This Time is Different

From the time leading up to going home on my last trip, I dreaded it.  I wasn’t ready.  I had so much more I wanted to do, so much more I wanted to see.  Sure, I wanted to see my family, but other than that, I felt I had nothing to come back to. I had spent so long trying to get away from the small town I come from, only to come back to it.

As I flew in and saw my hometown, my stomach dropped.  I didn’t want to be here.  This wasn’t home to me, and I wasn’t ready for it to be now, or ever, I thought.  Every moment I spent at home I thought about being away somewhere foreign, somewhere exotic.

This time is different.

2 months in on my travels, I started to begin feeling a homesickness I had never experienced.  My sense of adventure for the unknown started to dwindle.  As I see so much beauty, experience so much culture, and do so many new things, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t mean as much without the people I love.

A year ago, I was a different person.  After telling my mom how I felt she reminded me that this time I am not running from anything or anyone.  I am not searching for myself because this time I am right here.  Experience has given me so many realizations about what is truly important, and where my priorities in my life now lie.

Love has changed me.  In the year from my last trip, I fell in love.

Well, I always loved him, but instead of an insecure, unknowing, unsure me that loved him, it was a me that was confident and sure of myself.  That made all the difference in knowing how to truly love in the right way

A year ago, if you asked me if I would be married and in love, I would have laughed and said no way in hell.  That was before Tanner came into my life again.  He changed everything.  No longer was I running from anything, or searching for anything.  He helped me realize my home was right where he was at.  That sense of home that I never truly have felt in any location, I feel when I am with him.

I like to think of myself as an independent person.  I can be on my own and be completely happy and content.  However, that sense of home is gone when he is.  Once I felt this, being the lonely traveler started to lose its appeal.

I want to see and experience all I can still.  My dream will be achieved to visit every country and experience every culture, however, anymore I don’t want to do it alone. Everything I see, I want Tanner to see as well.

This time is so different.  I can’t wait to go home.  I can’t wait to see my family, and enjoy the cold christmas season sipping a warm hot chocolate by a fire with my parents and sisters, as well as with my new husbands family.

I don’t feel lonely.  Loneliness would imply that i am alone.

Of course, I am never alone.  I am with myself.

No, it’s not loneliness I feel.  It’s just a longing to see and be with the people I love with all my heart.  I crave a different type of adventure now.  I crave the adventure of seeing my family for the Christmas season.  I crave planning my wedding in the midst of the ladies I love. I crave the adventure of creating a home and life with my husband in the UK.

This time is different.  This adventure is coming to a close and I am so ready for it to end.  I am ready to truly begin life.

Don’t get me wrong, I will never be truly tamed or done adventuring.  Never in my life will that fire die out.  The only difference is that now I have a new fire.  One that is constantly nurtured by the people I love and the new life I will get to live.

This time is different, because I allow myself to have love in my life.

I have fallen in love.  I have become love, and that has made all the difference.

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Sapa Town and to Tavan Village

Around Sapa to Tavan Village

From Hanoi I decided to take an night sleeper bus to the elusive Sapa I had heard so much about.  I was drawn to the photos i saw of the bright green rice terraces, famous to Vietnam.

When I envisioned the sleeper bus I thought of actual beds complete with a blanket and pillow, but what I found was 3 rows of 2 story chairs laid far back with a footrest to complete it.  It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined, but it did the job for a $10 overnight ride to Sapa.

We arrived at around 4 a.m to the town, but instead of getting off, we were allowed to sleep till about 6 am, which at that point we were kicked off the bus set to find our way from there.

I booked a place called Tavan Chopai Homestay, as it had awesome reviews and seemed to be more of a local type experience.  I started looking it up on the app Maps.me (which has saved my butt on multiple occasions) and said it was 9 kilometers away, not in Sapa, but in Tavan village.  At the same time, native ladies were pestering me asking me to buy from their shops.  Exhausted and delirious I brushed them off looking around to try to find a taxi or motorbike, even though the town was pretty much empty at that time.

I told the local ladies I was going to Tavan village, so they got a motorbike to take me to the bridge of Tavan for 60,000 Dong/3USD, when it was supposed to be about 80,000.  Score!  So I thought.

The motor taxi took me down a bumpy, pot holed, dirt road until we finally reached Tavan village.  We stopped at the bridge, and I searched my homestay in Maps.me and it was still about a kilometer away.  When I showed him this, he just shook his head at taking me there.

Grumbling and slightly frustrated I had to walk, I then paid my fare and then set off, depending on my app, a little too much.  I kept walking and then all of a sudden 1 km turned into 2.  I was a bit lost, at 6:30 in the morning, exhausted and ready to collapse into a bed.

My app took me up a narrow path, which I followed for about 5 minutes, until it told me I should be going left, which led me straight into deep water filled rice terraces.  So I had taken a few wrong turns somewhere.  I turned around and decided to stop relying on the damn app that got me all sorts of turned around.

I wandered for a bit, asking locals where my homestay was.  They pointed me onwards, onwards, until finally I saw a cute, rustic looking building.  Chopai Homestay.    After about 45 minutes of a walk that should have taken me 5 minutes, I was pretty damn relieved to see that welcomed sight.

When I arrived, the owner greeted me with some warm tea, and let me check in early.  Mind you, the temperature in the north of Vietnam is not humid or hot in any way.  I was chilled to the bone and ready to curl up in a blanket.  Even with the large down blanket and layers upon layers of clothes, it just didn’t cut it.  No where in the village had heating, unless you count the rare indoor coal fire.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get warm till I woke up the next morning.  I had planned a guided trek through local villages and the rice terraces with about 6 other people I had met at the homestay.

We climbed up what would have been a grueling hill, had we not had so many stops a long the way.

Once we got to the top, the view was incredible.  Even though the mist of the morning, we could see both sides of the hills were completely covered in rice terraces, practically from top to bottom, spanning for miles.

