Blog of World Travels

There are 17 blog entries within the category of World Travels

Jordan 2019 Trip Itineray
March 11th, 2019 | View Post

Everyone (except Bill) arrives Amman by 3:00pm local time. Get cash and SIM cards at Amman airport. Pick up rental van. Drive to the Crown Plaza hotel. Check-in and relax. Dinner overlooking the Dead Sea at the Dead Sea Museum. Drinks in the evening.

Breakfast at Crowne Plaza. Afternoon swim in the Dead Sea. Cool off in the resort pool. Explore Madaba Governorate (including short hike around Mt. Nebo). Possible afternoon trip to Wadi Mujib Nature Reserve; possible evening dip in the Ma'in Hot Springs.

Breakfast at Crowne Plaza. Checkout by 9:30am; drive to Kerak Castle (meet Bill). Continue driving to Wadi Rum Desert (about 4 total hours of driving). Stop for snacks and groceries along route. Explore Hejaz Railway near Rum Village. Check-in to Rahayeb Desert Camp. Sunset camel ride followed by a traditional Bedouin dinner.

Breakfast at camp. 4-hr jeep tour of the Wadi Rum desert. Lunch at camp. Afternoon activity TBD by guests (horseback riding, ATV tours, cooking classes, relaxing). Traditional Bedouin dinner followed by stargazing and Bedouin Tea in the Wadi Rum desert.

Possible sunrise hot air balloon flight. Breakfast in camp. Drive to Wadi Musa. Check-in to Al Rashid Hotel. Lunch in Wadi Musa. Afternoon trip to Little Petra. Get to Petra Visitors Center before sunset; dinner at the Cave Bar followed by Petra by Night experience.

Breakfast at Al Rashid. Entire day in Petra. Sack lunch at a Petra tea-house. Hike the High Place of Sacrifice Trail. Explore tombs along trail. Dinner in Wadi Musa. Turkish Bath and Arabic shaves available to anyone who would like to make an appointment.

Breakfast at Al Rashid. Hike (or ride) to the Monastery. Stop for fresh orange and pomegranate juice. Explore Byzantine and Roman ruins. Meet at Petra Visitor’s Center around dark. Pickup truck ride to our campsite at base of Jabal Haroun. Bedouin to prepare a traditional campsite dinner; early-ish bed time.

Small breakfast at camp. Sunrise hike to summit of Jabal Haroun. Descend Jabal Haroun and exit Petra to Al Rashid. Shower up and checkout of Al Rashid; Lunch in Wadi Musa. Drive to Amman (about 3 hours). Enjoy a nice, contemporary dinner in Amman.

Breakfast at hotel. Possible cooking class in the morning. Explore Roman ruins of Jerash. Time permitting, explore the Roman Amphitheater. Return car by 8pm. Dinner in Amman. Hang out, pack, and relax at hotel bar. Share pictures from week.

Wake up early early. Depart via shuttle bus to the airport no later than 6am. Fly home.

The above itinerary is subject to change due to weather, availability, and other unforeseen obstacles.
Please feel free to let your guide know if there is anything not listed that you would like to see or do.

Exploring Angkor Wat on a Scooter - Solo Traveler
September 11th, 2017 | View Post
After trying to do some research over the past several days about exploring Angkor Wat on your own (that is to say, without a guide or even a tuk tuk driver), I found that the internet really doesn't have a lot of great information on it. I found several people online even inquiring about where the new ticket office has been relocated to.

Unfortunately, and per typical internet standards, the common online response I've come across seems to be an entirely different solution rather than providing an answer to the question I was asking. I'd honestly prefer a simple "I don't know" in place of these responses. Many responses I've read online make the suggestion, "just take a tuk tuk, they'll know where to go." Well obviously the tuk tuk drivers and other such guides know where to go, but that's irrelevant to the question and isn't especially helpful for those people who want to explore without a guide.

