Koh Lanta, Bali

My last day in Hanoi was fairly uneventful. I caught up on some emails and photo editing and spent the remainder of the day and evening with a Dutch couple from my Halong Bay trip and one of the Canadian siblings from my Sapa trip. The next day we all took the same flight to Bangkok so we were able to split a cab on both the Hanoi side and the Bangkok side. I checked in to the hostel where I was meeting up with my old highschool friend Corina later than night, relaxed a bit, and then met back up with them for dinner.

After dinner the four of us played card games for a couple hours and then I began to get incredibly nauseous. After a vomiting episode in the restaurant bathroom (sorry if that’s too much information), I immediately took a cab back to my hostel where I was hit with full on food poisoning. It ended up being some of the most miserable 24 hours that I can remember (the only worse food poisoning I’ve had was back on my study abroad program in Ecuador). Unfortunately during that time, Corina also arrived and then had to spend her first day in Bangkok alone as I couldn’t even keep a half sip of water down and was too sore and weak to move out of bed. Thankfully I felt somewhat better the next day as we had to catch a flight down to Koh Lanta. After checking in to our hostel there we walked across the street to an amazing beach, aptly named Long Beach (as its 3 km long).

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We spent the remainder of the day napping and swimming at the beach and returned to our hostel in the evening for a light dinner and early bedtime.

Day 2 in Koh Lanta began with another trip across the street to Long Beach where the water was even calmer than the previous day.

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After lunch we got a cab all the way to the south of the island where there is a small national park. The 45 minute drive was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve done as we went along the cliffs looking through jungle at beautiful beaches below.

We spent the remainder of the day at the national park. There are two beaches there, one is rocky but has reefs (if you bring your own snorkel gear) while the other is sandy and calm. Separating the two beaches is a little jut of land with a lighthouse on it, so we climbed up to the top to get lovely views in all directions.

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Then we hiked down in the sweltering heat and spent an hour and a half lounging and swimming at the sandy beach (as we didn’t have the snorkel gear to explore the other one).

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The whole national park area is swarming with monkeys that kept trying to get into our backpacks when we weren’t paying attention so after 1.5 hrs of fending them off we decided to explore some more of the national park. They had a 2 km nature hike that we were excited about at first but after the entire first 25 minutes were pretty much vertical stairs with no end in sight, we decided to turn around and head back towards the beach. Once we were there we wandered around the flat part of the jungle where we ran into a gazillion more monkeys and 3 gigantic monitor lizards. The monitor lizards were so cool! I didn’t even know that they were in Thailand.

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Then we went back to the beach for a tiny bit more relaxation before heading back to our hostel.

Our last full day in Koh Lanta we got picked up early and transferred to a speed boat. We took this about 1.5 hours to a small pair of islands, Koh Rok and Koh Rok Noi. First we went to this calm little bay and snorkeled for about at hour. The coral and fish were so lovely and we even saw a sea snake! They’re very venomous but thankfully it wasn’t interested in us and we were able to watch it peacefully. It was only Corina’s second time snorkeling ever and her first time she had no instruction so I helped teach her how to do it and how to relax and enjoy it. At first she seemed tense but I think by the end of the day she was enjoying it more!

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Next we boated over to a channel between the two islands for our second round of snorkeling. It was quite beautiful as you could see beaches on both sides.

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Unfortunately though, the channel seemed to have some currents so although the coral formations were truly stunning at the second site, it was really hard to swim around much so it was nowhere near as relaxing as the first site.

After this we went ashore at the beach on Koh Rok for some tasty tasty lunch. We then got an hour and a half to relax on the beach, and wow was it a beautiful beach. The sand was perfect and buttery soft and the water was soooo blue. However there were a decent number of people so it wasn’t as relaxing as our other beaches but that didn’t stop us from fully enjoying the sand and water (and unfortunately getting a bit sunburned while we were at it).

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Then it was time to head to our final snorkeling spot. This spot was a very large bay and we had enough time to explore almost all of it. The fish there were definitely the most colorful and diverse, and I even saw a gigantic eel (still haven’t identified the species though). The water around the boat however was a bit filled with jellyfish, I spied them both on the surface and I could feel the microscopic kind stinging my arms, so that was annoying but I just tried to avoid snorkeling near the boat. I also saw the most amazing sea anemones. They were gigantic and bright blue and when I dove down to swim next to them, I noticed that each one was occupied by a little clown-type fish. It was lovely. It made me really wish that I had an underwater camera.

Then it was back onto the boat for a nice long ride back to the beach where our hostel was. It was a thoroughly exhausting day but also so spectacular.

We woke up very early the next day and got on a ferry to Phuket. It was a fairly long ferry ride and then the taxi to our hostel was long as well. By the time we arrived, it was during the hours that they were closed for lunch and cleaning so we went to the beach nearby to relax. There we read our books, swam a bit, and treated ourselves to mango smoothies and chicken sandwiches (not very Thai, but my stomach was still feeling hyper-sensitive).

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Then we checked into our airport hostel, repacked our bags and enjoyed the room’s air conditioning as even at night the heat and humidity was brutal.

The next we woke up at 5 to get to the airport. We flew from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur where we had to exit immigration and customs and get a boarding pass for our next flight on the other side. This was a bit of a hassle but allowed me to get a Malaysia stamp on my passport…although it felt a bit like cheating. We had a 6.5 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur so we decided to wander outside of the airport for food so at least I had breathed Malaysian air and stepped on their soil (trying to deserve that fresh passport stamp here…). Then we checked back in, hung out at our gate, and flew to Bali in the evening. With the time change and long flight, we didn’t arrive in Bali until late and it was an hour and a half in a taxi until we arrived in Ubud, where our first guesthouse was (we arrived there at almost 10 PM..) Once we got to our guesthouse we were informed that they actually were full (kind of frustrating as we booked it 2 months ago…) but the lady brought us about 20 feet away to her sister’s guesthouse where we stayed in a very beautiful and spacious room. However, it was very open to the elements and the temperature didn’t drop whatsoever, even at night so it was a very sticky couple nights of sleeping.

I woke up pretty early the next day. I really wanted to sleep in because the beds were so comfortable and the room was so pretty and serene but the heat was already out in full force and I couldn’t keep my eyes closed against the sweat anymore. After a truly lovely breakfast, we headed out to explore Ubud. Our first stop was a big marketplace where Corina picked up a few souvenirs. Then we found a shaded little temple and rested from the sun.

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Ubud is a very spiritual city so there are temples everywhere. It’s quite pretty. Also, they put offerings and incense out in front of every building every day so the streets are littered in these beautiful little banana leaf offerings.

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Our next stop was the Grand Palace. It wasn’t exactly a Palace or that grand but it was a nice temple space and had enough shade to keep us in ok spirits.

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By this point we were covered in sweat so we found a gelato shop with a fan and took a short break. Then we wandered a bit further down to another temple that had a beautiful lotus pond in front. After meandering through the small temple grounds we are at a cafe in front of the lotus pond and had some delicious cured salmon, avocado, and ginger tea. It really helped out my stomach.

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Then it was back onto the streets where we wandered into various shops. As lovely as Ubud is, it is very gentrified. There are so many “hip” and yuppie boutiques that are pleasant enough to browse but kind of lack that traditional flare. Eventually we decided to walk back towards our guesthouse. We only made it 20 minutes before we realized that we needed air conditioning right that second. The heat was so brutal and we literally felt like it was suffocating us, so we ducked into the nearest air conditioned coffee shop, ordered some juice and sat there in the cool air for almost an hour. Finally it was time to brave the heat again so we went to the sacred monkey forest. It is a beautiful (and very shady) forest with lots of old temples that is filled with monkeys. We wandered through the forest and watched the monkey families for a little while.

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After, we walked back to our guesthouse where we filled the bathtub with cold water and sat in our bathing suits in it as if it were a pool. The heat was so intolerable that it was the only way to get our body temperatures down. Then we relaxed and napped until it was time for a late dinner. I tried to post this on my blog then but the wifi connection was way too slow for any of the photos to upload. After dinner nearby we went to bed early, thoroughly exhausted from the hot climate.

The next day we had an early breakfast and then packed and lounged in our room until we had to check out at 11. Then we ate lunch and found ourselves a cab to Uluwatu, where our next guesthouse was. Our drive was excruciatingly long but our taxi driver was so friendly which helped pass the time. In general, Balinese people are some of the most social and smiley people that I’ve met. They’re so open and want to tell you all about themselves and learn about you. We arrived at our guesthouse, and were greeted by lovely staff and the most blue and pristine swimming pool. After the excruciating heat of Ubud, we immediately jumped in the pool where we spent almost the entire remainder of the day.

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In the evening we walked 15 minutes to a beach north of us. It was very scenic although the beach itself wasn’t terribly inviting as it was rocky, with big waves, and was covered in seaweed.

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We ate dinner there while the sun began to set and then we hiked back up the cliffs and returned to our guesthouse to spend the remainder of the evening swimming.

Our first full day in Uluwatu, we began by sleeping in. Our bungalow was nicely air conditioned and the refreshing air was too irresistible. Then we had a light breakfast and swam in the pool before walking to the beach on the other side of us. This beach was a bit nicer as the sand was quite soft but it was also quite crowded as it is a beach featured in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

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Thankfully we found ourselves a nice shady patch of sand under a rocky protrusion. It was nice because the rock was covered in seaweed and there were baby crabs picking away at the moss and kelp, which kept me thoroughly entertained.

We spent a few hours there, swimming, lounging, watching baby crabs, and snacking on grilled corn before we decided to trek back up the cliffs to find some real food. At our late lunch/early dinner spot there was this really loud noise that I had heard the previous night at our guesthouse. I tracked it down and discovered a massive gecko. It was so massive that I couldn’t really believe it was a gecko. I ended up googling “giant gecko Bali” and discovered that it was a Tokay Gecko which are apparently quite common. I was fascinated.

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We spent the remainder of the day and evening drinking mango juice and lounging around the pool while I attempted to write an essay for a scholarship opportunity on my phone as neither us nor our hosts had a usable computer. Unfortunately in the evening the electricity completely died so I was unable to submit my essay, as it took the wifi with it.

Today we slept in again, waking to the sound of our electricity returning. After some more morning swimming (I’ve been swimming laps in the pool! Not just lazily swimming!) we began the trek to Uluwatu Temple. The sun was beating down on us though so after our first major incline we decided to grab a taxi the remainder of the way. The temple in Uluwatu isn’t the most exciting but the location is what makes it so special. It is perched on cliffs above amazing turquoise water and crashing waves.

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We walked along the cliffs, admiring the scenery but there was very little shade the whole way. Corina had not been staying hydrated enough and the sun and heat eventually got the best of her and she got dizzy and started throwing up so it put a bit of a damper on the day and we had to rush a bit through the remainder of the visit to the temple to get her back into the shade and cooler temperatures.

Once we got back to the room she took a recovery nap while I finished up my essay, submitted it, and finished writing this post.

Then we headed to a nearby neighborhood where we got a really lovely dinner and watched our last Balinese sunset.

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The next few days are days in transit so my next post (which will be my last post for this trip) will be from back in the states.

