If There Was An Award for Being Awesome, These People Would Get It, and Why They Made My RTW Trip and 24th Year of Life Unforgettable! Except the Parts I Can’t Remember. *Cough* Canadians & Swedes *Cough*

So, who knew. Apparently retroactively blogging about all the countries I went to while starting my first semester of law school is more difficult than blogging about all the countries I went to while I was actually in them. I really must admit, I sort of saw that coming. It was really my ambition though to create an informational sort of resource with my brash commentary mixed in (or maybe the other way around) for people who were looking for travel ideas/advice/tales and the like while creating sort of an online travel journal for myself … and I do want to finish that because I have a bunch of stuff written for different countries, it’s just a matter of getting it on the site. Point of the rambling: I am going to fast-forward to the present and pretend that I have indeed written about the remaining 8 countries I have yet to post about becauseeeee it is was (ha! andddd 3 weeks later 8 weeks later) my 25th birthday on January 29th and I want to commemorate the BEST year of my life thus far.

Seriously. My 24th year of life kicked ass. Let me run it down for you: I spent my 24th birthday in San Francisco with Jeremiah, my super-sexy boo, and then the next day I left for my 3-month solo round-the-world trip. I had spent the 10 months leading up to January 29th, 2012 working, studying for the LSAT, taking the LSAT, working on my law school applications, and sending in my applications, and when January rolled around all I had left to do was wait to hear back from schools … and travel the world. And what better way to take your mind off the agonizing waiting game than to be in a different country every couple of days or weeks? I couldn’t think of any.

So off I went, to New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany (the motherland!), and the U.K. And then back to the U.S., obviously, on May 1. Traveling alone was the most amazing experience and it was so amazing because of all the people that made my trip what it was … people that I probably wouldn’t have met if I had a travel companion. I made so many new friends and had so many unforgettable experiences—they were the best part of my entire trip. I gained so many new perspectives, new levels of understanding, and learned so much more than I ever thought possible about myself and the world. To all my worldly friends, whether you were in my life for a couple of hours or a couple of days, you have no idea the profound impact you have made. You could have been a new perspective, a friend when I needed one, someone to push my limits, or a reflection of myself I wouldn’t have seen without you there. Thank you for opening up to me, for including me in your life even for a fragment of a second, for giving me experiences I couldn’t have had any other way than through random acts of strangeness with random strangers, for giving me memories that I will look back on for my lifetime, for making going around the world worth the ride. Travel is a journey, not a destination, and my journey was of the once-in-a-lifetime variety. Here’s to you:

Manel, my first international (New Zealand soccer(futbol)-player) friend and Spanish companion through half an evening with 2 other people who spoke absolutely no English in Auckland … this could explain why the night ended with shots and my toothbrush making a debut at the bar;Manel & I

Manel & I

Chewy, Eirian, and Hanna, my awesome English bunkmates in Sydney who taught me what Makkas was and fine-tuned my English ear (that shit flies right past you if you’re not paying attention, butttt sometimes, I still had no clue what they were saying);

Eirian, Hanna, and I

Eirian, Hanna, and I

Chewy and I domination the robot.

Chewy and I dominating the robot.

Gemma, my Scottish adventure partner on Wally the Wonderbus in Cairns, Australia (who, by the way, used to work with one of my Scottish friends that I met in Munich when they were back in Scotland—how crazy is that?!)

Gemma & I. (Not sure what's going on with my face ... mad squinting maybe)

Gemma & I. (Not sure what’s going on with my face … mad squinting maybe)

Colleen and Byron, my Krabi bucket buddies;

Colleen & I

Colleen & I

Suzi, Stuart, James, Pierre, Marcus, and Eric–The Canadian and Swedish loves of my life, Koh Phi Phi had no chance of survival once we showed up … oh shit, and Fiona!;

Stuart, me, Suzi, James, Fiona, Marcus, Eric, & Pierre

Stuart, me, Suzi, James, Fiona, Marcus, Eric, & Pierre

Suzi & I before our night of security recon and attempted night boating.

Suzi & I before our night of security recon and attempted night boating.

Julia, my German friend I made in Koh Samui who ate a lot of crepes with me!;

Feng, Emma, Rina, and Sebastiaan, we conquered Angkor Wat and an Angkor What?! bucket so I could get an awesome t-shirt;

Rina, Sebastiaan, Emma, Feng, & Me

Rina, Sebastiaan, Emma, Feng, & Me

Feng & I

Feng & I

Or, my very sweet Israeli friend that lent a shoulder while I had a mini-meltdown outside the Vietnam War museum in HCMC;

Jo, an amazing kiwi on a mission to remember her father (NOT in Bangkok, which is where we were) who gave me some of the best advice about life that couldn’t have come at a better time;

Hal, my American bunk-mate in an otherwise-abandoned 12-bed dorm in Athens who was traveling before he joined the armed forces to be something really intense but I can’t remember what exactly it was … ;

Sheraine, my friendly Greek travel guide who advised me on some awesome spots to visit before I made my way back to Athens;

Hayner and T.J., a couple of Tulane dudes I met in the airport in Budapest and we explored the city together;

They really liked Ronald Reagan ...

They really liked Ronald Reagan …

Adrian, one of the coolest people to work at a hostel ever, who made Krakow one of my favorite stops, and Josh and Tani, my Australian friends in Krakow who explored Auschwitz with me;

Johanna, my American friend I made in Paris when I directed her group to the screw top wine in a supermarket (I love you because you thought I was Parisian!!) and we explored Paris together;

Johanna & I

Johanna & I

Luis, my friend from Seville I met on the train in Greece, ran into again on the same train 10-days later (crazy! and we had an argument about the number of continents … Europeans had a different geography class than us, that’s for sure!), and then was my local host when I showed up in Seville;

Beth, Ben, and Michael, some awesome Americanos I met in Seville and then rendezvoused with in Madrid and we explored the Spanish nightlife;

Beth & I

Beth & I

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Leon, my awesome English hostel host in Madrid that gave me the best advice on where to go when I got to London;

Shara, a SoCal chick I befriended in Barcelona—we were best friends and a blonde tourist attraction for a day!;

Callum, Micheal, Jenny, my awesome (aforementioned) Scottish roommates in Munich—I don’t think I have ever had such insightful conversations on topics such as: Wouldn’t this park we’re in right now be the best place ever to be a duck; there are literally no natural predators … I am so glad that I got to learn what a kite was and the Scottish version of Makkas: Maulks;

Me, Michael, Jenny, & Callum

Me, Michael, Jenny, & Callum

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Along with the amazing people and the pure awesomeness of being in all those different places, I managed to do a lot of things I REALLY wanted to do and crossed a bunch of stuff off my bucket list like: bungy jump;

Bungy!!

Bungy!!

scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef;

Are you for scuba?!

Are you for scuba?!

go black water rafting;

Black water rafting in the glowworm caves!

Black water rafting in the glowworm caves!

see Angkor Wat;

Angkor Wat at sunrise! :)

Angkor Wat at sunrise! :)

see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque;

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

see the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, Ancient Delphi, and Meteora;

The Acropolis!

The Acropolis!

The Temple of Zeus!

The Temple of Zeus!

Ancient Delphi!

Ancient Delphi!

Meteora! Absolutely breathtaking!

Meteora! Absolutely breathtaking!

Meteora

Meteora

go to Auschwitz;

Auschwitz.

Auschwitz.

go to Germany;

Munich

Munich

My litre o'beer at Hofbrauhaus :)

My litre o’beer at Hofbrauhaus :)

go to the Eiffel Tower;

Eiffel Tower!

Eiffel Tower!

From atop the Eiffel at sunset :)

From atop the Eiffel at sunset :)

see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower Bridge in London;

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

Buckingham Palace!

Buckingham Palace!

Tower Bridge!

Tower Bridge!

and Stonehenge;

Stonehenge!

Stonehenge!

anddddd the Making of Harry Potter in the London WB Studios.

The Great Hall!

The Great Hall!

Diagon Alley!

Diagon Alley!

Dolores Umbridge's office! The lighting was funky .. haha

Dolores Umbridge’s office! The lighting was funky .. haha

Number 4 Privet Drive!

Number 4 Privet Drive!

Then, once I got back to SF on May 1 and saw my love bug and knew that I was attending Santa Clara University School of Law I made plans to pack up and move back to my beloved city in July. But before that I roadtripped to Denver to party with KV for his birthday, was a bridesmaid in my cousin Mandi’s wedding,

Mandi's wedding!

Mandi’s wedding!

and road-tripped across the US with my besty, stopping to see the Grand Canyon on the way to SF (another thing off the list!).

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Then I moved in to my new apartment (living alone for the first time) in July and started law school in August.

Since then I have been enjoying the satisfaction of doing something really challenging and mentally stimulating … and I love that it kicks my ass sometimes, because it makes doing well that much more rewarding. Law school has succeeded in swallowing up most of my social life but I went to JJ-BayBay’s family’s Thanksgiving in SoCal and went to the Notre Dame/USC football game,

Jere & I

Jere & I

ND/USC

ND/USC

over Christmas break I got to go home and see my awesome fam and besty,

My fam working on my brother's new house.

My fam working on my brother’s new house.

My brothers and I :)

My brothers and I :)

My BFFITWWW.

My BFFITWWW.

and I went to Dallas for NYE to see my babybootyshake lovaaaas.

Me, Taylor, and Michelle ... my lovessss!

Me, Taylor, and Michelle … my lovessss!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

THEN I came back to SF, started my second semester of law school (only 4.5 left to go!!), and on MLK weekend my lover boy took me on a super romantic 3-day getaway down south,

:)

:)

The beautiful Cali coast!

The beautiful Cali coast!

We so cute :)

We so cute :)

on January 25th I got a new nephew who is absolutely ADORABLE,

Hudson Cole Deterding :)

Hudson Cole Deterding :)

My two nephews Trayson and Hudson, the cutest kids on the planet :)

My two nephews Trayson and Hudson, the cutest kids on the planet :)

and then I celebrated my 25th year of life with an overload of cupcakes.

Jeremiah & I at my birthday dinner :)

Jeremiah & I at my birthday dinner :)

My cupcakes!

My cupcakes!

Andddd more cupcakes!

Andddd more cupcakes!

So to sum it up: my 24th year of life kicked some SERIOUS ass. I said I was going go to law school, travel the world, and move back to SF … and I did it all this year. There isn’t anywhere else that I would rather be, doing anything else than what I am doing, spending my time with the people I get to spend my time with. I love you all, and thank you so much for everything. I am truly blessed and eternally grateful.

