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!

 

 

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.  

Watch your feet
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!

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

City skyline
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!  

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.

Sighing over Singapore 

Today’s post is starting out with an early morning airplane selfie… the shine in my eyes showing my excitement to be flying again after so many bus journeys lately!  (Well, that, and also I think I had a grease smudge on my camera from my breakfast croissantwich.  Tempted to leave the smudge – who needs a fancy beautifying app when a fingerprint over the lens hides wrinkles?!) 

Said flight was on JetStar Pacific, taking us from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore.  The final destination of the day was actually Phuket, but we broke up our travels with a long layover – just enough time to get a feel for the city highlights.    

With 6 hours to spare, the first thing we did after clearing customs in Singapore was drop our backpacks at the Left Luggage lockers and bought a train ticket to get ourselves downtown.  (One little asside I’ll mention here: even though the individuals we met in Singapore were all very lovely, customer service staff seemed less inclined to be helpful.  At the airport and again at the station we would get to the front of a line only to be told in a disinterested voice to “go to the counter there”.   This happened about 6 different times!)

Finally on the train I alternated between idly people-watching the commuters and reading the notices posted on the walls.  I wanted to show you, but one of the first signs I saw said No Taking Pictures.  While on the train it’s also important not to talk loudly or obscenely, don’t carry strong smelling food, no eating or drinking ($500 fine), no smoking ($1000 fine), no flammable goods ($5000 fine).   The effort to create a utopian state seems to work from a quick glance by an outsider; but later in the day our cabbie seemed to hint the control went a bit to far.  He said there are people out to watch all the time and will report anyone for the slightest infraction.  I’m curious, but I don’t know enough about the freedoms or lack thereof in the country to question for further comment.

This may seem strange after the previous sentence, but I couldn’t help but love Singapore while I was there.  I felt like I could easily live in the bustling downtown as an expat for a year or two, near a beautiful harbour and world famous gardens.  I just might google job opportunities in Singapore when I get home…. 

When Tricia and I first left the train and began walking around Marina Bay I couldn’t stop ooohing over it all.  I saw joggers on the boardwalk around the bay, and busy business people taking their lunch breaks on outdoor patios.  The gardens, of course, and the museums and the skyscrapers with cranes and cruise ships docked in the distance.   It was love at first sight for me.   Like any new love, in my besottedness I made some bad decisions; namely ordering an $18 drink just because I wanted a Singapore Sling in Singapore.  I could feel the bartender rolling his eyes at me from my table outside, but the waiter was happy!  I didn’t even like the drink, now I’m the one rolling my eyes at myself….

Skip the Sling

And without further ado, my shots from a quick walk around between flights.

On my way to pose nicely, but I ended up liking this shot best. Thanks Tricia
These are real – not plastic! photo credit to Tricia
Enjoying the sky gardens
Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion
Marina Bay Sands hotel


I wish I had captured more photos, but I chose to leave my camera behind and walk around lighter for the day.    So you might not know it from this post but I still remember:  Singapore is a beautiful place! 

A Vietnam Voyage

I need more time in Vietnam.  I know I say things like that all the time – but I really wish I had more time here now.  I’ve had this zip of happiness bubbling in me since I arrived across the border, and each day I’ve been delighted by something new.  Maybe I was already primed to love this country between the positive stories I’ve heard from friends and the charming way I entered, by small boat and the Mekong River; or maybe there is still a joie de vivre lingering in the atmosphere from the former French influence.  Whatever the reason, Vietnam is high on my “return to” list.

I took a little break from writing to just completely enjoy myself, and now that I’m trying to sort it all out there’s so much to say I’m not sure where to start… since they say the beginning is a good place I guess that’s what I’ll do! 

The boat our tour group was led to in Phnom Penh elicited some chuckles when we first saw it – the tiniest little vessel in the harbour would be our home for the day’s journey down the river!  Cozy, I guess…  With about an hour left to go before our arrival the sky turned dark, the wind raced and sheets of rain dropped from the sky.  I never worried about the boat capsizing but I was closely watching the crew as they attempted to navigate nearly blind.  

Little river boat
Peering through the rain

Thankfully, as I’ve become accustomed to in SE Asia, the rain storm didn’t last long and by the time we arrived at the harbour we only endured a light sprinkle as we walked to the hotel through the small city of Chau Doc.

