Coloring on Tables in Paris: Paris, France

Day 7
Nice --> Paris

We left early by train for Paris only to be welcomed by the rain. Our Air BNB is larger than the last and also very clean, but is hosted by a French speaking Asian woman and her son, so communicating with them was hard. Being exhausted from traveling we decided to go to dinner and then straight to bed. I found a popular restaurant in our arrondissement, which is what the administrative districts that Paris is broken up into is called. We were staying in the 11th, near Le Republique and Rue Oberkamp, which is a popular district for young people. The restaurant, Le Artista, gives each table crayons and a mat to color on so it was a fun meal. I also tried foie gras, duck liver, in an attempt to be adventurous. While I didn’t like it, I did force myself to eat it. 

Pad Thai & Glamour: Monaco

Day 6
Nice & Monaco

Today we woke up and ate breakfast from the groceries we bought in an attempt to save some Euros, then headed to Monaco. Well, we actually planned to go to Eze, but missed our numerous stops and ended up in Monaco, only 40 minutes or so away from Nice by train.

When I found out that Monaco was a whole other country (my geography knowledge is pretty much nonexistent) I was quite pleased. Another country to scratch off on my Urban Outfitters world map!

Monaco is pretty, but is more touristy and ritzy, taking away from its’ overall effect. We walked through the hills and got some macaroons before quickly losing interest and heading back to our beloved Nice. For dinner we searched the city for Thai food, which I was randomly craving, and then got drinks on the terrace of a trendy restaurant. Blake also informed me that he eats kiwis with the skin and all so naturally, not believing him, I bought one and forced him to prove it, expecting him to chicken out and admit his prank first. But, he didn’t. Now, I will never go through the hassle of peeling a kiwi again.

Nice is nice: Nice, France

Day 5
Barcelona --> Nice, France

Fast forward through two hours of sleep and Blake and I were up again to catch our flight to Nice. Completely dehydrated and possibly still drunk, the task of getting on our flight was rough. Like, post Full Moon party throwing up on a ferry rough. After a long metro ride to the airport, we discovered that we were only able to bring one bag on the flight with us… we each had two. The Zara in Spain was too cheap to pass up and I naturally dropped a couple hundred euros there, causing my backpack to swell and pore over into another bag that Blake, by transitive property, was forced to carry.

Now, you know the saying of how you should travel to a third world country with your significant other before you marry them? You know, to see how they hold up under pressure and all that good stuff? Well, while Europe is obviously not impoverished, Blake and I had still been pretty good travel partners, making for a so far positive outcome to the discoveries that the idea of traveling together is supposed to reveal…. Up until the security line at the Barcelona airport.

One of the guards yelled at us, telling us to consolidate our bags, forcing us to awkwardly rip open our luggage and jam more things into the already bulging backpacks. If Blake wasn’t already annoyed enough with me for buying a whole new wardrobe in Spain then the icing on the cake came when I stood over him giggling as he shoved my dozens of rompers into his duffle bag. You see, I have a super bad habit of laughing when I’m nervous, which I tried to endearingly explain to Blake as he commanded me to put on my 5 pound wedges in order to free up more space in my bag.

Wearing three sweaters around my waste and looking ridiculous with heals on in an airport (there’s a special place in hell for girls who insist on dressing up just to sit in a cramped airplane for hours), we made our way through security both mad and ready to kill the other. Me, pissed that Blake squashed my cute daypack into my other bag and Blake fed up with my over packing.

When a woman security guard told me I had to put my bag through the checkpoint again, this time with all my electronics in a separate tray, I almost strangled her. For a good half hour, Blake and I didn’t say a word to each other. But, some much needed water and a few booze soaking, fatty foods later, Blake made his way over to sit on my lap, forcing his kisses on me and declaring that we were friends again. Back to showing that silly relationship/travel saying what’s up.

We finally landed in Nice where we once again encountered a traveler’s mishap when we discovered the bus we needed to get to our Air BNB was on strike. This is apparently very common in France. Damn French. So, we resorted to a taxi, but the odd thing about taxis in Nice is that they’re all Mercedes or BMWs. Seriously, the cleanest, nicest cars. Picture the USC Kappa parking lot on steroids and you’ve got what’s supposed to a taxi service… come up. Downfall though is that this clearly means Nice is out of our poor, 1-year post grad, eat ramen nightly, steal ketchup packs from McDonald’s budget. But, this worry over money, or lack thereof, was instantly overshadowed by the views from the 6… aka our BMW taxi window.

Nice is truly the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Water so clear and fluorescent blue that it looks like a Lo-Fi filter has been applied to the entire town. Not to mention the winding hills and mountains that surrounded the harbor filled with rows on rows of sailboats and 70 foot yachts. I kept brainstorming career ideas that I could pursue if I moved here, that’s how much I instantly loved it. English teacher or nanny perhaps? Need to learn more than merci and Voulez vous coucher avec moi. Yes, that 2nd one is from a Christina Aguilera song. Better than nothing?

