Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (3 0f 40)

elephant crossing

elephant crossing

planes, trains and automobiles….
“seriously, 37 hours worth…. but we made it to phuket from bali in that short amount of time.

it all started sunday morning at 8 o’clock we went into to kuta from padang, returned our car and hitched a ride to the airport. from there we took asia air (a great cheap airline that flies everywhere direct, their slogan ” now everyone can fly,” which was free seating – kinda a funny airplane all together, but big. we made it safe into kula lumpar, malaysia. from here we didn’t really know what our plan was, but at that point we decided to head straight into thailand and we’ll come back and do malaysia. we took an hour bus ride from the airport into town to the sentral train station. wow. niether of us really knew what to expect in malaysia. driving through what looked like thousands of day palm farms, out of nowhere a mini brand new suburb would pop up; classy shiny lookin houses! and the roads are immaculate. the whole infrastructure was amazing. something i’d expect to see in japan or something. and all the cars on this 4 lane freeway were big and newer than our car cars. getting closer into the city we could see larger buildings holding some major technology firms or something. and in town, the bridges look like that of melbourne with the lines going everywhich way to create a modern art piece.

not knowing anything, what we learned is that malaysia is quite the melody between chinese and indian; between muslim, buddhist, and christian. in one area you see ladies adorned in beautiful scarves covering all of their body and then you turn around and see a group of young chinese girls in little heels with their mini skirts on. it was crazy. and in the bathroom, much to be said, but for one, all the ladies washed thier feet as well as their hands.

after waiting for three hours in the train station, we took an overnighter up to a town called butterworth outside of georgetown (can you guess that malaysia used to be under the british empire…?). this was the farthest north we could get by train on that day. the train was horrible. from all that we had seen so far we were really looking forward to it. but no such luck. the seats were okay, pretty spacious (no sleepers were available), but man, they had that a/c blasting all night with the flourescent lights on the whole time too…. we couldn’t believe it. we would have needed our thickest wool blanket to be comfortable on this sucker. after a miserable 8 hours we arrived at our destination at 6am and then started our bussin’ adventures at 9am.

mango salad

mango salad

these ‘gypsy vans’ (toyota vans converted to hold 12 people) were suprisingly pretty darn cool. with the funky curtains in the window, a/c above each person like on an airplane, and some decent local tunes, we cruised over the border accompanied by two local old men, looking to be the 70 year old version of bert and ernie but malaysian, a muslim girl, another girl dressed for a good time, a caucasian monk who kept to himself and a young boy looking like an abercrombie and fitch model. and us of course. a unique combination. four hours later and getting on and off this ‘bus’ three time to take care of stamping, paying, more stamping, etc…. we made it to hat yoi, thailand. then another bus to krabi, and then another bus to phuket. by 8pm monday night we arrived at our destination.

phuket. many people told us to not really hang here too long cause it’s just another expat area now, not too much culture. well this is somewhat true but we’ve lucked out meeting some great people and fell into an awesome situation. first night we stayed in old phuket town in the little china town part. we found a great little restaurant with the nicest owners who talked us through our first language lesson and told us about our whereabouts. we liked it so much we returned for breakfast the next day and tried their lemon grass juice.

sundown

sundown

all along this we communicated with my moms best friend who has a vacation house in phuket near the beach – it turns out she’s letting us crash there while they’re in south africa! this place is amazing. talk about the indoor/outdoor living with beautiful hand carved furniture, lovely bathrooms, and a pool to match it all. we are way spoiled! we rented our first scooter and we’ve been cruising up and down the coast. lots of little coves with the perfect turquoise water and white sand. lots of expats for sure. but hey, it’s beautiful here.

so today we venture on our scooter with snorkling gear in hand (hold the speedo) to go find the perfect beach. tomorrow we get down to business and find me a dentist. the healthcare is supposed to be great here, something people travel here specifically for, so we’re in luck!

p.s. pictures are takin way too long to upload so only a few for now….

peace and love….”

