A little bit of Europe in my life

2 04 2017

Oh this blog, this painfully neglected blog.

I started this in 2010 to document my travels, and pretty much wrapped it up when I returned to Seattle in 2012.

I always intend to update but somehow never manage to find the time to. Well, I can’t say I will start regularly maintaining this, but I can try and fill you in on my last vacation… which happened about 6 months ago ūüôā

While living in Australia and New Zealand, I ended up bonding with these two lovely ladies (I’m turning over a new leaf and trying to not call everyone skanks and hoe bags, it’s proving to be rather difficult) – Reyana¬†and Bekah (pictured below with moi)

 

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Reyana got married in London in October. Bekah flew over from Australia and I flew over from Seattle.

I have always felt a personal connection to London. I was born and spent the first four years of my life there. I studied abroad there in college, but hadn’t been back in about 10 years, so I was really looking forward to going.

I flew out of Vancouver BC, so my commute started about 10 hours earlier than it would have otherwise as I took the train up from Seattle. I also flew with a budget airline where you can’t select your seats, so I didn’t find out I had a middle seat until I was boarding the plane (a fact I wasn’t too thrilled about). 33 hours later with 0 sleep, we land. ¬†I manage to somehow get myself to my hotel, and 36 hours later head to dinner with Reyana, her family and Bekah and her fiance. ¬†I survive the meal without falling asleep, it was a miracle.

The next day is the¬†wedding. Bekah and I get up early to go to breakfast with her best friend in the city, and then its back to get ready. Reyana¬†rented out a local pub in the area she lives in. It was pretty incredible. She looked gorgeous, and they threw a great party. ¬†I may or may not have “caught” the bouquet (i.e. dived down and grabbed it when it bounced out of my hands) that Reyana may or may not have been aiming for me. ¬†(I’m still me however… which means there are no marrying plans at any point soon)

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It was great to be reunited with Bekah and Reyana again, and to meet their significant others (Gary and Anthony). ¬†Sunday brought us to Bekah’s mum’s and off to see Bridget Jone’s. ¬†All that movie seemed to do was reinforce my desire to move to England… lol, I’m not kidding. ¬†It was nice to¬†be able to meet Bekah’s mum (although she wasn’t thrilled when her mother brought out the baby pictures) as well as hang out with Anthony for a minute.

Next day brings us to brilliant moment #50000216738492 in the life of Maria. I was flying to Barcelona solo. Why? Because I’m crazy and like to try and get at least one new place/adventure in every time I travel. ¬†I ask Bekah’s mother if I can use her printer. ¬†Only to discover that I was printing a ticket for a flight THAT LEFT 15 MINUTES AGO. This is yet another instance where unfortunately I’m not kidding. I had thought my flight was the next day. ¬†Nope. Luckily, I was in London and there are quite a few cheap airlines, so I was able to re-book the flight for $100 bucks (which is annoying don’t get me wrong, but not as expensive as it would have been if I hadn’t been able to use Ryan Air).

So eventually I DO make my flight to Spain. ¬†I’m nervous because its the first time in about 5 years that I have travelled alone. Yes, I know I can do it because I’ve done it before, but it doesn’t mean its any less nerve wracking to go into a country where you don’t know anyone or speak the language and hope that you don’t have to spend the next 4 to 5 days by yourself. ¬†I get from the airport to the hostel, and within 15 minutes of being in the hostel, I meet Siina:

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who would become by new Finnish BFF ūüôā

I spend the next 4 days wandering around Barcelona with her. I try a bite of vegan donut (crazy for me, I know), get lost in all of Gaudi architecture, make it to the Gaudi park, have my fair share of tapas, wander around the roman ruins under the city, ditch out on a “free” city tour, experience communal paella, amongst more. ¬†Documentation Below:

 

I loved Barcelona! It was such a cool city. ¬†There was so much to explore. I would have to say though my highlight of it was my very last ¬†day. ¬†Siina had flown off to Berlin and I had one last day to myself. I decided to do one of the things that I like best, wandering around with music and no set destination in mind. ¬†So leaving all maps/logic behind I set off… and came across¬†Santa Maria del Mar¬†(Saint Mary of the Sea).

It was the only cathedral I ended up stepping inside.

Construction started in 1329 and finished on 1384

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Words don’t really describe, but it was incredible. ¬† AND… I’m not just biased because of it’s fabulous name.

