Bangkok (Dec 23-27): Needles, Christmas, and Temples

After my 4-hour flight from Shanghai to Bangkok, I took my time going through border control, waiting for my bag, changing clothes, and then standing in line for at least half an hour to get a SIM card. Normally, I just live off of wifi while I travel but since I had some appointments the next day, I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. Also, SIM plans were so cheap that it was hard to turn down. My SIM card with the dtac provider cost me 179 Baht ($7.45AUD) for 9GB during 7 days, so essentially a dollar per day. I got a coffee from 7-11 and then figured out how to get to my hostel. It actually wasn’t too difficult once I was led in the direction of the bus. I had to take the A1 bus to Mo Chit Station, which cost me 30 baht ($1.25AUD) and then I had to get a ticket to my station (Chong Nonsi), which included a transfer at Siam Station and cost me 44 baht (1.83AUD). I probably got to the Lub D Silom hostel a bit before 2pm but they let me check in anyway. The hostel was nice in that it had air conditioning in the room, which is very necessary in 33+ degree weather! I had a much-needed shower after my all-nighter in the Shanghai airport, and then another girl arrived. She was meeting up with friends so I joined them for lunch. I soon remembered why it’s so difficult for me to travel with other people. They chose a nicer, more expensive restaurant so my meal came up to 360 baht ($15AUD), which is still a steal of a deal if I was having dinner in Australia, but it’s the most expensive meal that I’ve had here so far. I do everything as cheap as I possibly can and for this trip, I’m trying to stick to a $30/day budget (although I’ve failed miserably up until this point). My hostel was relatively pricier to begin with (just over $17AUD/night) so that really limited the amount of money that I could work with. I already came into the trip knowing that I’d be spending more money than normal during Christmas and New Year’s, so it didn’t come as a surprise. Anyway, I decided to take it easy that evening and plan out the following day before getting some sleep.

The next day (Monday), I decided to make it a Christmas Eve to remember. Back when I was in Australia, I was looking at travel clinics to get my vaccines but none of them listed any prices. I was nervous that it would be another London situation, where I would spend hundreds of dollars on a few needles. The only vaccine I needed (since I updated all of mine last year when I went to Africa) was Japanese Encephalitis. I was thinking of just not getting it but then an outbreak happened in Bali so I figured I’d rather be safe than sorry. I did some research and found out that there’s a Thai Travel Clinic in Bangkok, and they charge $16AUD per vaccine! I booked an appointment weeks ahead of time and I’m sure glad I did cause when I came at 9:45 for my appointment, the place was full of walk-ins (and they were booked all day for appointments as well). When I got there, they checked my passport and then tried to get me to fill out all of the paperwork (which I already did beforehand because c’mon, it’s me). Then I had to go to the blood pressure machine, which printed out all of the relevant numbers and then I had to go weigh myself and give back all of the information to the front desk. I then went to my consultation, which they actually do in depth – I was quite impressed! We went over everywhere I was going, down to all of the cities (luckily I brought my itinerary!), and went over my medical history and any medications I’m on. What I forgot to bring though was my vaccination record, but I still remembered all of the ones I had gotten. After about 15 minutes, the nurse recommended that along with Japanese Encephalitis, I should also get the influenza vaccine. Now, I’ve never gotten the influenza vaccine as the flu is constantly changing, and I seldom get sick anyway, but she said there’s a lot that goes around Asia so I should get it to be on the safe side. As a matter of fact, I’ve constantly been sick while living in Australia and I’m wondering if it’s because there are different viruses going around than I’m used to, or maybe it’s because I’m constantly around snotty-nosed children. Anyway, I agreed that I’d get it. Then she asked if I had gotten the chicken pox vaccine. My sister and I had both gotten the chicken pox when we were younger but our mom said that we had only gotten a few pox each. For some reason a couple of years ago, my sister got a blood test to see if she had built up the immunity to chicken pox and she hadn’t, so I’ve always been paranoid that I’d be the same. I asked if they’d be able to do a blood test and they said they could but it would take a week to get the results, which was fine. Anyway, after the consultation, I had to go pay for everything (which came to 1437 baht, or nearly $60AUD). I then had to go sit in a waiting room for about 15 minutes before they called me in. Once they called me in, I warned them about my phobia of needles before they did anything (as I alway do ever since one nurse learned the hard way when I nearly passed out). They started with the blood sample and she told me to look away, but it took forever! I felt her poke me at least five times and I almost got to the point of telling her not to worry about it cause I couldn’t stand it any longer. She said she couldn’t get any blood out of my right arm so she tried my left arm and got it out soon enough. The vaccine needles are now easy for me, so those weren’t as bad. After all of the needles, they told me to go sit in the waiting room for the next half hour so I could be observed. The thing that happens with me is when I get a needle, I’m so nervous that my hands get wet as if I ran them under a faucet. Then, after it’s all over with and I calm myself down, I get freezing cold cause my body just went into overdrive. So I sat there shivering for the next half hour, feeling somewhat silly as it was a 33-degree day that day. I asked about how I’d get the blood test results and they said I’d have to come back in. After saying that the next time I’d be in Bangkok wouldn’t be until February 22 and them still refusing to email or phone the results, I decided to just book another appointment.

