Monthly Recap: April 2017
I'm behind on blog posts right now and a big reason for that is because Thailand always pulls me in, with little regard for any other "priorities," like blog posts or final papers. April was actually a tough month for me (a few more lows than highs), but now my month-long visa for Thailand is nearly up, and I feel like I've done a 180 in terms of feeling homesick or uncertain about my travels. I'm excited for the months and countries to come, but here's a look back at the month of April. A bit late, but still relevant!
Where I've Been
- Kuala Lumpur - 2 nights
- Cameron Highlands - 2 nights
- Penang - 4 nights
- Langkawi - 2 nights
- Phuket - 3 nights
- Koh Phi Phi - 3 nights
- Koh Tao - 7 nights
- Bangkok - 2 nights
- Chiang Mai - 1 night (so far)
(and one overnight bus!)
Bed Station Hostel - This is one of my favorite hostels in Asia and always makes chaotic Bangkok feel more manageable to me. I stayed there two years ago when this modern spot first opened, and I was amazed to see that the hostel was just as friendly and clean as I remembered it. I love the fresh fruit that comes with breakfast, its central location, and its cozy beds with curtains and cushy duvets. I only stayed for two nights so I wrapped up a lot of homework for grad school and finalized my travel plans.
Orchid Haven Hostel - I didn't like this hostel in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia because the mattress felt really old and the bed sheets didn't even fit on the mattress! The sheets kept coming off during the night, so I'd wake up with them tangled around my feet. There was also only one shower and toilet for 10 people, which made for a long wait in the morning. And it's just gross to have so few toilets for so many people. The hostel did have a cool cooking class, though. We made eight dishes and could barely finish it all! It was a fun way to meet other backpackers and the food was very good, but that was my only positive takeaway from this place.
Taking in Kuala Lumpur - I enjoyed Malaysia's capital way more than I thought I would. During the day, I checked out the city's architectural masterpieces, the twin Petronas Towers. I wandered back at night with a new friend to catch a water light show in front of the towers. I had hoped to go back to KL to grab a drink at a sky bar, but ended up going to Thailand instead. Either way, KL is an easy transportation hub and the towers don't disappoint.
Discovering street art in Penang - I totally fell in love with the historic island of Penang, Malaysia. This city was so hipster and just downright cool. There were tons of cafes, coffee shops, street food stalls, unique crafts, and of course, street art. I stumbled upon street art around every corner and spent hours walking around the city. Penang was an easy city to explore and play in, which made it so easy to stay.
Taking a Batik watercolor class - I used to love to draw and paint, but that hobby slowly faded when I couldn't find enough time to take studio classes in college. I wandered upon Rozana's batik watercolor studio on a Wednesday afternoon. She showed me the batik water coloring technique and I got to choose a design to paint. It was so relaxing to paint for two hours and Rozana was great company. She is very talented and I loved looking at her artwork and hearing the stories behind her paintings.
Exploring Langkawi by scooter - I have stayed away from scooters since witnessing one too many motorbike accidents in Thailand, but I have to admit that driving a scooter is easily the easiest way to explore much of SEA. In Malaysia, I hopped on the back of Darcy's bike for two days as we explored beaches and winding roads throughout Langkawi. Riding a scooter is also the easiest way to cool off - I loved the feeling of the wind in my hair and not being cooped up in a taxi or shuttle bus. The problem is I'm awful at driving a scooter, but at least I fit on the back of one!
Partying in Phuket - I have never seen a party scene quite like the one I experienced in Phuket. Phuket is notorious for partying, and it's impossible not to go out when you're surrounded by it 24/7. So with Darcy's birthday, of course we had to go out for the third night in a row. We drank cheap beers from 7-11 and wandered the streets looking for a fun bar. We almost ended the night early after I was unceremoniously groped by a drunk guy and witnessed another guy harassing a girl on the streets, but we eventually found an outdoor bar with live music. We danced the whole night and made friends with the jazz players.
Diving in Koh Phi Phi - Continuing with our Thailand island hopping, we took a ferry to Koh Phi Phi after Phuket. On my last day, I woke up early to go scuba diving. Koh Phi Phi has a protected marine park and I was stunned by the vivid corals and all the fish. Maybe I wasn't expecting much, but I ended up having an awesome day of diving. Plus, it was just me and the Dive Master so we were able to dive for upwards of 60 minutes and do whatever we wanted. I enjoyed checking out the diving in Thailand besides Koh Tao, which is my usual go to spot.
Returning to Koh Tao and Roctopus - I knew I would go back to Koh Tao one day after visiting for the first time two years ago. I was so relieved to be back on this diving mecca, with no plans and no commitments. It was comforting to be back in a familiar place, and when I stepped into Roctopus, I instantly recognized many of the same instructors. Despite being so popular, Roctopus has remained the most friendly, energetic, badass dive shop on Koh Tao. It hasn't lost that personalized touch, and I was pumped to dive Sail Rock with them. Plus, we saved a whale shark. All in a day's work! (Except I'm totally unemployed right now.)
