Friday, February 22, 2013


When friends ask me about my reasoning behind this trip, my response is not clearly defined. I don't feel like I was trying to find myself. I think I am trying to take advantage of my life circumstances the fullest way possible. I'd like to give a shout out to those who made this happen...and to those who inspired me along the way.

This summer was my big 3-0. A few weeks before it, I had made a small and determined bucket list to learn how to mountain bike, longboard, and drive stick. I'd say I accomplished them all, even though my manual driving skills could use a lot more work. I decided then on that making small bucket lists in short time frames was the only way that I'd accomplish them, instead of making them too grandeous and for 'someday'. That's the relaxed procrastinator in me.

This summer I was fortunate to meet some friends with unique life outlooks as well. The first was so sick of losing himself to the daily grind that instead of just taking a vacation, he quit his job to travel. After all, you can always find a new job later! He was a vagabond for nearly a year, visiting friends and unique countries. He and other friends told me how a month in Thailand would be equal in cost to one week in Europe...if done right, it would cost less to travel around here versus live back in the states.

His inspiring book was The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. I read that as favorite takeaways from that being: do one thing a day that you fear and each day you will grow. And also, to take a bunch of mini retirements versus saving up for one big retirement when who knows what your situation or health will look like then. Time and tide wait for no man.

Another friend told me about the book A Milllion Miles In A Million Years by Donald Miller. After reading that I wanted to quit my job to create my best life story...because no interesting story starts in a cubicle.

During my Monday morning pipeline meetings at work, set for one hour but always dragging on for two, I'd drown out the others and make this my own personal pipeline meeting. After all, I was one of the only designers amongst the construction discussion. Most of the meeting did not pertain to san serif fonts and white space. I would make lists about where I would rather be than in those meetings. Looking back in my life what were my greatest work moments? Working in a coffeeshop or working on the farm. If I had a year to live, what would I be doing? Who would I spend it with? If I had a month to live, a week to live, a day to live. Every moment counts. Aside from this personal insight, this work meeting has just taken away two hours of my life.

My good friend whom I currently garden with was feeling the same feelings of escaping the 9-5 to start a farm. So we decided, along with her husband, to go for it. Next spring we'll start a farm! So from then on I'd make any downtime into researching what I'd do to startup this farm. Come fall I took the beginner farmer class with my friend's husband. I was planning to step down to part time at work when the farm started in spring, so when I was laid off, that changed everything.

Suddenly I had a couple weeks to spend with my family, instead of the few days for holidays. Then after that, instead of sitting around waiting for spring, why not travel before I have settled on a farm with a very small income??

I chose the places I did purely based on acute interest and how far my money would stretch. I wanted to visit each continent but realized that would be far fetched with money. Also, I chose some of the least romantic places since I'd be traveling mostly solo. I hope that my travels don't bring jealous fact, I hope people are able to laugh at and with me through my stories. And if I can inspire others to find what it is they truly want to do in life, their happiness makes me happy. It doesn't need to be travel. But I enjoy seeing others passionate about life and what they are doing, fulfilling their life dreams before retirement, even if its cleaning toilets. I've seen too many hours go towards complaining and that saddens me. Life is too short.

So huge shout outs to my friends and fellow farming partners, Christa and Dan for putting farm dreams to reality and still being so supportive of my travels. Although the growing season doesn't start until March, there's still a lot of planning and prepping that happens in the dead of winter. I'm excited to hit the ground running when I get back, as this is still very unreal to me that farming will be my full time job!!

More kudos to my supportive parents. Friends constantly ask how my parents reacted, and I just shrug. My parents have always given my siblings and I free will to explore and find our own way...offering insight or asking questions when appropriate. They never pressured us to be a certain profession, but encouraged where we had our God given talents...stopping us if they saw us making the same mistakes they did. I wasn't one to get bad grades, but if I did, they didnt give lectures, rather, they'd ask me if I had learned from the bad grade. So yes they did question why I wanted to travel, especially to the other side of the world and to poor countries. I encouraged them to come with! But realize they have their own places in mind if they were to travel next time :) for now they sent me off with lots of prayer which has been the ultimate love and protection.

