Asia . Laos . Tube-Mecca

February 28th, 2010 - March 7th, 2010

Vang Vieng, Laos
8,000 kip = $1

"Real backpackers" are philosophers and connoisseurs. They want cultural immersion. They want new tastes and new sounds. They want adventures (successes and failures). They want to share stories and dream of destinations. "Real backpackers" are dynamic. They are adaptive. For those unfamiliar with Vang Vieng before their visit, they must exercise this ability to "adapt".

Vang Vieng is about partying. A whole town sacrificed to backpackers. Cheap food. Cheap liqueur. Moderately cheap accommodation. Zero culture.

It really is hard to imagine unless you think of it as a "theme-park" for wannabe adults. ALL the restaurants have televisions which constantly show episodes of Friends, Family Guy or The Simpsons. The bars all serve alcohol as well as a variety of soft narcotics: special-smoothies, mushy-shakes, O-tea.. And then there's THE RIVER.

Pay 105,000 kip (60,000 kip deposit refunded if the tube is returned by 6pm) and you'll be provided with a big black inner-tube AND a tuk-tuk ride to some riverbank about 5km out of town. First thing you see when you arrive at the riverbank? A bar. A sketchy looking tree fort about 10m up. A pasty westerner doing some-sort of squat-thrust on the edge of the tree fort. A taut length of rope stretching from the westerner to the top of what looks like 10m long fishing rod. And then somebody swinging in a long slow arc over the river. Sploosh.

As you launch your tube into the river, you'll see similar scenes repeated all along the riverbank: bar, platform & swing, flying westerners. As you slowly float down the river towards the second bar you will be targeted. Water bottles attached to lengths of rope will be tossed at you by barmen "fishing" for customers. If they hit you in the face, you may get a free drink.

To help distinguish themselves from their siblings, each bar advertises "extras". Free french fries. 15,000 kip buckets before 11am. "Special products". Volleyball mud pit. Water slides. WATER SLIDES! There's a small one with a ~3m vertical and big one with a ~20m vertical. The big one is made of jagged cement and kitchen tiles. When you want to slide a guy dumps a bucket of water on the tiles and you GO!

After ~2km, the bars end. Most people make it to this point at ~3:30pm. The river is ~6.5km. Floating without effort yields a speed of ~1km/h. This means that there is no chance of making the 6:00pm tube-rental-refund-deadline. With this in mind a small army of locals wait at the river bank offering quick transportation back to town for a small fee. The first time we tubed, we had to make use of this service. The second time though.. We paddled till our arms just about fell off, allowing us to double our speed to ~2km/h. "Epic" AND / OR "legendary".


  • You don't go to Vang Vieng for the food, though their are lots of places to get pizza. You don't go to Vang Vieng meet Laotians, though there are lots of them offering lots of things, "real backpackers in Vang Vieng" want alcohol, water sports, new adventures and stories.
  • You'll be riding the tuk-tuk with a hodge-podge of internationals -- one of which will likely have been repeating this trip for the past 7 days.

Asia . Thailand . Southern Islands

February 7th, 2010 - February 20th, 2010

So after seeing the markets, playing at haggling and riding in some tuk-tuks (asian open-air taxis), it was time to leave Bangkok and start our island-hopping adventure. But before leaving the city we had a morning trip to see the floating markets: a series of narrow canals with market stalls on either side of the water as well as on boats. A very attractive venue full of deliciously overpriced produce and deliciously well-priced soup (I love you tom-yum!).

After the market, we boarded our VIP bus to the islands. Below is a compressed and type-written version of my memories.

Bangkok to Surrathani Port (bus) - ~12 hours (overnight)
  • The seats on the bus reclined directly onto the lap of the person behind you. Inadequate air-conditioning. Tried muscle-relaxants to help ease the path to sleep, which literally made my body useless -- Stephen Hawkins must sleep well!
Surrathani Port - ~4 hours
  • The VIP bus dropped us off here. We waited. Half-a-day later a minibus picked us up and brought us to the port where our boat departed.
Surrathani Port to Koh Samui (boat, AC) - ~1-2 hours
  • Fast boat. AC. Awesome.
Koh Samui (AC, pool, breakfast included) - 3 days
  • This place had everything you need to relax: free breakfast, good market, crashing waves, a bar with swings instead of seats, a waterfall that required a sketchy-local-guide (you could tell he lived in the forest by his smell!)
  • Looked for a Muay Thai match -- too expensive
Koh Samui to Koh Phanang (boat) - ~1-2 hours

