Thursday, August 11, 2011

worst travel blogger in the world

Alright, so in the two and a half months that I've been traveling I have blogged twice. WOMP! I know, I know. In my defense internet was really slow most places and/or I just didn't feel like sitting on the computer for an hour while I had a country to explore. So to my loyal reader(s), I sincerely apologize and I will make it up to you with a big picture update....when I get home. :)

Since my last blog update Hera and I have been through Laos, Cambodia, and now, Vietnam. Hera actually left yesterday and before she left, at our last dinner, we kind of did a big recap of the whole trip. I asked her what she thought she learned, what part was her favorite, what part was the hardest, and it just trickled into us recollecting all the major things that happened on this wonderful trip. As we were doing that, I kind of got overwhelmed. It's hard for me to think about how this was our lives for two months. We packed and unpacked our backpacks countless times, we laid our heads on a different bed almost every other night, we crossed paths with so many incredible and not so incredible people and to top it off, I don't know how many times we have said, "eh let's just go with it or we'll cross that bridge when we get there".
I can't complain one bit about my life back at home but I'm already back to making appointments here and there or thinking about two weeks from now. When traveling, it's day to day. It's that moment that's real, not what's happening weeks from now. Thinking about what's happening weeks from now really meant nothing to us this summer.
So as you can tell, I'm in process mode. I'm trying to process all the things that I went through and what I've learned, because I've learned a hell of a lot.

I'm actually finding myself staring at this computer screen because there is so much running through my head. I can't wait to share with you guys the things I've learned but I think I need a little more time. So in the meanwhile, I'll leave you with a story from Laos.

Buddhism is the primary religion in Laos. And actually, many Buddhists from surrounding countries often make journeys to Laos because they are said to be one of the only places that still hold on to the original Buddhist traditions. a.k.a they keep it old school. Well Hera and I were in this beautiful city called Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. This city is known for the Buddhist temples and monasteries. They are also known for the hundreds of monks that come out in the morning to collect alms. Alms are something that regular folks like you and me give to a monk in order to be blessed and to continue their monastic continuity (shoutout to wiki for that one) Alms are done everywhere but due to the fact that there is a particularly large number of monks in Luang Prabang, the Alms are a sight to see. It's like seeing a sea of orange walking along the street. The people sit on the sidewalk with pans of sticky rice or some other food/gift to give and the monks walk by with what look like bronze vases slung across their shoulder and you just drop your alm in.
Although it required a 6:00 AM wakeup, I was excited to see this beautiful tradition in action. I told Hera the night before that I definitely did not want to participate in this but just wanted to observe. I even read up on it online the night prior and the article talked about how some Buddhists want this tradition to no longer continue because it's becoming more of a tourist attraction and losing it's authenticity. So in my mind, I was set. There was no way I was going to participate. I had no desire to- The last thing I wanted to do was to taint this beautiful tradition.
So Hera and I walk out our guesthouse, bleary eyed and sleepy, and this lady runs up to us and she tell us to go sit down where the locals are giving alms. Hera and I said in our robotic, slow english, "no, no, no, we're going to just watch". She kept insisting and we kept saying no. We tried to walk away but when we said no, she looked like she was getting upset so I thought maybe we were disrespecting her and her religion. She ended up dragging us to where the Alms were being given and made us kneel down. She handed each of us plate after plate of these packaged cookies to put in the monks alm basket. As soon as she was out of plates and while monks are passing us by she whispers, "you pay money now".
Ugh... So Hera and I were upset to say the least and we paid the stinkin' lady. We paid her less than what she asked for but it was more than we wanted to give.
So there was lesson #29342789349 out of 129837192412094010248... Just say no and quit getting so emotionally attached to people you don't know. Hera and I had a hard time saying no and this story proves it.

To tell you the truth, we got played quite a few times. We have many a ridiculous story to tell and I can't wait to tell them. But for now, I must go.
See ya later Southeast Asia, you've been damn good to me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


So I'm sitting at a laundramat in Chiang Mai, Thailand doing my laundry for the first time since I've started my travels. Tomorrow we head out on an epic three day journey to get to Laos. It's going to take approximately three buses and two boats for us to cross the border and make to Luang Prabang, Laos. Should be interesting!!

Hera and I are just wrapping up a two week trot through pretty much all of Thailand. We started way down south in Phuket and then took a 14 hour bus ride to Bangkok. Then after one night in Bangkok we took a 17 hour sleeper train to the beautiful northern city of Chiang Mai. It feels like we have done so much. We went snorkeling, laid out by the beach, laid out by a pool, went to a national park, took a cooking class, explored each city we were in by foot, went to a lady boy gogo bar, took a tuk tuk that drove on the other side of the rode (meaning opposite of traffic), and ate the best street food in the world. We have done incredible things and it still feels like our journey is just beginning but what I want to tell you about is what, in my mind, is probably the most amazing thing you could do in Thailand... Visit the Elephant Nature Park here in Chiang Mai.

