Month: January 2015

Zen Ubud

Ubud is so green. Saturated, vibrant, plush green.

Kara had gotten the advice to stay just outside of town, up in the rice paddies, and it was brilliant advice. Our homestay, Narwa Homestay, was a short walk from town that made a world of difference. It was quiet, removed, peaceful. Our first day I found a yoga studio, Ubud Yoga House, just a short walk away in the middle of the rice paddies; I went there the following day for 7:30 am morning yoga and it was a perfect setting. I went back that night at 6 for meditation. The place was peaceful and the view was perfect. The yoga and the meditation, however, were good, but nothing as earth shattering as I’d experienced in Vietnam. That’s unfair pressure though; I still enjoyed both.

The first day in Ubud we were so happy to be out of Kuta it was like a huge sigh of relief even just making it to the guesthouse. We went in to town for lunch at a recommended place, Kafe. It was awesome. A huge healthy menu with everything from salads to burritos and fresh juices, I had steamed vegetables with red rice and a fresh lime juice. I was so happy, I hadn’t had food like this since I left San Francisco. Kara even said that San Francisco needed a place like Kafe. We sat there for hours enjoying the vibe. We wandered through town, getting acquainted with where things were, before having a chill evening at our homestay.

For the most part. There was the incident with the spider. Now I’ve gotten pretty used to spiders in the wild; I see them in the jungle and don’t think twice anymore, just take some pictures and move on. I’ve even eaten them. But something about seeing a gigantic spider next to all my stuff in my bedroom brought back the fear. It took Kara and I an embarrassingly long time to coax out and kill the spider (Kara really, seriously my fear was back full force). Sorry nature.

The next day was exciting: I met up with Amanda and all her Haas friends! Somehow timing worked out perfectly to meet up with another friend from home, who happened to be traveling around this part of the world with her business school friends. So not only did I get to see Amanda, who I missed dearly, but I got to meet her new world of people who she’d met while I was gone. And of course, they’re fantastic. We hung out all day wandering through the rice paddies and gushing over the amazing healthy food and juices at Sari Organik. This restaurant is an Ubud institution and rightfully so. The setting is gorgeous and the food is delicious, we could have stayed there all day.

We all wandered back into town and through the market, going our separate ways before meeting up again at meditation and then to a traditional Balinese dance at the Ubud Palace. The costumes were colorful and the dancers’ eyes were captivating. Bernie was so into it he became our personal narrator, filling us in on the stories we were watching from the handout they provided. We had a late dinner sitting cross-legged at Jazz Cafe.

The next day was our last in Ubud. We got a slow start, which was more than okay with me. Kara and I had two things left we wanted to do. We started with lunch at Warung Ibu Oka, a delicious suckling pig that again came highly recommended and rightfully so; it was some of the best meat I’ve had on my whole trip, well-seasoned, lean, tender, yum. Then we rented a motorbike and went north. I started driving and learned that I don’t like driving with someone else on the bike through heavy traffic in the middle of a busy town. It was stop and go and I wasn’t good at either yet, stopping or going. Once we got out of town it was better. We made it up to Tegallalang and saw the terraced rice paddies, then to Tirta Empul, a sacred water temple complex in the middle of the forest. It was a pretty place and we were happy to have made it. Kara took over some of the driving and we wound back on more residential roads; it was a beautiful drive.

When we got back into town we took a few wrong turns and it got busy again so I got back in the driver seat and had to weave through Ubud to get us home. I ended up on what I swear is actually a one way road that motorbikes just ignore and was relieved I had gotten used to driving; this was a tight road with big cars coming at me. When we made it back we felt we’d earned our happy hour drink.

We met up with the Haas crew for 2 for 1 mojitos and caiparinhas; we ordered so many that they extended happy hour an hour for us. Dinner and more drinks with them before calling it a night. We were all going to Gili T together tomorrow.

Ubud is beautiful. It is peaceful and you can see why Eat Pray Love was partially written there, but also how that’s changed the town into a more touristy one. I definitely recommend Ubud for everyone’s visit to Bali. And if you do go and stay at Narwa Homestay, have the pancakes. They’re green! And sweet and delicious, especially with bananas.

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One Night in Kuta

Kuta is where Australians go for spring break. We’d heard this, and to generally avoid Kuta, but I was curious to see what it was all about. There’s got to be some reason that people flock there, right? It’s supposed to have an amazing beach and a fun nightlife, it can’t be all bad.

