Nepal: Resilience at its Finest

IMG_1733.jpegMy family may be finding out about these adventures now, through this very blog, and I do want to apologize for not mentioning it —  as cliché as it may sound, due to the spirituality of these places, I really wanted my trip to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet to be focused internally — on using travel as a visceral way to journey both outside and inside of me.

I’m not a Buddha, and I’m far from being at peace with many things in life, but what I’ve come out of this trip acknowledging is that that is OK — that the very feeling of peace and happiness is impermanent, and that it’s all about perspective. These are things I thought I knew, but boy is it easy to forget.

Anyhow, without further ado, I want to introduce a brief photo journal of my journey, which I, unlike many of my travels, decided to embark on through a travel company. This, in many ways, reduced the stresses that come with planning and logistics.

26 March 2018: Arrival in Kathmandu

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Upon arrival in Kathmandu airport, meet guide and transfer to hotel.  

*First impression: nice, clean air  – later found out that Kathmandu is one of the most polluted places on earth, especially after being devastated by an earthquake in 2015, but that did not take away from its beauty.

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Bread-making in Kathmandu

01 April 2018: Paro-Kathmandu

 

Transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu and visit two World Heritage listed religious sites – the Pashupatinath Temple-the holiest Hindu Temple on the bank of the holy Basmati Rivera and the giant Boudhanath stupa. See devotees taking ritual dips in the holy Bagmati River. Afternoon travel up to Swayambhunath stupa set high on a hill with commanding views of the Kathmandu valley.   

*Returning from Bhutan, I was stuck by the larger amount of “Western” clothing, the human traffic lights, the symbiotic integration of Hindus and Buddhists, and the strong culture around cremation.

It takes an entire hour to cremate a body — some travel far begging to die and be cremated at the Basmati River, where up to 200 cremations happen a day: 10 bodies can be burned at once, stopping at midnight. The rest are cremated electrically. Family members should cut their hair and wear only white for an entire year.

When someone VIP dies, they have the cremation area ready for them. During a natural disaster, they cremate in piles – 15-20 at a time. It is religion and art at the same time.

I was struck by the sense of solidarity: blind people sit outside of temples to sing songs and chat in the afternoons.

02 April 2018: Patan-Bhaktapur-Dhulikhel

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Heeding the suggestion by the counsel general, I took a mountain flight and saw Mount Everest  — it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, including a visit to the cock pit of the plane for more beautiful mountain views ❤ 

Check out after breakast and commence the day with a tour of Patan city, the city of fine arts and one of the three queen cities of the valley. Visit Durbar Square, Krishna Mandir and Mahavihar-Golden Temple of Lord Buddha built in the 12th century. Then visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, the third major town in the valley. Enjoy the cobblestone streets free of traffic andvisit Lion Gate, the five-storied Nyatopolo Temple and the Palace of 55 Windows. After lunch at Bhaktapur drive to the hill resort of Dhulikhel which lies 32 kms east of Kathmandu on the Araniko Highway that leads to Tibet. In old days, Dhulikhel flourished as a trading center handling commerce between Kathmandu and Lhasa. Today it delights visitors with its enchanting cultural and stunning Himalayan views. Overnight in Dhulikhel 

Newar people – indigenous – half Buddhist & half Hindu; no real conflict among them. Different architecture, language, etc. — I love their yoghurt!

Heavy reconstruction effort throughout all of Nepal after the earthquake: Men, women, children all remarkably engaged in reconstruction efforts.

03 April 2018: Dhulikhel to Nagarkot via Telkot hike.

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Morning drive to Changunarayan Temple visit the temple and hike 2 hrs to Telkot passing through the local houses by watching their daily activities and terrace farming field one side and great Himalayan views on other side. We meet our car at Telkot and drive to Nagarkot for beautiful sunset views. Overnight in Nagarkot.

*Changunarayan Temple where the history of Nepal started in the 2nd century

Road to Lhasa from Nepal was destroyed by the earthquake, and along with it, trade, travel, and commerce

08 April 2018: Lhasa-Kathmandu.

Morning we fly back to Kathmandu and visit Narayanhiti Palace Museum and Durbar Square and Ashan and Indrachock. Overnight in Kathmandu at Holy Himalaya.

*Lovely museum visit! Loved seeing the old palace, etc.

Money exchange

Massage : Blind center training massage — helping hands

09 April 2018: Departure

Transfer to airport for flight to home. Service ends.

Interesting facts about Nepal:  

  • Was part of the Silk Road
  • Was never colonized
  • 8/10 of the world’s tallest mountains are there
  • Constitution just adopted in 2017
  • Primarily Hindu
  • Buddha is from Nepal (contested — border with Nepal and India)
  • No death penalty
  • LGBTQ community can marry, have a passport as a third gender, and have equal rights
  • Babies wear black eyeliner for beautification purposes
  • Agriculture accounts for 75% of GDP
  • People living below the poverty like has halved in the last 7 years
  • 38% of all households don’t have a toilet 
  • Hinduism and Buddhism were never truly separate religions in the western sense – used same/similar temples
  • Nepali flag is the only one that is not rectangular in the whole world
  • Must try foods: dal bhat; with takari (boiled vegetables) or chutni; momo – steamed dumpling

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Bhutan: Could it Get any Better?

 

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Bhutan has to be one of my favorite places that I have ever been to. It could have to do with its strong culture of high-quality tourism: advocating for high quality, low impact, they make every tourist from the Western World spend at least $250 a day (including transport, food, accommodation, and a mandatory guide). This makes the people who come genuinely interested in the culture and respectful as the small country is not flooded with budget tourists (which I am most of the time). The country’s love for nature, culture, and peace embedded in Buddhism surpassed my already high expectations of this wonderful country.

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27 March 2018: Flight to Paro, Bhutan-

Only 8 pilots are qualified to make the landing into Paro – a relatively challenging trek, but with beautiful views of Mt. Everest on the way!

