Florida After 10 Years

My best friend and I have been planning to go to Walt Disney World together for the entire duration of our over-a-decade-long friendship. There have been a couple instances where it almost happened but then didn’t, leaving us both broken hearted and disappointed.

BUT AFTER TEN YEARS, WE DID IT YA’LL

One of the perks of being an adult and out of college– you can go to Disney when you want (well, after over a year of planning and saving, but you get the picture.)

Allie, my bff, is an expert on all things Disney. She will smoke your ass in trivia, knows probably every song from every movie (even obscure ones,) and has been to WDW in Florida more times than years she has been alive. It’s wild, she’s wild, and our trip was amazing for it.

We drove down from Michigan for two days, finally stopping in Celebration, FL. Celebration is a town that was designed by Disney and it is very charming with its colorful buildings and hybrid 1950s-meets-Cuba architecture.

After Celebration, we went to our rented condo and relaxed for the night, going out to Old Town to check out the shops. There was an anime shop and the guy working there was so friendly and enthusiastic, I asked him to pose for a photograph. He moved his hands at the last second, but like I said… he was enthusiastic!

Our trip was jam-packed, wild, and AMAZING. We started our marathon with a full-day at Magic Kingdom, where we of course Disneybounded. My partner, Mitchell, was the Prince Charming to my Cinderella, and Allie was Merida. We made the cutest princesses ever, and it was super fun to hear parent’s say to their kids “Look honey, those girls are dressed as Cinderella and Merida!”

In the evening we ran home, changed, and went to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, also in Magic Kingdom. Mine and Allie’s favorite holiday is Halloween, so we got all dressed up as extra af. Allie went as a mermaid (she made her entire costume herself and it was INSANE) and her boyfriend, Dom, went as a pirate. I was a rainbow and Mitchell was the sun. Some Disney Cast Members stopped Mitchell and I and gave us pins that said “Most Dynamic Duo!” because they loved our couple costume so much. Yeah, we were all super damn cute.

I ADORED the Halloween party. As an adult who doesn’t like to go to adult-parties (where there is alcohol and awkward socializing,) it’s hard for me to celebrate Halloween. It’s legit my favorite holiday, but it’s not like I can go trick-or-treating, and I live in an apartment in the city so decorating my house and passing out candy is a no-go. The Halloween party at Disney was awesome because we got to actually go trick-or-treating, there was a dance party, and the park was only half-full because you have to have a special ticket to get in after 6PM. There was also a special Halloween parade and a Halloween stage show, which featured the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus and all our fav Disney Villains. I wish I could spend every Halloween there!

Our second day in Florida was spent at Universal Studios. We went on some of the rides, got super sick because apparently we are all old and can’t handle anything anymore, and spent the majority of the day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This was my second time there, but the first time I went the park had just opened, so it was really like I was experiencing it again for the first time. The best part? Allie and I went to Ollivander’s Wand Shop, and there is a little show that they put on where Ollivander picks someone from the crowd and has a wand “choose” them. Allie and I were picked because we were dressed head-to-toe in Slytherin garb, so basically it was the coolest thing ever and Allie and I got interactive wands out of it. Best. Day. Ever.

The Disney-marathon continued with the Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT, which was AMAZING. It’s hard to say it was my favorite part because I adored Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but man, it was incredible. I love food, EPCOT is my favorite park, and I got to Disneybound as my favorite character ever, Quasimodo. The whole gang had Hunchback themed bounds that day– Allie was Esmeralda, Dom was Phoebus, and Mitchell was Clopin.

After getting rolled out of EPCOT (we were sporting food babies after all the delicious food we consumed,) we took a break from the parks and spent a day walking around Disney Springs, formerly called Downtown Disney. We all Disneybounded as droids from the Star Wars franchise for this expedition. I was BB-8, Mitchell was C3PO, Dom was R2D2, and Allie was K-2SO. It was a pretty relaxing day, after spending three full days in the parks.

We picked back up with an adventure in Animal Kingdom, where we saw the new Avatar-themed world, Pandora. The new rides, Rivers of Light and Flight of Passage were AMAZING, especially Flights. Like, goodness, I could stay on that ride forever. For that day, Mitchell and I bounded as Pongo and Perdita from 101 Dalmatians, and Allie was Dr. Facilier from Princess and the Frog and Dom was Hades from Hercules.

