Our Babe in Thailand

Today we are leaving to help Gloria fulfill her fortune:

Fortune

We fly to Thailand this afternoon, via Seoul. After a night in Chiang Mai we head south to spend a few days on our favorite beach in Southeast Asia, Nai Yang. We are then spending the bulk of our time in Mae Hong Son reconnecting with friends, enjoying the slow pace of life, and gorging on delicious Thai stir friestropical fruits (including mango and sticky rice), and spicy Burmese hill tribe food.

Gloria going to Chiang Mai
Guess where I’m going?

Paradise Lost

Turns out it’s not just hype that Kauai is the wettest place on earth. During our week here, we’ve consistently had heavy rains overnight. However, they usually end around 6AM. Not today. It’s 10:30AM, we’re supposed to be at the airport, and instead we’re in the Hanalei plaza. The bridge that lies between us and aircraft has been closed since 1AM, when the water level spiked to nine feet.

Statistically the Hanalei bridge reopens when the waters recede to about four and a half feet. We monitored the water level this morning from our B&B. Since conditions were looking better (water had receded to almost five feet) we attempted our airport run at 8:30AM. Unfortunately, the weather has not decided to cooperate, with the rains kicking back into high gear. The cop at the bridge told us “it will be at least a few hours…or possibly all day. I’m stuck here as well.” For now we’re rebooked on an afternoon flight, which buys us three more hours, but I’m dubious that we’ll be able to leave the north shore at all today.

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Latest bridge status – notice the uptick from about 45 minutes ago just when things started to look promising


Live video footage from the scene of the storm

Sleeping in Seattle

Two days (and ten time zones) later, we’re finally back in Seattle! The trip home was fine (if long), but it was frustrating to watch Puget Sound pass under us as we flew on by to SFO. On the plus side we got to spend a sunny afternoon in Millbrae with my mother-in-law before our final flight to Seattle.

After forcing ourselves to stay up until midnight, we managed to sleep in until 8AM this morning. Of course, while we’re physically awake, we’re certainly not all there yet.

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Until we find a more permanent residence, we’re staying at Gio’s lovely place, where we awake to views like this:

Mount Ranier
Mount Rainier, our favorite local volcano

Bellevue
Bellevue actually looks nice when viewed from across the lake with the Cascades in the background!

The Road Home

We are leaving Uganda in a few hours. Between facilitating the JAMS workshop at Makerere University and various emotional good-byes, it’s been a busy final week. We’re going to be off the grid for 10 days in Tanzania, and then we board a plane bound for Seattle. For those who enjoy details, here’s the breakdown:

  • Today: fly to Kilimanjaro
  • Sunday-Tuesday: Hike Mt. Meru
  • Wed-Mon: Safari in Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, central and northern Serengeti
  • Tues-Wed: JRO->DAR->DBX->SFO->SEA (i.e. long slog from Africa to Seattle, but at least we’re flying Emirates)

It’s been a great three months in Uganda; an inspiring conclusion to an unforgettable year. We’re leaving with countless memories and have many stories to write up when we get home. Seattle crowd, see you soon!

View from our apartment
The view from our apartment this morning

The large birds that protect our apartment
The large birds that protect our apartment building

East Africa Travel Planning

Many of our free hours lately have been spent planning a myriad of trips:

  • A 3-day Murchison Falls trip this coming weekend
  • A beach trip to Zanzibar and Mombasa at the beginning of August
  • Western Uganda gorilla tracking and volcano climbing in late August
  • Tanzania safari and possibly some Arusha-area hiking for the middle of September

We are flying back home to Seattle after the Tanzania trip, from Dar Es Salaam via Dubai and San Francisco (yay Emirates).