I was completely blown away by this.  What incredible farming techniques, and how long it must have taken to transform rolling hills into stair stepping terraces.

The time of year I went the rice was not in season, so I did not get to see the bright green beauty, but no matter.  It was still an awesome view to take in.

The trek took most of the day, beginning at 9:30 and ending at about 3 or so.  After completing it, I realize it is completely possible to do the trek yourself.  Perhaps getting lost a few times, but there was enough path, and enough other tours that finding your way would not have been such a major feat.  However, supporting the local villagers was worth the 15$ paid, as tourism really is the only source of income for most of the people there.

That was quite easy to tell, and also quite frustrating, as we could not go an hour without being pestered by local street vendors to buy some of their handicrafts.

Sitting peacefully, sipping on a delicious Vietnamese drip coffee mixed with sweet milk, and all of a sudden 7 ladies are surrounding you trying to sell you bracelets and bags and clothing.

“You buy from me?”

“No thank you.”

“Bracelets?”

“I am not shopping today.”

“This bag?”

“No. I am not buying anything.”

“This shirt.”

“No.”

“Why you not buy from me?  Later?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe yes.”

I learned to NEVER say maybe, because they take that very seriously.  They were SO persistent, consistently.  That did get frustrating, but I did buy some bracelets, so obviously tourists DO buy, otherwise they would not be approaching you.

Enough of the annoyances, because honestly, the good parts of staying in this local village far outweighed the negatives.

A homestay is different from a hostel.  It is someone’s home, with their whole family living under the same roof you are sleeping under.

The most awesome experience was the family dinners put on every night with a variety of wonderful Vietnamese food, which, by the way, is some of the best food I have ever eaten.  I can’t handle spicy food, so when I arrived to Vietnam, I was relieved to find that it was NOT spicy.  Hallelujah!

The family dinners consisted of everyone that stayed at the homestay that wanted to join and the family living there would all sit at a table and eat the array of food cooked by the owners cousin.  It reminded me of an American Thanksgiving dinner, which I missed out on this year.  So it was awesome to get a little of that “family” atmosphere.

After 2 nights in Tavan, I set out to Sapa town with an American couple to stay for one night before heading to Hanoi the next day.

I got a private room, with a private bathroom and TV for 5USD per night.  FIVE. DOLLARS. For a private room!  Seriously, what a steal.  There really are some perks of being somewhere in the low season.

Sapa is a complete tourist town.  It is filled with hostels, hotels, and restaurants, so especially during low season, prices are definitely very competitive.

At night we wandered around the town and ate at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, where we barbecued our own food on our table, having an assortment of all different types of foods that we got to share and try out.

What a time in Northern Vietnam.  Cold.  Freezing cold.  Going from humidity, sweating just standing, to seeing your breath, bone chilling kind of weather was something else.  Vietnam is such a spanning place, that it really gets all types of weather in one country.  Had I prepared better, I would have brought warmer clothes to what I thought was an all tropical climate!

Live and learn!

The Lonely Traveler

Being a solo traveler is such a large range of goods and bads, ups and downs.  The freedom you feel in being alone is unlike any other.  You can go where you like and do what you like whenever you want.  There is not the weight of another person depending on you.  If mistakes are made, it’s on you. And you alone.

In general, being a solo traveler, you are never truly ever alone.  Most hostels you go to, you will meet many other solo travelers and do activities with them, occasionally even ending up with people for the next few cities you go.  No matter what, though, you will always say goodbye.  There is never the consistency you are used to at home.  Sometimes it can give you a sense of loneliness.
Being alone is not the lonely part for me.  Saying goodbye so quickly to so many people is what gets draining.  After a while I don’t want to meet anymore people.  There are times I will go to a place and purposely avoid others because I don’t want to say goodbye.  So I remain the lonely traveler, being content with my own company.
I think spending time alone can be very healthy for you, but I think spending too much time alone is not.  Meeting new people at the hostels and getting to share your experiences with other people makes your trip that much more fun and exciting.  Even if you don’t get them on Facebook, or will never see them again, the memory will always be in your mind of the people you got these unforgettable moments with.
There are times when you go to a hostel, and you really are the only one there.  This happened to me in Siem Reap.  I welcomed the alone time with open arms.  When you are alone, you tend to notice your surroundings far more than you do when you are with other people.  Surrounded by friends makes one less open and aware of the day to day cultural lives of locals that also surround you.  The experience tends to be far more authentic and eye opening observing others rather than the small group you are with.

 In watching others, you learn more about them.  I think in learning more about others, you learn far more about yourself.  The more I see and experience, the less I understand about the world we live in.  I don’t understand humanity in the slightest.  The joy.  The anger.  The sadness.  The Frusteration.  It’s so weird to watch, knowing that I myself do the same types of things and go through the same types of pain.  We are all so different, yet so terribly and undoubtedly alike.

I spent about 4 days of being completely alone, aside from talking to the occasional local.  I began to feel a homesickness I had never experienced traveling.  I had over a month left of my travels and I felt as though I was done?
What?  Why was I feeling this?  I was doing what most people only dreamed of.  I was making my own dreams reality!  And all of a sudden I started feeling alone and homesick?
Traveler burnout.  Only a thing I had read about, and scoffed at.  I would never feel this, so I thought.
After being alone for a while, I started to feel a little more like my adventurous self, until Phnom Penh, I had gotten food poisoning. I was vomiting all night long and had diarrhea for over 5 days.  At this point I was done.  Finished.  I just wanted to be in my own bed.  I wanted to be able to go downstairs and get water out of my filter, drink tea, eat soup, but here I was, stuck on the 5th floor of a hostel, alone, exhausted, and sick to my stomach.
4 more weeks of this.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  I felt so down and made myself feel even more down thinking about the fact that I felt down.  Travel is supposed to be exhilarating. Always!  Like it had been for me before.
The truth is travel is not always as glamorous as it seems.  It can be dirty and exhausting and challenging.  Eventually you begin to miss the littlest things about life back at home.
Having a kitchen for one.  Oh how I miss having a kitchen I can cook in, or cupboards full of food I can snack on.  I am so sick of restaurant food.  The thought of it makes me nauseous.
Was I ever going to get past this?  Out of this damn slump?

