1st World Pit Stop — Singapore

When planning our flights for this trip we decided, after several seconds of intense analysis, to extend our layover in Singapore by a couple days. “I mean we might as well, we’re flying past there anyways.” Done.

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Instead of going directly to Bali, we spent 2 nights in Singapore. Our mindset this whole trip has been to see as much as possible in the allotted time given. This approach has worked out great because we have not felt the need for more time, we have always been ready for the next place.

I don't remember what or where this was

I don’t remember what or where this was

Singapore is fabulous. The very opposite of what we’ve been traveling through, and a welcomed break from it. It is way bigger than I thought, way cleaner than I thought and WAY more expensive than I could wrap my big head around. It is bright, new, futuristic, and environmentally conscience. There is toilet paper to be used, clean subways to be ridden, and luscious green parks to be explored. I really, really enjoyed Singapore, but only for a day.

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Southeast Asia has been costing us between 10-20 dollars a night for a private room and bathroom. The highest we spent was 40, some low 30s , but mostly around 20 total for the both of us. And, since we are so savvy, rented out our Jackson pad all month to several ski vacationers and used all that income for our hotels. Those ski bros covered January rent AND 30 nights of traveling, BOOYAH. Big shout out to Halez for handling all that, Air B&B can be pretty needy as we found out.

Big mirrors came out of NOWHERE

Big mirrors came out of NOWHERE

When searching for accommodation in Singapore we realized it was back to the hostel game. Even a shared 8 bunk room was 37 a night, but it was either that or emptying our pockets for the big boys.

Our hostel, the INNcrowd (get it?) was located in Little India and a well enough run hostel. The bathrooms were clean and the staff friendly. If it wasn’t for the loud Indian music (think live band chanting spiritual things with drums) blaring all night, our bunk mate puking in a plastic bag off the side of her bed (I remember my first beer), the stench of feet, the dust from the top bunk dropping into my mouth, and the lack of a mattress, I’d give it a 10. But seriously, it could ALWAYS be worse, so I was happy.

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Singapore's marketing strategy to get people to be nice on the subway. The middle one looks like my sister Laura. It's a good thing I doubt she reads this blog. Billboards like this make me laugh so hard

Singapore’s marketing strategy to influence people to be nice on the subway. The middle one looks like my sister Laura. It’s a good thing I doubt she reads this blog. Billboards like this really get the message through, don’t you think?

My full day in Singapore was spent running in Fort Canning park, educating myself in the spice garden, walking along the marina, sweating, enjoying an iced Kopi Coffee (coffee with sweetened condensed milk, it’s what the locals do, and yes, the locals are mostly all overweight), exploring the cleanest most organized China Town I’ve ever seen, sweating, people watching at Raffles Place, touring Clarkes Quay, getting blessed by a Buddha man in the Buddhas Tooth Relic Temple, sweating, and spending an absurd amount of money on “happy hour” drinks (we couldn’t find beer for less than 10 dollars during this supposedly cheap time of day).

Typical Singaporian Breakfast, Kopi Coffee and a Kaya Bun (dense and toasted with butter and coconut jam). If I spent more than 1.5 days here I'd have a weight problem too.

Typical Singaporian Breakfast, Kopi Coffee and a Kaya Bun (dense and toasted with butter and coconut jam). If I spent more than 1.5 days here I’d have a weight problem too.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

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Singapore was a really nice change of pace for a day, it’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer. The Singaporians were not as friendly and welcoming as I hoped, and prices on everything were so outrageous I was ready to leave the next afternoon. A lot of business people walking around, like, people in nice clothes, that was weird…let’s go to Bali!

Boats and Planes

Boats and Planes, adios Singapore

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Northern Vietnam — Hanoi

Vietnam, how excited I’ve been for you! The only country where you have to do some preparation to obtain a Visa before arrival. We knew it was going to be difficult to get in, but we had all the paperwork and pictures we needed to scoot by. Our 1 hour flight from Laos into Hanoi (Northern Capital) was full of retired rambunctious French folks who were passing around Whisky in a spray bottle. All you heard was spritzspritzspritz, HA HA HA…it was awful. Gosh I hate tour groups. AND they all had a conical hat that needed special storage, biting my tongue biting my tongue.

Local

Local.

Clearly, we needed to get off that flight fast so we didn’t get stuck behind theses guys. We BOOKED it and got to the Visa line first (from our flight) waited for 20 minutes and then were told we were in the wrong line. We go to another line, get (rather aggressively) told what to do, and wait in another line. We receive all our paperwork and stamps and go wait in another line. We pay $45 and we’re through, yippee!! Believe it or not, it went better than either of us expected it to. Victory in Vietnam.

