Bangkok- our final destination

We were back in Bangkok for a few days before our flight back to the United States. We were staying at the same hotel as before. We relaxed, talking with friends online, got a last massage and manicures and bought souvenirs for our _DSC0102 friends back home. On Saturday we went to weekend market to get some last minute gifts. tuk tuks

One day we went to a Swenson’s Ice Cream parlor on the corner of a road next to Khao San Road. It bought me straight back to my childhood, when my family

397965_718195324293_1195949251_nwould spoil me in Thailand as a treat after eating only rice and simple vegetables and meats for months. As I dug into my sundae I remembered being a child, sitting her with my mom and dad in the cold air conditioning and talking about the experiences our trip had taught me. Now I was recalling our trip with Kelsey. We talked about our frustrations and amazing moments. We talked about the struggles we faced on this trip, and how it had changed us a little bit. We had grown from this trip, just like when I was a child.

Many nights we spent walking up and down Khao San Road, taking in the sights. khao-san-roadIt was crazy that five and a half months ago we had walked on this road thinking our trip would take so long. And now it had flown by in a flash and we were at the last moments of our journey. We savored fresh coconut ice cream in a coconut bowl and stuffed ourselves with Pad Thai.

Everyday I enjoyed soaking up the sun in the later afternoon by the pool. The sunsets were not as good as the beach, but the view of the city was pretty great from the rooftop pool.

On one of the weekend nights, we decided to check out the clubs on Khao San Road. We found what seemed like the largest club on Khao San Road, and decided to see if it was any good. Get this, the name was “the Club”. The neon lasers beams and thumping base, clubsfacing an Asian DJ who was absolutely killing it, was promising. We stayed for a while, dancing and having a good time. But after being elbowed in the face and having drunk girls falling over on me, we decided to call it an early night and we left the club before 1am.  Kelsey and I agreed, the clubs in China were the best, with Phi Phi nights closing in on a close second because of its location and fire shows, and the worst was this club in Bangkok. Oh well, at least we had checked out one part of Bangkok nightlife.

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941237_718195364213_777764697_nOne hour before our flight home, Kelsey and I decided to get tattoos. Just kidding! We were inspired to get henna ink tattoos. Kelsey got a cute elephant blowing water out of its trunk. And I got a gecko with bubbles on its tail, a design I have liked for years.

Overall this journey has been amazing. I learned some life lessons, and I made a friend for life!

Truly traveling is the best experience in life. It leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.

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Koh Sok National Park

Travel to Koh Sok National Park was not a pleasant ride. I had woken up early in the morning with a mild case of food poisoning. It took me three days to recover. The bus ride was very curvy through the hills of inland Thailand. Established in 1980, Khao Sok _DSC0064 lies in the western part of Surat Thani Province. According to Thom Henley, author _DSC0056of the highly informative Waterfalls and Gibbon Calls, the Khao Sok rainforest is in fact a remnant of a 160-million-year-old forest ecosystem that is much older and richer than the forests of the Amazon and central African regions. We arrived at Morning Mist Resort and checked in. Again we had spent too much in Bangkok. The room was a small bungalow with an mosquito nettingopen-air bathroom (complete with live geckos), mosquito netting above the bed, fan, and two sitting chairs on the deck. We were only five minutes from the park entrance.

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We were told in Bangkok that it wouldn’t be that expensive to explore the park and take a tour to the lake nearby. But in fact, we found out it was very expensive, and that I couldn’t take my digital camera. So instead we         spent our time around our guesthouse.

the poolWhat was nice about the resort though was the picturesque pool. It was small, but very quiet since most of the guests didn’t use it. There was a waterfall cascading into one side of the pool and a palm tree branch hut for shade. The Wi-Fi was convenient here, since there was nothing else to do.

And the food was delicious at the guesthouses restaurant. Everything was delicious burgerdelivered with beautiful flowers or vegetables cut out into shapes of flowers. The smoothies were the best I have ever tasted and looked so amazing. It was such a nice treat!

Smoothies

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morning mist resortOn the last day, we decided to wake up early. We saw the morning fog and knew the name of this guesthouse was appropriate. We wanted to venture in the morning, on our own, into the national park for some hiking. Khao Sok National Park makes you feel a little like you stepped into a George of the Jungle movie. It encompasses 646 square km of thick native rainforest and rugged mountains. We ventured over a few miles of the park, and saw small waterfalls (it was the dry season),  _DSC0017_DSC0041rivers, butterflies and small lizards. lizardWe enjoyed the solitude

as our feet walked through deep brown dirt, the sun filtered through gnarled and ancient trees, and we heard the singing of many birds among the 180 species that live in the sanctuary.

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The next day we relaxed, before catching an evening VIP bus to Bangkok.

Railey- rock climbers paradise and Thai cooking

In the afternoon, we took a ferry from Phi Phi Island to Railey Peninsula in the ferry2Krabi provenience. As I sat on the deck with my legs over the railing, I could feel the salt spray on my legs and see lighthouses and boats in the far distance. As we neared our destination, impenetrable cliffs came into view, and hiding behind was the gorgeous beach of Railey. Accessible only by boat, for now it remains a mellow place where serenity trumps chaos. Long tail boats came up to the ferry and off loaded us onto Railey West beach. Knowing this is where the expensive resorts were, Kelsey and I used the walking street to get to the other side of the Peninsula and find a more reasonable place to stay. On this peninsula there are no motorized traffic and everything is within walking distance. We went to the resort we stayed in last time, but it was full. So we checked out the place next door, Diamond Cave thepool2Resort. It had an

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awesome pool under a rock face wall and nice air-conditioned big bungalows. It was the nicest place we stayed in down in the South of Thailand.

The next day Kelsey and I signed up for a Thai cooking class in the afternoon. The morning was spent in the sun, which accidentally burned Kelsey. In the afternoon we took a log tail boat to the mainland, and went to Ya’s Thai Cooking School. making thai food2 making thai food3 We spent the afternoon learning how to make Thai curries, Pad Thai, and sticky rice with mango. Everything tastes so good! Some of the things we cooked were so spicy! In the late afternoon we went to the west beach to take pictures of the rose-colored sunset as it touched the white sand beaches, before going down under the dark blue sea.

panorama of the beach

The third day it down poured rained, so we stayed in. On our last day I went rock climbing in the morning. For adventure seekers Railey is best known for the hundreds of rock climbing routes up the surrounding cliffs. The peninsula is linedrock climbing3 with shops that cater to visitors and advance climbers who wish to scramble up the rock. I climbed with the same company I climbed with in November. They sized me for a harness that cinched tightly around each leg and held fast around the waist, but wasn’t quite as comfy as my own and helped me pick out shoes that were at least a size too small, and covered our hands in chalk. I had left my rock climbing equipment back in Alaska, because I knew it would be too heavy to carry for six months to only use twice. I also forgot that I was allergic to chalk.

Once at the rock wall, the instructor, a small Thai man with tattoos all over his body, showed us how to use a double figure eight knot to securely connect the rope to our harnesses.   “Top rope” climbing is a safe method of rock climbing rock climbing5because there is a rope looped through an anchor placed high above on the rock face.  Using this pulley-like system, the instructor holds the rope as the climber scales rock; if the climber falls or needs a rest, the instructor can hold his or her weight by leveraging the rope. Although I thought climbing in the morning would keep the rock cool, and thus make it easier to climb, it was not so. As I climbed the sun beat rock climbing1 rock climbing2down on me, and made the rock I touched scorching hot. Even with the use of chalk by hands would get so sweaty, my grip would slip. I laughed with our guide and the other climber with my group, as we climbed exhausting routes one after another. It really was a great day to see a magnificent view from the top, a bird’s eye view of our resort and tire out my muscles in a good stretch on the rock. I am passionate about rock climbing because it is the one place in the world, were I am free from any other thoughts and feel connected just to nature and that one climb.

In the afternoon, Kelsey and I decided to walk to another beach on the peninsula. We walked through the island passing caves and the bamboo fence around monkey1 monkey2Rayavadee Resort. Looking up at the fence, I noticed monkeys sitting only a few feet away from us. They were so cute!

