didn't mark the location on the map and then died, so they had to wait until another explorer named Sir Hugh Low re-discovered the place before they could get the ball rolling.

One of the biggest attractions is the tea plantations. The hills look like they are covered in thick, green carpets of tea leaves. I took serious notes about how to grow and harvest tea and am thinking about starting a tea company when I get home, if anyone is interested. Plant, grow, pick, squish, oxidize, dry and boom, you have tea!


I met up with my friend Sameli one day and we went on a hike that started at a campsite. As we came back through at the end of the day we asked to take a picture of a couple boys that were chatting. All of a sudden the entire campsite came running over and wanted to take pictures of us. As we left every single one of them shook our hand and said "Goodbye!" "So nice to meet you!" "Have a good day!" I have officially had my 15 minutes of fame.

The last exciting activity I partook in before leaving the highlands was a solo hike in the forest. Let it be known that a lot of people do this hike in the wee hours of the morning in order to see the sunset. The words "Know Thyself" popped into my head and so I slept in and did this hike during the wee hours of midday with plenty of natural light to guide the way. I also used this hand-drawn, hand-me-down map which I give 100% credit to for getting me back down the mountain without taking a 5km detour. There were lots of side trails, I swear.

That being said, I'm still not sure I popped out where I was supposed to but if I did get slightly lost, it was worth it because I came out right above this charming village:

I definitely loved the Cameron Highlands. If you like colder temperatures, forest hiking, tea or strawberries, get yourself over to the highlands when you are in Malaysia.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day One in Bangkok

I wanted to title this post Bangkok-a-doodle-doo because of the lovely way we were woken up this morning at the crack of dawn, by what seemed like 100 roosters, but then I realized some of my friends (Laura) would probably never read this blog again if I came right out the gate with a pun like that, so I refrained.

Our first day in Bangkok turned out to be exhausting and awesome. Kyle and I patted ourselves on the back for (despite the apparent proximity to a chicken farm) choosing the most perfect hotel that had everything we needed to get acclimated including a private room with two beds, sweet sweet air conditioning, free wifi, and a real toilet! Plus it's just a 10 minute walk from the backpackers place to be- Khaosan Road.

Here's how we spent our almost only day in Bangkok:

1. We walked about a million miles (20,000 steps! Thanks Fitbit!)
2. We saw a very long lizard floating down the river which I at first thought was a sn@ke but then it wasn't so we were ok.
3. We got approached several times by random Thai people who spoke perfect English who were 'just being friendly' who gave us advice on what all to see, and then all of a sudden a tuktuk would pull up and they'd be like oh here! Get in this one! They take you to all those sites I tell you about - 40 bhat! You like! You like!
4. We ate our first meal. Phad Thai from a street vendor. THE BEST PHAD THAI OF MY LIFE. It cost $1.33.

5. We almost went on a private long tail boat ride of the river but it was too expensive and they wouldn't be haggled with. They wanted $12 for the hour!
6. Instead we tried the 'fish spa'. My.god. It was one of those rare times when something was actually way worse than you thought it'd be. When I first saw it I was like- little tiny fish sucking on your feet in a vat of water for 20 minutes?? How bad could that be?? Turns out, very bad. But I eventually came around enough to at least not waste the $6 I spent on it. I've included a video of this little fiasco on my FB because I cant figure out how to on here. Don't laugh.
7. Then we took a siesta. Or whatever it's called in Thai when it's way too hot to be outdoors.
8. Then we accidentally siesta-ed for 5 hours. So we got up to explore Khaosan Road and get some dinner around 9.
9. Khaosan Road was completely insane and packed full of backpackers. We were kind of groggy and jet lagged still so we just kind of walked around in awe not knowing what to buy or do.
10. After walking forever without being able to decide on somewhere to eat we chose a spot with delicious looking curries and live music that completely made our night. They've figured out exactly what makes white people happy and played it allll night long. Awesome 90's music. We sat there listening to the guy and girl sing for hours, got to see some incredible breakdancing street performing kids, and then danced ourselves out of there to some Justin Beiber around midnight.

Day 2 in Bangkok should be starting any minute now thanks to the roosters who have already woken me up. We've only got a few hours for sightseeing this morning because we've got a flight this afternoon at 3 to meet Kim in the south by the beaches! Cannot wait!!