Many kudos to my coworker friends back in Chicago who probably thought I'd get here in a boat. Or anything besides a plane. They encouraged me time after time about the safety of flying. And I was nuts for all those six hour drives to Minneapolis instead of the 30 minute flight. I would have them tell me about their worst flight experiences and how they had handled them...most importantly showing me that they had survived. I couldnt understand how some even LOOKED FORWARD to flights. It took me moving far away from family and having planes be the most practical mode of transport before it finally sunk in. I am forever grateful to them, as a whole new world has opened up before my eyes.

I want to thank all my friends and new travel friends who shared their travel experiences with me. Those who gave me ideas on where to go and what to do and what not to see. Cat for sending her travel itinerary and book suggestion for BA. Rajesh, not only for setting up an itinerary for me in India, but for being my guide in Mumbai and welcoming me into his family's home so i could experience the real welcoming beauty of India. To the fellow backpackers whose paths just happened to cross with mine, whether we'll ever cross paths again or not. You all (or from the Scottish term I just learned 'yous') were more helpful than any guidebook. Your stories much more relevant and colorful. It's the fellow travelers who have really shaped this trip into something worthwhile. You don't make goodbyes any easier, even in crazy SE Asia.

I'm gracious to have supportive friends like Keri and LB for being way too generous when I dog sat before my trip! And to my freelance clients who were understanding of a much needed vacation, who paid me way far in advance to have funds for this trip and not so much as make a peep to interrupt my time off. Thankful for my tenants for watching my place while I'm gone, and my landlord for being flexible with that arrangement.

I have felt so loved from those friends and family like you who are reading this and sending me words of encouragement and excitement. I don't feel like I've ever been alone on this trip as I open my inbox each morning and hear from you. I'm so blessed.

What would this trip be without my true travel companions, Jess and Emily. Jess for showing me the ropes on planning and booking everything. Something I DESPISE doing. So thanks for doing the dirty work. And for somehow always having great ideas like me so that we'd never argue, even though we should if we want to be advanced travel partners! Who would have thought when we would party together in college 10 years ago that we'd be a great travel match. For those of you with wandering minds, we are JUST friends!! promise. He loves Chicago, electronica, glow sticks, and the Packers. Not sure how we're even friends actually :) then there's my lovely Emily! I could not be more thrilled to do what we do best...catch up in the sand and water while discussing everything under the sun. My experiences and thoughts from this trip was a jumbled plate spaghetti...afterwards she helped me make sense of it all. She's so great with putting everything into perspective. Offering insight and laughter is her best tagline because its true! I haven't laughed like that in a long time. I think I have a six pack now :)

And last but not least...Greg! He fits into most all of these categories as a former Chicago coworker and friend who passed on words of wisdom. But probably the most insightful thing he shared, also the one I noted but thought I could forget...he told me to smile. Really? Well duh, I generally think I'm a happy person and smiling all the time. That is until, I found out, you see slums and pollution and just chaos in the streets and people just staring me down with a look. And just when you think you hear your mom calling and you have to go WANT to go smile. Even if its fake. And the glaring eyed person smiles back. And suddenly your smile softens into something more real. That's the secret!! That's it! No one can NOT smile when someone smiles at them. Heck, most people turn 180 on their motorbike in confusion to why this white chic is smiling at them. I distinctly remember getting overwhelmed a few times in cities...questioning why this country girl chose to be in these crazy cities in the first place. So I gave myself a pep talk to make the most of the situation...and smile. And suddenly I'd have the best day, feeling like I made someone else's day just with a smile. Greg, your advice has been paid forward, as I have now told other travelers this secret. They too have put it to practice and gotten the same positive reaction. Here on out I hope I don't come across as that quiet lonely person sitting in the corner, keeping to themselves, when there are travelers just a few feet away with stories to share over beer and Oreos...and who are waiting to hear my story as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Last stop

A mere 18 hours after leaving Cambodia, I arrived in Koh Phangan...a mere two hour flight, elongated by a layover, delay which caused me to miss my direct ferry...a 1.5 hour ferry to Koh Samui, taxi, speedboat, then another taxi. But I made it to our little bungalow on the hill! Emily was waiting in the outdoor common area. What a sweetheart ad warm welcome for this tired traveler! Her familiar voice was music to my ears, and she gets the trophy for worlds best hugs.

It's a beautiful spot, quietly nestled in the trees with a great view of fishing boats on the Gulf of Thailand. We are nearest to Haad Son beach, a private little cove with clear blue shallow water and no waves. It is definitely a little paradise.

