Welcome to Delhi, India

En Route to India
I opted in taking a shuttle bus to the air port to save some extra money. It left at 4:00 in the morning and it was about 15 minutes from my guest house so I was up VERY early. I ended up getting to the stop and noticed people were still out for the night just able to stumble on home after a night of drinking. I was propositioned by 3 prostitutes, one that I KNOW was a lady by her, hmm, his 'package'. I met a French girl who studies in Australia and is traveling for holiday and a local Thai boy who is traveling to Korea for 6 days while on the shuttle. We checked0in to our separate flights and said our goodbyes as we headed to our own gates. While in line at immigrations I met a girl who grew up in Carmel, California but has lived in Asia for the last 4 or 5 years teaching English, French, and Spanish. She's planning on teaching yoga for the next year on a Thai island. She gave me some tips for when traveling in India. She forewarned me that I will get diarrhea at some point, but just make sure to be prepared so I can get better asap. I walked to my gain, but before security I got a nice ice cream cone from DQ, since I didn't know how long it would be before I would be able to get one. Even thought it was vanilla I enjoyed every last lick. I was carefully searched and by bag thoroughly searched when I went through security, but was through in no time. I patiently waited until I was able to take my seat on the flight. I selected a window seat, but could have sat anywhere on the account that the airplane was largely under-booked. (just a side not, I had a mouse crawl across my toes just 5 seconds ago as I was typing the last sentence). I got a very heavy delightedly maroon blanket and was fast asleep before I even heard the pilot say anything about preparing for takeoff. I woke up and we were already in the air. I guess those noise-cancelling headphones can do magic. I had the meal on the plane which included some chicken, steamed rice and vegetables, and of course a roll. I ate then went back to sleep...the flight was only 4.5 hours and when I arrived in India I was slightly refreshed. I hadn't slept too well the previous night since I had to wake up sharply at 3:00 and probably wasn't fully asleep until well after 12:00.

Arriving In Delhi
I went to the bathroom in Delhi only to find squat toilets...yippie! After waiting in line and going through immigrations I got my luggage and exchanged the remaining 470 baht I had left in my pocket. I was largely ripped off, but what could I do, I probably only lost 3 dollars or so in converting my money to rupees. For the record there are ~50 Rs. to $1 US dollar. I walked down an ales where there must have been 50 people holding signs and waving their hands to get peoples' attention. I found my name and walked towards the young man holding the sign. He introduced himself and was the nephew of a Mr. Arora, who is a very close friend with my Uncle Marc. I followed him to a Toyota van and he introduced me to the driver, Mr. Kamal. He didn't speak English, but I guess I was OK with that at the time. Mr. Kamal dropped off the nephew and I was on my own with the driver. We drove around the city for a while and then pulled inside a gated housing community where we must have taking at least 6 or 7 turns before stopping. Another man met me and opened the door for me. He took my luggage upstairs and Mr. Kamal showed me upstairs to my room. I had passed a woman cleaning and said Namastay and continues past her. My room had a queen (or possibly even a king) sized bed, color TV with cable and a wooden entertainment system built around it. There were nicely carved wooden chairs with fine red velvet and an in-wall closet. There was also a nice bathroom with western-style toilet, a shower, as well as a separate tub. The entire time I was being asked what I wanted to eat/drink. I finally said coffee is fine. They came out with a tray of coffee, a light sandwich, and some biscuits. The sandwich had cheese and tomatoes on a light white bread, the biscuits were just crunchy vanilla type (and there must have been an entire plateful), but the coffee was aimed to impress. There was a very nice coffee cup, with gold painted fine china legs, such that the body of the cup rested half an inch above the fine china coffee plate. I must say that it was coffee, but not what I had expected. It was frothy and tasted like a cappuccino. The man who carried my bags in gave me the remote and kept coming to check in on me and asking if I needed anything. Mr. Arora called me and said that I may use Mr. Kamal to drive me anywhere I wanted to go, but I knew I would be seeing Delhi later and wanted to enjoy the nice relaxing bed. At one point the guy even placed the covers of the bed over my legs...wow was I being pampered. They had a tough time understanding why I wasn't going to stay the night. Again they asked what I wanted to eat for lunch...I thought I already just done that? I wasn't able to communicate well with them so I just went along with it, even though I was stuffed. I said I am fine with whatever and said I had no restrictions. Finally Mr. Kamal instructed me to follow him and we drove off. We pulled up to a restaurant and parked. He walked me inside but had to go back to re-park the car as a policeman was yelling at him. I took a seat in the restaurant, but wasn't sure if he was going to be joining me for lunch or not? I figured it was not. I was in a t-shirt and khaki shorts with sandals. I looked around to see everybody else in pants and mostly business formal ware. This was a upscale place and it was obvious. There where three younger people in the place next to me, but I could tell from one of their Mont Blonc shopping bags that they had some money. I ordered chicken in spiced chilli sauce and an order of nan and two diet cokes. I was soo impressed with the food. It may have been the best meal I've had in the last month? Before my meal came I was served some red small onion and a green salad dressing. I wasn't sure what to do with it, but just ate it up and it was very flavourful. I was prepared to pay for my meal, but Mr. Kamal came in from waiting outside the door and quickly paid before I was given the check. After Mr. Kamal had left I asked my waiter if he was tipped and he nodded that he hadn't so I left him 100 Rs. This is equivalent to 2 dollars, I think the meal was maybe 9 dollars or so. This was a very nice tip for him, and I wasn't even sure if he was telling me the truth, but I wanted to pay something, that and he looked just like an Indian version of Mario Lopez. Mr. Kamal drove me back to my room and I watched some Indian tv for a while while I wrote in my journal. I kept telling him that I wanted to be at the hotel at 5:00, but it was 4:30 and he hadn't come for me. I had someone get him and told him I wanted to leave, but he said, "no no 1 hour 30 minutes left". I don't think he understood, but I just told him I wanted to leave now. I was on my way to meet my new group.

