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Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape

a travel blog by soloshell3

It's our 10th wedding anniversary and we're dropping the kids at Granny's house and heading to southeast Asia. We're actually closer to our 11th anniversary than the 10th, but we've always talked about doing a big trip for the 10th, so this is it.

We've got 40 days and 40 nights from Hong Kong to Sydney and anywhere in between. Here come two 30 somethings ready to pretend they're in their 20s again.

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Stage 1

Seattle, United States

In a few hours we'll be on a plane to Dublin. Then it's off to Granny's house for Christmas. A few more days and our adventure will begin with new years in Hong Kong.

permalink written by  soloshell3 on December 20, 2008 from Seattle, United States
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
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Boxing day in the island

Coalisland, United Kingdom

Decided to get few drinks up in the town for boxing day.

Ran into some strange pervert on the street afterward.

Miscellaneous Photos:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on December 27, 2008 from Coalisland, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
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Welcome to Hong Kong

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Welcome to Hong Kong, aka the private karaoke room adventure.

First we were delayed in Belfast and just barely made the plane in London. Then our plane was delayed on the tarmac for an hour while we waited for an air hostess to drive to work. After that it was smooth sailing and 12 hours later we arrived in Hong Kong. Local time 6:30 p.m. +1 day.

We're traveling with Michelle's sister Denise and her husband Gary now, so there are 4 of us for the Hong Kong portion of the trip. The night started with a complimentary bottle of wine in our shared suite at the Eaton hotel. After that we decided to kick things off with a fancy feed at Mortons of Chicago, overlooking Hong Kong bay. Dinner, cocktails and couple more bottles of wine, and we hit the streets.

Carlsberg is everywhere at it became the drink of choice as we moved from bar to bar. In between the bar hopping we hit the occasional street vendor where I sampled roasted duck head and octopus skewers, both of which I found delicious.

We started getting pretty loose and at some point we decided to follow some locals into what we thought was a club. It turned out to be a place where people rent private karaoke rooms. Imagine that, a private karaoke room! We tried crashing a few of the private rooms, including one that had a wedding party, but we were politely rejected each time. After talking shit about how silly the idea of private karaoke room is, we promptly booked our own private karaoke room.

Our room came with 2 buckets of carlsberg and they delivered more whenever we asked. We proceeded to howl like a pack of wild dogs and dance like drunks for hours. When stumbled out of the place around 5:00 a.m. we understood why someone would book a private karaoke room. It was a great nights craic.

permalink written by  soloshell3 on December 29, 2008 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
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We made page 3

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

New Years Eve started with some touristy sight seeing, moved on to partying in the night club district of Lan Kwai Fong and ended up with our mugs on page 3 of the South China Morning Post - a major daily paper. We had an epic nights craic.

We headed down to Lan Kwai Fong around 8:00 p.m. so we could get a table in a bar before the whole district was packed. Already most tables had been reserved, but we were able to get a table in a small, airy, corner bar for a reasonable minimum buy. We started playing drinking games where the loser would have to do something silly. Increasingly that something silly involved doing some kind of dance in the street.

Apparently making an ass of yourself is a great way to get positive attention here, and before long waves of strangers wanted to take their picture with us. The paparazzi treatment only encouraged us, which increased our novelty value and so on. Pretty soon we had the whole bar doing our ridiculous dance routine. Imagine: climb the ladder, climb the ladder, pull the rope, pull the rope, and the sprinkler, and the sprinkler... Die off.

Anyway, at some point we attracted the attention of a photographer for the South China Morning Post who pulled us out of the bar for a mini photo shoot. If we only had made the front page... Anyway page 3 makes for a pretty good souvenir.

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 1, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
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The last word on Hong Kong

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

In between the karaoke and drinking and drinking till we made page 3 we got some sight seeing in as well. On our second day we visited the Big Buddha.

New Year's day was the first clear day since we arrived so we headed for the Peak. Apparently we weren't the only ones with this idea and we waited in line for the Peak tram for a good hour or two. After fighting our way onto the tram, I reflected a bit a came to the conclusion that there is a certain hustle and bustle to the people of Hong Kong. I'm generalizing here, but most people have this way of bobing and weaving through traffic and craming their way to the front of a queue. At first everyone is a respectful distance from one another, then through quick but tiny steps we jockey for position as the queue tightens around a particular bottleneck. First a foot angled just so carefully in front of the next guys, then a shoulder. The movements are infectious, building with intensity as we reach the funnel point.

Michelle can't stand this game, and I'm convinced that she'd still be in queue somewhere if we weren't traveling together. On the other hand I get sucked right into it. I go into pedestrian commute mode and subtly fight for position with everyone else. The worst for us was the final funnel point for the Peak tram. As we boarded the tram I literally had to shove a guy out of the way to let Michelle onto the train.

The next day it felt like Buddha time so we hit up the temple of 10,000 Buddhas. The temple is on the side of hill and the path leading up is lined with a multitude of Buddha statues in countless poses. There's even a Buddha in ice cream eating pose.

It was a decent attraction, but the statues looked like they were made of plastic and the pace of development at the monastery gave me the impression that they had recognized the value in making the monastery a tourist attraction. In the end we enjoyed it, but I would only recommend it if you're looking for something to do in Hong Kong on day 5.

We capped off our final night with one of the best Indian meals I've had at a restaurant in ChungKing Mansions . Then we rode the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island for the view. I can thing of no other reason to take the ferry as anyone who visits Hong Kong quickly learns that the subway will take you everywhere - and fast. All in all I have to say we both really liked Hong Kong. It felt like a very safe city and every night the streets had the energy of a Saturday night in a party city.

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 3, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged HongKong

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Sunday night fights in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand

We arrived in Bangkok Saturday evening and we slept half of Sunday away, so we didn't really do much till Sunday afternoon. After getting familiar with the subway/sky train system we took river boat to a bar and then a tuktuk to a local stadium for Muay Thai - Thai kick-boxing. I had visions of a scene from a Holly Wood movie with a screaming fans waving wads of cash to bet followed by blood splattering knock out kicks in the ring. We got a half empty stadium and teenage fighters.

However the action was still pretty good and there was gambling. There was a separate section for locals and foreigners and the all the gambling action was in the local section. We were sitting with some Aussies in the foreigner section and together we tried to figure out how to get in the action. We eventually realized that there was no central bookmaker when some of the locals spilled into the foreigner section. People just bet each other. Anyone who wanted to bet one way would offer the action until he had all the takers he could handle.

There were 7 or 8 fights on the card and we started taking action on the second to last fight. Three of the Aussies each had 100 baht (3 usd) bets on the blue corner. I figured the locals knew best, since they we're taking bets against blue I offered the same action, meaning I backed red. Feeling confident I took 500 baht action from another local. Red looked good, but it was Murphy's law and Blue finished him in the last round. The Aussies won 300 and I lost 500.

We probably should have quit then, but since there was only one fight left we decided to stick it out. So far the blue corner had won every fight of the night and you couldn't get anyone to take a bet on red - they must have figured the red corner was bound to win one. So this time I followed the Aussies and took a 100 baht bet on blue. At first it looked like red was winning, but them blue started gaining momentum. Now when someone takes your bet, they hold on to your money and then settle with you when the fight ends. The same local was holding all of our action and when blue starting doing well he started moving around the bleachers. Now he may have just wanted to bullshit with his friends in the local section, but I wasn't going to have my victory snatched from me even if it was only 100 baht. So I started following our friend around the stadium. Over to the top of the locals section, the down the bottom on the other side. This guys was all over the place - next into the bathroom, then out to the rail and back up to the top of the locals section.

As we made our way around, the fight progressed and blue started getting his ass kicked. At this point I gave up on following our now lost money and returned to the foreigners section. As the fight drew to a close our friend returned to his original spot in the foreigners section to rub it in - another bet lost...

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 4, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged BangkokThailandMuayThai

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Bangkok sight seeing

Bangkok, Thailand

Sunrise Wat:

Roasted chicken hearts from a sidewalk cafe. I had 2 - delicious

Grand Palace:

Feeding baby elephant:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 5, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged BangkokGrandPalaceSunriseWatElephant

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Treking near Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

After Bangkok we headed to Chiang Mai to do a jungle trek...

At the Riverside cafe in Chiang Mai:

Bugs from a street vendor cart - I passed on these:

Our trek started on elephants:

Then we hiked for about 4 hours climbing 1500 vertical meters:

We stayed at a LaHou village in a traditional Thai house:

The next day we hiked down the mountain through a different route:

Then we finished up with a white water rafting trip:

When the river guide gives us instructions he spooks the others and they decide to not come:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 9, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged ChiangMai, Trek and ElephantRiding

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Hanoi, Vietnam

We left Chiang Mai, Thailand for Hanoi Vietnam on the 10th. The tour desk at our Chiang Mai hotel, Chiang Mai Thai House, had made the Vietnam visa process painless. We gave them some money and our passports when we arrived and before we left our passports magically had visas for Vietnam.

We arrived in Hanoi at night and by the time we got situated in our hotel it was around 9:30 p.m.. The first thing that struck me about Hanoi is the lack of the neon low-glow so present in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Most of the city seemed to shutdown much earlier than we'd come accustomed to. Many shops where already closed when we drove in. We had seen some food stalls though, and since we hadn't eaten, and our hotel didn't have a restaurant, we decided to hit the streets. We headed for a relatively close place recommended by my guide book. It was called Thit bit tet. Bit tet is Vietnamese for beef steak, but it's paper thin beef bits rather than an actual steak.

We walked a few blocks and found the address easily enough, but the restaurant wasn't there. However in Vietnam it's not uncommon for multiple places to have the same address, so We tried to walk around block to look for it. Walking around a block should be a simple affair; in our case I expected that if we kept turning right we would end up back where we started. However the streets in Hanoi are anything but straight and we ended up getting lost. It's also worth noting that the same street regularly changes name and this can happen as often as every block.

As the stress level rose we also noticed that we hadn't seen a single other tourist and most shops on the street where closed. We were clearly outside of the familiar tourist carnival. Around this time many of the street lights started turning off as well. Apparently they are only on for a few hours in the evening?

Now it wasn't completely deserted and we kept passing small clusters of locals eating from sidewalk kitchens and tiny restaurants that were clearly not marketed to tourists. I recognized 'bit tet' on one of the menus and decided to give it a shot; it seemed that this was going to be our only option at this point. They where happy enough to serve us, but they wouldn't allow us to sit with the rest of the locals. Instead they ushered us upstairs to an empty dining room. Dining room doesn't accurately describe the space. It was a tiny room crammed with benches and trash all over the floor from earlier customers. We were the only people in the room and when I decided that we were going to sit down stairs, they strongly insisted with limited english that we had to sit where we were. At this point, out of my element and hungry, we gave in.

This place does basically one meal, they bring a hot plate at the table and a plate full of raw paper thin beef, onions, chilies, and other tid bits, as well as two french baguettes. I think locals cook for themselves, but our captor cooked it all for us. It was surprisingly good. In fact it ended up being the best beef I had in all of Vietnam. In general meat quality in Vietnam was poor, but this beef had clearly been marinaded for an extensive period and it was quite good. After our meal and couple beers, we relaxed, got our bearings and found our way back to the hotel.

The next day we realized that our hotel was on the edge of the main tourist district in 'the old quarter' and weren't as isolated as it had seemed the night before. We also got to experience the insane traffic situation. There don't seem to be any rules of the road in Hanoi, it's just a complete free for all. Cars and motorcycles drive on any side of the road they please, regularly weaving through oncoming traffic. In the few places where there are traffic lights or crosswalks they are completely ignored. In order to cross the street, you just step out into traffic, walk slowly, and watch the motorcycles and cars weave around you - it's not for the faint of heart. Don't believe me? Take a look:

There are basically two things to do in Hanoi, book a trip to Halong Bay or check out the museums. We decided to skip Halong bay for a couple reasons. First of all we knew we'd be going to Phuket, Thailand, which has similar scenery. Second and more importantly, there are a million Halong bay tour operators in Hanoi and my research shows that the vast majority are scammers, providing you with an overpriced shitty experience. In fact the whole tourism vibe in Hanoi stinks; just about everyone(except for the great staff at our hotel) is trying to rip you off and the street vendors are the most aggressive we've ever seen. They literally grab onto your arm as you try to walk away and you have to forcibly extricate yourself.

In between being tortured by salesmen we hit up the Ho Chi Minh museum, the temple of learning, the war remnants museum, and the infamous Hanoi Hilton (Hanoi prison). With the exception of the Hanoi Hilton, the museums where of surprisingly poor quality. They seemed very slapped together. In fact much of the city felt this way - very unimpressive for a national capitol.

The Hanoi Hilton prison was pretty cool though. Every exhibit had written information in Vietnamese, French, and English, so we could understand what we were looking at. The prison was originally run by the French when Vietnam was part of a French colony, and then used by the North Vietnamese to imprison captured American pilots during the Vietnam war (known as the American war in Vietnam). The central theme is an indictment of the French and Americans. When it comes to the Vietnamese treatment of American prisoners, the propaganda is over the top. The American prisoner photo shoots look like a brochure for a resort, grinning American prisoners decorating a Christmas tree and playing basketball.

The war remnants museum is basically a trophy room of captured American military equipment and airplane wreckage. Overall Hanoi was interesting, but if we could do it again, we would skip it for more time elsewhere.


American airplane wreckage:

John McCain's flight suite:

Bottle used by French Colonials to torture female political prisoners:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 12, 2009 from Hanoi, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged HanoiVietnam

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Hapiness is a warm M60 machine gun

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

After three nights in Hanoi we headed to Saigon(Ho Chi Minh City). It was much nicer and more modern than Hanoi, but the people where basically the same - Hotel staff very friendly and helpful, everyone else trying to rip you off. I got the feeling that most of the people generally have contempt for westerners. That didn't stop us from having some fun though.

The tourist area of Saigon was pretty happening and we had a couple good nights out. We also checked out the War Crimes Museum and took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels.

The war crimes museum was pretty good. It basically rips America a new one for using chemical weapons(agent orange and phosphorous bombs) on the Vietnamese people. A lot of the propaganda in Vietnam is over the top, but it was hard to argue with the chemical weapons stuff.

Victims of agent orange and phosphorus bombs:

Pictures of American bombers drawn by school children:

The highlight of the visit for me was the Cu Chi tunnels, or should I say the firing range at the Cu Chi tunnels where I got to shoot and AK-47 and an M60 machine gun. The only downside is the cost, about 1.5 USD per bullet. At that price you can shoot away a lot of money real fast.

Michelle with AK:

Solomon with M60:

Solomon eventually hitting the target with the AK:

Inside one of the tunnels:

wrecked American tank in Cu Chi:

permalink written by  soloshell3 on January 15, 2009 from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
from the travel blog: Solomon and Michelle's Southeast Asian escape
tagged SaigonM60Ak47CuChi

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This is Solomon and Michelle. She's an Irish girl from coal island and he's a yank from California.

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