The answer is yes.  Absolutely.  I am getting out of it now.

There are times that traveling does take its toll.  Eventually, though, you remember why you started traveling in the first place.  Adventure, knowledge, fun, experience.  I had about a week of relapse, but I came out the other end okay.

It’s okay to miss home.  I miss my parents. My sisters. My husband.

As much as I miss all that, somewhere along the way I remembered that I am a lonely traveler.  But I am never alone.  I am with myself.  And if I am not enjoying my time alone, then I am not in good company.  I made a choice to change my mindset.  I made a choice to fill myself with love and passion again for the unknown.

I am ready to grasp this adventure with full intensity, as I always have.

My consistently happy mindset had faltered, but I really pushed mentally and made a conscious decision to become happiness again.  I broke down that wall of helplessness and brought back that love induced state for all sights and experiences I was having.

Being the lonely traveler made me enjoy the company I was with.  Myself.  I went through some tough thoughts, but came out on top, better than ever.  Stronger than ever.  More self aware than I have ever been in the past.
At some point, I realized who was having these adventures.  Whose eyes were seeing all the beauty.  Whose feet were walking the path.  Whose thoughts were in my head.
It is me.

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia.

That feeling of walking through the airport, jumping on your plane, and heading out to the next country is a similar to feeling of the first time you set out on your journey.  You’re leaving behind travel buddies and a place you had gotten a feel for for an entirely new place.  It may be the same journey, but it’s the start of different adventure.

On this specific new adventure, I was leaving Thailand and heading for Cambodia.  I had a flight from Chiang Mai, to Siem Reap, which was perfect because that’s where Angkor Wat was as well.

Siem Reap was a truly lovely city filled with so much culture and lovely people.  For me, Thailand had been a trip of doing.  Constantly.  Seeing new places, doing new activities, always.  It didn’t give me very much time to truly take a break and look around at the actual culture of the place.

However, in Cambodia, I was taking it quite slow, as I was by myself once again.  I had time to walk around the city in any direction I pleased, for as long as I wanted.  Where I stayed was right outside the alive night market of Siem Reap, and within walking distance of the old market as well as pub street.

The streets were so alive at night and filled with Cambodian voices of, “Hello Ladyyy!” “Tuk Tuk, Lady?” “Motorbike, lady?” Or “How much you pay?”  I noticed right away Cambodia was much more pushy when it came to selling to tourists, and they were always trying to rip you off.  In general, if they ask a price, it’s actually supposed to be half that price, or even less.  So bargaining is a MUST here, unless you want to pay far above the real value of something.

The real treasure of Siem Reap, obviously, is Angkor Wat and around.  There is a series of stunning, huge temples in Angkor, originally for Hinduism, but later converted to a buddhist temple. Angkor Wat itself is the largest religious complex in the world, and is about 900 years old.

You can get to Angkor by tuk tuk, but I opted for the more vigorous way of renting a bike and cycling around to the temples.  It is definitely doable, but definitely exhausting and heated.

As I cycled, I saw a sign that led me down the road about 6 extra kilometers to the ticket booth, which ended up being the hardest part because it was so out of the way.  I decided to get the 3 day ticket, since I wasn’t in a big rush, and had plans to get up for sunrise and go for sunset (which I didn’t do) as well for about 40USD.

After following traffic an a somewhat sketchy, busy, road, I finally arrived at Angkor.  It was full of tourists, but it was still a magnificent sight to see.  You walked across the moat on a bridge to the first building, which then led to many more smaller buildings surrounding.  I got off the beaten track and went to the lower trails, not full of people, as I enjoy a view not blocked by others far more enjoyable.  I came up on Angkor Wat and it really was as wonderful as everyone said.  It had a kind of magic to it.

Inside, there were monks that you could donate to.  I donated a few dollars and he gave me a bracelet, and then chanted and blessed me while chanting and flicking water on me as he did.  I felt a sense of newness afterwards.  I bowed and thanked him and continued onwards.

Little  boy who gave me a moth as a present and to sell me some pineapple.

After Angkor, I headed to nearby Angkor Thom and the Baryon temple.  I found these even more impressive than the popular Angkor Wat.

I came up upon it and rode across a bridge with what looked like guards with angry faces surrounding both sides and through a tunnel of 3 smiling faces.

As I came upon Bayon, there were monkeys lining the streets, and bulls grazing openly next to the road.

The ruins really were impressive.  There were dozens of faces upon the ruins, giving it’s famous name of the smiling faces.  It was a happy feeling being in such an interesting, different type of place.

 
 
 

Hug Elephants Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

One of the main activities in the north I wanted to accomplish was going to the famous and humane elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai.  I had seen elephants in Pai, but not had the authentic experience of truly being with and spending time with the elephants.

