Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Angkor Adventures and Perhentian Paradise

Siem Reap, Cambodia:

Of all the places I have travelled in the last 12 months, no country has had the level of poverty of Cambodia. Many families live off of salaries of $1/day, lack adequate nutrition, have access to limited healthcare, and are still the kindest, happiest people anywhere. It doesn’t seem possible to me, but it is. The kids are trained from a very young age (some of them appearing to be no older than four) to beg for money or sell items. Therefore, they lack a normal childhood that most kids in developed countries are so fortunate to have. It also surprised me that amongst such high levels of poverty, that car brands such as Lexus and Range Rover could be found on virtually every street corner? The Cambodian people are so generous and although many know very little English, they have a way of communicating with others in such incredible ways.

The second night in Siem Reap, Sarah and I had seen a free concert advertised and expected authentic Cambodia music. What we got couldn’t have been more different and eye opening. It was a charity performance by Dr. Beat Richner: a Swiss physician who lives in Cambodia. He has been living in Cambodia for over two decades and founded the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital (there are now several in Cambodia). Over 65% of the population in cambodia carries the tuberculosis mycobacterium, children lack immunizations, dengue fever and malaria are rampant, malnutrition is everywhere, and other diseases (hepatitis, typhoid, respiratory infections, and dysentery) are heavily prevalent. It really makes me understand how lucky I truly am to live in a country where medical care is everywhere!!!

The temples: going through Angkor Wat and the other temples in Siem Reap was an amazing experience! Words cannot describe the beauty so here are some pictures that will hopefully do it the justice it deserves. Some of these temples are over a millennium old and are still in tact!

My first glimpse of Angkor Wat 

Sitting in Angkor Wat :)

Unreal stone carvings in the walls

We got a little hungry: why not eat some fried bugs in Cambodia??? Legs and all...

Beautiful children all over Cambodia 

One of my favorite temples: Two of my favorites were Bayon and Ta Prohm (and many others)

More extravagant works of art 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat: a once in a lifetime experience 

"Walk a mile in someone else' shoes"

Full circle rainbow: what an amazing day

Scenic lake on our temple walks

Our tuk-tuk drivers daughters: we sure had a wonderful day with them!

Perhentian Islands, Terengganu, Malaysia:

The next weekend (turned into a week), I went on a solo trip to the Perhentian Islands in the North East of Malaysia! After 12 hours on a night bus, I made it to Kuala Besut, and took a one-hour ferry to the most beautiful islands I have seen in Malaysia. I was originally going to stay 2.5 days but I stayed for nearly a week. I was super tired when I arrived in the morning, but I found a cheap dorm, slept for two hours, and started diving!!! I saw bamboo sharks, thousands of tropical fish, barracuda, batfish, trigger fish, porcupine fish, puffer fish, bumphead parrot fish, nutibranchs, a green sea turtle, rabbit fish, pipefish, and dozens more.

At the end of the day I decided that I was addicted to scuba diving (well, I already knew) and I wanted to get my next certification! I started that night working on getting my rescue diver certification: honestly one of the hardest things I have done in my life! The PADI website says it the most demanding but the most rewarding course: they couldn’t be more correct. I spent three days saving divers who were acting as panicked divers, those who were out of air, nonresponsive, had nitrogen narcosis, you name it! My instructor was beyond great and his goal was to “make my life hell”: he succeeded, but I still had fun. I also had to complete an entire dive with no mask and with my eyes open: it is MUCH harder than you would think! I also had to experience what it is like have a panicked diver come up behind you and unknowingly rip the regulator from your mouth, take off your mask, or essentially try and drown you! I was thrown under the water numerous times: at least you can breathe under water when you have a scuba regulator! I have come to realize that a panicked diver is one of the most dangerous things possible! The course was physically strenuous!!!! Having to carry a 90kg person from the water onto shore sure takes it out of you!

