Food, Fun and Flooding

The last stop on “Courtney and Edward’s World Tour” was a weekend in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  From there Edward would head home and Courtney would continue on for a couple more weeks on her own.  We had heard from many people how great the city was so we were very excited to see it!

We arrived at our hotel and checked in, where Courtney would be spending 9 days there (or she thought – more on that later!).  However when we went to our room to unpack, there was a huge leak in the ceiling from the air conditioner!  The manager was very apologetic and upgraded us to the suite since we were there for so long.  SCORE!!!  The place was bigger than our apartments!!!

Admittedly, on Friday after all the traveling and running around we were a little burnt out on seeing temples and sight-seeing.  So we decided instead to do something a little more relaxing – hit golf balls.  After Courtney continued to show her aptitude for a new sport, massages were next on the list.  In case you haven’t heard, they’re dirt cheap in Thailand.  So we walked over to the closest massage place and got hour-long massages for $6 each.  After being beaten up for an hour, we looked at each other with the same thought – how long has it been since those sheets we just put our faces on have been washed???  Since neither one of us got headlice or came down with a strange disease, we seemed to be OK.

Saturday Edward ventured out to try a Muay Thai boxing class and Courtney went in search of a cheap mani/pedi.  Two hours later Edward came back, sweating and looking like he’d been in a fight.  An ice pack and a couple beers and he was ready for the evening.  When the going gets tough….take two beers and call me in the morning.  Speaking of tough, Courtney learned that the Elephant reserve in Thailand where she was going to volunteer next week in fact had a spot reserved for her on campus and they’d be picking her up on Monday morning for the entire week.  Ooops.  So much for 9 days in the suite.  And based on the photos, the accomodations at the Reserve would be, well, let’s call them spartan to be diplomatic.  More on that in a later post, to be sure.

Chiang Mai is known for their night markets – it’s one of their big draws.  It goes on every night, but Saturday night is their big night.  Not only do they have the market for shopping, they have a street food area, and you know how much we love our street food!  So the first thing we did was head over to eat.  For around $6 we got 10 dumplings, some of the best freshly-made Pad Thai ever, and two beers.  As we were eating, one of Thailand’s infamous rainstorms moved in.  Wind, intense rain, and massive amounts of thunder and lightening.  It actually got so bad that the streets flooded and everything started to shut down.  This went on for over an hour before we decided to just make a run for it and try to get back to our hotel.  Thailand isn’t known for their underground powerlines so there was no small fear that we could get electrocuted.

Best. Pad Thai. Ever….

Fortunately we were only a few blocks from our hotel.  At this point, most of the vendors had closed up shop and headed home.  The streets were so flooded the water was up to our mid-calves.  But do you really think a little flooding is going to deter Courtney from shopping? No way!  So as we made our way back, we stopped and picked up a few things from the vendors brave enough to stay open.  The other thing out and about in this rain?  COCKROACHES!!!!  And we don’t mean the little ones we have back home.  These are big, huge (like 2 inch long), flying things.  Courtney provided plenty of entertainment, screaming and flinging her arms around and running down the street every time one came into her sight.

Flooding. It got worse after we took this photo.

Surprisingly, Sunday dawned bright and clear.  Not only that but the streets were totally empty and dry.  Thailand may not have the best power line system but they do know how to drain their streets.  Another lazy day for us.  More golf balls, food and drinks during happy hour at the hotel.  We ventured out Sunday night to the market, but our hearts weren’t in it and it was apparent neither were the locals.  The street food area isn’t open on Sunday nights and half the stalls were vacant.  Not sure if it was the day or because of the rain, but it just wasn’t the same.  We picked up a few more things and headed back to the hotel.

Monday morning and it was time to go our separate ways.  Edward, while sad to leave, was up and off early to start his 26 hour journey home.

Courtney was preparing to shovel poop, I mean go work with the elephants for the next week!


Going Vertical in Hong Kong

Jumping from Vietnam to HK is a jump indeed. HK is the New York of Asia, a bursting vertical city of towers, shipping containers and people.  7.2 million Chinese and foreign residents crammed onto a tiny island and nearby peninsula.  HK ain’t cheap either. Our friend’s nephew rents a 2 bedroom 1400 sq foot apartment with his wife and two sons for $14k per month.  Ouch!

It could be worth it if you don’t need a lot of space.  There’s a lot going on here.  But if you want to open a business you better have an “in” with one of the three families that own and run the city.  The HK mafia won’t break your legs, theyll just shut you down.

