11.26.2016 Four hours in Graz, Austria

Where do I begin, while I was in the planning process of this trip I was messing around like crazy with how I could see as many places as possible for cheap and ultimately stumbled upon the website buscroatia, because I was initially looking to see a town or two on the coast.

Ultimately, I realized that this bus company would not only take you to places in Croatia, but also towns in countries near by. After more searching I found the Graz, Austria was basically a 3 ish hour bus ride AND, the round trip ticket was in my opinion cheap. So I went for it kind of having this idea of what to expect but also at the same time having no clue.

The morning of the 26th I walked myself to the bus station to catch my bus that left between 8:30 and 9:30. Like I said, it was around a 3 ish hour ride, which I thought was very reasonable.

The bus first cut the corner through Slovenia, and then crossed the border again into Austria. Almost immediately after crossing the border, our bus made a little pit stop where we could use the bathroom and get a snack if needed. I noticed that in order to use the bathroom you needed to pay 50 cents, which I wasn’t about, so I just figured I’d hold it.

Well I guess I jinxed myself because I went upstairs to buy a little snack. While I was eating my soft pretzel I ate a little bit of mayo (mind you I am still really not used to dairy) and within five minutes I found myself sick to my stomach. In that moment I knew I was going to throw up and needed to get to a toilet basically as fast as possible. So here I am trying to not to make a scene speed walking down the stairs, to the restroom and trying to get the pocket change out as soon as possible. I’m still not really sure why this happened now, because I had been eating dairy in bigger quantities previously on the trip but oh well. Here I was, somewhere in Austria throwing up in a rest stop bathroom… sorry if that is too much information.

The rest of the trip I was absolutely fine but for some reason that mayo just wanted to do me dirty.

Alright so once we finally arrived I had a really good idea of where I was going, but I had the same problem with the fact that the screenshots of maps I had on my phone didn’t exactly have the street names on them.

Basically as I walked out of the bus station, I proceeded straight to where I had saw there was supposed to be a river, as well as the old city. This was a good frame of reference because I knew if I was walking in this direction for more than 15-20 minutes and didn’t hit water I would have to turn around.

After walking for probably 15 minutes I noticed the steeples of a church peeking through the tops of building, so I headed in that direction. Another tip for you, if you ever feel like you may be lost in a city just look for tall churches or landmarks and they will probably help bring you to the right direction. This literally could have worked in every single city I visited this trip and in fact was how I went about my walking tour or Riga, I just followed buildings that looked interesting… but you can read about that later.

Okay. So once I got to these steeples I saw a little bridge to cross the river and Voila! I had reached the old city.

Immediately, I noticed this staircase going up a huge hill/mountain, which appeared to have some sort of castle on top of it. As I got closer and closer I knew I wanted to go up, I just didn’t know exactly how to go about it. For example, was it free, did I need to pay, if I needed to pay where did I pay, what ACTUALLY was at the top, etc. I ended up noticing the entrance to the staircase and just decided to go for it.

This climb was definitely far more stairs than it appeared because I didn’t really realize the sort of winded left and right up the mountain. The good thing about this is now I had absolutely no shame in eating two pastries for breakfast that morning. As well, as you can probably image the view was outstanding the entire time.

As I was walking up I became very oriented with where I would later walk around, as well as which direction I had come from. I noticed all the brightly colored building topped with rusty orange colored roofs and the many steeples of huge churches. I noticed the somewhat hilly landscape, which was well accompanied with just the perfect amount of fog kissing the tops of the hills. There was something oddly mesmerizing yet so dizzying at the same time in regards to the way all the rust colored roofs lined up and created shapes that could only be seen from the air.

When you reach the top the first thing you will see is a little bell tower and then signs pointing out where the couple of restaurants were, as well as a couple other landmarks atop the hill. I took a little walk around appreciating the variety of views and the architecture of the different buildings up here. After a bit I headed down because I wanted to see the main square area, and also make sure I would have plenty of time to get back to the bus.

I walked back down the stairs and proceeded left, if your back is facing the steps you just came from. This is another instance where following the metro tracks, or just the people at this point, will take you to where you want to go, also it kind of helped that I could see the square from here. I took a lap around looking for a place to maybe grab a coffee, but also admired not only the architecture, but also the way building were decorated.

Buildings were brightly colored, but some of them were also finished with intricate designs on them, which I found extremely beautiful, as well as interesting. It is interesting to see how place to place the architecture seems generally similar, yet each place has their own unique take in regards to color choice as well as subtle design differences.

I wound up at this cute little coffee shop called AUER where I treated myself to a cappuccino and small sandwich, which I had the luxury of eating outside facing the square, so I could people watch a bit.

After taking my time eating and enjoying watching the hustle and bustle of square, I started back for the bus station, because my biggest fear was missing my bus.

Well, typical Hannah fashion I was there was too early. The only really cool part was the bus station happened to have a little grocery store in it so I took a little walk around and ended up buying a juice. I am very proud to say that I successfully used a self-checkout that was not in English. I carried my juice and receipt out like one of those trophies you get after a soccer season as a child that you don’t realize until years later your parents paid for. Needless to say, imagine the five-year-old smiling ear to ear holding up this new trophy as their newest prized possession, that was me with a two euro juice.

