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The Finale

The Best, Worst, and Most Memorable

sunny 12 °C
View Last hurrah!!! on csomera1's travel map.

Ok... so I'm recapping my adventure. And for all those who have loyally been reading my blog (Ron and Mom, thanks), this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. But hopefully, everyone else will tune into this one, rather than just for looking at how fat I've gotten in pictures of me in a bikini. Haha. (Don't worry, I'll be soon back in shape as I'm planning for another marathon and triathalon this year).

Me and all my possessions for the last 14 weeks...

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Remember that scene at the end of the movie, The Beach, with Leo DiCapprio? He's sitting in a cafe, looking around at people sipping their lattes, talking on their cell phones, and surfing away on Macs. He fit so easily back into the routine of things at home, as if his crazy Thailand adventure was just a dream.... until he opens up an email with a photo of the people he met on the beach in Thailand. Ironic, how I'm sitting away at my Mac, sipping on a tea and uploading pictures to put on my blog. Ron picked me up last night after a 22 hour journey from India to Moscow to Toronto to Chicago. Came home, jumped in my hot strong shower, watched some TV, lay in bed atop my soft sheets and plush pillows... it was so easy to slide right back into the comforts of home that the whole thing... 14 weeks of travel seemed like a dream.

But I have bad tan lines that remind of the warm sun I just basked in...

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Things I couldn't wait to do when I got home
Besides taking a shower with good water pressure and never ending hot water without wearing flip flops and sleeping in my own bed, I also wanted to...
Sleep in. There are only a handful of times where we've slept in until 9am. But there's always something in store for that day and we're always on the go. It would be nice to sleep in until noon, wake up, eat, and sleep some more without worrying about wasting the day away.
Hang out with friends while watching a Bears game. I know they're out of the running, but maybe I'll be home in time for a couple more games and see Grossman make a further ass of himself.
Here are the guys at my last Bears game before I left for my trip at State Bar...

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Food I Miss at Home
1. A salad, particularly a BBQ Chicken salad from CPK. Anything fresh, crunchy, cold, refreshing. Haven't had salad on my trip cuz we've been afraid of the water they may have washed the produce with.
2. A Fuji apple... another cold, refreshing, sweet, crunchy treat.
3. Dannon Light Vanilla Yogurt. Usually had this for breakfast with fruit at home and miss it. We've had some strange breakfasts out here...
4. Slices of Toro from Coast. I miss how it melts in my mouth and its cool and refreshing taste. Mmm...I'm salivating just thinking about it.
5. Buffalo Joes wings and cheese waffle fries. I know, I know... fatty. But I've been a vegetarian for the last month in Nepal and India that I need some meat.
6. For some reason, a whopper from Burger King. I don't know why it's that particular buger, but I want one.

Best Food
There are several places where we've had really good food... just depends on your taste. But every country had wonderful restaurants and dishes that we enjoyed and would recommend to anyone.
China: everywhere we had the Spicy Chicken Peanut. Available at almost every restaurant we went to... got sick of it then craved it wherever we went.
Macau: their infamous egg tarts... creamy egg custard in a buttery, flaky pastry shell.
Vietnam: dinner with Chi and friend in Ho Chi Minh city. Had some local Vietnamese cuisine other than the fishy pho. Delicious.
Laos: best coffee in Luang Prabang at Morning Glory. Very strong and sweetened with condensed milk.
Thailand: Massaman curry. Very rich and spicy curry with any type of meat you want.
Cambodia: Khmer Curry. An unexpected surprise. A curry with lots of fresh, crunchy vegetables, coconut milk, and fish. It was often served in a bowl made of banana leaves. Fragrant, sweet, spicy... freaking amazing. Is there a Cambodian restaurant in Chicago?

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Cambodia also gets the vote for Best Breakfast at Khmer Family Kitchen. A ham omelette, pineapple pancake, coffee, baguette, fruit with muesli, honey, and yogurt, potatoes and tomatoes... all for a whopping 2 USD.

