Tales From A Broad

My year of teaching English in Japan is up. Next mission: backpack Asia before going home to the U.S.A. Currently HOME!

A Solo Backpacker

Friday, September 29

<><>My photos from Thailand are finally here!<><>

Whenever people find out I'm travelling alone, its met with either awe or pity. Awe because they tell me that it's brave of me to be a a lone lady on the road. Pity because they tell me I'm a lone lady on the road (this comment is usually from the locals who can't fathom a woman travelling without a husband or a father).

Travelling alone makes it so much easier to meet people because I'm a lot more approachable than if I was with someone. Whether I'm waiting for a train, sitting next to a stranger on the bus, sharing a bunk bed with another backpacker, or taking a day trip , I've met people from all walks of life. Usually these instant friendships only last for the few days that we are in the same place, but they still make for eye-opening conversations and quality time spent with a person from a different part of the world. That's what I love about travelling; what normally takes ages, speeds up 5 times or more. Friendships form over a breakfast, people fall in love (infatuation?) on an overnight bus. Other backpackers, complete strangers, will come to your rescue if you lose your passport or get pick-pocketed. Things are much quicker and intense.

Travelling alone also lets me do whatever I want, whenever I want. The freedom is liberating.

Admittedly, meeting travel buddies comes in spurts. There are days when I can't meet someone or click with people, no matter how hard I try. During these dry spells, I use the "3 Question" formula given by my buddy Leanna who is the female guru of travelling alone:

1. tell me something i don't know about you.
2. tell me something you like about me.
3. tell me something you think we have in common.

Yea, it sounds cheesy, but it really works!!

There are other times when I can't get any alone time to write in my journal and just collect my thoughts.

The biggest misconception is that it's dangerous for women to travel alone. People--the media, our parents--are too quick to label countries, and even whole areas of the world as "risky." What's more dangerous? Telling an aggressive vendor at a Chinese market that you don't want to buy their bootleg Gucci purse or walking down some parts of (insert any major U.S. city here) at night, even with a group of friends? I'll take the former any day. The fear of guns is very real in America, not Asia. Rape is a factor that women should consider no matter where they are in the world, but in Asia, the fear of "losing face" (not to mention prison time and fines) is enough of a deterrant. The same can't be said back home.

Street smarts and common sense go a long way when travelling solo. As long as a woman practices both, she'll most likely be alright.
My only complaint is that it's a lot harder then I could have ever imagined to meet girls. I don't know if it's because I'm travelling during the low- season (less people), but I'm shocked by how rare it is for girls to travel this part of the world alone. The girls that I have met were backpacking with a big group, a best friend, or--much more common--a boyfriend. What's the deal ladies?! It's 2006 and the world is only getting smaller. If you're a female reading this, and have ever thought about travelling alone--do it!!! You will not regret it. It is a serious adventure!

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cabbages and condoms

Guaranteed to not cause pregnancy!

Sex is a commodity in Thailand and, unfortunatley, it shows since it has one of the highest HIV rates in the world. Thankfully, Cabbages and Condoms came to the rescue, being the first socially conscious restaurant in Bangkok. They offer every amazing Thai dish (green curry, sticky rice, and my all time favorite, Tom Yam soup and spicy papaya salad) and most of the profits benefit the local Thai women who've been stranded or afflicted with an STD by the hellish Asian sex industry or by their unfaithful husbands. Not only does the food at this restaurant taste AMAZING, but it's all for a good cause. Even the decor is cool with mannequins wearing condom suits and condoms being offered to customers instead of an after-dinner mint. As if the sexy cuisine wasn't enough, customers can go upstairs for a $5 foot massage provided by the local village women.

Screw after-dinner mints. Condoms are the best way to assure a "happy ending" in Bangkok.

The cool decor at this hip restaurant feature life-size condom mannequins.

My fave Thai dish: spicy papaya salad and Tom Yam, a spicy lemon soup with seafood.

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Magic Fingers

Sunday, September 24

Sore limbs? Let me pull you, stretch you, pinch you.

My teachers, Yan and Ella, and my certificate. Want to be my next victim?!

Trying not to hurt this poor Thai lady.

I'm so addicted to Thai massages, that I thought I might as well take a class and learn it. All it took was one week of practiciting on a few Thai victims, reading a little blue book and $50. It's hard on the knees, but good on the soul. Word.

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Why I love Koh Phanghan, Thailand

1.) Gorgeous beaches

2.) Seriously cool people from all over the world (Irish, French, Isreali and American peeps shown here)

3.) $4 liquor Buckets of Love

4.) Jungle parties, Half-moon and Full-moon parties.

