Saturday, May 26, 2007

Malaysia, Taman Negara: May 19-23

We had to get the adventure started somehow so we decided to head for the jungles in Taman Negara. A bus picked us up from our hostel and dropped us off a hotel where we had to transfer to a bigger bus. Then from that bus, we had to transfer to a boat to get to Kuala Tahan. We arrived at LBK restaurant where we booked for a trip into the jungles. The people there were really nice and were able to arrange something for us despite there being a shortage of guides at that moment. They were getting ready for 1000 Singaporeans to come in a few days after us. That night, we stayed at Tahan guesthouse which had a decent bathroom where you shower over the squat toilet but the room was super moldy and stinky. I would rather sleep in a cave...which we did in the jungle.

We ended up with a guide from orang asli (stands for aboriginal people) and he was really great. It was his first time guiding people on the Keniam trail because he normally takes people on a different trail but his cooking was good and he taught us about different plants and things. He also liked us so much that he offered and extra day of activities for free. Also with us was a Malaysian who lives in New Zealand and a Danish couple.

But, let's start from the beginning. For our first day, we got to take a boat ride to the canopy walkway first. It was neat, you walk along a bridge among the treetops but half of it was closed for renovations. I'm sometimes afraid of heights but I was lucky that the fear didn't kick in at that time. Next, we took a boat to the start of our hike and from there we hiked 8km/4 hours to a cave where we would stay the night. We were gross and drenched in sweat but the little brown stream didn't look appealing enough to bath in. So we hung our stinky clothes on a line and put on our jammies for dinner and some sleep. Mosquitos were not a problem but leeches were a big problem. Bug spray over shoes and socks work to some extent but wearing shorts is the best so that you can hopefully catch them before they crawl up to your more delicate body parts. I had one on my thigh even though I was wearing shorts. They don't hurt but they sure do leave a big mess.

The next day was another 8km hike but at the halfway point, we stopped at a bigger steam. The water was a little less brown but the swim was very refreshing. I know I probably shouldn't be swimming in frech water but I swim in the lakes in Canada and there are parasite there too so that was my justification. There aren't supposed to be leeches in the water but on my way out I found one on my arm. They're small ones but it's still discomforting to find something sucking your blood.

At the end of the hike, we took a boat to Kuala Tahan to restock on water and food before going to the orang asli village. The village was fun. Liz and I played with the kids who didn't know a word of English and they were interested in us but refused to join in as we sang and danced. John our guide cooked us dinner and we ate in his hut which was covered with cochroaches. It was quite the unique experience. Back at the hut where we were supposed to sleep, I discovered these massive spiders on the ceiling (size of my palm). Some of them were holding onto eggs which made them even nastier. It started to rain lightly and a couple of them dropped from the ceiling which really feaked me out. One of the other guys was more afraid of spiders than I was and I felt a relieved when we asked to stay in another hut. I still couldn't sleep that night because the jungle noise was too loud for me.

The extra activities that our guide provided us was night hunting where we saw a baby leopard, a hike out to a bat cave where we slide in bat droppings and I got a bat in my face, and another stream where we went for another swim. We also got to try the blowpipe and Liz actually hit the head of our target. That was kind of cool. I was so tired during our hike that I started to clap my hands and at one point I didn't realize that the group had stopped so I ended up slapping both of Liz's butt cheeks. It was quite funny and from then on, I was just being silly to stay awake. We danced for the kids at the village again and back at Kuala Tahan, we talked to a guy who introduced himself as Brad Pitt. He was a funny one and he reminded Liz of someone. We actually started calling him Eric.

We had to stay one more night in Kuala Tahan before moving on to our next destination and this time, we stayed at Liana Hostel I think and it was much better than our last. There was even a nice frog in the room that scared me at first because I couldn't figure out what the thumping sound was coming from. Better than a big nasty spider!

Pictures: On the way...I need faster internet!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur: May 17-18

I don't know how we got so lucky but we arrived in KL past midnight expecting to be stranded or something but we were able to catch the last bus (Aerobus company) from the airport to the city. Not only that, but the people were nice enough to deliver us straight to the front steps of our hostel for 2 extra ringgets because it was the last bus. We stayed at a hostel called Equator Hostel which was in the Golden Triangle section of town. It's a cute little place and pretty clean with internet and laundry service. The people are VERY friendly. Also, things look far away on a map but Liz and I managed to get to most places by walking.

