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Acknowledgments

I wrote most of this a few weeks ago, and it will probably be the final wrap-up piece in this blog. I was going to do some predictable Top-10 sort of stuff, but meh, nothing new there. Thanks for reading. I will continue to post periodically at Nintendo is right, Nascar is wrong for the time being.

On a kickin’ it old school tip, I’d like to thank all the people who have carbonated this trip. I’ll try to keep it interesting. Keep reading – maybe your name will be in this.

People I hung out with in person:

Korea:

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Martin, Kiki, Paddy, Anna, Eric, Jae Won, Rain, Megan, Tracy, Courtney, Brianne, Emily, Jon, and Kelly.

Malaysia:

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Lance, Robert, Pearce, Pearce’s girlfriend whose name I forget, that guy Robert convinced to drive us, the white girl that worked at Reggae Mansion Hostel, the bartender on Tioman Island, the eternally shirtless French dude, the weird Finnish girls, Lawrence – that dude I sang “Sweet Home Alabama” with at a Chinese Karaoke Bar in Melaka, Scott, Yo, Harold at Ringo’s Foyer, the middle-aged Spanish couple I ate with, the staff at Kang’s Lodge, the woman who ran the breakfast place that I ate at every day in the Cameron Highlands, Danielle, Joeby, Paul, the gorgeous Norwegian girls we met, the other Korea alums that I watched the terrible Chinese concert with in Penang, the Chinese singer who was cool and took our K-Pop requests, the woman who ran the Reggae Hostel in Penang, and the anarchist Spanish girl on my van to Thailand.

South Thailand:

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The German couple to whom I gave my Malaysia Lonely Planet, my Trang travel agent, the people who ran the cafe next to the Sri Trang Hotel, the van driver who wanted to show me a corpse, the Swedes that hung out at the Irish Bar in Ko Lanta, The English girls and Belgian kid at the only happening bar in Ko Lanta, the JET program group in Krabi, Jess, her hot friend, Jordan, the British, Finnish, and Aussie people at Pak Up Hostel whose names I forget even though I hung out with them for two days, Michael from Prague, the Muay Thai fighters at Reggae Bar, the Thai girl who thought my name was “Don,” the Canadian couple that woke me up on the beach, the little kids in front of Mr. Local Hostel in Phi Phi, the Kiwi girl that, like me, was forced to spontaneously babysit said kids, the overly in-shape honeymooning couple from Oregon, the old Australian, drunken Lynn, the Phuket ladyboys that improved my Connect 4 game, the ping pong show tout, the honest bus driver, the dishonest taxi driver, the lady who gave me a ride on her motorbike in Takua Pa, the ukulele-playing owner of Shangri-La, the cool Polish girls, the crazy Danish dudes, the tarot card reader, the midget hooker that I repeatedly avoided in Kho Pha Gnan, the French dudes in Ko Tao, the drunken Scottsman who gave me a ride, plain Jane, the 7-11 guy at Ko Tao, the dude from the Bronx who thought everyone was out to stab him, Boris, my dive master, and my Mauritian dive buddy.

North Thailand:

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Scott, the door guy who took my knife and wanted me to tip him to get it back, the lady with the house that flooded, the staff at Gecko Bar, the Thai grad students on the train, Honey at Malak House, the lady who runs The Hut Cafe, Sam the British girl, her friend, Thai, all the rest of the staff at John’s Bar, Tim from Chicago, Mike who runs Mike’s, the weird Germans on the mountain by Chiang Mai, Holly, the Dutch model, the all-girl punk rock band, the hungover dude from my van to Pai, the staff at Happy House in Pai, the drunken Thai dudes who hung out at the bar there, the worst ladyboy ever, Marcus the fellow Korea alum and his British friend whose name I forget, the Italian dude who sparked up the giant joint at the rest area, the old lady who ran the Reggae Bar in Ko Samet, the pajama brothers, Jon, Dana, the staff at Rambuttri House, the tailor who hangs out in front of Rambuttri House, Zon Cafe in Lopburi, the staff at Chokdee House, and the Tiger Beer girl at that bar in Chiang Rai.

Burma/Myanmar:

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The French girls, Harri and my fellow trekkers Chris, Bec, Marc, and Matt, the other people at the party we threw in Nyoungshwe, the Belgian documentarians, the cute girl from Boston and her weird Irish friends, Ms. Noy, the British dudes I drank with at the crazy Winner Guesthouse party, the Russian girl there, Benoit, Wenlu, our driver, the Bagan barber, the local dude who took me to his village, the persistent souvenir vendor, the staff at Winner Guesthouse, Ally the older British woman, the Israeli girls I spent the day with, Nay Cafe, my fellow passengers on the pick-up truck, the Chinese couple with whom I rode to Mingun, Kirsty, the monks that we talked to, and my airport taxi driver.

Philippines:

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Taco Bell, the other dude checking the internet at my hotel, the horse cart guy, the dude selling one pair of shoes, the tequila girl at LA Cafe, Harold of Harold’s Mansion, Cores, Romeo, the Japanese tennis players, Fritz, the old dude from Arizona, the dirty old men that gave me a bunch of whiskey, and the staff at Niagara Hotel for letting me check out several hours late for free.

Laos:

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Scott (from Canada), Chris, Daisuke, the Korean dude Chris and I met in Phonsaven, the Swedish dude, the Irish dude at tubing, the large group of Brits I hung out with at Bucket Bar, the staff of Otherside Cafe, the army dudes in Vientiane, the Lao dude I had lunch with at Buddha Park, the Lao people I drank with near Buddha park, the Lao state prosecutor and his disreputable friends, the fat Lao dude I had to share a bed on a bus with, the New York City girls, the Slovakian dude, Christian, the bitchy French girls I kayaked with, the cool older British couple that I kayaked with, the Canadian dude and his Japanese girlfriend, and Liam from Nottingham.

Cambodia:

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The guy who runs Hengheng hotel, the guy who runs Red Sun Falling who somehow acquired and served the best bacon in Asia, Tony Montana, Martin, Kris, our tuk tuk driver, the questionable freelancers at Black Cat and Walkabout, the Finnish girl, the corrupt cop, the hero driver, the lady who runs Le Bon Cafe, Chris again, Dinar, his many girlfriends, the kids that hang out at Angkor, and the weird girl who was always online.

Vietnam:

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The lady at the motorbike parking place at Sam Mountain, the friendly temple monks, the annoying Swedes, Agnes, the lady who ran Queen Homestay, Lu, the British people at that one bar in Saigon, the people that ran that one cafe, the nice lady at my hotel in Dalat, the Brits at Booze Cruise Bar, Chris from Toronto, Nikolai from Paris, LK from Amsterdam, Ben from Stuttgart, Bell, Matilda, her Brazilian friend whose name I forget, the waitress at Lame Cafe with a boyfriend in Maine, those dudes I hung out with in Hoi An and Nha Trang whose names I forget, the Samsung Americans, India the Aussie, the Vietnamese college students I sat with during the best street meal evar, the Irish girls, Mae Chun, the English and Dutch girls whom I drank with for hours but never learned their names, Greg – my bar trivia partner, the 23 year old Brits that schooled us, Bill the tour guide, Tom, Sally, Mark, Charlotte, and Francois.

On the phone (not including people I saw in person)

My mom, my dad, Dylan, Daniel, Erika, 99, Wiley. I don’t get many calls.

On the Internet/FB: (not including people I talked to in person or on the phone)

Mae, Zach, David, Don, Ashly, Pete, Geneva, Cryn, Cree, Eric, Kevin, Chuck, Youngjin, Sunny, Jed, Aaron, Mike, Jack, Dan, Morgan, Sandy, Stong, Bo, everyone who follows this blog whom I haven’t met in real life, and others that I’m sure I forgot to mention.

In the media:

Adam Carolla, Bald Brian, Alison Rosen, Bill Simmons, Rick Steves, Matthew Berry, Nate Ravitz, Seth Macfarlane, Ricky Gervais, Carl Pilkington, Sylvester Stalone, Carl Hoffman, Daniel Silva, John Grisham, Neil Strauss, Dan Brown, George Orwell, Larry McMurtry, Lebron James, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Euro 2012, the London Olympics, “Friends,” Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.

To conclude, a special shout out to those who have been the most instrumental on this trip. First, Martin and Kris for coming out to meet me in Cambodia. Next, Scottie, for the many good times in Malaysia and Thailand and the constant tips and travel talk throughout the trip. Finally, Cores, whith whom I communicated with pretty much every single day of this trip, who shared the best week of these amazing five months with me, and for so many other reasons.

So you tell me. Was I really traveling alone?

Final Four!!!!

