Category Archives: Travel

Travel experiences, tips, tricks, hacks, your mileage may vary…

Friendships made while Surfing Couches and flying from Singapore to Hong Kong

20140508-130113.jpg

Often people ask if I’m traveling to find myself. I, happily, really like who I am. I also know who I am. It is because I know myself that I choose, or perhaps feel driven to travel.

I absolutely love the people in my life, and my home. I also deeply love experiencing other ways of life and making new friends when I travel.

Traveling for an extended time is an amazing experience, and challenging, too. Unless you are in a single place for at least a month or so, it is hard to make new friendships, and not to be looked through by shop keepers. Even when you are quite comfortable with your own company, it can occasionally be a bit lonely.

So far, I’ve used AirBnB for most of my lodging. The idea is that people rent out a room in their home or entire flat, and thus have some cultural exchange. Many times it has been a wonderful experience. A few of the times the rentals were run by a rental company, and not very personal. I don’t enjoy those as much. As I was planning Singapore and Hong Kong, most were agencies or hostels, not homey. So, I tried something different.

I just experienced Couchsurfing for the first time.

Couchsurfing is a online board that people can use to find travelers to Host or Couches to Surf. There is no expectation of payment, just cultural exchange, help around the house, or maybe a small souvenir from the Surfer’s home. Or even just conversation.

The process is like this:

  1. Go to Couchsurfing.com and create a profile.
  2. Start a search on where you want to visit, and look through the Host profiles, and see what is a good match. See if your interests mesh, do they have something to share that would be meaningful to you? Do you have something to offer to teach, learn, share with them?
  3. When you find a Host that looks good, send a CouchRequest to them and see if they offer to Host you.

There are all kinds of people in the world, and it is the same in the Couchsurfing world, too.

My first Couchsurfing experience was great! Weizhen, my Host in Singapore is a great person, and we had wonderful conversation about Massage Therapy, which I practice, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, which she is practices. She picked me up from the metro stop and we went to dinner. She asked what I liked, and chose the place, and I treated. I think she was planning on treating, but I beat her to the register.

After dinner and great conversation, she took me to her clinic, where I slept in the treatment room on a massage table. I’ve slept many a time on my own table, and on more uncomfortable beds, so I slept well.

She returned the next morning, and when she found out that I was having some, shall we say, “abdominal discomfort of the travelers variety”, she gave me a consult and prescription of Chinese herbal medicine. THEN, she said when I return to Singapore in a couple if weeks, return to her and she will provide a treatment for another issue (was also diagnosed by a TCM practitioner in NH, USA).

As I write this, I’m flying from Singapore to Hong Kong. I “kind of” have a second Couchsurfing spot lined up. My next Host’s English is loads better than my Chinese, but seeing as I only know how to say “Hello” and “Thank you”, that isn’t saying much.

My seat mate is a woman from Singapore named Lillian. We are having wonderful conversations, and she has been brainstorming on possible options for who she knows who could host me. Her thoughts are so generous! She insisted on buying me a muffin and coffee! If our schedules allow, we may meet for coffee while she is in Hong Kong, and she offered to take me to dinner when I return to Singapore.

A day or so ago, I was feeling not so good, and like a stranger every where I went. (Cuz I am – LOL). I thought hard about what I wanted from my experience, and wished to find warmth of spirit and to feel cared for, and like magic, I was gifted with these people.

My first day walking around Siem Reap

20140503-222501.jpg
My first day I spent walking around, getting the layout of the land. My goal was to find food and the Old Market.

Traffic here is mostly bikes, mopeds, and tuktuks. “Laadyy, tuktuk?” Is something I’m hearing so often, I’ll hear it in my dreams. I mostly walk, as long as I have water and sun cover, like a hat or umbrella. I can mosey at my speed and get photos along the way.

20140503-222201.jpg

Here are some small children on the side of the road.

Before I got to the market, I stopped for second breakfast. The first breakfast was much earlier in the day.

20140503-222144.jpg
Khmer Noodle Soup

Once I slurped down some noodles, I found my way to the market. Loads of t-shirts and touristy things on the outskirts, but a more local style market in the center.

20140503-222124.jpg

20140503-222103.jpg
Some kind of juicing contraption, and coconuts.

20140503-222041.jpg
MEAT!!!

20140503-222018.jpg
A butcher girl.

20140503-221933.jpg
View down a market alley to the outside.

