30 Dec Month 69 Roundup • Alex in Wanderland
Time to dive back into roundups! Since I’m working my way through my black hole of content from September of 2016 to April of 2017, that means we’ve got roundups to catch up on as well. This post covers into March of 2017. Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never… right? And to answer the inevitable questions, I pull these together from detailed notes, old blog posts and photos, my calendar, and my daily spending tracking software.
My previous round up dealt much with the fact that I’d found myself settling into a pretty serious funk. This one is all about my travel-filled journey out of it. I started the month stressed, anxious, and aimless, and ended it feeling on fire, and inspired to put new plans into motion.
This roundup covers some truly expat-oriented adventures — a local festival, an elaborate visa run, and a trip that inspired a possible relocation — from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Where I’ve Been
• Five nights in Koh Tao, Thailand
• One night in overnight transit
• Five nights in Pattaya, Thailand
• Two nights in Bangkok, Thailand
• Four nights in Penang, Malaysia
• Sixteen nights in Canggu, Indonesia
• Two nights in Uluwatu, Indonesia
• My last few days on Koh Tao before taking off on this great adventure were basically spent running around wrapping up work, paying bills, and getting my apartment ready for my first Airbnb guests. We actually set off on Valentine’s Day, which left little time for festivities. But when we got on the night ferry I presented Ian with my gift — I had researched the Penang eateries I thought he’d love the most and presented him with homemade coupons for a meal at each. I rarely outdo the ever-thoughtful Ian in gift giving, but this time I felt like I knocked it out of the park.
• Getting to Pattaya. It was the journey, not the destination, with our Wonderfruit crew! It’s hard to imagine an overnight ferry, an early morning flight, and hours and hours crammed in a teeny overcrowded minibus as “fun” but when you’re en route to a long-awaited festival in matching custom t-shirts with your besties, how could it not be? From our disgustingly indulgent early morning airport Burger King breakfast to our runway photo shoots, we didn’t stop laughing. We were so giddy this whole trip! There’s something magical about sharing a row on a plane with a bunch of your nearest and dearest. And toasting to sunset with the girls on the seawall upon our arrival with the boys cooking us dinner back at our villa? Just perfection.
• Glamping at Wonderfruit. Gathering eleven of my nearest and dearest fellow Southeast Asia expats for four days of amazing art installations, creative food, funky music, sustainability-focused workshops, and fruit-filled good times? Clearly, this is going to be broken down into many, many highlights, starting with this. Glamping at festivals is one of my major travel indulgences, and I was so thrilled that my whole crew made it happen at Wonderfruit. With so many varying budgets I wasn’t sure if we’d all be on the same page, but once we arrived and saw how far away the regular camping area was from the glamping area, I was so relieved we’d all splurged together. The tents were gorgeous and the festival organizers did a great job creating a special experience (with a few bumps along the way, of course.)
• Getting glittery. Okay, it’s no secret that one of my favorite aspects of festivals is indulging my inner dress-up queen. From the incredible antler headdress I purchased from a Thai artist to the fruit headpieces I got for all the girls at a mall in Bangkok to the night we all got glitter applied in the glitter tent (ah, if only every place I went in life had a glitter tent) to the day we all decided to match — why can’t we all wear costumes every day?
• The music. I didn’t know a single act on the lineup before arrival – and it didn’t matter. My highlights were discovering the Thai reggae band Srirajah Rockers (who I have subsequently seen again), the headliners Rudimental, which was one of the most energetic live performances I’ve ever danced-to-the-point-of-collapse-to, and sunset parties at the Solar Stage — Filipino reggae artist Red-I, Thai-filipino artists Jess Connelly + Lustbass, and everyone who participated in the Sunday Wonderfruit Parade, which was potentially the euphoric apex of the whole shebang. I get chills thinking about it all.
• The eco-ness of Wonderfruit. I loved seeing young, energetic Thai activists bring sustainability into festival-ing. From the Farm Stage, based on traditional Thai ceremonial structures and created from bamboo and rice harvested from local farmers’ fields and post-festival, dismantled into rice used for a feast to free water refills for reusable bottles, no plastic bottles allowed into the campgrounds, and separate bins for food waste and recycle waste to the magic in the Rainforest Pavilion, by night, an intimate dance party, by day, the place to be for sustainability workshops and talks. There was also a commercial-grade water filtration system providing the festival’s circular water supply, and the company behind Wonderfruit, Scratch First, calculated the carbon footprint of the entire festival and will offset it by investing in the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve in Indonesia. There’s a lot of room to still grow, but what an inspiring start in a part of the world where it’s easy to get depressed about the future of the planet. And on a superficial level — Wonderfruit was one of the cleanest festivals I’ve ever attended. There was constantly a small army of cleaning staff waiting to pounce on debris — and I have never seen more sparkling festival toilets.
• And everything else. The massage tents. So many fun photography opportunities. So many cool little pop up bars. So many delicious treats. A funky yoga class. Feeling connected to the larger community of dreamers in Thailand. Getting a crew of twelve together for something like this. From my current station, I’m kind of amazed. I have a hard time wrangling just one friend to go to the movies, right now — getting twelve to commit to an expensive, long festival?! We lived the life! I could go on for a whole post about Wonderfruit. Even though in many ways Wonderfruit had some aspects of being a total disaster, it was still one of my favorite memories from my years living in Thailand. Ain’t that something?
• A brief bit of respite in Bangkok. We had two nights in Bangkok post-festival, which in retrospect I would have done very differently, but there were two highlights: laughing and reminiscing in a rooftop pool with my festival crew, and finally making it to the incredible art deco Scala Theater, which I plan to blog about in a “cinema lover’s guide to Bangkok” someday.
• And a true recharge in Penang. As much as I love the chaos and energy of a big group, it was a breath of fresh air to fly off to Penang with just Ian, who needed to get some visa paperwork processed there. True, I spent the first half of our trip having a sleep-deprivation and work-overload induced mental breakdown, but once that cleared up we had a blast! I loved the city’s iconic street art and street food, but also more hidden (to me!) gems like the clan jetties and hipster cafes.
• Traveling solo to Bali. “You did come back with a bit of a glow about you,” one of my friends later said about my return, and it couldn’t have been truer. I feel wildly in love with Bali, and it actually hurt to leave.
• Experiencing Canggu at Chillhouse. Somehow, the hip enclave of Canggu had eluded me on previous visits to Bali. Now that I’ve been? Dang, I’m hooked! It might be cliche at this point, but I couldn’t care less. Yoga, surfing, smoothie bowls, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a digital nomad of some sort. It’s my idea of heaven.
• Hanging with Heather. She’d been to visit me a few times in Thailand, but I’d yet to see her life in Bali — from a day of volunteering with a local dog rescue organization to a dinner party at her villa to sunset on her favorite beach to nights dancing till sunrise to a fancy spa night at Spring Spa and trendy dinner at Motel Mexicola, I crammed in as much time as I could with my favorite travel buddy.
• Making a lifelong friend at Institute of Code. Speaking of friends, I met the most precious one ever at my coding bootcamp — Katie. While I loved challenging myself to something out of my wheelhouse, experiencing the retreat lifestyle and improving my coding skills, our friendship is one of my greatest takeaways from the week.
• Institute of Code excursions. Let me tell ya — the IOC organizers know how to show a girl around Bali. From sunset at La Laguna to the perfect rice terrace photo shoot, I felt like I saw the island in a new light (and this was technically my third trip!)
• Obsessing over Uluwatu. So, if you read my post, you know that I’m tragically obsessed with Uluwatu. I did an out-of-character thing and spent a silly amount of money for just a few extra days in Bali to go there, and wow was it worth every rupiah. One of the dreamiest landscapes I’ve ever seen with just the greatest group of girls. I couldn’t have asked for more — but it made it even harder to leave.
