Little Trips

I’ve been feeling a little mopey about the fact that I haven’t been travelling lately, and can give about a hundred reasons why “I deserve” to feel this way… (just look at what I was doing a year ago!) but then it was pointed out to me that it’s not an entirely true fact that I haven’t travelled – more so an opinion of mine.  And so, I guess I have to admit that yes, I did spend a week the Dominican Republic, then a day in Panama, and weekends in Vegas, Jasper, and Seattle.   Fine – if we’re going to get technical I supposed I still have had a pretty great summer adventuring around.  Why is it that I always feel the need to see more, go further, lose myself somewhere new??  (I could easily spiral into all sorts of ridiculous thoughts like; ‘My identity is a traveller: therefore do I lose my identity and fade away when I’m not away?’)

Glossing right past the silly existential questions for now, I want to share some of the moments that stood out for me this summer.  My most recent jaunt was to Seattle for a quick work event, and while I won’t bore you with those details I will tell about my day exploring Seattle’s famous sights.   I may have a grownup job now but I still really enjoy my aimless explorations, and so when I travel on my own I very happily throw planning aside just to see what comes my way.  I chatted with the hotel clerk and found out that I could take the free shuttle to the airport, then hop on the train from there to the centre where I would find the city’s highlights, so that’s exactly where I started.  Stop number one for me was the famous Pike’s Place Market.  I knew it was busy, but I have to admit some shock at JUST HOW BUSY it is!  I did a bit of digging after, and discovered that it’s in the top 40 destinations by visitor number in the whole world.  Crazy! ( Tourism stats )  I liked seeing it, though, even if I was almost equally amazed by the people watching as I was by the oldest continuously operated farmers market in the US.   My wanders took me through the market, along the piers, downtown to coffee shops, past the Space Needle and back to the water.  It’s a pretty city indeed on a sunny August day!

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Moving back in time, I had a previous work event that brought me to Las Vegas.  I’ve been there several times before so this didn’t hold the same wonder and awe for me, but I still had a great time walking the famous strip after dark to marvel at the neon lights, and sitting by the pool with a novel the next morning before my flight home.

 

More exciting for me was July and exploring my own ‘backyard’ in Alberta.  Have you ever been to Jasper before?  It’s stunning.  You should plan a visit.  Even though it’s an easy and scenic 5 hour drive from my front door, I haven’t been since childhood – I generally go to Banff instead, less than 2 hours away from me.  But a long weekend camping trip in the cutest little cabins has me convinced I’ll be back again!IMG_0653

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Continuing in my July adventures at home, I took in some time at the Calgary Stampede.  If this is something else you haven’t heard of, look it up and plan to come.  It’s a huge city-wide party, a cultural homage to our heritage, a thrilling competition and vibrant midway all packed together. ( Calgary Stampede )   And I just love it!

 

Prior to all this I kicked off my summer 2017 down South with a little quality beach time. Thankfully my cousin decided to get married in the Caribbean so I had a chance to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  I wouldn’t typically chose to go to an All-Inclusive resort, but I was thrilled with the chance to go and celebrate with family and friends.  So often I’m alone when I’m away from home and this made it an extra fantastic treat to be in the middle of a huge group of friends this time.  And now if I ever go to resorts again, I know I’ll want about 40 people I adore there with me.  At least.

Going into this week in Punta Cana, I knew that this would be my last trip with the freedom to just book my own employee-pass standby flights, so I wanted to make the most of it.  I didn’t know exactly how I’d be getting home until the day prior – when I saw that I could fly directly to Panama.  OF COURSE that called my name!  Spending time in Panama would mean that I’ve been to each of the North American/Central America countries and I just couldn’t resist.  (and, I plan to celebrate that milestone again if I ever go to each Caribbean nation.  I haven’t done that yet!)   I didn’t have long, but I made the most of it in Panama by choosing a charming hostel in the Casco Viejo Old Town in central Panama City.  This is the epicentre of the tourism in the city and gave me the freedom to walk and explore.  I loved walking along the bay and taking in the contrast between the glittering new high-rises and the old Latin/Spanish legacy.

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Pretty good for only 14 hours in the country, hey?   I hope I get a chance to go back and see more of Panama.

So looking back with a little more gratitude, I can clearly see that I had a great summer and even one worthy of dusting off my travel blog.    But let me tell you, I have higher hopes for my fall!