Anyway, all I had consumed that day was a cold latte, which was probably my first mistake on a day of getting needles. My second mistake was instead of going to find food right after my appointment at 11:30, I decided to walk towards the dental clinic that I had an appointment at for 1pm. I had gotten a quick check-up in London about two years ago but I was overdue for another appointment and since I’m not covered in Canada or in Australia for the dentist, I’ve been holding it off. My friend suggested that I just get everything done in Bangkok so after plenty of research, I decided to go with Thantakit International Dental Centre, which often works with Australians who specifically fly to Bangkok for dental procedures. Anyway, the walk to the dental clinic was about 40 minutes and once I got close, I really didn’t feel very well. I started losing my vision badly, and it wasn’t the normal type of migraine I get. I saw a McDonald’s window out of the corner of my eye but my vision kept leaving so I couldn’t find the door. I was walking through a market and could see a window and then all of a sudden, it would disappear. It was so bizarre, and I knew I needed food as soon as possible. I finally found the door, ordered a combo meal (for less than $5), and chugged the coke so I could at least get some sugar in me. After eating, I felt normal again and I made my way to my appointment. All that I had to get done was a check-up and a cleaning (no cavities, yay!). However, the dentist told me that if I needed him to stop during the cleaning, to raise my hand, which I thought was weird because normally cleanings are the easy part when going to the dentist. That cleaning was like no cleaning I’ve ever had before – it was so extremely painful (and I have a high pain threshold!). There were a couple of times when I almost stopped him, but I made it through. When he was finished, he told me to rinse out my mouth and spit, and when I did, it was completely red! “Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded, as I think I was just shocked. He definitely did a deep cleanse! However, my teeth did (and still do!) feel so smooth and clean. At this dentist, if you pay with cash, you get 10% off so my bill came to 1080 baht ($47) – cheaper than the vaccines. After my appointment, since I was in the Siam area, I continued walking to the Siam shopping centres, which are huge!

They have stores from all over the world so you can find pretty much anything you need. Plus to top it all off, all of the shopping centres were decked out in Christmas trees and decorations, and Christmas music was blaring non-stop. I got a portable keyboard from the MBK Tower as a Christmas present for myself, so I wouldn’t have to type up all of my blogs on my phone. I spent the entire afternoon there and since I had already spent so much time walking that day, I decided to continue to Chinatown to go for dinner.

However, I had difficulty finding the exact location of Chinatown and as I was already hungry, I looked up ‘cheap eats near me’ (as I always do when I travel), and went to a restaurant called Supa, right across from the main train station. I got prawn pad Thai and a watermelon shake for 120 baht ($5.24)! I walked back to my hostel, exhausted from doing 26,000 steps, and got ready for bed.

The next day was Christmas! It honestly didn’t feel any different than any other day, and many times during the day, I had to remind myself what day it was. I first FaceTimed my parents for about an hour in the closest McDonald’s that I could find. Then I walked to the Sathorn Pier and my hope was to walk along the river until I reached the temples. However, the city didn’t really allow for people to walk along the river until further up, so I zigzagged my way through streets, often getting lost, but that’s one of my favourite things to do in a new city – you see so much more when walking randomly.

I walked by many markets and street food vendors, which was cool to see. Then I started to get hungry for lunch, so using my trusty ‘cheap eats near me’ search, I walked to Chinatown and ate at Nai Ek Roll Noodles. It was so popular that there was a line-up outside the door! I didn’t have to wait too long to get in and was seated between two people, right in front of the ‘kitchen.’ The specialty is obviously roll noodle soup, so I decided to get it with minced beef, and it was delicious!

The broth had a peppery taste, the rolled noodles were just the right consistency, and the meatballs had good flavour to them. I got my soup with a Pepsi for 100 baht ($4.36). I continued walking through random streets, stumbled upon the flower market, and made my way up to the Grand Palace.

I didn’t go in, but I was so thirsty by the time I got there since the heat had reached its peak. I found the nearest 7-11, found some stairs in the shade, and tried to cool myself down. I then walked to Khao San Road, which seems to be a street specifically made for tourists. It’s full of restaurants and vendors selling clothes, but I was still so hot so I just got a sundae at McDonald’s and waited for the sun to start setting. I walked back towards my hostel and stopped for dinner at an Indian/Thai restaurant called Home Cuisine. I got Tom kha soup, which is made with coconut milk, which wasn’t too bad although I still prefer Tom yum.

My soup along with an apple soda was 145 baht ($6.33). That was another huge day of walking, with 31,000 steps, so I slept well again that night.

On Boxing Day, I FaceTimed with my family for awhile since it was their Christmas. Then, I decided to check out the temples. I walked towards the Sathorn Pier, and got something to eat on my way there. I went to another Chinese restaurant called Prachak and it was another full restaurant. Thanks to the recommendations of some people sitting next to me, I got noodles with roast duck and shrimp dumplings, as well as a red pork bun.

Those along with a juice cost me 105 baht ($4.58) – the meal prices here are insane! I continued to the pier and went on the hop on hop off boat. For an unlimited pass, it costs 150 baht, but I decided to just get a one-way pass for 50 baht. I stopped at Wat Arun and went in for 50 baht ($2.18). They check to make sure you’re dressed correctly (I knew this beforehand) so you have to make sure your shoulders are covered and your knees are covered. This is why almost everyone ends up buying a pair of elephant pants when in Thailand, as there are numerous shops there to sell them to you. Wat Arun is absolutely stunning; it’s another one of those buildings that take your breath away.