Transfer to airport for flight to Paro, upon arrival at Paro Airport, you will get your passport stamped with visa and claim your baggage and meet your guide outside the airport. After lunch at a local restaurant, we take half-day tour in Paro, visit National Museum, housed at Ta Dzong-the former Watch Tower. The museum has a wide variety of collections from fine arts, handcrafts, arms & armors, bamboo crafts, stuffed animals, stamp collections, bronze statues and also a fine chapel. From here, we visit Paro Rinpung Dzong-which means the fortress on a heap of Jewels. It was built during the reign of Shabdrung in1646. The Dzong, which houses the Paro Monastic School and office of the civil administration, is rich in architecture. The famous Paro Tsechu is held here in the courtyard of this Dzong every year in spring. Late afternoon we drive to Thimphu (1hrs)-the capital city of Bhutan. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage

 

  • Saw Mount Everest from the plane!
  • Fortress visit: in the past, everyone lived in the same fortress, not in separate houses
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  • Fortress was built by the Buddha who came from Tibet and unified Bhutan
  • 700k population; 3 women to 1 man
  • More than 23 local languages spoken
  • Ladies and men work equally
  • Phalluses everywhere because they make people embarrassed when they see them, and the sense of embarrassment purges people of negative energy
  • Strong belief in natural medicine
  • Happened to  be here for the Paro festival, which started on the 27th. How awesome!
  • Coexistence with nature and natural beings, including rocks is key in Bhutan
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  • Picnic at the Paro fortress for the Paro festival – tradition for local families
  • Having lunch where I experienced a Bhutanese dog named the same as my dog, Bella
  • In Bhutan, you have to pay $250 a day for being there —  requires/includes a guide — takes you to 3+ star restaurants to avoid food poisoning. Government gives tour company 40% of this, only after the tourists leave and if they have no complaints from the company
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  • Elders worry about the future because youth is increasingly choosing to leave to cities and there is no one to look after their land – the government is motivating youth to return, but many are opting for work in Thimphu “in front of a computer”
  • Guide said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the king/ royalty
  • Lama – chief monk, living Buddha- has lots of strict regulations, mainly 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of meditation. During this time, he has no human interaction, no cutting of hair, nails, etc. He writes on a piece of paper what he wants/needs and he has a supplier leave it outside of his door on a weekly basis.
  • They drive on the left side of the road
  • Prayer flags – believe that when the wind blows, so does the prayer – so on bridges etc.
  • Big stupa represents the body of Buddha, little stupa represents the mind of Buddha
  • Must do thongs in odd numbers – blessings, offerings, walks around stuppa
  • Gross National Happiness: composed of good government, economic growth,  preservation of culture, preservation of agriculture
  • Buddhism at its basic: be good and help others and get rid of main three poisons – greed, jealousy, anger
  • When you pray in a temple, pray for others, not for yourself
  • Lamas make a living from agriculture on property given to them by the government & from visitors who offer them donations
  • People have an allegiance to their home — work outside, save money and bring back to Bhutan via businesses and remittances
  • When people are sick, the government sends them out of the country if they don’t have the necessary resources
  • Prayer flags placed near windy and clean places
  • Roads are great in Bhutan
  • Thimphu — new capital of Bhutan and only city in Bhutan, founded by the third king, called the father of modern Bhutan
  • Artimichia plant – beautiful smell!
  • Female monks can’t be lamas
  • Rare to see a traditional house in Thimphu
  • A traditional house on a plot of land: 3 floors, bottom for cattle, second for storage, top for living
  • Colors mean a lot — red for the government, green rooftops for the schools, red and   green rooftops are for government buildings

28 March 2018:

After breakfast, we will embark on a tour of Thimphu. We visit Buddha Point at Kuensel Phodrang and then visit Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Many Bhutanese people gather here to pray every day. From here, we drive to visit a nunnery on the outskirts of Thimphu, followed by visit to Takin Zoo. Takin-the legendary animal, is the national animal of Bhutan, We also visit the Textile Museum, the School of Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum and Tasicho Dzong at the end of the day. The massive Tasicho Dzong is the seat of Bhutan1s administrative and religious center. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage.

  • Old people who can’t walk around the big stupa will walk around prayer wheels – dropped off by the children in the morning to pray for their next life — those without kids will be fed by monks and the wealthy
  • Susceptibility to earthquakes leads people to not be able to build beyond 5 stories high
  • Picnics and packed lunches are common
  • Singapore and other Buddhist countries support Bhutan – i.e. assist to financially support the building of a Buddha statue
  •  Walk clockwise, not counter clockwise around things
  • Buddha was a prince / a Hindu who left royalty upon realizing human suffering – went to meditate and experience suffering without eating – his mom who died at age one came up to him and asked him why he did this to himself & he replied that she would join him soon. He went to heaven and came back as told by bodshisatvas to come back and teach the religion to the people, which he did
  • Buddha’s second reincarnation in the 8th century came to Nepal and then Tibet where they did not listen to him/accept his teachings so he went to Bhutan – telling the Tibetans that they would come under another rule if they did not listen – came under Chinese rule
  • Believe the current king of Bhutan, and all past ones, are a god
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  • Fourth king ruled that water could be offered as gifts to the gods so that the poor did not have to give up wheat and rice they could not afford to give up
  • Seemingly resolved challenge for Bhutan: Balance between tradition and modernity
  • Peacock and horses are revered animals, as they are in Hindi because it is a Hindu-born religion
  • 2008: first time voting in Bhutan for parliament. Voting for parliament and ministers every 5 years
  • Faculty of traditional medicine: Interesting didn’t have any meds for mental problems – maybe Buddhism and prayer is the way to alleviate them?
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  • 4-6 years — in embroidery school and each year they have exams
  • 4 friends: sculpture of a peacock standing on a rabbit standing on a monkey standing on an elephant — peacock lays seed for tree, rabbit plants, monkey waters and fertilizes, and elephant protects — represents peace and harmony
  • Most schools in Bhutan are boarding schools
  • Paper factory: Boil bark of tree, separating good ones from bad ones
    • Mix water with glue
    • Press down to squeeze water out
    • Then place on modern electric walk and dry
  • Takin believed to have been created by the Buddhist monk
  • Rare to see arguments, murders, etc. – only really when people get drunk
  • Don’t kill the animals – import everything to eat from India
  • Mining is not allowed
  • King lives in a small bungalow on the grounds of the palace/fortress where he works and where the monks live as well
  • June 2: planting day — all people must plant one tree or on flower

29 March 2018: Punakha and Wangdiphodrang

With my Amazing guide, Kinley, and his friend from high school.

