While I didn’t know much about Malaysia before visiting, I quickly came to love it.
I journeyed to Malaysia overland from Thailand, and instantly the landscape changed: better, cleaner roads, no billboards, women in colorful headdresses, verdant rice paddies and wild, red-earthed jungle.
Second only to Singapore, Malaysia is the richest country in Southeast Asia, making public transit a breeze and the level of English impressively high. The high level of English made meeting locals much easier than in other parts of Southeast Asia, save Singapore.*
Malaysia is also extremely diverse, but I soon found that Malaysia is less of a melting pot and more of a stew. Malaysia is composed of three main ethnic groups that rarely intermarry: Malay (60%), Chinese (23%) and Indian (7%). Interestingly enough, these ethnic groups grow up speaking different languages, practicing different religions and eating different food.
For example, when I referred to a group of Chinese-Malay girls I had met as Malay, they retorted, “We’re not Malay! We’re Chinese.”
Malaysia isn’t a typical fixture on the Southeast Asian backpacking trail. It’s fairly expensive for Southeast Asia and the alcohol isn’t cheap.
That being said there are pockets of the backpacking scene- Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpur, for example, as well as the Perhentian Islands.
If all you want to do is party, Malaysia is not the place. But if you’re interested in fascinating culture, hundreds of years of history and some of the best meals of your life, I’d whole-heartedly recommend Malaysia.
Here are my recommendations for a two week Malaysia itinerary if you have limited time. I’ve also noted a few things that weren’t worth the hype (in my humble opinion) so you won’t waste your time.
Note- the recommended accommodation is geared towards budget-conscious travelers like myself, so if you’re not interested in hostels or guesthouses then skip that part!
It’s no secret that I loved Penang- between the beautiful Peranakan mansions and the splashes of street art all over the city, I fell hard for this little colonial city. I would highly recommend between 2-4 days there.
Eat at hawker centres such as CF Hawker Centre and Red Garden Food Paradise for a wide variety of food and a mostly local experience.
Make sure to try Penang’s most famous local dish, Char Kuey Teow, saucy, stir-fried noodles with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs and Chinese chives.
Also if you’re craving Indian head to Little India for dinner- I ate very well there!
I really liked Roommates Penang, the self-titled “coziest guesthouse in Penang” for its central location, glacial AC, historic Chinese shophouse facade and reasonable price (RM 28, or $7.70 USD for a bed in the standard dorm). It could use a common room though.
While in Penang visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, an opulent mansion that will teach you about Peranakan history, the Clan Jetties, the historical docklands where Chinese-Malay clans have lived for more than a century and see all of the street art around Georgetown- I loved Ernest Zacharevic’s work in particular.
While I personally didn’t really get The Cameron Highlands (truthfully I found them a bit boring), a lot of people love them. I will admit that they are a good place to escape the heat and take pictures of verdant tea fields, so head there if you’re dying to cool-down (totally reasonable in Malaysia.)
KL decidedly doesn’t have the best reputation- it’s not a beautiful city by any means, and is terrible for pedestrians, with lots of highways and shoddy sidewalks. That being said I loved my time there and found the contrast of colorful colonial architecture and 70s skyscrapers kind of charming. Plus, the food is AMAZING.
All of the street food. I spent a week there eating solely from dirt-cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurants and couldn’t have been happier. I’d particularly recommend trying curry laksa, chicken rice (of course) and fish head bihun.
Backpackers, get theeselves to Reggae Mansion.
I’ve stayed at 60-70+ hostels in my travels and NO JOKE, the Reggae Mansion is my favorite ever. It has three storeys, spotless cubby bunks (a must for privacy), great AC, a movie room, a hilarious owner and a rooftop bar where you can party, try karaoke and smoke shisha. My travel buddy and I stayed an entire week.
As a lover of Islamic art and architecture I enjoyed the Islamic Arts Museum. The Museum was very peaceful with few tourist and had centuries-old qur’ans, traditional clothing and tiles on display- well worth a visit.
If you’ve never been to India you might enjoy the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan that was built in 2006. Personally I found it a bit crowded, dirty and crawling with macaques. But if you’re interested in Hindu deities it might be worth a stop.
Note- ladies should cover up with a shawl and long skirt or you’ll have to rent a sarong at the gate.
While I didn’t adore Melaka quite as much as Penang, I still enjoyed the beautiful riverside city. Melaka was colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch AND British, so naturally has lots of history.
The Jonker Walk Night Market is a bustling market with tons of great eats- I had really good turnip cakes and pork buns there.
The best food I tried in Melaka was satay celup, which I had at Ban Li Xiang. If the idea of dipping food-on-a-stick into a vat of bubbling peanut sauce appeals to you, head there.
Finally I really like The Daily Fix, an adorable hipster coffee shop. I especially loved the vintage decor and free wifi.
No recommendations here- I ended up staying in a charmless guesthouse as I wasn’t able to find an appealing hostel.
Walk the riverfront at sunset, visit historic St. Paul’s Church and stop by Cheng Hoon Teng, a beautiful Chinese temple where I worshipped with my hosts.
Despite my interest in colonial history I wasn’t a huge fan of A Famosa, the only remains of a Portuguese fort, or the Dutch graveyard, where most of the graves are actually English.
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Obviously, this itinerary is just a suggestion and I haven’t been everywhere in Malaysia by any means. If I could go back I would visit the Perhentian Islands or Langkawi for beaches, Borneo for jungle and orangutans and Sipadan for some of the best scuba-diving in the world.
*(And while I’m all for speaking foreign languages, I speak three fluently after all, the level of English in a foreign country DOES matter if you care about meeting locals. You can’t speak every language unfortunately!)
Have you ever been to Malaysia? Where would you recommending going?
