Men and Cockroaches

I’ve had my fair share of cockroach incidents. Some I’ve written about (The Cucaracha Wars), some I’ve videoed (that time in Mexico when one flew in through my window, made it’s home behind my bed and I freaked out. I moved the headboard and it dashed across my bed to the other side of the room while I was squealing). Some I’ve shared with friends (the time in the Philippines where Robin and I had to deal with six or so. She told me if I would take em’ alive, she’d take care of em’ when they are dead) and all are forever stuck in my memory.

Today’s story is a little different than the others. Despite being in what I would consider a 2 star hotel with great potential for cockroaches, we’ve been here for five nights and not seen any. That is, until today.

Note: Graphic content regarding the killing of a cockroach

After a lovely day spent swimming and working from Long Beach on Koh Phi Phi Island in Thailand, Robin and I returned to our air conditioned little room for a break from the heat. Robin was sitting on her bed and I hear her say ‘Ah, Is that inside or outside?’ I immediately flipped over and looked at her. Seeing the look of disappointment on her face, I immediately freaked out a bit asking ‘What, what, what is it?’ By the look on her face I thought it might actually be a snake or something as she wasn’t moving. She finally told me there was a cockroach on the window, but she wasn’t sure if it was inside or outside.

Together, we took a closer (but still distant) look and determined that the bugger was between the screen & window. Robin was hoping to close the curtain and forget she saw it, but I decided it had to die before it found a way in. After a couple of minutes staring at it and hitting the screen with my flip flop to try and make it run away, I wasn’t having any luck. I gingerly moved the screen window that it was on hoping that it wouldn’t run into the room. I wiggled the screen door enough to get my hands on the sliding window and jostled it open. (Nothing here works smoothly. Lucky it works at all) I was hoping that it would simply run to the opening, but who are we kidding, cockroaches aren’t the smartest insects on earth! They are about the same as June bugs. We decided to dump water on it, hoping it would make it go the direction of the opening. No luck. Now, on the window tread instead of the screen, It decided to wiggle through the water, inward rather than toward the opening. In the end, when he crawled on the end of the window frame (still outside), I closed the window & it ended up smooshing him between two window frames. I could still see him wiggling but I couldn’t reach him to put him out of his misery. Besides, everyone must know by now how much I hate cockroaches! I wasn’t about to try very hard. Horribly, I watched him struggle for a few minutes. Not because I wanted to see him struggle, but because I wanted to be sure that he was actually caught and couldn’t move to get in our room. So, I left him to die. Yes, maybe I am a horrible person but cockroaches have traumatized me more than once.

A few minutes later Robin noticed a surgance of ants in the same area where the cockroach had been. Hundreds of fairly large red ants had covered the area and the bits of the cockroach that had been visible were no more. Apparently when cockroaches are left to die, red ants quickly find them and devour them! Who knew!

But, the story doesn’t end there. A few hours later, the guys staying in the hotel room beside us came home (not so quietly). They turned their music on and joked around loudly. This is what I pictured (and dreaded) that Koh Phi Phi might be like. Young people here on vacation with the sole purpose of partying (all night long). They had woken us up with their drunken boisterous voices at 3:30 am this morning, so I would expect nothing less than some loud music through the evening tonight.

Shortly after they arrived home, the door opened quickly and I hear a one side of a conversation through the extremely thin walls in our dingy hotel, between two English men. I can hear the guy standing in the hallway in his deep English accent like he’s standing beside me.

“Pauly, just take care of it I don’t want anything to do with it.
Ewww. It’s huge.
What the fuck.
Hurry up and get rid of it. Just smack it. I’m not coming back in until you’ve flushed it down the toilet.
They are so dirty.
This isn’t funny. Just deal with it.”

(faintly heard from inside, presumably Pauly’s voice with a slight chuckle) – “It’s just a cockroach man!”

I couldn’t help myself, I peaked out the peephole in the door to see the guy standing there.  I’d guess about 25 years old, tall, shirtless and super fit. That’s about all I could tell through a peephole. I didn’t think he’d like it much if I opened the door fully and asked him if he was scared of a wee cockroach.

“Hurry up and deal with that monstrosity.
Is it gone yet? Did you flush it? Is it gone?”

Door slams and rattles the walls. Presumably the big strong man went back into the room after his friend had flushed the ‘monstrosity’ down the toilet.

Happy to say that this little cockroach incident made my day. I struggle with cockroaches all the time and for once it’s nice to know that a ‘big strong man’ freaks out over them as much as I do.

