Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (March 1-6, 2017)

As I start planning for a return trip to Malaysia in June, I got to thinking about the mountain of pictures and stories I need to share about the last few months of travel. I think I fell in love with Malaysia in the Cameron Highlands.

March 1, Day 22: After a mishap with missing my bus to the Cameron Highlands, speeding in a taxi across town to catch up with the bus, and then a three hour nauseating ride through the lovely mountains of Malaysia, I arrived to the fresh air and green rolling hills of Tanah Rata. I had been messaging a couchsurfer to meet up for dinner, and Jubayed kindly showed me his restaurant. Jubayed is a friendly guy from Bangladesh living in Tanah Rata with dreams of opening up his own restaurant in Banglash some day. After a beer, we planned for the next day to motorbike around the area.

March 2, Day 23: After hitchhiking from my Airbnb in Brinchang back into Tanah Rata, I met up with Jubayed and jumped on the back of his motorbike. Snapchat-22434926And we were off to our first destination of Robinson Falls. Look at how excited we were!

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On our hike there we abruptly turned a corner and interrupted a orang asli (indigenous man) showering in the forest. We hiked ahead quickly to this amazing view:

 

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And this cool photo meant for a postcard:

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After the falls we motorbiked to the Bharat tea plantation and admired the views over a cup of fresh tea.

Snapchat-1529135874Jubayed suggested we hike around the plantation. We got adventurous and climbed up the muddy steep sides of the green hills to the top – what a view!

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A few minutes after this picture was snapped I slipped on the climb down and embraced the muddy butt the rest of the day.

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Tea leaves for miles.IMG_20170302_113138_1

After tea and lunch, we ventured on to a temple atop a mountain.IMG_20170302_161814

And a flower farm!IMG_20170302_170032IMG_20170302_170519IMG_20170302_170942

Then some dinner at a local spot Jubayed suggested. Maggi goreng hits the spot.IMG_20170302_202447

What a great day with a great guide! Thank you Jubayed for the wonderful company.

March 3, Day 24: Another day, another tea plantation to explore. I joined in a jeep tour to BOH plantation and got another eyeful of rolling green hills.IMG_20170303_092002IMG_20170303_092129IMG_20170303_092444IMG_20170303_092515_1IMG_20170303_092718IMG_20170303_092734IMG_20170303_092755IMG_20170303_094909

After the tea plantation we rode up to the Mossy Forest. It’s as ominous and beautiful as the name suggests. Once you enter the forest, you’re surrounded by mist and everything is covered in moss. IMG_20170303_103430IMG_20170303_103952IMG_20170303_104943IMG_20170303_105241

Then on to the butterfly farm, which was pretty underwhelming.IMG_20170303_125415IMG_20170303_130806_1IMG_20170303_130839

I spent the rest of the day searching for a sewing kit, sewing my ripped pants, and planning my next few days. I was chatting with another couchsurfer, Matt, about meeting up in the Highlands, and he told me about a surf in Kampung Raja, about 20 minutes away, that he was at and was loving. Although I felt like I had seen all there was to see in the Highlands, I decided one more night wouldn’t hurt.

March 4, Day 25: I got up early and hoped the Saturday traffic out of Brinchang would yield someone willing to pick up a lone hitchhiker (note: there are no buses or taxis in Brinchang. I promise you ma, this is the only way to get around!). Only a few minutes of standing around at the side of the road landed me in the backseat with this incredibly sweet 6 year old and her elementary school parents. I learned how to count to 10 in Malay from her, and was kindly dropped off at the Westwood Highlands hostel in Kampung Raja.

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Little did I know I was about to have the BEST TRAVEL DAY OF MY LIFE!

Okay, that’s a pretty big statement, but it was a wild day. As soon as I walked into the hostel, Matt was there to meet me and introduce me to three Lithuanian friends traveling together. Lina, Tadas, and Martynas were only a few days into their grand adventure in Asia, much like Matt and I. The five of us set off to explore the area, knowing we would probably have to split up in order to hitchhike. I mean, who can really pick up 5 adults at once?

SO MANY. That’s who. Our first hitch came in the form of a pick-up truck and a bunch of curious new friends.