Roommates Penang and Reggae Mansion generously hosted my stay for two nights each. As always, all opinions are completely my own.
On my four-month world trip I did very little solo travel. Which frankly was fine- after two months of traveling solo in Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, I was burnt out on being alone.
So I felt torn when my travel buddy, Dylan, wanted to go to Singapore when I was dead-set on Melaka. I was concerned about both traveling alone and traveling alone as a woman in a Muslim country.
But despite my doubts I booked my bus trip to Melaka and vowed to meet up with Dylan in Hanoi.
It turned out my worries were for nothing- traveling solo to Melaka worked out perfectly and I came to adore the historic and food-obsessed city. Melaka was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British- how could I not find it interesting?
Here’s a little recap on the my favorite experiences in Melaka.
Eating Everything the Jonker Walk Night Market
In typical backpacker style I spent my first day in Melaka combing the streets in search of a hostel with a thirty-pound backpack. Always a good time.
So by the time I’d found a room, I was ravenous- hence why I ate all of the following at the Melaka Night Market.
The best thing I ate was this little barbecue pork bun. So tiny but so tasty.
I’d highly recommend visiting the Melaka night market- I loved not only the food but also the bustling energy and ample photo opportunities.
Strolling the Magical Riverfront
The riverfront in Melaka was oh-so-romantic, dotted with old-fashioned street lamps and shuttered, red-roofed buildings.
While romantic riverfronts are uh, less enticing when you’re on your own, I still enjoyed snapping photos at sunset and savoring the cool river breeze, always a welcome feeling in crazy-humid Malaysia.
Meeting a Local Girl and All Her Friends
As you guys may have noticed, what interests me most about travel is local culture, something that can be hard to experience in Southeast Asia. So I was thrilled when Grace, a Melaka-native, reached out to me via Instagram and offered to meet me for coffee.
At coffee we clicked instantly, and soon I met all of her sweet and welcoming friends. Why can’t that happen in every city that you visit solo?
Trying Satay Celup for the First Time
On my second day in Melaka I told my host that I wanted to try satay celup, and suggested we go to Capitol Satay, a local satay joint I had read about.
“Uh no, that’s just for tourists. No one from Melaka goes there.”
So instead we headed to Ban Li Xiang, a restaurant on the outskirts of town. Ban Li Xiang, 万里香, which apparently translates to, “food so good you can smell it a thousand miles away.”
Here are the steps of eating satay celup, the perfect food for all of my fellow peanut sauce addicts:
- Walk over to refrigerator filled with various foods on a stick: quail eggs, eggs, liver, prawns, beef, chicken, etc.
- Wait for the large vat of peanut sauce in the middle of your table to heat up.
- Plop sticks into the peanut sauce, and wait for them to fully cook.
- Devour sticks, dripping in peanut sauce.
- Have waiter come over and count the sticks, and pay based on how many sticks you ate.
Having Indian Brunch
One morning the girls insisted we go out for Indian brunch. While I had just spend six weeks in India and even the idea of dahl made me feel nauseated, I reluctantly agreed.
But I’m glad I did- this brunch was bomb.
I loved the food- both the chai and roti prata were on point.
Like the satay celup restaurant this brunch-place at Limonbongan cafeteria was on the outskirts of Melaka, as all the good food spots are. Hard-core foodies- definitely rent a car when in Melaka!
Worshipping a Buddhist Temple
While I’m not religious, worshipping a Chinese Buddhist temple was fascinating. The girls taught me how to pray there step-by-step, something I never would’ve known on my own.
First you touch the balls inside the dragon’s mouth for good luck.
Then you take a container filled with sticks and shake them a bit, and pull out the longest one. Each stick coordinates to a fortune which you then look up in a book.
My fortune was the questionably translated fortune below:
Business just kept to what it is to be, not to go too far
Work harder for your merit and future undertaking
Be sincere in your household affairs
Marriage afraid of being cheated
Do not interfering other people’s affairs when you are out
Be cautious when you are driving
Illness, seek doctor treatment quickly
Health will be at risk during old age
And after you read your fortune, you burn it. I wasn’t entirely sure of the reason why, but I followed suit anyway. When in Melaka.
Despite my apprehensions I truly had an amazing experience in Melaka- I adored the architecture, food and of course the people. Thanks to Grace and her group of friends for showing me around- it made my visit to Melaka that much better!
Have you visited Melaka?
One of the biggest reasons people visit my blog is to find out how to become an au pair in France. So today we are hearing from Marianne, an American au pair who is currently working in Brittany, France.
Here she walks us through every single step of the au pair application and tells us about her living situation in Brittany.
As many of you may know, I was an au pair in Paris, France back in 2012-13, so this is a post I’m super excited to share with you. Take it away, Marianne!
When I started researching how to become an au pair I found that there were few resources on the internet, other than a couple blogs (some good posts I found were on Ashley Abroad, iminparisgonoles and relokate) that had really helpful pages on how to become an au pair in France.
So now that I’ve actually successfully completed the process, I thought I’d explain the process for those who’d like to do it as well. In this post I will address exactly what was needed from me, as an American, to become an au pair in France.
Just so we’re all clear, an au pair is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s childcare and housework in exchange for free room and board as well as a small amount of spending money.
1. Set up an account on an au pair website
First, set up an account on an au pair website – there are many of these sites that pair au pairs with families but the most popular is Au Pair World. It’s kind of like a free OkCupid for au pairs and families.
You can go with an agency where they’ll do all the work for you and match you up with a family themselves, but this is rather expensive.
I decided to make an account on Au Pair World. You can add photos, description, specifications, age, etc. Fill this out thoroughly because the more information you put, the better.
You can also search through families’ photos and bios as well as contact them directly. My family contacted me directly but this will vary case to case.