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Bangkok by Tuk Tuk – Photo Essay

In October 2015, I had the opportunity to do Urban AdventuresTuk Tuk Experience tour. I was invited along to take in a city tour by Tuk Tuk and share my experiences with you.

Early in the morning I met my small group and we hopped in our Tuk Tuk’s to head off to Phra Sumeru Fortress. Sadly the fortress itself was under construction, but we still got to have a peek, as well as see the beautiful river views and learn about the murals nearby.

We were whisked off through the hectic streets to the bottom of the Golden Mount where we climbed 319 stairs to the top for breathtaking views. There were locals wandering around praying and presenting offerings. Inside you could see beautiful, colorful art, various statues and carvings.

Over the next hour or so, we wandered through the amulet Market, the flower market, a wet market and the Phahurat Market in Little India. All were filled with interesting history, unique scents and locals buying and selling nearly everything you can imagine, from fruits to trinkets, statues to flowers, street food, material, clothing and herbal remedies. It’s crowded and hectic, but as local as it gets!

Last, but not least, we zoomed our way through the streets to the famous temple of Wat Po where the world’s largest Reclining Buddha resides. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what the ‘big deal’ was until I arrived. I had no idea how massive the Buddha would be and I had no idea how beautiful the temple would be. We spent about an hour wandering around the complex viewing everything from the stunning architecture to children’s music and dance classes.

And with that, we finished up the Tuk Tuk tour by returning to our starting point. The Tuk Tuk Experience was a great overview of some of Bangkok’s important sites and certainly a great way to get acquainted with the culture. Why not give it a try if you are headed to the city!

Hope you’ll enjoy a few of my favourite photos from the tour! Click on any of them to see them larger.

This post has been sponsored by Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel.

“Urban Adventures is about a new style of travel experience for those who want to get off the beaten path and really connect with a destination. The experience can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a whole day, but in every case our Urban Adventures tours take travellers to interesting places to meet locals, and to really see what makes a place tick.”

South East Asia – Chapter 8 – Masaman Curry

*written Aug 16th.

Still hanging out at the DMK airport with no internet. I fell asleep with my face buried in my luggage for a good 45 minutes at one point. When I woke up I was really confused. I had no idea where I was or if I had missed my check in … or if I had been snoring! No one seemed to be looking at me funny, so I decided I must have muffled my snores in my camera bag that I was laying on.

It was about 12:45pm local time and I was set to check in sometime between 1 and 1:30pm.

Both my left arm and leg had completely gone numb from the way I had been sleeping. I nearly cried when my leg started to get feeling back. I couldn’t move it at all it hurt so bad. So, I sat wincing for a few minutes hoping that the blood would soon be flowing normally again. Once I was sure I could stand up without falling down, I had toward the check in gate and found a seat there.

At 1:30 I checked in and then made my way through passport clearance and on to the other side of the airport. AH! It is much nicer on this side. Newer, more comfortable, fewer people, nicer shops and restaurants.

I wandered down to see where my gate was (directly in front of Dairy Queen). Quickly looked at the DQ menu and then decided since I was in Thailand, I’d try something more Thai than Dairy Queen. On their menu though they have various types of hot dogs and Matcha green tea blizzards.

Instead, I went to a café where I could sit and have my first Thai meal. I ordered an ice cran-apple tea and masaman curry. It happens to be my favorite when I eat Thai at home, so I wanted to compare. It was ready within five minutes and I was drooling from the scent before it even hit my lips.

It is a fish sauce / curry broth with chicken, onions and a chunky vegetable. At home it is made with sweet potato. Here, I’m not sure what it was. It looked more like turnip, but didn’t taste like either sweet potato or turnip, so I’m not sure.

Served with rice, a fork and spoon, I mixed it in together and gobbled it up. It was a bit spicier than the masaman curry they make at home, but it was very good. The only part I didn’t like was that they left the skin on the chicken. I’m not a fan of slimy chicken skin in my soup, so I ate around it.

The meal cost me 291 Thai Baht. (about $10 US). At home it would be around $12 to $15 Canadian. Keep in mind though, it is pricier because it is at an airport.

$50 US = 1480 Thai Bhat (airport exchange)
$1 US = 30 Thai Bhat

I don’t think they feed me a meal on Air Asia, so my next meal (if I’m hungry) will be in Yangon.

