Getting a Little Loopy

           The Mae Hong Son Loop was an adventure that Scott had been dreaming of during his tenure abroad in Thailand.  The trek involved renting a motorcycle or scooter and travelling through Northern Thailand, beginning at Chiang Mai, and travelling over 700 kilometers.  We ended up riding over 400 miles in 4 days. 

                The loop begins in Chiang Mai, then Pai, Mae Hong Song, Mae Sariang, and back to Chiang Mai.  I had initially planned on travelling to Vietnam all by my lonesome during the time I had after my mom left and before Conners arrived.  However, I messed up my visa again and decided to join Scott on this venture.  I was already in Chiang Mai and had no hurry to get anywhere.  Plus, I had never travelled with Scott and this seemed like a great opportunity that was long overdue.  Much to my surprise and joy, David (Leche) decided to join at the last minute as well.  We were already off to a hot start.

                I had spent the last 2 nights hanging with Michelle and Mandy and was excited to see the boys get here.  No offense to Mandy and Michelle at all, I deeply enjoyed hanging with them, I had just spent pretty close to a week with my mom and those two and I needed a testosterone filled adventure. 

Day 1: The Departure to Pai

                The boys arrived around 8am from their overnight train ride and the girls had actually decided to make a spur of the moment decision to join us to Pai.  We met up with the bros, rented 5 scooters from POP’s motorbike rental, picked up a map, and were set off to blaze a new trail.  One problem, no gas.  Make that two problems, Chiang Mai is an incredibly hectic city and we are all beginners on scooters who need to make it to a gas station.

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     After weaving through cars, breaking rapidly to avoid road rage drivers, and Scott nearly crashing in front of the gas station, we had made it.  We filled up on gas, bought some bungee cords, and acquired ponchos.  Never know if it is going to rain…LAOS!

                Driving through Chiang Mai was a frightening experience.  Especially because we had the two women from Europe, who drive scooters on the regular, leading the way.  At red lights we would weave through cars and traffic to make it to the front.  I looked at David and Scott and could tell in their eyes they had the same thought process as me: “These bitches are crazy”.  Scott and I were split up from the group and I remember Scott yelling at me: “Dude, My hands are shaking. My heart is going crazy.”  I responded with, “What the hell are we doing?”  However, we couldn’t let the women have more balls than us so we pressed on.  Foolish pride is to blame for breaking nearly every traffic law enforced in the states.

                We finally exit Chiang Mai and were delighted by the scenery and landscape around us. Flat, empty road with rolling hills in the yonder and we headed into the wild frontier.  We were flying through these roads and up mountains.  It was super hot out and my t-shirt was flapping in the wind as we maneuvered through the curves intertwining the mountains. 

                Our code for stopping for pictures or any other necessary means were three honks.  We were climbing this mountain and all of a sudden, the trees opened its branches to a spectacular view.  I didn’t even have to honk the horn, I don’t think anyone honked, we all had the same mindset.  This view needed a photo.  We paused on the side of the road, took photos together and relaxed for a second.  I picked up a large bamboo stick as Scott started soft-tossing rocks for me to hit into the valley below.  Granted, I swung and missed until I finally connected with one that rick shaded off the road barrier and back into the road.  As vans passed by, the locals waved at us with huge smiles and we greeted them with strong Sawadee’s! 

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                Back on the bike.  We reached Pai around 5pm and after a couple minutes wondering the town aimlessly, we finally found the guesthouse we were looking for: Charlie’s.  We unanimously determined that we outright deserved a couple beers after our long trek and made our way to 7 Eleven which was located conveniently across the street.  We sat around the outside seating and enjoyed a couple cold ones.  We decided to go find food and were instantly distracted by a couple left behind Loy Krathong lanterns.  We bought two, one massive one and one miniature one.  We found a good area where trees were absent and power lines out of sight.  We lit our lanterns, watched the float away with all our wishes, and almost as if the voice of God spoke down from the lanterns, we heard a “I haven’t seen lanterns lit by my place before.”  The man’s name was John.  He had just bought his house, asked us where we were all from, and invited us in for some free tequila shots.  Hell yeah.   

                The man was from South Africa, had just bought this place, renovated it, made it a guesthouse and has now invited us in.  We sat around the table, passed the bottle around, spoke a little about life and how drastically plans can change.  We spoke about Pai, Northern Thailand, and the immense hospitality this man had shown us.  The man was hilarious, nice, and incredibly gracious.  If you ever want to stay at an awesome guesthouse in Pai, his place is named Our House.  It is incredible and the man is incredible generous.

                He recommended a restaurant with fantastic food and we were off.  We were so hungry and beer can only fill you up so much.  I had an incredible gravy noodle soup with chicken.  Unfortunately, it burned my mouth as if I had swallowed coals itself.  My mouth was not the same for the next week.  We ate dinner, went back to the room and sat around relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.  My last night with Mandy and Michelle.

                Scott, David, and I set out for a bar that John had recommended.  Apparently he used to do a couple musical shows there every now and then so we figured it was a good plan.  We began at one bar and stumbled back to our room a significant time later.  Apparently we woke the girls up because we were very loud and Scott and I kept yelling “SIgghhnnnnn….SIggghhhhhh!” 

Day 2: The Trek

                We reached the outskirts of Pai and settled down in a hot spring.  After dipping our feet in, probably killing fish downstream from us, we had to say goodbye to Mandy and Michelle.  It was hard but not as hard as I expected.  I had got to spend time with them over the last few days that I would never trade for anything.  It was a proper goodbye and a great send off and I am glad we didn’t have to say goodbye in Bangkok.  The girls left to Chiang Rai, very north of Thailand, and the boys set off for Mae Hong Son.  I do miss them already. 

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                The boys were on our bikes and off for the adventure ahead.  We attempted to find a waterfall outside of Pai but ended up goofing around in sunflower fields.  I had decided to try and use the bungee cords to place my backpack on the end of the scooter.  I was sick of carrying my entire load on my back.  As we cruised down the road, Scott paused for a photo and I took this time to stretch my legs out.  Much to my chagrin, one of my bungee cords had managed to wrap itself around the wheel on my bike.  Shocked by the fact that I had not crashed and am still alive, I quickly took the bungee cords off my backpack, unraveled the bungee cord from the wheel, and continued to carry my backpack for the rest of the trip.  Never test your luck twice.      

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                The roads outside of Pai were spectacular.  We were climbing and descending mountains at steep degrees and devastating curves.  This was truly a ride for the ages.  We had picture perfect weather and the sun provided enough Vitamin D for the rest of the year.  We climbed to the top of this hill with an incredible viewpoint.  We got off, got water, and relaxed to let nature take us in.  The view was expansive and we could see miles upon miles of emerald green mountain landscape.  Coming down from the hill was just as exciting as the view from the top.  We were braking and sliding in and out of turns, occasionally putting our foot on the ground for an extra bit of stability and balance.  This was spectacular and my favorite part of the ride thus far.  Once we reached the bottom of the hill a rice patty farm decorated the hillside.  Workers were out in their rice hats preparing the ground with their home made tools.  At that point, Scott, David, and I all realized simultaneously that this was going to be a trip we would remember.  This was only the beginning.

                We continued on, weaving through mountains and dissecting the road with our scooters.  We saw every motorbiker go by and mocked them, calling them pussies and declaring that real bikers drive scooters.  Little jokes that kept us fresh.  Around half way in between Pai and Mae Hong Son was a small town called Tham Lod.  We decided that it had a cave and we needed to see it.  We drove our scooters through this town filled with huts, little kids running around naked, families waving at us as we go by.  One small girl was paired with two younger boys and she felt the need to flash us the middle finger.  However, she was smiling as the finger was lifted high in the air.  We all started laughing and the little kids thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen.  This was the real Thailand.  This was the remote areas we had dreamed of seeing.  After exiting the town, we reached a stretch of road, one lane, that raced through tall trees.  We were riding in the middle of the jungle, road to ourselves, and breathing in clean air.  Finally, clean air. 

                We reached the cave tourist area and ate.  Walking the road down to the cave, we noticed this place had something secretive and very special.  Little kids, boys and girls, were being trained for future monkhood.  It was very interesting to watch monks speak and demonstrate the monk ways.  We were taken aback.  We were just talking about our pooping stories and these kids are hearing stories on enlightenment.  Puts things into perspective. 

                The tourist desk kept trying to get us to pay for a tour guide and we walked right past them.  We kept saying: “farang, we don’t know anything about nothing…farang sorry”.  We are assholes but it worked out for us because we toured the cave ourselves.  We walked into the pitch black as our eyes attempted to dilate.  The stench was of bat guano and soon the floor became very slippery.  Scott was the only one with a flashlight and David and I were stuck to his hip.  We saw bats flying around and boats floating by with tourists in it.  We laughed at the tourists and how dumb they are.  Funny, tourists laughing at tourists. 

                As we attempted to make our way back, David and I started seeing things.  As it become more eerie with every step I slipped.  I was going to fall so I put my hand out into straight bat crap.  Perfect.  We left the cave, I washed my hands, and we were back on the bike. 

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                We reached Mae Hong Son around sunset and parked our bikes in a night market.  We walked the night market to enter the center of the town.  It was stunning.  The middle boasted a small lake with temples surrounding the outskirts on one side and small local bars on the other.  Had we reached paradise? 

                Aching to get my large backpack off, we attempted to find a simple guesthouse that we could stay at for a night.  The first one we crossed was an armpit and a poor excuse for a room.  Two beds in what seemed like the size of a prison cell.  The showers consisted of a large pool of water with a bucket to scoop and pour over yourself.  The pool of water also portrayed a dark brown color and it looked like a jar of dip spit from an entire can of mint griz.  It was a unanimous no and we were on to find another. 

                We found a guesthouse that would suit our needs and rushed to search the night market.  I still had to buy some souvenirs but I didn’t see anything that tickled my fancy.  David came across this t-shirt stand that had the map of the Mae Hong Son loop printed on the front.  Was this destiny?  All three of us bought one of these shirts.  David went Green, Scott went Black, and I went White.  White brings out the tan better, that was my thought process. After the night market where I had attempted to buy someone else a gift, I bought myself one and we hurried to get food.

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                We found an awesome restaurant directly on the lake with a live band.  The food was fantastic and Scott and David proclaim that the burger was better than Firehouse.  I have to say I think the biking was getting to them, or maybe the beer.  After dinner, we searched the city for a small quiet bar.  To our surprise, everything was closed.  The entire street was ours and we just started running around.  We hadn’t seen empty street in God knows when.  This was incredible.  After our childish running and ranting in the empty town on Mae Hong Son, it was time for bed.  I gave Scott my computer to research what to do the next day and I conked asleep instantly. 

Day 3: The Border

                The alarm went off at 8am, followed by hitting the snooz till 8:30.  Our plan was to get up around 8, get some food, and leave by 9.  I decided we needed some extra motivation so I grabbed my laptop.  I blasted Balada and all of a sudden, the dead asleep Scott turned on his back and started pumping his fist.  David, also a mummy in his bed, began humping his bed.  The morning had begun and we were dancing in our boxers singing “le le le leche le le le leche leche leche leche”.  Best way to start a morning. 

                Big mistake giving Scott the computer.  He talked David and I to reach Mae Searang, take a left outside the city to the border of Thailand and head to the border of Myanmar.  Apparently, at this town, there is no need for a visa and we could pay the rebel force to take us to Myanmar by boat.  David and I looked at each other and we both had the same thought process “Fuck it. I’m in.”  Scott said he read that the road was a little bumpy.  I quote “a tad bumpy”.

                The ride from Mae Hong Son to Mae Sariang was again gorgeous and filled with curves that exchanged gorgeous views of mountains, green plains, and flooded rice fields.  Once we arrived to Sariang around 3pm, we grabbed a guesthouse and continued on our venture to Myanmar. 

                We raced through rice fields as their workers eagerly frisked the ground of the greatest cash crop of South East Asia.  We entered the hills and I instantly knew this road was more than just a “tad bumpy”.  The road was paved but covered in silt and sand.  My scooter fishtailed controllably as I attempted to take even the tamest curves.  I cautiously maneuvered through these treacherous roads only to find the road continue to worsen. 

                The silt and sand had now converted to slippery mud and rocks.  I manned the anchor of the group because I was by far the slowest.  David was an angry driver dying of hunger.  He wanted this ride to end quickly so food could soon enter his belly.  His crankiness only grew as the trek became more dangerous and timely.  The road no longer resembled civilization.  The mud and dirt continued to build in areas causing half the tire to sink into the bubbling brown liquid. 

                I have to admit, I was stressed.  I had already survived the Laos experience only to find myself in, yet again, another traumatic event on two wheels.  We watched as Toyota Hiluxs’, the most common truck in Asia, drove slowly passed us.  If they were going slowly, we were a snail’s pace.  The dirt from the road had converted my flawless pearly white t-shirt into a dusty brown rust coloration.  Using my shirt to wipe the sweat and dirt off my face seemed useless and I couldn’t help but think I was rubbing more dirt down my pores. 

                The “road” was now only accessible by a four wheeler and still we pressed on.  Interesting how a little motivation to experience and see the unknown pushes three aimless wondering men to continue driving.  Pools of water continued to scatter across the road.  At every pass, we stopped to assess how we were going to cross this miniature pool of brown water.  We had no clue how deep the immense puddles were or if there were large rocks that could vault us from our bikes.  David first, Scott second, and I carried the anchor.  Watching both David and Scott pass through the obstacle was mighty funny.  Both extended their legs upward and outward in an attempt to save their shoes as they hit hidden rocks that sent their bikes into a violent wobble.  It was my turn, I slowly hit the ignition and peddled my way through the murky water.  I lifted my white converse high in the sky only to catch the giant rooster tail my scooter raised through the puddle.  My shoes were coated in mud and now our bikes were muddy catastrophes.  The rocks inside the puddle provided an exciting surprise as my bike wobbled left and right only to finally straighten out as I exited the pool.  Only about three more of these instances occurred before we finally reached the town.

                The town consisted of 80% Burmese refugees.  Purely authentic, off the beaten road, and thriving with smiles, we had finally arrived.  The huts were built into the mountain overlooking the raging river that separated Thailand and Myanmar.  As we drove through the miniature village, small children chased after us waving their tiny hands and displaying the cutest smiles the world has ever seen.  We had finally arrived to the river in our attempt to reach the enchanting and mysterious land of Myanmar. 

                We raced down to the river where there was a small boat community travelling back and forth across the river.  One boat was filled with kids who were simply doing donuts in the river for over 10 minutes.  The beach was sandy and rocky with no real rhyme or reason to the boating community.  We approached a long boat where the man was piling beer, chips, and other convenience goods into his yacht.  He had this large mass of black goop in his mouth which I could only imagine was the Burmese version of chewing tobacco.  I interrupted him briefly to ask if he could “take us from this side, to that side.”  Try and make it as simple as possible because the language barrier was noticeable.  He looked at me, laughed and said yeah.  I turned to Scott and David and we all had a look of sudden surprise.  It was unexpected success.  We didn’t know if we would make the road, we weren’t sure if we would actually be able to cross, and now this dream had become reality.  Only to be crushed.  He turned back around to ask me a simple yet delicate question: “to Myanmar?”.  I gave him a tiny smile and said “Yeah!”.  He responded by laughing at me followed by a “No, no”.  We came, We saw, we were conquered. 

                Myanmar stood there across the river and we had debated whether or not we should swim across.  The sun was setting and we still needed to make the treacherous trip back before dark.  I believe it was than when the three of us had realized we had done something incredible.  We have already covered hundreds of miles on our bikes, trekked the dangerous road to Myanmar, climbed and descended the enchanting mountains of Northern Thailand, and had become incredible friends in the process.  We looked across the river at Myanmar with satisfaction.  It wouldn’t be travel if everything goes right.  We grabbed 15 Burmese cigars, hopped back on our bikes, and headed back to Mae Sariang.

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                We survived the long trek back, took a couple mosquitoes to the face flying down the rice fields at dusk, and crashed onto our beds back at the guesthouse.  Starving, we crossed the street for by far the best meal of my tenure in Thailand.  I ordered three dishes: tuna sandwich, Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, and the mouth watering fried chicken on a lemongrass stick, wrapped in bacon and dipped in Thai sweet chili sauce.  I ate all of it, my mouth is still watering.  After enjoying our dinner, we ordered a couple of beers and each lit up a Burmese cigar.  We could not have been more relaxed.  Not a care or worry in the world.  No economical downfall to stress about, no homework, no stress. 

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                We made friends at the bar who told us about the road we had just conquered earlier that day.  Apparently, there was a massive landslide that took out the majority of the road.  The landslide eroded so much of the road that the village was unreachable by any motor vehicle for over two months.  The two months previous we arrived.  We had just crossed this road in our Honda Fino scooters.  Needless to say, we felt a sense of pride and accomplishment.  We felt pretty bad ass. 

                We brought out the Jagermeister and took a round of shots.  The bartender was incredibly nice, gave us a free beer and a shot of Thai local whiskey.  Even if it’s free, it is almost never worth taking a shot of Thai whiskey.  We again were the only ones walking the streets.  I looked up and noticed the moon had been cut in half.  Not vertically like the moon in the states but horizontally.  The half moon looked half full. 

Day 4: The Race back to Chiang Mai

                Our last leg of the journey brought us from Mae Sariang, through a city named Hot, and back to Chiang Mai.  We began in the morning early because we did not want to pay for another day for our scooters and we needed to get them back to the rental shop by 6pm.  Plus, we had a couple of stops we needed to make along the way.

                We exited Mae Sariang and headed for Hot.  As we began down the road, the landscape began to change drastically.  Pine trees began to appear and scatter the grounds where jungle used to dominate.  Continuing down the road, pine trees now covered the hills and the road turned into pavement and the asphalt improved drastically.  Cars began to appear out of thin air and we were back in traffic.  The road no longer winded up, down, and around hills and instead parked itself at the bottom of the valley.  All of a sudden, a clear river popped out of nowhere and the road surprisingly followed the river.  Was this Oregon, did Thailand finally decide to make sense?  I stretched my neck around and couldn’t believe my eyes.  The pine trees, river, and rolling hills reminded me of Oregon.  At our first stop, I turned to Scott and asked him if this reminded him of Canada.  We both agreed that this was no longer Thailand and we were biking through North America.  So this is what it is like to have a bike in Oregon. 

