A Photographic Layover in Oslo

When I was booking my flight from New York to Amsterdam, I picked the one that gave me a seven-hour layover in Oslo. Because why not? Not only was it the cheapest option available, it also gave me the chance to see, however briefly, yet another new city in another new country. I have always been interested in Scandinavia, which is often referred to as having the best quality of life in the world. Plus, I can’t come across a single picture of Norway without lingering over it, marveling enviously in its raw natural beauty. What would its capital city be like? Continue reading

Advertisements

Catching You Up

I’ve already begun the second stage of my travels in 2015–I’m in the Netherlands now!–so instead of fretting about trying to catch up, which will only stress me out and make me more inclined to avoid posting, I will start off with this catch-up post, and proceed by alternating recent posts with posts about my previous Southeast Asia trip.

Really quickly, here is what I’ve been up to these past six weeks.

In early March, I returned to Taiwan from Thailand.

IMG_0009

For one week in mid-March, I was in Hong Kong, working installation and de-installation at an international art show. I spent most of my days (and some nights, hah) in the convention center, but on my days off I explored as much of Hong Kong’s easily reachable greenery as I could.

IMG_0093

View of Victoria Harbor from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, March 2015.

 

After Hong Kong, I returned to Taiwan for a few more days, just enough time to celebrate my birthday and prepare… to return back to New Jersey for the first time since 2013!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Bookworm confession time: it made me SO happy to be able to spend time with my books again.

 

It was nice to see family and hometown friends again after so long, and to be within easy access of BOOKS. But my three weeks at home weren’t all lazy relaxation, as I rushed to prepare for my upcoming Eurotrip and even go into New York City and down to Washington, D.C. to visit friends.

Central Park on beautiful Easter Sunday, 2015.

Central Park on beautiful Easter Sunday, 2015.

I was in DC in time to see the cherry blossoms bloom, which is something that, nature chaser as I am, I’ve only wanted to do since forever.

IMG_0247

Then, on April 14th, I boarded a plane at JFK Airport on my way to the Netherlands–but first with a seven-hour layover in Oslo, Norway, which I had built into my plans so I could explore another city new to me.

I am already in love with Europe. Thanks, classy architecture.

I am already in love with Europe. Thanks, classy architecture.

Okay, seriously, I WILL be back more regularly now.

February 2015 Travel Summary

I will not, I will not be so late in posting February’s statistics! In the last days of February, I’ve been making my calculations and formatting this post, so that it is ready to be up at a reasonable date… yay!

Countries visited: 2 – Philippines, Thailand

Cities/towns visited: 10 – (5 in the Philippines) Port Barton, Dumaguete, Siquijor, Oslob, Manila; (5 in Thailand) Bangkok, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Chiang Mai, Pai

Types of transportation taken: 23 – (13 in the Philippines) crazy bus-jeepney, tricycle, plane, taxi, overnight sleeper ferry, small ferry, habal-habal, scooter, fastcraft ferry, local bus, RORO boat, pedicab, multicab; (10 in Thailand) BTS, bus, MRT, sleeper train, sorngthaew, ferry, taxi-truck, motorbike, kayak, plane

Best experience: I could only narrow it down to two–

1. Listening to the band perform at Boy Blues Bar in Chiang Mai, Thailand — Boy Blues Bar is very arbitrarily located in an elevated open-air space above the center of the Night Bazaar. The four-person band plays improv jazz, rock, and reggae. They and the people who joined in with their jamming with first-rate professionals. With Boy Blue (aka Thai Jimi Hendrix) fronting his band with his blissed-out pearly-white smile and great people in the audience, it was probably the best live music show I’ve ever attended.

20150220_231234

2. Driving from Chiang Mai up to Pai on a motorbike. 139 kilometers. 762 mountain curves. Exhilaration. Beauty. Living–in real time, in the sting of the wind on my arms, in the sweat on my back, in the heat of the sun. So. Good.

IMG_20150301_185810

Worst experience: Wow, nothing springs to mind; I really had to dig deep for this one. There was this one taxi driver in Manila who just gave me a bad vibe. I felt like he was constantly looking for ways to rip me off, and then when he couldn’t (because I was paying attention), gave me crap for not tipping him. Mister, why would I tip you for your terrible driving?!

Most…Interesting Experience: 15 minutes after my friend and I had left Chiang Mai on our motorbikes on our way to Pai, we got pulled over in an arbitrary police checkpoint.

“Can I see your license, please?” the cop asked.

“Um, I don’t have mine,” I replied. Correction: I don’t have a motorbike license. In any part of the world. As is typical of many backpackers in Southeast Asia.

