Utah, Rocks, !

Since I’ve been home I have talked to a lot of people about my blog. The thing that continues to surprise me is whenever someone tells me that they enjoyed reading what I thought were predominantly semi-boring ramblings. Between the encouragement I have received, and the gooey joy writing brings me I have decided to continue to document my adventures, even when they aren’t quite as extravagant. So, it begins:

At the start of September, I got a call from my friend Bettina. She was in the middle of a solo road trip through the USA and wondering if I had any interest in exploring some of Utah with her. As a general rule of thumb, I never say no to adventure. Especially adventure that requires I go to REI and buy things suddenly deemed “essential”. Like a new backpack. Or a tent…

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Why yes, that is my tent.

Equipped with my new tent, I found myself not only back on a plane setting off on another journey, but also in the company of my Swiss friend I had last seen in Africa. If anything, that tongue-twister alone is proof that having friends around the world comes in handy.

Our camping-road-trip kicked off where anyone might expect, at a Walmart in Las Vegas. It was here we began our never-ending battle with two tiny coolers, the joys of creative camp-stove cooking, and the reintroduction of flapping dishes** back into our lives.

From there, we set out for Lake Mead- home of the Hoover Dam. Apparently, early September is not the most popular time for people to venture out into the Nevada dessert. Being notably over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and still a balmy 80+ at night it is hard to imagine why. All the same, feats like the Hoover Dam are always worth marveling at and then slowly backing away from because being high up is scary.

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Wall Street!

Rising the next morning before the sun in an attempt not to fry like eggs in a skillet, from Lake Mead we set off for Zion National Park. Of all the National parks in the US I’ve been to, Zion seems to be the most “on trend”. In fact, the park even has a Disney like feel to it as you ride a narrated bus into the heart of the park. Which begs the question, should Disney parks be national monuments? Just sayin’. Think about it.

Zion has a few hot spots, one of which is the hike Angel’s Landing. Though as nature has a mind of its own when I was there mudslides had ripped the trail up and it was closed. So, Mom once again no I did not hike “the popular hike on Facebook” that your friend did. However, I did spend several hours walking up the Narrows to the realist of “Wall Street”’s, which was worth every rocky step.

From Zion, Bryce Canyon National Park is just a hop, skip, and an hour and a half drive away. This is where there are magical rock formations called “hoodoos”. While Zion was beautiful, something about how nonsensical all the hoodoos are definitely places Bryce above Zion on my ranking of things you can’t really compare but try to anyway. It is easy to imagine characters by Dr. Seuss thriving in Bryce Canyon which is a standard indication of how interesting a place it really is.

The next stop was state park Kodachrome Basin. Things that were amazing about this park: the drive, the rocks, the views, the campsite bathrooms!!! I kid you not, the campground showers were some of the nicest I’ve ever used. They were definitely nicer than my shower at home.

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An interesting rock formation in Kodachrome…

The final National park on this journey through Mormon country was Capitol Reef National Park. Of Utah’s five National parks I get the impression it is the least talked about. Though I struggle to understand why because the entire time I spent there was with my jaw on the floor. The rock formations are stunning and come from seemingly nowhere. One moment the land is flat and the next you are looking up at rock palaces and fortresses. Humbling when you realize just how tiny we humans really are.

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Capitol Reef at sunset

When it came time for me to go home once again, I found that the lingering feeling of everything being “over” was gone. Coming home from six months of travel was a lot harder than I thought it would be, the idea that coming home was “the end” had been weighing me down. This trip was a huge reset for me, as it showed me that when one adventure comes to an end the next one can finally begin.

 

**for those of you who don’t know; “flapping dishes” is when you methodically wave your arms up and down while holding freshly washed dishes and silverware in desperate attempt to dry them without a towel. It is also an unconventional workout.

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The One Where Megan Goes to a Yoga Retreat

Hello, is anyone out there?! Yes? No? Probably not?? Well, that’s ok at this point it’s boiling down to hours rather than months, weeks, or days when I can annoy you all live and in person. You read that correctly! This is my final post abroad as the sun sets on my great adventure.