♥Nikki

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Istanbul Adventures, Why Buying an Area Rug While Backpacking Makes Total Logistical Sense, and the Point When You Know You Should Have Bought Gloves.

I was super duper excited to get to Europe! Before this trip the only European country that I had been to was Italy so I was ready to get my Eurotrip on. I chose to go to Istanbul, Turkey first because it has incredible history and architecture including the Hagia Sophia, and because one of my good friends is from there and he told me it was awesome and that I had to go (and because it is the closest European country to Thailand, so it made logistical sense). And I am so glad that I listened.

Aside from the really pushy men (REALLY pushy) trying to sell you shit and/or marry you, the city was incredible. I really wish that I would have had some friends in this city with me though, because it seemed like a city that would be a friggin blast to party in. But being alone and a girl, I assume that going to a club and getting shitty by myself is just kind of asking for some sort of trouble.

I stayed in the really touristy part of Istanbul (which is where all of the hostels are) and that area is where the guys selling you things are the worst. But it’s also right next to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, so you win some and you lose some. But let me just save you some time if you decide to go there and tell you the way to avoid guys sucking you in to 10-minute pointless conversations that you eventually wriggle out of gracelessly is to COMPLETELY ignore anyone that tries to talk to you while they are standing outside/near/around/within a reasonable distance from a store. Because they are just trying to get you to buy a rug or a lamp or some diamonds, and they will waste most of your morning if you even acknowledge that they exist. You might think I’m being dramatic … go ahead, think that, but you’re wrong. Now, the one hitch in this plan is that you come off like a total fucking bitch—and you feel like one too. And to be honest, you probably are just a little. But that’s not the point.

Why is it so hard to ignore these men when I managed to do it in every other country so seamlessly and perfected the Ice Out (trademarked by Annie Tucker Morgan) that I applied to activists and petitioners in San Fran? Well, I don’t really know. But I think it has something to do with the fact that they are really friendly to begin with, and start out by saying “Good morning/Good afternoon” and ask how you are or compliment something you’re wearing or some other nice thing that is pretty much straight up rude to ignore. And that’s how they draw you in.

Then they proceed to ask you what you’re doing in Istanbul or where you’re from and then they make up something that makes it seem like you have something in common, like an uncle or cousin that lives in the city you say you’re from, and then they turn the conversation to their shop. Then you try to get away by saying “Oh, I’m backpacking, I can’t buy any area rugs …” and they say “I can ship it to you, it’s very reasonable … you won’t find rugs like these anywhere else in the world” and then you sputter and say no thank you repeatedly and they walk with you as you try to walk away. Then you get a little alarmed thinking they might actually follow you until you buy something, and then they offer to walk you to wherever you are going, or to walk you back to your hostel, and then you start freaking out a bit. I feel like the statement about backpacking would be enough to let them know that they are wasting their time, but apparently not.

After trying to get away from one particularly pushy man who was trying to walk with me, I actually had to say, “Listen, I am going to walk this way, and you’re not going to come with me. I don’t want company, and I don’t want to buy anything from your shop. Please leave me alone.” and that barely worked. So after that, you just ignore, ignore, ignore. And they’ll make comments as you walk by without even acknowledging that they just attempted to talk to you or that they even exist … just keep on walking. And when you feel like a huge bitch, just tell yourself that they’re not really interested in being nice or making conversation with you, they just want to sell you something, and it makes you fell a tiny bit better. But this can only provide so much comfort, I suggest just embracing the fact that you really are a raging bitch.

But, aside from those men, I loved Istanbul. The skyline studded with the turrets from the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, New Mosque, and all the other mosques, the Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Europe and Asia, the food, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market … it was all incredible. What I liked most about it was that when you go to Rome and see the Coliseum, it is like time has stopped there … it is an ancient ruin and is no longer a part of the city’s daily life. In Istanbul, many of the mosques are over 1,000 years old and they are still operating, people of Istanbul still worship in them, and they are still relevant in the modern life of Istanbul residents. I find that so crazy, considering we can’t even make sidewalks that last more that 10 years without crumbling away and the oldest buildings in the U.S. are like 250 years old.

Oh, and just a tiny side note. It is cold as FUCK in mid-March there. I knew it wasn’t going to be summer, but man was I not prepared to handle the cold. I literally wore (skip reading the end of this sentence if bad personal hygiene makes you all nauseous and judgy) the same clothes for the 5 days I was there … well, I changed my socks and undies. But I packed a pair of Under Armor cold weather running tights (that kept me warm while running the SF marathon), 2 long-sleeved t-shirts, a little pullover hoodie with 3/4 length sleeves, and a zip up hoodie … those are the only warm things I packed with the exception of jeans and my North Face jacket. And I wore all of it. At the same time. All 5 days. I alternated the white and the black long-sleeved tee on the top layer to give the illusion of cleanliness, but I’m not sure that was achieved. I was too fucking cold to care. And when I was outside freezing my ass off, and I would pass a man selling gloves or a scarf, I would think to myself, “No use wasting your money on something you’re going to use for 3 days … suck it up you big baby.” I shouldn’t have listened to myself, I’m a fucking moron sometimes. Clearly I don’t know what’s best for me because I was wandering around the Topkapi Palace (most of which is outside) for a few hours taking a bajillion pictures on my iPhone and then my iPhone stopped taking pictures. I thought … great, the cold is going to kill me and my superduper awesome travel companion slash camera slash life line too. Wrong. My fingers were just so cold that when I touched the screen, it no longer detected any heat. So I couldn’t push any buttons on my iPhone until I thawed. I think I could have spared a few bucks for a pair of gloves …

But, other than risking hypothermia I loved it. I definitely want to go back to Turkey and explore outside of Istanbul … but preferably when it is a tad warmer. I especially want to go to Ephesus … I didn’t have time to take a trip down to it, which is a shame since I was so close, but I have heard incredible things about in and I think that it is definitely something that I have to see. But Istanbul is a city that you can literally just wander around in for days and just be in awe of everything … which is pretty much what I did, so I ‘ll just show you some pictures!

♥Nikki

Why Buses Can Kiss My Ass, A Little Time in Scambodia, Vietnamese Chaos, and a Wholeeee Lotta Dong!

After my sweet, sweet time on the islands of Thailand, I went to Bangkok to check out that infamous city. Bangkok is interesting enough, but I think 2 days is about all you would need to see the things worth seeing. I’ll tell you a little more about it in a minute. Calm down! I got in late the first night I was there, had a full day there the next day, and then the third day I boarded a super early train to Cambodia. I visited Cambodia and Vietnam and then came back to Bangkok for 4 more nights before heading to Europe. I came into Thailand overland (by train from Malaysia) and if you do that, then you only have a 15-day visa. If you fly in to Thailand then you get a 30-day visa. Since I had to leave, I headed for Cambodia. But by the way, you can literally go to a neighboring country, cross the border, and come right back. They don’t care how long you are gone for as long as you leave by the day you’re supposed to. Just an FYI if anyone wants to go there for more than 3o days. And why wouldn’t you?

Anyway, Cambodia! Yeah! I boarded a train at 6:55 a.m. in Bangkok for the 7-hour journey to the Cambodian border. The train ticket was 48 baht, or roughly $1.50. Can’t beat a deal like that even though the train was dirty and didn’t have air conditioning, but it wasn’t really necessary anyway because I just opened my window and had a pretty nice breeze the whole way. I was also covered in dirt by the time I got to the border. The train arrived in the last Thai town before the border (Aranyaprathet … yeah good luck pronouncing that at the train station when you buy your ticket …), then I had to disembark and get a tuk tuk the 3km or so to the border crossing. I shared a tuk tuk with a Chinese girl who was also traveling alone. Her name was Feng and she had been living and studying in Australia for the last 3 years, so she  had an Asian accent on her English, but she also had an Australian accent as well. It was pretty much the coolest/weirdest accent ever!

My train ticket!

We got to the border crossing and I already had my visa, so we stood in line in the un-air-conditioned “facilities” waiting to get our passports stamped. (The lady at VisaHQ.com was full of shit, you don’t have to have a visa before you get to Cambodia, you can just get one at the border. But I am glad that I had mine already because there were a ton of official looking people trying to get me to buy my visa from them and apparently these people are trying to charge you about 3 times what the visa normally costs. But you don’t really know that because you think that they’re the official people. Anyway, I avoided that whole potential scam.) Then we walked across the border to Cambodia and waited for the free shuttle bus to take us to the bus station. When we finally got to the bus station, they were hurrying us to get our tickets like we were going to miss the bus or something. So after we had our tickets, and hurried over to where the bus was supposed to leave, they told us to wait. So we waited, and waited, and waited. While we waited, Feng and I made friends with a New Yorker named Emma who was also waiting for the bus. Then about 2 hours after we rushed to the departure point, we finally boarded the bus and headed off toward Siem Reap.

Welcome to Cambodia!

The whole process was supposed to take around 3 hours, and I was already 2 hours in and hadn’t even left the bus station. Timetables and schedules are really just something to make tourists feel better; I’m pretty sure they don’t even exist. We left the bus station when there was enough people to fill the bus. So, moral of the story, pay the extra $6 ($15 instead of $9) for the private buses rather than the “public” buses if you’re going overland to Siem Reap. Also, on a 3-hour trip, I don’t really see a pit-stop being necessary, and certainly not a 45-minute one. But that’s exactly what we did. We stopped at this little shack which only served cans of soda and bags of chips, and only had  an outhouse with a hornets nest in it for a bathroom. Sweet.

Cambodia is the land of scams—Scambodia if you will. They were charging $2 for a can of Diet Coke … Which I of course paid because it’s $2, but it should have been like $.15. You could tell that this rip-off station had been arranged by the bus people, trying to milk any extra money they could off of us tourists. This became even more evident when the bus finally arrived in Siem Reap. Instead of taking us the the center of the small town or in any part of the town at all, they pulled up into a dusty old barn 6km outside of the town where tuk tuks were waiting to take the us into town—for $15! We tried to haggle but all the tuk tuks were demanding the same price (Price-fixing! Antitrust!) and so it was a take it or leave it type deal, and the leave it option meant lugging my massive bag 8km into town. So Feng, Emma, and I split the fare 3 ways and we all went to the hostel I had already booked because neither of them had sorted out a place to stay, so they just got a room at my hostel—in the same room as me!

