Kanchanaburi still and just riffin…

KanchanaburiView outside our room…

(journal excerpt): January 14th or 15th? Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Our last few days in BKK were good.  We met a woman from France working with an organization assisting Burmese refugees and we talked about the situation there and ethical travel.  She invited us to some kind of BUddhist ceremony to honour the teachers of her organization, including her, which will be tomorrow but we already left to come to Kanchanaburi yesterday.  The ride here was better than the last time we were here which was completely miserable and despite the fact I was totally going out on a limb and guessing the name of the place we stayed last time, we drove into the familiar parking lot in the early afternoon.  The place has changed a lot in the past four years and for the first time on our trip, it’s been a change for the better.  Our little room by the river still exists but now has air con and the place is also now outfitted with a swimming pool and wifi.  All for 70B more than we were paying in BKK for, well…a bed.  We were initially disturbed by the presence of mattresses in the sun as we drove in (good indication of bed bugs) and the unfortunate wooden bed frame in our room (also more susceptible to bed bugs) but we passed that initial first nervous night bite free.  Our sitting area outside our room is just as perfect as I remember it, although a lot more overgrown.  Our guesthouse sits on a narrow, shallow canal off the main river (that’s the River Kwai by the way) and we are fortunately separated from the main river by a wide jungle covered sandbar.  I say fortunately because there are only two annoyances to the tranquility here: one, the vacationing Thais and their hideous karaoke barges that float up and down the river and two the rampant and obvious prostitution everywhere.  However, apparently there has been a big crackdown in the karaoke boats recently (can’t say the same about the prostitution, which limits the hours they can cruise up and down the river and to be honest, we rarely hear them.  The prostitution, thankfully,  is mainly unobtrusive.   European men with women at least remotely in the same age bracket and no children or anything like that.  They shack up with them here and play house presumably until they’ve had enough of one another and then go on their respective separate ways or in the case of the couple in the room by the pool today, have a massive blow out fight and scream at each other until one checks out.  However, luckily our room is not by the pool, it’s by the canal and so apart from the occasional boat, it’s perfectly serene.

KanchanaburiView of canal and jungle-y sandbar

We have a coconut and papaya tree on the banks, shallow water with koi and other fish and a million chattering frogs at night.  It is a bird lovers paradise with an innumerable amount of strange jungle birds, some that sound like cats and another which sounds like a metronome…

…if we don’t want to sit by our room we can go upstairs by the pool where it is so beautiful.  The whole area is basically a garden with orchids of nearly every colour, frangipani, coconut and jasmine trees.  In the jasmine above the lounge chair at the pool, a little dove has a nest and every once in a while she adjusts herself and jasmine fall down from the tree.  Yes, it’s that sickeningly perfect…

KanchanaburiMore view of canal outside our room…

January 16, 2012-Slightly hazy morning here in Kanchanaburi and it poured rain yesterday for about an hour.  The mornings right now seem to start off cloudy and burn of throughout the day.  I don’t know if it was the weather or all the junk food I’ve been eating but I felt pretty shitty yesterday evening, mentally speaking.  I think it is also because I have another Skype interview with a Japanese company today and it’s made me feel weird.  Not at all nervous or anything like that, but just weird because it feels strange to try to prepare for a future that I don’t even know if it exists.  I guess that’s what we are always doing though, isn’t it? I am trying to get comfortable with uncertainty as Pema says.  This should be a good lesson for me…

KanchanaburiOrchids!

January 17, 2012-Sitting in the restaurant after breakfast-tummy not the greatest yesterday and today.  Too much spicy food I think.  I’ve had red curry three days in a row and then I topped it off with the spiciest glass noodle salad I’ve ever had.  Had a western breakfast of omelette and toast and really turned off eggs and fish lately in general.  Maybe I’m reading too many books on Veganism.  Had the Skype interview yesterday and got positive response back within an hour.  Basically what I got was provisional acceptance for a position in Japan.  What that means now is that after I email them back a form agreeing to some points (kind of a preliminary contract), they send my profile out to some suitable schools and then come back to me with an offer from a school board somewhere which I will either then accept or decline.  I should be elated about this.  An ALT job is exactly the kind of teaching job I was applying for and hoping to get but we aren’t 100% sure if we are going back to JP or not so I am happy but reserved.  Not to mention, because it’s a provisional acceptance, I’m not yet sure what the actual offer will end up being and if I’ll like it.  SO what I’ve decided to do is send back the paperwork tonight and wait for the job proposal.  As even my interviewer said and of course I know, I’m under no obligation to take it if it is not what I am looking for.  But as far as a job goes, it looks pretty good on paper at the moment …(removal of boring details)….a bit different than what I was doing there last time, that’s for sure…something to think about…

 KanchanaburiThis pool (at our guesthouse) is shaped like a wiener and b’s…seriously.

