A Travellerspoint blog

Sandy Bottoms and Hammer Pants

This is our 30th Blog Entry!!!

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Greetings all in this our 30th blog entry. In our last entry, we asked y'all what the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City was before 1975, it was Saigon, and the very first person to answer was Hien from Kuala Lumpur. He will be receiving a nice postcard from Vietnam in the following weeks. We also had our 100th comment posted by Morgan. She will be the proud owner of a new Vietnamese postcard as well. Now you can hope to get your very own Vietnamese postcard signed by Nadine and I only if you are the next person to correctly answer this week's question OR post the 150th comment. It's always good to set goals.

We are still in Thu Duc, Vietnam, the city outside of Ho Chi Mihn City, or Saigon, if you knew the answer to last week's question you would have known that. We just finished teaching English to a group of nuns and are about to resume traveling north through Vietnam. Before our trip started, Saigon would have never been a city either one of us would have thought we would end up staying in for a month.

After our first week of classes, we were eager to hit the road again, even if it was for a weekend. We jumped on a late night bus and headed to the beach town of Mui Ne where we arrived early in the morning. Our only plans for Mui Ne were to soak up some sun on the beach and a little more on top of some sand dunes.

As we walked the beach under a cloudy sky, we were amazed by 2 things, 1) the number of white people/tourists, as we had seen none in Thu Duc, unless you count looking at each other, and 2) the number of wind and kite surfers gliding across the water. Everywhere there was someone in the water flying in the air or roughly being dragged by the wind. Mui Ne was the perfect place to take in some wind or kite surfing. Because as you walked on the beach, you were either face first into a slapping wind, or pushed down the beach by the wind. Kind of like that nagging relative trying to get you to eat that old fruitcake from last Christmas. Alright, I'm going grandma.

From these aerial escapades, we walked back along the safety of the wind blocking, tree-lined road. Within the hour, we ran into two people that we had met earlier in our travels, a girl from Quebec, and a couple from England. We had met the girl from Quebec at the Vietnamese embassy in Laos a month earlier and the English couple in New Zealand back in July. I have a strong suspicion that the English couple may be following us. We caught up with all three of them, made plans for dinner, and headed right back to the cloudy beach where we spent the afternoon watching people get battered by massive waves and an old scraggy looking dog playing with an old fishing net. Oh, the pressures of travel.


White Sandhills

The followingt day, our jeep greeted us in front of our hotel to take us on a tour of the area and sand dunes of Mui Ne. We passed our first sight, the fishing port, being that we wanted to see the sandy sights while having enough time to catch our bus back to Saigon that afternoon. We were on a tight schedule here.

At the white sand dunes, we jumped out of the jeep, and walked to the top of a couple of steep sand dunes. The only drawback was that fact that the wind was blowing like an angry stepmother and it felt like small needles piercing our skin, so we ran away, and went to a smaller, less windy hill.

Tilt your head to the left, now you can enjoy this video. Talk about an adventurous hill to take on!

After sand had entered many of our orifices, we jumped back in our jeep, even though I'm not sure why we needed a jeep anyways since we were on a paved road the entire time, except for a small portion of sand at the White Sand dunes, and made our way to the Red Canyon. This small clay canyon was a great spot to climb and take some panoramic photos of the South China Sea, Nadine, and some red clay. While we were searching for a way to reach the top, we crossed a group of monks bypassing all paths and climbing straight over the rocks to the top.


Deep in the Red Canyon

After a few photos, we started making our way down. Instead of returning from the point where we just came from, we decided, what the heck, why not go the other direction. Other than having to lower ourselves down some rocks and climb over a few fences, the way down wasn't that difficult, even though we happened to be the only ones going down this way, but we made it back to the original path safely. Later on, when Nadine asked a local why that area had been fenced off, they promptly responded that "some of the rocks had been crumbling and falling down, so officials didn't want anyone to get hurt." Oh! Maybe we shouldn't have come down that way. And that is where we just came from. I can't believe a pregnant woman like Nadine was making those type of dangerous decisions. Shame on her. Clare, I promise you, it was your precious daughter's decision to go down that way, not mine.

We finished the jeep tour by visiting the red sand dunes, but after the red canyon, it didn't seem quite so red, more of a light pink. We then ran back to the hotel like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber while the driver drove, packed our stuff up, and waited for the bus out on the street. Unfortunately, our bus was about as on time as a 9 fingered Alberquerque kid with a date with a hand model, not very. More accurately, our bus was two and a half hours late. That left us enough time to do several sets of jumping jacks on the sidewalk and have a strawberry shake.


Nadine teaching in a traditional Vietnamese hat

For the past two weeks, Nadine and I have been teaching English, and staying in one place longer than 4 days. It has been great, and we have found a solid daily routine. We wake up at 6:30, get dressed, catch the bus to the nunnery, eat breakfast with fresh orange juice, teach English for an hour and a half, take a 20 minute break where we try to avoid eating all the food being offered to us by the nuns, finish our morning session at 11, eat a healthy lunch of fish and fruit, either take a siesta, check email, or both, teach from 2 until 4, eat dinner with the nuns or on our own, return to the hotel, go to the gym to lift and run 2 miles, and finally back to the hotel and off to sleep. That has been our consistent routine for the last two weeks. And you know, it's nice to have a routine every once in awhile. But then again, after these two weeks of work, we are ready to start travelling again. It's amazing what two weeks of hard work will do for you.


Using a scooter to get to the next clue

We have tried to make the past two weeks educational AND fun for Sisters Vianney (Sr. Fix-It), Thuy Linh, Thu Trang, Tuyet Tring, Rosa Bong, Marie Marthe, and Mi Hanh. We played Go Fish one day, bingo another, and had a couple entertaining Scavenger Hunts. Once again, we went in wanting to give of ourselves in a concrete way, but we came away feeling that we had received so much more than we were able to give to these Sisters.


I know where the clue is hidden

One of the gifts that we are coming away with is a pair of fat pants for Nadine. Now that her belly is expanding, and we are positive it's not a result of some occasional gas, we have had to get an extra pair of pants made for her, some Hammer pants. You know the pants I'm talking about, the same pants M.C. Hammer wore back in the 90's. Big, baggy, colorful, you can pull them over your shoulders they are so big, or even hide a small animal inside them. You probably have a pair yourself. If you would like to be in solidarity with Nadine, pull them out this weekend, and sport your very own pair of fat pants. Even if people laugh at you, just think of the fact that Nadine is wearing hers around the world and not letting it bother her at all. I know that at least her friends from JVC Washington are wearing theirs. Anyone that wears their fat pants and emails me at jwhit003@gmail.com with a pic of them, I will post it on our next blog entry.

State of the Belly, Part 1

Here is our inaugural State of the Belly video report. We will post a video report of Nadine's belly every couple of weeks so you can follow her expansion. It might also help you to better guess the sex of our baby in the near future.

Once again, we are both feeling good and energized to complete the last two and a half months of our epic around the world trip. We will barely have enough time to break the ice in that tiny country we call China, which we will follow with Hong Kong, Macau, South Africa, and Italy. Then we make our return to the U.S. to embark on a miniature tour of the Midwest.

This week's question is the following. First correct answer will receive a personalized Vietnamese postcard signed by both Nadine and I.

In alphabetical order, what coutries border Vietnam? Spelling does count!

Peace and love from Vietnam

Posted by TulsaTrot 13:42 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

The Vietnam Dong Song

With Cu Chi Tunnels on Backup

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I know where to get you a balloon?

Thanks to Travellerspoint and our nifty little digital camera, we are now able to upload videos to our blog. We've received a few requests and overwhelming people want to see videos of Nadine. Thus, at the end of this witty blog entry, you have your wish, Nadine in the video form. We've also added a few photos from Angkor Wat and other spots, in addition to two new videos of Nadine, one on this blog entry, and one entry from Thailand. Links are on the bottom, enjoy.

Also, the currency of Vietnam is the dong, and everytime we have to pay for anything with dong, we sing it just like Nelly's Thong Song. Thus, the reason for the title.

So after our crazy Christmas Eve Mass at Notre Dame, we spent Christmas Day just like anyother Christmas. We woke up to cake for breakfast. We found out we couldn't go on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels, so with no other choice, we went back to sleep for another couple of hours. In the afternoon, with a few errands completed, we called our parents to wish them a Merry Christmas from the other side of the globe, and then went to the gym. I sure that is what you did for Christmas too? Needless to say, Christmas was a little different than usual for us. We did miss our families quite a bit. It would have been great to be with them and friends, but we did enjoy our last quiet Christmas for the next 20 years. Next Christmas, we will have another another member of the family joining us. Make your bets now whether it will be a boy or girl.

The day after Christmas, better known as Boxing Day to some, or St. Stephen's Day if you are Scuba Steve, we were on a bus to the Cu Chi Tunnels with Mr. Bean, our guide. Mr. Bean promptly informed us that he had indeed worked with the American forces during the Vietnam War and that all American women have big asses. I didn't see the coorelation there, but I would agree with him that quite a few do, but not all American women. That was pretty unfair generalization, and maybe a little unprofessional. Probably acceptable in New Mexico though.


Former U.S. Military Tank

Back to the Cu Chi tunnels. They were tunnels built by the Viet Cong to move around without the American soldiers being able to spot them. They were small underground tunnels that had three levels. These tiny tunnels functioned, and they left the small Vietnamese undetectable while they still fought, ate, slept, cooked, all underground. They were miracously able to travel every night 3 miles to nearby American bases and steal their weapons. It wasn't until after the war was over that the Americans learned of these tunnels. As Nadine and I submerged our large, oversized American bodies into these tiny tunnels, I couldn't believe they were able to do this for years. When the first exit presented itself, we had a choice of continuing down to the second level or up to fresh air and room to move my arms, I was out of there.

Not only did the mountain of negative comments from Mr. Bean about Americans continue non-stop, he was even alienating several of the non-Americans on the tour. Two of those folks were Irish, Jacqui and Josephine. We began to chat with them, and broke the ice by saying that because of Mr. Beans' words of enlightenment, I now hated Americans as well. Recognizing the dry humor, they laughed along and mentioned that Nadine and I were indivudually responsible for everything wrong in the world. As we walked together recounting all the horrible things we've done together, I was able to cynically convince another young American girl from Philadelphia, that everything Mr. Bean was saying about the U.S. was absolutely true.

Me - "Everything that Mr. Bean says about the U.S. is absolutely true! I know it is."
Naive Philly girl - "No, it's not all true. He's wrong with a few things."
M - "I know it's true. I've been to the U.S. once before. And it's all definitely true."
N.P.G. - "No!!! It's not true!"
M - "But it is! I have been there once!"
N.P.G. - "No it's not! I'm American! I should know."

It was at this point that Nadine gave me "the look" as the Irish girls looked on curiously at this little interaction between two Americans. What made this interaction funny was that I didn't change my voice at all to sound French, English, or from anywhere else in the world accent. I was speaking English with a slight Texas drawl. To avoid making her look even more foolish, I admitted that I too was Texan and American. I then had to end my cruel little game, but I couldn't get over the fact that she didn't even suspect that I might be American. Segway to Dumb & Dumber, "let's put another shrimp on the barbie!"

That afternoon we spent lunch with the Irish girls, and laughed about the day's tour and our Philly girl. Hope she isn't reading this blog. We said goodbye and walked to our respective hostels. As we were walking, we came to find out that we were going to the same hostel. As we had sat in the hostel that morning waiting for our bus to arrive, we groggily didn't notice each other in the very small lobby of our place.

Next day we were eager to do another tour, and this morning we did notice J.J. in the lobby, and we both hoped that Mr. Bean wouldn't be on board with his bag of slander. As we waited in our hostel chatting, guess who came to pick us up. None other than Mr. Bean himself. With looks of worry and grief on our faces, he drove us around the block a few times, until we were moved to another bus, and out of permanent earshot of Mr. Bean.


The Mekong tour carried us to the massive Mekong River that runs from China and through the vast majority of Southeast Asia. A selling point of this tour was the chance to see floating markets. Floating markets turned out to be a couple of boats just sitting in the middle of a tributary of the Mekong. But an interesting factoid was that the handful of boats selling would hoist up their vegetable of choice on a stick to identify what they were selling to buyers, but other than that, the "floating market" was a sinking letdown. As we passed the few boats in the water, we all looked at each other perplexed wondering if this was it. It was. So we dutifily took photos like a good tourist.


I hope this python has had his lunch already

The rest of the afternoon, we stopped at a coconut candy making factor, excellent candy without processed sugar, a rice popping exhibition, and an authentic Vietnamese lunch on a large island in the Mekong River. Before eating lunch, I stopped to throw a python around my neck to squeeze a little extra space for the meal. The perfect way to quelch an appetite for others. For the rest of the time on the island, we sat in a hammock rocking the afternoon away.

The tour up to that point, felt like a big shopping tour around the Mekong, and as we neared our last stop, a brick factory, we began to wonder if they were going to sell us some bricks. "The prefect gift for your loved ones, an authentic Vietnamese brick to put in their Christmas stocking." I couldn't get over the fact that they took us to a brick factory. What?!?! What did the people who designed this trip think when they included, "to complete the tour, why don't we visit a brick factory. People will love that." Nadine made the most of it to learn, but I just keep shaking my head and wondering why we were there, as I took obligatory pictures of a pile of bricks. I can't wait to show my pictures of bricks when we return home.


This crowd in just 15 minutes!

During our time in Ho Chi Mihn City, Nadine successfully set up a teaching job for us. We would teach English for two weeks to a group of nuns in the town of Thu Duc outside of HCMC. On the day before we began teaching, the nuns took us up to the mountain village of Long Dien. Here we met what seemed like half the village who worked with the Congregation de Notre Dame des Missions. Not knowing that there was going to be some foreigners visiting, they set up an impromptu concert and presentation in the spam of 15 minutes. One of the most amazing organizational jobs I've ever seen. Along with Sister Marie Therese (Australia), we were treated like royalty and to a concert. They also asked us to come back and bring our friends, because they would love to learn English. So, if you want to teach English in Vietnam, we know just the place.


Can you find Nadine in this photo?

