4 Weeks in Indochina / SE Asia

For my annual super vacation this year, I was waffling between India and Central Asia (both with Gap Tours), but then my friends, David and Neil, told me they were planning a grand trip to SE Asia. I did more investigation and it looks like an amazing place with lots to do and see. And probably not as tricky as India or Central Asia. So here's links to all the blog entries. You can also use the navigation buttons in the upper right corner to get around.

Good luck navigating and enjoy!:

► Oct 4: TORONTO
BLOG: 080830 Immunized to my Eyeballs
BLOG: 080913 Giving Credit
BLOG: 080921 Save the Planet, Buy Some Chopsticks
BLOG: 080921 Pre-Trip Thoughts on Vietnam
BLOG: 081106 Bargaining in SE Asia

► Oct 5 - 8: TOKYO
BLOG: 080912 Learning to Sing in Japanese

► Oct 8 - 10: CHIANG MAI
BLOG: 081010 The Night Market of Chiang Mai

► Oct 10 - 12: LUANG PRABANG
BLOG: 081011 The Hike From Hell

► Oct 12 - 16: VANG VIENG
BLOG: 081012 A Dose of Reality
BLOG: 081013 The Awesome Tham Poukham Cave
BLOG: 081013 Really Relaxing
BLOG: 081014 Rowing Down the Nam Song River

► Oct 16 - 18: VIENTIANE
BLOG: 081016 Kayaking From Vang Vieng to Vientiane
BLOG: 081018 Sleepy Capital?

► Oct 18 - 19: HANOI

► Oct 19 - 21: HALONG BAY
BLOG: 081021 I Have Never...
BLOG: 081022 Living Dangerously

► Oct 21 - 26: SAPA
BLOG: 081024 The Hills Are Alive With the Sounds of Hmong

► Oct 26 - 29: HANOI
BLOG: 081027 Eating in Vietnam
BLOG: 081028 Motorcycles, Motorcycles, Motorcycles
BLOG: 081028 Traveler's Diarrhea

► Oct 29 - Nov 1: HOI AN
BLOG: 081030 Taking a Vacation From My Vacation
BLOG: 081031 I Need A Farley

► Nov 1 - 4: SIEM REAP
BLOG: 081102 The Children of Angkor Wat
BLOG: 081103 The Temples of Angkor Wat

► Nov 4 - 6: BANGKOK
BLOG: 081104 Fast and Furious Bangkok


Aug 30 - Immunized to my Eyeballs

So under recommendation of my doctor friend, Roy, I took a jaunt to the nearby Albany Travel Clinic. It's supposed to be one of the oldest clinics in Toronto, and the office did indeed look dated, but they are apparently moving to a new location soon.

So I started talking to the travel clinic doctor on duty. Dr. Sood. Nice enough guy. He pulled out a map of SE Asia as I began to describe my trip. As I rattled off my itinerary, he would pinpoint the area on the map and then flip through his book of secrets and mention some awful disease that I can catch there. Dr. Sood would not be a fun guy to meet at a party.

I ended up buying every immunization that he mentioned. It was like dealing with a used car salesman. His pitch was so convincing--death, brain damage, severe sickness. Luckily, my health plan covered 80% of all the drugs. Awesome!

Afterwards, I did some more digging online to see how screwed I really got. I think getting the Japanese Encephalitis was a bit paranoid, even if I am wandering through rice paddies. And I wouldn't have gotten it if it wasn't for the $360 discount provided by my insurance...I just get sucked in by those "good deals"! Sheesh. And I probably didn't need the dukoral--it only reduces your chances of getting travellers' diarrhea by 30%.

If Roy didn't suggest this travel clinic, I probably would have went to the cheaper Their price list indicates I probably would have paid 30 - 40% less.

Now in addition to the stuff I list on the right side, you should also make sure you have your tetanus, polio, and Hep A and B shots. For those on a tight budget, you can get the hep shots for free if you tell them you're gay! Cool eh?