But I'd be lying to say that I'm convinced of it yet. There are tourists, mostly (russian and french) families and couples. Relaxing. But to me it's far from the Thailand that I experienced a few weeks ago. I do miss the backpacker camaraderie, meeting new travelers and hearing their stories, experiencing what I think is more authentic Thailand and its people. And the cheaper prices.

All that aside, it's been a blessing to catch up with Em and swap travel stories. I never made it out of the airports to actually see Bangkok so she filled me in. I'm still digesting my experiences slowly, and she's so great to get me to talk and process them.

There are steep hills every few houses, so needless to say, we keep our walks to the point. 7-11, beach, and dinner. Since I'm here a whole week, I will eventually explore more of the island, if only for new food and shops. But for now it's been great to just sit and relax and soak it all in!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rumbling of the earth...

I left Laos and the 4 thousand islands via bus, crossing the Cambodia border with some new American friends I just met on the bus. We all held the pink tickets to Siem Reap. Upon crossing the border (my first via land for this trip!) an immigration officer stuck a small looking hair dryer up to my neck. She was taking my temperature. I giggled. Seriously? Yes, this is not a joke ma'am. You must be healthy to cross into Cambodia!

The roads were paved with lots of gravel and bumps along the way, making the journey long and, well, interesting when having to use the bathroom on the bus. Halfway to Siem Reap, we switched buses. We pulled up to the new bus, already full of passengers, and we (mostly backpackers, 16 deep) joked that we might have to camp out and sing kumbayah together, as it was 8pm by now. One girl from Israel was at her wits end and started questioning the bus driver with a raised voice. What is going on? We paid for a bus and now this one is full? Give us some direction on what we should be doing! The bus driver (as they always do when someone complains), said nothing and got on his phone, then handed it to her. Someone on the phone said that a bus would be coming in 30 minutes if she could trust him and wait. A few other backpackers have been on the infamous sardine-packed overnight bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, so decided that this would be a piece of cake in comparison, so lets just pack onto this bus. And that we did! I lost my earring on this bus...a stud from when I first pierced my ears. A part of me thinks it's symbolic. I've lost it a few memorable times in the past few years on some great adventures (upon moving to CO, on my 30th birthday, but always finding it after). This time I looked for it but decided to let it go. Like a fresh start.

I got to the hotel at midnight, three hours late, but awaiting me was my friend Jess! Back for more travels! The next morning we headed out early to bike 10km up to the Angkor temples. We were too late for sunrise, but made it before the crowds. What beauty! I especially enjoyed the trees that were growing out of, and taking over the temples.

On our ride back to town, I saw one of the guys from the bus and he said he had just donated blood, to help the kids here with some disease. It sounded like a great cause to me, but I hesitated at the sound of a needle from this foreign country. As sanitary as it might be, I will go back to the states and look into options for donating from there...maybe try to twist your arms too :)

The town of Siem Reap seemed fairly small. We stayed in the downtown near restaurants and bars and the markets which were all an easy walk. The ATMs dispense US dollars, as this is the main currency for big bills, and vendors would give change in riels. An easy conversion!

The next day we took a 6 hour bus to Phnom Penh. After flying for most if my first city connections then taking buses now for my later connections, I do prefer buses. No matter how long and how dirty and how rough, they still have a lot more stories and lot more personality than sterile plane rides! And they are easy to book last minute for this non-planner :) there's a lot more time to soak in the atmosphere of the country, making the drive a part of the full experience. Glad I enjoy airplanes now...but nothing beats a road trip :)

We arrived in Phnom Penh, a super friendly tuk-tuk driver excitedly came up and asked where we were from. He even knew about Denver and the mountains there! After first refusing his $2 offer for a ride, we made a u-e and decided he (David) could save us a mile and some time and strength. And he connected his iPod to speakers and played country...what's not to love?! We wanted to visit the killing fields the next day, so he offered to drive us there as well.

For those who don't know the killing fields, it's basically like what happened in Nazi Germany, with the killing of millions of innocent Cambodians, purely at the discretion of the regime in the late 1970s. Religious, educated, military, foreign, no one was safe. Even innocent children were killed as they said, if you will to remove grass you must remove the roots as well. They did not want children to grow up and seek revenge later. The regime was attempting to make the 'revised' nation self sufficient. So those who were safe were forced to farm or labor, though they had no previous experience.

