Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cameron Highlands

Woke up this morning and went hiking with some people I met over the last couple days at the hostel. We found the trail and it started off pretty easy then get steeper and steeper...soon it was almost climbing up the trail, using tree roots as steps and hoping my feet didn't slip in the mud. It's been raining almost every day and the trails & roots were very slick. The jungle was amazing though, green moss all over the ground, dense green jungle on both sides, and mist from the rising clouds coming in and out. We all felt like we were walking through the Shire in Lord of the Rings. This was the jungle trek I expected to go on in Thailand, but I was there in dry season.

Had to stop and catch my breath at points, was a pretty tough trail, but eventually we made it to the top of one of the mountains, which I think was around 1900 meters (not sure what altitude we started, I guess 1500-1600). Pretty nice view at the top, then we started hiking (mostly climbing) down. About halfway down it started raining, drizzle at first then harder. I don't have a raincoat so I was getting soaked slowly trying to get down the mountain without slipping and killing myself. Eventually got to the main road and it started pouring, I was completely soaked and very cold. Made it back to the hostel for a disappointing shower of alternating hot and cold water then took a break watching movies in the lounge for the rest of the day. Probably very sore tomorrow.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Cameron Highlands

Spent 3 days in Kuala Lumpur after Melaka. I didn't expect to spend as much time there as I did, but it is a fun city and I liked it a lot. Some really nice architecture, people were friendly, and a relatively laidback backpacker area near chinatown where I kept bumping into and hanging out with people I'd met in Thailand. I spent a day wandering around Chinatown which is basically a large fake clothes & other crap market. Partied the first night, and quickly realized the bar prices are as high as the US due to high Malaysian sin taxes...spent all the cash I had on watered down drinks without realizing how fast it was going.

Next day I wandered around Little India had a nice India set meal for lunch and checked out the indian market, which was a lot more tame than the Chinatown one. Took it easy that night and hung out with a couple people I met the night before, ended up having a long conversation about the of many I've had on this trip. People don't hold anything against me personally, but of course everyone hates the US right now.

On the third day I went on a mission for my dad's uncle wanted me to check out the Kuala Lumpur wholesale fruit market and report back what companies were there. So I asked a fruit vendor on the street and after getting a malaysian waiter to translate for me found out where it is located, which is a few blocks away from a huge malaysian market, Chowket Market...took a taxi there and enjoyed the familiar asian market smell of fresh fruit mixed with freshly butchered beef/chicken and both recently beheaded and still flopping fish and squid. I actually love these markets, but this was not the wholesale market...asked a vendor in the market where that is and he pointed me across the street. Mosied over there and found myself in not just the wholesale fruit market, but also KL's red light district. I took a couple pictures of the fruit companies and soon had hookers standing in doorways going "psst" at me, whistling at me, and calling me from every direction. Walked down another street and a man grabbed my arm and started dragging me to his brothel "come on, sex, massage, beautiful ladies, 20 ringgit (~$6), come come come" I said no but he wouldn't let go of my arm...really had a grip. After a a full minute of arguing with him he finally let go. So I got out of that area pretty quickly and took a cab back to chinatown.

Yesterday I took a bus up to the Cameron Highlands, a mixture of jungle covered mountains and farms. Very pretty here and much cooler than KL, which is a big plus. Checked out a scenic tea plantation today and plan on doing some hiking along the mountains tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Taipei, Johor, Melaka

On my last full day in Taipei I went with Kyle to the top of Taipei 101, the world's tallest building.  One the way we took the world's fastest elevator up to the top, 1010 meters per minute at top speed...i think it took 36 seconds to go to the top...they even pressurize the cabin to reduce ear popping.  The observation area was on the 89th floor...great view...can see all the mountains surrounding the city and was a relatively clear day so we could see most of the city.  In the middle of the floor they have this giant steel ball on display that is on springs so that it can dampen the effects of wind and earthquakes on the building...important since Taiwan is in one of the most active earthquake zones in the world. 
Saturday night played some small stakes poker with a couple of Kyle's friends and made $5 for the first money i've earned since i started my trip.  Sunday just hung around then took the flight to Singapore.
got into singapore at 11pm, took the last subway train out of the airport which only took me two stops, I wanted to catch the last bus to malaysia at midnight...the guy at the airport told me to take a bus, but there wasn't a bus coming so after the train just hopped in a cab to the bus station.  got across to malaysia and realized there were no hostels or hotels in my guidebook for Johor the malaysia border town.  Had to take a cab to a cheap hotel the driver knew about.  it was $9 a night and the most disgusting room i've ever stayed in.  Smelled like sewage, had cigarette burns all over the carpet and sheets (which looked like they hadn't ever been changed) i put my sleeping bag on the bed and was finally able to catch some sleep.
Yesterday morning made it to Melaka, which is a quiet city build by the dutch or portuguese or both...a lot of european architecture and buildings painted in pastel colors.  was nice, but too quiet and a little boring so i left this morning and came to Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Tons of pics

