Monday, March 22, 2010

Phi Phi and Phuket.

After a couple long, exhausting days of travel (all day in a car through the mountains, the next day all day on a bus, we still missed our flight to Bangkok by 30 mins and then got stuck in the airport till 4am!!), Jonny and I finally arrived in Bangkok late on the 11th. Our friend Yuji had arranged a beautiful hotel for us to stay in, and we had planned on meeting his childhood friend Ruthie and her husband Peter the following day. At around 1:00 in the morning, there was a knock on our door. We both had fallen asleep watching a National Geographic special on space and were a bit startled by the knocking. We opened that sucker up, and Yuji and Kara were standing right in the hallway! All of us started hugging, crying, and jumping around. Turns out this "Ruthie and Peter" (the childhood friends) who we had been in contact with over email for about a month, were actually fictitious characters made up by Yuji and Kara so that they could keep tabs on our whereabouts! Earlier in the evening, I thought our situation couldn't get any better. There was a pool on the roof of our hotel and there was a 7-11 next door. Boy, was I mistaken.

Soon after surprising us, Yuji announced that we would be on a plane in a few hours to Phuket. Thus began 5 of the most fun, incredible days of our trip.

Day 1 and 2:
We flew down to Phuket early in the morning, and then took a ferry to Phi Phi Island. The water at Phi Phi (pronounced pee pee) Island is unlike anything I've ever seen. It is aqua and crystal clear. Our awesome pool villa looked out over "our" beach (there was pretty much no one else there!). We snorkeled, swam, played cards on the porch, slept like kings and queens, and stuffed ourselves with pad thai, fresh fish, etc.

Day 3:
We boated over to Maya Bay, an uninhabited island where the Beach (featuring good ol' Leonardo DiCaprio) was filmed. It was an overnight excursion where we ate delicious food, watched fire twirlers, swam, snorkeled, and slept under the stars in sleeping bags right on the sand. It was perfect. It was so fun just talking and catching up in the most beautiful scenery you can imagine!

Day 4 and 5:
Phuket. This might have been the best yet. Best swimming pool, more like an underwater city with alleys, and coves, and water jet beds. Kara and I were able to have tons of girl time, which was much appreciated and needed, and Jonny and Yuji were able to golf their little hearts out and have some man time as well. Kara and I also enjoyed a luxurious day at the spa:) We got a floral foot bath and massage, a mineral bath, a FULL body aromatherapy massage, and then a facial to boot! We were both jello like afterward.

Night 5:
Back in Bangkok. It was our last night with our dear friends:( We went to the night market and around town a bit, and then called it a night. Yuji and Kara had to leave for the airport at 3 am, so we tried to all stay awake until then...ya that didn't happen. But it was fun nonetheless.

THANK YOU SO MUCH KARA AND YUJI! Seriously you refreshed us and gave us some extra strength for the last leg of our trip. We miss you both and love yall lots!

We are in Cambodia now and loving it! An update on our time here is on the horizon. Only have 9 days until we leave for New Zealand!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Gypsy House Boat

Greetings wonderful family and friends. We are supposed to be in Bangkok right now, but after dealing with many confused bus drivers, taxis, and other personnel, we missed our flight and are still in India. Who would've thought that an 8 hour bus, we were told would be 10, would actually take 15 hours? Anywho, our good friend from Wheaton, Yuji, has arranged amazing accommodations for us in Bangkok, and is connecting us with friends of his there so we are really excited to be on our way tomorrow afternoon!

Now for the India recap...

We arrived in Mumbai late in the afternoon about 2 weeks ago. Nothing too notable happened, except that I must have eaten something that did a doozy to my insides. We only had around 24 hours in Mumbai and we spent most of the time at a cafe eating toast and drinking juice. It was noticeable right away how different India is. The colors are brighter and more vibrant. The sounds are louder. The traffic is even crazier and there are even more people everywhere.

We boarded our train to Jaipur (about 17 hours away from Mumbai), and were blessed to find ourselves in the same cart as Praydeep and his wife Kumkum. They are originally from India, but have lived in the states for over 40 years. They took incredible care of us. They gave us medicine, got us ice cream, shared their snacks with us, and invited us to stay with their sister upon arriving in Jaipur. I was still in pretty rough shape, and our hotel reservation for Jaipur had fallen through, so we could not have been more thankful for Praydeep and Kumkum's hospitality. They were a beautiful example of the Lords provision.

While in Jaipur, we stayed in their guesthouse where their servants brought us 3 meals a day, tea, and coffee. Again, a huge answer to prayer. Michelle ate like a queen and I ate toast and bananas like they were going out of style. All in all, they nursed me back to health just in time for two very notable celebrations. Here's a picture Michelle took of my bedridden self.