I was expecting Cambodia to be even cheaper than Thailand, but I was kind of annoyed when I found out that it is strangely expensive. Now, when I say expensive I mean comparatively to what things were costing in Thailand. In Cambodia, they have really annoying money. The exchange rate is about 4000 Riel to 1 USD—which is totally fine, but the largest bills they had were 5000 bills. So when I changed my some odd baht that was about the equivalent to $85, I got about that many 5000 bills. They gave it to me in a rubber band! WTF! I felt like a gangster. Or a stripper. Either way, it was super annoying. But I wish that I had this many bills in a currency that wasn’t Riel:

Approximately 85 5,000 Riel notes

Okay, back to why Cambodia is weirdly expensive. So in Thailand if you want to buy a 1.5 liter bottle of water, it’s usually 14 baht (a little less than $.50). Well in Cambodia, they actually prefer to use the US Dollar. When you get money from the ATM, you get dollars. All their prices are in dollars at the shops and restaurants (well at least in Siem Reap). So most of the stuff that in Thailand was fractions of a dollar when you convert the baht to dollars, well the Cambodian people priced the shit that should have been less than a dollar at $1. You can’t really haggle with $1, and it’s still not expensive, so you just shut up and drink your overpriced Coke Light. And since a Coke Light is $1, you can’t get a street food item for $1. Everything is $2 or $3 … again, still cheap, but in Thailand that would be like 15 baht, which is $0.50! Anywayyyy!

I went to Cambodia so that I could go see Angkor Wat, and that’s exactly what I did. The morning after we arrived, Emma, Feng, and Rina, a girl we met that was our roommate also, woke up when it was still dark so that we could see Angkor Wat at sunrise … which is apparently the thing to do because I was surprised there were that many people there at the butt crack of dawn. The temples were incredible, and seeing them at sunrise was breathtaking.

Angkor Wat at sunrise!

Soo many people there for the sunrise...

Incredible!

Angkor Wat

It was so huge! (That's what she said!)

Don't be jealous of my sweet ass pants.

I also didn’t realize that there were soooo many temples and that they were so expansive and huge. There were quite a lot, and we went to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and a few others, including the temples that Tomb Raider was filmed at. We had hired a tuk tuk to take us around the from temple to temple and I am SO glad we did, and I would say that it is absolutely necessary. After 5 or so hours of temple-seeing in the scorching sun (and wearing pants because you have to wear “moderate clothing” i.e. covered shoulders and no legs showing) we retired back to the hostel. I was so exhausted I fell asleep in the tuk tuk on the way back and almost fell out.

Driving through Victory Gate to Angkor Thom on our tuk tuk.

Angkor Thom

Another temple, forgot the name ...

Andddd another, but this one had a sweet bridge!

View from the top of the temple.

Elephants!

Tomb Raider temple. I never knew the actual name because our guide just saying Angelina Jolie! Tomb Raider temple!

Massive trees growing up through the ancient stone in the Tomb Raider temple. So cool.

What up tree? Just hanging out on some ancient stone? Aight.

Me at the Tomb Raider temple.

I hung out in Siem Reap for one more day with Emma, Feng, and Rina, and we had a good time checking out the town, the night market, the spice markets, and Angkor What?! (this awesome/weird bar), then on the third day, I had to decided to take a 13-hour bus to Ho Chi Minh or splurge and buy the $150 1-hour flight. I took the flight. You heard what the buses were like! I just told you! Fuck Cambodian buses. Hell no, take me to an airplane please and thanks!

Spice market!

Market!

That's a lot of rice...

It's all so colorful!

Siem Reap Night Market!

Me, Feng, Rina, Sebastian (our other roomie), and Emma at Angkor What?!

Angkor beer at Angkor What?!

Dancing on the benches in Angkor What?!

My tuk tuk ride to the airport!

I got to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) with no real sense of what I was going to do while I was there, and no hostel lined up (but I had researched a few and had a few addresses written down, which was lucky because the second the plane landed I got a text from AT&T saying that my cell service in Vietnam wasn’t included in any prior service agreement and that data roaming was $19.95/min so I promptly shut that mother fucker off), so I hopped in a cab at the airport after I exchanged my Cambodian bullshit to Vietnamese DONG! Hahahah! This currency was even more ridiculous!! In exchange rate, which was 20,000 to 1 … yeah, right?!, and in the name. The name. Omg, it’s still funny. Man, that’s a lot of Dong. How many Dong do you have in your hand? Is that a Dong in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? It can go on forever. Anyway, I had the cabbie take me to this hostel/hotel that I had found previously, and I got my own room complete with table, couch, mini-fridge, and bathroom for $9! Yeahhh, livin’ large in HCMC.

Look at all those Dong!

A room to myselfffff!

Vietnamese curry and Saigon beer in Saigon! (Aka HCMC, they have the same name.)

Holy Ho Chi Minh! That city is stressful as fuck! I don’t know what it was specifically, but I think it had to do with the fact that there were SO many people, and TWICE as many motorcycles and scooters. I’m not kidding. It’s a fact. There are like 7.2 million people in HCMC and there are over 12 million motorcycles. It is pure fucking chaos. Motorcycles are everywhere, parked haphazardly where ever there is space, crossing the street is damn near impossible, and it’s SO loud. I had some pretty awesome Pho and I wandered around and checked out some of the main sights including the Royal Palace the first whole day I was there, but I couldn’t take the madness anymore so I booked a half-day tour to go see the Chu Chi Tunnels (the tunnels that the Viet Kong built and lived/fought in during the Vietnam War). I retired early and watched Crazy, Stupid, Love in my bed in my room that I didn’t have to share with anyone! Whooohoo!

Motorcycles!!!!!!

EVERYWHERE!

He's drivin' on the sidewalk ... doesn't give a fuck.

Ahhhh!!!!

Mmm Pho! And Coke Light!

I woke up the next morning, packed up my shit, walked to the travel agency, dropped off my shit, boarded the bus, and sat crumpled up for an hour and a half until we got there. The tunnels were cool, it is incredible that Vietnam fought us for so long in the ways that they did … using bamboo spears and shit when we had tanks and missiles. Anyway, here are some pictures:

My tour guide getting out of one of the tunnels.

A normal sized person trying to get out.

Stealthy ...

The jungle the tunnels were in.

Shooting a Vietnamese War-era AK 47.

After the tunnels, I went back to HCMC and got my shit and headed to the airport for my flight to Bangkok. Baaaack to Bangkok. Blahh. So in summation, Bangkok is a big, dirty city with a fuckton of Thai people there. And not a whole lot to do that was of any interest to me, with the exception of the Chatuchuck Market which is on the weekends only and it is one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, wandering Khoa San Road, and eating the street food. So I went to the market on Sunday … you can buy jusssst about anything there, and that shit was cray cray. I actually really liked it because it had a bunch of really cool stuff and interesting boutique shops, it wasn’t just selling all the other kitsch shit that is sold EVERYWHERE else.

Chatuchuk Market, Clothing section ...

Live Animal and Animal Products section ...

The thing I wanted to buy most!! But I got Lola a sweet dog collar instead ...

Shoe section ...

For all your Native American needs ...

And of course, Cialas and other sexual products ...

All the people leaving the market ... It was SO crowded!

My tuk tuk ride to Khoa San Road

This lady pushing her cart through the crazy traffic ... she don't give a shit.

Khoa San Road

Egg and milk pancake! Soooo good!

Khoa San Road

The Workers' Food Market ... apparently all these shops just set up during lunchtime and all the locals come here and get lunch.

Aside from the market and the food, Bangkok is just … Bangkok. I’m sure it would be fun if you wanted to catch a ping pong show or get shitfaced with your friends, but I was lacking in both interest in sex shows and friends, so I did neither. And I was suuuuuper excited to ship out to TURKEYYYYY!!! Yayyyy!! Stay tuned for the Eurotrip portion of my Round the World trip!!

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♥Nikki

Island Bliss and Sunburns, a Taxi Driver’s Run-In with Karma, Beautiful Scenery via Near-Death Experiences, and … Wait, Was That a Water Buffalo?

Thailand is an incredible place. If it were a restaurant I would give it a 5-star rating on Yelp and right a review. Yeah, I like it that much. The people are incredibly friendly, everything is dirt cheap, and all the beaches are friggen gorgeous. I like places that are beautiful … especially when you can afford to stay there longer than a weekend. It’s got something for everyone … if you want to go the cheap route and crash in hostels most of them (to my surprise) are new and super nice, but there are also really nice resorts too if you’re looking for a real “island bliss” experience.

Anywayyyy, after I left Koh Phi Phi I headed toward Phuket via ferry, intending to stay there a night or two. I had talked to quite a few people who had already been to Phuket and I hadn’t heard very many positive responses, but I figured I would check it out anyway. I got off the ferry and I didn’t have a hostel yet, so I had no idea where I was going, and like I said in my previous post, that is an invitation for the hoards of Thai people to overwhelm you with trying to take you this way and that. I was a little hung over, and it was super hot and I was sweating my balls off, so I took a little mental timeout on the steps of the ferry station. After looking at a map I realized that I couldn’t walk anywhere because I was about 4 km from anywhere worth being, and I didn’t have that kind of ambition. So after deciding I would just get a taxi to the main square and find a hostel from there, I paid a lady at a kiosk 15 baht ($0.50) for the fare. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited … and my patience was eroding almost as fast as my interest in spending any more time in Phuket. So I did a little browsey browse on my iPhone and found a flight from Phuket to Koh Samui for pretty cheap that left at 9:00 p.m. and it was already 4:30. Seemed kiiiinda perfect.

When the guy finally came to collect me and take me to the city center I informed him of this change in destination. I was already in the car and on my way when he told me that it would cost an additional 500 baht. I refused and bargained with him, but he was being a little bitch and said it was 500 to the airport. I mean, in fairness it’s really pretty decent for a 45 km drive (about $17) but considering the fact that I paid the same price for a 4-hour bus ride 6 days previous, I was feeling a little indignant but I didn’t want to mess with trying to find another cab, so I agreed. That little asshole was wearing his shit eating grin as I sat in the back looking out at the city of Phuket go by—I was really glad I decided not to stay.

