Posted by: corbygarner | May 23, 2010


After almost 2 weeks in Russia, my great train journey from Beijing to St. Petersburg is over. I can’t believe how fast the last 3 weeks have gone by. Then again, it seems like I was in China months ago, not weeks. I have seen so much and have so many new memories I think it will take me a while to decompress from this trip and actually remember everything. As for now, here is what has been going on since I left Mongolia.

Lake Baikal:

It took 2 days on the train from Ulaanbaantar to reach our first destination in Russia: Lake Baikal. The train journey took so long because crossing the border into Russia is an all day process. I’ve read horror stories about intimidating Russian border guards going through everyone’s things and confiscating just about whatever they wanted, so I was ready for an intense experience. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the border crossing was quite easy. No one even looked at our bags and no one in our group had any issues with their passports or visa. All in all, it was a pretty easy going day. It still took about 10 hours of hanging out on the train and at the train station for everything to get processed, but it was hassle free.  It was amazing to wake up after the second night and be in Siberia. The landscape had finally changed from barren desert to forest and farmland. The first Russian towns we saw from the train were a bit shocking. They were nothing more than a handful of shacks with no electricity or running water and they had livestock freely roaming the streets. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought I was back in India. I knew parts of Russia were underdeveloped, but I had no idea it was to this extent.

Our train from UB took us to the Siberian city of Irkutsk and from there we went straight to Lake Baikal. This is the deepest lake in the world and contains 20% of the earth’s fresh water. Unfortunately, we were there a few weeks too early for the summer season (when the area is alive with thousands of Russians on their summer holiday) and a few weeks too late to see the lake completely frozen and the area covered in snow. It was still cold at Lake Baikal and mostly rainy and once again I had to wear more than one layer to stay warm. I spent the only full day we had hiking up the mountains surrounding the lake and fortunately the sun popped out when I reached the top.

The lake side town of Listvyanka

Lake Baikal still covered in some ice

That night, we all partook in a traditional Russian banya, which is a sauna followed by a brief dip in cold outside pool. I spent ten minutes in the sauna and it was hands down the hottest I have ever been in my life. I was so hot, that even after jumping in the freezing pool, I was warm while drying off outside where it was about 45 degrees. After 2 nights at the lake, it was time for the next leg of the journey: 3 nights on the train!

Trans Siberian Railway:

In Irkutsk we officially joined the  tracks of the Trans Siberian railway. We followed this famous track of railway through 5 times zones and over 5,000 km. To be honest, the 3 days on the train are a bit of a blur. Looking back on them, they seemed to meld into one big day and night and it’s hard to remember what happened on day one versus day 3. Each day, the highlight would be one or two 20-30 minutes stops where we could get off the train to stretch our legs and re-stock on food and spirits. Fortunately, the people on my tour were a lot of fun, so there was always someone to have a drink or just chat with.

Stretching my legs during a midnight stop with one of my cabin mates, Claire.

Having a traditional train snack of caviar

For the first two days, the scenery was just dead forest and farmland. Spring hadn’t arrived in Siberia yet, so there wasn’t anything green to see (which made it two straight weeks without seeing any greenery). By the 3rd day, we finally found spring. It was almost like we had been traveling south for 2 days instead of directly west. Somehow, the further west you go in Russia, the warmer it gets. The spring air was a welcomed relief from the cold we experienced in Mongolia and at Lake Baikal. It was great to walk around in the sun with just a t-shirt on.

At a train station close to the Europe/Asia border

After 3 nights on the train, it was finally time to disembark. We were all exhausted from days of sitting around and bad nights of sleep, and I must admit, we were all pretty smelly from not showering for that long. Our next stop was the ancient city of Suzdal, about 3 hours outside of Moscow.

We stayed in Suzdal just for the night in order to see what the days of old were like in Russia. It’s a beautiful little town on the river and the kremlin and central church are beautiful. The one night stay was a nice way to recover from the train ride and re-energize for the upcoming action packed 2 days in Moscow.

Suzdal, Russia

Russian Orthodox church in the center of Suzdal


Finally arriving in Moscow was an exciting day for me since I have always been fascinated by the Cold War and America’s conflict with the Soviet Union and Moscow was at the heart of it all. It’s been a lifelong travel dream of mine to visit this city and I loved every second of it. The Moscow I grew up learning about is no longer there. True, the Red Square and the Kremlin and still around and as beautiful as always, but the dreary feel of the Communist days are long gone and capitalism is alive and well. Moscow is now a thriving metropolis with high end stores and luxury cars everywhere you turn. Granted, the wealth is share by a select few and most Moscovites look on with envy, but there is still a feeling of hope in the air. Young people are out and about everywhere and the bars and restaurants are constantly full of people. The architecture of the city is also amazing, with classic looking buildings everywhere. I always thought of Moscow as drab Communist apartment buildings, so it was a pleasant surprise to see so many grand and beautiful buildings.

We only had 2 full days in Moscow, so we had to make the most of them. The first day was an intense day of being a tourist. We toured Red Square (during the day and at night), saw Lenin’s body, toured the Kremlin, and then I did some shopping.

St. Basil Russian Orthodox church on Red Square, Moscow

My second day in Moscow was one of the best days I have ever had in a city. After sleeping in, I hiked to the top of a hill on the other side of the Moscow River and took in a panoramic view of the largest city in Europe. Needless to say, it was impress how far Moscow stretched into the distance.

A view of Moscow

Then it was off to the famous Gorky Park, which is kind of like Coney Island. There I enjoyed a few drinks by the fountain with my 2 of my fellow tour group members and basked in the warm sunshine. After that, it was off the Modern History Museum, which used to be named the Museum of Revolution. This was my favorite place in Moscow because it documented the rise and fall of Communism. Most of the museum was only in Russian, but there were enough English plaques for me to understand each exhibit. After a full day of sightseeing, I headed to one of the great monuments to capitalism: McDonald’s! I ate my dinner at the first McDonald’s in Russia and it was the busiest McDonald’s I have ever been in. I have never seen a city that likes McDonald’s more than Moscow; you can’t walk ten feet without either seeing a McDonald’s or someone caring a McDonald’s bag.

Dinner at the first McDonald's in Russia. Yum!

The only downside to Moscow is how expensive it is. Going out to a mediocre restaurant or coffee shop will easily set you back $25. I guess there is a reason why Moscow is now the most expensive city in the world to live in. After 2 nights in this great city, it was time to move on to the our last stop: St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg:

It took one more overnight train ride to reach this lovely European city from Moscow and thankfully it was the nicest train we rode on all trip. It took about 8 hours and we arrived at 7 am to a beautiful morning.

One last night on the train

Right away we got down to business of seeing this magnificent city. I had always heard that St. Petersburg was gorgeous, but I had no idea it would be this amazing. The city was built on a system of canals and it’s like walking through Amsterdam or Venice. The buildings are all traditional European style and elegantly line the canals. We took an hour boat ride to start off our day and it was a great way to get oriented with the city.

Enjoying a beautiful morning on a canal ride in St. Petersburg

That afternoon, I did some great people watching with some friends at a sidewalk café. St. Petersburg is the cultural center of Russia and you can tell by watching all the young people go by. One thing to note about St. Petersburg and Russia in general, is that the male to female ratio is skewed. There has to be 5 women to every man in this country, and it’s not only in volume that the women have the advantage. Russia is home to more beautiful women than I have ever seen, but unfortunately the men here don’t match their elegance. This was something everyone in my tour group noticed over our two weeks in this country and we were all blown away by it.

The next day in St. Petersburg was spent doing cultural activities. I went to the Hermitage Museum, which is the largest museum in the world. It’s housed it what used to be the czars’ winter palace and the building itself is magnificent. The collection at the Hermitage is incredible, but after about 2 hours I was worn out from walking all over the place and called it a day. Plus, it was time for me to get back to the hotel and get ready for the ballet.

The Hermitage

That night I went and saw Carmen Suite at the Mariinsky Theater. It was a visually stunning performance and unlike any ballet I had ever scene. If you ever get a chance to see Carmen, take it. It’s amazing (and this coming from someone that is usually not a big fan of the ballet).

Outside of the Mariinsky Theater

St. Petersburg is a spectacular city and one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I was lucky enough to experience it when the weather is at its absolute best. The days were warm and at night there just a hint of coolness in the air. One of the coolest things for me was experiencing the white lights of summer time in the North. This is the furthest north in the world I have ever been and during most of May and June, the sun really doesn’t set and the nights are cast in perfect twilight. It was great to walk around the city at 11 pm and it was just as light and busy as it would be at 5.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to Russia. It’s hard to believe this great journey is over. It was this train ride that sparked my interest in doing a long-term trip and it was this part of my seven months of travel that I was looking forward to the most. I have learned so much about the people and cultures of China, Mongolia, and Russia. I have had experiences that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world and I have completed a journey not many people get the chance in life to make: traveling 8,000 km and over a 6th of the world’s surface by train. Next up on my trip around the world is 2 weeks of hanging out with friends in Europe! I’m looking forward to being back on familiar ground again and to see familiar faces. Madrid, Brussels, and Rome, here I come 🙂

Posted by: corbygarner | May 9, 2010


After a 30 hour train ride from Beijing, I arrived in the early afternoon in the capital city of Mongolia. I had no idea what to expect Ulaan Baatar to be like and it has kind of taken me by surprise. It is a city of over one million people (which makes up a third of the population of Mongolia) and it’s  more developed than I thought it would be. The roads are relatively nice, there are some tall, glass office buildings and there are way more bars and restaurants than I ever would have imagined. Electricity is consistent (unlike New Delhi or Kathmandu) and wifi is available at almost ever bar and cafe.

During the cold war, Mongolia was a communist country and the Russian influences can been seen everywhere. There are the typical Russian apartment blocks and the city center is dominated by a large, open square. This square also has a large statue of Ghengis Khong, who is still loved by the Mongolian people.