You’re not allowed to go inside, but you can walk around the entire thing. After that, I took the ferry across the river for 4 baht to go to Wat Pho. Wat Pho costs 100 baht ($4.36) and you get a free bottle of water with your ticket! At that point, the water was necessary cause it was another hot day with no air-conditioning. I started by going to the reclining Buddha, which is a massive Buddha lying down, and takes up the length of the entire building.

They give you a plastic bag to put your shoes into at the entrance and then you walk through, getting as many pictures as you can along with all of the other tourists. This place was busy! It was so hard to squeeze in to get a picture, plus it was really hot in the building, so I didn’t spend too much time in there. Then I went to the actual temple of Wat Pho. The line-up was quite long so I took my shoes off, waited for about 15 minutes to spend ten seconds at the entrance to take a picture and leave (you’re not allowed to go inside).

Basically two people would stand in the entrance at a time to take as many pictures as they want, and then would go. Anyway, between my time at the two temples (aka on the short ferry ride across the river), I decided I should book a pedicure since a) I’ve never gotten one before, b) I’d be going to the beach the following week and c) I had been doing an awful lot of walking. I had searched for a good nail salon near my hostel and found one called So Good Nail Spa. I made an appointment for 4:30pm so after the temples, I slowly walked my way back towards my hostel, buying some flip flops on the way. I got to my appointment a bit early but they fit me in and the whole thing lasted just under an hour and a half; it was so nice!

The pedicure cost 450 baht but I also tipped the girl 50 baht so I spent 500 baht total ($21.81). I went for dinner at an AMAZING restaurant near my hostel called Mama Mia, which is basically a street food place that has seating. This has definitely been my favourite meal that I’ve had so far! I finally got to have my Tom yum soup and ordered it with seafood. Therefore, I got to eat my first octopi, which actually weren’t that bad! I also decided to try the mango sticky rice since I’ve heard so much about it and all I can say is: wow! The saltiness of the rice goes with the sweetness of the mango and the coconut milk so well!! Every bite is different – you never know if it’ll be more sweet or more salty.

I hung out at my hostel for a couple hours and then made my way to the airport. My flight wasn’t until 5:30 in the morning, but that meant I’d have to check in at 2:30 and since there were some complications about my booking (which I’ll write about in the next post), I wanted to make sure I had enough time just in case anything went wrong. I got to the airport at about 10pm and killed the time as best I could until check-in. And that’s Bangkok! Love always.

Shanghai (Dec 15-23): Back On the Road

Well let me catch you up on my time in Shanghai! I woke up on Saturday, December 15th at about 6am, got ready, packed up all of my bed sheets, said goodbye to my flatmate, and left my flat at 7am. I had to go to Southern Cross station in order to catch the airport bus by 7:45 and decided to show up early so I could get some food. I was going to Avalon airport this time, which seems a lot further than the Tullamarine airport but it’s actually faster to get to. I arrived around 8:40, got my documents checked, and went through security. Lucky for me, contact solution counts as a medicinal liquid in Australia so I was somehow able to fit all of the liquids I needed into one bag (I even took a picture so I’d be able to do it again for my next flights!). There aren’t many shops past security in Avalon so I just got a coffee and waited to board. I was SO paranoid that the airline would end up weighing my bag before getting on the plane, so I stuffed all of my heavy items in my pockets (my phone, charging pod, and camera). However, after looking around and seeing the numerous amounts of bags everyone else had around me, I realised I was being silly as my bag was only a few hundred grams over. We finally boarded the plane to leave at 10:30am and I was disappointed to find out that there wasn’t any (free) entertainment for my 8-hour AirAsia flight. It may have been a good thing that I didn’t get much sleep the night before because it forced me to relax and attempt to sleep. I don’t know if I actually got any sleep during the flight but after a few hours, I was starving! The flight attendants were serving all of the pre-ordered meals and the smells of food were making me even more hungry. I was somewhat shocked that I wasn’t offered any free food or drink during the 8-hour flight and decided to cave in and buy a meal since I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive until landing. I finally landed in Kuala Lumpur at about 4pm and had a 3-hour layover, which gave me enough time to have dinner. The flight to Bangkok was quite short – less than an hour and a half, and I arrived at about 9:30pm. I tried to go to the connecting flights but the lady checked my ticket and said that since my Shanghai flight wasn’t a connecting flight, I’d have to go through customs, get my passport stamped to enter Thailand, go through security, and get it re-stamped to exit Thailand. Not what I want to hear when the space on my passport is limited! However, I was delighted to see a Dairy Queen after I made it through security. I treated myself to my first Blizzard in a year, and had a hot dog to go with it. My layover was nearly 4 hours but it went by quickly with everything I had to do. The flight was supposed to leave at 12:15am, which was 4:15am Melbourne time so I passed out as soon as I boarded the plane. However, after an hour and a half, I woke up and realised we hadn’t left the tarmac yet. We saw the flight attendants go down the aisle with their bags and then an announcement was made that “due to technical difficulties, we were all required to disembark and we’d be notified when a new plane would be available.” As we got off the plane, we were asked for our boarding passes and were each given a number, which they wrote on our boarding pass (and kept). This number was the only proof that we had to show that we were on the flight. None of the restaurants were open anymore so I went and lied down for awhile but at 2:15, I realised that no one from my flight was around… I walked to the main flight screen only to see that my flight would be departing at 2:30 at a different gate!! I ran to the gate and it was complete mayhem when I got there. All of the boarding passes were scattered along a desk and all of the passengers were surrounding the desk in a mob, shoving their passports and numbers to the flight attendants. Some passengers even tried to go behind the desk to find their own boarding passes! I snuck in through the exit and got my boarding pass within five minutes, but I knew we wouldn’t be leaving by 2:30. Even so, I went and found my seat on the plane so I could try to get some more sleep in. The flight was four hours and I was meant to arrive in Shanghai at 5:30 but didn’t arrive until 8am. I went through customs, got some money exchanged, bought a muffin (I was so hungry since the last time I had eaten was just the hot dog and blizzard), and made my way to the metro station. The trip to Yang and Ron’s took about an hour and 20 minutes, and I had to make a couple of transfers to get there, but I figured it all out! Ron was waiting at the station for me and we walked to a cafe, where Yang and the boys were waiting. It was so nice to see them again! I hadn’t seen Yang and Evan in over three years (Evan’s in grade 3 now), and I got to meet Max for the first time, and he’s nearly two. I had some breakfast and some much-needed coffee, and then we went back to the house. Ron actually had to leave town that day for work and wouldn’t be back until Wednesday so I was able to stay at their place until he came back. Yang had made all of my favourite Christmas treats, so it was nice to have some familiar, delicious food! That day was a struggle for me and it felt like the longest day ever, as I didn’t get much sleep during the past two days. I forced myself to stay up until 9pm (the last hour was a struggle and I was literally counting down the minutes) and then I slept a good 10.5 hours.