I took a quick walk over to where the bus was supposed to pick me up from and got on shortly after. The one really nice thing about this bus station was that it was super easy to navigate, as well as be able to tell where you needed to go with only a little bit of the necessary self doubt.

I have to say it was a great day spent in Graz, Austria. I would 100% recommend coming here for a day or weekend trip!

Anyways, have a great day!

Xx Hannah

11.26.2016 Zagreb Croatia

Okay, so I have taken yet another hiatus from finishing these posts. To be honest I didn’t really realize how fast this semester was flying by until right about now, as I have less than a week of classes less this semester. That doesn’t really excuse my lack of writing but I think I just kept telling myself I had more time and well, now here I am.

So let me take you back nearly six months to the time I spent in Zagreb, Croatia.

This one is a slightly more complicated because I really only was in Croatia for evening time, so unlike the others, there was no daytime exploring happening and I can’t say I ventured too far but I absolutely LOVED my time there. Seriously, I have completely fallen in love with this little city!

So back to the start.

I arrived in Croatia a little bit before dinnertime. First off, I had sort of forgotten that they do not use the Euro here so I made sure to stop at an ATM in the airport and get a little bit of the local currency.

I had read online that my best bet to getting into the city was to take this shuttle to the main bus station, which was only a short walk or metro ride to where I needed to go.

There wasn’t really any place to pay before hand so I approached the bus sort of looked at the man and made sure this would take me where I needed to go, which he responded yes. At this point I had still yet to pay for the transit, nor did I know how much it would cost. But, I continued on the bus and plopped myself down in a chair. After everyone who would fit on the bus for the given departure time was loaded on, the driver started towards the back of the bus appearing as though he was checking tickets and I sort of had a little panic because there wasn’t one other English person on the bus, everyone seemed to be speaking Croatian, so I really wasn’t sure what the driver was checking until he had got to me. I had then found out that this was when I was supposed to pay. Unfortunately I don’t really remember how much it exactly cost me but I want to say it was between 20 and 40 Kuna each way.

So as the bus is going it makes its first stop and I start to realize that I am actually not 100% sure what my stop exactly is. I knew it was the main bus station area but I didn’t really know after how many stops this would occur and I seem to always have this persistent sense of self-doubt in me.

Eventually I got to the station, which was pretty obviously identifiable. As I am typing this I am trying to look for some sort of picture so I can better describe it to you but I really can’t find one. All I can say is just trust your instinct, you’ll know.

Once I got off the bus I technically had these screenshots of maps of Zagreb, as well as directions. However, as soon as I got out of the station I had this gut feeling that the directions were leading me in the wrong direction. So I followed my gut and honestly prayed that my instinct was going to take me in take me to the correct place (spoiler alert for my worried mom probably reading this: it worked out).

Basically when you get out of the bus station you walk towards the underpass and cross the metro tracks. And make a left. Once you make a left you will be sort of on a road where the metro acts as the boulevard in the middle of the road, you’ll want to follow this until you reach a cute little series of green areas. At this point I was following my screenshots of the maps on my phone; however, the screenshots were too zoomed out to include what the street names were so I was just kind of following I guess you could say ‘regionally’ where it seemed like I needed to go.

Basically once I got to the green area between buildings I made a right and followed it what I think was three or four blocks, or however many was till you reached the end of it. After I made a left and walked for about another block and then a right which took me right to the main, old city square (this was where my hostel was located).

A little mid way disclaimer, I am sorry if there directions don’t really make sense. I sort of needed to make a game time decision and I sort of memorized my location based on visual references rather that streets. So don’t necessarily take my word if you are trying to use these directions. But a quick tidbit of advice that is if you are lost follow a metro line because those are usually the main areas where people will go and or will lead you to where people go.

So once I got to the main square, I had this idea of where my hostel (main square Zagreb) was based on where it was located on my map screenshot. However, little did I know was that some of the buildings had two floors, SO I did not conveniently run into it like I thought I would. Fortunately I looked up in the air at the right time and saw ‘Main Square Zagreb’ on a glass window about 2 or 3 stories up. This led me to a sign where I was which brought me to a staircase that took me straight to my hostel.

Oh my gosh was this hostel absolutely perfect and I would 100% recommend staying here! The staff was extremely accommodating and helpful to me, and also spoke great English, which was nice after a long day of travel and I guess what you could technically consider lost (but I didn’t feel lost). The man at the front desk gave me a map and marked some recommendations for food and also helped orient me to where the bus station was, which allowed me to visibly see what path I took, which was comforting because it was actually rather simple. As well, he also pointed out where everything was in the hostel.

My dorm room was super cool. All the beds were aligned on the wall opposite to the door and were situated in a way, which made each bed its individual cubby. As well everyone had his or her own locker, which was nice. I just really enjoyed how I could have my own little space with whatever I wanted right next to me, and didn’t have to feel like I was bothering others.

After I situated my stuff and took some deep breaths, I followed the front deskman’s advice for dinner. As I walked out of the hostel (to the outside) I took a left and basically followed it to where I found my restaurant for dinner. Along this road there are plenty of options for dinner I just sort of kept walking until I built enough courage to finally enter one of the restaurants.