The limestone had been worn away by the rain and salt in the air, and had created small caves, that you could walk through suntanningon the path. The path opened up and we were on Pranang Cave beach, a favorite for tourists on the island. There was only one resort that had a beach-view andthat was the Rayavadee Resort. The rest of the beach was just white sand to suntan on and perfect warm small waves to swim in. There was no speedboats going to close to land and it was quite peaceful even with the crowds.

Railey is my favorite place in Thailand because of its cool chill rock climbing vibe, and its beautiful emerald silk water punctured by stunning limestone cliffs alongside the honey-hued beaches. The water doesn’t have great visibility, but we railey sunset3 had already had an amazing time snorkeling in Phi Phi. My favorite thing to do was watch the sunset and play in the waves. The sunsets are truly psychedelic.

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At night we stuffed ourselves on seafood dinners. We would pick fresh crab, shrimp, and mussels and have them barbequed for us. We would dip them in Thai spicy sauces and toast with beautiful tropical cocktails. Krabi had some of the best food and drinks. It really was a very relaxing place, with a low-key vibe. At night, after a nice Thai/ Swedish oil massage we went to see a fire spinning show at the Last Bar. Every night, talented fire spinners would impress crowds as they danced with fire, spun fire with their feet or mouth, and the DJ (one of the best spinners) spun records of the latest tracks.  firespinner5 firespinner4

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Songkran Festival

Crowds armed with guns and bombs line the streets of Bangkok, in April, but not for riots—it’s the biggest water fight in the world: the Songkran Water Festival. Hands filled with water balloon bombs and squirt guns of every shape and size lurk around all corners on Thailand’s New Years Celebration, which is held on various dates corresponding to the Chinese calendar. The holiday isn’t only for children; even businessmen walk into their offices dripping wet from the battle outside.

Some Thais make feeble attempts to avoid the conflict by covering themselves in white flour, but few stay dry. Men, women, and children find themselves coated in dripping white paste. The whole city is encased in mud and water, a mess of all sorts. The Thais, however, whole-heartedly celebrate the drenching.

The celebration marks the end of the dry season. It’s symbolic of the transference of water from the ocean to rice fields. Soon, the monsoon season will arrive with its flooding rains and yet still boiling temperatures.

Drenched in sweat from the humid 95 degrees, Rashmeen Doowa, a 21-year old woman from Bangkok, described the water festival as a way to “make rain ourselves.” Doowa depicts the shock of the cold water thrown form the vehicles “as a mystic treat.”

Thailand is filled with spiritual temples and history from thousands of years, wrapped up in gold palaces and white sandy beaches. The Songkran festival has been around for several centuries, originating from the Chinese New Year celebration. During Songkran, Buddhist temples are sprinkled with water as a sign of cleansing.

Throughout Southeast Asia many countries partake in the New Year water celebrations. However, none of the water galas in the neighboring countries approach the scope of Thailand’s, in which more than 30 million people actively participate.

Doowa said that this is a time when everyone joins in the fun. “People go crazy—drinking, splashing water, playing music in the street. Everyone if just having a good time.”

No one is safe from the hoses, water guns and buckets of ocean water. Even patrons of the local 7-11 may find themselves soaked by the girl behind the counter.

Thailand has faced a time of rocky politics and instability recently, but this doesn’t dampen their Songkran enthusiasm. Travelers to Thailand during the festival will experience true celebratory nature of Thai culture.

 

 

 

 

Koh Phi Phi- island adventure

Our first stop of Island hopping was Koh Phi Phi, a tourist packed destination, but still a place of uncanny world-class beaches in the Andaman Sea. Koh Phi Phi Don is the largest and most populated of the six islands in the Krabi Province, with Koh Phi Phi Lei just as famous but unpopulated at night because it is part of Koh Phi Phi National Park. The park was created after much controversy of environmental damage after the movie “The Beach” –made famous by a young Leo Dicaprio in 2000 was filmed here. exotic flower1 exotic flower2

We arrived and checked into our guesthouse in Ton Sai Village, that we had booked form Bangkok. We learned that we were being charged 200baht ($7 a night) more because we had booked it ahead from a travel agency. I would learn from this trip to never book in advance in Thailand, as it is cheaper to just show up for accommodation. And also I would learn to always get the latest version of a travel guidebook as the 2009 edition said that there wasn’t enough accommodation on Koh Phi Phi and to make sure to book in advance.

After checking in and resting after the long bus haul from Bangkok (it had been close to 18 hours of travel at this point), we went to check out the beach. Ton Sai Bay’s beach is a great place to find cool restaurants and bars and the cheapest accommodation on the island, but the water smells like diesel and the beach is crowded. The next day we would find a much better place to soak up the sun on the beach, but for today we were too tired to walk across the island. We watched the sunset and then decided on Italian food for dinner. We would spend many evening dining at Cosmic, an Italian restaurant with charm, Wi-Fi and delicious gnocchi and pasta.

The next day we heard about a beach that had clearer water and nice sand on the other side of the island. So we hiked for about 45 minutes through private and resorts on a concrete path (I kept asking if we were going the right away and it was okay that we were in a private area, and they said the path was public) until we climbed our last hill and saw Long beach, and the white sand that was promised.Long beach We spent the whole day lying in the sun, reading, and playing in the warm water before heading back to Ton Sai Bay to watch the sunset. SunsetThe islands have two main parts, with a narrow stretch of sand in the middle offering the accommodations, restaurants and resorts. On the other end are the viewpoint and the coastline that makes its way to Long beach and the other beaches farther away. In the middle of the island, on the pathways connecting it are really cute                                            Elephant lampposts and large gardens.

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That night we ran into the friends we made in Bangkok and they said to catch up with us on the beach later that night. We never did find them out at the beach bars that evening, but I did get pulled into a show that included a fire limbo. All of the beach bars have fire shows, with several highly skilled and entertaining fire spinners that think of new ones to create a show. One bar had fire jump-rope, another had their own professionals showing us there talents before dousing a limbo bar in

fire limbogas and lighting it on fire, and getting the performers to grab random people in the crowd to try going under the bar. I would have said no, but the guy that asked was so cute and I thought, hey, why not? It will be a once in a lifetime chance.

The next day, we had booked a tour to take us to Koh Phi Phi Lei.  Our first stop was Monkey Bay, were cute little monkeys climbed down to a swing over the turquoise blue water to play before our long tail boat. It was so cute to see themmonkey bay swing from branch to swing set and then miss and fall in the ocean, and swim to the shoreline to try it again. After a few minutes of adoring the monkeys, we were off to Phi Phi Lei. As we neared the lush cliffs, the water brightened into a shocking hews of emerald green and turquoise, and swirls of vibrant cobalt blue indicated where reef resided below. This was our first snorkeling opportunity. With our masks and snorkels attached to our head, we jumped off the side of the long tail ladder and emerged ourselves in a world of wonder. Small fish swam by as we struggled snorkeling 1with the strong current and waves crashing over our snorkeling 4heads. The scene under the water was serene and calm, but above the service the current was strong and the powerboats going by were making it difficult to snorkel. After a short while, our guide decided to another location, but still the water was rough.  We came around the point and discovered Maya Bay, a beach paradise so awe striking, if it weren’t for the line of speedboats from Phuket, and long tails side by side taking up the entire beach. It was high tide so barely any spots in the sand were free. Maya Bay4Chinese families up and down the beach were taking photos splashing in the swim-zone or walking hand-in-hand in their matching swimwear. It was kind of amusing to just people watch. I could tell that this beach had become so popular after the famous book and movie “The Beach” was filmed here.  After an hour, our long tail boat_DSC0084 Maya Bay2ventured to our next snorkeling spot back on Phi Phi Don, Shark Point. This is a place were one can see harmless black tip reef sharks. On this day, we unfortunately were not able to see them, but when I was ten years old I remembered swimming with them. This point was just off Long beach, and if wasn’t for the long tail boats going between the point and shore too fast, I would have snorkeled out here on another day. The next beach location was back on Phi Phi Lei. The beach was really big, and the swimming zone has lots of coral in it so you could snorkel. I was taking photos with my underwater camera and I must have got too close to where a fish laid her eggs cause she bit me in the ankle. I started laughing cause it tickled and ran out of the water. Once on shore I saw the fish made a bite mark (tiny, but still visible).  Ridiculous! A fish bit me! When Kelsey went snorkeling and I was sitting on the beach watching our stuff, the weather turned suddenly. The summer balmy weather was gone, and a chilly breeze was replaced, lighting in the sky, and dark thunderclouds rolled in. Our boat driver told us to get in the boat and told us a storm was coming fast. He then asked if we could skip the sunset part of the tour and head home. With dark clouds rolling in the distance, we decided as a group to head back to Phi Phi Don. The rain started pouring and the water was choppy. We accepted the fate of our wet ride as the storm soaked us.  As we approached one point it seemed clear to us that it would be vary rare that we didn’t capsize. The driver moved us to the back of the boat and we started pounding the waves. It stared to get really scary. Just as I thought we were going to flip, we moved around the point and were going with the swells instead of against them. We looked around the boat to see cared faces and drenched bodies. It was one hell of a ride!

stormy seaAs we got back to shore, a Thai local held his hand out to us to help us off the boat and asked if we were okay. He also said that we were one of the last small boats out there. We walked through town drenched and in our swimsuits as more rain poured over us. That’s when we ran into our Argentinian friends. They just asked, “What happened to you guys?” as they tried to keep us dry, with no luck under their umbrellas.