2. Find a family
My advice as far as picking a family: get to know them. Send emails back and forth, Skype with them, seriously think whether you could live with this family for a whole year.
How well do you feel like you can talk to them? Are they in a location that you like? This is your time to be picky because you don’t want to get there and find out that you’re unhappy in the situation.
In my case I almost agreed to be an au pair to one family merely because they were the first family to express interest in me. But when I skyped for the first time with my current family, I knew they were the ones. Even though we spoke to each other through garbled English and broken French, we could relate to each other and we found a way to communicate.
3. Figure Out Which Visa You Need Based on your Nationality
If you are a citizen of the EU/EFTA (this link will tell you whether or not you are one) then follow these instructions. However if you’re not a citizen of the EU (like myself, if you’re from the United States) then continue with my steps.
4. Apply for Your Passport
This is kind of a given, but make sure you have a passport otherwise you won’t get very far. You can get the form online and apply for the passport in most post offices. They’ll even take your picture there!
5. Translate Your Diplomas
You’ll need to get copies of your diplomas (a good idea is to include both high school and college if you went to both) translated into French. I used OneHourTranslation because it was the cheapest translation service I could find ($.072 c. per word!) and they have it translated in under an hour.
Other services are much more expensive. I’ve heard that some people have just plugged the diplomas into Google Translate and they were fine, but this wasn’t something I wanted to bet on so I went with onehourtranslation. I ended up spending something like $10 to translate both my High School and College Diplomas.
[Editor’s note- I used Google Translate and it was totally fine. But of course I understand if you’d rather use a more reliable service.]
6. Make an Appointment With A Doctor
You will need to get a signed medical certificate that states that you are in good health. You can get a copy of the health certificate on the AuPairWorld website here.
Call your doctor and ask for a general physical, then bring the certificate you downloaded and printed out and have them sign it. If you don’t have a doctor – you can get a physical at most Planned Parenthood centers.
The only thing is this is a bit tricky – you can’t have the signed date be any more than three months away from the date you’ll be arriving in France.
7. Ask Host Family To Register You In A French Language Course
To receive an au pair visa in France means the visa you will apply for will be a long-stay student visa. In order to receive a student visa you must be enrolled in a French language course. These are fairly easy courses of all levels, designed for people who are learning French as a foreign language.
Make sure that your family signs you up for a class otherwise you won’t be able to get your visa.
8. Sign the Au Pair Contract and Send the Documents
Once you have found a family, they will send you over the au pair contract to sign. Scanning and emailing will work just fine, no need to actually post documents overseas.
Make sure you are very detailed in the description of your duties in the au pair contract. You want to make sure that you won’t end up being a maid for the family, or doing things that you may not have agreed to.
Be very clear and ask your questions now. Then when you’re done, scan and email the documents back to the family. Make sure you include all the following documents:
- Au pair contract, signed by both parties
- A copy of your diplomas, translated into French
- A health certificate signed by a doctor, saying that you are in good health.
- A photocopy of your passport
- Motivation letter written in French (one page, totally okay to write in English then translate with Google Translate).
9. Host Family Takes Documents to be Approved
The host family will take the necessary documents to be approved. Once approved see #9. This can be a pain as the DIRRECTE may ask for additional documents to be sent.
For me, I ended up also needing to send a copy of my current resume and proof that I took French language classes. I used screenshots from the online portal at the university I had attended, but a transcript could work as well.
10. Have Host Family Mail Approved Contract and Certificate of Enrollment
You’ll need to have your host family mail you the approved au pair contract as well as the certificate of enrollment in a French language course as you will need the originals when you apply for your visa.
My family sent it by mail and it took about two weeks to arrive. I’m not sure if you can just take a scanned, approved contract to get your visa, but it was not something I wanted to test out.
[Editor’s note- as far as I understand your family has to send over a paper copy of the approved contract and certificate of enrollment, which of course is a total nuisance and should be done by scanning/emailing- oh, France. At least that was my situation as well.]
11. Make an Appointment to Apply For Your Visa at the Nearest French Consulate
To apply for your visa, you need to make an appointment. Depending on the French consulate you go to you may not be able to make an appointment that is any less than three weeks out. I made my appointment for the French consulate in San Francisco in late June and the earliest appointment I could make was July 25th! Something to be aware of.
In order to make an appointment go to this page (this one links to the consulate in San Francisco – you’ll want to find the equivalent at the consulate that is closest to you – just Google “French consulate” and then the state you live in) and find the link to make an appointment.
12. Book Your Flight
Depending on the time of year flights will be cheaper. I primarily used skyscanner to find the cheapest tickets, obsessively checking it each day. It has a unique feature that allows you to browse by date to find the cheapest day to fly.
You can also look for flights through Student Universe. They provide discounts for people under the age of 26, or if you’re a student.
I found that the sweet spot for cheapest flights is to purchase your ticket about 6 weeks before you wish to fly. I ended up purchasing my tickets about 6 weeks before I was set to leave and was able to get the cheapest ticket through Student Universe.
Keep in mind that flights will be the most expensive during the summer travel months and much cheaper in the fall or winter months.
[Editor’s note- always request that your family pay for your flight. While not all will, some do so it’s worth asking. For reference, my family paid for my ticket.]
13. Apply For Your Student Visa
In order to work as an au pair you will apply for a student visa, or long séjour mention étudiant. Allow for at least three weeks before you leave for the visa to arrive. Find the nearest French consulate near you and search through their information. I needed to visit the consulate in San Francisco, and on their website it’s categorized as “long stay visa for au pair.” They had details on how to make an appointment, how much the visa will cost, everything you’ll need to bring, etc.