We landed in Bali at around 7:00 pm and Kuta is only 15 minutes from the airport, so we decided to do one night there before going to Ubud the next day. This was plenty of time.

We had our first Indonesian dinner and I tried the local “wine” Arrack. This firewater should not be called wine. I tried to soften it a little with some lemon and soda water but after finishing one of these straight up drinks I was already a little drunk. We wandered to the main strip of town and were stopped at the mention of two free drinks. Sky Garden, a very well-known club in the middle of Kuta, has a two free drink deal just for going in. How could we say no?

Level one was pick your mixer and your alcohol. I was actually able to get a whiskey coke! This floor was pretty dead though so we quickly finished our drinks and went upstairs. Level two was any choice of drinks on the board; all vodka. Kara got one and I gave away my free drink. I will not touch vodka. Plus I’d had that moonshine at dinner. This floor had much better music and a sizeable crowd so we ignored all the Aussies and danced our butts off for a few hours. Every time we tried to take a break they’d put on another classic. We made friends with the club photographer who told us a place we could watch the downstairs. We found one awesomely carefree big blonde guy who was showing everyone what fun meant and watched him tear it up on the dance floor for a while.

We went home feeling satisfied with our night out in Kuta. Yes it was Aussies dancing on bars and I could see the appeal if I was still 20, but I am not, so that was it for us. The next morning we had enough time to walk out to the beach. It was a huge beach that went for miles, but it was not nice. There were clean up crews picking up garbage and we couldn’t walk more than two feet without someone coming up to us, “Yes you want surf lesson.” No we do not. I didn’t want to go in that water. A walk down the beach and along both Poppies completed our tour of Kuta.

After accidentally getting trapped in town – would it kill them to put cross streets in? – we made it back to the hostel where our ride to Ubud was waiting. Kuta, I’m glad to have seen you, but I will not be coming back. I’ll leave that to the stereotypes who love it.

The one picture I took in Kuta

The one picture I took in Kuta

The Long Route to Bali

We took a 24 hour bus to Singapore.

Kara, thank you for bearing with me on this one. I know it’s the last thing you want to do on vacation but the budget savings are always so helpful, and at least you had a three-week vacation so a day wasn’t the end of the world.

To get from Krabi to Bali was going to cost more than we wanted to spend on flights. That’s what you get trying to fly around during the holiday season. We discovered that it was possible to take a bus from Krabi to Singapore, which was our end destination in mid-January, and then we could take a round-trip flight from Singapore to Bali for a fraction of the price of multiple one ways. So this is what we did.

We left Krabi at 6:30 am on the 4th in a van. This van was the most crowded one I’ve ever been in; they didn’t leave any seats open for bags so they were all piled up in the aisle next to me. It was not a short ride to the border either. Somehow I slept a lot and podcasts got Kara through it. We were dropped at a border town in Thailand and told that the Singapore bus didn’t pick up there. I’m sorry, what? The van driver was not helpful and just kept trying to leave, not giving us back our tickets so we had no proof that we’d paid to get to Singapore.

The new man in charge at a travel agency was an outright dick. This guy and the van driver are hands down the two most frustrating men I’ve dealt with so far. Eventually we found out that the Singapore bus knew we were there, had our tickets, and would come pick us up at 12:30. This is all we knew and we had to trust it.

They were late, but eventually a glorified pick-up truck with a back door came around to take us to our bus to Singapore. We got in and were greeted by two young smiling American faces. This had to be a step in the right direction. Our new companions were doing a semester in Singapore and had just celebrated the New Year on Koh Phangan, where all their stuff was stolen on the beach. They were just trying to get “home.”

We were taken to the bus and at 1:30 were on our way to Singapore. We could breathe again. Made it. From then on the bus was par for the course; freezing, long, with two quick border stops. We made it to Singapore around 8:00 am and went straight to the airport.

We spent the morning sipping Coffee Bean using their wifi until we could board our afternoon flight. It was a relief to check in and make it on the plane. For me, just another crazy long travel day trying to get to an exciting destination: Bali. For Kara, an unfortunate bump in hopefully otherwise a great vacation. Now we just had to fly to Bali.

So the nerves weren’t gone just yet. I wonder when flying through Indonesia will stop being so scary, if ever. I haven’t been so tense on a flight in years, since I went through my brief fear of flying in early college. When we touched down in the Denpasar airport we looked at each other relieved. We made it to Bali.

