Kayaking in Phang Nga Bay [Thailand]

We arrived in Thailand at 2 AM.

After 30+ hours of traveling and some massive flight delays, we were hoping that our driver hadn’t given up on us.

As we crossed the threshold into Phuket, a crowd of taxi drivers closed in around us, shouting prices for rides. I could feel my pulse quicken and my eyes scanned the crowd for a sign with my name on it. Where’s my name, where’s my name, where’s my name….thank God, there it is, there’s our driver.  Relief.

We arranged to stay at a guesthouse called Sansuko Ville, which was a little bit off the beaten path.  When we finally arrived, got our bearings, and pow-wowed about the next day, we crashed.  After a glorified nap, the alarm went off and we geared up for our first Thailand adventure, sea kayaking!  The tour company, John Gray Sea Canoe, picked us up and drove us to Ao Po Pier, where we boarded a large boat.  The boat motored out to sea and we ate a light lunch, admiring theThai islands with sheer cliffs that jut out of the water.


One of the main reasons why I chose John Gray Sea Canoe was because the day trip started in the afternoon…just as all the other tours were getting off the water.  As the large boat anchored and we loaded onto the kayaks for the first time, I gained a fuller appreciation for the later start time.  We were alone.  No boats, kayaks, or people (besides those in our tour) could be seen.  It was as if we had stumbled upon these waters for the first time.


Our guide, Luis, took care of the paddling.  In normal circumstances, this would have irritated me, but I was glad for it this time.  The tour took us through hongs (aka caves), which were difficult to navigate, even for someone who has kayaked before.  We passed through hongs into secluded lagoons, soaking in the scenery at every turn.



After we paddled through 2-3 hongs with Luis, we ventured back towards the bigger boat, and Luis left us to our own devices.  Kursten and I paddled out to view a few of the surrounding islands on our own.  Check it out!


We also had a chance to swim in the warm waters of the bay, flipping over a kayak and using it as a diving board of sorts.  I was in my element 🙂  Before we knew it, we were called back to the big boat, where dinner was awaiting.  The crew cooked tom yum soup and a full spread, including two white snapper that they had caught while we were off kayaking.  Kursten and I joked throughout the trip that the best food we had in Thailand was cooked in a boat galley on this kayak excursion.


After dinner, we got to work on our kratong, which is an offering that is modeled after the floating lotus flower.  It is typically made of wood from the banana tree, banana leaves, assorted flowers, incense, and candles.  Traditionally, the kratong holds a small offering (such as small coins) or nail clippings to symbolize letting go of a negative emotion, such as hatred.  As Thais float them into the water, also make a wish.  Kursten and I–under Luis’ strict direction and with a lot of his help–fashioned our own kratong to float in the water later that night.


The big boat motored to another part of the bay, framed by a gorgeous sunset.  The mad dash of Chicago life, the worries about work, emails, relationships, bills…everything faded away in the sun’s softening glow.

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After the sun had set, we launched the kayaks one last time. Luis donned a headlamp as we glided through the dark waters, passed through another hong, and emerged into a peaceful lagoon.  Luis lit the candles and incense of the kratong, which Kursten and I set free in the water.  I made a wish that we were kept safe on our journey and that we would find something special here in SE Asia.


We boarded the big boat to take us back to Ao Po Pier.  Kursten and I laid on our backs on the roof of the boat, watching the stars and fighting off the jetlag-induced fatigue that had arrested our bodies.  Tomorrow was another day, one that would take us to the Koh Phi Phi islands.

For more details on the above, check out my Trip Advisor reviews (under TheOtherAList):

Sansuko Ville

John Gray Sea Canoe

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The Logistics of It All [Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam]

They say that if you come back from travel well rested and relaxed, you did it wrong.

I returned from 2.5 weeks in SE Asia exhausted and jet lagged, yet immensely content–so I’d say that say I did something very right. 😉  Since coming home, friends and family have asked lots of questions about the itinerary and related travel logistics.  I thought that before I blog about the highlights of the trip, this would be a good opportunity to set aside a post dedicated to the “how”.  HOW did this trip come together?  I’ve listed some of the most frequently asked questions below, but keep in mind that there are a hundred ways to slice and dice this.  This was just the way I chose. 😀

How long were you gone?  2.5 weeks, plus one day on each end of the trip to both prepare and recover.

What was your itinerary?  I’ve created a little calendar representation of our trip.  If you click on the image, it will enlarge and become readable.  Anything in yellow depicts how we traveled.  The purple and blue boxes at the bottom of each day show what city we were in and the hotel we chose.  Then, in the white space of each day, I’ve written a high-level blurb about what activities we did.

