Thailand Returns, Phuket & Ko Phi Phi

Time to recharge the batteries with some beach time, scuba diving and surfing off the Andaman coast of S. Thailand. Phuket and the surrounding islands were devastated by the Boxing Day Tsunami. By now thankfully, the cities have been rebuilt and only the painful memory of the tremendous loss remains. We arrived in the midst of the monsoon season to blue skies and warm weather. We found a nice little guesthouse on Patong Beach and made the most of our planned 2 nights in Phuket. We filled the 3 days with surfing, making new friends, and riding moto’s around the island visiting Phuket’s myriad of beaches, surfing, and sightseeing.

Two cool Italian friends we met. They encouraged us to go to Maya beach...

On the 3rd day we headed for the docks to take a 3 hour boat to Ko Ph Phi for some diving and beach time. Phi Phi and the surrounding islands are unique in that they are very rocky and consist primarily of dramatic limestone cliffs pockmarked with small white sandy beaches and lush tropical jungle. In fact, if you have ever seen “The Beach” it was filmed on an island 30 minutes from Ko Phi Phi.

While Ko Phi Phi is beautiful and we had a great time, the “monsoon season,” which we had/have timed perfectly for all of SE Asia, reared its head again. Luckily the best place to be in a storm is 18 m underneath the ocean, which is conveniently where we were on our dive trip (saw a nice leopard shark, a morey eel, big trigger fish and swam through a large group of jellyfish). Our entry into choppy waters was the only noticeable shift from our other dives and there was a serenity to being beneath the ocean in the time of a storm.

A picture that kind of represents Maya Beach

The next day we were not so lucky. The sunny morning baited us into an afternoon tour of Maya beach (where the movie the beach was filmed and arguably the most beautiful beach in Thailand), and after boarding the world’s sketchiest boat (with a captain that drove with his foot – no joke!), we began the Odyssey. To access Maya beach you have to swim from the boat to a series of ropes and navigate the powerful waves crashing against the jagged rocks. That was the easy part. The intense rain and was joined by it’s sister, intense wind, and within a few minutes, a full on storm rocked paradise lost. As we ran across the island, large palm branches were ripped of the trunk and came crashing down (two feet from where Noel was standing!). We sprinted to the beach and were met with, you guessed it, a 40 mph sandstorm! You had no choice but to flee and seek refuge in the ocean, which we did along with 100 other tourists. At this point the idea of Tsunami #2 did not seem too far-fetched so we decided to head back to the safety of our boat. Oops. We forgot about the world’s sketichest boat and Captain Foot Driver trying to cross the eight foot high waves in a storm! How many life jackets are there? Ha ha! Not that we would need them…but SERIOUSLY, how many are there? To make a long story medium, we ended up okay. But all of us did have to get out and pull the boat to safety when we got stuck in the rocks.

The Three Muskaters...Nick appears to be having the time of his life!

Chillness Factor: Low
Storm/Rain Factor: Extreme

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hanoi #2, Vietnam

Many travellers say that Halong Bay, a world heritage site, is the most beautiful place they have been and the highlight of their SE Asia trip. Surreal limestone rock spires rise hundreds of feet above the bay covered in a lush green jungle. Boats glide effortlessly through the still, crystal blue waters, and supposedly the sunsets are spectacular. Nick had actually travelled back to Vietnam for the THIRD time to see Halong Bay since he had missed out the firs two times.

We showed up at the travel agency ready to catch our bus only to learn that Typhoon #2 had decided to grace us with its presence! That coupled with the fact the first typhoon had demolished the island we were supposed to spend the night on, the day quickly turned into a bit of a disaster. We now had 3 days until our plane left for Cambodia, a traveling companion who had been to Vietnam 3 times, Halong Bay was no longer an option, and no place to stay! Perfect.

So we forfeited our ticket and headed for the sun of S. Thailand putting the frustration of the last 24 hours behind us and vowing to return one day and visit Halong Bay.

Clark was literally up in arms over missing Halong Bay.

