Wednesday, November 30, 2016

6 months in Thailand: 6 of the best things I've done and 6 I'd like to do

In honor of my six month anniversary in Thailand, with 6 more months on the horizon, I thought it would be cute to post about 6 of the best things in Chiang Mai and 6 things I hope to do before the end of the year!

Top 6--Believe me there are more than 6, but these are just some highlights
1. Seeing Doi Suthep
     One of the things that drew me to Chiang Mai, more than Bangkok, is that Chiang Mai is surrounded by nature.  Outside the bustling city center, is Doi Suthep settled on the top of a lush mountain. Needless to say, it is pretty awesome to drive up a mountain to see a golden temple contrasting with the deep green of the tropical jungle. Not to mention, we can see Doi Suthep and the entire mountain from my school--what a once-in-a-lifetime view!

2. Watching my first lady boy show
      Confession: My guilty television show is Rupaul's Drag Race, and I don't feel bad about watching it. Going to the cabaret was my first foray into the drag world and it was completely worth it. The lady boys were gorgeous, they sang and danced, and I went surrounded by some of the best people in Chiang Mai.

3. Swimming at Bua Thong, the Sticky Waterfall
     Much like the mountain that houses Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, another natural wonder that attracted me to Chiang Mai was the Sticky Waterfall. It was something that sounded to good to be true, but the waterfall is, in fact, sticky. It is impossible to slip on the rocks, even as water rushes over you. When I went to the falls, I hadn't been swimming in ages, something I love, so it was absolutely amazing. The weather was hot and sunny, while the water was cool and fresh. Visiting Bua Thong was an incredible experience and helped me to appreciate the nature of Chiang Mai. Seeing such a spectacular natural wonder reminded me how amazing earth is and how lucky we are to live here.

4. Thrifting and junk shopping
      I inherited a love of all things vintage, junk, and thrift from my parents. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Chiang Mai to be a hub of awesome vintage and thrift. The city has proven me wrong. In the past 6 months, I found some incredible pieces from vintage dresses from the 1960's to two pairs of perfectly high-waisted vintage Levi's to vintage d├ęcor pieces like dishes. Every single time I go thrifting, I find something AMAZING!

5. All the markets
     From the Night Market to the fruit market to Wararot Market, there are some incredible shopping haunts in Chiang Mai. The carry all kinds of cool things like clothes, souvenirs, food and everything in between. I could spend a very long time hopping from market to market to look at all of the interesting stuff. My personal favorite things to look for are jewelry, textiles, and interesting tea blends (my personal favorites have been traditional Thai tea and lemongrass!)

6. My friends
     Man oh man, have I made some incredible friends from all over the place from England to India to South Africa to America to Australia. I've met some of the coolest, most interesting people in this city and I'm so grateful to have every, single one of them in my life. It always amazes me how quickly people develop meaningful relationships into life-long friendships; that's one of the beauties of being human. Cheesy? Yes. True? Absolutely.

Future 6--everything I still need to do
1. Feed the monks
      It's no secret that I love seeing monks. It amazes me that these men, and some women, give up the pleasures and conveniences of modern life, to live simply and strive for inner peace and understanding. Every time I see a monk, I'm attracted to their golden robes and enjoy being reminded of the "bigger picture" of life, and that the things I stress about are not that important in the grand scheme of the universe. At one of the temples, people can bring breakfast to the monks and feed them since the monks cannot eat in the afternoon and can only eat the food that is brought to them. I really want to have the opportunity to feed the monks and get the chance to chat with some of them and learn more about Buddhism.

2. Watch a muay Thai fight
     Normally, fighting isn't my cup of tea. However, when in Thailand why not watch a fight or two? At the very least, it will be cool to learn a bit more about the origins of this type of fighting and see it in action.

3. See an elephant
     Unfortunately, many of the elephant attractions in Thailand allow visitors to ride the elephants which is horrible because it hurts the animals because elephants do not handle weight on their backs very well. For me, it is important to make sure that I visit elephants that are being treated fairly and ethically. I have found some reputable sanctuaries that I hope to visit in the springtime!

4. Take a cooking class
     Sole reason: I love food and eating. I figure, it is worth it to learn how to cook some Traditional Thai dishes to share with those at home!

5. Go to Doi Inthanon
     While technically not in Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon is the tallest mountain in Thailand and it is relatively close to the city. I think it would be awesome to say I went to the tallest mountain in this country and maybe even go camping there!

6. Get better at eating spicy food
     Let me just say, the food in Thailand is spicy. By the end of my time here, I would like to be better at handling spice. While I've improved, I still have a long way to go. Ideally, I'd like to be able to eat an entire Thai chili without thinking I am going to die from excessive heat! Fingers crossed I will be able to do it!

And there you have it, 6 highlights and 6 future plans! Life is a daring adventure and I am going to keep daring greatly and adventuring around Chiang Mai and the rest of the world!

This photo sums up how happy I am to be in Thailand! This was taken in the mountains near the Bua Thong Waterfall.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy International Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! It has now been five years since my family has had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner!  I am in Chiang Mai, and my parents and siblings decided to celebrate in Canada this year. While I don't love Thanksgiving (Unpopular opinion: I think the food is overrated!), I do enjoy reflecting on all of the things I am thankful for in this world.