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Our next hitch to the tea plantation was a miracle of sorts – out of nowhere, a swarm of motorbikes started passing by. Lina and I jokingly asked for a ride, and then suddenly all 5 of us were catching rides with a group of bikers from Malacca. IMG_20170304_120828

So many selfies. Everyone was excited.IMG_20170304_120850

They were literally posing us in photos. After too many charades of ‘here, put on my helmet and get on my motorbike and we’ll take pictures of you’, Lina and I decided it was getting about time to leave our biker gang friends.IMG_20170304_122956

Just a group of backpackers giddy about tea plantations!IMG_20170304_123947

Off to the mossy forest, again. Still so cool from 6,666 ft above.IMG_20170304_135856

It’s not about the destination, but the journey. This day had me smiling for many weeks. This is the world’s best hitchhiking crew right here, the DREAM TEAM. IMG_20170304_140126

For some reason the motorbike group had us making this sign? Glad we got this captured in a picture.IMG_20170304_140225

A quick little hike through the mossy forest after eating roti on the side of the road.

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Oh Tadas, how did you not get muddy at all?!IMG_20170304_144422

Matt found a smelly pitcher plant with a snack inside.

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Adventurous Lithuanians.IMG_20170304_144555

After the forest we started our hike down, sad to be without any free rides in the back of trucks. But then we saw this little guy.IMG_20170304_153045IMG_20170304_153127

DREAM TEAM DREAM TEAM DREAM TEAM!

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And finally we got another hitch! All the way to a place with a plate of this. Delicious, although the name escapes me.IMG_20170304_160903

We got back to the flower farm/hostel by sundown, and guess who I found? TONI! Toni and I had met a few nights before in Penang at a couchsurfing meetup. To see him again was one of the warmest feelings. After a day of hiking around, drinking a few beers (okay maybe 7) and trading stories was the best end to the day.IMG_20170304_195634

March 5, Day 26: Sadly, Lina, Tadas, and Martynas left for Penang and the Westwood Highland group got a little smaller. I spent the day doing some data viz work and enjoyed dinner with the remaining crew. IMG_20170305_214933

March 6, Day 27: My last day in the Cameron Highlands was a slow morning of flower packing with all of the other couchsurfers and work-aways.IMG_20170306_094249

Eli and Jonas had been with Westwood Highlands working for a few days.

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Again, another wild travel story to come about the sweet gal pictured here! Hannah showed up on my first night at the hostel and we parted ways with no knowledge of the other’s travel plans… little did we know we would run into each other again soon 🙂 IMG_20170306_094341

I said goodbye to the flower farm and started by journey to the supposedly charming town of Ipoh (more on that later and how Lonely Planet lies). The brother of the owner of Westwood Highlands dropped me at the side of the road and reassured me I would have no problem finding a ride. An hour later, Limam from Mauritania picked me up and provided me with the funniest, most interesting ride to Ipoh, in trade for my company and travel stories. I hope we meet again.

Next up, Ipoh!

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Penang, Malaysia (February 22-March 1, 2017)

Penang: a place where amazing street food, historical sites, friendly people, and incredible beaches blend together into this giant island of surprising scenery and days that go by way too fast. Pete and I arrived late at night from KL on the 22nd. From our 14th floor Airbnb apartment, the city looked incredible.

February 23, Day 17: Our first day exploring Georgetown took us to Khoo Kongsi by way of Uber with an adorable elderly Chinese woman. She offered us creme puffs and told us about the many cities in the US she loved visiting. This set the tone for an amazing day!

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So much history. It was rad.img_20170223_114323_1

Georgetown is known for a collection of cool street art. Pretty much every side alley has a pleasant surprise art piece. This one was particularly adorable. img_20170223_121356img_20170223_121921

As we walked to the Chew Clan Jetty, the rain started to pick up and we experienced the first of many Malaysian rain storms that would come and go on our time on the island. Good thing Ubers cost $0.50-$1! img_20170223_123421

That evening we tried out some street food hawker stalls on Chulia street. Juice in bags, $1 for flavorful dishes with Malay, Indian, and Chinese influence, and endless options!