Clark and his new friend reacting to Halong Bay

The only thing chill about this part of the trip is the following picture…


Chill Zone: Low

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sapa & Lo Cai, Vietnam

Sapa is surrounded by small villages filled by colorful indigenous groups, mountainous landscapes and cliff hanging rice paddy terraces. And after the night at Ho Sin and the hectic streets of Hanoi, Sapa was a welcome change. All in all we spent 3 days exploring the region by foot and motorbike. The typhoon brought some rain to Sapa as well but nothing to dramatic but it did make hiking up and down the rice paddies a bit more of an adventure than usual.

Three Native Vietnamese Villagers

After 3 days, some amazing waterfalls and a few mellow nights we hurriedly made our way back to Lo Cai to catch our train back to Hanoi.

Its like we have never seen water before...

Upon arrival in Lo Cai we quickly realized that the ticket was for the following night and that we had a night and day of exploration ahead. So as any self respecting American would do, we headed for the friendly confines of China.

China, what a country… at least it looks nice from behind a large gate and from across a wide river. The Chinese would let us in but our Vietnamese Visas wouldn‘t let us back in the country so instead of taking the risk, we just skipped the little journey and explored Lo Cai instead. We worked hard to make the most of our time there, starting with a sidewalk, midnight, hang out session with a great group of young Vietnamese 20 something’s at a riverside bar all excited to sing classic American rock and roll while eating tasty fermented quail eggs, sweet and sour chicken feet (thank you Nick for taking one for the team on that one), and dried squid.

Welcoming, generous Vietnamese youth that wouldn't let us pay for anything

We followed that up with some sightseeing and a long midday karaoke session with an overly friendly Vietnamese restaurant owner who had a strange fascination with Nick’s arm hair. But, that night it was back to the train station and off to Hanoi to finally see Halong bay! We were fired up.

This man was uber friendly and loves hair

I mean, LOVES hair

The NEW king of Pop

Chill Zone: Medium

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hanoi #1, Vietnam

Hanoi #1 , Vietnam

The lonely planet lists traffic as the #1 tourist attraction in all of SE Asia. Yep, above such sights as Ankor Wat, Halong Bay and the beaches of Southern Thailand. Well, after a few days in Hanoi, you really start to understand just how crazy traffic can be. In fact, few things can prepare you for crossing a busy street at rush hour in Hanoi. It’s a bit like running across a firing range hoping not to get hit by a stray bullet.

Hanoi, while not much of a tourist city, is the gateway to the north and we decided to stay a few days before heading to Halong Bay. Little did we know that Hanoi had lots to offer. Coming off the tranquility of Laos, Hanoi’s congestion and hurried pace was at first mesmerizing. It had been 3 weeks since we had experienced a real city and Hanoi offered up that and then some. Wandering through the cramped streets of the old quarter and visiting the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Mihn, one gets a good understanding of what it’s like to live in a modern day communist nation. Especially one struggling with the onset of western capitalism since it opened it’s boarders in the 80’s to foreign tourism and investment. Sightseeing aside, the food and nightlife of Hanoi is reminiscent of a city still trying to find it’s identity. Well everywhere except the Ho Sin Snake house which knows exactly who they are.

The Scariest and Worst Restaurant in the World

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of snakes. Other than hiding small gardener snakes with my brother around the house for my mom to stumble upon as a kid, I’ve never had much of a soft spot for them. To tell you the truth, they scare the S*&* out of me … especially the poisonous ones. And, fresh off the snake encounter deep in the jungles of Laos, let’s just say my snake jitters have increased 10 fold. But, off to the Ho SIN Snake house we went one night to feast on the tame, and tasty King Cobra. Ho SIN is a quick 10 minute cab ride from the old quarter over the red river and in the heart of snake village… I hope you can see where this is going! Anyway, we showed up at this 1 star restaurant (this is a generous rating) around 9:30 and walked into a house / snake farm /snake restaurant that was one of the creepiest places I have ever been. Much to our surprise, we were the only ones there on a bustling Friday night in Hanoi. But they were happy for the business and quickly escorted us through their house, the snake courtyard, and up the stairs past the kitchen to the white tiled, high ceiling, hot, humid room that was to serve as our dining room of horror for the next 2 hours.