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Sunset, get it? ba dum tsssss

Before I reached this point, and since I last wrote I’ve had a few final mini adventures. For instance, I marked off my 20th country– Cambodia! While there I visited three cities: Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Siem Reap (where Angkot Wat is located). Cambodia was a country I had heard a lot of mixed things about, some loved it and others couldn’t wait for their next stop. I for one really enjoyed my time in Cambodia. Should you ask me– the people might be the kindest in all of SE Asia, while their history the most haunting. If you haven’t heard of the Khmer Rouge (which honestly it seems like most haven’t) consider reading up a bit. The film First They Killed My Father is based on a book by the same name and a decent place to start. Without getting too into it, essentially the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot was a murderous regime that rocked Cambodia from 1975-1979 killing roughly 25% of the population. The effects of this still can be seen in the country today, you cannot go to Cambodia and not learn about what happened there. If I may (which I can because it’s my blog), I’d like to add that in spite of this really devastating past the people of Cambodia I interacted with were honest to goodness some of the most genuine and beautiful, when you smile they really smile back.

Though… Cambodia isn’t what this post is about (if I wasn’t getting lazy I would have done a whole post on Cambodia alone, I am sorry country of Cambodia you deserved better from me). Nor are the few days I watched Shrek and did face masks with longtime friend Maria and her boyfriend Devon in Chiang Mai after a whirlwind time at Angkor Wat. No. This post is about the time I thought going to a yoga retreat sounded like a good idea, and the ways it both was and… Wasn’t.

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We go all round the world, we go all round the world

This trip in large part for me has been about embracing the new. If I didn’t embrace the new I never would have left good ole Kent. So, I thought to myself- you know what? A few days doing yoga and “grounding myself” before going home sounds like a good idea. And to some extent– it was. I enjoy yoga, I like nature, and who doesn’t want to go to a “retreat” the word “treat” is literally IN the title! What I failed to process is all the aspects of yoga I’m… Mmm… Not so big on.

When I first arrived on the property I was greeted with a hug. Mmmkay so fun fact I am not super big on hugging strangers, but I swallowed the urge to vomit and went with it. After being shown around the albeit very interesting property I was shown to my bungalow and told yoga would be at 4pm. Ok cool, it’s a yoga retreat makes sense that there would be yoga, and of course that a gong goes off 15 minutes before any and all activities begin… Wait what? Somewhere inside a red flag went up.

But, it all progressed smoothly. I heard the gong and went to yoga, ate a super amazing dinner afterwards, went to bed, woke up, did yoga, etc., etc., rinse and repeat.

It wasn’t until the last night, of my rather short 3-night stay, that how ‘not me’ all this was fully hit. Post afternoon yoga, we were told there was to be a Bhajan/Kirtan (tbh I don’t remember what it was called so thanks Google for the guess).

Immediately panic set in.

You see, what was described to me sounded shocking similar to church activities I’d endured and look back upon with dread. It was singing. Praises. To gods/the universe. In a circle. With musical instruments. The horror. Until you have been stuck in a room with people poorly playing the triangle and little shaker instruments singing off key smiling with their eyes closed you will never truly understand how horrified I was and how terrifying “praise circles” can be.

Like a scene from a movie all the sudden it all hit me at once: the “silent time”, nasty herbal toothpaste, partner yoga, a serious discussion on the third eye, this was not my scene. I can avoid meat and dairy, care about the planet, and enjoy a good yoga session or a walk in the woods all day long but the one thing I am not is a true yogi. My sarcasm, hatred of obligatory hugs, and swearing just doesn’t fit the mold. I found myself longing for a world full of resting bitch face and people not offering to wash my dishes, because you see if you are nice to me and wash my dish then I have to go be nice and wash someone else’s dish or everyone else’s dish and I hate doing the dishes and it’s a whole thing so thanks but no thanks. I digress.

