Portland, Maine: Encounters with Kindness

When my friends and I decided to take a girls’ trip to Portland, no one told us that Maineites??? Mainers would give Southerners a run for our money where hospitality is concerned.

Case in point: While taking a break on the Back Cove Trail that was filled with walkers, joggers, and bikers, a female jogger literally stopped mid-stride to approach us.

“Are you all OK? Do you need directions anywhere? I see that you’re tourists because you all have matching bikes,” she said while motioning to our orange rentals, “so I wanted to help.”

We were floored. This woman stopped her exercise routine for us?! After receiving directions from her and admiring once again the people, we continued on our way. This was not our first, nor would it be our last, encounter with kindness. People waved from the street as we drove by, were courteous drivers, asked if we were models (that’s always a way to a girl’s heart), and the list goes on.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known as an artsy, culturally rich (but in reality, isn’t every place where humans are culturally rich?) part of Thailand.

By the time I reached Chiang Mai for a five day stay, my body was weary from all of the travel. Little did I know that I would end up sick in bed a day after I returned to Jakarta. The culprit? A variation of Strep throat.

Since I didn’t know what was brewing in my body, I chalked up my wish to lounge around and read, not visit temples and just be, to me having too packed of an itinerary.

Here are some suggestions for things to do:

Wander around Warorot Market

I’d gotten it into my head that I wanted a bamboo steamer. Though I ended up not purchasing one, seeing a market, to quote a good friend, is a great way to get a culture’s pulse. Purchase the Thai version of Tiger Balm (that stuff is the truth!), dried fruit, and whatever else catches your fancy.

Eat at the Salad Concept

I begrudgingly went into here when walking around the Nihammen neighborhood. Stereotypical Texan, I’m not about eating too many plant-based meals for too long. Now, I’ve cut down on my meat consumption significantly and have not experienced getting sick nearly as much as I did my previous years abroad, but still…

I am ever glad that I did stop in here…twice. In one day. Freshly pressed mango and ginger juice; chicken, pumpkin, olives, red beans, and much more wraps; mint chocolate cake; tea; a mango-pineapple shake, the list goes on.

Explore artsy Nihammen (allegedly)

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t see anything in Nihammen except closed shops and traffic. Since I was there right after the New Year, I feel like I’d need to stay in the area to get a better feel for what it’s about. It’s highly recommended though. Unfortunately, I can’t say I saw anything in particular.

20170103_180209Visit More Markets (the Night Bazaar and tie Tha Phae Gate Market)

Of the two, I would highly recommend the Tha Phae Gate Market. At that market I had amazing shrimp dumplings, a Chiang Mai sausage (I wasn’t a fan), fresh passion fruit juice that brought tears to my eyes because it tasted just like the parchita I used to drink weekly in Venezuela, and mango & sticky rice. I also picked up beautiful scarves (I appreciated the vendor honestly telling me they were not handmade), fresh OJ, and souvenirs. I eyed a waffle stand, but didn’t partake. There are weekend markets too within the city walls, but I didn’t go to those.

Ride out to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

EJS is more than an hour outside of Chiang Mai. I did the half day tour, which had me bumping in the back of one of those soft-top trucks with Argentinians, Canadians, other Americans, and a Scandinavian woman who was also traveling solo. The sanctuary encompasses a small space (or, rather, where, the tourists go), so it’s not like any serious hiking is involved. You can feed the elephants and bathe them (Prepare yourself for when they defecate. It’s quickly cleaned up, but it is what it is.). The money goes to a great cause and taught me not to ride elephants.

Take a Cooking Class at Zabb E. Lee Thai Cooking School

Along with the Tha Phae Gate Market, this was the highlight of my stay in Chiang Mai. After a short trip to a small market (where I picked up some saffron threads), we were cooking up a storm in the place! I made spring rolls, green curry paste, chicken in coconut milk soup, green curry with chicken, and mango with sticky rice. Everything was delicious. The best part was that each student received a small cookbook afterward. I’ve since made the recipes again, and I love them because they’re simple, quick to make, and high in flavor.

Bangkok, Thailand

My first trip to Bangkok was packed with ornate temples, delectable food, and thankfulness.