Too many times, places who have Elephants mistreat them.  They are tied up, kept in very small areas, used only for the enjoyment of tourists.  One thing I learned all too well is that riding elephants is a big NO.  Generally this is a huge red flag of mistreatment of these gentle giants.  It is so heartbreaking to see elephants, strapped with big saddles that could potentially hurt them, riding around in circles or on treks with tourists on their back.
Luckily, this fact of mistreatment is becoming far more noticed and known by tourists and locals.  Most, if not all travelers who do their research, will come to find that there are plenty of alternative places where they treat the animals humanely and gently, often times rescuing them from their previous conditions, with no riding and open areas for them to roam.
Originally, I had a couple popular Sanctuaries in mind that I wanted to visit, but they were fully booked.  Our receptionist at the Dozy Hostel recommended a newer sanctuary that was just as good, she said, called Hug Elephants Sanctuary.
We opted for the half day trip which was about 1700baht/50$ for about 6 hours in total with traveling and time with the elephants.  We set out with 4 of us and drove for about an hour outside Chiang Mai to the sanctuary, picking up another couple along the way.
We had a sweet, English speaking guide who explained a bit about the 4 elephants they had.  They had 2 young 7 year old boys and 2 older females, one of which was giving birth at the time!  So we were able to meet 3 of them.
The 6 of us and several guides headed out down a path, following a stream to where the elephants were.  We were all given bags full of stalks to feed the elephants with.  As we passed them, they knew right away what we had, eagerly following us, trying to reach into our bags for the delicious treats we had for them.
We walked with them to a bigger, open area where we then were able to interact and feed them.  They  loved their treats and often would try and take multiple at a time, constantly reaching and wanting more.  Elephants eat up to 300 pounds of food a day… close to me.  Just kidding.  But really, that’s a ton.  Not literally, but close enough.
It was such an awesome experience to get to hangout with these friendly creatures, and the BEST part was when they kissed you with their trunk on your cheek.  Ahh! I was so giddy and laughing when they did it to me or anyone else.  So sweet and such a funny feeling.
Once we were out of food for them, we headed down in our swim suits to the big mud pits.  It was time to give the elephants and ourselves, a mud spa!  We got completely muddy and rubbed the elephants down with mud and water, them loving and enjoying the feeling on their skin.  Once they had just about enough, we headed down to the nearby pool of water to wash off them and ourselves.
They would take the water in their trunks and spray into the air and spray us.  We would splash back and forth until we were all clean.  What an awesome experience getting to hangout with our new animal friends for so long!  It was seriously unreal, and so much more than we were expecting.  We were all left in awe as we said goodbye, and headed out to a nearby waterfall to swim.
When we were done swimming around the beautiful scenery of the waterfall, we trekked back a ways to the base camp.  Along the way, we saw another group of people with a different company with one elephant, doing a similar thing we just had.  The only difference was instead of a group of 6, it was a group of about 25!  It truly hit me then how incredibly lucky we had been to have true one on one time with the elephants.  We were incredibly blessed to have had such a personal experience.  It was amazing before, but my appreciation grew even more after realizing and seeing this.
We then ate some delicious fruit and headed back in the back of our truck seeing the gorgeous sunset along the way.  What an experience.  What a day.
   

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Lantern Festival

There really is something magical about the North of Thailand.  It holds a type of beauty different than other parts.  Before beginning my travels, I had based my trip off the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festival in mid November held in Chiang Mai.  Both are a festival of lights in celebration of Buddha on the full moon.

Upon trying leaving Pai, Kole and I tried buying bus tickets to Chiang Mai, shooting for around 10 or 11 in the morning.  When we got to the bus station, we found that all tickets were sold out except for the last tickets at 5 pm.  We bought the tickets, both not really minding, because we definitely learned that if it’s something you can’t change, it’s something not to stress about.  All day, we sat in several cafes, people watched, blogged, vlogged, and got some shit done.

When 5 finally rolled around, we got on separate busses headed to Chiang Mai.  When I say we got the last tickets, we literally got the last 2 tickets for 2 seperate busses.

With that, we were off down the WINDY 3 hour road.  Luckily, my mini bus driver this time took corners quite slow and steady, instead of my last crazy, life flashing before my eyes, stomach churning driver.

Arriving in Chiang Mai, I made my way to the Dozy Hostel, a place we booked in advance as the city was very busy during this time of year.  The festival took place from the 13th to the 15th of November, this year.  Driving in the back of my taxi, I was able to see my first glimpse of the first part of the festival, the floating lanterns in the river, a sight I would soon get to see up close and personal in the next days.

The second day of the festival was the big, main day of the 3 day festival.  This year, since the passing of the King, the festival was meant to be far more traditional than in past years out of respect.    It was interesting, because no one seemed to know what was going on or what to expect, not even locals.  The whole festival was not orchestrated or organized in any way, except by the people showing up and participating.

Kole and I got to the festival very early, around 5 pm, on our shared motorbike, as we could only find one to rent after walking around for hours.  After seeing the INSANE traffic, it was a blessing I was not able to rent one, because my driving skills are limited to back roads and chill rides, not the pile up of madness, which Kole maneuvered and kept us alive, bless his confidence and driving skills.  Luckily, since we arrived so early, the we got an awesome parking spot, and were able to see all the stands and beauty before the crazy rush of people flooded in.

We walked around, admiring all the “boats” we could buy and release into the river.  We chose our floats, (mine taking me a while, because how do you choose from all that art) and a lighter and made our way to a small dock which we could do our release.  We lit the candles within the floats as well as the incense, making a wish as we watched them float away down the river, carrying our hopes and wishes within it, as believed.

As the hours went by, more and more people began showing up.  At about 7 pm, we saw the very first lantern be released into the sky, the next part of the festival.

Prior to, we asked several locals if there would be the lantern release this year, and no one had a clue what this year would be like or even where you could get the lanterns.  As more people showed up, more floating lanterns came with them.  We asked several people where they got them, and they said the only place was in China Town, about a 40 minute walk from where we were.  We decided as amazing as it would be to release our own lantern, we didn’t want to miss out on the beauty of all the lanterns beginning to light up the sky.

Walking around and seeing this festival truly was magical.  The lanterns lit up the river as well as the sky, and even though it was crowded, and cars were honking and most people would see the atmosphere as frustrating, I was able to drown all the chaos out.  I ignored the mass people and just stared into the night sky.  The feeling I got from the festival was so immense… I really felt like I actually was letting go of whatever may have been holding me down, even though I had not released my own lantern… yet.

