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Escaping from Hat Yai

January 8, 2015
Tham Sai Cave

We found ourselves back in Bangkok with the plan to return to Koh Phangan. I got to spend my birthday with the trio at the Amsterdam Bar, soaking up the sunset before our Sunday Funday at the Loi Lay Floating Bar. We stopped at the Ringside Hostel on the way so I could catch up with Paul, a friend of mine I met when I was in Cairns, Australia years ago. He’s part owner of Ringside, so he gave us a tour of the place and let us in on some secrets of the islands.

He told us that the following week, the 16-bed dorms would be going from 200b a night to 2,000b a night (roughly $6 to $60).

My plan was to go to Kuala Lumpur for a week so I could do a Visa run, then head back to Bangkok to meet up with Charlie and Charlotte and go up north to Chiang Mai then to Pai to learn poi at the Circus School. I hopped off the train in Hat Yai and made my way to the Hatyai Backpackers Hostel, but I got an eerie feeling about the town.

Khao Daeng Viewpoint

The hostel had a deal for a free night if you stayed for three, so I was planning on staying in Hat Yai for four nights and then heading out on the fifth day. It was 6 in the morning when I got there and tried to check in, but I couldn’t for another few hours.

I decided to kill time on the computer while I waited, searching the internet and trying to piece together the rest of my Malaysia trip. When I asked for the WiFi password, the guy at the reception desk wrote down:

“i hate hat yai”

The moment I read that, I knew I wouldn’t be staying in Hat Yai for the full time I had booked.

Hat Yai is a town that resides on the border of Thailand and Malaysia, so there is a lot of violence towards the monks and police of Hat Yai. It’s wise to not stand near police or a row of motorbikes for fear of bombs.

When I finally got to check in, I immediately went to sleep—I was exhausted from barely sleeping on the noisy train. After sleeping for a couple of hours, I decided to venture out and see what the town had to offer. I walked around for hours and saw the same stuff over and over again. I began looking for another traveler so I could have a conversation with someone because at this point, I was going mad. After sitting in Starbucks, McDonalds and all the bars, I never met a single soul that spoke English.

I headed back to the hostel, got back on the computer and really started to make things happen. I was finding awesome stuff to do in Malaysia, but everything was a long bus ride away from Kuala Lumpur—I didn’t want to spend 4 out of 7 days traveling from place to place, that would just wear me out. Things started to look grim, but I tried to keep a positive attitude about it. I checked the weather and was sorely disappointed. There were monsoons down south so for the entire week I would be there, there were going to be vicious thunderstorms.

Temple by the mountains

I heard footsteps on the stairs, so I started to get excited—footsteps meant that someone new had checked in. She turned the corner and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest since I was finally seeing a fellow traveler. We didn’t say much to each other at first because I was on the computer, but after she got settled I started chatting with her. Turned out, she had just come from Kuala Lumpur and didn’t have the best experience. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I knew I wouldn’t be going to Malaysia, so she pitched the idea of outrunning the monsoons and going to the gulf. We started planning our trip up to Hua Hin and looked at hostels, eventually finding a place to stay. We were both giddy that we could finally get out of this place—we’d shared the same gut instinct about Hat Yai.

Thom Sai Limestone

We got to the hostel in Hua Hin and after we checked in and dropped our luggage, I was on the hunt for some food. We went to the first place I saw where I ordered some eggs, toast and a coffee. We chatted with the Frenchman who owned the place, and he gave us some really good spots to check out.

Steep Trekking to Tham Sai CaveOutside of Hua Hin lies Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It’s about an hour and a half out, but it took us nearly 3 hours to get there because we had to double back a few times. When we finally did arrive, we weren’t sure where to begin. Normally there’s an entry point but because we came from the north, didn’t have a map and my phone was running out of battery, we had to just take every side road until we found a beach.

The beach was part of Khao Sam Roi Yot, so we paid our 200 bhat and had our tickets for the rest of the park. We hung out on the beach, looked at the map we were provided and started to plan our day. It was going to have to be short because we got there around 1 and would have to leave by 5 at the latest since the sun goes down around 6. We couldn’t decide where to go, so we went to the nearest cave, Tham Sai.

