9 Important Things I’ve Learned While Traveling (so far!)

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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.

 

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!

‘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!