About 20 minutes into the cab ride, still mad that I was literally in the middle of being ripped off, I noticed something fall from the crack between the seat back and the seat bottom of the front passenger seat. Lo and behold, 300 baht! I pretended like I had to tie my shoe and snatched the bills and slid them discreetly into my purse. I knew if he saw he would try to tell me that they were his, and I knew they weren’t. I was actually pretty certain they had fallen out of the front seat passenger’s pants pocket on the way into town, but as I was the only one left in the cab, it was either going to be my money or the cabbie’s. And I can think of about 1,000 reasons why it should be mine over his, like the fact that he had been belching disgustingly ever 1-2 minutes the entire drive, or the fact that he was ripping off tourists by essentially holding them hostage to make them pay a higher fare. So mainly I was thinking … haha karma’s a bitch! Then I saw a couple more bills fall out of the crack. Hmm … how much more was up there?! I put my foot on the seat cushion and applied some pressure, and a few more bills fell out. I pushed harder, creating a complete gap between the seat back and the seat cushion, and a few remaining bills slid onto the floor. Doing the same shoe-tying James Bond move, I snatched the other bills and put them in my purse. All in all I had found 1,200 baht … which is about $40, and also roughly the equivalent of 6 nights in a hostel! Whoop! Karma really is a bitch! That guy drove me to the airport thinking he was ripping me off the whole time, when really, he paid me 700 baht to drive me to the airport (you know, cuz 1,200 – 500 = 700 … oh you got it? Okay, just making sure …). Muahahahahaha! (That’s what my evil laugh sounds like, in case you were wondering.)

When I got to Samui I was impressed because the whole airport was outdoors and looked super boutique and cute and shit. Anyway, I had made a reservation at a hostel while I was waiting in the airport so I got a shuttle to iBed and checked in around 11:30 pm. iBed is probably almost a tie for my favorite hostel. It was super nice and had all the amenities you need AND was a 2 minute walk from the beach. I checked in, met two of my roommates: Julia from Munich and Georgia from London­—the first girls I met so far on my trip that were traveling alone(!), and then I went to sleep to prepare for the long, hard day of lying on the beach that I had planned for the next day.

Koh Samui Airport

My gate at the airport, not too shabby!

iBed Koh Samui

Loved this hostel!

And that’s preeeeetttty much what I did the entire time I was on Koh Samui. I went and ate at night with people in my hostel, tried the local cuisine, which was excellent as all Thai food had been, and read this really amazing book—Shantaram (I highly recommend you read it, GREAT book)—that I bought in the airport at Phuket that someone had encouraged me to read a while back.

Lamai Beach!

Sooo pretty!

I could get used to this ...

I took a break from all that lying on the beach I had been doing and rented a scooter on one of the days and drove around the entire island. People had warned me not to rent a scooter because it was incredibly dangerous, and I knew they were probably right, but hey … that didn’t stop me. Having driven a Vespa in SF for a while, and being pretty comfortable driving any sort of motorized object (and having been hit by a car on my Vespa … NBD), I felt like I had enough experience to survive one day without any road rash or serious bodily injury. I was fine, but it was dangerous, and I would not recommend people do it unless you are really sure of yourself on a motorcycle. But look at the awesome views:

Me, my tan, and some beauuutiful scenery!

Breathtaking!

Not too shabby!

Elephant!

Private beach, anyone?

... Water Buffalo?

My sweet ride for the day ... $6 for 24 hours!

Naturally I had to stop and get gas ... good thing it was a full-service "station"!

Fisherman's Pier

Thai roadways have their own set of unstated driving rules, and if you don’t know what they are or figure them out very quickly, you are sure to be in a situation that might not end nicely. For instance, they honk not to show agitation but to tell you that they are passing you, and to keep your line. Motorcycles drive off the shoulder of the road, and if you have the opportunity, you drive as far to the right as possible or you might just bee bop around a bend and hit another car in your lane head-on. Also, instead of slowing in their lane and waiting to turn across traffic, they just cross the oncoming traffic when there are no cars, and drive on the wrong-side shoulder until their turn. You have to honk a LOT. Oh, and trucks fly past you driving twice as fast as you about 2 feet from you. Totes fine, really.

After being in Koh Samui for 3 days, I decided that I should move along to the next island. So on the 4th morning I boarded a ferry to Koh Phangan. I didn’t have anything planned for a hostel so obviously, we all know what happened when I got off the ferry 30 minutes later. But this time, there was this really nice lady who was actually trying to help me even though I really didn’t need it, and she showed me a flier for a place that I had seen online but the rate she showed was 500 baht/night, and online the rates showed 1400 baht/night. I asked her if the rate was correct and she assured me it was and so I allowed her to call her companion over on a scooter and take me away to Power Beach Resort and Bungalows. I wasn’t really sure about riding on a scooter driven by a Thai woman about half the size of me while I was hearing my 18kg backpack on my back, but, meh, not too concerned obviously, because I loaded up and away we went. They people at the resort allowed the 500 baht/night rate so I got me a little beach bungalow to myself—with my own bathroom—for $16/night!

Boarding the ferry at sunrise!

Absolute bliss.

Can I please be a full-time island-hopper?!

Ahhh, I love you Power Beach!

Anddd this is where I stayed!

Beach bungalows!

Not exactly 5-star, but it sure was heaven on earth!

Ahhh I really liked it there. There wasn’t much going on on the island, but I didn’t really care. Peace and quiet beach and book was all I really wanted. I wandered into the town via a 10-minute walk along the beach to get my meals, except breakfast, which I ate on the beach at the restaurant attached to the hotel. I stayed there for 3 days and each night I had big ambitions to go do some sort of water sport the next day, but I couldn’t peel myself away from the gorgeous beach right outside my bungalow. Thailand is a beach lover’s friggen paradise. I could have stayed there, or on any of the beaches in Thailand, for a long, LONG time. I wouldn’t have much reason to leave if my lovaaa or my bestie-boo were there.

The best way to have coffee!!

Sighhh ... :)

Watching the sunset!

My head! Standing about 50 meters out in the water off the beach, watching the sun go down!

:)

Look at the moon!

BUT, I did leave. The lure of other worldly beauties and new experiences pulled me away from that paradise (that and a raging sunburn), and I was on a plane to Bangkok much to soon for my awesomely-tanned self’s liking.

Stay tuned for my next adventure, and like SanFranciscoSooner.com on Facebook!

♥Nikki

Me Love Phi Phi, Canadians and Swedes Are Fricken Awesome, Stealth-Mode Night-Swimming, and Intimate Relationships with Hospitals.

If you’ve just joined us and want to know why I’m getting on a ferry, read my last post and then come back. Go on, we’ll wait. We won’t like it but we’ll do it. For you. Okay, done? Good. So I climbed aboard the ferry in Krabi to set out for Koh Phi Phi. I got on the ferry, was minding my own business, preparing for a quiet 2-hour boat ride to the tiny island when I noticed a small group of people who seemed to be having quite a bit more fun that the rest of the passengers aboard the ship. I decided to have a seat next to them at the front of the boat to see what was so fun up there. Turns out, they had already found some alcohol. And it appeared that this alcohol might have been a considerably large amount—based on the amount of fun they were having. Suzi, James, and Stuart were sister, brother, and brother from Canada. Fuckin’ Canadians, eh? Best Canadians ever. We started chatting and laughing; Suzi shared the most intimate details about her Thai Brazilian wax that almost went too far, Stuart broke the front cover off the air-conditioner, and James showed us pictures of a “girl” that someone (we won’t name names … but it wasn’t Suzi or James) made out with a few nights prior, getting my and a few other passengers’ opinion on whether we thought the person was actually a girl, or if she was actually a Thai “lady boy.”

The hysterical laughter coming from our group infected a few of the surrounding boat-members as Stuart recounted sleeping on a bum’s mat for a few nights on Koh Tao and Suzi told us about getting robbed and having to panhandle to buy a shirt. We made friends with 3 Australian guys and to be quite honest I don’t remember any of their names, and one creepy Asian dude who just really wanted to be a part of our group. About 15 minutes in, a round of beers was cheersed, and then 10 minutes after that another, and by the time I got off the boat I think I was 4 or 5 beers down with 6 new friends (the creepy Asian doesn’t count, but he did join in the beer drinking and even bought everyone a round). I, of course, hadn’t planned in advance where I was going to stay because I knew Koh Phi Phi was a small island and that I could just crash at one of the many hostels by the pier, so Suzi offered to let me stay with her in her room. So of course I accepted! And we really didn’t want to waste time between getting from the boat to a bar with such silly matters as finding lodging.

After our luggage was carelessly discarded in a hotel room, we headed to Reggae Bar to meet up with the Aussies and 3 Swedish dudes that the Canadians had met on Koh Tao. Pïerre, Marcus, and Erik were the coolest mother effing Swedes I’d ever met. We ordered buckets which were literally plastic buckets with your alcohol and mixer of choice and had a blasty blast. There was a boxing ring in the Reggae Bar and you got a free bucket if you volunteered to box someone, and the bucket was in your corner for you to sip on between rounds. It was one of the Aussies birthdays so he thought he should partake … so we watched him fight awkwardly until the judges finally declared him the winner, then finished our buckets and headed off to Slinky Bar—a club on the beach.

Suzi and I

The Aussies

Stuart and Aussie drinking rain water from a hat while the other Aussie prepares to fight ...

Marcus, his bucket, and bomb Epic Fail t-shirt.

It started raining and we were kinda bummed … but then we were like, eh fuck it and got some plastic bags to put our phones in and then we partied our faces off. It was so much fun. The rain actually made it more fun, and there were just as many people there despite the rain. After about … I dunno, 6 hours of dancing, Suzi and I decided to head back toward the hotel. We had discarded unnecessary items when we started dancing, including our shoes, and after searching the beach in the dark for 5 minutes for the mate to my other sandal, Suzi declared it dead and gone forever, but told me it was fine because she lost hers too. Then she took off her shoes and threw them into the ocean and we wandered off barefoot toward our room.

Slinky Bar!

The club from the beach.

Dancing in the rain!

Well, half way there we passed this really nice looking swimming pool. And we thought, what better time to take a dip in a hotel pool than at 6am? So we hopped into the pool (we had bathing suits on … but we also had the rest of our clothes on over them) and swam around for about 3 minutes until security was shouting Thai at us to get out of the pool. Well at least that’s what I think he was saying, I don’t speak Thai. So, instead of getting out of the pool, I swam underneath this little bridge that goes over a narrow part of the pool and hid there. The security guard walked around and all I could see were his feet. He knew where I was, he just couldn’t see me. I looked around for Suzi but couldn’t see her anywhere and started to panic a little because I thought she had left me. But then out of the corner of my eye I saw her lying under a reclined beach chair about 3 feet from the edge of the pool. When the security guard started to walk away from where she was hiding, she did a James Bond roll from underneath the chair … all the way across the cement and rolled into the pool with a massive splash. Laughing hysterically we hopped out of the pool, speed walked past the security guard pretending not to hear him yelling at us, and went straight out the front door through the lobby … soaking wet.

