The journey continues…

So the weeks have been flying by and its hard to believe on August 15th I’ll be heading back to America. In the meantime I’ve been determined to see as much of Southeast Asia as possible. After leaving the chaos of Bangkok I caught a bus/boat to Kho Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. There I rented a beach bungalo with a guy and girl I met from Hong Kong. Koh Samui was beautiful, and I had a great time there. We caught a speed boat to Koh Pag Ngan (spelling most definitely incorrect) where we celebrated the full moon party. Actually I only celebrated for about 3 hours before getting pickpocketted and losing the little money I had brought with me. Knowing that the full moon party would be crowded I thought it was best to leave my wallet in the bungalo (which I’m glad I did) and so with no money, and having lost track of my friends in a crowd of 5,000+, I was left with nothing to do but wander the beach and wait for our boat to return. The night was kind of a blur, but I passed the time by conversing with random other travelers I met, and actively seeking out my friends. I found out later that they were looking for we as well, but chose to wait outside the party (we actually agreed to meet here outside we got separated…which I forgot). Anyway, I spent another night on Koh Samui before heading to Koh Tao, a less developed island famous for its scuba diving. I thought about getting my scuba certification but instead opted to learn free diving (diving without tanks, just on your own lung strength) which I’m happy I did. Free diving was amazing and something I definitely plan to pursue in the future. The day before my first class I joined a snorkeling excursion around the island. At our first stop the boat driver told me there was a big shark in the water (he held out his hands to demonstrate the length…but his hands were only about a foot and half apart, naturally I assumed this was the sharks size). I was excited, I’ve always wanted to see a shark in the wild. He told me if I brought it back we could eat it for dinner, and I jokingly responded that I would catch it with my bare hands. Determined to see the shark I swam out pretty far, farther than most of the other snorkelers, but I hadn’t seen the shark. About 6-7 meters below me was a reef which fish darted in and out of. I decided to swim back before I wore myself out too much, but I found I had to fight a pretty rough current to make it back to the boat. Along the way I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye. I looked down and there it was, a black tip reef shark. Only instead of being a foot and half long this thing was probably five and half feet long…maybe I won’t catch it with my bare hands. The shark didn’t seem to notice the people, and it just skimmed along the reef. I tried to keep up with it but lets get real…its a shark, those things are fast. No wonder they proved a worthy opponent for Samuel L. Jackson (snakes are pussies).
Ko Tao was fun but I was ready to keep moving. I caught a boat to the mainland and then took a bus back to Bangkok where I met my buddy Watchara, the Hong Kong guy I shared a beach bungalo with. He lives in Bangkok and let me crash with him for a few days. While there I booked my ticket to Cambodia by bus. Watchara and I agreed to meet in a week in Laos, so that gave me 7 days (six considering the travel time) to explore Cambodia. After a few hours in a small van I arrived at the Cambodian border which from there I had to walk across. It was cool, I’ve never walked across an international border before. From the border it was another 6 hours by bus to Siam Reap( again…spelling). I met two students from the UK who were traveling as well and when we arrived we decided to stick together. We arrived at our hostel in the midst of a massive lightning storm which managed to knock out most of the power in the city. I was shown to my room my candle light, and showered pretty much in the dark with the exception of my tiny flashlight which I left on the sink. Sure enough, a few minutes after my shower the power came back on haha.
The next day we set out to explore Angkor Wat, a set of old temples. It was incredible, many of these temples were vandalized and destroyed when the Khmer Rouge (the Cambodian communist party responsible for a mass genocide in the 70s) took power. But regardless the temples are absolutely breathtaking. The detail in the carvings are remarkable and its amazing to think they’ve lasted this long (currently a German preservation project is underway). One of the temples was actually used in the Tomb Raider film, which I can’t really remember that well. After that we took a tuk tuk to the floating village, which is basically exactly what it sounds like..a village that floats. Its crazy to think these people live there whole lives in a community completely on the water, they have everything from their own schools to markets and even a basketball court.
Now I’m in Phnom Penh, the capital city. On the bus ride in I read a book called First They Killed My Father , which is told by a young girl who survived the awful reign of the Khmer Rouge. In the book she describes how her family was forced to evacuate Phnom Penh and made to relocate to small farming villages where thousands of people were starved, beaten, and executed. Many were taken from their families and brought to places called killing fields where they were shot or beaten to death before being thrown in mass graves. Today I visited the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. It was one of the most sobering experiences of my life, seeing the excavated graves and the remains of clothes and bones that once filled them. The genocide was conducted in an attempt to return Cambodia to an agricultural nation, thus anyone considered to be an intellectual was killed. That meant scientists, artists, priests, doctors, police, government officials, even just wearing glasses was enough to condemn a person. The strangest part is that now it feels like there is a whole generation of people missing from Cambodia. Every time I see an elderly individual (which isn’t that often actually) I can’t help but feel terrible for them, knowing what they must have gone through.
Despite its tragic past Cambodia’s future looks bright, and the people I have met here have been some of the nicest since I started my travels. I’ll be spending a few more days in Phnom Penh before heading north to the border and into Laos. I’m happy to be where I am and excited for whats next. I’m also looking forward to coming home, its been a long time since I’ve seen my family and most of my friends. I did however neglect to include in my last post that a few bros came to visit me in Shanghai. My buddies Lombi, Dan and Chris came to China back in April and spent a week here and in Beijing. It was amazing to see them. As much as I pride myself on being independent and self-reliant, it gets tough going so long without seeing my loved ones. I’m not sure my friends realized how much it meant to me to see them, and I’m grateful they made the trip. That said I think they had a pretty good time, especially Lombi when he was introduced to ‘man beers'(although Lombi’s suitcase was not so fortunate, but you’ll have to ask him about that).
Well thats all for now, as always keep my safe travels in your thoughts as you all are always in mine. Peace out homies!

Bouncing around

So its been a very long time since I’ve written anything substantial (or at all) on this page but something about today just seemed to call for an update. It could be the recent increase in my travel frequency, or it could be that I have an hour to kill before my bus leaves, but regardless it was typing-time. I finished my contract in Shanghai the beginning of July and decided to celebrate with a quick trip to Beijing, where I spent my birthday hiking the Great Wall. I have to say, it’s definitely not the Good Wall or the Mediocre Wall..Great seems to be the only word I can thing of to describe it. Just seeing something thats existed for so long, and in many ways has become a symbol of a nation’s durability, was pretty incredible. I also got to take the new bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing, which shortens the normally 10+ hour trip to a mere 4 hours and 55 minutes. Pretty convenient! Sorry if this post ends up racked with spelling errors, theres an Australian girl at the computer next to me ‘skypeing’ with her friends back home and I’m having difficulty concentrating…this could be because shes loud or because she’s probably called every person in her phone book and so I’ve heard the same details about 4 times already.
I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on July 12th and by sheer luck met a girl on the plane who was staying in a hostel near Kho Sanh Road, the backpacking hub of Bangkok. She said she wouldn’t mind if I joined her, and since I had no hostel reservations this seemed like a good option. I managed to book a small room somewhere between a dorm and prison cell which was more than enough room for me and my backpack, dropped my stuff off, and set out to wander the city. In his novel “The Beach”, Alex Garland calls Kho Sanh road “a halfway house between east and west”, and I can definitely see it. The streets, while ripe with Thai street vendors, greasy food, and cock roaches, is soaked with western influence. T-shirts with everyone from Tupac to Cookie Monster can be found next to stands selling english books, bootleg DVDs and plenty of items I think its better I don’t mention,(The girl next to me is now on call 5…its like Groundhog Day for my ears). I spent a few days sightseeing, and the rest of my time just lounging around the hostel reading and taking in the sun. At night the streets turn into one big party, complete with sidewalk bars and blaring music. I’m not gonna lie, its pretty awesome. I’ve shared drinks with people from all over the world. My first night the French girl I met on the plane and I went out for dinner and a couple beers and met a man from Iran. He was a veteran of the Bangkok scene, having made several trips in the past, and spoke for a while about the wonders of Thailand and Southeast Asia. It’s always really interesting meeting people from countries that my own nation doesn’t necessarily get along with, and this was a feeling he shared. He brought up the topic of our two countries disparities with an air lightheartedness, and at that point I realized I was really enjoying this guy’s company. He said something that I hope will stick with me for the rest of my life. He said “Our governments may not get along, but we’re not our governments, we’re just people”. A clank of the glasses later and I was confident this was going to be a great trip.
So here I am, a little less than an hour away from departing Bangkok (I’ll be back, seeing as my flight back to China leaves from Bangkok airport) and looking forward to the adventure ahead. I’m heading to Kho Pha Ngan, home of the famous Full Moon Party, an all night celebration set around the arrival of the full moon (The biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen just scaled the wall next to my head). I’m excited, mostly just to get away from the city. As a runner I’ve been longing to get in a few miles in a place that won’t poison my lungs any further. Also, the East Asian heat dehydrates you in hours, and I can’t wait to cool off in the sea (It’s the rainy season and right gallons of water are being dumped on the roof so hard it sounds like its going collapse, I guess if I really wanted to get cool I could just stand outside). So between partying in the street until odd hours of the morning, marveling before statues of Buddha twice the size of my house in America, watching lizards the size of a golden retriever navigate the creeks where just a few feet away children swim and play, and of course eating my body-weight in greasy pad Thai, I would say my time in Bangkok has been incredible. I think one day I’ll write a book about my travels, the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met, and hopefully the chapter about Bangkok will just be one of many. Thats all for now, I ask everyone reading this just to keep my safe-travels in your thoughts, and as always you are in mine. Until next time, peace out homies!