That all stated, if you're interested in exploring Angkor Wat by yourself on a scooter, please read on! I am delighted to share my own experience and hope some people find it useful.

A corner shot looking over the moat of Angkor Thom (part of the Angkor Wat complex)

Having explored virtually all of the Angkor Wat complex (including the many, many temples throughout it), I honestly can't understand why most people would use a guide or a tour group. There are just so many things to see and so many places to stop and take photos that I can't imagine being tied to a group, much less being at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers. It's also incredibly inexpensive to go by oneself as it turns out.

I rented a scooter in Siem Reap for $9 USD per day (more on that process in a minute). I explored a bit of Angkor Wat after 5:30pm on a Saturday (the temples are closed at that hour, but you can drive around the complex perimeter), and then spent over nine hours exploring dozens of temples on Sunday. In total I spent over 15 hours exploring the place during my stay in Siem Reap.

Stating it very plainly, this was probably the single most amazing place I've ever explored in my entire life. It was absolutely breathtaking. Every stop I made was more incredible than the last one and there was a glow on my face the entire time. I should note that I've also never sweat more in my life. To give an idea, I drank over 4 liters of water, 2 cokes, and a big glass of watermelon juice and I didn't have to stop to pee one time. It was hot; it was humid; paired with about 12 miles of walking it took a hell of a lot of energy out of me. That all said, the wind from riding around on the scooter was incredibly refreshing. I couldn't recommend the experience more. It was truly one that I'll remember forever.

Renting a Scooter

There are places all over Siem Reap that will rent a scooter to you. I'm sure most of the bikes are great or at least good enough, but the problem I ran into is that they all want your passport to secure the scooter. I assumed they just wanted to copy it, but it's not that simple. They hold onto it while I had their scooter. Apparently this is pretty standard practice and I'm sure they're mostly all on the up and up. However, I told them there was absolutely no way that I was going to do that and I'm pretty certain that was the right move. As a general rule, don't ever give a strange your passport. #LifeLesson

And yes, I certainly tried to negotiate with these rental places citing that they could copy it or charge a hold to my credit card or whatever else, but that's just not how they do it. If I didn't part with my passport, they weren't parting with their equipment.

I looked up various companies that you can rent from online. In these cases you use a credit card, but it was unclear if I would then go and pick up the bike or if they would drop it off for me. As it happens, I was having dinner at the Old Delhi Indian Restaurant (delicious by the way) and happened to notice another shop renting scooters across the way. I went into the store and inquired. She initially wanted $10 USD / day for the scooter, but decided that she would do it for just $9 USD / day. Just like the other rental places, the rental company did want some kind of card that she could hold on to. The woman behind the counter inquired about my passport, but after a short discussion said that my Texas driver's license would work too. Since I couldn't care less if my driver's license was stolen while abroad (really, it's worthless and costs only $10 to replace at home), I told her that would be fine. It took maybe 5 minutes to do the paperwork. She let me pick out a helmet. Incidentally, if you've been around Southeast Asia then you know their standards for motorcycle helmets aren't the best. I picked out the best one I could, but it still lacked a face protector and shield. It was slightly better than the small brain cups you so often see, but only slightly.

An outside shot of the scooter rental place I found that didn't require my passport

There was also no official damage form to fill out, but another manager at the store looked over the bike condition with me. There was some minor damage, but nothing too serious. As always, I took photos of everything in front of the guy including the mileage and the gas level (which was just shy of empty). Be sure that you have the guy explain to you how to unlock and open the gas tank, the under-seat storage area, and anything else the bike might have. It's not always a intuitive as you might think.

My trusted scooter for exploring Angkor Wat (still at the rental shop)

Gassing up the Bike

I'm not 100% on this, but pretty certain that the company just drains whatever gas is in the bikes when they get them back and keeps that for themselves. They of course tell you that you'll need to go and fill the bike up and will direct you to a gas station. Don't do this.