I was very triggerhappy on this road for larger pics

Front of my bike near the end of the trip

Side view, had to duct tape some pieces into place

Near the beginning, on highway 106 to the coast from Taipei, it started raining shortly after this pic

Panorama of the area, click for larger image

Would be an awesome pic if it wasn't for the weather...couldn't take many pics along the coast because it rained most of the time

quick panorama of the green fields and background mountains

beginning of Toroko Gorge

More Toroko

Small waterfall along the 9 turns path

These multicolored rocks were everywhere along the gorge

a temple about 15km into the gorge, built on the mountain

could climb up the tower, took this panorama of the surroundings from the top

Went up to the cloudline the first day, can see the temple in the distance and about 1000ft up from the side of the road.

Panorama of a view along the road to Hehuan mt

scenic view along the way

more scenery...

Panorama from near the top, I think this was the view across the street from my hostel

view from the top, 3275meters, ~10400ft

This was on the way down on the last day of the trip

Resevoir on the way down...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Very long post - Taiwan Road Trip - East Coast Highway, Toroko Gorge, Hehuan Mt.

Meant to update the site many times in the last week, but haven't had a block of time to sit down and do it. Leaving Taiwan today and had an amazing time here, very glad I came and hope to get back here sometime.

It's been almost a week since I updated, so I'll go through the week.

Last weekend Kyle told me he had an extra scooter that needed fixed, but I could get it fixed and take it on a road trip. So Monday he went to work and I took the bike to the mechanic. It wouldn't start because it had been sitting outside for months and the engine was waterlogged, only took about a half hour and $13 for the mechanic to take the bike apart and get it running again. Took it for a short ride in the mountains around Taipei with Kyle that night and it drove fine. I was pretty confident it would survive the crazy journey I was about to take it on.

I read that the east coast highway of Taiwan is incredibly beautiful, it's similar to the Pacific coast highway in California in that it winds along cliffs following the coast. I decided to drive the bike through the mountains and down the coast a little over 150 miles to Hualien. Seemed easy enough, but it took 7 hours! (including many stops for pictures and a couple for food along the way). The road was all winding mountain paths and of the 7 hours it rained for 4...was a pretty grueling ride on an uncomfortable 125cc scooter. Along the way there were some incredibly scenic views, don't have time to post many pics now though.

Arrived at Hualien around 5:30, after starting from Taipei at 10am. I was dead tired, found a hostel and checked in. Made it out to a little night market along the coast that night, almost empty due to it being a Tuesday night, so I found some Taiwanese guys working there playing cards and joined them for some taiwanese poker (it's similar to the game Asshole in the US). No money involved, lost the first couple games but quickly learned how to play and won a few games in a row...after that headed back to the hostel and met the one other person staying there, a Belgian girl. I told her I'd take her on my scooter to the Toroko Gorge the next day and we could go around the area together.

Woke up the next morning and drove up to Toroko National Park, 25km away. Was my first time in years driving a scooter with someone on the back, and this beat up 13yr old scooter's shocks did not like the punishment. We made it around the park, really beautiful. Huge multicolored marble cliffs shooting straight up with a raging grey river below. It was cloudy out so the clouds were just covering the tips of the 500meter mountains all around. Very surreal. The road twisted straight through the gorge and we drove up into the mountains, visited a temple built into the mountain then kept going up till we got close to the cloudline and decided to turn back. I didn't bring enough warm clothes and it was freezing in the mountains, especially flying around on the bike (i drove pretty carefully when I first started, but by the end of the first day on the thing I was a demon flying in and out of traffic).

As we got close to the bottom of the mountain something was hitting the ground on every bump and hard turn. I looked down realized the muffler was falling off (the speedometer also stopped working at somepoint this day, but as long as the brakes held up i didn't care). Took it slow and luckily right when it got to the point of dragging along the ground I saw a mechanic's shop across the street. Only took him 10minutes, $.75, and a new bolt to get it back in shape. Made it back to Hualien without a problem.

We went out to a bar that night and saw a group of Taiwanese girls playing some drinking game, I asked them to teach me and ended up hanging out with them all night. They were in a tour group together and they were pretty wild. At one point they started playing hip hop in the bar and the girls all got up and danced, the oldest woman in the group (and most drunk) started giving their tour guide a lap dance. The Belgian girl had dreadlocks and they kept touching it and asking questions about it, was all really funny, plus learned a few new drinking games and some new chinese slang.

