100 Days on the Road.

I’ve been travelling for 100 days.

I originally believed that this 100th day of travel would coincide with the first day of Autumn; my favourite season. It doesn’t. I though September 21 was always the first day of Autumn. It isn’t. Now I know.

Regardless I’m in too deep to stop writing now so here we go.

I’m in Busan right now, having spent 5 days on the island of Jeju (and that reminds me that I have to get started on that post as well…). I arrived 2 days ago and spent my first day bumming in a local café for some writing and trip planning (I head to Japan in a week’s time).

So 100 days. What changes in 100 days. Travel style? Nope I’m still chugging along with my “backpacking but also not backpacking” style. My original travel plans? Not really…I mean my trip to Malaysia wasn’t something I’d planned when Ifirst envisioned this trip, but nothing along the lines of scrapping Asia and flying down to South America.

I actually was just having a similar discussion with someone I met when I first arrived in my hostel.

Something that I suspected would happen, but wasn’t able to fully confirm until the trip started, is that sometimes I just need a day to hang around and not do anything. Whether I just scroll through Instagram at a local cafe, take a walk around the local area and then call it a day, there are days where all I plan to do is nothing. Sightseeing, especially if transitting to multiple locations sprread out across a city, can get exhausting (see my prevous post about my time in Berlin).

The type of people I vibe with…this hasn’t really changed as much as I feel I’ve gotten a bit more confident at initiating conversation with new people. I’ve never taken lightly to fools, incompetent or lazy individuals (within reason…I consider myself lazy but would never waste days upon days when travelling in a new city), or party animals. This is the same even back home, though, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people and personalities that I have been able to click with.

I’m still working on not feeling guilty if I make plans for the following day and then cancelling. It’s my own long holiday, for goodness sake, what’s there to feel guilty about?

Probably the biggest thing I can say changed is my worries about jobhunting and money. Which I know isn’t exactly travel related, but it pertains to my mindset and way of thinking.

I should start by saying that, in complete honestly, I want to be wealthy. My main reason for wanting a good job is to see my savings grow and hopefully retire early and live comfortably and easily at whatever age I end up retiring. To be in a position where my bank account is only depleting, it’s a little hard sometimes. But it was worse when I first started. I honestly contemplated not going on this trip because I knew that it would keep my savings account at a decent level. And then there were a few days I was watching my budget so closely I ended up more stressed and just feel as if those were wasted days I could’ve spent enjoying the city I was in. And while I stay budget conscious (I am sadly not made of money), it’s not something I’ve decided I need to waste time worrying about.

Ironically, while my friends working back home are jealous of the fact that I’m travelling for so long, I find myself jealous of the stability that comes with a job and the aforementioned money. I know this is an unhealthy mindset, but I did pretty much just admit I’m money obsessed.

I planned this trip because I wasn’t able to get bridged into a full-time position at my last co-op job (student work contract). I was heartbroken; I had finally found a job that Ioved and that was relevant to my degree, but a series of unfortunate events and bad timing meant that once my contract was over, that was it. And while I know the desire to travel would have been strong had I begun a full time job ASAP, I had really wanted to keep my position.

Anywho, after realizing that I officially had no obligations after my graduation, I decided that it was the perfect time to take a “gap half-year”, as I keep saying. It would be a way for me to travel places I’d wanted to visit for years, reunite with friends across the globe, take a breather from the last 6 years of school, and, more importantly, hopefully drill into my brain that I can only plan so far in advance. And I admit to worrying quite a bit how the jobhunt would-well, will go once I return home. But no point worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. My worries still pop up every now and then, but I’ve opened up to so many people at this time that it’s easier to talk about, and I hope that’ll make it easier to face head-on once I’m sitting in front of my laptop back at home and searching up postings. I’ve always been a planner, and have loved planning things  in advance, but sometimes, you just can’t.

I didn’t go on this trip to discover myself, try my hand at independence, or escape from anything in particular. I  simply didn’t want to start jobhunting. While some go on a round the world trip to find what they want, I’ve found that my goals have cemented themselves even more in my mind.

