The Bangkok Protests – A Firsthand Account

I arrived into Bangkok from Bali only to be greeted by social unrest.  The red shirts had been protesting the government for a few weeks now and were now taking over the city.  All of the malls were closed.  Streets were blocked.  They were causing the city of Bangkok to go a little slower than usual. 

I was staying with my friend in the Sukumvit area between the Phloen Chit and Nana stations.  I didn’t really have any trouble getting over there, but I noticed the sea of red shirts on the streets and the barriers that had been haphazardly placed along the roads.  We successfully avoided the mayhem on Friday, but during a quick run to Subway for lunch, we were thrown into the middle of it all.

The police closing in on the Red Shirts

The Subway is located right next to the Nana station, right where a group of redshirts had blockaded the road.  We were just minding our own business, ordering our footlongs, when we looked out the window and saw lines of policemen marching towards the protesters.  It was an insane sight.  They were all in unison, full gear, shields ready.

The doors to the Subway were quickly barricaded and the Open sign was changed to close.  Worried we were going to miss the action, we scarfed down our sandwiches and headed outside, only to watch the tail-ends of the policemen go.  Well that was quick!

A group of Red Shirts heading over to the Phloen Chit Station

That was only the beginning.

We hung around there for awhile, listening to the cheering and laughter, and then decided to head down to the Phloen Chit station to follow the crowds of redshirts on motorcycles and in the backs of trucks.

That’s when it got good. 

The police side of the stand-off

We arrived at the station to witness a standoff between the protesters and a slew of police.  There was about 10 meters between the two, a few cameramen and journalists in the middle, and redshirts lining the streets.  It was a crazy feeling being right in the middle of the warring entities!  The police were standing their ground and the redshirts were posted right across from them, but there wasn’t much animosity in the air.  People were laughing and goofing around.  We also found this again with the police when we moved further down the street.  They were lounging about, playing cards, texting, napping, and chatting away.  There was no sense of urgency and no inclination of violence. 

The Red Shirt side of the barricade

There were negotiations going on between the lines and a man came on a loudspeaker, spoke for awhile in Thai and we started hearing cheering.  A few moments later, large trucks split the lines and whisked away the police forces. 

A retreat!

Laying down, texting, chatting are just a few of the relaxing activities the police did during the stand-off

It was such a cool sight watching the red shirts scream and hoot as they watched the police trucks retreating.  The policemen were smiling and laughing as well (probably happy that they didn’t have to sit there much longer!) and I actually caught a red shirt handing a red bandana to a policeman in the truck (the name watermelon is given to army and policemen who are secretly supporting the red shirt cause, green on the outside, red on the inside).

A woman handing out drinks to the thirsty policemen

After the retreat, we decided to head home, only to hear of violence erupting on Khao San Road only hours later.  We were shocked.  We had felt no sense of danger whatsoever, but that is the scary thing about protests, they can take an ugly turn within moments (maybe we shouldn’t have hung around so long!).

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Apologies!!

Most of you may think I got lost somewhere in the jungle in Laos (where I went zip-lining with the Gibbon experience, more on that later).  Some of you may think I assimilated into a hilltribe in Chiang Rai.  And maybe some of you think I decided to become a rice farmer in Vietnam.  Whether you’re thoroughly convinced of the former or the latter, I know that ALL of you are wondering where the heck I’ve been!

Well, let me give you a brief rundown before you get inundated by posts of the specifics.  Last you heard from me I was climbing a volcano in Bali.  Well…. that was almost five months ago.

In a nut shell, I braved the protests in Bangkok, participated in the biggest water fight in the world during Songkran in Chiang Mai, went trekking and rode an elephant in Pai, zip-lined through the jungle in Northern Laos, took the slowboat to Luang Prabang, took the 28 hour bus ride to Hanoi, relaxed on a boat trip through Halong Bay, climbed Mount Fansipan in Sapa, visited the tailors in Hoi An, soaked up the sun in Nah Trang, surfed the sand dunes in Mui Ne, and crawled through the tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City.

So I’ve been pretty busy…. and you had no idea!!

I apologize.

