Nerdy Cat Scuba Travels

A Cat Lovin' Engineer taking a career break by traveling, doing a divemaster internship, and diving around the world

Author: leslie (page 2 of 4)

Who wants to go to Vietnam for 2 days?

Visiting Hanoi

A short $100 hop away from Bangkok. Reason to go? Coffee.

No really, I’ve been drinking this powered candy in Thailand that tastes like what coffee companies would make for kids if they wanted to get them interested early. Like those packs of gum that look like cigarettes. The complete look of a frothy cappuccino without the real punch. A piece of me dies each time I drink it.

Arriving to Hanoi airport around 9am, I order an uber and go to Old Town. The driver drops me off in the center of the city. Chaos. Frogger on Crack.

Crossing myself, I take a deep breath and go for it. I’m sure if I crossed a busy street like this in America without a cross walk someone would run me over. Over here, all the drivers seem to be on alert and slow down. After this crossing, everything else seems rather easy.

Its behind Here!

Like a speakeasy, the coffee shop is hidden in an alleyway behind some tailor. Once inside, the space opens up and you feel like you are inside, but outside at the same time. There’s a garden in the center of the house and the rooftop is open. A woman greets me and I already know what to order- “Ca phe sua da”. I walk up three or four flights of winding stairs to reach a beautiful roof top deck with a view of the lake. The first sip of caffeine gives me a new life.

Shortly after my relaxing coffee, I go to meet up with my couchsurfing host- Quynh. Vietnam is very affordable, so I didn’t need to really crash on someone’s couch, it was a means for me to make friends with locals. Sometimes traveling solo can be a bit lonely. Quynh recently got married and quit her job to start her own private tour company. Funny weekend. She told me she has to file a lot of paperwork to get the government to give her approval for her business. So for now she’s practicing with couchsurfing.

She takes me on her motorbike to Dai Kim and we eat Bun Cha. The meal was $1. Next, we go to Old Town. I walk about 6 miles wondering the streets in a mix of fake north face bags, nike gear, Hanoi shirts and souvenirs. Half way between my walk I decide to book at tour to Halong Bay for $30. My negotiation skills are pretty bad. Quynh stated that she pays 500,000 dong as a local, but I should expect to pay 700,000 dong. Later on the boat, I find out that everyone else paid 600,00 dong. Not that big of difference but still. American fail.  A

After Old town, we go to another coffee and get the famed” egg coffee” fantastic.

Halong Bay Tour for $30 – Is it worth it?

Halong Bay is about 3-4 hours bus ride away. As soon as I get on the bus, I’ve realized I booked the wrong tour. I sit in the back by the backpacking Brazilians. One of them has their flip flop off and their black dirty food dangling off his knee. Its constantly in the corner of my eye.

On the tour boat, I meet 2 Polish gay guys, 2 Koreans, and a Bosnian. We eat lunch together. We form a bond together when the guide tells me that my tour didn’t include a kayak tour because I didn’t pay extra. Everyone starts complaining for me. I simply tell him, I paid 100,000 dong extra than everyone else. So why doesn’t it include it? He finally gives up and throws me a coupon for kayaking. Saying- oh fine. Then take it. I would have skipped it, but I’m thankful that my new friends were sticking up for me.

We sail around the bay and take a trip into these beautiful caves. Since I’m on this crappy tour- my guide says nothing. So really I have no idea why there are caves at Halong Bay. I can’t tell you anything about it. James Bond movie. Thats about it.

A few hours later we finish the trip and start the long journey back.

Free City Tour Guide in Hanoi

The next day I have a private free tour around the city. Khanh Nguyen Phuong, or “Katie” for short, picks me up at 9am. We zip over to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and watch the changing of the guards. She tells me about the greatness of Ho Chi Minh and how he liberated Vietnam. I’m scared to ask her questions about communism and the conflict between the people that left versus people that stayed. Nowadays, I’m sure the dynamics have changed. You can see capitalism everywhere. I mean, just look at my Halong Bay Tour.

Next, we go the house where Obama stayed during his visit. This giant yellow French Mansion was supposed to be the “White House” but Ho Chi Minh dubbed it too fancy and stayed at the house down the way. The “Uncle Ho” house.  The house he lived in is traditional Northern Vietnam style. Reminds me of some of the houses in Thailand. One thing Katie points out: All the clocks in his home are set to 9:47; the exact time he passed away.

At one point, Katie asks my age and gives the most shocked face response to me. I can’t tell whether she thinks I am younger, or if she is concerned to be so old traveling alone. I too would look in horror as an old maid traveling solo. I find out she’s only 22. She’s lived in the Hanoi area all her life and has never traveled abroad. She hasn’t even been to Halong Bay.

