Thursday, December 24, 2009

We've made it all the way up to Wisconsin, 18 hours of driving total from Denver, although we did spend a delightful weekend in Iowa City along the way. Our finale in Colorado was quite fun as well - we met up with some friends and spent a night at the Ameristar Casino in Blackhawk, gambling and meandering until the early morning hours.
Good thing we got to Wisconsin when we did though, since the snow started last night and is reputed not to be finished until Saturday. Definitely going to be a white Christmas, and we'll probably be seeing the same snow until we leave here in late January!
Iowa City was great fun, saw some good friends and a fun show at the Blue Moose Taphouse - our friend Collin rocked it out solo and with his band Lick It Ticket - and ate an abundance of tasty food. Thanks for coming out to IC with us Kate, and thanks for driving over late Sasha, it was really wonderful to see both of you ladies! Special thanks for hosting us Joe & Hannah, perhaps someday we can actually return the favor!
Being home still feels a bit strange and blurry, like we are slightly disconnected from "normal American life" - which is certainly correct. It's hard to re-adjust to a new way of life (anywhere) in only a few weeks. For sure we were born here, speak the language, and have lived primarily in the US during our lives, but the short-term happenings, culture, music, movies, etc. we simply cannot relate to just yet. We're working hard, but we're still more adept at sign-language ordering food, haggling over prices, and riding a bicycle all day then we are at driving a car, buying goods at Western prices (with Western taxes), and understanding every one's conversations that you overhear. Really, we're so used to NOT understanding what people are saying that it feels truly bizarre to be at a restaurant and be able to eavesdrop on the surrounding tables!
Besides the snow, we've seen both Liz's brother and sister, as well as all of their children. Our baby nephew Jaksen is doing well, at 6 months he is already preparing to conquer the world with his cuteness! Our older, but no less cute, niece and nephews spent the night here yesterday, and we'll obviously be spending much more time together over the coming weeks.
We're just working hard on a seemingly endless list of "chores"... Liz is getting ready to start an Advanced Personal Fitness Trainer Certificate, an online course, which is not only a return-to-school test, but more importantly something she's very interested in that has short-term job potential. Part of the program is an internship in Denver once the online studies have been completed, so she's got some time pressure to finish in order to take advantage of the internship while we're still in the States!
Anderson is busy sorting/uploading/organizing photos to assemble a DVD of our trip, while also finishing his TravelFish articles and about a million other projects... plenty of work even when we're unemployed!

Hope everyone out there has a fantastic holiday season, whether your X-Mas is white or downright hot - after two weeks of cold we'd really prefer the latter :-)


Here's a five-eyed moment of zen cuteness from Denver:

Friday, December 18, 2009

There's a new Travelfish article called The Road Less Traveled. It covers our six day ride from Hanoi, Vietnam to Sam Neua, Laos in extensive detail, so check it out when you've got a bit of spare time!

Otherwise we are wrapping things up here in Colorado, were supposed to leave for Iowa today but that's been postponed until tomorrow so that we can give Luke a ride as well. Yesterday was Anderson's parents' 43rd wedding anniversary, so we went out for a nice dinner at a place called The Perfect Landing. Located next to the Centennial Airport, it had a nice view of the incoming planes, as well as totally delicious (and from Tues - Thurs affordable) food. Where else can you dine fancily and enjoy a $10 steak dinner or a $10 bottle of wine?

Our time here has been too short, so our sincere apologies to those friends we haven't gotten a hold of - we'll be back in early February with much more time on our hands! But it's been great being back (despite the cold weather) and we're very glad that we'll be spending a decent amount of time in America in the upcoming future.

Tomorrow then we'll be doing the long-haul drive from Denver to Iowa City, about 12 hours assuming the weather holds up. Tonight we're going to a casino in Blackhawk, our friend Dan has a free room (!), so we'll be starting our journey to the Mid-West early in the morning from the mountains... should be fun!