Our last day at WDW was spent at Hollywood Studios (or as Allie and I will always call it, MGM,) where we got sick once more on simulators, I lost an umbrella (and FOUND IT BECAUSE DISNEY CAST MEMBERS ARE AMAZING,) and we saw the incredible show, Fantasmic. Mitchell and I also met Kylo Ren, which was an experience. You can tell that we were terrified to be in his awesome Vader-fanboy presence. (Side note: I constantly refer to Kylo Ren as my space-trash-husband, so this was a big deal.) For MGM, Allie bounded as Loki, Dom as Thor, and Mitchell and I went as Dipper and Mabel from Gravity Falls (my favorite show EVER.)

Disney was seriously a blast. Shout out to Allie for making sure we had a lot of photos together in our Disneybounds, and for putting the adorable borders on the photos!

Speaking of adorable borders… I brought my Fuji Instax Mini with me, and loaded it with Disney Tsum Tsum themed film. I adore these pictures so much, as they add just a little more magic to our already magical trip! You can find this same film (and other films with Disney-themed borders!) on Amazon or eBay. If you order from eBay, it’ll take a while to get to you, so keep that in mind when you order!

So, enough with the typical vacation photos. If you made it this far and you’re wondering where the photography is, you’ll be pleased to know it’s just a few more lines of text away!

The photographs I made in the Disney Parks and in Universal Studios were more formal studies and examinations of light, rather than normal tourist pictures. I can’t help that Disney and Universal make things so picturesque– it’s almost as if they want people to take pictures. Who knew?

It was a little bit of a challenge, though. I wanted to make really cool pictures of a few of the most popular places in the United States– hell, the world, even. I think I managed to get a couple shots in that aren’t so standard, but I’m content with the photographs that are a little more par-for-the-course, because hey, the light was really pretty and I dig it.

We ended our amazing trip with a visit to Daytona Beach, where I lounged like a beach bum, Mitchell built a sand castle, Allie sat in the sand and Dom let himself get knocked about by waves. I love the ocean, I think it is beautiful, but I am not keen on large, open bodies of water where all sorts of critters live and I freak out when seaweed so much as brushes my leg so I sat on the beach and enjoyed the sounds and sights.

Annnnddddd that’s my trip to Florida, told through my rambles, vacation photos, and photography. Again, shout out to my BFF for the best photos of our cute ass crew. I’ve been really spoiled these past few months with all the travel– and next month I’m off to Vermont, so keep an eye out for a post on that!

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Holiday in Cambodia

My short-stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a dream come true.

To start, my main purpose of going there was to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a place I’ve been longing to visit since I was in high school, reading about the sprawling temple complexes, imagining what it must have looked like when it was first constructed in the 12th century.

After a decade since I first learned about it, I finally made it to Cambodia to explore.

A fun little aside– I wasn’t alone on this adventure. My dear friend, Muhammad, joined me, from Singapore. Well, actually, he’s originally from Singapore, but is studying linguistics in Wales, but was back in Singapore to renew his student visa, so he hopped over to Siem Reap to see me and explore.

Oh, and we hadn’t met in person before this– I’ve known Muhammad for roughly 10 years via the Internet, and we became good friends about 2 years ago. You know me, nothing like making epic trips with people I only know from online to test friendships.

I really enjoyed taking photos of him when he wasn’t aware of it– his jungle-explorer get-up was especially fitting for our temple adventures.

It was seriously one of the best things I have ever done. I think I’ve mentioned a bunch of times in previous drabbles that I wanted to be an archaeologist, but ended up as a photographer (which is also an amazing profession, if I do say so!) Learning about all of the temples in the complex and climbing over rocks and cooing over the little monkeys was about as close as I could get to being an archaeologist, but hey, I’ll take it.

After we visited the main temple complex, we then scooted over to Ta Phrom to see the famous trees overtaking the temple structure. Some of you may recognize it from Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider (the older one with Jolie, not the newest one,) and the fun fact about that photo is we had to wait in line to take it.

Ah, tourism.

From Ta Phrom we dragged ourselves because I was low on caffeine skipped on over to the Angkor Thom complex, to see Bayon Temple. Bayon is famous for it’s carved stone faces, which, if you’re a 90s-kid-in-America like me, you’d recognize the Legends of the Hidden Temple vibes coming from here.

