Vietnam - Saigon, Silk, and Easy Riders

Eli and I have been in Vietnam for 6 days now. We were especially excited to visit Vietnam as we have heard many stories about this country from our dads and in our history books and couldn't wait to see it firsthand. I also had a few co-workers at Intel that had spent time at the factory in Saigon. We have an extensive list of sites to see! My dad also lived there as a teenager so his stories and love of the country made this a must see place for us.
From Cambodia we took a bus to Siagon which took about 7 hrs. This bus ride was much smoother than our last ride, thank goodness.
Once we crossed the border, we could immediately see a change.
Vietnam has wider streets, manicured landscapes, alot less trash on the streets, and the most of the women wear the triangle shaped hats. There weren't any begging children and the adults weren't as persistant trying to sell their products.
The scooters still out number cars and the Vietnemese also like to pile on as many things and people as possible.
6 is still the record for number of people on one scooter but I am hopeful to see 7.
The currency is called Dong and 1USD equals about 17,770 Dong.
Just about everyone accepts dollars here but when
we pulled money from the ATM, it comes out in Dong so we still have to use our brains to figure out the exchange rate. Luckily I have Eli to be my calculator.

We spent our fist 3 days exploring the city of Siagon. We stayed in Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker area, District 1.
There are 16 districts in Saigon which houses about 7 million people.
Massive! There are more scooters here than anywhere we have seen! There is an additional form of transportation called the cyclo (pronounced seeklo). It has 3 wheels and is man-powered by pedaling. The stand up bicycle part is in the back and the basket seat is in the front. Eli and I did hire 2 cyclo drivers one afternoon to take us for a short distance.
I felt like I was right in the mix of traffic but I felt completely safe. Our days in Saigon were spent mostly on foot, walking through the War Remnants Musuem, markets, and touring the "old district" buildings and river.
The War Remnants Musuem, while very propagandist, had lots of amazing action photos of the war. Many photos were a bit much to look at but I suppose it showed the reality of the brutality of war. It is actually quite amazing to think about being in this country when not that long ago, it was a war zone. Vietnamese seem to be a very resilient, forgiving, and happy people.
They take very kindly to Americans and are eager to talk and share their culture.

We got lots of exercise while in Saigon. We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral down to the Saigon River. On our route we passed the famous old Continental Hotel made famous by the book/movie "The Quiet American" (Eli is currenlty reading it). We stopped in the Caraveille Hotel and took the elevator up to the Sky Bar to have a beer in honor of my Aunt Jane.
Per my dad, Aunt Jane used to go dancing there in '62. I sat with my beer and imagined her dancing on the checkered floor turning heads and glowing in the freedom of being 20 years old.
I like to think that she must have ruled that city. I was planning to do a little dance there myself, but it was barely noon and the music was turned down just enough for me to barely hear some elevator music playing. I decided to snap some pics instead and leave the dancing to Aunt Jane.
Just down the block was a hang out of my dads, Brodards. It is a Gloria Jean coffee shop, but in 60-62 it was a cafe/ice cream shop with a juke box. I wish they made places with juke boxes still. We walked through the busy Saigon Market then by the Rex Hotel (old U.S Army Officer Quarters and where "Good Morning Vietnam" broadcasted from). Near there was a place my dad used to live. Needless to say, it too had changed quite a bit. It's now a shopping mall so we went to the top floor, had a coffee, and imagined that at one time, my dad lived there.

Between site seeing, we of course ate some amazing, fresh, healthy food. Pho is the popular soup, and noodles are also a local favorite. The coffee is some of the best in the world. You can order it black or with sweet condensed milk and it is served with individual mini filters on top.

We haven't yet done Karaoke but have high hopes to do so. Our hotel was about 5 stories and we had a small patio with a view of the skyline. This was one of my favorite rooms eventhough it was so small we couldn't open the door all the way and Eli had to turn his shoulders sideways to get in. It offered free wifi and cable tv. We were more than ecstatic to see two episodes of American Idol. One of our guilty pleasures. This room cost us $13 a night. Love that!