After breakfast, we attend Thimphu’s colorful weekend market where farmers sell their fresh produce. We can also take the opportunity to watch the archery match-the national sports of Bhutan. Late morning, we drive to Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang (3hrs). The road climbs up to Dochula pass (Alt. 3010m), where we stop to get a spectacular panoramic view of the snowcapped mountain range of Bhutan (weather permitting!). Near the pass there are many chortens (pagoda or stupas) and hundreds of prayers flags fluttering about in the wind. After the pass the road drops through changing vegetation into the semitropical lowland of Punakha – Wangdi valley. Punakha and Wangdue valleys are at a lower elevation, at around 1400m, therefore warmer with semi-tropical climate. Here we will seevegetation such as cactuses, bananas and orange groves. We visit Punakha Dzong, In fact,Punakha Dzong used to be the winter capital of Bhutan until 1958. Even today, the head of the Abbot and monks of the central monastic body reside in Punakha Dzongduring the winter months and in Thimphu during the summer. After lunch in Punakha, we drive to the village near the junction road between Punakha and Wangdi and take a 20 minute easy, pleasant hike to Chimi Lhakhang temple, dedicated to the Saint Drukpa Kuenley (1455-1529), also known the divine madman. Overnight in Punakha.

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  • Nepalis who work on the road are given (pretty rundown) housing
  • In order to join the UN, the Third King of Bhutan had to show a large enough population — asked Nepali king for people — gave them land in the south (not really arable due to foggy weather) for them to live and work; after some time, many of them did not want to wear the traditional clothing/follow the rules, so they sent them back to Nepal. Those who did follow the rules stayed and were given housing
  • Most people have their own houses, but rent in a city like Thimphu for a one or three bedroom house is $200-$300/month. Foreigners may not buy houses or stay here, unless they get married with a local person.
  • Saw a white monkey – symbol of good luck!
  • Poverty and hunger are not really issues here – community and/or government steps in, even for cremation purposes
  • Many people in the tourism industry were ex-guides who opened hotels etc. with foreigners who were on their tour and fell in love
  • No prostitution in Bhutan
  • Sex education from internet and friends, not in school
  •  British fighting for land – gave them Assam and parts that are now India to stop fighting
  • Fishing is illegal – people do at night
  • No death penalty
  • Cows and dogs in the middle of the street and they are not scared because cars will always stop for them – they’ll never purposefully hit them
  • People love painted houses/ colorful houses and will hire people to paint their houses, often with phalluses on them
  • People believe in hiking up to monasteries – that increasing the effort makes people more blessed, so the government is not allowed to build roads, etc
  • Rice popping, wheat, whisky, peach wine, druk lagger beer
  • Curries are common: usually with chile, a veggie, cheese, oil, & water – cooked for 5 minutes

30 March 2018: Sightseeing of Wangdue Valley and return drive to Paro

With my guide, Kinley’s family, at the Paro Festival

After early morning breakfast, we drive to the town of Wangdi Phodrang. Here again there is a very large fortress (Dzong) currently under renovation. Walk 20mins to Rinchengang Stones Masons village opposite to the Dzong. After sightseeing in Wangdi Phodrang, we retrace our drive back to the west across Dochula Pass,providing one more opportunity to view the peaks of the eastern Himalayas. At the pass, there is a small restaurant, where we can sip tea and enjoy the views. We descend from the pass in time for lunch at the restaurant in Thimphu and later in the evening, retrace drive to Paro. Overnight in Paro.

  • Send expats and foreigners to Bangkok Thailand if very sick
  • Why only nail polish on one hand? – not on right or left hand (whichever they use to eat) because they use it to eat
  • What happens if the king dies? – even if he’s a baby, he takes a throne, and prime minister. First child is the king, even if she’s a woman
  • Christmas is celebrated in Bhutan
  • New year is a special occasion
  • Wear nice shoes and purses to complement the traditional wear
  • Not a lot of grey hair – most people seem to die young
  • Festival: 9am-5pm – Paro Festival
  • Picnics are very popular
  • Bitter nut is common, as it is in parts of Nepal, India and Myanmar
  • Wanting and achieving is good, ok, as long as it is in your power and possible for you to achieve without much suffering — buying a big tv because you can afford it is ok, as long as your salary and work did not hurt anyone. Buying a big tv with someone else’s money because you wanted the big tv selfishly is not good
  • Fundraising for people who kill animals – giving them money for them to stop doing – primarily yak herders – alternate solution to the problem

31 March 2018: Paro (Takstang Hike)

Morning, we hike to the Takstang Monastery. Taktsang Monastery (meaning Tiger’s nest), was tragically damaged in the fire of early 1998. The monastery, which has now been rebuilt, is perched some 2,000ft/600m up on a sheer cliff overlooking the valley and was said to be where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padmasambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The hike is about one and half hours to the teahouse, from where we may either opt to go further uphill to the monastery for about 1 hour or return with a few snapshots of the monastery. Lunch is served at the teahouse with the majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro valley below. The return trek to the road head is downhill almost all the way and takes about an hour. Late afternoon, we will visit the ruins of DrugyelDzong from where we can also enjoy the views of Mount Jhumolari. 