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At long last, we’ve made it to the Final Four of my ridiculous Megatrip Lodging Bracket. If you missed my explanation of how all this works, click here. To recap the paths that each entity took to reach the Final Four, I will include links to their respective regions in the next paragraph.
The match ups are as follows:

Thuy Nga Hotel – Hanoi, Vietnam, 5 seed out of the Northeast Region
versus
Harold’s Mansion – Dumaguete, Philippines, 1 seed out of the Southeast Region

and

Malak House – Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2 seed out of the Northwest Region
versus
Reggae Mansion – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 4 seed out of the Southwest Region

It’s an interesting mix, to be sure, representing four different countries and four different months of the trip. Obviously, I would strongly recommend all four to anybody traveling through these places.

Rather than doing my usual random choice thing, I’m going to actually use a semi-scientific point system in order to determine the winner. I’ll be using a 4 point scale on a number of categories. Basically:

4 = Rocky IV, good enough to singlehandedly defeat the Soviet Union
3 = Led Zeppelin 4, very high level
2 = 4chan – solid, but plenty to complain about
1 = Brett Favre, so past gone that even an outdated reference is needed

Points will be tallied in the following categories:

Staff: how friendly and helpful they are
Location: where the property is in reference to nightlife, transit, and sights
Value: price in relation to other lodging in the area given the package provided
Room: in-room amenities like aircon, wifi, fridge, cable, in-room bathroom, and privacy
Common: other features of the property such as common rooms, bars, and cafes.
Social: how easy it is to meat other travelers
Cleanliness: duh
City: how interesting the surrounding city itself is
Work: I never write in a hotel room. Where is the suitable workspace?

Three additional categories will be added for the finals.

Alright, I think we’re all on the same page.

Semifinal 1: Thuy Nga versus Harold’s

Thuy Nga:

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Staff: 2 – Nice enough, but the hotel closed early so I had to wake someone up to get in.
Location: 4 – Awesome.
Value: 3 – Good, but rooms are cheap in Hanoi.
Room: 3 – Nice overall, but some wifi issues.
Common: 1 – Really no common area to hang out.
Social: 1 – No common area means no place to meet other people.
Cleanliness: 3 – Definitely clean, but not sparkling.
City: 3.5 – Yes, I’m being a dickhead with a half point, but it’s my game.
Work: 2 – I could have theoretically worked on my balcony, but there was no table or chair.

Total: 22.5

Harold’s:

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Staff: 3 – Most are very nice, but they don’t do the best job at room cleaning.
Location: 3 – Walking distance from downtown, tricycle cabs are cheap and easy to find.
Value: 2 – Comparable to other budget places around, but no discounts for longer stays.
Room: 3 – No fridge, bad smelling shower water, and a horrible TV costs a point.
Common: 4 – Harold’s has a cafe and a rooftop hangout area with couches and a pool table.
Social: 4 – Very easy to meet other people.
Cleanliness: 2 – The common areas are always clean, but there are ants in the room.
City: 4 – Full disclosure: I’m totally in the bag for Dumaguete, one of my favorite cities.
Work: 4 – There’s a balcony right outside my room where I wrote this whole tourney blog series.

Total: 29

Result – Harold’s moves on to the Finals.

Semifinal 2: Malak versus Reggae

Malak:

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Staff: 4 – Honey was the best.
Location: 4 – It was easy to get anywhere in Chiang Mai, late night bars were around the corner.
Value: 4 – Cheapest place in this field.
Room: 2 – Nothing special, just a fan, an in-room bathroom, and wifi.
Common: 3 – Cool upstairs bar, but it wasn’t as popular as some other common areas I saw.
Social: 2 – I only met a couple people here, but it was easy to meet people elsewhere in town.
Cleanliness: 2 – Nothing special.
City: 4 – I could live in Chiang Mai, it’s great.
Work: 4 – Easy to work at the rooftop bar or at the nearby Hut Cafe.
Total: 30

Reggae:

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Staff: 3 – The were helpful, but not particularly warm.
Location: 4 – Steps away from the most useful subway station in town.
Value: 3 – At $15 a night, easily my most expensive dorm room.
Room: 2 – Not really a room but a bunk, that said, best bunk evar.
Common: 4 – Restaurant, courtyard, and a rooftop bar.
Social: 4 – Met cool people my first night, hung out with them for the next 3 days.
Cleanliness: 4 – Immaculate.
City: 2 – I used to dig KL a lot, but I liked plenty of cities on this trip more.
Work: 3 – Easy to get work done in the courtyard.
Total: 27

Result: In a tough battle, Malak moves on to the finals.

Finals!!!!1!

Malak House versus Harold’s Mansion

So it comes down to a house versus a mansion. In the semis, Harold’s scored 29 and Malak scored 30. As I stated above, a couple of new categories will come into play in the finals.

Sleep: Comfort, noise, and light, the main sleep factors.
Extras: Other available bonuses.
Return Factor: Would I come back?

Malak:
Sleep: 3 – Thin walls but not too noisy, no aircon but not too hot.
Extras: 3 – Prolly should be a two, but bonus point because Honey is such a nice lady.
Return: 3 – On a similar budget, definitely. On a shorter trip or with a GF, I would upgrade.

Total: 9 + 30 is 39

Harold’s:
Sleep: 3 – Nearby street dogs can be noisy at night, but overall pretty comfy.
Extras: 4 – free coffee all day, free bicycle rental, free oysters on Friday nights.
Return: 4 – obviously, since I’ve now stayed at Harold’s four times.
Total: 11+29 is 40

Result: Harold’s wins the whole thing! Of course, the fact that I’ve spent the last three weeks there spoke to its appeal.

The last of my wrap-up should be up next week.

Megatrip Bracket: Southwest Region

If you missed the explanation for how this tournament gimmick works, click here.

Today, I’m focusing on the Southwest Region. 16 places I slept on this trip will do battle in a single-elimination bracket tournament, and the winner will move on to the Final Four. Whenever possible, I will include a link to the hotel website. If the hotel does not have a website, then I will just link to the pertinent page of this blog rather than to a third party consolidator like agoda or tripadvisor.

This may be the toughest region of all, and I reckon that these hotels may be a bit more well known in the travel circuit. All but five of them have their own website or Facebook page, so I don’t have to link to myself as much here.

1- Rambuttri House, Bangkok
versus
16 – Hotel in Takua Pa, Thailand

I don’t know the name of the place I stayed in Takua Pa. I took a picture of the sign, but couldn’t make out what it said. I wouldn’t recommend staying there anyway, nor anywhere in Takua Pa for that matter. The Rambuttri House was my home base for a couple of months, and a degree of my stuff stayed there the whole time. I stayed there thrice, and became friendly with the staff as well as the touts that worked out of the same building. No frills outside of aircon, but it was a decent place to base myself on Khao San Road.

Result – Rambuttri wins easily. Takua Pa could would have lost to any of my three night trains though, and maybe even to a night bus.

8 – Mr. Local Dorm, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
versus
9 – Coconut Moon Hotel, Patong, Phuket, Thailand.

Being on the road makes it easy to meet fellow backpackers, but Ko Phi Phi is so touristy that it makes it hard to meet people, if that makes sense. Thus, I left a perfectly good fan-cooled private room in order to stay in a shared aircon dorm room for a higher price. I was that desperate to talk to people. For those purposes, Mr. Local did well, although I should add that it had a disgusting bathroom with a dead gecko in it at one point. Coconut Moon was relatively luxurious for this trip, as it offered aircon, wifi, an awesome bathroom, cable, a fridge, even an elevator. I went to Phuket to be a drunken asshole, and the Coconut Moon was a fine place to do so. I could drink beer in the afternoon while yelling at the Fox News on the TV before going out to hit the Bangla bar scene, which is exactly what I did when I wasn’t at the beach.

Result – Coconut Moon all the way here, in a relative rout for an 8-9 matchup.

5 – Ponloue Angkor Siemreap Villa, Siem Reap, Cambodia
versus
12 – Moonwalk Resort, Ko Lanta, Thailand

I stayed in the Ponloue with Martin and Kris. It was a nice enough large room for $30 a night, $10 each, although from the reviews I’ve read since I imagine we could have paid less. Hotel quality in Siem Reap doesn’t matter so much though. Between an intense Angkor touring schedule and the bars at nearby Pub Street, we spent no time hanging at the hotel awake. Moonwalk, on the other hand, was a nicer place to laze around. It was right on the beach and they rented motorbikes, which was everything I wanted out of Ko Lanta.

Result: Classic 12-5 upset here.

4 – Reggae Mansion, Kuala Lumpur
versus
13 – Sri Trang Hotel, Trang, Thailand

Both of these places represent my first nights in these countries. The Sri Trang was nice, but I paid $15 a night for a fan-cooled room in a landlocked provincial town. Such a n00b mistake. The Reggae was also $15, but for a dorm. However, Reggae offers the best dorms I’ve ever seen, with walls on three sides and a curtain in front, the dorm bunks are basically capsules. Plus, the Reggae had a good restaurant, a nice rooftop bar, awesome showers, air conditioning, and wifi. At Masjid Jamek Station, it’s probably in the best location in Kuala Lumpur. Chinatown and Little India are 10 minute walks away, and the two subway lines lead most anywhere else in town of interest.