For starters, the gas stations can be a huge pain in the ass, especially if you haven't ridden around at all. There are really no rules in terms of driving and cars and bikes are interweaving with each other around every turn. The gas station is really no different. A dozen scooters and motorcycles will pull up at random around a pump and somehow the gas attendant manages it like a craps table. He won't miss a beat, but unless your Cambodian is especially strong, it's unlikely you'll get filled up too quickly. The locals seem to get full attention. I did this for my first fill-up, but learned there is a better way.

Instead, head slightly off the beaten path and as you start passing shops on the side of the road you'll often see a stand out front with dirty liquor bottles. In Bali these were exclusively Absolut Vodka bottles, in Laos they were a mixture of bottles (sometimes plastic liters of Coke), but in Siem Reap they all seem to be some cheap brand of whiskey. Of course none of these places are actually selling alcohol, but rather selling their own variety of petrol (gasoline).

Petrol stocked up in whiskey bottles

Getting my scooter filled up with petrol

I'm told the bottles are filled with a slightly rougher petrol that is leftover from the refineries. Presumably it's gasoline that is somewhat imperfect. They work just fine, but I'm guessing are a little less environmentally sound. Either way, a single whiskey bottle's worth of petrol (I'm guessing 1.5 liters worth) will set you back about 3,500 Riel (about $0.85). It's also super fast. You pull up, you tell the guy what you want, he breaks out a funnel and pours one of the bottles into your tank. You pay. You're done. If you have your money ready to go, the whole process takes less than a minute. It's also kind of amusing to see it in action and provides cash to a local shop instead of (what I assume are) nationalized petrol chains. A single bottle filled up my scooter about half way from empty, so I was fine with this.

As a side note, there are dozens of such stands selling gas like this between Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat compound. They're far enough out that I wouldn't venture out on an empty tank, but you'll definitely be able to find fuel along the way.

Getting to the Ticket Office

You would think that the ticket office would be located near the entrance to the park or at the very worst case in the middle of town, but that's just not how they did it. It's not near the temples nor is it especially convenient from town. It's just kind of out there on its own. It's even difficult to find on the map unless you know what you're looking for. On Google Maps it comes up as "Angkor Panorama Museum". I think this museum actually exists at that location, but it is also where they happen to sell the tickets to Angkor Wat.

To get there, head north of the city on Charles de Gaulle until you get the Street 60. There will be a sign directing you to turn right and continue for 3km. Do turn right. Do not drive for 3km as you will overshoot the ticket office by a solid kilometer and wind up on the 60kmph section of the highway (as I discovered). After about 1.8km or so there will be a roundabout. Go straight through the roundabout and there will be two giant buildings on your left. They are not marked all that well, but the first of the two buildings is the ticket office. There is a small sign alongside the first building illustrating that it is the Angkor Wat ticket office, but because the sign is exactly parallel with the road, it's difficult to see as you're approaching. Just trust it's the buildings immediately past the roundabout.

A map showing how to get to the Angkor Wat ticket office from the center of Siem Reap

Park your bike in the parking lot and head towards the back of the building behind the various gift shops. You'll see dozens of ticket window stalls. When you walk up to one of them they'll ask you if you want a 1, 2, or 3-day pass to the temples. I did a 1-day pass; it cost $37 USD. They'll take your picture and immediately print you out a custom ticket with your photo on it. Keep it somewhere safe as they will definitely check it several times. Also bear in mind that you're probably going to sweat a lot and it's just a paper ticket. I kept mine in my waterproof iPhone bag/case (which by the way, if you don't have one of these, I would highly recommend; they're incredibly useful).

Once you get your ticket head back to the roundabout. This time you'll head to the right (after leaving the ticket booth parking lot; left if you are considering how you originally went through the roundabout). From there it's roughly another 6km or so to the park. When the road eventually hits a T-interesction there will be a checkpoint. Show the guard your pass. If you purchased a multi-day he will punch a hole in one of the days. This is not necessary if it's just a single day ticket. Incidentally they only check westerners passes. Locals are free to visit without charge. Once you get to the intersection, turn left. You'll continue for another few kilometers driving underneath a beautiful canopy of trees and eventually paralleling the lake which ultimately serves as the moat for Angkor Wat.