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jungle party

Koh Phanghan's parties are stuff of legends. Most backpacker's make a hedonistic pilgramige around the SE Asian countries and Koh Phanghan's Full Mooon Half Moon, New Year's and Jungle parties are number one on the list. Whether you drink, dance, or do both (or more), its a must to experience them on the island at least once. This time around, I went to the jungle party, a black-light trance fest with the DJ and his synthesizers set up on a bamboo stage. Derek and I made a very late 3 AM, appearance, and it was still swimming with Thai girls with glow sticks. The scenery was enough to guarantee a big night.

Black light tattoos

The ridiculous ride home.

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Thailand, revisited

Wednesday, September 20

Para mi familia: Dejé Tailandia antes de las problemas con el militar. ¡No te preocupes!
Thailand is so good that I had to come back for seconds. Seeing how I had to head north anyway, and I'm travelling on everything except planes--motorbikes, cars, trains, buses--Thailand is THE gateway hub to the rest of Asia. The "hardcore" Asia. I'm not going to write too much about Thailand since I already did that when I came here for Christmas. There are just some things that I'm really noticing the second time around.

Missed out? Read about my last trip to Thailand here!

Thailand is the most Western-friendly place in Asia: guesthouses are everywhere, restaurants serve Thai and Western food, practically everyone who deals with tourists in any way speaks decent English and there are tons of places that can arrange anything and everything for you. Need to get a visa for Camdodia? No problem. Want a bus from Bangkok to Chang Mai? OK! Said you want to call home? I've got a great deal.

Thailand is EASY. Anyone can come here and pretend like they've conquered Asia, but it's a slight illusion. Everything is geared to the tourists and its pretty hard to have an adventure that wasn't organized by some company or guesthouse. Unlike the rest of their neighbors, Thais have embraced Westernization, tourism and modernization, while the rest of Asia would rather cry themselves to sleep than see a McDonald's in their villages (Completely understandable, in my humble opinion). You won't see Burma running to Starbucks to get a franchise anytime soon.

Regardless, I was happy to be back in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. Things are just so much more laid-back here. I made a week-long stop on the tropical island Koh Phnanghan to learn how to do Thai massages and drink those lovely buckets of joy.

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walking out of Malaysia

Monday, September 18

...and into Thailand was cake.

(*^_^*) Hooray! My pics from Malaysia are finally here!

I split a taxi with 3 other travellers to the border and had no problems with the immigration police on either side. We literally walked right in. Instantly, I felt the stark difference between easygoing Thailand and strict, Muslim Malaysia. Women in short skirts, not long black burkhas; men and women holding hands in public; buckets of liquor for sale in almost every store. Thais love to play and seem more open to breaking free from the constraints of the staus quo. Welcome ladyboys and interracial couples!

We waited for the next train to Surat Thani, the launching point to the islands off the east coast. We were in for a 9 hour train ride from hell. The cheap plastic covering the hard seats could only stick to my thighs from the lack of A/C and sweltering humidity. In case we wanted a beer or water, there was a suspicously friendly vendor asking if we wanted to buy any drinks from him every 10 minutes--for 9 hours.
"Want drink?
No thanks.

Now want drink?

I'm fine. Really."

Oy vay.

Once in Surat Thani, we took an overnight ferry to Koh Tao, that sort of reminded me of pictures of slave boats I used to see in my high school's textbooks. We were tightly packed little cigars on the deck of this slow boat, sleeping nose to nose with our neighbors.

Forget coconuts. Thailands biggest import: poor backpackers. Our overnight ferry to Thailand's eastern islands.

Surprisingly, the gentle rocking of the sea put me right to sleep, and I awoke to a new place, another group of aggressive locals offering me a tuk-tuk (local taxi) or a guesthouse. A tropical rude awakening, but it felt good to be back at a beach!

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i'm scuba certified!

Friday, September 15

I'm a scuba Buddha.

Just call me Padi O' Perez because I've finally gotten my official scuba certification with Padi (scuba assoc.). It's about time, seeing how I'm from Forida, a place famous for its beaches and dive sites. That was the running joke with the people at my dive place, that I came across the globe to do something I could've done in my backyard.

The world's first underwater manicure.

We did some amazing dives, and I especially liked this one of the tiny feeder shrimp who swam to our fingers to pick at our nails. We got our very own underwater manicure! I think the Horny Hoff (my instructor) took it a little too far though when he took his regulator off to let the shrimp pick at his teeth. Eeeeew....

None of my pics do the dives any justice; the bright plankton, striped giant clams, or trigger fish didnt show up very clear, so you'll just have to take my word for it. The Malaysian ocean is spectacular and its easy to see why so many people from around the world come here to dive and take their honeymoon.

Here fishy, fishy...!