Overnight in Paro 

  • Most people come with a packed lunch – picnic – which is a big deal in Bhutan
  • Traditionally don’t believe in mental health/ psychology – but now some Lamas are encouraging it – as a combination of Buddhism and mental health
  • Tour guide associations come up to the monastery to clean up
  • One aspect of karma: because we met in our past life, we are meeting in this present life
  • Humans are still the best form of being reborn – know what to do/not to do to be reincarnated. Gods know when they are going to die, so is a cause of worry. Animals/devil = lower caste.
  • Buddha had many disciples who helped to write the story – one from Tibet and one from Nepal –  Buddhas – bodhisatvas – not as enlightened as the main Buddha
  • It is not firmly believed that all of the scriptures are 100% true
  • Saw one of the four queens on her way down from a hike
  • Popped rice – like popcorn
  • Whisky container
  • Most cars you see are hyundai, suzuki, etc.
  • Traditional farmhouse experience – love!

Interesting facts about Bhutan:

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  • Was never colonized
  • Notable for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness
  • Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon
  • Primarily a Buddhist country
  • 1999 – when the ban on internet and television were abolished
  • Political system changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy recently
  • The takin is the national animal
  • Currency is fixed to the Indian rupee 
  • Forced over 100,000 people from an ethnic group to flee / neither being accepted in Nepal  or elsewhere; recently over 60,000 have been relocated 
  • Popped rice is common, and awesome!
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  • Great diplomatic relations with India, Japan and Bangladesh 
  • Primary export is hydroelectricity
  • There was trade before, but closed border with Tibet after an influx of refugees  
  • First nation in the world to ban smoking 
  • Inheritance traditionally passes through the female rather than through the name
  • Arranged marriages are common 
  • The previous king has four wives, all of which were sisters
  • Polygamy is uncommon but accepted – sometimes done to keep the inheritance intact 
  • To eat: ema datshi — national dish | dairy: butter, milk, cheese common
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  • Archery is the national sport
  • Only country in the world with a carbon negative footprint
  • Less people visit Bhutan in one year than they do on one Sunday for a football game
  • Homemade rye pancake, cheese from yaks and cows
  • Cordyceps whisky — cordyceps – whisky living on caterpillars in mountains in Bhutan
  • Wash hands by moving a ball of rice around their hands
  • Monks are covered by the government
  • If the monk dies, the government compensates the parents
  • They’re now learning computer science and English as a way to motivate children to join – it is up to them
  • They go to Singapore and other Buddhist countries to learn the practice
  • 1974 – tourism opened in Bhutan

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Tibet

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These three regions, especially Tibet and Bhutan are resounding with a common theme of a pungent smell of butter lamps and incense, sometimes concurrently.

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It’s what I will forever associate with them. Other non-olfactoric things include: handmade paper, “Buddhist-ware” – prayer wheels, beads, singing bowls etc. These cultural elements are what I tried to focus on while I was in Tibet, where it was honestly quite challenging to deny the political elements existing in the region – some comparisons to Israel and Palestine/Gaza certainly make it a prime place to focus on the challenges, and it is certainly difficult to deny or negate it. But the beauty and power of the region has surpassed conflict and politics.
The positive experience I had is outstanding:

04 April 2018: Flight in to Lhasa

Altitude: 3650/11,972ft

IMG_1785The only way I survived the oxygen — inhaling oxygen!

We transfer you to airport for flight to Lhasa. On your arrival at Lhasa airport, you will be met by your local guide and transferred to your hotel in Lhasa city (75km/47 miles, 1 hr). Check in hotel and take rest for acclimatization. You may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sicknessthat includes light headedness,disorientation, headache etc. Drink plenty of water and take enough rest. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • I was lucky enough to get my visa that morning. Most of the people on my flight did not get it, so most of the seats remained empty
  • China continues to change its rules related to the visa
  • It only opens in April to tourists, and I was one of the first to go that year
  • Lots of solar powered lamps
  • Put 7 water offerings on a Buddhist altar – lucky numbers – depending on the size of the altar

05 April 2018: Lhasa City, Potala Place and Barkhor Street

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In the morning we visit the Chokran temple. In the afternoon, Sera Monastery—It was one of the “three great” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1419. The highlight is the Monks debate at around 3 – 5 in the afternoon. Overnight in Lhasa at Gang Gyen hotel. Then continue to Jokhang Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a spiritual center for Buddhists in Tibet. Next to the temple there is Bakhor Street, filled with pilgrims and street vendors, selling traditional Tibetan items such as prayer wheels and jewelry. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • Chokran Temple – founded in the middle of 7th Century
  • First time seeing sleeve-wearing people on mopeds
  • Incense burner — outside
  • 5 colors of prayer flags reflects the five different colors of the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, sun
  • Guide is not to talk anything related to politics – if anything was taken down etc.
  • Monks in China get $ from the government if they’re part of a monastery
  • Monks typically look down because if they  see nice things, it will increase desire
  • Sky and river burials – returning people back to where we came from – from nature. Let birds and fish eat the bodies
  • Buddhists in some places like Nepal and India do not eat beef
  • Believe that killing one animal is like killing one soul, so they prefer to kill a large animal to feed more people
  • Yak meat on the run! vvv
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  • They have a lot more Tibetan officers than Chinese in Tibet, only work 5 hours, only for 5 months and are paid $60,000, to stay quiet
  • Monks debate philosophy – slap one side of hand if agree and the other, top side, if they don’t agree
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  • 150 monks living in Chokran
  • 500 monks living in Sera – prior to the Revolution more than 6000 lived there

06 April 2018: Monasteries in Lhasa, Drepung and Sera

In the morning, tourists are going to visit Drepung monastery, which was one of the “three greet” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1416. Ganden palace is used as Dalai Lama’s palace in the Drepung before moving to the Potala palace. Then we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site – Potala Palace, which is also the winter palace of Dalai Lama. It’s situated at 12,139 feet above sea level. It’s a 13-story high building that contains over 1,000 rooms, various statues, stupas, murals and artifacts.