Result – Reggae, the starting point of this whole thing moves on to the next round.

3 – Pak-Up Hostel, Krabi, Thailand
versus
14 – White House Hotel, Yangon, Myanmar

The Pak-Up was similar to the Reggae properties. Rooftop hangout area, air-conditioned dorm rooms, awesome showers, and sparkling clean facilities. It’s in the heart of downtown Krabi and surrounded by bars and restaurants. The river is very close as well, providing easy access to boats to the beaches. The low prices and nice facilities entice people to stay awhile, a couple of people there had been staying for over a month. The White House was a Yangon hotel, which never bodes well. It had wifi, a rarity for budget lodging in Yangon, but it went off at midnight. It also had a decent location, and the cleaning ladies were constantly singing in Burmese, which was quite pleasant. The hotel had a curfew at 11 p.m., and a fellow guest told me he missed it once and they wouldn’t let him in so he had to sleep on the street. My room had one electrical outlet, so I had to choose between charging my iPad or running the fan overnight, and it was sweltering in there. Worst of all, my room was on a 9th floor walk-up.

Result – If I were to return to Krabi, I would definitely stay at Pak-Up again if I wanted to stay on the cheap. I did return to Yangon, and I never considered returning to the White House. Easy chalk win here.

6 – Kang’s Traveler’s Lodge/Daniel’s Lodge, Tana Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
versus
11 – Ringo’s Foyer, Melaka, Malaysia

Hmm, this one is a little tricky. Kang’s (or Daniel’s, I have no idea why it has two names) was a pretty solid joint. I had a private room with a twin bed and literally nothing else, and the hotel wifi didn’t reach the room. However, the open-air common area was fantastic, featuring several tables and lounge areas, all with plugs for charging electronics. Kang’s also boasted the best bar in the Cameron Highlands, though to be fair there is only one other bar in town that it competes with. The staff were nice enough, but weren’t the sort to go out of the way to help anyone. As I’ve said before, if I were to decide to write a book, Kang’s would be my first choice for where to do it because of its fine common area, cool weather, and wealth of nearby cheap Indian restaurants.

Ringo’s is a fine hostel as well. The owner, Harold, is a great guy who offers travel advice without a financial incentive, and also took a group of us to a local night market that we would have never known about otherwise. Ringo’s has free coffee and a nice roof deck, and my dorm bunk was the cheapest one I had in Malaysia. That said, I’m not sure that I would stay there again, just because sleeping in my fan-cooled dorm bed was absolutely brutal. In fact, after staying here, I swore off fan-cooled dorms for the rest of the trip. In some ways, I may have been a little tougher early in my trip – now I would never think of staying somewhere as brutally hot as Melaka without aircon.

Result – in a squeaker, Kang’s takes this one. If Harold from Ringo’s were the proprietor of Kang’s, it probably would have been a one seed as I could have gotten stuck there for weeks.

7 – Harmony House, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
versus
10 – Chi Cha, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The Southwest really shows some strength here. I stayed at the Harmony for three nights, yet it only got a 7 seed. This here is a battle of fan-cooled cheapies, each under $10 a night. At 300 baht, the Harmony is probably the cheapest place in Ko Phi Phi that isn’t awful. One of the world’s most beautiful beaches was a five minute walk away, so I didn’t spend much time in the room. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Chi Cha either, although its wifi was incredible compared my first Phnom Penh abode. The Chi Cha was right by the river, and within easy walking distance of a zillion bars and restaurants. Since Phnom Penh may quietly be the best bar and restaurant town in Southeast Asia not named “Bangkok,” this was a very good thing.

Result – I guess I should use the “would I return” test. If I were to ever return to either town, I would hope to have a larger budget than I did on this trip, in which case I would opt for somewhere better in either case. However, all things being equal, I would be much more likely to stay at the Chi Cha again than the Harmony House.

2 – Tommy’s Resort, Ko Tao, Thailand
versus
15 – Da Som Inn, Melaka

Tommy’s has a lot of room styles, and I stayed in the cheapest one my first couple of nights. I upgraded to a slightly better room later, still fan cooled, but this time with a view, a breeze, and better wifi. Ko Tao is no place to hang out indoors though, so I wasn’t in the room much. The lady who ran the place was extremely nice, and went out of her way to help me out. I stayed at the Da Som two nights, so it’s amazing that it only garnered a 15 seed. The Da Som was a relatively expensive business-style hotel, and I only stayed there because I was a bit marooned. That said, when I stayed there, I had just spent 5 nights in a fan-cooled bungalow, 4 nights in a dorm, a night on a plane, 6 nights at a buddy’s place in Korea, and a month at another buddy’s place in America, so it was nice to have my own full-service space for the first time in weeks.

Result – Tommy’s. Ko Tao was my favorite place in the month I spent on Thai islands.

Round 2!

1 – Rambuttri
versus
9 – Coconut Moon

Result – This matchup is a real contrast in styles. Rambuttri House lived up to their tagline, and was very much my home away from home for some time. Coconut Moon was a bit nicer and pricier than my usual fare, and was more like a vacation from my vacation. The latter was certainly the nicer hotel, but I feel like I could have walked into any hotel on the block and gotten a similar room for a similar price. Tough call goes to the high seed.

12 – Moonwalk
versus
4 – Reggae

Result – wow, no easy calls in this region. I’m going with the Reggae, and for the exact same reasons I chose the Rambuttri in the last round.

3 – Pak-Up
versus
6 – Kang’s

Result – This is another tough matchup. I stayed in both places four nights. Pak-Up is one of the better dorms I’ve stayed in, but I’ll choose Kang’s simply because I didn’t have to stay in a dorm there.

10 – Chi Cha
versus
2 – Tommy’s

Result – The only relatively easy choice here, Tommy’s advances.

Round 3!!

1 – Rambuttri
versus
4 – Reggae

Result – brutal. These places cost the same, although I had a private room at the Bangkok facility and a (semi-private) dorm in KL. The Reggae Mansion is where I started this trip, and I really couldn’t have ended up at a better first place. The Rambuttri was a great mid-trip place, good for taking care day-to-day business like calling back home, shopping on Khao San Road, and sorting out visas and plane tickets. I’ll have to go with the upset here though, mainly because the Reggae was more social, and it was great to meet cool people right at the start.

6 – Kang’s
versus
2 – Tommy’s

Result – Ko Tao was the only place where I seriously flirted with the idea of renting a room for a month, which I would have done at one of Tommy’s nicer rooms. Kang’s clearly has long term potential as well. Staff will be the tiebreaker here, which means Tommy’s moves on.

Regional Final!1!

4 – Reggae Mansion
versus
2 – Tommy’s Resort

Result – The Reggae is basically the perfect big-city hostel. Tommy’s is a well-located and well-priced hotel near the ocean, but the in-room facilities are pretty spartan. I’ve already chosen them both, then deleted the deciding sentence. There is a reasonable chance I will return to both Kuala Lumpur and Ko Tao at some point, KL since it’s such a big regional hub and Tao because it was my favorite Thai island. If I end up in KL again, I will absolutely stay at the Reggae unless I’m staying somewhere swish. If I return to Ko Tao, I would consider staying somewhere on the other side of the island to try something new. Thus, Reggae moves on to the Final Four.

Megatrip Bracket: Southeast Region

If you missed the explanation for how this tournament gimmick works, click here.

Today, I’m focusing on the Southeast Region. 16 places I slept on this trip will do battle in a single-elimination bracket tournament, and the winner will move on to the Final Four. Whenever possible, I will include a link to the hotel website. If the hotel does not have a website, then I will just link to the pertinent page of this blog rather than to a third party consolidator like agoda or tripadvisor.

1 – Harold’s Mansion, Duamguete, Philippines
versus
16 – Bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An, Vietnam

Well, the bus rides and the 16 seeds never fare well in this tournament, so it’s pretty obvious what will happen here. Harold’s is certainly a worthy one seed. It’s actually where I’ve been living the last couple of weeks, but for the purpose of this bracket I’ll just focus on my time here in June. While not exactly cheap, Harold’s does provide free coffee all day, wifi, cable, aircon (in my room at least) and a spartan free breakfast consisting of toast. It’s well located in northern Dumaguete, and has other perks like free bicycles, games, a pool table, and free oysters on Friday nights.

Result – Harold’s in a romp.