We blazed the steep trail to the mouth of the cave, dropped our bags and headed into the chilly and refreshing air of Tham Sai Cave.

I spent so much time taking pictures because it had been stressful just getting to the Khao Sam Roi Yot—I just needed to soak it all in and enjoy my time there.

I couldn’t get a decent picture for the life of me, so I decided I’d put my skills to the test and take an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo. An HDR photo consists of multiple exposures just at different lengths, so I was able to capture every aspect of the cave and its beauty.

When we were done trekking around Tham Sai, we asked the park ranger which was the best cave and he pointed back at Sai Cave. A sigh of relief came over me because we got to see the best of what the park had to offer. We asked where we should go next and he told us about a few other caves, but the trek was too long so we decided to just head to the viewpoint to see the whole park from the very top.

Tham Sai Cave Entrance

That hike was much trickier because there were points where it was just a vertical incline, so you had to hoist yourself up on the mounds and finagle your way to the top. Once we made it to the viewpoint, we both took off our shirts and screamed at the top of our lungs. We had reached the summit! We sat and hung out with a group of Japanese people, one of whom had attended Mizzou, so we had a good time shootin’ the shit with them.

It was around 4 and I didn’t know how long it’d take to get down, so I reminded Jen that we needed to get going. So we made our way back down to the scooter and started scooting our way back. I looked down and saw the tank was in the red—we still had another 30Km before the next gas station. I didn’t mention anything because I didn’t want her to worry, but I was a little concerned. I kept easy on the throttle and found a gas station, right as the bike puttered out of gas.

As soon as we’d gotten a quick snack and a drink, we were speeding our way back to Hua Hin where we would treat ourselves to dinner in a restaurant, not just food from a stand at the night market.

Main, Travel

Phnom Penh Is Ruthless

December 30, 2014
Enlightenment tree

Jake and Juuso were leaving to Phnom Penh, so the Five Musketeers were hanging out at the hostel, hamming it up and chilling out before the ferry came in. We scanned the water, trying to spot the ferry—it was well past four and it still wasn’t there. Jake and Juuso were getting antsy, so they decided to head to Coco’s to grab their luggage. We all made our way down to the pier and waited with them for a bit, but Annina’s alter ego Rhonda—who only shows her colors when she’s very hungry—was starting to peek her head out, so we had to get something to eat. We didn’t get very far before Rhonda sat down at the White Rose.IMG_1622

Rhonda is the type who will already be ordering food when she checks to see if her choice is okay with everyone else.

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In Koh Rong, Nothing Can Go Wrong

December 18, 2014
Koh Rong Beach

It’s a tiny island off of Sihanoukville, Cambodia that many have said Thailand was like 10 years ago before it became as big of a tourist spot. On the island there is no fire department, no police, no doctor; only a small pharmacy with a nurse, and there is very little accommodation for the tourists.

Koh Rong is the place to go if you want to be out of touch for a little while. It doesn’t have constant power and getting any sort of cell signal is impossible because it’s so far from the mainland. The island is powered by generators, with power cuts between 0200-0600 and again at 1100-1300. However, most bars do have their own generators because “if you’re buying beer, we’re still here”.

If you go to Koh Rong, make sure you bring a flashlight, ponchos and bug spray with a high concentration of DEET.

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Angkor Temple Trekking in Siem Reap

December 6, 2014

IMG_1200My coffee had no lid and was scalding hot—just like any good cup of coffee—so I was burning my mouth for my precious pick-me-up. I ran back into the Lotus to grab my bag and right as I stepped foot outside, the taxi driver was strapping down the last bag. While everyone was loading into the back of the truck, I was lucky enough to grab a seat in the comfort of the air-conditioned cab. Before we knew it, we were at the pier where the next leg of our adventure would begin.

We finally got on our bus to Sihanoukville and settled in. I got to sit next to Annina, but Shukri was all by his lonesome. Annina and I were having a heart-to-heart when a Polish couple sitting in front of us asked how much we paid for our tickets. We only paid 234b each, but they got shafted and paid 900b each. The man started throwing a fit with a bus attendant and made us all look crazy. I let my alter ego come out and gave him a glare that got him to shut his mouth.

