Back again.

View from Monkey

Cambodia, always Cambodia

Ferry legs

Cambodia

My darling Jess

The best roommate ever, Cambodia

On the way to the other side

Cambodia

Dave's field

Cambodia

Sri Lanka train

From Nuwara Eliya to Kandy, Sri Lanka

Indian street food

On the way to Varanasi, India

Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal

Fields of Maji

The Himalayas, Nepal

So it’s been more than a year since I wrote here. Shit went down, big time. In good ways and bad ways. My last post alluded to me going to stay in a homestay in the middle of nowhere, and it ended up being exactly the adventure I’d set out to find on my trip.

I lived on an island off the coast of Cambodia for four months. A year ago today, I was there, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I learned a lot and fucked up along the way, but had one of the best summers of my life. I learned that, well, island paradise life isn’t for everyone…but it’s ok to live it and enjoy it for awhile.

I left, a heart heavy and pretty lost, and went to Sri Lanka with a dear friend. And then India, which I hated. And loved. But mostly hated. And then onwards to Nepal, a place I’d dreamed of for years and really, it wasn’t quite what I expected (but of course, that’s how it always goes). Then I met a boy in the Himalayas. Despite us both thinking it would just be a holiday fling, and that we’d be fine saying goodbye as good travel partners and a little something more at the end, we both eventually ended up deciding to be more than that. I never do things the easy way.

Problem is, he’s got two passports and neither of them are the same as mine.

So I’m headed to London in the fall and we’re going to see how things turn out. You know those couples you meet on the road, who are both travellers and met somewhere along the way? You never know if they’ll work out once the show is all over, once someone has to go back home or onto the next continent, but somehow we’ve been making this thing work for awhile now. And I’ve learned more about negotiation, communication, emotional honesty, and myself than I ever did travelling alone. It’s the most challenging, exciting, and adventurous thing I’ve ever done, and he’s a really good travel partner to boot.

I’ve been back in the States for 8 months now, trying to figure it all out and saving up for the next adventure, and to be honest…it’s been a totally shit year so far, excepting a few highlights. Being 4600 miles away from my guy certainly hasn’t made it easy, even though he came and visited for Mardi Gras and we went to Memphis and Chicago and decided we were actually dating. I’ve loved seeing friends from home, dear friends that I truly missed. And my relationship with my family is the best that it’s ever been, which has been eye-opening.

And I’ve realized that a life of never-ending travel isn’t the road for me. I want to freedom and the money to come back and visit when I feel so homesick that seeing American flags makes me want to cry. National holidays mean so much more to me than I ever realized and I don’t want to miss that kind of stuff, miss weddings and birthdays and everyone’s life.

I’m going to have to figure out the path that I’ll take now. I’ve been struggling with this for awhile while I’ve been waiting tables and – well – feeling like a loser doing so. Pretty much the only thing that’s made me feel better has been friends here, and friends who’ve always been there for me. I have to begin a different journey now. Is it going to be a home base in London (UK visas why you hate me)? In Berlin? In New York City? I have no idea. I know things that I really want to do, and have always dreamed of doing, but they aren’t paths that allow for much travelling, or at least the kind of travelling I live to do.

Hopefully in a month I’ll start posting some happier stuff when I’m back on the road again. Seattle first, then Iceland (!!!) for a few days, then London for…? Maybe some stops around Europe as well.

I still have oodles of stories that need to be chronicled somewhere so I’ll try my best to write them down. The Fellowship and how I still miss them and think of them every single day, the Darjeeling toy train, the Himalayas, international, trans-continental relationships, Jaffna, wanting desperately to go to Malaysia, wanting to go back to school, not going on a Great West American road trip (what the fuck was I thinking), never really knowing if people I work with believe my stories, BANGKOK. So many stories to tell.

