A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Hanoi

Last Stop in Vietnam


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After a few crazy days of traveling around Kourtney and I finally got to stop and rest in Hanoi for a night- no plans and nothing to do but wander the city. We got to visit a few of the sites around town, but mostly we just walked around, got coffee in a little shop and sat for a few hours talking everything we had done in the last week.

We visited Ngoc Son Temple, which extends into the lake in the middle of the city. It was really pretty surrounded by the water and trees, and the inside was all red and gold painted. There were Buddha statues from all over Southeast Asia collected inside, with incenses burning It was a fairly small temple, but it has a beautiful setting around it.

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Next we wandered to St. Joseph Cathedral located in the middle of the city. It is an old church left over from the 1800's. It looks really old and worn down, and it towers over the other buildings in the area. This church, along with most of the old buildings in Vietnam, is famous for staying intact throughout the war.

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And here are some various other shots from around the city, I loved the colorful buildings that were found all over.

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We decided not to visit any museums or go to any shows or do much shopping, we were so worn out at this point from the previous days that we really just needed time to relax. We went back to the Hostel - still staying at at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel downtown- and turned in for the night.

Our trip to Vietnam was over, and we were very satisfied with everything that we had done and seen. I absolutely loved Vietnam.

Posted by Cassi 16:37 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Luang Prabang, Laos

Monks and Temples!


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Kourtney flew from Hanoi back to Singapore for her Final exams on Saturday, but I still had a week of traveling before I had to be back at school. My next stop: Luang Prabang, Laos.

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This small town in Northern Loas is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with old french villas and bakerys lining the street, and more temples and wats than you can imagine. Monks wander the streets everywhere you look, and one even stopped to talk to me. He asked where I was from and where I had been. He has never left Laos, but is trying to learn English so one day he can travel too. He was only 17 years old but had lived as a Monk since he was just 13. The town center is surrounded by water, by both the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, and in the middle there is a small mountain with a temple at the top that you can climb to.

I had read in all my guide books that Luang Prabang is famous for Monks, and you can walk outside and see them every single day. When I arrived at my guesthouse and asked about it, the owner told me I would see more Monks than I could image if I just walked down the road, and he wasn't kidding.

At dawn each morning the Monks begin their daily walk to collect alms on the way to the temples. I got up my first morning at 6am and walked down the street expecting to see a few Monks walking by. There were hundreds of them in every direction walking in straight lines collecting alms from hundreds of people lining the roads.

Since the sun was up and I had already watched the monks for about an hour, I decided to walk along the Mekong River. Early in the morning the mountains are still covered in with low clouds and the river has fog along it, but later in the day you could see the mighty Mekong flowing by. From there I opened my guide book and set out in exploration of the town, hoping to see everything I had read about in my books.

My first stop was Wat Xieng Thong, a beautiful gold temple located at the end of the peninsula by the two rivers. Next I walked along the road and found a place for breakfast: eggs, a french baguette and orange juice! I was so happy for the french influence in this town, you cannot find a breakfast like that in Singapore for so cheep. The rest of the morning was spend at various temples and the national museum.

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After lunch I climbed to the top of Phu Si (the mountain with the temple on top in the middle of the town). There is a beautiful view across the Mekong into the hills of Laos, and the temple at the top is fun because the monks that live there were walking around talking to visitors.

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I saw a sign for day trips while walking through town in the morning, and decided to check out the options. I found one that sounded like a lot of fun a signed up. So, in the afternoon I took a tuk tuk to the Kaung Si waterfalls with a few other girls who were traveling through the area. One girl was from New Jersey, but had just finished a two year Peace Corps assignment in Micronesia, and the other was from Sydney just touring through.

Once we got to the falls and saw how beautiful they were we decided to climb to the top of them! There was a side trail that literally was climbing up straight up, I was in a long skirt and flip flops and could barely make it up this path. But the view from the top was amazing, well worth the effort (And of course I knew my parents would love the pictures of me sitting on the little wooden fence at the top!).