I'm thankful for my family. You guys keep me sane, support me, and let me follow my dreams. I would be nothing without you mom, dad, Mick, and Cali. I love you more than words could ever express and I've spent most of today thinking about how lucky I am to have a cool family.

I'm thankful for my friends. I am lucky to have friends that are as close as family and add joy, life, and make my world a better place. I'm humbled to have the privilege to be a part of your lives and I am grateful for everything that you bring into my world.

I'm thankful for a world that I believe is inherently good and I'm thankful for all the people out there who work tirelessly to make the world better than how they left it. I am thankful for those who dedicate their time, effort and resources to making the world a better, more just, equal place for all inhabitants. It's 2016, let's accept one another.

I'm thankful for education. I received an incredible education and now I get to pass it along to my own students. Education has the power to make the world a better place by improving people's lives. Throughout my journey in Chiang Mai, I am reminded of the idea that education is a right, not a privilege for the select few. Education is empowering and changes lives and everyone should have the opportunity to receive an education.

I'm thankful for so many things in this world. Sometimes life is difficult and it is easy to forget that the world is good. I hope everyone takes time to remember the good in the world and tries to bring even more good into it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Insta Recap #12

It has been a long time since I've posted an Insta Recap! I like sharing these posts, since I'm able to explain a bit more about what I post on Instagram. Without further ado, let's get into these pictures!

One thing I love, that a certainly get from my parents, is a junk shop. I love sifting through junk, vintage, and thrift to find the best treasures. In Chiang Mai, the thrifting is incredible! At one of the junk shops, they have tons of celadon plates, dishes, and bowls. I love the color since it reminds me of my mom (hi mom!). I bought a plate and I couldn't resist posting a picture of the blue-green ceramic wear.
One thing I cannot get enough of: young monks. When I arrived in Phnom Pen, we saw all of these monks sitting outside of the Royal Palace and I could not resist taking their picture. They loved that I wanted to take a picture(Probably because they thought I was crazy)!

After the night bus from Phnom Pen to Siem Reap, we sat at the rooftop pool of our hostel before we could go into the city. At 5 a.m., I tried to take a picture of the sunrise, even though it was cloudy, and I loved this sign pointing to all the major cities in Asia and other important cities from around the world!

As I mentioned in my last post, I threw some pottery in Siem Reap. The daughter of the instructor, who was maybe six years old, took this insanely beautiful photo of my hands making a bowl.

Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is a popular draw for tourists. While getting up at 4 a.m. wasn't very fun, seeing Angkor Wat illuminated by fresh sunlight was pretty spectacular!

In Phnom Pen, the Central Market is one of the most popular tourist attractions due to its French-inspired architecture. Most of the market sells tourist junk, but the building is completely worth seeing, especially the pastel yellow mixed with the light blue on the outside of the building.

Chiang Mai is my second time sharing Halloween with many people who have never celebrated this candy-filled holiday. Since I don't have many costume pieces here, and it's difficult to find costumes in a place that doesn't celebrate Halloween, so I dressed up at Winona Ryder's character from the show Stranger Things. To complete the look, we DIYed the wall from the show to make my costume extra special!

Another young monk at Angkor Wat. One really cool thing that happened to me at Angkor Wat was being blessed by a monk while there. While it wasn't this young one, he was sitting there just asking to have his picture taken.

In Siem Reap, I went to a shop that carried products that are handmade by Khmer women that are all paid a fair wage and all the products are fair trade. The shop has a workshop as well, where tourists can go to see where the goods are made. When I saw these candles drying, I loved the lines and the gorgeous red color of the wax.

Bua Thong, or the Sticky Waterfalls, is one of the top tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. It is about an hour from the old city and it is an amazing ride through the countryside of Thailand. The waterfalls do not get slippery, so you can completely climb up the entire thing! It is absolutely amazing. Nature is too cool and humans need to step up and make sure we protect these natural wonders.

Hope everyone enjoyed hearing a bit more detail about what I've been up to! Hopefully, I'll be posting some more adventures soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Khmer noodle curry, temples, and night buses: 7 Cambodian highlights

Last month, the first semester of school finished which means one thing: time off! How have I already completed an entire semester? I'll never know. Taking full advantage of this time off meant it was time to travel yet again. This time to Phnom Pen and Siem Reap, Cambodia. For 10 days, I crisscrossed the country and absolutely fell in love. Going to Cambodia was, without a doubt, one of the best trips I have ever been on; it was that good. Instead of a big, lengthy post, I'm trying a format where I post seven highlights from my travels.

1. Khmer noodle curry
      In Thailand, rice is the starch du jour. Now don't get me wrong, I love rice but a really love noodles. Back in Cleveland, one of my favorite restaurants is a Cambodia place called Phnom Pen so I knew I was in for a treat, and Cambodia delivered. More than once, I indulged in Khmer noodle curry which is a noodle curry and it's bursting with flavor like spicy chili, sour lime, crunchy bean spouts all resting on a bed of rice noodles and broth. It was amazing and the best part--it was $1 per bowl. It can't get much better than that.