If you’re going to the French consulate, here’s what you’ll need:
1. Passport valid for at least three months after your return to the US + 1 photocopy of the identity pages. Your passport must have been issued less than 10 years ago, be valid for at least three months after your return to the US and have at least 2 blank visas pages left.
2. Processing fees ($68) – may vary for different consulates. (This changed – their website said $68 when I checked, I ended up being charged $138)
3. One application form (English version) filled out completely and signed by the applicant. This can be found on the consulate web page.
4. One ID picture glued/stapled onto the application form
5. “Au Pair” Contract approved by the French Ministry of Labour. This contract is obtained by the host family in France at the “Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle -D.D.T.E.F.P.”
6. Proof of your previous studies (your most recent diplomas) – I’d take copies of both the English and French versions that you had translated.
7. Proof of registration or letter of enrollment in a language school specifying exact dates of attendance.
8. If you are not a U.S. citizen: a valid U.S. permanent residence card (“green card”) or a valid U.S. visa with valid I-94 or valid I-20, or an Advance Parole document.
9. One residence form duly filled out (upper part only) – you’ll find this on the consulate website.
10. E-ticket or reservation confirmation showing the departure date for Europe.
11. A self-addressed prepaid EXPRESS MAIL envelope from the US POST OFFICE ONLY – NO FEDEX / UPS / AIRBORNE EXPRESS accepted.
Keep in mind that you’ll have to make the appointment for a weekday, you’ll need all of your paperwork, and you’ll expect to wait three weeks before you’ll receive the visa. My appointment was at 9:30am, so I stayed with a friend in San Francisco.
Upon arriving at the French consulate, it took maybe 15 minutes to get everything done. They will make sure you have all of the correct paperwork, plus copies of everything. They’ll keep the copies after confirming the originals. Then I was fingerprinted and they took my photo.
I was told I would receive the visa in the mail in 2-3 weeks and I received it just over a week later. It was incredibly easy, but I hear it does not go easily for everyone.
14. Once You Arrive in France, Register With The URSSAF
Ask your host family to register you with the URSSAF. Your family may give you this ahead of time but it’s not required before you leave. You’ll just need to get it done within the first eight days of being in France. This will cover your social security and health insurance while you’re in France and your host family should take care of this for you.
15. Register with the OFII
Within three months of arrival you’ll need to register with the OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration). This will make you officially a resident of France during your stay. In my case this just involved sending the confirmed OFII paperwork via the mail to the necessary administrations. The paperwork is complete when the visa office sends it back (with the visa/passport) to you. This is something very important to remember when packing, otherwise you’ll need to have a family member send it over.
I suggest bringing the paper and then handing it over to your host parents once you get to France, they will know what to do with it.
. . . . . . . . . . .
There you have it! Lots of steps and a lot of work, but with good time management and the drive to have such a unique experience, it can be accomplished. The whole process was fairly easy, considering how many things needed to be done.
What to Expect When You Arrive:
Expect to not be able to understand the language. Even if you’ve had French education, the actual spoken French will be very different from what you studied.
I thought that I had an alright comprehension of French and when I got to France, I found it to be very difficult to speak and understand conversations. It helped that all of the family friends that I met were very welcoming and happy to help me learn. Every family will be different so you may not have a situation that is anything like my own.
My situation: I live with my host family and their two children and I work about 30 hours a week, which is the max that you’re allowed to work. My host family pays for my French language classes, my cell phone, my gas for the car that they provide for me (because I drive the children to and from school), and they give me 85 euro/week. I paid for my own airline tickets.
I live with the family but I have my own living quarters. I also am welcome at all of their meals and they will purchase any food I may want. I am free to do whatever I want in my free time. On holidays that the children have from school, I have time off and I can travel freely.
My Schedule: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri: 7:30 – 9:00am and 4:30 – 6:30/7pm, Wednesday: 7:30am – 6:30/7pm. These are average times, sometimes they vary greatly. Weekends I am free.
Friend #1: Works 30 hours at 80 euro/week. Two very young children. Language classes and cell phone provided by the parents.
Friend #2: Works 30 hours at 100 euro/week for three boys. School is not paid for by the parents but cell phone is provided. During school holidays Friend #2 is sometimes required to travel and work with the family.
Would you like to be an au pair in France?
Originally from California, Marianne lives in western France where she currently is working as an au pair and struggling daily with the French language. A lover of dogs, bicycling, bread, and chocolate, she does freelance marketing and web design, and writes at www.californienne.com. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m partnering with Flights.com to share all about what to eat in Malaysia. If you love experiencing new food when you travel, like me, check out this article on the 7 Best Restaurants in the World!
Malaysian food, guys. We need to talk about it.
First off, it’s amazing. Malaysian food is a blend of Indian, Chinese and Indonesian influences, so uh, how could it not be good?
Secondly it’s surprising. I’ve honestly never been so surprised and delighted by a national cuisine. There were gummy textures, ingredients I’d never seen and myriad flavors and culinary influences.
So in this post I want to share with you my Malay food diary- the greatest hits, and a few dishes that didn’t quite live up to the hype.
You might be thinking, “Wow, you ate all of this in two weeks?” Yes, yes I did. And if anything I wish I had eaten more- but hey, I can always go back right?
Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur
I would give my firstborn child if I could just have curry laksa one more time. (Okay fine, that’s hyperbole. But I would drive at least an hour.)
Curry laksa is my favorite iteration of laksa- a bowl of a curried coconut broth, thin yellow egg noodles, fried tofu and cuttlefish. This dish is also called curry mee. Whatever you call it, I freaking love it.
Satay celup // Melaka
An assortment of veggies, eggs and meats, all cooked in peanut sauce? Delicious. Essentially satay celup is like Malaysian-style fondue but with meat on a stick and peanut sauce. Truly a new favorite.
