Category Archives: travels

Weekend Getaway: Sasquatch

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Well friends, it’s nearly time. In less than 24 hours I will embark on a glorious road trip to The Gorge, Washington to witness the genius musical stylings of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Azealia Banks, Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, The Postal Service, and The XX (among others!), at Sasquatch Music Festival. It’s a trip I’ve been looking forward to for months, both for the epic performances and the chance to rock some serious music fest style. I may have gotten a wee-bit envious of all those Coachella-goers back in April…

For my weekend I really wanted to strike the perfect balance of stylish and practical (there’s no use in looking great if you’re freezing and miserable!), so I decided to pack a lot of basics (tanks, jeans, long sleeved button-downs) that I could layer while still staying true to my personal style. The one thing I didn’t necessarily like from the Coachella ladies was that it seemed like they were all trying to dress like a flowerchild-hipster-rocker-hippie, and while cute, it ended up feeling a bit tired. It is for that reason that you will never find a flower crown upon my head, but rather a menswear-ish panama hat. No maxi dresses; just jorts (that’s jean-shorts, for the uninitiated). Going along with practicality, I’ll be rocking sensible (read: flat) shoes, sunglasses/other modes of sun-protection, and bags that will allow me to swing and savor everything around me without interruption. I put together some potential outfits, but who knows? I may just end up rocking the exact same outfit all weekend. So sue me.

Happy Sasquatch!

Outfits

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Weekend Getaway Part III

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In burgundy Rebecca Minkoff bag: Frank Lloyd Wright business card holder; Rebecca Minkoff change purse; J.Crew wallet; agenda, pen, notebook from Chapters

In vintage messenger bag: Amazon kindle; Gap pouchette; Nexus phone; Burts Bees peppermint lip balm; Apple iPod + headphones; Lenovo IdeaPad laptop

In the first getaway post I covered what I pack in my main bag, but what you bring along in your carry-on is just as important. As an avid reader (I ripped through 25 books during my 20 weeks in SE Asia last year!) the Amazon kindle is my absolute favourite, and I can’t even think about travelling without a killer soundtrack on my iPod. As a self-described list enthusiast, I also find it’s nice to have a notebook and pen on hand, but don’t forget about basics like your wallet, phone, and lip balm. I like to bring a bigger shoulder bag that fits my laptop (or iPad, depending on the trip length) as well as my purse. By going all Inception on your carry-on (it’s a bag-within-a-bag!), you can still bring your luggage on board without exceeding the two-item limit, and once you get to your destination there are a plethora of bag options to choose from. They say variety is the spice of life, and I’d have to agree.

A final reminder! Don’t forget chargers for your electronics, any prescriptions (I keep mine in my change purse), and your passport (if travelling internationally). I didn’t include these things in my photos, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. There’s nothing worse than getting to the airport and realizing you forgot one of these all-important items; it could make or break your trip, so be sure to remember ‘em!

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Weekend Getaway Part II

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Clockwise from top: Jill Sander eyeglasses; floss; Lush solid shampoo; bronzer; blush; foundation; moisturizer; toner; face wash; deodorant; cotton pads; spare contacts; hairbrush; Estee Lauder make-up bag; eyelash curler; Maybelline mascara; eyeliner; toothbrush; concealer; toothpaste (All face/makeup products excluding mascara from Clinique)

For travelling tips day two I decided to delve into the sometimes-tricky area of toiletries. As often as possible try to pack light enough that you don’t need to check a bag; I take mine on board as much as I can and it saves me so much time on either end of the flight. To do this you need to make sure to bring travel-sizes (50ml) of all your toiletries (I got mine as samples from the Clinique counter) or bring solid versions (like my shampoo bar from Lush). I usually don’t bring hair tools, but if you can’t part with them look for travel versions of hair-dryers and straighteners (I’ve seen some good ones at Sephora). Lastly, be sure to put all your liquids in a Ziploc bag and you’ll be cruising through security like a pro.

I kept my make-up extra simple for this trip and brought along foundation, concealer, blush, bronzer, eyeliner, and mascara. A good option to throw in for some extra drama is a tube of your favourite red lipstick, a little pop of colour goes a long way for dressing up an otherwise casual look! As I mentioned last time, K.I.S.S!

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Weekend Getaway Part I

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Clockwise from top: H&M weekender bag; Zara scarf, trench; Estee Lauder make-up bag; Ray Ban sunnies; Dolce Vita boots; American Eagle jeans; Jacob belts; custom loafers (from Vietnam!); Gap leggings; tank top; H&M bracelet; Michael Kors watch; H&M necklace; Club Monaco necklace; custom button-down; J.Crew crewneck; Gap cardigan

One of my very favourite things about going away is the planning and packing involved before you even leave home. While unpacking is a completely different story (depressing, really), I love the process of picking items and creating outfits for a specific destination. Whether it’s for a casual weekend to Victoria, a weeklong vacation in Cuba, or a five-month trip to SE Asia, every time I think about packing my blood starts to flow just a little bit faster. On Sunday morning I jetted off to Cranbrook, BC for a long-overdue visit with my parents and grandparents, and decided to share my essentials for a little weekend trip.

I always try to pack items that I can mix and match; basic shapes and a cohesive colour palette ensure that this is always possible. I could wear the button down on its own, with the cardigan, or layered under the burgundy crew neck, and any of these could be worn in combination with the jeans or leggings, and either the loafers or boots. This gives a number of looks with varying levels of casualness, fit for any occasion that a weekend with the (grand)parents could throw at me. I also like to bring a few pieces of jewelry (and a signature watch) to further change and elevate my outfits. As they teach you in business school, keep is simple, stupid!

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PS. Stay tuned for Parts II & III!

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Week 18: Cameron Highlands & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This post is titled Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur, which I will definitely get to, but the real story here is how we got to the former of those two places. The journey to Malaysia from Koh Phangan was the longest and most frustrating (though I’ll admit, hilarious) bit of travelling I’ve done here in Asia. Totaling in at two days, 24 hours of actual travelling, and 10 modes of transportation, it was a doozy.