As I did the first night there, I spend my second night at the night market. This is an endless street of stalls set up at sunset, where you can find anything from shirts and jewelry to wood carvings. Of course I bought more than I could carry, including hand made journals that I plan to turn into mini-scrapbooks from each of my little trips during this semester.

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Posted by Cassi 16:42 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Laos Bus Ride

Landslides and sharp curves..


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Although I have very few pictures to accompany this post, I want to describe the bus ride I had from Luang Prabang to my next stop, Vang Vieng. Laos as you may know is a very poor country, with not-so-well maintained roads. There is one main road that goes through the mountains, on the smallest road I have ever seen, along sharp curves overlooking cliffs. There were times the bus was straddling a drop-off as it inched around a corner (I knew my dad would have died if he was on this bus). And at one point we even got stopped because there was a landslide that took out part of the road! We had to wait for it to be cleared, and then inch by in the open area.

Warning to those taking a bus in Laos.. be ready for an adventure!

Posted by Cassi 02:29 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vang Vieng

What a town...


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There are very few words to describe Vang Vieng.

Vang Vieng has become a backpacker-oriented town, with the main street featuring guest houses, bars, restaurants, internet cafes, tour agencies and western tourists. Attractions of the town include inner tubing and kayaking on the Nam Song River, which is lined with bars selling Beer Lao and Lao-Lao, and equipped with rope swings, zip lines, and large decks for socializing.

I was told Vang Vieng was like a 3rd world amusement park, and that is a fairly accurate description. Everyday, all the backpackers head down to the river with tubes, you get numbers drawn on your arms to identify you (you have to sign like 50 forms to get a tube, and they need passport numbers and ID in case anything goes wrong), and then you float. However relaxing that might sound, the second you step into the river people start throwing ropes at you, once you grab onto one, they pull you into their bar and give out a free drink. Sounds awesome right?

It would be really fun if there wasn't bars every 25 yards down the river. You can't make it 2 minutes on your tube before getting pulled into the next bar. And sure enough, each bar has zip lines or swings or trapeze things or giant decks to jump from 3 stories up. Needless to say, many people die in this river each year, as mixing all the bars with the really sketchy "thrill rides" doesn't end well.

But with that being said, Vang Vieng is a TON of fun. I met up with the two Australian guys (from Sapa and HaLong Bay) and the 3 Canadian girls (also from Sapa), and we had a blast in this town.

They ask you return the tubes by 5, so that the river clears out before dark, and then the party transfers back into town. All the bars on the river also have sister bars in town, and during the day you collect bracelets that are all different colors from each bar you visit. At night they give discount drinks to anyone with the right color bracelet - quite the business model!

This town, unlike Luang Prabang which has a 10:30 curfew by the way, has zero temples or monks. It is purely based on the business brought in from the tubing-backpacking-20-year-olds who stop by on their way through Laos.

After two nights in this town I was ready to leave, I don't know how some people stay there for weeks and repeat this everyday! In the morning on Wednesday me and one of the Australian guys caught the bus heading to Vientiane for one last day in Laos.

Posted by Cassi 18:37 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Vientiane, Laos

Goodbye Laos


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I spent my last day in Vientiane with my Australian friend Leigh, wandering through town, walking along the river, visiting the night market and grabbing dinner after we got into the city. The night market in Vientiane wasn't as big as the one in Luang Prabang, so I wasn't temped to pick up more souvenirs - I had no more room!

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In the morning I decided to walk to the Patuxai, which is an Arc-de-Triomphe inspired monument in the middle of the city. This was about a mile walk from my hotel, passing morning markets that had sprung up overnight, and along the main road going into the city. Once at the monument, I was shocked at how large it was. Tourists were able to climb to the top, but I had to get back and meet Leight and there was a bit of a line.

I met up with Leigh after walking back into the city and we got some lunch before heading to the airport, our flights were at about the same time. The airport was the best part of my day. I was on the first ever flight from Laos to Singapore, which apparently was a HUGE deal. Somehow I was like the only non- Laos Airline Official on the entire flight. They had a camera crew, like 20 models holding signs, and flowers for everyone. I also got two free Laos Airline tshirts, food and drinks on the flight, and they had personal TV's so I got to watch Captain America on the way home. It was awesome.

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Posted by Cassi 18:58 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Goodbye NUS

I Can't believe it is over

I cannot believe the semester is over.

Exams are done, I finished up this morning after 4 exams in the last 4 days. I have packed up my entire room into the same amount of space I used on the way here (which I think is amazing). I am sure I am over limit on weight, but I will figure that out at the airport if it is a problem. Tomorrow I am leaving for Thailand, where I will be meeting three friends from NUS in Koh Phi Phi. Here is where I will be visiting:

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

After Bangkok I am still unsure what my plans are. I was hoping to go to Siem Reap, Cambodia but flights are looking very expensive. I will update this when I get the chance! I plan on getting back to Singapore on the 15th.

Posted by Cassi 19:13 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Phuket, Thailand: Take 1

An Unexpected Stop..


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I had one day of laundry, packing my room, moving my stuff out, and getting ready for Thailand after I ended exams. My room went from a disaster zone to only 4 bags, and soon I was ready to leave NUS for the last time.

I left NUS early in the morning on Friday, December 2nd, with a flight direct to Phuket, Thailand. I was planning to meet up with a group of NUS Students on the island of Koh Phi Phi on Friday afternoon, but my flight was delayed and I ended up missing the last ferry out to the island. Luckily there were two other NUS students on my flight with me, who were also hoping to head to Koh Phi Phi, and the three of us got a room for the night in Patong (a town on the island of Phuket).

Patong is a place hard to describe. The town never stops, with bars and clubs open until sunrise and music blasting from every open window. There are more strip clubs, prostitutes and 'ladyboys' walking around than you could imagine. With just one night to spend there, we wandered the streets in amazement. We eventually found a night club that wasn't too scary and stayed there for most of the night, we had a blast. Although this was an unexpected stop we had a surprisingly good time exploring Patong.

The next morning we got up and caught the 8am ferry to Koh Phi Phi.

Posted by Cassi 22:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Koh Phi Phi

Paradise


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Koh Phi Phi is amazing. This is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Thailand and it is not hard to see why. A two hour ferry from Phuket puts you in crystal clear water and sunny blue skies.

When Marshal, Nicole and I arrived on the island from the ferry, we set off to find the guys I was supposed to meet up with the night before- Josh, Ryan and George. This is the group I traveled with for the next week. Luckily they were still at the hotel when we arrived, so we dropped our stuff off, went to the beach for an hour and then got some lunch.

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Lunch was the funniest experience I have ever had in a restaurant. They had a menu of everything you could possibly imagine, but it turns out they didn't actually have anything in the restaurant. We all ordered smoothies, and they biked to the closet smoothie store and bought them for us and brought them back! Two people got garlic bread to split, and they went and bought frozen garlic bread and then we watched them heat it up in the microwave! We should have realized that the cheapest place on the island was too good to be true, but we all got a good laugh out of it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on Long Beach, which was on the opposite side of the island from our resort. Koh Phi Phi Don, the island we stayed at and the bigger of the Koh Phi Phi islands, has a really narrow straight in the middle of the island, where you can walk from one beach to the other in about 10mins. However, on either end the island gets pretty big, so you have to take boats or tuk tuk's to get around.

We got to take a long boat over and back, with a super cool long boat driver (check him out!). The beach was nice, white sand and clear water. There was a reef right off shore so there were loads of fish swimming around, when you walked into the water they started to circle around you! We bought some really cheap snorkel equipment and shared it throughout the afternoon.

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We stayed here until the sun went down, and it started to get stormy. We went back to our hotel, changed up for the night and then went out for dinner. We had dinner at a Muay Thai boxing arena, which was crazy. We sat there for a few hours watching different boxing matches. They had some guys who worked there fighting, and those fights were scary, but they also allowed people from the crowd to challenge each other. The winner got a free bucket (yes- they drink alcohol out of buckets in Thailand).

We saw a really funny fight between two 20-something year old guys who were clearly drunk, and appeared to be best friends. In between rounds they were dancing to the music and jumping into the springs that line the sides of the arena. They were trash talking each other and just being ridiculous but they were really entertaining.

