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Thailand – Round Two

 

You may think that taking a year off to travel the world and leaving a huge gap in your resume would lessen your chance of getting hired by a kick-ass employer…and you would be dead wrong.   Ironically enough, my travels were the KEY to me landing my current gig – working for a company that sponsors visas for international university students.  The students come to the US to participate in cultural exchange work/internship programs and we help recruit them and find them jobs.  Sort of like what I did for my work abroad program in New Zealand over 10 years ago…damn, has it been that long?

Anyway, I LOVE this job.  Not only does it allow me to promote something I feel passionately about (cultural exchange, long term travel, etc.), but I get to travel too, both here in the states AND internationally.  I’m not making near as much money as I made as a property manager, but the trade off is that I actually like going to work every day.  At this point in my life, I’m willing to make less money to do a job that I enjoy and although I’ve had to adjust my lifestyle quite a bit, it’s soooooo worth it.

Surprisingly, after a few months at the new job, they decided to send me to Thailand for 5 days!  I basically accompanied one of our clients to an overseas job fair (hosted by one of our local partner agencies) where they interviewed and hired Thai students to come work for them.  I was super pumped to go back to Thailand, simply to eat the food.  Pad Thai, green curry, nutella pancakes, and fresh fruit shakes available at every corner?  Hell yeah!

Not surprisingly, this trip was very different from when Kelly and I were in Bangkok.  Instead of a shady guesthouse in the middle of the backpacker craziness that is Koh-San Road, I was put up in a posh hotel in a modern shopping area of the city.  Our Thai partner agencies wined and dined my client Stephanie and me in fancy restaurants and bars, although one of them did take us to Koh San for some yummy street food and drinks, just so she could see the madness of that particular part of town.  It was really weird being back there less than a year later – it was as chaotic as I remembered it.  The pad thai, green curry, nutella pancakes and fruit shakes were as delicious too.

Me, Stephanie, Pookie (one of our Thai partners...I wish my name was Pookie!) in a tuktuk on Koh San

 

We had a ‘cultural day’ amidst our job fairs where Stephanie and I were taken to see the Grand Palace…I had been there previously with Kelly, but it was no less impressive than when I saw it the first time.  We also did a long-boat ride on the river, which I had NOT done before, wandered around in a couple of swanky malls, did some shopping, and got a 2 hour Thai massage.  Thai massages are super intense and somewhat painful (you are pretty much getting your ass kicked by a tiny Thai woman), but you feel fantastic (albeit a little disoriented) afterwards.  Definitely get one if you have the chance.

Back at the Grand Palace

 

Me and 'O', who works with another Thai partner, on the boat!

On the boat ride

It was a short and exhausting trip…but I loved every minute of it.  I was also reminded that much like people, cities deserve a second chance too.  Kelly and I didn’t really care for Bangkok the first time around, but after experiencing a different side of the city and getting shown around by a few locals, I started to appreciate what Bangkok has to offer.  Oh and next time, I’m totally hitting up a ping-pong show.


We’re Back, Baby.

I know.  It’s been a long-ass time since we’ve posted in this blog.  According to this, I’m still in Jordan and Kelly’s somewhere in Eastern Europe.  The truth is that we’ve been back home in Texas for a year now…and I figured what better time than our 1-year anniversary to pick up where we left off?

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can.  Keeping a detailed travel blog turned out to be a crap ton of work, and although somewhat a result of laziness, Kelly and I really wanted to enjoy our last few months having fun on the road instead of camped out in front of my netbook all day.  And now, we’ve forgotten a lot of those little details we used to meticulously jot down in our notebooks…what hostel did we stay at?  What was that name of that awesome restaurant?  Where did we go after such-and-such city?  What did it all cost?  It’s all become kind of a blur and would be extremely difficult (and probably inaccurate) to try and recreate our stories a year later.

So instead, I’m starting fresh.  This will still be a blog about travel…turns out I scored a sweet job with international travel perks upon my return to the States and have/will continue to have plenty of travel adventures to write about.