Koh Phanang (fan, pirated movies, malfunctioning toilet / shower) - 3 days
  • Koh Phanang is know for it's lunar-schedule parties. We planned to come here for a Black Moon party. Our travel agent Joe promised us a Black Moon party. Our tickets had us LEAVING on the day of the Black Moon party. Screw you Joe. Not a total loss though. The beach where the Black Moon party takes place has a party every night. Our evening went something like: empty beach party, empty pool party, drinking, crowded pool party, dancing, crowded beach party, drinking, dancing, crowded foam party, dancing, fire party, dancing, pancakes, home. For those not acquainted with foam parties, imagine slowly dumping 50 kg of soap into a laundry machine that is has a constant flow of water and an over-active agitatory. 3m of bubbles covering a 10m2 plot. One of Team Canada spontaneously evolved into a foam based creature and spent the whole night hunting the bubbly depths.
  • Awesome Asian BBQ. Imagine a large pan with a softly peaked-centre and surrounding trough (like an inverted doughnut) placed on a pile of glowing embers. Grab meat / fish / other to grill on the peak. Fill the trough with soup broth and slowly simmer vegetables and noodles. Very hands-on. Very fun. Came with one scoop of free ice-cream!
  • Looked for aMuay Thai match -- too expensive
Koh Phanang to Surrathani Port (boat) - 1-2 hours

Surrathani Port - ~4 hours
  • Again, randomly at this port.

Surrathani Port to Krabi (minibus / van) - ~7 hours
  • You know that litte bit of "middle-seat" that's between the driver and passenger? Well I hadn't sat there since I was a kid.. so it was pretty exciting to sit there for this 7 hour trip.

Krabi (fan) - 3 days
  • Nice coastal city.
  • Visited Reilley beach. A nice stretch of sand. Cool cliffs. The hikes to the viewpoint and lagoon are short, but well worth it. To reach the viewpoint you have to follow a path that is as close to climbing as a hike can be. To reach the lagoon you have to shimmy down a series of ropes that dangle over short, but dangerous drops.
  • Looked for a Muay Thai match -- too expensive
Krabi to Koh Phi Phi (boat) - ~1-2 hours

Koh Phi Phi (fan, pool, 1000 steps) - 3 days
  • Crowded, streets filled with tourists and a handful of necessary locals.
  • Bars everywhere.
  • Pretty expensive food (by Thai standards).
  • Enormous number of free buckets (buckets of alcohol).
  • Impressive fire shows.
  • Accommodation was at the top of a hundred steps, which were at the peak of a hill, which was through a maze of streets. Luckily our accomodation sent a guide to meet us at the docks. The guide muled a single-axle baggage wagon so we didn't have to carry our crap -- thanks! We found out later that the baggage wagon could also carry people who were badly intoxicated (one of Team Canada was generous enough to be the drunken guinea pig).
  • Looked for a Muay Thai match -- too expensive

The trip was everything you'd expect of a tropical island hopping adventure: warm and clear ocean, comfortably basic accommodation, cold beer, good food, good friends and good fun!

The Journey into Laos

February 27th - 28th 2010

We parted ways with Team Canada in Pai, Thailand. Brigitte and Christel went on a 2 day trek to some local villages and the other two girls got sick but decided to stick around for an extra day and do a bus tour to the villages. Tyler and I decided to take the long but cheap route into Laos since we weren't pressed for time and we would meet up with the Sisters Dorge (Bridge and Chris) in Vang Vieng in 2 days. That was when the journey began.

Although we were unable to find the local bus from Chiang Mai to Pai on the way in, we were able to take it in the reverse direction. It was a fun experience, the turns were much easier to handle on the local bus as they drive much slower than the maniac mini-buses so it didn't make anyone on the bus sick. Tyler befriended a travelling man named David who was visiting from Taiwan and we all investigated the overnight bus option from Chiang Mai to close to the Laos border (Udonthani). The bus was pretty reasonable and although we had about 6 hours to kill in the bus station at Chiang Mai, we just read our books while David went off to spend money in town and looked as if we were crazy when we said we just wanted to hang out there until the bus came. Save money whenever you can, is our motto. And we'd already seen the sights of Chiang Mai.