My last weekend was spent getting caught back up with Clem (another good friend from my time abroad, who I had just done a tour of the south with… yet another blog entry I am severely delayed in writing), and then properly spending time with Reyana and ¬†Gary, and finally having a quick 18 hour layover in Iceland before flying back to Seattle

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There was a TON of really cool street art in Reykjavik, this was just one of the pieces I stumbled upon

 

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Clem demonstrating her love for her husband Jon (by ignoring him and eating McDonalds)

 

All in all, it was a great trip. ¬†I didn’t really give myself any down time, but I also wouldn’t really have had it any other way.

It was my first trip outside of the US (not counting Hawaii) since I returned back to Seattle in 2012… and while it satisfied my immediate need… I still long to get back out there and travel again.

There we go, I finally managed another blog update, the next one will hopefully be before 2020.

 





I came, I saw, I caucus’ed

4 04 2016

It’s that time of year where I slowly start to hate my Facebook feed. Instead of being inundated by cute cat videos, dances and dog/baby pics, politics are rearing their ugly head.

With the elections coming up in the fall, I never really played all that active of a role in the political scene other than showing up at the polls and voting.

This year, something changed. ¬†For me, it’s Bernie Sanders. I know that’s fighting words for some, but all political view points aside, its kind of hard to deny the impact he has had on people of my generation. For the first time in life, I actually showed up to my caucus. Actually, that’s not even entirely true, the more accurate statement is for the first time in my life I actually learned what a caucus was and how it works.

A few weekends ago, my Aunt and I headed over to the Montlake community center. ¬†At first, my aunt was entirely convinced that the whole caucus was just to show your support for Bernie Sanders. When I explained, that it was a democratic caucus and that the point of it was to choose delegates for either Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton, she “felt a whole better.” ūüôā

So we pile in at 9:30am (the caucus started at 10:00am, but I wanted to be safe, you never really know how much paperwork/registration is actually involved). We then head to our precinct number and gather around in our corner of the gymnasium and wait for “our person” (our caucus representative who would read a speech about what the caucus means and why we are all there).

At this point, it really felt like we lived in a small town. No joke. I felt like I was on an episode of the gilmore girls about to elect our new town mayor. ¬†It was actually kind of cool. Seattle isn’t NYC by any means, but it is a pretty big city, so it was really neat to feel a part of a smaller community.

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After everyone arrived we then gathered to listen to the required speech. We couldn’t hear the caucus representative speaking, so precinct 1991 headed outside of the gym into the sunlight so that we could.

The caucus worked like this

  1. You divide into your individual precincts based on where you live
  2. You fill out a preliminary vote on who your democratic nominee is
  3. Both the Hillary side and the Bernie side then give speeches to one another to try and convince the other “team” if you will of their nominees qualifications
  4. You then have a chance to change your vote
  5. Each precinct then gets a certain number of delegates based on the population of the precinct who then go on to represent their candidate until we get all the way to the Washington State Democratic Convention.  Precinct 1991 had a total of 7 delegates.

After we turned in our initial preliminary votes the speeches began. Unfortunately we were outside at this time (or maybe it was fortunately, because it did end up being a pretty lively experience), so we weren’t able to keep track of the other precincts. Because of this, we were still battling (aka discussing) away and the other precincts had already turned in their final ballets and gone home.

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I am normally a pretty reserved, quiet person, but I felt the need to speak up. At one point, a Bernie supporter said something about how he believes in Bernie because he resonates with the people, and I followed up with the fact that I found it inspiring, that it was my first caucus. That I wasn’t qualified to speak to who has the best legislation, but that he was making an impact on my generation, and that was exciting.

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I think the coolest part about the whole experience wasn’t only the lively discussion we all managed to have, but that at the end of it, we all agreed, Hillary supporter/Bernie supporter alike, that at the end of the day we all needed to rally behind and support whomever got the nominee.

At the end of the day, it ended up being a 51% Hillary, 49% Bernie split. Which means that we then elected 3 Bernie delegates, and 4 Hillary delegates to go on. (no, I was not interested in becoming a delegate).

Going to my caucus was pretty great though, because it really helped me feel connected to the whole process. It made me feel like my voice was being heard. ¬†I’m really glad that I got up early on that Saturday. ¬†Will I caucus every four years? I think it depends on who’s running. Am I glad that I experienced and did it for the first time? Of course!

 

 

 

 

 





The City by the Bay

25 06 2014

I have been back ¬†home in Seattle for over a year and a half now¬†and this is my first post…. for shame Maria… for shame.

I originally said that this was my travel blog, but still neglected to write about my New York at New Years experience (don’t fret.. it will happen, eventually) or my time last summer in Nova Scotia for Saba and Doug’s wedding (two of my closest friends from living in NZ).

With a recent trip to San Francisco  a few weeks ago, I realized how seriously neglectful I have been of this thing.