That night Pablo, Ruben, Kelsey and I went to dinner at Cosmic and then Ariel, and Damien at Reggae Bar, which offers Thai boxing nightly. Our friend Ruben, who practices Muay Thai, decided to fight that night. The show was amazing and I helped them as I filmed the martial arts and was the water girl. After the fight, everyone was pumped and ready for a night out at the beaches amazing parties. Vendors lined the street in between the restaurants and the beach bars selling buckets of alcohol, light up devices of every sort, and snacks in case you got hungry during the late night parties. The night involved lots of electronic music,party2 fire spinners, bucket drinks, a friend posing with an interesting cement statue, splashing in the water at low tide and fun with all kinds of travelers from all over the world!

The next day our group of South American friends, which was joined by Mariela South American friendsfrom Uruguay and Mark from the UK who is fluent in Spanish, headed out to Long Beach. With Kelsey and I leading the way, we took the others past beautiful shorelines, and craggy rocks. Once we way to long beach way to long beach1arrived at the beach everyone was reading to play for hours in the water. The one thing we didn’t realize was that when the tide goes out the reef is exposed and cut up everyone’s feet, except for me (I managed to cut my hands when I was diving underwater instead). We all limped back to Ton Sai Village, were we slowly walked to enjoy the sunset and the view of Koh Phi Phi Lei. sunset back from long beachWe bandaged our feet up and went out for another night of delicious food and dancing with our friends.

On our fifth day in Koh Phi Phi and what was supposed to be our last day on the island, Mark, Kelsey and I hiked our way up 186 meters above sea level to thethe viewpoint viewpoint. From here we could get a breathtaking view of the entire island. The sand strip was surprisingly narrow that connected the two main beach fronts, and it was surprising to realize that 2000 to 3000 locals and tourists are living in this small area. At noon we went to see how our friends diving trip was. They said it was amazing and that they got to dive with turtles and stingrays. Maybe next time I will try a dive trip. In the afternoon, everyone was tired, so just Kelsey and I went to Long beach to soak up the sun.

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That night was the evening of the Songkran festival.  It is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day from April 13th to 15th.  The celebration marks the end of the dry season. It’s symbolic of the transference of water from the ocean to rice fields. Soon, the monsoon season will arrive with its flooding rains and yet still boiling temperatures. The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner. For locals and tourist alike its time for the biggest water fights in the world, and some like to get the party started early. We went down todancing the beach bars and started dancing, but we knew something was different. Many in the crowds had water guns and as the fire spinners put away their stuff everyone started firing water at each other. As we were unprepared for the early start on the holiday, we only had a small bucket, which we filled with water to get revenge on those squirting us in the faces with salt water. As I ventured down to the water to refill, I noticed some Thai kids playing. I said hi, and started talking to them. It was distraction I found out a few minutes later, as other kids sneaked up on me from behind aimed with buckets of water. As I was getting drenched from both directions a small kid (he had to be about seven) swam under the murky surface of the water, and grabbed my ankles and pulled from beneath making me face plant in the knee-deep water. The festival had officially started and I was ready to play.

Bad timing on our part, the next day we had decided on switching guesthouses. We figured most would still be sleeping the night before off, so we moved in the morning to our new guesthouse with our backpacks lined with trash bags and our pleads of “please, don’t get my computer wet”. We still got wet, but luckily, not my computer and mostly it was just our legs and arms. As we passed a walkway intersection we were greeted with a bucket of chalk, which they wiped, all over our faces, as a blessing for the New Year. After checking in we decided to stay in for the first part of the day. In the late afternoon we decided to try the streets. I thought I was being clever by getting my dress and hair wet in the shower, but it failed as I left the guesthouse and an older gentleman on the steps, took me in a headlock and put an icy cold hose down my back. After getting thoroughly soaked, he released me to walk down the cobblestone way, and get drenched by Songkran3buckets of water from balconies, and get sprayed in the face by water guns. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddha statues for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. In the islands it is a party were foreigners and Thais hang out and enjoy the silliness. We took shelter inside a restaurant were we could watch the crazy scene as we drank our Chang beer. We went home for a little while to dry off for a bit and rest.

In the evening we went back to Slinky’s Bar, which was the most popular club on Slinky signthe long strip of beach, lit up by fire, lasers, and strobe lights. The scene was a crazy, wet party with a makeshift dance floor with raised platforms acting as stages for partiers going crazy to songs blasting into the corners of the night. Everyone had water guns and was actively using them. No one was dry. The night was incredible. We fluttered from party to party-making inst-friends as we threw water, splashed people and danced until our legs ached. Early in the night our friend found a water gun just laying on the beach, so we ended up using it all night.

Songkran1Taking turns we would decide whom to soak, which mainly meant we were turning on our friends. I would occasional grab an ice chunk from a drink and slide it down someone’s back if they squirted me in the face on purpose with salt water. It was all fun and games. In the 90-degree heat the water splashing around was a welcomed relief.  We will always remember dancing the night away during Songkran festival on Phi Phi Island with our new found friends in the lights and techno beats.

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The next day was still the festival, but it was much quieter and there was no water being thrown around. We had booked a half-day tour to swim with phosphorescence- the green lights you see in the water as planktonic forms, responding to mechanical stimulation when the water is disturbed by emitting brief bright light. Light emission may be seen in the wake of a large ship for some 20 miles, at Koh Phi Phi Lei with the guys; Pablo, Ruben, Ariel, and Damian. _DSC0052 1The boat was larger than a long tail with a bathroom and kitchen on board. The trip was so much better than our first time to Koh Phi Phi Lei. First we went to Viking Cave, were our tour guide that spoke English, unlike our first tour, explained about the history of the area. The limestone hills contain many caves, most having beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. According to local tales, Viking Cavefishermen and pirates use to live in the caves. Some of the caves in the Krabi Province are known to contain prehistoric rock-painting depicting humans, animals and geometrical shapes. The caves are also the main sources of nests of the Edible-nest Swiflet, used to create the Chinese bird’s nest soup.  Months ago when we were walking around the bird’s nest of Hong Kong I never realized that it traced to the history in Thailand.

When we arrived near Maya Bay for snorkeling our guide told us that we could jump off the top deck of the boat. I was so nervous because I’m scared of jumping from anywhere, and the reef looked so close. The guide jumped in first and then Pablo jumped in. I stood on the edge of the boat for so long, but finally I decided, IMG_7322“I’ll jump!” It was such an exciting rush. If I had more time, I would have climbed back up and did it again. Once inside the water, I swam to the back of the boat to get my mask and snorkel. Coming around to the back I realized that the kids on the boat were feeding the fish. The water was swarming with fish that couldn’t tellDSCN1904 if we were food too, DSCN1945so they kept nibbling. I swam away just far enough to take pictures of the chaos of snorkelers and hungry fish, without being tickled by the fish. The reef was amazing with so many different kinds of fish and sea urchins. The water was much calmer than the last time we were here so we could actually enjoy swimming and snorkeling underwater. My favorites when I was young were the angelfish, though now I know they are called the Moorish Idol. With narrow Moorish Idoldish-like bodies, and striking bands of black, white and yellow, the fish is graceful beauty swimming by. In the 2003 Pixar film Finding Nemo, a Moorish idol named Gill was one of Nemo’s tank inhabitants.