You do a lot of up and down in HK because every building is a tower and the terrain is hilly.  Our place was tiny, basically a bed and desk, and yet twice as big as most of the places we saw available.   But it had a nice rooftop bar that we sat at to watch the nightly harbor laser show blasted from the tops of the buildings around Victoria Bay.

Victoria Bay is lined with giant buildings, all lit up in neon and dazzling lights.  The rooftop view was great, but taking an evening boat tour on a junk was even better.  It was a loungy and romantic, a lovely jaunt around one of the busiest bays in the world.

The buildings are like their own light show!

Small rooms force you outside early so we ventured to the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas, a rising path lined with literally 10,000 unique statues of buddhist monks. Whomever dedicated their life to that pursuit was either zealous or high, but it’s an impressive feat either way.  Each buddha is unique – trust me, Courtney checked.  We have no idea how they made sure of that, but it’s true!

Seriously they’re all different…..

After the buddhas we bounced off the hordes in the Temple Street Night Market shops and in keeping with our tradition had street food: fried shrimp and mushrooms.  Edward also had chili scallops and Courtney ate what amounted to the lovechild of a waffle and a funnel cake.  Yummmm.   HK was the first place we really did any shopping,  loading up on well-priced Polo shirts, sweatshirts and a few trinkets. Packing is a challenge!

Edward sure does like his street food!!

It was in HK that Edward made a huge mistake – he introduced Courtney to a new sport that not only did she like, but also looked like she might be good at:  GOLF!  The problem?  It requires clothes and shoes and accessories and all kinds of things Courtney doesn’t own.  Looks like someone needs to do a little shopping!!

We also let loose one night in HK with our new friend Raof, the nephew of Bashir , Courtney’s family friend who we had dinner with in Kuala Lumpur. Raof treated us to spicy sichuan dinner that numbed our tongues with chili heat and killed any adverse bacteria in our bellies. Then we climbed up the main drag of bars and restaurants in the Central district, starting at Stormies and finishing at Feather Boa, which specialized in chocolate mixed drinks that made Edward’s world spin later that evening.   Ooops.  It’s also an “exclusive” bar for expats only.  Locals aren’t allowed unless they either pay a membership fee or are accompanied by an expat.

Those drinks are dangerous……

Our last day in HK was a toss-up between Disneyland and Vegas.  Seriously.   HK has a huge Disneyland and Macau, 60 minutes by boat, is the Las Vegas of Asia. We chose  Vegas largely because Edward loves boats and Courtney wanted another country in her passport.   Turns out we chose wisely, and not because of the casinos, which were as large, impressive and horrible as Las Vegas.  Rather because we tested our height phobias and went to the top of the Macau Skytower to watch the nut-jobs jumping off the highest bungee jump in the world: 61 stories.  Edward even got Courtney close enough to the edge to take photographs. We enjoyed the view so much we stayed for dinner in the rotating restaurant, a smashing cornucopia of seafood and chocolate fondue.

People actually bungee jump off this building. And those are really people sitting OUTSIDE on the ledge.   See those little white things at the bottom of the picture?  Those are tour buses!

HK is alive to be sure and you’d need to earn millions to live there.  But we wave goodbye fondly as we board for our final destination together : Chiang Mai, Thailand where Courtney will volunteer at the elephant nature park for a week and Edward will take a Muay Thai boxing course before taking leave of Asia.

Da Nang Me!

Da Nang is going to be the Miami Beach of Vietnam, maybe of SE Asia.  Everywhere you looked were cranes in the sky: companies building hotels.  And given the year-round warmth, the crystal clear bath-warm water, the sawdust-fine sands…it’s no wonder everybody wants to build a vacation wonderland here.  Apparently foreigners can own homes and condos but you can’t purchase land. Otherwise it’d be a no-brainer to get in now.  The infrastructure is growing and the streets are clean, relative to other developing countries we’ve visited.

In addition to the beach though there are other wonders here. Our first excursion was to the “Marble Mountains”, a religious site carved into and around caves created millennia ago by receding icebergs.  We were floored by the Big Cave temple and the labyrinth of passages one could follow through the rocks to discover hidden alters.  Courtney even braved a climb down through a hole only 4 feet wide into a cave with Buddhist relics. We agreed that this was one of the most impressive sites we’d seen in Asia so far, an unexpected surprise.

The entrance to the Marge Mountains. One look at that and we knew we were in for an incredible experience. 