Be seeing all you Iowa folks real soon, and then by the 22nd or 23rd of December we'll be up in Wisconsin for the holiday season (and several weeks afterward),

Saturday, December 12, 2009

We've made it back to America, and are now in the midst of adjusting to "life as normal!" Our three flights, all standby thanks to Anderson's aunt, went well enough, the best part being that we actually got seats on them in the first place. Our Bangkok -> Tokyo flight was super full, so we actually got some of the very last seats, but that was certainly better than missing the flight and having to try again the next morning.
Our last days and night in Bangkok were quite fun, first we got our money back from Fausto for our bicycles just fine, and then we immediately began shopping away! We needed some decent clothing for the airplane ride home, so we took care of that in the somewhat upscale Amarin Plaza, where the bike shop is. We somewhat reversed the typical Saturday and Sunday night agendas, as we chilled out at our hotel on Saturday, but partied it up on Khao San Road on Sunday.
Sunday was a full day, as we spent numerous hours shopping at the massive Chattuchak Market, and against all odds and amongst thousands of people, we somehow managed to meet up with both Blaise (& Eunjin) and Christine. We were all loaded down with shopping bags from our own afternoon of wandering, but we all met up in front of the market, and then had a good (enough) final dinner at some random restaurant. It was nice to catch up on everyone's last week in SE Asia, we all got to spend some time with Eunjin who we've heard so much about, and then we ended our trip in style drinking buckets while sitting on plastic chairs in the street!
Around 2am we headed back to our hotel, loaded up, and then caught a taxi to the airport to begin our 20 hour journey back home. Anderson's mom picked us up at the Denver airport, where it was freezing cold - quite the unfortunate change in weather for us, especially since we've managed to avoid the past three American winters...
Our first few days here in Colorado have been busy but very fun. Some highlights include an afternoon at the Science & History Museum for their Genghis Khan exhibit, seeing our good friend Scott perform at an open mic, and catching up on some videogaming by playing the Wii for an evening.

Yesterday we went up to Fort Collins with Scott & Joni to do a massive brewery tour. We fit in three breweries (New Belgium, Odell's, & Fort Collins), as well as one brewpub (CooperSmith's), in a long afternoon, and in doing so got to sample over twenty-five different beers!

Tonight we're going to check out former Iowans Euforquestra, who are opening up for Kyle Hollingsworth from String Cheese Incident - should be a fun night of good songs and jams (we hope :-)

We'll try not to let the blog nod off as it has before when we're not actually traversing the globe, so please keep checking back for updates (there should be a lot - more TravelFish articles, a DVD of our SE Asian trip, a new mix CD by Dj Anderson, trip photos finally available online, etc.)


Friday, December 04, 2009

The FULL MOON PARTY was definitely a ridiculous over-the-top massive event...
We'll spare you the details :-), but there were thousands of people partying until dawn, pounding club/techno/electronica music until the rain came pouring down the next morning, and more buckets than is really believable. The crowd was a bit too young for its own good, but perhaps that just means we're getting more mature or something equally frightening...

Before the party itself we spent several days enjoying the beach (though there was hardly any sun over all), and each night there was a pre-party of ever increasing intensity. Our bungalow was fantastic, set in a garden setting for only 600 Baht per night. We feel like we really lucked out, other than the mosquitoes that plagued us at night, since many of the places were either over-priced due to the party or just rather dumpy. And we got perhaps the best massage in all of SE Asia from our hotel, for the low low price of only $6!

The beach itself was nice, not too big but not too small, especially when it wasn't littered with last night's bucket straws and glowstick-bracelets. The waves were perfect for body-surfing throughout the afternoon, there was ample room to play frisbee, so it really felt like a slice of paradise despite the rampant over-development that is all around Haad Rin Beach. The island, Ko Pha Ngan, has numerous beaches, but we stuck with the one we were staying at since it met our needs just fine. Plus with the cloudy weather it didn't seem like a good use of time to travel around the island by over-priced truck-taxi... or perhaps we were just delightfully lazy?

Right now we're back in Bangkok, having endured the 19-hour journey of: taxi, boat, bus, bus to get back here... laying low today, hopefully we'll make it to see Fausto and get the money from selling our bikes back to him, but exhaustion is definitely at the forefront for today...

We fly out early Monday morning, so this might be our last post from SE Asia :-(. If so, it's been a fantastic ride (literally, much of the time), thank you so much for reading all about our cycling adventure, and there will be more news posted soon!