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Maya Bay was much less crowded since we arrived in the late afternoon. The tide was out and we had space to play and frolic in the sand and water. We got to see a bird at maya bayheron fishing on the beach as the tiny waves rolled in. We saw swarms of little fish in the shallow water. After a few hours on the beach, we headed back out to our tour boat to wait for the sun to set and the dark night to show off the phosphorescence in the water. I caught snapshot after snapshot of paradise in the sunset with our travel buddies sharing and reveling in the magnificence of the moment.

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We had a delicious seafood dinner on the boat. Once it was dark enough, the captain turned off the lights and told us to slide into the ocean water. It was amazing beneath the surface. Everywhere your body stirred turned into a magical ball of lights. Legs were transformed into glowing sticks swimming in the water; fingers were laced with lights.

We swam and swam, thinking to myself this would never get old. After a little while we climbed out and had a snack of watermelon before diving back into the water. Time after time, everyone jumped off the back deck to be engulfed in swarms of light. It was an amazing experience, and reminded me of my childhood in Alaska when we would flush the toilet that used saltwater and it would glow. I just wish the Alaskan waters had been this warm so

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we could dive in and see the amazingness under the surface.  All that mattered was being in that moment in the water, and life seemed pretty perfect! They called us backin and we head back to Phi Phi Don, with drinks to cheers our wonderful day. Then I looked over and saw the help (teenagers on board) also drinking with us. I guess it was Thai New Years and everyone joined in the fun.

After we arrived back at the island, we took a little siesta before regrouping and heading to Slinky Bar. We were dancing on the sand strip of the beach with all our new friends and along come the Thai children and teens on the boat. The young boys (one had to be 9-10 years old, the other was about 14) were dirty dancing with the foreign woman and their dad was giving them thumbs up signs and handing them more beer. It was a crazy sight to see. At one point, one of my friends had to step in and say I was taken, or the kid wouldn’t leave me alone. It was so bizarre. I guess it really is a different culture.  At one point, enclosed Party1within the humidity of the air and the mass that huddled around the stage, the clouds opened and released a torrential ten-minute downpour on our upturned faces. We threw our arms up, and joined in the ecstasy of the moment. The six of us wandered around in a chain, weaving in and out of a place so imaginative, so underground and foreign, yet so perfect.

The next morning was a sad day as we parted ways with our new friends, and said goodbye to the island that showed us its hidden coves and partying nights. But as I have heard once before, the fact that a small sadness such as this is spurred by happiness so great means that the trail you leave behind will be remembered.

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more photos…..

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Bangkok nightlife and going to see the exotic animals

There are 1.34 billion people in China. 19 percent of the world’s population resides in this single country. Which was the reason I first decided to learn Chinese; it could be useful to understand Chinese, the language 1/5 of the world speaks. To put those statistics slightly into perspective, the US houses about 300 million (4.5% of the world population),

_DSC0005and Australia, 30 million (0.32% of the world population)–all three countries are roughly the same size, area wise. Of that astronomical figure, 23 million people live in Shanghai–a population equivalent of about 3 times that of New York City. Statistics are just statistics until you are actually immersed in the daily ebb and flow of the bustling, thriving mass of humanity. To live in China, means a daily dose of being fully engulfed by swarming masses. Drivers make their presence known with the nonstop blaring of their car horns, and motorcyclist’s tires come to screeching halts as they narrowly avoid the pedestrians who flood the streets. Eventually, one breaks down and decides they’ve had enough. I was about at that breaking point; I started shoving back in the subway and started to comment back in Chinese when the stares became unmanageable. After four and a half months in crowded and busy China, Thailand was a welcome relief.

With a population of 66.5 million, Thailand felt unpopulated in comparison. Bangkok is a still a large city at 8.2 million, but it seemed so much different from a Chinese city. The Internet had freedom and was fast, the noise wasn’t quite so loud, and there were so many exotic tropical things to see.  Khao San Road alley

We planned on staying just a few nights, but ended up staying an entire week in Bangkok. Not even sure were the time went, we must have just been in culture shock.

the pool view the pool

We stayed in a luxurious backpacker guesthouse near Khao San Road, were we had two pools to choose from on the roofs (West or East wing), Wi-Fi, cable television and air con. For those of you who don’t know much about Khao San Road, it is the backpacker haven that calls travelers from all over Asia to meet up with friends, get new guidebooks, trade or sell things that can’t fit in their backpacks anymore, and buy pretty much everything you need on one street.

_DSC0054It also is a party packed, eye-opening street of spas, Thai massage chairs, restaurants, shops, bugs as street food, tattoo parlors, etc. One Thai writer has described Khaosan as “a short road that has the longest dream in the world.”

the Argentinians in BKOn our first night in Bangkok, we met some Argentinian’s in the pool at the hotel. After sunset we decided to meet up for dinner and drinks. Each of the four Argentinians surprised us, by kissing our cheeks which was acceptable in their culture, but since we had been living in China for so long it came across as a little bit of a shock. After a nice dinner, and some Chang beer, we decided to explore Khao San road. When Ruben decided he wanted to try Scorpion, Kelsey and I decided we should try a bug too. There were so many choices of bugs you could eat.

street food

bugs to choose fromeating grasshopper

So with some recommendations, we tried grasshopper. It tasted crunchy and salty. I’ve had spider before, and that is much better. It wouldn’t be the last time we tried bugs!

dancing in the middle of Khao San Road

After our  “dessert” we decided to spend the rest of the night dancing on the  street between the two largest bars, “The Lucky Bar” and “Center Khao San”. At the end of the night we partied ways and hoped to meet up with the guys again, down south in the Islands.

meeting an old friend

The following few days we pampered ourselves with massages, manicures and pedicures, shopping and eating delicious street food. One evening we met up with my friend from college who is from Bangkok. It was nice to catch up.

After a few days we made an appointment to get our teeth cleaned. I did say that you could get everything on Khao San Road. With a bright shiny smile, it was time to do some sightseeing.

We booked a day tour, which included many sights outside of Bangkok. Our first stop after two hours on the highway was the WWII Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. WWII cemetery3 WWII cemetery2 WWII cemetery1

1939-1945 The land on which this cemetery stands is the gift of the Thai people for the perpetual resting place of the sailors, soldiers and airmen who are honored here. Then we went to the Museum were they had information that explained the Japanese raid here, and how important the completion of the River Kwai Bridge was.  The Japanese Army used rail cars as a “Prison”.  I had been to the River Kwai Bridge when I was growing up. It would be interesting to see the two pictures together, side-by-side.

River Kwai Bridge

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riding an elephant2riding an elephant2Our next stop was Elephant trekking. The last time we were in Thailand we didn’t get the chance to ride an elephant, and Kelsey knew it was one thing she wanted to do. They are such beautiful large creatures. At one point our guide, let me ride bareback on the elephant’s head. The skin was so naturally coarse, but it felt so majestic underneath me. The animals seemed to be taken well care of too at this elephant camp; no marks of abuse.

bamboo raftingAfter an hour  with the magnificent animals, we went down to the river next to the camp and they took us bamboo river rafting. The flow of the water was smooth, no rapids, and it was quite peaceful, if it wasn’t for the 98-degree and high humidity.

_DSC0141The next stop was a seven tiered waterfall, but because it was the dry season there wasn’t much water. I remember seeing this waterfall once before in an America’s Next Top Model, and the water was flowing, knocking over the models and photographers. It was a little bit different site today.