Hera and I just spent the last two days feeding, walking around with, bathing, and learning more about elephants. This experience is still rocking my world and I really did not want to leave.
As many of you may know, here in Thailand the elephant is worshipped and pretty much put on every and anything that represents Thailand. People here have elephants like they have pet dogs. Literally though, elephants are put under the same category as livestock (ie, cattle). Any harm done to an elephant has minimal consequences. Many elephants are used for shows, riding/trekking through the jungle, begging in the streets, and formally used for logging. Little do most know is that a majority of these elephants are treated so terribly. In order to train these elephants they go through an excrutiating process called "crushing" which is an appropriate name because they literally crush the spirit of the elephant in order to have it listen to its owners.
Okay, I know, blah blah blah right? I could talk about this forever and I'd love to do it in person but I'll cut to the chase.
There is this Elephant Sanctuary that was started up by one woman. She takes on all and every kind of handicapped elephants. We got to play with ones that have broken backs, legs that were blown by land mines while logging, blind, mentally unstable, and really, everything across the board. They were all this way due to mistreatment by their owners in the past.. This place is seriously incredible. It is full of wonderful people and it is a place that is truly filled with compasssion.

I kind of have to cut this short because my time is running out on the computer and my laundry is almost done. But after leaving that sanctuary my heart feels a little more full and I hope that I could return again to spend a little more of an extended period there.
Moral of the story is that you should think twice before mounting an elephant or paying money to the owner to see it do silly tricks.

ahh.. i am so in love with elephants!

I will leave you with some pictures. The first two is actually from Malaysia but the rest is Thailand.

pad see ewe later, crystal

Monday, July 4, 2011

Malazin' Around...

Okay not really. Malaysia was kind of everything BUT lazin' around.
But first I must apologize because this post is going to lack pictures and it's kind of late seeing that I'm half done with Thailand now. But honestly, you think I really want to sit around in front of a computer while I'm in a beautiful new country? (actually, I don't mind it because the internet places are always air conditioned.. and man is it HOT here)

So Malaysia!! It was finally time to meet up with Hera to start our adventures. Our first bridge that we had to cross was meeting each other in the airport. I was arriving about 9 hours before her and we had no form of communication besides a "okay... I'll see you at the airport.. I hope"
I arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at around 9:30 PM and so I had to pretty much lurk around the airport until 7:30 AM when Hera arrives. I went in an out of sleep on an airport bench and finally it was time for Hera's flight to arrive. I stood at the arrival area where all the friends and families reunite happily. While anxiously waiting at the front of the crowd, I was picturing Hera and my reunification. I imagined myself seeing her first and yelling "HERA!" while waving and smiling. There would be squeeling and hugging and just an utter relief between the both of us that we found each other with no problems...
So I wait and wait and pace back and forth because I see no sign of Hera. It's probably already been two hours since her plane has arrived. At this point I'm kind of starting to get a litttttlleee nervous. Something doesn't really seem right so I awkwardly ask some airport person.. "Is this where AirAsia arrives?" and of course she says no and tells me that there is a WHOLE DIFFERENT airport that is 20 minutes away. And as soon as I started cursing to myself I hear a, "CRYSTAL!" heehhehahaahaaaaa! Hera found me!

Haha anyway, Malaysia was fast. We only gave ourselves five days in Malaysia which only reassured the fact that you should never book stuff in advance, just in case you want a few more days in a place that you fall in love with. We hit a different city every night that we were there and it felt like it was go, go, go. Our last night was on this amazing island called Palau Tioman.. I totally got my burn on. :)

Right now we are passing through Bangkok to get to Chiang Mai. We are meeting tons of travelers that are putting Hera and my two months to shame- it's amazing! We are both healthy and well (for the most part) and I am truly getting my fill of curries, Pad Thai, PadSeeEwe and TomKha... I think I could bleed coconut milk now. But that's for my next blog about Thailand. I will try to put up pictures.

Pad See Ewe Later!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Korea's got Seoul!

Holy smokes! Today I leave for Malaysia to meet up with Hera and start our adventures together. In all honesty, I'm ready to leave Korea. I'm sad to leave but only because I'm leaving my family here. I don't see them often, maybe once a year and it has been so good to spend time with them.
But like I said, I'm ready to move on to the next place. Korea has been so comfortable. I know exactly where I'm going to lay my head at the end of the day and I know what faces I will see when I go downstairs in the morning. Hey, I'm not knocking on comfort because who doesn't like it? But I yearned for this long awaited journey for reasons opposite of comfort.
I know many of you think I'm crazy but there really is nothing like traveling in a foreign country and feeling so present. Feeling like every decision is made on how your heart is feeling in that very moment. Even if it comes down to picking a place to eat or which rickshaw to get in to... it is all in a matter of a few moments that you make those decisions.
I totally went off on a tangent-back to Korea.