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February 24, Day 18: The next day we got up early to take advantage of the no rain forecast and get in a long hike through the Penang National Park. Following the muddy, mossy trail from the park entrance, we set out to find Monkey Beach.img_20170224_111320img_20170224_112158img_20170224_113248img_20170224_113555

Some of the trail was a little questionable but we pressed on.photo-from-stephanie-fluegeman

And we made it! Clear water, white sand, hardly anyone around.img_20170224_113732

Pete was a good sport about being my personal photographer. He patiently waited for me to swim out to this big ol rock.16864566_10154852216400042_7409239174272245048_n.jpg

This was sadly the only monkey we saw on Monkey Beach. He was the pet of the boat owner and enjoying an afternoon swim.img_20170224_125134

After a long day in the sun, relaxing on our balcony to this view was pretty amazing. img_20170224_150526

February 25, Day 19: I think the next day we did some cultural sightseeing. A Burmese temple, a giant reclining Buddha… it all starts to blend together. img_20170224_152751img_20170224_153713img_20170224_153943img_20170224_154214img_20170224_154259_1

Little gold stickers everywhere! img_20170224_154948_1

Later that night we got a little fancy with a dinner at a 360 degree revolving restaurant, maybe unofficially being the first time a reservation was made under “Dr. Kvam”. Cheers to this guy finishing his PhD! The perfectly timed fireworks show was definitely for you.img_20170224_221208

February 26, Day 20: Having so many days in Penang meant we got to take our time exploring and doing pretty much every touristy thing you can list. Although we picked a cloudy day to visit Penang Hill, it was still so beautiful up in those clouds.img_20170225_125149

You can almost see the water line, almost. Our apartment is one of those tall buildings!img_20170225_125317

Obligatory contemplative artsy photos.img_20170225_125519img_20170225_125759-panoimg_20170225_131624img_20170225_132654_1img_20170225_134647img_20170225_134746

After our descent from Penang Hill, we got smacked with another downpour of rain but eventually made it to Kek Lok Si Temple. img_20170225_151559img_20170225_154006

February 27, Day 21: Another day, another delicious round of eggs benedict. I shamelessly could eat eggs benedict for every breakfast. img_20170226_095540

Today was deemed beach day. img_20170226_104838img_20170226_110901

Only an hour in the Malaysian sun with no sunscreen was a bad choice. But, look at these views!img_20170226_124708

We paid a visit one day to the Peranakan Mansion and toured the incredible rooms. Wealthy Chinese in the 1800s lived it up.img_20170226_150859

Please order me a pair of these. snapchat-492211843

There’s quite a few famous street art installations around the Peranakan Mansion. Pete and I were on a mission to hunt down a few well-known ones, like “Boy on a Bike”.img_20170226_161220

This one was an adorable little hidden gem.img_20170226_161330

“The Cat and Bruce Lee” reminded me of a high school physics teacher with a dislike for cats. I can imagine this mural as a sadistic story problem involving solving for the velocity of the cat being kicked. img_20170226_161414img_20170226_162313

Later that evening was another hawker stall dinner. img_20170226_191834

February 28, Day 22: Our last morning together started with some cute cups of coffee and some last glimpses of street art.img_20170227_095912img_20170227_100000img_20170227_102911img_20170227_103226

Sadly, Pete had to return back to Australia and I was on my own again. I checked out the evening’s meetup for Couchsurfing and stopped by for some beers with a collection of interesting characters. The location itself was a story I tell over and over again in my travels. This ‘bar’, Antaragansa Enterprise, is really a liquor store with little plastic tables and chairs set up outside. Anytime you want another drink, simply walk in and pick out your can of choice, hand over a few ringgit to the shirtless Chinese man smoking a cigarette, and find a group of travelers and locals to drink with on the streets. Need to use the toilet? Easy. Just walk in the store, hop over the bucket of turtles, shimmy across the broken rusty washing machine, hop over the case of beer, and there’s your glamorous squatty potty tucked in the back room.