Meeting My Group in India
I had to go to several ATMs in order to find one that would pay out the 20,000 Rp that I needed (18,000 Rp. just for a last payment for the trip). I went to drop off my bags and get freshened up when I met my roommate in the room. His name is Sam, is 19 years old, and is from Essex, England. I think we'll get along famously (very good thing). We went down to meet the other at 6:00 and for the group meeting. To my surprise many of the people on the trip were younger than I (very different that from my last trip). There are twins from London who at 19, a girl traveling on her own from London as well and she is 23.. ( ;)wink wink ;) )! Three girls traveling from Norway who are 19 years old, A Scottish girl who is studying in Australia came with her Aussie friend and their both 22 (but with boyfriends). There is a 26 year old German who just finished up her degree. There is one other boy, a 25 year old American who has been living and working outside the of the States for a couple years. Get this...he's from Ohio...YOUNGSTOWN OHIO! Quite coincidental since we've BOTH only come across a hand full of US travellers. So in total there are 9 girls and only 3 guys. We all went out to eat, but I only got some type of bread (other than nan) and a water since I was still quite full from my two lunches earlier. Afterwards we went on the top of our hotel where they served beer. I have been getting along amazingly with all of them and I can feel that we will be very close this next 3 weeks. We joked and and talked and just had a great time. I can definitely detect the younger ages in the group, but it's OK. It's not that they're not mature, it's that they lack a lot of experience. Most of them are on their GAP year. For those of you that don't know what that is, it's a year of traveling after high school and before starting university. Everyone on trip is traveling for at least 5 weeks, and some for several months. My roommate, Sam, traveled with a group to Egypt for the last two weeks, and will be traveling Thailand after this trip. Many of the girls here are a bit tall, but I don't think it will bother me after a while. And I mean tall...maybe 5'10", maybe taller. After having a couple drinks the majority of people went to bed, but Sam and I offered some to come down and play cards in our room. 4 girls came along and the 6 of us played cards for a little over an hour. We finally said our good nights at 12:30.

We got up at 8:00, washed up, and repacked for the day. We had breakfast, but then had to hurry down and check-out of the hotel since we'd be in the city all day. We walked to the metro (train station) and took a train several stops down and had to transfer onto another train line. We first went to India's largest Muslim Mosque, Jama Masjid (see photo on left), which was built by the same buy who built the Taj Mahal. We could see the Red Fort, which was beautiful, but I chose not to go in since it was $5 and I didn't think it was worth it. Next we walked to the Hindi Temple Guru Bhawra, where people from all over and all faiths came come for free food. Afterwards the group split up and I walked around with Sam and Lisa (the girl from Germany). We tried to find an Internet cafe, but finally gave up after over an hour. We hailed a tuk-tuk, or motorized rickshaw, and went to the metro station. The 4 km ride took more than 30 minutes. The traffic here is indescribable. Horns going off in every directions, people crossing at a whim. I have noticed the people here are not friendly. In Indochina they at least will walk around you. Here we have to walk around them, even time, they make no effort to move. I have been working on my 'stiff shoulder' because I will only move half way. If they want to be hit, that's up to them, all it takes is for them to move that other half way. I hope my opinion of the Indians gets better because I have very little respect for them. It may just be that in Delhi it is a different culture. They are not welcoming and not approachable. I was also under the impression that many of them speak English. This is completely wrong, some speak broken English, but that's about the best you can hope for. Maybe it's just that since 17 million people live in the city, the people tend to be colder...like how NYC is? One can only hope. On the way to the Internet cafe we were accosted by children and beggars alike. They were trying to sell us stuff and wouldn't leave us alone even though I asked politely 5 or 6 times (or many a hundred). Finally I put out my hand and said "Thou shall not pass". Surprisingly they stayed exactly where I placed my hand and finally stopped bothering us. Some of the older man showed us books, similar to journals, where people were supposedly commenting how great their 'services' were. They were trying to clean our ears. I couldn't get over the fact that someone would actually let this dirty person stick an even dirtier piece of metal and cotton into their ears and 'clean them'. They just would not leave us alone even though we pleaded. I noticed many swarming around us and I didn't like this so I placed my backpack in front of me and placed my hand in my pockets guarding my valuables. I told them they can do damage if they cleaned out all the wax, but it was useless. The German girl actually fell for it and got it done. It was because of this that Sam and I couldn't leave and had to wait around while being accosted. I was shocked that I never snapped at them and that I was able to keep my cool the entire time. I need to device another way to brush them off that doesn't involve me having to leave the area. I may get a spray bottle that one would use to scold a jumpy kitty and just spray them when they approached me. I mean no disrespect to many of the Indians, but they truthfully have no idea what it's like to be a tourist in their country. I have not seen many westerners AT ALL since I've been here since much of the tourism comes from within their own country. We are meeting at 4:00 back at the hotel and taking a taxi from there to our next stop--A 20 hour overnight sleeper train. We are taking a 3rd class train that sleeps 3 vertically and I am going to pick up food beforehand, since there is no food service on the train.