After saying goodbye to Saigon, we were off to Da Lat. Da Lat's population is 130,000 much smaller in comparison to Siagon. The bus from Saigon to Da Lat was supposed to be 6 hours but ended up taking 9 hrs. We weren't too upset by this as the ride up to Da Lat was breathtaking with mountain scenary, valleys, and pine trees. It was at least 15 degrees cooler here during the day and actually got chilly at night. It was nice to be able to put on my jeans again after sweating in shorts for the past 1.5 months. (sorry to rub it in to all of you freezing in the States this winter, I know it is so wrong). I was half expecting my jeans to fit looser but turns out they fit exactly the same. I guess all the walking combined with all that eating keeps me the same size.

Back to Da Lat....it had a French feel to it, almost like we were in a little town in Europe. The hillsides were covered with flowers, strawberries, and coffee farms, not the typical rice patties. We stayed 3 nights in a hotel that offered all the amenities as our last one in Saigon, but it was bigger and cost less. A whopping $7 a night. Unbelievable!

While in Da Lat, Eli and I hired two "Easy Riders" to take us around. The Easy Riders are a group of men that have a motorcycle organization to provide tours/guides to tourists. They are older than the average guide (20-30s), as most Easy Riders are in their 50s. I liked that they were more mature as it showed in their knowledge of the country.

The Easy Riders have motorcyclesn(not scooters) and wear logo jackets and they pride themselves on being fluent in English. There are about 80 of these men in the organization and half in the area of Da Lat. I meant to ask them if they knew of the movie Easy Rider but I forgot. They said they were given their name by a travel guide writer. I did read about them in our Lonely Planet guidebook. Two Easy Riders sought us out at breakfast our first morning and Eli negotiated a price and we made a deal for the tour. The next morning we were picked up by Qyuen and Su for the tour....we had a blast. It was a full day of site seeing, fresh air, and local
food. The best part was just being out in the country side away from the chaos of tourist or
other scooters. We hardly saw any other white people, haha. We got to see up close a waterfall, pagoda (temple), coffee farm, flower farm, silk factory, and a rice winery.
Our favorite was the silk factory as we got to see step-by-step how they get silk from a worm. I have a knew respect for silk! We let our guides order lunch for us and we literally had 13 dishes of food to choose from on our table. Between the four us we ate only half the food. I asked the guide if they ever take leftovers home and he let me know that in Vietnam it is considered rude to take food home. Interesting. Eli and I paid for lunch including 2 beers and it was under $8 for all of that food. Crazy cheap! The only downfall of the day was when our guide instructed us to walk up a dirt hill and meet him on the other side so that we could see the view of the valley. Well Eli and I were walking and talking and missed the path that our guide had told us to take. What should have been a 10 minute easy walk, turned into a 45 minute mistake. I was a bit worried and I hate being lost but luckily we had taken our water with us and this wasn't Kilimanjaro or anything. We backtracked and eventually found our path and our guides. Qyuen was so upset with us that he reprimanded us several times and his happy go lucky attitude became very serious. I can imagine he was freaking out about losing two American hikers.
He told Eli "what is wrong with you? I told you very clearly in English, not in French, that you were supposed to take a right on the path." All we could do was apologize and empathize. After a few minutes, however, we were all back to laughing and talking and Qyuen explained that he just needed to get it out of his system and he felt better. We didn't let this cramp our day one bit.


Cambodia - Wats, Fish Massage, and History

Cambodia is a very humbling country. From the massive ancient temples of Angkor, to its extreme poverty and horrendous past of genocide, it's hard to not be taken aback when travelling here.

