Friday, October 20, 2017

Travel to Thailand for under 1500$




Dreamy banana smoothies every day
Fresh mango and sticky rice smothered in sweet coconut milk
Meeting new people with amazing stories from their cultures
Learning to love the ocean in a whole new way -
From underneath it!





 It is possible to travel on a budget and still see beautiful things and enjoy amazing food.
My total Thailand budget was 1500$ and that included my flight, accommodation, food, scuba classes, bus/metro/train/ferry costs.




My itinerary looked like this: 

Flight, round trip 669.15$ USD:
Flight from my city to Chicago (I left Saturday morning around 5AM)
Chicago --> Narita/Tokyo Japan
Narita --> Bus to Haneda (30$ USD)
Haneda --> Bangkok, Thailand (arrived at 5AM Monday)

Travel insurance: 36.85$ USD 
Some people get it, some don't. I knew we'd be diving and that accidents happen. I preferred it.




Metro, meal, and shopping for necessities: 35$ USD
My friend met me at the airport and we took the metro into town to begin our morning. My first meal upon arrival was mango and sticky rice with coconut milk. It was a good way to break the day in.

Next we began meandering through town, via our feet and the metro as we hunted for things I had needed but didn't bring with me. I spent roughly 35$ USD on things like a backpack (I had brought a horrible dufflebag that was uncomfortable to carry), flip flops, a wallet that was more appropriate than me shoving money in my bra, and various hygiene items.



Massage: 15$ USD or 500THB for 2 hours
After a monstrous flight, everyone can use a massage. I recommend Arunda as they are not a shady place and offer amazing massages. We got a 2 hour package and it was very professional and private. I had never had my feet washed before and they use an herbal smelling soap that was just absolutely refreshing on my weary tootsies.

They slipped on comfy slippers and we went upstairs to our massage-beds. The beds themselves are actually really comfortable. As a girl that has a pretty heavy top half, I usually find that I am uncomfortable laying face down. That was not the case on this bed.

2 hours later and I felt like a champion.
We were left to put our clothes back on and rinse off if need be. There was a private bathroom/shower combo outside the room. I loved the smell of the massage oil so I honestly didn't want to rinse it off.

Downstairs, in a quaint little garden that was very zen-filled for me, we had hot tea near a small fountain.





3 bags of fruit and a thai tea frappe: 4$ USD
Along the way we found a stand selling cut up fruit in bags. I purchased 3 bags of fruit - Pineapple, papaya, and cantaloupe for about 2.50$ USD total. Fruit is so full of fiber that it actually took me the remainder of the night and into the next day to finish those bags. I kept munching on them for a grande total of 12 hours. I didn't end up needing any other food.





Transportation round trip: 115$ USD
Next we headed to the train station. We grabbed thai iced tea frappes and relaxed as we waited. We had purchased a combination ticket of overnight train, ferry to Koh Tao island. The round trip was about 115$ USD, we ended up taking the ferry and a bus on our return as opposed to a train.

I slept like a rock on that overnight train, exhausted from traveling with so little sleep.
It was an experience I won't soon forget.





Odd expensive breakfast: 4$ USD
We spent more than we really wanted to on toast and eggs for breakfast. There was only the one place available to eat at the train platform in Chumphon, and our bus was not going to be there to take us to the ferry for a while. This meal cost nearly 4$.





Diving: Open Water (3 days):  295$ USD

We went to a place that offered a discount on accommodation if you went diving at their school. Their maximum class size was 4 and that was ideal because our group was a hand full for our instructor! It was an enjoyable and memorable experience I'll never forget.





Accommodation Total (Koh Tao and Bangkok): 38$

I stayed in a hostel in Bangkok, and we got the diver discount on our accommodation in Koh Tao, with a decent view. The picture above is from our porch in Koh Tao.





Misc budget: 190$ USD

This included the metro back and forth through Bangkok multiple times, eating lots of yummy food, getting flat wasted while bar hopping the entire beach of Chalok Baan Kao Bay and I purchased a beach dress off a street vendor. I didn't even use up all of this 190$ budget, I had some left over at the end. Someone being more frugal would do better.


Total: 1402$ USD


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Novel writing

I have been busy with writing my first novel, so updates have been slow to the blog. I am adding a link to the top for the first 4 chapters- it is a preview. The novel will probably be offered as an ebook download in November sometime. It will be available for $0.99 USD on Amazon. I will be offering information on where it is when it is ready. For now, you can have a look at the preview. Feel free to report errors you may see. I have not thoroughly completed the editing process as the novel itself is still being written.

