" /> karthik's blog: July 2006 Archives

« June 2006 | Main | August 2006 »

July 25, 2006

Bonjour

Well I've reappeared from Europe in less than a few days time! Got to Paris today to find my flight to India cancelled. Argh! Took forever to get rebooked, verify my luggage was where it was supposed to be, etc. The best they could do was rebook me for tomorrow on the same flight. Delta put me up in a hotel near the airport for the night; free Internet here at least, and amusing EUR26 and EUR28 vouchers for lunch and dinner (even mediocre food's expensive here!) So this isn't quite the tour of Paris I'd planned, but I'll be back to see more. Saw the Concorde in person finally, at least! They have one parked on the grounds of Charles de Gaulle. Anyways, finally off to India in the morning (hopefully.)

July 24, 2006

Sah-wah-dee!

So I'm on my last few hours in Bangkok; I leave for India in about 3 hours. Spent the last 24 hours or so here, though I didn't do much since I got in late at night and spent half the day getting my ticket reissued (again; but it's finally an e-ticket so I can change it without going in in person now if I want to) then hunting in vain for an EmPower adapter to use my laptop on the KLM and Delta flights to India! (Korean had standard power outlets. No more net access in flight for me either!)

I did wander around Bangkok a bit, but didn't see much other than the seas of concrete and glass that you find in any major city. Did manage to wander into a cool little slum-ish area right in between huge shopping malls and giant towers of commerce. I had a nice view of the river from my hotel room; looked great at night, but not so great in the morning after I could see the nice dark brown color of the water. :)

So I spent almost a week in Phuket! I'd originally planned on 4 days there, but the diving turned out to be great. I only got in 7 dives (had some work to do in the evenings or I'd have gone on a liveaboard), but it was still a ton of fun. The highlights were a dive at the King Cruiser wreck and Ko Doc Mai. I'd never done a wreck dive before, so that one was quite fun. Had a couple cool swimthroughs down around 25m through parts of the boat! Ko Doc Mai was a wall dive; basically there was a vertical reef wall that we swam along. What made it especially cool was the cave there that we went into for a bit, though. I have to take up more cave diving in the future! I dove a few other sites, all of which were quite nice. Racha Yai was particularly nice, as I did just 2 dives there, but managed 60 minutes just fine on both dives (finally getting decent at not sucking up all the air too quickly.) And the 29°C water was quite nice, after starting in the 17°C waters of Sydney then moving to the warm 23°C waters of Cairns around the Great Barrier Reef! I'd definitely like to make another diving trip to Phuket sometime in the future.

Thailand's been a great place to visit. Everyone's so very friendly here; of course I'm headed off to India now where the same can be said (at least in the south where I'll be), but I don't expect quite so much out of many parts of Europe. And that's where I'm still headed for almost two months after 6 days in India. Still haven't quite made a plan for Europe, so I'll just figure out it when I get there. If I get bored I think I'll head down to Belize and go diving in the fabled Blue Hole there and get my own flight up to Aruba since I'm out of stopovers.

Oh yeah, I did spend a couple days in Kuala Lumpur before my Thailand trip, which was pretty fun. Met up with my friend Suresh and his wife, and they showed me around the city. Unfortunately I didn't really have time to see the "real" Malaysia either, though Suresh took me to a fairly interesting temple. Lots of cool artwork on the walls with a strange multi-colored motif suggesting the artist was on something. Went down to Singapore for a day as well (I spent 12 hours just wandering around taking pictures); it's an interesting place. Everything's polished as can be, and I was afraid to even jaywalk lest I get caned! Of course I stopped in the Long Bar at the famous Raffles Hotel and had a Singapore Sling, as every tourist must do. (And, yes, I threw my peanut shells on the floor. It would be sacrilege not to!)

Phuket though...definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far. Wonderful people there (other than the tuk-tuk drivers who try to severely rip off tourists!), met a lot of great folks, and had plenty of fun. So yeah, it's off to India shortly for a few days, then wandering my way around Europe for some time. Still working on all those pictures; I suck, I know. I shall reappear from Europe in a few days time! The Great British Beer Festival kicks off the day after I arrive; Ethan, John Arresty, and John's girlfriend are heading over to London for that, so it should be fun.