Like I’ve posted about before, I had absolutely no interest in Asia (aside from India) growing up. Even when living in Australia, I kept it to OZ and New Zealand while friends flew to Thailand and Japan.

Ten years later find me living in an Asian country and a visitor of five others. You just never know.

I would like to return to Bangkok before leaving the region for good. Right now, Thailand is in an unofficial period of mourning since the king died. As an American, it was very interesting for me to see tons of people wearing black on any given day. Billboards honoring the king were everywhere. Since I’m from a country where it’s not permitted for one person to rule for decades, I couldn’t fully understand what I saw.

I suppose something on an infinitely smaller scale will occur when President Barack Obama passes. But the billboards outside every business, the all black, the pilgrims to the Grand Palace also dressed in black, and the free street food to feed the pilgrims and visitors alike? Won’t happen in the States.

Regardless, here are some suggestions for things to do that I got from 36 Hours in Bangkok. 

 Visit the Grand Palace EARLY.

I made the mistake of showing up about an hour after the place opened. It’s the first time where I feel like describing the crowd as ‘hordes of people’ actually fits. Tour guides hoisted poles in the air so their groups could track them in the crowd, various languages buzzed about, and the place was just packed. Despite all that, it’s worth the crowds to see the ornate buildings.

Note: Bring your passport or a passport copy (they let me in with that) to get into the place. You also must cover your shoulders and wear bottoms that come below the knee. My rule of thumb now is a short-sleeved shirt and either capris or pants because once in Cambodia long skirts were not allowed to enter a temple. Finally, wear shoes you can take on and off easily since you have to remove shoes when entering religious sites.

500 Baht entrance fee, 200 Baht audio set (must leave a credit card or passport as collateral)

Wander around Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)

Since there’ll be a long line to see the Reclining Buddha, I would suggest starting at the smaller stupas and then ending with the Reclining Buddha. I’m good for getting lost, so (of course) I accidentally walked out of the complex without seeing the statue. Thankfully, the security guard gave me directions for how to re-enter.

100 Baht entrance fee (included a coupon for bottled water)

dsc05632Peak at Wat Arun aka Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun is under significant scaffolding right now. That being said, I’m still glad I went to it. By this point in the day, I was “templed out” though, so I didn’t stay long. When waiting in line to board the ferry back, enjoy the fresh fruit and a Thai coconut. The fruit is extraordinary and sweet.












20161228_190413Eat at Chon Thai

OK, I have to be honest. I got terrible motion sickness when using the ferry to get around Bangkok. I loved the cultural experience of it, but sensory overload kicked in. By the time I took Chon Thai’s private boat, I felt nauseous before even boarding.  I mean, standing on the cement pier and watching the floating pier bob in the choppy water got me so dizzy I had to turn my back to the water.

At Chon Thai, I nodded at the formal greeting line and had to head straight to the restroom. Hearing the water lap made me sick. I took one bite of my delicious dinner and had to box everything up.

I did meet a lovely Black woman though. So, while she ate, I sipped tea and Spite to calm my stomach. She then gave me a tour of the hotel. It’s stunning, pure and simple.

When the attentive staff asked me if I would like to take the boat back, I had to give a polite no. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a worn taxi and long stretches of highway as I was that night.

Visit Other Temples if Interested

I went to the Golden Mountain though, respectfully, I enjoyed the sound of the bells more than anything about the actual place. I also stumbled into another temple complex when I was trying to find the Golden Mountain because, you know, I always get lost.

Get a Thai Massage at Touch

This was my very first Thai massage, and I loved it. Though at times it feels like you’re wrestling with a stranger on a low-slung mattress, I felt my muscles and joints were more relaxed afterward. I ended up getting three Thai massages in about 10 days.  🙂

Dine at Nahm 

Delicious. Elegant. Classy. ’nuff said!

I would highly recommend staying at Loog Choob Homestay. I fell in love with my room and liked that it was a short bus ride (approximately 20 minutes) to the Grand Palace.

Palawan, Philippines Part Three (A Recommitment to Joy)

As I posted yesterday, I’ve decided to focus on my joy as a form of self-care.

The last of my holiday in the Philippines was definitely a time of joy. If ever in Palawan, island hopping and a visit to Nacpan Beach are musts.