Chicken rice // Everywhere
My daily staple in Malaysia was without doubt chicken rice. In Malaysia I became quite the chicken rice connoisseur.
After lots of trial and error, I decided my favorite chicken rice is saucy, savory chicken accompanied by chicken rice balls, iced tea and chicken foot soup. Yum.
I especially love chicken rice accompanied by a big plate of greens (pictured below) because it makes me feel healthy, even if I’ve eaten six meals that day.
Kuih // Melaka
One sweltering afternoon in Melaka I tried kuih, bite-sized tea snacks that are found in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and several regions of China.
As a prolific snacker, I loved eating such a wide assortment of treats at one meal. I tasted nasi lemak, sambal and rice, curry puff and fried shrimp ball.
On the sweeter side I tried pulut kueh, coconut sticky rice with palm sugar, and kuih ketayap, a little green burrito dyed with pandan leaf and stuffed with palm sugar.
Chai and roti prata // Melaka
While in Melaka I joined a group of Malaysian girls for an Indian-style brunch.
For only a couple of dollars we had an Indian feast- flaky, buttery roti prata dipped in a light and spicy dahl, with sweet and spicy chai to accompany.
Considering I had just spent six weeks in India eating exclusively Indian food, I wasn’t about to grab seconds, but I still loved chai and roti prata as a one-off breakfast.
Putu Mayam // Georgetown, Penang
Putu mayam was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had- freshly steamed pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and fresh-grated coconut.
I discovered it at a market in Penang, and fell in love with the soft, gummy noodles and the flavor explosion (forgive me) of pandan, palm sugar and coconut. It was truly like nothing else I’ve ever tasted.
Banana and peanut fritter // Georgetown, Penang
I also discovered this banana and peanut fritter at a food market in Penang. Such a tasty snack, and cooked banana with crunchy peanuts brought me back to the beloved grilled PB&Js of my childhood.
Nasi Ulam Nyonya // Georgetown, Penang
Nasi Ulam Nyonya, also known as Nyonya herbal rice, is a Peranakan dish of fragrant and herb-strewn rice. As far as I could tell, it was simply steamed rice with herbs, lime, shallots and belacan (shrimp paste). YUM.
Here’s a recipe if you’d like to make it yourself!
Penang Char Kuey Teow // Georgetown, Penang
Char Kuey Teow (Chinese : 炒粿條，炒河粉, thanks Wikipedia) is a Chinese dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese chives and both light and dark soy sauce.
I scarfed down lots of Char Kuey Teow while in Penang, though I must say- it’s a pretty heavy dish for such a hot and humid city! Afterwards I always felt like napping.
It reminded me of a lot of the Thai stir-fried noodle dish phat si io, as its flavor savory, heavy and soy-saucey.
Popiah // Georgetown, Penang
Popiah is a Chinese wheat crêpe stuffed with Chinese sausage, prawns, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, caramelized onion and cooked carrot and turnip. In Singapore I literally had it daily- I loveee me some popiah.
While I didn’t like the popiah in Penang quite as much as the one I had in Singapore, it was still tasty.
Fish head bihun // Kuala Lumpur
I’m the first to admit that sometimes I’m too adventurous of an eater for my own good. Grilled lamb hearts in Istanbul? Yes, please. Civet poo coffee in Bali? Small intestine sausage in France? Yes, please. Actually, I loved all those dishes dearly.
But sometimes my white-girl, Midwest-born and bred stomach has trouble keeping up with my food-obsessed mouth. Let’s just say fish head bihun and I didn’t work out.
Fish head bihun is essentially a rice vermicelli noodle soup with chunks of fried fish-head. While I somewhat liked the dish, after a few bites I knew I would be sick.
Soon after taking this picture I experienced the worst food poisoning I had since a fruit farm tour in the Mekong Delta. Fun.
Pineapple cookies // Melaka
Pineapple cookies are famous in Melaka. But once I finally got my hands on one (they’re hard to buy individually) I wasn’t terribly impressed. As always, I have to admit I prefer American cookies to any other.
Cendol // Melaka
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cendol was downright the most bizarre dessert I’ve ever encountered. Imagine a bowl of green jelly noodles that taste like worms, topped with red beans, shaved ice and palm sugar. With a little receptacle of more green jelly noodles in case you didn’t get enough.
Frankly I’m not sure how any of these ingredients go together, much less in a dessert. But to each their own.
Peranakan laksa // Kuala Lumpur
On my final night in Malaysia I had Peranakan laksa.
Laksa was one of those dishes I wanted so badly to love. I tried Peranakan laksa, asam laksa (okay, at a mall) and laksa in Singapore. I sadly always found it a little… bland. The only one I liked was curry laksa- but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.
Have you ever tried Malaysian food? What did you think?
You guys didn’t think I was done writing about Penang, did you? Because I seriously loved that city too much to pen just a one-off post.
My last day in Penang wasn’t the typical travel day- it was a private culinary tour, which trust me, is not the norm in my travels. But considering how much I love food tours- see here and here- I couldn’t resist experiencing one in a private car.
Here are the highlights of my very special last day in Penang.
Having Breakfast at a Wet Market
Our Penang-born guide, C. K. Low, picked Dylan and me up in an old-school burgundy Benz at 9 a.m. sharp. As soon as I felt the air-conditioning I couldn’t help but look forward to the day ahead of me.
C. K. Low and Dylan enjoying iced coffees and banana fritters.
Under C.K. Low’s expert guidance we sampled everything from banana peanut fritters to char kway teow, Penang’s signature noodle dish.
I won’t go into too much detail as a Malaysian food post is coming very soon to an inbox near you. But seriously guys- yum.
