Walking in San Francisco

Random sights from my walk back from Haight-Ashbury in San Fran. That area still has echos of its hippie era creds and is has middle-class white kids ( aka modern hippies) hanging around the park with their big dogs. (Note: They are white kids so they are hippies - any other ethnicity and they would be called bums)

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20120618-190747.jpg Street art.

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Note the sign says "established 32 ad give or take a year"- a good one.

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I have no idea why those locks are there - but it's a fun one to contemplate.

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Apparently outside the wwdc conference there were girls there to lure the heavily male dominated attendees to strip clubs. At this one you can get VIP access if you show your pass.

When you have no internet...

[caption id="attachment_332" align="aligncenter" width="268" caption="Angor Wat"][/caption][caption id="attachment_335" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Kyoto"]Kyoto[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_331" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Yangshou"][/caption][caption id="attachment_333" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Busan"][/caption][caption id="attachment_334" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Busan again"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_338" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="Yangshou"][/caption]

Go Busan Giants Go

Fun days with Tanners and MAP are over. (Boo!! But thanks peeps for a great time.) The first day we met up in Seoul and caught up on each others biznasss. We went to eat at a traditional Korean family restaurant which was good - I order meat because oh many I was craving protein! Observation #1: Koreans are generally speaking super nice and considerate. The Korean woman at the restaurant went out of her way to show me how to eat my food because I had noooo idea what I was doing. After we walked around and then I  learnt a game that would be the obsession of the entire trip - a Korean gambling game called `go stop` using some hwatu cards. The game is tricky and fun, where you have to match cards that kind of match but not really plus a whole lot of other crazy rules. As in apparently `takes 4 hands to understand, a lifetime to master`. The next day we super lucked out because apparently there was a big lantern parade happening for buddah`s b-day. It was great that someone gave us the tip to go there. We got there around 1 and got to make our own lotus flower lanterns! Super fun. Then we walked around to all the other stalls - it was a carnival type environment. After we watched the lantern parade which was super awesome also. Then we headed to Busan playing `go stop` all of the way.

In Busan the first day was fun because we went to the shopping district - its fun and relatively cheap and cool stylish / cutesy asian type fashion. I had fun buying things - mostly a lot of big random shirts that can be totally worked in easily to a Pakistan wardrobe. So much good food in between!! The next day we went to the Korean Modern art museum which was good but mostly just ok because there was that much actual Korean modern art in it. At night we went to Tanner and MAPS local bar and played --  YOU GUESSED it - go stop! Just have to say that Tanners has some ridiculous unbelievable luck in this game and basically ALWAYS wins. I think she`s cheating.

We also went to Spa City in Sentum City - basically its like a Korean style bathhouse type place. I was a little anxious about seeing all these naked Korean women but its was okay once you get used to it. Its fun because the female section has like lots of different tubs ranging from the ice cold 17 degrees to the insanely hot 49 degrees. The ideal situation is that you go from hot to cold hot to cold and we tried out best. Also go scrubbed down by the professional female scrubbers. Yuck! It was super gross how much dirt and skin that came off. Omg I think the scrubbing lady was disgusted but I was happy because she scrubbed a lot of my gross tan. At night we wen to see the Hyundae beach and the bridge there - I wonder if its named after the car company.

The next day we were all in the pre-preps from Buddah`s bday. We went to a temple -I don`t remember the name but its one of the places where they have some  crystals that supposedly appear when an englighted persons body is burnt (this enlightened person being the Indian Buddha.) That night I had the best meal ever which was an authentic Korean (although unsually veggie for Tanner and MAP) meal thanks to their friend May who invited us for dinner. The food was amazingly delicious - and then we played Go Stop at night . ;P My last day was the quintesential Korea expereince which included going to the Busan Giants game, eating Korean bbq the PROPER way and of course some Norebang! (aka karaoke). Ok in Kyoto Japan now - more to report but that`s gonna be from another day. Only 7 more days till I`m back home. booo!

Please be self-restraint and be a good tourist to mold a well-mannered imagination.

