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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

I’ve been slow on posting this time around because for what seems like the first time on this trip, we’ve had somewhat limited access to the internet (either too slow or non existent).

It’s also somewhat fortuitous that I left off my last post in Hanoi bragging about all the food we ate in just the first day and how much we were going to continue eating because (couldn’t you see this coming?) I woke up with sharp pains in my belly the next morning. It basically felt like someone was intermittently stabbing me in the gut with a red hot pocket knife (or something like that), and I instantly knew that I was experiencing my first– and hopefully only– bout of food poisoning. My ailments were likely brought on by our carefree feast of street food the previous day, no less. Luckily for me Alan started feeling sick too so the whole crew (now just three of us) spent the full day in bed watching Gallery Girls. TV marathons really have amazing healing powers when you’re sick, and antibiotics don’t hurt either.

We recooped for the most part and headed out on a two day, one night excursion to Ha Long Bay. The bus broke down on the 2 hour ride over though, leaving us to basically hitchhike on other buses and ride the rest of the way on less than ideal seats. Getting to Ha Long made it worth it though, as it was just as gorgeous and grand as advertised. The caves were really kitschy and geared heavily toward tourists with stalactites and stalagmites lit up in different colors and some ominous voice speaking/singing over the loud speaker in a way not unlike the creepy animatronics at It’s a Small World. Still, the weather was beautiful and Eric and I were able to kayak around the bay under rocks and in caves (Alan was still feeling sick and stayed on the boat, but at least he was spared the fiberglass splinters Eric and I dealt with for the next two days).


We headed back to Hanoi the next day only to realize there wasn’t much to do in the city in the way of sightseeing. We explored the night market, got quick massages and picked up our tailored clothes the next day but then were sort of at a loss. We hung out waiting for the next meal for the rest of our time there. I also happened to be awake really early one morning and consequently was able to finally meet up with Megan and Jenna, who had just arrived on the sleeper train from Sapa.

We took a prop plane from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, Laos, which was an amazing flight because having a birds eye view of Laos showed it was almost completely green and covered in jungle. The city itself was super charming–as Alan put it, “the perfect mix of developed and undeveloped.” Our fourth of July was spent biking to the Tad Sae waterfalls (40 km in the relentless sun), swimming in the falls and feeding elephants, and then kayaking down the Mekong (which bears a striking resemblance to the chocolate river from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by the way) back to town. We found a backpackers bar after eating a very american meal of pizza and ribs and hung out with a group of Mormons from BYU and a drunk Texan Google employee who now lives in Australia and goes to great lengths to hide her american origins. We rounded out our night with drunk american girls lighting fireworks and a couple games of bowling at the place to be in Luang Prabang–the bowling alley (which falls just outside the Lao drinking curfew of 11:30). I think that in the 3 or 4 Fourths I’ve spent overseas, I’ve always had more time in each respective place than in the states. Weird, but I guess that good ol’ american pride is amplified outside of the country.


We took a minibus to the bigger waterfalls, Kuang Si, the next morning and were greeted with more sunshine which was unfortunate for the boys, who got burnt on our kayak ride. The fish in the pond also really enjoyed eating the scab on my ankle which was all at once nauseating and terrifying. But hey, we figured out where the “doctor fish” come from. The falls were spectacular, albeit more touristy than Tad Sae. Overall our time spent in Luang Prabang left all of us agreeing it was our favorite destination thus far. Plus, Alan met a future coworker and now has at least a couple LA connections. Small world, eh?


The next morning we departed on our three day journey up the Mekong in a slow boat to get to Chiang Mai. We spent 8 hours per day for two days traveling upstream on an open air vessel with minibus seats mailed to the floor boards. Luckily for us we were going in the much more unpopular direction and had room to spread out and walk around. It did get hot and a little but uncomfortable at times but I’m really glad we did it because it was beautiful. Plus we all got a chance to read a ton, including The Defining Decade, which was recommended to us by newly befriended USC graduates, and which Alan happened to have with him. It made us all a little depressed and a little happy. The biggest problem that we ran into was trying to cross the Mekong into Thailand and being sent back across the river to Laos because it was 6:10 and the office closed at 6:00. The passport official on the Thai side really hated us for whatever reason and allowed the the Thai nationals in our group in, leaving us to sulk back to the other side. Bribery didn’t even work. He must’ve been having a very bad day.