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Hue, Phong Nha, Northern Vietnam

Our one night in Hue we spent at the hostel socializing. I found two backpackers from Buenos Aires so I spent the whole evening practicing my Spanish with them since I haven’t really had a chance to have a real conversation in Spanish in so long. It was so fun and it came back to me quickly, although it also made me feel like I need (and want) to take some Spanish lessons once I get back to the states…

The next morning I woke up and ate some banana pancakes, checked out of the hostel, and put my backpack in storage. We were only in Hue for one day so I spent the whole day meandering around the imperial city there. Hue was the capital of the Nguyen empire, so the imperial city is a massive walled complex. A ton of it was completely destroyed in the war, as Hue was also unfortunately one of the most intensely bombed areas. However, despite this, about 40 (of the originally 180) structures are standing and what is left is so beautiful and impressive. There were palaces, a royal reading house, a royal theater, various royal residences, and numerous beautiful temples. Also, every part was covered in very informative signage so you knew what every pile of bombed rubble used to be and what every standing structure still was. Unfortunately I can’t remember which things were which so I’ll just post a whole bunch of photos of the whole imperial city.

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I spent the whole day at this imperial complex and still hadn’t visited everything but at a certain point my back and sinuses were feeling unhappy so I walked back to the hostel, stopping at a cute but little royal antiquities museum. Then I got some delicious spring roll/vermicelli noodles as an early dinner.

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Eventually it was time to hop onto my night bus to Phong Nha, a small town that serves as the base for exploring some of Vietnam (and the worlds) most impressive caves.

Our first day in Phong Nha, Emma and I took motorbikes to Paradise Cave, the longest dry cave in the world. The drive there was truly gorgeous. The whole area was limestone cliffs and the mountains were covered in lush jungle vegetation. It was so pleasant. Once we got to the entrance we had to hike in through the pretty ferns to get to the cave.

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The cave itself was so stunning. It was indeed a very long walk through all of the stalactites and beautiful cave formations. There were also these little mineral ponds that were so calm that the surface was like a mirror. It was stunning.

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After a while wandering through the cave we headed back out, hiked back through the jungle and got on the motorbike to head to Dark Cave. Here we actually swam to the cave (with a guide this time) and we’re given headlamps and hard hats once we reached the entrance. Then we hiked through knee deep water until we reached a section that was almost like a slot canyon. At this point it was starting to get very muddy. We finally reached this lake that is completely mineral mud. It is the weirdest mud. It makes you completely buoyant, so much so that it takes serious effort to push your feet down to touch the bottom. It was really cool but it made my organs feel all weird to be so completely weightless. Also every single inch of us was covered in this mud which was quite funny but frustrating if you opened your mouth, and it would have been a disaster if you had anything in your eye. After a while of floating around in the mud we hiked back out and kayaked downriver to get back to the motorbikes. The river was also so clear and blue so we swam around for a bit to try and get some of the mud off, although it seems to have permanently stained the white parts of my bathing suit a weird pinkish brown.

Then it was back onto the bike to head back to the hostel. The light was stunning on our trip home as the sun had already set but the remaining rosy light was reflecting off of the white limestone cliffs. The trip back was also gorgeous but in a different way as we were going through rivers and farmland and villages. I tried to take a couple photos but we were in a rush since we didn’t have lights on the bike and darkness was fast approaching so the photo below doesn’t even come close to doing the scene justice.

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Emma left that night, so I was back to traveling on my own, and that night I even got my dorm room completely to myself as Phong Nha is quite a small place and hasn’t hit peak tourist popularity yet. It was very calming.

The next day I had a slow lazy morning and then spent the rest of the day wandering around the village and the neighboring villages taking photos and eating delicious Vietnamese food.

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Eventually it started pouring rain so I headed back to the hostel and later got on a night bus to Hanoi.

I arrived in Hanoi quite exhausted and couldn’t check in to my room until 1. Fortunately they had a free 3 hour walking tour of the old quarter of Hanoi at 10 so I joined in. It was a really lovely tour. Hanoi is a really nice city, at least the old quarter is. We went to a small temple, then to a catholic cathedral. Our tour guide told us that Vietnam is very religiously diverse and the population is evenly split between Buddhism, Catholicism, and atheism, with a minority group practicing Confucianism. Very interesting.

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After this we went to the main lake in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake. On weekends they shut down the roads surrounding the lake to vehicle traffic so everyone is just out playing in the streets. There were so many families around and there were all sorts of little plastic cars and scooters and roller blades that kids were renting and riding around on. It was so sweet to watch.

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The lake itself was also quite pretty and there is a special little temple island in the middle of it dedicated to the turtle god. Within the lake there are apparently ~20 different kinds of turtles that you can find. Unfortunately though I didn’t see a single one…

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After the lake we headed to the original place that made egg coffee, a Vietnamese specialty. Although I don’t usually drink coffee, Hanoi is famous for this egg coffee so I had to try it. They mix egg yolk with condensed milk and whip it so that it becomes a meringue, then you have to stir the meringue into the coffee.

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It was actually so delicious, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really care for eggs or coffee. It was very thick and frothy and creamy.

After that we headed to a market which was fairly uninteresting and chaotic so we moved on quickly and headed back to the hostel. I checked in to my room, rested a bit, ate lunch and then headed off to return to the lake.

I sat down next to the lake and within minutes was approached by a group of 20 year old students who wanted to practice their English. This is apparently quite common around this lake (as I was later approached by 3 more groups of students ranging in age from 8 up to 20… the 8 year olds were the cutest). They had a list of questions that they were supposed to ask but we ended up getting super off topic and we ended up chatting for a full hour and a half. It was so lovely, and they tried to teach me some Vietnamese but the pronunciation is so hard that I’ve already forgotten almost everything that they taught me.

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After bidding my new friends adieu I continued my stroll around the lake, meeting some more curious Vietnamese people and watching all of the sweet couples cuddling up along the shore.

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Finally it was getting late enough that I decided to head back to the hostel, just in time for some free beer. I spent the remainder of the evening making friends and getting destroyed at foosball.

The next day I checked out of my room and put my bags in storage. Hanoi is famous for its food, so I soon went out to find some Bun Bo Nam Bo, a Hanoi noodle bowl specialty that I’d read about. I found a little hole in the wall type place and ordered some and it was so tasty.

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It was also a humongous portion and I was so hungry that I gobbled it down and then realized how stuffed I was. I wandered around the old quarter for most of the remainder of the day. Eventually I was hungry again so I tried another Hanoi specialty, this time called Banh Cuon. It was honestly a bit weird. First off they barely spoke English so I thought I ordered pork but then it looked very odd and tasted possibly a little shrimp-y. It’s basically these big wide slightly soggy rice noodles surround some ground mystery meat and you dip it in this sauce that seemed just like fish sauce with chilies floating in it. The flavor was quite good but the weird texture and mysteriousness of the ingredients were just odd enough to push me to gobble it down rather then savor it.

After dinner I headed back to the hostel to rest and then took a night bus to Sapa.

Sapa ended up being my favorite place so far. It’s in the far north of Vietnam, right on the border with Yunnan, China. It’s very mountainous and the area is scattered with hilltribes who have terraced the foothills of the mountains for rice paddies. We trekked 16 km through the mountainous terrain with a beautiful little hill tribe family as our guide, stopping to eat and catch our breath. It was actually one of the most scenic and gorgeous places I have ever been.

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We made it to our homestay around 4 and settled in. My tour group was such an amazing group of people. It was 2 Americans who were on their gap years before starting at private liberal arts colleges (so I gave them lots of fun advice), an incredibly fun Australian guy, and a hilarious brother and sister duo from Toronto (and the sisters name was Tara so that was fun). Our beds were in a cabin and right next to eachother so it was basically like summer camp. In the evening, I broke away from the group and went on a walk down the river to read my book and watch the sunset. It was so beautiful and peaceful.

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Our homestay family made us a delicious dinner and then we spent the whole evening having such a blast. We played game after game and then danced around for hours before the mosquitos and exhausting from our hike got the better of us.

The next morning we woke up to a delicious crepe breakfast, put on our hiking shoes, and continued on to our next village. The breath-taking views continued on and we eventually reached this big cliff face with a waterfall down it where we relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the view.

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The remainder of the walk was quite arduous as we went up huge hills and then down slippery muddy slopes but we eventually got some tasty noodle soup for lunch, and then finally reached the main town of Sapa.

We had 2 more hours until our bus so our little group wandered around the town, and we eventually found a little cafe to just enjoy the incredible view and drink juice and coffee.

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Then it was back onto the bus to Hanoi. I got in at 10 PM and immediately had to repack my bags before catching a 7 AM bus to Halong Bay.

I went on a tour through my Hanoi hostel in halong bay as it is fairly confusing to deal with on your own and there are lots of “tour” scams. It was nice doing it through the hostel as there were 12 other backpackers my same age with me and we had 3 tour guides who were also our age and knew how to keep everything fun and laid back. Our first day in halong bay we checked into our dorm bungalow on a private island and got served a delicious lunch.

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Then we got onto a boat and went all around the bay, finally stopping at one point to jump off the boat and swim around a bit. Unfortunately it was freezing outside so it made the swim and post-swim a tiny bit miserable but it was still fun.

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Then we went a little further and got to kayak all throughout the bay. It was so much fun. We went through one area that was a floating village. There are ~1000 people that live in these floating villages throughout halong bay. It was really amazing to see. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera with me but it was all so scenic. After a nice long kayak ride it was back to our little island for rest and dinner. After dinner we all stayed up late hanging out and playing games.

The next day we took a boat ride to one of the major islands where we got bicycles and went all around the island. It was such a nice ride.

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Eventually we got off and hiked up one of the many limestone mountains in the area. It was quite the grueling hike, but the view at the top was so worth it.

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The hike back down was equally brutal and a few people in our group took some big tumbles. Thankfully I was not one of them. Then it was time for a long bike ride back to the boat where we were greeted by an extremely late lunch. We were so starving that the food was quickly gobbled up. We got back to our island stuffed and exhausted and all napped until dinner time. After dinner it was another night of dancing and games. Our group of people was so much fun and we all got along really well so that made the whole trip even better.

Our last day in halong bay we went on another hike, but this time on the island that we were staying on. It too had some brutally steep moments but the views were again so worth it, and we got to go to a beach that was covered in monkeys.

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Then it was back to the main part of our island for some final card games and lunch before our bus/boat trip back to Hanoi. I made it back in the evening, caught up with people back home, and then decided to head out for some late dinner. I got Pho from a tiny stand on the street and it was quite tasty, then I wandered around and stumbled onto the Hanoi night market. It was really interesting. It was geared towards locals, not tourists, as most of the stuff was clothing and accessories, but it was fun to wander around in the chaos and just watch people haggle over prices while snacking on the various fried street foods along the way.

Today is my second to last day in Hanoi. For the most part I took it easy for the day since I’m pretty physically exhausted from all of the hiking and exercise from the past week. I finally headed out for lunch at a nearby place that specializes in Bun Cha, a Hanoi specialty that Obama tried when he came to Hanoi. I didn’t make it to the place that he went to because it was far away and there was a place closer that had better reviews on trip advisor.