The overnight bus was pretty nice from what I remember, the bad bus trips are what really stand out in your mind and this wasn't one of them. We were able to sleep and although we got to Udonthani around 6am, it wasn't too tricky to wake up. We then had to switch to a local bus that was supposed to take us to the border. It played really loud music videos and was full of school kids who were grooving to the tunes. They dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and pointed vaguely in a direction and said 'Border, there...." and then drove off and left us to aswarm of tuk-tuks negotiating prices. David handled the negotiations and the tuk-tuk man was sketchy and took us to a visa office instead of the border, where they were trying to charge us a ridiculous amount of money for a bus to the border and our visa (which we knew we could get at the border and for way cheaper). We argued with our tuk-tuk man and he came around and took us to the actual border.... sneaky man.

The Laos border was relatively easy but we did have a minor problem. You were supposed to fill out your departure card and then you get stamped for exiting Thailand, before you go get stamped for entering Laos and getting your Laos visa. The man we visited on the Thailand side looked at our empty departure cards and made a gesture that looked like he was waving us through to go to the other side. So we didn't know about the stamp and thought everything was okay. He even handed our departure cards back to us and Tyler and I looked questioningly at them but our friend David said Oh, that's just for the next time you come here. We were stupid to listen to this. But we took the bus across the bridge to the Laos side and were told after waiting in line for our visas that we had to go back because we didn't have the exit stamp. Boy were we angry! We looked into how much the buses back were and they were 4x what we paid to come across to the Laos side, and it wasn't that far of a walk so we just said no, got really grumpy and made our way back to the Thailand side (probably about 1.5km). Halfway there a mini-bus pulled alongside us with our backpacks and everything on, sweating like crazy and took pity on us and gave us a ride back to the border for free. Nice people do exist in Thailand.

We filled out our departure cards, got our stamp, got our visas on the Laos side and finally made our way out of Dodge. Another thing we learned is that Canadians have to pay the most for their Laos visa - $42. We think this is because other countries get a discount for being involved in removing unexploded ordinance from Laos, but Canada is not a part of it (probably because we didn't drop any bombs here). So the border official laughs every time he comes across a Canadian and says 'Haha, you have to pay the most!' Yes, very amusing.

Quite the exhausting morning. We found our way to a local bus to Vang Vieng and arrived in the city by early evening. The bus drops you off in the middle of a dirt road with not much in sight but we found our way to the river and to our accomodation with very little struggles and so we were happy to have a bed for the night. And awaited Brigitte and Chris getting to town the next day.

Asia . Thailand . Bangkok . Pat Pong

February 4th, 2010 - February 7th, 2010

So, Team Canada met around midnight at Khao San Palace. Their first act was to walk the length of Khao San Rd. Sounds simple, eh? Well, let me tell you about Khao San. This road has a lot going on. You want clothes? It's got clothes: suits, t-shirts, hats, t-shirts, sunglasses, t-shirts. You want food? It's got food: pad thai, pancakes, fresh fruit, fruit shakes, fried insects, mystery meat! You want alcohol? It's got buckets (literally). You want illegal stuff? It's got illegal stuff: pirated movies, music, drugs, ID cards, prostitutes. You want knick-knacks? It's got knick-knacks: croaking-wooden-frogs, neon-tribal-hats, things-that-spin-and-fly. You want to be yelled at? It's got yelling: "HEY!", "COME LOOK!", "CHEAP-CHEAP!", "YOU BUY!", "NO?!?", "YES!!!", "LATER????", "NOW!". Needless to say it was a pretty overwhelming experience after hours / days spent flying, so Team Canada retreated to their beds.

The next morning (and pretty much all subsequent mornings) was started with a fruit shake. Mmm-mmm good. Energized, the team was ready to plan. The first step was to arrange travel visas for Christelle, Mel and Milaine. A polite policeman told us that unless we wanted to be drugged and robbed, we should go see a government approved travel agent for all our travel needs. A difficult decision, but we decided to take his advice. Walking into the travel agent's office we must have smelled like fresh sticky-buns: covered with money and steamy with stupidity.. Here's an approximation of the initial meeting:

"How can I help you?"
"We need travel visas."
"Ok. Where are you going?"
"Laos and Vietnam."
"When?" 1
"Around one month from now."
"Where are you staying?" 2
"Khao San Palace."
"Please sit down." 3
* We sit *

Friendly. Factual. Revealing. With this conversation, the travel agent determined 1 how long we'd be in the country, 2 how much we spent each day, and 3 how receptive we were to commands. In the end all 6 of us signed up for a two week island-hopping adventure in southern Thailand. Recall, we started out with questions about visas for 3 of us.. Making destination and accommodation decisions with a group of 6 is always a chore, so despite the disparity between motivation and resolution, we were all happy. Especially Joe (aka Mr.Travel-Agent-Man).