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  • So many car brands I’ve never seen before in China – nice looking cars!
  • Before the Cultural Revolution, 10k monks living here –  the Draping “rice heap” – Monastery – now has 600 living there
  • The Assembly Hall is the main area of the monastery
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  • In Tibet – they use pillars to measure the home — i.e this monastery has 108 pillars.
  • Buddha – God of Compassion – manifested 1000 arms and legs – in order to help more people
  • Before 1959 — it was a place for political and religious leaders
  • Holds the tombs of past Dalai Lamas – worth billions of dollars in Gold!
  • White part of the building is – political; Red – religious; Yellow – Dalai Lama portion of the building

IMG_2277With my new friend from Thailand, Pauline

07 April 2018: Yamdrok Lake

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This yak didn’t like me very much.

Today, we have to drive from Lhasa to Gyantse. On the way, the group will pass over the Gampala pass (4790 m),and tourists will have a glimpse of Yamdrok-tso Lake (4400m).

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The Lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountain and in the distance you have spectacular views of Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar (7191m), the highest mountain near Lhasa. Then drive back to Lhasa. Overnight in Lhasa.

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  • In this village, and in many places in Tibet, if you have 2-3-4 brothers, you can share a wife; older man gets to be called the father of all of the children
  • Don’t want foreigners – mainly marketing to the Chinese
  • **More complicated than this, but someone mentioned the similarities between the Vatican City and Lhasa, Tibet similarities: own military parade (albeit one is not from the predominant religious group), religion/religious institution at the center, City-State/City within the context of a larger country

 

 

 

 

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Tibetan Mastiffs!

Interesting facts about Tibet:

  • Highest region on earth – also home to Mount Everest like Nepal
  • Tibetans allowed to have businesses, but unlike the Chinese, can’t market it to the outside world – only use internet
  • Economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture
  • Longstanding fight for independence against China. Lost a battle in 1951 when China took over
  • Tibetan language is closest to Burmese – a mix of Indian and Chinese cultures
  • Have a Bon religion: similar to Tibetan Buddhism — and also Muslim and Christian minorities
  • Tibetan empire extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma…Pakistan, etc! Where in many parts they still speak the Tibetan language
  • A Tibetan revolution during the cultural revolution had 6,000 monasteries destroyed and between 200k and 1 million people were killed
  • Only opened for tourism starting in April
  • 14th Dalai lama – is seen as a governmental and political leader and established a government externally
  • Not much arable lands leads to cultivation of yaks and the like – livestock
  • 10-20% of all males in Tibet are monks
  • Barley is the most famous crop — noodles or dumplings (momo)
  • Guthuk – barley noodle soup is common for the new year
  • Tibetan style momo is famed
  • Butter tea: Butter tea perfectly fits the needs of the human body in these high altitudes as it contains butter (protein and fat), milk (protein, fat and calcium), salt and tea.
  • Tibetan cuisine is traditionally served with bamboo chopsticks, in contrast to other Himalayan cuisines which are eaten by hand.
  • Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. There many other types of balep bread and fried pies.
  • Well prepared yogurt is considered a luxury
  • The word Nangma derives from the Persian word نغمه Naghma meaning melody. Both a band and a nightclub have been named after it. “Nangma” is the name of a four-person, traditional Tibetan band dedicated to these two styles of music. “Nangma” is also the name of a nightclub in Lhasa which plays this traditional music.
  • Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signals that she is married.
  • Alcoholic beverages include:
  • Chang, a beer usually made from barley
  • Raksi, a rice wine
  • Polygamy and polyandry is a common practice, often to stop a family’s fortune from being dispersed
  • Lhasa Apso — dog orginiating in Tibet!
  • Yak racing is popular in Tibet!
  • Liked: House of Shamble, Tibetan Kitchen, Lhasa Kitchen, and the many tea houses there!

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Cultural Dance Show at the Hotel!

 

Newly Discovered: Australia and New Zealand

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34 hours later I was in Australia. 15 flights and two weeks later, and I was back. It’s out of my mental reach to think about how one’s concept of time changes when time zones and jet lag seem to blur all of the boundaries.

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This trip was semi-last-minute. When she was visiting me from Seattle, Stephanie and I briefly mentioned spending New Years Even in Australia. A few months later, and we made it happen!

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Upon arrival in Sydney, we immediately went to the Great Barrier Reef where we saw turtles and hundreds of different species of fish and coral.

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IMG_9706We then returned to Sydney, where we relaxed over drinks and indeed caught the fireworks from a ferry, after some confusion about where to go and how to get there.

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We had to forego passes to an outdoor picnic, but ended up having dinner closer to where our ferry departed, which to our surprise also had 9pm fireworks.

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For me, it was mostly a piqued curiosity about how people celebrate New Years Eve — at Manly Wharf, it seemed to be about the family — reservations for dinner had long-been made, families lining the boardwalk and the pier in celebration.

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The year was off to a good start! Climbing a bridge in Sydney, going on a walking tour, seeing the Opera house, salsa dancing, having my first Servas homestay with Margaret and John, going on marvelous hikes in some of Australia’s national parks and seeing kangaroos with them.

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I initially could not find Margaret and John’s address, which I had erroneously copied onto my phone from the directory …

I was then reunited with Stephanie for a rainy day in Auckland and a wonderful dinner with Servas host Liz and her friends and then more intimately between us three girls for a wine night, again filled with wonderful conversation.

IMG_0046With Liz, Stephanie and I learned a lot about New Zealand, including how well they cultivate work-life balance, overall valuing quality of life, which is not limited to human life.

IMG_0074The following day we were off to Queenstown, which, after a mistake with the dates scheduling our Milford Sound tour, we went on a wine and cheese cruise that evening, which was really lovely.

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I survived driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life, which proved my ability to do so — but not without a few mistakes — the hardest part was remembering that the blinkers were on the right handle instead of the left!

We returned to our BnB at Jack’s Point, which was wonderful, surrounded by unscathed nature, which was complemented by our time at Milford’s Sound, which UNESCO rightfully declared a World Heritage Sight.