Today we took a minibus in the rain to Chiang Mai. We’ve already scheduled a cooking class for tomorrow and a visit to the tiger park plus massages for the following day. I can’t believe I’ll be back home in 6 days, but I also can’t believe how much we still have left to do here.


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First off: I’ve given up on finding an SD reader because my camera is non-functioning and it just doesn’t seem worth it. Also, this means that I have much less motivation to write, as I’m sure you have much less motivation to read these posts. So they will be continuing to come at this slow frequency.

Onward: I believe I left off in Patong, our second time around. We already gathered Alan on the ferry in Phi Phi, bringing our group to what we thought would be its largest capacity: 6 people. Silly us.

The four travelers willing to pay for a flight headed to Bangkok quite early (early enough to learn that McDonald’s doesn’t start serving breakfast until 7AM…???). The other two, Marc and Tom arrived a day later after taking an 18 hour bus ride to Bangkok. We stayed at NapPark hostel in Khao San which was quite the doozy of a party hostel and included the most rambunctious group of Brits we’ve encountered this far. Let’s just say we were auditory witnesses to a poor girl being urinated on at 6 AM. (And that I found my bed used by somebody else, one of my worst nightmares)

In Bangkok we met up with Jen who had messaged us asking about our whereabouts. She ended up sticking with us, bringing our group to 7. We also met a handful of Berkeley alums at the hostel, meaning Cal was well represented.

On our first night in BKK I saw a familiar face on the street. I had known that Faryar was going to be in SE Asia but we had previously established that we wouldn’t cross paths. Whoops. She and her friend Ryan brought the total to 9. 8 of us used the second day to watch World War Z in 4D which was great and terrifying. We ran into a large organized protest outside the mall/theater afterward, complete with what looked like thousands of Guy Faulkes masks. So we were late to the trip we had previously set up with a travel agent to see a floating market. We ended up getting ripped off completely by the tour company in an apparently well practiced scam where we were driven to the middle of nowhere and forced to pay for a boat ride we didn’t want. The kicker? We didn’t stop at the market, which is where we wanted to go in the first place, leaving me with a growling stomach on the 1.5 hour car ride back to the city. I ate 2 bowls of soup noodles from street vendors and a cup of homemade ice cream for a total of about $4. I love Asia (most of the time).

The rest of Bangkok was spent looking at temples and eating food, mostly, until we took an 8 hour bus ride across the Thai/Cambodian border to Siem Reap. Some of us were lucky enough to be set up at a gorgeous hotel by Eric’s parents, so we split in two groups upon realizing we wouldn’t be able to sneak extra people into our rooms. We reconvened for dinner and meet up with yet another Berkeley friend! Yay! And we saw some girls walking on the main street wearing Cal jerseys but didn’t care enough to follow them and talk to them.

We spent the next day visit the temples of Siem Reap, including the incredible Angkor Wat. Beeeeautiful!

The next day we got pampered with manicures and pedicures ($3 each) before it was time for Annie to part from us. It’s crazy because this signaled there is just about two weeks left for the rest of us. Four weeks really flew by. It also reminded me that I should keep posting because the days are getting so muddled at this point and it’s hard to keep track of everything we’ve done/seen/eaten/visited. Because that is a lot of stuff. A lot.

Anyway, Eric, Alan, and I left Marc, Tom, and Jen in Siem Reap last night and had 4:45 AM room service before flying to our current location of Hanoi. We’ve already eaten pho while sitting on child sized plastic furniture and ordered suits/dresses to be tailored, which were our major priorities. The rest of our time in Vietnam will be split among Hanoi, Ha Long, and eating food.

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If you happen to be one of those few people who consistently follows this blog, you will notice that there has been a delay in my posting. This is because my card reader decided to stop working so I can’t upload photos, and we all know words aren’t nearly as interesting without pictures.