The rest of the day was uneventful. We ate (the best pad thai ever). We wandered (the Grand Palace). I think we swam.. Most importantly we decided that we weren't getting enough culture out of Bangkok. We weren't seeing Bangkok's "BANG!". We needed to see a show. We considered a Muay Thai Kickboxing, but it was way out of budget. So we decided on the next best thing: Pat Pong.

Pat Pong is a district of Bangkok. A collection of streets offering red-light services. Similar to Amsterdam, it has transcended the reputation of being a pervy back-alley, and is now considered a tourist attraction. The main draw is a skills-show. ..Vagina-skills. .. .. .."Vagina-skills?" Yep. It's important to note that it's a muscle.. So it can do "stuff".. "Stuff" like "holding things".. And "smoking things".. And "launching things";.. "Launching? Launching what?" Bananas. Ping pong balls. In fact, these shows are traditionally referred to as Ping Pong Shows.. Pat-Pong, PIng-Pong.. it's sort of a play on words. Y'know, sort of witty. Other noteworthy skills were whistling a whistle and blowing out candles (from a standing position to a cake sitting on the ground! Just like those old kung-fu movies where a master blows out a candle flame with his fist!). A good evening (mostly).

For those of you considering one of these shows, I have two point of caution. Firstly, the glasses that drinks are served in are big enough to accommodate a ping-pong ball. Moreover, the performers seem to consider themselves amateur golfers, so hole-in-ones are highly sought after. Solution: cover your drink or simply remove it from the driving-range / table entirely. AND for god's sake, if your drink does get "polluted", then show some respect for hygiene and DO NOT DRINK IT. Secondly, Thailand has it's share of scams. Don't be afraid of them, just expect them and being willing to laugh when they happen. When we entered the venue for our particular show, the street-advertiser said 100 baht per drink, which is about 3 times the usual price. No problem, this is how they make money. After looking at a menu with no prices, we all ordered one drink for a total of 600 baht. At the end of the evening, the bill showed 1800 baht. Upon questioning the bill a burly woman with an aggressive smell and glow-in-the-dark contact-lenses showed us a piece of paper:

Just show 1000 baht / person
First drink 300 baht
Non-first drink 100 baht

Pure scam. We ended up throwing a total of 1000 baht and then hurrying out.

Asia . Thailand . Bangkok . Team Canada

February 3rd, 2010 - February 4th, 2010

The trip to Bangkok was pretty straightforward. Our flight was early in the morning so we decided to just stay in the airport. The plan was to find a quiet corner of the airport, create a baggage-nest and sleep until the alarm went off. There were a couple of failures in the plan:
  • instead of finding a quiet corner of the airport, we found it's noisy-neighbor the food court (the airport was not 24 hours, but the food court was)
  • instead of creating a baggage-nest, we sat in hard-plastic-fast-food chairs (one of the fast-food managers told us it was inappropriate to nest in a food court..)
  • instead of sleeping until the alarm went off, we lay our heads on plastic table and waited until the alarm went off
Arrival in Bangkok was easy. Just hopped off the plane and hopped on the shuttle bus to Khao San Rd. Checked into Khao San Palace, which included a rooftop pool, air conditioning, en suite bathroom and television. Not our usual style of accommodation, but "Team Canada" needed an easy place to meet!

Team Canada? Yes, that's right, "Team Canada." A carefully selected group of young Canadians brought together by chance in order to be awesome. Chance? Yes, that's right, "chance." Here's the how the roster was put together.. Tyler has a girlfriend: Jenny. Jenny had a coworker: Brigitte. Brigitte has a sister: Christelle. Christelle has friends: Mel and Milaine. Awesome! Awesome? Yes, that's right, "awesome". Here's some tabular data that describes all our awesome skills:

Drinking Skills

Eating Skills

"eh"-ing Skills

Haggling Skills

Nursing Skills

Shopping Skills

"Pep"ing Skills
Dorge, Brigitte¤¤¤¤¤






Dorge, Christelle







Giberson, Jenny








Lesage, Mel








Rondeau, Milaine








Speakman, Tyler







1 "eh"-ing Skills: ability to use the Canadian word "eh" in a grammatically correct way

"How's it goin', eh? "
"I'm bloated, eh."

Curious about what will happen to Team Canada? Wondering about what adventures they'll have? Unsure whether the "nursing" skills will compensate for the "drinking" skills? Tune next time for answers to these questions and more!