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It was indeed quite delicious and they showed me the proper way to eat it which was very nice. Afterwards I decided to stroll around through the Old Quarter to see if I could find myself a watch. I unfortunately broke mine beyond repair and thought it might be cheaper to just get a replacement in Vietnam. It was quite a frustrating search and I ended up confused and with no watch, so I guess I’ll just find one when I get home. The stroll around the old quarter was nice though. It was, and still is, the main shopping hub of Hanoi. Every street is named after the type of goods sold on it. Some of the stores have just turned into general tourist-crap stores but many of them still retain their original function so there is a street where every shop is selling aluminum wares, a street where every shop is selling silk, and then the street that my hostel is on is dedicated to stores selling ropes and string.

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Tomorrow’s my last day in Vietnam which is sad but I’m excited to head back to Thailand and meet up with one of my old school friends!

Saigon, Da Lat, & Hoi An

My second evening in Ho Chi Minh, 5 other travelers and I headed to a bar that’s on top of a skyscraper. The view was really amazing and the other people were so friendly so that was fun. My next day in Saigon, I booked a Mekong river tour. I hadn’t heard the best reviews of it, but it was only ~$6 and included water and lunch so it couldn’t really be that bad. We started out with a 2 hour bus ride to the river delta while our very funny guide explained what was on the schedule for the day. Our first stop was a small temple that had 3 giant Buddha statues, one standing, one sitting, and one reclining. It was a pretty little temple, and seemed to have a lot more Chinese influence than the temples in Thailand.

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Then we piled onto a boat that took us over to an island that had a coconut candy factory on it. We got to sample the coconut candy but then they of course tried to push us to buy some. Didn’t buy anything the whole day. Next we went to an island where they served us lunch. It wasn’t the most appetizing lunch, but it was food. Then we had an hour to explore the little island. I had mixed feelings about this. First we walked past a “crocodile” (pretty sure these were caimen, not crocs but that’s what they called them) farm. At first I was excited to see “crocodiles” but then I realized how terrible the conditions were, it was like 50 animals in one tiny enclosure barely bigger than my living room and I got a bit depressed. So I moved on to explore the remainder of the island with a couple Dutch people on my trip. We got free bike rentals so we took the bikes out of the tourist area and biked around the island through banana and coconut farms, which was charming.

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Our next stop was a honey farm, where we were served free honey tea but then of course pressured to buy some. Thankfully we moved on quickly and got in these little banana boats that took us down a little Mekong tributary. It was really pleasant, and I kept spotting these weird little creatures that looked like a mix between a fish and a salamander that were climbing out of the water onto the mud using what looked like fins, not legs. I still have no idea what they were but they were everywhere. I’ll have to look them up.

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We ended with some fresh fruit at this place where we were serenaded with traditional vietnamese singing. It was a bit bothersome because I don’t exactly like being sung to and it wasn’t particularly good and of course they asked for tips. After this we headed back to the main land and got back on our bus to Saigon.

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So in total, it wasn’t the best experience because a lot of it was clearly designed as a sort of tourist trap, but the banana boat trip and bike trip were quite nice and worth it so I don’t regret my $6 spent. Then it was back to the hostel for some free beer and socializing. A new British girl arrived at my hostel who was so incredibly entertaining and had just gotten back from scuba diving for 2 weeks in the Maldives where she got covered in jellyfish stings. So I listened to all of her diving stories and then we headed out on a pub crawl put on by a neighboring hostel. It was really fun, and I made a lovely group of friends.

The next day I checked out of the hostel and then spent much of the day lazing around their common room. Eventually my hunger overtook my laziness and I found a stand selling sandwiches that were a cross between a banh mi and a gyro. It was fantastic. Then I walked through another part of downtown Saigon for the rest of the day. After wandering I was feeling sore so I went to a massage place where the masseuses are blind. It was the best massage yet and it was only $3. So crazy. After dinner with some of the people from my hostel, it was time to get on my overnight bus to Da Lat. It was truly the weirdest bus I’ve ever been on. The seats are beds and there are two levels of them. So there was someone sleeping above me.

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Thankfully I passed out right away and woke up when we arrived in Da Lat at 5:30 am. Unfortunately the reception at my hostel wasn’t open until 7, but there were two other backpackers in the same boat as me, so we lugged our stuff up to a little cafe, ate some breakfast Bun Bo Hue (noodle soup), and rested. Then I walked the 2 km to my hostel and fortunately there was an open bed, so I was able to check in immediately and sleep for the remainder of the morning. Also the beds at this hostel were memory foam, which made sleep all the better.

I finally decided it was time to get out of bed around lunch time. I walked all through the center of town looking for street food called da lat pizza. Eventually I reached the main lake in Da Lat and thought maybe there would be a food cart somewhere around it.

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After almost fully completing the 6 km trek around the lake I finally found a cart selling banh mi so I bought one. My inability to know how to order food in Vietnamese meant I just got whatever she handed me. It was a sandwich with about 5 meats in it. It tasted delicious, although the texture was a bit suspicious so I just had to gobble it down before thinking too hard about it. Then I wandered back up through the hillside and around the town where I bought some more questionable street food, this time a weird jelly boba type drink that ended up being overly sweet so I only made it through half of it.

Once I got back to the hostel I rested some more before a tasty “family style” dinner served for all of the travelers and then some more evening socializing.

The next day I set out early for an EasyRider motorcycle tour. This entailed me and 3 other people from my hostel sitting on the backs of motorcycles while we were toured around the Da Lat countryside. Da Lat is very different from other places that I’ve been because it’s at 5000 ft elevation so the weather is significantly drier and there are pine trees rather than palm trees. Our first stop was a little pine grove that we hiked up to see a view of the city and surrounding farms (a huge portion of produce around Vietnam is grown in Da Lat).

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After this we continued on for a while on this long and winding, but very scenic road, stopping at another viewpoint, a flower farm, and a coffee plantation. At the coffee plantation we learned about this special coffee that is actually made from coffee beans that have been digested by weasels, which apparently makes it a delicacy. It was very interesting.

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Our next stop was a cricket farm (for eating) and a rice wine farm. We got to try samples at both and the rice wine was especially delicious. Then it was on to a silk factory which was interesting but a little gross as every surface was covered in wet silkworm carcasses.

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Next we went to Elephant Falls, which was gorgeous. We walked way down to the bottom of the waterfall which was fun, but muddy.

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Then we had a cheap little lunch. It was good but the meat was slightly questionable (thankfully did not get sick from it!). Then we walked over to a fairly modern temple that was built in 2007. It was very Grand and impressive, with a gigantic Happy Buddha statue.

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Then we got back on our bikes and headed off on a long trip to Pangour waterfall. We stopped once to look at these peppercorns trees that are actually growing around gigantic coffee trees.

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Pangour Waterfall was incredible. Truly breathtaking, I had no idea there were waterfalls like that in Vietnam. We walked around there for a bit, checking out the waterfall from all different angles before hopping back on the motorbikes for a long ride back towards Da Lat.

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On the way back we stopped at a mushroom farm and an indigenous village where they had build a massive rooster statue. We also stopped at a couple more viewpoints, including a beautiful alpine-esque lake.

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In the end, it was an incredibly informative tour and our guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. I had a family dinner that night with the other travelers from my tour and then we went to this crazy bar that’s designed like a mix between a maze and a funhouse. There are false stairways everywhere and in places the ceiling drops to about 3 ft. It was quite entertaining.

The next day in Da Lat, I went on a canyoning tour with 4 other backpackers. First we got dropped off and geared up in half wetsuits, harnesses, and hard hats. Then we headed to this dirt hill where they taught us how to rappel. With this knowledge in mind we hiked up this canyon until we got to a bit cliff face. First we rappelled down the dry part of the cliff and then it was time for the challenge of rappelling down the waterfall. It was a bit terrifying because the water is just pouring down on top of you so you can barely see but it was quite exhilarating.

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Then we hiked through the jungle for a bit more than a half an hour. There were birds everywhere and it was lovely to be tucked away in such a forest. Eventually we reached our next waterfall, the “washing machine”. For this waterfall we weren’t really climbing down it but rather just dropping down it. It was a bit overwhelming because it’s just a bunch of water pushing you down and again you can’t really see much but it was very refreshing and the swimming hole at the bottom was quite nice.

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Then they set us up on this zip line across a giant swimming hole and we spent the remainder of the afternoon zip lining into the water and cliff jumping.

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After a full day of activities they set us up with a make your own banh mi station which was so delicious and some beers. By then end of the day I was damp and exhausted and cold so it was nice to go back to the hostel and just relax. I spent the remainder of the evening there socializing with other people of course before heading to bed early.

The next day I checked out of the hostel and then had to wait for my night bus to Hoi An (a 17 hr bus ride). Our bus was running 2 hours late but thankfully I booked the same bus as a British girl, Emma, that I had befriended in Ho Chi Minh who was on the same trip plan as me. Having a bit of company made both the bus delay, and the accompanying overnight bus ride, a little more tolerable.

We made it to Hoi An and were staying in the same hostel for the same number of days, so it’s like having a travel companion. Our first day we were exhausted from our excruciating bus ride so we rested a bit at the hostel and then headed out with 2 other backpackers to explore Hoi An. Hoi An is famous for its tailoring shops and there are hundreds of them where you can get custom clothes designed and made overnight for dirt cheap. Emma had a list of things she needed made, and one of our other friends wanted to get a custom suit made so we spent the afternoon wandering around between tailor shops until we found the best price with the best fabric to get their clothes made. It was interesting to watch, and I decided to get a jumpsuit made since I can never find ones in the US that fit right. Then we went to a bakery that had incredible banh mi for less than $1 and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We spent the remainder of the evening just wandering around some of the produce markets along the river in Hoi An.

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Our next day in Hoi An, I accompanied Emma to some of her various fittings at the tailors and then we bought old town exploration tickets that allowed us to go into 5 different buildings, sights, or cultural events. We went to the old Japanese covered bridge, 2 old assembly halls, an old house, and a traditional performance art show. They were all very spectacular and at one of the assembly halls, we got swarmed by a class of elementary school kids who all wanted high fives, it was very cute.

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We got some delicious Hoi An specialties for dinner and then finally we headed back to the hostel, socialized with some other backpackers and headed to bed early.

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The next day we slept in a bit and then finished touring the old town. Emma had her final tailoring fitting and I had to pick up my jumpsuit, and then we wandered into a different part of the old town, admiring the lanterns and fruit vendors, and picking up some Vietnamese donuts along the way. Eventually we headed back to the hostel where we got a free street food tour that took us to various stops. Only one stop included something I hadn’t already eaten but it was still all so delicious. We got banh mi, pho, these little rice paper/egg/beef dumplings, and fruit shakes. At this point I started feeling a bit sick, as my throat was feeling very scratchy and my head was hurting.

I woke up the next day to a full blown sickness, I’m thinking it’s just a common cold. I couldn’t get out of bed all morning because of my congestion and body aches, but in the afternoon I finally decided I needed some fresh air so Emma and I rented bikes and biked through the rice paddies on the outskirts of town on our way to the beach.

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We didn’t make it to the beach because at one point along the way we stopped to take photos and I heard some mewing sounds coming from a gutter. We ended up finding 3 itty bitty kittens, wet and shivering, dumped in a shrub. We freed them and fretted about what to do with them. We ended up wrapping them in Emma’s sweatshirt and putting them in my bike basket.