A map showing how to get from the center of town or the Angkor Wat ticket office to the actual Angkor Wat compound

When you finally get to the Angkor Wat parking areas, there is a good parking lot right next to the Blue Pumpkin Cafe. It only cost me 2,000 Riels (about $0.50) to park there for the day, albeit I only wound up staying in that particular lot for two to three hours. The parking attendant will staple a ticket onto your bike and then hand you a receipt for it. Don't lose the receipt as they did ask for it later (though it seemed a little stupid since I obviously had the key to my own bike). It's probably not necessary, but I had a lock for the bike and so I ran it through the wheel and into the frame just for peace of mind. If you don't want to pay for a spot, you can drive beyond the general tourist area where all of the locals are camped out on the lawn (if facing the Angkor Wat entrance -- which will be very obvious to identify when you're out there, it's to the far left of it). I left my bike there for several hours on a separate trip. The bike will likely have a storage compartment, but beyond the helmet, I don't know if I'd trust leaving anything locked in it. They're not especially hard to break into.

Once you've explored enough of the main Angkor Wat temple, your day is really just beginning. Exit the parking lot where the bike is and head down the main road - the one that looks to come immediately out of the front door of Angkor Wat. There will be taxis and tuk tuks everywhere. When you get to the first intersection, turn right. This will start you on your path towards Angkor Thom - another absolutely breathtaking temple. From there, you're pretty much on your own if you have a scooter. Provided you picked up a map of the facilities from the ticket office, you can just navigate around and check out as many of the smaller temples as you'd like.

I would ride up to one, jump off the bike, explore it for 10-20 minutes, and then carry on to the next one. Definitely do bring water and some snacks, but there are also restaurants and vendors all throughout the park. You'll not be in dire need of anything so long as you're in the compound. It was really just an amazing place to be and honestly was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I highly recommend it.

If you're in need of food or especially fuel on your way out, be sure to stop in at one of the refueling huts, especially if it's getting dark. It's a bit of a drive back and while it's beautiful, once you get past the main park area, there really isn't much until you get back into Siem Reap.
Singapore - Master of the Hot/Crazy Matrix
August 29th, 2017 | View Post
Singapore is quite possibly the single nicest city that I have ever seen in my life. It's so well organized. It is unbelievably clean. The transit is amazing. It's busy and vibrant, but not so crowded that you hate walking down the street. Even the weather, while definitely hot and humid, is not nearly as bad as the rest of Southeast Asia; it has the convenience of a constant ocean breeze. Everything seems to be perfectly ordered. People seem to be very happy and friendly. It's phenomenally successful in the world market. It's also a fascinating to consider that the city is essentially the entire country. You can cross the entire city/country in about an hour. Visible to the north is Malaysia and visible to the south is Indonesia. It is truly an amazing city - period.

The famed Singapore Helix bridge

The flags of Singapore

My Uber driver picked me up at the airport and it took us about an hour to get to my hotel due to Friday night traffic. Naturally we sparked up a conversation and I let him lead it. So after writing all of those lovely things, how come the bulk of his thoughts regarding Singapore were him interjecting time and again “Fuck Singapore. Fuck this place. Fuck this fucking country.”? I didn't prompt him for any of that or even get into anything regarding the government (I would never do that being unfamiliar with a country's customs).

Singapore is a land of rules and they are harsh rules. While the Japanese seem to have managed immaculately clean and orderly cities while still exercising a fair bit of personal freedom, Singapore took a very different route. There is no carrot in sight and a whole lot of sticks behind you. In fact many people probably remember the famous case of an American who vandalized a car literally getting the stick.

