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RTW: Step One!

7 Jul

Wow. I am terrible at keeping up with weekly photo challenges. I suppose I just got caught up in the excitement of travel planning. Last week, I managed to take some time off and visit my family and friends in my hometown. It wasn’t all about catching up though. Stefanie and I had some major travel plans to discuss. In fact, I was hoping to book my flight while I was down there. Flight where? I guess I should start from the beginning…

Seeing as this will probably be the last opportunity for me to travel with very little strings attached, I’ve decided to pack up my things, leave the dog with a friend and jet off to some faraway destinations for a while. How long? Well, here’s the kicker…. 6 months! Yikes, even typing it is exhilarating yet terrifying. This adventure will be my longest one yet. Some people won’t understand it, but I’m confident in my choice. And as the wise man Drake once said… YOLO (you only live once). I feel ridiculous writing that.

So, WHERE AM I GOING? Continue reading

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Internship blogging

23 Mar

Melissa To and Fro BloggingRyerson University‘s Master of Professional Communication requires all candidates to complete an industry internship. It’s one of the main components that persuaded me to apply for the program. I feel really lucky to have such a great internship position. Since early January, I’ve been interning with Siren Communications, public relations agency extraordinaire. Most of Siren’s clients fall into the ‘travel & tourism’ sector, which is ideal for yours truly. One of my many tasks is blogging and I thought I’d share two of my recent travel tips/advice posts:

Interested in learning the ‘highs and lows’ of Thailand’s crazy capital? Check out: Citified: Bangkok

Need travel advice about Peru’s Inca capital? Check out: Vacation Notes: Cuzco

Have any of your own tips about Bangkok or Cuzco? Leave a comment! =)

FOMO

23 Aug

Fear of missing out.

Simple enough…

A few days ago, I saw this….

FOMO

It wasn’t the first time I heard about FOMO. When I volunteered in Peru, my housemates threw this 4-letter acronym around a lot. I disagree with the article that FOMO is about the internet. It’s so much more than that – it’s about real life debauchery and seizing the moment. Continue reading

Booking flights… but not for myself (how depressing!)

5 May

I just want to cry when I log onto Orbitz or Expedia.

Lately, I’ve been back to my ol’ researching self, trying to find a decent flight from London(UK) to Toronto. Unfortunately, the flight is NOT for me – although I wouldn’t mind a Spring tour of England. The flight is for Stefanie. You may recall our final days in Bangkok when Stefanie’s passport and wallet were stolen, so as the rules of best friendship prescribe: I need to book Stef’s flight back to the homeland using my credit card. yay. Continue reading

Losing Everything

16 Mar

So, as I mentioned in my last post, when Stefanie and I checked into our Bangkok hostel, we realized something was missing…

Stef lost her notebook. The infamous notebook had her ENTIRE life in it – travel life that is. She lost her passport, money, cards, etc. We called the hostel in Chiang Mai, who contacted the bus company. Our reception talked some guy on the phone who said they found a Canadian girl’s passport on the bus and some other stuff – perfect!!!! They gave Stef the address and she went to pick it up, while I waited at the hostel.

After two hours, I knew something was wrong. The reception called the travel office where Stef was supposed to pick up her stuff and now they were denying finding anything. Strange…. Continue reading

Running out of time

15 Mar

My last week in South East Asia was jam packed. I tried to fit in as many activities as possible, as I realized we hardly did a thing. To some of you, that may seem absurd. I mean, yes I did loads but in comparison to South America, Stefanie and I pretty much chilled the entire time in Asia.

So, in Luang Prabang, Laos – we visited a waterfall and hiked up a hill. Yes, hiking!! It was a lousy 10 minute hike, but ridiculously steep. I realized how out of shape I am. Then, it was back to Thailand. We had only had a few short days before heading back to Canada.

Stefanie and I met up with Adam, the Canadian and Scott, from Manchester. It’s funny how you see the same people again – we really need to pick a road less traveled next time. We stayed at this dingy, but friendly hostel. We had 4 single beds, all aligned with each other along the one wall. You could roll from one bed to the other in one swift action. We were that close – but thankfully, we’re all friends. Continue reading

Oh La Laos!

4 Mar
Night Market in Vientiane, Laos

night market in Vientiane, Laos

I was ready to say goodbye to Vietnam. We heard such amazing things about Loas and we were to keep moving forward. We headed straight for the capital city – Vientiane. There isn’t so much to do in Vientiane, but we did rent bicycles for the day and found this amazing herbal sauna and spa. We thought we broke in to some Monk village and were not sure if women were allowed to talk to a Monk – but thankfully, two monks approached us and lead us in the right direction. Thanks boys!