The Mage

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A wild creature

I want the earth to quake with the anger of old bones not yet turned to dust.
I want you to howl at the moon because you are bursting from the seams
with a voracious hunger that can't be sated with mere sustenance from this world.
I want to hear the rattling of the bars on cages that could not hold
the daughters of the witches they couldn't burn.
I want to see you naked and unafraid.
Bleeding the fragile and delicate creature you were tamed to be.
Bleeding out from a wound punctured in your ribs
by the men who told you to be more pretty, more subtle..

Less wild.

I want to hear the chains of insecurity they shackled you in
fall to the ground clanking.
I want to see a wild creature.
So wild it frightens them.

I want them to corner you,
so that they can see what I have made you capable of
as you devour them whole.
Pick your teeth with the bones of the weak
that dared to tell you to be more pretty.
Dirty your nails with the stale blood
of those that commanded you be subtle.

Turn on your captor.
You are no pet to be domesticated and docile.
Take back your birthright, wild woman.

***
Hey everyone, I wanted to share some of my writing. I'll be doing that here and there. Let me know what you think ^_~

Monday, September 25, 2017

How to plan a trip to Egypt

My next big travel destination is Egypt. I have set up a 2 week itinerary, or rather my friend and I have.  She planned Luxor, Cairo and the first week. I planned Dahab in the second week. So this will be about Dahab. In the end you will have different time frames and budget restraints or no budget limits so you'll want to adjust accordingly if you are planning on borrowing our itinerary idea. 

My goal was for us both to advance our diving license to a larger depth. Due to this I looked for dive schools in Dahab with advanced open water (AOW) classes. We also wanted some fun dives, to catch a bit of local culture, and to hit up an area with historical significance. 

This brings us to phase one of my research. 

 I knew the most important and centering part of the Dahab trip is the diving. What I've done before is found package deals-these are typically cheaper than trying to book diving and accommodation separately. The first step was to go to google maps and center on Dahab and look up "diving". I tried several different key words on diving, scuba, etc. Each place that popped up I went through their individual websites hunting packages or prices to compare. I am never against booking my accommodation separately if it's cheaper than the offered packages. I researched for approximately 2 days during my normal work schedule, so I could estimate 4-6 hours of researching due to me entering each website for each dive company to hunt.




There were obviously a lot of options but I settled on one due to the package I found which was as follows:

427$ USD - 
All diving equipment included in price, and certifications for diving.
AOW course, excluding PADI manual (can be bought on site) (2-3 days)
7 nights accommodation at one of five choice hotels (you can choose depending on availability)
4 Guided "Fun dives" over two days (2/day)

That's a really good price for class, fun dives, equipment, and hotel. So that ended up being my choice. It also is the cheapest option among all the dive schools I could find.


Phase two: Historical local sites to visit

In researching places in Dahab I found that Mount Sinai was a beautiful journey and you can get a guide to take you up as well as down and then go to St. Catherine's Monastery after. Basically I found this out by googling things to do in Dahab. Once I decided on Mt. Sinai, I googled up the trip availability and found some options. The cheapest option is 27$ USD and leaves at 2300hrs. They pick you up and drive you there. Your guide will hike up with you at 0200hrs, and you will get to watch the sun rise before descending to the St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of the mountain. St. Catherine's is arguably the oldest operating monastery in the world. It also has a library with some of the oldest texts. There was even an article recently on one of those texts causing the discovery of a language that scientists were unaware of. You can book this trip online.

Phase three: An authentic food experience

I began to look for recommendations on food. During this I found 2 different things (again via Google search). I discovered that attending a Bedouin Dinner is the thing to do in Dahab. I looked at several options and eventually settled on one that picks you up at 1730. They take you out to the mountains to enjoy the dinner and the stars, you return at 2200. They do not have electricity so you enjoy your meal by candlelight, however they do have bathrooms with running water. You aren't too far from comfort. This entire experience with pick up included is between 6-14$ USD depending on your choice of meats. The lowest cost is vegetarian and the highest cost is goat. Your options are vegetarian, beef, chicken, or goat. Their website answers all questions and even talks about the preparation for the meals. It's a fascinating read.

I was also seeing many references to an obscure tea shop with the claimed "best tea" in Dahab. I never did find them on Google maps but they are supposedly across from a place called The Fighting Kangaroo, which was also mentioned as a yummy place to enjoy food. All of which when I checked Google maps, is about 7 minutes walk from the hotel. These got added quickly to the "must see" list. You can eat your heart out in Dahab for 3$ USD or less at most places. We planned on consuming all the falafel and hummus available.