This was a very sobering experience. Bones and clothes from the mass graves were still being unearthed due to rain. Very touching to hear that the people consider perfect strangers as brothers and sisters through this tragedy and even today. Besides our driver, each person we met was full of friendliness and not anger towards us or anyone. They are true examples of forgiveness...most importantly remembering the past only to help move forward and be optimistic about their future. I was truly touched. And hello first tears of the trip!

With Jess going on to Laos for a few days while I head to Koh Phangan for my last week, David drove me solo to the airport this morning. He even gave me a hug goodbye! I appreciated how he was the first and last person I'd see in that city. As excited as I am for the next place, it's hard to say goodbye to these places that have become my home for a few days!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My people

Sah bah dee!

The white folks here are slowing starting to get on my nerves. At first glance, they ask all the right questions. Can they see the room? How many beds? How long is the boat ride? Where does the bus stop? But as of late, I've come across some real snobs. They've paid for a full meal yet only got a few jumbo shrimps. Granted we are used to bigger dinners, but for $2, order another! There have been a couple who complain about the cleanliness of a room or the speed of the internet. May i remind you where we are...where we chose to be? Be happy there is a western toilet, let alone tp. Even happier there is actual internet and clean water and electricity! And again...we get what we pay for...Technically we're probably getting more if the room is only $6. It's not always fun or glamorous, but necessary to at least attempt to adapt to our surroundings when choosing to visit. Which technically I should be learning more than just thank you and hello if I'm here. So I'll step down from the soap box. Khap jai!

That being said, Don Dhet in the 4000 islands of Laos has been my favorite for the country...if not my favorite for all of SE Asia that I've seen this far! Pai Thailand,I must say, comes in at a close second.

From Pakse I took a short two hour bus to Ban N. something, which was a port to the island I'd be staying on. I had no hotel reservation, but saw a flyer at my hotel in Pakse so decided to head towards that. I knew it was to the right of where we'd deboard the boat, but people in town told me to keep'd be another 3.5km. No big deal. That's like 2 miles. Once again, why do I get myself on these long walks with my backpack?!

An hour later I made it. It must be like the Machu Picchu...kinda...but totally worth the hike. There were signs advertising sunset or sunrise bungalows...this one was on the south end of the island and featured both! For US$2/night. To myself. Besides the occasional noise where my bathroom wall joined with my French neighbors...good thing I feel like anything they say is beautiful just by the way they speak it.

Anyway. My bungalow is directly beside the friendship bridge that joins to another island with a waterfall, the old train, some endangered dolphins, and pretty much no inhabitants. I journey across by a beat up old cruiser bike...mindful of the one working brake which is for the front wheel. Good thing there are zero hills. Just lots of rocks in the dirt road. And the northmost point to the southmost point is 4km. Easy.

I honestly just went to the island to find an iced coffee. But actually met some white folks from Canada who made a good impression for us with the locals. They were brothers, speaking highly of the Khmer food I'd soon be eating in Cambodia, and encouraged me to check out this waterfall. I saw it just about at sunset. Great views even though to me it was just raging waters through air separated the water from the rock. But now who sounds like a snot? :) it's like when Wisconsin calls its highest point a mountain. Just humorous when you've skied in Colorado :)

So what else? My appetite came back full force! Not sure if its me or some MSG, but I think I've eaten about 6 meals today! I learned how to ask for 'not spicy' after getting a delicious slaw type salad that was just too spicy to finish. And Asian dishes here don't typically come with rice either, so one must ask for it. Pancakes are a toss up for breakfast...some are deep fried, others are the most tasty crepes. Shakes are a toss up too...some are severely watered down and sugared up...others you have to eat with a spoon and are all 100% fruit.

Where I was getting my shake today, there was a groups of dogs procreating and getting in a big barking match. More interesting was the restaurant owner fighting them off with her broom. Guess once I saw kids pooping on public sidewalks in India, anything goes. This will be my permanent vision of each country...Vietnam with people picking their noses for some serious gold...did I see anything deemed socially unacceptable in Argentina or Thailand though? Hmm. Guess they are more second world than third world countries.

