P.S. I'm bummed that I'm missing the NASCAR race (Eric)
We decided to take a week off from journaling since it was supposed to be a laid back week to re-energize from all the craziness so far. Believe it or not, writting down all this daily stuff takes up quite a bit of time and energy, not to mention finding an internet connection and everything. Our plan going into this week was to take a break from all of the touristy stuff and just take it easy on the beaches and try to reflect on the trip so far. When we're going along day to day it kind of rushes by, so it's been nice to kind of look back on what we've done. I'm not sure where I left off, but after our camping on Phi Phi Leh we spent three nights on Phi Phi Don, which is a bigger island and much more inhabited, but still pretty remote. There are no roads or cars on the island and to get anywhere you have to either walk or take a longboat. The longboats were fun, but the engines were extremely loud and spewed gas and oil everywhere. Phi Phi Don is a pretty amazing island. It is two cliffy mountains connected by a tiny strech of land that is only about a quarter of a mile wide (I still refuse to use metric) and has a beach with a bay on both sides. You can't really appreciate the main stretch of beach though, since it has been turned into the main town and is a maze of buildings. There are a bunch of other beaches around the island that were much better.We were staying about a 30 minute walk through the jungle from the main area (called Tonsai) at a "hotel" called the Viking Nature Resort. I put hotel in quotes because it was really more like camping than a hotel. Our room was a bungalow on stilts, pretty much a treehouse, at the top of a long hike of stairs. There was a porch with a hammock and through the trees you could see the ocean. It was a cool place, really laid back, and since it was pretty far from Tonsai we spent a lot of time at the resort's common area. At times it was exhausting though. The bugs became our kryponite. We had a really nice room and it had a mosquito net, but other than that it was open to the forest. No air conditioning and no heated water for showers. By the time we left, it had been over a week since we had our last warm shower. You'd think that since you're in Thailand a cold shower would be ok, but after about a minute you want out. There really isn't much exciting to talk about during our stay on Phi Phi Don though. We ate a lot, spent an entire day at the beach, hiked to a viewpoint at the top of one of the mountains (talk about sweaty,) spent a night in the main town (during a thunderstorm,) and kayaked around to the other side of the island to 'monkey beach' where there weren't any monkeys, but still a nice beach. It was a great few days. We were ready to go by the last day since we were hot, dirty, and itchy. No sunburns though! The last night my feet got destroyed by something and now they still itch like crazy. I suspect ants, but who knows. You can buy pretty much anything over the counter here though so we picked up a strong steroid cream (betamethasone.) From Phi Phi we went back to Phuket and we stayed at a really fancy joint on the west side of the island. It was kind of pricey but worth every nickle since the rooms were cold, the mosquitos were kept out, and they had one of those rain showerheads the shot out real hot water. Phuket is probably the biggest tourist destination of all of Thailand so everything was very western. I know it sounds weird to travel to the other side of the world and get excited for a pizza and a Diet Coke (they call them coke light,) but hey, for the last 3 weeks we've been sleeping on hard mattresses with lousy pillows, eating rice or rice noodles at almost every meal, trying to communicate through several languages, and used almost every non-animal from of transportation available. Give us a break! Again, like Phi Phi, most of our time on Phuket was nothing too exciting to write about. Just spent time at the pool and walking the beach. One night we went into Patong which is the main town on the island. It was pretty crazy, to say the least. It was sort of like Bourbon Street but a lot louder, crazier, and a lot more ladyboys. It was one of those things that, enjoy it or not, you have to just experience. Needless to say, I'll take Bourbon Street. The next morning after going to Patong we took a Thai cooking class. It was a good day to do it since it rained prety much the entire day nonstop. They took us to a local market and explained what everything was. We made a coconut soup, a pad thai, and a green curry. They gave us aprons to wear and we got certificates of completion. Fun! Today is one of our most challenging travel days of the whole trip (excluding Bangkok to Cambodia.) We took a taxi from our hotel (filled with mosquitos ironically) to the Phuket airport, which is about an hour away. Around 1pm we flew back to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. It's our third time here at this airport so I've finally got the pronunciation down, it is sue-varn-a-boom. Now our flight to Cairo doesn't leave until around 2am local time so we are just camped out for about 10 hours on uncomfortable benches in a corner until we get to board a 9 hour overnight flight. So far it hasn't been to bad at all, but we'll see how the flight goes.So now we're done with Asia and a third of this journey is over, only two months to go. It has flown by, and at the same time it feels like we've been gone for ages and another 2 months seems like forever to be away from home. I think it has finally set in that we are a long long way from home, and not just on a two week vacation. Things like staying in a different small foreign room every night seems to be dragging on us a little more than it did a few weeks ago, but also things like feeling comfortable with our backpacks on while riding a train or ordering banana pancakes from a local street cart seem to be getting almost normal feeling. So to quickly recap Asia:Japan couldn't be anymore different than the rest of Asia we've seen. It was at the same time much more foreign but much more civilized. The people were unbelievably nice, friendly and helpful when you approached them, but they almost never approached you or asked you for anything. People work hard there, as far as a tourist destination (unless you really like temples) it probably isn't the best because the entertainment places really are limited or difficult to approach. It was a great way to start our trip since you really have no choice but to jump right in to their culture. It was amazing how they reacted to the tsunami. There were no roits or looting and I never once heard anybody blame anyone or even ask for help. People would sleep at work if they couldn't get home or if their home was destroyed they would sleep on the floor of their neighbors. They just seemed to have a huge amount of dignity and self-reliance. I really liked Japan and would go back anytime. Cambodia sucked, but was awesome. It was by far the most real place we've been to yet. The people were genuine, friendly, and even the scammers were soft spoken. It was a challenge, but a great experience. Thailand is called the "land of smiles." They use this slogan a lot. I'm not really sure that it fits. They seemed to be right in the middle of Japan and Cambodia in that they weren't horribly poor, but they definitely weren't rich either and a lot of times this had some bad results. They seemed to look the other way a lot to make a buck. I could probably elaborate, but I don't want to give too bad of an impression because a lot of things about Thailand were absolutely amazing. The culture is very fun and different from the food carts and the conterfiet watches to the gold covered temples and massive buddha statues. It is a very different experience. We spent a pretty long time here and had a lot of great times and some crazy adventures (do I use the word 'crazy' too much?) Would we go back? Dunno. So we're still waiting at the airport. We're excited for Egypt and Jordan. Just in case anybody is worried, we made arrangements to stay at a guesthouse of a very helpful and practical Irish lady. She has set us up with tours everywhere and given us lots of advice for our time in Egypt. Most of all, everything seems to be very stable and safe. We are all rested and ready to do some more exploring. No bugs though, hopefully. At least we know it won't rain.