Some of the sightseeing we did in KL: Petronus towers, KL Tower, Chinatown, Little India, Central Market, Batu Caves, Masjik Jamek (mosque), and the city forest. In the Batu caves, some guy was holding a huge snake and Liz and I got to pet it. Also there were monkeys EVERYWHERE!

Also, on our way to see the Petronus towers, we passed by this table on the sidewalk selling buffet style lunch wrapped in wax paper and banana leaf. It looked cool so we tried it out and it was really good. No travellers diarrhea so thumbs up to that.

Another cool thing was at the Malaysia Tourism Centre, Liz and I saw a performance of Malaysian dances. Since Malaysia is so multicultural there was a lot of different style of dances. All of them were really neat to see and it makes me think of Malaysia as an Asian Canada. At the tourism centre we also got to try out Batik painting. We bought kits that had outlines done for us and we got an artist to show us how to paint.

Next up, some jungle trekking and a beach.


Vietnam: May 14-16

Hanoi: This city is pretty crazy. Motorbikes and people everywhere and cars trying to squeeze in between. We found our bus to get to the Old Quaters pretty easily but the minute we got off the bus, some guy came up to us pretending that he was there to receive us when really, we had not made any reservations anywhere yet. We let him show us his rooms though (at the Golden Dragon) and they were decent so we stayed.

For the day, we tried the street food and searched for a tour to get right out of the city. It took us awhile but we found a tour to go to Halong Bay for 2 days and 1 night on a boat for only $27 US. We booked this tour from Camillia Hotel 3 and the lady was so nice. She even offered us free breakfast before our tour and she booked us a private taxi to get us to the airport after our tour. It was kind of sketchy since this "taxi" was unmarked but it turned out to be a really really nice ride and well worth it. We were worried that we wouldn't get back in time for our flight out of Vietnam but everything was taken care of.

Halong Bay: This part of the trip was the best. We took a minibus to Halong Bay and got on a boat that took us to see some caves and for swimming in the ocean. We stayed on the boat for the night and when we woke up, we went kayaking and then more swimming. There was a lot of waiting around and I think that came with the price that we paid for the tour. I didn't mind it, especially since I don't know if by paying a little more, things would have been any better. Our toilet in our room didn't work though but the lady at the hotel did warn us that the cheaper tour was on an older boat so that was no big deal. The food was nothing to brag about but overall, the trip was worth it. Liz got a sunburn and my bug bites started to blister but I think that was the worst of it.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

East Asia Tour

This is just a quick update on what has been happening over the last couple of weeks.

Nagoya, Japan - April 27 - May 3: Liz came to visit me for a few days to kickstart our tour of Asia. We went for dinner with my boss who also offered to drive us to Ontake San (an active Volcano) for a hike the next day. We went to the volcano and discovered that there was too much snow for us to be able to hike so we just went for a quick hike near the base and saw a couple of really pretty waterfalls. The cool thing about these waterfalls is that pilgrims come here to do some training which involves them sitting/standing under the pressure of the waterfall. We got lucky and ran into some people doing that. It was pretty interesting to see.

My boss also rented a cabin in the mountains so we stayed the night. After out hike we went to a hot spring. The next day on our way back to Nagoya, we stopped at a really small village. We saw a museum and walked along the main streets bustling with tourists and souvenir shops. Johny had a takoyaki party for us when we got back and that was fun.

The next day we went sightseeing: Nagoya Castle, The Robot Museum and downtown. We went on the ferris wheel attached to a building downtown and had a romantic picnic dinner next to a water fountain.

The last things to do were farewells and AIESEC NILC had a farewell party for me. It was really nice to see everyone. We made food and played a trivia quiz. Also, Miki made a farewell presentation for me and it was absolutely lovely. Afterwards, a few of us went to Izakaya and Liz and I decided to walk home afterwards which took an hour and a half.