Our last stop, but equally as important and impressive was the Tiger Temple. We paid for our ticket, made sure we were dressed appropriately and walked down to a large canyon, were we saw about ten of the 300 pound 8 foot beasts lying tethered to the ground. As we approached they kept getting bigger, as did our admiration for the fact that these beautiful, magnificent, lethal Tigers were part of the feline family.  After getting a Thai employees warm hand to guide you through the Canyon, Kelsey and I sat, crouched, and pet the tigers, feeling their soft fur with our tentative fingers before we leaned in closer for our photos. tigertemple4 tigertemple6Though they were quite bored with us, we were fascinated by these vibrant creatures of which we had previously thought would maim us with one swipe of their gigantic paw. Though the volunteer zoologists tell us that the Tigers are not drugged, it seems that the cats quite possibly are.  No, they were not drugged into insensibility, as many believe. In fact they were sober and peaceful, most being raised by humans and living there entire lives surrounded by them day after day. They also all only showed to the public for a few mere hours, and the rest of the day is spent exercising, playing and eating large rations of food and multivitamins. The cats are also nocturnal, and they are showed to tiger temple7the public in the hottest part of the day. The temple was a refuge for them since poachers would do anything to get their hands on every part of the Tiger, which they would sell on the black market at a steep price for Chinese medicine. The brilliant burnt orange supported the jagged stripes of black as the Tiger arched its back, yawning its sharp teeth at us,non threateninglytigertemple5 and much like a domestic kitty cat. We were entranced and obsessed, picture after picture capturing our enthusiasm and adoration. After a long 12-hour day, we head back to Bangkok.

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DSCN0185On Saturday, we took a tuk tuk, a motorized rickshaw, to the chatuchak weekend market. Tuk tuks can be a hassle since the price is negotiated and many drivers tuk tukwant to take you for 10baht (30 cents) which basically means you will give away your whole day to go see gem, silk and tailor shops so that the driver can get a commission. But we negotiated a good price for him, and we were off in a straight direction. Asia can seem like an endless flow of markets. Every city has it’s own variation and assortment of goods, but the motion of browsing, bartering, buying is the same weekendmarket2everywhere. “Same, same but different,” is a token phrase so widespread amongst backpackers in Thailand that they make t-shirts with the slogan. Lucky for Asia, we love the culture, amusement and constant stimulation that each market, no matter how “same same but different,” brings to light. Since we spent almost a week in Bangkok, why not make it two more days; we could see the Chatuchak Weekend Market—the market of all markets.weekendmarket1 weekendmarket4 A track-like walkway ushers tourists around a giant mass of tented shops like a lazy river, and the vendors manning the stalls are anxious and ready to sell you anything and everything. It is a place you can wander and loose yourself for hours at a time, people watching and bargaining for things you never knew you needed until you saw them—for Kelsey and me, that meant new swimsuits, weekendmarket3Asian style clothing for me (yes, crop tops, and high-waisted paints, and tiny shoes) and some gifts for people back home. We spent six hours there and we didn’t even cover half the market. There were sections for buying plants, Pomeranian puppies and every type of pet imaginable, and even furniture including huge decorative wooden statues for a pool area. After a long day shopping we spent our last night in eating scorpionBangkok, exploring more of what Khao San Road has to offer. Kelsey and I decided to try scorpion, so we bought it from an older Thai gentleman. It was crunchy and tasted like potato chips.

siamcenterSince our bus wasn’t leaving till the evening, we decided to check out at noon and head to the Siam Center Mall were it is air-conditioned to enjoy the afternoon. The mall has so many floors and everything you can buy. We quite enjoy the Starbucks on the top floor next to the movie theater. I enjoy sipping green tea frappuccinos and browsing what movies are playing. We did go see GI Joe 3 this week and it was an amazing big theater, yet icy cold with the AC all the way turned up.

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Next stop: The Islands of Southern Thailand

Shanghai once again; a city of action, not new ideas

The last days in China have been bittersweet. The last week we met up with everyone and it was quite fun. If only the whole four months we had always been this busy with things to do and friends to chill with.After saying goodbye to our friend’s family, Kelsey and I headed off by bullet train to Shanghai.

Shanghaiskyline1 copyThis is a city of action, not ideas. You won’t spot many wild-haired poets holding out flyers, but a skyscraper will form before your eyes. The Shanghainese play mahjong and talk about how they can become rich. The movers and shakers of modern China may give a nod to Beijing, but their eyes- and their money- are on Shanghai.

As anyone can see looking at the Bund or the former French concession, Shanghai is a western invention. Its location on the Yangzi River makes it an ideal trading port. When the British opened their first concession in 1842, after the First Opium War, it was little more than a small town supported by fishing and _DSC0091weaving. The British changed all that. The French followed in 1847, an International Settlement was established in 1863 and the Japanese arrived in 1895. By the 1930’s the city had 60,000 foreign residents and was the busiest international port in Asia. Built on the tradeoff opium, silk and tea, the city also lured the world’s great houses of finance, which erected grand palaces of plenty.

Shanghai Pudong cityscape at night

Shanghai also became a byword for exploitation and vice. By the 1990’s, things had settled down a bit, and the announcement of the plans to develop Pǔdōng, on the eastern side of the Huangpu River benefited the economy.

Lùjiāzuǐ, the area facing the Bund on the Pǔdōng side of the Huangpu River, is a dazzlingly modern high-rise counterpoint to the austere, old-world structures of the Bund. Pǔdōng is home to the home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange and many of Shanghai’s best-known buildings, such as the Jin Mao Building, The Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Oriental pearl tower, eventually petering out into farmland.

_DSC0067We knew when you are in Shanghai; one of the highlights is to see what the Bund and the Pǔdōng look like from high up in the sky. We decided on going to the Oriental Pearl tower, which is 468 m (1,535 feet) high and was the tallest structure in China from 1994-2007, which the Shanghai World Financial Center was finished.

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The Panoramic views from up top were breathtaking, the pearl towerespecially when you could sit on a glass platform and look down hundreds of feet.The tower is best viewed when illuminated at night by LED sequences.

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The Shanghai History Museum in the basement of the tower was well worth exploring, not just because it’s one part of Pǔdōng where you can’t see the tower itself. The museum had fun multimedia presentations and imaginative displays that re-create the history of Shanghai, with an emphasis on the pre-1949 era. We learned about how the city prospered on cotton trade and junk transportation, when it was known as ‘little Suzhou’.history museum 2 history museum Life-size models of traditional shops are inhabited by realistic wax figures and there’s a wealth of historical detail. For restaurantmodelexample, there were replicas of Chinese Restaurants during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), with the development of commence in Shanghai, various styles of cuisine sprang up all over Shanghai. During the period of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1736-1795), people from Shaoxing opened wine shops to sell their rice wine in Shanghai. The model of Tianchan Theater, the largest theater in old Shanghai, was built in 1925, specializing in Beijing Opera._DSC0263 At that time, many top actors and actresses cut brilliant figured here, leading to the saying, “Beijing opera actors can never become famous without performing at the Tianchan Theater”.

A little girl posing for a photo with me.

A little girl posing for a photo with me.

In the late afternoon we went to the Silk Market in Shanghai. It is similar to the fake market in Beijing. In the evening, we went to the Shanghai Center to see an acrobatic show. There’s no arguing that the Chinese are the superior race when it comes to gymnastics. Whether its their naturally compact and impossible flexible

photo from website

photo from website

photo from website

photo from website

bodies or their extensive training and work ethic that drives them to the top, they continue to amaze the world as they excel in the Olympics every year. The show by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, comprised of some of the best acrobats in China, was our chance to see these crazy little athletes up close and personal.

photo from website

photo from website

When I went to school in 2007 in China, I went to an acrobatic show in Beijing , and it is still just as impressive.

ribbon-dancersMy favorite part was an act in which a young girl and boy danced the tale of a love story–wrapping themselves in the ribbons that hung from the ceiling, twirling themselves into satin knots and propelling themselves gracefully into the air, sailing effortlessly around the stage. Violins sang out a melody that was both sweet and melancholy, and I felt moved in a way I can’t quite describe.

On one of the days in Shanghai we met up with my close friend from six years ago, Andy. He first took us to send home some of our belongings to the US from the local post office. We ended up at a tourist site, by surprise. The Shanghai Post Museum itself is a sight for its fantastic architecture and heavy period detailing, dating from 1924.

