Sunday, August 31, 2008

Things we lost to the Namsong

We are in Laos right now. We spent the last two days kayaking and tubing down the Namsong river with some friends we met trekking.

Right now though, I'd like to list the things we lost in the Namsong.

1. My sandal (singular). If you happen to see a drunk guy with one black sandal...its probably mine.
2. Our bank cards (luckily, we have backups)
3. Kip (Laos money)
3. 2 Wallets (containing said bank cards and kip)
4. My t-shirt (still wondering how this was my green water guardian shirt...I loved that shirt
5. My necklace (sorry mom)
6. Some dignity

If you happen to see any of these items floating around the Indian and South China sea, let us know. We'll be happy to reward you with a lot of wet kip.

Jungle Trekking: Day 3

The Final Countdown

We woke up early again. Our guide, Mowgli (who took a liking to one of our British friends) took us through the final mountain trails. We walked for two hours or so until we reached the river.
There were three bamboo rafts (like actual bamboo raft- tied together with bamboo) each about 25ft. long. With four people on a raft, two of us were given a long bamboo pole to paddle with.

We owned that river.

I took a couple bushes to the face and a nice fat tree limb to the shin, but other than that, we were warriors. We were cutting corners and dodging overturned rafters. I think a couple of the Thai locals mistook us for natives (skadoosh).

After the rafting we rode back to Chiang Mai. By far the most adventurous three days we've conquered on this trip.

Jungle Trekking: Day 2

We woke up early. Grabbed our stuff and headed out by 8:45.

We trekked through the mountains for a good 3 hours, weaving in and out of mountains and around rivers. Around lunch time we came through the clearing to a small hut. Our guide cooked us rice and something he picked up along the way (whatever, we were tired and it tasted like food).
Everyone made their way to the waterfall around the backside of the valley. We took showers while trying to find the best place to jump down the falls.

After lunch we headed out into the jungle. One after another we pioneered new territory (actually there was a bit of a path). We were in raptor country (Im pretty sure at one point everyone started humming the theme to Jurassic Park). At one point we were knee deep in a river trying to follow the elephants to the nearest village camp.

Later in the afternoon we caught up with the elephants. Three in a row we rode elephants through the jungle (it was like riding a mechanical bull...that could kill you). Our elephants name was Mirama...we called her Susan. She liked to throw dirt and trees at me. Apparently she liked us.

We spent our second night in a rice farming village on the country side. All our food was made from things picked up along our trip. It's amazing what you can make from bushes and rice.
By midnight we were all spent and crashed early.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jungle Trekking: Day 1

Welcome to the Jungle

Currently we are in Vang Vien Laos (took a bus, a van, and another bus 28 hours to get here. Ask me what sleeping sitting up on a bus with bad shocks over mud roads feels like....hint: bang your head against a window for a few hours, you'll get the picture). We just returned from a three day trek through the jungle near the border of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Since these past few days were much more exciting than the days leading to it, I'll begin our story here...

We left for our jungle adventure Saturday morning. We rode to the first village in a tuk tuk...its like an f-150 pickup with bench seats along the bed. I'm pretty sure we broke some Thai record for fitting people in a tuk tuk. We had 4 Italians, 6 Brits, a Sri Lankin, and us. On top of that (literally, he rode on the roof of the our guide (who I will mention in detail later) a driver and another guide in the passenger seat. Sixteen. Sixteen people in a truck that couldn't tow a skier.

Our guide: As advertised, our guide was apparently "english speaking," in reality he knew English as well as I can play Halo (I don't play Halo). He communicated by making a range of shrill shreiks and growls while pointing at various objects along the way. It was by far the longest game of charades I've ever played.

We named him Mowgli. He was our leader.

We arrived a few hours later in a small village on top of a mountain. As soon as we arrived a couple little children walked up to us, trying to sell hand woven bracelets. As soon as the first person bought a bracelet a stampede of little thais swarmed around us. Wrist bands were being wrapped around our arms like sleeves and they were demanding "10 Baht!" each. Eventually every one purchased at least two wrist bands at said price (trust me, these little guys are tough negotiators). I got a cool purple wrist band and a big green and pink wrist band (we couldn't choose the color) now we can rock. We we're also given bamboo spears (or at least that's what I thought mine was) for hiking (and spearing killer pandas) and rubber hiking shoes.

We left the village and walked through rice farms and forest area. Our first day was pretty short. We arrived at another village only an hour and a half from the beginning of the trek. All the village people were very friendly. They challenged us to a game of 'football.' Though the only part that actually resembled soccer was the ball.

