Phuket, Phi Phi, Railay

Phuket: Glen, Nick, Mar and I spent two days in Phuket doing nothing. We set foot on Patong beach for about ten minutes and spent time walking around this oddly modern city filled with home favorites like Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry’s. In the evening we discovered a bar that like to blast classics from Bon Jovi to Joan Jett. I wasn’t complaining.

We said goodbye to Glen who was off to Singapore and eventually Tokyo. We didn’t want to see him go because the four off us were having such a good time together. I feel like I’ve known Glen and Nick for a long time.

After another lazy day in Phuket, the remaining three amigos went to Koh Phi Phi, the infamous island where the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” was filmed.

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Nick and I-First day on Phi Phi. Safe to say the tide was out.

And then it rained for two days. And by rain I mean it was the wrath of Titan raining down on Phi Phi. The streets were filled with water up to my shins in some areas! Thankfully we had a covered porch where we all read and relaxed. I kind of loved it 🙂

We also discovered that our room came with a cat, who Nick named Bernie Cat. I kicked him out several times but for some reason he stilled loved me. I guess I did pet him the most.

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Kitty Kitty

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Nick, Mar and I at “The Beach”

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DCIM101GOPROIt turns out that the actual scene from the movie was a longtail boat ride away. We finally got a nice day to make our way over there. Along the way we stopped to see monkeys on a different beach and went snorkeling in another location.

I didn’t expect to have to climb through a wet rock tunnel and into a patch of palm trees in order to see The Beach. That made it feel so adventurous like the movie, since they had to find the beach as well!

The next day we unexpectedly said goodbye to Nick because he realized he needed to be in Bangkok sooner than he thought to fix his visa for India. He is filming in India for the next few months but his visa wasn’t long enough. He got it all sorted out thankfully. After a month of being with the same interchanging group, Nick was our last friend to leave. Mar and I were on our own for the first time in a month! AH!

We went to the viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi. This view is certainly in my top five favorite views I’ve ever seen! The colors of the water and surrounding hills were vibrant and serene.

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Our last Thai Island was Railay, a very small and underdeveloped island a short skip away from Phi Phi.

Upon arriving via long tail boat, we were surprised to be dropped off in knee deep water. I barely made it out of the boat without falling over because my backpack was so heavy! Then as we walked toward shore this random lady said to me in a puzzled tone “Why don’t you walk on the sidewalk?”

Oh, of course there’s an under water sidewalk, why didn’t I think of that? **fist to head. Because that’s normal…

There isn’t much to do in Railay unless you’re going deep sea rock climbing (it wasn’t the right season for it apparently). We stayed one night in a very interesting hut that literally just had a mattress on the floor. I think it was maybe $5 for the night…

We walked to the beach on the other side of the island where you could see a pretty rock karst in the ocean. We were a bit puzzled by the view point because we didn’t understand where the path to it was. Well that’s because it’s just a rope hanging from a cliff. We didn’t notice it on the way there but found it on the way back. I had to coax Mar into going because she was afraid we would run into snakes. Once I convinced her she would still be alive at the end of the journey we climbed up and up until we found a beautiful view!

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Railay

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This way to the view point? You got it.

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That’s all for Thailand! We made so many unforgettable memories in the islands. We also met some really incredible people that I feel so thankful to have met. See https://easternendeavors.wordpress.com/category/martha/ for more on our friends and recent places:)

Later Thailand

Next up: MALAYSIA!

 

It’s all about the people

The month of July 2014 was easily one of the best of my life.

I was in Cambodia and Thailand. I was traveling with my best friend. I was on lounging on white sand island beaches . I was dripping with sweat on some of the largest religious sites in the world. I was walking on dirt, teeth and bone fragments at one of the most powerful genocide memorials in the world. I was watching bubbles float past my face as I learned to breathe under water. I was slowly allowing my face to peel off after the worst sunburn of my life. I was befriending some of the funniest, smartest, most unique and rambunctious people I’ve ever met.