South East Asia – Chapter 7 – Random Observations

A short little post about things I noticed during my transfer from Bangkok International Airport to Don Muang Airport. Totally random …

1. Bus drivers in Thailand are mainly female.
2. A lot of people where masks over their face while walking around at the airport or elsewhere. We
rarely see this at home, but it is commonplace here.
3. There is a Muslim praying room right beside where I am sitting in the DMK airport.
4. Bangkok (from the highway) looks like any other big city, with a few gold religious places or pagodas
sprinkled throughout the tall concrete jungle, mostly slightly on the outskirts of city centre
though.
5. People here don’t seem to smile or laugh much. Now, maybe that’s because I’ve only been at the
airport. Maybe it isn’t a happy place to work or be?
6. I feel very safe. I’m sitting in the airport with my laptop out and my luggage all beside me, but
other than keeping an eye on my surroundings, I haven’t see anything to make me think someone might
try to pick-pocket me or run away with my stuff. I’m sure walking down the street I would feel
differently.
7. I’ve seen more than a few white men with much younger Asian women.
8. The cleaning staff wear gloves all the time and pick garbage up with tongs of different sorts. I
haven’t seen any recycling bins to sort different items, but the cleaners seem to separate the
bottles and cans from the paper with their handy tongs.
9. I have yet to see any good looking Thai men. I’ve never really been attracted to Asian men, but I
assumed that once I arrived in the country and was surrounded by them that there would be a higher
volume and that would mean I’d see more, therefore find more of them attractive. Unfortunately, not
so far. Just a random observation, no I’m not looking to hook up!
10. The women wear the cutest outfits! So girly, frilly, light and feminine. I suspect most of them are
designer though and I probably wouldn’t do girly and frilly very well so I don’t think I’ll be
shopping for those outfits while I’m here. We’ll see when I return at the end of my trip.

South East Asia – Chapter 6 – DMK Airport

10:30am local time in Bangkok on August 16.
Sitting on the floor in the airport … questionable? Yes, it is.

Blah. That’s what I have to say about the Don Meuang Airport in Bangkok. Just Blah.

The free shuttle bus took about an hour between the two airports. We went from four lane highways to four lanes that the locals had made into five and six lanes. Sometimes we were trucking along at 80kms an hour, other times at a snails pace weaving in between cars.

The shuttle bus is old and tattered, but generally decently clean and they seemed to keep us safe throughout the traffic, which was my main concern.

I could see city centre in the distance with all of its high rises, but unfortunately the windows were screened with advertising so I couldn’t capture any even half-ass photos.

On arrival at DMK airport, I went to the hotel reservations desk with the idea that if I could rent a room at an airport hotel for ½ a day, at least I could shower, get cleaned up and not have to cart my luggage around.

There was no one at the Hotel desk.

I went to the information desk instead. They told me that the hotel is 15-20 minutes cab ride away. I decided I didn’t want to bother. I checked at a local tour desk but no one had any interest in taking me for a tour for just 2-3 hours. Here their price was $100 US. Um, no. I don’t want to spent $100 US on a tour for 2 hours when I’m sure I could get it much cheaper (if I could be bothered to try and negotiate with a taxi driver). However, after 24 hours in transit, I cannot be bothered.

So … off I went following the departures signs. At the top of the escalator (where I’m now carrying three backpacks), the sign says straight. Well, straight takes you into a wall, so I took a slight left and then a right down a long hallway. I knew I was going the wrong direction, but hadn’t seen any other option. At the end of the long hall, I found a lady who pointed me to the next floor up for departures. Maybe that sign with the arrow was saying “up” not “straight”.

Up another level I went to the departures gate. After asking several people where to go, I was directed to the International Departures Passport security clearance. I entered and a nice lady pointed me back out because I hadn’t even checked in yet. Well, I know that, but this is where people told me to go. She sent me out to the Air Asia desk. I put my checked bag through the security scan, they cleared it and I went to the counter. The girl looked at me like I had three heads. Eventually she told me that I can’t check in because my flight isn’t until 4:30pm. I will have to wait until 1:30 for check in.

Back out I went, but now what? I’m wandering around a tiny airport with all of my luggage and nothing to do. I can’t go for a walk outside, the shops on this level are minimal …

Best I could hope for was free internet. I found a free connection with Nok Wifi, you just have to provide your booking number. Unfortunately, mine doesn’t seem to work. Maybe because I’m still six hours before my flight? Or maybe this airport just has it out for me.

Well, I guess I’ll look for a place to charge my phone and laptop that are dying. After walking up and down the main area twice, I finally found a dodgey looking plug in that someone else had used to charge their cell phone. When he was done, I dug out my converter, looked at the pieces and plugged it in to the wall, just to have it fall back out. It’s too heavy and the plug in is pretty shotty looking.

Another look and I discovered that my two-prong cell charger would actually plug directly into it.