Peace, and much love
Anderson & Liz

Here's you moment of Full Moon Party zen:

And here's the Full Moon itself, just to verify that it was all real:

It might have even looked that blurry at certain moments... :-)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

After a minor delay due to some technical difficulties, here's a fresh article on Travelfish, all about Halong Bay in Vietnam. Well-known for its karsts (limestone rock formations that rise majestically out of the ocean), it's quickly on its way to being known as a cycling destination!

Hope you enjoy the article, we just arrived on Ko Pha Ngan, the island in southern Thailand made famous by the Full Moon Party. As convenient coincidence would have it, such a party is fast approaching on December 2nd, so we will be beaching it to the maximum until Asia's most crazed night (and day) of partying arrives - wish us well :-)


Friday, November 27, 2009

We've finally made it back to Bangkok!
After 3103.42 km, our epic cycling adventure has reached the end. Today we will sell our bicycles back to Bike Zone, and then we're heading off to the beach! It's been an amazing journey, both physically and mentally challenging, so a week of sand and sun is just what we deserve :-)
We ended up taking a bus for part of the way from Vientiane, since sections were too long to easily bike (200km, then 150km, for example), which means we 'bought' ourselves some additional travel time. So rather than going to the somewhat nearby Ko Chang, we've decided to head much further south to Ko Pha Ngan, the home of the infamous Full Moon Party.

Many more details on the journey from Vientiane to Bangkok soon, we promise,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Just a quick post today, and no photos yet, sorry!
We left Laos this morning, and crossed over into Thailand by the Friendship Bridge. Easiest border-crossing ever, quite possibly, it was fast and efficient with no hassle
The sad news today is that our quintet has now become a trio... Blaise and Christine are currently (we hope) on an overnight bus to Bangkok, as they are skipping the final cycling leg of our journey so that they can partake in some additional traveling before going home - Blaise is heading to Trang and Christine is going to Ko Samet. That leaves us and Luke to cycle the 600+ kilometers to Bangkok (from Vientiane), of which we completed 80km today. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, 140km, but at least the terrain and road conditions are finally in our favor. The land is smooth, no hills really at all, and the road is well-paved, free of debris, and even has a bicycle/scooter lane. Quite the change from small, curvy and rough mountain roads, with animals all about and scooters around every bend...
Our days in Vientiane then were mostly spent relaxing, reminiscing, and enjoying our last days together. It's been a wild and crazy ride (literally), an epic adventure, and a challenging experience for all five of us, and definitely something we will all never forget. Really, how could we?! We did (finally) meet some other cyclists, a group of Chinese students riding from Singapore to Guangzhou, China. Guangzhou is the host of the 2010 Asian Games (a massive sporting event, like the Olympics but for Asian countries only), so while they are riding for fun, they are also working to promote that event, meeting with dignitaries, and while in Laos they were seeing the build-up to the 2009 SE Asian Games, which takes place in Vientiane next month. We showed them a wild night out :-), involving cosmic bowling and some late-night clubbing. It was very fun to meet some like-minded people from across the world, and we wish Edward, Wester, Maple, Won, and all of their teammates a fantastic journey back home - good luck with all the hills in northern Laos!
Vientiane itself wasn't very exciting, honestly the temples of Laos are the weakest of the region, and relaxing in coffee shops is only so exciting, so it worked out well that we had ample distractions to keep us busy while in a rather tame capitol city. That said, we had plenty of fun in Laos in general, it was an amazing country and we learned a lot about its people and history while we there.
So now we're just riding back to Bangkok, not really being tourists for the next week, just self-transporters, but that's fine with us since our days on the trip are numbered... we fly back to the States on Dec. 7th (thanks Aleda!), so less than two weeks remain on our epic odyssey. We should break 3000km tomorrow, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Thailand, which somehow seems very appropriate.

Much love to everyone out there, B & C we miss you already!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's a new Travelfish article called The Hills of Vietnam. It's all about our lengthy day of cycling from Dalat to Nha Trang...

We had another great day tubing yesterday, and will leave for Vientiane tomorrow, planning to make the 150+ km ride in two decent days of cycling, although the terrain will undoubtedly be much more favorable than what we've had to pedal recently.

Then we'll spend a few days in the Laotian capitol before beginning the ride to Bangkok on the 24th. Not sure exactly how long the ride to Bangkok will be, since it's about 500km, but we're hoping we can bang it out in only 5 days since the terrain and roads should both be nice.