Planning travel in East Africa is certainly interesting; for one thing, it’s extremely expensive, and for another, it feels as though the tourism infrastructure is 20 years out of date. Just two fun examples, I’m sure we’ll have many more over the coming weeks:

  • The economy here is entirely cash-based. We booked our gorilla tracking excursion through a company whose office is located a bit south of Kampala, on the way to the airport. They wanted payment for our gorilla permits ($500 each!) in advance, but they would only accept a bank wire transfer or cash. Due to the Barclay’s ATM transaction limit, it took 5 ATM withdrawals to retrieve the required cash, and it came out all in 10,000 UGX notes (less than $5 per note). So Kenny had a stack of bills about 2 inches tall stuffed in his pockets for our drive down to Lubowa to deliver the cash. On the plus side, we got a very good exchange rate.
  • Kenny is trying to book us a flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. He found the website of Precision Air and filled out their contact form, which sent an email to… someone. When he didn’t hear back, he searched and found a direct email address to send his inquiry. He received a response a few hours later, stating that his flight had been booked and that it will be cancelled if we don’t pay by August 11. Of course, we may only pay by cash or wire transfer, and their office is in Tanzania. Not sure how we’re going to manage that one, as we won’t actually be in Tanzania until after the flight.

I can’t wait to find out how our Tanzania safari operator wants to be paid.

Passage Back to India

We’re back in the Motherland. After five days touring around London and environs, and yet another red-eye, we’re in Delhi. We’ll be here for a couple of days playing tour guides for our good friend Gio, including a one-day stopover in Agra. Of course, Kenny insists that we will have a meal at the new and improved Khan Chacha. I just can’t wait to try Indian mangoes.

On Tuesday, we head down to Bangalore to join the fun for Sean and Archana’s wedding festivities. I can’t wait to see them and to revisit the neighborhood where we lived for two months this past fall. I’m also extremely excited to take all of the folks coming in from the US shopping for Indian wedding clothes. We already have ours, of course.

The Next Six Weeks

We have only 10 days left in Thailand. I know it will be extremely difficult to leave. On the one hand, I do feel a bit ready to move on from our small town. It is lovely, but after three months I certainly feel like I’ve seen what it has to offer. On the other hand, it will be very hard to leave my volunteer assignment. Not that I didn’t accomplish my goals – on the contrary, the staff and I have accomplished a lot more than we expected. I just know that I will miss them horribly and I want to continue helping them work for democracy in Burma. The separation will also be a poignant reminder that while I’ve been here helping them voluntarily, this cause is their life and they can’t just leave. In fact, they can’t really go anywhere.

Here is our plan for the next six weeks. As usual, it’s ridiculous and it involves a lot of flights:

  • Thailand: We have one more week volunteering in Mae Hong Son, then we head to New York (via Chiang Mai, Taipei, and San Francisco).
  • New York: We’ll be in New York for about a week for Kenny’s sister’s wedding. We have a bunch of errands to run — AJWS post-mortem at their office, get new India visas, get yellow fever shots for Uganda, etc. — but we’ll also get to spend time with family and friends while we’re there. My parents are also coming to the wedding. I’m excited to see my Dad again so soon, and I’ve promised to take my Mom on the Jewish tour of New York (Lower East Side, Brooklyn, etc.).
  • Boston: We will have four days in Boston to visit our dear friends Julie and Damian, and their newest addition, Sophie. A few friends from Seattle will be joining us.
  • London: On our way to India for Sean and Archana’s wedding, we arranged for a four-day "layover" in London. Kenny has never been to Stonehenge, so we will probably try to squeeze that in too. It will be a weird, very first-world tourist experience in the middle of this year of Global South adventures, but hopefully New York and Boston will help with the transition. I expect that we’ll spend more money during four days in London than we typically spend in four weeks here in Thailand.
  • Delhi: Delhi always seems to be our gateway to India. Gio is meeting us, and we’ll spend a couple of days showing him the sights (and we need to take him for a celebratory meal at Indian Accent). Then we plan to make a day trip to Agra, since we promised ourselves we’d see the Taj Mahal this time. It’s going to be HOT, but I suppose it can’t be much worse than April in Northern Thailand
  • Bangalore: The main event for us in India is Sean and Archana’s wedding in Bangalore, which promises to be an all-out traditional Tam-Bram affair. After the wedding, we’re all heading to a Jungle Retreat in the Nilgiris for a few days.
  • Kampala: On June 11, we’ll fly from Bangalore to Dubai to Addis Ababa to Entebbe, in order to start our next volunteer assignment, which is a technology for agriculture project, based in Kampala.