On Monday morning, we got up and had breakfast. Then, Yang and I took Max to the only place that families can take their kids in the neighbourhood. There aren’t any green space or parks in the area that they live in (and any actual green space is fenced off) so apparently a family built an indoor playground for their kids and their kids’ friends to play in and then they kept it going for other families to use. However, it’s extremely pricey! Yang has a membership and it basically evens out to paying $20-25 each time they go. It’s insane! However, Max had a great time playing on the slides, jumping in the plastic balls, and riding around in the toy cars. Afterwards, we went to a French cafe for lunch, where we had some amazing food and desserts. We then stopped at a market so Yang could get some meat for dinner. It was neat seeing all of the meat right in front of you, and then they ground it up right when you ask.

On Tuesday, we went went to get coffee (at the London chain, Costa!) and then walked around for a bit so Max could let out some energy. She showed me one of the main tourist destinations in the area, called Tianzifang, which is a bunch of little shops along small alley-ways. We decided to get lunch at a cool Japanese restaurant, which was jam-packed with people. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to some (very expensive) cupcakes next door. Our evenings basically always included having dinner and watching at least two movies, as that had been Yang and my way of bonding back when she knew little English. Unfortunately, Evan would come home after his 7:45-3:45 school day and would usually end up doing homework from the time he got home until after dinner. They work the kids way too hard in China! The parents are responsible for checking and signing off all of the homework (and aren’t given an answer key for it). I checked his math homework one night and it was questions such as 3+4×6-2, as well as long division… for grade 3!!! I didn’t even learn multiplication tables until grade 4 and I don’t think we learnt about BEDMAS until high school. The poor kid never gets a break!

On Wednesday, we went out for breakfast so I could experience an Asian breakfast at Taoyuan Village. We had dumplings, wonton soup, some deep-fried bread, and soft tofu soup. It was delicious! Afterwards, we desperately needed coffee (as Yang and I have both found out that we get headaches if we don’t get caffeinated fast enough) so Yang suggested we go to the cat cafe that we had seen in Tianzifang the day before (Tono’s Palace). It’s so easy to get lost in the alleys so it took awhile until we finally found it. There were at least 15-20 cats in there and they would hop up on the tables next to you – Max was ecstatic! He was a bit nervous around the cats, but he was still so happy to be around them. These cats were definitely the most active out of the cat cafes that I’ve been to. That night, Ron came back home so they ended up moving me into a hotel room that was three floors above their apartment! It made it extremely easy to meet up with them each morning and to go to bed at night.

On Thursday morning, Ron was able to spend some time with us since he only had a work meeting at 4pm. Yang had to go to a parent meeting at Evan’s school, so Ron, Max, and I went for breakfast at the same cafe we had met at on my first day, and Yang joined us afterwards. We then went back to the indoor playground so that Max could play with his dad. Ron went to his meeting so that meant I was in charge of picking Evan up from school (which was just across the street). I had to wear a badge around my neck and go through a certain gate, where there was a big crowd of parents searching for their kids. The weird thing is that every family only gets one badge so if both parents come to pick up their kid, only one parent is allowed through the gate. But as long as you have a badge, you can go through. I obviously wouldn’t look like the mother of any of the kids in the school, so I found it weird how they just let me through, no questions asked. Anyway, I found Evan and we went back home. He had art class so when he was done, Yang, Max, and I went to pick him up and then we went for burgers at a restaurant in their apartment building.

