Phuket, Pt. IV

Let’s start in an honest place: I had to look up what the Roman numeral for four was, just to make sure.

Phuket seems so far away now, because it was. As mentioned in my last post, I am embarrassingly slow, but we made it. The last day was quite open in terms of activities. I woke up and immediately wanted to eat breakfast, so I set off on my own. Breaking the roti streak, I went to the Gallery Cafe. It’s about as trendy and Western as it sounds, but that was alright with me. They had a vegetarian English-style breakfast. Sold. They also had a lovely little outdoor seating area where I could sit, read, and ponder life. 

Andre met me at the cafe a little later on, and we decided to simply stroll around town. There was a small Chinese temple that was still on the list of places to see. It is nestled fairly deep into its own alleyway in the middle of Old Town. As you stroll down towards the temple, there is graffiti all along the walls, as well as a more modern memorial of some sort, perhaps for donors. No other visitors were there (probably because it was a Tuesday morning) so it was even more quiet than usual, save the dull sounds of a radio in the back. Despite its size, it did pack quite a punch in terms of textiles and shrines.

Miracles happen: shortly thereafter, we stumbled upon a used bookshop with a plethora of books in English. Both of us spent a good amount of time wandering around, soaking it in. There’s a used bookshop in every neighborhood in Chicago, and I miss them. Even if I don’t buy any books, there’s something really pleasant about wandering around the aisles, seeing how the owner has intricately and dangerously stacked the books. Categorization is interesting as well.

From there, it was a regular art show. Old Town is filled with street art. Wandering around is already a critical part of exploring Thailand, and discovering little nooks filled with paintings made it all the more worthwhile.

IMG_6161 (1)

It was a simple last day, but that was perfectly fine with me. It gave me a chance to really see Old Town, outside of the slightly kitschy central area. To reiterate, this place is suspiciously charming. Now that I’ve lived in Thailand for a few minutes I can more easily spot the more subtle tourist traps. Although not all of them are bad. When I go back to Phuket in October, I will certainly be staying in Old Town again. They got me.


Phuket, Pt. I

I just spent 3.5 days in Phuket over a long weekend (that I accidentally made one day longer after misinterpreting the national holiday calendar). I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer – not that I expected it to be a shit show of any kind. I had been made to believe that Phuket was a cornucopia of beach bars and resorts, a place for Westerners to check “island adventure” off their list. Alas, there is more to it! Fancy that.

My friend Andre started talking to me about his plans for Phuket a few weeks ago. I’d been telling him that I’m having a great time in Thailand thus far, but have been finding that there aren’t many people who have the same travel personality as I do. Turns out that Andre and I are actually quite aligned in that respect and he kindly invited me to tag along.

The idea that hooked me in the first place was to avoid Patong and instead make home base in Phuket Town. It’s known for being a quieter, colonial town that’s more centrally located. This sounded like heaven to me. I’m quickly tiring of the drinking & partying scene here in Thailand and wanted something different (but not something too “plain bagel”, either). It truly lived up to the reputation.

We stayed at The Rommanee Boutique Hotel right in the middle of town, which proved to be both an excellent choice in stay and in location. The vibe on all of Rommanee (street) reminded me of the outdoor patio at The Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans, with the pastel lilac vines and twinkly lights hanging from above. Very quaint, almost suspiciously cute – but I chose not to question it. The first day was spent exploring and walking around Phuket Town. Just down the street was this tiny restaurant that specialized in Roti. After a series of misunderstandings in our order (common!), we ended up with three different types of Roti – fried egg, banana, and egg & banana together. Along with some fresh coffee, it was absolutely delicious and quite cheap. It ended up being breakfast for three of the four mornings.


Wandering ensued afterwards, and I mean that in the true sense of the word. There wasn’t a whole lot of planning involved. We’d see a interesting mural over there, and then get a glimpse of a building that was featured in Lonely Planet, then stop to admire the unusual quietness of the markets. It’s like the traveler’s version of “follow your nose”.