Then we watched two girls fight, who were the biggest two girls I have ever seen in my life - on the first punch one girl got a bloody nose! I was challenged by someone, but lucky for me I was able to turn it down without having to fight some random girl in Thailand.

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After watching the Muay Thai, we went back to the beach! I had been warned by Bailey that the beach gets crazy at night, and I should not wear any clothes I ever want to wear again. She lent me the dress she wore when she came in October and she wasn't kidding, within seconds of arriving, I was covered in glow-paint from head to toe.

This was the best beach party I have ever been to, with crazy lights, loud music and tons of people. And it wasn't just one club on the beach, as far as I could see there were bars open with music blaring, crazy lights and of course glow paint. The glow paint made things ten times more fun, we kept drawing on each other more and more as the night progressed.

We were up until 4am, when the parties start to shut down and the music gets cut off. We wandered back to our hotel and went to bed for the night.

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Posted by Cassi 23:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Phuket, Thailand: Take 2

Back to the Insane!


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After Koh Phi Phi we went back to Phuket, this time for a planned visit. However, once again we missed our ferry! After the glow-paint beach party, we over slept and ran to the ferry dock to see the boat had already left. We thought we were out of luck, but we were told we could rent a long boat and try to catch up! You should have seen us: four college kids still covered in glow paint from the night before, climbing onto the ferry in the middle of the ocean, and we clearly had just woken up. People literally were taking pictures of us and laughing. However, we made it back to Phuket on time and everything else worked out fine.

We stayed at Patong Backpackers Hostel, which surprisingly was filled with NUS exchange students who we didn't expect to be in the area. A whole group of us went to the beach for the afternoon and then went out our first night there. We found an Australian Bar that played only the best music: 90's rap. Music in Asia isn't quite up to par with at home, I don't think I have heard a new song since leaving in July. But it makes for a fun night when everyone can laugh at the music being played at bars. After the Australian Bar, we wandered back through the rows of strip clubs, guys selling ping-pong shows, 'ladyboys' and prostitutes and called it an early night. You hear all these crazy stories about things that happen in Thailand, and I can officially tell you- they are all true.

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We got up early the next day and rented motorbikes! We figured we would explore the whole island of Phuket, and get out of Patong for a while. We rode up to a private beach, where it was less crazy and more relaxing. After a few hours of tanning, swimming and exploring, we rode our bikes further south to the 'Big Buddha". a huge statue of Buddha built at the top of the mountain. However this ride didn't go smoothly.

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I ended up crashing my motorbike when I hit gravel on a turn going downhill. Not only did I slide into a pile of cut down trees, the bike landed on top of my leg and it was too heavy for me to pick up! Because I was riding last in our group, the guys didn't notice me fall and continued down the mountain. I was saved by a group of guys who own an Elephant Ranch on the mountain! They took me to the elephant farm (not sure what the real name is for an elephant ranch/farm...), got me cleaned up and gave me band-aids for all my cuts and scrapes. The guys came back up the mountain and found me with the elephants!
Eventually we made it to the Buddha, which was indeed big. The views from the top were amazing, you could see all the towns on the island and far out into the ocean. The Buddha itself has just opened, it is even still being built on the inside!

After visiting the Buddha, we rode our bikes to the southern most point on Phuket, trying to catch the sunset. We thought the sunset at like 6:30 in Thailand, but apparently it sets at like 5:45 or 6! So we missed it. But we were still able to grab dinner along the ocean, literally sitting on the ground on the ocean front. It was an amazing dinner

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Posted by Cassi 23:27 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephants, Tigers and Temples


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We spent the morning of the 6th at the beach and walking around Phuket, then caught an afternoon flight up north. Our first night in Chiang Mai we went to the night market and grabbed some dinner. Chiang Mai is a smaller town, with the "Old City" located inside a moat and a giant wall in the center of the "New City". Everything is within walking distance and we were able to wander around town and find things to do. At the night bazaar we found loads of restaurants plus any market style shopping you could imagine. Similar to the rest of Southeast Asia, there were a lot of cheap Tshirts, sunglasses, shoes, jewelry and of course a ton of knock-off items.