If you don't know that story, it happened in 1994 when I was a freshman in high school. An American by the name of Michael Fay was found guilty of vandalizing vehicles in Singapore. Allegedly he was actually stealing street signs, but the vandalism charge was a better one to be found guilty of – who knows - but he pleaded guilty to the vandalism charges and was sentenced to “six strokes of the cane.” He was forced to bend over a bar, had his hands and feet restrained with irons, and was publicly beaten six times over his back with a rattan cane. This is one of the methods of punishment administered in both Malaysia and Singapore.

I think the most interesting part of this story making its way to America is that when most westerners hear (or remember) the story, they immediately assume that Singapore is just a backwards country with brutal legal standards (maybe not unlike being told people have their hands cut off for stealing in Saudi Arabia or something similar). Regarding Singapore though, this simply could not be further from the truth. Singapore is all of the things that I wrote above. It's very much a first world country with a wonderful and astute population of educated people. They just also happen to have some very strict standards that they force people to live to.

Among those standards is that it's illegal to chew gum. It's illegal to spit (at least in public). Smoking restrictions are extremely strict. There are those laws that most countries have, but Singapore just happens to take very seriously such as littering, jaywalking, and etc. The city is lined with signs instructing you what you cannot do and in most cases what happens if you're caught doing whatever you're told not to do. The fines you'll pay are generally spelled out rather clearly. Fishing in an unauthorized spot, for example, will net you an instant $3000 SD fine (about $2,200 USD). Smoking in an unauthorized spot (even outside) will net you an instant $500 SD fine (about $365 USD).

Looking up at the ceiling in a Hindu temple

Outside of the Masjid Sultan Mosque

Strongest of all of these rules, however, is with respect to drugs. While marijuana is classified differently in this case, all other drugs including ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, opium, and heroin are punishable by death. That's right, death. If you are caught with even a very small amount of any of these drugs (though I believe there IS actually a minimum weight, it's just very small) you will face execution. The country reminds its citizens of this in many different ways. Not only will you be executed, but you will be hanged.

So my Uber driver is not a fan of his country because as a person who doesn't make a ton of money, he is in the class of people that simply cannot pay their way out of the fines or even escape death. His illustration of the country is the same thing that happens in all countries that issue fines for relatively trivial matters. If you have the money, it really doesn't matter to you since it's a regressive system. If you don't, you're in a lot of trouble – again, because it's a regressive system. For him, smoking in the wrong place, or getting caught randomly spitting could financially devastate him.

That all said, the system does seem to work. The country seems to maintain its order. It truly is clean because nobody is going to litter – the penalties are just too steep for most people and they don't mess around with enforcement. If you get caught, you are going to be found guilty and held accountable of the offense.

So that's the spin to Singapore that I found most interesting. It's a gorgeous, clean, vibrant, fast-paced metropolis with a wonderful mix of people, races, and languages. It's just not a place where you want to break the law; the stick is just too harsh in most every case.

I should also mention that Singapore has some of the best food in all of Southeast Asia. Since the country is such a blend of cultures (albeit predominantly Chinese), there are specific subcultures all over the city that have set up "Hawker Centers", areas that sell street food on the cheap. Chinatown, Little India, etc. all have some of the most amazing food I've ever had and it's all relatively cheap (probably $3 - $6 SGD).

Wan Shan and I eating some BBQ stingray and an assortment of vegetables

Picking out the best durian for my first go at eating one. While most westerners think that they smell terribly and don't care for the taste, I found the smell appealing and the taste delicious

Understanding Soi Cowboy
August 21st, 2017 | View Post
Before leaving for Thailand I had told a number of my friends that I would not just look into the sex industry, but rather stare intently into it and see what it's actually all about. I did just that.

I'm not especially interested in it myself from a customer point of view, but there is a certain mystique and fascination around how “legalized” prostitution works around the world. I should also note that prostitution in Thailand is better categorized as “not illegal” rather than legal. There are a host of laws that could be used to stop it from happening, but the powers that be turn a blind eye to this. I also want to acknowledge up front that I fully comprehend that at least some portion of the sex industry in Thailand fuels sex trafficking (something I, and I assume most any decent person is fervently opposed to for rather obvious reasons).