After the historical post office, and once we were all together (Andy, Andy’s girlfriend, Kelsey and I) we went to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. Delicious food before our day trip out of the city. Andy took us on a surprise trip to Xi Tang, an ancient scenic water town crisscrossed by nine river, just outside of Shanghai._DSC0327_DSC0364

The town is linked by old-fashioned stone bridges, tiny alleyways filled with teahouses and small shops, and canals with small oared boats, which serve as the main transportation unless on foot. Xi Tang is frequently depicted in Chinese landscape painting, and the location was featured in the final sequence of Mission: Impossible III. We spent the day as a group, enjoying the tranquil ambience and tasting small treats. watertown2

watertown1As their forebears have for more than a millennium, a few local families make their living by tying a string around the throats of cormorant birds so they can’t swallow larger fish, then forcing them to give up their catch.

After the full day trip outside the city, we drove back to the city and over to the French Concession. It’s a large and leafy quarter of shops, bars and restaurants, popular with expats and white-collar Chinese. We went for a five-star dinner at a fancy restaurant in the concession.dinner with Andy

After dinner we rested for a little bit before meeting up to check out the Shanghai dance scene. Shanghai’s clubs are pretty famous for being innovative and filled with a stream of clubbers. Clubs range from electronic hip clubs to more relaxed, intimate spots and trendy bars. We decided on our last night in China to go full out and experience the trendy clubs of Shanghai. We went to Muze and it was cool, but it was so packed. They had really awesome DJ’s and dancers that wore glow-in-the-dark neon swimsuits. I wouldn’t have had fun if my friends weren’t there, but it was awesome to see it with them.

madametussaudsOn the last day in China, we went to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It opened to the public in 2006, is the sixth in the world, with its other

branches in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, New York City and Las Vegas.

Madame Tussands7 Madame Tussands6 Madame Tussands5 Madame Tussands4 Madame Tussands3 Madame Tussands2

Madame Tussauds Shanghai has become famous throughout the world for its lifelike wax figures.

Now, there are nearly 80 wax figures, including Yao Ming, Liu Xiang, David Beckham, Tom Cruise, Jackie Chan and Marilyn Monroe. It was cool to pose next to famous Hollywood Actresses, and kiss the cheeks of heartthrob Chinese pop singers.

last day on the BundWe spent the last afternoon strolling the Bund, and overlooking Pǔdōng. We talked about our experiences in China, and how we would miss this country but we couldn’t be too sad, because our next stop was Amazing Thailand.

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Madame Tussands1

Exploring Nanjing History and neighboring Suzhou

After living in Nanjing for almost four months we have gotten very familiar with the area. The baristas at Starbucks know what we like to drink, the owner of a DVD shop near our house said she would miss us, and we have explored almost all the areas of Nanjing.

One day we noticed a bicycle collecting plastics and styrofoam for recycling; what a site to see!

One day we noticed a bicycle collecting plastics and styrofoam for recycling; what a site to see!

Being a city of millions, it’s difficult to see everywhere, but we made it a point to explore where we were living. One day we were taking the bus and noticed a beautiful park. We decided to check it out and were shocked to find out it was a World Heritage Site. Ming Palace Ruins is a peaceful but maudlin place.544111_704786490703_2066271333_n486495_705007807183_119617241_n

Built by Hongwu, the imperial palace is said to have been a magnificent structure after which the imperial palace in Beijing was modeled. The five marble bridges line side by side, known as the five dragon bridges, find expression in Beijing’s Palace. Inside the Palace museum is a nice collection of golden brooches and hair ornaments, silk robes, and porcelain vases.574853_704786520643_660456037_n

382360_705036858963_744992549_nIn late February Ken came to visit me in Nanjing. The day he arrived it was snowing. It was the only day it snowed while we were in Nanjing. We explored parts of Nanjing and then headed to Suzhou. We weren’t falling for the ‘Venice-of-the-East” line, but we figured the city Marco Polo described as one of the most beautiful cities in China was worth a visit. The city is known for its waterways and gardens. _DSC0084

_DSC0141The gardens, a symphonic combination of rocks, water, trees and buildings reflect the Chinese appreciate of balance and harmony. We explored the Humble Garden area with its mazes of zigzagging bridges, pavilions, and bamboo grooves, nestled around Ping An Street and the snack food of Suzhou. We tried small snacks made of rice and flour.

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Then we went to Tiger Hill, the final resting place of He Lu, Founding father of Suzhou. He died in 6th c. B.C. and is said to be buried with a collection of 3,000 swords and to be guarded by a white tiger. Built in the 10th c. the Leaning Cloud Rock Pagoda stands on top Tiger Hill, which is a manmade hill. The octagon seven-story pagoda also known as Huqiu Pagoda is built entirely of brick and leans more then 2m from its original position, which looks similar to the Leaning Tower of Piza. While we were in Suzhou we were able to see my friend Alicia and her friends. We had a night on the town, which included spending a few hours at karaoke. It was a good visit, but Suzhou is a little too boring for me. 559758_705037622433_945804868_n

Back in Nanjing, we explored Mochou Lake, which we lived right next to. Back in 2009, I came here and one of the photos I took ended up in my portfolio.  The name of Mochou Lake originated from a beautiful woman called Mochou who had to bury her father. Her state of poverty resulted in her having to sell herself. Later, her husband’s parents weren’t pleased with her, so she committed suicide by jumping into the lake. There is a statue of her inside the lakeside area._DSC0169 _DSC0203 _DSC0217 _DSC0235 _DSC0266

DSCN1378On Sunday, after I finished work in Xinjieko (the city center) Ken, Kelsey, a Chinese guy Kelsey met and I went to the Olympic Stadium to go ice-skating. The rink was rough, but it was still really cool to be skating in an Olympic Stadium.

On the last day Ken was here we went to Xuan Wu Lake, with the Ming City Walls, which tower around part of the lake. We rented a small-motorized boat to explore all edges of the lake.

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In March Kelsey and I went to Purple Mountain, a mountain related to manyhistorical events of both ancient and modern China. We had waited for the right weather and we picked the perfect day to go, it was in the high 70’s and sunny. Its peaks are often found enveloped in mysterious purple and golden clouds at dawn and dusk, hence its name. First we went to Dr. Sun Yat-sen”s Mausoleum, which is a burial ground for Dr. Sun, _DSC0015 _DSC0010 _DSC0003

considered to be the “Father of Modern China” both in mainland China  and in Taiwan, who fought against the imperial Qing government and after the 1911 revolution ended the monarchy and founded the Republic of China. From there we hiked our way across Purple Mountain, which also we found out is manmade, to Linggu Temple. _DSC0072

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_DSC0051The Temple is very beautiful and the view from the top is okay. The colorful staircase is better than the view from the top because of the smog.

After the temple our feet were starting to blister so we took an open-air bus shaped like a trolley back to the middle of the mountain and to the open-air music hall, which looked like a Greek amphitheater with doves flying overhead. _DSC0096 _DSC0097b

_DSC0104bLast on Purple Mountain, we went to the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. As we walked through the Ming Xiaoling ruins, we saw the spring plum flowers blossoming.

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Then we walked along the Sacred Way, past four pairs of ministers and generals _DSC0139(or warrior guardian figures) that supposedly are accompanying Emperor Hongwu beneath, and past Elephant Road which is lined by 12 pairs of lions, xiezhi, camels, elephants,qilin, and horses, guarding the tomb. _DSC0154We were so happy to have saved Zijin Shan (translates to Purple Gold Mountain) for such a beautiful sunny spring day, and to be able to explore its grand beauty with the plum blossoms.

_DSC0187 _DSC0207On the hottest day we had in Nanjing, it got to 85F in March, we went to FuziMao. In front of the Confucius Temple, the  Qin Huai River  is flowing and the whole complex is called Confucius Temple or Fuzimao. It’s always fun to watch parents play with their children here, watch Chinese tourist following a group flag like ducks following their mother and buy souvenirs for home.

China has been an experience again. It has been fun, but it is time for us to head to Shanghai and then to Thailand for a month of relaxing on the beach and trekking in the jungles.

Hong Kong again; a culinary experience mixed with a new romance and Lunar New Year

I had said it wouldn’t be long before we were back in Hong Kong, but I though it was going to be longer than a week. A lot happened in Nanjing that led to us coming back so fast. My friend Alicia, from 5 years ago when I lived in China came back to Nanjing with her boyfriend Julien for his birthday. They now live in Suzhou, a city about an hour away by train from Nanjing. We went out for a delicious dinner party, and then continued by partying in 1912 with the same group of about fifth teen French men and Chinese women. At the club named Mazzo (my first time in this place) I met a guy from Hong Kong named Kenneth. The next morning he called me to invite me to dinner, and we really hit it off. So, Kelsey and I made our trip back to Hong Kong sooner than later. Just listening to the advice, ‘better do it sooner than when it’s too late’.