First, the elephant festival. Praydeep's sister got us v.i.p. passes to the annual elephant festival, where over 90 elephants are paraded through an open air stadium, painted tusk to toe and adorned with all sorts of glam. Praydeep even talked security into having us be "media" for the day, so we were out on the field with the elephants in the midst of all the action. There were awards for the best painted elephant, and lots of funny games that mostly involved tourists carrying buckets of paint on their heads that would break at the slightest misstep. The elephants even "played" soccer which mostly consisted of them stomping their way around and popping the beach balls. Not the most delicate or nimble of creatures.

The next day, March 1st was the Holi Festival, or the Celebration of Colour. It is celebrated all throughout India in honor of the coming Spring. People everywhere "play" Holi by tossing colored dye onto one another and dancing in the streets. Our rickshaw driver invited us to celebrate with his family, and we happily accepted. We had only planned on being bystanders, but 5 minutes into it, we looked like deranged, oompa-loompas. At one point, Michelle was called out to a mini-dance party going on, where she proceeded to unleash the Meesh. It wasn't long before a local noted that Michelle, "Dances like Shakira!". Take that Shakira.

After a quick jaunt on the "luxury deluxe" bus from Jaipur, we found ourselves in Agra, home of the Taj Majal. The Taj Majal was spectacular, but otherwise there wasn't much notable there. We met a really nice Austrian fellow named Bernhard, and spent our time in Agra primarily hanging out with him. One funny note was that while visiting a fort, lots of people wanted pictures of us or with us. One family even started pushing all of their kids towards us for a multi-cultural family photo. It was pretty funny to be on the other end of things. At dinner, the waiter also would give us a slingshot to ward off the monkeys nearby. No ammo. The mere presence of the slingshot was enough. Here we are doing the standard no smile pic.

The main bazaar in Delhi is the reason why we now have another carry on. Scarves, gypsy pants, and jewelry like we have never seen. Our hotel looked out over the market so it was ripe for the picking. Most of our time in Delhi was spent walking up and down side streets and turning away fake Rayban vendors. Our hotel did have a nice rooftop restaurant where we feasted on tandoori, lassi (yogurt juice), and cheese naan.

From Delhi, we had planned on catching a train to Amritsar to see the floating Golden Temple. We caught a rickshaw (tuk tuk) and went to a nearby travel agency. Rather than leaving with train tickets to Amritsar, we found ourselves with plane tickets to Srinigar, (way up in the Himalayas) on a houseboat for 3 nights. I guess that's what happens when you are not very organized or planned.

The flight into Srinigar was stunning. The Himalayas look entirely fake and go on for as far as you can see. It is much colder here, which we learned very quickly after discovering that our houseboat: a.) doesn't have heat, b.) doesn't have hot water, c.) isn't insulated, and d.) has cracks/leaks all over the walls and roof. It rained the whole first night and neither of us were very happy. It turned out that the houseboat rarely even got electricity. Here's the beauty:

Things got better though as the next day we took a trek into the mountains. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we drove for a couple of hours through gypsy towns before reaching the beginning of the trail. The trail is normally a road, but because of all of the snow, the few people that we saw were either on sleds or cross country skis. Our guide was a much faster walker than us, but we trucked along in our wool cloak/panchos as best as we could. Walking behind Michelle was especially funny as most of the time it was easy to stay on the top layer of snow, but occasionally she would sink waist deep, sometimes multiple steps in a row. She wasn't as amused.

On Monday, we were up at 5 and on a small wooden boat to see the floating vegetable market. Every morning, people from all over paddle to a designated area and trade/sell flowers and vegetables wholesale. It was a pretty amazing sight to have the sun rising over the himalayas while a bunch of old men sold carrots while perched on their waterlogged boats. A lot of people tried to sell us, "groovy flowers" but we gratefully declined.

The houseboat was a bit of a mixed experience. The mountains are absolutely beautiful but because we were the only tourists, vendors regularly paddled up to our porch and tried to sell us anything and everything. It's not so bad to be haggled in markets, but it's much more annoying to have people at your back door with cases of tiny painted jars. With that said, it is pretty cool that in order to reach us, they had to paddle their boats up to our front porch. The gypsy family that owns the houseboat was for the most part very sweet, but after trying to sell us dozens of items and us declining, I think they were ready for us to go.

It is only 3 weeks now before we arrive in New Zealand and meet up with my parents! We are so excited to see family as we enter this home stretch.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers, and we can't wait to be stateside in 7 weeks, Chipotle in hand.