Officially been a long while since I updated my blog. Currently I'm sitting in Tanners and MAP's super cute but small apartment. MAP is making Daal and it smells yum! After I floated down 'tha river' we headed to Xi'an. Xi'an is mostly quite a big city but its still really pretty and our hotel was really well placed. At night we would hang out in the park area near the bell and drum tower and fly kites. There is a pretty big muslim quarter in Xi'an. I went to the 'grand mosque' which was a really interesting mix of Chinese and Muslim-style architecture and is very serene and beautiful and right smack dab in the middle of an otherwise super hectic market.
I'm so happy that we had a Chinese guide - first of all because China is officially hard to navigate without speaking the language. There are officially times where people in train and cabs speak not a word of English. Anyways I ate this very local yummy food which was made out of yummy herb soup and pancakes and noodles and beef. It was so good especially when all the pancakes soaked up the soup.
Anyways went to see the Terracotta warriors and it was good, but in a way super sanitized and organized. You are basically in these huge rooms and are looking down into the pits and are generally far away from them with a LOT of Chinese tourists everywhere. I think the interesting thing is that there are a lot of warriors and other things buried down there that they have not excavated yet because they don't know how to without exposing them to air which makes them loose the original color pigments of the warriors.
The second day at Xi'an I got to ride the bike around the great wall which is all around the city which was really fun. Another overnight bus to Shanghai which is really modern, bustling and happening city. We walked around the river area and the French Concession part which was fun and beautiful. The second day we went to the Shanghai Expo. Expo was and interesting experience - but really I can see the fascination with it maybe even 20 years ago but now with the internets and YouTube basically the world is a smaller place and other countries don't really seem that exotic and crazy wild. Last stop on the China tour was Beijing which is BIG BIG BIG with a crazy metro system that would put Toronto's to SHAME. I climbed up the great wall which was really fun - it was a slightly tiring hike but was worth it to be able to say that I actually climbed it. Also went to Tianamin square and also the Forbidden City. I think the 'forbidden city' is really big in terms of size and grandeur but its not really the most ornately designed palace area and can almost look severe and soviet-like at times. I also went to the summer palace which is like an hour out side of the city. It's really nice, really huge with a very big man-made lake.
Korea updates will come soon!

Floating Down the Yangtze

Back on solid land now after spending 3 days and 2 nights on a boat on the Yangtze river. The boat was full of Chineese tourists that were vacationing for their 'May Day' long weekend and was a great slow paced break with lots of 'relaxation time'. We went down (actually up) the river past each of the three Gorges and past the iconic landscape which is on the 10 Yuan note. To get to up the river over 3 shipping locks, which took around 20 minutes to 1 hour to fill up with water so we could 'climb up'. So far I've seen the exact landscape that is on the 20 and 10 Yuan note - hopefully we hit up some of the higher denominations for the rest of out trip!
The boat was nice - like a small hotel with a bar, lounge, majong and Karaoke room. The whole time I felt like I was on a mini Titanic - especially when on the deck at night when all you could see up ahead was pitch blackness. I also SLEPT a lot on the boat since anything moving (trains, cars, boats) makes me feel really sleepy - which was good because other than two short excursions we did there wasn't too much to do on the boat itself. We did have the chance to party with some Chinese people though which was fun - for some reason all the men like to lift up their shirt and rub their belly. It's so weird! I will have to remember to take a picture of it.
Ate a lot of sweet and sour chicken, rice, cabbage and shredded potatoes on the boat - that is 2 meals a day for 3 days. That's the only items the group found acceptable to eat - so sick of sweet and sour flavor I would be happy to not eat it again for the rest of my life.  On the other hand today I have also had the chance to eat totally delectable and authentic Chinese food in proper Chinese fashion thanks to our guide who is Chinese. My favorite things so far has been the yummy 'black fungus' (mushrooms) and aubergines with 'local plant matter'.
Tomorrow we board the train at 2pm and don't get off until 7am in Xi'an. That's 16 hours on the train and I don't have a book to read. I'm gonna have to try to hunt one down but China is very non-english and a LOT less touristy than the other places I've been so far.