                We arrived in Hot and the place is adequately named because it was a scorcher.  We enjoyed a quick bite to eat and headed towards Doi Inthanon.  We took a left off the main highway and pressed on to Doi Inthanon.  Doi Inthanon is a Thai National Park that boasts the tallest peak in all of Thailand. 

                The bike up the mountain was not easy and the degree of steepness did work on our bikes.  We were flooring our bikes constantly and rarely ever reached higher than 50 kilometers an hour.  David’s bike was especially struggling and we weren’t sure if he was going to make it.  The drive was gorgeous.  Again we were climbing up and around green spiraling mountains to breathtaking views over the vast landscape of Thailand.  The road was busier than I would have preferred but no complaints here. 

                We finally reached the top where two towering monuments stood in memorial.  The two temples provided a proper tribute to the peaks of the mountain.  Each temple mirrored the other with the exception of their color.  Both with tall, jetting peaks that came to a sharp tip.  At the temple, overlooking the edge, I raised my Beaver Nation t-shirt.  I claimed the ground of Thailand for Beaver Nation.  Go Beavs!

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                We exited the temple area to reach the true mark of the tallest peak.  This was far less exciting but it was important to see the sign.  David, Scott, and I all stood in front of the sign.  I was holding the Beaver Nation shirt, David displayed his Costa Rica Imperial Cevecerria Beer Flag, and Scott stood in the middle, defeated by the fact he had brought nothing to represent Canada. 

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                We hopped back on our bikes which were completely empty with gas and prayed we could make it to a gas station.  The climb up had required significant stress on the bike which in turn drank up all the gas.  Lucky for us, the road was so steep coming down that we never had to use our gas descending the slope of the mountain.

                We stopped at a waterfall on the way down and grabbed some ice cream.  The waterfall was incredible.  The roaring falls were our last stop before we entered Chiang Mai.  David and I reluctantly followed Scott up steep and wobbly stone steps to a viewpoint.  We reached the top only to find out that there was no viewpoint.  David looked like he wanted to shoot himself or jump off the waterfall.  I was a sweaty mess and Scott was just a frustrated Canadian looking for what I am sure would have been an incredible viewpoint.  O well, on to the next one.

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                We raced back to Chiang Mai and the road had turned into a bona fide freeway.  For all we knew, this was a racetrack.  In the beginning, the scooters were getting the best of us.  After 4 days, horrible roads, winding and twisting curves, and close calls, we were professionals on our bikes.  We were full throttle the entire highway.  Weaving in and out of cars, the Thai highway might as well have been the autobahn.  My backpack tassles flickered in the wind creating a harmonic slapping sound against the pack. 

                As we reached 100 km/ph, 110 km/ph, and finally 115, we truly were speeding.  No cops, no problems, no regrets.  The confidence on the scooters had been built over time and traffic soon turned into a nuisance.  We finally caught up with the Chiang Mai traffic.  However, we had found that if your body can fit through a gap, so could the scooter.  We weaved through stationary traffic, avoiding no one but other fellow bikers to reach the front of the line.  Every light we hit, we raced to the front and cut the line.  The weaving we had feared in the beginning following the girls had now become just another adrenaline rush to fuel our need for a testosterone buzz. 

                We arrived to Chiang Mai and had to hurriedly find the rental shop.  Traffic was severe and maneuvering the streets was a test.  We made our way through the bustling streets to find POPS motorbike rentals.  We dropped our bikes off, checked in just in time, and made our way to burritos.  The bikes needed to be returned by 6pm and we checked them back in at 5:50.  We jumped and high fived each other and hoots and hollers ensued.  We had made it over 350 miles with no crashes, no spills, and nothing but great memories. 

                I believe in fate, without a doubt.  I was supposed to travel to Vietnam by myself during the time I had between Chiang Mai and Conners’ arrival.  However, caught up in finals, I forgot to apply for my Vietnam visa.  By the time I came to and realized this harsh reality, it was already too late to apply.  However, I could care less.  I am glad things didn’t work out because if it had, I would have missed out on the highlight of the last 6 months.  This trip was incredible.  Filled with incredible sights, spontaneous adventure, and brotherly love, this trek was filled with memories preserved for the rest of my life.  Throwing caution to the wind, we hopped on our bikes and headed for no man’s land.  We performed dangerous passes on unsettling curves, slid over gravel and mud, flew threw highways, and arrived safe and sound.  Scott and David, it was an honor riding with you boys.  Take care and good luck with the rest of your endeavors.  Le le le leche le le le leche, leche leche leche.  Much love boys.

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P.S. Love you mom and dad!

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My Last Night In Evergreen

The Rightful Evergreen Farewell

The Last Night In Evergreen

                I am sitting here in the lobby of Evergreen, my last night, noticing how fast time flys by!  I leave for Chiang Mai tomorrow to visit my mom there and enjoy the festival of lights, Loy Krathong, and I can’t help but throw back some tears.  Tears of joy.  This will be my last night in Evergreen, my home for the last 4 months.  I have now been abroad for 5 months and don’t regret a single thing.  Sure, I missed out on India because I practiced poor time management.  But to be honest, no time here was wasted, ever.  Whether it was hanging in the room, ordering pizza, and enjoying a few beers while we watched some crappy movie on HBO, or spent a night we will never remember hitting the clubs and back alleyways of Bangkok, this will be a an experience never repeated again in my life.  The best part, by far, the people I have befriended here. 

                I have a final this morning at 9am, it is international economics.  This class is the biggest waste of time I have ever put towards academics. This is my last night in Evergreen and one of the last nights I can go out with all the special people I have met here.  I leave tomorrow for Chiang Mai and by the time I get back to Bangkok, many of these friends will not be here.  Tonight was a long round of goodbyes. 

                I had a final today and on top of that, I spent at least 7 hours studying for international economics.  I should be going out tonight, experiencing the last night with these beloved friends but instead, I decided to come down to the lobby and stress about a subject I have no interest in.  Now, I am taking my time to express how insignificant a gpa can be and how much I will miss this place.

I am skipping my last night on the town because my teacher decided to take a simple subject and make it as difficult as possible.  What is the point?  I am a marketing major and will never have to create a quota graph for the rest of my career.  I bust my back for this lady for what? Her approval?  I don’t need it.  I don’t need her approval and I don’t need a strong gpa to prove myself in the business world.  I am a creative, intelligent, and motivated human being.  Sorry economics does not fit my repertoire. 

                My theory has always been this: “You will never remember the test but will always remember the time spent with family and friends.”  Since when did GPA, three little letters decide someone’s future?  Screw that.  All I need is family, friends, and God.  Tonight, after stressing over quotas, tariffs, the Mundell-Fleming Model, and subsidies, I decided to have one last beer, one last Chang, with the group. 

                The topics we spoke of were depressing and yet cherished.  There is no greater compliment that “I will miss you buddy” and no greater promise than “Our paths will cross again”.  I truly believe that I will see many of these people again in the future.  I wish them all the best of luck and want them to know that I will miss them and that I love them. 

                The past five months have been a necessary learning experience for me.  Not only did I learn so much about South East Asia, the cultures and people of Europe, the friendliness of the Canadians, the relaxing style of Latin Americans (Leche), and an immense pride for being a Beaver, I learned more than I could ever imagine about myself.  But I have to tell you, it hasn’t been always very easy and the people here have made it near impossible to have any complaints, ever.  You all at home have helped me get through some times where I just needed to hear your voices.  I am the luckiest guy on the face of the earth.  I have the best parents on earth and a sister I would never share with anyone, she is my sister, you can’t have her. 

                Last week I was fortunate enough o have my parents come and visit me here in Bangkok.  It was an honor and a pleasure to show them the city that I have grown to adore.  Bangkok is an experience like none other and it continues to give back graciously.  I spent Thanksgiving with them on the beaches in the south where limestone mountains curtailed sandy beaches.  Where palm trees replaced Christmas trees and pad thai replaced the Thanksgiving Turkey.  On Thanksgiving we rode elephants, chang, for God’s sake.  This has been an unreal experience that I am so grateful for.  My parents have shown me how to care for their kids and I can’t wait to raise kids of my own.  I hope I can raise them as well as my parents have raised me and Tori. 

                I don’t know what the future holds for me, that is exciting.  I don’t know if I will start a multi-million dollar company with a great friend, become a beach bum and start a bar, or just become a drifter.  I don’t care.  My uncle once asked me, “What do you think happiness is?”.  I had no answer, we were sitting at my cousin’s baseball game when U of P was playing Oregon State and the question threw me off guard.  I didn’t know.  He told me that “happiness is being grateful for what you have.”  Well, I am truly happy because I understand that I have done and have more than probably 90% of the world.  I have the greatest family ever, the best friends a man could ask for, and I know God has a plan for me that will be more rewarding than I could ever know.  I don’t need a strong gpa, a good test grade, or anyone’s opinion on whether or not I will be successful and everyone should feel this way also. 

                                All I can say is, I am excited to see everyone back home but tonight has been incredible bittersweet.  I have had my last beer with some great people and but at least I got to share that beer.  I am so lucky it isn’t even funny.  Everyone at Evergreen, Asoke, and Nonsi, I will remember you forever.  Don’t forget what you learned here and how the world really works.  It is amazing how different cultures can be, and yet so similar.  There is so much from this study abroad experience, its benefits, and the friendships that we may not realize till later down the road.  I guarantee this experience will better everyone’s lives, it has already made a large impact on mine.  I will miss you all greatly but it is not a goodbye.  This is my see you all soon.  I don’t believe in goodbyes, it is never the end.            

               From the first weekend in Koh Chang, to the full moon party, to the Beaver “gameday drunks”, to Laos, to Marketing Strategy, to petting the tigers, to McDonalds delivery, to Koa Sahn road, to Route 66, to mole tattoos, towers of beer, pints of Hong Thong, Sangson, golfing driving range, hotel parties, to Soi Cowboy, to scooters, to midterms, to finals, to crappy classes and classes that will change our lives forever, to pool parties, to movie nights, to guys night out, to going out on school nights, to Tuk Tuks, to incompetent taxi drivers, to Halloween, to cruises on the Chao Phraya, to buckets, to Krabi, to my family, to jumping in the pool with our Chula uniforms on, and to everything I missed and everything to happen in the future: Cheers! Skal! Salud! Pura Vida! Prost! Gan bei! Sante! Choc Tee! But most importantly, thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you all.

-Chase Vincent Boedigheimer

“Cheezy”

P.S. I love you mom and dad! Love you Tori! Thank you!                             

Happy Halloween! The Mighty Chang

                One thing I do miss about the fall is celebrating all the great holidays that fall from October through November.  Thanksgiving will be weird and Halloween was very interesting.  Halloween is not celebrated in South East Asia at all.  No special pumpkin cut cookies, pumpkin pie, ghosts, or goblins.  Halloween does not appear in any advertising, restaurant specials, or specialty cocktails.  The holiday is completely absent from the Thai culture.  Mainly because Asian culture is incredibly respectful and cognoscente of spirits.  Ghosts are not seen as humorous or scary but feared in a respectful way.  Ghosts are people’s ancestors and commonly prayed to.

                The women do not dress up in the American slutty fashion, little kids do not trick-or-treat, and the men don’t wear women costumes.  If the men dress up like women, they are lady boys and that is a year round recognition.  As an American or Canadian would, we turned this Halloween absence as a challenge.  We had to show Bangkok what Halloween was all about while also spreading influence to the Europeans in our group. 

                I had no clue what to dress up as and there are little costume stores in Bangkok.  There are no Goodwills here in Bangkok where I can slap together a cheap costume.  Nick, David, Nate, and I walked around MBK, a huge shopping mall, for around an hour searching for costume ideas.  I came up with nothing.  A lightbulb went off in my big ol noggin and I knew what had to be done.  I remembered I packed grey sweatpants and a grey sweatshirt hoodie.  Both of which, was incredibly pointless to pack.  I packed three sweatshirts and a rain jacket that I never use.  I should have known it would be 80+ degrees the entire six months abroad.  I bought a grey tank top at MBK for 3 dollars and my genious plan was underway.

Again, Chang means elephant.  I was an elephant. 

                I came back to the room, took scissors to the new grey shirt I had just bought, took a shoelace from my Nikes, and created my trunk.  I tied the trunk to my cut out ears with shoeless and “The Mighty Chang” was born.  I was an all grey elephant fit for any 5 year old costume.  I looked like a little kid ready for a night out trick-or-treating.  Needless to say, I looked good.  My creativity and imagination at it again, full force.  David bought a gorilla mask and a chinamen hat, Nick borrowed my golf shorts and dressed as a country club golfer, and Nate just wore black.  Nate felt the need to look good. 

                We went over to Asoke because Jaime, Canadian fellow Halloween enthusiast rocking the risky business costume, came up with the great idea to throw a Halloween party.  Time to get rowdy.  The entire international group dressed up in multiple different costumes.  We had witches, Muay Thai fighters, Starbuck’s coffees, country club golfer, elephant, guys with stuffed animals on their heads, flowers, geisha girls, and much more.  Of course, there were the bros who dressed as ladyboys.  The greatest costume and personality of all was Jacob.  He completely bought into the lady boy lifestyle and Nick, David, and I were a little concerned with how well he was portraying the lady boy personality.  It was almost as if he had done that before…This felt like Halloween back in the states.  Except the Europeans didn’t get the fact that your supposed to dress slutty.  Would have liked to have seen more skin, but this just means I will cherish next Halloween more haha.

                We played beer pong for the first time in a couple months and I could have sworn I was back in the states.  But o no, this was Bangkok and we were hitting up the one and only Halloween party we knew of, Route 66.  Time to get weird.

                We arrived to the club and it was packed to the brim with people.  I am at this point sweating like crazy.  This is Bangkok, its around 85 degrees even at 11pm with 80% humidity, and I am walking through a packed crowd where the body heat is sweltering, in a full sweatsuit.  You could say the color of my outfit started as light grey and ended in a black tone.  My elephant costume was receiving mixed reviews from the Thai people.  This costume was baller and would have been a hit in America.  The Thais are dressed up and only a few had costumes on.  Most costumes were scary or Gangnam Style, which is now really old here in Asia. Oppa…shut up!

                I had a couple great lines set up for the Thai women here.  I would rest my trunk on their shoulder to get them to turn around and I would say things like “If you think this trunk is long…” and others similar. I was receiving no attention at all.  I lost the group and was walking around trying not to die from dehydration.  I finally met up with the group and was pleasantly surprised to see everyone was on another level.  This truly was Halloween.  Nate was going around pouring his bottle of Johnny Walker into everyone’s mouth, Nick was jumping around with a constant smile, looking truly white with his dance moves and outfit combination, the girls were getting their flirt on, and it was truly a typical Halloween. 

                I was frustrated that my elephant trunk was not doing the trick, annoyed that it was in my face the entire time, and decently intoxicated which resulted in me throwing it into the crowd.  Mid flight, I yelled “Who wants my trunk? Go and get it!”  The trunk, ears, and shoeless went soaring into the crowd where it hit a young lady in the back of the head.  I witnessed her pick up the trunk, express a very confused look, and drop it back on the ground.  Instantly I knew that no one gave a shit about my trunk.  I did not realize until the morning that I had just thrown my shoelace.  Now my Nike shoe is worthless until I buy another pair of shoelaces.  Way to go Chase, smooth move buddy. 

                Now I am dancing without my trunk and my costume is nothing more than a grey sweatsuit.  It didn’t matter to me.  The best part of the night wasn’t the fact that it was Halloween.  It wasn’t the fact that the club was packed.  The costumes were not the highlight.  It was the group.  We hadn’t all gone out and partied together as a BBA group in a long time.  As time continues to tick down, and this experience comes to a close, you begin to really cherish those moments.  You don’t know how many times that we can all go out as a group again.  We were dancing together, drinking together, and more importantly enjoying each other’s company.  That was the best part by far.  I want to give a shout out to the BBA group for making this Halloween one for the books. 

                We all got in taxis, came back to evergreen, and ordered some good ol’ McDonalds delivery.  Great way to end a great night.  Happy Halloween ya’ll. 

p.s. love you mom and dad.  See you and my sista Tori in 5 days!   

Shaken, not Stirred

Wednesday afternoon, our Marketing Strategy class had a special guest speaker who would present after our classmates presented our case studies.  The case study was awesome.  We were in charge of either Transformers 3 or Harry Potter 7 and needed to create an integrated marketing communications strategy for our selected movie to beat out the other movie in ticket sales.  I thoroughly enjoyed this project because I could really get creative.  We were required to incorporate mobile marketing, guerrilla marketing, and mass marketing into our marketing phases.  Anyway, I have just become side tracked again but want to let everyone know that this Marketing Strategy class has been the most rewarding class I have ever taken and Aj. Yayus Mak, our teacher, has both challenged me and motivated me to think creatively more than any teacher I have ever had.  She is a genius.  That’s my shout out.

The presentations were very creative and fun to watch.  We always have a break in the middle of class and the second half was set aside for the guest speaker to present.  During break, I was told that she was the Senior Sales Director for Sony and that she had been working with Disney on the new James Bond film Skyfall.  Without even hesitating, I knew I had to skip break, go back upstairs, and introduce myself.  I have been watching the James Bond films religiously since I was a small kid.  I remember renting the old Bond movies at the public library.  The LIBRARY! I don’t even think that exists anymore. 

I went upstairs and walked into the room.  It was perfect because it was just the lady from Sony and one more student.  I came in, said “I heard you were working on Skyfall and I have to admit I have seen all 22 Bond films.”  Great opening line, smooth.  We spoke about the challenges of marketing an English movie in South East Asia where there is still strong anti-British sentiment.  They pretty much colonized a good chunk of South East Asia.  Them and the French.  She let me in on a secret regarding Heinekens involvement with the movie and their marketing scheme.  She also gave me a hint that she brought prizes along with her and there will be a great prize for two of the students in our class.  I pretty much melted right there cause any Bond prize is just awesome. 

