Day 56: The good, the bad and the ugly

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Asia » Singapore
December 9th 2009
Published: January 9th 2010
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Today marks a milestone (actually, several) of sorts:
- As of today, we've been traveling for 8 weeks
- Today is our last day in Asia; we leave tonight for Australia
- Today is also our last day of taking anti-malarial pills (yeay!)

We took it easy this morning since tonight we have a big adventure lined up: an overnight flight to Australia. We spent several hours at a nearby cafe and took the opportunity to pause and reflect on our experience in Asia - the highlights, the low lights, and the biggest surprises.

Our best moments so far:

1. Japan
- Riding the shiny, speedy bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto
- Unexpectedly running into Adrian's brother Nick and his wife Emily in a random noodle shop in Kyoto
- Visiting beautiful temples and a leafy Shinto shrine in Nara

2. Cambodia
- Being entranced by Angkor Wat at sunrise
- Exploring Ta Prohm and Bayon
- Eating one of our best meals of the trip: the unbelievably delicious fish amok (fish curry) at Sugarpalm in Siem Reap

3. Thailand
- Participating in "Monk Chat" at a temple in Chiang Mai
- Visiting the stunning Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai
- Spending several lazy days in Phuket on the gorgeous white sand beaches and playing in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea

4. Laos
- Riding elephants bareback and learning how to be a mahout: BAI BAI!
- Everything about laid-back Luang Prabang, especially the colonial architecture and french food
- Exploring the very eerie and mysterious Plain of Jars and being blessed by an 80-year-old monk

5. Vietnam (yes, we did enjoy some of it)
- Eating mouth-watering bun bo in the Old Quarter of Hanoi (for $1.50 a bowl!)
- Sitting in the bar at the magnificient Metropole hotel at 11pm, after our ordeal in Halong Bay, and drinking martinis while listening to jazz.
- Chatting with the Metropole hotel manager's German father - in Spanish!

6. Burma
- Seeing the temples of Bagan lit up with crimson and orange light at sunrise and sunset
- Learning about the Nats (spirits), climbing Mt. Popa, and witnessing the bizarre annual Nat festival
- Eating delicious meals at Monsoon restaurant in Yangon
- Meeting William, Aung Shwe and Minmin
- Watching the morning mist hovering over Inle Lake from inside our huge bungalow. Seeing hundreds of huge water lillies just outside our bedroom window.

7. Singapore
-The complimentary wine tastings at the St Regis
-Relaxing in the sauna at St. Regis (also complimentary). Cooling off with ice chips.

We didn't have any extraordinary moments in Malaysia but we were only in Kuala Lumpur for a few days. We want to return to Malaysia at some point; Borneo is high on Angelique's travel list (we decided not to visit Borneo on this trip because October is the rainy season and evidently the leeches like to get friendly with tourists during the rainy season).

Some of the biggest surprises of the trip:
1. Neither one of us got sick. We managed to dodge H1N1, malaria, and dengue fever. Ok there were a few sniffles and coughs (and the occasional tummy ache) but nothing major.
2. How easy it was to get by in SE Asia speaking only English.
3. How difficult it was to get by in Japan speaking only English.
4. Travel in Burma was extremely easy. The Burmese people - despite having so little in the way of money/resources/basic freedoms they are amazingly friendly.
5. How disappointed we were in Vietnam. We thought Vietnam would be one of the highlights of our trip.
6. How little you need to travel. We got by with our passports, three credit cards, our ATM cards, and two small roller bags.

And now, on to Australia. This country was a late addition to our itinerary because, about 2 weeks before we left for Japan, we discovered that the New Zealand government isn't absolutely delirious with joy to have us stay in their country for an indefinite period of time. In fact, we found out that Americans are limited to a shockingly short 3 months on a standard visitor visa. We had planned to stay in New Zealand for 3.5 to 4 months with a return to the U.S. in late March/early April. So we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle as we had wanted to invade New Zealand on December 9th and drink wine and eat lamb and fresh seafood until March 30th.

Since we don't have criminal records of any kind, we found that we could apply for a special visa to stay in New Zealand for 3.5 months. However, to do this, we would need to submit our passports to the consulate in Los Angeles along with some lengthy paperwork promising that, if they let us in:
1. We wouldn't decide to take up permanent residence in a shack on a beach and
2. We weren't (to our knowledge) currently infected with tuberculosis (why that and not the more troublesome H1N1, we don't know).

Sounded easy but we had a small problem - two weeks before our departure date the Burmese embassy in Washington D.C. was still working their way through our visa papers and was in possession of our passports. After consulting a calendar we determined that there was no way we would be able complete the paperwork and get our passports back from the Kiwi consulate in Los Angeles before we left for Tokyo. So in the end we trimmed a little time off of our Kiwi adventure and decided to drop in on Australia for 2 weeks in December. And so our final travel itinerary looks like this:

12/10-12/26 in Australia
12/26-3/26 in New Zealand

So what do we know about Australia?
-It is very hot in the interior and no one wants to go there.
-There are a lot of crocodiles (fresh water and "salties") and every so often they eat people. Chomp.
-Their wine is pretty tasty.
-BBQ is wildly popular.
-There are pubs and cafes all over.
-Everyone calls everyone else "mate".

Suppose we will learn more tomorrow.


10th January 2010

Immigration a pain in the butt. 90 days is what a European, Kiwi, Aussie would get to visit the US though!

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