Tag Archives: Asia

Spending Lotsa Money!

While traveling, I was the only one between the two of us that had an ATM card (Charles Schwab) that reimbursed ATM fees (usually around $5/visit) and a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (Chase Marriot). This was vital for us, and resulted in David coining a song that went something like this “Spending lotsa money, lotsa Jenny money!”. Currency absolutely fascinates me. To get an idea of the currency in each country, see below.


Currency: Dollar (doll-ar)
Description: Smaller sized paper/polymer bill, purple
Division: One dollar is divided into 100 cents. Common bills are $2, $5, $10, $50, $100 & $1,000. Coins are 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, $1
What S$2 can buy in Singapore: 2 bottles of water, 2 cans of coke, 1-2 rides on the metro, an ice cream cone, 1-2 mango lassi
Approximate Value of S$2 in USD:  $1.59

Exchange Rate: USD$1 = S$1.26


The Thai baht was our favorite currency!

Currency: Baht (bot)

Description: Paper bill, green, with picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also called King Rama IX), the longest serving monarch in the world (65 years). Reverse side: more pictures of king, bridge in Bangkok.

Division: One baht is divided into 100 satang, which are infrequently used. Common bills are ฿20, ฿50, ฿100, ฿500, ฿1000. Common coins are 50 satang, ฿1, ฿2, ฿5, ฿10

What ฿20 can buy in Thailand: 12 minutes of a 1 hour foor massage, 4 packs of 3 cookie Chips Ahoy imitation cookies, 4 bottles of water, 3 eggs, 10 pack of oreos, bowl of cooked rice, can of soda, 2 small change purses, shared taxi (songtao) ride across town

Approximate Value of ฿20 in USD: $.64
Exchange Rate: USD$1 = 30 baht


The number amount was often hard to find on Kip, resulting in lots of confusion on how much a bill was worth.
Currency: Kip (though U.S. dollars and Thai baht are also accepted)

Description: Longer paper bill, ₭1000 bill is blue with picture of cows (agriculture), 3 traditional women, and a temple.

Division: 1 kip is the smallest amount. Common bills are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 kip. There are no coins used.

What ₭1000 can buy: 2/3 of a post card, 3 minutes of internet use at a cafe (i.e. it can’t buy much of anything)

Approximate Value of ₭1000 in USD: $.12

Exchange Rate: USD$1 = 8000 kip


Using two currencies at once was a little crazy!

Currency: Riel (real), US dollars (Thai baht also accepted)
Description: Small paper bill, purple/brown/green, picture of school on one side, picture of Independence Monument on the other side.
Division: US dollars in all sizes available. Also riel bills are 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000. Coins are not used.

What 100 riels can buy: nothing
Approximate Value of 100 riels in USD: 2.5 cents
Exchange Rate: USD$1 =  4000 riel

Note: The second (current) riel currency went into circulation in 1980, after the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975-1980, which abolished money. The first riel currency existed from 1953-1975.  In rural areas the riel is used for virtually all purchases, large and small. The United States dollar is also used particularly in urban Cambodia and tourist areas. In these areas, US dollars are the main currency. ATMs only give out US dollars, and Cambodian riel is only used a change since American coins are not in circulation there.


Looking at all this currency stuff after being back in the states, it seems so confusing and exchange rates so crazy (thousands of a currency as worth a dollar?!). But, when you’re out there, you pretty much stop thinking in dollars, and in a day or two, spending ₭135,000 kip for one night at a guesthouse seems normal. You start to think in terms of the currency, and the thousands become irrelevant. You don’t always translate back to U.S. dollars, you just begin to recognize that ฿150 is a bad price for mango sticky rice because you paid ฿20 for it at the market the night before!

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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Asia, Travel


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Familiar Products, with a Foreign Twist

While being in a foreign country for a long period of time can make you feel homesick, being American usually means that the familiarity of home isn’t much further away than your closest 7/11 store (which are everywhere). Before we went out to Asia, I felt a lot of anxiety about what I would need to bring and what I could be able to get there.

Did I need to bring 2 months worth of toothpaste, shampoo, contact solution, etc? No. They sell that nearly everywhere we went, and it wasn’t too foreign….

Iced Tea in Thailand (Lipton)

Oreos! Available everywhere in strawberry, blueberry icecream, and plain. I can’t even count the number of Oreos we ate while in Asia…

Gotta keep those teeth clean!

Nori seaweed Lays…so delicious, a common easy snack for us.

Ketchup and hot sauce on Koh Jum..thanks Heinz!

Thai Pantene..keeping our curls at bay (though with the humidity, it’s an uphill battle!)

Sodas come in tall, thin glass bottles. While we were in northern Thailand, there was a Sprite shortage – something with the distributor from the south not getting it in. This one was a rare treat. Note the straw – nobody drinks out of bottles/can – you are ALWAYS given a straw.