After a brief respite, we switched to hiking mode and decided to trek up Rang Hill to a lookout point with an apparently spectacular view. I use the term “trek” lightly. It was quite leisurely, actually. It was a mostly cloudy day and everything’s a little easier without the sun beating down on you. The lookout did have a expansive view that I think was particularly captivating at the time we were there, dusk. I’m biased, though, as I’m a sucker for the sun on the horizon. Plus, there were these trees with roots and branches in tangled knots, begging to be climbed. We allowed ourselves a few minutes of slightly juvenile Tarzan time (and a couple of unwanted encounters with cicada exoskeletons) before walking back down to town.


It was Asahna Puja Day (July 8th) and so we made a point to stop by a local temple to watch the proceedings. Many people circled the temple, holding slim burning candles and lotus flowers. Lots of bats whipped around as well, which gave it a slightly eerie vibe. Ever loyal to Lonely Planet, we headed to dinner at a LP-recommended Italian-Thai fusion restaurant called The Cook. It was such an odd pairing of cuisines that I felt the need to go to what seemed to be the heaviest extreme – Tom Yum Goong pizza. You know what? It was delicious! In a rare circumstance I did not eat the whole thing, and unfortunately half of the pizza will live the rest of its life sitting in the hotel fridge. 😦


The following day was quite the adventure on Ko Yao Noi. In short, beware of the low tide. More to come on Day Two, Day Three, and Day Four later!




Where to Wander: Part I

Well, the past few months have been quite the rollercoaster personally! I moved into a new apartment, started my new teaching job, and have traveled to a few places around Bangkok. While I’ve successfully written in a daily journal since I’ve arrived, I’ve also ignored this blog. What else is new?

Thus far I’ve been to four places: Pattaya (has potential but was unfortunately mired in the “sexpat” scene), Koh Samui (beautiful and need to return), Koh Phangan (site of the notorious Full Moon Party and essentially nothing else), and Cambodia (a technicality as I was there for 30 minutes on a border run). All were lovely little jaunts, but I feel as though I came here for a reason – to travel! It’s important for me to start planning out where I really want to go while I’m here. So, I shall publicly display them here in the hopes it will remind me to plan. I’ll think big and start with other countries.


Pak Ou (Source)

Luang Prabang has a reputation for being extremely relaxed and relaxing, which I am all for. Phu Si will give me my workout for the day (329 steps up!), and the Handicraft Night Market also seems like a lovely place to wander, though I have a feeling that I will soon tire of markets as I will temples. What doesn’t sound tired is Pak Ou, a cave temple (!) just outside of Luang Prabang. It seems absolutely eerie and magical. Not too far from Pak Ou is Ban Xang Hai village, where they are famous for locally-produced wine and whiskey (right up my alley). Finally, the sheer number of waterfalls and lagoons (like Blue Lagoon and Kuang Si) is impressive. I don’t think I could resist a soak in those waters.


Choeung Ek (Source)

Again, technically I’ve been here but it certainly didn’t constitute a check off the ol’ travel list. Of course, there’s Angkor Wat, a prolific landmark of the country. I’ve had friends who have been there already. I’m also fascinated with Cambodia’s dark history and the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are both landmarks of this tumultuous and frightening time, and visiting them would be a good way to learn more and to pay my respects.


Darchen (Source)

Oh man, this country will be a challenge to see in one go. A whopper of a trip. Honestly I sucked the life out of Lonely Planet (process ongoing) to try and pick out my top sights. I really enjoy nature and natural sights, so the Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yangzi are definitely up there. Both seem totally surreal. My golden gem of a visit would be to go to Darchen & Mount Kailash in Tibet, if I can get there. In addition to the outdoorsy stuff, I’d love to see the Forbidden City in Běijīng and Tiánzǐfáng (French Concession) in Shànghǎi. And, of course, who could forget or ignore the Great Wall. I can envision the touristy selfie now.


Thiên Đường Cave (Source)

Parks on parks on parks on parks! Cat Tien National Park seems like a wonderful place to observe wildlife, and its exclusivity (you have to call ahead) makes it enticing. Thiên Đường (Paradise) Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park may ignite my bathophobia, but for a good cause. Imagine seeing one of those ginormous fangs of stone hanging right in front of your face. I’ll just make sure to meditate twice as long before I go. There’s Halong Bay, of course – but nearby Ba Be National Park looks incredible, secluded and lush. A hiker’s paradise. Also, someone please remind me to get my malaria shots. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi seem quite similar to Bangkok in terms of energy, so I will probably spend very little time in either. Hoi An, however, sounds much more up my alley – an old marine town.