On Friday morning, Ron was out getting his Shanghai residency renewed so Yang, Max and I had breakfast and relaxed at home until lunch. We met up with Ron and a couple of Evan’s friends’ parents for lunch and they ordered so much food – we couldn’t even eat it all! Evan finishes school early on Fridays so we all went to the school to pick up the kids. Evan worked on homework for a bit and then we walked to the bowling alley so Ron, Evan, and I could compete. It was only my third time doing 10-pin bowling but somehow I won the first game! I lost the second game though. The cool thing about bowling there was that tickets come out of the machine every time you knock down pins so at the end of the game, you can hand in all of your tickets in exchange for a prize. After bowling, we went for dinner at a restaurant that serves food similar to the region where Ron is from. Then, we took Evan to taekwondo. The lesson was quite long – nearly two hours – but we were able to watch the whole thing. Evan did quite well!

On Saturday, we all took a taxi to Xintiandi, which is a shopping complex but with an old-style architecture – it has a lot of character! We explored for a bit, had coffee at a chocolate shop, and then went for lunch. Since it was December Solstice, it’s tradition to go and eat dumplings with family so we went to a dumpling restaurant and that’s exactly what we did! After lunch, we took the metro to Yugarden, which is kind of a huge area of different shops and a beautiful central fish pond. We walked around for awhile and then made our way to the riverside, where we walked along the bank for a bit before heading back home. It was drizzling the entire day and none of us had umbrellas so we were cold and soaking by the time we got in the taxi. I got to test out my waterproof jacket and shoes though, and am proud to say that they work! We had dinner at home and then watched a couple of movies before I had to leave. My flight wasn’t until 6:50am the next morning but I’d have to checkin at 3:50 and metros didn’t run after midnight so I’d have to take a taxi at about 2:30. Therefore, I decided it would be better to just go to the airport and try to sleep there. However, when Ron walked me to the metro station, they said that the second train that I’d have to take stopped working at 10pm and it was already 10:30. I ended up having to take a taxi anyway. I got to the airport at about midnight but all of the seats were completely taken! I walked back towards the metro station and found a 24-hour Starbucks, bought a $7 coffee, and sat there until 3. I made my way back to the check-in counter, got ready for ‘bed,’ and as soon as I saw the flight attendants walk towards the counter 20 minutes before check-in time, I ran to get in line – I ended up being 4th but by the time they opened the counter, the line-up was already so long. I went through border control and security, and made it to the other side at about 4:30am. Of course, all of the chairs had arm rests so I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible so I could get some sleep, as I was completely exhausted. At 4:57, they started blaring Christmas music and then at 5:30, they turned the air-conditioning so high that I was shivering. I decided to get up, get a muffin, and walk around until boarding time since I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep. We left late and I was only able to attempt sleep during the first two hours of the flight, so the last two hours were quite long. Finally at about 11am, I landed in Bangkok! And I guess I’ll leave the rest for another blog post… Love always

Back on the Road – Billie Stonecipher

We Weren’t Born to Follow

My trip is going way too fast!! And I still have to catch you up on everything I did before I left Australia. Work was pretty quiet during the last few weeks, and I didn’t even get work during my last week there. On the day after I wrote my last blog, I did another photoshoot. This was for a local company who would be selling their t-shirts on Amazon, and the photographer who did my graffiti shots a few months ago asked if I’d be interested in being a model. Of course I said yes, cause when else would I be a model on Amazon? The pictures were posted a week later, and I even got a couple of free t-shirts as a thank you! The next day, I didn’t get work either so I did some shopping and then Sarah and Sabriena came over to help me make some chocolate chip cookies. When everyone else finished work, Nathan, Alexa, As, and Jessica came over to have cookies and Nanaimo bars on the patio before we met up with Kitty and Ryan for taco night at Saint Lucia. After dinner, we all went back to my house again for a short visit before everyone went home. That Saturday was Bon Jovi!! It was such a warm day so I walked to Big W to do some shopping for my trip, and then I met up with Alexa in Richmond for a drink and dinner before I went to the concert. The concert was so good, and he kept everyone entertained!! I decided to avoid the train station after the concert since it was so crowded and instead, I walked about 20 minutes to try to catch the tram. However, I JUST missed it and the next one wouldn’t be for 20 more minutes. I decided I would start walking until the next one arrived but an hour and a half went by and no tram came. Before I knew it, I was already home with some fresh blisters on my feet. The next day was my last day with Alexa since she’d be leaving to go on a trip to New Zealand. A group of us met up at Town Hall to get a picture taken with Santa since it would be the last time we’d be all together for awhile. Then, we went out for lunch before a smaller group of us went ice skating. Air Canada made the first summer skating rink in Melbourne and lucky for us, it was cooler that day so we still got to skate (as they had to close down the rink many other days since it was too hot). It was just As, Alexa, Kitty, and I so it was a smaller group and surprisingly, the Aussie was the best skater out of all of us! I think the last time I went skating was likely when I was about 15… We all made the entire 45 minutes without falling, so we were quite proud! Unfortunately, the poutine stand was closed by the time we finished so we went to an ice cream shop called Dex2rose and sat there for a couple of hours, visiting and enjoying our ice cream. We then went for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and then decided to head back home. On the way to the tram, As suggested that we go to the Myers windows since they do a Christmas display every year. In front of the windows, there was a fire truck and as I jokingly said I should hop on, one of the firemen waved us over and let us sit in the front and try on the uniforms. They were so heavy! We even got to carry the oxygen tanks and hold the tools that they would have to carry in a fire situation, so we had a ton of extra weight added on. I was sweating even though it was a cold day that day! After about 45 minutes of talking with the firemen, we finally took a look at the Myers display. This year, it was an Alice in Wonderland theme but it was actually pretty creepy. Then it was goodbye for me and Alexa, who has become one of my closest friends in Melbourne so it was tough knowing it would be a full four months until we’d see each other again.  