So now I will try to recap the last week as briefly as possible without missing the good stuff:

We had a great time at Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpur although the city itself seemed sort of like a more sprawling, dirtier version of Singapore. A Singapore Jr., if you will. But Singapore’s public transportation leaves KL’s in the dust and a quick glance at a map of KL’s streets looks like nothing more than a bowl of spaghetti, or laksa I would be more appropriate I guess. So we spent our less-than-48-hours in KL trying to navigate (we were separated for several hours one day), eating great food, and looking at butterflies and insects bigger than my hands at the Perdana botanical gardens.
Tom, Eric, and I had a great stroll through Little India, which was actually much more vibrant and (seemingly) authentic than Singapore’s. We ate lunch at another banana leaf spot but this one was more of a locals only kind of joint so we for our food only after much confused conversing and foolish gesticulations. It was worth it though–samples of over six types of spicy (like, actually spicy) curries atop a generous serving of rice and Indian pickles. At night we went to the famed Jalan Alor, a night market full of street food vendors, and tried Hokkien noodles, a proclaimed specialty of the area. They were alright but the real star was the meat-on-a-stick we had for dessert. I got crab claws, fried, grilled, and spiced to perfection right in front of me.

Aside from the food and lodging, KL didn’t seem to have too much to offer so we weren’t terribly disappointed in our short time allotted there.

I had researched Phuket and knew there were parties in the beach community of Patong but I didn’t realize how intense it would be and also that our hostel was on the main “strip” Banglan Road. We made friends with a bunch of Brits & Irishmen but also fell asleep to the soothing sounds of thumping bass, so it was a blessing and a curse.

After two nights we took a choppy ferry ride to Koh Phi Phi, where we found the sixth member of our group, Alan. The island was as picturesque as I’d hoped and imagined but the beaches were a bit unfriendly because of unusually large wind gusts (which pelted us with sand). The highlight of Phi Phi was definitely scuba diving at one of the smaller islands. It was Eric and my first time diving, and we both ended up being super happy with our decision to splurge. We saw tons of gorgeous fish & coral despite the poor visibility brought on by the wind. I see a PADI certification in my future! (Because another expensive hobby is just what I need)…

SPEAKING OF WHICH–I dropped my camera today for the first time ever when we got back to Phuket. A solid 4 foot drop onto linoleum left my mount screwed up and my wide angle lens unable to focus. Solid. Aside from cringing at the huge bill I’m going to have to foot for the repairs (assuming that’s an option), I’m not thrilled about having to schlep a large heavy paperweight–err–lens around for the remainder of the trip. Also I guess landscapes are out of the question now so expect lots of artsy bokeh-heavy shots from now on. Ugh.

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In the past three days, I took a total of one photo (seen above) on my DSLR. This is fairly indicative of how our days spent in South Kuta went.

But first let me recap the rest of our adventure packed time spent in Ubud. I forgot to mention the restaurant we ate lunch at on our tour of the temples. It had an unreal view of a huge field of rice paddy terraces. The food was by far trumped by its backdrop, one of my favorites thus far.


On our last morning I made a solo trip to the local food market at 7:15 AM because Tom bailed on me (citing a need to pack and then promptly falling back asleep). I’m glad I made the short journey though because it was unlike anything we’d yet seen in Ubud or elsewhere. Hundreds of vendors lining the streets and actual market place, hawking every type of fish, cracker, fruit, veggie, and craft you could imagine. I walked away with a bag of my favorite Indonesian fruit–salak– and some shrimp crackers, artfully formed in a manner reminiscent of american funnel cakes.



I’d like to just mention that it’s a small miracle none of us fell through the sidewalk during our stay in Ubud.


But back to Kuta. Since we were far from a lot of the main thoroughfare, we rented motorbikes one day and scooted to Jimbaran beach, after a slightly frantic debate about what the safest driver/passenger arrangements would be (it ended up being Tom/Annie, Eric/our guide, and me & Marc each solo, for those interested). We body surfed, boogie boarded, and filled up on $1 glass bottles of Coke, $2 plates of mie goreng, nasi goreng, and French fries all day, not unlike the previous day spent at Balangan beach. After Jimbaran, though, we had a fish BBQ at the villa, complete with an overflowing plate of fried calamari, snapper, mahi mahi, and Indonesian curried veggies. We feasted.

