Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And then we're home!

While it's a little sad to end traveling, in general I'm actually feeling pretty good about returning. Much moreso than I did after my last trip. Maybe part of it is that 1 month seems like a holiday, and after 3 months you've adjusted to being away all that much more, and there's more of a culture shock. But some of it is also probably that I'm just a lot more content with my home and my work and my life and lots of other things (like just being married!) compared to last time.

Our garden took off like crazy in our absence. (Lorien having installed an irrigation system shortly before the wedding presumably helped a great deal with that.) The bougainvillea (take a look back at the Malaysia pictures from the Cameron Highlands) is thriving, which is somewhat amazing considering that last year we didn't even know we had it, because it was totally surrounded by the wisteria. Speaking of wisteria, it grows like crazy. In just one month of being away it had totally climbed up the pole to the clothesline. When we moved in I concluded that the previous owners had totally neglected it, since it was so overgrown. Now I realize that it just grows and grows and grows and grows. I think I've already spent way too much of my life trimming it, and we need to maybe seriously cut it way back and try to get it a bit more under control. Our vegetables and herbs are also doing pretty good, lots of big tomato plants.

Dirk is quite happy to be home. Or at least in the general vicinity of our house, as I think it's the outdoors that he missed the most. We brought him back from a friend's place, where they were taking care of him while we were away. We let him out of his travel box, he looked around the house a little bit, and in probably less than a minute he was out the cat door and wandering around outside. Thankfully he doesn't seem too angry at us for abandoning him for month.

And we were blessed the day we got back with a gorgeous sunset.

Thanks for the good wishes we got from people while we were traveling, and we're glad that some people got some enjoyment out of this blog. We're going to keep it for a while and see how it goes. It seems like a convenient way to keep in touch with people, posting here and there about what's going on in our lives, and people can check in sometime if they're curious about what's up. In case anybody is wondering, it was incredibly easy to set up. And while the software has a few quirks and is sometimes a little bit buggy, in general it goes pretty smoothly.

another brush with royalty

Another thing we forgot to post earlier. On our first day in Kuching, we saw the Queen of Malaysia! We were walking down the street by the river, and a big motorcade came by and stopped in front of us. We walked to the other side of the street and asked what was up. Someone told us that the Queen had just arrived and was shopping in the clothing store that we were in front of. We joined the gawkers for a bit and got a glimpse of Her Highness. I mostly saw a big bouffant with a headscarf perched on top.

Later that day, we discovered that the King and Queen were in town for a festival of indigenous Borneo culture. We went to the festival, driven by the proprietor at our guest house. It was alright, a lot of speeches in Malaysians by Ministers of Culture and such, then traditional singing and dancing and a play about a native boy becoming a hero in order to win his girl's affection, with little bits of how well all the cultures in Malaysia get along.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More catchup, Japan

Here we are in the Bangkok airport about to leave Thailand for Japan. Lorien and I both still had ear infections, and we decided before boarding the plane was a good time to administer ear drops. It also gave us an excuse to lie down for a bit before the long plane ride.

We didn't really have a lot of time in Japan. Narita is not really very close by to Tokyo. Which I can understand in a crowded country like Japan, but I can't understand for example why the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia is so far from the city. So with all of the time in transit, we only really had about 5 or 6 hours I think.

Usually we're accustomed to having guidebooks, maps, and stuff like that. This time we had none of that, our only main preparation was about an hour the previous day in Bangkok where we scanned the web, and managed to get some useful information off of wikitravel.org. It helped that we had limited goals -- our one main goal was to get some good sushi. Which we did, by going as close to the source as possible, one of two places recommended that's located right in the fish market. The fish comes in in the early morning hours, and people start queuing for sushi for breakfast. We weren't there quite that early (more like 10ish AM), but we still had to wait about an hour. But it was worth it. Quite good.

Our endeavors were also helped by a few things that I remembered from my previous trip to Japan. One, that the public transit system is amazing. It really makes it clear how horrible all American public transit systems are when you see just how good it can be. The other is that so many Japanese people are so helpful, to the point sometimes of being absurd. If you're in a big city, where most of the people can speak decent English, even if you think like you look a little confused, and are staring at a map or looking around for a sign, chances are that someone will come up and ask you if you need any help, before you even have the chance to think about asking someone for help. One time we entered a subway line by heading into a stairwell that, in an unusual example of something not being organized well, put us on the wrong side of the station (with the tracks going the other way than we wanted), with us having had no other choice. Not really that big of a deal, we just had to walk down the platform, head up some stairs there, cross over the tracks, and down the other side. And we were pretty certain that we knew exactly what we were doing and I don't really think we looked confused at all. So as we're heading out of sight and climbing the stairs to get to the other side, this guy is running after us trying to catch up to us. I can't imagine what's going on, and he just wants to make sure we know what we're doing and that we're going where we want to go. And even when we get to the other side he's similing at us and pointing and making sure that we're all set.

