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3…2…1… Action – Taking to the Streets and Bathrooms of Tokyo

Step into Old Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood and rub shoulders with the masses:

We thought we had seen it all when it comes to bathroom facilities: squat toilets, holes dug in the ground, scrub brush, etc. But this video shows why the Japanese truly are the most technological people on Earth:

Ash obtains her “bad fortune” and has to go back to the well:

Hipster Japan on display on a street corner in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighborhood:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. For the women who worry about embarrassing bathroom noises, embrace the Sound Princess. No longer must you be self-conscience with an array of buttons at your disposal like an imitation flushing noise. Ash disappeared at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar and when she finally joined me at the table, she was gushing about the Sound Princess. Perhaps we should add that to our wedding registry?

 

3…2…1… Action – Bangkok

Thailand, Bangkok in particular, have made international headlines for all the wrong reasons (Red Shirt Protests) in recent times. Yet Thailand’s capital, when not under pseudo martial law, is exhilarating to explore. Elaborate palaces, a street catering to cheap backpackers, an impressive airport, dazzling wats, and happening night bazaars. Our travels took us there on two separate occasions under very different circumstances.

Every backpacker that has trod over SE Asia has experienced Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. Here is a taste of the mayhem performed by two inebriated German fellows:

Bangkok is littered with ridiculous palaces and wats. We hung around Wat Intrawiham long enough to absorb the Buddhist atmosphere:

Over three months in SE Asia came to an end at the sensational Bangkok International Airport, but not before managing the intense military presence:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

Red Shirt Protester Camp - Downtown Bangkok1. Sometimes you must weigh risk versus frugality. Such was the case when sorting out travel to / within Japan. It was necessary to purchase the Japan Rail Pass overseas and the Bangkok International Airport was by far the cheapest route to Tokyo. Purchasing the rail pass took us into the heart of the Red Shirt protest in downtown Bangkok, where our transactions were performed expediently. All worked out well, yet the risk was obvious as evidenced by a heavy army presence next to bamboo and tire barricades full of determined protesters.

3…2…1… Action – Dangerous Speedboats, Monks & Waterfalls in Luang Prabang, Laos

We could have spent a week just soaking up the rustic charm in Luang Prabang, Laos while being surrounded by monks. Yet the surrounding activities drew us to the dreamlike Kuangsi Waterfalls and an exhilarating slingshot up the Mekong River.

A rich tradition in Luang Prabang is offering alms to the throngs of monks who trek to town from hillside wats. Watch the colorful display:

It took Greg five tries to perform this strange backflip off the rope swing at the Kuangsi Waterfalls:

With our friends from San Francisco (Nivan and Snay) aboard a rocket ship up the Mekong River, we are nearly decapitated by a fisherman’s line. Pardon the foul language:

Watch a steadier and far calmer video of the speedboat surging up the Mekong:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. There is strength and fun in numbers. By sharing the cost of the speedboat up the Mekong River, we split the cost four ways rather than two. Not to mention, we had a heck of time with Nivan and Snay.

3…2…1… Action: Peaceful Halong Bay

Halong Bay’s majesty surrounded us during our overnight trip off Vietnam’s coast in the Gulf of Tonkin. Certainly the highlight of the unique experience was kayaking in complete peace for two hours in an area inaccessible to the Chinese junk boats. But it was not all time for quiet reflection.

It is 5:45am. Not a sound is audible except for the heavenly songbirds. Even the nearby pearl farmers are still slumbering:

Greg and his pal Justin from India rolled the dice and went swimming with “sharks and crocodiles”:

To escape the clatter created by the multitudes of Chinese junk boats, we kayaked through a watery tunnel to Eden:

Ah, the sound of silence amongst the fascinating limestone karsts:

The Malaysian family aboard the Pinta (our Chinese junk boat) enjoyed karaoke even more than Greg. Our guide Trung ate it up:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. It is nearly impossible to know what kind of group dynamic you will have during trips with strangers. However, you may inquire about percentage of capacity sold, ages, and nationalities before booking. With that info, you can compare operators not just by price, but also by the group’s demographics.

