early start: Andy and I met Laura and Chris on the 7:58am train and headed to Fukushima airport (got there around 12 after stopping for lunch). Fukushima is a small airport, but has international flights, and despite being modern Japan, I believe the tickets were still done manually. Imagine that!
Flight from Fukushima to Shanghai where we spent xmas eve with a 6 hour layover. I feel like I got a feel of the true Shanghai from the food court we ate it. Chaos. And also while waiting in line to go through security there was this crazy guy. He had on like 10 layers of clothing and had wrapped up gifts hidden in between his layers, and it was amusing to watch as the security person made him remove layers to unreveal the hidden mysterious item. (i guess you had to be there)
We arrived at Bangkok airport at 1:30amish and go to Shanti Lodge guest house at about 3amish after a taxi ride from the airport.
This day we spent seeing the main sites in Bangkok.
Took the 'river taxi' to get to the area.
Saw the Grand Palace
Next visited Wat Pho which has the largest reclining Buddha.
Walked through Chinatown and stopped by the Sikh Temple.
Then went to Khao San Rd - famous backpackers area of Bangkok. Ate some good phat thai and banana pancakes from (safe) street vendors, and then afterwards went back to the guest house where we hung out a bit and enjoyed our fruit drinks (look how tired we look!)
Shanti Lodge is awesome. good food (organic, no MSG, vegatarian), good atmosphere, friendly staff. the best place we stayed of the entire trip.
Below are photos of the morning of Andy's birthday with our delicious breakfast (and of course the Tanya_with_the _trusty_lonely_planet_guide photo!)
We took the train to Ayutthaya, which is the ancient capital with lots of famous ruins and temples. It was a bit of an adventure. The train was slow, got there late afternoon, and then we encountered a train ticket fiasco. We were supposed to pick up our tickets for our next day's 11 hour train ride. I was informed that during this time of the year long train rides often book up quickly, so I made a reservation in advance and was told to pick up the tickets at the Ayutthaya train station the day before. Well the guy at the ticket desk had no idea what I was talking about, was quite rude, and very unhelpful. So I talked to the "train station master" and he kept telling me to wait another 10 minutes which would end up being 20 minutes. But finally after like 2 hours or something, our tickets appeared. So at least all that effort and wasted time wasn't for nothing.
After quickly checking in to the hostel, we did a quick 3 temple tour de force, but it was actually a lot of fun despite being in a rush.
7:45am train to Nong Khai which is in north eastern Thailand along the Mekong river and near one of the border crossings between Thailand and Laos. We arrived around 6:30pm. It was a long day of no lunch and eating snacks (couldn't trust the food being sold by random people on the train). We take a tuk tuk (what's a tuk tuk?) to our hostel/guesthouse, Mut Mee. very relaxing, right on the river. The fish for dinner was good, but rest of the food was just okay. The room was supposed to have a hot shower, but it was cold. Not that big of a deal, but in this part of the country it gets relatively cool at night. I could have stayed here a couple days just to relax, but we were moving on the next day.
photo of the Mut Mee guest house at night:
Visited the Nong Khai sculpture park.
me on a swing at Mut Mee leaving
Then we went through the border, crossing the Friendship Bridge into Laos.
Shared a taxi with a French guy into the city of Vientiane.
Andy and I came down with a bit of a cold, so we just ate, relaxed and slept.
our guest house: Mali Namphu, shown in the first photo below.
Still had a cold, but feeling much better.
Photos of Vientiane city.
We walk to the nearby temple, and then took a tuk tuk to the famous Buddha Park. It was ok, similar to the Sculpture Park in Nong Khai. The area long river was nice though, as I relaxed and had a fresh coconut.
On the way back, visited the Laos national monument Pha That Luang, and passed Patuxai, Laos' Arc de Triomphe replica.
Got everything we wanted to do except no BeerLaos.
Woke up 1 hour too early! Caught a flight at 6am from Vientiane to Siem Reap via Laos Airlines, arriving in Siem Reap around 9a.m. (This journey by road is almost impossible, would have taken all day and no direct way, so to save time on our limited schedule, we took a flight).
We stayed at Rosy Guest House - at first I was displeased because we walked into our foom and it was full of stale smoke, but after airing out the room and getting rid of the smoke smell, I learned to like the place, pretty good.