After much work, I passed! I AM NOW A RESCUE DIVER!!! I am a way more confident diver and I feel much more prepared for the crazy things that can happen while diving. I find it ironic as well that both my sister and I are divers: but very different. I’ll let Madeline stick to the platforms and springboards while I take on the open ocean :)

Diving has honestly changed my post-undergraduate plans. I had planned on extensively travelling southern Africa or South America next year when I graduate but I have a feeling I might be back in Asia or somewhere in the region to get my divemaster!

The end of one adventure and the start of the next! Tough Goodbyes

Today I took the last exam of my junior year, ending my academic semester in Malaysia. Right now I sit in my room in Malaysia packing up a chapter in my life that is not ready to end. Tonight I leave the beautiful town that I have called home for the last 4 months. Tanjong Malim, a town that most Westerners would never like or come to in the first place, has changed my life. The Malay girls here are polite, poised, soooo hardworking, kind, devout, and quiet for the most part- I think being around them may have improved some of these skills in me. The Malay people are so unlike many people you meet around the world: in a good way. There appears to me to be such little gossip, there is no petty bullying, the teamwork is so much more here than at home, no one is stressed or attached to the clock, everyone has a bright smile on their face, there is no complaining, and the list goes on. It’s hard to describe the culture here but it sure is different than in the states. I love Malaysia more each and every day I am here…the people here who have befriended me are just good people to say the least. I have a new view on Islam, on Asian culture, and I couldn’t have chosen a better country to study abroad in. It hasn’t quite hit me yet that in several hours I will say goodbye to friends that I very well may never see again.

Now starts the real adventure: 2 months backpacking through Laos, Thailand, China, and Australia. I will keep you all posted on the crazy adventures that are ahead of me!!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ocean, I Love You

I thought life could not get better than being in Bali- I was wrong. After spending 10 days in Sabah, Malaysia (Borneo) I have seen it all (well, actually not quite yet). I decided months ago that I couldn’t possibly leave peninsular Malaysia without a trip to BORNEO! There were only two things that I just had to do- see wild Orangutans and SCUBA Dive in Sipadan-I did both, and so much more.

Sarah and I arrived in Borneo and stayed the night in KK. The next morning we took a crowded mini bus to Kinabalu Park to see the highest peak in SE Asia. We completed the longest hike in the park besides the summit- the Liwagu trail.

Kundasang and Ranau: The next day we took a bath in a natural hot spring, walked dozens of meters high on a canopy walk, spent lots of time in a butterfly garden, ate amazing food, and saw the worlds largest flower (the Raflessia).

 The Raflessia Flower: roughly 1 meter in diameter!

View from the canopy walk in Poring Hot Springs 

The third day we took a bus from Ranau to Sandakan (was supposed to come at 2pm- ya right, were still in Malaysia). After waiting for the bus for nearly two hours, it arrived, though not as we planned. The driver told us that we had to buy tickets ahead of time and all the seats were full. We had to take that bus, so we sat on the stairs in the bus for a 4.5 hour journey. I was honestly just happy to be on the bus! After arriving, a friend I met on couchsurfing picked us up at the bus station, took us to a wonderful dinner on the rooftop of a building in Sandakan, and helped us find a cheap dorm. It never ceases to amaze me how many great people there are in the world, that are always willing to help you out! 

The next morning we took a slow mini bus to Sepilok to start our wildlife adventure!!!! The start of our 3D/2N trek with Uncle Tan’s started and we were off to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. We saw two semi-wild Orang Utans!!!!! After that, we left for the Kinabatangan River to see wildlife! Sarah and I were expecting to be possibly the only college students- nope there were three others- Natalie and Briony from the UK and Elise from the States! The five of us had a blast! The jungle camp we were staying at had no running water, electricity for only 6 hours a day, and we slept under mosquito nets- it was amazing!!!! The first night we went on a night boat ride and saw the largest bat in the world (the Flying fox), the Buffy Fish Owl, Hornbills, a Malay civet, and tons of other species.

The two semi-wild orangutans from the sanctuary 

The following day we woke up at 6am to do a morning boat ride- we saw crocodiles, monkeys, birds, and others. A few hours later, we went on a jungle trek and ran into 3 WILD ORANG UTANS!!!!!! There was an adult male, female, and juvenile Orang Utan. The male was not thrilled at our presence and kept breaking off large tree branches and throwing them at us. It was crazy!!!!!!!! We also saw the coolest insects I have ever seen! -the Lantern bug, and its babies.

