Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

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After some thought and Tanner’s recommendations we decided to spend our last week in Thailand in Ko Phi Phi. Like most of our travels through Southeast Asia, it wasn’t without complications and headaches. If you’re traveling on a budget and take the most affordable way expect nothing to arrive or leave at the correct times. I guess you get what you pay for!

 

When we finally arrived to our bungalow it was awesome and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was the perfect view and completely unplugged! In fact, we only had power between 6pm and 6am. We snorkeled, ate, read, and just plain relaxed! It was the perfect way to end our trip.

Next stop Shiang Hi airport and then HOME!!!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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From the moment we walked across the border young children encompassed us trying to sell things or just begging for money. It really tugged at my heart strings. I stayed strong, but it sure was an eyeopening experience. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to help.  However in my handy dandy iPhone travel app. I learned to be cautious because may of these were scams. (p.s. Dan totally fell for a few of them… he bought some bracelets and $20 us baby formula. Sadly, the girls mother returned the formula for the money. We saw her later that day conning some more tourists.)

 

After arriving at our hotel we scheduled a 3 day tour of Angkor Wat with a tuk tuk driver named Rain. For the next sweltering hot days we discover the beauty of the temples and it was worth it! Angkor Wat is in my top 3 most favorite places we’ve visited. We  also checked out the night market, a shooting range, a silk farm, and caught a dance performance at the Cambodian Children’s House of Peace. You can read about that on my dance website, offbeatballerina.com.

 

All in all, Siem Reap was pretty calm and relaxing. We stayed longer than we anticipated and discovered some delicious restaurants and a pool in a 5 star hotel! But, we have to head back to Bangkok soon because our T-Bird friend Tanner is meeting up with us before we head to the beautiful beaches of Thailand!

 

Laos

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Okay almost… Apparently you need a whole page in your passport for the Laos visa. Guess what?! I didn’t have a whole page available. BUMMER! We were denied entry and had to head back on an overnight bus back to Bangkok so I could visit the US Embassy to get more pages in my passport.

Super Bummed!

Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand

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With 30 days left until we head home and a slim budget, what better place to visit than Thailand. Plus, this girl is dying for a beach! Although it would be lovely to discover Thailand for a whole month unfortunately, our visas only last 15 days. This is because we flew in from an international airport. But, no worries because Dan and I would love to explore some of the neighboring counties like Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, or Malaysia.

 

I’ll spare you most of the details of getting to Thailand. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most pleasant flight. A VERY oversized man sat next to me on the overnight flight. He was so big that I couldn’t fit in my own set comfortably unless I was reclined. It wasn’t my proudest moment but, I cried out of frustration, I actually screamed at the lady behind me when she kicked my seat, and I told the fight attendant off. If you know me, than you know this is very odd behavior. But seriously, when a large person who can’t even buckle the extended seat belt or they are spilling half way into your seat… could you blame me?! He really should have had two seats! Ok that’s all.

 

My first memory of being in Thailand was landing in the airport and trying to figure out how to get into the city. I hadn’t researched it very well, and Dan and I were frantically trying to make since of the maps and train schedule. As we were discussing what our plan was, a song started playing over the speaker and everything stopped. It was the national anthem. I read about how it plays two times a day on an app but, completely forgot until I encountered the stillness. I know it might sound silly, however, I love finding these small nuggets that are unique to a culture.

 

Anywho, after a lot of run around, lack of sleep, hot and humid weather, empty stomachs, tuk tuk negotiations, and grumpiness hitting an all time high, we finally found our hotel the almost as advertised… The Wild Orchid Villa on Khoa San Road. Let me tell you after that shower, a nap, and some ice cold air conditioning, we were ready to explore and eat some pad Thai!

 

We spent the next few days exploring some temples, caught a kite flying competition, shopped on Khoa San road, got a much needed pedicure, and a Thai massage. Then we headed north to Chiang Mai on the night train. While there got a taste of home and enjoyed nachos and drank margaritas! We also went to a cooking class where we toured a market to learn about Thai ingredients. The class was fun and very worth it and I will be making these recipes as soon as I get home. They recipes were so delicious and simple. (p.s. the secret ingredient in sweet and sour chicken is ketchup!) We also stumbled upon a festival in the city where we discover some dance… you can read about that on offbeatballerina.com. However, my most favorite part of Chiang Mai was going to the Elephant Nature Park. We learned all about the elephants in Thailand and got to feed and bath them. So rewarding!

 

Off to Laos!

Istanbul & Cappadocia, Turkey

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Of all the places we’ve been, Turkey has made our top five favorite places list. From the moment we arrived it was clear we were in a lively place. The drab-unhappy mood of it’s neighboring European countries dissolved into a sense of embracing-pride. It was refreshing to be greeted with a smile again. When I look back, I think the combination of the sights, food, art, people, and mystique made Turkey a favorite place.

With twelve days in Turkey we decided to split our time between Istanbul and Cappadocia. We first stayed in the heart of Istanbuls, Sultanahmet Square. Like most of our fellow tourists we spent a good 3 days wandering the iconic sights and enjoying the food, music, and markets. Although there were several vendors trying to make sales (we were once again in a bartering culture) it didn’t feel as pressured as our experience in Morroco. Actually a few times the salesmen had us laughing… we heard a few lines like, “Please let me sell you something you don’t need” or “I can tell by the way you walk you need to buy a carpet.” The only disappointing we had in Sultanahmet was with our hostel. At 6pm on our second day they told us we had to switch rooms because they needed our room for a new customer. Apparently they had three people, and some how our very tiny room could fit a cot. Of course we were not happy and made them severely discount or rate. It was seriously bad customer service… do yourself a favor and never stay at the New Backpackers Hostel!

Following our few days in Istanbul we took an overnight bus to Cappadocia. While there we toured the rock formations, cave houses, and the amazing underground city. We also took time to relax and rejuvenate at a hamams, also know as a Turkish bath. Wow what an experience! First you change into a sarong (ladies were a swim suite) and fill a bowl of water to “shower.” Then you hangout in sauna until you can’t stand it anymore or until it’s time for your scrub. With your skin all hot and moist an attendant then uses a loofah mitt to fully exfoliate your arms, legs, and back. (On a side note… 4.5 months of travel apparently makes you way dirtier than normal. I think it had to do with all the sunbathing in Brazil.) After you’re rinsed it’s time for a massage. The massage starts with a blanket of bubbles laid from your neck to your toes and the masseuse begins their magic. The massage finishes with another splash of water (this time cold) and your done or you can repeat the how process again. Both Dan and I agreed after our time at the Turkish bath we both felt cleaner than we have in weeks! If you plan to visit Cappadocia or Istanbul, a Turkish bath is a must.

We ended our trip in Turkey with a few nights in heart of modern Istanbul, Taksim Square. While there we tried to live like the locals to get a better sense of the city. Although, it seemed to still be filled with tourist. While there, “The Avengers” had just come out and lucky for us it was released in English! Dan and I enjoyed the movie in 3D. Unlike the States, in Istanbul there is no late seating once the movie has started, and half way through the movie they stopped the film for a bathroom break. We were a little confused at first, but quickly realized what was happening.

Traveling through Europe was fun, but had a lot of stressful moments. I was glad we ended it on a high note. Turkey is an awesome place. There’s no doubt that Dan and I will be back for another visit to explore the other wonders of the country we missed. Enjoy the pics!

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Now to Thailand!

 

 

Athens, Greece

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I’m going to save you all the transportation details and let you know we finally made it to Greece. First off I’ve got to say I expected so much more from Athens. When we arrived I remember saying, “Really?! This is it!” To put it frankly, Athens is a dump. The city is covered in trash, graffiti, and it seems everything is broken. The signs at the train station didn’t work and I wouldn’t dare trying to use the subway… it looked like something out of a horror film. Okay, perhaps that’s a little too dramatic. But, seriously it’s the first place I’ve been where I didn’t feel safe walking at night; even Dan concurs.

Even though it looked broken down, we did give Athens a chance. We took a walking tour around the city. The historical sights and kebab started to make up for my ill impression. Some of people on the other hand didn’t. For the first time in all my travels I was told I was not allowed to dance. I would have been okay with them telling me I couldn’t, however, I was approached in such a negative way that it totally put me in a bad mood. To top the day off, I fell down two different flights of marble staircases. After yelling a few choice words, spraining my wrist, having a sore back, and beautiful back bruise, I was ready to get the heck out of Athens. I had enough.

That night we made plans to leave Athens and head to Santorini. Sadly, our plans to see some of the better area of Greece we’re foiled by Labor Day. Yes, we had the VERY bad planning and accidentally traveled to Greece just in time for strikes and riots. What were we to do? Take a bus immediately to Istanbul. Well… we tried to leave with the as advertised 9:30am bus. As luck would have it we would be stuck in Athens for eight more hours.

To pass the time we walked back up to the tourist area to get some brunch and use some wifi. On the way there we witnessed both sides of the soon to be riot prepare. It was kinda of eerie walking up the main drag with everything closed. As we peeked down the side streets we could see lines of police vans and police head to toe in riot gear. They dawned black helmets, back padded suites, shields, batons, and a waist full of gadgets. It made me feel nervous for what might come. When we reached our brunch destination we could see the protest march begin. I don’t know if anything serious happened, but I was glad we were out of the way. After several hours of waiting we boarded the bus safely. I was more than thrilled to get the heck out of Greece.

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More kebab!? Next stop Turkey!