We got to our Air BNB and our host Olivier let us in. The apartment was perfect. While only one dorm sized room with a separate cupboard sized bathroom, it was still adorable. It’s Santorini blue accents, skylight and window overlooking the mountaintops sealed the deal for me- I was officially infatuated with Nice.

Having only 2 days in my new favorite spot, we quickly headed out to explore. Nutella crepes were the first order of business. Then, we walked around a bustling area of the city, called Old Nice. The streets were lined with people eating and drinking and there were tiny shops everywhere. There’s also one big open town center area where people sit outside and eat for hours.

My favorite part of the entire trip though, (which I can accurately say because I’m writing this a week later on my solo train trip to Cordoba- staying true to my writer ways) was a long, narrow park near the city center. We sat on the albeit fake grass and watched as dozens of kids climbed all over the wooden dinosaur playscape. Fully enamored with Nice, we then went to a beautiful restaurant on the harbor for mussels and the best pasta I’ve ever had. Nice for the win. 

Coconut & Opium: Barcelona Continues

Day 4
Barcelona

Unsatisfied with the amount of the city we’d seen, we woke up on our last day in Barcelona and went first to Park Guell- a large park overlooking the city, then to El Born- the most amazing neighborhood I’d ever seen. The stone streets were lined with adorable shops and apartments. I couldn’t have been happier. By now, Barcelona had stolen my heart, even more so than Madrid, which I didn’t think was possible. I sat there eating my 4th coconut gelato of the day, daydreaming of what life would be like if I moved to Barcelona..

Then, after discovering that a few of our friends from USC were in the city, we got ready for yet another night at Opium with Lindsey, Teeter, Bernie and Alex. We met them at their hostel, which was “rock and roll” themed and filled with young college and post grad travelers all chugging vodka Red Bulls, preparing themselves to stay out till 6 am.

Now, mind you, this was a Monday night and still Barcelona’s partying was in full swing. Clearly the city lived up to my nightlife expectations. We headed to one bar with all the fellow hostel stayers, where I stole a bag of chips and then went to Opium… again. We met up with Eve who was studying abroad in Barca. Opium wasn’t nearly as cool as it was the first night, but being there with friends made it a blast nonetheless. 

Bratislava & Pinterest: Barcelona, Spain

Day 2
Madrid --> Barcelona, Spain

Being unable to breathe out of one nostril all night (thanks allergies), I woke up at 5 and tossed and turned for the next 3 hours. When sleeping beauty Blake finally joined me I left him at the hotel and ventured to get us food and more importantly, allergy medicine. Now, we are in the MAD airport waiting for our flight to Barcelona.

The flight was quick and easy and we landed in Barcelona’s airport where our Air BNB host, Raquel was picking us up. Following her directions, which she had emailed me earlier in the week in broken English, we headed out the terminal to an airport bar. Raquel, a very tiny, 30- something Barcelona native recognized me before I did her. We hugged and introduced ourselves- me in a mixture of Spanish and English before I realized she spoke pretty good English- something she was hoping to perfect by going to California one day. Here she was, dreaming of studying English in LA, while I had set out to Spain to become fluent in Spanish. What a funny world.

Raquel drove us in her baby-sized car to the Air BNB, which was located in Badalona, a smaller city on the outskirts of Barcelona. Blake and I hadn’t fully done our research on the area so we were a bit surprised by the warehouse turned Air BNB located in a barren, unglamorous place that Blake compared to Bratislava. The room was studio style with a lofted bedroom area. Nothing special, but it was clean and after roughing it in Asia on my first real abroad trip last year, I was content.

We showered and unpacked and navigated our way to the metro to head to La Sagrada Familia. If you don’t know the cathedral, which translates to Sacred Family, it’s a well known landmark in Barcelona. It towers over the surrounded buildings and boasts a smooth, marble exterior with carvings of the saints and crucifixion. It’s outside is breathtaking, even if it’s still under construction and won’t be completed for another 10 years. Later I found out that the architectural works outside pales greatly in comparison to its’ innards. But, more on that later.

We decided to then venture into the city center to see other tourist marks such as the Gaudi houses. I knew I really wanted to see Casa Batllo, one of the two of Gaudi’s most famous homes, thanks to pictures I had seen on Pinterest (basic, I know). And, it lived up to its’ hype with detailed curves and brightly colored features.

After getting great use out of my selfie stick we headed to one of the restaurants Raquel had recommended. A trendy, local spot hidden away from the other tourists was Elsa y Fred. We ordered tartare, potatas bravas and watermelon salad. Oh, and a full bottle of white Sangria, of course. My happy meter was at full before we rushed home to get ready for a bar crawl later that night.

Now, if you know me, then you know that nightife culture is a big factor that determines whether I like a city or not. It’s not the only thing that matters though, don’t worry; I’m not that uncultured. After all, throughout all of SE Asia, Koh Tao was my favorite and it had very little to offer in terms of drinking and socializing. But, I’d be lying if I said that the famous night clubs in Barcelona weren’t one of the main reasons as to why I so badly wanted to fly across the world to be here. Judge me. So, tonight we were signed up against Blake’s will for a party bus that would take us and all the other drunken foreigners to three bars before ending up at the famous, #1 on every list, Opium.