Strangest Food
Dog in Datong, China. Yes, we ate dog. During a group outing, another adventurous American wanted to try it. So we joined in. It looked more appetizing than the "ox's sex organ in bamboo barrel" or the "depressing blood pressure peanut." Had one bite of the cold-cut type gray looking meat of an unidentifiable body part of a dog. I cringe just thinking about it.
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Food at Wanfunjing, China.... Crickets, scorpions, grubs, all crazy insects... nasty

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Hot Pot in Chongqing, China. Tried to order chicken, but the woman kept pointing at her feet. No, not chicken feet, we begged. So she took Lauren into the kitchen and there was a refrigerator of different meats, mostly brains and other innards. Lauren pointed out a dumpling looking meat that I don't even want to think about what body parts of whatever animal it was comprised of.

Best Sunset
Yeah I know it's the same sun we have at home that disappears somewhere over the horizon beyond the Brickyard Mall on the west side. But it's seriously the experience of seeing this amazing orb in a different setting.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. While drinking a mango shake on Long Beach awaiting a twilight massage on the beach.

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Nagarkot, Nepal. 6 words: overlooking the Himalayas and Mount Everest.

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Phnom Bakheng Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had been out all day in abuot 90+ degree heat. The sun was blaring and here is where I got the worst tan lines. haha. The temples were spectacular. After a long tiring, sweaty, dirty day, we were driven to this temple that rested on a hill. The sun was quickly descending and we still had to climb this hill to the top. We couldn't see exactly if the sun had fallen yet because of all the trees, but we thought we were missing it. Then it started to rain, and yet we were still climbing. We finally got to the top, climbed up the temple and perched on a spot overlooking the valley and the sunset. It was drizzling still but the sun colored everything in an orange glow. Freaking spectacular! You work so hard to get there. You can't see where you're going. The elements, like the heat and the rain, were deterring you from your goal. But you made it and it was worth it. I remember standing on the top of that temple, marveling in the beauty of the sight, and thinking how worth it it was for me to be standing there... how everything in life, every path, every hardship, every accomplishment led me to view that magnificent sight at that moment. Cheesy, yes, I know... but it was seriously spiritual.

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Biggest Risks
Laos: Swimming in dark cold murky waters in a cave in Vang Vieng while holding a candle to see 2 feet in front of you and trying not to slip on the sharp jagged rocks beneath you. Don't even want to think if there was anything else under those waters.
China: ordering food at a restaurant... just point to something on the menu of Chinese characters and hope it's not dog.
India: eating raw vegetables... strike that... eating anything in India is a risk.
Macau: Bungy jumping the world's highest jump.

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Best Beaches
Long Beach in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Was officially voted as one of the top 10 in the world. It had pure white soft sand. The water was so blue and warm and clear you could see the tropical fish swim next to you.

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Leela Beach in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Another white sand, warm watered beach on a private strip in front of CocoHut Resort.

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Worst Accommodations
Cambodia: Heart of Angkor. Good location, near the Old Market and Pub Street. But dirty and grimy. Had to use my sleeper sheet, kept the lights in the bathroom to deter the roaches and divert the mosquitos.
Thailand: 1. Leela Bungalows in Koh Phangan. Had a row of ants marching near Ellen's head. Had an outdoor toilet and shower where you could hear your neighbor take a shower and pass you a bar of soap if you wished.
2. Long Beach Divers in Koh Phi Phi: Everytime it rained, bugs like centipedes (who I named Bob) and strange beetles would find refuge in our room. It was dark and mildewy. Luckily we spent all day on the beach that we only went there to sleep.

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India: Hotel Namaskar in New Delhi. A Lonely Planet suggestion, which failed to mention that it was located in a small alley off the cow crap covered Main Bazaar and past a row of stinky public urinals.

Best Accommodations
1. CocoHut on Koh Phangan. By far the best place I'd stayed at on this whole trip. Great customer service. Friendly staff. Clean facilities. Pool. Spa. Two sitting areas to lay and lounge around while eating dinner and watching movies on huge LCD TVs. Pristine private white sand beach. Near Had Rin Beach for the Full Moon Party. Had a concierge named "John Connor" who could get anything for you... I mean ANYTHING. Splurged on a cliffside bungalow that had a huge bed, overlooked the beach through its private balcony, strong shower, tv, and computer. Pure luxury.

