The most interesting place I’ve been to is Ban Na Yang, a weaving village in Laos near Nong Khiaw. When people ask me about my trip to Laos, this is the first image that shows up in my mental photo album. When I try and distill the reasons behind why that is, it comes down to a dichotomy of how drastically opposite their lifestyle is to mine while reminding me of what I can only describe as “that feeling when you think about your grandma” (it’s familiar…what I mean is familiar). This contrast is how you feel when you see neon yellow and green next to each other – it’s something you wouldn’t usually see, but you can’t stop looking and wondering why. I haven’t seen how a vast majority of my clothes were made yet they create, dye and weave everything themselves. I have never been so far away from home, yet they’ve made this place, that doesn’t have a single sidewalk, a place that means everything to them.

This place was the furthest away from home I’ve ever been. Literally, it was 7,452 miles away. Figuratively, it was the complete opposite of my day-to-day. It helped me anchor my point of view by showing me how relativity is just a way you see the world. Everything was a reference point: the dirt roads, how short the Laotian people were, how hot it was for example. When your surroundings help set your expectations, your 20-minute bus ride down a four-lane street in San Francisco seems just as long as a three-hour bus ride on a dirt road from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw.

On the villagers’ faces was history – knowing the turmoil they went through and what they might have seen during the U.S. Secret War in Laos to years and years of equatorial sun beaming down from above them without having societal pressure of sun protection force fed into their brains. It was all apparent in how they simply held themselves. It was peaceful and so content in knowing what their truth was. It was life.

They were born in Laos, and they will probably die in Laos, but they are there and that was ok. In the hour I was there, meeting only 15 or so villagers and sitting in a home and having tea, I knew instantly what their priorities were: family, food, the land that they live on, keeping their craft alive and having a place to call home. Here in San Francisco, you need to dig a little deeper to understand that about the people around you.

From 7,452 miles away to none, we’re more alike than you think. Together, we got it.

Advertisements

IMG_9061

“Rent,” “IPO” and ‘Z-Boards” are all terms you’ll hear on a daily basis if you live in San Francisco. They’re a part of that cyclical monthly schedule where you dedicate a whole paycheck to rent, waiting for the next one and spending $35 on dinner because you totally deserve it.

At the turn of the new year I made a goal to pay off my credit card. I don’t know if it was because I wanted to feel like a San Francisco contrarian, but I was ready to accept not having anymore credit card debt. This feeling contradicts all natural instinct and desire to travel and see the world of course so when I walked into work and a fellow coworker asked me if I wanted to go to Thailand it was hard for my incessant need to fulfill my spontaneity to decline. Then there I was, $2000 deep with my passport in one hand and a 20-inch pink carry-on luggage in the other inundated in guilt because I was treating myself despite my soapbox-like goal setting proclamation I had made at the beginning of the year.

I spent 16 days in Laos and Thailand and as the days went on, fulfilling every urge to buy that raw cotton pillowcase and those coconut cakes, I stepped back, gained a little perspective and realized that, despite how many transactions I was making, I was fine.

To digest that a little bit more, I made some lists. So take a look at an average day in Thailand on vacation and in San Francisco living my life. Hopefully you won’t be surprised, but I hope it will help you take the plunge and go to Thailand.

Thailand – $30/day (outside of housing)

  • $2: Morning Caffeine – Thai Iced Tea
  • $3: Breakfast – Kao Soy Noodles
  • $3: Lunch – Pad See Ew and a Thai Iced Tea
  • $6: Hour-Long Foot Massage because we walked everywhere
  • $2: Snack – Thai Iced Tea (okay I know I became addicted to Thai iced tea)
  • $7: Dinner – Braised Pork Shoulder and Rice from the Cowboy Hat Lady
  • $1: Dessert – Mango Sticky Rice
  • $6: Shopping – Shorts and, you guessed it, a Thai Iced Tea

San Francisco – $24.50/day (outside of housing)

  • $5.50: Starbucks Caramel Macchiato
  • $14: Lunch
  • $2.50: Bus to Crunch Gym from work
  • $.50: Protein shake using ingredients from Trader Joe’s
  • $2: Salad using ingredients from Trader Joe’s

I know I could bare to work a little harder to meal prep and cook lunch but how else am I supposed to keep those little joys in my life? The point being that here at home I’m making an effort to be frugal, and in Thailand, I’m not second guessing myself one bit and averaging a similar day.

Did this make me rethink every dollar I spend and then stress out about the repercussions of my actions for days to come? Kind of. Then I closed my notebook and walked outside and remembered that I was in Thailand.

The biggest lesson I brought back from Southeast Asia was to consider your dollar…and also wear sunscreen. Just because not having savings, dining at Lord Stanley and binge drinking $10 Moscow Mules is in doesn’t mean you have to abide. Consider your dollar and focus that paper.

image

img_3611-1

It all started with Pinterest – a picture of a geyser, a majestic waterfall…and I’ve been hooked ever since. The thing is, Iceland seemed like such a faraway land that I didn’t even begin to consider it as a vacation destination, but then here comes the government’s tourism push and I definitely reaped my benefits.

