Reminiscing on one year ago.. when I was packing to go to SE Asia solo for two months. With a backpack.

It's hard to believe that I am coming up on a year since I left the USA for a two month solo backpacking trip to Thailand. Or at least what I thought would only be Thailand. I was never scared to be traveling solo. I was never alone unless I really wanted to be, as I stayed in hostels and met so many amazing people from around the world, most of whom travel even MORE than I do. It was an incredible experience. Living in a 3rd world country for 2 months - taking transportation that would never pass any sort of inspection in the USA, living out of a backpack, not knowing much of the language(s), learning how to get from point A to point B and living on hope - I hope I am going the right direction, I hope there is somewhere to sleep, I hope I don't get bit by monkeys...There were times I wondered what I was doing, but most of the time I just relished in the unknown. It's a totally weird thing for me to be 100% reliant on others, but when in a foreign country, not knowing my way around, not knowing the language real well... that is all I could do. I had to rely on people to help me figure out where I was going, how I Was going to get there, what it would cost, how long it would take, where the meeting point was.... and I never panicked. I left MN on a 27 hour flight to Bangkok, where I had reservations at a hostel for 4 nights. From there, I winged it. No reservations. No specific destinations. I had a list of things I wanted to see, but it didn't matter in what order I saw them. Not much of a deadline for 2 months. The only person I had to appease was myself.  I was literally a half world away. 13 hour time difference. And I was living out of my 50ml backpack, trekking across 3rd world countries. Such an amazing experience. I cannot wait to do it again!! Only next time, I will be gone longer than 2 months. 2 months sounds like a crazy long time, but the world is so big and there is so much of it I cannot wait to see!!!! My goal is to travel the world after I turn 40 (because my bank account will NOT allow that right now lol). Quit my job. Travel. For a year. I have a list of places I want to see in the world and I fully intend to see them all while I am young-ish and able. Will it be scary to up and leave for a year? Yep. Will I regret it, ever? Nope. I don't know what I will do with my life in the States - what I will do with my house while I am gone, what I will do with the two balls of fur that hate every single person they meet (that I inherited years ago), or what I will do with my car, my bills, or my stuff if I cant keep my house. But honestly, I am not worried about it. What is meant to be, will be. There will always be more 'stuff' - there will never be more time. And health is never guaranteed to last. I thank my parents for teaching me just how valuable travel, culture, and experiences are - I have never been a shopping person, or a person who needs 'things'. I don't care that my dishes and silverware don't match and are hand me downs or goodwill finds. I don't care that the only piece of furniture I have ever bought new is my bed and a desk. I just want to travel. And see. And do. And live out my dreams while I can!!! (And share my experiences of course!)
So in looking forward to what life will bring my way next, I can only smile as I think of what I have already had the opportunity to do and see in the last year alone.

Here are some of my favorite memories from my trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar! (I couldn't pick just a few.....)

Arrival to Bangkok after 27 hours of flight time:

The people, traffic, smog, and wiring chaos was overwhelming at first!
Rock-climbing in Ao Nang
 Hiked a treacherous trail to get to this amazing viewpoint in 100 degree weather
 Fireshows on the islands were incredible
 I went to Thailand SO excited to see monkeys!!

 Koh Phi Phi - no filter

 This astounded me at first. then became the norm!
 Motor taxis... not the most comfortable ride ever!! The driver is all of 5' and 100# soaking wet. The scooter is a 50cc. I am 5'9" and 160#.. plus the weight of my pack...And my legs came within an inch of vehicles for the 5 mile ride.
 Scuba diving in Koh Tao for my PADI certification!   $300!!

 Lots of dental work done - 1/3 of the price in the States. And TOP NOTCH dental services. (really)
Traffic - goes every which way, no real 'right of way' and pack as much as possible on the tiniest scooter you can find!
Amazing Temples

 My first traveling friend - from Germany. I owe her a LOT.. she taught me the basics.. like how to cross the street when there are 100's of cars, trucks, busses, and scooters coming from every which way super fast.. and no crosswalks. You just walk. Literally. Traffic flows around you - never once got honked at. Its the norm. In the USA, I would have been dead day one.
 Even though Monks became the norm, they are such mellow humans and inspiring.
 CAn you imagine the core strength they have to have to sit sideways and not hang on?

When the van stops and yells "Laos Stop" and all I see is dirt, a couple of run down shacks, and a gate which I assumed was the customs border. It was. 
 This was the first day I thought to myself, "I will never complain about my job again." Silk factory - they breed the silk worms, boil them, pull out all of the silk strands, run them through 5 different proceeses, all by hand, and then use their feet to run the machines to push silk together to make pieces of clothing. You cant really see in the pic, but the pedal for the machine goes between Toes #1-2 and 3-4 and switches back for each row.
 Cambodia - home of the original Red Dirt Road.
 Loved this homestay gal

 CAmbodian Circus. 100 degrees outside. Inside: you are handed a mini hand fan to keep cool amongst the crowd. It was amazing. And Ted Danson was there.
 Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia - the houses are on stilts because 4 months out of the year, during monsoon season, the lake completely floods. People move up levels in their homes as the water rises. The pole in the forefront is a power line. Incredible culture here - the way they acclimate to their litereally rising water environment is impressive. They have floating basketball courts, floating churchs, and floating police stations. It is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia. And the boat I rode on was shabby at best, but it was one of the best experiences of my trip!