8 – Ao Phai Hut, Ko Samet, Thailand
versus
9 – Hop Yen Hotel, Hoi An, Vietnam

Ao Phai Hut was one of the pricier places I stayed on the trip at $27 or so per night, and this just offered an extremely rustic bungalow with aircon and wifi, but without much of a sea view for the price. Then again, Ko Samet itself is quite expensive for Thailand, so this price is well in the budget range by Samet standards. Hop Yen was a serviceable place to sleep, located pretty close to Hoi An’s Old Town. It’s one of those places that I spent virtually no time in when awake, since there was plenty to do in Hoi An. Added bonus of the Hop Yen – Hoi An’s only legitimate late night joint, the brand new Volcano Club, was across the street, making for a very short stumble home.

Result – Hop Yen wins, just because it offered much more value. Plus, as Scottie reminded me, Ao Phai had a plague of chair thieves.

5 – Drop In Hotel, Ko Pha Gnan
versus
12 – Than Loi Hotel, Chau Duc, Vietnam

I paid an amazingly low price at the Drop In, under $15 a night for cable, aircon, wifi, fridge, pool, the works. I was at Ko Pha Gnan during a pretty dead time though, I’m sure this place triples its price at full moon time. The Than Loi had a nice riverfront deck and ran $12 a night for an aircon room with wifi, also a pretty good deal.

Result – Drop In wins this round. It wasn’t beachfront, but it wasn’t far from the beach either.

4 – Me Mate’s Place, Phnom Penh
versus
13 – Thanh Long Guesthouse, Dalat, Vietnam

I wrote quite a bit about the strange environment at Me Mate’s in my Phnom Penh post. The staff was friendly and helpful when they stood to make a buck, but uninterested otherwise. The lack of wifi for guests when the staff clearly had access to it grated at me. Thanh Long was a decent place for a couple nights, and the staff was consistent in their apathy, which I prefered.

Result – Thanh Long gets the upset here.

3 – Shangri-La, Ko Samui
versus
14 – Vilaysing, Pakse, Laos

I stayed at the Shangri-La for four nights and really liked it. The bungalow I stayed in was simple and rustic, but also really cheap and steps from the beach. The owner was really friendly as well. The Vilaysing was decent, better than the other places I looked at in Pakse, but it was just another provincial town guesthouse.

Result – Shangri-la, easily.

6 – Saengchanh Guesthouse, Don Det, Laos
versus
11 – Marmarine Villa, Siquijor, Philippines.

The Saenchanh cost $6 a night and featured hammocks on it’s Mekong-facing porch. It was a fine place to lay around, which is the main draw of Don Det. Unfortunately, it happens to be running into the buzz saw that is Marmarine. The Marmarine was my most expensive hotel of the trip, running $50, but it was a great place to be. It boasted an oceanfront deck, hammocks, an outdoor shower, and Japanese tennis enthusiasts. Marmarine was also the most romantic place that I stayed, but that isn’t saying much considering a large number of these hotels cost $10 or less.

Result – Marmarine.

7 – Queen Homestay, Saigon
versus
10 – Happy House, Nha Trang, Vietnam

The Queen Homestay was a nice little joint in the back alleys of Saigon’s backpacker district. When I googled it to see if the hotel has a website, my blog was the first hit, so that’s awesome. Happy House, on the other hand, stole money from my room.

Result – Clearly not picking the thief here.

2 – ABC Bungalows, Tioman Island, Malaysia
versus
15 Heng Heng Hotel II, Kratie, Cambodia

The ABC was my first beach bungalow experience of the trip. My bungalow was pretty bare, but it did have a mosquito net and its own cold shower bathroom. In sweltering Tioman, there’s really no need for a hot shower anyway. From what I saw, this was probably one of the better budget places on the island. The Heng Heng Hotel II was one of seemingly hundreds of small-town, sub-$10 utilitarian rooms where I spent a night. The staff were nice, and they helped me to get a fast ride in the front seat on a van to Phnom Penh.

Result – Going chalk here.

Round 2!

1 – Harold’s
versus
9 – Hop Yen

Result – Harold’s delivers the goods and beats out the Hop Yen. Then again, I’ve stayed at Harold’s four times now, and twice on this trip.

5 – Drop In
versus
13 – Thanh Long

Result – Thanh Long doesn’t run into such a weird place this time, so it falls to the Drop In.

3 – Shangri-la
versus
11 – Marmarine

Result – This is a brutal battle. I didn’t really want to leave either place, and stayed at both for a night longer than planned. Ultimately, the Marmarine wins though. It was much more expensive than Shangri-la, but it was awesome.

7 – Queen Homestay
versus
2 – ABC

Result – Both were serviceable options for their locales, but the Queen definitely offered more for the money, including aircon, wifi, and a flat screen. Upset!

Round 3!!

1 – Harold’s
versus
5 – Drop In

The Drop In offered a nicer room at a lower price, but I’m guessing that’s mainly because of the super low-season time that I arrived. Harold’s gets the nod here.

11 – Marmarine
versus
7 – Queen Homestay

Result – I have nothing to say about the Queen or it’s exceedingly nice staff, but it just didn’t stand a chance against this brutal competition here.

Regional Final!1!

1 – Harold’s
versus
11 – Marmarine

Result – a battle of Philippine heavyweights in the regional final. During the portion of this trip that officially “counted,” I stayed at Harold’s for two nights, then Marmarine for the next two, then returned to Harold’s for the next three. I loved the Marmarine, and it was probably the best two days in the whole trip. That said, at $50 a night, it wasn’t really “of” this trip, but rather a break from my usual budget accommodation. Harold’s moves on to represent the region in the Final Four as the first top seed to avoid an upset.

Megatrip Bracket: Northwest Region

If you missed the explanation for how this tournament gimmick works, click here.

Today, I’m focusing on the Northwest Region. 16 places I slept on this trip will do battle in a single-elimination bracket tournament, and the winner will move on to the Final Four. Whenever possible, I will include a link to the hotel website. If the hotel does not have a website, then I will just link to the pertinent page of this blog rather than to a third party consolidator like agoda or tripadvisor.

1 – ET Hotel – Mandalay, Myanmar
versus
17 – Bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

The ET was my home for five nights, and it was about as deluxe as budget accommodation came in Burma. At 18 dollars a night, it wasn’t exactly cheap compared to most places on this trip, but my room was air conditioned and had a hot shower. It also had cable TV, but to change the channel required going down to the front desk to request a new channel on the main TV, so I never bothered. It also had lightning-fast wifi by Burmese standards, but that was still super slow. The bus was a bus.

Results – ET easily wins by boasting a bed.

8 – Jon and Dana’s apartment, Bangkok
versus
9 – Chockdee House, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Jon and Dana are friends of mine from my Korea days, and their Bangkok apartment is huge compared to any I ever saw in Seoul. Hell, their guest room was probably bigger than my last Seoul apartment. Amazingly, this was the only time I ever crashed with friends on this whole trip. Chockdee was a little Rasta joint in downtown Chiang Rai. For under seven dollars, I had a pretty cool room with a balcony, although the bathroom was down the hall.

Results – Let’s face it, Jon and Dana’s was probably the nicest place I stayed on the whole trip and could probably win this whole thing. That said, comparing a couple’s proper apartment to a bunch of budget guesthouses isn’t really fair, especially since the average reader of this blog couldn’t stay there. Therefore, I’m advancing Chockdee.

5 – Happy House, Pai, Thailand
versus
12 – Okinawa Guesthouse, Yangon, Myanmar

The Happy House cost around seven bucks a night and offered en suite, wifi, and a fan in a town that isn’t blazingly hot. I liked the bar as well, local guys hung out there, an interesting change over the usual hostel bar. The Okinawa is in Yangon, the worst hotel city I’ve ever seen. Midrange business joints that would cost $30 in Bangkok cost $70 in Yangon, and dumps that probably couldn’t fetch $5 a night on Khao San Road demand $15 or more in Yangon.

Result – No 12-5 upset here, Happy House wins walking away.

4 – Winner Guesthouse, Bagan, Burma
13 – Monastery, Shan State, Myanmar

A tough intra-country battle. The Winner offered the best value of any place I stayed in Burma. I had en-suite, aircon, and tasty breakfast for around $11 a night, plus it had a great location for touring Bagan by bicycle. The monastery was a monastery, and sleeping in an active Buddhist monastery in Myanmar qualifies for once-in-a-lifetime sort of status.

Result – the Winner wins. Creature comforts beat out unique opportunity. Whatever, I’m old.

3 – Nanda Wunn Hotel, Nyoungshwe, Inle Lake region, Burma
versus
14 – Night Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The non-air conditioned, wifi-less Nanda Wunn place was like staying at the Ritz coming off the trek. I had a group of friends while I stayed there as well in my fellow trekkers, and we threw a pretty awesome hotel party. The night train to Chiang Mai was my first train ride of the trip, and it was also the most fun, as I hung out in the bar car until it closed with a bunch of partying Thai grad students.

