Allure in Luang Prabang

The boys and I spent a beautiful and relaxing four days in Luang Prabang, Laos, and I think Lonely Planet said it best when it called Luang Prabang “the most alluring town in Southeast Asia.

Between the small town charm, night market with handmade local textiles, bamboo bridges, and nearby waterfalls- alluring really is the perfect adjective.
Luang Prabang is small and you’re never more than fifteen minutes away from anything, not even the airport. But most importantly, it’s still unspoiled. 

Although it has beautiful resorts and very nice restaurants, there aren’t droves of tourist stomping through town. Let’s be real, some of you may not even know that Laos is a country (that’s okay, it’s not you, it’s the American education system but that’s a whole different post) and that’s what is keeping Luang Prabang a quiet retreat. 

After weeks of non stop movement through Asia, we were finally able to unwind. We took a private boat and lazily cruised down the Mekong River, taking in the lusciously green hills surrounding us. We visited caves and temples. We swam in waterfalls and watched tourist monks in vibrant orange robes use selfies sticks. We even rode elephants for a morning in an elephant rescue sanctuary. 

Riding an elephant is a strange and surreal experience. They’re massive creatures and although you feel like you’re going to fall off of them and break something you don’t want to break, they’re smart enough to keep you safe. 

Personally, I wouldn’t cuddle with one and definitely wanted to shower afterwards, but being carried by a giant that gentle made for a humbling moment. 

Speaking of humbling moments, I was fortunate enough to witness monks collecting morning alms through the city streets. Every morning at 5:30 monks leave their temples carrying a giant bowl to collect rice from locals and it’s quite the sight to see. The streets are quiet and grey, when suddenly streams of vibrant orange float through town, without a word. It happens quickly, and before you’ve fully taken stock of what just transpired, all the color from the city is gone again and life moves on as if nothing happened. You just have to see it. 

What made our visit to Laos even more special was that we had a local guide who showed us around and educated us about the Lao people and culture. His name was Khampheng, Pheng for short, and he was a former monk who still spoke with the stoicism and wisdom of one. 

Pheng taught us about Buddhist temples and beliefs, but also gave us quite a bit to think about. 

He looked at the four of us inside a temple one day and said, “You are young, you have money, you are traveling. That is the right thing. You come into this world with nothing, and you leave with nothing. That is why you must travel. So that your eyes see beautiful things, your mouth tastes delicious foods, and your ears hear histories and stories.”

I spent a few moments reflecting on Pheng’s words, because I know that I’m never going to look back at my twenties and think about the dwindling numbers in my bank account. Instead, I’ll think about all the amazing places I’ve traveled and I’ll think back to Laos- riding elephants, jumping into waterfalls, and eating coconut cakes while bargaining with street vendors.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s priceless. 

[Three] Nights in Bangkok and the World’s your Oyster 

I didn’t expect to like Bangkok. At least not as much as I did. I thought it would be a lot like Hong Kong, all hustle and bustle, but between the massages, food, and shopping- Bangkok had me hooked.
As someone who has been bathed in Hammams in Istanbul, been rubbed down in fancy hotels in Malta and Barcelona, and straddled by a little Indonesian woman in Bali, to name a few- I can easily say I’ve never had anything better than an hour long Thai massage, for only $12. Nothing can compare to what a Thai powerhouse of a woman did to my body.

Thai masseuses use their full body to adjust yours, pressing their legs into yours and cracking your back, vertebrae by vertebrae. It’s the kind of strong massage that hurts so good. (And no happy ending- I know you were wondering.) I left feeling like one of those plastic floating tubes that flap outside of car washes during the summer.
Next, we have to talk about Thai food.

Street vendors are huge here, and sell everything from pork skewers to baggies of fresh cut papaya. Locals love them, but westerners are often weary of street food, because you’re constantly taking a risk of being glued to the toilet for the next few days. 

Being a risk taker, I was all over the street food (I’m fine in case you were wondering.) I was loving the fresh pineapple, savory skewers, and juices from unidentifiable fruits- but nothing can compare to my new love in life- mango sticky rice. It’s literally just sweet and sticky white rice with ripe mango, and it tastes like tropical heaven and mild diabetes.

