Southeast Asia

Chiang Mai, Thailand 2017 by William Bryan

This is the fifth and final post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. Check out the first four from Hong KongHanoi, Hạ Long Bay, and Bangkok if you haven't already and hang tight, more travel stories are on the way!

We had already ridden motor scooters in Hanoi but we wanted to explore the countryside outside of Chiang Mai with the same freedom. So rather than booking a tour bus we opted for cheap scooters and a loose plan of how to get to a nearby national park. With Sachin in the lead we headed towards a national park outside of the city. After riding scooters in Vietnam we all felt more comfortable on the road so Sach wasn’t shy about passing semi’s and tour busses alike on the narrow two lane roads. Goose and I had no choice but to keep up so we pulled back on the throttle and weaved dangerously around traffic.


As we neared the national park the roads got empty. Fields of crops became more common than houses and the road went from two lanes to one. I was in the lead now and with less traffic and windy roads I decided to have some fun with it and push my riding skills more than before.

No more than five minutes after we left the highway for small back roads we came across a tight bend in the road. I put my motorcycle training to the test and took the turn in textbook fashion (outside, inside, outside). The problem with pushing my riding skills, though, was that I failed to impart the same knowledge on the other two.

I slowed as much as possible before leaning into the turn and pulling on the throttle as I rounded out of the curve, grinning at having used my little bit of motorcycle riding know-how successfully. That’s when I heard it: the telltale scraping of a motorcycle on asphalt. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see Goose skidding along the pavement behind his yellow scooter.

A slammed on the brakes and gunned it back towards the crash where I helped Goose stand up while Sach picked up the fallen scooter. After a moment of shock, I pulled out my travel first aid kit and tried my best to help. As we poured water on his five patches of road rash we realized just how deep the scrapes were.

The turn in question.

The turn in question.

I was on my last disinfecting swab when a truck drove past us on the side of the road and came to a stop as the driver asked us in Thai if everything was ok (I think). We mimed out a scooter crash to the best of our ability and the man pulled his truck over and got out. It was then that we noticed he was a fireman. He looked Goose over and I tried to ask if he had a first aid kit, mine was used up. He didn’t have any kit in his truck but he got busy on his walkie-talkie as we looked at him in confusion.

After some more miming we figured out that he had called the station and a paramedic crew was on it’s way. Goose, Sach, and I looked at each other and finally let out all of the pent up stress with a sigh. It was a bad turn of events but we couldn’t have been luckier than having a fireman drive past.

Goose’s shock dissipated and the pain started to kick in as we waited 15 minutes for the paramedics.

After what felt like an eternity of Goose pacing back and forth anxiously a red pickup truck with two guys pulled up and dropped the tailgate. Goose sat down on the back and the medics got to work. He let out groans and screams of pain as they poured disinfectant on his bloody scrapes. Thai and Americans alike looked at each other and started to chuckle at his funny pained noises.


No one spoke the other’s language and all we could do was laugh at how ridiculous the moment felt.

After a few minutes of expert care from the Thai fire crew their work was done: tons of disinfectant and a handful of taped on gauze strips. We tried to pay them but they refused any money. Instead, they agreed to take a picture with Goose all patched up.


After the photo the guys piled into their trucks and pulled back onto the road, no doubt laughing at the dumb American tourists who don’t know how to ride. We gave Goose a few more minutes to calm his nerves before we climbed on the scooters and continued on our way to the national park.

The real reason we were set on going to Chiang Mai wasn’t more scooters, but elephants. The city is nestled amongst the mountains in northwestern Thailand, in the heart of elephant territory. We’d heard of the inhumane conditions of many of Thailand’s elephant parks so after finding one that was known for it’s fair treatment of the animals we booked a tour.

It’s hard to imagine the unique fear associated with standing next to an animal that could kill you by sitting down. But when we first stepped up to the elephants that thought was definitely in the back of my mind. We watched as our guide roughhoused with little babies and within minutes we were hugging their trunks and getting surprise hickeys; most of the fear of the animals replaced by joy.

We spent the rest of the day helping out with the caretaker’s daily tasks. We fed them sugar cane snacks and helped them walk off the food after. Then we watched as they played in the mud and then jumped into the pond with them to scrub the dirt off of their backs.