Through advice and recollections of friends, I was kind of scared of Hanoi. Didn’t help we showed up at 11:30pm and needed to explore the alleys for food (went well, by the way). We had a great hotel for $40 where the staff was more than helpful and kind. We did a lot of logistical planning in the morning and ended up changing the plan and staying in Hanoi for another night. This gave us the whole day in Hanoi to explore and they switched us to a different hotel, a hotel with the 2 most adorable human beings I’ll ever meet. We were escorted to our new hotel, Skyline Hotel, down the street and were greeted by a Vietnamese man named Jack. Jack was probably in his 20’s, just a little guy with the most genuine enthusiasm you can get. He was SO happy to have us stay at his hotel, and he was so helpful with advice. Later that day we met Dave. We couldn’t believe we hit the hotel staff jackpot TWICE in the same hotel, Dave MIGHT have been more adorable and excitable than Jack. Dave also wanted to learn English and kept asking us if certain phrases he was saying made sense. He then told a few stories of “slang” words he learned, and his favorite three are…”sucker” “in the buff” and “bucks (as in dollars)”. He couldn’t say these seriously because he thought they were bad words, so he kept laughing so hard. It was the cutest display of learning I have ever seen. It was also the best service I’ve ever received by any accommodation, restaurant, tour, etc. The. Best. So if you find yourself in Hanoi (very up and coming city) stay at the Skyline Hotel!

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

The Vietnamese celebrate their New Year in the middle of February, and they get REALLY excited about it

Hanoi proved everything I thought about it false. Although, it was absolutely a nightmare crossing the street. There are basically no streetlights and many intersections and narrow, narrow, roads. 75% are on motorbikes and the others are in cars or buses. The only way to get to the other side of the street without taking 45 minutes out of your day is to trust they will go around you, because they will. Oddly enough, they know what they are doing on those scooters, and killing an innocent tourist isn’t a good look for their city. Hanoi had a beautiful lake, Hoan Kiem, that is even prettier at night. It is all lit up and a lot of locals jog around it. After a huge lunch of about 3 courses and a huge Hanoi Brew, we walked back to our room after stopping at 7 different North Face shops (so strange) browsing for jackets. Turns out it’s winter here, we had NO idea! Hah, mornings and nights are pretty cold, but we’re headed south so we’re trying to avoid the purchase. I decided to go out for a run around the lake and stopped once to play an odd game that involves a birdie-type flying object and your feet. It’s hacky sac with a weighted birdee. Get it? It’s incredible, and I’m terrible at it. I stopped again to sit on a bench and reflect, had many moments of gratitude. I stopped again to play soccer with a little kid. He was playing all alone so we passed it back and forth right by a crazy busy intersection for 20 minutes. He sent me into the street once with a bad pass and so I returned the favor later on in the game. We both survived. His name was Sakum and he’s got a great first touch, star potential. I then stopped to eat a donut on a stick. My run was so far over at this point I laughed all the way to the shower.

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Night street soccer

Night street soccer

We were lucky enough to be in town on a Friday night when there is a huge night market right outside our hotel. We walked around for a bit and I bought a towel that I’m still not sure if it’s a towel or blanket. Either way, I can use it for many activities. For dinner, Jack told us about a restaurant that serves only one dish. One dish only. He said an American magazine called it one of the “Top 20 foods to eat before you go to Heaven.” We were sold. It’s a restaurant called Cha Ca La Vong and it only serves Grilled Fish. We walked in, were ushered upstairs, thrown down in our seats, given a plate of spices and clear noodles and 45 seconds later a steaming hot pan of grilled fish was being cooked at our table. We threw everything together in our bowls and loved it. All for $7 (although kind of expensive for Vietnam). I paid and waited for my change. We watched as the owner sat down and started tending to other duties, clearly with no intention of giving me change. I went up and asked her for my change and she goes “oh yes, yes, here it is.” A good example of how sneaky they can be. We ended our night with bubble tea and got ourselves ready for a long day on Ha Long Bay!

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I am very happy Hanoi proved me wrong. It was a really great visit and much cleaner than I thought it would be. The people are pushy, the driving is chaotic, and the struggle is real, but that’s not the entire city. We found the good ones, and they will be the memory of this dear city. Forbe’s says it’s one of the fastest growing destination cities in the world, so you better get there quick!

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Same Same, But Different — Laos

You see a lot of shirts, shops, even restaurants being called “Same Same but Different,” and through some heavy research from my partner in crime (she asked somebody) we found out it’s just a jab at all the designs and services here. Everything is practically all the same, but you know, different. So now they sell tees and tanks that say ‘Same Same But Different’ and I came very close to buying one.

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

Short but steep stair climb up Mt. Phousi for a good, but touristy, sunset

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

The tents all set up for the Night Market, and of course one of the many Temples

We spent 3 nights in Luang Prabang, a northern city in Laos (pronounced without the ‘S’, by most locals). We had a very nice flight over from Thailand and an even nicer welcome into Laos. Paid $45 for a Visa and the lines were short and the process quick. Everything seemed to fall into place very nicely, and that’s how the entire stay in Laos went. Magical, really. The main accommodations in Luang Prabang are guesthouses. There are several on each side street along the Mekong River. We stayed at Pakam Guesthouse in a comfortable room and called it home base for the next 3 days. Did I mention they had free bananas? And guys out front who always wanted you to drink beer with them? And they did my laundry for a dollar and then hung my underwear in the middle of the street? So lovely, all of it.