In the central square of Ulaan Baatar

The next day my group headed out into the Mongolian country side to spend the night at a traditional ger camp. The countryside of Mongolia was about what I expected: vast openness of barren land. On the train ride into UB, we went hours without seeing a tree. Our adventure in the wilderness was at a national park and this part of the country does have some trees and large rock formations, which were unexpected. We went hiking in the hills, saw some local animals (hawks, yaks, horses), and even had an archery lesson. The ger was nice and warm and we had incredible food. The staple dish in these parts is meat, and lots of it. Vegetarians don’t stand a chance in this country since meat is apart of all 3 daily meals. The unofficial slogan of the country is “meat is for man, grass for animals”. Haha!

Terelj National Park

My ger for the night at Terelj National Park

As you can probably tell, even though it’s mid-May, it’s still cold here in Mongolia. I had 3 layers of clothes on during the day due to the cold wind from the North Pole. Hopefully once we get into Russia and more trees are around us the wind won’t be so bad and I can warm up a bit 🙂

Mongolia has been a great experience. It’s a place I never thought I would visit and I have enjoyed every minute of it. It’s developed, but still has a hint of the wild west to it. It was definitely a once in a life time experience to visit this desert country and I’m glad I did. As for now, it’s almost time to board the train and head to the Motherland: Russia!

Posted by: corbygarner | May 6, 2010

Beijing, China

If I had to choose one word to describe Beijing it would be big. Everything about this capital city is massive. The city is home to over 20 million people and it seems to go on and on. Beijing was my first stop in China and really the only city I spent anytime in. I flew Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur and when I bought my ticket I didn’t realize that the low cost airport for Beijing is actually in the city of Tainjin, about a 120 kilometers away. Oops! Actually, it turned out to be easy to get to Beijing; the high speed train got me there in 30 minutes. My first night in Beijing was spent getting to know the 10 people I will be spending the next 3 weeks with on the train through China, Mongolia, and Russia. It’s a varied group made up of one Canadian, and Englishmen, 5 people from Australia, a couple from New Zealand and a Malaysian. Everyone is really nice and a lot of fun. I think we are going to have a great time together.

Eating Peking Duck in Peking 🙂

My second day in Beijing was spent visiting the Great Wall. We visited the section at Mutianyu and while it was packed with tourist it was still an amazing site. This section sits up in the mountains a bit, which caught me off guard. In every picture I’ve seen of the Great Wall, the landscape is somewhat flat, so seeing this section of the Wall and how steep some of it gets gave me an idea of how impressive the construction of the Wall actually was. We spent about 3 hours walking from tower to tower and it turned out to be quite the workout. All those stairs definitely left my legs sore for a few days!

At the Great Wall

The Great Wall

With only 2 full days in Beijing, I had to get back on the tourist trail again the next day and visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I have heard so much about Tiananmen Square and the student uprising that took place there in 1989 that to finally see it person was a great feeling. The Forbidden City was impressive due to how massive it is. It takes up over a kilometer of Beijing and has over 900 rooms in it. Some of authenticity of the place has been tainted with though. Before the Olympics in 2008, a lot of the Forbidden City was repainted and touched up. It was a bit odd to see all these old buildings with bright, new paint on them.

Tienanmen Square

Entry way to the concubine quarters of the Forbidden City

My fourth day in Beijing started the beginning of our train journey to St. Petersburg. We left a 7 am on the first leg of the train trip: 30 hours to the capital of Mongolia. Our train was quite nice, with four people to a cabin and clean bathrooms in every car. I had no idea what to expect to see in the Chinese country side and by the time the sun set we had seen tall mountains, large cities, and flat, barren land. About a hour outside of Beijing, the smog that the city is infamous for had cleared we could finally see more than a few hundred meters out of the window. Around 8:30 we arrived at the Mongolian border and had to stop the train for 3 hours in order to change the wheels to fits the tracks in Mongolia and Russia. A few of us got off the train and did some shopping at the duty free and ended up being locked out of the train until 11:30. We made the best of it though and enjoyed some of the local spirits in the custom hall 🙂 The border crossing was an easy affair. We didn’t even have to get out of the train; the customs officials came by each cabin and examined our passports. The rest of the night was spent finishing our spirits and getting to know one another. I awoke at 9 am to the barren country side of Mongolia: a place I never thought I would see. So cool!

Reading on the train to Mongolia

North China countryside

A quick stop in Da Tong, China

Posted by: corbygarner | May 1, 2010

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore

My week of taking it easy in Malaysia is almost over and I must say I am going to be sad to leave. It’s been a great week staying with my family friends, the Khongs. While I didn’t do a lot of touristy things, I learned more ab out Malaysian and Chinese culture in my week here than I think I would have traveling around on my own. Carol, Peter, and Daniel kindly welcomed me into their home last Saturday and from the second I step foot inside I felt as welcomed and as comfortable as I do at my parent’s home back in the States.

As I would soon find out, life here revolves around food. The first thing we did when I arrived was sit down to a dinner of sweet and sour chicken. From then on, it seemed I was eating something delicious every 2 to 3 hours. From homemade muffins, to traditional beef curry, to Chinese fish head curry, I ate it all. I had heard the food in Malaysia was wonderful, but I had no idea it was this good. Things here are spicy, but not as spicy as in Thailand, which fits my pallet just fine. Also, there are more noodle dishes instead of rice. This was a nice change from the last 3 countries I visited where rice is a staple at every meal.

