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I Meet the SouthEast

a travel blog by JohnJack_Crestani


I'm John "Jack" Crestani, and I'm a young college student on a low-budget backpacking semester around Asia. I'm here for a little fun, a lot of learning, and everything else in between, and hope I can make the ride a little interesting for the rest of yall as well. My trip starts with a life-sucking 2 day journey of long flights, layovers and awful airline food, until I reach Singapore the 13th, from which I will proceed all around mainland SE Asia. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions on any of my pictures/posts.

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Wo Ai Taiwan!

Taipei, Taiwan


Translation: I love Taiwan! When I learned, during my 10 hr layover in Taipei, that the gov. gave out free tours of the area, I was ecstatic. Me and a few Assies got a 1st rate tour of a small town outside Taipei, and got to see how they make porceilin, a grand Buddhist temple, and some street scenes in the area. The guides engrish was very good, and he taught us a great deal of Chinese animal symbolism and how so many small things in their world are done to ward spirits, create luck, bring prosperity, increase health, etc. (Among the most interesting, Frogs=Lucky, Dragons=wealth, Turtles=Longevity, and ALWAYS remember to rub the top of the Stone lions heads who are guarding the temple). The lions are a very important symbol in Taiwan (they refer to themselves as China), as it is their national animal. Lions holding balls are men and lions holding babies are women. Their towns are very dense and multi-storied, all clustered around a main area, usually with windy streets. The Chinese build up, not out, as is evidenced by farms coewxisting mere blocks away from 10 story buildings. But by far the wackiest thing I saw in Taiwan was their version of a funeral. Firstly, they also use Hearses for their funerals, Ifound this an interesting borrowed aspect of our culture. But every other part they get completely mixed up on. Immediately following the slow-moving Hearse is...get this...a hired band of scantily clad women wearing Hooters-orange marching outfits, banging away on their instruments, and badly. For what is supposed to be a serious and solemn occasion, and they do look at it as such, these girls are completely out of place! And following these very un-solemn looking band members are the mourners wearing white Ku Klux Klan hoods with their heads bowed. I didnt know whether to laugh or cry. Overall it was a great (and free) way to spend my layover, getting to see an entirely new country. Wo ai Taiwan!

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 16, 2009 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Temple, Taipei, Taiwan, Funeral and Porceilin

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Singapore: The Hong Kong of SE Asia

Singapore, Singapore


Touchdown! 36 hours of traveling, 1 book, a tour of Taipei and 3 awful airline meals later, I finally landed in Singapore. The airport struck me at first with its clean, modern lines and gorgeous flower displays.
That being said, Singapore is a very modern city-state with an incredibly developed economy. It used to be a part of Malaysia, but detached and formed its own country because the ethnic Chinese majority in Singapore didn't feel they were represented under the Malay government.

The first thing tha struck me was how cheap everything is in Singapore. After my flight I was relieved by a 2hour massage for....30 bucks. And Singapore is the most expensive city in SE Asia. After that, sleep, I would go exploring the next day.

Singapore itself is a drab city, a business town so-to-speak, but carries a rich colonial history mixed with loads of striking, modern architecture. Although located on the Malay Peninsula, the population is mostly Chinese, because they were most eagar to profit after the British started developing the island into a major port. There is no such thing as an ethnic Singaporean, the other races there include Malays, Filipinos, and Indians. After staying in a great hostel (Inn-crowd), chatting, and throwing back a few beers with some fellow English and Australian backpackers, I would take the bus north towards Malacca.

A few pictures for everybody...


The Cannonball Tree is a sacred Hindu tree with a maze of branches sticking out of its base with produce the most beautiful flowers.

Due to being almost spot on the equator, foliage grows EVERYWHERE, as seen on the lush environment growing on this tree. There are plants sprouting out of sidewalks, drainage ditches, buildings, and even walls.

Its is almost chinese new year, the year of the ox, so there are a great many signs announcing planned festivities and the sort. This is signage outside of one of the many malls located on Orchard Road.

