“Be Fearless and Play”

For a week now, we have been exploring the city of Bangkok.  This city holds a strange place in my heart, out of everywhere I have been.  There’s days when I can’t stand what I see and what I experience… then within the same day, I find something I absolutely love here.  It’s difficult to explain, but I will go ahead and try.

First of all, the city is chaotic.  There’s not been a place that we have visited yet that wasn’t full of chaotic energy.  Even the temples we have visited were chaotic.  In most cities, if you walk around in the wee hours of the morning, you can find a serenity that one wouldn’t expect in a city.  Not here… when we first rolled into Bangkok, at 5 AM in the morning, there were hordes of people.  First up there were the touts and scammers… trying to take all the tourists for their money.  They hit us right after we got off the bus.  Tuk-tuk, Taxi?!?  They would ask.  Friend, friend… where you go?  All I wanted to do was pack up my bags, get the hell out of there to our hotel, get our Myanmar visas and leave.  After walking away from all the madness of the touts, there were people selling lottery tickets, grilled skewers of chicken and pork, and fruit stands all on the side of the road.  At 5 AM!  And we weren’t even to the famous Khaosan Road area yet!  We had heard stories of Khaosan and remembered a blog we read saying the writer and his girlfriend arrived, spent 5 minutes, and left to never come back.  Needless to say, we didn’t have the best expectations.  We joined all the tourists off our bus in the dazed scramble for the remaining guesthouse rooms in the Khaosan area.  We knew we didn’t want to stay amidst the chaos so wandered to a quieter side street and after checking a few guesthouses, we got lucky and found a cheap, clean guesthouse owned by a local family.  As we were looking for our guesthouse, we passed tables with people still drinking and partying from the night before, people passed out in the street, beggars, monks coming out onto the streets to gather their morning alms, and more food stalls selling everything from pancakes to pad thai.

"My friend, where you go?  You want tuk-tuk... taxi?"

“My friend, where you go? You want tuk-tuk… taxi?”

Somehow though, the city has managed to grow on us.  The chaos has its charm.  At any time of the day, you can go out and walk around and expect something interesting to happen, or just grab a quick bite to eat.  On our first day, we walked out of the hotel and passed a guy on the street.  I nodded and smiled at him, only to realize who it was.  I told Nancy, and she pushed me to go back and have a chat with him, and it was Mark Murphy of the band Wookiefoot!  Many of you might not know this band, but their work through their organization “Be the Change Charities” was one of the big motivators that inspired me to travel in the first place.  They use their music as a vehicle of change and raise money to donate to humanitarian projects around the world.  They then travel (on their own money) to third world countries and distribute the money raised to smaller organizations in need.  This is my ultimate goal for my music, to use it as a vehicle of positive change throughout our world.  It is why I travel… to seek, to learn, to share, and eventually it is my dream to be of service in these countries that I set foot in.  Check out more on their site! (http://bethechangecharities.org/)

Soi Rambuttri - meeting with Mark Murphy of Wookiefoot!

It’s not all pretty though.  One of the things I dislike the most about traveling is witnessing the adverse effects of tourism on a place.  It makes me question why I am really here and if my presence in a place is even worth it.  I think travel is one of the best forms of education, but when I witness the culture of a place being spoiled, it makes me sad and angry.  When I walk around the area of Khaosan Road (and some other areas) in Bangkok, the negative effects are more apparent than anywhere I have traveled.  You walk to get some dinner and you hear the whisperings of shady characters trying to sell entrance to sex shows, prostitutes, and more.  My mind starts to wander into the dark depths of the world of sex trafficking when suddenly I hear a British tourist in his drunken world yell out to his friend… “DUDE… YOU HAVE TO SEE A PING-PONG SHOW TONIGHT!!!.”  I won’t go into the details of this (wikipedia has it all if you are curious), but I can’t imagine that he would be so enthusiastic about this show if it were his own younger sister who was stolen or sold from her family, forced into the sex trade as a child, and eventually made to work in a show as an adult for a living that required her to perform random feats for the drunken throngs of tourists that pour through Bangkok every year.  Don’t even get me started on the prostitution here…  Top that off with all the taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers that see Westerners as walking ATMs and try to scam every penny they can off of unsuspecting tourists.  You really have to have your wits about you to navigate this city.  It’s enough to make me want to fly away and never come back.

Just about the time that I was getting frustrated with the lack of any sort of meaningful contact with Thai culture in the South and in Bangkok, magic had it’s way of popping in!  Once again, it started with a random walk outside our hotel.  We stopped to talk to a Westerner promoting his health-food cafe and were invited to play some music.  The people and food were amazing!  If you are in Bangkok, look up Ethos Cafe… you will not be disappointed.  Our night there had us meeting amazing people and making connections that eluded to the future part of our travels through SE Asia.  You gotta follow along though, as I am not sharing yet!  We met a very inspirational American this night who had just come from the north of Thailand, working with Burmese refugees.  She was working with a dance/circus troupe that was sharing their talents and teaching the kids in the camps how to tap into their own creativity.  The next day we met with a local from Bangkok, who we got into contact through our Live Love Travel Dream facebook page.  Somehow, we had sent her an invite to “like” our facebook page and we started chatting.  Eventually we made plans to meet up in Bangkok.  Our friend had just returned from solo travels in India and she took us all around Bangkok to some local markets and then to a hidden Indian restaurant where we spent the night chatting with her and a very nice young Nepalese man who had traveled a bit around the world and spoke more languages than I could count with my two hands!  Those moments are always the most magical for me… when I am immersed in the world of the country I am traveling through.  That night, as our friend took us through all the hidden corridors of the city, we could nearly forget that we were in a city that had massive amounts of tourists everywhere.  It was a glimpse of the real SE Asia, and it was a night we will both hold very dearly!

The beautiful Buddha images of Wat PhoWe have also enjoyed the beautiful temples here in Bangkok, like Wat Pho, the home of Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha statue and the famous Golden Mountain!  Experiencing the architecture here has been nothing short of amazing!  To walk around on these sacred grounds is very special.  The Buddhist culture has built many great shrines of unfathomable beauty.  Their attention to detail is unbelievable!  We could get lost for hours wandering around on the temple grounds, but then we would miss all of the amazing craft markets, food stalls, restaurants, and beautiful people that Bangkok has to offer.  There’s a lot of beauty amidst the chaos.  You just have to give the city a chance and explore… and find a nice peaceful room to come back to as your safe haven!  In the words of a Wookiefoot song, “Be Fearless and Play”.  You will be rewarded if you give this city a chance…

 

Southern Thailand

Without an agenda we arrived in Phuket, an island in the south of Thailand. We knew we wanted to visit some of the beautiful islands that Thailand had to offer, but the difficult choice was choosing one. There are so many to choose from, however, on a budget we needed to keep it simple and affordable.

Kata Beach, Thailand

Kata Beach, Thailand

The Big Buddha, Phuket

The Big Buddha, Phuket

While in Phuket we rented a Motorbike for $6 USD/24 hrs and took a tour of the island. Earlier that morning we met a very nice American couple who were also traveling SE Asia, and they let us borrow their snorkeling gear. So off we went to the south of the island to snorkel and explore. We went to Kata Beach and started snorkeling directly off the beach. It is so magical to see all the colorful fish underneath us. There were angelfish, trumpet fish, parrot fish and many others. After snorkeling, we decided to soak up the sun by renting two sun chairs and an umbrella. The next day we took the motorbike to the Big Buddha which was 15 kms from our Guesthouse. This landmark sits atop a gigantic hill and is 45 meters high. It is made from Burmese marble that shines in the sun. It was quite breathtaking once we arrived at the top of the hill. The view from atop was incredible.

Sunset, Koh Lanta

Sunset, Koh Lanta

After much thought, we decided to visit the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand. It seemed to suit our needs of what we wanted from our island retreat: quiet, not overly busy, good food, etc. We just wanted to relax. After two days we decided to book 5 more…we didn’t want to leave.  We made a deal with the owner of the Funky Fish to stay at $13/night, in our own little bungalow, 2 minutes walk from the beach. We slept in our porch hammock, read on the beach, walked into town, ate at our favorite restaurant three times a day…this was the quintessential beach vacation.

Koh Ngai

Koh Ngai

Our last day on the island before we left we booked a longtail boat to visit/snorkel the Four Islands off the coast of Koh Lanta. The boat ride out to the islands was extremely funny looking back, but it was miserable at the time. The water was spraying us in the face/bodies and we were soaked within minutes of setting off. This continued for one hour till we arrived at our destination. I am not sure if it was the construction of the boat, or the waves or what, but I guess that is what you get when you take the “cheaper” option. Once we arrived, it was all worth it. There were fish swimming everywhere. We even had fruit that we hand fed them underneath the water. It was a bit nerve-wracking having one hundred or more fish staring at you and trying to take nibbles of the fruit. The views surrounding the islands were marvelous and untouched. Our two favorite islands were Koh Mook and Koh Ngai. Koh Mook has a secret lagoon called the Emerald Cave hidden inside.   Once you swim the dark, narrow tunnel of 80 meters you reach this secret bay of limestone cliffs. Apparently, this cave was used by pirates in times past, to store their treasure. It was am amazing experience to emerge from this dark tunnel to the emerald waters and soft white sand. The beauty of Koh Ngai (our other favorite) was that it was still very quiet and uninhabited. The water was turquoise blue and the sand was soft like powder. This will definitely be our next beach holiday destination. Next stop: Bangkok.

First stop – Malaysia!

We are changing things up a bit for 2013 here at LiveLoveTravelDream. This blog is a story of our life’s adventures and we want to keep everyone updated with stories of our travels. For 2012, Nancy and I kept separate blogs. This was tough for both of us. My blog suffered because I am busy a lot of times managing my music business and Nancy, combined with all the action of our travels, doesn’t always find time to write. So… we have decided we are joining forces! I have deleted my blog at my website, www.JeremyArndt.com, and would like to stop in here from time to time to help others live vicariously through our stories. Granted, we would never want anyone to live vicariously… we all have dreams that are best lived personally. We advise everyone to live their dreams and follow your heart to happiness. But, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy our stories!

Peace,
Jeremy Arndt

First, I would like to tell you about Malaysia. We are in Thailand now, and have finished our twelve days of travel through Malaysia. It’s tough to make plans while you are traveling, and if we had stuck with our plans, we would be in New Zealand right now. But… Nancy spontaneously suggested the idea of coming to Southeast Asia a couple months ago, and the more we read, the more exciting it seemed!

Malaysia, to me, felt like Asia for beginners… at least from what my expectations are for the rest of SE Asia! It was free from hassles that one would expect like hustlers trying to get your money, easy to get around in, and it was pretty modern and clean. We really enjoyed our time in Malaysia and spent our time in three places, Kuala Lumpur (the capitol), Pulau Pangkor, and Melaka. Malaysia was very laid back, comfortable to travel through (luxury buses for cheap, cheap, cheap), and for the most part was pretty friendly, although we didn’t mingle much with the locals unfortunately.

The Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur.

The Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur.

We started in the capitol, Kuala Lumpur, and didn’t have the best first night. We arrived to our hotel late, after taking the hour-long bus ride from the airport to our section of town, Puduraya. When we arrived, it took us about 30 minutes of dragging around all of our luggage (we packed too much!) around Chinatown looking for our place. In the end, it was only a 5 minute walk from where the bus dropped us off… but we weren’t armed with any maps. Only a vague description that it was near a 7-11 and a Hindu Temple!

We started off by skipping the street food and going straight to a restaurant. We figured it would be a safe bet for our first night. We were WRONG! We both got food poisoning. Within minutes of leaving the restaurant, we could both tell something was up. We had ordered vegetarian to skip the “mystery meat” for the night, and were brought lukewarm food that had been sitting under a warmer. Big Mistake! I was sick for two days and Nancy fell very ill, and was bedridden, for about four days.

The next morning, we managed to visit the Batu Caves area of KL, just before the biggest part of the sickness kicked in. It was magical! They were just getting setup for Thaipusam, a hindu holy festival that brings in millions of devotees from around the world. Devotees can be seen carrying various forms of Kavadi, or burdens. These are an offering to the divine. Simple ones can be carrying a pot of milk, or they can get very sophisticated and the bearers will use various forms of skin-mortification such as piercing the cheek or skin of the back in many places. Parents may also shave their heads or the heads of their children. They will partake in a pilgrimage from the center of the city, up to 15km to Batu Caves. It can talk all night and the early morning. At some point, the procession went right past our hotel while we were sleeping, but we didn’t wake up.

We didn’t see the main festivities of Thaipusam because of not knowing the schedule for the festival and Nancy’s food poisoning. After she was better though, we explored a large part of Kuala Lumpur! I loved the city for its ultra-modern architecture, especially Petronas Towers. The city also had a wide variety of great food due to its mixed population of Malay, Indian, and Chinese people.

After KL, we wanted to get a little bit of sun and a layed-back Island lifestyle, so we headed to Pulau Pangkor, a sleepy island on the west coast of Malaysia. We went there due to its population of hornbills and because it was a rather low-key tourist destination. The Oriental Pied Hornbill was a spectacular bird and, Nancy being a bird enthusiast, this was the perfect spot. We had heard a guy on the island feeds them every night and you could witness this for free. When we arrived after 6 hours of travel, we were surprised to get right in on the action. We were walking and looking for a cheap place to rest our heads and the hornbills were already gathering for their nightly feeding. They were amazing birds! We came back on our last night and actually got to feed them bananas from our hands. We found a cheap little place to stay in, had our own A-Frame hut, and lots of hammocks to lounge in, and had a nice lazy time on the island. The beaches weren’t spectacular, and the food was not nearly up to the standards of KL, but we had a great time! Our little village of Nipah was pretty much a ghost town… So one day we rented a motorbike and toured the island. We had a blast doing this, my favorite part being the “discovery” of a Chinese Temple tucked away in a Chinese neighborhood! After some much needed relaxing on the island, we took the bus to Melaka.

We discovered this little gem on our trip around the island!

We discovered this little gem on our trip around the island!

By now, Malaysia had started to take shape for us as a food destination… we were always talking about the food… and Melaka was known for it’s food, unique multi-cultural history, and laid-back vibes. It was a large city, but had a very small-town feel to it and the people were so welcoming. We had wonderful Indian food our first night, and then the second night we decided to pick our meal as we went along, from the various vendors of Jonker Street in Chinatown. This was our “tourist day”, as we aimed to try all the recommended local specialties of Lonely Planet. The strangest was the Cendol, a shaved ice treat with coconut milk, condensed milk, ice cream, red beans, little green noodle-like things, and sprinkles on top. It was so weird, but wonderful in it’s own way. Our favorite was Poh-Piah, a local spring roll delicacy. We also wandered around sampling other street foods throughout the night. To our surprise, we stumbled on a fantastic Chinese New Year parade! The locals were so inviting and even let Nancy hop into the Parade and surrounded her for a good Chinese New-Year’s welcome!

Nancy joins the Chinese New Year Parade!

Nancy joins the Chinese New Year Parade!

After Melaka, we made our way to Thailand, where we are currently. Stay tuned, as there are lot’s of stories to come. We love hearing from everyone via the comments and on our facebook pages. It helps to keep the random bouts of homesickness at bay.

See you next time!
Jeremy