My favorite dish all week: beef noodle curry

Sharing fish head curry with friends and family of the Khongs

Enjoying another beef dish after a morning of walking around downtown Kuala Lumpur

While in KL, I took advantage of my close proximity to visit the city state of Singapore. I have always been intrigue by this island nation and I wanted to see if for myself while I had the chance. Singapore lies about a 5 hour drive south of KL and is connected to Malaysia by a short bridge. Getting through customs was a short and easy process, although I had to search through my purse to make sure I had thrown all my gum away since it illegal to bring gum into the country. No joke 🙂 I was only in Singapore for 24 hours, but it was enough to see a lot of the city. My hostel was in Little India and the name describes the place perfectly. Of course it wasn’t as dirty as India, but it did remind me a lot of the Sub Continent. After dropping my bag off at in my room, I headed down to Chinatown to do a little shopping and walking around. Then, it was of to Raffles Hotel, the home of the famous Singapore Sling. I enjoyed my fruity cocktail as the sun was setting over the city and then I was off to see some more of the nightlife that Singapore has to offer.

Enjoying my Singapore Sling, which happens to be the most expensive drink I have ever ordered at $30 Sing Dollars

Next I headed to Raffles Place, which was once the major trading hub of the city on the Singapore River. Now it’s been rebuilt with Western bars and restaurants and it’s the area where expats flock from the near by financial districts for after-work drinks. All in all, I was a little disappointed by the area. I felt like I could have been in an bar district in any city in America. After Raffles Place, I headed back to my hostel hoping to get a good night’s sleep so I could see more of the city in the morning. My plan was soon disrupted when the karaoke bar next door started rocking and didn’t stop until well after 2 am! I spent my final hours of Singapore visiting the various neighborhoods to try and get a feel for the city. For the most part, I think Singapore is a great city. It may not be the best place to visit (it’s a little lacking on historical sites and there are few colonial buildings that remain), but is seems like it would be a very livable city. It’s clean, the metro is fast and efficient, and the weather is great year round. I’m glad I made the effort to see Singapore for myself, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make the effort to be a tourist there again.

After Singapore it was back to KL and the Khongs house for one more day of relaxation. Carol took me to the local morning market that has all the fresh veggies, chicken, beef, pork, and fish you could want. Then I went and had one last meal of beef noodle curry.

Malaysia is an intriguing country and it grabbed my attention as soon as I arrived. It is made up of three distinct cultures: Chinese, Indian, and Malay and while each group tends to stick to their own, the 3 cultures live side by side in harmony. The food here is amazing and very cheap. Also, I was taken aback by the greenery of the area. KL is is full of trees and tropical plants and on the drive to Singapore, I saw some of the lushes forests I have ever seen. There is a lot more to Malaysia than just KL and I can’t wait to see it all. I will definitely be back to visit the rest of Malaysia someday, but for now it’s time to pack and get ready for the next leg of my adventure to begin. Tomorrow I fly to Beijing where I will begin a three week train journey through China, Mongolia, and Russia!

Posted by: corbygarner | April 27, 2010

Islands of SW Thailand

After a wonderful week hanging out with Jae Eun in Bangkok and Ko Samet, it was time for Jae Eun to head back to work and for Simon and me to make our way south to the beaches of the Andaman Sea. Our transportation of choice was an overnight train to Surat Thani. It was an easy 12 hour journey in our 2nd class, fan cooled car (surprisingly it wasn’t too hot without air conditioning). The beds were nice and big and the bathroom was the nicest I’ve seen on a train outside the States or Europe. The only down fall was that our train was delayed an 1 1/2 hours leaving Bangkok and then another 2 hour on the way to Surat Thani. But since we had no idea where we were heading when we got off the train, the delay didn’t matter to us. Simon and I choose to head to Surat Thani because from there were could catch a bus to just about any of the islands along the Southwest coast. At first we thought we would head straight east and do a few days of snorkeling at Khao Sak National Park, but the more we read about it the more expensive and time consuming it sounded. Since neither of us are divers, it didn’t really seem worth our time and money to go east just to snorkel when there were cheaper and more accessible snorkeling options down south. So, after a bit of discussion  we settled on Ko Phi Phi.

On the overnight train to Surat Thani

Ko Phi Phi:

Getting to Ko Phi Phi turned out to be a bit of  a headache. From the train station in Surat Thani, we took the public bus to the bus station, which took about half an hour. Then when we got there, the next bus to Krabi (where we would catch the ferry to Ko Phi Phi) wasn’t leaving for a few hours. So, Simon and I opted to take a mini-bus instead. We paid 700 Baht for our mini-bus ticket and our ferry crossing with the promise that we would make the 1:30 ferry in Krabi. Well, that promise fell through before we even left the bus station. Our mini-bus was over 2 hours late leaving and it made what seemed like a hundred stops on the way. Fortunately, we made it to the ferry terminal just in time for the 3:00 ferry, but we then found out that we over paid for our ticket back in Surat Thani by 100 Baht. Our journey that started at 7:30 pm the night before back in Bangkok wasn’t quite over yet, though. We still had a 2 hour ferry ride and  a 30 minute wait for our long tail boat ride to our resort. All in all, it took us 22 1/2 hours of travel to get to our destination, but the it was worth it in the end. The resort we ended up staying at for 3 days was just what we were looking for.