As we watched the lanterns and lit boats, we overheard a girl asking several people where they got their lanterns.

“Right down the road, about a 5 minute walk.  Kole and I looked at each other.  Should we…?  Yes.  We sprang up and followed the girl as she made her way toward the direction she was pointed.  She actually passed where the lanterns were, so we caught up with her and stopped her.  We decided we would all get our own lantern and release them together.  3 lanterns, 3 travelers.  Yes! Not stressing out over things has probably been the reason I have got myself into some of the things I have.  I have realized things have a way of working themselves out, if you let them.

Even more full of energy and life than I was before, as I got to release a lantern now, the image in my head I had since I had gotten to Thailand, we made our way to the bridge.

The lanterns were quite large, much larger than some you would see in photos or other festivals.  We put together our lanterns and lit them, watching them as they began to inflate with the heat.  When they were full of hot air, I gathered up any negative energy I had inside me, and when we slowly let go of the lanterns and watched them float away into the night sky, I felt as though I was watching all that negative energy float away with it, a sort of meditation in ways.

This festival made me feel truly alive.  Maybe it was because of the atmosphere I created for myself in making its meaning of the release mean something special to me.  Or maybe it really was the fact that the celebration was of your wishes coming true and of bad luck leaving you.  Of negative energy leaving you.  I felt on top of the world, filled with so much joy and amazement throughout the night, that I truly could not explain.  I will have this image of a truly magical night in my head forever.  A sense of love and fullness and sense of self.

What an amazing, life fulfilling experience this was for me.  It’s quite interesting how different experiences can affect people so differently.  Some may have seen this festival as negative for all the people that filled the streets, but I found it magical.  That’s the thing.  Any experience you have is exactly what you make it.  I really have been starting to learn to see the good in all situations, and how to fill myself with love and life with the simple beauty’s and experiences life holds.  It is my choice to be happy and to love life.  That realization has saved me, and fills me with so much joy in knowing that this is just the beginning to a wonderful, full life.

 

 

 

My oh my I Finally Made it to Pai!

In my first 2 and a half weeks of traveling, the main thing I heard was, “Go to Pai!”

“Pai?  What’s in Pai?  What makes it so great?”
 Half the time people stared at me dumbfounded and said giddily, “I don’t know… the atmosphere…the nature… I just can’t explain it!”
So I took their word for it and headed out from Chiang Rai to Pai with my travel buddy, Kole.
How to Get to Pai from Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai
Unfortunately, to get to Pai from Chiang Rai, you have no choice but to go through Chiang Mai, which is a 3 hour bus ride.
From Chiang Mai, it is another 3 hour mini bus ride through the most windy, slightly sketchy road I have ever been on.  If you get carsick, like me, huh, well, good luck!  Try some dramamine because that road really is treacherous for those of us with weak stomachs.
However the windy road is SO worth it because once you get into Pai, everyone’s ravings make complete and total sense.
Beautiful Pai
 
Arriving in Pai, I immediately began to feel the laid back hippie vibe of this small, yet happening town.  I felt right at home and in my kind of atmosphere.
We walked from our bus station to our hostel, The Purple Monkey, which I might add, was the only bad experience I have had with a hostel in Asia yet.  The beds were like rock and people came in blundering drunk at 4 in the morning waking everyone up.  However, on the upside, I did meet some pretty awesome people here who we hung out with over the course of the 3 days we were there.
A definite must do to enjoy the time fully in Pai, is to rent motorbikes for roughly 200 baht/6USD per day to get around town and to nearby places like waterfalls or Pai canyon, both of which we did and really enjoyed.
Waterfalls
 
There are several places to go and see waterfalls, but the one we went on our motorbikes to see was the Pam Bok waterfall.  It was a long, stunning ride to the top, but one to be careful on as I saw a few people wipe out on their bikes near the parking area at the top.
Once parked, we hiked a short trail and crossed a bridge to the waterfall.  We climbed over slippery rocks (I got a few bruises from misplaced footing) and came up as close as we could to the falls.  Trying to swim towards it was such a fun challenge as its pure power pushed you back away from it.
Pai Canyon
We were so fortunate to be in Pai when we were, because the weather was absolutely perfect.  We were at the end of the rainy season, but you never know when random rains will come pouring down your way.
The views from the canyon would be spectacular on any day, but the day we came had huge billowing clouds, with the sun peaking out from behind.  I am all for a beautiful sky and I’ll go chasing clouds and sunsets over most beauty to be seen.
The canyon is quite popular and famous, so there were many tourists there, which at first had me worried, but not everyone actually hikes in the canyon, and it is so large, you rarely see other people, which I definitely appreciated.

The trail in the canyon itself was a thin trail with drop offs on both sides, so if heights are your enemy, this’ll be quite the challenge, and if not, quite the exhilaration.

Bar scene in Pai
Since being away from my husband, I haven’t found the drinking, night life quite as enjoyable, so generally I don’t partake, however Pai is pretty known for it’s mushroom shakes and party life. There are a ton of regular bars to choose from, and plenty of places to get drunk with your newly made foreign friends, all around the same area and bar strip.
The main and most popular one would be Don’t Cry Bar, which is a bar, but almost has a club kind of feel, as you can get your face painted, bullshit with buddies, or dance the night away.
I opted for all three occasionally.  You can get glow and the dark face paint from a couple of guys who charge about 40 baht (or for free if you’re a pretty girl).