Also, shorts are not appropriate while walking in temples or any holy areas. It seems that it's even frowned upon to wear shorts on the street as well so I may have to buy a pair of light-weight linens. I am going to die of these heat. After the train ride (maybe a day after) we will be taking an overnight dessert trek on camels and will be camping out along the way. I'll do my best to keep you posted, but Internet access here is VERY spotty.

Last Day in Bangkok

Evening of Day 3 in Bangkok
So last night I finally found a place to drop off my laundry. Afterwords I walked the streets for 45 minutes or say taking in the culture
and some music, (though there isn't too much). I finally selected a nice restaurant and sat outside, despite the fact that there was a/c and fans inside and it was still a scorching 85+ and muggy. I have learned to accept that my clothing will be forever drenched. I hat alone and ordered a nice chicken cashew dish, a side of steamed rice, and a large Chang beer (see picture on right). As I was paying my bill a man sat down at the table next to me, alone. I introduced myself, as did he. I had noticed he had placed a baby monitor on the table as he ordered a large beer for himself. I inquired and it turns out his wife, his 2.5 yr old daughter, and he have been traveling for a littler shy of 4 weeks and fly home to Amsterdam [today]. He organizes papers for the city counsel, and we discussed a problem he was having concerning an environmental problem that has caused a huge project to be delayed for a long time. The projected 2010 completion date has been significantly pushed back. He seemed to have negative views about the developer, and I assured him the feeling was most definitely mutual. I turned in and went to sleep after watching some very disturbing movie on my TV.

Last Day (Day 4) in Bangkok

I enjoyed a nice sleep and did not get up for breakfast until a little after 10. I confirmed my flight out for tomorrow and it is still on schedule. I got dressed and put on my headphones and went outside to walk around. I was planning on going to china town maybe or possibly the grand palace. I ended up meeting a on the street who was visiting Bangkok. He himself was Thai but lived some 40km south of Chiang Mai. He told me to try Wat Theptidaram and make it there before 1:00 pm. He said there was a Buddhist ordination at that time. I hailed a tuk-tuk and told him where I wanted to go. We drove off a little, but I soon told him he could go **** himself when he demanded he take me to a tailor shop first. I quickly jumped off said smiling, "good to you" and walked away. The man who had given me the advise had seen me and ran over to me to ask what the problem was. He insisted on getting a tuk-tuk for me and talking to the driver, I complied. The tuk-tuk driver took me to the Wat, and it was huge (see photo on right). It was 5 or some stories high with one spiraling wooden staircase in the center. I took some photos and left about 15 minutes later and got back on the tuk-tuk, since he was waiting for me (I had not paid at this time). He then took me to two other places right by where we were and I watched some ceremony, which didn't impress. He then said he wanted to take me to an emerald store and that there was a special Bangkok promotion going on right now. Nonchalantly I told him, "Then you better hurry up and drop me off at the Grand Palace so that you can go there yourself". Apparently sarcasm isn't appreciated in this part of the world. Maybe in time they will be ready for me? I finally said I would go since I would have been happy to buy a knock off diamond earring. He dropped me off and I requested his key. He didn't understand so I reached over the back seat and turned off the ignition and pocketed the key and explained to him, "I take your key so you don't drive away". He didn't seem to like that too much, but I was having a ball. I found nothing inside the store and was in-and-out in a matter of 3 minutes. On the road again...not 2 minutes later he tells me, no asks me, that we go to one more stop on the way. I politely correct him and say I will not. We drive and argue for a good 5 minutes. I finally say, "If you take me to a tailor I will not leave this tuk-tuk". If you do not take me directly where I wish to go I will not pay you". He complies, but after another 5 minutes we have the same 'conversation'. I finally drop the politeness and stand ground while I treat him and talk to him like I'm scolding my own child. Hey, it worked. He dropped me off at the Grand Palace and I paid him a total of 60 baht (about $1.7 USD). He thanked me and drove off. I only had to pay him 20 baht, but I know we was banking on making many stops and I definitely had him drive me pretty damn far, typically I would need to hire a taxi and would pay 60 baht just one way.