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (2 of 40)

view from our front porch

view from our front porch

surfs up in padang padang
“not really, well sorta.

after an amazing time in ubud we’re back down in padang. the beach is still beautiful. ubud was a great little place, definitely the hub for displaying their culture, foods, music, and mysticism. we had a great little place looking over some rice paddies, beautiful pool, delicious green banana pancakes with a buddalicous host, all for a mere $10. couldn’t ask for more.

ubud has the charm of a little community, everyone excited to see you there. great markets with awesome crafts. the foods are everything you want, be it turkish flat bread and hummus, hamburger that actually tasted really good, polish sausages – yes, polish sausages – and the fab local cuisine. we listened to some great jazz, all mostly covers, but still great.

after leaving slightly frantically yesterday morning due to a painful tooth ache (stacy) we made it down to the clinic in legian/kuta area. great little experience, a little more expensive than expected but whatever. they gave me some antibiotics and pain killers and said ‘if tooth no better in five days, we take out’…. good thing we’ll be gone by then, so now i’m on painkillers and antibiotics and off to find a thai dentist…that’s another story.

first major rain storm this morning while we lay in our bamboo huts raised on stilts in our mosquito net. thunder like we’ve never heard before, not too much lightning, but buckets of rain. after the clapping stopped we sailed down to ulu and checked the surf. small but people out having fun.

suns startin to poke out so we’re back to the beach on padang. more pics to come, slow connection out here in the jungle though…

tomorrow to kula lumpar, malaysia…. from there who knows!”

Guest Blog – Stacy & Jeff do Southeast Asia (1 of 40)

ubud school children

ubud school children

ubud, indonesia
“we made it to ubud! we took the car around the area to see the botanical gardens and a few temples. the most impressive temple was the gorung kawi which was down in this river and the temple was carved into the stone cliffs. i will let the pictures tell the rest. we’ve done lots of exploring, ate some really great meals and of course drank a lot of bintang (local beer). today i think we will hang by the pool, eat some fruit and walk around in my banana sling. ok, if anyone would like to come visit we leave for malaysia on sunday then train it up to thailand. some nice beach time.”

Travel Deals – Thailand Etiquitte

Your experience traveling through Thailand depends greatly on the amount of research you do before you venture overseas.  It is a very nuanced country whose culture is full of etiquette do’s and dont’s and tricks of the trade as far as avoiding getting caught up in local tourist traps and scams (both of these I’ll talk about in this entry).  There are also definite places to see vs. places to skip, but I’ll save that topic for a different day’s work.  Once you understand the basics, Thailand is a beautiful and picturesque backdrop to, quite possibly, the best vacation of your life!

Perhaps the easiest and most fundamental key to traveling in Thailand is to avoid being around, possessing, talking about, asking about, or even alluding to anything drug-related.  While this rule may be a good one to abide by in any foreign land, it rings especially true in Thailand.  Over the years, the country has been getting increasingly overzealous in its anti-drug campaign – and because much of Thailand’s borders are burdened with drug smuggling this issue is exasperated.  Even though Thailand is generally a laid back place, the local police have begun to randomly drug test travelers in bars and arrest travelers for possession or positive tests.  This tid-bit of information is not meant to scare anyone away, nor should it be reason to avoid Thailand.  Just be smart…and maybe watch Brokedown Palace.

The people of Thailand are some of the friendliest people you will encounter on your travels, which I guess is why the country is sometimes referred to as, “the land of smiles.”  Nevertheless, here are some social norms that, if followed, should keep em smiling:  keep the PDA’s to a minimum – you may see Westernized Thai teens holding hands, but generally, that is the extent; keep your shirt on – no topless sunbathing ladies;  Thailand is a deeply religious culture, so respect it – while it is OK to wear shoes around the grounds of Buddhist temples, once you enter a building men and women should remove their shoes and make sure their legs and shoulders are covered – also, don’t go strutting around sans shirt in the town’s streets, bars or restaurants; keeping with religious values, Thai’s consider the head as the highest part of the body, literally and figuratively and they don’t approve of touching anyone on the head, even as a friendly gesture; along the same line of thought, Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch (or be touched) by a woman, or to accept anything from the hand of one; don’t point the sole of your foot at anyone – it’s considered rude – so try to avoid doing this when sitting opposite someone and don’t use your foot to point at things.  Lastly, the Thailand culture has no tolerance for confrontation…if any misunderstanding does arrise, demur and settle it with a smile.

