Category Archives: Thailand

Time in Thailand

Before Sunset

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Bangkok rooftop view
419999_708202240075_2144163877_n The window to our room in the hostel The Overstay

 

I stormed out of the sweltering room and quickly descended the four floors of stairs.  I slowed down only to avoid slipping in a puddle of water that sat at the bottom of the steps of the first floor.  The dark and smoky essence of the entryway, that consisted of several couches, pool tables, and a full bar with several bar stools, was a relief from the heat on the upper levels.  However, I was too upset to stop and enjoy the cave-like room and briskly made my way across to the front door.

Once I opened the door, the heat of the city hit my face like a ton of bricks.  Reminiscent of New Orleans summers-where it is hard to find any sort of relief from the humidity-filled my mind.  However it was short-lived because after a few moments I realized there was absolutely no wind.  No breeze blowing, not even the slightest waft of hot air that would make you smile on a New Orleans summer day.  I struggled with the thought of returning to the cool cave and ordering a cold beer to quell my frustrations but instead I ran into a friendly face.

“Can I help you?” a British boy asked.

“How do I get into the city?”

“Well, just go down on the corner there and get on bus number 203.  It’ll take you right across the bridge and into Bangkok proper.  I’m Patrick, a manager here.  See you later!”

I smiled, thanked him, and walked to the corner to wait for the bus.  Within seconds, 203 pulled over and I boarded.  Luckily I found a seat and paid something equivalent to fifty cents for the ride.

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I enjoyed sitting on the bus with the air blowing on my face from an open window.  I watched the traffic and contemplated riding the bus until the last stop.  However, I decided to get off where it seemed the majority was exiting the bus.  I had no plan or agenda or even a map.  So I just walked.  I found a narrow street that looked like a small alleyway.  Food stalls and open-air restaurants lined the street procuring some of the most amazing smells.   I noticed a very tall man, a foreigner, possibly an American walking my way.

I have to explain that after a long time of being in a place where you physically look very different from everyone else, and on the extremely rare occasion when you run into another foreigner, it is hard not to feel as if you know them or recognize them.  Those features, more similar to your own, have a strange familiarity and even though those features have not been present in a long time you still remember them.

We locked eyes as we passed each other-like every time I passed another Westerner-and tried to conjure some sort of recognition.  However, like every other time, I had never seen this person in my life.  So I continued walking and quickly went back to breathing in the heavenly smells surrounding me.

I chose a restaurant that sat directly on the river.  I took a seat at a table by the water and watched massive fish nibble away at leftovers floating on the surface.  Boats rowed, drove, and paddled by.  The city runs in an organized chaos.  After a few moments of reflective dazing I looked around the restaurant and noticed the same Westerner I passed on the street eating at a table across the room.  At this point, I didn’t think much of it.  It is common, not only when you are traveling, to see the same person in one day.  I went back to dazing and watching the fish in the canal.  When I looked up he had left.

I paid for my meal and continued exploring the area.  Patrick, the manager from the hostel, showed me how to get to the infamous KohSan road and so I started making my way in that direction.  I walked a few blocks toward the traffic circle where I made my way to the crossroad.  As I was walking to the light, I again saw the same Westerner walking from the other direction.  We met at the crosswalk and looked at each other with a smirk.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

The next thing I knew I was walking with Mark; a guy from Mid-West America who was living in China, teaching English, and in Bangkok for vacation.  He was heading towards the train that would take him back to his hostel.  From his map it seemed far away, so we decided it would be more interesting if we walked there together.  Talking to strangers instantly appeared to come natural to him.

Almost immediately we ran into a hawker who was trying to sell us something.  These situations are always a little awkward for me.  However, it seemed Mark was used to it more than I was.  Somehow he made a whole joke of the situation without being insulting, awkward, or exhibiting any usual tourist qualities.  In the end, the hawker pointed us in the direction of our destination.  We continued walking and talked about pretty much everything under the sun.  There wasn’t really enough time to remember that this was a complete and total stranger I literally met on the street.  Neither of us were in a hurry so we slowly strolled along the canals walking into places every now and then to double check that we were heading in the right direction.

We continued walking and talking until the sun disappeared and we ran into more hawkers selling rides in rickshaws.

“I’ll take you anywhere for good price.  Where do you want to go?”

Mark stopped, put his hand on the man’s shoulder and said,

“We want to go to your house.”

The man furrowed his brow in confusion.