My roommate Satoko took Liz and I to the aquarium and we saw the dolphin and killer whale show. Then we went to the Italian Village for a snack and kaiten sushi for dinner.

Packing was such a pain. I had too much stuff and ended up mailing 3 boxes home from Taiwan. It was cheaper there and I just couldn't lug my stuff with me all the way to Hong Kong. I think all of the AIESEC local showed up at the airport to see me off and that was amazing. I never expected so many people to be there and it was weird to say goodbye. Hopefully I will get to go back at the end of August for a day or two to see everyone again.

Taipei, Taiwan - May 3-7: Henry came to the airport to pick Liz and I up. We went straight to Taipei to meet up with Abner and Brenda and dropped off our luggage at Abner's place for a couple of hours. We all went to Roehe Street Night Market and there we had some street food. We tried a mild version of stinky tofu which wasn't too bad and this slimy oyster pancake which I didn't like too much. We also had shaved ice servced with mango, strawberries and kiwi and topped with a lot of condensed milk. Very sweet and satisfying. Then we went to Henry's place to stay the night there.

Aside from eating a lot of food in Taipei, we did a bit of sightseeing. We saw the National Palace Museum and garden which were packed with Japanese and Chinese tourists. Aiya, and we thought we had left them behind in Japan. We also saw Chang Kai SHek Memorial, the President's Office building and Sun Yat Sen Memorial. One night we went to a small village called Jioufun on the mountain side and spent some time at a teahouse. It was a nice view but what got most of our attention were the ants on our table drinking from the droplets of sweet tea and they were carrying off some of our dried cuttlefish crumbs.

Liz got frustrated with the city and I got a little bit bored so Henry took us hiking to get away from it all. We went to Yuanshan and hiked Mt. Cising. We got to see the milk pond which really looks quite milky from the sediments. Also along the way was a nice waterfall except that it was fenced away. It was good to do something else. I was really out of shape though but I guess this is my warm up for the rest of Asia.

And on a final note, we watched the movie called "Curse of the Golden Flower". It's kind of weird, a little too Hollywood and along the lines of "House of Flying Daggers". For me, I think I would have liked to waste my time watching something else.

Seoul, Korea - May 7-10: Liz and I arrived in Seoul kind of late. We hopped on a bus and went straight to our hostel, Seoul Backpackers. It's a cute place and as far as hostels go, it's relatively clean. Hanmin met us at the hostel and took us out for a drink and Korean pizza/panacke. It was really nice of him to wait up for us and make sure that we got to our hostel safely.

In Korea, we had to go to the Vietnam Embassy so that Liz could get her visa for Vietnam. Also, we got to try on Hanbok dresses at the tourist centre and we saw Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden and the Gyeongbokgung Palace (we got to try on some armor costumes too). Hanmin gave us a tour of 1/4 of the Korea University campus and now Liz is convinced that she wants to do an academic exchange here when she starts her masters. It really is amazing.

Seoul is really amazing too. It's so spacious here and it seems really peaceful. It's definately really beautiful. Hanmin also met up with us every night and took us around so we have been spoiled so far on our trip. Not only that but we got Hanmin to give Liz and I Korean names. I'm Su-jin and Liz is Hee-jin. I forgot what they mean but I'm sure they're something good.

Now a Liz moment. At the airport when we were trying to find our bus to go to the hostel, some guy came up to us trying to get us to follow him. Liz immediately assumes he's a cab driver and refused to follow him. Then we found out he was trying to tell us where the lineup for the bus was, which was on the other side of a pillar. At this point, the man says to us, "you make me so angry" and waves his hand in a circular motion beside his head. I think that's universal for, you're dumb.

Hong Kong, China - May 10-14: We decided on a stop in Hong Kong to get ready for the real backpacking adventure in South Asia. It was really nice because we got to see people we knew again. Also, Liz and I got our hair permed and I'm really glad we did because it's so easy to take care of now. Less maintenance AND we look good.

We did a bit of shopping for things we needed on our trip, went to Jean Philippe's farewell dinner, made our own sushi dinner, went to Tribecca for some dancing and we also managed to squeeze in a super easy hike to Lung Ke beach. The beach was really nice and secluded. I think it might be my first ocean beach too! First of many...