• The Bali nightlife. I can’t lie, one of the reasons I had such a great time in Bali was I had SO much fun going out. From the most hilarious nights at Old Man’s and Sandbar (seriously, I can’t remember the last time I saw the sunrise before this) to a bougie night at La Favela to a night out at a gas station parking lot turned hookah bar in Uluwatu, I laughed and partied my face off — and I had the hangovers to prove it. Sometimes, you just need to feel young and reckless again.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Pattaya was kind of a disaster, which is pretty on-point for like, the grossest place in Thailand. I was annoyed when our villa was kinda gross, bummed when we couldn’t make a visit to the biggest waterpark in Thailand work, but actually devastated when the Pattaya winery was closed, because it messed with my goal to visit every winery in Thailand. I never want to go back there!
• So, Wonderfruit had some issues. It started with a mistake on our end, which was not buying tickets for the Gaggan Wonderfeast the minute it went on sale. Also, I would have loved to prioritize some of the cool arts workshops they had. Oh well. After that, it was all on the organizers, who definitely have some room for improvement. The first night of the festival was underwhelming, and I’d recommend they turn it into a camping area only “warm up party” a la Tomorrowland. Moving on, so many advertised activities didn’t happen, there were no lake parties, there was no reporting of what you’d spent on your wristband making it hard to keep track of anything (again, Tomorrowland nails this), and they bafflingly turned the power off in the camping areas from 4-8pm, peak getting ready time.
• Overall, we made weird choices in Bangkok. Our first night post-festival we were understandably completely exhausted and in retrospect we 100% should have ordered pizza and watched a movie in one of our hotel rooms. Instead us girls forced ourselves to go out to this expensive dinner that made us all sick since we’d been partying so much and we were like falling asleep halfway through it, ha. Then the next day, I went with the boys to see a movie with the boys… the theater was amazing, the movie choice was horrifying. We went to see Elle, which turned out to be insanely disturbing, especially running on our personal lack of fumes. One of the guys walked out after and immediately went to see another movie, ha, because he was so determined to get it out of his head! I was actually rattled by it for days. So, weird trip.
• I admit, I started our trip to Penang with a tantrum. It’s a pretty long established pattern that sleep deprivation + a lack of work time = one overwhelmed Alex. Poor Ian did a pretty valiant job of putting up with me, including an enormous sob session in a Georgetown Pizza Hut because I forgot one of my charging devices at our Airbnb and wasn’t able to work while he was at the embassy. So, I guess this lowlight is for Ian, who has the worst girlfriend in the world! Ha, the man has the patience of a saint. At least by the time we left, I felt relatively relaxed and rested — even if it did mean we skipped our day hiking in the National Park. We’ll go back.
• As much as I loved Chillhouse, part of me feels like I should have saved it for another trip. I spent so much of my time there with Heather and wonder if it would have been smarter to just stay with her, and then go to Chillhouse someday when I’m in Bali solo (especially now that she’s moved back to the Caribbean — sob!). Basically I loved it so much I’ll have to go back someday when I can spend every second there.
• I still can’t surf. It’s sad. Okay, the hangover didn’t help. But as many random lessons as I’ve taken around the world, you’d think I’d be a bit more competent than what I showed during my Chillhouse surf lesson.
• It’s not a huge deal, but I was kind of underwhelmed by Uluwatu Temple — and, I guess based on how touristy it is, Tanah Lot Temple too. In the case of the former, the scenery is stunning, but I almost wish we’d used that time to go to Bingin Beach, since time turned out to be quite precious there.