A nice cotrast between downtown and greenery seen from Cannery Park, Singapores central park. The park used to be an esate for the citys founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and later became home to a British fort. (Singapores signature hotel, The Raffles, is where the drink the Singapore Sling was invented)

The OTHER SMU, Singapore Management University. A very highly regarded university for Chinese in SE Asia.

Development is everywhere in Singapore, although who knows what will become of the literally hundreds of new buildings now that the world econmy has collapsed.

Trade is not as regulated in Asia, and this real Tiger pelt goes for about $1000 in this high-end furniture store. Other pelts included bear, fox and leapord.

A beautiful golden painting of lotus flowers floating in a stream found in the same high-end furniture store.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 16, 2009 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Singapore, Skyscraper, SMU, Colonial and Raffles

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Hooray for Malay!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


So begins backpacking/busing up the Malay Peninsula to the ultimate destination (and where I start my semester abroad on the 23rd) in Bangkok. Malacca for 2 nights then one in Kuala Lumpur.

Malacca is known as "The Historical City" because of its rich heritage involving being taken over by first the Chinese, then the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the British...if that is something really even to brag about.

I was able to see the entire city in a 2hour run around in the morning and to the best of what I saw, its a pretty drab city. Lots of small museums and some old buildings, but otherwise the city is fairly dilapidated and impoverished with few Western tourists. A good proportion of population in Malaysia is Muslim, as is evidenced by a number of Mosques and a large Islamic heritage Museum, shown to the right.

I love exchange rates! I was able to stay in a hostel (actually Malay family's spare bedroom) with two Canadians from Banff for $5 each per night, great deal. One surprising thing is that although food and rooms are incredibly discounted in Malaysia, beers and hard alcohol are still expensive, and roughly equal to what you'd expect to pay in the US. In fact it is much harder to find liquor in Malaysia; I speculate this is due to government taxes on the sale of liquor because of the high Muslim population.

We found this out during our (the Canadians and I) Friday night out in Chinatown. A pitcher of beer for $12! Chinatown is the one happening part of the town, and receives the largest share of tourists who come mostly from China. It is very dense with shops and people selling things, and highly decorated with these paper red balls ) for the Chinese new year. Friday night was very crowded on the main promenade (walking street) in Chinatown; Sellers on the each side of the street hocking their cheap toys/sunglasses/hats/food/desserts/etc, Malay teenagers were walking with their girlfriends, families dining in the restaurants, tourists ogling at the sights, and crowds watching various street performers, singers and otherwise.
The picture above is of a me and Ms. Canada with the McDonalds Mandarin, get a picture with him and get a McDonalds token of good luck for the new year. (Mandarins are what the Imperial Chinese ruling-class and their silly dress is their traditional high-class clothes). I would wake up the next afternoon and travel 2 hours north through Kuala Lumpur, where I would have to take the plane the next morning to Bangkok. I stayed on the couch of some friendly Finns (pictures below) and luckily made it to Bangkok (and am loving it) despite a scare of waking up and realizing I had absolutely no money to make it to the airport. But that story next post, all this writing has made me tired, and I'm off to get a $10 2hour massage, and maybe a $1 fruit smoothie as well.

The Chinese use these red paper balls as symbols of luck and fortune, typically meant to be used at the beginning of something such as the opening of a new store or a new year. They are used very liberally though, and can be found in many shops, new and old, and many times hang year-round in Chinese shopping areas. (Malacca)

This is a statue in Malacca of Mr. Universe 2008, who came from this area. It is right out front of what is his weight-training center.

When partying in Malaysia, shoes come off at the door. In many countries in Asia (maybe all, I'm not sure), it is customary to take your shoes off upon entering a residence. Thus, you can usually figure out how big a party is by just looking at how many shoes there are!

This is me posing with some Finns and a Malaysian friend on the balcony of the condo I "couchsurfed" at. I guess its the new cool thing to do, people offer their couches for poor travelers to stay at for a night or two all across the world. Although I actually met them randomly on the street, I have been formally initiated into the couchsurfing society. ( Couchsurfing.com )

And here is a picture of me happy I made it to Bangkok! Although I had a little scare of getting my checking card canceled because of a fraud alert, and only 8 Ringat (2 dollars) in my pocket, I managed to make it to Bangkok, story coming up on the next post!


