Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Laos

At the end of December 2015, I crossed over a bridge on the MEkong river in Laos and boarded a slow boat bound for Luang Prabang. The trip took 2 days, and we stopped in Pakbeng to spend the night. I even went for a run in the morning, which started a very brief spurt of motivation to start running regularly. The nice thing about being stuck on a boat with the same people for 2 days is you're forced to get to know them before you're on the move again! We got a nice group of people together that I spent a lot of time with for the first half of my time in Laos. Unfortunately, I lost most of my photos when my phone was stolen, but I had a few on my camera and borrowed a few from people I met there.

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there are temples and monks everywhere. I spent a lot of my days with a French girl I had met the night before the slow boat, and we even got up at 5am to go up to Mt. Phou Si on top of a hill to watch the sunrise. We watched the alms giving to the monks from a distance but did not participate. 

The night market was pretty great in Lunag Prabang and included lots of great food! They had these giant buffets that were cheap and delicious. I always got way too much food because I was excited about all the vegetarian choices! I definitely never went hungry there. 

There's a restaurant/bar in Luang Prabang that is pretty much the place where tourists go. I did an early morning yoga class there on a deck overlooking the river, and came back again for a New Year's Eve celebration. I spend the first day of 2016 going to the Kuang Si waterfalls and jumping in the water. It was beautiful! 


arriving on the Mekong
welcoming 2016
New Years Day waterfalls
Walking up to Mt. Phou Si
French friend Mathilde
mmm buffet
 
Yoga at Utopia
The next stop was Vang Vieng! This place had gotten a bit of a reputation after multiple tourists died doing drugs and tubing along the river. They shut down most of the river bars and took out all the very dangerous rope swings and other attractions. Now the city is trying to rebrand itself as a family friendly outdoor activity center. This doesn't mean you don't see signs for happy pizza though! Every cafe had several TVs playing episodes of Friends continuously and didn't have chairs - just cushions and short tables with just enough room to fit your feet under. I did a lot of relaxing here, and also went tubing! I found it very relaxing and fun.

The next day, I rented bikes and went to this swimming hole called the blue lagoon. I heard other people say it had been really crowded when they went, but we got lucky! We pretty much had it to ourselves. They had tree branches you could jump off of. There are also several caves around and we went in one of them.

tubing
1st bar
The crew at the 2nd bar
Blue Lagoon
cycling with my dormmate
Late afternoon - view from a hotel pool I spent the day at.
After Vang Vieng, I made my way south through Vientiane and Pakse. I stopped in Vientiane mostly because they had an English bookstore and I was hoping to find a GRE study book, which I did not. It was a cute city on the water though with lots of French architecture, a night market, and a 25m pool near where I was staying where I swam some laps. I liked how much pedestrian space there was by the water for kids to play, people to walk and jog, and of course the morning and evening exercise classes.
Pakse is also by the water, and I stopped there to hopefully doa 3 day motorbike loop but I got kind of unlucky and didn't meet anybody else who was doing it. Some people from the sow boat did it a couple days before and after me, but my stop in Vientiane messed up the timing for me. I enjoyed walking around though and met a couple on my bus that I ended up staying with later on, so it wasn't a total waste.

Finally, it was on to the 4,000 Islands, and more specifically the island of Don Det. I did a lot of relaxing. I was pretty good at doing nothing by this point in my trip! I swam at a pool and in the Mekong river, attempted to go for some humid runs around the island and hung out with some cows, rented bikes and went to a neighboring island, and visited a huge water fall and saw some ugly river dolphins on a boat trip.

I really liked the slow pace of life in Laos. Apparently they have no problem taking aid from other countries because they don't feel that it hurts their pride at all! They also think that working too much is bad for you, and doing a job you don't like is bad for your health as well. A friend of an acquaintance I met was late for the airport and offered a taxi driver double the price to take her right away, but he wanted to take a nap so he just said no. I can get behind that philosophy.
I heard many mixed opinions about Laos from fellow travelers but it gets a big thumbs up from me.