“We want to go to your house.  Is your wife a good cook?  I’m hungry!  Will she cook us a good meal?”

The man looked at him and slowly began to smile.  A light went on in his eyes and he understood.  He laughed and wagged his finger at Mark in a way that translated, “Ah, so you’re a wise guy.”

We all laughed and Mark and I continued our way down the street.

“That was hilarious,” I said.

“You should see the faces in China when I answer them in Mandarin.  No one ever expects that.”

I looked up at the tall, dark haired, Caucasian man next to me, and thought, “Yea, I can see how that would surprise them.”

Soon after, we finally found the road that would take us both home.  Mark was going left and I was going right.  I am uncertain of the exact amount of time that passed but I’m fairly sure it had to have been at least 4 or 5 hours.  Somehow, in what seemed like no time at all, I had walked with this stranger around half of Bangkok.  It was a feeling of complete elation to have been able to make such a genuine friend in a short amount of time.

We exchanged information, said our goodbyes, and walked our separate ways.

On my walk back to the hostel I reflected on this new friendship.  I smiled to myself and thought, this is exactly what they teach us NOT to do.  Talk to strangers on the street that is.  However, I overcame that initial fear and went with my gut feeling to trust this person.

It had been a while since I had been a participant in such a spontaneous and instantaneous connection (almost as random as the story in New Orleans with the guys I met on the street who became my dearest friends throughout college.)  Mark and I had laughed and talked like we had known each other for years.

On my way back to the hostel, with no certainty of where I was or which way I was going, I looked around and noticed that the Bangkok nightlife had come out in full force.  Although even in the chaos, I did not feel nervous or threatened.  Somehow, with Mark’s help, I had made Bangkok a familiar place.  Whereas only some hours earlier the city had been overwhelming.

I found myself back at the crosswalk where Mark and I had started our tour.  Across the street I saw a pizza place hiding behind the overpass.  It had been months since I had eaten a pizza.  It certainly was not a commodity in Mongolia or China.  I had to have some.

While I was walking to my bus stop, I was carrying the large pizza box and eating a slice.  This must have been a very interesting sight.  Little foreign girl, fingers dripping with grease, walking and eating pizza in a dingy corner of Bangkok, Thailand.  However, it didn’t seem that strange.  I looked around and saw several people laying in the park.  Some were giving massages to people who were laying on cardboard boxes and others were loitering around eating or drinking unidentifiable things.  What was like Mardi Gras for me seemed a normal night for a local.

I was completely oblivious to my status and I did not care how I looked.  I just walked eating my pizza and thinking about the wonderful day I had.

Now it is Mardi Gras time.  Where no matter where you are in this magical city, there are strangers to meet who have the capacity of becoming some of the greatest friends one can find in a life time.  We all have the opportunity to share these extraordinary experiences together.  So let’s celebrate!

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Happy Mardi Gras everybody!

Let’s have some adventures this Carnival week!!!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Border Crossing in Thailand

I woke up and saw that people were grabbing their belongings and preparing to exit the bus.  Someone looked at me and said, “Bangkok.”  I picked myself up off the floor and shook my travel companion awake.  Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I stepped out into the dark morning hours of the station.  We had taken the bus to Bangkok from Ranong, Thailand where we had to go to renew our VISAs.

The process of renewing a 15-day Thai tourist VISA in theory sounds simple enough and is a very common thing to do when traveling in Thailand.  Whether it’s Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia or Laos, one only has to be stamped out of Thailand, in and out of one of the suggested countries, and stamped back in.  There is no 24-hour wait or fee (besides in Burma where you have to pay 10 USD to enter the country) and you can immediately return to Thailand to be issued with a new VISA.

The border crossing in Ranong requires you to take a boat across the Malacca Strait into Myanmar.  This is a popular checkpoint because it is the closet from the touristy islands in the Gulf of Thailand and to the infamous Phuket.  You can choose to do this on your own (which of course we did) or you can pay a travel company to set everything up for you.  The companies will include all travel expenses, border crossing charges, and usually meals. 340746_626351002541_1500328824_o

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So what was cheaper?

Well, we actually spent $10 extra doing everything ourselves.  However, it took about an hour less of time than when I went, 2 weeks later, with a travel company.  Mostly because when you go with the other tourists you have longer lines to wait in and more people to wait on.  If you go by yourself, you can get to the border early before the many “VISA run” buses come through.

