Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blogger Kind of Sucks

It appears that Day 21 won't budge as the first post on the blog. I'm updating new days but you'll have to scroll down to view them, it seems.

Thanks for sucking, Blogger, everybody appreciates the inconvenience.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 29: Flying Home

After checking out of our marvelous hotel room at 7 p.m. we went to happy hour and hung out with Marv's former colleague until we left for the airport at 9:30.

Since we hadn't spent barely any money in Bangkok we had some Thai bhat to burn so we decided to take a taxi to the airport instead of navigating the sky train system. After hearing we'd need to make 2 train changes I wasn't willing to put forth the effort anyways.

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and took off pretty much on time. Marv found out that there is a camera on the nose of the plane that shows live footage to your personal screen so he was like a kid on Christmas watching the plane take off from the pilot's view.

Usually I drug myself to sleep on long haul flights with Dramamine (motion sickness tablets) and red wine. After the wine soakage I have put myself through the last few days I was in no mood for wine so I stuck to my trusty airplane drink, ginger ale. I was super sleepy, too, so didn't feel the need to drug myself.

And I was able to sleep 7 hours of the 11 hour flight! This is a first for a non-drugged up me. My body tried to wake up after 4 hours, over Afghanistan, but I forced it back to sleep longer. I woke up for good just east of Moscow with a semi-decent nights sleep.

We got to Oslo 15 minutes ahead of schedule and were so very, very pleased to see that fall had already arrived in Norway. It was 55°F (13°C) - and it felt AMAZING! I am built for cold weather. If you haven't noticed already I melt in the heat.

As we were boarding the bus to take us back home I noticed that my debit card was not where it should be in my wallet. Um...not good. I'll go through my bag when we get home to see if it's there.

Bags thoroughly checked, no debit card in sight. The last time I used it was Wednesday night at the hotel restaurant. They gave it back, along with our receipt and borrowed Hilton premium membership card - in a little paper sleeve. And I know that paper sleeve was in our hotel room the last time we were.

Smart traveler me had copied all my credit cards and left a copy with my dad in the U.S. and Marv's dad in Norway, to be used in emergency situations such as this. We got to Marv's parents house, the only home we have right now, at 9:45 a.m. and called to cancel the card. As of Friday afternoon there were no fraudulent charges made to the card - fingers crossed!

Day 21: Kuala Lumpur Day 1

Our flight for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (from here on out called KL) departed at 9:20 a.m. and 4 other people flew elsewhere at 9:15 so we shared 2 taxis to the airport. Hanoi traffic being the insane gong show that it is we had to leave at 6:30 to budget for traffic jams during the 40 minute ride. There was no major traffic so we got there in plenty of time.

My visa to Vietnam was on a loose piece of paper, which I had glued into my passport, since that's what I had to do with the Cambodia one. Turns out when you exit the country they need to keep the visa - the very same one that was glued WELL into my passport. The emigration official looked at me like a child, not knowing what to do about the conundrum so I told him "well let's rip it out then". I pried it out as best I could, shredding the visa and 2 of my passport pages in the process. Which, if I am not mistaken, is destroying federal property and considered a federal offence.

Arrest me if you will, America, I just wanted to get the hell away from places that hassle me about my visa at every single turn. At every border crossing we've made it has taken me minimum 3 times longer than everybody else to make it through. And I followed all the directions, so it's not me! I know America isn't the most popular country in the world but, c'mon people, Bush has been out of office for almost 2 years now. Give me a freaking break!

We both crashed hard on the 3 hour flight to KL, and I was pleased to sail right through customs as if I were Canadian. I can already tell: This is a place I'm going to like.

Not that I was planning on it, but I got a friendly reminder NOT to smuggle drugs into the country. Strict, much?!

Instead of springing for a taxi, the easiest but most expensive solution, we transversed the public transportation system for a fraction of the cost. We had to take a bus and 2 trains and had really bad luck with departure times. As soon as we'd get to a station the would just be pulling away so we spent an extra 40 or so minutes of travel time waiting around for the next ones. Ohh well, the whole trip from airport to hotel cost us 13.90 ringgit per person, and where we were headed it's good to have a little extra moolah in your pocket.

