A blog about climbing full time on the road.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ayutthya: our final Thailand post

famous Buddha head 
fallen Buddha statue
We arrived in Bangkok's train station feeling quite familiar with the place since it was our 3rd visit there. We knew our favorite pad thai vendor and felt like we knew how the system worked. We had 4 days before leaving for South Africa which was a little long for us to enjoy spending in Bangkok. Christian had mentioned Ayutthya and after doing a little research we decided to check it out.

tree temple
Ayutthya is the site of many temples. It was mostly destroyed in a Burmese invasion, but there are still some interesting relics and temples. It was only a 50 cent train ride for the 70 km trip to get there, so it wasn't a difficult decision to go. We rented bicycles from the guest house and toured around the ruins. Some cost a bit to go in, while others were free to wander though and were in a very nice park like setting. We learned from the owners of the guest house we stayed at that the town was still recovering from a huge flood last October. There had been so much rain that the reservoirs were too full and the government decided to flood the town so the dams wouldn't burst. They were quite surprised since they didn't expect the historic area to be flooded. He showed us pictures of the water being up to the second floor of their place and that it took two months to reopen. The seem to be getting plenty of tourists again now and from what we could tell, the temples weren't damaged extensively, but there was a lot of clean up still going on. The ruins were not as spectacular as Angkor Wat, but there were still some impressive buildings and statues. Our favorites were probably the Buddha head which has become overgrown in tree roots, the chedi with a tree growing out the top, and the giant reclining Buddha.

temple spires
After our day on bicycles, we did our new favorite evening activity of checking out the night market. Again we weren't disappointed. We had already eaten dinner, so were just on a dessert mission this time. We found mini waffles filled with cream and strawberries which Matt went back for seconds of and bought the vendor out of. I found strawberry and pomegranate ice cream which was amazing. This should have been plenty to eat, but we thought we needed to try something new. We'd heard of and seen the large spiky fruit called jackfruit or durian, but hadn't tried it yet, since it's a little intimidating to purchase a giant fruit with no idea how to eat it. We saw a vendor cutting one up and some people eating it, so thought we could try some as well. If you haven't heard of durian, it's the fruit that is said to smell like sweaty socks and it's not allowed on air conditioned trains or in other enclosed places due to its smell. But if you can get over that smell, it's supposed to be delicious. I could not. If you held your breath while eating and didn't think about it, I could almost not gag. It bordered between tasting good and making me gag. Matt was able to get over the gag reflex after the first few bites and enjoyed it after that. It was good to try, but not something I'm going to go out of my way to eat again.

reclining Buddha
This picture is from Tonsai, but it is such a good shot of Cassie's it would be a shame not to have it somewhere in a post.
Back in Bangkok again, we are happy to see that the stuff we left in the guesthouse here 6 weeks ago is still here and unharmed. We were happy to see our laptop again and wondered why we decided to bring some of the things we did and why we didn't bring others. Our time in southeast Asia has been great, but we are quite excited to get to South Africa and do some climbing again! We leave in only 2 days! So, our next post should be from Rocklands!!!!!

FYI: almost all the pictures above are Cassie's. She's getting to be quite a good photographer!

Tonsai and the Andaman coast

We left our island paradise of ko pha gnan for ton sai on the west coast of Thailand. Even though they are not far apart, the monsoon hits at completely different times and the west coast was forecasted to be very rainy. We decided to risk it since we'd heard great things about the limestone climbing and were planning on meeting up with our friends Christian and Julie there.
Krabi weekend market
Octopus on a stick -- we ate the squid on a stick, not the octopus
On our way to Tonsai, we stayed 1 night in Krabi, where we explored the night market. Krabi's night market was really interesting to us since the southern areas of Thailand are more Muslim than the rest and the resulting food is different from what you can get in other areas. We ate a terrific (though almost nuclearly hot) dinner at a muslim food stand in the market. We enjoyed wandering around and buying cheap (25-50 cent) desserts or, or at least, what we thought were desserts. They were mostly excellent.

