Country #18 – Cambodia

I enjoyed a full morning off of tutoring on Monday by running errands, training for Nepal, and laying out by the pool. The highlight came at lunch time when I enjoyed some real tasting Tex-Mex! I commonly crave Mexican food and more often than not, I’m let down by the quality here in Asia. Is this how Asians feel when eating Chinese food in America?! Sunrise Tacos Grill actually served bottomless chips and salsa (10 different kinds to choose from!!!) and a delicious tasting burrito! The chips and salsa options were so good (my favorite being the fresh pineapple salsa), I crushed three baskets of chips and took my burrito home for dinner.

Tuesday morning started off with three hours of tutoring and then checking out of my apartment. I had some time to kill between when I had to be out of my apartment and when I could check into the hotel room that Tina, Flynn, and I shared so I headed back to the Mexican restaurant and downed another extensive amount of chips and salsa. I tutored that evening in our hotel room by using my phone as a mobile hotspot and met up for drinks with Tina and Flynn after.

On Wednesday, I was woken up at 7am by Flynn and Tina willingly getting ready for a run. Curtains open, sun streaming in, excitedly chatting about their route to run the streets of Bangkok. Remind me again why I’m friends with these two?! After failing to fall back asleep, I headed out to the corner to do my laundry. Yes, their laundromats are outside on the sidewalk.

Later that morning, the three of us met up with Nikki, another girl from Denver. She arrived through the night to begin her year long ’round-the-world-trip. The four of us hopped on a tourist ferry and cruised down the Chao Phraya River to the Flower Market and the famous Reclining Buddah. I thought I was templed out before getting to the Reclining Buddah, but man, I was blown away by the sheer size of it! It was easily 30 yards long, by 30 feet high. So impressive.

We capped our day off by getting massages. This one put Tiger Balm on our backs instead of oil or lotion. It felt like Icy Hot, which was really nice, and smelled even better than Icy Hot, which I didn’t think was possible. Tina caught her flight home that night and Flynn and I turned in early as we had to be out of the hotel by 5:30am to catch our bus to Cambodia.

After my varying experiences of long-haul bus trips in Malaysia, I had prepared myself for the worst. Our bus ticket said it would take 12 hours, so I assumed it would be at least 14 hours. We stocked up on snacks and drinks because we weren’t sure how often we would stop. We were pleasantly surprised when a) they fed us breakfast and lunch, b) our seats reclined back 75 degrees and had a foot rest, and c) we arrived in Siem Reap in only eight hours.

Crossing the Thailand-Cambodia border, now THAT was an experience. We were given a crash course into how to cross the border by our bus driver. “First, exit stamp from Thailand, walk, Cambodia visa, then Cambodia stamp. Meet back on bus by hotel.” Um… ok? Sounds simple enough. Five minutes later, we hear, “Quick, everybody off!” We literally hopped off the bus as it was still moving. We followed the crowd of people through the Thailand immigration. Easy, peasy. Then we walked outside, followed the sidewalk towards a sign saying Kingdom of Cambodia, and then chaos ensued. Guys on motorbikes asking if we needed rides. Buses and vans to our right getting inspected. Other people from our bus had gone off in all directions. So where do you think we go now? I think he said something about a palace? Maybe that big building? We asked one of the motorbike guys where to go and he pointed us down another sidewalk filled with street vendors. “Oh! There’s the hotel we’re supposed to meet at. And there’s our bus!” As we crossed the street and approached our bus, we realized we hadn’t gotten our Cambodian visa or stamp, yet we had somehow already crossed over into Cambodia. Our bus driver kindly showed us back to the Visa on Arrival office (still not sure how other people found it) and then guided us to the random cement building where our visa was stamped. How did we just do that? It’s harder to get into a local farmers’ market in Colorado than to enter the country of Cambodia.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap, our tuk tuk driver was waiting to take us to our hostel. After checking in to our private room (it sure is nice to travel with a friend and not be in dorm rooms!), we found bikes to rent for a measly $2/day, grabbed a beer on Pub Street (hello $.50 happy hour!), and were in bed by 9:30pm.

Flynn and I were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we woke up to our 5am alarm on Friday. Besides the Annapurna Circuit, seeing Angkor Wat was the next highest thing on Flynn’s bucket list for this trip. Years earlier, she had visited Borobudur in Indonesia and Bagan, Myanmar which combined with Angkor Wat is the trifecta for holiest places in Buddhism. We put on our headlamps, hopped on our bicycles, and pedaled our way north to the entrance. Again, just when I thought I was all templed out, out came the Angkor Wat complex in all its glorious beauty, numerous temples, and large land mass.

Our first temple of the day was the actual Angkor Wat. It is one of the few major tourist attractions that was 100% worth the money in my opinion. My expectations were high and it far exceeded them. From the intricate details to the sheer volume and height, I was thoroughly impressed. After some breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped the Grand Circuit for the next ten hours and covered 40 miles on our bicycles…. a feat which I have never done before.

Even though I was sore and exhausted, I headed to BlackLab Coffee, a co-working space, to tutor for the evening. My original plan was to tutor inside our private room at the hostel, but a) the hostel wifi didn’t have a fast enough connection, and b) my local SIM card didn’t support a mobile hotspot. For those unfamiliar with a co-working space, they come in all shapes and sizes. You either have to pay upon entry or order food/drink to use their internet. There are tables, outlets, and chairs everywhere and everyone is on their laptop working with their headphones on while in a big open space. Some co-working spaces are very quiet while others encourage brainstorming sessions to help generate creativity and share ideas. Even though BlackLab was quiet, I still paid extra for a private room as Cambly requires a quiet background and nobody else passing behind you on your video feed. Plus, I didn’t want to be that one annoying person that everyone would be able to hear the constant conversations with my students.

We started Saturday morning off the same as the previous morning… 5am alarm, biked up to Angkor Wat, but this time we were actually able to catch the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. Other travelers have compared this experience to watching the sunrise at Machu Picchu. And again, it was worth the hype! The sunset was a majestic orange which pictures just do not do it justice. After another breakfast with Angkor Wat in the background, we temple hopped through the Small Circuit for seven hours and covered 28 miles on our bicycles.

That evening, I headed back to BlackLab Coffee for a few more hours of tutoring before I take the next six weeks. Before my first student, I ordered a mango smoothie and gulped it down. It was just the right amount of cold, mango, and sweetness. Promptly an hour later, my stomach started to feel queasy. That’s odd. It progressively got worse and then in the middle of tutoring a six-year-old whose parents weren’t in the room with her, I felt it… the rising up from my stomach to my throat, my mouth salivating, no, no, no, no! “Grace, I’m sorry, I will be right back, go get your parents and tell them I’m going to be sick!” I said quickly as I ripped my headphones out of my ear, pushed open my door, and sprinted to the bathroom just in time to vomit up my mango smoothie. Phew! I feel much better now! Wonder what was in that thing…? I returned to Grace and explained to her parents what happened, but said I could finish the lesson as I was feeling way better. I finished her lesson and got through a short 10 minute lesson before I was throwing up in the bathroom again. Mango smoothies do not taste good the second and third time around.

I couldn’t see an end in sight so I cancelled the rest of my classes that evening and headed back to the hostel where I spent the next three hours violently purging every amount of liquid out of my body. I even went so far as to have an FPS, what Adam commonly refers to as a fetal position shower…. where it takes every ounce of effort in your body just to lay over the floor while the shower runs over you.

While Sunday came around with no more purging, my stomach was still very queasy, my back, neck, and core were sore, and I was beyond exhausted so I didn’t leave my bed.

Needless to say, I had my first encounter with food poisoning. I’m not sure if I got it from the mango smoothie (not sure what kind of water source was used to make the ice) or from the sweet and sour chicken I ate earlier that day, but thank God, we were in a private room.

My initial impression of Cambodia in general and Siem Reap is awesome! I really like when I enter a place country or city and immediately know it’s where I want to be. Being able to say that even after having food poisoning… yeah, I’m going to like it here!


Back to the Grind

While Flynn and Tina headed north to Chiang Mai (same city I originally started my travels in with the family in December 2016), I jumped back into the workplace grind. I worked 53 hours this week and by Sunday night, I was exhausted to say the least. I sound like SUCH a millennial. I woke up each morning to my 7:45am alarm and started tutoring at 8am sharp. At noon, I changed into my swimsuit and headed down to the pool to lay out for a bit. After I felt tan enough, I headed back up to my apartment to take an hour or two nap before starting my second shift at 5pm. At 9 o’clock, I grabbed some dinner and headed off to bed. When I read back through this, I’m really not helping the case against stereotypical millennials. But man, after essentially being on vacation for four and a half months straight, it’s a little bit of a struggle to get back into the work mentality. 

I’ve started to get more regular/repeat students but I kind of feel bad that I will take 4-6 weeks off after I just developed a plan of attack and established a relationship with these students. I have notified some students already, but others I’ll drop the bomb on at the end of next week.

I had some rather interesting and eye-opening conversations with students this week. I chatted with a guy from Syria who escaped to Saudi Arabia during the war, but was separated from his family who ended up in Turkey. He hasn’t been able to see his family in over six years due to border restrictions on Syrian citizens.

I had a 51-year-old Brazilian divorcee who recently discovered Tinder. Tinder is a dating app that matches you with others based on your current GPS location. Two times this week for an hour each, we discussed his dating life and he showed me pictures of the women he matched with.

I chatted with a lady from Saudi Arabia about Disney movies and which ones were our favorites. Mulan and Lion King are my top two while Beauty and the Beast takes the crown for her. In discussing the topic of women being allowed to drive in Saudi starting this October (she’s a little nervous but overall excited), I learned that it’s common practice to employ drivers from India. Her family has two drivers to shuttle around her sisters, her mom, and herself. Her family provides the vehicles, separate housing on their property, visa sponsorship, and payment on top for their drivers. Her family also employs a maid from the Philippines. The maid is given a room inside the house, invited to eat dinner with the family nightly, visa sponsorship, and payment on top. It was interesting how they keep their drivers very separate from the family, but welcome the maid into their personal lives so freely.

J and I were discussed the topic of age. The conversation led towards taking care of elderly parents. J is expected to and gladly will move his parents into his own home once they begin to need additional help. I explained to him that most times, Americans will place their parents in nursing homes when they are no longer able to take care of themselves. After a shocking look crossed over his face, he asked, “But don’t you owe it to your parents to take care of them after they took care of you for all those years?!” Well, when you put it that way, I feel like a terrible human being. But let’s be real… I’m still going to throw Barb into a nursing home.

I had a Turkish student who chose the discussion topic of adventure. Oooo! This’ll be fun to compare notes! After I told him the adventurous things I have done in my life and still want to do, he replied, “Yeah, I don’t know why I chose this topic. I’m not very adventurous. I can’t even ride a gondola or monorail.”

The most shocking conversation came from a Saudi Arabian man while discussing marriage. He informed me that he has a secret girlfriend (Western style of dating is prohibited in Saudi) of over two years who he is madly in love with. The problem is his mom will chose his future wife and because his mom doesn’t know his girlfriend, he will have to marry someone else. I told him how unfortunate it was that he wasn’t going to be able to marry the love of his life. He said the only chance he has of being with her is if his cousin is empty (meaning can’t bare children for him). There must be something lost in translation here. He doesn’t actually mean his cousin. I asked him to describe what the term cousin meant to him. He said, “You know, my dad’s brother’s daughter. That’s who my mom will chose for me to marry.” WHAT?!?!?!?! I explained to him how it is illegal in the US to marry your cousin (upon research I learned you actually can marry your first cousin in 26 states, 7 of which have infertility exceptions, GROSS). As if that knowledge wasn’t shocking enough, he preceded to tell me how he has to have a job before he can marry because males have to pay the bride’s father the equivalent of $15,000 USD for her hand in marriage.  “So you are literally buying your future bride?!” “No. That money goes towards getting her ready to be married to me, like clothing and a car.” Doesn’t matter how you spin it, you’re still purchasing your bride. I was so shocked by these two revelations that later in the week, I asked three of my other Saudi students (two males, one female) and all confirmed both of these were customary traditions in their country.

My week ended on two high notes. 1) I was rated 4.97 out of 5 in my first week tutoring! I have no idea what most tutors’ overall ratings are (students are asked to rate each of their tutors), but I honestly didn’t expect THAT high of a rating. Cue happy dance here! 2) I was asked to be interviewed and featured as a guest blogger on another travel blog! Apparently more than just my family and friends get a kick out of my adventures. After researching the other travel blog (super legit, the blog was awarded top 100 Photography Travel Blogs in 2017), I said yes!  My installment will be published in June. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely share the link with all of you.

Flynn and Tina have Arrived!

I began tutoring on Monday and so far, it has been great! I spent the first morning and afternoon watching videos of other tutors and reading a Tutor Guide so I knew what to expect with my first student. I was a little nervous when I signed in at 7pm and took my first caller. How does this platform work? What level of English will they have? How long are they going to want to talk for? What if I can’t keep the conversation going? My student was a female from India who was on a five minute trial session so I spent those five minutes asking her name, where she was from, and explaining how Cambly works. Phew! That wasn’t so bad. My next student was from Saudi Arabia but is currently studying abroad in Australia and we spent 30 minutes discussing our best and worse experiences going through airport immigration/customs.

Throughout the week I’ve chatted for 1,382 minutes (sounds like a lot but is really only 23 hours) between 87 students from 18 different countries:

  • India
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Korea
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • El Salvador
  • Guatamala
  • China
  • Kuwait
  • Russia
  • Japan
  • Colombia
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Nicargua
  • Jordan
  • Turkey

Our topics of conversation have included backpacking, beer, soccer formations, books, and Bali nightlife to name a few. I’m literally getting paid to have conversations about things that interest me. What could be better?

In just this first week, I have six regular/repeat students. I classify a regular/repeat student as someone I’ve talked to at least three times and enjoyed our conversations. One of these students is a 29 year old from South Korea who is pretty reserved. We’ll call him J. After our one hour long session discussing body piercings (he was blown away you could pierce a tongue) and beer pong (try explaining to a reserved foreigner who doesn’t drink what beer pong is…not the easiest thing), he thanked me for “the passionate class”. Is that your polite way of saying I’m untamed compared to your culture?  He must find me rather intriguing because he’s reserved four hour long sessions for this upcoming week.

Another regular student of mine is also from South Korea, but has been living in Austin, Texas for the last six months. We’ll call her E. Her job relocated her and in our first half hour conversation, we bonded over moving to a new city and the struggles of making friends with people who really get you. Four days later she called me again, but this time from work. E was working late but couldn’t focus so she got on Cambly in hopes of distracting her mind for a bit. She was clearly stressed out and just needed a listening ear so I asked her if she wanted to talk about whatever was bothering her. After some initial hesitation, she spent the next thirty minutes telling about being overworked at her job and the boy issues she was having in her personal life. I feel like a therapist…. 

My other regular students include a 20 year old in in-patient rehab for a back injury caused by a car accident who enjoys talking about soccer even though he won’t be able to play again, a Saudi who likes to play me Eminem’s rap music and ask what some of the phrases mean (Thank you Urban dictionary for the help!), a dad of a 4 week old who thinks guests shouldn’t stay longer than three days, and a college student who enjoys telling me the summary of whatever book she has finished (she reads about two books a week!).

Before moving on to Flynn and Tina arriving, I guess I should back up and explain how Cambly works. Cambly is global so not only can my students be from anywhere in the world, but I can also work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a quiet space and strong enough wifi connection. I’m actually surprised they only require download and upload speeds of 2 mbps. Students purchase minutes based on how long they want a session to be (anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours) and how many days a week they want to talk. When a student logs on, they can either call in to a specific tutor or be assigned a random tutor; it’s their choice. They can also make reservations with a specific tutor at least six hours in advance. They can search out a tutor based on the tutor’s native accent (USA, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, or Scotland), interests (I’ve listed books, outdoor activities, snowboarding, sports, and travel), specialization (mine is pronunciation and grammar), and day job (some are full-time ESL teachers, others are like me whose career doesn’t relate to English). I set my own schedule and can work as much or as little as I like. I can set aside specific hours just for reservations or block out times where I’ll accept any students who calls me. Some students just want to have an organic conversation while others want to go over a specific article for reading comprehension and vocabulary. There are lesson plans already laid out for tutors so I don’t have to prepare anything. I get paid per minute of being in a session/talking with a student. To put it simply, I’m making money by talking to people from around the world with a wide array of backgrounds and interests, all from the comfort of my apartment.

Flynn arrived late Wednesday night and got to my apartment at 3 in the morning by taxi. After some solid sleep, I tutored for three hours while she laid out at the pool and walked around my neighborhood. We then grabbed her backpack and hopped on a train to her hostel. After checking her in, we hit the streets and ate some spicy papaya salad (Flynn’s taste buds were not prepared for the level of spice) and the mouth-watering dessert of mango sticky rice. We parted ways so I could tutor that night and Flynn could get some sleep before picking Tina up from the airport Friday morning.

I tutored again Friday morning and met up with Flynn and Tina around 1pm. They wanted to check out the Grand Palace so we grabbed a map and hopped on the train. According to the map in our hands, the Grand Palace looked to be only ten or so blocks away from the last train stop. Fast forward an hour later… we had walked over three miles and still hadn’t arrived at the Grand Palace. That’s when I noticed an asterisk on the map that said “Maps are not to scale.” That quite an understatement. 

While looking at the map, a local approached and informed us the Grand Palace had already closed for the day. Fail. We started walking back the way we came from and chose to take a look around a large temple. We were able to witness monks chanting a song to Buddha while sitting on their knees but propped up on their toes. Talk about a hard position to maintain! We left after thirty minutes and I couldn’t even imitate the pose for five minutes.

On Saturday, Tina and Flynn went to the floating market while I tutored. Due to an obscene amount of traffic, I wasn’t able to meet up with them until dinnertime that evening. We had booked a tour for Sunday with a pickup time of 6:30am so we ended our night early after dinner and drinks.

Sunday started with a 5:15am alarm and a speedy Uber ride to Flynn and Tina’s hostel. We were picked up at 6:30am and began our full day tour. By full day, I mean 14 hours which is the longest tour I’ve been on, but it went by so fast and we were able to see/do a lot of things! The first stop was the Bridge over River Kwai which I came to find out was a part of World War II. Tina is reading a book about River Kwai so she was very excited to find a tour of the place. I, on the other hand, had no idea this was even an attraction/memorial. As mentioned numerous times throughout this blog, I only memorized information long enough to get through each history test in school. I bet there are so many awesome historic things I could see while I’m traveling around that I don’t even know exist. 

The bridge was really cool to walk across. We spent all of our allotted time on the bridge so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go into the JEATH War Museum. We drove about thirty minutes away from the bridge and hopped on the train for a forty minute segment of The Death Railway. We saw a little cave in a rock wall along the tracks where POWs lived. Our lunch stop was on a floating restaurant which was something new for me. After flushing the toilet by dumping a bucket of water on top of my bodily fluids, I could hear it go directly into the river that we were eating lunch on. Hello third world country.

Next up was floating down said river on a 5×10 bamboo raft with our captain who steered with just one oar. The river had a good current, but it his maneuvering skills were still impressive! Half an hour on the raft was just not long enough as the three of us could easily have enjoyed the ride for an hour or more. We arrived at the elephants where Flynn and Tina rode one for about a twenty minute loop. I opted to sit that one out based on my previous experience with elephants in Chiang Mai. I did, however, gladly feed the elephants bananas!

Our next stop was at Saiyoknoi Waterfall which wasn’t anything too spectacular, but was a nice way to cool off after a full day in Thailand’s heat and humidity. The final stop before heading back to Bangkok was the War Cemetery of the allied prisoners.  All 300-some American bodies were shipped back to the States, but the cemetery was full of British, Australian, and Dutch soldiers. The pictures of the POWs reminded me of the pictures I saw when Adam and I toured Dachau in Germany…. hollow faces, malnourished, and unimaginable living conditions.

We arrived back in Bangkok at 8:30pm. We had originally planned on getting massages that night but after dinner, all three of us were exhausted from the day so we headed our separate ways. During my walk back to the train, I walked down what I will dub as ‘Prostitute Alley’. The street was lined with bars and pubs but it wasn’t a sketchy area. On two distinct corners, girls were all dolled up, sitting on chairs in a line, and just waiting for men to buy them. I witnessed males walking up, scanning over the girls, and opening up his wallet as he approached his selection. It was eye-opening to say the least.

P.S. I will add pictures later to this blog. Flynn and Tina took all the pictures this week and we haven’t had a chance to share with each other yet.

Four Months on the Road

Woo hoo! I’ve now been on the road for four months. Can you believe it?!

Warning, the following story may not be appropriate for Grandma. Before leaving Bali, I went to Victoria’s Secret to purchase some new underwear. Side note: clothing wears out much faster when you wear the same thing every week for months on end. The pair of shorts I bought January 2017 in Chaing Mai hit the end of their road this past December. The pair of sandals I bought November 2016 met the trash can last month. One of my shirts is on the fritz but I’m still holding out hope for it. Maybe I should have packed different clothing than the previous six months’ worth of travel. After picking out some underwear, I asked a staff member if I can try them on (obviously over my current pair) as different styles have different sizing. She said yes and pointed me towards a door. When I opened the door, I noticed it was a storage room, not a fitting room. “Um…” Doesn’t look to be any cameras in here. I guess this’ll do. As I started undressing, the staff member came in. “Don’t worry. No cameras. But I do stay in here,” she said. Alright then. This should be interesting. The next ten minutes were filled with her critiquing each pair I tried on. As is typical with Indonesians, she was bluntly honest. I don’t have a mirror so I guess this is the next best thing. I ended up buying three pairs… all of which were approved by her. What an experience that was!

Monday morning I packed up my bag and headed to the airport. I knew my plane already had an hour delay. Upon arrival at the airport, I found out my plane was delayed another hour and a half. At 1pm, I boarded my flight and was asleep before we even left the runway. I woke up about halfway through the flight to an announcement from our pilot saying our ETA into Kuala Lumpur was 4pm. Hm… I wonder what time my connecting flight departs. I grabbed my boarding pass and saw the departure time… 16:00. For those of you not familiar with military time… that means 4pm. Huh… well I hope my gate is close to whichever one we land at. After being that jerk of a passenger that I hate, you know the one, being the first to jump up into the aisle after the seatbelt sign comes off and pushing their way to the front, I was greeted by an airline staff member at the gate. “Bangkok?! Anybody going to Bankgkok?!” “Me! Where do I go?!” He pointed toward gate H8, five gates away from where I was, and said, “Hurry!!!” I ran to the gate, put my laptop and carry on through security (every country has different security measures), only to be told that the captain declined me as a passenger because they were already late. “But isn’t that my plane right there? The one that doesn’t even have the thing hooked up that pushes the plane it back?” “Yes, that’s the plane, but the captain still said no. We’ll put you on the 7am flight tomorrow morning.” Fail. Turns out there were three other backpackers in my same situation. After going through immigration and customs, they put us up in a hotel for the night and gave vouchers for dinner. All hotels should be like that one… there were no windows so when I turned out the lights, it was actually pitch black which is what I strive for. Back home, I have a black shower curtain over my window because regular blackout curtains don’t get the room dark enough for me.  However, I’m basically trapped if there were to be a fire outside my room.