We made a stop for everyone to get a snack, use the toilet and carry on. We hopped back on our bus and finally got settled in again when the driver grabbed us and told us we had to transfer. This was confusing because we thought that we had booked a non-transfer bus.

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Making Friends at The Brothers

November 21, 2014

I ditched my sister and friends at the Sunrise Resort—as their journey is nearing its end, mine is just beginning. I walked a bit before I stumbled upon on the Lotus Hostel. It’s the low season in Koh Tao; in a dorm with 8 beds, I had the room to myself before Jamie showed up. He had just landed in Thailand and Koh Tao was the meeting point for him and his friend Annina.

It was mid day as the gloomy clouds came out to play—the sun was done with me. I wanted a coffee, so I meandered over to my spot called The Brothers Restaurant. I ran into Jamie and Annina so I pulled up a chair, ordered a fruit shake and a coffee, and they started listing their options for the day. They settled on a trip to Freedom Beach before getting their tickets to Cambodia, and they were kind enough to let me tag along.

Leaving Koh Tao

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Watching the Sunset at the Amsterdam Bar

November 9, 2014
Taxi boad

Life is all about routine. So when you’re traveling across the pond and you’re worried about jet lag, try fasting. If you fast for 12+ hours, whenever you eat your next meal your body resets and thinks that’s breakfast (a.k.a. the time you should be waking up). It doesn’t mean that you won’t be tired—because chances are you’ll be exhausted—however the next day will be much easier to adjust to.

I fell asleep around 4 p.m. and woke up at about 6 the following morning. The girls had been out the night before and weren’t exactly awake yet, so I made the trek down the beach in search of something to fill my belly. All I found open was a 7-Eleven, so my first meal consisted of potato chips, some dry cereal, an “orange juice” and coffee out of a can. I wouldn’t call it ideal, but it did tide me over until we ate an actual breakfast.

After the food settled in our bellies, we decided to relax for the day—knowing that we’d have a helluva night that night. Still wanting to explore, we scavenged for some scooters. Soon enough, we found some to rent and burnt rubber to the Amsterdam Bar just a few kilometers down the way to check out what these “happy milkshakes” were all about and the views that everyone boasted about.

Sunset at Amsterdam Bar

Sunset at Amsterdam Bar

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The Mysterious Full Moon Ferry

November 7, 2014

On the hour-long flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui, we spent more time circling the airstrip because of weather than we did actually flying from place to place. This also meant that we wouldn’t get our luggage for another half hour because if they unloaded it, our luggage would get soaked by the morning rain. To most, this wasn’t a big deal. But there were a few travelers who were in a hurry to get, well, nowhere because everyone was going to the same place: Ko Pha Ngan. There was a single bus that ran from the airport to the pier, and it waited until everyone was ready to go with luggage and tickets in hand.

Before we set off, we had to stuff ourselves like clowns into this huge van that had less seat belts than it did seats. Only adding to the chaos was the rain. And experiencing the driving of the Thai people made me appreciate the traffic-riddled roads of LA—and that’s a bold statement. Once we got to the pier, I bought myself some M&Ms and a nice, cold beer. I munched and drank while everyone unloaded their bags, waiting for the time our luggage would take their place. Once I got on the ferry, I immediately wanted to get off again. I was already shoulder-to-shoulder on the railing with people and they kept stuffing us in there like sardines. But the end was in sight and I could already feel the bed I was about to hop in to.

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Making It to Tokyo and Beyond.

November 4, 2014
Redondo Beach, California

Redondo Beach, California

So, let’s start from the top. It’s Sunday, the 2nd of November. After picking up a friend from LAX, we’re heading back to Pomona, California to attend a music festival. As we’re on our way, we start hashing out how we’re going to get me to the airport the following day. Since the shows shut down at 11 p.m., we figured we’d crash out early and head to the airport around 6:30 a.m. (L.A. traffic is awful all the time). Well, 11 p.m. came and went. Not sticking to the plan had us out all night, returning to the hotel at 5 in the morning. I knew I was completely and utterly screwed if I didn’t make any moves—everyone excluding me was pretty toasty at this point, and I was the only one sober enough to drive. Deciding this was no time for the faint-hearted, I grabbed some breakfast, lots of coffee and charged my phone and computer up one last time, knowing I’d soon be stuck on a plane.

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