After a hectic experience in the airport, which included down-pouring rain, a speeding taxi, a printed ticket with the wrong name (Kelsey’s last name was printed twice), problems with airport security (she couldn’t get through because the name on her ticket and her passport didn’t match), running up to the boarding area and noticing the board says waiting to board, not hearing the last call announcement that didn’t match the board since they only said it in Chinese, we missed our plane. So there was Kelsey and I, stranded in an airport with people pointing us in wrong directions everywhere across the airport. Then someone said it would be $150 each to get new tickets. I was so upset because we had only missed our plane because of all the miscommunications. No one was speaking English, and I get really confused in my Chinese language skills when I am really upset. Lost in Translation, literally! I couldn’t help it; I started bawling. And then the airlines told me, “不哭了,不哭了!”, which means, “Don’t cry, don’t cry!” The nice gentleman helped us sort things out, printed us new boarding passes on a different airlines and said good luck. We were on our way again. Once we landed in Shenzhen, Kenneth was waiting for us in the airport. I was worried that when we didn’t arrive when our plane was suppose to land that maybe he would have gone all the way back to Hong Kong, but luckily he was waiting there for us. This time with Timmy’s advice, and a local with us it only took an hour vs. 3 hours to get from Shenzhen to Kowloon in Hong Kong.

first meeting Ken

 

 

 

As we ventured back to Hong Kong once again we learned more about the history of Hong Kong. Until European traders started importing opium into the country, Hong Kong really was an obscure backwater in the Chinese Empire. The British, with a virtually inexhaustible supply from the poppy fields of Bengal, developed the trade aggressively and be the start of the 19th c. traded this ‘foreign mud’ for almost every Chinese commodity. China’s attempts to crack down on the opium trade, included confiscating and destroying one huge shipment, have the British, the pretext they needed for military action. Two gunboats were sent in and promptly destroyed, a Chinese fleet of 29 ships. A British naval landing party hoisted the Union Flag on Hong Kong Island in 1841. And the Treaty of Nanking, which brought the end of the first so-called “Opium War”, seeded the Island to the British Crown in perpetuity. At the end of the second opium war in 1860 Britain took possession of the Kowloon Peninsula and in July 1898 a 99-year lease was granted for the new territories. Through the 20th c. Hong Kong grew in fits and starts. Waves of refugees fled China in times of turmoil for Hong Kong. Trade flourished along with Hong Kong’s expat lifestyle until the Japanese army crashed the party in 1941. By the end of the war Hong Kong’s population had fallen from 1.6million to 610,000. But trouble in China soon swelled the numbers again as refugees from the Communist victory in 1949 swelled Hong Kong’s population beyond 2 million. A Union trade embargo on China during the Korean War enabled Hong Kong to reinvent itself as one of the world’s most dynamic manufacturing city. Hong Kongers proved experts at making money and wise enough to invest some of it in improving the city. Now the city is filled withfree parks and environmental friendly zones.

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Housing improved with the development of high-rise new towns, while the MTR made transport in the city efficient.  Now the city is part of the Special Administrative Region, which allows it to have more freedom than Mainland China.

After checking in to Chungking Mansions again, Ken has to go visit with his relatives. Kelsey and I walked over to Tsim Sha Tsui that is part of Kowloon area_DSC0076 with one side the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Space Museum and Theater and the Culture Center sitting behind the Clock Tower and the other side is the views of the harbor. We saw the symphony light show, the world’s largest light show projected on top of the buildings of Hong Kong Island._DSC0038

 

 

After the light show Ken met up with us again and took us down the shopping Night streetstreets of expensive Nathan Road, where Gucci, Prada, and Versace dazzled in the windows, and then to the markets of Temple Street and other places.

At around midnight, the city was still buzzing, but we were hungry for dessert. So we took the MTR to Sham Shui Po and sat down in Ken says “the best dessert place in Hong Kong” where we ate Mango Pancake, Dessert 1st nightMango pudding and taro filler sesame seed sticky buns. At around 1am, Ken escorted us past the Indian touts outside Chungking mansion.

 

Dim Sum Breakfastbreakfast3The next day, we met Ken in his local neighborhood of Mong Kok for a Dim Sum breakfast. We ordered tons of food and sat there for a good two hours, savoring the tasty beef ribs, shrimp wontons, deep friend sesame balls and more delicious treats that arrived in bamboo baskets that stacked on the table. After such a great meal, we were feeling more like a nap but we had a full day of adventures out of the city.

_DSC0161Big Budha2We took the MTR to Lantao Island. From there we took the bus to the TianTan
Buddha Statue. The world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue, which can be climbed via 260 steps. We were working off the Dim Sum breakfast. Walking around the Buddha we visited a monastery and a replica of a fishing village.

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Taking the bus down from the Buddha we went to TaiO a picturesque village at the Western end of Lantao Island that is famous for its pungent shrimp paste, rope-tow ferry across a narrow channel of water and a temple dedicated to KwanYu. We snacked on pigeon eggs, waffle eggs and dried- grilled squid.

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After Lantao Island we went to the Avenue of Stars, which pays homage to the Avenue of StarsHong Kong film industry with handprints and sculptures. We spent many nights, walking on this mile long waterfront to enjoy the sea breeze flowing through our hair as we watched the magnificent Hong Kong skyline. It was also the location of where Ken asked me to be his girlfriend.

That evening we met Timmy and went to Temple Street for a culinary experience of tasting frog in pot rice. The Four Season Pot Rice restaurant is definitely local hangout spot, with the lines at least 30 minutes to get a small card table for Kelsey, Timmy, Ken and I. But the wait is worth it. Pot rice is made in a ceramic Dinner2dish and cooked to a high temperature so that the rice

We didn't have it, but supposedly Alaskan King Crab was available in HK!

We didn’t have it, but supposedly Alaskan King Crab was available in HK!

is crispy. Kelsey and I have never had frog so we decided to try it. It’s really boney and taste like chicken. Everything exotic tastes like chicken.  Oyster cake is flour and oysters deep-fried until it’s golden brown. Then a chili sweet sauce is used for dipping.

 

 

 

The next day, after sleeping in, Kelsey, Ken and I went for Thai food on Temple Street. For about $20, we got Pad Thai, shrimp fried rice, green curry and Thai Thai Food1sweet teas to split. This was a more expensive meal. After lunch we explored the colonial buildings, such as the old courthouse and government areas. We took the Star Ferry back and forth from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. For 2HK$ (25cents) we could cross the harbor faster than the MTR. _DSC0342

 

Next we went to the Hong Space Museum, which had several exhibition halls that showed off NASA, America, China and Hong Kong’s explorations of the universe. In the evening we went to see a show on the Mayan History about how the world would end in 2013 in the spherical IMAX Theater. It made me dizzy, but was an awe-opening theater. Before the show, we had some time to kill so we went to the Hong Kong Culture Center to see a free Hand bell Ensemble. Students played Trepak, Pirates_DSC0360 of the Caribbean, and Just Dance on just hand bells. It was lovely to listen to. Of course, we ended the night exploring the Temple Street area and going once again for Mango Pancake for dessert.

The next day, Kelsey and I wanted to challenge us again. We wanted to try snake! So Ken took us to a local spot, where we could taste snake soup. If it wasn’t for Snake eatingthe live snake in a glass cage at the front of the restaurant and the jars of snakes of every shelf, I might have not been shivering while tasting the soup. It was actually ok, and of course it tasted like chicken too. Wasn’t full from just the split snake soup, so we went and had squid on a stick, wonton soup and chow Mein with sprinkled shrimp eggs on top. _DSC0412 _DSC0415

 

 

In the afternoon, Kelsey went to explore the botanical gardens, while Ken and I flower marketwent to the fragrant flower market, which was really crowded since it was two days before Chinese New Year, before heading to the beach. We took the double decker bus to Repulse Bay on Stanley Island for some sand and sea. It was a cloudy day, but if I were here in the summer I would definitely explore here. 


the beach

We played in the sand, and then went to look at the Kwun Yam Shrine, where the surrounding area if filled with an amazing assembly of deities from goldfish and a monkey god to the more familiar statues of Tin Hau. Crossing the longevity the beach 2bridge just in front of the shrine is suppose toad three days to your life. At dusk, Ken and I took the bus back along the coastline, sitting in the front of the second floor bus. We then grabbed Kelsey and went to the Ladies Market to check out the stalls that sell fake brand-name goods, cheap clothes and pretty much any souvenir, before going to eat more oyster cake, clams, and pot rice for dinner.

