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Koh Samui in gorgeous Thailand

sunny 33 °C
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Mike and I landed in Koh Samui on the 14th after 12 hours of flying and waiting around airports (Jakarta and Bangkok). The airport is so cute here! When you land, a fleet of open-air busses greet you to shuttle you to the terminal (there's only one). The baggage claim conveyer is under a little palapa, and it took only minutes to get our bags and be on our way. It's much hotter here than Bali, so we now have an air conditioned room! It also has HOT water! ...I don't think I mentioned, but we've been living without hot water in our hotel for the last month. I didn't really miss it, especially since it's warm in Bali. You come in from breakfast and you're hot, so a cold shower is quite refreshing. Having hot water seems to be a bit of a luxury. We're staying at the Bangrak on Big Buddha Beach, which has a huge golden Buddha statue just east of us. We're gonna check it out in the next couple of days.

Yesterday we drove around the island in our rental car I like to call "Hairy Boy"...it's actually called Carryboy or Ladyboy or something like that...it's a cross between a jeep and a teeny pickup truck. Just enough room for our kites, boards and a pony keg. We ended up stopping in Chaweng Beach to buy a much-needed t-shirt for Mike and tank top for me - our other ones are starting to show the wear and tear of being worn every other day for 2 months. One of mine had a permanent funk from sunscreen and from lying on my wet kite (stinky!). So Chaweng according to the Lonely Planet travel books is the most popular beach on Koh Samui. It is definitely busy, though it wasn't very popular with us...when we stopped and got out of the Hairy Boy, the sewer smell almost knocked us over. Everywhere we walked, it smelled of poop. Not nice. I don't know if it was just a particularly hot day, or there was a problem with the sewer, no matter. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. We found our shirts and a couple inflatable rafts for the sea and hauled ass outta there.

Aside from that little hiccup, the island is stunningly beautiful. I'll upload some pics at some point, though we're without internet at our hotel, so who knows when that'll be. We tried to visit a snake farm and a butterfly farm, but couldn't find them yesterday. I had an image in my mind of what a snake ranch and snake rancher would look like...itty bitty lassos and cowboy hats? Yep, that's what I thought too! ...we may never know.

We're learning a bit of Thai which is cool...so far I haven't learned a stitch of any other languages. I now know how to say hello and thank you. I know, always the overachiever! =)

Posted by kmpossible 20:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Case of the Randoms

sunny 29 °C
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One evening in Saigon:
From a distance I saw a cart rolling down the middle of the street – I thought it was the Ice Cream Man. It had a little light over the top and some things hanging from hooks on either side of the light, which I thought were wrappers of some kind or napkins, perhaps. As it got closer, I saw that the things hanging looked like 1/2-sized IV bags…it was the Dried-Squid Cart!

Tonguester, Larry, Gordon, Franz and Annoying Bastard…new friends. Tonguester is a dog we’ve “adopted” in Bali. She lives at the end of our street, and has her tongue hanging out of her mouth all the time. It may be an injury or a birth defect, whatever the cause, it’s really cute. She doesn’t seem to mind it, and when the time comes, she can pull it back into her mouth if she wants to. A couple days ago, I found out that her real name is “Fifi”…I still prefer Tonguester. Larry is the lizard we keep seeing as we walk from our hotel to the street that leads down to the beach. He’s really quick, and a man of few words. I’ve actually never heard him talk. Then there’s Gordon, the gecko on our wall outside our room – he’s been trying to sell us insurance for 2 months now – tenacious little guy. He joined me for yoga on the patio the other day, and he’s got a great upward facing dog posture! Franz is the fly who always tickles me at the beach by crawling on my legs, and last but not least is Annoying Bastard, the rooster. He’s been following us since we left the US. I hear that I shouldn’t be upset about it because roosters are good luck. Whoever told me that must not live next door to a rooster.

Cat oven: literally, paint oven. We have seen these signs all over Bali and were like “What the hell? Who bakes cats?” Everyone knows they’re best sautéed. These signs are seen at auto body shops.

We were on TV! In Bali, anyway…during the Sanur Village Festival (Aug 6 – 10) we were interviewed by a camera crew doing a piece on tourism in Bali. We were on the beach, just setting our kites up. They filmed a short interview with Mike and I, then filmed me pumping up my kite – always a flattering thing to be doing on film.

On Gili Meno:
Sitting on the porch of our hut I heard the tinkling sounds of an ice cream truck. I immediately looked around for the squid truck, but saw none. I did, however, see a guy on a bicycle with a cooler bungee-strapped to the back. It really WAS the ice cream man!

Skype is fantastic! Use you computer’s internet connection to make phone calls – especially internationally. It’s cheap and very easy to set up/use. Go here for more information:
www.skype.com

Some books I’ve read while on the trip:
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Quantum, A Guide for the Perplexed by Jim Al-Khalili
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (THIS IS A MUST READ)
And now on to:
The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS by Elizabeth Pisani.
I would recommend all of them.

I’ve been meaning to write about all of this, and now that I’m sitting in front of the computer screen, I can’t think of the other 20 things. Figures.

Anyway, we’re getting ready to get on a plane to Thailand tomorrow evening (Aug 13th). I feel lucky to have been here during the Sanur Village Festival last week. There were so many people around and things going on. The people here are lovely. Even with the language barrier, we’ve made a lot of friends. Some people are easier to understand than others, but mostly it’s been a little difficult to have full conversations. Folks have really wanted to talk to us, and vice versa, but it’s hard to know if we were having the same conversation. Every day when we walk past our favorite watering hole, Picadilly’s, one of the bartenders will ask “Where are you going?!” In fact, I’d have to say that’s the most common question/statement I’ve heard here. In Balinese it’s a form of greeting to ask someone where they’re going, so a lot of times when we’re leaving the hotel, the front desk person will say “Where are you going?” instead of saying hello. (It was the same in Saigon, too.) Sometimes it catches me off daydreaming, and I realize I don’t have any idea where I’m going, and I have to stand there for a minute staring at the sky trying to think of a place I may be going that day.

Another thing that’s been eye-opening is people’s knowledge of politics here. When I say I’m American, several people have said “Oh, Obama!” I on the other hand have no idea who the politicians in Bali are…. Yes, Bali is smaller than the US, but people here - in general - seem to be more attentive to what’s happening in the world at large rather than just what’s happening at home.

I'm sad to say goodbye to Bali, but looking forward to meeting more new friends in Thailand.

Posted by kmpossible 23:13 Archived in Indonesia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Why yes, bugs and muesli happen to be my favorite breakfast food."

all seasons in one day 32 °C
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Let me start by saying, I’m a bit disillusioned today. After our first two sun-soaked days here at Mui Ne Beach, the sun has left us.

I’ll start at the beginning. Mike and I took a 5-hour bus ride to get here. Yea, 5 HOURS on a bus…that’s what I was saying to myself too. When the bus arrived at Madame Cuc’s Hotel 64 in Saigon at 8am on Sunday last to pick us up, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a “special sleeping bus”. It has only about 24 seats, all of which are like a barco lounger. You climb into your seat and recline back, or lie flat the entire way. And it’s air-conditioned!!! So we cruised across Vietnam to the beach in style.

We arrived at a hotel arranged by the girl at the front desk at the previous hotel, and were swept into our room. We got the cheap room with no AC, so by the time we got our bags inside, we were ready to get into the water! We took a quick wade in the ocean followed by lunch. A plate of swordfish, a little overcooked and dry, and a noodle plate with some shrimp, plus a couple freshly squeezed juice drinks. Afterwards, we went to the room to relax a bit and possibly take a nap. It’s tough work sitting on a bus reading and listening to music for 5 hours. =)

About 10 minutes after we lay down on the bed, the fan stopped working. And the room became like an oven. We sat there trying to figure out what to do, when I noticed a shadow go across the ceiling, which was made of thin corrugated plastic. (Over that roof was another, thatched roof.) I thought it was just a bird, but then I heard the clickety clack of tiny little toenails as several huge rats made their way across the roof again…they had a nest up there! Stunned into silence and sweating like a whore in church, I lay there frozen. Just then, I heard ‘scamper scamper, clicking of toenails, and a loud THUD and a SQUEEK!’ One of the rats had gotten into a skirmish with one of the other rats, and had fallen off the roof and into our bathroom. We were suddenly and surprisingly galvanized – we hurriedly packed our bags back up and checked out of what will forever be known as “The Rat Motel”.

We walked down the road to find another hotel, and came across a sign that said “70% off rooms”…we checked it out, and that’s where we continue to call home, at the Windchamps Resort and Kiting School. Sunday and Monday were windy, sunny, and hot, but we decided to catch some rays and rest a bit from our harrowing horizontal journey from Saigon instead of doing what we came here to do: KITE!