Ahhh the joys of a massive hangover. Doesn’t really matter when you order a beer with breakfast (it’s still breakfast if it’s the first meal of the day … even if it is at 2pm). That’s how the Canadians and Swedes rolled, so I had no choice but to adopt their ways. And this is essssentially what went on for 5 days. Drink. Party. Sleep. Repeat. The second day was almost identical … drinking on the beach all day, beach party all night. I almost got in a fight with a lady boy who was getting all up in my personal space and we may or may not have tried to “commandeer” a boat … until we realized that because of the low-tide there was about 100 meters of sand between the boat and the water. If that wasn’t the case we might have been spending the next couple days in a Thai jail rather than a Thai hospital …

Suzi and I, hanging out on the beach.

Having a few cocktails.

Absolutely gorgeous beach!

What it looks like at low-tide.

The third day on Koh Phi Phi we met back up with the Swedes (we never saw the Aussies again … I don’t think they were quite on our level … and we didn’t need slackers dragging us down) and went on a party cruise around the smaller islands surrounding Phi Phi and saw the beach where The Beach was filmed … which is a film I have never seen. Apparently Leo DiCaprio is in it. We went to a beach called Monkey Beach, which was just a remote beach with a shit ton of monkeys on it. The whole day was so much fun. But the most important thing that day happened when James and Stuart saw this yellow rubber cow (goat, whatever, we’re not quite sure) in some lady’s store and they just HAD to buy it. And thus, Sofia was born. Sofia was an absolute hit on the party cruise. She is super buoyant so she makes a great raft for when you’re swimming in the ocean, and she makes a great seat when you don’t have anywhere else to sit, and a great pillow if you don’t have one. She is so versatile, there isn’t anything she can’t do. Anyway, so the rest of the time we were on Phi Phi, Sofia went everywhere with us. Pïerre and Sofia had a love affair … they were inseparable.

Party cruise!

The Beach beach.

Party boat!

Fiona and Pierre ... True love.

Stuart, Me, Suzi, James, Fiona, Marcus, Erik, and Pierre ... aka Team Liability!

Pierre and Fiona dancing and drinking in the rain!

Everyone loves Fiona!

Fiona picked up a bad habit ... tisk tisk.

In Thailand, and especially on Koh Phi Phi, the locals walk around with quasi-domesticate wild animals, and they let you pet them and take pictures with them for a small commission. Every time we passed one of these people, Suzi couldn’t resist the opportunity to hold a monkey … or an iguana … or whatever other weird animal they had. I advised her against this, but she went on petting and holding and kissing these animals. And the jury is still out on this one, but I am pretty convinced that said iguana was a source of a bit of trouble for Suz. On the 3rd night, she started to feel sick, a rash began to spread up her neck, and she had an extremely high fever. So, the next morning when we woke up and the rash was slowly progressing onto her face, we made our way to the hospital.

Marcus and Suzi with some monkeys ...

Pierre and Fiona with a monkey.

Suzi ... kissing an iguana ...

Pierre, and Suzi taking a break with her beer in a baby stroller.

Apparently she had a bacterial infection that was causing the rash and fever and her bacteria levels were so high that regular antibiotics were insufficient—she had to have them administered via IV drip. We were pretty impressed with the amount of medicine that she required. On top of the IV drip, she had to have about 4 other prescriptions, AND had to come back to the hospital for the following 2 days to get more antibiotics administered via IV. A for effort on her part! She was like a walking pharmacy.

The view from the hospital. Haha

After we left the hospital we had to go check out of the hotel and say goodbye to James and Stuart; they were heading off to Bangkok to get some suits before they headed back to their lives in Canada. So Suzi and I wandered around for a while until we found a place that wasn’t completely booked and we had to pay 1000 baht (which is about $15/each) for this shithole room. But at least it had a great view. Not really. It had a window facing another building, about 2 feet from it. But the bathroom came equipped with this:

COCKROACH!

After the hospital, lugging around our shit all morning trying to find a place to stay, and all the cockroach killing, we felt like we deserved to pamper ourselves a little. We each got a manicure, pedicure, and 1-hour Thai massage for under $30/each. Yeah, I could get used to that. We had a nice relaxing day and got a good night’s sleep … for the first time since arriving.

On the 5th day I decided that I should probably be on my way, especially since I was only planning on staying on Koh Phi Phi for 1 night. So I went to the hospital with Suzi so she could get her second dosage of antibiotics, then said goodbye to her and the Swedes and hopped on a ferry to Phuket. I was so sad to leave my new and awesome friends but I have a feeling that will not be the last of any of them! (Suzi, you know I’m coming to Canada!!!)

Aside from meeting some really awesome people there and having a great time, Koh Phi Phi as a destination is absolutely incredible. Probably one of my favorite places so far. It is a really small island and the only way to get there is via ferry to the one port on the island. The island is so small that there is no need for cars, and there aren’t any. The streets are all cobblestone and about 20 feet wide, max. The island is swarming with amazing (cheap!) food and great places to party. The beach, ohmuhgodthebeach, is absolutely stunning. White sand, clear turquoise water, bright blue sky, and longtail boats … every stretch of beach looked like it came straight off a post card.

Longtail boats.

What all the streets looked like.

Loveeeee!

There is also an abundance of things to do besides lie on a beach, drink all day, and party all night on the beach … but of course I didn’t do any of those things. And on top of it all … it is SO.FREAKING. CHEAP. Pure paradise. I really did not want to leave, but such is life, and I had to continue on to my next island destination …

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♥Nikki

Same, Same! But Really Quite Possibly the Opposite, the Benefits of Beds Not Made By 9-Year-Olds, and Why We Should All Have Lower Standards.

Okay, I lied … I said I’d tell you more about Kuala Lumpur in the next post, but I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would like to so a WHOLE post on KL seems a bit excessive since I have been to 7 countries since my 2 day stint in Malaysia. But Malaysia was cool and I really liked that it was so different from what I’m used to.

Anyway, when it was time to say goodbye to my shady hostel and head north to the promise land (Thailand), I hopped on a 13-hour night train from KL to Hat Yai. My first overnight train! And I gotta say, if it fits with your schedule, it really is preferable to flying. You only have to be at the train station 30 minutes before your train is supposed to leave (although no one monitors this … it’s mostly just to make sure you get on the train if it’s early), you don’t have to check or pay for checked luggage, you don’t have to pay for a night in a hostel, and you wake up after sleeping for a good 9-10 hours at your destination, refreshed and ready to take on the day!

My little cubby slash bunk bed for the night!

When I got to Hat Yai, I had to decide where I wanted to go … because I hadn’t decided those trivial details yet. But I did know that I was going to go to either Krabi, which was a 4-hour bus ride, or Phuket, which was a 6-hour bus ride. I landed on Krabi because let’s face it … 2 hours more on a bus is 2 hours of your life that you will never get back. (Buses suck.)

So I got off the train and was IMMEDIATELY bombarded by Thai men trying to take me this way and that “Miss, where you go? Come with me, I show you.” “No, I am going to Krabi, not taking a train.” “Same same! Same same! Come I show you.” “No, no, thank you though. I need to find a bus to Krabi.”

Same same. Two words that changed my life forever. Okay, not really at all. But the shirts were everywhere making fun of the saying. And everyone said it. And everyone meant it. But the thing was, it was never the same. Ever. I’m looking for the bus station. That’s the airport. “Same same!” Those aren’t real RayBans and I’m not paying more than 3 American dollars for them. “Same same!” Is this chicken or beef? “Same same!” Do I go now or come back later? “Same same!”

I’m not kidding. It’s the same because all they want is to sell you what they have or take you where they’re going, regardless of what you want or where you’re trying to go. Anywhozzle, I found a “travel agency” with a van going to Krabi like right that second, so I paid the man 500 baht (roughly $16), was rushed to the curb where my bag was taken from me and thrown in the back of a white Mercedes 12-passenger van, I was hurried inside the bus, and away we went at breakneck speed, almost killing no less than 12 motorcyclists before leaving the city limits.

Surprisingly, I was being unloaded from the van on time and in the right place 4 hours later. I gathered my belongings and walked the six or so blocks to my hostel—Pak-Up—which has probably been my favorite hostel thus far. The bunk beds were huge and custom made out of wood that didn’t creak (a nice contrast to the IKEA ones made for 9-year-olds you see elsewhere—which, coincidentally, creak like they were also put together by 9-year-olds … and now that I say it, this makes a great deal of sense …), each bunk had its own power outlet and reading light, a pull-out drawer with a lock on it that was big enough to put your entire bag into and have your stuff strung out in, the free wifi was actually good enough that I could actually FaceTime my peeps (which happens far less than I would like!), the common area is comfortable and a lot of people hang out there, they had 2 bars—one on the rooftop that had really good drink specials, a nice view, and board games, and one out behind the common area that had pool tables and the occasional karaoke night, they had a washer and dryer available, AND the showers had hot water and the pressure was good! That is a LOT to find all at one place. And it was just $6 a night … sigh … why can’t everything be as cheap as it is in Thailand? I guess that’s the price we pay for being able to drink the water from our tap … Seriously though, drink nothing but bottled water in SE Asia. Unless you want some bizarre intestinal parasite.

Pak-Up from the outside.

The rooms were named after school subjects!

The bathrooms.

It’s kind of funny how easily your expectations shift when you are in a setting a lot different that your own. You would that that it would be really hard to adjust to living a certain way (mind you, I didn’t really adjust to living that way, but I did adjust to living that way temporarily), especially when that way is far dirtier and chaotic than the way you’re used to. For instance, if I was in the US, sitting in a restaurant eating dinner and I saw a lizard on the wall, my response would not be a pleasant, “Oh look! A Gecko!” It would be more like me vomiting into my plate of Pad Thai and dashing out of there like I’d just remembered I hadn’t Tivo-ed the new episode of The Bachelor. (Ha! I’ve never owned a TiVo and those of you who know me well know the only season I watched of The Bachelor was actually The Bachelorette when Graham Bunn was on it. Duh! And of course, when he got cut from the show, I took the time I spent watching the show and put it toward stalking him via the internet and trying to plot and scheme ways to meet him. But this is neither here nor there … right Sarah?)

I know a lot of people would also have a hard time with sweating and being dirty like ALL the time, but I adjusted to that quite well (shocking). You start to think that showers are kind of pointless because the water smells like sewer and you’re still sweating when you’re done so I guess you need to take in to consideration the strength of your body odor and the strength of the smell of the water and chose the best avenue. I mean the whole point of a shower is to get you clean and make you feel refreshed, and if it doesn’t achieve either, why bother getting your hair wet? That’s my motto!