After taking the boat to Myanmar and back, we got in line for reentering Thailand.  The Official stamped my passport and I went to wait for my travel companion.  I noticed that he was taking longer than I had and that something was wronged.  Todd walked over to me shrugging his shoulders and biting his lip.

“What ‘s wrong?” I asked.

“They won’t let me in because I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt.”

We had noticed the sign when being stamped out of Thailand but did not give it much attention due to the numerous tourists who were wearing bathing suits, short skirts, etc.

This is a picture of the sign I found on the Internet.  I wish there was a complete one but you can get the idea here.

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I like the last one,

“Wearing any kind of sandal, except, sandal is part of their culture.”

I guess you could argue for any kind of sandal!

Without saying anything to my companion, I ran over to the man who had taken us across the border on his boat and explained the situation.  From there, he turned around to his friend, said something in Thai, and the friend preceded to take off his jacket and then handed it to me.  I will never stop being amazed at the kindness of strangers.

I ran back, gave the jacket to Todd, and he got back in line.  The official stamped him back into Thailand.  We found the jacket lender, thanked him, and made our way back to the bus station.

The stress from obtaining our new VISAs and having to go through the hoopla for the first time was exhausting.  Before the dress-code issue, we had gotten off the bus too early, gone to the wrong building, and missed breakfast.  However, our bickering and woulda-coulda-shoudas were quickly resolved once we found a food stall market.

I cannot stress enough the importance of food stall markets.  Smoothies, noodles, chicken, dim sum, and other unidentifiable things are in endless supply.  And everyone wants YOU to try them.  In the end, I found a place with some sort of spicy noodles in a bag.  Absolutely delicious.

We walked a few more blocks and made it to the bus station.  When we discovered the bus to Bangkok was sold out, we took the lessons learned from Mongolian transport.  Remember?  Fit everything and everyone you possibly can onto/into every vehicle?  We asked if we could sit on the floor of the bus.  Of course!  We shared the floor in the back of the bus with a Thai couple and somehow found sleep.

And that’s how we made it to Bangkok.

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To Do Lists

I read an interesting article today about making lists.  I wanted to write something about list-making because I actually did that today.  Not only did I make a list but I have almost completed everything on it.  Granted a few of the “to do’s” were simple things like, swim, pack, laundry, cook, and watch the movie The Lady.  However, it felt important to have those written out.

I was thinking about how there have been innumerable times where I’ve written about something that I want to happen.  Whether it be about a person I want to see or meet, or a place I want to go, the majority of these desires have become reality and I feel comfortable accrediting it all to the fact that I wrote it down.  I envisioned the scenario and it came to be!

This past week has been a long one and my first world problems were weighing a little on me.  Of course, there were good friends who endured listening to a few of my complaints and helped me in ways of distraction (i.e. picking locks and rooftop adventures!)

So, today I feel back to myself.  An eternal optimist!  I’ve been anticipating seeing my family in Pensacola and having some time off.  I leave tomorrow for New Orleans and will be lucky again to participate in the Running of the Bulls Saturday morning.  Then to the beach…..

Here is a great list Stephanie and I made when we were living on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand.  We were writing out the pros and cons of our living situation to make the decision whether we should move or not….

What’s on your list?

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Filed under In Between Traveling, Thailand

Boatapalooza

“We’re going to set up karaoke and everything.  I’ve got two wireless mics, a speaker, and a karaoke app on my iPhone.  It’s going to be awesome.”

“On the boat?”

“Yep.”

Like most of my friend John Neel’s ideas, this one was close to pure epic-ness.  His plan was to take his and his friends sailboat to Joe Pool Lake with a few other people and have a boat/karaoke party.  I arranged to have the day off from work and waited with anticipation for the weekend.

In all the years I lived in Dallas I had never been to Joe Pool Lake.  This new discovery in itself was wonderful.  On the drive there, Stephanie and I reached the top of a hill that overlooked the lake.  The trees were green, the lake was blue and it was stunning.  A beautiful place in Dallas?  Yes.  An amazing swimmable retreat from this horrible heat?  Yes.

Stephanie and I parked the car and unloaded our homemade sangria that we prepared in the cooler.  John said they would pick us up from the dock once they got the boat in the water.  After 15 minutes or so and no sailboat in sight, I called him back and discovered we were at the wrong park.  Everyone was getting ready on the other side of the lake, about a 15 minute drive away.