January 23, 2012-Monday again and still no reply to my JP email.  I’ve actually decided to stop caring or at least to start telling myself I don’t care.  If it is meant to be it will happen but at the moment I’m sceptical.  Still in K.Chan and although little happens from day-to-day, a lot is happening in terms of our travel planning or at least a lot has to happen very shortly as we only have 13 days left on our Thai visa.  We have, not entirely, but mostly, abandoned our plans to go to Laos for now.  Perhaps abandoned entirely for this trip.  I know it sounds awful but we are just not in the mood for the getting there at the moment.  Our options for getting to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai have not been very attractive to us but we are still looking into it.  One option is to fly into LP on Lao Airlines (dubious reputation at best, although apparently not horrible and only 1 hour!) but it’s over $300 on the dates we have been checking.  For a one hour flight, this is ridiculous and they pretty much have the monopoly as far as I can tell.  Option 2 involves lengthy land based travel and a two-day horrible sounding slow boat with an overnight stop over in a nameless riverside village (okay, it has a name but …) Option 3 is the fast boat-allegedly terrifyingly dangerous (they make you wear a helmet!?) and notoriously overcrowded.  So Laos isn’t really selling us so far.  We aren’t the type to do the package tour thing, I won’t be getting up at the crack of dawn in LP to line up with the hordes of other tourists to take photos of the monks collecting alms and I have no desire to go tubing in Vang Vieng with all the pissed up gap year twats (sorry, that’s harsh but the truth).  Laos has a tonne more to see other than that, but perhaps our time is better spent elsewhere for now.  We’ve started calling all our alternative plans and ideas “just riffin'” to amuse ourselves and stop ourselves from going crazy.  Don’t ask me why.

“Just riffin’ but we could go to Chiang Mai by overnight train and then come back to BKK and travel overland into Cambodia…”

“Just riffin’ but we could go to Chiang Mai, come back to BKK and get a visa for Vietnam and go back to HCM and Mui Ne for surfing…”

So far we have no less than 5 “just riffin’s…some of them more likely (go to Vietnam) and some of them just totally out there: “Just riffin’ but uhh..we could fly to Paris for a month, rent a flat and then go to JP from there!” This one is particularly tempting except there goes ALL our money in one month and umm…it’s January and I have tank tops and fisherman pants…just riffin’...sorry, I know this is funny only to us…

KanchanaburiFrangipani, wilting in the heat…mmm my favourite smell…

I’m trying to approach this all with graditude.  More: “the world is our oyster-we are so lucky!” than: “Oh my god, what the hell are we doing?!?!”  We like staying here and could stay here for months probably, but our visa situation means we have to plan somewhat.  This one is expiring February 6th and if we go to Vietnam we’ll need a few days to apply, plan and wait and it is also Chinese New Year today which makes the flights go up, things get busier etc.  One thing I have learned though is when we try to plan too much, things tend to backfire or change so it’s a good lesson on being flexible and open to possibilities.  But wow, lots of internet research to do tonight on flights and whatnot.  Stay tuned…

What I’ve been eating…

Okay, sorta fib!  This is just food in general.  Some have been meals and some have not.  In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t stop taking photos of cakes.  I don’t even like cake very much, but some of these cakes I am seeing are so beautiful, and so colourful, I can’t resist!

M's meal

One great thing about Singapore: vegetarian and vegan restaurants abound.  All meat shown in these photos is faux!

Vegan BibimbapVegan Bibimbap!

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Macarons-Singapore

Love, love macarons! This store had violet and rose meringues as well!

Macarons-Singapore

Another veg meal in SG

Something M had with faux duck.

