Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I decided to go to Malaysia at the last minute…I realized that I had a week after all my classes ended all to myself. Why Malaysia? Well, I don’t really know. I wanted to go to a city that I could easily see in three days and one that did not require another visa (I’ve had too many of those as it is). I like going to new places that I don’t have preconceived ideas about. Kuala Lumpur (known as KL) is the capital of Malaysia and is often visited by travelers who are usually passing through as one stop on their Asia tour. I decided to go for a full three days, and I wasn’t bored once.

The first full day there I went straight to the Petronas Twin Towers only to realize that they are closed on Mondays. I walked around the area regardless. There is a huge, expensive mall and park at the KLCC subway stop. I am numb towards big malls now that I’ve lived in Shanghai where you can find an eight-storied mall or two or three at every subway stop. I also went to the Aquarium in the area. Although nothing spectacular, it did have a long underwater tunnel.

After striking out at the Twin Towers (the largest in the world), I went to search for the other, singular Menara Tower. It was kind of expensive to go all the way to the top, so I went to the second highest. Next, I went to an old part of Kuala Lumpur with The National Mosque and a bunch of other buildings made by the British when they settled in KL. I met a new friend who works for Oracle and who travels the world for conferences. Pretty awesome job. We journeyed to Little India, which is indeed “little.” We ordered some random items off a menu at an Indian restaurant. Indian food has never been my favorite but it was pretty good.

The next day I checked out the Batu Caves, a Malaysian temple must-see. They are on the edge of the city, guarded by an enormous golden statue and monkeys that like to steal goods from tourists. Monkeys were everywhere! While I was walking up the stairs I saw one monkey pull this man’s glasses off his face. One monkey even grabbed onto my bag while it was still hanging from my arm. On the subway over I met an Aussie who became my friend for the day. At the Batu Caves, we found what is called the “Dark Cave.” This cave is the most researched in the world because it is home to the Trapdoor Spider, which is the rarest in the world. It only lives in the Dark Cave. We had a tour through the cave and we needed flashlights because it was so dark! I loved the monkeys! I took so many pictures. Here are my favorite ones:

Seeing the Batu Caves was definitely the highlight attraction of the trip. Then, came Chinatown. I still checked it out even though I’ve had a lot of China over these ten months. Surprisingly, the food I ate at one of the restaurants was some of the best Chinese food I’ve eaten since I’ve arrived in China. There was also a box of live frogs…you can guess. Also, there were more shops selling fake goods than I’ve seen in Shanghai. I ended up buying a fake Coach wallet…er….I mean a really expensive Coach wallet.

My last day in Kuala Lumpur was filled with visiting the National Mosque again, the Islamic Art Museum, the Bird Park, and finally going up the Twin Towers! The view was fantastic! The Bird Park was actually one of the favorite things I did. It’s the largest open free-flying aviary in the world. I even got to take pictures with some owls and a horned bird. Such a great place for photography.

That night I finally went to the top of the Twin Towers and it was worth it. Afterwards, I met up with my friend from the plane and went to the SkyBar. Malaysia was epic!!!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bangkok,Thailand: Where it's Buddha Day, Everyday!

Bangkok was one of the best trips I have ever been on and the first one I went on all alone!!! Of course, I happen to plan a trip to Bangkok during marshal law. Some people (including my dad) did not want me to go. I admit I was a little nervous about it myself. At this time last week, everyone in Bangkok had to follow a curfew…meaning that everyone had to be inside by 12pm. A week or two before that the curfew was at 10 pm. Thankfully, the second night I was there the curfew was lifted. I also didn't see as  many military men around as I thought I would. Overall, I was safe and sound and had a great time!

The very first night, I met some nice girls at NapPark Hostel (which was an awesome hostel--maybe the best one I've stayed at) and we went to Khao San Road, two streets down from my hostel. We got some pad thai off a street vendor and sat down at one of the bars. Soon a woman with live scorpions came around trying to sell some dead ones. She put them on one of my new friends and then came around to me. Now, I told myself that if I saw bugs in Asia that I would try one. She happened to be selling scorpions so I bought one. It didn't taste as bad as I thought it would…mostly crunchy.

The next day, some of my new friends (a girl from Canada and a girl from Poland) went to temple hop. We went to the Grand Palace despite all the scammers along the way saying that it was Buddha Day and the Grand Palace wasn't open. For future reference…there is no such thing as Buddha Day and the Grand Palace is open everyday. Scammers try to get tourists to go to different places so that they spend more money. The Grand Palace is absolutely stunning. The Emerald Buddha is there…this tiny statue surrounded by gold, flowers, and people praying on their knees. I have never seen such a colorful place. 

We had to be completely covered to enter the Palace so I had to borrow a skirt from the temple. The heat was traumatizing. I haven't been that hot since I went to Madrid for World Youth Day. To cool off, my new Canadian friend Chelsea and I got coconuts nearby the Palace. Thailand has some of the freshest coconuts…vendors just cut tops out of the coconuts and you drink sweet milk through straws. It is kind of scary to see the vendors with these huge knives whacking away.  

Next, we went to Wat Pho which is the temple where you can find the giant Reclining Buddha. People come from all over to pray to it, especially monks dressed in their orange robes. Taking pictures of the monks was just as cool as taking pictures of the Buddha. The temple is loud as soon as you enter it, and stays that way until you leave, with all the people throwing coins into buckets surrounding the Reclining Buddha. 

We got lunch at this vegetarian place by Khao San Road that had the most amazing pineapple fried rice and tempura bananas with coconut ice-cream. Bangkok has some of the best food EVER! Can't go wrong with Thai food. I actually didn't have Thai food until I went to college in San Francisco, and now it's one of my favorite types of food. 

That night (my birthday night) was spent on Khao San Road shopping for genie pants and loose tank-tops. Buying clothes in Bangkok is super cheap which is why a lot of people go there to shop. I ended up getting a few necklaces, a bag, and a bracelet. I'm proud of myself for not going overboard, an easy thing to do in Bangkok. My new friends and I celebrated a birthday I will never forget. 

The next day I had my scheduled tour to ride an elephant and go to the floating market. It was quite an experience, especially taking pictures and holding on to the elephant so I wouldn't fall out at the same time. The ride to the floating market was long and bumpy, but I met a French couple who were really fun to talk to. It made me realize how I miss taking French and should probably refresh my memory, ne pas? At the floating market I had some more pad thai, which I could really eat every day. People sell meals straight from their boats, not just fruit and other foods. I also held a huge yellow python! Total tourist trap, but what can I say? I fell prey! Haha From the floating market we took a little cruise boat that took us back to our bus and the four hours drive back to the hostel. 

That night I decided to explore a bit on my own. I wasn't feeling the best because of the driving of my tour guide, so I went to Siam Station where the old Scala movie theatre is as well as a few shrines in the middle of a ginormous shopping center. At the movie theatre I could have seen the new movie Maleficent for 100 baht, roughly $3 USD, which is crazy! I wish I had two hours to spare. I next went to the Erawan shrine, which was built because of the hotel that is nearby. The owner supposedly had a dream that a shrine needed to be built or bad spirits would come to the hotel. I think he just wanted more crowds. 

The other shrine I visited was a unique one indeed. Women bring phallic statues to the grounds of the Swisstohotel in Bangkok in order to be blessed in fertility. Strangest shrine ever. I knew about it from "An Idiot Abroad," a pretty funny show on Netflix. I had to check it out myself even though it was a little difficult to find. 

Since I had the whole day on Sunday, I scheduled another tour through my hostel. This time, the bus took me to the River Kwai where the Japanese enslaved a lot of Thai people to build a bridge that connected them to Burma in World War II. There was a War Museum with a bunch of old WWII artifacts like Japanese motorcycles and helicopters. It was strange to walk across the bridge that had claimed so many lives. I was surprised that they still use the train track as well (mostly for tourists riding the "Death Railway"). While I was on the train tracks, a whistle was blown and we had to move to the sides even though there wasn't much room to begin with!

Then I ended up going on another elephant trek in the jungle, this one better than the first. Young kids rode the elephants, placing their feet on the elephants' ears for support. I got to sit on its neck for a little while! Then we went bamboo river rafting and on to the Tiger Temple where we got to pet the tigers, and even a baby one! 

Bangkok was overall an amazing journey that I'm proud to say I did all by myself! I have my trip to Malaysia soon and then I'm back home soon after. The countdown has begun!

 Me with tigers at the Tiger Temple!

A street vendor making Thai food

Tuk Tuk

1st Elephant ride

Adorable dressed up monkey at the elephant ride

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Last Day of Outside Teaching Classes

The end of this program is coming soon. I will be back home within a month! Time flies…and I can't wait to see home again. Today was my last time teaching at Dahushan, the first primary school I started teaching in this year. I took pictures with all of my students :)

They got me presents!

I'm going to miss them…:'(