The moral of this little tale is quite simple, I did not find inner peace and uncover the true meaning of the past 6 months of my life at the yoga and meditation (did I forget to mention the meditation bit? Sitting still? Yeah, also bad at that) retreat. I did however, befriend two cats, do some yoga, and learn that I would not do well in a perfectly utopian society mimicked at the aforementioned retreat. Which means against all odds that I probably should head back to the one that raised me.

So, folks, there you have it. 10 countries, 6 months, and still me later I am coming home. Look out Kent Target because this girl is coming for you.

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Home is where the Target is

The (non?) Sleeper Bus

Since arriving in Vietnam, I’ve gotten to know the sleeper bus quite well. The first time I got on one was traveling from Cat Ba to Sa Pa, and since then the sleeper bus has been my primary means of transportation.

What is a sleeper bus? You might be asking yourself. Well, fear not as a newfound expert I am here to enlighten you. It is a bus, with beds you sleep on. Harry Potter status all the way; featuring terrible driving, honking, and nearly falling off the bed. Ok that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.

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If not, here is a picture.

Now not all sleeper buses are created equal—that is something I have learned. Of all the sleeper buses I’ve been on (5 different buses), I “fit” in only one of them. Long legs are not your friend when trying to cram into a narrow bed made for Vietnamese people. There are other ways sleeper bus quality is established beyond bed length. For instance, the quality of blanket, whether or not there is Wi-Fi, and how dirty your seat is are other key indicators of how miserable or pleasant the next several hours of your life are going to be.

There is a certain routine that occurs when boarding the sleeper bus. Step one, someone chucks your bag underneath the bus. Step two, when you turn to board you are instantly handed a plastic bag (as much like in Vietnamese homes, shoes are not allowed to be worn in the sleeper bus). Step three, after dancing around trying to get your shoes off you have only a few moments to select which bed you want. Upper bunk or bottom? Front or back of the bus? Where is the AC vents? What about windows and paneling? Odds are you will look at all of this and then before you decide someone will start pushing you to move and so you just get in the closest bed to you. Step four, try to get comfortable. Step four continues basically the entire bus ride. But congrats you’ve made it on to the bus!

After boarding the bus, comes the bus journey. My longest bus ride was around 15 hours, the shortest about 6. Regardless you always get to stop at a restaurant and for a bathroom break. The fancy buses have a bin full of spare slippers to put on during the breaks, so you don’t have to take your shoes out of their sacred plastic baggy. All of the stops go down pretty much the same way. You’re dropped off at a small market or restaurant and told how long you’ll have. The time you’re told does not reflect reality however, as the driver pretty much decides whether it is a long or short stop. So, it’s best to pay attention to where he is, if you’re like me and get paranoid about being left behind at least. In the meantime, you go use the bathroom (squat or western toilet which will it be?), and debate which interesting Vietnamese snack to try that day– emphasis on interesting! If you’re lucky they’ll even have a Bánh Mì stand.

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Mostly said that to show off a beautiful Bánh Mì I had, yum!

Most of the time on the bus is just spent well, riding the bus. It isn’t that exciting. I’ve churned through a lot of downloaded Netflix movies and spent a lot of time staring out of the window at this point. All in all, the sleeper buses aren’t so bad and almost a rite of passage when traveling Vietnam. Sure– it won’t be your best night’s sleep, but it’ll be one you won’t soon forget.

Just under three weeks until I am home, on Friday I go to Cambodia my final (new) country!

Won’t Pho-get About This!

Another week down, only FIVE to go! As my first week in Vietnam commences I am amazed I even have the energy to lift my fingers off the keyboard to type. If you were to track my daily energy allowance from the start of the trip to now, you’d notice a steady decline happening. Turns out traveling is exhausting? Alas as Lauren (my homie from age 9) only had a week here (and a ton of energy for things like, walking) I did my best to rally (i.e. keep up).

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First things first, look I’m actually tan!!