We got to the Mandarin Oriental - 5 star hotel - and immediately felt out of place with our backpacks and cargo shorts. This place is top of the line! Five stars, did I mention that? KL is quite cheap, which brings such a nice hotel within (the upper reaches of) our price range. It's safe to say we've never been to a nicer hotel before, and very well could be the second to last time we ever stay in a 5 star hotel (we have another one booked for Bangkok). One thing is quite clear: I look good in luxury.

Before we departed for Asia we realized that Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of daytime fasting, would be in full swing by the time we got to the very Muslim country of Malaysia. We were worried for about 2 seconds that food would be hard to come by during daytime hours, but after some quick Googling we found out that there are tons of non-Muslims, and it is a very Western country so we knew we wouldn't starve to death (since we are dangerously thin to begin with).

Street food stalls are culinary tradition here but can be a gastrointestinal nightmare for Westerners. KL has come up with the perfect solution, by moving food stalls into mall food courts so they can be more regulated and hygienic. This means good, traditional, clean (and cheap) food for us. So for dinner we headed to the mall next door to dine on a selection of street food favorites, without fear of heinous stomach viruses.

Marv ate not one, not two, but three different dinners. I only made it through 2.5. They were all quite cheap and pretty much as authentic as anything we'd get from a street bazaar. We're going to do mostly mall food court eating here, since we can get perfectly good food for a really good price.

Our hotel room is too sweet to be away from for long periods of time, so we checked in for the night after dinner. We have a birds eye view of the Petronas Towers, which were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. We enjoyed this view before going to sleep in our awesome bed, which I am convinced is made out of clouds.

Day 28: Bangkok Day 3

Another day, another buffet breakfast. Another sleep until noon, another happy hour. Nothing exciting for you to hear.

This is our check-out day but since our flight doesn't leave until after midnight (00:55) Friday morning we paid extra to keep our room until 7 p.m.

I will keep this post short and confess my sins to the world: With all our free time We did not go visit the Grand Palace or Reclining Buddah. We didn't even leave to eat at a restaurant or breathe fresh air.

WE DID NOT LEAVE ONCE! We lazed about that hotel for two and a half days!

A full 55.5 hours, from Tuesday at 2 p.m. until Thursday at 9:30 p.m.

I can say I have been to Bangkok but certainely can't say I've "done" Bangkok. My apologies to the city for choosing relaxation and red wine over everything it has to offer.

Day 27: Bangkok Day 2

Since a breakfast buffet is something we consider worthy of getting up for we set the alarm for 8:30 so we could get up, eat, then go right back to bed. And that's just what we did. In case you were wondering it was totally worth it.

We got up for real about noon, and showered and putzed around until we decided to utilize the executive lounge, and its free wifi access, again.

It's been 24 hours since we've been outside the hotel.

Marv has a colleague (former colleague, I keep forgetting we're both unemployed) who stays in Bangkok a lot and recommended this hotel to us. He happened to be in town so we met him in the lounge and hung out for a few hours. He is a very frequent Hilton flyer so has a fancy premium membership card which gives him 50% off restaurants at all Hilton hotels.

Since the chances of our leaving the Hilton walls were looking slimmer and slimmer he lent us his card so we could get a proper dinner in us without having to spend a ton or - the horrors - actually leave the premises. Our motivation to venture out into the city and search for the awesome Lebanese restaurant we've read about completely evaporated.

28 hours since we were last outside the hotel.

There are 2 sights we'd like to see in Bangkok, which happen to be right next to each
other:The Grand Palace and gigantic golden Reclining Buddha. We're not doing any sight seeing today so luckily we have all of tomorrow to be tourists, since our flight leaves just after midnight early Friday morning.

Happy hour was fabulous like yesterday, with the red wine even more free flowing. They were even more generous by walking around with full bottles topping people off. So we stayed right where we were until happy hour ended at 8:30.

31 hours since we were last outside the hotel.

Even thought we weren't super hungry we decided to hit the buffet restaurant anyways. It was good but, not being very hungry, wasn't quite the experience I was hoping for. I tried my first ever oyster, which was the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. Eeew.

After dinner we hit the hay.

Man have we/this blog gotten boring! I don't even have any pictures to ease your boredom. But rest assured, I still look good in luxury.

35 hours since we were last outside the hotel.

Day 26: Bangkok Day 1

Our flight leaves for Bangkok at 11 and we need to take the metro, during rush hour, to get there so we left the hostel at 8. Unlike yesterday we stopped for the included breakfast, which was sufficient but underwhelming. I am over cheap-o hotel breakfasts at this point!

The metro ride for both of us only cost $4.60 SGD ($3.39 USD) which is an unbeatable price. It is my belief that the hallmark of an awesome city is one that has direct metro access to the international airport. I'm skeptical of cities that require you to take a taxi between the airport and city. Shoutout to Singapore for being easy and cheap, and surprisingly not that crowded at rush hour (once we got out of the city center, of course).

As we were making a train change I saw a sign on the train tracks that said "Respect Life, Act Responsibly". It was telling people not to jump in front of the train to kill themselves! Marv refused to whip out the camera and take a picture of it, damn him. I wonder if they have a problem with people throwing themselves in front of trains and, in turn, disrupting train service? God help me if I had a plane to catch and the train was delayed because someone jumped in front of it. I would resurrect them just so I could kill them a second time - I do not do well with airport delays!

Air Asia, the RyanAir (but infinitely better) of Asia, was more on time this trip and we left the gate only 10 minutes later than scheduled. We got (back) to Bangkok right on time.

The day before this Bangkok started their "sky train" service between the airport and city. As much as I appreciate quick and cheap airport transit, we were in no mood to navigate this brand spankin' new service when a pretty cheap taxi could get us to our destination much quicker. Especially when they were predicting kinks that needed to be ironed out. No thanks...maybe we'll brave this on the way back to the airport on Thursday night.

We got to our hotel, even more fabulous than our last fabulous one, the Millennium Hilton. And, since it was available, we got upgraded to the Executive King Plus suite! You can forget all the raving I did about our last hotel room because this one is 110% better. It's gigantic - even bigger than our (former) apartment in Norway!

We were treated like royalty at check-in. Since we are on an "executive floor" got had to go up to the 31st floor, the "executive lounge" to check-in. We didn't have to check-in like all the regular chumps, we were special.

We admired our fabulous new home and I was in bed the second the luggage porter dropped off our super fancy backpacks. Somehow the world has been able to produce a bed even more awesome than the one at the Mandarin Oriental. Sleep came heavenly hard and fast.

As executive suite dwellers we have free range of the executive lounge, which offers a complimentary happy hour from 6 - 8:30 p.m. If you know anything about me you will know that happy hour is my FAVORITE THING EVER. There's something about getting tipsy and being in bed by 8 p.m. that appeals to my lazy arse. So we planned to hit up this fabulous event before heading out for a proper dinner.

My long lost friend red wine was ready and waiting for me at happy hour, so I dove in along with some snacks like bread, fruit/veg and cheese - glorious cheese. Asian food (still in the 'barf' category for us both) uses no cheese whatsoever, and I didn't realize until I ate some how much I missed it. I am convinced that cheese is like air: You don't realize its importance to your life until it's gone. I ate all the cheese I could get my hands on. It was heavenly.

A few more glasses in (Thai beer for Marv) we realized that we were pretty darn full from the 'light refreshments' and might not need to venture out for dinner after all. We were pretty happy and full by this point, plus it would be a great cost cutting measure. Again, if you know anything about me, you will know that cutting costs is easily one of my favorite things to do.

We hemmed and hawed about it for a while - would it be cheap of us? Would we really survive the night without a full meal? Would we be pathetic for doing this? We went for one more plate of food and declared ourselves fed for the evening. Cost to us (beyond the hotel room): $0.00 USD. I have come to call this event our Ghetto Dinner - the best ghetto dinner we will ever have!

At the end of happy hour we planned to come back again tomorrow (we'd be foolish not to!) and went to check out the jacuzzi/pool area, which they call The Beach. The jacuzzi had closed for the evening but the pool was open a while longer so we put on our suits to go for a swim under the stars. The infinity pool is outdoors on the 4th floor, with an awesome skyline view, and even has beach chairs in the water. The water was a bit chilly but during a 100 degree Bangkok day I bet it feels awfully nice.

After our swim we turned in for the night. Tomorrow morning holds a buffet breakfast in the executive lounge which we HAVE to get up for. I'm not missing that for the world!

You know how anti-logging environmentalists chain themselves to trees so loggers can't cut them down? I'm going to chain myself to this hotel. Please don't ever make me leave!

Day 25: Singapore Day 2

We didn't bother to set our alarm this morning, as we know ourselves well enough to know we wouldn't get up early anyways. So we missed breakfast and slept until housekeeping came a knockin' at 10 a.m. Note to self: Actually use the Do Not Disturb door hang in the future. At any rate it kept us from sleeping until noon, which we have been known to do on occasion.

It was closer to lunch time than breakfast and we had a major hankering for Middle Eastern food. I think our sickness of Asian food is manifesting itself as cravings for every other type of food on Earth. We are lovers of all food, we don't discriminate!

Arab Street was within easy walking distance of our hostel so we hoofed it there and planned to go to the first decent looking restaurant we saw. And did we hit the jackpot! The first Middle Eastern restaurant we found was completely empty - Ramadan remember - so we got immediate and good service.

We made our own meze with hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and chicken kebabs with fragrant Arabic rice, which surprisingly and deliciously came with a brown gravy. It was all amazing and we ate ourselves silly. It's lucky the waitress sat us down at a table for 4, since our food would NOT have fit on a table for 2. How embarrassing is that?!

The restaurant service in both KL and Singapore have been a welcomed change from the horrendous, crap service in Cambodia and Vietnam. I love these cities - they get stuff DONE!

We set off into the city to see some sights and walked by the Raffles Hotel, which apparently is THE hotel in Singapore. It's a very swank place, and I think invented the Singapore Sling drink. At the very least ordering one there is a big tourist thing to do, but at $26 SGD ($19 USD) I could not bring myself to stop for one. It is a personal rule not to drink alcohol that costs less in ridiculously overpriced Norway. I will order one somewhere more reasonable in honor of our time in Singapore later.

By this time we had walked through a lot of the city and Marv was dying from the heat. So we took ourselves underground to the metro to get to our next stop, the banks of the Singapore River. It was magnificently cooler there so we could actually spend some time hanging out. This sign is at one of the river bridges, which I think is funny. It's the original sign, too.

The official "animal" of Singapore is the merlion (think mermaid), half-fish, half-lion and there's a big statue of one at the waters edge spitting a stream into the river. The cool spray from the merlion felt amazing, and we enjoyed a fruity Starbucks drink near it. Singapore has Starbucks! This place just keeps getting better.

The heat was unbearable by this point so we went back to the hostel to relax and cool off until our next tourist event of the day, the night safari. As you can gather from the name this is an animal viewing safari that's held after dark. There are all sorts of huge Asian and African animals, which can be viewed both from a trolley and from walking trails.

It was raining quite heavily most of the time we were there but that actually turned out to be a good thing. We first took the 40-minute trolley ride to see the (not free roaming) animals. We couldn't use flash photography, which was blatantly ignored by several asshole tourists who were told REPEATEDLY told not to use flash, so we didn't get any usable shots from that distance.

After the trolley ride we set out on the walking trails, which were pretty much deserted because of the rain. I have read really mixed reviews about the night safari, with most gripes coming from the fact that the trails are wildly overcrowded with tourists. I had my trusty $5 Old Navy raincoat and an umbrella so we were happy and dry on the trails, with some really cool close-up views of animals.

There was a tiger who had just eaten laying right on the other side of the barrier glass, who was so stuffed that all he could do was lay there and pant. Which is how I like to live my life; He was a tiger of my own heart. Because he was so close we did get a half decent shot of him (no flash, of course). This is the only decent shot we got from the entire evening at the safari. It was really fun and cool to see all the animals (some were quite close up), and I think the key to an enjoyable night safari visit is to go when it's raining - fewer asshole tourists clogging everything up!

We hadn't eaten dinner before our 6:30 p.m. departure for the safari so we gritted our teeth and paid the ridiculous price for a burger, fries and beer there. It was all surprisingly tasty, though I was perplexed by the cup of salsa served with the fries - no ketchup in sight. I will file that one under "unique cultural dining experience".