Hope you enjoy the article,

AND ----> here's a much anticipated moment of zen, that has failed to upload several times, but is now finally available for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We've spent one delightful day tubing, and now two days resting. The first day off was voluntary, as we wanted to use the internet, relax our battered bodies, and spend some time with our friend Brian, another ESL teacher from Korea, who is also chilling in Laos right now. Today however, our non-tubing was forced by the weather, which has been cloudy all day and rainy most of the time as well. Not the best day to float down a somewhat chilly river. So we'll try again tomorrow, aiming to be in the water around noon at the latest. Which should give us plenty of time to enjoy the zip-lines, water slides, and mud volleyball on offer. The first 500 meters of the river are filled with bars, as Vang Vieng has become Laos' sacrificial tourist town. Tubing here is a well-established site on the tourist-trail, especially of the younger-and-partying type of tourist, but we are doing our best despite our old age :-).
First, a few promised pictures of Luang Prabang's many temples:

Plus a cheap vegetarian buffet:

And the local football game we watched:

And Kuang Si waterfall, of course:

The order and civility creates a nice dichotomy with our day spent tubing, doesn't it?

Well, actually, this one might be the most accurate :-)

We plan on spending one more day here, so we'll be going tubing rain or shine, and then riding south to Vientiane hopefully in two long days. While it's 180km, it is at least much more reasonable terrain than the mountains we've ridden through recently, so hopefully we can keep up a decent pace for out last two days of cycling all together. We'll all stay in Laos until November 24th, but that morning we'll split up, as Blaise and Christine are taking the train to Bangkok, while we ride there by bicycle with Luke. The time together has been fantastic, and we're all a bit sad about splitting up, but we have different priorities for how we're spending our last two weeks in SE Asia. We'll be doing five days of cycling, then a day or so in Bangkok to sell our bikes, before heading to Koh Chang, an island only a few hours away from Bangkok. The plan is to stay there for a few days, before returning to Bangkok for another day or two at the massive Chattuchak Market and then fly back home on December 7th.

Right now we're just chilling on our bungalow balcony, listening to some music, debating dinner choices...


Here's your moment of zen, not the intended video one since the connection keeps dropping while uploading, but substituting is the rare Laotian butter-bee:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Anderson has a new article featured on a different website, ESL Daily, a web news resource for ESL Teachers. It's a "day in the life" article of sorts, about our arduous journey crossing the border from Cambodia into Vietnam. The full article is available at ESL Daily.
Perhaps we forgot to link it on here, but he had another article on ESL Daily last month, you can still read that one here, it's just a brief piece on our trip in general.
A proper post, with details and photos of our exploits here in Vang Vieng, should be appearing soon...


Saturday, November 14, 2009

We've made it to Vang Vieng, Laos, home of some rather infamous river tubing, amongst other things. This post is from a few days ago, in Luang Prabang. Sorry about the lack of photos, the internet connection is terrible here, but that just means there will be tons of photos next time - as well as a quite awesome moment of zen.