Maya Bay and Our Last Day on Phi Phi Island

We were slow to get moving January 1st. It was our last day with Kate and Garrett, and their last day on Phi Phi, so we knew we wanted to make it to Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed. Eventually we got going, just in time to get on a 2:00 boat.

The boat out to Maya Bay is another organized snorkeling tour but we were hoping to avoid some crowds by going late in the day on New Year’s Day. The first stop was Monkey Beach. This is actually just a small beach that has aggressive monkeys on it. Tourists in bathing suits unload out of their boats to take pictures with monkeys eating snacks. It’s a strange sight and Kara and I weren’t so into it. Kate and Garrett got less into it after Garrett was ruthlessly attacked and bitten by a monkey! He had to get 12 preventative rabies shots when he got home. Sorry Garrett! Stupid monkeys.

Next up was a drive-by past a cave. Not too impressive, but the Phi Phi Leh island was beautiful to ride around. We stopped for some snorkeling and it actually was pretty nice. We jumped off the two-story boat into warm clear water and swam around with the fish for about half an hour. There were so many fish it was like swimming in a fish tank. The coolest part was probably the silver school of fish darting around near the surface of the water.

Then it was time for the main event. The boat turned a corner into Maya Bay and shuttled us to shore. There were still a good amount of people around so we did the quick walk through the jungle to the opposite side, which was more or less just a viewpoint out to another rock island and the sea. By the time we got back though the beach had started to clear out. It was nice that we were some of the last people on the beach; we were able to enjoy it without the crowds and boats everywhere. It is a stunning beach. You wonder if it’s really worth the hype, and it’s pretty damn near perfect. As the sun was starting to go down there was a glowing light coming through the entrance to the bay that created a beautiful, peaceful scene. We got back to the boat before the sun went down and were served fried rice as we started to go back home. Once the sun set it was instantly rocky and colder, and we were happy we hadn’t waited too much longer.

We had a low key night, fitting after the night before, and just hung out at a chill bar, Sunflower, near our hotel playing scrabble and sipping on crazy big frozen mojitos. The next morning Kate and Garrett stopped by to say goodbye on their way out. It was so fun having friends around for a little bit. It’s incredible seeing friends again after so long, and in such remote places, and feeling like it hasn’t been all that long. It felt weird how not weird it felt to see them. It was a perfect time to join together too; an epic New Years party, some chill time in Tonsai and Phi Phi, and an afternoon of snorkeling and beautiful beaches.

Kara and I had one day left on Ko Phi Phi. It was probably one day more than we really needed there but we took advantage of a nothing day to just chill. We had a gorgeous view from our hotel’s infinity pool and spent most of our time there talking about her upcoming wedding (yayyy!) and my thoughts on the next few months. It was more of that sister time that I was so excited to get when she arrived and it was a perfect setting for it.

That evening we ventured to the other side of the island to check out a different beach and again found a nice happy hour spot. This time we were sitting on reclining cushions listening to reggae watching the fire performers practice. We hung out there for hours, through dinner, and eventually got coaxed into the fire show. Kara’s guy had barely had time to practice but he didn’t need it; clearly the pro, he spun a firey stick around Kara in double time. My guy had the poi balls and as he spun them in patterns around me he asked about my single status and if I would wait for him. I teased him about needed to trap girls in fire to hit on them and told him just don’t burn me and we can talk. It was a lively way to end our time on Ko Phi Phi.

Happy New Year from Ko Phi Phi!

The ferry to Ko Phi Phi looked like spring break. Tons of young Westerners flooded the boat in their sundresses and bright tank tops ready to party away the end of 2014.

Kara and I boarded in Ao Nang and hoped that the promise of picking up Kate and Garrett from Tonsai on the way would work out. As per usual, it did, just in a very safety third kind of way. We hovered in the open water as a dozen long tail boats brought passengers aboard from Tonsai and Railay. Eventually Kate and Garrett were in one of these boats. Phew, we were relieved that worked out.

When we got to Phi Phi there were tons of men standing on the pier with signs for hotels and guesthouses. They put our backpacks in a cart and pushed it ahead, winding through the maze of Phi Phi’s town, leading us to our hotel. After we dropped our stuff we went straight to the beach for lunch.