We had come to Hong Kong this time right before the Chinese New Year and so after dinner we went to the location of the Lunar New Year Fair. 2013 was the year of the snake, so snake symbols were everywhere. Also there were stalls talking about how good Fao Lung Gong is, another political rallies, and even stalls about the recent island dispute in the East China Sea and whether the land belongs to Japan or China. The crowds were so thick that you literally were only DSCN1181moving by the swarms of people moving around you. We would get about 3 inches every ten minutes. I was holding Ken’s hand and Kelsey was holding onto my purse, but somehow we lost her in the crowds. Ken asked a stall that was selling Kimchi if we could borrow their microphone and I shouted into it, “Kelsey…. then Laowai (foreigner) and finally ‘has anyone seen the red head?” Ken bought me some fake orchid flowers that I could take home with me. Then Ken and I got ready for a night out clubbing. We went to Lan Kwai Fong, a bar district attracting expats in Chinese suits to visiting tourist. The music was good, the drinks were strong because it was made of real liquor rather than the fake stuff from China, and we had an amazing time.

The next day we took a rest day and just walked on the Avenue of Stars again, and walked through Temple Street and the Ladies Market buying our final souvenirs from Hong Kong. It was Chinese New Years Eve so everything was quiet and it was kind of hard to find even a restaurant open for dinner. The next day we ventured across the border, where Timmy picked us up and took us to the airport. Again, the airlines printed the wrong. We called the company that we had bought it from, and apparently the Internet made an error. They could only offer Kelsey cancelling the flight for 40% of the one-way flight and purchasing a new ticket. It was so ridiculous. Traveler’s advice, always-triple check the online booking to make sure no one has made a mistake. Travel is always difficult.  _DSC0252

Hong Kong; a place to find jars of strange medical properties, Indian touts, a temple were the Triad worships and the magnificent Victoria Peak

In the middle of January we took a trip to Hong Kong for our visa and to see the splendor of the Cantonese city, that once belonged to Great Britain. In 1997, Hong Kong was once again considered part of China, although it was a Special Administrative Region that would retain its own free-market economy as well as its social and legal systems for 50 years.

Hong Kong1Once we crossed the border it was like we had entered a different country. The signs were in English everywhere and instead of hearing the mother tongue of the locals as mandarin Chinese, now the people around us where speaking Cantonese. The language is a lot more choppy than mandarin to my ears. Another big difference in Hong Kong and Mainland China is that now you have to follow the rules. Where in China you can jaywalk and spit on the street, in Hong Kong there are repercussions to such actions and they will take action by handing out fines. The best difference is that it is illegal to smoke in public areas in Hong Kong. China would be so much cleaner if it followed Hong Kong’s example.

After three hours of a struggle crossing the border (at one point we accidentally lined up with Hong Kong residents instead of the foreign visitors line), taking the train to cross the border and taking the MTR (their version of the subway which goes underground and aboveground), we finally arrived in Kowloon. We would be staying in Chungking Mansions, which was a huge complex with up to 200 hostels inside and a maze of Indian restaurants and touts grazing by the door. Pushing pass the touts, the aroma of fried grease, tandoori chicken, and sweat was almost too much to bare. Once we got into our tiny room, which was similar to a size of a prison holding cell, but had an incredible soft mattress, we just chungking-mansions-room-loresthrew our stuff on the bed and sat down for a few hours to rest and use the fire-wall free internet. In China, the Great Fire-wall censors the Internet and makes accessing sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia almost impossible. We were able to find other programs to use to puncture the wall and secretly use Facebook in China, but it was still slow.

Later in the evening we took the MTR to Central on Hong Kong Island and went to a real Apple store. My old headphones were broken, and after going through six Chinese pairs, I decided to invest in a real pair. Later, I was talking to some Chinese friends and they joked that they don’t trust anything that is a Chinese brand, only foreign brands made in China. Apparently, there is a big difference. Also I have noticed that the quality goods leave the country, and the not so good stay in China.

pier 7After dinner we walked around the Pier. We had dinner plans with Timmy, my friend from 9 years ago that I had met while traveling in China with my parents. Timmy and I met at JiuZaiGuo National Park in Sichuan, China near the Tibet border.

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I was 16 years old and he was a 17–year old Hong Kong teenager backpacking aroundChina on his own. I thought he was so cool for traveling around at such a young age, and as a teenager I wanted to be like him. I actually followed his blog for a couple years and always aspired to be as good a photographer as him. I am so happy that we had stayed in touch, because now I was able to see my long lost friend, his wife and cute baby.  On our last day, we met his family in Shenzhen for a Dim Sum breakfast.

clock towerIn the evening we checked out the Clock Tower, which is in front of the Hong Kong Science and Space Museum, a dome of glass and technology.

A bank was doing a promotion with "aliens" handing out money in balloons!

A bank was doing a promotion with “aliens” handing out money in balloons!

the streetsThe next day we started exploring the city. First we took the subway to Hong Kong and started on the Lonely Planet’s Sheung Wan walking tour, which was a wonderful step back into Hong Kong’s past. Starting at the Western Market, we weaved our way trough small streets and side roads to Queen’s Road West. In this neighborhood we were

Bird's Nest

able to see ginseng root sellers, traditional shops selling bird’s nests (for soup), paper funeral offerings (for the dead), and hugeglass containers containing everything from whale baleen to dried up traditional herbs and medicines. I remember being traumatized as my parents told me that in Xinjiang the Chinese eat Reindeer penis to resolve sexual difficulties. Deer-antler wine, known as Lurongjiu, is also said to enhance sexual potency in men and to have a warming effect, aiding the joints. I was wondering why there were so many antlers on the walls.

From there we made our way around until we reached Hollywood Road and it’s many antique shops before climbing up ladder street to Man Mo Temple. Built in Man Mo Temple1847, and one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong, this temple was unlike others I have seen. With heavy incense in the air, some sort of wooden basket hanging upside down from the ceiling and statues of a god of war named after a Han-dynasty soldier its no wonder it’s a favorite place of tourist, police and secret societies such as the triad.

Man Mo Temple 2

From Man Mo Temple, we crisscrossed our way to the midlevel’s escalator. At 800m in length, it is the longest in the world, transporting people from Queen’s Road Central via Soho (a street with every restaurant style from all across the world) to Conduit Road.

That afternoon we knew we had to visit the Peak, Hong Kong’s most famous site. Standing at 552 meters above sea level, Victoria Peak is the highest mountain on the Island. It has been almost universally called simply “The Peak” since Hong Kong’s early days when it was used as a signaling post. As each incoming cargo ship came into sight, flags of the vessel’s owners were hoisted. A gun boomed out to herald the arrival of mail boats from all over the world. The more privileged early residents soon found it the perfect retreat from Hong Kong’s scorching summer heat. In the Museum at the base of the Peak there is old photos of the elite being carried up the mountain by sedan chair, which were carried by their personal staff of uniformed bearers. In May 1888, Governor Sir William Des Voeux officially opened the Tramway, powered by coal-fired steam boilers. Now it is a modern electrically powered tram that carries it’s passengers against gravity at the steepest incline to the top of Victoria Peak. The views of Hong Kong and Kowloon from the top are breath taking. I feel like I am on top of the city. We spent the evening taking in the twinkling lights of the bustling city below.

the peak1the peak2the peak 3the peak4

The next day it was time to head back to Nanjing. We definitely loved Hong Kong and hope to be back soon to explore the rest of the city. We know we didn’t have enough time to see all the sites!

the peak5