It was surprisingly tiring work, especially when you have to wrestle one of the beasts in the right direction on the trail. After a thorough shower we climbed back on the bus and passed out after both a long day at the elephant park and an exhausting 17-day adventure around Southeast Asia.

Bangkok, Thailand 2017 by William Bryan

This is the fourth post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. Check out the first three from Hong KongHanoi, and Ha Long Bay if you haven't already and hang tight, the next story is on the way!

We’d been in Thailand for maybe two hours before Goose pointed out a food stall filled with scorpions. Sach and I looked at each other with wary faces, I had no need to prove anything by eating a deadly bug on the street and Sach didn’t either. Goose, however, had a different idea. According to him we hadn’t really experienced Thailand until we got outside of our comfort zone, and the first way to do that was by eating a scorpion right then and there.

Goose eyeing his future.

Goose eyeing his future.

Sach and I hesitated for a second too long which gave Goose the only opening he needed to pull out some cash and grab a scorpion before we expressed any more misgivings. Once he had it in his hand, though, he hesitated. “How the hell am I supposed to eat this?” We all laughed—none of us had any clue. What was the best part, the claws, head, maybe the tail? After some deliberating Goose brought the insect to his mouth, lined up a claw, and crunched. We looked at him waiting for him to drop dead before he coughed and said “not bad.”

After we all tried it we agreed it was like chewing on a plastic toy: crunchy, flavorless, and hard to swallow because little bits got stuck in your throat. We tried to cough up scorpion crumbs as we walked up the market street in search of the next food stall.

The street food was perhaps the best part of Bangkok. On every other corner we found chicken strips or pork meatballs, kebabs or pad thai, spring rolls or fried dough-balls, dumplings or a 7-Eleven with a world of snacks; and I can’t remember a single thing I didn’t love.

While in Bangkok we decided to experience another quintessential Thai pastime: Muay Thai. $30 tickets got us into the economy priced betting level of Thailand’s national Rajadamnern Stadium for three hours of brutal, bloody, super-featherweight competition.

After stuffing ourselves with street food outside we made our way into the 65-year-old stadium, up a pee-filled concrete stairwell, through a humid hallway lined with cigarette-smoking Thai men and out into the stadium’s upper level. We were instantly engulfed in music, shouting, and waving arms, the end of which all held up a number of fingers that seemed to mean something to everyone but us. It became immediately clear that we were the only foreigners who hadn’t bothered to pay for courtside seats.

An attendant handed us each an English flyer with the night’s bouts and we found an empty stretch of concrete to sit down where we could take it all in. We spent the evening betting beers on which of the two scrawny looking teenagers would still be standing after seven rounds of savagely pounding on each other. I chose solely on who I thought had a cooler name and managed to win five out of the seven bets.

Pounding the pavement in search of something other than street food is rewarding, too. The city is an amazing mixture of lawlessness and beauty. The busy criss-crossed power lines make a good example of what the city as a whole feels like until you step into the grounds of one of it's many temples. They feature an amazing attention to detail and craftsmanship that is hard to fathom until you see it up close. Mural's reenact a Hindu epic, The Ramayana, and perfectly placed stones and tiles only get more beautiful the closer you inspect them. An authentic Thai massage at the Wat Pho Thai Massage school inside the temple walls definitely helps take away the fatigue that's inherent in a long day of exploring Bangkok's holy sites.

Getting a taxi in Thailand is always a negotiation, so for our flight out of Bangkok we decided to avoid the hassle and book a van from our hostel. When we paid in advance they asked us which airport we needed to go to: DMK or BKK. I paused for a second and confidently said “BKK, same one we flew into.” And didn’t give it a second thought.

We piled out of the van at BKK and went to the info-screens to figure out where we needed to check in for our Air Asia flight. That’s when I slowly started to doubt my decision from earlier—there wasn’t an Air Asia flight anywhere on the board, let alone our flight to Phuket. I looked at Sach and Goose as it dawned on me.

“Guys, we’re at the wrong airport,” I said.

They looked at me dumbfounded, they didn’t believe me, or didn’t want to.

“No seriously. Air Asia has no flights in or out of BKK. They must be with other budget airlines at the old airport.”