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Full Moon & Koh Tao Lovin

Koh Phangan

First stop in the islands: Koh Phangan, the birthplace of the full moon party. After 30 hours of non-stop travel from Siem Reap to Koh Phangan we were ready to partaaaayy!

A huge group of us, (including Sara, Naomi, Christine, Nick, and Brett who we met in Cambodia) met to pre-game at one hostel. We got buckets (the sand castle building type, except filled with alcohol), and painted each other’s bodies in neon. Art was made. Art was later destroyed. I met so many cool new people at the pre-game (ehm, Glen!). I wish we could paint our bodies for every party.

After the pre-game we spent the rest of the night and into the morning partying on the beach, Haad Rin. This beach contained the largest amount of people I’ve ever seen partying in one spot. Bars lined the beach playing music and selling beer and buckets while we danced and sang. We have a disposable camera full of pictures I can’t wait to develop when I get home. I had a blast dancing with Sara and Christine who are two of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met. I’m so glad we made it to the full moon party and I highly recommend going if you’re ever in Thailand:)

Brett, Mar and I rented motor bikes on our last day on Koh Phangan. I loved driving once I got the hang of it! Driving is something I love to do in general so it felt good to be on a motor bike cruising the coast of the island. It was so hilly and curvy! We drove to the northern point of the island, about 40 minutes away- Koh Ma. Here we spent time hanging on the beach then getting great views from a viewpoint. I simply loved this day.

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Brett, Mar and I at Full Moon Party- more neon paint to come!

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photo1-2 Koh Ma view point

Koh Tao

“We never should have left Koh Tao” became a saying once we left this amazing island. I think Mar and I can easily agree this was our favorite Thai island. The vibes were so good and the people and memories made it hard to leave.

Koh Tao is the scuba diving capital of the world. You can get certified to dive for $300 and there are so many scuba schools to choose from. Mar and I chose Ban’s, which is literally the biggest dive school in the world because it certifies the most people per year.

We did four open water dives around Koh Tao, each lasting 40 minutes. I love diving and I’m so glad we got to do it! We REALLY wanted to do the advanced course which certifies you to 30 meters instead of 18 and teaches you to navigate so you don’t need a guide. But we couldn’t justify it this time around.

We loved Koh Tao because of the diving atmosphere, nightlife, and people we were with. I actually never left Sairee beach in our six nights. Mar and I had booked a night boat to Phuket but two hours before it left we decided to switch it to the next night. We just didn’t want to leave Koh Tao. We ended up hanging out with Nick, Glen, Stuart, and Joel for another awesome night out at Lotus! Lotus has fire shows and fire jump ropes. Yup, we jumped over said fire rope (oh and fire limbo). We unfortunately said goodbye to Brett the night before–so so sad! We felt a little weird for the next few days not having him around. Koh Tao is where everyone in our group started leaving one by one to go home.

Mar and I got to really get to know Nick and Glen more once it was just the four of us. Nick is from Chicago and goes to school in LA with Glen, who is from LA. Glen loves his ‘rich white guy’ sports while Nick is into films! Haha. It was a blast hanging out with these two because they have fun personalities and are genuinely awesome people!

We met two Canadians and asked them how long they’d been on Koh Tao. They replied “We came here a month ago for four days.”

Mar and I keep joking that we are going to open up a dog grooming and motor bike accident clinic some day so we can go back and never leave Koh Tao.

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Glen!

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Nick!

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Monalize, Mar, Alex and I with our dive instructor (middle) Alex! Great Crew!

After six nights on this incredible island, Nick, Glen, Mar and I took a night boat to Phuket the following evening.

The Gulf of Thailand was spectacular all the way from Koh Rong to Koh Tao! Now off to the Andaman Sea.

Where are you now?

Obviously a key part of traveling is … traveling! We knew we would be taking lots and lots of taxies, buses, trains, planes, tuk tuks, boats, metros, motorcycles, and on and on.

We were aware. Anna went all over New Zealand and Australia. I went all around Scotland and Western Europe. We already knew how to travel.

The other evening around 7 p.m. we wandered into a travel agency and tried to book a bus for the next morning at 8 a.m. We wanted to go from Krabi, Thailand to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.

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Man buns

Around the world some styles cross all cultural borders.

For example, high-waisted shorts are taking over the world and no one can stop them.

Bro-tanks will forever be a wardrobe staple of 20-something men.

Converses will never go out of style.

It does seem that the States are typically last in picking up trends, though — hair, makeup and fashion.

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Cambodia

After Saigon (aka Ho Chi Mihn City), Mar and I gave up all advanced hostel bookings. We have been sticking to the method of showing up to our destination homeless. It’s not too hard to find a place once we arrive.

Once we found a spot at our first stop in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, we decided to meander around the city. Well, we ended up getting fancy. First we got ice cream, then we got massages which were incredible, then we went to a rooftop bar and spend $26 between the two of us on drinks, an app, and a pizza. Trust me, that’s an expensive dinner in Asia. Everyone said, spend one night in Phnom Penh then move on, but Martha and I really loved that city, as we do most cities. I’m glad our journey took us back there unexpectedly with Brett.

The next day we went to Toul Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields, which I’ve already talked about. Late that afternoon we hopped on a bus to Sihanoukville. We met Brett, a solo traveler from Canada on that bus! Apparently we can’t get enough of the Canadians or of solo male travelers. We spent the next three weeks splitting rooms and traveling with Brett.DSC_0265DSC_0294DSC_0303DSC_0312

Sihanoukville is a fun beach city in the Gulf of Thailand. Serendipity beach is lined with hopping bars and people. Brett knew some people from earlier in his travels so we met up with them and went out. The next day we were playing frisbee in the water all day when Nev and Jo asked to join. Seriously, I’ve made so many friends with that frisbee…

The five of us got into brochure modeling for a hotel, which in my opinion was more of an Angkor Beer ad than a hotel ad, but whatever. It was interesting to say the least. I got pretty sick that evening and spent some time lying on the bathroom floor but I made it out alive. Sorry about your feet Mar.

Brett, Mar, and I took a ferry to Koh Rong, where Brett’s friends had taken off to the day before. I was feeling sick still so I didn’t join in on the Fourth of July festivities but I heard it was a blast. We met a lot of cool people through Brett and his friends. We all got to know each other really well in Thailand.

Everyone loved Koh Rong. It’s a beautiful, minimally developed island not far off the coast of Cambodia. We spent a decent chunk of time on that island before making our way back to Sihanoukville. I’m really interested to see how Koh Rong develops in the future so I need to pay it another visit!DSC_0442DSC_0478DSC_0484

The bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap was full so we went back to Phnom Penh with Brett since he still had to do the Killing Fields. I’m glad we got to go back and hang out for another night because I really like that city.

I fell in love with Siem Reap the second we arrived. It’s basically the tourist hub for people who are going to see Angkor Wat but it was incredible regardless. Siem Reap is very lit up, lively and energetic! Pub Street was the center of attention with its’ neon signs and colorful strands of cube lights. It was easy to meet people and had a lot of fun bars- finally some proper dancing! We did a pub crawl one night that was one of the funnest nights I’ve had in Southeast Asia.

10501711_703623683042586_7497935914188128555_n10418460_703631693041785_4917575824375411168_nOur last spot on our agenda in Cambodia was of course the infamous Angkor Wat. I was geeking out. I’d watched a few documentaries about its’ history and how it was built before coming over here and it just FASCINATES me. It was even cooler to see it in person after learning about it at home. I’m not even going to get into how it was built or this will be a super long post, just watch a documentary okay?  I didn’t agree with all the people who said the temples all start to look the same after a few hours. They were all unique and stunning.

