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Namaste

Kathmandu, Nepal

sunny 16 °C
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This was one destination that we hadn't initially planned on visiting. But Daniel, who we met way back in China, suggested that we add it on. And we did. It cost a fortune to get here, but it was so worth it. We completely SPOILED ourselves in Thailand... staying at some posh resorts, lounging by the pool, camping out on beach chairs ALL day, not worrying about anything except when we had to roll over to tan our backsides. Some guy that we had met called us "Flashpackers" not backpackers... and rightedly so. We were living it up. As we were having our last breakfast in Bangkok before getting to the airport for Kathmandu, someone told us that the Kathmandu Airport was notorious for stealing from your check in baggage. Most trekkers go through Kathmandu and their fancy gadgets and equipment gets stolen. I didn't think anything of it... it's one of those stories you hear but doesn't happen to you, considering we weren't trekkers. The only valuable thing I had in my bag was a jar of Nutella. Anyway, we get to the Kathmandu Airport and it takes about 45 minutes to get our luggage. Another traveller immediately opens his bag to find that all his money was stolen. Our bags, however, looked unttouched... or so I thought. When we got to our hotel about an hour later, I found that my zipper had been cut. Nothing serious cuz nothing was stolen. Just annoying, but almost futile. But if that jar of Nutella went missing, I'd have something to gripe about. haha.

It was overwhelming when we left the airport. Taxi drivers in your face. We frantically searched for our arranged driver through the Hotel Gamesh Himal. No one. We then went to a tourist agency and asked them to call the hotel and our ride, who moments later showed up. Thank God! It was freezing in Nepal... and we thought we would find some warmth at our hotel. Nope. Also cold. They just give you thick blankets to keep warm. It took an hour to drive through the crazy traffic of Kathmandu; cars disobeying, cows in the sttreet, rickshaws stopping in the middle of the road. Insanity. It was a serious culture shock coming from the warm, hot weather of Thailand. This is what we get for being flashpackers for a couple of weeks; the harsh cold reality of the backpacker circuit came full force. The hotel was in an empty part of town full of stray dogs taht barked all night. Out room had a strange funk in the air... not very welcoming at all.

We went into Thamel, the busy backpacker part of town, to get some dinner. It took about an hour of going in circles to find an internet, dodging all the Tiger Balm alesmen, and finally eating a vegetarian dinner (outdoors of course). It was exhausting. Then we had to walk back through the empty, dark streets to get to our hotel. We slept in pants, sweaters, socks, and scarves and lay under the 20 pound blanket they supplied us with to keep warm. Surprisingly, I slept fine... but check out our PJs... hats, socks, pants, scarves... all bundled up.

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We spent the next day shopping around for treks that we could do in the short amount of time we had. Trekking is the "thing to do" in Nepal. But we haven't worked out in months, so we didn't want anything too strenuous. Who would've thought that us marathoners would be out of shape... but it's hard to resist the rice and curries of the SE Asian countries we were just in. ***sigh*** We ended up booking a 1 night/ 2 day trip. A 3-4 hour trek to Nagarkot, then stay there overnight to watch the sunset and sunrise over the Himalayas and Mt. Everest in the distance. Then sightseeing the next day to some small towns and temples, and religious monuments. For 80USD, it was a steal... transport, guide, food, accommodations.

The trek was pretty hard. We were sweating as we climbed the steep hills and walked through villages. We stopped only a couple of times for lunch and some breaks to take pictures. Bu it was pretty difficult. We finally made it to Nagarkot and stayed on the highest perched hotel there. And we just basked in the remaining sunlight and looked at the Himalayas change colors as the sun set. It was beautiful and so worth the 3 hour tiring trek. It's one of those surreal moments I occassionally get. "I can't believe I'm looking at the Himalayas and Mount Everest." How many people get to experience this? It's freaking amazing. But it's like those other sights that I've seen, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, etc... you're just taken aback by its beauty and greatness... ***sigh***

It was pretty hazy, so the pictures don't capture the beauty of the sights...

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Sunset... I know it's the same freaking sun in Chicago that rises over lake Michigan... but this is the sun in Nepal. Imagine breathing in the cold, fresh, mountain air and looking out onto the Himalayas. It's not just the sun... it's the experience!!!