Hong Kong vs. Mainland China

Whew! It's been a hectic couple of days since I left Hanoi. First off, for all the crazy busy traffic of Hong Kong after leaving the crazy crazy busy traffic of Hanoi felt positively peaceful! The first night I was there I stayed in a cheap hostel and had a room/closet to sleep in. It was awesome. The only good thing about having your own closet to sleep in is that I could blow my nose as loudly as I want at night - which I've been doing a lot cause I'm still fighting my cold.
I made my 2.5 days in Hong Kong jam packed with activities including taking the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island, taking the tram up to the point and taking the crazy mid-level escalators that take you all the way up the steep incline on HK island. (On the bad side, there are not escalators to take you down!).
I was there on a Sunday and was walking near the parks at Central MTR and there were literally thousands and thousands of women who had made mini-picnics on the streets and were playing cards. All woman - not a man on sight. Apparently this is where all the Phillipino domestic workers meet up on their day off to chill and hang out. I do feel like I didn't really get a sense of what real HongKongers are like except for when you see them riding the MTR. They LOVE wearing black and being all business suit-like.
I also went to the Hong Kong art museum (a PASS - the contemporary section only featured ONE artist) and saw the light show (which is also touristy and kind of 80's reminiscent) but still worth seeing especially cause its FREE. Also went to all the required markets in HK including Jade Market, Goldfish Market, Flower Market, Electronics Market, Clothing Market and Temple street night market. There is TOO much shopping!! Everywhere/Everything is a shopping mall and I saw wayyy to many young men staring lustfully at watches and electronic items. In HK the consumerist culture is definitely proudly celebrated!
I've joined my second group and we crossed into Mainland China. It was pretty easy from HK - your just take a subway! Which is why I kept on having bad nightmares of accidentally crossing over to mainland from HK and invalidating my single entry visa. It seems getting a visa for China is really simple / really hard just depending on where you get it. i.e. Laos, Vietnam, HK = really simple.
Took the overnight train to Guilin - in Vietnam your have 4 people to a cabin - in China you have 6. I was on the top bunk on overnight and its crazy cramped - you can't even sit up straight and I was actually feeling catastrophic and had to try to go to sleep right away when I got to my bunk. From Guilin we took a bust to Yangshuo. It's a touristy resort town - but its worth seeing. Everywhere you look you see amazing landscape of what they call 'Karst' mountains. It's look so beautiful they take you by surprise every time you notice them. They are also lit up at night which looks amazing.
We went down the Li River on a 'bamboo' boat which wasn't actually made out of Bamboo and went biking and hiking up 'moon hill'. I wish I could insert the bottom / top pictures of the hike here because its was actually crazy high. Also saw a light show that is done by over 300 villages / actors and its was created by the same person who did the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. It's pretty cool actually - there is this one part where over a 100 farmers on boats are manipulating lines of red cloth which looks kind of like the Chinese flag. In another section there is 200 women who are wearing lights so they look like skeletons dances in the pitch blackness.
You see a lot of signs of the 'one child policy' here - mostly lots of grand parents taking care of the super cute and chubby grand kids where presumably the parents are out working to support both the older and the younger. I actually saw rice fields being sown with water buffaloes - I'm sure that will be replaced with machines in a couple of years.
Next we're off to the Three Gorges - will be on a boat for two nights going down the Yangzi river. Exciting!

