Thailand Interregnum

To get my visa for Myanmar, I needed to have a return ticket that I could show the embassy. International flights from Myanmar are still a bit limited so the debate of where to head after my time there centered around Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

Having already been to KL several times on this trip, I opted to head to Bangkok, knowing that I would have only a few days in Thailand before moving on to Shanghai. Based on Elisa’s rave reviews, I decided to head down to southern Thailand to spend some time on the island of Koh Lipe, and fly to Shanghai from Phuket.

But the combination flight/bus/ferry ticket I bought only left in the morning, meaning I had to spend one night in Bangkok.

I visited Bangkok in late 2006/early 2007 with Stu on my first Southeast Asia jaunt and wasn’t the biggest fan, especially the area around Khao San Road. However, being on a budget and knowing that I could get a cheap ride back to the airport from there made the decision to stay in that area an easy, albeit painful, one.

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Riding the Bus in Myanmar

In this space I have frequently documented my transportation escapades and what better way to cap off my recently concluded trip to Myanmar than with a blow by blow account of the inter-city bus trips that I took while I was there.

Yangon to Inle Lake Read more of this post

Two Sunsets in Mandalay

My time in Mandalay was limited. I had little more than a day there before I had to go back to Yangon for my flight to Bangkok.

Nonetheless, I was determined to make the most of my time there. As soon as I arrived at my hotel (Rich Queen Guesthouse, which was the nicest place I stayed in Myanmar and had by the far the best wifi), I negotiated with one of their employees to take me to U Bein Bridge for sunset. It was the one recommendation that stood out above all the others from people I had spoken with who had visited Mandalay.

The bridge is located outside the city in Amarapura, Myanmar’s old capital. On the way, I stopped at Mahawizayaranthi Pagoda after I spotted it from a distance. As I have found on many occasions on this trip, sometimes the coolest places are those you have never heard about before, which was definitely true in the case of this pagoda. Not too mention the cool pic of me on top of it.


Temples and More Temples in Bagan

Having gotten a taste of relaxation in Inle Lake, I was determined to hit the ground running once I got to Bagan (although I had to wait a few hours as my bus arrived at 3am).

So the first two days that I was there, I rented a bicycle to see as many of the (thousands) of nearby temples as I could. It seemed like every few hundred meters I would turn to my left or right to find another massive temple that I would visit.


Bagan at sunset

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Inle Lake

After a brief stopover in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, my traveling companion Raha (a fellow New Yorker and Couchsurfer that I met in Kuala Lumpur) and I, headed up to Inle Lake on the night bus. I will cover the travails of this bus ride in a separate post focused on bus travel in Myanmar, but fortuitously we were seated next to Elly and Adam, an Australian couple (she is a talented singer who just received a grant to spend some time early next year in New York and he is a lawyer and securities regulator) that happened to be staying at the same hotel as us in Nyaungshwe, near Inle Lake.

a snapshot of Inle Lake

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Mulu Park

Elisa and I finished our travels through Borneo with a trip to Mulu National Park, known for its extensive caves and The Pinnacles.

We made a pact to visit the park over our Thanksgiving feast, so enthralled were we by the beautiful pictures we had seen online. It didn’t matter that it was in a remote, isolated location. A pact is a pact.

So we set off for Mulu once we finished our adventures in Kota Kinabalu. The only practical way to get there is to fly from the town of Miri, unless of course you want to take an 8-10 hour boat ride through the jungle.

As soon as we landed, I realized just how isolated we were. Apart from the park there is scant development: a nearby “resort” (i.e., rundown hotel), some homestays and two restaurants. There is no town nearby just a smattering of local homes.

Elisa and I outside Deer Cave

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Guest Post: City Slickers

I want to share a guest post from Elisa, my travel companion for the past three weeks, covering our time in Sabah.

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After having traveled together for 2+ weeks in Malaysia and Borneo, Matt and I arrived in Kota Kinabalu via ferry from Labuan and were ready for the real Borneo experience (i.e., some adventure travel). Exploring the options were a lot more difficult than he and I anticipated. Matt’s bucket list includes climbing Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia and while I had never heard of this mountain before, I decided that since I had never climbed a mountain before and you don’t need much experience, this would be the place to do it. So we set out to figure out a way to make this happen…which due to the monsoon season and the fact that the mountain is controlled by one company, Sutera Harbour, was unfortunately going to prove to be something that he and I would leave to come back to. What we did find though was a much more intense and unique experience than I would have ever thought possible on my journey around the world.

Kota Kinabalu, or KK as the locals call the city, has a main area where people can book all types of tours throughout Sabah, so that’s where we went to find out how to make this climb happen. After going into a few shops, we realized that the people to talk to were the ones who control the mountain, Sutera Harbour. We were dismayed at the lack of information and the unwelcome nature of the entire office. The response to all of our basic questions – about the guides, the climb, their accomodations, chances of making it to the peak and the transportation there – was a double-sided sheet of paper that had virtually no information (except the climb schedule, which began no later than 10am on the first day and started at 1:30am the second day, so you could see the sunrise, a big and bolded disclaimer stating that due to an electrical outage, there was no heat or electricity at Laban Rata (the mid mountain dorms for all climbers) and a minimal necessity list). We left feeling more confused than when we first got there! Knowing that we had to make a decision but not having all the right information, we decided to talk to one of the companies that had guided us there to try to find out the real deal about the climb and the answer to our biggest question – during the monsoon season what are the chances that you will be able to make it to the peak? Lawrence, a guide with Ride Borneo, welcomed us back with a friendly smile and said “Want to talk to someone who actually speaks English?” He was our much needed silver lining to what was beginning to look like a frustrating mess. We sat down and discussed our desire to have an adventure and also climb Mount Kinabalu…he was candid with us and described the climb as well as the challenges and freezing temperatures we may face due to the monsoon season. When we heard that there was a 70% chance we may not make it to the peak due to weather, that was the turning point for us to consider some other options.

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Thanksgiving on Labuan

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because of the three F’s: Family, Food and Football.

This year was only the second time I have spent Thanksgiving outside the US and the first time I would not be with my family (I was in London for Thanksgiving during my junior year at Stanford but my mother and grandmother came to visit me).

So I knew even before I left on this trip that Thanksgiving this year would be different. But I never thought I would split the holiday between Brunei and Labuan, Malaysia.

At least I was traveling with Elisa so we were both in the same boat and could celebrate together. Despite the lack of the three F’s we made do and did our best to have a nice holiday meal.

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Surprises Galore in Brunei

Apologies if this post looks a bit strange as I’m currently working through some technical difficulties

Which country in Southeast Asia has the highest GDP per capita?

Believe it or not it isn’t Singapore. It’s actually Brunei, a tiny kingdom hugging the northern coast of Borneo that didn’t gain its independence from Britan until 1984.

Elisa and I started our Borneo adventure in Brunei because, well, wouldn’t it be cool to visit this small country that is largely off the tourist trail. I have been curious about it since I was young, reading about how the Sultan of Brunei was the richest man in the world at several points in the 1990’s.


unbelievable sunset on Brunei River

Chilling Out in the Cameron Highlands

By the time Elisa and I reached Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands, we were both a little spent. Between the frequent travel and (too much) food in Penang, our energy levels demanded we take a day to sleep, relax and take some time to plot out the next steps in our trip.

So that’s what we did. And it was a great idea, especially considering it rained all day anyway.

We researched where to go for our upcoming trip through Borneo, caught up on email, and (in my case) followed the thrilling Stanford-Oregon football game (Go Stanford!). Read more of this post

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