Tag Archives: Travel

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.

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…

The Trans-Siberian

Train friends

Novosibirsk spoils

Somewhere near Irkutsk

Sunset on the Trans-Siberian

Provisions on the Trans-Siberian

From Moscow to Irkutsk, Russia, via the 340 Trans-Siberian train

Travelling platskartny (3rd class, open carriage, cheapest option; something like 3000+ miles for about 120$) proved to be totally freaking awesome. I ended up getting basically adopted by the three guys across from my bunk, Vlad, Mikhail, and Erik, and a German-speaking babushka in the bunk next to mine, whose name I never caught. Mikhail and Erik kept me fed the entire trip. I, being one with ever so much common sense, forgot to buy supplies for the journey in my mad dash to make sure I got to the right station after wandering around the wrong one, and these guys basically saved my bacon. They also kept telling me I was too skinny (in Russian) and to eat more (those are the two guys in the photo with me) and to come back to Russia in summertime and visit them. The babushka kept giving me apples, candy, and once, fish and potatoes, and I think she was convinced that I spoke German.

I wish I’d taken more photos, but as platskartny is an open carriage, taking photos felt like it’d be a big invasion of privacy and just awkward. Also, the train windows are filthy, which makes photos all look kind of boring and grainy. I am glad for many things on this trip so far, including the fact that a.) I am not a picky eater nor allergic to certain foods, b.) I am not claustrophobic, and c.) that I enjoy my own company a fair amount. That being said, the journey would have been 100x better if I spoke halfway decent Russian. Vlad very kindly translated as much as he could into English for me, but that only gets one so far. For the really interesting questions, like religion, life goals, hopes, dreams, politics, etc. I could not understand anything nor convey my own thoughts. It’s incredibly frustrating to be surrounded by people who are intensely curious about you and vice versa and not be able to have a decent discussion. This was to be a recurring theme throughout Russia for me…

Anyway, the train was insane. Thank heavens that no one offered me any vodka at any point in Russia (I hate vodka). In fact, there was far less alcohol on the train than I had previously imagined. And unlike the movie Trans-Siberian, there was far less drugs, sex, and danger. Also, far fewer English speakers. There was a lot of sleeping, since the sun didn’t rise until about 10am and set at 4pm, and you cross multiple time zones. There was a lot of staring out of the train windows. There was a lot of smoking (but not by yours truly). The three guys shook my hand and congratulated me on my “strength” (?) when they found out that I don’t smoke. There was not a lot of showering. There are two bathrooms for the whole carriage, each with a sink which you cannot stick your head under. But I have a plastic orange cup from Florence with which I was able to sort of wash my hair with twice. And I used a lot of baby wipes. I finished Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux and the fifth Percy Jackson book. I met a pair of Italian brothers who are expanding their wine business into Russia, and who tried to give me some life advice. All in all, not very eventful, but very relaxing. My cold from Moscow (that I suspect was due to pollution..which doesn’t bode well for China..) was cured by the enforced rest.

The best parts of the trip would have to be the times where communication wasn’t so vital. One night, when a very young brother and his sister were on the train, we played (what I think was) a Russian version of Hearts, which I was terrible at on my own. The little boy started helping me, though, and we won every subsequent round. A lot of laughter that night. There was the night that we decided to do twenty questions via drawings, which I have in my sketchbook and will treasure for always. Some things are surprisingly hard to communicate via drawing, especially bridge building (Erik’s profession). The pinnacle of it all had to be my last night on the train, when we stopped in Novosibirsk and ran across the frozen train tracks to pick up more groceries and ice cream, and we ate dumplings from a platform vendor, and we wished each other Merry Christmas. And on this night, the German-speaking babushka searched for chess competitors, and we ended up playing. She thoroughly trounced me multiple times in a row, but kept shoving candy at me the entire time (to soften the blow?). She was intense! We played chess for so long that the lights went from the regular night time lights, to the dim lights, and finally they went totally off. Mikhail and Erik had a flashlight, so we rigged up a swinging flashlight over the table and continued playing on. Ahhh, it was wonderful. I will always remember that chess game, like a perfectly frozen postcard, as the highlight of my trip to Russia.

I think that I what I was looking for in Russia was a human connection. I definitely found it on that particular Trans-Siberian train. I think that that’s what we look for in our travels, or at least, one of the main things I look for. To know that for just one moment, someone else in the world cares about you, even just a little bit (or a lot) and is interested in you and your life when your paths cross in this world.

And then came Irkutsk…

To Russia, with love

Cheap champagne

To Russia

Mockba

The arch

They look familiar...

Metro tiles

St Basil's Cathedral

Moscow peek

Moscow, Russia

I am sure I’ll be writing much, much more about the Trans-Siberian train, but I’ll try to start catching up with everything that’s happened on my journey so far. This is a lot to catch up on, so I think I’ll split it into several parts over a few days while I attempt to get to Beijing and meet my dear Mandi…by the way, I’m currently in Ulaanbaatar after a 5-day train from Moscow, an 8-hour marshrutka ride from Irkutsk around Lake Baikal, and a 13-hour bus from Ulan-Ude; 1 very pathetic attempted mugging (don’t worry, they weren’t successful); and 5 slips on ice.

I am pretty sure that UB is the anti-Mongolia, as it totally sucks here. (And everyone I’ve talked to who’s been to Mongolia says the countryside is amazing.) I’m excited to be leaving tomorrow. I’ll be totally honest: so far, my trip has been nothing like what I expected. It’s been a lot lonelier than I thought – so far, I’ve met a grand total of 7 other travellers, only 4 who actually wanted to chat – and in general, a lot harder than travels in Europe. You can know something in your head, but when you’re lost for four hours, in the snow, in a city that you don’t know, and you can’t ask a single person for directions and have them understand what it is you’re looking for, well, it’s absolutely exhausting. And only having about 5-6 hours of daylight blows. Since I’m a solo female travelling, I really don’t want to risk being out at night by myself. (Which really sucks because I am a total night owl.) Also, I have not had a single bit of alcohol for much the same reason. It’s not like I’m an alcoholic or anything, but I do like beer. However, it’s depressing to drink by yourself. It is nice to be paying for one bed in a hostel dorm and getting the whole room to myself, though. And the people who’ve helped me along the way have been amazing. I think that part of the reason they are so helpful is because I’m a girl by myself (and they all say I’m crazy). Overall, though, it’s very empowering to know that I’ve gotten this far! Parts of the trip have been really fun. My next post will reveal some fun details.

Soundtrack for the rest of this post (the not depressing part!): To Russia, my homeland & Transatlantique.

The flight to Russia was a good introduction to the country. Leaving from NYC, we were delayed inexplicably for about 4 hours, then sat on the runway for another 2 hours once boarding. At least they gave me a voucher for refreshments due to the delay. Also, the in-flight services included one glass of cheap champagne and one glass of cheap red wine, so I was appeased. Transaero proved to be pretty legit, despite not being able to change my ticket at all once it was purchased since my origin was the US (not Russia). I’m pretty sure it was due to the New Year’s holidays, but there were about 30 people on a Boeing 777-200, so we each could take five rows to ourselves. Boss. Flew over Iceland but it was late at night and did not get to see anything interesting. And there was applause from the other passengers when we landed. Hmmm.

Next, Moscow. I already did a post about the metro, but unfortunately didn’t get photos of the metro station with stained glass windows (pretty sure it was Novoslobodskaya, but I only saw it on my way to Yaroslavsky for the Trans-Siberian). Curses!

Couchsurfing, once again, proved to be completely invaluable. In Moscow, I was taken in by Genrikh & Victoria, an absolutely wonderful couple who were the very definition of hospitality for a weary traveller. Genrikh was particularly delighted to speak with a native English speaker – something I haven’t heard very often in my life – and cooked me absolutely delicious food, took me on a walking tour all over Moscow, and we discussed life, Georgia (the country, not the state), and our plans for the future. Moscow is a very beautiful city, particularly around the river…the view from near the Vorob’evy hills at night time across the river is as gorgeous as any view in Venice. (Only super blurry photos of this, sorry y’all.)

Every time I feel myself thinking pessimistic and cynical thoughts about humanity, I think about the best of my couchsurfing experiences and I just can’t hold onto them. Moscow was highly enjoyable through the lens of my couchsurfing experience, and I’ll do another post on it later. However, having gone to Russia to experience proper snow, I can safely say that I think I’ve experienced it as much as I need to.

After Moscow, with a lovely farewell from Genrikh – “Enjoy your road.” – it was time to board the train to Siberia.