Anyway, Krabi was cool. It’s on the west coast of Thailand 2 hours south of Phuket, it’s small and there’s not a whole lot to do there, but I took a longtail boat to Railay Beach which was really pretty and had a lot of limestone cliffs and caves that I explored a bit, and then I laid on the beach the rest of the time. There’s not much that beats a hot sunny day on a beautiful beach with a beautiful view, a good book, fresh mango, and cold water (or alcohol, tomato tomahto). Except maybe all that plus good company. Which reminds me. Ohmuhgod the fresh fruit in Thailand is to DIE for. It’s so good. All of it. And speaking of food, the rest of it is SO good too! Pad Thai, green curry, chicken rice, fried noodles, flat noodles, glass noodles, coconut soup, it is so freakin’ good.

Ahh, this is the life. Sun, sand, sea, and A Clockwork Orange.

The longtail boats that brought me to Railay Beach!

Railay Beach!

There were a bunch of limestone cliffs and caves all around the island, which made for some really cool scenery.

Oh, and a cave with "tokens of prosperity" in it. But really it was just a cave with a bunch of wooden dildos in it.

Yeah dildos!

After I spent 3 nights in Krabi spending the evenings trolling every available food stall at the night market and eating from more than 9 (I know it was at least 9, but the actual number I can’t be sure of) stalls in one sitting and spending the days exploring the area, I decided that it was time to ship out to the island of Koh (Thai for “island”) Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee).

Some yummy Thai donuts of some sort at the Krabi night market.

The Thai Flava Flav making some bomb.com soup. He was wearing massive pocket watches around his neck.

The night market.

So with my travel advice from my besty besticle friend’s friend’s friend who lived in Australia but vacationed in Thailand’s advice that I MUST got to Koh Phi Phi, my personal possessions, and a sense of adventure, I loaded onto the ferry to the tiny island … and then I met the Evansons. Dun, dun, dunnnnnn!

♥Nikki

P.S. Go like SanFranciscoSooner.com on Facebook if you haven’t already!

Holy Ship! Look at that Building! Getting a Little Dirty in Malaysia, and Travel Advice that Almost Someone Can Find Useful.

The most recent leg of my trip has taken me through Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It’s definitely different than traveling in New Zealand and Australia … and a lot dirtier. Obviously being in a country where English is not the majority’s first language is going to have its challenges, and if you factor in that these countries are developing countries, it’s bound to add quite a bit of spice. And dirt. Man is some of it diiiirty.

I flew from Cairns to Singapore and stayed there for 2 nights. Singapore was nice—it was super clean and they call it a “fine” city. You get fined for everything. Chewing gum? Fine. Eating or drinking on the subway? Fine. Littering? Fine. You literally cannot buy chewing gum anywhere in Singapore. It’s illegal. And don’t think about smuggling drugs into or out of the country either, bc that’s punishable by death, as the sings ALL over the airport will tell you. It was interesting to see a new country and they way they lived, but there wasn’t much to do in Singapore except look at the really awesome architecture.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, aka the Ship Building

My ride in the Singapore Flier, the world's largest observation wheel.

Chinatown!

Then I moseyed on up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and this would be a place that the me prior to going would tell the me post going that it would be a place I wouldn’t like. It was dirty, chaotic, the infrastructure and buildings were crumbling on one street, and then next there was a brand new shopping mall, there was litter everywhere and trash clogged the gutters, but I loved it. It was so different than what I was used to so everything seemed like an adventure. Not like wandering around the well-developed and spotless streets of Singapore. And the food, oh my god the food, was so good! And SO cheap! You could get a nice meal for 8 ringgit … which is like $2.65 USD. If you want to get to the other side of a busy 6-lane street, don’t bother waiting at the crosswalk. There usually isn’t one. Just run across, or as far as you can make it, when the coast is clear. Think the sidewalk is for pedestrians? Wrong. Motorcycles at any time will just come whizzing off the street up on to the sidewalk. There are no real noticeable traffic rules. But because it was so hectic it did feel a little unsafe at times, and I wore bug spray all the time, even to bed, just in case. And I honed some of my street-smart skills.

Jalan Alor, the food street one block from my hostel.

Some really nice buildings two blocks from my hostel.

Brand new shopping centers 3 blocks from my hostel.

An awesome view of the Petronas Towers, the world's tallest twin towers, from the KL Skytower.

Speaking of me thinking in retrospect that if someone had described to you what I just did, that I probably wouldn’t want to go there: It’s so funny to me, taking people’s travel advice. I mean, if it is purely factual like: that hostel is an hour from anything worth doing, or don’t talk to people who claim to have family from your home country bc they are trying to scam you. THAT is travel advice. You can’t take someone else’s—let alone a complete stranger’s—advice on what is “so much fun” or “unbelievable” or “absolutely a must” because if you ask the next random ass person, they will probably have a different if not completely opposite opinion. And I would even take caution when taking travel advice from people that know you well … because part of traveling is discovering things about yourself that even you don’t know (obv … or else you wouldn’t be “discovering” shit). If you must base your travel plans on someone else’s opinion, my best advice is to base it on popular opinion of an educated group of individuals.

If you want to do something, then you tell some stranger that you want to do it, and they say “oh, I did that, it sucked. I wouldn’t waste your time,” don’t listen. Because you are not that person, and even if they are right, you will never know if you take their advice. That being said, here are some good things I consider travel advice for anyone, especially a woman, traveling alone:

On Being Lost:

NEVER look like you’re lost.

If you’re not lost, but you’re wandering around without a discernible purpose or direction, people think you might be lost and you then become someone they can harass, try to scam, or sell something to you that you don’t want. The best thing to do to combat this unwanted attention is to walk like you’re in a hurry, like you know absolutely where you are going, and you have absolutely no time to talk to anyone. This is adapted from a technique I learned from Anita who was teaching me to ward off bums and petitioners in SF: the Ice Out.

But, if you don’t want to speed walk everywhere, and you don’t mind warding off millions of people saying “miss, where you want to go??” “taxi?” “you want sunglasses, come have look I make special price for you” then just get really used to this: “No, thank you. No thank you. No, thank you.”a GAJILLION times. Seriously. Gajillion.

(This advice mostly applies to areas where you wouldn’t necessarily want to be doddling … like a vacant street or empty park.)

If you are lost, breathe. Everything will be fine. If you need to freak out and break down crying bc you don’t know how you will ever make it back to your hostel, you missed your train, lost your bag, whatever—DO NOT do it in public. Find the nearest bathroom, dressing room, dark corner, and then freak the fuck out all you want. Doing it any other place but in the privacy of your own privacy makes you vulnerable and emotional. Not a good combo.

Don’t take out a map in the middle of the sidewalk and stare at it like you’re searching for the meaning of life. Find somewhere private, then search your heart out. If you can’t read a map (god rest your soul) and have to ask for directions … ask someone of the same sex as you, and someone who seems to have no interest in steering you in the wrong direction. Baristas at coffee shops, for instance, work nicely.

On feeling uncomfortable:

Always go with your gut. If you get somewhere are you think, “oh shit, I don’t think this is someplace I need to be” for christ’s sake don’t wait around to find out if you were right! That makes you the stupid chick in a horror film with the gun who dies bc she was too afraid to shoot. It might have been totally fine and you might have been overreacting, but better safe than sorry.

If someone is following you, or you think they are (and it’s okay to be a little paranoid … you’re traveling alone), don’t be afraid to turn around and look them directly in the eye as if to say “watch it asshole, if you’re up to no good, I’m going to remember your face.” If you seem alert and aware, they will be less likely to try anything.

If you don’t ward of hagglers particularly well, and don’t have the greatest sense of direction, it would be a good idea to have a lot planned out before you show up someplace. For example, if you show at a train station in SE Asia and get off the train, there are about a billion people trying to persuade and convince you to ride with them, or use their service, or take you to a specific place. If you have it all planned and pre-booked you can ask for exactly what you need.

On traveling alone:

DO IT! It’s AMAZING!

I’ll tell you more about KL (Kuala Lumpur) in the next post! Now I’m continuing my travels to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece, and then who knows where! Stay tuned, and any travel advice is welcome!!

♥Nikki

Let’s Go Ride Explore on Wally the Wonderbus, Visit with Crocodile Dundee, and Swim with Sharks and Shit!

If I could sum up my time in Cairns in one word it would be: UNFORGETTABLE! I am so glad I decided to go there. The city was way smaller than I expected, it totally has a beach-town vibe which I love, but there are still a ton of restaurants and bars—actually that’s pretty much what the downtown area is. I also really liked that they have “night markets”, I mean, whatever, maybe they do or don’t sell cool stuff but at least there is something open past 6 or 7:00 p.m. that you can go explore if you’re not in the mood to go to bed or haven’t the urge to go rage by yourself at a club where 18-year-olds are allowed to drink. An urge I didn’t get so often … hmm … drinking, alone, with 18-year-old male-childs abound, making convo with yourself … puzzling really. Oh and Coke is only $3 a bottle there!

But aside from the city, the activities are endless. Good thing I ran into a straight-shootin’-pistol-from-the-hip sort of dude at the travel agency I popped into to grab a map from. So this dude hooked me up! He told me what sucked, what I should do, what I could do … so this is what I decided on:

The first day I was in Cairns I had gotten up at 4:00 a.m. to catch my flight from Sydney, so I got to my hostel around about 9:30 a.m. Well, couldn’t check in until 2:00 p.m. but they would obv let me leave my huge-ass bag there, so really all I wanted to do was to go plop down on the beach, fall asleep in the sand, and get my happy ass a nice tan started. But as it were, on the way to the “beach” (there aren’t really any natural beaches in Cairns, it’s really a really nice man-made lagoon—you have to go about 20 min in either direction to get to them. But it is jelly fish season anyway so you can’t swim in the water. Well, I guess you can if your idea of adventure travel is via a medi-flight chopper to a hospital where your insurance will  then proceed in forcing itself upon you—analy. Okay red squiggly line, please tell me the correct way to use anal as an adjective.  If “analyst” is the best you got, we’re just gonna have to go with my version) I met this booking agent who got me started on my Queensland adventure straight away. Ha! You totally had to go back pre-parenthesis to remind yourself what the fuck I was talking about.

I signed up for a half-day tour of a crocodile farm (yes they farm them, like cows. Except I wouldn’t shit myself if I accidentally wandered onto a cow farm) slash animal discovery something or other. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures at 12:15 p.m. Then I signed up for a full day of scuba and snorkeling on the GBR the following day, and to round it all out nicely, the day after that I signed up for a full day rainforest tour. So by the time I had minded my Ps & Qs (what does that even mean? I don’t have internet right now or I would google) with the booking agent bloke, I had about an hour before I went to see Crocodile Dundee. So I did walk my happy ass down to the lagoon. But then I went and saw some crocs!!!