The boys and I went to dinner at an upscale traditional restaurant, and ordered half the menu- trying everything from Som Tum and Pad Thai to coconut curries and steamed duck. We ate about ten different dishes and split a bottle of wine, while listening to a live band play classical jazz, all for about $20 a person. 

Asia is nice like that. 

Post dinner, we visited another night market and party street called Khao San Road, because even after two days of walking around the gorgeous palaces and temples of Bangkokc as well as the shopping stalls, we still had some energy and cash to spare. 

Youth is beautiful like that. 
Khao San Road is a little bit like shopping at a street market that’s also a giant outdoor rave, and you’re pretty sure everyone is on ecstasy, and you might as well be too because you can’t decide if you want to pump your fists in the air and dance, or keep bargaining for your third pair of elephant pants- so you just do both. DJs are blasting music, promoters are offering you balloons of laughing gas to inhale, street vendors are selling roasted cockroaches and scorpions, and shop owners are trying to sell you bracelets with profanities stitched into them.

It was pure insanity and I loved it. 

Bangkok made me glad that I packed light, because I bargain shopped my little heart out. I mean, who can say no to printed pants for a few dollars? 

And with a relaxed body, a happy tummy, and an overflowing backpack, I’m off to Luang Prabang for a change of pace.

The Traveling Man

We arrived in Bangkok late last night, but my wanderlust had me up again this morning before my alarm could even go off. While my friends were all sleeping, I made my way through the city to a Thai flower market that I had read about the night before.

I was the only foreigner in the entire market, walking through stalls of marigolds, plumerias, and orchids. My blonde hair and fair skin was a dead give away that I did not belong among the locals, but I wandered on, snacking on a breakfast of the sweetest pineapple and dragonfruit I had ever had, which I bought from a street vendor for about a dollar. The scent of fresh ginger, garlic and onion kept catching my nose, and the colorful flowers and complete language barrier made me realize that I was finally in my element. 

I thought of my own father, who more than anyone would understand the urge to get up early and go get lost in the side streets of some foreign city. 

If you ever thought that I travel a lot, you certainly haven’t met my father. 

A travel guru himself, he’s spent his entire life exploring this extraordinary world, running his own travel agency, writing guide books, guiding private tours to countless countries, and selling his photography from abroad. 

As a child, I would ask my mother where he was, and was always met by an exciting and exotic answer, “Peru,” “Japan,” “Africa.” 

At some point I stopped asking because I couldn’t keep up, and I grew to be content knowing he was traveling and that he would take me with him when he could. 

I often wondered what it would be like to have had a father with a 9 to 5 job. I wondered if it would have been nice to have family dinners, or have him at dance recitals, or at every birthday. 

But then I wonder what it would be like to not have a father I can call from Seoul one morning and ask him how to get to the city from the airport, or not have a father who I can throw a list of cities at and receive a full itinerary in return. 

I can’t imagine not having a father with whom I can barter in the bazaars of Marrakech with, or with whom I can explore the waterfalls of Iceland with.

Worst of all, I can’t imagine not having a father who, when I ramble off all the places I want to go in this world, says, “GO, GO, GO!” 

Because of his passion, and my mothers as well, our home was filled with Guatemalan textiles, Egyptian Papyrus, African tribal masks, Peruvian music, and Vietnamese hats. Our bookshelves were lined with colorful travel guides to anywhere you could imagine, and I spent a considerable amount of time in the their travel agency office as a child, studying their maps and spinning a globe. 

Growing up any other way would have been boring. 

By giving me the world, you gave me more than you’ll ever realize, and for that- I am eternally grateful. Happy Father’s Day Tato. 

Kuala Lumpur in a Day

After Bali, our next stop was Bangkok. Seeing as though it was a long flight and Malaysia was on the way, we figured we might as well create our own stopover in Kuala Lumpur.

If you haven’t noticed we say, “why not,” quite a lot.