Instantly, Stephanie asked a man if he would mind taking us to the other side of the lake in his motor boat.  Both of us had been so accustomed to the way of living on Koh Tao (the island in Thailand where we lived for 2 months) where it is normal to ask a stranger for a favor.  In this instance, we had absolutely no qualms about asking someone for a ride across the lake.

An example:

While I was living on Koh Tao I was playing keyboard with my friend Mark who plays guitar.  One night, Stephanie and I were driving the motorbike home from a gig and we ran out of gas.  We had also run out of cell phone credit and therefore could not call The Lost Boys to help us out.  So we started walking with my keyboard in tow.  

A little ways down the road we saw a man sitting in a chair, smoking a cigarette next to what appeared to be a banana stand (quickly deciphered due to the painting of bananas on the front.)  I went up to him and explained that we had run out of gas.  His english was almost non-existent but somehow I was able to communicate what had happened.  I’m sure the word “petrol” made it obvious.  

After a few nods, he ran around the the corner and came back with a cell phone.  Some words were spoken and after he hung up the phone he motioned for us to sit down.  Again he ran around the corner and disappeared.  Stephanie, who was holding the keyboard, looked at me and we laughed.  We agreed that we were uncertain about what was going to happen but that we would stay long enough to find out.  The man returned and offered us some bananas he had procured.  We gratefully took the bananas and said “kob kun kaa.”  

“Musican?” he asked looking at the keyboard.  

“Her,” Stephanie replied pointing at me.

Then a motorbike wheeled around the corner and parked in front of us.  As the driver got off the bike he said something to our new friend, who replied with a nod and then got on the bike himself.  We realized that he had called his friend to borrow a motorbike.

“Petrol,” he said and motioned me to get on the bike.

I got on the back of the bike and we drove down the road to the gas station.  Once we arrived, my friend asked for the gas and a man began filling up a plastic water bottle.  I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten all my money in the guitar case that was back with Stephanie at the banana stand.  Again, this was quickly communicated and understood by my new friend and he proceeded to pay for the gas.  He then drove me to my bike where he helped me fill the tank.  I started the engine and we both returned to the banana stand to pick up Stephanie.  

When we arrived, I got the money I owed him and attempted to give him a little extra for his time and effort.  This was completely unacceptable and he refused to take any extra money.  With numerous “thank you’s” Stephanie and I got situated on our bike with the keyboard.  Then right before we drove away, our new friend handed us a bundle of bananas.  After this, every time we passed by him on the road we would honk, wave, and shout hello to our new friend, the Banana Man.

Stephanie and I rode across Joe Pool Lake in the speed boat and were grateful for the breeze.  They dropped us off at the Marina which was still far from where our party was.  I called John and confirmed his whereabouts while Stephanie asked around for other ride possibilities.  We found a really nice couple, with a really fancy boat.

Once we were joined with our sailboat crew, our new friends from our ride towed us out of the cove and into the lake.  As there wasn’t much wind, we didn’t get very far after that.  But it didn’t matter.

There were drinks, there was food, there were amazing people, and there was karaoke.

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Work It Out

I never really understood the benefits of exercise until one summer in college in New Orleans.  My good friend, Ali, moved in and became an amazing fifth addition my home; there were four of us living together at the time.  Ali inspired me in many ways.  I would come home and find her punching away in rhythm with a Billy Blanks Tae Bo video and her energy was contagious and I became curious.  Eventually I started running with her through Audubon Park and through the neighborhoods of Uptown.  Within 3 weeks I started noticing changes in my physic and energy levels.  I was more productive in my daily life, slept less, and generally felt a huge sense of well-being.

This was the first time I saw the real physical and mental results of exercise.  I knew then that this had to always be a part of my life for me to feel complete.

Unfortunately, this is probably the hardest thing to do when traveling…or at least I used to think so.  I could make excuses like, how could you run on snow covered streets in Siberia?  Or how could you run on ice covered sidewalks in Ulaan Baatar Mongolia?  Or even in places like Nupo, the Burmese Refugee Camp, where a foreigner in running shoes would be quite an interesting sight.

Once I got over the fact that yes, people will stare at me, I realized that it is only because it is not a common thing to do.  And this is where being a foreigner comes in handy.  That is your excuse!

I love running.  I love putting on music and pushing myself.  I get pumped up and feel the endorphins flowing and know that I am doing myself a favor.  However, there are also other things to do when it is completely impossible to get an outside workout (-30 degree weather…I mean what can you even wear to run in that?!)