The only other things I've done on this island are lay on the 'beach'...the small area of sand that we docked...and lay in various hammocks, reading. And from my views I've watched ducks get into fights, seen a ton of cute baby chicks learning to scrounge for food, walk cautiously past unfenced water buffalo, and have had little baby piglets on leashes squeal at me. The backpacker number might equal to the number of locals. And the locals seem to each have their house double as a guesthouse/restaurant/travel agency/money exchange/laundromat/etc. As primitive as it is, the people don't seem to work too hard...sitting on their stoops chatting with each other throughout the day, yet still happy to help at any request for their service. During one of my many lunches today, I watched a man take the entire hour to replace a hook for a ceiling fan with a hammer and nail. Screwdrivers haven't made it here yet?

I do wonder about the expats here, who live here now with young kids. Sure it's the relaxing life, just the basics, but would it get boring? To me I guess it'd depend on if one has family and friends...those cannot be replaced.

On that note, I'm so freaking excited to say that I will have not one, but two of my friends joining me in the next few days! It's been fun to get some space and alone time...but it will be sweet to share some of these places with some close friends.

Enough rambling for now! Xoxo

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The rest of 'nam and some of Laos

So long, Vietnam. Of my couple days in Hanoi, I saw that it was the craziest busy city I've been to outside of India, so I headed towards Ninh Bihn. My hostel concierge warned me that I might find inflated prices and that I should book a $30 tour package with him. No thanks, I think I got this. After a long walk to the bus and waiting 3 hours for it to even depart, I questioned my decision. No one on the bus spoke English, but some women were friendly enough to share their snacks. We piled person after thing after person on the bus for the two hour ride. I thought I did get the white girl price of double the normal $3 rate, but felt better seeing the girl next to me pay the same amount... Increased for the tet holiday (their new year celebration: A HUGE weeklong event with family) I still didnt understand the bus system. We were taking people's packages like a delivery truck, and there were random unmarked bus stops along the highway on the way. Whatever the case, my stop came and the bus assistant grabbed my bag and tossed it to the curb for me!

The town was the original capital of Vietnam, yet not much was in the city. So the next day, after my hotel manager refused to lend me a mountain bike to see the sites outside the city because it was too far, he taught me how to drive a scooter. Same price too. A few prayers later, I was off in crazy scooter traffic! I thought the girl at the hotel said the Cuc National Park would be better than Tam Loc, so I headed that way...45 km away with a rough map. Turns out my sense of direction got lost somewhere along this journey! I made it half way then none of the roads lined up to the map and everything turned to jibberish. Three hours later I decided to turn around, even though a few men on the street told me I was now close to the park. There just wasn't enough time. The drive itself was beautiful nonetheless. It had turned into country roads, with endless rice fields and small villages between grand hills. I passed a few other scooters, and the ones that past me gave me a 180 glance...probably thinking...was that just a white chic driving that scooter?

I made it back in time for the bus back to Hanoi. The concierge talked with me a bit before I left. She excitedly rattled off facts she just learned about America. About how there are 50 states, the biggest cities, and pop stars like Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. I was surprised, but I guess America is the Mecca of places to live in their dreams! I asked if anyone here had negative feelings towards America and she said that most disliked China. She was personally upset that the Chinese would buy produce cheap from Vietnam then sell it back, with preservatives. She's no farmer but even she understood that preservatives that make something last a year or more is not healthy...and to blame for cancer and diseases. Granted, she's just one girl I spoke with, who's parents I'm sure gave her some influence. Felt better than a guy who yelled at me when I was waiting curbside on my scooter...whatever that was about.

After riding past the cute (meat) goats and hearing pigs squeal and seeing people carrying chickens in plastic bags on their scooters...I realized these were all going to be FRESH dinners. So that day, I was vegetarian.

I didn't find much to do in Hanoi besides fight scooters for possession of the streets. Drivers would even be shopping from their scooters stopped in the middle of the road as they ignored the honking of other scooters who were now stuck behind. Madness! There were some historic sites but I think I'm done with those for the moment. Off to Laos!

I flew into Vientiane. First thing I noticed on my $6 cab ride from the airport. Silence. No honking whatsoever! My driver also didn't know a lick of English, and dropped me off at some random hotel. I walked around for an hour, almost booking at other places if they hadn't been full! But finally found my hostel.