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The next morning we woke up at the asscrack of dawn... to watch the sunrise. It was freezing outside. And still with eye crispies, I donned my warm clothes on the watch the sunrise. Ellen and I had never been too eager to get up so early and never got up for a sunrise yet on this trip. But this one was the one to get up for. It was amazing. You saw the valleys covered in mist, then the sun change the sky colors, while the moon was still visible. Then the peaks of the mountains change from purples, blues to oranges as the sun came up. F*$$@ing spectacular!!!

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The rest of that day we spent visiting different sights on our way back to Kathmandu. We visited Baktapur, a small town with beautiful architecture of temples and saw their Durbar Square that was full of pottery.

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We then visited Bhou-dha, the largest Buddhist stupa in Asia. You have to walk around the monument in a clockwise direction.

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We also went to Pashupati, cremation grounds. Hindus believe in reincarnation and that the human form is the last form to achieve. So in order not to be reincarnated back into a lesser form, the body is cremated. Cremation here brings the body back to the 5 elements. Water is present for the family to wash the dead, Earth is the ash formed, Air is the smoke formed, Fire is duh, obviously the fire used, and um, I forgot the last one... but who's really paying attention anyway to this blog? We actually saw a live cremation going on. Pretty eerie.

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We spent the next couple of days buying souvenirs and walking around Thamel. We checked out of Hotel Gamesh Himal and stayed at the famous Kathmandu Guest House. It's a landmark. It was right in the middle of town and the staff was so friendly. But most of all, their showers had hot water. I seriously stayed in there until my fingers wrinkled... The last night after some strenuous haggling over pashminas, shipping our goods out, and the electricity cutting out... we had a night cap with Brian, another American who was here doing some trekking. We treated ourselves to Everest Beer and some popcorn.

This was such an unexpected glich in our itinerary... but it was a surprisingly pleasant one.

Posted by csomera1 09:59 Archived in Nepal Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ending Thailand with a bang

Bangkok, Thailand

sunny 25 °C
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So we spent the last few days of our Thailand adventure in Bangkok... the big, polluted, congested capital of Thailand. It was quite a change from all the beautiful beaches and warm waters of the islands we were hopping from. We checked into a shady hosel with creepy bugs on the mattress. These bugs remained motionless when you tried to touch them to wag them off, but then moved around when you weren't looking. So gross. They were inside my pillow case and by then I demanded to change rooms. The next day I woke up with this nasty rash on the back of my calves. It looked like I was breaking out in hives. I wondered if those creepy bugs were the culprits, but the pharmacist said that it could be the result of eggs, seafood, or pollution... and I was exposed to all of the above. After a day of trying to battle the rash with Benadryl, I went back to the pharmacist who gave me 10USD worth of hydrocortisone creams, antibiotics, and antihistamines. I took them blindly, trustting her word for it, even without the consultation of the doctor. But was sleepless for a week, felt woozy and tingly all over, and lightheaded if I got up too fast. The antihisamine had 60 mg of pseudoephedrine in it and I had to take 8 of these pills a day. No wonder I had heart palpitations and felt high. But everything seemed to do the trick and the rash went away. Thank God.

We went to watch a Muay Thai boxing match. We got ringside seats and were right in front to see the sweat and the punches. I was so into it, I yelled and cringed at the each landed punch. It was so intense. One guy even got knocked out that a stretcher came in to pull him out of the ring. That looked staged a bit and I was skeptical in the beginning. But after a few matches, it got more intense and you could see the bruises and cuts forming after all the jabs and kicks to the ribs... it was awesome.

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We also saw some sights around the city. Of the 4 days we spent there... we just took a morning to see the sights. The rest of the time, we were hanging out on Khaosan road wih all the other backpackers... But we saw the Reclining Buddha and The Grand Palace. The palace was covered in jewels and gold. It was beautiful. It was the palace that inspired the movie, "The King and I."

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Check out the craziness on Khaosan Road

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This is a picture of the Monument of Democracy. It stood right in the middle of this intersection and is pretty impressive at night.