 

 

DRC Dreaming

I seem to remember saying that I’d write about my time in Central Africa, way way back and long ago… I’ve been wanting to get to this for ages, but somehow day after day I find myself without a single second to spare for creativity.  Shame on me.  But in my defence, it’s a bit tricky to get wrapped back up in the emotion of travel that took place so many years ago.  I have so many great memories, and I will never forget what it was like when I first opened the door of our aircraft and looked out at the little airport in Kisangani, but I’m struggling with the best way to translate that feeling to these words.

Here we are now, though, ready to zip back through the years and across continents.  I was 22 years old when I first arrived and completely unable to contain my excitement of the adventures ahead of me.  I was so naive to the struggles the Congolese population has had to endure, starting out entirely enamoured with my own thrill of the unknown.  I brushed off the well-meaning concerns from my family, friends, and colleagues; now with a little more maturity I feel bad about the way I handled that.  Remember the invincibility of youth?….    I’ve mentioned in previous posts how I used to be a flight attendant, well that’s also what brought me to the Congo.  The charter airline I worked for won a contract with the United Nations, flying support for the World Food Programme.   (Want to learn more?  Follow this link: WFP in DRC )   So we brought a little propeller airplane from Calgary to the Congo – a four-day journey and quite the story on its own! – and took up residence in a local motel compound in the city.

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Dash 8 in DRC
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That’s me!
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Lots of waiting at airports – finding shade under the wing
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Home Sweet Home

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a stunningly beautiful country.  I remember dense forests and jungle, massive rivers, mountains and volcanoes and lakes with shimmering water in jewel tones.  And actual jewels.  The country has so many natural resources, including diamonds and gold, that we would joke about wandering the riverbanks in hope of “accidentally” collecting gems in the tread of our shoes!  One thing absent from my memories of the Congo are wildlife sightings.  The first couple weeks I was there my I had my eyes constantly scanning the forest along the sides of the road hoping to see some of the animals Africa is famous for, but without any luck.  A long history of hunting has meant that very little wildlife remains anywhere near the cities.

Mountains and lakes in the North East
Near Goma
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Congo River
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Daily Drive

 

As a crew, isolated from our families and the familiarity of home we became close over the months we lived in the same compound.  Most of the time two other crews were also living there; I remember crews from South Africa and also from the Netherlands, and we became our own little community inside the high walls of our home motel.  We would have our meals together outside under a thatched roof in the centre courtyard, often sitting around and sharing stories until late in the evening.  I remember one ‘art vendor’ that would come by each Saturday night who must have been friends with the gatekeeper – he was the only one ever allowed to come in and show his wares to us.  We bought paintings and carvings, bracelets and earrings, but drew the line and all gasped in horror the one time he brought us an animal skin.  He seemed genuinely surprised that none of us wanted to buy the leopard pelt he unrolled with another painting.  That really wasn’t at all what I meant when I said I wanted to see animals!

The city of Kisangani is visually fascinating as well.  Home to roughly a million people, give or take by a wide margin, history is a part of daily life as old Belgian-style buildings from the Colonial days stand scarred by bullets and rocket grenades from the decades of conflict.  Take a turn down a side street and you’ll find traditional clay and thatch structures housing modern businesses or families each speaking on cell phones. FullSizeRender 57FullSizeRender 56

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Kisangani commerce

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Kisangani Gas Station
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Kisangani
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The Congo River is part of daily life
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The sweetest little server at an outdoor restaurant.  (photo credit to Jenilee)

And now, while I’m happily reviewing photos, here are a few more of my favourites.  I’m pretty sure these images are more interesting than any words I have left anyway.

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Joy personified

Looking back on it all, I can’t quite believe I got to live life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a place so few Westerners are able to see.   I remember the military, and how we would need to stop everything we were doing twice a day to show respect during the Flag Ceremony, when the country flag was raised in the morning and lowered at night.  I remember seeing small pickup trucks full of young men and machine guns.  I remember kind and generous individuals just happy to show me their home, and being amazed that so many people just seemed to exude happiness in a way I was unaccustomed to.  I remember having to require our passengers, mainly ex-guerrilla soldiers we were bringing to the city to start new lives, to place their guns in the cargo hold of the airplane and my UN provided security/translators trying to explain why an AK-47 couldn’t stay on their lap for the flight.   I remember the friendships I formed during my many months living there.

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Jenilee and I share a taxi

 

Moving Forward

Forget Your Past.  I hear well meaning people say things like this a lot, and it’s generally really good advice, in the context it’s meant.  Or, it’s hard to spend 10 minutes online without seeing some variation of this as an inspirational poster:   Don’t Look Back.    Yes, yes. By all means, do not get so tangled worrying about your past mistakes that you tie up today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward again lately, so of course I’ve heard heaps of this.  I appreciate the advice, I do.  I’m just feeling contrary right now.  There’s so much still that I want to be able to remember with a smile, or tears when they come; and I think I may even be in a phase where I need to look to my personal history in order to figure out my best next moves.  Some of this I mean tongue-in-cheek, too, like how I need to look back at my past travels in order to sustain me through this current flightfamine I’m in.  Travel is my personal nourishment, and I’m fading away – my malnourished sense of adventure dwindling daily while I drudge to my desk.