As far as our responsibilities of teaching, we've been running the nuns through a gauntlet of speaking and writing exercises in the morning, followed with a quality nap at noon, and then finishing up in the afternoon with readings and pronunciation. When you do come to teach English, they will properly respond to all your questions with an interjected "y'all," "yes maam," and "I didn't know there was a New Mexico either" in their best Texas drawl. During our first day of pronunciation of the letter "p", I sucessfully managed to have a nun say the word "poop". It could be useful.

These nuns are honestly some of the nicest people on earth you could meet. Others might be just as nice, but none nicer. Great people with big hearts. Even though their Vietnamese New Year is in February, they celebrated ours on January 1st with us and by presenting us flowers and necklaces.

What is Nadine teaching these nuns in the middle of the video?

Another quality that they own and have in common with my grandma White is that they will feed you until the cows come home. Everytime we turn around, it's "would you like some more fish, or some bread, or maybe some lemon juice. We have some tasty chocolate in the fridge. Nadine, you should be drinking more milk." So in preparation for our weekend trip to the beach, they even bought us some beer. They are doing us up right. Maybe we will have to stay longer, or maybe that is what they are trying to do by giving us a six pack of beer, bait us into staying longer.


You never wear your shoes inside

Here are links to videos and additional photos that we have added.
Video of Nadine in Thailand, at bottom - Oh Koh Lanta, Get Off My Jungle Gym
Pictures from Angkor Wat - Running Among Cobras and Angkor Wat
Pictures from HCMC - Christmas Scooters Gone Wild

The person with the correct answer to this weeks question will win and receive a postcard from this weeks answer;

What was the former name of Ho Chi Mihn City before 1975?

Good luck. Life is good for us. We are doing well and enjoying teaching. Hope you enjoyed the 29th blog entry from our trip around the world!


Posted by TulsaTrot 16:24 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

Christmas Scooters Gone Wild

Live on location in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam

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Nadine and I are back together here in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam after my week of running around Angkor Wat and Cambodia solo. We are glad to be back together again.

My bus from Cambodia chugged a little faster across the border than Nadine's plane, so I was the first to touch Vietnamese ground, and thus I had the responsibility of checking into and finding our hostel. After a diverted taxi ride around central HCMC to simply go two blocks, I was in our hostel. But as soon as I dropped my bags in our room, I was back in another taxi to pick up Nadine at the airport.

I was at the airport an hour early so I took advantage of the time to eat and talk with people outside the airport exit. Because my banter impeded my ability to watch consistenly the exit, Nadine exited and I never noticed. As she walked around 5 minutes looking for me, I then decided to walk around looking for her, and just as I began walking, Nadine rounded the corner with an instantaneous relieved look. Back together again at least. Just imagine two folks running across a wheat field in a made for t.v. movie in slow motion, except Nadine was lugging her backpack and a little peanut sized baby.

Your first impressions of HCMC right off of the plane and bus are not going to be "this is a beautiful, quiet, relaxed place with a couple of scooters and cars." Heck no, you are hit upside your head that this place has either began cloning scooters with great efficiency or all 6 million people here own 2 of them. HCMC doesn't have alot of green space so I can't say that this place is way too green, no, I might say that it's way to gray in contrast.

As you walk around HCMC trying to avoid being hit by scooters or cars, you realize this place is just plain chaotic. But, a big but here, there are a few parks that provide refuge. Just jump in one of these and the pollution, bleeps from horns, and passing vecichles are now 400 meters away, and you are in your little land of bliss. Momentarily.

Crossing the street is a true adventure!

During our time here, we have spent a good amount of time looking for temp teaching jobs, but we did go visit one place of interest, the Reunification Palace. This was the presidential palace until Viet Comm took over the palace in April 1975. What really makes this place interesting other than the fact that it was once a presidential palace was all the great furniture, carpet, and styles directly from the 70's. Shaggadelic baby! Oh yea!


***New Photo*** Did he read the sign?

As the two videos illustrate, crossing the road here is truly an adventure in itself. There is a proven method to successfully crossing the street even if it does go against everything your mind and body tell you to do at the same moment. You begin walking across the street very slowly, but always keeping your eye contact with oncoming traffic and the drivers. They will slyly and very closely pass you, but not hit you. And if there are two and a half of you crossing, you hold hands just like you are in kindgergarden and stay shoulder to shoulder. The one thing you don't want to do is just stand there, that would throw them for a loop, and they would have no choice other than running over you for this bad decision.


***New Photo*** View of Royalty from the Royal Palace, HCMC

Everywhere you go in HCMC, you are approached to buy something, fruit, watches, tours, illegal substances, small children, individual cities, and coconuts. We have grown to love coconuts during our trip. After we walked out of the Reunification Palace, I figured we should take some video of me crossing the street safely over to the other side were two boys selling coconuts stood. Of note, they carry the coconuts with a bamboo stick over their shoulders attached to a pan with coconuts on one end and a cooler on the other. I figured I would have some fun with them, and I would help sell some coconuts for them. Maybe the novelty of a white westerner selling them would drum up some more business. A group of Japanese tourists did walk by amused and asked me how much they cost, but never bought any. They did laugh though. So I need to work on my coconut selling skills for the future.

My strategy from the street corner was to yell, "Buy your fresh coconut juice, only 10,000 dong!" Not only was this a surprise to tourists, but it was a big surprise to locals driving their scooters. Taking their eyes off of the road and focusing them on to me, I caused a scooter on car accident. As people cranned their necks around to look at me, they forgot about the immediate intimacy of each other. Fortunately noone was hurt in the scooter-car pileup, but the three people on the scooter were a little shaken, not stirred. I guess I have to find another corner to work on my coconut juice selling skills for the safety of us all.

Coconut seller and sellee

To properly celebrate Christmas, we decided to attend Christmas Eve night Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral. As we walked towards the centrally located church, we found it more and more difficult to walk through thousands of people. Never expecting it, the Vietnamese were celebrating Christmas full throttle around the church. We had to walk through thousands upon thousands of people dancing, throwing firecrackers, spraying each other with shaving cream and silly string and the occasional tourist, and this was just to reach the front gates of the church.

Upon reaching the front gates with only glitter on our cheeks, we sat there with hundreds of people pushing up against the front gates. I felt like a piece of meat in a burrito, but I was a big piece of meat, so I could watch everything happen over the heads of the short Vietnamese squished around me. After 30 minutes of not being able to get into church, we used our "whiteness" to learn why we couldn't get in. They told us that the entrance was on the other side of the cathedral via a side door. Just like that, we were in church without the pressing crowd surrounding us. Once inside, we sat among a couple thousand Vietnamese and a few Westerners sitting down in pews, directly behind a pillar. So we sat and listened to Mass in Vietnamese staring at a big piece of concrete. Half way into service, the ushers opened the front gates, and a wave of people waiting outside rushed in. As the pews were already completely full, the crowd filled up the vacant aisles, and as we sat there, we were among at least 5,000 people. Without a doubt, this was the craziest Mass we had ever attended. Merry Christmas to all 5,000 of y'all, or at least the thousand of you within 20 feet of me!

To complete our Christmas week celebrations, we went bowling again just for the heck of it. We were both equally astonished as I started off our game with 4 strikes, that's a turkey plus a turkey leg. I was one pin away from 5 strikes in a row. After a weak middle section of the game, I finished off with two more strikes, and a total score of 191. Personal high score. Who knew we would realize our bowling prowess on this trip. Anybody from New Mexico want a game and think they can keep their bowling ball out of the arroyas?

Dancing. That is something we both like to do. During our travels we have created a new dance, the Under Budget Dance. Anytime we stay under our budget for the day, we end the day with our dance. Simply put both arms out like the macareina, do the cabbage patch, and sing "We're under budget," and you have successfully done the Under Budget Dance. Why is this of importance? We have stayed under budget everyday in Vietnam, so we've been dancing alot at night. So when you are sitting at work at 10 a.m. and feel like joining us, just stand up and do the dance.

Life is good for all two and a half of us. Our checkup with the doctor in Bangkok went well and all of the tests came back, and Nadine is in good health. We set up a two week stint teaching English to a group of nuns over at their nunery.

Enjoy your holiday break and have a great New Years. Have a drink for us and Nadine will have a juice and I will have Saigon Red for y'all.

Peace and Love

Posted by TulsaTrot 10:28 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Running Among Cobras and Angkor Wat

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A bus stop favorite, fried tarantula

Nadine and I are back together here in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam after 6 days apart. I was busy running around Cambodia while Nadine remained in our home away from home Thailand.

There were several reasons that I wanted to go to Cambodia. The first reason was the simple fact of Angkor Wat itself and all of the other temples. The second reason was learning about the horrible regime of the Khmer Rouge. The first reason was happy-go-lucky, and the second making you ponder why humans do what they do to each other.

Waking up at 4 a.m., Nadine and I caught a taxi with a talkative San Diegoan, as we made our way to the airport. And just like that, I was on a plane to Phnom Pehn, the capital of Cambodia. At the same time that I touched down and passed through Khmer immigration, Nadine was just returning back to the hostel. Great woman that Nadine accompanying me to the airport. My entire time of travelling in Cambodia included early rises and running around at a frantic pace.

Having the gift and approval of visiting Cambodia while my beautiful pregnant wife stayed back in Bangkok, I had to make the most of the limited time there. Outside the airport, a deluxe tuk-tuk carried me away to my guesthouse past poverty, smiling Cambodians, and dirty roads and sidewalks.

I dropped off my bags and hired another tuk-tuk driver for the day to carry me to all of the must-see sites of Phnom Pehn. Today was going to be a busy day of visiting the dark past of Cambodia.

Back during the very complicated Vietnam War, Vietnamese communist guerilla soldiers crossed the borders over into Cambodia and promoted Communism as they fled American bombs. The Vietanmese communists joined sympathetic Khmer communists which transformed into the group known as Khmer Rouge. Having conquered the capital of Phnom Pehn, the Khmer Rouge began to promote a society, errily familiar to what is happening in Burma, where the educated were considered to be "parasites," and needed extermination. Thus, over the next 5 years, the Khmer Rouge carried out the systematic imprisonment, torture, and extermination of educated folks. 2 million people died over this short amount of time. And of the most famous prisons was S-21, and that was my first stop.


S-21 Entrance

S-21 was a school turned into a prison housing thousands of prisoners by the Pol Pot regime. It was here in this centralized location that prisoners lived in horrible conditions and hopeless life. I walked around S-21 and past floors that still had blood stains on tiles from only 30 years ago.

The facts are horrible. 50 prisoners would sleep in a classroom with their ankles chained together. They weren't allowed to move, go to the restroom, or talk without permission or risk being beaten. Prisoners were required to write daily that they opposed the the country and its' regime, even if it wasn't true. Prisoners were beaten, guarded over, and tortured by guards, and sometimes the guards themselves were only 10 years old. Horrible things happened here. When prisoners were notified they were being relocated, they knew that they were going to be killed in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, my next stop.


S-21 and the photos of prisoners who stayed and were murdered, including Westerners

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, 14 kilometers outside of Phnom Pehn, are reached by a dusty road. Reaching the fields, which are more like the size of a single field, are cratered with holes where prisoners were buried in mass. Prisoners would arrive by truck, be blindfolded, and be required to kneel down. It was at this point that they would either be shot or clubbed in the back of the neck to death. Khmer Rouge soldiers would then dump the bodies into mass unmarked graves.


One of many mass graves

It is amazing what humans are able to do to each other for the sake of power, wealth, or even over personal philosophy. Something like this forces me to sit back and examine what causes people to do these things to other humans, and want to fight to insure that it doesn't happen again. It still does though. But there is hope. We have to learn to treat each other as a gift of God and respect and lean on one another. After this, I was ready for something a little less grave and little lighter.


As I was leaving the Killing Fields, some workers noticed a snake dart into a pipe under a walkway. "Oh, it's a dangerous one. Alright, let's take a little look." The workers grabbed a waterhose and flooded the pipe which forced the snake to flee. As soon as he got to the "fl" of flee, he was a snake pancake. He was clubbed to death by a stick.

Me - "Really, what's so dangerous about this snake with a flat head?"
Worker - "It's very dangerous. Can kill you."
M - "What? It's not really that big. What type of snake is it?"
W - "It's a cobra."
M - "Oh, I guess that is the reason for the flat head. I'll stay away from those now on."

That was my first sight of a cobra in the wild. The rest of the day I kept one eye on the scooters darting everywhere around me and any rustling in tall grass. Fortunately it was the only cobra I saw.

After cleaning off all the dirt and evil from the morning, I quickly visited the official residence of King Sihamoni at the Royal Palace. In addition to paying a $3 entry fee for this place, if you wanted to carry a camera and take pictures, you had to pay an extra $2. Being the penny pincher I am, I kept my camera firmly in my pack, and avoided paying the stupid "camera" fee. But once I reached the Silver Pagoda and the guard asked to see my ticket, he spotted the camera case hanging out of my pocket. I was forced to leave my camera with him AND pay the stupid camera fee. But, I did get some decent photos for you to enjoy and put one on this entry. So if you would like to look at it, you will need to send us a check for 20 cents for the following photo. If you don't want to avoid paying the 20 cents like me, keep your money in your pocket, and look away as you scroll down the page. Honor system y'all.


That is a 20 cent photo of the Royal Palace

After a busy day in Phnom Pehn, I was on an early bus to Siem Reap, closest town to the Angkor Wat temples. Fortunately on the way, I started talking with Rhonda from Australia who lives in Cambodia. She informed me of several things going on at Angkor Wat this weekend, a 40K bike race, a half marathon, and a ballet inside of Angkor Wat put on by the French Cultural Association. If I had my pick, it wouldn't be any New Mexican's choice of seeing guys jump around in pink tights. Either riding or running was more preferable to me.

Touching down in Siem Reap armed with Rhonda's great advice, I dropped off my stuff in my new home for the next 4 days, rented a bike, and made my way to the Temples of Angkor. Being that it was close to sunset, my only goal for the Temples of Angkor were to enjoy a nice sunset atop Phnom Bakheng.

Phnom Bakheng was one of the first temples built in Angkor, but is now famous for being the best spot to watch the sunset. Upon arrival, I was greeted with thousands of people fighting their way up stairs for a secluded Angkor sunset. I was more in awe of the number of people balancing on top of this temple than the actual sunset. After that sunsetting experience, that would be the last time I'd try to watch one there. For a secluded sunset at Angkor, Pre Rup is the place to visit.