I eventually found myself in a place called Village Tavern and was able to sit in a little covered, seated area outside, which had a heat lamp near by. This was nice because I was in a place where I could also people watch as I enjoyed my meal. I decided to try a soup (I think it was mushroom) to start, followed by a risotto as my main. The food was really great and the menu was in English, which was nice because sometimes after a long day of travel having something that is arguably convenient is really nice. After my meal I decided I would walk around a bit and explore. As I walked back the way I came I decided to explore other little streets that seemed interesting because I figured if I realize there is nothing interesting that way it is easy enough to just turn around and go back the way you could say I now know.

I got to see the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and take a quick peak inside. What an impressive cathedral! This thing is huge and the closer you get the more and more intricate detail you continue to notice. The archway over the main door you enter is absolutely breathtaking, there are so many tiny little carving, and it truly is absolutely incredible! I then continued left if you are looking at the road from the church which conveniently brought me into the actual main square area.

To try to give you a better idea of where I was in relation to where my hostel was, basically this main square is surrounded by buildings, my hostel is on an upper floor on one of the sides of the square, to get to dinner I went left through the underpass and followed the road, the square is on the opposite side. So basically from my hostel you can have a view of either the area I was for dinner on one side, and the other view is the main square.

I took a lap around the main square, enjoying everything it had to offer and eventually made my way back inside because now, it was safe to say I was pretty tired.

The next day I had planned to take a morning bus trip to Graz, Austria, which departed from the same main bus station I had arrived at and was already familiar with. So it kind of worked out that I was forced to figure it out the day before because I knew exactly where I was going this time.

I made sure I got there early enough so I could find my terminal and also have enough time to get a pastry and cappuccino. Everyone at the station was extremely helpful because instead of guessing where I needed to go, I straight up just walked to a ticket counter and asked which terminal my bus would leave from. I was not going to push my luck with this one.

I’ll write more about my time in Austria in another post but now I’ll bring you back to my final evening in Zagreb. I got home, once again, around dinner time and chose to walk around a bit before calling it a day, as it was a pretty tiring, long day of walking. I walked around the same streets as I did the night before taking in any little details I had missed the first time, truly. For dinner I just went to a simple walk up place that sold pizza basically right across from the cathedral right on the corner to the road that brought me back to my hostel.

The next morning I had planned a decently early morning bus ride to Ljubljana, Slovenia before I left for Poland. Although this had me up around 5:30 in the morning to catch a 7am bus ride I am so thankful I did it. Who would have thought walking around a town between 6 and 7 in the morning would seal the deal and literally cause me to fall in love with it.

Let me bring you into my world for a second.

There is something special about this time of day because only a few people’s days have started. The sky was still dark so all the lights set up for winter happened to still be illuminated. In fact, the park that I follow to get to the bus station had all of its trees and pathways covered in white lights which at this time of day with so few people out felt like a fairy tale. This feeling was very similar to my magical Eiffel tour feeling because indeed, the lights surrounding the pathway I was taking were glittering. I actually could have seriously cried in this moment, everything was so perfect.

After coming back form Ljubljana I stayed at the bus station and caught the next bus back to the airport, which was extremely easy to find because there terminal to get to the airport is in its own little area.

So that was my time untraditional time spent in Zagreb! Yes it was a little on the unconventional side but I tried my best to make it work and make the most of it and I am more than satisfied with my takeaway from the experience. My heart will always remember the magic of this beautiful little city.

Have a great day!

xxHannah

06.19.16 a weekend in Bangkok

I cannot believe how fast our weekend in Bangkok sprung up!! I remember thinking how far away it seemed this weekend was and now it is here. As well, it is a little bittersweet because that means that I have been in Thailand longer than I have left.

Friday at 5 we got picked up and met one of our guides pat at the airport. Before our flight we were able to go to the Bangkok airways lounge, which had a small buffet with snack and some drinks. Of course, I spent my hour in the lounge trying ever single option the buffet offered while most people stuck to a small bag of popcorn, an water, and maybe a coffee.

On my first plate I grabbed what was supposed to be Thai shortbread, some sort of coconut thing, and then this blue jelly thing. I think it’s sad to say the weird blue jelly was the best thing on that plate. The two other things were absolutely horrible. The Thai shortbread tasted like straight up chalk… salty chalk. The coconut thing was covered in this salty, kind of slimy, white liquid, and after trying that I didn’t really care enough to finish any more of it. Thinking of eating it just gave me the chills. That was the worst thing I ate in Thailand.

The next plate I grabbed some sticky rice that was wrapped up in a leaf. After taking a bite and seeing something black and hard I gave up on it again. The next thing I grabbed, my friends told me was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After taking a bite I realized why they were laughing so hard. It was a spinach sandwich thing that I really don’t know why I thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because the sign clearly said spinach. Fortunately, this was actually delicious. It was basically spinach and artichoke dip between two slices of bread… yum!

On the airplane, although I was more than full, I was still sad to find out the program coordinators didn’t request a vegetarian meal for me but it obviously wasn’t really a big deal at all. I was able to get a cup of orange juice and a cup of coffee. Of course it is only my luck that as soon as I want coffee the plane hits massive turbulence causing hot coffee to spill all over my lap. I am not quite sure why but for some reason I was laughing and smiling. It is honestly funny that something like this happened to me because that is just my kind of luck. If anyone was going to get coffee spilled on him or her it was going to be me. I should have been a little more concerned but instead all I could do was laugh. The best part was that I still had about two sips of coffee left. The better part was I had to drink it black and I actually liked it, so maybe now I can start drinking coffee with less milk.