Coming to Cambodia

We left Mai House this morning and finally made it to Kampot around 4PM this afternoon. Since there’s no direct boat, what would be 35km as the crow flies entailed:

  • 8AM->10:30AM: boat ride from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien
  • 10:30AM->1:30PM: bum around Ha Tien waiting for our visas and the bus, and spending the last of our dong. Turns out that 50,000 VND (< $3) on the streets of Ha Tien can buy you 4 baguettes, 1 tomato, 1 cucumber, 1 red chili, 2 dragon fruit, 1 star apple, 4 oranges, 2 mangoes, and a mini sponge cake.
  • 1:30PM->1:45PM: bus from Ha Tien to the Vietnam/Cambodia border
  • 1:45PM->2:15PM: border formalities, including switching our Vietnamese bus crew to a Cambodian one
  • 2:15PM->4PM: arrive in Kampot to complete our “1.5 hour” bus ride

After we dropped off our belongings at the lovely Hang Guesthouse, we rode their free bicycles into the tiny little town and unwound with a blind Khmer massage (a local specialty). It was so intense that Lauren dubbed it a “Khmer Rouge” massage.

Tomorrow we’re planning a hike up to Bokor Hill Station, the most popular tourist attraction in this part of Cambodia.

Biking to a blind massage

Sometimes 30 = 200

We are luxuriating at a serene beach on Phu Quoc Island for a few days before making our way back towards Thailand for AJWS orientation. Our original plan for the trip back north was:

… a boat from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia, and then another boat up the Mekong into Cambodia. Stop in Phnom Penh and potentially Battambang.

This was, of course, before we had done much research related to boats up the Mekong. After doing some reading, it turns out it takes almost a full day to even reach the Mekong. We decided that a shorter boat ride from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien and then a few days in Kampot, Cambodia would be much more pleasant. We spent some time scouring the Lonely Planet and various web forums today for information on boats, Cambodian visas, border crossing process, and overland transport to Kampot. After sketching out how we might orchestrate the border crossing, we took a stroll out to the main road from the beach and saw this:

John will get you to Cambodia
Easy transport options from Phu Quoc to various destinations in Cambodia

So we’ll probably just scrap all of those plans and book transport from here to Kampot with John for ~$30/person on Monday.

Of course, none of this research would be necessary if there were a boat from here to Kampot. Apparently such boats actually exist, but Gerard at Mai House warned us to steer clear of these as they are highly illegal and usually unsuccessful at making the crossing (but they do successfully take your money). As a result, what should be a 45 minute trip will be a six hour multi-transport adventure, thanks to international borders and historic territorial disputes.

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Kenny pointing out the absurdity of our six hour border crossing trip to a destination only 30km away

After our two nights in Kampot, we’ll have two more in Phnom Penh and then we fly to Chiang Mai via Bangkok.

Leaving Laos Vegas

I can’t take any credit for the title, that one’s all Matt… but he’s clearly not the only one to come up with this joke. As seen in the Lao Airlines magazine:

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What happens in Vientiane, stays in Vientiane

We are in the Luang Prabang airport, waiting to board our flight for Hanoi. Our current plan for the remaining weeks of our pre-volunteering holiday:

  • Two to four days in the Hanoi area, which will probably include some time in Ninh Binh and/or the national park nearby. We’ll skip Halong Bay because we’ve been there, and Sapa because it’s apparently quite cold there right now.
  • A few days in Nha Trang, because nine days in the Thai islands just wasn’t enough beach time.
  • A few days on Phu Quoc island for the same reason.
  • About two days in the Mekong Delta area as we make our way towards Cambodia (this may involve a night in Can Tho and another in Chau Doc, but we need to do more research).
  • One day in Phnom Penh before we fly to Chiang Mai to start orientation.

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