Being outside of the US for any extended period of time really opens up your eyes. You learn so much about other countries and what the opinion of the US is from an outsiders perspective. While I don’t agree with everything he says, this article raises some really important points. Plus this video in the article is pretty awesome.
In honor of the American Independence Day, I will be flying home on the 4th of July. SYD –> SFO –> ORD. I’m still a little worried about not hemorrhaging every penny that I own in the next 5 weeks, but I was limited on the days that I could fly. There are about 37 nights that I’ll have to pay to stay in a hostel ($30/dorm bed) which equals $1,100… Yikes. Luckily, thanks to United miles, I’m getting home just paying $100 in taxes.
I have the tentative plan to live at home and work for 6 months, and possibly head back to Aus on a Work and Holiday visa to work for a year. We shall see
I will be devastated that my travels are over (for a little while) but happy to get home to summertime Chi!!
I left Stanwell Park on Sunday and came up to Bondi Beach. My friend Trevor has an amazing apartment here, which is maybe like an 8 minute walk to the beach. It’s awesome.
I thought that I would a tough time re-adjusting to the luxury of the first world, but I did not. Shocking how quickly I fell back into the lap of luxury. I used a microwave for the first time in 8 months. I cooked dinner. I blow dried my hair. I bought coffee to go. Had fro-yo. I fully embrace all of it.
I’ve had an insatiable appetite. Something about real home cooked meals is just everything. But I could literally eat all day long.
-Birds. There’s literally just cockatoos hanging out in the street. We’re not in a zoo or anything, they’re just there, squawking and they appear evil. I saw these large, black, egret-looking things today just on the sidewalk that looked so bizarre.
-Aussies are tough, and I’m fucking freezing. It’s heading into winter here, so it’s gorgeous and beautiful in the sun in the middle of day (70 degrees) and gets a lot colder at night (45 degrees). In Chicago, the second it dips below 65 degrees, I’ve got the heaters out. Most places here don’t have central heating or fireplaces, so it’s usually just a space heater. People just wear an appropriate amount of clothes indoors. I’m also coming from 8 months of 90 degree weather, so this is a shock to my bod. I bought a couple of warmer things, but the best shoes that I have are Toms. It has been raining the past 2 days, so I’m doing impressive things like putting together my resume.
-Yes, everything is expensive. I was worried about the cost of being here, but I’m over it. 2 things I REALLY appreciate: the tax is included in all prices. So if something’s $12, you walk up to the counter and dole out exactly $12. The second: no tipping! I don’t know anywhere outside of North America that tips, and it’s annoying. Here you never have to figure out 15-20% blah blah, forget it. So, yes things are more expensive, but you have to consider the tax/tip included, and it’s slightly more tolerable.
-Different language. The biggest thing is the different names for food. Cilantro = Coriander, Arugula = Rocket, Pepper = Capsicum, Pumpkin = Squash, Green Onion = Shallots, etc.
As I came to the end of my SE Asia trip, I put together a packing list. This isn’t exactly what I brought, but it’s exactly what I should have brought. This list is basic- the essentials. You’ll obviously want to pack underwear, a toothbrush, etc. but I won’t list that out. I traveled with one (ugly) Kelty Travel Backpack, which had its positives and negatives. And then I had just a regular sized backpack which I carried my computer and all other valuables. I’ve broken the packing list down into categories with explanations for most of them.
-One universal adapter. I’ve heard Road Warrior is good. On my route, there were 2 different kinds of adapters that I needed. The main one was the Type C and the adapter needed for Malaysia and Singapore is Type G. Make sure the Type C plug is long, or has an attachment, as most of the sockets are inset. Many places in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos also sometimes had the standard Type A plugs like in the US.
-Tablet/computer. This is personal preference. I had a MacBook Air with me and my iPhone, and a kindle. I’d probably bring all 3 again, all were useful in different capacities for me.
-Flashlight/headlamp. There have been many a times that I’ve been on a night bus and wanted to read. Also, some places only have electricity intermittently and it’ll come in handy.
-Camera. Additional battery is also key. I can only handle point and shoots, and went with the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 12.1 MP 20x zoom and it was awesome.
-Good quality t-shirts and tanks. I brought a few decent tshirts and wore them into the ground/lost them/stained them. But they were worth it while I had them. Finding good quality stuff that fits well and will last over here is tough. I literally went to Gap in Bali to replenish some basic Ts. Assume anything that you bring with you will not make it home in the same condition, if at all.
-Sarong. I would just buy a nice/soft sarong wherever you land over here. Or two. These act as blankets, swim suit cover-ups, sheets, towels and dry quickly. I think sarongs are better than those “quick dry” towels, they dry faster and are much cheaper.
-Rain jacket. Just a light, waterproof jacket that folds into nothing and can be layered over everything.
-Shoes: 1 pair of running shoes (to be used for hiking, exercise, etc), 1 pair of cheap flip flops (shower shoes, wandering around), and 1 pair of everyday sandals (could be going out shoes). I almost never wore the pair of Toms that I brought, or my lesbian sandals (Merell hiking sandals).
