Southeast Asia 2017: Cliff Notes

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I’ve just gotten back to the United States after my month long adventure in Southeast Asia.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about my adventures more in-depth focusing on what I did, why I chose to do it, and what I took away from my trip.  But before I get to all that I thought it would be a good idea to answer the questions I get the most by giving a “Cliff Notes” version of my trip.  Below you’ll find a list of things and experiences that I enjoyed, why, and even a few pictures to give context.

Enjoy!

My Southeast Asia Favorite:

PlaceKoh Tao, Thailand

No explanation needed.

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A view worth the climb

City Chaing Mai, Thailand (though Seminyak Bali is a close second)

Chaing Mai is the type of place you go to in order to really absorb the Thai culture.   It’s over a 100,000 people but it feels a quarter of that size. It’s not known for clubs and partying but is does have amazing cooking classes, elephant sanctuaries, and national parks.  It would be my first choice if I had 12 months to spend in Thailand and could only stay in once city.  It’s a great place to really begin to understand Thailand, the customs, and the culture.

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Patel and her boys land in Chaing Mai


CountryVietnam.

 It’s what I imagine Thailand was 20 years ago before it became so popular with travelers.  Food is delicious, things are cheap, and locals are kind.  Hoi An, Sapa, Halong Bay, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, and Hanoi are all incredible in their own right and completely different allowing for you to get a real feel for the culture and beauty without having to go too far.

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Vietnam has a habit of making you feel like you’re on top of the world

SnackJ-Bay from Nula Bowl in Seminyak, Bali

What can I say? It’s healthy and delicious.

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Seriously delicious

Drink Homemade Rice Wine in Vietnam

“Mot, hai, ba, YO!!”

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When you’re tour guide is pouring you shots you don’t ask questions

Lost Item– Silk Painting from Vietnam

Though I lost 3 pairs of sandals, my cell phone, a pair of vans, and my Ray Bans, it’s misplacing the silk artwork I bought on our way to Halong Bay that I’m still not quite over.

Restaurant-Bite Delight (Tapas Style Restaurant) Koh Phangan Thailand

Quaint. Intimate (holds maybe 15 people). Amazing food to share and incredible sangria.  It’s a great place to spend time eating, laughing, and just being with the people you care about. Carlos (the owner) will make you feel like family and you won’t want to leave.

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It’s even more adorable on the inside

DayElephant Sanctuary and Bamboo Rafting outside Chaing Mai, Thailand

After waking up at sunrise and riding in the back of a covered pick-up for over an hour into the jungle of Nothern Thailand we arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary.  We started by feeding the 3 elephants, then rolled around in the mud with them, before following them to the river to clean both the elephants and ourselves.  After we cleaned up, we hiked to a secluded lagoon with a waterfall.  After swimming and eating, we walked through the village learning more about the community as a whole which was really humbling. Finally, we arrived at a river and climbed on rafts made of bamboo; rafting down the river controlling the raft with our bamboo sticks trying our best not to fall off (emphasis on trying).  Hard to imagine a better Monday than that.

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Never had more fun getting dirty

NightHalong Bay River Cruise

Honestly, this was one of the hardest questions to answer.  There are plenty of nights that were unforgettable, but my favorite was the night we spent on a houseboat in Halong Bay.  We’d chosen to avoid the cheap, partying, backpackers houseboat because we wanted time to relax.  At least, that was the intention.  Somewhere along the way, that message got lost.  The next thing I know Cam and I are taking tequilla shots with two 67-year-old ladies from Switerzland (S/O to Freeda) and orchestrating the most random and diverse game of Kings Cup I’ve ever played in my life.  Follow that up by trying to squid fish on the back of the boat with Nick and Zoja and you have a night you’ll always remember.

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My one-night boat bar tab.

