Sunday, December 23, 2007


After my visit to Syria (see Blog) I made my way through the north end of Lebanon and down to Beirut. It didn't take long to figure out that everyone here seemed to be a bit nervous and the security was high.

In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon lasting until 1990, devastating the country's economy, and resulting in the massive loss of human life. During this time, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. Lebanon was twice invaded and occupied by the Israel Defense Forces and the PLO was expelled. Israel remained in control of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when there was a general decision to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks executed by Hezbollah militants. The UN determined that the withdrawal of Israeli troops beyond the blue line was in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, although a border region called the Shebaa Farms is still disputed.

On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion near the Saint George Bay in Beirut. The Lebanese accused Syria of the attack due to its extensive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. Syrian officials claimed that the assassination may have been executed by the American CIA or the Israeli Mossad in an attempt to destabilize the country. This incident triggered a series of demonstrations, known as Cedar Revolution, demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The UN Security Council launched an investigation and published the findings in the Mehlis Report (see Wikipedia Article) on October 20, 2005. It found that high-ranking members of the Syrian and Lebanese governments were involved in the assassination.

Eventually, and under pressure from the international community, Syria began withdrawing its 15,000-strong army troops from Lebanon. The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassination attempts that led to the loss of many prominent Lebanese figures. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and that led to a conflict, known in Lebanon as July War, that lasted until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect on 14 August 2006.

In May of 2007 Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Armed Forces began a series of attacks and bombings in and near Beirut. The Islamist Fatah al-Islam group is alleged to have links with al-Qaeda and Lebanese government officials also believe it has ties to Syrian intelligence. There have been more than a dozen mysterious assassinations of outspoken critics of the strong role that Syria plays inside Lebanon. To make things worse, a few weeks before I arrived there was a recent deadlock in the Presidential elections. The country was currently under military lockdown.

I spent much of my time in Lebanon going through checkpoints and border patrols but I did have a chance to visit some of the local attractions and get know to some locals. Many Lebanese are opposed to both of the Presidential candidates, saying that they were puppets of Syria and the United States.

For the most part Lebanon is very westernized and modern. Most people speak English and at times I forgot where I was. It's in a beautiful part of the Middle East running along the Mediterranean Coast filled with mountains and ski resorts.

After Lebanon I tried going back through the Syrian border and into Jordan but was denied entry and ended up taking a flight into Jordan (see Jordan Blog).

Monday, December 17, 2007


Syria was a bit hard to get into as an American but well worth it. My first point of entry was from the Turkish border (see Turkey Blog) where I spent many hours waiting for approval from Damascus. On my second attempt I was coming from Lebanon (next blog) and ended up spending the night (see pics below) waiting for approval. This proved to be an interesting experience because there was a 24 hour period where I was literally 'nowhere' and since I was ultimately denied entry into Syria I did not have an exit stamp. So there was a hassle going back through the Lebanon side. They asked where I had been for the last 24 hours and I didn't know what to tell them. Luckily I was traveling with a British guy who spoke Arabic and they gave me 48 hours to get a flight out and into Jordan.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that the civilization in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth (see Wikipedia Article) and can trace its roots to the fourth millennium BC. Many of the cities are the oldest in the world including Damascus and Aleppo which rank 3rd and 4th 'oldest continuously inhabited cities' (see Wikipedia Article). In the Roman period, the great city of Antioch was the capital of Syria (one of the largest cities in the world at the time) and one of the major centers of trade and industry in the ancient world. This, along with its vast wealth, made Syria, in its heyday, one of the most important of the Roman provinces.

In 1948, Syria was involved in the Arab-Israeli War, intervening on the side of the Palestinians and attempting to prevent the establishment of Israel. The Syrian army was pressed out of most of the Israel area, but fortified their strongholds on the Golan Heights and managed to keep their old borders and some additional territory until it was converted to demilitarized zones under UN supervision. But then it was gradually seized by Israel and the status of these territories have proved a stumbling-block for Syrian-Israeli negotiations. The international community and the United Nations see the Golan Heights as Syrian lands occupied and illegally annexed by Israel. In 1973, Syria tried to regain control of the Golan Heights in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Despite initial Syrian advances and heavy Israeli losses, the Golan Heights remained in Israeli hands after a successful Israeli counter attack. Syria and Israel signed an armistice agreement in 1974, and a United Nations observer force was stationed there. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, although the Syrian government continues to demand the return of this territory, possibly in the context of a peace treaty.

On October 5, 2003, Israel bombed a site near Damascus, charging it was a terrorist training facility for members of Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad said the camp was not in use; Syria said the attack was on a civilian area. The Israeli action was widely condemned. The German Chancellor said it "cannot be accepted" and the French Foreign Ministry said "The Israeli operation… constituted an unacceptable violation of international law and sovereignty rules." The Spanish UN Ambassador Inocencio Arias called it an attack of "extreme gravity" and "a clear violation of international law." However, the United States moved closer to imposing sanctions on Syria, following the adoption of the Syria Accountability Act by the House of Representatives International Relations committee and George W Bush has branded Syria and a 'rogue state' and criticized its support of Hezbollah (see Wikipedia Article) and turning a blind eye to movements of the Iraqi insurgents.

Here is a direct quote from the LP guide that I was using "Contrary to what the US State Dept may want the world to think, Syria is not populated by terrorists, zealots, etc and are in fact among the most friendly and hospitable people in the world…" After a few weeks in the country I could not agree more. Syrians are very helpful and always inviting you in for tea and snacks. Syria has a population of 20 million 90% of which are Muslim. Syrian food mostly consists of Southern Mediterranean, Greek, and Middle Eastern dishes. Some Syrian dishes also evolved from Turkish and French cooking.

Friday, November 30, 2007


This was my second time in Turkey (see first Blog) and this time I came from Bulgaria (see Blog) in the north. I spent six weeks and was only able to see the West and Central parts. Turkey is the 37th largest (by area) country in the world with the 17th largest population. This is where East meets West with one foot in Asia and the other in Europe. It was the first Muslim former-Ottoman land to establish a democracy. The food is fantastic (typical Mediterranean style) and there are many things to see. I started in Istanbul and went south to Pergamum, Ephesus, Antalya, and Cappadocia before going to Syria. I became friends with many Turkish people and found them to be progressive in many ways and always willing to help.

Turkey has something for everyone – beautiful beaches in the south, skiing in the mountains, cosmopolitan cities, more classical ruins than Greece and Italy, many major religious sites, and amazing landscapes. Traveling here is not as cheap as it once was given its strong currency, positive economic conditions, and potential membership in the EU but is still a bargain compared with most of Europe.

Next stop Syria (see Blog).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, & Bulgaria

After Bosnia (see Blog) I spent the month of October traveling through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. It was starting to get cold as fall set in and the autumn colors reminded me of home.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


For such a small country Bosnia has affected world politics for decades including the event that triggered World War I, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The 1984 Winter Olympics were also held in Sarajevo. Most recently is the Bosnian War (see Wikipedia Article) from 1992 to 1995. The war was a result of the collapse of communism and the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Serbs began seizing territory aided by Yugoslav National Army weapons and Sarajevo came under attack. They began a campaign of brutal ethnic cleansing, expelling Muslims from northern and eastern Bosnia. The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. Over 4 year the city suffered from an average of 329 mortar shell impacts per day damaging virtually every building and 35,000 were completely destroyed. Despite the widespread killings, mass rapes, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and torture conducted by Serb forces, the international community was reluctant to get involved because there was long-standing debate as to whether the conflict was a civil war or a war of aggression. In September of 1995 the US and European leaders loudly called for action and after two weeks of NATO airstrikes on the Serbs, they agreed to Clinton's proposal for a peace conference in Dayton, Ohio (The Dayton Agreement).

I spent a few days in Sarajevo and was amazed how the city has bounced back. They still leave reminders of the war as a part of their 'never forget' campaign. Many of the reconstructed buildings leave one side without restoration (see pics), some of the buildings are untouched such as the National Library which was burned including many irreplaceable manuscripts (see pics), and even the sidewalks have indentations from mortar attacks (sometimes filled in with red concrete to resemble blood). However, there are many new buildings and the transportation system is great as well as the hostels and restaurants but it's the people that are amazing. Bosnian's are some of the most friendly people I have met and obviously very resilient. I talked with many of them about the war and they seem to have a healthy attitude and actually thank the American's for stepping in. For once I saw American flags out in public (this was a first for me).

I also went to Mostar and a few other small towns. Bosnia is gorgeous with pristine rivers, canyons, mountains, and quaint towns all throughout. I would put it near the top of the list for places to see in Eastern Europe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Once I left Tibet (see blog) I spent a few weeks in Nepal and then headed straight to India. My goal was to hit a beach and take some time to relax before deciding where in the world to go next. My choices were back through SE Asia/China or keep going through Pakistan into the Middle East.

The first thing that I noticed about India was that everyone was so friendly and accommodating. You are constantly bombarded with people who want to know where you're from and where's my wife (I was alone at this point). Everyone seems to know English and wants to practice it with you. The food is excellent and everything is so cheap that you can get by on $15 a day living very well. It was like the anti-China of the world. .

The first town I hit was Varanasi which turned out to be one of the oldest "continually inhabited cities in the world" as well as a one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. It is situated on the banks of the Ganges River where people crowd almost 100 ghats (bathing holes) for various religious reasons (see pics). I was also surprised to see open (and active) crematories where the Hindus believe that dying here ensures release from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth.

After that I headed to Mumbai (Bombay) which is the largest city in the world and you can feel it. For once the women weren't wearing the traditional saris and the men were all in jeans instead of dhotis. I went to a theater to see The Simpsons and get back to my America roots. I couldn't help but laugh because at the start of the movie everyone stood up and the national anthem started playing. All I could think about was how they're about to see Apu say "Thank you come again".

I finally made it down to Goa which is considered the resorty area on the West side overlooking the Arabian Sea. I spent 3 weeks here decompressing from the last six months of going through 11 countries. After Goa I decided to at least see the Taj Mahal before I left.

India is a huge country and would take at least 2 trips of 6 months to see everything. I have finally come to the decision that I'm not going to be able to see everything everywhere and was tired of Asia at this point and ready for something different. So I ended up getting on a plane and flying into Budapest, Hungary to pick up where I left off in Eastern Europe from the year before.

Friday, July 27, 2007


After traveling through SE Asia I flew from Hanoi, Vietnam into Kunming, China to get the necessary paperwork and government approvals to fly into Lhasa, Tibet. The Chinese government has been tightly regulating entry and movement within Tibet and it can be a pain to deal with so if you are planning to do this trip allow extra time (weeks). At this point I was traveling with a girl that I met through MySpace who flew out to Cambodia (see blog) to visit the Center for Children's Happiness (see blog) outside of Phnom Penh. The paperwork took a week to clear so we spent time in China working our way north toward Lhasa.

Many of the cities we went too had been completely redone to accommodate the recent influx of Chinese tourist. This means that many of the old historical sites have been littered with shops and restaurants. This included Dali City, Lijiang, Zhongdian and the Tiger Leaping Gorge area. We had a good time but were ready to move on to Tibet.

We picked up our initial paperwork in Zhongdian and flew into Lhasa. The first thing you notice is that you can no longer breathe. With an average elevation of 16,000 ft (4,900 meters), it is the highest region on Earth and is commonly referred to as the "Roof of the World." So just walking up a flight of stairs can be a challenge for the first few days. Good news is that everyone is a cheap date at this altitude. Once you get into Lhasa you need to go through another round of paperwork and approvals from the Chinese government. This takes another 5 days or so but gives you a chance to check out Lhasa. The only way to see the rest of Tibet is to organize a Landcruiser with an approved driver and guide to escort you. Most people go with the 4 day trip from Lhasa to the Nepal border. We decided to do the full blown 14 day trek all the way to Mount Kailash. It included a trip to Everest Base Camp and many of the monasteries. However it was pretty expensive and we ended up paying 13,800 yen ($1,800 US) which includes all transport costs, guide, and permits from the Chinese government.

Obviously we saw some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world. Some of the highlights were going to Mount Everest which was renamed by the Chinese to Mount Qomolangma or some shit like that (see pic below). EBC is over 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) so it was very hard to breathe and some people were getting Acute Mountain Sickness which occurs at altitudes higher than 8,000 ft. We stayed at the Everest Base Camp for a night in a tent heated by burning yak shit. Yaks are one of the few animals that can survive at higher altitudes so everything you eat has some sort of yak taste to it, which can get old after a few weeks. Also the bathroom situation is less than desirable. Let's just say that if they dug a hole for you to shit in then you're doing really good. But that's what makes it Tibet and is part of the journey.

Mount Kailash (see Wikipedia Article) was the highlight of the trip and very few travelers make it there since it is located in a particularly remote and inhospitable area of the Tibetan Himalayas. Most of the people we saw were pilgrims from Tibet, Nepal, and India. They come here because it's either the birth place or a very sacred place for four major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Bön). Part of their pilgrimage is to walk around (or circumambulate) the base of the mountain as a holy ritual that will bring good fortune and many people wait their whole life to make this journey. We decided to take part in this ritual and did a clockwise rotation which is a Buddhist and Hindu tradition (Jains and the Bons go counterclockwise). During this trip around Kailash you see some of the most amazing things and quickly understand how many religions we born of this mountain. We packed enough stuff to spend the night half way around. It was actually one of the tougher hikes mainly due to the altitude and the elements. The hardest part was going through the Dolma Pass which hit an altitude over 20,000 ft (6,000 meters). This was the highest I had ever been without a plane, higher than any point in North America, Europe, Africa, or Australia. At the base of the pass there were people gathered around an Indian lady who was tragically didn't make it. I had talked to the group the day before and I guess it was her wish to die on the mountain. She was only in her mid 50's at the latest but somehow knew it was her time. The guide later told us that many people die on this mountain. Mount Kailash is the most significant peak in the world that has not seen any known climbing attempts.

After Kailash we headed for the Nepal border on our way to Kathmandu. The entire trip is littered with Chinese control stops. Also they're building freeways all through Tibet getting ready for the influx of tourists from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. One of the freeways takes you straight to Mount Everest Qomolomolangmama but it wasn't done yet so we had to take the original route. I guess pretty soon you won't need a Landcruiser and can take your personal rental car. I'm not going to get into the history of Tibet (see Wikipedia Article which is not accessible while you're in China because the Chinese government censors all internet material that is controversial to their mandate) and how China has changed it. Just know that it isn't what it once was and in a year it will be flooded with tourist which means shops and restaurants on every corner. But hey at least they'll have food and bathrooms – no longer the Tibet I saw.

Sorry for the hint of cynicism in this blog. After Tibet I went to India which was incredible and I have only amazing things to say about it and the Indian people.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


After Laos (see blog) we crossed by land into Cambodia. Cambodia has recently had a turbulent history including Operation Menu (see Wikipedia article) where in 1969 the US secretly bombed parts of the country in an effort to suppress communism. After 14 months and 108,823 tons of bombs the results were dismal and it is estimated that 800,000 civilians (8% of the population) died and the communist were only pushed further into the interior. The bombings were mostly in the countryside – massive in intensity and appallingly destructive – driving many Cambodians to support the communist led advance against US-aligned urban areas.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge (see Wikipedia article) took control and horrific tragedy unfolded. Over the next 4 years they killed between 1.0 and 3.0 million people who were deemed "enemies of the state", whether they were linked to the previous regime, were civil servants, people of education or of religion. In April of 1975 they sealed off the country, evacuated all urban areas (including Phnom Penh), and banned the use of money, books, and markets.

We visited one high school that was turned into a concentration camp called 'Security Prison 21' or 'S-21' (see Wikipedia article) where people were interrogated and killed. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at S-21, there were only seven known survivors. We also visited the 'killing fields' where many of the people were buried. This was a very emotional part of the trip but critical to start to understand Cambodia.

Cambodia has come a long way since the Khmer Rouge and held their first elections in early 2002. But there are still many sings of struggle and we had a chance to visit a few schools and an orphanage that took in children from main dump in Phnom Penh (see blog).

Monday, June 4, 2007

Center for Children’s Happiness

While I was in Cambodia I had the chance to visit the Center for Children's Happiness (CCH) outside of Phnom Penh. This was an amazing experience that I will never forget. It started with a trip to the Steung Meanchey dumpsite (click here for more) where we learned about 2,000 people (600 are kids) who lived there picking through garbage. We climbed through the heaps and watched people working and living in conditions that we could only stand for the hour we were there (literally). This is where CCH selects children for their program where they house, feed, and educate them.

After the dump we went to Phase 1 which is a large building that serves all feeding and some of the housing and education needs. From the moment I stepped into the courtyard of CCH I felt as if I were a part of this family. We were welcomed with the most genuine smiles and gratitude. These children laugh and play and teach each other. They cook and clean, play music and sing. They read and speak three languages and they work out their own differences. Most of these kids, at the age of eight, have an appreciation for life that I can only imagine in my wildest dreams. All of this they owe to the volunteers of CCH, their family.

If you would like to help the program please visit their page ( or send me a message and I would be happy to help with the proper contacts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Laos (see Wikipedia article) is pronounced as Lao-without the S. When the French re-colonized the country from 1945-1954 they added the silent S to the end name. After gaining their independence as a democratic state, many Laotians have dropped the S to return to the original spelling.

Like many other countries on this peninsula Lao suffered during the Vietnam War of the 60s and 70s. Many North Vietnamese troops had bases in Laos. The US bombed many of these bases and a lot of the eastern and northeastern areas of Laos are still recovering from that devastation.

Laos is a land-locked country. You won't see any beach pics here but that doesn't mean the landscape was any less beautiful. Off the beaten path we found kids swinging from ropes into green pools of water under some waterfalls and some extraordinary mountain backdrop views. In the capital, Vientiane, there were, of course, many Buddhist Temples (common in this Buddhism-dominated country). We even got to see the rare and oh so cool Indochinese Tiger.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Inle Lake Trek - Myanmar

Our trek to Inle Lake (see Wikipedia article) was one of the best ways to see how the people of Myanmar live outside the big cities. We started from the small town Kalaw where we found a group of three others who wanted to do the three day hike to Inle Lake. The trip cost 30,000 kyats ($24) each and included food, lodging, and Harry the guide. The first day was mostly scenery and visiting some of the small villages along the way where we ate lunch or spent the night, always leaving gifts and smiles. On the second day we visited traditional Burmese village, where the monastery is the center of cultural life (see article). They invited us to watch one their annual events where they made rockets and sent them flying over the nearby rice fields (see pics). We spent the night in the monastery where we ate and took a well needed shower. The final day was spent hiking near the lake and then taking a boat to a town at the north end where we found some pizza and beer.

After relaxing for a day we headed to Bagan – land of 4,400 temples (see blog).

Again pictures can explain the trip better than I can. Many of them are of the people we met in the villages and their daily agrarian life.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


After spending 10 days in Bangkok working on my visa to Myanmar (Burma) (Wikipedia article) I was able to fly into Yangon (Rangoon). I met a French Canadian, Emanuel, at the Bangkok airport who was also traveling alone in Myanmar so we spent the next few weeks traveling together. We spent a few days in Yangon before heading to Mandalay where Emanuel started having some stomach problems that cleared up in a few days. We went to Kalaw where we decided to join a group that was doing a three day trek to Inle Lake (see blog). After that we headed to Bagan (see Wikipedia article) to see the 4,400 temples (see pics).

The US government has imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar because of the continued social unrest between the government and various ethnics groups. These sanctions have caused the banks to pull out of the country which means there are no ATM's. Of course prices are cheap and I spent a total of $315 over 18 days. The first question local people ask is where we are from and even though I say the US they still treat me like anyone else and are very friendly, always ready to help or just practice their English. They tend not to talk about political things especially in larger groups because they're not sure who is listening. The food is not the best and takes some getting used to. The transportation is some of the worst I've experienced so far and getting from one place to another can be trying even for experienced travelers. Internet is hard to find, expensive, slow, subject to power outages that can last for hours or even days, and all major email providers are blocked by the Myanmar government.

A few days before I arrived in Yangon several key members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters were met by more than 50 people led by a local Secretary U Nyunt Oo and beaten up leaving two members badly injured and are now hospitalized.

Myanmar is currently ruled by inward focused elite who are wary of their neighbors, fearful of foreign influence, and in a constant state of civil unrest between the 135 ethnic groups. The first major kingdom was founded in 1044 when King Anawrahta took the throne by force, unified the country, founded Theravada Buddhism, and began building Bagan's first temple. Over the next 200 years they built over 4,400 temples in a condensed 42 sq km area making Bagan one of the most remarkable sites in Southeast Asia (see pics). The Burmese refer to this as the 'Golden Era' but in their ambitious building spree the left the city bankrupt and vulnerable to attack. By the end of the 13th century the Mongols from China destroyed the Pagan Empire.

Over the next 500 years Myanmar was divided by the various ethnic groups until 1767 when it became unified enough to conquer the Thai kingdom of Ayudhya. Over the next 100 years the Burmese ruling elite became inwardly focused and failed to notice Britain increasing its presence in the area and by 1886 Britain controlled the country. The British transformed Myanmar over the next 60 years starting with the exile of the royal family and then building infrastructure to support the export of rice, teak, and minerals. However they made no attempt to industrialize the country and to this day still relies on agriculture, teak, minerals, and as well as being the world's second largest producer of opium, accounting for 8% of entire world production and is a major source of narcotics, including amphetamines.

One of the consistent themes in Myanmar history is being a pluralistic society where economic position is determined by ethnicity. This was reinforced during the British rule where Europeans controlled much of the export trade and appointed the non-Burmese ethnic groups to serve as police and army for domestic control. The independence from Britain was led by Aung San who is a legendary hero in Myanmar. In April 1947 he was elected along with his cabinet to prepare a constitution for an independent Myanmar but three months later, Aung San and six of his Cabinet were assassinated by their political rivals.

After Myanmar achieved independence a 'nationalist' movement took hold of the country. This movement was dominated by the major ethnic group of the Bamar and was strongly anti-Chinese and anti-Indian as well as suspicious of the other ethnic groups. The failing economy and the government emphasis on the 'Burmeseness' of Myanmar seem to be the prime causes of social unrest. Corruption has become rampant and inflation has forced to people to rely on the 'black' market for most of their daily staples.

In March 1962, a military coup led by General Ne Win overthrew the elected government ushering in the military rule that has deliberately isolated itself from the social, political, and economic forces that have swept over the rest of Southeast Asia. The military arrested political and ethnic leaders, closed down the parliament, demolished the federal structure, and eliminated the Indian and Chinese business class.

The economy deteriorated to a point that in 1987 the United Nations gave Myanmar 'Least Developed Nation' status, recognizing it as one of the world's 10 poorest countries. In 1988, the Burmese army violently repressed protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. On 8 August 1988, the military opened fire on demonstrators in what is known as 8888 Uprising and imposed martial law. The Western governments reacted and pressured the government to hold elections in 1990. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the national hero Aung San and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, led the way for the National League for Democracy (NLD) to claim victory in the upcoming elections but was place under house arrest in July 1989. NLD was able to win more than 80% of the seats when the elections were held in May 1990. The government responded by arresting the NLD leaders and declaring the elections null and void. Subsequently, the military retained power and released Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 but in September 2000 was again placed under house arrest and continues to detain her (see Wikipedia article).

In September of 2006, the U.S. led effort to include Burma on the United Nations Security Council Agenda finally passed allowing the U.N.S.C. to discuss officially how it will deal with the human rights situation in Burma. In November of 2006, the International Labor Organization announced it will be seeking charges against Myanmar over the continuous forced labor of its citizens by the military at the International Court of Justice.

Daily Budget – 20,000 kyat – ($US 16.00)
Private Room – 5,000 kyat – ($US 4.00)
Internet (per hr) – good luck
Dinner – 3,000 kyat – ($US 2.40)
Beer (small) – 300 kyat – ($US 0.24)
Load of Laundry – 2,000 kyat – ($US 1.60)
Average Bus Trip – 15,000 kyat – ($US 12.00)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


After Borneo (see blog) I headed back to Kuala Lumpur for some shopping and booked a trip north into the Taman Negara National Park which is allegedly the oldest rainforest in the world (see Wikipedia article). We went on a nighttime jungle safari to try and catch a glimpse of elephants, tigers, and rhinos, but only ended up seeing some panthers, snakes, etc. The park also contains the highest canopy walkway in the world at 150 feet (45 meters) high. After Taman Negara I went to the Perhentian Islands near the Thailand border. The snorkeling and diving here was some of the best I've seen with many stingrays, puffer fish, sharks, sea turtles, and colorful fish up to 6 feet (2 meters) long. A friend of mine took some pics with an underwater camera (see below). After a few days in the islands I went into Thailand so I could work on my visa to Myanmar (Burma) - (see Blog).

Daily Budget 100 RM – ($29 US)
Hostel Room 25 RM – ($7 US)
Internet free wireless in hostels
Dinner 15 RM – ($4 US)
Beer 8 RM – ($2 US)
Haircut 25 RM – ($7 US)
Train from KL to Taman Negara 60 RM – ($17 US)

Friday, April 6, 2007

Borneo Island - Malaysia

I flew from Bali (see blog) to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then to the Island of Borneo on March 31, 2007. Borneo is the third largest island in the world (see Wikipedia article) and occupied by three countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei). There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo. The Borneo rainforest is the only natural habitat for the endangered Bornean Orangutan. It is also an important refuge for many endemic forest species, and the Asian Elephant, the Sumatran Rhinoceros and the Bornean Clouded Leopard.

I spent most of my time in the Mulu National Park (see Wikipedia article) and took a three day trek up to the 'Pinnacles' which was a pretty demanding hike with ropes, bridges, ladders, leeches, viper snake, etc. along the way (see pics). One of the main attractions of the park is a series of caves including the world's largest naturally enclosed space which is 2,300 feet (700 m) long, 1,300 feet (396 m) wide and at least 230 feet (70 m) high and is big enough to fit several jumbojets inside (see pics). Every day at dusk 3 million bats fly out of Deer Cave for feeding time in the jungle streaking across the sky in the shape of a snake for about 40 minutes.

Next I fly back to Kuala Lumpur and then will travel up through Malaysia on the 'jungle train' towards Thailand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bali - Indonesia

After the volcanoes of Java Island (see blog) I went to Bali and which coincidentally was celebrating the major festival of Nyepi. This is a Hindu tradition near the end of March that celebrates the end of the old year and the start of a new one according to 'saka' (Balinese calendar based on the lunar cycle). I read about this holiday in the guidebook and it said something about the town shutting down so get a good book and catch up on your sleep. Ok literally, the town shuts down and when I tried to leave the hotel to get some water the gate was closed and no one was allowed outside. Crazy huh? The tradition is based on a belief that evil spirits descend on the first day of the year and will think the island of Bali is uninhabited so they leave the local people alone for another year. At this point I was glad that I splurged the extra $3 a night and got a great hotel with pool, restaurant, bar, etc. Also the day before they had a party in the streets with huge impressions of demon spirits being conquered by warriors (see pics) so I'm assuming that this was mocking the sprits and showing the Balinese triumph over evil. Ok I have no idea but it was pretty cool to be a part of.

As far as the rest of Bali I only stayed in the resorty surfer area at the south end and didn't bother to take pics of the crowded beaches, Hard Rock Café, Circle K, McDonalds, etc. For me this was a place to catch up on email, laundry, book flights, lobster and sushi dinners for less than $6, read a book, and then catch a boat to the Gili Islands – more specifically Gili Trawangan population 800 and known for great diving, local dishes with 'magic mushrooms' and all night parties.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

List of Bad Travel Experiences (Updated March – 07)

People always want to hear about the things that have gone wrong (or close calls) during my trip so I thought I would keep a running list of the larger events. This does not include what I consider minor like harassment and extortion from local police or customs officers which was prevalent through Belize, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Bolivia, but served as more of a headache than anything else and cost $20 per incident (after much negotiation) at the most. Also it does not include so of the minor thefts such as a bus incident in Ecuador and pick pockets in Rio. However, it does include things that ‘could’ve’ happened to me. This is not for sensationalism but just as a reminder that life can be short and that I’m not in control.

1. Disease in Belize (Belize – February 2005) – they call it ‘Che Chim’ and it’s from a local tree in Belize with an oil in the bark that causes an outbreak like I’ve never seen. It covered many parts of my body including my face making it swell up enough to crack the skin. It last about four days, and two of them I could barely see. These are my ‘elephant man’ pics:

2. Car Accident (Belize – March 2005) – while driving down a gravel road in Belize my truck hit a huge pot hole and flipped injuring the three of us in the car. It took us a few hours to get to the hospital and by the time I made it back to the truck most of my belongings had been stolen. I ended up breaking my AC joint in my left shoulder and becoming a true backpacker because I lost the few remaining possessions I had. Here are some before and after pics:

3. Dengue Fever (Cost Rica – July 2005) – ok this one really sucked and was one of the worst things I have been through. Dengue Fever is the most important mosquito-borne viral disease affecting humans today and there is no vaccination or cure, you just have to ride it out and hope to survive. Each year, there are tens of millions of cases occur with a mortality rate of 5% in some countries. The first sign is fever, with severe headache, followed by muscle and joint pains (myalgias and arthralgias), rashes that can cover most of the body, as well as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. I went through 7 days of back to back fever and chills. For 24 hours a day I laid in bed sweating and hallucinating and then spasms and intense chills. They also call it ‘Break-Bone Fever’ or ‘Bonecrusher Disease’ because every time you turn over or get up you feel like you’re made of glass. If you try to eat you just puke it out and basically try to stay hydrated and let your body eat itself for fuel. In the end I lost 35 lbs (16 kilos) and on my last day had to drag my butt to the border because it was my 90th day in the country and didn’t want to get deported. For more info check out this (Wikipedia Article).

4. Bus Accident (Bolivia – January 2006) – this was on the famous Yungas Road or ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ where hundreds of people traveling north of La Paz die each year. It’s a 40 mile (64 km) stretch of winding mountain-hugging cliff 3 miles (almost 5 km) above sea level. The bus in front of us slid over the side killing everyone on board. We were in the back of our bus and did not actually witness the accident but stopped to see if there was anything we could do. For more info check out this (Wikipedia Article). Here are some pics of the road (some are my pics):

5. Torres del Paine (Chile – March 2006) – this was a tragic occurrence in a Chilean national park famous for 5 to 9 days hiking treks. On our last night of the trek we went to sleep in tents under the trees and were awoken by a loud crack and screams coming from the tent next to ours. A large branch had fallen and hit our friend Leo, who we had met that night, in the head. For more info please see my (See Blog).

6. Mountain Biking Accident (Argentina – April 2006) – while mountain biking in the lake district of Argentina I ended flying over the handlebars and breaking my collarbone on the left side. Thanks to my buddies I was traveling with at the time I was able to backpack two more weeks in South America until I could reach my flight in Santiago to go home and heal before heading off to Europe.

7. Plane Crash (Indonesia – March 2007) – I flew from Singapore to Yogyakarta on March 8th and soon learned that the flight I almost booked for the day before crashed upon landing killing 21. There have been many concerns about airline safety in the region due to aging aircrafts, lack of maintenance, and the need to keep flights cheap. Here is a link to one of the articles (click here).