Koh Pha Ngan= swimming in the kiddie pool

This story is much better in person as there is an element that needs to be acted out for full enjoyment, but just try to play the movie in your head. It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds.

bungalow sunset

After visiting Bangkok and Khao Yai National Park, I headed to the Thai island Koh Pha Ngan.  I heard the islands were beautiful and super fun from a couple of friends who had visited. Um, maybe during full or half moon parties, because I was pretty much just stuck on a deserted island. Still beautiful! Not at all what I was expecting.

My bungalow had a great view, but you couldn’t really go swimming. The tide was super low. Although I knew there were people staying at the same place as me, I never actually saw them, so I felt very isolated. And then there was the issue of transportation. Since I am unable to drive a motorcycle/motorbike (The bungalow owners gave me a tutorial but it was disastrous. Everyone said it was so easy??), I was pretty much stranded for two nights at my little shack since nothing was in walking distance.

I spoke to my friend back home who had visited before. She helped me look up a place to go the next day- a snorkel/SCUBA place at the beach Koh Ma. Trouble was I couldn’t get there on my own, so she suggested a songthaew. How this works is I walk along the road until a pickup truck stops. I negotiate on a price. I hop in the bed of the truck, and hope I get to my destination!

bungalow sunset (2)
Beautiful sunset
bungalow
my little room
bungalow view
View from my bungalow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It worked out and I ended up at the snorkel place at Koh Ma When I arrived the woman told me I couldn’t go snorkeling. Why? The tide was too low. Pha Ngan means sandbar, didn’t you know? Maybe I could stop back later.

 

beach
Check out that tide!

I made the best of it- chilled on the beach and in the water. A little later that afternoon I went back. This time a guy (Dutch but moved to Ko Pha Ngan) was aghast at my snorkel plan. He told me to just come out with them tomorrow. They were taking a boat to where it was deep. “I can’t,” I replied. “My ferry/flight back to mainland is tomorrow. I just want to do something.”

So he took me down to the water, amazed I didn’t have have anything to wear in the water but my bikini. I was really not prepared for this.

He points to a wooden beam about 100 yards away. He says I have to swim in a straight line until I get to the beam or else I will run into rocks (this is the boat path). Awesome, but the water is up to my shins. Can I at least wade part way? No, there are urchins and coral, so I must swim so I don’t step on anything.

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This is not me- but hopefully it helps the visual? https://www.masterfile.com/search/en/shallow+water

Here’s where the miming comes in. The water is not more than a foot deep. I am face down. I am kicking hard with my arms by my sides. I cannot move my arms; the bottom of the sea is too close. My nose is like an inch away from the sea floor. I am kicking as hard as I can for those 100 yards BUT it makes me tired, and I hate the feeling of breathing through a snorkel. I need to stop and put my feet down approximately 6 times along the way. This is very hard to manage, and when I stand up, the water only comes to my shins. It must be a hilarious image.

I make it to the beam and a deeper part. I am alone in the Gulf of Thailand. Literally no one knows where I am and there are no waivers to sign. I swim around and I wish I had an underwater camera because it is so beautiful and colorful. I follow schools of beautiful fish, my favorite being these silvery iridescent ones. There were these super cool flat, oval-y shaped, colorful, plant like things that “grew” on the rocks. Each was a different vibrant color and looked like it was opening and closing, or that may have just been the water softly moving it. Either way, a thousand Google searches won’t give me an answer. I wish I had seen some sea turtles, but you can’t have it all! I had a “me” moment where I forced myself to sink to the bottom to pick up a beautiful bright white shell with my toes. It took about 4 tries, but I managed to transport this shell all the way back to Florida. It’s meaningful to me because it was a “growing day ” where I had to make the best of it and take some chances. Here I’ll include some other photos similar to what I saw:

