Welcome back to the travel adventures of Buns and Bert. We are surprised, thankful, and honored that you decided to open this blog yet again. We’ll do our best to keep you entertained and informed!
“You two are traveling…. again?!”
Yes folks, that’s the beauty of being a travel nurse. We’re both in between assignments, so we got to spend time at home for Christmas, then proceeded to take a little more time off to travel! We found tickets for $490 round trip from Chicago to Bangkok, (we took that as a sign that God was encouraging it!) and plans were set! When you have a travel buddy as great as Alli begging you to travel with her for just a quick 6 weeks, you just can’t say no.
So, why Asia?
We both feel we know very little about Southeast Asian culture, but have heard wonderful things about traveling in Southeast Asia. We are here to expand our knowledge of other cultures, of the US history in these countries, and to sample first hand some of the best food in the world!
After only 2 weeks in Thailand, some may ask how we compare this trip to our time spent in South America. Alli and I both agree that we could summarize it by saying; “same same, but different”. (Everyone in SE Asia uses this phrase in English, as if it were a normal phrase used by native speakers. They say it so often that we’ve found ourselves constantly describing things in this way, and somehow the phrase now has meaning that it did not have when we first arrived!!!)
But… let’s back up a bit. Our trip started out with a 13-hr layover in Shanghai, China. Despite our exhaustion after a direct 15 hour flight from Chicago, we had to “go to China”, right? When we arrived, quite literally everything that could have gone wrong did. We couldn’t pull money out of the ATMs because: China. We couldn’t log into Facebook to communicate with our friend we were supposed to meet there due to the great “firewall” of China. Because we couldn’t get a hold of him- we were on our own in this very foreign land! We couldn’t even get our US$ changed because all 8 money exchange stations that we visited all over this major airport had one person sitting in the booth that insisted they were “closed”. (Why are you sitting inside then?!) Also, only 1 person in Shanghai seemed to speak English, so maneuvering was next to impossible, retracing our steps time and time again. (Remember to stick to the 3 person rule before proceeding to follow a strangers advice…)
After 3 hours, we FINALLY managed to store our bags, get a small amount of Chinese cash, and get out to the city for a much desired hot meal of seshuan noodles. We took the 400 km/hr bullet train from the airport into town in search of food. As we were unsuccessful in that area of town, we took a taxi to God-knows-where after zero communication with our driver, but were dropped off in a place that seemed to have a few restaurants. I told Alli confidently that “seshuan” was a Chinese word that everyone would understand, but when we continued to ask for seshuan and received blank stares, we guessed perhaps it’s not a word after all… oops!
From that point on, everything we did is probably in some Chinese comedy making fun of foreigners. We proceeded to walk into 5 different restaurants to find seshuan noodles. Each time we walked into a restaurant, the record skipped, everyone stopped talking/eating and stared at us. We stammer “Nihau… seshuan??” Mostly people shook their head at us, but at one restaurant the workers took the approach of simply ignoring our presence! Finally a kind Chinese man who had studied in Boston saw our struggle, and attempted to help point us in the right direction. A simple point doesn’t always succeed, especially when everything is written in characters we cannot read. We ended up walking into a restaurant in which we saw a couple eating something that looked questionable but appetizing. We pointed at it and showed how little money we had to spend. In the end, it worked out, we ate a pretty good meal, and made our way back to the airport. Turns out New Year’s Eve in China is pretty dead (but so were we!) because they only celebrate the Chinese New Year (which is in January). Thus, we brought in 2017 by brushing our teeth in the airport bathroom, then sleeping 6 hours on an airport bench before our flight to Thailand.
Although China was very rough for us, we know we were the most unprepared we have ever been to visit a country, as we had expected our friend living there to help us with everything. If we go back, I’m sure we would enjoy it with a little more preparation! Just our first lesson that being unable to speak the language of a country makes for tough traveling!
Thailand may be one of our favorite countries we’ve visited thus far. We’re shocked at how starkly different it is from South America as a whole. (But Elizabeth’s soft spot for South America can really never be trumped!)
Thai people are so kind, trustworthy, full of ample smiles, and giggles. They are also (in my humble opinion) the best country of cooks in the world. We were able to get a diverse view of the entire country in our two weeks, which included; a taste of big city life (Bangkok), more rural/mountain towns in the north in Chiang Mai, as well as the gorgeous beaches and islands in the south of Thailand.
We finally arrived safely in Bangkok and met up with Alli’s fellow classmate Dave (from Gonzaga), who has been living in Japan for 2 years. Dave quickly adapted to being with Alli and I, put up with our many quirks, and even adopted many of our stupid phrases. Our first night we immediately took to the streets and looked for street food and fruit smoothies. (We would soon average at least 2 fresh fruit smoothies/day.) Only $1 and sooo goood!!
The three of us explored Bangkok over the next couple days, visiting the king’s Grand Palace, the reclining Buddha, and definitely getting our fill of the temples.