Our bus ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap turned into somewhat of a scam, with the bus arriving much later than said, taking us to overpriced restaurants and private bus stations where we were told to exchange our money for bad rates, and not taking us to the bus station in Siem Reap like we were told, but to a guest house that was a ways out of the way. Jodie and I quickly learned that Cambodia works largely on kickbacks and commisions. Despite the bad taste in our mouth we were glad to be in Cambodia, and we felt like we were truly in SE Asia now. It seemed a lot more real than some of the other more touristy places we had been.
We woke up very early in the morning to get to Angkor Wat to see the sunrise. We had arranged a tuk tuk driver/ guide through our guest house the night before and he was waiting outside for us at 5:00 am. Sleepy eyed we climbed into the open tuk tuk and sat back while we felt the cool of the morning on our faces for the half hour ride to Angkor Wat. We were amazed to see much of the locals already up and about at the market buying fruit and vegetables for the
day. We arrived at Angkor Wat still in complete darkness and quickly found out that our
driver/guide was actually just a driver. I was really bummed but I learned lesson #2 about Cambodia. Always confirm before you leave with the actual person, not just the guest house.
We walked passed the foodstalls selling coffee and water, down a stone walkway where we could
vaguely see by some other people's flashlights where we were going. We weren't actually sure where we were going, we just followed the throngs of people and hoped they were going where we wanted to. Still pitch black we were amazed to see a large gathering of people and we guessed
that was where you go to watch the sunrise. Soon enough the sky started to lighten and
eventually we could make out the shape of a massive temple with large towers siluette against the pale light. When it became light we were awed by our surroundings.
Large walls, a moat and stone structures surrounded us, it was incredible. Almost as amazing was the two or three hundred people we discovered around us taking in the same scene. The sunrise wasn't very remarkable so we made for the impressive temple to explore the endless corridors, countless steps and intricate carvings. It seems like every square inch of the place was covered in beautiful carvings of Hindu gods and ancient writings.
I couldn't fathom how long it would take to
construct something like that. It was mind blowing seeing such an incredible act of human achievement. Once again I regretted not having a guide as we wandered and wondered at what we were looking at. However, I don't need a guide to realize what a vast remarkable place this was. From our guide book we learned a little bit of what we were looking at. The Angkor area was built by the Khmer people and is actually comprised of a large number of wats, or temples,
of which Angkor Wat is the largest and most impressive. It was constructed around 1100 AD and was a Hindu temple. Interestingly, when Buddhism was introduced a few hundred years later, many of the Hindu statues were replaced by Buddhas, so there is quite a mixture of the two religions. Jodie and I ate our mango for breakfast then headed back across the massive moat to meet our driver to take us to the next area.
The Bayon was our next stop which consisted of 54 small towers all of which had large faces carved on them which gave the area a creepy feeling.
Once again it felt like we were in a large maze of sandstone as we scampered up and down steps, and around Japanese tourists. I was having a blast taking pictures of all the interesting carvings. After bargaining down our over priced banana pancakes about 75% we drank some coffee to try and wake up after our early morning. It was really sad seeing the throngs of kids around selling postcards, books, and
A Cambodian man had told us that the kids don't go to school because they can make more money than their parents selling things. Also everything is so corrupt in Cambodia that the kids have to pay the teachers or they won't allow them in school. The kids would try anything to get you to buy stuff from them, I even heard a little girl say "If I guess the capital of your country will you buy?". She probably knew more capitals than I did.
We then moved on to another temple that was being renovated. It was a large pyramid shaped structure that had started renovation back in the 60's but was disrupted by the Khmer Rouge taking over in the 70's. The archeologists had dismantled thousands of stone blocks from the structure and laid them in the surrounding area while they did some foundation work to
make the temple more stable. Then the Khmer Rouge took over and destroyed the records of how to put it all back together. So now the archealogists have the worlds largest 3D jigsaw puzzle on their hands.
We stopped at a few more wats that were also very impressive, but due to the immensity of their neighbors, these wats were fairly deserted. My favorite of these was Ta Prohm, which had been infiltrated by some large jungle trees that eerily grow up and around the stone structures, it was very cool. By this time our feet were dusty and tired, so we decided to head back. When we arrived back at the guest house I was reminded of Cambodian rule #2 when the driver asked for $15 instead of the $12 I had agreed upon with the guest house staff. I happily handed it over learning my leason again. We were very impressed with our time at Angkor Wat. It truly is a wonder of the world and its hard to take in such an incredible site.
After a much needed nap we explored downtown Siem Reap. It was a really strange site seeing gigantic $2000/night resort (according to our driver) hotels right next to tiny little shacks. It made us think of what we really need to "live." The downtown area was filled with
restaurants, westerners, shops selling souvenirs, and shallow pools with fish massage. For a dollar each, we decided to try out the fish massage. We satt with our feet in a kiddie pool filled with little minnow looking fish that nibbled the dead skin off of our feet. The nibbling was a little