The next day, we feasted again. This time, we took a stressful cab ride to Nusa Dua via downtown Kuta thanks to a miscommunication. We ended up at our destination of The Mulia Cafe at The Mulia Resort an hour late but were greeted by the most beautiful buffet ever. I thought our host was exaggerating when he said it put the Bellagio to shame, but he wasn’t. Not even a little. Individual rooms/stations for dessert, sushi, Chinese, western, Thai (hand pulled egg noodles!!), and Indonesian food, all fresh and with amazing service. Most of us gorged on 5 servings of dessert alone.

We overstayed our welcome after our gluttonous lunch by crashing the absolutely stunning Ocean Pool for a couple of hours before returning home to watch a half Chinese dubbed version of Iron Man 3.

And even though it was raining this morning, we took one last trip to Balangan Beach and watched the now much larger and more aggressive waves satisfy the surfers, many of whom no doubt made the trip to Bali just to surf at this beach.


Tonight we arrive in Kuala Lumpur and are staying at a place called b the Reggae Mansion. Marc booked this one. Back to the city for a bit before we explore the beaches of Thailand.

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We spent the last three nights in Ubud, Bali. It’s basically the more traditional, natural, and slightly less touristy counterpart to Kuta, the place most people think of when they hear the name Bali.

Like I mentioned in my last post, Ubud is one of my favorite places overall. Our time there this time around only reinforced my overall love for the cluster of mountain villages.

On our first day, Tom, Eric and I did a lap around the main circular road and decided that we would go trekking on a volcano the next day. So, at 2AM on Marc’s birthday, we set out for an excursion to see the sunset from Mount Batur. It was a more difficult hike than expected, only exacerbated by our lack of light and sleep. I was the slowest in the pack and also opted to not make the final optional half hour trek to the very top because of the lack of guarantee that the view would be clear from up there. The fog rolled in about 20 minutes before sunrise was expected so nobody saw anything BUT it cleared up on the way down revealing a gorgeous but weirdly Swiss-Alps-like landscape below.


Top of the volcano


The volcano afterward, from a different viewpoint


Another good meal we had after the volcano

After getting back and crashing for a few hours we got our first massages/facials for $10 at Sang Spa. They were really nice and relaxing but I can’t wait for the $3 massages that await us in Thailand and Vietnam.

That night there was a blackout which was made slightly terrifying by the number of gaping holes in the sidewalk but none of us fell in the sewer so yay for that.

The next day we toured some of Bali’s temples, complete with Tom, bathing himself in holy water. He was undoubtedly one of the largest whitest patrons that fountain had ever seen and a group of Chinese tourists decided to capture the historic moment by snapping a bunch of pictures.


We made a quick trip to the Monkey Forest afterward and luckily didn’t get anything stolen but witnessed some money cruelty including an underage rape. Gritty stuff. For dinner we had my favorite meal this far, pictured above. We ate at the Dirty Duck Diner and tried the bebek guling, or Balinese fried duck. My meal came with a sweet/salty pork satay, fried fish, fishcakes, beef rendang (thus far extremely elusive), and Indonesian peanuts. And all of it was good.

Now we’re in South Kuta near Baslangan Beach. It’s gorgerous but not terribly friendly for swimming because the bottom is all rocks/coral and Tom and I already got cut up. The food on the beach is the cheapest we’ve seen the whole trip (counterintuitive for someone used to the ridiculous prices at any California beach snack shack), at about $2 per dish. It’s not the fanciest food but they have great French fries, and did I mention its only $2 for a meal?

We’re kind of far from everything in Kuta so we might rent scooters for the day, cross our fingers that we don’t get hit by a van, and check out another beach.

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After a longer-than-expected travel day yesterday, we arrived in Kuta, Bali and headed to Ubud this morning. We’re staying at a B&B called Jati Homestay, which has been really great so far because we have our own rooms/bathrooms and decks overlooking Bali’s distinctive and beautiful foliage. The privacy is enough if an upgrade from hostel life (and the constant snoring that comes with it) that I’m willing to overlook the lack of air conditioning. Plus, its cooler up here in the hills so the A/C isn’t all that necessary.