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row...I do believe they are glad I'm gone

Mini Bananas, I was never able to stop until I had 4 in a row…I do believe they are glad I’m gone

If I'm gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

If I’m gonna drink beer, it better be a BeerLao

Laos has a heavy French influence so when we heard that we both got very, very excited. I got super excited for the good bread, and Haley got super excited for the good pastries. During our time we both really loved a place called the Pilgrim cafe. They use filtered water for all their meals and triple wash their fruits and vegetables. Their menu was yummy and the staff friendly, it was definitely the favorite. There was a few good bars, a lot of great bakeries, and a lot of great cafes. FRUIT JUICES were everywhere, just a huge list of fruits and they make you a smoothie for about 2 bucks. My main fruits on this trip have been Coconut, Mango, and Banana. Those 3 fruits have brought me so much joy in so many different forms that yes, they deserve to be capitalized and made into proper nouns. But the big news was that I gave dragonfruit a try and I really liked it. That’s it, that’s my dragonfruit story. Not good enough to be dubbed a proper noun. Moral of the paragraph was that the food was very good in Laos. One night at the market I got a streetfood buffet for $1 and it was marvelous. It was a bit sketchy looking, but had a lot of people in line and sitting at the picnic tables eating it all, so I joined the party. PLUS, look away if you can’t handle talk about bodily functions, I haven’t been pooping, like, at all. Strange don’t you think? Everyone comes to Southeast Asia expecting to poop their brains out at least a few times due to bad water or shotty streetfood, but me? Nope, nothin’. My body just loves this cuisine so much it’s holding on to it for what seems like eternity. Can’t blame it though, the food has been the focus of most days (duh) (okay all days) and has been so magnificent I’d want to keep it for as long as possible too.

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Smoked Coconut Juice! Always been a dream

Street Food!

Street Food!

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Dragonfruit! Oh, excuse me, dragonfruit. I just get so excited

Kuang Si Falls was nothing short of spectacular. We took a Tuk Tuk up to the park (a 3-wheeled shanty looking metal vehicle that is as smooth as your crunchy peanut butter), about an hour drive. We were rattling and rolling up those hills. Those drivers hustle so hard for your money but you can talk them down to half the price they originally give you. Haggling is a huge part of this whole experience. It was much easier in Thailand, but I find it much more difficult in Laos. I’m really bad at it to begin with because I understand the money goes such a long way for them, so I usually just cave, if I even have the guts to haggle at all. But in Laos, with it being one of the most bombed and poorest countries, it’s hard to barter a few cents and dollars, even if they ARE being sneaky about it. The Laotians are also less in your face about everything. In Thailand and now in Vietnam people are constantly yelling at you “boat trip!??” “tuk tuk?!?” “sandwich?!?” “you eat here (shoves menu in your hand)” but in Laos it was way more conservative. Not everyone, but most people. People just lay around and eat and nap. I walked in an outdoor little convenience mart and thought I was alone until I saw an old lady roll over under some blankets in the middle of her shop. She didn’t get up, mind you, she just simply rolled over for comfort.

Happiness

Happiness

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

Rich Turquoise Swimming Pools

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There is so much to be learned from our time in Laos. The culture is so rich. All businesses must shut down by 11:30 (Gov’t Regulation) because the Monks have very early mornings. There is no partying, no loud noises, no touching the monks (shet), dress conservatively, ask before taking photos, and most places like you to take your shoes off before going inside. A major lesson I’ve been learning, and relearning for several years now is how to slow down. I can be an extremist most of the time, and growing up in New York there always seems to be an undying “go go go” inside of me. I find myself “striding it out” when I have absolutely nowhere to be, and then getting upset if someone cuts in front of me. Part of it is having a really competitive personality, part of it is growing up in a very large immediate and extended family, and part of it is again, growing up in the “gotta go” culture. I went to college in upstate NY, which was the first phase in slowing down. I did a season volunteering for trail crew in the wilderness regions of the Pacific Northwest, which was the second (most learned) phase in slowing down. I did a season leading Europeans back and forth across the country in a big white van, which was a MAJOR step back in the slowing down process, hah!…and finally, I moved to Wyoming, where I’ve had a 2-year introductory (although most days advanced) course to the benefits of a permanently slowed down life. Savor each bite, soak up the wildflowers, hold the door open for each and every person, get lost in nature, smile at the sky, complain about nothing, and live with gratitude and grace. Laos has reminded me to again always be present, to fully be with the people around me, and to extend all positive feelings. I am blessed.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, bliss.

A super small wine bar we popped in because it just looked, right. The bartender slid over a huge box full of quotes with no introduction, perfection.