Asia . Malaysia . Tanah Rata (the Cameron Highlands)

January 31st, 2010 - February 2nd, 2010

Kuala Lumpur was interesting, but it was also hot, humid and crowded. So after a couple days it was time to move on to somewhere a little more relaxed. Tanah Rata fit the bill. Situated in the Cameron Highlands the temperature was a couple degrees cooler, the humidity was less and the crowds were non-existent. Nice and easy. We stayed at the Cameronian Inn:
  • beds clean
  • prices affordable
  • food good
  • trekking available
  • management strange..
The in-house food was pretty average aside from the scones. The scones are delicious because the setting is perfect scones. The mornings are cold. The Inn's garden is green and groomed. The tea is locally grown and brewed. It's nice.

The trekking was excellent. The guide, Yen visited the hostel almost a decade ago and never left. At some point he took on the local trails as a pet project. He hikes everyday at 10 o'clock with or without tag-alongs. He works diligently to maintain the trails: picking up garbage and cutting back growth. He's knowledgeable, social and keeps a good pace. The trekking information sheet says it costs 25R, but Yen never mentions the money so in the end it feels more like a well deserved donation / tip. In regards to the trails, they are comfortably challenging.15-20 minute up-hills followed by look-outs and meandering down-hills. The walk we went on passed through the tea fields, which carpeted huge rolling hills. Never seen anything like it. Also saw a good assortment of butterflies and some sizable pitcher-plants. Very cool. Lasts the whole day so bring water and snacks (or money for the cafe attached to the tea plantation).

The Inn's management was strange, but in a charming way. He was always about, hunting for conversation and servicing requests. Talking with him was circular and confusing, but there were some really interesting tidbits that have stuck with me.

Also of note was the business model for the Inn: honour-system. Pay on departure. The owner doesn't take passports or credit cards as collateral. He simply trusts people to do the right thing. And apparently people do! Aside from the paranoia it caused me, the system worked well (it felt like some psych experiment -- like there were hidden cameras everywhere!).

All in all the highlands were well worth the visit.

Tyler and Jenny

Asia. Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia (Continued)

January 28th 2010 - January 30th 2010

Although arriving in KL was a bit of a struggle, we settled in pretty quickly. We ended up staying in Chinatown, which was great for cheap deals on food from stalls but not so great for walking down streets with vendors constantly trying to sell their goods to us. Thankfully we have gotten good at just saying a polite 'no thank-you'. They were trying to sell us watches, purses, DVDs... anything you can think of. The food available was interesting. We're big fans of red bean buns - delicious! But a lot of vendors would have this weird meat patty that was fatty but they would dry out and grill and it was really pricey (for the area) and seemed similar to bacon. Very distinctive smell. Tyler was intrigued to try it but never actually got to. They made it in the morning at like 7am and then would continue to sell it all day. Very curious....

We discovered that Malaysian tea is not like tea back home. It was made from a powder and tasted like tea mixed with Milo/Ovaltine. Weird experience. The coffee was very different tasting as well, but still worth the experience.

Malaysian food was not very spicy from our experience but I think they toned it down once they saw that you were a westerner. Nobody believes that we can handle spice. Tyler discovered that the delicious soup 'laksa' has fish in it by default, and he did not enjoy the fishy taste. Lesson learned. All the other soup we had was delicious, and we even became accustomed to having soup for breakfast just like the locals (mmmmm bbq pork was our favourite).

The things we liked about Kuala Lumpur were the Lake Gardens - beautiful area to have lunch/breakfast. The National Mosque was fun to visit as well, they make you wear a light purple robe so that you are dressed modestly (even Tyler had to wear one). We also walked through a protected forest area to get to the KL Tower, very pretty walk. But once we got to the tower we saw that it cost double the price in our outdated book and decided we'd rather spend our money elsewhere. You get a nice view from the top of the forest area anyway. And the highlight of the sights we saw in KL was the Batu Caves - a place of Hindu worship. We went on a a day that was also part of a festival for the local Hindus, and there were a lot of parades that made our bus slow but were amusing to watch. You have to climb a few hundred stairs (but there were kids and old people doing it so it wasn't that difficult) in your barefeet and then walk around the cool cave at the top. There are different areas to get 'blessed' or give offerings, and it's a nice atmosphere. There were also tons of monkeys by the side of the stairs on one side, they got lots of offerings that day and would abandon half a banana to get some new piece of fruit (very wasteful monkeys). All in all the Batu Caves were amazing. And we sampled some delicious Indian desserts after in the market.