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They quickly fell fast asleep in the cozy sweatshirt while we struggled getting through the rice paddies and coconut farms in all of the mud. We finally emerged onto a main road and I saw the name of a hostel that I recognized. We went inside and they helped us get in contact with a woman who runs the only cat shelter in Hoi An. After struggling with communication with her we finally got her address, and biked all the way across town to find her. By this point it was dark and drizzling and one of the kitties was mewing again. Finally we found her, and she was so lovely and said that she had already found them a foster family. So the story ended really happily, and it was a lovely little Valentine’s Day surprise. Then it was back to the hostel to pack up and get ready for our next bus ride.

Emma and I just arrived in Hue, so we’ll do some exploring here before heading north to see some caves.

Chiang Mai & Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Our first day in Chiang Mai, we got a tasty Thai lunch at our guesthouse, booked a cooking class for the following day, and then set out on a walking tour of the historic part of the city.
We started out visiting Wat Chedi Luang.
It contained a very ancient and large pagoda (although now much of the pagoda has slowly worn away with earthquakes). The pagoda was very distinct from the other Wats in Thailand that we had visited. Interestingly there was also a small temple there that was for men only, due to menstruation making women unholy and thus apparently ruining the sanctity of the temple. Not sure how I feel about this… Luke chose not to enter as well, in a stand of solidarity. I don’t really see much feminism in Thailand, although they seem to show women so much respect in other regards that I didn’t really even think about Thai feminism up to that point. Besides that, it was quite a lovely Wat.

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Before our next stop we found a little stand that was serving up mango sticky rice for unbelievably cheap. So of course we had to buy one (and a passion fruit shake) and it was one of the tastiest mango-sticky rices that I’ve had.

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The next temple we visited, Wat Phan Tao, was very distinct as it was made out of wood and was decorated in gold flags rather than the usually gilded temples that we were used to seeing. It also had a little bamboo walkway along a pond decorated in Chinese New Year flags that was quite pretty and peaceful.

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After this we strolled along a street that was lined in little crafts shops. In general, there was quite the abundance of crafty gift shops in Chiang Mai. This street led us to our final wat, Wat Phra Singh. This was the primary royal wat in Chiang Mai. It was quite the fancy temple complex and much of the gilding and architecture reminded me of the royal temple accompanying the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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For dinner we decided to head to a little market area to eat some street food. We got Khao Soi, a Northern Thai specialty that is chicken and egg noodles in a yellow curry broth. Half of the egg noodles are regular noodles and the other half are deep fried so that they’re crunchy. It was so so delicious.

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We followed that up with some roti with chocolate sauce which are kind of like bubbly fried crepes with toppings on them. That was delicious as well. After that we wandered outside of the old town to find the night market. It turns out that the night market is a whole street lined with thousands of handicraft-selling booths paired with multiple giant bazaars containing even more handicraft booths. It was overwhelming but fun and colorful. Eventually we found a little night bazaar that reminded us a lot of Portland. The square was lined in hip ethnic-fusion food trucks, the handicrafts that they were selling there were slightly more unique, there was an abundance of cafe lights and rustic furniture (so very portland-esque), and there was a stage in the middle of it all. We found ourselves a little upcycled pallet table to sit at and watched a very pleasant singer-songwriter for a bit while he covered familiar acoustic songs. It was a very charming way to end the evening.

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we started off my lazing around the hostel and catching up on Internet-things. Then it was time for our traditional Thai cooking class! We started off with a market visit where our chef-teacher explained to us all of the vegetables and ingredients that you see at a Thai market and what to make with each one.

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Then we drove out to the organic farm where our cooking class was located. The whole place was quite serene.

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Then school was in session. First we learned how to make curry paste. We followed that by making Tom Kha Soup. It was shockingly easy to make and tasted so delicious, even made by us amateurs!

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Next we learned how to make sticky rice with mango and green papaya salad. After eating those up, we moved on to curries. I made panang curry and Luke made green curry so that we would both learn how to make different curries. Then it was on to Pad Thai, which was also way easier than I was expecting. Luke somehow managed to make his Pad Thai inside of a fried egg (like an omelet), but when I tried to do this it came out looking like a complete mess.. I seem to lack the artful part of cooking. Finally we made holy basil stir fry and cashew chicken stir fry. During this part our teacher taught us how to make the pan shoot up in flames, which Luke attempted but I was too intimidated by. In the end, it all tasted delicious but it was sooo much food and we were stuffed by the time we left the cooking school.

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Our last full day in Chiang Mai, we wandered around the city and got more delicious Khao Soi at a cute little cafe.

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I followed that up with a Thai massage while Luke found a fun little coffee shop to hang out in. It was quite an interesting massage, very different from western massage but it felt phenomenal and was less than $6. They also gave me complimentary Thai iced tea for hydration afterwards. After some post-massage lazy time, we headed out for our final Thai dinner and then returned to the night market to pick up a few souvenirs and a couple clothing items to add to my sparse wardrobe. By this point in the trip I became acutely aware of my terrible packing, as I fully under-packed. Thankfully picking up a few clothing essentials did not break the bank.

The next day Luke headed back to the US. Thankfully I didn’t have to check out of the hostel until 5, so I spent the remainder of the day packing and planning my next steps in Vietnam. After dinner, I got a tuktuk to the airport and proceeded to have a fairly miserable remainder of the night. I spent ~5 hours in the Chiang Mai airport and then ~5 hours in the Bangkok airport. This was followed by a terribly messy situation with immigration that was solved by an airline representative taking me through the back route of the airport, bypassing immigration. It was very confusing. Finally I arrived in Ho Chi Minh yesterday at 7 am having gotten a total of 45 minutes of sleep. Thankfully it is so organized here and I got on a bus that took me straight to the hostel in no time. By the time I was able to check in to my room I was so exhausted that I ended up spending the remainder of the day sleeping, waking only for dinner at a nearby Pho stand (so so tasty and cheap!) with a British journalist staying in the same dorm as me. After a bite to eat, I got my two complimentary beers from the hostel and spent a few hours chatting with other travelers in the common room. Almost everyone here is a solo traveller which is super nice for social purposes and everyone has such different backgrounds so it was fun to spend a while chatting with people.

Today I woke for an amazing complimentary breakfast (between the 2 free beers, decadent complimentary breakfast, and really incredible amenities at dirt cheap prices I don’t see how this hostel makes any profit). After a post breakfast rest I headed out to discover some of Ho Chi Minh, or as everyone prefers to say, Saigon. I wandered all over, through various markets and down all sorts of streets.

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At one point I actually stumbled upon a catholic cathedral. It wasn’t particularly magnificent but it was so oddly out of place amongst all of the temples of SE Asia that it was interesting. Then I ate an incredible Banh Mi for lunch before wandering (a bit lost) back towards the hostel.

Angkor Wat & Islands

I woke up the next day to find a picture of a princess folded up in my shoe. It was from one of the daughters of the hostel owner. So I drew her a little picture and left it with the guy at the front desk.

For our last day at Angkor Wat we went to a small group of temples a little further out called the Roluos Group. These temples were similar to our earliest temples that we visited with red sandstone and intricate stone carvings.

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After this group of temples we went back to Siem Reap for another tasty lunch. I followed that up by finally indulging myself in a massage. It was such a phenomenal massage, including foot reflexology and what felt like scalp reflexology, and only cost $6 so that was a very nice treat. My masseuse was also frustrated by the unkempt state of my hair, so she threw in a complimentary brushing and fancy-braiding of it so that I would look presentable. It was very sweet.

After reaching complete relaxation, I met back up with Luke to get fresh fruit smoothies and sticky rice with mango. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the various markets around Siem Reap.

In the evening before dinner we played with the baby daughter of the hostel owner. She was really the cutest little thing. She played for a while with our mancala stones and became pretty attached, wanting me to hold her and then not set her down. When we finally had to leave for dinner she burst into tears: bittersweet…

After dinner we explored some of the Siem Reap nightclubs which were quite unique. It was fun.

For our final day in Cambodia, we hung around the hostel the whole morning. The owners older daughter had left me another drawing so I drew her another butterfly in return. Then we just relaxed and ate and enjoyed the last bit of Khmer culture. By the time our same tuktuk driver came to take us to the airport, the family seemed very sad to see us go and walked us all the way out to the street and waved until we’d left. They were really such a wonderful family and Cambodia was just such a special place, with some of the friendliest people I’ve met.

We arrived in Krabi (a small Thai town on the Andaman Sea) late that night and pretty much crashed by the time we reached our very raucous hostel.

The next morning we got on a long tail boat to Tonsai beach.

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We dropped our stuff off at our very cute, and rustic, bungalow and headed immediately to the beach to wash all of our sweat off.

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Later on we ate some delicious curry and Tom Kha soup and ventured across the rocks to nearby Railey beach.

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Unfortunately the moment we arrived it started pouring rain so we sheltered under the rocks for a little bit until it let up. We swam at Railey for about 10 minutes before a real thunderstorm hit and then we scampered up under the trees. This was a serious storm though so we decided to hike back the overland route to our bungalow at tonsai. We were soaked by the time we got back so we rinsed off, played some cribbage, and watched the thunderstorm from the shelter of our bungalow. It was quite exciting to watch such a wild little tropical storm pass.

Eventually we ventured out for some more delicious dinner and then drinks at the bar affiliated with our bungalows.

We woke up early the next day and took a longtail boat out to a ferry to get to Koh Phi Phi. After a pleasant, uneventful ferry ride we arrived to find someone from our hotel unexpectedly waiting to whisk our luggage up the hill for us which was a nice surprise. Our hotel there had a really nice view but was quite the hike up a hill to get to.

We left the hotel to get some food, find a bit of wifi, and book a snorkeling trip for the next day. Then we went to the main beach, Loh Dalum, but the tide was so low that swimming wasn’t exactly an option although I did wade way out, but the abundance of crabs around my feet eventually got the better of me and I decided that resting in the shade of the beach sounded a little better.

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We then wandered through town for a little bit before getting a cocktail ‘bucket’ and taking it to the beach with us. Later in the evening we got some pizza (I know… not very Thai but sometimes you need a change of pace) and returning to the beach to watch some fire spinners.

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For our full day in Ko Phi Phi, we took an early morning speedboat tour to see some more of the islands around there. We made friends with a Lithuanian couple on the boat and spent the remainder of the day with them. Our first stop was Maya Bay. It is truly a spectacular beach. Unfortunately it was the subject of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, so the number of tourists packed in taking photos there was astounding.

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We found a nice area to swim away from the crowds and frolicked around there for about an hour joined by our Lithuanian friends. Our next stop was across Maya Bay opposite the main beach where we jumped off the boat to snorkel. It was really beautiful snorkeling. It’s always fun to snorkel in such a new place because the fish we saw were so different from what I’ve seen in Hawaii. For example, we saw a whole school of cuttlefish and I saw a pair of beautiful squid, two things I’ve never seen before in real life. After snorkeling we continued our boat trip around the island stopping at a big cave and some beautiful little inlets, one of which we swam around at.