So my next few posts will be all about looking back in order to move forward.  First step: Get deliciously lost in my memories and daydreams of previous trips while I look to start writing here again.  Second step: Gain back some momentum with my travel blog, thus inspiring myself enough again to find a way to convince my employer I’m due for a week (at least) off.  Third: Pounce on that time off and zip away to explore some more of this big beautiful world, camera and laptop in tow for the blog!     And in that happy frame of mind again, I fully expect to be able to sort out all these other life details I need to get to.

So that’s what I’m going to do.  I can’t wait to tell you about my time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo!

 

 

Crabby Cabbies

This post starts off with a disclaimer: the following may not be as nice as the usual tone of my average posts.  But I am sitting in the backseat of a taxi right now, hoping I’m on my way to the airport, still trying to quell my tense unease.
It started about 10 minutes ago when I walked out of my very fancy hotel room, in a major American city and right downtown, into the misty rainy night.   I saw three taxi cabs at the curb right in front of me, and I hesitated for a moment in case there was a queue. I tried to make eye contact with the drivers of each to see if there was an order, and when none seemed to move I took another step forward. The driver of the cab directly in front of me smiled, so I started towards that car. He opened the trunk and just as he was lifting my bag there was a furious blare of a horn behind us. For a split second I instinctively thought a car crash was happening in the intersection, but as my eyes registered the angry arms and clenched fists I saw it was clearly no accident. Into our stunned immobility started walking a sight that added another layer to my disbelief of the current events. Long white hair, stringy, uneven and matted, topped a faded black denim coat layered open over a green plaid flannel jacket and dirty t-shirt. The most nightmarish Santa-in-opposite you could imagine.  This was the other driver, coming out of a branded and licensed city taxi cab, livid over an accidental slight. The first driver set down my bag and started backing away with apologies in an attempt to appease.  I stopped him and said I didn’t want to ride in a car with such a furious driver.  By this time the doorman of the hotel appeared and tried to diffuse the situation.    The angry driver was placated and I was informed he had been in line and was the next due for a passenger. I shrank back, and said again I wasn’t comfortable getting into that car now on my own and I would like take another ride. To which the doorman asked “hey, you spooked her. Are you ok to drive?” as he Placed.My.Bag.In.The.Trunk!  I still didn’t move and was protesting again when I realized that I seemed to be the only one fazed by this outburst.   I suddenly noticed a uniformed security guard standing about a metre away, eyes down, and many other people at the hotel entrance and on the sidewalk. The doorman’s voice pulled back at my attention and I heard him say softly “it’s ok now, he’ll be alright. Get in, you’ll be fine.”

So I did. 

And my stomach clenched with unease the entire time. 

In the time it took me to write the above paragraphs I arrived at my destination but the story isn’t finished yet.  At least now you know I’m safe.  The ride was anything but fine, though, with my internal monologue churning; asking myself if this guy was drunk (probably not) or homeless (so what if he is? It’s good he’s working, right!?) to wondering if I should worry about being kidnapped (doubtful) or not arriving at the airport on time (much more likely).  The first five or so minutes of the drive passed with the car giving the little chime warning of a seatbelt undone.  I watched as he spent a few minutes reaching behind him and fussing with the seatbelt he had fastened behind him, then suddenly he tells me “I’m not going anywhere” as he stops the car in the middle of a residential street. My fight-or-flight response revved high again as he opens his door and got out; and I’m not sure it was actually relief when I saw he was only getting up to stretch the still-buckled shoulder harness across him.  As we drove off again he explained to me that “this seatbelt was the trickiest one he’d ever seen.”  We lurched on in the darkness, the car constantly changing speed as he see-sawed his foot on the gas pedal with sporadic regularity.  Any time I would look up at him or our surroundings I would imagine myself peeping through my fingers, though of course I was much too polite to actually let him know I was terrified, other than a quiet frightened gasp that escaped my lips once.  He cursed to himself after veering for an exit and missing it, which prompted me to stop writing and look again at my google maps. “Did we make a wrong turn?” I asked him sweetly when I saw we were not where we should be and he grumbled he missed the North Access road in a manner suggesting someone else was at fault. I watched him as he hunched forward over the steering wheel to peer out past the windshield wipers and rain and I spent the rest of the drive simultaneously in silent prayer, writing the beginning of this post, AND watching my map to help guide him. 
An eternity later, I finally stepped out of the car and collected my suitcase, nearly 45 minutes after I walked out of the hotel. It seemed exponentially longer than the 30-35 minutes I had expected! I asked the driver his name, and made a mental note of the car number and company with the full intention of writing a complaint to the company and also the hotel…. maybe I still will, but by now I’m not so sure. As I sit safely in my cozy airplane seat, writing out the rest of this, my main emotion is sadness for this driver.  I feel bad for him, because as I spoke to him briefly he seemed to brighten, giving me a glimpse that he’s probably had a very hard life and I worry how my complaint may affect him. Then I think that even though he may need the job, should he really be driving the public?? I don’t know yet what I’ll do…. 