YAY! Thank goodness for yet another small pleasure.

Boo. Just in time for me to realize that I forgot my two-prong laptop charger. I only have my three-prong charger.

With my computer having already run out of battery power, I was super bummed. Here I was, all the way in Asia with intent of writing lots of blogs, saving and sending photo updates to everyone etc and my computer is dead with no way to charge it. Even the converter that I bought doesn’t accept three prong plugs. Well damn it.

Then, I decided just to give it a try in the dodgy plug in. Lo and behold, I’m sitting on the floor at the DMK airport charging both my cell phone and my computer … knock on wood, neither of them have blown up and the plug in isn’t sparking.

And folks … This is how I roll … That’s right … in white pants, sitting on the airport floor in a country I’ve never been too with my laptop and cell phone charging in dodgy plug ins. When you are traveling, sometimes you just don’t care how ridiculous you look or how uncomfortable you are….

I’ll take it though. I have nothing else to do except for sit and write at the moment. It’s getting close to lunch time here, but it’s too hard to take care of all of my luggage, plus order, pay and carry my lunch. So, I’m hanging out for another two and a half hours until I can check my luggage in. Then I’ll head through passport control, security and find some food on the other side of the gate. (or at least I hope I will).

Besides, who knows … this may be the last three-prong plug in that I find. And, if that’s the case I won’t be able to send photo updates and blogs. ACK! I doubt I’ll find a 2-prong Mac book pro plug-in while I’m in Myanmar, but if worst comes to worst, I’ll have a look for one when I get to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Here’s hoping I can keep my laptop up and running as long as possible!

Not to worry, I’ll still be able to send text and facebook updates via my cell phone whenever I have wifi service, so I won’t totally disappear!

Cross your fingers!

South East Asia – Chapter 5 – Long Haul

I left Halifax, on time at 11:45pm on Air Canada. I was seated in row 34 of about 40 in an aisle seat. I don’t know why but I was expecting the flight to be super long. It isn’t. It is only 4-5 hours depending on winds. I guess last time I flew to London was from New York when I went to Poland for the Coaltion for Kids project. That flight seemed much longer.

Touched down in London on August 15th at around 9am in Terminal three and was thrilled to know that I didn’t have to navigate various terminals as my Thai Airways flight was also set to leave from Terminal three. Thank goodness for small pleasures.

I sat around with hundreds of other people waiting for my gate to be populated on the big screen. That meant waiting from 9am when I arrived until 11:30am (15 minutes before boarding). I walked around a bit to try and give my poor ol’ bum a break from sitting, but I didn’t really go in any of the shops.

Air Canada had given us breakfast (egg omelette with mushrooms and bits of sausage & a fruit cup), so I wasn’t starving when I arrived, but by around 10:30 I decided I needed a bite to eat.

I went to a store called EAT and picked up a water, shop chips and a yogurt and granola parfait (yum!).

At pretty much exactly 11:30, our gate was announced and I headed down several long hallways to my gate. They checked us in and then we waited in an area that was completely closed in with windows. Not long though, we boarded about 10 minutes later.

As I was boarding, the first thing I noticed was a stair case INSIDE the airplane. Oh my! Seriously? Was I sitting on the top level? Um, no, of course not … but the thought crossed my mind.

I walked down past business class with their fancy stretch out cubbies to sleep in … past another full section of economy (or premium economy) all the way to row 64 (out of 70) where I grabbed my aisle seat and got settled.

Time to take my malarone pill for Malaria and an anxiety pill … mostly just to keep me asleep. At this point I really was quite relaxed.

I grabbed the bottle of water that I had just purchased and ….

IT EXPLODED! Sssssssss …. Spray … EEEK!

I closed it off quickly but not before it had managed to soak my pants and t-shirt and send a few droplets toward the passenger seated beside me and the kid on the other side of the aisle. The Thai hostess rushed to grab us each paper towel

How embarrassing!

Yup, England is one of the many places (unlike Canada) that regularly sells carbonated water. Yuck. I never even considered this when I picked the bottle up. Seriously! If you want water why do you want carbonation in it? It’s just not my thing. Anyway … now, it was my thing as I was wearing about a ¼ of the bottle.

I took my pills, apologized to the other water sprayed passengers and proceeded to try to sleep.

I really did sleep quite well on the plane, despite the three guys who were incredibly loud sitting behind me. Really, they were sitting with each other and still yelling. At least they were happy.

Take off was kind of cool. We seemed to taxi at high speed forever. I guess it’s necessary to lift one of these double decker planes off the ground. It was a bit bumpy on the way up, but nothing over the top and soon enough I was dosing off.