Once we landed in Bangkok, we got in a van and drove about 30-45 minutes into the city to our Ibis hotel. Unfortunately this one did not have our rooms ready so we had to go to another Ibis hotel in the city. Everything definitely happens for a reason because this new hotel was in a way better location than the other one, super close to tons of shops and restaurants.

Even though it was pretty late, my friends and I ventured down the street to where the night market area was so we could buy some loose pants to wear to the Grand Palace the next day since they are very strict about what you wear and leggings are not allowed.

Seeing the hustle and the bustle of the city at night was super awesome. All the lights and the sounds of taxis, and just life going on around us was great. It’s that sort of thing that makes me want to live in a big city for a couple years of my life.

On our way back, we got stuck in the inevitable rainstorm; however, since were just going to go to bed, we decided to brave the storm, and get soaked. Soaked is merely an understatement. Every piece of clothing I had on was drenched, and I was dripping. But as per usual, I was soaking wet with a smile on my face because how can you not be happy after doing so many awesome things in the course of one day?

IMG_4017The next day we were going to be touring a couple of temples. We started our day at the grand palace. Immediately when you walked in you felt as though you were walking into the Magic Kingdom in Disney world. You had to wait in a line to get in and then the whole crowd of people walked into the area where the actual temples were or went to the museum first.

Our small group did the museum first which was relatively interesting. It was all of the king’s treasures so there were things in there that were given as gifts from other countries such as swords, jewels, and bowls. As well, there was an exhibit showing the evolution of Thai money. Seeing this exhibit truly showed how arbitrary the concept of money is. I mean for crying out loud, back in the good old days they used what looked like a pebble as money. Who decides what holds value and what doesn’t?

My favorite part of the museum was the display of swords. I kind of feel like an eight year old boy saying that but they were definitely the most interesting. If there was a gift shop in the end where I could have bought a plastic version of one, I would have bought one right then and there, no hesitation.

IMG_4029After the museum we entered the temple area of the grand palace and let me tell you, grand is merely an understatement. There were multiple buildings on the actual sight with the most beautiful detailing on the sides. I really like how some of the colors used for painting the exterior was different than the colors you would see on the temples in Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai it seems as though the temples are richer in color on the exterior while in Bangkok you see more pastel colors. As well, we passed structures that were completely golden which was absolutely incredible

IMG_4052While I was taking pictures of the building, all the sudden I hear some saying excuse me miss, as best as they could. After I looked over I saw a man waving a camera. I walked over to him and asked if he wanted me to take a picture of him and his friend when he responded that he wanted to know if he could take a picture with me. After that, the other friend wanted his picture taken with me too. Even right now, a little over a week later, I am still confused as to why they wanted a picture with me. I am a pretty standard looking western person. There is nothing about me that they would have never seen before and it’s not like they wanted a picture with everyone in our group… just me.

After this, we proceeded to the main attraction of the grand palace: the emerald Buddha. I was honestly expecting to see a massive Buddha statue that was emerald, but it was just a little tiny guy, on top of a huge shrine. You can tell how sacred this Buddha is because when you go in you are not allowed to take pictures. As well, because the Buddha is so high up, they are making sure no one can have their head higher than the Buddha.

The dress code of the grand palace is also far more strict. You need to be covered from the shoulders down to the ankles and are not allowed to wear leggings. A couple girls in our group had to rent a maxi wrap skirt in order to be allowed in.

While we were walking out of the grand palace another women waved their camera and asked if I could take a photo of here. This time she actually just wanted her photo taken. So I quickly took her photo and walked over to put my shoes back on. As I was putting my shoes on she came running back to me and I assumed that the photo I took was blurry and she wanted me to take another. Nope. She came to ask if someone who appeared to be a younger sister could have his or her photo taken with me.

IMG_4176.jpgOf course I said yes, and the dad whipped out his phone and took a couple of pictures. As I said before I really am not sure why. All I can think of is that if one day I happen to be famous they will have something valuable.

After we finished up at the grand palace, we grabbed some waters because we were dripping sweat at this point and walked to Wat Pho to see the reclining Buddha. It’s crazy how even though it wasn’t sunny out it was still extremely hot, and the fact we had to wear a t shirt and pants didn’t really help.

Wat Pho was also super beautiful. The buildings were painted with similar structures and designs as the Grand Palace. The reclining Buddha is absolutely incredible! It is so massive you have to wonder how it got there in the first place. It was super cool and I am happy I got to see it!

We then walked down to a dock where we were going to take a boat to the other side of the river for another temple tour. Before getting on the boat we ate at a restaurant right next door. I got stir-fried greens with rice, which was really good! I have been loving eating stir-fried kale or morning glory over some rice with a little bit of chili sauce.

Because in our initial itinerary it said we had a boat tour, I thought we were going to be riding in this super rocky boat for a while; however, fortunately and unfortunately it was a less than 3 minute ride. The fortunate part is I avoided getting boat sick, the unfortunate part is that are boat tour was kind of lame.

The temple on the other side though was nice though! We were once again fortunate to receive another blessing from a monk. I will gladly take all the blessings I can get because I need as many good vibes and good luck as possible. As you can probably imagine, this bracelet is also never coming off.