Sadly, this is the only photo I have from that night. However, it’s a special coincidence because of the guy pictured here. I’ll get to that story soon! You never know when it’s the last time you’ll see someone or if they’ll pop up again 🙂

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March 1, Day 22: I left Penang in the morning on a bus bound for the Cameron Highlands. Next chapter: tea plantations, mossy forests, and perfecting the art of hitchhiking with a crazy group of Lithuanians.

 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (February 21-22, 2017)

I’m a bit behind in photo-sharing. Some where between Kuala Lumpur and my current location of Ninh Binh, Viet Nam, I’ve lost track of time and days and everything is going in fast-forward. It feels like so long ago since Pete and I landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our quick luxury stop over. We caught an early flight to KL (don’t waste time saying Kuala Lumpur, no one does) from Singapore and got through customs.

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Bucket list item for Pete: Luxury hotel in downtown KL with an infinity pool. Surprise free fruit tray delivery? We’ll take it.Snapchat-12779110

Our afternoon was spent walking around KLCC Park and sweating profusely. At one point we just sat on a bench, watched kids playing in a wading pool for some time, soaked up the lovely Malaysian afternoon sun, and heard the call-to-prayer over the loud speakers for the first time.

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A chill night out in KL led to an early morning planning to fit in anything else we could before our afternoon flight to Penang. We decided the Batu Caves sounded charming. Monkeys! Yes! Let’s go!

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See those steps behind us? 272 of those led to the top of the cave, with a large temple inside. The ascent was steep and vicious, fearless monkeys circled around in search for food as we made the climb. This was the day I decided monkeys are disgusting, mean trash creatures.

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Don’t even look at them the wrong way. They will come after you.

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Fearless. Hungry.

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The view from inside was pretty awesome!

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We made it back to downtown and said goodbye to our quick big city stopover. I could see myself exploring KL for longer, but I enjoyed our short stay and was most excited to get to Penang.

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Singapore (February 19-21, 2017)

I was SO EXCITED to get to Singapore. I hadn’t done much research on the country, but I knew my dear friend Pete would be joining me as soon as his flight from Australia landed. I walked around a bit after I arrived in the afternoon to see some temples around where our hostel was at in Little India.

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Pete made it safe and we made a tentative plan for the next day. Monday morning we took off by foot to check out Little India and Kampong Glam.img_20170220_101718img_20170220_104052

And a cat cafe! Pete made friends with Mario the munchkin, king of the cafe.img_20170220_113624img_20170220_113916img_20170220_120142_1

The floppiest Scottish Fold!img_20170220_122147

We did some accidental urban exploring on a walk across the bridge.img_20170220_130752img_20170220_130840

Some time to cool off in the Cloud Forest was very welcome.img_20170220_140831img_20170220_140913img_20170220_143731img_20170220_151404_1img_20170220_151606

The Gardens by the Bay was my favorite place in Singapore. Magnificent super trees, a mix of man-made and mossy plants.img_20170220_163228img_20170220_163237img_20170220_192137

The super trees were absolutely stunning at night. img_20170220_200110

And that was our quick stop in Singapore! An early morning flight to Kuala Lumpur was next on the agenda.

Krabi (February 15-18, 2017)

From plane, to bus, to boat, I landed at Railay Beach exhausted and very sick. “What happened to your eye?” I was asked for days as my eye slowly went from red and itchy to swollen and completely shut. After a night in a woodsy hut hostel surrounded by limestone cliffs and inaccessible to any roads, I decided to finally seek out proper medical attention for my swollen, infected eye. It was embarrassing and not how I planned to spend my first few weeks in Thailand, but knowing how to deal with things not going as planned is a skill I needed some practice in and I thankfully accepted the help of the hostel owner as he helped me find a good clinic.

A good round of antibiotics helped clear it up a bit by the next day as I decided to relocate back to the mainland to see Ao Nang Beach.

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I did some price comparisons and found the tour companies to Ko Phi Phi were cheaper out of Ao Nang, so I planned for three nights there and some time for day trips to the surrounding islands. Walking around Ao Nang Beach and sampling some street food during the day led to an early night of resting in the hotel (free stay using credit card points). Sometime in the evening, I started feeling really nauseous, then the food poisoning hit full force. I camped out in the bathroom until the following morning with an unfamiliar sickness I’ve never experienced before. Things started to pass by the following evening, with the help of some anti-nausea medicine I had in my first aid kit and drinking plenty of water.