Okay, that’s about enough research for today, but I will definitely be writing about India, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, The Phillipines, Nepal, and Australia later.

Te Echo De Menos

Translation: I miss you.

It was three years ago this week that I embarked on what would become the best adventure of my life to date: living and studying in Madrid, Spain. I met some of the best people in my life while I was there. I also learned a lot about myself, independence, and traveling. Though I’m not going to be one of those study abroad people (“I’m so cultured now!”), I really do think that this trip changed me for the better. I’m feeling nostalgic, so I’d love to share some of my photos and relive the memories.

320520_2444743873337_1802979977_n First off: food! Classic drinks and tapas. It’s customary to serve free “snacks” with drinks in Spain. This bar was “El Tigre”, and is more or less known as an expat bar – but it was a great place to start the night. And hey, we were expats, after all. They had the biggest, cheapest mojitos and sangria (see on the left). They were so sweet, you couldn’t place your straw on the bottom of the cup without sucking up a lump of sugar!

292052_2400898697235_1250303752_nMy friend (now a “bset frienf” – inside joke – more later) Katie overlooking Barcelona. I was lucky enough to go to Barcelona twice on my trip – once with my study abroad group, and once with my mom. I am behind this camera and struggling to breathe, as I had a terrible sinus infection at the time. I made it through the daytime, but could not get out of bed at night. So I missed out on some crazy evenings! But I did get to spend some time in my cozy hotel bed watching “Biutiful”. *sobs*

308970_2378377534220_963140575_nA photo I love of my friend and Madrid roommate, Colleen. I adore all of the colors from the candy stand. We were in beautiful Malaga, where the sun shines forever and the Andaluces are friendly. Colleen’s friend Maricarmen lives there, and her family graciously housed us for a couple of days.

293467_2378367013957_469933157_nHer family was very, very gracious, indeed. Look at all the food they gave us for dinner! Look at those shrimp! Manchego cheese! We were in heaven. I should also note that I gave up my pescatarianism while I was in Spain. Didn’t want to give my beloved Señora a hard time.

317699_2421037560694_1445086217_nAlthough there were nights where my pescatarianism fared just fine. This is a beautiful dinner my Señora prepared for us one night: spinach, bean, and calamari soup, Spanish tortilla, and sauteed mushrooms. We also often had “tinto de verano” with dinner, which is basically red wine soda and was my life nectar. I wish they sold it here!

321660_2444773194070_599974808_nThis is Toledo, which is not far from Madrid. It is a quintessential Spanish town – stony streets, tiled roofs, churches everywhere, and Spaniards waltzing around with their hands behind their backs. We did a day trip there, and it was one of my favorite side trips – we saw a few of the main sights, but mostly just wandered around. We ended the day at a small cafe on a random street with wine, beer, and tapas. It was perfect.

305400_2444761273772_1172239121_nThis is one of my top five favorite photos of the trip. This is on Puente de San Martín (San Martín Bridge), which provided breathtaking views of the Tagus River and surrounding landscape. And my friends are admiring it so.

406414_2891087191641_785946966_nMy friends and I also took a day to hike the Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range outside of Madrid. It was a grey, cloudy day, but it was surreal. Earlier we had eaten sandwiches by a creek, and my water bottle was full with water from the creek. At this moment we were listening to “Love Is All” by The Tallest Man on Earth and it almost brought me to tears.

390034_2576621930206_521298202_nNow we’re on the campus of the University of Salamanca in, you guessed it, Salamanca. We had a weekend trip there as well and were on a tour of the school, which is the third oldest in Europe (founded in 1134!). This is one of the artier photos that I took. I’m not even sure where this Dalmatian came from. I hope he got lots of pets that day.

389570_2877709697212_743335467_nMy mother came to visit during Thanksgiving week. She’d backpacked through Europe when she was my age, but she’d never been to Spain! We spent part of our afternoon strolling around Retiro, the largest park in Madrid. This is just outside the Palacio de Cristal, which is a glass castle of sorts. There’s an incredibly peaceful pond just outside of the palace, and we watched the ducks. We had also bought new hats and were very proud of them (mine was unfortunately later stolen off of my sleeping head on a bus from Manchester, England to London – the nerve!).

397663_2877714777339_942255138_nFor Thanksgiving Dinner, we dined the oldest restaurant in the WORLD, Botín! Of course, we had to get a souvenir pitcher of wine.

405631_2877719337453_1823509663_nAs I mentioned, we took a short trip to Barcelona, and perused the glory of La Boqueria – a huge market on La Rambla. It was so colorful and aromatic I could barely stand it. Not to mention the abundance of delicious fresh food. Makes you feel lucky.

394824_2877740817990_1222163445_nThen we trekked back up the hill to visit Parque Güell, an artistic masterpiece of a park. This is a tile creation on the ceiling of an underpass. Incredible, isn’t it?

396056_2881825120095_2018336794_nThis. This is my group. These are my people. I can’t think for one second about this trip without being grateful for them. We were a tight-knit group from the get-go. We did everything together. I am still friends with every one of these people, and we still get together over tapas to remember our adventures together. They’re indispensable to me!

377005_2881857640908_966312389_nOh Madrid, how I miss thee.

Home Office Inspiration: An Update

I failed you all in that I did not take a picture of my table before it was finished. Maybe I have a stray photo of it in the background somewhere, but I don’t want to burden you with sub-par photography.

Anyways, here’s what I’ve done with my little office nook:


Things that I changed:

  • There used to be a Lazy Susan where the catch-all box is. That Lazy Susan is now in my fridge as a little condiment merry-go-round (so helpful; would recommend). This little catch all is filled with my thank-you notes, stamps, envelopes, my camera, and my gold tacks for my inspiration board.
  • My gold four-leaf clover was originally up on my bookcase. I liked it here, though, as a setting for my jasmine tea candles. ~*serenity now*~
  • French press coffee. It’s where it’s at. It’s a little weekend treat for me.
  • So many things on this desk are Dollar Store finds: the gold tacks, the mason jar, the candy dish, and the Rolos in the candy dish. Everything else I already had in my house. Score!
  • Before, I used to use the entire table as a catch-all: random books, old receipts, scarves, sweaters, and dirty coffee cups were strewn about. I made a commitment to keeping the clutter out of this space. And you know what? It totally makes it more inviting. I now eat at this table more often than I eat in front of the TV, which was a prior bad habit of mine. Hoping this sticks!

I’ll show you my inspiration board as well. In due time! ‘Til then…

Sin City: Part I

Almost immediately after I returned from my Colorado trip, my boyfriend Sam and I started planning for our short excursion to Las Vegas. We apparently have a hankering for party cities – our last trip was to New Orleans – but we swear we’re not really party people. I honestly thought it sounded like fun and it was reputedly a great weekender trip. That’s all you need! And it was; though I would not rule out another trip to experience everything I missed. Here’s everything we did do, though.

We caught an early morning July 4th flight from Midway in an effort to squeeze out as much time of the vacation as possible, not to mention to try and beat the holiday crowds. When we touched down in the dry tundra that is the desert, our plane had to stand for a moment before docking, and our flight attendants asked us to close our window shades to prevent it from getting too hot. At that point, I started chugging water for fear of dissolving in the Vegas sun.

Rolling into the Monte Carlo at 10:30 am turned out to be a smart move. We finagled our way into a 19th floor room with a view of the strip. Tip: get to the hotel early, and don’t hesitate to ask for a upgraded room – if you don’t say anything, you probably won’t get anything other than what you were expecting. They’ve gotta fill all the rooms they can. Worst thing they can do is say no! Anyways. After admiring our view and settling in, we immediately walked around the hotel to get our bearings. I’ve never been to a casino before, and now I can say that my standards are set high. It seems like a never-ending room full of blinking machines and people slinging cards in uncomfortable tuxedos. At all hours of the day, you could find people gambling, although there were certainly different crowds at 3pm and 3am.

First Vegas meal was to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Paris. Another tip: if you’re going around a holiday like us, make reservations for dinner ahead of time! Even though July is low season for Vegas, the streets were still stuffed with people, and wait times were horrendous. Luckily I had done a bit of researched and snagged us an outside table at 6:30 pm. My boyfriend and I dove straight into the booze (appropriate) after we had safely hydrated. White wine and IPA, stat!

Sam and I enjoying our first Vegas libations.
Sam and I enjoying our first Vegas libations.

Sam ordered the Trout Amandine with brown butter and almonds. The one forkful I got was very succulent and savory. I had the Mussels Mariniere, which were soaked in a white wine herb sauce and came with fries. Absolutely to die for. Although,  I did have a wardrobe tragedy mid-meal. Whilst picking a delicious morsel from a mussel shell, my fork slipped and I splashed the marinade all over my brand-new dress. I booked it to the bathroom, seltzer water in hand, and scrubbed as hard as I could, although it didn’t do much. Ah, the price of decadence.  The best thing about this restaurant, though? Across the street were the Bellagio fountains. Dinner and a show, indeed! The view made up for my dress disaster.

Can this get any more gorgeous? Cue "Claire de Lune".
Can the Bellagio get any more gorgeous? Cue “Claire de Lune”.

After dinner, I dragged Sam to Walgreen’s to get a bottle of Dawn (a lifesaver for grease stains!) so I could do a little dress damage control. There was no way this number wasn’t seeing a night out in Vegas! Our side trip shortened our first event of the night: Fun on the Fourth at the Stratosphere. We were led up to the pool on the 8th floor, where there was a live band. Things were definitely dwindling down – it was an older crowd than we anticipated – but we made it just in time for the fireworks! Of course, in true unpredictable fashion, it started to pour buckets (for the first time in four months!) two minutes after the show started. Many locals were rejoicing in the storm, as the West has been suffering through a terrible drought. It actually worked perfectly for me as well. My dress was splotched from my stain rubbing, and now I could just blame it on the rain!

About 4.7 seconds before it started to pour.
About 4.7 seconds before it started to pour.

Now comes the part I am a bit ashamed of: we then went to Tao Nightclub at The Venetian for…wait for it…Khloe Kardashian’s birthday party. Okay. It’s out there now. I had heard that she was throwing a 30th birthday bash about a week before we left for Vegas. After much cajoling, my ever-so wonderful Samuel nervously agreed to go to the party. How can you not attend an event like that, though? Nothing like this happens in Chicago! Plus, I have a Kardashian vice, and I figured if I was going to give into my vices, Vegas was the place to do it. We arrived to see throngs of people dancing, drinking, and wearing very Kardashian-like outfits. High heels and lip gloss abound. We immediately grabbed a shot and a drink and squeezed onto the dance floor. Of course, Khloe did not show up until about 1am, so we had a couple hours of good ol’ dancing before the madness began. Once she (and her new boyfriend French Montana – I am paining myself with this knowledge) arrived, the crowd pushed in her direction and never really stopped. Phones were flashing as a large cake and Vegas dancers made their way to the Kardashian Korner (I’m so sorry). Sam and I lasted about 30 minutes before we had to get out of there. I had gotten a few decent photos for proof, and had a fresh stiletto heel in my toe, and thus it was time to go.

The best I could do with an old Iphone and several sweaty rows of fangirls away.
The best I could do with an old Iphone and several sweaty rows of fan girls away.

Next up in the Vegas saga: lazy rivers, Cirque du Soleil, huge frozen drinks, and Club XS. Stay tuned!

Colorado: Part II

We awoke on Sunday morning with our bags packed and ready to trek into the mountains (and by trek, I mean drive). E, A, AK, AB and I all piled into the van and went on one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on. Ascending into the mountains, I saw sharp cliffs, green pines, and soaring birds of prey.

Unfortunately we also saw the wreckage from the 2013 Colorado Floods. Homes that sat on the river had been gutted by the rising waters. Riverbeds were dry, and once-grassy yards were dead. I saw a couch literally dangling out from the bottom of a home whose floors had been ripped out. Very sad to see. It makes you grateful for the workers who are striving to get things back to normal.

Our arrival to Estes Park was a blustery one. The temperature was actually quite pleasant – low 60s – but you wouldn’t know it because of the chilly wind! After having a lovely mountain-y brunch at a local restaurant, AB, AK and I went straight Sombrero Ranches to ride horses in the foothills. We were signed up for a two-hour horseback tour of the foothills of the mountains. I love riding horses, so I was very excited! My horse’s name was Pecas (pee-cus). He was very sweet, but turned out to be a bit of a rebel!