While I don’t have time to fill in ¬†the few of you out there that read this thing ¬†(or happened to stumble across it in a google search), I can attempt to give you a brief update on my life since I got home in November 2012

1. I got a job at Entercom Seattle (radio, well now I’m actually doing digital… minor technicalities)

2. I got an apt in Seattle (although, I need to move)

3. I got a cat (I also apparently love to use parentheses)

NOW, back to last weekend.

I arrived in SF late Friday night. ¬†I went down for the weekend to visit one of my really good friends whom I met at Entercom, Natalie. Her husband got a job at twitter so they moved down to SF last September. ¬†Originally, my plan was to hang out with Natalie, my former roommate from OZ Liz (who was flying over from Australia for a conference), and my cousin Hayley. Liz unfortunately ended up not being able to make the trip. Although that was a bummer, it also means I have another excuse to plan some Maria/Liz trip somewhere (in case you haven’t noticed I am severely effected by the travel bug, I also tend to digress… a lot).

Anyway, I arrived Friday night to the fabulous Natalie picking me up in the airport. I should also mention that it was a full moon AND Friday the 13th. But, don’t you worry, there were no horror stories that night. Except for the fact that San Mateo (where Natalie lives) shuts down at 10:00pm. ¬†We ventured out to their neighborhood bar called Paddy’s¬†(ironic I know) for a beverage and then called it a night.

Full Moon - Friday the 13th

Full Moon – Friday the 13th

Paddys! SF Style

Paddys! SF Style

Day two consisted of shopping and Natalie insisting that we get our nails done. I should preface this with the fact that I have  had exactly one manicure previously (with Saba the day before her wedding).  My fingernails have never grown past my finger tips due to the fact that I may or may not bite them. Sigh.  So my manicure artist/lady/what have you, was obviously THRILLED when she saw the length and conditions of my nails. In fact, I distinctly remember her giving an obvious sigh of relief when she was finished.

That evening we went to Natalie’s ¬†husband Mark’s friends house for a BBQ. ¬† Now the thing to remember about SF, is that places are freaking expensive. ¬†This guy was a free-lance IT guy (with about 7 different monitors on one computer table) who had a top floor apartment with an amazing view of Alcatraz. We had steaks, hung out on the porch (or inside on the couch if your name is Maria and you get cold super easy), and then ventured down to Buena Vista for what is said to be the “original” Irish coffee.. I will say it was pretty delicious.

The view.. this pic doesn't capture it very well

The view.. this pic doesn’t capture it very well

 

Natalie and I

Natalie and I

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee

Day Three. I forced Natalie to do touristy stuff. I had really REALLY wanted to see Alcatraz. ¬†Unfortunately, we didn’t think about the fact that it might sell out (idiots). ¬†So when we go to book the tour the only thing ¬†that’s available is the “Escape from the rock and city tour.” ¬†It might not be Alcatraz, but hey its a boat cruise and city tour all in one! winning! ¬†Oh wait, not so much (sorry, Natalie don’t kill me for including this)

Notice my positive twist at the end while Natalie is trying to check out if there are any hot dudes on the bus.

We show up at 10:00am that morning only to discover that it’s a 3 hour bus tour, followed by a boat cruise. Yeah… we had thought it was ALL ¬†a boat cruise. ¬† We did learn a few things though, like Van Ness is the widest street, rent control buildings do exist, the real estate value of every single area we drove through (I think our driver might have been on the market…. just a hunch), ¬†and which highschool our driver attended.

Cliffs End

Cliffs End

Cliffs End

Cliffs End

moi

moi

 

It actually wasn’t all that bad. ¬† Our driver also talked about the 3 people who escaped from Alcatraz, why ¬†the tenderloin is called the tenderloin (something to do with bribing cops with steaks), and some other bits and bobs. ¬†It was 10:00am in the morning, you couldn’t have really been expecting to pay attention, especially when I was expecting a cruise!

I was proud of Natalie for doing it with me though. She grew up in SF so a 3 hour bus tour I’m sure was not her ideal way to spend a Sunday morning. Afterwords it was off to loop around the rock a few times and head home.

Proud of this pic.. a wind surfer (I think is the name)

Proud of this pic.. a wind surfer (I think is the name)

Alcatraz.. although the building vaguely resembles entercom.. kidding, kidding

Alcatraz.. although the building vaguely resembles entercom.. kidding, kidding

The rock

The rock

 

Day Four – It’s Monday. Natalie has to venture into work and I head into the city to meet my cousin Hayley. Ironically enough we made plans to watch the American World Cup game when neither one of us is all that into soccer (for shame!!!). So we spent the majority of the time catching up and waiting for Natalie to get off work. ¬†Hayley and I then decided that we would have a sleep over at her place (which actually kind of worked out beautifully as the next day was her birthday).