hard to get used to, but it was a fun experience. Jodie commented on how most of the fish prefered my feet. Mine must taste better. After doing a bit of shopping we headed back to our guesthouse to get some much needed sleep. Our guesthouse was our best value accomodation to date, we had a good sized room with a bathroom, TV, and towels, all for $6.
In the morning we decided there wasn't too much more we wanted to see in Siem Reap so we made our way to the bus station to catch a bus to Phnom Penh. We were expecting to wait maybe an hour or so for the next bus, but were greated immediately as we pulled up on the tuk tuk by half a dozen guys asking us if we needed a bus. Fifteen minutes later we were on our way to Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian countryside was very beautiful once we looked past the garbage lined streets. There were random palm trees in the middle of rice fields, broken up by little houses on stilts. Each house seemed to have a few essentials like a haystack, banana tree, coconut palm, a stray dog and a chicken or two. People seemed to live very simply. It made us think of all the stuff we don't need crammed into our storage unit back in Portland. Another thing we have noticed is how there are a lot fewer cars, replaced by more motorbikes (scooters) and also old rickety bikes. One of our favorite pass times is playing "Who Can Spot the Most People on One Motorbike". Jodie is the current winner, she saw six. A man, two women, a small kid and two babies. They definitely make the most of thier petrol here. We are also about 95% sure that our
dog is Cambodian. We saw about one Marley look-a-like per minute of driving on the bus.
We arrived in Phnom Penh Saturday evening to a sensory overload. Congested traffic, dirty streets and people everywhere, made for an intense welcome. After a long bus ride we were wiped out so we ate at our guest house and retired early. In the morning we met our tuk tuk driver from the night before to take us around town. The only traffic rule that is somewhat
followed, is people generally drive on the right hand side. I say generally, because if some one is turning left, they just turn and hug the curb until there is a break in the traffic then they cross over into the right lane. It looks like complete chaos, but somehow everyone gets where they are going and we have yet to see any kind of accident. We had our driver take us out to the Killing Fields, which was a ways out of town on a long, dusty, and smog choking ride. The Killing Fields were very sad and incredibly humbling. Somewhere around 20,000 people were brutally murdered there by the Khmer Rouge in the late 70s. There was no rhyme or reason to why, you could be killed for being educated, associated with the government, a minority, having opposing ideas or even if someone thought you were any of the above. Children were murdered so that they would not take revenge when they were older. People were beaten to death with clubs, axes and farming tools because bullets were to precious. The bodies were dumped into mass graves, up to four hundred together. In the middle of the area there was a monument dedicated to the murdered. It was about 50 feet tall with glass walls containing eight thousand skulls that
had been removed from the grave. While walking around between the pits we saw where human bones and teeth were showing through the worn down trail. This was just one of many killing fields throughout Cambodia. Somewhere around 2 million people were killed or died of starvation during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. That was about 1/4th of the entire population. It is astonishing how evil humans can be.
After taking in the horrendous history, we then made our way to the infamous S-21 Khmer Rouge prison. It was a high school that was converted into a prison and interrogation center where people were tortured. The prisoners (men, women and children) were brought here and put into 4X6 cells untill they were brought out to be tortured into giving them information on anything incriminating to people they knew. Many people died there, and the ones that did not were taken out to the Killing Fields to be murdered. As each one entered the prison they had a picture taken of them, which are now dispayed for visitors to see. Thousands of pictures of frightened men, women and children lined the rooms. It was a very heartbraking. Seeing all of those horrible places stayed with me long after and I'm sure I will remember this for the rest of my life. Although you can still see the pain on the faces of people when they talk about it, most people are thankful to have survived this and are remarkably happy. It really made us realize how blessed we are.
In a somber mood, we walked around thinking about everything we saw that day. We decided to walk along the Mekong and find some food. We found a night market that was really bustling with people, most of which were locals. We found they had a food area, which was a bunch of foodstalls surounding a basketball court size area that was covered with little bamboo mats for people to sit and eat on. We filled up a basket full of who knows what and gave it to the cook to fry up. A few minutes later we were munching on all sorts of meats, vegies and breaded things. We also sampled a local drink of fresh crushed sugar cane. It was very tasty. The next day Jodie reported to me that she did not sleep well as she kept seeing those faces from the interogation prison.
Today we walked around a couple markets then went to a place called Seeing Hands Massage where we got massaged by the blind. It was very relaxing and it was the best massage I have ever had. We also ate at a restaurant called Friends, where street kids are taken in, educated and taught how to work in the food service industry as cooks and servers. It seemed like a great organization and the food was incredible.
Tomorrow we plan on setting off for Saigon in Vietnam to start our next adventure. Cambodia has been remarkable, and we were glad to be in the presence of such wonderful people.