Cycling home, I stopped at a local conveniece store to pick up some water for a long day of cycling the following day, but to my surprise, there sat cans of Dr. Pepper. What the heck?!? Of all the places you would expect to see Dr. Pepper, it would not be in one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, but there in a fridge sat cans of cold Dr. Pepper. That would be one of my Christmas gifts to Nadine when we met up in Vietnam.

After riding to the Temples of Angkor the previous night, there would be no way that I could spend a day riding around in a crappy ol' bike. I found a quality mountain bike the next day that actually fit my long legs and I could easily rent it for 3 days for debtful price of $5. I was set for another 3 days of exploration.

My second full day among the Temples of Angkor, I planned on riding to 15 different temples in a 26K "Big Circuit." My riding carried me away from Angkor Wat so that Angkor would be my final stop of the day. My third stop of note was Ta Prohm. This is a temple that has been overrun by fig trees and vines sitting on top of temples, breaking through walls, and climbing on anything in its' way. This was a perfect photo op.



Massive fig trees among massive temple ruins

I followed Ta Prohm with a visit to Pre Rup, another temple off the beaten path. What made Pre Rup special for me other than being able to climb to the top of it was that from the top, you could see Angkor Wat in the horizon.


One of Preah Kahn's fig tree roots looks like an elephant trunk

I started the morning at 7 and at 4:30 I arrived to a sunset among the well preserved ruins of Angkor Wat. Similar to the previous evening, I was joined by thousands of neighbors. It was a great way to end a day of riding 26 kilometers through the Temples of Angkor.

By the end of the day, I had rode a bike 45 kilometers over 11 hours, and by the time I left Siem Reap I had rode 115 plus kilometers and ran another 10 kilometers. I was tired, and that made the decision whether or not to sign up for the half marathon that night being run the next morning at 6:30 in the morning through the UNESCO temples of Angkor Wat that much more difficult. But in the end, the experience overruled fatigue and I signed up for the shorter 10K race starting at 6:50.


***New Photo*** I never quite figured out what this elephant was looking at

Race day, I was once again up at 5:20, on my mountain bike and riding out to the Temples of Angkor and the Angkor Wat Half Marathon warm up for a nice little run around ruins. The run itself benefited the amputee victims of landmines. You can't go anywhere in Cambodia without seeing someone with an amputated leg, arm, foot.

I ran the race. I finished. I wasn't the last one. I did not puke. I did survive. In the end, I used a method of run/walk in that I would run one kilometer, walk 40 seconds, run another kilometer. This is a method I learned from Nadine and Nate Roller, another friend expecting a baby in the next couple of months, and it allowed me to finish without injuring myself. My final time was 49:31. My goal was to be under an hour having only run 6 times in the last 6 months. I was happy with my finishing time, but happier to have been able to do the run through Angkor Wat.


***New Photo*** Great photo of Angkor Wat at sunrise

My last day in Siem Reap, I woke up at 5:10 to go and watch the sunrise among the ruins of Angkor Wat, the perfect way to finish my time there. I was only joined by a couple of hundred people this time, rather than the thousands you encounter in the evening. As people stood by the pond, I took this chance to escape to Angkor Wat by myself. So for the next 20 minutes, I was practically the only person walking in Angkor Wat, as I perched myself on a ledge to watch the sun come over the horizon. Sweet!


Sunset at Angkor Wat

To complete a very eventful time in Cambodia, my bus from Siem Reap back to Phnom Pehn made it a little more interesting. Two hours into our trip, our bus broke down. We were stranded on the side of the road for 2 hours watching cows munch on grass. Fortunately, I didn't have to be anywhere pressing. Once a replacement arrived, we were back en route to Phnom Pehn, but as soon as we hit the next city, high government officials were present, causing a roadblock. As a result, we had to find a small, random road to get around the city. 7 1/2 hours later, my feet touched Phnom Pehn soil.

Last note, driving in Cambodia had to be the worse I have seen, and I have had the honor of visiting a few countries. Khmer drivers and scooter kamikazie pilots never felt it necessary to actually look when pulling out into any road. Include the fact that scooters use the wrong side of the road to drive, you are constantly keeping your head on a swivel watching for traffic. The lesson is, be careful driving in Cambodia or you might meet a Cambodian up close and personal.

Life is always good. We are now here in the land of a zillion scooters looking to teach Texan English for a month. If we don't find any, we will move north.

Have a very Merry Christmas and have some egg nog for us. We'll have a Dr. Pepper for you.

Peace and Love from all two and a half of us in Vietnam.

Posted by TulsaTrot 16:12 Archived in Cambodia Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Turkey Shooting

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

So after our short time in Laos, we headed back into our home away from home, Thailand. We took 3 forms of transportation and 6 different vehicles to get to Khon Kaen, our next destination. We took 4 different buses, a tuk tuk and a very full share-taxi. After quite a bit of searching on foot, we found a lovely hotel for two nights.

We had just missed the culmination of the silk festival, but a full day in Khon Kaen was on the way. One thing we have found throughout our travelling in Thailand is that we are attracted to malls. I know this sounds really weird, but it's true. I think it is a little bit of the comfort of feeling like we "could" be at home with some familiar shops, the lure of the air-conditioning, and the prospect of being able to see a movie.

Well, this particular mall had something a bit different of offer: cosmic bowling! We decided to give it a try as it was cheap entertainment. We thoroughly enjoyed laughing at ourselves demonstrating our poor bowling abilities. But, I was in for quite the surprise at in the ninth frame of our last game. All of a sudden, I bowled a strike...yippee! Then...another...what the heck? Next, I bowled a third strike, and I got a turkey! For those of you who are not bowling experts, this means you got three strikes in a row, something I had never done before. As a bonus, a turkey appeared on the screen after the third strike is complete. Later on I pondered, maybe the little bambino was giving me some good luck.

After the highlight of cosmic bowling, we headed to yet another temple. We were pleasantly surprised by this glowing gold Wat. We were not able to enter the temple grounds, but were happy just gazing at this beautiful architectural wonder.


We also got a glimpse of some young monks having fun staring at the white people gawking at their temple. They were glad to share some genuine smiles with us from a classroom upstairs. The actual name of the school was a little hard to pronounce, see below.


Try to write this on your resume!

The next day we headed back to Bangkok on the most luxurious VIP bus we had been on since the start of our travels in Thailand. We were in heaven with loads of leg space, a surplus of cool air rushing out of the vents, and even some decent food. The highlight was a seat that had built-in back massage! The hours passed quickly.

One thing on the list to accomplish while we were back in Bangkok was to see a doctor. We correctly assumed they had more up-to-date facilities compared to some of the smaller places in Thailand. I was very nervous for this appointment, but John calmed me. I was very happy after the visit with the doctor. It went extremely smoothly, and he gave me some good recommendations about the pregnancy. To boot, it was very cheap. I was glad to have that over with, for now at least!

The next day, before the crack of dawn, John left for Cambodia, while I stayed in Bangkok. I was unable to travel there because one of the areas is at high risk for malaria. So I was on my own for 5 days, until we met up in Vietnam. Well during this time, I didn't do a whole lot. I rested a lot, saw some movies, visited a few sights we had missed during our previous visits in Bangkok, read everyday, and realized how much I missed my other half.

Well now we are in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, soaking up the culture of a new people and country. We are excited to travel and possibly do some volunteering or work here for a short period of time. All is well and we wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Peace and love,

Posted by TulsaTrot 11:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Shoe Badminton Around That Dam Stupa!

And Other Entertaining Places in the Unassuming Capital of Laos

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We never take off our helmets. You can never be too safe when writing a blog entry!

Greetings all! Another update from our great adventure around the world with a little joke about New Mexico carefully placed in the middle for everyone to enjoy. This time we are coming from Vientiane, Laos, and not Thailand surprisingly.


Wat Phra Kaew, Chiang Mai

Finishing up our time in Chiang Mai and strolling around at night, we crossed a stall selling baby clothes. "Who would need baby clothes? Oh wait, we would now." So just like that, we bought the first set of clothes for the new baby. A yellow shirt and shorts with the words Thailand and a picture of a tuk-tuk. The baby won't fit in the outfit until Cletus or Dolly is at least a year old. Maybe I could let my small New Mexican friends wear them for a year, and enjoy some clothes that will fit them well.


Floral art by a Belgium dude, but can you imagine cutting the grass inside the cone?

We also went to the Royal Flora Expo in Chiang Mai. This was an expo celebrating different types of flora and other green things that grow out of the ground in addition to different technologies used to help use less natural resources in Thailand. This all originated from the King's initiative to reduce reliance on foreign countries for energy and have a healthy environment. Progressive King that man.


Nadine smelling the roses, while . . .


I emit toxic gases next to Toyota's Eco-Man

We both looked at each other in astonishment with the fact that we were actually going to leave Thailand for more than a couple of hours on a visa run. But in order to do that, we had to jump on an overnight bus to the city of Udon Thani, where we would pick up another local bus to the border, where we would jump on another bus, and travel to the capital of Vientiane.

Our overnight bus to Udon Thani proved to be the most eventful. After a compulsory Jackie Chan movie, the lights went out, but the moon continued shining brightly outside. In our best attempt to sleep, we got in the fetal position on our seats. It wasn't long until at 1 in the morning, we pulled up to a gas station with adjoined restaurant. This was the V.I.P. meal included with the bus ticket and the meal was atrocious. We spent more time guessing what we were eating rather than eating it.

To conclude our overnight ride and middle of the night meal, we were serenaded by a farang and a Thai guy. The farang was practicing his Thai with the Thai guy and he was happy to conversate. I'm all for learning, practicing, and sharing with local people in your travels, BUT NOT at 2 in the morning while the rest of the bus is trying to sleep, especially the two people directly in front of them being Nadine and myself. We eventually arrived to Udon Thani sleepy and dragging swollen feet. My legs are too long for the seats, thus they hang over the edge, and swelling ensues. Result, large feet.


Our plans had previously included entering northern Laos and tracking our way down south to the border of Cambodia, but that all changed with a little peanut baby deciding to join us on the trip. Since we already possessed two expensive Laos visas, we were going to use them and visit the only place that was malaria free, the Lao capital.

After a team of buses from Udon Thani, we had crossed the border and were in downtown Vientiane, the unassuming capital of Laos. Automatically you think of a capital of any country, U.S., Peru, Texas, or even Morocco, they are going to be large. That is and is not the case for Vientiane. It is one of the top 3 largest cities of Laos, a country of only 6 million inhabitants, but the capital only has 200,000 laid back folks. Driving from our hostel to the Vietnam consulate to apply for another visa, you feel like you have been placed in the middle of a large farming village trying to avoid hitting a grazing dog along the way.

Laos is a communist country but the winds of change are on the horizon. You notice that there are not any Western fast food restaurants dotting streets, just local vendors, but that may not last long. Laos is slowly making its way on the backpackers radar. Even then, the number of tourists are few.

With only 5 days to explore this "captial," we rented bikes and made our way around the city. You can't visit and not see That Dam Stupa. Not quite sure why we needed to see that stupa other than it has a cool name and it was one of very few places to actually visit.


Nadine is standing under That Dam Stupa again with a smirk on her face

Situated directly downtown, and similar to Paris, Vientiane has their own version of the Arc de Triomphe, Patuxai. It is impressive in a city that doesn't have much to impress, but comically, it was built with the donations from an American cement company to help build an airport. Instead of using it for the airport, they used it for some downtown grandeur. It is referred to as the "vertical runway."


Views from the top and at the base of Patuxai. No airplanes landing or taking off

After seeing a few sites, we began our way towards towards the golden Pha That Luang, a national symbol of Laos. But before we had the opportunity to run around the site, we had to get there on our bikes. Along the way, we had come to a traffic stop with a couple of cars and scooters manuveuring for position and to turn. In the process, and very slowly, Nadine peeked her head out from behind a car just at the time that a scooter was turning. Nadine and the scooter collided. I turned around to see it happen in slow motion. I ran over immediately to check on Nadine and her belly. Fortunately, both were moving at the speed of grandmothers in a wheelchair race. Neither Nadine, nor the other guy were injured, but Nadine's bike was hurting. Fearful of having to buy a new bike, we presented the bike to the hotel, rode in a tuk-tuk with the injured bike to a bike shop, and had it repaired for $10.


For the first time on our trip, I was approached by tuk-tuk drivers for rides around the city. That is not what is unusual. As always, I didn't accept, but as soon as I said no, they countered with "you smoke? Weed, marijuana, opium?" I responded with a firm "winners don't use drugs, and I am a winner. So no!"

Honestly in all of my travels around the world, it's not uncommon to be walking and have someone ask you if you want some weed, but to be propositioned for opium, that's a first. We are in the heart of the former opium trade.

It reached the point where the tuk-tuk drivers would look at me, raise their eyebrows several times at me as if saying, "you want some? I got some 'you know what' to smoke." I guess since the distaces in Vientiane aren't that large and you can really walk anywhere, tuk-tuk drivers have to find a way to diversify their income with tourists.


Pha That Luang smiling for the camera


With the little accident with Nadine's front tire and a scooter, we never made it to Pha That Luang that second day. The following day, we did make it without any traffic accidents, but to throw a kink into our running around, we arrived at lunch hour when it was closed, so we had to wait. Nothing wrong with this, it left ample time to take some silly pictures outside That Luang and play with some local kids.



How many differences can you see in these two photos?

As a rule, we never give money to kids in that, in our opinion, it promotes parents to push their kids to ask for and earn money when they should be in school. But we do play with kids. So Bun, Lou, and I played our own rendition of shoe badminton. One shoe or sandal off as a racquet, and just knock the birdie as hard as possible. We all had a good time and proudly, one Texan beat two Lao girls in a tough match of shoe badminton. When they began protesting my scoring system, I looked away, quickly yelled "I have to go visit Pha That Luang. Bye!", and ran away.


Winning shot

As a result of Nadine being pregnant, her body is going through changes we like to call the "Thai winter of change." She has been feeling nauseous every other morning and needing a little more rest than usual. Good thing we aren't back at school working and we have the freedom to sleep in a little. We've changed the way we travel a bit. We are taking things slower and act according to how Nadine feels that morning. Every time I tell her to just suck it up, she just punches me. That works well. We did find one thing to help alleviate what ails her. We took her to get a massage. That morning having felt pretty miserable from morning sickness, that afternoon after the massage, miracously, she felt like a new woman. A new woman with a little baby growing inside of her.

To end on that point, life is good for both of us. We are super excited about being pregnant, but it has changed our focus and ferociousness that we travel with. We are heading back to Bangkok for a doctor's visit in a couple of days. From there, I will travel to Cambodia for 5 days in a whirlwind tour to see Ankor Wat and anything else I can catch in that time, while Nadine rests. We will then meet up in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam where we will spend, my mom's birthday, Christmas, and probably New Years over a one month period. We may look for a job for a month and take a break from our constant moving. That is the freedom that long term travel has allowed us to make easy changes as needed.

This weeks question: Insert your own quote for this picture.


We hope all is well and enjoying the Christmas season. Don't hold your breath waiting for Christmas presents from us.

Peace and love


Posted by TulsaTrot 20:48 Archived in Laos Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Oh Baby, 3 for the Price of 2

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.


After talking about biochemistry, we went on, by mutual consent, to topographical anatomy. I hope I didn't get as far as embryology.
- Alberto Granado

Leaving elephants behind, Nadine and I left the belly of Thailand and entered the northern shoulder region with all of its wats (temples).

As we departed from Surin where all of the elephants outnumbered people, we jumped on a bus headed back to Bangkok. What made the bus trip back interesting was the fact that it was completely full as we had to stand over an hour wedged between tiny Thai people until we reached a point to switch buses. We did however survive and lived to tell the tale.


Now is the fee more than the price for one night?

From the capital of Bangkok, we headed west to the town of Kanchanaburi. From the beaches and elephants, we were ready for something a little more serious. Kanchanaburi was made famous, or infamous, by the forced labor of Australian, English, Canadian, Dutch and American soldiers, as well as Malaysians and Burmese to build the Thailand-Burma Railroad for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. In the span of one year, these prisoners of war built a railroad spanning from Nong Pladuk, Thailand all the way to Thanbuyuzayat, Burma. Over this time, tens of thousands of soldiers were malnourished, tortured, and died. It was a dark testimate of what people are capable of doing to each other at times.


Bridge AND Nadine over the River Kwai

We spent a couple of hours rummaging through the very thorough and interesting museum commerating the railway as well as the Bridge over the River Kwai. From there, we walked over to the actual bridge as they were prepping for a light and sound show. How the times have changed over 60 years for this little bridge.




Nadine is up to some elephant business in Sukhothai

Not wasting any time, we were again on the road heading north to Phitsanlouk, a great place to spend Thanksgiving in addition to its proximity to the historical Sukhothai. Thanksgiving morning, we jumped on a bus with the more than generous help of locals and headed west to Sukhothai. Our reason for visiting the World Heritage site were the ruins sprawling all over the historical park. We hired (rented) two bikes styled like those from the 50's and began peddaling around. Everywhere we looked, we were riding under a set of stupas. In addition to all of the great sites, we ran into two Texans, sorry, no New Mexicans, I think they are trying to exit all those arroyos, running around Wat Mahathat.


What's that? Wat Si Sawai

A busy day of riding bikes around 700 year old stupas, wats, and left us hungry. Instead of our regular cuisine of Thai food, we ventured out for some steak, something ressembling turkey day food. This meat feast proved elusive to our growling stomachs as we couldn't find the steak restaurant. We walked around downtown Phitsanlouk an hour trying to find this specific place. Once we found it, and yes we had passed it twice already, we settled in to our Thai Thanksgiving. We ordered up steak, pork, garlic bread, blueberry shake (turkey day staple), soup, salad, and veggies. The meal was abundant and filling, but the steak on the other hand was pancake thin and not the taste sensation one would expect from a steak. It was actually a tenth the size of a regular steak back home in the States. Thais defintiely know how to do rice, veggies, curries, chicken, and awesome pork, however with the lack of practice on cow meats, they have a bit to learn. Finishing our Thai Thanksgiving with ice cream sundaes, we waddled back to our place happy.


Who knew that Bubbha had been to Thailand, much less have a statue made of him?

From Sukhathai, we continued north to the city of Chiang Mai. It was here where we stayed with my cousin Jeannie's husband, Tim. Before the trip, we never knew that we had family in Thailand. We had the pleasure to meet up with Tim, while Jeannie was back in the States with her kids. Tim and Jeannie are doing some great work in Chiang Mai. They are working with local tribes to grow, produce, and sell bio-diesel. This is something that is great for the tribes in that they earn an honest wage, support themselves, and helps the environment with clean fuel at the same time. They are also dabbling in organic coffee and education.


Can you find the moon?

Another big day we celebrated here in Thailand was our third anniversary and (regular joke) I have to say it has felt like 6. To celebrate, we moved from Tim and Jeannie's factory to the four star Duangtawan Hotel. Without a doubt, this was the nicest hotel we've stayed in the entire trip and all for only $40. We could have stayed in our hotel the entire day, but we had some very important things to do. Following a great lunch, we wandered around the night bazaar to pick up two more seasons of the official t.v. show of our around the world trip, Scrubs. And we are absolutely sure that they are genuine copies since we only paid $10 for both of them. Yeah, definitely genuine copies.


What's that ringing in our ears? Me ringing all 91 bells.

Following our shopping, we laid down for another Thai massage, but this time, it was an oil Thai relaxation massage. Not the "make-you-tense-and-grimace massage" that we had on Koh Lanta. After this hour massage, I had to admit that I was pretty relaxed as I ran into several people and signs back out on the street.

To complete the evening, we sat down to a nice dinner at Giorgio's Italian Restaurant. It was a great dinner talking about what was to come in the next year. But the first thing to come after dinner was ice cream. No celebratory meal is complete until you finish it up with a little ice cream. The rest of the night, we layed on our bed in the hotel like beached whales with bloated bellies of Italian pasta and creamy ice cream.


Wat Chedi Luang. Only one of those elephants is the original.

We are currently here in Chiang Rai, even further north from Chiang Mai. We have taken the time to walk the massive night bazaar and hit golf balls at the driving range here. We've also taken the time to revise our planned travel itinerary.

During our trip, Nadine and I have been filtering water anywhere the water may be a little suspicious. When we reached the areas of Koh Tao and Bangkok, we stopped filtering and began buying regular bottled water, and that is where everthing changed. There must have been something in the water that we were drinking. Nadine started feeling that she was a little more fatigued and sore than usual. We had been wondering what it could have be that was causing her to feel this way. We began to wonder if we could be pregnant.

After an early morning pregnancy test the morning before our anniversary in Chiang Mai, we learned the results. I wasn't pregnant. What a relief and waste of a particulary good pregnancy test that was. After purchasing another one for Nadine, two purple lines appeared within 3 minutes which changed everything. I wasn't pregnant, but the glowing Nadine was! We have been excited since that moment. As soon as we could get to a phone, we called both of our folks. Both of our mothers were extremely estatic, giggling, smiling, and yelling. Life is good.

Millions of thoughts have been running through our heads. Can this really be true? Does Nadine know the father? Are we going to have to cut this trip short? What will we name the children? The one thing we do know is that our children are going to be intelligent, athletic, popular in school, nice to their grandparents, and Noble prize winners. Truly, we want to have a healthy kid with only two legs and arms. No more, no less. Depending on the sex of the baby, the baby will either be named Cletus or Dolly Parton. We were thinking of He-Man, but kids at school might make fun of him. Not with the other two names though.

Concerning plans for our trip. They have now changed with our little addition. We are now only going to visit the capital of Laos, Vientianne, instead of the entire country. The rest of the country happens to be malaria endemic, so no risking the little bambino. As a result, we are going to see a little more of Thailand than expected. Following a visit to northeast Thailand, we will return to Bangkok so that Nadine can get her necessary check ups. From Bangkok, I will fly to Cambodia, another malaria endemic area, to visit Ankor Wat, and then fly or bus it to Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam. The same day, December 19th, that I am traveling to Vietnam, Nadine will fly over the malaria to Ho Chi Mihn City. Thanksgiving was in Thailand, Christmas and New Year's will be in Vietnam.

Life is good. We had planned on having kids after the trip, but being pregnant in the middle of the trip is still a gift and we are thankful.

This is another non-wikipedia question, but all are encouraged to participate. You will know if you are the winner in 8 months time. (Jack Johnson White has already been vetoed by Nadine.)

Question: If you became pregnant during an around the world trip, what would you name your kid?

We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Make sure that you root for the Tulsa Hurricane in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Peace and love from Chiang Rai
JW, NW, and/or Cletus

Posted by TulsaTrot 05:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (6)

Elephant Heaven

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You know ... they say an elephant never forgets.
What they don't tell you is, you never forget an elephant.
- Bill Murray

This is a special blog entry dedicated to time in Surin, Thailand, where we attended an round-up of domesticated elephants. Every year in November, this small town in eastern Thailand hosts this amazing event. We feel fortunate to have participated in this festival.


Just another harassing elephant!

We arrived into Surin by train at 6 in the evening on Friday night. As we walked out of the train station, we were immediately confronted with 5 huge elephants, and their entrepreneurial owners wanting to give us rides. At first we just stood there and stared for about 10 minutes. John also spotted one of the owners with a Texas T-shirt on, and had to get a photo with him. Later in the weekend we saw another man with a Texas T-shirt on as well!


Texas fans worldwide

After we checked into our hotel the first thing we did was take a ride. They have these little benches perched atop the elephants that we rode on, and it was quite a bumpy, but slow ride. As we walked along the street, the elephants were competing with the cars and motorcycles for the road.


Patient elephant taxis awaiting...where you go?

The next day our goal was to go to the elephant show at the stadium, but when we arrived all of the tickets had been sold. So we purchased them for the next day and used Saturday as an exploration day for Surin.

On Sunday we woke up early to catch Mass before the show began. We made our way to the stadium, and as we were entering John fed some of the elephants some sugar cane. They like that for sure...sweet tooths just like us! We got some close-ups of the new baby elephants, the smallest only 3 feet tall, with their mothers. During the show we got to see over 200 elephants processing through the stadium and showing off their talents. Some of the elephants painted, but seemed to enjoy painting themselves even more. There were also elephtants hula hooping around their trunks while standing on a little stool. All in all it was just an amazing experience to see all of the humongous creatures together in one space.



After the show we headed back to Bangkok on a tightly packed, sweaty bus for 4 hours and a cooler, spacious bus for 3 hours. We feel incredible lucky to have been able to be at this Thai festival. It was something neither of us will forget for a very long time.


Aunt Jane correctly answered the question about what year it is in Thailand, 2549. Her postcard is already on its way to Washington.

Hope all had a great Thanksgiving. Think of us on November 29th, can't quite remember why though.(JW)


Posted by TulsaTrot 20:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Happy Toilet, Happy Life

Rats, We're Out of Southern Thailand

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Where will you find a fan of the great State of Texas? Everywhere in the world!

Greetings all! We have taken a couple of weeks off from the blog entries just to keep you waiting in suspense and see if anyone could invent any new names for our trip if it was going to be a movie. Since no more witty possibilities came in, thus, when our trip becomes a made for t.v. movie, it will be named Peeing on Myself in 15 Different Countries."

Currently Nadine and I are in Surin, Thailand, which is not in Southern Thailand, but eastern Thailand. We are here for the elephant festival that is taking place this weekend. We will save all the details for the next blog entry, since we do have memories like an elephant too. I hope that Slappy the Elephant doesn't remember me stepping on his big toe. This entry is a tag team effort, half Nadine, and then I come in with a headlock to keep you reading. "Pity the fool who doesn't read John and Nadine's blog." That was a direct quote from Mr. T. Now you have to read the blog. Enjoy.


Here is our teepee

When we last left y'all, we had just left Koh Phi Phi. But I forgot one great detail about that part of our trip. After leaving the beach from The Beach, we headed back to the pier on the inhabited island. As we left, there were menacing clouds quickly making their way towards us. I guessed that in 6 minutes they would arrive and shower our little long boat, and 5 minutes 59 seconds later, they hit the bow of our boat and splashed rain water upside our heads. For 10 minutes we were partially protected by the large island we were leaving, but that protection was lifted when we hit open water between the two islands. Suddenly, our boat began rocking up and down like it was listening to a messed up Britney Spears song. Each large wave was greeted with rain that switched from vertical falling to horizontal slap you in the face rain. My only concern at the time was our camera and I guess, and in some sense, our safety, but more importantly, our camera. In the open water, I grabbed life jackets so Nadine could cover herself and our bag, limiting the amount of rain inching towards our camera. I took my life jacket and placed it at an angle to cover Nadine's side more while I took the rain like a man directly in my face. It didn't matter that I couldn't see, because without the horizontal rain smacking you in the face, the visibility was 10 feet. Yes, the flood gates had been opened. When you thought we were on the home stretch to dryness and calm seas, our boat and driver turned it around. What?!?! Was that not enough fun our driver to see female tourists yelling with every wave? I guess it could be fun. But apparently one of the other boats had stalled, and ignoring complaints from two Canadian nurses, we went and rescued them and dragged them to safety. We lived to see another day, and yes, our camera was dry.


Nice and dry in our hut, yes, the camera is safe as well.

After our time in Koh Phi Phi, we decided to head to a less touristy destination and do something a little different. We went to a town called Phang-Nga. It had only one guesthouse, and was easy to get around by motorbike. Our primary reason for wanting to go there was to do some hiking in a little known Forest Park there. It was pretty deserted when we arrived and definitely off the beaten tourist track. We enjoyed some hot, humid, and buggy hiking, and afterwards were able to cool off in the little pools created by multiple waterfalls near the entrance of the park. It was a nice break from the tourist itinerary.


She makes her own style

Whenever Nadine and I sit down for 3 hours to knock out a blog entry, we usually talk about what we did, what happened, but I will present you some of the interesting things of Thai and South East Asian culture. This week, Thailand is hosting the World Toilet Expo and Forum. This makes me think of all the types of toilets we've encountered on our trip. And there has been many. This is the point where I will describe to y'all all of the types we have seen and, thanks to the fact that I am a guy, I haven't had to use them, while Nadine has.

The first type of toilet is what we call the Western flush t.p. toilet. You can sit down, take care of business, throw your toilet paper in the toilet when done, and flush. These are found anywhere in the first world as well as nice hotels and hostels in SEA.

The second type of toilet is what we call a Western toilet, t.p. in the trash toilet. You have a nice porcelaine seat, but when it's time to dispose of your t.p., you place it in the trash. You can still flush.

The third type of toilet is what we call a Western toilet, bucket flush toilet. Porcelaine greets you with this toilet, but when you turn to flush, there is not a flusher present. That is when you notice the big pink bucket with a faucet dripping over it. You pick this up, fill it up with 2 gallons of H20 (those of you not familiar with chemistry, that's water), and pour into the toilet. Note of caution, you must place yourself at an angle so as not to splash water from your pour onto your feet or legs. Terrible sensation. Unless, of course, you're hot.


The fourth type of toilet is what we call a Squat toilet flusher. With this one, you place your feet on foot pads so as not to slip, then squat, aim, take care of business, and clean yourself. For anyone from the U.S., this proves to be difficult the first time around. After you are done, simply pull the lever and you are done.

The fifth type of toilet is what we deem the Squat toilet, bucket flush. Same as the fourth type of toilet, but grab that pink bucket with the New Mexian State slogan, Lizards Make Great Pets, and pour. Once again, careful with that splash from the bucket.

The sixth type of toilet is the Squat, but no visible toilet seat or toilet paper. This can be anywhere and this is true adventure. You walk into a room, turn around and ask if this is really the toilet, and stand, squat, tip toe in odd positions trying not to touch a single item in the room since it has never seen a cleaner since its construction. It's really important to wash your hands, maybe take a shower to be certain of your health.

The seventh and final type of toilet facility (we may have new ones in a month or so) is what we affectionately call tree. This is the easiest, stroll up to the tree in the middle of nowhere and depending on your gender, stand or squat, and shake. Back on the bus and off you go.

Obviously, the level of cleanliness steadily decreases as you move from the first type to the sixth type of toilet. The final type should be organically clean enough for you. Don't grab poison ivy.


Ready for a waterfall hike homeboy?

After our secluded hiking and waterfalls of Phang Nga, we returned to Hat Rai Leh. Our raison d'etre in Rai Leh was to take on a climb and hike that we lead us over the lip of limestone walls down into a secluded lagoon. The beginning proved to be challenging, having to use a frayed rope to climb up and over red mud, roots, and sharp rocks. At the top of this climb, we were greeted with an absolute amazing view of the Rai Leh beach and hills surrouding the area. Now, on to the lagoon. From here, footing became slippier, wetter, and more uneasy. We had been told that there would be a spot requiring us to go down a 15 foot free fall by rope. When we arrived to this prewarned point, the following question crossed my mind, do I want to risk serious injury, concluding our trip, to see this lagoon? When decision time came, we both checked our egos at the door and turned around, much to the relief of our mothers as they read this now. Descending the mount proved to be more difficult than the ascension.


That is real sweat and the actual view

We returned to Rai Leh to celebrate the Full Moon with a full moon party. Each time the moon is full, the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, other side of Thailand, has a world famous Full Moon Party. Due to our location on the other coast of the penisula, we were regulated to the original spot to party. Good enough for me. We spent the evening between a few clubs and live music. Good fun. But it was also this evening that Thais all over, ok, those with access to a river or ocean, celebrate Loi Krathong. This is a time when Thais make a wreath made with banana leaves and then place a candle in the middle of this wreath and at night of the November Full Moon, send it out to sea or down the river. It represents their sins from the past year and their making amends of these transgressions. People also make a float constructed out of light paper and a candle in the middle, release it up into the sky.

By the time Thais were sending out their wreathes, Nadine and I were returning home and watching it all. We thought this would be the most exciting part of the evening. We were wrong. That night while sleeping at 4 a.m., we were awakened by the scurrying of claws around our room and our heads. What the heck was that? Back into bed. What was that darting under Nadine's bag? And now running on my shoes? What we had a case of, was similar to the rat 100 meter dash. We had at least 5, not mice size, but healthy, Olympic sized, full of steroid rats using our room as their training facility. For the next hour and a half, and mind you we were fatigued from our evening celebrating, we left the lights on, burned a mosquito coil, and put our heads on the other end of the bed, no rat poop landing on my head! Rats, after all of this, we enjoyed another good squinty-eyed 3 hours of sleep.

After our 2nd visit to Railey, we wanted to make our way to the east coast of Thailand to an island called Koh Tao. We took a ferry from Surat Thani at 8 am in the morning that made a couple of stops before we arrived in Koh Tao at 2:30ish. First we stopped in Koh Samui briefly, then Koh Pha Ngan (home of the famous full moon parties), where we boarded another boat. This next boat we got on was the most packed boat we had ever seen. Every seat was taken, as was most standing room. The backpacks were honestly piled 6 feet high. I was feeling a little nervous as I took note that there was not any life jackets on board and the fact that the boat was practically spilling over with passengers. Alas, we made it safely to Koh Tao, and what a wonderful place it was to be.

Our time in Koh Tao was a very relaxing 4 days. It was an easy place to just let the days pass by. We met 2 other couples, 1 American and 1 Finnish, that we spent a lot of time with. The Finnish couple was actually spending two months there in order to get scuba diving certification, as Koh Tao is known as a cheap diving mecca. We were able to do a few things that reminded us of home, such as yoga (for me), go to a gym (John), and buy some DVD's (Scrubs). We also took a longtail boat over to some smaller islands which they themselves were connected by sandbars. It was very picturesque.

One memory that was different from home was a place called Lotus Bar. First of all, this was a bar on the beach with little mats to sit on and lights in the sand around you...great atmosphere. At this bar, we were introduced to "buckets" by our Finnish friends. Basically, it is a mixed drink in a small, tin bucket that is meant to be shared among a small group of people. It was great fun to have some drinks on the beach and do a bit of dancing.


As I have mentioned numerous times, we had been doing circles around the southern part of Thailand and as a result, our visas were about to expire. After leaving the seclusion of Koh Tao, we jumped on a ferry, not brimming over with people this time, and made our way to Chumphon (emphasize the chump in pronunciation, makes people giggle). As luck would have it, a local bus was heading immediately to Ranong, the town where we could jump over into Burma for a daytime visa run. Since it was evening when we arrived, the borders were closed, and our stomachs were growling in protest. We walked around until we were forcifully encourage to partake in a Thai buffet. Walking down the buffet line, raw chicken, meat, fish, octopus, squid lay next to salads, rice dishes, and many fried dishes. I could see eating the non-raw items, but raw chicken? I didn't want salmonellae poisoning until Vietnam, not here in Thailand. Ahh, then it all made sense at our table. In the middle of our table was a dome shaped frier where we could cook our own meat. Being the rookie dome shaped friers we are, we placed the meat on top, correctly done, but we placed the uncooked noodles on there as well. From the stares of the locals, that was incorrect. We were politely told 10 minutes later in broken English, better than our enfant Thai, that the noodles go in the water surrounding the grill. "Oh, is that why all this billowing smoke is filling up the restaurant?" By the end of the evening, we had an average meal, no thanks to those sorry cooks, they should be fired really, but it was a very memorable dining experience.


Next morning, Nadine and I jumped on a local truck and hightailed it to a spot where we thought we could catch Mass. Just as we strode up, the service was starting. Mass was completely in Thai, understandably, but I didn't quite catch everything being said. After Mass though, we met and shared brunch with Fr. John. Father John was born in New Zealand, but has been a missionary priest for the last 25 years. After the Philippines, he went to Burma. Being that we were going to get a small taste of Burma that afternoon, it was only fitting to pick his mind and get a little more insight on this troubling country that we had read so much about.

The country of Burma is formally called the Union of Myanmar. It is ruled by a military junta and has been in power since 1962. There were democratic elections back in 1990, but when the military rule lost to Aung San Suu Kyi, they invalidated the elections and retained power. The winner of that election, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest on and off since this time. The country is a police state where the government doesn't truly respect the people and instead, breeds fear. It is well documented that there are prisons holding prisoners as being "harmful" to the union. You can find more info about Burmaon the web. With all of the current activity surrounding Asia, there has been mounting pressure put on the government to reform. There is always hope.

After we parted ways with Father John, it was encouraging to personally to meet someone working to bring about change in Burma. His reentry to Burma has been stalled, because he has not been given another visa. He also impressed us with his generosity and pointed us in the right direction towards Burma. "Yeah, keep going until you hit the water, then start swimming west." Ok, he was a little more detailed than that. Good thing or I would have had to make a few sheep jokes.


Alfie, you have something on your face.

Jumping on a long boat with our Burmese boat driver and his son Alfie, we began making our way across the massive Pak Chan River. The entire time, little Alfie, possibly 8 years old, was scooping out water from our boat. After a few minutes, I began taking pictures of him and showing him the pictures. This beget huge smiles and laughter. After two photos of him, he wanted me to take more pictures of the sky, water, islands, him sleeping, anything. And he always followed it up with a big smile and laugh on his face covered in white chalk. I'm not sure why they does this, but you find people walking around with their face covered in a white chalk.


Buddhist temple looming over Kawthough

Arriving to the pier at Kawthough, Burma, we were greeted with a completely different world from Thailand. You could immediately see the change from prosperous Thailand to the shy and poor Burma. Begrudgingly, we paid for our visa to this corrupt government, and afterwards, we explored the city. I think to keep everyone in line, the government turns up the heat and humidity. Not sure if that's possible, but we were sweating bullets for the next hour and a half. As a wave of people followed us through the dirty streets, we made our way to a Buddhist temple that in constrast was very clean. We were able to spy on the city below and all of its characteristics.

We found people to be more reserved than the Thai people, and some would avert their eyes when you would look at them, possible result of the current regime and conditions. When we would smile at them, they wouldn't always return it. The children were different though. They would smile, act silly, yell "heee lo." We bought candy from a local lady as a means to interact with locals, and handed it out to all of the kids we came across. They were happy and appreciative for the sugary goods. It was a great experience and a stark contrast of what we have experienced on this trip so far. As I am constantly doing, I compared it to my time living in Peru and Bolivia. I would compare Burma to Bolivia in its poverty, but Bolivians are free to speak their minds, while the Burmese are fearful to speak and brainwashed not to. Riding back to Thailand, Alfie was going to town with all the candy we gave him while Nadine and I pondered the possibilities of returning to Burma for an extended visit.

On our bus from Ranong to Bangkok, we had decided to take an overnight bus, VIP style. The seats were very spacious and we were told that a dinner meal was included with our ticket. Right after we left the terminal, nuts, juice, water and little pastries were distributed to us, and we were assuming this was our dinner. Not so! Two hours later, around 1130pm, we pulled up to another bus terminal where everyone got off the bus to eat. With our VIP meal tickets we went into a VIP room where there were plates of food on a couple of almost full round tables. We joined all the Thais and sat down together, ate a full meal in relative silence, at nearly midnight. Then we all got back on the bus 15 minutes later and continued on our merry way. Travelling VIP is AWESOME!

Like any big city, Bangkok afforded us the opportunity to watch movies, take care of some visa errands, and go to the driving range? Yeppers, after dropping off our visa applications for Laos, our next stop, we came across a driving range. It was great, especially for me, to enjoy a little sporty activity, even if it was golf. 100 balls later, I was consistently placing my golfballs into the middle of the range 200 yards away, watch out Tiger.

We also took the chance to watch Step Up, a predictable chick flick, as Nadine was in the mood for that type of movie. I wanted to rename it Throw Up. Next day, we watched The Inconvenient Truth. This documentary by Al Gore really gets you to consider our actions of today and yesterday on the environment and their repercussions on the world in the near future. It's a nonpolitical documentary that would be good to see.


Gleaming stupas around the Grand Palace

In addition to playing golf and watching movies, we also made visits to the grandiose sites of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. This site houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a large Buddha actually made of jade, but still is a pilgrimmage site.


Where am I? This doesn't look like Texas. Way too green and gold.


Buddha chilling, watching all the tourists pass by

Today, we decided to go to another temple in Bangkok called Wat Pho, where there was a huge gold plated 134 foot long reclining Buddha. Bigger than Shaq. The Buddha has actually a brick core, then shaped with plaster and finally painted with a gold finish. Now this was an amazing sight. The image is overwhelming, and one can only see the whole Buddha when looking at it lengthwise from toe to head. The first time we went in to look at the Buddha, there were a zillion other tourists along with us, but on the second round there was a lot more space to take in this awesome statue. In addition to the enormous Buddha, there were also almost 400 other Buddha images at this temple. We thoroughly enjoyed this Wat.


This was also the site where the Amazing Race raced to a couple years back. Nadine and I imagined that we were on the show running past all of the Spanish tourists yelling, "Hurry, we have to beat the Spainards." Everyone was a little confused.



One of our objectives while we were in Bangkok was to buy John some shorts, as we had heard that you could get them inexpensively here. He was getting tired of wearing the same old "travel pants" that he came on this trip with. This objective, which appears to be a relatively easy task, was completly the opposite. First of all, many of the shops have the same shorts, so finding a different style to try on was difficult. Also John is quite a bit larger than the typical Thai man; he is also built differently, a.k.a. big butt. John must've tried on 20 pairs of shorts, and we finally found one that fit. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best deal, but at least now he can fit in with the locals in his new camo shorts.

Once again, life is good. We are in good health and loving life, but not loving rats and bedbugs. Thanksgiving will be spent in northern Thailand, which will soon be followed by our 3rd anniversary. Standard joke: It has felt like 6 though. We are going to spend another couple of weeks in Thailand before heading over to Laos. We are already working on the next blog entry, so y'all won't have to wait 2 weeks between entries.

Last entry's question was a creative question and since there wasn't many reponses, we will make this question an easy, look it up in the wikipedia question. First correct response will receive a postcard from us here in Thailand, mailed immediately. (20 Baht value)

What year is it in Thailand? Why?

Have a great and warm Thanksgiving and give thanks for all that is good.

JW and NW

Posted by TulsaTrot 22:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Oh Koh Lanta, Get Off My Jungle Gym

And Volleyball Nets Attack!

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

  • **Some of the content in this blog entry may not be suitable for immature people, graduates of the University of Missouri Rolla or New Mexican institution of higher learning, and small children***


One half of our traveling crew had been absent for 15 days, whose really counting though, but now we are a complete travelling squad of 2. We are currently in Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand, home to clear water, site of the movie The Beach, and a major spot hit by the Christmas Day Tsunami in 2004. We are heading back to the mainland to see if we can actually manage to leave southern Thailand and head north. Doubtful.


So good when smuggled Dr. Pepper hits your lips

October 25th : I was pacing around the Krabi International Airport glancing out the window hoping that the Air Asia flight from Bangkok would arrive early. When it did land on time, stupid plane, I sat at a window staring hard for that familiar face of my wife, Nadine. Where the heck is she? Finally, I spotted a long sleeve shirt and orange pants that I instantly recognized. Long sleeves??? Doesn't she know it's hot here? She then passed through the doors to the baggage claim. We were now only separated by a glass partition and a single security guard, but we still couldn't get to each other. We were like 6 year olds at Christmas with the real Santa Claus just inches away from you, but you can't run to him yet. After 10 minutes of waiting, we were in each others arms. The axiom absence makes the heart grow fonder was so true. We just sat in the air conditioned airport and talked about everything long after everyone had already left. She gave me a Dr. Pepper she had smuggled through customs in Japan. A smuggled Dr. Pepper. How sweet it is! She also gave me an extra pair of underwear from home. 2 pairs wasn't doing the trick. I am now up to 3 pairs and at that time I didn't have a pair close to me as the others were at the cleaners. We spent the rest of the day talking like it had been years since we last saw each other. Ok, enough of that sappy stuff, let's get to the funny stuff.

Our time in Krabi was short and uneventful other than Nadine buying a bright blue contact lenses case with palm trees on the front and getting passport photos for future visas in the next couple of months. Once she had recovered from jet lag and fatigue after 48 hours of air travel, we were on a mini-van headed to Koh Lanta. This island has a familiar sound to Mylanta, thus the familiar jingle in the title.


Welcome to Koh Lanta y'all

While in Koh Lanta, we decided to walk the massive expanse of beach. Along the way, we took in the beautiful outlying islands, quaint little bungalows, and all of the Thai massage parlors sitting pretty on the beach. What a great idea! How about a little massage before dinner. That is when things turned to a bone strectching series of hilarious events.

Nadine's Godmother Laura had strongly encouraged her to get a massage while in Thailand, so we followed her advice. We bounced up to the first massage parlor excited for what lie ahead during the next hour. As we lay there, both of our Thai masseuses began squeezing our calves and steadily making their way up our legs to our crotches where they forcefully placed all of their weight and just pushed. There's a point when you think to yourself, this might be cultural, but this is pretty darn funny and awkward as my wife is lying next to me having the same thing done to her. From there, my masseuse put my legs into a position similiar to the figure 4 from WWF wrestling and began gouging the space between my shins and the meat in my calves with her elbows. This caused a sensation of tension rather than relaxation. Maybe that is just me though.

After adequately working over my lower legs, it was time to massage the rest of my body. Again, to insure total relaxation, she began walking up and down the back of my legs in a marching fashion. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. I can only imagine what she was thinking, "he's a pretty tall guy, let me see what I can get away with here. Hmmm, how about walking on his legs. No squirming, good. This will be fun." After that, she pulled my legs up like a pretzel around her torso and then began walking with her knees up my spine. Relaxation! And I never knew I was that flexible.

To thoroughly complete the one hour massage, she turned me over and stuck her fingers in my ears. It was like a wet willy minus all that saliva. And finally, she karate chopped my head like it was a coconut. By the time it was over, there was an awesome bright orange sunset looking on and somehow I did feel relaxed. As we walked back down the beach for dinner, we sat and laughed at the way we felt like we had just had Mike Tyson beat us up. My masseuse had a great time crawling all over her own personal American jungle gym.


You never know when you will need your balance to avoid a volleyball net

For all of our transportation needs we were going to do around the island of Koh Lanta, we rented a brand spanking new Honda scooter. It came complete with helmet, 2 non-bald tires, and a little bell when I pass any bicycles. We spent the entire day taking in all of the sights on our scooter. That night, rather than actually walking down the beach, we decided to find one of the restaurants on the main roads. As a result of the major rain that afternoon, we couldn't take the dirt, now turned muddy-and-full-of-large-puddles, road through town. We would have to scoot down the beach and find a way to the main road. And just as smoothly and quickly we rode down the beach, we were greeted with a volleyball net directly in front of us! I slammed on the breaks and we slid into it. Mind you, this all transpired in front of a busy restaurant and was not originally part of their dinner entertainment, but they got it and it was free. At that point, we decided, maybe it would be better just to eat back at the hotel. There, we wouldn't gnaw on plastic string or have the checker imprint of a net on our faces all night.


Waiting for the onset of morning tourists

Our final full day on Koh Lanta, we went with something safe and away from the dangers of the island, we went snorkeling. Our snorkel involved traveling the Andaman Sea to four islands thus named the "4 Island Tour." Clever. We snorkeled among thousands of fish and starfish. Starfish aren't that active though, they just lay there. Well, that is until you turn them upside down and they slowly turn themselves back over. Until the cycle starts again. But it wasn't me starting that cycle though. Someone else.


View from lunch on Koh Kradan


Emerald Cave Beach

The highlight of the tour was at Emerald Cave. Anyone want to buy some emeralds? Actually, it's a cave that you swim through in complete darkness until you come out the other end and are greeted with a small, white sand beach completely surrounded by towering limestone walls. Very unique and worth the trip.


The beach from The Beach

After a great time on Koh Lanta, we jumped on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don. This is a great name in that you pronouce Koh Phi Phi as Co Pee Pee. Insert your joke here. Koh Phi Phi is actually the site of two famous events. The first was that the movie The Beach which was filmed on Koh Phi Phi Lei on a, you guessed it, big, beautiful beach. The place is as stunning as the movie portrays it. The second event was the Christmas Day Tsunami that ripped through here leaving hundreds dead, thousands displaced, and millions of dollars in damage.


Just happy to be back in paradise

The islands of Koh Phi Phi are regarded as one of the biggest magnets of tourists in all of Thailand. We were a little hesitant to visit this area with its constant deluge of tourists year round. Upon arrival, the number of tourists were far more than we even expected. We suspected that there were more farang than locals during their high season. We soon found out why so many people come here. The inhabited island of Koh Phi Phi Don is beautiful with great views up at the lookout point of View Point and the incredible snorkeling they still have even after the tsunami. The uninhabited island of Koh Phi Phi Lei (site of The Beach) is still more beautiful and possesses better snorkeling sites and photo ops.


Which is the real View Point No. 2?

Now, life is still good and our prayers continually go towards all family and friends back home and all people that we meet along the way. We are soon hoping to move north in this great country of Thailand. Fingers crossed.

***New Video*** Video around Koh Phi Phi

Last week's question of the week was correctly answered by Hermano Domingo, the longest current reign in His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadaj of Thailand.

This week's question is not as easy, like those New Mexicans who can just look it up on wikipedia. A little imagination here.

If you were going to name our trip after a famous movie, which movie would it be and why? Or would you give it its own separate title?


Posted by TulsaTrot 19:32 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

The King is Alive, But the Ferry has Keeled Over

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.
- Thomas Merton


Having arrived back to Malaysia from Indonesia, I was content on jumping on a convenient, easy plane back to Thailand. But as I stood in Georgetown, Malaysia chatting with a Dutch couple before rewatching the movie Talladega Nights, (a movie I missed the beginning of the last time I saw it, and I did have a free day, so why not watch it again), when they mentioned something to me. "Why don't you go to Koh Tarutao National Park and to the island of Koh Lipe? Noone is there", they queried.

That is where the next week took me, Koh Lipe, in the far south of Thailand. Koh LipeI decided to skip the easy traveling and get off the beaten path. I had previously thought of going to Koh Tarotao National Park, but figured, ah, it will be too inconvenient and after Indonesia, I'm ready for a break. But my conscious wouldn't allow me to take the easy path, when I could have an adventure into the unknown and possibly a few interesting stories to tell.


Money changer anyone?

Making my way from Hat Yai on a public bus to the coastal town of Pak Bara, the jumping off point to the Koh Tarotao National Park, with another Dutch couple and their two year old daughter, we talked about the supposed solitude and quiet of these islands. Next morning, I was placed on a longboat with a local family for the 4 hour cruise across the Andaman Sea to Koh Lipe. The ride was a great trip of sitting back and watching all of the small islands pass by and flying fish flying along the longboat. Our boat was directly in front of some mean looking rain clouds, so we had a time constraint, get there before the rain does. Just as we were floating towards the coral and beach, another set of storm clouds came by and hit us directly head on.


For the next three days, I was on the island of Koh Lipe enjoying the tide go by, eating at the only open restaurant, Pooh's, and doing a little work on Pooh's website. For the first time during the entire trip, I completed some work that I was paid for. In exchange for updating Pooh's website, I was paid with beverage and dinner. I can now say that I am working my way around the world. In between that busy schedule, I managed to squeeze in some snorkelling time on four of the beaches surrounding this tiny island.


Morning view, I could get used to that.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems occuring at Koh Lipe. It used to be an isolated island in a protected national park, but it had been opened up for construction years ago. As a few sparce travellers discovered the place, this led to a steady flow of backpackers, and now the island is becoming one set of bungalows. Combine this with the fact that the water and coral surrounding the island are treated as a garbage can. The result is dead coral and trashed beaches. But as travellers do begin making their way to Koh Lipe, the beaches are cleaned. Clean in the tourist season, trashed during the off-season. It's a sad reality.


After a peaceful and relaxing 3 days at Koh Lipe, it was time to jump on a ferry and head back to penisular Thailand. With bright blue water gliding by, our boat engine stopped, and the ferry came to a gradual, floating stop. For an hour, we just sat there as very large jellyfish made their way by and people worked in vain on the engine. Finally, another ferry came to our rescue and towed us into harbor at a snail's pace. This little roadblock allowed the storm clouds from three days ago to call their distance 2nd cousin Bob to storm on us just as we were pulling up to dock.


Finally, a reliable ferry

There's nothing like a long boat ride, and a set of wet clothes and backpacks to cause a group of 8 farang (foreigners) to bond. As a result, we all jumped in a shared van passing around snacks and drinks, and travelled to the town of Trang. There, like the floating jellyfish from earlier on the boat, we floated around Trang's markets and streets searching for a restaurant. We then found a nice outdoor Thai restaurant where we shared various local Thai dishes. It was good fun.


Tiny local transport

Tomorrow morning, after a 2 week hiatus from traveling, to be with her family, Nadine will be flying back to Krabi where I will meet her at the airport with, yes, a kool-aid smile. It's hard to believe that we have already been traveling, to the day, 4 months. Like always, life is good, real good, and it's about to get better.

Last week's trivia question dealt with the fifth populous country in the world, and the answer was Brazil.

This weeks question:
The second and third longest reigns for a monarchy are Queen Elizabeth from the United Kingdom and the Sultan from Brunei, who holds the longest current reign among reigning monarchs and what country is he or she from?

Life is good. We hope all are doing well and happy.

When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter.
- Albert Camus

Posted by TulsaTrot 06:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Answer: Hermano Domingo, Jane Goodall, and Matthew Pepper

Question: Who works with monkeys and likes to hear stories about orangutans?

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View Around the World 06-07 on TulsaTrot's travel map.

Les souvenirs s'agrippent a nos ames comme le lierre se cramponne a la pierre.

In one of our previous entries, You Can Have Your Apple Juice -And Eat It Too!, I mentioned that three major religions coexist in Malaysia peacefully. It's actually 4, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu. Makes it even that more impressive. Thanks to Hien for pointing it out to me.

I am currently here in Penang, Malaysia, having just returned from Sumatra, Indonesia, while Nadine is back in Omaha, Nebraska spending quality time with her family and obtaining some necessary commodities, one can of Dr. Pepper and a package of Reeses cups. Not too prevalent in SEA.

As soon as Nadine departed from Krabi International Airport heading back to Omaha, I was officially on my own to explore. Immediately, I went down to the highway and hailed down a sawngthaew in the rain. A sawngthaew is a small truck with two benches in the back that serve as a sort of taxi. I did arrive back to my hostel safely. First trip on my own completed safely!

Next morning, I jumped on a van that would take me back to Penang, Malaysia via Hat Yai in southern Thailand. This is the same van that we took less than a week earlier. What made this trip even more special is that I was sharing my seats with two really large Kazakastan guys living in Thailand learning Thai boxing. I am pretty sure that they aren't going to find anyone in their weight range as Thais tend to be pretty thin.


From Penang, I was going to jump on a ferry and scoot over to the sixth largest island in the world, Sumatra, answer to last weeks question, thus Hermano Domingo and Pepper's names in the title, and go visit a few orangutans. The entire reason I was going to Sumatra was see some orangutans in the wild Sumatran jungle.

Indonesia happens to be the fourth most populated country in the world with a population of 250 million people trailing only China, India, and the U.S. Indonesia is 90% Muslim, thus making it the largest Muslim country in the world. Ironcially, Sumatra has a large Christian population making it roughly 50/50 division between Muslim and Christian. Sumatra is one, and the largest, of 17,508 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Sumatra has experienced alot of tragedy in the last 3 years though. In 2003, a flood ravaged the town of Bukit Lawang. In a span of 10 minutes, a large wall of water released from a broken mountain lake swept through taking 325 homes and 280 lives with it, 6 backpackers included. In December of 2004, the Christmas Day tsunami hit the northern Aceh region and killed many more people along the way. Combine this with the Bali bombings on the other half of Indonesia, and tourism has suffered. As a result, the island of Sumatra is practically void of tourists and backpackers. Thus, that is what held the appeal for me to go there, lack of people. Nadine was never eager to visit Sumatra, because of the possible presence of malaria, according to government websites we checked. Thus, while she was her family, that left me the opportunity to go to the "island."