For now, I’d like to share some of the big (and little) ways the trip has changed me and how it continues to affect my outlook on life in general…even one year later, I’m still realizing how it has altered my perception of the world and made me (what I feel to be) a better person.

So here you have it my friends…the top 5 (plus 1) life lessons I learned on our RTW journey:

1.   It’s pointless to get worked up over things that are out of your control.

Those of you that know me well know I get worked up quite often, usually over someone being late or when things don’t go according to plan.  I would waste a ridiculous amount of emotional/mental energy being pissed off and annoyed when things didn’t turn out how I envisioned them.  Although it does still bother me, I’ve learned to go with the flow a little more and remind myself that some things are out of my hands and I need to chill the fuck out.  Buses will be late, weather will suck, and tours will be cancelled.  So what?

(*Please note that this new outlook DOES NOT give my friends permission to continuously be late to/cancel our social engagements…you know who you are).

2.   Australians are EVERYWHERE

Seriously, there is no escaping them.  They will find you and drink you under the table.

3.   This one is extremely cliché, but it’s so true…don’t judge a book by its cover.

I can’t tell you how many people we met during our trip that I immediately judged based on our first conversation – whether it be because of their age (young = immature/naïve, old = dorky/weird), where they were from (canada = boring), what they wore (Ed Hardy = asshole) or what they looked like (attractive = shallow) – and ended up adoring them after spending a few days with them.  I would have missed out on a lot of great friendships if I hadn’t taken the time to get to know the person better.

4.   Life doesn’t always turn out like you thought it would

This kind of goes hand and hand with #1, but my life now is completely different from what I thought it would be after I got back.  I had always expected that upon my return to the States, I would marry my long-time boyfriend (THE ONE!), we would move out to the country, try and start some type of business together and I’d start thinking about popping out a couple of kids.  After all, I’d be 31 and it’s the ‘time’ for those sorts of things…and I really did WANT them, specifically with him.  After travelling for a year though, I had changed – a lot — and I no longer want the same things I wanted before.  So now I am single, have no immediate desire to marry and have children (or live in the country), and have found a job I absolutely love and plan to make a career of.  And I’m HAPPY.

I also thought the trip would ‘get travelling out of my system’, but really our trip had the opposite effect…it just intensified my desire to see more of the world. Long-term travel will never be off the table for me.

5.   Street food is the best food.

This is the case almost everywhere in the world.  I promise.  It’s not gross and you (probably) won’t get the shits from it. It’s fucking delicious so eat it already.

6.   Having a positive attitude changes EVERYTHING.

Again, those of you that know me well, know that I used to take pride in my cynicism…people called me pessimistic, but I considered myself a realist.  But after a year of travelling and meeting amazing people, seeing the incredible beauty the world has to offer, and truthfully – seeing the poverty and other shit conditions people live in everyday with a smile on their faces – I have no reason to be so bitter about life.  It’s a daily struggle for me, but just trying to think positively everyday has really made me a happier, healthier person.  LIFE IS GOOD…as long as you believe it is.

Petra and Wadi Rum

I was around ten or eleven when I first watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  One of my favorite scenes was when Harrison Ford and Sean Connery rode up to an ancient building carved out of the mountainside to find the Holy Grail.  I can vividly remember thinking ‘Wow! I want to go there!’  Of course I didn’t know at the time that ‘there’ was the Treasury building located in an ancient Nabatean city in the Jordanian desert called Petra that I would visit 20 years later on an around the world trip.

To reach the city itself, you enter through the ‘Siq’ – a narrow gorge that winds through towering cliffs of rust, brown, red, and rose colored sandstone cliffs.   The colors of the rock are incredible!  As you approach the end of the Siq, you catch your first glimpse of the Treasury – a intricate facade carved into sheer rockface, which I had been told is one of the greatest ‘reveals’ on the planet.  I was not disappointed; seeing the magnificent Treasury (which is actually a tomb for a Nabatean king) up close and personal was a childhood dream come true for me. 

