Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is really probably the most interesting city we've ever been.  It gets a bad reputation for being dirty, but it's no worse than New York.  It actually even smells better than NYC, unless you happen to pass by a dried fish and seafood stand.. then that's probably the most foul smelling odor you could ever imagine.  They don't have the trash system of a first world country, but the Thai do take pride in their space.  I saw many of them sweeping their storefronts with interesting brooms, and they don't wear shoes inside many places.

Thailand is known as the land of a thousand smiles, and I think that name quite suits it.  They are all very friendly and welcoming and even stop to offer help when you look a bit lost.  This is the only place we've ever been where language was a tiny bit of a barrier, but we were still able to communicate. 

The city really is spectacular- monsoon and all!  We never knew it could rain so hard, but it would only last around an hour, and we were lucky enough to never get caught directly in it as you can pretty much tell it's coming.  We were enamored by the beautiful temples, the strong Buddhist culture, the malls, the food, and even the size of the city.  The Chao Phraya river is a unique way to get from place to place either by river taxi or traditional longtail boat, and the canals run off the river and through the city.  The sky train is also very easy to get around which is what we took most of the time.  Monks are everywhere, and seats are marked on the sky train that should be offered to a monk if one happens to hop on. 

The first day we got to Bangkok, we went to the Chatuchak weekend market which was HUGE.. 27 acres!  It really had just about any and everything you could imagine... clothes, dishes, plants, jewelry, home decor, pets and tons of street food which is what Thailand is known for.  That night we met up with our friend, Masa, who just happend to be in BKK at the same time.  What are the odds?  He introduced us to a lady, Kaori, that works at the same company as and he and Joshua, and we all 4 met up at her husband's restaurant for dinner and lots of cava sangria.  We had the giggles all the way back to our hotel in the taxi.. a bit too much sangria.  The other days were filled with temple visits to Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.  Everything was amazing and so ornate, and it was fascinating to watch the locals in action at the temples.  Lotus flowers, holy water and incense were available to all that wanted to worship.  On our last night, we went to Sirocco Sky Bar on top of Lebua Tower which is the big dome seen on Hangover 2.  The view is very worth the overpriced drink at the top!

I'm not much of a city girl, but Bangkok is pretty high on my list of favorite places.  The culture is just so totally opposite of what it's like in the states.  We were both mesmerized by everything Bangkok had to offer and agree we will go back one day!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

One of the main reasons we went to Phuket was to get to see the Phi Phi Islands.  The Phi Phis are about 45km from Phuket which takes about an hour or so by speed boat.  Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh are mountainous limestone islands in the Andaman Sea which were made famous from the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio.

We booked a sail tour with Phuket Sail Tours because they had a very high rating on Trip Advisor, and we were very happy we did!  Our guide, Sampong, was great, and the crew really knew their jobs.  On our tour we had several stops with the first being Maya Bay. This is the exact location The Beach was filmed so it gets very crowded, and an early morning visit is a must to beat them.  Maya Bay is truly breathtaking as cliche as it sounds.  The sand is pure white, the water is aqua blue lined with traditional longtail boats, it's surrounded by lush, green, limestone mountains.  We got to hike up the mountain a bit to check out a lookout point, passing by campers along the way.

Our next stop was Monkey Beach... and that's exactly what it was, a beach with lots of monkeys.  Sampong brought lots of Southeast Asian fruits for us to snack on during our sailing adventure, and he made sure we had plenty to feed the monkeys too.  You just hold the fruit out, and those little things come right up and grab it.

We got to snorkel in two different spots that were very shallow with sea urchins all around, and we went by a really strange cave where birds make their nests out of their spit.  The nests are collected and made into bird nest soup, a delicacy in China, which costs around $1000/kg.  They claim it's the most expensive food in the world.

The last stop was Bamboo Island, or Ko Phai.  I have never seen a more beautiful beach.  It was prettier than a post card. 

During our journey, we had lunch on Ko Phi Phi Don at a really neat outdoor restaurant overlooking the Andaman.  They kept bringing dishes and dishes, and they were all so amazing!

On our way back, we had to go through a monsoon.  Yep, in the middle of nowhere on a boat in a monsoon.  It was a bumpy ride, a bit scary, but it was also pretty exciting.  Luckily, I had taken a motion sickness pill prior to getting on the boat.

Our sail tour was the highlight of our trip to Phuket and one of the most beautiful places either of us have seen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket (pronounced poo-ket) has been a dream of mine for years.  Luckily, visiting Thailand was also a dream of Joshua's too!  We flew on Air Asia from DPS to HKT, got a taxi in Phuket Town, and finally arrived at Sawasdee Village at Kata Beach.  There are several different areas of Phuket- Patong is the crazy, party area, and Kata is much more chill which is exactly why we chose it. 
Our hotel was rated one of the best in the area on trip advisor, and I'm so happy we booked it!  It was absolutely gorgeous!!!  The pool was beautiful, and the restaurant was decorated in an elegant Thai style and had fantastic food. 

