November 19, 2009

Australia: Made it to Sydney

I made it to Sydney!

I have unpacked and am settled in to Antonia's house. Antonia is my Australian friend who I met while volunteering at an orphanage Chiang Rai, Thailand. Two of her guy friends live here as well, Will and Harry and my friend Ashley from Seattle will be moving in. The house is in North Sydney in the Greenwich neighborhood.

{ My room in Sydney. Door free. }
{ Here is the other side with Ashley's door. }
Last night Antonia drove me down to the Opera House and I was totally star struck. It is amazing.

{ Poor quality, but you get the idea }

November 18, 2009

Until Next Time, Vietnam

I had my last two days in Vietnam and said goodbye to places I have called home. I rushed around the city closing bank accounts (I have never had so many bank accounts in one city like I did in Ho Chi), changing Vietnam Dong to Australian Dollar and sending another box home. You really do accumulate a lot of stuff after 14 months of living somewhere.

I can't believe that I am leaving Asia but Vietnam won't forget me. When I got to the airport and stepped up to the immigration desk the immigration officer looked at me and said "Holly?" Before I could speak he opened my passport to confirm that he was correct. He smiled with success. It took me a while to figure out how the immigration officer recognized me, not my student, not my neighbor... and then it clicked, he was the same officer who checked my passport when I left to travel over seven weeks ago. We both laughed and continued our conversation about his English and, again, held up the line and chatted. I told him I was off to Australia and answered his questions with "no, I am not coming back." My answer affected me more then him. I am really leaving.

You know you have been to the airport too often when immigration starts to recognize you.

| Vietnam Photo Roundup |

{ Zach and I after school }
{ Czech Beer Garden }
{ Having a tie made for my dad }
{ Sitting street side sipping beers with my roommates and trying on helmets }
{ Celebrating Kate's birthday }
{ Celebrating Zach's birthday }
{ Honda wave and street side hangouts }


For my last night in Ho Chi Minh City we all gathered at Steak and Eggs in Beh Thanh Market. Is there anywhere else?

November 17, 2009

South East Asia Backpacker Guide: Hostels

 Below are a few hostels I found worthy of a second night from when I backpacked South East Asia.
 
Thailand
Bangkok - Lamphu House
Chiang Mai - Julie Guesthouse
Phuket - Kata Minta Hotel

Cambodia

Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City - Madam Cuc's Hotel

November 16, 2009

Sri Lanka: Leaving Asia on a high

Zach met Hannah and I in the KL airport and the three of us were off to Sri Lanka!

On our way to Sri Lanka!
Sri Lanka started with an Air Asia flight from KL where they sprayed the inside of the plane on our arrival in hopes to kill the Swine flu. Welcome to Asia.

We arrived in Colombo where our British friend Jane and her driver came to pick Zach, Hannah and I up from the airport. Zach and I met Jane and Stephen in Ho Chi Minh City one night at Le Pub's weekly pub quiz. The four us became a weekly team. They moved to Colombo a few months after we met them. Jane works at the Australian Embassy and Stephen works for Coats, a thread company (one night at dinner we, aka me, grilled him on textiles around Asia- loved it). Working as a foreigner abroad comes with major bonuses like an amazing apartment and a driver. Staying with Jane and Stephen was a total plus to Sri Lanka (not that Sri Lanka needs a plus).

The drive from the airport into the city was very interesting. With the civil war just ending we were prepared for the police and army men walking around carrying huge guns but, we still pointed them out every five seconds just because we could.

The first day Zach, Hannah and I walked around Colombo eating the well known Sri Lankan food, roti and visiting temples and textile stores. We went to Barefoot which is an amazing textile company, so many bright colors! We were all in the best mood while we drank shakes and ate hummus on the back terrace!


That night we took a hotel/drinking tour of Colombo with Jane and Stephen. We got to see all the best hotels in the city while enjoying a local Lion beer at each one. I can't complain, this is the life. For dinner we met up with Jane and Stephen's friends son, Adam and his friend, Danny who were soon going to be traveling with us down the coast of Sri Lanka. Adam and Danny are from England and they are just starting off on their Asia/South Pacific backpacking adventure and it worked out perfectly to travel to Unawatuna (a southern beach town) together on Wednesday.

On Tuesday Zach, Hannah and I got to have Chandula (Jane and Stephen's driver) for the day!! We drove out to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage which is about two hours outside of Colombo. What a great place--baby elephants are so cute. Normally part of the draw to the elephant orphanage is the bath that the elephants take in the river after their morning breakfast but unfortunately because of the weekend down pour the river was flooded--no bathing for the elephants because they were afraid the babies would float away. Because of this loss we got a gain--our ticket included a tour of an herbal garden which ended up being very interesting. Herbs can cure all from the sounds of it. After a stroll of the herbal garden our guide and a few other local volunteers sampled some of the products on us. It started off nice and easy with a face massage using a natural face lotion followed by a supposedly grease free hair product head massage (NOT grease free). The topper and the story of this herbal garden event was the last sample-- a jungle full body message. The men started by asking Zach to take off his shirt and lay on the benches. As Zach did what he was told Hannah and I thought instead of a topless jungle message maybe for women we get leg messages. We were wrong. Next was Hannah. At this point all the benches were full so our tour guide and I went to different wood hut, which had more benches. He told me to lay face down and then continued to say "don't be shy take off your shirt"--first I laughed and then he persisted so as the saying goes-- when in Sri Lanka! A topless jungle message in a wood hut? I guess that is a yes.





After the grease down Chandula took us to Kandy for lunch. The old capital city were we drove around and took pictures from the car.
Kandy
 

Wednesday came around and the three of us met Adam and Danny at the train station to head down to Unawatuna for four days. On the drive over to the train station we were all worried about being cold while on the train from the air-con. Talking all about our extra layers we packed. Turns out the train was so old and any air-con consisted of the windows being opened and you sticking your head out (I actually loved every minute of it). As I stuck my head out the window I thought of how lucky I was to be in Sri Lanka.


Unawatuna was amazing! A beach town with just a little tourism. That is the best part about Sri Lanka- the tourism has not taken over. We checked into a hotel right on the beach and went for a swim in the Indian Ocean. We spent the next couple of days exploring the town and laying on the beach. On one of our last days everyone wanted to surf. We drove to a surfing beach about a half hour south of Unawatuna. I watched as I was terrified my shoulder would dislocate and I would have to visit a Sri Lankan hospital. Eeekk. A local surfer joined us and as everyone surfed I hung out with him on shore. On the drive back to our hotel we stopped at a turtle sanctuary and got to hold baby sea turtles. It was amazing. That night, we took bajaj's (tuk tuks) to Hikkadua and joined in on a surf party. There was a two day surf competition in Hikkadua so there were tons of people around.





All five of us at dinner
After four great days on the beach we went back up to Colombo to say our goodbyes to Jane, Stephen and Sri Lanka!

Sri Lankans themselves need a whole paragraph devoted to just them. I have never been so in love with the local people. Truly, the people are amazing. Sri Lankans always seem to be smiling and they generally seemed to enjoy us. They also speak English which is a huge advantage for when you want to become friends with someone or ask them questions.

Hannah and I have a night in KL, Malaysia. Tomorrow morning we fly back to Ho Town for my last night in Asia before committing to Australia for the next couple of months.

November 8, 2009

Thailand: Ko Samet and a farewell to BKK

After Tokyo and a dreadful stop over in China I landed in Bangkok. It felt good to be back in  South East Asia!  One last Bangkok visit was a must before heading down to Australia. I met up with Laura (a university friend and now a fellow English teacher in HCMC) for a day of shopping on Khao San Road. We stayed at Lamphu House on Ram Buttri Street which is one of the best hostels in the area. There are many hole-in-the-wall hostels around Khao San Road but few a few extra dollars Lamphu House is worth it.

I couldn't get over how different it felt to be back in Bangkok. I remember my first night in Bangkok fourteen months ago and how I dreaded it. I was so overwhelmed when I landed and now Khao San Road feels like a second home.

{ Backpacker pants, obviously }
The following day I met up with family friends, Terri and Jeff, at the Starbucks on Khao San Road (my first day in Bangkok I told myself I should branch out to local coffee shops but over a year later I think I had branched out enough). It had been a long time since I had seen family so I was excited beyond believe. That afternoon we minibused down to the ferry to Ko Samet. We checked into Tubtim Resort where Terri and Jeff spent their honeymoon many moons ago. The next few days were spent kayaking, snorkeling, eating great Thai food and watching a 10 man fire show on the beach (only in Asia would this be allowed). It was great to have SE Asia newbies around... it showed me how much I had learned living here. Being with Terri and Jeff was wonderful! Thank you so much.

{ Tubtim Resort view }
{ Ko Samet with Terri and Jeff }

November 2, 2009

Japan: Tokyo

More bicycles, more sushi. I had no idea that Japan was such a biking country. Bikes everywhere with umbrella holders and baby carriages- the works!

Fuji building
Hannah and I arrived in Tokyo tired and sleepy after taking an overnight bus from Kyoto, however, awkward sleeping has pretty much been the theme of our trip. The first couple of hours were spent sleeping on the hostel couches before heading to a man made island to look at the Fuji building which is famous for its unusual architecture. After day one we decided that we needed to see "real" Tokyo so we went to a Sumo museum and to Shibuya.

Shibuya is just what I thought but better because I was actually there. The Shibuya intersection was massive, electric, neon and quite, which Hannah and I always notice after living in loud Vietnam. We strolled around the streets people watching people and made a stop at Shibuya 109 (Tokyo's trendy shopping mall).

The Shibuya intersection
The following day we went to Harajuku and had lunch with Hannah's friends who she met in China and now works at the US Embassy in Tokyo. After lunch we walked along Omotesando St and through Harajuku watching all the young people in their weekend Tokyo trendy outfits (it was Halloween day so if you didn't know better you would assume that the girls with bleach blond hair and light pink doll dresses on were dressed for Halloween but you would be mistaken. It's their weekend outfits and is what Harajuku is famous for). That night Hannah and I put on our flight attendant costumes and went out in Shibuya with our hostel. Since we pretty much had to pull an all nighter because the subways stop running at midnight and does not start again til 5am, we spent the next day sleeping. That evening we went to dinner with Haruyo who was my Japanese tutee from Vietnam who happened to be in Tokyo the same time as us. Dinner was amazing. We got to try all different kinds of Japanese food (at this point I have been eating sushi nonstop). Later that night we went to the Tokyo Tower to see the city all lit up. The night ended with Hannah and I checking into our capsule hotel in Asakusa. Just what you would expect- drunk men everywhere and us on the ladies only floor.

Harajuku

Halloween night!
Some people thought we were real flight attendants.
The capsule hotel in Asakusa
One of our last stops in Tokoyo was the fish market. We woke up very early to watch the bidding and after went to have the freshest sushi ever... sushi for breakfast, more please. UHHMAZING.