Dead Men and Professional Massages

Today is my 3rd day in Hanoi and I think it takes about that much time to start getting used to the maze-like streets and crazy traffic (and crazy driving) to start appreciating the city. So far the highlight of Hanoi has been to see Uncle Ho encased in his age-less glass box. The are super hyper at the masoleum, you can't laugh or talk as you approach it and you have to give them all cameras so no taking pictures. Apparently if they catch you taking a picture they make you sign a document declaring that you disrespected Uncle Ho.
The tour has officially ended and I have a couple of days extra before I head to HongKong. I'm actually really glad for the extra days, I'm would not have thought it but I'm actually pretty tired from the past 20 days of traveling and Hanoi is a good place for some R+R. Tomorrow I plan to see the Ho Chi Minh musem which was closed today - should be a good laugh.
After we left Hoi An we went to Hue for one day. Hue is the old captial for the Vietnamese kings and they have a pretty impresive 'Purple Forbidden City' and along side a citadel with the biggest flag I have seen in my entire life. After that we traveled on an overnight train to Halong Bay. This is where there are huge cliffs rising out of the water and its a classic Vietnam picture. When we hot to Halong Bay is was POURING but luckily it cleared up by the time we had to get on the boat.
The boat we took here was great - it was this old-timey looking one that had the feeling of French Colonial times. We ate an amazing seafood meal and then went to see one of the caves. One unfortunately thing about Vietnam is that they make everything uber-touristy. For example the caves had a light show to 'tart it up' and we went to the Temple of Literature (which is the site of the oldest university) and inside it you can buy tourist crap AND have an ATM there to help you buy the crap.
Halong Bay at night is a very boring and dead place. I think it's cause we were staying near the bay itself and no where near the city. I went with someone in the group to get a massage. In hindsight there were probably several things that should have made me clue in that this wasn't wasn't a totally legit place like the bar in the lobby, that they wanted up to pay upfront and that my massage women was wearing a nightie. (Okay to be fair, Vietnamese people wear what I would consider pajamas out in the street at the time so I just thought it was an indoor extension of that). My masssage room had a massage bed and then in the most creepy interior decoration - two chairs positioned right in front of the with an ashtray inbetween. What a disaster.

The Clever Mr. Phoung

Got to Hoi An two days ago. It's a very cute town, a historical old district, nice walking/bicycling only streets, river and beach. Basically its got everything a tourist would want. There were a lot of tourists but I wouldn't say the town was overun with them.
The first day I got a bicycle and rode around town which was a great way to cover the city and experience it. The next day I spent with the fantastic my Phoung. Basically he's just this guy who goes around creating his our tour of his fishing village. To be honest the tour was nothing that special - first we went to his village which was a 20 min bike ride. Then he told his history about it (the is recorded history of the village from the 15th century).
After that he took us to the pottary farm which is the other thing his village does (other than fishing) and we got to make clay pots. Then we went fishing and I caught the HUGEST FISHES of my life. They were like 3 inch long. And then we went to his house and ate yummy spring rolls, yellow noodles and fresh fish. The food was authentic and yummy but a bit oily.
After we were done our meal and were ready to leave he wrote us a 'note'; it was basically a computer print out with our names written in. Ours said 'Hello Canadian and Australian'.  There he wrote the usual plesentries but included his complete contract info include email, website, phone etc and asking you to recommend him if anyone you know comes to Vietnam. Then he takes a picture with you and his family and asks you to email the photo (which he will use as recommendations when selling his tour) and also write in his book. Simple things really, but good marketing.
At night we ate at a place overlooking the river. I had rare seseame seared tuna. Not very Vietnamese but DELICIOUS. We hung around town and then went to this beach party. The stars were amazing. It ended with everyone jumping in the pool. Good times.

Snorkling, Nhang Tran and Hoi An

Yesterday we were in Nhang Tran and our group got a private boat for snorkeling. It was great - we have brand new 'non-toy' snorkeling gear. The corals and the fishes were of a nice varied variety. I would say the best snorkeling I've been at is at Ko Tao in Thailand but this was SECOND BEST.

We also ate a super delicious lunch and swam around for most of the afternoon. After we came back I went and got a massage. It was to date, THE BEST massage I've had in my life. Caught the night train to Dhnang at night and from there to Hoi An. 
The train was super disguto - as in seriously gross. In our cabin there was an extra dude without a ticket hanging around. There was a bit of a scruffule with the other girls and the guy cause they were freaking out. I was like - just chill - this is asia and I got into my bed which was on a higher level and listened to my ipod. That guy left and a new guy arrived in the middle of the night but no one noticed until we woke up. I thought our cabins were bad, but there were actually people sleeping on lawn chairs in the middle of the hallway.
A large part of Hoi An is considered a UNESCO world heritage site. You actually are 'supposed' to buy a ticket to walk around. Don't know if its actually required but I got one to see some of the cool buildings and shrines.  Already spent too much today and its only 12. I bought pearl earrings and a pearl necklace for $16. I'm hoping they are real ones - the woman was burning them to show that there were. I like the size of and style of the pearls - they are my favorite stone. I will show it to someone else local and see what they would pay to get a idea of the price. 
Then I bought some dresses for the hot weather here and also a sleeping bag liner thingy. I actually bought two because its great to have without being as big and bulky as actual sleeping bags. I will ditch the bed sheets I brought from home. I hope ami doesn't mind because they actually looked kindda new. 

Living In Oblivion

Super funny when you are traveling its really easy to NOT know what's going on in the world.  I only just found out today that the Polish president died.  I found out about the 'red shirt' protests in Bangkok had turned a little violet only as of 10 minutes ago when I checked out Google news. Also apparently Obama is all about talking to the Chineese about making the Yuan more 'market oriented'. I hope that happens AFTER I'm in China already. Nope - looks like the Yuan hit a 6 month high.
Today we went Chi Chu Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Basically these are the tunnels that the Viet Kong (the insurgents to the South Vietnamese) had their guerilla war. The tunnels where interesting - there was a 100 meter one that we could walk down into but I aborted mission 20 meters in because it was seriously way too clastrophobic. Apparently the tunnels have actually been made to twice their original size for tourists. The were originally small so that only the Viet Kong could get inside and not the American soldiers who were much bigger.
Our tour guide for the Chi Chu Tunnels was also another war veteran for the South Vietnamese. He has some interesting stories to tell about how he went on patrols and whole villages would only have women and children during the day because the men were hiding in the forest during the day and they would return at night.
He said that he worked with the Americans for 4 years as a translator and they generally were not well prepared because the American soliders were never trained in jungle warfare. Anyways when the Americans left and the South lost he spent 3 years in a 're-education' camp where he was forced to learn about Communism. So many wars fought.
After we came back I walked past the Reunification Palace (a drab communist-type looking building) and also through 'district 1' of the city. I also went to the market and bought a brown belt that will make my onsie dress more palatable. I had to wamoose outta there though because I thought I would end up buying more things which I do not want to spend money on.
Ate delicious Pho for lunch. Just waiting around out hotel with the rest of the peeps until its time to catch our night train to Nhang Tran.

Short Stroll to Vietnam

I'm in Ho Chi Minh City today. We cross the border yesterday and spent the night in a small(ish) town of Doc Chau. It's interesting to see the difference between the land border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia vs. Cambodia and Vietnam. The Tha-Cambodia border we used was really busy and teaming with people. The Cambodia-Vietnam one was relatively deserted.The border crossing went smoothly - but it think it's one thing you really can't do on your own as there didn't seem to be any organized tourist or non-tourist buses going across the border. We had a private van the whole way. To smooth things along at the border we all paid $1 to the border patrol.After we headed to Doc Chau. I'm audio-booking Guns, Germs and Steel right now (a great book). Apparently the Mekong Delta is the site of the first humans moving to cultivation of food from hunter-gathers. It's also one of the most fertile regions in the world. You can really see it when you get into Vietnam. Cambodia is kind of dry and the vegetation is sparse but as soon as you get into Vietnam is gets more lush and green.In the afternoon we took a boat ride on the Mekong river and stopped at a fish farm and a local village. Pretty touristy but nice 2 hour diversion. Then we took motorbikes up to a mountain to watch the sun set. We didn't ride the motorbikes ourselves (too bad - but probably not a good idea) but the sunset over the lush green rice fields was great.Vietnamese food is generally I feel more diverse and tasty than Cambodian. So far I've had a sweet and sour hot pot, cold cofee, and a mango and beef salad with the fresh cold rolls with seafood. Yum! Looking forward to more Vietnamese food.We arrived in Ho Chi Minh city today. Spend the afternoon strolling in the markets. I bought a couple of dresses to keep cool and a much needed hat. Plus a couple of 'gifts' for mum. The dresses were actually more expensive than the one I bought in Cambodia which was only $4. I've written Sana a postcard which I will drop in the mail later.  I wonder if she ever gets them - I sent here from from Turkey as well but I don't think she got it.Almost time for dinner! I found an actual HSBC bank today so I took out money charge free. Woohoo!

Phenom Phen(ning) and Shinoukville

Phew! It's been really hot in Cambodia and there was a nice treat to the trip - as in two days in the beach town of Shinoukville. Today I went snorkling at the islands around here - snorkling in name only as I think I saw about two different types of fishes. (As in, you see more snorkling in Karachi!)Anyways the boat ride was nice and we went beach hopping to different secluded beaches which was great. I don't have any pics since I wasn't gonna be taking ANY CHANCES with my previous camera disaster. But other peeps I went with had waterproof cameras and I'm hoping to get it off them.Tomorrow we leave Cambodia and cross the border to Vietnam. Umn... I better ask the tour leader about my passport. YES, I did have to get a brand new visa for damn Vietnam after all the initial hassle and stress of getting it the first time.  Apparently they are pretty strict about the one day off thing. Worse thing EVA.Before Shinoukville we spent one full day in Phenom Phen. It's okay. Walking in the city is like being in Sadar in the middle of the afternoon. Hot, smogy, dirty.Went to visit the S.21 prison and the Killing Fields in the evening. S.21 is a famous prison where lots of people were killed when all the intellectuals were kick out of the city and forced to work in the fields in the country.Our guide for the prison was actually a young boy at the time of the Khemer Rouge and he told us about what he remembers from his youth. At the prison we also met one guy who was a prison there and survived (one of only seven other people).

Walking to Cambodia

This is my second day in Cambodia. Yesterday we crossed the border overland from Thailand. It was pretty fun to cross literally by foot into a different country - first time I've ever done that. At night we went to eat traditional Khmer food (like thai but less spicy or coconutty) and watch Khmer dancing (again like Thai for the most part but I suppose experts would be able to tell the difference).

Visited the Khmer Ruins today including Angor Wat, 'the place where Angeline Jolie filmed Tomb Raider' and 'the place where they shot Little Brother'.   :P  Amazing to see but it was a long day though as we were at Angor Wat at 5:30 to see the sun rise and then spent the whole day visiting other sites.

There was lots of climbing and walking in extremely hot weather. For most of the day it was like 37 degrees. Surprisingly, its a LOT hotter here in the weather I left in Karachi. Doesn't cool down at nights either and zero wind makes it pretty suffocating.

Tomorrow we have a bit of time in the morning and then leave for the capital of Cambodia - Phenom Phen. (I probably didn't spell that right).

So far here are my observations about other tourists.

1. Not necessary to wear short shorts and tube tops EVERYWHERE. Hello, way to stand out like a tourist. Also, less clothes do not mean you are going to be cooler.
2. Bikins tops should not be worn outside of beach areas.
3. Don't talk about how EVERYTHING is so CHEAP. Not exactly cheap for locals or people making non-hard currency. (i.e. poor me and my going down by the day PKR :P)

Yes, My Craziness Knows No Bounds

If all goes according to my master plan...

...then a certain selected limited few of my favorite people in the world will be reading this in their *** ta dahhhh *** GMAIL INBOX.   :)I basically spent this evening figuring out how to use MailChimp and now I'm putting my knowledge to good use. As of this week, my fav peeps  will get a weekly *lastest post* edition of my blog in your inbox. (Ok - don't worry you can unsubscribe).While I'm traveling I'm planning to keep my blog as up to date so hopefully this will be an additional easy way to keep in touch.  T minus 2 days until I'm off AND I have my passport in my hand. Barring some terrible bad karma / jinx in my future I ready for my two month traveling stint.