Bile. Beating heart. Blood. Eating Cobra in Vietnam’s Le Mat Snake Village

Bile. Beating heart. Blood. All consumed in your prototypical shot glass.

Le Mat Snake Village - Tiger Cobra Beating Heart and Bile Le Mat Snake Village - King Cobra On The Loose

Le Mat Snake Village - Tiger Cobra Beating Heart and Bile - Greg Gearing Up For ShotA Vietnamese snake village? This we had to check out. Le Mat is just a short taxi away from Hanoi’s Old City, a perfect way to escape the hectic city for the evening. We had negotiated for ice climbing, fish spa treatments, and Vanuatuan kava. But never had the bargaining revolved around a floor of dangerously poisonous cobra snakes. The King Cobra was way beyond our means, so we opted for a full grown Tiger Cobra instead. The handler expertly pinned its body down with a stick and in a flash its head and gallbladder were removed via an impossibly sharp knife. Our dinner was taken across the open concrete room to the kitchen that was adjacent to the cages full of venomous serpents.

Le Mat Snake Village - Ash Dining on Grilled Tiger Cobra Snake Le Mat Snake Village - Tiger Cobra Snake Feast

We settled in for our twelve course Tiger Cobra Snake meal upstairs. No better way to kick off a hearty meal than with a shot of bile complete with a still beating heart. The gracious waiter sauntered over with a clear shot glass in which you could see the throbbing heart. With precision, he lanced the gallbladder and drained the bile until the heart bobbed like an apple.

It took a few tortuous minutes to muster the nerve, but down the hatch it went. It tasted like pure vomit. And though my mind was playing tricks, it felt as if my stomach pulsated until the acid neutralized the snake’s panting heart. This video speaks volumes.

Then the Tiger Cobra was delivered to our table wave after wave, each prepared in a different method. A sampling – snake browned in fat with chili and citronella, snake liver ralled omelette, soft fried snake skin, snake porridge. Ash nibbled on the grilled bits. She was so polite, leaving me the rest. Though lean, we were amazed how much food just one snake provided. The Vietnamese believe consuming the cobra’s blood provides strength. I needed to wash down all the deliciousness, so what the heck.

Le Mat Snake Village - Partying with Vietnamese Men - Ash Was a HitIf our evening wasn’t eventful enough already, twenty-three Vietnamese men invited us to join them at their snake feast. We had had our fill, but joined them for shots of rice vodka that leaves a soot on your pallet.  The men went gaga over Ashley, wanting to pose in a flurry of both group and individual photographs. We still get emails from Nguyen, our North Vietnamese friend.

Meeting people like him and his Vietnamese mates are the sort of travel experiences for which we yearn. Nguyen’s first email to us was so brave:

hi!

Nice to meet you.

I am Huong

I met you in “Huong que” restaurant yesterday.

I hope we are frend now.

I wish you send for me some us photograph.

Thank you very much.

see you again.

my name: Nguyen Xuan Huong – Viet Nam

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Vet the Internet to ensure that local customs are in fact harmless. We did not find any instances or warnings that consuming a live cobra heart was dangerous. It just puts hair on your chest.

3…2…1… Action: $0.18 Beer & Sand Dunes

Slowly making our way to North Vietnam, we took an overnight stop in Mui Ne, famous for its towering sand dunes. For $2.00 you can try your hand at sand sledding. Further along the coast, we took a much deserved break from shopping in Hoi An for some ultra cheap beer.

