Viva la France! Road-trip Foolishness Pt. 5: Marseilles

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to France, do yourself a favor and go to Marseilles.

My road-trip crew and I rolled into Marseilles mid-afternoon in the month of August. It was warm. It was hilly. It was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited.

We stayed at an AirBnB that was near the top of the tallest hill in Marseilles, directly below the Notre Dame de la Garde. Our hosts were very accommodating and great at communicating, and the apartment we stayed in had a view of the port. Waking up every morning to an incredible view-over-coffee definitely set the tone for our stay.

After we checked-in, we walked down the hill to the port to find some dinner. My friend Sean and I were having a blast taking pictures of the sunset over the area, and we vowed to wake up bright and early to get more photographs.

We’re the kind of people who, when on a short vacation, will get up and do as much as possible, so sure enough we woke up at 5AM, drank some coffee and wandered around Marseilles. Sean and I found a playground covered in street art, experienced the fish-market at the port, and explored some back streets. The fish-market was super cool, even if some men paid me some unwelcome compliments in French (eye-roll).

We explored, drank coffee on the docks, and took pictures for a good 5 hours before returning to our companions sleeping-in at our AirBnB, croissants in tow. It was around noon when we left the apartment one more, and headed straight up the stairs near our place to visit the Notre Dame de la Garde. The neat-o thing about this church is how it has a maritime theme, with ships dangling from the ceiling and paintings of vessels on the walls. Marseilles is a port city, so it only makes sense, and it made for some really neat photographs.

 

After the church, we explored the hill top and got lost. We ate apples at a park and wandered some neighborhoods, and finally made our way back down to the port, where a market was happening.

We all bought some souvenirs and continued on our way around the port, before walking in the general direction of the Cathedrale la Major. We totally got lost (again) but we were glad we did, because we found some excellent street art and even stumbled upon some artists putting up some art.

When we got to the cathedral I was exhausted, so I admittedly didn’t take like any pictures and I sat on a bench and took a nap. I’m super lame, but hey, when it is nap time, it is nap time.

We ended our evening at the beach, which was closed and dark, but we still managed to catch the sunset. We walked all the way back up the hill to our apartment, where once again we got lost, but at least this time we stopped and got some ice cream to keep us cool. We might have also picked up some beer to drink as we enjoyed the view from our apartment one last night.

So, if you find yourself in France, spend some time in Marseilles and get lost. You won’t regret it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Vincent van Gogh’s Ear Goes on Vacation

My hobby of making fun narratives while globe trotting has continued! For my two-week road trip through France, I decided to make a reference to the famous and widely-adored painter, Vincent van Gogh.

Van Gogh, though Dutch by birth, spent a lot of time in France. A strange yet well-known fact about him was that during one of his depressive episodes, he cut off his own ear.

And, because I think I’m hilarious, I decided to take his detached ear, name it Vinny, and took it around France for a much-needed vacation.

Naturally, the ear needed a straw hat, like the real Vincent, and a painting palette and brush because inspiration can hit anywhere.

I am a very goofy person. The biggest challenge was finding the small paint palette and straw hat, and I refused to do without. I eventually found both at the craft store, and the glasses were something I just came across and decided “YES PERFECT” without much thought.

I required the straw hat for a reason, and that reason was this self-portrait of my muse:

Image result for vincent vangogh hat

Traveling with a cardboard-ear-on-a-stick certainly got me some strange looks, but honestly this travel narrative is one of my favorites so far. You can find some of my others below:

The Girl From Bath (Bath, England)

Colors of London

Before the Cliff’s Edge (Cliffs of Dover)

Fell into a Faerie Portal (Ireland)

Memento Mori (Western USA)

Thanks for reading, and 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: Chiang Mai

If you ever go to Thailand and you want to see temples, go to Chiang Mai.

This city in northern Thailand is just an hour plane-ride from Bangkok, and is home to over 43 temples. They also have HUGE night-time weekend markets, which are full of life and fun.

My cousin and I spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, though one of those days was spent playing with elephants. The first day we were there, we checked in to our hostel and immediately got lost searching for temples to explore. Like, seriously lost, so lost that we just kinda gave up and walked in any old direction– and we found lots of cool temples in the process!

On one of our temple-exploring adventures, we got caught in a torrential downpour. A young monk invited us inside and we watched television with him– Kawpkoon-ka!

The temple we were aiming for was Wat Chedi Luang, which is a giant complex with the old temple in the center, which is ruins. It was really beautiful, and while we were there we heard chanting coming from inside one of the newer complexes– there was a ceremony happening, and we were able to sit and watch for a bit. I wish I knew more about Buddhism to tell you what it was we were watching, but I can describe it to the best of my ability and maybe some of my Buddhist followers can teach me a thing or five:

There were about five monks, all sitting and holding onto a white string, which was quite long. There was a statue, a Buddha, that someone had brought in perhaps to be blessed? After the ceremony they loaded it onto the back of a truck and sprinkled water on it, so maybe.

It was super dope to see.

Chiang Mai isn’t a huge city like Bangkok, and it is surrounded by super old walls on all 4 sides. It’s such an awesome, historical place, and my cousin and I got lost numerous times–and every time we did, we found something amazing. One evening, when we got so lost we hailed a tuk tuk to take us back to our hostel (gosh, we’re terrible,) we saw a festival going on and asked the driver to please drop us off there instead. It was a cultural festival, representing different dances, music, and performances from the different northern provinces of Thailand. Best accidental discovery ever!

There were also a LOT of pigeons hanging out by the stage.

I mentioned earlier that Chiang Mai had some delightful night markets– we went to the Saturday Night Market, and spent hours getting lost wandering around, looking at the wares. There was a combination of typical tourist trinkets, food, and some original handmade gifts. One of my favorite stalls was selling very unique and very gaudy sunglasses– think lots of rhinestones, flowers, cat ears, etc!

There was a lot to do in Chiang Mai, and I could probably write a book all about it, but I’ll leave you with this: GO TO CHIANG MAI YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT I PROMISE. Even if you don’t have a plan, go, because I can 1000% assure you that you will find something absolutely incredible.

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!

 

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.