We arrived early in the morning, left our backpacks at the airport and took an uber into the city (yes, they have uber in Asia and we love it.)

Our tour started in the older part of Kuala Lumpur, where we wandered the flea market and viewed beautiful mosques, and then took the train to Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world. It’s a interesting city to see, because it’s a mix of old and new, as well as a melting pot of culture. Some parts of the city were heavy with Islamic influences and others were quite modern complete with a Hyatt and a massive high end mall. Malaysian women in hijabs mixed with Malay street food peddlers and Indian kiosk owners, while the rare tourist bumbled around between them. 

Being in Malaysia, I absolutely had to try durian. In case you’re unfamiliar, durian is a fruit found in Southeast Asia that’s known for its strong odor, which is reminiscent of rotting flesh or stale vomit. In fact, it smells so awful, that it’s even banned on public transportation in Singapore.

I ordered a durian flavored sweet at a cafe and choked it down, since it’s not awful if you don’t smell it. Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the day burping up durian, which in itself was unpleasant, so maybe steer clear of it on your next trip here.

Anyways, the boys and I quickly learned that Kuala Lumpur was definitely a stopover city- there wasn’t much to it and it was quite small, so we went to an aquarium. As a diver, I’m not a big fan of seeing fish trapped in aquariums, but when you’ve spent two weeks looking at tall buildings, temples, and markets, sometimes all you need is to watch a few fishies float around.

For dinner, I had coconut ice cream served with frozen coconut flesh out of a coconut shell, which was honestly what I was most excited for in Malaysia, and went on my merry way with the boys onward to Bangkok.

All in all, Kuala Lumpur felt a lot like this post, lacking substance and measureable charm. 

Lost and Found on Gili T.

After Bali, the boys and I spent two nights on the Gili Islands, an archipelago of three small, largely unknown islands off the coast of Lombok.

I promise those are all real names of places, yet I myself still don’t know if it was reality or an elaborate two day dream. 

We spent our first night on Gili Meno, the quieter of the two islands, in a bamboo house. My parents were some of the first few foreigners to visit the Gili Islands, having been there in 1986, so naturally I had to visit the resort they stayed in and sure enough, it was still standing. It was cool to see how the island hadn’t changed too much since their visit. Locals slept in outdoor shacks, and there still wasn’t a single motorized vehicle on the island- it’s nice to see that places like that still exist in the world.

After one night we realized that we are creatures of comfort and prefer private bungalows to bamboo huts, so we moved to the larger party island and went directly to Sunset Bar. 

The days all blended into each other and none of us ever wore much more than or swimsuits, but I’ll do my best to explain what it was like. 

Imagine a place where the colors of the sunset are more vibrant than anything you’ve ever seen. Where the only mode of transport is either horse carriage or bike, and the roads are lined with beautiful beach bars, one after the other. Imagine swing sets over water that ripples in color like gasoline reflecting in the sun, vibrant house music that constantly pulses around and through you, and soft clouds that dance above you. And lastly, imagine a place where everyone is just vibing out, happy and at peace. 

Sounds unreal, right? 

Welcome to Gili Trawangan. 

It was a place to lose yourself, only to pull yourself back out and reconnect with all that you’re made of, which was fitting because exactly a year ago I had completed the Camino de Santiago- which as you may know, was one of the main shaping factors of my life to date. 

Bali and the Gili Islands were a very welcome break in our fast pace, but now it’s time to keep rolling. We’re flying to Kuala Lumpur for a stopover on our way to Bangkok, while a man with a ukulele serenades the flight.

Looks like it’s going to be another great day.

Perfectly Imperfect

I have a vision. An idea of how things are supposed to go, of how they’re suppose to look. Almost everything is planned, and well thought out. My trips may look effortless, but I’ll be the first to admit they’re not. This trip itself is a culmination of hours on a computer searching for flights and booking hotels rooms, reading books and guides, consulting with my parents, and chatting with the guys to plan the details.

Don’t get me wrong, I love every minute of planning. Honestly, searching Skyscanner for flights is more of a hobby at this point. But you can understand how there’s an immense pressure for everything to work out just the way you hope it does.
However, when you’re traveling, you realize it’s never going to be perfect. You’re going to be sweaty, and you’ll be covered in bug bites, and you might get ripped off, and you might book a hotel that’s a little too far. 
And that’s okay. 

It took me a hot, sweaty field of rice to realize that.

My mother sent me a photo of herself in the rice terraces of Ubud, Indonesia, in 1986 when she was 23 years old. 

She was here exactly 30 years ago, and it was such a perfect opportunity that I wanted the perfect photo. So, for half an hour, I hiked through rice terraces trying to find the exact spot she had taken hers. In retrospect, finding a specific place in a massive rice field 30 years apart is an almost impossible task. Yet, there I was, hot, humid, exhausted, sweating and frustrated, dragging my friend Nick around, trying desperately to find that little patch of field. 

We both felt like we were melting, and we were losing patience. At one point, my flip flop got stuck in the mud and broke. I stood there silently trying to keep myself from unraveling. Nick looked at the flip flop, looked at me, and looked back at the flip flop, and didn’t say a word. In mutual agreement, I didn’t speak either. 

After about a minute, I gathered myself enough to fix my flip flop and kept going. I found a spot that I thought was beautiful, and Nick took my picture, saying that it didn’t have to be perfect. 

Once we got back in the car, the A/C hit and we were human again. Nick and I started to laugh and he told me that when my flip flop broke he knew that there was nothing he could say that would have made anything better, and I laughed, admitting that if he had said one word, I probably would have cried.

I put my photos side my side, and realized that everything was actually perfect. I got to be the in the same place my mom was at my age, and I had a good story behind it- and that all made it wonderful.

So, you see, nothing is ever going to be perfect. And that’s okay, because it’s going to be perfect in its own way.

Walk It Off

If you’ve been following along on the blog from the start, you’d know that I can be stubborn about slowing down when I travel to take care of injuries. I also have a high pain tolerance which makes for an unfortunate combination. So when I got a sinus infection last month in Iceland, I waited for it to pass like the common cold. Same with my broken toe in Korea. I insisted that it too, could be walked off.

But alas, I’m ten days in, still coughing up mucus and looking at my sausage toe. It was time to take a day off and take action.

Thomas spent the day with me between the clinic and hospital (with stops for drinks and salmon tartare, of course) getting me the medical care I needed in Bali, but had been too stubborn to get. In fact, as someone who almost had to get a toe amputated in Costa Rica, he knew better than anyone the importance of seeking care even when you’re traveling and it’s an inconvenience. 

This past December, Thomas was jumping off a waterfall in Costa Rica when someone asked him to take their picture. He was eager to get the best angle (Thomas is a homie like that), so he climbed a wet rock and his big toenail got caught and ripped off halfway. He was in a lot of pain, but there were a lot of concerned people around so he played it off cool (how familiar). Thomas decided to ignore it and head back to his hostel, but luckily, his friends spotted a clinic on the way home and insisted he go in. The doctors pumped his foot with anesthetics and popped his entire toenail right off. He could have gotten an infection from the dirt in it, and lost his entire toe. 

Side note, if you read that and thought, “it’s just a toenail, it couldn’t have been that bad,”- I’ve seen the picture and it’s pretty gnarly. I’m doing you a favor by not including it in this post. 

Anyways, the doctor at the local clinic took one look in my throat and immediately gave me a look, judging me for ignoring my swollen tonsils for this long. She prescribed antibiotics and referred me to the hospital for X-rays for my toe. 

It was rough having to be hit with unexpected expenses, but the beauty of Bali is that for about $125, I got a doctors visit, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and a foot X-ray. Oh, and that included my cab fare to both the clinic and the hospital. 

My X-rays revealed that I have a hairline fracture, which we diagnosed ourselves by putting the image up to the lamp in our villa. (I wasn’t about to go back to the clinic to be told I have a broken toe, because there is nothing that can be done for one.) 

Bottom line is, all is well. Maybe this will finally teach me a lesson that it’s okay to take some time and go see a doctor even when you’re traveling. 

One can only hope.