We started off our week in Hanoi, which as Lauren described it is a bit of “Asian fusion”. Hanoi is really beautiful and has strong French influences, which makes sense as Vietnam was a French colony for roughly 70 years. Of all the places in Asia I’ve been, this was the first city where I was struck by how livable it felt. While I have no intentions of moving to Asia, if I were to this would be near the top of my list. In our first 48 hours we managed to cover 3 museums and all the main points of interest– we went full tourist.

From Hanoi we journeyed first East, to the sea. Cát Bà is an island near the famous Ha Long Bay. Now, when Lauren first planned to come out and meet me we had booked our entire week out. At the time, it seemed easiest to have our hotels and hostels all booked in advance. After traveling SE Asia however, I realized that was a terrible idea and cancelled most of what we had booked. Except for on Cát Bà, as it was a non-flexible booking. When we got to our eco lodge, the feeling of regret hit us both like a rock. It was in the middle of nowhere and eerily quiet. When we got to our room we both looked at each other warily. The place itself wasn’t bad, the location was nestled in the hills and really beautiful (just crazy isolated) and the room was decent and clean (just a little dark and musty). After one hell of a pep talk we decided we would make the most of it. We would survive this!

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Fishing village off Cat Ba! (not our hotel)

First impressions are a funny thing, as sometimes they can be pretty off. As soon as we accepted our situation it didn’t seem so bad, and then before we knew it we realized we’d actually done really good for ourselves. We had the chance to trek off the beaten path to a beautiful valley, the staff was incredibly nice and arranged every detail of a boat/kayak cruise through the Cát Bà islands, and the Wi-Fi was strong enough to continue my personal journey through the Shrek series. In the end I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Crusin’
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Magical valley with tiny cows!

 

Now, that might have sounded like the end of our week, but the next bit does get a bit more interesting. From Cát Bà we made plans to head North to Sa Pa. When we originally booked our bus to Cát Bà we also requested an onward journey to Sa Pa. The communication we got was that we would go through Hanoi stopping briefly before moving on. That is not what the reality was. After being picked up from our hotel, we were put on a sleeper bus that after some time we realized was heading straight for Sa Pa! Which was a win! Saving time is always nice! The only downside is that no one including the drivers spoke a lick of English. Which would have been fine minus the tiny incident that happened along the way.

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Pictured: Lauren, the couple, and our lame dinner!

Nearing the end of a very long time on a bus designed for people much shorter than me, we ran into a bit of traffic. I thought to myself well this sucks, but I can’t imagine it will take that long to clear up. Wrong. So so wrong, as the “traffic” was a massive landslide that took the road hours before. We ended up waiting several hours for the road to be cleared. At this point most people had already gotten off the bus, leaving only a couple, two drivers, and us. As we did not speak Vietnamese, and they didn’t speak English one of the drivers tried to inform me about what was going on by acting out “landslide”. It was equally entertaining (because who doesn’t love charades) and nerve wracking, landslides are never a good thing. As we waited the charades continued, and we all ended up sharing a makeshift dinner of bean cakes, peanut brittle, and roasted peanuts. Now I am not sure if I should feel weirded out or amused by the fact one of the divers decided to Facebook live stream our dinner—mostly because it was mainly a video of Lauren and I sitting there looking bored and him smiling eagerly into the camera. I am going to go with weirded out? Yes, weirded out works. Eventually the road cleared, and we were able to make our way on to Sa Pa arriving 4-5 hours after we were supposed to. Fortunately… it was all worth it!

SA PA WAS BEAUTIFUL. I felt like I was living in the Hobbit between the rice paddies, mountains, and river. We had a wonderful time trekking about through some truly stunning scenery. I was especially relived to discover despite my lazier lifestyle, my hiking abilities haven’t left me yet.

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Breath-
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Taking
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Literally. It was a lot of work hiking up there!

After a mere two nights in Sa Pa we headed (seamlessly) back to Hanoi where we spent one last day before Lauren took off for home (goodbye Lauren!! Xoxo) and I took off for my hostel bed to watch Brooklyn 99. It was one heck of a week and the perfect way to kick off Vietnam. It is a beautiful country and I am excited I still have more time to explore it. Next stop, Phong Nha to check out some caves!

