Category Archives: Thailand

Bangkok and Yangon

With a new job offer in hand, I racked my brain for my next impromtu trip, as I think that job transitions should always incorporate some personal time off (if possible).  I had been weighing my options and was leaning towards a trip to Colombia when my high school friend, Trish, told me she was going to Myanmar for exactly the same two weeks I was heading out of the country.  After a few minutes of G-chatting, I was on and bought my ticket to Bangkok and onto Yangon!

First, Trish and I flew into Bangkok and spent 2 days together there while we got our Burmese visas.  It was a great opportunity for me to get two custom made suits.  I paid $171 per suit and had custom made suits 24 hours after walking into the tailor’s shop.

My father had warned against the political protests in Bangkok, sending me email after email about the “situation in Bangkok”.  Upon arrival, we learned that there were 8 sanctioned protest sites.  Unbeknownst to us, we chanced on a protest site on Sukhumvit Street and found the street lined with tents, vendors selling t-shirts that said “Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand”.  There was a stage with performers, but there was no violence.

Tents line Sukhumvit, part of the political protest

After our brief stint in Bangkok, we boarded an AirAsia flight to Yangon, went to bed immediately as we knew we had a full day the next day.

On our first full day in Yangon, we visited the Shewdagon Pagoda in Yangon, which is the most important religious site for Burmese.

Entrance to Shewdagon Pagoda
Shewdagon Pagoda

In the afternoon, we took the Circle Train, which goes through the Yangon “suburbs”.  It was interesting to watch life come and go, to pass by markets set up at the train station, to see the houses change from sturdy structures to huts, to see the hawkers selling fruit and corn, and to see the women farmers enter and exit the train with 6 cumbersome bundles of cauliflower, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

Locals on the Circle Line train around Yangon’s “suburbs”

Watching boys as young as 12 with rotten, red-stained teeth from months or years of chewing on the addicting betel nut and spitting the juice out the door of the train was sad.  Yet, seeing the locals sit on the train for an hour or more, content to watch life go by, with nary a book, or a smartphone to entertain them, was an important reminder that life – without distractions of the modern world – is enough to content us.

A prisoner laughs while handcuffed and accompanied on the train.

Final Thoughts

So now I’m on my way home, flying over the Pacific as I type. I honestly can’t believe how quickly these past few months have passed, but on the other hand, I feel so fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short period of time. I just finished watching a movie on the plane – a nice, no-brainer chick-flick and there was one line it that really resonated with me. It basically said that life is half what you do with yourself and half about who you spend your time with. I can’t iterate enough how much my personal experiences were shaped (mostly for the good) by the people I was with. Had I done this trip completely alone, it’d have been awful. But as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – that’s the best part of traveling – meeting people.

In the past 109 days, I’ve taken 2 overnight plane flights, camped on a beach for 2 nights, spent 5 nights on bus, took 2 overnight train rides and slept in 59 different beds (yes, I counted). I’ve taken 18 separate flights (well, by the time I get back to Chicago). I can’t even count the number of buses, tuk-tuk rides, rickshaws, motorbike rides, etc that I’ve taken. I walked 150 miles in 14 days, trekked to 5416 meters, rock climbed in Thailand, surfed in Bali, climbed south east Asia’s tallest mountain, white-water rafted in Bali, saw orangutans in the jungle, climbed a sulfur-spewing volcano in Sumatra, experienced new cultures, met amazing new friends, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, relaxed on the beach in “paradise,” did yoga in India, discovered new food, and through it all, had such an amazing time.

My time over the past 3.5 months was divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Nepal, India and Thailand. I think it’s interesting to note that the 3 wealthiest countries (that I visited on this trip) are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. I noticed a few differences between the wealthier countries and the poorer ones. For one, the wealthier countries tend to have more cars, whilst the poorer ones either rely more on motorbikes or foot for transportation. The other difference, which I find quite notable, is that in the wealthier countries, women play a very visible role. They have jobs and interact with the public. They are seen out at night – sometimes even alone. In Indonesia, Nepal and India, local women are seen from a bus window, or seen in groups, or seen with families, but they don’t run shops, they rarely interact with tourists and they’re hardly ever seen after the sun goes down. In most places, it’s ok being a western woman (sometimes alone) at night, but India, it just doesn’t feel safe. That’s probably due in part to the “staring” culture that’s more noticeable than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s just interesting, because I believe that women play a vital role to a country’s development and to me, I’d say that the developing countries should work on making a women’s role in everyday life a more visible and vital one.

As I’ve mentioned, the people that I met made my trip what it was. From meeting an aspiring dominatrix from Montreal to a chain-smoking Jordanian man in Singapore who had his passport confiscated and was contemplating escaping from the country to a British man nearly in tears because his Muslim Indonesian wife ran off with their two children to a tattooed British man who constantly reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, but knew great magic tricks and was a former member of the Iranian mafia who spent time in a Malaysian prison for human trafficking, I’ve met a few characters to say the least. Best of all are the friendships formed and the memories that I share with those people.

