First month in Brisbane!

It’s been a crazy few months of couch hopping, visa stressing, and moving, but I just finished my first month in Brisbane! It’s a great city, but have been so busy looking for apartments, figuring out my job, and attempting to have a social life. One thing I really missed while living in Asia was hiking, so as soon as I arrived in Australia I made sure to find some hiking groups and get my butt outside.

Today, me and some lovely ladies made the trek to Cunningham’s Gap along the Great Dividing Range and did a nice half day hike to Mount Cordeaux and Bare Rock. It was freeeeeezing cold (yes, there was actually a frost last night) and my household goods shipment hasn’t come in yet so I wore every layer of clothing currently in my closet to stay warm.

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The hike was a moderate uphill the entire way and to stay warm we took it at a pretty fast pace. The first overlook at Mount Cordeaux was beautiful and we were able to see along the southern ridge line of the divide. It was also crystal clear so you could see all the way out east to the Brisbane skyline.

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The second overlook was as Bare Rock, which isn’t really a high peak, but definitely a great halfway point for a snack and gives amazing views of the range to the north. From there you could see a few other summits along the range that make up a great sounding multi-day hike. It was starting to get warm so we didn’t get as amazing views with the haze, but still was really stunning. You can see in the pictures that there is a wavy cliff wall that’s kind of similar to the Napali Coast on Kauai.

On the way back down we finally warmed up and made great time. It was only a 7.75 mile hike and took us around 3.5 hours including snack breaks. It’s an easy morning hike but I’d recommend getting there early because the parking lot was filled up and people were parked all along the highway when we got to the bottom. Totally worth it, and an easy drive from Brisbane!

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Time Travel to Koh Phayam

With some extra time due to visa issues, a friend recommended I check out an authentic Thai island that would help me relax and slow down everything. I’ve been to the Thai tourist locations like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Krabi, and Phi Phi, but that’s not really me and I wanted to see some trees and be in the water. Koh Phayam is exactly that. It’s not easy to get to, it’s not comfortable all the time, but it is like going back in time before Thailand was touristy and things were slower. It’s one of the northern-most islands off the coast of Thailand on the Andaman Ocean side, just a few kilometers from the Myanmar border. Pretty much all the views were of uninhabited islands of Myanmar.

It took a plane, ride on the back of a pickup truck, a ferry, and a motorbike ride to finally arrive, but Koh Phayam was worth it. There are no cars and most people make their money off of guest house business or rubber production. Our guest house only had electricity in the morning and evenings for a few hours, leaving the rest of the time for ocean breezes and actual conversation. And naps. Lots of naps for my stressed out brain.

 

Every day included some exploring, snorkeling, swimming, excellent seafood, and drinks at sunset. Honestly, we didn’t do much. Riding around, catching up with my friend, and relaxing is really all there is to do there, and it’s lovely. The Buddhist temple on the east coast is one half on the pier and one half on a hill; a nice little side trip. There are also a ton of beaches, so our goal was to swim at each of them….which we were successful at. The one other “must see” attraction was the ship/bar made out of drip wood, aptly named Boat Bar. Not much of a bar, but I guess it’s pretty well known for its full moon parties though.

We spent 5 days here and saw the entire island and everything it had to offer: beautiful forested drives, perfect beaches, delicious fresh seafood, and relaxing authentic environment. Come here to do nothing except catch up on your reading list, I highly recommend it.

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Saying goodbye to Cambodia with a visit to its islands

Due to an excellent opportunity and a need for a different work environment, I decided to leave my position managing research at a startup, and move completely out of Cambodia. After packing up all my belongings I took a few days to explore the coastline and some of the more accessible islands. I was only there for 4 days, but I think I got to see the real highlights of the area and I would recommend anyone else to take some time here since travel in the region always takes time (duh).

DAY 1: As always, I used Mekong Express VIP van to travel from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, which was uneventful but had some nice views of the southern mountains/hills of Cambodia. As soon as arriving in S-ville, I booked it as fast as possible to Otres since the city itself is becoming a casino and development eyesore. Day 1 was just me attempting to relax and unwind a bit on the beach. Beaches here are great for jogging and walks since they are long and flat. Except watch out for garbage and broken glass in front of the more local establishments.