Result – this night train probably could have won a round in the Northeast Region, but the overall scene in Nyaungshwe was just too fun. I had planned to stay one night but ended up staying three.

6 – Reggae Hostel, Penang, Malaysia
versus
11 – Tony’s Place, Ayutthaya, Thailand

These are two highly ranked joints. Reggae is a new expansion of the successful Kuala Lumpur franchise, and Tony’s is a long-time standalone in Ayutthaya. I would stay at either of them again if I were in town. Reggae felt more social, but then again I went out of my way to be social there, whereas in Tony’s I pretty much kept to myself as well as I could.

Result – Reggae wins this battle of stalwarts, mainly because it had a better restaurant.

7 –Golden Lily Guesthouse – Kalaw, Myanmar
versus
10 – Mango Hotel, Chiang Mai

I arrived at the Golden Lily at 2 a.m. and spent a night and a half there before setting off on a two day trek. Since there isn’t much to do in Kalaw, I spent most of my day there hanging out on the Golden Lily patio. I checked into the Mango when I arrived in Chiang Mai, but only stayed one night because other people had reserved my room for the following night. I didn’t spend a lot of time there awake since there’s a lot to do in Chiang Mai. Both rooms were quite good values.

Result – I’ll give the nod to the Lilly, just because I liked their Indian style breakfast.

2 – Malak House – Chiang Mai
15 – Yangon to Kalaw bus

Spoiler alert: if I were to go so far as to come up with scores for these matches, this would be the biggest blowout on the board. I liked the Mango Hotel and would have stayed there longer if space were available, but in retrospect I’m glad it was sold out. I loved Malak House. Loved it. I had a fan cooled room with a cold shower, but it was five bucks a night, had wifi, and was quite cozy. There was a cool bar on the roof, indoor motorcycle parking, and the location was unbeatable. The lady who ran it is named Honey, and she is probably the nicest lady in Thailand. I was lucky to get a room, because it was sold out for the rest of my stay. The hotel didn’t have a restaurant, but the Hut Cafe around the corner was lovely, and run by maybe the second-nicest lady in Thailand. As for the bus trip – it was horrible. Extremely uncomfortable and arduous. It was over 12 hours long, and for most of the trip the TV blared horrible Burmese pop videos. This was probably the worst bus ride of the whole trip.

Result – Guess.

Second Round!

1 – ET
versus
9 – Chockdee

Result – The top seed falls early. This is quite a referendum on Burmese budget lodging. A middle-of-the-road place like Chockdee takes out one of the better places I stayed in Myanmar.

5 – Happy House
versus
4 – Winner

Result – Winner wins, as it may well be the best budget spot in all of Burma. Plenty of travelers recommended it to me before I got to Bagan, and I did the same after I left.

3 – Nanda Wunn
versus
6 – Reggae Hostel

Result – The Nanda was nice, but the Reggae group is the class of hostels in Malaysia. Reggae moves on.

7 – Golden Lily
versus
2 – Malak House

Result – Malak keeps rolling here.

Third Round!!

9 – Chockdee
versus
4 – Winner

Result – Winner keeps winning.

6 – Reggae
versus
2 – Malak

The Reggae’s run ends here in the regional semis, setting up the inevitable battle.

Regional Finals !1!

4 – Winner
versus
2 – Malak

This is a tough one. I really loved both of these places. Both offered great value, prime locations, and amazing staff. In a way, they are both winners. In another, more accurate way, the Malak House will represent the Northwest Region in the Final Four.

Things will really get interesting in the loaded Southeast Region tomorrow!

Megatrip Bracket: Northeast Region

If you missed the explanation for how this tournament gimmick works, click here.

Today, I’m focusing on the Northeast Region. 16 places I slept on this trip will do battle in a single-elimination bracket tournament, and the winner will move on to the Final Four. Whenever possible, I will include a link to the hotel website. If the hotel does not have a website, then I will just link to the pertinent page of this blog rather than to a third party consolidator like agoda or tripadvisor.

1 – Inthusak Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos
versus
17 – Eurotel – Quezon City, Metro Manila

I spent four nights at Inthusak, a nice cheapie 10 minutes from central Luang Prabang. For six bucks a night, I got my own room and bathroom, cable TV with zero English channels, and free bananas and coffee. I found the place because of Chris, a dude I met on the bus, and spent a good portion of my time there drinking Beer Lao with him and a couple other dudes from the bus. I spent 4 hours at Eurotel, all of that time asleep.

Result: The top seed wins running away. Eurotel served its purpose, but Metro Manila is an inconvenience to be dealt with while Luang Prabang was one of the nicest towns I visited on the trip.

8 – Niagara Lodge, Angeles City, Philippines
versus
9 – Adriatico Arms, downtown Manila.

Both of these places are pretty much dumps in shady parts of town. Both are also relatively overpriced for what they are, although priced fairly given what a rip-off hotels in their respective districts run. I didn’t really care for either, yet if I found myself needing a place to stay in Manila or Angeles I would stay at them again without question.

Result – The Niagara gets the nod here, mainly because they let me check out 8 hours late at no extra charge, and I got a lot of free drinks there. Plus, walking around Angeles comes with far less risk of being stabbed than walking around downtown Manila.

5 – Thuy Nga Hotel, Hanoi
versus
12 – Prince Hotel, Danang.

The Prince was the most expensive hotel I stayed at in Vietnam because I was too lazy to shop around. It did offer excellent wifi, whereas the Thuy Nga did not.

Result – Thuy Nga wins this one. Wifi aside, it offered everything the Prince did – cable, aircon, fridge, hot water, plus it had a balcony and cost less in a more expensive city. The Thuy Nga was comfortable and offered great value and an excellent location, I would absolutely stay there again if I were to return to Hanoi.

4 – Mixok Guest House, Vientiane, Laos
versus
13 – Night train from Hue to Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Here is where it really becomes obvious that the Northeast is probably the weakest region. I only stayed at Mixok for two nights, yet it was a 4 seed, and a train made it to the 13th slot. The Vietnamese night train was solid though, I slept well and was ready for a full day of touring Ninh Binh when we arrived at 8 a.m.

Result – Mixok. Vientiane is expensive for Laos, but this was the best value I could find, especially given that it’s right in the heart of town.

3- Phong Nha Guesthouse, Hue, Vietnam
versus
14 – Night Train from Lopburi to Lampang, Thailand

I went to the Phong Nha after getting a ride with a tout. I had no intention of actually staying there, but the nice staff, reasonable prices, and free breakfast won me over. I wanted to stay in a different section of Hue with better nightlife, but it turns out that even the “cool” part of town shut out the lights shortly after midnight. On the Thai night train, I spent maybe 45 minutes awake in the bar car before going right to sleep.

Result – Phong Nha, no question. It wasn’t a train.

6 – Nice Guesthouse, Phonsavan, Laos
versus
11. Dugong Boat, Halong Bay, Vietnam

The Nice was another place that Chris tipped me off about, as I met him down there after leaving Luang Prabang. My Plain of Jars motorbike adventure was pretty awesome, but the city of Phonsavan was not. The Dugong boat offered pretty much what I expected, though I didn’t expect to be paying $20 more than my shipmates. This isn’t Dugong’s fault of course, but the shady travel agent that sold me the trip.

Result – The Dugong wins the upset, just for being in Halong Bay.

7 – Family Guesthouse, Hanoi
versus
10 – Queen Hotel, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

The Family was fairly charmless and utilitarian, and I only stayed there because the Thuy Nga was sold out. My room at the Queen was pretty nice, complete with a balcony. Both stops were only for one night.

Result – Queen. Unless I end up living in Hanoi or Danang for some reason, I’m sure I’ll never be in Ninh Binh ever again despite its natural beauty. However, if I were to end up there, I’d check in to the Queen without hesitation. The Family was a backup.

2 – Doman Hotel, Vang Vieng, Laos
versus
15 – Hanoi to Dumaguete (via Manila) flight

The Doman kinda defies explanation. I didn’t particularly like the hotel, nor did I care for the town it was in, yet I ended up staying there for four nights. It wasn’t air conditoned, it wasn’t that well priced, and the wifi was super slow. I had a balcony, but no view. It did have a great location though. I could hang out at TV cafes by day and at the clubs on Party Island by night, and never have to walk more than 100 meters from my front door. On my Cebu Pacific flights to Manila and then to Duma, I snagged my own row, so that was tight.

Result – Doman, obviously. A whole row on a plane in coach still sucks compared to a bed.

Round 2!

1 – Inthusak
versus
8 – Niagara

Result: Inthusak wins this one easily. Four nights there cost less than one night at the Niagara. I suppose it’s hard to compare Luang Prabang to Angeles, since they have basically nothing in common whatsoever.