Also of note is the fact that a random monkey climbed me while we were walking back from the KL Tower and the forest reserve. He just came out of nowhere and grabbed onto my little purse strap (over the shoulder kind) and used it to climb up into my arms. Funny monkey. He then proceeded to do a bunch of different poses and was resistant when I kept trying to put him back on the ground, he'd just climb up me again. Eventually a guard finished laughing at the situation and said a Malaysian command and the monkey jumped off me. And I checked my wallet afterwards and the monkey didn't rob me.... I had my suspicions but he was just being friendly.

The bad part about KL was that it was very tricky to navigate walking through with a map. Going to the Lake Gardens was tricky and involved crossing multiple highways (which weren't really labelled on the map) and walking around in a few circles. But we eventually made it. Definitely a good test though. When taking the bus back from the Batu Caves we actually hit a car! It wasn't serious, the driver inspected and there wasn't really any damage but I have to say that's the first time I've ever witnessed it happening. We also almost got run over by a school bus that was having a bit of a breakdown and decided to park on the sidewalk. The door was jammed and the kids were trapped inside while the driver kept trying to pry the doors open with his hands. The kids had windows open and were pretty relaxed about it so maybe it happens all the time....

And the big disappointment for our time in KL was when we went to see the fireflies in a nearby village that was mentioned in our Lonely Planet guide. We asked about when the last bus back from the village was (because it had to be after dark) and the lady told us 11:30pm which was great news. So we took the 2 and a half hour bus to the village. Got there around 5:30pm and asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to get to the fireflies. He negotiated with us a bit and then was saying that he would drive us back to KL (at a very high price) because the last bus left at 6:30pm (before sunset even happens). We didn't believe him so we asked around but everyone told us the same thing, we would have to take a very expensive taxi ride back to KL if we wanted to see the fireflies. It was a huge disappointment and I was angry at Lonely Planet and the bus lady for giving me false information. If we had known about that then we wouldn't have booked our hostel in KL for the night and we could have stayed in the village nearby instead. But in the end it would have cost too much money to go to the fireflies and either pay accomodation in two places or an expensive cab back to the city, so we just took the last local bus back to KL. We were very disappointed but the highlights of our time there outweigh the bad. We're a little more weary now about things and that's probably a good thing. We'll be more careful in the future.

But this last disappointment led to us being tired of being in a big city so we decided to move on to the Cameron Highlands to enjoy nature and hiking. :)

Asia . Malaysia . Kuala Lumpur: The Asian Invasion

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

This is one big entry for one big day. It chronicles the trip from Brisbane, Australia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There is a theme that is visited twice in this entry: my (Tyler's) retardedness. In both cases revolve around poor booking / reservation choices. The first instance involves our flight. The second involves our accommodation. Excuses can be made, but why? Enjoy.

We had been staying at our friend Bonnie's in Brisbane. Brisbane has a major international airport. When I booked the flight, I chose to depart from "Brisbane / the Goldcoast". Brisbane and the Goldcoast are not the same place. They are close, but the commute by car still takes about an hour in good traffic. The original plan did not involve a car. It involved feet, buses and trains:
  • walk from Bonnie's house (our host) to Carindale mall, Carina
  • catch a bus from the mall to South Bank station, Brisbane
  • catch a train from South Bank to Robina, Gold Coast
  • catch a bus from Robina to Coolongata Airport
The total travel time for this trip was almost 3 hours. Our flight departed at 9:00am. Due to constraints caused by last minute planning, we could not stay overnight in the Goldcoast (the components of journey to the airport were not mapped out until the day before the flight..). Due to constraints caused by the schedule of public transport, the actual trip couldn't start until around 4:30am. This means that the earliest we could arrive at the airport was 8:00am. Yielding a mere hour to traverse the check-in process: check bags (15 mins), security screening (10 mins), find flight gate (10 mins), and deal with unforeseen issues (? mins). Worrisome. Enter Bonnie. We love Bonnie because Bonnie is awesome. Awesomeness in this case translated into her driving us to the airport, before going to work. So instead of having to "walk, bus and train" our way to the airport, we instead "sat" our way to the airport. Also, instead of waking at 4:30am and arriving at 8:00am, we slept until 5:00am and arrived at 6:00am. Brilliant (thanks Bonnie!).

The airport check-in went smooth. We had to go through two security check-ins: one for the main domestic terminal and a second for the international terminal beyond. This was atypical. Apparently the international flights are more worried about terrorists than domestic flights. I guess this means that most terrorists are international. Which begs the question what happened to domestic terrorists? The Uni-Bomber, that Timothy guy with the van, ..others?