Wary at first that this excursion would be lame, Blake and I kept to ourselves before I finally branched out and made some girlfriends in the most cliché place possible- the bathroom. It really is true that girls are way nicer to each other in bar and club bathrooms. The two girls asked me if I was from Canada thanks to my Michigan accent and told me they were from Toronto- my inability to correctly say the word bag or any other word with long A’s made me two new friends. We formed a group with them and this guy from New York that Blake had befriended and got to drinking.

The second bar was at the top of a hill overlooking the city and would have been a picture perfect date spot if it wasn’t for the 30 blacked out tourists looking to get lucky. Bar 3 was a mini version of Opium where shots were passed out to all. Then, the main attraction of the night- Opium. It’s hard to describe the club because there are intense strobe lights that prevent you from even seeing your dancing partner one foot away from you. We blindly danced and sat on the beach before going home and sleeping till 2 the next day.

Hasta Luego America! Europe Here I Come!

Day 1
LAX --> Houston --> Newark --> Madrid

You all know Blake as the self-proclaimed frat star who runs around screaming “Live Ever, Die Never” and spray paints the word “Frost” on walls in Europe. That’s one side to him. The other, that a few others and I know, is that he’s actually just a large baby. Literally, he loves playing airplanes with the 3-year-old I babysit (who is coincidentally named Blake also). Also, he’s probably seen Frozen more than any little toddler has. So, that’s why when I tell you that when we woke up at 4AM to leave for Europe today, you won’t be surprised that he was a grouchy, pouty child. Once we arrived at LAX after an Uber ride featuring the post ghetto rap music possible, Blake proceeded to sleep in the fetal position on the chairs by our gate. I, on the other side of the spectrum, was too excited to be tired as I did leprechaun style jump kicks throughout our terminal.

Then, commenced flight one of three before we’d get to Madrid, the first city on our itinerary. Now, here’s another thing you should know about Blake and I: we have a knack for unwillingly attracting the weirdest of people to talk to us. Seriously, it’s like we carry around a big sign that reads “Please come invade my personal space and tell me your life story.” From Uber drivers who make wallets out of duct tape to Italians visiting SF who tell us about their sex lives as we eat 50 cent wings. We always find ourselves trapped in strange conversations. So, that is why again, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that a man sitting in our aisle on the flight decided we should all be best friends. He showed us videos of his nephew drinking Mountain Dew as if it was the winning video on America’s Funniest Home Videos (it wasn’t) and insisted on giving me his email so I could send him pictures of Europe. What an eventful morning it has been.

The rest of our flights consisted of lots of hangman, wine and Brooklyn 99. After popping a few melatonin we fell asleep and woke up in Madrid. After wandering around aimlessly trying to find our bus for a while, we finally got to the right one and headed to our hotel. Yes, we’re being divas on this trip and staying only in hotels and Air BNBS. But, let’s be honest, there’s no place for couples in hostels. Also, Asia possibly ruined my views on hostels for good.

We settled in a bit then headed out to explore the city, running on two hours of sleep and one croissant. We walked through the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen- rose gardens, winding hills spotted with couples and the greenest trees imaginable. Toto, we aren’t in Los Angeles anymore! Later on in the day we split a bottle of Lambrusco in this park while various couples full on made out and groped each other all around us. Side note, there’s a heavy chance that what we thought was Lambrusco was actually cooking wine, but it tasted good so I’m fine with it. Back to the horny Spaniards. Turns out that in Spain, they have no term for PDA as they believe kissing in public is no different than in private. Hence, the numerous women straddling their lovers on the park benches.

This park is also home to a gorgeous pond alongside a statue called Monument to Alfonso XII. People rent little row boats and paddle around. Or, more so, the men row around their girlfriends and wives while they sunbathe- myself included. Aside from the park we explored the city’s breathtaking cathedrals and palaces. And, we of course ate plenty of cured Jamon y Iberica. Madrid is so far my favorite city on earth. It’s both historical and modern and is big enough while still maintaining a quaint, cute feeling. Turns out though, that I’m incredibly allergic to the city as it’s known for having a high pollen count (according to Google). My eyes are so red that it looks like I’m on the verge of tears at all times. Which, is maybe why every time I attempt to speak in Spanish, the locals take pity on me and reply in English. My months of private spanish lessons are helping, but the combination of how fast Spaniards talk and my anxiety that I’ll say the wrong thing are prohibiting me a bit. I try.

We napped for a while and Blake fought me until I finally woke up and then headed out for dinner. After our jaunt in the park we tried- and failed- to go to El Corte Ingles, a shopping mall with a “gourmet food” experience on the rooftop that our friend’s recommended we try. We got there too late though and settled for a Mexican restaurant nearby. Nothing like going to Spain just to eat Mexican food. Pina Coladas and jet lag set in and we headed to bed, not quite prepared for the nocturnal Spanish lifestyle just yet. 

Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai & Bangkok

Day 20 to the end

Once again I forgot to write. Seriously, what is my issue! I’m honestly writing all this after arriving back in America so this portion of my trip will be short and to the point.