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We had to get up early for a long day of adventures the next morning!

Posted by Cassi 12:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Elephants, Rivers and Tigers

Adventures in Thailand


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Our second day in Chiang Mai we woke up early to head to an Elephant camp. In Thailand, elephants until recently were used in logging camps to drag and lift huge trees after they had been cut down. The government recently put a ban on this, but the elephants could not just be returned to the wild after years under human care. Now, there are many elephant reservations where you can feed, wash and ride the elephants each day. Each elephant has a personal mahout, or trainer, that helps take care of the elephant, and tourists can come to the camp to visit the elephants and take part in their daily routine.

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When we arrived at the camp we were able to feed the elephants entire bunches of bananas. There were signs that read "Please feed the elephants entire bunches at a time so they do not lose interest. One banana at a time is not enough." When I was in Asia eating a banana a day was plenty, I can't imagine entire bunches. After breakfast came time for a bath, the elephant and their mahouts walked into the river and they got to get scrubbed down. Just like in movies, the elephants took water into their trunk and then threw it into the air all over their backs.

Then it was time for us to ride the elephants! We got to go on an hour ride through the jungle, along a trail and even into a river. It was really awesome sitting on top of an elephant. Sure they look big when you see them in movies, and they look big when you are watching them walk by, but it wasn't until I was sitting on the back of an elephant that I realized how giant they really are!

After the elephant ride, it was time for river rafting. When we saw the description for river rafting, we were thinking there might be some rapids and we would be in a nice inflatable raft, but we were not as lucky. Instead, we were on a bamboo raft, tied together with strings and covered in spiders. It was the four of us: Josh, Ryan, George and I, and we had a little Thai man who was steering the raft with a long bamboo stick. We all got a chance to try guiding the raft, but it was much harder than it appeared. It was actually a very relaxing ride once you could ignore the spiders and accept the fact water was leaking up between the bamboo shoots.

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After we landed at the riverbank down stream, we took a van to a place to grab lunch. Without any warning to us, the place was at a Tiger Kingdom, and our restaurant was about 10 feet from the tiger cages. Naturally, they allow tourists into the cages to pet the tigers, and they shut the door behind you so the tigers (and you) can't escape. How many times in my life will I be given the chance to pet a live tiger?! Of course I jumped at that opportunity and bought my ticket (which was only about $10) to pet the full grown adult tigers.

Just like with the elephants, it is hard to believe how big tigers are until you are wrapping your hands around its stomach! That is one memory I will never forget, being shut inside a cage with 4 adult tigers and a little Thai man who claims he can stop them if they attack... Totally worth it!

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Posted by Cassi 10:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Villages, Mountains and Motorbikes

Finding tribes on the Myanmar boarder


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After our adventure filled day, we spent the night in the city of Chiang Mai meeting locals. The four of us had a fantastic time out at the bars, grabbing street food at 3am and meeting new friends.

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The next morning we woke early and wanted to rent motorbikes to ride into the mountains. Chiang Mai is in the northwestern corner of Thailand, close to the Myanmar boarder (formally known as Burma). This is one of the most dangerous boarders in the region, as many refuges have fled the military ruled country of Myanmar and have set up tribes without the Thai government's approval or support. We were warned that if you get too close to the boarder, Police from both sides are not afraid to fire shots at you to try and stop people from crossing illegally. However, our intent was not to cross the boarder, but to find some small villages that are deep in the mountains.

There are several different types of tribes in this region, each with their own traditions and way of life. They have specific clothing they wear each day, and we even saw a house full of traditional medicines made from animal parts that are still used today. These tribes live in little huts spread out on a mountain side, in a very beautiful setting.

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We explored the village, climbed through beautiful gardens overlooking a waterfall, saw locals preparing their dinners, and even got to try out a bow and arrow type hunting weapon one villager had! It is amazing that without being able to speak a common language, they allowed us to come into their village and see how they live. Then we got lunch at a little hut before getting back on our bikes and heading back towards Chiang Mai.