We go to a few more sites around the city: Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison. In the prison, there’s a section on USA POWs. The image and impression I got was that the time in these prison camps was filled with Christmas celebrations and men playing ping pong. All the the photos show Vietnamese helping John McCain and treating his broken bones. Katie called it the “Hanoi Hilton Prison.”  Really. Her tour included a 5 minute talk about how well Americans were treated in prison. Despite the fact the next room showed men in shackles and solitary confinement rooms. Can someone say propaganda much?

Even though I didn’t agree with the politics, the tour itself was really informative and I enjoyed Katie’s young and dedicated spirit. She is a college graduate in Interpretation and told me about the lengthy process on getting the job as a free tour guide, Lots of tests and interviews. She’s a little shy- but at the same time- is quick to yell at solicitors to get out here. Just hanging out with her makes me wish I was 22 again.

I didn’t really go into depth about the food. But really. Its insane on how good the food is here. Most of the time I spent about $1 a meal. For lunch alone, I ordered 4 dishes and began stuffing myself like a little Fois Gras Duck. Must eat everything.  Full of carbs, I felt accomplished and flew back to Bangkok.

Till next time Vietnam…

 

 

 

Siem Reap in 2 days or less | Top Travel Recommendations

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Siem Reap – Visa

Christmas day and I’m feeling good from the Christmas lunch celebration. In the evening I catch a flight to Siem Reap. Looking for a pen to fill out the immigration form, I started up a short chat with my neighbor, US foreign affairs employee in Myanmar. We exchanged travel stories and our thoughts about Thailand. Krabi Good, Phuket, Bad. Tourist sites, local sites. Stuff Like that.

The plane lands and I do the Asian Hustle. Meaning, I jump into the aisle and scramble to the front.  No standing and waiting for anyone to get their bag from the overhead compartment. Normally I would be courteous, but really, this is the norm. Don’t expect anyone to give you space while you get your stuff.

In the immigration line. Passport- check. Photo- check. Money… uh where’s all my money? PANIC.

I really shouldn’t be allowed to travel anywhere. Between checking in and getting into this immigration line, I lose all my $20 bills. I mentally start retracing my steps… hmmm.

I think it must have been when I was pulling my passport out for all the different checks between the check in gate, the immigration line, the ticket boarding process, the visa application forms on the plane… the possibilities are endless.

I’m really starting to panic now. How am I going to get into this darn country? Why am I always like this? AHHHHHH.

By chance, my middle seat neighbor comes along -“what’s wrong?”.

I lost all my money. My face is flushed between sweat and redness. He pulls out a $50 bill and hands it to me.

“Here’s some money. You can pay me back later.” WHAT. How are people so nice and trusting? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from travelling, its that there are more nice people in the world than scam artists. Let yourself trust people. This guy doesn’t know if I’m a serial killer or a drug smuggler, yet he had the trust to give me money without knowing if I would ever see him again.

Saved by $50, I pay for my visa and then wait in another queue.

Here’s my email address, my google voice number, my thai phone number, and whatever other promises I can think of so that he can believe that I will return the money.

Cleared from the airport, I find my name on a hotel sign and a nice man waiting to take me to my hotel. The middle seat guy meets his friends and we part ways.

Tourist Itinerary Angkor Wat and more

The next morning- Nina’s friend, Andy arrives from Singapore. He’s in full blown cold mode. Determined to “power through” it, we go to a pharmacy and get some drugs to hide his misery. The first day itinerary in Cambodia is this:

  1. Angkor National Museum
  2. Old City Market
  3. Lunch somewhere tripadvisor recommends
  4. Walk around some more
  5. Relax at hotel – swimming
  6. Getting our Angkor Wat tickets
  7. Sunset tour at a Temple
  8. Night Market
  9. Dinner at Khmer Kitchen
  10. Tuk tuk back to the hotel

Andy “Powering Through” it – Tuk Tuk Ride

I have to give Andy credit. For his American vacation, he squeezed 5 cities into 2 weeks. I forget that Americans only get a few weeks for vacation, so they have to pack everything into a short period. I hate that abour corporate America. Why can’t we relax more? Even our holidays are stressful.

Next day, 430am: Pitch black and quiet. Our hotel gives us our breakfast goody bags and off we go.

I use my powerbank’s flashlight so we don’t eat shit on the stone walkway to the temple. By 530am, all of us tourists are huddled around the reflection ponds. I huddle in my Asian squat and curse the world as bugs continue to bite my legs.

Snap. Snap. Snap. I take about 100 photos. One of them has to be ok.

 

Sun is up – Let the temple extravaganza begin. Most people do the “small tour” which includes the top four temples. Not being shy from a challenge- I arrange a big and small tour that hits up 10 temples. Essentially all of the temples close to Angkor Wat.  To say that there are some Chinese tourists is an understatement. There are about 20 tour buses sitting in the parking lots across from the temples. People posing in front of all the faces. The Hot sun beating down on us. The mixture of sweat and dust creating an icky sticky mess.

11 hours later, we did it. All the damn temples.


Back at the hotel, I run, jump and plunge into the pool. Ahhhh. The soot of the dirty temple dust washes off. Andy passes out sitting upright in the hotel lobby.

 

Siem Reap. Out.

 

Note- I was able to see my $50 guardian angel in the airport on my way out and return the money. Cheers to friendly strangers.

Trying to be a Local in Bangkok and Failing

Ten days later and I’m still waking up each day in disbelief that I’m in Thailand now. At least I’ve mastered   crossing the street, hailing/riding scooters, and using my BTS rabbit card for everything.

Suan Phlu – the Local Market

I’m living in the suburb area between the Sala Daeng and Chong Nonsi BTS stop. The local market, within a 10 minute walking distance, is called Suan Phlu. Suan Phlu is like America’s farmers market but available everyday. First visit:  I walk around starving.  My stomach  decided I should eat everything. There was a line for some stand where the woman was mixing something in a large wooden bowl. It must be Som Tum (papaya salad). I didn’t want to wait in line, so I left and did my grocery shopping making a mental note to come back later.

I pick out an assortment of fresh veggies and pay $3. Feeling quite  accomplished, I head over to the woman  with the wooden bowl and ordered whatever it was that she was making. I also did the  “cross -arms” no spicy sign language. She responded with lots of Thai and kept pointing at a pickled pepper, so I said OK. Then she started making “it.” She pulled out a FISH about 4  inches in length and began to smash the fish into a paste with the pickled pepper.  Then, lots of fish sauce.

Utter horror. What is going on? Where’s the papaya? I start looking around the stand and notice there are no papayas. Yes, green beans, but not much else. Standing there, I tried to hide that dumb look on my face. Waiting for her to finish smashing. She shoveled the paste into a plastic baggy. 20 baht. (75 cents). I placed the smushed fish into my grocery bag and walked away. So much for Som Tum. I guess I still am quite the tourist.

Next,  I decide that I should stick with what I know. Fried Chicken. Yup. That’s easy. I follow the smell and find  fried chicken pieces  on a stand. I point – she chops and boom. Food served. 2 pieces of Fried Chicken ( 2 pieces of thighs and drumsticks connected) for $2. Can’t complain there.

Starting to gain my confidence back after the smashed fish incident, I order some more coconut desserts and wind up at a noodle restaurant. Its filled with people, so I figure it must be good. I point to the wall- and boom they know what I want. Noodles and tea for 55 baht ( $1.50).

Content with my Suan Phlu grocery day, I decide to grab a scooter back instead of walking in the hot sun.

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Tourist Time – Grand Palace and Wat Pho

Nina’s friend from Chicago came into town and had 2 days to tour Bangkok. He had many “must see” items on his list. I grew tired from just listening. But trying not to be a grinch, I decide to tag along the first day.  First, we went to Wat Pho.  The temple with the Giant Golden Buddha is laying on her side.  Last time my cousin and I got some really great massages from the students at the temple.

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This time around I skip the massage and just walk around.

Her friend spent ages taking photos on top of photos. I tried to take photos, but the hot sun got the best of me. Making me lazy. My new thai name- “the laziest tourist in thailand.”

Next – the Golden Palace

Thousands of people are standing in line to pay respects to the King. Only Thai people are allowed to visit the King; one must dress appropriately (ie. all Black). In the weeks after the King’s death, all department stores had sold out of black clothes. You see it all around. All government works are wearing black for the next year. There are white and black ribbon lacing street fences. Images of the King memorialized in front of every business. His death and his memory are all around.

The line to pay respects for the king wraps all around the palace. At dawn, the line to see the king forms and the waiting time quickly grows from 4 hours and even longer throughout the day. People from the country side are coming to Bangkok to pay respect to this Great King.  It’s incredible to see their love and dedication.

On the tourist side- its a different story. The heat reminds me of death valley. There is no breeze and the marble floors seem to reflect the light in such a way that you just feel heat from all angles.

The temple within the Golden Palace houses the famous emerald buddha.  No photos are allowed in the temple. The legend goes that long ago the King of Russia visited the King of Thailand. The Thai King offered the Russian king anything in his kingdom. The foreign king requested the Emerald Buddha. Without hesitation the Thai King gifted the emerald buddha. Taken back by his generosity, the Russian King would like anything in return, and  the Thai King responded ” the Emerald Buddha.” Check Mate. Win.

I found the temple within the golden palace and the emerald buddha beautiful and peaceful. Once I came back out outside, I was reminded of the tourist attraction. Cameras and selfie sticks everywhere. Hot and sticky. Sweaty and stinky.