Ub(ud)etcha you Cangg-do Indonesia

Every time I’ve started a post during my time here in Indonesia I’ve come up with some reason not to. Be it desperately needing to watch Shrek (today), the wifi being “not good enough”, or needing to go eat for the 5th time that day. Very important pressing matters as you can see. Alas, as I leave for Vietnam on Friday IT IS TIME.

I started off in Ubud, which most people find incredibly magical, spiritual, etc. etc. but I gotta be honest here, I wasn’t a huge fan. I know, I know, but Megan how dare you say such a thing? Eat Pray Love is all about #LoveUbud #LoveBali how can you not feel the same?? Honestly, I feel as though the Ubud full of magic is the Ubud from the past. Now it is full of devilish monkey’s harassing tourists and weird Instagram ready sites built for the masses. Needless to say, it just wasn’t my favorite place.

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Case in point

Post Ubud… I headed for the Gili Islands. They are off of the coast of Lombok, and each island is known for something different. Gili T is the party isle, Gili Meno for honeymooners, and Gili Air is known as the quiet place to “chill out”. The Gili’s I really enjoyed. Especially! because it was Ramadan, which meant all the bars closed at 11pm, and like the old woman I secretly am that meant I got to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Wahoo! Not to mention I faced a fear of mine and rode a bike for the first time since my bike accident 3 years ago. There were small children riding 3 to an adult size bike who executed bike riding with more grace than me, I bruised my hands from gripping the handlebars in fear, and I almost crashed into a palm tree on several occasions, but I did it and didn’t break down crying and that is what really counts. For me, this was a really big deal!

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#ThrowbackTuesday
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Sunset on Gili T (THAT I BIKED TO)

From the Gili’s I boated over to Nusa Lembongan. Of my time in Indonesia, the days I had on Nusa L were probably my biggest highlight. 100% because I got the chance to go diving, specifically because I got to go diving with Manta Rays. They are such incredible creatures and watching them underwater was unreal. A particular moment that stands out is when I was hanging out watching a Manta in the distance and someone swam over me. I was annoyed (fun fact: there is sometimes traffic underwater and it is just as annoying as on land) that this person couldn’t be bothered to give me some space. I looked up to give them a classic “Megan death glare” only to realize that the “person” was actually a giant Manta Ray. HOW COOL IS THAT??? Ugh I love Mantas so much.

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I’m on a boat and, it’s going fast and, I saw a Manta Ray and, ahhh!
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The Nudibranch, my other favorite thing to see when diving. They are just so cute! gah

Which brings me to my final destination in Indonesia, Canggu in Bali. This is the surfer mecca of Bali and is as “western” as it gets (brunch everyday and more Australians than Indonesians). Though at the moment, I am perfectly ok with that. Every once in awhile it is nice to pause and reset. Given the steady rainfall today –and in the forecast this week– I will be taking it easy and mentally preparing myself for Vietnam, where one of my oldest and best friends, Lauren, will be meeting me for my first week. I can hardly wait!

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 Friendship Established in 2004

 

Scuba Scuba Do!

Greetings from the island of Koh Tao! A place that is known not only in Thailand, but also worldwide as a great place to learn how to…. blub blub scuba dive! Koh Tao is not a very large island, and yet there are more dive schools here than I ever thought possible. Dive schools are to Koh Tao what 7-elevens are to the rest of Thailand, there are more than enough options.

I ended up choosing Sairee Cottage Diving, based on three factors: it has good reviews online, when I showed up to my hostel two guys had just finished their open water with them (which felt like a sign), and finally when I visited in person I felt at ease. I.e. I  essentially went with my gut.

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My father’s Open Water Diver Card circa 1976 (just cuz)

Over 5 days I completed both my open water diver and advanced open water diver courses and got to go on 10 amazing dives around the island. I was super fortunate and had two amazing dive instructors, Kay and Tom. When I first met Kay I was a bit worried she was going to be boring, which is funny because when I told her this she told me she thought the same thing about me. Fortunately we were both wrong! In fact, on the boat someone mentioned my dive squad had “quite the dynamic”. So thanks Tom and Kay for not only making me feel confident every step of the way, but also for being my kind of weird. Some things are just meant to be!