Hayley and Maria

Hayley and I

Day Five – My last day in SF and Hayley’s birthday. ¬†After running a few errands (ahem Hayley), we head into the city. ¬†Hayley works at the De Young Museum cafe which just so happens to be in the golden gate park. ¬†So we decide to walk around the park, grab food at her cafe and finally I force her to check out the exhibit in her museum. ¬†It was actually a pretty fantastic day.

Hayley throwing up the deuce deuce on her birthday

Hayley throwing up the deuce deuce on her birthday

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

It ended with Hayley bringing me back to the city, Natalie bringing my stuff with her to work (as it was sporadic last-minute plan to have the Monday night sleep over) and then saying goodbye to my two lovely ladies.

All in all it was a great trip, and just reinforced my need/want to travel again.  Hopefully next time, I will get out of the continental US.





The End of the SE Asian Adventures (with a 9 month delay)

28 04 2013

Item’s I have learned today:

I have learned that this will be my last blog for a while. ¬†It’s not like I am going to permanently retire this thing, but now that I am back in the “real world,” I am finding it hard to ¬†the find time to write. ¬†I’m sure there will be more to come, but after this entry… mariavandenburg.com will have to be put on hold for a little bit.

Now I am going to rewind. ¬†I spent the last ¬†two years living abroad, one year in Australia, one year in New Zealand. I then took 6 weeks to do a tour of SE Asia before returning back to Seattle in September 2012. ¬†I maintained this blog during my time abroad, just click on any of the previous entries if you’re interested in learning more (please excuse any and all spelling and grammatical errors, thanks).

My last entry left with me in Cambodia. ¬†At this point, I had about 2 weeks before flying back to the states. ¬†I had spent the previous 4 weeks doing a tour of Thailand and Laos by myself. Prior to flying out, I was completely freaked out about traveling alone. I must say though, looking back now, it was probably one of the best traveling experiences I have ever had. Traveling alone forces you out of your comfort zone. It allows you to meet people, and be exposed to ¬†new settings/situations that you might not have experienced while traveling with someone. Not that I don’t like traveling with people (because I do), I’m just saying that I learned I could travel alone, and have a great time doing it. ¬†Alright, I am digressing again…

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I left Cambodia with my former flatmate from NZ Bec. ¬†We flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, booked ourselves into a hostel, and set off to explore. Kuala Lumpur was beautiful and dirty at the same time. ¬†You have all this gorgeous architecture and buildings, and then you cross the street with a¬†rat scurrying past you. ¬†The people seemed a bit more closed off, but they weren’t unfriendly. ¬†They were just¬†busy.

Bec and I spent four days in Malaysia. ¬†We were going to try to get to one of the islands, but we didn’t have enough time be. ¬† It also seemed impossible to locate a travel agency to sort it out (yes, I can be a high maintenance traveler if I haven’t properly done my research and a lot of this trip was sort of just flying by the seat of my pants.. which is also something I don’t do very often… and by that I mean ever).

We took a hop on / hop off bus (yes, we were tourists) and saw the (gate of) the royal palace, the Petronis twin towers, the National Mosque (well the outside, apparently we just weren’t meant to see the inside.. although we did try on 3 different occasions), the Kuala Lumpur tower.. and more.

For Bec’s birthday we headed up to the Batu caves (Hindi caves located near KL). ¬†The caves were cool, the monkeys however FREAKED ME OUT. ¬†They were so used to being fed by tourists, that they practically attacked you if you didn’t. Awesome.

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Kuala Lumpur was fun, but at the same time it felt like I really didn’t get a chance to experience it. I enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, ¬†I just wish there would have been a bit more of an opportunity to get know the locals there.

After KL, I said goodbye to Bec and headed off to Bali for my last week. ¬†I decided the day Bec flew back home to London, that I would go to Bali. I had one week left, and was trying to choose between Bali and going back to Thailand to visit one of the islands on the west coast (Ko Tao). ¬†When Thailand looked like more of a pain to get back to, and Bali was a direct flight, my choice was made. ¬†If you would have asked me two and a half years ago when I first started this adventure, if I would be comfortable not only traveling alone, but also deciding the day before which country I would head to next, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, or I would have had an anxiety attack ūüôā lol.

Anyway. my traveling style had become, waking up, doing 10 minutes of research online, looking up flights, checking hostel world for the hostels with the top rankings, booking myself into said hostel and hoping and praying that I would meet someone cool to travel with. ¬†In Bali, during my last week before heading home, I met about 10-15 people at this awesome hostel called “the island.” It was amazing.