That day we took a boat ride to see the floating village. I didn't care for the boat ride too much, but we did go out into Tonle Sap (Great Lake) which is Asia's largest lake.
Stopped by a land mine museum.
Then for sunset we went to one of the temples of the Angkor Temple complex. It was way too crowded.
Woke up at 4am to go see the sunrise at the Angkor Wat temple. We hadn't been to this temple yet, so when we got there that early in the morning, it was still dark. So here we were walking through Angkor Wat barely able to see a thing. I can't describe it well, but it was a very cool experience, one of my favorite moments of the trip. We found a spot to sit and waited as the sun rose, and as the sun came up, slowly Angkor Wat and all it's glory was revealed. It was awesome, and beautiful. see the PHOTO from my previous blog entry below.
Rest of the day was a full day of seeing more of the massive temple complex.
We had a late lunch in the old market / bar street area of Siem Reap at the Khmer Kitchen restaurant (Khmer meaning Cambodian - it was good except for the hassle of getting them to make our mango shake withOUT ice), and then went back to the guest house for a nap, or proper siesta rather.
We had an excellent dinner at 9pm at a place called Ecstatic Pizza. I really liked the place because it was away from the main crowd, a nice chill place, and the pizza was delicious!
We stopped by a photo gallery tha was pretty neat displaying photographers' photos of the temples and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Because we woke up at 4am that morning, we were sooo exhausted and could barely stay awake. So we went back to our room, and had midnight cheers with coconut water.
10am start - another full day of temples, finishing at 5pmish while watching sunset and talking with some Australians at Angkor Wat temple.
Then had mexican for dinner (you CAN'T get mexican food in Japan that's even half way decent).
By the time we got back that afternoon, we were so filthy and full of dirt, literally. I could touch my leg with my hand there would be dirt coming off. Why is this? Because a lot of the roads are dirt roads and very bumpy, so while riding on a tuk tuk a lot of dirt gets on you. We wore cloths around our face to protect us, as displayed below.
the traveling bandits:
Afte getting back we stopped at the bakery to get food for the next day's breakfast, stopped by the internet cafe where we found out more about the Bangkok bombings (more on that at the end), and then had another wonderful dinner again at Ecstatic Pizza.
another early start (seems to be the trend huh?) with waking up at 4am to take a taxi to the border. The border crossing was in the town of Poipet which is probably one of the most awful towns I've ever seen, so filthy/dirty/full of poverty, just awful. We crossed back into Thailand and then went to the Aranya Prathet bus station where we met Rebekah, an Australian backpacker, who happened to be heading to Ko Samet island as well.
We took a full bus of 4-5 hours to Chanthaburi, changed for another 2 hours bus ride to Ban Phe, took a moto to the port, and took a ferry to Ko Samet island. another long traveling day. We first go to Ao Nuan Bungalow, but it was full, but we eat dinner there anyway, and then stay at Tub Tim bungalows next door. The place was ok except for the ants that got in Rebekah's stuff, and the beach was more crowded and less nice.
check out of Tub Tim and check into Ao Nuan bungalow (a room became available), so the 3 of us shared a huge bed in the bungalow. nice serene and much more quiet beach.
I spent the day at beach writing post cards, relaxing, listening to my ipod, swimming in the ocean, etc. It was nice to relax a bit after our non-stop trip. We went to the other side of island for sunset, about a 30 minute walk. The beach on that side wasn't that good, dirty and very crowded compared to our beach, but the sunset was nice.
Went back to our beach, and as eating dinner I began to feel sick, so I went to bed early. I had just been saying how I didn't get sick this trip, and of course I got sick at the end! We had wanted to go for a late night swim in the ocean, but that didn't happen from being so tired.
Felt better the next morning. We check out, say bye to Rebekah (she was staying a couple days longer on the island). The specific beach we stayed at was nice, but I probably wouldn't go back there. Overall I didn't like the island - not easy to navigate and get around.
We took a nice bus (meaning had a proper seat and REAL aircon) back to Bangkok - should have taken 3 hours but took like 4 because of Friday rush hour traffic
Once in Bangkok we make a brief stop at the post office, then to Shanti Lodge to drop off our stuff, quick bite to eat (had yummy tofu satay with peanut sauce) and then took a taxi to Siam Square (posh shopping area) where I met Pana. Pana is a friend from when I lived in Singapore during my middle school years. She's currently living in New York City, but her parents live in Bangkok so she was there for her winter break. It was great meeting up with her, catching up, and reminiscing over our dorky middle school days. I hadn't seen her in like 8 years!