“Oh, I see.” The cop pulled a frowny face. “Well, you have to go to the police station right now to pay a fine of 500 baht. Yes, 500 baht. Or, you can pay now, and you can go.”

F***! We had been pulled over in one of those random police stops where you basically have to bribe the cop to overlook your licenselessness. Sigh. I pulled out 200 baht and handed it to the cop, who said “Okay” and let me go.

Most Disappointing Experience: I guess I’m not all that into Thai massages. And spas. I don’t think I appreciate them the way I should!

Favorite place: Chiang Mai! It’s the rare traveler who doesn’t love this amazing, laid-back city, with its colors, temples, markets, lip-smackingly good food, friendly people, interesting alleys, and unique cafes. I could easily envision myself living here for a few months, renting a room long-term and being a digital nomad (like many people come to Chiang Mai to be).

Chiang Mai for me was colors and cafes.

Chiang Mai for me was colors and cafes.

Favorite food: Again, I couldn’t pick just one–

1. All the street food (okay, and restaurant/cafe food) in Chiang Mai (and Pai, which had similar offerings!). I seriously couldn’t go wrong with anything.

2. Everything on offer at Om Garden Cafe in Pai. Their portions were generous, their prices reasonable, and, um, just look at this fresh strawberry pavlova:

20150226_110259

Expenses breakdown:

Transportation (exc. Flights) $194.37 15%
Flights $300.03 23%
Accommodation $231.29 18%
Food $304.63 24%
Other $263.12 20%

Total spendings for January 2015: $1,293.72*

Average per day (including flights): $46.20

Average per day (excluding flights): $35.49

(* Numbers may not add up exactly due to currency conversion rates and rounding errors.)

Sigh. Yeah, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stick to my $30-a-day budget in February. In addition to the flights, Thailand is simply more expensive than the other countries I’ve traveled around on my trip, its tourism industry having been long established. I was also traveling with people in February, which usually motivates me to partake in more organized activities that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own.

Theme of the month: Reevaluation

In the beginning of February, I was beat. I had been blasting around the Philippines (not a country that you can–or should–blast around, really) and was tired, tired, tired. In fact, it took me most of the month to recuperate. I was antisocial in hostels (bad Steph!) and wanted nothing more than to get a private room and NOT TALK for a few days.

In the midst of this exhaustion, new thoughts began creeping in. I wanted to stay in a place for longer than a few days at a time. I wanted to wring my brain again in different kinds of work.

After I recuperated from the second half of January, I set about looking into job opportunities for this summer and beyond. Man! This is the first time that job-hunting has actually invigorated me, instead of making me feel down. I’m still not sure yet where in the world I want to be this summer, let alone for my next job, but it’s good to be stretching that part of my brain again.

Looking Forward

Taiwan for a few days of family time, Hong Kong for a week for a job, and then I’m going back to the States for the first time since 2013! I have no desire to live in the States in the near future, but it’ll be good to be back for a few weeks, get some things done, prepare for the next chapter of my travels. This spring be bringing great things, my friends.

The Adventures of the Barefoot Trekkers… At Kuang Si Waterfalls

Luang Prabang, Laos

The beauty of being a solo traveler staying in a hostel is that it is so, so easy to find people who wish to do the same activity as you.

“I want to visit Kuang Si Falls today,” I said to the girl I sat down next to in the common dining area at Khounsavan Guest House in Luang Prabang, as we awaited our breakfast.

“Oh, me too,” she exclaimed. “And I met another girl in this hostel last night who also wants to go to the falls today. She says she knows several other people who want to go, too.”

And just like that, my problem of how I was going to get to Kuang Si Falls was solved.

Continue reading

Steph’s Top Things to See and Do in Laos

Feeling improbable, imperfect, a little out of that focused frame.

“In honor” of me being super behind on writing about my travels, and lest I forget things, I am going to first write this summary post about what I enjoyed most during my time in Laos, and then elaborate more on these places at a later date.

A small word on my feelings on Laos. Laos was the second country I went through on this solo backpacking journey. It came on the heels of savoring one glorious month in Cambodia, a country I’d been drawn to for years before I had the chance to visit. Cambodia was all I expected and more, so Laos had a lot to live up to.

Was traveling through Laos similar to traveling through Cambodia? Not really. Cambodia felt like it offered more options in terms of what to see and how to see them, whereas Laos’, er, longitudinally inclined geography meant that all tourists were pretty much traveling the same north-to-south or south-to-north path–between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, with the option to stop in Vang Vieng. So Laos is still desperately poor, but with these well-established pockets of mature tourism that felt less like I was exploring and was also more of a drain on my wallet. Continue reading