wander process

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A Year’s Difference: The Buddhist Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok’s Chinatown

I’ve been falling into this habit: when anything happens, when I do anything of note, I think to myself, ‘what was I doing, where was I exactly a year ago?’

In the case of this past weekend, the answers were more or less the same. Last year, I made this video of my first time at any festival in Thailand.

This year, there was also lots of wandering around Chinatown to explore the Buddhist Vegetarian Festival. While I am perfectly content to mill around dark alleyways and crowded intersections by myself for hours, I couldn’t help but wish that I had friends to share in these experiences with. I’ve learned so much of the lay of the land in Bangkok and I wonder what will happen to all of this knowledge once I’m not in Thailand anymore. Will my sense of direction get fuzzy? Probably.

I suppose I had better enjoy it as much as I possibly can for now.

Isara Nuphap, one of Bangkok Chinatown’s most quintessential sois (sidestreets). Filled with dried foods, sketchy jewelry, and noodle shops. Always be on the lookout for motorcycles trying to make their way through!

There are small communities tucked away in each of the sois. This particular soi had an abundance of cats. I met this momma cat, May Lee, her kittens, Nueng, Song, and Sam (which translates to One, Two, and Three), and their kind, smiling owner who was willing to talk a little bit about the cats with me (in Thai!).

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A Story about One of the Strangest Days of My Life and a Good Beach Vacation

It’s a familiar story.

Girl goes to live abroad in Thailand, girl gets a 4-day weekend.

Girl gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere, gets caught in a freak monsoon and irked by a pig.

Alright, maybe I have your attention now.

This is how my first weekend in August started out. This trip to Koh Mak was, without a doubt, the strangest getaway I have been on to date.

For the amount of foresight that went into planning this trip (scanning the internet for routes of transport to the island, best guesthouses on the island, most beautiful beaches, the usual) nothing turned out right. At least at first.

Stephanie (friend & volunteer with the organization I work for), Adam (by now, a familiar face on the blog), and I decided on going to Koh Mak, a tiny island in far southeastern Thailand near the border of Cambodia. Koh Mak is known for being isolated, rustic, and free of the hoards of tourists that clog the beaches of the more well-known Thai islands. It sounded perfect. We made plans to take a overnight bus from Nakhon Ratchasima to Trat Province, where we would meet up with Adam.

Once again, I was shuttled onto an overnight bus that had oversold tickets and crammed people into aisles for the 7-hour journey. Luckily, Stephanie and I managed to get the last seats on the bus.

I popped motion sickness pills, not because I get motion sick, but because it’s an excellent way to ensure sleep on less than ideal, mobile sleeping environments. I’ve received sage advice that listening to the Planet Money podcast has similar effects.

I woke up around 4 in the morning, the bus having pulled into the Trat bus station. We crawled into a song taew packed with Thai and foreign tourists (everyone else was going to the popular island of Koh Chang). Half an hour later, Stephanie are dumped at what can only be described as a backpacker holding pen.


Dreadlocked, wayward youths sipping beers, taking drags from their cheap cigarettes, and downing beef & basil at 5 in the morning. I looked around with contempt and got pretty disappointed in myself that I had ended up here (even though there was really nowhere else to go). We waited in line and bought ferry tickets to Koh Mak from a company that probably doesn’t even exist. We were given vague details of where to find the dock with our boat. I felt pretty duped, taken advantage of.

Stephanie grabbed some breakfast and I sit and cheerily seethe in a way that only I can imagine doing. I decided to go looking for the mythical dock, as the sun had started to rise. Stephanie and I walk for about 10 minutes and find could only have been our dock. There were a few people milling about, but no boat companies to speak of.

This whole time we had ventured outside, we had a conversation that will go down as one of the dumbest conversations I’ve had in my life. We walked along commenting on the sky – “Wow, the sky looks really weird right now!” “Oh, look how black it is over there.” “This is so strange. The dock and the sky. What are we doing?”

What the heck were we thinking?! LOOK AT THIS SKY!

Somehow, we did not manage to put 2 and 2 together to figure out that we would soon be stranded outside in a really intense storm, without shelter.

Really dumb, I know.

As you would easily be able to predict, we got soaked. Every inch of our bodies, our hair, our clothes, our backpacks. And there were no boats either. We were told to go back.

Cranky and wet, we retreated. I squeezed the water out of my skirt and warmed up with some instant coffee.

Then I noticed this pet pig who kept on wandering around and wiggling his piggy nose.

And as much as I insist that my life in Thailand isn’t very exciting, I had to admit that this morning with the dock and the rain and the pig, this morning that was going on forever was truly surreal. I had to stop and say to myself, “Okay, this isn’t normal. My life is strange.”