Our last day we go to the biggest market in Bangkok for some shopping: Andy, Laura, Chris, and Vince and Brad (Laura and Chris' friends from home in Vancouver who are living in Japan as well). I only bought a few things because I'm not much of a shopper or even a souvenir shopper. There were some cool things, but honestly a lot of stuff I've seen before and similar to markets in other countries I've been to. After that we go to Khao San Road for more shopping, walking around, etc. I ate falafel. I love falafel and you can't get it in Japan. It wasn't the best (the best I've ever had remains to be in Granada, Spain) but it satisfied the craving. Then we went back to Shanti Lodge to relax before taking a taxi to the airport at 11pm.
flight at 1:30am, 2 to 3 hour layover in Shanghai.
flight from shanghai to fukushima had a lot of turbulence (haven't experienced that much turbulence in a while, a lot of wind and were flying over the mountain range, a lady vomited and a couple kids were crying, but i mean it was bad but i didn't think it was that bad, because i knew the reason for the turbulence was because of descending through the clouds, being over the mountains and prboably strong wind). We had a safe smooth landing.
The train back was slow and delayed because of bad weather/strong winds, so it took 3 hours instead of 2 hours.
finally back to my cold apartment.
+something that will probably never happen again:
seeing the last sunrise off the year at Angkor Wat, and seeing the first sunset of the new year at Angkor Wat.
+waking up so many times before sunrise.
+it was weird being on the boat ride that took us through the "floating village" because really we were just invading all these poor peoples lives and personal space. it didn't feel right. and speaking of siem reap and angkor in general, it's as if the area has come to cater to us, to the tourists. i found it hard to see their true life. but i guess that's what tourism does. toursim is having great affects on the Angkor Wat temple complex. things are rapidly changing, it's becoming like a disney land resort or something. at the moment we're allowed to actually walk on the premises of the temples and climb into the temples and roam around freely, but i have a feeling that soon will be changed and you'll only be able to see things from a distance.
+there were so many Japanese tour groups in Cambodia! it's like they were literally just teleported from Japan to Cambodia. what i mean by that is, ok so they go and see the sights, the temples, but everything else is catered to them as if they were still in Japan. no need to learn English or another language. their Cambodian tour guides knew Japanese! and the kids selling post cards and bracelets even learned a few Japanese words! they even have their proper typical bento (japanese lunch box) with typcial Japanese bento foods and of course the disposable chopsticks. and had their exact itinerary planned out. with japanese tours, it's so much detail, like at 2:07 we will take a picture in front of this temple, and then walk 10 meters and take another picture here, etc., etc. It's sad that they can't step outside their boundaries and try to experience the culture, even the food (ok this is again a generalization, we saw many japanese tours like this, but for the record we did see other japanese who didn't do the tour way at all).
+by the way, if you don't know about Angkor Wat, go here.
+if you're wondering why i ate foods like pizza and mexican, it's because you can't get good foreign foods in japan!
+we were in siem reap when the bangkok bombings happened. they happened the night of december 31st, but we heard about it the next day, january 1st. i still don't think they've identified the cause, whether it's related to Thaskin supporters, or related to the Mulsim tension in south Thailand - these are the speculations of the cause. Fortunately I wasn't in Bangkok when they happened, but it was pretty scary to hear, considering I had just been in Bangkok and was going back there to fly back to Japan. When we got back to Bangkok, I noticed the heightened security everywhere. I can't find a good link to explain more about what happened, and I don't know much more then that. sorry.
+the weather was really hot, but you know what, i didn't mind. yeah it was hot, but i kind of enjoyed it, probably because i knew i would soon be going back to the cold.
+forgot to mention i got a massage on our last day in bangkok. massages are ridiculously cheap in thailand! i got a massage for 1 hour for about $5. a traditional Thai massage. i've never had a proper massage before, meaning i've never paid to get a massage, so it was really cool i finally got to do that.
------if there's anything in particular you have questions about, please ask! and i'll try to provide more information.
------may post more photos later. but in the mean time, please look at rest of the photos on my flickr site.