Since we last posted, we did hit the road again on our bicycles, but only briefly before caving to a new-found philosophy of cycle-a-little-less-and-see-a-lot-more. We decided to avoid cycling through another series of monstrous hills in order to spend some more time in Luang Prabang. A UNESCO World Heritage town, filled with active and well-preserved temples, it's definitely a fantastic place. Based on a balance of things to see, things to do, shopping, and variety of food, LP definitely has to rank amongst the top tourist towns we've visited on our journey, if the not the best so far.
From Phonsavan we rode our bicycles 48 km to the town of Ban Nong Tang, more just a collection of houses next to a lake than anything else. Having decided by then that expediting our travel to LP was our main priority, we waited outside a restaurant for about three hours before managing to secure a ride to the next town, Phu Khuon. For another three hours we then bounced around in the back of a large truckbed, at times freezing cold when we weren't in awe of the clear sky and bountiful stars above us.
Phu Khuon is little more than the crossroads for two of Laos' major highways, so other than eat and sleep there wasn't much to do. In the morning we had to change leftover Thai baht for Laos kip since we were essentially out of money, but fortunately that didn't prove to be too much of a problem despite being in a bank-less town. The ride to LP the next morning was pretty enjoyable, full of dazzling scenery and a plethora of mountain bikers. Kind of strange, having been the only people on the road for so long, but now we're on a stretch of road that's very well ridden. In some ways we felt a little inferior hitching a ride, in others we felt superior for having cycled so much terrain already that few others dare to do.
Luang Prabang is a very busy town compared to where we've been staying since Hanoi. So many white people, a multitude of restaurants, and a massive tourist market all seemed overwhelming at first. But 10,000 kip sandwiches, 5,000 kip fruit shakes, and 5,000 kip chocolate banana rotis (that's $2.50 total) are all filling us quite nicely, never-mind the scrumptious spring rolls, abundant baked goods, or the plenty of amazing Asian food available down by the river-side. Our first night we just walked the streets in awe of all the choices, indulged our neglected sweet teeth, and filled up at a cheap vegetarian buffet (5,000 kip).
For our second day here we did a walking tour of all the temples, which are completely integrated with the rest of the town's architecture. A block full of hotels and restaurants often holds a large unassuming temple within it as well, home to monks who turn musical at dusk as well as ornate paintings and statuary. The temples are all well-maintained, and surprisingly free of sellers and beggars – these are revered places of worship in the morning time, but they retain that atmosphere to a degree throughout the entire day. The evening was spent wandering around again, before engaging in a well-known local tradition: bowling. The government of Laos maintains a curfew, so the streets must be empty by midnight, and all businesses must be closed by 11:30 or 12:00 at the absolute latest. However, the bowling alley apparently pays off the local police, and since it is several kilometers outside of town, is allowed to stay open until 3am. So the late-night LP party scene exists solely at a noisy bowling alley, selling Beer Laos and microwave popcorn to a rowdy mix of tourists and locals, all bowling their best :-). We were actually terrible, no one even broke 100 in the first game, but we were there for the delightful change of pace more than anything – we go from spending days in a crazy city to spending weeks on the road in rural settings where the entire province shuts down within hours of the sun setting.
Yesterday involved checking out a local football game, enjoyable yet under-attended: we were the only fans present when the match started, but others came slowly drifting in. We also took care of a lot of “business” on the internet, figuring out the rest of our route and time schedule while in Laos, etc. Today we're going to hit up a waterfall about 35km outside of town, it's supposed to be pretty fantastically fun - we'll find out shortly!

More news when there's better net,
A&E+3 (for only a short while longer, we're splitting up in just over a week :-(

Saturday, November 07, 2009

From Sam Neua to Phonsavan, just another few days in Laos, eh?

In addition to some delicious Indian food, we found at least one other distraction in Sam Neua, since the temple and weaving/handicraft stores were both letdowns.

The temple was, well, lame, with cell-phone chatting monks and amateur paintings, and the shops were overpriced with somewhat generic goods. But at least the hot springs, 17km (and a $25 round-trip songthaew ride) outside of town, were therapeutic and relaxing – if not the most clean/pure. For 5,000 kip (under $1) we could hardly complain, and it seemed all and all that we were in a way foolish tourists for even bathing in the large outdoor tank – with a rock bottom and plenty of floating algae, it wasn't exactly paradise – since the indoor bathtubs had perfect clean water pumped into them for a more sanitary bathing experience! Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time amidst the rice fields greatly, got our soak on, and even shared our ride bank with a few thankful villagers.

The next morning we rode off, we as in the two of us, since everyone else opted to take the bus to Nam Neun (that's pronounced Nu-un), leaving before 7am since we had 100km of hills ahead of us. Sam Neua was chilly, as in almost frigid, when we left, with clouds sitting all about and dew quickly appearing upon our sleeves.

But the hills couldn't stop us, even as the clouds melted away in what all-too-quickly became the noon-time heat.

Kilometers passed, slowly and steadily, even when our friends flew by in a speeding bus.

Thankfully we'd bought snacks the night before, as we never saw a 'proper' restaurant the entire time, though 55km into the ride we at least stopped at a store that served us some plain ramen noodles. At least they were cheap at 3000 kip, even if they were far from appetizing or filling after the 5 hours on the bicycle that we'd already completed. If only we'd known the real adventure was just ahead of us, we might have ordered a second helping.

