Friday, December 5, 2014


We flew from Kunming, our last stop in China, into our first stop in Myanmar- the capital Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). We wanted to move a bit slower here than in China.

Yangon (Rangoon)

Our first impression of Myanmar was pretty unusual…the taxi drivers didn’t try to rip us off even a little bit for our ride to our hostel. Then, we got in the car, realized the steering wheel was on the right, and realized 5 minutes later that the cars were driving on the right hand side of the road anyway. As in, British cars, North American roads. WHAT!? I guess it’s working out ok for them though haha. We arrived at our hostel, one of the few in the city, close to Chinatown (yay China). That fist night, we walked to the biggest, most important and most famous of the Burmese pagodas: Shwedagon. It was so full of tourists. Rich middle-aged European packaged tour bus tourists to be exact. They were to be a constant fixture of our travels through the county. The pagoda was pretty impressive, but we realized that we basically ruined every other pagoda we were going to see for the next two weeks. Woops. Next day, we decided to try to find Aang Sun Su Kyi’s house, because it was listed on the tourist map the hostel gave us. We did eventually find it, but the whole thing is closed up with barbed wire, and is now some kind of military compound. Which is why I usually research the crap out of anything before I go see it haha! Spent the rest of the day shopping for hot weather + conservative culture appropriate clothing (WORST combination), drinking tea, eating food and drinking beer. Next day, we checked out the Yangon circle train. Never designed to be a tourist attraction, this is a commuter train that runs in a huge circle through the outskirts of Yangon. It was a real cheap day. We met a monk who studied English and Korean. What a coincidence right!? Our final day in Yangon, we checked out the odd Drugs Eliminating Museum, recommended to us by some expat journalists living in Yangon. Specifically addressing the government’s successes with destroying anything opium related, the museum was filled with lots of odd and very old exhibits. That night, we jumped on a hella comfortable VIP bus to Inle Lake.

Inle Lake

I think I can safely say this was my favourite stop in Myanmar. Quiet, cute fishing village, mountains, lake, pizza, everything you need! We arrived at 4am (because night buses and Burma are totally ridiculous) and were lucky to be able to get in our room straight away without paying for an extra night. We didn’t wake up until basically noon that day, at which point there wasn’t time to do a whole lot but walk around, drink some tea, eat some dinner and plan out our next 3 days. We got really lucky, as there was a huge festival happening in a nearby city that we had heard would be cool to go to, but we didn’t really know how we would go about getting there. Luckily, a German guy had already set the wheels in motion to arrange a pickup tuk tuk to drive several other guests at our hotel out there for the night, so we joined in. So glad we did! I am pretty sure it was the New Years celebration for the ethnic group called Shan who live in eastern Burma. It did not disappoint. Live music, hot air balloons with fireworks, man-powered ferris wheels, food and beer, horrifying toilets, it had everything. We were all sad when it was time to leave!
The next morning we rented some bikes and set off on a bike ride around the like with a cool British couple we had met the night before. The scenery was amazing. We biked until we got to the famed “hot springs”, which for our cheap asses meant two public baths, one for men and one for women. The other option for the rich tourists is to pay $10 to go for a swim in the fancy bath owned by a hotel. The British girl tested out the water and reported that it was way to freaking hot to get into, which was ok because I had already decided I probably wasn’t going in it. We carried on, caught a boat across the lake with our bikes, and leisurely biked back toward town. A great day all in all!
Next day: woke up fairly early to go for a hike through the villages in the mountains with a guide/restaurant owner down the street. He was totally worth the little money we paid him. He knew everyone in the villages and even led us into a few houses to say hi to people! And into the schools! Which made us pretty uncomfortable, and caused some confusion until we explained that we were teachers before and we didn’t like disrupting the classes like that. He took us to a house and made us a pretty awesome lunch, then took us to a secret, untouristed lake in the mountains, and made sure we saw the local couple making out under a tree (he thought it was VERY shocking haha), then we went home. And drank some tea. Burmese tea is kind of like Chai…but maybe a little different, and instead of milk the put condensed milk. It’s like a cross between a Chai and a Vietnamese coffee. Why isn’t everybody selling this!? We drank a lot of those. That night, I convinced Conor to go see a traditional Burmese puppet show (he was like “puppets? meh”) because it was only $3. Best $3 we spent! The marionettes themselves were beautiful, and we had a master’s control over making them dance. Apparently, Burmese people started making puppets dance before human dancing ever became popular, so that the traditional human dances look a great deal like puppet movements. Then he told us that we could buy and actual marionette for like $10 and I was like SOLD! SO SOLD! And then I had to carry it around with me until I left because I was warned by locals not to mail ANYTHING out of Myanmar. Either way, it was another good day.
On our final day, we went out on the lake for the famous Inle Lake boat tour. We were hoping to find buddies to reduce the cost, but no luck (still not expensive). Because so many tourists do the tour everyday, the whole thing has become super touristy. The boat driver takes you around to various workshop/showrooms, where you get a tour around the workshop and then are escorted to the shop. I kind of just thought of it as an interactive museum, where I could learn things. Burmese people are waaaay less pushy sales people than in other SE Asian countries, so the experience was not unpleasant. It was incredibly interesting to see the floating gardens! OUt in the lake, tomatoes, lotus roots, flowers, other stuff…pretty cool. We managed not to buy too much, and finished off with some cigars and a bottle opener. When it was over we grabbed some dinner and got on another overnight bus to


Bagan is a plain filled with ancient temple ruins. Not just a few, but hundreds. The best part is, nobody really knows that much about who built them or why, but Marco Polo makes a reference to the grand city of Bagan in one of his writings. Bagan itself is hot, dusty and dirty, and not at all pleasant like Inle Lake, but the temples are amazing.We were unable to prebook any accommodation, so we had to spend a little while finding a cheap place, where they once again allowed us into the room at 4am without charging extra. When we finally woke up at noon, we decided to rent e-bikes. Electronic bikes are halfway between a scooter and a bicycle. It was my first time to drive any kind of motorized bike so I was worried, but I did fine for the most part. The bikes are the best way to get around, as all the temples are spread rather far apart, it’s hot as hell, and the small roads between them are nearly entirely made of sand. Checking out the old temples really makes you feel like Indiana Jones, despite all the middle aged Europeans in there with you. We chilled out, grabbed some tea, and scooted over to the famous sunset pagoda, which we knew would be crammed full of middle aged European tourists, but was really supposed to be the best one. We found a little spot near the top and took our photo, then waited for all the middle-aged Europeans to clamber down the hella steep stairs and load onto their tour buses, then called it a day.
Woke up the next morning at 5am to go watch the sunrise. Rich tourists can pay over $300 for a spot in the basket of a hot air balloon the flies for an hour over the fields of temples at sunrise. Poor tourists can climb up on of the temples and take photos of this phenomenon. It was actually somewhat difficult to find a good temple because not all of them were climbable, and at night they were totally unseeable from the road. When we did manage to find one it was SUPER Indiana Jones, headlamp and all, and there was a big spider in the narrow stairwell that almost prevented us from making it, but we got there! Over the next 30 minutes about 10 more people joined us and we waited for the sunrise and the balloons to take off. We were not disappointed. About 16 balloons set off over top of us, and it was exactly as beautiful as we had imagined it would be. Then we went home and slept until noon again! When we woke up, we carried on exploring the temples, but we were starting to get temple ruin fatigued. WE made sure to catch one last sunset, then headed home for dinner. We were lucky to bump into some friendly Aussies we had met in Dali, China, who had splurged on the balloon experience for the next day. We agreed to meet with them the following evening for dinner to check out the photos and hear about the experience.
Next day: having grown weary of temple ruins (so spoiled I know) we rented regular bikes and explored the town of Nyaung-U. Turns out there wasn’t too much to see and it was a pretty lazy day. We caught up with the Aussies and marveled at their hot air balloon photos at dinner and decided that they hadn’t wasted their money. The next day we hopped on a bus to 


For once in this country, we arrived at a reasonable hour instead of 4am from the bus, which was good because it was tricky to find our hostel. When we did find it, we were happy to have nice beds and an awesome breakfast the next morning. Our first day in Mandalay we rented some bicycles and set out to find an old teak monastery that was supposed to be nice. Turned out biking in Mandalay was a little frustrating, but we managed to stay safe AND find it! And get a really good feel for the city along the way. At night we took a taxi out to the world’s longest teak bridge (official record holder) for some beautiful sunset photos. The next day, Conor was feeling pretty sick so we didn’t do much. Mandalay doesn’t have as many attractions as other areas in Myanmar, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on too much. At night though, I went out to watch the Moustache Brothers, a famous comedic trio known for criticizing the government during their acts. Two of the brothers spent time in jail because of their anti-government acts. These days, they’re only allowed to perform for tourists in the front room of their home, and only one brother speaks English. We decided it was less “HAR HAR HAR” funny and more “hmmm that’s interesting” funny. But I’m definitely glad I got to see it. We then went to check out a Burmese “club”, which was basically 20 women in not so sexy clothes singing songs and doing “fashion shows” while men drank beer and watched them. It was reeeeeeeaaaaaaally weird. When we went back to the hostel, a street market had kicked off into high gear with some kind of concert/performance thing. We checked it out, and everyone freaked out that two foreigners wanted to sit there and watch and we were given the total royal treatment. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad we got to see it. Unfortunately, I needed to wake up pretty early to catch a flight, and the music continued on until like 4am and I didn’t really get ANY sleep! Oh well. The next day we caught a flight to Bangkok, where we spent 6 hours eating, and then onto KL, where we spent a day eating, shopping, grooming and watching the latest Hunger Games movie. We are now in Kathmandu, planning out our trekking route!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



Well it has been a month since the last update, and I’ve been busy busy, so I’ll jump right in!

After leaving Thailand I headed back to Hong Kong, had another lovely and quick visit with friends from Korea and new friends from Hong Kong, drank cocktails and ate steak on a boat, and prepared to head into China. I took an over night train from Hong Kong into Shanghai, my first stop:


I was so so very extremely fortunate to have friends living in Shanghai who let me stay with them for a WHOLE WEEK! I know my visit to Shanghai would have been half as fulfilling without them, and I am so grateful they let me stay for so long (in their very lovely apartment with their very cute dog too!). My week in Shanghai went by very fast. I spent my time admiring the impressive skyline, eating in some very nice Western restaurants, wandering around the different neighbourhoods and sampling Shanghai expat life. HIghlights include smoked meat poutine, 4.5 hours straight of karaokee, a surreal and super interesting collection of Maoist propoganda posters and an unbelievable acrobatic show that culminated in EIGHT guys on motorcycles driving in circles around the inside of a wire sphere. It was a great week! My travel buddy and I were sad to leave our comfy lodgings and generous hosts, but we got on a train anyway and headed to…

Zhangjiajie (aka Wulingyuan Scenic Zone aka Avatar Mountains)

Our first 24 hour train! Yay! Luckily, possibly one of the worst as well. Stuck on top  bunks, the train arrived FOUR hours late, so arrived 4 hours late as well, too late to catch the bus to where we needed to go…grrrrrr. But we managed to make friends with some nice Chinese girls to pass the time a little quicker. When we finally made it to the small town of Wulingyuan, it was like 9p.m. So we got the info we needed and got to bed so we’d be able to venture out into the mountains bright and early the next day. These mountains have obviously always been there, but their popularity exploded after the movie Avatar came out, because apparently the floating mountains in the movie were inspired by these mountains in China. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it rained for both days we were there. While still incredibly beautiful and unique, and definitely the karstiest karst I’ve ever encountered, we didn’t get to see the famous views at their finest. But still two days of nice hiking (not great mind you…China has the thing with using the slipperiest material possible on their sidewalks and walkways) and so very beautiful. And expensive. The ticket to just enter the park was a lot, and once inside most people were also paying for cable cars, trams and a giant elevator. Oh well. It was still cool.