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Our final stop was Monkey Bay. Morally, I’m not sure where I stand on feeding monkeys but this is quite the spectacle. The cliffs and trees around this little bay are filled with monkeys. Tour companies toss the monkeys fruit and they come really close up to the boat, one of them even jumped on the boat and then impressively swam back to the cliff.

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After our boat trip we returned to the beach from the previous day, only this time it was high tide.

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We got lunch and mojitos with our new friends and then swam around with them a bit. Even at high tide it was crazy how shallow it was. We went way out and the water still was below our hips. After the swim we bade adieu to our friends and got some of this fancy roll-y ice cream. Basically they mix toppings in with milk and then spread it out on a frozen stone. Once the milk and toppings freezes, they scrape it up into these little ice cream rolls. It was very refreshing.

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By then, it was low tide so we went back to the hotel to swim in the pool there. We relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon and evening and I finally finished a book that I keep opening and then not reading. (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?)

Today we slept in a little, ate another incredible lunch, and relaxed in the shade by the beach for a few hours. We were kept company by some silly old taxi boat drivers who sang very cute songs and engaged in some idle conversation. Eventually we left them to get on a ferry back to Krabi, where we headed to the airport, headed to Chiang Mai.

Tomorrow will be our first day in Chiang Mai, where the food is supposed to be even more phenomenal!

Bangkok & Siem Reap

We made it to Thailand! It’s so hot and humid here but thankfully not too mosquito-y. Getting here took a bit of effort due to both Luke and my flights getting canceled due to weather. My flight was rescheduled for earlier while his was rescheduled for later, so I got to Bangkok about 12 hours before him and headed over to our hostel to pass out.

My first morning in Bangkok I slept off a bit of jetlag and then wandered down a canal near the hostel.

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I ended up at a temple complex called Loha Prasat. It was a 5 story building and each floor was laid out a bit like a labyrinth with Buddhas throughout.

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After a bit of walking meditation I wandered through an old historic neighborhood and found another temple called the Golden Mount. It has a huge constructed mountain in the middle with Buddhas relics enshrined at the top. It was a bit of a trek to the top but once I made it I was rewarded with this gorgeous view.

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After the climb up the golden mount the heat was really getting to me so I headed back to the hostel where Luke arrived soon after. We lazed around for a little while before heading out to explore. We walked along the main canal and then cut through The Grand Palace. The nationally adored king Bhumibol passed recently, and there was some sort of mourning service happening as we walked thorough. Then we headed to Khaosan Road and Soi Rambuttri to check out the tourist scene there (those are the main tourist streets in Bangkok) and grabbed our first Pad Thai dinner.

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We were both too jetlagged and exhausted to do much in the way of night life so we got a couple of Thai beers to drink on the roof of our hostel before heading to sleep.

Day 2 in Bangkok, we woke up early and walked back to the grand palace. After a bit of confusion we finally made it to the temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Pra Kraeow). The temple grounds there were so magnificent. All of the tile work and gilding on the temples and statues was so intricate and colorful.

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Next we walked to Wat Pho, another gigantic temple. We spent a couple hours meandering through the many different temple structures, each containing unique Buddhas telling different chapters of the iconic Buddha life story. The reclining Buddha was also truly amazing. It’s scale cannot be captured by photograph.

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During our touring of Wat Pho we stumbled upon this market that was serving up a free Thai lunch. Of course we had no idea what we were eating (although we definitely spotted some chicken feet in what otherwise looked like tom kha soup) but it was nice getting a tasty free meal as long as we didn’t end up with food poisoning from it.

After Wat Pho, we took a ferry across the canal to Wat Arun. Much of this temple was closed due to restoration efforts but we still took a brief stroll and lots of photos before hopping on a canal express boat to Chinatown.

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Visiting a Thai Chinatown fascinated us both, with a blend of cultures that seemed surprisingly at home together. There were little shops selling made-in-China goods everywhere and the abundance of street food made the sidewalks almost impassable yet so vibrant and colorful.

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Eventually the heat and crowdedness got a bit overwhelming so we headed back to the canal ferry and took it for a while up the river. It’s nice because it’s less than 50 cents and essentially a boat tour for however far along the canal you want to go. Each ‘stop’ was more like a ‘float-by’ as there was very little time to get on and off. Seeing the city from the water was cooler in every way.

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We got off near our hostel, hung out there for a bit and then set off across town to find a little restaurant that was supposed to have some of the best pad Thai in Bangkok. It was quite delicious and very unique as it was wrapped in fried egg, almost like an omelette of pad Thai.

The next day we woke up quite early and got on a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The flight was quite quick, the Siem Reap airport was very unique, and the Cambodian visa on arrival process was a piece of cake. In no time we were carted off by the tuktuk driver sent by our guesthouse. Immediate impressions of Siem Reap were so great! It’s got a ton of character and in a lot of ways reminds me more of Nicaragua than Thailand. Our guesthouse is great and we were greeted by delicious Khmer curry and 50 cent beers. We lazed around the guesthouse for a bit and then went out to a very fun little restaurant with delicious tropical cocktails that were so good and not overly sweet whatsoever (something that usually turns me off of tropical cocktails) and amazingly delicious and cheap food. Then we walked all through the Night Market and Pub Street and got some more 50 cent beers while watching geckos hunt.

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Yesterday was the first day in Angkor Wat. Our same TukTuk driver from the previous day came and picked us up early in the morning and whisked us off to our first temple. We arranged for him to spend the whole day driving us around (which sounds expensive but was actually ridiculously cheap). Our first stop was Pre Rup, a Hindu temple-mountain in the “Big Loop”.
It was quite a trek up some giant and steep stairs up to the top but it was a great way to start off our temple-ing. Also we were there at ~7:30 am so we beat the crowds which was quite nice.

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Next we went 23 km north to Banteay Srei, the Citadel of the Woman, named so (according to lonely planet) because the stone carving there is so intricate that there is no way a man could have done it. It was astounding, the carving was beautiful and the stone was in so many different colors, but it was unfortunately totally swarmed with tour groups.

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After this we backtracked to the Banteay Butterfly Center where we saw all of the species of butterflies in the area and got a very ecologically informed tour (although despite our tour guide’s knowledge of butterflies, his accent made it a bit difficult to understand). We saw all of the butterflies at various forms of life including gold flecked pupae and outrageous looking caterpillars. Also the tour guide told us about the center’s initiatives to teach locals (especially local children) how to farm butterflies so they can sell the pupae/chrysalises back to the center to be distributed to global butterfly centers. All and all it was a very pleasant and beautiful little stop.

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East Mebon was next, another Hindu temple in the big circuit. This one is known for having an abundance of elephant sculptures. Again it was quite breathtaking with its sculptures, architecture, and stone carvings.

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Next was Neak Pean, a Buddhist water temple. The hike out to this temple was so beautiful, on a boardwalk across a bog/flooded forest. The temple itself was very different than the others with its structures all surrounded by ponds.

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Here we stopped for some fairly lame and overpriced lunch. It’s quite the scheme because no one thinks about bringing lunch with them and then everyone’s forced to eat at these eateries. But it wasn’t terrible and it was still cheaper than the US. Also the waitress was very cute and seemed to have a crush on our tuktuk driver and their little flirtation was fun to watch.
After lunch we headed to our last temple of the day, Preah Khan. This temple was the highlight of the day for me. It’s a giant temple that is primarily Buddhist but has some satellite Hindu structures. A lot of it was overgrown with jungle vegetation and unlike the other sites, there were so few tourists. There were also little butterflies flying all over the overgrown temple with made for an incredibly peaceful experience.

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Thankfully after this we were headed back to the guesthouse because the afternoon sun was brutal and the breeze not quite strong enough. We made it back to the hostel, rested, did some laundry, and then wandered down the block to another incredibly cheap restaurant for delicious dinner and cocktails.

Today we woke up at 4 am to get to the main temple, Angkor Wat, for sunrise.There were absurd numbers of tourists, but it really was stunning watching the sun rise over this gigantic temple. Then we explored the temple in the early morning light.

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Today was our tour of the main circuit of temples so we next headed to Bayon, in Angkor Thom. I actually studied Bayon in a Buddhist Art class in college so seeing it in person was quite exciting. There are 216 faces on the 54 towers in Bayon. There are supposedly the faces of Avalokitesvara but also closely resemble the king who commissioned the creation of this structure. We got a fresh coconut and wandered around, eventually stumbling upon a group of monkeys. A couple of the monkeys had sweet little babies climbing on them as well.

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From there we walked past a couple elephant temples to find our tuktuk driver and drive to the next stop, Ta Keo. Ta Keo is only partially finished but was still very impressive. It reminded me of the first temple we visited, Pre Rup, as it was quite the mountain and we had to scramble up multiple sets of ridiculously steep stairs to get to the top. It was worth it though for the view and the breeze. Coming back down those shallow and steep steps was really the tough part though, but we made it and ate some pineapple fried rice at the base.

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We completed our “small tour” with a visit to Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple that was once a monastery and university for the whole temple complex. This is another temple that has been left to the jungle in a sense. There are huge trees growing over many of the ruins which makes for quite the viewing experience. The movie Tomb Raider was actually filmed here, which you could recognize immediately if you’ve seen that movie. Although there were lots of tourists here, there were so many pathways and hallways that you could easily escape all of the hustle and bustle. We actually got lost in the maze of ruins while trying to find our way out which was kind of fun.

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That concluded our day at the main temples and we headed back to catch up on sleep after waking up at 4 am.

We returned to the restaurant from last night for dinner and filled up on more delicious Cambodian specialties and amazing cocktails while our wonderful waiter August taught us snippets of Cambodian.

One and a half more days left in Siem Reap and then its back to Thailand for the beach.

 

Landslides

This song is almost opposite to my last post (but compliments it with slightly somber lyrics). It empowers you and is filled with passion and movement. 

Its the sort of song that I can definitely imagine being in a movie, or a movie trailer. 

The vocals sound a bit like Lana del Ray. I think the world will be hearing a lot more of this Zara Kershaw, considering how much people ate up Lana del Ray’s music, despite her start as an indie artist appealing to the hipster-alternative crowd. 

I guess I’d describe this genre as pop, which isn’t a genre I used to post much about, but I really like her voice and this song makes me want to get out and change my life for the better, which is always a nice feeling. 

Zara Kershaw- Landslides:

Amandine Insensible/Undress

I’ve decided its finally time to resurrect this old blog. My life has been feeling a little dry lately, and the last time I posted seriously on this blog, my life was filled with inspiration and creativity. So I’m hoping that this return will bring me back in touch with that part of myself.

I’m going to start my return with a couple songs that have made me feel something lately. They both emote the same lethargic but almost pleading feeling with  similar chord progressions, tempos, and haunting vocals (and lyrics). I just really love the ethereal sounds in the vocals and the way they fit with the slow electronica in both songs. Its the sort of music you’d listen to in a beautiful but low-key bar with very dim lighting.

  

This first song is the more recent of the two. The lyrics seem to pair well with the sort-of stale, idle, and apathetic way i’ve been feeling lately. That makes me sound so sad (which i’m not, i’m just uninspired), but I wouldn’t really describe the song as sad, just as being contemplative.

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This second song is a little older, but evokes the same sort of idea as the previous song. Its odd to me how similar they are, but I love them both very much.