The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha (see picture on left) looked amazing, but it cost 350 baht ($10 USD) just to get inside. I went to pay but was turned away because I was wearing shorts, even thought they were way past my knees. I walked to the front office again (about a 10 minute walk) in the 102 degree heat and paid a 100 baht deposit for pants. I bought the ticket and walked inside. First I went to see the Emerald Buddha. Cameras were not permitted inside, but I was able to take some shots just outside the entrance. There was an entire courtyard and everything was wonderfully landscaped, colorful, and just...well.... wonderful! When I walked inside to see the Emerald Buddha I remembered the Sistine Chapel--and this Green Buddha surely wins. I say that not really knowing the work that went into building this thing. One should always judge history by the standard of that time. I say this because if it turns out the sculptures were made from machined parts, I may find it less 'wonderful', though the aesthetics remain unaltered.

Next I walked to the Grand Palace (see video below in the center). I was given a handout with a map and some details, but I was too hot to stay there any longer than necessary. I took 10 or so pictures and left. I was inside the Emerald Buddha and Grand Palace for a little shy of 1 hour--I would have liked to stay longer, but the benefit of moving out of the heat won out the cost of leaving earlier than desired.

I walked back and picked up my laundry, which took another 45+ minutes. So much walking, and sweating. I have never drank so many water bottles in my life. I am going to try to get a massage today and book a shuttle to the airport that will leave tomorrow at 4:00 am. That means I have to wake up VERY early and leave my guest house by 3:40 and walk over the the pick-up location. How fun. See you all in India.

I am adding some other photos from today so check out my pictures.

!!! God damn it, after 1.5 hours of f*cking waiting for this video to load, I just got sick of this bu*llsh*t. UGH!


One night in Tokyo and meeting my group in Bangkok

Just Some More Logistics...

Hey everybody, So as you may or may now already know my flight to Tokyo was delayed so I missed my connection to Bangkok. United Airlines put me up in a very nice hotel in Tokyo and I had got a food voucher for 1,500 (Yen, that is). Even though I was full I forced myself to eat at least one meal while in Tokyo, so I got went to a restaurant and had a nice genuine Japanese meal. I think I like how the Americans do it (to be completely honest). But I digress, on to Bangkok...oh and one more thing, Singapore Air is the finest and best airline I've EVER been on. Can we say over 100 movies and over 200 TV shows ON DEMAND, WOW!

I got to Bangkok and met up with my group with only a handful of problems and issue as to be expected. In my group there are 15 total and 1 trip leader, who's name is impossible to pronounce so we call him AJ. The people are as follows (I'll spare you the names), including myself there are 2 of us from the US, 3 from Canada, 4 from Germany, 1 from England, 1 form Holland, One couple from Finland, One couple from Australia, and our guide is from Thailand. I am the youngest at 22 yrs, and the next oldest is the girl from Holland. Many are in the ages of 26 to 33, but there is a married couple from Canada that are 79 and 80 years old (yeah, you hear correctly).

My Indochina trip consists of 3 separate trips that focuses on 1 (Cambodia) 2(Vietnam) and 3(Lao). Of all the 15 people there are only 6 of us that will be traveling the entire 30 days, the other 9 will be either doing only Cambodia or Cambodia + Vietnam. I believe we will be picking up other backpackers though? The 6 are the married couple from Australia and the couple from Finland, plus me and a 27 year old German named Stefin. He and I are sharing a room together, which is tough on the account we can barely understand each other.


Last night in Bangkok a couple of us went out to a curbside restaurant (but I think they cooked out food outside). I ordered...Chicken Pad Thai. I thought that was an appropriate first Thai meal. I also had genuine Thai beer, Singha, and ordered it by the 22 oz. The cost of my Pad Thai, 30 baht ($0.85) and the entire cost of dinner + a full night of drinking...... less than $5. We got back to the hotel around 1 or 1:30 and woke up at about 5:30 for breakfast and hit the road by 7. We were off to CAMBODIA

oh, and by the way, I am at an internet cafe right now in Siem Reap, Cambodia with someone on my tour who reminds me of Andrew York.

We split up in two groups and took privately hired vans to the Thai-Cambodian border. The trip was 3 to 4 hours. After getting out Cambodian Visas, stopping for lunch and some other pit stops, we were back on the road on the unpaved roads of Cambodia to Siem Reap. The 160km journey took 4 hours and was very very 'bumpy'. Looking out the windows into the world of Cambodia was very interesting. It was very different than the RICH Thailand. Here there is only one main road, that it's not even paved. The houses can barely be called houses and look like they should have fallen down years ago. People of all ages work in the fields and swamps. They tend to their cattle and are fishing in the dirtying mud-water--I wonder what those fish taste like?

After traveling for 8 or so hours we made it to Siem Reap, Cambodia and checked in to our hotel that we will be at for 2 nights. I am waking up at 4:30 tomorrow and taking a hired shuttle with some people to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. We will be spending the day there and head back to the hotels after sunset. I am going to try to get back online at that time and then maybe a nice Cambodian Massage? I mean an hour massage for $6 and no tax, it's hard to turn up. This evening we went to a local restaurant and I ordered Khmer Lok Lak, very good. For lunch I got a spicy Thai Soup with Pork. It was VERY spicy, I LOVED IT. We then watched a performance of traditional Cambodian Dance and Music and Song. I'm sure I missed a lot, so please write me and tell me what you want to hear. It's VERY hard to write down EVERYTHING that happens and it's VERY likely I'm missing the important or Interesting things.