It was pretty cool, they have the farming part of it which they actually only show you for about 10 min. It’s really a croc-ton (like what I did there?) of just different sized crocs in cinder-block tanks filled with water. I thought at first, aw that’s sad, they raise all these little crocies and then kill them, but the aboriginal people of Australia still use the meat for their traditional meals and obviously the skin is used in high-end fashion. They said that making farming legal reduces illegal poaching immensely and protects the natural population. Any time a crocodile is caught in the wild, it can’t be released (usually they are caught because they are in an area where people are or in water where people surf/swim/snorkel and crocodiles don’t like when people creep on their turf aka DEATH ROLL) because even if they are released far, far away from where they were captured, within a year they would make it back there. So when wild crocs are caught, different wildlife preserves, zoos, parks, whatever get them in turn. These are the crocs that Hartley’s uses as breeders and as part of their wildlife park.

ANYWAY! Then I rode on this boat out in their lagoon filled with 16 crocodiles that could eat me in one piece (but did you know, crocodiles can go an extremely long time without eating?! Longer than a year sometimes!! But they are “opportunistic” feeders—meaning if your stupid wallaby ass wants to hop its way onto their front door step and say here’s my ass crocie crocie don’t you want to take a bitey-bite? They will say, why yes, stupid wallaby, I would like that very much, thanks. Boom. Dead.) and the skipper(?) put some chicken heads on a string and attached to the end of a pole and allowed me to get some really awesome pictures like this:

Nom nom nom!

Crazy Aussie!

Holy shit! And then I saw some koalas, and some cassowaries, and some other fucking wildlife, oh! And the world’s most DEADLIEST snake. The Inland Taipan. And the dude held it like a foot from me. What a jerk. And he is all like, “People are so afraid of snakes, but more people have died from car accidents, pianos falling on them, etc. than from snake bites. So really driving in a car is more dangerous than this snake.” Now sir I’m going to have to stop you right there. This is ERRONEOUS! People who make statements like this clearly don’t understand statistics. Yes, you are more likely to die in a car crash than from the venomous bite from a taipan in Australia, but that does not make car crashes more dangerous than a taipan. Case in point: let’s play would you rather. Would you rather A) drive in a car, or B) pet the world’s most deadly snake … with your face? Also, let’s just throw in some death fun facts. The disparity in the rate of survival of a car crash compared to a taipan bite issss probably significant considering most venomous snakes usually possess one of three toxins: neurotoxins which paralyze your nerves, haemotoxins which cause the destruction of red blood cells, and myotoxins which causes your muscles to bind (aka your heart to stop beating). The taipan has all of them. So, buckle up, don’t drink and drive, and don’t get bit by a taipan! Because you’re fucked if you do.

Cassowary

Inland Taipan!

Yay learning! But moving on. Day 2! Are you for scuba?! I am! I am! So I’ll sum up what we all already know from experience, the Discovery Channel, or Google: the Great Barrier Reef is incredible. So much diversity, so much color, and so much coral! But to the good stuff. I was snorkeling right along in the turquoise water and I take a gander below me and what do I see? Why, that’s a shark Nikki! Okay, it was only a reef shark, but it was about 5 feet long. It was AWESOME. I stalked it from above for a bit, mainly to make sure it wasn’t interested in a limb sampler course, but it was so cool to see.

Then I went scuba diving. Scuba is not something I ever thought about being scary … like at all. I wasn’t nervous on the boat or suiting up or even getting into the water, but when you go under with your instructor for the first time and are breathing down there it is so bizarre. And thenyou freak out a little. I was about 5 feet under the water working on my skills (getting water out of your mask/clearing the water from your regulator) when I started thinking, “ohmygodohmygodohmuhdawwwwd I don’t want to do this, what if I’m down there and something goes wrong and I can’t breathe, what if … ah … ahhh … what if … AHHH! Let me out let me out! No, I don’t want to! I’m still close to the surface, I can get out now. Get out now! Get out!” All this was all going on in my head … but another kid in my group (there were 3 of us) couldn’t reign in his emotions and he actually did freak out. He went to the top and didn’t come down to dive at all. So right when that happened I got an extra boost of confidence that was like, “Well thanks to Captain Scaredypants I’m gonna have to suck it up because I can’t bail too … so unoriginal at this point really.” So I scuba-ed and it was so friggin cool. I got to see and pet a sea turtle! So incredible. But, I think maybe once is enough. We’ll see. My instructor told me I should get certified in diving because I was “like a fish”. Not sure if that meant I was good, or if he was just making a comparison because I too could breathe under water?

Yeah Scuba!

So pretty! I have underwater pics, I just haven't gotten them developed yet!

Onto day 3! Which, honestly, was probably my favorite day of maybe the entire trip thus far. I signed up for Uncle Brian’s Fun, Forest, and Falls and the shuttle bus picked me up outside my hostel (oh I stayed at Gilligan’s, it’s like a backpacker resort—only $18/night for an 8 person shared room) at 8:00 a.m. Cuz (cousin—get it because it’s Uncle Brian’s …) Rohen was our guide for the day. There were 21 of us and off we went! Cuz Rohen made us tell everyone our name, where we were from … and then gave us some fun forest facts on the way to our first stop. Then he introduced us to Wally the Wonderbus (our bus’s name) who could talk to him via honking. Wally likes to go through U-turn turnabouts so when we passed one, we went around it full-circle. 3 times. Cuz Rohen also taught us the wave and oscillate—which means, every time he honked at the locals, we wave real big and oscillate from side to side making sure no one is left out of the wave. The locals loved us.

First stop was Devils Pools where we saw some cool boulder falls, went for a swim in the non-deadly area, and had morning tea (orange juice and cookies) at some picnic tables. Then off to Josephine Falls where again we saw this amazing cascading waterfall and went for a swim. There is a naturally forming rockslide that we all went down a few times. It was really awesome and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Then we stopped at Cuz Lunch’s for lunch. That wasn’t the actual name of the place but, whatevs.

Devils Pools

Josephine Falls

The rockslide on the left!

We made our third stop at Millaa Millaa Falls which translates to “water water” or “a lot of water”. It was a really pretty waterfall but the water was way colder than the other places, so I got in, swam out to the waterfall, swam underneath it, and then swam back. Between our 3rd stop and our 4th stop, Cuz Rohen made us play a game called “Where’s Wally”. And the way you play is you each have a matchstick in your mouth and you have to pass a lifesaver around the entire bus via the matchsticks. Great fun with complete strangers, but everyone was a really good sport.

Millaa Millaa Falls

The fourth stop was at Lake Barrine, which is a giant lake in the crater of an extinct volcano. I crater lake, if you will. It was hella-deep … up to 70 meters in some parts. Freaked me out a bit swimming in it. Then we had afternoon tea: hot chocolate, marshmallows, and homemade muffins! On the way back to Cairns we stopped and saw wild platypus in the river! Oh, and we had Wally Sing and Dance Along on the way back to town, and Cuz Rohen slammed on the brakes to show us a deadly rock frog (it was actually just a giant frog painted on a rock—hilarious!). It was so much fun, and when I left I felt like I knew everyone on my tour so well. And I made a new friend, Gemma, from Scotland! I would recommend that tour to anyone who is in Cairns, who wants to check out the rainforest, and meet really cool people. And obv have tons of fun!

Crater Lake!

Platypus!

Being in the sun and swimming under waterfalls for 12 hours sure makes a gal tired. So I went to my room, packed up my shit, and PTFO (passed the fuck out). On to Singapore the next day!!!

♥Nikki

Let’s Go Get Some Goon and Maccas, America. Irish People Don’t Speak English. And Adventures with Spiders.

Well hello there ladies and gents. So it’s day 11 of my travels, and I just finished my mini tour of Australia. And I have to say—I am impressed. I flew in to Sydney on Feb 4 at about 2pm and the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS! So I exchanged some cash, made my way to the AirportLink train, bought me a ticket, and waited for the train. It reminded me of BART. Anyway, got on my train and 10 minutes later got off and walked to my hostel.

This hostel (Wake Up! Sydney) I am happy to report was not sketchy as fuck like the one in Auckland. Lesson: read the reviews about the hostel, don’t just go on price unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. Because there is probably only a little difference in price and a huge amount of difference in the quality and services, and your odds of getting all your shit stolen is probably significantly lower. Anyway, this place looked like a hotel but with kid-ish décor. They had music blasting in the lobby with a TV lounge and a bunch of computers that you could use at a small fee, there was a café, laundry on site, you had a key card to access everything, there was a club in the basement, and the rooms were pretty nice. I stayed in an 8-person shared room for $34/night … which really wasn’t bad for the facilities, and Sydney was REALLY expensive. $4 AUD for a bottle of Coke, which is roughly $4.34 USD. Bout shit muh pants when I saw that. And bottled water (little bottles) was anywhere from $3-6 AUD.

Wake Up! Sydney Hostel

My roommates were really cool, there were 3 girls (Hannah, Eirian, and Sophie) that had been there for a few weeks working or trying to find work, and a guy (Lewis) that had been there for 5 weeks looking for a job. Apparently it is really easy to get a work visa in Australia and you make a lot more money doing the part-time type jobs than you would in the US or anywhere else really. They were all from England. Then there was a guy from Ireland that was only there the first night I was there and I tried to have a convo with him and whoever said they spoke English was lying. I could understand like 1 out of 20 words he said. He probably thought I was so stupid because I was just smiling and nodding … And then there were a few other people that filtered through for a night or two. I hung out with Hannah, Eirian, and Lewis a couple nights and we had so much fun. They called me “America” and laughed at me a lot for not knowing what they were talking about. They called McDonald’s “Maccas”. The first night I was there I was in my pajamas and my hair was wet and they asked if I wanted to go to Maccas with them and I thought they were going out or something so I was like, oh no thanks, then I realized when they came back that McDonald’s was Maccas. Lesson learned I suppose! One of the nights I went to the pub with a couple other girls that were there (not my roommates) from Melbourne just celebrating one of their birthdays. They were really cool too. People there were so friendly and welcoming. I loved it. Some of my favorite translations:

Goon: Cheap wine (box wine)

Maccas: McDonald’s

Rangas: Read-heads (Rangas? Ya know, like orangutangs …)

As: Add it after anything and it means ass? Apparently. Crazy as, stupid as … etc.