Activity– Surfing

I love the ocean more than most people.  I’m scuba certified, have worked on a cruise ship, and dream of a living by the beach.  However, with all that I’d still never learned to surf.  But you know what they say, when in Bali…

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Bali seemed like a good place to learn

ExperienceWhite Water Rafting in Ubud, Bali

Let’s be real.  Anything that is a water activity with beautiful Balinese scenery that gets my adrenaline pumping AND has dedicated pit stops for beers was always going to be my one of my favorite things.  It wasn’t even close.  I don’t regret getting out and swimming in the rapids (though once was enough) but I do wish I’d brought my camera.

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The Bintang Boyz.

Tour– Hoi An Cycling- Bike Tour

Biking around Hoi An was simply peaceful and enjoyable.  Hoi An is a really cool city that isn’t overflowing with tourists but has plenty of culture.  The surrounding areas are full of rice fields and farms with bike paths all around.  A few hours cycling through them will erase any worries you may have.  The bike tour also included rice wine, local food, and canoeing down the river at sunset.

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Rice fields and bike rides will cure all ills

Souvenir- Painting from Bali

The one thing I always bring back when I travel is something to hang on my walls.

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got to decorate with something, right?

TuneAlchemy- Willaris K

Can’t not move and groove to it.

Tour GuideRemmy with Hoi An Cycling

Remmy was super personable, loved to sing karaoke as we rode, poured us rice wine shots, and wore my Nebraska flag as a cape.  Needless to say, he won me over pretty quickly.

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Remmy loves Nebraska now

Place we stayedVilla Allamanda, Seminyak Bali

It’d be silly to go to Bali and not stay in a villa…

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Selfie: The Boys and the water buffalo

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Nailed It.

Best of Southeast Asia:

Sunset: Railay Beach, Thailand 

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Not all sunsets are created equal

Best Scenery: Sapa Vietnam

If you would have told me that I’d choose a place in the mountains over a place near the ocean as the place with the best scenery before I left I’d have told you to lay off the rice wine.  But Sapa is incredible.  Located in Northeastern Vietnam near the China border it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever had the pleasure of going.  The mountains, rolling rice fields, and abundance of trees make you feel as if you’re on another planet.

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Pictures don’t even do Sapa justice

Nightlife-  Bali.

Whether you want to go to a club, chill by the beach, or drink on a cliff overlooking the ocean- Bali has you covered.  As I like all three of those things it’s my easy choice.

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Single Fin on Sunday is a must

Best Street Food–  Vietnam.  

I could eat Pho and Banh Mi every day forever.

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Pho=Vietnam

Photo of Nick Sleeping

Nick has the “superpower” of being able to sleep anywhere.  It became a bit of a running joke with our group to exploit his power for our amusement.  Cam most of all.

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Kid would sleep through an earthquake

Beach- Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach – Ko Phangan

I may be a bit biased on this because this was the first beach where I could go into the water after my stitches, but it was clean, off the beaten path, and exactly what we were looking for.

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Other:

Place I would liveBali

While I loved Ko Tao and Vietnam I never felt I could live in either place indefinitely. Both had drawbacks to the lifestyle I prefer to live.  Bali, however, hits it on the head. After spending a week there I completely understand why so many people go and never come back.  It has a great blend of Western and Eastern culture. It’s a fairly large island to the point where it doesn’t feel like you’re isolated on an island.  Add in the views, surfing, nightlife, people, the amount of outdoor activities and take my word that coming home was harder than I thought it was going to be.

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Most Pleasant Surprise-  Exploring the Paradise and Dark Cave Phong Nha National Park and Caves, Vietnam

I expected to explore the world’s largest cave- it was on the tour title after all.  However, two things really surprised me.  The first was the Dark Cave.  You’re exploring the cave in complete darkness aside from the headlamp on your head.  Every step is difficult to navigate as the cave is wet and muddy.  You get to slide down mudslides and at one point in the cave, you’re in a pool of water where you quite literally float.  The second thing that really made the experience incredible was the fact that the caves are right next to a lake.  After exploring the caves we spent the afternoon zip lining, kayaking, and swimming.

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Most Underrated Experience that no one talks about– Doing a Homestay in Sapa Vietnam

I had no idea what to expect in Sapa.  My friend Liam told me it was his favorite part of Vietnam and something I had to do.  Which means I had to convince the group to do the homestay and they were wary at best. Best decision I made on the trip.  We spent our 3 days hiking in the Himalayas Mountains.  Our nights around a table eating, drinking rice wine (and vodka), and spending time together.  The village doesn’t have any nightlife and barely has electricity.  It was a great 3 days of disconnecting from the world and enjoying the company of close friends.

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The Fellowship preparing for our journey

Once was enough– Floating Village, outside Seim Reap, Cambodia

We bussed an hour away from our hostel in Seim Reap to check out one of the floating villages of Cambodia.  While it was a cool experience I don’t see the need to go back and do it again.

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Scariest Moment– 4 A.M. ambulance ride in Phuket, Thailand 

Though crashing a scooter and almost drowning in Bali are up there.  The ambulance ride followed by spending over an hour in a Phuket Emergency Room at 4 am getting 15 stitches in my leg has to be the winner.  But what’s a trip without a few scars.

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Real friends come to the ER with you at 4 am.

Tourist Guilt “Had to”Angkor Wat, Seim Reap, Cambodia

Don’t get me wrong, it’s something everyone should see at least once in their life.   However, this was the only thing on the entire trip I felt obligated to see.  We went to Cambodia for 3 days literally just to make sure we saw Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.  Huge and humbling the Angkor Wat compound was completely worth it.  Though I’d be lying if I said I preferred Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm.

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Unique Experience- Asia Scenic Cooking Class,  Chaing Mai, Thailand

My traveling goal going forward is to bring something back from my travels that enhances my life.  Learning to cook something new fits the bill.  Apart from learning something new, the cooking class we took was an absolute blast.  Learning how to make authentic Thai food while in Thailand was definitely a unique experience.

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Spontaneous Decision- Bali Swing- Ubud, Bali

After we finished white water rafting I saw a sign saying “Bali Swing” this way,  I explained to the group that I’d seen something like it on Instagram (looked amazing) and since we were right there we should check it out.  With no background on if it was even the same thing, we headed straight there.  So glad we did.  Check out the video on Instagram.

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Ballin’ Out Moment- Getting custom suits tailored in Bali

Yeah, I’ve got a suit guy.

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Ballin’ out in Bali

Conversation- Seif explaining the Middle East to Nick (and myself)

One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to talk to people from outside the Midwest and outside of the United States.  Getting to hear their views on everything from life, to religion, and especially politics (American and World). My friend Seif was born in Egpyt and now lives in London.  After most of our friends went to bed in Sapa, he stayed up with Nick and I for hours explaining the different dynamics at play in that area of the world.  He answered question after question with complete honesty.  Not trying to make anyone good or bad just presented the facts as he knew them.  Anytime you can have a conversation with someone who has direct experience with something your best bet is to shut up, listen, and take it in.

Most Overrated- Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan, Thailand 

I enjoy it.  But this was as close to college spring break as we got on the trip.  I love Thai buckets and a good beach party as much as the next person, but to be honest I enjoyed the jungle party the night before more.  If you’re in Thailand it’s definitely something you should check out, but just expect PCB or South Padre in Asia with buckets.

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Reppin’ of Nebraska- Outside Hoi An, Vietnam

Water buffalo+Rice fields+Flag= Trifecta

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Random Discovery- LOVE sign- Koh Phangan, Thailand

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To keep up with my adventures follow me on Instagram Todds_Tales

Quote for 5-12-17

Once, in my father’s bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Quote for 5-11-17

“What is family? They were the people who claimed you. In good, in bad, in parts or in whole, they were the ones who showed up, who stayed in there, regardless. It wasn’t just about blood relations or shared chromosomes, but something wider, bigger. We had many families over time. Our family of origin, the family we created, and the groups you moved through while all of this was happening: friends, lovers, sometimes even strangers. None of them perfect, and we couldn’t expect them to be. You can’t make any one person your world. The trick was to take what each could give and build your world from it.”

Sarah Dressen