The beach at Ko Phi Phi was more spring break. There were bars and chairs lining the beach full of tanning bodies. After a very chill beach restaurant for lunch we found a patch of sand to call our own and alternated exploring the water. Kara and I walked out. And walked and walked and walked. How far does it go this shallow? Pretty damn far. The ocean bay in this part of Phi Phi is like a giant shelf. Eventually we got in to our waists and had to drop down to our knees to finally go under. And the water was hot, like bathtub temperature. We crawled back on our hands. Garrett went on a mission for a frisbee and came back with a mat to lay on and a few beers. We played frisbee in the water with a new friend from San Francisco. I hadn’t seen so many Americans in such a long time as I saw on Phi Phi for New Years (including an old college friend I hadn’t seen since graduation who was checking in at the same hotel at the same time as us! So random.).

It was almost time for the main event: New Year’s Eve. Our hotel had required a “New Year’s Eve Gala” dinner when we booked it so Kate and Garrett got tickets to join us. We were not prepared. Everyone got a boutonniere and welcome drink upon arrival. We ordered cocktails while we waited for the Thai buffet to start. In the middle of buffet time they announced there would be games. At first people were hesitant to join, but then they announced the prize would be a bottle of wine. Kate, Garrett and I were the first on stage. After a rousing game of “try to pop the balloons on your competitors ankles before yours is popped or you break your ankle” in which Garrett and I were the last ones standing (couldn’t let me have it could you Garrett?) we enjoyed Garrett’s victory wine with our fruit and fried banana dessert.

10:00 rolled around and we decided it was time: to the beach! We stopped on the way to pick up the traditional drink of Ko Phi Phi: a bucket. We started with one purchased before we got to the beach; it was cheaper, and all the bottles were sealed so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Four straws please. We took our new giant beverage with us to the beach and our jaws dropped.

The beach was a rave. Bar after bar after bar was open to the water playing music for anyone who wanted to walk up and join. After years of paying ridiculous covers to get into bars on New Year’s (or avoiding them at a house party) the bars on Phi Phi’s beach were welcoming us in with open arms and bucket stands. Lasers projected out over the crowd and there were people spinning fire in front of most bars. We did see a fire stick go rogue and hit a few girls sitting not too far away – Kara’s “watch out!” warning did not do the FLYING FIRE justice – but they seemed okay and everyone moved on. I felt like I was back at Burning Man. People roamed free, happily bouncing from DJ to DJ, towing their plastic buckets around with them.

When it got close to midnight, and we were on our second and third buckets, Garrett noticed a bunch of people had moved out into the water. There was a sandbar. We joined the sandbar club, carefully avoiding the ocean, which had turned into a giant toilet for the male gender. From out on the sandbar we could look back and see the whole crazy beach party behind us. It was epic.

Someone started a countdown and 2014 was almost over. As it struck 2015 Kara and I shared a kiss on the cheek and yelled Happy New Year! Fireworks exploded literally above us. It was the coolest way I’ve ever watched fireworks.

We stayed on the beach for a couple more hours, jumping around according to what song we liked best, until it was finally time for us to call it a night. It was an awesome party. I was so happy to have friends in town to celebrate with; I think I can safely say that Kara, Kate and Garrett had a good time too. This New Year’s is going to be a hard one to beat.

Ao Nang and Railay Beach

Railay Beach is on all the top beaches to visit lists so we started there. I can see why. From Ao Nang, we took a long tail boat 15 minutes to get to an arc of sand wedged in between towering karst mountains. Unfortunately the lack of a boat schedule – boats run between Railay and Ao Nang as soon as they have 8 people – means there are constantly boats running to and from this beach. Add to the abundance of boats the fact that it was one of the busiest weeks of the year, between Christmas and New Years, meaning there were so many bodies on the beach, and it wasn’t exactly peaceful. But it was beautiful.

The weather wasn’t totally on our side so we only got to lay on the beach for a little over an hour before rain pushed us inland. We timed a lunch stop perfectly between the West and East sides, enjoying some Pad See Ew while the rain pummeled the plastic roof above us. After it subsided enough we went for a walk to try to find the lagoon. It sounds like we were lucky we didn’t find it, I guess it’s a pretty hard vertical climb, but we did find a smaller beach, Phra Nang Beach, swarmed with climbers and home to a very interesting shrine full of phallic statues. We had enough time to ooh and aah at the pretty beach before we had to get to Tonsai to meet up with Kate and Garrett.