Besides Singapore, you cannot drink the tap water anywhere that we went. Locals don’t drink it either – everyone buys bottled/jugs of water. This made water very inexpensive – thank goodness! Due to our transient nature, we only bought smaller, 1 liter bottles of water.  There were always several choices, with the foreign brand being 2-4 times higher than the local brand. Most of the time we went with the local brand (below at right), which we dubbed “the rubbing alcohol water” because the bottle looks like a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

Local water (note that the expiration date is 15/2/56. It is currently the year 2555 in Thailand!

Nestle water

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Posted by on May 20, 2012 in Asia, Travel


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Island Hopping!

This is a post by Jenny.

Island hopping and beach going every day has been great, though a bit tiring to go somewhere new or travel every 2-3 days. Oh the woes we face!

We took two ferries from Ko Jum to get to the island of Ko Phi Phi, which became very famous in popular after the 1999 release of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach. Ko Phi Phi was also severely damaged during the 2004 tsunami. We were a bit hesitant to go, as what we’d read and heard made it sound like it would be an island packed full of partying bros. In fact, it was. Despite Ko Phi Phi’s party atmosphere, there are some amazingly gorgeous things to see and do around the island.

We got up early and hiked up to the look out point over Ko Phi Phi.You wouldn't believe the color of the water!

Can you believe we still like each other after not being apart for more than a few minutes for 2 full months? We can't believe it either!

We went on a half day snorkeling tour, visiting 4 different sites and seeing water the color I have never seen it, as well as chasing after a sea turtle. We felt like we were watching a Discovery Channel special through our very own eyes!

David snorkels, while I hang out on the boat.

We frequently got around while island hopping on long tail boats. These boats look beautiful in pictures, but they are actually quite loud and give off a lot of pollution.

Long tail boats off of Ko Phi Phi

While island hopping, we felt like we ought to enjoy some of the plentiful seafood, which included getting fried fish multiple times. For me, it tasted reminiscent of the fish my grandfather used to catch and my grandmother would fry up outside on summer weekends. But instead of sitting in her back yard, I was sitting under a coconut tree on a beach in Thailand.

A fried snapper fish with chili sauce, complete with teeth, fins, and tail. Yum!

After Ko Phi Phi, we headed to Phuket, another notorious tourist area that has no Thai culture and is an overdeveloped island. We, however, did not see or partake in any of that since we just used it as a one night stopover en route to the airport to get to Bangkok. I opened a Marriott credit card last year that earned me a free night stay and a bunch of bonus points, so we “splurged” and stayed somewhere fancy, for free!

Marriott (for FREE), complete with pool with swim up bar and water slide!

The Marriott Phuket was the fanciest hotel either of us have ever stayed in, ever. It had a separate living room from the bathroom, 2 tvs, a stand up shower, a stocked mini-bar, free fresh fruit, a bed with a top sheet, comfortable pillows, free beach towels, and quite the pool set up! We felt like high rollers, and out of place in our smelly clothes and dirty backpacks🙂

Delicious, ice cold coconut!

Off to Bangkok for a few days, before heading to California!


Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Asia


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I’m on a Boat!!!

This is a post by Jenny.

I’m writing this entry from the front of a ferry boat in the southern Thailand province of Krabi, on the Andaman Sea (part of the Indian Ocean). We’ve been island hopping for nearly two weeks, enjoying the beauty of the area. It’s early morning, the sun is out, and the wind is blowing in my hair.  I just saw a school of small fish jump up in the air as our boat passed. Life is good.

Beach dubbed "the best beach in the whole world" in our guidebook at Railay Beach. Overpriced, but stunningly gorgeous.

We had some initial hiccups (i.e. paying too much to stay in a dilapidated shack on an expensive peninsula,  not having bathing suits or towels, leaving stuff behind in our hotel, etc) but have nicely recovered after taking a day to get everything in order and plan. One thing we’re still working to fix:

David's unfortunate sandal tan

We’ve gone to Krabi Town, Railay Beach, Ko Lanta, and Ko Jum:

Our bungalow (a.k.a shack) at Railay Cabanas. It seems like a romantic idea, but was dirty, full of bugs, had no running water, and was hot as hell...and cost more than most places we've stayed. We also got caught in two rain storms in 16 hours.

The island of Ko Lanta was very large, so we took a full day to explore by (pink) motorbike, driving on the left side of the road. It was quite the adventure, and we found a lot of secluded/nearly empty, gorgeous beaches.