So … in came what we now affectionately refer to as “the snake lady”(TSL) precariously holding 2 woven bags holding 2 types of snakes, the gentle house snake and the more dangerous King Cobra. As if this was really a decision, we opted for the Cobra. TSL CAREFULLY pulled the cobra from the bag and proceeded to bargain through her son over pricing for the delectable creature! I’m not sure how many of you reading this have bargained with a woman holding a deadly snake 5 feet from you but to paint a picture, I was on one chair behind a table, Nick was valiantly standing behind the head of the table and Noel was mentally preparing for a ninja-snake-throat-death-strike but also looked very uncomfortable and was using the table as a buffer as well while we haggled.

Psycho Snake Lady

Once the price was set, the show began, yep, right there on the tile floor in front of us. With TSL calmly sitting cross-legged on the floor she drew out her dull knife and proceeded to defang the snake (if you get queasy, you may want to stop reading here) which sounds a bit like someone forcefully removing rocks from dried cement. It was only the beginning. Crouching behind the snake, TSL removed her grasp of the snakes head and held it’s tail in her hand. The snake, obviously infuriated did what any self-respecting cobra would do … rose up off the floor, opened up it’s wings around it’s head and hissed at it’s new found aggressors … US!! Then, in one fluid motion TSL whipped the Cobra head to the to the tile like Indiana Jones until snake stopped moving. The dull knife in hand, TSL then gutted, bled and removed the heart from the snake placing the blood in a “clean” glass carafe and the still beating snake heart on a nice white plate. Nick, already salivating at the thought of eating a beating snake heart, was ready to take down the tasty morsel like a nice bodega bay oyster. The blood, now mixed with a bit of fine Vietnamese whisky was on the table ready to be served into little shot glasses for us all to taste. So, in the spirit of Vietnam, Nick swallowed the heart in one fell swoop, we begrudgingly threw back the whisky / snake blood shots – and waited patiently for the first of our 6 course dining experience.

Now, for all of you who want to know what Cobra tastes like, it’s a little oily, a little tough, a little like chicken, kind of gamey and very boney. But not boney in the way a chicken or fish is boney. It’s boney in a way that leaves you little other option than to chew a few more times than you are accustomed to. Cobra forces you to grind the bones to a fine chalk and swallow while praying that no little bone shards get caught in your throat on the way down in fear of having to wash it down with a healthy dose of blood whiskey. Two hours later, some uncomfortable food moments and a small disagreement regarding the bill and we hightailed it out of there with unsettled stomachs and a serious need for a In n Out Cheeseburger to cleanse the palate.

The next day we were set to visit beautiful Halong Bay but the trip would have to wait as Typhoon #1 was making it’s way up the Gulf of Tonkin and heading straight for the island chain. So, with that in mind, we hoped a night train to Lo Cai, a border town between China and Vietnam (more to come later here) and grabbed a bus high into the mountains to the quaint town of Sapa.

Chill Zone: Very Low
Risk of Dying While Eating: Very High

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vang Vieng, Laos

From Luang Probang we jumped in a mini bus and headed South. With Nick and Noel in a deep Ambien sleep Clark did his best to take some naps while sharing the front seat with a “big boned” German woman and hurtling down the mountain at break neck speeds. After 6 hours and a few stops for water buffalo, rice farmers, dogs and a series of head contusions from the window we arrived in the riverside town of Vang Vieng known for one thing, tubing.

Tubes in hand we arrived at a river loaded with bars, tubers, conjunctivitis and the most unsafe conditions for drinking one could imagine. We will try and do it justice … imagine a rather swift, muddy river lined with bars on both sides of a ½ mile stretch of river. Required activities at each bar include a zip line, a trapeze swing, a mud wrestling pit, and a water slide.

buckets with friends

We heard from some other travelers in Luang Prabang that the mud was the leading source of conjunctivitis so we leveled our site on the trapeze swings and water slides. Luckily for us, the slides and swings are conveniently perched 10 – 15 meters above the river on rickety wooden platforms. Imagine climbing up a tree house ladder that was built by two 3 year old kids back in 5th grade. Now take that shoddy construction skill set and multiply it by about 10. Now, add a few thousand drunk, muddy, fearless people climbing up and down the structures ready to try their best Greg Luganis off a 15 meter swing. Needless to say there were more than a few casualties. On the positive side, there were trusty teenage Loations running the bars and ensuring everyone’s safety … so onto the platforms we climbed, grabbing hold of the swing and hurling ourselves down the slide into the water below. The more people drank, the more daring the tricks. In fact, we saw more face plants from 5 meters + in an hour period than we thought possible. (No pictures since we were floating down the river…)

Fortunately, Vang Vieng didn’t get the better of us. We left the next day a few sandals and shoes short but no Pink eye, no war wounds from the river rocks, no tetanus from the rusty nails or bruises from ruthless faceplants and belly flops.