We stayed on a beach called Ton Ko Beach Resort, where our resort was the only longing along the beach and was only accessible via a long tail boat. It was the idyllic tropical setting that dreams are made of: secluded beach, beautiful water, and the only noise being the random boat passing by and the sounds of the jungle behind the resort. The resort has 30 bungalows and Simon and I chose a 1,000 Baht a night room just off the beach. Electricity on the island is scarce, so the resort uses a generator from 6 pm to 6 am to  power the kitchen and the fans in the room. The fan helped us sleep at night, but once the power was cut it meant we were sweating within 10 minutes. This lead to some early mornings for me, but that was only since the only thing I had to do each day was nothing at all 🙂 The food at this place was another reason we stayed so long. The resort is run by a small family and they cooked up delicious home made Thai food every day. Simon and I spent 3 days eating what ever, when ever we wanted for about $15 a day.

The secluded beach on Ton Ko Beach

For 3 days, Simon and I hung out on the beach and ate like royalty at night. Each night, we found a set of new people to talk to and hang out with at the bar. One day, Simon and I made the climb to the top of the island to watch the sunset. It was a torcherous climb through the jungle (and I kept having flash backs to climbing the volcano in New Zealand a few month ago) but like most of these physically demanding hikes, it was totally worth it in the end. We barely made it for the sunset, but what we did see of it was once the most colorful and vibrant sunsets I have ever witnessed. Luckily, we brought our flash lights with us because the walk back through the jungle was in complete darkness and with out some sort of light, Simon and I would surely have been lost over night!

Sunset over Ko Phi Phi

Posted by: corbygarner | April 22, 2010

Ko Samet, Thailand

After a few days in Bangkok, it was time to head south and get a taste of the beaches that Thailand is famous for. Fortunately, my friend Jae Eun had the week off due to the Thai New Year, so Jae Eun, Simon, and I were able to have a little beach vacation together. We chose to head to the beach in Southeast Thailand since Simon and I will see the Southwest later in our trip. Our island of choice was Ko Samet. It was a 3 hour bus ride from Bangkok and then a 30 minute ferry ride from the mainland. All it all, it was an easy journey. What awaited us was 3 nights and 2 days of fun in the sun. The first night the island was packed with Thais celebrating the New Year, but by the morning things had cleared out a bit. We had grand intentions of exploring the island over the 2 days we were there, but in the end we ended up just hanging out on the beach in front of our hotel. It was too pleasant to be bothered to move anywhere else J We filled our days by playing in the ocean, enjoying the sun, and relaxing underneath an umbrella on the beach. At night we dinned on chicken kabobs (so cheap at only 50 Baht each!) and sampled a few of the beach side bars. The 2nd night there we encountered the amazing Thai hospitality that I heard so much about. One of the waiters at our hotel started talking to us and ended up hanging out with us the rest of the night. Nam was a genuinely nice guy and he showed us some of the better night spots on Ko Samet. The next day, he then hooked us up with free chairs and umbrellas on the beach (the chairs and umbrellas rented for just over a $1 a day, so it wasn’t a huge financial gain for but the gesture meant the world to us). It was great to get know a local and become friends for a bit, and it was even better that the friendliness that Nam showed the 3 of us was sincere. So many times when traveling you think you have met someone that is looking for a friendly face to talk to but in the end they want something out of you, like for you to shop in the Uncle’s store or eat at this restaurant or stay at that hotel. It wasn’t like that with Nam and our interaction with him and his friends made our time on Ko Samet that much more enjoyable.

On the ferry to Ko Samet with Jae Eun

Dinner on the beach with Simon and Jae Eun

Tropical drinks to go with the tropical setting 🙂

Celebrating Thai New Year with the kids on the beach

We returned to Bangkok on Saturday afternoon, but before we were able to dock on the mainland, a severe tropical storm attacked our ferry. For over 20 minutes we were stuck in the bay being pelted by rain. As much as I tried to shield my stuff, it all ended up soaking wet. Fortunately, I had 24 hours in Bangkok to let my stuff dry and miraculously all my electronics survived. I’m now wondering if I should have splurged on the $20 raincover for my bag. Hopefully this will be the only rainstorm I get stuck in, but since I am going to be spending the next 7 days on islands I highly doubt I will be that lucky.

Once back in Bangkok, Jae Eun, Simon and I had one final night together before Simon and I took the overnight train south. The 3 of us celebrated another great trip together by going to one of the highest bars in Bangkok. The view from the 59 floor outside bar and restaurant was spectacular and it was a fitting way to end our time together. Being able to share my travels this year with my friends is an amazing thing. My time with Simon and Jae Eun has really made me rediscover the passion for travel and meeting new people that was born 7 years ago in London. I’m looking forward to traveling some more with Simon and then in a few weeks I’ll be enjoying Europe and South Africa with even more friends. Amazing!