We had wanted to walk around the gardens of the Imperial Palace, but they're closed on Mondays (and Fridays). Nevertheless, we headed to the area instead, and wandered around some other nearby gardens. By that time it was getting close to us having to head back in the direction of the airport anyway, and we were also starting to get a little bit weary, our first stage of jetlag beginning to catch up to us.

I'm glad we took the time to head in to Tokyo. It would have been nice to have more time, although you can easily spend as much in a very short amount of time in Tokyo as you can live on for probably a whole month in Southeast Asia.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fire Play

No holiday would be complete without a little fire spinning. I just wanted to add that we found the one person on the island (Kecil, that is) with fire poi, and she let us play with them. Thus, we found everything we needed for our well being (good scuba, good food, fire poi) on the island before being struck down by the gods with ear infections. But, as they say, it's better to have played then gone to the hospital, than never to have played at all.

Another day, another round of catchup (Thailand)

Time for some more catchup. There's not really all that much left to say about the remaining parts of our honeymoon. Our short time spent in Kota Bharu had two main highlights, namely the general hospital and the night market. Not a lot of noteworthy pictures there. It was then about a 45 minute taxi ride to the border (we really weren't in the mood to deal with a public bus that day) where we got dropped off. I enjoy walking across international borders. Here's a shot leaving Malaysia

And here's a shot preparing to enter Thailand. A reasonably organized crossing, where it helps that both countries drive on the same side of the road (the left). Last visit, when we crossed from Cambodia to Thailand (also by walking, also after getting dropped off by car at the border, but driving the roads on the Cambodia side is a bit more of an adventure than in Malaysia), there's the issue that Cambodia drives on the right side and Thailand drives on the left. In this case, Thailand sort of "won". The bridge connecting the countries was left hand drive, which on the Thailand side neatly flowed into their organized highway system. On the Cambodia side it didn't really matter, because there really was no organized system of roads at the border. The bridge just ended in a pretty rundown and disorganized location, so there wasn't much of a side of the road to be driving on there period.

Our remaining time in Thailand was occupied mostly be eating, getting massages, and shopping. No, this isn't at a conventional fruit stand. All of the fruit that Lorien is standing in front of is plastic. One of the odder sights we saw at the (huge) Chatuchak [sp?] weekend market. They had replicas of I think just about all of the exotic Southeast Asian fruits you can think of: mangosteen, longhan, durian, rambutan, lychee, bitter melon, to name a few. Perhaps you're seeing the theme of the tables at our wedding by now, if you didn't before? If only we could have gone on the honeymoon before the wedding, we could have bought plastic fruit for all of the tables and used those as centerpieces instead of the labeled cards. Although I'm not sure if then anybody would have known what table they were at. Ok, maybe banana would have known.

And here's another image from the market. Ok, so we're a little obsessed with cats, perhaps.

And here's a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok doing what they do so well, just lounging around. It's not that they're lazy, there's just way too many tuk-tuk drivers. A tuk-tuk is basically a small, open cart attached to what I think is pretty much just a motorcycle drivetrain. They've I believe outlawed the older 2-stroke models in Bangkok (or maybe that's just for new tuk-tuk's?) in favor of 4-stroke models, which is I think improving the air quality somewhat. Or maybe I'm just more used to the pollution than I wsa the first time around. Most guidebooks now recommend against using them -- if you're getting a fair fare, you can probably get just about the same price in a metered taxi; and many of the drivers (esp. in the heavily touristed areas) try to charge you way too much (it helps to know how much a comparable taxi fare would be); and if they quote you a way low fare they're probably just trying to be a tout and drag you to some place where someone else is going to try to sell you some crap you don't want. Nevertheless, we've found them quite fun. Even for about the same price, and despite sharing the same roads, they can be WAY faster than a taxi. They can squeeze past spaces that a taxi could only dream of, and tuk-tuk drivers have a pretty low respect for local traffic laws. One more word of transport advice, though, is that if you're going a long distance from north to south or vice-versa and it's during the day, the best combination of cheap, fast, and fun is to take a river taxi, and just bypass the city traffic.

Anyway, that's the next bit of catchup. More on another night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Catch up #1 - Beach and scuba

It's been a while since I posted, so I'm not even sure if anyone is reading this anymore. But I feel like I left things a little bit unfinished, esp. since it wasn't easy to post pictures at the end, so I'm going to include a few more posts that are retroactively going back in time to the tail end of the honeymoon.

We spent a while (a bit more than a week I think) in the Perhentian Islands. On Long Beach at Pulau Perhentian Kecil (Kecil means the small island; contrasted to Besar, the big island). Long Beach is the most developed area of the small island, with the most to do, but that's really not saying much. Most of the people are on the island to dive, and there's really not much of a late night party scene. Which was fine with us. (Are we getting old?)

We did a bunch of scuba diving, with Coral Sky Divers. Sometimes the visibility was awesome, sometimes it was less than spectacular. The dive sites are very close to the islands compared to Koh Tao, where they were still fairly close. It's easy to get two dives in a day and still have plenty of other time. Our favorite dive spot was Temple of the Sea, which we ended up diving at twice.