The island hostel was located in an area of Bali called Legian. It was one of the most expensive hostels I stayed at (roughly $25 US Dollars a night, but come on now I was backpacking in SE Asia, over there $25 bucks is quite spendy!) but also one of the nicest, and most social. ¬†While there, I met folks from all over the world, and the best part about all of it was I didn’t have to do my research on Bali, they all did it for me! During my first night there I decided I would head up to Ubud to meet two of them the next day (Ubud is where Elizabeth Gilbert/Julia Roberts lived in eat pray love) spend the night and then take the speed boat to Gili T (a 1k island).

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I loved LOVED Bali. I loved the people I got to meet. I loved the religious festival that I happened to be in Ubud for. I loved how religious the Indonesian people are. I loved how amazing the food was. I loved the fact that I got to spend a few days on Gili T and run into one of the girls I hit it off with on the first night at the island hostel.

Bali was amazing. It was the perfect way to end the trip, and the perfect re-enforcement that I can and could (and should) travel alone. While there I met about 5 people on an around the world trip, and COMPLETELY got inspired. I would love to be able to do that. To just take a year off and literally go around the world.

Of course I sort of need to sort out my life/career/save up enough money in order to be able to do it all.. but hey, at least I have a goal right?

After Bali is was back to Auckland for a few days, and then back to the good ole US of A, where I am wrapping up this last entry (for a bit anyway)…

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A little bit of KhoaSan Road, and a Whole Lot of Cambodia.

26 01 2013

Item’s I have learned today:

Sorry.. I have been seriously neglectful of this thing. ¬†Life back in the States and updating the blog don’t seem to work out very well together.

-Khoa San Road (in Bangkok) is a seriously DANGEROUS place for tourists.. not in terms of crime, but in terms of large increments of money being spent, and the existence of a wonderful thing called “buckets”

-I learned all about ping pong shows.. I don’t feel the need to write about it on here (it’s quite disturbing)… you can google it…no, really.. don’t.

Back to the travel tales of my 6 week trip to SE Asia before returning to Seattle in September.  I had just finished up a week long trip to Northern Laos and was now on my way to reunite with my long lost buddy Bekah in Bangkok.  I had my first overnight train journey, arriving in Bangkok bright and early the next day.

After attempting to sleep in the hotel room that Bekah reserved (meaning.. I didn’t, and since I have such amazing abilities to sleep on trains – i.e.I don’t) it was off to explore Bangkok round two with about 3 hours of sleep. I sent Bekah off to the Grand Palace as I had seen it already in my first few days, then it was off to the see the Sleeping Buddah and explore all that is Khoa San Road.

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After eating at a place called something like “We make cocktails REALLY strong” (literally, not joking, I’m pretty sure that was the name of the actual restaurant) ¬†and having a bucket with Leigh (a fellow traveler, Bekah befriended while exploring BKK)… We called it a night as it was off to meet Bec (former flatmate and friend from NZ) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia the next day.SE Asia 253

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia was on a whole different level all together. Amazingly beautiful country, but with such a tragic recent past.  I was really completely ignorant before arriving. I had heard about the killing fields, but hearing and seeing are too COMPLETELY different things.

It was impossible to not be affected. We spent the day going from the killing fields to S21 (one of the prisons) but some how we didn’t have the same appreciation for the royal palace and the markets after words.

1-4 Cambodians (1 in 4!!!) were killed in these fields during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. Estimates of total deaths is in in the millions. ¬†It’s really hard to imagine that that was just over 30+ years ago. ¬†The Khmer Rouge executed anyone they believed that was associated with the former government.. basically the entire educated class. ¬†The one particular killing field we went to had over 8000 skulls, and was still washing up clothes from the victims. ¬†It was heart breaking to say ¬†at the very least.

Words can’t really do it justice.. here are a few pics… ¬†(warning… not for the faint of heart, some of these images are quite upsetting).

Siem Reap, Cambodia

After a hard few days in Phnom Penh it was off to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap.  Now let me go back and say that despite the atrocities that happened to this country a little more than 30 years ago, the Cambodian people are still some of the most wonderful people I met during my 6 weeks in Asia.

Angkor Wat... no I did not take this picture

It was a completely different mindset to leave Phnom Penh and the killing fields and then head to the largest ancient Hindi temple and religious monument in the world. ¬†Angkor Wat was fantastic. We took a “VIP” tuk tuk (it’s license plate… literally).. to the temples and saw Angkor Wat on Day One. We walked around, and stayed and watched the sunset.