Inside one of the caves. The Buddha behind us was carved out of stone inside the cave.  And it was at least 20 feet above us!

The Lady Buddha that overlooks Da Nang shouldn’t be missed either.  She’s only a decade old but she stands tall over stunning views of the city. It says something that the city erected a female god to protect it.  When speaking with some locals, they even said that in Vietnam, it’s the women who work more often than the men do.

Quite a majestic lady

Her gaze reaches to Hoi An, a decidedly touristy but simply lovely, quaint town a mere 25 minutes by cab from Da Nang.  This is where you go to have clothing tailor made for peanuts.  But we loved Hoi An for the romantically lit Old City with its ornate foot bridges and Venice-like gondolas. Of course there was the  myriad market vendors peddling anything and everything from ice cream to T shirts to worthless trinkets as well.  We spent two evenings in Hoi An, one with Courtney’s friend Kristyn who is also traveling Asia, and a second alone.

Everyone kept telling us Hoi An was the city of lanterns. We didn’t understand why until we got there. These beautiful lights are strung across the entire town!  

Date night 🙂

Originally we were only going to stay for a few days but we ended stayin for two extra days in DaNang so Courtney could recover a bit from getting a crappy cold.  Which meant Edward was forced to play two days of golf at the very nice resort courses in town.  Oh darn.  Both days he had a blast playing with locals who spoke great english – one playing companion even drove him back to the hotel and they chatted about the political mess in America.

Speaking of political messes, one unnerving moment was when our first hotel in Da Nang asked to surrender our passports while staying with them.  They said they had to take them to the local police station and register us.  Apparently the law is that anyone sleeping anywhere other than their own home must register.  We politely informed them we would not give up our passports and they’d have to use photocopies.  It was a little tense.   They looked genuinely worried about using photocopies, but we were firm.  In the end they relented.   And our second hotel made no such demand.   Huh.

We’re supposed to hit Hue and Hanoi next, but because we extended DaNang we decided we were done with Vietnam.  However that left us with almost an extra week of time before we needed to be anywhere.  Where could we jump to next before heading back to Thailand?  Why not China?  Why not, indeed!!


America: The Evil Empire

After a slight detour off-track, we finally landed in Vietnam, with a couple weeks to explore the country.  Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon.  One of the things we did to prep for our trip was to get pre-approved visas for as many countries as possible.  Vietnam was one of those countries, especially after speaking with friends who said doing the visa on arrival in Vietnam was slightly difficult.  Apparently it made no difference to the Border Patrol.  We were herded to an area along with all other visitors, where they barked two words at us: “papers” and “move”.  The application required us to not only provide our own personal information, but information on our family members, where they all lived, and our religious affiliation.  Then we were told to relinquish our passports with these forms to them and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  After about an hour they called our names and made us pay for our  visas again. So we double-paid for our visas.  Welcome to communist Vietnam!

One of the great things about this trip is that for many of the cities we visited, someone knew someone who had been there and were able to provide us with lots of valuable information.  This was one of those cities.  We booked ourselves an incredible apartment for our stay that was nicer than our places back home!  Not only that, but we had a list of restaurants and food to eat that could have kept us occupied for a couple weeks.  So we had a great place to sleep and great food to eat.  Our first night there we had a killer sushi dinner, and one of the other nights we had take away from an adorable little cafe.  We wished we’d had more time there so we could continue working our way thru all the recommended food places.

For the first time, we felt an anti-American presence in our travels.  During our stay we visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum.  Both told the story of what it was like to be in Vietnam during the war and fight for your country.  The tunnels are admittedly impressive: hundreds of miles of three-level deep tunnels where the North Vietnamese Army launched gorilla-warfare during the conflict.  But the video at the end of the tour not only applauded the efforts of the people to be “War Hero American Killers” but also propagated the illusion that war was fun – soldiers and villagers hanging out playing cards, laughing, having fun and casually killing Americans in their spare time.  We were not surprised that they spoke highly of killing the enemy (Americans) – after all, we do the same thing back in the States for our war heroes – but the accompanying  propaganda we encountered was mind-blowing.  One story extolling the Reunification of the Country was about authorities transferring thousands of children from small towns to go live in “communities where they are happy and play and are loved by all”.  Wonder how their parents felt about that.  And of course the glorification and glamorization of the war as if it was a fun thing to go do on a Saturday night.

Courtney pretending she went down into the tunnels…

Edward actually at the end of going thru the tunnels!!