IMG_1796

Veg Spring Rolls

Spring rolls!

ABC Juice (Apple, Beet, Carrot)-Singapore

ABC Juice (Apple, Beet, Carrot!)

Laksa

Laksa in Malaysia-our daily lunch for a while…loooove Laksa!

Barbie CakeBarbie Cake!

More Cakes!!

Cakes!

Cakes!!

More Cakes!!

Kanchanaburi…

Just a quick little post to let you all know I am still alive.  I will probably post more within the next few days.  Been re-relaxing myself after that last debacle and Kanchanaburi is a good place to do it! This is our second time here and we are staying at the same place as last time.  Since we did most of the “touristy” stuff last time we have just been hanging out poolside and M has been finally catching up on his writing assignments.  Anyway, for now, here are some very belated photos!

IMG_1657

New Years Eve in Kuala Lumpur!  It is so hard for my beginner self to take photos of fireworks.  This is one of the better ones and even this one didn’t turn out very well!

 IMG_1862Beautiful Singapore! These were hard to get to turn out too 😦

 IMG_1874

Raffles

The dreamy Raffles hotel of W. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling fame, to name a few.  I will stay here one day and redo my Singapore hotel experience!

For more photos, check out my flickr here!

Or not Bali…

Wow, what a day…I have to say, Singapore has not been kind to us so far.  I am just starting to recover from the events of the past few hours.  So as I mentioned in the last post, just written earlier today, we had a ticket to go to Bali, leaving Singapore at 6:30 this evening.  Ask me if I’m in Bali? No, I am not in Bali.  I am still in Singapore.  Man, what a terrible day.  Okay, so anyway, here is the story:

Went to the airport without a hitch, taking the MRT.  Didn’t take long at all.  Stood in a long line up for web check in.  Finally got to the front.  Oh we’re in the wrong line up.  Okay, no problem.  Go to the right line up, still have 90 minutes before flight leaves.  Man takes our passports and itinerary.  Asks us where we are headed after Bali. 

“Umm, probably Bangkok” 

“Okay, can I see your itinerary for that trip?”

“Ummm, no we haven’t booked it yet.  We don’t know when we are going.”

“Oh, well you need an ongoing ticket in order for us to release the bording passes.”

“Okay, ummm..we don’t have tickets yet, so what can we do?”

“Buy tickets to leave Bali”

After much cursing and deliberation and WTF’ing we asked him how much it would cost for us to book tickets to leave Bali, and go to Bangkok in approx. 30 days.  Answer? About 500 SGD.  Commence freakout.  Then things really started going downhill.  We asked him if there was anything else we could do and he said no.  We left the counter and freaked out over to the side a bit.  What should we do? We have our ticktes, the plane is leaving at this point in about an hour and we can’t possibly spend that much to fly out.  To give you some perspective, we just bought our tickets *TO* Bali for under $200 CAD including all taxes.  Tickets that eventually, went in the garbage.  Read on, and I’ll explain.  So anyway, we go back to find out where the internet is.  It’s upstairs and in another area and we don’t think we have enough time to check competing airlines for ongoing tickets and book and pay online and still board our flight.  To add insult to injury, the guy we were dealing with at Jetstar was a total asshole.  While I realize it was probably our fault for not being clear on the visa regulations, he was completely unhelpful, and mostly ignored us.  I had to practically beg for his attention to get him to answer our questions.  I had never had to book an ongoing ticket for an entry visa before, so this was new for us.  As well, M had been to Indonesia before and didn’t have this problem, so it’s a relatively recent law change.  We took it for granted and didn’t check as we got used to never being asked.  Our fault, for sure.  But the terrible service didn’t help anything.