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 18, 2009 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged CouchSurfing, Malaysia, KualaLumpur, Malacca and JackCrestani

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys

Bangkok, Thailand


Finally completing the intensive traveling (and jetlagged) part of my trip is a godsend, and being able to relax without having to necessarily go anywhere or do anything has been great. That being said, many interesting things have happened, from my Ringat-less, fraud-protected-credit-card scare, to a longboat/bike journey through the city, to excursions throughout the diverse megaplex of Bangkok.

I have seen more dreadlocks on white-people and more ladyboys in Bangkok than I have ever seen in my entire life. As a sprawling megaplex (I Like that word), Asia's #1 backpackers hotpoint, and the center of Thai Art, entertainment, and high-society, Bangkok is a youthful, exuberant city with something for everyone. It is a more dynamic city than I have ever seen, and on every street there are people struggling, living, cooking, caring, flirting, selling...everything.

Instantly the amount of Westerners, the cheapness, and the hip-ity of Khao San Road overwhelms most travelers as they sprawl out on the promenade, weaving the complex maze through tourists, shops, sellers, masseuses, and tuk-tuks. Khao San Road(above) is the first stop for travelers and the #1 backpackers hotpoint in the world. The amount of westerners in this area is overwhelming, and between the run-down bohemian style of the area, added to the warm scents, alternative bookstores, wacky t-shirts, hip hairdoos and casual strolling, you get a wonderfully wacky cross between Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, creating a dynamic entrepot of culture and life.
The cheapness of everything too is overwhelming, something giving way to a particularly different feeling of being a king or queen or such. 2hour massages for $12! Dinner for $2-5! Cool t-shirts and books for $5! Exchange rates are (once-again) wonderful.

Although Bangkok is cheap, their history and culture is as rich as gold. This golden Reclining Buddha, is the largest Buddha in the world in terms of length, and it is absolutely MASSIVE. It is hundreds of years old and part of the larger Wat Pho Temple complex, which includes hundreds more golden Buddhas, some of which contain the ashes of noblemen. The three great pillars pictured above are markers for the tombstones of three kings, and their is immaculate ornamentation, stone-work and gardens all throughout the temples acres of grounds.

Some particularly cool statues of lions I saw...

I must take my leave for dinner now, but I will post the 2nd post pertaining to Bangkok shortly, hope you enjoy!


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 21, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, JackCrestani, Khaosan and Watpho

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys (Bangkok Part 2)

Bangkok, Thailand


Through all the dazzle and glory of Bangkok's economy and culture lies massive amounts of pollution and Western influence. The photos above were taken from a longboat on Bangkoks main river, Chao Phraya. Los Angeles has nothing on this! The taste of pollution and raw sewage in many places are enough to give the average person headaches.

Although the boat tour through the city led us through some of the most pollution infested areas of town (Chinatown and industrial areas), once we got towards the suburbs of the city I was able to experience scenes, normal people living, that you would never get in the touristy and city areas. Interestingly (to me at least), the suburbs of Bangkok are surprisingly integrated in their mixtures of social classes, especially up against the model of US cities. Rich estates and their gardens reside next to farms, peasant shops and makeshift housing peacefully. An upper-class house averages around $200k, about half is the land. Their gardens sit right next to subsistence farmers, who live almost completely unaffected by modernity, and only sell meager amounts of their crop to the market if they have extra left over.
Riding my bike through the elevated sidewalks/roads which snake around the suburbs, kids would shout friendly 'Herro's to me, as I am guessing they don't often see white faces, something completely different from the city. Life is calm here, and not much seems to have changed over the centuries in these parts.

Western influence has affected full-force the high-society and upper/middle classes of Thailand, and although I am standing in front of a special walk for chinese new years, it is a part of a megamall that is perhaps the greatest symbol to Western influence in Thailand. Siam Paragon, a recently built megamall features multiple McDonalds, Dolce & Gabbana, Quiksilver, H&M etc, etc, etc. It is completely and absolutely indistinguishable (creepily so...) from a USA mall scene...except all the people are Asian. From flirtacious and gossiping teenagers, to desperate housewives, to young adults on dates at the movies, to prep students finished with school, and every other mall stereotype, it can be found here 5000 miles from Los Angeles.

This was the only place where I felt really awkward, like I didnt belong. My school group was not part of the actual makeup here, this was no tourist site, and they didn't specifically need our money. The art installations and center-mall galleries were absolutely stunning on a scale not seen in America. Hands down nicest, cleanest, richest mall I've ever been to...and I am in a 3rd world country. (Side-note: I actually walked into the mall during a Thai movie premier happening there which added to the feeling of being in my native Los Angeles, very glitzy)The one quite different aspect from American malls is the presence of many white-Thai couples here on dates.
The amount of prostitutes in Bangkok (in the downtown area near the nice hotels, not where the other backpackers and I were staying) is absolutely insane. Tens of thousands of women come from all over SE Asia to be sold for about $30 to Western customers coming from mainly around Europe, Australia, America and the Middle East. The amount of creepy old white men walking around with their Thai 'girlfriends' is stunning, mainly because it is such a common sight. Places like Starbucks, mid/high-end hotel lobbies (nice hotels are around $100-600/night) and street promenades are very populated by such dates. Although it is sad that women feel the need to sell their bodies, I feel it is also an equally bad problem that generations of men have been raised unable to successfully bed a woman, or achieve a happy relationship, that they must resort to a 3rd world country for a relationship.

Overall, Bangkok has been quite a trip, it is a fast-paced, multifaceted city full of delights, joys, beer, women, tourist attractions, culture, cheap goods, and something for anyone and everyone. I highly recommend a visit to Bangkok for all, it is an incredibly safe city (the laws protect foreigners more-so than the native Thai), and I never at once felt at unease.

At the same time, I am glad to be out of the smog, traffic, sellers and commercialism and out in the country now.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 25, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Temple, Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, Watpho and Dreadlocks

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Something new To Try, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand


Pie in the sky Chiang Mai finally doing the laundry Chiang Mai its good to ask why Chiang Mai� buy a lady get a guy Chiang Mai�These area all the names our group thought up to help market the city in the States because, in the words of Tony the Tiger, its grrrrrreat!

Chiang Mai is a blast and a half and during the course of the last few days our group got a much needed massage, completed an amazing race, visited a wat , and spent a morning at a Burmese children's school. And of course many amazing Thai meals along the way. (Note: Chiang Mai's time was cut in half by a 2 day visit to a rock-climbing and caving area which will be covered in a separate entry)

The economic powerhouse of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai's atmosphere is more relaxed than the massive-city appeal of Bangkok, with a mixed appeal of riverside live-music bars, beautiful temples, a sleazy sex-tourist district, numerous open-air markets, rooftop lounges, and noticeably cleaner air than its larger city cousin. Our first activity upon entering the Chiang Mai's fray (Chiang Mai literally translates to 'New City', the northern Thai area was recaptured from the Burmese only three hundred years ago), was embracing a much needed massage after three days of trekking to the Karen-tribe village. It was awesome.

The next day (Feb 1st) we were off to visit Wat Suan Dok, a magnificent temple built hundreds of years ago highlighted by the ridiculous 300-some steps (I lost count) to climb up into the main temple area, adorned with a massive golden Buddha (but beware the wandering elephant, for it expects bananas).

The 'Secret Activity' ended up being The Amazing Race: Chiang Mai. We were set-off in three groups to complete a dozen tasks as fast as possible and return by a set time to the hotel. After grueling hours of beer, sweat, and tears, The Pimp Daddies (Jeremy, Taylor, Emily Long, Mackenzie) completed the challenge first (albeit using questionable strategies), the Tiger Paws (Shannon, Jack, Katie, Emily Maeder) completed second (completed every task perfectly),
and then the Buddha Bellies (Colin, M.E., Will, E'Beth, Sam, Audrey) finished last, although (coincidentally perhaps?) they seemed to have feasted the finest that afternoon. The race involved a mix of learning about the city with visiting various places all around Chiang Mai from temples to a mall to a restaurant and more. By placing exploration in competitive circumstances, it created an inventive twist to get many of us exploring the city and interacting with the locals.

Children are the best. Yes I know there are many parents reading this who may say otherwise, but I'm talking about the younger, cuter sort. The group taught at a Burmese school this Wednesday. Some of the older students practiced their English by interviewing some of our group, while the rest (and most) of us played and drew pictures with the children. The older students were surprisingly good at English, and displayed a real drive to learn the language, while the younger kids were, well, typical kids and a lot of fun.

All-in-all, Chiang Mai is an awesome city that I wish I had the opportunity to stay in longer. The dynamic nature, fun, chillaxed people, amazing temples were a great experience for everyone, and a welcome breather from trekking, although now we are off to Laos, tune in sometime soon for the next post!

Here is a picture at the Chiang Mai Elephant Santuary of an elephant painting a self-portrait of himself....really.

Here is a picture of the Ratchadameon Sunday market, its still early so there arent many people but this place gets really crowded

Funny grafitti



permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 6, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Thailand, Elephant, ChiangMai, JackCrestani and Johncrestani

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Cimbing and Crawling

Chiang Mai, Thailand


I am a dirty man. In the happiest, sorest and most satisfying sense of the word. Caving on your stomach through tunnels barely wider than your body, in 100-degree putrid heat, and with little underground streams and bats occasionally paying visits, you would be just as dirty. Pepper it all up with some 300-foot rock climbing and rapelling, and you'd be cimpletely pooped.

During my Pacific Discovery tour group's 2-day break from Chiang Mai, we went to and stayed at Chiang Mai Rock Recreation Center, where we climbed, caved, roasted rice cakes, played games, and camped out.

A combination of chess and pull-ups, climbing is alot of fun, and something I enjoy dearly. Strategizing each succession of grips, clenches, and footholds combines thinking and tests your physical limits in a game where theres a clear goal, reaching the top. Thats me over to he left rapelling (descending) down one of the walls I had just scaled. If it wasnt so damn expensive of a hobby, I would definately treat myself to more climbs, more often, in more places.

We also did some rapelling into caves, loads of fun. Pretty scary though when the difference between life and falling to your death depends on how tightly you hang onto your rope as you slide down it. I prefer hanging onto at least something, alhough the 'motto' of the camp was, Discomfort=Growth. The more you put yourself into uncomfortable situations, the more growth you undergo as a person. And the more discomfort people go through, the more they turn to 'comfort' items as a reaction, such as the 'Pizza and Beer' meal our group mandated after 3 days of trekking in the wilderness. Embrace the awkward/discomfortable!

Caving was a trip. A 3-hour trip that only got deeper, hotter, wetter, and putrid-er. But we managed to embrace the discomfort, and look at how we ended up! It was a great experience, with most people agreeing never to try it again, while yours truly wanted to holy-mole deeper until I eiher found gold, dinosaur bones, or both. Calcite from the limestone formed these caves, similar to the ones in Kentucky and Tennessee. he calcite becomes slightly acidic when mixed with water, and underground streams of this acidic water form along the grooves in the rocks and eventually form large (or small) caves, slalagtites, bat dung ecosystems, etc. We crawled through spaces barely as big as our body, treaded water through underground streams, and monkey-crawled through mud and rocks. Bats even flew in our faces; One got within a foot of my face, while another actually smacked into a girls head! To say the least, after we exited the cave, we were spent, our knees all rightly bruised up, but still in good spirits.
The victory picture!

(Skip over this next part if your not into politics)

The camp was run by a Princeton graduate, I finally learned a bit about the Thai coup that happened late last year. Thai is split between two political parties, the Reds, based in the north, and the Yellows, based in the south.
The Reds are the party of the nouveau-riche, the police, and many people in the north especially around Chiang Mai. They are the new guard, business-friendly and might be compared to the GOP in the US. They were the ruling party until late last year, until they were forced o forfeit their presidency because of major money scandals, an undermined police force, and dissatisfaction. he president was also the richest man in Thailand, but was wracked by corruption scandals and abuse of loopholes.
The Yellows are considered the old guard party and represent the south (around Bangkok), the military, and the King. They took power late last year after some very symbolic non-action by the military in letting the Yellow protestors (most of the protestors on both sides were hired) to take over and shut down the airport. Bangkok airport is the only international airport in Thailand, and being very dependent on tourism, this affected the economy greatly, with many travelers jumping at the chance to cancel their trips abroad altogether because of he already sorry state of their home economies. It will be interesting to see how the politics in this country develop during the year.

(End of boring political part)

At the end of all the hoopla, camping and outdoor activities, I came away with new loves of climbing and caving, and some great times around the campfire with all the camp leaders and my Pacific Discovery friends. Here are some more pictures for everyone to check out. I will be in Laos for the next week or so, with absolutely NO internet access (it is one of the 10 poorest countries in the WOLRD) but upon my arrival in Saigon in 7 days, I will fill everyone in. Thanks for reading!

The name of the camp was Crazy Horse, aptly named after this distinctive looking rock that crowns the mountain from which all the climbing walls and caves run around and under.

Some of that beautiful cave light. This is NOT the cave we went caving in. This cave is like a walk in the park compared to that one.

Me pooped, lying on a bamboo mat, after climbing and caving.



permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 6, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Rockclimbing, Caving, Thailand, ChiangMai, JackCrestani, Johncrestani and Crazyhorse

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Lovely Laos: Trekking in the Nam Ha River Valleys

Luang Prabang, Laos


100% pure unbridled nature. That’s what we got trekking through the beautiful Nam Ha Valley in northern Laos. Two full days of rigorous trekking (most of it seeming to be uphill…) brought our group through three Lanten villages and up, down and across more hills and jungles than I can count. But with natures glory bursting with joy out from the ground, and beautiful mountain vistas awaiting at the top of every hill, things weren’t so bad.

The end of the first day of trekking up/down/around hills left our group staying at a lodge in a Lanten village near the Nam Tha River. The Lanten’s are an animist tribal group in Laos who still live off the land as hunter gatherers, and now to some extent, traders. To give an idea of how remote we were, the village had no road, power of any sort, and the closest town was a 5 hour WALK away (this village could only be reached by walking or on the river during the wet season). So we were out there. Although ethnically Tai, the Lanten are animists, meaing they believe in nature spirits, and are very superstitious. Some examples…they throw a bit of food into nature each time they have a meal as an offering…all their houses face down-stream…married women shave their eyebrows…water buffalo guts and other oddities are hung from the ceilings in the houses to ward off evil spirits. Kinda eccentric huh? Although you have to wonder what they say think about us ‘crazy Americans’.
(BTW, sorry about the few pictures. Look at the next entry to see what happened to my camera memory cards)

People may grow up and start expressing themselves differently, but our senses of joy and happiness inherited from childhood are all the same. I’m pretty sure that’s a profound thought, or else maybe I just have taken it for granted, but playing with the children in this Lanten village had to be the most fun of the entire trek. Craig’s (genius) idea of bringing bubbles paid off 10x its cost through the magical joy the Lanten kids expressed at these colorful, floating delights. We starting blowing bubbles too and for hours these kids couldn’t get enough. They thought our camera’s were pretty cool too, but it was as if bubbles were the best thing to come from Western culture for these children. Who knows, maybe they’re right! After that, the kids proceeded to play ‘tag’ and ‘boys chase the girls’ in the river sand naked, which was pretty funny, but nice to see that, although worlds apart, kids are still kids whatever circumstances you grow up in. Sometimes bubbles bring more joy than a Ferrari (if anyone wants to trade, I’m game).

(Our lunch) That night, our group had some very interesting conversations about Bhutan, with the one outsider who trekked with our group. From idolizing and creating religious statues and staffs of penis’, to over-the-top religious imagery (in temples) involving ‘sky-clad’ demi-gods ridings flaming tigers to earth, it sounds like a very…’interesting’ culture. Bhutans form of Buddhism has embraced the very toungue-in-cheek religious teachings of a famous Divine Madman, yet take these as completely serious. After two hours of fireside explanations, I think most came out more confused than not.

After a night of wonderful sleeping (for some), we all awoke to the heavenly song of roosters bright and early at 6am. We were treated to some famous Laotian tea or coffee (both very good) then trekked our way to where the vans were set to meet us. After my run-in with some leeches (we defeated them valiantly), we finally made it across the river, through the woods, and into the clear.

A beautiful taste of Laos, a lovely sup of nature, and a quaff of humbling, back-to-basics living left everyone in this group very happy to have been able to partake of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The guest lodge we stayed at the night before our trekking.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 15, 2009 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Laos, JackCrestani, Johncrestani, Namtha, Lanten, Animist and Bhutan

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Luang Prabang and My Life as a Human Windshield

Luang Prabang, Laos


It all started in Luang Prabang. As the past capital of Laos and the French colonial capital, Luang Prabang is a small city with gorgeous architecture, a lively cultural life, and surrounded by plenty of natural beauty. Although in spite of all this natural beauty, I still managed to get myself into quite a bit of trouble, my clothes stolen, my motorbikes tire popped, and my camera memory cards lost in the netherworld.

Let me begin with the architecture. It is stunning and a welcome relief in an otherwise crippled third-world country. The french district (and tourist/nice area) of Luang Prabang lies between on a small but dense peninla between the mighty Mekong River and the Dam Thiong River.

In this area lies the royal palace, riverside resorts and beautiful gardened hotels, all for around 10-15 bucks a night. The first night our Pacific Discovery tour group got in we all went to their famous night market, where vendors sold everything from bracelets to tribal purses, and from spring rolls to bottles of rice wine with a dead cobra floating inside (really). Quite interesting although I still opted to spend my Kip on getting a much-needed massage ($5/hr, rediculous right?). One of the better experiences I had in Luang was playing pickup soccer with the local Laotian guys, it wasn't any different than back home, except the Laotians arent nearly as dirty players as you get in LA.

Clean air flying in your face, wonderful relics of nature in all directions, and complete freedom to ride; I love the open road. The fun started the next day when I decided to rent a motorbike ($20/day) and travel around the Lao locales with my friend who-will-not-be-named. It started off great, the excitement of riding, a gorgeous waterfall we wandered upon and open road in all directions. That was until the bike started shaking at 60 km/hr and I realized I had a flat. Not good when your in the middle of a foreign country, dont speak the language, the bikeshop owner has your passport, and you have the complexion of a walking-wallet. Shit. "Sabadee, You know where bike shop is?", I motion at the woman to my bike tire with my hands, make a circle and then do a popping sound. I hope this works. She smiles and gestures to the unreadable laotian sign and...biketires above the shop. It turns out I ended up right in front of a motorscooter repair shop. "1 broken chair - $5, 1 Laobeer - $1.50, 1 Coffee - $1.50, 1 Motorbike fix - $3" read the receipt. This is crazy I thought, I'm the man. Best...Luck...Ever.

And it just got better. After another 40 minutes of riding far out in the country we stopped for lunch at what looked to be a randomly placed touristarea, and chanced upon another waterfall, and it happened to be the tallest in all of SE Asia! SCORE! Things could just not get better, I really am the man! The Kuang Si waterfall is not only the tallest in SE Asia, but contains numerous natural springs, garden-of-Eden-gorgeous grounds, an Asiatic Black bear rescue center, swimming areas and rope-swings. A must-see location in Laos. After taking advantage of all of this, and after rope-swinging for a few, I return to put back on my underwear, shorts and shirt...although they are now gone.
Shit. Somebody stole them, it was near dusk, and it was a ways back to the hotel in Luang Prabang. I was a shirtless human windshield for the 40 minutes, complete with having to wipe-out flies trapped in beard every other minute. I was even less happy after the girl I traveled with told me she accidentally lost my trips worth of photos she-doesnt-know-where. SHIT.

Well life is a series of ups-and-downs, but seriously, that many in one day?! I arrived in Vietnam two days ago and just finished a 2 day trek of the tallest mountain in SE Asia, Mt. Fan Xi Pan (Mt. Fancypants) at 11,000 feet high. Blog on that soon. I hope everyone is doing well, and until next time.

-- John 'Jack' Crestani

Another example of French-Lao architecture

The gardened grounds of our hotel in Luang Prabang, the Xiang Muong Guest House.

Our flight on Valentines Day from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, where we would board a bus to Sa Pa Village between the dramatic Cat Cat mountains in Northern Vietnam.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 17, 2009 from Luang Prabang, Laos
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Waterfall, Laos, LuangPrabang, JackCrestani, Johncrestani and KuangSi

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American Invasion of Vietnam: Part II, Tourism

Sa Pa, Vietnam


After five-thousand feet of steep, rigorous and back-breaking journey and Mr Cho (our guide) Cait, Taylor, Emmy and I (
) finally reached the top of Mt. Fan Xi Pan, the tallest mountain in SE Asia at about 11 thousand feet. Nothing compared to our American mountains, but hey, its a different place. Yet Setting, working, and reaching a tall goal in one day left us all with the great sense of exhaustive relief and accomplishment that made it all pay off. We hung around the top for a bit, then ventured downward to basecamp where we ate, drank some rice wine, and then watched the bright Milky Way and shooting stars until sleep. This was our trips last real intensive trek, and of the three options we were given, this was the hardest route.

A vacation town in the mountains of North Vietnam, Sa Pa exudes a very peaceful attitude, and very curious dress customs. The local H'mong peoples who live here (partially pictured right) dress in all black garb with funny hats ornamented with red and metallic things. Many of them try to sell you tribal gifts and thinga-ma-jigs such as bracelets, earings, hats, sunblock, playing cards and fruits, and many of them just hang around the market and the lake chillin'. Tourism has been a particularly good boon for this Vietnamese economy, as their communal farming of the 70s-80s was a failed experiment, and their reliance on opium and timber created a devastating economic void after the government outlawed both practices in the early 90s. The Vietnamese people adapt very well to the market economy, chiefly due to the large influence of the Chinese on the Vietnamese.

Vietnam is very different from the other mainland countries of SE Asia because their society is not as fully influenced by strict Buddhism as are Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Much of their influence comes from the Chinese, including their set notion of private property, their nobel dress/palaces/architecture, and their city structure.

I feel these much more Chinese attitudes have made their transition to a market economy much easier than it has been for the other countries in the entire region. The picture to the left shows an interesting cultural influence...Catholicism (see left-the Christmas tree and I, and above-the cave Jesus was born in). Many missionaries from the West worked in Vietnam during the colonial period and today they have 8 million Catholics in a country of 85 million. Even so, almost everybody celebrates Christmas, and there are many statues in Buddhist households to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist and even Santa Claus. The mainstream Buddhism of Vietnam and China are of a totally different breed than that of the other mainland SE Asian countries (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos).

After Sapa, our group traveled to very tourist-populat Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a 300 square mile World Heritage region where massive limestone cliffs, caves and arches rise from the misty sea all around as far as the eye can see. The 14 Pacific Discovery group members and I had a boat (
) chartered for us while we sailed along for three days, kayaked, swam, and explored limestone caves I spent my free time mostly reading, enjoying the nice scenery atop the boat, and swimming. School can't get much better than this.

Some more pictures for everybody... Click on the photos to make them larger

Taylor, Emmy, Cait and I at the pinnacle of Mt Fan Xi Pan (Mt Fancypants)

Me achieving enlightenment at the top of the mountain of course.

A cool photo of the bamboo forests we tread through. An interesting side-note, wild marijuana plants actually grew around here!

Another mountainside photo, reminded me a bit of Yosemite in NorCal.

Vietnamese love Jesus!

Colin and I inside a cave in a limestone cliff of Halong Bay

More Halong Bay



permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 23, 2009 from Sa Pa, Vietnam
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Vietnam, HalongBay, Trek, Sapa, Hmong and FanXiPan

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