Dinner that night was some nice veggie soup.

20140503-221954.jpg

Khmer food adventure after a day spent in seclusion.

20140501-124112.jpg

Shhhhh!!! Don’t tell my NH Bed that I nearly wrote poetry to my Khmer Bed. The sweet comfy bed, AC, and decent wifi kept me indoors most of the day. By about 7pm I was getting hungry and I read about the “BBQ place around the corner”. People know where it is but not the name. It is huge, and quite local.

I found it, but at first I thought it was a garage. Lol. I managed to communicate that I wanted to sit down and order food. It seemed like they were a bit shocked to see me, and weren’t sure of what to make of me. I was the only westerner there, that was for sure.

No one spoke English except for the word “beer”. I went for a small Angkor Stout. They realized I wasn’t going to be a big drinker, and gave me a younger waitress.

I am deeply grateful that the menu was translated to English and had pictures. There were many wondrous dishes, like Beef Gender with Fire Ant Sauce (yes, it is probably what you think), grilled frogs (which are supposed to be best during rainy season- I may try them), and “The Vilest Parts of a Bovine Creature cooked in its stomach” (I paraphrased that dish – you are welcome).

20140501-123836.jpg

I went with the grilled beef and veggies with sauce. The meal came and was presented on several plates, trays and bowls. I started picking and eating away, when a nice waitress stopped by my table suddenly and shook her head, grabbed another pair of chopsticks and showed me how to eat the dish. I was supposed to mix a few of the things together in the sauce, dip the meat in it, grab some of the raw veggies THEN eat it. Laughter translates well. It wa a good meal for $4.50.

20140501-124134.jpg

My last day in Bangkok, and arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia

20140501-022341.jpg

I left my lodgings around 10am, totally sure I could get to Wat Po, enjoy a massage, and get back to my place with plenty of time to take a refreshing shower and make my way in a relaxed manner to the airport.

I got everything done except the relaxed and plenty of time parts.

Things don’t look so far apart on the map, and theoretically you can get there from here. Just not quickly, or easily. Each train and boat are run by different companies, & use a different tickets. I got there fine, though, it took a bit longer than I expected.

I was determined to get that massage.

I had to take two trains and a boat there. I had to take the same back, but in reverse. Except, as a result of being over tired, over heated, thinking that I had to rush, I misread the sign, and got off the freakin boat too early. Right about then the effects of the massage wore off. At that point I was just praying to get back in time to hose off, and get to the airport in time.

It was a mad scramble to get myself out the door. I contacted my host via LINE, an app that is like Viber and a bit better than Whatsapp. Sadly, one of his dogs, thy was in the Vet hospital, finally passed away. I felt so bad that I couldn’t talk more with him!

The best part of my dash to the airport was I only had to take one train. Oh, and once I got to the right station, I was worried about finding the right bus, but a nice traffic officer, who was managing the rush hour busses, told me I was in the right spot for the A1 airport “express” bus. Traffic was awful! LOL. I got to the airport JUST in time. AirAsia’s check in area is not well signed, so I asked a fellow at one of the desks if I was in the right place, and his eyes got big and looked at his watch – I got there 1.5hrs before the flight. He and a co worker rushed me through.

The coworker gave me a mild panic attack – he kept asking for my visa paperwork. He couldn’t give me my boarding pass without it. I had no idea what he was talking about, since I was planning on doing the Visa on Arrival – the only “paperwork” I had was the $20USD for the visa in Cambodia. I was sure I was going to miss my flight, but the other associate said, “OH, Cambodia”, the agent was thinking I was going to China. Whew!!!! THEN, as I put the pack on the scale, I brushed against the tape that the security guard slapped on it on the way to the check in desk. It had to be scanned again. Thought I was going to shed a panic tear. The checkin agents said not to worry, that they would take care of it. I was really praying my bag would make it to my destination with me!!! Asia’s low cost airlines are much more strict on carry on weight – only 7kgs. My pack is less than 17kgs, I don’t think I could sneak it past. Plus, I have a supply of sunscreen and bug repellant.

After that things got much easier. Security was fast, and I had just enough time to hit the loo, grab a sandwich, and change 3000 BHT into about $97. I hate changing cash, but I knew I’d need it in Cambodia.

The flight was quick, and I forgot that I had ordered a meal. I’m still glad I got the sandwich, because the AirAsia meal was less than “meh”.