As time dwindled away as we tried to figure something out, M suddenly realized that although we didn’t have departing tickts from Bali, we did have return tickets to Canada leaving from Bangkok.  Proof that we didn’t plan on staying in the country illegally forever.  Maybe this would work? He went back to the counter to find out (at this point I was turning into an ugly terrible customer service nightmare and also worried about causing a scene and getting arrested in SG, so I decided that I should not talk to this man anymore).  M hurried back.  Yes, this proof of ticket would work.  But it was in my email.  I didn’t have a printed copy anywhere.  We weren’t going to need it for at least three months, so I thought I had plenty of time to get it.  The internet cafe in the airport doesn’t print and the man at the Jetstar counter refused to use his computer to access it from my email.  We were fucked.  Time was running out.  I tried getting wireless on my Kindle but it didn’t work.  I recently broke my ipod and the wireless hasn’t been working.  The plane was boarding and we were out of time.  M went back to the Jetstar counter one last time to try to basically beg the man to help us.  He refused, instead saying that he couldn’t print flight info from competing airlines.  If we would have had more time we could have done something.  Maybe borrowed someones Ipad or I don’t know what.  But in the end we ran out of time and the flight boarded.  The stupidest way to miss a flight ever.  At the airpot, on time, checked in online, printed check in documents…did everything we thought we were supposed to do….and this is how we missed our first flight.  Worst.  Day.  Ever.

After tearing up in the airpot with dissapointment, we contemplated our next move.  Fuck Bali.  We can’t afford to buy another ticket to go there and buy our onward ticket in peak season.  We had expected to get a three month visa upon arrival and wait for peak season to pass before we left.  Now it just became unpractical for us to spend money on another two tickets there and out for a 30 day visa.  We thought we would fly to Bangkok but we had already decided that we needed more than a one month visa for Thailand.  Thailand has recently changed their visa regulations as well and you only get a 30 day visa for flight arrivals for Canadians.  We had decided that we needed to apply for a longer 90 day visa before going back there so we could complete our plan of going north.  If we flew directly into BKK, we wouldn’t have enough time to make it worth returning.  We had no choice but to head back to Singapore and plan our next move.

Did I mention this is the worst day ever? Took the shuttle back to the hotel we stayed at last night.  I got the name wrong by the way, its Summerview, not Sunview (I think that’s what I said before).  Now we are heading back into SG for the packed holiday weekend.  And lo and behold, the icing on the cake, our hotel raised their rates by another $30 SGD.  I couldn’t help it.  I got back to our room and had a meltdown.  Full on weeping mess.  I was devastated after doing so much planning for Bali.  I had maps, itineraries and ideas of restaurants and things I wanted to visit.  I don’t want to give the impression I am inflexible.  I have travelled in SE Asia before and I know “things can happen”.  For sure, this has been a lesson for me that I need to be even more relaxed and realize that things don’t always go the way you plan them.  Lots of people miss their flights.  Lots of people have messed up plans and bad things happen but it was just too much in one day.  The guy being an asshole, being so close to “fixing” the problem but the stress of trying to race against the clock to figure it out, getting back to our hotel that is already way out of our budget, it was too much.  We are major budget travellers that had to sacrifice a lot for this trip and to save up for it and these kinds of things are pretty big blows to us, financially. Oh and incidentally, the hostel we booked in Kuta, also lost, 24 hour cancellation policy.  We’re paying for it anyway.

Anyway, I am feeling a bit better now, realizing that these things happen for a reason and just because we didn’t get to Bali today doesn’t mean I don’t get to go.  Our plan now is to research visa turnover time and try to apply for a three month visa for Thailand and see if we can move to a hostel tomorrow to save money.  Bali can go on the backburner until flight prices go down again after peak season or we do it on another trip.  Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully we can find a decent dorm that we can stay in just till the visa gets processed.  Then, buy another flight and start over.  We don’t know what else to do. 

That’s what’s happening right now….stay tuned! Things have to go up from here, right?

Singapore and onto Bali…

Just at an internet cafe here in Singapore for a bit before heading to the airport, so no time for adding photos today, sorry! I do have some from New Years in KL at from here in SG but they will have to wait.  Ahhh Singapore, what to say.  I think I’ll gain some better perspective after leaving.  In a few words: I like it.  But we did have a bit of a rough start.  Our bus ride here was fine and going through customs and immigration over the land border was surprisingly smooth.  I think it helped leaving after the Xmas holidays were finished, so most kids were back in school.  There were no lineups anywhere.  The traffic was good so the trip was a lot shorter than we were originally expecting.  We arrived at a bus stop in SG and since I had done a bit of research, I had a vague idea of where we needed to go to get to the hostel we were looking at.  We hopped on a bus and after about a ten minute ride and a ten minute walk, we arrived in Geylang, also known as SG’s red light district. 

We got to the hostel I had been emailing, and not only did they claim the person I had been emailing didn’t exist, but the rates I thought we were going to pay, didn’t exist either.  Due to their general surly service and the fact that their private room was actually a triple tiered dorm with no window and the size of a small train compartment, we decided to look elsewhere.  Around the corner in the same area, we found another guesthouse, this after wandering around with our backpacks looking for both a hotel and a bank machine.  We talked to the guy at the front desk of this place and he was actually trying to discourage us from staying in the private room, which was in their older building, and instead wanted us to stay in their dorm in the new building.  Since it would be more expensive for us both to stay in a dorm than in one private room, we persisted.  Uhh, yeah.  We checked in and looked at our dismal state of affairs.  The room had a bunk bed.  That in itself, not a problem for us.  It had aircon which worked, which is a luxury for us.  We are not the luxury flashpacker type.  However, once we saw the blood (yes, blood!) and mold on the walls and the pools of piss in the bathroom (which he warned us didn’t work!) we decided it probably wasn’t for us.  Luckily we hadn’t paid as we hadn’t found the ATM yet,  we walked around once again looking for somewhere else.  Finally we stumbled upon another hotel we were recommended by a couple friends we made recently.  Compared to the last place, it looked much better but it meant we’d be going from $44 SGD to $65 SGD with the rate going up on the weekend.  Fine, no problem.  We went back and got our bags from the blood wall place, told him sorry we couldnt stay after all and walked back to the other hotel and checked in.  While a small step up, we soon realized we weren’t in a much better place.  Mold covered every surface in the room.  The walls, the vinyl wallpaper the wood, everywhere.  The smell was overwhelming (and I’m being serious here, I’ve stayed in plently a musty place, happily! But this was a bit beyond our limits).  The bed itself was made of vinyl.  Vinyl.  And the bedsheet came to about the 3/4 point of the bed so when you got in, you were touching the bare vinyl bed.  The sink emptied out onto the floor.  Whole families of 6 were crammed into rooms next to us, screaming and running down the halls all night.  It was awful.  I stayed up as late as I could just so I would be so tired, I could fall asleep right away and hoped that morning would come soon. 

Whine, whine, we survived and checked out early the next morning.  Headed down to look for yet another hostel in the guidebook, wandering arounda  new area to not be able to find it anywhere.  Finally I found a payphone and tried to call them.  No answer.  We were getting really frustrated by this point.  Hot, tired and stinky, we just wanted a decent place to put down our bags for a couple days.  We knew we needed to find a place fast.  We were only going to be here for a couple days so every hour we spent wandering around with our bags was time lost from sightseeing and actually enjoying things.  I left M with my bags and wandered around the neighbourhood a bit.  Finally, after looking at another scuzzy moldy flop house (and quite sure a den of prostitution), I found a very nice hotel.  At $150 SGD though, a huge leap in our budget.  However, after going back and talking about it with M, we just realized it wasn’t worth the struggle anymore.  We were tired, we were losing out on “fun” times and in the end, what were we going to remember from the trip? The money spent on a hotel room or the time we spent having fun looking at stuff? We dragged our bags to this last place and were so relieved to finally check in to a place that is MUCH nicer than we are used to.  Highlights included: bathtub (actually clean enough to have a bath in!), buffet breakfast included, clean bedding, tv, aircon, kettle with tea and coffee in the room, free luggage storage, helpful friendly front desk staff, no mold! etc etc.  We were very happy and I finally had the best nights sleep I’ve had in ages. Far above and beyond what we normally get travelling but a worthy treat in these circumstances.

The rest of the time in SG has been good.  Apart from the higher cost of food than we are used to, we found it to be a very good city  to hang out in.  Green and beautiful with amazing modern architecture, we vowed to come back and stay at Raffles one day.  I will say more about this kind of stuff when I get a chance to post pictures I think.  We walked around Orchard Road a lot (tree lined shopping district), checked out Raffles and the Marina Sands Resort (gorgeous), Fort Canning, our area of Bencoolen and some temples.  The best part about SG food has been the huge amounts of Vegetarian food everywhere.  We were even given a veg guidebook by the tourism office.  That and the fresh fruit and vegetable juices have been great.  The fruit and veg juice is very cheap and since you can drink the tap water here you don’t have to worry about them adding water, like you do in other places. 