 

 

Elephant sanctuary we found motorbiking around Pai

 

For my night of fun and face paint, I assumed it would end at about 1 or so, as everyone told me that’s when the bars closed.  As 2 am rolled around, I started getting antsy and agitated.  I wanted to go back to my uncomfortable bed and drunk skype my husband was that too much to ask?  No one was ready to leave to I decided to walk back to my hostel by myself.  At 2 in the morning. With zero sense of direction.  Not exactly my brightest idea yet.  I walked around for about 15 minutes then realized I had no clue where I was going, so I tried making my way back to the bar I had left to find my friends, when a Thai woman pulled up on a scooter and asked where I was going.  I told her my hostel name and she said, “Sweetie that’s the other way.”
Ahh. Again, horrible sense of direction.  She offered to give me a ride and I said no, no, I have no money, assuming it was a motor taxi.  She waved it off and gave me a ride back to my hostel.  I was blubbering and thankful and kept bowing and saying Kap un kha, thank you, thank you!  She smiled and just said of course, Welcome to Thailand!  The goodness of people comes in and saves the day yet again.  Since that night, I have not gone out drinking again.
The next days it was time to catch a long, windy bus ride back to Chiang Mai for the upcoming lantern festival.

Beginning Northern Thailand in Chiang Rai

After spending 2 weeks in the south of Thailand, I was overjoyed and beyond ready to begin my adventure in the North of Thailand, which I had heard so many wonderful things about.  Immediately upon arriving, it already had a different feel to it.  A more cultural and more traveler type vibe versus the busy, beach bumming, tourist one I felt down south.

I landed in Chiang Rai from Phuket in early evening and got a taxi to Mercy Hostel, which was very highly rated, and for good reason.  It was in a good location, it was clean, and I got some great nights of sleep.

Before leaving for my trip, one of my longtime friends from high school contacted me about his upcoming travels and wanted advice since I had solo traveled in the past.  He started telling me about his trip to Thailand and I stopped him…

“Wait.  You’re going to Thailand?  I’m going to Thailand!  So I’ll see you there!”

It was an awesome coincidence, so halfway into my trip, and at the beginning of his, we were able to meet up in Chiang Rai and travel for about 10 days together.

The first day in Chiang Rai was a day to discover the city.  We went to the local markets and occasionally tried the street food available (Mostly I just got fruit smoothies).

The highlight of Chiang Rai and the reason most travelers visit there is the absolutely incredible White Temple.  Tempted out in Thailand, you say?  This temple is unlike any other I have ever seen.  It is a very modern temple completely white with intricate designs and art surrounding it.  The outside was stunning but the inside was what caught my attention.  When you walk in, there is the signature Buddha alter and statue with offerings and incense, but as you looked on the walls it was so intriguing, many with deeper meanings.  I could stare at the walls for hours on end.

On the far wall, it is all good, peaceful, classic paintings that will take your breath away.  However as you look at the walls beside you, the realization begins that this really is not a normal temple.  It had images of Pokémon, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other popular movies and fads spread throughout.

One very powerful, yet controversial painting on the wall was of the Twin Towers ablaze.  Snakes wrapped around the towers and ended at the bottom turning into a gas pump.  This mural was so intriguing, yet horrifying to see, especially as an American citizen.

Exiting the temple, there was more to lighten the mood like a golden wishing well and famous TV and movie character heads hanging from the trees.

This place took me through all kinds of emotions, and is a definite MUST SEE.

 

 

 

 

Phuket, I am in Thailand

At this point in my travels, I am very ready to move on from Southern Thailand to see the North.  I have a flight on the 8th of November from Phuket, so until then, I just was trying to pass the time.  I decided to spend 5 days in Phuket, instead of trying to fit in another city into my schedule, so I could chill out on the beach. As nice as a thought as it was, it quickly passed when I actually got of the boat into Phuket town.  Immediately I was rushed onto a bus and sent to my hotel, Karon Living Room, near Karon Beach.  I opted out of staying in Patong, supposedly the backpacker and young tourist haven, in hopes of a quieter, more laid back setting.  What I came to find was a tourist filled madhouse.  The mile long beach was crawling with people, and there were tourist shops on every corner.

What I have learned about traveling is I either love people, or cannot stand them.  The atmosphere around here was focused on the individual.  Other tourists were unfriendly on the streets, and if I had a nickel for every time i heard, “Hello, massage?”  I would have at least 100 nickels.

Minus all the negativity I am spewing, I remembered wherever you are at, you make the atmosphere.  So I sucked up and bucked up and started to enjoy my days.  I am in Thailand, damn it!  I walked around looking for food and always went back to the delicious fried ice cream, which, i might add, was the BEST ice cream I have ever had in my life.

I had a lot of alone time while I was here, and I realized something.  You absolutely learn and discover more about yourself than ever before, but you also start to learn about people in general, as your intuition really starts to kick in when there are no outside distractions.  People can be so happy.  People can be so angry.  People can be so… weird.

After a healthy amount of me time, the next day I met a couple of guys and we took a taxi for the 600 baht both ways to the Karon Viewpoint.  I was under the impression it would be a nice, exhilarating hike to the top, but we found that it was, again, crowded with tourists and the way to the top was a taxi ride.  The top view really was beautiful, however, and worth the money to see some beauty.

Later, we sat on the beach with some chips and beers and watched the absolutely stunning sky as the clouds passed and the sun began to set.  We got the chance to hold an adorable little animal we later found out was a slow loris, cute, but poisonous AND venomous.  Sometimes cute can be deadly, but luckily its nibbling was nothing more than a nibble, and not a bite causing paralysis… Yay!

 

Krabi town and around

Leaving Koh Tao, I had no plan on where I was going, as per the usual.  On Instagram, I am an avid follower of travel sites, and one of which I follow had gorgeous pictures of a place called Krabi.  So last minute, I booked a dual boat and bus ticket.  I got to Krabi Town and found out it wasn’t exactly like the pictures.  I was a bit disappointed at first at the lack of beach and activities until I realized Krabi Town is the perfect spot for surrounding day trips to gorgeous places.