Gaggan “World’s Best Restaurant in Asia”

According to some website, Gaggan is the best restaurant in Asia. Nina’s friend made reservations 2 months in advance. Tasting Menu for 22 courses for $150. The chef came from El Bulli. That super famous restaurant.  I decided to join in the bougieness,”Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to Me.” This meal was my year end treat to myself.

The usual Bangkok traffic. We sit waiting for that one light that only changes once every 15 minutes. This place gives LA traffic. Nina calls the restaurant to tell them we are stuck in traffic, the hostess responds ” Try your best to get here on time.” Ok lady. Now that you mention it, we weren’t trying that hard. ha.

The Green Light gods shine down on us, We arrive on time. Randomly, we got selected to be seated at a new chef’s table. My phone is out  and on the table. I’m not one to be ashamed of my food porn. Embrace it.

All 22 courses were innovative and exciting. While I didn’t fall in love with some of them, I appreciated the thought and new tastes.  Uni in a wasabi cone with some fruit: Love it. Gold covered Chocolate gusher ball with spicy sauce: Not so much.  Each dish had its own interpretation of Japanese and Indian cuisine fusion.

The bad side. I only have 2 complaints.

  1.  A fly landed on a piece of sushi during preparation and none of the chefs noticed. Or at least they didn’t react to me pointing and saying “Hey! There a fly on that!” Nina was mortified. Like those card games on new york streets, I kept my eyes on the prize and made sure that I followed the sushi as the chefs served each of us. The dish was served to someone else, I dont think they saw the fly. So all is well.
  2. Using the same spoon to stir and taste. Whatever happened to that one spoon in a chef’s apron.

All in all, I enjoyed dinner. It reminded me of happier and richer times. Definitely innovative eats. I loved the lips starter, sushi, the uni cone, the crab curry, and the tomato soup.

 

 

Lazy Tourist in Thailand – Bangkok and Chiang Mai

About 10 days in Thailand and 4 massages later… I finally visited a Temple. Since its my third time here, I haven’t been really motivated to do all the touristy things. I mean, yes, I have eaten a lot of papaya salads and gotten massages, but I haven’t rode an elephant or gone to aw cooking class. I haven’t been adventuring out and trying to find new things.

Have I become a lazy tourist?

Probably, its almost been one year since I’ve been “working” as an engineer. I set my own schedule, and when someone asks if I want to do something, I look at my schedule and do it. Anything that I had planned, I push it to the side and figure it can wait.

My Top 5 thoughts about Thailand right now:

  1. I still hate mosquitos. They still love me. Its a love/hate relationship.
  2. Wintertime in Thailand = Awesome California like conditions around high 70’s to low 80’s with low humidity. Love it
  3. Food Game is Strong. Bonus- Food is extremely cheap. Lunch for three people – $10. My biggest splurge so far was a burger with fries and a drink for $8.20 (converted from Thai Baht).
  4. Massages cost less than $10/hr. Being American- I always tip at least $3. I constantly fight my American urge to tip. Anytime someone hands me change, I want them to keep it.
  5. Thai People and Ex-Pat vibe is generally positive. I don’t get that Venice Hipster “Im so much more fabulous than everyone else” vibe here.  I could be wrong, but people seem generally happy. Not as much “I hate my life” vibe going on.

My Airbnb accommodation in Chiang Mai has been out of this world. A modern condo building with a nice lap pool (that no one is ever in) and a OK gym. My apartment is a one bedroom (almost like a studio with moveable walls), large flat panel TV, washing machine, AC in both rooms, patio only costs $32 a night. I thought I snagged an amazing deal. Then I found out one of the locals pays about $350 a month for her apartment.

Odd Thought of the day:

I chatted with my local friend here about wages. I wondered if our tourism was taking advantage of the massage therapists and if they were “slave” labor. Then he told me about his favorite massage therapist. She works everyday from the time the place opens till midnight. She takes one lunch break a day. After a few months he goes to get a massage and sees a bandage on her face.  Did she get abused? In a fight? No. She proudly states that she saved up enough money to get a nose job. She wanted to higher nose bridge. What does that even mean??? Well, look at an Asian face and you find that its flat at the nose right between the eyes. Now look at my European descent friends.. its like a mountain between the eyes. I’m digressing.

But the moral of the story is that she couldn’t possibly hating her life and slaving away at some sweatshop massage place if she was able to save up money for plastic surgery. Right?

I felt better knowing they like what they do, and I like paying them and tipping them.  Speaking of which- I think I will go get a massage now.

