Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cambodia: Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap

Phnom Penh

Cambodian flag through Independence Monument

Food stand riding past the park

The Killing Tree at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center


Nice sunset

A man and his prized bull

To let other bamboo trains pass you must dismantle and move to the side
That expression after being forced to help his sister carry sugarcane up the hill

Siem Reap

The life of the floating villages


Tending to the dried shrimp in a village

The trees at the temples were amazing

Giant temple-eating tree
Obligatory Angkor Wat photo

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Laos: Vientiane and Vang Vieng

Laos: Vientiane and Vang Vieng

The main part of my trip to Laos was about meeting a friend from Korea in Vientiane. He would be working remotely so that meant we wouldn't be actively traveling around the country. Instead we would be relaxing and taking it easy in the capital city of Vientiane, however, I flew in a couple of days early so I went off to the closest city of Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng, is a notorious hot spot for backpackers behaving badly. I had read that the city has cleaned up a lot of the problems that made it notorious but the beauty that attracted people in the first place was still intact. I wasn't there 5 years ago so I am not an expert but the backpackers are still there doing their thing and yes it is home to some really beautiful scenery. It has also risen in popularity with Korean tourists and I met some very nice Korean people who made me feel nostalgic about the place I have called home for the majority of my adult life. Overall it was a great time and a beautiful place.

Vientiane is a super relaxed city by Southeast Asian standards. Despite it not being very popular for tourists both me and my friend thought the vibe was cool and the relaxed nature of the place made it a great place to visit. The food is similar to other foods in Southeast Asia but it has its own unique spin with strong herbal and citrus flavors as well as a good dose of spice. One of the more interesting places in the city to visit a small visitor center in a rehabilitation hospital called the COPE visitor center. It gives some in sights into how the Vietnam War effected Laos. It is a pretty dark and brutal history that is still effecting the people in Laos but it was interesting to see. I also saw Logan in the movie theater while in Vientiane. I need lots of breaks inside of malls while in Asia due to the crazy heat, so I am glad I was able to do that.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi

This part of my trip was decided based on what flights were available out of India into SE Asia. After doing some reading on the country I decided to stay for a couple of weeks rather than a couple of nights. Kuala Lumpur was a nice change of pace coming from India, it reminded me of Seoul. Just a huge city with lots of strongly air conditioned shopping malls. The food was great. Great fruits, great seafood, great Malaysian and international foods. KL has a really amazing cityscape as well. One bad thing about Malaysia was that despite being a lower temperature than Kochi, it felt much hotter due to humidity.

Penang is an island in the northern part of Malaysia. There is an old post-colonial city called George Town. Very cool city, some of the best street food I have ever had and really cool street art all over the town. There is a mixture of cultures here between Muslim and Chinese which gives the island a very cool vibe.

I was flying out of KL in a few days so I came up with a genius plan to take a ferry to Langkawi, which is considered one of the best tropical beaches in SE Asia, and fly back to KL airport late the night before my flight the next morning. This worked out great because there is a cube hotel at the airport where you can shower and get a nice bed for a few hours. Anyway, I didn't do any swimming at Langkawi, one of the best beaches in the world. I read about people dying from box jellyfish and I was really looking for an excuse not to swim. I took a boat tour of the mangrove forest. To be honest it felt very forced for tourism. Kind of like a tourist trap. It wasn't awful, actually it was very pretty, but I didn't love Langkawi. It strikes me as the kind of place families bring their kids to sit on a beach for a week.

Next Stop Laos.

Friday, February 10, 2017

India Part 8: Kochi, Allepey and Varkala

India Part 8: Kochi, Allepey and Varkala

For the final leg of my India trip I went to the city of Kochi in the state of Kerala. From there I went south to the backwaters of Allepey and the tropical beaches of Varkala.

Kochi is an art hub in India. There are many art museums, galleries and street art. It is, along with everywhere else in Kerala, a great place for seafood. There is also and old part of town called Jew Town where there is a synagogue that used to be used by the now absent local Jewish community. One highlight from Kochi was a cooking class that I took. I learned to make a few different Kerala style vegetarian dishes that I will try to recreate when I get home.

Allepey is one of the best places to see the Kerala backwaters, which are series of canals that wind through villages along the coast. Boat tours and houseboat stays are some of the more popular things to do in the area and I did both. I spent the night on a houseboat with three others travelers that I met along the way. The boat included three delicious meals and lots of amazing views from the water. Quite relaxing. The following day we got off the house boat and went on a smaller canoe that could maneuver the narrow canals that the houseboats cannot. The canals were cool but it was the couple of stops along the way that really made the trip interesting. The first stop was lunch in a village where we picked out some fish and had a fish curry. The restaurant had a couple of pet eagles which was very strange. We also talked to a man who was collecting coconut sap for the local toddy shop. Toddy is a stinky, not so tasty, palm wine made from the sap of the palm tree. The final stop was at the boat drivers home where we sat with his father while he did some dishes. After the boat driver did his chores he knocked some fresh fruit out of the trees in his back yard for us to try. They had bananas, coconuts, mangoes and tamarind. Tamarind is usually used as a dried spice but it comes from a small fruit that tastes almost exactly like the super sour warhead candies kids like to eat.

After Allepey three of the four of us went to Varkala. Varkala was a very beautiful beach area with some amazing seafood. As I mentioned before the beach isn't my favorite destination but this area was beautiful. A highlight of my stay in Varkala was renting a moped and driving way off away from any sign of tourists into a small fishing village. My travel buddy and I sat with some fisherman who were playing cards at the beach and introduced us to their albino friend. Everyone in the village was really friendly and wanted to say hi to us. We asked a local kid if there was somewhere to eat and he signaled for us to follow him and he knocked on someone's door and told them we were hungry. It was an old couple who gave us some bread and veg curry. I couldn't really tell if it was just their home or if they sell food to locals. After visiting that random village and beautiful beach we climbed up to the top of a lighthouse and snapped some photos of the area. Varkala was great!

This is my last post for India. It was an amazing experience and I hope to come back some day and see even more of the country. One thing I would like to say about India is that it gets a bad rap for tourism but in my experience nearly none of the negative things people say about it are really true. Next stop Malaysia.   

India Part 7: Mysore, Ooty and Munnar

India Part 7: Mysore, Ooty and Munnar

After Hampi I was headed further south through the state of Karnataka to Kerala. My first three stops were Mysore, Ooty and Munnar.

Mysore is a pretty big city that I stopped at in order to split up the traveling. There is a beautiful palace that they light up at night as well as a zoo that was closed at the time due to bird flu. Other than visiting the palace I ate a lot of good vegetarian thalis and relaxed.

Ooty was up in the hills and provided some nice cool weather. To get there I took a government bus on a winding mountain road that went through national parks and tiger reserves. The ride was bumpy and uncomfortable but the ease of hopping on and off government buses is well worth it in my opinion. Ooty is known for having tea and chocolate factories, as well as beautiful scenery often used in Bollywood films. I tried some chocolates, walked around a tea factory and went for a short hike.  I also got a bit of food poisoning for the first and only time in India when I decided to get some home comforts and ordered a Domino's pizza.

Munnar, the most beautiful place in South India since Hampi, is a hill station with thousands of acres of tea plantations. Although not a natural beauty, the tea plantations are very picturesque. The first day in Munnar I took a trek which went through tea plantations and ended with breakfast on top of a mountain overlooking the tea. The second day I took a tuktuk tour with someone who I met in Goa and reconnected with on this leg of the trip. The tuktuk driver was one of the most colorful people I have met in India which, on top of the beautiful scenery and spotting a couple wild elephants, made the day a very memorable one.