The next week, I got work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Little did I know, Wednesday would be the very last day that I’d ever get work. On Monday night, I went to Rent: The Musical, which was pretty good. It was nice that it was Christmas-themed, as it’s been extremely difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit this year, which is actually quite surprising. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the most Christmas-y person ever. I’ll start playing Christmas carols in November (or sometimes October), and I’ll always bake up a storm. This year, it just hasn’t felt like Christmas for me. I was actually more upset in June and July and started feeling sorry for myself because everyone would be celebrating Christmas without me. And then I’d remember that it’s June. So I think next year, I’m just going to celebrate Christmas in July because the weather is cold and gloomy, and it just feels more like Christmas. It’s been so weird seeing Christmas trees and hearing Christmas carols everywhere I go.. That weekend, I spent the entire day in bed on Friday night and on Saturday because I was feeling sorry for myself that I was leaving Melbourne. Yes, I was upset because I’d be going on a 4-month trip. I really didn’t want to leave my life in Melbourne. On Sunday, I spent half the day in bed and when I FaceTimed my parents and they said I better go out and do something, I decided to meet up with Ryan for drinks. We met at an Irish pub on Chapel Street and stayed for a few hours and then walked to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. We had this weird poutine-like dish, which was fries with fried chicken, gravy, mayo, and sriracha, and we had to eat it with chopsticks. The cool thing about this place was they had a board game room, a Nintendo room, and a karaoke room. Since it was Sunday, we got to do everything for free so we played a few rounds of Mario Kart, and then sung some karaoke. It was a fun day! 
On Tuesday night, I met up with Jess, Kitty, and a couple new girls for taco night. It was actually in a hostel but the deal was if you buy a drink, you get free tacos until they run out of ingredients. We ended up getting two each, which was more than enough! On Wednesday, I ended up doing another photoshoot. The photographer wanted to do one more with me just for fun, and as a thank you for doing the t-shirt shoot. As soon as I realised I wouldn’t get work that day, I texted him and then went home to get ready. We met after lunch and went to the botanical gardens, where we took a bunch of shots. We were approached a couple of times asking if we had a permit (which I didn’t realise we would need) but since it wasn’t a paid shoot, they let it go. After the photoshoot, I quickly went home and heated up dinner, then headed over to Ryan’s to have a couple of drinks before going to Shania Twain! I had bought my ticket a loooooong time ago, and spent $110 to sit in the fourth-last row of the stadium, nearly as far away as you could get from Shania. Ryan had wanted to go but by that time, tickets were about $250. I got an email from Groupon a few weeks ago saying that there’d be a discount on Shania Twain tickets so I sent it to him and he ended up spending about $80 and got a seat in the first level. I wasn’t too happy about my ticket! We decided that we’d try to sit together, so I sat in the seat next to his and then when those people came, we’d move to the row behind and then when THOSE people came, we’d move to the row behind. By the time we moved three times, I was like, “Okay, I think I should just go to my seat,” but the people around us were like, “No, keep going! This is entertaining for us too!” So we tried one more time. And we made it through at least half of the concert! But then at about 9:30, the people came to take their seats 😦 I moved back to my seat for the rest of the concert. Shania did a really good show and did a ton of outfit changes! However, she didn’t do an encore and she didn’t sing some of the classics cause she was singing too much of her newer stuff. But it was still a great concert! On Thursday, I had to move all of my stuff out of my flat. I had booked a car from Car Next Door, which is essentially what it’s called – if your neighbour is at work and not using their car, you can go use it and pay by the hour or the day. I paid for two hours, which was $7 per hour and then I had to pay for kilometres on top of it, so it ended up costing less than $20. I woke up and got ready, hauled all of my stuff downstairs, went to pick up the car at 10am, transferred everything into the car, drove to Nathan and Sabriena’s house, and Nathan and I unloaded the car. I stayed for a bit to visit, then left with a half hour to spare before realising that the car didn’t have a quarter tank of gas in it (which is required when you return the car) so I frantically searched for a gas station, added ten dollars, and drove it back just in time. Unluckily for me, that day was the first day in a long time with rain. Not only that but they said that we got a month’s worth of rain in that one day. So you can imagine how soaked I was by the time I got home. That afternoon, I went to get a haircut and then I met up with Jess for all-you-can-eat hotpot. We only ordered food once, but we ordered so much and couldn’t even eat it all! That night was Jess’ last night before going back to Canada for the holidays, so it was nice to spend one last night with her. 
The next day was my last full day in Melbourne! I spent the morning getting my bag ready for my trip and packing up the last of my things (which I left at my flat). Then, I had to go pick up my travel card, which is a story on its own. You see, if I want to use my Aussie bank card while travelling, I’ll get charged $5 every time I withdraw money at an ATM. I researched other travel cards and found one that wouldn’t charge me at all but when I went to that bank, they said they’d have to make me a profile and in order to do that, I’d have to prove that I’d be in the country for at least six months. When I explained that I wouldn’t be able to do that until AFTER my trip, they said that they wouldn’t be able to give me a card. My bank has a travel card which still charges $2.50 per withdrawal, but at least it’s better than 5. I ordered that card online and they told me to pick it up at the Balaclava branch in five business days. However, when I went to the Balaclava branch the next week, there was a sign on the door saying that the bank was permanently closed. I called the bank and was on the line with them for at least an hour before they finally resent another travel card to a different location in central Melbourne, on Collins Street, but I’d have to wait another five business days. So on the fifth business day (right before my haircut), I went to the bank to pick up my card. I had to wait about 10 minutes for them to check and then they asked, “Are you sure it’s at this location?” “Yes, they said on Collins Street…” “We have three locations on Collins Street.” So then, since I had to go to my hair appointment, I called the travel card centre on the way there and asked which location. The next day, I went to go pick it up and they had no idea about my card. The branch was supposed to close in the next hour and luckily one of the bank tellers sat down with me to take all of my details. “When do you leave for your trip?” “Tomorrow morning…” He called the travel card company, who confirmed that the card was sent there so he said he’d have to issue me a new one. However, I’d have to put $200 onto the card in order to get it (even though I had already put $500 on it when I ordered it). I FINALLY got my card so I left in the pouring rain (it was literally another month’s worth of rain in 15 minutes) and met up with Ryan in the closest coffee shop we could find, just so we could get out of the rain. Once the rain died down, we headed back towards my train station, where we stayed until they closed. Kitty joined us for dinner, and then Sarah came later after she finished work. Then, I had to say my goodbyes, go home, and get up a few hours later for my flight, which I’ll write about in another post. Hope everyone had a great Christmas! Love always
We Weren’t Born to Follow – Bon Jovi