Anyway, today we are onto Bali as I mentioned, and another hotel room.  This time we decided to take a chance and actually make a reservation at a place with a so-so rating, but the most reasonable priced place we can book online.  Our plan is to stay there for one night (in Kuta) and look around for a cheaper/better place the next day.  We arrive in Kuta at 9:15 tonight so it was a good idea for us just to have a place to head to as soon as we get out of the airport.  For everyone’s reference though, the hostels and hotels in my above-mentioned experience are:

Ideal Backpackers-surly staff, coffin like rooms, overpriced but looked clean

River City/Kallang Backpackers-blood on walls, piss on floors and probably harbouring large families of illegals!

Hotel 81 Orchid-mold everywhere, weird sheets, horrid smell

Sunview Hotel-in Bencoolen, fantastic but you pay a lot more!

As far as staying in Geylang itself, I wouldn’t neccesarily not recommend it for the area.  It is supposed to be the red light district but I don’t think I actually saw any “ladies of the night” while I was there.  I did however see:

-A dead bloated cat with its legs up in the air and a towel over its head

-A fight between a crazed man and woman from our hotel window where they basically beat the shit out of each other

-A man laying on the sidewalk with his face all bloodied up, making a phone call on his mobile

-And possibly worst of all: tonnes of live frog porridge restaurants!! Aquariums of live frogs waiting for death everywhere!! 😦

Crossing my fingers for Bali.  Don’t think I’m going to be much of a fan of Kuta itself but I’m looking forward to Ubud and beyond.  M has scared me a little bit as I don’t think Indonesia is his favourite place to be.  Loves the country, but hates the hassle and pushiness of the touts and transport issues (flat tires, delays etc).  Sounds kind of like India! I can do this!

xo

PS-Sorry, I can’t spell check on this ancient computer for some reason.  Forgive my mistakes! 😛

Last few days in KL…

We are finally making some kind of plan to get out of here.  New Years last night was subdued but enjoyable.  We bought a couple of bottles of wine and walked to KLCC to see the fireworks.  There must have been 100,000 people there.  There was a sea of pushing people and with the weather over 30c even at night, I can’t even fathom how hot it was as we tried to make our way out of there when the fireworks were finished.  All in all, a lot of work for 9 minutes of fireworks.  Photos of that to follow!

 Rambutans-KL

Looking forward to going to Singapore for a few days and then hopefully flying to Bali. We meet this next bit of our trip with trepidation. Singapore is expensive and then we have to shell out some mega bucks for the flight to and from Bali. It sucks to see our travel funds dwindling but it’s what we saved for and our plan was always to go to these places. You can’t do this stuff without spending money unfortunately! That being said, M just sold a script so we have some money coming in as well. Very proud of him and his partners and their move towards a successful film career. It’s a very long and difficult road but M is probably the most driven determined person I’ve met when it comes to getting what he wants.

Durian Truck!

Anyway, after making our way out of the Petronas Towers area we went back to Bukit Bintang to check out what was going on there. Tonnes of people on the street just wandering around.  No alcohol, no big destination.  It started thinning out after a while and it was pretty tame! We did see one guy getting arrested though. Hundreds of police were all around the Bukit Bintang area waiting for? I have no idea! It’s no wonder I had a hard time finding online what was going on in KL for NYE. The main event *IS* the street party. People just standing around, shooting cans of silly string and fake snow at everyone. It was quite funny when someone tried to sell us a can of the spray snow. “Ummm, no, we get that for free where we come from and it’s why we left!”

They look cool!
Spent most of the day before yesterday wandering around the Lake Gardens area. It’s a beautiful, quiet, lush respite in the city and really the only outdoor space I’ve found here where people actually have the space to jog or um..segway.

Lake Gardens-KL

I’m looking forward to what is sure to be an eventful 2012 while trying not to look too far ahead.  It gets a bit overwhelming and the worst thing I can do right now is worry too much about the future, and miss what is happening right in front of my face, today. 

 KL

Happy New Year everyone!!