DAY 2: I caught the ferry to Koh Rong Samloem first thing in the morning. Really easy trip and got to see views of all the other small inaccessible islands of the area. Since there is a limited ferry schedule my plan was tight, but I still wanted to do some hiking and snorkeling. I started with a walk along Saracen Bay on the east side and hiked across to Lazy Beach. It’s a small bay, but by far had the best snorkeling of the island. From there I went back to Saracen Bay (none of the trails are connected) for lunch and a drink (obviously). The food there is pretty basic Khmer since all food is shipped in, but good and cheap. From there I went for a hike over the spine of the island on a pretty gnarly trail to Sunset. Unfortunately this beach is having some serious erosion issues so there wasn’t much of a beach, and the water was too turbid to see much. Also, it was mostly hippy guest houses so I didn’t feel as safe leaving my gear on the beach. After the hike back I went to the southern edge of Saracen Bay to do one last dive and look at some fishies, but I was tired and only saw a few things because it was getting dark. I hit up the last ferry of the day and napped on the ride back. The reefs on Koh Rong Samloem were wonderful and had corals that I haven’t seen in other regions so it was totally worth it. Obviously there were the standard sealife you see everywhere like rainbow parrot fish, but then others like the giant sea clams that I finally saw for the first time.

DAY 3: After a day of running around I wanted to be a little lazier, so I took a longboat around some of the other Cambodian islands for more snorkeling and exploring. It’s easy to find an all inclusive trip that provides lunch, drinks, and transport to 3 islands: Koh Preus, Koh Russei, and Koh Ta Kiev. Again, really great snorkeling but on a smaller scale. Most of these islands have a guesthouse and maybe one of 2 homes, so you can explore around the edge in the tide pools, or relax at the guest house bar. This was a pretty lazy day, but met some great people from the US, Canada, Australia, and Cambodia. This is probably your best way to see a lot of islands on a short trip, just make sure to bring a significant amount of sunscreen.

DAY 4: Morning beach run, my last day with Khmer noodle breakfast soup, then travel back to Phnom Penh.

Overall, great area with a slow enough pace that you can seriously relax away from city life. Obviously there is a significant amount of planning and traveling for everything in Cambodia, but it was one of my less stressed out trips within the country. I would definitely come back to this area to explore the rest of the islands.

Weekend in Chiang Mai

Sometimes work gets to you, even if you love it, so you need to take a break. And break I took. A friend was going to Chiang Mai for the weekend and said I could tag along if I wanted a weekend away. Best. Decision. Ever.

Chiang Mai has cool weather, quiet streets, and yet still enough culture to remind me that I’m in Thailand. Yes, there are a lot of expats here; probably even more than locals. But we ended up having a great weekend so I honestly had no complaints.

Unlike most of my travel weekends, this was just to relax, see a new city, and de-stress. I spent a day wandering the city, checking out temples, and just taking it easy. I even got to fit in some pool time too. One thing that’s very clear is that the Thai’s love shiny and gold decoration. The temples were pretty over the top. We accidentally stumbled onto one temple that was pretty old and in the middle of the city, Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan. There was a lot of new construction, but this one was old and had some charm. There was also a really fat Buddha.They also put a lot of detail in the dragon buttholes. It was great.

The highlight of the weekend though was the boxing. I’m not really up to date on my boxing, but I guess Thai fighters are crazy good. We went in, were seated, had some beers, and started with the kids match. There kids were actually pretty good. Then it was a couple different teenage fights, and then a couple girl fights. All were great and honestly pretty insanely good. The best was when 4 guys were brought into the ring, blindfolded, then just knocked the shit out of each other. I wish I had good enough pictures to show how hilarious it was. The final match was with an underwhelming local and (what looked like) an American and I’m happy to say that the soft little local destroyed the huge American and we all were going pretty nuts. Oh, and my friend Dirk from Kauai is now teaching in Chiang Mai so we had a mini reunion at the boxing match!!!

Final day was more casual exploring, pool time, and found a great tea/coffee/lunch place called Farm Story House. Great tea, great, food, and just a wonderful atmosphere (I highly recommend you check it out). I was honestly sad to say by to Chiang Mai and my friend…I’ll be back though, it was a much needed break in a city with a slower pace than Phnom Penh.

Belated Happy Holidays to All!

Christmas and New Years have past, and I took some much needed time to see family and close friends. For this trip I literally traveled all the way around the world. My butt and back aren’t very happy about it, but it was a great time to gain some perspective and get fat on good ol’ American Christmas food.

I started my travels in lovely Fayetteville, to catch up with a good friend and acclimate back to the US. I’ve never experienced really bad jet lag before….until now. My first few days I was in and out of sleep, which made for no productivity. On the plus side, I had some great southern food and had time to just decompress.