Cassie on the beach
Christian, Julie, and Cassie
Although it's part of the mainland, Tonsai is only accessible by boat because of dense jungle and mountainous terrain. We left Ao Nang on a longtail boat: which is basically a 15 foot long boat with a car engine strapped on back running a long drive shaft at the end of which is a propeller. it's a very cheap boat and excels in shallow water as the engine is mounted on a swivel which allows the operator to easily adjust the depth of the propeller. you might expect that a car motor running a few feet away from your head without a muffler to be loud. it is. As the monsoon approaches the seas tend to get quite rough and the waves were quite large as we left the port. we were drenched within minutes and one of the other passengers decided to put on a life vest. we were both a little nervous. We found a place to stay and spent the first couple days doing short explorations in between drenching rainstorms. Luckily the weather outlook improved when Christian and Julie arrived. We went deep water soloing which is where you go out on a boat, swim to a cliff, climb up a ladder to the rock, then climb as high as you want before jumping or falling into the water. The height is up to you. I was good jumping from a couple meters, while others were much braver, jumping from 10 to 15 meters (about 30-45 feet). Jumping into the ocean was made even more exciting by the large jellyfish which drifted by. The next day we kayaked around the peninsula checking out some of the rock formations off the coast. As we'd been exploring tonsai and railay beaches, we had seen a sign for a viewpoint and lagoon that we saw everyone coming down from covered in mud, so we decided to check that out the following day. It was amazing! The hike was very steep and muddy with dirty ropes to get down short cliffs, but was worth it when we arrived at the beautiful lagoon surrounded by cliffs and the biggest palm leaves we've ever seen. The lagoon had a connection to the ocean, but it wasn't visible. It was quite a beautiful place to swim and explore for the day.

Matt dws
The next day we wanted to climb and were quite disappointed when it started out raining. We decided to give it a try and hoped we could find some places that stayed dry enough. It ended up being a great day. Very fun climbing! Steep limestone with big holds and fun features.

Our time on tonsai was great. A small laid back place, good cheap food (mama's chicken was where everyone ate every night. You can't beat bbq chicken, fresh fruit shakes, good curries, and friendly people. We don't know how any other restaraunts stayed in business.) It was also great for us to meet up with friends.

Christian swimming in the lagoon
a huge centipede
What happens when you get to the top? You jump, or if you're a snowboard aerialist then you do a backflip from about 40 feet up. Not us, we jumped from much lower as we are chicken.
We left Tonsai for Krabi the day after Christian and Julie did. We waited out a few more rainstorms and power outtages and did the night weekend market which was Amazing! Then we made our way back to Bangkok on another sleeper train (which was 3 hours late so instead of leaving at 11:30pm we left at 2:00am). while waiting for the train we got to watch rats running around on the other train platform. very exciting.

One Year and counting!

We have been on the road a little over a year now, and given that our budget is still on course to let us do another year (and maybe even make it down to south america?) we have much cause for celebration. i won't take the time to reflect on what we've accomplished this last year and the joys and sorrows we've experienced, suffice it to say that it has been quite an experience so far and we're looking forward to seeing what this next year brings us. many thanks to our friends and family back home, whose communications help keep us grounded in what we miss, and those friends we've made on the road, whose companionship is a big part of what makes traveling so rewarding. much love from Matthew and Cassie: Bangkok, Thailand

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vietnam: Hoi An, Da Nang, and Ha Long Bay

This post is to catch up with the new pictures we just uploaded that are actually from 2 weeks ago since we just now found an internet connection.