We played in a big mud pit. Our goals were two sticks jammed into the ground at either end of the field. Needless to say, it wasn't ideal playing condition. Consequently, we got stomped.

Erik was pwning the village people like punk rock did in the 80s. I think now our English friends have a different view of American soccer players...or at least one player. By mid-game he was being called Landon Donovan.

I spent most of the time knocking people over. I don't know if it was all 'legal,' but these guys were scrappy. They bounced off us and just kept going. It was pretty friggin cool.

We spent that night in one of many bamboo huts we would eventually become familiar with. Everything was bamboo. The floor and walls were woven bamboo, the ceiling was bamboo poles, even our cups were bamboo. The village people cooked for us and we spent the rest of the night hanging out in the huts. Someone had a guitar and we eventually took over and brought Chasing Steve back in Thailand.

Interesting aside: Thai villagers love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I probably heard Californication played 8 times on the guitar that night. Hilarious.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Land of Thai

greetings from Thailand. We got to Bangkok in the evening and found a pretty cool guesthouse- the owner was Australian so we could actually understand him. The first night we left the guesthouse to get some food we walked out straight in to the path of an elephant! Now Bangkok reminds me a lot any dirty American city you can imagine, say Baltimore. So imagine an elephant walking down the street in Baltimore. It was awesome. At the same time though, Bangkok is like any American city, just dirtier. So we quickly got tired of it. The people are so friendly, especially the ones who are trying to rip you off.

Now we're in a town called Ayuthaya, a few hours north of Bangkok by train. There are temple ruins all over the place here. Also, probably the coolest thing yet, we got to play with baby elephants! We found this thing called an "elephant kraal" pretty far out of town. It's basically an elephant farm- some of the elephants work on the farm and some give elephant rides during the day. The babies are completely free to roam and are extremely affectionate.

We leave for Chang Mai this evening. This town is in the northern territory of Thailand. Here we plan to trek through the jungle- hopefully on the backs of elephants. We'll keep you posted. Much love.

Babar and Friends

We played with elephants today. This particular elephant, I'll call him Tyrone, had a fascination with Erik's leg. He also liked to eat rocks.
Sadly, I don't think Tyrone will be making any great evolutionary leaps for the elephant race.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fun Facts: HK and Singapore (continued)

4. Gum is illegal in Singapore-
Imagine following a shady character to a back alley at 2 am in Singapore. The air is humid and smells of old Indian food. The shady character cautiously looks around before he slowly opens his trench coat, unveiling a multitude of chewable freshness. He asks you, "winterfresh or cinnamon?...$20SIN" You ferociously scratch your neck and bite your lip as you decide over wrigleys or trident. Suddenly red and blue lights illuminate the alley. Your gum dealer takes off. You are now face to face with the chewing gum enforcement...
Welcome to Singapore.

So yeah, I made that story up. But chewing gum IS actually illegal in Singapore. Consequently, Tic Tac sales are through the roof!

3. Jackie Chan runs Hong Kong-
Jackie Chan is a bad mofo. I will be the first to agree. Who hasn't seen First Strike, where Jackie Chan beats on a bad guy through a ladder?! If that doesn't warrant Kung Fu medal, then I think we have all failed as a human race.
Hong Kong certainly agrees that Jackie Chan deserves extra recognition. Drive in any direction for three blocks and I guarantee you will see Jackie Chan endorsing half of the goods China has to offer. Jackie Chan is his own logo

Hong Kong Happy Mattress Company- "How can we sell more mattresses?"
New guy- "What if we add Jackie Chan to our ad?"
HKHM Co. President- "Brilliant!"
Two weeks later an add for Happy Mattress Co. includes a nice feather double with Jackie Chan Karate chopping the box spring. Sales boom.

Example 2:
Suit customer at a tailor shop- "Why should I buy your suits?"
Tailor- "Because Jackie Chan is awesome."
Customer immediately proceeds to buy 7 suits and a dress.

The moral of Hong Kong is, Hong Kong is cool simply because Jackie Chan said so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fun Facts: Hong Kong and Singapore

1. 7-Eleven-
There is a surplus of 7-Elevens in Hong Kong and Singapore. Have you ever walk down your street craving a doughnut or $2 sunglasses and wondered "where are all the 7-elevens?" I have found your answer. Hong Kong is a breeding ground for 7-Elevens. A nest if you will. Every street corner, insides of malls, I didn't go swimming...but I wouldn't be surprised if there was an underwater 7-eleven in the harbor. At one point I stood in a 7-eleven at a mall and looked into another 7-eleven ten yards away. I thought it was an illusion.
Some of you may say "but Nick, don't complain. Who wouldn't love an endless supply of slushies?" Good point, an endless supply of slushies sounds utopian, however, in Hong Kong and Singapore 7-11 is not sinonomous with slushie. Nay, these are slushie-less 7-11's. You have to go to a Coozy's to get a slushie!
Did that not just blow your mind?