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Posted by csomera1 09:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

The Poops after Phi Phi

Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao

sunny 32 °C
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What a crazy adventure. We've been in Thailand for almost 2 weeks now and we can't get enough of the sun and beaches. We took a day trip to Koh Samui to lay on the beach. But we had been on such amazing beaches with pure, white sand and clear, calm water, Koh Samui came up sub-par. The sand wasn't so soft, almost rocky and the water cooler and less clear. The drop off into the water took me alittle by surprise and before you knewit, you were being carried away deeper and deeper by the strong currents. I was content with laying out all day to darken the already darkened skin. Hmmm... what's darker than black? Then we went to the south of Lamai Beach to look at the "largest genetalia shaped rock in all of Asia" as my guide book reads. It's called the grandmother and grandfather rocks, a couple of perverse looking structures that I dare not post on this blog.

See Ellen and I near the grandmother structure.

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We went to Koh Phangan's Haad Rin Beach for the Full Moon Party on Nov 24th. The night before, however, we decided to pre party and get a taste of what the actual party would be like. Ellen, Christy, and I decided to buy a bucket of Bacardi, pineapple juice and Sprite. We shared it, but since I was holding the bucket, I practically chugged it in 4.3 seconds. That's why I never buy cocktails at home. Who wants to be the prissy girl holding the martini glass not dancing? So in order to free my hands and dance like a monkey, I chugged this bucket, and the next, and the next. Ooops. Cuz by the end of the night, of the pre-party, I barely remembered walking home. But it was fun. The next morning was hell on earth, but at least I learned how to gauge my alcohol intake before the night of the actual party. What happened to my tolerance? The 10 shots of Patron without being fazed? Gone, I guess.

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It was Christy's birthday and to celebrate we laid out all day by the beautiful pool at Coco Hut.

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Then to treat ourselves afer a long hung over day of doing absolutely nothing, we got an hour long massage during sunset, poolside, with aromatherapy oils. So nice. Then we had dinner, celebrated Chrsty's bday with a celebratory pancake then headed off to the Full Moon Party. It was absolutely insane. I didn't bring my camera for fear of losing it. Imagine THOUSANDS of people in bikinis, shorts, skimpy dresses, covered in glow in the dark paint, holding buckets of the alcohol of your choice, dancing like monkeys to music that ranged from trance to rock and roll to reggae. The South China Sea became a toilet. Others chose to make out with strangers in it. But overall, the site was amazing. I had never seen or experienced anything like it.

Ellen and I before the party... still sober. Everybody loved the hat, by the way. Especially the English... who said I looked lke Sherlock Holmes. It became my trademark and everyone that we had met previously, in China, Vietnam, and Cambodia recognized me because of the hat.. so it became my signature look. Haha.

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We partied until about 630AM. The sun was up, you got a clear view of all the partiers. People were still dancing full force. But we were tired, as we had to catch a boat off the island to head to Koh Tao. We got 3 hours of sleep, said good bye to the beautiful Coco Hut and were off. That hour long boat ride was the longest and most miserable of my life. Being hung over and sea sick at the same time.... no fun. I thought I had Delhi Belly and was in the bathroom letting out my breakfast (and then my dinner from the night before) the whole time. Ellen totally took take of me while I was in there. (Thanks dude). But every 3rd person was sick and barf bags and vertigo-relieving inhalers were being passed around everywhere. I spend the night and the next day eating saltines, drinking Sprite, and watching movies at Ban's Diving Resort in Koh Tao.

Koh Tao is known to have some of the best diving in the world. So Christy and Ellen wanted to check it out... perfect timing, so I could recuperate from the vertigo. At this point, however, I suspected some food poisoning from some shady looking chicken in the pad thai I had. Cuz it's been about 4 days later and I'm still a little queasy. Koh Tao was beautiful. The visibility in the water was pretty poor so their diving trip didn't turn out that great. But the resort we stayed at was again another beautiful bungalow perched on a cliff, overlooking the water in the distance. We're spoiling ourselves with these nice hotels... cuz soon enough, we'll be in Nepal and India, roughing it again in the backpacker circuit.

See the view of the hammock and palms in the glow of the setting sun at Sairee Beach...

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We had our last dinner in Koh tao with Christy, our fellow American traveller... at Choppers.

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Posted by csomera1 23:56 Archived in Thailand Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Beaches Beaches Beaches!!!

Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan

sunny 31 °C
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Bye Siem Reap. See Angkor Wat change colors during sunset...