After some lounging and minimal drying out, we went back to the dock. And waited. We didn’t know what boat company would take our tickets, and none of them did. We watched boats come and go for 6 hours. And Adam still hadn’t shown up from Bangkok.

I was getting irritated at how unrelaxing this relaxing beach vacation was turning out.

And then I turned my head and saw Adam not 5 feet from me! “Adam!” I yelled.

He had taken a chance and gotten off his bus early. Had he not gone with his gut, we would have missed him entirely! 10 minutes later, we had all found seats on the crowded ferry. Tired by the morning’s events, I slept most of the way (sleeping on boats is a special talent of mine).

Like most islands, you step off the ferry and are greeted by touts and trucks taking you to their guesthouses. There was one guesthouse we wanted to stay, but for some reason the driver wouldn’t let us get on. We boarded another truck with the name of a guesthouse I had recognized from my online research – Baan Koh Mak or something like that. Since it’s the low season, guesthouses and accommodation can be harder to come by on the islands, so we had to take what we could get.

Driving through the island, sitting in the back of the truck, I could see how thoroughly off the tourist trail we were.

We were taken to a remote corner of the island. We were only guests on this beach, at this guesthouse. Our bungalow was right on the beach, the waves crashed right outside our doorstep.

This all might have felt perfect, but because of the day’s events, it just felt a little creepy.

We spent the afternoon reading aloud to each other on the porch of the bungalow and played cards and drank lao pun. We wanted to eat fish given that, you know, we were on an island, but for some reason, there were no fish to had on the entire island. This might have been the weirdest thing of all.

The night was stormy and we slept unsoundly thanks to the cracks and gaps in the walls, our proximity to the sea, and the fact that all three of us were crowded onto a bed that was definitely not built for 3 non-Thai-height people.

The mosquito net was kind of dreamy though.

It was quickly decided that we would look for more centrally located accommodation the next day.

Our first full day on the island shook off all of the weird vibes we had accumulated from the day before. The sky was perfect and the sea was clear and it was exactly what we needed. We easily found a new place to stay. We shared our new guesthouse with a group of high schoolers on a tour and we spent a great deal of time watching them and speculating about them.

We coated ourselves in coconut oil, not for better bronzing, but because it’s a natural sand flea repellant. I learned that sand flea bites don’t hurt but will leave a small red dot that fades quickly.

Much laying out and lounging in the warm gulf waters was done. It was finally shaping up to be the beachy vacation we were all hoping for. We laid down on the sand and let the water lap the backs of our legs, our backs, our arms.

Rosy cheeked and tired from the sun, we spent the afternoons curled up in hammocks, reading. This is all I ask of any vacation, ever. Copious amounts of reading time.

At night, we lay under a different mosquito, reading more stories and having hours-long conversations.

For all of the strangeness, it turned out as peacefully and restfully as I had hoped.

Except, really, how could an island not have fish? Tell me, please.


day & sunset from our favorite view of the ocean from Koh Mak:

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summer weekend escapes

Living in a very remote area has necessitated several weekend getaways. With one of my dearest friends living there, Bangkok was an obvious choice. Sometimes all I need is a wonderful city with good food and great friends to enjoy it with.

The best food I have had in Thailand at Chote Chitr. Also, the crankiest lady I’ve ever met in my life. Twice, I have been to her restaurant and twice I have come away feeling simultaneously so pleased with the food I’ve had and emotionally destroyed by her manner of service.

There’s a lot to be said for the beauty of ceramic tile work.

The rainy season strikes in Pahurat Market. Vendors act quickly to cover their wares in plastic.

This is my favorite soi (alleyway) off of Yaowarat Road in Bangkok – the main drag of Chinatown. It has live chickens for sale, quiet temples, grouchy tea vendors, and the most colorful salabao (steamed buns) I’ve ever seen. I stop by to get a salabao every time I roam Chinatown.






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Paris Is Always A Good Idea

This may be hard for you to believe, but when I was a child, I would not stop dreaming about traveling to Europe. I spent my time reading about wars in Europe and the bubonic plague and Queen Elizabeth. When I was very young, these dreams were mostly concentrated on going to London, but as I matured, I envisioned a college-aged Jordan, strolling the streets of Prague, apple strudel in hand.

Obviously I went horribly, horribly astray from those original dreams. I’m 22, I have a degree in Development Studies, and I’ve lived and traveled on 4 different continents, none of which are Europe. I can tell you how to safely remove a tapeworm that’s emerged from the surface of your skin, but not how much a Euro is worth.

As much traveling to oft-forgotten countries fills my heart with joy, I thought it was time to go somewhere new. Somewhere that was solidly on the beaten path (for good reasons, I hope).