Here are some photos of my one Temple I visited while in Chiang Mai- Wat Suan Dok.  ( I went to Doi Suthep last time…)

 

My Journey to Thailand

Leaving the Bay Area for Seattle

I left San Jose and flew to Seattle with Jade early morning on Tuesday.  Jade for the most part was a pretty good kitty. The flight attendants weren’t as cool as the last flight and told me that Jade needed to stay under the seat the entire flight. Meow. Meow. Meow…. then she gave up. Every 10 minutes she would give me a short meow just to let me know she was still there. “Flight attendants prepare for landing.” Jade could sense the change in presure. M E O W.  In that frantic high-pitched meow… THAT meow… it means I just pissed myself and I’m really upset. Once we landed I hopped into the little bathroom in the back of the plane and cleaned her up. Thank god for pee pads.  I got my luggage and then hopped in my rental car. From there, Jade got upgraded to my lap. Nice Kitty.

The stay at Seattle was pretty short and shorter than I anticipated. For the most part, I stayed at Christina’s place making sure that Jade got all her stuff organized and settled into her temporary home.

jade

First DOH! moment

Brushing my teeth the night before my departure, i get that gut wrenching feeling. CRAP! I forgot my scuba weight in the back of my rental car when I returned it the other day. Lazily, I had left it in the car because i didn’t feel like lugging it into the house with all the other luggage. Then I had a brain fart while returning the car and didn’t check the back seat. For the next hour, I stormed around like a mad woman trying every which way to contact Alamo. Calling their Lost and Found, filing a claim on-line and doing that call/repeat dial every line I could think of trying to reach a human being at midnight. No luck.

In the morning, I went back to the rental car company at 5am, only to be told the lost and found wouldn’t open till 6am and that the car had already been rented out.  I checked into my flight, and then took the shuttle bus back over to lost and found and waited till 6am when they opened. No luck, no weight. By now I’m just kicking myself for being such an airhead and forgetting my weight. I’m more disappointed in myself for being an idiot.

Second Doh! moment

But wait- thats not all! I fly to Los Angeles and get a text from Christina that I forgot my medication at her place. I probably could order it in Thailand, but I don’t want to leave that up to chance. I hop off the plane and call an uber to take me to the nearest Rite Aid. From there, I get my prescription transferred (only a month’s supply for a refill) and then uber my ass back to the airport to get back into the airport. Thank god for Uber.

The one and only saving glory that day was that I still had platinum status on American so I strolled into the one lounge and took advantage of all the free stuff.  I looked over at the bartender. He looked bored as ever- wiping  glasses dry with a rag. I get his attention and order a bloody mary. He excitedly decided to make my bloody mary from scratch.  OH the sweet taste of alcohol never felt so good.

bloodymary

Things started to look like they were turning around. On the plane, I got more legroom than I could use. Bulk head seat score. My legs stretched out so much I could have been lounging at the pool.  JAL also hooked it up with the food and I ate everything on my plate. Each meal was a cute bento box. I chuckled as the flight attendants tried to speak english over the intercom. Very endearing, yest struggling to get the words out. Always with a happy face, the flight attendants kept coming around with the best snacks. Three twins ice cream, hot green tea, cold barley tea, rice snacks…. I barely had time to sleep.

Once I got to Tokyo, things started to change. The flight was delayed and my seat was in normal economy where my knees barely fit, scraping the front seat. I dont know how anyone about 5.5ft tall flies. Another 7 hours to go.

I should just staple everything on myself

I get off the plane and jump into the priority immigration line. I figured the worst they can do is tell me to go in the normal line. I manage to get out of immigration in less than 5 minutes. I reach into my bag to check my phone because I forgot where to meet Nina’s driver. Thats when it hit me. Crap. My phone. Its gone. NOOOOOO!

I’m out so early that no one is even in baggage claim. I walk over to the Thai Airways baggage counter and they call JAL. I tell them, its a Cat Case IPhone. So embarrassing. They found it. Praise Jesus. They describe to other person that I’m wearing a grey shirt with Cat on it, and they will meet me at the baggage carousel. God I can’t believe I’m that CAT LADY.

My bags come out really fast, but then I wait there another 30 mins while everyone leaves. Finally a lost and found lady comes out with her bright orange vest. I flag her down and she talks to another woman. Then an AH-HA moment look comes across her face. She’s been there the entire time waiting for me to come to her and I’ve been doing the same.  This marks my first Thai miscommunication.

I get out of customs and find the driver and all is great.

thailand

Thailand I’ve arrived!

 

Thailand Awaits

Where has time gone? It doesn’t feel that long since I was living in Iceland. Yet, I’ve been back in the states with family for over 3 months. What have I accomplished? Not sure. I’ve been spending most of my time catching up with my cat and family. I started swimming a few times a week at my old stomping grounds. The weather has turned cold up here- some nights I can’t find the motivation to step outside and jump into a pool.

I’ve been working hard at getting better at scuba diving by helping out with the courses at Any Water Sports. The weather and storms have been holding me back. Each weekend there seems to be another storm surge that makes it impossible to have fun. In the meantime I have started to try to figure out what to do next.