Because we had so much time after, our coordinator Pat took us to a Thai accessory market. We had about an hour to roam here; however, my friends and I weren’t really in the mood to shop so we walked until we found a coffee shop, which just so happened to be Starbucks.

I tried their double chocolate, green tea Frappuccino and the green tea, almond croissant. Oh my god was this croissant good. The Frappuccino was good too but the croissant was honestly life changing. That sounds really stupid of me to say but I will only get over how good it was once I find the equivalent in the US.

Once we got picked up, we drove back to the hotel and had the rest of the evening to do as we pleased. I took a much-needed nap until around the time I wanted to eat dinner.

For dinner, we tried a Middle Eastern food restaurant a little bit down the street from us. I simply decided to get naan bread and hummus. The meal also came with a small tray of other dipping sauces. Mixing a little bit of all the sauces with the hummus and then dipping the naan in was so good! I am not ashamed to say that when the naan ran out I continued to finish eating the rest of the hummus with my spoon.

After, we spent the rest of the evening walking around the area by the hotel, taking in the beauty of Bangkok at night.

The next morning, we were going to see one more temple, and then spend a couple hours in a mall. For them temple, we went to see the golden Buddha. We started out going through another museum and then walked up a series of stairs where the actual temple was. I loved how as soon as you entered you had to take you shoes off so for the museum and everything I got to be barefoot, which is one of my favorite things. The view from the top of the temple was my favorite part! You got to catch of glimpse of the skyline of Bangkok. There is one building that is super eye-catching (and my favorite) because toward the top there is a section that looks as though it was made out of Legos, and looks slightly out of place.

The golden Buddha itself was absolutely beautiful too! However still, my favorite part about this temple had to be the view.

Once we were all finished up here in both temples, we drove over to the mall. I have to say I was kind of upset that one of our activities was to just spend like 3 hours at a mall. As well, I’m kind of shocked part of our trip wasn’t to go to the floating markets. Yes, the mall is cool and all but I can go to a mall anywhere. The only difference was this mall was HUGE. I spent my time eating. I got to enjoy a small green tea cone from dairy queen, which was pretty cool, but otherwise being at the mall was just average.

After our time at the mall was over we headed back to the airport to board our flight back to Chiang Mai. Overall I can say I really enjoyed Bangkok! I wish our trip was a little bit better arranged so we could have done more but oh well, I guess that means I will need to go back, and that is not a bad thing at all!

I definitely prefer Chiang Mai to Bangkok because everything there is so manageable. Maybe if I spent more time in Bangkok and did more my opinion would be a little bit different, but for now, Chiang Mai is the winner. On a side note, cheers to you if you’ve actually made it this far in the post… YOU are the real mvp.

I hope you all have a wonderful day! Wishing you all peace!

Hannah

06.17.16 3rd week of classes at CMU

IMG_3919.jpgBefore I even begin, I need to apologize for taking so long to actually write up these posts. I don’t really know what happened. So if details are a little sparse that’s why. The good news is that it means I won’t be writing a novel about 2 days. Better late than never.

IMG_3902The most exciting part of this week was my Wednesday (the 15th of June). This day we had a cultural field trip to the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chai Mongkhon. Here, we were fortunate enough to be able to receive a blessing from a monk, which was super awesome. At the end of the blessing the monk tied a simple white bracelet onto our arms symbolizing good luck… lets just say I’m never taking it off.IMG_3942.JPG

IMG_3933.JPGAfter, we were able to let a couple of fish into the river which we were taught is done because those fish are ones people do not eat because they are good luck or something like that. It was pretty interesting and cool to take part in a tradition that local people were coming to the temple to do.

Once we got back to our hotel and we got stuck in a monsoon like rainstorm on our way back from the market after grabbing dinner. The good news is that, from what I have experience, rainstorms, regardless how intense they are, are over in 30-45 minutes. The one thing I noticed was how quickly the vendors can fully waterproof their entire stand. Literally within probably 2 minutes extra tarps were put up and whatever was needed to keep everything the vendor had dry.

The other nice thing about rain, is if you look carefully, you can usually find a rainbow, and it was today I saw the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. Never before have I seen a rainbow where every sing ROYGBIV color was present. You could clearly see the difference between the blue, indigo, and violet sections, which I feel usually blend. Every color was so vibrant it truly took my breath away.

The best part about rain storms in Thailand though has to be that wherever you end up getting stuck there is either an incredible restaurant or a little spa place. Fortunately for us today, we found ourselves in a place offering 30-minute foot massages for 100 baht. Not only were we able to be pampered and relax a bit, but also once we were done it was nice and sunny again. It doesn’t get much better than that, now does it?

Thursday after class, for dinner we decided to go to an actual restaurant. There is this one vegetarian restaurant called taste of heaven that ever time we pass it is always full of people, so we figured we needed to give it a try. I decided to try a tofu burger, because for some reason I had never thought to put a slab of seasoned tofu on a burger as the patty part. I’m glad I finally was shown this idea because it was delicious and I will definitely be doing something similar again soon.

It was sort of nice to be served and sit in air conditioning, even though it was a little more expensive. The food was also worth every penny, if not more than we paid. I will never get tired of all the incredible food here.

The rest basically consisted of more of the same, which is always a good thing; there is just not really any sense in me writing about it because it is all stuff you have read about in my blogs before.

Anyways, have an absolutely wonderful day!!

