Thailand: Thoughts and Tips

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I just returned from—dare I say it again—one of the best trips of my life. Brian, Sierra and I ventured around Thailand for seven days to do so many incredible things, from bathing rescued elephants to grabbing sushi from a local market. I have to say the best thing from the trip was seeing my plans turn into reality as well as my confidence in navigating one of the most culturally and linguistically different places I have ever been all by myself. I feel nothing but proud of myself for handling the whole trip, with little input but large encouragement from my friends, and gratitude that I was able to explore a small part of Asia. If I never left America again, I would not be able to complain.

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Outside of the Grand Palace

 

Since I won’t be posting about day-to-day activities of the trip for a while, I laid out some of the things I noticed during my Thai explorations.

1. Bangkok is not pedestrian friendly

Unlike many European cities where you can walk between famous spots fairly easily, there is no walking from humongous and ornately decorated Buddhist temple to the next in Bangkok, unless you’re prepared to do a very large amount of walking.

Also, people warned me that the only way to cross the street in Bangkok is to walk into the traffic, and the cars will simply swerve around me. I pictured the scene from Mulan when the grandmother walks across the bustling street with one hand over her eyes and the other holding a lucky cricket. However, I do not believe running in front of the traffic is completely necessary, most of the time.

2. Bangkok is not automobile friendly

I have never seen so much bumper to bumper traffic in my life. If you want to drive in Bangkok, you better have exceptionally high patience and no where to be, because just getting from one side of the city to the other will take over an hour. Your best bet is to hop on a motorbike or the BTS (sky train).

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3. BTS is the best

The sky train (basically the subway, but above ground) is reliable, cheap and easy to figure out. It is also clean and seems to run almost all the time with very little issues with service. Why does every major city have better public transport than NYC?

4. English is not popular

I was shocked by the amount of people who did not understand English. However, this is Asia, not western Europe. The people who did know enough English to communicate with me, though, were usually willing to help.

Tip: Have the address you need to get to in the Thai language or the taxi driver will most likely not be able to read the address you show them.

5. I felt safe

My grandparents will like this one. We originally planned to holiday in Bali, but we know several people who got mugged there and had unpleasant experiences. I expected Thailand to be slightly sketchy, but not as bad. To my surprise, I was completely wrong. I was never out at late hours of the night, but I always felt safe in Thailand, even when the sun went down.

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In the jungle

6. There is more to Thailand than Bangkok

I knew Thailand has beautiful beaches and waters, but I still always pictured Bangkok as the country’s main attraction. However, a good tour and a single day in Bangkok is all one needs. There is so much wilderness in Thailand to explore; just going to Bangkok gives the country no justice.

I could go on and on about my scratch-of-the-surface observations about Thailand, but that will have to wait for my later posts. Khob Khun Kaa (thank you) Thailand, for welcoming me with your beautiful sights, mouth-watering food and friendly people.

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Oz: Nature and Nightlife

The weekend arrived and I was ready to celebrate! If the enjoyment that came with Thursday night was an indicator for the days to come, I knew I would have a fantastic weekend.

Friday started off with my favorite chocolate chip and Nutella pancakes, which I had missed for a whole two weeks. The rest of the day consisted of homework and finally creating videos from my Northwest trip. While I was trying to plan Friday night, I learned that it was the last night of the Twilight Hawker’s Market in Perth. This is the lively food market right in the Central Business District that we visited during our Perth City Lights tour and we all agreed we would love to go back. Well, it looked like we had plans!

hfghSierra, Nicole and I visited the market and we were eager to try some fantastic food. Nicole took my advice and got paella, which was her first time having it, and she was super excited she did. Sierra bought an Asian noodle and chicken dish, which was light and refreshing. Before dessert, we wandered to the stage to listen to the Latino band that was performing. Nicole and I got up and twirled around together, shamelessly laughing at our horrible dance moves.

We finished the night by sitting on a bench and eating some scrumptious fried dough covered in Nutella. I am so glad I made it out to the city for a tasty night with my girls!

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I got up to exercise the next morning even though we had a full day of hiking ahead. AIFS planned a waterfall tour for us Saturday, so at 8:30 in the morning, we were on the bus and ready to explore Perth’s surrounding nature. Along the way, we stopped at Serpentine Falls, Ellis Brook Valley Reserve, Lesmurdie Falls and Noble Falls. We saw some wild kangaroos at Serpentine Falls, which was a great way to start the day. I braved the chilly water and went swimming at the first and last stops.

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Noble Falls

There was no water flowing at Ellis Brook, but the hiking and views that reached to Perth City were still beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring trails and visiting some waterfalls, even if there was not much water to fall. In my opinion, a day in nature is a day well spent!

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Ellis Brook

I left no time for rest Saturday night. The resident assistants planned a “Big Night Out” at Library nightclub in Northbridge and I was super excited to go to a proper club. Plus, this would be the last night I went out of age everywhere besides America. That’s right—my 21st birthday is just around the corner! It is almost legal for me to get into clubs and bars and purchase alcohol in the United States, which is a bit of a right of passage for us Americans.

I gathered with some friends I met on the wine tour, and we all headed out to begin the night together. Unfortunately, Sierra and I are the only ones who made it out to the city due to several different reasons (one person chose to got to her boyfriend’s house, one person had a cold, etc.). Library treated us super well—Sierra and I danced all night with people we don’t usually get to spend time with and it was a blast. What a way to start my birthday week!

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Sierra (left), me (middle), Nicole (right)

I reverted to my state of laziness Sunday, as I was giving my body a break due to the exercising, hiking and walking around in heels I endured Saturday. Sierra and I made a movie day out of Sunday by watching Grease, Twilight and New Moon (throw back to my middle school Twilight obsession). This weekend was absolutely fantastic and definitely motivated me to get back on my school, exercise and fun grind. Up next: my birthday!

Oz: Halfway There

I leave Australia and return to “normal” life in exactly two months from now. How?! I have been here for just over two months and I really do not know where the time went.

I often think about what life will be like when I go home. I wonder where I will end up working this summer. I worry about my school schedule for next semester. I freak out because I only have one year of undergraduate university left. I remind myself I need to make this summer count. I feel like everything in Australia will become just a distant memory. Will I talk to any of the people I met here again? Will I ever see my Australian “little brother again?” The questions and concerns go on and on.

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And then I think about all the incredible experiences I’ve had while here. I have met so many fascinating people. I have gone to the outback and gotten stuck in a cyclone. I’ve spent my day at the beach countless times. I’ve watched the sun set behind the Perth skyline. The list goes on and on.

I noted that I never got the “Wow, I’m in Australia” feeling. But every day I wake up and say to myself, “Wow, I’m in Australia,” and I feel like the luckiest person ever. I saw myself switch from a nervous student who had no idea what was going on to someone who could be a tour guide of Perth. I have really thought about life, and although I still have no idea where I will end up, I am more confident than ever in my journey to find out. It really is difficult to put into words how thankful I am for this adventure.

Australia has been an experience of a lifetime. I am so thankful for all the memories I have gained and friends I have made. I also am thankful for the fact that I feel just as close with my friends at home, despite the distance of space and time. I am not excited to go home, but I am excited to be able to carry all these amazing experiences with me going forward.

I still have two months left, and although May is going to be a month full of tests, papers and projects, I am determined to make the most out of any free time I have. Here’s to the second half of my journey!

Oz: Sculpture by the Sea

My roommate’s birthday was Sunday, and I definitely did not want her sitting home all day. So, Sierra (my roommate), Nicole and I traveled to Cottesloe beach. This time, it was for Sculpture by the Sea. This is exactly what it sounds like: many, many sculptures on the beach and the surrounding pathways for all to come enjoy. There were many more than I expected, which was a neat surprise. I have posted a few of my favorites below.

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Loyalty – Ayad Alqaragholli
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Canumerism – Hayley Bahr and Tim Keevil
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Narration of the Sea – Lei Huan
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Dearest – Margarita Sampson

The night ended with a trip to the library and a move night with the birthday girl. We watched The Intern, which I highly recommend. It was a low-key birthday, but I hope she enjoyed it!

 

Australia: Perth City Lights

Friday did not end after my awesome animal-filled trip to Caversham. I signed up for a few events weeks ago, and Friday night was one of them: a Perth city night outing. I thought this would be an actual tour of the city, but it was composed of a few stops throughout the night.

The first stop was King’s Park to overlook the the city while day transitioned to night. It was basically a photo shoot of 40 people trying to get the perfect shot. The sun did not cast much color on the city, but it was nice seeing the city lights slowly light up the darkening sky.

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The next place we stopped was the Perth Twilight Hawkers Market. This is a gathering of food vendors of all sorts right in the Central Business District. Occurring every Friday night, people congregate to try foods of all types, from burritos, fish and chips and barbeque to sweets and so much more. The summery, relaxed vibe was set with a live band. I had a fantastic time browsing the area with my friends and trying refreshing mint iced tea.

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I thought this food truck was sweet

Our final stop for the night was Crown Casino. This is the first time I had ever been in a casino and it was enormous between the vast amount of games offered and multiple bars throughout the venue. I waited for my friends to purchase drinks before heading to the nightclub upstairs to dance for about an hour.

The night was an overall success. I loved being in the city at night and the festival, as it reminded me of summer nights at home.

Australia: Beaching, Learning and Eating

Thursday was another empty day that was filled with last-minute plans. Even though I was dancing for about two hours straight the night prior, I still woke up early enough to get a quick exercise in and to make myself two eggs before the bus came at 8:40 a.m. Nicole, Brian and I, all being the early risers of our group, found a beach to check out that was only abut 40 minutes away.

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Leighton Beach

Traveling this far to a beach is huge for me, because it is only a fifteen-minute car ride to the ocean at home. This beach was in North Fremantle, instead of being directly in Fremantle like the last one we visited on our own. We hopped on the bus at Murdoch, got off at Fremantle Station, and took the train one stop to Leighton Beach. It was really smart going to the beach so early, because like I have said before, the sun in Australia is intense.

After about two and a half hours of lounging and swimming, we headed back to Murdoch to eat and nap. Before dinner, Brian and I walked to the university center for a cultural presentation by the Nyungar (Noongar) people, an indigenous people who live in the southwest corner of the continent. They brought many items with them, which I have posted some of below.

Pictured above are various boomerangs. Some are used for ceremony and some are used for hunting.

Pictured on the left is a bowl that is traditionally used for gathering berries. Larger versions of these bowls are used to carry babies. The stick on the right can be used for various things, such s digging up roots.

Above are shields used for protection and dance.

To finish the presentation, the performers showed us how the Noongar people used to make paint, played a Didgeridoo, which is an instrument not original to the people, and performed some animal stories and a dance. As always, it was interesting learning about some of the history of the area’s original inhabitants.

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Thursday night was highly anticipated, as it was the International Student Welcome Dinner. The coordinators split everyone up into teams, similar to orientation, so we were forced to talk to new people. The first game was a quiz about Australia. Each team was given a roll of tin foil for the second contest, and we had to make creations and then present them to the room. It was actually a really fun time, and the food was spectacular. Dinner was a buffest of pasta, rice, roasted vegetables, salad, bread, beef and chicken. Dessert consisted of apple crumble and bread pudding. I wish I could eat like this every night!

 

 

Fiji: Leaving our Homestay

I cannot believe we had to say goodbye to Walter and Terri today. They have been such a great homestay for us and I genuinely believe I am so lucky to have met them. Between cooking us breakfast and dinner, letting us set up their Wi-Fi box, doing our laundry and driving us virtually anywhere we wanted to go, Walter and Terri spoiled Jordan, Ethan, Brian and me. Before we left, Terri and Walter thanked us for choosing Fiji, choosing them and being such well behaved children. I really do not know why they thanked us, as they were so gracious during our whole stay. They let us know that we would always have a place to visit in Fiji.

We embarked on our cross-country road trip back to Nadi after getting dropped off at USP. After two hours of driving along the shore and past villages, we stopped at a beach resort for lunch. Despite the rain, this actually ended up being a fun time, as we played pool, ping pong and walked along the coral-filled beach looking for shells. The water was not for swimming; the ocean broke off shore onto a barrier that separated the salt water from the fresh river water the was flowing off the land into the still, shallow crystal clear pool that reached the barrier.

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There were many great things for lunch, including burgers, quesadillas and pizza. Although I wanted one of those, I saw a traditional Fijian dish and got that because I felt like it would be beneficial to try a dish original to the island. It was called Kokoda and consists of sliced wahoo ceviche style in lemon, lime tomato, red onion and a coconut cream sauce. It was a bit spicy, but I was fine as long as I only ate the fish.

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We headed back to the Trans International and of course had nothing to do besides keep each other company and use our phones on the Wi-Fi that is only located in the lobby. For dinner, I had pan-fried lamb in a sweet pineapple sauce, which had a flavorful taste.

I am trying to understand how our time in Fiji is almost over. I spent a small amount of time in the classroom, but I truly believe I learned more than I ever thought possible during my stay here through living with my homestay family. I wish them nothing but the best in life.

 

Fiji: The First Day

Bula (welcome) to Fiji!

Some of the Fiji group met each other at airports, such as me and Brian at JFK and then a few more of us at LAX. We finally all grouped up at Nadi International and awaited our coordinator to pick us up after we grabbed our bags and went through customs followed by one last round of security. This part was actually effortless and we had a hold of our luggage as soon as we got to the baggage claim.