Oscar & the Wolf- Undress:

Brazil: Final month

This took a little while to write so its a bit late, but it is my last travel post due to changes in my original plans (which are discussed briefly below) so savor it 🙂

We flew out of Montevideo seamlessly and got to Sao Paolo where my mom’s students family was there to greet us. They were SOO friendly and warm and took us back to their house and fed us and let us stay there for the night. The little daughter was adorable and took to calling me Tia (aunt) and joe tio (uncle) while making us play with her. Unfortunately they didn’t speak any english, but that just meant our conversation was a little limited, which didn’t matter since we were exhausted and fell asleep almost immediately after watching the US lose their final world cup match. We woke up early the next morning and his family drove us to the metro station and then his mom took the metro with us to the bus station, however once we got to the bus station it turned out that we were at the wrong bus station and had to take 2 other metros to get to the right one. By the time we finally got to the right station we had missed our bus by 15 minutes so we had to sit and wait 6 hours until the next one. My mom’s student’s mom was such a sweetheart though and gave us some snacks before leaving. We finally boarded our bus at 3 PM and got into our hotel in Cananeia late that night, which was really cute but unfortunately had mosquitos again.

Thursday morning, my mom’s friend Talita who lives in Cananeia, which is such a cute town (in the photos above), met us at the supermarket and took us to the watershore where we all piled into her boyfriend’s boat and headed out to this island really nearby called Ilha do Cardoso where his family lives and grew up. Its a BEAUTIFUL island with tons of beaches, mangroves, and lush tropical rainforest and we were really lucky because unless you’re doing research on the island or are friends with someone who lives on the island, you can’t stay there for most of the year.

We put our stuff down at a little house that we were renting for those days there which was also really beautiful and modern and beachy at the same time. Then we went on a walk with Talita and her boyfriend through the mangrove areas where we learned about the different kinds of mangroves and saw three types of crabs, big red crabs, big turquoise crabs, and big yellow crabs.

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Then we walked through their little museum which was charming. Afterwards we went to a little lookout point where we could see all the fisherman’s nets and then ẃent back to the beach that we had arrived at. While we were walking, we passed a little burrowing owl family which made me very happy. Then we walked way down the beach chatting for a long time. Along the way I collected numerous sand dollars, which were everywhere.

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After that we headed back to our little cabin, and then out to the beach to watch the sunset.

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After that we went back to the cabin and then later at night we went back to the beach to swim because Talita told us there was bioluminescence. Sure enough, there was and it was beautiful and sparkly.

Friday we met up with Talita and hiked way down these trails through multiple different forests to this place called Praca das Antas, which is a place in the stream where these big natural pools form. The forest and the pools were beautiful. One of the forests we passed through was so magical, the entire understory was bromeliads and all the of the trees were covered in bromeliads too.

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We saw a lot of birds in the forest which was really exciting, and both Talita and her boyfriend were amazing naturalists and were able to identify everything we saw.

After the hike we went for a bit of a swim because it was hot out and then went to Talita’s boyfriend’s family’s house to watch the Brazil world cup match with them. It was great because Brazil won, so we left happy and I got in bed and happily finished The Da Vinci Code, which turned out to be such an awesome book.

Saturday we met up with Talita and her boyfriend again and took their bikes down the beach. I never knew you could bike down a beach, but you can and it was super fun. We went for 7 km and then hiked over rocks for a long ways, passing a mark that is representative of the peace treaty long ago between Portugal and Spain.

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As we were climbing over the rocks we passed little inlets filled with the most amazing shells, which I loved because of my obsession with beach combing. Once we reached the beach we sat and ate a really tasty lunch and then hiked back through the hills instead of the rocks to the original beach we had left the bikes at and biked back to our little hut.

After that I went on a walk around the town to take pictures of the very pretty and colorful little buildings.

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The next day I hung out with Talita all day and she took me to lunch and we went on a long drive to a different conservation site that was quite pretty but had tons of mosquitos. It was a lovely day and at the end of the day she gave me a memory stick with lots of pretty photos that she took and samba music to entertain me on the rest of my travels.

Tuesday I woke up early and took the first bus out of Cananeia. I arrived in Sao Paolo in the afternoon and then bought tickets for a bus at midnight, because I was told that the Rio terminal was unsafe at night and since the bus ride was only 6 hours, if we left in the afternoon we’d arrive at night and it was better to arrive in the morning. So we got our tickets, found the VIP waiting room for our bus company which was quite a nice room, and then spent almost 12 hours sitting there. I managed to completely finish one and a half Dan Brown books on PDF and we watched part of the terrible game that Brazil lost to Germany.

I slept for most of the bus ride, parted ways with my travel companion, then slept for a couple more hours in the Rio bus terminal. Then I found a bus to the botanic garden where the person I was staying with in Rio worked. I got off the bus too early, had to walk a long ways hauling tons of stuff, and then went to the wrong entrance of the botanic garden which was on the opposite side of the HUGE gardens as where my host in Rio’s office was. I found some really nice people who worked on that side of the gardens and they called up my host and helped me haul all my stuff to her office. Raquel, my host there, was incredibly sweet and eager to be friendly and helpful which was lovely. I chatted with her for a few minutes and then spent the whole day wandering around the gardens. I found a little mini secluded garden where I sat and read another PDF book on my phone and took a tiny nap. I saw tons of plants, toucans, and even tamarins (little monkey-like animals) in my garden-wandering time.

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In the evening we took possibly one of the most miserable bus rides ever. The place where she lived, where I was staying, is called Barra de Tijuca and is a 1.5 hour bus ride south of Rio. That evening it was even longer, a little more than 2 hours because the traffic was so bad and the bus was completely packed to the brim with people and I had my huge backpacking backpack, my little backpack, and 3 handheld bags with no place to put them down or sit down. It was horrible. Finally we got there and went to her apartment which is at the top of a super tall circular apartment building that is literally right on the beach. It was an amazing view but dark so I couldn’t really see the water.

Thursday I woke up to the most incredible view. Since the apartment building is round all of the windows are curved which means you have a 180 degree view of the beach. It is an incredibly beautiful beach too, even moreso than Copacabana or Ipanema. phonerioview phonerioview2

Barra de Tijuca is also a super nice area, and is modeled after Miami with super tall luxury apartment buildings right over the beach and very american style bars and restaurants interspersed between the buildings. I played around with their adorable fluffy cat and ate super tasty food that Raquel’s mom made me and then set out for the day. Unfortunately the first day was raining so I went to the Museum of Modern Art first. The bus ride into the city was beautiful because it went right along the beach through all the touristy neighborhoods the whole way so it was like a $1.50 tour of the city. The museum was quite nice and filled with lots of interesting art. Then I wandered around through the centro area, grabbed lunch at an extremely cheap per-kilo restaurant (huge buffet where you pile on the food and then pay for it by weight), and went to the museum of fine arts which was even more amazing than the modern art museum. It was huge and filled with art, and was free that day which was even more special. In the evening I went to a little cafe in a bookshop which was cute but maybe a little overpriced.

Friday, I lazed around my room all morning and then midday the internet didn’t seem to be working so I headed into Copacabana and found a little cafe that I had read had good wifi since it was still rainy and overcast, and there’s not terribly much to do in Rio in the rain. Unfortunately I found out their wifi wasn’t working after I had already ordered so I ate quickly and headed to an internet cafe. Then I wandered along the beach for a while and wandered all over Copacabana and Ipanema looking for good food and then got on a bus to head back to the apartment. However, about an hour and a half into the bus ride I looked at the maps app on my phone which shows where you are even when you don’t have data and we were not following the correct route for the bus I needed back to the apartment and had already gone pretty far past it but on a street about a kilometer inland from the beach instead of along the beach. I tried to get the bus drivers attention but he was in his own world and I didn’t speak any portuguese so I just got off the bus. I found a couple bus stops and tried to figure out if any of the buses that it said went to them would also go back to where I needed to get but none of them would so I began walking back the way my iphone directed me, hoping to hail a cab along the way. I tried so hard to hail a cab but none of them would stop, which I figured was due to the fact that it was a huge road and was pretty much the brazil equivalent to a freeway so no one was going to stop for me. So I looked at my iphone and zipped myself up and ran all the way back to the apartment since it was late at night so I didn’t want anyone to try and talk to me, and it was a little drizzly. Once I was finally back I looked at google maps and it turned out I had run 5 kilometers.. it was crazy and definitely the most exercise I had done in a long time. After I assured my hosts that I was ok, I went to sleep.

Saturday I met up with Joe early and we headed to the place where you buy train tickets to go up to Christ the Redeemer, but the train was broken so the entire place was packed with people trying to take the mini-buses up. We decided to wait until the following day since we still had a little while in Rio. Instead we went to the Botanic Gardens again, since I hadn’t seen all of the garden the previous time I had been there since it was so big.

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We wandered through it for a while and ate some food there and then took a bus to copacabana. We bought caipirinas and a couple beers and wandered over to the beach to watch the Brazil vs Netherlands 3rd place game at FIFA fan fest on Copacabana, which is where they have a huge television screen where everyone can sit/stand on the sand and watch for free.

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A little after halftime, Brazil was down 3-0 to the Netherlands and enough people were blocking our view of the screen (because we wanted to sit not stand) that we decided we’d had enough and went over to a little cafe. While we were eating we talked to some Argentines next to us who were looking for tickets for the final game in Rio the following day. I happened to ask them how much they thought the tickets would be if they found them and they said at least $3000 USD. I was shocked that someone would be willing to pay that much. After that I found the correct bus and went back to apartment without getting lost.

Sunday I woke up even earlier, met up with Joe, and we headed to see Christ the Redeemer again. This time the train was working but there were SO many people that the next train with available tickets wasn’t until 1:40. Since the final game was at 4, and we didn’t want to be rushed seeing the huge Jesus status, we decided to take a mini bus up instead. It was fast getting up there, but then we had to stand in line to get tickets to enter the park, then we had to stand in line to get on another mini bus up to the very tip top, and then we had to push our way through huge crowds of people to get to the view and mr. jesus. It was a really beautiful 360 degree view of all of Rio and the surrounding areas and there wasn’t a cloud in sight which was lovely. Christ was also quite impressive, although I’m not entirely sure I understand why it was recently designated one of the new seven world wonders. It was really cool, but what it boils down to is that it was really just a big statue of jesus.phonechristo phonechristview

The crowds were overwhelming and at some points it even felt hard to breathe, so we didn’t spend too much time up there looking at the view and christ. Then we headed back down into town and got on a bus to Copacabana to watch the world cup finals there. When we got to Copacabana there were people EVERYWHERE. We mushed our way into the huge crowd at FIFA Fan Fest to watch the game on the huge screen there. It was almost entirely Argentines and I would’ve been scared to have been a Germany fan.

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The game was tense and people all around us were screaming and chanting the entire time. Really, in a way, it was more fun watching the crazed fans than the game. When Germany won in the end, everyone in the crowd was pissed and a lot of people were drunk so there was some drunken aggression towards the Germany fans which was a bit terrifying. It was also a bit scary because everyone was trying to leave at the same time and there were thousands of people so it was a bit of a stampede. There were also a few scary violent outbursts that left people running in all directions. Basically the streets were crazy and so filled with people. We finally made our way to McDonalds to get french fries, and Joe proceeded to eat 5 large orders of fries. Then I found my bus back and made it safely to the apartment. When I got back Raquel wanted to wander over to the hotel next door because that was where the entire Argentinian soccer team was staying and she wanted to see if we could watch them arrive. But unfortunately we got there only seconds after they had already arrived. Instead we went to a brewery in front of her apartment building and got really tasty home-brewed beer and chit chatted for awhile.