Peace,

Hannah

06.11.16 blowing leaf bubbles and trekking in the jungles of Thailand

By far, this was my favorite day of my trip so far. Everything about today was more than beautiful. We got picked up from the hotel at 8:30 and drove about an hour to a local market, where our guide gave us showed us and explained some of the things the locals like to eat.

IMG_4245First we came up to a stand where for 20 or 40 baht you could fill up a bag with various water bugs, some the size of my pinky finger… too bad I wasn’t in the mood for a snack yet.

IMG_4251As we continued, we got to a section where there was meat and seafood, fresh for purchase (although I’m not sure what category insects fall in). We were looking at one stand that sold what I think was bee larvae, which we learned later tastes great in eggs, chicken intestines, and something floating around in a bag of nearly black water. While I was trying to take a picture of the bee’s nest and larvae things one of the things in the black water bags moved and I’m still convinced it was a live snack. I can’t really tell you for sure though because I ran away too fast to unfortunately get a closer look.

As we continued we passed stands that were perfect for picky meat eaters because you could purchase any part of the chicken that was your favorite. Oh yah, if your picky with what part of the chicken, or any animal you want to eat head to market in chiang mai so you can take your pick between liver, intestine, foot, or regular meat. Yummy…

Then we passed a stand that had fish sitting on a table, some still catching their last breaths. I’m not going to lie, I do have a 10 second video on my phone of a fish gasping for air, which may be a little messed up, especially since I’m a vegetarian, but oh well, I can’t say I’m ashamed.

The part that shook me up was when all the sudden our guide said look down and I saw what look like a laundry basket full of live fish swimming around. If you know me or read my blog about white-water rafting you know I hate fish and basically any critter that lives in the water. So similar to the snake scenario, I didn’t look long enough to be able to tell you what kind of fish they actually were. In fact, I straight up ran out of that section of the market, which our guide find pretty funny.

Right before we left I bought myself a little waffle snack thing for 10 baht, because obviously, seeing all the those bugs, swimming creatures, and chicken parts made me hungry again… okay maybe that wasn’t why I was hungry, maybe it was just breakfast time and this was all my stomach could handle after seeing these things.
IMG_4284We drove then drove the last thirty minutes into the jungle and then got out to begin our trek. We started down a dirt path that slowly took us into the jungle up the mountain. By the time we made it through the first little section of forest area my breath had been take from me. All the sudden we saw a clearing of trees and you could tell we were actually going up the mountain. After a little bit further, we were no longer completely surrounded by trees but surrounded by mountains and the most beautiful shades of green.IMG_4307

Our guide was absolutely incredible because every time we passed an edible plant or something we would casually point it out. Plus he spoke excellent English and was super funny. At one point he stopped next to a bamboo tree and started to shake it. After nothing had happened for a bit we asked him what he was trying to do and he said he saw a rats nest and was trying to shake them out. Thank god it didn’t work. Another point he stopped at a plant to show us some caterpillars. Right before moving on he said he had to stop looking at them because the caterpillars made him hungry. The very hungry caterpillar or very hungry hiking guide, we will never know.

Once we had reached the area were we were no longer surrounded by trees we stopped for a quick snack and water break and had time to take in the beauty of the green plants, brownish-orange dirt road, and the mountains.

IMG_4393That place we stopped on is most definitely my idea of a perfect place. Anywhere I am surrounded by lush greens and mountains is my happy place. In fact, if I ever go missing, that is where you can find me living in a hut, growing a banana tree and some other plants, alive and thriving.

We continued through the trails and every time I thought my surrounding were beautiful I was proven wrong my and even more gorgeous landscape. It truly felt like I was walking on a trail with a green screen in front of me.

On this trek was one of the first times I truly felt like I was somewhere far, far away. I felt as though I was truly IN and seeing Thailand because the nature is the one thing you can’t pick up and move somewhere else. These landscapes and different natural elements are truly unique to this country. You build things anywhere but you can’t pick up and take a mountain or forest back to the US.

IMG_4447.jpgEventually we got to the point where we were walking through a hill tribe area. We saw women hand weaving bags and scarfs, and a couple ladies selling hand made bracelets. After seeing how beautiful their craft was I had to buy something, and seeing their reaction was worth even more than the bracelet I bought because they were so thankful.

It was cute seeing both dogs and chickens causally running around the village area. The best part was when we passed by a group of little kids playing and as soon as they saw us they stopped, starting waving, and screaming hello, which, appeared to be the only English word they knew. They had the biggest smiles on their faces, which is an image I will never forget. Seeing other people smiling and expressing joy makes me feel happier than anything I could buy because it actually gives lasting happiness.

IMG_4434.JPGThen we passed one plant, which helped inspire the title for this piece. If you broke the stem of the leaf properly, it created a sappy bubble wand, which you could carefully blow bubbles through. How cool is that? So like the title says, there I was chilling in a jungle on a mountain blowing some super jazzy leaf bubbles.

We then got to the area where the eco kitchen was, where we would be eating lunch. We had yellow curry, rice, and some stir fry vegetables. This was probably the best food I had so far, probably because everything was so fresh. All of the food was so flavorful and absolutely delicious.

After we finished eating, the guide asked if we wanted to do another small hike and we all agreed to go. Once again, the scenery was incredible. The best part of this was we passed a variety of different mango trees. Of course, I had to ask if we were allowed to eat a piece and the guide said if we wanted to we could, it just may not taste super good because they may not be ripe.