The walk between Railay West and Tonsai beach seemed short and simple enough, but that is probably only true when it hasn’t just rained. It was a mudslide. We barely stayed on our flip-flops trying to trudge up and over this little patch of rainforest. By the time we made it to the other side we were laughing in relief and determined to get a boat directly from Tonsai back to Ao Nang so we wouldn’t have to go through that again.

But first we met up with Kate and Garrett for a beer. Months of unfamiliarity and now I had my sister, my old roommate and her boyfriend all in town! I was thrilled to see them when they walked up; they had just gotten back from a crazy sounding free soloing climbing day, where they climbed up cliff faces and fell into water. The pictures were epic. I wanted to stay and catch up longer but the last boat was leaving Tonsai, or we had to pay for a whole 8 person boat ourselves, so we said goodbye for now until we all reunited on Ko Phi Phi for New Years.

Our next day we split between the pool at the hotel and Ao Nang. Ao Nang is a busy tourist town next to a not-so-appealing beach. We wandered through town to book some important things – boat to Ko Phi Phi, bus to Singapore (long story, to be filled in later) – and find a good spot for happy hour. We found one, right on the beach with a view of the setting sun. A few beers, a setting sun, and conversation with my sister, it was a pretty great way to spend an evening.

The next morning was an early one before our boat to Ko Phi Phi. I had to get in one final Belgian waffle for breakfast at the hotel before we left. I’d finally gotten to the point of missing some western food and the hotel was the perfect place to satisfy this – club sandwich for lunch one day, Belgian waffles and scrambled eggs in the breakfast buffet – in between the necessary Thai food meals of course.

Our time in Ao Nang was really more about catching up than anything else, and resting before the craziness of New Years Eve. Off to Ko Phi Phi.

Beyond Excited for a Familiar Face from Home: My Sister!

It was December 28th and I was enjoying a comfortable bed, air conditioning and the news on a flat screen tv. I took a nice long warm shower. I unpacked some things. I relaxed. I waited.

Today was the day my sister arrived!

I was anxious for her to get there already. I’d been anticipating this moment for months, and was made only more excited when a week before she came she got engaged. Now I wanted to give her a huge hug and spend the next three weeks together catching up and hanging out as only sisters can.

Then I refocused on the news and panicked. A plane was missing in Indonesia. Even though I knew she wasn’t in that area, seeing the fact that a plane had flat out disappeared on the day that my sister was flying in to see me filled me with terror. What if it had been her? It wasn’t, she’s fine. But did I know anyone else flying in that region? With a new travel network that extends across the world it’s more likely now than ever that I may know someone involved in such a tragedy. I did a mental scan of my conversations over the past 6 months until I felt sure that I didn’t know anyone on the plane.

I was still horrified at the news of the disappearance of yet another plane. I remembered the last bad flight news, when a plane was shot down in Eastern Europe. I got that news while I was on an Azul flight somewhere over the middle of Brazil. Flight accidents are always terrible, but when so much of you and your friends’ lives revolve around travel there’s a new immediacy to these sorts of things.

Someone knocked. My mind snapped back to the present and I ran full speed to open the door.

I barely let Kara get inside before giving her a big hug. The afternoon was a lesson in restraint for me. She had just flown thousands of miles over 36 hours to get here and I wanted to talk talk talk, but I had to acknowledge the jetlag and exhaustion that comes with such a trip.

We spent our first day at the hotel (a very generous Christmas gift from our parents, thank you!). We had plenty of time to explore Krabi, today I was just happy to see my sister. There was so much to talk about that it felt like we barely even got started by the time her jetlag won out. We had three weeks together though so there was plenty of time, we would cover it all soon enough.

For the next few posts – Krabi, Ko Phi Phi, Indonesia, and Singapore – there will be lots of “we’s.” Kara is one of the amazing, talented ones who runs her own company so she was able to take a while off to come roam around with me. Before diving in I just want to say thank you for coming Kara! You truly made these places fantastic and I’m so happy I was able to spend some time with you in this crazy year.