The trip started well enough when Court and I caught a taxi from our beloved Rainbow Bungalows to Thong Sala Pier to catch a ferry back to the mainland. A 5:30 wakeup call meant that we slept on the ferry, and we got off two hours later feeling somewhat refreshed and ready for our day of travel. But alas, we immediately ran into the first of many hitches. It seems that the bus company we were scheduled to get a lift with into Suratthani had overbooked their services and there was much confusion in which bags were repeatedly loaded on and off various buses until finally being placed on a bus with two lone seats left. Court got a seat near the front and had a great view from which to enjoy our drivers terrifying style of speeding by, weaving through, and dodging both directions of traffic. I ended up stuffed in the last row, crammed behind a washroom (which, unsurprisingly was out of order) with my knees pressed into the wall in front of me. Given this seating position and the way the bus was being driven, I was extremely happy when we reached our destination and realized that wasn’t going to be my last bus ride. Once we arrived in Suratthani we were quickly transferred via school bus to the travel office where we would get our tickets for the next portion of our trip. Grabbed our tickets, some street food, snacks and water, and even a quick bathroom break before we were once again shuttled into a vehicle. This time it was a minibus, my preferred mode of transportation in Asia because of the better temperature, comfortable seats, and seemingly more competent drivers. A major contributing factor to my increased feeling of safety is that when these guys take corners, the whole bus doesn’t feel like it’s in danger of tipping on its side. Our itinerary stated that this bus would take us to Hadyai, where we would transfer yet again to another minibus to take us across the border to Butterworth (a jumping off point for much of Malaysia, and yes, that’s really what it’s called.) We had then planned to stay the night (if we were on schedule, we were supposed to arrive around 7:30, 13 hours after we had started travelling), and then take off in the morning to Ipoh before catching our final bus to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands.

Oh, if things had gone to plan. The last thing that went according to schedule was that we made it to Hadyai, and transferred to a minibus that we thought would take us into Malaysia. After around three hours of driving Court and I were the only ones left in the van, everyone else having gotten dropped off at various stops in the town we thought we were passing through. It was at the point when the driver asked us ‘which hotel?’ that we knew something had gone awry. We were in Satun, Thailand, hours away from where we wanted to be, with the sun going down and two now useless tickets to Butterworth. Now before you start thinking that we were dummies for getting on the bus in Hadyai without even questioning its destination, I would like to assure you we did ask. Three different people. Multiple times. Each. We thought that since we had a sticker saying Butterworth on our shirts, had showed them our Butterworth tickets, and had asked our previous driver, the current driver, and someone else at the bus station to confirm that this minibus was indeed going to Butterworth, that we would end up in Butterworth. Call me crazy! But here we were, stuck in Satun with a driver who barely spoke English (but was oh so friendly.) He quickly picked up his friend, another bus driver (who also barely spoke English) and called our travel company to see what happened. He then put me on the phone just in time to get screamed at by a women at the travel agency in Suratthani, asking me why I got on the wrong bus. After trying to explain that we did ask and were told to get on this bus she yelled some more before abruptly hanging up. Confused, angry, and not sure of what the hell we we’re supposed to do, we looked to our driver for help. He then called his own bus company and handed the phone back. This conversation was much more civilized, but frustrating all the same because of the information that we got out of it. There was no way to get from Satun to Butterworth, our only option was to go back to Hadyai and try and figure out transportation in the morning. Which is how we ended up in our seventh vehicle of the day. Our drivers friend drove us back, but not before stopping so we could get food and have a bathroom break. He even bought us water! Seriously, he was the best driver ever, taking us right to a cheap guesthouse in Hadyai by the train station. We felt a little bad when he stopped on the way to say goodnight to his family, which besides being beyond adorable, made it clear that he wasn’t supposed to be driving tonight, and would be staying in Hadyai instead of spending the night with them.

We awoke the next morning just before 6am so we could run over to the train station just as it opened to check out the schedule. Ended up grabbing two bus tickets to Ipoh instead, which is one stop closer to the highlands than Butterworth. After another couple hours of sleep we wandered to 7-eleven to stock up on snacks and grab breakfast before jumping on the bus. I’ll also make a note here that this glorious day of travelling fell on my 23rd birthday! How else was I supposed to celebrate, but with a Sev toastie for breakfast? Fueled up and filled with renewed hope that we would actually make it to Malaysia today, we caught the first VIP bus to the border and crossed without a hitch. This story is getting a bit drawn out, so I’m going to hurry up the last couple bits. Made it to Ipoh, but with the hour time difference and hour travel delay we were in danger of missing any further transport to Tanah Rata. A lovely women at the travel agency called us a cab to get to the bus station and we headed off with wishful thinking that something would finally happen in our favour. As we walked into the bus station a man asked us where we were going and when we said Cameron Highlands he beckoned us over to the bus and said it was leaving right away. After hastily paying the driver we asked the only other passenger where she was going to confirm the destination. We didn’t want a repeat of Satun. I’m pretty sure the travel agent had called the station and did something, the fact that we made the last bus was ridiculously lucky. And with that, we finally arrived in the Highlands, a mere 34.5 hours after we had left Koh Phangan.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Derek and his friend Christof were waiting at our hostel to surprise me for my birthday, and has been waiting in the room for three hours when they finally decided to venture out and grab some food. Naturally, just as they were heading back to the hostel to resume their camp out, Court and I drive by in the car shuttle we had grabbed. Seeing Derek and not knowing all he had put in to surprise me, I yelled out to window to him. The surprise of him being there was busted, but don’t fret, they had much more up their sleeves for me. Bringing us around to the room, I was greeted with a banana loaf birthday cake, a bottle of my favourite beer, a favourite snack, and some cookies. So overwhelmed with relief that we were finally there, and happiness in how awesome my friends were (and still are, obvs), I didn’t immediately notice that Derek had emptied the Pringles container and places a Malaysian-style Ice inside. My getting ‘iced’ completed the birthday package, and with that done we headed out for a delicious Indian dinner before crashing around the campfire and talking into the wee hours of the morning. One of the best birthdays I’ve had, it certainly topped the last couple of years. Huge shout out and thanks to Derek and Court for putting the whole thing together!