Vientiane
Taxi boat to Don Det
biking between islands

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Home again but still a bum

I was very aware of budgeting when I was traveling. I even kept track of every little thing I bought for a while, before I decided that was too stressful and unnecessary. It worked pretty well for me to have a daily target budget, but mostly keep track of how much cash I was taking out how often. Because I almost never used credit cards, this worked pretty well. I also knew when it was time to start planning my way home so I wouldn't be left with nothing. I softened the blow of reverse culture shock by going to Europe for a month on my way home and seeing friends and family while I was there. And I truly felt ready to come home.
But there were so many things I wasn't ready for. I've been back in the U.S. for 4 months but I only stopped living out of a suitcase less than 3 weeks ago. I hung around Seattle for a few weeks when I got back, finishing up grad school applications and trying to make decisions about my life. Finally I decided I needed to get off the basement floor of the house I used to live in, and flew back to Austin to become an adult who lives with their parents. It was a pretty relaxing 7 weeks, hanging with my cats and doing yoga everyday and taking a road trip up to SoIll for my best Hannah's wedding. But I was still in this state of limbo, trying to choose where my life would lead me next. I knew I wanted to get my MPH, but the question was where - uproot my life again and move back to Germany, or uproot my life and move back to Seattle?
So here I am, back in Seattle, and I haven't worked a consistent full time job since June 2015. I started the MPH program at Bastyr University at the end of September, and since I missed the start date for the German university, I guess I'm staying. It's been so much harder than I thought it would be to find a place to live and a job and have some semblance of a normal schedule. I didn't budget for my post-travel nomad life! It seems like things might finally be coming together, but this is still probably the most unsure I've felt about what I'm doing with my life. But don't worry, I'm sure my getting another degree in public health will get me a great public service job and I'll be able to pay off my loans no problem and I'll never have to worry about anything again. Right?
Little old lady baby Millie, where I found her when I got home to Austin. She was so excited to see me after 2 years!!
Anyway, moral of the story is whenever I look at my bank account I feel like crying. I promise I will finish posting about my travels! Someday. It will happen.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat has become somewhat famous for canyoning in recent years, where you climb down cliffs and waterfalls, cliff jump, and usually zipline but we didn't do that the day I went.


40m down a slippery rushing waterfall
It was a bit of a bittersweet activity, because the day before I arrived, three British backpackers died on a waterfall. They weren't canyoning, didn't have the right equipment, had an unauthorized guide and snuck in the area without paying the entrance fee, but still. Very sad. This article explains it pretty well: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/vietnam/12177509/Vietnam-suspends-adventure-tourism-trips-at-waterfall-where-three-Britons-died.html
The waterfall splits and if you're not careful and don't straddle it wide enough you'll be swept away. Or at least off your feet which is terrifying because you have to take your hands off the rope which you feel is the only thing holding you there (it is, on your rope, but there's also another safety rope the guide has)
The first thing I heard when I got off the bus in Dalat was all canyoning had been stopped. Of course this was by a motorcycle driver that wanted to take me on a tour around the area, but I was a bit disappointed because I was looking forward to it. The next day however, the wonderful woman who ran my hostel let us know that trips were still happening in another area.

It was a lot of fun! And harder than I expected, especially the first waterfall we did, even though it was the shortest. The worst part was they gave me a lifejacket meant for someone who weighs 90kg (~200lbs) and a large helmet. I didn't think much of it at first but I couldn't really see up or down, and we did a lot of scrambling up and down banks where you needed to use your hands to help you climb. But I survived, I just looked like a giant orange marshmallow. Just look at these pictures
I can't see!!
The giant abseiling orange marshmallow
I definitely hit my butt on a rock when I landed. Shoulda had all that excess padding down there instead of around my face


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Vipassana

I just got back to Battambang, Cambodia from the Dhamma Lattika meditation center outside the city, where I completed my first 10 Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Course! I'm not really prepared to write a post about it yet and I think I need a few more weeks to really process it before I do - I tried writing in my journal as soon as we were allowed to have our writing materials back and even that was so jumbled - but I made a video. It's kind of long and the sound is bad but I wanted to document it right after it happened.