Goodbye Grandpa Wayne

While typing last blog, we got a call on skype from Eli's mom with some sad news. Wayne Chamberlain, (Eli's grandpa, Ken's dad), died this morning and has gone home to be with his Father. We are terribly saddened by the news but we are also joyful as Marge, his wife, and much of the family could be with him for the past few days while he was in the hospital. Ken says that his dad had a big grin on his face when he passed. We love you Grandpa Wayne and we look forward to playing Pinnacle with you in Heaven.

Thailand - TukTuks, Buddhas, and Boxing

I am adding another update to capture our quick time in Bangkok, Thailand. I also want everyone to know most of the blogs have been written by Eli and he is way better at detail than I am. Thanks honey.
Bangkok wasn't one of our original desired destinations during this trip but I must admit that I am pleased that we decided to stop here. It is a booming city with what seems like 2 cities in one. It has the clean, modern, highend shopping centers and it has the gritty, stray dogs, traffic infested parts as well.
Overall, we liked it alot.
What we have seen thus far in SE Asia has been amazing and I find it hard to accurately describe everything. I recently received an email from my brother, Silas and I quote him "Asia - is such a different world, words can’t truthfully describe the mentality of the beautiful people, cameras can’t capture the colors, words cant truly describe the smells and taste of the foods..." So true brother.

To follow the path of many tourists here in Bangkok, Eli and I choose to room up on the infamous Khao San Road.

In between tuk-tuks and cruising the many markets, we of course ate great food. I can't tell you exactly what we ate because I am not so sure myself. We took ourselves off the beaten path to try new food and all we did was smile and point to what we wanted on our plates as the menus were in Thai.It is a long street that is blocked off to cars and is lined with hundreds of venders, bars, massage parlors, and cheap accommodations. All pretty much for the whiteys. We didn't think we would get sucked into the crowd but we did, and we loved it eventhough it was exhausting. We made the most of our 2 days here as best we could by leaving first thing in the mornings and staying out until our feet couldn't take anymore walking. Our first afternoon here, we hired a young tuk-tuk driver to take us to a couple of different temples.
Tuk-tuks are 3 wheeled open backed vehicles that read "taxi" and are excellent for weaving in and out of traffic. And for fuming exhaust like crazy.
We went to Wat In and Wat Sampaya to see some famous Buddhas in temples. The Buddhas were larger than life and covered in gold paint.
We got to witness Monks in prayer which, no matter what religion you are, you can't ignore the feeling of peace and love. We also stopped at a couple of suit factories to check out the silks and fancy materials that go into making designer suits. The salesmen sure worked hard on trying to convince Eli that he needed to by a suit in case he ever has to wear one to a party back in America.
I didn't work, although Eli was half tempted to get one made and stuff it into his backpack. The driver of the tuk-tuk informed us that if he took us to one of the suit factories, then the owner would give him gasoline. Of course we obliged and walked in like we were big spenders until we confirmed that the tuk-tuk driver got his gas, then we jetted out!