The visit after the tunnels to the War Remnants museum was incredibly difficult.  Throughout this trip we have not shied away from visits to historical sites of war and death – the Hiroshima war museum, the Killing Fields in Cambodia – but this was almost to the next level.  You walk into the outer area of the museum and they have a half dozen American fighter planes on display that had been shot down or discarded.  Then off to the side they have a jail cell set up that you can walk thru.  There in graphic detail were descriptions of the types of torture the South Vietnamese (with the help of their American partners, of course) perpetrated on the North, as well as displays of items used to carry out the torture and photos of the people who were tortured.  That was too much for us and we left without seeing the rest of the museum.

The guillotine – one of the many torture/killing artifacts we saw at the War Remnants Museum

By chance, we happened to be there during their Memorial weekend and Reunification celebrations (aka: “winning the war against America”).  Our first night there we walked around and watched all the celebrations, until we realized they were celebrating their version of winning the war, and that maybe being American made us a little conspicuous.  Nothing happened, just a general sense of slight unease.

Of course, quietly interwoven throughout all this anti-American/Westernism were Starbucks, KFC and Adidas.    Taken altogether Ho Chi Minh City appears to still be fighting the Americans (and French), albeit non-violently.

We might have stayed longer simply because we wanted to keep eating, but we had already booked our plane tickets to our next stop.  So off we go to DaNang!!


Singing in the Rain

Since the only way to get to Vietnam from Bali was via Kuala Lumpur with at least a 9-hour layover, we decided to make a weekend out of it.  Plus, Courtney had a family friend there who was happy to entertain us one night!

What should have been a quick flight over quickly turned into the nightmare flight.  First, we thought it was a 2-hour flight.  Not so.  It’s actually a 3-hour flight.  We also thought there was a one hour time difference between Bali and KL, meaning we would get in an hour earlier.  Again, not so. No time difference at all.  So the 4 PM flight out that we thought would get in at 5 PM really didn’t get in until 7 PM.  That was bad enough.  Then add a 5-hour delay onto that!  By the time we actually landed in KL, got thru customs and checked into our hotel it was 2:30 in the morning and we had been traveling for 13 hours.  So much for a quick trip!!

Saturday, the trip was fairly unremarkable.  We didn’t do much other than run a few errands and pick up a few things we needed for our trip.

However, Saturday evening we had the pleasure of having dinner with some family friends, Bashir and Zee.  Bashir informed us we would be going to the “clubs” for drinks and dinner, and to make sure we were dressed appropriately.  Not having any idea what that meant, we put on our finest clothes (translation – our cleanest clothes!) and headed out for the evening.

First stop was the private cricket club they belonged to.  It was a lovely first stop.  There was a massive rainstorm currently happening, with an amazing lightening and thunder show happening.  We sat outside on the covered patio, had drinks and chatted away.  At one point Bashir turned to Courtney, pointed to another area of the club and informed her that ladies aren’t allowed in there, other than one day a year.  So much for progressive thinking!

Next was onto another club for supper.  After having a great meal, we moved inside to the lounge where two young KL women were singing covers to 80s hits.  Bashir continued to ply us with alcohol all the while singing along with the young women, making up words when we think he didn’t know them.  He would have been a great person to go karaoke with!

In da club…..

After yet another late night, we woke up early Sunday morning and headed out to our original destination of Vietnam.  This is supposed to be our last detour….we will see what happens!!