There were a couple girls hobbling around our dorm room...turns out they had gotten in a scooter accident and were being sent home. They were pretty bummed since they were only halfway through their month trip. A good reminder to take it easy :)

Vientiane itself was a nice city. A lot like Paris with the Arc de Triumphe and the French pastries and dishes. Can you believe after all this time I still felt a craving for Vietnamese pho?! Perhaps because I had pizza my last night in Vietnam :)

Since there wasn't much to do in Vientiane, and since it didnt offer hammocks either, I have headed south to Pakse, per a recommendation from a fellow backpacker. Nothing here either, but the town is walkable, there is Italian food to choose from (Indian too but I'm still gonna pass for awhile), and my guesthouse is right along the river. $6 a night and its not even a dorm...but I do share it with a few ghekkos! And after 3+ weeks I'm going to do my bus mates a favor and wash my clothes! By the way, the sleeper bus that I rode in on this morning was awesome. There were no seats, just cubbies with beds. I shared mine with another solo girl traveller from Austria. Who was actually 34! She gave me tips on Thai islands, and I told her where to stay in Pai. In the middle of the night I recall hitting a big bump and smelling some fumes, but it faded, along with my thoughts of it. A girl next to us told us the bus assistant had 'stomped on the floor' and stomped whatever fire out. She was still in amazement how something like that could happen and he just fix it by stomping on the floor! Ha! Only in SE Asia!

It smells like incense here too. I guess at this point the countries and cities are starting to look alike. More mosquitoes and its more humid here, but the people are just as friendly. No one hassles me to buy their clothes or ride in their tuk-tuks either! Maybe what I pull from this experience is how to sell my produce...ride it around on my bike to show it off, but not harass people to buy it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A few firsts

As I walked with my 15k bag around Hue, Vietnam today, all I could think about was how great this train ride would be! Sleeper train north to Hanoi. It was all the hype from tourists. Should be like Amtrak right? I suppose it's a nice train for the area, but just getting into the train was next to impossible. When I boarded, there were already families on, spilling into the hall on tiny red plastic chairs. Oh yeah...we don't have seats and somehow my room of four beds is already full of three adults, a teen, and 3 kids. And everyone is just staring at me. Wish I could fake a smile but at this point I just needed a corner or something that's my own space. When I finally got a bed, the introvert in me can chill.

So yes! I made it to Vietnam! Barely...

After Pai I returned to Chiang Mai for a night. Rough night of sleep with paper thin walls and noise outside my window. The next day just happened to be a flower festival. There werent many tuk-tums or taxis available, so I walked to the airport. First time I can say I've done that! Just a few miles I think.

I flew back to Bangkok and spent the night in the airport. Some friendly French folks invited me over to chat, guessing that I'd be spending the night too. We exchanged tips on where we'd been, since they were on their way to Chiang Mai, and I'll be going to islands they saw. 4am rolled around and I was able to check in. Inside the terminal were BEAN BAGS! This totally made my morning for a couple more hours of zzz's.

I got into Hanoi and would transfer to Da Nang in central Vietnam. Except when I presented my passport, the woman said I booked the flight but hadn't purchased it. And by now the purchase time is expired. Crap! Luckily the flight wasn't full so I was able to buy a flight, though I think it cost me $50 more per flight.

I got money from the ATM...turns out I can be a millionaire here, as US$1 = VND$20,000. That's a lot of zeros to translate.

Da Nang was just a typical city from what I saw. It's along the water and I could barely make out some mountains across the water in the fog. Everyone was driving moto-bikes, aka scooters. I walked to the bus stop and was trying to cross a huge street, not at a cross walk. A college age fella asked me 'taxi?' And I motioned that I just needed to cross. He got up and started walking in the street. I insisted that I didn't need a taxi but thanked him anyway. Then he motioned me to follow him...he basically stepped out in traffic for me so I was comfortable crossing without getting hit!

I caught the city bus to Hoi An, 45 minutes away. I wasn't too impressed riding through Da Nang. People on scooters were wearing doctors face does smell like burned broth...prob from all the garbage people burn in this area. I can't imagine having to wear one of those on my bike, and not enjoying what 'fresh air' really is. Again, I'm blessed. I hope we can keep America as clean as it is.

Ok, back to the bus. So on this bus is a driver and a 'doorman' if you will. The doorman stands in the exit door in the middle of the bus, calling riders at stops, then helps with bags and pulls and pushes people on board to help the flow. It's a harried mess and funny yet stressful to watch. Thankfully Hoi An is the last stop.

