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Bangkok & First Impressions

Hello from Thailand!

First of all I want to apologize for my lack of blog posts! I’ve been feeling guilty for making such a fuss about starting this blog and I’ve barely been able to touch it since I left home almost two weeks ago! The truth is I’ve either been absolutely exhausted at the end of each day or the wifi has been weak whenever I’ve tried to create a new post and I’m not able to upload my photos 🙁

But I enjoyed my time in Rome immensely and made it to Thailand safe and sound! This will probably be a long post to make up for lost time but I’ll try not to go into too much detail. But I do want to share some highlights and first impressions of this beautiful country!

Day One

I arrived in Bangkok last Tuesday morning. I was worried about not having any Thai money and not having remembered to look up directions to my hostel before leaving Rome. Luckily I made out ok – found an ATM to get money, and was able to get on the airport wifi for the directions! I was very proud of myself for navigating public transportation all the way there – I took the airport train into the city and transferred onto the MRT metro system to the area where my hostel was located. It was pretty easy actually!

Getting out of the metro and stepping onto the streets of Bangkok was quite a slap in the face, however. The noise, the people, the traffic, the heat – just wow. Luckily a nice Australian man who happened to be passing by must have noticed the look on my face in that moment, and he was able to point me in the right direction towards my hostel.

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Busy busy Bangkok

I didn’t do much the rest of that day. Napped, explored the neighborhood, ate my first Pad Thai, etc. I thought I had the hostel room to myself but a girl arrived that evening, named Grace. She was Thai so I thought there might be an awkward language barrier, but it was just the opposite. We started chatting and were fast friends! She showed me on a map what to see in Bangkok and even offered to help me get to where I needed to go the next day! Thank God, because I was clueless.

Day Two

Grace and I headed into the city to take the tourist boat around to see the sights of Bangkok. She had meetings to go to later that afternoon but said she would come with me to some of the temples – score! It was not only great to have a companion, but having a local show me around turned out to be an incredible way to start my trip and get acclimated to Thai culture.

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One exciting aspect of Thai culture that I got a taste of that morning was motorbike taxis! Grace and I couldn’t get a taxi that morning so she suggested I get on the back of a motorbike with a random man who pulled over. Terrified, I refused at first, not knowing what was going on or why this was even an option! I told everyone I’d be careful on my trip and this sounded like a bad idea. I had never been on a motorcycle or even a moped before, which didn’t help my nerves. Another man on a motorbike pulled over and Grace hopped on, urging me to do the same, so I did, hoping I wouldn’t die on my first day out in Thailand.

I have to say, weaving through traffic on the back of a motorbike really got the blood pumping at 8:30 in the morning! The ride was probably only about 4 minutes to the nearest metro station, but it was a serious adrenaline rush! I later realized there are motorbike drivers in orange vests all over the city, and they are taxis! I started to notice all sorts of people riding on the backs of taxis – it’s funny to see businessmen and women in their professional attire zooming around on motorbikes!

The first stop of the day was Wat Pho – the first of many Buddhist temples I would soon visit! Wat Pho has a gigantic reclining Buddha statue housed in a beautiful temple in quite an impressive complex of buildings and other structures.

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I had to buy the flashy pants to cover my legs out of respect… I was so hot!

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After that we took the tourist boat across the river to Wat Arun, another major temple in Bangkok.

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Wat Arun is MASSIVE and really intricately decorated. Amazing!

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We visited one more temple after that (I don’t recall the name) before Grace took me to a local market for lunch. I didn’t see any other foreigners there, which I thought was pretty cool. It’s places like that I would have never seen if I was exploring on my own!

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We stopped in a hole-in-the-wall spot for food, where we got Thai salads (although to me it seemed more like a coleslaw). It was good! Unlike anything I’d had before.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrace and I parted ways so she could go to work and I headed off to the Grand Palace, fighting my way through the crowded streets. It was another beautiful complex but at that point it was the part of the day when the sun is the hottest and the crowds were unbelievable. So I didn’t stay long but I enjoyed the architecture and took some nice photos!

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I took the tourist boat back down the river and back to my hostel for the night. I decided to explore the neighborhood a little more and ended my day with a cold Chang beer to cool off 🙂

Overall my first days in Thailand have been overwhelming but exhilarating. I’ve managed to learn “hello” and “thank you” in Thai and do my best to remember to take my shoes off when appropriate. I’ve been practicing eating my food with a spoon, and just using my fork to help get the food onto the spoon (It’s harder than you’d think to adjust!). The Thai people have been so kind, and I’ve only been scammed once so far (to my knowledge…). Still getting used to eating Thai food every single day. I’ll admit there is already an element of repetitiveness to the food after only my first week but I can say I’ve tried at least one new thing almost every day! Hopefully I’ll continue to branch out and may even find a new favorite dish! There are so many subtle differences and quirks between American and Thai culture, that I’ve started compiling a list – hopefully when I have enough, I will make a post about them!

Going forward I think I’d like my blog to be less of a chronology of events so it may be more interesting to read? Please let me know what you think! I’m going to try to publish a post about my trip to Ayutthaya in the next day or two so stay tuned!

Rome: Revisited!

Since most of my weekend in Rome was spent wandering around and reminiscing about the year I spent studying there, I’m not sure there’s much I can really say that would be of interest to anyone else. But it was wonderful to be back and I really enjoyed walking around and taking photos. So here are some of my favorites!