After our second overnight train, this time with nicer bunks, we arrived in Beijing in the evening. First impressions of Beijing: ugly compared to Shanghai, why are there cops everywhere, why is there a line up to get into the subway station, why are there a thousand people strewn across the square in front of the trains station, damn it’s cold. I now know the that cops everywhere could be connected to our visit coming just before the start of the APEC summit. It’s possible that the leaders were n Beijing at the same time as us and in the same area, and more cops were about than usual. Another effect of the APEC summit was that the Beijing air was cleaner than usual. Turns out all the factories had been shut off for the summit a couple weeks in advance, so we got to see the “APEC blue” skies of Beijing, which was nice. Our first day we went to the Forbidden City (but not in, a) closed b) expensive), so we walked around it, then ovr to Tianmen Square, then some nice middle aged women tried to pull the teahouse scam on us and we almost fell for it. The started speaking to us and asked if we wanted to have a cup of tea with them and speak English. When we got to the teahouse the prices were INSANE and that’s finally what tipped us off. We politely got the hell out of there. Then we watched the sunset, went home and went to bed early so we were ready for the next day: The Great Wall. We picked the easy way of booking a tour through our hostel (it came with free lunch!). Spent a few hours hiking along the wall (so many ups and downs and stairs), took about 1000 photos, had our lunch and went back to Beijing. It was a really good day, with great weather. The next day we only had a few hours, so we walked around one of the old fashioned neighbourhoods that they call hutongs and saw a drum and bell tower. Then we got on train #3 and set off for…

Zhangye (Danxia landform)

Zhangye is in Gansu Province, the corridor between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert. It’s dusty and bleak. On the train ride there both of us were feeling a little stomach achey. We only had one day here with one specific purpose: see the rainbow mountains. The mountains were beautiful, but we were a little disappointed with the park facilities…you couldn’t really hike around it or anything, There was just a bus that drove you to 4 different scenic viewpoints, where Chinese tourists would get out for like 15 minutes, take photos, and drive to the next spot. So not a waste, but the park could be set up way nicer and it could be more enjoyable. Our next mode of transportation was bus to


Before we even made it out of Zhangye, a rock hit one of our bus windows and shattered it! Everybody was fine, but it took about and hour to sort out who was to blame, who owed who, and then to “fix” the window with some Scotch tape. But we were soon on our way again, with a taped up window, through the mountains, for 7 hours on a bus. The drive was actually pretty beautiful, going through snow covered mountains dotted with various animals and prayer flags. Inside the bus was not quite as nice, with a handful a folks vomiting into bags, squished into small asian sized seats, so many smells. When we got there, we were so lucky to have a friend of mine pick us up IN A CAR to drive us back to his place, where he generously hosted us for a few nights. It has been 4 years since I was last in Xining, and the place has changed so much, parts of it are unrecognizable. There are new streets, new neighbourhoods, new buildings, new stores…transformed. We were lucky again that my friend needed to go over to Rebgong (aka Tongren) and we caught a lift in a car for 2 hours instead of a bus that would take 4 hours and spent the day meeting with locals and monks instead of walking around like the dumb tourists we actually are. We got to eat the most amazing food, and at the monastery there, we witnessed an annual gathering of monks doing what is called “slap debating”, in which monks challenge each other about Buddhist philosophy and then slap their hands together at the end of each challenge (I think anyway…it’s not like I could understand what was being said). The next day we took a trip to the museum that I used to do some work at, and I lucked out again in that a friend of mine who used to work there, still works there, and happened to be working that day!  We checked out the exhibits, and I was a little disappointed (although not at all surprised) that none of my English revisions had been taken into consideration, and all the English signs still make as little sense as they did before. By this point in the trip I had a full blown cold and sounded like I was perpetually on the verge of hacking up one or both lungs at any second, so I took it easy the rest of the day. Last day in XIning I took some time to meet up with a couple more old friends to see how they were doing. One woman who was running a great organization trying to make it easier for Tibetan girls to get educated said she had to shut the whole operation down due to new policies that have been adopted in the last year. She had many organizations have had to do the same, which blew me away. It means that all the people I had been trying to help with funding and funding reports are essentially now defunct. Such a waste. The next morning, it was time for ONE MORE 24 hour train ride. We said goodbye to our lovely host, and jumped in a taxi to the train station. It was nice to say goodbye on my own terms this time.


Sichuan province! Spicy food and pandas! At this point we were closing to the end of our time China, so just a couple days here. We arrived in the morning, so we walked around the downtown areas of Chengdu and ventured into the People’s Park. There are People’s Parks in every city in China, but we didn’t see ANY as lively as the one in Chengdu. There were maybe like 10 different tea houses, with outdoor seating, packed full of middle-aged locals drinking tea and playing cards or mahjong. I mean, there were SO many table of old people playing mahjong, like a sea of them. And the tea was good too. There were boats in the park, performances, dancing, badminton, kids amusement park stuff, flower displays, karaokee machines and of course a marriage market. It was really a spectacle. That evening I bought a rather expensive to so “Sichuan Opera” not really knowing what I was in for. But the show was overall pretty nice, mixing traditional entertainment with some cheesy laser shows, synthed up music and one rap (so weird…whyyy). The part that was amazing, is this thing called face-changing. The actor/dancer is wear a mask, and in plain sight, turn their head just a tiny bit for 1/10 of  second, and their mask is DIFFERENT. One of the guys didn’t even turn is head. I was super impressed. The next day was panda day! Near Chengdu there is a panda breeding facility that gets lots of tourists. The hostel tour went early in the morning to ensure that we could avoid the majority of the crowds and actually see the pandas. I really enjoyed it! The habitats were large and natural, and there was lots of information about pandas and the facility posted everywhere. We even timed our visit well to see baby pandas! Like so little they couldn’t really even use their legs properly. It was ridiculously cute. However, the more you learn about pandas, the more you wonder if we’re wasting our time trying to keep them from going extinct. they are practically suicidal. Their digestive systems are designed to be carnivorous, yet they eat 99% bamboo, and since they don’t digest the nutrients in bamboo well they have to spend the entire day stuff their faces with it, and because they lack nutrients they have to spend the rest of the day sleeping. They are super picky about mates, and then even if they get pregnant have have the baby, half the time they don’t even look after it. Anyway…just some thoughts I had while walking around the facility. Our last highlight of Chengdu was trying out some Sichuan pepper hotpot, free courtesy of our great hostel. While a little too spicy for me, Conor loved it. The next morning, we caught an FLIGHT (not a train yaay!) to Kunming.