2. Umbrellas-
Like 7-11's are to Hong Kong architecture, umbrellas are to the latest in Hong Kong fashion. Umbrellas are the Swiss army knife of hong kong. They're like zip-off pants. There's no season or forecast that doesn't require an umbrella. Rain (understandable), shine (hmm), typhoon, sunset, night, subway tunnel, etc.
7-11 umbrellas are the most popular...and they're always open as well (pun).
The problem with umbrellas is in their vertical placement. Most women in Hong Kong carry an umbrella. Most women in Hong Kong are also under 5ft.6. This places the pointy ends of the umbrella directly eye-level with a 5ft9-10 person, such as myself. You quickly learn new upper body swivels to dodge said pointy ends. Think of one of those punching bags for kids that always bounce back, that's what what walking down the sidewalk in Hong Kong looks like.

3. More to come later...

The southern most point of continental Asia!

Sounds really exciting huh? Well the truth is there's not much to do in Singapore. We've spent two days here now and hit all the major attractions. If you walk downtown you can go see this statue of a "merlion" - that's half lion, half fish. The merlion is like the symbol of there entire country. Today we went to this island off Singapore called Sentosa, which is really still part of Singapore. They have some really nice beaches and resorts. Everything looked so tropical until you looked out to see and saw nothing but huge tanker ships in port. it kind of took away from the tropical feeling. I guess that is how most of Singapore feels- almost cool. The city is really nice and clean, but there isn't really anything to do. And it's kind of expensive. The nicest part about this place is our hostel. They have a really cool lounge area, with a bar and fuss ball and stuff. There are lots of people around- it's nice to be able to talk to other people every now and then. Anyway, we're currently looking for the first jet out of here to Bangkok. Stay tuned for more stories from the orient.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leaving Clown Town

Tomorrow we leave Hong Kong for Singapore. Hong Kong has been interesting- if I could use one word to describe our experience here it would be "crowded." Even when we tried to leave the main part of the city we found everything to look exactly the same with the same amounts of people. It has definitely been an experience, but I think me and Nick are both ready to move on. The city can get overwhelming after a week. The coolest part for me was Lantau Peak- the only place we found not swarming with billions of Asians. On top of that we saw some sweet temples, markets (selling anything you could imagine-seriously), and a spectacular view of one of the most amazing cities in the world. It has been awesome, stressful, and then relaxing. We saw some pandas today so I feel it is safe to say we have had the full Chinese experience. Now, on to Singapore.

Hong Kong in Photos

Ngong Ping below the Big Buddha

Supporting your Local Rockstar in Hong Kong

Erik took this sweet shot of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon at the Sky Terrace

Kung Fu Pandas

Monday, August 4, 2008

Welcome to Hong Kong

Well, where to start.
Were on day three in Hong Kong. It's definitely been an experience. We still don't have our luggage from our first flight out of NC. So we've finally realized that it might not come and we're starting to buy clothes (since we've been wearing one pair of clothes since last wednesday).
Our first night we showed up in a hostel that was probably similar to a prison. Needless to say, we moved on quickly the next morning. Ha.

Aside from that headache...
Yesterday we toured around downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon. It reminds me of NYC, but with a lot more Asians. We spent the rest of yesterday and today on an island west of Hong Kong island. It's home to a buddist monastary. There is a very large statue of Buddah on top of this mountain, it's a bit of a tourist attraction, but really cool nontheless. We stayed at a hostel last night on the island. The place was really clean and looked out onto the Lantao mountains. After talking with the hostel owner, we were inspired to climb Lantao Peak, the highest mountain on the island.
So this morning we woke up and began our climb at 7am. It was amazing. We climbed above the cloud line. There were no trees, so we could see straight out across the ocean to the other islands of Hong Kong. I was hurting by the time I got to the top, but thanks to Erik pushing us further we reached the summit. By far the best thing we've experienced so far.

For the rest of the day, we've searched for hostels and food. Nothing too exciting there.
Welp, Im outta time on this computer.
Till next time.
-Nick and Erik