We finished up our trip to Singapore with a visit to the Gardens by the Bay while Marc streamed the USA vs. Jamaica game at an internet cafe. We didn’t have time to go to the conservatories so we made do by walking around the suspended walkway of the ‘super trees’. Regardless, the gardens were amazingly well kempt and intricate, so we didn’t feel completely cheated. The view from the super trees was amazing and add an added bonus we got to walk through the Sands to catch a cab. That hotel is really incredible. Then we ate lunch at a Chinese place that looked like a local favorite and I got to demonstrate my amazing lack of Chinese-speaking abilities. Sort of embarrassing but totally expected. Thanks mom & dad.



We got on our delayed flight to Denpasar and stayed the night at a hostel in Kuta which was a nice change of pace because there were more people our age and we were able to exchange stories late into the night.

But the sweating had been relentless. Like, it never stops, even here in cooler Ubud. And we didn’t have A/C in our open-air, 15-person bedroom. So we sprayed ourselves down with bug repellent before hitting the hay.

This morning we arrived in one of my favorite places I’ve visited (so much so that I was more than willing to devote a few days of our short trip to somewhere I’ve already been). Annie and Marc headed to the hostel to rest after our lunch of suckling pig at Babi Guling but Eric, Tom and I ventured onward and made a loop around the central part of the village.


Tomorrow is Marc’s birthday and we’re hoping to go on a sunrise volcano hike at 2AM. Hopefully everyone comes back in one piece so we can make it to get massages afterward.

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I’m currently taking a mid-afternoon A/C break in Tresor Tavern Hostel in Singapore, something I’ve learned is pretty necessary on this side of the world after years of visiting Asian countries. But this trip is much different than those I’ve taken in the past. This trip will last six weeks and will wind through seven countries. I’m backpacking like my trip to Europe last year but unlike that adventure, this time I’m joined by a group of friends, six of us in total.

I started mentally planning this trip last summer while still in Italy, fantasizing about returning to Bali and rectifying my cancelled trip to Thailand while pruning the vines. I didn’t know who I’d be going with but after many iterations of grouping, I’m super happy with the six who ended up coming. There are only five of us for now and throughout the trip we break off into smaller groups and recombine. Our route is as follows: Singapore; Bali, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Bangkok, Thailand; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Hanoi, Vietnam; Luang Prabang, Laos; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Ipoh, Malaysia; and then finally back to Singapore to catch our flight to LAX.

The flight in wasn’t bad, but we had a 10 hour layover in Taipei. The uncomfortable sleeping situation (complete with screaming children) was forgiven when we got to wake up to a 6 AM bowl of beef noodle soup. Pure joy.


Yesterday we didn’t do too much besides exploring Little India and feasting on really good Indian food, including fish head curry, which is a big deal here, I guess, and which was really tasty and a little sour, which I didn’t expect but really enjoyed. We were sort of ripped off at the place we went (they charged us for most towelettes and tap water) but we had more than enough food so we just accepted it.

So far we’ve mostly tried to get our sleep cycles in sync with the time zone, and pretty successfully, I might add, except for the small roadblock of a very loudly snoring roommate all night. Annie and I were pretty disappointed that it wasn’t Marc or Tom because it left us powerless to resolve the problem.

But we all rallied and got up about 9 before eating breakfast at the hostel and then going to Mt. Faber park. Annie and Eric took the gondola up, but the rest of us walked in an effort to be less fat (my mom made us weigh ourselves before we left). We walked around and explored the Henderson Waves bridge, which was pretty awesome, but needed a break after all the sweating we did on our little trek. So, we stopped at 313@somerset, a mall, and grabbed lunch before heading back to wear we are now.

I actually like it here way more than I expected. I was looking at Singapore more as a pit stop on the way to our other destinations, but it’s a great place in its own right. The mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese, Filipino, and western cultures is prominent everywhere, including the faces we’ve seen on MRT, the subway system. People watching is definitely a worthwhile activity here, as is browsing the many, MANY restaurants offering all kinds of fare. It’s pretty cool.


Tonight, we visit a food court, one of Singapore’s prominent culinary features, and the thing I’m most excited about. Chili crab? Yes, please.

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