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

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An Unexpected Stop in Ipoh

Originally, Elisa and I planned to head to the Perhentian Islands from Penang. We knew it was the rainy season there but we had both heard of the islands’ and excellent beaches.

However, as we were planning our trip there from Penang, we found out how bad the weather really was. With monsoon-like conditions and most hotels closed, we called an audible and opted to head to Ipoh instead as a quick trip before visitng the Cameron Highlands. Unlike Penang, Ipoh isn’t on the typical tourist trail but still maintains terrific colonial architecture and a thriving local food scene.

Birch Memorial Clock Tower

Starting A New Malaysian Adventure

Kuala Lumpur

Finally a place on this trip that I had been to before. A place where I already knew how to get around and had seen the main tourist sites. After always having to adjust to the new countries I have visited on this trip, entering Malaysia was a relative breeze. Even the immigration process was easy as the official at the airport stamped me in without even a single question or entry form.

Petronas Towers

I used my three days in KL to rest, hang out with my Couchsurfing host Udeen (as well as exercise at the gym he works at) and see my Stanford friend Johan who lives in the nearby suburb of Subang Jaya.

with Udeen

But I also used the time to start planning for my long awaited travels through the rest of Malaysia. Ever since I came here with Stu in late 2006, I have wanted to explore Malaysia beyond KL. From the street food of Penang to the beautiful beaches of the Perhentian Islands to the jungles of Borneo, I am ready to take in all that Malaysia has to offer.

with Johan and Michelle

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Initial Impressions of Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City

I want to share a few thoughts after my first days in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a Saigon), Vietnam’s largest city:

  • Motorbike are everywhere – I had certainly read about all the motorbikes in Vietnam but they are ubiquitous and outnumber cars in the city by 20:1 at least. What’s strange is because people drive motorbikes rather than cars, the traffic is actually not as bad as you would expect. People here complain about 30-40 minute commutes across the entire city when in Manila it could take you that long to go 1-2km.

and inside a mall parking lot

3 Months on the Road

Its hard to believe that my foreign adventure is soon coming up on three months. Such a milestone has given me the chance to reflect on my trip from a holistic perspective.

5 Most Memorable Experiences

  • Hiking in Mindanao with BMG – climbing the Philippines’ second and fourth highest mountains with a group of experienced (and fun loving) mountaineers. What really made this stand out was that I couldn’t have done or planned this on my own. It felt incredible to become part of the team for this climb, especially given the challenges that we faced along the way in hiking two of the Philippines’ highest mountains (namely the weather). While the hike tested my spirit and endurance, having a great group to travel with for my five days in Mindanao made this experience unlike any other I have had so far.

feeling glorious as we finished our hike

  • Bedouin tour in Wadi Rum – a jeep tour through the vast and breathtaking Jordanian desert. Climbing up rocks and running up sand dunes. A camel ride. Sunset and a filling buffet dinner in a Bedouin camp. Great conversation over tea while sitting under the stars. What’s not too like. This was a great day and a perfect way to recharge my batteries after a harrowing boat ride from Egypt to Jordan.

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Feeling the Love in Manila

All the travelers I had met my first week in the Philippines had the same reaction when I told them I was going to spend a few days in Manila: why would you want to stay in Manila?

I asked myself the same question. Luckily, the past few days have shown that I have a couple of good answers for them.

Mark

Over the past four days here, I have courchsurfed with Mark, an extremely gregarious and generous guy who allowed me to stay in his spare apartment right across the street from the Mall of Asia, the 2nd largest mall in the Philippines and the 4th largest in the world. Marks works as the director of the James Mackey Foundation, which provides assistance to blind children. He is also a font of knowledge on Filipino travel having visited nearly the entire country. Read more of this post

Welcome to the Philippines

While I had always intended to spend the bulk of my time on the road in Southeast Asia, it was still quite the culture shock when I arrived in Manila, especially coming from Japan. And that is without speaking of my continued transportation woes.

Apart from my initial turbulence in getting here from Japan, my first few days were spent adjusting to the boisterous, happy go lucky attitude of Filipinos.

They have colorful names, speak pretty good English and love their food sweet. It seems like everything that you eat here has sugar added to it and walking through any mini-mart I have been hard pressed to find things other than sweets.

sweets table at a buffet I went to…notice the chocolate fondue fountain

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Back On The Couch In Amman

After more than two weeks of hotels and hostels, I found myself Couchsurfing again when I arrived in Amman. It was a great way to end my time in the Middle East with some more local perspective.

My host was Wasim, a 35 year old Jordan who grew up in Libya, got his masters in San Diego and now works as a manager for Kia Motors overseeing their territory in Jordan and Kurdistan.

From the moment we met, Wasim made me feel completely at home. Employing trademark Middle Eastern hospitality, Wasim insisted on showing me as much of Amman as he could, from the best places to get chicken schwarma and mansaf to Rainbow Street, a popular Jordanian party area. We smooked hookah with Alison and Jenny (whom I had met in Petra) and grabbed a drink at a local Irish pub (which is considered somewhat upscale in Amman and is Irish in name only). Perhaps more importantly, as a fellow fitness buff, he took me to his gym twice.

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Reflecting After A Month On The Road

A little more than a month into my trip I thought it would be good to look back holistically on my travels and see how I have progressed against my 3 Trip Goals as well as my Six Trip Concerns. This is a text heavy post but it’s good for me to assess myself against these benchmarks every few months to make sure I’m getting as much as I can from the trip. Read more of this post

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

My trip was jolted in a different direction from the moment I arrived in Cairo. This megalopolis is chaos, history, excitement and craziness all rolled into one. Everywhere before on this trip was sleepy compared to Cairo.

scene outside my hotel in Cairo

The Bad
 
At night during Ramadan, the city literally roars to life with mobs of people gathering in the streets to eat, shop and socialize. Walking through the streets is a combat sport as you duck and dart through throngs of pedestrians and traffic snarled streets. The horns of the scooters racing through the streets are particularly abrasive. Read more of this post
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