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The ironic part of me writing out this story (Entirely True Story!) is that I had been mulling a bit about crabby cabbies already before this happened. Last week I was on the other side of the USA in a small city with a decidedly back-woods vibe. (I’m choosing to withhold names, obviously)  Again, as it was tonight, that morning I was alone leaving a hotel and on my way to an airplane.  When the taxi finally pulled up, my first thought was to giggle and look around if I was being pranked.  The car was an ancient rust bucket painted lime green.  I could smell old cigarettes before I even got in, and as the driver opened his door to stow my suitcase he drawled “I hope you haven’t been waiting too long… I had to stop and make sure my Momma ate her lunch.”  This was going to be my most crazy cab story – until tonight!  During our short drive he proceeded to tell me all about his family squabbles; a nephew that stole his mother’s car, a good-for-nothin’ brother, and his sweet momma with her dementia.  All this and much more I learned over the blast of his old classic rock radio, while I did my best to nod and not look too shocked.  When I handed him my visa to pay he launched into a tirade against big banks, and how he gets charged for each credit purchase… At least he was sweet in his complaining.  He spoke to me as if I were a trusted co-conspirator with him, us against my the world, and the grin he gave me when I was able to find enough cash to pay with instead of my card made me glad I was able to.

I feel like I should wrap up with saying that this is not my normal transportation experience.  I haven’t run the stats, but for effect I’d say 95% of the taxi and Uber drivers I’ve had have been great, 4.9% have just been fine, and only 0.1% make me worry.     But a good driver isn’t likely to make a good blog story! 

The More Things Change…

Remember that old cliche saying – The more things change the more they stay the same ?   I’ve been thinking that quite a bit over the past week, and it’s never rung so true for me as it has recently.   I used to consider it a silly expression, but I think life taught me not to be so quick to judge the old folk wisdom.   Here’s a recap:   Seemingly everything in my life has changed over this past year, and much of that within the last few months.  One of those changes was my work, and I wrote about this major career change I was beginning about a month ago; yet here I am again tonight in a hotel room in a city far from home, doing a new version of the same job I have for the last decade.  It’s amazing!  I had a quick conversation with a friend about this bizarre twist in my career and was reminded “you’re good at it – roll with it!” so that’s exactly what I’m doing…. and soaking up every moment because as far as I know this is still a temporary blip rather than a mainstay of my new job. 

I was able to take a day during one layover to explore Hollywood, California for an afternoon.   I’ve been to Los Angeles before, but this was my first time walking down the Hollywood Boulevard and the Walk of Fame.  My friend Jenilee also had the time off, so we set out together to see what we could see.  The day was a little chilly,  but as long as we did our best to stay in the sunshine and avoid the wind it was still pleasant enough to be walking outside – a nice treat for late December according to a Canadian! 

Right when we first arrived, we were greeted by an Art Deco style monument.  I had never before heard of this – I’m not sure it’s one of the famous landmarks – but with its replicas in silver of four of Hollywood’s early screen stars it was a nice start to the Walk of Fame. 

“The Four Ladies of Hollywood” monument

Next step brought us to the stars… and some comical moments as I realized that along this crowded stretch of street NO ONE was watching where they were going!  We all had our heads down, reading the names of the Stars as we walked along.   I think for every celebrity name I heard called out by tourists wanting to be excited there were almost as many “excuse me” and collisions narrowly missed.  

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Is it narcissism or normal to search for my name on the stars?
 

One guy picked this crowded location as his spot to demonstrate, so for about 45 minutes we heard his chant amplified through speakers and a smattering of participants.   I don’t think he likes the upcoming government very much…. 

Continue walking further away from the largest concentration of people, and found we almost had the streets to ourselves.  All the better to study the stars and surrounding architecture!