I really enjoyed this temple, almost as much as Angkor Wat herself, because we were able to walk around in the ruins. It felt like an ancient maze, and if I get the opportunity to skip around and pretend like I’m an explorer with my little point-and-shoot camera, well, I’m a happy tourist.

We also got iced coffee from a stand nearby, but the vote is out on whether or not that had anything to do with my excitement.

We ended our adventures at the temple complexes by climbing up to Pre Rup, which was situated at the top of a tall hill. Our guide basically pushed us to go watch the sunset from there, but after walking up the hill and waiting about 45 minutes in line to get to the top, Muhammad and I saw all of the people, realized the sun was setting behind the jungle, and decided to leave and go get dinner instead.

The view was still nice though, so I recommend checking it out, but maybe not for sunset because everyone and their mother will be there.

The city of Siem Reap was a different treat. Muhammad and I ended up walking around all over to find the mosque one evening, and then another evening we walked to go get dinner because it was only 3 kilometers away and why not right?

We totally hailed a ride back.

But during our stay, we walked along the river, stumbled into a fruits and vegetable market, found shopping stalls and out-of-place stores. Just a few of my favorite things.

Admittedly, I was easily exhausted in Cambodia. It was probably a combination of the heat and the fact I’d been adventuring for 1.5 months ahead of this, but Muhammad and I spend about half the time we were in Siem Reap napping and watching movies. It was fun. 10/10, highly recommend having a low-energy friend.

If you’re planning on going to Siem Reap (which you should totally do,) make sure you have your shots and your malaria pills, to stay safe and healthy. I recommend getting them before you leave the country– I made the mistake of not doing that and couldn’t get any in Bangkok, so I walked around covered in insect repellent wearing long sleeves and high socks in 100 degree heat. 0/10 do not recommend do not be a dumb ass like me.

As always, Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Down South

The southern tip of Thailand is a beautiful place.

Our adventures began in Phuket, at Parong Beach. We stayed at a small hotel-like place, and I say like-place because it was only 3 rooms, and you had to walk through a Subway to get to it. And I mean Subway as in the sandwich shop, not trains, though that would be a different kind of strange.

Aside: someone actually left a bad review for this hotel BECAUSE you had to walk through a Subway. Like, person, seriously? That just adds stars to my review, because easy access to sandwiches is ALWAYS worth extra stars in my book.

We were right across the street from the beach, which was GORGEOUS. There were definitely a lot of people, so if that’s not your thing, uhm, don’t go to Phuket?

What made it so incredible to me was how my cousin and I sat on our towels for a couple hours, listening to music, reading, and drawing. I watched tourists para-sail while a storm slowly rolled in from the distance. Not to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever, but I’m totally going to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever: it was sublime.

After we got rained-out, we went for drinks and went to bed. That’s about it– that’s what you do in Phuket. You go to the beach, maybe para-sail, and you drink. There are elephant shows and shopping, but elephants aren’t meant for shows (so don’t go see them, and if you do after my telling you this, you suck,) and the shopping is the usual cheap touristy stuff (but I DID get an amazing little elephant made out of seashells, so if you’re into tacky, I recommend one of those!)

In a weird way, Parong Beach is delightful because it just feels like a giant tourist trap. If you’re entertained by that like I am, then you’ll probably like Parong. If it infuriates you, go somewhere else– and I don’t mean that in a mean way, I just genuinely want you to enjoy your vacation.

If you’ve ever been to Orlando, Florida, you’ll know about the strange tourist stores on the side of the road that have a bunch of knock-off Disney products. That’s what Parong Beach feels like. It’s this strange space that feels like Vegas but isn’t Vegas at all but has that grime-feel that Vegas has but it’s in Thailand.

Okay, I’m probably being a little unfair– you do other things in Phuket besides lounge on the beach and drink. You can also go snorkeling for an afternoon, which we definitely took advantage of. I’ve never been snorkeling, but I had dreams as a kid of being a marine biologist/scuba diver/lover of fishies, so I was totally into this and loved every second.

I brought my Polaroid Cube with me with the water-proof casing, which was actually terrifying because the thing is so tiny I was afraid I was going to drop it and lose it to the sea urchins, but hey, nothing happened, and I got a couple nice shots.

Oh, and the sunsets at Parong Beach? Hella.

From our short-stay at Parong Beach, we took the ferry to Ko Phi Phi. One of the many mistakes people make is refer to this place as “Ko Phi Phi Island” but “Ko” actually means “island” in Thai, so you’re really saying “Island Phi Phi Island.” THE MORE YOU KNOW!