Koh Tao --> Koh Samui

We headed off to the final island of the trip, Koh Samui. Here, we rented our own Air BNB, a nice modern house on the top of a remote hill, complete with an infinity pool. Heaven for us girls.

One of the days, Jackie, Lauren and I decided to take a break from Asia and went and saw an American movie, instead. We chose the movie San Andreas Fault with the Rock to watch in the Thai movie theater. A HUGE mistake. Being the only Americans in the theater, we were the only ones who fully understood that the whole film was about California being ripped to shreds by an earthquake. I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or over exposure to the sun, but all three of us were hysterically sobbing… for the entire movie.

From scene one to the very end, we were balling our eyes out. That movie is pretty scary and watching it in Thailand, where we were both lost and exhausted, did not make it any better. It was hilarious watching us three lose it in the theater while the poor Thai people wondered what on earth was the matter with us.

Then, probably the funniest part of the trip, was when us three went and got massages after the movie. It was so funny because after the massage, Lauren told us that her lady pretty much just petted her while she laid there for an hour. It was a you had to be there typeof thing, but I cry laughing over it even as I type this weeks later.

Another little adventure during this portion of the excursion was when Lauren, Jackie and I almost got mauled by dogs as we walked home from the movie. Yes, we brought this upon ourselves as we chose to walk, up the giant hill to our Air BNB, as the sun went down. I used to consider myself to be pretty street smart until I did this.

You see, dogs in Thailand are trained to be guard dogs that sit outside of each home. So, when people walk by in the dark, naturally these dogs get protective. We’re walking up the hill, with our groceries in our hands, and start to realize we have absolutely no clue which way to go. By this time, it’s getting dark fast and we’re all starting to get nervous. Each house we walk by, different dogs come out and bark at us as we skittishly make our way around them. Mom, here’s where you stop reading.

Then, exactly what we feared would happen, did. We’re walking by one house when all of a sudden a dog comes charging us full speed, teeth bared and growling. Terrified, we huddle together as Jackie screams. Luckily, my survival instincts kicked in and I use the most calming, welcoming voice I have on the dog, while yelling for help at the same time.

Thai people are known for either being extremely nice, or pickpocketing you the moment they get near you. Praise God that the people living in the houses near us as we were getting attacked were the nice versions. Hearing our screams and potentially recognizing the word “help” in English, a group of Thai men came to our rescue and shooed off the dog. They then had us climb onto the back of their motor bikes and drove us up the hill. Granted, they could have easily detoured to a hidden part of the area and killed us as we so trustingly got on the back of their bikes, but I couldn’t have cared less, that’s how scared of the dogs I was.

They dropped us off and sticking true to the nice end of the Thai spectrum, didn’t let us pay for their help. We were shook up and mad at ourselves for being so dumb. Besides the cab ride to the jungle party, this was the riskiest part of the trip.

Koh Samui --> Chiang Mai

Now for the second reason I came to Asia. The elephants.

We headed to Chiang Mai after the island, which is home to Patara Elephant Camp, an elephant reserve that allows tourists to come and “adopt” an elephant for a day. If you know me, you know elephants are my favorite animals on earth, so I was ecstatic for this part of the trip.

You arrive at the camp and are instructed to put on a thick shirt and pants, because elephants surprisingly have super prickly hairs. After putting on the garb, you sit with your group and learn different commands to say to the elephants and how to feed them. Then, you get paired with your elephant for the day. The way they choose which elephant each person will ride is they observe you and place you with the one that matches your personality the most. I naturally was paired with the youngest of the male elephants, an 11-year-old who was known for being stubborn. I got the hint.

After being paired with them, you spend some time feeding them and getting to know them before finally climbing onto their backs. Once you get to the top of your elephant is when the real fun starts. Obviously elephants are huge, but being on top of one was significantly higher feeling than I had expected. The tour guides take you through a river and up the mountain while you ride on the elephants head (you sit closer to the head both in order to control the elephant more and because it hurts them less than on their backs).

There were a few times where I found my elephant wandering over to the edge of the mountain to eat, while I desperately tried to grab on to its’ ears or anything to hold on to so I wouldn’t fall off. My elephant’s trainer didn’t seem to be phased as he watched me struggle and did nothing to stop it. Tough love. The whole day was incredible.

Besides the elephants, another highlight of Chiang Mai was the cooking class we took. We were bussed to a market where we followed around our cooking teacher as he showed us which ingredients we would be using to later cook our own Thai meals. Then, we continued on to the instructors house, out in the boonies in a Thai field. There, he taught us how to make dishes like Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice. It was so much fun and the food, to my surprise, was amazing.

Chiang Mai wasn’t all PG rated though. We met up with the guys from SAE again who were staying in the city the same days we were. We pre-gamed at their place, a huge, clean apartment, which was a welcomed place for us as our hostel was sub par and went out to a popular part of the island where there are five or so bars all in one area. This was super fun and super hazy. I found myself dancing next to the DJ, undoubtedly annoying him with my song requests. I actually liked the nightlife in Chiang Mai more than I even enjoyed the Full Moon Party. There was a lot of dancing and different bars to choose from, so I had a blast.

Chiang Mai --> Chiang Rai

Now for the last city of the trip: sleepy Chiang Rai. This town is about a 3 hour drive from Chiang Mai, which we took by bus, pulling over a few times for Paige to vomit after our last night of drinking with the guys. Chiang Rai was quiet and there wasn’t much to do other than see some more temples. It was a place for us all to recharge and for Lauren and I to rest before we flew home.

Chiang Rai --> Bangkok --> LA

Lauren and I left the journey two weeks before the other girls because we had jobs to get back to. So, we left Chiang Rai just us two and headed to Bangkok, where we would fly out of to return back to America.

In Bangkok, we stayed in a nice hotel and planned to “ball out” on our last night in SE Asia. Instead of going to a rooftop hotel and having a nice meal, which is what we intended to do, we found ourselves in a remote part of the city, where literally nothing was. Traveler fail.

We got our nails done as the salon owners son took pictures of us, something I allowed to happen but wasn’t quite sure why. Then, we went to a nearby store and stocked up on the most American food we could find which was… nothing. These people eat imitation crab flavored Lays….. enough said.

After that, we went to the only restaurant near our hotel and I got my last dish of real Thai made pad thai. By now, I was extremely ready to be back in America. And, the breaking point was when a gecko fell onto my head as I walked out of the restaurant. I told Lauren to get me home immediately after that.

We walked home in the dark and I quickly realized that in order to get to our hotel, we’d have to first pass through a group of dogs, which thanks to Koh Samui, I refused to do. So instead, we found a nearby building, which I think was a hostel, and I begged a man to drive us home. He couldn’t understand what I was saying of course, so I kept pretending to be a dog and making a scared face. Whether he got it or not, he still took us home.

That essentially was the end to our trip, minus flying back to Japan and then continuing on to America.

All in all, Southeast Asia was an adventure worth having. Sure, there were quite a few bumps along the way, from my sickness to developing a new fear of dogs, but the things we saw and experiences we had made it all worth it. Southeast Asia, you were the first real travel experience I’ve ever had and now I’m certain I can face any other trip that I may take in the future. Until next time. 

Full Moon Party: Koh Phanghan & Krabi, Thailand

Day 13-16

Koh Phanghan & Krabi, Thailand

The party isn’t over yet. After a flight and a few ferry rides and one night in Krabi (where I experienced Pad Thai for the first time and discovered I hadn’t lived till then), we ended up in Koh Phanghan. Koh Phanghan is the island home to the famous- or infamous?- Full Moon Party. This party, and the chance to ride elephants, are pretty much the only reasons I came on this trip. Priorities, right? Before I try to explain the craziness of this island, though, I have to first touch a bit on our night in Krabi. I will begin with our hostel. Located in Krabi Town, Pak- Up hostel was easily my favorite of the trip. Each room had a difference school subject based theme to it. Our room was DIY themed. We were also given a free drink at the hostel bar, which brace yourselves, was called a “big black cock.” They named it, not me! This, as you can imagine, was quite entertaining to us. We also visited a night market, which was also my favorite of the trip. We ate Thai cuisine and watched people perform songs and dances on a stage in front of a large area where hundreds of people sat and enjoyed the entertainment. Our time in Krabi was short, but very worth it.

Okay, now for Koh Phanghan, get ready. I’m going to make it a bulleted list because there’s really just too much to tell.

1.     Our hostel was terrible. Like, back breaking, I’d rather sleep in the streets terrible. It was obviously created for partiers, which is actually what the whole island exists for in the first place. The beds were nothing more than slabs of wood. My hips actually bruised from sleeping on it. Luckily, no more than 20 minutes a night were spent sleeping thanks to the parties.

2.     This island exists, like I said, solely for parties. The streets are lined with shops selling trashy, neon clothes and body paint… a must for Full Moon Party. I, of course, spent the rest of my baht (Thai money) on painting my body in preparation for the night. I covered myself in neon flowers, skulls and tribal print. I was very much so in my element.

3.     For days leading up to Full Moon party, there are numerous pre parties. Full Moon, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a famous beach party that happens once a month, every full moon, and brings out thousands of people from around the world. Numerous people also always die at each party. So, if that doesn’t explain how crazy it is, not much else will. The pre parties are equally as crazy too. Everyone who’s anyone starts their nights off at The Dancing Elephant, an intense party hostel equipped with alcohol buckets and a DJ. We started here each night. The first night, we then went to the beach. All of the girls, but Paige and I headed back early. Paige and I stayed on the beach and danced for a while. I woke up with a flower crown that I have no recollection of buying. Success. The second night was the jungle party; it’s exactly what it sounds like too… a giant party in the middle of a jungle. By now, Alli and Gillian have joined us on our trip. I finally have people who are equally as nuts as I am. The most noteworthy part of this night was the “cab” ride there. You see, cabs in Thailand are more like huts on wheels. You sit in a truck bed with no seat belts and a slab of metal as the roof with two rows of seats lining the sides and facing each other. We somehow fit about twenty people into this pathetic excuse of a vehicle… and it was terrifying. I’m a serious risk taker and to have me say that this ride was the riskiest thing I’ve ever done is serious. I’ve truly never been more afraid for my life. The driver was flying down the mountain roads as we all screamed and prayed. The entire taxi there Alli was holding me in like a man made seatbelt and I sat on her lap in a near panic. One random girl was hanging out the back of the truck and I kept screaming at one of our new friends to hold her in. “DO NOT LET HER DIE” I shrieked at this poor man who I had just met. The rest of the night can be summed up as EDM music, a crowded jungle filled with sweaty bodies and fire dancers. Lauren sprained her ankle so all of the girls except Caroline and I left early. There seems to be a theme where I’m always the one who stays out latest. Interesting.