 Angor Wat - Cambodia

The "3rd class" train

Lopburi - City Of Monkeys. Literally. They have taken over the entire town. They steal, they fight, they rampage through your belongings if you leave something sitting. But they wont control the population because monkeys are sacred. People live with them daily... walking between their fights on the sidewalk, carrying sticks to scare them from jumping on you. It was frightening. Thank goodness for all those awful, painful rabies shots I got before I left!

 This guy left his bike unattended. And the monkeys wasted no time tipping it over, chewing his seat, and opening his side bags before stealing some food and getting shoe'd away
 This monkey won the battle and stole the guys sunglasses right off his head. I would have FREAKED out.
 Literally every street on the north side of the city of Lopburi

 Like people - just hanging out watching traffic. And waiting for an unassuming tourist to walk by. Which, turns out.. not a lot of tourists in this town. Like 5. And 4 of them got things stolen by the monkeys (cell phone, water bottle, sunglasses, pack on a bike....) I made it out alive. I don't care to ever return.
9.5 hour sleeper train to northern Thailand.

 Least fun part of the trip? I acquired bed bugs roughly 6 days into my trip from one of the hostels. I was less than pleased. It was itchy. And embarrassing. But, it was an eye opener on things to look for while traveling all over! Thankful I got it done with right away. I will never get it again becase I now scour the place before setting my gear down and or laying on any surface. Took 2 weeks to go away.

 This was a fancy toilet - it had a seat. Most don't. And there is no tank or flusher on any toilets outside of major cities. You see the yellow bucket? Its in a rainwater basin. You flush using that bucket. And theres no soap or running water to wash your hands. I started the trip with millions of hand sanitizer wipes. I left them at the 3rd hostel I stayed at. I didn't die. And my sanitary expectations greatly decreased.
 BY FAR the highlight of my trip in Northern Thailand!!!! The Elephant Land - ethical, safe, and free roaming elephants. We got to feed them, walk through the jungle with them, play in a mud hole, and go in a waterfall with them. It was AMAZING!!!! I want an elephant.
 Jungle spiders - the guide put it on his face so I assumed my arm was totally fine.
 Let me tell you.. when an elephant plays in a water fall... they PLAY!  And when one goes to lay down and roll over... you MOVE out of the way!!! I was backed INTO the waterfall at one point.

 Starving.. I ordered meatballs on a stick. She stirred the charcoal at the bottom of the beer bucket using a skewer stick, with the over rack sitting over it. The spun it a few times, touched it a few times, handed it to me to touch - not quite warm (at all) and then she repeated it. When it got to "I think this is probably close to room temperature" I ate it. And I didn't get sick And I didn't die. Like I said, sanitary expectations were gone by this point.
 Cave?? Yes I sure did go spelunking!
 Once I got brave enough to rent a scooter.. I then nearly ran it out of gas. I pulled over to look at google maps (which I downloaded ahead of time thankfully) to find a gas station. Just then this lady walked out, opened the shed doors, and picked up my scooter to move it closer (literally) and then filled it with what I could only assume at that time was gas. Speaking no English, I just handed her the equivalent to $10 - she had a HUGE smile on her face. As did I! I was in the middle of jungle no-where and no clue what I would have done had I run out of gas!!!!! Come to find out, I overpaid her by at least $8. No wonder she was so happy!

 Pai Canyon - An amazing hike! (Not if you don't like cliffs and heights though)

 Christmas in Thailand.. where Santa is 4'9"
 Pai road - better than Tail of the Dragon!

 Christmas Eve present to myself - the first time I paid to have my laundry done since I left home 3 weeks prior. "Shower washing" is the norm. But MAN did clean clothes feel amazing! Turns out there are not many places you are 'allowed' to do your own laundry. Its all paid by the pound - you bring it to the place, they give you a slip, you hope to see your only possessions again!

My Scuba Crew

I opted for the 2 day slow boat from Luang Prabang, Laos to Pakse, Laos. I wanted the experience - even though there were fast boat options and airplanes. By day two, I was over the experience. I am 5'9". And the seats had all of 4" of space between them. 

 Love this kid - he was learning English, I was learning Thai. We had a blast!
 Luang Prabang - no filter!!! AMAZING waterfalls. I only went to the country of Laos because someone I met along the way showed me pictures from here. I HAD to see it myself!

 Daily Ahlms of the monks. 5am. Every. Single. Day. So cool to see.
 Transportation was never a dull moment!
 Don Det, Laos. On the Mekong River. Where they shut off electricity at 10pm to conserve energy. No running water on the entire island. I rented a bicycle and explored the islands - it was really cool!
 Rode my one-speed bicycle THROUGH these guys. I hesitated several minutes... but figured they must be used to it since there is only ONE road on the entire island. I didn't die!
 I sat on these rock ledges and watched the fishermen in awe

 "Clean Laundry" on the side of a red dirt road.
 Not only was transportation always a treat, so were the trekking paths I had to go on to get from point A to point B.
 Another look at Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia