Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I know they have machine guns, but they won't really shoot us, right?

Our border crossing, and the machine guns!!
"I'd read in an online forum that they had quite the racket going on charging all sorts of additional "fees" for exit stamps, a "health check", visas, and entry stamps.

The only real cost of the border crossing is $20 for the Cambodian visa. The rest is just bogus, but everyone is in on it from both sides of the border including the tour companies shuttling tourists across.
Many on the forums suggested fighting the corruption and trying to get through without paying the fees, by the several stories of people attempting, it sounded pretty difficult, and few actually ever accomplished it.
Sure the extra "fees" only amount to $10 but  the principle of the thing made me want to attempt it and Julie was kind enough to humor me.
The tour company we hired to drive us to the border offered to help travelers get visas for $30 each, enough for the bribes and some for themselves.
The tour company guy wasn't very happy that we were going to go across without his help and during the process said the bus would just leave us at the border if we took too long.
We arrived at the border and went to a little building on the Laos side for our exit stamps.  Julie waited to the side and I handed our passports through the window and sure enough they asked for $2 for each exit stamp. I said no and that I knew there were no fees for an exit stamp and asked them to please give us the stamps. They pushed the passports back at me and told me to move aside for other travelers. I refused and stood my ground. They slamed the window shut leaving the passports in front of them inside the window. 
More and more travelers and tour operators were lining up behind me so the border guards opened the window and again told me to pay the fees or move aside and pushed the passports back at me. At this point I put my elbow in the window to keep it open while pushing the passports back at them and boxing out the various tour operators trying to push their stacks of passports through the window with bribes inserted. 
This continued for several minutes, including an episode of me taking a picture of the guards to try further to persuade them to just give us the stamps. 
One of the guards started trying to negotiate with me by offering to give the stamps if I let some of the tour operators go through. Wary of possible trickery I still decided to give it a try since the stale mate we currently were in was going nowhere. After letting a couple tour operators put their passport stacks through I asked him to stamp my passports and again he said no, not without paying the fees. I reminded him that he promised to do it and said I wasn't going to move until he stamped them. He finally grudgingly stamped our passports and gave them back to us. This all took about 20 minutes.
I thought to myself, "Wow, all that, just for the Laos exit stamps. I can't even imagine how difficult the other things will be, especially the Cambodia visa."
As we walked across the border, on the left side of the road was the Cambodia Health Check station, just a tent with some tables and border guards.  All the other tourists were lined up at the health station. 
Basically the guards just swiped the tourists forehead with a thermometer and charged them $2 for it. Again, this is not anything official, just another scam! Haha. 
I told Julie to just ignore it and walk right by it all. Just then a guard in the middle of the road tried to direct us to the tent but we just kept walking, ignoring him while all the other tourists watched. He kept asking us to go and Julie said in a very kind, pleasant voice, as the diplomat she always is, " Oh, we don't need, it but thank you!" She flashed them this convincing smile, like what she said was really genuine because it was. haha

The guard looked shocked and didn't know what to do, so he just said thanks back, and we passed by him. 
As we were walking to the Cambodia visa station one of the visa guards called over to the health station guard we just passed. I'm not sure what was said but my guess is he was asking wether or not we paid. 
I figured the visa was going to be the hardest part, and I was right. 
There was one guard outside the booth directing people and several guards in the booth working on visas. We filled out paperwork and I stepped up to the window and handed them our passports with the paperwork and the money for visas. 
They asked for more money, I said no and that I knew the official visa price was $20 each and wouldn't be paying more. They tried to hand everything back through the window but I blocked it and so they dropped it on their desks inside their office, and told me to move aside. 
The window was wide so I couldn't block everyone else but I held my ground in the middle of the window and wouldn't budge. The guards were getting more and more upset that I wouldn't move or pay more money and eventually the main guard in the booth yelled at me that we wouldn't be crossing the border today, tore up our paperwork, and told me to go fill out more. I wasn't sure what would happen but thought I'd try the "take a picture" strategy. 
So I grabbed my camera and snapped a quick shot. The camera flash set off an uproar from the guards and other tourists. The guards were all yelling and it got a little crazy for a moment and other travelers were saying I would get arrested. 
As I was trying to find some info on my phone the main guard quickly reached through the window and grabbed my phone putting it in the top drawer of his desk.
They kept yelling to sit down and fill out forms again.  Julie convinced them we would sit down as it was getting heated, and I decided to sit down and let things cool off.  We filled forms out again and sat patiently for a bit. I then said I'd delete the picture and held up the camera to show them that I did. 
After a bit Julie very nicely asked the guard outside the booth if we could get the visas now and after a minute he asked me to follow him to a little table outside the visa office. 
For a second I wasn't sure where he was taking me, perhaps out back to rough me up...haha.
 He asked me to show him that I had deleted the pictures, I did and he then tried to get me to pay more again, but I said no and he eventually asked for the passports, paperwork and visa money. I gave it to him and hoped he would really take care of it but thought he might just take everything and leave us hanging. He came back a couple minutes later with visas in the passports and we headed to the entry desk/gate to get the entry stamp. 

They asked for $2, I said no, they set the passports aside and were helping others for a couple minutes then stamped ours and we were in Cambodia. 
Standing your ground here is not for the faint hearted, and honestly with corruption that deeply ingrained, I understand why 99.99% of people just go along with it. Not just here, but in any place where corruption is that ingrained in the system.
 I am glad that I did it, but they started to get pretty hostile, and it could have gone south, with me ending up in Jail. 
What is the real answer to these types of problems?
Once across the border we waited a few hours with everyone else while the tour companies tried to get us all sorted and squeezed onto various buses. This part of world travel often seems so chaotic, hectic and unorganized. We finally ended up on a bus packed wall to wall, with a full aisle of people as well.
Welcome to Cambodia.

Main Initiate, Leave Laos

It was time to go..

I know you're thinking, "but you didn't do anything in Laos", but we did, we ate Laab. What I didn't tell you was that our first day there we took a tuk tuk around several parts of the city, and saw everything we needed to!

However, the true Laos experience came when we were leaving. We were picked up in an oversized Tuk Tuk crammed full of people. It was nice. You can't help but bond with someone whose so close that you can smell what type of soap they have been using or the lack there of... Rich, poor or famous, from certain places, there are only certain options available for travel.

Good bye wall stares,  hello adventure.

Leaving Laos, that was the main initiative today, along with entering
Cambodia. After living in the states my whole life where I can travel
freely to "whole new worlds" by driving to a new state, border crossing is new and
plainly just inconvenient, but an adventure I'd like to write about, and 
something I plan to grow more accustom to!!

We have done our travel time you guys. I have stood on buses with 3x
the fire marshals concern...., still no chickens like some friends
of ours experienced. We have done trains with children relieving their
bowels and bladders in the walk ways, while our neighbors chewed
politely on some gizzards.

I don't know what time it was..early morning late at night..but we should have been sleeping.
So, we bought an over night bus! You get a bed to sleep in like an
overnight train. In Laos I didn't mind it. The smells are different
and I don't mind them. I walked on to the bus and headed to my seat.
Curtis was outside making sure our bags were being put away properly.
I noticed the puff paint on the drivers seat..(insert picture) and
started to have memories of passed bus trips. "Please don't have a
toilet"... I spotted a small child..., " please small child.. Have the
ability to sleep through anything"..., I found my bed at the very back
of the bus thanking my lucky flip flops that there was no bathroom and
especially that it was not right by my bed!!! The small children were
far away and I climbed up the latter onto our mat.

To the right of me across the bus were our neighbors, smiles, and
baldies brother? I say this with a question because the bald guy in
front of them looked like his brother, but with less hair... I didn't
ask, so I will never know!!! but I observed them both in question for far too long!

To the left was another sleeper bus. I noticed the identical brand new
crisp and clean looking flower sheets on every bed. I started to
compare the two. Underneath me was a Teddy bear sheet? That looked
like something I had used as a superman cape, then rolled around
endlessly in our neighbors sand box with, and then carried something
like a hundred heavy wet frogs home in, where the frogs where then cooked and
my sheet was hung up over a chair to dry. (insert picture) ok well maybe
not my experience, but someone's.

I noticed a girls hair blowing in the wind, I could feel the cool
Arctic winds of good airconditioning just watching her through my window. I turned back to my own bus and watched the old women in front of us wipe her bangs off her forehead that had been plaster there by sweat.

I started to work on opening the vents. As the imagined arctic winds
began sputtering cool and warm winds from my vents..., I realized how
different out buses were.

Well, like we do, we made the best of it. We went to sleep and I prayed
for safety from the bugs as always.

Curtis Take: Not sure how smooth the ride was in the front of the bus but we were being tossed and bounced all over in the back. Julie kept launching in the air and landing on me while we tried to sleep. I kept wondering if the window would give way and I'd fly out onto the road. We slept on our sides/stomachs to try to keep stable and held a hand in between our faces and the window and wall so we didn't smash faces with all the bumping. Good times. 
Back to Julie.

A few hours into sleeping I
smelled oil. My nose twitched and I turned my head. I started
dreaming oil was dripping on my head so I covered my face up with a

Then I felt it in my hair. I uncovered my face and opened my eyes
deciding I would fully wake up so I could fall asleep and dream
something different. That's when I felt the splashes of water on my face
again. The condensation from the aircon! No biggie, a few drops of
water, but those eventually, within minutes turned into a full spring and
then a lake on our bed!

CURTIS Take: The aircon was totally raining on us at this point. I went up front to tell the guys with the bus company what was happening. 
Back to Julie.
It was difficult for him to explain to them as we did not speak their language. These are the jokes that persisted.

"sounds like bake, there is a LLLake on our bed.", Curtis
" it is also like a vegetable, there is a LLeak", smiles

Those are some funny comments I liked from the night putting humor to
the situation where we could not communicate the problem. I forgot to
tell you that there was a half bed in length and width in between
smiles and our bed. It looked like a place to put extra bags, but it
was for the passenger who bought a bed and got jipped. We'll call him
Jimmy. Jimmy's propped up his feet on my bed by my feet and on baldies brothers bed by his feet all
night, until the leak, so his feet didn't hang off his own bed.

Well, they tried to stop the leaks by holding up some plastic bags to
them, like that was going to do anything. We pulled into a small bus stop for a bathroom break and we waited to find out the situation. Suddenly they were working on the engine, the bus would
not work either, and we all slept at that stop that night. 

There are two beds to every seat area. If you buy one a random stranger can buy the other, and you a very close experience with someone you don't know!! I found  a girl named Stephanie who bought one bed. She moved over and we became bunk mates, while Curtis had a camp fire with the
local bus diver men And watched packs of dogs fight and mate and do
what dogs do at night in foreign countries.

It reminds me of apocalyptic movies where few humans come in and out
of rubble and ferocious dogs who survived have become dingoish.
CURTIS Take: I got off the bus at the bus stop and realized that we were either stuck riding in the soaked bed for another 10 hours or we needed to find another option. I quickly started running around, checking all the other buses at the station to see if any were going our way and had room but to no avail. Then I found out we could catch another bus the following evening and just stay the night in a hostel nearby and was walking back to discuss it with Julie when I noticed several guys working on our buses engine. Julie was taken care of in the last dry bed so I stayed up to try and help with the bus and figure out what was happening. After a few hours the bus still wouldn't start. It was the middle of the night, the bus station was empty and I had no idea what the plan was. The bus drivers were huddled around a little fire with the station security guards so I decided to go hang with them and try to find out the plan. After a good gnaw of charades I found out another bus was coming but wouldn't arrive until the morning sometime, several hours later. We sat listening to music, watching packs of dogs attack each other and just taking it easy. It was interesting to watch the slow steady evolution of the bus station from ghost town to sleepy village to bustling travel center in a matter of hours that morning.
Back to Julie.

The night passed pretty quickly and I hear the screaming of a small
child below me. "I know small child, I know!"

The adventure continued and wouldn't be worth writing home about
without the trifecta. But alas the bus with the meat throwing and the broken
seat arrived, which was followed up by our next "VIP" bus going MIA-- due
to another breakdown... So we played sardines in the back of a large
Tuk Tuk again!!!!

Meat bus: A bus arrived after our long night. We all lined up, and waited to enter. A guy came with a trash barrel and someone with in the bus started sweeping out bones and meat. It filled the barrel, and so they brought another. At last we were let in. Did I mentioned we were first in line. We got in to pick a good seat to sleep on. We picked a seat, that we eventually found out was broken, but only after it was too late to pick another. the food I have bought from a local place I realized has a whole chewed through the wrapper by mice or rats. I went to return it, and they did without a second thought, but while I was gone the bus tried to leave with out me! I made it though.

VIP's Gone MIA: A sweet French lady was completely lost after the second bus ride, not knowing where to go or what was happening with the VIP bus that was already an hour late. In broken English asked me for info. I tried to tell her in English but she couldn't understand. All my French
education left me hanging as my mind went blank search through dark cob wedded tunnels, but I continued to search for the words. 
Donde..., no, that is where in spanish!! 
Why am I studying Spanish when I need French!! Why in high-school Did I study French
when I needed Spanish?? Always in the wrong order!!
The Fragmented french was still there. So in broken
french I spoke to her. J'ne said pas!!! She spoke back in frennch

Mrs. Richert..., Mrs. Wozniki..., I understood every word, and answered
back in broken French!! Thank you for forcing me to speak French, to
conjugate, and for passing me. Thank you for endless songs about beef and swimming fish and
other things I always thought were irrelevant!!!  After this conversation and my ability to win little mermaid French trivia questions, I know now that all that singing was not in vain! And you'll be
happy to know.. I know that the little fish are swimming now and not

Petit peasant Nassau Nassau Nassau
From then on the french lady and I were friends, and for the next three days I was
having little chats with her in french.

We ferried to the island. Stayed for two days. 

We ate bad food, slept under a mosquito net, and then ate amazing food but at a bug ridden restaurant! U win some u lose some.
(Insert picture)

We left and took a bus to the border and it begins...
The crossing from Laos to Cambodia was an interesting experience.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

We took a little intermission for a little surgery...We were in Cambodia, found a doctor, bought a plane ticket, came home, waited one week while doing some good Utah skiing, got surgery, healed for a few weeks, and we are now in South America!!! Sorry we have not been posting, but we are back!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chiang Mai

We got off the train in Chiang Mai and took and took a minute to get our bearings and decide what part of the city we wanted to stay in. Just East of the city center there were suppose to be a lot of good inexpensive hostels so we flagged down a truck taxi thing, negotiated the price and headed out.

The annual flower festival was going on so the streets were pack with traffic. So much so that we ended up getting out and walking the last few blocks. We checked several hostels, found one with availability, dropped our bags off and went to grab some lunch.

We walked into a restaurant and sat down. Then we noticed that our train companion, Cindy, was also at the same little restaurant. (So random) She joined us and we had a nice lunch together.

After lunch Julie and I strolled through the flower festival market and I picked up some much needed flip flops, I tossed my last pair on Lao Liang because they were on the verge of falling apart.

Chiang Mai has a nice relaxed atmosphere. We enjoyed evening walks in the city center and just taking it easy.

One night while there we went and watched the local Muay Thai boxing fights. It was fun and exciting to watch. As a sort of intermission between fights they got a bunch of Thai fighters up there, blind folded them and then they all started fighting each other, royal rumble style. It was hilarious!

You can pack a lot of different activities into one day around Chiang Mai. Although it is possible to work out arrangements on your own to do most activities, we decided to simplify our lives by just buying a package deal from a local tour company. We went for the less expensive package that groups you together with other tourists which turned out great because we ended up being the only ones in the group. Ah yeah!!! Private tour for the group tour price!

We got picked up the next morning and started the day at an Elephant park. We got to feed the elephants, hold their trunks, watch them do all sorts of amazing fun things like take a bath in the river, play soccer, paint, play harmonicas, move huge tree size logs around and tons of other stuff. Next we drove further into the hills, were treated to a basic fried rice lunch and then got to ride an elephant around the forest.

After that we stopped by a little village reservation where we saw Longneck tribal people, you know, the ones you've seen on the discovery channel, with the big rings around there neck.

Another short drive and it was time to jump in a boat for some river rafting. The river wasn't very fast and mostly made up of class 2/3 rapids but we still had a good time. Our boat guide was really funny and several times when we got near another boat a full scale water war would erupt.

After rafting we Had a few minutes to dry off and change and I spent the time learning how to play Sepak Takraw, a sport indigenous to Thailand. It's a variant of volleyball played with the feet and a light rattan ball. It is amazing to see players perform aerials, spiking the ball over the net with their feet.

Then it was back in the car for the drive back to Chiang Mai. On the way back we stopped off at an Orchid & Butterfly farm. They had some incredibly beautiful flowers.

It was a really fun day.

From Chiang Mai we decided we'd head to Laos to get a Vietnam visa from the embassy and then work our way through Laos to Cambodia, then to Vietnam.

Before leaving Chiang Mai I decided to have one last Thai experience. Thailand is known for inexpensive dentistry, cosmetic surgery and various other procedures. I thought it would be interesting to do something simple just for the fun of it like Botox. I found out that they do Mesotherapy and decided to try it out.

The basic idea behind Mesotherapy is that they inject a substance into areas of your body with excess fat and the stuff is suppose to break down fat cells and allow your body to more quickly metabolize them. Full effect takes two weeks and your suppose to lose a few pounds of fat from the treated areas.

I've heard of it before and though I don't expect it to work, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try. The office was clean and professional looking. I laid down on my back on the doctors table, pulled up my shirt and he did about 20 injections spread across my lower stomach area. That was it. Took all of 5 minutes.

UPDATE: It's been 2 weeks and I've got an awesome 6 pack, hahaha...actually, not seeing any change so I guess it's back to eating right and exercise. Pft.

Thailand: Bangkok

Thailand: Bangkok

Bangkok is a bustling, busy city. With many different sites, sounds and tastes waiting to be taken in.

We spent our time exploring major temples, palaces, markets, water ways, getting clothes tailor made, and eating great Thai food. (I'm really developing a thing for curry).

The Thai people are extremely friendly and helpful.

Thailand is very inexpensive. Even Bangkok was a bargain. A few dollars for a great meal that would cost 5x as much in the US. Comfortable, clean accommodation with a private room, your own bathroom, Internet and often breakfast for $25 or less. Transportation via Taxi, Tuk Tuk or boat was cheap and easy as well.

In Bangkok, Tuk Tuk's can be one of the absolute cheapest ways to get around if you know the system and work it effectively. Many local businesses, restaurants, etc offer various kick backs to Tuk Tuk
drivers for bringing tourists to them. This can really work to your advantage. Here is how you can get your own personal Tuk Tuk driver for an entire day, multiple destination, for about $1.33 US (40 Baht).

First determine the days itinerary. Where you want to go, what you want to see, what you want to do, etc.
Example: Visit some temples, bargain hunting at the market, grab some lunch, river cruise, check out the palace, stop in at a tailor to see about getting a hand made custom suit or dress. Find a Tuk Tuk and let them know you want to go several places and finish off the day at a clothing tailor. Then tell them your itinerary
and tell them 40 Baht for everything. They will try to negotiate with you but be strong and let them know you know they can get a kick back at the tailor. If they are still negotiating then let them know you are willing to
spend a little time at another location that gives them something. Jewelry stores are often an interesting stop because you can watch them actually hand craft the jewelry. The Tuk Tuk driver will wait for you at each location and you don't pay until the end of the day. We really enjoyed exploring the city this way and the fun interaction
getting to know our Tuk Tuk drivers.

How did we figure all this out? Just brilliant I guess ;-) Actually, a local, who use to work at the palace, randomly approached us on the street, asked what we wanted to do and then hailed a Tuk Tuk for us and showed us the above strategy. He didn't ask for anything, was just genuinely interested in helping us. It was really refreshing. Often when someone randomly approaches us on the street it's because they want to sell us something.

We had a lot of fun getting clothes tailor made in Bangkok. You can get amazing deals on high quality clothes, made just for you. Lots of places will offer a tailor made suit for $100 or less but in reality, if you go for that deal it will be very low quality material and workmanship...many places advertise like that to get you in the door to up-sell you into something better. We found a place called "The Oriental Galleria" and decided to just go for it...I mean, how often are you in Thailand and get to have some suits and shirts tailor made just for you...it was a fun process to pick out material, get measured up and come back a few hours later for further fitting with the nearly completed suits we bought. We were leaving that night right after the fitting and didn't have time to get the fully finished product so just had them shipped directly back home for us so hopefully they turn out OK...have read some not so hot reviews about "The Oriental Galleria" online since then so I'm not so sure what we'll end up with...haha...whatever happens it was a fun experience either way. We decided to do it kinda last minute without really leaving ourselves time for research and to get the finished product, so we'll see how it turns out when we get home in 6 months, haha. That said, things felt pretty nice during the final fitting so I'm still hopeful that everything will turn out great!

In hindsight, my recommendation would be to do your research online ahead of time on what clothing shop other travelers are reviewing well. Then try to negotiate half payment upfront and half on satisfactory completion. Make sure you have enough time in Bangkok to get the finished product and either take it with you or ship it home yourself so you can be sure that it fits right and that you get what you wanted. (You could also subtly threaten to burn the place down if your not satisfied).

From Bangkok we jumped on an overnight sleeper train to head north for Chiang Mai. We were in a comfortable and relatively clean second class sleeper car. It was much, much better than the second class or hard sleeper cars we encountered in China. Julie had the bottom bunk and I had the top. Riding in the bunks next to us we met Cindy, a quiet girl from Shanghai, and Paul, a really funny guy from the UK, who joined the train a few stops later. Paul kept us laughing for hours with story after story.

After several hours of sleep we awoke the next morning just a short distance from Chiang Mai.

Thailand Lao Loang

Thailand: Ko Lao Liang

We got to Trang, Thailand late in the evening and had no clue where
the bus was dropping us off at, where to stay or how we'd get there.
Luckily there was one "taxi driver" waiting there for such an
opportunity. Charades and very broken English got the point across
that we needed to find a place to sleep so we could go to Had Yao pier
in the morning. He went to get our transportation while we got our
bags situated. I looked up expecting a taxi but instead was looking at
two motor scooters with our "taxi drivers" waiting to take us to a
place we could sleep. With packs on our backs we hoped on and held on
for the few minute ride to a random hotel, which was conveniently
right next to the mini bus station where we'd catch a ride to the pier
the next morning.

I asked the lady at the front desk how much for a room that night. She
didn't speak english so she wrote down two options. What looked like
980 for air conditioned and 250 without. With a 30-1 exchange rate the
air conditioned option seemed a big jump from the non-air option so I
tried to negotiate by writing down 750. She just pointed at the 980,
so I tried again by writing down 800, again to no avail. Then our
friend the "taxi" guy helped us understand that what we thought was
980 was actually 380...haha, wow! $12 US, the best price we've found
yet for one night accommodation.

In the morning we walked to the mini-bus station and packed into a
little mini van with eleven others for the hour ride to Had Yao pier
to catch a long-tail boat to Ko Lao Liang, a little secluded island in
the Andaman Sea.

Once at Had Yao we negotiated a boat ride but decided we should find
an ATM before heading out to sea to make sure we had enough cash for
whatever we needed since most island accommodations we might go to
didn't take credit cards or have ATMs around. Unfortunately the little
village of Had Yao didn't have any ATMs either. With little to no
english speakers available, it took some doing but we were eventually
able to figure out that the nearest ATM was a little ways away in
another village. To get there I negotiated a ride on the back of a
scooter from some guy in the village while Julie waited at Had Yao. By
this time I was really wishing I'd remembered to hit up an ATM before
leaving Trang.

After a few minutes flying down the road and around corners at break
neck speeds on the back of the scooter, holding on for dear life, sure
that we'd crash and burn any second, I was seriously re-thinking this
poor decision. After 5 minutes passed and we sent seem to be anywhere
near an ATM I began to realize that I definitely misunderstood the
distance factor of the earlier communication regarding the ATM. My
driver didn't understand English at all so I had no clue how long this
really might take. I decided to give it a few minutes and then pull
the plug and head back. The further away we got, the more I dreaded
the trip back. I tried to get across the question of "how much
further" and he seemed to understand my charades and expressed what I
interpreted to mean, "just a little further". A few minutes later and
we arrived. I got the cash and hoped back on the scooter. Thankfully
we made it back without incident, jumped on the boat and headed out
for the hour and a half trip to Ko Lao Liang

Ko Lao Liang is a small, quiet island. There is only one place with
accommodation and most people book it ahead of time but we just
decided to wing it and hope they had availability. If not we'd just
hop back on the boat and head to another island.

We were in luck, they had just one tent left. Yup, I just said tent!
There are only tent accommodations on Ko Lao Liang. They are really
big two room tents, a few steps from the beach with mattresses in them
for beds, a light and an electrical outlet, (electricity is produced
by a generator that runs in the evening and night time hours only).
There are about 30 tents on the island so it's generally a really
small number of people around, very relaxed atmosphere.

They have free kayaking and snorkeling (although much of the reef is
unfortunately dead on the west coast of Thailand, you can still see a
variety of fish but visibility is so so here). There are also 50 or so
great rock climbing routes on the island that draw in rock climbing
enthusiasts from all over the world. (rock climbers bring most of
their own gear so they don't really have any for rent/hire).

Many of the Thai islands are getting over crowded with tourists,
resorts, and everything that comes with that. We were really looking
to avoid all of that and just wanted a nice secluded place to relax
for a few days and unwind and Ko Lao Liang fit the bill.