Calendar Version of Itinerary

How did you pick which cities you visited?  I put together a list from online travel magazines and blogs, and reached out to a few people I knew that either lived there or had recently visited.  From my list, I picked the cities that were easily linked via a half day’s trip.  I wanted to maximize my time abroad, not spend all of it on a plane or bus, getting to places that were too ambitious for a 2.5 week holiday.

How did you pick your activities:  I went with the logic of every-other-day, I’d plan/book something fun, like snorkeling or a bike trip out to the Cambodian countryside.  On the off days, I’d just wander and do whatever presented itself.  From there, I read reviews…hundreds of reviews (mostly on TripAdvisor)…until I found things I thought I would like that weren’t too touristy.

How did you get your friends to come with you?  I planned the trip assuming I’d go solo, but hoping for travel buddies.  Once I got a solid itinerary in place, I told everyone I knew about it.  People with interest and enough time off jumped on board.

Why didn’t you go to Bangkok?  Originally, it was on our itinerary, right after Koh Phi Phi.  Hotels were booked and everything.  I pulled the plug because I was spooked by the “CNN Effect” of the political demonstrations and the State of Emergency that was declared by the Thai government.  It made me feel safer at the time but looking back, I feel regret.

Is there anything you would do differently the next time?  I’m glad I experienced what I did, but if I were to go on this exact same trip a second time: 1) I would go to Bangkok. 2) I would not go back to Koh Phi Phi.  It was beautiful and the beach parties were a blast, but one visit was enough for me.  I would have spent the time on Koh Samui or Koh Phagnan. 3) I would go to Northern Vietnam country instead of Southern Vietnam city.  My favorite day in HCM city was when we were out of it, on a farm.

What was the pre-trip preparation like?  Hours upon hours of online research.  Some people can buy a ticket, and leave the next day with a backpack.  I am not one of those people.  An international plane fare is not cheap, so I didn’t want to blow my time abroad figuring out what to do on the fly.  As I mentioned above, not every moment was scripted, though.  On every other day I let myself just “be” and explore.  But I did make sure to bake a lot of stuff into the trip on the front end.  Also, getting things like visas, vaccinations, a plan for communicating with loved ones back home, and a little currency to get you started takes deliberate forethought.

How did you communicate while over there?  I have an iPhone, which I left on airplane mode the entire time and bummed off public free wifi to send periodic emails and pictures back home.  In addition, my travel buddy, Kursten, and I both purchased a cheap international phones and sim cards, which we could use overseas if we were to get separated.

What did you bring with you? I left home with a backpackers pack, like the one pictured below.  I also brought a small cross body travel purse (I used Pac Safe) and a small backpack for daytrips (I used Lowepro, which helped keep my DSLR handy). Other than that, the essentials were: 1) A little pharmacy of Pepto Bismol, Advil, Insect Bite cream, Moleskin. 2) Tons of sunscreen and bug spray. 3) Copies of my passport and other important documents, kept separate from the real things, but never in a checked bag.


Now on to blogging about the fun stuff 🙂  I’ve got a few posts in the queue, coming at you fast!

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The Power of Orange Snow Pants

The gang was eager to head back to the slopes for more (more on our first day here), so we layered up and got out there first thing in the morning.


I spent the morning with two friends, one of whom was learning to snowboard.  We settled into the green runs and I practiced some of the tips I had received yesterday.

Dorky as it sounds, I developed little mantras so that I wouldn’t be so scared.  Thankfully no one got too close, because I was muttering them under my breath like a crazy person.

“Point the skis down, gather speed, now cut. Point the skis down…”

“You can do this, you got this, be brave.”

One of my friends surprised me with a video he took of me skiing on the morning of the second day.  For someone who was going to cop out and read a book in the lodge the whole day, this video is a huge point of pride for me.

Before I knew it, it was time for lunch.  We met at the Martini Tree Bar to eat our sack lunches and traded war stories from the morning.

Photo Jan 19, 12 35 55 PM

A big group of us headed to the other side of the mountain for the afternoon.  I challenged myself with some blue runs and, to my surprise, they came more easily!  I felt more in control of my speed, more confident in my ability to stop, and finally figured out how to use my poles.  I was on top of the world!  I couldn’t even believe this was me!

Photo Jan 19, 1 41 20 PM

We ended our day at the Bavarian, where we relaxed with a beer.  We had some fun with the trail back to the parking lot and headed back to the cabin in high spirits.

Photo Jan 19, 3 11 05 PM

That night, we enjoyed a few drinks and played the card game for horrible people, Cards Against Humanity.

I’m writing this on the plane home and reflecting on the past couple of days.  I feel so accomplished, having looked fear in the face and saying “screw you”.  I wouldn’t say that I overcame a fear, as the bucket list item requires, but I chipped away at that fear quite a bit.  I would definitely go skiing again in the future, because–as much as it pains me to eat my words–it was an absolute blast.

Let’s attribute this little victory to Chase’s patience, tips and encouragement from friends, and the power of orange snow pants.

Until next time…shred the gnar, my friends, shred the gnar.

photo (26)

Posted in Miscellaneous, New Mexico, Overcome a Fear, Snow Ski and Not Fall Down, Sport, Travel - States, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Facing Fears and the Game of G.N.A.R.

On the drive up to Taos, I told Chase my plan to hang out in the lodge the whole weekend instead of skiing.  This trip terrified me; how did people find skiing fun?

I had good reason to be afraid.  On a middle school “ski” trip, my biggest accomplishment was making a snow angel and then downing hot chocolate.  Two years ago, I was invited to ski with some friends, and got injured early on the first day.  I spent New Years Eve in the emergency room.  I had barely even made it down a run in the Midwest, so how was I going to survive a western mountain?!

He talked me down from the ledge with every way he knew how–assurances that it would be okay, encouraging me to face my fears, reminding me that you have to start somewhere, hinting that the weekend would be a colossal waste of money to come all the way out here to just sit and read a book…

Finally I relented.  I was going to ski, but I was not going to like it.  In fact, I’d probably have a repeat performance of the emergency room shuffle.

By the time we picked up Chase’s brothers at the Albuquerque airport and made it to the cabin we had rented in Taos, it was nearly 3:30 am. My fear was still on overdrive, though, because by the time I finally fell asleep, I dreamt that my ski boots were too big and I slipped out of them, falling to my doom.

Morning came too quickly, and all 17 of us (yes, 17 of us crammed into a tiny villa in the mountains!)  arrived at Taos Ski Valley bright and early and encountered this sign.  It did nothing to calm my shaking hands.

Photo Jan 19, 10 35 57 AM
Chase is a really good snowboarder, so I couldn’t believe that he started on the bunny hill with me, instead of hurrying off to get the most of his lift ticket.  We went down the bunny hill three times, while I got my balance and practiced steering.  From there, we spent the morning on the easiest green runs.  He gave me pointers and encouragement and slowly…SLOWLY…I gained more confidence.

By early afternoon, I had (painstakingly) made it down two blue runs, although I will admit that (A) the wipe out factor was pretty high, (B) I was near tears, and (C) I had a death grip on my poles.  He must have seen how shaken up I was from the blue runs and suggested that we take a breather at the Bavarian bar’s outdoor lounge chairs.  I re-grouped over a snack and was ready to try again.

Photo Jan 18, 1 11 49 PM Photo Jan 18, 1 23 56 PM[Shout-Out: Chase wins for selfless and patient boyfriend of the year.  I’m certain that teaching/convincing this scaredy cat how to ski was more than he had bargained for.]

We met up with some friends, and I skied with them for the last hour or so, while Chase went off to do a couple of runs with his brothers.  I gathered more tips from them and started to really get the hang of things.  At the end of it all, I had survived Day 1.  It was a miracle.  Smiles all around!

Photo Jan 18, 4 19 45 PM Photo Jan 18, 4 21 13 PMWe headed back to the cabin to relax and eat dinner.  The night ended with us gathering around the TV to watch the 2012 ski flick G.N.A.R.  It totally pumped me up for Day 2!! (For the full G.N.A.R. the movie, click here.)

I told myself that I was going to be the best skier on the mountain the next day.

Or something like that.

Posted in Miscellaneous, New Mexico, Overcome a Fear, Snow Ski and Not Fall Down, Sport, Travel - States | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Planes, Metro, and Automobiles [Washington DC]

After a rainy Day 1, Chase and I were happy for a sunny Sunday in DC.  We started out early again, and–as with the day before–packed a lunch and took public transit into the city.  First stop was Ford’s Theater!


Visiting Ford’s Theater requires a ticket with a timed entry.  As a Sunday afternoon in January, the National Park Service site wasn’t crowded, so we were able to enter right away.  We proceeded to the basement of the theater, where there are exhibits about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the public views on slavery at that time, the Civil War, and the events that led to his assassination.


One part of the museum chronicled the revolving door of Union army generals throughout the Civil War.  Chase and I had a field day with the sections on Ambrose Burnside, the general with outrageous facial hair who inspired the term side burns.  One of Chase’s many nicknames for me includes “burns”, so I had to take a few pictures with my kindred spirit.


After touring the exhibits in the theater’s basement, we were able to visit the actual theater and see the box seat where the assassination took place.  What was incredibly spooky is that, prior to the assassination, apparently Lincoln told his wife that he had had a dream that someone within the white house was killed!


After Ford’s Theater, we headed to the National Archives.  It was beautiful outside, so we stopped on the way and ate on a park bench outside the FBI building, joking that the bench was probably bugged and someone was listening to see if we dropped buzz words.

In the National Archives, we toured the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, where we saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Bill of Rights, among others.  Something I found interesting is that Pennsylvania is spelled incorrectly in the list of signatures on the Constitution.

SONY DSCWe were a bit tired of museums after the National Archives, so we wandered up Capitol Hill and  walked around to all of the buildings there.

After wandering around outside, soaking up the sun, we started on the very arduous journey to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum) in Chantilly, VA…via public transit.  With the scene from Transformers on the mind, we braved the metro, an hour-long bus ride, and a ten minute cab ride to finally arrive at the Center.

Just like the Air and Space Museum in downtown DC, Chase was in heaven.  I have to admit, though, so was I.  I loved walking the elevated pedestrian walkway, seeing the Discovery Space Shuttle, and observing how happy Chase was.

SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCAfter Udvar-Hazy, we began the journey home.  Good thing we had audible.com (books on tape downloaded onto your iPhone) to pass the time — we shared a pair of headphones and made it halfway through a book while on public transit.

We saw an incredible amount in two days, but there is still so much I want to come back and explore.  I’m particularly proud of how cheaply we were able to see everything, and of our mastery of the public transit system (including one all-out sprint to catch a bus back from Udvar-Hazy 🙂 ).

See you in the near future, DC.  I’ll be back.

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Snow in Chicago, Rain in DC [Washington DC]

On Thursday, Chicago was at the tail end of a frozen week, complete with mountains of snow and the nickname “Chiberia”.  I was nervous about making it out of O’Hare to DC, so I set off for the airport immediately after work.  I needn’t have been in such a hurry.

My 7:55pm flight was delayed.  As soon as we were boarded, we were told that we had to be “de-iced”.  Ice turned into mechanical problems, which turned into a game of musical airplanes, leading to a midnight departure. By the time I made it to the hotel in Fredericksburg (an hour outside of DC), it was nearly 3:30 am.  Sometimes travel is truly not glamorous.

I worked Friday and woke up Saturday to the mild winter of the south a monsoon.  The forecast read 100% rain…all…day.  But I was in DC and I was going to see it, even if I was drenched!! By 8 am, we had packed a lunch and were off.  The name of the game wasn’t to see everything, but to spend time in the things we really WANTED to see.  Our itinerary looked a bit like this:

We wanted to take public transportation so parking wasn’t an issue, but the metro didn’t reach all the way out to Fredericksburg.  The closest metro station (the Blue Line Franconia-Springfield station) was ~ 40 minutes away, but it had free parking for the weekend.  We parked there, bought day passes, and rode the blue line to Arlington Cemetery.

We spent about an hour wandering the grounds, a light rain caused a fog to settle over the tombstones.  We visited Kennedy’s grave, the Arlington house, the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Civil War Unknowns Monument. It was a bit eerie, and I didn’t feel right taking a whole lot of photographs.



It started to rain hard while at Arlington, so I was happy for the refuge of the metro that took us further into the city.  Chase’s pick was next on the list–of course it was the Air and Space Museum. 🙂  From the moment that we arrived to the moment we left, Chase was talking about airplanes, motors, and aerodynamics…it was like a personal tour.  The highlight for me was walking through the “How Things Fly” exhibit.  My aeronautical engineering partner was very patient and explained everything.  I didn’t have to read one plaque!  I only wish we could have spent more time there.


We walked by the Smithsonian Castle afterwards, since it was the only part of the day where the rain seemed to stop for a noticeable period of time.


Next up was my pick–the Holocaust Memorial Museum.  What an incredibly moving experience.  I found myself getting very emotional and at one point, on the verge of tears.  When you enter the museum, you are given an identification card with a summary of the experiences of a person who lived in Europe during the Holocaust.  It helped me to feel a more personal connection to the events of the time.  After receiving your identification card, you are crammed into an elevator with other guests and taken to the fourth floor (perhaps to draw a parallel to the confined freight cars, which carried Jews to concentration camps).  From the fourth floor, you weave your way down a multi-level stream of exhibits.  As you exit the exhibits, you have the option of proceeding into a remembrance hall that has the names of concentration camps inscribed on the walls.  Candles line each of the walls, and soft benches invite private reflection.  I lit a candle under Dachau, the concentration camp I visited 5 years ago while in Germany, and we left.  Chase and I didn’t say a word to each other for a while.

After the Holocaust Memorial, we were “museum’ed out” so we set out to tour the National Mall.  This too was in the misty rain, but it actually wasn’t bad at all.  There were almost no people and everything was really calm.  Here are some of my favorite pictures:


photo 1 photo 2We ended the night with Einstein.  After such a scholastic day, it felt appropriate. 😉  More on our weekend in DC tomorrow!  All this walking around sight seeing makes a girl tired.

photo (25)

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The Next Six Weeks

Peculiar things, these opportunities.  Sometimes they fall out of the sky and slap you in the face, begging you to notice them.  On the other side of the spectrum, they ask you get off your lazy butt and create them from scratch.

I’ll be traveling quite a bit over the next six weeks, so I thought I’d fill you in on how each of these opportunities came to fruition.  They each fell in very different places along that spectrum.

WASHINGTON DC: A few months ago, Chase learned he was going to be in the DC metro area for a two week training.  The weekend in between was his to enjoy.  “Come with me to DC?” was met with “On the condition that we can spend hours in the Smithsonian.”  A deal was made and that was that.  I’m going this weekend!

TAOS, NEW MEXICO: A large group of friends from Chase’s squadron–plus Chase’s brothers–are flying out to Taos for a weekend of skiing later in January.  The original idea “fell out of the sky”, but the planning involved moved this opportunity more towards the side of the spectrum labeled “work” ;).  Our friend, Kim, scoured the interwebs until she found a cabin large enough to house our group on the cheap.  Other details, such as how to get groceries on behalf of the group, how to rent gear, etc. make this trip a logistical feat, but I’m sure it will be worth it!

I’m especially excited for this trip, as it will potentially check off two bucket list items! After a skiing accident a few years ago resulted in a New Years Eve ER visit, I’ve been slightly pretty darn scared of snow skiing.  So the Taos trip this year will hopefully accomplish two bucket list items: (1) “Snow ski and not fall down”, which was added after the unfortunate events of last time, and (2) “Overcome a fear”.  A very very real fear.

Snow Klutz

THAILAND/CAMBODIA/VIETNAM: On this day next month, I’ll be putting up a Gone Fishing Traveling out of office message, and packing my backpack.   This opportunity has been a long time in the making–I’ve always wanted to travel in the Southeast Asia region, but last April was when the idea really took root.  Some might label it the trending “quarter-life crisis”, set in motion by my recent birthday, but in reality, it was much less glamorous.  I was rifling through some old study abroad pictures and missing the adventure of it all terribly.  That’s when it hit me that a) I’m not married, b) I don’t have any children, c) I have the time off and a tiny travel slush fund saved up, so WHAT AM I WAITING FOR?!  I could craft a whole new adventure, if only I were brave enough to start.

After that realization in April, the wheels started turning in May.  I immediately requested the time off and reached out to many friends and explained my plans, inviting them to come along.  I formed a basic travel path of places I really wanted to see, and booked my stay in various cities (all had 100% refund cancellation policy if I cancelled up until a week before).  In June, one of my co-workers decided to join me on the adventure, and we booked our flights.  More research and planning occurred in July – September…TripAdvisor, travel blogs, and well traveled friends were the best resources.  October and November were the months of vaccinations and visas.  We also booked some fun excursions and two more travel buddies jumped in for the Cambodia and Vietnam portion of the trip.  In December, we discussed odds and ends like bus vs. train for intercity travel and how we planned to communicate with each other and our families while abroad.

And now here we are, a month before the trip, and I can tell you we have a LOT planned.  We will be kayaking and snorkeling in the bays of Thailand, exploring temples by bike in Cambodia, hiking, taking cooking classes, and piecing together the history of the areas we visit. Planning this trip to make things go smoothly has been a labor of love, and even still…I can guarantee that we will have a slew of roadblocks.  It’s travel, after all!

I’ll be in touch to give updates over the next few weeks! 🙂

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