For example, it’s been raining a lot here on Koh Tao.  To keep myself sane, I have been doing yoga from a podcast called Yoga Amazing.  Each session is less than 30 minutes and there are several options you can choose from!  Michelle from La Rocchetta introduced me to the podcast and I began using Yoga Amazing in Marrakech when I was working at Peacock Pavilions.  My co-worker, Katie and I would chose a new and different theme from yoga for colds to yoga for clarity and many others.

Sometimes it is hard for me to push myself to exercise but once I do, it never is a regret.  After attending a high school with no sports activity at all (except for the senior vs teacher volley ball game at the end of the year), I am so grateful to have found this affinity for physical activity.

One of my favorite things to do here in Koh Tao is Muay Thai.

So if you are having a hard day I strongly suggest some form of physical activity.  Whether it be a walk down the street or a quick yoga session or joining a kickboxing class (SO MUCH FUN!)

It is possible anywhere!

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Perfect Strangers

Good things happen when you meet strangers.  -Yo-Yo Ma

I have written several times about the kindness of strangers and of the instant friendships I have made on this adventure.  However, I have to reiterate how amazing it is to meet so many wonderful people.

After spending time in different countries with various cultures and social norms, I have come to the realization of how conservative and judgmental America really is.  I remember most people being concerned with what other people are thinking.  I definitely remember worrying about this fairly often.  Especially working in the service industry where many times I would be talked down to or belittled in some way.

I know how hard it can be to let go and let everything be ‘easy,’ as our Eazy Bar buddies say, but once you do let go, you find all the numerous gifts life has to offer.

There are many accreditations to how I learned to ‘let go and let God.’  Of course my family is a huge aspect but New Orleans cannot be forgotten either.  My first year at University was difficult but in the end I found irreplaceable people.

One of my favorite stories was during my first week at Loyola.  I was working at Touro Hospital for my Music Therapy class.  I did not have a car or bicycle and so I took the streetcar down to the hospital from school.  One day I finished work and decided to walk back to the dormitory from the hospital.  A few blocks down Pyrtania street I saw two guys playing a drum on their porch.  As I walked by they said hello and I replied.  They asked where I was going and I told them I was walking home.  The next thing I knew I was inside their house playing an upright piano.  Later they took me to their friend’s BBQ, Drangon’s Den, a club and bar near Frenchmen Street, and after everything drove me home.  These new and unexpected friends gave me a fast track into discovering the New Orleans that I came to love so much.

I have come to a point where I do not know how to give credit to these blessings.  Before, I have said thank you to my ‘luck’ or thank you to the Universe.  However, sometimes you have to give YOURSELF credit.  Everyday I practice putting myself out there and this has only made the adventure more substantial.  I mean I talk to EVERYONE.  On purpose.  I never thought I could be so extroverted.  I was horribly shy when I was younger!

Traveling has opened a door for me.  I have learned not to be afraid of people and to ask for what I need or want.

Yesterday I had lunch with my Burmese friends, One and Yao.  Yao was telling a story of how his father gave him a cow.  One day Yao tied the calf to a rock and went to play futbol with his friends.  When he returned he found that the calf had freed itself from the stone and was nowhere to be found.  When he returned home to tell his father what had happened his father hit him.  When Yao said this, One and him burst out laughing.  I was shocked.

‘Why are you laughing?”

“Yes, I know tourists don’t like this.  It is different for you.”

And they continued cracking up.

They didn’t need to explain to me WHY it was different for me because it was obvious.  This is the point.  We all grew up in incomparable worlds.  What I have learned, especially from my friends here on Koh Tao, is that even with all our cultural/personal differences we accept and love each other.

I’ve never met anyone who is as accepting as these guys are.  Their entire outlook on life is so relaxed and tolerant of everyone and everything.  They don’t care about skin color, religion, or money.  I experienced the same generosity and compassion at the Burmese Refugee Camp in Nupo.

I’m not trying to say that these experiences do not happen in America but I can see a blatant difference in the way people treat each other in daily life.  When I think of other countries I have visited the same discrepancy exist.  Many strangers I have met, whether through Couch Surfing or in a bar or on the street, have become lifelong friends.  It is a rare thing in America to meet some one on the street and have them instantly become a friend.

This is what traveling did for me.  This is what it does for many people.  It has taught me to be fearless and never to be afraid to be myself.  It taught me to take risks that result in incredible stories, adventures, or new friends.