And I just had the most intriguing experience checking in since I'm finishing this up from the Air France business lounge in Bangkok... Got sent over to the supervisor at KLM check-in, who proceeded to closely examine my passport, take a picture of it, then go over it with a magnifying glass! Apparently this was triggered since I'm flying BKK-AMS-CDG-MAA (Bangkok-Amsterdam-Paris-Chennai); about 11000 miles to go what's around 1400 miles direct, so normally one wouldn't fly such an indirect route. But that's the way of life flying on an award ticket with no better routing... They cleared me with no problem but it was kinda funny watching the guy with the magnifying glass. :) Then I got to Thai immigration and ran into more problems there! Since I'd taken the train up from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket before flying into Bangkok, I'd just had the most brief of immigration formalities at Surat Thani on the Thai border. Brief meaning they didn't even process me into the computer system (I got a stamp on my departure card at least), so I got sent over to yet another supervisor. Took a few minutes and several questions but then I was finally on my way... and off to Chennai I go (in about 2 hours now), long and circuitous via Europe!

July 11, 2006

Konichi-wa!

Well, I guess sayonara is more accurate, since I left Japan a few hours ago. On my ICN-KUL flight now, over the East China Sea northeast of Malaysia about 45 minutes away from landing in Kuala Lumpur. I changed my travel plans AGAIN... I'm spending tonight and tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur, then tomorrow night I'm heading down to Singapore for a day, after which I'll be back in Kuala Lumpur for three days (my current flight gets in around midnight so I don't plan on doing much in Kuala Lumpur on the first day.) Then I'm off to Phuket, Thailand for four days; some of the best diving in the world is supposed to be in Phuket! The 28 - 29°C waters should be especially nice.

After that it's up to Bangkok for a couple days (couldn't get a return flight out of Phuket and only inconvenient dates if I went back down to Kuala Lumpur, so I figured I'd see Bangkok while I was in the area.) Travel between Singapore/Malaysia/Thailand via rail is VERY cheap (my roundtrip to Singapore on overnight sleepers both ways is all of USD20; only standard accomodations though, the deluxe ones are around 4x as much and get you a private room with bathroom but they were all sold out unfortunately) and the new trains they have look quite nice. Then it's off to India for a week and to Europe as planned...

Japan was fun, though I didn't nearly get everything I wanted to do done; guess I'll have to make a return visit! I didn't really get out of Tokyo. I spent most of my time just wandering around the city (plus I had downtime finishing up some work I'd been putting off for weeks. Gotta get the business going if I don't want to become a wage slave again!) Let's see... the most interesting places I did see were Asakusa, which has a great old temple in the area; Ginza, which is like Times Square NYC, but bigger, brighter, and more upscale; and Akihabara, which is a crazy maze of shops selling all varieties of new and used electronics. You can basically buy anything that uses power there, or the parts to make it if you prefer. Tokyo is one of those cities that's ultra-modern yet has plenty of of cultural and historical stuff intact, which is always nice to see.

I'd been planning to AT LEAST see Mt. Fuji, but the weather was completely cloudy the days I was able to go, so I didn't bother since the view would've sucked. I caught a glimpse of it in the distance from the plane shortly after takeoff, at least. Saw a couple friends down there: Nathan, who I've known for years but never met before, and his wife Chita-Sai (I probably horribly misspelled that); and Jay, who I had no idea was in Tokyo until another friend noticed my .jp host and asked if I'd gotten in touch with him! (Last time I met up with Jay, he was in the SF Bay Area.) So yeah, Japan definitely needs a return visit and more than just a few days next time. And yes, the sushi in Japan is amazing. I had some wonderful o-toro. Nice, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth o-toro (at 3000 yen for 2 pieces though, ouch.) And Pocari Sweat (the ionized energy drink!) tastes far better than it sounds.