My last night in Bangkok with Simon and Jae Eun

Posted by: corbygarner | April 14, 2010


After 27 hours of flying from DC to NYC to Shanghai then to Bangkok, I finally arrived back in Thailand at 2 am on Monday morning. Waiting for me at my friend’s house in central Bangkok were two of my best friends from my time in London 7 years ago. It was an amazing feeling walking into the apartment and have Simon (who had come from Belgium via a conference in Singapore) and Jae Eun (a Korean working here in Bangkok for 6 months) there to greet me. We live on 3 different continents, but somehow we always find a way to see each other every year or two. Fortunately, my arrival back in Thailand coincides with the Thai New Year and the 3 of us are headed for a little beach vacation on today to the island of Ko Samet of the SE coast of Thailand.

The day before my arrival, large protest in Bangkok resulted in the death of 20 people. This and the arrival of the New Year have left the city in an odd state. Half the city is inaccessible due the protest and yesterday the city seemed completed deserted because everyone was off for the national holiday. On Monday morning as I was getting ready for the day, I looked out the 20th floor window of Jae Eun’s apartment and saw the Red Shirts parading through the city with empty coffins to represent those that died on Saturday. It was cool to see the action in person, though I was glad to be so far away.

The procession of Red Shirts down Rama IV Road

The chaos of the city on Monday didn’t deter me and Simon from getting in a few of the open attractions the city has to offer. We checked out the Grand Palace and Wat Po temple. To get there, we had a true Bangkok experience and took a water taxi up the river. The Grand Palace was an amazing sight, so colorful and everything about it is grand 🙂 At Wat Po, we saw the Laying Buddha, which is 45 meters in length. I had no idea exactly how big 45 meters was until I saw the Buddha in person. It was definitely a wow moment! Unfortunately, it’s hard to capture something that large inside a building with my camera, so my pictures of it don’t do it justice.

Enjoying my river taxi ride

One of the temples in the Grand Palace complex

Last night, the 3 of us hit the town to celebrate the New Year. We started our night with a fancy and delicious dinner at the Mandrin Oriental Hotel by the river. Then we hit the biggest club area and welcomed in the New Year with about 20,000 locals. It was absolute chaos since the New Year is welcomed in by pouring water and shooting water guns at everyone. I’ve never witnessed so much water and so many people, inside and outside of the clubs. I must admit though, I have new found respect for fire codes in the United States. It was so packed in certain areas of the club that at times it was impossible to move. Fortunately we found a few uncrowded areas and had room to dance the night away. It was just like old times back in London, dancing late into the night with Simon and Jae Eun. What a fantastic night!

Jae Eun, Simon and me enjoying the water and the music

Now it’s time for beach! Today we are off to the island of Koh Samet for 3 days of enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful weather!

Posted by: corbygarner | April 10, 2010

Off Again

As most of you know, I’ve been taking a break from traveling for the last 5 weeks. Due to issues with obtaining my Russian visa abroad, missing my friends and family, and getting a little burned out on traveling I decided to head back to the States for a few weeks back in early March. It’s been a great trip home and the time here has definitely sparked my desire to travel once again. Tomorrow I fly from DC to Bangkok (via New York and a 15 hour flight to Shanghai) and continue on with the remainder of my trip. While home I also decided to change of up the end of my trip and cut out my month in Ghana. After 2 months on the road, I realized that I was a little over ambitious with my itinerary and I decided that 6 weeks in Africa will be enough. I’m excited for the next phase of my trip. It’s going to be a lot more of hanging out with friends (in Thailand, Europe, and South Africa) and seeing far away (China, Mongolia, Russia, 4 countries in Southern Africa).

As for now, here’s a little recap of the first part of my trip. It has music so put on your headphones 🙂

Posted by: corbygarner | March 5, 2010

India: Part II

The Ganges River: After a relaxing 2 days in Orcha, it was time for more relaxing 🙂 The next stop on our journey from Delhi to Kathmandu was an over night trip down the Ganges River. The Ganges is considered a holy body of water by Hindu’s and therefore no meat or alcohol can be consumed within a hundred meters of it. Our group of 12 set sail just before lunch time in 3 different tradition river boats. We spent a lazy day slowly going down the river and taking in the sights of life on the Ganges. The dry, barren land on each side of the river reminded me a lot of southern Egypt. We were here during the dry season which meant no crops were growing and little farming was being done. That night we camped on a sandy beach in tents and then the next morning we were off sailing again just after dawn. It was a full 24 hour trip and though not all that exciting, it was enjoyable. One of the things that made it so great was the food. We had a 4th boat following us that served us 3 delicious meals. It was mostly traditional Indian food, but at dinner we were given a surprise of french fries and macaroni and cheese! I had been eating curry for almost every meal up this point, so a little taste of home was a welcomed treat 🙂