Stephanie and I parted ways, I heading to Wellington where I spent my last days in New Zealand walking along the board ward, going on a walking tour and exploring the beautiful views from Mount Victoria, where I met some Spanish tourists with whom I had dinner and great conversation with – a lovely way to end the trip indeed!

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AUSTRALIA:

Best food had: Tim tams – amazing!

Best thing done: Bridge Climb!  – I thought it would be underwhelming, but everything about the experience was really lovely

Favorite City: If I had to choose — I would live under water with the fishes at the Barrier Reef!

Interesting things learned: 

  • On the plane, a guy telling me how the US was a prisoner colony and how Australia was founded directly after the US gained independence as a result of them looking for another piece of land where to place the prisoners. The British began to send people over in ships, which took 9 months at the time, often bringing women into the country who were pregnant “from the voyage” — it took until 1990 for the country to level out the gender gap, and in between, taught these people how to face adversity, in a  land where the seasons were reversed and a land that is not so fertile (perhaps why the food is so heavily proceessed/portion sizes are relatively larger too?)
  • The spirit of Australia, according to him, is not one of competition, but one of collaboration — dating back to the times when they had to collaboratively look for food. When the British refused to eat “dirty” oysters and that was all they had. They are the only country with ex-felons one their bills and less judgmental because of it.
  • A lot of signs in Chinese and English – sign of incredible Chinese influence & foreign direct investment
  • “Healthy disregard” for authority – given their history as prisoners
  • Macadamiaat the time, the governor of Australia went to Hawaii where he was transferred and planted them there – now really well-known for being Hawaiian but actually Australian
  • Ewing and the kangaroo are on the coat of arms because they can’t walk backwards and don’t want Australia to do so either
  • They first thought it was uninhabited, but turns out aboriginals were living there for a time that is undetermined
  • Initially, in part because the Aboriginals first thought the British were ancestors — ghosts from the past because of their pale skin. Torn between fear and respect — there was seemingly friendship and understanding, but they quickly turned into victims, killed by diseases they were not immune to. Aboriginals currently make up 1.5% of the Aussie population
  • 75% of all of the new settlers were convicts
  • England refused to send money for a hospital, so they focused on other means. Australians liked rum — so in exchange for money to build the hospital, the government began selling licenses which allowed individuals to sell rum to Australians – the hospital has since been referred to as the Rum Hospital
  • Sydney has never been under heavy attack. Napoleon wanted to, but the British began to use a military base that was crucial for the success of this attack, so they did not succeed
  • Australia: first to establish plastic money
  • Can top up metro card at the supermarket – cap at $15 a day, no matter how far you travel around Sydney that day, not the case at the airport, as it’s privately owned
  • 1965 construction of the Opera House paused, as the new government did not like how much money/time it was taking. They reduced the Danish architect’s budget (one who won the global contest for constructing the venue) by 100,000, but did not complete the structure for 15 years afterwards and for 1— million over budget
  • Flying doctor – in Australia, the land is so vast and expansive that they have flying doctors that are sent off on planes and are equipt with just about everything needed to maybe even do a surgery!
  • Barbecues and barbecuing is huge
  • Bush fires are a problem, but some are started on purpose with the hopes to decrease the impact of ones in the future!
  • Lyre bird, native to Australia – copies and memorizes all of the sounds made by its surroundings, flutes etc.
  • Bush, beach, mountains all in once at national park  Kuringai chase
  • Oldest continual culture in the world – aboriginals in Australia

NEW ZEALAND:

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Best food had:  Omelet at Jack’s Point

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Best thing done:  Driven on left side of road, Milford Sound

Favorite City:  Queenstown for the nature, Wellington as a place I could potentially live in  

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Interesting things learned: 

  • Known for having: “4 seasons in one day”
  • Very intense about customs – 1/2 of population died with arrival of Europeans / deforestation. Strictly won’t let you come in with produce / with dirty boots if you’ve been hiking in a risky place (fear of mouth and foot disease)
  •  There is barely no security for domestic flights — no need to take out liquids etc or to go through security — can just walk through to the plane. For this reason, it is standard to be present just one hour before a flight
  • New Zealand has no large predators: no wolves, lions, snakes, etc. making it a great destination for hikers. They want to get rid of all of the species that are not native to the land by 2014 like possums (from Australia), rats, ferrets, and maybe even cats! – which is causing a division here
  • “In Australia the animals will kill you, while in New Zealand, the earth will swallow you whole” due to the number of tsunamis, geysers, and earthquakes they have every year — what an incredibly resilient society!
  • Use rubber in between concrete to absorb the shock from buildings from these natural disasters — the rubber then needs to be replaced every 30-40 years
  • Birds first inhabited New Zealand
  • 99.9 percent of all trees in New Zealand are evergreen
  • In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21% ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports
  • Free healthcare for all of New Zealand
  • Shortage of houses – people selling it to foreigners instead of locals because they earn more
  • New Zealanders love to shorten words: pressie – present; they “get it” from the Australians
  • The Māori are theIndigenous population in New Zealand: Polynesian completely different from indigenous “aboriginal” Australians who are of African descent. They were the first people to inhabit this country about 800-1000 years ago before the Europeans 300-500 years ago.
  • Māori were forced to not speak their native language after world war 2.
  • Now, translating things official things into both languages – English and Māori, representative of the attempt at inclusivity by the government
  • Māori chiefs often open conferences thanking ancestors for land
  • Just now starting to accept “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas
  • Here required to tell others about heritage when starting a new position in a job, makes people more accepting of other cultures
  • She’ll be alright! – phrase said to promote optimism when things don’t go your way
  • Get lots of cars from Japan because of very strict emissions in Japan, so they get new cars every 3 years
  • 1970s – not many coffee shops in New Zealand, and is now the second most consumed beverage after tea
  • “Centrist”: usually referring to a political party in New Zealand that generally appeals to the elderly — they are really against change: against immigration, young people, and anything that disrupts the status quo
  • Wellington is progressive when it comes to transgender and gay rights
  • Every Saturday, Wellington hosts a Saturday night food market, where they invite new restaurants from different cuisines that have opened to showcase their foods
  • Common to order food and sit down for food — even at a relatively fancy restaurants

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: MALAYSIA  

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Breakfast in Thailand, lunch in Malaysia. Thanks to Asia’s generally condensed geography, I was able to meet my friend Rachel, whom I had met at a CS gathering in Paris in 2013. A bit of food poisoning got me down, but not down enough to keep me from exploring the food market that had been set up outside for the first day of Ramadan. It was my first experience therof in a majority-Muslim country.