Oh, and I finally tried the bibimbap on my flight to Japan. It consists of vegetables and minced meat in a bowl, white rice, chili paste, and sesame oil. All these came separately, and you get to mix them up in the bowl (they gave me a little instruction sheet even!) They serve some random side dishes with it; one of them were these little transparent pickled tadpole-like fish, around 1-2cm long and 2-3mm wide. I asked and found out that they were anchovies! (Tasted far better than your average American-style anchovy.)

I'd been meaning to try the bibimbap since I saw it on my first flight, but there've always been multiple other more appealing meal choices; since the ICN-NRT flight is 90 minutes the meal service is limited and the only other entree was cooked fish (who in their right mind would apply fire to fish?) So bibimbap-trying time had come, and it was really good! Actually everything I've had on Korean Air so far has been excellent (they even managed to do my steak acceptably rare from SYD-ICN on the way to Japan.) This is actually my last Korean Air flight on this trip sadly; the remainder of my flights are on Aeroflot, Austrian, Delta, Air France, KLM, and Avianca. (Looking forward to that Ilyushin IL-96 flight from Bangkok to Moscow on Aeroflot though!)

July 05, 2006

Right-side up again!

Well, I'm back in the Northern Hemisphere, a couple hundred km south of the southwest corner of Japan, 38000' over the Pacific, 9 hours into my 10.5 hour flight from Sydney to Seoul... an hour layover after that, then 2 hours later and I'm in Tokyo! I'll be there for 5 days, mostly in the Tokyo area I think, but as always I haven't really made my plans yet past getting there and having booked a hotel for the first couple nights.

My last week and a half in Australia was fun... I headed up to Cairns last Tuesday, a couple days after my Blue Mountain expedition. Did a 3 day/2 night liveaboard dive cruise on a boat which was great. Got my Advanced Open Water certification while I was out there (means I'm certified to go down to 30m now.) It was amusing when we did the 30m dive and tested each other for signs of nitrogen narcosis; one of our group had numbers disappearing off the slate we were supposed to be hitting them in order on--she was definitely narced! Then this red bass came along and stole a tomato right out of our instructor's hand! (He'd brought it down so we could see how purple it looked at 30m; colors disappear in spectral order the deeper you go.) But yeah, doing a few days on a liveaboard is totally the way to go. You get in a ton more diving since they haul you up at 6am, and I made some new friends along the way since we had ~30 people stuck together on a boat.

Oh yeah, if you're not familiar, Cairns is right near the Great Barrier Reef...so I got to spend 3 days diving on the reef. :) Saw tons of cool reef life and such; all kinds of amazing fish and coral up there. Diving in the 24-25C water was a welcome change from Sydney too! I'm now up to 25 dives and exactly 15:00 total underwater time. (Got in a couple fun night dives too, my first ones.) Stayed in Cairns for a couple more days after that and did some sightseeing and such. After I got back from Cairns, I remembered I wanted to climb the Sydney Harbo(u)r Bridge and had forgotten about it...oops. Fortunately, I managed to sneak it in yesterday on my last free day in Sydney! That was a lot of fun too (other than it being kind of a ripoff at AUD169.) Takes about 2 hours for the actual climb (more like leisurely stroll) up and down the bridge, with plenty of time for sightseeing along the way. I went on the first night climb, so the sun had just dipped under the horizon as our group set out up the bridge; so we got in some sunlight before it got dark on the way up.

That about sums up the end of my wonderful trip to Australia; spent a bit over 1.5 months there, and I can't wait to go back sometime! Left Sydney at 8am this morning (as one might guess I just stayed up, so I'm gonna be pretty dead when I get to Tokyo... napped a bit on this flight but I've mostly just been wasting time online and watching movies so that I don't end up staying up all night again. Doesn't help that Narita (Tokyo's International airport) is about an hour on the express train from Tokyo proper, assuming I make it in time to catch the last express train!) So 5 days in Tokyo, a week to split between Malaysia and Singapore, a week and a half in India (that'll be mostly business; I need to get back to more of that), then it's off to Europe for two months! Yay. I'm well on my way around the globe. Back with more boring monologue after I experience Japanese culture the other way around!