The flight was similarly uneventful. Barely noteworthy things included:
  • seats that refused to recline
  • learning that outside food was not allowed on the plane, then trying to sneakily eat our homemade lunches (several lemon-pepper tuna / spicy tuna sandwiches and a bag of dried apricots; yum)
  • a patch of turbulence that made me feel like I was playing on a swing-set

NOTE: the next bit has been compressed to save you time; it's also written in the present tense (I don't know why)

We arrive in Kuala Lumpur. Our first mission: exit the airport.

Collect backpacks from conveyor belt. Exit the new arrival area where the help desk is located. Realize we need some help to find the buses. Realize we cannot re-enter the new arrival area where the help desk is located.. Notice the humidity. Begin to sweat. Withdraw 400RM from ATM (3 Ringgits Malaysian == 1 Australian Dollar == 0.95 Canadian Dollars). Search for buses, find trains. Search for buses, find families. Search for buses, find taxis. Search for buses, find buses. Buy ticket from first vendor who flashes us a smile. Enter bus. Notice the AC. Sweat turns to frost. Shivery ride to KL Central. Exit bus. Frost to sweat. Notice the Malaysians. Dark hair everywhere. Purchase LRT ticket for China Town / Pasar Seni (1 RM == 0.33 AUD == 0.3 CAD). Enter LRT. Sweat to frost. Exit LRT. Frost to sweat. New mission: find hostel.

We meet a nice English girl who's lost. Look at her map and decide we all need to go in the same direction. Start moving. We realize we're lost. We realize we're not lost. She finds her hotel. We find our hostel. New mission: check in.

We check in. We TRY to check in. They can't find our reservation. Confidently I ask to use their Internet to show them my reservation email. Recall, there is a theme. Upon bringing up my reservation email I am informed that I reserved a room for 2 nights, starting February 27th, 2010. Today is January 27th, 2010. The hostel is fully booked. The manager says Jenny and the bags can stay in the waiting area while I go search for accommodation. He lends me his copy of the Lonely Planet to help facilitate this. I determine my destination: a double room with AC at The Original Budget Backpacker Travellers Inn (44 RM == 15 AUD == 14 CAD). I move. I'm on mission. I'm running ("lightly jogging"). This surge of activity acts like a catalyst for my guts. The relationship between the spicy tuna and apricots becomes "excited". Bubbles form, bubbles burst. Images of Earth's primordial ooze. The ooze is in my guts. It's trying to create life again. I turn some corners. I'm whizzing past people. The Lonely Planet in my hand. I carry it close to me. It's the traveller's bible. It lets people know: I'm a tourist, I'm important to the local economy, they NEED to get out of my way. I see the red sign for the hostel. There's a room available. I book in immediately (ignoring my dreams of haggling). I start to make my way back to Jenny. I'm glowing with sweat and success. Bubbles form, bubbles burst.. Life is stirring.

I make it back to her. Bags on our backs, we're moving to our new home. I see the red sign for The Backpacker Travellers Inn. I follow it down a road I don't recognize, into a lobby I've never been to.. I ask myself the question: Where am I? A sign clearly answers me: The Backpacker Travellers Inn.. The attendant smiles at me. I think he thinks I'm stupid. I smile back! Retreating out the door, Jenny in tow. I return to the red sign and notice another red sign labelled: The Reggae Guesthouse.. Then I notice ANOTHER red sign (same font face and same font colour!) labelled: The ORIGINAL Backpacker Travellers Inn. We're off! We find it. Our room already has the AC running.. Awesome. Bubbles form, bubbles burst. New mission: toilet.

Easy. Down the hall. Open stall door, close stall door, lock stall door. Drop pants. Chocolate babies (LIFE!). Success. Awesome. And yet.. Eyes widen with realization of a flaw: where's the toilet paper? Shitshitshit. New mission: hygiene.

I'm looking around: a sink, a bucket, a bar of soap.. Rejected. More looking: a hand held shower head on the wall. Weird. I strip down and hang my clothes on the door. I'm trying to imagine some sort of power ballad (I don't want to half-ass this). The french have a word for it. The French are gross (no offense Jeremy). "Bidet".

After this, things get "technical" and not really worth retelling.. Anyways, success.

We ended up eating at some food stalls in the market. The rumours are true: delicious.

Guess that's all,

Tyler & Jenny

Brisbane, Bonnie, Brigitte and lots of Bundy!

