Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of Southeast Asia

It’s been awhile since we’ve done our best of awards, so this is Best of Southeast Asia. To recap the trip: Bangkok, Thailand – Koh Tao, Thailand – Koh Phangan, Thailand – Haad Yai, Thailand – Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia – Pulau Tioman, Malaysia – Melaka, Malaysia – Yangon, Burma – Bangkok, Thailand – Pakse, Laos – Tad Lo, Laos – Don Det, Laos – Bangkok, Thailand.  Of course, there were some other cities there, but these are the ones where we stayed overnight.


Hunan BBQ, Yangon, Burma

Our friends Chris and Chelain showed us this place and we loved it. Choose your veggie and meat skewers from the cold counter and go to your seat. Then the place will BBQ them for you and a steady stream of BBQ’ed food comes to your table. To top it off, you could order big slabs of back-bacon that were hanging on meat-hooks. The BBQ cheese pieces were really popular and I tried the baby sparrows that came on the skewer. I’m glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll eat that again.


Mai Pen Rai, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Hangs down, bar none. Mai Pen Rai bungalows were amazing. “Mai Pen Rai” is southern Thai slang, meaning “Hakuna Matata” and the bungalow definitely felt like that. The bungalow was anchored on rocks that were about thirty feet from the ocean. The bathroom was in the back, and the back wall of the bungalow actually was the rock. Tons of geckos helped keep the bugs down while monitor lizards roamed freely. To top it off, we could open the window and watch beautiful sunrises from our bed, or go to the porch and sit in the hammock.


The Place We Want to Forget, Haad Yai

We were late leaving Thailand, so were doing our best to make it from Koh Phangan to Malaysia in a day. We didn’t make it and ended up in Haad Yai at 10pm looking for a place in the pouring rain. We found a place, but it was horrid. Dead cockroaches littered the floor while big piles of garbage sat around the upper floors. To top it off, they wanted us to walk around barefoot. Um…. no.


Chris and Chalain, Yangon Burma

Ben Franklin famously said that houseguests are like fish. They both start to stink after three days. Well, we went past a little bit fishy and turned into some rotten, disgusting maggotty fish as we spent three weeks with Chalain and Chris in Inle Lake Hotel. That said, they had couches, peanut butter, American television and a nice group of friends we got to meet. We were very tired, but got a great chance to recharge the batteries for the next phase of the trip.


Bangkok, Bangkok, Bangkok

The Blackhole award goes to the city that sucks you in, whether you want it to or not. Our first time in Bangkok was because the cheapest flight from Istanbul to Asia was to Bangkok. Then, we ended up staying while we sorted out the Myanmar Visa. After heading south, we ended up flying back to Bangkok from Yangon as we wanted to go to Laos and Bangkok was the most convenient way to get there. Finally, on our way out, we found the cheapest flight to Chennai, India from Bangkok. It’s a good thing we like the city, because we just couldn’t get away.


Koh Phangan, Thailand to almost Malaysia

We loved Mai Pen Rai and we really wanted to squeeze one more day out of it, so we didn’t leave until the day our Thai visa expired, then it was on. We rode in the back of a pickup to the port, grabbed a bus, followed by a mini-van that we were hoping would get us to the border, but eventually ended up giving up and spending the night in Haad Yai. We ended up overstaying our visa in Thailand and paying a $30 fine.


JoJo Patthai – Bangkok, Thailand

There was a monsoon our first few days in Thailand and we ended up eating at JoJos while the flood came up around our ankles. Jo hung out with us and became our buddy as we commiserated the terrible start to the Arsenal season. To top it off, the man and his wife made some killer Pad Thai that could be had for $1. Leslie loved that she could top it with as many peanuts as she wanted. He remembered us on our second and third trip back to Bangkok. Unfortunately, we never got to celebrate an Arsenal victory.


Fish Sauce – EVERYWHERE!!!!

I’m not exactly sure how fish sauce is made, but I think it’s by taking bit of fish and letting them ferment. Imagine letting a fish sit long enough until it begins to let off juices, taking those juices and putting them in absolutely everything. Bleh.


Kayaking, Don Det, Laos

We started at nine and got back at five. The group was large, but we made some friends and it ended up being a blast. A few class 2 rapids was as exciting as it got, but the rapids combined with some interesting maneuvers from the kayak in front of us combined to dump Leslie and I into the Mekong. We ended up seeing some of the Irrawaddy river dolphins, paddled into Cambodia for lunch and all in all had a great day.


Motorbike + Cow, Tad Lo, Laos

So Tad Lo is in a very rural area. Dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chicken, water buffalo and cows are all over the place. Most of these have a good concept of “road”. All the animals know to get out of the way of the vehicles coming down the street… except the cows. We got dangerously close to a high-speed motorbike-cow collision. I don’t think the cow noticed.


So we’re going to nominate two places from this stretch, one from the beginning and one from the end.

Hat Sadet, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan is famous for the full-moon parties that are full of drugs, drunken backpackers, theft and dangerous characters. Good for them, but for us, Koh Phangan will always mean the isolated beach of Had Sadet. There were about thirty people on the beach total, with only one restaurant. If you’re looking for stuff to do, this isn’t it. If you want to relax on a pristine, isolated beach, far from civilization, then this is the place.

Don Det, Laos

As the Mekong rolls into Cambodia it gets very wide. Four thousand islands exist in the middle of the river, with Don Det being the one we stayed on. Its definitely a backpackers haunt, with a plethora of restaurants and cheap lodging right on the river. The people are dense, as are the chickens, dogs and buffalo, but the vibe is laid back and there are plenty of things to do. Kayaking, fishing or just riding ten-year-old fixed wheel bikes around the remote island quickly chews up days. I doubt there’s a paved road on the entire island, but when you’re looking for island adventures, paved roads are not needed.

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