For $6, we enjoyed the steamiest, rustic herbal sauna and shared hot green tea with a bunch of local Lao women – including a lady boy. Side note: A lady boy is the term given to cross-dresses in Asia. They are so convincingly feminine! We ended the afternoon with a 60 minute traditional massage. Bliss. I never sweated so much in my life and the massage was backcracking-ly authentic. Continue reading

Travel woes in Halong Bay

2 Mar
Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Wow. Why haven’t I updated since Hanoi, Vietnam? I suppose too many things have happened and we’ve been busy bees – but that’s no excuse. I thought I was making a better habit out of writing these posts…. I failed.

Our Halong Bay tour was a bit of a disaster. Stefanie and I ended up stuck in Hue because the bus to Hanoi was sold out. We only realized this after we had already checked out of the guesthouse and one hour before we thought we would board the bus north. Continue reading

Made to Measure

17 Feb
Biycles in Hoi An, Vietnam

Biycles in Hoi An, Vietnam

I splurged. I couldn’t help myself. Just one more thing!! Ah!

Custom clothing in Vietnam is a treat. Stefanie and I spent the last few days running around the old town of Hoi An going to fittings and stopping for lunch in between. It was tiring, but really fun. When will I ever have the opportunity to choose my fabric, design the style and fit ever again? Why not pick up a few items… or several. There are over 400 tailors in Hoi An – a population of 90,000 people. In other words – fierce competition and cheap prices.

After 3 days, I walked away with a custom cashmere blazer and high waisted skirt with silk lining, a long wool peacoat, two summer dresses, one silk chiffon dress with silk shawl and brown leather riding boots. One minute, I’m trying on the piece and the second it’s whisked away on a motorcycle to have the changes made. “Come back in three hours!” they tell you and the PRESTO! It’s completed. Of course, you may need it altered several times but it’s practically a 24 hour turn around. The price was right too. I bought things made to measure for a third of the price it would cost me in Canada. Continue reading

Saigon – Da Lat – Nha Trang

13 Feb
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam traffic

Chaos in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As I mentioned in my last post, we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City during the Vietnamese New Year called Tet. Because there were so many places closed, we decided to spend our last day in HCMC at the waterpark. We expected the park to be busy – but when we arrived I couldn’t believe the swarms of people! Thousands! Hundreds of thousands and we were the only foreigners. haha. I experienced more culture shock here than in downtown Saigon. Families picnic-ing on any manageable surface, grandmothers hanging their hammocks on trees, children racing each other, dads smoking cigarettes in the pools, etc. It was bizarre. Continue reading

Good Morning Vietnam!

12 Feb

We are heading north through Vietnam– stopping at cities and towns along the way. Leaving Cambodia was a struggle – as are most in-transit days. Our last day in Cambodia started off just right – beach bumming and working on our tan. We visited Otres Beach, which was much more relaxed than the main beach and only a short motor-taxi ride away. At first, I wasn’t so keen on taking a motorcycle, but now I really enjoy the ride. It’s an authentic way to travel, especially when the driver is balancing your giant backpacking in-between his legs.

Otres Beach, Cambodia near Sihanoukville

Otres Beach, Cambodia

We booked an overnight bus out of Sihanoukville, but had already checked out early in the morning. I was desperate for a shower, so the front desk said I could rinse off using the tap and bucket in the bathroom. I walked into the dingy stall with a squat toilet. I realized that the bucket and tap were used to wash your business down the porcelain hole in the ground. UGH, but what can you do? I washed the bucket with soap and used the fresh water from the tap and ‘showered’. haha! I was first to go and then Stefanie. At least, she was warned and could prepare herself. Continue reading

Cambodia’s Capital and Back to the Beach

2 Feb
Royal Palace and Temples, Cambodia

Royal Palace & Temples, Cambodia

Anyways, the following the day – we took it easy (mentally and physically). It was over 34C in the capital. We visited the Royal Temple, which has a 9,000 diamond encrusted Buddha statue and a Silver tile Pagoda, which was less than impressive. Each tile is made from pure silver and weighs 1kg each, but they covered the entire floor in cheap carpet and had display cases of knick knacks that all looked the same. Why not polish the floor and show it off! Kind of lame. The royal palace and temples in Bangkok were a lot more dramatic and better maintained. Still, the gardens were beautiful and the architecture was very inspiring.