I pulled out my folder full of flight information and confirmed my suspicions. I looked at my watch.

“We’ve got two hours.”

We all grabbed our bags and ran back out to the curb that we’d just arrived at and looked for a taxi stand. I jogged up to the first taxi I saw and asked how much to get us to the other airport. The man laughed and looked at his friend who smiled back at him, this wasn’t the first time a tourist had been in this position and this taxi driver was ready to capitalize on it.

“2,000 baht,” he said.

We’d dealt with this every time we ordered a taxi or tuk-tuk. They start the price ridiculously high and are typically willing to take you for half of their first offer. With this in mind the negotiations began.

“Ha! No way. 1,000,” I said, as confidently as I could manage knowing how little time we had to make it to the other airport.

“No, no, no. 2,000 baht, no less,” was his retort.

“Way too much! 1,000 at most!”

“No! I take you for 1,000 I lose money. Your flight is so soon I need to speed and I get ticket for more than you pay me,” he said in broken English.

I turned to the others and consulted with them in hushed tones. We looked at our watches and weighed the risks. We had no idea how far the other airport was, and besides, 1,000 baht was only about $20, definitely not worth missing a flight over. As we deliberated I noticed another taxi driver that had been watching the whole negotiation take place and thought it couldn’t hurt to ask how much he would charge.

“How much to DMK,” I asked as I walked towards him.

“1,000 baht,” he responded with a knowing smile; he’d just obliterated the competition’s offer.

This was our guy.

I called the others over and we all piled into his cab as the other driver turned away in a fuss. We laughed as we drove across Bangkok, commending ourselves for not being suckered into the expensive cab fair. We made it to Don Mueang Airport and got to our gate with 30 minutes to spare.

I'd rather not scar you with stories of a Thai "Ping Pong Show" in Phuket, so check out photos from that part of the trip below instead.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam 2017 by William Bryan

This is the third post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. Check out the first two from Hong Kong and Hanoi if you haven't already and hang tight, the next two stories are on their way!


So much rain.

Rain forming huge pools in the street. Rain streaming down the sides of our bus. Rain everywhere. As we drove to Hạ Long Bay we didn’t think anything of it, we were just happy to be inside the bus where it was dry. At least not until our guide turned around in the passenger seat and yelled “70%” over the sound of the rain pounding on the bus’ roof.

“What?” we yelled back.

“70% chance we don’t go!”

We all looked at each other like he must be joking. We paid for a two-day-one-night boat cruise amongst Vietnam’s famous towering islands and we’d be damned if a little monsoon kept us from that. But our guide wasn’t being even the slightest bit funny. He explained that if the rain didn’t clear up quickly after we got to the harbor they planned on taking us to Hạ Long City for some tourist attractions and driving us back to Hanoi that same night which, needless to say, wasn’t something that we were looking forward to. As we pulled into the harbor the rain wasn’t showing any signs of abating. We started to realize that the cruise wasn’t going to happen as we sat under an awning and waited for the monsoon to pass.

Our bus must’ve been a good luck charm for all of the hundreds of sorry souls waiting out the rain with us; after about 20 minutes of sitting in humid, cigarette-smoke-filled air the downpour began to slow. No more than five minutes later the rain had stopped and we were on the boat making friends with the other guests as we motored out of the harbor.

None of us could have guessed how sorry we would’ve been if the rain had actually stopped our cruise among the islands. Massive green monoliths rose out of the sea in every direction. Other cruise ships (there are hundreds on the water every night) disappeared through channels between the rocks only to reappear a few minutes later. At least that’s what seemed to be happening, the damn ships all looked the same.

With the boat as home-base we explored in and around the islands by foot and kayak over the next day and a half. We checked out the Surprising Cave (we thought it was a joke at first too, it’s not), got sweatier than we’ve ever been summiting an island, and fished for squid off the back of the boat before motoring back to Hạ Long Harbor for our bus-ride home.

Stay informed on when the rest of the series comes out by following me on Instagram.

Hanoi, Vietnam 2017 by William Bryan

This is the second post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. Check out the first one from Hong Kong if you haven't already and hang tight, the other three stories are on their way!