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2. Bam's Diving Resort in Koh Tao. Another beautiful bungalow style room, with DVD player, TV, 2 rooms, balcony overlooking the pool, great restaurant.

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3. Lovan Guesthouse in Vientiane, Laos. In a quiet neighborhood, small modest room... but the owner was so friendly and hospitable, and of course, really laid back. It's like we were staying over at someone's house.
4. Goverdhan Tourist Complex in Fatehpur Sikr, India. Another modest room. The shower wasn't so great and the power kept shutting down, but the food was excellent as was the customer service. Everyone was SOOO polite, which was an unexpected surprise in India.

Most Surreal Moments
Beijing: On the Great Wall of China, overlooking the valley and the expanse of the wall... looked like something out of a history book.
Macau: Standing at the edge of the platform about to bumgy jump looking onto the concrete beneath you and trying not to chicken out.
Cambodia: Sunset at Angkor Wat... seeing it change colors as the sun descended in the horizon opposite it.

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Thailand: Are my worries only really about what type of shake should I get while I watch the sunset? Mango or Coconut? Or if we should get a Singha or Chang Beer with dinner?

Massages
Best Massage: Bangkok, Thailand. Best strong massage. On our last night in Thailand, had a Thai Massage. They're known for bending you this way and that, cracking all your joints, and kneading every single muscle. A man walked in to do mine and was scared of his strength. But the massage was spectacular and he cracked several joints up and down my back. All for 180 baht, about 6USD. You can get them anywhere all over Bangkok.
Most relaxing: Luang Prabang, Laos. Had a neck and shoulder massage. We've been lugging aroung these heavy bags and needed some kneading to work out the knots in our upper traps. It was also the most relaxing atmosphere, with soothing music, dark lighting, private enclosures, and delicious tea at the end. 5USD.
Worst: Mumbai, India. Mr. Pai took us to his gym to enjoy a steam bath and a massage. The steam bath was a crazy 43C. So hot, I couldn't stand more than a couple of minutes at a time. Then in a small dingy room in the ladies locker room, I had oil (vegetable or canola, not sure) rubbed all over me. I could have done the same thing to myself. There was no massaging, just rubbing. I also felt violated as she rubbed my breasts as only I believe my doctor should.
Strangest: Goa, India. Another traveller recommended a place called Achu on the beach. We wanted an ayurvedic kerala massage. We knew it entailed using medicinal oils, but didn't know much else. It was an hour and a half long. Started with a head massage with mentholated oil that kept your head tingling the whole time. Then your full body, even your face. I don't think I relaxed very well and kept myself pretty tense... only cuz as I mentioned before verged on foreplay more than it did a massage... yikes.

Places to visit with your significant other... (Ronaldo, take notes.)
1. Beaches of Thailand. Koh Phi Phi, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui. It would be nice to explore other beaches, but the aforementioned Long Beach and Leela Beach are simply breathtaking.
2. Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It was built out of the love of a man for his wife. How romantic is that?
3. Trekking in Laos or in Nepal. I think I needed more of a porter than a boyfriend while trekking. Just kidding. It would be nice to sweat it out while climbing beautiful mountains with your loved one.
4. Lounging around in Vang Vieng, Laos... lying in a bed at a restaurant watching endless Friends episodes. Nothing different than what Ron and I do at home anyway.
5. India: might be nice to be here with a guy who can ward off all the unwanted stares and lewd comments of the men there.