Our coordinator, Tulevu, picked us up at the arrival hall and another man carted us and our baggage to the Trans International Hotel in multiple trips. Soon enough, we randomly paired up and were give our rooms. I roomed with a really sweet girl named Nicole, who I had previously spoken to in our group chat and then found in the airport.

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The group (Tulevu in red)

We settled into our room, which had a double and a queen bed, and then ate breakfast at our hotel, which consisted of eggs, fruit, toast and cereal. It was nice to know that our breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in our stay at the hotel. I was actually surprised by the satisfactory quality of the food, considering the hotel was not the most amazing place to stay.

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Outdoor area of our hotel

Unfortunately, it had been raining in Nadi for days, and it did not choose to terminate upon our arrival. Due to flooding, we were not able to visit the temple we planned to see. So, that left us to our own devices at the hotel to occupy ourselves. We ended up taking taxis to the local supermarket and grabbing some drinks and snacks. I am glad we were able to see the area, which is a typical island community with colorful homes and small shops along the main road.

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I tried to secretly take a photo while everyone was checking out

The rest of the day, the group, which consists of nine students, socialized in the lobby around music and some food. It was not the first experience I had in mind for Fiji, but it was an experience, to say the least. I keep thinking about Rome and how well everyone got along so quickly because I can see the same thing happening here. We will all get separated once we are in Australia, but a few of us definitely want to stay in touch.

I cannot say much about the days to come, as our itinerary is fairly vague and our coordinator takes each part of the day step by step. I know we are supposed to do some hiking tomorrow, so hopefully the rain does not ruin that. Onto the next experience!

London: The Final Hours

Olivia and I were a quarter of the way done with our last full day in London. Up next? The Sky Garden.

The Sky Garden is a luscious garden, café and bar at the top of another modern building in London, which is nicknamed the Walkie Talkie. It is free to visit, as long as one makes reservations. We met Elisha and Jake there, and up, up and away we went! It is a quite modern space, and I really enjoyed the contrast between the thick green garden and the contemporary glass. This Sky Garden is supposed to offer one of the best views in the city; however, London decided to be stereotypically gray out, and we had virtually no view. Regardless, we still enjoyed our time together chatting and nibbling on some snacks.

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Me, Olivia and Elisha

After the Sky Garden, Elisha, Olivia and I wandered about the streets, visiting some shops and Leadenhall market, which is after what Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley is modeled.

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Leadenhall Market

Nighttime fell, and Olivia and I went back to catch our ride on the London Eye. We could have done this during the day, but we already knew there would be no view, and I thought riding it at night may be nice. Well, as suspected, we did not have much of a view, but it was pleasant to see Parliament, Elizabeth Tower and the rest of the city shining bright in the dreary night sky.

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Upon our return back to my favorite purple home, everyone was quite hungry and ready for our last dinner together. We chose to eat at Nando’s, a Portuguese chain restaurant that mainly serves chicken that comes in a variety of special sauces. It was a fine meal, but I definitely thing Wetherspoons has it beat.

After dinner, we headed home to chat and sip on some hot chocolate. I was already missing nights like this.

London: A Walk Along the Thames

I was super excited for mine and Olivia’s last Monday in London because it just so happens my sorority sister was visiting, and we planned to meet up!

Our day started with a trip to the 1,000 year-old Borough Market, which is a charming and eclectic food market in Southwark. We got there just as it was opening, and the place already smelled of warm comfort food. Soon enough, my sister Shannon showed up with her friends and our official walk of sightseeing began!

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Another part of the market

We had a fun time exploring some spots along the Thames River: Shakespeare’s Globe, Milenium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and finally the Tower Bridge. I loved exploring the area, which was filled with both modern buildings and old-style restaurants.

After a walk over the Tower Bridge, Olivia departed and I followed Shannon and her friends the rest of the day. We strolled back to the Borough Market, where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of mac and pork, which was a container half filled with macaroni and cheese and half filled with pulled pork, and a cheese sauce poured over. It was fantastic and I was glad to be supporting such a cool market.

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After our brisk lunch break, we went to the top of the Shard. The Shard is a 95 story skyscraper a block away from the market that boasts hotel rooms, restaurants, offices and gorgeous views of the city. The name is reflective of its design, as the building looks like a shard of glass rising into the sky. People can pay to visit the top; however, we went to a fairly fancy restaurant about halfway up to enjoy drinks with a view. Well, they enjoyed the drinks, while I enjoyed the view and their company!

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The Shard behind Southwark Cathedral

After the Shard, I said goodbye to Shannon and I was so thankful that I was able to see her and explore more of London. It was a relaxing night back at home with the London friends, as we chatted while watching some interesting English reality television.