From NC I headed to the West Coast of Florida to see my parents and grandparents. Obviously this was the highlight of my trip and ate/drank my way through the visit. I was able to catch up on all things “American” and it was exactly what I wanted. Steak dinners, lots of wine, ocean, seafood, and family (of course). We spent the day on Caladesi Island, went to a Tampa Lightening hockey game, and a lot of hot tub time. My parents are pretty great and even brought down a small Christmas tree so it was almost like home. It’s not the same without the New England snow, but it was close enough.

After sunny Florida I did my annual trip to DC for New Years. Pam and I have been doing this for years and I wasn’t going to let living in Cambodia stop me from seeing that lovely lady 🙂 It was a great time getting mani/pedis, Wawa, Dunkin Donuts, and the friends I’ve made in the city I should call my 2nd home. It was damn cold, but still had a great time. One day I swear I’ll move here, just waiting for the right job to open up.

Our New Years crew looking all festive in DC

Before heading back to PP I had a quick layover in the Pacific Northwest to see my brother, sister in law, and the adorable munchkin Emma. Due to some airline crap I only had about 40 hours on the ground, but was able to enjoy the PNW with a run, brunch, and playtime with Emma. It’s always fun to see these guys and hopefully we can all get together in the same place for the holidays. Redhead shenanigans were missed this year, but hopefully next year will be different 😉 😉 😉

So after destroying my back on a 13 hour flight from Seattle to Taipei, then to PP, I am back and in the swing of things at my SEA home. One of my resolutions for the New Year is to be better connected to the ones I love, and to do more things that make me happy…..which probably means more blog posts about fun stuff!

Adventure out to Oudong

Work has been insane, but yes, I am still alive, and yes, I sometimes give myself time to experience my new country. Today I went with a few wonderful people out to explore Oudong, which is 40km north of Phnom Penh. During one of the kings’ rules, it was a the capitol of the country. There are a lot of stories associated with this area and the images commonly found. Oudong is on a hill and looks over the majority of rice fields across the Phnom Penh area.

First, we went to Oudong Temple, which is relatively new because it is currently being rebuilt. There is an ancient Buddha that survived bombings, so the significance is enough to establish a practice around it. Throughout the hills of Oudong there are many temples and stupas. The best tale is that there is a dragon that lives until the Oudong hill and the temples are maintained to block the entrance so a dragon living inside the hill doesn’t escape. There are even holes in a couple temples so you can feed or give drinks to the dragon. Also included: library of Buddhas, and over-the-top temple decorations.

After the hill of stupas, we walked down a different way and visited a meditation center with the most expensive Buddha in Cambodia. It’s made out of jade, and after we woke up the monk on duty then he lit it up like it was a laser light show. Just when I was about to take a Buddha seriously it became a disco haha.

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The meditation center was really spectacular to look at but almost no one was there. It was kind of nice because we could wander around freely and say everything up close. There is a massive laying Buddha, and also a statue of the lady, Phra Mae Thorani, and the alligator. It’s my favorite Cambodian story about Phra Mae Thorani and it is a common topic in shrines and Buddhist temples of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. According to Buddhist myths, Phra Mae Thorani is personified as a young woman wringing the cool waters of detachment out of her hair to drown Mara, the demon sent to tempt Gautama Buddha as he meditated under the Bodhi Tree.

Overall, great day and a beautiful place to visit. Cambodia is a wonderful country with some really great folklore and historical sites. I’m looking forward to getting out into the provinces more and seeing what this country is all about.

Work trip to Koh Kong

Since moving to Phnom Penh I hit the ground running and haven’t had much time to explore (I work for a startup, this is to be expected I guess). Thankfully the company also realizes that a break is good for morale from time to time so we had a short work trip to Koh Kong. This is a coastal area that isn’t too far away, but because of bad roads and traffic it took us around 5-6 hours. Definitely a great change of pace to get out of PP, but of course I’m still a manager and couldn’t let my normal redhead side fly free 😉

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Waterfalls in Tatai

We started with a boat ride to waterfalls in Tatai. It was a little rainy to start, but a beautiful area with no development. This is definitely a local place but a nice little break on the road.

From there we made our way to the coast and had dinner on the beach in Koh Kong. Everything was casual and hung out bbq-ing and socializing. I kept the camera in the bus just in case any shenanigans happen haha. It was a cool place and I collected a lot of capiz shells (still figuring out what to do with them). I also found beach cats. Of course I find cats wherever I go.

The next morning we explored some mangrove forests. Since flooding and severe weather is a problem here, mangrove forests are wicked important so this entire area is protected. The walkway and bridge quality was questionable at best, but I survived! The jury is still out on if there were alligators/crocodiles.