If there’s one takeaway that Sach, Goose, and I have from Vietnam it’s that the people are unnervingly nice, kind, and happy to help.

After checking into our hostel with the help of the strangely friendly staff we decided to explore the Old Town of Hanoi by foot, which, with the thousands of motorbikes zooming around can feel like a death wish. We made our way to Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the middle of town where three Vietnamese college students struck up a conversation with us. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thought was that it was some kind of scam so I immediately checked my pockets for my wallet and phone. It turned out they just wanted to practice their English, and this was the only way they knew how: striking up conversations with tourists in the big city (I wonder how they knew we were tourists…).

They likely would have been happy to talk for hours but we had a whole new city to discover so after snapping a photo of the group we continued our exploration of Hanoi. We haggled our way through the night market and ate mystery street food before enjoying some local beer overlooking the lake.


We took advantage of the friendly guys at our hostel to book scooters for the next day. After forking over the whopping $8 USD per scooter they recommended we do a tourist-friendly 8-mile trip to a local ceramic village. When we said we planned to go to the Perfume Pagoda the guys didn’t even try to mask their laughter. “Too far” is all they said. They probably had a point, especially given that Sach and Goose had never ridden a scooter before.

So we made the obvious choice and went to both.

Relying on phones with no service to guide us we made our way to the Bát Tràng ceramic village while we got a feel for our scooters before we committed to the 50-mile haul to the Perfume Pagoda.

We quickly realized that 50 miles in a car on a US freeway is very different than 50 miles on a scooter that tops out at 45 mph with the wind buffeting your face and the sun beating down on your knees. But after a handful of wrong turns and plenty of locals looking at us like we were crazy we finally made it to Perfume Pagoda where we chartered a boat up the river.

After exploring only one of the dozens of temples along the river we decided we didn’t have enough time to see more if we wanted to ride back to Hanoi with the sun instead of the stars. We asked our boatman to take us back to our scooters and then one of us felt the first drop. Rain.

As soon as the boat hit the dock we rushed to our mopeds, turned the keys, and gunned it into the Vietnamese countryside. We all looked at each other and laughed as we realized that we most certainly didn’t look nearly as cool as we felt on the beat-up rental scooters putzing through intermittent rain drops.

After battling a light rain, Hanoi’s hectic evening traffic, and more than 100 miles on scooters we finally pulled up to the smiling guys at our hostel a little after dark.

“How far did you guys make it,” they asked in broken English.

“We went to Bát Tràng and the Perfume Pagoda.”

All they could do was laugh as we made our way upstairs to nurse our tired bodies back to health and enjoy a cold beer.



after 100+ miles on the scooter.

Rush-hour in Hanoi.

Rush-hour in Hanoi.

Stay informed on when the rest of the series comes out by following me on Instagram.

Hong Kong 2017 by William Bryan

This is the first post in a five-part series from a trip to Southeast Asia in May, 2017 with Sach and Goose. The other four stories are on their way!

After fourteen hours in the air we were lucky enough to descend into Hong Kong right as the sun was setting over its myriad islands. The approach down to the airport gives you the impression that they take a certain route to avoid clipping the massive skyscrapers as you fly over the city—I've never seen so many concrete monoliths in my life.

Hong Kong served as a kind of book-end for our trip to Southeast Asia, but with a total of 70 hours on the ground in the legendary city split between the beginning and end of our travels in Southeast Asia we were determined to make the most of our short time there. After waking up at 5:30 a.m. (thanks, jetlag) we wandered all over the city. We gorged ourselves on Dim Sum at a locals-only establishment, saw the city from above atop Victoria Peak, and enjoyed an impromptu beach day on the south side of the island. After 13 miles of walking we rested our tired feet and passed out in our miniature beds at 6 p.m. (thanks again, jetlag).

We had a few hours to kill before our flight to Vietnam the next morning so we wandered into a fish and produce market before making our way to the airport.


Fast-forward 15 days past adventures in Vietnam and Thailand to when we returned to Hong Kong: Not being the type to sit back and relax, even at the end of a trip, we hiked to the Tian Tan Buddha and enjoyed one last amazing dumpling meal before getting on our final plane home.

Stay informed on when the rest of the series comes out by following me on Instagram.