I got a little sad and lonely yesterday when I woke up at the hotel in Japan and thought to myself, "Am I really going to be gone for that long". But I think it's going to be perfectly fine. I am meeting people and fitting in nicely and have been learning/doing a lot (and I've only been gone for several days). Mostly everyone on my trip has been or will be traveling for an extended amount of time in addition of this tour. A few will be gone for a total of 5 to 9 months, while the majority will be traveling for around 3 to 4 months. There are only 2 people that are only doing this tour, 2 girls from Germany who are Radiology Technicians. The people traveling in my group have been all over the world and have done amazing things. They are very independent and adventurous and make my 10 week trip sound like child's play.

Oh and by the way, no one here uses toilet paper. There is a hose beside the toilet to 'clean' yourself. Also, all the hotels here so far have had toothbrushes, soaps, and shampoos. ALSO, the toilet in TOKYO was SOOOO high tech. I didn't know how to flush it at first. There was also a bidet with multiple settings. Why you would need more than 1 just is beyond me. O well, cheers!

I would like to apologize for all typos and stupid grammatical errors I have or will be making. I have a lot to get across and I hope you don't hold my writing against me. ALSO I will be putting up some photos for this posting in the next day or two, or three.


Introduction, Itinerary, and Travel Dates.

Hello All,

I would like to take this time to introduce myself as well as the following blog. I am Scott Biales, as most of you likely already know. I will be traveling to South East Asia, India, and Ireland from January 17th to March 24th, 2009. For the first leg of my trip I will be in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam for about 5 weeks. I will be flying from Bangkok, Thailand to Delhi, India for the second leg of my trip and will be traveling Northern India for a little under 4 weeks. The third and last leg of my trip consist of 9 days in The Republic of Ireland. I will be flying from Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) into Dublin, Ireland and will be spending St. Patrick's Day in the capital city. I will Travel the country and fly out from Shannon International Airport and return home on March 24th 2009.

Although I will not be visiting the following locations, I will be stopping at their airports:
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Chicago, IL
  • Mumbai (foremely Bombay), India
  • London, England
I encourage everybody to contact/communicate with me via this blog, as my email will likely be cluttered with 1000s (literally) of emails while I'm gone and this will make it much more convenient for me. Also, I will be keeping a personal travel journal, so I will be using that a lot. Thus, don't expect too much detail/info in this blog.

(NOTE: the following itineraries include both organized tours and the plans I made myself, which are subject (and very likely) to change as I see fit)

1st Leg of Trip

Day 1 Bangkok Today is arrival day so there are no activities planned. You are therefore free to relax, explore the city & adjust to the frenetic pace and humid heat of Bangkok. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the tour leader and the other group members.

Day 2-3 Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (2B)
After breakfast on day 2, we leave Bangkok on the way to the Thai Cambodian border. It's a long bus ride to Siem Reap. It will take approx 4 hours from Bangkok to the border. It is possible to get Cambodian visas at the border; ask your leader for details. Then, we will disembark with our luggage and cross the border by foot. This process can take up to an hour or more. After the border formalities are complete, we continue on to Siem Reap. This section of the drive is on mostly unsealed roads and it is very bumpy!!! Although its only 160 km in length, it can take about 5-6 hours. The scenery is spectacular though and there's an immediate contrast between Thailand and Cambodia.
Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Kingdom, is one of the wonders of the archeological world. Rediscovered at the end of the last century by French explorers, this vast ruined city is becoming one of the most popular sites in Southeast Asia. You can buy a pass to visit some of the highlights of this ancient capital, like the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, the enigmatic Bayon within the walled city Angkor Thom, Ta
Prohm, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.

Day 4-5 Phnom Penh (2B)
On day 4, we journey by local bus taking in the spectacular scenery to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After a brief walking tour by your leader you are free to explore Phnom Penh. Sights you might want to visit include the National Museum and adjacent complex of the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. After 1975, when Pol Pot and his henchmen grabbed power, Cambodia was thrown into an abyss of unspeakable violence and mass-murder. Millions of Cambodians perished during this time. Witness to this genocide are the Killing fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng prison. A Tuk Tuk can be hired locally to take you there, or you may wish to explore town or go shopping at the famous Russian Market.

Day 6-7 Sihanoukville
A three hour drive takes us to Cambodia's southern coast and the beaches of Sihanoukville. Relax on the sand whilst having a massage and eating fresh seafood, or join a boat trip for snorkelling and lunch on an uninhabited island.

Day 8 Mekong Delta (1B)
We'll drive 4-5 hours to the Cambodia/Vietnam border. After completing the necessary formalities, we will continue on to Chau Doc (Vietnam), a 45 minute drive. You should arrive mid afternoon with time to relax and adjust to the change of pace. A trip up to Sam Mountain on motorbikes to watch the sunset, a boat trip through the fish farms, or a walk through the local market give you a taste of life in the Mekong Delta.

