Sunday, December 30, 2012

Merry (Belated) Christmas!

As New Year approaches, I realized that I completely forgot to wish you all Merry Christmas! I spent Christmas in Kuala Lumpur with Warner, where we enjoyed a delicious Christmas lunch at Al-Amar Lebanese Restaurant. Certainly different from my typical Christmas fare, but it was delicious! We also saw "The Hobbit" in HD 3D. I could do without the 3D, but the HD effects were gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed it :) no surprises there!

Christmas lunch!


Desserts and fresh fruit - best Baklava I've ever had. I can taste it now just thinking about it
 While in Kuala Lumpur, I met up with Catherine Mock. We went to kindergarten through high school together! I can't believe we both ended up in Malaysia - Catherine is working with a convent to assist at-risk teen girls in their education. She's been there since August and is staying until May, so she was settled in and comfortably living in the outskirts of KL.

She had CHEEZ-ITS and SWISS MISS HOT COCOA!! Oh the things we miss when we travel. We sat and ate and reminisced and talked about our current adventures, and it was thoroughly delightful. I love meeting up with old friends and it was especially nice while spending the holidays half-way around the world.

Catherine and her fellow volunteer
 And of course, I visited the Patronus Towers in the city centre. The views were quite pretty but I didn't go to the top - I got a nice enough view from other buildings.

I'm now back in Thailand and have worked several days with one of the dive shops in Khao Lak. I'll also be working for Wicked on a 3-day trip to the Surin Islands starting Jan 2nd as well (at least that's the current plan), so my employment options have been decent! It's rare to work every day (and honestly, I'm not sure I'd want to) but overall life is amazing. I have a LOT to be thankful for and this past year has been truly amazing. What a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Malaysia - Penang & ALL the Street Food

Warner, my good friend from Stanford, and I made it safely to Penang. We had a wonderful 2.5 days exploring Georgetown, on the Northeast coast of the island, and the Penang National Forest just to the west. The weather was hot and humid (as always) and it sprinkled a few times, but we lucked out with gorgeous weather at the National Park and had a wonderful day at the beach. Warner has been living in Hong Kong for the last year but hadn't made it to Malaysia yet, so it was both of our first times in Malaysia.

Day 1: We saw tons of the UNESCO historical sites around Georgetown and enjoyed all the delicious street food. Penang is known as one of the best cities in Asia for hawker food, so we sampled samosas, soups, satay, and more! Delicious!

Penang is also known for its amazing diversity of cultures and religious groups, often with multiple houses of worship on the same street representing Asian and Western religions.  Everyone was so friendly and open to us walking through the sites, and I have to say that Penang is probably the friendliest city I've visited. Also, everyone speaks excellent English, which is a nice treat.

Warner at Khoo Kongsi Temple

TIGER yarrr
Many of the temples had amazing stone and porcelain engravings.
Ornate temple engravings
Fort Cornwallis, in Penang, was a very modest fort from the 1800s, when the East India Trading Company established itself in the area. It's quite small now and rather run down, but there were some big canons... so it was still fun.

Day 2: At the Penang National Park, we decided to visit Monkey Beach and walk to the lighthouse. The hike was total around 10+ km, so it ended up being a pretty decent trek in the humidity. Luckily there was a gorgeous beach and refreshing drinks when we got there!
Santa hats at the lighthouse :)

These monkeys were SO AGGRESSIVE. If you pull out a packet of snacks... it will try to bite off your arm in an effort to get the rest! 
After the National Park, we went to Gurney Park to get food from the multitude of amazing hawker stands. IT WAS AWESOME. I love food, and Warner loves food, and this is the perfect place to love food. Everything is fresh and flavorful! I haven't gotten (too) ill from anything yet - don't worry Mom, I'm staying healthy, but a bout or two of discomfort is inevitable in SE Asia - and the local food is an awesome blend of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesia, and Thai. THE BEST FLAVORS EVER!

Found my Chinese chive dumplings! Om nom
Day 3: We walked around town, got some white coffee (a specialty in Penang) and more samosas, and saw the last few cultural sites we'd missed. Kapitan Kling Mosque had a strict dress code, so I wore a robe and head scarf to walk through the outer halls. One of the religious leaders guided us around and explained the basic beliefs in Islam, and I learned a LOT - he was incredibly friendly, open, and helpful. It was great!
Kapitan Kling Mosque
Now we're off to Kuala Lumpur for Christmas! Warner and I have friends who are in the area, so hopefully we'll meet up with them. We also want to see the caves just outside the city, and enjoy Christmas in a bit metropolitan with beautiful views, great food, and fun backpackers. Bye for now!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Goodbye Cambodia, Goodbye World

As I'm sure you've heard, today is the end of the world according the Mayan Calendar and I'm not in the single French village that's expected to survive it.  However, I did see sunrise (again) at Angkor Wat, which has withstood years of weather, wars, and witchcraft/wizardry (ok fine, I just wanted to continue alliterating), so hopefully some of that longevity will rub off on me.