Confucius statue 
As we worked our way up the Vietnam coast we stopped in Hoi An after a brutal bus ride from Nha Trang. The bus was an overnight sleeper bus and it was super cheap to go the 300 miles to our next destination (about  $10 each). It wasn't really worth it in our opinion however as the bus stopped irregularly for restroom stops on the side of the road (in one case peeing in an alley), with the horn blaring all through the night and the amazingly poor condition of the road we both slept poorly though Cassie fared the worst of both of us. We Arrived in Hoi An in a state of fatigue and went to a hotel to rest our weary heads. After having some coffee we wandered around the historic part of town and really enjoyed the shops and street vendor's food such as buying a whole super amazingly delicious pineapple ready to eat for only 50 cents. We wandered around in the heat until we couldn't handle it anymore and went back to the comfort of our airconditioned room. The next day we took bicycles for $1 each and rode to a beach north of town. It was hot, but a very nice beach. We spent the evening wandering around town after the sun had gone down and found our favorite dumplings with meat, and a new thing we had missed before which was a baguette and pork vietnamese sandwich. Now, Nick (my brother) had taken us to a Vietnamese sandwich shop in New York City, but I have to say it didn't have anything on this street vendors sandwich. For only 50 cents each it was one of the best sandwiches we've ever eaten. The following night we went back and got another. While wandering at night we found some restaurants overlooking the river which served local fresh beer for only 20 cents each. It was pretty much heaven and we drank two each and still spent under a dollar.

Octopus for dinner
We continued to spend our days at the beach, though Cassie opted on our last day to go to a nearby ancient temple, My Son. My Son is a bit older than the temples at Angkor Wat and it was heavily bombed during the "American War". It sounded a little weird at first, but of course, the Vietnamese aren't going to call it the Vietnam war. Surprisingly though, there was no animosity to American's from the Vietnamese. Vietnam believes America must be it's ally against a much closer superpower: China. The tour guide talked about the parts of the temple that had been destroyed by American bombers, but sounded much more upset by the artifacts that had been stolen by the French and housed at the Louvre. There were some interesting statues, but there wasn't a lot left at the temple. I took some pictures, but unfortunately our pictures from there and Hoi An were deleted when I tried to upload them at a computer in the hotel and instead got a virus on our card.

view of Da Nang from Monkey mountain
After a few days in Hoi An, we decided to go just a little further north to a guest house we'd heard good things about, Hoa's Place. Right on the beach, outside of the city of Da Nang, Hoa's is famous for being a relaxed, good place to stay, with friendly people and good food.  It lived up to it's reputation. Mr. Hoa fought with the Americans in the war when he was just 14. He spoke very good English and had lots of stories to tell about the war and life in Vietnam. The first day there, we met Pierre from New Zealand who was married to Kim, a Vietnamese woman, they were going out on a scooter ride and invited us along.  We headed over monkey mountain to a quiet little beach. It was great having a local with us since Kim ordered all the food and probably got us a better price on things. While everyone else was out swimming, I had the interesting experience of having a local family hand me their 6 month old baby to hold so they could take a picture of me holding him. I didn't object, and they were quite happy about it, but was rather strange since we couldn't speak to each other. Pierre said they considered it good luck, and I had the experience a few other times of being pulled into random people's pictures.

researching our trip at Hoa's Place, Da Nang, Vietnam

monkey mountain beach
Vietnamese locals at Monkey Mountain Beach
While at Hoa's place, we debated what to do with our remaining time in Vietnam, we finally decided with encouragement from Marla (our round-the-world friend from Alaska) to head to Ha Long Bay. We had already purchased a flight out of Hanoi back to Thailand, so didn't have much time, but it was well worth the effort to get there.