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We relaxed by her pool to this view before heading over to a speakeasy hidden in a mall. Quite an Asian experience, I think.

Gabe left for a day in Singapore the following day, while Rachel and I pampered ourselves, catering to my self-indulgent side — a facial, makeup class (Rachel is a professional makeup artist), and hair blowout later, we were ready for a dinner at a food+fish farm about 30 minutes from KL.

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In this fashion, I welcomed my birthday — surrounded by more love, food, and happiness than I could’ve asked for.

 

Highlights:

Catching up with friends!

KL’s beautiful views

Experiencing Asian-Muslim culture during Ramadan

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: Steamed bread and kaya ❤

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Interesting learnings:

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country

-Plane is sprayed with disinfectant before landing, required by Malaysia — announcement on plane “cover head for fumigation

-They eat with fork and spoon, pushing the food into the spoon and eating off the spoon

-There are Malaysian-made cars! The most common brand is: Myvvi

-The Quran is most often translated into Malay, although some people do study Arabic

-Movies used to take 3-4 months to be streamed in Malaysia because of censorship; my friend joked that “50 shades of grey was ‘all white” and only 20 minutes long LOL”

-There are so many malls in Malaysia that they call the airport, “the shopping mall with an airport” — after passing through dozens of shops before getting to a terminal, you understand why that is the case..

-Yet to be determined, but my theory of why the ATMs I used don’t charge fees is because of the Quran’s verse on not charging interest/tithe for borrowing money

-Men in Malaysia can marry more than one wife ; max 4, but most likely are very wealthy, as whatever is given to one wife must be matched for the other

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: INDONESIA

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Lunch in Malaysia, dinner in Indonesia. My birthday dinner, actually, which was shared with about 30 Australians, who seemed to follow us, or whom we seeemed to follow to the bars. The truth is Kuta is a hub for Australians. As I learned, the winds blow from the shores of the Australian coast, inspiring intense waves (the most intense I’ve ever seen) and attracting the Australians with them.

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I celebrated my birthday at Sky Room, an 8-floor dance club, which seemed to be the hub for tourists in the Legion beach area.

The next day, we were off to Ubud, where in February of 2015, I won (for the first time in my life) a 2-night stay at the 5-star Alaya resort.

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My trip advisor review for the hotel says it all:

“My stay at Alaya was nothing short of magical. My first day there happened to be the day after my birthday, which Ayu at the front desk meticulously noticed, providing me with my one and only birthday cake of the year, a complimentary massage for my partner and I, and assistance in planning the rest of our time at Alaya, which made our time in Ubud seamless and worry-free. Many delicious meals later, I got to meet chef Siharta personally, whose passion was evident in his creations and in his warmth in his communication with the patrons. He not only greeted us with interest, but with genuine engagement, requesting our attendance again that evening and asking for us to meet with him again before our departure. I can honestly say that at Alaya, there is no discomfort or distance that can come with hotels of this caliber. No request is too lavish or minute to at least be considered. With no attachment or connection to the resort, and as a frequent traveler, I highly recommed your stay here. Special thanks to Yasa for facilitating the booking all the way from NYC!”

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Shortly after our arrival, we headed towards the monkey village, which was one of the best moment of my life, No joke. I actually Youtube monkey videos all the time and wish I could have one as a pet, but it’s illegal where I live.. womp.

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Anyhow, my desire for one was shortly satisfied as I got to feed, play, be bitten by, and briefly be a victim (one bit me after I tried to return his leaf, another one tried opening my backpack zipper, and shuffling through my hair which was hiding the earrings that he was going after) of these adorable creatures.

IMG_3085.JPGOur last day of the trip was quite eventful with a healing (perhaps because of the spiritual nature of simply the energizing pressure from the water fountains) visit to a water temple, an instructive coffee tasting of “the most expensive coffee in the world”,

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a visit to rice patties,

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and having dinner with a motor taxi/ property manager who took me a bit outside of Ubud to explore the places where Eat Pray Love was filmed — succumbed to the chill of the downhill winds and under those bright Balinese stars, the trip came to an end.

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Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-I greatly enjoyed the complementary snake fruit (called so because of its scaly skin) at the hotel — unlike any fruit I’ve ever tried

-Nasi Goreng, fried rice, is quite unique in Bali given the traditional Balinese “spice”, which is actually a combination of spices

-Aside from the “cool” factor of the cone-shaped rice, the Nasi Raja, is historically important, as only kings had this dish in the past; it is filled with options from land and sea, and most definitely satisfying any palate

 

Highlights:

-Massage in Bali

-Free cake & dinner & massage @ Alaya for bday

-Monkey forest

-First time river rafting

-Visit to coffee plantation

-Learning from Wira, our driver to the hotel that “yoga” could be anything Couldn’t find uber/ he canceled so ran into nearest guy I knew, hot even, and took me; told him about maxi, smoked a menthol cigarette, learned that yoga can be anything that makes my soul happy — so dancing can be it too!