Now that we had finally gotten to the Cameron Highlands, I was time to see the sights. With a higher elevation than the rest of Malaysia, the highlands are distinctly cooler and I found that I was often cold despite wearing long sleeves and pants. Perhaps a taste of what I’ll feel when I come home? Recovering from my late birthday night with a good sleep in, we then decided to explore trail 1- a 1.8k hike that would take us through the jungle. Not feeling great before we started made the hike somewhat challenging, but as expected it was gorgeous and totally worth it at the end. Once we reached the top we found that there was a road to follow down the other side and we decided to follow it home. We walked something like 14k in total including the hike and were very relieved to finally make it home and into a hot shower. A casual day followed before heading to KL as Court and I weren’t super keen to start travelling only one day after our previous bus debacle.

Made it to KL the next day around noon and grabbed the metro to Fernloft KL, a dope little hostel right beside Chinatown. Despite being in a 24 bed dorm, I loved the place. Cheap, clean, quiet, good wifi, free breakfast, and a sick rooftop patio for chilling out. Once we had checked in we decided to walk around Chinatown and try and find some cheap eats. Stumbled across a food court with all kinds of stalls and settled in with an amazing meal of fried rice, stir fried chicken, and some green vegetables similar to boy choy… All for under $3! Stuffed to the brim, we decided that a matinee show at the Petronas Towers would be the perfect way to spend our first afternoon and we immediately grabbed the metro there. Hearing all the hype, we had to check out The Dark Knight Rises, and hoo man, it did not disappoint. Also, that mall is epic. Every store I would ever want to spend money in and the best snacks ever- Auntie Annes Pretzels was my personal fave. Had a quick stop after the show to check out the towers at night, something Court and I didn’t get to see during our brief layover here in July. They were all the more breathtaking lit up against the dark sky, I’m really glad I had the chance to see them in all their glory. Back at the hostel we met up with our German friends from Koh Tao for a night of debauchery and happily ended the evening with a trip to McDonalds. Spent the next day recovering from our fun night by heading to another impressive mall, Pavillion, and catching Ice Age 4. Animated movies are the perfect hangover cure, especially when watching them with greasy snacks in an air conditioned theatre. Took the scenic route home and chilled out for the rest of the evening. All set to fly out the next night, we decided to make a quick trip out to the Batu Caves, a place of Hindu worship. They were pretty impressive, if not very touristy. The monkeys, and especially the tourists interacting with the monkeys were particularly enjoyable. Another excellent meal at our favourite Chinese food court stall and it was time to say goodbye to Malaysia.

Next stop, Indonesia!

Ps. Again with the slow wifi, please check out Facebook here for pictures!

Pps. My apologies for the never ending travel story/rant at the beginning. I’m starting to think its not as entertaining as I thought and that maybe you had to be there to understand the ridiculousness of it.

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Weeks 12, 13, 15, 16 & 17: The Thai Islands

The five weeks I spent flitting between Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui (with a break to Borneo in the middle) were among my best on this whole trip. Each island has its own unique vibe and signature, though they all embody the quintessential beach lifestyle prominent in Thailand. Due to some good timing and a new travel buddy’s arrival (hey Court!), I was lucky enough to begin and end my time on the islands on Koh Phangan, attending not one, but two full moon parties. These wild nights were broken up by a relaxing stint on Samui and two glorious weeks on Koh Tao, which has definitely claimed the title of my favourite island. Check out all the deets below!

For the majority of my trip, the tried and true method for finding accommodation was to get to the new city and start asking around for a good place, often walking for a bit and getting rates from a few places before picking one to settle on (tip: ALWAYS ask to see the room beforehand!). Having said that, the week of full moon requires that you book something in advance; the increased stream of travellers heading to the island makes affordable accommodation few and far between. Derek and I lucked out big time the first time we went and booked into Phangan Rainbow Bungalows on a recommendation from friends. I since booked back there for full moon round II in August, and would highly, highly recommend the place to anyone else coming to Koh Phangan. Set in Baan Kai, these bungalows are far enough away from the main beach that you can get a good nights sleep and not worry about potential theft (which is pretty common on the night of full moon), but are only a quick taxi ride away from the heart of the party, Haad Rin. Run by an Aussie named Martin and his wife Noy, Rainbow is a great place to meet people, relax on the beach, and consume massive amounts of food. Seriously, the food. From western to Thai, everything I tried was beyond amazing. Particular favorites were the bruschetta, no name vegetable, and any of the curries. Come to the island just for the food at this place.

Now that I got that gush-fest off my chest, here’s what I actually got up to on Phangan. Known primarily as the party island, Koh Phangan never disappoints in this regard. In addition to the world famous full moon party (more on that in a sec), theres also a monthly half moon party, almost nightly pool parties, and there’s always something going on on Haad Rin beach. It’s pretty easy to fall into a pattern including copious amounts of beach, sun, buckets and dancing, though in different levels depending how much fun you had the night before. The Coral Bungalows pool party is not to be missed, but be extra careful while you’re there- it’s pretty easy to get hurt when a hundred drunk people are pushing each other into a pool all night. As another note, don’t go out too aggressively the night before full moon, it may leave you unable to fully (pun!) enjoy the epicness that is this party. I was dumb enough not to follow this cardinal rule, and though I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the pool party, I’ve never in my life been so hungover than I was for the July full moon (which also happened to be Derek’s birthday!). Still got painted up, still wore fluorescent clothing, still went to the beach, but most unfortunately, was not able to consume any alcohol (and I really did try). As I mentioned before, I was able to redeem myself in August when I attended to party with full gusto, but all the same it was pretty interesting to watch the happenings with sober eyes. First, I cannot believe how crowded that beach was! Everywhere you looked you were assaulted with neon clothing, paint, and glow stick bracelets. With the music pumping at full blast, the way these masses of people were dancing was contagious, if not a little comical. As an attempt to keep the beach clean through the night, garbage cans can be found every 10 or so feet, and even funnier, a sectioned off ‘sleeping area’ exists to contain partiers in need of a quick pick-me-up nap. At 4:30 am I decided to admit defeat and headed back to Rainbow for an early bedtime (by full moon standards at least), but found myself unable to sleep due to the energy drinks I had consumed in lieu of alcohol. Unsurprisingly, much of the next day was spent napping and recovering- Derek had made it to sunrise and was in desperate need of a good rest as well.

After six days in party paradise, it was time to move on. The week following full moon is the busiest time to head to Koh Tao, so I decided to take to less travelled route and grabbed a boat to Koh Samui for some serious relaxing. Koh Samui is known as the resort island, and true to form that’s what covers most of its coastline. I stayed at the charming Weekender Villa Guesthouse, which is not to be confused for Weekender Villa Resort, the former being almost budget friendly and the latter costing more than triple my daily budget per night. Run by another Aussie (this one named Tony), Weekender was the closest I got to luxury on this trip. In this case, luxury meant a private air-conditioned room steps away from an ocean-side pool- it was simple, but certainly a nice change from the fan rooms with shared bathrooms that I experienced most of my trip. As for what I did while staying there, there’s not a lot to say beyond suntanning, reading, watching movies, and recovering from the madness of Koh Phangan. It was a lovely place to chill out, but because of the resort-centered draw, I didn’t meet any backpackers (let alone someone my age) and was actually happy to be moving on at the end of the four days.

After a quick trip to Borneo (see the last post for that story) Court and I headed to Koh Tao for two weeks of diving, sun, hiking, and various other antics. We decided to complete our SSI open water certification with Big Blue Dive Resort on Sairee beach and jumped into it right away, attending our first class the day we arrived. A nice bonus of doing any diving on the island (esp any certification) is that most resorts include free accommodation in the deal and we were lucky enough to score a sick room of our own for five days. Now for the good part: diving!

Learning to dive was like nothing I’ve ever done before and I was surprised by how intimidated I was at first. I mean, it sounded amazing and I was really excited for it, but the first time we submerged in the pool for 20 minutes I really had to focus on staying calm and breathing. Maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time since I’ve had to learn a new skill in an unfamiliar environment? Or because as a perpetual nose-breather I had a hard time adjusting to using the respirator under water? Oh, and then there’s my completely irrational (but never ending) fear of sharks. Either way, it was an exhilarating, if not slightly daunting feeling knowing that by heading out into the open water I would definitely be pushing my comfort zone. As it turned out, the scariest part of the day was when we had to swim around the dive boat to prove that we were capable of swimming 200m, and it was my only ridiculous phobia that caused that moment of panic. Probably didn’t help that I had watched a bunch of shark week vids the day before… But! Despite wearing neon (I heard once that sharks may be more curious and attack if they see neon… most likely false) I did not get attacked, and we quickly suited up to begin our first dive! Once submerged, it became so peaceful and beautiful that there wasn’t really room to be nervous anymore. The rhythm of each inhale combined with the breath taking coral acted as the perfect relaxant, and after equalizing my ears and achieving neutral buoyancy, we were off. One of the coolest things we got to see was a giant green sea turtle, but it would be a very long (probably boring) list if I were to tell you everything that we saw on our four dives. Needless to say, it was epic. And as a side note, I’d highly recommend diving with Big Blue, especially if you get lucky enough to get Luke as your instructor. He scowled when Court and I were acting dumb, but we know he really loved us.

Another great thing about doing our diving right off the bat was it gave us the perfect opportunity to meet some dope people (Anton, Matty, Sam, Jim, Kelsey and Laura), which unsurprisingly made for some ridiculously fun nights. Koh Tao is home to a long running pub crawl out of Choppers Bar, and I’d be lying if I said Court and I only went once. It’s that fun. Plus you get a discount on your second time, what can’t say? Great times were had by all and even better times were had at breakfast the next morning, reminiscing/remembering the previous nights shenanigans. Other than a few nights of pub crawls/related fun, we spent most of our time lounging on the epic beach, hiking around the island (though Court did much more of this than I did), finding some amazing restaurants, and relaxing in a big way. We also did an all day snorkeling trip around the island, where, get this, I swam with sharks!! Take that shark phobia! To be fair, they were black tipped reef sharks, I only saw them for a second, and I’m still terrified of shark attacks, but it was pretty badass nonetheless. To top it off, our guide for the day, Mark, was such a ridiculous person that we were laughing most of the day. Case in point: before heading to shark bay he asked everyone on board if anyone way afraid of sharks. A couple people put up their hands and he immediately replied with ‘Good! You should be!’ and a throw-your-head-back laugh that I normally associate with crazy people in movies. Guy was hysterical.

After the utter joy that was Koh Tao, Court and headed back to Koh Phangan (and Rainbow Bungalows!) for full moon round II. Not wanting to make the same mistake as last time, I planned my nights out carefully and thankfully only ending up going out once before the full moon. Made some excellent friends at Rainbow (Sammy and Elan from Montreal) and reunited with some from Koh Tao to make a solid crew for out big night out. Started off by trekking to the girls bungalows- they weren’t that far away, but as anyone who’s taken a cab ride from Baan Kai to Haad Rin will tell you, those roads are steep. Arrived armed with fluorescent paint and a giant bucket, we set about creating a ‘sangsom punch bowl’ and various masterpieces on each other. I think Sammy won with his version of a skeleton on Court’s hand… Though she wasn’t impressed. Decked to the nines and with most (if not all) of our revolting punch gone it was time for cabs and the ridiculousness that is full moon. Unsurprisingly, an epic night followed. Surprisingly, we all survived said epic night and made it to sunrise together! After some serious hydration and possibly the worst drunk food I’ve ever had, Court, Sammy, Élan, and I headed back to Rainbow. But it wasn’t bedtime yet! Still buzzing from the buckets and on an endorphin high we decided the logical thing to do would be to grab some Changs, head out to the sandbar, and create hilarious perspective pictures and videos. Can’t decide what I enjoyed more: that morning or the full moon party itself, both were seriously so fun. But like all good things, this too came to an end and we all crashed sometime around 11 that morning. A fitful day of half-sleep, sweating, greasy food, and copious amounts of water followed.

And with that, I bid adieu to Koh Phangan and the Thai islands for the last time (on this trip, at least!) and headed off to Malaysia. Quite the story coming up there!

Ps. The wifi is not quite up to picture loading where I am right now, so you can check out my Facebook album here for some visuals!

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Week 14: Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo)

My trip to Borneo was definitely the most spontaneous thing I’ve done during these months of travel, and proved to be one of the most entertaining, if not the most ridiculous experience so far. It all began when Courtney posted a link for the Rainforest World Music Festival on a friends Facebook page where I happened across it shortly afterward. After doing some extensive research (five minutes on the website) I was convinced that we should try and make it to Borneo for some jungle beats. Luckily, the festival started a mere four days from that point, so with some quick skyping and some frantic flight booking we were all set.

Seeing as we booked with Air Asia, we chose to travel with small carry-on baggage to avoid the ridiculous checked baggage fee. While Court was able to leave her big pack in Koh Tao with Derek (we were heading there after Borneo) I was coming from Koh Samui and had to figure something out in Suratthani (where we were flying out of). Lucky for me, I decided to stay the night at Serene Guesthouse, home of the nicest staff ever. In addition to getting me a cab to the airport, they also arranged for the cabbie to hold my backpack at his office at the airport and have it there waiting for me when I arrived back five days later. Perhaps a little sketchy sounding, but I had all of my important stuff with me, and as I said, the people who arranged it all were so nice. Worked out splendidly in the end, too.

Another bonus (?) of travelling Air Asia is that to get to many destinations you actually have to book two connecting flights, in this case Suratthani to Kuala Lumpur and then KL to Kuching. We purposely scheduled our connections eight hours apart so we would have time to head into town and check out KL’s famous Petronas Towers. Took around two hours once we figured out the bus and metro system, but totally worth it! I was actually a bit surprised at how impressive the towers were, pretty awe inspiring. Some quick pics and a tour of the mall at the bottom and it was time to go back to the ‘port and onto Borneo and the RWMF!

For the Kuching portion of this post I’m going to rewrite bullet notes that I made on the flight home after this wonderful adventure. I feel like they sum up Court and my time in the area perfectly. The official motto for these five days quickly became ‘Oh, Malaysia’, said in the same exasperated yet admiring tone you’d use if a toddler made a massive mess but looked adorable while doing so. Ridiculous, yet somehow endearing. So without further ado, here are my observations of Kuching, Malaysia. (And if you’d like me to expand on anything, don’t keep quiet! There’s a story for every point here, I’m just feeling a little laz right now. And it’s my birthday, so I’mma do what I want.)

  • Garrett’s popcorn in KL is the greatest thing ever- Oprah and Halle Berry are fans! Crispy caramel and macadamia nut… Mmm
  • Prayer rooms do not equal bathrooms
  • Petronas towers are seriously impressive
  • B&B Inn a little sketch, especially the giant padlock on the outer door/gate
  • “Princess Michela”
  • Everyone is so nice, everyone says hi and asks how you are-so genuine!
  • Skimboarding at sunset
  • Crazy bongos/xylophones/guitars/sitars/saxophones, etc
  • Kanda Bongo Man!!
  • Traditional Malay dance lessons- tried the ‘bamboo dance’
  • Tuak equals rice wine, does not equal good
  • Everything, especially booze is really expensive
  • Getting ripped off- they put limes into our tiny tequila shots
  • Leftover popcorn and cashew nuts for dinner… We’re cheap
  • Epic peanut butter/banana/croissant sandwiches for 3 meals… We’re cheap
  • Bakery shopping spree that cost us $5
  • Cat statues!
  • Weird museums… Textile, ethnology, art, natural history- spent my last 4RM to see a fossilized wood exhibit. Sweet.
  • Saw Brave in theatres for $3 (that we paid for with american $ cause we hardly had any ringgit left)
  • Best donuts EVER at Big Apple Donuts
  • Slept at the airport to save $… We’re cheap
  • Oh, Malaysia.

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    Week 11: Chiang Mai & Pai, Thailand

    Hello again readers! I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging to fully enjoy the wonders of Thaliand (and Borneo, but that comes in later!), but the time has come to put my head down and catch you all up with where I’m at. First up, Chiang Mai and Pai!

    After finally making it into Thailand (see you never, ‘roads’ of Laos!), I arrived in Chiang Mai with two girls I had met while in Vang Vieng. As a side note, be sure to check your departure stamp in your passport when you enter a country- they missed seeing that I had a Thai visa (even though i wrote my visa number on the entry form!) and only game me 15 days instead of the 60 that I should have received. Not too big of an issue, but it was a royal pain to go to the passport office in Bangkok and get it changed. In the future, I will most definitely be handing in my passport opened to the visa page and then double checking it before leaving the border crossing. Oh life experience! Moving on… We stayed at a little place called Jaidee House, which cost us a whopping 350 baht a night (approx. $3.50 each), and settled in with some awesome 40 baht pad thai. It was good to be back in Thailand.

    There are four activities that really stick out when I think of my time in Chiang Mai, but they are by no means the only things to do while in the area (that list is almost endless). Leading off we have prison massages, followed by a Thai cooking class, elephant mahout training, and an epic night market. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Here’s a complete rundown of each.

    Prison Massages
    We kicked off our time in northern Thailand, the good ‘ol fashioned way: by heading to the local women’s correctional facility and getting massages. Sounds a little off, I know, but it’s really a win-win for everyone involved. The women at the facility get practical skills and experience that they will be able to turn into a job once they leave and we get hour long massages at half the price! I’ll admit it was a little odd when we arrived there, but the women were very nice and the whole operation was well run. You’re going to get a massage (or 8) while in Thailand, why not do it in an environment that’s helping women turn their lives around? A must do in Chiang Mai!

    Thai Cooking Class
    This could very well be one of my trip highlights, out of everything. With so many different cooking schools to choose from in Chiang Mai, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find one that you’ll love. Haley and I chose ours based solely on the food options- five dishes in total and everything that I really wanted to learn how to cook. Luckily, Thai Kitchen Cookery Center has great food selection as well as awesome instructors and facilities. Highly, highly recommended! We started off the day by heading to the local market to buy ingredients and learn a bit about them. Our guide Gauw (pronounced Gail), showed us various types of basil, chilies, and even how to make coconut cream and milk. After this educational introduction we headed back to the cooking school to get started with dish number one: what else but pad thai? I had no idea it was so straight forward! It definitely helped they were super organized and everything was pre portioned, but still, totally doable at home. We followed up round one with green curry paste and then the green curry itself, chicken with cashew nuts, vegetable spring rolls, and caramelized bananas with coconut toffee sauce and ice cream for dessert. I can’t even choose a favourite, it was all that good. Plus, I got a recipe book to take home and help recreate it all, all y’all are welcome to come and sample my skills.

    Elephant Mahout Training
    For those who don’t know (I didn’t prior to this), a mahout is basically an elephant trainer and caregiver. Given this tidbit of information, you can now begin to understand what my second highlight was all about! We chose to go with Chiang Siam Elephant Mahout Training School Chiang Mai, which is a mouthful to say, but delightful in every other way (ha! rhyming). Our guide Noy was absolutely amazing, and it ended up only being the three of us on the tour, which made it all the better. After a quick stop to see a 6 week old baby elephant (beyond adorable), we made it to the center, grabbed a sack of bananas, and headed down to begin our training. Fully garbed in mahout training outfits, we started out by feeding bananas to a younger male elephant and then had a sit down with Noy to discuss all things elephant. From safety to riding commands, as well as their elephants stories and general facts, it was a really informative session. Next up we got to practice what we had just learned and hopped on Do Do’s back for some real hands on experience! Surprisingly, riding elephants is nothing like riding horses. Though I’m pretty at home on the latter, riding these beasts was a whole new ball game. I found that I was always leaning forward in order to balance, placing a lot of my weight onto my hands and wrists, while (trying to) control the direction with various leg positions and voice commands. Same same, but different, one might say. Quite a spread awaited us for lunch, and after we had stuffed ourselves to the brim, it was time to bring out the big guns and head out on our jungle trek. I had the pleasure of riding Boon Me, a 43 year old female who stood about seven feet tall at the shoulder. Jungle trekking was awesome and very surreal- I don’t expect I’ll ever be in that situation again. Once we got back it was time to treat our elephants to copious amounts of bananas and bath time. It was funny how much more comfortable we were with them by that point in the day; where at first we were timid and extra cautious, by bath time we were scrubbing their trunks and standing right next to them without batting an eye. They’re seriously cool animals, ridiculously big and strong, but at the same time utterly graceful. Definitely an experience I will not soon forget.

    Night Bazaar
    At this point, anyone who’s been reading about my travels knows how much I appreciate a good market (for those of you who haven’t been following, that’s a lot). I’m sure you can imagine how stoked I was to find a night bazaar in Chiang Mai that ran every single night. This thing was massive, the girls and I went three nights and I still could have gone again! So many vendors, so many items, so much bartering to do! Managed to score a couple tanks, a dress, and a jar of tiger balm (I’m sure I bought more, but it’s not coming to me at the moment). I have yet to find a market I didn’t like, and this one was no exception.

    Well there you have it, my four highlights of Chiang Mai. As I said previously, this is by no means all there is to do there, the girls I was with also visited the zoo, and one night we went with Haley while she got a traditional bamboo tattoo (don’t worry Dad, I’m still ink free). There are treks, tiger sanctuaries, zip lines, and bungee jumps, among other things. Boring is one thing Chiang Mai is most definitely not.

    Pai
    After such an activity-filled five days, we then headed three hours north to the town of Pai. It was a glorious three days of almost nothing- eating, reading, card playing, and socializing was the everyday norm. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything to do- there are a couple of great hikes and waterfalls to visit, and as any place in Asia, a lively night scene. However, I decided to conserve energy and money and opted instead for a relaxing and cheap couple of days (which clearly make for riveting blog posts). Even though I don’t have much to say about it, I really liked Pai. It had a very chill vibe and everyone there was so nice. Mix that in with 100 baht bungalows and you have a real sweet spot. Before I knew it my time in Pai (and northern Thailand) had come to an end, it was now time for beaches, sun, and buckets on the islands. Hello hangover!

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    Weeks 9 & 10: Laos

    My time in Laos PDR (which the locals will tell you stands for Please Don’t Rush) can be divided into three distinct categories: relaxing, travelling, or Vang Vieng. I’ll got into detail for each of these below, but need to give you fair warning on the pictures you’ll find at the end of the post. Though I spent a full two weeks in Laos, I only have three pictures from Don Det, three from the day I left Vang Viang, and another handful from one of the days spent in Luang Prabang. Foreseeing a week of water filled activities in Vang Vieng, I had purchased a cheap waterproof camera in Vientiane with hopes a dreams of capturing some epic pictures while tubing the Mekong. Sadly, at the end of day three on the river my camera met it’s watery demise and floated down to join legions of other lost electronics, clothing, and sunglasses. It will therefore be necessary for you to use your imagination when reading the Vang Vieng section of this post, as there will be no photos to assist you with picturing this particularly entertaining town.

    I began my Laos travels with a quick stop in Don Det, one of the famous 4000 islands. This teeny island isn’t home to much other than guesthouses, restaurants, and bugs. You are able to kayak around the surrounding islands, but I cheaped out and decided to spend my time doing as the locals do, which in Laos means a whole lot of nothing. Fitting with the country’s motto, I spent my only full day in Don Det reading, eating, and generally lazing about. It was lovely, and also completely socially acceptable. On my bus into Laos I met a cool Brit named Robb (Game of Thrones taught me Robb is spelled with two d’s), and after a day of nothing we decided to take the next bus up to Vientiane. Despite being the capital of Laos, here isn’t a whole lot to do in this city. Ate some great Indian food, read some more, and met up with Derek to watch 21 Jump Street (hilarious). Pretty chill time, save for an uneasy sleep following a rat running by me while I brushed my teeth. Thankfully my skin and bag were free of any rat teeth marks in the morning, so no harm, no foul.

    Next up in Laos was the infamous Vang Vieng, but I’m going to leave that for the end of the post, and instead move along to Luang Prabang. This beautiful city is filled with French architecture, surrounded by mountains, and is the perfect respite after the madness of VV. As mentioned, I managed to meet up with Derek (and his friend Arne) in Vientiane, and they joined Robb and myself all the way up to Luang Prabang. The four of us met up with two awesome Canadian girls (more people from Nanaimo!) and the six of us had a grand ol time exploring the nearby waterfalls (which were stunningly beautiful) and relaxing a little bit more. There is an awesome little cafe in Luang Prabang called JoMa, and while it is a little expensive, the food is totally worth the extra buck or two.

    Now that I’ve covered the relaxing portion of Laos, a quick note on the travelling part before I move on to VV. First of all, this country is deceptively big- I spent a grand total of 48 hours bussing to four of its most prominent cities. Though I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the buses (I had heard some horror stories), the condition of the roads left much to be desired. In fact, I’m being quite generous even calling them roads. They were more like destroyed dirt paths, with dips and puddles the size of small ponds, and more switchbacks than Bangkok has tuk tuks (that would be a lot). Needless to say, everybody has a travel drug of choice. I opted for straight up motion sickness pills, but lots of travellers use Valium, which is available over the counter in most SE Asian countries (seriously). One bonus of taking so many buses was I got to enjoy the stunning scenery for hours on end- Laos is hands down the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. Everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by mountains and jungle; some of the best views were at rest stops halfway through a mountain pass. Almost made up for the general uncomfortableness of the ride.

    Okay, the time has come to discuss Vang Vieng. I will definitely be censoring this part- parental units and potential employers could stumble upon my humble blog and certain things were never meant for their ears (kidding mom and dad… I tell you everything!). Here we go. As you may be aware, Vang Vieng’s claim to fame is their tubing, which is definitely not your everyday, run of the mill variety. This is tubing down the Mekong River, stopping at bars spaced every 50 meters or so, playing all kinds of games, collecting bracelets for every welcome shot of Tiger Whiskey (terrible stuff), and enjoying the incredible scenery as you float downstream.

    Our days would go something like this: wake up and head down the street to Smile Restaurant, which served up both great hangover food as well as every possible episode of Friends on a big screen tv. There aren’t actually chairs at any of the restaurants in VV, just loungers and couch type things with low tables so you can enjoy food and Friends (or Family Guy) at the same time! A lazy man’s paradise. After we had gotten our fill of Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Joey, Ross, and Phoebe we would head back to the hostel to get changed for the river. The rule of thumb here is don’t wear or bring ANYTHING that you wouldn’t want to lose. Then off to rent tubes! After a short tuk tuk ride and ferry across the river, you arrive at the first bar where you are immediately greeted with a shot of the aforementioned whiskey and a bracelet on your wrist. What follows is always a bit of a blur, but it involved consuming alcohol, playing classics such as beer pong, and dancing around to the epic mixes. Then off to the next bar! Hop in your tube, grab the hand of the person closest to you and go floating for approximately 10 seconds downstream. At that point a plastic pop bottle on the end of a rope will come hurtling towards you. Once you get ahold of it, the kind bartenders will bring you in for more whiskey, bracelets and all around fun. As an added bonus, nearly every bar has some kind of attraction that you can participate in. The third bar sports a 10 ft platform to jump into the river from, there’s one that has a rope swing, and one further that has a tiled slide. Having said that, it’s pretty obvious that in addition to being an incredibly fun place, VV is also incredibly dangerous for folks that aren’t careful. Alcohol and rivers don’t mix very well. However! Our group kept our wits about us, and save some bruises and many, many mosquito bites, all escaped unscathed. After repeating the floating/pop bottle tow in/whiskey shot/party cycle a few times, you simply jump on your tube one last time and enjoy the gentle ride back to the rental shop. The trick with this is to leave with enough time that you won’t finish your float in the dark. Check with the locals! Once back on solid ground (around 6:30 pm) we would grab some dinner and then either head off to bed or head out for an epic evening! Although utterly exhausting and completely detrimental to your health, Vang Vieng was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. Like so many others, I only planned on staying a modest and respectable three days. And then stayed six.

    So long Laos, hello Thailand!

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    Week 8: Siem Reap, Cambodia

    I started writing this blog post more times than I’d care to admit, and somehow it always sounded terrible when I re-read it. So, I’m going to try something different; a sort of how-to of Siem Reap: the best places to stay, eat, drink, see, and do. Hope you enjoy!

    Stay
    Due to a number of booking/canceling/moving (it’s a long, boring story, trust me), I ended up staying at three different hostels in Siem Reap. Here’s a run down on each of ‘em.

  • HI Siem Reap- A lovely hostel just on the other side of the river and local art market. Grabbed a $6/night dorm, which included a/c and a private bathroom. Amazing location, fast wi-fi, very helpful staff, and a great breakfast to boot. Would definitely recommend.
  • Garden Villa- Only stayed here one night, and very thankful for that. Though a private double room will only set you back $6, it’s essentially four plywood walls, two beds with nets, and if you’re lucky, a working ceiling fan (we weren’t lucky). If you’re feeling extra cheap, they also offer $1/night dorm beds, but be warned, they are only mattresses (with nets) in a sort of open hut behind the main building. Great if you’re on a budget, terrible if you actually want to sleep. In addition to cheap sleeps, the other major thing Garden Villa has going for it is it’s amazing rooftop bar. This is definitely the place to be in Siem Reap to meet awesome people and throw back a couple of 50 cent beers before hitting the town. They also have some wicked eats.
  • Bliss Villa- Owned by the same people, Bliss Villa is a more expensive, though much more comfortable and clean option. We transferred to Bliss at first light and were delighted to find a double room with a/c, ensuite bathroom AND and tv for only $12 a night- so worth the extra 3 bucks. And because they have the same owners, you can order food from Bliss and they’ll deliver it to you from Garden, which is just down the road. If you have someone to share a room with, definitely stay here.
  • Eat

  • Cafe Central- Located in the center of Siem Reap, this little cafe has some seriously amazing food. It is a little more expensive than eating local fare, but as a splurge I would definitely recommend it. I ordered their fries (up there for some of the best I’ve ever had) and went back the next day for a chicken/pesto/red pepper panini, which was also amazing. If you end up with some extra Riel at the end of your trip, spend it here.
  • Garden Villa- As mentioned above, this hostel has some good eats. For breakfast go for the $2 fruit/yogurt/muesli bowl, it’ll fill you up and make you feel less guilty about eating spring rolls for every other meal. They also have some mean baguette pizzas, which go well with their cheap Angkor draft.
  • Street Vendors- Some of the best food I’ve had in Asia has been from the local street vendors, and this holds true in Siem Reap. Just past Pub Street (more on that later), there is a row of similar ‘restaurants’, serving up all sorts of fried rice, noodles, stir frys, spring rolls, and fruit shakes. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, they’re all really good. And at $1.25 for nearly everything on the menu (prices drop to only a buck after 10pm or so), you can really stuff yourself for hardly anything at all. Make sure you try a lemon shake, which is basically frozen lemonade, and therefore delicious.
  • Drink
    Unsurprisingly, the place to be for good drinks is Pub Street, located right in the middle of backpacker Siem Reap and always bumping once the sun goes down. Here are some gems from this awesome street.

  • Angkor What?- This legendary bar serves up some mean hangovers. We spent a couple of nights enjoying the cheap buckets, rowdy dance floor, and some good ‘ol table dancing. Always a great time.
  • Temple Bar- right across the street from Angkor What? lies another one of Siem Reap’s hotspots. Again with the cheap buckets, but this place has two giant air-con machines right beside the dance floor, giving some much needed relief from the heat (so necessary when dancing for hours on end).
  • Garden Villa- Apparently I really liked this place. It’s with good reason that it’s on my list of drinking places, as I already mentioned the rooftop bar is a great spot. With lots of tables, lights bright enough that you can see each other, and a jukebox that is never too loud that you have to shout, it’s truly the ideal place for some pre-drinks and card games (friends be warned, I’ve learned some amazing, if not cruel new rules for Socialbles). Start your night here, head to Temple and then finish at Angkor What? and a great night is pretty well guaranteed./li>;

    See

  • Angkor Wat- No trip to Siem Reap is complete without an excursion to the most famous temples in the world. Passes are available for 1, 3, or 7 days and will set you back $20, $40 or $60, respectively. Unless you are a serious temple and/or history buff, I would highly recommend going for the 1-day pass. The trick with this one is to pay for it after 5pm, enjoy sunset at Angkor Wat and then return the next morning for sunrise and a whole day of temple exploration. I only covered the short route (which contains the biggest and most famous temples), but it still took me until mid afternoon (with a 5am start) to get my fill. Some temples worth note are Terrace of the Elephants, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Seriously cool day, though like most people I would definitely consider myself templed-out by the end of it.
  • Land Mine Museum- This is a little museum out by Angkor that was put together by an amazing man by the name of Aki Ra. Born in Cambodia, Aki Ra was recruited by the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier when he was only 10 years old, his primary job planting land mines. He was then taken by the Vietnamese army and forced to fight against the Khmer Regime for a number of years. Once the fighting stopped, Aki Ra felt so guilty about the mines he had buried that he started looking for them and deactivating them, using nothing bus a shovel and a pair of pliers. The museum houses thousands of deactivated mines, information about the war and it’s effect on Cambodia. I was lucky and got to watch a video about Aki Ra and his unorthodox method of finding and deactivating mines. Incredibly he was never injured during this period, though in 2007 he was forced to change to the internationally approved method, which means destroying the mine where it lies. I chose to do this before my sunset trip out to Angkor, and would highly recommend doing the same. Aki Ra’s story is truly inspirational and seriously eye-opening.
  • Crocodile Farm- If you have a bit of time to kill, a trip out to the Crocodile Farm is a cheap way to spend an afternoon. After grabbing a half hour tuk tuk outside of the city we found ourselves face to face with pits of real live crocs. When I say face to face, I really mean standing on makeshift bridges overlooking the pits, but it was a little sketch and it felt like one wrong move and we could have been face to face. Highlights include handling baby crocs, watching some full grown monsters writhe and snap their jaws when fish were thrown in their pool, and Derek getting accosted by the local monkey. They also have some really nice croc skin products for sale, but it’s hella expensive, and not for backpackers./li>;

    Do

  • Volunteer- One of the main reasons for going to Siem Reap was to volunteer at a local orphanage and school where friends have been in the past. They’re called Savong Orphanage Center and Savong’s School, started and run by an extremely generous man named (surprise) Savong. Derek and I planned on spending mornings with the kids at the orphanage (reading, playing games, and just interacting), before we’d head over to the school in the afternoon to teach English. I will admit, it was a little disorganized getting a ride out to SOC in the mornings, but by the third day we seemed to have found a system that worked, even if it was a little inefficient. Teaching English was such an interesting and rewarding experience, though because we were thrown in with absolutely no instruction, assistance or guidance, it was a bit frustrating at times too. There were some really bright kids who really wanted to learn (and graciously repeated the words I wrote on the board- that’s how you teach right?!), but there were also some younger kids who, didn’t understand (or more probable, chose to ignore) me every time I told them to stop punching each other, pulling each others pants down, running around, and sit down. My class was a little more rambunctious than Derek’s; he got the older (read: better behaved) group, while I taught kids whose ages went from 4-7 years. The thing I really got out of the whole week was how much the kids loved having us around- regardless of our teaching ability, the language barrier or their attention span in the classroom. The second we showed up, the kids would run over with giant smiles, almost fight for the chance to hold our hands (those who didn’t grab a hand would grab a bit or arm or shirt) and pepper us with all kinds of questions. It was a very cool experience, and though volunteering isn’t for everyone I would highly recommend it. Keep an open mind and remember how much of an impact you’re making for these kids just by showing up.
  • If you have any questions about Siem Reap, or feel like I haven’t done justice to any of the above sections, please feel free to let me know!

    Until next time, dear readers!

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