After leaving the village, we stopped a few places to take pictures on our bikes, and the views were amazing.

On the way back to Chiang Mai, we made our final stop at the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or what we called the Golden Temple. This was located at the top of a gondola, at the very top of a mountain. I can't even describe in words what this temple looked like, and the pictures don't do it justice, but they are the best I can do. Everything was covered in gold, shining in the sun, and it was huge! While we were visiting, a monk was doing a service that we stopped to watch, and at the end he started to tie small bracelets around everyone wrists. Without knowing what they are for or why we received them, the four of us walked away with white bracelets.

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After our day in the mountains, we made it back to Chiang Mai around dark. We ventured back to the Night Bazzar to do some final shopping before parting ways. George, Josh and Ryan had a flight back to Singapore the next day, and I had a flight booked to Bangkok.

I was on my own for the last stretch of this trip- and still had no plans where I was staying in Bangkok or how I was getting back to Singapore!

Posted by Cassi 10:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok Underwater

The worst flooding Thailand has ever seen..


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Where to even start with Bangkok... Hangover 2? Well the city is exactly that in some areas. Bangkok is known for selling pirated copies of new DVD's, known for being the center of Thailand's drug trade and for human trafficking in Southeast Asia. Similar to Phuket, there are ladyboys, karaoke clubs, and bars open around the clock. But the one difference between Bangkok and Phuket when I was visiting: nature.

Severe flooding occurred during the 2011 monsoon season in Thailand. Beginning at the end of July triggered by the landfall of Tropical Storm Nock-ten, flooding soon spread through the provinces of Northern, Northeastern and Central Thailand along the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins. In October floodwaters reached the mouth of the Chao Phraya and inundated parts of the capital city of Bangkok. Flooding persisted in some areas resulting in a total of 815 deaths (with 3 missing) and 13.6 million people affected. Sixty-five of Thailand's 77 provinces were declared flood disaster zones, and over 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi) of farmland was damaged. The disaster has been described as "the worst flooding yet in terms of the amount of water and people affected."
The World Bank has estimated 1,425 billion baht ($45.7 billion USD) in economic damages and losses due to flooding, as of 1 December 2011. Most of this was to the manufacturing industry, as seven major industrial estates were inundated by as much 3 meters (10 feet) during the floods.

The World Bank's estimate for this disaster means it ranks as the world's fourth costliest disaster as of 2011 surpassed only by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 1995 Kobe earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The flooding in Cambodia early in the semester was almost nothing compared to how badly Thailand was hit. When I was in Bangkok, several areas surrounding the city were shut down and under water, and several areas within the city limits were either still flooded or in recovery. In every public area there were pictures of the provinces and pictures of downtown, with Interstate roads underwater and only the exits and bypasses able to be seen. The airport had pictures of planes sitting on the runway, which appeared to be just floating in the water. There were portraits of entire families, with what little possessions they could carry, trekking through the water. The domestic airport in the city Don Mueang suspended all service, and transfered all flights to the Suvarnabhumi International Airport which was located outside the flood waters.

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Luckily by the time I arrived in Bangkok most of the tourist areas were back in operation and I was able to explore without much difficulty.

Posted by Cassi 10:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

KhaoSan Road

Backpacker center of Southeast Asia


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All throughout my travels I met backpackers that had set out on 2 month, 6 month or year long journeys across Asia. Everyone seemed to hit the same points: HaLong Bay and Ho Chi Minh City, Tubing in Vang Vieng, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket and most of all KhaoSan Road, Bangkok. This area is backpacker heaven, with guest houses lining the streets above bars and nightlife. Street vendors cover the roads, which are completely closed to cars so travelers don't have to worry about being hit when wandering back home. Anything you want can be found on carts set up each day: from jackets, headbands and mittens made by locals (which I'm not sure why you would ever need mittens in Bangkok....), to every type of beer logo printed on neon colored singlets, to jewelry and hair stylists and tattoo artists. They even have buckets of fried bugs, cooked stingrays and things I couldn't identify. The best part is everything is less than $5 after bargaining.