As our luck would have it (Baja Revisited?), there’s been no wind since then, and it’s now Friday. To add insult to injury (there have been injuries…more on that later) it’s been pissing down with rain since then, with a brief break yesterday, but no sun. Today it’s a little better, and the sun actually just came out. The whole time it’s been humid as hell though.

We actually pumped up our kites yesterday and got all our gear on as the wind was pretty good, but still no sun. Just as we tried to launch my kite, the wind died. Boo hoo! So we made the best of it and played in the water. Like most beaches around the world, there are lots of dogs here. One such beast trotted up to my kite like he owned the place and promptly proceeded to lift his leg on it! “Oh hell no!” I shouted and ran toward the mongrel. He only got a little squirt out. Lucky for me there was just enough wind to blow the piss onto the sand instead of landing on my kite. “Little bastard!” Mike’s kite was down wind a bit, which is exactly where the dog headed next. I thought surely he’ll realize that I’m watching and won’t make the attempt. I followed him just incase. Sure enough, he lifted his leg again!!!! This time I was much closer to him, so I sprinted across the sand and just as I came up behind him, I kicked the sand (full of lots of shards of shells) right at his boy-dog bits. He yelped and jumped about 4 feet in the air. “I hope you don’t sit down for a week!” I win – two to nothin’.

Last night we went to a more expensive restaurant than we’ve been frequenting to see if the food is any better – it’s mostly been crap. Not even OK, just crap! This place was no exception. We were greeted twice, first by the wait staff, who seated us near a 2-foot retainer wall, and second, by the biggest rat I’ve ever seen, who seated us again, at a table far away from whatever dead thing it was trying to eat on the other side of the wall. We were dressed in jeans and hoodies, not because it was chilly, but because we’re being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the night as we sleep (the aforementioned injuries!), despite our mosquito net! So we told the waiter we were moving to be in front of the fan…stupid Americans and their weather-inappropriate clothing!

The food came and seriously it was nothing noteworthy…we thought the fish would be incredibly fresh because this place is ON the water, but that’s been bad too. Over cooked and dry, and not much variety: shrimp, squid, swordfish. The three S’s of Mui Ne seafood. Well I’ve got three more for you: soggy, scorching and scratchy! …aw well, make it four: Scrabble! You’ll play a lot of it if you come to visit here this time of year! =)

So we tried also last night to stay awake past 7pm., a tough endeavor for us, but we managed, even after Mike took 2 Benadryl for the ungodly number of mosquito bites he has all over him. I’m not getting bitten as much, thankfully.

Upon waking this morning, we walked to our new favorite place for breakfast. They actually serve something that doesn’t come with a baguette, so we both ordered that: fruit bowl with yogurt and muesli, as well as some Vietnamese coffee. We shared that and an omelette two mornings ago, and it was great. The coffee came and we were chatting about what to do if the wind doesn’t pick up and it continues to rain. We’re thinking about heading to Bali for the rest of the month if things here don’t pick up, and maybe head back here later in the year when the rains have died down.

Breakfast arrived at the table, a lively bowl of local watermelon, pineapple, banana, yogurt and muesli. I sat admiring the simple yummieness (yes, it’s a word!) of it, and realized that there were tiny little bugs crawling on the muesli! Mike’s was the same, so we sent them back. I think the girl just opened a new box, scraped off the old stuff and poured on some fresh cereal, because when I got to the bottom of my bowl, there it was, the lonely carcass of one of the tiny bugs…probably drowned in yogurt. I was completely grossed out. I won’t be ordering the fruit bowl again, and would certainly think twice about going back there again.

Back at the hotel, there is a swarm of dragonflies buzzing over and around the pool area. I think it’s a sign…this is biblical. They carried away a small child. …not that I mind, but I think the parents did.

Enough is enough.

As the plague of dragonflies swarms around me blotting out the sun, I book a flight to Bali, and hope for some FREAKING WIND!

Posted by kmpossible 04:12 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good morning Vietnam!

all seasons in one day
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Today we were up at about 5am, and ready for breakfast! We putzed around the room for a bit and then headed downstairs to greet the day. The lobby was already alive with activity, since our room included breakfast (and dinner), people were down there eating. Breakfast was a baguette with butter and jam and coffee or tea. So we obliged the girl offering us our breakfast, and sat down to eat. We weren’t really full from just a bit of bread, so we headed out to Café Zoom for some more Vietnamese coffee and omelets. I didn’t realize that baguettes are so popular here, but you get them for breakfast with pretty much anything you order.

