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.

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Banaue/Batad

The best decision of my trip to the Philippines was to go to Banaue/Batad. It was seriously the highlight of my trip, and quite easily in my top 3 favorite places in the world.

Researching how to get to Banaue was daunting, but thankfully I had the help from Valerie, my cousin’s lovely partner. She set me up with an amazing guide, Alvin Gabriel, who met me at the bus station in Banaue and stayed with me the 36ish hours I was there.

Since I was only staying one night, we were very busy. When my bus rolled in at 10AM (after being 2-hours delayed after a break-down at 3AM… it’s always something when I travel!) Alvin took me to get breakfast at a cafe with a GORGEOUS view of Banaue. I drank water, ate a sandwich, and kept marveling how I actually made it to such a beautiful place.

After breakfast, Alvin took me to the trail to Batad via tricycle, with intermediary stops along the way for great photo opportunities. I kept saying “WOW,” because it seemed to be the only word I could remember. I said, “It’s so GREEN!” and Alvin told me “Wait until we get to Batad.”

Now, Banaue is beautiful, but oh my goodness, if you make the trip there I HIGHLY recommend hiking to Batad, because it is even better than Banaue. It’s very remote, I had no phone service and the homestays do not have wifi, but seriously, GO. If you don’t go, you are seriously missing out.

It was raining off and on that afternoon, so our hike was broken up between waiting under awnings and hiking the rice terraces. The weather was so beautiful, a mix of clarity and atmospheric clouds. Seriously amazing weather for photo-taking.

Another lovely thing about the rain was I was able to talk to other travelers while we waited for the weather to break. I met two Columbia University students and an older gentleman from Pennsylvania, and a couple from Melbourne. I’m normally a shy person, so meeting others and actually having fun conversations with them was a highlight to my day.

Alvin took me up to the viewing point, which over-looked the entire valley. It was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave.

After going to the top of the terraces, we went down, down, down into the village to get to the Batad Village Homestay. It was there I met Rona, the wonderful owner of the homestay, and she showed me her traditional house. The traditional house looks like a hut on stilts, and she told me how she was born in that house and she lives there to this day. She explained she didn’t like “modern houses” because the rooms are all separate and inconvenient, unlike her single room home.

She showed me some old statues, which belonged to her parents, which were of rice guardians. Rona said she didn’t believe in the old religion, that she was a Christian, and we talked about our love of God for about an hour before I went to dinner.

The power had gone out, so I ate via candlelight and read a book while Alvin and some of the other guides played guitar. I definitely sang along to “Country Road”. No shame.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and looked out my window, and once again was awestruck at how amazing my life is.

Alvin and I saddled up and hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. There were lots of stairs to go down… So many stairs… But the falls were breathtaking. People were swimming in the river but I decided nah, and drew a crummy picture instead (no, you can’t see.) I had a lot of fun relaxing in the sun, listening to the roar of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

Then we hiked all the way back up the stairs, and I cursed myself for spending the past two years of grad school sitting on my butt behind a computer screen, and promised to get myself to a gym or something because dang, that was difficult. Shout out to Alvin for being patient!

After the falls I was actually kinda sad, because that meant we were going to hike out of Batad and back to Banaue. I didn’t want to leave Batad at all; it was so beautiful and peaceful. The hike back wasn’t without it’s nice views, though, and I snapped some pics of interesting things along the way back.

I left for Manila that evening, already planning to come back in the near future.

So, Banaue/Batad? Definitely go, get Alvin as your guide, and you won’t regret it.

Happy Shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: San Pablo

Nothing says “Bye, grad school, I’m sO DONE WITH YOU,” quite like leaving the country not even a week after graduating and running away to the literal other side of the globe.

#YOLO indeed.

Before I gush about how amazing the Philippines are, we gotta talk about the Taipei airport.

So I had a 4-hour lay-over in Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Manila. The funny thing about my trip was I didn’t really feel super excited or even nervous about traveling. Honestly, I think I was emotionally drained/exhausted/dead inside because of the stress that was the end of my school career. Even on the plane I was like “meh.” However, when we were in our approach to Taipei, when I could see the ground coming up beneath us, it all hit me.

I’m traveling to SE Asia, alone, after completing my MFA in Photography.

I started crying on the plane. The young lady next to me was kind enough to ignore me and not to say anything (thank goodness.)

But then I got into the airport and was enthralled by how amazingly tacky the whole thing was. They had themed gates, and my gate was a HELLO KITTY GATE PEOPLE.

What an awesome airport.

BUT ONTO THE PHILIPPINES

My amazing and cool cousin, Steve, let me stay with him and his partner Valerie in their apartment in Bonifacio Global City, which is in Metro Manila. After I got there, we all left to go spend a weekend in the gorgeous San Pablo.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, owned and operated by the legendary Patis Tesoro. Patis was lovely and kind, and her home is FABULOUS. Patis is very into recyclable materials, so her house is made from recycled woods, second-hand tiles, etc. It’s really amazing.

If you are ever in the San Pablo area, I highly recommend making a reservation at Patis’s Garden Cafe.

Another highlight to my stay in San Pablo was visiting the Villa Escudero. Steve and Valerie took me to have lunch in the waterfall there, where we literally got to go into the water to get our food. It was super cool, and it was fun watching everyone enjoy the water.

It was a great weekend.

Happy Shooting!