Absorbing the city on the walk to check in

Day two in Vietnam began before the sunrise when we set off to visit the floating markets.  Life along the Mekong Delta revolves around the river, and commerce is no exception.  Larger boats will arrive stuffed to the gills with produce and anchor offshore until their items have been sold.  Small boats come alongside and purchase their selections while even smaller boats putt past selling drinks and breakfast.  Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, these Vietnamese boats! 

A scene from the floating market

Breakfast to go at the floating market

As boats are for Chau Doc, scooters are to Ho Chi Minh City.  I feel like I’ve seen a lot of busy cities with chaotic roads during my travels – that contrast to home is part of the fun for me – and Ho Chi Minh doesn’t disappoint!  Getting around the city was an adventure all its own, and the perfect chance for me to use RideGuru again.  I wanted a do over since I ended up not actually finding a rideshare company to use in Vancouver, (plus I ended up with a super cute little swag bag from them, if I’m being honest).  Free wifi is really easy to find in HCM City, and with that it was a quick click to bring up cost estimates using my exact location.  I booked two different Uber trips through RideGuru and both times the fare was within a couple dollars of the estimate I was shown on RideGuru 

Moment before my rideshare car arrives

The one downside to the days in Ho Chi Minh was saying goodbye to the rest of the tour group as we all went our own separate ways from here.  So to Joe, Gemma and Eric, Maisie, Dawn, and Mia – good luck with the rest of your travels!  It was an absolute blast exploring Cambodia and Vietnam with each of you!! 

Craving some quality beach time after all the busyness of the tour and cities, Google informed me that Vung Tau is the closest beach town so we set our minds to get there asap.  I wanted to double check the best way to get there so I stopped in to ask one of the travel agents near the hotel.  She told me not to go there, that the beach was filthy, and then quite adamantly told me the departure times of a shuttle to some other beach further away.  Her forcefulness made me suspicious, and assuming that she receives a kickback from that shuttle company I chose to ignore her advice.  It was a gamble because Mia and Tricia were coming with me and I didn’t want to disappoint, but thankfully one that paid off.  Vung Tau is a town with a great feel to it, we got a room in a beautiful resort for less than the cost of a grungy motel back home, and the beach was fine.  Some litter marred it, but no more than I’ve noticed at a lot of other developing nations’ beaches. 

On our last day there (sadly after Mia already left) the hotel manager introduced himself to us, along with the head chef and some other staff memebers.  We chatted for a while and assured them we loved our stay there and assumed that was the end of the story.  Hours later, the most beautiful gift showed up for us from the manager and chef.  

Hand carved wonders

Personalized carved watermelon and pumpkin!!  These pictures do not do justice to the artistry; each detail was exquisite.  Enchanted by our gifts, and especially the sweetly proud way they were offered only to delight us, we promised to stop in if we ever find ourselves near Vietnam again in the future.  If you go to Vung Tau, stay in the DIC Star Hotel and Resort! 

This South corner of Vietnam that I was lucky enough to visit has me magnetized, already pulling at me to return.  

Delightful

Better than expected Bangkok

When was the last time an experience was a pleasant surprise for you?  I’m curious about that now as I sit and process my past two days in Bangkok, pleasantly surprised at just how much I’ve enjoyed it here.  Don’t get me wrong, I expected to like it – by nature I tend to go through life with an “everything is awesome!” outlook, but I had also entered Thailand’s main city with the preconceived opinion that it was a busy smoggy city much like any other.  Everyone always says to get out of the city as fast as you can, and tour around the countryside instead.  At the moment I tend to disagree, because had I left immediately I would have missed out on being wowed by the kindness of its citizens. 

Thailand is in official mourning after their King died.  I’m not sure what it would be like here during a regular day, but what I witnessed over and over again was the unique camaraderie that comes from a united population.  All along the crowded sidewalks people would be stationed to give out free bottled water, or meals, snacks, and photos of the king. Thousands of them.  And often an extra effort would be made to let us know we were also welcome to take what was being offered.  Beyond that, there were several times both days when someone passing by would stop to point us in the right direction, translate for us, or even lead us for 10 minutes down the winding roads to our destination. 

Finding commonalities in adoration
Memorials set up all over the city
Hundreds of thousands paying their respects

Many of the usual tourist highlights in the city are closed or adjusted this week, but the ones we did see were stunning.  

We started at Wat Pho, the temple complex of the Reclining Buddha.  