I took a risk and booked a tour for the next day of Maya Beach, snorkeling in some dive spots, and Bamboo Island, in hopes that I would feel less sick. I woke up still really nauseous, but I pushed through and had an amazing time taking in the beauty of the Thai islands.

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Maya Beach: The spot made famous by Leo DiCaprio in the movie The Beach. Travel pictures can be a bit deceiving, I’ve learned; I wanted so badly to stand in this exact spot and take in the beauty of such clear waters, longtail boats floating peacefully in the marina, and white sandy beaches… not pictured here are the hundreds of other people yearning for the same thing. It was chaos, and it was one of the few photos I managed to take and crop to exclude all other people.  img_20170218_113129img_20170218_114334img_20170218_115842-panoimg_20170218_115844img_20170218_115950img_20170218_122943img_20170218_123343img_20170218_123800

I’m still in awe at the water. This is real life!img_20170218_124139img_20170218_125012

I feel sad about missing out on the islands and being stuck in my room for most of my time in such a beautiful place. However, health is so very important while traveling and I’m happy to have my health and a healthy eyeball once again. I can always circle back around if I’m feeling drawn back there.

I left Krabi for set plans to meet up with a friend flying from Australia. Next stop: Singapore!

Bangkok: A Photo Recap

Eleven years ago, I made friends with the Thai exchange student in my high school. When you part ways with someone so far away, the typical ‘see you again‘ farewell seems to have the underlying ‘maybe, someday, but it’s a far off dream‘. If you told me then as I said goodbye to Nath that in 2017 I’d be starting 5 months in Asia staying with his kind and incredible family in Bangkok, I wouldn’t believe it! But here I am, reconnecting with an old friend from my formative years.img_20170208_050206

February 7, Day 1: After arriving in Bangkok, I tried to sleep off the jet lag a bit. Nath took me to his bar in the evening for dinner and drinks with some of his friends. These hilarious guys had all sorts of questions I was happy to answer about the US, and they taught me a few helpful Thai phrases (if not slightly offensive).  img_20170208_053458

February 8, Day 2: Nath taught me the BKS and MRT public transportation systems as we ventured to Chinatown for dinner.

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Bangkok: street food in Chinatown! Spice level: 8

February 9, Day 3: My first experience at a Buddhist temple. img_20170209_171726_1

February 10, Day 4: My first day on my own and recovered fully from jet lag. I took a break from the city with a walk around Lumpini Park before my fancy lunch at Nahm. It’s been on my bucket list to dine at a Michelin star rated restaurant, so I paid the price to try out one of Bangkok’s best dining experiences. Overall, it was great food, but it inflated the cost of my entire time in the city. That meal alone was nearly 20% of my weekly spending!img_20170210_112816

After lunch I got my first Thai massage at Perception Blind Massage. Really neat business with employment opportunities for those with visual impairments. It was conveniently right down the road from a Unicorn Cafe.img_20170210_151309

Then I spent some time with the Golden Buddha at Wat Trimitr and practiced my haggling skills with motorbike taxis and tuktuk drivers. img_20170210_163654img_20170210_164716

February 11, Day 5: Nath’s parents took me to Pattaya City to visit the floating market and see their resort. I got to sample so many new things – mango and sticky rice, octopus on a stick, some sort of pork blood soup… really fantastic flavors. img_20170211_154347I tried a fish pedicure. As I squirmed and giggled, Nath’s dad sat stoically next to me, never flinching. I’m not quite sure how anyone gets used to the little nibbles of toothless carp, eating away at your dead feet skin.img_20170211_160342_1img_20170211_182648

February 12, Day 6: Another day to see the historic sites of Bangkok. As I was boarding the Skytrain on my way to the Grand Palace, I met two friendly Debs from Canada looking to get to the same area. We traveled together and I changed up my plans to join them at the National Museum. Maybe you’re reading this, Deb and Deb! Hi! Lovely meeting you!img_20170212_114636img_20170212_115402img_20170212_120420_1img_20170212_121335img_20170212_122342img_20170212_123136