What a town! Taxi drivers were waiting for I caught one for US$2.50 to my hostel. He took me to his scooter. I definitely had a moment of panic when he put on my helmet. He put my bag in front of him, I hopped on behind him, holding on for dear life to the bar behind my seat and away we flew! I survived...lets do that again!

After dropping my bags at the hostel, I rented a bike and cruised to the beach a few miles down the road, then rode back and rode through town, another few miles. This town was the perfect size for me! Beautiful glowing lanterns everywhere.

Since I did regret skipping out on surfing when I was in Ecuador, I decided this time I wouldn't make any excuses. I saw a sign for lessons and things got real! My instructor, Ruslan, was a Russian transplant...moving here only a couple months ago and taught himself how to surf. And he told me at the end of the lesson that I was his first student! Ruslan had limited English so drew lots of pictures in the sand and demonstrated movements as he could. I knew this would be a difficult thing to pick up, even with my snowboarding. So at the end of the day I was able to balance on the board and catch a few great waves while kneeling. Next time maybe I'll stand up! I think the hardest part for me was just signing up for the lesson...I love the water and didnt mind getting knocked over by the waves as long as I was progressing. It also helped that Ruslan was encouraging. At the end I was even able to speak his language! Thank you Grandpa N. for that catchy jingle 'Спасибо и до свидания' or 'thank you and goodbye' in Russian :)

I met a French guy on the street and turns out we stayed at the same hostel. He had found this hole in the wall restaurant with authentic Vietnamese food that wasn't Pho (the most popular dish), so I joined him for dinner. Apparently all the Vietnamese dishes have a plate of greens on the side. This dish was like a fajita of parts to put together into an egg roll. Not sure what the parts were...meat, spices, eggs, greens?? Very good! We also enjoyed a glass of US$0.15 beer...apparently most restaurants have a batch of beer they brew for the day then sell it this cheap until its gone.

I had to switch hostels because my first was overbooked with the huge upcoming tet holiday...the Vietnamese new year, and a huge deal for families to get together! So at my next hostel I heard my first American accent in Vietnam and called him out. Hha. He was from San Francisco, had bought a moto-bike and shared where he'd stayed in Cambodia and Laos. Looking forward to seeing some of those!

For now I'll be in Hanoi for the next couple days. I spent today in Hue, a lot of historic stuff, but I think I got most of it in the half day, so didnt stay. I'd love to see Halong Bay but travelers who have just came from there said it was constant fog this season, so not sure it'll be worth it. It might be nice to stay in one spot until Friday though...lightning tour!

'Til next time...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Never try, never know

Sadly today I had to leave Pai :(. It was a perfect little mountain retreat. I did nothing there and I don't even feel bad about it. There where elephants and waterfalls and hot springs to see and scooters and bikes to ride, but the hostel hammocks and their view from the hill was just too hard to pass up. And again, the people were fantastic.

A few guys from London got tattoos in thai of this blogs title. I think it's pretty inspiring! Reminds me to soak up the opportunities while I'm here...not let them pass...not that I regret slumming in the hammock today :)

So far on my journey, the oldest traveller I've met has been 28. And my two month trip is the shortest of all travelers as well. Most are traveling for 6 months, some upwards to 18 months. And few are Americans. I feel special. Our culture must really appreciate the comforts of home!

After finding my first volunteer for our farm back home (would be cool anyway!) I walked to the train station. I handed a driver my ticket and he directed me to a minibus. That driver pointed to his watch and motioned the minute hand on his watch circling to 4:30. So my 4pm bus was late. So I thought. 4:30 rolls around, the driver motions me over to board, then he's confused that someone has taken my assigned seat. I hand him my ticket. Yesterday's bus ticket. For 14:30. Wrong ticket. I hand him the correct one for today...that bus was actually on time. And it's gone. Crap! I head to the desk and try to explain in simple English. Thankfully there's another bus in 10 minutes but he wanted another 150 baht (the full price for a new ticket...granted, it's US$5). I plea and the 4:30 driver must've given an ok too. And I'm graciously on the 4:40 bus without paying more.

Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad though...I could've stayed in pai for $3 all you can eat sushi with my hostel mates! I hate to admit this, but tonight was the first time I ate real Thai food. (My egg and toast breakfasts haven't counted) it was delicious, even if it was basic chicken, vegetables and rice!

Flight out of chiang mai tomorrow evening. Then Vietnam on Sunday!