Phuket is a really neat place!  Street food galore! The beaches are beautiful with very soft sand and are surrounded by lush, green limestone mountains.   You can rent chairs on the beach for the day for around 60 Thai Baht which is about $2 USD, and bars are set up all along the beaches for tropical cocktails or Singha or Chang beer anytime you please.  Joshua loved trying all the different Asian beers. 

We mainly just relaxed at the beach and ate street food, except for a rainy day which called for a spa visit.  There are spas everywhere, all along the streets with ladies yelling 'massage' over and over.  One night, we got pedicures and one we got the traditional Thai massage which made me feel like I was going to vomit and then die.  It was the most painful thing ever!!!!  On the rainy day, we opted for the fancy spa in our hotel and went with the regular Swedish massage... no more Thai massages for us!

We also rode a tuk tuk over to Patong to check out the Quick Silver pro surfing competition which was pretty cool to see.   We went during monsoon season so the waves were crazy high.  Not only did we see some pro surfers, but Patong is also full of prostitutes and lady boys.. and I'm sure some lady boy prostitutes.  Patong was just a day time visit for us, as we had no desire to experience the nightlife. 

To sum it all up, Phuket was a great experience.  Would we want to go back?  Probably not.  We definitely plan on exploring more of Thailand in the future, but Phuket was quite touristy and slightly dirty.  I think we'll island hop next time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia

After 5 nights in Ubud, we spent the next 2 at the Pan Pacific Nirwana which is a gorgeous 5 star resort on the southern coast.  The grounds at the resort are imaculate, the service is flawless, and the food is amazing, especially the breakfast.

The pools are beautifully designed, and bales (a Balinese cabana) are all throughout the resort by the pools and along the cliffs overlooking the beach to hang out in.  It really is quite a sight!  But the most special thing about the Pan Pacific is that it overlooks Tanah Lot, a rock-formed temple that sits offshore.  Tanah Lot is accessible when the tide is low, but during high tide, there is no way to get to it.  Sitting on the cliffs overlooking Tanah Lot and listening to the 8 ft plus waves made a very romantic sunset. 

After our first breakfast there, we decided that it would be a great time to walk over to the temple to explore since the tide was low.  We happened to walk upon what ended up being our favorite moment in Bali.  Each temple has a birthday celebration, and we just happened walk up to the birthday ceremony of Tanah Lot.  Everyone was dressed in their ceremony sarongs which are nicer than their every day sarongs, and they were parading up to the temple with offerings and the traditional Balinese umbrellas.  Holy men were giving blessings with holy water, and everyone walked up to the temple after taking off their shoes, gave offerings, prayed, and came back down with the gamelan playing in the background.  It was truly a magical experience to witness.

After that amazing morning, we spent the rest of our time at the resort just lounging in the bales, and Joshua spent a good amount of time on the pool slide.  I have never seen him so child-like, and I could not stop laughing.  He talked me into going down it a few times and would catch me at the end so I wouldn't go underwater because the current was so strong. 

We really had an amazing 7 nights in Bali.  I often teared up because I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the experience of such a beautiful culture.  My goal is to be as happy and loving as they are in Bali.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wayan Lia

The Balinese have a system of names using only 4 names.  The first born is Wayan, the second is Made, the third is Nyoman, and the fourth is Ketut.  If there is a fifth, it starts back over with Wayan again.  Our driver I found in Bali uses the name Wayan Lia to set himself apart for tourists.

Trip Advisor has a list of drivers that have gotten multiple good reviews from people that have used them in the Trip Advisor community.  I emailed about 4 and got responses back from each, but something really stood out about Wayan's response email.  He was very thorough and gave detailed information about his car and how he runs his business.  Something told me that he would be the best for us, and I'm so happy we used him.  I'm sure there are many great drivers in Bali, but we will always use Wayan Lia.

I sent him a list of things I wanted to see/do, and he took that and added a few things and made a fabulous intinerary for us.   He took us to a beautiful waterfall, several temples and had sarongs for us(required for both men and women for temple visits), markets, rice fields and terraces, great beaches, amazing moutain view, dance performances, and yummy restaurants.  He drove us around the country roads so we could see the Bali life, and he explained so much to us along the way.  He took us all over that glorious island and taught us so much about the culture and religion.  He knew what every plant was and was able to answer all million of my questions, and he really seemed very happy to teach us about Bali.

There is something very special about Wayan.  He is very kind and has a sweet energy about him.  You can really tell he loves his job and showing tourists the beauty Bali has to offer.  He loved showing us new things and teaching us all about his culture.  I don't think we would have had the experience we had if it weren't for Wayan. 

I am so grateful for our Bali friend, Wayan Lia.


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