-Multi-Vitamins. I swear I’m only alive today because of my multi-vitamins.
-Birth control. You can buy it over the counter some places here (Thailand and Indo, I know for sure) but it most likely won’t be your exact kind.
-ZPak. Typically prescribed for traveller diarrhea.
-Benadryl. There will come a time when you have bug bites, or a rash and will need some.
-Malaria pills (If you believe in that). I brought malaria pills for Laos and never ended up taking them. It depends on what season you’re here for. I don’t know, I think if you’re traveling long term, being on antibiotics for months at a time isn’t a great idea. The cheaper pill (doxycycline) that I was prescribed also makes you sensitive to sun, which is the last thing I need. Just be really smart with the bug spray.
-Advil. They have all kinds of pain reliever/fever reducer. But if you really need it, the last thing you’ll want to be doing is be researching drug names.
-Sunscreen. Just grab a good SPF from Target, much cheaper.
-Mosquito spray. They say nowadays that 50% DEET is adequate and any more than that does more harm than good. I like the spray way better than lotion, which tends to be sticky.
-Tampons. You can get them over here in some places, but bring a good amount with you. Trust me on this one- when you need to find some the most, you won’t be able to.
-Stick deodorant. Many places only have roll-on.
-Dental floss. Hard to find and expensive.
-Hand sanitizer/wet wipes.
-Good face wash.
-Passport photos. You definitely need a couple for visas for Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. It never hurts to have a couple extras on hand.
-Photocopies of passport.
-Eye mask/ear plugs. Without a doubt the best things that I brought.
-Padlock. Most hostels have lockers that you can use to store your valuable stuff, but you’ll need your own lock.
-Swiss Army knife. Preferably one with scissors.
-Lonely Planet. I dragged the Southeast Asia On A Shoestring around with me and it definitely came in handy. Not so much for the restaurants or hostel selections, but more for the rundown of the cities and route planning options.
-Mesh laundry/packing bags. To separate your clothes. It’s great to be able to pull out your “shirt” mesh bag without digging around.
-Airtight laundry bag. Just something that isn’t mesh to keep the lovely odors from permeating everything in your bag.
-Dry Bag. A light dry bag will definitely be used anytime you’re near water, which is often in SE Asia.
I made it down under! The budget 8 hour flight down here that wasn’t too bad (my flight was through Air Asia- $174 total for all taxes, bag fees, etc. one-way from KL to Sydney). When I got in, I hopped on the train south to Stanwell Park to meet up with my childhood friend, Catherine. Last time I saw her was at her wedding almost 2 years ago, and now they have a baby!
Let’s do this! I’m hopping on a plane in a couple hours for Sydney. While not thrilled about the 8 (!) hour flight from KL, I am thrilled to see my childhood bestie and her offspring when I get there. I can’t wait for first world problems again.
SE Asia- it’s been an unreal and unforgettable 7.5 months, I will be back. Thank you for your people, your food, and your beauty.
I spent a good 6 nights on the island of Perhentian Kecil. I just wanted to be somewhere beachy for last week or so. It’s known as a backpacker spot (which means cheap) but not a crazy party place. It was great, the beach is nice, the water is great and diving is also pretty good. I did the 3 best dives that they had, and they were great. Nothing like Sipadan, but still good. Met a group of misfits and hung out for a couple of days with them- a Canadian 19 year old kid, a loud New Yorker, a German bartender, and an Aussie divorcé.
Great post, and so true.
Alright, so Malaysia is great- very culturally diverse, unique biodiversity, has both jungles and cities, affordable, etc. But, I’m kind of over it.
First of all- people RAVE about the food. And of the places that I’ve been, I can see how KL has amazing food- so many different cultures and hawker stalls- awesome. I’ve also heard Panang is the king of food. However, the smaller towns that I’ve been to (which has been the majority of the past 3 weeks) on both Borneo and the peninsula have all had very basic dishes. If I eat one more fried noodles in bland gravy, I’ll die. I’m even sick of roti which is just delicious, fried dough that you can dip into curry.
Also, because the culture is mostly Muslim- they’re super conservative. I knew this, but it’s different to spend a few weeks in it. Luckily, no one stares/cares about what I wear- swimsuit on the island or shorts in the cities. But there’s a lot of censorship.
TV/Radio- they blank out any words like “sex” or any swear word…in english..? On TV, or in movie theaters, they are prohibited to show a kissing scene. Movies will just jump around and skip kissing/sex scenes. Malaysia has one of the strictest media censorships in the world. Madonna, for example, is banned from Malaysian TV.
Food- Ok, the Quran states that Muslims should never eat pork or own a dog. These animals are considered dirty. I feel like there’s a few other animals that I could add to this list. Uhm…have you SEEN what goats eat?! Meaning pork (bacon) is basically outlawed in many places. “WE SERVE NO PORK” signs are posted everywhere. KL is a little better with pork offerings. Even here in my hostel in KL, they ask that you don’t drink alcohol or eat pork inside.
Alcohol- also pretty difficult to get in smaller towns, and very expensive. Eileen, Zack and I were literally doing the math with alcohol % and cost of beer to maximize the benefits of alcohol at the least amount of cost. It was a sad sight. Good for my liver, though!
Garbage- Malaysia has a HUGE problem with trash. The islands we went to near Kota Kinabalu, we were just swimming through garbage near the shore. Same problem in Perhentian, just trash in some areas. It’s disgusting. Get your shit together, Malaysia! The worst is that for some of these place, you pay a “conservation” fee.
Lastly, I don’t know if this is for censorship reasons, or just a business decision- but yesterday I walked in to a Victoria’s Secret and I couldn’t find the bras. “Excuse me, where are the bras?” “Oh, we don’t sell bras in Victoria’s Secret, Malaysia. Just underwear.” Is it really a VS if it doesn’t sell bras? I cannot.
Yes, these things are petty and just cultural/religious differences from my own, liberal, lifestyle. I’m just glad to be heading to that hedonistic Australia soon- I will overdose on bacon and good beer.
Perfect book to read while traveling. His stories are hilarious and his stereotypes are spot-on.
The lead singer of the band Eels- this is his true and tragic life story. Shocking what one person can handle.
Told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy that grew up in a room with his mom captive. It’s an odd book, but interesting from a child psychology standpoint.
The latest from David Sedaris, who never disappoints. I literally laughed awkwardly out loud on buses and planes reading this. He’s hilarious.
We went on a river tour in the Klias wetlands to see the elusive Proboscis monkeys. These monkeys are only found in Borneo, and in a few zoos around the world. They are so funny-looking. And when they heard you coming, they would just get up and turn around so you could only see their backside. These were the best pictures that I could get.
I almost never run into Americans out here in SE Asia. So, it’s rare to meet someone from the US, let alone the Midwest, let alone Chicago.
In Bali, Dave and I were sitting at Balangan beach and a kid came up and asked if he could leave his bag with us while he swam. I knew from his accent he was either Canadian or American. He had some pretty sweet tatts, and sauntered off into the water with his Bintang. He immediately got hit with a wave and his Bintang drained into the ocean. We laughed at him. When he came back I asked him where he was from. “Chicago”
Turns out, he lived like 10 minutes away from me at Broadway and Foster! We had a great chat reminiscing about Chicago, FOOD, and talking about how he made it over to Indo. He’s teaching English in Bali, and did some SE Asia traveling. I asked him if he missed Chicago, and he did, but he said that Chicago will always be there. It’s true. Chicago will always be there. Maybe that’s why I’m not dying to get back there yet, I just know that the city itself will always be there in fine form whenever I want to return. Or it could be the fact that in the 7 months I’ve been gone, the weather hasn’t been ideal. That’s depressing in itself, 7 months! I’ve lived through it, I know the winters stretch pretty long but this puts it into perspective. I digress.
Eileen, Zack and I get into Kota Kinabalu- a town in the northern part of Borneo. We immediately spot a Mexican restaurant called Chiwawa and our evening plans have been set. We walk in and the guy working behind the counter was clearly American. Eileen noticed he was wearing a White Sox hat and asked him about it. Turns out, he’s from the South Side of Chicago! What? Bizarre. Apparently, he met a Malaysian chick back home, and moved out here with her for a couple years. He co-owns the Mexican restaurant which had pretty delicious burritos.
- I just realized that I’ve only ever been south of the equator once. And it was most recently when I was in Bali and Lombok, which are just south of the equator. I’ll be spending some quality time in the Southern Hemisphere come may 15th where I hear the toilets drain counter-clockwise and I’ll see a completely different constellation.
-I’ve had travel buddies for the last 6 weeks or so- Dave for a month then Zack and Eileen the past couple weeks. I’ll spend my last week in SE Asia the way I came in- solo. I left the Romitos this morning and am now in the Perhentian islands- just off the East coast of peninsular Malaysia. Eating pizza (yup) alone on an island in Malaysia is equal parts liberating and depressing.
- I’m really excited about Aus! I was worried about $ and what all I would even be able to see, but I’m saying fuck it. If I have to borrow from the little reserve I have at home, then I will. I’m also not above stripping. Just kidding…? I really wish that I could work and live in Aus for a year or so, but I have BFF weddings this winter to be back for. We’ll see. I plan on hanging out in Sydney area for a week and a half or so, then head up to Byron bay. Relax/surf there for a bit, then head north to do some more touristy stuff. ** Any suggestions of must-dos?
-I will miss SE Asia. I love it here. Some things are ridiculous and hilarious. But mostly, the people are great, there’s so much to offer, its beautiful and it’s god damn affordable. You can seriously live so well and for so cheap over here.
A post with poor quality pictures of monkeys to come.