We'd read (thanks Lonely Planet), about a place called the Sin Huan Archeological Park, described as “better than it sounds,” which lay 6km off the main road. Compared to Stonehenge, and of the same time period as Phonsavan's famous Plain of Jars, it sounded intriguing and worth a look. As we set off on our cycles, the dirt road quickly gave way to rock, gravel, and an insane uphill, and our interest turned to despair. Thankfully we were able to grab a ride from a passing truck, which took us the remaining 4km up the rutted, bouncy, and un-cyclable path, before dropping us off at the ruins.

They were ruined, that's for sure, just a bunch of rocks sticking un-impressively out of the ground, jutting out at random angles in small groups.

Even taking strategic photos couldn't quite make them appear dazzling, and their close proximity to large circular burial 'covers' – like large rock manholes – did little too enliven the scene. A lost calf, mooing helplessly and too overcome by fear to let us get near it, proved more exciting, and almost more photogenic, than the stones left over from Laos' distant past. We're tolerant folks, but this was disappointing, and given the arduous journey it took to visit, quite a bit frustrated as well.

Fortunately luck was on our side, as approaching from the other side was a kindly English-speaking Laotian tourist, on a business trip with his wife but stopping by Sin Huan for a photo op. He gave us a ride back to the main road in the back of his pickup truck, ourselves and our bicycles both bouncing high the entire time, but at least we didn't waste TOO much of our afternoon trudging along the awful red-dirt roads of rural Laos in search of some ancient excitement that was nowhere to be found. Apparently the sites have been nominated for World Heritage status, but if anyone at UNESCO is reading this (we're sure most members are), there's more exciting stuff out there in the world, we promise!
Back on the road, all was well for a few more hours, as the hills went up and down along with our gear shifting. Then, as afternoon turned to evening, a monster hill appeared, one that simply would not end. We even stopped for our fourth snack of the day – Laughing Cow cheese, Larabars, and snack cakes are amazingly filling – and yet the road would not stop twisting ever skyward.

Finally we reached the top, as sunset turned the mountaintops crimson red, which meant we (once again) had to dutifully don our headlamps for a downhill wasted by darkness. Twelve kilometers later, after a stop in a village for water and to verify that the road actually kept going downwards, we finally ended up in Nam Neun, but what should have taken 15 minutes in the light ended up taking almost 45 as we had to grip our brakes tightly out of fear of going off of the road. But at least we made it, intact, our friends had a room ready for us, and unlike their dinner ours was actually delicious. Grilled boar meat, fresh foe (as in pho of Vietnamese fame), plus a warm milk carton filled us up right, in time to get back to our hotel with a few minutes to spare before they turned the generator off for the night.
Now we're in Phonsavan, to get here we opted to take a four hour songthaew ride instead of spend two hours cycling through even more relentless hills. So we sped over the mountains, while occasionally choking on exhaust fumes, to a more tourist-friendly town, or at least strip of hotels, restaurants, and shops. Yesterday, after eating some shoddy pizza, we watched a pair of documentaries about UXO and MAG – unexploded ordinance (as in bombs dropped by the USA during the secret war in Laos) and a fantastic charity respectively – before eating more food, drinking more Beer Lao, and then heading off to bed.

Today we cycled about 50km, on mostly flat ground – although plenty of that was on dusty dirt roads – and without any of our baggage, which was relatively easy and fun since it was interspersed with cool archeological remains of the large stone jar variety.

We saw two of the three major Plain of Jars sites, one can really only stare at so many large stone jars before redundancy and non-appreciation set in, both of which were pretty spectacular.

The origins and purpose of the massive containers, mostly intact despite a war being fought on the same plain in the 1970s, are essentially unknown.

Maybe they were funerary, or perhaps storage containers for either rice wine (lao lao) or water for travelers along an ancient trade route.

We just got back from eating some amazing, and amazingly spicy, Indian food, so the rest of the night will be spent relaxing in various forms before hitting the road again tomorrow morning. Currently we're relaxing in almost total darkness since the power has been out all day, but supposedly that situation should be changing in the near future...

More news when it's fit to print,

Here's a moment of zen courtesy of Luke:

And another from some rural Laotian women: