Koh Samui through Instagram

After 9 days in Siem Reap and Chiang Mai, we were physically and emotionally exhausted. We had done some amazing things like bicycle around Angkor Wat and ride elephants bareback, but we were tired of always being on the go. Although we were bummed to leave Chiang Mai, we were more than ready to chill on a beach for a few days.

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Our awesome hotel pool overlooking Lamai Beach

Koh Samui did not shock me with pristine white sand and clear blue waters like the Phi Phi Islands, but it was perfect for what we needed at the end of our trip… some well deserved rest. I booked a hotel on Lamai Beach to avoid the party atmosphere at Chaweng Beach and to stay relatively close to the airport. We were pretty shocked to find Koh Samui overrun with European tourists, especially Russians and Germans. Thailand must be the European equivalent to the Caribbean for Americans. The Lamai Beach town strip was essentially souvenir shops, Russian-run restaurants, cheap massage parlors, and loud bars. We only ventured into town for occasional dinners and some souvenir shopping for family.

We were a little annoyed the overall vibe of Lamai Beach so we spent most of our time swimming in the ocean and walking down the beach. We also had our fair share of massages and coconut drinks which made us pretty happy. But the highlight of our trip had to be when we hiked up the Na Muang Waterfall and took a dip in the clear cold waters at the top of the mountain. It reminded me a lot of our waterfall hike in Kuala Lumpur except we had to walk past stupid tourist traps including waterslides, elephant rides, and ridiculous wildlife shows. We avoided these “attractions” and got to a quiet swimming spot at the top of the waterfall entirely by foot. It was amazing and a great adventure to have in between naps and massages on the beach. Honestly after two days of relaxing, we were restless!

All in all, Koh Samui was the perfect bookend to our South East Asia adventure. So enjoy these pictures from my iphone! Many more legit pictures on my camera are coming soon.

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Carina drinking one of the many coconut shakes we consumed in Koh Samui

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Coconut shakes with an ocean view beyond half-naked tourists

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Condom Bar, a classy establishment in Lamai

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The beautiful view from our hotel, Lamai Wanta Resort

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Beach babe

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Artsy beach shot taken by Carina the artist

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Only in Thailand… thanks for the Mcflurry Ron

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Hiking up Na Muang Waterfall. It was more fun than dangerous.

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Taking a dip in the deliciously cool waterfall

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Our last night in Koh Samui! Of course we ate some Pad Thai. Duh.

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Human fireworks at a beachside bar! You can see a guy in the middle swinging two strings of blazing fire.

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Made a wish and watched our lantern float away into the starry night. I hope my wish comes true. Goodbye Koh Samui.

Despite the somewhat “Eurotrashy” character of Lamai Beach, we enjoyed relaxing and recovering. By the end of our trip, I was excited to go back to Penang. Our trip was such a success that Carina and I are already planning our next big adventure. On the agenda? South America! Time to start planning!

Chiang Mai through Instagram

As soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai, I knew I was going to fall head over heels in love with this city. Now I understand why so many digital nomads call Chiang Mai home, albeit temporarily. From the pedestrian friendly streets to a variety of quirky restaurants, cafes, and juice bars, to a healthy population of tourists and expats alike, Chiang Mai manages to combine the familiar with the unfamiliar in a way that provides both an exotic yet tame experience.

Having lived in two challenging and distinctly Asian cities, I was relieved to find a city in Asia that caters to the Western expat. In Chiang Mai I did not stick out like a sore thumb but rather blended beautifully with my surroundings. While this was an extremely pleasant experience and a welcome relief from my often polarizing existence in Malaysia, it felt sort of wrong. Was I in Thailand or an expat utopia?

Over the course of our 5 days in Chiang Mai, I whole-heartedly embraced the quaint cafes, juice bars, printed college t-shirts, and beloved bottles of kombucha. However, I also welcomed uniquely Thai experiences including elephant riding, foot massages, glittering temples, and cheap beer. As a perpetual expat in Asia, I forgive myself for a little inauthenticity. Sometimes it’s good to feel at home.

Here’s a little glimpse at Chiang Mai through my iphone:

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Enjoying some delicious Phad Thai at The Writer’s Club

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Glittering dragons at Wat Chedi Luang

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In complete surprise at finding kombucha! I heart Dada Cafe.

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Carina drinking a coconut, mango, lime smoothie during our afternoon smoothie time

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Dog crossing in front of our hotel

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Would you like some Thai river fish?

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Ready to dig into Khao Soy, a popular Northern Thai dish

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Khao Soy served up on an artist pallet. The idea is to add your own shallots, fish sauce, chili, sugar, and coconut milk to doctor up your broth the way you like it. I just threw everything in.

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Watching a lantern release on the river side

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Make a wish!

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Crossing the bridge

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Carina making a wish

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Some punk looking kids playing R&B ballads at the Riverside bar

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Awesome brunch at Nice Kitchen. We had a chocolate cashew pancake. Omfg.

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Hitting up the Sunday Market with hundreds of shops and endless shopping

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Enjoying some Chang beer while hiding from the rain at the Sunday Market

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Temple dog at Doi Suthep, the most famous temple in Chiang Mai

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Sad but colorful temple offerings

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In full bloom in courtyard at Doi Suthep

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Funny and kind of creepy monk babies

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The temples in Thailand are so shiny

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Red and gold temple design

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Watching the mist roll in across the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai

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Colorfully decorated elephant statues

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Hi Mom

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We had awesomely enormous burritos after frolicking with the elephants in the countryside

Falling in Love with Georgetown

So I know I promised to post daily but I’ve been busy I swear! My best friend from home arrived on Tuesday and we have been busy doing touristy things in Penang for the last few days. We have had so much fun exploring Penang and prepping for our big trip to Cambodia and Thailand on Sunday.

On Wednesday we drove into Georgetown to walk around the Esplanade area and see the waterfront. A storm was approaching so we made sure to quickly walk around Fort Cornwallis. The Fort was pretty small with some interesting displays, most intriguing of which included cheesy photo opps with odd cardboard cutouts from completely random time periods. Carina got really into it.

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We walked around for a bit and made sure to take plenty of pictures in doorways. Of course we also caught up on the history of Fort Cornwallis and Francis Light. Although the fort was originally built for British military, its function was more administrative than defensive. Many of the fort walls were coated with several layers of peeling paint and freshly painted murals of Penang scenes. I do not think paint is really part of the conservation effort but it was a pretty effect any ways.

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Upon leaving the fort we spotted an oddly shaped building next to the old Town Hall. Taking a closer look, we realized that the building was artfully covered in bamboo. We later learned that this was created to resemble ships and is part of the Georgetown Festival going on this summer. Pretty cool.

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We then left the Esplanade and drove to the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery. I had been there before with Peter but was able to see much more this time. It was also the perfect shelter for one of Penang’s crazy afternoon thunderstorms. While the sky dumped much needed rain on the island, we learned about the history and culture of Penang. My favorite part (as always) were the wonderful photographs from the island’s past.

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Once the rain subsided we started walking towards Chulia Road and sat down at Who’s Bryan?, a funky cafe, for lunch. After satisfying our appetites with pumpkin soup, salad, cornflake crusted chicken breast, and espressos, we continued our stroll towards Chulia. At one point we started following other tourists onto Lebuh Muntri and came upon a gorgeous Chinese temple. Hainan Temple beckoned to us from its stony facade as a smiling old Chinese man urged us to come on in and take a look around. We thanked him, left our shoes at the doorway and walked across the cool stone floor.

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The interior of the temple glowed in the afternoon light as a soft rain fell through the open courtyard and watered the lush green plants below. Offerings of oil, flowers, candles, and origami pineapples covered every available table space as two large cones of offerings made from artificial light threatened to brush the high ceiling.

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We left the temple in awe and thanked the kind old Chinese man for welcoming us in. He asked us where we are from and was surprised to learn that I live in Penang. Most people are surprised that I live here and ask if I am a student. I always reply, “I wish”. As we walked farther down the street, we sought shelter from the rain under the old colonial buildings of Georgetown. These iconic buildings are full of character and distinct in their specific style and coloring. Everything from the tiles, ornate doors, and peeling paint to the small shrines nailed to every concrete pillar make these buildings unique. I am absolutely in love with their beauty and charm.

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As luck would have it, we randomly found the newly opened Camera Museum that we had read about in a brochure. I was so excited!! The Camera Museum is still under renovation but they currently have two photography exhibits open to the public. They welcomed us inside but warned us about the groups of high schoolers constructing pinhole cameras on the floor for the Georgetown Festival. Carina and I stepped around these busy students while looking at the extraordinary photographs on display. This Museum was absolutely incredible and I cannot wait to come back in August when they open the second floor. What a great find! 

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Still joyful from the Camera Museum, we decided to head back to the car before rush hour. On the way we passed some of Georgetown’s awesome street art. One of the murals showed the shop where Jimmy Choo started his apprenticeship! Crazy! We were exhausted but had begun to fall in love with Georgetown. We knew we needed to come back and see so much more. This town is truly a diamond in the rough. Why had I never noticed it before?

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With every twist and turn we encountered more beauty. It was impossible to leave so quickly with so much to see. Georgetown deserves days of exploration and adoration and I intend to give it my all. Although I have lived in Penang for almost 4 months, only now do I feel truly excited to go and make this city my own. For the next 6 months I will try my best to explore every nook and cranny of this unexpected place and find what it is bursting to reveal. I am inspired to go out with my camera and truly SEE.

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This is home. The picture below may be goofy but my words are true. Georgetown, I am falling in love with you.

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Kuala Lumpur: Swimming in the Waterfalls of Templar Park

So far our long weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur was awesome with a full day Saturday at the Batu Caves, Aquaria KLCC, and Chinatown. On Sunday we planned to visit the National Museum and Little India, neither of which we knew much about.

To get to the museum we took the train all the way to KL Sentral where we found out that the only way to get to the museum from there was by taxi. Weird. The National Museum was fairly large with 4 main exhibitions separated into the native, royal, colonial, and modern histories of Malaysia. I found the native and colonial exhibits to be the most interesting. I mean, I do have a degree in anthropology.

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I really enjoyed the museum but all that standing around left me exhausted. By the time Peter bought tickets to an additional Mask exhibition, I was done.

From KL Sentral we boarded the Monorail towards what we thought was Little India. We were confused because we heard that there were two Little Indias in Kuala Lumpur. So of course, we somehow ended up in Bukit Bintang, the largest shopping district in the city. Next thing you know we were hit with a thunderstorm and forced to find shelter in an enormous, posh mall. For some reason my life in Malaysia is confined to malls. It is kind of depressing.

The next day we packed our belongings and left them at the front desk so we could do more sightseeing before our evening flight. After taking the train to the Batu Caves, a taxi drove us out to the rural and mountainous area outside of the city. Soon we pulled into a beautiful picnic area crawling with Muslim families and monkeys. We walked down a concrete path into the forest not really knowing what to expect.

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As we walked deeper into the forest, the air became cooler and the sound of rushing water assaulted our ears. The waterfalls must be close by. Soon enough the trees thinned out, revealing a large rush of water cascading down the mountainside. At different points along the waterfall there were picnic tables and swimming areas packed with people enjoying the cool water. We were hoping to find a more secluded spot so we continued to hike up the mountain and up so many stairs!

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Then we found it. The perfect swimming spot next to a stone staircase where the waterfalls began. We were alone except for two love struck teenagers sharing a precious moment on the bridge…. watching us frolic in the cold water.

So romantic.

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We were unfazed as we hurriedly stripped out of our sweaty clothes and down to our bathing suits. Sliding against the wet rocks, we yelped in reaction to the cold water on our skin and slipped into what can only be described as “heaven”. Eventually the teens left and we were able to enjoy this secluded spot by ourselves.

I was absolutely amazed and thrilled that we were able to find a place like this in Malaysia. Somehow we had escaped the hot heat of the city. I almost felt as though we were in the mountains of North Carolina. The water was cool, the forest was thick, and it was quiet. We laughed, smiled, splashed around, and just sat in the stream, absorbing the beautiful environment.

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After just an hour in this natural wonderland, we had to go and catch our flight back to Penang. I was so reluctant to leave our little mountain hideaway and prayed that we would find more places like this in Malaysia. Even though we almost missed our flight, I was unfazed for the rest of the day. I had swum in a cool mountain stream away from the craziness of Asia and I couldn’t be more at peace.

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If you ever visit Kuala Lumpur, make sure to take the trip out to Templar Park. Hike as far up the mountain as you can to avoid the crowds and find your own hidden spot in the forest.

I promise you, it is worth it. 

Kuala Lumpur: From Aquaria to a Reggae Bar in Chinatown

After a wonderful morning exploring the Batu Caves, we went back to our hotel to regroup before the next item on our agenda: the Aquaria KLCC!

Peter is a big fan of aquariums so we make sure go whenever we visit a big city. The last one we visited was the Shanghai Aquarium which was out of this world. We had high hopes for the Aquaria KLCC  as we walked from our hotel towards the Petronas Towers. To get there, we took a long underground tunnel that is part of the Golden Triangle. After a quick lunch, we found ourselves at the end of the long line at the ticketing counter. It turns out every body in Malaysia had come to the aquarium this holiday weekend. Joy.

We bought tickets anyway and shoved our way inside. The entire place was packed with an absurd amount of people talking, yelling, and swarming around every display. The animals must have been terrified! It was challenging to see anything through the crowds so I made do with peering at the animals over people’s heads (the plus side of being a tall American in Asia).

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The Aquaria had a lot of really cool animals including enormous otters, fish, and iguanas. They also had teeny tiny animals like bugs, crabs, lizards, and seahorses in small displays that were thankfully less crowded than the big tanks. But the coolest section was definitely the long transparent tunnel with a moving walkway that transported you under the sea. Just like in Shanghai, we watched massive sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, and other big fish glide effortlessly above us. As soon as we would point out a shark, a stingray with rippling wings would come flying from the opposite direction. There was just so much to see.

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However, my favorite displays were at the end of the Aquarium where there were less people and fewer children mauling my legs in their rush to the tanks. Here the displays beautiful seahorses, coral reefs, and jellyfish were were smaller and more colorful. Remember the amazing neon jellyfish display in Shanghai? Well they had a couple small neon jellyfish displays in Aquaria that were equally awesome. I don’t know why but I love neon everything.

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Since I love aquariums, it is no wonder I fell so hard for scuba diving. Aquariums are basically “Scuba Lite”. You get to experience the underwater world from the comfort of air conditioning and unlimited oxygen. But nothing compares to floating underwater in the open ocean and coming face to face with the plants and animals that are no longer separated by glass. The thrill comes from the understanding that you can reach out and touch them if you wanted (but don’t!).

As much as I enjoy aquariums, the ridiculous crowds of people in Asia and the thought of the animals stuck in small spaces makes me cringe. Now it is only the real deal for me. Scuba diving or bust.

Our long day of playing tourist culminated in a shuttle ride from our hotel down to Chinatown. We had no idea what to expect but were a little let down by the sight of a street packed with vendors. We were definitely not in the mood to buy any purses or KL knickknacks.

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So we were instantly intrigued when we caught sight of this Reggae Bar at the end of the street. A Reggae Bar in Chinatown in Malaysia? Sure, why not. We ended up having a great dinner and plenty of drinks at an outdoor table. We were enjoying ourselves so much that we moved inside to the cozy bar for more drinks and hookah.

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It was a completely random but crazy fun way to end our first day in Kuala Lumpur. This spontaneous night was actually one of my favorite parts of the weekend. As much as travel is about seeing the big tourist attractions, travel is also about getting lost and finding the unexpected. No matter how many travel guides you read or “Things to Do in …” you google, whatever you do in any place will be uniquely YOUR experience.

So just go, get lost, wander, and discover the unexpected. Like a Reggae Bar in Chinatown in Malaysia. Or German food in the French Concession in China. Embrace it.

Hiking Straight Up Penang Hill

Yesterday we managed to stick with one of my 6 goals for the next 6 months! Instead of another lazy Saturday, we fueled up with some bacon (hello pork I missed you) and drove to Penang Hill. After getting lost several times, we eventually made it to the entrance of the Botanical Gardens and the jeep track. While most people opt to take the funicular up the side of the hill, we decided to hike up the jeep track since we both love hiking.

However, this is no leisurely stroll up the hillside. The jeep track goes straight up the hill, often at an angle of 25 to 30 degrees. It is a brutal 5.1km (3.2 miles) uphill climb made even more brutal by the extreme heat and humidity of the jungle. When I first arrived in Penang, Peter brought me to this same track. I complained the entire way and lasted only 1km! This time I was determined to suck it up and make it to the top.

We started our trek at 4:45pm and were in the company of plenty other hikers and even an occasional biker. This one old guy was biking straight up the hill like a boss with music blasting out of speakers. I was so impressed.

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At the 1.5km mark, we stopped at a flat rest area with picnic tables and lots of monkeys! They were grouped in little families of momma, baby, and teenager and were pretty darn adorable. I was wary of them, especially when the teenager came up to us and basically begged for food, using puppy dog eyes while glancing at my camera bag. Thankfully he left us alone and we continued our slow trudge up the mountainside.

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By the time we reached the first opening in the jungle, we were completely drenched in sweat. My hair, shirt and shorts were completely soaked through as if I was swimming, not hiking. The combination of humidity and physical exertion was extraordinary. At this point I was wiping my brow every 5 minutes to prevent blindness from the rush of sweat into my eyes. With each turn of the jeep track I hoped for some flat terrain, but instead was consistently greeted with more steep inclines. I was afraid my poor calves and legs would not be able to take it anymore. But there was no turning back now. I had to make it to the top, even if I would curse the entire way there!

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The final ascent to the top was brutal and included a wicket set of stone stairs. Not cool. But we powered through and breathlessly emerged at the top an hour and half after we started. We found ourselves surrounded by happy Muslim families strolling around the flat top road. I seriously doubt that they made the hike because they looked too happy! We made our way as fast as our legs could carry us (aka as slow as molasses) into the lodge across the street where there were food and drink stalls. We bought fresh fruit juices, bottles of water and some noodles and sat down to enjoy our feast. There is nothing better than fresh juice after a sweaty hike. We then walked down a small street to an uncrowded picnic area that overlooked the entire island.

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We could see all of Georgetown and the stretch of ocean that separates Penang from the mainland. To the far right we could even see our apartment building sandwiched between a small hill and island. Although it was a hazy day, the view was still impressive. Pollution has recently been very bad in Malaysia but I welcomed the protection from the hot sun. If the sun was out I probably would have melted.

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A little after 7pm we realized that we needed to get down the hill PRONTO before the sun went down. Although the jeep track is paved, there are no street lamps. That would just be silly. With the light already fading, we booked it down the hill as fast as our shaking legs would take us.

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I was exhausted and my legs were aching something fierce but I was determined to get off that dang hill. Somehow we found the energy and the humor to walk/run down the steep slope. On the way up I saw lots of people walking backwards down the hill so I decided to try it myself. Peter said that Asians are experts at conserving time and energy so walking backwards must be the way to go. Well they were right! Walking backwards was easy on my legs and a great relief for my trembling calves. We must have looked absolutely ridiculous stomping backwards but we didn’t care as long as we were moving quickly!

At 8pm sharp we ran into the now dark parking lot, wobbly from exertion and extra sweaty. We did it!!! We actually descended in 1/4th of the time it took us to ascend. Success!!

Today my calves are so sore that I can barely walk but I am glad I finally conquered Penang Hill. I loved getting away from the city and seeing another side of Penang. So far these goals are going well and I can’t wait to see what we do next! 

Just an Observation: Why is my front door stuck…again?

This is the first post in a new Kirsten Captures series called “Just an Observation”. Every day I will attempt to post a photo and quick thought or observation from the day. This is a sincere effort to become more involved in my life here in Penang. But as you will see from today’s observation that although I was ready to open myself to Penang, Penang was not quite ready to open itself to me…

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Why is my front door stuck… again? 

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I asked myself this as I violently jostled the deadbolt on my front door early yesterday afternoon. But I already knew the answer and was annoyed that it had happened again. Why today? I had just found the excitement and motivation to go out and get to work at the nearest coffeeshop. Well, our faulty deadbolt had other plans in store for me.

A couple months ago I encountered the same situation as I attempted to leave my apartment for some lunch. When the deadbolt would not budge I called Peter in a panic. “I’m locked in!” I exclaimed. “You’re what?” asked Peter incredulously. “I’m locked inside the apartment! The door won’t open! I swear I’m not making this up”, I replied. “OK I’ll be right over”, he said.

Twenty minutes later, Peter and his coworker Munther knocked on the door while laughing at my bad luck. I opened a window in the kitchen to talk to the boys from the hallway, which is separated by a low wall and a 15 story drop. “I’ll just jump inside through the window!” said Munther. “What??” I hollered. “No freaking way! What if you miss and fall? We’re on the 15 floor! I absolutely forbid you to jump. I’m serious!” “Ok, fine”, Munther said.

I turned around and started walking back to the door when I heard the sound of shoes landing on the floor. I spun around and saw Munther walking towards me with a grin on his face. “Oh my god! Are you insane!” I yelled. “Peter, don’t you dare!” I said through the open window. For the next few minutes Munther got to work unscrewing the deadbolt while I took deep breaths, trying to calm down from the near death experience that just took place. About 10 minutes later, the boys put a loose screw back into place and unlocked the deadbolt. Mission complete.

We thought all of our problems were over until yesterday when I tried to unbolt the door in the early afternoon. I was energized from an amazing workout and had my things packed for my usual walk to Queensbay mall for some quality time with my laptop at Starbucks. However, the door would not budge. AGAIN. I unscrewed the lock and found a loose screw but could not figure where it belonged. Scared of breaking something, I settled back in my office and started writing 6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 Months.

I was inspired to get inspired again. That stuck deadbolt was a physical representation of the personal barriers I had constructed around myself. I addressed my lingering lack of motivation and set some goals for myself right then and there. Nothing could stop me now, not even my front door. 

It turns out, getting locked in gave me the motivation I needed to get out and start living my life to the fullest. Who knew I would be so grateful for a broken lock? 

6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 Months

Lately I’ve been searching for inspiration. After living in Malaysia for almost 4 months, I have hit a wall in both my personal life and professional life. It is difficult to get my butt moving every day to work out, blog, and complete projects for my marketing job.

When I first arrived in Penang this March, I was excited to get busy and involved like I did during my brief stay in Shanghai. I was going to find a gym, start coaching clients, travel around South East Asia, blog about my everyday life as an expat, and kick butt with my marketing projects. Somewhere along the way I lost my motivation. In order to have motivation, I need to be inspired by what I do and where I am headed in life. Sadly, this has not been the case.

I realized in the last few months that I do not like living in Malaysia. The expat community is small and I do not have many friends. There are few activities or groups for me to join and the things I want to do require driving myself during rush hour. I am terrified of driving here so I avoid it all costs. Over time I found myself reasoning that we are only here for a year so it was ok to not get involved. This has been my undoing. Now I actively AVOID investing any time and energy into making Penang feel like home which in turn makes me feel even more isolated. It is a vicious cycle that I am determined to stop.

So I am turning things around, shifting my focus to find my groove again. Here is how I am going to do it.

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6 Ways to Stay Inspired for the Next 6 months: 

1. Hit the gym 4x a week-  We decided to save money on a gym membership by working out in our apartment complex gym. However there is no air conditioning so it is a real challenge to go down and sweat in an already hot and humid room. 4 weeks ago I started Tina’s Best Body Bootcamp and have been excited to workout again. I will continue to follow a program like this for the rest of my time in Penang. Working out consistently always gives me energy in other areas of my life. Plus I need to lose this expat belly! It is getting ridiculous!

2. See/do one thing in Penang every weekend- Peter and I made this pact a month ago and stuck with it for oh… about 2 weeks. Fail. I hope to make it a weekly thing once again starting with this Saturday! There are so many touristy things to do in Penang beyond going to the mall and watching movies like Peter and I tend to do. Hopefully exploring this island will help me like it more.

3. Stay connected with friends and family back home- I need to skype my family and friends at least 3 or 4 times a week. The 12 hour time difference is difficult but talking to them grounds me beyond belief. I miss my family so much and cannot wait to visit home in August. I am also excited out of my mind for my bestie Carina to come here and travel with me for 3 weeks! I missed my friend.

4. Go back to daily blogging- Completing the 365 project last year was crazy but so much fun! I really enjoyed blogging daily when I moved to Shanghai. It forced me to open my eyes, explore my surroundings, and make observations about life in China. I will go back to posting one photo with some thoughts or observations every day in an effort to engage with my surroundings. Keep an eye out for “Just an Observation” posts!

5. Sign up for one Spiral Synergy event every month- This expat group organizes activities and events like wet market tours, cooking classes, and author meet-and-greets in and around Penang. I signed up for their wet market tour last month but the thought of driving and parking downtown during rush hour freaked me out so I skipped it. Fail. I will sign up for one event each month and hopefully will actually make it to one!

6. Explore another kind of photography with filters- As much as I love taking pictures of my travels, I have been bored silly with the results. Lately I have become obsessed with the beautiful vintage photography in lifestyle blogs like Love Taza and Sincerely, Kinsey. Since I lost Photoshop Elements when my hard drive was wiped, I recently installed fun photo apps as a cheap alternative. I love laying filters on my photos like Instagram (my other obsession) to create a different feeling. Although I am still unsure if I will use filters for all my travel photos, I want to start playing with photography again.

Here are some of my recent creations with Instant and FX Studio Pro:


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The Petronas Twin Towers, black and white style 

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The Petronas Twin Towers, with flare 

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The light of God in the Dark Caves, vintage polaroid style

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Chinese temple in Xiamen, vintage Polaroid style 

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Peter chillin’ on the Phi Phi Islands, vintage polaroid style 

I am totally digging the Instant Polaroid app. It automatically gives photos a touch of nostalgia. The reason I fell in love with photography is because I am a sucker for nostalgia. I hoard memories with my camera. I am so excited to explore these filters and create pictures that inspire me and others. I lost my creativity for a while and now I am fighting to get it back.

Just writing out these 6 goals for 6 months inspires and motivates me to push the play button on my life. I will seize this amazing opportunity of living abroad and will strive to create a life that fulfills me every day. 

The time is now! 

Exploring Georgetown: Chingay and Kuan Yin Teng Temple

Guess what? Today we are headed to Thailand!!

Peter has a couple days off work this week and next Monday is election day here in Malaysia so we are staying on the Phi Phi Islands for my birthday! Woohoo!!

I turn 25 on May 15th and feel very indifferent about the whole thing. I used to joke that I was approaching my quarter life crisis and once that happened all bets were off. Well I think that crisis actually happened once I graduated from college and now, 3 years later, I feel much more settled and secure in my twenties. I am not worried about turning 30 in five years. Instead I am excited to see what unfolds in these next five years.

Ugh I sound like a grown-up. To avoid going into responsible grown-up discussions I will  steer the conversation back to a fun topic… Georgetown!

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The most well known area on the island of Penang is Georgetown, a beautiful and eclectic city with old colonial buildings, great food, and of course many temples. One of Peter’s coworkers graciously picked up at our apartment in Bayan Lepas and drove us to lunch in Georgetown one weekend. It was my first time in Georgetown and I was so excited.

She and her husband brought us to an open-air world food market which was crowded, hot, and packed with food stalls selling various regional and international dishes.

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I chose Japanese and ordered a platter of salmon, white rice, vegetables, and miso soup. But first I needed some hydration in the form of my favorite natural beverage… COCONUT! I love coconut so much. Remember when I was so desperate for some coconut that I nearly sliced my finger off in Shanghai? Yeah, I like coconut. It is perfect for these hot tropical days in Penang.

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As much as I enjoyed the Japanese food, I wished I had ventured to try some unfamiliar dishes in the other stalls. For example, Curry Mee is a Malaysian dish that is a spicy curry soup with thin yellow egg noodles, chili, coconut milk and your choice of add-ins like fish, egg, pork blood, and fish balls.

GIMME. Next time I will have to try this. Pork blood is actually very delicious. Seriously.

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After lunch our friends took us on an unexpected car tour of Georgetown. First stop was The Padang, or field next to Fort Conwallis. When we arrived we noticed a huge group of Chinese students carrying enormous flags. We learned that this is Chingay, the skilled art of balancing a giant sized flag while performing various acrobatic tricks and stunts. The very basic skill is balancing the flag on your forehead.

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After wowing the students with his fluency in Mandarin, Peter decided to give Chingay a try. It couldn’t be that hard right?

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After barely managing to bring the flag up to his hands, Peter shifted it into one hand… and started running as the flag began falling away. It was hilarious to watch as he sprinted down the field. Thankfully the guys in charge managed to grab the flag before it crashed to the ground. Not so easy huh!

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Chingay is not easy but is definitely amusing!

Next to The Padang is The Espanade, an ocean-side promenade expressing Georgetown’s colonial past. It is full of locals and tourists walking, lounging, and relaxing in the heat. In Penang people love to relax by the ocean, even if it is 90 degrees and humid outside. It is impressive really.

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Because it was a scorching hot day, we set our sights on the various street food stalls offering refreshments. Peter recommended the lime drink which is basically ice cold water with lime and sugar. Can you say delicious?

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For RM1.50 it was a sweet deal for a sweet and delicious treat. Peter enjoys anything with sugar so he was happy.

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Next, our wonderful tour guides drove us by some well-known places in Georgetown including Fort Cornwallis, the Courthouse, and Little India. We noticed that many Chinese temples were celebrating some event or holiday with dozens of pillars giving off dense smoke. At the end of China Street we got out of the car to take a look at the most prominent Chinese temple in the heart of Georgetown, known as Kuan Yin Teng Temple.

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As we approached the entrance, the smoke from the burning incense torches blew directly into our faces, not a pleasant experience I might add. This is probably why I have no photos of the entrance, too much smoke!

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I love the ritual of lighting incense candles and waving the smoke in prayer. It reminds of how we light prayer candles in the Catholic church, it is symbolic and smells good!

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Now the one ritual I failed to understand is the little birds they had for sale. People were purchasing the birds to be released somewhere inside the temple. Why? I have no idea. Where did they get these birds? And why are they are so small? So many questions. I felt sad for the birds crowded so closely in the small cages. I almost bought a few just to set them free.

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It was honestly much too hot to explore the temple throughly so we took a quick stroll through the crowded courtyard and exited. But first I snapped this hilarious pictures of an old Chinese man in a “We Build This City” Journey t-shirt. Rock on dude.

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Across the street we encountered a small Hindu shrine next to a sign pointing towards Little India. This is no surprise since Georgetown is a small and diverse city (town?) with many cultures located side by side. From Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and British colonial influences, Georgetown offers a variety of experience similar to Epcot. Sounds strange but if you’ve been to Epcot you can understand what I mean.

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In the vicinity of the temple, we also found a flower market with bright bouquets and wreaths for decorating homes as well as shrines like the Hindu shrine above. At each flower stall, florists were hard at work cutting blooms and creating custom bouquets for customers.

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The flowers were so fresh and beautiful. I learned that many of the flowers are dyed to achieve elusive bright colors like blue and hot pink. For a second I wondered what is the name of the electric blue flower!

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After the flower market, our friends had to go home so we hopped in their blissfully air-conditioned car and headed home.

Although we did not get to spend much time in Georgetown, I had a great time getting introduced to this quirky city. The city may be small but there are so many things to see and experience. I now have a running list of places to explore and I am excited take my sweet time throughly diving into the unique culture of Penang.

Peter and I made a pact to explore at least one new place each weekend for the rest of our year in Penang. Whether it is a temple, beach, Little India, or food market, we are determined to see it all. Besides there is much to expat life (link) than malls and Starbucks :-).

The Stresses of Expat Life and Banana Boat Pictures

Happy Friday! Finally!

This week has been mentally draining and I am so ready for another trip in a couple of weeks. Peter and I are planning a 5 day trip to Thailand on the Phi Phi Islands and it couldn’t come sooner for the both of us. Peter is drained from work and I am drained from the stresses of expat life.

Although it may seem like my life would be pretty grand here in Malaysia, sometimes it is anything BUT grand. When you live in Asia everything is much harder. From grocery shopping to driving down the street to meeting friends for drinks, nothing is easy. Driving is a nightmare and it gives me hives just thinking about it. I always get horribly lost, frustrated, and desperate to get home. Remember that Penang is a small island with only two main roads… and I STILL get lost, frustrated, and desperate. Oh and our car’s air conditioning is broken so we are driving on the wrong side the road in 90 degree heat sweating buckets while stuck in traffic.

Since I despise driving so much, I often walk 15 minutes to Queensbay Mall to work at Starbucks and get groceries. Of course this means I am lugging my laptop and heavy groceries while walking home in 90 degree heat sweating buckets and dodging cars.

But most of the time I am just sweating buckets. Like all the time.

Life in Malaysia is not easy. So far the routine seems to be that I have 3 good weeks and then one terrible week when I cry a a lot, stress out, and wonder why the heck I am here. Well thankfully that occasional hellish week is now over!! Hooray!

Before the weekend begins I wanted to share some more pictures from Langkawi. They are hilarious and make me happy. They also make me miss swimming in the cold ocean because guess what?? I am currently sitting outside Starbucks… sweating buckets. Sounds familiar.

Bring on the Banana Boat! 

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The crew getting ready to rumble. Somehow we ended up with horribly sized life vests. Mine was extremely small while the smallest girl in our group got the enormous adult life vest. Fail. At least we look good no matter what.

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Before this picture was taken Peter tried to hop on the banana boat but ended up slipping and falling into the water. It was pretty funny. I definitely laughed at him. Love you babe ;-).

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There is so much excitement going on it is ridiculous.

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Peter and I seem pretty stoked and everybody else just looks kind of scared. Peter and I grew up boating, skiing, and tubing on the ocean so this is no big deal to us. I don’t think anybody else had ever been in the open water before. They were holding on for dear life which made it rough when the banana boat flipped over. I definitely landed on a few people. Ouch.

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But the best part about tubing is flipping over! Am I right or am I right? Or am I crazy? Nope I am just a Floridian!

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The best part about sailing is posing like a badass. The worst part about sailing is getting stuck in the net.

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But really, all that matters is looking good right?

Done and done.