So the first day in Sydney I just wandered down to The Rocks which is the oldest part of Sydney and checked everything out, had a glass of wine and a pizza along the Circular Quay where all the ferries were, and then went back to my hostel and got some sleep. I was so tired because my flight from Auckland was supposed to leave at 9:55 that morning and so I woke up at 6a got to the airport at 7:45a, but my flight was delayed until 12:15p so it had been a long day.

Circular Quay

The next day I went into uber-tourist mode. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all with enough time to get to Bondi Beach and soak up the amazing weather. I left the hostel and walked to Darling Harbour and Darling Quarter—which is the harbor (obviously) and this cute little area that has multiple levels of restaurants and bars facing the water along the boardwalk. Very picturesque. Then I wandered back down to The Rocks, had an iced coffee at La Rennaissance Café Patisserie, which is a café that Jeremiah went to every day while he was there and he told me I HAD to go there. I sat outside in the sun drinking my coffee and then wandered around the markets that they had on Sundays. Then I walked around to get a really good view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House … took a bunch of pictures with my head and the monuments in the distance. Sweet pics really. Then I wandered down around Circular Quay and then up to the Opera house. It was really cool, I wish I could have went to an actual Opera in it … but I guess I’ll save that for another time. I walked over to the Royal Botanical Gardens and wandered through them for a while, soo pretty. Until. Until…. I realized that there were massive spiders EVERYWHERE!!! A panic attack ensued as I frantically searched for the way out, freaking out every time my hair brushed my shoulder, thinking it was some incredibly huge, disgusting, and of course deadly spider coming to claim my life. I made it out alive—thank god!—so after that trauma I decided that I needed to do a little relaxing.

Darling Quarter

Darling Harbour

La Rennaissance Cafe Patisserie

The Rocks Sunday Markets

My head! And the Harbour Bridge

My head! And the Opera House

Royal Botanical Gardens

SPIDERS!

More SPIDERS!

I hailed a cab (I had been walking … like EVERYWHERE) and went to Bondi Beach. Oh my god, heaven! It was sooo perfect. Hot, lots of people, white sand, blue water. I sat my happy ass down on my cheap (ha!) $12 Asian crap store towel that I bought because I forgot to bring one, stripped down to my bikini and didn’t move until I thought I had suffered 1st degree burns on my calves. I friggin love the sun! Then I thought it would be a good idea to walk from Bondi Beach to Bondi Junction (where the train/bus station is) … it was a bad idea. And it was really far. And hot. But mainly I did it because I didn’t want to pay for another cab, and I didn’t have a bus ticket, which you could only buy at the bus station. Well when I got to the station, the machines for tickets were cash only and I was 20 cents short and so I had to get a cab back anyway. What a moron.

Bondi Beach

Sweet Scorching Heaven

The next day the weather wasn’t so amazing, still warm but overcast and kinda sprinkling on and off, so I thought it was a perrrrrfect day to check out some indoor stuff. So I went to the Sydney Aquarium—meh, it was an aquarium, not super nice, but whatevs, I found Nemo there! Then I went to the Sydney National Maritime Museum which was actually really interesting and super nice. They even had a real ship and a submarine in the harbor that you got to go onto and check out. Def glad I checked that beezy out. And then I went to  … drumrolllllllll … Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the the Powerhouse Museum. Soooo fucking cool. They had all the props and costumes and shit from the movies and it was just incredible the amount of detail and craftsmanship goes into even the tiniest details. I’m not a huge fan of the movies, but a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, so to me it was more like I was seeing things that the book Harry, Ron, and Hermione would have worn and used. It was weirdly emotional. I just LOVE HP! Always will. Good day, lots of learning!

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

National Maritime Museum

Oh! So side note from the Maritime museum. So right when you walk in they have a display on the ceiling showing you 4 common star formations seen in the sky and the North Star which is obviously used for sea navigation, and on this tiny plaque it said: “Did you know the North Star is 1600 times more radiant than the Sun and 300 light years away?” NO I DID NOT!!!! And for those of you who don’t know, I am weirdly intrigued/freaked out by space and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around concepts commonly talked about in space … so I HAD to put this in perspective. So the next 10 min I sat there on my little pamphlet about the museum doing some math to figure out just exactly what 300 light years would be. Well my dear friends, prepare to be enlightened:

I won’t even get in to gigalight-years and the Great Wall. Wikipedia is a curious mind’s best friend, so if you wanna know some more cray cray shit about space, click away! Anywayyyy! Learning! Yeah. That night I went out with my roomies and went to beddy-bye at about 4am. Go me! Makin’ friends and shit.

The next day the weather was also a bit depressing and I was a TADDD hungover so I paid for some internet (you have to PAY for internet, gay) and planned my next leg of the trip. I decided to go to Cairns and check out the Great Barrier Reef and then from there fly to Singapore. So I booked all that then wandered around some of the cool shopping areas in Sydney and then went and grabbed some drinks with the roomies again since it was my last night there.

The next morning, I woke up at 4am, grabbed all my shit, checked out, hopped on the train back to the airport, and headed off to Cairns … and if you’re Aussie, or don’t want to sound like an idiot, it’s pronounced Cans. Rolled up into that beezy at 8am to some more incredible (and significantly hotter) weather. But I’ll leave that for the next post as I feel like I may have lost half of you back around the part where I started doing math (or the Harry Potter part, depending on your nerd tolerance)!!

♥Nikki

Who Moved My Steering Wheel?! Jumping Off Tall Shit, Shiny Maggots, and Other Kiwi Adventures.

Alrighty then! A few days into the trip and I need to get a serious grip on this whole “budget” concept I hear people talkin about … But whatevs, I’ll get it down or … Run out of money? I need to find those trees that grow money, I think they’re near the fountain of youth.

There is so much to say, so I’m just gonna dive right in!

Jan 30, left SF at 7:00pm. Bitter sweet because I’ll miss everyone (esp my boo—143) but SOFA king excited! Landed in Auckland at 5:00am on Feb 1. Got my bags, went through customs, got my rental car, got in the car, realized there was no steering wheel, got in the right (literally and figuratively) side of the car, and off I went!

Driving on the left side of the road is trippy. I am so glad the first 2 hours I spent in the car were in the wee hours of the morning so there weren’t as many possible victims on the road. It’s not the actual driving, it’s the little things that successfully make you feel like a complete moron. For instance:

Blinker. Oops that’s the windshield wiper. Other side, oh, it’s opposite: flick up for left blinker, down for right.

Left hand turn. Staring into traffic. Realize you are turning with traffic instead of across it. Pull out like a moron who was holding up traffic for 3 minutes.

Rear view mirror. Oh that’s the door jam, the rest of the car is on the other side. Including the rear view.

Why is everyone going so slow (obviously I think this)?! Ohhh, the left hand lane is the SLOW lane.

Exits are on the left.

A roundabout going to the left …………….. WTFFFFF?!?!? …………………. Okay, just don’t die. Success.

You get it. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is also weird. Make sure you look both ways—8 times—to process what you’re seeing.

So I drove to Rotorua and went to the Polynesian Spa and checked out the town. The Polynesian Spa is one of the top 10 spas in the word and they have pools that they fill with water from the local hot springs that you soak in as you look out across the lake at the volcano. Absolutely amazing. I got a Manuka Honey Body Polish/Aix Combo massage … which means they basically scrub your entire body with this awesome smelling stuff, then give you a massage underneath a five-foot-long shower head. I want to go back already.

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Then I drove down to Lake Taupo and went bungy jumping at Taupo Bungy!! (I am super excited that I can cross another thing off my Life List!) I could try to describe it … but here are a few pictures and you can watch the whole thing on video on the SanFranciscoSooner Facebook page:

It was so crazy. I signed up to go at 3:00pm and I was running late getting there and didn’t know how strict they were about schedule so I was stressing about being late all the way there, and since I had already pre-paid all I had to do when I got there was sign my life away and get weighed. Once that was over they told me to walk out to the platform, where I met a dude who put the harness on me and before I knew it I was shuffling up to the edge of the jump platform. I was seriously there for mayyyybe 10 minutes before I was jumping. So I didn’t really have any time to get super nervous before hand … that was probably a good thing. It was so awesome, and it’s seriously over like THAT! So much adrenaline after. I felt like boxing a grizzly bear in a rattlesnake pit after I was done. Challenge accepted!

After that, I wandered around Taupo for a little bit then drove on over to Waitomo and stayed at the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge Bed & Breakfast. Super cute place, and the people were so nice. And the husband of the couple who ran it made homemade “biscuits” and they were SO good. Omg so good. I laid my tiny, tired baby head on the pillow at about 9:30pm and I was out like a light!

The next morning I woke up, ate breakfast with the other inhabitants of the B&B, and then ventured up the road to the Legendary Black Water Rafting Company to do some black water rafting. That was so much fun. They deck you out in wet suits, boots, and helmets, make you look like a royal douche, give you an inner-tube, show you how to jump off waterfalls, and then take you down into a cave filled with water and you climb/float along in the mostly dark. The roofs of the caves are covered with glow worms, so there is one part where all the members of the group form an “eel” (which means you put your feet under the armpits of someone and someone puts their feet under yours and form a line) and just float along with the helmet lights off, staring up at the glowing dots all over the top of the cave. Sooo pretty. The whole thing was so fun, minus the water being freezing balls, and the tour guides were legitimately funny. Always a plus. Love me some humor.

After the rafting adventure, I drove back up to Auckland and explored the city and found a hostel to stay at. Auckland is pretty cool, it’s compact and small and kinda reminds me of SF in that aspect. It’s kind of a quiet city … everything closes relatively early. It’s weird to be walking around a big city and half the stores are closed at 8pm. I walked up to the Sky Tower and checked out the siiiiiiick views of the city from up there, and had me a little glass of wine. Then I went down to the Viaduct District, which is where the harbor is and there are a lot of cool/nice restaurants and bars. I got myself some prawn and scallop fettuccine and some more wine, and then went around the corner to meet up with a friend of a friend who lives in Auckland for some drinks.

The next morning I awoke to my first international parking ticket! Woohoo! $65 … WTF! I wandered around the city some more and then headed north up the coast to get a little beach action. The weather was overcast and a little chilly but I wanted to see all that I could while I was there. I ended up at Goat Island which was so cool. The ocean’s expansiveness takes my breath away every time I look at it. That pretty much summed up my last day in New Zealand.

Next stop is Sydney, Australia! If you have any suggestions of things I can do while I’m there or things I absolutely have to do, PLEASE let me know in the comments!!

♥Nikki

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