She presented and spoke about the film industry.  Her insight was very rewarding and I now view the movie industry as a business more than entertainment.  Much more goes into a film than I ever imagined and marketing these movies is a greater challenge than people believe.  After her presentation, she dropped the bomb on us that she had two tickets for the James Bond Gala Premiere in Bangkok.  I started shaking, no joke.  The coffee I just had at break was not helping right now as my heart was about to pop. 

How it worked was completely luck.  She tore up around 20 pieces of paper.  One piece to represent each student.  On two of the pieces of paper, she wrote her initials.  If you picked one of those papers out of the box, you won the ticket.  I can’t explain it, but somehow I knew I was going to get a ticket.  I have weird luck with these things.  I won a ticket to see Alex Rodriguez when I was 10ish by picking the short straw, I won a raffle in Mexico on my birthday and won a finger painting, that was also a raffle, and I have had multiple experiences of just pure luck.  Plus, this was James Bond.  This was fate.  I had reruns of Sean Connery playing in my head, I had flashbacks to when I argued like crazy with my mom to let me watch Goldeneye when I was too young, and I just knew this had to happen.

We all pulled out a piece of paper and opened them all at the same time.  I opened my small, tiny, piece of computer paper.  It was not to be.  I did not get the ticket, no Willy Wonka golden ticket that would take me to the Bond Factory.  Instead two women won the tickets, one from Germany and the other from the Netherlands.  I couldn’t believe it, no Bond. 

But wait, Anna from the Netherlands, who had just won a ticket, is leaving for Vietnam for the weekend and can’t go.  Round 2 Baby! There was still life in me and I liked my chances.  Everyone put there pieces of paper back in the box and I just kept bouncing up and down like an anxious and giddy 5 year old waiting to ride a roller coaster.  I looked dumb but didn’t care, I had a second chance!

We all pulled a single piece of paper once again.  Opened the paper up all at the same time, and my paper had two small squiggles.  I stared at it for a split second in disbelief.  I had an inkling that I would win the ticket but it is always blind hope.  It is always just a lie to tell yourself that you are going to win to avoid the pain after losing.  But this was no pain.  I fell numb and couldn’t feel my arms as I raised both of them up in tribulation.  “Booyah” is what rang out of my mouth as the entire class gave me the evil eye.  I was accused of cheating, I was bribed, I was ecstatic.  These tickets were mine.

I was supposed to go to Cambodia, I was supposed to see this with my dad when he came here, but pppsshhh screw that.  I am hitting up that red carpet baby!  I was presented with the ticket from Subha-Orn, the Sony lady, and left the class with a grin.  A grin that wouldn’t recede all weekend.  Some may call it a smirk because they were bitter but trust me, that was a full blown smile. 

I instantly went back to the hotel, pulled out come cash, and went on my way to get my fitted suit.  This was fun. What kind of suit, slim, ultra slim, relaxed fit, one vent, two vents, no vents?  Totally customized.  I decided to go black pants (slim fit), black jacket (super slim fit), and white dress shirt (super slim fit).  I work out, might as well have a suit that shows off the bod.  They took their measurements, asked me a few questions, and I was out the door.  I returned the next day, put on the clothes, made some more adjustments and was out the door again.  Came back Saturday, put on the suit for some last minute adjustments and found out that no adjustments were needed.  The suit fit perfectly.  I was out the door with my new suit Saturday night.  Felt like a CEO. 

Monday night was the Gala Premiere and I was so anxious to put my suit on and get there that I was an hour early.  I was so excited.  Nina and I took a taxi to Central World, the biggest mall in Bangkok, took the elevator the 7th floor and waited for further instructions.  I rocked the bow tie because, well, who are we kidding, that’s what Bond would have done.  Much to my chagrin, everyone wore a bow-tie.  I thought I was going to be unique but whatever, I still rocked that suit and in my opinion looked the best dressed.  I was expecting cameras to call out “Daniel, Mr. Craig, can we get a minute?” or “Bond, Bond, can we get an interview” as I walked down the red carpet.  I had a response “No sorry, you have the wrong guy.  I am Boedigheimer, Chase Boedigheimer.  I am the new Bond for the 2016 film”.  It was going to be great.

We got our tickets, met up with our teacher, and took photos.  Yayus Mak asked me if the Thais take a lot of pictures and I said, “not as much as a high school girl”.  God, I am one funny guy.  We took photos, watched a fashion show, and drank a free Heineken.  I was introduced to the president of the cinema, the British Ambassador, the President of Marketing for Sony, and was able to see first hand how large companies like Heineken and Coca-Cola Zero incorporated their integrated marketing strategy into the Bond movie.  Truly an amazing experience.  Also was able to pose with some Thai models, my bond girls.  It was funny, there were Thai celebrities everywhere but I had no clue who they were.  Didn’t really care either to be honest.  Nina and I were getting some long hard looks and people were curious why we were there.  Most of the people in attendance to this event were either celebrities or important business figures.  I am just this 21 year old farang, their slang term for white foreigner, who really didn’t deserve to be there at all.  I was also getting long hard looks because I looked damn good.  Damn Good!

The movie was awesome.  I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it but I highly recommend it.  One of the best Bond movies in a very long time.  Overall, the night was amazing.  I have to thank Aj. Yayus Mak for presenting this opportunity and Subha-Orn for being incredibly generous.  Big shoutout to Subha-Orn for coming to present her knowledge and wisdom in class and her generosity and sincerity.  It was an incredible night and something I will remember for a long time. 

P.S. Love you mom and dad      

Malaysia- The Melting Pot of the World

The second week of October, two days after my return from Laos, I lifted off from Duang Maeng Airport in Bangkok in route to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  My roommate, David, and I planned on staying at his buddies place just outside of the city in Cyberjaya.  I had few expectations, but ultimately knew nothing about Malaysia.  I knew Kuala Lumpur had the two large towers and that Malaysia has some of the most gorgeous beaches and islands in the entire world.  I was excited to stay with David’s friends place because I figured living with a local would be an amazing experience.  I figured he would know of the best clubs, best beaches, and greatest places to eat.

We arrived at the airport an entire hour early.  We reached our gate and I became incredibly thirsty all of the sudden.  I looked at the duty free shop for some water.  To my surprise, the shelves were packed with everything but water.  I saw the prices, knew I was getting a great deal and bought a liter of Malibu rum.  I hadn’t drank Malibu rum since high school.  I thought this would be a great house warming gift and a token of appreciation to David’s friend.  I bought it thinking David and I would save it for that night.  Here is the kicker, when I bought the bottle, I asked the lady if we could drink this on the plane.  It was more of a hypothetical question and curiosity took over.  She said “absolutely”.  I surprised David with a bottle of Malibu and we enjoyed a good amount of that bottle in flight.  When life gives you lemons, squeeze the shit out of them.  You can’t bring your own bottle onto a plane in the states so I made sure to take this opportunity.

We arrived around 11pm at Cyberjaya where I met Virgil for the first time.  He is a good buddy of David’s and they go back to the high school days in Costa Rica.  We left Virgil’s, bottle in hand, and headed to his friends house.  This was just like college all over again, very refreshing.  The last 4 months have been nothing but hotels, bungalows, and the occasional floor.  Don’t get me wrong, no complaints here, but it was nice to be back in the college atmosphere.  We arrived to his friends place and I was introduced to a whole new world.  The diversity of the group was incredible.  There was a person represented from across the world.  Egypt, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Taiwan, and the lone American.  We hung out, relaxed, and polished the bottle of Malibu.  Went back to Virgil’s, fell asleep, and woke up around 2pm the next day.

Day2:  Woke up late but it felt great to finally sleep in.  Never slept past 9 in Laos and had to wake up early for the last 3 days for school.  This was a refreshing break.  We left Virgil’s and went to Matteo’s place.  Matteo is from Brazil and lived with Eva, from Sudan, and Rebecca????????, from Brazil.  The loud and hilarious Lucky from Sri Lanka came over with a bottle of vodka and we started playing poker.  We all put 50 ringgits in the pot, which is around 10 US dollars.  Malaysia is much more expensive than Thailand.  3 ringgits is 1 US dollar.  David, the lucky bastard, won the final pot and I was out first.  Poker can really suck sometimes.  It was still very fun playing poker with people from around the world.  Everyone had different rules, different playing styles, and different ways to argue or try and cheat their way into winning.  Arguments broke out and it was hilarious listening to different accents argue amongst each other.

After poker, we were feeling pretty good.  We went back to Virgil’s, got dressed, and went into Kuala Lumpur to hit up the nightclubs.  We met up with Maya from Pakistan who had the most gorgeous eyes you will ever see.  We drank a couple drinks at a couple bars and suddenly boredom set in.  What to do when boredom sets in and the bars begin to close?  Eva, the girl from Sudan, knew of a after hours club that she highly recommends.  In addition, it was an all black club.  I was real excited for this and pretty pumped to check this place out.  We arrived around 3am to a club that was crammed into a parking garage.  The bar was called the Long Table.  This was the first time I had really felt culture shock because I was the only white person there and I knew I was the only American.  I said, screw it, this is going to be fun.

We ordered a tower, put it at a table, and observed.  Eva had connections here and knew the owner of the bar very well.  All the students I was with were ambassadors for their country.  Eva told me that I should tell the bar owner that I was the ambassador for the United States.  I gladly stepped up to that challenge and pretty much showed our true colors.  He brought us a free bottle of vodka with free sprites and cokes.  It was awesome, I shook the man’s hand, looked him straight in the eye, told him I was the ambassador for the United States of America, and continued onto the dance floor.  To my left was an overweight women, hands on the floor, ass up, with her pants half way down her ass.  Her crack was easily visible, it was gross.  To my right were some big dudes staring right at white boy.  So, as I stood there feeling awkward, with the Malaysian group looking at me like what is he about to do, I did what anyone would do.  I challenged the chick who was bending over with the ass crack open for everyone to see to a dance off.  I clearly won, my table was going crazy, the big dudes to the right and the djs behind me were all cracking up, the fat girl was upset, and the table of women in front of me were clapping.  I walked off that dance floor, beating my chest with both hands, shouting “white boy! White boy just did it!”.  We continued to enjoy our night with plans of leaving towards the beach the next day.  It was a solid plan until we got back to Cyberjaya at 7am. 

We woke up at 6pm.  What to do?  Might as well go to David Guetta who is performing at the Sepang Raceway.  Not a big deal, I geuss we can ditch the beach for David Guetta.  Crazy to think that a huge concert was an after thought.  I am not really a huge fan of David Guetta but I figured, if I am going to see him, why not see him in Kuala Lumpur.

It was awesome.  Alesso opened for Guetta.  I don’t know who he is but I enjoyed him.  My favorite line of the night was “Oppa Guetta Style”.  I thought it was funny and I repeated it probably 100 times the entire night.  I could tell people were getting annoyed but I am the funniest guy I know.  The concert was packed, probably around 10-20 thousand people there.  Some of the most beautiful women you have ever seen.  My taste in women has, well, expanded I guess you could say.  There were gorgeous girls from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and all were super fit and gorgeous eyes.

Geutta was great, he loved Malaysia, and we left around 5am.  Came back and continued to party in Cyberjaya.  Again, the room was incredibly diverse.  People were from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Tehran, Malaysia, and again, the lone American.

The rest of the weekend was pretty much rinse and repeat.  Go to bed in the morning, wake up in the evening, eat, play poker, go out to Kuala Lumpur…rinse and repeat. 

What I learned from Malaysia surprised me.  I had no clue that Malaysia was a Muslim country.  I had no clue that Kuala Lumpur is possibly the greatest melting pot in the world.  Everyone says New York is the greatest melting pot but Kuala Lumpur puts that statement to the test.  Food ranged from Arabian to Malaysian to Kazakhstani to American.  I met people from Kazakhstan, Brazil, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Tehran, Mexico, Sudan, and all over the world. 

The coolest and most rewarding aspect of Malaysia was that I finally realized the importance of education.  Not in a knowledge sense but in a cultural sense.  I have always known that school is important in understanding how business and the world works, even though I believe experience trumps lectures any day, but how education affects people’s perceptions.  All we hear about in the states is how the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world hates Americans.  I expected minor hostility from those students I met from Iraq and Iran.  I did, I just have always been told to be careful.  Which is so dumb and now I feel very ignorant.  I never once felt any anti-American vibe from anyone.  The people from Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan showed me the greatest hospitality and I learned a lot about how ignorant I was.  This is why I hate the news, always bad news, always a one-sided perception, and our news more than any other news displayed across the world is so egocentric. 

Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Malaysia.  It may have been the most eye opening experience I Have had abroad.  Kuala Lumpur is incredibly westernized and developed.  The highways are nicer than the highways in the states.  The roads are clean, the buildings are nice, and the layout for the city is incredibly organized.  The nightlife is not nearly on Bangkok’s level.  The food is incredible, much more variety and better quality than Bangkok.  I lived with men and women from around the globe and realized that people are all the same.  We all yearn for a connection and we all want to get along.  It may take escaping home to come to Malaysia but those kids didn’t care.  Americans are not perceived as bad around the world.  I truly believe that all cultures can get along peacefully.  I am a full supporter of education because I think it is the only tool that can fully obliterate all past perceptions and spur new beginnings. 

P.s. Love you mom and dad

I Made my First Million at 21…

This last weekend was the greatest adventure of my entire life.  Laos is the most beautiful, exciting, friendly, and scenic country I have ever visited.  1 US dollar= 8,000 Kip.  I was carrying around 1.6 Million Kip.  Laos is now the third country in Asia I have had the opportunity to visit and every country continues to be distinctly different.

Day 1:  Nate, Carli, and I decided to hop on the sleeper train from Bangkok to the edge of Thailand.  It was a typical sleeper train ride, drink a few beers and experience lousy sleep.  This time, in contrast to the full moon sleeper train, I could not sleep because the bunk above me continued to unhinge and swing loudly with a ear piercing creaking noise.  Nate, Carli, and I enjoyed our two Singha beers and planned our ambitious travel plans through Laos.  We had decided that we would float the river in Vang Vieng on Friday, travel to Luang Prabang and see the waterfalls on Saturday, travel to the Plain of Jars on Sunday, and travel back to Vientiane and back to Bangkok on Monday.  Very ambitious but we thought we could make it.  We even entertained the idea of seeing the Four Thousand Islands at the very end of the Mekong River and the border of Cambodia.  However, we figured that would be impossible.  We fell asleep and I was dreaming of Laos, sleeping on the bottom bed, until the top sleeper bed suddenly popped up.  I have to say, it startled me as I woke up delirious and confused.  I closed the top sleeper and went back to bed.  This happened every thirty minutes.  I tried tying the bed down with the sleeper blinds but that was no use.  I finally said screw this and hopped up on the top sleeper and moved everything in order to sleep.  However, the top bun was freezing and the air conditioner was on full blast and loud.  I took my pillow and put it over my head.  This fulfilled two requirements: canceled out the noise of the air conditioner and trapped the heat escaping from my head.  I am brilliant.  Sleep.

Day2: We wake up in a border town on the edge of Thailand and Laos.  We hop out of the train, go through customs, and receive our Laos visa at the border.  The visa was 35 US dollars and put a really cool sticker in my passport.  We took another mini train to cross over from Thailand into Laos on the “Friendship Bridge” that crossed the Mekong River.  Once we crossed the border, we hopped on a minivan and trekked onward toward the capital city, Vientiane.  We stopped at a guesthouse to order some lunch and were pleasantly surprised by the menu.  Carli and I ordered a club sandwich and Nate ordered a potato omelet and ham and eggs.  We got our American grub on but we decided to spice it up.  We ordered barbeque eel.  I did not like it, did not taste like bbq and it tasted incredibly fishy.  Nate loved it.

We hopped on another bus that traveled from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.  Nate went rogue for about an hour to go find a dirt bike to rent for the entire trip.  He was going to follow the bus the entire way to Vang Vieng because he didn’t know how to get there and we didn’t have a map.  However, Carli and I were sitting in the bus, which was planned to leave at 2, worrying about where Nate was.  He hadn’t shown up yet and it was 1:50.  We wondered whether or not to wait for him and get out of the bus or ditch him behind.  I was thinking, probably not a good idea to ditch him, but I wasn’t going to let Nate ruin my trip because he went off on his own to do his own adventure.  Plus, I have complete faith in Nate in finding his way.  Carli and I participated in a rock paper scissors where if Carli won, we would stay.  I won, we were leaving.  We decided to leave Nate a note saying we had left because he took too long to find a bike.  We were on the bus ready to leave when Nate showed up with 2 minutes to spare.  A huge sigh of relief.  Off on the bus we went with Nate on his bike to Vang Vieng.

We arrived to Vang Vieng around 8pm and searched for Nate.  Thankfully, Nate was at the hotel we said to meet at and he had already made friends with the hotel staff.  We set up camp at Ithira Hotel and instantly had a BeerLao.  BeerLao is fantastic and is much better than any Thai beer.  We had dinner and the hotel staff continued to hand us BeerLao.  The staff was awesome and they loved our company.  I think we enjoyed their company even more.  Enoy, Low, and Lee were all local Laotians and they taught us the drinking ways in Laos.  If you have a beer, you pour it into a glass and had it to someone.  That person finishes it, passes it back, it is filled up again, and handed to a new person.  Rinse and Repeat.  Enoy was the funniest hotel staff member I have ever met.  He kept filling buckets up with Sprite, red bull, and Laos whiskey.  He would bring it over, and we would all, including the staff, chug the entire bucket out of straws.  They kept handing us drinks all night and I hadn’t even planned on drinking that night at all.  It was awesome but we started getting nervous that our bill was going to be outrageous.  We decided to get three shots of Lao Lao, which is the Laos rice wine, and called it a night.  We asked for the bill and to our surprise, all we had to pay for was the food.  The hotel incurred all the alcohol costs and we couldn’t believe the hospitality the staff had shown us.  We stumbled back to our hotel room and passed out.

Day2:  We woke up, little hungover but excited for the day ahead.  We got breakfast at the hotel, which was also free, and determined that we should float the river as soon as possible.  We applied sunblock, bug spray, and were out the door.  We decided that we could not stay another night in Vang Vieng and the hotel was kind enough to hold our items behind their desk until we returned from the float.  We quickly grabbed a couple beers, some water, and waterproof bags to hold our cameras and clothes.  We took a tuk tuk to the innertube rental and raced to the river.  The river was brown, completely opposite from the rivers in Oregon, but the views from this river were spectacular.  Huge limestone mountains rimmed the river along with small podunk houses and villages.  The bars along the river have been permanently closed due to the increased death rate of drunk travelers over the last few years.  We could see the old zip lines and slides that ran from these bars into the river.  However, we decided it was a good thing that these bars weren’t around anymore.  The river was entirely ours.  Not a single tourist in sight and the local houses were summoning us into their homes to drink a couple beers.  However, we decided that we would enjoy the few beers we brought along and enjoy our relaxing river cruise.  The backdrop provided incredible scenery and this was by far the greatest tubing float I had ever experienced.  I could only compare this river float to that of SunRiver and Corvallis.  Both great river floats but they can’t compare to being in the jungle, in Laos, with these limestone mountains.

We finished our float and walked around downtown Vang Vieng until we hit a souvenir stand.  I bought a tank top and later found out that a large in Laos terms, was around a small in American terms.  I will not be keeping this tank top and if anyone wants it, it is yours.

The bus to Laung Prabang left at 3 and it was around 1 when we finished the float.  Enough time to get a bite to eat and say goodbye to the Ithira staff.  However, I wasn’t going to travel by bus.  I was going to “ride bitch” on the back on Nate’s dirtbike.  We felt bad because we were leaving Carli behind to travel alone but I was excited.  I had never ridden on a motorcycle and I knew this was going to be a trip to remember.  In hindsight, I had no idea what I was in for.

We hopped on Nate’s bike around 3, Carli left in her minivan, and we were in route to Luang Prabang.  Google said the drive would take 7 hours but we figured it would take the bus 7 hours and the bike 6 hours.  The bike handles the roads better and can go faster.  The ride was simply amazing.  I was on the back taking videos and pictures of everything.  We would drive through plains where rice plantations provided a brilliant green venue.  The grass was taller than the average child and so green and the plains spanned so far that they looked like miniature green lakes and rivers.  We drove alongside limestone mountains, blazed new trails on old dirt roads, and passed through small towns where the villagers waved at us and kids chased after us.  We interrupted many people showering outside their houses as we drove by their huts.  The roads switched from dirt to pavement and back to dirt with every couple miles.  Potholes took a toll because the seats were incredibly stiff.  The views from the top of the mountains made up for any pain or discomfort and we began driving through the clouds.  It was increasingly colder as were escalated further up the mountains and deeper into Laos.  Right outside of entering the Laung Prabang province, we started entering the clouds.  We didn’t know what elevation we were biking at but we were high enough to enter and exit clouds.  We had a debate about whether or not we were entering clouds or fog but determined the altitude proved fog as impossible.  We exited the clouds and took a turn around a limestone spire to view an oncoming thunderstorm.  We prayed that we were not heading towards this storm because we could see lightning cracking within the clouds.  Our prayers were not answered.

We met up with Carli’s van around 8pm at a small stop in the hills.  This place was selling snacks and food for the travelers in the van.  We happened to stop there in hopes of gas.  We were dangerously close to running out of gas and it had turned dark at this point in our travels.  Also a good location to take a stretch and wiggle our legs out that had turned numb from the long travel.  Unfortunately, this stop did not sell gasoline and we stood there for a couple minutes trying to decide what to do.  Nate asked around and this Lao kid showed him the way to a gas station.  They hopped on the bike together and woke up an old lady in order to get some gas.  While Nate was gone, Carli’s van had left and I just sat there reminiscing on the amazing sights I had just seen.  As I am sitting there, the floodgates start to open and it begins to pour.  I am not talking casual rain, I am not talking about Oregon Coast downpour, this is flash flood rain.  Nate pulls up with his bike and we begin to pull clothes out of our bags and layer up.  At this point, I am wearing all the shirts I had packed in my backpack.  I have put all my electronics into plastic bags or the waterproof bags I had bought at Vang Vieng.  We hopped on the bike and went off on our way to Luang Prabang around 8:30.

This second half of the bike ride is nothing you wish upon anyone, ever.  We were riding in a monsoon, high up in the Laos mountains, in the middle of a thunder storm.  We were so high up in the mountains, we were literally riding through the thunder clouds.  Lighting cracking all around us, we could barely see the road.  The sky was pitch black, no stars or moon visible.  The moon was absent and so was its light.  There was no moonlight to see the road and the motorbike light was the only light we had.  We could only see 10 feet in front of us as we rode up and down the winding roads in the mountains.  I had been wearing the bike helmet the entire way here but Nate could no longer see anything.  The rain was too intense for him to keep his eyes open and I offered him the helmet.  He couldn’t wear his sunglasses for eye protection because he would be completely blind.  The rain would hit the light on our motorbike and bounce off like mini embers and I imagined the comfort and warmth a campfire would bring to my shaking and soaked body.  As we began our decent down the mountains, the rain had caused landslides and small rivers began to flow across the road.  The small rivers were brown and impossible to see until you started driving through them.  They carried small rocks and tree limbs that provided nice surprises that shook the bike.  We could only go 10mph through these areas because we could barely see any turns until they were 5 ft in front of us.  This truly was a terrible idea to travel on motorbike through this weather carnage.

I truly was afraid for my life.  I had no idea if we were going to get hit by lightning.  The only good part about the lightning was the fact that each bolt lit up the road and provided a split second of light in complete darkness.  I had complete faith in Nate’s biking skills but there was so much happening outside of Nate’s control that it would not have surprised me if we didn’t make it to Luang Prabang.  I kept hearing my dad’s voice in the back of my mind saying “You are so stupid.  What were you thinking?”.  I couldn’t help to agree with him.  I can’t honestly fully explain the significance of this storm and the intensity of this drive.  Many of you may think I am exaggerating the weather conditions but I am truly not.  Trucks and buses were pulled over off the side of the road and yet we pressed on.  Nate and I truly did not know if we were going to make it.  Yet, I felt so alive.  The way I cope with fear is through music.  I had Thunderstruck by AC/DC playing in my head and Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf.  I was so pumped up by the fear of death and the adrenaline of living that my heart was pounding like crazy.  Every river we crossed, pothole we hit, and tree branch we dodged added waves of blood throughout my body.  The heat from the bike and adrenaline were the only things keeping me warm because all four layers of shirts were soaked.  I kept picturing Indiana Jones and how I was somewhat living life as a movie.  I told Nate that we were a mix of James Bond and Indiana Jones because we were “living dangerously and adventurous like Indiana but love the ladies like James Bond”.  That was my thought process, anything that would take my attention from an incoming lightning bolt or flood.

We finally made it through the storm and happened to run into Carli’s van once again.  This time, they were the ones in trouble.  The driver had hit a major pothole and lost a spare tire.  He stopped the bus and required everyone to get out and look for the SPARE tire.  Nate and I found this to be hilarious.  Carli was more thrilled to see us alive and safe.  We decided that because we didn’t really know where Luang Prabang was, it was a good idea to follow the van for the rest of the way.  As we followed the van, it suddenly came to a very abrupt stop.  We stopped behind the van, with a safe distance, just in time for the van to back up.  We started honking and the van increased its speed as it backed up into us.  We made it through the most intense storm I have ever seen only to get hit by a van, a van that was backing up.  The reason why it back up is ironic.  Carli just happened to see a tire and yelled at the van guy to stop.  Carli was the reason why we got hit.  However, no damage to the bike and we were laughing about it within 5 minutes.

We finally arrived to Luang Prabang at 11:30pm.  The ride took over 8 hours and the last 2 hours were a thunderstorm.  It was a ride I will remember forever and the experience of a lifetime.  The thunderstorm did not bother me.  This is why I travel.  To experience things I have never done before.  I’ve never been to Laos, never ridden a motorcycle, so why not make it the most memorable experience possible.  It was also a spiritual trip.  I hadn’t said the Our Father or Hail Mary in a long time but I was praying like crazy during that trip.  There was a guardian angel present and helping us through those intense moments.  It has brought me closer to God and that was something I did not expect.  Simply an incredible adventure to the beginning of our Laos trip.

Day 3:  Luang Prabang is a gorgeous town in the heart of Laos.  It is a small town, just bigger than Vang Vieng where little tourists come to travel.  There are the common backpackers here and there but mostly old people and Laos locals.  Today is Saturday and we have decided that we are going to hang here for the rest of our time in Laos.  Making it to the Plain of Jars seemed stressful, exhausting, and over ambitious.  It was time to relax after the incredibly eventful day before.

We rented mopeds and headed out to the Kuang Si waterfall.  It was a 45 minute drive through the jungle to get there.  Right off the bat, I accelerated too quickly out of our guesthouse driveway and hit a tuk tuk.  I prevented damage to the tuk tuk by sandwiching my shoulder and leg in between the two vehicles.  I also did this graceful maneuver right outside of the moped rental office.  I instantly drove off while my leg continued to throb.  Good thing I didn’t break my leg.

We stopped at a very small village right outside of the waterfall.  We were starving and saw a small mart that had a beverage dispenser.  We needed an energy drink and some food.  The man running the little station was sleeping on his bench so we went into town.  We asked a lady if she had any food and she quickly took us back to the mart.  She started cooking homemade noodles with chicken soup.  It was damn good.  The locals at this town were incredibly interested by us, especially these two young girls.  They kept coming up to us with their puppies and it was the cutest thing in the world.  They let us pet their dogs and pose for pictures and they were shy but incredibly curious.  It was adorable.  We ate, said goodbye, and continued to the waterfall.

The waterfall was awesome.  The best part was the rope swing.  I love rope swings.  Except there was a large crowd and to get to the rope, you had to maneuver up this tree branch that stretched outside the waterfall river.  This branch was big but incredibly slippery.  I grabbed the tree branch that everyone was using and grabbed the rope.  As I put the branch back on the small hook on the tree, I was struggling with my balance.  I put it on the tree knob, looked at it sway left and right three times, and gasped in horror as it dropped into the running river.  That was the stick that EVERYONE was using in order to get the rope and I am the idiot who dropped it in the lake.  I expected anarchy and people yelling at me to get it.  I hoped for that.  Instead, I heard pure silence and received looks of pure shock and disappointment from the crowd of people.  I had never met these people but the looks they gave me were humiliating.  They were embarrassed for me.  So I had to do something cool.  I took the rope, leaped from the branch and proceeded to perform a perfect back flip.  I swim up to the surface to no applause.  Nate is still laughing at me for dropping the stick and people aren’t even looking at me.  Instead, this guy pops up out of the water with a new stick, he gets a round of applause, and another guy finds the stick I had dropped and he gets a round of applause.  As I walked through the crowd to get out of the water, I didn’t receive a single “good flip” or “nice bro”.  I was glared at with complete disgust.  I had just done a back flip, perfectly I might add, from a rope swing, which is pretty difficult, and no one gave a shit.

We decided it would be a good thing to leave and continue up the waterfall.  We were no longer welcome here.  The top of the waterfall was magnificent.  I can’t explain it well.  It needs a photo to show the beauty.  It was wide, it was tall, and it was powerful.  It was by far, the coolest waterfall I had ever seen.  I turned to Nate and Carli and asked “how do you retain this forever?  How can you possibly make sure that this memory never goes away?”.  Pictures do not do the waterfall justice because of the mist.  The mist was an issue because it was getting my camera wet.  I couldn’t get too close without possibly damaging my camera.  It was glorious.

We rode back to town just as the sun was fading and the clouds provided a very nice sunset.  Luang Prabang is famous for its Night Market and it did not disappoint.  The entire main street was blocked off and no traffic could go through.  Miniature stands were set up all along the sidewalk on both sides and each stand was selling something different.  I could have spent 200 dollars there just for souvenirs because everything reminded me of someone who would love this and that.  Instead, I only bought a couple souvenirs but I won’t say who or what because they are Christmas gifts.  Deal with it.  I did however buy some Lao Lao for Nate, Carli, and I so we drank a little in the hotel room and went to bed.  Great day!

Day 4: On Sunday, we woke up earlier than most days and set out to figure out our transportation back to Vientiane.  We had hoped that Carli could take a ride from Nate back to Vang Vieng and than straight to Vientiane the next day.  That would be 12 hours on the back of Nate’s bike and Carli was not positive on whether or not she could do that.  We looked into transportation and Carli booked a sleeper bus that travels from Luang Prabang all the way to Vientiane in one night.  Nate and I were going to face mother nature again and take the bike all the way back to Vang Vieng and set off from Vang Vieng to Vientiane in the morning.

Carli rented her mo-ped for one more day and we were off to find the Pak Ou caves.  We had a vague idea of how to get there but couldn’t get specific directions from any Laotians. It took us about an hour to get to Pak Ou because we had to turn around a couple of times.  The ride there was awesome.  We drove through dirt roads and followed the river through the jungle forest.  We arrived at an incredibly small town.  The town had a lot of character and incredibly nice people.  However, this was somewhat of a tourist trap.  We had to pay to park our bikes, we had to pay to cross the river, we had to pay to enter the cave, we had to donate to get a flashlight, and we had to pay to cross back over the river.

The caves were cool.  The ride to the caves was by far the greatest aspect of the caves.  The vessel we took to cross the Mekong River was only 2 feet wide and maybe inches above the water.  There was water in the boat and one small motor that was worked by a local Laotian.  It was awesome.  The view from the boat was spectacular.  The caves were built into a large limestone mountain and the town was smushed between three large limestone mountains.  The rover was light brown and I imagined hundreds of crocodiles just waiting for one of us to fall in.  For some reason, the Jungle Book came to mind and I felt like Mogli.  It was a very short ride but memorable to say the least.

The caves held hundreds of miniature Buddha figurines and I felt it was a little cheesy.  I have nothing against the Buddhist Religion, don’t get me wrong.  I felt that many of the figurines were fake and I didn’t like how new figurines were added to the cave.  To me, it took away from the credibility and originality of the cave.  I now realize I am incredibly picky but that is my opinion.  I don’t like when man feels the need to add or manipulate something that is already great.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  The upper cave was much cooler.  It was completely dark and dead silent.  I turned to Carli and remember saying “the silence is eerie”.  She responded with “are you ears vibrating?” and I said “yeah, that’s weird.  It is so silent that it is loud”.  I had never had that experience before.  I rather enjoyed it.  We left the cave, crossed back over the Mekong as the sun was beginning to set.  The sun cast a bright light on all the hills and the lit up gorgeously.

Carli’s bus was leaving at 6pm and Nate and I were hopping on the bike once more.  We decided we needed to leave earlier because it would be nice to have more time during the light than driving at night.  We departed at Pak Ou and off we went to Vang Vieng and meet Carli at the Northern Bus Station the next day.

God gave us the worst night to drive on Friday night but he made up for it with perfect weather for our drive back to Vang Vieng.  We had complete clear skies and we rode through the hills as the sun was setting.  It was great because as we increased altitude and continued to climb, we gained more time to view the sun going down.  It was also nice riding through the areas that we couldn’t see the previous night.  However, the road was much different from the night before.  There were parts of the road missing, large boulders on the side of the road, and landslides that passed over the road.  This all happened while we were riding during the storm.  We kept saying, “I can’t believe we made it through all this the other night. This is crazy!”.  The storm had changed the road but it was easy to maneuver threw during the daylight.  So the road was no longer a problem and we had clear skies.  We would stop at the top of every ridge to look at the views of the valleys.  Laos is truly the most scenic and amazing landscape I have ever seen.  The only issue we faced coming back through the mountains on our way to Vang Vieng was a slight wind.  It was cold, that was it.

There was a point where we stopped on our way back to take a piss break.  We were in the middle of nowhere, Nate turned off his bike light, and the stars were out in full force.  No town for miles, no cities for even further, and no lights anywhere.  I had never seen so many stars.  The Milky Way looked like the smoke from a cigarette and it truly was extra milky.  It was cool riding back the same way we came.  We saw checkpoints and stops that we took along the way.  It is weird, when you travel places like this, you have the sense that you will never see the same sight again.  It was cool being able to see those stops and appreciate the fact that I had come to see it one last time.  The bike ride was a fitting farewell to Laos.

Day 5- We spent the night in a guesthouse after eating cheeseburgers in Vang Vieng.  First of all, the cheeseburger was good but they added a weird sauce that almost tasted like Café Yum sauce.  I hate Yum Sauce, it is disgusting.  We woke up early Monday morning, hopped back on the bike after enjoying a noodle soup with chicken cooked by a local Laotian and headed for Vientiane.  The drive was yet again spectacular.  By this point, I was ready to get off the bike and sleep on the train.

Once we arrived to Vientiane, we realized we had no idea where to go.  It was a much bigger city than we remembered and we needed to find Nate’s bike rental shop and get to Carli at the Northern Bus Station before 12:30.  She told us that if we weren’t there by 12:30 that she was going to leave and get on the train for Bangkok.  She is a sassy one.  We arrived at 11:00, got lost, drove around for around an hour before finally, using Nate’s GPS on his smart phone, found his bike shop.  The lady didn’t even look for damages and we got out of there as soon as possible.  We hopped on a tuk tuk and made it to the bus station.  Little did we know, Carli’s bus had actually broken down only 10 minutes outside of Luang Prabang.  She was supposed to arrive to Vientiane around 5am and got there at 12.  She only beat us to the bus station 10 minutes before we got there.  We felt so bad for Carli that I bought her a beer and Nate bought cookies.  She did not like the cookies but she still had some of my lao lao that I had given her for the bus ride.

We took a tuk tuk from the bus station to the train station.  It was around 2pm at this point and the next train left at 6.  We had time to kill, nothing to do but get a little buzz on.  We crossed the street, grabbed a couple beers, finished off the lao lao, and reminisced over the adventure we just took part in.  We needed a shower so bad and couldn’t wait for the shower at our hotels but we had no desire to go back to Bangkok.  Weird, dreading retuning to the most fun city in the world.  That was the power of Laos.  I hesitate to write about my adventure in Laos because I don’t want people to go visit their and tarnish everything.  That is the beauty of Laos, the people.  I don’t want backpackers to come in and westernize this gorgeous country.  It is untouched, unrefined, and dirty.  Laos is truly an experience.

train home. great Laos send off