All told, my friend and I visited six of the clubs in the Soi Cowboy area. Here's some notes from the experience.

Firstly, when you arrive at Soi Cowboy, it will probably be a lot smaller than you think it is. When I had seen pictures of it over the years I thought the iconic neon signs that I was seeing were the entrance to it or something like that. As it turns out, the street is probably only a few hundred meters long and there are maybe 20 clubs in total. I'm ballparking, but thereabout anyways.

The iconic photo view of Soi Cowboy from just outside of the main street

The first club that we entered was Baccara. This club sits on the far east end of the block and has a reputation for being one of the nicer clubs there. Having been to strip clubs all over the United States, the South Pacific, South America, and Mexico, I will say that the experience here was pretty crazy and a little overwhelming.

The club is very small. There are booths about 3 seats deep around the entirety of it with a small portion kept for the bar. There is a single stage that sits in the middle of the room with a handful of poles for the girls to hang on to. Above them is a glass ceiling with ladies dancing on the 2nd floor (so yes, you can see right up into them).
The most shocking difference from an American point of view is just the sheer number of women that are on stage and how it works. Put very bluntly, it is much more literally like a meat market than you've likely ever heard that term used before.

What I mean is that at any other club I've ever been to, a single stage will be occupied by maybe two to three girls at once; often times a single stage is just a single girl. Not here. At Baccara (as with most of the clubs on the strip), there were about 30 to 40 young Thai women on the stage at a time. They're all wearing what is essentially a skimpy bathing bikini bathing suit, but none of them on the main stage are naked (not even topless). There were three different groups of these women. One group wore an orange outfit, another wore a black outfit, and the third group (the upstairs group) wore a kind of schoolgirl dress – no doubt fulfilling some creepy old guy fantasies there.

The schoolgirl-dressed girls were on the second floor. They would be half-assed dancing around on the glass floor (ceiling from our point of view) and after set intervals would become topless and then ultimately naked. After enough time had elapsed, they would go back to being dressed and then start the process over again. This could be an incorrect assessment, but we ultimately decided that these were the freshmen of the group. Not necessarily the youngest, in fact most likely not the youngest, but the newer girls or “less marketable” girls who actually did have to get naked to keep their job. They essentially just kept the whole thing stimulating.

Now onto the other two groups. The orange and black teams would come out on stage only with their fellow teammates. Thirty or so girls would march off the stage and thirty or so new girls would come back on. But here's where it gets crazy: they don't do anything. They don't dance. They don't interact with the customers (hardly anyways). They literally just stand on the stage and show off what they have. To the meat market comment, each one of them literally has a number pinned to their chest.

The process is as follows. You see a girl that you like and so you tell the madam of the house (one woman who is essentially just keeping tabs on everything in a pimp-like fashion) that you like number 224. This is the buying a drink phase. The madam will summon girl 224 to come and sit with you and you immediately are expected to purchase her a drink. Best we would tell, the drink would just be a glass of cola, but you're still paying about 300 baht for it (about $9.00 USD). You talk with the girl, make sure you like her, and then one of two things happens.

Either option one is that either you don't really like her after all or you weren't really planning to do anything with her in the first place (this was our category) and so after her drink is done she thanks you and goes back to the herd. Or option two is that you pay for her. The madam will present you with a price sheet that essentially dictates how much you would have to pay to take her back to your hotel either for an hour, or for the evening. The prices were about 3,000 baht (about $91 USD) for the hourly service or about double that for the entire evening. That's it.

So this kind of club (of which there are several of in Soi Cowboy) aren't really strip clubs at all, at least not in the sense that Americans think of them. They are literal brothels where you are just looking at a live menu and deciding what/who to pay for. Again, the freshman team dancing naked upstairs keeps the strip club feel alive, but that's definitely not the intent of them.