But until then, here’s to the next few months of running away from adult responsibilities!

Until next time!

Busan, South Korea

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On Homesickness

I could feel the lump forming in my throat and my eyes getting warm and watery. I gritted my teeth and managed to suck back the tears I could feel forming, but the lump stayed. The sudden urge to cry had come on suddenly and without warning, and I wondered if I could find an area to be alone and cry to just get it over with.

If I told you this happened in the first day of my travels, it shouldn’t come as a shock.

How about if I said this happened less than a week ago, the day I left Seoul for Jeju? Approximately 3 months into my trip?

Maybe that’s a bit more surprising. It is to me. I had just skyped my parents the same morning and had experienced a wonderful week in Seoul and my guesthouse. And maybe that’s why. Leaving a place I had felt so welcome and cared for to somewhere different, maybe it was too much of change. The night before I had enjoyed playing trivia games with several friends. The next morning, as I prepared to leave, I was all alone. Maybe it was too much and too abrupt of a change. The video call with my parents may just have reinforced that I was still going to be away from home for another 9-12 weeks.

I didn’t even feel that excited about the next leg of my journey until my plane was preparing to take off. And even then it was just a small flicker of a feeling; something that made me think “Oh I think I’m finally a little excited for Jeju.” In typical Nathalie fashion, I attempted to comfort myself by internally monologuing this blog post during the bus ride from the airport to my next hostel. Yay for moments of creativity in sad times.

On my first full day away from home, back in June, I had the same feeling. A lump in my throat, warm, wet eyes, as the fact that I’d be away from home for 6 months really sunk in. I’d been away for a bit less than half of that amount of time before, but at that time there was a set date to retun back. This time, there wasn’t. Before Christmas. That was all I had as an indication. I (foolishly, I now realize) found myself counting down the approximate weeks until I got to go home.

One day into my solo journey, in Oslo, as I ate dinner alone at my AirBNB, I let the homesickness take over. I full out bawled for a good ten minutes. Besides being homesick, I had convinced myself I was going to be miserable in my next hostel and meet nobody but creepy people. It was overwhelming. I  missed home, I was super nervous about what I was getting into…and I missed my dog (KIRA WAH I still do).

In Denmark, another bout strong enough to drive me to tears. This time, in addition to another round of homesickness, I had now convinced myself that I was going to get robbed in Thailand or at some point get on a bus and be dropped off in the middle of nowhere and not be able to find my way back.

And then in Seoul. Which took me entirely by surprise, but now seems understandable given the contrast between the night before and the morning of.

So. 4 big bouts of homesickness (plus some other factors). Some of the few times in my life I would say I felt a deep sadness and ache in my heart.

But you know what, I do miss home. I miss my family, friends, dog, the feeling of my home, and being at home. Waking up to the sound of rain in my bed and having tea with my mom and lazing on the couch watching TV.

I’m really close with my parents, and I know this isn’t the case for every traveller. In fact, so many blogs I come across discuss how the author was able to sell all their stuff and quit their job and travel indefinitely because they didn’t have a super close relationship with their family. I message my mom pretty much everyday. For a while we were skyping every week. As excited as I am to travel, I’m equally excited to return home, share stories and gifts, and be back in my house (OK my parent’s house…).

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you find yourself homesick a lot, you’re not alone. If you’ve never felt even the slightest bit homesick, I envy you. More than once I’ve considered cutting my trip short and going home. But I pushed forward. Not out of some sort of obligation that I had to stick to my 6 month travel plan, but because I know I’ll find myself away from home again in the future, whether it be for more travel or for Mandarin immersion or for work, and I have to learn to deal with this sadness that sometimes comes upon me, often at the most inconvenient at times (or the most ironic, like during the aforementioned time in Oslo and I was having soup that I thought could use more salt, and then lo and behold TEARS).

I myself find these feelings slightly ironic because I love alone time. I love eating alone, sightseeing alone, just walking around and exploring a new place and my own pace. When arriving in a new hostel though, I can tell fairly quickly how the atmosphere will be for meeting people. And if the atmosphere is lively and social, I love meeting new people from all over. If the atmosphere is kinda blah, I make the most of it regardless.

