If you haven’t yet, check out my guest post on Lesley’s blog By the Porchlight for all the reasons you should visit Southeast Asia! Now that I’ve convinced you to travel to the region, where exactly should you go? Here are a few of my favorite places:
• The River Kwai Jungle Rafts in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. This floating hotel is only accessible by boat and has no electricity! But it was amazing. You can jump off the front deck and float down the river or watch elephants bathe from the hammock on your balcony.
• The Puerto Princesa Underground River on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Named one of the new wonders of nature in 2012, you can take a boat ride on the river into an enormous cave. On land, you’ll see giant monitor lizards and monkeys hanging out together and the most gorgeous green water you could imagine.
• Street food stands in Hanoi, Vietnam. I don’t even care for Vietnamese food, but the pho I ate at one of the many tiny tables set up along the sidewalks of this charming city was so delicious. Chances are there won’t be any English spoken here but a little pantomime can go a long way. After dinner grab a beer at a roadside bia hơi joint.
• Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos. Best swimming holes in the world! But please be respectful of the local culture and wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit. There are tons of signs posted yet I saw so many foreigners in bikinis. Also be sure to visit the Bear Rescue Center at the entrance to the park!
• Beng Mealea near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat gets all the hype but I preferred this remote temple that can be reached by tuk-tuk in two hours. Prepare for a dusty, bumpy ride… But it’s worth it! Beng Mealea has been consumed by the jungle and left to ruin, which to me only adds to its beauty. You can climb up and over fallen rocks and rubble. Since there are many trees, it is also much shadier than other temples.
• Phang Nga Bay Sea Kayaking near Phuket, Thailand. Definitely do the Hong by Starlight tour with John Gray’s Sea Canoe. Expensive but so worth it! Amazing guides, great food, beautiful scenery, monkeys, swimming… I also loved making krathongs out of banana leaves and flowers and making a wish as we watched them float away in the candlelit lagoon. Magical!
• Nipah Guesthouse in Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia. This is the best hotel I have ever stayed at because of its owners. Nicest, friendliest people you will ever meet! Alicia and Anuar really went above and beyond to make our stay exceptional. This is a great place to visit if you want to relax for a few days… Read in a hammock, take a leisurely stroll to the beach, munch on banana fritters, and feed the hornbills. Walking to Coral Island during low tide is fun too!
• Buddha Park near Vientiane, Laos. There isn’t much else to do near this city so if you’re in the area, definitely check out this sculpture park! So many bizarre Hindu and Buddhist statues. There’s also a giant pumpkin with three levels (hell, earth, and heaven) that you can go inside. From the top there’s a great view of the entire park.
• Bali, Indonesia. This island is my favorite place in the world (so far). I love the offerings that are EVERYWHERE. Balinese people are very spiritual. They believe that Bali is populated with gods, ancestors, spirits, and demons and the offerings are meant to show respect and gratitude. I saw many items presented in the offerings, such as fruit, candy, cigarettes, money, crackers, and incense.
1: Would you swear in front of your parents?
My mom yes, dad no.
2: Which continents have you been on?
North America, Europe, and Asia.
3: Do you get motion sickness? Any horror stories?
Not usually but I did get seasick on a boat from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. I didn’t puke but I came close. It was awful!
4: Why did you name your blog whatever you named your blog?
If was after this song, which I listened to when I was homesick while living in Korea.
5: Would you wear a rainbow jacket? A neon yellow sweater? Checkered pants?
I’d probably wear the yellow sweater.
6: What was your favorite cartoon growing up? Post a picture if you can.
7: In a past life I must have been a…
Cat. I like to sleep, eat, and be grumpy.
8: If you had to look at one city skyline for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Out of all the cities I’ve been to, I think I liked Hong Kong the best. It would be a cool place to live.
9: Longest plane ride you’ve ever been on?
14 hours from Washington DC to Seoul.
10: The longest you’ve ever slept?
I dunno… All day when I’m hungover.
11: Would you buy a sweater covered in kitten pictures? Would you wear it if someone gave it you for free?
I might buy it at a thrift store and wear it just because it’s funny and tacky.
12: Do you pluck your eyebrows?
13: Favorite kind of bean? Kidney? Black? Pinto?
14: How far can you throw a baseball?
Not far at all…
15: If you had to move to another country, where would you move?
Indonesia, Bali specifically. Most amazing place I’ve ever visited, and cheap!
16: Have you ever eaten Ethiopian food? Vietnamese? Korean? Nepalese? How was it?
Not Ethiopian but I have had the other three. Nepalese is similar to Indian, so it’s delicious! Vietnamese is OK (although the pho they sell on the streets of Hanoi is amazing) and Korean is my least favorite (except for bulgogi).
What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
I rode a camel.
Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t remember if I even made any resolutions last year… So far I have vowed to visit Greece, finish my master’s degree, get a job as a librarian, visit every brewery in WNC, and attend a book signing in 2013.
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my friend Jinhee (just a few days after I left Korea!) and my stepsister Ruth.
Did anyone close to you die?
What countries did you visit?
I lived in Korea and visited the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Russia, Poland, Grand Cayman, and Mexico.
What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A job as a librarian.
What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory?
July 17, the day my boyfriend and I broke up.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Traveling on the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Beijing to St. Petersburg.
What was your biggest failure?
Gaining weight instead of losing it.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
The worst was a very painful jellyfish sting in Vietnam!
What was the best thing you bought?
Well I didn’t buy it, but I received this awesome waterproof, dustproof, coldproof, shockproof, and crushproof camera!
Where did most of your money go?
What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Moving home to NC after two years in Korea.
What song will always remind you of 2012?
Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? The same
Thinner or fatter? Fatter
Richer or poorer? Poorer
What do you wish you’d done more of?
Appreciating Korea while I lived there.
What do you wish you’d done less of?
How did you spend Christmas?
At home with my family, eating dinner and opening presents! I didn’t take any good group pics unfortunately, but here are all the “grandkids” (my nephew Carter and nieces Olivia and Klay).
Did you fall in love in 2012?
Who were your best friends?
Ohee in Korea and Cindy in NC.
What thing did you do that was meaningful to others?
Donated to several charities.
What was your favorite TV program?
The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Homeland, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Justified, Girls, Cougar Town…
Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hmmmmmm I don’t think so.
What was the best book you read?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
What was your greatest musical discovery?
I’m not that into music.
What did you want and get?
Custom painted TOMS, a Kate Spade wallet, kittens…
What did you want and not get?
A job as a children’s librarian.
What was your favorite film of this year?
Magic Mike? LOL. Also Argo, The Hunger Games, Moonrise Kingdom, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Pitch Perfect.
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 30… I made pottery, went swimming, went out to dinner, and had cake and drinks at my house!
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
My year was pretty awesome but getting the job I wanted (children’s librarian) would have made it awesomer.
What kept you sane?
Reading, blogging, my friends and family.
Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I developed a huge crush on Tom Hardy. And Rebel Wilson became by role model. 🙂
What political issue stirred you the most?
I tried to avoid politics as usual.
Who did you miss?
Everyone in NC when I was in Korea and everyone in Korea now that I’m home!
Who was the best new person you met this year?
My nieces Olivia and Klay. 🙂
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012:
It’s OK to move on and start over.
Quote that sums up your year:
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
I went to the Hello Kitty Cafe.
I went to the Jindo Sea Parting Festival.
I went to the Lady Gaga concert in Seoul.
I visited Gyeongju.
I went to Changdeokgung Palace.
I had an awesome time with friends camping on Muui Island.
I watched the Lotus Lantern Parade in Seoul.
I said goodbye to all the amazing friends I had made during my two years living in Korea. 😦
Continued/finished the five week epic Asian backpacking trip which included the Trans-Mongolian Railway! I visited…
St. Petersburg, Russia
1. What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you on your birthday?
I’ve always had awesome birthdays… Thanks to everyone who ever threw me a party, bought me a gift, or just hung out with me on my special day!
2. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you while you were on a ‘date’?
What comes to mind is Daniel falling backwards off his tiny stool when we were eating at a curbside “restaurant” in Vietnam.
3. What is your favorite backhanded compliment?
I don’t have a favorite… They’re rude!!
4. Have you ever had someone guest blog for you? If so, how was the experience?
Bonus question for blog hoppers to answer:
5. Who is your favorite author?
On our first day in Hanoi, Daniel and I took a city tour ($20 per person). First we visited Trấn Quốc Pagoda, a Buddhist temple located on West Lake that means “Stabilizing the Nation”. It is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and was built in the sixth century.
Next we went to the Ho Chi Minh complex. We were so disappointed that the mausoleum was closed (as it is every Monday and Friday). Make sure you check the opening hours before you plan your trip! We did see the changing of the guards, the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house, and One Pillar Pagoda.
Then we stopped at a small shopping center that sold mostly embroidered pictures. You could see the people making them and that made me really want one, since it looked so time-consuming! So I got one (US $15).
We went to the Temple of Literature next. It is a Confucian temple that was Vietnam’s first national university, built in 1070.
Finally, lunch time! We had various Vietnamese dishes, including chicken curry, tofu, and spring rolls.
Our last stop was the Bat Trang Ceramic Village, where we got to watch people making and painting pottery. Once again, I couldn’t resist a hand-crafted souvenir (US $6).
That evening, Daniel and I wandered the streets of the Old Quarter. We had dinner at a pho bo (beef noodle soup) stand. It was surprising delicious (and cheap at around US $2, although I’m sure we were overcharged as foreigners)! We ended the night with fresh beers at a roadside bia hơi (fresh beer) joint (US $0.50).
After we got back from our Halong Bay trip, I was ready for some non-Asian food. We had chicken “Caesar” salads and pasta at a nearby hotel restaurant (can’t remember the exact prices, around US $3 for the salad and US $5 for the pasta).
That evening, Daniel went out with our friend Jason from Korea and a guy we had met on the cruise, Jimmy. I stayed in as my jellyfish sting was still bothering me. They ended up having an insane night (Daniel got his phone stolen and showed up at the hostel at 3:30am; Jason woke up the next morning on a bench!). So, on our last day in Hanoi we didn’t do much of anything. That night we met up with Jason at Highway 4 to try some interesting food. Or in my case, watch them! I had black pepper beef (US $5) but I shared some cured buffalo meat (US $5) with Daniel and tried one of his spicy satay-grilled frog legs (US $6). Tasted like chicken! Then Daniel and Jason split crickets roasted with lemon leaves (US $3). Ewwwwwwwwwww…
Overall, I really loved Hanoi. The Old Quarter seemed like a small town, just with lots of motorcycle traffic! I found crossing the street to be quite safe though. When we first got there, a man took my arm and helped me cross after Daniel left me and ran to the other side. Then he called Daniel a “very bad man”. LOL. But after a day I was much more brave! The city has a lot of character and charm. I highly recommend a visit!
(As you might have guessed, US dollars are widely accepted in Hanoi. $1 = 20,000 dong.)