After the museum I took a motorbike taxi to Wat Pho, Reclining Buddha. Check out the little tiny people for a size scale.img_20170212_125858

February 13, Day 7: My plans to finally see the Grand Palace were again changed around because of the closing of the Palace for a special ceremony appointing a new Supreme Patriarch monk. Instead, I made it to the Golden Mount and climbed to the top for a smoggy view of the city in the morning. It was the least crowded of all the temples, and quite peaceful.img_20170213_132612img_20170213_133332img_20170213_133407img_20170213_142602_1

I tried to catch a boat downriver and ended up on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River by accident. I didn’t feel like seeing Wat Arun (I’ve read it’s best viewed from the river anyways), and wandered to Prayurawongsawas Waraviharn Temple instead. I immediately felt intrusive as I walked in on a mourning ceremony for the late King. Nothing seemed open and I almost gave up and left the grounds, then a friendly monk noticed my confusion and came over to tell me I could climb the steps to the top of the temple. It was one of my favorite experiences in Bangkok. img_20170212_150754

I found a charming spot for dinner, Cabbages & Condoms, decorated with condom art! Part of the restaurant profits go to supporting family planning services in Thailand and promoting a better understanding and acceptance of family planning. img_20170213_201227

February 14, Day 8: No photos, but I successfully navigated a foreign post office and sent back gifts and a bunch a stuff I didn’t need (hopefully it makes it back to the US in 1-2 months). I’ll link later to a post I write about all the things I brought along and have already shed from my pack because they take up too much space and I just don’t have a use for them.

February 15, Day 9: Bye, Bangkok! On to Krabi!

‘Mai Ped’: Food in Thailand

One of my few basic handy Thai phrases I learned helped save my taste buds from being scorched off most meals. ‘Mai ped!’, or ‘not spicy!’, is crucial for those like me not used to the heat in cooking Thais seem to be immune to. I felt like I had a pretty high heat tolerance, oh how I was wrong!

Despite the intense spice level at times, I had some incredible meals in Bangkok and Pattaya City with Nath and his parents. I think I was most surprised to learn how much of Thai cuisine is seafood-focused, and that my favorite dish of tofu peanut curry is not really Thai (or available anywhere) at all!

Unfortunately, I don’t have any delicious southern Thai cuisine photos from my time in the southern islands because I didn’t consume much food – 2 days of food poisoning helped my budget recover but put a halt to my adventures in eating. I’m not sure what exactly caused the GI distress, but I’ve heard it’s basically a rite of passage into extended travels in SE Asia to experience some sort of food poisoning. Here’s hoping it’s the last time I have to experience it.

I labeled as many photos as I could with Location (Restaurant name): Food Item. If you know the names of the dishes, help me out and comment below!

Meet me in Montauk

I am out of practice with writing. I have a million things to say about how I’ve found myself in an apartment in Brooklyn, spending the last few days in the USA with my two dearest friends before leaving for time abroad. I think I’ll unpack each idea in a separate post as the visuals come to me. I find it pretty difficult to write down things as they happen. So this is how it all started – a plan to drive from Okemos, Michigan to New York City with my best friend and constant travel companion, DJ.

After a rough snow storm in Pennsylvania, delicious perogies in Milton, and a brave attempt at NYC traffic, we made it.

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Teaming up with our other one-third, we set off for Montauk to fulfill our yearly tradition of taking a retreat together. Check out my obsessive need to star on the map everything I get recommended, visit, or desire to see.

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We celebrated our four year anniversary of making time for each other. Each year, there’s always something that could complicate our planning, but we make it work. Cheers, friends.

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Being on the beach in the winter is a strange feeling. It’s so cold, yet so beautiful. I loved this day.

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Saturday morning I said goodbye to DJ as she drove back to Michigan, and felt the same sadness set in on Sunday evening as I hugged Michael one last time before heading out for the train to JFK airport. I know five months is not forever and this next chunk of time is going to be exciting, I know I know! I’m still sad and missing my other parts to my whole.