Sep 14 - Giving Credit

I just spent the weekend doing some hard core planning. Sometimes I think I love doing the planning as much as the actual traveling! It's fun seeing the different ways you can go from point A to point B. And reading about other people getting from point A to point B. And figuring out where the heck point A and point B even are!

So I'm listing the top websites and guidebooks where I've been scouring for information. You can find some great information here:

#1 - - EVERYTHING you need to know about SE Asia
#2 - and Google Maps - 'nuff said
#3 - - Get the scoop from other travellers
#4 - - Read up-to-the-minute travel blogs
#5 - Moon Handbooks: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos - Very interesting
#6 - - See vids of places you read about, learn karaoke songs
#7 - Frommer's Southeast Asia - This will be the book I bring with me
#8 - and - Good deals on rooms
#9 - - Good deals on flights in the area
#10 - - When you need to haggle for transportation
#11 - - You need email to make reservations, how retro!

Nov 5 - Credit Update

After traveling to SE Asia, I realized that guide books are not as useful as if you were traveling to Europe or somewhere like that. SE Asia is changing so fast that the books are out of date. Prices have doubled since the books were printed last year. You need to be connected real time, so all the internet sites are fantastic. I guess the problem is that you have to search for everything and compile it together.


Sep 21 - Save the Planet, Buy Some Chopsticks

According to an eye-opening article by the Independent, China goes through about 45 billion disposable chopsticks every year. That's equivalent to 25 million full grown trees...A YEAR!! Japan goes through another 25 billion chopsticks a year. It adds up to a whole lot of wasted wood. These countries are starting to realize the impact this has on their resources and are slowly putting extra taxes and restrictions in place to curb this wastefulness. It is starting to become hip to BYOC: "bring your own chopsticks".

So I was walking through MEC today, picking up some stuff for the trip and stumbled upon some portable chopsticks by Snow Peak. With these babies, you can say goodbye forever to those throwaway chopsticks. The wooden part of these chopsticks are made from Japanese White Ash. And not just any white ash, but actually wood recycled from used Japanese baseball bats! Mmmm, I can taste the baseball leather now.

A brass lid comes off the stainless steel top to reveal a hidden chamber where the wooden pieces nicely fit. Once you collapse your chopsticks, they are super sleek and super chic. You can then slip them into the sorta-ugly cheap-looking red case that they come along with. I am definitely getting someone in Vietnam to make me a nice silk case for my chopsticks.

I was looking for nice chopsticks my last few trips to Asia, and have been to places like the famous Yunhong Chopstick Shop in Hong Kong, Carpenter Tan in Beijing and many stall markets and haven't found anything that I liked as much as these ones. I think they are a great balance between contemporary in the steel and brass, and traditional with the beautiful ash tips. The only drawbacks are the chopsticks are a bit too light, they have the super-tapered Japanese tips that I'm not used to and the price tag is pretty high. A whopping $30 a pair!

But as I eat in SE Asia, I'll think of all the trees swaying in the wind, saved from a humiliating fate of being thrown away with a take-out box.

Nov 5 - Chopsticks Update

Well, I ended up losing my chopsticks in the second! They fell out of my pocket somewhere in Vang Vieng. Now some Loatian is eating with a damn nice pair of chopsticks. The sad part is that they would have to work over a week to afford those chopsticks.

But I realized that disposable chopsticks are only used a small number of places in SE Asia--places nice enough that hygiene is a concern, but not so nice that you are using a knife and fork. Pretty much nowhere. So my bid to save the world has ended in failure.


Nov 6 - Bargaining in SE Asia

Really, why bother? The prices are so unbelieveably cheap. Generally you end up haggling for a dollar or two, so most times I just paid what they asked unless it was something outrageous when I compared to other prices in the area. It was mostly the cab and tuk tuk drivers that I least trusted and had to spend the most time haggling. Even if you ask them to use the meter, they will just drive you the longer way around to pad the price. Very annoying.