In Bangkok, we also met up with our dear friend Gonza, from Argentina. We were sooo excited to see him again, as we had last seen him in Argentina when we visited him about a year ago. Gonza was one of the first friends we made in the beginning of our trip in South America. We met him in Peru, traveled with him in Bolivia, and stayed with him and our good friend Bruno in Argentina. Gonza is now traveling with 4 friends, and prior to arriving we all made sure our schedules would coincide. It was a joyful reunion to be sure!
We then hopped on a flight to Chiang Mai where we spent 4 days. (Gonza would meet us there as well!) This was our first place Alli and I rented motorbikes! Don’t worry everyone, both Alli and I are VERY good drivers. We enjoyed zipping around the city and escaping into the mountains, where we visited both the Kings royal gardens, and an awe-inspiring golden Buddhist temple on a mountaintop overlooking Chiang Mai. We enjoyed this adventure along with our Argentinian friend, Gonza, and his 4 Argentinian friends. This was our first experience in a motorbike gang. 🙂
Alli’s friend, Lauren (fellow nurse also from Gonzaga– go zags!), joined us in Chiang Mai the next day. Though I was hesitant to bring along yet another traveler, Lauren and I ended up becoming fast friends! (Right Lauren?!) Lauren was such a fantastic addition to Alli and I’s (often ludicrous) travel ways. Thanks for being so patient with us stubborn penny-pinchers!
The 4 in our group (Alli, Dave, Lauren, and myself) plus 3 of our Argentinian friends then enjoyed a 2-day trek through the jungle of northern Thailand. The trek started with a quick dip into 120 degree hot springs- it took quite a while to get fully submerged! At the source, these geysers were a boiling 220F! We even saw a family boiling eggs in this sulfur water! After a long and beautiful hike through a few Karyn villages and over mountains, we arrived at our camp. We ate some of the best food we ate in all of Thailand at this remote camp! In the morning, we worked hard searching for elephants in the jungle (successful after 3 tiring hours of silently scrambling up and down muddy banks.) Then, we floated down the river on bamboo rafts. These bamboo rafts were about 25 feet long and 4 feet wide, tied together with bamboo leaves, and supported 5 of us standing on the rafts. We were floating down mostly calm streams, but occasionally we went thru at least class 2 rapids (standing on bamboo!). Due to the difficulty of maneuvering such a long raft, we rammed into the rocks and everyone nearly got tipped into the water more than once. We finished with a dank meal of pad Thai and returned to the city… overall an eventful trek!
After the trek Alli, Dave, Lauren, and I enjoyed our last meal and drinks together. Dave split off at this point to return to working in Japan. Props again to Dave for being so easy-going, kind, a great conversationalist and a great travel buddy! (Probably the only living human to have read our entire blog… he wanted to see what he was getting into with us!) With Dave free of us, Alli, Lauren and I flew to south Thailand for some much desired beach time!
However, we did not get the sunshine we hoped for, but dark clouds and pouring rain! Unbeknownst to us at the time, Thailand was suffering from severe flooding in the south, so bad that at least 14 people died in the landslides that ensued. As bummed as we were to have a couple days of rain, the poor Thai people suffered much more, with permanent damage to their homes and businesses, as well as a decrease in much needed tourism.
At this point, we had to sit back and endure a bit of chaos and change of plans. Due to the weather, all boats to and from the island of Koh Tao had been cancelled for days, preventing many travelers from even leaving the island! We found refuge from the pouring rain in a nice family run hostel and waited it out. Let’s just say the infrastructure in Thailand leaves something to be desired… so I woke up in the middle of the night hearing rain pounding on the tin roof and was terrified we may also be washed away. However, we survived, and the next day made it onto the first ferry available. As we braved the tumultuous ocean water I was a bit terrified. It may have actually the most scared I’ve ever been traveling in my life. The waves were so big and our boat rocking so much that I feared we would capsize! After many prayers and guardian angels supporting our boat, we made it safely to Koh Tao and the weather began to improve. It was heartbreaking to see the damage, people up to their waist in storm water, attempting to clean up and to create a drainage source.
We were lucky to catch the tail end of the 9 day storm, but the entire island was forced to wade in calf deep water for the next few days. The weather improved and we even got an entire day of sun! We snorkeled, hiked, and scooted around on motorbikes. Our last day on the islands, we even ventured to the infamous “full moon party” after MUCH deliberation.
The full moon party happens once a month each full moon (shocker). Thousands of travelers converge on the island of Koh Phangan for a night of sipping on buckets (drinks), fire jump-roping, neon-glowing paint, and music on the beach. It’s an international beach party, and the three of us had a great time. Our dear Gonza also made an appearance! We had quite a fun time meeting people from ALL over the world. The three of us were proud to say we lasted until nearly 5am- much later than our usual 9-10pm bedtime. 🙂 (We have been accused before of being Grandmas….) Definitely a fun experience, and probably will not repeat!
After Thailands islands and beaches, the 3 of us headed off to explore the 8th wonder of the world in Cambodia!! Stay tuned for a post about our experience!