Last but not least, was Full Moon Party. At this point in the trip, we discovered that a group of SAEs from USC were also traveling through the same areas of SE Asia as we were. One was Jackie’s ex, ironically. So, we met up with them before Full Moon and pregamed at The Dancing Elephant before heading to the beach. Alli and I broke away from the group early on and partied together the rest of the night, making new friends and attempting to use fire toys. Alli and Gillian jumped rope with a rope lit with fire (one of the crazy trademarks of the party) and I (for once being smart) stood by and watched as they burnt themselves. Instead of socializing with people for the first part of the night, I also found myself climbing to the top of one of the bars on the beach and sliding down a water slide over and over. The slide throws you off at the end with so much momentum that you just fly through the air, flailing, and either crash into whatever unlucky bystander isn’t paying attention or make a fool of yourself as you crash to the ground. I loved it.  For the second half of the night, Alli and I hung out with a group of guys we had all met at the start of the week and danced up at this bar at the top of a cliff together.

4. Jetskis

5. Mushroom Mountain

6. Vodka and Redbull Buckets- I decided to embrace the speed

7. Sunrise on the beach after Full Moon. Yes, I stayed awake until after 7 am. 

Sorority Girls Rule Siem Reap

Day 8-12

The Rest of Siem Reap

Well, in typical Katie fashion, I’ve failed to write since leaving Cambodia. You’d think a journalist would be better at this but alas, my hot mess self got lazy.

I am now in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The second to last city I’ll be visiting. Literally I missed writing the whole first part of Thailand, I have a commitment problem. So, accept my apologies and bare with me as I try to recount two weeks worth of unrecorded travel.

The rest of the week in Siem Reap was spent exploring the less popular temples of Angkor Wat and touring the city itself. The city is adorable and the night life is great. I’ve been named as the “social chair” of the group, a nickname given to me by the girls in true ex- sorority girl fashion. I’ve been appointed this because I’ve been pretty good at finding us fellow backpacker friends.

One night in Siem Reap, we got dinner with a group from Washington D.C. Later, we went to the most popular hostel bar, Monkey Bar, again. Here, we got involved in a huge game of flip cup. And, if I do say so myself, Americans are way better at drinking than other nationalities.

The six of us, 120 pound girls schooled everyone else at the game. Thanks USC for my minor in partying. Fight on. Clearly, our days of endless fraternity parties payed off. We also went out to some other popular bars like Angkor What?! And Temple Bar. Siem Reap did us well. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Day 9

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Instead of staying out until 4 am today, we woke up then. Before assuming we’re all crazy, let me tell you why we decided to do this after a long day of blistering hot sun. We wanted to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, to watch the day break from behind the giant temple.

Our tuk tuk driver, the same one as yesterday and our new friend, picked us up in the pitch black and drove us to the temple. Now, when I say pitch black, it’s not an understatement. I couldn’t see Carleigh, even with her bright blonde hair, more than one foot in front of me. In reality, it wasn’t the safest idea we’ve ever had, it was definitely how little girls get murdered. But hey, we’re being adventurous remember.

He dropped us off and we wandered blindly up to where we thought the temple was, our little iPhone lights no match to the dense darkness. Once we hit the entrance (like actually hit it by running into the rock structure) we paused for a while deciding what to do with the empty hole ahead of us, with nothing else but black behind it. Finally, we followed a man in who had clearly done this before and knew where to go. He was on a mission.

We set up camp at the very front spot next to a body of water known as the reflection pond, the best seat for the view. The stars over our head left me awestruck. The pitch-black canvas of a sky was glittering with thousands of them. Toto, we aren’t in LA anymore? How anyone can look at that and not believe there is a God who created them, is beyond me.

The sun finally rose, slowly at first and then suddenly all at once. I wish my little phone could accurately portray the beauty we witnessed; it was a once in a lifetime thing. After some exploring we went back to the hostel and slept for hours, understandably so. 

Playing Tomb Raider: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Day 8

Siem Reap

Today was a day of temples. We tuk tuk’d to Angkor Wat first. The size and detail of this temple was breathtaking. I’m usually more impressed with God made creations than man made ones, but this one was a marvel. Obviously, considering it’s one of the 7 wonders.

I was in awe that mere humans were able to build something so huge back when things like supplies and equipment were hardly available. We then checked out Ta Prohm, where Angelina Jolie filed Tomb Raider and Bayon, another of the temples. Ta Prohm had an Atlantis type feel to it- deep in the forest and covered in vines. Bayon was amazing and my favorite, with faces carved into stones facing each direction on every pillar and with heights towering above any of the other temples.

We attempted to go to sunset back at Angkor, but the line was too long and we didn’t get in. At this point, though, no one really cared, the heat made us sweat as if we’d just gone swimming. A quick dinner and bed followed, we could barely keep our eyes open by the end. 

French Fries & Monkey Bar: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Day 7

Phnom Penh --> Siem Reap, Cambodia

 I was sad to leave Phnom Pehn today since I liked our hostel so much, and it was the first time I found American food (seriously, how pathetic am I). But, little did I know that Siem Reap would be even more amazing. The city, not the hostel, that is.

The hostel has a weird shower that isn’t separate from the toilet and using the shower head is like wrestling a snake. After you finally manage to master holding the shower head in one hand while simultaneously washing your body with the other, everything in the room is soaking wet.

Anyway, I love Siem Reap. There’s a couple streets called “pub street” where all the action happens. The food is interesting, but in a good way. We toured the city today then hit up a popular backpackers bar called Monkey Bar. It’s on the roof of a hostel and has sand floors and beer pong tournaments.

We met some fellow travelers and played drinking games with them. Later on, Jackie, Lauren, Carleigh and I went to pub street. We met a group of guys from Boston and bar hopped with them.  Which, by the way is great, because getting drunk and going out in a strange country as just all girls can be a bit intimidating. 

Illness Strikes & Cambodia Arrives: Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Day 6

HCM --> Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Another early start to the day as we set off to Cambodia via a 12 person bus. By now, I’ve naturally developed strep throat and some sort of an infection because well, that’s just how my luck goes. Traveling is not agreeing with me.

Cambodia is way more my style than Vietnam. It’s more relaxed, less traffic, more rural and the people are so friendly. Not to mention the kids are adorable. It makes me wish I was here on a volunteer trip so I could spend more time with them.

We walked around the city a bit. Phnom Penh is confusing. You’ll be walking along a street clearly lined with poverty and then all of a sudden look up and see a house or apartment building that looks like it belongs in the Hamptons, not third world Cambodia. Hell, I’d live there!

Our hostel is adorable too. Cute little living room and a dorm for eight, which we share with two English girls. We also went to a market and looked around a bit. I then headed home to try to rest and get healthy. 

Thousand Year Old Egg: Last Day in Ho Chi Minh

Day 5

Last Day in HCM

Not much to say about today- it was a travel day. We had breakfast with Tran’s grandma where I tried a thousand year old egg, not horrible, and a Vietnamese bread, which Tran described as their version of garlic bread, which turned out to be a huge lie and I had to force myself to swallow it. Then we shopped a bit and got a foot massage, the highlight of my day.

Chinese & Vietnamese: Ho Chi Minh Continues

Day 4

Ho Chi Minh Continues

Today we woke up bright and early to head off to a tour of Vietcong tunnels and monk temples. The temples were beautiful and filled to the brim with monks. At these temples in particular, they practice Daoism, Christianity and Buddhism.

We then got back on the bus and drove to tunnels where the Vietcong hid during the Vietnam War. Everything at this stop was clearly anti American. The tour guides even laughed and joked as they pointed to pictures of dead American soldiers. My patriotic side was a bit unnerved and frustrated and I kept thinking that if I were to bring my redneck grandfather or Uncle who fought on the frontlines of the war here, that a new battle would begin.

But, this feeling of annoyance quickly went away when they let us shoot an M16. My inner badass was seriously excited, even though it lasted for no more than two seconds as I fired off my rounds.

The tunnels, however… not so great. They were so tiny we were practically crawling. I never knew my self to be claustrophobic, until I found myself shoving the girls in front of me trying to get out of the underground hell faster. The darkness, humidity and heat didn’t help the cause either, so I only made it through 20 feet. Pathetic. I can’t fathom what the soldiers went through living down in those things.

We went out once we got back. The night life here is very unique. People literally just sit in children sized plastic chairs, like the ones I used when playing house or had a lemonade stand to man. And the streets are PACKED with people sitting in these chairs, you climb over them just to get a drink. Turns out the Red Bull here has speed in it too, which I discovered after drinking a few Red Bull vodkas.

The night ended after a bit of bar hopping and free shots from strangers. The speed apparently turned me insane too, because the next morning I woke up to Carleigh telling me I had slept talked like a total psycho. She said I kept laughingly saying “Chinese and Vietnamese” to her in my sleep. No more speed for me.