Laotian BBQ!

Chill Zone: Medium

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Luang Prabang, Laos

Our dynamic duo became a holy trinity in Luang Prabang, as we met up with one of Noel’s close college friends, Nick Soman (some of you may know him).

The Holy Trinity

Luang Prabang (LP) was just what we needed at the moment, a relaxed atmosphere, waterfalls and some familiar foods. LP, a Unesco World Heritage site, is the Paris of Southeast Asia. The combined French colonial and Laotian architecture has been largely preserved and the city is bordered by two rivers, making it a picturesque city.

Laos is hot. Crazy instant sweating hot. To escape the heat we hoped in a Tuk Tuk and headed out to the large, beautiful waterfall an hour outside of town. The pools were turquoise and inviting with one small catch. The moment you stopped moving, hundreds of tiny fish came up and nibbled your legs. The longer you sat motionless, the more intense the biting became and we saw many people startled and amused by the whole scene. One of the individuals looked surprisingly familiar and sure enough, Shabbnaz, a friend of Noel’s from San Francisco was also standing right there. Small World (even smaller, considering that we ran into one of Nick’s friends from Boston later that night).

Raging Waterfalls

After catching up we set out to escape the crowds and began hiking into the jungle up to the top of the waterfall. We discovered some awesome hidden pools and dove in for a swim. As Clark was trying to get the perfect shot, a feat which required moving ever closer to the drop off below, he came within a few inches of stepping on “the most dangerous snake in the world” (according to Clark). You have never seen a man move that fast or scream that loud. Yes, this was our group’s closest encounter with a slithering serpent…until the infamous night in Vietnam (more on this later).

In an attempt to return to the chill zone, we headed to Laos’ appropriately named Utopia (arguably the world’s best bar).

The World's Greatest Bar

Utopia overlooks an exquisite river and laying in one of their fully reclining chairs, you can watch the sunset, with a beverage of your choosing. Over the evening different groups of travelers will filter in and out, smoking hooka and sharing their adventures. There is also a sand volleyball court because that is exactly…what you would expect to find in a Laotian bar.

The View

Not a lot happened in Laos, but that seems to be the way to do it, and it made for a very enjoyable experience. LP was a great place to stay and we would have stayed longer if time restrictions did not apply.

grub time

Chill Zone: High

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chiang Mai, Thailand (Post #2)

After a full day of cooking, we were hungry, hungry for some trekking/elephant riding/white water rafting. So at 8am we hopped in the back of a truck and began getting acquainted with the other 10 individuals who had joined the tour. These people, as they always do, defined our experience. We opted to skip breakfast – to up our irritability index – but within 10 minutes, four American girls had offered us their food. It was such a kind gesture and we appreciated more than they knew (perhaps this was a hidden reminder for how to treat strangers? If so, message received).



The tour began with a trek to a waterfall and then onwards to the highly anticipated elephant ride. Have you ever ridden an elephant? It’s harder than you might think. Elephants are so big that their shoulder blades shift several feet back and forth when they walk and you have to struggle to hang on, clamping your thighs around their neck (which feels like a rough carpet). But the day would not be complete without some river rafting (right?), so after a quick dip, we ran the class five rapids of the Southeast Asia’s calmest river to finish off a full day … or one that had only just begun.

Riding Giants

Riding Giants

Riding Giants

Riding Giants

We made plans to rendezvous with the group at Holland bar, on the night of Holland’s world cup match. Did we mention that the Dutch Kurt Russell was also on our tour? He was. We have about 30 pictures to prove it. The game began and the epicness of the night was just starting. Somehow within the hour, everyone at the bar was a friend and when Holland scored (and eventually won), cheering erupted and did not stop. We all poured out onto the streets and danced and sang into the wee hours. Videos were taken. It was one of the best nights of the trip…so far.



Chill Zone: High

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment