Chiang Mai

I added Chiang Mai to my travel plans back in India, largely due to the recommendations of friends. I arrived in Chiang Mai on Thanksgiving. I had some delicious chili chicken, so close enough. Then I went to see Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan.

Friday I went to the elephant sanctuary. I met Mary and Maura from Ireland and people from Chicago and California. For the most part it was just me and Mary and Maura.

The elephants we met were a family of six. There was a two year old baby elephant, and an elephant that was pregnant. Most of the elephants were formerly used for elephant rides. They were bought when some laws changed that made keeping elephants more expensive. Elephant riding is considered unethical, and it took the rescued elephants six months to start trusting humans again.

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We started by feeding the elephants. They eat 250kg of bamboo a day so we were just giving them a snack. They would reach out and take the bamboo and bananas with their trunks. The baby elephant took the food directly from the bag.

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Next we went up the hillside to see where the elephants sleep. It was like post snack exercise. For us too.

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We had some potato curry and rice for lunch and then it was time to wash the elephants. Washing the elephants meant we had to cover them in mud, then rinse it off in the stream.

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Finally we said goodbye with more snacks.

Friday night I went to the night market, where there was a ton of live music.

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Saturday we walked around the city center and went to see a few more temples. Then we went to the Saturday night market which was incredible. It was probably my favorite market so far. I stumbled upon Wat Sri Suphan. Right after I paid to go in I was pulled into a Buddhist ritual. A description of that wouldn’t do it justice, here’s what it looked like though.

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And because I’m out in the world, after that I met some friends (England, Austria, Holland) to watch Thai boxing.

On the way home I had some delicious milk roti.

Sunday I went on a night tour of Wat Umong and Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. From the second one we had an excellent view of Chiang Mai. They dropped us off at the Sunday night market which was not as good as the Saturday night market.

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Monday I flew back to Bangkok, where I had Masaman and Thai tea for dinner and then took the ferry to a sky bar.

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Tuesday I went to see the house of Jim Thomson, an ex CIA agent who lived in Thailand and was a collector of things. He was likely eaten by a tiger in the Malaysian jungle. It was near my previous hostel so I stopped for one of my favorite meals (its still cooking when they give it to you).

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I also stopped for some iced lemon tea which is so sugary and good its like diabetes in a glass.

I’m going on vacation next week to some Thai islands, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Toa.

Here are more pictures from Chiang Mai.

Bangkok

I’ve been traveling for three months now. Bangkok was full of people either starting or ending their travels. After a light few days in Kuala Lumpur I sprung back into action in Thailand.

I started out by having another tasty pepper rice dish, this time with beef that cooked as it sizzled in the skillet. I only remember to take a picture of it once it’s finished. I also met Steve from LA and Tia from England at my hostel.

Thursday I went to Wat Pho with Tia. On the way we walked through some Thai market with some street food. Mostly because our Uber driver kicked us out early.

Wat Pho was impressive. We went to see Reclining Buddha and entered the temple, then we took the ferry to Wat Arun.

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Wat Arun looked great from the outside, but that was pretty much it since you couldn’t enter it.

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I had stir fry shrimp in garlic with rice for dinner. We met Lilly, also from England, then took a tuk tuk to the Khao San Road night market where they were selling everything from massages to roasted scorpions.

Friday I started a three day tour of Western Thailand. After a van ride to the hotel in Kanchanaburi I went on a bike tour. We saw an old World War II bridge built by prisoners of war for the Japanese, rode over to Khao Poon cave where the Japanese stored medicine during the war, and visited a World War II cemetery.

Saturday we started out by going to see the Sai Yok Noi waterfall. Then we went to the Hellfire Pass museum.

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When the British surrendered Singapore to Japan in World War II they had over 120,000 troops. Many of them were moved up to Thailand to be used as slave labor for construction of a Railroad between Thailand and Burma. The Japanese were brutal, and the museum is dedicated to the prisoners of war and Mylasian “recruits” who died to build it. The railroad was over 400km long but it was broken up after the war. About 100km of it is still maintained and functional today.

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Then we went swimming in a hot spring and a cool stream. After that I went on a two hour hike though a bamboo jungle up a mountain to a small Thai village where we had dinner. I slept in a tiny bamboo hut.

Sunday we trekked through the jungle again and then took a bamboo raft back to town.

I had barbeque chicken and sticky rice for lunch, and took a ride on the “death railway”. Then finally I returned to Bangkok.

Sunday night I met two people from Germany and Jasmin from Scotland, and Monday we went to see the Grand Palace. We ate lunch in Chinatown, having fried pork with rice. Then we took a short walk through Lumpini park before it started to rain.

After a short nap we went to a German brewery that had Thai country music. American country music too, “Achy Breaky Heart” was playing when we walked in. The food was Thai though and the beer was German. The wizen beers and crab fried rice were amazing. The best part though was the live performance of music.

Music included Bon Jovi, Katie Perry, Elvis, The Village People, and various unknown Thai and other artists. We stayed until they closed.

Tuesday I went on a national park tour with Norma and Rosa from New York from Puerto Rico. Their house in Puerto Rico had been destroyed in the hurricane, but everyone was ok since they had been living in New York. Puerto Rico is still largely without power, so let me take this time to remind everyone that House districts PA-12 and NJ-2 are both in desperate need of flipping.

I had been up pretty late the night before and I forgot what exactly I had signed up for, so I had to take a short nap on the way there to prepare for the following surprises.

First we stopped at a morning market. We had fried banana and banana covered in sticky rice.

Next we went on ox cart ride. I drove for a little, then Rosa. If things don’t work out in life I might have a future as an ox cart driver. Its my third choice behind “person that unspools the cable for television cameras at sporting events”.

Then an ATV ride through the jungle. I may have hit a tree at some point. I’ve only driven a quad once before in the Moroccan dessert, I’m not very good at it. After they restarted my ATV everything went much better.

Lunch was excellent. Rosa tossed some green things in soy sauce onto a super heated wok, detonating it with a huge fireball. It was delicious, and went well with the chicken fried rice.

The waterfall was the only thing that I had expected to see at the start of the day. We did some rock jumping to get a better view.

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Then we took an 8km white water rafting trip. The tour guide seemed annoyed when me and Rosa tried rowing, so he ended up doing most of the work. There were no other rafts for us to run into so everyone was safe this time.

Wednesday I took a day trip to Ayutthaya with my hostel. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. There were about 30 of us which made it a lot of fun. I met people from Tiwan, the Philippines, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Canada and California. I even met the rarest of people, an American taking one week of vacation.

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We went to go see the ancient ruins of two old temples, and watched someone make cotton candy the hard way. We ate lunch in the market, and I had barbeque chicken on a stick, roasted corn on the cob, and a fried ball of cheese.

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Next I’m spending a few days in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, then coming back to Bangkok for two more nights. Spoiler alert: its amazing.

Here are more pictures from Bangkok.

Help save net neutrality

Seriously, I can’t believe I have to spend time on this.

When you get your electric bill, the electric company charges you the same price if you’ve used your electric to run a power tool or a refrigerator. They don’t charge you more for lighting, and they can’t dictate what you use your electric for. It works the same for the internet, but that’s about to change due to the FCC.

For example, if you want to use Facebook, that could cost you extra. YouTube, Netflix? Pull out your wallet, because those will cost you. Sites critical of ISPs? You may not be able to see them at all.

It isn’t some theory, it’s how it already works in Portugal.

Pretty much every part of my work involves using the internet, from the development that is done to the product that is delivered. Traveling is no different. If I need to go somewhere, anywhere, I need to look it up and how to get to it, and if it’s somewhere I want to go.

Please support net neutrality so I can continue to work and travel, and so you don’t get price gouged for googling something.

Kuala Lumpur

I originally wanted to go to Kuala Lumpur to see the Petronas towers. They’re mostly known for keeping away dementors so it’s a generally happy place. Then I read my neighbor Erin’s post on Kuala Lumpur and saw her in front of a giant golden statue. That became the thing I wanted to see most, and was one of the things last year that made me start looking into the viability of this adventure beyond just the idea.

So I started out by going to the Batu caves. There was a giant golden statue outside, and 272 steps. They were very difficult in the jungle heat. I passed many monkeys in the way up. One of them was thirsty. Me too monkey, me too.  At the top were a couple of temples, and the views were excellent. Slightly lower down there was a second cave which was giving tours, so I hopped on one of those. It took us inside a cave and talked about the creepy wildlife that lived in there. There were also some excellent examples of stalactites and stalagmites and whatever they’re called when they connect. It had started raining while we were in the cave so I had a very wet decent of those steps followed by a walk back to the bank train station. Dinner was Malaysian spicy kam heong chicken rice.

Next I went to the aquarium. They had a huge tunnel that you could walk through that showed you sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, and other giant fish.

Finally I made it to the Petronas towers. It’s true that you can’t see the Petronas towers from inside the Petronas tower, but you caaan see the much less pretty KL tower đŸ˜€

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I had some time so I watched the new Thor movie. I had never seen a Thor movie but it turns out you don’t need to. Once the sun set they had a brief musical fountain water light show.

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On my way home I passed some street musicians who were preforming songs I couldn’t understand, but I stopped and listened for a while.

Anyway, other backpackers had given me low expectations of Kuala Lumpur. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Singapore, there wasn’t as much to do, but I’m happy I came. I’m spending the next three weeks in Thailand.

Here are some more pictures from Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore

Continuing east, halfway home.

“You can’t get any further away before you start coming back”

Truman, The Truman Show

Singapore is 9533 miles away from Pittsburgh, the farthest I’ll be in the northern hemisphere. Now I’m continuing east, making my way home (with a huge southern hemisphere detour which is actually farther away). Also, I’ve now been traveling longer than the time I have remaining, so halfway.

Singapore is 88 miles north of the equator. The high each day is around 90 degrees with around 80-90% humidity and I had to put my rain jacket back in my day pack. The humidity made the heat oppressive.

It’s a very new and well designed city. There are very few old buildings like you’d see in Pittsburgh, New York, or London, so it seems they didn’t have to plan around them. Because everything is so new much of it can feel like Disney which can be a mix of good and bad.

Friday I had more biryani and went to see the Cloud Forest, Supertree Grove, The Gardens by the Bay, and a sky walk. Together they make a huge park by the marina. After a slow start due to the overnight flight, I spent all day there.

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Saturday I went downtown and had Vietnamese fried rice, then I took the monorail over to Sentosa island to go to the beach. After some extensive research, I learned that Sentosa is the southernmost point of continental Asia.

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I had some chicken curry, maybe from India, and went to see a merlion statue. It’s a statue with the head of a lion but the body of a fish. Like a mermaid lion. I didn’t expect the merlion to be so huge. I also stumbled upon Universal Studios. It started raining but stopped in time for a light show called The Wings of Time.

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Afterward I took the monorail back and found a huge food court that had restaurants from different countries in the region. I impulse ate chili shrimp hibachi. Thankfully they taught us how to use chopsticks in second grade (yay upper township).

Sunday was music day for me apparently. I had Chili chicken for lunch in Little India, which was way more expensive than Big India but just as tasty.

I went to the Esplanade, a concert and theatre venue, to see the Marsiling Chinese Orchestra. It turns out Marsiling is in Singapore. They had a bunch of instruments I didn’t recognize so I looked them up. They played mostly popular music and were very good. I wasn’t familiar with anything they played until their encore of Despesito.

After the concert I went to investigate a nearby merlion fountain, then found what appeared to be cultural dancing. Later I went to see a piano and French horn performance, also excellent.

I also found a high end music store. I could buy a new clarinet for the low low price of $4,400 USD. Flutes for only $3,200.

Monday I went to the southern ridge and went on a canopy walk through the jungle. There were monkey warning signs posted but I didn’t see any monkeys. I stopped for some Char sui and shrimp dumplings on hor fun. I had to Google most of that before I ordered it, it’s Hong Kong barbeque pork with shrimp dumplings on noodles. I may have also had some Coldstone ice cream.

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I went back to the supertree grove to see a light show that turned out to be Christmas themed. Afterward I went up to the sky bar on top of the Marina Sands hotel and had Korean chicken wings and a Mai Tai. The view of the city was incredible.

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Tuesday I had some more biryani and took a Battlebox tour. A Battlebox is a World War II bunker that was used by the allies to organize the defense of Singapore. It’s also where the meeting to surrender Singapore to the Japanese took place in 1942. Singapore wasn’t liberated until Japan surrendered at the end of the war.

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I went to see the Fountain of Wealth, which I read is the largest fountain in the world. I’m still partial to the fountain at the point. For dinner I had a wok of black pepper chicken and rice.

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Wednesday I went to the food hawkers again and had some more biryani since I’m kind of on a biryani kick. Food hawkers are places where many people are selling street food. spent the day reading near the marina. I had shrimp fried rice for lunch, then took the subway to Chinatown and had pork dumplings for dinner. More chopsticks were used, but the dumplings were fairly straight forward.

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Thursday I went to the Singapore Zoo. They had some white rhinos, a white tiger, some giraffes, zebra, lions and pumas. It started thunderstorming though so I missed the kangaroos, and polar bears.

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Later I went on a night safari, where they showed us the Indian rhino, the hippo, Indian and Malaysian deer, hyenas, a white lion, Asian elephants, some pigs and flamingos, among other things. Many of the animals were free range with nothing between us and the tram. Thoughts included, “I think that lion can probably make that jump”, and, “that rhino can definitely make that jump”. They also had wolves and a black bear but we couldn’t see them. No one was eaten.

On the way back I stopped for an unplanned snack, which ended up being deep fried crab balls called tako yaki. They were covered in barbeque sauce and delicious.

Friday I had some free time and had some char seui for lunch. I saw that I was projecting to come in under budget up to this point so I went to the casino, for science. The science didn’t go well, so now I’m back on budget. For second lunch I found some chicken and scallop BBQ with pepper rice and home made lemon iced tea. It was served in a sizzling plate like a fijita. It had rice in the middle covered in red and black pepper, corn, barbeque sauce, and onions.

I went back to the Esplanade for a concert of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. They played Beethoven’s Triple concerto in C. It had soloists for the violin, cello, and piano, but the piano soloist was also the conductor. He would switch between playing and conducting. He was Andrew Litton, a guest conductor from the U.S. with a crazy resume. Instead of a paper score he was using a tablet, which apparently went wrong because he said, “serves me right for using new technology on a piece from 1803… That was a very scary first movement.” We couldn’t tell though so he covered well. The soloists were all impressive. They also played Aaron Copeland’s Symphony No. 3.

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Singapore has so much food. If you just set out to do something you’ll stumble upon a food court with foods from all over Asia. They’re everywhere and I haven’t had a bad meal from any of them. You can also find food hawkers throughout the city.

I met a great couple from England, Namoi and Wilfrid, who were stopping in Singapore briefly before returning to Thailand. Also girls from Germany and Ahmed, an eye doctor from Egypt.

Next I’m heading north to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a few days before continuing north to Thailand.

Here are more pictures from Singapore.

Hyderabad

I went to Hyderabad to meet some of the people I’ve been working with for the last 6 years. I work for a software consulting firm called Jarus, and we have an office in Hyderabad. Just to be safe, my opinions here are my own and don’t represent Jarus. Hyderabad is not on the backpacking path so I ended up at a Courtyard Marriott. It made things expensive but very very nice.

Earlier in the week I went on a tour of Fort Golconda, the Qutb Shahi tombs, Charminar, and the Chowmahalla palace. We ate lunch at the waterfront restaurant on the lake. I learned about the history of Hyderabad and how it started with Iranian influence, became it’s own kingdom, worked with the British, and eventually came to be apart of India.

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I also went to the Salar Jung museum. I saw a number of exhibits, including a few from China and Japan, some tiny paintings, some modern paintings, statutes, carvings, and some old eastern toys.

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Tuesday night Karim from Jarus suggested we go to a restaurant called Paradise. They came by and we hopped on their motorcycles. Paradise was most delicious. The deliciousness of it can’t be over stated, but I’m a computer scientist and don’t have the best words. The biryani was all the way delicious. It was a serving for 5-6 people and came as a pile of rice and chicken, like a huge pile of food on a tray. We also had tandoori chicken which I liked for the first time, and chili chicken, my favorite from Cafe Delhi in Pittsburgh.

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After dinner we rode over to the lake and had Iranian tea and biscuits, and walked through the park. Motorcycles are terrifying and great. Maybe I should have said yes to a six hour motorcycle ride to Udaipur last week. Maybe next time.

 

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Just to clarify, I wasn’t driving.

Wednesday I went into the Jarus office and met the rest of the people I’ve been working with for so long. It was great to see everyone! Jarus is building a new building in Hyderabad and its almost finished. In fact they’re having a opening celebration on November 6th. Its not quite done yet though so we did some urban exploration of the construction site. Then we had a Southern Indian lunch very similar to Udupi in Pittsburgh. The food kept on coming though, seeming endless. Everything was great.

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Thursday we went to Shilparamam, a cultural and traditional park. They had street snacks, an ox cart ride, and exhibits showing how village life worked, with rope weaving, blacksmithing, and the marketplace, among other things. There were also rabbits and a rock garden.

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Then out to dinner at an Indian barbeque restaurant. They put grills in the middle of the table and came by with skewers of meat and vegetables. Like everything here, it was delicious. Also that was only there first course. There was a cooking station where you could have things like shark or chicken sausage, and a buffet where you could get some chicken biryani or some other non biryani things. I had the biryani. So much biryani. There was also cake or ice cream for dessert.

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Thanks to everyone at Jarus for showing me Hyderabad, the Jarus office, and all the various tasty foods. I had a great time!

I’ve had so much biryani in Hyderabad. So much biryani. I’ll have to do a lot of walking next week. I want to come back to India. I’ll need to check the holiday calendar next time before I plan that. At the very least I’d like to visit Hampi, Udaipur, Mumbai, and possibly Rishikesh. Next I’m continuing east to South East Asia, starting with Singapore.

Here are more pictures from Hyderabad

New Delhi, Agra, and Pushkar

I arrived in Delhi the day after Diwali. I can’t actually believe I missed Diwali, it’s something I knew about and should have checked for. Everything was still decorated for Diwali though which was fun to see, and there were some post Diwali fireworks at night. Delhi is huge, it has 26 million people in it’s urban area making it the 2nd largest urban area in the world.

The smog in Delhi was rough. It’s doubly unfortunate that I arrived the day after Diwali since due to the firecrackers smog increased by about 24%. One doctor claims breathing in Delhi was like smoking 50 cigarettes a day. I’ve talked to people that were visiting before Diwali and they said the smog wasn’t nearly as bad. Also, Delhi had no clouds…

Friday I was Jet lagged. Not so much from the timezone change as much as it was from staying up all night. I would have slept on the plane but I was watching the new Magnificent Seven and then Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so there was little time for sleep. After recovering, I met some people from the UK and we walked around the market near our hostel and had drinks on the roof.

Saturday I met some people from South Carolina, Miami (via Thailand), Iowa, and Spain. Emily, Gen, Ruvim, and Daniel, respectively. We went to see the Red fort near Old Delhi. We didn’t go inside though.

We walked around Old Delhi until we found the Bazar. Crossing the street in Delhi is literally walking through traffic on a busy road. It gets easier the more you do it… like Frogger. Walking through Delhi was very similar to Marrakech, Morocco, in that you share the road with cars, motorcycles, and sometimes a cow.

Sunday me and Emily ventured out into Delhi. We Ubered to Hauz Khas for lunch where we found a tasty Himalayan restaurant. After lunch we explored Munda Gumbad, some nearby ruins.

Then we hopped on the subway to go to Ghandi Smriti, a museum about Ghandi in a the house where he was assassinated. We spent a long time reading about Ghandi, his life,  and his role in India’s Independence from the British.

After getting kicked out of Ghandi Smriti due to closing time, we tuk tuk‘ed over to the India Gate. Then we had dinner near a clothing Bazar before heading home.

Monday I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal with two people from London and one from Korea from San Diego. It was a 3 hour car ride each way from Delhi to Agra. The Taj Mahal was worth the trip. Afterward we stopped at Fort Agra.

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Tuesday I took the train from Delhi to Pushkar. Pushkar was hosting a camel and livestock festival the next week which is the largest in India. People come from all over to buy and sell camels. Unfortunately the shipping of a camel back to Pittsburgh is prohibitively expensive, and I don’t know if it would get along with the cats. The fair was the next week so I won’t be there for it, but we could see them preparing for it. They had four Ferris wheels setup and the camels were everywhere.

It was a seven hour train ride from Delhi, so after some much needed lunch, Ciara from Kentucky at the hostel mentioned that she was going on a camel ride at sunset. It was organized through the hostel and I was able to join. Just by chance, Gen, Ruvim, and Daniel from Delhi were taking a day trip to Pushkar from Jaipur and were on the same camel ride. Not so big of a world I guess.

I had been camel riding once before in Morocco which was incredibly uncomfortable and tiring. I must be in better shape now than I was then, or maybe they’ve upgraded their camel software to a newer release in India, because riding was much easier than it was in Morocco.

Speaking of Morocco, the hostel was setup exactly like a Moroccan Riad, with open balconies in the middle, a fountain at the bottom, and a great roof deck on top. Alcohol and meat are illegal in Pushkar though so there was no bottomless supply of red wine this time. The view was excellent.

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Wednesday I spent much of the day recovering from the camel ride. Later I met Emily and Daniel again and we went on a Pushkar adventure through the market and saw the holy lake.

Thursday we tried to visit a Brahma Temple but they wouldn’t let us in with bags or cameras which we all had. We watched some monkeys which came really close, and ended up going to see the camel fair ground which looked mostly set up. We had to decline serval camel taxi offers.

India as been wonderful so far, and Pushkar was one of my favorites. There is a path backpackers seem to follow, from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur to Pushkar to Udiapur to Mumbai or Goa. It goes in the other direction as well and we’ve met some people going in that direction. I would have liked to see Udiapur or Mumbai but I couldn’t fit it in with my plans. I’ve put them on the list of places to see. It was really great seeing the same people I met in Delhi again in Pushkar. Pretty much everyone there was more well traveled then me, many of them U.S. expats living in Asia.

The food was delicious. It turns out I know a good deal about Indian food thanks entirely to everyone at Jarus. I had a few chicken tikka masalas, and butter chickens, but I tried some new things, some dal tadka and some chicken biryani and more, there was nothing that wasn’t good. All the garlic Naan and plenty of masala tea.

My hostel in Delhi is my favorite that I’ve stayed at, and the one in Pushkar is probably right behind it. It was so easy to meet people and the staff was incredibly helpful. They organize a daily trip to the Taj Mahal which was 1/3 of the cost of the one I found online. They helped find and book trains, which was not as simple as it is in Europe. U.S. credit cards aren’t accepted for many things, so payment went through them as well.

I went from “I’ve never taken a tuk tuk”, to “sure, we can fit five people in a tuk tuk” fairly quickly. Just to clarify, a tuk tuk only seats three people. I also like saying tuk tuk. I’m terrible at negotiating prices though. On a side note, I once had a lasagna delivered to me via tuk tuk in Morocco. Uber has also been very helpful.

Here are the pictures from New Delhi, Agra, and Pushkar.

 

Cheap flights though Chase Rewards

This is going to read like an ad, but I’m not being paid for this, I’m just trying to be helpful. I was able to save a lot of money on flights by taking advantage of credit card reward points, specifically from Chase.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve was the perfect credit card for this trip. It costs $450 a year but it’s already saved me several times that. It comes with a $300 travel credit. That was easily met by booking a few flights.

At the time I signed up they gave me the equivalent of $1500 in airline points to spend as a bonus. With the $750 from the Chase Sapphire Preferred as a second card, I was able to stretch $2250 worth of points to cover another $3000 in free flights using award hacker to figure out and transfer points to different airlines who offered better deals. I did end up paying about $2000 for other flights and in taxes, roughly 25 flights all together (I had to keep a spread sheet) . I probably could have improved that if I had waited longer to book Australia to Hawaii.

Some of the best flights I’ve booked using points include:

  • Honolulu to Pittsburgh for $5
  • $11 round trip from Honolulu to the Big Island
  • $43 from Pittsburgh to Budapest
  • $63 from Tokyo to Auckland
  • Many more.

It also comes with free global entry and TSA precheck. That is another $100.

It also comes with insurance for rental cars so that you can decline the insurance they try to sell you. That has saved me hundreds of dollars in Iceland and Croatia, and will again in Hawaii and New Zealand.

Finally it gives free access to airport lounges all around the world. It’s not something I would normally use so it’s more like a bonus, but the lounges are way more comfortable than the terminal and have free food and drinks. Mmmm free scotch and snacks, just saying.

To summarize, using two chase credit cards, I bought $5000 of flights for $2000, $300 of which was refunded to me. I purchased global entry and TSA precheck, and get rental car insurance, and I get free airport scotch and comfy chairs (not available in Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh has Currito Burrito) all for $450. I’m probably going to keep it. Next year without the sign up bonus its not as good of a deal but it’s still good.

Most importantly, and it can’t be over stressed, I never carry a balance. The math on the savings doesn’t work if you’re paying the insane monthly interest or late fees. I put all my spending on this card including bills such as cable and car insurance and I pay it off entirely each month.

How does Chase make money on this? The answer is they may not be. I also hear those deals and sign up bonuses from chase are not as good today as they were last year.

There are other credit cards that give different reward bonuses but I’m worried I that I don’t completely know what I’m doing so I stuck with these. Also this plan isn’t for everyone. Be careful!

Croatia

I decided to Ameritrip Croatia, which is where you travel at a grueling pace to fit everything in. It’s not sustainable and when your done you need a vacation. It is incredibly fun though. I’ve been trying not to do it up to this point.

I had originally planned to spend a second week in Prague. After already going to Prague I figured I should go somewhere else. Why Croatia? Not sure, I’m a mystery, but it sounded fun and with some consulting help from Emily I went.

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Croatia! Land of sea food and canceled tours. I started in Dubrovnik, known a Kings Landing by some. I was here briefly in 2012 on a Mediterranean cruise with Crotty, Tracy, and Nat when Game of Thrones was in it’s 2nd season. Now they have Game of Thrones tours and stores.

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I spent a large part of the day reading. I’ve been reading The Expanse this whole trip and I just started the fourth book. I’ve been plowing through the series and it’s been excellent. There is a TV show that is popular that I need to watch.

In the afternoon I climbed the city wall and walked all the way around, then took a gondola ride to the top of the mountain next to the town for dinner and watched the sunset.

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I walked back to my hostel and talked with some people who were catching a 9 hour bus ride to Zagreb. They had been traveling for a while and were wrapping things up.

Thursday I drove to Split. To get to Split I had to pass through Bosnia. Even though Dubrovnik and Split are both in Croatia they aren’t connected by land. The drive was mostly along the coast so the view was much better than the Pennsylvania turnpike.

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Friday I went to Krka national park. I had planned to drive but parking in Split was a pain so I ended up taking the bus to Skradin and a ferry from there. I walked the 2.5 miles around the waterfalls and then spent the rest of my time reading near the largest waterfall before catching the ferry and bus back to Split.

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Saturday I was going to go to Hvar, but my trip was canceled Friday night. Even though it feels like summer it is the beginning of the off-season. I ended up going on a game of thrones tour. It showed where many of the Mereen scenes were filmed and gave some history of Split.

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Afterward at lunch I met a drunk Austrian kept insisting I was Donald Trump. He was very very drunk, but still, there’s no bigger insult. He turned out to be a Trump supported. I have nothing kind to say, so instead help flip PA-12. His friends were more sober and friendly from the Bosnia military. We ended up having drinks.

I got out of that fun situation safely and met Tin and Edward from the UK back at the hostel. They were traveling in Croatia for vacation, almost as hastily booked as mine. We went out to drink with Sarah from Australia who was also traveling for a few months who I met earlier that day. After much walking we found a couple of excellent bars. Later many pizzas were had.

I had planned on going to Plitvice Lakes national park Monday, but it turns out it was on the way from Split to Zagreb, so I went Sunday. Plitvice was amazing. I went on a 4-6 hour hike, but somehow finished in 2 hours. I finished the drive to Zagreb, and found my hostel. Some of the pictures from Plitvice didn’t come out the best, auto-focus was working against me. The changing leaves added to the already impressive view.

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Monday I had no plans, since Sunday kind of took them over, so I went on a walking tour of Zagreb. I was going to go on a history tour of Croatia’s war for independence but that was canceled. On the recommendation of the British girls from Dubrovnik I visited the Museum of Broken Relationships. It was full of items people donated to remind them of their failed relationships and the story behind them. Some were funny, most were sad.

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I had a goodbye Europe weisenbier at a brewery near where I was staying. I also set my “don’t get malaria” alarm.

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Before deciding to come to Croatia last week I had never heard of Zagreb, Split, Krka, or Plitvice. They were all excellent and well worth the trip. Tuesday I flew to Prague. That took all day because to save money on the flight I connected through Moscow.

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Thursday I’m flying to India. Here are my pictures from Croatia.

 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam, land of hot chocolate, wooden shoes, and cheese, among other things, is built on man made islands surrounded by canals. The whole city and surrounding countryside is below sea level. They continuously pump water out into canals that are increasingly high until it’s high enough to be pumped into the sea.

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There are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. There are plenty of bike paths but not enough bike traffic regulation. It’s a mildly dangerous free for all. There are bike racks with hundreds of bikes all throughout the city.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, I met some people from the U.S. and Canada, Matt, Jacob, and Samantha in my hostel. We spent the rest of the day walking around the center of Amsterdam.

Monday I went on a bike tour, we saw the park, locations of museums, the Anne Frank house, and the red light district. I couldn’t get tickets to see the inside of the Anne Frank house. The buildings are too narrow to carry large furniture up the steps, so each house has a hook on the front roof so that they can raise furniture and bring it in through the windows. Amsterdam has a place much like the Smallman galley but with many more restaurants called Foodhallen.

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Tuesday I went to the museum. They had an audio tour of their music exhibits that I tried out. I made most of the way through before I left due to the layout of the museum frustrating me. Before that happen though, I saw the predecessor to the metronome, some very old oboes, a porcelain violin that was for show, a portable harpsichord, and other very old instruments. The museum was huge. The music exhibits were only a small part of it, and for people that like museums I imagine the rest of it would have been very interesting.

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I stopped outside to listen to some street music, and found a Stroopwafel, a layer of hot caramel between two thin waffles.

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I ended up buying their CD.

Wednesday I went on a countryside tour. We saw the inside of an operational windmill used to saw lumber. Then we went to two small towns to see how the wooden shoes and cheese were made. I also went on a city tour as part of that which I didn’t really want.

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Thursday was rainy, but it cleared up in time for a canal cruise. It went all through Amsterdam’s canals and river while pointing out the history of the city expansion. We went though a number of canals, made some crazily sharp turns, and through the main river past the science center.

Friday I took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium where I met a retired Verizon executive from Michigan. In Bruges I had a tasty rabbit stew and a Belgium waffel. There was also another canal boat ride. They had an unusual amount of swans.

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Saturday my Aunt Helen stopped by. We got lunch and stopped for drinks and met some very drunk people from the Netherlands. They were at a bachelor party but lost the groom.

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Sunday we went to Rotterdam, Delft, and The Hague. We stopped at parliament and the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice.There was also a huge exhibit full of tiny buildings of the Netherlands, I’m not really sure why though. It wasn’t the best of tours. Afterward we had some Italian food for dinner and stopped at a cafe for drinks.

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Instead of going to Prague a second time I decided to go to Croatia. That required some arranging of flights and hostels. I will still have an extra day or two in Prague. I’ve posted additional pictures from the Netherlands here.