• Bali isn’t perfect. Crazy, I know! Getting around was SUCH an ordeal. There’s like, a serious taxi mafia and the members of it have been known to physically assault drivers who use Uber, Grab, or other convenient and widely loved apps. But seriously, bullying is the only way they can compete — I’m not kidding when I say the way to access these taxis is essentially either to walk to a random taxi stand in the middle of nowhere, negating the purpose of getting anywhere quickly, or to stand around on a street corner and essentially yell “TAXI!” into the air until a random person calls their cousin who calls their friend who’s a taxi driver. I had so many rides cancel on me after I’d waited thirty minutes, it was insane — and led to me almost having a mental breakdown en route tot he airport. While I did do it in Uluwatu, driving a motorbike in Bali is very intimidating and obviously not advisable if you’ve been drinking. Canggu and Uluwatu have the worst transportation options of literally anywhere I’ve been on earth.
• Leaving Bali! For all my whining about getting around, getting on that plane actually pained me. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. It hurt so good, you know what I mean?
When I was booking our van and driver from Bangkok to Pattaya, it was typical Thai expat hilarity. I used the same driver we’d used for a few trips, who had a pretty garbage van and got lost often but charged us next to nothing and was a good sport when we drank champagne and blew up pool floats in the van, so we tipped him well regardless.
I was messaging with our contact (a Thai woman on Koh Tao, who I contacted exclusively on Facebook Messenger, and who would send a ladyboy to our meeting spot at the local 7-11 to pick up my deposit money, every time) and pressing her on the max number of people we could cram into the van. In an emoji-filled exchange, she finally estimated, “maybe 14 Thai, 10 Western.”
Lady, are you calling us fat?! We really got more than our money’s worth out of laughs from that one.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: Oh man, how to chose?! Between our glamping tents at Wonderfruit, the insane outdoor bathroom in my charming bungalow at Chillhouse and the panoramic views from Ian and I’s penthouse in Penang, I was blessed with gorgeous places to rest my head this month.
Worst: Honestly, nothing terrible this month — even our overnight ferry was fun, since I’d reserved our group a whole section of bunk beds. Our Airbnb in Pattaya was pretty underwhelming and wasn’t cleaned upon our arrival but I mean… for what we paid for it and the refund we got on top of that, I have no complaints.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: Between everything I ate in Bali and Penang, this is an almost torturous decision! Like, I literally can’t decide. I guess I do spend a lot of time fantasizing about the general category of smoothie bowls in Bali — so basic, I know (and I literally don’t even care.) I’d fly back to Denpasar for no other reason than to eat smoothie bowls from Betelnut, Nalu Bowls, and Chillhouse!
Worst: Unfortunately, Wonderfruit’s Reggae Brunch was a huge letdown. It started over an hour late, and when it began the staff ran around frantically throwing various plates of food on our table with a really chaotic atmosphere and no explanation or presentation of the dishes. It was very expensive and after hearing my friends rave about the Cocotte Brunch the day before, it was kinda womp womp. Execution aside, I love the idea of the Wonderfeasts for a festival, and hope they keep striving to improve them!
Institute of Code bootcamp
It was a quiet month. There wasn’t too much going on blog-wise, which was a needed break — I finished up one big multi-part branded content project (with Avis) and worked on another (with SquareCash) for the next month, but otherwise tried to focus on my coursework at Institute of Code, stay afloat with blog content and try to catch up on past trips — a never ending battle for me!
Health and Fitness Update
Ummmmm let’s just say I didn’t knock it out of the park in this category. Once I left Koh Tao it was pretty much a shitshow — I went to one yoga class at Wonderfruit (though let it be noted we tried to do a few more that were cancelled!), went to two yoga classes at Chillhouse and one or two at Institute of Code, but overall I pitifully neglected fitness this month. I did eat a ton of beautiful healthy food — again, Bali! — but I’d say it was very easily negated by the partying I did. Whoops.
What Was Next
I headed back to Koh Tao to finish out the season with little side-trips to Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Ayutthaya before heading back to the USA for the summer.
Excited to keep grinding out these treasured old travel memories…
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.