Day 9-10 Ho Chi Minh City
After breakfast on day 9, head to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Lose yourself in the maze of Saigon’s central market, here you’ll find everything from bolts of brocade to flanks of beef. Write a quick postcard in Saigon’s stately French colonial post office, one of many French-era buildings that add grace this modern metropolis. On day 10, we take an overnight train to Nha Trang.

Day 11-12 Nha Trang (1B)
Arrive in Nha Trang in the morning. Explore the local shops and markets, sit on the beach soaking up the sun or visit nearby historical towns. Optional activities can include a boat trip to nearby islands for snorkeling and scuba diving.
On the evening of day 12 we take an overnight train to Danang.

**Please note that the January 10th, 2009 departure will be traveling to Danang by bus instead of train on evening of day 12**

Day 13-14 Hoi An (2B)
From Danang, it is only a short drive to the picturesque port town of Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was an important trading town with strong south Chinese influence and connections.

You can take a walking tour of this living museum which includes the Museum of History and Culture, the Tan Ky house, the Japanese bridge, the Fujian Assembly Hall and lunch at a riverside restaurant to sample some of the local delicacies. Hoi An is also a shopping mecca for tourists in the region. Tailors can produce virtually anything overnight, with clothing, silk lanterns, lacquer ware and many other crafts abound.And for sun worshipers,Cua Dai Beach is 4kms from town.

Day 15-16 Hue (1B)
Just a 3 hour drive to the north of Hoi An is the city of Hue. Our drive takes us over Hai Van Pass and past Lang Co beach.

Upon arrival in Hue, once the imperial capital, tour the Citadel which also contains the Forbidden Purple City, modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing. Badly destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, significant restoration work has since occurred. A true highlight of Hue is the surrounding countryside. Traveling by boat along the Perfume River visit Tien Mu Pagoda and the tombs of two of the Emperors Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.

Late afternoon of Day 16 board an overnight sleeper train to Hanoi (approx 13hrs).

Day 17 Halong Bay/Bay Chai Harbour (1L)
Arrive in the early morning to bustling Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We will then transfer to a private bus for a 3 hour drive to Halong Bay.

Thousands of islands rise dramatically from the waters of Halong Bay and, to further their beauty, intricate caves have been hollowed out through these limestone karst formations. Aboard a sailing junk we'll enjoy a seafood lunch before visiting some of these islands and caves. Perhaps we'll have a chance to take a pre-dinner swim, before transferring to the mainland for our overnight stay.

Day 18-19 Hanoi (2B)
After breakfast, we'll transfer back to Hanoi. Upon arrival you can visit Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The Mausoleum houses the remains of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of the unified Vietnam (the mausoleum and museum is closed October-November). Or take a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a maze of street, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry. In the evening you have an option to attend a performance at the famous Water Puppet Theatre and sample some of Hanoi's amazing eating venues. They offer all kinds of delicious Vietnamese food, one of the world’s most delightful cuisines.

Day 20 Pak Xan
Today is a long travel day (approx 12hrs). We travel through spectacular mountains before crossing into Lao.
Pak Xan is a sleepy town with a great local market. The pace of life is dramatically different from Vietnam. We’ll arrive in the evening with a chance to have some dinner and enjoy a cold Beer Laos.

Day 21 Vientiane (B)
A 5 hour drive takes us to the capital city.
There is a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, by bicycle or, for the less energetic, by tuk-tuk. Visit Laos' most important national monument, Phat That Luang, or meander down the dusty riverside tracks to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens. A visit to Vientiane's vibrant, colourful morning market (which incidentally is open all day!) is worth it to find plenty of local treasures. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong at one of the many restaurants along the riverbank.

Day 22 Vang Vieng
A 3 hour drive north takes us to beautiful Vang Vieng. This quiet town is set along the Nam Song river amidst rice fields and limestone karsts. Explore some of the caves by bicycle, or float down the river in a tire tube stopping off for a cold drink and zip line ride at one of the numerous bamboo bars. In the evening, soak in the beauty of Vang Vieng as the sun sets over the river.

Day 23-25 Luang Prabang (2B)
Today we take the bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang (approx 7 hours)
Luang Prabang has a magical feel about it. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, it is studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture. A visit to the Royal Palace Museum, which has remained untouched since the royal family departed in 1975, is sure to impress.

We will also have an option to hop on a songthaew to the beautiful Kuang Si falls, where pale turquoise waters cascade over limestone formations.

For a small additional cost there is also the option, for those who feel active and want to stretch their legs, to take a 3 to 4-hour walk through the countryside to the falls (in wet season it may be too slippery).

Day 26-27 Pakbeng/Chiang Khong
We board our boat for the 2-day journey up the mighty Mekong River to Chiang Khong. The journey is relaxed, as we experience the slow pace of village life and the breathtaking scenery along the river. We dock at the small town of Pak Beng to spend the night (approx 8 hours). The standard of accommodation in this trading port is basic but comfortable.Note that Pakbeng only has electricity from 6pm to 10pm and 6am to 10am.