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Dive Squad

If you have ever been diving then I am sure you know what I mean, and if you haven’t been I am sorry but you are really missing out. Those first dives underwater are absolutely mind blowing. There are fish! So many! It is similar to snorkeling only infinitely cooler! And don’t even get me started on breathing and bubbles! Needless to say I am super happy I decided to learn how to dive and look forward to future opportunities to dive more! Who needs a car anyways? ($$$)

And because I am sure you are wondering, no I didn’t see any sharks. I did however see some cool nudibranchs, plenty of batfish, and two flatworms having sex! At one point I almost saw a whale shark. In the sense that I went on a dive, didn’t see any whale sharks, came up and heard other people saw a whale shark. So that was almost really cool too!

Now that I am certified I can’t wait to dive again, which means I suppose its a good thing that my next stop is Bali! Fingers crossed I get to dive with some ~manta rays~ while there!

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They see me rollin’
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They hatin’

Also, thanks peachsnapsphotography for the fun underwater pictures!

 

TreatYoSelf Thailand

Massage? Treat-yo-self. Mango sticky rice? Treat-yo-self. Face mask? Treat-yo-self. So started the anthem of my time in Chiang Mai. Fortunately for me, Thailand is the place for a #TreatYoSelf day (or week) ((or month)).

I didn’t get to see much of Bangkok but thank goodness I was well for Chiang Mai. It is the largest city in Northern Thailand and it is really difficult to dislike. Cheap quality massages? Terrible. Endless delicious street vendors? How dare you suggest such a thing. Not to mention the peaceful streets, stunning day trips, and lively Sunday Night Market? Disgusting really how lovely it is. To say I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai is an understatement, I had a full on #TreatYoSelf experience.

Should you be planning a trip to Thailand (which I would recommended) and should that itinerary include Northern Thailand and Chiang Mai (which it better), there are a few basic activities that most people do. One thing Chiang Mai is known for is its elephant sanctuaries. Without getting into a whole debate about animal tourism and unethical treatment of animals, simply put elephant sanctuaries are where elephants formally mistreated can go to spend their remaining years. The one I went to is “Elephant Nature Park”. The tricky thing about elephant sanctuaries ironically is finding one that is actually ethical. Not saying just saying, do your research.

The other common activity is taking a cooking class! Prior to taking this cooking class, my cooking ability was limited to mainly breakfast foods. Post cooking enlightenment my cooking ability is still mainly limited to breakfast foods. Now however, I have the memory of acting like I can cook and a the added bonus of a cookbook full of recipes my family expects me to recreate!

The epitome of my #TreatYoSelf time was definitely getting a Thai massage. Having never gotten a massage before I sprung for a classier experience and went to a higher end spa. That said, it was only $20 and I felt like a queen. Then again at the end of the day I spent $7 on another massage and still felt like a queen. It is possible that massages just make one feel like a queen. This seems like a research project I ought to invest in and I will continue to justify all future massages under the guise of research.

In my opinion, the overall best part is the food. If you were to ask me “what did you do when you were in Thailand?” my response would be pretty quick. Eat. In light of everything else I’ve done– there is so much good food here I have spent most of my time eating or thinking about eating. My least favorite part of every meal is the moment when I am done eating and don’t get to eat anymore.

If I haven’t convinced you to visit yet, or at the very least to have your own version of Treat-Yo-Self Thailand, here is a collection of photos for your inspiration:

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Pad Thai made by yours truly 
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Mango Sticky Rice- my one true love
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Facemasks, they are for everyone! (and can be found at 7 eleven yay!)
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Casual elephant encounter…
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Sticky waterfalls you can climb up! (forgot to mention I did this too!)

 

In a few days I head to the South of Thailand, where on Koh Tao I plan to get PADI certified. Thailand, thank you for treating me so well.