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Interesting Learnings:

-Ladies on thier period can’t go into the temple / inside the pool at the water temple

-In Bali — 60% of a new structure’s architecture must retain a Balinese style

-If someone dies 4,000,000 Indonesian Rupees (about 4k) is neededfor the ceremony, but if a monk dies around the same time, you can share the ceremony

-Our driver said he didn’t have enough money to bury his uncle, so he keeps him buried until he has the money to cremate him/partake in a ceremony for him

-Rice patties – manually picking rice because it’s not possible for tractors to go up because it’s high and on an incline– harvest is 2x a year in June and January; because we were there in June, one could see many people processing through the streets, partaking in rice festivals at various temples

-They consider thier Hindu religion to be a trinity of a monotheistic religion: Brahma- fire; Vishnu – water; Shiva – wind

-Bali operates on a 5-tier caste system — at the top is the priest

-Graves also serve as temples

-People in Bali feel like it’s its own country, separate from other Indonesian islands, each one has its own language

 

On Lewak/Balinese coffee:  

-Male coffee is more bitter, with two coffee beans instead of one; Bali coffee is a mix; espresso is just male coffee

-How cofffee is made: Roast coffee bean for one hour – then grind the coffee beans – then sift to get powder very fine

-No milk is added to this Balinese coffee, just palm sugar and honey ; 30% coffee

-Lewak– eats only good quality coffee & ferments it turning it into protein filled coffee w/ low caffeine

-Lewak coffee is more expensive in the world; about $50 USD a cup, made from cultivating and cleaning the coffee beans from the feces of the animal

-Interesting — difference between good and bad (real and fake) lewak coffee i.e lewak coffee has this thick residue at the end when finished drinking

-How to make from powder: two teaspoons of powder and (very) hot water, so that the coffee is diluted and doesn’t just sit at the top

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FROM WIKIPEDIA:

-With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world.

-Portuguese colonization reflected in some of the words like “meja” for table

-80-88% of the population of Indonesia state their religion as being Islam (Sunni) making it numerically by far the largest religion in the nation and Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Nevertheless, Indonesia officially remains a secular state.

-The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset.

-During Ramadan, all forms of nightlife including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours close by midnight, and (especially in more devout areas) quite a few opt to stay closed entirely. Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave.

-Indonesia imposes the death penalty on those caught bringing in drugs.

-Indonesia is a very ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups, and 742 different languages and dialects.

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: THAILAND 

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 The adventure begins on a cold evening in December 2015, at a Lower East Side bubble tea shop. At that point the goal was: Asia. My travel buddy and best friend, Gabe and I knew nothing more than that we wanted to spend about two weeks on an adventure there, arguably one of the most complex trips I was to plan.

Having Gabe was a blessing, not only because of our often-shared perspectives on our experiences and overall companionship, but also because of his complementary ways of planning, researching and ever-structured way to facilitate everything, realizing our plans in a seamless way. Without him, I probably would’ve seen about half of the things that we did together.

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These three posts are a tribute to our 2016 summer adventure. A bit more tan, a bit more fit, and a bit more knowledgeable, we survive to tell the tale.

Thailand. 

40+ hours after our departure from JFK, and we arrive in this bustling city, the humidity immediately (I mean 30 seconds or less) transforming my hair into a ball of frizz. We lounged at the mall to drop of our luggage while we awaited the return of our CS host, Poom, from work.

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As I expected, the MBK mall in Bangkok was not a dissapointment. Not only are malls in Asia the best, most lavish, and most delicious I’ve ever encountered (yes, the food is G.R.E.A.T), it is a haven for people watching, and quite frankly a perfect place to experience Thai culture. I chose to experence it through an incredible ginger tofu dish, which tasted like it could cure every ailment in my body — in the most positive sense.

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The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent visiting Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and similar tourist attractions (John Thompson House, Sky Bar, River Tour, Bangkok Cultural Art Center) which are undeniably musts — all of these somewhat intese physical activites were counteracted by the constant sprinkling of massages we got on a daily basis… I think I ended up averaging 1-2 a day… sounds silly, but a. I’m a huge proponent of massages as mental and physical healers and b. a good Thai massage is less than a cocktail back home, so… why not?

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We flew to Phuket for a more relaxed time, relative to that of our highly structured time in Bangkok; with a beachfront AirBnb — it was hard not to be highly satisfied just enjoying the view.

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The nighlife called, however, which promised us a great night out. Gabe and I  ended up in different nightclubs, but with groups of people that made our nights equally enriching. I don’t think I EVER danced as much as I did that night in Phuket. Special thanks to my three dancing buddies (Xelliot and co.) that night!

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The following day was basically spent “at sea” on a ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi. Although our stop was brief, simply enjoying a lunch we had won from entering and winning a raffle for a free night at this hotel, our brief séjour was quite awesome. Special thanks to Pilar for raffling off (and us winning) her hotel stay! The picture says it all.

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Bangkok had us back before our return to the US, allowing us enough time between our flights to enjoy the Chatuchak market.

The food @ Chatuchak was great — as a CS friend suggested, try the coconut ice cream!! — I didn’t have energy to explore anything else.

This market is the largest in Asia, where I ended up losing Gabe before meeting him at the Terminal 21 mall — themed with different regions and countries on each floor — where we played Mario Kart and ended our trip watching a break dancing competition. I won first place in Mario Kart 🙂

 

Highlights: 

La Rueda Salsa Club — great for social salsa + bachata dancers!

Night out in Phuket — White Room is so fun!! — great DJ

Massage at Wat Pho, the birthplace of Thai Massage — interesting that they say a prayer before massaging you! // massages in general!

River tour from Sathorn

Learning about Thai culture from Poom, our CS host

Parasailing in Phuket – first time! ❤

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-Of course, the ginger tofu chicken @ MBK mall

-The coconuts were also to die for.. I averaged 2/day!

 

Interersting learnings:

Despite the hustle and bustle, when elders wish to cross the street, people stop for them

-Of-the-menu veggie options are available if you ask

-Thailand requires leaving every 90 days so there was a guy on the plane to Malaysia leaving again that night — with plans to just eat and shop in Malaysia

-“Bye bye” means that it’s ok — don’t worry about it

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Parasailing in Phuket —  first time ever! ❤

-Male monk was free to enter the Grand Palace but lady monk/ nun had to pay

-Bangkok is super rectangular shape, which can be seen from the plane