Seated on a ferry for 6 hours, I looked around and noted that I was 1 of two tourists. Ironically, the other tourist was American. We haven't encountered many Americans in our travels, so finding one of this ferry was surprising. Arriving into the port of Belawasi, I was ushered, as the random tourist, to the front of the line to get my Indonesian tourist visa. From that point, I would be subjected to a very common discomfort, Indonesian public transport! I boarded a heated bus packed full of other passengers. The result was instant sweat, a sticky body, and a feeling of fatigue and exasperation. That wouldn't be the first time. Our bus took another 2 hours to get to Medan.

On the bus, I was approached by Adam, a friendly enough guy. He joked with these two unique foreigners about orangutans, the traffic we were stuck in, and Indonesians. Adam was a tout. Being a travel veteran, I never saw it coming. I went with him to visit a nice hostel, exchange money, buy a mosquito net, because there wasn't any mosquito nets where I was going (there was!), and a place to eat. In the end, I was ready to get away from him. When I woke up at 7:30 in the morning, guess who is waiting for me down in the lobby, yep, Adam. If you see Adam in Sumatra, don't ask him to sell you a mosquito net.

Finally away from Adam and his buddies, I was on my first, of way too many on this 5 day trip, mini-van to Bukit Lawang and subsequent orangutans. Let me explain these mini-vans. These mini-vans stop often to pick-up and drop off passengers along the way. These mini-vans are not air conditioned, that's not really expected, but they are crammed full of people. Just imagine your small Chryselor van with an extra row of torn plush seats. Now put an extra person in that row for the amount of seats, hang a few from the door, and a couple more on top for safety, and now you have an accurate picture of this mini-van. Just add 4 hours and quite possibly the worst road ever, and you have the making of a good story. I can't say for sure that it is the worst road ever, because on our honeymoon, Nadine and I rode with Gonzo to the village of Cusmapa in Nicaragua and bounced around the entire time there too. At least then, we didn't have 18 people in the van. This road ressembled an area where several bombs fell recently. Our van jumped around it like had some pumped up hydros combined with a love for pop music and disco.


Is this bridge really safe to cross with my big pack?

Life in Bukit Lawang was slow. Noone was around. All there was to do was watch the river flow by. AND sign up for a morning trek into the jungle.

Next morning at 7, I took off with Siyan into the jungle. We had made an agreement that if I didn't see any orangutans I didn't have to pay. As we walked, I heard gibbon monkeys in the distant, saw gray mohawk monkeys passing overhead, and the calls of birds, but no orangutans.


This is the friendlier female Sasah

After an hour and a half Siyan found what he was looking for, a set of orangutans. In order to actually see these animals, we had to part from the trail and tramp through the jungle floor. There in front of us, a female orangutan was hanging from a tree branch in all its hairy glory. Siyan told me that there were two orangutans. Oh, the other one was a male. And it's mating season. After my first photo of the female, I then saw the male. Suddenly, Siyan told me to run as the male was coming after us. You can imagine this situation, excitement of seeing my first orangutan in the wild, alarm in having to flee from the "jungle people" with a backpack across my chest and camera fumbling in my hands. As we backtracked, now on the trail, we saw the male in full form with his arms hanging the length of his torso. Once again, he began making his way towards us and once again we backtracked. As this all transpired, I have to say that I had immediate respect for this creature. Amazing, yet powerful. Unique and at the same time similar to a few people I know back in New Mexico. We continued this cat and mouse game until Siyan took out three of the mangos he picked up along the way and threw them to Abdul and Sasah. This kept the male at bay for the next 20 minutes.


So that is Abdul

After the male was pacified, it was time for the female to show off for two hairless monkeys. She climbed up trees, swung from branches, slid down tree trucks upside down. I just sat there and soaked it all up and tried to get in a few decent photos. That was until the female was 5 feet in front of us and hanging from a branch. Suddenly the branch broke and this female orangutan fell on its back and sulked over to the male while Siyan and I had a good laugh. A couple of minutes later, Sayah came back towards us and hanging from a different branch took a swipe at my head. Fortunately she missed. Alright, 30 minutes of studying the actions of the orangutans and noting thier physical similiarities to us humans, feet, hands, arms, head, and for a few, a body covered in hair, we began our track back to town and the chance for another mini-van to Berstagi. It was definitely worth the money Siyan earned and much more.


Abdul coming towards us the second time

Along the way back to my hostel, we saw 3 more orangutans. A mother with a young child and an infant orangutan. By the way, if you didn't know, the word "orangutan" comes from the Bahasa language. Orang means person or people while utan means jungle. Jungle people. The whole experience made the trip to Sumatra, Indonesia worth it.

On the 4 and a half hour mini-van back to Medan, at one point, I counted a total of 25 people in, on, and around our mini-van. Once in Medan, I was on another crowded bus to the town of Berastagi and its large green statue of a cabbage dedicated to their ability to grow this vegetable. I'd be proud too. I also attended mass at one of the most unique looking Catholic churches I've ever seen. At Saint Francisco Assisi, this church was a combo of Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian architecture, while the interior had wooden pews on the far left, plastic blue chairs on the far right, and mats down the middle. I pulled up a seat next to locals directly on the mat.


Our confused transport to Tuk Tuk

From Berastagi, I rode 3 mini-vans to the port town of Parapat. From Parapat, I would jump on a ferry and leave the next morning to Tuk Tuk, a small town on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba. Of note, Indonesia has an alarming rate of man made destruction of their forests and there are forest fires that are currently blanketing parts of Indonesia and well as countries east of Indonesia. It has been in the international news. Because of that, the sky was gray. In the morning, aboard the ferry, our ferry captain got lost in the cloudy atmosphere. He was literally swerving across the lake trying to find land. Eventually he saw it. Tuk Tuk gave me a chance to relax and swim in the gray horizon for a day.


Where does the sky end and the water begin? Take the plunge! I dare ya.

My time here has come to an end and I can characterize my solo adventure to Indonesia with three unique items, grandeur of seeing orangutans in the jungles of Bukit Lawang, solitude of Lake Toba, and the horrible act of taking public transport daily in Indonesia in 5 rushed days. I finished my time in Indonesia by scrapping my return ticket by ferry to Malaysia and splurging for a $35 Air Asia plane ticket. Well worth the price.

To complete my adventure and stories from Indonesia, as I waited at the Medan airport, a security guard walked over to a souvenir shop and picked up a chess set. As he was walking back to his security station, I offered to play him. I sat there playing chess with a security guard while people passed the security checkpoint unchecked. There were more important things going on. We finally played to a draw and he was able to return to work and insure the safety of the airport terminal.

Life is good. Nadine is still in Omaha until the 24th when she comes back to Thailand. I am going to make my way back to Thailand, so I can be waiting for her with open arms and a big kool-aid smile.

Question - What is the fifth most populous country in the world?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.


Posted by TulsaTrot 23:41 Archived in Indonesia Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

So What De Crap Thailand

And other interesting expressions

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The title of this blog probably has you wondering, "what the heck is John talking about?" Just wait until the end of the blog and I will drop a little knowledge on you.

Since the last entry, Nadine and I have traveled north from Georgetown, Malaysia to Krabi, Thailand. Our time in Malaysia was great, but after 3 weeks of easy traveling there, we were ready to head to Thailand for a bit of a change. We booked a mini-van that would take us to the border and then on up to Krabi. Our van turned out to be a smallish van, thus the name mini-van, but much smaller than those other Mercedes-Benz mini-vans those other people were taking. Finally arriving into Krabi 10 hours later, my long legs, especially compared to the Malaysians, were ready for a bit of a stretch and freedom.


I say to this ad in Malaysia, No, you bite me Munchies!

One thing becomes apparent immediately in Thailand, things are cheaper! Food is cheaper. Beer is cheaper. Transport is cheaper. Lodging is really much cheaper. And these are all good things. Our first night, instead of hitting a restaurant, we sauntered over to the night market and the couple of dozen of stalls serving some mildly spicy to man I'm sweating spicy Thai food. We saddled up to the table, ordered some noodles and soup, and enjoyed the cool evening weather. At the end of the night, our meal and beer set us back a good 160 baat ($4). Needless to say, every night we've spent in Krabi has included a nice little dinner at the night market.



After visiting the windy Ao Nang beach, we jumped on a longboat destined for Hat Rai Leh (pronounced in a Texas accent, Hat Ray Lay). A longboat is just what it sounds like, a skinny boat that is, well, long, and carries 10 to 12 people somewhat safely. You could probably only fit 4 to 5 chubby New Mexicans though. The propeller is located at the very end of a long pole, thus allowing it to motor through shallow waters. We followed our travel rule for Hat Rai Leh, and stayed there 3 days. We stay somewhere 3 days to get a good feel for it unless it stinks. And Hat Rai Leh definitely did not stink.

Rai Leh is renowned as being a spot for rockclimbing at all levels. Nadine, being the excellent climber that she is, had been looking forward to Rai Leh for a long, long time. She was at her rockclimbing Graceland. We found the King still alive, King Climbers that is, and set aside a day with our smiling guide Chau to climb 1-2-3, the three climbing areas located on the east side of Rai Leh Beach. Being a little lax with instruction and all those unnecessary safety rules, Chau was eager to have us climb. We jumped in our harnasses and climbing shoes and started crawling all over the limestone surface of, I believe, area #2. I could be wrong on that though. We finished the morning with 4 fun climbs each at an average of 10 meters (30 feet) in height. After lunch, a quick power nap and a shower, we returned to 1-2-3. It was during the afternoon that we took on the tallest climb that either one of us had ever attempted. In the end, we both conquered the 100 foot mammoth climb with an awesome view of the area to boot. It's at that point as you take in the beach, jungle, cliff, and sea views from 100 feet that you realize that you are putting alot of trust in a thin rope, a small piece of metal, and that small little human down there at the bottom. Since you are reading this, relax, I did make it down safely AND I didn't wet my pants. Nadine did though.


Is that Nadine stuck between a rock and another rock?

We did more than rock climb at Rai Leh, we ate lots of pineapple, watermelon, and bananas. We tasted the absolute best fried cashew and chicken noodles we'd ever tasted. So if you are in Hat Rai Leh anytime soon, go visit The Rock cafe, you won't be disappointed with that tasty dish. If you are disappointed, I will finish it off for you. In addition to eating, we've had a busy schedule of strolling along the beach. The one personality that I am going to remember about Hat Rai Leh, other than the people and amazing geography is this one wet dog we nicknamed Sardine the Dog. Everytime we went somewhere, morning or evening, we'd look out towards the water and see this blond dog jumping and chasing sardines. We never saw him dry once in three days. At least for his sake, fleas don't have a chance living on him, they would all drown within an hour.

Nadine and I both attempt to respect the local culture by trying to speak a little of the local Thai language. We did a decent job in Malaysia and Singapore and an excellent job in the Cook Islands, New Zealand, and Australia, as our English was right on. Thailand has proved to be a bit more of a challenge. Taking a strategy my good ol' Dad taught me when I was younger, I associate words with different things. Teaching French and Spanish, I do a decent job with Latin based languages and you would expect that a little Thai wouldn't trip me up. But Thai has proven to be a bigger challenge. It is a language that contains 5 different levels of intonation and messing it up can easily change the meaning of a word. Thus, when I try, and this is a big try, to speak Thai, I use word association to help me. In order to simply greet someone and say hi, you say sa-wat-dii khrap. But when you pronounce it somewhat correctly, it sounds like "So what the crap." Thus the title of our little blog entry. So if someone yells at you "So what the crap." Don't be alarmed, they must be trying to speak a little Thai with you, simply smile and respond with "sa-wat-dii khrap." If they approach you without a smile, run!


Could this be the world's best beach?

We are both in good health, Nadine still healing from the bed bug bites, but we've learned of some bad news while in Kuala Lumpur. Nadine's grandma, Betty, passed away from cancer. She lived a good life. We knew going into the trip that she may pass away. We felt it best that Nadine return to the States to be with her family. She is currently in route back to Omaha for a week. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

While Nadine is back with her family, I am free to run around for a week on my own and explore. I felt it would be appropriate to visit some of Nadine's extended family over in Indonesia at the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. www.orangutans-sos.org This also gives me a chance to get off of the beaten path and not many people visit this part of Indonesia.


They're both beauts

Life is good and full of adventure and we are grateful to be doing what we are doing. Life is short and precious. Travel makes me realize the importance of friends and family in my life. I also stay in written contact better with family and friends when I travel. So, feel free to meet up with us in South East Asia. We will teach you a few Thai expressions.

Question of the week: What is the world's sixth largest island?
Please read carefully: whoever gets this correct, I will put your first name, given to you by your parents, in the title of the next entry.


Posted by TulsaTrot 00:36 Archived in Thailand Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

Bed bugs, or evidence that John really does have cooties?

Bed Bugs Gone Wild - Kuala Lumpur

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If you're going through hell, keep going.
- Winston Churchill


"Peace to the country and the people."

Since our last entry, Nadine and I have crossed the middle of peninsular Malaysia going south and then turned around and went north up the western coast to Penang, just south of the Thai border. Tomorrow we are going to head to the beaches of Thailand and Krabi. A lot has happened since our last entry.

Today's title to the blog entry, with much effort and coercing, was courteous of Matthew Pepper. He correctly answered the question that "lima" is the number "5" in Malay as well as the capital of Peru. All those degrees are paying off.


How about a strawberry shake and strawberries and whip cream with your strawberries?

Upon our arrival in Tarah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, we were welcomed with cool temperatures. We took this time to clean our grungy clothes and enjoy the cool weather. The third day arrived, and we decided we should actually see part of the Cameron Highlands area other than the hostel and the main road. We joined a morning tour of the area. First stop was a Buddhist Temple and then the Rose Centre. Ahhh, the Rose Centre, how much fun can a bunch of flowers be? Well, the Rose Centre was actually worth the visit. It was a multi-leveled terrace with views of the underlying valley, thousands of roses and non-roses, and random Disney characters standing among the vegetation. Who would have imagined Snow White and the Seven Dwarves waiting for us, the White family?


Chillin' on my broken Disney bike.

We followed the Rose Centre with another masculine spot, the Butterfly Farm. Did we sign up for the sissy New Mexican tour? The Butterfly Farm did have some redeeming qualities, snakes, lizards, large black scorpions, turtles, toads, and, yeah, a few thousand butterflies. I went into it apprehensive, but the chance to have all of these nasty animals crawl over my body made it well worth the 3 ringgit entry fee. The final stop of any importance was a tea plantation which rendered some amazing views of all the tea plantations below. I also took advantage to taste all of the free sweet peach tea in the BOH gift shop.