1,000 Miles

The rest of our time in Khao Lak was just spent hanging out. We enjoyed an afternoon at the beach and played “name the US State” (a game started by the Germans). We had Christmas dinner overlooking the water at a table on the sand, and had the best spiciest red curry at our hostel, where I’ve so far had the best food in Thailand. Pascal and I rushed to the beach our last night in an attempt to catch sunset. The sun was down but the sky was still pretty so we had some beers on the beach and just enjoyed the waning light. We ended every night with multiple games of pool and the occasional foosball game or jenga. I discovered I’m actually getting pretty good at pool; I also discovered I’m not nearly as good at foosball as I thought and have a long way to go till I can beat Pascal.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though I only met Pascal and Chris on this trip it felt like I’d known them much longer.

We recapped to someone how long we’d known each other and sort of stumbled over the facts. Was it really just 10 days in Australia? That didn’t seem right. It didn’t matter how long or how short we’d technically known each other, the point was that here we were in Thailand and we had followed through on our plan to see each other again. I had jumped up so excited to see them when they arrived in Khao Lak and my sadness equalled my excitement when I had to say goodbye.

I’m not kidding that I’m so happy I got my tattoo with these guys. It will always remind me of them and that’s a great thing. Habibi, Byron Bay, Khao Sok and Khao Lak, these were great moments in my trip that were made great because Pascal and Chris were there too.

They live in Germany. I do not. This is a sad fact that means I don’t know if or when I’ll ever see them again. I have mentioned a potential visit to Germany, plus there’s the Travel Abrodge Burning Man camp in 2016, but even without the certainty of future visits, I sincerely hope we keep in touch like we have so far.

But there is still that Germany possibility. So guys, I may have to walk 500 miles, and I may walk 500 more, just to be the wandering traveler who walked 1,000 miles to show up at your door.

Love you both.

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A Permanent Souvenir

I got a tattoo in Thailand!

To be clear, I did not go to Thailand thinking “I’m going to get a tattoo there.” I did leave for this trip knowing that I wanted a tattoo to commemorate it, but not putting any pressure on what it would be or when I would get it, figuring I’d know when it was over.

Then Pascal happened. He really wanted a traditional bamboo-style Thai tattoo. He saw me as an easy target to get this with him. It’s no secret I wanted another one and since I already have one, it was a much easier decision to add a new one. Lucky for him I had come up with an idea in Vietnam that I was really into.

So after four days of “then we’ll get our tattoos” it finally happened in Khao Lak on Friday night.

Our first night in Khao Lak Pascal brought up the idea as we passed a tattoo parlor. We checked out the two near our hostel but neither were really right: one was young and flashy and cheap (negotiating the price of a tattoo felt really strange) and the other was a guy who clearly had been doing this his whole life, more laid back but more expensive. I wasn’t ready to go with either of these places just yet.

Then we went to Khao Sok and the day trip to the Similan Islands and I had some time to get used to the idea. By the end of the boat trip I was pretty much convinced; Pascal was itching to get it immediately. On our way back from the islands we passed through the main town center of Khao Lak and stopped to check out two other places.

We found one that was just the right in between. It was very busy so clearly popular, traditional enough in style to feel right but new and clean enough to not be worried. We walked in to ask about pricing and timing. They knew what he wanted, the traditional Thai five lines, and asked me to bring mine up on an iPad. They took a screenshot and used a coin as a size reference. The price was in between the other two places: Pascal’s was 4,000 THB and mine would have been 1500 THB but since we were getting them together they gave it to me for 1000 THB (US$30).

Then we asked when. “We can do it right now.”

We stared at each other. Not ready yet. We had been on a boat all day, we needed to shower, really right now? They told us to come back at 8. So we did. We had to wait till 9.

Now we were anxious. 9 finally rolled around and they drew up both of our stencils. Two guys prepared the bamboo sticks with ink (nowadays they use a needle on the end of the bamboo stick, still employing a traditional technique with a more modern tool). Pascal was first; they had him lay down in a back room. A few minutes in and it was my turn to start. I laid down and handed over my wrist. Ready? Sure why not.

The bamboo style is honestly not my favorite. Something about the repeated tapping made each prick feel new. I can’t believe I prefer the modern needle, my rib tattoo was 3 hours of pure pain, but at least my skin got kind of numb. This one was like being poked with a safety-pin on repeat. Mine only took about 15 minutes though, so not bad in the end, and when it was done I was actually giddy. Pascal’s took almost an hour, but after his was done too we took a very smiley picture together. Even Chris was really excited, and he was just in charge of documenting.