Phase four: Setting up an order for it

This is where we bring it all together. Our plan went like this; 
Day 7: Flight to Dahab
Day 8: AOW
Day 9: AOW
Day 10: 2 Fun dives
Day 11: 2 Fun dives
Day 12: Rest, tea shop and lots of food, maybe a massage parlor, Mt Sinai at night
Day 13: Mt Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery, return to Dahab. Bedouin Dinner
Day 14: Return Flights 


At the moment this is the itinerary I have set up. I will come back and edit this post to show finalized itinerary/actual time frames after my trip. But at least now you have an idea on how I go about doing my research and planning. Happy travels!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fighting the post-travel blues


You spent a few weeks, maybe a few months in paradise.
Everything was beautiful, perfect..




it was an experience you'll never forget.




How do you readjust to the concrete jungle of big city life again?
I think we've all come to that particular issue.

I hear it among my traveling friends a lot, so I want to share how I avoid the depression of post-travel.



I choose to find the magic and awe of where I am.
If I'm unfamiliar with that, I do what I would do if I was overseas.

I go to Dr. Google and ask where are the most "need to see" waterfalls in my area.
I make weekend trips to see the beauty of my home area.




I spend time meditating in nature and grounding back to myself.

Another step I take is to recreate habits I made that I loved while on vacation.




In Koh Tao I had found a fruit stand that made the best fruit smoothies I'd ever tried. So I recreated the morning smoothies I became accustomed to while overseas.




I take things to extremes, so I even hang my clothes to dry outside so I can recreate the mundane tasks of being overseas as well.
Sometimes I take cold showers, because we didn't have hot water when I was in Koh Tao.
Little things brought me joy.
Simplicity brings me joy.


What do you do to settle back in once you're home again?








Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Follow the locals - My inner foodie is appeased

cats love Buddha


I have always heard this said of any place that is touristy, but it rings true.

If you want good, authentic, cheap food... follow the locals. They know where it's at.

 When we walked down a lengthy pier
that probably would've been condemned in America
because of its dangerous condition..


the path to the pirates bar


We found the best food



dinner with friends


 It was cheap, and delicious.
We sat on the floor around a table and enjoyed food and delicious company. The view was over the bay.


thailand village path

The secret is to walk the long path, where no one goes.

Slow down, enjoy the view.

dinner on the beach


That is where you will find the good food.
Most locals can't afford to spend what the tourists are spending.
Because of this you will be able to find affordable food that is authentic and amazing.


garden salad


This garden salad was from a place that was on a side road off the main street. I paid roughly 4$ for it. It was the most expensive food I'd gotten on the trip so far.



Bangkok mango and rice


In Bangkok, a small side store had a giant fruit stand outside. It appears to sell only fresh fruit but there was a massive line of locals walking out with little boxes. That is a good sign that there's something delicious inside. This dish is sliced mango with sticky rice and coconut milk with a crunchy topping.


tea and biscuits

 I liked that things were served on wooden plates, it gave more charm to the experience.


lunch on a cutting board

While this food had the best presentation of any of the food I ate on the island, it was not actually the best. It was at a restaurant that was really only popular because of it's location. It was prominent, and full of tourists. It was not bad food- but it was not excellent and it was not cheap.


In the end, I can't tell you where all the food places are. But I can tell you that you'll want to see where everyone else is going. In Bangkok it's super easy: Around dinner time or right before - food stalls start showing up everywhere. You just walk the streets and grab something. Some stands sold nearly a pound of varied fruit for 2$ and it was pre-cut in a bag for you. I got some and I literally ate for 10 hours off that one bag of fruit because I couldn't eat it all in one sitting.


 A few places I do recommend in Koh Tao near Chalok Baan Kaok though:

Fruit stand- On the main street near the laundry place with bikes out front you will see a fruit stand. I don't recall the name but everyone will know what you're talking about if you ask anyone. They sell fruit shakes for between 40-120B. It is cheap and wonderful and if you want to be ecofriendly you can bring your own container that they will pour the shake in.

Babaloo Bar and Restaurant- it is down a narrow pier which I do not recommend walking on while drunk. I learned this the hard way. The food is delicious and very well priced. I had a wonderful salad and my friends tried the fish of the day, snapper.

I Love Salad Cafe - They are off on a side street and serve delicious and beautiful salads for reasonable prices.

Blue Sea - It is a walk inland but it is authentic food. They cook everything out back and it was some of the most delicious thai food I have ever tasted. It is extremely cheap as well. Our dive instructor is the one that told us about the place, we would have never walked this far to look for food.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The 2AM Train Ride

Palm trees in Thailand


So there I was
at 2AM on an overnight train
through the Thailand country side
surrounded by poverty and dirt.