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Cambodia was an absolute blast. The locals were so friendly and we met SO many amazing people who we continued to meet up with on and off through the next month. I’m very thankful we met Brett. We’ve made so many great memories with him and I can’t say enough good things about him- a genuine, fun and kind guy!  In travel time, each day spent with a new friend should be multiplied by 10. That’s how fast friendships develop and it’s so cool.

Once we saw Angkor Wat our Cambodia jaunt was over. We went back to Bangkok after a hectic, time-consuming boarder crossing. Our mainland loop was complete and it was time to start island hopping in southern Thailand.

More on that next:)

Cheers!

 

Nha Trang to Saigon

Mar and I finally got a computer charger! It broke in Nha Trang, Vietnam so we’ve been out of commission. After Hoi An, We spent another week making our way down the coast of Vietnam. We visited Nha Trang for a few days, a beach city, then headed to Da Lat in the mountains to do some canyoning. Canyoning was the coolest thing I’ve done! We propelled down waterfalls, slid down natural water slides, and jumped off cliffs. I accidentally hung myself upside down from the waterfall, bashing my knee into the cliff face, then falling head first into the water below. OOPS! The cliff of the waterfall goes inward so you can’t walk down it after a certain point. You have to loosen your rope, push off the waterfall and fall into the water. I didn’t loosen mine enough so I got hung up. Never the less I survived and it was hilarious. Mar got it on video! On the last waterfall I was actually terrified. We couldn’t see over the waterfall so we had to listen carefully and remember his instructions. 1) absail down a few feet 2) slide down 3)spin and drop. Well number two threw me off once I was in the process. By slide I was thinking a natural rock formation to slide on like previous times that day. NO. What he really mean was throw yourself into a gushing waterfall, let go and fall. It would have been fine if he hadn’t said “slide.” I yelled up at him and said “WHAT DO YOU MEAN SLIDE?! THERE IS NO SLIDE.” Hahaha. When it was over the guide and I had a good laugh about it. He said “you dropped too soon.” Oh is that why I felt like I was drowning?

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Da Lat was refreshingly cold because it’s up in the mountains. It’s the newest city in Vietnam and Mar and I were surprised by it’s size. We didn’t spend much time in Da Lat and quickly made our way to Mui Ne. We only spent one night in Mui Ne as well. We wanted to check out the sand dunes and fairy stream before making our way to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). While there, we went to the War Remnants Museum which shows the history of the Vietnam War. It was graphic and hard at times, but I did my best to learn. The next day we did the Cu Chi Tunnels, where Vietnemese people lived underground and conducted guerrilla warfare against the Americans.
After Saigon we changed countries- CAMBODIA! I know I already wrote about the Killing Fields. I did that because it was still fresh and didn’t require many pictures.

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Fairy Stream, Mui Ne

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Nha Trang

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Motorbikes in Saigon

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Martha and I love Vietnam. We had a lot of time to really enjoy the country and learn about it. I know I will return to Vietnam someday to see how it changes and evolves! Plus, I’ll miss the traffic.. 😉

Is it misinterpretation or do they actually just not care?

Ahhh signs. Meant to direct and instruct. Give tourists some sort of hint of what in the world is going on. Not in Southeast Asia, though!

It may be a pool sign that roughly says ‘if swimming after 9 p.m. not response.’ Not response? The hotel isn’t responsible? They won’t respond? What if I were drowning?! Nope. No response.

Or it might be a sign directing you up a mountain, except the translation is so butchered that no meaning can be interpreted.

 

Anyways! Here are a few of my SEAsia signs:

 

I do not want to know why this sign is necessary.

I do not want to know why this sign is necessary.

Formality is key during border crossings.

Formality is key during border crossings.

Usually

Usually

Wait. Wait just a minute!

Wait. Wait just a minute!

Every city needs one.

Every city needs one.

Solid attempt

Solid attempt

And my personal favorite!

And my personal favorite!