IMG_4481.JPGObviously I had to pick the fruit to try. The first one was a green mango, which tasted similar to an unripe pear, so I only had a couple of bites. It just felt so cool to think that I was walking in a jungle and casually grabbed a mango off a tree to eat as a snack for my walk. The next mango was a super mini one. This one was surprisingly ripe and super delicious because the mango flavor was more concentrated and the texture was a little softer. Delicious!!

Eventually the second part of the hike was over and we got back in our van and drove to the temple Wat Chiang Dao, which had a cave we were supposed to explore. Once we got there the guide explained and showed us how some of the architecture of the temple was inspired by the Myanmar people and it was super beautiful and definitely different from the other temples we have seen. Then we got to the part where the cave was.

I thought we were going to just go into a small cave; however, instead of walking up a flight of stairs, we walked what I think was 750 meters into this cave that also had statues inside, acting as another part of the temple. I have never been in a cave like this before so it was super awesome to experience this!! As well, we saw bats inside which was pretty cool. The stalagmite structures were incredible and it was just a overall a neat experience!

Since the cave part was closing soon, we finished up and got in our van for the approximately hour and a half ride back to our hotel. I slept the whole time and had the most glorious, nap ever.

Like I said at the beginning, this was definitely the highlight of my trip so far because I was completely blown away by how incredibly beautiful everything was. Absolutely outstanding. If you go to Thailand, you need to go trekking in the jungles and mountains.. why would you not want to do something that leaves you lost for words?

 

Anyways, to quote my sixth grade graduation song, I wish you well my friends!!

Have a great day!!!

 

Hannah

06.10.16 Tuk tuks, squat toilets, and monk chats

I am officially covered in mosquito bites. It is at the point where I don’t even care if I put on bug spray because I will still be itchy from how many I already have. I would try to count but there is not point because there are too many. That being said, I’m not even really mad about it; it’s just kind of an inconvenience.

Thursday after I finished writing my post for the second week of classes at CMU, my friends and I left the coffee shop we were writing in once it closed around 6 and went to the market to grab a bite for dinner. I was excited that I was able to find shrimp wonton soup on the menus, because I was in the mood for soup. Once my food was brought to me I was surprised when the lady told me 80 baht. The menu had said forty so I was unsure if I misread it or if the menu was just wrong.

IMG_4168After she set down two big bowls of soup I realized that it was my fault and I had really just messed up my Thai so instead of asking for one I guess I asked for two. Instead of fighting it I just handed over the money and actually ended up finishing both so I guess it all worked out.

The good thing was at least I managed to get the word for shrimp correct so at least my meal was vegetarian because like I wrote about earlier, it is very easy to say a word with a wrong tone or pronounce something wrong and get something completely different, or even end up with blood in your soup.

After, even though I was full, there was a strong, magnetic like attraction between the crepe stand and me, so I ended up also enjoying a delicious banana-nutella crepe.

IMG_4210Once we were all done eating we realized it was only just hitting 7pm and none of us were ready to head back to the hotel and call it a day, we simply just dropped off our bags and then head back out to walk around the city. When we finally got back out of the hotel again there was a tuk tuk sitting across the street waiting to take people so we decided to hop in to go where we wanted and also got to check “ride in a tuk tuk” off our Thailand bucket lists. The tuk tuk was super fun, although I really have no need to take one again since they are a tad more expensive than the red truck.

The most memorable thing about this night was I finally had my first squat toilet experience, which was interesting, but honestly not bad at all! If you don’t know what it is, it is basically a glorified whole in the ground. The only thing I found a little strange was that to use the bathroom, I had to pay 5 baht. Something about paying to use a toilet that is a whole in the ground just isn’t right, but there were no other bathrooms around so what else are you supposed to do… plus at the end of the day it was only 5 baht.

Friday for our Buddhist philosophy class we had arranged to go to the monk chat program at wat suan dok. After being dropped off, we waited in the monk chat and meditation lesson building until a monk was available to chat with us, which only took 20 minutes. It is a really neat program because our monk explained that he is part of the is program so he can practice his English.

He was a student at the university at Wat Suan Dok studying Buddhism and English in his third year, and he has been a monk for the last 9 years. We only talked about Buddhism related stuff for about 20 minutes but the rest of the time we just spent having what felt like judgment free conversation learning about meditation and calming our minds. Everyone there was so friendly and treated us really well. The head monk chat monk gave us great thanks and wished us peace and happiness in our hearts, which I thought was a really kind thing to wish a person when you are saying goodbye, most likely something I’m going to try to start doing.

IMG_4197After, we had a little bit of time to relax before we went to this restaurant called el Diablo’s, which apparently had the best Mexican food in town. I ordered a bean and rice burrito and it lived up to every expectation I had… plus after two weeks it was kind of nice to change up the cuisine a little bit. After, we ventured around a little longer near Thae Pae gate, because that is where the restaurant was near, and eventually made our way back to the hotel to get a good rest before our trekking excursion that was booked for us for Saturday!

Sorry to be writing this so late and kind of out of order, I guess I lost track of time and forgot to make time to write until after white- water rafting.

Hope your day brings you peace and happiness!

 

Hannah

06.12.16 unexpected swims in the jungle

What a day (so far)!! I woke up at 8:30 and got into a van to go for a two-hour drive into the jungle for my first white-water rafting experience! During the days leading up to I was quite honestly a bit worried because there are a lot of things involved in white water rafting that completely terrify me because it involves water. Even before we booked the excursion I was a little hesitant and tried coming up with excuses of why I shouldn’t but I just told myself I had to do it. As well, I found out white water rafting was a little more intense than I had assumed. Sitting here now after, I can definitely say it was fun and I would do it again.

So, on the adventure.

Once we arrived we ate lunch, which was curry, rice, fruit, and a couple of other things I didn’t pay enough attention to because they were meat dishes. The food was awesome but not as good as the food from yesterday while we were trekking.

After, we got our life jackets and helmets and then had a quick little briefing where we learned the paddle commands and basically what to do if you fall in. My first wrong assumption of the day was that you simply sit in the raft and go down the river and the river guide kind of steers you. Nope, you are paddling the whole time basically. My second wrong assumption was that you sit in the raft and are better secured to the raft. Nope. You sit kind of on the edge with your feet lodged in a little raft crevasse and there’s a little rope on the raft, that if you are me, you hold on to for dear life.

Into the raft and down the river we went following about 6 other rafts of people. The water was kind of pleasant at first and the rapids were occasional and not super intense. Of course though, I screamed when we wend in every single one. The funniest thing is when you get stuck on a rock you have to kind of jump on the raft which feels like bouncing in a bounce- house, so of course I could help my die laughing every single time, which for our group was often because almost every set of rapids had us stuck on a rock.

The scenery was incredible. There is no way to properly explain the feeling of going down a river surrounded by trees and mountains. It was more beautiful than words, and in this situation, being scared for my life in the process is the cherry on the cake of the memory.

About halfway through we reached the point where the really big sets of rapids were one after another. You knew you were about to go through something intense and crazy when you started seeing the workers with cameras trying to capture your reaction.

These rapids had our boat stuck between rocks nearly completely sideways and then finally as we were unstuck, dropping down quickly. There were some points where we would be stuck on a rock in a rapid and water would nearly fill our entire raft, which was somewhat pleasant, somewhat refreshing, but most definitely the closest to being in the water I wanted to be. Even when we weren’t going through huge rapids I had a constant death grip on the rope and any other part of the raft I could latch on to.

Eventually we reached a point where the water was still, so we had a chance to just relax for a bit before the rest of the journey.

I was completely shocked when people were getting out of the raft and going for a swim in the brown, ambiguous lake. In fact, I was the only person who didn’t get out of their raft. During my relaxing float I still had a death grip on the rope because there was a good chance someone was going to flip my boat into the water, forcing me in. I made it clear that I was not a fan of the water and wanted absolutely nothing to do with going in. I already have a fear of fish and fish like creatures and I don’t like being in water that isn’t clear so why would I ever want to be in this brown water where only god knows what kind of strange river monster critter beings are. I had a lovely time floating. It was very peaceful I could have fallen asleep.

After all the boats had re-gathered, we started down the river again to an even bigger strand of rapids. As we were going through a set of rapids, I looked down at the current the raft was about to go through and all of the sudden my body became much more slippery and I flew into the disgusting water I wanted nothing to do with.

My third wrong assumption. If I fall out I’ll quickly be able to fling myself back into the boat before I realize I’m in the water. Nope. Not when you’re in the rapid.

So there I am, I would say floating but that sounds too pleasant. I was in the water going down the river through a little rapidy area low key, yet high key freaking out in a panic. As I’m floating under the pretty bridge I look up and see the workers recording me on their go pro camera and I just keep floating down the river because I had no idea what to do. At that point I thought I would just float until my raft caught up to me but then the workers started yelling and pointing to swim to the side where I ended up sitting on a slimy rock in the water completely caught off guard, and seconds away from full on panic.

The emergency kayak came over to make sure I was okay because I guess I looked like I was really struggling and then my raft came over and saved me. Getting onto the raft from the rock was simple; however made challenging because my whole body was shaking. After about a minute in the boat calming down, we continued down the rest of the way.

Honestly, if anyone were going to fall in it would be me because I am just unlucky like that, and I said that numerous times before. So I guess I kind of knew it was coming and it was more of a when rather than an if.

For being one of worst things that could have happened in my mind I’m not really sure why I was laughing after or how I can say I would gladly go white water rafting again, but Thailand has seemed to be having that kind of effect on me.

The entire journey was super fun!! I am still laughing about falling in to the river and floating away but then again, now I have another fun trivia fact about myself, I fell off a raft and floated through rapids in the middle of the jungle… That’s kind of interesting I guess.

As the rapid areas slowly went away, we came closer and closer to the end.

My fourth wrong assumptions, we would only be out for about an hour because it is only a 10 km trip. Nope. We were on the water for probably 3 hours and every second was incredible. Whether I was blown away by the beauty of where I was, or adrenaline coursing through my veins going through the rapids it was absolutely wonderful.

After having our post-rafting snack, we got back in our van and drove the 2 hours home. After about 10 minutes I was passed on and didn’t wake back up until basically we were at the hotel, which was nice. Now I am sitting in the hotel waiting to go to the Sunday night market to explore and eat some more incredible food.

Have an absolutely wonderful day!!!

 

Peace

Hannah