Riding the Rails Through Asia

Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.

Our shared second class (hard sleeper) cabin with six bunks.

The bunk was about a meter wide, and true to its name it was a hard sleeper with very little padding. My head hurt from the high altitude of the Tibetan plateau and my back was aching from sleeping so much, but I was  also fighting a cold and there wasn’t much else to do for 48 hours. The scenery did little to help pass the time. Hills became mountains and the vegetation grew sparse and brown. The occasional town or scenic lake could distract us from our misery for a minute, but eventually seeing our own reflection staring back at us in the window quickly reminded us of where we were for the next day and a half: a cramped little bunk in a rolling tin can. There were six of these bunks in our little shared compartment. The uppermost bunk required gymnastics to reach and later dismount. The top and middle bunks didn’t have enough headroom for me to sit up without hunching over. Even Sheri couldn’t sit up straight. Never have I felt more like cattle packed into a livestock car. Continue reading

First World Problems in the Third World

I really don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but after a couple of months on the road, I begin to notice things that are sometimes just a bit annoying. Sure, things are different in other countries, and I get that. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s better (or worse), just different, and yet, it annoys me. Alright, maybe I am complaining, hence the title of my post.

Wash Cloths

I traveled through Asia about 15 years ago, and the last time I was in China was about 10 years ago. One thing still hasn’t changed in all that time. Hotels don’t believe in wash cloths. I know this because I have to bring my own. Now this would be fine if the soap they provided would actually lather, but it doesn’t. And it’s not a matter of the price level of the hotel, even the high-end resorts don’t provide wash cloths. Yes, it’s not a big deal, but I’m just wondering, why? Continue reading

Scariest Ride in Asia?

Sheri and I have been on quite a few adventures and taken all sorts of different transportation—from a horse-drawn cart in Bagan to 150 kph bullet trains in Malaysia. One never knows what the transportation will be like. It could be very pleasant. It could be extremely uncomfortable. Occasionally, the ride is thrilling. Our road trip through New Zealand, our tuk tuk ride in Cambodia and our motorbike ride in Chiang Mai come to mind. However, I was confident in my own driving abilities or those of our driver.

Myanmar, by our standards, is definitely third-world. In the more remote areas, such as Bagan or Inle Lake, it’s what makes it charming. In these areas, roads barely qualify as such. Sure, they’re paved, but that’s where the similarities end. They are bumpy, dusty, full of obstacles and often dangerous in the mountainous areas. There are no lane markings, no guard rails, and no signage. I’ve driven on gravel forest service roads that are better than some of the roads in Myanmar. However, when I’m driving, I maintained an appropriate speed for the road conditions. Continue reading

Indonesia: From Ruins to Beaches

On our RTW trip, whenever we go somewhere I’ve been already, it’s tough not to make comparisons of how places are today versus the last time I was there. In most locations, I’m surprised that things haven’t changed much. I had optimistically thought that 16 years of progress would alter most places for the better. Such was my hope for Indonesia.

I went to Indonesia about 16 years ago to visit my friend, Don. It was an unforgettable experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons. I came down with a bad case of dysentery from some bad food I had in Jakarta and spent a couple days between the bed and toilet at Don’s parent’s home. Even with such wonderful memories, I still decided that Indonesia was worth a repeat visit. However, I didn’t want a repeat of what happen to me to happen again with Sheri during this visit so we took the usual precautions to avoid stomach problems. Continue reading

Halong Bay Cruise

DSC_4971Halong Bay, on the Vietnam coast, is a popular tourist destination. Perhaps a bit too popular. The distinctive limestone island formations have made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. All this attention has made it more popular than ever. The bay has nearly 2,000 small islands, or more correctly, islets. Some are large enough to have inhabitants, but most are too small, too steep, and too overgrown to easily live on them. There are many islets with small beaches on them. Some have caverns formed over 20 million years of geological evolution, hot wet climate, and slow erosion and tectonic processes.  Continue reading

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake


DSC_4056This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. DSC_4119The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all. Continue reading

Lost in Translation

If you’ve been following my Facebook posts, you know I collect Hard Rock Cafe pins. I have pins from 33 Hard Rock Cafes from around the world that I have personally visited. The last one was at Hard Rock Angkor in Cambodia which I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It isn’t a criteria for visiting a place, but if there’s one where I’m going, I try to get to it and pick up a couple of pins.

I usually have internet access available on my phone, but Vietnam is one of the place that my cellular plan doesn’t include in their coverage. Since we’re on a budget, I don’t feel the need to pay extra just to have that connectivity. I just use the WiFi in the hotel. Normally, I would look up the Hard Rock when I have internet access, but somehow it slipped my mind (old age) and I didn’t think of it until we saw a Starbucks in the expensive part of town. I couldn’t get a Hanoi coffee mug (too difficult to pack or ship), but it reminded Sheri that we should see if there’s a Hard Rock in Hanoi. Continue reading

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. DSC_4328Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.

After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading