Necessary experiences in Luang Prabang*

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Luang Prabang is an adorable little French-influenced city in northern Laos. The ancient capital sits surrounded by lush green mountains and the mighty Mekong river. There is something for everyone from cute downtown shopping and amazing food to epic waterfalls, sailing on the Mekong and cave exploration! 

1. Kuang Si Waterfall

The name Kuang Si comes from 'kuang' meaning deer and 'si' meaning dig, legend has it that an old man dug into the earth and found water which sprung the waterfall. A magic golden deer made its home under a giant rock protruding from the middle of the waterfall. Thus the name! The giant rock is no longer there as it fell during a mini earthquake a couple years ago, but the waterfall itself is still absolutely breathtaking.

Enchanting pools  

Enchanting pools  

The waterfall continues spilling down forever

The waterfall continues spilling down forever

And! If you like bears (who doesn't?!) there is a Moon Bear sanctuary in the beginning of the waterfall. This isn't a zoo situation, thankfully; the bears have been rescued for various reasons from abandonment to injuries. The bears are super playful and have a huge area full of swings and climbing gyms. They're called Moon Bears because they have what looks like a crescent Moon on their chest. (Unrelated note: Moon bears are my new favorite type of bear!) 

 

2. Mekong Sunset Tour Boat Ride

The mighty Mekong river is the worlds 12th largest river and the 7th largest in Asia (thanks google!) It runs through every country I visited in Southeastern Asia including Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.  

Takin a sunset tour of the Mekong River is a must. Surrounded by mountains, when the sun sets it creates an 180 degree sunset of the most beautiful purples, pinks, yellows and oranges. Hands down sunsets in Laos are the most gorgeous I've ever seen.  

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 3. Eat Mok Pa: grilled fish in banana leaf (Laotian speciality)

I live in Southern California where the fish tacos are the best in the land, however, the grilled fish in banana leaf is hands down the best fish I've ever eaten in my life. I ate all of mine & Johns.

4. Go to the Park Ou caves

To get to the Pak Ou caves you must buy a ticket in the town for a boat to cross the Mekong River. The caves themselves are not crazy spectacular, it's more the idea that people all over the world deposit hundreds of Buddha statues here for the town to steward.

The caves are limestone and they overlook the Mekong River; The lower cave is home to hundreds of Buddha statues and the upper cave requires a lot of stamina to reach due to the epic amount of stairs. Again, there's cooler caves it's more the idea of how sacred these people find their statues and the care they put into watching them.

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5. Cross Bamboo Bridge

The Bamboo Bridge does not exist in the wet season because the river is too high, so visiting during dry season, like we did, means you get to cross it. There is a small fee to cross it for the family that allegedly rebuilds it every year after the wet season... we weren't so sure if this was actually true.

It's fun to cross mostly just because it is a long bridge made out of Bamboo and you feel like Indiana Jones!

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6. Go to Utopia and make some new friends

If you're going to Luang Prabang you will hear about Utopia and you must go, it's a part of the backpacking culture there. You'll find obscure signs for it pointing down a long windy alley, and when the alley ends, you've made it! 

Its a super fun, high energy bar that everyone goes to. And if you get there early enough (which we did not) you can have your beer (or whatever your drink of choose is) while watching the sun set behind the town.  

You will make new friends here as tables are limited but seats are not, find an open one and meet your new neighbor. John and I met some pretty awesome people from all over the world that he continued to wander with after I had to leave for Thailand.  

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7. Go bowling with your new friends you made at Utopia

After Utopia closes (crazy early - like 11 or 12p - I can't remember) the night is still young, so in order to continue drinking and partying, go to the bowling alley - this is because of some legal loophole that causes the bars to close early but the bowling alleys to stay open late. 

...and just a mini note, if you thought about buying weed at the bowing alley, don't! Cops wait outside with their K9 sniff-test unit!

I'm the worst bowler ever

I'm the worst bowler ever

8. Visit the Night Market  

The Night Market in Luang Prabang is the best one I've been to in all the different countries John and I visited. They have everything and it stretches on forever - they close the entire downtown to make room for all the street vendors. You're guaranteed to find awesome presents for people back home - including snake whiskey, missile pendants (made from real missile!) to beautiful art & woven goods. 

9. Food! 

The food in Luang Prabang is absolutely delicious! Between native Laotian food and the outside influences from other countries (France, Thailand, China, Vietnam!) you are sure to find some magical new favorite dish.

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Luang Prabang was one of my last stops before I had to go to Chiang Mai, Thailand for some much needed medical care. Out of the list provided, the one thing that you will NOT want to do in Laos is go to the hospital like I did. It was dirty, no one spoke English and the minor surgery performed had to be performed again once I got to Thailand because they were unsuccessful in finding a large foreign body nestled in the pad of my foot. Getting your foot cut open once sucks, but twice is just ridiculous: If you need medical care go to Thailand! 

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Literally all the views of the Mekong are as perfect as this picture. If Luang Prabang isn't on your bucket list it should be... (just avoid injury at all cost!!!)

* all pictures were taken by John Perez and borrowed by myself due to a not-so-necessary experience of getting my phone along with my credit card stolen on an overnight bus to Thailand. Who steals a phone and a credit card from a girl with her foot wrapped up in bandages you may ask? Assholes. Getting your stuff stolen is not a recommended experience, although it can happen. 

My phone and credit card were stolen the ONLY time I had it out of place (literally the only time it was ever in the front of my backpack) during the two months we were adventuring through Southeast Asia. Mistakes and accidents are part of the adventure. My advice: bring backups 😝

Train Rides - a poem

So this is what happens when I drink too much coffee and stay up past my bedtime.

It feels Kerouac-y and I like it. 

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Life IS living on a sleeper train and jumping from bus to bus scraping just enough together to get to the next destination. There is a certain romance about eating at gas stations, peeing in the woods and not knowing where your next bed is. My heart beats a little louder for people living out of their van, making breakfast out of their trunk in the morning dew in the soft light of a sunrise. Life isn't planning. Life is living for exactly what you want. Not saving up for someday. Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to their graves, graffiti told us on the cement walls of one of our Vietnamese hostels. Bright shades of wisdom from aerosol cans.

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In a dirty hostel somewhere in Vinh, we ran into Mike Wadleigh, the creator of the Woodstock documentary. He's gathering data on climate change, he told John. He seemed impressed with our story and told us to expose the lie by living the example. 'You don't need all that money,' he told us before putting on his oversized white helmet and riding off on a motorcycle (only after chatting with us about how the lead guitarist from queen is an astrophysicist and Iggy Pop is one of the smartest men he knows and lectures about life.) I thanked him for the documentary and told him how my generation of people were able to experience Woodstock because of his work. Music is not what it used to be, and a lot of people know that. Mike Wadleigh is 74 and looks not a day over 60 and is a self professed hippie and I love him. There is a serenity in his eyes and a tone in his voice I've never seen or heard before. Expose the lie. We will Mike, I hope we meet again.

 

'This is the lifeblood, the essence that runs through my veins' I think, as I type this swaying back and forth in my top bunk in a sleeper train headed to north Vietnam in hopes of better weather. We've been rained out of central Vietnam with only 8 more days left on our visas. I'm high on life and way to much coffee this evening. The lurching of the train shakes my already rattled bones.

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I go for a late night cigarette in the bathroom but there's someone in there. The train swishes and sways back and forth and I'm nearly thrown into the doors, or out the doors, rather. I look out the windows on both sides and the world whizzes by as I just try to keep my balance. Ahhh such is life.

Finally I find a different bathroom but the door won't shut  I try and I try but the deadbolt just won't lock until I look down and realize I haven't even closed the door all the way. There's something cool about smoking a cigarette in a bathroom on a moving train somewhere in Vietnam, there's something about looking at the lights passing by in the darkness that's extremely calming amidst the chaos.

 

Purity is not for me, I think taking a drag off my cigarette, I still consider myself spiritual. I fell down that rabbit hole once and came out the same old Alice.

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I told Sammie once when we were high sitting in the floor of my first apartment: we have a life we live, and then we have another life, our real life, dragging us by the hair, shouting and screaming our passions in our face saying 'follow me!!!! I know the antidote for the poison in your soul! That 9-5 job you call safety is actually a noose!'

 

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The kids here love us, that being said some of the really young ones are terrified of us. Ironically for the same reasons: John is tall and I am tattooed. We're a walking American zoo. You can look but don't touch the animals, they're wild & they may bite.

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I haven't taken too many selfies on this trip. Sometimes I think it's a good thing to not know what you look like. Acne eats away at your soul just like it does your skin. I wonder sometimes what's left. But then I took a picture of myself on purpose trying to show my scars instead of hide them. So I could stare into what I perceive as negative and love it anyways. So I could work deeper into loving my light and darkness both internal and external. John says I can't take the bad with the good. He's right. 

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The most moving thing I've seen on my trip was a young violinist at the train station in Bangkok. He played beautifully and had a speaker behind him playing piano to go with his violin. John and I stopped to watch for a very long time and after a while a shoeless blind man walked all the way up god knows where finding his way by holding onto the railing and stepping one foot in front of the other and he found this boy and reached for his violin and asked him something in Thai. I have no idea what. But the vibration of the music and the frequency of emotion filled the air and I was moved. The simple things we can miss if we're in a hurry in our day to day vs the things we witness when we have no plans at all.

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A tumbleweeds the life for me. 

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I'm a good writer when I'm properly caffeinated. The Vietnamese do coffee well.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the most magical Narnian landscape located just west of the city Dong Hoi. Phong Nha was the main reason I wanted to travel to Vietnam - in search of the largest caves in the world, formed over 400 million years ago (the longest cave systems in the world belong to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky). Son Doong is the largest cave and while the others pale in comparison, they're still incredibly huge and beautiful. There are a ton of different options available for tours and hikes to any level of adventurer; activities like kayaking, swimming or jungle trekking and/or how long you'd like to adventure for. There are different companies that will take you out on tours and treks as well; Oxalis seems to have a monopoly on Son Doong treks; but their only option for exploring it is 5 days, around $4000, your first born, and the wait list is about a year so sadly, we weren't able to do that (although we did try to do it ourselves!!!) The website phongnhacavestour.com can provide more information regarding the various expeditions to the different caves.

John and I opted for no tours because we like creating our own adventure and honestly, I don't really like tours because you're always waiting on someone for something (on a totally unrelated note, I'm mildly impatient). 

Sneaky places in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park you can find when you don't go with a tour!

Sneaky places in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park you can find when you don't go with a tour!

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is absolutely breaktaking AND its free to get in to; you just pay the fees for the cave-attractions you want to see, which is great! I would highly recommend putting aside a whole day to motorbike around the whole park just to take it all in! There are so many other caves to be found!! Phong Nha's landscape is considered karst topography, which means caves and mountains have formed from the 'dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone.' (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Photo by John Perez of the happiest girl on earth gazing at her newest favorite place in the world  

Photo by John Perez of the happiest girl on earth gazing at her newest favorite place in the world  

We arrived in Phong Nha January 7th on a long motorbike ride from Hue; we rounded a nonchalant bend in the road and the outline of Phong Nha appeared in the distance: a foggy mountain 'range' of huge free-standing mountains covered in lush green trees and vines. We were so excited! We went about 90kph just to shorten our already short jaunt there. We stayed at the Duong Homestay just across from the more well-known Easy Tiger Hostel. Immediately once getting there we ran right up to the nearest mountain and began making our ascent; we saw mountain goats (finally!) and I discovered a new cave, sneakily hidden from the untrained eye.

Our goal in Phong Nha was to 'relax' a little (whatever that means) and tried to take this area slower, so we only did 1-2 caves per day (the weather was quite wet so that also inspired a slower pace).

Our view from Duong Homestay

Our view from Duong Homestay

Cave Details:

Paradise Cave - is 250,000 VND a person translating to $11. You skate along the slipperiest path you've ever walked on and if that doesn't kill you there's a huge stair climb up to the cave entrance. If you survive the slippery path and the huge climb up the mountain you are rewarded by a downward flight of stairs into the mouth of the cave. The cave opens up to this huge area (my spatial reasoning is challenged so Google says...) it's 72 meters high and 150m wide. My cell camera didn't take any National Geographic worthy pictures so you can't comprehend the scale by any means, but the cave is absolutely stunning. 

The epicness of Paradise Cave and a super tiny person for scale-purposes

The epicness of Paradise Cave and a super tiny person for scale-purposes

Dark Cave - was also 250,000 VND per person, it's usually 400,000 V per person but we got a deal because (dun dun dun!) if you sneak in with a tour (not go with them but walk in with them) you can get a group price. Dark Cave was epic and unfortunately I don't have any pictures of it because if you bring something in with you it WILL break due to all of the activities! You start by zip lining over a river to the mouth of the cave, then you swim in the tropical blue water up to the entrance, then you adventure into the cave (its dark so you get a little helmet with a light on it) THEN you walk through this skinny little corridor (which is why you need the helmet; concussion is imminent without it) through sometimes knee-dee mud into an opening where you can sit in the mud baths AND guess what?! You float!!!! You can just lie back in the mud and the muds like 'hey friend, no worries, I got you' and you float. It's freaking awesome. Then you have a mud fight with all your new friends you made on the tour and get deliciously muddy and hilariously dirty. After happily playing in the mud for about 10-20minutes you wander through a different slim passage way and slide down a natural mud slide (which is only mildly painful) then on your exit from the cave you cannonball into the blue water again to clean yo dirty self off and take a kayak back; there you can pretend youre a pirate and commandeer other people's kayaks. On the other side of the river more zip lining and a high ropes course patiently awaits your arrival. (Google some pictures!) 

Phong Nha Cave - you have to take a boat to this aquatic cave but good news: you can combine this entrance fee (150,000V) to the entrance fee of above-ground Tien Son Cave and the boat ride (400,000 V) there you split with everyone on the boat (up to 12 peeps). We were the last people to get there and were able to sneak in with yet another tour! We made some awesome native Vietnamese friends who now call California and Texas their home! The boat ride to Phong Nha Cave is spectacular; riding in a valley, teal water splashes around you while you're surrounded by vibrant green fields and lush mountains, eating 'banh my' (which is the best sandwich you'll ever eat; more on that later.)

Turquoise boat on a teal river through an emerald green valley  

Turquoise boat on a teal river through an emerald green valley  

You continue your boat tour through the cave and go on the most epic watery cave adventure. Unlike Paradise Cave where it has mostly stalagmites (pointy mineral deposits coming from the cave floor) Phong Nha cave has incredible stalactites (pointy mineral deposits hanging from the cave ceiling). 

The jellyfish-like stalactites of Phong Nha

The jellyfish-like stalactites of Phong Nha

We didn't make it to Tien Son due to timing but the other available caves are Hang En, Hang Va and, of course, the coveted Son Doong which we attempted an expedition ourselves but were foiled by the knee-deep muck and the very long trail through the jungle which unfortunately, we didn't have time for. 

Photo by John Perez of our mucky trek through the jungle  

Photo by John Perez of our mucky trek through the jungle  

Where / what to eat in Phong Nha:

Don't eat at Tam Coc Bar, it's cute but not worth the food poisoning. Phong Nha isn't that touristy yet, which is great, but in the case of food its a bad thing. The food is held at pretty low standards so use your gut, your nose, and all your other senses to pick a place. If it smells funny, don't eat there. If you get a bad vibe, don't eat there. If it looks not-so clean, don't eat there. Food poisoning sucks. 

Tuan Ngoc is another restaurant that has adorable green lighting effects and paper lanterns, this place is so delicious and they had so many vegetable options!  

We had brick oven pizza at Capture which was tasty, and it was nice to have comfort food after eating a strict diet of pho and banh my's (which are delicious but I very much miss cheese!!!!) Vietnam is a cheese-less country!!!

Even though it's not super touristy TripAdvisor.com has helpfully rated some other restaurants like Gecko Bar and A Little Vietnam Restaurant!  

Banh my - pronounced 'bahn me' is a delicious sandwich made out of a baguette, 2 different slices of suspicious looking meats, meat spread, cilantro, a cucumber and mayo and some other things that I'm still not sure what they are. It's absolutely delicious and available everywhere in Vietnam. You can find them at restaurants but they're most easily found along the city streets in little carts made by wise old Vietnamese ladies. Anthony Bourdain says the banh my is one of his favorite sandwichs of all time. 

Pho - beef noodle soup that you really can't go wrong with. It's a hearty soup made with beef and yummy noodles that vary in size with bean sprouts, green onions and you can add spicy chilis to warm you up even more. This is to be found everywhere.  

Pho foreva' and banh my (delicious!)

Pho foreva' and banh my (delicious!)

So, if it's not on your bucket list, add Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It rivals Machi Piccu & Yosemite as my favorite place(s) on earth. We only have single entry visas which are good for a month and in order to really immerse yourself in the epic nature, culture, history, architecture and general wonder Vietnam has to offer you would need much more time than that.

Insert lyrics to I See Fire by Ed Sheeran  

Insert lyrics to I See Fire by Ed Sheeran  

Southern Vietnam

Hey hey! It's been a little while since I've written because our adventures are so wonder-FULL it's really hard to find time to sit down and flush out my thoughts on paper. Luckily, it's pouring rain outside in Hoi An so I get to settle inside for once and write. 

I suppose I'll write about Cambodia later because there's a lot to say and a lot of things that happened at Angkor Wat and writing about that now would be ineffective and inefficient. So I'll start our venture with the border crossing from Cambodia through Snoul into Vietnam. 

We were told that our bus from Cambodia would take us to the border at Snoul and a motorbike would take us over the border into Vietnam where a bus that went from Ho Chi Minh was waiting for travelers every 15 minutes.  This turned out not to be true. We crossed the border with another backpacker that we had met that morning named Mac. Mac was a great guy and told us all about traveling through southeast Asia as he's from Singapore and gets to visit these countries quite often. We walked over the border into Vietnam with Mac and saw that the streets were quite deserted and there were absolutely no buses and hardly any other signs of life at all. Luckily after walking a little ways in the blistering sun, there up ahead was a tiny restaurant that we all sat down and chatted over some pho and much needed aloe juice. As we were sitting, swapping adventure stories and waiting patiently, (but also not so patiently because we didn't know how the fuck we were going to figure out how to get to the bus station or anything and kinda having mini heart attacks) John suddenly saw a giant tour bus that had just crossed the border from Cambodia into Vietnam; he ran at it full speed and they stopped to listen to what this crazy American had to say. As it turned out they were a Chinese bus tour and their sleeper bus wasnt full so they were able to take us with them AND they just so happened to be heading to Ho Chi Minh.

We gratefully accepted a ride and jumped on the bus, found our respective seats and looked at each other, laughing at our luck; the universe proving again it's magic and Synchronous nature. After a long bus ride staring out the window seeing the subtle and also obvious differences between Vietnam to Cambodia, the bus dropped us off in the middle of Ho Chi Minh and me, Mac and John hopped off and went into the mall to eat some knock off KFC chicken - which was delicious. 

We were about 5 km away from our hostel but we decided to walk as we wanted to see the secret alleys and the innards of Ho Chi Minh in all of its sneaky glory. We were using Ho Chi Minh as a transitional city and weren't staying too long, so exploration was absolutely necessary. As we zipped down alleyways nearly escaping being hit by motorbikes, motorcycles, bicyclists and other fast walkers like ourselves we stumbled upon a giant pagoda that had shrines to Buddha, Kuan Yin and also Vishnu and Shiva. We payed our respects to the beautiful statues and continued our wandering. 

Christmas decorations in every alley  

Christmas decorations in every alley  

Walking a little bit further we accidentally stumbled upon Christmas in Ho Chi Minh (as it was Christmas Eve) and all the streets had strewn lights all across the alleyways, little girls were dressed up an angel costumes, Santa was riding a motorbike, and there was even a fog machine turned snow machine that lightly fluttered down and decorated the alley with little snow bubbles. We stumbled upon a beautiful Catholic Church that was decorated and lit up in many colors complete with the baby Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, and various Christmas trees strewn about with beautiful ornaments and shiny ribbons. Everyone there was dressed to a T and ready for midnight mass. Christmas songs rang out in English as well as Vietnamese; we were in such a pure awestruck state as we had no idea this was what was waiting for us in the alleyways a Vietnam. 

Tiny snow angels  

Tiny snow angels  

We walked further making way for our hostel, it must have been at least 100° with 100% humidity as we were absolutely covered in sweat. The juxtaposition of it all, beautifully dressed Vietnamese people to disgustingly sweaty foreigners was all very funny. We ended up parting ways with Mac and decided to get an Uber the rest of the way.

Ourr Uber took us to the address that our hostel claimed it was at (54/6 - whatever that meant) and we wandered around the building square for about 30 minutes until this very charming Vietnamese lady looked at us, sweaty, exhausted and carrying huge backpacks, and using her hands as a map she showed us we needed to be on the other side of the building. Once on the other side of the building we realized that there was a very tiny inlet that looked like a garage but once you walked in it opened to a whole city square and our Harry Potter-Esque address meant 54 was the square we were in and 6 was the actual building number.

As exhausted as we were we decided to shower and head out on Christmas Eve and see what what there was to do. We stumbled upon a night market, but as it turns out the night markets in Cambodia, the night markets in Thailand, and the night markets in Vietnam are all pretty similar; they're all tourist traps with expensive drinks and loud foreigners.

We stayed at Saigon Central hostel that was very centrally located and had a super helpful staff. There, we learned about the 'hop on hop off' bus that cost $59 to go from Ho Chi Minh all the way to North Vietnam (Hanoi), stopping in whatever major city you want, adventuring around for however long you want and then contacting them to hop back on the bus when you're ready to head to a new city. 

The next day we woke up and tried to enjoy our last day in Ho Chi Minh - by looking for a phone store for a SIM card. We found a great donut shop and I found a tattoo shop (!) and chatted with an artist for a little while about getting a tattoo; unfortunately we were only going to be there for a day and that was not enough time to sit down sketch out approve and also get tattooed (I haven't been tattooed here yet in southeast Asia and that is wearing on my mind. And body. As I love being tattooed especially when it's for such a beautiful reason as to symbolize an epic place I've been So lucky to experience. And it's driving me mildly crazy!) 

Nothing says Christmas like a batman donut  

Nothing says Christmas like a batman donut  

Side note about Ho Chi Minh: it's not a good place to rent or drive a motorized vehicle. Traffic is beyond insane and they drive anywhere they can: the road, the sidewalk, the canal, wherever. 

Exhausted (hating) the city we hopped on a bus to Da Lat, excited to leave the madness of the city for the beauty and stillness of the countryside. Our bus ride was absolutely amazing taking up up the beautiful green mountains higher and higher and higher into the mountains into the city of Da Lat nestled between mountains in this beautiful Green and foggy valley. Da Lat is easily one of my favorite places I've been so far. It was colonized by the French and so it has some seriously eclectic flares between Vietnamese culture, French architecture and almost a Dutch and Swiss tinge. 

Our Backpackers Paradise Crew 💕  Lenore, Lynn, Nessa, Mary, Jack, Tess, Mar, me & John

Our Backpackers Paradise Crew 💕  Lenore, Lynn, Nessa, Mary, Jack, Tess, Mar, me & John

We stayed in Backpackers Paradise hostel which was probably one of our favorite hostels. They are cheap and in a great location and had free breakfast AND dinner (which free dinner is uncommon). We became super close knit to all of our hostel mates, and one fateful night we all ventured out and went to the highly unique highly raved about 100 Roofs café which is an absolute MUST if you go to Da Lat!!!!!! I won't spoil too much of it for you (as I love surprises) but basically you walk into the bar, you decide if you want to go up or down, and the rest is a maze lit up dimly with multicolored lights and the walls are all decorated in different images, sculptures, animals, people etc, complete with little cubbyholes, random staircases and secret rooms. That being said, is a very poor description of the bar and you need to see it for yourself. It was the best bar I've ever been to.  

A sneaky area of 100 Roofs Cafe

A sneaky area of 100 Roofs Cafe

Adventuring through Da Lat on a motorbike was the most freeing feeling, riding through rice pattys (paddies?) and different coffee orchards, only to find beautiful pristine waterfalls about three tiers high. Our favorite waterfall was Pongour Waterfall which was a bit of a drive out of Da Lat. It was absolutely ginormous and if you didn't get in trouble you were able to climb to the top! Due to our ultra sneaky nature we made it to the top but got in trouble on the way down 😂😂 Elephant Waterfall was also amazing (Sammie duhhhh) but it was about half the size of Pongour and there were way too many tourists. Tiger waterfall pictured below was challenging to get to because the road was on a 45 degree incline and the whole road WAS a giant pothole. It was very beautiful and had a legend that we tried to make out - Basically tigers used to live there in the caves before man took over and started hunting them. (Stupid man.)

Tiger waterfall in Da Lat

Tiger waterfall in Da Lat

In between waterfalls, coffee was necessary to life and as it happens Da Lat, Vietnam is one of the places that you can get weasel coffee(!) which is the coffee that comes from weasels eating coffee beans, something magical that happens with their stomach acid making the coffee incredibly good and pooping the beans out and humans consuming them! (The pooped out coffee beans that is - not the weasel) It is said to be the most expensive (and delicious) coffee in the world. Not pictured are the adorable weasels because they were in cages and John and I had a bad feeling about them on a coffee-bean-only diet.

Weasel (poop) coffee 😂 

Weasel (poop) coffee 😂 

Lucky, the wolf husky, reunited with his papa & going on a celebratory drive  

Lucky, the wolf husky, reunited with his papa & going on a celebratory drive  

Back at the home front - Backpackers Paradise we were able to witness Lucky, the beautiful husky dog, be reunited with his family after being DOGNAPPED for a week! It was so heartwarming to see such a huge fluffy dog so ecstatic to be home and his dad immediately put him on a motorbike (with a pink helmet of course) and took him for a celebratory drive! (Only in Vietnam!)

Crazy House in Da Lat

Crazy House in Da Lat

We adventured to Crazy House in Da Lat which was apparently built by an autistic daughter of a general who was sent away to live in the mountains; we were told this by a Dutch restaurant owner named Thomas (who is located right across from the Crazy House.) We did our own research but sometimes google doesn't translate things as well as it thinks it does because we also heard the same person who built 100 Roofs Cafe did Crazy House as well, so there was some conflicting information. 

New Years Giant Jengaaaaaa!  

New Years Giant Jengaaaaaa!  

We were sad to leave Da Lat, it's definitely my favorite city in Vietnam so far, but we had to continue our journey North and headed to Nha Trang as yet another transitional (coastal) city on our way to Hoi An, where we wanted to celebrate New Year's. Some of our hostel mates from backpackers paradise in Da Lat met up with us and we celebrated New Year's in Hoi An at a reggae bar called One Love, where I bought a bucket of booze and me and John played jumbo Jenga! 

The top of Marble Mountain  

The top of Marble Mountain  

We bought a motorbike in Hoi An and drove to Marble Mountain, climbed the mountain (with a bunch of tourists as it was the only sunny day we've had in awhile), went through some caves and witnessed a giant Buddha in a beautiful old cave with Chinese characters scratched into the walls of the cave.

Big cave! Big Buddha! Little Jess!  

Big cave! Big Buddha! Little Jess!  

The beautiful coast of Da Nang, Vietnam  

The beautiful coast of Da Nang, Vietnam  

We drove out to the mountains (Monkey Mountain) where there is a giant Kuan Yin statue you can see all the way from the city of Da Nang, there we drove along the coast - that looks very much like Highway 1 in California!

The plan today is to do the Hai Van Pass made famous by the show Top Gear!!  woooo! The saga continues!! 

Mobile Misadventures (& tips on how not to get screwed)

To preface this helpful little blog, john and I are on a budget. We have saved enough money to do this for about 2 months, so we are trying to stay frugal and spend $50 or under per day, so about $3000 total over the 2 month time period.

We have had multiple, and I mean MULTIPLE, mobile misadventures which has inspired me to write some tips for how to get around in Cambodia without screwing yourself ☺

Day 1:

John and I are picked up in Cambodia and taken to our hostel by our Tuk Tuk driver, Chen, who I’ve written about before. He seemed very nice, helped us around town picking up the things we needed, he took us to the Floating Villages the first day, and Angkor Wat the second day for sunrise, and then later that same day he promptly lied and screwed us over.

This is what happened:

Chen said the Tuk-tuk ride around the Floating Villages for our first day out together was 18,000 Riel ($4.45), which John confirmed “eighteen, as in one-eight.”

Chen said “yes.”

So we paid him the first night 20,000 Riel and told him to split the change (2,000 Riel) with another guide that had helped us out.

When we got back after the second day at Angkor he claimed the night prior that he had said “80,000 Riel,” ($19.81) and not “18,000 Riel.” So we owed him 62,000 Riel from the first day (18,000-80,000) PLUS what it cost for the Angkor Trip.

After some berating from me about honesty, trust and the fact that not all Americans are filthy rich I was able to whittle down the astronomical cost to a smaller (but still painful) amount.

So! Tips for Tuk-tuks so you don’t go through what we went through:

1. Prices depend on how far you’re going; start the bid price ultra-LOW, they will start mega-HIGH

2. Don’t get a Tuk-tuk in a major area (ie. Pub Street in Siem Reap, or Khoa San Road in Bangkok) as the prices are inflated

3. Decide on the price BEFORE you accept the ride & get in the Tuk-tuk

4. Confirm on the price, perhaps write it out on paper so there is no miscommunication between “eighteen” and “eighty.”

Happier days with Chen 😭💔 

Happier days with Chen 😭💔 

Day 2:

John and I are bummed about losing 1/2 a day’s budget on the Tuk-tuk so we decide to rent a motorbike.

John grew up in New Hampshire, riding four wheelers and dirt bikes all the time so he’s needing the freedom that a motorbike gives him. I don’t trust the bikes at all due to the fact that they look like they are glued, twist-tied and taped together, but… they ALL look like that and we’ve seen other foreigners riding them around and John’s a mechanic so we look it over and do our due diligence.

We take pictures of the motorbike because we’ve heard that the company you rent from will claim any damage that was already done to the bike is your fault and make you pay for it. We don’t see anything too bad (except of course the headlight is smashed and it looks like it lost a fight with Godzilla, but it’s still in working condition so whatever.) We are excited to not have to count on a Tuk-tuk and be independent. This is our second day at Angkor so this time we venture farther out. It’s really nice being able to go down the mini side roads in the jungle and be able to ride faster and not depend on someone else to drive us where we need to go.

Of course we get lost a thousand times and John knocks the bike over with both of us on it and we suffer some minor injuries, but that’s neither here nor there. Fast forward to about dusk, the sun has set, it’s beautiful out, bats are flying around our head, we're getting nommed on via mosquitos; john and I are just about to turn around and make our way back home, when, dun dun dun! John hits a pothole, all of a sudden we smell a LOT of gas and the bike dies.

We call the company who said they would come get us if something happens and they refuse. They say it’s our fault and they will fix any MECHANICAL error but because this is a gas line, read: TECHNICAL error, it’s our fault. They tell us we have to somehow bring the bike back and we may be responsible for the repairs.

A $15 tuk-tuk ride later (with john riding the motorbike ON a trailer ON a tuk-tuk) we get the bike back to the company and pay $10 for our stupid fatally flawed motorbike. Thankfully, the guy doesn’t make us pay for the repairs, so we walk away with our tails tucked between our legs vowing to not trust anyone (again.)

So! Tips for motorbike rentals:

1. Motorbikes in Siem Reap should cost $10/day

2. Inspect your motorbike, any holes / tears / damage in ANYTHING can & WILL be an issue on these roads! They are potholes aplenty!

3. Check your blinkers and headlights to make sure they work

4. Take it out on a spin before you buy/rent, so if it dies you can a) return it then before you’re responsible for anything or b) learn other crafty ways to restart it

5. Take pictures of your motorbike, they’ll claim the damage is your fault regardless if it really is

6. Make sure it does NOT say on your receipt that you are responsible for any damages done outside the shop (this one’s a doozy)

7. Make sure the company tells you they will COME PICK YOU UP if it breaks! It might break and you won’t want to have to pay for repairs AND a tuk-tuk to come pick you up AND the motorbike! It’s terribly annoying and cuts in to your fun!!

8. On your way to wherever you’re going, takes notes of where any street mechanic is, you most likely will need to know where they are at least once on your journey

John taking a picture, perched atop the motorbike, on a trailer, where I'm sitting, driven by another motorbike. 

John taking a picture, perched atop the motorbike, on a trailer, where I'm sitting, driven by another motorbike. 

Day 3:

John wants to rent a motorbike again despite my feelings to the contrary. I think it’s a stupid idea because everything I’ve already mentioned.

So, naturally, we go get a motorbike. The lady shows us the first one which is nicer than the one we had the day prior.

John starts it and it dies.

He starts it again and it dies.

The lady doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with it and shows John a new fancy way to start it. He takes it for a spin and it dies 3 times.

We tell the lady “nooo, thank you.” And she offers us another one. This one looks glued together but doesn’t seem to have any mechanical or technical errors, just superficial ones, so we ask her “if something happens, will you come get us?”

She promises “yes.”

So we take the motorbike out, meander around all the rest of the temples at Angkor and on our way back, nighttime, we hit something mysterious and get a flat tire. We call the lady and ask her to come get us because we’re mildly far away from the location and guess what?! she’s not there.

Another dude is, who, naturally, DOESN’T BELIEVE US! (Crazy!)

He tells us to go to a street mechanic, fix the flat and bring it back by 8 o’clock or he’ll charge us for another day (oh, and it’s 7:00pm).

Luckily numerous Cambodian people on the street felt bad for us (I think the look on my face was utter despair / mild loathing); they helped us bring the bike to a street mechanic and get it fixed. We brought the bike back and had more problems about how much gas there was in the tank when we began our journey…. Inspiring more tips:

1. Make sure on your receipt it says how much gas there was when you started your journey. They’ll claim you had a full tank no matter what, so when you rent it have the person write out the amount of gas presently in the tank.

2. Get the phone number of the person you rented it from, don’t count on them to share information to the other employees because they won’t.

Our glued together bike, smashed headlight and all!  

Our glued together bike, smashed headlight and all!  

Hopefully this is helpful on your journey. Trust your intuition and perhaps your girlfriend when she says “this is probably a bad idea.” Good luck! 🍀 

Just a monkey straight chillin with a banana  

Just a monkey straight chillin with a banana  

10 fun things to do in Bangkok

These are my super awesome travel tips for fun things to do in Bangkok. These, like my thoughts, are in no particular order. Enjoy!

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1.       Take the public transit system; bus, Tuk Tuk's & the Skytrain!

 

It’s exhilarating, mildly dangerous but overall efficient and fun. The US could take some pointers from foreign public transit systems. Once you get used to it, it’s a very easy system to navigate but at first glance it can seem a little daunting.

 

The buses are numbered (obviously) and the bus stops are labelled with the bus numbers that you pick up. Bus stops are located all over the city so you’re never far from one and there’s always at least one person on the bus who knows English well enough to translate for you. Just make sure you're holding on when they round a corner, at times it does seem like they're trying to kill you!

#wedidntdie

#wedidntdie

 

Tuk-tuks are the main transportation system in Thailand, and before we got here we read from a ton of different travel sites warning us to be on the lookout. However, John and I took 2 tuk-tuks and both of them were really cool and helped us around the city. They were also honest and transparent with us, letting us know they would get free gas if they took us to a suit shop. (The suits shops are actually kind of cool and custom make suits special for you. They show you the different suits, you pick the style, the fabric, the number of buttons, the cut on the collar, etc.)

 

2.       Temples; duhh!

 

There are so many to choose from and it would take a couple days to properly explore all of the ones in and around the city. My favorite temple in Bangkok was at Wat Pho, Phra Mondop, the unique green architecture stuck out right away and spoke to me. There were faces in the design that reminded me of Green Man (Celtic mythology) and the symbolic structures along the roof top were hands reaching up into the sky (instead of dragons or another type of animal). It had a very different look than the other temples and had a mystery all on its own.

Metal claws at Phra Mondop

Metal claws at Phra Mondop

 

Wat Arun is a beautiful wide spread temple that we approached by sea (riverboat); they are currently restoring it so it's surrounded by bamboo scaffolding, which adds a new dimension to its already spectacular build. Wat Arun is where I had the opportunity to be blessed by a Buddhist monk, so it holds a very special place in my heart.

 

3.       Khoa San Road; known as the famous backpacking district.

 

It’s loud, overwhelming, busy with drunk foreigners, but it wouldn’t be Bangkok without it. You can buy anything on Khoa San Road from eating a wide array of bugs, to getting tattooed, to purchasing all sorts of handmade crafts (ninja pants galore!!). It’s like Las Vegas on crack, fun to visit and say you were there & laugh with other travelers who have also been there.

 

4.       Take a Longboat ride, not a long boat ride! ha!

 

The boats are also decorated with beautiful bright fresh flowers from the flower district. They’re all stringed together, different colors and hues, from yellows, pinks to blues. You feel like you’re on a little party barge jumping from wave to wave. You can see so much of the city from the boats that go up and down Chao Phraya River. Poor neighborhoods with houses more or less under water and then stunning views of the temples that you can’t get from being on land. We were able to see the feets of the Sitting Buddha from the sea (again, river).

Long boats and their pretty tassels

Long boats and their pretty tassels

 

The long boats are really exciting because the captains (if you want to call them that) are fun and they interact with you and the surroundings! Ours pulled up to people offering us beers and treats (also on boats!) and pointed out a gila monster! Natives call these creatures crocodiles (I’m not 100% positive if they are gila monsters but I know they’re definitely not crocodiles). They’re long and serpent-like with longer arms and legs than crocs have, and my favorite part, a blue tongue. Oh, and they climb, so they’re definitely not crocodiles.

 

5.      Eat something weird; dooo itttt.

 

Of course Thailand has the most delicious Thai food (especifically my favorite, curry pad thai!) that you’ve ever eaten, but the opportunity to eat something really weird is only steps away. John, his brother and I all ate bugs, crickets (I think) soaked in soy sauce. As Nate put it “it could have been way worse.” There are bigger bugs available to nom on like cockroaches, scorpions and tarantulas, but those are terrifying. Mostly the spiders. Because wtf? What if it’s fangs get caught in your tongue? Now what?

Nomming on bugs  

Nomming on bugs  

 

6.       Stay in a hostel; make new friends.

 

Hotels are super cheap in Thailand so it’s very easy to get a great room for a cheap price, but the experience of a hostel with other backpackers and travelers is the real prize. John and I stayed at Canale Hostel, which was amazing and I would highly recommend it. It’s centrally located right on the canal, not far from Khoa San Road, and all the other fun neighborhoods. It’s very Encinitas-esque, being mildly hipster-y, with wood finish and sparkly lights on the ceiling upstairs. The beds are built into the walls and there are curtains for privacy, also… it’s air conditioned! I met a German lady named Karen who has been to 104 countries thanks to her sales job and 3months vacation per year (damn you US!) She had great travel tips and helped me and John fine tune our Vietnam adventure. “Kay,” the guy that worked at our hostel is Thai but works to travel in such faraway places, like Chicago! He was extremely helpful in planning the more northern adventures we’re about to take part in. You meet so many interesting people that have been to such awesome places but it’s the cozy familiarity of the hostel that brings out the helpful traveler friend.

 

7.       Get your hurr did (hair for those who don't understand me sometimes) 

 

I watched a girl get her hair dreaded faster than I’ve seen anything hair-related being done. Thai people are fast, efficient and do such an amazing job. You can get dread, cornrows, braids with extenders or adding an extra fun splash of color. Now that you’ve been to Bangkok your life is a little bit different from those around you and this is a great temporary change to symbolize this rite of passage. For the people leery of getting something permanent like a tattoo or piercing, this is easy and removable.

 

8.       Thai massage; also duhh!

 

Thailand is where Thai massage, or it’s other name, “lazy man’s yoga,” originated. Thai masseuses rub you and gently pull you into yoga poses so you achieve all the goodness and stretchiness of yoga AND a massage without having to go through the trouble of moving your own muscles. Thai people are tiny but they’re so strong and fierce! I got an amazing Thai massage that worked out every muscle of my sore backpacking-carrying body.

 

9.       Get lost! Honestly!

'This looks pretty, let's go this way.' 

'This looks pretty, let's go this way.' 

 

Bangkok is amazingly fun and I found it pretty safe, extremely friendly and easy to get around. Everyone was super kind; and in the event that we were lost, we were easily guided from an English speaking Thai person AND there are maps all around the city. Getting lost pushes you outside your comfort zone (if you weren’t already out of it) and gives you the opportunity to learn a little about yourself. Do you stay calm under the pressure of not knowing where you’re going? Are you okay with giving up control? Can you handle wandering off into the distance of an unfamiliar place? What crazy experiences could be waiting for you to be out of your mind and in the natural flow!? John and I got lost leaving Wat Pho and ended up experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime-occasion of watching the King of Thailand’s body being moved! (seriously! He died in October!) We didn’t even know that was going on and happened to stumble upon it! Getting lost opens you up to new experiences and perspectives! Live a little!

 

10.  Go to Unicorn Café; okay this one is realllyyyy biased I will admit.

 

The other recommendations are pretty objective, super fun things that ground you into the weird culture of Bangkok, this one is more subjective because I have an extremeeeeee love of this fantastical horned creature and you should too!

Unicorn café is in the city area of Bangkok, down a little alley (like most cool places are in Bangkok). You can tell right as your rounding the corner because the sign is rainbow tie dye. You walk in and are immediately blasted off to the most magical spectacular land full of rainbows and clouds and unicorns. Unicorn wallpaper greets you while big pink and purple couches are buttoned together with large sparkly buttons. Unicorn stuffed animals are lined up all along the couches so you can have a tea party with a few of your horned friends and most everything on the menu is unicorn treats!! Rainbow Rolls and Glitter Shakes and even a Unicorn Tower (basically crepes, milkshakes and ice cream!)

Culinary cuteness overload at Unicorn Café 

Culinary cuteness overload at Unicorn Café 

I hope you were, at the very least, entertained by my 10 fun things to do in Bangkok. I hope you have an amazing journey! 🦄🦄🦄

Endless staircases at Wat Arun

Endless staircases at Wat Arun

Cambodia

We took a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap about 5 days ago. I've been writing all sorts of random things but I have this necessity to talk about my travels chronologically, so I'm going to try.  

Our first experience in Cambodia was crossing the border with our bus mates, all from different counties. Crossing the border  was mostly just waiting in long lines only to get through and wait in another line. We saw many other backpackers doing the same. John and I passed the time by listening to Alan Watts wisdom. 

Back in the bus about 2 hours later we stopped for food at this amazing farm-restaurant where we saw the sun setting over the rice fields. Vines hung from the ceiling of the restaurant and cats, kittens, chicks and chickens ran around our feet as we ordered noms and drank Angkor beer.  

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

We landed in Siem Reap not to long from then and were told the bus couldn't drop us off at our hostel so we boarded a Tuk Tuk with a driver named Chen. Chen was nice, spoke English well and was expressive and fun. He dropped us of at our hostel and told us he'd meet us tomorrow morning to begin our Angkor Adventures. 

The hostel we stayed in was Garden Villa hostel, just around the corner from The Night Market and Pub Street. It had a pool and a hang out area with loud music and flashy lights. Super bro-y, but fun and the staff was very sweet and attentive.  

The next day we woke up and had an amazing breakfast of Dragonfruit, my new favorite fruit (sorry strawberries!) and eggs, and of course, coffee. 

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

Chen was waiting for us outside and he recommended us seeing the Floating Villages before Angkor. John thought that sounded exciting so we went there instead of Angkor. We spent the morning boating with Chen and a few other friends we made. We had beers on Lake Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia.  

 

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After boating on the lake and buying rice for an orphanage near by, we heard that there were crocodiles so we went to see them. After that we realized it was a crocodile farm where they were made into handbags so that was a little sad, but I sent them my love anyways. 

 

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

On our way back to the land there was a mangrove jungle and we took a tinier boat through it. I love trees so much and Redeoods and Banyans are a few of my favorite, mangroves are as well but I've never seen them in person like I was able to in this jungle. Rowing through them is so incredibly peaceful and relaxing, being amongst the water and the trees is so serene. Then we got to climb some so that was pretty awesome as well. I made John go up first so if there were spiders he could take care of them before I saw them (the spiders here are scary as fuck) 

 

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Chen invited us over to his house afterwards and his wife prepared fresh fish with a peanut sauce and cilantro with rice. It was so delicious and we were so happy that we found such a nice Tuk Tuk driver (more on this so keep reading!) Chen took us home to our hostel and we jumped in the pool, excited we had had such an amazing day out on the water and among friends. 

the next day Chen picked us up at 330 am and we made our way to Angkor Wat for sunrise, a must-do / must-see if you come here. We walked through the gateway in the dark so we weren't able to see too much of the gate, just shadowy outlines of epic carvings and huge stones. We sat on a temple facing Angkor Wat and watched the sunrise. It was overcast so we weren't able to see too much of an epic sunrise, but it was nice being there doing the same thing that so many people before us have done for over 9 centuries. 

 

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

Exploring Angkor Wat was incredible. The size of the stones and the whole city is breathtaking. Through Angkor there are repeating symbols at mostly every Wat. My favorite was the nagas, or 7 headed snake that showed up along the walkways, under the Buddhas and over the archways.  

 

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

The mythology of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk is painted on the walls of Angkor Wat and portrays the teams of good and evil working together for a common goal. Both sides pulling on Vasuki, the king of the nagas serpents, who is tied around Mount Mandara, a cosmic mountain put into the ocean. Both sides are pulling on Vasuki to churn the ocean in order to recieve ambrosia. This is a super short version of the myth, look into it yourself, because it's an epic tale. Anyways, the nagas serpents are my favorite. 

After exploring Angkor and the East Gate John and I decided to 'off road' it a bit and began hiking through the jungles of Cambodia. Now I love hiking more than most things in life, but the spiders of Cambodia are 1. Way too healthy 2. Everywhere 3. Bright colored (so def poisonous) and 4. John came across two he swear had wings. So our hike did not last long and we had to get our Tuk Tuk back to save us from imminent death. 