I briefly debated about going to South America. Its always been on my list and one of the last two continents I haven’t visited. Antartica is the other one. But that’s going to cost me a good $10k. So maybe that will have to wait until I find a buried treasure.

Why Thailand? Well, I definitely have not been planning to go to Thailand. I went 2 years ago for 7 weeks and thought I had a good time and could visit other new places. My nomadic lifestyle has been a bit taxing. I haven’t bought anything that I couldn’t take with me to the next trip. The last real purchase I made on myself was a pair of shorts in August.  Sometimes I look at a pretty purse at the mall and yearn to just buy something frivolous. But alas, what would be the point? I don’t need a fancy purse.

Anyways, a friend offered me a free room until May 2017. I don’t know how I am so fortunate to have such great friends. Seeing that winter is coming and I didn’t have anything else going on, I chose to accept her offer and book a free ticket to Thailand and stay for 2 months.

It’s not an “Eat.Pray.Love.” thing. God, if I could just curse Julia Roberts from doing that movie I would. Just because I’m a middle aged single woman doesn’t mean that i took time off to replicate the book. Don’t get me wrong- I would love to go to Italy and eat a truckload of pasta and pizza and have James Franco fall in love with me. But thats not realistic. I took the time off so that I wouldn’t have to be an engineer anymore. I’m going to Thailand to live and figure out what the next step in my life should be.  I’m looking forward to alone time and being able to be independent again. I need to figure out what’s the point of working and living again.  Bangkok isn’t exactly the best city for scuba diving, but maybe I will be able to figure out a way to jump into the water while I’m there.

Here’s to new beginnings….thailand

How to get a refund from Hotwire Hotrates

Teaching in Monterey and living in San Jose can be inconvenient when I’m assisting both open water and advanced water courses. I used to drive back and forth but recently I started to stay at hotels for convenience.

Priceline and Hotwire

This is where Priceline and Hotwire come into play. Oftentimes I can book on these sites and save about $20-30 a night. The risk is that there is no cancellation.

I always have trip insurance (currently world nomads) so I’m covered for natural disasters and what not.

Trip insurance covers the following:

  • trip cancellation due to weather (flights only)
  • stolen / list items
  • medical coverage for unexpected events

My scuba course was recently canceled due to high waves/ swell in the area. I called world nomads and they said it wasn’t covered. So much for trip insurance.

I googled ways to get a hot rates Hotwire refund and found that some people were able to plead with the customer service representative for mercy. I tried my best and called customer service. Pleaded my case. Nope. The response was “my hands are tied with hot rates hotel reservations. We have a contract with he hotel that can not be broken.”

Well rats.

I waited a few days and called the hotel and explained to them that I was teaching a scuba course that got canceled at the last minute. I could reschedule when the class is sorted out. The woman was really nice and said to call her reservations department to cancel. So then another phone call and same explain to the reservations department. The woman was understanding and said she would cancel if she could, but the reservation is paid to Hotwire. I thought I was stuck but then she said something new….

I could call Hotwire back and explain that I talked with her and that the hotel approved of my cancellation and would allow me to get a refund. She gave me her name and contact info for reference.

The Solution: How to get a Refund

Next step- call Hotwire. I get another customer service agent. Instead of giving a sob story, I go staring into the information.

I understand it’s hot rates and no cancellation, but I spoke with the hotel and they agreed to cancel my reservation and that Hotwire can call them back for confirmation.

Instead of the usual “my hands are tied” he asks for the name of he representative I spoke with at the hotel and to wait a moment. He then puts me on hold while he calls the hotel.

Five minutes later he says they are going to refund me. Yay! So – in essence the hotrates hotel reservations can be canceled in the event that the hotel agrees to the cancellation and hasn’t received payment from Hotwire.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-6-41-42-pm

I was so relieved. I haven’t tried this again, but I’m hoping I don’t have to. In some cases, I bet the customer service at other hotels might not be so accommodating.

Must See in Seattle

Every year my friends from Elementary school meet up for an anniversary celebration of friendship. This year was our 27th year anniversary. Usually for big anniversaries we go big, like 20th anniversary: Costa Rica. #25: Santa Barbara. This year we chose Seattle.

Here’s a quick video of all the fun we had while in the city:

We all have been to Seattle before, and did the usual tourist stuff. So for those interested in doing other things… here are some “not so obvious” things to do in Seattle.