Lantern Bugs :)

There were tons of amazing species of butterflies 

And lots of dragonflies 

A wild juvenile orangutan in the WILD!!!!!!!

 The next boat ride allowed us to see Proboscis Monkeys (the ones with the huge nose). There was a troop of over 30 of them and they were amazing! They made quite funny sounds as well.

Proboscis Monkey!

That night we went on another jungle trek! This was my favorite- our guide Leo could find anything!!!! We found sleeping Scarlet Rumped Trogons and Black and red Broadbills. Leo was also able to spot a File-eared tree frog from over 15m away! The spider species that we saw were also incredible!!! WOW, BORNEO IS TEEMING WITH WILDLIFE!!!!

File-eared tree frog :)

Sleeping Scarlet Rumped Trogon 

My favorite bird the entire jungle trip (besides the owls)- the Black and Red Broadbill

Morning we had to leave- saying goodbye to our new friends 

On the third day of being jungle people, we went on another boat ride back to the dock (a 45min trip) and Sarah and I were off the Semporna so I could get my permit to dive Sipadan!!!! Well, we didn’t make it to Semporna in time and I missed the ferry to the island. We sat in an incredibly packed mini bus for over 4 hours in awful traffic! At least we made it to Semporna that night so we could take the ferry in the morning. We woke up the next day and we headed to Mabul Island! The second we arrived, the divemasters told me they were waiting for me to leave for Sipadan (a forbidden island that only 120 people a day are allowed to visit). I was so excited that I forget to put on any sunscreen and I just grabbed my swimsuit and ran. I picked out my wet suit, BCD, and other dive equipment and jumped on the boat. I was too excited to be nervous but Sipadan is generally a place that experienced divers go, and I am not to that level yet. But, my adventurous self just had to do it- and it was 100% worth it!!!! I have never done anything more exciting; I was smiling so much at some points that my regulator would leak water. 6 other divers, two divemasters, and myself headed to the first dive site. The second site, Barracuda point, is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world and I now know why! I swam in a school of nearly one thousand chevron barracuda (each over 1m in length), schools of thousands of jack fish, and a school of nearly one hundred Pumphead parrot fish (some the size of a table!). I saw over 50 sea turtles (most green but some hawksbill) and dozens of reef sharks! The dives were all wall dives, so I was swimming with walls of intricate and vibrant coral on my left and the abyss of the open ocean on my right. This was the first time I dove in water that there was no floor in site. It was extraordinary! 

View from the ferry ride to Mabul

Water off the shore of SIPADAN!


Reef sharks galore :)

Friendly sea turtle :)

Schools of Chevron Barracuda surrounding me!

Bye bye Sipadan- I will definitely be back in the future!

After completely three amazing dives at Sipadan, I knew that diving was definitely my favorite thing ever- so I spent the rest of my time in Borneo diving and getting my Advanced Open Water Certification. The night dive was my favorite- I got to see a sleeping turtle, 2 lionfish, a Spanish dancer, a PYGMY OCTOPUS (I was so excited I went crazy!), and a million other spectacular things. One of the greatest things I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing is putting your torch to your chest, the whole sea being pitch black, and waving your hands in the water. The bioluminescent plankton begin to glow and the ocean looks like a night sky full of stars. I also got to do my first deep dive- that was also great! I got to learn about underwater navigation and guide my own dive- pretty cool!

Although I did not have an underwater camera with me some kind divers took photos and sent them to me! A French couple on my dive boat had a camera and they were so amazing and took photos of me (photo credit for the diving pictures goes to Priscilla and Tristan- you are the best!). I figured that I would love scuba diving but not this much! Now I have 2 of the most expensive hobbies possible- travelling the world and diving. Dang, I am just going to have to make sure I have a job one day that allows me to do both. If anyone knows of one, let me know!

Next blog will hopefully be about my adventures this past weekend in Cambodia :)