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I've been waiting to lie on a beach since I was up in the cold mountains of Wudang Shan, China about a montha and a half ago and now I'm here. We took a taxi, yes a taxi, from Siem Reap to Bangkok. There are only dirst roads from Sien Reap, Cambodia to the Thai border. Supposedly, Thai Airways pays the Cambodian government not to fix their roads so that more people will fly their airlines to get to Thailand. What a scam! So we opted for a taxi that took about 4 hours to get to Bangkok, rather than the 14 hours on a stinky, sweaty, bus on bumpy roads. The taxi driver on the Cambodian side called them "dancing roads." cuz you dance as he veers left and right disging pot holes. But Ellen and I nearly got whiplash, and at times, our bodies jumped so high from the seats that I feared bumping my head on the roof of the car. The Thai side, however, was beautiful paved and we got some rest after "dancing" for 2+ hours. We then took a flight to Phuket, where we stayed overnight in a dorm. The next afternoon, after running some errands in town (buying a beach towel) we took a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, where they filmed The Beach. It was beautiful. The water was so blue and so clear. The sand was so soft and white. It was paradise. It took a little trekking through sand and jungle with out heavy bags that couldn't be rolled in the sand until we found a place to stay. It was dark and dingy and smelled. When it rained, water seeped through the floors and brought in huge centipedes and beetles. Pretty gross. But luckily the pristine warm waters and the beach chairs were worth it. You would look down the dark halls of our hostel to find the doorway that led right onto the beach and all you could see was sunny skies and blue waters and that cleared away all the worries about where we were sleeping. Cuz by day, the beach was our home. Of all the places on Koh Phi Phi to stay, we chose Long Beach. We later found out that this was rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. How wonderful!!!

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That 1st day, after waking up, we put on our bikinis and went straight to the beach and camped out under the sun for 8 hours, only leaving to eat lunch and have a shake. We swam out into the water a little bit and it was SO warm, it was like a refreshing salty bath. The colorful tropical fish swam right up to shore and cuz the water was so clear, you could see them swimming next to you. It was absolute heaven and all I can do is sigh at the thought of such paradise. At night, we got a candlelight massage, would watch fire twirlers, drink beer, listen to the waves crash against the shore, eat a curry dinner, and just relax.

Can you imaging feeling the sea breeze while you got a candlelight massage here?

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The fire twirlers:

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Your worries here change.... screw the daily worries about school and work. Here, it's, "should I get the mango or coconut shake?" or "I think I'll tan on the other side now."

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We stayed a couple of days on Koh Phi Phi before heading to Koh Phangan on the east coast. It took us a whole day to get here, but as I'm sitting here in my bungalow typing away on our in-room computer, while Ellen's drinking a beer on our patio overlooking the ocean, and the sun is setting, it's worth it. We got here last night and had high hopes to sleep in better accommodations. But slept in bungalows that were pretty similar to our last accommodations but with straw walls so thin you could hear the people in the other room snoring, and with more visitors in the room... a family of ants that crawled in a line up the walls next to our beds. So now we're at Cocohut...complete luxury. We've broken the backpacker budget, but I think it's well deserved after all the dives we've slept in for the last couple of months.

Accommodation #1... Nasty, huh?At P.P Long Beach Divers

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Cocohut's Paradise at our beach side bungalow... which would you rather stay at?

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Koh Phangan's highlight is the FULL MOON PARTY... Nov 24. So excited. Stay tuned for pictures from that crazy party, that is, if I don't lose my camera.

Posted by csomera1 17:39 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Angkor What?

Siem Reap, Cambodia

sunny 35 °C
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Cambodia is supposed to be the poorest country in SE Asia. They have a sad, war torn history and have only been recovering since the late 80s. They have been fighting the French, the US, and then the Vietnamese for decades. The Americans, after the French had given up Cambodia as a colony had come in and planted thousands of landmines around the country as strategic forces against the Vietnamese (I think). Vietnam and and other local military regimes laid landmines and dropped bombs that never exploded, so Cambodia is the only country to have so many undetonated explosives. Their own government set up the Khmer Rouge, a movement that was meant to ethnically filter the Cambodian people and bring them back to an agricultural country. So for 4-5 years, they closed down hundreds of schools, hospitals, and churches and set up Killing Fields, sights where the government killed millions of those they thought were educated and cultured. For example, people walking down the streets with eyeglasses were killed because they looked educated. They killed about 2 million of their 7 million countrymen in about 4 years and is known to be one of the greatest acts of genocide in history. So tragic.