 

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How I’m Packing Carry-On Only for Two Months

It’s one week to departure and the pressure is on to get everything in order for myself before next Tuesday when I jet off to Rome. Next Tuesday! :O

In the past week I’ve tackled one dentist appointment (and have another one later this week. Ugh.), one eye exam, 2 vaccinations (Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Ouch!), I finally moved everything out of my former apartment, and have started packing my backpack and accumulating all the little knick knacks that I’ll be bringing along with me! I still have a lot to do (hair appointment, trip to the bank, and a couple phone calls to make) but I already feel so much better having checked these items off my list!

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am attempting to travel with carry-on luggage only. From what I’ve read in my research on other travel and backpacking blogs is that I’ll thank myself later for packing as little as possible. I really hope this is true because it certainly isn’t easy!

After much research into what kind of backpack to bring, I decided on the Osprey Farpoint 40. I knew I wanted to be sure it wasn’t too gigantic so that I can carry it on planes and buses with me. I also decided I wanted a front-loading pack instead of a top-loading pack. I read that it’s much easier to access all of your belongings in a front-loading pack so you don’t have to rummage around and disrupt your organization when you’re looking for something. It’s basically like having a suitcase on your back. Pretty cool! And then aesthetically, it is simple and without too many extra frills that I don’t think I would need.

My gorgeous Osprey Farpoint 40

I’ve been working really hard to figure out exactly what I’m bringing inside my 38 liter backpack. One of the most challenging things, unsurprisingly, is what clothes to bring. I’ve decided to take 2 eBags Slim Packing Cubes to fit just about all of my clothing besides socks and underwear. Packing cubes are a godsend and I don’t think I’ll be ever be able to travel without them again! But the ones I have are not very big… So I’ve been experimenting a little with how much I can fit in each cube. I’ve found that I can stuff about five tops and one sundress in one, and four pairs of shorts and two pairs of leggings in the other. Sadly I won’t be able to travel with any jeans because they’re too bulky and warm for tropical Southeast Asia! I also have to think about my couple days in a much chillier Rome, which is a little tricky to balance! I think temperatures generally range anywhere from high 30s to low 60s Fahrenheit around this time of year. I’ll just pray for nice weather in Rome and hope there’s no freak snowstorm like the winter when I was living there!

Organization is KEY in order to maximize space. Fingers crossed that I can stay this organized while I’m on the road!

But even more difficult than limiting the clothes I bring is the amount of liquids I can bring for carry-on only travel. Damn you, TSA. I have my one-quart bag and have been taking things out and rearranging them like a puzzle, and having to prioritize which items are the most important.

These are most of the liquids I started out with that I would normally want to bring when traveling

I’ve decided that a couple months’ worth of contact lenses and 2 tiny bottles of solution are priority one, closely followed by a travel-size dry shampoo spray (to offset the fact that I can’t fit my travel shampoo and conditioner), and Downy wrinkle release spray (sadly I can’t fit an iron in my backpack). I’ve had to opt for a solid bar of soap instead of my standard liquid body wash, and I’ve even found ‘Shout stain-removing wipes’ instead of Tide-to-Go. Never heard of them and no idea if they work, but worth a shot! I was able to fit a couple more cosmetic items in there but everything else (shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, sun screen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, etc.) will need to be purchased on the road or, at the very least, in the airport once I’m through security.

And this is the reality of how many liquid items I will be able to bring!

I haven’t even left yet and already feel like all of this preparation has been such an interesting learning experience. I wouldn’t consider myself to be “high maintenance” in general but I have a feeling that any high maintenance tendencies that I do have will probably dissipate during this trip.

Since I still need to review everything I’ve packed and make sure I have everything I need, I’m not ready to post a full packing list just yet. But I will probably post a rundown of everything in my backpack sometime before I leave next week! Then I expect I’ll be posting something once I’ve been on the road for a while when I realize how I could have packed better! 🙂

…This is Really Happening!

I don’t want to be a cliché, but I just ‘quit my job to travel’! Not forever anyway (I wish). I put in my two weeks’ notice and my last day of work will be December 11th. Then I’ll have one month to spend time with my family and and enjoy the holidays before embarking on this adventure!

Is this real life?

I thought I would feel a wave of relief and a rush of adrenaline once I handed in my resignation. But the truth is I’m probably more stressed now than before! I have so much to do to wrap up things at work, move out of my apartment, get ready for the holidays, and figure out how I’m going to travel to the other side of the world and survive on my own.

I am excited (very excited) but I’m hoping I’ll stop doubting myself so much as time goes on. Before I fly to Bangkok, I booked a few days in Rome, which is making me feel a lot more comfortable because I spent my junior year of college there 3 years ago. The thought of going back to my second home makes me so happy that words truly fail me. I still miss Rome every day and can’t wait to go back and explore all my old haunts, even if I’ll be by myself. I think going somewhere so familiar will be a good way to ease myself into a long-term solo travel adventure.

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But the best part of all is that I’ve finally started sharing my travel plans with friends, family, and coworkers. Going on a big solo backpacking trip has been a secret ambition of mine for a long time and I was nervous to reveal it for fear of being judged or looked at like I’m crazy. But everyone has been so supportive, although some people still think I’m a little crazy! Overall its been a huge relief and everyone wants to give me travel recommendations and to put me in touch with anyone they know in Asia. It’s so great to know everyone is on my side and wants me to make the most of my experience! I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I think it’s safe to say I have a hell of a lot to be thankful for this year!