Home for the night on the Ganges

Sunrise on the Ganges

Varanasi: Our next stop was a 2 night stay in the holy city of  Varanasi. This city is the ultimate destination for all Hindu pilgrims and is full of temples, shrines and devotees. The Ganges flows through this city and one of the best ways to pass the time is to go the river and visit the ghats, where Hindu’s perform religious ceremonies. Since Varanasi is the holiest city in Hinduism, many people come here for funeral services of family members. In Hinduism, cremation is used to release the soul from the body and then the remains are released into the holy waters of the Ganges. All along the river front in Varanasi you can see where recent cremation ceremonies have taken place and if you are in the right place at the right time, you can even witness the ceremony. Death in Hinduism is celebrates because it means the soul has been released, so people from all walks of life, Hindu or not, are invited to watch the cremation ceremony. I didn’t get to see a ceremony take place here but I would be able to witness one in Kathmandu a week later.

Something I really wanted to see in India: a snake charmer!

Varanasi was our last stop in India. After two nights, we left at 5:30 am for our 11 hour drive to the Nepalese border. At first I was excited for a the road trip, but I had forgotten how terrible and chaotic India’s roads are. We spent the whole trip to the boarder on bumpy roads that were crowded with other cars, people, and animals the whole time. For the first 4 hours, the fog was so thick that visibility was only a few meters. This lead to our driver having to constantly use his loud and obnoxious horn to warn whatever person or thing might be ahead of us. It was a long journey to the border, but it was all forgotten once we walked into Nepal realized we were in a new country and the next phase of our journey was about to begin.

Final thoughts on India: I think that chaos is a good word to describe India. There are over a billion people that call India home and it’s hard to escape the masses. The streets are crowded, buses are crowded, and trains are crowded. Another contributing factor to the chaos is the noise. India is loud. The loudest place I have ever been. All the people and the constant honking of car horns never stops and it’s not something I really ever got used to. India is in your face all the time. But, this is all part of the charm. India is like no place else I have been. It was amazing to witness the chaos that I have read about first hand. The food here was good as well and I really didn’t even notice that all my meals were vegetarian. The infrastructure in North India is a little lacking though, with terrible roads and occasional power cuts, but this only slows life for a bit and then the craziness returns. I can’t say that I have any desire to go back to North India, but I would like to visit the South of India sometime. It is in the South where the economic miracle that has made India a leading power is located and I hear it is completely different down there. The chaos is still around, but it’s more developed. It is also in the South were the great economic divide of the country is showcased. I think it would be interesting to see this, but that will have to wait for my next grand adventure 🙂 I must admit that I am a little proud of myself for surviving India. In all the research I did for this trip, I read a hundred times how India is one of the hardest places to go due to illness and underdevelopment. I actually found all the stuff I read to be false. Granted, I cheated a bit and went with a tour group instead of backpacking on my own, but after this trip I feel that India really is easy to get around. The train system is fantastic (although a little old and late sometimes), almost everyone speaks English, and the people of India are some of the nicest I have ever come across. Also, I never once felt threatened. When I would walk around on my own I never felt uncomfortable or was hissed at or hit on by men like has happened to me in Egypt and Latin America. I’m glad I put India on my list of places to visit 🙂

Posted by: corbygarner | February 20, 2010

India: Part I

I have now been in India for 5 days and all I can say is: wow! The culture shock and new sights and sounds that I have been waiting to experience since I left the states have all hit me at once. I arrived at 2:30 in the morning on Tuesday and even at this hour the airport in Delhi was jam packed. My tour that I was joining didn’t meet up until 1 pm, so I had to book a room for the night. Luckily my hotel transfer showed up this time (unlike in Fiji) and I finally arrived to my hotel a little after 4 am (which was 9 am Australia time where I had just come from). I was only able to grab a few hours of sleep due to the noise of Delhi and the hotel keeping me awake. Plus, I was too excited to get my Indian adventure started to really rest. I thought I had slept through breakfast, but when I went to check out at 11:00 am the owner of the hotel started talking to me and I ended up having a lovely omelet and tea before I started my day. After spending 5 weeks in countries know for terrible customer service, it was refreshing to see someone actually care about how their business was perceived. Next I headed to my meeting point hotel to meet my group leader and the 11 other people I would be spending the next 15 days with. I had such a great time with people from the last tour I did (which was in Egypt in Sept. 2008) that I couldn’t wait to meet my new friends. Out of the 12 people, I am the only solo female traveler so that means I get my own room at the hotels we stay at, which is a luxury I never imagined J I am the only American in the group and everyone else is either from Europe or Australia. Our group leader is a guy named Mayank and he grew up a few hours away from Delhi. He’s around my age and has been a lot of fun to talk to and already he has taught our group so much about India and its people. So far it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with everyone in the group and I have a feeling we are going to enjoy our 2 weeks together.