Let me describe our day yesterday:
1. Pick up truck (songtao) with covered benches in the flat bed arrives; luggage is tossed on roof, we get in with 6 other people. Songtao proceeds to stop at 4 other hotels , resulting in us having 14 people, plus their luggage, traveling in one pick up truck. Back home, the most we can fit in my dad’s truck  is 3.
2. We arrive at the pier, which is actually no more than a half mile from where we left
3. Get on a ferry boat for 45 minutes, en route to Ko Jum, the island described in the guidebook as having not many tourists, nothing on it and nothing to do (Chuck & Aiden, if you’re reading this, thanks a million for the recommendation!)
4. Our ferry boat stops in the middle of the ocean and is swarmed by long tail boats, who attach themselves to our boat, all shouting out the names of bungalows; we feel like we are being attacked by pirates. We disembark the ferry by jumping off the side onto a wooden boat, climbing across 3 boats until we get to the one labeled with our bungalow’s name
5. As quickly as it happened, the boats all disperse and we speed off to the nearby island, landing on the beach in front of Season Bungalows. We hop off the boat and wade through warm, clear water onto the shore and up to the open air hut to reception
6. We check into our clean $16/night bungalow and spend the rest of the day reading, napping (3 in one day!), swimming, eating, and walking around the island. No Internet available (this post was written on the island, and posted later).

Our own little slice of beach on Ko Jum.

Thatched roof sitting areas, where we spent much time reading, sleeping, playing cards, watching the sunset, drinking beers, and listening to the ocean.

I’m pretty sure heaven is a place like Ko Jum.

Sing this to yourself to the tune of the Beach Boys “Kokomo”:

Ao Nang and Krabi,  come on pretty mommy
Koh Lanta, Koh Lipe, Let’s go to Koh Phi Phi
Railay, Phukett, and don’t you dare forget
Way down in Koh Jum

On the Andaman sea,
there’s a place called Koh Jum,
that’s where I rest my bum…to get away from it all!

Another island post to come shortly, about Ko Phi Phi and Phuket. See ya soon!

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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Asia


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Monkey (and videos)

We’ve uploaded a few videos to our posts, but we just found out that the videos don’t show up in email! So if you are reading our blog by email or by RSS, you may have missed a few clips.

From now on we’ll note when there’s a video on the blog and you’ll have to go to the website if you want to watch it. Sorry!

To kick off this motion picture nonsense, here’s a video of a monkey we encountered at Angkor Wat. He literally ambushed a couple tourists and stole a package of cookies. Unfortunately we didn’t get the takedown on video, but you can watch him happily munch away on his bounty:

If you are afraid you’ve missed any other video hijinks, check out these older posts:
Elephant Riding – How to ride a giant
Ziplining – Jenny flying through the treetops
Kuang Si Waterfalls – Wherein David makes a big splash
Packing List – David recorded a video of his gear before leaving the States

For a few other videos that didn’t get directly posted on the blog, see my YouTube Channel.

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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Asia


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An Ode to Asian Transportation

This is a poem by David

This is an ode to asian transportation
Often the cause of much consternation

The classic Thai ride is the ubiquitous tuk-tuk
They’re down every street and alley you look
Imagine, if you can, a big motor bike
With a cage welded on to make it a trike
Now add a crazy driver and two benches in the back
It’s like flying through the streets in a delapitated spacecraft
A tuk-tuk is named for the noises it makes….

Ride in a songthao is something you must
It’s a cross between a cab, a truck, and a bus
First flag one down and tell him your goal
If he’s not going there then he will say “no”
But if it’s on his path he’ll offer a ride
Just settle on a fare before getting inside
You sit in the bed of a red pickup truck
There’s a bench and a roof so sit down and good luck!I
Cruise around town and you’ll pick others up
A haphazard voyage in this fine pickup truck
When it comes to your stop you hoot and you holler
Bang on the roof then hand over your dollar

There are quite a few more warriors of the road
Such as mopeds and rickshaws and cars new and old
The locals all ride on loud motorbikes
Of this type of transport you’ve never seen the likes
For a moped at home would fit one skinny gal
But in Thailand a bike will fit you, your brother, and his pal
Yes, the motorbike is a regular family van
It will fit five people or more if it can

For all that I laugh and all that I talk
I’ll stay where it’s safe: here on the sidewalk!


Hardly the strangest vehicle on the roads. Anyone need a snack?


Tuk-tuk in Luang Prabang. They look a little different in each country.


Songthao in Chiang Mai

Mattress delivery

Mattress delivery in Siem Reap


Who needs an airbag when you have pillows?


This guy is driving down the road with dead, feathered chickens hanging off his bike


Posted by on March 6, 2012 in Asia


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An Examination of Conscience

[Note: This blog post is not about fun adventures we’ve been having, but rather difficult things we have seen. While it is depressing, it is reality here and as travelers we feel an obligation to share and educate those around us.]

While in Laos and Cambodia, the subject of economics and inequality has been on our minds a lot. We have frequent discussions about the situation in Laos and Cambodia, and to a lesser extent Thailand and the rest of South East Asia. This post is modeled after a discussion we had on the way to dinner after helping some Lao students practice their English at Big Brother Mouse, a Laos non-profit that works to improve literacy in Laos through book distribution, as well as English learning.