A glimpse of the Treasury walking through the Siq

 

The Treasury

The rest of the city was equally if not more impressive. Vast tombs, a theatre, churches, and a towering monastary all carved into the sides of mountains; this place is truly spectacular and I could have easily spent several days exploring all that it had to offer.   This is one of the bummers about doing an organized tour…if you like a place and want to spend more time checking it out, you’re screwed.   Overall, it was one hot, sweaty, and facinating day!

The Monastary
 Walking up to some tombs carved into the mountains

At one of the mountain viewpoints of Petra

The following morning we continued down the King’s Hwy and into the Wadi Rum desert – 720 square kilometer preserve of desert wilderness and mountains.   I was super pumped for our ‘desert jeep safari’ and spending the night in a Bedouin camp under millions of desert stars.   Of course, Kelly and I have had nothing but great luck with the weather on this trip, so the day that we were set to spend in Wadi Rum, there was a fricken SAND STORM.   We still had our jeep safari, speeding over sand dunes, dodging camels (yes, there were a ton of camels just chillin’ in the desert), and attempted to watch the sunset, but didn’t have much luck with the views (or photos for that matter) as the sand in the air created a hazy cloud across the whole area.   It was a bit of a let down, but what can you do?

Sandy Jeep Safari

 

Camels!

 

Desert

 

Making a fire to boil tea

We didn’t see any desert stars that night either, but we did eat a delicious Bedouin meal of lamb and chicken, cooked with hot coals and buried underground.   I shared a bottle of wine with Ian from England (on the down-low…no alcohol allowed in the camps) and despite the fact that I had my own tent, slept outside next to the fire.   As a result of the strong winds, I woke up covered in black ash, which was awesome.   After packing up our things, the group hit the road again to the Red Sea resort town of Aqaba.

On the King’s Highway

 
Our group awoke early the next morning and piled into our sweet minibus to begin the long drive on the King’s Highway to Petra, stopping at various sites along the way.  We first visited Mt. Nebo, the place where Moses was given a view of the Promised Land from God to the Israelites.  It is said that God buried Moses here, although no one knows where his actual grave is.  The views were absolutely stunning and supposedly you can see Jerusalem on a really clear day.
View from Mount Nebo

 

What you're lookin' at

On the drive

 

We also stopped at various old churches, ruins, and a cheesy mosaic factory.  I have to admit that after Turkey, I was ‘churched out’ and didn’t pay much attention to our guide’s history lecture.  I like getting the basics, but dates, names, and other minute details don’t really register with me.  If someone begins a sentence with ‘During the year 100 B.C…’ my eyes glaze over and I immediately start thinking of what I want to eat for lunch.

Our last stop was the Kerak Castle, located in the predominately Christian town of Kerak in the biblical kingdom of Moab.  The castle dates back to the 12th century and is one of the best preserved Crusader castles in the region.  We spent a couple of hours wandering through the vast passageways and exploring the cavernous rooms and chambers.

 

Walking up to Kerak Castle

 

View from the top



After a long day of driving, we arrived in the town of Wadi Musa, the gateway to Petra.  The next day would be a long one in the sun and heat, so I had a couple of ridiculously expensive beers ($7 EACH!!) and called it an early night.

 

Going Solo

I made the decision to go to Jordan about six months into the trip.  I figured that if I was ever going to visit the middle east, this was the time to go…I’d be a $350 plane ticket away in Turkey v.s. a $3,000 plane ticket from the States.  Jordan’s a pretty expensive country, so Kelly decided it wasn’t in her budget and headed off to Prague to meet up with an old friend.  Since I would be traveling alone in a region I knew very little about (and to ease my boyfriend and parents’ worries) I decided to do an organized tour through GAP Adventures instead making the trek solo.  It would be nice to not have to worry about planning where to sleep, where to eat, and how to get from Point A to Point B myself…I was happy to pay someone else to do it for a change.  I’ll discuss the specifics and compare an organized tour to traveling independently in my Jordan wrap up, so I’ll skip over those details for now. 
 