So they may be the poorest country in the SE Asia, but being here in Siem Reap, you just see how resilient the people are and how much they're using tourism to their advantage and bouncing back from decades of violence and war.

So Siem Reap is the hub to get to the temples of Angkor. They are a series of temples built in a 40 mile radius outside of Siem Reap that were built from the 9th to the 15 centruy and represent the largest single collection of religious monuments in the world. There are lots of buddhist and Hindu influence throughout the temples. Angkor Wat, the most well preserved well known temple, is supposed to be one of the 7 wonders of the world. We visited about 10 temples in 2 days and all of them were so different. It's not like going to China and seeing a pagoda that looks like the previous one until all the pagodas look alike and you can't distinguish one from the other. All the temples here at Angkor were just so unique. Bayon had several heads carved into the towers. Sculptures of elephants and lions guarded the temples of East Bayon. Ta Prohm was the most authentic jungle temple. Neak Pean had 4 lakes that have now dried out and are covered with grass that represent the 4 main rivers in the world. But Angkor Wat was just amazing. It is supposed to be one of the 7 wonders of the world, in the same calibur of the pyramids in Egypt and of Machu Pichu in Peru. It's so beautiful and as I walked down its walkway, I was overwhelmed and breath-taken, similar to the way I felt when I saw the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, or the ruins in Rome. "Holy Shit. Look at all the history here," I thought. It's moments like these, you just feel so small and insignificant. The world doesn't revolve around you, look at the vastness and splendor of such structures. Kinda cheesy, yes, I know... but I can't describe it any other way.

See the following pictures of Angkor Wat and the Bayon temples...

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After a long, hot, day of walking through the temples, our tuk tuk driver took us to Phnom Bakheng, a temple perched high on a hill where you could watch the sunset. The sun was setting fast and it was only 5pm. And we had to run up this steep rocky path to catch the sun. A few storm clouds had accumulated and sprinkled a light rain over us as we climbed. And the whole time, I was hot, miserable, wet, tired, and worried that we had already missed the setting sun. We then had to climb the steep stairs of the temple that were slippery with rain and were flooded with tourists trying to get a good view of the sunset. A dangerous trek in flip flops. But we made it, heaving, panting, wet, and laughing as we saw the sun turn the dark sky orange and red before it fell beneath the horizon. I think it was one of the best sunsets I had seen, a perfect ending to the day. You just work so hard to get there and you actually get to sit and enjoy its beauty. Perfect metaphor for lots of hardships in life (yes, I know, cheesy again)... but there are so many things that SUCK ASS while you're going through the motions, but that just makes the reward that much more sweet; PT school, the boards, marathons, traveling.

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We've been ending each day with a delicious Khmer meal, lots of fragrant curries and soups. There's a district in the old market, that closes its streets to cars and fills with tourists looking to chill in a cool streetside cafe and enjoy delicious food, hip hop music, a cold glass of Angkor Beer, or some conversation with other travelers.

Today we went to visit Chong Khneas, a floating village sitting on Tonle Sap lake. The lake fills up every year after rainy season from the backflow of the Mekong River so the houses are built as huge boat-like structures rising and falling to the flooding of the lake. It was pretty touristy, hiring a car, getting on a boat (driven by a 10 year old) and riding down the lake looking at the floating houses, schools, and churches. Locals in speedboats chased after all the tour boats and little kids jumped on trying to sell cold beverages. It took us 2 hours, wasn't very exciting, but pretty fascinating how another set of people live.

Tomorrow, we hired a taxi to take us to Bangkok. Kinda funny that we'll be chaufeured from one country to the next. But the roads are horrible if you make the trek by bus and it would take 14 hours. The 6 hour bus we took from Phnom Phenh (Cambodia's capital) was miserable. Hot, small, stinky, overcrowded, people getting sick, bumpy...I couldn't do it again for 14 hours. The taxi ride will only take 6 hours and we chose luxury.

Posted by csomera1 21:38 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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