The flight to Kunming was actually just to help us get to a little place called Dali faster. Dali is in Yunnan province, and home to the Bai people. We came here because we had heard it was a nice little relaxed town that was very foreigner friendly, with a beautiful lake on one side and picturesque mountains on the other (perfect feng shui BTW). It ended up being a bit more of a hassle to get to than we bargained on, but luckily it was worth it. We went for a bike ride along the lake until it started to rain, and spent another day just ambling around the old-fashioned buildings in the town center. And now, it’s back on the bus to Kunming, to catch our flight tomorrow into Myanmar! I’ve had a good time in China, probably better than I was expecting to have, but I am real excited to go somewhere warm again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thailand! It was interesting

Hello again! I write to you from my friend's couch in Hong Kong, where I'm back for a few days before heading into China. Last night the blockade near my friend's place was removed after students agreed to talks with the government. The weather is much nicer now than it was in September.

Where did I leave off? Driving into Chiang Mai from the border right? So Thailand Part 1

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is Thailand's second major city after Bangkok. It is much smaller and more laidback than Bangkok, giving a totally different atmosphere. We found an amazing, cheap hostel in the old part of the city (where most of the tourist attractions are) for a few nights. I was really lucky to have a friend of a friend living in Chiang Mai, and she met up with us on our very first night and showed us some cool nightlife spots. The next day we rented some bikes and biked around the city despite very threatening rain clouds, which did eventually let loose a torrential downpour. The next day, my local friend showed us the "hip" neighbourhood of the city, full of cafes and Western restaurants. She then drove us out to a really cool waterfall that we were able to climb up. There was nearly nobody there and we had a really nice time. We then went to a quiet, forest temple that we also wouldn't have known of otherwise. It was a great day! We felt super VIP driving around with our personal tour guide. The next day we took a neat (but expensive!) tour up the mountain to see Doi Suthep, probably the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. We drove to the top of the mountain in a truck, then biked down, stopping at a tribe village (tourist trap), Doi Suthep, a fancy, shiny, very busy temple, and one more temple, and a waterfall. Pretty pretty cool. Josh flew to Ko Samui the next day, and I just hung out with my friend, checking out some places that Western tourists don't really know about (although Chinese tourists do apparently haha). That night, I took the overnight train to Bangkok. This was a waaaaaay pleasanter experience than you'd imagine, and I actually slept pretty well! And when I woke up, I was in

biking down the mountain


When I arrived in Bangkok, I caught a cab straight to the Myanmar Embassy to apply for my visa. It was a Friday, and I was leaving on Monday, so I needed to get my visa taken care of ASAP. So the rest of that morning was just waiting in line forever. I finally got to my hostel around noon, checked in, laid down for like an hour, and went back to the embassy to get my passport. Day 1, Bangkok haha. That night, I was super hoping to go out and enjoy the nightlife, but my hostel was pretty quiet and nobody was picking up what I was putting down. :( WOMP WOMP. The next day I took the subway up to a HUGE weekend market...maybe the biggest market in all of Asia? It was pretty cool, but I had seen A LOT of markets by that point with a lot of similar stuff. This market did have some cool stuff made by local artists, so I bought a pair of cool dinosaur earrings and was happy. That night, I went out with some Irish girls that I had randomly happened to meet in the food court in the mall near my hostel. They were on a visa run from Vietnam, where they teach English, but one of them had lived in Bangkok previously, so she knew all the cool spots to party. I met up with them and had a really fun night out on the town. One disappointment was that the curfew is still in effect in Bangkok, so we ran out of time to go see one of the GoGo shows. SO I need to go back to Bangkok to do that someday! The next day, woke up, went to the train station to buy my ticket to Ko Phangan. From the train station, I walked over to China town to check it out. As soon as I got there I realized how dumb of an idea that was considering how soon I would be in actual China. So I just kept walking in the general direction of Khao San Road. This took me through lots of random neighbourhoods and invited lots of puzzled looks from locals being like "this girl is soooo lost" haha. Eventually I found some of the attractions from the old town, checked them out, kept walking, and finally, like 2 or 3 hours later, arrived at Khao San Road. First thing I did was foot massage!! Very needed. Then I grabbed some dinner, and walked around the notorious street before things got too crazy, just to be able to say I was there and checked it out. I grabbed a bus back towards my hostel, walked around some more, got home and passed out. The next day was my last day, so I stashed my bags at the train station and went to see the Grand Palace. I got there, only to discover that it was ACTUALLY closed hahaha (there is a famous scam where tuk tuk drivers will tell you that the palace is closed and charge you a crazy amount to drive you somewhere else). So I went to the neighbouring Wat Pho to see the huge reclining Buddha and bumped into a friendly girl I'd met at my hostel! We decided to do our best to figure out how to see the Emerald Buddha inside the Grand Palace. We walked all the way around the Grand Palace wall and finally found a horde of Chinese tourists coming in and out of one of the doorways. BINGO!!! Eventually, I had to go get on another overnight train. Will definitely have to go back to Bangkok one of these days! What a cool city!

Big Buddha

Ko Phangan

Ko Phangan, an island off the East Coast of Thailand, is home to the infamous full moon party. Which is why I was going there, although my expectations were pretty low. After the overnight train, woke up and got on a bus, which drove us to a boat, which took us to the island, where we took a tuk tuk. I had realized on the train that I didn't know the name of the hostel I had booked, and had no way to check without wifi. I met a guy on the train who knew the name of his hostel but not how to get there. When he said the name "Jaya" I was like "THAT'S THE NAME OF MY HOSTEL!", and I knew what to tell the tuk tuk driver to get there. Alone we were doomed to fail but together we were unstoppable hahaha. After so much traveling I was pretty exhausted, so we just went down to the beach for a few drinks (there was some crazy jungle party going on that I totally skipped because there's scary shit in the jungle). The next day we tried to have a nice beach day and got rained on, so went back to the hostel and got ready for the big party. The hostel transformed into a sea of neon shirts and body paint. When we were ready we headed to the beach. It was soooo packed! So much music and dancing! Nobody knows for sure how we spent the next few hours, but eventually the sun was rising, and when it really started to get hot we decided it was time to go home. The next day I didn't really get out of bed, except to eat a pizza around 5pm. The next day we left pretty early in the morning to go tooo


We stayed in Phuket because we both had flights from there a couple days apart. Because we had both heard the Phuket was maybe the worst place in the entire country, I found a guesthouse at a quieter beach near the airport, which ended up being pretty nice. We had one really nice beach day, and Josh left the following morning. I had to find a cheaper room, but decided to splurge on a beachfront motel (15$!) for the next couple nights, where I pictured myself waking up, going to the beach, repeat. But, just in time, I discovered via facebook that a couple friends of mine were in Phuket, although about an hour away. These friends had been living in Australia for a year after leaving Korea, so I really wanted to see them. I caught a bus to Patong, the sex tourism capital of SE Asia, which I had intentionally been avoiding, to meet up with my pals for a nice beach day (although it rained) and a catch up. It was so nice!! Worth it even though I ended up missing the bus and had to pay a guy too much money to drive my home on his motorbike in the rain for like an hour hahahaah. STILL WORTH IT! The next day I woke up, went for one last swim, packed up and headed to the airport. Due to some poor planning and budget airline inflexibility, I had to fly back to Chiang Mai, and then fly from there to Hong Kong. The whole journey was pretty smooth, arrived in Hong Kong, and moved back into my friend's living room.

Thailand was a lot of fun, but it was so impossible to escape the young gap year kids with the obsession with getting drunk and being super disrespectful of local cultures. A few times on the trip I felt super super old and uptight because of things that were happening haha. I might be too old for the backpacker scene!!

Anyway, I got this done right before heading into China, because I'm pretty sure the Blogger website is blocked there! See you in November!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Hello from Thailand! We crossed the border from Laos a couple of hours ago and are on our way to Chiang Mai, the first stop on our Thailand tour. We’ve got a few hours on a mini-bus, so I’m gonna give you a brief (sorry, I meant it when I initially wrote it I swear) rundown of what happened in Laos! Ok? Ready? 

Part 1 : Thailand -Vientiane

I technically flew from Hong Kong into Thailand as it was much cheaper than flying into Laos. I spent a few days in a very sleepy little town called Nong Khai, located right on the Mekong River in Thailand. You could see Laos on the other side of the river, pretty cool. There wasn’t a tonne to do in Nong Khai, but after the craziness of Hong Kong I didn’t mind a few days of quiet. The one highlight of this town is the sculpture park, cyclable distance from my guesthouse! Dozens of Buddhist sculptures made by one holy man, I think is the story. A couple days before I was scheduled to cross the border into Laos, I met a guy at my guesthouse who had gotten stranded after being too late to get across the border. He had rode his motorbike up from Bangkok and was on his way to Vang Vieng. He offered me a ride to Vientiane on his bike, but I would have to go a day earlier than planned. Why not right?? It was only like an hour drive away, so it wasn’t THAT dangerous. The only thing that went wrong was that I burned my damn leg on the exhaust pipe as I was getting off, and that mess has taken quite a while to heal (it was two weeks ago and it’s still scabbed over!)

crazy sculpture park

Vientiane itself was really nice. It gets a bad rap as being “boring” from most travelers, but I found it pretty charming. Lots of cafes, bars, restaurants, a beautiful riverfront promenade and park that was full of people enjoying it every evening (too hot during the day), good bookstores, decent hospital (because I had to go there for my burn…stupid!). In one word, I think what was going t through my mind was “livable”. Anyway, I was there a day or two before my friend Josh showed up, just chilling and hanging around. The day Josh arrived we went for a bike ride around to see the handful of recommended tourists sites, nothing amazing. We went to a centre run by Mine Action Group (MAG) where you can learn about the Secret War and the thousands of bombs dropped on Laos by the US Airforce in the 60s. Once again, I found something that I previously did not know ANYTHING about. Example: Did you know Laos is the MOST bombed country in the world? Did you know there are unexploded ordinances all over the country? Did you know President Kennedy pronounced Laos “Lay-os”? Anyway, that was really informative and worthwhile, if you’re looking for somewhere to put any extra money look into the MAG group. The are training local people on how to diffuse the bombs properly without harming any people or villages, and educating villagers and farmers on what they should do when they come across anything that could potentially blow them up.

Vientiane looks nice right?

Part 2: Vang Vieng

After a couple days in Vientiane we headed to Vang Vieng, the tubing capital of SE Asia. The bus ride there was pretty standard, met some British girls who helped us decide which guesthouse to stay in on the way. We got there a little late in the day so we just walked around, witnessed some of the tubers making it back to shore and chilled in some hammocks. That night it rained the whole damn night, thunder and lightning too. We woke up and the sun was out so we headed down to get our tube on. You can imagine our devastation when they told us that the river was too high and dangerous for tubing! After a few minutes of collective stunned silence, we opted to go to the “Blue Lagoon” for a swim instead. The photos we had seen showed a beautiful, shimmering turquoise pool, perfect for a swim. What we arrived to was a brown, muddy area with some picnic tables, which is what happens when you visit places in the rainy season. The water was still lovely anyway, and there was a cave to explore nearby as well. It turned out to be a pleasant day.
the "blue" Lagoon

Our second day in Vang Vieng we had purchased a tour (for so cheap). We set off in a tuk-tuk, like 15 km up river. Our first, and actually most difficult mission was to cross the river in a kayak. Josh and I were determined to have no problem, and we were off to a good start until we got stuck on some rocks! I’m pretty sure the guy had to give us another push to get us going. One boat got swept waaaaaay down the river and needed to be rescued with a motorboat. Once the river was crossed we took a very picturesque little hike through some rice fields until we reached a mountain. Here, we each got a tube, put on our headlamps, grabbed the guide rope and entered into a cave river. We couldn’t go all the way in because the water was too high (and the ceiling too low), but it was still a very very cool experience. After tubing in the cave we had some nice BBQ skewers and walked back towards the river. From here, we spent the next 3 or 4 hours kayaking back to town. It was sooooooo lovely. The water wasn’t too scary, just really fast with a couple tiny little “rapids” that we handled no problem. Along the way we stopped at one of the tubing bars for a beer.

The next (and last) day in Vang Vieng, we finally got our tubing in! At the first bar we made friends with a Russian, a German, and 3 Thais, and these were our tubing buddies for the rest of the way.There used to be many bars open along the river for tubers, but now it is limited to 3, which is probably still plenty haha. Our goal was to get the tubes back before 6 so we didn’t get charged extra (but also because it gets dark not long after that), and we JUST missed it. It was a really fun day. We were luckily able to meet up with the German and Russian people afterwards, but lost contact with the Thais, probably forever, which is pretty sad. Maybe I’ll bump into them in Bangkok?

The next day we woke up, headed to Luang Prabang. I did NOT feel so good for the duration of the bus trip, but I made it!

Part 3: Luang Prabang

We arrived in Luang Prabag with no idea where we should stay. It took a couple hours but we finally found something and set out to find a nice Laos dinner. The next day I woke up and did NOT feel well. This lasted the whole day. It was also raining so I basically did nothing. The next day I was still not quite well, but managed to rent a bike and cycle around to see all the many temples in LP, which is basically what it is famous for, being a UN World Heritage Site. At one of the temples a young monk started talking to us, and invited us to come to his temple at 4:30 so we could sit in on the daily chanting. We were like “cool!”. After we saw the rest of the temples, we biked over to our monk’s temple. He met us and we chatted some more, and two more tourists showed up that he had invited to witness the chanting. We met another monk who’s English was even better, AND could speak Mandarin really well too. They told us that their goal is to either get into a good university in Vientiane, or even better, get a scholarship to a university in China or Australia. They spend tonnes of their free time studying to do these things, when they aren’t fulfilling their monkly duties. Anyway, we hung around for the chanting, which took like 40 min, but was pretty cool. At the end of it they had like, a daily meeting, where the monk in charge gave them a rundown of stuff to do the next day or something. Get this, the monk in charge, the oldest monk at the temple, was 24 years old. The monks we were speaking English to were 18 and 19, and they both told us the 24 year old was too old to study English hahaha. After the chanting, we hung around to say thank you to the monks for letting us be present during something that is probably actually quite important and serious to them and the one guy, who named himself Jack after the Titanic character (no joke), gave us these special good luck monk bracelets which he had made while meditating or something. I had all my tubing bar bracelets on my right wrist so I made him put it on the left wrist because they actually look identical and I didn’t want the monk bracelet mixed in with my beer bracelets. That just didn’t seem right to me.  Then Jack gave us this awesome pro-tip. In Luang Prabang, one of the big tourist draws has been to watch the monks collect their morning alms. They all walk around in the morning and the local people give them rice, and that’s what they eat. Recently, tourists have been actually taking part in this special religious process, which is kind of messed up. There were signs ALL over town asking tourists to respect the sacredness of the ritual and to not ruin it by posing for photos with the monks, or giving them bad food, etc. I clearly wanted to witness the morning alms giving, but hoped to do so in the least intrusive way possible. Jack told us that if we walked further away off the main road and closer to his temple, we would be further away from the other tourists and we’d be able to get better photos, and it would look more like what it’s supposed to. Jack was the best! King of the world!

Which brings us to the next day. I woke up at 5:30AM to go get some photos of the morning alms giving. I ended up going alone because 6am is an insane hour for a backpacker. I walked back over to Jack’s temple and saw a line of older people waiting for the young monks to arrive to give them rice. Using all two words of the Laos language that I learned, I politely asked if they were ok with me taking their photo, and they said yes. YAY! So we waited together for the monks to arrive. So much success! Each monk has a pot, and each person puts like a handful of sticky rice or whatever they have into their pots, and that’s what the monks eat for the rest of the day. When this was finished, I went back to bed to sleep because it was still insanely early. Later in the day we headed out to visit a beautiful tiered waterfall. However, similar to the “blue” lagoon experience, it was not quite what it looked in the photos we had seen. There was water EVERYWHERE. The areas where you would normally swim the water was twice as high as usual, and had engulfed most of the surrounding trees and picnic tables. We were still able to take some neat photos near to the big waterfall, and my friends climbed to the very top. So not a total waste. We got home and I was STILL feeling a little sick (at this point I had started to take antibiotics, which helped immensely), but dragged myself out to the night market to make some purchases. And then I passed out.

On my last day in Luang Prabang, I woke up and was STILL SICK, but getting better, slowly. When I was feeling well and brave enough, I ventured out to what is called Ock Pop Tok…or Ock Tok Pop…? Anyway, it’s an organization that fairly trades and sells traditional handicrafts made by hand by villagers in Luang Prabang and throughout Laos. I enjoyed a lovely lunch of bread and butter and jam (sick remember, UGH) and took the FREE tour! I learned all about silk worms and natural dying processes and how they make the weaving patterns. Did you know that silk worms only live for like 42 days? So there was me and this one other Korean guy on the tour, and we both really wanted to buy something, especially after taking the tour, but we were also both very cheap. So after hunting around the shop for like 20 minutes, we found the cheapest scarf there was and each picked one out for our moms haha. It was really quite cool. Then I went straight to the post office and mailed all the junk I bought home, so let’s hope it makes it there. On the evening of this day I sought out a neat little organization that has been working on literacy and book access in Laos called Big Brother Mouse. They run a daily informal English Conversation gathering and encourage tourists to drop by to volunteer to help locals get some English practice. I got a little (a lot maybe) lost and showed up kinda (pretty) late, but was only the second foreigner there. The study group consisted almost entirely of young men aged like…17-35 (maybe like 2 of them over 28 though), and ONE local woman. Really good way to take a crash course in everything local and current in Luang Prabang and Laos. Most of them were studying English with hopes to be English teachers, tour guides, or to become involved with the tourism industry in some way. I wish I hadn’t been so sick while I was there or I would have been able to go more than once, it was pretty memorable. The next day:

Part 4: Slow Boat

The final part of the Laos journey was a 2 day slow boat river cruise from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai, where you can cross the border into northern Thailand. Day 1: 8 hours to Pak Being. Day 2: 8 hours to Huay Xai. 1 Boat. No stops. Luckily, the boat was nowhere near full and we were able to sit very comfortably and gaze out while the scenery went by. The boat had no windows so it was fresh air the whole way. Along the way we DID actually stop, but just for a few seconds (literally) to let someone off or to buy some fish or fuel for the family that owned the boat. The back part of the boat is actually the home of the family who owns it, and each boat is a little bit different based on how they have chosen to decorate it. At one village we stopped and the BIGGEST CATFISH I HAVE EVER SEEN was carried past us to the kitchen in the back. It was still alive. On the second day, when we finally made it to Huay Xai, there was no space for our boat to “park”, and we had to latch on to another boat and climb into it in order to reach dry land. They took a great deal of time to figure out and we missed the border closing and spent one more night in Laos. That was yesterday. We’ve now made it across and on our way to the much hyped Chiang Mai! Yay!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Hong Kong Wrap Up

Hello hello! I've got some time to kill at an airport, too early to check my bag even :(, so you get a blog update! I'm sitting in the Chaing Mai airport, having just flown from Hong Kong, waiting to fly to Udon Thani, to take a bus to Nong Khai, where, for the first time in 2 or 3 weeks, I will sleep in a bed in a room all to myself. I have been couchsurfing and hostelling since I moved out of my place on August 24th. It's gonna be glooooooriouuus!!

So, Hong Kong

Day 1 - September 3
I arrived in the afternoon and easily found the bus to take me to my hostel. Hong Kong is amazing to find your way around, I've never seen a city with so much tourist friendly signage. I don't think you could get lost there even if you tried (unless you couldn't read or something). Checked in, hung around and relaxed until the evening, when I met my friend who lives in Hong Kong for dinner. She took my to a super grimy Indian/Pakistani restaurant located in the back alley behind Chungking Mansions. The food was as delicious as the location was terrifying. After dinner we walked down to the harborfront to check out the nighttime skyline. It was impressive.

Day 2 - September 4
On my second day I ventured out to strike off some of the obvious tourist stuff to do. I slept in kind of late, then headed to the peak in the afternoon. The tram on the way up was pretty impressive, frighteningly steep. The official "peak" tourist area was pretty disappointing. Usually, when you think about the top of a mountain, you don't picture a shopping mall. But that's what was there. So I tried to find this walking path, walked the wrong way, twice, and by the time I found it it was too late to get around the whole thing before it got dark and I got attacked by mosquitos. So I just walked partway up to the very top of the mountain, turned around and took a nighttime photo of the skyline before descending on the tram. When I got back to the hostel, I found the table of people with the most empty beer cans and persuaded them to join me on a pubcrawl I had heard about. Unfortunately this was not the most memorable night out, I think there might have been TOO many people joining. That being said, I still managed to lose my phone without remembering how, so maybe things got more interesting later on.

Day 3 - Friday, September 5
Woke up with a killer hangover, had to pack my bag and officially check out by noon, had to make my prebooked cable car by like 2pm. Not possible. Got to the cable car about an hour late, but lucked out and caught them when they weren't busy so it wasn't a big deal for me just to jump on. The cable car is the main attraction of Lantau Island, and takes you across the mountains to the "big Buddha" and a monastery. The cable car ride was definitely the best part, the big Buddha was cool, the monastery was alright. I had some time so I took a bus to the "idyllic fishing village, "the Venice of the east" Tai-O. Waste of time. It was just a Chinese fishing village. It smelled bad, the old men didn't wear shirts, and to top it off, I nearly got stranded there! The bus stopped running back to the cable car at the ridiculous hour of 5. Luckily, several Chinese speaking tourists were also stranded, and were very helpful in finding us a way back. The guy who worked at the bus terminal ending up borrowing a car and driving the 20 minutes back to the cable car. That night, I moved my stuff into my friend's apartment, and, as it was her birthday, went out for some drinks with her Hong Kong friends. This turned out to be quite a good night, much more my speed than the pub crawl haha.

Day 4 - Saturday, September 6
My friend and I went to a little neighbourhood called Stanley, a scenic 40 minute bus ride from Hong Kong Island. It was SUPER hot when we got there, so we just walked around a bit, got a beer and a pizza, and headed home. That night I again sampled the Hong Kong expat life, ate some mediocre Chinese food had some drinks.

Day 5 - Sunday, September 7
Went to the beach at Shek O. It was beautiful! We joined in with a barbecue and had a fantastic day. The water in Hong Kong is almost TOO warm, feels kind of strange and unnatural. Stayed at the beach the whole day, grabbed some icecream on the way home, and called it a day.

Day 6 - Monday, September8
Woke up with a sore throat. Decided to stay home and take naps all day. Went for more mediocre Chinese food for dinner, had a few drinks (although I switched over to ginger tea instead of beer haha).

Day 7 - Tuesday, September 9
This was the Midsummer Festival, so everyone had it off work! We went to the beach again, this time to an island called Lamma. It was a really cute area! Reminded me of Bayfield back home. Spent a few hours there, went swimming, went home, had some tasty street Dim Sum, then home.

Day 8 - Wednesday September 10
Woke up with snot literally pouring out of my nose, decided to cancel my plan to take a day trip to Macau. Slept all morning, but exerted the effort in the afternoon to go and pick up my passport from the Chinese embassy. I got another Chinese visa! Success! Had a last meal in Hong Kong of so very tasty tasty sushi.

September 11- That's today! Woke up early and flew to Chiang Mai! Flying with a head cold SUCKS. We landed and hour and a half ago and my ears still haven't popped :(

I will actually be back in Hong Kong in about a month. I was only planning on staying a couple days at the most, but because China's visa is only 30 days (dumb) I can't go in until October 20th, which means I will get a second chance to do some of the stuff I missed because I wasn't feeling so hot.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2 weeks left in Korea

And that makes 2 years living and working in Daejeon! I fly to Hong Kong on September 3. I'll talk about that later. First, let me tell you about how leaving Korea after two years feels...

I am more than ready to leave Daejeon. I probably shouldn't have stayed here the second year...but that cash incentive was too good to turn down. My first year here wasn't boring, because everything was new and exciting and amazing. But in the second year the novelty faded and I realized I was living in what many Koreans would agree might be the most boring city in Korea. There's so many reasons you might think this, but these reasons might also be the reason you like living in a smaller quieter city, so let's not get picky and go into too many details. I just like big dirty dangerous cities filled with weird people who wear weird clothes and have weird hairstyles. I can't help it. To summarize, one of the key feelings I feel is READY. I'm ready to go. And when you're ready to leave, it makes it much easier. There are many many PEOPLE (the guys in tight pants) I will miss...but there's lots of THINGS (terrible work computer, why do the banks close at 4, etc.) I won't. So ya, it was good, and I'm certainly glad I opted to move to Korea two years ago, but it's time to go, at least for a while (dun dun dunnnn).