For me the highlight our time in Bangkok was watching a traditional Thai boxing match. 3 matches actually. My dad highly recommended we try to witness this unique sport as he has spent some time in Bangkok himself. We were worried that we wouldn't find the time to see the boxing, but, as luck would have it, we walked right next to an outdoor ring that was being set up for a FREE show. We love free. We waited around, had a Singha beer, some dinner and then got right up to ringside for the show to start. It ended up starting about an hour later than scheduled due to rain but once the rain died down, we quickly saw that it was worth the wait. The rain did make the ring slippery which made for an interesting show as the boxers fought to stay upright. My favorite fight was the girl fight.
This little tiny Thai girl was up against a taller meaner looking girl from Greece. Before the match, I was seriously worried for the safety of the Thai girl with her innocent smile and all. She fooled me. In round 1, the Thai girl came out strong and after a few punches and kicks, she knock-out her bigger opponent. I clapped and cheered along with the eager crowd. I never liked boxing/fighting until now. So cool!

Eli and I leave Bangkok first thing tomorrow and head of to Cambodia on 2 different buses. One will take 4 hrs to reach the border, then once we cross into Cambodia and buy our visas, the 2nd bus will take us about another 4 hrs up towards Angkor Wat. It will be very weird for us to be in vehicles driving on the right side of the road again.

Thanks for all who read and support us. And Thank you God for showing us your amazing Creation. Stay tuned....