Clockwise from upper left- char kway teow, putu mayam, putu mayam being steamed, the banana and peanut fritter.
Visiting a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram
Next we headed to Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram (Thai: วัดไชยมังคลาราม). While the Buddha was not quite as quite as splendrous as the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the temple was certainly beautiful, peaceful and nearly void of visitors.
I also loved hearing about C. K. Low’s Thai ancestry while at the temple, as he explained the strong Thai influence in Penang.
Visiting a Traditional Soy Sauce Factory
I’m not sure if this is normal, but I absolutely love soy sauce. So I was excited to see a soy sauce factory up close- and how beautiful are these pots?
We also got to taste the soy sauce, which naturally, was delicious- thick and syrupy and bubbling with that addictive umami flavor. It was a far cry from La Choy, a.k.a. liquid salt.
Trying Nyonya Food at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant
Our next stop? Nyonya appetizers at Pinang Peranakan Restaurant.
From the moment I walked into the building (which dates back to 1880!) I was in love: tall airy ceilings, a red and green tile floor, a British Colonial meets Straits-Chinese feel.
While Dylan and I were much too full from breakfast for an entire meal, we ordered Peranakan top hats, or Koay Pai Tee.
Honestly though I wasn’t over the moon about the top hats- they kind of remind me of wedding hors d’oeuvres. But on my next visit to Penang I fully intend to return to Pinang Peranakan Restaurant for a full Peranakan meal.
Spotting the Ocean
Yeah. No explanation necessary here. Can you imagine waking up to this view everyday?
Finding Tons of Colonial Mansions
As I’ve mentioned in other posts (Penang, Macau, Singapore), I’m fascinated by colonial history and architecture in Asia.
So at the end of our tour, I asked C. K. Low if we could see Penang’s colonial mansions. And I was not disappointed. While some were a bit shabby, others were in immaculate condition. But shabby or not, I still relished the chance to see such unique and historical architecture.
Sigh. Aren’t they just dreamy?
As we were driving Dylan, who hails from England, said, “Look, there’s a cricket pavilion!” which I never would have known. One of the benefits of traveling with a Brit is definitely their ability to identify relics of a British colonial past. (That and I’ve met some who travel with teabags, which is genius.)
All in all the tour reminded me of why I loved Penang so much- you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a colonial mansion or a really, really good meal.
Have you ever gone on a private culinary tour?
A big thanks to Rasa Malaysia Penang Private Tour for hosting me and showing me what I should be eating in Penang.
Also after reading TripAdvisor reviews, I would definitely recommend requesting C. K. Low. He was very personable and professional, and lots of people on TripAdvisor experienced no-shows with other drivers.
Long before I was a traveler, I was a nerd. My favorite movie ever is Lord of the Rings, I played Pokémon until I was a senior in high school (no, but seriously) and I’m a lifelong Harry Potter fan.
I’ve not only read all the Harry Potter books in English (obviously), I’ve read quite a few in Spanish and French. And on my 11th birthday I was a smidge disappointed that I didn’t receive an owl.
So you’ll understand why I had to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios while in Florida over the holidays, even if it meant a five-hour round-trip drive.
And considering I’d been promising my baby sister, Bee, a trip to Disney for oh say, the last decade, I decided to kill two birds with one sorcerer’s stone. (Sorry, I had to.)
Even the outside of Harry Potter World was impressive- doesn’t this façade seriously look like London? The London stock brick was spot-on.
And then I spotted our first wizardly sighting of the day- The Night Bus.
Next we moseyed over to King’s Cross. While “living” in London last year I transferred at King’s Cross almost daily, so walking inside made me feel a bit nostalgic for London, a city I miss every single day.
While on Platform 9 3/4 we spotted a not-realistic-at-all Hedwig, and then we boarded the Gryffindor-red Hogwarts Express.
Sadly, the Hogwarts Express ride was a bit cheesy. First off, I totally expected a sweet-filled trolley to roll by. But no chocolate frogs for this girl- only lame sound effects and and the shadow of Death Eaters in the window.
But soon we were we were in Hogsmeade. From the second I saw Hogsmeade I was enchanted by everything from the crooked chimneys to the snowy roofs. Save the Floridian humidity, it was just like the real thing.
Our first beverage in Hogsmeade? Butter beer, of course.
Butter beer was sadly… not very good. First of all, no alcohol (to be expected of course), and secondly it tasted like cloyingly sweet butterscotch.
My knock-off @girleatworld pic. In full disclosure that’s my sister’s hand- as if my nails ever look that good.
Next we beelined for Hogwarts, which houses the best ride in the park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. During the ride we tried not to vomit as we encountered everything from Dumbledore’s office to giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest.
The sorting hat talks while you wait in line. So great.
Before leaving Hogsmeade we stopped at the Three Broomsticks for a pretty mediocre lunch, and then headed for Diagon Alley.
Diagon Alley was equally as impressive as Hogsmeade: a labyrinth of dark, narrow alleys, capped with giant, fire-breathing dragon.
Ollivanders Wand Shop, where wands cost $40 plus dollars. I was surprised to see a lot of people buying them- quoi?
The absolute surprise of the day was Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. First of all, the old-fashioned, baby pink interior was adorable, and secondly the ice cream was gourmet. And y’all know I don’t use that word that lightly.
I adored my salted caramel blondie cone, and my sister lapped up her sticky toffee pudding in a cup. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste the other inventive and seemingly delicious flavors: Earl Grey and lavender, clotted cream, chocolate chili and strawberry and peanut butter.
Can Florean Fortescue’s please be a national franchise? I’d be so down.
After we demolished our ice cream cones my sister dragged me out of Harry Potter World to see some parts of Universal Studios. Having seen almost everything, I begrudgingly obliged her.