One of my best friends, Sophie, is interning at the WHO in Geneva and I thought it would be the best time ever if I could meet up and explore with her. (At first I joked/not-really-joked that we should meet up in the middle, which I think was in Uzbekistan. That never happened). I haven’t seen this girl in 2 whole years, so it was about darn time we spent some quality time together. We’ve kept in touch through lots of phone calls and skype and gchat, the we way young people keep in touch these days. Nothing can compare to friend bonding time though.

In planning for our trip, we told another bff Casey that this meetup was happening. No one can quite remember if we invited Casey or Casey invited herself (I believe the former, Casey asserts the latter), but Casey is coming too. And we are so, so happy she is.

Me, Sophie, and Casey in Hanoi, Vietnam

We all met while studying abroad in Washington, D.C., South Africa, Vietnam, and Brazil. Sophie and I bunked together at a cramped Quaker hostel, Casey and I lived with an awesome feminist-blogger-baking family in Brazil. Between the three of us, we’ve held long, drawn out conversations on every space of transit imaginable – van, bus, subway, plane, airport, Chinese junk, etc. We’ve woken at the crack of dawn for some crazy dips in the Indian Ocean. We have lived, laughed, loved with the best of them.

Their friendship is a great treasure to me, and now it’ll be a friendship that spans 5 continents.

So armed with only carry-on luggage, several different cameras, and an amazing .pdf map of Paris created by my friend Robin, we will traipse around Paris.

And I will probably pass out from sheer delight at the ability to find more-than-decent pastries and cheese.


What Songkran Is All About

While I did get drenched on April 12, the day of my trip to Phuping Palace and Wat Doi Duthep, there was no comparison to what was about to go down in Chiang Mai.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and I never will again. It makes me want to go to every great cultural festival in the place where it’s most famous.

I think a video can show you more than more words would ever be able to, so I made one of the Songkran experience in Chiang Mai (available in HD for your viewing pleasure). Enjoy & comment if you like it!

Here are some highlights (and lows) of Songkran in Chiang Mai, not shown in the video:

– Continuing to get splashed after showering, resting, and heading out for what was supposed to be a dry supper.

– Realizing why the water from Chiang Mai’s moat never seemed depleted, despite everyone and their mom taking water from it for splashing: the water from the street goes back into the moat. Ick. (Adam, to me: “Jordan, don’t you just want to go swimming in there?” Me: “Uh, no. Not really.” And then I turned my head and the next thing I knew, Adam had gone into the moat.)

– Having a lot of that moat water end up in my mouth.

-Making friends with strangers. I thought I might have a hard time throwing buckets of water on complete strangers, but it’s far easier and as much fun as you could ever possibly think it would be.

– Adam falling into a hole and banging his knee up after trying to throw water on children.

– Eating so much khao soi (post to come soon).

– Getting smeared with white paste. It’s almost like a Songkran badge of pride:

– Enjoying quiet night walks without too much interruption from the nighttime splashers.

– Speaking of night walks, check out this insanely beautiful Lanna-style temple architecture. It haunted my dreams that night:

– Of course, because it’s Chiang Mai (and Chiang Mai is, in my opinion, the best city for shopping in Thailand), we hit hit up the night bazaars and walking streets.

little bits of graffiti, little windows into commensality

The city of Chiang Mai is so, so great and offers something completely different from Bangkok and Isaan, where I have spent my time living in Thailand. I had a wonderful time celebrating Songkran there. We spent a lot of time talking about how such a festival would be impossible back home. People are too afraid of interacting with strangers and American people are far too litigious to be able to fully enjoy something that includes drinking polluted moat water and assaulting strangers. And that’s why I’m glad I decided to spend time learning lessons from another culture.

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Christmas Cruise with Jazz Happens

We started Christmas weekend with the laziest of intentions. Have fun. Don’t think too much. Don’t compare anything to America. I think that our attitudes were successful. Generally, my life is the opposite of what I’m about to say, but – low expectations led to high satisfaction this Christmas.

Our friend, Boy, picked us up and we drove to Banglamphu, the old area of Bangkok. There, we parked and boarded our vessel for the night. The boat itself was not spectacular, but that added to its charm. We were a party of 7 people, the largest party for the night, so we got to sit at the bow of the boat, outside the enclosed area with the band and open to river views of Bangkok lit-up at night. It was perfection.

The band wasn’t really jazz. It was a lot of Stevie Wonder songs, really. Luckily, I am up on my Stevie Wonder, so I was able to sing and dance from the comfort of the bow, where people would not be scared of the crazy-looking white girl, singing and dancing to Stevie.

I spent the night taking glamour shots of friends and gushing about what a wonderful time I was having.

It was a very merry un-Christmassy-but-nonetheless-wonderful way to spend the night and it was one of the very best times I’d had maybe ever. To see a such a vibrant city (that I love so much, have I mentioned that?) from the Chao Phraya River, all lit up at night, was its own special occasion, indeed.