Laos is a mixture of beautiful scenery and a terrible past

Jenny: I love it here in Luang Prabang. It is super gorgeous, with nice people, beautiful buildings, and delicious food. But on the other hand, I feel really torn because I know this is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

David: Right. What we see here in town is not what this country is really like. People that live here don’t stay in these beautiful French villas and eat croissants and expensive food. They live outside the city without access to clean water, eating rice and whatever vegetables they grow.

Jenny: I feel guilty haggling over a dollar or two at the market, even though that’s what you’re supposed to do. Those extra few dollars won’t make a huge difference to me, compared to someone who lives on just a few dollars a day.

Jenny: Also, the lack of health care is terrifying. The other night we saw a toddler get hit by a van. There was no ambulance to come. Did that child die? Does that family just accept that as the way of life?

David: Remember when you were sick with a fever? If it had turned into something serious we could have flown to Thailand where there is good healthcare. For the people here, they can’t just evacuate to another country.

Fancy car

There is a huge wealth gap in Laos.

David: I’m glad you printed out those pictures of Boston and your family. Those kids at Big Brother Mouse were really excited to see the photos. I thought about taking out my iPhone and showing them pictures on there, but it seemed weird. I didn’t want to be like “oh look at me, a rich American with a fancy phone.”

Jenny: Yeah, that would have been awkward. What did you say when they asked about your job?

David: Well I told them that I work with computers. They said “wow, we wish we had computers.” They don’t even have access to computers at school or the library. Think about it, I work in an industry doesn’t even exist in their country.

Jenny: Life here seems a lot more simple than at home, yet a lot more complicated at the same time.  Extended families all live and eat together and there aren’t all the complications and nonsense of computers and stress that seem so strong in the modern world. It seems nice to romanticize such a simple lifestyle, but on the flip side, their stress and worry is do we have enough food to eat? Do we have access to clean water? Is my family safe and healthy? Their concerns are about basic human survival, while at home we worry about making deadlines or what someone said. It’s such a different world and makes so many of the stresses at home seem so unimportant.

David: One question I got was “if you already have everything, why do you want to travel here?” Deep question.

Jenny: That is interesting. We were looking at a map of the world, and I asked some of those kids if they could go anywhere in the world, where would they go? They answered Vientienne. That’s the capitol of their own country! You can drive there in a day. They said they heard there were tall buildings in Vientienne. And here we are, having flown 25+ hours to get to them. However, I’m glad that we got to chat with some local kids for a few hours. It makes the barriers seem like a lot less – we are all people, wanting to learn more, thrive, and be happy.


We are millionaires here. 1 million kip = $125

Jenny: What do you think it will take to clean up all the unexploded bombs and land mines in Laos and Cambodia?

David: I don’t know. There are a lot of them. I read that the US covertly dropped about 250 million bombs in Laos during the Vietnam war. They wanted to break up supply lines going to North Vietnam. But an estimated 80 million failed to explode on impact and now they are laying in fields and cities. They still claim lives today. Laos is the most bombed country in the world.

Jenny: That’s insane. And don’t forget that the Khmer Rouge and the Royal Army planted millions of land mines in Cambodia in an attempt to kill each other. There are no maps of those.

David: Can you imagine going for a walk in the woods, or in a field near your house and being worried you might accidentally set off a bomb?

Jenny: What I want to know is, what is the U.S. doing about it now? And, is something like that happening now and we don’t know about it? (i.e. bombing in Libya). There is no solution or easy way to fix the legacy left behind.

A bomb dropped by the US

Imagine how we felt standing in front of this bomb that the US dropped on Cambodia?

Bombing map

Did you know that we bombed Cambodia and Laos? This is the legacy we have left behind.

David: One thing that I do love about this region is the resilience of the people and the sense of hope. Heroes like Aki Ra put their life on the line every day to make their country a safer place.

Jenny: And don’t forget Ponheary Le, who owned our guesthouse in Siem Reap. She started a foundation to improve access to education for children – her family starting from nothing after the Cambodian genocide.

David: Yeah, and there’s little things we can do as tourists that can help. First of all, our money is supporting the local economy. We just have to be wise how we spend it.

Jenny: Right. For instance, by not giving it to the little kids selling junk outside of temples. Like Ponheary says, those kids need to be in school, not on the streets hawking bracelets. But, it is so hard with their sad faces and big wide eyes (and absolute persistence). I wish there was an easy solution to help.

Aki Ra

Aki Ra is a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who now works to remove land mines and has diffused more than 10,000 by hand. He also cares for orphans and victims of land mines.

David: I wonder what everyone at home thinks about this stuff?

Jenny: I don’t know. Let’s put it on the blog and see what they say!


Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Asia


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