Vipassana means to "see things as they really are" and you can find out more about it at https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana. It was 10 days, 10 hours meditation a day, in silence with no reading or writing or electronics. It seriously felt like prison - complete with bars on the window of my little cell and a barbed wire fence around the small area we lived in. There were about 14 foreign female students and the rest were Khmer.

video

I'll leave you with two songs that were stuck in my head probably more than any others, especially the first 6 or so days.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It All Ends

I promise, I worked on a couple posts yesterday but the wifi is just too slow to upload photos.
Can you believe the first book came out almost 19 years ago?? Wahnsinn

I just finished reading all 7 Harry Potter books in German, which was surprisingly easy and I still read them way too fast. It's actually amazing how often some words are repeated, but I'm not sure I actually remember any of them. Except I know another word for purple, which Uncle Vernon's face seems to be most of the time, and people do get confused a lot.

Moral of the story, I am once again going through post Potter depression. And I can no longer just read instead of thinking about my future. Case in point: I got a GRE study book on my kindle (which is terrible but I couldn't find a real one) and spent all day yesterday looking at applications for grad schools. It was terrible.

I'm on my way to Cambodia and am expecting corruption to start at the border and not stop and to arrive several hours later than expected. Woohoo. I hear it's beautiful though!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year!

I know, I'm way behind with blogging. I'll get there, I promise.
I'm currently in a hostel in Luang Prabang, Laos (or Lao, still not really sure which is best/correct) where I welcomed the new year! 2015 was a weird year for me. I did a lot of traveling, both in the U.S. and abroad, and had some amazing experiences. At the same time, it was a mentally tough one for me. I felt emotionally drained for various reasons both at work and at home, and felt an enormous sense of relief when I stopped working full time and went to Germany for a month to travel and visit people. But of course things don't just miraculously get better overnight, and even after quitting my job and then coming to Asia, I've still been struggling occasionally. That being said, this really has been the most amazing past 3 months and I don't regret it for a second. I've been meeting a lot of people who are only traveling for 2 weeks for the holidays, and I realize how much I've changed. My speed of life has slowed way down, and I don't worry about what I'm going to do next. Except when I worry constantly about what I'm going to do after I run out of money and finally need to find a job again. But I'm doing my best to not think about that except to fill out the occasional application and live in the moment!

Here were my goals for 2015:
Continue with emotional and spiritual growth, including journaling and meditation
I did start meditating, but it didn't last long. I think the longest I made it was 10 days in a row. I did get better at journaling though and traveling has helped that! I write almost every day!
Complete a running challenge. I have an eye on the Lake Sammamish half in March. It's probably the flattest course in western Washington.
I mostly kind of ran the Beat The Blerch marathon. Actually pretty impressed I survived that one, even if it was just barely.
Challenge myself every month. So far I have January: no refined sugar and February: no sugar. Yikes. Kate's doing both with me including the February cleanse so I think I will be more successful. After all, it took her going vegan with me for me to really do it. Every other time I tried I always quit because cheese. Sidenote: in 2014 I went 6 months without cheese. Crazy
I didn't exactly do this as planned, and made a lot of mistakes on the way, but every month presented me with challenges.
Exercise every day. Buy a monthly membership at the group fitness place I've been going to near me and go enough to make it worth the money.
I actually did pretty well, especially from March-June before I started traveling. I enjoyed working out in group classes and actually got kind of in shape! Since summer, and especially since leaving for Asia, I obviously haven't had the luxury of a studio by my house. Stay posted.

This year, I want to keep it simple. Someone in my hostel mentioned their friend tried one new thing a week, and actually completed it. I was intrigued, but I am doing many new things right now and apparently that guy spent a lot of money. I really only have 2 resolutions:

- stop buying oreos. This was a bad habit I picked up in China because I didn't always want weird Chinese food. The problem is, it's so easy to finish an entire package! This is not just me - a lot of travelers I've met have developed sugar habits and can easily eat 6 or 8 or however many servings of oreos is in a package. Obviously this isn't the only sugary food I eat and there are plenty of other packaged cookies, but for some reason oreos seem to be the worst. So I'm going to stop buying them. If someone offers me one, however, that's fine because I will obviously have a much more reasonable portion
find a way to include exercise in my routine. It's hard to work out while traveling. SE Asia is hot, so running after the sun comes up just doesn't sound fun. Plus you never really know what's appropriate especially for women and I don't want to be an insensitive tourist. But 6am is early, and I'm way out of shape, and I was a bit burned out and hurting after the marathon. I went on 1 run in China, 2.5 in Nepal, none in Thailand and so far 1 in Laos. I do think I will start running more because it feels right. But I also want to intentionally move more in any way, which could be yoga classes, a challenging hike, going climbing, renting a bicycle, etc. Anything more than the normal walking I do, which actually isn't that much. Everything is super close or too far to walk, unlike Europe where I walked a minimum of 30,000 steps every day. All that to say I feel out of shape and lazy! I'm not trying to train for anything or get anywhere close to the best shape of my life, I just want to find more of a balance.