So this was my first time being in Korea without my mom. Well that's a lie, I came in 5th grade for three months during the summer and lived with my grandma. She fed me so much that I had to be rolled around by umpalumpas everywhere like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But again, I digress. So this was the first time I have been to Korea minus mom and old enough to wander alone. My biggest fear in coming was that I would stick close to my family and not explore the way that I actually wanted to explore. I would like to proudly announce to you all that I hit my Chacos to this Seoul pavement and did my fair share of exploring!

The very metropolitan city of Seoul is oddly nestled in between a handful of mountains so I got to do quite a few day hikes around here which was nice (and also scary especially when I stumbled upon the oldest Shamanist Shrine in Korea and ended up in a place where they used to do exorcisms) But I think one experience that I am still trying to process today is when I went to the North and South Korean border also known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or the 38th parallel.
I don't know what I expected or why I had this need to see it but I felt this pull to go.

When I watch documentaries about North Korea, I always get this heart wrenching feeling in my body as I'm sure most of you with a soul do. Watching a documentary is just a tip of the ice berg and knowing that makes me even more sad. After watching these documentaries, the number one thing that runs through my head is, "This is happening right now." And I do the usual, "I live this beautiful, lavish life and these people have NO IDEA what it is to truly live" And another huge part of me says, "They're KOREAN."

I think the reason why I wanted to go to the DMZ so much is because I wanted to feel these things but not just feel, but be a part of it in a weird way. I didn't want to just be a fat american sitting on a couch watching an instant Netflix documentary about North Korea. I wanted it to be more real. I wanted more than just the tip of the iceberg.

This is a picture of the DMZ. That building is N. Korea and
the blue buildings are the JSA buildings. You culd see
a N. Korean soldier standing at the top of the stairs.

Well guess what? I went, and I was a fat American sitting on a tour bus visiting a tourist attraction.
I don't know if you could tell, but I'm pretty disappointed in what I experienced there. In order to visit the DMZ and the JSA (Joint Security Area where North and South have meetings and it sits right on the DMZ. Half in N. Half in S.) you have to go on a tour and up until recently, you couldn't have a citizenship in Korea.
So I'll get right to the point (Gotta leave for the airport in an hour) I went there kind of expecting to feel sad or feel scared or feel something... but instead I felt annoyed at the people around me and myself for smiling and taking pictures next to the soldiers. I couldn't get myself to do that. These soldiers stand at the DMZ staring their enemies straight in the eye everyday and my fellow tourists stood a foot away from them with a huge smile and excitement and snapped away. I know I'm being judgey but it makes me sad that this place that is SO full of tension and conflict is just a tourist attraction. I know I should be thankful because without these tours, I wouldn't be there but I.. Oh, I don't know.
As you can tell I'm still trying to process this. My next move-actually go INTO North Korea. haha, not sneak in or anything but they now have tours for non-Korean citizens IN North Korea. I will be putting that on my 101 List for sure.

ANYWAYS! I am thirty minutes away from going to lunch and leaving for Malaysia!!! Stay tuned for another blog!

my heart, crystal

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's that time again (finally)

Oh dear.. this blog originally started as a travel blog because when I looked ahead in my immediate future, I had many a travels ahead of me.. I never expected them to really stop either but alas, the world is a crazy place and they stopped.
I moved to Salt Lake City in September of 2009. I had just graduated and had just come back from the most epic outdoor adventure of my life thus far-ALASKA. I wasn't ready to move back home and I also didn't have any other plans so I found myself moving to Utah alongside some of my dearest friends on this earth. I moved there thinking I would stay for about six months then hopefully move on to perhaps a different country, or just... something other than Utah. Basically, I had no intentions or expectations from Utah. I didn't think I'd make this place my home, find a job that I care about and definitely had no plans on finding love. Well, once again, like I said, this world is a crazy place and Salt Lake proved me to be terribly wrong. I have made this place my home, I found a job that I care about, and I have found love.
You're probably wondering why I am even writing about this.. Well, lately I have been reflecting a lot about Salt Lake and how grateful I am for what I have here. More than that though, I think this reflecting is brought up by the fact that I am feeling the itch to move onward from this place I call home..
Living in Salt Lake has been an adventure in itself but man has it been comfortable. I'm not leaving Salt Lake yet but my eyes are definitely looking towards a different direction than here. I'm hoping to settle down my restless self with a little bit of traveling.
Starting this coming Wednesday, I'll be hopping on a plane to Asia with a pack on my back and a camera around my neck. I'll be spending two weeks in Korea (the muthaaalaaand) with my family then will be meeting Hera down in Malaysia. From there on, all I know is that I need to get to Vietnam by the middle of August. Other than those set plans, my feet are free to roam to wherever my heart desires. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam are the countries I will probably be hitting. I'm going to try to update this blog as much as possible so I could stay connected to you, my reader(s).
I can't believe this is actually happening. Finally, back aboard the traveling train where I get to experience and a part of a different world. I couldn't be happier.