My top moments of my trip were:

Tubing down the river in Bukit Lwang with (Indonesia)

Reaching the Throng-La pass at 17,769 ft (Nepal)

Catching waves in Bali (Indonesia)

Motorbiking to deserted beach after deserted beach in Lombok (Indonesia)

Watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Kinabulu (Malaysian Borneo)

Rock climbing in Railay (Thailand)

Relaxing on the paradise island, Gili Trawangan (Indonesia)

Other cool moments include:

White water rafting for my first time in Bali (Indonesia)

Doing yoga (India)

Seeing orangutans in the jungle (Indonesia)

Climbing an active volcano (Indonesia)

And the only two low-lights that come to mind were:

Sleeping on the filthy floor of an over-crowded Indian train

Getting sick with stomach issues

But, I wouldn’t trade those “bad” experiences for the world, because it’s all part of the experience. Plus, I love that so much of what I experienced can’t just be seen on the Discovery Channel or from the view of a car window. I had to work to get to these places (especially on the Annapurna Circuit!), but that made the satisfaction all the more worthwhile.

And now that I’m nearly home, there are definitely some things that I’m looking forward to, and others that I’ll miss dearly. I can’t wait for consistently hot showers. I’m glad that I won’t have to carry my own toilet paper everywhere I go, but crazily enough will miss public squatters (though not the spraying on toes part of it – yeah, I think it happened every time). I’m looking forward to drinking tap water once again and not buying another bottle of water for a really long time. I’m happy that I’ll get a fair price when I walk into any store (and not the “white price”), but will miss the overall cheaper prices. I’ll be glad that when someone yells “hello” at me, it’s because they want to actually say hi to me and not because they want to lure me into their store… or in their taxi… or to their bedroom. I’m happy to have a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines available to me again, but will miss the amazing street food (especially Indian food). I’ll be sad that rent for my future apartment will cost more than an entire day’s activities. And I’ll most certainly miss the under $10 massages.

In sum, I can’t reiterate just how fantastic of a time I had on my trip. But, I think I’m also leaving at just the right time. I’m not jaded by traveling yet and really, really excited to see my friends and family that I haven’t seen in months! I’m looking forward to being in a home again, and not changing a bed every few days. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m looking forward to the food… and to cooking and baking – good thing it’s Christmas! I’m also excited about the winter ski season – I’m moving to Colorado this winter at the very least to ski for the season while I focus on my job search, but will also be looking for work permanently there, so I’m looking forward to exploring a new region of the country and establishing a new life for myself there.

Thanks for reading y’all! Your comments and happiness for me definitely meant a significant amount and kept me going during those harder moments that I might have glossed over. Have a great holiday season! J

Rock Climbing and the Beach, Thailand

Pictures are of my last sunset at the beach in Railay Beach, Thailand, me rock climbing in Railay, and me with Zac and Jeff on my second to last night in Bangkok.

I was ecstatic to be back in Thailand, the so-called “Land of Smiles” and immediately noticed the difference between India and Thailand. First, Thailand has got to be one of the most touristy countries in the world. I think foreigners might out-number Thais – alright so that’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely very touristy. After spending some time alone in India – often feeling as if I was the only foreigner, this was a welcomed change. I’m reminded why I like traveling alone – I barely have a minute to myself before someone strikes up a conversation, which I absolutely love. This is the best part of traveling in general (for me) – meeting people – and it’s even easier to do when you’re flying solo.

I spent a day in Bangkok. I decided to get a suit made. I had one made when I was here a few years ago and was quite pleased, so I decided to have another one made. A custom-tailored suit for $130. It’s a steal. Let’s just hope this one turns out well! I took the night bus to Krabi, which is actually pretty pleasant. The seats recline almost fully; they give you blankets and show a few movies – there are definitely worse ways to travel, but Thailand is definitely the country most set up for catering to tourists and they’ve got it down pat. I sat next to an interesting girl from Montreal. She was a waitress in a strip club in Montreal and told me of the bundles of money she made, that her customers literally just throw at her. Apparently, one customer pays her credit card bill every month AND gives her a $200 month stipend. The craziest part is that she’s a lesbian and absolutely doesn’t engage in the sexual services side of the business. Since she makes more money than everyone else in her life, she can’t contemplate leaving the sex industry, so she’s hoping to be a dominatrix when she returns. My naivety about such things prompted me to ask her a slew of questions. But, she wanted to get away from the business for awhile, so she is traveling in Southeast Asia for 3 months and then will get work in Australia for a couple of months before returning home.