Perfect thing to do at an ancient temple... fix your hair! :-p

Perfect thing to do at an ancient temple… fix your hair! :-p

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We ended up staying at this place called the “Mad Monkey Hostel” if you are ever in Siem Reap, I highly recommend it. The crowd is young, the staff are cool, the owners alright.. haha ūüôā They have a roof-top beach bar complete with a beer pong table.. I won’t even begin to describe my amazing beer pong skills (meaning, I was lucky if the stupid ball hit the dang table, let alone made it into one of the cups… I lasted all of one game… and then opted out.. shockingly).

Day Two we went to Angkor Thom and Bayan (where tomb raider was filmed). ¬†My camera managed to die while going through these ancient temples, but here are a few pics…

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Day Three we decided to relax by a pool.. and then head on (as Bec had to be back in Malaysia for her flight home in a few days)

Sihanhoukville.

Part of Cambodia.. but not really. ¬†It’s fun, there’s some cool beaches… theres some cool pubs/bars on the water.

We spent the day relaxing on the beach (only to be asked by every few mins if we wanted to buy bracelets, hairbands, sunglasses, get our legs waxed, etc). That was slightly vexing. You see these gorgeous Cambodian children, literally probably around 6-8, and instead of spending their days in school and playing, they are wandering around the beach trying to sell stuff to tourists. ¬†I mean, what kind of childhood is that? ¬†I’m not really sure what the solution to the problem is, but it def helps to put your own life and childhood in perspective (or at least it did for me).

Anyway.. rant over. ¬†After a few days of lounging around on the beach, it was off to fly to Kuala Lumpur… Malaysia. ¬†At this rate you will probably get an update on that by New Years (2014).

Happy 2013 everyone! ūüôā





Finishing up Northern Laos – Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientianne

25 11 2012

Items I have learned today:

I am diverting to being back at home for a second, for this portion of my blog. I have recently learned:

-How very strange it is to be in a country that actively celebrates and LOVES Halloween. I think I read somewhere that the US spent $8 billion on Halloween! $8 billion! Crazy talk. ¬†I ¬†wasn’t quite sure of what to do when I walked past houses that had full out decorated (fake graves, cobwebs, gigantic spiders, lights, pumpkins) etc during my normal commute. I remembered this around Christmas, but forgot all about the love for All Hallow’s Eve.

-How nice it is to have fall/winter be around the holidays. Now don’t get me wrong, I still freaking hate commercials, but I feel a bit more at home having to suffer through endless santa/snow flake/chestnuts roasting on an open fire-type ads, then ones talking about all the great types of meat you can BBQ on the beach.

Luang Prabang

Next stop on the Northern Laos adventure was Luang Prabang. ¬†Luang Prabang was the former capital of Laos until the communist take over in 1975. ¬†Here is a (not so) fun fact about Laos. ¬†Did you know that it is the most heavily bombed country in history?? I didn’t either. During the course of the Vietnam War, the US dropped a total 260 million bombs on it! ¬†What’s even worse is 75 million of them didn’t detonate, and people are STILL suffering/being killed/injured/from the remaining ones in the country. ¬†I learned about all this during our dinner that first night in Luang Prabang.

The spice girls (the nickname given to us by the locals at the start of our trip in Laos Рsolely because there were 5 of us) and Wan (our guide) had a brief history lesson on Laos and then had the next four days to explore Luang Prabang.   Luang Prabang is well known for its Buddhist temples.  It was here that I witnessed my first giving of alms. Every morning at 6am, the monks get up to receive their daily donations of food.

Although we were hoping to see hundreds, we only saw a few, but it was still a pretty cool thing to witness. Kinda crazy to think about the fact that they live off of whatever their fellow Buddhists are able to donate in the mornings. It’s not considered charity. ¬†It’s a religious rite to show humbleness and respect, it is the beginning of one’s journey to Nirvana.

We also took a day trip out to Kuang Xi Falls. It’s a 3 tier waterfall located about a 30 minute tut tut ride out of the city. ¬†Waterfall was GORGEOUS.

Kuang Xi Waterfall - first part

Kuang Xi Waterfall – first part

Kuang Xi waterfall - Part two

Kuang Xi waterfall – Part two

The first tier had a rope swing. ¬†Did dare devil Maria go off of it??? Not so much. ¬†But I did make sure that everyone’s belongings were safe and sound. ¬†On the way back from the falls we had a small dose of the local boys. ¬†Two of the spice girls decided to stick their bare legs off the back of the tut tut (gasp! shock! horror!). ¬†We had a stream of about 5-10 Laos boys on motor bikes following us all the way back to the city. ¬†It was quite comical actually.