5 – Thuy Nga
versus
4 – Mixok

Result – Thuy Nga. Both are centrally located bargains in capital cities, but Hanoi is the better city and Thuy Nga is the better hotel.

3 – Phong Nha
versus
11 – Dugong

Result – Dugong. The Phong Nha was a fine place, but I may have just happened to hit Hue at the wrong time. I was weary, the nightlife sucked, and I didn’t really care about the imperial sights. Dugong continues to ride the singular beauty of Halong Bay.

10 – Queen
versus
2 – Doman

Result – I’ll err on the side of the higher seed here and pick Doman, but this would be a close one. Maybe I hit VV at the point on my trip when it just made sense to watch “Friends” for 7 consecutive hours.

Round 3!!

1 – Inthusak
versus
5- Thuy Nga

Result – Since wifi was spotty in both places, I’ll give the edge to Thuy Nga. I really enjoyed both Luang Prabang and Hanoi, and both hotels offered great value. However, though the Thuy Nga cost twice as much as Inthusak, it offered a fridge and aircon and was in the absolute heart of town. I often walked for 15 minutes to grab a bite from Inthusak, whereas I could walk 27 seconds from the Thuy Nga and have a lot of choices.

11 – Dugong
versus
2 – Doman

Result – Gah, how did either of these places make it to the regional semifinals? Again, I’ll go Doman, though this is more a vote of confidence for the Otherside Cafe and its delicious Caesar Salads than the Doman itself.

Regional Finals!1!

4 – Thuy Nga
versus
2 – Doman

Result – Easy pick here. The Thuy Nga stamps its ticket to the Final Four.

Northwest Region up next!

Uh oh, it’s the Megatrip Bracket!

While looking back on my trip, I noticed something interesting. It seems that from the time I arrived in Kuala Lumpur back in April until right now, I’ve slept in precisely 68 different places. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament invites 68 teams. Coincidence? Well yeah, obviously, but I still can’t resist my nerdy urges.

Yup, that’s right, I’m putting together a massive tournament to determine the best place I laid my head over the last five months. I’m no stranger to this sort of geekery, so I’m pretty excited to put this little project together. I realize that this may take hours to put to organize and that nobody in the world may care if a fifth seeded hotel is upset by a 12 seed in the Southeast Region, but dammit I’m doing it anyway.

Before I get into it, let me explain my geography a bit. I’ve divided every spot that I’ve slept into four regions. For clarity, I didn’t use the traditional NCAA regions (East, South, Midwest, West) since there is obviously no “Midwest” in Asia. Instead, I went with the simpler Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast, and these directions relate to my trip’s map. Bagan, Burma was my westernmost point; Siquijor, Philippines my easternmost; Melaka, Malaysia represents the southern extreme; and Hanoi is probably the northernmost place I slept. Bangkok is roughly in the center. All locations are generally regionalized this way with few exceptions. For example, the Northwest Region was a bit light, so I moved Penang into it based on the fact that it was the northwestern extreme of Malaysia on this trip. Bangkok, because of its central position in both geography and importance lies in more than one region.

I should also explain the math a bit as well. Once I regionalized my locations, I had 17 in each region. I seeded these locations based on the amount of time I spent there. Thus, a hotel that I stayed at for 5 nights would get a high seed such as a 1 or a 2, and an overnight bus that I spent 10 hours on would get a low seed, like a 16 or 17. Of course, there would be several hotels in a region where I spent, say, 2 nights, so I seeded them based on how early or late I checked in and out to the best of my recollection.

Finally, I should note that 17 “teams” per region requires a play-in game to get to an even 16 teams per region. The real NCAA Tournament uses a complicated algorithm based on at-large verses automatic-bid teams. Even I’m not nerdy enough to deal with that sort of thing, so I’ll just do a play-in matching the 16 and 17 seeds in each region.

In fact, to prevent this gimmick from lasting too many posts, I’ll do my “play-in” round right now.

Northeast Region:
16 – Bangkok – Clark (Philippines) Night Flight
17 – Quezon City (Philippines) Eurotel nap

Right away, we have an interesting dynamic. On a couple of occasions, I actually “lodged” in more than one place in a single night due to an early arriving bus or plane. In the Northeast Region, there is the added quirk that two such places from the very same night happen to be squaring off in the opening round. I had a late night flight out of Bangkok to Clark Airport in Angeles City and arrived at around 4 a.m. I caught a bus down to Quezon City in Metro Manila and happened upon the Eurotel at around 6 a.m. Because the nearby Taco Bell opened at 10 and the Eurotel had a four-hour rate, I checked in to catch a nap before hitting the Bell and other Manila highlights (just kidding, there are no other Manila highlights).

Result: 17 – Eurotel. It had a bed. No contest.

Northwest Region:
16. Huay Xai – Luang Prabang Bus (Laos)
17 Chiang Mai – Bangkok Bus

Yep, bus rides count too. The Chiang Mai-BKK bus was another that only counted for half a night as I checked into a hotel for a 4 hour nap when I got to town.

Result: 17 – CM-BKK. Both bus rides were horrible and uncomfortable as neither were outfitted as sleeper buses. The bus from Chiang Mai wins because it was a little more comfortable, and because some random Italian dude shared his “cigarette” with me at the rest stop.

Southeast Region:
16 – Sleeper Bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An (Vietnam)
17 – Sleeper Bus from Vientiane to Pakse (Laos)

Another battle of horrible night buses, although at least both of these were proper sleepers in which I could stretch out on.

Result: 16 – NT-HA. This bus was mighty uncomfortable, but at least I got my own tiny bed rather than having to share a slightly larger one with a fat Lao dude.

Southwest Region:
16 – Takua Pa (Thailand)
17 – My Friend’s Place Hostel, Bangkok

The 17 seed was the hostel that I stayed in when I arrived in Bangkok on the Chiang Mai bus. I slept there from around 5 a.m. until 9 a.m. on a bunk. It was the last dorm of the whole trip. I didn’t even use their locker, just passed out wearing all my valuables in my vest.

Result – 16 – Takua Pa. Takua Pa was almost certainly the worst night of the trip that I didn’t spend on a bus. My room was tiny, rustic, and filthy. At around 2 a.m., some couple started yelling at each other in Thai and didn’t stop until 4. I didn’t have real walls, the top 18 inches or so of the wall was made of chicken wire, so it sounded like they were in my room. So why did it win? Because this trip needed Takua Pa, and so does this tournament. I spent a lot of time complaining about how touristy every spot in Thailand was, but in Takua Pa I found out that a non-touristy provincial hub is a far worse place to be than a beach with too many farang.

Next up – the Northeast Region squares off. Laos! Vietnam! The Philippines! Thailand! International Waters! Should be up tomorrow.

Conveyances

This post will have spelling errors.

I just did a bit of travel. Here are my means of transportation. I’m only listing conveyances that I took when I was actually carrying all of my stuff and thus “moving.”

So, since I left my apartment in Seoul, I took a bus to Incheon Airport, a 777 to Detroit, a rock star killer to Kansas City, and my brother’s car to his house in the burbs in February.

I rode in the Old Man’s car to Lawrence, Dylan’s truck to KCI, another rockstar killer to DTW, another 777 to ICN, and a bus to Nowon, Seoul in March.

In April, I took a bus back to ICN, an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, a bus to KL Sentral, a subway to my hostel, a subway to the bus station, a bus to Mersing, a boat to Tioman, a boat to Mersing, a bus to Melaka, a bus to Tapah, a bus to Tana Rata, a bus to Penang, a city bus to Georgetown, a minivan to Hat Yai, a minibus to Trang, a van to Ko Lanta, and a van to Krabi.

In May, I took a minibus to the Krabi jetty, a ferry to Ko Phi Phi, a ferry to Phuket, a bus to Takua Pa, a bus to Surat Thani, a minibus to Don Sok, a Ferry to Samui, a songthew to Mae Nam, a walk to the pier, a catamaran to Ko Pha Gnan, a van to Haad Rin, a songthew to Thong Sala, a boat to Ko Tao, a walk to Sairee Beach, a moto to Mae Haad, a catamaran to Chumphon, a bus to Khao San Road, a walk to a Bangkok canal, a canal boat to Chit Lom, a Sky Train to Asok Station, a subway to the Bangkok train station, a train to Chiang Mai, a van downtown, a songthaew to the bus station, a van to Pai, a motorbike around Pai, a van to Chiang Mai, a van to the bus, and a bus back to Khao San Road.