 

The Killing Fields, Cambodia

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Martha and I visited the Killing Fields on July 2nd. It’s a tough thing to write about but it was such an emotional experience. I went to the Killing Fields with a decent amount of knowledge after reading online and reading the book “First They Killed My Father,” a reflection through the eyes of a five year old living during the Khmer Rouge. Her father, mother, and two sisters where all killed in the genocide. The genocide killed an estimated 3 million people in just 3.5 years. Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) stormed into Phnom Pehn in April 1975 and forced the Lon Nol government out of power. The citizens fled the city, sometimes walking for days until reaching camps. In these camps, everyone was ordered to dress the same and work hard in the rice fields to supply rice for the country. The rice was used by the government to give to China in exchange for weapons, while the country was left starving. People who had never lived in cities were the lucky ones. They were seen as the rightful people of Cambodia, mainly because they were uneducated. All government employees, doctors, or educated people were killed. Having an education gave the people power, power that Pol Pot did not want them to have. He thought that education was unnecessary, only hard work was needed for the countries survival.

The Killing Fields in Phnom Pehn are a mass grave of over 20,000 victims covering 6 acres. There are over 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia, but this one is the largest known. People were brought there and executed via blows to the head or slits the throat with the leaves of a specific tree in the area, and in many other ways. There is a specific tree that babies were thrown at to be executed. I know this is hard to read. Around some of the graves there are poles where people leave bracelets to honor the victims of the genocide. I left the feather bracelet Abby gave me before I left because it’s meant to be your most traveled bracelet. It’s very moving to see the amount of bracelets left behind. This place has impacted many people including myself. I was really thankful audio was included when you arrived because it solidified my previous knowledge and taught me even more. It made the experience way more powerful than I could of asked for. It was hard not to cry and I teared up a few times. Each year flooding and erosion bring bone fragments to the surface “as if the spirits of those who died here will not lie still.” You can see fragments in the ground. It’s unnerving to think that something like this has happened so recently and that it still happens. Cambodia lost much of its’ culture during this short period. There is something so special about Cambodia that you can just feel. They’ve suffered so much, but smile so often. Anyone about 40 or over lived through the genocide and it has impacted their families. I remember walking around the lake, a mass grave covered with water, and feeling so sad yet thankful that I could be there to learn and be so emotionally struck by it. It’s a hard spot to visit but it’s so necessary to learn about the genocide so that we don’t repeat the past. Just like we should learn about the Holocaust or Rwanda. They all have parallels.

The genocide ended in 1979 after the Yuns (Vietnamese) invaded Cambodia and took control. The Khmer Rouge consisted of many young boys. It’s hard to point fingers and you can even say that members of the Khmer Rouge were victims themselves. It was kill or be killed. We also visited Toul Sleng Prison where people were tortured and killed. There were only seven survivors of this prison and it was equally as hard to visit. We left the day feeling somber, but educated. I highly recommend making the Killing Fields a must see in your life time. If you’ve ever visited the holocaust museum in the States, this will be a similarly moving experience.

Learning as we go

Two years ago I studied abroad in Stirling, Scotland. My pals and I did weekend trips and some longer stretches at the end of the semester. I also traveled for a bit around Europe with my parents before heading back to the states, so I like to think that I wasn’t a total amateur traveler before this trip. I’ve slept in some sketchy dorms and used some nasty showers.

With that said, things have been quite different traveling in Southeast Asia, and I am learning everyday.

Backpack fully loaded!

Backpack fully loaded!

 

Realizations:

  1. Two long sleeve shirts are not necessary.
    Right before I left Wisconsin I had a conversation with my cousins, Kelly and Ellen. They have both spent time in Costa Rica and warned me that I might get use to the heat. ‘It would be 80 degrees and I would have a hoodie on,’ Ellen said. But man. The heat in Asia is not a heat you ‘get use to.’ I would definitely ditch my heavier shirt at home and stick with the light, hiking material for long shirts and pants.Also, I made the strange decision to purchase two pairs of pants over here. Why? No one knows. Thiapants have a hold on my heart and they won’t let go.