We went out for celebratory drinks after, of course. I could hardly believe I did it but I absolutely love it. And the brilliant thing about bamboo tattoos is that we could go in the water and sun the next day. And no bleeding! It healed really easily.

So what’d I get? The evil eye.

The evil eye has had special meaning for me since I was in Istanbul in 2008. Here’s the abbreviated version: A very nice man gave me a glass pendant of an evil eye the day I left Istanbul to protect me as I traveled. I kept that evil eye with me on every trip for the rest of my time abroad. It has been a prominent feature in my apartments in New York and San Francisco. Separately, a wonderful girl on my flight to Nicaragua also gave me a small evil eye charm that has been on a key chain with me ever since. When I left for this trip I put the pendant on my luggage again as a symbol to watch over me as a traveled on this journey. It fell of somewhere in South America and I have tried to ignore how much I miss it. Now that I have it tattooed on me, I never have to worry about losing it again. I will always have this symbol protecting me from evil, watching over me in my travels. As for the placement on my wrist, I have amassed quite a collection of bracelets in the past half a year that will have to be removed once I reenter the normal world. This tattoo will remain in their place, representing them as well.

And as for how I got it, I could not be happier. When I would talk about getting a tattoo that symbolized the trip I would throw out “or maybe I’ll just get a bamboo tattoo in Thailand.” Then it actually happened. I found that kind of funny. Plus I got it pretty spur of the moment, which is how it should be in this stage of my life, with great new friends who I met on this trip. The entire scenario came together better than I could have imagined. It would’ve been wrong to not get it really. For anyone who knows about some of the circumstances of my first one, when things feel right I tend to go with it, even if it is a bit of a last-minute decision. It just all felt so right.

Pascal, we’re forever linked in ink now. We’ll just have to be ok with that…

Attempting to Recreate Habibi in the Similan Islands

We had experienced some of the best snorkeling in the world in the Whitsundays, on the boat where we all met, Habibi. It was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Australia. So when we read that the Similan Islands “offer[ed] some of the finest diving in Thailand, if not the world” we had to check it out.

Apple, the wonderful woman who ran our hostel Riverside Guesthouse, got us some super secret discount for a day trip (2,000 THB) that included three snorkeling sites and lunch. The whole operation was larger than expected; we arrived to find a hundred other people snacking on muffins and coffee waiting for the boats to launch. We were given our color coded wristbands and told to wait until we were called. As soon as it was our turn we acted like kids and hurried to get on the boat first so we could sit outside up front; the boat was a 4-engine speedboat and the only rule of sitting up front was that you had to hold on at all times. You could tell this boat could really launch over some big waves if it wanted to, although disappointingly it held back on the ride out. We blamed all the tourists for killing the fun.

It was an hour and a half ride out to the first location and just being on the water made me smile. The boat was actually probably the highlight of the day. All the snorkel sights were honestly slightly disappointing. There was a variety of coral but not nearly as colorful as we were hoping and the fish were just ok. The most exciting sightings were a group of squid and one turtle who somehow got stuck in the center of a hovering group of tourists near the boats. At each location multiple boats unloaded dozens upon dozens of tourists into the same patch of water. We tried to swim further into space but nothing was quite as captivating as we had experienced in Australia. Plus there were some evil little jellyfish in the water that kept stinging us.

We stopped at an island for lunch which did have beautiful white sand and turquoise water but was so packed with people it was hard to appreciate it. Our last island stop Chris and I didn’t even bother to go in the water. We wondered if we’d become jaded with this kind of travel, having seen too many nice beaches and snorkeling spots in Australia. I had at least taken a bit of a break in Vietnam and Cambodia; they came from Krabi and Phuket, more of the same. Of course it’s not exactly the same, but at some point a beach is a beach.

As if to shut us up, the weather decided to give us something new: rain. We, along with everyone else, ran back to our boat and hid underneath the covered back section waiting for it to pass. It was a quick downpour that had some lingering drizzle but Pascal and I came prepared with raincoats. What’s a little water? We resumed our positions up front and on the ride back really felt the speed of the four engines. A couple times I flew off my seat into the air, and learned to appreciate the “must hold on” rule. When the rain briefly picked up again it felt like little daggers stabbing me in the face. At least it didn’t last long.

We made it back to shore not regretting going for an instant, it was still a fun day, but perhaps a little less enthusiastic than I though we’d be when we booked the trip.