Monday I met up with Joe again because it was lonely and boring seeing the sights alone and we went to Ipanema beach. We stayed there for a while and watched lots of surfers.

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Even though it was completely sunny, next to the water it was a little too breezy to swim comfortably so we stayed on dry land. Then we headed over to a little chinese cafe at the edge of Copacabana and got Yakisoba noodles. Then we walked a little more along the beach, wandered back towards Ipanema, climbed over big boulders to this rocky point to watch the surfers and boogie-boarders from there and got a nice view of the whole Ipanema beach. After that we walked around the shopping area surrounding Ipanema and then took a bus into the heart of Copacabana where there was supposed to be another brewery that we wanted to try. Unfortunately they didn’t have the beer we wanted so instead we bought beer at a grocery store and went to a funky looking movie theatre. I asked in terrible Portuguese if any of their movies were in English and she said all of the movies are english with portuguese subtitles. We chose a movie completely at random and settled into our seats. The movie ended up being really excellent. It was called The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was very much an art film, shot entirely in square footage. It was really really beautiful filming though. It didn’t exactly have a plot but it was kindof a mystery-comedy-art-indie flick and it was wonderfully done. I highly recommend it to movie buffs. When I got back to the apartment, my hosts had made really excellent Pao de Queijo which are these cheesy bread puffs made with tapioca flour, super tasty. We talked for a while and I said goodbye because they had to go to work early in the morning before I was leaving.

Tuesday I spent the morning packing up my stuff and then midday I left the apartment that I had stayed at and headed into the city where I was staying at a hostel at the border of Lapa, the samba neighborhood and Santa Teresa, a pretty little bohemian neighborhood on a hill. It was miserable because I had to climb up a huge hill with all of my stuff but I finally found my hostel, which was really nice. After I put my stuff down I headed back out and went down these gorgeous stairs. The stairs went on forever and were tiled the whole way with all sorts of colors and designs.

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Then I got on a bus to the base of the Pao de Azucar, the huge famous rock/cliff/mountain in the middle of Rio. It was half price with my student ID which was awesome. You take a cable car up to one mound, wander around the first mound, and then take a second cable car up to the very tall second mountain/rock thing.

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It was a very fast trip up to the top of the first mound. From there you had a pretty good view of most of Rio, particularly the harbor area which was right to the right of that little mountain.

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Then I got back in the cable car up to the tippy top of the second mountain which was much higher than the first. It was a truly incredible view, even better than from the Cristo Redentor. I walked around the edge of the entire place to see the view from all sides and then found a little place amongst the crowds to watch the sun set. It was beautiful to see the sun setting over the city.

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I wanted to wait around to see the nighttime skyline but then I saw that there was a huge line to get back down to the first rock mound. By the time I got back to the first rock mound, it was totally dark and you could see all of the lights of city sparkling around.

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Once I got down to the bottom, I got some dinner and headed back to the hostel.

I slept in at the hostel the next morning, thinking that it was my last day in Rio so it would be nice to just have a relaxed day. After lunch at a tasty per-kilo restaurant I wandered around Santa Teresa, the neighborhood right above my hostel. It was such a cute neighborhood and since it was on a hill it had a fantastic view of the city from closer up.

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There was a beautiful little garden in Santa Teresa, a cute little art museum in an old estate, and a ton of cute handicraft shops lining the winding streets. All the food was pretty expensive so I went to dinner in Lapa instead. After that we stopped by a couple of the recommended bars of the area, some of which had samba music, which Lapa is known for, so that was nice. After a little while in Lapa, I headed back to the hostel because I thought my flight was early in the morning so I would have to head to the airport super early. However, upon checking my reservation online, it turned out my flight was at 8 PM not 8 AM, so I had a full day the next day.

I spent the next day packing and then hung out at the hostel all day, only leaving to get lunch, because it was really hot and there wasn’t much more to do close by and I didn’t want to go far away in fear of getting stuck in traffic and missing my flight. Finally it was time to leave, so I got in a cab and headed to the airport. Thankfully I left early because there was so much traffic that it took double the amount of time to get there. Then I got easily through the airport, and easily onto my flight to Houston. My flight was unfortunately very horrible because it was the most cramped airplane I have ever been on. There was literally zero leg room, I couldn’t even store my mini backpack (which is really quite tiny) under it, so there was zero possibility of stretching my legs out. The seats also barely went back, and to top it all off I had a middle seat. This all added up to me only getting 1 hour of sleep…quite unpleasant. In Houston I got easily through customs and immigration and through to my next flight which was also very unpleasant. We ended up taxing on the tarmac for an extra 45 minutes which meant that when we finally got into LAX we were very late and I already had a super close layover. There were a few other passengers needing the same connecting flight so we all ran over to the gate for our Santa Barbara flight which was at the end of terminal 8 and we came in at the end of terminal 62. Thankfully we made it and it was a quicky and easy flight into Santa Barbara where my dad was waiting for me with lots of hugs.

I’ve been back for a little while now and its actually been quite nice. At first I think I experienced a little post-travel depression, but I’ve been having such a great time in Santa Barbara. I’ve been keeping busy catching up with all my old friends who I haven’t seen in forever, since I hadn’t been back in over a year. Plus, the food has been amazing.. I’ve already gotten thai food a couple times, boba tea a couple times, and indian food as well.

The last bunch of months have been really really amazing. South America blew away my expectations and everyone I met along the way was just so beautiful and wonderful and I feel like I became a lot more adventurous and comfortable in my own skin. Sticking around one place for the coming year will be great but I definitely can’t wait for my next adventure! Thank you to everyone who read my blog along the way! Keeping a blog helped me really savor my experiences and now I will be able to relive them over and over whenever I want, but it was definitely a challenge to keep up with it. It was definitely the positive feedback I received from my wonderful friends and family that kept me writing here even when it seemed so arduous and time consuming.

As you can see, I’ve updated the look of the blog which goes with the fact that now that my travels are done, I’m going to start this up as a music/food blog again, so if you want to hear about that sorta thing keep following me, but no more travels for a little while!

muchos besos, muitos beijos, many kisses!

 

Argentina & Uruguay

So I’m posting this at least a little earlier than the month mark…progress! Mostly its just because all of the photos in this post are from my phone, so I didn’t have to take the time to download and go through all the photos on my camera, but that means these photos will probably be much lower quality. Oh well..

So Thursday after breakfast at the hostel in Buenos Aires we decided to explore the neighborhood around our hostel. It was called San Telmo and was supposed to be one of the prettier neighborhoods with a lot of old charm. It was quite pretty with little plazas and cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques.

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We went in a few of the stores and boutiques and then stopped by the market along the main street. For the most part all of the shops in the market were more antique shops and a couple fruit stands and then we found a shop that made their own cheese and fennel salami and was selling fresh baguette sandwiches with their cheese and salami for only about a dollar (and I call myself a vegetarian..hah). So we bought 3 of them and ate them while we continued wandering.

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Eventually we made our way to an irish pub to watch the opening ceremony of the World Cup, which was quite weird and not entirely worth watching in my opinion. Then while waiting for the first game to start I ran back to the market and bought 3 more salami sandwiches to hold us over. The game was quite exciting and there were some super enthusiastic brazilian fans in the bar which made it even more fun.

Friday I didn’t feel like doing anything because I was still pretty exhausted from all of our prior travels, but our hostel had comfy couches facing a big TV so I sat there all day watching the world cup, including the game where the netherlands sadly destroyed spain. I love when underdogs win, but that game was just sad. Then at night we went to the Buenos Aires branch of the coffee shop we frequented in Puerto Iguazu to redeem the coupons for free coffee that they gave us. Then we took our coffee and pastries over to the main plaza, Plaza de Mayo, and saw the Casa Rosada which is essentially the white house of Argentina where the presidency is based out of, although he supposedly lives elsewhere.

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There was a political march in the plaza, which is supposedly quite common because of the political significance of the plaza and surrounding buildings, but I couldn’t understand exactly what they were protesting. Still it was cool to see people being politically active.

Saturday we took the subway to palermo soho, an area thats supposedly the place to be for young Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) and young tourists. It was quite hip. A bunch of streets were closed off and there was a big arts and crafts market and then all of the fancy clubs surrounding the plaza let up and coming designers create little boutiques inside of them so its these big spaces filled all sorts of little mini clothing and accessory boutiques. It was really cool. After wandering around all of palermos shops and markets we went back to our hostel to watch the Italy versus England game. It was a tense game, but I was quite pleased with the outcome (Italy winning). Then we quickly got dressed in nicer clothes and met up with one of the girls from my Ecuador program whos living in Buenos Aires for the summer and working nights at the Buenos Aires Pub Crawl. She got us a discount on the pub crawl so we decided to try it out. It was pretty fun, but by a bit past 3 in the morning I was ready to head back, even though Porteños stay out until sunrise.

Sunday we slept in and then walked only a couple streets away to the San Telmo Sunday Market where they close the whole length of the main cobblestone street in the neighborhood and tons of artists sell stuff they make and antique shops set up booths outside with their best items. We tried to walk the whole length of it but got tired and couldn’t look at another handicraft or antique so we got pan relleno which is really good homemade dough-y bread filled with cheese, tomatoes, olive oil, and basil and sat for a while outside of a pretty old basilica snacking away.

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Then we headed over to the same bar we watched the opening match at and watched Argentina’s first world cup game. They won, so the atmosphere of the bar was super crazy and fun.

Monday we relaxed at the hostel for most of the day and then in the evening headed to palermo to an American bar to watch the US’s first world cup match against Ghana. They had really good American food, we got spicy buffalo chicken wings, and the bar was PACKED with extremely patriotic americans. There was tons of chanting and singing and screaming the whole game and when we won, everyone was going crazy. I’m not uber patriotic and definitely not the type to scream and chant, but it was still fun to watch everyone else go crazy and I was still quite happy about the US win. Honestly, people say Argentinian and Brazilian fans are crazy, but the Americans we saw were crazier than any Argentines!

Tuesday morning we switched hostels to another hostel nearby that was slightly cheaper just to get a bit of a change of scenery. It was super comfortable and they had a foosball table so we spent most of the day just lazing around the new hostel. I challenged Joe to a foosball match which ended up being pretty endless and beat him 15 to 3… makes me proud of myself 🙂 Then at night we subwayed over to the palermo district where we had gone shopping a few days earlier to try out a restaurant we had heard about. It was an asian fusion type restaurant, very mod and very hip. We got 3 separate rounds of some really amazing pork dumplings, a round of pork belly taiwanese buns (bao), and a big bowl of chicken ramen. It was all soo tasty, but honestly I may as well just give up on calling myself a vegetarian..