After that whole deal we continued on to Pre Rup, which was beautiful and where I took my lion picture on facebook. we went by East Mebon, but I didn't feel very well and it looked like Pre Rup so we just more or less waved at it. Then we went to Ta Som, I was explaining to John the metaphysical history of the earth and he was extremely curious about all the truths weaved into myths and legends. He wanted to know more so we did a past life regression, which was very telling. 

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After Ta Som we continued our journey to Neak Pean, a temple that you have to get to via a long boardwalk through a huge moat. John felt very at home here. 

 

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After Neak Pean we were exhausted and came back to the hostel, where we got screwed over big time by our nice Tuk Tuk driver. He lied about the price for the day and the day prior and we lost some money. We were pretty upset but at the same time, it's part of the journey. If you ever land in Cambodia and a driver named Chen wants to help you, don't let him. But I'm sure most Tuk Tuk drivers are the same (dishonest).  

We went to the Night Market and wandered around Pub Street. This is where all the foreigners go for gifts, trinkets, and beer.  

 

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The Night Market does have some great products, I got really amazing ninja pants and the fresh fruit smoothies are delicious. We got beer at Angkor What? A bar down Pub street. Pub Street is basically Khoa San Road (Bangkok).

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the next day we opted for a more chill day, we switched hostels to save some money and landed at Cambodia Backpacking Guesthouse, down the street and over the bridge from our last hostel. We ended up stumbling upon Bambu Stage, an amazing little creative space and restaurant that was hosting Temples Decoded: Angkor Wat, showing how it was made featuring Nick, an ex-museum designer and Mala, the restaurant manager.  

Nick showed us, in a multi faceted way, how the temples were built, how Cambodians honor trees they cut down and how the spirits of the forest protect them. Later that night we (re)watched Graham Hancock's Lost Civilization episode on Angkor Wat and relearned how Angkor was designed to look like Draco the constellation and built as, of course, a giant astrological calendar to honor the Golden Age, 10,500BC. 

We headed back to Angkor the following day, this one on a motorbike, not trusting anyone anymore(!) and began with Prasat Kravan, a little temple dedicated to the Hindu diety, Vishnu.  

 

Photo by John Perez 

Photo by John Perez 

We hung out at Srah Srang, a huge aqueduct and gazed over the calm waters (see John's facebook post).  

We followed that up with Banteay Kdei, which I dubbed 'bantay kittehhhhh' for those not familiar with my vernacular or tendency to call things different then their namesake). Banteay kdei was really beautiful and disheveled, as most temples are here, and we read some interesting history that after the death of the Buddhist King, the next king believed in Brahmanism and had all the Buddhas destroyed, beheaded or hidden underground.  

 

Photo by John Perez  (honestly I can't remember where this is but I'm pretty sure it was Banteay Kdei!) 🐱

Photo by John Perez  (honestly I can't remember where this is but I'm pretty sure it was Banteay Kdei!) 🐱

From Banteay Kdei we headed through the jungle on a motorbike ducking to miss vines and narrowly escaping being hit by trees and stones to Ta Prohm, or as everyone calls it (and by that I do mean everyone, even the tour guides) Tomb Raider! 

Jungle Gate into Ta Prohm  

Jungle Gate into Ta Prohm  

 I was so excited to see this one and my dad, brother and I used to play Tomb Raider on the computer many moons ago, but it was so freaking full of tourists. There is a fence around 'The Tree' and I didn't have the patience to wait in line and get a picture, so I found a different epic tree and did my best Lara Croft impression. 

 

Obviously a dead ringer for Lara Croft

Obviously a dead ringer for Lara Croft

We were able to sneak away from the tourists and go against the grain, stealthily running back into the temple where an Exit Only sign lie. There we found some peace and quiet amongst the ruins before the legions of Chinese Tourists took over.  

 

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

After Ta Prohm we headed over to Ta Keo, which is being restored, and found some stillness at the top as most people were not brace enough to climb the extremelyyyyy steep stairs to the top.  

As the motorbike adventure continued we did get lost in the backcountry, did ride through a huge patch of prickers which clawed at my legs and John's hand, did stumble upon a beautiful serene patch of open farmland, did ride up to some backcountry Cambodian houses on accident and did in fact, fall off when John got over confident about a wet sandy corner, but #wedidntdie, and that's pretty much all that matters.  

also our motorbike did die last night just before sunset but we were saved by a super sweet Cambodian couple who called a big Tuk Tuk so we were able to  'fit.' And by 'fit' I mean John rode on the motorbike, on the trailer, on the Tuk Tuk as we ventured back into the city of Siem Reap from deep in the jungles of Angkor. 

So far it's been crazy amazing and the adventure continues!  

 

Ta Som (?) 

Ta Som (?) 

Bangkok

Telephone wires hang like spaghetti noodles all across Bangkok, the aromas of food range from delicious to absolutely foul and if you have your mouth open at the wrong moment you can catch all sorts of tastes from the street vendors that line the roads. Tuk tuks and taxis drive slowly by yelling and grabbing your attention, ripping you out of your daydreams to ask if you want a ride. We seldom take tuk tuks because that's the only true sketchy thing we heard about Bangkok (well besides the red light district).

We've taken the sky train all around the city to see the different architecture of the different neighborhoods. Like china, high rises exist next door to dilapidated housing in which the jungle has began to reclaim. Trees and vines sprout of the roofs and windows of houses. 

Gila monster? Tiny Dinosaur? 

Gila monster? Tiny Dinosaur? 

Yesterday we took a longboat ride down the river and saw a number of amazing temples lining the river. We saw a Gila monster sunning himself along the cement holding wall. Cat fish came close to jumping out of the water, mouths open asking for food. People fish and gaze at the river as they do in all cultures; water holds the answers of all wandering minds. 

The long boat we were on was lined with fresh flowers from the flower district we passed on the way to wat pho yesterday.

Longboat ride  

Longboat ride  

We saw quite a few temples from the river and the amazing artistic architecture they flaunt. The finest details, always being restored with much respect and much care.

The restoration of Wat Arun

The restoration of Wat Arun

We saw the Sitting Biddha, Reclining Buddha Standing Buddha, Sleepy Buddha etc. Okay, so I'm joking about the last one but there were quite a few different buddhas we got to see. All huge. All beautiful. All unique.

Standing Buddha  

Standing Buddha  

Reclining Buddha Feets

Reclining Buddha Feets

Reclaiming Buddha was my favorite one because of his feets. All sorts of magical symbols done in abalone!

The Jess abides, and dresses appropriately. Photo by John Perez 

The Jess abides, and dresses appropriately. Photo by John Perez 

Due to my inappropriate style of dress (it was hot?!) I got to wear an amazing lime green bathrobe when I entered The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, but I was not alone as most foreign girls also got to sport this for cool style.

 

My favorite temple was at Wat Pho because it had hands on the ends of the roof reaching up into the sky and also Green Man-Esque faces. 

Favorite temple at Wat Pho

Favorite temple at Wat Pho

I got blessed by a Buddhist monk at WatArun  which was an incredible opportunity that I am so grateful to have.

Khoa san road is the very popular backpackers dostrict that was a little overwhelming. In china we were the only foreigners, in khoa san there are only foreigners. It's very much like Mexico or Peru in the sense that there are all these markets open and people shoving their products in your face, that coupled with the huge amount of drunk foreigners makes it a little too much, however, I did eat a bug so that was fun. (It mostly tasted like the soy sauce it was soaked in.)

Jess & Nate nomming on a bug. Photo by John perez  

Jess & Nate nomming on a bug. Photo by John perez  

 

At night something really magical happened. We were leaving Wat Pho trying to find a bus (the public transportation is a must!! it's so fun and scary and awesome and exciting!) ...And there were all Thai people dressed in black - and by all Thai people I mean every Thai person in Bangkok - we couldn't really figure out what was happening but about after 2 miles of walking along the road and not being able to find a bus a little Thai army dude told us to sit down at this crosswalk because the KING was being moved!!!!!!

For those who don't know, King Bhumibol Adulyadej  of Thailand died in October and the Thai people loved him very much. This was a really big deal because he reigned for 70 years. So last night we literally sat in the streets with all the Thai people watcheing his body being moved. After being extremely humbled that we were able to witness this incredibly unique experience we kept wandering in search for a bus, my feet were about to give up. 2 miles later, still walking, another little army dude called us over and told us the princess was coming. I asked 'should we sit?' Feeling good I knew the appropriate thing to do and he shook his head, pointed onward and said 'no, walk very quickly!' So we ran to the end of the road and sat and patiently waiting for her to pass. It was awesome. 

Today I got to check off a huuuuge bucket list item as I went and experienced the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok, and it was every bit of magical you'd expect! Everything is unicorn-something. Glitter drinks, magic burgers, and delicious treats! We had some fantastical drinks and rainbow crepes that were super sugary so I might have diabetes, but it was so worth it!

My magical feast at the Unicorn Cafe

My magical feast at the Unicorn Cafe

Tonight is our last night in Bangkok and we board a bus tomorrow for Cambodia. Angkor Wat here we come! Thanks for listening to my rambling thoughts! 💕🦄

Scampering off to the next adventure! Photo by John Perez  

Scampering off to the next adventure! Photo by John Perez  

China adventures

Being on the other side of the world is very much like being on the other side of the world. China has been absolutely amazing and different in every way, yet is still familiar at times. I love to travel because it pulls emotions and tendencies from you that you wouldn’t normally have and highlights things about yourself that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Photo by Lee

Photo by Lee

We landed in china after a 14 hour flight; apparently I can't do math and was really surprised and thought we had emergency landed in Russia – I blame the lack of sleep. We meandered through the airport, through the lines at customs and began our search for the subway. It’s a very efficient method to buy subway tickets but if you don’t know Chinese it can get a little challenging. We hopped on the subway and it was very much what you would expect from a Chinese subway – just as many people as possible squeezed like tiny sardines into the subway car. It’s kind of fun to push and shove yourself in and out, nothing personal, just subway survival.

We made it to the train station and hung out there for a while waiting for our train and the last leg of our journey to take us to Liz and Lee. The only food options we had were mcdonalds and honestly we were pretty grateful for the food after the long flight and general deliriousness. The train station was my first real experience with a Chinese bathroom- which is a square hole in the ground that you just have to hover over and hope for the best. It took some getting used to but I do see the logic behind it – very much like our “squatty potty” unicorn facebook commercial. Also, I'm almost 100% sure two people on the train were eating cat food, so again, grateful for the mcdonalds. At this point my brain was trying to make sense of the Chinese language and translating the words without my approval so I heard lots of swearing and random conversations about Shamu and gingivitis.

Riding the train was the first time we were ‘outside’ and able to see the Chinese countryside which is such an amazing landscape! These mountains would just come out of nowhere and fade away just as quickly as they erupted out of the earth. It was almost as if the creator was holding a box of mountains and tripped over something and they all flew out of the box and fell randomly to the earth. The mountains also just gave away to the water, much like Big Sur, not really bothering with beaches.

Landscapeyness

Landscapeyness

From the train we could see rice patty fields next to high rises and dilapidated housing in which the Detroiter in me really wanted to explore. Staring out the window watching the world go by is one of my favorite past times, but so is sleep, and I was able to do a lot of that on our 4 our train ride to Lizzie and Lee. They picked us up at the train station and took us around the city where we got to experience the market and mall. At the mall they had all these kid rides that were so sparkly that John and I had to jump in and ride around in. they were these little Tron vehicles that rolled around and were full of shiny glowy lights. We went back to their apartment and met Zac Efron, their cat who looks like a tiny snow leopard, who gives the best hugs.

Adventuring around china with liz and lee is so much fun! Culinary adventures in the form of hot pot, feasting with Lee’s parents in a hotel room like a Chinese gangster, barbeque (Chinese version – very different then American version) and mango cake, with some weirder things sprinkled in between like pig penis and durian (a fruit that tastes good but smells like ass). Eating Chinese street food is a staple to visiting china, little street vendors line the roads and youre not quite sure if they’re selling food or stuff from their garage at times, but spicy noodles are delicious, and the spiciness totally killed any bacteria I may have eaten.

Photo by lee  

Photo by lee  

First Liz and Lee took me and John to an international friendship park where we rode a roller coaster (while Liz safely watched from below). Chinese people really like taking pictures of tall Americans and tattooed Americans so it seems me and John are floating around in a lot of random Chinese people’s pictures. Liz said that was pretty normal.

Photo by John perez

Photo by John perez

I've tried to make Liz teach me a couple Chinese swearwords, which I’ve already forgotten, and I'm also try to learn a couple words myself to help me get by, but basically the only word I know is shi shi, which is thank you.

Pooping adventures are a continuous thing as you always need to go to the bathroom (the food is pretty much all cooked in oil and fat) but you have to be very discerning on the bathroom you select. There were a few bathrooms me and Liz ventured into that I thought would be our last. But we prevailed!

Lee took John and I on an e-bike adventure through the city of Liuzhou to a park. Lee assured me he was an amazing driver, and we didn’t die, so I believe him. He dropped me and John off to a park where there was a mountain in middle.

Photo by John Perez  

Photo by John Perez  

We started wandering aimlessly towards the mountain, hoping it was climbable and then to our happy surprise we found a trail. On our way up we found a lesser travelled dirt path through the trees and followed that to the top. Once there the stairs turned into stones and we had to maneuver cleverly to avoid death. The rocks at the top were a little sketchy and mostly held in by bolts and nets that looked excessively old, but we managed to monkey up to the top overlooking the whole city with a 360 degree view. It was so cool to stand on the top just overlooking everything, as far as they eye could see and the smog would allow.

Photo by John Perez  

Photo by John Perez  

We went to the East Gate, which is the oldest wall in the province of Guangxi and then Confucius Temple, which was closed, but the architecture was beautiful and we were able to sneak around the back and climb some stairs for an epic view of the cityscape and bridges of Liuzhou. There was a cave that me and John started to sneak into but Liz and Lee assured us that’s where crackheads lived, so our cave adventure was short lived.

John and Liz overlooking Liuzhou  

John and Liz overlooking Liuzhou  

We took a river boat ride and got to see all of the amazing sparkly city lights of Liuzhou and the waterfalls that you could only see from the river, which were incredibly beautiful. They light up the mountains at night with green and yellow and orange lights so the whole city looks like a crazy jungle.

Photo by John Perez

Photo by John Perez

Basically China is fucking rad, an amazing mix of city, nightlife and epic backcountry all rolled into one. It’s fun to blog while I’m here and keeps my memory sharp by documenting and reliving all the epic things we’ve done. We’d love to stay longer and do more Chinese adventures but Thailand is calling & we’re answering the call!

Last night in China

Last night in China

begin at the beginning and go on

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Planes, trains and automobiles, or rather in our case: automobiles, trains & planes. From saying farewell to our roomies, fur babies and friends, we depart from San Diego with only our packs and far flung hopes for the long journey ahead.

We bid goodnight & good luck to sleepy Southern California while preparing for the long flight ahead, Lizzie-bound, to the other side of the world to visit my friend from college who's been living in and loving China for a number of years. 

The tops of palm trees hang in the cotton candy skyline of Los Angeles, we watch the sun, from a bus window stuck in LA traffic, gently set over the Pacific Ocean. We await our sun rise over foreign land; two days ahead of us separated by only 22 hours. 

Airports are always high energy and exciting to me. The quote from Love, Actualy always rings in my ears as soon as I step inside: "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere." Both me & John are feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed as we wait in line. Wearing the high-collared neck pillow I feel like a rattlesnake (naturally) and begin my best interpretive dance as such. 

The check-in guy at security looks excited for mine & John's trip, in fact, most people do. We are The Backpackers, people respect and fear us. He asks 'how this backpacking thing works' and we respond 'we're about to find out!'