That's where tea comes from?

From the highlands, we took the curvy and swaying bus down the highlands to Kuala Lumpur, and Nadine's stomach did return to normal. In Kuala Lumpur, we had an interesting time. First day, we made our way around, near, close to, but not quite to the fourth largest tower in the world, the K.L. Tower. You would think with all of our travel experience, that making our way to the fourth largest tower in the world would be easy, towering over the city. It took us a little over an hour to reach it. We could have walked to it in 40 minutes easily. And we never actually walked to the tower. Finally, a guy asked us if we would like to have a ride to the base of it. Sure!!! From the top, you could make out the hazy outlines of a building, a bridge, and something else. There was a combo of haze, clouds, and pollution blocking our panoramic view.


Second day in Kuala Lumpur, K.L. to locals, we got out early and headed towards the largest set of twin towers in the world, the Petronas Towers. To visit the towers, you get in line in the morning and you are given a time in which you can climb 41 stories to the bridge connecting the towers. In high season, it can be tough to get these free tickets, but since we are here in the shoulder season, it wasn't tough at all. Once on the bridge, we could see more clearly the area surrounding us, compared to K.L. Tower. Better look quick though, to keep the flow of people moving, you only have 10 minutes. Fine with us. Back on level ground, we obtained two more tickets for the afternoon. Hey, it's free, great view, and it's quite popular.


But what is it that they really know?

As any good traveller knows, you need to have a roll of toilet paper with you at all times in case the situation arises that you have to go, confronted with a squat toilet, and have no t.p. We went to a local store to purchase a roll or two, but the smallest package available was only with 10 rolls. What are you going to do, go without? No way, we walked out with the 10 roll package. Now we have to find somewhere to put it in our bags.

To complete the day, we headed to Chinatown and the festivities there. Walking around among stiffling heat and the constant requests to buy a watch, haven't bought one in a decade, we decided to hide in a t-shirt store. It was here that I saw the absolute best t-shirt that I have seen on the entire trip. Up on the wall was a yellow shirt in light brown print, Oklahoma. That's not so great until you know what was on the shirt with Oklahoma. It was their picturesque ideal of Oklahoma, sunsets over a secluded beach and palm trees everywhere! Ha, that was great. In my five years living there, I can't recall a single spot of land that was directly by the ocean lined with palm trees, but I guess that must be the image of Oklahoma by Malaysians. I would have bought several of these shirts, but there was only one left, and it was a small. Must be a popular choice. I know I loved it.

Our first night in K.L., we stayed at a hostel that was a little shabby. At night, we saw several cockroaches scurrying across the floor in the hallways. One night was enough there. After our next night, maybe we should have stayed there. Second night in K.L., we moved to Le Village, a hostel with good reviews in our guidebook. We arrived and thought this place was going to be nice. That was during the day, at night completely different story. At night, the bed bugs came out to play and feast on all of the residents. As we attempted to sleep with loud noise coming from our deaf Japanese neighbors packing, we felt crawling on our legs. All of that was enough to wake us up and do a proper search of the place. It was then that we found these small bed bugs all over. From then on, Nadine didn't sleep and spent the night in the lounge area with a fellow female traveler who also couldn't sleep due to the bed bugs. This was all after an exhausting day in the heat of K.L. I showered, sprayed bug spray on my body, and jumped in my sleep sheet and got 4 hours of disturbed sleep. Promptly at 6 a.m., waking up a 6 a.m. on this trip!, we were out the door and finding a bus to Melaka. While in Melaka, we discovered the damage from the bed bugs, both of our backsides were covered in bites. We'll bring them with us to Thailand tomorrow.

After two horrendous nights of sleep in K.L. and 3 months of hostels, we decided we were going to stay in an actual hotel! We found a three star hotel on sale for 90 ringgits, $27 U.S., and stayed three nights. As a result, we loved Melaka. The highlight of Melaka, outside of the Emperor Hotel, was the night market in Chinatown. We strolled the market trying chocolate covered strawberries, pastries filled with exotic fillings, hopefully not too exotic, and some Tiger beer sitted by a road vendor. In all of our travels, we haven't bought any real souvenirs other than postcards and spoons for my mom. Here, we went crazy. We bought three things. A painting, a nightlite, and some placemats. They should now be on their way to the States via a very slow ship. Let's hope that they beat us home. Amongst our walking, food, and shopping, we stumbled on to the area where locals can try their best at kareokee. We pulled up a chair and witnessed a lady singing in Chinese in a very high screechy voice and an elderly man danced around with a red fan in his hand all while passerbys plugged their ears staring at the stage. This was hilarious. Too bad we forgot our camera.


The second time was just as good as the first free visit.

From Melaka, we have made our way to the busy and dirty city of Penang. We have met some interesting people. A couple who left England with plans to travel for 3 years around the world, but changed their minds and extended it to 5 years. Another pair of friends who are biking from Australia to Swizterland. It should be some rough going over water. Bonded and ran into randomly with the Dutch couple from the horrible hostel in K.L.

Life is good. We will go to Thailand tomorrow and the town of Krabi. I am feeling well, but Nadine has a head cold right now. She is getting some rest in a bed bug free, air conditioner colded room as I write.

If anyone would like to spend a carpe diemish Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years break in South East Asia with some cool folks, you are invited to join us for a bit. Even if you don't think we are cool, you're still invited. We have a pretty relaxed schedule in that we don't have to be anywhere until Valentine's Day in Hong Kong, China, so we could meet up with yall anywhere.


Posted by TulsaTrot 05:37 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (4)

You Can Have Your Apple Juice - And Eat It Too!

Your grass jelly as well

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If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
- Vincent Van Gogh

Greetings fellow bloggers! Nadine and I are currently here in Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands after a day of travel. What better to do at the end of a day than update our blog.

After our brief stint in Singapore, we quickly ventured over the northern border to Malaysia. I didn't know what to expect with Malaysia, other than the fact that the country is Muslim. What is unique about Malaysia is that it is a country that is able to successfully, and more importantly, coexist with THREE major religions living in close proximity, Islam, Christianity, and the Hindu religions. The 3 religions respect each other and acknowledge the others right to exist. Uncommon in our current times. In addition to that, I would never consider Malaysia a third world country. It is clean, efficient, orderly, people are very helpful and polite. I would rate it as a second world country if anything else. The underlying fact is that I would recommend Malaysia to anyone, as long as you are ready for a little heat and humidity.

Our first stop of our visit in penisular Malaysia was Pulau Tioman. Pulau Tioman is an island off of the south western coast. After a ferry ride across bumpy waters, we set foot on ABC beach. Yes, in order to stay there, you must be able to say your ABC's. New Mexicans are automatically excluded from this beach. They are allowed on Green Chile beach.

Pulau Tioman gave us a chance to sit on a beach and watch the monkeys, monitor lizards, and bats play. We stayed there 3 nights. What made it interesting was that every morning, we would stick our heads out, and find monkeys running around the grounds of our little bungalow. Beside them would be monitor lizards of varying sizes slowly walking across the grass. At night, bats were flying by our heads eating all of the bothersome mosquitos flying around our legs. It was all fun and games until one afternoon. Before our departure for the island, we purchased a bag of fruit. By the time the second afternoon arrived, we had consumed all of the bananas, oranges, and apples. The lone fruit was a large mango that Nadine had her beautiful blue eyes on for a few days. This afternoon, we went and had some lunch with mango being our dessert. Walking back from lunch, we approached our bungalow to find everything just like we had found it, EXCEPT, the mango was missing from the plastic bag. A monkey came by and swiped our mango while we were gone. If you find a monkey with mango chunks around its mouth, know that they ate our mango and they owe us one.

In addition to interesting monkeys, Pulau Tioman introduced us to new drinks. We're adventerous in trying new foods and drinks. Malaysia hasn't proved to be any different. Walking along the sidewalk one day, also is the major thoroughway between all beaches, thus has scooters, trucks, and people sharing the same road, we came upon a stall with a large list of drinks that we had never heard of. We tried some soy milk (good), 100 Plus (a type of Sprite), but the most unique was Grass Jelly soda. It's a drink with regular soda infused with small capsules of foul tasting grass jelly. Whew that was nasty! Just the sensation of having several pieces of jelly sliding through your straw just doesn't work for me. It was like eating dozens of jelly fish at once. Don't let me put you off, try it at least once, then move over to the apple juice with aloe bits. That tastes a little better.

I also took the chance to run, and run off that darned grass jelly drink. It was the first time to run since the Cook Islands. Combine that with the intense humidity, you'll never find that in Odessa, and proved to be a challenging run.

Leaving Pulau Tioman, we headed up the eastern coast to Kuantan, a stop on our way up a little village called Chetaring. But in Kuantan, is where we had some great travel tales. Being in a place we weren't going to stay long enough to catch the next bus, we didn't think much of our time there. Jumping off the bus, we walked through stalls of food being served. This was an authentic experience. No tourists, no backpackers, just Malays and their food. We settled up to the table at one stall, fumbled through our guidebook looking for the correct phrases to say, "we want good food, won't make us sick, and no chicken feet." It worked, we had a great little lunch with a bunch of Malaysian ladies giggling at us as we ate.

Completing lunch, we walked to the spot where the public bus leaves for Chetaring. Along the way, we ran into some local kids, trying our Malay, they tried their English, and we laughed. At the same time, we were passing in front of a huge blue mosque. Great photo.

On the bus, I was in a seat without a back cushion, just a metal skeleton to my seat, while Nadine was chatting it up with a local girl on the bus, acquiring about the one Malay food we have to try, and about life in general. Great interactions in Kuantan.

The goal of our trip into the small village along the coast was to hopefully see large female green turtles trudge up to the beach and lay eggs. Since we were arriving towards the end of the season, odds weren't the best, but heck, let's give it a try anyways. After a great dinner with a French postal worker in a restaurant off the main road, Jacques (his last name wasn't Strap), we jumped in a little van heading to some protected beach where green turtles are known to lay eggs. We sat there close to the beach with Chris, first American encountered in SEA, and played with a styrofoam box full of baby green turtles that had just hatched. Just as their instinct told them to get to the ocean, they were crawling all over each other to get out of the box and to an unknown wet future. They start about the size of your hand, their sex is decided by the temperature of the ground where they are laid, close to a tree, boy, closer to the ocean, girl. A notice came in over the walkie-talkie, there had been a momma turtle spotted up the beach. Like a bunch of ducklings, we followed our guide up the beach in the pitch black dark. You can only imagine him saying, "Guys, I was just joking, there is no stinking turtles out tonight, now you have to find your way back to the van." We knew we hit the spot when we saw huge tracks across the sand that looked like those of a monster truck. That little turtle had grown up into a massive block of turtle. We received another message on the walkie-talkie, there is another turtle up the beach packing the sand around the eggs and now about to make its way back to the South China Sea. We were there just in time to see this green turtle dragging its heavy shell and body 50 yards across the sand. That was a site.

Then it was time to head back to the other turtle. The other turtle was in the process of laying 120 eggs! We sat there guessing how many eggs she was going to drop, and this was around egg 80. By the time she finished up, we were all just like that turtle, a little tired. It was 2 a.m. (1 in the afternoon back in Odessa). This all started at 10, and four hours later, we were back on the road again back to our bungalow.


We continued our track north to the islands of the Perhentians. There are two of them, the smaller Kecil, home for 3 nights, and the larger and quieter Besar, home for 2 nights. We spent our time on these two islands as a chance to relax, read, hike, swim, and do a little bit of snorkelling. We did all of these activities really well. I even think we are getting to the point where we could master them. We've had enough practice. Pulau Perhentian Kecil presented us with a nice little cross island hike among monitor lizards and mosquitoes. Pulau Perhentian Besat allowed us to snorkel among some huge reef and colorful fish. Considering the amount of snorkeling we have done, we should have bought a mask long ago. On Besar, we did just that. It worked perfectly.

We left the beaches and are now sitting here in the cool rainy hills of Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, home to many tea plantations that are exported all around the world. This is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity that we've encountered for the last two weeks. This will give us the opportunity to do a few travel errands and the most important one is to wash our clothes!!! You can only wash your clothes so many times by hand when they need a good ol' fashioned machine wash to eliminate the stink from three countries. They're downstairs right now as I type. Here is a view of downtown Tanah Rata. If you see a red or blue rainjacket, that would be us running around. http://www.heritage.com.my/cameron/index.htm#

As many of you may have heard, there was a coup d'etat in Thailand several days ago. This has created an interesting dilemma for us, head straight to Thailand or find an alternative route. Here is our conclusion. Other travellers and websites have mentioned that it is fine to travel Thailand, but maybe stay away from the capital for awhile. They will name an interim Prime Minister in a week. Soooo, we are going to head south down the eastern coast until Melaka, home of the once thriving world spice trade, head over into Indonesia and see some orangatans, cross back over to Malaysia and then go to Thailand.

We are enjoying our time traveling, hard to believe that yes, we are already a third of the way done. How time flies.

Some of you may notice that in every entry I write, I always take the chance to take a shot at New Mexico at least once. I do this at the request of 10 fingered Pepper. Honestly, what opportunity would I have to tell a Dutch couple about the education system, green chiles, or those crazy arroyos.

JW: "Yeah Hans, at least the education of this town is much better than that of New Mexico! You wouldn't want any child educated in that state's educational system."

Hans: "What do you have against Mexico?"

JW: "No Hans, its a state to the west of the great state of Texas."

Hans: "I didn't know there was a state called New Mexico."

JW: "Noone really does Hans. Noone."

Life is good. We are healthy. We still love each other. A concern of ours is that my brother, Charlie Ray, is being deployed to Iraq in a week. I definitely don't think he should be going there, but I do hope and pray that he remains safe.

Question #1 - What Malay number for 5 also doubles as the capital of this South American country? First person to get it correct will get there name in the title of the next blog entry.

If all my friends were to jump off a bridge, I wouldn't jump with them, I'd be at the bottom to catch them. Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don't say. We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere.
- Tim McGraw

Peace from Malaysia


Posted by TulsaTrot 06:17 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (5)

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