Wednesday after breakfast we rented bikes from our hostel to go visit an ecological reserve along the river delta nearby. The bikes were great, a bit confusing because they were fixies so it took me a second to figure out that I needed to pedal back to brake instead of handbraking, but the seats were super comfortable and they were very smooth. Biking through the city to get to the reserve was a bit terrifying because its such a huge city with very few bike lanes so our choices were either to bike down super busy streets with speedy cars or ride on the sidewalk which was jammed with people. But once we got to the port area that the reserve bordered it lightened up and was very nice and relaxing. Then we got inside the reserve and it was so excellent. There were birds everywhere and there were tons of these little rodent things that looked exactly like wild guinea pigs grazing on the grass along the bike paths in the way that bunnies do, but in the end they were some other type of animal, not wild guinea pigs. On the inner trails you were looking across a marsh at sparkling skyscrapers and on the outer trail you were looking at the river delta which really looks quite like an ocean, so either direction was really beautiful.

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We biked around the entire thing and then found a chorizo stand where we got choripan for less than 2 bucks. Basically each choripan is a huge chorizo (sausage) in toasted bread and then you cover it in toppings.

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It was incredibly tasty (and again not at all vegetarian…) and we ate them while watching some people tango on the boardwalk for a film or advertisement or something. It was really lovely. Then we biked back (a less crowded way) and relaxed at the hostel for the evening.

We decided Thursday to book our hostel for another night because they had great breakfast, internet, and an incredibly fun and friendly staff. So then instead of checking out we wandered over to a nearby cafe and got really good sandwiches inside of pita bread and homestyle potato chips. Then we went to the Modern Art Museum, which at first was a little bit odd. The first big room was just very unsettling and weird feeling and there was another room with weird wall art that I found slightly boring but uncomfortable at the same time. But then they had this huge exhibit of how latin american artists view psychedelic experiences and all of the art was really beautiful and interesting and was one of my favorite art exhibits I’ve seen in awhile.

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Then later they had an exhibit of what constitutes graphic design versus art and how they can overlap, and I really love graphic design so that was also quite visually appealing. After that we debated going to the Contemporary Art Museum but decided we’d had enough art for one day and wandered back to the hostel, but not before stopping for a McFlurry (how truly Argentinean..) on the way!

Friday was a bit of a disastrous and exhausting day. We had to check out of our second hostel by 11 am, but by that point we still hadn’t gotten replies from 2 of the hostels I had emailed about room availability and the only one I had gotten a response from only had availability in the dorms for part of the time we had requested and we didn’t want to have to switch around hostels during our last few days. So we sat in the common room of the hostel using wifi for a couple hours waiting to see if one of the other hostels would respond. Eventually we just gave up and decided to just head that way and stop by the hostels and ask them if they had space. First we stopped by Avenida Florida again and successfully changed our final dollars into pesos at an even better rate. Then we subwayed over to Palermo and headed out to our first choice hostel. Upon arriving we couldn’t find it and when we finally found the address, it appeared to not exist as a hostel anymore, so that was strike 1. Next we hiked over to our next choice, passing a pretty little sight as we crossed the train tracks on the way.

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When we finally found hostel number 2, they were entirely full, zero availability in all room types, for the next week, and wouldn’t even buzz us in to tell us where another hostel was, so that was strike 2. At this point we felt kindof screwed since we didn’t have any other hostel choices. We collapsed on an abandoned looking stoop and I happened to pick up a random wifi signal. I emailed the guy at the hostel that had responded to our email and asked if they had any availability at all that night in any room type, but he took a while to respond so I looked up another hostel nearby (it had terrible tripadvisor reviews, but at least maybe a room?). We hauled ourselves over to that supposed hostel and lo-and-behold SPELLING??? it was another hostel that no longer existed and was under complete construction. Strike 3.

At this point my phone died, but we had thankfully memorized the address of the hostel I had been emailing, so even though it was a long walk away we picked up our bags and headed over. Upon arriving there, we were informed that they no longer had any space for that night or any of the nights we needed space. Strike 4. The guy was incredibly sweet though and called the last hostel in the neighborhood (another with terrible tripadvisor reviews), but they only had a single space and we were 2 people. Strike 5.

At this point I called it quits on Palermo, and we got in a cab and headed to Recoleta, another central neighborhood.. the one we had been to for the fine arts museum. Thankfully, the cab was cheap and then we quickly found a hostel with 2 available beds for the days we wanted. Unfortunately, first impressions on the hostel weren’t thrilling as it took hours until the wifi decided to work for us and even then it was pretty much non existent in our room, our room faced the bar/patio which was incredibly loud with limited privacy at all hours, the number of people in the hostel to the size of the rooms ratio was a bit out of whack, and there were only 2 functional bathrooms in the whole place and none of them had toilet paper. However, beggars can’t be choosers, so I held my tongue and in the end it all ended up being alright. They even had a cute kitty that took a liking to Joe, like all the other cats we’ve had run ins with. He seems to be quite the cat charmer.

Saturday I woke up pretty tired because I didn’t sleep terribly well with all the noise and whatnot, and then breakfast left something to be desired… it literally consisted of one bread roll and a cup of black tea. But then we set out to explore Recoleta. First we went to La Recoleta Cemetery, which is quite a famous cemetery and is where Eva Perón is buried among lots of other famous Argentines, and is rated one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. And it was indeed quite beautiful. All of tombs are aboveground and most are very elaborate mausoleums. Some of them were completely dilapidated with broken glass or doors and being overgrown by various plants, others were very well kept. We wandered around the the alleys and paths between the mausoleums for a while, being kept company by some cemetery kitties.

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Then we went to the plaza right out front of the cemetery and there was a big artisan craft market with lots of little food stands. We got chorizo, a fruit smoothie, and a veggie Pan-relleno, the same calzone type thing we got at the san telmo market the previous weekend. Then we walked amongst the craft stands for a while. There was a lot of really nice and interesting stuff for sale which gave me little bits of inspiration for future craft projects. Then we headed back towards our hostel and stopped at this bookstore called El Ateneo that I had recently seen in a list of 10 bookstores in the world that you need to see. It was really beautiful. Basically it was once a really beautiful decadent old theatre that has now been restored and turned into a very classy bookstore. Unfortunately there were zero books in English, so we found the animal and plant section and sat and looked through pictures in bird and evolution encyclopedias for a little while.

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Then it was back to the hostel to begin planning our next move. We ended up falling asleep pretty early and quickly despite all the noise, so that was nice.

Sunday we slept in and then headed over to a restaurant that was supposed to have really good typical Argentinian food for lunch. It was good, but it took about an hour to get our food which was frustrating. Then we wandered over to the san telmo market for a bit before going to palermo to watch the US’s second world cup match. It was too stressful for me, and I was extremely unsatisfied with the outcome of the match, tied with Portugal.

Monday we slept in again and then wandered around the neighborhood right by our hostel. I had to do my laundry before we left Argentina (where laundry has been the cheapest yet) and buy groceries (also cheapest and best selection) and then we hung around the hostel for a bit. We had a super nice dinner at the same nice restaurant we had lunch at the previous day. This time it was even tastier and way faster service and we got an incredibly delicious maracuya (passionfruit) mousse that had shaved almonds on it for dessert, which was our way of using up our final argentinian pesos.

Tuesday we woke up super early to get to the boat dock by 7 am to go through immigrations and get on a boat to Uruguay. Immigrations and the boat ride went smoothly and we got into the Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento by 9. We dropped our luggage in a luggage deposit at the bus station and found a map on the ground and spent the whole day exploring the small, but very cute and beautiful little town. It is a very old town that still has the entire old section of the town conserved with beautiful cobblestones and a mixture of old spanish and portuguese architecture.

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The town is right on the delta across from Buenos Aires so we wandered along the edge of the water for a bit which was really pretty despite being quite chilly.

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Then we went up the lighthouse, which is built right into an old convent that was destroyed in the early 1700’s. From the lighthouse we got really nice views of the whole old part of the town and the delta and little islets in the delta.

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Then we wandered past the old Basilica and onto the main street of the town where we ate late lunch. Right after lunch, Uruguay won the match against Italy that sent them to the next round of the World Cup, and the celebrations were crazy. Pretty much everyone in the town got in their cars and motorcycles and drove up and down the main street honking their horns and yelling and waving Uruguayan flags. This went on for over an hour and everyone was just so excited and so happy and there were just so many people everywhere, I couldn’t help but smile even though I had secretly been rooting for Italy, as they were probably my second favorite team in the Cup…but oh well, its just a game. And theres nothing like crazy national pride to make you realize that you’re in another new country. Eventually we made our way back to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Montevideo, and then making our way to our hostel in downtown Montevideo.

Our hostel there had really excellent internet so we began our marathon of watching all of the Harry Potter movies in order, one per night, since I had only seen the 1st, 3rd, and 6th. I have to say they’re actually pretty good movies, I always had some sort of mental block against them but I think I’ve gotten past that now.

Our first day in Montevideo we woke up pretty early and spent the whole day wandering through the city seeing pretty much everything there was to see in Montevideo. We walked way down the main street stopping at all of the pretty little plazas until we got to the Port Market, where we wandered past a ton of people trying to persuade us to eat at their restaurant, and then we walked all the way down the boardwalk until we got back to a street that connected with our hostel. It was a really lovely walk but it was incredibly cold, even colder than Buenos Aires and there was a lot more icy wind off of the water than in BA.

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At night we cooked food in the hostel and continued our Harry Potter marathon.

Our second day in Montevideo we slept in a lot (particularly since the provided breakfast was literally just bread…not worth waking up for) and then watched the US vs Germany match simultaneously with the Portugal/Ghana match where we found out that the US would be moving on to the next round, which I got prettty excited about. In the afternoon we wandered the opposite direction from our hostel for a little while but then turned around after a little while because it was so unbelievably cold.

Our final full day in Montevideo, we didn’t really do much of anything. We wanted to go to an art museum but both of the ones we were interested in were closed until the beginning of July while they changed the exhibits around. It was really nice to just not do anything though, particularly because I was starting to get a bit of a scratchy throat again. We continued our Harry Potter marathon in the evening and cooked another tasty little meal.

Saturday morning we woke up and packed our stuff and walked the gazillion blocks to the bus station where we got on a bus to Punta del Este, a city on the Uruguayan coast that is comparable to a mini-Miami in high season with crazy dancing and huge crowds of people partying on the beach. However, we’re currently traveling in low season… which meant that besides the hostels which still fill up, the entire town feels a bit ghost-town like, but it still has the asthetics of a small Florida beach town..just a kindof abandoned one. Still quite pretty though! Unfortunately our hostel in Punta del Este had TERRIBLE wifi connection and even when sitting right next to the modem thing, only came through at 2 little wimpy reception bars.

Sunday we walked around the town of Punta del Este. We started out by picking up some savory egg tart things and heading down to the beach to eat them.

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Then we headed to the part of the beach where the famous hand coming out of the sand sculpture is. We took some pictures there and Joe climbed around on the concrete fingers for a bit.

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After that we walked around the downtown area of Punta del Este, but it was so freezing and so windy that eventually we had to head back because I just couldn’t handle the coldness anymore. So we sat in our cozy hostel for a bit and played with their adorable little kitty.

Then today we checked out of our hostel and got on a bus back to Montevideo to our same hostel. Tomorrow we head back into Brazil and then we’re in Brazil for the rest of our trip!