The next day I decided I would make the journey across the mountains to the west coast then take a train back from the west coast. In the middle is Hehuan mountain, not sure if it's the tallest peak in Taiwan, but it's close. There is a hostel right near the top, so I drove 4 hours through some of the craziest mountain paths and tunnels I've ever seen. One lane roads (that are 2 ways) thousands of feet high along the sides of mountains. At some points I looked over and almost lost control of the bike both because of the amazing views and looking down and being scared shitless of falling off the mountain.

Some places had guard rails, most didn't. Most majors turns had spherical mirrors so I could see if there were cars/trucks coming at me as I went around the 1 lane turns. On top of that there were countless 1 lane pitch black tunnels and my bike's headlight worked just well enough to illuminate the relfectors in the road...was very intense. At the same time, it was the most beautiful drive I've ever been on. Every turn I'd look out and think how amazing the scenery is, then i'd go another kilometer be 100 meters higher and see ever more amazing views.

Took about 5 hours to get to the top, checked into the hostel and went to the top of the mountain. Along the way I saw some crazy fucker mountain biking up the mountain. I got to the top and took some pictures of another amazing view, and saw the cyclist pull up. He was belgian and I started talking to him. He was mountain biking around the world...he started in belgium went across europe to Odessa, then flew to Bangkok, biked around southeast asia, flew to western China, biked through Yunnan, then heard Taiwan was beautiful so he flew here and is planning on biking through Taiwan for a month. I thought I was adventurous on a motobike, but this guy put me to shame. As if that wasn't enough, he smoked a pack a day and drank like a fish...hardcore. He normally just pitches a tent where he stops but I told him to come down to the was 45 degrees out and absolutely freezing. All I had was a long sleeve shirt, jeans, and a light jacket I borrowed from Kyle. The hostel had a hot shower and heated blankets which was a lifesaver.

I chilled with the Belgian guy for awhile, then went to sleep, woke up, and drove down the other side to Taizhong about 4 hours drive. Pretty drive down the mountain, all downhill, but not nearly as beautiful as the ride up. the last 2 hours were all boring highway. Made it to Taizhong then took the train back to Taipei. Was able to ship the bike back for about $15...well worth not having to drive another 7 hours on the thing (west coast is all cities and not a scenic drive).

All in all an amazing trip, my biggest adventure of the trip so far. Looking back it was pretty dangerous seeing as I don't even have an international driving license, let alone a motorcycle license, any kind of driving insurance, and my speedometer was broken so I had no idea how fast I was going for more than half the trip. Really glad I did it though.

Sorry this is so long...just wanted to thank everyone who's been reading, posting comments and sending e-mails. I really appreciate it. I'll post a bunch of pictures from the trip when I have some more time. Flying to Singapore tonight then going to Malaysia tomorrow.

Monday, April 16, 2007

NOFX concert

NOFX was in Taipei last night. Kyle was going and had a friend with
an extra ticket. They are a punk band you might remember from about
1994, apparently they're still around and releasing albums. Was never
into punk music, but figured it'd be a funny experience if nothing

The crowd was half foreigners half chinese and probably around 500
people packed in a little underground club. Some people dressed in
full punk gear, but most seemed to be there for a fun show or to
relive their teenage punk rebellion years. As soon as they started
playing a mosh pit started, there were crowd surfers and stage divers.
I jumped in the mosh pit for about 5 minutes, which was as long as I
found it fun.

The concert was pretty good, but the band's dialogue was pathetic.
One guy kept trying to make jokes in a fake chinese accent and wasn't
funny at all, same guy did the "I am Cornholio, I need TP for my
bunghole" in a Beavis voice...clearly left his brain in 1994. There
was one funny part where one guy with a trumpet and another guy with a
trombone from the crowd got up on stage and started playing with the
band. After the song the lead singer was making fun of them "A lot of
people come to Taiwan to teach English, almost all of them are clearly
dorks...who brings a trumpet and a trombone to a punk show" and kept
going on about it.

I looked NOFX up online and their first demo tape was 1983, these guys
are about 38yrs old and still playing punk...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Taiwan, Taiwan National Museum

Arrived yesterday in Taipei and met up with my friend Kyle from when I studied in China. He's been living here for 2 years and promises to show me the real Taiwan. I'll be crashing on his couch for the next week or so. I'm liking it here so far, only problem is the weather has been cloudy and drizzling on and off all day today and I'm told all last week too.

Kyle had to work today so his girlfriend took me around. One of the big sites here is the National Museum where they show off all the priceless ancient historical artifacts that that Taiwanese transferred/stole from mainland China when they fled here in the 40s. It's a huge point of contention between the mainland and Taiwan, supposedly there is a massive underground vault in the mountains where all the artifacts are stored and they rotate the displays in the museum from the vault. According to Kyle, it will take 100 years to display all the artifacts in the vault.

There is plenty of politicizing and whitewashing of history going on; both on the China and Taiwan side. When the communists took power they wanted to destroy all the old culture and these artifacts were symbols of the borgeoise oppression of China's past. I could write pages about this, but I'll save the history lesson. It brings me to my first picture in Taiwan, the following historical timeline shown at the entrance to the national museum (click on it to get the full version of what I'm talking about)

If you look closely, the Taiwanese were the first civilization on earth! Apparently, all civilization is descendent from a tiny island off the coast of China...fascinating. They predate all african, mesopotamean, and even Egyptian culture when the Taiwanese showed up in 6000 BC. Notice China is not mentioned, only Taiwan. Subtle...

The other picture was just funny...this woman was striking a serious pose out in from of the museum...I was cracking up watching this take place. Had to walk far away and zoom in real close.

Overall the museum was cool, a lot smaller than I expected...I tried to show my 3yrs expired student ID to get in for half price but they weren't falling for that trick. Cost $7 to get in, but worth it, if only for that timeline of world history.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

leaving tomorrow

So I stayed in Singapore a lot longer than I expected, just been hanging out around town.  I just decided to fly to Taiwan tomorrow and visit a friend from when I studied in China, he's there working now.  So I'll be putting Malaysia on hold for a week and a half, spending 9 days in Taiwan, then 9 days in Malaysia.  I found a flight out of northern malaysia for about $50, so I think I'll fly back to bangkok for my flight to africa instead of going overland. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Spent yesterday and the last few hours wondering around the town here, from what I've seen so far the city is all office buildings on top of air conditioned malls on top of starbucks on top of starbucks.  Cheapest beer I've seen is about $4, and that's from a store.  If you're into shopping this seems like the best place in asia, though I haven't been to Hong Kong yet.  I like the city as a place to live, very clean and easy to get around, but it's not a very fun travel destination for me. 
Hung out in Chinatown all of yesterday looking for a cell phone, found a couple used ones for about $50, still deciding whether to go back and buy one.  Chinatown was is a clean version of China.  Hard to imagine China with no spitting, clean uncrowded streets, no jaywalking, and only about 20% of the people smoking instead of 90%, but this is it. 
Was thinking of staying a couple more days here, but now I'm planning on leaving tomorrow for Malaysia. 

Monday, April 09, 2007

Arrived in Singapore

Arrived in Singapore at 6am this morning.  I left Koh Tao about 33hours before...a long but not too painful trip.  Worst part was the night ferry from Koh Tao.  I was supposed to have a bed on the 9 hour ride, but the person i booked the trip through got me to the pier at 8pm and to get a bed you needed to be there at 7pm and line up.  Instead of a bed we were placed in a cargo hold which would best be described as a 17th century slave ship without the chains...literally a wood floor with reed mats to sleep on and they packed as many people into the hold as possible.  The ceiling was only about 4ft high so everyone had to crawl they left the lights on all night.  On top of that, all of us in the hold paid the same price as the people who got beds, didn't really make any sense.  Somehow managed to sleep 3 hours or so, but mostly just sat there trying to read in the dim light and listening to my ipod. 
After that a 4hr minibus ride to Hat Yai and I met a British guy also going all the way to Singapore, so we stuck together on the 24hr bus ride to Singapore.  The bus was actually great, a "VIP" bus with huge seats that almost went all the way back.  Was able to sleep for a lot of the ride...would have slept more if not for the horrible Thai music and Thai dubbed American B movies they kept playing at full volume over the speakers. 
Got to Singapore at 6am and nothing was open, I wondered around town with the British guy looking for a place to book a room, finally found my room and the adventure was over.  I learned the metro system pretty fast, and have been going around town a bit, went to the ritzy shopping area where I was craving a Big Mac because the British guy I was with kept talking about McDonalds, so I went and had my first Big Mac with Super Sized fries and drink in probably 3 years.  It helped that I didn't eat dinner the night before and barely had any lunch.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Going to Singapore

Decided to go directly to singapore...will be spending the next 30 hours or so on a boat/bus...hopefully won't be too miserable.  Probably spend about 2-3 days there then head back north through malaysia over the next 2-3 weeks. 

Friday, April 06, 2007

Certified Open Water Diver

Did two more dives this morning and passed my final exam. I'm now a certified Open Water Diver, which means I can go to a depth of 18meters during the daytime. If i wanted to do an advanced course for 2 days I could get advanced certification and go to 30 meters during day or night (all with a dive master along).

On the dives today we saw another sea turtle briefly, then saw a banded sea snake that I later learned is the deadliest snake on the planet...very colorful, i stayed away.

I'm thinking of leaving this island tomorrow, the beach is kind of boring without any friends around. Would love to keep scuba diving, but at about $25 per dive I can't really afford it for long. Not sure where i'm heading yet...maybe malaysia, or singapore then back up through malaysia.

Calculated some of my trip's finances today, it has been a month since i left and just wanted to see how i'm doing. So far I've made $1252 in ATM withdrawals and have about $100 in cash. So i've spent $1152 in 30 days, about $38 a day, which includes the dive course of $250 and a $120 plane flight from Bangkok to the islands. Minus those unusual large expenses i'm right in line with where i wanted to be at for the trip, around $27/$28 a day.

finally uploaded some pictures...

koh phangan fire to watch, they're all over the beach at night

sunset on the beach we stayed at on Koh Phangan

View from our pool area...

Sunset on Koh Tao here...the sunsets here are amazing and the main beach faces toward the sunset...plenty of people at the bars every night just hanging out drinking a beer watching the sunset

more sunset here...

first night i was here there was a diver doing his snorkel test...i think they need 100 dives to be a dive master, the other divers on the 99th dive give you a snorkle test where they put a snorkel in your mouth and goggles over your nose/ can't beath except through the snorkel. Then the pour whatever they want down the snorkel for about a minute. fun to watch

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Scuba Diving

Went scuba diving today for the first time not in a swimming pool or shallow water.  It was awesome saw all kinds of beautiful fish and coral.  Only ones I knew were a couple of clownfish and a stingray hiding in a crevice. 
Best part was we saw a huge sea turtle, was about 2.5ft long and 1.5ft wide.  From above at first he looked just like another rock but the instructor motioned me over and I saw he was on the floor eating off some coral.  We watched for about 3minutes while he ate then slowly swam away.  Very cool.  They are somewhat rare around here, the one instructor with me had only see 2 in over 40 dives, and another hadn't seen any in over 50 dives. 
After diving in two locations headed back and took another class then a nap...had to be up at 6am to dive and I was dead.  It is grotesquely hot around here and I don't have a/c in the room.  I could barely sleep the last two days b/c it was so hot.  My shirt looks like I just jumped in the ocean with it almost all day long.  Thinking of leaving this island a little earlier than planned to try and find a cooler least somewhere that's cool at night.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Had my first short dive today, mostly instructional in shallow water with 2 instructors and me.  It's pretty nice to have the one on one instruction, don't need to stand there waiting while they check to make sure each person has done everything correctly.   Watched classroom videos for about 3 hours and took a few quizzes.  I think there is about 5 hours of class and five quizzes in total.  tomorrow is some more classroom time and a real dive in the afternoon to about 12 meters.
hung out with the dive instructors last night at the bar, interesting cast of characters.  Mainly hung out and watched the sunset on the beach, some awesome pictures.  I'll have to post about 20 pics when i finally make it to a cheap internet cafe. 
very laid back here, much different from the party island of Koh Phangan, but maybe that will change when all the partiers make it here tonight/tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Koh Tao

The full moon party last night was a lot of fun.  At about 4am a pool party started in our hotel so I hung out there till the sun rise and went to watch the sunrise with music still blaring and maybe a thousand people still dancing on the beach.
Got about 2hours of sleep then took the noon ferry to Koh Tao, small island mainly known for its snorkeling and diving.  I just got a room and signed up for a 3 day Padi open water certification course.  It's about $250 for the course, which is a lot, but it includes 4 nights accomadation, which brings that cost down about $40.  Also because i came the day after the full moon it's still very slow here, most people are still on koh phangan recovering then coming here tomorrow.  Prices go up tomorrow and it looks like i'll get one on one training with the instructor instead of the usual 4 person class. 

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Koh Phangan

Not much to report here, just been hanging out on the beach chilling, partying at night. Could easily hang out here forever...very laid back and beautiful. Tonight is the big full moon party which promises to be crazy.  Tomorrow I head to Koh Tao where I'm going to try to do some Scuba diving...can do a 4 day beginner course for about $225 which seems like a deal I can't pass up while i have the time.