Preparing for Southeast Asia

Flights, Visas, and Travel Insurance

Planning a trip is a great amount of work, especially for a planner like myself. No, I’m not just going to show up and “wing it.” No, I’m not just going to look at someone else’s itinerary and do every single thing that they do. I’m going to research. I’m going to look at TripAdvisor, Google, Pinterest, Facebook, read blogs, read multiple itineraries, and I’m going to choose the best locations for me. Over ten people have already asked me, “Oh, are you going to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand?” No, I’m not. I don’t want to go somewhere just because everyone else is going/has went. I want to find some less travelled places that are even more stunning! I had my Southeast Asia trip planned within my first two months of living in Australia. Back when I was doing my farmwork and living on a farm with nothing to do, I got the sudden urge to plan a trip. And since I had unlimited hours of free time, I spent it all researching about places to go to. I already had a rough itinerary planned before I moved out of my first house. It was when I moved into my second house (in April) that I booked my flights. The most expensive flight (in comparison to the others) was to go to Taiwan, but because I had made so many new Taiwanese friends at the tomato farm, I knew it would be worth going. In my opinion, I did a pretty good job when it came to my flight prices:

Roundtrip Melbourne to Bangkok – $763

Roundtrip Bangkok to Krabi (Thailand) – $103

Roundtrip Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – $124

Roundtrip Kuala Lumpur to Taipei (Taiwan) – $310

=$1300

Quite a few months later, I really started thinking that I should visit my sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews in Shanghai. I had pondered it before, but the price of the flights made me decide not to buy a ticket. However, I realized that I hadn’t seen my brother-in-law since he visited me in London over a year and a half ago, I hadn’t seen my sister and nephew since my 25th birthday, which was almost four years ago, and I haven’t even MET my other nephew, who turns two years old in January. I figured I should leave Melbourne a week earlier so that I could spend a week with the family in Shanghai before Christmas. So adding that (more expensive) flight into the equation:

Roundtrip Bangkok to Shanghai – $463.74 (with baggage)

=$1763.74 total,

which honestly isn’t that bad for a 4.5-month trip. On top of my flights, I also had to apply for a couple of visas ahead of time:

Visa for China – $148

Visa for Vietnam – $100 (plus postage and postal insurance).

I’ll also have to pay for my visas in Laos and Cambodia, but won’t have to pay until I arrive.  Then, I also had to look into travel insurance. I decided to go with the usual backpackers’ insurance, World Nomads. I went with the Standard Plan since I’m only travelling with a backpack and therefore the chance of me losing luggage/getting thousands of dollars worth of stuff stolen is pretty low. Plus hopefully emergency medical costs in Asia would be lower compared to other countries. I paid $395.01 CAD (or $425.04 AUD) for my 130-day trip (plus added 7 extra days when I arrive back in Australia until I get my Medicare re-sorted). Therefore, it comes to about $2.90 CAD (or $3.10 AUD) per day.