I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

Note: That blue, blue water is from kayaking at the Small Lagoon. The impossibly turquoise blue water inspired my travel buddy to sing songs from The Little Mermaid. Other tourists, smiled and laughed. How could you not in the face of such beauty?


Palawan, Philippines Part Two

“She doesn’t have shit anything to say this morning, huh?” I asked, cutting into my mango pancake.

My travel buddy shook her head.

I was referring to who I assumed to be the head worker in Mansion Buenavista while popping a piece of pancake into my mouth. After an eventful night looking for new accommodations in El Nido, Palawan, my travel buddy and I had ended up at a cute place. The night before, though, the head worker lied to us and said the only room available was for that night. I guess she thought she was doing us enough of a favor to let us stay the night when she saw our red eyes and wilted spirits. The security guard, however, had told us that there were multiple rooms available for the entire week. We had to wait until the owners woke up in the morning to be sure, but he’d read the hotel ledgers and noted at least three vacancies.


So why would Ms. Candy (a fake name) “read” the books right in front of us and tell us that nothing was available? It had been an awkward midnight moment for all involved. Spliced with Tagalog and English, the security guard backtracked on his story of room availability…and it was clear that he was lying to not sow seeds of discord with his co-worker.

Now here we were sunshine filtering into an open dining area, room booked for five days, and Ms. Candy waving and smiling as if she had done nothing wrong.

Me? I put on all the fake Southern female charm eighteen years in Texas and the Catholic church can engender and waved and smiled right back. I then turned back to my plate and speared a piece of bacon.

“I hope she sees when we give the security guard a tip for helping us out and not her.”

“Agreed,” my companion said.

After discussing how we would need to tell the hotel owners after the fact–not to cause anyone to lose their job but simply because Black folks get tired of this mess…and Ms. Candy is hurting potential business for them while they literally sleep–we made our way out the gate where Jordan, our trike driver, awaited us with a shy smile.

Back to Bayview Hotel we went to confront the hotel manager about why we were able to book online but were told in person that nothing was available. At this point, we wanted a refund, no-refund policy be damned. We had booked while stressed in the middle of the night. Now we’d found hospitable accommodation and we had not interest in staying at the Bayview.

After an hour plus long visit, a 50% refund was promised. We wanted 100%, but my friend would have to go through other channels to see if that would happen.

We then returned to the dirty guesthouse that started it all. I stated that the room was uninhabitable and that I wanted a refund, no-refund policy be damned yet again. I felt a pinch seeing the anxiety in the desk worker’s face, but I had to stand up for myself. Puppy dog eyes never got holes in bathroom walls fixed. The room shouldn’t have been rented to begin with.

After gathering our luggage and returning to Mansion Buenavista, the afternoon was ours. We spent it in the Las Cabanas beach area where a DJ spun and men with mullets obnoxiously partied. After watching them until the sun set, and being asked to join the fun when walking past, I finally had to ask where they were from. Israel.

Though I’ll never understand why a mullet is fashionable anywhere in the world, I could understand the feeling of quiet peace that washed over me as I sipped on a coconut and dug my toes in the sand.

Maybe El Nido wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Palawan, Philippines: King of Beauty and King of False Advertisement

“Get your shoes on. We’re going now,” I say to my travel buddy as a power outage plunges our room into darkness. After a flight from Manila to Palawan and a nauseatingly fast 5 hour drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Palawan, we had finally arrived at our guest house.

Feet sinking into sand in order to reach the guest house’s front door was a positive sign; holes in the bathroom wall and a strong odor that even my allergy-damaged nose could smell were not.

When the lights went out on our side of the island that Travel + Leisure magazine had made a top island destination twice, my friend and I ran for our shoes and purses like the leads in a Scream remake (Drew Barrymore was my girl growing up!).

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To Go or Not to Go to the Philippines

I just got back from a three-week sojourn to the Philippines and Thailand. When a friend of mine said she wanted to visit the Philippines before leaving Jakarta, I jumped at the chance to join her on the trip. In other words, I invited myself along.

The Philippines is a place I’ve wanted to visit since moving to Southeast Asia. I’m determined to see the countries where so many immigrants from my hometown once called home. Along with Vietnam and Cambodia, the Philippines tops my list.

That being said, how could I go to a country where there are extra-judicial killings going on at terrifyingly brutal rates?

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