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KhaoSan Road is a short street in central Bangkok, Thailand. It is located in the Banglamphu area of (Phra Nakhon district) about 1 km north of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. "Khaosan" translates as "milled rice", a reminder that in former times the street was a major Bangkok rice market. In the last 20 years, however, Khaosan Road has developed into a world famous "backpacker ghetto". It offers cheap accommodation, ranging from 'mattress in a box' style hotels to reasonably priced 3-star hotels. In an essay on the backpacker culture of Khaosan Road, Susan Orlean called it "The Place to Disappear."

It is also a base of travel: coaches leave daily for all major tourist destinations in Thailand, from Chiang Mai in the North to Ko Pha Ngan in the South, and there are many relatively inexpensive travel agents who can arrange visas and transportion to the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia, as well as Vietnam. Khaosan shops sell handcrafts, paintings, clothes, pirated CDs, DVDs, and second-hand books, plus many useful backpacker items.

There are several pubs and bars, where backpackers meet to discuss their travels. The area is internationally known as a center of dancing, partying, and just prior to the traditional Thai New Year (Songkran festival) of April 13 to April 15, water splashing that usually turns into a huge water fight. One Thai writer has described Khaosan as "a short road that has the longest dream in the world."
A Buddhist temple under royal patronage, the centuries old Wat Chana Songkram, is directly opposite Khaosarn Road to the west, while the area to the northwest contains an Islamic community and several small mosques.

The start of my stay in Bangkok was perfect, a full moon. Thailand of course is known for its full moon parties down in the southern islands, and Bangkok celebrates them the same way. The difference was, rather than everyone drinking from buckets inside the bars, this full moon had everyone out on the streets looking up, so I stopped to watch too. Without even knowing what people were staring at, I realized the moon wasn't full after all like I had expected: it was the night of a Lunar Eclipse. For my first lunar eclipse, Bangkok wasn't a bad place to be viewing from.

I met up with one of my friends from the Vietnam Sapa Valley hiking group who happened to be in Bangkok as well, and some of his new friends he had met along the way for dinner. We went out along the road for the night, and met several other backpackers staying in the same guesthouse as I was. After our night out I caught up on sleep before going to the Grand Palace in the morning.

Posted by Cassi 10:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

The Grand Palace

And the Temple of the Emerald Buddha


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The Grand Palace is within walking distance from where I was staying on KhaoSan Road, so I took a day to explore the home of the Siam King. Although the current King doesn't live there, this Palace is an amazing sight. Everything appears to be covered in Gold and Jewels, and the sunlight reflecting off the walls made everything look spectacular.

When I say I took a day to explore, it really took the whole day. There are several different buildings in the complex, so I've included a map below to walk you though my day.

I started my tour where the arrow is pointing on the left side of the map, and walked along the gardens and eventually turned left towards the temples in the top corner. Here there are several different buildings, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. I spent a few hours just in this area, looking at the detail carved into each building, and the colors painted on each wall. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha was packed with people.

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The legendary history of this Buddha image is traced to India, five centuries after the Lord Buddha attained Nirvana, till it was finally enshrined in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in 1782 during Rama I's reign (1782–1809). This marked the beginning and raise of the Chakri Dynasty of the present Kingdom of Thailand. The Emerald Buddha, a dark green statue, is in a standing form, about 66 centimetres tall, carved from a single jade stone (Emerald in Thai means deep green colour and not the specific stone). It is carved in the meditating posture in the style of the Lanna school of the northern Thailand. Except for the Thai King, no other person is allowed to touch the statue. The King changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons, an important ritual performed to usher good fortune to the country during each season. While legend traces this statue to India, its rich historical records dates its finding in Cambodia in the 15th century, moved to Laos in the 16th century and then to Vientiane where it remained for 215 years, and finally to Thailand in the 18th century.

After spending a few hours in the temple area, I moved on to the right hand side of the map to the actual Palace that the king lived in. This area had guards all around it, official government buildings, and even had a changing of the guards ceremony every hour.

Posted by Cassi 12:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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