20140501-022759.jpg

Once my flight arrived, and I made my way to the Visa area there was quite a line, but it did really move quickly. I had a moment of concern when I saw the people around me take out their extra passport photos, but the Visa agent just charged me $1 extra, and it was no problem. Then you just wait in a group, and once your passport is done, they call your name, hand you your passport, and you are good to go – 30 days for a Tourist visa.

Once I grabbed my bags, I made my way to find my driver. I’m staying at Seven Candles Guesthouse, and they sent a driver to pick me up for free – so awesome!

20140501-022403.jpg

20140501-022430.jpg

Ko Samui : Day 3…or 4…

I think it is the 4th day including the day I arrived. These past few days have been like a real vacation. Wake, stress a little – I should be doing something- then I realize what I should be doing is being on the beach… All. Day. So I get dressed, grab my beach bag. On my way I stop for breakfast, at the open air market.

20140412-160409.jpg

Today it was stir-fried morning-glory vine with garlic, chili and brown sauce & rice for 40thb, and a morning snack of a small bag of sticky rice.

20140412-160220.jpg

There is a small part of the beach that has beach chairs you can rent for the whole day, for only 50thb ($1.50). The woman who gave me a pedicure on the beach told me about it. Oh, yeah, Thai women roam the beach offering pedicures, manicures, & massages.

Lunch was a carved pineapple and a coconut. The fellow added some small bananas, too.

20140412-160354.jpg

I also got the lowdown on when Songkran is being celebrated near Lamai Beach. It starts tonight and all day tomorrow. I will not have a dry walk home tonight.

Koh Samui – Day 1

20140409-215700.jpg    20140409-215646.jpg

I caught a taxi at 4am to BKK airport. I was worried that I might not find one, but my host assured me it would be easy and less than 200THB. Luckily, I only had to wave down two taxis to find one willing to take me to the airport AND use the meter. I was at the airport in about 20 minutes for 179THB. ( just a little over 5 USD).

I had checked in the night before, which was a good thing since they had changed my flight to bout 20min earlier. Another huge plus to checking in online is that you can usually avoid at least one long line. I went straight to the bag drop. Yes, shocker, I actually checked a bag for this trip. I had bought a large container of sunscreen, a couple small bottles of Mozzie spray (mozzie = Mosquitos) I had originally planned a train journey,so liquids weren’t a concern. Luckily, Bangkok Air has agree checked baggage allowance of 20kg/ about 40lbs. I felt SO STRANGE walking towards major transit without my backpack!!! Strange, but free. I managed to even have a few moments to grab a snack at the BA club, before heading to my gate.

20140409-213613.jpg

The flight was nice, and the inflight snack was like a large airline meal – very well done and fresh. Once we landed and I got my pack, I went to the minivan service for Lamai. Sometimes you have to wait til they have enough people, but it didn’t take long before we were on our way.

I was the last dropped off, and I waited for a bit for my host to give better directions. I was ready to make other arrangements, when she finally responded. I was only a short walk. The place is very basic, but there is AC, bathroom, and walkable to the beach. I’ll stay here for a few days unless I find a better place on the beach.

I ended up taking a nap. Naps make everything better. The sun shines a little brighter. What would have been a trudge, becomes a stroll. Once I woke, I managed to get going about 2pm. I made the walk to the beach and stopped at the Tesco Lotus – kind of like a Walmart with a Thai style food court. I had some stir fried noodles with veg and chicken. Then finished my walk to the beach. Not too far.

20140409-215130.jpg

Once I got comfy, a woman stopped by and exfoliated my feet. She started with one foot, said no cost if I didn’t like. She was nice, though she scolded me for not shaving my legs. So, it’s been a couple weeks…eh, I’ll do it tonight. Then she compared our skin colors, and laughed at the prices I paid for my hat and large cloth I’m using to sit on. Then she nodded sagely saying, “you pay farang prices, not Thai prices. Then we negotiated the cost to finish. She did most of one foot, but I felt bad not paying anything So I gave her 100THB, and said thanks, can’t afford the other foot. The price came down from 500 to 120 including both feet. Later she stopped by to tell me to not be on the beach alone after 6:30/7pm since I’m traveling alone. I’ll be taking her advice, and will be looking for a place really close to the beach.

The beach was clearing out about 5:45, so I packed up and headed back in the direction of where I’m staying, and stopped off to get a foot massage. This was the best one yet. I think I had a string dreams, and the massage seemed to last longer than an hour. I’ll be going back to that place.