Around 7pm, I headed downstairs for dinner. When the staff member was trying to explain how much the voucher covered, he had a really thick accent and was attempting to say “thirty-five”. I responded with, “Ohhh! Tiga lima?” (Indonesian/Malaysian for thirty five). He had a deer in the headlights look on his face for a few seconds before recovering with “kamu mengerti bahasa?” (you understand the language?). Man, give me about 9 more months in Bali and I could totally be bilingual! I think I forgot to mention when I had a pedicure done in Ubud after ripping leeches off my feet, I said, “Terima kasih. Semoga harimu menyenangkan,” (thank you, have a good day) to the owner and he responded in English with, “How long have you been here?! Your dialect is really good!” All the credit goes to my beach boys!

Tuesday started with a 4:45am alarm to catch my 7 o’clock flight. By noon, I had made it to my hostel and settled in for an afternoon nap. That evening, I headed out to find some street food. Most of the carts were only in Thai and nothing looked appealing until I found one that said Chicken Noodle Soup on the top. Ooo… that sounds good! I asked for one for take away and checked out my surroundings. The little alleyway was pub street central, complete with a ladyboy lounge called Soi Cowboy. Yep, I’m back in Thailand. 

Back at my hostel, I grabbed a bowl and poured out the four different bags I was given. And this is what I saw…

Chicken Noodle Soup

I mean, they weren’t lying when they said Chicken Noodle Soup.

Yes, those are chicken feet complete with chicken liver. I immediately started gagging. No, no, no, no, no. That is so gross. Oh, I can’t eat that. Maybe if I pick the feet and liver off, the noodles will still taste good? I covered my hand with a plastic bag and grabbed the first foot. Oh, that’s even worse! Don’t throw up, Laura. You can do this. Only three more feet to go. Five minutes later, I was at the nearest convenience store buying some Lays Bacon and Cheese potato chips.

I checked out of my hostel Wednesday afternoon and headed over to my dogsitting apartment. The owners are both American; the wife is originally from Illinois and the husband is originally from Indiana. After getting the rundown of the apartment complex and Tasi’s schedule, I saw them off and sat down with my laptop.

I purchased a 120 hour online TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course back in December. I took 120 hours quite literally and planned to spend my time in Bangkok, holed up in an apartment, studying 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, to have it knocked out in 3 weeks. Back to the mindset of working 40 hours a week! That first night I sat down to get started on it I was feeling excited. I’ll have some structure/schedule in my life again; this will let me travel for a longer period of time; T-minus 120 hours until I have a certificate in hand; got my notebook and three differently colored pens ready to go…. Three hours later I had already completed 2 out of the 10 modules. Either I’m flying through this information as most of it is familiar (back to Mrs. Olsen’s fourth grade English class of learning about propositions, subject/verb agreement, rules to forming a grammatically correct sentence, etc.) or some people are REALLY slow going through the modules.  If I keep on this track, I’ll be done with this certification by the weekend. If this is how all online classes are set up, I’ve been doing my schooling completely wrong all these years!

TESOL course

Let the studying begin!

Oh Thursday, I texted Carlin as we hadn’t talked since I left Bali which was odd considering we practically spent the last month together. He responded back with, “so funny story….” Turns out he was involved in a scooter accident that resulted in him getting 18 stitches in his head and a very swollen face. He was on the back of a friend’s scooter when they were T-boned and he flew off the scooter into parked scooters. Luckily there were locals around who put Carlin on the back of a street bike and another local got on behind to hold him up as he was super out of it. After leaving the hospital, Carlin decided to cut his trip short (he still had another 3 weeks) and booked the next flight back to Canada.

Unfortunately, I hear of scooter accidents all the time in South East Asia. Two days into my arrival in Bali one of the locals who I hung out with last year was involved in a head-on collision which resulted in him getting facial reconstruction surgery. After some thought, I’ve realized that foreigners driving scooters in South East Asia is equivalent to teenagers driving in America. It’s new, it’s exciting, you want to impress your friends, you push the limits but you don’t really have the experience to properly handle the vehicle which then causes accidents. I bet 95% of American readers were involved in a car accident during their teenage years. So I say, Yes! Drive/ride scooters when you’re over here… just be smarter than your teenage self.

By Saturday, I had completed my TESOL certification course after a total of 14 hours working on it so I treated myself to laying out at the complex’s pool. So much for my plans for the next three weeks…

On Sunday, I said goodbye to Tasi and checked in to my apartment that I have rented for the next two weeks. I plan to get a head start on tutoring online to see if a) I like it and b) is a realistic way to bring in some money while on the road. I’m not out of money yet, but want to have a plan in place for when I reach that point later on. I have been hired by Cambly which is a platform for adults wanting to practice their conversational English skills online. I am anticipating it to be like having a blind date every hour… “Where are you from? What do you like to do for fun? Tell me about your family. What do you do for a job?”

Flynn and Tina arrive from the States this week! Flynn gets in on Wednesday while Tina gets in on Friday. They’ll be in Bangkok through the weekend before heading up north to Chiang Mai and down south to the Thai islands over the following nine days. I’ll hang out with them while they’re here, but will remain in Bangkok while they travel around the rest of Thailand. Yay for more friends meeting up with me on this great adventure!


My playmate for four days… Tasi!

Bye Bali

Gili T 1

Enjoying the sunset on Gili T

On Monday, Carlin, Hannah, and I caught a fast boat over to the island of Gili Air. I knew ahead of time that Gili Air was much quieter compared to Gili T, but I didn’t realize how much quieter…. After lounging around the mushroom-shaped pool and walking halfway around the island’s coastline (you can walk the perimeter of the island in about 90 minutes), the three of us were in bed by 9pm and we weren’t even the first ones!

Gili Air 9

Hanging out on Gili Air. Pretty sure my legs are darker than the wood.

Gili Air - Sunset 2

Sunset on Gili Air

Tuesday I parted ways with Hannah and Carlin and caught an afternoon boat back to Bali to hang out with my beach boys. On Wednesday, Hannah and Carlin took a boat back to Bali. It was Hannah’s last night in town (she’s been traveling for 13 months) so Carlin, Tom (the UK dude who hated his life my first week in Bali… had an eye-opening moment of turning into a Yes Man, and now is up for just about anything), Anthony, and I had a wonderful going away party for her at Sky Garden.

Thursday was spent poolside at our hostel working on our tan. I am the darkest I’ve ever been and it’s amazing! I’m probably going to regret that statement when I get diagnosed with skin cancer in ten years. The hostel used to be a hotel so imagine a tropical hotel resort, just with 3 twin beds to a room instead of two queens. There were two pools on the grounds, one of which has a swim up bar. I’m actually surprised a hostel bought them out as it’s in a prime location (literally 50m from the nightlife street), the rooms were good sized, and there was a restaurant on site. Once the hostel finishes renovating all the rooms, it will be THE hostel to stay in when visiting Kuta, Bali. Mark my words.


Carlin, Hannah, and I enjoying the pool at TZ Party Hostel. Who knew bean bag chairs could float in water.

On Friday, Tom headed down to the southern part of Bali, Anthony headed up to Canguu, Carlin stayed one more night in Kuta, and I headed over to Seminyak to begin my 24 hour tour to hike Ijen Crater. Ijen Crater has a sulfur mine at the bottom and when the sulfur gas is ignited, a blue fire emerges from the cracks at 1,112 degree Fahrenheit. This blue fire phenomenon is what Ijen Crater is known for. Because it’s a sulfur mine, you have to wear gas masks while hiking. After reading about both of these unique items, I knew I had to add Ijen Crater to my list of places to visit.

Ijen Crater Java 5

Hiking into the crater with my gas mask on.

Ijen Crater is located on the island of Java which is the closest island west of Bali. It was quite the journey to get there. I, along with two random couples, left Seminyak at 6pm. First we drove (we had a driver) three hours along Bali’s west coast, caught a 20 minute ferry from Bali to Java, then drove another two hours to the base camp.

Ijen Crater Java 11

Miner hard at work

At 1am, our tour guide met us and we began our hike with warm jackets, hats, gloves, and flashlights. By 5am, we had hiked up to the rim and down into the crater to witness the blue fire. Unfortunately, the smoke was thick that night so I didn’t get the best view of the it. We had an hour and a half to kill before sunrise so we just sat and watched the miners work which I felt a little uncomfortable about. I was literally sitting on the ground, watching guys work, while our tour guide explained the life of a miner and sulfur facts. I feel like I’m THAT tourist… you know, the one who gets a picture taken with drugged up tigers or rides on an elephant’s back.

  • Miners work from midnight – 9am as it’s too hot to work during the day
  • Miners carry 30 to 65 kilos (66 to 143 pounds; most of these Indonesians barely even weigh 130 pounds) of sulfur on their shoulders from the mine to the top of the rim (1km), then put the sulfur on a push cart and push it down to base camp (3km), drop off the sulfur to be processed, push the cart back up to the rim, and hike back down to the mine. Each miner does this process 4 times a day.
  • Miners are paid 1,000 IDR ($.07 USD) per kilo. So much work for so little money.


    Contraption used to carry the sulfur on one shoulder. You’re looking at 65 kilos here.


This push cart can be used for pushing sulfur down to base camp… or for pushing non-fit tourists up to the rim. Dual purpose.

Once sunrise came, we were able to see parts of the crater lake when the smoke wasn’t in the way. I was able to try out lifting 65 kilos of sulfur on my shoulder and while I was able to do it, I couldn’t imagine carrying it up to the rim of the crater even once.


That’s 30 kilos of sulfur in my hands. So much heavier than it looks!

Ijen Crater Java 2

The crater lake


In front of the sulfur mine

Afterward hiking back to base camp, we had breakfast at a local’s house and began the journey back to Seminyak, Bali. We arrived at 5:30pm Saturday evening running on about two hours of sleep and reeking of sulfur. I hopped on my scooter, drove to Canguu, and met up with Anthony and Carlin for my last hoorah in Bali.

Canguu - Sunset 2

Saturday night’s sunset in Canguu

Canguu - Sand Bar 1

Carlin and I enjoying nightlife on Echo Beach

Sunday I said my goodbyes and headed back to Kuta to return my scooter and have my last supper with the beach boys before flying out Monday morning.

Kuta Bali - Sunset 5

Sunday’s sunset on Kuta Beach. Well done Mother Nature. You saved the best for last.

I felt like the first two weeks in Bali went pretty slow (which I wasn’t complaining about) and then the last two weeks just flew by. Bali was amazing yet again and while the Philippines were more beautiful, Bali still remains as my favorite place.

Gili T 5

Horse and cart on Gili T

Gili T 6

Impressive how much weight ladies carry on their heads in Indonesia. Plus balancing it with no hands!

Strep Throat Again

Balian Beach Bali - Rice Fields 3

Everything is so green here!

On Monday, Grayson, Anthony, and I left the wonderful tree house AirBNB and headed off in separate directions. Grayson headed to the airport to catch his flight to India. Anthony went south to Canggu. I headed to Kuta to get checked out for strep throat. There was only one doctor on Bali covered under my travel medical insurance and he just happened to be housed out of a hospital. I sat in a waiting room next to people involved in scooter accidents, broken bones, high grade fevers, and I’m over there like I just need you to run a test for strep throat.

I learned very quickly medicine and technology aren’t very sophisticated in Indonesia as it was going to take six days to process the strep throat test. Instead, the doctor just looked inside my mouth and confirmed what I had thought: positive for strep throat. While the doctor was explaining the course of care for the next few days, he told me to avoid spicy foods and fried foods. Uh… did you forget where we are? Everything is fried here. Rice, noodles, chicken, eggs, even bananas are fried!

After picking up fruit, soup, and bread from the grocery store, I barricaded myself in a hotel room for the next two days. With how contagious strep throat is, I didn’t want to spread it through a hostel. There is also nothing worse than being in a shared space when you’re not feeling well. Luckily, I managed to snag a nice hotel room for $20 USD per night as it’s rainy season here and tourism is majorly down due to the overhyped media coverage on Mt Agung (erupting volcano).

After nursing myself back to health, I headed north to Ubud Wednesday afternoon to meet up with Carlin as we had planned to hike Mt. Batur through the night. We booked a trekking company for the trip as it’s mandatory for the sunrise hike. When my alarm went off at 1:45am, I awoke to Carlin frantically texting me that his hostel had ankle deep water due to six straight of rain. We chose to cancel our hike as hiking a volcano in rain sounded miserable.

That afternoon (Thursday), I talked Carlin in to heading north 60km to check out Banyumala Waterfall. I asked him if he wanted to ride on the back of my scooter. He said, “No! It will be way more fun to drive my own scooter!” My little boy is growing up! When we arrived at Banyumala Waterfall, there was a local guide who led us through the wet forest (wouldn’t necessarily call it a rain forest but maybe it was) down to the waterfalls. I thought there were only two, but our guide said he would take us to numbers 3, 4, and 5 if we wanted. Sure!!!

That turned out to be a terrible decision. My sandals had broken the week before and I took the cheap route of buying plastic flip flops for $1. The flip flops had zero traction  and kept getting stuck in the ankle deep mud (the guide practically pushed and pulled me through the hills). I figured it would be better to just walk barefoot. However, I kept stepping on spiky things that pierced the bottom of my feet. Once when the guide turned around to check on Carlin and I, his eyes got big and then he rushed over to me, grabbed a leech off my foot and ripped it in half. After further inspection, I had three others on me which the mud had camouflaged. Maybe that’s why our guide is wearing a jacket and jeans tucked into knee high rubber boots. For the next twenty minutes, we walked about 10 steps forward, stopped to peel leeches off (they were tiny, but man those things had some suction), and repeat. We finally made it to the third and fourth waterfalls, but it was nowhere near worth my feet getting cut or my blood get drawn by leeches.

We only spent five minutes at the third and fourth waterfalls before calling it quits. On the way back to our starting point, the guide asked if we wanted to see waterfall #5. Carlin and I didn’t hesitate to say, “No!” in unison. The guide just chuckled. About fifteen into the hike, the guide admitted that he had lost the trail. Um… excuse me?! I know we’re just following footprints as there isn’t an actual trail, but shouldn’t you know your way around this forest?! We somehow made it back to our starting point after crossing streams and jumping over a ditch. While Carlin and I were washing our legs and feet off, our guide started talking to his friends. They all started laughing extensively and looking at us. Yep, they’re definitely talking about us. Probably something along the lines of “stupid foreigners, can’t even dress properly for this environment, who knows what kinds of diseases they’re going to get from those leeches.”

We made it back to Ubud before dark settled in and called it a night as Carlin and his friend, Hannah, were getting picked up at 7am to head to the Gili Islands. I went to a nearby spa for a pedicure as my feet were not in the greatest shape after the day’s events.

Friday was spent switching hostels (the first one didn’t have the greatest facilities), booking my land and boat transportation to the Gili Islands for Saturday, and hanging out with Anthony. He decided to check out Ubud for a day after spending four in Canggu. I had warned him it was a super quiet town. He didn’t realize the full extent of my warning until that night when we wanted to go out. The first few bars we googled closed at 10pm. We found one that was still open by 10:30pm so we drove to check it out. It wasn’t really our style so we walked around until we stumbled upon a reggae bar. The bar was totally Anthony’s jam (he’s originally from Jamaica) but similar to the others, it was closed by midnight.

Needless to say, Ubud wasn’t my kind of place. Everyone was all Zen’d out and trying to find themselves thanks to the blockbuster hit Eat, Pray, Love. While most people were at yoga finding their inner peace, I was hiking through a forest ripping leeches off my feet during the day. And by night when everyone else was sleeping so they could wake up at 5am for sunrise yoga, I was walking around town trying to find a bar open past midnight.

On Saturday, I left my scooter at the hostel (I have it rented for the rest of my time here) and was picked up at 7:30am to head to the Gili Islands. After an hour van transport and two hour fast boat ride, I arrived at Gili T and met up with Carlin and Hannah. The day was spent napping and hanging out at the hostel meeting new people. The unique thing about this island is there are no motorized vehicles here. There are horse and cart, man and cart, and bicycles. The other mode of transportation is your own two feet.

Today (Sunday) while Carlin, Hannah, and the others went snorkeling (no thank you!), I laid out by the pool and had a pretty chill day. I’m really not ready to leave Indonesia in eight days and am already planning my next trip back here in June, July, or August. If I love Bali in the rainy season (December – March), I can only imagine how much I’ll be obsessed with this place when it’s sunny and beautiful every single day.

North Bali - Banyumala Waterfall 2

Banyumala Waterfall with Carlin…. before encountering leeches

North Bali - Banyumala Waterfall 1

If you look close enough, you can see the dog balancing on the back of a scooter. Talk about talent!

Nusa Islands

I started this week out by catching an 8am boat to the nearby island of Nusa Penida. In true form, I fell asleep on this public mode of transportation. When I was woken up by the captain telling me I needed to get off the boat, I thought for sure I had accidentally gotten on the boat to Nusa Lembongan as I felt I had only been asleep for twenty minutes (boat to Nusa Lembongan takes half an hour; boat to Nusa Penida takes an hour and a half). It was only when I got off the boat and opened up Google Maps that I realized I had arrived at my intended destination of Nusa Penida. I really need to stop falling asleep on in transis.  I’m totally going to miss my destination one of these days. 

After arriving at my hostel, I quickly realized how remote and untouched the island was. The government just allowed for overnight tourism to occur so wifi, lodging, and quality roads were lacking in supply. For example, my hostel had only been opened for two weeks and I only had two other hostel options to begin with. After taking another nap (I mean what else is there to do when it’s downpouring), I rented a scooter in hopes of checking out some places I’d had my eye on. A quick 30 minutes into the trip, I turned around due to awful road conditions. I knew the places were labeled “hard to get to” but I didn’t realize the full extent of it.

Nusa Lembongan Road

Man these roads can cause me some stress!

After turning around, I hopped on a road that skirted the northern and eastern coasts. I made it about a third of the way around the island before heading back to my hostel to avoid driving at night. I chatted with the owner about my failed attempt and asked her if she knew any locals who would drive me around the next day. I had a scooter rented, topped up with gas, and a strong desire to see the sites before tourism overtakes the island. After talking to her staff, one of them offered to drive me around even though it was his only day off that week. Satisfied with our plan for the next morning, I attempted to write my blog post Sunday night but wifi wasn’t strong enough to upload the post. Texts were barely even going through.

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 14

Kelingking Beach

I woke up to my alarm on Monday morning and met Gede, my makeshift tour guide for the day. We took off toward our first stop: Kelingking Beach. And woah… it was so beautiful! I thought for sure the pictures I’d seen online had some editing done to them but nope… real natural breathtaking beauty still does exist if you go far enough off the beaten path. Kelingking Beach was my main driving point for going to the Nusa islands and it was my goal to hike down to the bottom. Thank God I had Gede with me because I for sure would have turned around if I was by myself. Parts of the trail had bamboo railings… but not all of them were secure into the ground. Parts of the trail had no safety points and one step in the wrong direction would literally plunge you to your death. There were a few parts where the ledges were too big of a gap for me so I reverse rock climbed for those areas. Not repelling… but digging my hands into the face of the trail and very slowly lowering myself down. After successfully arriving at the beach in one piece, Gede looked at me with disbelief and said, “You strong!”. Yes. Yes I am. I don’t think you knew what you were getting into by taking me for the day.     🙂  

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach Stock Photo

This is an image I found on Google that shows just how thin of a ridge I first had to hike on in order to access the beach

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 2

Hiking the rim. One misstep and you’re a goner!

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 12

This is a “good” part of the trail!

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 11

Climbed down a bamboo ladder for the final descent

After enjoying the beach to ourselves for 45 minutes, we began our ascent back to our scooters. Gede had to stop a few times on the route to catch his breath, but I made it all the way without stopping! I was super pumped for that because it means my Nepal training is working! Now, I just have to keep up with the regimen.

Nusa Penida - Kelingking Beach 10

I don’t recommend hiking down to the beach on your own, but it was totally worth it to have the beach to myself!!!

Our next destination was Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. Angel’s Billabong was a let down. Talk about over edited pictures online! The water in the billabong was dirty and mossy. Luckily, Broken Beach was only a 200m walk around a hill so we weren’t out anything. Broken Beach was just like I’d imagined it. I’ve had my eye on Broken Beach for a year now and was excited it panned out. Gede knew all the good picture taking spots so yay for having local’s secrets!

Nusa Penida - Broken Beach 6

Admiring the view of Broken Beach

Our final stop for the day was Crystal Bay. This one hadn’t been on my radar but the hostel owner, one other hostelmate, and Gede had all recommended it. Again, wasn’t anything too spectacular but I’m glad I went. Two for four isn’t too bad when the two were incredible. Some thoughts that crossed my mind while on the back of the scooter were:

  • these roads don’t look nearly as bad when someone else is driving
  • these roads would be great for 4-wheeling! However, with a scooter they are daunting because I lack stability (two wheels, instead of four) and traction (bald tires).
  • I think I could make it further in some of my explorations if I wasn’t alone because when the roads turn dicey, I’m constantly thinking how risky are these roads, when was the last time I saw a village, and if I were to lose control of my scooter, how long until someone found me? A few hours? A day? A couple days? Once all my answers reach a certain level, that’s when I turn around. Good thing I still have a conscious in me. 
Nusa Lembongan Boat

Boat to Nusa Lembongan

After getting back to my hostel, I grabbed my bags and caught a 10 minute boat over to Nusa Lembongan. And no, I didn’t sleep on that ride! After renting another scooter and checking in to my home stay, I again sat down to post my blog. As luck would have it, a storm knocked out the power on all three Nusa islands (Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan) for eight hours. I, along with some of you, was beginning to think I would just have to combine last week’s blog with this week’s. Fortunately, Tuesday morning rolled around with full power and a strong wifi connection!

After the blog was up, I packed my drawstring for the day and headed out to explore Nusa Lembongan. I made it to Mushroom Beach (not much there, just a harbor), Dream Beach (ehh… I’ve seen better), and Devil’s Tears (holy cow!) I’ve never seen anything like Devil’s Tears. It’s kind of like a cave where the waves crash in and the force of it pushes the water back out into a mist. I took pictures and videos but it just didn’t do it justice. I easily spent two hours here, mesmerized by the waves crashing in and the mist barreling out.

Nusa Lembongan - Devils Tears 2

Devil’s Tear – Before

Nusa Lembongan - Devils Tears 3

Devil’s Tears – During

Nusa Lembongan - Devils Tears 1

Devil’s Tears – After

Wednesday morning was spent on Nusa Ceningan. I stopped off at Blue Lagoon (so cool, another shade of blue to the water), cliff jumped at Mahana Point (slightly intimidating as I had to time my jump just right with the lull in surfing waves to not only jump but also swim 50m against the current before the next round of waves came in), and driving the back roads of the island (took all of 30 minutes to drive them as the island is tiny). That afternoon I caught a boat back to Bali as three days in the Nusa islands was sufficient and a friend I had met in Kuala Lumpur had arrived in Bali.

Nusa Ceningan - Blue Lagoon 2

Nusa Ceningan – Blue Lagoon

Thursday was Anthony’s birthday (American who I met in Kuala Lumpur) so we spent the day on the beach and then rallied a group of seven from our hostel for his celebration out on the town.