We were able to take a boat ride out to some sand bars in the bay. Definitely not the same kind of sandbars that I would spend the day on at the Eastern Shore of VA, but still nice to explore and experience the glorious fart smelling sand.

Unfortunately it was just a one night trip, but hopefully I’m able to come back to the coast and do some more exploring of the islands. So many options and plenty of time to do it!

New Chapter

I’m sorry for those of you who are getting a little tired just keeping track of my current mailing address, but I’m relocated (yet again) and it’s finally going to be for more than a year. Two weeks ago I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and immediately started my new position as Manager of R&D for an agricultural startup. It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m even more excited to try to settle down a bit and finally see projects through from beginning to end.

I haven’t had much time to explore since I’ve been trying to find an apartment, fill apartment to make it livable, and also jump in head first with work. Today I took some time off to look around a bit and get out of the city. I went to Phnom Baset with some other folks living in the city to explore some temples and get sweaty.

The original temple in Phnom Baset was built in the 8th century, so it is a historical area with a lot of temples. Unfortunately, the majority of temples in the hills here are new and aren’t historical themselves. They are still great to wander around and take a look at local architecture. Unlike some of the other temples I’ve visited in other countries, the temples here are community places where people come to relax with family, picnic, and get some blessings. You have to take your hats and shoes off, but aren’t as restrictive as when I was visiting Bhutan.

 

The week of Kate!!!

It’s my last week on Kauai and the festivities started with doing one last backpacking trip on the Kalalau Trail. My friend Serge is in town so we continued the fun with taking an evening catamaran ride along the Napali Coast. I’ve done this a few times with family and friends in town as a day sail, but thought the evening would give some different views….we were not mistaken.

The skies were clear and the light was perfect for the afternoon. We started out of Port Allen and head west along the coast, past Barking Sands and Polihale.

We got close to some sea caves and saw the Kalalau Trail from a completely different perspective. If you noticed, I have a picture of the same beach and coast line in my previous post, just from the sand instead of the ocean!

The boat motors us along the coast and after turning around near Ke’e Beach the sails were opened up and we got to enjoy even better views and some wave action.

As the sun was setting the bar opened up and Serge let his lady’s man side fly haha. Obviously he had to befriend everyone, and even got a selfie with a couple by saying, “you guys are beautiful, can I take a picture with you?” Fun times.

I rarely get to see sunset since I live on the east side of the island so I was more than excited to see a beautiful sunset out on the ocean. This is definitely something I’ll miss about living here.

If you are interested in the same cruise I did or the afternoon snorkeling cruise, I HIGHLY recommend Captain Andy’s. They have been amazing every time and have the best and most fun staff any tourist and local could ask for.

 

Last time on the Kalalau

If you weren’t aware, my contract is coming to a close on Kauai, so obviously I had to hike the Kalalau one last time. I was incredibly lucky to share one of my last weekends here with 2 lovely people who have helped shaped my experience in Hawaii.

In the past I’ve had beautiful weather on this hike, but I was nervous that my luck would run out. Fortunately, this was some of the best weather I’ve even had, and thankfully made the 11 miles each day more bearable.

Serge, Caroline, and myself started out strong and in good spirits. We started out a little late bu made great time and even got some sweet pics along the way. The river at mile 6 was a much needed break because your feet get tired really quick on this hike, and a nice soak cooled us right down.

There have been a few washouts and rainstorms since the last time I hiked the trail, and so I’m pretty sure the mile 7 stretch was much more gnarly than I remember. (This is the bit where everyone gets injured because there are steep cliffs, loos gravel, and nothing to hold onto). Thankfully we got through just fine, even though Serge wasn’t happy I stopped to take a pic mid-way through the narrow cliff area haha.

Obviously the high point of the hike is the view at mile 8.5. Always beautiful and always takes my breath away.

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We ended the hike fairly early and had plenty of time to swim and hang out on the beach. It is insane how clear and blue the ocean was so we spent plenty of time soaking it all in.

Serge convinced me to cook on the fire, so we somehow were able to light a fire with green wood and have some steaks. I was skeptical, but everything turned out great. Also, Caroline found a cat. Obviously the vet gets attached to a stray 😛

Beautiful sunsets and drinks by the ocean were the perfect way to end the evening. It’s so easy to fall asleep with crashing waves. And cats mating at 2am 😦

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The weather on our return trip was great, because our motivation was pretty low after realizing being old sucks! This isn’t an incredibly challenging hike, but the recovery time for the return is probably more than 12 hours. We smelled horrible and probably looked worse, but we made it to the end! As always, I had an amazing time on this trail and it may be my favorite place on the island.