When I arrived in Krabi, I hopped on a longtail boat and headed to Railay Beach (thanks Niki and Chanti for the recommendation!). I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the most beautiful setting in southern Thailand and they may be right. Rock climbing is all the rage here, as there are massive limestone karsts shooting straight up out of the water. It’s not a bad place to pass a few days. The main downside is that this place is expensive. I’m paying the most for accommodation that I’ve paid on my entire trip and it’s certainly not the best place I’ve stayed. For $12, I’ve got a mattress on a floor and a fan. It is barebones basic, which is fantastic, but just expensive compared to the $2-4 range that I’ve come to expect in my travels.

I spent my first two days relaxing on the beach. The first night, I went out and hung out with a group of Canadian guys. On my second day, I met up with Elad, an Israeli guy who I met on the Annapurna Circuit. It was great to see a familiar face again! As soon as Elad and I parted ways for the night, I saw a couple swimming in the pool of a fancy resort and images of Lombok when Niki and I swam in a couple of resort pools was conjured up in my head. I hopped the fence and jumped in the pool and spent some time chatting with a Russian couple who were incredibly friendly and interesting. That evening, I hung out with some guys from Argentina. Today was one of those days that makes me really love traveling alone. I literally went from hanging out with one person to the next group with only a matter of seconds alone – it’s fantastic just how easy it is to befriend people in situations like this. I definitely love it!

Then, I finally tried what Railay Beach is famous for – rock climbing! I’ve done a bit of indoor rock climbing, but have never had the opportunity to go outdoors. Well, I LOVED it. It was so much fun! I think it’s definitely a sport I would like to continue to pursue once I’m back home. On my last day in Railay, I spent the day with two guys from Australia, Jeff and Zac, and a Canadian girl, Meghan. The four of us just sat near each other for breakfast and ended up having a conversation that lasted for at least 2 hours. In my life, I’ve found that groups of four that have good chemistry are often the most fun. I’ve had a solid group of four friends in both high school and college and had the most fun on my trip in Sumatra, when with another group of four. We continued our day at the beach and then spent the evening playing cards.

The next day, Jeff, Zac and I headed to Bangkok on the night bus. I spent my last two days in Bangkok getting fitted for a suit, shopping and getting a massage. I’ll certainly miss the $8 massages, that’s for sure! I said my good-byes to Jeff and Zac and headed to the airport for my 30+ hour commute home. I will write one final blog entry (for this trip) to sum things up. Expect it soon!

Arrived at Long Last!

After nearly 40 hours of travel (Chicago -> Kansas City -> Los Angeles -> Taipei -> Hong Kong -> Bangkok), I arrived in the heat and humidity of Bangkok. After finding a room for the night ($6), I immediately set off to Khao San Road in search of some banana roti, which is pictured here. This is my favorite Thai snack by far (and totally for the tourists, so its authenticity can be argued, but I don’t care because it’s downright delicious). I ran some errands (bought a guidebook and a jump drive) and had dinner with a guy I met on the bus in from the airport. For all you LOST fans out there, this guy was literally a doppelganger for Charlie from the show. I went to sleep early and woke at an ungodly hour (thank you jet lag). The next day I just chilled in Bangkok with a couple of guys that I met. We spent the day eating, drinking and talking. It was very relaxing and much needed before my 24 hour bus ride to Penang, Malaysia.

Then, I hopped on a night bus to a town in southern Thailand so I could make my way overland to Malaysia. The bus for backpackers is a VIP bus, which means the seats recline, there’s a couple of movies that they show, it’s air-conditioned and it’s filled with other backpackers. Well, the one empty seat on the bus was next to me and a little while into the bus ride, I get woken up with a reserved sign that I’m to place on the seat next me. Fine. Shortly thereafter, the one Thai person gets on the bus and sits next to me. I had my blanket on me, his was behind his head. He grabs my blanket and starts wrapping it around his legs. I tap him on the shoulder and hand him his blanket. He just nods and then puts his blanket over both of us. Fine…. UNTIL I feel his hand pressing against my leg. So I kind of shake it off. Two minutes later, the same thing. And so we repeat the process for quite some time. Finally, he gets a little more aggressive, so I do too in my shaking him off. Finally, I sit up and indicated with my whole arm that he needs to keep to himself in his seat. After a bathroom stop at a non-descript locale, I make sure to take my own blanket. Long story short, he proceeds to keep putting his hand on me and at one point tries to spoon as he puts his hand on my waist. I don’t know if he’s just trying to cop a feel or steal my money belt, but basically I just told him “No” louder and louder and would pick up his hand and drop it back on his lap while saying “No touch.” He finally dozed off. It’s not that big of a deal, but just kind of a hassle to deal with.

And now I’m in Penang, Malaysia which is reknowned for it’s food – a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian. I had a delicious Indian dinner – served on a large banana leaf no less! And now I’m just waiting for my friend Becca and her boyfriend Theis to show up!