fish 5
https://eu.fotolia.com/id/242313006
fish 4
https://www.adventureinyou.com
fish 3
https://i.pinimg.com/236x/00/f0/eb/00f0ebf0cd8308749ba85a907d462904–koh-phangan-tao.jpg
fish 1
https://remoteandafloat.com/
fish 2
https://diveadvisor.com/thailanddivers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was out about 1 1/2- 2 hours. Definitely very tired, but trying to get it all in. Will I ever do this again? When it was time to go back in, it was even more hilarious than kicking my way out. I am swimming into shallower water, twice as exhausted, hair wild, stopping maybe 8 times to catch my breath. I must have looked like cast away pulling myself out of the water, a complete mess. Lips extremely saltwater chapped, back burned, hair tangled, lovely goggle lines around my forehead and cheeks. I made it. It was literally one of the most empowering moments I had in my life. It sucked and it was great. What a weird day.

boar 2

sunset 3swingI spent the rest of my time at that beach going to 7-11 for chapstick and oreos and eating a cheeseburger that was definitely not beef (so not eating it). I saw some giant boar just chilling on the beach & captured a beautiful sunset.

beach sunset 2

sunset 4

I also got this cool scar. It has faded by now, but somewhere in my snorkel adventures my knee must have made contact with something. Any ideas??

knee.jpg

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Don’t be Greedy: A Couchsurf Story

Ha Long Bay (and Vietnam in general) was absolutely one of my favorite places to visit, and definitely a favorite for this specific SE Asia trip. This post will cover a crazy couchsurfing night I had the eve of my Ha Long excursion.

Prior to my trip, I updated my couchsurfing profile to reflect a rough itinerary of my trip. I ended up couchsurfing twice, but also meeting up with about 3 people from the site. An Indian man about my age (late 20s) named Dikshit (my favorite name ever as of now) messaged me and said he was also planning to go to Ha Long Bay the beginning of July. This man was a godsend, as he basically set up the whole trip for us; I was still in Thailand/Cambodia by the time he got to Vietnam, so he got to know his way around and  find the perfect boat ride for us.

The boat ride I found was hilarious: there were 3 different price rates, the lowest would halongmenu.jpgsay things like “food: not very good” “bus: uncomfortable”, so luckily Dikshit found something in our price range which was SO much more fun.

I took Viet Jet from Siem Reap to Hanoi on July 4, and did not land until around 10pm. I asked Dikshit previously if he could ask his couchsurf host if I could join them the night before we left for Ha Long. Since I wasn’t getting in til late, and my bus left at 8am, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. And it wasn’t. But it was an experience.

Dikshit warned be that his host was a little different. He might have even used the word “weird”. What I got I was not expecting.

By the time I got to the heart of Hanoi from the airport, it was about 11pm. I was dropped off by a beautiful opera house.hanoi1.jpg

I took a taxi to a bar close to the couchsurf apartment. Then I walked through  Dikshit            dark alleys with all my gear for approximately 30 mins. I could not find this  place. Dikshit ended up meeting me outside the apartment, and warned me again that his couchsurf host was weird.couchsurfing drunk

Ok, so I enter the apartment. It is one bedroom. There is a short little Vietnamese man in his boxers and a silky robe. There are three girls in the room I come to learn have been staying with him for a while. When I enter, two of the girls and the man have their arms around each other in a swaying huddle/hug. I find out the girls are also Couchsurfers, and they are all high on weed. The girls begin interpretive dancing around the room, and tbh, they are not acting like a weed high. Maybe they took something else? Whatever, the Vietnamese man is loving this. Someone offers me weed but NO, this doesn’t seem safe!

dangersome.gif

Anyway, one girl suggests they play this game called “Don’t be greedy” which was the most ridiculous but entertaining game. She had a piece of a chocolate bar, and they passed it around taking tiny nibbles. Whoever had to eat the very last piece, I don’t know, I don’t remember, but there was some funny consequence no one wanted. Ok, this chocolate piece got so small, I don’t know how they were even biting it. One Couchsurfer said it was all saliva by then.

gross

So it’s time for bed. We’re all, all six of us, are sleeping in here. A 10×20 room with no beds, a large mattress on the floor. Approximately 4 blankets and 3 pillows. Oh, and we’re all just laying next to each other, so I am lying right next to my Ha Long Bay mate 30 minutes after meeting him.

sneaky2I woke up at 3am, and desperately needed a pillow. I stole my          sleeping Couchsurf host’s; he didn’t seem to notice or mind.

Dikshit and I had to get up before 7am (it is already “Feels Like” 93 degrees out according to my weather app) to get the bus to another bus to get to Ha Long Bay. Again, thank God for Dikshit for knowing how to navigate himself to our bus and even knowing which one and where we stop and paying attention. Also knowing to be quiet. I got shushed on the bus twice for talking too loud when the men were trying to sleep on their way to work.

We get to our stop andddd the office is closed. And there is no bus. And there is no bus for long time (I buy and eat a bag of assortment pastries in the meantime, which Dikshit bargains for). So we try calling the company on my phone which is like $4/minute (I probably used that phone to make calls for at least 15 mins in SE Asia and never did get a bill…thanks Sprint!). Anyway long story short they say they’re on the way. We wait a long time. We call again. We wait. And then we get our bus!

Can’t wait to post the wonders of Ha Long Bay and a bunch of drunk backpackers in the next post!

 

Tokyo: My Last and Latest Travel Experience

Let me set the stage: I am on my last leg of my solo trip to Southeast Asia. It is Day 18. Day 16 is the last time I was at a hostel/in a bed/had a shower. I have gone from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Tokyo all within a 16 hour period. I just want to preface this story with: I’m exhausted and possibly a bit delusional.

My flight back to Tampa has a nine hour layover in Tokyo. I’ve done my research and I know that the Narita Intl Airport is pretty much an hour and a half by train (N’EX) from the outer city of Tokyo, but with nine hours to kill, I should be able to get at least 4-5 hours in the city (wrong).

I found a blog that recommended how to visit Tokyo with a long layover. Basically, my goal was to eat sushi and say I visited Tokyo, very well aware that this was about all I had time for. The blog discussed taking the train to Shibuya, seeing Shibuya crossing, getting conveyor belt sushi, and visiting Yoyogi Park. I am happy to say I accomplished all of the above! It was getting back to the airport that defeated me.

I landed in Tokyo after 8:40am, so I already had time against me. When I tried to get a locker at the airport to hold my backpack, I needed yen. When I went to the closest exchange counter, waited in line for 10 minutes, I was told I needed to go to the downstairs exchange counter for the type of currency I had. After finding that exchange counter, making the exchange, returning to the lockers, and purchasing a train ticket, I have squandered my time away to past 10am. Another unfortunate situation is the train I need only goes out every 30 minutes or so, so I am not out of there until around 10:45 am… with a 90 minute train ride ahead of me…

I did not get to Shibuya until after noon. My 4-5 hours diminished to 2 1/2 tops. I saw/walked through Shibuya crossing and found Genki Sushi easily with help from a local. This was a fun stop for conveyor belt sushi, and I ended up sitting next to a fellow traveler who was visiting a friend in Tokyo. THANK GOD for this, otherwise I probably never would have made it anywhere other than the sushi place (…or maybe that would have been a better outcome?) For the life of me, I can’t remember her name, but she was wonderful and took me to look at some shops in the area. I looked at beautiful Japanese makeup stores and saw an owl cafe.

 

 

She showed me the statue of Hachiko, the dog who waited for his owner every day next to the Shibuya station, even after his owner’s death. And as fate would have it, she was meeting a friend at Yoyogi Park and offered to go over there with me.  We had to take a bus over, and, as this adds to the plot later on, I have no experience with public transportation- especially buses. We visit the park, view the Meiji shrine, and see a display of painted barrels all holding saki. Fun!

 

yoyogi3

 

​Now I’m cutting it close. It’s a little after 2:30, and I got to step on it to get to the airport to catch my second connection to Chicago. She tells me to go back to the bus station and take the bus back to the Shibuya station so I can catch my train (that only comes every 30 or so minutes) back to the airport. Miss my train, miss my flight, and have I mentioned I haven’t slept in 32 hours? Now, eight months later, I’m a little rusty on exact times, but I think my train was at 3:15. So I rush back to the bus station, and oh my gosh there is no help kiosk. So I play around on the little computers to see if I can find the ticket I need. I can’t. I run the wrong way through a turnstile to see if someone can help me. There’s no one. I finally come across a man at a counter and I explain I need to get to the Shibuya train station. I pay him some money and he prints me a piece of paper and points to some steps going down that I didn’t notice before..?

I race down and get to the next set of turnstiles BUT I DON’T HAVE A TICKET TO INSERT. I just have this bulky piece of printed paper. I’m losing it. I go to the man at the counter, and man, being an emotional person just does not translate well in SE Asia. (See following posts: Bangkok Breakdown 1, Bangkok Breakdown 2, Koh Phangan Fresh Water Panic, Siem Reap Overheated Anger Exhaustion– I think by the time I made it to Vietnam, I got my shit together.) So I try explaining to this man I just paid someone upstairs to get a bus ticket and what does this ticket even do if I can’t get through the turnstile, and he is just so over me and my crying (32 hours….) that some lovely family from Canada steps in. A lovely husband and wife and two small kids. The husband talks to the bus man, gets me the right ticket, and ESCORTS me to my platform. I have never been so grateful for someone in my whole life. I hope that family is living a beautiful life.

This is where I figured it would all get better. So I wait a couple minutes, get on my bus, and am on my way to the train station so I can catch my train so I can catch my flight so I can go home and eat some grilled cheese for Pete’s sake.

I get to the train station. I know by now the best thing to do is go STRAIGHT to the help desks because my dumbass can’t figure out maps, timetables, or generally public transportation at all. There are two women there. I tell them I need the train for the airport. They look at the time and look at me. “I don’t know if you’re going to make it. It’s all the way on the other side of the station,” the one poor, poor lady says. I begin to sob so hard I am literally crouched over under the edge of the counter. “Ok, where is your ticket,” another lady asks. I go to get my ticket and WHERE THE HELL IS MY TICKET. Oh my gosh, I start crying harder. I empty literally EVERYTHING from my purse. I have to view this from these poor ladies’ perspectives. Some American girl is bawling her eyes out to the fact she can’t even stand straight, and then she starts emptying her entire purse contents all over the counter. “It’s not HERE!” I bawl. “Maybe it’s in your wallet?” one lady suggests. I calmly open my wallet to see it right there. There is a silence.

dog

After getting this sorted out, I SPRINT in the direction they tell me to catch this darn train. It’s on the third level. I enter my ticket into yet another turnstile and look around. Steps point to a 1st floor. Another set of steps point to a 2nd floor. WHERE’S THE THIRD FLOOR?! I run up one set of steps in hopes there’s another one, but no luck. Again, this is something that needs to be viewed from the perspective of a poor Japanese citizen who just happened to be in my wake. I run back down the steps yelling “WHERE’S THE THIRD FLOOR??” holding up the number three with my hands. I stand facing the turnstiles everyone is entering through hollering, “third floor?! third floor?!” No one makes eye contact. Darnit.

ilana

​I run back up a set of stairs and run around the platform. More steps!!! I run up again and hey, look, it’s the third floor! It is LITERALLY two minutes until my train. I get right to the platform and there is a train there and how do I know for sure if it’s mine?! I jump on the train. “Airport?” I ask loudly. “Does this go to the airport?!” I gesture my arms as airplane wings and say airport a few more times. Crickets. I jump off  the train just in case it’s not the right one. I will ask! But then the train starts pulling away. Oh God, not without me. I am not proud of this, but I will view it from an unsuspecting Japanese person’s point of view. I curl my fingertips around the edge of the window from the outside of the train and hold on. My train is pulling away. I need to get to the airport. I literally have my hands up on the windows like the train will carry me with it. I cannot imagine what is going through the passengers’ heads.

Some lovely man whose job is probably to deal with nutcases like me pulls me off the train. He asks where I’m going. I show him my ticket. He leads me eight steps to the other side of the platform. He puts me next to the 8 on the ground where the train car with my reserved seat is. Thirty seconds later, my train to the airport pulls up.

Those were my nine hours in Tokyo.