After we left Baccara we stopped by another well known club called Crazy House. It had the same methodology as Baccara. It was definitely a wilder vibe and these girls would at least interact with people a little bit more on the stage. I wound up slipping a few 20 baht notes (about $0.60 USD) into leg garters they were wearing. Eventually a pair of them came and sat with me for a bit. We actually had a really fun time drinking and trying to communicate in broken English and Thai, but that was the extent of it. Like Baccara, this one also had the glass ceiling although some of the girls on the main stage would actually strip. Some went topless while others were fully nude. As a somewhat sad interjection, it became pretty obvious which of the girls were new. You could tell rather clearly that they were being told to strip down, but were then lightly covering themselves with their hands and things of this nature. It was subtle, but easy to spot if you were looking for it.

The Cowboy2 Bar and Spice Girls were mostly the same kind of setup. Each one of them had their own little twist to how they ran the operation, but the process was the same. The girls all had numbers pinned to them, you selected one, bought her a drink, were presented with a list of payment options, and then you'd either send her back to the herd or leave with her.

There were two bars that had a very different methodology to them. Afterskool Bar and Toy Bar were an entirely different beast. These clubs were narrow in their design with the bar taking up one entire wall and the stage taking up the other entire bar. You'd essentially sit between these two elements. There would only be a few girls on the stage at one time and they were stripping in the sense that you would see in America. Except that they're doing a lot more than that.

Some of the dancers from the Afterskool Bar. The one posing sat and chatted with me for awhile

The same girl from Afterskool whose name I unfortunately forget now

These girls were entirely blatant about what the purpose of your visit was. There was no menu presented, there was no process (informal or otherwise) for how the interaction happened. If a girl noticed that you were looking at her long enough or perhaps if she just liked the cut of your jib, she would come and talk to you. Toy Bar was considerably more direct about it, but they would tell you outright what they could do and would negotiate prices directly with you. I suspect that the varied it based on how much they thought you could afford, what you looked like, and frankly just how they felt at any given moment. These girls were not drinking cola, but rather were getting pretty fucked up. I'd imagine a number of them were doing drugs, but I didn't see any of this directly.

Cutting right to the chase, a hand job in the bar would cost anywhere from 500 to 700 baht ($15 to $21 USD respectively) whereas a blowjob would cost anywhere from 1000 to 1500 baht ($30 to $45 USD respectively). You could certainly pay to take them home as well and I'd imagine the prices were a little cheaper than the meat market bars, but the general idea was that they would just take you somewhere in the club and you'd get your time with them.

Again, I have been to a lot of strip clubs over the years for countless different reasons ranging from bachelor parties to friends wanting to go to girlfriends wanting to see what they're all about to everywhere else in between. In all of those experiences though, I've never had a woman directly proposition me for anything other than a dance. To be clear, you're not asked something like “hey baby, what are you looking for”, but rather shown explicit gestures of exactly what you can get. Even in the Mexican border towns they're not quite that brazen. It's a weird experience. While I ultimately support prostitution (namely as I don't think somebody should be told they cannot sell their own body), I'd imagine that there is an entire underbelly of creepy old men who are regular visitors to these bars; many likely provide them with regular services.

I was highly entertained by this sign in the street

All in all Soi Cowboy was a ton of fun and I would highly recommend anybody checking it out, but just keep in mind that it's not like going to an American strip club, but rather is like entering a brothel. Also bear in mind that while sex tourism is entirely fine, there are certainly people there who have been trafficked. This is an awful thing and so it's hard to say whether you should support the business in any way. Regardless, there's a world of difference between American and Thai strip clubs.
What is Tourist Bangkok Really Like?
August 19th, 2017 | View Post
Bangkok is enormous. Absolutely enormous. All told there are more than 11 million people living in the area and it definitely feels like that. Getting around Bangkok can be a slow and painful process at times. While the foot traffic is dense, it pales in comparison to the actual street traffic. Cars, buses, motorcycles, mopeds, tuk tuks, and everything in between can and DO drive down any visible path they can find. It was frequently the case that you would have to pull yourself close to a wall while walking down a narrow alley so that a car or even bus could drive past you. Like other places in Southeast Asia, it somehow all just works. I tend to think that being a driver oneself would overwhelm most westerners.