Wat Pho
At Wat Pho (shared photo credit with Tricia)
Wat Pho images of the reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha’s face
Reclining Buddha’s toes
Wat Pho
Guarding the entrance at Wat Pho
 

As per usual during my travels, much of the day was spent walking.  I love seeing a city by foot and thankfully Tricia’s a good sport about that – we just need to make pit stops for food all the time and street vendors are the perfect solution!  

I tried the octopus

Between all the eating and temple touring we found time to shop.  Bangkok has everything you could possibly want, and more tourist-trap knickknacks than you can imagine so it’s easy to get lost in the markets.  Figuratively and literally.   The good thing about backpacking is how reluctant I am to buy things I don’t really need, since I know it just means I’ll have to huff it around for the next 20 days.  I was feeling quite proud of my shopping self control, until I realized it’s really only the instant reward of lighter bags with the delayed gratification of knowing I can buy it all when I’m back here before my flight home.  One for the win! 

While wandering the shops along Khao San Road, happily hypnotized by all the sensory onslaught around us, we talked ourselves into trying a fish pedicure.  Seemed like a fun way to cap off a day of new experiences.   Aaaaand, we hated it.  Yes, our feet were soft after the little fish ate away all the dead skin but I can achieve the same with a pumice stone and way less ick factor.  I was suddenly reminded of my biggest childhood fear in the summers at the lake: “What if fish come and bite my toes?”

Barely keeping it together (Photos by Tricia)

Early morning of Day Three has us meeting up with our tour group and setting off to Cambodia.    But before we go, here are a couple more shots from Bangkok.

Quiet riverside lounging
Water taxi
Temple

More miles and Milestones

Guess where I am again right this very moment?   I’ll give you a hint…. in the background around me I’m hearing “cookies or pretzels? Cookies or pretzels?” on a continuous loop anytime I pull out my earbuds.   (Side note for anyone that may get tired of hearing the flight attendants always say the same things, even though you know what to expect on the flight:  I promise they are more tired of having to say it with a smile a trillion times each day!)     So you guessed it – I’m on another flight!!  Today I hopped over to Vancouver to trade in the windy weather of Calgary for the rainy wet West Coast.   And also to actively avoid the adult pressures I have at home…. life seems so much simpler when I’m literally running away from my problems!   Not that I recommend that – please do as I say and not as I do!!! 

So speaking of doing as I say… I’ve recently found a great website that has the potential to make my life as a traveller much easier.  Have you heard of RideGuru?  If you haven’t yet, I say you should go look them up!!  This handy site helps sort out the options available between ride share companies, and will give a realtime estimate of the costs for each option, including a traditional taxi cab.   It’s like comparison shopping for modern transportation!  Here’s a peek at what I had today when I pulled it up on my phone:

My RideGuru screenshots

Super easy!  And since I like things that make my life easier, this automatically ranks pretty high in my books.   Unfortunately, keeping with my “aimless” title apparently, I realized with hindsight that a little planning may still be a good idea, even when using a smart new website.   If you look back at the bottom left screenshot in the picture above, you might see that the Uber ride is from Vancouver Washington.   Turns out that Vancouver B.C. still has a lot of restrictions in place on rideshare operators, and there’s no Uber here.   So we took a taxi, but at least thanks to RideGuru I could anticipate how much it would cost!

In the cab, because Vancouver doesn’t have Uber
Rain on the window

That I had a little hiccup in my travels probably doesn’t surprise anyone who has read my blog before.  I seem to do this a lot, launching into action before looking at the details.  Maybe one day I’ll learn – but then what would I write about if everything went smoothly?! 

A pint at the harbour

I’m lucky enough to have high caliber friends in multiple cities who are willing to put up with me when I say things like “Hey! I’m in town for 5 hours – want to show me some city hotspots?”  And two of the best happened to be available to do just that today in Vancouver!  From our first perch overlooking the False Creek Harbour, to a scenic walk through a rainy park and into a new Distillery at Granville Island, I don’t think I stopped laughing.  Next, with a little help from RideGuru, we zipped to Yaletown and settled into yet another pub.  Usually I spend a day walking through a city; today I ate and drank my way around.  I like to keep it balanced!  

My day with Mark and Dave
These poor guys had to listen to me gush all day about how much I love writing my blog, and while I’m sorry for being repetitive, I’m currently a little obsessed in my excitement about all this.  I am over the moon thrilled with the response I’ve been getting, and it truly makes my day learning that people read what I write.  From they bottom of my heart, thank you for following along aimlessly with me!!  I reached a big milestone today – 500 WordPress followers!   So exciting!