On Friday, I met Grayson, a fellow Coloradian, in my hostel (originally from Alabama but has lived outside Colorado Springs for a few years). Anthony, Grayson, and I spent the day on the beach (seeing a trend here yet?!) where we found out Grayson’s friend was being deported back to Australia. His friend, Jay, is an American who has been living and working in Australia. During a recent trip to Japan, Jay lost his passport so he was issued a temporary one. Unfortunately, Bali doesn’t accept temporary passports so upon his arrival, he was denied entry and sent back to Australia that evening. What’s even more unfortunate is he and Grayson are supposed to be meeting Jay’s family in India for a family vacation on Monday. So after arriving back in Australia, Jay then had to board yet another flight to America to get a new passport, new Indian visa, and purchase a new flight to New Delhi. Grayson and Jay had already reserved and purchased an AirBNB through Monday morning so Anthony, Grayson, and I decided we’d take advantage of the empty AirBNB the next morning.

Friday evening I hung out with my beach boys and helped one of them improve his English so he can become a surf instructor. Again, I just love my time spent with these boys. I cannot rave about them enough.

Saturday morning, Grayon, Anthony, and I packed our bags, rented scooters, and drove 2 hours up the western coast of Bali to the AirBNB in Balian Beach. Balian Beach is a super tiny village that is known to be a surfer’s retreat among the locals. Pretty sure I saw a total of 10 foreigners during our two and a half days there. I was super excited to practice my Indonesian (the beach boys have been teaching me) with the locals. I was able to have a successful conversation with a 3 year old and 7 year old brothers covering the topics of names, ages, and where we were staying. I was then able to have a conversation with an adult covering the usual greeting topics (good afternoon, how are you, i’m good and yourself, etc.). Man, I would love to be bilingual in any language some day in the future.

The AirBNB was so great! It was a treehouse that overlooked the property’s pool with ocean views in the background. So green. So quiet. Just relaxing. We walked the beach that evening and were all snoozing away by 9pm.

I spent Sunday lounging around the pool and taking a delightful afternoon nap, while Grayson surfed (the waves were too advanced for my level of surfing), and Anthony split his time between the beach and the pool. My deep thoughts during the day included:

  • No way would I go to an AirBNB with a dude I met 18 hours prior and another dude I spent three hours with two weeks ago if I were in America. Talk about stranger danger! Yet, when you’re on the road, there’s an odd safety net when you meet other travelers. 
  • I am having the time of my life. Here I am, lounging on an inflatable rubber ducky, in Bali, with sunshine. Does it get any better than this? I have got to find a way to make this travel thing long term. 
  • I’m already just over three months in to my solo adventure travel and I’m so grateful I took the chance of a lifetime with Melissa and Travis over a year ago. I was able to take that experience as a trial run for how I’m currently traveling. It also jump started my goal for world travel. Without that, I still would be working and saving for another 9 months before getting my first taste of this awesome experience. 

    Balian Beach Bali - AirBNB 1

    View from our tree house AirBNB


Back in Bali!

I’m back in the land of scooters driving on the sidewalk, buying gas in Absolut Vodka bottles, beautiful sunsets, beach soccer, and organized chaos in the streets. And let me tell ya… it feels GOOD to be back!!!

This week was exactly how I envisioned it would be…. practically straight out of a Jersey Shore episode. I spent my days GTL (gym, tan, and laundry) and my nights either out on the town with my hostel gang or sitting on the ground passing a bottle around with my local friends.

Kuta Bali - Sky Garden 2

My hostel gang

My hostel gang consisted of Emma (32, Canadian, waiting in Bali until her Australian visa is approved), Carlin (21, Canadian, first backpacking experience), Tom (20, UK, first time in Bali and expected it be like the south of France… hint hint, it’s not), Ajay and Tolga (24 and 23, UK, 1 month into a 6 month South East Asian backpacking trip).  When I first met Carlin, he told me he decided on a whim to take 7 weeks off to backpack around Bali. He explained how he used his travel agent to book him first class seats, hostel life is not for him, gets his food from the mall, and will not get on the back of a scooter. I replied by looking at him with pity and asking if I could take him under my wing. By the end of the week, he was Mr. Social of the hostel, appreciated the authenticity of street food, preferred riding scooters over cars, and is already brainstorming ideas on how to make travel a full-time thing. Success!!!

Kuta Bali - Mee Goreng

Introduced Carlin to this delicious dish called mee goreng ayam (fried noodles with chicken). This is one of my favorite things to order off the street. And yes, it comes wrapped in brown paper.

The way of life for the group of locals I hang out with (they’re all part of the same family via brothers, cousins, and uncles) is truly remarkable.  Imagine a motel that just has a single story strip of four rooms, except the rooms are smaller than 10×10 and just four walls. No bathroom inside. Literally, just four walls with one small window and a door. That’s what these guys live in. They have one, maybe two, thin mattresses on the floor and have up to four people sharing one queen-sized bed. Their toilet is an outdoor squatty-potty and their shower is a bucket of water. They all work the beach so they either sell drinks or teach surfing lessons. Any person that comes in their vicinity of the beach they approach with “you want drink? Or I teach you surfing?!”. They’re shot down 9 and a half out of ten times. No way could I handle that amount of rejection. Whatever they sell (drinks or lessons)that day is their take home. They don’t have any built-in days off; if they decide not to work that day, then they don’t make money. After twelve hours on the beach, they come home and whoever made money that day buys the street food for dinner and bottle of drinks. They put a mat on the ground outside their rooms and the food and drink is shared family-style.  And yet, they are the happiest and most generous group of people I’ve met. When I hang out with them at their rooms, they don’t even hesitate to offer me a share of their food or drink. Which I can’t bring myself to accept knowing they have the equivalent of $20 max among the 15 of them. We sit and share stories for hours on end. This group of people is just so awesome to hang out with and I truly think is a big part of why Bali is my favorite place so far. Anyways, enough of that soapbox…

Kuta Bali - Beach Boys

My Bali boys minus a few

The only new thing I did this week was release a rehabilitated baby turtle into the ocean! Carlin had read about a Turtle Sanctuary on Kuta Beach so we decided to check it out on Thursday. When we arrived, there was a sign saying the baby turtles had just hatched and would be released that night. What are the chances?! We got a token and at 4:30pm arrived back to pick up a baby turtle along with 99 other people. We formed a line on the beach and watched the turtles walk out to the water and get swept into the ocean. I’m not much of an animal person (although I’ll love up on any animal if it means a free place to live), but it was actually a really cool thing to experience. It actually made me think of the turtle releasing scene in the movie Last Song with Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus.

Wish there was more to update on, but not every week can be full of stories. I caught a boat to a different island on Sunday which was pretty remote so the wifi signal wasn’t strong enough to support a blog update… texts were barely even going through. On Monday, I headed to yet another island, but the thunderstorm knocked out the island’s power for 8 hours… hence the late blog post. But more on those adventures in the next blog!

Goodbye Malaysia

This was another pretty mellow week. I spent the weekdays at Rachel’s house enjoying the last bits of having a double bed with my own space. I was able to complete my research for what I want to do in Indonesia. Interesting fact: The width of the Indonesian islands is the same as the continental United States. Unfortunate fact: It’s not very easy to get from one end to the other. I really wanted to go to the island of Flores to see the natural habitat of the Komodo Dragons but ended up scratching that off the list as it’ll take four days to get to from Bali with buses and ferries.

I spent the weekend back at the hostel sharing stories with other travelers and narrowing down Adam’s highly anticipated second trip out here at the end of April.

Those are honestly the highlights of my week. Oh, wait, I was able to put my South Korea video together! I really wanted to cut it down to 5 minutes but I took so much footage in those two weeks I could only get it down to 8 minutes. Click here to enjoy!

I took a red eye to Bali Sunday night and was giddy with excitement as soon as my plane touched down on the tarmac. I’ve been anxiously waiting to come back to this beautiful island and it’s finally here!!! I’m excited to see my friends from last year and check out other parts of the island I didn’t get to before. I have a feeling my bank account is going to take a hit this month….

Things I learned in Malaysia

  • Driving lanes are just suggestions
  • Women are viewed as half a person, just barely above dogs
  • Indian food is delicious
  • Drivers of scooters wear their jackets backwards because they believe wind can penetrate zippers and wind going through their body will kill them
  • Red dots on Indians mean they are married; black dots mean they are not
  • Kuala Lumpur is a major melting pot with strong influences of Indian and Chinese
  • There are still good people in this world, i.e. whoever turned my laptop in
  • Indians eat food (including rice) with their hands. It’s like an art form to perfect. As the old saying goes, eat with your right hand, wipe with your left hand.
  • Cars don’t stop for pedestrians, no matter who has the right of way
  • Muslim men pray in the front part of the mosque so they aren’t distracted by women
  • All hotel rooms and even some AirBNBs have arrows on their ceilings or in the drawers to let Muslims know which direction to pray towards
  • Muslims cover up head to toe while Hindus cover up from the waist down
  • Like the Philippines, chicken is served with chopped up bones. Gag me.
  • Malaysians work extremely long hours for very little pay
  • Maids are imported from Indonesia or the Philippines and are treated like garbage. They put 6 or more of them in a regular sized bedroom and get searched after every house they clean. They typically get sent back to their country after six months.
  • Grocery stores are located in shopping malls



I found this during my research and thought it was very fitting.

Langkawi – Barb Edition

Langkawi - Fave Hotel

Our hotel pool

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Barb and I said goodbye to Carlos and Julian and caught our quick 45 minute flight to the island of Langkawi. After checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to the pool to soak up the last few hours of sun. At one point, we both got in to swim but got out of the pool on different ends. While I was sitting on my chair waiting for my glasses to dry off, I faintly saw two people on either side of someone on the ground, offering their hands. When my glasses dried off, I noticed it was Barb they were offering their help to. I gave her a what happened shrug from across the pool. Apparently while she was getting out of the pool, her foot slipped and she biffed it yet had too much pride to accept the offers of help. She cautiously walked to where I was sitting to show off her Langkawi Owies – bloody and indented knee, scrapped legs and palms, sore shoulder, and bruised ego.

That night before heading off to bed, Barb made the comment about not waking her up with loud noises at the stroke of midnight. That thought honestly wasn’t even in my head until she put it there. So of course, I stayed awake and at exactly 12:00am, I grabbed a party favor and blew it loudly in her face. Barb was so startled I think she levitated over her bed for a few seconds. I should have recorded this! If only you guys could have witnessed the look on her face…. it was priceless.

Needless to say, Barb’s start to Langkawi provided me with uncontrollable giggles to the point of tears streaming down my face.

Monday was a very low-key day as we just laid around the pool improving our tans and resting up Barb’s legs for Tuesday’s adventure I had planned. “If you thought the 262 stairs at Batu Caves were bad, you may die tomorrow. But it’ll be worth it!” Again, Barb was a little reluctant for what I was going to put her through. That night I decided to show her what I had planned so she could mentally prepare… walking up 638 stairs to the top of a waterfall so we could slide on rocks into seven natural wells.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo mango pancakes

Mango pancakes. Sooo good!

We woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Tuesday morning and started our day by renting scooters and eating a most delicious breakfast – mango pancakes. Holy yum! Regular pancakes topped with fresh mango, coconut milk, and something sugary/cinnamon-y. After getting fueled up for our day, we headed northwest to Seven Wells Waterfall. 6km from our destination, I noticed a police roadblock which only meant one thing… police extortion. I had my International Driving Permit but Barb didn’t so we quickly turned around, left Barb’s scooter outside of a nearby hotel, and she hopped on the back of mine. The police motioned at me to drive around the line of cars. When I got to the front, they just waved me through without checking anything. Did they mistake me for a local because of how tan I am?! Or were they only seeking out cars today? Either way, I’m not complaining!

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (1)

Oh you know… workers just raking the roof of this building at the entrance of Seven Wells Waterfall

After arriving at the entrance to Seven Wells Waterfall, Barb and I made a plan. We would both go at our own pace. I would get started with the fun and if Barb made it, she’d join in; if she didn’t, I would meet her at the base of the waterfall in 3 hours. To give her hope and motivation, I left a pile of leaves and sticks at every 100th step. I feel like Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in the forest. 

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (5)

The halfway point!

Much to my delight, Barb made it to the top 20 minutes after me. As promised, it was totally worth it!!! We spent the next hour sliding down the rocks and into the natural wells of water. We sat in one well that was at the edge of the waterfall and had the beach and sea view in the distance. We then headed down to the base of the waterfall to enjoy the view from below. As I was getting into the water, I head a THUD. I spun around to find Barb sitting in the water. “Did you fall?!” I asked. Yes, yes she did. Add that to her list of Langkawi Owies. Apparently I shouldn’t leave her side near water.


The only thing stopping us from going down the edge of this 90 meter waterfall are these cable cords… which is supposed to be reinforced by the fallen over steel pole. Safety goes out the window in Asia.

Langkawi - Seven Wells Waterfall (3)

View of Seven Wells Waterfall from the bottom

Next on our list of destinations was Black Sand Beach. Scientists are unable to figure out why the sand in this 100 meter area is black as the sand in the water is brown and the sand near the road is brown. Typically black sand is caused by volcanoes but no volcanoes exist on the island or nearby. The locals believe the sand is black due to an old curse “by a mermaid because a fisherman stole her ring.”

Langkawi - Black Sand Beach (4)

The mysterious Black Sand Beach

We ended the day by lounging at the secluded Tanjung Rhu Beach on the north side of the island. While the water wasn’t as clear, the views reminded me of El Nido, Philippines with little tree-filled islands popping up in the distance. Langkawi - Scooters

As with any week in a tropical climate, we had one day of rainy weather which happened to be Wednesday. After remaining optimistic for much of the morning, we accepted fate by lunchtime and headed to the main road to browse the little shops. We ended up at a beach bar indulging in happy hour drinks.

Langkawi - Kalut Beach Bar 1

I’m sure I could have fit a fourth drink in my hands.

Thursday and Friday were again spent by the pool working on our tans. We caught an evening flight back to Kuala Lumpur on Friday and stayed at a nearby AirBNB.  After sending Barb off to her 9am flight on Saturday, I spent the day lounging by the pool (when did I become one of those girls?!) before taking a train to my hostel.

My original plan was to stay one night at the hostel before catching an 8:30am bus Sunday morning to Taman Negara, Malaysia’s national park, where I would spend the next three days hiking. As I checked in to the KL hostel, I told the manager my plan and she notified me she had heard the national park was closed. I researched online, but couldn’t find any information. When I asked the hostel that I had reserved in the national park, they told me that most hikes were closed but there were still some trails open.

For the next several hours, I  had an overwhelmingly bad feeling… like a gut instinct telling me not to go to the park. The more I talked myself into ignoring the feeling, the more stressed I became. You’ll be able to complete a few day hikes to prepare for Annapurna. You’ll be overlooking a river in the hostel and the view is supposed to be amazing. You’ll get to experience hiking in a rainforest. I was so stressed out that I started to get a runny nose and break out into hives. Finally at 3am when I couldn’t sleep, I made the executive decision not to go and immediately my runny nose was cleared up. My hives took about 12 hours to go away. It was a very bizarre 24 hours. Who knows what would have lied ahead for me in that forest, but God or my guardian angel, Sara, must have been looking out for me.

I spent most of the day researching my next moves. I have booked another night at the hostel and will head to Rachel’s on Monday to stay with her and the dogs for a few days. Can’t turn down an opportunity for free lodging and this time without any dog responsibilities! I’ll hang out in Kuala Lumpur or surrounding area for the next week and then hop on a flight to Bali! I plan to spend one week on Bali and then bounce around the other Indonesian islands for the remainder of my 30 day Visa.

Langkawi - Floatie

So much easier to wear a floatie back from the store than carry it.

Langkawi - Smiling Buffalo

Smiling Buffalo – home to mango pancakes

Langkawi - Coconut Ice Cream

Enjoying coconut ice cream in a coconut after successfully completing more than 1,300 total stairs at Seven Wells Waterall.