A reclining Buddha

The city has its share of scams like most every other destination of the like, but the most common ones are just tuk tuk drivers and other transportation services trying to rip you off. No doubt we overpaid for services here and there, but having done a ton of research before entering the country, I had a pretty good idea of what to look out for. As an aside to that, Uber really makes a huge difference now that it's available in the country. For one, you know you're not going to get ripped off. You can follow along on the map and so you know if your driver is intentionally trying to run up the price (which even Uber has made difficult to do since the fares are now pre-calculated within reason of traffic). Perhaps better than that though is just overcoming the communication barrier. While it's generally easy to explain where you're going when you can read the alphabet (even if you can't understand the words), the same cannot be said of the Thai language. I literally could not explain to a person where I was going in some cases as I cannot read the Thai characters. It's just not possible to "sound it out". Thankfully Uber just lets you set your destination on the phone and so that problem goes away. Yay for technology!

One noticeable component to being in a more tourist-driven area of Bangkok is the salesman harassment. It's not unlike other 3rd world countries I have visited, but I do think the intensity of it is much worse in Bangkok.

My friend John and me riding around on a tuk tuk in Bangkok

I'm really only using Bangkok as a stopover destination to the many other cities and countries that I'm exploring and so other than seeing all of the sites, I'm not planning to do a whole bunch here. All in all it's a fun city, but I'm not certain how reflective it is of the majority of Southeast Asia that I'll be exploring.

That said, and like so many places in Asia, it does have some absolutely amazing temples worth exploring. Since my time is pretty limited here, that's mostly what I am planning to do, but there will be plenty more to come elsewhere!

Standing in a long line of golden Buddhas

Packing Everything Up!
August 14th, 2017 | View Post
After an 8-day long visit with my dear old friend DaveG in Kansas City, Missouri, I am finally ready for my trip. I leave for Chicago at 7:43 in the morning via Amtrak, am meeting up with some friends in Chicago for lunch, and then head to Chicago O'Hare Airport in the evening for the first leg of my trip – a flight to Bangkok, Thailand by way of Taipei, Taiwan.

Everything laid out and getting ready to be packed up

Being quite the world traveler himself, Dave had a number of little bags that he was able to let me borrow to make my trip considerably more organized. A little bag for socks and underwear, another one for pills and medicine, another for electronics, etc.

Condensed down into the smaller packing bags

Ultimately I am bringing two bags with me. One of them is my actual backpacking pack, a beautiful new Osprey X-58 that I got from REI. It's considerably larger than I actually need for all of my stuff, but there is a reason for this that I will come to. The other bag is a smaller CamelBak that Dave actually traded me for the Timbuk2 that I was originally planning to bring. The smaller one is intended to hold my food, computer, and electronics – the items that I never check in. The larger Osprey holds all of my clothes, medicine, toiletries (except for my toothbrush as you never know when you'll need it). Once I clear customs in Thailand, my plan is to pack the CamelBak inside of the Osprey. That's why I got one that has extra space in it. Once I am situated in my hostile in Bangkok, I will reduce the CamelBak to just the bare necessities that I want to have while exploring the city.

...and finally down into just these two bags

This will mostly be limited to my water, camera, wallet, and copies of my identification just in case something should happen. I am sure that I'll wind up purging a few items a long the way, but after experimenting with all sorts of configurations (and having done this many times in the past), I'm pretty sure that I have a good setup. I guess I will find out tomorrow on my way!

And for my final trick, the smaller bag goes into the larger bag