They have a full time staff available that cooks you three nice meals
a day and keeps the island clean. They also have a small bar, more of
hut, on the beach with sodas and various types of alcohol available.
There are flush toilets and coldish showers that feel great on a hot

We were there for 4 days/3 nights and spent most of the time relaxing,
kayaking around the island and a smaller neighboring island,
snorkeling, lounging on the beach and in the ocean, finding sea
shells, getting to know others on the island, learning to walk the
slack line that was set up by someone visiting and generally just
taking it easy. We really enjoyed our time there.

The weather was nice most of the time with an occasional rain shower
in the afternoon or evening, typical this time of year.

The island arranged our transportation back to the mainland. We headed
back via another long tail boat and then were driven to the Trang
train station to see if we could catch the overnight train to Bangkok.
We got our tickets and had a couple hours till departure so we got
some food and got a Thailand SIM card for our WiFi device.

We jumped on the train just as it was about to leave and I realized we
hadn't bought any snacks or such for the trip, you can buy stuff on
the train but it's much more expensive, so I quickly jumped off and
ran to a store, just outside the station, and grabbed a few items and
ran back to the train getting on 30 seconds before it left. Whoa, that
was a close one.

We were off to Bangkok!


Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang Island

Singapore is an independent city state notoriously known for strict
enforcement of laws with punishments like canning for graffiti and the
death penalty for drug trafficking. The reality is that the average
law abiding traveler has nothing to fear about travel in Singapore.
It's one of the most modern cities you will find in Asia and you CAN
drink the water. It's also a major hub of travel for the region and
ties in many flight options with Australia, South East Asia and
Indonesian points of interest like Bali.

The airport has free WiFi and we used it to find a hostel downtown
near Little India called Smeet Home. Many hostels were booked solid
due to the Chinese New Year celebration, so we were lucky to find
something. Lunar New Year goes on throughout Asia for 15 days at the
end of January and early February. So Happy New Year everyone! It's
the year of the water dragon so live it up!

Smeet Home turned out pretty good, other than our room being up 5
flights of stairs. Free Internet downstairs, free toast and oatmeal
for breakfast and we had a TV in our room. We got some good use out of
the TV watching some hilarious and intense Bollywood cinema. Serious
entertainment value, no joke!

Singapore has some interesting architecture and offers many of the
same activities you'd find in any major city. We'd done most of those
things other places so we explored the city a bit, relaxed a bit and
went to the amazing Singapore Zoo. Most of the exhibits allow you to
get up close and personal with the animals in ways you rarely see at
other zoos. It was really fun.

Due to all the travelers enjoying the Chinese New Year, most modes of
transportation heading north through Malaysia were booked up but we
were able to find a flight to Kuala Lumpur on JetStar for $2 a
piece...with fees and taxes it ended up being $45 each, haha, still a
good deal.

Kuala Lumpur, the Jewel of Malaysia, home to the Petronis Towers,
shopping and not much else. It's a nice enough city and worth a stop
if you're passing through but it seems to be Malaysia's answer to a
westernized big city with high rises, a shopping mall on every corner,

After a visit to the Petronis Towers and exploring the city on foot we
decided to take a relaxing break for an hour foot massage at the spa
just below our hostel. It was some much needed recuperation for our
tired little feet.

We stayed at a decent little hostel called Sunshine Bedz. Good price,
free Internet WiFi in the rooms and great location, walking distance
to the Petronis Towers.

From Kuala Lumpur we jumped on a bus and headed north to Penang
island. (In general, bus travel and train travel are very efficient
ways to get around Malaysia). We got off the bus at the Butterworth
stop and hoped on the ferry for a quick trip across the water to
Penang island and walking distance to the main tourist area. There
wasn't much we wanted to do in Penang but we were unclear on a few
things about the Thailand border, our next heading, so we decided to
crash in Penang for the night and head for Thailand the next day.

Again, not a lot of accommodation options with Chinese New Year on so
we ended up in a hole called KK Hostel. Our dirty room was directly
above the dirty butcher downstairs and smelled really bad. We survived
the night, spent an hour or so on a wild goose chase trying to find a
mini bus, (aka Mini Van), to take us over the border to the city of
Trang, Thailand, ended up heading back across on the ferry and
grabbing a regular bus to Hat Yai, Thailand. From Hat Yai we grabbed
another bus heading to Krabi and got off in Trang as it passed

The Thai border was an easy and painless crossing. At the border you
can get 15 days in Thailand but if you want more time you can just
visit the Thai Embassy in Penang for a 30-60 day Visa.