Packing

In terms of packing, I wasn’t sure whether I should go with the carry-on route or try to check in a bag. After doing a trip to Tasmania and a trip to Byron Bay/Brisbane in September, I realized that it would be a huge challenge to try to do a 4-month trip with only 7 kg. I decided that I’d probably have to check in a bag but upon looking at the prices and finding out that it would cost me 78 dollars EACH WAY for my flight from Melbourne to Bangkok alone, I knew I wasn’t going to pay over 300 dollars just to carry a heavier bag around. Therefore, the 7kg challenge was a challenge that I was going to have to accept. Since most bags weigh about 2-3kg on their own, my first step was to find the lightest bag that I could. After tons of research, I ordered a Cabin Zero bag from the UK, which cost me $110 AUD. This 44L bag is awesome because it only weighs 0.76kg, which leaves me a lot of weight to add. It has a ten year warranty, and it has a unique lost-and-found tag so I can trace my bag if it gets lost. It opens like a suitcase would, which makes finding items a lot easier.

I also decided to buy some packing cubes in order to keep my bag more organised. I had bought some cheap packing cubes for my Africa trip but the zippers already broke after opening them a few times, so this time I paid $20 for a 7-piece Waterproof set. Everything is the perfect size to fit in my backpack, and there’s even some space leftover!

Travel Essentials

In terms of items that I bought specifically for my travels, the first thing I needed to find was a new camera. I got my previous camera (Canon PowerShot S95) in 2012 for my Europe trip but a few months ago, I ended up dropping it and the lens stopped opening. I wanted to find another DSLR that would take amazing pictures so after doing a ton of research (as usual), I finally decided to go with a Canon PowerShot SX730. This camera is awesome because it connects to both Wi-fi and Bluetooth, so I can control the camera using my phone if I’m using a tripod. I can also instantly transfer all of the photos to my phone, which will then automatically upload all of my pictures to iCloud AND Google Photos so that if my camera ever gets stolen (knock on wood), I won’t have to worry about my biggest fear happening when travelling, which is losing all of my pictures (I ALWAYS try to back up my pictures at least three times). This camera also has a flip screen for easy-to-take selfies, and it also has an AMAZING zoom!! I’ll attach pictures of the Bon Jovi concert that I went to – one picture uses no zoom at all and one picture is using full zoom. The results are unbelievable! This camera set me back by $399 AUD, which is definitely worth it!

To go with my new camera, I also finally decided to cave and get a selfie-stick. I’ve never had one before and find them quite annoying when in high-tourist areas, but I also realized that they come in handy when doing solo travel. The selfie-stick that I got is also a tripod, and it comes with a remote for easy picture-taking. It has a two different attachments – one 1/4 screw head for my camera and one phone holder, so I can use it with both my camera and my phone. The BlitzWolf Selfie Stick cost me $27.99AUD.

Another travel essential is a portable charging pod. I had already gotten my Poweradd Pilot X7 before, and I use it almost everyday when my phone is about to die when I’m coming home from work. It states that it can charge an iPhone 7 six times and with my iPhone 6s, I can definitely get at least ten charges out of it. Perfect when you don’t know the next time you’ll be around a power outlet! 

And speaking of power outlets, it’s also important to have a good adapter. I got my universal adapter a couple of years ago when I was living in London and I take it on all of my trips (and now use it everyday for all of my Canadian items in Australia). While it’s a bit bulky, it has every outlet option to plug into, plus it has 2 USB ports and 1 plug-in, so I can charge three items at one time (whether it be my camera, phone, pedometer, selfie stick, charging pod, etc.) – so handy!

The last electronic device that’s not necessarily an essential, but is nice to have is my new Mi Band3, which is like a FitBit but a different brand. It has the time, the weather, counts my steps, tracks my light and deep sleep, and will update me of any messages I get on Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc (obviously only if I’m on data or Wifi).

Thank goodness it was just Black Friday because I was able to take advantage of travel deals last week! I was on the search for hiking shoes and a waterproof jacket, and stopped at the DFO (designer fashion outlet) to find the best deals. I made all of my purchases at Adventure Megastore, which is the only store (that I know of) in Australia that sells Columbia products. I found some waterproof hiking shoes, which out of all of the shoes I tried on at DFO, I liked the best because they were less bulky than all of the other waterproof shoes (as in they just felt like regular running shoes). I got the Columbia Peakfreak XCRSN II Xcel shoe for $149 (originally $250). I then found a waterproof Columbia Arcadia II rain jacket for $99 (originally $180).

The last essential item that I got is a type of travel belt, but it’s not your typical ugly travel belt that your mom makes you wear on your first flight to Europe. I love these ones because they are made for people who run (not me), so they can put in their phones, keys, etc. It’s a stretchy piece of fabric that goes around your entire body so you have to put it over your head or your legs in order to take it off – no one will be able to clip or cut it off. It fits tightly against your skin so if you’re wearing a shirt overtop, you can’t even tell that it’s there (and you usually forget that you have it on). I bought one from a company called Stashbandz for my Africa trip and loved it – I’d always put it on when we went through border control. I tried to get the same one for this trip but after having to wait over a month for it to come from the US (it still hasn’t arrived), I found a similar one from an Australia-based company called FlipBelt.

So now, I have less than 24 hours to make sure my bag is 7kg or smaller. Right now, I’m hovering around 7.3kg, but I’d like to stay on the safe side, especially because I’ll be taking multiple flights and I’ll probably accumulate some stuff on my trip. Wish me luck!