The first night I was there, I met another American girl, Emily, who was on a weekend trip away from her university in Bangkok.  We were both staying at a top rated hostel, for good reason, called Pak Up.  Every night in their bar they had a free kabob bbq and afterwards drinking games like giant jenga, beer pong, and flip cup.  Emily and I participated at Team USA in beer pong.  That night I learned the English don’t know rules of beer pong, and will follow your rules if it benefits them, and yell at you if they don’t like it.  Okay, maybe not all, but the couple we played really got quite heated at us winning against them.  The next thing I learned is that Germans know the rules of beer pong, and are excellent opponents in the game us American have mastered since we were 15.  Needless to say, team USA won the Beer Pong Olympics, along with an awesome shirt, and a bucket, which literally is a sand bucket filled with alcohol, in case you were wondering.  I was so blown away the first time I saw one.  How great, you can drink out of your bucket the night before, and build sand castles on the beach the day after!  Unfortunately I have no idea where the bucket ran off to.

Okay, so I did a lot more than just drink.  The real part of my adventures in Krabi came the next several days.  On the first day, Emily and I went to go meet up with some of her University friends on Ao Nang beach, a 20 minute tuk tuk or cab ride from Krabi Town.  Here, is definitely where most backpackers and vacationers will end up staying.  It is definitely a tourist hub with ladies coming up to you every ten minutes asking, “massage?”  After about the 10th time of being hassled, patience begins to really wear thin.  At first, I would go along with the conversation, but some of them just would not give up.  I had to stand firm with my no, instead of going about in my polite no thank you kind of manner.

After laying in the sun and jumping in the warm ocean for hours, we went to go explore a nearby stairway we were curious about.  As we climbed, we began to see a few monkeys.  The first I had seen in my trip to Thailand!  I was so thrilled and obsessed with those few, until we started to climb further, and there were about 50 little tiny baby monkeys and full grown alike.  This was such a cool experience.  I would see them up in trees with water bottles and I thought that was interesting until the monkeys started coming up to me and a tiny one bit my water bottle open and started drinking from it.  I thought it was the cutest so I just let it happen, as the water bottle was too big for the little guy to carry.  We said goodbye to the monkeys and made our way back down to the beach and I said goodbye to Emily to head back to the hostel after an awesome, eventful day.

The next day in Krabi, I was planning to go to brave the 1,200 steps and climb to the top of tiger cave temple, but at the time didn’t have a buddy to go with.  I was fine with it, but surely enough, I overheard two American guys, brothers Ryan and Brett, talking to a tuk tuk driver about going there.  Before I had a chance to ask them their plans, they asked me what I was doing and invited me along.  We were hoping to find one more person to split the cost with and asked a girl, Joelle, who had just arrived to come along with us.  For about 1600 baht, we got taken around the entire day to several awesome locations including the gorgeous smooth rocked Klong Thom, the jade green Emerald Pool,  and last but not least the Tiger Cave Temple.

First, we went to the hot springs for an entry fee of 90 baht.  The first thing we saw was a man made hot spring pool, that was semi disappointing.  As we kept walking, however, we came across the real sight with a waterfall of hot springs and many natural pools to sit in.  The rocks were turned smooth and slick, in a beautiful dark green color.  You could climb all over the rocks or just sit nicely in the waterfall or many pools.  First stop, success.

 

Our second location was the Emerald pool, which was about 200 baht for an entry fee if you were a foreigner.  This was a nice walk through the forest, passed mossy trees and crystal clear but algae covered water.  On the way, we found a rickety old lookout tower that we climbed to the top of.  Our confidence went out pretty quickly as we started swaying on the top of the rusty thing.  However, the view was absolutely worth it.

When we finally got to the Emearald pool, it really was a sight to see.  The water was a deep bluish green that really had you in awe.  We swam for a little and looked about, but then headed back shorty after to get to the tiger cave.

Of course, our last stop was the Tiger Cave Temple.  Our hope was that we would get there in time for the sunset at the top, but when we got there it was already getting dark.  That didn’t stop us from climbing to the top though.  Those steps really were a dog to get up.  Many people would say they really were grueling, and I tell you what, they really were some steep ass steps.  As we made our way up, there were monkeys covering the stairs. (YAY, more monkeys!). These little stinkers must have heard about me giving water to their friend over at Ao Nang, so they would not leave me alone.  One monkey was trying to get my water bottle, while the others were going for my feet.  Two others even were grabbing my camera bag, and worse, my camera!  Rio the movie really doesn’t exaggerate.  Monkeys sure are cute but man are they little thieves!

 

 

 

 

When we finally got through the monkey madness, we really began our exhausting, sweaty climb to the top.  I am in pretty decent shape, and man oh man, those were some difficult steps, but the top was absolutely worth it.  Unfortunately, when we got to the top it was dark, so we didn’t get quite the view we had hoped for of greenery for miles as well as the town below, but the fact that we were the only people up there really had a sort of serenity and peacefulness we probably wouldn’t have gotten had we come earlier, when it was packed with tourists.

As great as that feeling was, I wouldn’t recommend going there at night.  On the way up, I saw lamps that I assumed would turn on when it got dark enough.  You know what they say about those who assume.  As we began our way back down, it was pitch black.  We had to very carefully, feel around at the steps to make it safe.  When we got to the bottom, there was no injuries or slips, so I would call that a victory for us.  We were all drenched in sweat and exhausted, but damn was that one hell of an adventure we had.  Not too many people can say they climbed 1,200 steps to the top of a temple at night (Most likely because they are slightly more sane than us.).

When we finally got back to our hostel,  we thanked our driver for lugging us around all day, and had a much needed, might I add, WA

Leaving Koh Tao, I had no plan on where I was going, as per the usual.  On Instagram, I am an avid follower of travel sites, and one of which I follow had gorgeous pictures of a place called Krabi.  So last minute, I booked a dual boat and bus ticket.  I got to Krabi Town and found out it wasn’t exactly like the pictures.  I was a bit disappointed at first at the lack of beach and activities until I realized Krabi Town is the perfect spot for surrounding day trips to gorgeous places.