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There’s something about this building I love
Faded glamour
Art Deco awesomeness

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Christmas Day on Hollywood Blvd
 

The rest of the week brought more change – time in 3 different cities – but again the changes are familiar in some way.   I’ll write more about that again another time!  

Angkor Wat Again

It’s -26 degrees celsius where I live right now, and as if that isn’t horrific enough we have the distinct displeasure of a windchill bringing the feel of the temperature to -33.   Yes that’s actually true and not a typo.  I have a cup of tea, a big cozy blanket, and blinds over the window so I don’t have to see the wintery misery outside; I’m directing my focus solely to happier memories of warmer climates!  And my first trip down memory lane brought me back to Cambodia, which I remember being more along the lines of 30 degrees celsius above zero instead of below.   Ahhhhh, feeling warmer already….

But I don’t think I’m going to write much tonight since I’m feeling much more visual than verbal.  Instead how about a few more of my pictures from Angkor Wat out of the 250 or so I took that day?

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These women came to Angkor Wat to celebrate a Buddhist Holy day.
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Temples hidden in the Jungle
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Ta Prohm temple ruins
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Gentle Guardians
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Ancient Hindu carvings on a temple wall
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216 faces of Buddha carved at Bayon, Angkor Thom
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This sweet Buddhist monk
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Serenity
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Just past a “Beware of Monkey Attack” sign, this cutie appeared
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A tourist (me) with a shot of another tourist taking photos of other tourists
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Angkor Wat

Seeding Good Luck

I still have two days in Bangkok at the end of my trip that I want to write about.  They were incredible, and a very different experience from my first days in Bangkok at the beginning, before the tour.  I remember so many different snippets of stories that I had begun drafting in my mind while we were there, and I was excited to share the contrasts with what I had written a month previously when I was first experiencing the city.  So why haven’t I written that?

As has been my pattern already, if I get behind in blogging I end up procrastinating.  When I let too many days pass from the emotions and thoughts, what I actually felt in the moments I write about, my posts just end up seeming stale and forced, a list of what I had seen and done.  Dull.  So I avoid it, and my blog.  Self-perpetuating non-motion.   To shake that now I think I’ll just chatter about what I am feeling currently, and hopefully as I go on I can find a way to loop it back to the topic at hand: travel and the Thai capital.

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This week I’ve been feeling a little untethered.  My 5 month leave of absence from work is almost over, so this era of being a full-time traveller is wrapping up (for now??…).  At the same time nearly all of my other external identity markers have also disappeared or changed, and it’s a bit hard to handle all that all at once.   I spent years defining myself by my job:  I was a flight attendant, not only that, but a Corporate Flight Attendant.  When I return to work next week I have a significant career change that I’ll need to wrap my head around.  I used to be a Wife; I’m not anymore, and tied to that I used to be a Homeowner until we sold our house in the suburbs last month….  Writing this paragraph has sparked a memory for me, and I had to pause to dig through my notes for a quote that was given to me by a friend a few months ago.  It fits here for me now.

Each misfortune you encounter will carry in it the seed of tomorrow’s good luck.  – Og Mandino

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I know those little good luck seeds are already germinating in my life, and I’m looking forward to seeing what great things spring up in the near future.  And in the meantime the best way I know how to keep myself sane and happy is to dream about travel.  It really is the best medicine for me!   The picture I used for this quote is from a courtyard at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, and it reminds me again of my time there.  My first few days were all about touring temples and streets full of food and vendors and massage spas and backpackers. (you can read about Better than expected Bangkok) And my final days in Bangkok: restaurants bursting with personality and shopping and expats.

We were able to meet up with a friend who has lived there for the past four years, and she was a perfect host and guide!  It’s aways fun to laugh with an old friend so we would have enjoyed ourselves regardless, but Corrie knew so many great spots we were almost run off our feet trying to cram it all in.

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speaking of feet
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Ali and Corrie

Here we are stopping for a quick selfie at the MBK Centre.  This place is a massive, seven storey mall used by locals and tourists alike.  I don’t even feel like I’m exaggerating when I say it has everything!  I definitely made good on my plan to wait and make the bulk of my purchases on my last day before going home!  Souvenirs such as curry mixes, tea, exotic fruit candies, clothing, jewelry and watches…. my list goes on.  Tricia and I had to get reallllllly creative in packing to get everything in our luggage for the flights home!  And when we weren’t shopping, we were eating.  Which I love!

 

Look at that – I did circle back and steer this post to Bangkok!  I know it’s a little light on details and funny stories this time, but considering the mood I was in when I began writing this post and how much better I feel now, I’m calling this a personal win anyway.  Thanks for reading along with me.