We sat there in amazement as the motorbikes passed us by – so many people on their way to work!

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Venturing back out into the heat of the day, we opted to check out the War Remnants Museum, not too far from where we had breakfast. As the museum closed at noon, we had to hustle (i.e. shuffle along slowly so as to not get heat stroke!). We made it in plenty of time to see more than enough – I believe we saw 5 of the 7 buildings/displays. It was a very sobering experience. I hadn’t seen any of these pictures of people (of ALL ages) who had been injured by phosphorus bombs, and agent orange bombs.

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There was one whole room dedicated to giving you the play by play of the tortures people in prison camps endured. Women had snakes put up their pant legs while they were held down. Top halves of people’s heads would be shaved, and then the person would be strapped to a chair, while water would drip on them, drop by drop by drop. Each drop felt like a heavy blow to the brain. One I found particular disturbing (of course, they all are) was this: a hose is inserted into your nose, all the way to your stomach, as you’re strapped flat on your back to a board – declined with your head lower than your feet. Into the hose they would pour limey water, or sometimes soapy water, until your stomach would bloat in a strange way. Then they would punch and kick you in the stomach until bloody discharge would come out of your nose and mouth. Did I mention that you’re gagged as well? …terrible, awful, nasty things…I can’t imagine laughing and watching someone suffer.

I was wiped out by that experience, so we headed back to the room for a nap to revive our tortured souls. And then the rains came! There was thunder and lightening and a terrific downpour that lasted about 2 hours. We ventured out after the worst of it stopped to find the street in front of our hotel flooded.

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We slogged through to find some pho…tasty tasty! We each had a bowl of the noodle soup and a soda, and the bill came to 49,000 dong, which is about $3. …I think we napped again at that point, but I’m not sure…we’ve been sleeping a lot! Later that night we grabbed a quick dinner down the street and went back to sleep. Jet lag is hell!

All in all, I loved Saigon, but I’m still unimpressed by the food. =(

Posted by kmpossible 20:18 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Arrival to Manila through Hong Kong

sunny 30 °C
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Hong Kong was just another big city airport, minus the loud, obnoxious Americans crawling everywhere. It was quiet, even in the middle of the morning when business traveling is at its peak.

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Manila’s International Airport was seemingly quite small in comparison. When we entered the concourse, I realized there was no air-con at all, and it smelled like a musty basement. Luckily for us it’s only about 10,000 degrees…yea, phew! It was pretty quiet as well, though there were lots of people waiting to depart in the seating areas as we passed to immigration and baggage claim. There was no line at immigration, thank f*&k. Last time Mike was here with his dad, it took them an hour and a half to get through immigration alone, let alone baggage claim and customs…I think we got very lucky! The bags came about twice as fast as they do at San Francisco Airport – well done, Manila! Customs was very fast as well, and we promptly hopped into a pre-paid taxi (with air!) to our hotel, the Copacabana Apartments.

Passing through areas similar to areas near airports in many other places in the world, I had many random thoughts, including “wow, this is a shit hole”, “these people are truly beautiful”, and “I’ve never quite seen anything like this.” There were people EVERYWHERE…simply EVERYWHERE! "Mercedes" busses called “jeepneys”, tiny little motorcycles, bicycles with sidecars for passengers, personal cars, taxis…all weaving in and out of the lanes around each other. I was surprised at how little horn-honking was happening – these people must have never seen how it’s done in New York City. (I think the car horn is the sacred sound of NYC.) It’s a lot like Tijuana, aesthetically speaking.

The nearer we got to the hotel, the “nicer” things appeared, though very near our hotel are a few really tall, once beautiful, completely abandoned buildings. They look like they were under construction and never quite finished. Right next door is The Heritage Manila, a very large, heavily armed hotel, complete with machine-gunned guards at the doors. Seems a girl can’t swing a fake-Fendi in THIS neighborhood without knocking over at least one militant gun-for-hire.

Next: dinner!

Note: Dinner didn't actually happen since we fell asleep at about 2pm and woke back up around 10pm, only to sleep again for another 5 hours. Oi vai!

Posted by kmpossible 16:12 Archived in Philippines Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

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