In June, I took a walk to the canal, a canal boat to National Stadium, a Sky Train to Victory Monument, a van to Ban Phe, a boat to Ko Samet, a walk to beach, a walk to the port, a boat to Ban Phe, a van to Victory Monument, a taxi to KSR, a taxi to Phya Thai, a train to the Bangkok airport, a flight to Yangon, a taxi into town, a taxi to the bus station, a bus to Kalaw, a van to the trek starting point, a walk to an Inle Lake inlet, a boat to Nyaungshwe, a taxi to the junction, a bus to Bagan, a trishaw to the Winner Guesthouse, a walk to the bus station, a bus to Mandalay, a cab to the east side of town, a moto taxi downtown, a walk to ET Guesthouse, a moto taxi to the bus station, a bus to Yangon, a bus to Sule Pagoda, a cab to the airport, a flight to BKK, a train to Soi 101, a moto taxi to Jon and Dana’s, a walk to a cab, a cab to BKK airport, a flight to Clark, an aircon jeepney to Dau Bus Terminal, a bus to Cubao, the MRT to Malate, Manila, a cab to Manila Airport, a flight to Dumaguete, a tricycle to Harold’s Mansion, a walk to the port, a boat to Siquijor, a motorbike to the hotel, a motorbike to the port, a boat to Duma, and a walk to Harold’s.

In July, I took a Trike to airport in Dumaguete, a flight on Cebu Pacific to Manila, a cab to Malate, a train to Cubao, a walk to the bus, a bus to Dau, a trike to a hotel, a walk to another hotel, a cab to Clark, a flight to BKK, a train to Phya Thai, a cab to Khao San Road, a cab to the Bangkok train station, a train to Ayutthaya, a walk to the ferry, a ferry across the river, a walk to Tony’s Guesthouse, a walk to to ferry, a ferry across the river, a walk to the train station, a train to Lopburi, a train to Lampang, a cab to the bus station, a bus to Chiang Rai, a bus to Chiang Khong, a tuk tuk to the port, a boat across the Mekong, a tuk tuk to the bus station, a bus to Luang Prabang, a tuk tuk into town, a tuk tuk to the bus, a bus to Phonsavan, a van to the hotel, a van to the bus station. a bus to Vang Vieng, a walk into town, a pickup to the bus station, a bus to Vientiane, a minibus into town, a pickup to the bus station, a sleeper bus to Pakse, a walk into town, a van to the 4,000 islands port, a boat to Don Det, a boat to the port, a bus to Kratie, a van to Phnom Penh, a tuk tuk to the hotel, a bus to Siem Reap, and a car into town.

In August, I took a minibus to the Siem Reap bus station, a bus to Phnom Penh, a walk to the hotel, a walk to my other hotel, a walk to the port, a boat to Chau Doc, a bus to Saigon, a city bus to town, a bus to Dalat, a van to town, a van to the bus station, a bus to Nha Trang, a van to town, a moto to my hotel, a van to the bus, a sleeper bus to Hoi An, a walk to the hotel, a walk to the local bus, a local bus to Danang, a moto to the train station, a train to Hue, a van to town, a moto to the train station, a night train to Ninh Binh, a train to Hanoi, a walk into town, a van to Halong Bay, a boat on the bay, a van back to Hanoi, a cab to the airport, a plane to Manila, a plane to Dumaguete, and a tricycle to town.

Since then, I generally walk or take a tricycle cab for a quarter. It’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been on any conveyance for longer than five minutes.

Bag Packed 2

20120908-154936.jpg

Way back in April, I wrote a post called “Bag Packed,” in which I went through the contents of my bag early in the trip. At the time I took those pictures, I was on Tioman Island, only the second stop of the trip. At that point, I was carrying everything with me that I brought from America and Korea other than an iPad stylus and a pen that I had already lost. I may have even been carrying clean clothes that had yet to be washed on the road.

Much has changed in the last 150 days or so. Plenty of things have been lost, trashed, sent off, and acquired since early April. It’s safe to assume that my current bag is a little smarter and a whole lot lighter.

20120908-150111.jpg
My shirts on my last day in Hanoi. I bought two more that day, but one of them ripped the first time I ever wore it. Of my original shirts, I think I trashed 3, lost one, and sent one back to Korea. I also bought three as gifts and no longer have them, bought one that I lost, and bought four in this pic that I still have.

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All of my pants. The gym shorts and board shorts have been with me all along, the cargos are the third pair I’ve had. I sent all my long pants back to Korea since I never wear them. I figure after not working for six months, there is really no longer any reason to own a pair of long pants. I also took a picture of my two pairs of socks, my two quick-dry towels, and my draws, but I decided not to post it since I own a rather embarrassing lack of draws.

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This bag o’ stuff mainly stayed sealed in the bottom of my bag for the latter portion of my trip, since it’s mostly stuff I just use at the beach.

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The stuff in that bag, plus my jungle hat. Both hats are, as expected, in far worse condition than they were in my original post. My jacket sleeves are here, which I only used in Dalat, Kalaw, and the Cameron Highlands. I used the inflatable cushion on the beach quite a bit. In fact, the cushion combined with my yellow quick-dry towel and my daypack made for a decent impromptu beach lounge so that I could avoid carrying a large beach towel or paying to rent a chair. This was really useful in May when I was at the beach pretty much every day, but I probably should have thrown it away after I left Ko Samet because I only spent five or six more days at the beach over the following three months. The trekking pillowcase was really only useful on overnight plane rides with my own row, and most of the time I forgot to use it and just used my jacket as a pillow.

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My awesome travel vest (thanks Mom!) and the stuff currently in it. As the trip progressed, I realized it was simply too hot to wear this bad boy while walking along the beach in Ko Samui or the back alleys of Yangon, so I took to just wearing it when I was on the bus/train/boat/plane to the next town. Thus, when I was “situated” somewhere (Hanoi in this case) the vest was pretty empty. Here I just had a wet nap, my backup sunglasses, my student ID and license, my camera bag, and my smaller sunscreen. The deeper pockets also contained camera SD cards and a flash drive. By this point, I hadn’t used the headphone system in months since it was, again, too hot to wear this puppy day to day.

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Here’s the stuff that I usually carried around in my day bag (visible in the opening picture). In this case, I’ve got sun screen, bug spray, my iPad, a Vietnam Lonely Planet that I bought on the street in Phnom Penh, the book that I’m currently reading (at 950 pages, “Lonesome Dove” will hold that role for the foreseeable future,) my wallet, my primary sunglasses, a map of Vietnam, my carabiner key chain, and my headphones. I went through tons of headphones on this trip, but I’ve had these since Chiang Rai in early July. I think these were better because I finally realized I shouldn’t buy the cheapest pair anymore. Thus in Chiang Rai I wised up and bought the second-cheapest kind. I also have my ghetto phone, which I bought in Trang back in April. I’ve purchased SIM cards in several countries since, and I threw away my ghetto Korean phone when I bought this. I also bought the switchblade in Trang, but gave it away to the taxi driver who took me to the airport in Hanoi. Fortunately, the only person I stabbed in the four months I had it was myself by mistake. Finally, my horrible rain poncho is here, which has certainly seen better days.

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Souvenirs from Myanmar, which turned out to be the only place that I ended up buying souvenirs for myself other than useful things like t-shirts or sunglasses. By the way, maybe the most amazing statistic of this trip is the fact that I only lost or broke three pairs of shades the whole time.

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Stuff that lives in the easily accessible side pouches of my big bag. My bluetooth keyboard, my bluetooth speakers, emergency TP, and chargers for my phone and camera. My iPad charger was in use so it wasn’t pictured, but I’m sure you could envision it. I also have my external hard drive, which my buddy Martin brought from Korea, just in case I end up buying a new laptop before returning there. The white thing connects my camera card to my iPad so I can load pictures directly to it. That little piece of metal and plastic that I bought in a dirt mall in Phuket has been absolutely crucial to this blog since I lost my iPhone back in Ko Phi Phi.

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The stuff in the belt strap pouches of my bag. Coins from countries where I am not, and my traveling Buddha figure that I’ve carried on the road for the last decade or so.

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Stuff bags, making the packing process easier.

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The contents of my main stuff bag. I traded a book to Kris for the Twain, though I doubt I’ll ever actually read it. I bought the “tubing” dry bag in Vang Vieng, and it’s been pretty useful on kayak trips since. Never did use the beer coozy, prolly could have left it behind. Maps of southern Thailand that I forgot to throw away in southern Thailand, so I guess they are souvenirs now. I only used the headlamp a few times, but it was well worth having for those times. I never did use the sleeping mask though, it was buried in my bag any time it may have been useful. The earplugs came in handy in my noisy Khao San Road room, and on overnight buses. I got guilted into buying the postcards from a kid in Yangon, before I got hardened toward beggars. Other semi-useful things in this, my traveling junk drawer, include electrical tape, a key chain, a lighter, trinkets, SIM cards, a lens cleaner, and good old Carmex.

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The electrics in my Crown Royal stuff bag. Adaptors, cords, and my Wibro Egg portable wifi device, useful only in Korea but too cool to ditch.