But now I’m home.  And I want to write again!  I have so much I want to tell you.  And of course, pictures I want to share.  So stay tuned.  Much more is in store!

An Ascent into Darkness – Climbing Mt. Batur

One of the must do activities, or so I’ve heard, in Bali is to climb one of the few volcanoes.  And when you do this climb is quite different than any other hike you have done before. 

You begin your ascent at 4 AM in the morning.  Yes, you are in complete darkness, with no promise of light until you are at the top.  This is no easy feat.

Especially since I haven’t worked out in almost a year (thank you Southeast Asia!).

My friend Stephanie and I began our trip to Mount Batur (there are also a few other volcanoes, but this one seems to be the more popular one, I think its because its an “easier” climb and its shorter than the others) at 2 AM from Kuta Beach.  We attempted to nap on the way up to the volcano, but struggled to gain some extra shut eye before our adventure up the mountain.

We arrived at the base and met our guide, Pon, who ended up being the best guide ever, but more on that later.  For awhile, it was pretty flat.  We had no idea what the terrain looked like around us or ahead of us. 

And then we hit the mountain…

We made it!

I felt like I was going straight up…all the time…with no end.  Holding the extremely small flashlight I was given, I carefully maneuvered the rocks and hoped that I didn’t fall, which I didn’t, but definitely came close once or twice!  It felt so great to be breaking a sweat (well, Southeast Asia makes me sweat all the time, but this sweat wasn’t from heat!), but I had to put the hood up on my sweatshirt because the breeze was making me cold.  I had to take many breaks and after a great deal of huffing and puffing, we made it to the top and we were the first ones there! 

With our awesome guide

We felt extremely accomplished and it had only taken us a little over an hour when it is supposed to take an hour and a half or so.  We soon were freezing because our completely sweat drenched bodies were now feeling the cold of the mountain top and we were eager for the sun to rise.  Our adrenaline must have kicked in as well because we were soon laughing and making jokes and might have been “those girls” at the top, but we didn’t care, we just climbed a volcano!

The beautiful sunrise

Soon enough, the sun peeked out from behind the mountains, and although it was quite cloudy, it was still definitely worth it.  We enjoyed the sunrise and then took a quick walk around the crater, but didn’t get too close because a Swedish man had fallen in only a few days earlier.  I’m not exactly sure how he fell in, he had to have been doing something pretty stupid to lose his balance, but who knows (the Grand Canyon has roughly 10 photography related deaths a year so I’m not entirely surprised)!

The peaceful scenery

On the way down (which sometimes is harder than the way up!), it was really fun to actually see what we missed in the morning!  The mountainside was covered in black lava rocks from previous eruptions, (oh and by the way this volcano is still active, yeah it could have blown at any second) and the views were amazing!

Our guide apparently loved us as well and gave us our very own Mt. Batur Trekking Guide shirts!!  You can’t buy those!  We were ecstatic!!

Climbing Mt. Batur at night has been one of my favorite activities yet on my travels! 

The amazing view!

Riding Giants – Learning How to Surf in Bali

 I’m from California.  Meaning its pretty much implied that I know how to surf.

Well I don’t.

The surfboard looks like its going to knock me over, which it did, multiple times...

I’ve tried to learn multiple times, but my stubbornness and fear of being underwater stood in my way.  Plus the water in California is freezing and the waves are slightly out of my range.

Thus, I made it my mission to finally stand up on a surfboard in Bali.

My friend Stephanie, who was only a little bit more experienced than I, and I rented a board for the day on Kuta Beach.  She set out first because my nerves were getting the best of me and came back twenty minutes later after being ruled by the small waves, which didn’t give me much confidence.

Paddling out only to get rocked moments later

I paddled out, trying to remember what I had been taught six years earlier.  Well, it didn’t work because I completely wiped out over and over and over again.  Discouraged, I waded out of the water only to find that one of the fins had come off!  There is no way that it should have fallen off that fast!

I grabbed the guy that had sold us the board and brought him over to see the damage.  I told him that it should not have fallen off after twenty minutes in the water and he just kept saying, “I see you.  I see you.  You in the water.  You cannot stand up.  You just fall.  You cannot stand up!”  I told him that I was aware I could not stand up, but he still repeated, “You in the water!  You cannot stand up!  You need lessons!  I show you!”

I'm almost standing! I'm pretty sure I got there and then plummetted promptly

I ignored him, he eventually walked away, and we were stuck with a board with only one fin, which didn’t really bother us because we couldn’t stand up anyways.

But we pressed on.

And later that day, after an incident of my shoulder sublexing yet again, I am pleased to say I stood up…for about 2 seconds.  But nonetheless, I stood up and a couple days later when we rented a board again, it became a little bit easier.  And by a little bit, I mean I still wiped out 75% of the time. 

I'm so excited that I stood up for the first time!

Actually, make that 85%, but I was ok with that.

I conquered the waves of Bali!  Now onto the icy waters of the Pacific.

First Impressions: Kuta

The last popular beach I’ve been to was Patong Beach on Phuket.  It was jam packed with crazy backpackers, expensive lounge chairs, and barely any beach space.    I have always tried to avoid “the place to be” on an island.  I like to get off the beaten path and find a nice quiet place to just chill out and enjoy the beach.

But I get a different feel from Kuta.  Yes, there are tons of people.  Yes, its crowded and yes, it has a McDonalds.  But its not as crowded as I expected.  The beach is long and spread out and I don’t feel claustrophobic while soaking up the sun in the sand.

Although, its quite hard to take a quick cat nap.  “Sarong, Sarong,” “Ice Cream,” and “Anana, Mango, Cold Drink” are heard every other minute and their sellers like to linger, just in case you change your mind.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, with a hawker center right on the beach that is delicious and has nasi goreng to pizza to falafel, surfboards line the sand, the sun is always shining (well almost always, I got stuck in a juice bar for an hour trying to wait out a freak storm) and a Bintang beer is always easily attainable.

The streets of Kuta - A far cry from the streets of Ko Tao or Ko Jum!

Lazy Lovina

The beautiful black sand beaches of Lovina

After thouroughly exploring Ubud, we headed up to the quiet beach town of Lovina.  And when I say quiet, I definitely mean quiet.  There was barely anyone there.  We seemed to be one of maybe four or five people staying in our hotel, which was off of the main street of town, but still it was a pretty nice place.  I went for a walk on the beach when we arrived and pretty much had the place to myself!  It reminded me of the good ole’ days on Ko Jum.  I could walk for miles and barely see one person. The sand was also black, which I had never seen before, and although I didn’t go into the water (it was extremely murky and definitely uninviting) it was an absolutely beautiful sight.  There were beautiful clouds, boats speckled the water, and the beach seemed to stretch on forever. 

One of the statues at the temple near our hotel

At night, we walked down to the main stretch of town and it literally felt deserted.  We asked where all the people were and the answer we received was that June and July were Lovina’s busy season, definitely not April.  There were rows of cute little restaurants, each with one or two people in them, and shops full of sarongs and trinkets, but that’s about it.  We ate at a great little Italian restaurant and then decided to head back since the nightlife wasn’t too hopping. 

The Banjar Hot Springs near Lovina

Our last day in Lovina was unfortunately cloudy for the most part, which discouraged me because I of course wanted to work on my tan!  It was a lazy morning and then we rented motorbikes (with drivers of course) to the Banjar Hot Springs.  I was expecting this grandiose and intricate collection of pools, but what I got was one big pool with a couple on the side and the smell of eggs filling the air.  The hot spring was nice and warm and I spent some time in the water, but it honestly wasn’t anything too special.  I was hoping to hike around in the hills surrounding the hot springs, but there was no direct access from the area.  Supposedly there are some trails around, but we were unable to find them.  

I can see that Lovina is an up in coming place.  Construction sites for nice hotels, bungalows, and apartment buildings line the quiet beach and people will be filling the sand and water in no time.  I’m glad I got to see it when it was quiet and relaxing and free of drunk travelers doing stupid things!

Exploring Ubud and Beyond

Ubud is full of artistic culture and creativity, but its also surrounded by some beautiful scenery.  Lonely Planet provides some wonderful walking tours around the town and we decided to embark on a couple of them on different days.

That monkey is sticking his tongue out at me!

On our first full day in Ubud, we followed the “Monkey Forest & Penestanan Walking Tour” through the rice terraces behind Ubud.  The tour began with a walk through the monkey forest, which is infested with conniving and mischievous monkeys ready to pounce at your first wrong move.  They seemed to be interested in cameras, although I was successful in keeping mine hidden somehow, and I saw countless people with monkeys clinging to their shorts or trying to climb on their backs (I was extremely lucky to not have had to experience this, although one made a lunge for Matt’s shorts , which he skillfully eluded).  The Monkey Forest was peaceful, green and I could barely see the sky it was so lush.

The rice fields directly around Ubud

After thoroughly exploring the forest, we exited the opposite side and made our way through the small towns of Ubud suburbia, finally making it to the rice terraces.  The Lonely Planet guided us through the rice terraces where we were supposed to exit on to the main road.  Well after some wandering around in the mud and the muck of the rice paddies, we finally heard the road, but weren’t exactly sure how to get there.  I made a comment how I bet we’ll end up in someone’s backyard (because we practically were already in one walking through the rice fields) and sure enough, a few minutes later, we happened across an extremely surprised lady doing housework.  She kindly led us through her yard and pointed us to the street, which led us back to the main town.

His crazy fingers!

Later that night, we attended a Traditional Balinese dance at the Ubud Palace.  It was absolutely incredible and completely different than anything else.  The way their fingers and hands gracefully twitched to the music and the way their eyes moved side to side with the beat made it one of the most unique dances I have ever seen.  The costumes were gorgeous and I never wanted it to end!  I’m hoping that they have something like this in the Los Angeles area so that I can go again when I get home!

The rice terraces by the river

Our next adventure was what Lonely Planet liked to call the Penestanan & Sayan Walking Tour.  It was quoted to take about six hours so we definitely had to mentally prepare for this one.  We found ourselves wandering around a small town looking for the “small road” that would bring us to the rice terraces and then on to the jungle/river.  We walked around aimlessly for a short while when a cute old man approached us stating he knew the way (it reminded me a little bit of Jafar when he dressed up as an old man and told Aladdin about the Cave of Wonders, yeah I’m a dork, I know).  As soon as he led us down the path, he was talking about the compensation he was going to receive for this valiant task.  I went from saying this was a cute little old man to what the heck jerk!  We found our way past the rice terraces and to the river, after once again receiving help from a tip-wanting “friendly” Indonesian.

The beautiful river banks

We trudged along the beautiful banks of the river watching river rafters brave the rapids and scaling rocks and foliage.  At the end of the trail, we found ourselves faced with a gate blocking the path.  There were drops on either side of this gate and all the rope and chicken wire made it clear that the resident was through with travelers meandering through his yard. Yet, there was no way we were going to turn around and walk all the way back (it had taken us a good hour and half at least to get to this point).  I figured out how to open the gate and we sneaked on through, gladly not running into the fellow and a little nervous that he was going to pull out a shotgun of some sort. About forty minutes and an incredibly exorbitant amount of stairs later, we made it back to the street and after a delicious lunch, we stumbled back into Ubud.

The amazing Jatileuwih rice terraces

The next day we hired a car to take us up to the rice terraces of Jatileuwih.  They have been nominated for UNESCO status and there’s a very good reason for that.  I have never seen more green in my life.  My eyes were on complete green overload.  I’m used to beautiful beaches and forests, but I’ve never seen anything like this: Rows and rows of rice terraces with a backdrop of a volcano-like mountain surrounded by blue sky and fluffy clouds.  We took a good two hours or so to make our way through the terraces successfully reaching the bottom and witnessing phenomenal views.  Although my feet were completely under water at times making me slip all over the place, it was one of the best and most unique hikes I’ve ever done.   Our driver also followed us on our trek and explained the rice growing process to us, which we had been wondering about ever since we saw our first rice terrace in Ubud.  It was an amazing day and definitely worth the two hour drive north.

Ubud was absolutely unbelievable.  I know I could have spent weeks there just exploring all the shops and art galleries!  What a perfect place for me!