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underwater breathing

As I wrote before, there was nothing to do on the tropical Perhentian Islands but to decompress and scuba dive, which is exactly what I needed! Malaysia suposedly has the cheapest scuba diving in the world and some of the best underwater scenery. I signed up for a class, watched the generic videos, took the test, practiced my dives, and got certified by the end of the week.

The best part of the week was meeting the people in my class, especially my scuba partner, Connor. He's a lawyer from Dublin and even though we were supposed to be responsible for not letting each other die in the water, we joked off instead by secretly teasing our scuba instructor (We coined the name "the Horny Hoff" for him and his dubious, middle-aged-David-Hasselhoff charm, and mission to make me his 4th wife. Yikes!!), losing each other in the water and giving each other the answers to the final test. Thanks to that class, he and his Irish buddy, Derek, (an ex-professional rugby player), became my lucky charms during my stay on the islands (excuse the Irish puns; i cant help myself). Night BBQ's, Tiger beer, good company, coconut oil...this was def the first time my trip felt like a VACATION!

The Horny Hoff

My Irish comrades, Derek and Connor.

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take me to the islands

Monday, September 11

The Perhentian Islands had the most remote and beautiful beaches I've ever seen.

Cameron Highlands was great and all, but I'm a beach girl and have been without them for too long. It was time for me to head east to the beautiful Perhentian Islands, which are world reknowned for its scuba diving. I spent a week doing absolutely nothing there. No bargaining with cab drivers. No blogging or writing emails. No waking up early. No sightseeing. My toughest decision was whether to drink a papaya or mango shake. I stayed in a cheap bungalow with a mattress, a mosquito net and 4 Finnish guys. Life was good.

This eagle came every evening to harass one of the bar owners for a plate of fish.

I came to the islands at the perfect time: mother turtles were making their nightly journeys on the sand to lay their eggs. By morning, baby turtles were trying to break their shells and crawl in the water. The locals don't let tourists watch the females at night as to not disturb them with camara flashes, but they do let us see the baby turtles hatch in the dayttime. They're no bigger than my palm and are unbelievably adorable.

These newborn baby turtles are too young to walk to the ocean by themselves.

MUAH!! A turtle kiss.

My only complaint was that there were way too many couples on the island and I was later told that it is one of the top honeymoon destinations for Europeans. Not a place for a single American. *le sigh*

P.S. I'm pretty bummed that my digi camara is still taking super fuzzy pics, so all of these pics are taken with a crappy disposable camara that really doesnt show how gorgeous this island is. :(

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The Salad Bowl of Malaysia

I've been trying to catch everyone up with what's been going on, but I'm still stuck on writing about my time in Malaysia. Since then I've already left Malaysia, stayed in Thailand, and am in Cambodia now. Loads happen in just one day, so much randomness that it's virtually impossible to write about it all, or even most of it. To those of you who are reading this, thanks for staying with me and I'll try my hardest to blog as much as I can in these next few days.

From Kuala Lumpar (the capital of Malaysia), I took the bus north to Cameran Highlands, a mountain resort area that is known for being cool (as in the weather) and has lots of tea plantations. Accoridng to my guide book, it's "the salad bowl of Malaysia." It's more like Romaine lettuce, not Iceburg or cabbage.

A salad bowl or tea plantation?

The main thing to do here is explore the jungles, which is what I did. I took on some trails through the jungle that led me to the most picturesque places like giant waterfalls and little streams. Once at the top of a hill, I found acres of tea plantations and local farmers waving me hello. It almost felt like I had discovered a secret little village.

The Chinese shrine at the top of the jungle trail.

It was in Cameron Highlands that I met an amazing English woman well in her 70's. She was travelling from Europe to Asia, alone, on a motorbike. She;s been on the road for 16 months now and has to plan her trip accoridng to the monsoon season, "becuase driving this bike on muddy dirt roads is not like having a laugh." Here's to you, old-daredevil-Bristish-motorcycle-lady!

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Walk Like A Malaysian

Friday, September 8

In the Asian countries I've been to, I've found the locals to be hospitable, but the Malaysians were different. The locals were always looking for ways to talk to me. In other countries, I'd normally think that they just wanted to sell me something (read: China), or that they were trying to take advantage of a women travelling alone (read: Thailand), but Malaysia is one of those rare gems where not only is it illegal to scam tourists, but the punishment is worse than scamming a fellow Malaysian. This means that, officially, there is no such thing as a "local price" (which is almost always cheapest) and a "foreigner price" (which is almost always the most expensive). Not only was this good for my wallet, but it was also good for my social life.

These gals spotted me in their local market and asked if they could snap a shot with me.

People genuinely wanted to help me find the perfect place to stay, or wanted to have dinner with me, or wanted to know what Cuban culture is like. Malaysia is one of the easiest places in Asia to meet and truly bond with the locals. Generally, there's no agenda or scam. They're just genuinely curious.When I needed to get to an ATM that was 40 KM away (I was in a tiny fisherman village), one of the local girls offered to drive me to it, instead of me paying for a taxi. After giving her a million thanks and secretly slipping some money in her dashboard, she drove me and we had one of the best conversations. I was asking her about Islamic culture (she was Muslim) and about life in Malaysia. There's so much I didn't know:

  • Dogs are considered filthy. Muslims aren't allowed to touch them, but cats are OK.
  • It's completely legal, socially accepted, and popular for a Muslim man to have many wives.
  • In Malaysia, the police follow Muslim law. They will arrest a Muslim if they are drinking or eating pork, both of which are strictly prohibited.
  • At the mall, movie theater, and other public places, lines are seperated by gender: one cashier is for men, and the other for women.
  • Malaysians have pet monkeys to climb their palm trees and collect coconuts.
Afterward, she took me to a local market to buy some coconut juice and lunch: various meats on bamboo sticks. We brought it back to her family and they insisted I stay for lunch. I met her sisters, mother and their friends from the village. For being conservative Muslims, they were completely funny and down-to-earth. The girls were teasing one of the older men about having all these random girlfriends. They were not stuffy or uptight at all.

The Malaysian family I had lunch with. The girl on the left with the blue head gear was the one who drove me to the local market to buy fresh coconuts.

On the islands, one of the many locals I bonded with was a 22 year-old guy who loved to play me his guitar. Even though he knew how bad of a singer I was, he still made me sing along with him. That was the catch. He played, I sang. A few Jack Johnsons, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tracy Champman's later, and we were laughing like we knew each other for years. It was one of those warm fuzzy Hallmark card/Lifetime movie moments.

Me and Wan, a local from the islands was always sweet with me by having dinner together and giving extra chocolate on my pancakes. (*^_^)

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Crossing the border

Thursday, September 7

I took the bus from Singapore to Malaysia with an American guy I met in my hostel. He's one of those well-to-do business types who made millions in his twenties (!!) by owning his own futon business (how random is that?!). He said he got burned out from the lifestyle, the "fake people who stick around when you're cool," the stress and, admirably, left it all.

He sold everything he owned--the house, the Porsche, the yacht, so he could travel Australia and Asia. Now he supports himself with the oddjob here and there like picking fruit, working as a carny at a local fair, painting with the Aborigines... Far from the power lunches and suits he was used to in the States--now he was sharing his butter knife with me, a hopeless gypsy, and my peanut butter on a $2.50 bus to Malaysia.

I've found loads of people like him in the past year. People with incredible stories who I just dont get to meet when I'm home. There's always a hint of desperation with them...and restlessness. If I met any of these people while I was still in college, I probably still would've thought they were amazing, but that their lives of travelling were impossible for a nobody like me. Thanks to people like him, I've changed my mind.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia's capital just long enough to sleep, eat DELISH Indian food and look at the world's 2nd tallest building in the world, the Petronas Towers. But, Oh no!!!! My digi camara wasnt working! I couldnt take a pic of the towers and I still havent managed to fix it, so all my pics starting from Malaysia are a bit crap b/c i'm using those cheap-o disposable camaras. :(

There's not much to write about Kuala Lumpar:
Ridiculous Traffic + No Traffic Laws + Pollution + Lots O' Cheap Shopping + A Chinatown = A Big Asian City

The next day, I took the bus up north for some jungle trekking and tea!

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a singapore sling in singapore

Saturday, September 2

~ ~Extra! Extra!! My pics from Singapore are up. Click here!~ ~

My 11AM Singapore Sling.
Raffle's Hotel is one of the poshest hotels in the world, which gives me absolutely no reason to go there except that they are the ones who invented the world-famous drink, Singapore Sling way back in the day. I only had a couple hours before my bus left for Malaysia, so I had to make a made dash for the hotel. Once there, I paid the 20 Singaporian dollars to taste the fruity drink. It was soooo delish because it was sweet, just how I like it, but still really light. The bartender was nice enough to give me a stack of the recipes for me and my friends back home. The courtyard where the bar is looks and feel a lot like New Orleans, pre-Hurricane Katrina. It was fun to pretend like I was a high-roller, but playtime was over and I had to catch my bus!!

The Original Singapore Sling Recipe:

2 dashes of Orange Bitters
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
The juice of half a lemon
8 gill of Benedictine
1/8 gill of Dry Cherry Brandy
1/2 gill of Gin

Pour into a tumbler and fill up with cold soda water.

The ridiculously posh Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

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