Khmer noodle curry with fresh lime, bean sprouts, and chili pepper

2. The Temples at Angkor
     Angkor Wat, a UNESCO site, is the world's largest religious location, located in Siem Reap. Essentially, it is a group of temples scattered over 162.6 hectares that allow visitors a glimpse into the ancient world. In one day, I saw every temple on the small and large circuit which required getting to the temples at 5 a.m. and staying until 3 p.m. to see it all. It was intense, but totally worthwhile. Most people recognize certain temples, like the one featured in the film Tomb Raider. What is pretty amazing about the temples at Angkor is that people can climb on almost everything and completely explore the temples without much supervision, safety precautions, or limits. I have to say, climbing around an ancient temple was a pretty cool experience.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at 5:30 a.m.

Climbing on some temples; I know I look small compared to the temple!

At the temple that was in Tomb Raider

3. Night bus from Phnom Pen to Siem Reap to Phnom Pen (again)
     While I have taken trains, planes, and automobiles, I have never traveled via night bus. To save money and time, my travel buddy and I chose to take a night bus from Phnom Pen to Siem Reap and back to Phnom Pen because our flight was round-trip out of the capital. On these particular night buses, we shared the equivalent of a twin bed with a curtain for privacy. Needless to say, people can just reach into your "bed," which might cause you to kick someone in the arm when they reach into your "bed" (Not that I would know anything about kicking a random arm on a night bus. I would never do such a thing). You can hear everything and feel every bump in the road. While it might not have been the best mode of transit considering I did not sleep much, it saved time and money and gave me an interesting experience that I can cross off my bucket list, which is what traveling is all about.

4. The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng
     While it wasn't the most uplifting day, one of the best parts of Phnom Pen was learning more about the Khmer Rouge. From 1975-1979, Cambodia suffered from a genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and their dictator, Pol Pot. In order to educated future generations about the horrors of dictatorships and genocide, the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng stand to serve that purpose.
     The Killing Fields is the location where Cambodia people were killed for being a threat to the Khmer Rouge regime. Now, it serves as a grave and memorial for those killed and as a way to teach about the history of Cambodia. Toul Sleng, also known as S-21, was a school turned prison for those opposed to the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed. Of the 17,000 prisoners of Toul Sleng, there are only seven known survivors. Much like the Killing Fields, Toul Sleng serves to teach about the history of Cambodia and hopes to prevent genocide in the future through education.
     Even though going to sites associated with genocide might not be everyone's cup of tea, I enjoyed learning about the recent history of Cambodia. Every single person alive in Cambodia today is related to the genocide in some way, either as a survivor themselves or as a family member of a survivor. It is was incredibly informative, humbling, and moving to learn more about this dark time in Cambodian history and what they are doing, as a country, to educate others about the pains of genocide and how to prevent something like this from happening again in the future.

5. Pottery
     After taking a night bus, some special activities are in order.  I took a pottery class in Siem Reap the morning after "sleeping" on the night bus that was really enjoyable. The teacher and her two young daughters, one with the cutest mop of curly black hair, helped us to throw three pieces on the pottery wheel: a bowl, a cup, and a vase. Even though we had not slept much the night before, the pottery class completely revived me to take on the rest of the day! I took pottery classes in high school, so this brought be back to my previous art classes and reminded me how much I enjoy creating. A few days later, the pieces were fired and delivered back to us and now I have two cool souvenirs that I made myself!

Trying to channel my throwing knowledge from high school. Spoiler alert: it didn't really come back to me!

One of the teacher's daughters took this amazing photo of my hands throwing a bowl

6. Puppies
      I spent time with two perfect puppies in Cambodia. The first was a teeny, tiny puppy at the pottery class. When I say teeny, I mean he could fit in one of my hands. He made the pottery class especially worth it. At one of the hostels we stayed at in Phnom Pen, the owner had a little puppy, Keno, who lived at the hostel. Since I don't get to play with may dogs in Chiang Mai, playing with these cute little puppies reminded me of my dog and how much I love spending time with sweet animals.

The face of pure joy holding a teeny, tiny puppy!

7. The people
     When I say the people in Cambodia were hospitable, that would be an understatement. Every single person, except for one strange tuk tuk driver went above and beyond in giving us incredible service, giving us great advice, and through showing us the most -spectacular hospitality. I felt so welcomed in Cambodia. The people we met were some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with. It is amazing to me that a country with such a tumultuous recent past has people that are so kind, giving, and happy. Seeing how the Cambodian people interact with others inspired me to want to be a better person by going above and beyond what is necessary; it was that powerful. The kindness I witnessed in Cambodia made it hard to leave and has me itching to go back!

Street side stop in Siem Reap

Vegetable sellers at a market in Siem Reap

So there you have it, seven amazing things about Cambodia! An just you wait, my next tow trips are good ones: Bangkok and then Bali! I cannot wait to explore these new places and tell you all about them. Until next time!