Fighting for Pennies & Scaring Grandpas: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Day 2 & 3- It’s a Blur

Ho Chi Minh

After the grueling 17-hour flight we finally got to Tran’s stomping grounds, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The first thing anyone will notice about this city is its’ humidity. It hits you like a never-ending wave. Jackie’s cousin drove us to her grandparent’s apartment from the airport, it’s a little area above a children’s clothing store. It’s common here for homes to be above shops.  Jackie taught us how to say hi- Jao Mung and thank you- Gau Mung. I later asked her how to say sorry- Sin Lo, because I keep bumping into the tiny Asians all around me. Jackie’s grandparents were trilled to meet us. Well, that’s what Jackie told us, it’s hard to tell considering the fact that Asians always sound so mad with their loud and sharp way of speaking. Lauren scared Tran’s grandpa at first, I don’t think he’s ever seen a red head.

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The apartment is two floors with winding, cement stairs connecting the two. All six of us are sharing one room, two girls per bed. Luckily, Carleigh and I got the big, non bunk bed. We all fell asleep immediately. The next day we basically toured Ho Chi Minh. We went to a market where I bought a scarf and elephant pants- baggy cloth pants with colorful designs that are sold on every corner. Blake introduced me to the comfy pants since he’s been here before and sadly, wears them way too much.

At one point in the market I had two women fighting over me and tugging my arms in different directions, each trying to get me to buy their pants over the others. I just stood there saying help. I also found that when I’m at these markets, I try to haggle the sellers into lower prices, which means the difference of maybe 50 cents because everything in Asia is so cheap. The money to me is like Monopoly money, I just throw it around aimlessly. It’s kind of sad really to be fighting with these people over nickels and dimes when they clearly need the cash more than I do. Yet, here I am, fighting over each dime. Oh, Americans.

We ate some pho and got massages (an obvious must when you’re in Asia). My little Viatnamese masseause showed me no mercy, she was pretty rough trying to get my knots out! They literally sit on you when they give you a massage. I was fighting back laughter on the inside. We then all passed out for a couple hours- a massage will do that to you.

After waking up we got food, fried rice with a side of flies (kidding, but they were everywhere, making me an unhappy camper). Then, we went to a hostel and played beer pong with other backpackers. Caroline and I lost twice, once to a Swedish girl named Johanna who I now consider to be my spirit animal—super cool chick who’s traveling the world alone, yeah… I wish I was more like her.

Friday we woke up and Tran took Paige and I to the park where her grandma works out. Then we wandered through a food market, which I struggled with because of all the fish everywhere- both dead and alive. I’m a bit of a pansy when it comes to that smell.

After that we took off to a day trip to the Mekong River Delta. Once we arrived, we got into tiny, wooden boats and were rowed to an island, called Unicorn Island, by tiny, but incredibly strong women. Once at the island we each held a boa constrictor, sorry mom, tasted honey tea (so good), ate traditional fruits and saw how coconut candy was made. At the end of the tour it started downpouring so we had to wait out the rain as it was impossible to even see across the river, let alone cross it. The storm was amazing though. I haven’t seen a storm like that since leaving Michigan. 

Leaving the USC Bubble & Heading to Southeast Asia

Day 1

LAX --> Japan --> Vietnam

I’ve made one mistake so far on this trip. I forgot to bring a notebook to journal all of travels. How disappointing, as a journalism major, and as someone who used to diary every aspect of her life, to forget something so simple. Clearly I’m still in a fog from graduating. So, here I am writing in this cheap notebook I bought at the Japanese airport. I don’t actually know how much it cost, though, as when the women who I bought it from spoke to me in Japanese and all I could do was make a dumbfounded noise of confusion and throw money to her. Maybe I should have studied Asian phrases and customs a bit more before embarking on my 13 hour flight to Japan followed by another 6 hour one to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

That is where I sit now, next to a guy named Alex who is here for his friend’s wedding. The flights have been better than I had expected. The Dreamliner was spacious enough and Jackie and I were able to convince the boy sitting between us to switch me seats. Poor sucker sat in the window seat and I swear, he didn’t get up to pee once (Asian thing? – kidding). This way though, Jackie and I were able to synch our movies to play at the same time. Yes, we’re children. We watched “Wild”- I’m trying to get into an adventurous spirit, can you tell?

Speaking of adventurous, I was just interrupted mid sentence by food from the flight attendant. I have no clue what I just ate. Rice and fish of some sort… I think. Where’s my honey chicken and fried rice? Actually wait, that’s the wrong country. Maybe I should have studied Asian cuisine as well before packing all of my stuff up into my car and then flying off to Southeast Asia for a month. But, I guess I’lll just fish out by beef jerky for now. This odd meal was followed by a mini bottle of Fireball, compliments of my new friend Alex. At least that’s a substance I recognize.

Now, I head to Vietnam to stay with Tran’s family. I’m nervous and exciting. There are no showers, just buckets and all 6 of us girls are sharing one room. Recipe for disaster. But hey, adventure, right? I just finished reading “we Were Liars”- a sad book which made me tear up awkwardly as Alex pretended he didn’t notice. Now I’m on to Gone Girl. Why did I choose such depressing books for my trip?

In one day, I’ve said goodbye to my boyfriend, Blake, for a month, traveled across the globe and now sit here on a small Asian plane wondering what lies ahead of me. I’m both ready and totally unprepared at the same time. Stay tuned.