The first night I was there, I met another American girl, Emily, who was on a weekend trip away from her university in Bangkok.  We were both staying at a top rated hostel, for good reason, called Pak Up.  Every night in their bar they had a free kabob bbq and afterwards drinking games like giant jenga, beer pong, and flip cup.  Emily and I participated at Team USA in beer pong.  That night I learned the English don’t know rules of beer pong, and will follow your rules if it benefits them, and yell at you if they don’t like it.  Okay, maybe not all, but the couple we played really got quite heated at us winning against them.  The next thing I learned is that Germans know the rules of beer pong, and are excellent opponents in the game us American have mastered since we were 15.  Needless to say, team USA won the Beer Pong Olympics, along with an awesome shirt, and a bucket, which literally is a sand bucket filled with alcohol, in case you were wondering.  I was so blown away the first time I saw one.  How great, you can drink out of your bucket the night before, and build sand castles on the beach the day after!  Unfortunately I have no idea where the bucket ran off to.

Okay, so I did a lot more than just drink.  The real part of my adventures in Krabi came the next several days.  On the first day, Emily and I went to go meet up with some of her University friends on Ao Nang beach, a 20 minute tuk tuk or cab ride from Krabi Town.  Here, is definitely where most backpackers and vacationers will end up staying.  It is definitely a tourist hub with ladies coming up to you every ten minutes asking, “massage?”  After about the 10th time of being hassled, patience begins to really wear thin.  At first, I would go along with the conversation, but some of them just would not give up.  I had to stand firm with my no, instead of going about in my polite no thank you kind of manner.

After laying in the sun and jumping in the warm ocean for hours, we went to go explore a nearby stairway we were curious about.  As we climbed, we began to see a few monkeys.  The first I had seen in my trip to Thailand!  I was so thrilled and obsessed with those few, until we started to climb further, and there were about 50 little tiny baby monkeys and full grown alike.  This was such a cool experience.  I would see them up in trees with water bottles and I thought that was interesting until the monkeys started coming up to me and a tiny one bit my water bottle open and started drinking from it.  I thought it was the cutest so I just let it happen, as the water bottle was too big for the little guy to carry.  We said goodbye to the monkeys and made our way back down to the beach and I said goodbye to Emily to head back to the hostel after an awesome, eventful day.

The next day in Krabi, I was planning to go to brave the 1,200 steps and climb to the top of tiger cave temple, but at the time didn’t have a buddy to go with.  I was fine with it, but surely enough, I overheard two American guys, brothers Ryan and Brett, talking to a tuk tuk driver about going there.  Before I had a chance to ask them their plans, they asked me what I was doing and invited me along.  We were hoping to find one more person to split the cost with and asked a girl, Joelle, who had just arrived to come along with us.  For about 1600 baht, we got taken around the entire day to several awesome locations including the gorgeous smooth rocked Klong Thom, the jade green Emerald Pool,  and last but not least the Tiger Cave Temple.

First, we went to the hot springs for an entry fee of 90 baht.  The first thing we saw was a man made hot spring pool, that was semi disappointing.  As we kept walking, however, we came across the real sight with a waterfall of hot springs and many natural pools to sit in.  The rocks were turned smooth and slick, in a beautiful dark green color.  You could climb all over the rocks or just sit nicely in the waterfall or many pools.  First stop, success.

Our second location was the Emerald pool, which was about 200 baht for an entry fee if you were a foreigner.  This was a nice walk through the forest, passed mossy trees and crystal clear but algae covered water.  On the way, we found a rickety old lookout tower that we climbed to the top of.  Our confidence went out pretty quickly as we started swaying on the top of the rusty thing.  However, the view was absolutely worth it.

When we finally got to the Emearald pool, it really was a sight to see.  The water was a deep bluish green that really had you in awe.  We swam for a little and looked about, but then headed back shorty after to get to the tiger cave.

Of course, our last stop was the Tiger Cave Temple.  Our hope was that we would get there in time for the sunset at the top, but when we got there it was already getting dark.  That didn’t stop us from climbing to the top though.  Those steps really were a dog to get up.  Many people would say they really were grueling, and I tell you what, they really were some steep ass steps.  As we made our way up, there were monkeys covering the stairs. (YAY, more monkeys!). These little stinkers must have heard about me giving water to their friend over at Ao Nang, so they would not leave me alone.  One monkey was trying to get my water bottle, while the others were going for my feet.  Two others even were grabbing my camera bag, and worse, my camera!  Rio the movie really doesn’t exaggerate.  Monkeys sure are cute but man are they little thieves!

When we finally got through the monkey madness, we really began our exhausting, sweaty climb to the top.  I am in pretty decent shape, and man oh man, those were some difficult steps, but the top was absolutely worth it.  Unfortunately, when we got to the top it was dark, so we didn’t get quite the view we had hoped for of greenery for miles as well as the town below, but the fact that we were the only people up there really had a sort of serenity and peacefulness we probably wouldn’t have gotten had we come earlier, when it was packed with tourists.

As great as that feeling was, I wouldn’t recommend going there at night.  On the way up, I saw lamps that I assumed would turn on when it got dark enough.  You know what they say about those who assume.  As we began our way back down, it was pitch black.  We had to very carefully, feel around at the steps to make it safe.  When we got to the bottom, there was no injuries or slips, so I would call that a victory for us.  We were all drenched in sweat and exhausted, but damn was that one hell of an adventure we had.  Not too many people can say they climbed 1,200 steps to the top of a temple at night (Most likely because they are slightly more sane than us.).

When we finally got back to our hostel,  we thanked our driver for lugging us around all day, and had a much needed, might I add, WARM shower and a nice cold beer after a long, adventurous kind of day.