Despite a few minor let-downs, I loved Harry Potter World. And while I totally should’ve gotten an owl back in the day, seeing the faux Harry Potter World was still pretty wonderful.
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Have you ever visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Would you?
Want to know something kind of crazy? On my four-month round-the-world trip, during which I visited 10 countries total, I visited only three new countries.
And the only new one in Southeast Asia? Malaysia.
But thankfully, Malaysia was so historical and surprising and different from anywhere else I’ve been (besides Singapore, perhaps), that it made me feel like a less lame traveler.
Out of all the Malaysian cities I saw, I fell hardest for Penang. From the crumbling Chinese shophouses to the Peranakan mansions to the creative bursts of street art all over the city, Penang was a dream for this colonial history-loving traveler.
I bunked up in Georgetown, Penang’s historic and touristic center, for four nights. It turned out four nights was too short a sojourn, and I found myself wishing for more time at trip’s end.
I missed a lot: the Photography Museum, Kek Lok Si Temple, a Peranakan cooking class. What can I say? It was about a zillion degrees outside and after more than three months of travel I just wanted to soak in my surroundings, rather than bop from tourist site to tourist site.
But despite my wishes to avoid any and all humidity, I managed to see, eat and do quite a lot.
Visiting the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Since childhood I’ve had a fascination with both colonialism and the inner workings of Chinese households. (Which probably stemmed from Ties That Bind, Ties That Break. Anyhow.)
Which is why I absolutely loved the Pinang Peranakan Mansion- an immaculately restored Straits-Chinese home filled with turn-of-the-century treasures like Victorian furniture, vintage china and bedazzled Nonya slippers.
I spent hours there taking photographs and examining the hundreds of antiques on display, as well as fervently wishing I could time-travel back to early twentieth-century Penang and attend a soirée at a wealthy Peranakan trader’s home. Alas.
Wandering the Clan Jetties
The clan jetties of Georgetown have stood for more than a century. They began as sheds used as resting places for the dock-workers, and eventually developed into communal dwellings with a Chinese clan occupying each jetty. (Interestingly, the same six clans still occupy the jetties.)
I found it neat that people still live in the stilt houses- while wandering I spotted motorbikes, pet cats and laundry flapping in the wind. While there were lots of tourists, the jetties truly still are family homes.
While there’s nothing to do at the clan jetties per se, they’re worth a wander while in Georgetown.
Searching for Beautiful Street Art
I apologize for these overexposed street art photos- in Penang I made the fatal mistake of trying to take photographs in Asia during the day.
But despite these so-so pictures, the street art in Georgetown was seriously impressive. My British travel buddy Dylan and I spent an entire afternoon combing side streets and found some beautiful murals. And waited our turn to pose with them of course.
I particularly loved work by Lithuanian-born arutist Ernest Zacharevic. Most of his work depicts Malaysian children doing everyday things like swinging on a swingset, playing basketball or flying a kite. But what makes his work so special is the 3-D nature of his work, with the inclusion of real objects.
Eating at the Hawker Centres
When in Malaysia eat as the Malaysians eat, right?
In Penang I was delighted to find Singapore-style hawker centres, filled with a similar mixture of Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian stalls I came to love in the Little Red Dot.
CF Hawker Centre
One particularly sweltering afternoon while seeking cold water and fans, Dylan and I popped into the CF Hawker Centre. There we noshed on wanton mee and popiah, though sadly neither were quite as good the ones I had in Singapore.
I particularly appreciated the… unsavory selection of Western food, which included “Hawaii Chicken with Cheese”, “Chicken Gordon Bleu” and “Jumbo Sausage with Black Pepper Sauce.”
Red Garden Food Paradise
Our second hawker centre of the trip was Red Garden Food Paradise.
When we arrived for dinner we were far too early- the vendors hadn’t even started grilling. So we filled our stomachs (and our time) with a round of beers, which as always in Malaysia, was over-priced.
(To be fair I guess that’s what you should probably expect in a predominantly Muslim country.)
And when at long last the vendors started cooking, we tucked into chicken rice (soon to become my Malaysian staple), stewed eel (blergh) and chicken satay with peanut sauce (a favorite of mine from my time in Indonesia).
Staying at Roommates Penang
While in Penang Dylan and I stayed in at Roommates Penang, a quaint hostel located in central Georgetown. I absolutely loved the traditional Chinese shophouse façade, as well as the location: Roommates is located near all the UNESCO sites, street art and hawker centres.
I’ve stayed in dozens of hostels in Asia, and I can safely say Roommates is a good one- first off, the AC was glacial- essential in Malaysia in June. Secondly, I loved the privacy of the cubby bunks, and that the dorms only fit four people.
One downside was the lack of a common area- as someone who is always looking to meet other travelers I would’ve loved an area to socialize. Still, watching illegally downloaded Game of Thrones in our private, air-conditioned cubby bunks was pretty glorious.
Have you ever visited Penang?
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A big thanks to Roommates Penang for hosting me in Penang. While they offered me two nights, I stayed a few more because I sincerely enjoyed my stay.
Without a doubt, Koh Tao is one of my favorite places in Southeast Asia.
Last fall I spent three weeks there and this spring I returned for two and a half. On both visits I only intended to stay a week, but well, Koh Tao is tough to quit.
Koh Tao is heaven for young people. A palm tree-fringed paradise where hour-long massages cost $6, where you can scuba-dive and fight muay thai and motorbike at your leisure, where partying is practically an art-form.
My memories of Koh Tao are equally distant and fond, so hazy it’s as if they belong to someone else.
Even though I was there only six months ago, I was a different girl. Back then I flitted around the world, unsure of myself or what I wanted to do. I was rootless. I vacillated between seeking adventure and food and travel and craving community and career growth and lasting friendship.