Recommended Touristy Seattle Sights

1. Go in the summer time. The weather is perfect and the sun stays up late. Everyone seems to be in an overall happy mood.
2. Pikes Place. Everyone has to come here at least once. The fish market guys toss fish around while everyone has their iPhone out to capture the fun toss. Next to it you can take a pic next to a fat bronze pig.
Just a few steps down some stairs you can chew some gum and stick it on the wall with all the other tourists. I don’t know if Seattle occasionally chips off the gum, but the wall doesn’t look dramatically different from a few years ago.
Piroshky Piroshky: absolutely the most delicious flakey tasty treats on the block. The store is guaranteed to have a line wrap around, But it doesn’t seem to take so long before you can start chomping down.
3. Seattle Needle. A great view of the Seattle skyline. I bought tickets online and was able to skip most of the line.
4. Fremont Troll. The troll under the bridge. At first when someone told me about this, I thought they were joking. Some say a volkswagon bus was about to fall the road and a troll appeared from under the bridge and grabbed the bus to save it. By doing this, the troll froze from the morning light and turned into stone.
5. Lake Union. This is a fun spot to picnic and hang out.  A few years ago I went to Seattle for the Fourth of July and was able to grab some kettle corn and watch the fireworks.

Off The Beaten Path Seattle Sights

1. Tacoma, Owens Beach. My first thought when I got here was that this would be a great “date” spot. Its beautifully romantic.
2. Mt. Rainer National Park. This isn’t really off the beaten path. Its just far away from Seattle. It costs $25 per car to get into the park and is about a 1.5- 2 hours to get there. Once you make it to the park, there are lots and lots of different hiking trails.  We packed a picnic and did a loop hike for about 3 hours and then had lunch at a nice shady picnic table.  Afterwards we drove to another spot for a quick hike by a river.
3. Warren G. Magnuson Park. Similar to Lake Union, this park is north of the city with plenty of spots to relax and lay down. We saw people swimming and playing in the water. However, we decided to keep the ducks company and hang out on the grass. Seattle has plenty of places to relax and enjoy nature.
4. Sund Rock. This is actually a scuba diving spot outside of Seattle. Check out my experience if you fancy a dip.

Day 2- Grand Teton National Park

So after the check engine light problem was solved we made it pretty easily to Jackson Wyoming and Grand Tetons National Park. For those that don’t know the local geography there- GTNP is another national park south of Yellowstone National Park. GTNP Is surrounded by the Tetons mountains. We talk to the visitor information guy and he suggests the Gros Venture campground just south of the park.  It’s $25 a night with a personal bear locker, flushable toilets, and a personal fire pit. We love it.

We set up camp and it starts to rain. Trung and I over-analyze the set up of a rain covering tarp area. We keep trying to secure and make a false ceiling to keep dry… By the time we finish the rain stops and we never actually use the dry area.

Next stop- the park. The sun is setting and we pull over to a turnout spot and listen for animals. On the way back to the camp site we some sort of deer running along the road.

Back at the camp, we use our skillet and cook up some awesome thick pork chops with a side of rice and potatoes. Crack open a bottle of wine and sit by the camp fire. The dinner tastes better than if we cooked it at home. We toast some s’mores and get all sticky and gooey from the marshmallows. The night sky is bright with all the stars shining down on us. You can see the Milky Way and we use an app to find some constellations.

Next morning- Trung looks at the car. A flat. Ok no big deal, we start to get the donut out and the crow bar… Uh oh. We can’t find the key to the lug nut on the rim. We search and search. NADA. So then I call AAA and explain the situation. They call the tow company and a local car repair shop back in Jackson that can fix the tire and get the rim off without a key.

I cook breakfast and the tow truck guy, Victor shows up. He’s a self-proclaimed redneck from Florida Everglades. I offer him breakfast but he declines. He gets to work and we clean up the site so bears won’t come and eat our stuff.

We get in the car and the guy is in disbelief that Trung likes country music. They talk about Tim McGraw and some other artists and he blasts country the entire way to the shop. We talk about the federal lands and the good sites to see around the area. Locals like to camp, drink and shoot guns. He shows us his Instagram of a video the captured last week of his buddy sheriff shooting a deer in he neck. The deer was hit by a car and had broken its nose and bit its tongue off. The deer couldn’t walk or move. One second you see the deer on the road, BANG, it tumbled over. Dang. That’s crazy. He says there’s a school bus across the street full of middle school ages kids. They all bust out screaming and crying.

We get to the shop (mom and pop local shop) and everyone is pretty friendly. They are able to get the rim off without the key,but he tire is toast. Two nails are in the tire and there’s a slow leak on the inside side wall of the tire. Apparently we drove on a jacked up tire for 50 miles and didn’t know it. It’s fucked. Then choices: $250 for a Bridgestone tire with afternoon replacement at 3pm or a Goodrich tire from Salt Lake City that will get there at 8am the next day. They can get us a local discount on a rental car for $36. Ok- we choose the cheaper option.

By noon we take off to the park and do a 4-5 hour hike around lake Jenny to inspiration point. We are hiking high up. The steepness is making me pant like a dog. I stop, catch my breath and a grizzly bear cub is staring at me. Oh wow! Cute! Wait… Aren’t bears dangerous? Crap- do I play dead? Or run away?