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The “backbone” of the trip isn’t so valuable these days. Credit cards and maybe 40 bucks in cash. My passport usually lives here too, but in Vietnam hotels hang on to them at reception.

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Toiletry bag. I ran out of deodorant in Vientiane, Laos and the only kind they sold in the store I visited there was Axe. Yep, Axe in Laos. The douchebags have truly won. And yes, I’m a bit upset that the best joke of this post is so deep in that nobody will actually read it.

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My shoes. That’s it. That’s all the shoes I got. I sent my hiking boots off with Kris and Martin, and I lost my flip-flops in a blurry incident on Ko Phi Phi that may or may not have involved buckets.

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Finally, we end with the silent narrator of this blog since Chiang Mai. Camera Number Six is far superior to its predecessors, despite its stupid color.

Hanoi

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In many ways, Hanoi was it. Last stop on the Megatrip. End of the line not only for my train into town, but for me as well. Though I will continue to be “on the road” by virtue of the fact that I’m not “home” (wherever the hell that is), I’m no longer going to be doing what I’ve done over the last five months. No more running all over a town to see its brightest lights in two or three days. No more changing hotels more often than I change my shirt. No more nights spent on trains, boats, buses, or planes. It’s been a hell of a ride and one of the best experiences of my life, but all good things must end, but I guess my lazy use of cliches will continue. This blog will likely be drawing to a close soon as well, although I have several wrap-up pieces and other gimmicks in the hopper to post before that happens.

Hanoi did make for a fine last stop. Despite my temptation to just run out the clock on the trip and spend four days at the bar, I feel I did what I do and saw what needed to be seen in Hanoi, taking it one play at a time… wait, now I’m on to NFL cliches.

After I got off the train into town, I walked to the Old Quarter and tried to find a restaurant with wifi, as I hadn’t actually researched Hanoi hotels yet. Strangely, I visited no less than 6 restaurants before I found one with wifi. Keep in mind, I wasn’t checking at hole in the wall noodle shops, I was going to traveler-type cafes, the likes of which always have wifi, even in backwoods towns. After finally finding an expensive joint with a great view of Hoan Kiem Lake, I spent an hour online researching places before ultimately going to the Thuy Nga Hotel, a place that I had already passed on the street and read about in my hard copy of Lonely Planet Vietnam. I could have saved an hour and a half just checking into Thuy Nga when I first saw it, but then things wouldn’t have been difficult enough for my tastes.

The Thuy Nga was a fine joint when its wifi worked, which wasn’t all the time. I had air conditioning, a balcony, a fridge, and a lockbox in the room all for $12 a night, plus I was located a literal stone’s throw from Bia Hoi Corner, the center of Hanoi nightlife.

My first stop after checking in was the Hoa Lu Prison Museum, better known as the Hanoi Hilton. Only a small fraction of the original prison complex still stands, most was demolished to make way for a high rise development. As with all museums in Vietnam, the point of view was quite different than the conventional wisdom back home. Most of the museum was dedicated to the terrible conditions that Vietnamese prisoners endured during the French occupation. While this was interesting, as an American I came to learn about the prison’s use during the Vietnam War, rather than how the French used it 100 years ago. I’ll elaborate more on this museum in the picture section, but the main theme in the small portion of the museum dedicated to its “Hanoi Hilton” period mainly focused on how well American pilots were treated, and how all POWs were returned after the U.S. withdrew from the war.

Following the prison visit, I followed the Lonely Planet walking tour around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Say what you will about Lonely Planet, every walking tour of theirs that I’ve ever done have been spot on, and this was no exception. I walked through metal working streets and blacksmith street, where actual blacksmiths still ply their trade. Further down the line, I also visited Temple 102, a place I would have never discovered on my own. This is an elaborate Chinese temple that is tucked onto the upper floor of a residential building, and I had it all to myself. I ended the tour at Hoan Kiem Lake itself, visiting the temple on the small island in the lake.

I hit the tourists sights again the next day, which I’ll cover a bit more in the pictures. It was pretty easy to wake up early to get to the sights, because Hanoi doesn’t stay open very late. I spent the evening hanging out with some other travelers who had recently become Hanoi expats. I had considered staying in Hanoi longer term to teach English as well, but I think it’s a bit too isolated for my tastes. Hanoi is a very nice city, but it takes forever to get anywhere else in Southeast Asia overland. For such a large capital city, the airport is too substandard to be a home base as well. Saigon holds the main air hub for the nation.

After my second night in Hanoi, I headed to Halong Bay on a tour, then returned to town the following evening. Sadly, my hotel was sold out upon my return, so I moved to a place down the street. It was far less charming, although they did let me get a super-late check out at 8 p.m. for a couple extra dollars, so it worked. I played some bar trivia and met some more expats, but my team lost to some 23 year old English kids. Of course, I blame the fact that the quizmaster was also English, so a lot of the questions were things no American would know. For example, which actors that played James Bond were English? Y’know, verses Scottish or Welsh or whatever else the limeys consider to be separate nationalities.

My final day in Hanoi was a fairly low key affair. I had seen most everything that I wanted to see, so I headed to the History Museum and the Revolution Museum, the last two spots that I really wanted to check out. After touring these worthwhile institutions, it was time to sit around at bars and cafes until my late night flight.

I arranged an airport taxi through my hotel. As a literal tip, I gave the cabbie my trusty switchblade that I’d had since Trang, as I clearly couldn’t bring it on the plane.

Hanoi was a lovely city that I enjoyed a great deal, but in typical Vietnam fashion, it was tainted by slimy shysters working at legitimate jobs on my way out.

I had a one way ticket to the Philippines. I knew that Manila customs would theoretically want proof of onward travel, but the same could be said for Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – all of which I’ve entered without onward travel booked. I’ve also flown into the Philippines many times before, and though I always had onward travel plans when I arrived in the past, I never had to show my onward flight documents to immigration.

This being Vietnam, the gate agents refused to issue me a boarding pass unless I bought another ticket. They strongly encouraged me to go to the Vietnam Air desk to buy a refundable ticket, but I was sure this was just another scheme. I was flying Cebu Pacific, but the gate agents for my flight were all Vietnam Air representatives. I bought a random flight out of Manila on the cheapest airline I could find. For a while, this still wasn’t enough. They said I’d need a visa, they said I’d need a hard copy of my itinerary, both of which are total lies. Once I got my boarding pass, I just walked away mid-argument and headed straight for airside.

I guess Vietnam loves tourists so much, they don’t want them to leave.

Four hours later in Manila, things proceeded exactly as I told the Hanoi gate agents they would:

Immigration Officer: Good morning sir. Welcome to the Philippines.

Me: Good morning. (hands officer my passport)

Officer: (looks through my passport for 14 seconds, stamps it, hands it back) Here you are.

Me: Thank you.

There is a lot to love about Vietnam. The cities are exciting, the food won me over, the beaches and mountains are beautiful, and every local that I talked to in a non-commerce setting was very nice. However, the degrees that ordinary work-a-day people like bus drivers, airline officials, and barbers go to rip off tourists is unconscionable. Plenty of countries have multi-level pricing, shady taxi drivers, and scams galore, but Vietnam is a whole other animal. I will not be looking for work there. I’d much prefer dealing with Korea’s terrible weather, high cost of living, and comical jingoism. The Hanoi Airport incident was the last straw for me.

This is not to say that Hanoi isn’t a beautiful and fascinating city, as you will see here. On to the pics!

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The view from my balcony.

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The remaining portion of the “Hanoi Hilton.”

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Here’s a display at the prison museum that annoyed me. Around 80% of the museum is concerned with how horrible the French were. However, in the American War section, the first thing I saw was a big collage of French protests against the war. It was as if whoever designed this section had never visited the rest of the museum.

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John McCain’s flight suit.

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A fairly accurate depiction of how Vietnam sees itself.

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Hanoi streetscape near Blacksmith Street. Similar scene in the next pic.

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The alter at Temple 102.

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Bia Hoi Corner. A fine place to sit at a plastic chair on the street to drink a 25 cent draft beer.

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Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Home to the only good kind of commie – the dead kind.

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Ho Chi Minh’s palace, which is still used for state functions and somehow escaped bombing.

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One Pillar Pagoda. I’d expected a bit more of this. It was supposed to be 1,000 years old, but that one pillar is clearly just concrete.

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This was at the Fine Art Museum. Really impressive place, possibly the best art museum I visited on this entire trip.

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Fine Art Museum exterior.

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The grounds at the Temple Of Literature, easily the prettiest and most serene temple that I visited in Hanoi.

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The “other” Hanoi Hilton.

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The Revolution Museum. Three weeks in to Vietnam, and I still wasn’t sick of awesome commie propaganda paintings.

Plenty of wrap-up stuff coming up!

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