The island has no roads. There's just a number of beaches, some connected by paths through the jungle. The only other way to get around is by boat. It's the kind of place where you can take off your shoes when you get there and keep them off for a week. Which is basically what we did, with two exceptions -- one time when we talk a walk to the other side of the island, and the other time when we decided our initial accomodations (at Panorama) weren't quite good enough, and we packed up our belongings and moved to the north end of the beach, to Moonlight.

One somewhat downside of the island was the food. There's not a lot of places to eat besides the guest houses, and they generally serve up the same monotonous variety of both Malay and Western food, but most of it not very imaginative or all that great. Although there is plenty of fresh fish (the nightly BBQ is a decent deal), and the mangos were plentiful and quite sweet and juicy. And various places seem to be able to make decent french fries, if that's what you have in mind.

We were complaining about the food to Trish, one of the divemasters at Coral Sky, and she clued us in. She recommended a place for us to go, Aziela Cafe. We had actually already been there and weren't too impressed. But the key is to not order anything that's on the menu. She gave us a bunch of recommendations for other things to order. Which is the kind of thing that we could have been able to do in Thailand, but not having enough familiarity with Malay food, we weren't really capable of doing something like that without assistance. Anyway, we went there, and kept going back repeatedly over the next few days, and tried everything she recommended, and it was all quite good. I don't understand why they don't just put the good stuff on the menu so that enough people can have it. They seem to be quite happy to make it when you ask for it. And not all travelers want crappy Western or Westernized food.

We ended up getting to be a bit friendly with the people there. I had been looking for durian (the spiky fruit with a bad reputation), but nobody had it for sale on our part of the island, since it's not something a lot of Westerners want. I had even been considering taking a boat to the village to see if I could get some myself at the market. I asked them at Aziela if they had any, and the answer was no, but they volunteered to get some for me the next time they went to the market. Which they did. And the next day, when we had the durian, we ended up eating with a bunch of other people, and sharing a bunch of dishes, and I got a bunch of people to try durian that never had had it before. It's funny -- everyone seems to have their own opinion of what it tastes like, and everyone describes it as something totally different than what everyone else says. Including brie, honey-garlic, and jackfruit. My recommendation is to definitely try it if you're traveling in Southeast Asia and get the chance. But you probably don't want to give it a go in North America -- I'll let Lorien tell you why.

As in many other places along these travels, we encountered plenty of cats. Well, more specifically, plenty of kittens. Really an overabundance of kittens, which isn't actually a good thing, if you think about it. But many of them are incredibly cute, so I couldn't resist posting at least one photo.

All in all we had a pretty good time there, the biggest downside being that we both got ear infections, which ended our diving a little bit early.

That's about all for now. I'll continue playing catchup with reportings on our journeys, and some more photos, on another night.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

We're back

We're back home safely, and happy to see Dirk (the cat) again. Our plan to avoid jet lag by staying up last night until a normal hour local time was thrwarted by the fact that we then slept for something ridiculous like 15 hours.

Anyway, once we've recovered a bit and gotten things here in order we'll post some more with some of the final details, as well as a few more pics. All of our wedding and honeymoon pics will eventually be posted online, but it might take a little while for us to get around to that.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Tokyo advice?

I've probably asked for this before, but we've got a very long layover on the way back in Tokyo and our plan is to head into the city. We've got I think something like about 6 or 8 hours that we can actually be in the city. If anyone has any advice about things to do in that time, feel free to reply here and/or e-mail us. I've been to Japan before, but never Tokyo other than passing through. This is Lorien's first visit to Japan, unless you count hanging out in the Narita airport.

Heading home soon

So we've left the beach and returned to Thailand. As I was about to show you in pictures, but things don't seem to work quite right uploading pictures with IE7, and no Firefox here, so I give up. We'll have plenty more pictures later.

We did manage to get on the train that we wanted to get on. Indeed the computers magically started working again right on time as predicted.

We've been spending the past few days enjoying the familiarity of Bangkok. Between two trips and this being the transit center for various itineraries, this is actually now our fifth visit here. We've been eating, getting massages, doing some shopping, doing some more eating, etc. It's our last night here, so I won't spend too much time catching up on all of the events since my last long posts, but I'll fill in the missing gaps after we return. And get over the jet lag.

Thankfully our ear infections are improving somewhat, so hopefully the flight home won't be too bad. Or at least nothing that enough drugs can't overcome.

Oh yeah, one more little detail I was going to include in my previous post that I forgot to mention. Of all of the various (four) health care people that were in our path on our long visit to the hospital in Malaysia, they were all women. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just came as a bit of a surprise to me that that was the case in a predominantly Muslim country. (And they were all definitely Muslim, given the head scarves).

Anyway, it's getting late, and we ought to be moving along. Lorien and I have enjoyed posting during our honeymoon and we're glad to see that people are actually paying attention.