Royal Palace and Temples, Cambodia

Royal Temples, Cambodia

Stefanie’s coworker’s brother lives in PP, so we arranged to have dinner with him and his boyfriend. He’s 65 years old and has been living in Cambodia for 3 years, working as a principal and a teacher. Before Cambodia, he lived in Japan for 28 years teaching at a university. He brought us to this restaurant called Friends, which trains underprivileged youth for careers in the restaurant industry. Stefanie and I arrived early and we were curious to meet his boyfriend. Was he Canadian, American, European, Cambodian, young, old? Well, weren’t we were surprised! Continue reading

Khmer Culture

1 Feb

There are too many posts about beaches, but I can’t help it! Hearing about all the snow in Canada makes me want to hide under my beach umbrella and order another fruit shake!

But don’t worry, I didn’t spend all of my time on the beach. We had a serious culture injection in Phnom Penh. Our first day was a serious one. We hired a tuk tuk and visited the Killing Fields. The Khmer people (Cambodians) have a dark history. From 1975-1979, the Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge Regime was responsible for over 2 million deaths in Cambodia – essentially, a genocide. They envisioned an agrarian society and forced Khmer people into the farmlands to grow rice in harsh conditions. They destroyed education, religious and economic institutions and enslaved the people – including foreigners.

Memorial for Khmer Rouge victims, Cambodia

Memorial for the victims of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia

The Killing Fields was just one of the many areas across the country where the Khmer Rouge executed the population. Over 129 mass graves were discovered and thousands were murdered in this field – including children and babies. In fact, there is a rumored ‘baby killing tree’ next to one mass grave, where the Khmer Rouge would smash babies and then throw them into pits. My stomach turns even as I type. They believed that if they didn’t kill the babies, one day the children would seek revenge. The Khmer Rouge did not want to waste money using bullets, so everyone was murdered by bludgeoning, stab wound or forced object to the head – using pitchforks, hoes, etc. Unthinkable. Continue reading

A Taste of Phnom Pneh

29 Jan

THIS IS AS-IAH! Actually, the real term is ‘The is Africa’ but Stefanie and I invented our own slogan about Asia due to recent events. “This is Africa” is the term Leo DiCaprio uses in Blood Diamond to explain how anything and everything happens in Africa – good or bad, but mostly bad and how nobody can do a thing about it. AS-IAH because 1: we needed something that sounded like Africa and 2: we are practicing our Spanish.

Thailand was breezy and easy, but Cambodia is another story. The landscape, the people, the poverty, the rules, the corruption… everything I mentioned in my last post. It hasn’t been all awful. In fact, I’m really starting to like it here. However, I did have one bad day where it everything goes wrong and you start to feel homesick. It sounds so trivial now, but sometimes you just get stuck.

Siem Reap was amazing, but Stefanie and I had to make our way down south to Phnom Penh, Cambodia‘s capital. We booked a 6hr bus ride to PP through our guesthouse. The bus was supposed to have a/c, toilet, tv, etc. Not bad for $5! A minibus was picking us up one hour before departure and would bring us to the station. Stefanie and I made a breakfast call to Jessie and then went upstairs to gather a few last things. Our key wasn’t opening the door, so the front desk guy took a look, but he couldn’t open the door either. Needless to say, after prying the handle off the door and shimmying a metal twig around for 30 minutes, the manager finally got the door open a mere 5 minutes before our minibus arrived. PHEW! Continue reading

Temples and Tuk Tuks

27 Jan
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The 14 hour bus journey to Bangkok wasn’t that bad, so Stefanie and I decided to head straight to Siem Reap, Cambodia – another 7 hour journey. We’re crazy right?! I was really nervous about the border crossing. I heard that there would be a million scams (including money exchange and visa scams) and it would be quite a hassle – but having travel experience eased the process. We arrived at the border prepared and made it all the way to Siem Reap unscaved.

Our tuk tuk driver brought us to a cheap guesthouse for about $4 each a night. So cheap! Actually, Cambodia is a dirt cheap, but significantly poorer than Thailand. You can tell just from the taxi ride into the city. There are a lot more beggers, including children and there are a lot of landmine victims as well. Cambodia is the world’s most heavily mined country. It’s really sad to see a barefoot child searching the garbage bins for recyclables next to an expensive hotel. Stefanie and I were sitting at a street stall and this boy comes up to us asking for money. I didn’t want my food anymore, so I offered it the boy. I barely touched it, but he didn’t want it. He asked for money. And then earlier, this little boy dragged stefanie into a store and asked her to buy him milk for the baby. She was considering it before these two girls came up to me and told me that it’s a known thing around here that the boy will return the milk for money later on. It just shows how desperate the children and families are for what little money they can get. Even though it is a scam, you can’t help feeling guilty and want to help, but it just perpetuates. Continue reading

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