Have you ever tried
to hover over a squatty potty
in a 2 ft x 2 ft metal compartment
in a fast moving train
with walls so dirty you didn't want to touch them
but every bump on the track violently shook
your body into those dirty walls



But somehow it was so peaceful to me
I giggled as I lurched forward
slamming my hands into the walls
just trying to hold myself from falling in

I just wanted to pee

By the time I returned to my bunk bed
I was overtaken with laughter

My travel mate asked if we could snuggle
in my bunk
and we shared stories of the struggle
to pee on a train



asian culture no shoes


Being in another country can be pretty overwhelming.
Even more so when you are unsure how you are going to get around.

There are many means of public transportation and you will have a lot of options based on budget.

beach walk

Walking - Of course the number one method I used was just walking. I walked many miles in the various parts of Thailand I ended up in. One night I walked the entire beach strip while barhopping with friends. This is obviously the free and eco-friendly choice.


taxi truck thailand


Taxi - Taxis are a good form of transportation, but they can also be expensive. You'll want to always discuss where you are going and what rate you are willing to pay before you enter the taxi. My advice is do not pay the set rate they give you. It's usually scam price. Show or tell them your destination and ask for the meter to be turned on, it is the law that they must turn the meter on when asked. If they refuse, flag another taxi until you get one that does. Some will just drive off when you show them where you want to go. Don't worry, it's just not in their zone and they won't bother spending time trying to explain this to you.

VS

Tuktuk -  Tuktuks are at a set price, and it's more about the experience of riding in a Tuktuk. Personally I think they're colorful and cute but crazy. They drive a bit too crazy for my safety preferences. But thousands of people do it every day with no problem and have a blast. It's all about what you want - but you will pay more for them.


ferry ride


Ferry - Ferries are typically cheap, but beware of the potential of rough seas. My first ferry ride was awful and no one except the crew was well that trip. The ride back was beautiful though and the sea was calm. My advice is bring seasickness pills just in case. Depending on where you go, you might be able to book a joint ticket. Lompraya offered ferry/bus combination tickets to the small islands.


koh tao pier


Bus - I had nothing nice to say about the bus. It was air conditioned and got me from point A to point B but had seats so awful that my back was sore for hours afterwards. It is obviously more cost efficient than some other options, so I would do it again but I will bring a pillow next time. Outside of Thailand, my bus in Japan was comfortable and super cheap. Narita to Haneda was roughly 30$ and the seats were comfy. It's 50/50 chance I suppose. You can usually buy a pass at the stands but you can also book ahead at some places.


Lompraya pier


Train - My understanding is that the trains with A/C are typically nicer. The one we got was cheaper, had only fans, and the bathrooms left us wanting. It was nice to be on an overnight train though because we were able to sleep and the beds weren't terrible. The train itself was relatively clean.


Thai dancers
Thai dancers performing at the train station platform to entertain travelers waiting on their trains. You can watch some interesting things at train stations, you wouldn't expect it!

Bike rental - You can rent motorbikes at most cities. I don't recommend it because they typically hold your passport hostage and if they say you damaged the bike they can charge an outrageous price and you have no way to fight it. But to each their own, many have rented with no issues. It was not a risk I was willing to take because the laws for driving are crazy in Thailand.


island life


There are many methods and everyone chooses differently. I recommend taking the slow routes that are cheaper and enjoying your surroundings more.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

I lost my shit in Japan

Bangkok - visa

 
My biggest fear is being absolutely lost
unable to call anyone for help.

Of course what can go wrong will go wrong..so what happened?
I got lost in Japan and my phone doesn't do international calls!

Airport anxiety


Or rather what really happened was when I booked my flights I had no idea what I was doing so I booked a flight that landed in Narita, Japan. My flight to Thailand was departing from Haneda, Japan.
I only found this out when I tried to print my ticket at the airport in Chicago and it refused to print.

I of course went to the nice Japanese lady at the desk for my flight on JAL and asked why this was.
She informed me that they were two different airports.
I needed to get from Narita to Haneda.


Distance from Narita to Haneda

I panicked after connecting to the airport wifi and discovering how far Haneda was from Narita.
In this panic, I messaged my friend via Facebook and told her what was going on.
I was supposed to meet her in Bangkok the following day.

After talking me through it and telling me it wasn't the end of the world, she gave an amazing piece of advice I want to share.

Thousands of other people have taken this route, done this commute, before you. You are not the first and will not be the last.