I awoke for our first snack about an hour into the trip. Sour cream pretzels and a drink. Liquor (within reason) is also free on these flights, but I didn’t partake. Last thing I need is to get hung over on all of these travels! And with my luck, one drink would have done it … or worse, I would have spilled it all over me!

Next up, supper. We had our choice of two lovely dishes. I chose the rice, vegetables and green curry chicken. Even the beans and carrots were especially good. YUM! (but yikes it was hot!) I was nearly crying by the time I got water to me and even then I had to ask for three glasses. I loved it though. Super yummy! So was the dessert cheesecake to go along with it.

Then they walked around and gave everyone a hot cloth to wash their face. Wow, did that feel nice. Too hot to hold initially but it cooled quickly and was certainly refreshing.

Then I tried to watch the movie Side Effects. I got about ½ way or maybe 3/4s through and then, well, I drifted off to sleep. I tried twice more to pick up and start where I left off and both times I fell back asleep. Not because the movie wasn’t good … I think the pills were just keeping me in dazed mode.

I was awake for about an hour a bit later in the flight and listened to some music and watched a couple of tv shows.

Back to sleep and then when I woke up there was a sandwich on the seat for me! I certainly wasn’t going to go hungry on the flight.

I tried the sandwich, but it wasn’t my favorite. I think it might have been tuna / salmon and maybe chicken? I’m not really sure. I took a couple of bites, but that was it. Besides, I wasn’t really that hungry.

Next up, about two hours before landing (flying over Burma at this point) it was breakfast time! Local time in Thailand was about 3:45am. I decided to get the quiche with mushrooms and bacon. Yum! Let me tell you, I certainly had no issues with this airplane food. It’s better than what I cook at home.

And then, all of a sudden, we are starting our descent! I couldn’t believe it. Despite the fact that I was uncomfortable, tired and my tailbone really really hurt, the flight really hadn’t been too bad. The service was excellent, the staff were super friendly and there was just a little bit of added space between your knees and the chair in front of you.

I’m so excited that they are a star alliance partner. I’ll choose to fly with them whenever I can. (Unlike United who I will avoid whenever I can!).

Our descent was uneventful (thankfully). I starred out the window and saw the lights of Bangkok as it was still completely dark. What a large and beautiful city in the dark. I asked my seat mate to take a photo with my phone. Not sure it’s very good, but it’s a memory just the same. Touch down was a piece of cake and then out through the airport was easy peasy.

Signs everywhere were in Thai and English, so no trouble to navigate the airport. This was one of my biggest concerns and it wasn’t necessary.

Next up, immigration … no problem.

Baggage pick up … no problem! By the time I was through immigration my bag was already rolling toward me on the conveyor belt, perfectly in tact in the large air Canada plastic bag.

Phew! One stress after another, just completely disappearing and I can feel myself getting closer to relaxing.

I went to a tour desk to see if I could get a city tour from 7 or 8am until 1pm, starting at the BKK airport, going through the city and then dropping me off at 1pm at the DMK airport. The nice man went through the entire city with all of the things I could stop and see, including China town where I could stop and eat if I wanted. Then he told me 4000 Thai Bhat. That’s approximately $200 US. That was an immediate no for me.

I found my way (after asking several staff) to the free shuttle to DMK and I’m about to board it now. Once I’m at DMK I’ll look into storing my luggage and taking a bus or train somewhere for a few hours. If not, I’ll sleep or use internet or find myself some yummy thai food for lunch!

Traveling Visas

So far in my travels of 12 different countries I’ve been very lucky to not have to apply in advance for any visas. In fact, being a Canadian citizen makes us very lucky as there are fewer visas that we need to enter many countries. I guess technically in the Dominican Republic I probably had a tourist visa as I was there for 7 weeks and I feel like I also had a tourist visa for the Galapagos Islands, but both were done right at the airport. You paid for them, and then went on my way.

Now I’m entering a new realm of travel …. South East Asia …

With a little research on the Government of Canada Travel Website I was able to relatively quickly find out the visa situation for the countries that I will be visiting.

Burma – Visa needed in advance
Vietnam – Visa needed in advance
Cambodia – Visa needed – pay for it at the border when you enter the country
Thailand – No visa required for stays under 30 days if you fly in, or for up to 15 days if you travel overland from a neighbouring country (which is what I will be doing).

At about 11-12 weeks before my departure, I called the Burma Embassy to ask for the requirements / application and fees. The nice lady said she would send it out be email, which I promptly received.