After twenty minutes hiking Mui Ne’s white sand dunes, we arrived at a peculiar sledding hill. Greg gave it the college try and failed miserably on his first attempt:

Take two on the sand sledding, results so-so:

Ash’s skepticism for a mug of beer costing less than an American quarter is on perfect display:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. The sand on dunes can be piping hot. It is advisable to wear a shirt when sledding on such occasions…

3…2…1… Action: Nha Trang’s Underwater Playhouse

Rated one of Lonely Planet’s Top Ten Beaches of 2010, Nha Trang’s expanse of sand fell short of such a thrilling title. The diving however exceeded expectations with a diversity of hard and soft corals, tranquil turtles, and slippery moray eels.

Moving as a snake would upon land, we watched intently as a moray eel freelancing as an underwater zebra slithered in the South China Sea:

You would think this turtle was flying if it weren’t for the bubbling noise caught on film:

Part of what made our two tank dive so memorable was our fun-seeking guide. He instructed Greg on how to stand upside down under the boat, so the wannabe gave it the college try:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Spots hip to scuba diving always have multiple operators competing on price. While cost, boat quality, and equipment are certainly determining factors, inquire about the diver to guide ratio before choosing a company. For example, we had a personal guide while others had an 8:1 ratio for the same price and similar equipment. Our boat however was towed back, which turned out to be an unforgettable experience.

3…2…1… Action: Hilarious & Adorable Kids of APCA Orphanage

Located 60 kilometers outside Phnom Penh, APCA Orphanage is set amongst stray cattle, rice paddies, and rural shacks. We had the pleasure to partake in a unique Friday night dance party before a raucous beach weekend with the kids.

Ash and I have watched this video no less than one hundred times. Just as “Back That A** Up” puts Ash into hysterics and Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” makes my two left feet tremble, these Cambodian kids can’t get enough of “She Got That Boom Boom Boom”:

The timeless and classic “Chicken Dance” has made it to Khmer Country:

This precious moment took place on the way back from the beach at Sihanoukville. During the five hour bus journey we heard this little voice singing “You Are My Sunshine” and we finally captured the adorable culprit:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. A typical Friday night in Chicago would involve an “all you can drink” $30 deal. We discussed this as the orphans brought the kid back in us. Oh to be young. Cherish it little ones.

3…2…1… Action: Outside the Gates of Palm Tree Orphanage

Though located within Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh, the main thoroughfare fronting Palm Tree Orphanage isn’t your typical street.

Between Greg’s daily runs for iced coffee in a baggie and our use of local transportation, we became friendly with the moto drivers outside the orphanage. Watch Greg and the moto drivers observe the resident cows dine on trash in the nearby alley:

Wanting a taste of how the Khmer live, Greg paid $1.50 for a barber’s straight razor to eliminate his patchy beard:

Always an adventure riding around Phnom Penh, check out the mayhem as we avoid a massive slum fire (rumored to have been set by the government) riding in the back of a tuk-tuk:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Some of our best times in Cambodia occurred while interacting with local people with whom we had very little in common. Get out and meet people with different backgrounds. This can be done in any city, domestic or international.
  2. You may watch the videos of trash heaped alleys or the barber shop with questionable sanitary conditions and think to yourself, “No way would I be caught dead there.” Sometimes defecting from your comfort zone and living like a local pays immense dividends in the form of unique experiences.

3…2…1… Action – Killing Fields & S-21 Torture Center

In between sobs while visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng (S-21), we were able to capture some self explanatory video.

Take a step into the former secondary school turned interrogation and torture center code named S-21. The video captures the rows of small prison stalls where enemies of the revolution would be chained when not being tortured prior to their inevitable murder:

Amongst the hardest places we have visited, the Killing Fields speak volumes to mankind’s ability to perpetrate pure evil. The video begins on the “killing tree” where the Khmer Rouge would rip children from their mother’s clutch and smash their tiny skulls:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) If you are interested in learning more about the Cambodian hardship, may we suggest a spectacular book?  First They Killed My Father written by Loung Ung is a firsthand account of one family’s wretched experience during Pol Pot’s “Great Leap Forward.” Her depiction of evacuating Phnom Penh, life in the collectives, family members disappearing, and living amongst the paranoia is nothing short of heartbreaking yet is quite informative.

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