Then there was pad Thai for dinner!

20140409-215508.jpg     20140409-215737.jpg

Arrived in Bangkok!

I’ve just passed my first 24 hrs in Bangkok, and have the energy to write!

I arrived yesterday at 6:45am. Usually, when I get to a place that uses a new currency, my first stop after getting off the plane is the ATM for some pocket money. Guess what I forgot to do! I forgot to contact my bank to let them know I was changing countries! Since it was after business hours in the states, I had to collect my other currencies and buy baht at the airport. Not ideal, but at least I had train fare and some lunch money!

I made it to my lodgings and met my host, Witty. He gave me a tour of the flat, which was lovely, and brand new – only 3 months old. There is also a wonderful pool, that I’m going to take advantage of later tonight.

After I got settled and changed, he took me on a little tour of the shopping district. I’m glad I had him with me, as I got a great deal on a lifeproof waterproof iPhone case.

We parted ways, Witty went to his yoga class, and I window shopped, till I was ready to drop.

Before I staggered back to the flat, from lack of sleep, I went up to the cafeteria style restaurant area on the top floor. It works like this: you figure out what you want, go to the cashier and pay, you are given a ticket to exchange for the food item. What I got was yummy – it was called Thai Steed soup.

I mangaged to find my way back to the flat, and “tried” to write/fb/research. Nothing was going to happen. I went horizontal from about 3pm to 8pm.

Once I woke, I managed my banking, then ran down the street to get cash, and my street food dinner.

With the 5 hour nap, you’d think I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not the case – I slept solidly for 7 more hours.

In A Plane, Somewhere Over Europe!

Today I’m traveling from Venice Italy to Bangkok, Thailand, via Stockholm, Sweden. This post is being written on the first flight of the day. I’m enjoying Norwegian Air’s free wifi, and nearly empty craft.

Norwegian is a low cost carrier, and so charges for any refreshment, so last night I prepared a few sandwiches. Lastnight was the first time I bought plain white bread. It was a loaf of 5 peices, crustless, and long – the size of two continuous peices of american white bread, so enough for 5 sandwiches. i made two turkey, cheese, tomato, greens, & artichoke pate, one ham and cheese, one cheese, and one peanutbutter rollup.

One of my favorite travel accessories is my EMS self inflating travel pillow. It rolls up small, and inflates super easy. its nice to have a bit if extra comfort for long flights.

A quick travel tip – a travel pillow can act as extra cushioning for butts sore and tired from sitting for hours on uncomfortable economy class seats.

I love my Keen sandals, the are usually really comfy, and perfect for SE Asia. However, i have to get used to more structured shoes again. I’ve been wearing my Vibram 5 Fingers Treking shoe for 2 months, and loved them from the start – rediculously comfortable, especially fir a minimalist shoe. I’m going to have to watch my step, since I cant feel the ground in the Keens.

Well, folks, I’m gonna go surf the net and research destinations! Ciao, ragazzi!!!

Venice day trip to Burano island!

This afternoon I took the vaporetto from San Marco to Murano, and changed vessels to Burano Island. The whole trip is about an hour and a half each way, and spent an hour on the island.

Burano is a lovely and quiet change. Quiet canals, and no crush of tourist crowds. Many sweet lace shops line the canals.

All of the buildings are painted bright and cheerfully.

Now, I’m on my way back to Venice, for a last walk around, before I have to prepare for my travel to Bangkok!!!

Along the way I met up again with Julie, another traveler who I had met yesterday. We were leaving Burano at the same time and we decided to walk a bit and find an Apero Spritz…or two.

On the way I found this skewer of pretty marshmallows!

We had a lovely conversation over our beverages. we did have to valliantly defend our small bowl of peanuts from some agressive pigeons, though!

Catania, Italy to Valetta, Malta

Mt Etna in the distance, and Catania Italy below
Mt Etna in the distance, and Catania Italy below

What a vew! I’ve always loved the view from airplane windows, but this one really did take my breath away.  We just took off from Catania, Sicily, for a 30-minute flight to Malta.

This next photo captures something you don’t see often – almost an entire country outside your plane window:

Gozo, Comino, Malta
Gozo, Comino, Malta

Next we were decending to land – and see that all of the buildings are made from yellow limestone.  All of them.

IMG_5236IMG_5238Limestone constructionI can’t wait to see them up close!