Crossing into Thailand - I crossed from Langkawi, Malaysia into Thailand with Darcy, Jeff, and Gabby. But the journey to Phuket was a long one! We took a ferry into Thailand, then a truck to the bus station, then suffered through a long, hot, 8-hour bus ride during the day in which the aircon constantly leaked condensation and there was only one rest stop. When we finally made it to the Phuket bus station, there were no taxis because it was a holiday. When we finally arrived at our hostel, soaked to the bone from Songkran water guns, we were exhausted and hungry from 14 hours of nonstop travel. But we made the best of it - we smiled and laughed though the water fights and found a delicious Indian restaurant!
Killing ALL of the cockroaches - In Koh Phi Phi, the four of us found a guesthouse that was super central to town and was only 800B/night. Gabby and I shared a room for 400B each. The room was basic but totally fine; we didn't spend much time in the room, anyways. But I will say that I saw the biggest cockroach of my life in front of our bathroom door. Gabby -- who was a fearless Aussie -- stomped the hell out of it, but then a huge centipede scurried past! So we had to crush that one, too. We were constantly on the look out for bugs, and the situation didn't get much better when Gabby discovered she had brought bedbugs into the room from a previous hostel.
Getting homesick - After I left Koh Phi Phi, I felt burnt out. I kept saying I wasn't homesick, but I was definitely homesick. Thankfully, I've stayed pretty busy the past few weeks, so the homesickness has since faded and time seems to have sped up again. I still miss lot of Western conveniences, like going to my favorite restaurants, having my own space, and driving my car.
Being majorly stressed out - Looking back on my losing my travel mojo, a lot of it had to do with stress surrounding school, a doctor's visit, and issues with the whale shark video licensing. Sometimes I don't handle stress well, so it didn't help when I felt like things were piling up.
And feeling lonely - Wow, April was really a doozy when it came to all these emotions! Which is odd because I started off the month backpacking Phuket and Koh Phi Phi with three other people and was literally never alone. But once I got to Koh Tao, I was stressed out and burnt out, so I closed myself off to most people. Which didn't really help. I should have stayed in a social hostel, but instead chose a quiet one and kept my head down. Thank god things changed once I got to Chiang Mai.
Singapore was included in my March recap. All costs are in USD!
Malaysia - 10 days
Malaysia Total: $332, an average of $33/day
My costs were Malaysia were pretty average and expected.
Thailand - 18 days
Thailand Total: $700, an average of $38/day (so far)
My costs for Thailand have been higher because I was traveling with three other backpackers at the beginning of the month. We spent more money on alcohol and activities. I also restocked on a bunch of miscellaneous items that I really needed, like shampoo and body wash.
Overall April Total: $1,032, an average of $37/day
8 Things I Miss About Home - Obviously a little homesick.
2017 Guide: How to Get to Banaue - I had a hard time finding up-to-date info on how to get to Banaue, Philippines, so I wrote this guide to help other backpackers out.
How to Use a VPN for Internet Abroad - I didn't know what a VPN was six months ago, but it ensures I can keep up with my favorite shows!
6 Ways to Travel for (Almost) Free - My top tips for how I kept my costs down so much while backpacking Aus.
Hiking the Batad Rice Terraces - Hands down, one of my favorite travel experiences to date.
Confession: I'm Burnt Out from Traveling - Yup, definitely burnt out.
How I Track My Finances Abroad - I share the spreadsheet I use to track my finances and how much I've spent total during my time abroad.
Oh, How My Travel Plans Have Changed - From skipping New Zealand to celebrating Songkran in Thailand, I've barely been able to keep up with my own plans!
Books I've Read
Ughh I've been failing miserably on this front. I don't even like the Kindle I purchased off Amazon because I mistakenly went for an old, used version and well... it's a very old, used Kindle. But I picked up The Book Thief in Chiang Mai and plan to read it in Myanmar.
What's Up Next
I don't know if I should keep including this section when my plans keep changing! But these plans are at least set in stone because the visas are paid for and the flights are booked! I am in Chiang Mai until my Thai visa runs out, and then I fly to Myanmar on May 12. I am spending 10 days in Myanmar, then fly directly to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. I'm excited to start Vietnam because I have heard awesome things about the country from other backpackers and my cousin lives in Ho Chi Minh! If I like Vietnam, I hope to spend a month traveling up to Northern Vietnam.
In fact, I'm laughing to myself as I edit this blog post because even with my flights and visa set for Myanmar, I was sorely tempted to change plans to keep traveling with a certain someone. Life's funny and beautiful in that way.