Good things DO happen when you meet strangers.

Stephanie, Mr. Yeap, and I in  Penang, Malaysia.

Mr. Yeap is the father of a friend of Todd’s who we spent time with on my first time through Penang.  He was absolutely the best host anyone could ask for.  I called him up when Stephanie and I came through Malaysia for our Thai VISAs and he took us to the Chinese food stall Mecca of Penang…in the rain.  One of the most generous persons I’ve ever met.

Yao, One, and I playing on the keyboard I bought in Malaysia.  They have been playing/practicing constantly.  Our friend Thura practices the C scale I taught him everyday!

Stephanie, Sydney, and Thura enjoying the view on ‘the swing.’

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-CHANGES!

After hitchhiking in Turkey, riding the Trans-Siberian, freezing on a bus for 72 hours across Mongolia, conquering mountains in China, discovering amazing food in Malaysia, and many Thailand events including beautiful beaches, squat houses in Bangkok, elephants, a Burmese refugee camp, cockroach filled night buses, and driving a badass chopper bike on winding roads through the jungle I said ‘goodbye’ to my travel companion who is going to use a work holiday VISA in Australia.  Of course it is difficult when you say goodbye to a friend.  Especially one who has shared such experiences as this trip brought upon us.  Even though things are different and I miss my friend, the Universe continues to be unyielding and has provided me with more than I could possibly imagine.

At this moment I am sitting at Eazy Bar, with my friend Stephanie and cousin Sydney who are traveling with me, where during my last visit to Koh Tao I befriended an incredible group of Burmese guys who run the bar.  They have made my return here special and reminiscent of when a person comes home to a group of old friends.   This goes for a few of the divers at Sunshine Diving too.  Everyone has welcomed us with open arms and would do anything to help us out with whatever we need.

So, what I have found in this time of change has not been despair, fear, or loneliness but kindness, excitement, and love.  I am blatantly being reminding of all the amazing people I have come to know in my life and that are STILL a part of my life.  I cannot fully grasp the fact that Stephanie and Sydney are actually HERE!

We have taken full advantage of the term ‘vacation’ with our days spent exploring, swimming, laying on the beach, and hanging out at Eazy Bar at night.  Stephanie and I attended a Couch Surfing meeting last week where we met a great guy, Kiro, from Bulgaria.  With only a few words we convinced him that Sunshine Divers was the best as well as the accommodation, Eazy Bar, etc.  The next day he came by and signed up for his Open Water course.

My favorite thing so far has been that every time I go out, I see at least one person I know.  Whether someone is driving down the road or is on the beach or at the bar I always seem to find someone to chat/hang with.  The girls and I have completely integrated ourselves into this community.

Yesterday morning my friend, One (pronounced Juan), who works at Eazy Bar took me to Hin Wong, a beach on the other side of the island.  Koh Tao only has one main road and the majority of roads on the rest of the island are unfinished or inexistent.  We made it on a scooter about a tenth of the way to the beach.  There was NO way this bike was getting us the rest of the way.  The distance to the beach was long and rocky through the jungle.  We hiked for about 30 minutes and once we reached the beach we were lucky enough to find one Thai pharmacist who was fishing and had a bottle of water that he shared with us.  He was the only person we saw all day in this cove where an abandoned hotel had been decaying for what looked like several years.  The whole adventure made me love this island even more.  It seems as though there are undiscovered or forgotten places all over.

On a side note, one of our friends, Thura, resembles a very adequate Rufio from the movie Hook.  Sydney made this connection and it is very suitable in the sense that the rest of the group could easily be the Lost Boys.  One night, in return of all the innumerable kindnesses the Lost Boys have shown us over the past week, Stephanie, Sydney, and I cooked them dinner.

Evidently, this was the first time anyone had done this and their appreciation was overwhelming.  We were happy to do it and even more so being given the chance to spend time with the women in the kitchen.  These beautiful ladies spend most of their time cooking, cleaning, and chatting.  The Lost Boys say this is the best job, staying in the kitchen and cooking all day.  None of the women ever come to the bar so this was the first time we got to know them.  I really don’t know what we would have done without them because Stephanie and I were having a hell of a time cutting up the fish for the ceviche!

Last night we celebrated Win’s (the manager) last night in Koh Tao before leaving to visit his wife and four year old son in Burma.  Win has not been home since his son was born.   Obviously, he was very happy last night.