The following morning we re-board our boat and cruise leisurely up the river before arriving at the Laos/Thai border and crossing in to Chiang Khong in the late afternoon (approx 7 hours).

Please note that the river boat is of a basic standard. Your leader will help arrange the purchase of food and drinks for the boat journeys. It can also be quite cold from November to February so make sure you have some warm gear packed!

Day 28 Chiang Mai/Overnight Train
Leaving Chiang Khong early in the morning we drive to Chiang Mai (approx 5 hours). You'll have the afternoon to explore. In the evening, we board our fan cooled overnight train for Bangkok (approx 12 hours).

Day 29-33 Bangkok
We'll arrive early in the morning to Bangkok, Thailand's capital city. The day is free to explore the many sights of Bangkok. The Grand Palace, Wat Po, National Museum, and Jim Thompson's House are just a few suggestions. A trip along the Chao Praya river and through the canals (or Klongs) gives you a different perspective of daily life in this busy city. In the evening we'll say good bye as we enjoy a Thai meal, some of the world's best food!

Day 34 Depart Bangkok (B)

2nd Leg of Trip

Days 1-2 Delhi

Namaste! Welcome to India.

India's capital is an exciting, busy, and often chaotic city but certainly one of the most interesting. With well-preserved historical sites from many different eras, museums and galleries, shops and endless bazaars, there is more to see and do than we can possibly fit in during our short time here. For those arriving early, there is an opportunity to discover some of the many attractions on your own - the ruins of Qutb Minar and Purana Qila, the crafts museum, Indira Gandhi Museum, Birla House (the site of Gandhi's assassination) and the centre of Imperial British India at Rajpath are all highly recommended.

We start day 2 with a visit to Old Delhi. The walled city of Shahjahanabad, or Old Delhi, was the creation of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. In the morning, we visit one of its most impressive buildings and Delhi's oldest mosque, the Jama Masjid. Afterwards, we join the crowds, walking through the bazaars of the Old City, immersing ourselves in the noise and smells of the crowded narrow streets and alleys, where different areas specialise in festival paraphernalia, silk, copper, brass and spices.

Our hotel in Delhi is right in the heart of the city. Rooms have air-conditioning, private bathrooms with hot and cold running water. The hotel has a multi cuisine restaurant and internet cafe.

In the late afternoon of day 2 we leave on an overnight train for Jaisalmer (approx 19 hours). Our sleeper trains along the way are clean and air conditioned, and are a great way to travel long distances and still get maximum time in each place. Beds are padded berths, sheets, pillow and blankets are provided but some people prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. Please note you may be sharing with locals in a same gender/mixed gender situation. Most trains have a dining carriage where food/snacks/meals are available.

Days 3-5 Jaisalmer

Travelling through the night, we wake to find a desert landscape as we travel across the stark Thar Desert. The 1,000 km journey takes around 19 hours and we should arrive in Jaisalmer around midday if there are no train delays.

Looking like a scene from 'The Thousand and One Nights' as it rises magically out the desert, Jaisalmer is a centre for nomadic tribespeople who come in to town to trade in the narrow twisting alleys full of markets and ornately carved houses.

Our accommodation in Jaisalmer is a guest house located in the fort itself with a roof top restaurant. Rooms have running hot and cold water in private bathrooms.

From our base in Jaisalmer, the Thar Desert is right on our doorstep and we take the opportunity to ride camels out over the sand dunes to spend a night out under the stars. At night, the riders get the camp fire burning and cook us dinner. In the morning, awaken early for an amazing desert sunrise, before a simple breakfast. This is a taste of the life of a nomadic trader and it's definitely travelling at its very best. While camping we stay in multishare tents. A seperate toilet tent will be set up.

Days 6-7 Jodhpur

A local bus carries us across the Thar Desert to Rajasthan's second-largest city, the busy and chaotic Jodhpur (approx. 5 hours). Full of fascinating artefacts, you may choose to take some time to explore the colossal Meherangarh Fort that dominates the city skyline.

Our hotel is situated in a very central position and has a rooftop cafe with an unbelievable view of the Meherangarh Fort and the old city. Only 5 minutes' walk away is Sadar Bazaar, one of the oldest markets in India. Built around the clock tower amid spice and vegetable markets, juice sellers and sari materials, Sadar Bazaar also has numerous vendors with carts selling everything from Bollywood soundtracks to armfuls of sparkling bangles. Jodhpur is famous for its antique shops and for the best lassi in India - well, that's our opinion! And yes, Jodhpur is where those famous trousers come from!

Out in the surrounding countryside are the Bishnoi tribal villages, which are well worth seeing. You leader can organise a visit for you on request.

Days 8-10 Udaipur

A bus takes us to Udaipur, the southernmost point of our trip (approx. 7 hours). Rolling hills, white marble palaces and lakes all combine to give Udaipur a very special appeal, and it certainly lives up to its reputation as India's most romantic city. It's a centre for artists, dancers and musicians and the shopping is simply superb.

Again, our hotel sits within walking distance of many of Udaipur's main points of interest, such as the Jagdish Temple, Saheliyon-ki-Bari (the Garden of Maidens) and City Palace with its museums, crystal gallery and wealth of royal treasures.