Trung catches up and then starts telling me to take a pic. I grab my phone and do a really quick one because I don’t know if he will get offended. Finally he looks away and we tip toe off higher on the mountain. We pass three hikers and tell them in hiker sign language whisper… There’s a bear down there!!! They look really excited and walk down. They make a lot of noise. The bear doesn’t care.

We get to the top and instantly the clouds turn grey. We take photos of a nice Japanese family and they take our pic. Boom…. The rain is here. I scramble to try my raincoat on and we run down the mountain in record time.

The rain stops and it’s starting to look pretty again. The backdrop of the sun setting and the fall leaves are breath taking. Every area looks so beautiful it’s looks fake. We see more wild buffalo running around on the drive back.

For dinner we cook up some spaghetti and squash veggies. I don’t know if I’m starving, or if I’m just a really good cook.i can’t stop eating.

We play around and the fire and look for animals in the back area. I get scared and run back. We both sleep pretty easily in the tent.

Good night GTNP.

Day one- road trip to Yellowstone National park

After a really fun weekend in Seattle area with my old friends from elementary school, Trung and I set off on a 12 hour road trip to Yellowstone. I’ve been wanting to come up where for a long time and never found a convenient time to go or someone to go with.  Now that I don’t work- Yellowstone is perfect.

Trung and I download a comprehensive camping list. We start packing all sorts of stuff I never thought I would need. A bucket. String. Duct tape. Compass. The list goes on and on. 

I wake up at 8am… Pack some stuff and then make breakfast. I make the left over beef pho and then we head out.

Bring me- I forgot my glasses and toothbrush and we go back to the house. 30 minutes lost.

We drive for about an hour, stop for Starbucks and then keep going. I drive down a hill and get a glimpse of two SUVs on the opposite side of the median. Crap. How fast am I going? Crap- 80 ish. I hit the brakes and look in my mirror for the cop to turn around. He does. He catches up and the red and blues are flashing.

Shoot. Oh well. There goes $$$$. He pulls up and asks me to get out of the car. I thank my lucky stars that I’m Asian and not a threat. I walk over and he tells me I’m being recorded. Ok. 

  
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

Me-“Yes- I was speeding”

“Do you know how fast?”

Me-“80???”

“82”

“Can I see your license?” – I hand him my license.

“Where you going?” 

Me-“road trip to Yellowstone”

“Why were you driving so fast?”

Me- “no reason. I should know better. I’m driving my friends car and I was coming down the hill and trying to break but not that well.”

“How old are you?”

Me-“36. I know. I’m old enough to know better.”

“Who are you traveling with?”

“My friend Trung troung.”

“How well do you know him? ”

“We went to college together. 16 years”

We do more chatting and then he talks to Trung in the passenger seat. He asks for registration and insurance.

He comes back to me and asks what I do for work. I tell him I quit my job and am trying to find something else. Life choices and figure out stuff, hence Yellowstone.

He says – drive slower. Don’t speed. I say I will. “Have a good day. You can go now.”

I walk back to the car and sit there. Trung is in disbelief. Did I get a ticket? No. Thank god. I didn’t have the money for a ticket. Hey everyone! Honesty pays off!! Hip hop hooray!

We keep driving towards Idaho and decide to stop at a nuclear reactor tourist site. 20 minutes on the way there and we realize you have to do a 4 hour your. Ain’t nobody got time for that. We turn around and decide to get lunch. 

The Check engine light comes on. Really?? We drive to oreillys and they say they never seen that code. P0126. A quick Google search shows that it’s 90%chance it’s the thermostat.

We are 3-4 hours away from Boise Idaho. The two shops in this road stop town are busy till tomorrow. The mechanic says we can make it if we drive slow and monitor the temp and pull over if need be. We keep ok truck in’.

I use Yelp and find a shop in Boise. 5 stars. I call the guy and explain our situation and that we are trying to get to Yellowstone. He says we can bring it in first thing in the morning and he will get a tech on it. I call 3 other places and they all are about $100 more expensive. We decide to use my hotel points and we stay at holiday inn at Boise. It’s a nice city and we make it there without issue.

Next morning bright and early I get to the shop at 7:55am. They fix everything within 3 hours and we are a GO!

We leave Boise about 11am and then drive straight to Jackson (just south of grand Teton national park). 

It starts to rain as soon as we get to the camp site. I frantically start to put up the tent. I lose a pole and can’t find it. Trung had dropped it somewhere. We search for a while and I finally find it under the tent. Go figure. The last pole goes up in the middle of the tent to create a gap for rain protection. When I’m done there’s a nice puddle where I’m gonna sleep. I use a shammy to clean it up. 

We finally drive to the park and watch twiligh turn into darkness. We hear some animals in the background and stare at the bright night sky.

Back at the campsite we make a fire and some dinner. It’s nice to relax. 

Good night. 

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