So let's talk about the exciting part! What's next? As mentioned, first stop is Hong Kong on Sept. 3. I have some friends living there so I'm expecting it will be a pretty great time, even though it's pretty effing hot there at the moment. I'll fly from Hong Kong on Sept. 11 to Chiang Mai, Thailand, and head straight to Laos from there. I'll travel through Laos for two weeks then go back into Thailand for another two with a friend from Daejeon. This part is gonna feel like a vacation compared to the next part haha. In the middle of October I'll head back to Hong Kong and take the overnight train into Shanghai to visit some friends from Toronto who are living there now! Then I'll be whizzing around China for the next month (that place is huge man) trying to see as much as possible and visit some more Chinese friends while I'm at it. In the middle of November my friend and I will fly into Myanmar for 2 weeks. Beginning of December we're headed to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia for a day layover in which we are going to eat everything, and then headed to Kathmandu Nepal. Last time I was there I didn't get a chance to do any trekking, so that's the priority, although I think I convinced my travel buddy to do the shortest one (still 5 days!!) because the next shortest is 9-10 days or 7-12 days :/. Like, I love watching the Lord of the Rings...but I don't think actually doing all that walking is appealing...especially without a wizard. Or a sense of impending doom if I don't. That would be the kind of motivator I would need for that. Anyway, 2-3 weeks in Nepal (I'm going to have to wait for my Indian visa there until I get it....but it SHOULDN'T slow us down), and then off to India. No flight has been booked yet, but we are considering flying into the South and working out way up North. But if we're feeling pretty broke we may still go overland from Nepal to Varanasi instead, although that doesn't sound pleasant at all. India is gonna take 2 months because there's soooooooo much to see and apparently it takes a few days to even adjust to each new place you go. So we'll be finished in India sometime toward the end of February, at which point I will review my finances and most likely fly back towards SE Asia to hit the countries I missed: Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia. I'm thinking I will be back in Canada sometime next spring or early summer, when the weather gets warm, because that last January visit was toooo coooold haha.

So that's what's up. If you've always wanted to travel in Asia but never had anyone to go with you've been offered your chance haha. And for Psy's sake don't ask me what I'm doing after I get back to Canada. That's just rude guys. Keep it to yourselves. I'll tell you when I know hahaha. YOU THINK I'M NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT!? Jeez.

Oh PS- I paid off the last of my student loans a month or two ago. *bows* thank you thankyou!

OK that's all for now. I am spending the rest of my week trying to liquidate my's hard! I found FOUR ethernet cables in a box. That doesn't include the one I'm using. Who accumulates that many ethernet cables in 2 years? My Macbook air doesn't even HAVE an ethernet port. What is wrong with me?

Much love,


P.S. again - if anyone has any travel tips, must see places, overrated spots, good companies, knows any locals, please let me know!!!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Not so far away fun times!

Guess what! I went to Canada in January. I bet you already knew that though. Now I'm going to tell you all about all of it, which sounds like it could be insanely boring to me, but people keep telling me they enjoy reading what I write, and then I feel guilty for not doing it more often, so this is what you get!! Blame only yourselves!!

My trip started on Friday, January 10. I woke up at 2am, got on a bus to the airport at Seoul, and got on a plane to Tokyo. In Japan I bought lots of kit kat bars and things flavoured like green tea, and then I got on another plane. I rolled into Toronto sometime on Friday afternoon, only a few short hours after leaving Tokyo(official time). Really it was like 11 hours later. I stayed in Toronto that first weekend, hoping to catch some friends who were only in town for a handful of days at the same time as me. Mostly I was drinking, eating or sleeping and also checking out all of the beautiful people who call Toronto home. So. Many. Good looking. People.

Feeling overwhelmed with good looking people, I decided to go to Waterloo (aww snap!). My kindly brother gave me a ride in his fancy new phantom grey mobile. Met Dad who gave me a lift as far as Exeter, and drove the rest of the way to Mom's in Bayfield. Would you believe I didn't actually spend more than like 10 minutes in Clinton the whole time I was home? Crazy.

That week I had designated family week. A couple days in Bayfield, (ps Bayfield in January is stupid, lesson learned). A day at Grandma Thompson's house to hang out with my Dad's family (my little cousins have mullets and beards and I'm clearly old). And a couple days in Petrolia to see my Mom's family, where my cousins are buying houses and having babies (definitely I am old). This brings us to Saturday. On Saturday, I curled with my mother, grandmother and a few more relatives. I haven't curled in 10 years. And, despite what you probably think, curling is SUPER physically demanding. After 2 games, I was pretty sure I was going to die. I was very, VERY sore for the next 2-3 days. Grandma made fun because of course she was fine. After a nice house warming party at my cousin's place, I started my journey back towards Toronto.

On Sunday night I moved into my friend Tzazna's and made myself at home on her couch. This was homebase for the next week to come. That week is a blur...I met up with so many great and old and wonderful friends. I was squeezing in 3-4 eating hangouts a day. I was committed to both the hang out and the eating like a champion, if I do say so myself. The only downside: that STUPID POLAR VORTEX. What the crap Canada!? Anyway, Toronto in a nutshell: friends, food, drinks, COLD, shopping, beautiful people.

Then I spent the remainder of my days hanging out with family. And also packing all the crap I bought. And buying more food to pack.Then I got on a plane on Friday, January 31...I think that's the right date? Yessss. Flew to Japan, ate some noodles, saw a temple, slept for a few hours, then flew the rest of the way to Seoul. The Tim Hortons doughnuts I had taken a risk on did NOT survive the 38 hour journey...all the icing melted off :(. Oh welll. Worth a shot.

To summarize:
My 3 weeks at home flew by, I could have used a couple more. I still love Toronto and don't think I'm done with it quite yet, I just wish there was a little more going on there as far as money making goes. Canada is cold, I'm never visiting in Winter ever again. Ever. Snow is still gross. I miss all the food that isn't Korean food.My Grandma made me cry and then she made everybody cry. Canadian beer is soooo goooood. My brother is a think. I left my cheese curds in Exeter. I know so many wonderful people and I hope we can all keep being able to get together when we have the chance!!

Much love Canada. That was a muchly needed break from my current unreality. Don't change or go anywhere! Unless it's to come visit meee!!