Places to visit with your kids
Touchy subject, cuz in general, Asia is crowded, polluted, very, very busy. There aren't any Disney Worlds (except in Hong Kong, I believe). It's just dirty. You might not be able to find mac and cheese or fresh milk or anything your kid might crave while away. But if your kid is old enough... say 7 years or older... it would be a memorable experience. Simply to know how their counterparts live on the other side of the world. I've noticed, in general, that the children in Asia don't cry, don't whine, and don't complain. They have such humble existances that whatever lifestyle they live, they accept. They have no choice because there is no other alternative. They've never known what it's like to have a doll or a toy that's been taken away. They've never known the feeling of wearing cute colorful mary janes with their matching dress. So they can't cry or whine or complain for something they've never had. I don't know if a child from home can conceive what it's like for their impoverished peers. But maybe it'll put a little perspective when they actually see how humble these counterparts are without half the luxuries they have at home.
Vietnam: Children sold gum to tourists while they sat outside at restaurants in Ho Chi Minh. They'd poke their heads in through open restaurant windows in attempts to make a sale.
Cambodia: Children waited outside the local convenient store in the tourist areas and when a westerner went inside and tried to purchase something, the child or the mother would put a gallon of milk in with all the other groceries, in hopes that the westerner would be sympathetic enough to pay for it.
Nepal: several children obviously sniffing glue from small plastic bags were barefoot on the cold pavement asking for a few rupees outside guesthouses and grocery stores.
India: Mothers carrying their dirty, sad looking children would come up to your car at a stop light and just beg incessantly. Small children would run up to you while walking on the street and try to put a strand of fresh flowers around your wrist in exchange for a couple of rupees.

Best Shopping
Ahhh...One of my favorite categories.
Laos: Silk scarves and Beerlao shirts.
Nepal: fleeces and wool outeraware.
Thailand: bootleg CDs of house music.
Hoi An: custom, tailor made clothes... even shoes.

Glad I had these items:
The Sleeper: a sweatshirt from Burton. Its hoodie unravels to cover your eyes to block out light when you're trying to sleep on a plane, train, or automobile. It has a secret pocket in the hood to stash some money. Has a pocket in the inside for your passport. Has a special pocket for your IPod. It has zip up armpit vents if you get warm and thumb holes to help cover your arms if you get cold. It comes with ear plus in another little pocket... and the best thing, it has a blow up pillow piece in the neck to use when you wanna fall asleep. It was AMAZING! and the best invention ever!!!
Vicks: another traveler suggested to place Vicks vapor rub underneath your nose in India to divert the strange smells in the air.
Dramamine: for those dreadful catamaran rides in Thailand if you want to go island hopping.
Antibacterial hand sanitizer: pretty self explanatory.
Chain lock for bags: for trains to prevent thieves.
Large needle and thread: for those repairs to my poor backpack that has been stuffed with way too much crap.
Books: Middlesex (Euginedes), Honeymoon with my Brother (Wisner), Paula (Allende), Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (Hosseini), Freakonomics (Dubner)... good reading for long train rides and endless hours of tanning on the beach.
IPOD: a godsend. There's nothing like listening to Diego Torres croon to you while trying to sleep at night or jamming to some Kenny Dope, Louie Vega, and Tribe while lying on the beach.

Wish I brought:
Febreeze. Sometimes you can't do laundry for a couple weeks... and sometimes you just need a fresh smelling t-shirt.
Aerosol Lysol disinfectant to spray my bag and shoes after walking through the dirty urine and feces covered streets of China and India.
Small soap bottle: no soap in the restrooms.

REGRETS:
None. Yeah... it's easy to say that in retrospect... but seriously, this was the trip of a lifetime. There were some moments when I wished we weren't staying here or eating that or "I wish I was doing something else" moments, but this trip wouldn't have been what it was without the unexpected and not always so pleasant surprises occurring. Even the most mundane thing... like staying at Hotel Namaskar made the shower Sachin let us take at his hotel, the Taj Palace, seem that much better. For a week while we stayed around Delhi, we appreciated a shower. For all the bad moments, getting ripped off with autorickshaws and taxis, the haggling over everything from souvenirs to accommodations to water, the roach motels (literally) etc... there's always been something to reward us. And the rewards have been sunsets, a beer, a few days on the beach, and especially a good story. Ellen and I constantly laugh about the monster roach she stepped on in Hong Kong when she went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or the day I leaped over a table in Laos after I heard something explode and thought it was a bomb, or how we keep track of our BMs. So many great stories and experiences that may not have seemed so great when we were going through them. But freaking memorable as hell...

Posted by csomera1 10:48 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking

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