Of course traveling by yourself as a female sounds like a textbook “taken” situation, I’ve never felt more at ease and comfortable than I did in Iceland. It helps that Iceland has been deemed the safest country in the world with only 200 (out of their already small population of 330,000) people in the prison system. Aside from walking around at night by yourself and your only dangerous threat being too cold, my trip was all the more comfortable because of these few things:

1) Thanks to WOWair for getting me to Reykjavik direct from San Francisco for almost about as much as a tasting menu here in town, I’m more than happy to tout your name! It was no frills and super easy. There is decent food for purchase and way more leg room than a standard U.S. domestic flight. A one-way flight was a remarkable $140. I flew into Keflavik International Airport and was greeted with Joe and the Juice to satisfy my 20Something, San Francisco Juice cravings. Little did I know that would be the only vegetable I would have for three days. They really love their meat in Iceland.

2) I was staying at the very cool Kex hostel which is right off the main road, Laugavagur, which has an incredible breakfast of fresh bread, jams, salmon, and yogurt. If you pre-book when you reserve your room you get breakfast at a discounted price. Highly recommend because Iceland made cost of living in San Francisco seem reasonable. Kex used to be an old bread factory and whoever interior designed this place did an amazing job capturing the old with the modern – a lot of honeycomb tile with herringbone wood flooring alongside a modern kitchen. There’s a pretty popular bar in the lobby that was noisy until late at night but after all your adventuring you will sleep right through it. You can stay in a co-ed, all female, four or six dorm ranging from $40-70 a night plus breakfast.

3) Iceland is very expensive since the only thing they can grow naturally is a root vegetable, but the best deal I found was pre-booking a food tour. Thirteen stops and four hours of someone’s time really peaked my interest. I booked through http://www.thereykjavikfoodwalk.com and do not regret how many calories I consumed. I learned a lot and ate just as much. Other than that, you can walk around downtown Reykjavik in half a day. My tour guide was Marin who is a local chef who really knew the town. We had everything from lamb to langoustine and licorice to rye bread ice cream. Seeing that by the seventh course I had been up for 26 hours, I passed out shortly afterwards.


4) Another thing that definitely helped make Iceland one of the most convenient places I’ve been to is renting a car. I didn’t have to rely on others for transportation, I lived on my own schedule, and parking was INCREDIBLY convenient – a nice refresher to the reality of San Francisco. For example, by my hostel, all day parking was three U.S. dollars. ALL DAY PARKING FOR THREE DOLLARS. I was able to make my own schedule and saw what I wanted to see to make my stay really count. This was my biggest expense by far, especially with gas (or petrol as they call it), but the benefits outweighed the cons by far. My car with gas ran me about $115 a day.

And there you go! I know you’ve been intrigued by everyone’s pictures and videos (see some of mine below) so you should take the plunge and make this your next destination. I’m jealous you’ll get to go again!

When you look up what to see in Paris you’ll get the usual – Le Louvre, Museé D’orsay, Notre Dame…but that can only take up three days max. Here are some things that I discovered that will help you fill your magical and beautiful time in Paris.

1) Las Du Fallafel

The best fallafel pita sandwich I’ve ever had. In the Marais,  you’ll find yourself in a few twists and turns with a few Mediterranean restaurants. You’ll see that one location has a line going out both directions. One line is for take out and the other is to sit in their cafeteria-like dining room. They take your order in line and shoo you away when you’re taking a picture of the store front (see my picture below). The fallafel wasn’t dry, it was light and fluffy with a perfect crispy shell surrounding it and the pickled onions they use are soooo perfect. Under €10 as well!

2) Shakespeare and Company Bookstore

The half bookstore half lending library full time hang out and read oasis is in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris right along the Seine River. Stop by here to sit down and take in that old book smell after you’ve climbed all the stairs of the Notre Dame. There’s also a cat that lives there – it’s name is Cat.

3) Secret Food Tours of Montmartre 

The only tour I took was a food tour. It was a small group of 8 lead by a Parisian native named Pierre-Jean (PJ) who ran his own wine shop in Montmartre. It was 4 hours of tastes, history, and laughs. I couldn’t have been less hungry after. It included a stop at the cheese shop, butcher, bakery, wine shop, crepe shop, chocolate shop, and a macaron shop. About $100 – totally worth it. Book a tour or learn more at http://www.secretfoodtours.com/.

4) Sainte-Chapelle

The largest collection of stained glass in Paris. If you like to be blown away by anything beautiful make sure you visit. The magic is upstairs. That feeling when you turn the corner and see this for the first time can not be replicated.

5) Pink Flamingo Pizza

I mean, it’s pizza. Below you see the Brangelina (figs and goat cheese) and the l’Obama (ham with a pineapple chutney). Our president has some cultural influence in France!

6) Scaramouche Ice Cream in Montemartre

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my reco list turned into a food guide that includes ice cream. Scaramouche is right by the Abesses metro stop so stop by on your way home…everyday. Just like I did. Real ingredients leads to flavors like melon sorbet, caramel, and the dangerous truffle. Worth a try but decide for yourself!

This is by no means a substitute list from the normal. See all that you want! But these finds really increased my Parisian satisfaction. This beautiful town is so memorable, and these little finds play into that.

 

GenLau Sign Off