Ko Phi Phi is one of those places that you see pictures of all over the internet. It’s the place that most people associate with Thailand, other than the temples, because of its gorgeous beaches, clear water, and lovely little boats.

Because the island is rather small, we did a LOT of walking around and exploring. Honestly, I think after lounging around at Parong Beach, we just wanted to feel adventurous again. Apparently, Ko Phi Phi has a gorgeous view point, where you can see the entire island. Also, apparently, my cousin and I are idiots because we just kinda looked at a map and started walking in the general direction of said view point, and wound-up taking the long way round.

In hindsight it wasn’t so bad, because I got some great shots from that walk.

We were SO tired and SO thirsty though, but thankfully at the viewpoint there was a little shop that sold water and ice cream. I unashamedly LOVE ice cream, so I totally got one and enjoyed the hell out of it while also taking in the gorgeous view.

Something about Ko Phi Phi a lot of people talk about is the monkey population. There were monkeys ALL over the view point, hanging out and stealing people’s water bottles. One monkey legit chased me for my ice cream. The little jerk screamed at me in monkey-speak for it, but like I mentioned, I love ice cream and I wasn’t playin’.

Also that monkey looked like a mean af thug.

Mean af thug monkey, pissed I wouldn’t give up my precious ice cream.

We were only at Ko Phi Phi for a little over 24 hours, but it was amazing. I loved walking around the island, checking out the stalls and the food and taking in the atmosphere. I’m really glad we weren’t there for the full-moon party, as that’s not my scene, and it seemed that we were on the quiet side of the island. Great for an old lady of 24 like me.

We got to spend some time on the beach, of course, where I got to do some watercolor painting (I’m garbage at it but it’s fun,) and I got a spectacular sun burn.

Oh, and have I mentioned the colors there are spectacular?

So, Southern Thailand is a gorgeous place, as evidenced in the pictures. Parong Beach has a tourist-trap kind of charm (yes, it is a kind of charm,) that also feels spring-break-like, which is a valid type of vacation, and if you want to go party in Phuket, please, at the very least, pick up your trash. Ko Phi Phi is a little more chill, depending on what side of the island you are on, and I loved it so much I rather miss it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Adventures in Thailand: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Manila

When I told people I was traveling to the Philippines, the biggest piece of advice was this: Get out of Manila.

The advice was well intended, as the Philippines is a GORGEOUS country, and it would have been a waste if I spent all two-weeks in the sweltering heat and traffic of Manila. However, Manila wasn’t that bad.

Granted, I was staying in Metro Manila in a nice apartment in BGC, so do what you will with that information. I still had a lovely time though with my cousin and his partner, Valerie. After I went to San Pablo and Banaue/Batad, I shadowed my cousin at his job as a teacher at the International School Manila, which definitely fed my longing to be a teacher, and we also went on a guided tour of Intramuros, Manila’s old walled city.

If you are ever in Manila, I highly recommend going on the Walk This Way tour, led by Carlos Celdran. It’s performance-art-meets-guided-tour, and Carlos was not only a riot, but the tour was super educational, emotional, and just amazing over-all.

I also walked myself over to Market! Market! and took some photos in that crazy shopping center.

Another thing my cousin and lovely Valerie took me to was the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, which is just outside of Metro Manila. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, as art museums make me so inspired and awestruck and this museum was just filled with excellent contemporary Filipino art that made my heart ache and my hands itch to create.

My trip to the Philippines was amazing, even Manila. However, I am not completely naive: I know I was in a nicer part of the city, and that I saw the bits that tourists were meant to see. I did, however, drive by the not-so-touristy-and-heart-breakingly-impoverished parts, and I forced myself to be conscious. There were beautiful colors, people, and juxtapositions, but I always asked myself “Do I think this is beautiful because it is exotic to me? Am I beautifying poverty in my mind, because I have no idea what the realities of it are?” It was difficult at times because I would see the beauty in these places but have to remind myself that what I was seeing was just the surface. Manila is a complex, beautiful, and heart-breaking place, and I actually look forward to returning to get to know it better.

Shout-out to Steve and Val for being the world’s best host and hostess– love you guys and give the kitties pets for me!

To my readers: seriously– go visit the Philippines already.

Happy shooting and safe travels!

Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.