I'm heading to Malaysia today to meet up with +Warner Sallman for Christmas, and I'm SO VERY EXCITED! I have also run up against an absurd #firstworldproblem - running out passport pages! All that world traveling was bound to catch up with me.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Battambang Day 2: Climbs and Cambodian Wines

Susie and I had a lovely day exploring the remaining big tourist sites around Battambang, and I'm not ashamed to say that they were great! We basically went down the checklist of places to see, and our fearless tuk-tuk driver Net continued to show us the best sites around.

First we went to Wat Phnom, where there is a temple similarly shaped to Angkor Wat (but much smaller and more precariously upkept). We also went into the bat caves, which were very heavily trafficked and missing most of the natural stalectites and stalegmites. We did see the "Crocodile Rock" though!
Bats in the trees near Battambang
See? It's a crocodile!

We also went to a winery. Yes, Cambodia has wineries. The signature wine was "The Best Special Red Wine." I have no idea what types of grapes they use and the wine was very very mediocre, but at least I know to be discerning in my purchasing and consuming of Cambodian "best special red wines."

We also stopped by the "Golden Gate" bridge. Seriously, today felt like being back in S.F.  Just a lot warmer with strange wine and a smaller bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge, eh? Same same... but different.
Taking the bus back to Siem Reap tomorrow and then I'm off to Malaysia for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


What an awesome name for a place - Battambang.

It's a fairly well-populated city about 3.5 hours bus ride from Siem Reap.  I met Susie, a German woman, on the bus and we decided to split a room and actually have some privacy from the huge 8-10 person dorms.  It's so nice! Especially after a pretty grueling bus ride (our driver honked every 4-5 seconds. The entire ride. Babies cried), it was great to have a quiet nice place to stay.

At our hostel, we met the fearless tuk-tuk driver Net, who has a veritable chariot of a tuk-tuk to shepherd us around the area. He set up a great itinerary for us and I thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon!

We drove through a small cemetery on our way to the sites
First we went to the Bamboo Railway and had a 1 hour ride to a small village and back. It was GORGEOUS and the ride was... quite thrilling. Basically a leg massage. Our driver let us try our hand at controlling the speed, and the views were stunning on both sites. It's a bit gimmicky, but I can't complain - I loved it!

Me and Susie
After the Bamboo Railway, we hiked to the top of Phnom Sampeou to see the temple and amazing views. Cambodia is really pretty :)
TIGER! It's me!

Haven't you always wanted a monkey?

View from the top!

View from the top!

Giant unfinished Buddha head, carved into the mountain.
And finally, we watched huge flocks of bats emerge from the nearby killing caves. The Khmer Rouge used to put bodies in the caves, and millions of bats live there and fly out every night around 6pm. AMAZING!
The cave from whence emerge the bats

THE BATS! They're everywhere!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is everything I hoped it would be*, and so much more.

*Except there are no statues that come alive and fight you like in Tomb Raider... I can't say I'm disappointed exactly, since I didn't bring my semi-automatic pistols to fight them off, but I was kind of hoping...
Yeah it's kind of AWESOME.
Seriously though, this whole area is gorgeous. It's some of the most heavily forested area in Cambodia (said a tour guide) so there are monkeys, tons of birds, and beautiful ruins of Buddhist and Hindu temples scattered around the area. Angkor Wat is the most iconic, but there are dozens of other temples within biking distance. We woke up at 5am to bike to sunrise at Angkor Wat - you can see the towers behind me to the left. GORGEOUS!

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Courtyard in Angkor Wat as the sun rose

This post is mostly going to be photos since they speak for themselves. I met up with a group of Americans who are traveling after studying abroad in China, and we biked around the whole complex for about 8 hours yesterday. I biked another 10-15 km today to see more temples, and I still have one day left on my pass... maybe I'll be back for thirds! I still haven't seen even close to everything Siem Reap and Angkor Wat have to offer.

My trusty steed
The intact carvings are so beautiful!

Most of the temples are in various states of disrepair or ruin. The temples were largely abandoned or actively destroyed in the 12th and 13th century, when the kings of the Khmer & their conquerors stopped supporting Buddhism and Hinduism in turn and destroyed many religious relics out of spite.  Most restoration has only been in the last 20 years and is progressing slowly, but it's a World Heritage Site so hopefully UNESCO and other private organizations can keep up the good work. These sites are too significant to be lost!

Ruins at Prah Khan
A MONKEY! I'll spare you the photo of it sticking its butt at me...
Baphuon Temple
Sleeping Buddha - can you see the face on the left side? 
You can lead a horse to Angkor Wat(er). The end.
 There were smaller temples scattered around the area as well, and being on a bike made it very easy to stop off and explore whenever we saw something between the trees.

Max checking the map...
Stone faces at Bayon Temple
All the temples had Buddha offerings and incense. Very beautiful!

Fig trees have overgrown some of the temples, like Ta Prohm

This is what existed in between temples. Beautiful grass and skinny cows.

Tomorrow I go to Battambang for a day or two - I've heard it's gorgeous and am very excited to see for myself!