I arrived in the capital city of Amman and caught a taxi to my hotel, checked in, and headed downstairs to meet the other members of my group, which consisted of 1 Brit, 2 Americans, 4 Belgians, 2 Irish, and 5 Canadians (most of them married couples…yay).  Our guide, Haymen, was a half Jordanian, half Croatian guy in his forties who smiled, laughed, and smoked A LOT of cigarrettes.  Our first full day, we traveled to check out the ruins of Jerash, one of the best preserved Roman cities in the Near East. 
 

Arch of Hadrian - One of the main gates to the city

The Forum

The Temple of Artemis

 
We then made the hour or so drive to the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world that lies between Jordan and Israel.  It’s so salty, that no life can thrive in it (thus, the name) AND this makes the water so buoyant, you literally float on top of the water.  Seriously, you’d have to try REALLY hard to drown in it…I tried diving down to touch the bottom with no luck.  Ladies, a word of advice:  DO NOT shave the night before/morning of your visit…the salt will make your skin burn like hell. 
 
We spent hours floating around, taking photos, and lounging on the beach.  Several of us also rubbed the black sand all over our bodies for a spa-like treatment, which felt nice, but was a pain in the ass to wash off.  Overall, a very cool day.
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Dead Sea

 

Floatin'

Yes, we are still alive

I bet you thought we’d forgotten all about posting on this blog, huh?  Well, we haven’t…we’ve just been using this time to get settled and now that Kelly and I are both working full time jobs again (more on that later), hitting the gym on a regular basis, and spending time a lot of time with friends, our schedules are jam packed.  Ah, how we miss the days of lying on a beautiful beach for hours and hours and doing absolutely nothing!

I promise to update soon.  Really.

Turkey Wrap Up

Turkey truly exceeded our expectations and turned out to be one of our favorite countries that we’ve visited so far. Most people back home are surprised by this and ask us what was so great about Turkey…well, here’s what: 

The Landscape 

With beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean coastline, emerald green hills, and poppy-strewn fields, and the magical scenery and rock formations of Cappadocia, what’s not to love?

The People

Turkey is a secular, democratic county where 95% of the population is Muslim; as a result Kelly and I did not interact with a ton of women while here. In many of the small town local cafe’s, it was rare to see two Turkish women leisurely having coffee…clientele mainly consists of groups of men drinking tea and playing backgammon.

Speaking of Turkish men – they are SMOKIN’ hot, especially if you like the tall, dark, and handsome type. They are also very passionate and flirtatiously aggressive…and man, did they love Kelly! We had to quit walking down one particular street in Istanbul because practically every man we passed would profess his love to Kelly and ask her on a date. Seth and I ended up dubbing her the ‘TP’ (Turkish Princess).

Basically, everyone that we met was extremely friendly, kind, hospitable, and helpful.

The Costs

Kelly and I found the costs to be pretty reasonable, especially when compared to other places in Europe. It was about $13 – $15 for a dorm bed at a hostel and a typical meal would run $5 – $10.

The Food

Surprisingly, we were not all that impressed with the kebabs here…the ones back home are much better in our opinion (or maybe just what we are used to). We did enjoy the amazingly fresh seafood here though.

Some of the other local dishes we loved were kofte (minced lamb meatballs with herbs), manti (small meat raviolis served with yogurt and chili oil), and menemen (a breakfast dish, much like migas without the tortilla chips).

The Booze

Efes beer was definitely our favorite. Raki is the local liquor of choice, which Seth drank too much of at Turkish night and basically blacked out, if that tells you anything.

Random Thoughts

-Although annoying to some tourists, Kelly, Seth and I loved hearing the call to prayer drift through whatever city or town we were in (it plays five times a day from the local mosque). There’s something really exotic about it that you don’t experience in other European countries.

-The sheesha pipe is super popular here. Even if you aren’t a smoker and you visit Turkey, be sure and try one…the flavored tobacco is super mild and smooth. Plus, you can pretend you’re the caterpillar from Alice and Wonderland and who doesn’t like to do that?

Sheesha Pipe

-Don’t talk smack on Ataturk (the founder of the Turkish Republic), or his awesome eyebrows. The locals don’t like it.