Udaipur's famous Lake Pichola is a serene place to enjoy a boat ride and if you are gastronomically inclined, there is plenty of time to learn the art of Indian cooking at Spice Box, a deliciously fun must-do for all who come here. You could also visit a craft village and a folk museum or take in a fantastic cultural show at the Bagore-ki-Haveli - where you could even get up and join in the dancing! Journey out to the hilltop Monsoon Palace for sunset or spend lazy afternoons just taking in the views from a rooftop cafe, over a glass of hot, sweet chai.

Days 11-12 Pushkar

Today we travel by local bus to Pushkar (approx. 8 hours). Home to India's only Brahma temple as well as a holy lake, Pushkar is a major destination for pilgrims and sadhus (holy men) from all over India. The atmosphere is friendly and mellow, there is hardly any traffic and the town is small enough to walk around with ease.

While in Pushkar, be sure to spend some time exploring the main bazaar and many sidestreets - again, some great shopping can be done here with some of the cheapest clothes and jewellery to be found in northern India. Hang out in one of the gardens or rooftop restaurants or walk around the lake, with its bustling ghats and temples, to watch the devout as they worship at the holy waters. There is an optional early morning walk to the hilltop Savitri Temple for magical views over the town, and also a wonderful steaming glass of chai waiting for you if the chai man is there - certainly well worth the trek!

Days 13-14 Jaipur

Today we travel on a local bus (approx. 4 hours) to the 'Pink City' of Jaipur, where we find a friendly and busy town with palaces and bazaars full of jewellery, textiles and folk-based arts. Deep in the heart of the Old City lies India's most-photographed building after the Taj Mahal, the Hawa Mahal, also known as the 'Palace of the Winds'. Be sure to stop by and take some photos yourself!

Near Jaipur is the old capital of Amber, a majestic hilltop palace complex - which makes for a wonderful day trip. To fully get into Indian life, don't miss watching a Hindi movie - there is nowhere better than the Raj Mandir Cinema - 3 hours of song and dance for a couple of dollars can't be beaten!

Day 15 Bharatpur

We leave Jaipur by local bus (approx. 5 hours) to the city of Bharatpur, home to the famous Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, where a peaceful afternoon can be spent cycling around the Park. If birds are not your interest, you can visit surrounding villages with our host who is involved in projects to uplift rural development in the area.

Days 16-17 Agra

Leaving the early birds chirping, we head east by public bus for Agra (approx. 2 hours).

The Mughal city of Agra is home to one of the world's most instantly recognisable monuments - the Taj Mahal. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz, this 'teardrop on the face of eternity', as it was described by Rabindranath Tagore, lives up to all expectations. Expensive to get into (INR750- around US$17), but worth every cent. There is also time to check out the Red Fort an impressive landmark of the Mughal dynasty left imprinted on the city.

In Agra our accommodation is at a basic property run by a local family, in a great location only 800 meters from the Eastern gate of the Taj Mahal. Rooms are basic with attached private bathrooms.

We leave for Varanasi on the overnight train on the evening of day 17 (approx. 8 hours).

Days 18-20 Varanasi

The holiest place for Hindus, Varanasi is a place where weeks can just melt by as you explore the amazing sights going on all around you. Pilgrims bathing and performing rituals and ceremonies unchanged for hundreds of years, temples full of bell chimes and the smell of incense, the dhobi wallahs, the burning ghats, the stories, the legends, the people - all of India seems to be encapsulated within this amazing city.

In Varanasi our accommodation is owned by a local Indian family. It is a simple hotel, situated right on the banks of the Ganges in the popular Assi Ghat area. Rooms are neat and clean property with attached bathrooms.

We take the train to Kolkata (Calcutta) early in the evening on day 20 (approx. 17 hours).

Days 21-24 Kolkata

Once the capital of British India, Kolkata has had some bad press over the years. Flooded by refugees after the partition of India, famines in Bengal as well as the India-Bangladesh War, the city suffered as wave after wave of immigrants pushed its infrastructure to the limit and slums and street dwellers came to symbolize the city to the world. However, the Kolkata of today is renewed and emerging as a major cultural centre with art galleries, museums and a healthy film and theatre scene. With its British architecture, its trams and, of course, the river with its famous bridge, Kolkata is a vibrant and exciting city with plenty to offer. There are flower markets to browse and traditional wrestlers at their outdoor gymnasiums to watch. You can take a boat along the river, visit the idol-makers and explore the central market - the options are endless!

3rd Leg of Trip

Day 1-3 Dublin
Enjoy live music and parades on the the streets for the celebration of St. Patrick's Day. Take a walking tour of the city and enjoy a walk inside the Guinness brewery (don't worry Mom, I won't get too hammered...).

Day 4-5 Cork
Take a bus to a the Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone. Consider taking a bus ride to Killarney.
Day 6-8 Galway
Explore the Irish culture in the pubs and on the street. Listen to live music. Take a day trip to The Burren and see the Cliffs of Moher.
Day 9 Depart Ireland