Tuesday January 19th 2010 - Wednesday January 27th 2010

We were really spoiled during our stay in Brisbane. My friend that I met while working in Scotland, Bonnie, let us stay at her place (which she shares with her sister and her sister's partner) for the entire week, she picked us up from the airport and picked Brigitte up from the Gold Coast airport as well and let her crash at her place as well. We were quite the crowd and tried to pay our way in food and drinks to make up for the inconvenience. She has the cutest puppy that was so happy to have lots of people around and just tried to lick our feet and faces all the time (for some reason those were her two favourite body parts).

Bonnie was also our tour guide and took a fake sick day to take us to the beach. We played in the rip tides (as tourists do), had a barbecue and bundy rum with coke while trying to fish. Bonnie got a bit sunburnt during the day off and got teased at work the next day, but not fired so we were happy about that. :)

Most of our time was spent relaxing and getting ready for our big Asian adventure. On the week-end was the big reunion with Renee and Kempy joining the Scotland gang party and helping to fill the house. More barbecue, bundy and beer were enjoyed. :) Plus some wii games and competition was fierce.

For Australia day (Tuesday January 26th) Bonnie took us to her home town of Killarney and we got to meet her parents and they fed us for both lunch and dinner. We also went exploring and got to see beautiful sights, lots of waterfalls and we tried to catch crayfish in the river. I was the only one who had any success but had to put him back since barbecuing one crayfish won't feed 6 people. We're learning new skills though. I think maybe the crayfish like potatoes more than old beef.... we were more successful in Singleton. Bonnie's mom makes excellent chocolate slice, we were hooked and ate a lot of it. :)

More time on the farm

Monday December 28th 2009 - Monday January 18th 2009

We were on the farm for Christmas and New Years - both passed by pleasantly enough. We had to work a lot over the holidays as our supervisor was trying to get a lot done as the owner kept calling him with new tasks to do. Tyler was working pretty much every day, and Anja and I alternated days as we were both doing the same task - herbicide. All 3 of us finally had a day off together - New Year's Eve - so we took the bus in to Darwin (as we weren't allowed to take the car past Humpty Doo) and spent the day in 'the big city'. It was a nice day, we got a lot done that we had waiting and managed to see our first movie in 6 months - 'Sherlock Holmes'. We played cards and made a big dinner for the 3 of us, drank sparkling red wine and toasted to the new year while watching the huge fireworks display taking place in Sydney on tv.

The next few weeks were pretty rushed as Darryl wanted us to get everything done before Tyler and I had to leave (Jan 19th). Since all the herbiciding and insecticiding was done we got new tasks in the new year. Tyler got the hardest job of all - centuring. He had to use a chainsaw and bend down low and make a ring near the base of each mango tree. This makes the tree flower later so that the fruits don't come out too early. The farm had 11,000 trees so it was a pretty big task for just Tyler and Andrew. But they got it done!

While the boys did the chainsawing, Anja and I got to do cultarring, which was also pretty difficult. Cultar is used to stop the trees from growing too big and to make it easier to pick mangoes from them but have more mangoes in a small area. We basically just had to carry 10 litre buckets of the special cultar potion and pour the designated amount on each tree (depending on size, health and type of mango it produced). We got very strong shoulders and arms from pouring and carrying the buckets up and down every row. Darryl drove the truck and filled the buckets with the magic potion, but it was mostly Anja and I that did the carrying and squatting required for the job. We had to pour the liquid at the very bottom/roots of the tree. We also had to fight a lot of ants and try to pour the liquid before they climbed up your leg in order to defend their homes. Very vicious!

The rain ruined a few of our days but not enough that we couldn't finish on time. And since we finished on time we got rewarded with a fishing trip in our boss, Barry Albrecht's boat. That was lots of fun. I was not a very good fisherman, but Tyler caught the biggest fish of anyone on board. And the fish was delicious, Barry even cleaned all the fish for us and we got to eat fresh fish for the last of our days on the farm. So tasty! The type of fish that we mostly caught was Snapper, and it's one of the best in Darwin's waters. Definitely going to try fishing when we're back home in Canada. Anja ended up getting seasick during the voyage, but she did catch a little guy that was big enough to eat. The only fish I caught was a throw-back... but I did manage to catch a lot of other people's lines. So that counts for something....

Our end on the farm was kind of anti-climatic as we were planning on going into Darwin to spend time with Anja and look around in some stores. But since she was staying on the farm to work for a few more weeks, Darryl told her she had to work that day so even though we'd made other plans, she was stuck working all day and we just relaxed and got ready for our night at the airport in preparation for our flight to Brisbane.