In addition, there’s always the loneliness that I feel when I leave a place where I met so many amazing people and made fast friends. This can’t be helped. We meet people, then say goodbye, make friends, lose friends…it happens everywhere. The sadness that comes with leaving (or being left by) an amazing group of people or an amazing place…while heavy on the heart, is how I know that the city and people made their way into mine

Bali Baes (AKA 6 days in Ubud – A Review)

Yes yes excuse the slightly tacky title that me and 2 friends named ourselves during our 6 day adventure in Ubud.

So Ubud is quite a popular tourist destination ever since the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” came out. I could describe my time there simply as “Eat, Haggle, Take-50-pictures-of-friends-so-at-least-1-turns-out”.

We stayed about a 15 minute drive outside of the city at Gangga Blessta Homestay. If you ever find yourself in Ubud book yourself in here because the level of service we received and the friendships we forged will forever stay with us.

We decided to hit the Traditional Art Market in Ubud for our first day. Not so much a traditional market as a souvenir market, the 3 of us got to practice our haggling, to very satisfying success. I admit that I usually am too shy to haggle, don’t feel like I should if the item is already fairly cheap, and always fear that I’m taking away money from the people who sell these things as a living. However, here, where everything is inflated to 3-5x the price it should be, it was time to refine my skills. The 3 things that seemed to work the best for me: Be smiley and have a fun tone when you name lower prices, go for the older stall ladies, and walking away with a smile and “no thanks”. I bought a bit more than anticipated…but I am being mindful of my budget, and am getting things I know I couldn’t find back home.

The next day was a long one. Tegenungan Waterfall and Pura Besakih, the most important temple on the island of Bali. The three of us found our “signature pose” while wandering the grounds with our guide. We also stopped by a coffee plantation and had a sampling tray of some of the most delicious teas and coffees I’ve ever tasted. If anyone reading this ever has the chance to try mangosteen tea and coconut coffee, accept ASAP.

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When we fit in Jatiluwih Rice Terraces into the next day’s itinerary, we expcted maybe to spend an hour there. However, with walking paths covering the grounds encompassing no less than 600ha, we took 3 hours to wander and take ‘gram-worthy pictures. I loved these terraces because it was very easy to get away from the crowds. You simply walk a few minutes and you have a wonderful scenic area all to yourself.

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The highlight of our Ubud adventures was definitely the sunrise treking adventure up the active volcano Mount Batur. 1am wake up, 2am pickup, 3am breakfast, and 4am start time. We reached the freezing cold and windy viewpoint at 5:30am, and even in leggings and a windbreaker I was shivering like crazy. I had to hold a freshly boiled egg in my hands for a slight bit of relief. Thankfully, after an absolutely gorgeous (but frickin cold) sunrise, walking in the direct sunlight helped to warm us quickly. A highlight of the trip, for sure.

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We took a well deserved spa and ice cream filled itinerary the next day. With my skin still recovering from a sunburn I stupidly received in Sanur, and sore quads from the hike, I was most thankful for the full body massage, scrub, and yogurt rinse. Also because I won’t be able to be spoiled like that in Vancouver. Maybe for $200…

Also I am in love with mangosteens and don’t even want to think of what I’m going to do when I can’t find someone in the market or at the side of the road selling fresh mangosteens (sobs).

Ubud is a great base if you plan to make longer trips to the famous temples and attractions. The city itself is busy, but we still found local restaurants that weren’t full of tourists and lots of cute places for small treats.

As for me, it was an amazing energy boost to travel with 2 friends for a week. I love solo travel and alone time, but now that I’m nearly halfway through this trip seeing familiar faces was super refreshing. And I will admit that as much as I enjoy eating alone, it was fun to once again enjoy good conversation over meals!

Until next time!

3 Days in Java

(Aside: I am VERY delayed on these postings and am trying my best to remember the best details to relay to you wonderful readers!)

I can’t remember anymore what exactly I was searching; “Best temples in bali”? “Best temples in Indonesia”? “Day trips from Bali”? The specifics escape me at this point. But what I do remember is a picture of Prambanan and Borobudur temple. And falling in love. And realizing immediately that I had to see this temple. Finding out it was on Java, a separate island from Bali. Searching possible ways to do a one day tour from Bali. Thinking that I wanted more than 1 day for this now definite side trip. Leaving the planning until about a month before I was due to land in Bali, and booking the return flight during my stay in Zürich. I was going to Yogyakarta!

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I booked an early morning tour of Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that lay abandoned following the Javanese conversion to Islam. This meant a 3am wake up time to drive to the lookout point that would provide a view of Borbobudur and the surrounding mountains as the sun rose. It was a slightly foggy morning so the temple outline wasn’t very clear, but everyone was respectful and quiet as the light of day hit us, and I could only imagine the craziness and non-stop shutter sounds if I had booked the sunrise tour at the temple itself.

At 6am we were driven to the temple grounds itself. After milking the fact that I can still abuse my student card for student entrance fee prices (no shame because it was $30 for Borbobudur/Prambanan joint ticket with student card and $50 without), it was time to explore. I had had a very dull and dissapointing first week in Indonesia, and as soon as I took a step into the temple complex I felt complete. The top level, with stupas and amazing mountain views, simply blew me away. Most of the sunrise crowd has dissapated, leaving only a handful of people and making it easy to find areas of solitude.

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For the following day, I had an afternoon tour booked of Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. At 5 hours long, I would be able to catch the sunset at the temple complex. The main grounds were busy, but a 1 minute walk to a trail surrounding Prambanan was basically abandoned. The friend I travelled with and I found a wonderful viewpoint that offered a stunning panorama of the entire temple complex and the setting sun. With the annual jazz festical providing a (surprisingly) soothing soundtrack, I allowed the pride and satisaction of my ability to plan a side trip to set in.

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With limited time in Indonesia, I cannot recommend Borobudur and Prambanan enough. It’s even posible to fit both in one day, though I feel as if I may have been “templed out” had I done such a thing.

So for those thinking of detours on their main travels; I say go for it!

Until next time!

“So you’re backpacking?”

“Uhhhh…” I graciously mumble as the question comes my way. The guy asking stares at me expectedly.

“Well yes. Kind of…? I mean, Ihave a backpack but it’s also like a roll on which I mainly use it as especially in airports but this is sort of a gap year trip for me and I have a backpack.”

He blinks. “Sorry, what was that?”

“mother-“

Yeah so I do NOT have a way with words, contrary to what I like to think. But I’ve thought about this question quite a bit: am I backpacking?

This, of course, depends on your definition of backpacking. More accurately, on my definition. Am I using a backpack? Yes. Am I in hostels? Sometimes. On a budget? Of course I’m not made of money (one day. One day…).

So on the surface, wouldn’t it seem like I’m backpacking?

(You’re probably all wondering where I’m even going with this, but hold tight).

Were I to be asked this question again, I would say I’m travelling the world, but not as a backpacker.

A bit of detail on how I like travelling: I will gladly spend more money to stay in a hostel with amazing reviews, especially when it comes to location, safety, and the attitude of the staff. I am not the traveller that is trying to spend as little as possible and is more than happy to stay in $3 dorms. In fact, if I can work it in my budget, I’ll pay for a private room. I need to sleep; I’m not a night owl and if I don’t sleep I feel sick the next day. Over the years I’ve become a light sleeper (curses) and so not having to worry about dorm mates is a breath of relief sometimes. This isn’t to say I won’t stay in dorms; only that getting the cheapest deal is not my priority. Plus I am so picky about bathroom cleanliness so I could be down to my last penny and would find a way to scrape enough together for a place with a good bathroom.

When I was researching for this trip, I came across many blogs and sites that discussed how to travel on a budget. Most (not all, I admit) were able to travel on such a budget because of one important thing: they spent no money on outings. This is understandable, but not for what I want to experience on this trip. My day at the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, out in the jungles of Chiang Rai with a hostel tour, and everything I have planned for Indonesia woud not be possible if I was on a budget of $20 a day or less.

Furthermore, my bag is too big to only be a carry on. I have to check it for each flight I take. Since I’m travelling across a range of climates (cool Scandinavia to humid Thailand and warm north Asia) I have a mix of clothes which can be layered or worn on their own. Important, especially I plan (and have already done) on doing some day hikes while travelling.

So are there actually any aspects where I am closely following a budget and not spending/spending minimal? Of course!

When and where I can, I walk. I plan my days so I can hit multiple attractions within walking distance within one another. This isn’t always possible, but it depends on the city. I eat cheaply. In Europe this meant cooking my own food as much as possible. In Asia this means convenience stores and street food. Just because I spend more to be comfortable and put my mind at ease in no way means I’m throwing cash out like a madwoman.

It’s a balance. I get stressed easily if getting from point A to B seems  bit more complicated than expected. So if it means I pay a little more for a taxi, driver, or a more expensive form of transportation which takes away the guessing on my end, I’ll go for it (this applies more to Asia than Europe). My security and mental state are extremely important, and if I have to pay a little more to be less stressed, I will.

I’m not landing somewhere with my first few nights planned and winging it from there. Even the though of doing that makes me stressed. I’m planning the big things (flights, hostels, 3 weeks-1 month in advance. As far as wha I do each day, that I leave up to how I feel when I’m actually in the city. I know that for a lot of backpackers this takes away spontenaity and can make one feel boxed in. But not me. I like landing in the next place and not having to worry about where I’m staying and how I’m getting to my next destination. All that’s left for me to do is fill in my days with activities. Or not. I’ve spent a good amount of afternoons just lazing around at cafes people watching.

This isn’t everyone’s way of travelling, and that’s OK. Travel how and where you want to your own comfort level. This happens to be mine, and I hope someone reading it (who, like me, may be thinking that all these backpacking bloggers are out there to compete with who can spend the least amount of money) who sees that it’s OK to not backpack. Or whatever their definition of bacpacking is.

So am I backpacking? Well I’m on a half gap year and do have a backpack but it’s also a roll on but I also have a daypack and I’m staying in hostels but not all the time and sometimes in private rooms and I’m on a budget but nothing skin and bones where I only eat once a day (my nightmare).

You decide.

Until next time!

Heading North

After  6 days experiencing the hectic city of Bangkok, it was time to head north. First up, 4 days in Chiang Mai, followed by 5 in Chiang Rai.

After leaving buying overnight train tickets until the week before my intended trip to Chiang Mai, it would turn out that all trains were full. So I paid for a plane ticket, and after a 1 hour taxi ride,  1 hour flight delay, and a 1 hour flight, I had arrived.

I used Chiang Mai to recover from all the running around in Bangkok. I could walk to the main city sites from my hostel, and spent my first day simply exploring within the old city walls.

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Some gorgeous stairs in Wat Chedi Luang

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This stupa dates back to 1441

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Street art in Chiang Mai

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My second day was a half day tour of an elephant sanctuary, Elephant Dream Valley (see previous post for further details), followed by strolling the Saturday walking street

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Walking street style

I unfortuantely didn’t feel too hot (well…I did feel hot because humidity…ha) and made it a bit worse by walking 2+ hours in the sun to see the final two temples I was curious about. The silver temple of Wat Sri Suphan was by far the highlight of my time in Chiang Mai.

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Wat Suan Dok

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On my last full day, I wanted to get up to Wat Doi Suthep. After taking two songtheaws up a winding mountain road, I needed a few minutes for my body to settle. I was admittedly a little dissapointed with Doi Suthep. I wasn’t blown away, and even now I feel Wat Sri Suphan is a more unique temple. I spent about half an hour walking the temple grounds, if only to make the journey up the mountain worth it.

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The grounds of Wat Doi Suthep are decorated, but fake flowers seemed to take away charm rather than add to it

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Trash filled with old prayers

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I was told by a friend that Chiang Mai had become very commercialized. I completely see this. As wonderful as some of the temples in the old city were, the streets are lined with hostels, western-style cafes, and tour agencies.

Chiang Rai, though…I wish I had longer here. I had planned for a relaxing first day, but ended up getting convinced to join a full day tour that included the Blue Temple, a waterfall, the White Temple, and a tea plantation. I am so glad I joined as seeing these sites outside of the city with a local guide was phenomenal.

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Biking the tea plantations of Singha Park

After using my second day to relax and meeting a new friend in the hostel, we scootered out to the Black Museum the following day and explored a local rice field and café. I got a bit more burnt than I care to admit…

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The following day we both signed up for a Thai cooking class, and I actually was so full I felt sick. At the market, as we picked our ingredients, we sampled local tea, Thai donuts, longan, durian, and deep fried sweet potato and banana. When the time came to cook we prepared green papaya salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, and red curry with chicken. So, so good but so, so filling…

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Buddha statue behind the market

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Ingredients all ready to go

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If you find yourself tiring of Bangkok, I highly recommend heading north; and if I had to choose, Chiang Rai over Chiang Mai (also in Chiang Rai stay at “Sook Cafe and Hostel” it is the perfect location, has amazing staff, and I cannot recommend it enough).

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have travelled to Thailand. It was never a country that had been super high on my “to-do” list, but these last three weeks have been filled with the most amazing sites (and foods).

Tomorrow I make the long journey back to Bangkok (first with a 3 hour bus to Chiang Mai, then a 5 hour wait, then the overnight train to Bangkok). I get 2 days rest, and then I’m on my way to Indonesia!

Until next time!

Next up, Bali!

When in Bangkok

-Be amazed/horrified at how nobody on the road seems to drive in the lanes

-Realize that instead of the “yield to other drivers” signs you follow back home, that’s the LAST thing you want here; everyone for themselves

-Get laughed at by Dutch people because they think you can’t ride a bike

-And, of course, see some temples and Eat some food (only some (kidding))

6 days in Bangkok (2 more to come before I fly to Bali) gave me quite a bit of time to see the city itself, see outside the city, and bike the city at night (I am surprisingly still alive).

I was so exhausted from my travel day Tuesday/Wednesday (6 hours to Dubai from Zürich, 5 hour layover, then 6.5 hours to Bangkok) that all I could muster the energy for during my first full day was some light walking (read: to get food) around where I was staying; about 40min from the city centre.

Friday required a bit more energy, as I met with a university friend to explore the Grand Palace, Wat Poh, and Wat Arun. My advice to anyone visiting Bangkok is to get to the Palace right when it opens. Even at 9:30am the body heat of all the tourists combined with the already humid air was not pleasant. We left around 10:45 and there was a massive line up to get in.


After the madness, the relative quietness of Wat Poh (home of the Reclining Buddha) was welcome. I could’ve easily spent another hour just wandering and taking pictures.

After lunch and wandering an air-conditioned mall, we finished off with the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun. In the early evening because why not. I would love to see it again once the renovations are complete.

The weekend was a time for markets. Morning markets, weekend markets, floating markets, all for fruit and food, gifts, souvenirs, and amazing flowy pants. At the floating market me and a friend took a 100 baht boat ride to a temple and orchard farm.

When we returned home I very last minute signed up for a day tour to Ayutthaya. I had originally been looking up ways to get there by public transport, but as I did more research I got increasingly stressed thinking about doing this on my own. The idea of having pick-up and drop-off organized for me filled me with a sense of ease, and for my mind and comfort’s sake I signed up for Asia-discover.com’s day trip from Bangkok (http://www.asia-discovery.com/travel/bangkok/daytour/ayutthaya-day-tours-from-bangkok-bkk-12n.htm). I don’t regret it at all. If it makes me more comfortable and less stressed, I will choose that option.

The trip was amazing. The history of Ayutthaya, the old capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is endless, and the temple grounds and ruins were exactly what I had wanted to see (I did no research prior, though, so this consisted of me excitedly whispering “oh, oh, I wanted to see this one too!” whenever we stopped at a temple whose picture I recalled.

I’m currently in Chiang Mai, and on Tuesday will head up even further north to Chiang Rai, before coming back down to Bangkok for 2 days and then flying to Bali. Lots and lots to write about!

Until next time!