Other goals:
- continue to travel solo for as long as possible
- do one thing every day that scares me. This is a goal, not a resolution, because I'm not counting. But sometimes little things are really hard for me. Striking up a conversation with someone new, for example. This gets easier the more you travel, but it can still be incredibly hard for me. Asking for directions or help from a stranger. Figuring out how to book a bus or train ticket the local way, instead of just through my hostel. Going places that aren't as touristy where I won't just show up to a hostel full of people like me. I hope to gain more confidence and lessen my social anxiety, which has been pretty bad for me the past few years.
I also want to do jump of cliffs and climb up cliffs and go diving and maybe bungee jumping and other things that are new and exciting in a more traditional way.
- learn new things. I've stayed at 2 workaway sites now, and learned a lot at both of them. Even if I learned nothing about farming in Nepal... But there is something great about staying in a place for longer than a few nights, getting to know the area and the other volunteers and the locals, and really having a home for a bit.
- and finally, a bucket list item. I'm signed up for a Vippassana meditation course at the end of January, a 10 day silent retreat where you can't look at anyone or take naps and you sit and meditate for 10 hours a day. It will probably be the hardest thing I ever do. But I also hope to learn a lot about myself. I've been wanting to do this for over 5 years, and I also hope to develop a meditation habit. This has been something I want to start every year and always make it part of my New Years resolutions, but for me it's really hard to keep it up. At the same time, I know how incredibly important and good it is for you, and one of the best ways to help me overcome my social anxiety and disordered eating.

I have no idea what 2016 will bring but it will definitely be awesome! I'm doing what I've always wanted to do and it's been absolutely amazing! 

2015 in Pictures

This year
I lived in a house with 3 cool ladiez. Kate and I drank green things. And ate donuts. We've been through a lot together but glad to have this pv sister in my life
I finished coaching at Seattle Gymnastics Academy, hopefully forever. But I had great groups of girls on my recreational teams and I enjoyed coaching all (ok, most) of my kids!

some of the sweetest and hardest working group of girls. They are the reason I did what I did
I went to L.A. to see some of my best friends from college - Lexi, Hannah and Betsy who I somehow didn't get any pictures with,
2009, 2012, and 2015
went to South Carolina to watch my sister Laura graduate summa cum laude from Furman University, 
proud big sister
- a bittersweet trip. My parents had convinced my grandparents to go because grandmother's childhood best friend also lives nearby. But she passed away in April. She was the grandparent I was closest to and it was a really difficult time for me. But I am so grateful to have had her in my life for so long

touristing at Neuschwanstein!
travelled to Germany to visit friends and my host family, as well as do some hiking and traveling in Bavaria, and completed another Tough Mudder - leggionnaire status! pronounced leg-ionnaire. Obviously. Germans would never misspell anything.
with the twins and Rachel. I ate ice cream every day. Love these people

Had visits from Laura,
Laura's first time in the PNW!
my parents,
the rents made it to Seattle!
and my friend (since middle school!) Claire with baby Max. We ran Beat the Blerch (she did the 10k) so I finished my first marathon, and we met The Oatmeal. It was fun to show people around Seattle!
I am actually dying in this picture. It was the most pain I've ever been in.
baby Max!
I quit my job and left Seattle with my friend Jordan for China. I've been traveling for just over 3 months and been to China, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand and Laos, and I hope to continue for as many more as possible! I see Europe and probably Australia and New Zealand in my future...
Great Wall of China


Tibet, in front of the highest peaks in the world
Trekking in the Annapurna region in Nepal
Christmas Day on a farm near Pai, Thailand

Here's to another year of adventure! Got to https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_lt/ for more pictures.

 p.s. Just for fun - my handstand pictures!

Huangshan

Great Wall

Zhangjiajie


Chengdu

Tibet
Nepal
forgot Thailand... but I'm going back don't worry!
Laos