Singapore to Thailand - Holidays, Lanterns, and Rock Climbing

Happy New Year 2010!
After Bali, we jumped a plane to Singapore. We were blessed to have a contact (a friend of my sister) living there that was opening up her home to us for Christmas. It was a culture shock for us to be in Bali and then after a quick flight, land in a huge, modern, very clean city. The cars still drive on the wrong side of the rode but everyone obeyed traffic laws. The city was full of Christmas decorations and I must admit that up until then, it hadn't felt like the Christmas season at all for me.
I was suddenly very excited to see the larger than life ornaments, snowmen, and santas lining the streets. Oh and of course the reported 60,000 people that were doing the last minute shopping at the same block we were walking also reminded us that it truly was Christmas.
For Christmas dinner, Eli and I took a bus then the train to reach one of Singapore's infamous Hawker Centers. Hawker Centers are all about FOOD! This center in particular had over 80 vendors to choose from with food ranging from fresh seafood, fried chickens, Chinese, Thai, and Indian food...and much more. Since it was just late afternoon, less than a dozen of them were actually open as the peak hours for the centers start late into the evening and through the morning.
We were still overwhelmed with which one to choose but luckily, the vendors sought us out by waving their menus at us.
After making our way around the circle, we settled on the most persistent vendor and we let him pick out our dish. We ate Ayam Martabak, an Indian dish, or as I like to call it, a casserole of chicken, egg, bread, onion, and curry deliciousness.
It was not the traditional Christmas meal but it was the best Indian food we have ever eaten. We often talk about it longingly. The chef bragged to us and pointed at the hanging award he received for this dish.
We ended up staying longer than intended in Singapore as our original plan to buy train tickets to Phuket, Thailand didn't work out. We waited too long and since it was around the holidays, the train was booked full. We took this in stride and welcomed the extra few days of rest in Singapore. In the end, we ended up flying to Phuket.
We stayed in Phuket only one night as we wanted to get to another area we heard of by New Year's Eve. While in Phuket, we stayed at a beach bungalow that was straight out of a postcard. It sat on a long white sandy beach with hammocks and chairs. It was remote and quiet unlike most of Phuket which from what we hear, can be very busy and touristy. The area we went to next was Ton Sai. The journey there involved a ride from the friendly beach hut owner to a police checkpoint which doubled as a bus stop along the main road from Phuket. After the police flagged down the correct bus (we are having a hard time learning to read thai), we then boarded a bus full of locals which of course was full so we stood in the isles swaying back in forth with the curves for about an hour until some people got off and we took the empty seats.
Another hour and a half later we arrived in Krabi, grabbed some food and then took a 'taxi' (a pickup truck with no bed and instead a makeshift platform with seats) to the boat docks. There we boarded a longtail boat which looks like a really big canoe with a car engine strapped to the back connected to a long propeller. As we rode along in the noisy boat the scenery became stunning. Huge limestone cliffs jutted out of the ocean hundreds of feet tall. There were many islands around all of which had these towering cliffs.
We got off the boat in East Rai Ley which was a bay that contained a huge mud flat since it was low tide. We jumped out of the boat into about a foot and a half of water since there was no dock and walked up to the beach. Once here we walked for about 10 minutes across a small isthmus past lots of resorts and restaurants.
We were amazed at how developed this area was considering it was only accessible by boat.
When we crossed the isthmus to the other beach, we boarded another longtail to take us to our final destination, Ton Sai.
Ton Sai is known to cater to rockclimbers and when we rode up on the boat, we could immediately see the line of climbers scaling it's massive cliffs towering above the beach. We could hardly contain our excitement. We quickly found ourselves a little bamboo bungalow about a hundred yards off of the beach. We were a little nervous that we would not find anywhere to stay since it was so close to New Years but we were delighted at the 200 baht/night price, which is about $6 US, our cheapest to date. Given, these weren't the nicest digs, and we were pretty sure we could have pushed the place over if we wanted to, but it had a bed, a mosquito net, a fan and a light. The only catch was they only had electricity from 6pm to 6am. Needless to say, we have become much less discriminatory with our accommodation.
We really liked Ton Sai, it has been one of our favorite places to date. It was chock full of climbers and backpackers which made it feel a lot less touristy than other places we have been.
The best part about it was how accessible the climbing was, many of the rock faces were right on the beach next to bars and restaurants.
It was like a climber's heaven. On New Years Eve day, we rented some climbing equipment from one of the local shops and struck out to find us a suitable climb. As with everywhere else, each established climbing route was rated according to its difficulty, so we flipped through our guidebook and found one of the easier ones since the area contained mostly harder routes. We soon found out we were a little out of our league and struggled with the climb, but we enjoyed it and had a good time watching in awe as some of the better climbers defied the laws of gravity. That evening we watched the the sky catch fire as the sun set while we ate some fresh barracuda and tuna off of the grill.
We didn't know what to expect for the New Year celebration, but we found a wide range of entertainment. From a cobra snake show to fire twirling, we were thoroughly entertained. Our favorite part of the night was lighting our very own paper lantern and releasing it into the air as we watched it slowly float away.
We could see dozens of other lanterns sailing through the air which was very mesmerizing. As midnight approached the fireworks started going off at our beach and another one nearby which made for some great reflexions on the water and loud echoes off of the cliffs. It was a very magical New Years.
The next day we wandered around watching more climbers and checking out the other nearby beaches and sea cliffs. The cliffs in the area all looked like the inside of a cave. There were tons of stalactites hanging off of them which made them look almost as if they were melting. After an arduous hunt for an ATM we made our plans to leave the next day for a Island further south called Koh Lanta. We opted for the slightly more expensive but much more convenient direct boat ride instead of a slightly cheaper boat, walk, boat, taxi, bus, ferry route we could have taken. Two hours later we arrived in Koh Lanta at the ever more familiar site of a sea of tourists pouring into the welcoming hands of taxi drivers, hotel touts and shuttle bus drivers holding signs. After negotiating the taxi driver down, we found ourselves in the back of another pickup heading towards the beach we had in mind. We settled on the third place we checked out, and found a small room with a fan for a decent price. The place was more of a bar/restaurant than a hotel, with only three rooms, but it is right on the beach and has a great area to lounge around in hammocks and read. We have managed to squeeze some reading into our hectic schedules, we have each read five or six books since we left. We have found quite a few cheap used bookstores along the way and have also traded some books in hostel's 'take one leave one' shelves. We have recently read "The Beach" by Alex Garland which tells of a backpacker who is traveling in Thailand in search of some real adventure and finds a secret beach community on a secluded island. It seemed fitting.
Tomorrow we leave for bustling Bangkok on an overnight train where we will stay for a few days while we get our Vietnam visas, then into Cambodia.