In the Thai culture, they don’t shake hands, instead using the traditional greeting, the “Wai,” which is used instead of a handshake, but also as a means of saying sorry, thank you, or to pay respect.  A Thai person will often Wai as he approaches a temple, Buddha image, or other item of religious significance.  When you are introduced to someone who Wais you, it is polite to return the Wai.  As you are walking through towns and villiages, small children will often Wai as you pass by – they love it if you return the gesture with a big smile. (Note:  If you receive a “thank you” Wai from a hotel employee or after tipping a waitress it is inappropriate to return the Wai, but a smile is always welcome!)

Most of Thailand is gracious and welcoming, but, as in any culture, there are some people out to make a buck any way that they can.  Taking a few precautions will save you money in the long fun.  If you get into a taxi and the driver refuses to turn on the meter, even if they use the language barrier as an excuse, simply thank them with a smile and get out to find another one.

Local Thais, mostly teenagers and twenty-somethings, will offer to act as your local guide to show you the “local” sights that many tourists miss out on.  While many of these offers are genuine and allow you to see a side of Thailand that would otherwise be skipped over, some want to make off with your money and leave you high and dry.  Often times, the legitimate ones will photocopy your passport and leave it with someone.  It’s best to listen to your gut instinct or visit travel forums to get specific names of guides – although locating them once in Thailand can be tricky.

Overall, Thailand has much to do, is accommodating to travelers, and is full of cultural, religious, and artistic sights.  Be prepared for hot and humid weather and venture out to see what Thailand has to offer you!

Swim with the fishes – or sharks, or manatees…

I’m not talking about the creepy kind of swimming with the fishes that you hear about in old mob movies where some poor guy’s feet have just been coated in cement and he’s about to be offed and tossed overboard.  Eeew. 

No - I’m talking about the whole “one-with-nature” kind.  You know…where you get to swim along side whale sharks, or interact with dolphins, or even where you can watch a group of sharks feed.  Maybe this sounds weird to some people, but I’ve always loved animals, especially sea animals.  My favorite show used to be Flipper, I have an adopted manatee named after me, and I only eat dolphin-safe tuna.

Known as the “cow of the sea,” manatees are large, gray mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two flippers and their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. Manatees are gentle herbivores and live in the warm shallow waters off of the coast of Florida during the winter, but are known to travel to Alabama, Georgia and South Carolinain the summer.  Manatees are slow-moving by nature and surface throughout the day making them vulnerable to boat propellers.  Many operations that offer manatee tours donate a portion of their proceeds to wildlife preservation organizations that help to protect these peaceful creatures – these are the only ones you should support as there are other business who add to the problem, rather than trying to educate about manatee preservation and protect against further harm to the species.  You can also adopt a manatee or donate money to help research, education, and conservation programs that promote protective legislation.

I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures of divers swimming next to sharks that look about as big as a school bus, and thought to yourself, “um, hasn’t this guy seen Jaws?!”  Well lucky for him, though these enormous creatures (they can grow upto 40 feet in length!) are sharks, they are only whale sharksand prefer plankton over people anyday.  They can be found off of the coast of the Philippines, Honduras, Indonesia, Madagascar and off of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninnsula.  Isla Holbox, in Mexico’s Riviera Maya region, sees these gentle giants migrate through their waters each year from May to September.

A different type of shark encounter entirely, many outfits in the Bahamas offer opportunities for vacationers to defy their basic human instincts and swim with some of the world’s fiercest predators in their natural environment.  Shark dives and feeds can be found in almost every area of the Bahamas (West End, Grand Bahama is rumored to be the best location) and each offers a different experience seeing different species of shark.  Caribbean Reef Sharks are most commonly seen, however, lucky divers may also spot Hammerheads, Tiger sharks, Bull sharks, Silky sharks and Lemon sharks.  Most underwater shark experiences have divers done chain mail (protective shark suit) and orient themselves with their backs against a reef while they, or a guide, feed the sharks.

Vacationers who want to swim with dolphins should look for opportunities where the dolphins are wild and free in their natural habitat, rather than with dolphins that are in captivity for the sole purpose of pulling tourists around all day.  Hawaiihosts many of these dives, with their first priority being to respect and protect the wildlife.  Dolphins are some of the most inquisitive, intelligent and playful animals in the world and will often approach swimmers and divers on their own – Sunlight on Waterin Kona, Hawaii boasts a 98% success rate of finding dolphins on their excursions!  It is not uncommon for divers to get a bonus and also see Humpback whales, Manta Rays and sea turtles.  Dolphins have been said to have a spiritual connection to humans, making this an experience that any vacationer will not soon forget.