Our unofficial bodyguards

Our unofficial bodyguards

The next few days we rented bikes and toured the temples. Pictures below.

We also did the whole elephant riding experience. Elephants really are gorgeous creatures, but I couldn’t help feeling bad for the ones we rode. Clues being the fact that they were kept in chains, and that there was a baby who had apparently been sold from its mother. When you looked into their eyes, they just seemed sad. Now, I’m not claiming to be an elephant whisperer by any means, but I did question how these particular ones were treated.

The spice girls meet the elephants

The spice girls meet the elephants

I also had another amazing meal. $10 all you can eat buffet from the night market.  You load up on whatever you can eat, and they mix and fry it all together. Delish!

Vang Vieng

Now all I heard about in New Zealand, was that if I made it to Laos I had to go tubing. ¬†Never mind the numerous war wounds I saw from those that had survived said tubing experience (holes in the skin from leeches/some other sort of nasty sea creature) or the numerous deaths (yes, deaths) that seemed to happen on a weekly basis. ¬†So as I am sure you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly excited about the thought. ¬†In fact, I tried to come up with every excuse in the book to get out of going. ¬†But there was a 16 year old in the group, and she was excited to do it. How big of a wus would I have looked like if I hadn’t?

We only had one day/night in Vang Vieng, so we literally tubed up (yes, I did just invent a new verb, thank you very much) on arrival and went. ¬†Looking back, I am SOO happy that I pushed myself to go, it was actually a pretty amazing experience. ¬†Do you float along the brown Mekong River?? Yes. Is there a floating bar/dock practically every fifty feet? Yes. ¬†Do you have people toss you ropes tied with water bottles to pull you in to said bar/dock? Yes. ¬†Is there a shot on arrival and possibly beer pong at each dock/bar? Maybe. ¬†But as long as you do everything in moderation, it’s a lot of fun! The best part for me was not the bar hoping (or in this case floating), but at the end of it when you float along the last 30-45 mins with your friends, in your tubes, taking in the sites. ¬†Another highlight of the entire trip, although I have heard rumors that they may have now shut the tubing aspect down.

Um.. Happy Birthday???

Um.. Happy Birthday???

In Vang Vieng we were also now introduced to tour guide number two Scrubs/Baz. ¬†He decided to celebrate his birthday in Vang Vegas (definitely not a Westernized nickname for the place… nope… not at all). ¬†To celebrate, we all went out to dinner, and proceeded to make him take 31 shots out of a bucket (a SE Asian invention that I’m pretty sure was designed to ruin all tourists). ¬†Needless to say he lasted all of an hour before he disappeared. And that was Vang Vieng!

Vientianne

My time with the Stray tour came to an end at Vientianne, as I needed to make it back to Bangkok to meet up with my long lost buddy Bekah. Vientianne is the capital of Laos. ¬†Let me just say that it was really strange to be in a “city” in Laos. I was used to shops being the bottoms of peoples houses, where everyone sold the exact same products (one brand of shampoo/chips/soda etc). To walk past a mini-mart/convenience store was just plain weird. ¬†To have shopping malls felt a bit like an alternate reality!

We spent the day touring the Arc de Triumph or Victory Gate. It was built with American funds that were originally designed to build an airport.  Apparently the Laos government decided that this would be a much more effective use. To be honest though,  I am not all that surprised considering the fact that the states dropped 260 million bombs on them!!

Pat That Luang

Pat That Luang

Another highlight included Pha That Luang. ¬†A gold buddhist stupa (which contains the ashes of the deceased, a beautiful tombstone if you will). It’s regarded as one of Laos most important national monument.

That evening it was off to dinner with spice girls and the rest of the group and time to say farewell to both them and Laos. ¬†I should also take a second to talk about one other incredibly important part of my Laos experience. In Vang Vieng we met up with a few other folks on our stray tour. ¬†The most memorable being that of Johnny and his daughter Laura. ¬†Johnny grew up in Laos, but was forced to leave when he was young (around 10 I believe). He grew up in France. ¬†This trip, was his first time back to his home country 30 years later. ¬†He brought his 16 year old daughter with him. I wasn’t with his group when he first came back into his country, but even being around him for the few days I happened to be was incredibly moving. To be able to see him return to his home, and bring his daughter is something ¬†I will probably remember forever.

Bangkok and Cambodian adventures to follow ūüôā





Home-stay in Ban Lad Khammune (Laos)

26 10 2012

Item’s I have learned today:

Ban: Village

Home cooked meals in Laos are the best meals EVER (well, I mean behind my beloved mothers cooking of course).