Calm


Down.

Not calming down
This is me being calm. So calm

I breathed, went back to the JAL desk lady and asked how I would get to Haneda. She said there was an airport limousine bus that would drive the hour and a half route to the other airport.

Bus schedulesBus information


Once I arrived in Narita, I went through immigration, customs, found the desk for the airport limousine bus (not very difficult to find actually and they leave relatively frequently) and waited in line for my bus. 

Narita to Haneda bus pass

I slept most of the bus ride and upon arrival at Haneda I went back through customs, immigration and off to wait at my gate for Bangkok.

Things were not nearly as awful as my anxiety had allowed me to believe, and everything was okay.

No feet in toilet sign

If you are someone with severe anxiety like me, I want to let you know that if I can do this, you can.

I lost my shit in Japan.

But after I realized thousands of people more clueless than me have taken this route.. I allowed myself time to gather a plan.

So here I am, with my shit found.
Japan visa  

Let's talk paperwork. The majority of airport anxiety can come from being unsure where you are going, and what paperwork you need. Especially leaving or entering a foreign country. I can't speak for all countries, only the ones I have been in at the moment. I will tell you what I know about them though.

Japan was probably the hardest immigrations I went through. On the plane the staff for most airplanes will walk through with sheets of paper asking who needs them. You'll want this. It is the customs and immigrations paperwork.

Japan's asks questions like have you ever been arrested anywhere in the world. I had to answer yes to that, which ended up an entire fiasco but I made it through anyway. Both times going through Japan I was fine so if you have been arrested and it is for a misdemeanor, you are most likely fine.

They'll want to know where you're staying, or if you're just passing through. I was on my way to Thailand so I just put transit as my answer to where I was staying. If you're staying somewhere you'll want to put that in there. You'll hand your Passport, plane ticket, and the paper you filled out for customs/immigration to them.

Customs will be different for everyone depending on what you're carrying. I only had one backpack with minimal items in it. Because of this, I went through the green station (no items to declare) and continued on my way without them ever even looking in my bag. Keep in mind that if you are on certain prescriptions you will have to declare them and go through the red station. You can read up on these guidelines on the website for the ambassador's office of your country in Japan. (Just google ambassador for ___ in Japan)

Thailand

In Thailand immigrations and customs is very relaxed. No one really stops you for much of anything, there aren't any questions asked about prior arrests and everything went smoothly. When you get in line for immigration to receive your visa they will ask for your Passport and the form you filled out that states where you will be staying. I include my airplane ticket so that they know which flight I came off of, I just hand them the whole thing together with my Passport. 

To recap, the main things you want to have easy access to are your Passport, Customs sheet you filled out, Immigrations sheet you filled out, and your plane tickets.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

For the love of diving

New Heaven dive resort

I was very unsure of myself when I first arrived here. 
I had never gone swimming in deep water
I don't even hold my breath under water
How on earth will I handle diving?

New Heaven dive resort

The way down was scary because my ears wouldn't equalize properly
And what if.. what if something happened?
We couldn't just shoot up to the surface, because we would get decompression sickness.

White Rock dive site

But once my knees rested on the ocean floor
I realized that I could do this -- WAS doing this.
I was breathing calmly and was sitting on the ocean floor practicing skills
Like taking my oxygen supply out
Shutting my oxygen tank off
You know, just throwing my life line around while sitting on the ocean floor

White Rock dive site

You're now thinking -- wait what?
Taking your oxygen regulator out?
Shutting your oxygen tank off?
It sounds terrifying right?

White Rock dive site

But it's actually surprisingly calm.
The diving school I went to had such a patient and calm teacher
I could be sitting on the ocean floor doing these things
And it didn't bother me at all.

White Rock dive site

I was truly at peace in the great mother ocean
After each skill practice we would try to fit in a fun swim

White Rock dive site

It was pretty amazing but we didn't think we'd finish in time.
Between first day panic attacks (2 different people)
a broken mask
a broken BCD
trouble equalizing ears (20 minutes to descend!!)
....
I know we were all concerned that last day about whether we would all pass our class.

White Rock dive site

But we were determined and we decided we would all help each other.
We also agreed to be very patient with each other's individual needs.

White Rock dive site

We succeeded the final dive and all passed just fine.
This particular dive school does small groups for classes to ensure you get well trained.
That's why I recommend if you plan on diving in Koh Tao, Thailand
You should look up New Heaven.

White Rock dive site

Like any good student group that just graduated...
We all went out and bar hopped on the beach and got plastered after.
It was an island experience I'll never forget!