After our overnight bus experience, we decided to stick to train travel this time and had a much more pleasant journey. After 24 hours of traveling on a bus, two trains, a scooter taxi, a bus, a boat, and another bus, we arrived at Cat Ba  island. We headed straight to Cat Ba adventures where Marla had recommended and got a one day tour of the bay. The owner even remembered Hank and Marla from their visit over 4 years ago and even whipped out their business card from his wallet to prove it! The next morning we got on the tour boat with six other people and headed out to Ha Long Bay. It was immediately apparent why this place was voted one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world. We began to see floating fishing villages immediately and not long after many limestone outcroppings that defied belief. Many reminded us of towers we had seen in southeastern Utah in that they seemed to be heavier than their supports allowed. We went to an island cave first. It was the biggest single cave we've ever been in and though the detail wasn't amazing it made up with size. There were tons of tourists (though our guide told us this was a small amount of tourists), many of them locals since it was a Sunday and many people had come for the weekend. At the end of the cave a boardwalk took us back to our boat and past a bunch of vendors selling things from their small boats. It makes sense that this is the only way to do business considering it's a park and an island, but some of these boats were packed to the brim with many different items and it made us gawk a bit as we walked by. Live seafood was available at some boats and the variety was really breathtaking. We headed back out on the boat to kayak in a bay and have lunch. We talked to the crew (their english was limited) but we got our points across pretty well. The Vietnamese people seem to love having their picture taken. The kayak was really enjoyable with two caves/arches that we kayaked underneath. It was a first experience for both of us to do this and it was really cool. We ended the day by swimming around in a small bay, and doing a bit of snorkeling. The ride back made for more impressive views of the bay and we both agreed that even without the other activities the boat ride by itself was well worth the $25 we had each spent for the tour.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay

the cap'n
The captain

Surprise Cave
Surprise Cave - Ha Long Bay
under the rock
Kayaking under the rock

Ha Long Bay
boat vendors
boat vendors at Surprise Cave
floating village kids
floating village kids
The following day we needed to get to Hanoi for our flight so we began our journey and arrived in Hanoi that evening at the hotel we had reserved near the airport there was something delicious being grilled out on the street. I asked the hotel manager what it was and he said "duck" so we asked the price and ordered some. He brought us some beer and we sat waiting for our dinner. While we waited we saw the chefs walk across the street and come back with 2 Live Ducks! I said to Cassie "i think that's dinner" and we both agreed but were sure they would take the ducks out back to kill them. Nope, while we were drinking our beer they slit the ducks necks, and began defeathering them. Given the country has little or no refrigeration it makes complete sense that many things have to be served fresh and this was no exception. The duck was amazing.

train food - a sour jiggling dumpling thingy with some pork on the side? it was weird.
Our train friend - Xinh
The next morning we got on our flight without any issues (the airport was surprisingly small and quiet) and arrived in Bangkok ahead of schedule. We wandered around town and went to see the Golden Buddha statue which was 10 feet tall and weighed 11,000 pounds. It's the biggest solid gold Buddha in the world and is worth about $273,627,172. If only we had room for it in our luggage.... We boarded another night train and made our way to southern Thailand to an island called Ko Phagnan. All told the 48 hour marathon journey from Ha Long Bay, Vietnam to Ko Phagnan, Thailand involved more transportation then I've ever taken in my life. Here the list:
bus-ferry-bus-bus-taxi-taxi-plane-train-train-train-bus-boat-back of pickup truck

Now we are enjoying our last few days on the East coast before heading to the West coast. We're a bit worried about the weather as it looks like it could rain more there, but there is climbing there as well as more beaches to relax on. It's a risk we are willing to take.

Hopefully we will be able to be more consistent on posts now that internet is easier to find.

-matthew and cassie

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ko Phagnan, Thailand

It's been a while since our last post. We have been waiting to post until we had a place to upload our pictures, but we haven't found one for a week or so.
To catch up, we finished our south to north tour of Vietnam and flew to Bangkok from Hanoi. We then took a train and then a ferry to an island on Thailand's southeast coast. It's a perfect relaxing place and we are very happy to stop moving so much.
We will probably be here for another week or so and are hoping to meet up with our friends Christian and Julie who are now in Cambodia and will be in Thailand again soon.
We continue to look for a way to upload pictures and have a more reliable internet connection so we can catch up with people.

Now that we've got a bunch of pictures here are some to show what Ko Phagnan has been like.

our beach
"our" beach
sunset swimmer
clouds in sunset
sunset boat

cassie doing what she likes best
cassie relaxing
what matt enjoys most
matt naping