Delhi: I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Delhi and it’s taken me a few days to process everything. I was only able to spend about 24 hours in this capital city, so I didn’t get to see too much of it. My group did take the local bus down to Old Delhi, which was everything a local bus in a developing country city should be: old, crowded, stuck in traffic. I loved every minute of it J Right away we were introduced to the diversity of the religious make up of India. We visited the oldest mosque in the city, saw a Hindu temple and went to a Sikh temple, all within a few city blocks of each other. While walking through the market in Old Delhi, we stopped and had a cup of chi from a local vendor and then sampled some street food (which was delicious and super cheap!). For the most part, Delhi reminded me a lot of Cairo, although I think Cairo is more developed. The roads in Delhi are of course paved, but they are crumbling and there are a lot of dirt side streets. I didn’t see the extreme poverty in Delhi that comes to mind when thinking of India, which surprised me a bit. I had read that the North of India is a lot poorer than the South (where the wealthier cities like Mumbai are located). Maybe because there isn’t the contrast of extreme wealth and extreme poverty in Delhi that makes the city seem nicer. The next morning we rose early to catch our 7 am train to one of the most iconic structures in the world: The Taj Mahal. It wasn’t until our train had left the center of Delhi that I finally saw the poverty I had expected. As the city turned into slums, I saw large plots of land with people randomly swatting. It took me a minute to figure out that this land was their bathroom. No privacy, no plumbing, just an open field. I have never seen anything like it and I’m sure that image will stick with me for many years to come.

Having tea in Old Delhi


Agra and the Taj Mahal: Seeing the Taj Mahal in person is something that I always wanted to do, but never thought I would actually do it. I was so excited on the 3 hour train ride from Delhi to Agra, the city were the Taj Mahal is located, that I didn’t even mind the 5:30 am alarm. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we headed straight for the Taj. Once again, I had that “wow” moment when I entered the complex and had full sight of the monument. I was in the complex for about and hour and half, and I think I spent over an hour trying to take the perfect picture of me with the Taj in the background. I did take the time to walk around the complex and appreciate the fine detailing in the marble that makes up the mausoleum where Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz are buried. Once again, the tolerance and diversity of religion in India was on display. Shah Jahan was actually a Muslim but his favorite wife, whom he build the Taj Mahal as a memorial and resting place for, was Hindu. Therefore the complex has a mosque on the East side and the actual resting place of Mumtaz has Hindu gods carved into the marble.


Having fun at the Taj Mahal

After the Taj Mahal, we headed to the other major attraction in Agra: The Red Fort. I had never heard of this place before and I’m not sure why. It’s quite a spectacular compound at over a square mile big and enclosed by massive red brick walls. The Red Fort is a military compound as well as the home to different palaces used by kings around the time the Taj Mahal was built. In fact, the fort is still being used by the Indian Army today and over a quarter of the area is off limits to tourist. From the top of the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal can be seen down river. I couldn’t get enough of the view and I tried to take as many pictures a possible but the hazy sky due to pollution made getting a good picture almost impossible.


View of the Taj Mahal from the Red Fort

Orcha: The next stop on our tour took us to the little town of Orcha, about a 4 hour train ride east of the Taj Mahal. This little town situated on the banks of the Betwa River, has changed little over the centuries. Originally a hunting area, it became the capital of the Bundela rajas, and as a result, Orchha has more temples and palaces than any town of this size deserves. The main street here is filled with vendors and restaurants catering to the tourist crowd. People and shops aren’t the only things on the road here, though. Throughout town, it is the cows and buffalo that rule the land. It was a true Indian experience to have my ricksaw swerve out of the way of buffalo in the street numerous times. These animals just wonder around town but after a while you forget they are even there. They are harmless and while they won’t move out of your way, they won’t come after you either J Our two days in Orcha were filled visiting temples, taking a little rafting trip down the river (for only $5 USD a person!! I love how cheap everything is in India!), and partaking in an Indian cooking class. It’s been a calm few days, which is rare on tours, and I have enjoyed the relaxation especially since I have been dealing with my first upset stomach of the trip. Note: even though the pizza at a local restaurant comes highly recommended, it doesn’t mean you can’t get sick off of it. Three of us in my group made the mistake of not eating Indian food one night and we all paid for it the next morning! Tonight we leave Orcha behind and take an overnight train to our next stop, The Ganges River, where we will spend the next day sailing down the river and taking in the sights and sounds of India’s holiest body of water.


Making new friends on the train to Orcha


Rafting with my group in Orcha

Getting henna painted on my arm

Sharing the road with the local livestock



Thoughts on India so far: After almost a full week here I am starting to get a taste for India. With a few exceptions, the level of poverty on display hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be. Accommodation is a lot nicer than I expected and the people here are really friendly. Shop owners and kids on the street don’t hassle tourist as much as other places I have been (namely Egypt) and I have yet to feel like I am getting ripped off by anyone. Food at nice restaurants is really cheap (most of my meals, including a soda, cost around $2-3 USD) and everything tastes amazing. I keep trying to compare India to other places I have been but nothing quite matches up. The smaller towns remind me a bit of the small towns in Egypt, but that’s about it. The towns don’t have proper shops, instead almost every shop it little more than a shack, but they all have electricity and every other shop has high speed internet. I haven’t quite figured this place out yet, but maybe I will over the next five days that we have left here before heading into Nepal.

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