I also called the Vietnam Embassy to get the requirements and they pointed me in the direction to print the application form.

It took me at least two weeks to get around to having my six passport photos taken and filling out the applications. Now, I can only send one application at a time because each one has to have my physical passport at the Embassy to place the visa inside. I must admit, I’m excited to see what they look like, but sending your passport away via mail is SCARY! Of course, it is sent by Xpress post or FedEx so that you can track it, but still … it’s a little scary. And, because they have your passport, you can’t do any out of country traveling while you are applying for visas. Not really an issue for me, but I can see it being an issue for someone who regularly travels to the US on business, or people who live in border towns and shop ‘over across’ on a regular basis. No passport = no other country than Canada for that period of time.

On June 20th, I made my way to Canada Post to get the required money order for payment of the Vietnam visa in the amount of $93. I had the paperwork filled out and the required passport photo, so I was all set. The directions clearly said to send it via courier and include a return pre-paid courier envelope (preferably FedEx).

So, off I went downtown to FedEx. I explained the situation to the staff member and he told me firmly that FedEx does not do any kind of prepaid return envelopes. That I could not in any way purchase something and pay for it in order for them to send me back by passport. I tried to explain that the visa application specified FedEx, but he stood his ground and told me I would have to do it by Canada Post.

I nearly lost it. But, I took a deep breath, walked out and returned to Canada Post. They were more than happy to help me both send the package and include a prepaid return envelope … both of which are trackable. Phew!

20 minutes late arriving to work that morning, but seeing as the trip is part work, I guess that will be forgiven.

Now the waiting game is on. They say 10 business days from the time they receive the application. So, here’s hoping that I will have my Vietnam visa in my hands by July 9th or 10th. I then quickly have to turn around and send off for my Burma / Myanmar visa that same week as it takes up to 15 business days. Yikes! That’s cutting right in to the beginning of August and I leave on August 14th.

I already have my money order for $30 purchased, although they could only fit TO: Embassy of Myanmar on it, not the required ‘Embassy of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar’. Hope that doesn’t cause any problems, but there’s simply not room for all of that on the Money order! Just a matter of finishing the application, getting a letter from my employer and heading back to good old Canada Post to send everything off.

This stuff is a little bit stressful! Sending your passport by mail … running around … paying the visa fees, the courier fees and the return courier fees as well. So much easier if you live in Ottawa and can just hand deliver everything to each Embassy. And, then, the worst part is the waiting … is everything filled in correctly? Are they going to approve the visa or will it be declined for not dotting an I or crossing a T somewhere along the way.

I sure hope it all works out in the end because I only have seven weeks to departure! Yikes!

I will keep you updated!

My summer adventure in Asia

Earlier this year on social media I spent some time talking about how much I wanted to do a cycling trip in Vietnam or Burma. I even joined the gym and started biking. Yay me! You know … until it wasn’t YAY me anymore and I fell off the work out train just like 75% of people who join in January.

Well, I’m still going once or twice a week … I guess that isn’t horrible. And, I’m trying really hard to get back in to it for the next 8 weeks before I head out on my first ever trip to Asia.

So, why Asia?

Initially it started with an interest in Vietnam. Funny enough, not the history which is what Vietnam is often noted for. I was interested in the amazing photo opportunities and I had heard that cycling through the countryside in Vietnam was breath taking. So, Vietnam went to the top of my wish list.

Then, through work at The Adventure Travel Company I began to take an interest in Burma. It’s a country that has only opened up it’s borders in the past few years to tourists and is just slowly gaining enough stability for people to want to travel there.

Near the end of March, I found out about a great opportunity to go Burma on an agent trip. It’s not free, but it is discounted and it sounded like an amazing adventure to a place that is little known and not well traveled. I put in my application and was immediately accepted and my place was held.

Then I took off to lead the Peru Through the Lens photo tour for two weeks and didn’t have time to think about my ‘next’ adventure because I was busy living an adventure. Tough problem to have don’t you think?

As soon as I returned from Peru, I confirmed my spot on the Agent trip to Burma with Tucan Travel and a few weeks later, booked my International flights. All the while, trying to figure out what else to do in Asia! There was NO WAY I was doing 24 hours of travel time in each direction just for a 9 day trip in Burma. Despite how fantastic those 9 days are going to be … I wanted to make the most out of my international air fare and excruciating travel time!

Since Vietnam was at the top of my list, I decided I would go there as well … and the hunt was on for the perfect trip that would fit within my dates.

I searched high and low … Tucan Travel, G Adventures, Intrepid, Travel Indochina … Nothing seemed to fit my dates and my desire for Vietnam. Through all of the searching, repeated trips including Cambodia came up and I started looking more closely at them because I wasn’t having much luck with just Vietnam. And then, I fell in love with the idea of visiting Angkor Wat. After a lot of searching through trips with different companies and trying to match them up with my dates, here is my itinerary for my super South East Asia trip this summer.

August 14 – Depart Halifax in the morning.
August 15 – Arrive Bangkok, Thailand close to midnight.
August 16 – Transfer from the International airport to the regional airport for my early morning flight to Yangon. Check into my hotel and sleep. Hopefully I’ll have enough energy to explore a little as well, but mostly, sleep.

August 17 – 25 – Blissful Burma – Tucan Travel – Agent Trip
August 17 – No planned activities – Explore at leisure.
August 18 – 19 – Shwedagon Pagoda / Overnight bus to Mandalay. Mingun / cruise up the river. Yadanabon market.
August 20 – 21 – Guided bike tour of the Temple ruins of Bagan. Optional hot air balloon ride at sunrise or sunset. (This is not optional for me … it is the part I am most excited about. I may even pay to do it at sunrise AND sunset!)
Aug 22 – Visit local villages and the Elephant Conservation Centre where I’ll get to wash and feed the elephants. EEEEEEEEKKKKKK! I’m super excited about this. There’s also opportunities to ride the elephants and trek into the jungle with them.
Aug 23 – Inle Lake visiting floating gardens and sampling local tea. Visit markets and a cheroot factory.
Aug 24 – We fly to Yangon and spend time exploring the markets, colonial buildings and the Yangon river. We also return to the Shwedagon Pagoda to see it illuminated at night.
Aug 25 – I will depart Yangon and fly to Bangkok. After several hours layover, I’ll be on my way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.

Aug 26 – 27 – Currently I have no specific plans. I suspect I will spend some time in my hotel blogging and catching up with friends and family back home as I expect to be without internet and cell service for most of my stay in Burma. Other than that, I might try to do a Mekong Delta home stay, a city tour or cycling tour in the countryside.

Aug 28 – Sept 5 – G Adventures – Cambodia Experience (this is for myself. I will simply be traveling with a group, not leading it, not responsible for anyone, just seeing the sites for me!)

Aug 28 – No planned activities. Sight seeing in Saigon.
Aug 29 – Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Aug 30 & 31 – Phnom Pen, Cambodia
Sept 1 – 3 – Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sept 4 – Bangkok, Thailand
Sept 5 – Departure day
Sept 5 – Arrive home in Halifax late at night.

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 2

Hidden Fees with low cost carriers ….

With my international flights on hold for 24 hours I knew that I had to make a decision quickly. $1568 from Halifax to Bangkok was a super deal for August and I couldn’t let it slip through my fingers. But, funny enough, even though I love travel and I’m super excited about this trip … booking those international flights was one of the hardest things I had to do. I’m not joking when I say that I nearly had a panic attack before putting my credit card number in to secure them. And, I shed more than a few tears after I left work that day.

Why?

Likely a build up of stress, anxiety and excitement … but I wasn’t able to separate any of those emotions, I was just one big ball of nervousness. Too late now though, $1568 was paid and like it or not, I am set to fly to Bangkok.

I’m a travel agent now … and a seasoned traveler. I’m sure you all think that travel is just old hat for me, but I bet you didn’t know that every time I think about a new trip I immediately remember that I’ve been in a plane crash. I immediately remember that I really don’t like flying, but it is the only way to see the world. After I take the plunge and get all of my plans organized then I forget about it again for awhile … the anxiety about flying doesn’t creep up on my until about two weeks before I leave … and then the two nights before, well, I’m a big whiny baby.

So … I have six weeks before I start completely freaking out … that’s reassuring, right?

About three weeks after I booked my international flights, I finally found time to start booking my domestic fights. After all, the main part of my trip is Burma / Myanmar and I only had a plane ticket as far as Bangkok.

Having never traveled to Asia before, it is all new to me, so I had to start at the beginning by looking up airlines to see what my options were.

I leave Halifax in the morning of August 14th and I will land in Bangkok on August 15 close to midnight. I then need to make my way to Yangon, Myanmar. Where to start?

I pulled up Air Asia’s website and began having a look around. Phew! Return flights from Bangkok to Yangon are only about $45 US each way. That’s cheap! Let’s book those. Oh wait. I land at airport code BKK … these flights are all from DMK. Is that my only option? Looks like it! The flights to Yangon fly from the regional airport, not the international one. Ah well … it’s already a crazy long two days of travel, why not add another taxi ride and check in at a new airport to the mix?! Seems as I have no choice.

I start plugging in information and double checking that all of my dates are right. Then I get to the payment screen where it offers me the option of insurance, for additional cost of course … I try to bypass it, but I can’t seem to. I get frustrated and then find some small print that allows me to ignore the insurance and I move on.

Don’t forget taxes! Add another $23 US each way.

Then I get to the screen with prices for baggage. Add another $15 for up to 20kg of checked luggage (each way). I’d love to travel with carry on only, but seeing as my camera takes up most of a backpack, I don’t think I can fit three weeks clothes in. I’ll certainly have a couple of pairs of underwear in there though after my lost luggage incident in Lima!

Finally, I’m on to the payment screen and my price that started out as $90 US is already sitting at $166 US (return). Geeze!

Deep breath.
Go to the credit card screen.
More fees! This time it’s an additional $5.30 for a credit card processing fee.

All in all, my two $45 US tickets turned in to a grand total of $178.45 US.

And the moral of the story ……..

When you book your own flights online through a low -ost carrier, beware of all of the things that are not included because they add up!

At least when I went to book my flight from Bangkok to Saigon, I was aware of all the charges, so it didn’t surprise me. Still sucked to pay a final total of $97.71 US instead of $65.

And, it’s not just Air Asia that does this. When you think you are getting a really great deal through Ryan Air or one of the other European low-cost carriers … watch out! The fees will add up on you and are not always divulged in advance. Sometimes you get stuck paying for them when you check in!

Preparing for Adventures in South East Asia – 1

I’ve known since before I left for Peru that I would be going to South East Asia in August, but I’ve kept it fairly quiet and haven’t said much because I’ve been too busy to finalize the plans. I mean really, until flights are in place, a trip doesn’t really seem real!

All of a sudden, I’m only 2 months away from departure. Yikes! I just realized that this second and it totally freaked me out!

About a month ago, one of the superstars that I work with at The Adventure Travel Company found me a super deal on flights. Everything that I was finding was pricing at $2200 .. yuck. Mind you, I did have to get from Halifax (where we have crappy flight choices) to Yangon, Myanmar … which has even crappier flight choices. We wiggled the dates around a bit and worked with Bangkok instead of all the way to Yangon and there we have it.

In the end, I secured flights from Halifax to Bangkok, Thailand for under $1600. People keep asking me how long the flight is and what route I’m taking. Well … it was one of many options for routing and although not the shortest, it really isn’t that bad.

On August 14th I fly Halifax to Washington to Japan to Bangkok (arrive late at night August 15th).
Travel time over 27 hours.

Then I have to transfer from the Bangkok International airport to the regional one. This should be an adventure at midnight in a new country after 24 hours of travel. I’m sure I’ll be top of my game! ha ha ha

I fly out from the regional airport on August 16th early in the morning and land in Yangon, Myanmar a couple of hours later. I’ll either be totally wiped and barely awake, or excited beyond belief to see this amazing less discovered country.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog posted called I don’t want your tainted point of view … And, I completely stand by that. I have done very little research into where I am going, other than enough to know about safety, health and accommodations. I’m not by any means ‘winging’ the trip. I’m traveling with an organized group for almost the entire time I am away. However, I am being very careful about what I read and take in from others who have travelled to these areas. I really want to see it through my own eyes first. That’s what I love most about traveling to new destinations.

What I have done so far is the following:

Checked the Canadian Government website for visa requirements for Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

I’ve contacted the embassies of Burma and Vietnam to get my visa application paperwork. Thailand doesn’t require a visa because I will only be there as a tourist for a few days. And, the Cambodian one I will get at the border when I enter the country.

I visited my family doctor and contacted Napier Travel Health to discuss if I need any new vaccines or medications for my travels.

I have booked all of my international flights (United), my domestic flights (Air Asia), my two group tours (Tucan & G Adventures) and three nights of hotel stays in Ho Chi Minh city when I will be on my own.

I’ll soon be posting blogs with information about each of those tasks as they are not as simple or as fast as you may think and I’ve discovered all kinds of interesting tid-bits along the way.

So, watch for posts coming shortly about the process for applying for visas, domestic flights and low cost carriers and my super exciting itineraries!

It’s my first time heading off to Asia and I’m super excited! A little scared too … my comfort zone is Latin America of which I still have much more to discover! But, no time like the present to get my adventures in. Young, child-less, not married and relatively healthy … I may never be all of those things at once again!

Here’s to my life being one big adventure. I hope you’ll tag along for the updates!