We celebrated with them all night long and felt like family as we sat around and listened to them play guitars and sing Burmese songs.  You can even hear the ocean waves in the background…

Life continues to be amazing with all our new friends here in Koh Tao.

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Satisfy My Soul

My mantra has finally come to fruition…

I have made it to my Thailand beach.  I will remind you that my mantra while riding on the -40 degree bus in Mongolia was,

Naked Thailand Beaches!

This refrain kept me alive for those 72 hours of nearly frozen fingers and toes.

How did we get to this heavenly place?

The days of Mongolian winters were over but we still had to travel through China. During our travels through China the cold found us again at Huangshan Mountain.  Even though my hair was white from snow and Todd’s beard was frozen with frost, the views were well worth it.

An important tip:  Take a student ID with you everywhere you go!  It is not a problem if it is expired.  Mine is from when I attended University of Texas in Austin during Hurricane Katrina.  I was at that school for 3 months.  The student ID has gotten me into museums for free and in this case gave me a discounted rate for Huangshan Mountain. 

Due to the discount, we decided to spend the money to take the cable car half way up the mountain.  There was a hostel about a 2 to 3 hour hike from the cable car exit.  We planned to spend the night in there on top of the mountain and see the famous sunrise.  Did I mention that this place was used in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

Up a winding path of innumerable stairs and several Chinese tourists who insisted on taking pictures with us, we found the hostel.  In the morning, our roommates woke us up and asserted us to follow them to the lookout point.  5:30AM is an especially difficult time to hike up snow covered stone stairs but we made it.  A crowd of people had obviously been waiting at the top of the mountain for quite some time.  Their camera equipment was set up in anticipation of the rising sun.

Now I’ve seen several sunrises.  I expected this one to be no different than the many I’ve seen rise over mountain peaks.  However, my expectations (as usual) were disproved.  I looked out over the sea of clouds, with the few mountain peaks peaking out, and all the sudden saw the red crest of the sun.  Before I had time to register this beautiful sight, every single Chinese tourist made an OOOHH AHHH sound with hoots and hollers to follow.  Todd and I looked at each other and tried to withstand giggling.  It was a display of complete curiosity and appreciation that no other culture could reproduce.

This isn’t my video but it is at the same mountaintop of Huangshan.  It is a perfect example of what we saw and heard that morning…

After this excursion we returned to Shanghai where we reunited with our AMAZING friends, Heather and Maryann.  Don’t know what we would have done without them!

An overnight sleeper bus got us to Guangzhou and in the afternoon another bus to Hong Kong where the saying “bright lights, big city” comes to mind.  Hong Kong was chaotic and neon flooded.  Two days was certainly enough time to shop for appropriate clothes for our new destination of 27 degrees Celsius; Singapore.

Stepping out of the airport was such an incredible experience.  A drop of sweat went down my brow giving me a shudder of complete bliss.  Another blissful moment was noticing that I could read ALL the street signs!

Singapore was a dream.  Filled with awesome food, amazing people and reunions with old friends.

We took a local bus to the border of Malaysia where we crossed into Johor Baru.  From there we took a night bus to Kuala Lumpur and arrived before the sun came up.  Luckily, several places were open and we found a nice café where we had our first roti with banana….YUM.  An Indian dish that is basically fried bread with banana or other ingredients inside.  DELICIOUS.

Kuala Lumpur is an incredible city.  Malaysia adequately claims the “melting pot” of the east.  Within the same block you will pass Muslim women covering themselves with various colored hijabs, Asian women in short shorts and tank tops, and Indian women in bright saris.  Not one giving the other a look of judgment.

We found a decent hostel with the help of Todd’s iPhone and WikiTravel where we dropped our things and quickly went out into the streets to see the city come to life.  At the end of our block is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.  Inside they were having some sort of celebration with live musicians who performed the entire day.  Golden bowls sat over burning wood and a smoke of incense poured out of them.  We took off our shoes and stepped inside.  The colors and statues of the temple were so exotic and sundry I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

A little down the road sat Chinatown where we relived our numerous nights of eating street food.

Street food really is the best!  Now this is dependent on every person.  If you have a weak stomach and cannot handle a lot of grease then you might want to look for something different like soup for example.  Many stands serve various things.  The variety you are presented with at the food stands in China and Malaysia are incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen!  And whatever you choose is tasty!  Another great thing about street food is the cost.  In China, we found places for less than a dollar for a huge plate of noodles and vegetables.  As long as you avoid SOME seafood (of course not all!) and watch them prepare it (make sure everything has touched the hot pan) then you should be fine and be able to enjoy an amazing dish.