Beach Bribery

One of the dangers we’ve discovered traveling together is that when we have down time we tend to break out our phones and start researching potential unplanned destinations.  That’s how we ended up on a flight to Bali.  But there are worse impromptu decisions to have made.
Bali, of course, is an island.  But it’s bigger than we’d expected and the traffic rivals Los Angeles because the roads are narrow and completely uncontrolled.  In fact, it’s common to have to dodge one of the thousands of scooters using the sidewalk as an optional lane.  And they carry anything and everything on those scooters, from families of four to bags of cement to entire restaurants worth of food, Somehow even in the utter chaos, though, despite the many near misses, we never witnessed an accident.
Bali is a place of leisure and we took advantage of that, often lounging in the pool area of the Grand Balisani Suites drinking beer while overlooking the South China Sea.  The hotel itself was older, but the setting magnificent and the food excellent.  Edward had one of the best steaks he’d ever eaten.  Who knew!
It wasn’t all lounging, though, as we did venture out on a scuba diving trip.  Yes, Courtney strapped on a tank and swam with the sharks.  Well, puffer fish anyway, one of which nearly kissed Courtney on it’s way by.  We dove around the USS Liberty, a WWII ship sunk by the Japanese.  So lucky to enjoy one of the world’s top dive sites.  Once you get over the idea that you’re actually breathing underwater, the panic subsides and diving is an incredibly rich activity.  Courtney says she’s even game to get certified one day!
Before we went!
Edward was going through golf withdrawal as evidenced by the practice swings in the mirror so he rented a scooter and headed to the Bali National Golf Club.   Then he unintentionally got in the wrong lane on a toll road and got pulled over by the police.  He was threatened with a $1/2 million Rupiah fine, 30 days in jail and the confiscation of the scooter.  Admittedly he was a little rattled at first, but then quickly realized it was all bullshit.  But he wasn’t about to test that theory. So he bribed him with $40US and got the hell on his way.   Needless to say, he arrived at the course late and played crappy on a really pretty course.  Add to that getting lost on the way back to pick up Courtney at the pole studio she found and we’d had enough of Bali for the day.  Good thing our hotel had a pool and cold beer!
Man and his machine
Honestly other than that we didn’t do much.  Woke up every morning and walked down to our new favorite breakfast place that had the most incredible pancakes we’ve ever tasted, drank a lot of beer, swam and hung out.  It was nice to recharge for a few days in between all the running we’ve been doing.
Best. Pancakes. Ever….
We’re supposed to head to Vietnam, but the flights are bad so we’re headed to Kuala Lumpur first for a couple days.  Farewell, Bali!

Singapore: Showing Off Humanity

Our trip has been one of contrasts so far.  The wild celebrations of Buddhist new year in Thailand, the weight of genocide in Phnom Penh, the ruins of an ancient world in Siem Reap and now the accomplishments of an advanced society in Singapore.
Impeccably clean, overwhelmingly safe, perfectly engineered and undeniably cosmopolitan, Singapore is what every city should aspire too.  It may be mini in acreage but it’s mighty in architecture.  And everything works right, fits right, looks right; from traffic control to skyscrapers it is a well-planned feat of creativity.

Which is why we spent the first day in Singapore underwater.  Literally.  Neither of us are enamored with animals in captivity but we couldn’t resist the national aquarium where one walks through glass tunnels underneath the bay to see sharks, baracuda, moray eels, jelly fish, and our favorite: the graceful manta rays.  We even got to witness a feeding whereby divers hand-fed crab and fish to other sea creatures. The sting rays literally enveloped the divers. Crazy!

Shark!!!  Wouldn’t want that guy’s job!

Beautiful coral and fish….

Hello Mr. Manta Ray (or maybe Ms. Manta Ray??)

From there we ventured on Singapore’s perfect metro railway to the Gardens by the Bay to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.  Both are indoor marvels, giant domes housing plants and flowers from around the globe.  We got to see the Tulip celebration honoring Vincent Van Gogh in full color.  

Such a beautiful display!!

Starry Nights

Next we trekked through the adjacent Cloud Forest via a 10 story high narrow catwalk around the top of the dome (kudos to Courtney for braving the heights).  The view of the city was fabulous.  And it was fun to discover the myriad dragon sculptures hiding throughout the indoor forest.  

That’s where we just were….doesn’t Courtney look thrilled?  Might have something to do with her fear of heights…

To finish the day we watched an evening laser/light show perfectly choreographed to “A Waltz in the Garden”.  We even climbed atop one of the Supertrees in the garden – a 16 story treehouse that we sat in – and drank wine on a lovely summer evening.

All the aquariums, domes and super trees  were architecturally dwarfed however by the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It was 55 stories high and looked like a massive modern day Stonehenge.  Or, a spaceship perched upon massive towers posing as a hotel.  One could tour Singapore architecture for days.   

Stonehenge?  Spaceship?  Or….?

Of course, because we’re basically eating our way across Asia we had to add chilli crab to the list.  Tipped by our cab driver to eat at Newton Food Center (where most of the locals go for chilli crab) we chowed down a large crab doused in spicy egg and chili sauce, an oyster omelette, an egg and prawn dish strangely called carrot cake, and 3 tall beers.  We’re still full.  


Soon we jet to Bali, the second unplanned destination of the trip.  We leave Singapore both agreed we could easily live in a city like this.  Only one mark stands against it: the strict laws prohibiting public displays of affection!  🙂