Central Asia Trip
I had a great time in Sabang this last week. I spent it sleeping in a hammock, snorkeling and scuba diving. The coral in Sabang was largely damaged by the tsunami but has started growing back and is still good in the deeper areas. The fish there are phenomenal. To start with, I saw Dory (Regal Blue Tang) everywhere. I tried to say hi bush she kept acting like she didn't recognize me. I also saw Gill (Moorish Idol) quite often with plenty of Bubbles (Yellow Tang) around as well. I even saw huge schools of Moonfish although they didn't make any funny shapes for me.
I'm on my way this morning and will be gone traveling for the next four months or so. I won't have my laptop with me most of the time so my posts are going to become a bit more sparse but I'll try and post whenever I get a chance. I'm headed to Medan this morning and then on to Kuala Lumpur this evening to begin getting visas for all the countries we're headed to.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur without a lot of fanfare. I've been trying to find my way around and get to know the city. I found a nice little Hostel to stay in that isn't too expensive and is near lots of fun stuff.
I got extra pages put in my passport today at the US Embassy. I love the US Embassy. Its so nice to walk up, flash my US passport and walk by everyone else in line. I was through security, pages filled and out within 30 minutes. Amazing. Someone I don't think my experiences with the rest of the embassies are going to be as nice.
I was hanging out in the hostel the other night after a day walking around Kuala Lumpur when in the door walked an old student of mine! He was one of the first class I taught and graduated the same time I left the school. Pretty cool who you run into around the world. It really is a small world after all. (dang, now I have that stupid song in my head)
I decided that maybe the best way to keep all of you up on my travels was to send postcards from the different places I'm going with pictures (when possible). Here is the first, from Kuala Lumpur.
I've been in Kuala Lumpur for about a week and a half now and have been all over the city (mostly walking). KL has some of the phenomenal eateries. All very cheap too! Its a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian food which is really spicy and good.
I arrived in Singapore yesterday afternoon and immediately met up with my friends. We've been hanging out for the last day. It is good to have people I know to hang out with and go see stuff with. I've been to Singapore before so it isn't much different than last time. People are more organize, get in lines and stuff is more expensive here. That is about it. Oh, and the public transportation is REALLY easy to use.
I've got a couple more pictures from Singapore that I took my last morning there.
Yesterday I arrived in Melacca, the famous trading port for hundreds of years. Melacca was first colonized by Arab traders, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and the English for 100-150 years each! Talk about a lot of colonizing. Today it is turning in to quite a tourist attraction. I walked around this morning and saw a couple of tourist attractions and tons of tourist markets selling those tourist trinkets that people buy and give to people who aren't sure what to do with them.
As most of you know, I lived in Bandung for three years only a little more than a year ago so my time here is kind of like a reunion/final farewell. I've spent most of my time at the school where I taught and many of my friends are still here although it is interesting to see how many are now married or seriously dating someone.
Since I only spent one day in each city and didn't do anything photo worthy, this will be a short post without pictures.
I went to Jakarta from Bandung on Thursday morning, catching a ride with a friend who was going down for a meeting. I met up with some other friends who now live in Jakarta and we went to the mall together. Two highlights of the trip are that we ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the first time and saw Snakes on a Plane.
Stephen and I have spent the last few days on Perhentian Kecil Island after an overnight bus trip from Kuala Lumpur. We decided to go after dropping our passports of at the Kazakhstan Embassy and being told that we would have to wait till friday to pick them up. We decided instead of hanging around KL for a whole week, we might as well head to the beach. Everyone said Perhentian Kecil was the best so we headed there.
This is my fourth and final time in Kuala Lumpur for this trip. I've been staying at a tiny little but very nice guesthouse named the Red Palm that I would highly recommend if you are in Kuala Lumpur.
The good news is that all of our visas are finished here in KL. We now have China, Kyrgyz, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia in our passports. The only one left is Tajikistan and we need to go to Uzbekistan for that one since there isn't a consolate around here anywhere.
We decided to take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok which just happened to have an eight hour layover in Butterworth on the way there. Butterworth is a short ferry ride away from Penang island so we decided to make a quick trip there.
Mr. G in High School had us watch "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and I really was fascinated with the movie. I even made a model bridge out of popsicle sticks. Well I've finally gone and seen the bridge and all it represents. Turns out that the movie isn't very accurate to what happened with the bridge but does portray the suffering of the soldiers.
In spite of Bangkok being a backpacker's paradise, we were only there for a couple days. One day really. We just didn't have time to fit much in. It is a big city though so we didn't miss a whole lot.
We arrived in Northern Thailand right across from the border with Laos after a suprisingly fast 18 hours of taxis and busses from Angkor Wat. We spent the night with some friends of some friends and had some really great discussions with them. The work they are doing is very exciting and it is amazing to see God working in this part of the world.
Taking the bus from Luang Phrabang in Laos to Kunming in China was definitely an experience. The bus ride was 40 hours long but was a sleeper bus which made it bearable. The four of us attempted the trip and were greeted the first night by northern Laos roads. By roads I mean a patch of potholed land that a good vehicle can probably pass over. Trying to sleep while passing over these roads was like playing football and sleeping at the same time, where you are the football. We were jostled left, then right, then up, then down constantly.
After overnighting in Chengdu, Stephen and I decided to go to Western Sichuan instead of Tibet. Western Sichuan is ethnically tibetan but open to tourism in a way that Tibet is not. We decided not to go to Lhasa since it is overly touristy and expensive. The decision proved to be a good one as the area we went to was beyond our expectations. Here is an account of our 6 days of travel there.
UPDATE!!! Photos for the last three posts have been fixed. Enjoy!
Chengdu is more of a transition city for us and there isn't really a whole lot here we were excited about doing except for going to the Panda Research and Conservation Park. This is where the majority of the captively bred pandas have been born in the world. So this morning we hopped on a bus and headed over to check it out.
This is a photo of Jing-Jing.
We left Chengdu a day later than we had planned since we missed the train by 5 minutes the first time and had to reschedule the trip for the following day. The following 3 days and two nights involved a lot of sitting on a train bed and reading or sitting or sleeping or not a whole lot of doing anything. We eventually arrived in Urumqi which is the most landlocked city in the whole world which means is it is the farthest from any ocean. After we arrived we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to the bus station for Kashgar.
We had a great day exploring around Kashgar. We saw the huge statue of Mao, sections of the old wall and old buildings. Of course we took plenty of good pictures however, I forgot to put the memory card in my camera so none of them were actually recorded.
We arrived in Samarkand after an uneventful but expensive night in Tashkent. We managed to find a hotel (actually our taxi driver took us to a different one than the one we wanted) and were able to negotiate the price from $40 to $15 for the night. We then went out exploring.
The main thing to see in Samarkand is the Registan. It is a collection of three Medrassas or Islamic schools that have been restored. The first was built in the 1400s and the other two in the 1600s.
A short busride from Samarkand is the city of Bukhara which is famous for cruelty and Great Game politics between the British and Russians. We arrived after our fun bus ride and quickly found a great place to stay called Komil's B&B. Komil was a very friendly guy and spoke great english. He told us that the place we stayed at in Samarkand, Kamila is the female version of his name so we had to stay at his place to complete the pair.
We arrived in Khiva and were immediately speechless. While Samarkand still had a few old buildings and Bukhara was about half still there and with a bit of imagination you could imagine what it was once like, Khiva was still (almost) like it was 150 years ago. We stayed for two days and wandered around trying to see everything. There is way too much explaining to do of all the things below so I'll just summarize a few here and let the rest speak for themselves. To truly appreciate this city you have to see it yourselves.
We traveled up into the mountains in Kyrgyzstan to a town called Arslanbob. It turned out to be one of the most idyllic and beautiful places we have been yet. We didn't stay in town long though, only long enough to head up into the mountains. We were going camping for a week which is really great since we have been lugging around many pounds of camping gear for months. The mountains around the area were absolutely stunning. Much of Kyrgyzstan is mountains and all of the cities are in valleys. Makes for a beautiful country.
We took a quick taxi across the border to Kazakhstan (three hours) to the former capital of Almaty. We didn't really have any reason we wanted to visit here except that it is a convenient place to catch the train to Moscow. There are a couple of museums and things but we didn't really get around to seeing them since we were only there for a day and a half. We did wander around the central shopping area a couple of times which is mostly remarkable for its large number of guys sitting around drinking beer on park benches. Not the most friendly of places.
We are here in Moscow for a few days near the end of our trip. Our first day out of course we had to visit the Kremlin. Growing up during the cold way, I always pictured it as a dangerous but probably beautiful government structure, which was there, but the main part of the Kremlin and the part that you are allowed to visit is made up of Cathedrals. I was quite suprised at that.
We arrived in St. Petersburg after an overnight train from Moscow for our last destination. It proved to be one of the most beautiful and amazing cities we had been to on this trip, well worth the effort of getting there.
St. Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great of Russia and was designed after European cities, created to Europeanizing the Russian Empire. It was the capital of Russia until the Soviet Revolution which actually began in St. Petersburg with Lenin.
We have thoroughly enjoyed this trip and are glad to have shared it with you. I'll try to keep posting to my blog about my life which is still interesting, at least to me. I love hearing from all of you so please feel free to send me an e-mail anytime.
Now I'm back in Dallas trying to set up my life again and get over jetlag. So far I've gotten a cell phone (with 3G, internet and TV!), gym membership and am still looking for a car and job. Its good to be home.