Malaysia in particular has the most incredible food.  We HAD heard about that.  This time my expectations were met!  One night in Penang, Malaysia we ate at a group of food stalls that sat on the edge of a soccer field.  I ordered curry mee that is a noodle dish with coconut milk, vegetables, various seafood, and spices.  It was absolutely mouthwatering.  While I was enjoying this an Indian man passed by with a basket of some sort of fried pastries.  Todd and I, curious as to what it was, bought one and after one bite called the man back for 2 more.  The pie was filled with potatoes, peas, and Indian spices and resembled some sort of samosa.  This was another absolutely mouthwatering item.

While we were in Penang we stayed with Todd’s friend’s dad.  I cannot express the amount of generous things Mr. Yeap did for us.  Not only did he let us in his home but he also lent us his motorbike and took us out for several scrumptious meals.  He was exceptionally hospitable and really took good care of us.  How do we get so lucky with all these compassionate people?  Oh and did I mention I was able to swim in the OCEAN?!

Mr. Yeap dropped us at our bus where we rode for 3 hours to the Malaysia and Thailand border.

If you come to Thailand, remember that if you enter the airport (from a flight) you are given a 30 day tourist VISA.  If you enter from the ground, you are given a 15 day tourist VISA.  If you want to extend your time in Thailand you can pay for an extension within the country.  If you have more time and want to save some money you can cross the border into Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, or Laos and instantly reenter to receive another 15 day tourist VISA.  You can also go to any Thai consulate in those surrounding countries to apply for a 30 day or 60 day tourist VISA.

Another 6-7 hours later we arrived in Surat Thani where we went immediately to Bandon pier where ferries depart for the nearby islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.

The bus from Penang (55 Malaysian Riggets) and ferry to Koh Tao (550 Thai Baht) cost together around 30 USD. 

The ferry truly reminded me of some sort of ride found in Disneyland.  It was painted with bright colors and elaborate styled writing of the ferry’s destination.  Once inside, you climb up to the main room where there is a circle of small, slim mattresses lining the walls.  Even out bed numbers had a Disney-like style with thick curves.

As everyone set up their beds, I looked around and noticed that this was the first time in several months I had been around this many tourists and backpackers.  There were French, Italians, British, Australians, and Germans.  Todd and I looked at each other with a small sense of worry.  Koh Tao is the smallest of the 3 islands and supposed to not attract as many tourists.  Koh Tao is known for its scuba diving.  It certifies 10% of the world’s divers and so I accepted that our bunkmates were not just tourists or backpackers but divers and other travelers wanting to see the less populated island.

I awoke to the ferry swaying and rain pouring down the windows.  No lights were visible outside and the storm seemed violent but somehow the ferry was not too disturbed.  I fell asleep again and awoke to a red sunrise and the green palm trees along the island’s shore.  Voluptuous clouds sat in the sky and were defined by the rays of the sun.  We disembarked the ferry and sat on the pier looking at the double rainbow in the sky (I was almost as enthusiastic as that double rainbow guy).

So now here we are in paradise.  Todd is getting his Advanced Open Water certification and I am diving along for fun.  I was certified almost 9 years ago, so I was happy to have a quick refresher course in the pool.

Since we have decided never to leave this place….ah, just kidding…I mean stay here for a week (longest we’ve been in one place in a LONG time) I have decided to not only lay on the beach all day, scuba dive, and swim but I also joined a Muay Thai boxing class.  HOW GOOD IT FEELS TO EXERCISE!  China and Malaysia totally won over with the food and it is time to get back in shape!

Kickboxing has always been my favorite sport and my instructors here are young, vivacious, and encouraging.  Ta Ta (guilty spelling attempt), my instructor, already taught me how to count to ten in Thai as well as, more importantly, the ways of Thai boxing defense.

So all in all I am happy.  No, elated.  No!  Ecstatic!  Life is amazing.  Even with the trials and tribulations that come along with being on the road for long periods of time, things always have a way of working out.

I will say that I have had hopeless moments.  Not just on this adventure but many times in my life.  However, being here now reminds me that things always work out the way they are supposed to.  And if you dream of something and have the will (even more effective; stubbornness) to make it happen (Ahem…ie; remember my mantra?) anything is possible.

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