We spent the next two hours bouncing in between awe and fear. The views were beyond gorgeous. It was so quiet; all we could hear was the sound of the wind and our tour guide yelling back to check on us (“How you doin’ back there, Chicago?”). It’s a good thing he was doing that, because sometimes things got pretty scary! Our horses were working so hard to climb up and down these rocky, muddy, snowy, uneven hills. I had to learn to trust Pecas; he’s done this a billion times before! Pecas also decided to canter a few times during our tour. If my equestrian cousin hadn’t taught me how to control a horse, I’d probably be lost in the mountains right now. It was all worth it, though, for those views.


Once we were back on “flat” ground and trying to regain our own footing (isn’t it funny how much your legs hurt after riding a horse? I find it so ironic that you were basically just sitting the whole time!) we went to our lodging for the evening, The Stanley Hotel. This was a wonderful gift from E and A. It was even more beautiful than in the photos. Not to mention it has a cool back-story: it’s where Stephen King got the idea for The Shining! The movie actually plays 24 hours a day on channel 42. Hilarious!


We strolled around the downtown area for a while before returning to the hotel for a dinner of Prosecco, pizza, and a fruit and cheese plate. Then we had an appropriate ghost tour of the grounds. Now, I’m not necessarily a believer in ghosts, but I actually had a ghost experience on the tour! Our tour guide had us sit in a basement room to wait for a little girl ghost named Lucy to arrive. She liked to close doors, which did happen, but that’s questionable “ghost” activity. She also would sometimes take candy out of peoples’ hands. Our tour guide gave us Dum Dum suckers, which he told us to balance sucker-down on our palms while holding our wrist to stabilize it. And…nothing happened. At the end of the tour, we were in the foundation of the hotel (it was built right on top of the rocks in the early 1900s) wandering around in the dark. I felt the sucker still in my pocket, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny to try that again here?” I meant it more so as a joke with my friends. But then, the sucker twisted 360 degrees around in my hand, with the stick up in the air, pointed at me, and then fell off of my hand. I yelled some expletive (sorry kids), the tour guide turned the lights on, and a woman snapped a picture of me. She came over to me and said, “I don’t want to freak you out, but…” Her photo showed me with the sucker in my hand and an Orb (a spherical light that paranormal experts claim is a spirit) right next to me. The tour guide came to look and said, “This is really cool.” So I took that as validation for my ghost experience! I still have the Dum Dum. Wish I would have asked that lady to email me the photo!

Anyways, after our experience, AB, AK and I wanted to go to their famous hotel whiskey bar (a Dumb & Dumber scene was filmed there, too!). I was excited before I started to feel suddenly nauseous. We made it to the bar, where I ordered a Dark & Stormy with the hope that the ginger beer would calm my stomach. But to no avail: I had to run back to our hotel room to yak and crawl into bed. Apparently I am susceptible to altitude sickness! I was trying to stay hydrated, but from what I researched, a lot of it is simply passed down from your parents. I later found out that my dad has a serious weakness when it comes to high altitudes, too. Thanks, dad!

The next morning we had to get ready to trek back down the mountain. The night before, the bartender encouraged me to take my drink upstairs for when I felt better. I awoke to it sitting on the windowsill. It was so sad! We couldn’t leave, of course, without going up a little higher in the mountains first. We ascended to nearly 9,000 feet, looking over what seemed like eons of snowy, green-speckled peaks. Watching the wind blow snow over the caps was my favorite part. We also saw a pack of elk casually grazing by the road, which was strangely magical!

Despite my brief mountain-induced illness, I really loved being in Estes Park and Fort Collins. Everything was so new to me. The air was like taking a fresh drink of water, the people were down-to-earth, the beer was tasty (and dangerous), and the terrain always had me staring. Someday I’d like to go back, maybe to Pikes Peak. I’ll just have to remember to bring my Dramamine next time!



Also, a side note: here’s a funny story about Jim Carrey’s ghost experience while staying at The Stanley Hotel (he only lasted three hours!).