After a night in Pak Beng it was off to¬†Ban Lad Khammune. ¬†It was here that we had our remote village home-stay. I was literally amazed by the children here, so different from the ones at home, ¬†or should I more accurately say from how I was when growing up. ¬†First off, it took very little to put smiles on their faces. ¬†A little attention, a rock, whatever.. it made them happy. ¬†They didn’t need Teddy Ruxpin, My Little Pony’s, ¬†Nintendo, Barbie and the Rockers, or She-Ra and all of her palaces (I am probably seriously dating myself here… but whatever). They just needed companionship.

The highlight of the day, which ¬†was surprising considering Stray goes through this particular village at least once a week, was the “spice girls” taking digital pictures and then showing them. ¬†I also loved the fact that if one kid fell flat on his/her face, he/she didn’t immediately start crying and run off for their mother (ahem.. I definitely wasn’t like that as a child.. cough, cough). He/she/it just picked themselves up, laughed and went right back to the game of tag, or jump off the rock or whatever it was the other kids in the village were playing. ¬†SOOO different, and so cool to see!

The evening began by the men gathering around to drink their “Lao Lao” (a rice whiskey that they make… not for the faint of heart).

Lao Lao - Rice Whiskey being distilled lol

Lao Lao – Rice Whiskey being distilled lol

We all had a tour of the temple, and the school. We would have gone to the area where they generate their electricity, but it had recently flooded.  The school was funded by a Kiwi Charitable trust.

temple

temple

The primary school

The primary school

It’s crazy to think that not all villages have schools, but sadly this is the case. ¬†This particular primary school was for all of the kids in the area, not just this particular village. ¬†I asked about secondary school (anything above 6th grade for everyone back home), and was told that the closest was in Luang Prabang, which is about a 3 hour commute. ¬†That the students would have to board there. So basically, unless you come from a family with money, your education ends at approximately 11 years of age. Crazy! The even more insane part is that this particular village was nicknamed “Lots of money village.” I think the name is a result of the people living there doing alright by Laos standards, and that this Kiwi Charitable Trust built the school. ¬†Imagination what life would be if you happened to live in a village that wasn’t quite so prosperous?? It really helps to put things in perspective and be grateful of all the opportunities that we have back at home!

Another thing to note was the areas of the village where those not so well off live. ¬†This was where I witnessed the children I spoke of earlier, they lived in huts, literally huts. I don’t think I saw a single toy. I complain when my heating doesn’t turn on fast enough in my apartment.. imagine living in a wood hut! It was so incredibly humbling to see these kids who had very little, running around, playing and laughing.

OMG.. I still think about this meal

OMG.. I still think about this meal

The evening concluded with literally the best meal I had in all of my 6 weeks in SE Asia. ¬†I couldn’t tell you what it was other than spicy papaya salad to start, then some sort of curry, then veggies and of course rice and hot sauce. YUM. My mouth waters just thinking about it. I learned how to say “delicious” in Laos (of course 3 months later, I no longer remember it), and repeated it OVER and OVER again to the chef.

Set up for the Baci Ceremony

Set up for the Baci Ceremony

For the next few weeks, any local immediately asked if I was married/or getting married. ¬†Insert marriage rant here. It took marriage question number 12 before I realized that it had to do with the numerous bracelets that I had on my wrists. ¬†They were a result of the Baci Ceremony that night in Ban Lad Khammune. The Baci ceremony is a spiritual ceremony that has been around before Buddhism. According to my wonderful reference manual of Wikipedia: “The practice is linked to the ancient belief that Baci is invoked religiously to synchronise the effects of 32 organs of human body considered as¬†kwan (KWA-ang)¬†or spirits or the ‚Äúcomponents of the soul.‚ÄĚ Its observance to establish as social and family bond to maintain ‚Äúbalance and harmony to the individual and community, is done in its original format in Laos, as a substantiation of human existence.‚ÄĚ

Baci Ceremony

Baci Ceremony

Basically the elderly woman of the village prepared this elaborately beautiful tray. ¬†A former monk opened up the ceremony, and what felt like the entire village came over and blessed/chanted over us, while tying these bracelets around our wrists. I don’t think words can accurately describe this. ¬†It was a pretty incredible experience, especially knowing how rooted in Laos culture it is. It was an honor to have the people in this particular village doing this to welcome us/wish us well.

Granted, I know it happens with every tour that comes through, but STILL.. for me, it was definitely one of my highlights of my entire trip.

The Spice Girls... no autographs please

The Spice Girls… no autographs please

The spice girls performed afterwords (lol.. it was pretty bad, but we did make them laugh with our version of “call me, maybe”) and then it was off to bed, spending the night in their homes. Overall a pretty cool experience.








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