Bungalows on the riverside

I love boats

Morning View

The Bungalow

Buffalo soup

Trekkin'

Main street of Muang Ngoi

Down the Nam Ou

Dirt road

Sunset

Leaving :(

Muang Ngoi, Laos

What can I say? I’ve been in Phnom Penh for a week. I started writing this when I was in Battambang, Cambodia, where I rode the bamboo train (and screamed with glee like a tiny child the entire way), biked along the riverside in the rain and smiled so much along the way that my face hurt, rode in the Original Batman Tuk Tuk, was told local legends over beers on a mountain top, and had songs about my home town sung to me in the streets.

It was a quiet, sleepy town, and it gave me time to miss the group of friends that I travelled with through Laos all the way down to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I miss Antman, Daniel, Rob, and Ben. We split up a few weeks ago, but I’m already missing being teased for the way I pronounce the word herbs, too many wine carafes in Luang Prabang, too many draft beers on Pub Street, ziplines and rocket festivals in Vang Vieng, the infamous pizza night, and the perfect day of walking (and walking and walking) to find the waterfall, eating buffalo soup, and swimming in a cave.

Today I leave for a homestay in a small village somewhere in the south of Cambodia, but my heart is still swinging in a hammock overlooking the Nam Ou River and watching the mists swirl around the karst mountains, in the far north of Laos.

Vietnam is…

It’s been months, plural, since I’ve updated this blog. I do apologize and highly appreciate those of you still reading. First there was far too much fun in South Korea with the Ultimate Couchsurfing Loft & the awesome Korean friends, meeting an amazing Korean girl named Yeona (who I think will be the fourth life-long friend I have made travelling) and adventuring around Jeju-do & Seoul, and hanging out with the magical fellow couchsurfing girl, Michelle. More on Korea later.

Then there’s been Vietnam and a broken laptop. Saigon, Phu Quoc, Hoi An, Phong Nha, Ninh Binh, and now I am in Hanoi. And Hanoi is…new friends over street food, hidden cafes with family shrines, too much beer, dodging motorbikes and motorbike taxis, being teased by Canadians and Austrialians and Brits about the fact that I’m American. Hanoi is sweltering heat and being ripped off by street vendors. Hanoi is meeting new friends over bia hoi. Hanoi is being taught Vietnamese. Hanoi is laughter and flirting and two kisses on each cheek as a greeting (why the hell haven’t Americans stolen this from Europeans and antipodeans already? It’s pretty much the most charming thing ever and I love it more every time it happens). Hanoi is power outages and contemplating telling people I am from Iceland. Hanoi is almost one month in Vietnam, and realizing that I don’t understand the first damn thing about this country at all. Hanoi is being told once again that I need to write a book. Hanoi is also, fortuanately for yours truly, staying in a party hostel and picking up three new excellent books for free from the bookshelf. Hanoi is meeting South African-Australians in the hallway at 2.45am and discussing life plans and literature. Hanoi is dragging an Australian to a reggae bar out in the middle of god knows where via motorbike on the recommendation of a cool Canadian expat met over beers on the street. Hanoi is sitting and chatting with an English club that managed to snag me, teaching them American slang and idioms and rude phrases, and thoroughly enjoying myself.

As for Vietnam, well, Vietnam is having my palm read and my fortunes told, Vietnam is the most beautiful country I’ve been to since Ireland.
Vietnam leaves me wanting more and knowing that I will only understand a tiny fraction of this heartbreakingly beautiful country. Vietnam is both the toughest and the easiest place I’ve travelled so far. Vietnam is missing China – maybe that’s always, because I find myself talking about China all the time and seriously contemplating ditching Laos and heading up into Yunnan province – and missing amazing friends in China. Vietnam is almost buying a ticket home but meeting an awesome British friend and renting motorbikes and being mobbed by butterflies in a national park.

Vietnam is knowing with every fiber of my being that I would never trade this life for anything else, and knowing how incredibly blessed I am to have this chance to travel.

Faced with the dodo’s conundrum, I felt like I could just fly

statues
even more gigantic incense
gigantic incense
Fresh mango juice
Victoria Harbour
cube light thing
Side alleys amongst the skyscrapers
Lanterns
GO
Tiny shrine
Lion guarding the peak

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

I don’t have much to say, save that I’m headed to South Korea (by ferry from Qingdao, China!) next week and I’m very excited about it. I’ll be meeting up with a good friend from college, Liz, which is what I’m most excited about, and possibly doing some more Couchsurfing along the way. I’ve had a really great time hanging out with my friend Mandi and her lovely and gracious friends here in big bad Wuhan, but the weather has been truly dismal and has me in a funk. I am more than ready for sun and sandy shores.

In South Korea, I plan on visiting Insa-dong in Seoul, going to the DMZ, hitting up Gwangju, maybe stopping off in Andong, and sleeping in the Seoul Incheon airport on my way out. From South Korea, I’ll be flying to Vietnam instead of overlanding back through China like I’d originally planned. There are a lot of things I love about China and I honestly wouldn’t mind trekking through a lot more of it, but without a basic grasp of Mandarin, I feel like I’m missing out on so much of what this country has to offer and a lot of fun interactions with local folk. Also, I’m more than ready to feast upon pho and drink cà phê until I get sick.

So far, my plan is to fly to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), find some beaches, head up to Nha Trang, then on to Da Nang (maybe), Hoi An (for sure), possibly Hue, and onwards as I feel like it, zig-zagging through southeast Asia.

Any recommendations or must-sees for South Korea or Vietnam?

Finding happiness in Hong Kong

First of all, I must apologize for no photos this time. I’m having a fun time trying to get bits and pieces of information out through the Great Firewall and an internet connection which detests my computer (or maybe just me).

I returned to the north of China Monday morning and I’m still thinking about my time in Hong Kong. I spent one week there and loved it. I finally found the state of mind I’ve been searching for in every place on my trip so far: the one where I feel like I am exactly where I belong. I’ve felt snatches of it on this trip, but so far, this trip has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I won’t lie, I’ve struggled a lot to figure out what exactly I’m looking for, and just what I’m doing, on the other side of the planet from everything I’ve ever known.

What is this state of mind? To me, it’s what “being on the road” feels like. It’s hot and sticky days wandering through back alleyways in southern Spain, it’s misty and foggy bike rides on ancient islands in Ireland, it’s laughing with friends and discovering the Cathedral of Junk in Austin, it’s stepping onto the Great Wall for the first time, it’s playing chess at midnight on a train in Russia, it’s hiking through the hills of Scotland and Mississippi.

It is also, to my surprise, sleeping in a dusty warehouse in Hong Kong until late in the day, and drinking milk tea with yum cha at every possible moment, and dancing with other foreigners and locals in the streets in the wee hours of the morning. It is making new friends at The Tower. It is the quest to find cheese and Belgian beer. It is public libraries that have English books. It is egg tarts over a menu written solely in Portuguese. It is all this and more.

It’s me finally settling into the travelling mindset again. It is also now the longest I’ve ever spent outside of the US. It’s the adventure I worked so hard for and dreamed about constantly. In some ways, it feels like wandering into the wardrobe of Narnia…a waking dream that I’ve lived for years and years.

Have you ever had an unexpected change in your itinerary and ended up loving it?

Happy (belated) Year of the Dragon!

courtyard
good eats!
lanterns
lol
happy lunar new year!
sparkler magic
crab
red

doggie
storefront display
doorway
temple
down the rabbit hole
when in china
snack table
napoleon hat
makin' dumplins
dangerous but oh so fun
more sparklers

Xixian, China

So far, I think my favourite city in China has been Xixian, and it’s entirely because of the incredible family that hosted us crazy foreigners. I think back to the blur of days that were Chinese New Year, and I smile. Giant boxes of fireworks, being taught how to make dumplings, getting challenged to chug a half-liter bottle of beer by an auntie, sleeping in everyday, absolutely delicious food, random firecracker explosions in front of store-fronts. Smoking lanterns in the field and red (and red and red everywhere).

I am in Hong Kong now. I thought I would be in China for a lot longer, but I severely overestimated my capacity for withstanding the cold as well as how grating the lack of diversity in China can be (it’s when people won’t stop staring/take tons and tons of photos without asking that it gets to me). I really, really can’t wait to head south and hang out on the beaches of Southeast Asia and eat Thai curries. I’ve got awesome friends to visit first, though!

I think I’ve finally gotten rid of the fever I picked up in Guangzhou…will venture out to find some sort of soup to test this theory in a few hours time. Or maybe I can find a sandwich, since I *am* in Hong Kong. If you spend a long enough time in China, you will never, ever take a good and proper sandwich for granted again (at least I won’t). No way that I’m getting up for the Couchsurfing Superbowl party, though. Pesky time zones mean that the Superbowl starts at 7.30 am here. Hell to the no.

Let me count the ways.

simply magical

in the countryside

the dock

the village

jumping shot

new friends

raftin by

cookie mtn found?!

breathe in

noodles

From Yangdi to Xingping & Yangshuo, China

Let me count the ways, all the ways that I love China. I’ve been here since January 14, and every day something really crazy happens. I love not knowing what exactly to expect, or even what to anticipate. I love that every day when I wake up, I really have no idea what or who I’ll run across. I’ve been super lucky to be travelling with my dear friend, Mandi, who speaks Chinese – the experience has been so much better having someone who speaks the language! And we have gotten up to some hilarious adventures together so far. We are parting ways soon, at least for a bit. My original plan from here was to go to Chengdu, then the Tibetan areas of western Sichuan, and possibly to Lhasa & the Tibetan Autonomous Region for Tibetan New Year. However, because of new political unrest (NYT), the entire area that I had planned on travelling through has been banned for foreigners. So, instead I’m headed to Hong Kong and Macau next, and hoping that it won’t completely eat through my wallet.

Unfortunately, it looks like WordPress doesn’t work from behind the Great Firewall. That, combined with sporadic wifi access + way too much fun hanging out with old and new friends = my posting being totally absent. Posting will probably continue to be super sporadic while I’m still in China. My apologies. I’ll try to blog what I can, when I can, and catch up on the rest of Russia, the disaster of Mongolia, the hilarious/awful journey down to Beijing with a standing ticket, couchsurfing the Great Wall, an amazing Chinese New Year!! and taking a shower and playing ping pong in a hospital, and the magic of the sleeper bus. I am definitely feeling way better about my trip than I was in Mongolia. I think that I have to accept that I simply was not made for the cold…the thought of heading due south, to beaches and weather that I can’t wear my down jacket in…ohh, it makes me super happy!

For the past few days, Mandi and I have spent our time wandering in and around Yangshuo, in Guangxi province. Today we took a bus up to Yangdi, with no actual idea of where we were headed thanks to a lack of decent maps, met a Taiwanese woman who joined us, met a local girl going home for the holidays from a village on the path who invited us into her house for fruit and made sure we went the correct way, hiked for hours along the Li River, enjoyed breathing in clean, mostly non-polluted air, marveled each step of the way at the incredible beauty of the karst mountains, met a Chinese family who let us hop on the bamboo raft they’d rented, chatted with the son who is going to study in Finland, ended up in Xingping after dark and grabbed two Russians and told them to hop in the shared bread van back to Yangshuo to lower the price of the ride, and had delicious Muslim noodles for dinner. Got served tea once again by our awesome hostel staff, and then watched more of Community in our room.

Being so blessed to have an excellent travelling partner is amazing, and when you get into crazy adventures it’s that much more hilarious when you’ve got someone to share it with. The Li River is absolutely magical, though its beauty is tainted in knowing that the local people can’t make the income they used to due to new governmental laws enacted very recently. The weather hasn’t been the greatest either. Still, I don’t know if I could ever get tired of seeing these fantastical mountains every single day…