    Thai pants for days

    Thai pants for days

  2. Clothes need to be durable.
    With packing my clothes I was only thinking about light clothing that I could mix in match. I had planned on throwing away a lot of the tanks I brought over before returning home because I imagined I would be sick of them. But I didn’t account for the wear and tear that would happen when I wear the same tank top every other day. The cheap tops I picked up at Forever 21 before I took off from home are already running thin and are significantly stretched out. Anna and I may have to do some shopping before too long! Bummer, right? 😉
    Shoes also need to be durable.
    Back home I NEVER wear flip flops. I have my Birks and my Chacos and that all I need in life (little dramatic but I love my Birks). I almost forgot to bring a pair but my doc stressed that shower shoes are a must for SE Asia. The morning of my trip I frantically recovered a pair of pink Victoria’s Secret flops from the back of my closet (high quality, right?).
       Anyways, it was week two and Anna and I were a bit turned around in Chiang Mai, and when I say ‘turned around’ I mean we forgot the name/location of our hostel so we just followed the AC around town. Well, this scorching hot day was about to get even better and my flip flop blew out in the middle of an intersection. I continued to wander aimlessly around town with one shoe dragging until a random Thai man — my saving grace — jumped out of a passing by car, showed me a piece of wire in his hand, and fixed my shoe for me! Whoever you are Thai man, I owe you my life! Or a hug!

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Moral of the story: Don’t bring crappy quality anything with you when you will be living out of a backpack for a few months. Now I’m sporting some super fashionable Abercrombie and Finch flops from a super legit street corner vender. What up!

  3. Plan for accidents.
    Our pals Maddy and Desirée are traveling with what they refer to as a pharmacy. Before they left they stocked up on motion sickness meds, Benadryl, creams and pills for swelling, bug bites and allergic reactions. I brought or took in advance the stuff my doctor recommended (like prescribed pills for typhoid fever, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea) and I brought Tums, Advil and some Band-Aids and Neosporin. But it was definitely not enough. Being the accident-prone klutz that I am I have a handful of bruises cuts. In Laos I slipped in a waterfall and bashed my leg against a SHARP rock. In Laos we got locked out our hostel and had to jump the front gate. Trust me. The spikes are effective.

    Beware

    Beware

 

Differences/Hints

 

  1. While traveling in Europe, aside from a few exceptions, we mostly stayed in hostels with dorm-style rooms. Sometimes the rooms would be as many as 16 people to a room. Here in Southeast Asia, Anna and I had intended on the dorm life, but with private sweets charging only a buck or two more than the dorms, we are high rolling a little bit.
  2. Another difference is towels and bedding! Most places required you to pay a few dollars for a towel … sometimes even for sheets! We definitely don’t need to be toting towels around.
  3. Another thing we are dragging around … TENNIS SHOES! We brought Chacos, light, water-proof hiking sandals that fight great and stay on in water or on land. So far I haven’t even considered touching my runners. I was thinking I would be working out a lot in SE Asia, but with this heat I would have to be getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the sun. No thank you!

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

4. It was also very unnecessary to bring a water bottle with. I was hoping I could use it to live a little eco-friendly on this trip but the only water you can drink comes from a vendor (sorry Mother Earth!). My water bottle has sat in the hood of my bag and it isn’t going anywhere fast. Do I leave it behind? But I love my water bottle. It’s been a month and I haven’t ditched it yet … but we will see.

5. Oh and for anyone out there thinking they will be writing and blogging while traveling, invest in a tablet. This beat-up, slow, janky MacBook Pro is driving me nuts.

6. The last tid-bit of information I’m going to share is the beauty of a neck pillow. Most people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Well, duh Martha. Everyone knows neck pillows are quite nice for airplane travel.’ But you don’t understand the love I have for my neck pillow. I would choose it over my computer as a travel necessity. Anna and I bought neck pillows in LA as a last second decision prior to our 14-hour flight. I use it constantly and people stare on with envy as we whip them out on overnight trains and buses.

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Maybe I’ll update when I realize more mistakes I’ve made. Until then, Anna and I are doing well!

xx