Similar to an addiction, travel evolved from a love to an escape to an obsession to a lifestyle. After nine years of obsessive travel, I traveled because it was all I knew how to do. I was equally scared for the future and determined to savor the present. When the dreaded question “What will I do when I get home?” arose, I cast it from my mind.
I lived simply and cheaply, my only shoes a pair of black flip flops, my hair usually wet and plaited to the side. I was a girl who felt wildly indulgent paying $40 a night for an air-conditioned bungalow, who considered staying out until two an early night. I worried a lot. I partied a lot. I had metric tons of free time but carried a deep guilt for not feeling constantly happy. After all, who was I to feel lonely in paradise? How dare I?
I was a girl I recognize but can’t remember being.
But I do remember some things about my time on Koh Tao. I remember the bathwater sea, the banana pancake truck parked in front of Ban’s, the bright long tail boats bobbing in the surf. I remember drinking frothy pineapple juice as the tourmaline sea glittered. I remember swaying in a hammock listening to Manu Chao, sniffling and feverish from too many nights out.
And needless to say, I miss that lifestyle at times. I miss blissing out under Tiger Balm massages while listening to the soft pulsing of the sea. I miss sipping lukewarm Changs on the beach at night, watching the fire dancers spin, the flames bright as stars.
But mostly, I feel time has given me clarity. I forgive the girl I was back then for being anxious and guilty once in a while, because of course I had rough days on the road. Of course I felt insecure about my future and longed for deeper friendships. One can only live untethered for so long without yearning for security.
In retrospect I see that I was far too hard on myself.
I doubt I will ever go back to Koh Tao- actually, I don’t want to. For me, it’s so intertwined with youth, both the uncertainty and the frivolity of it. I want the island to remain fixed in my mind just as it was when I was 23. Because I will never again be the girl I was on Koh Tao, for better or worse.
Koh Tao- what a special little piece of paradise.
Yes, you read that correctly. Coup. On May 22, 2014, the Thai military took control of the government and enforced curfew and martial law, banned political gatherings, censored the media and detained and arrested politicians.
As fate would have it, I had a flight to Bangkok booked for May 23.
So on my last night in Delhi, I weighed my options:
Cons- Coup. Potential imprisonment. Border crossings could be tricky.
Pros- Thailand. Already spent $200 on ticket. Nowhere else to go. THAILAND.
And as I half-joked to my parents, I’d rather be a political prisoner than spend one more day in India.
So off I flew to the Thai capital. And I’m glad I did. While I felt lukewarm about Bangkok the first time around, on my second visit I came to adore it.
And really, the coup didn’t change much. Yes, there was that pesky 10 p.m. curfew and the local TV channels were completely blocked. But mostly, it was Bangkok as usual: temples and Thai food, shopping malls and duck soup.
(I have to admit, I did break the curfew as one night my travel buddy and I sneaked out at 11 p.m. for a massage. Gasp!)
After six weeks in rural India, Bangkok might as well have been Boston. It was so modern.
I spent my entire first day lapping up modernity at Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s swankiest shopping mall. I nearly died of bliss as I sipped a vanilla latte, scrolled through my phone and savored the long-forgotten feel of air-conditioning on my face.
I also stopped at H&M and the beauty country to stock up on Southeast Asia essentials: MAC Studio Fix and Bobbi Brown bronzer. And in the spirit of the girliest, most self-induldgent day ever, then I got a mani pedi. And they had OPI which never happens.
So after I got that out of my system, I went hunting for two of my favorite things in Southeast Asia: food and wet markets.
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Khlong Lat Mayom is a floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok, with colorful wooden boats, delicious food and bright umbrellas. And it was a locals-only affair- my travel buddy Joe and I were the only tourists there!
Another perk? The vendors gave out free samples. Don’t mind if I do.
Joe and I noticed all the locals were eating fried carp- or rather, some sort of crispy bottom feeder. So we hurried over to get ours too.
Well, it wasn’t very good so we tried again. Our second lunch (ahem), was a spicy seafood salad. Delicious.
By the end of the morning I decided that out of all the markets I’ve visited in Bangkok, Khlong Lat Mayom is by far my favorite.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
On Sunday we headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, or JJ’s, to score a few bargains and see what all the fuss was about. Chatuchak is enormous; I found the sprawl a bit overwhelming but most enjoyed stalls 2-4, where trendy Thai designers hawk their wares (Thanks Alex in Wanderland for pointing me in the right direction!)
While I came armed with plenty of baht and the intent to more or less buy a new wardrobe, I only walked away with a pair of feather earrings. In the end it was too sticky to try on clothes, and at nearly 5′ 8” tall, I’m not exactly Thai-sized anyway.
I really wish I had bought one of these.
But no matter, I still enjoyed spending an afternoon at Chatuchak, and relished the opportunity to have some bánh cuốn. Hey, I love Thai food, but sometimes I just need me some Vietnamese.
Taking the Ferry to the Lots of Temples
As I learned on my last visit in Thailand, the Chao Phraya River Express Ferry is the best way to squeeze in lots of sites while enjoying a breeze.
Our first stop was Wat Pho, the beautiful, gold-coated reclining Buddha…
then the surrounding temples, which were also stunning…
and to finish, the stately Grand Palace.
(Note- make sure you dress respectfully for all these temples! Ladies, think shawls and long skirts.)
But soon we were sweltering in the Bangkok sun so we retreated back to the hostel.
A huge reason I liked Bangkok more the second time was due to the upgrade in accommodation. While last time I bunked up in a cockroach-infested hostel on Khao San Road, this time I stayed at Lub d.
Lub d has two locations: Siam Square and Silom. We chose Silom, a ritzy district where the sois are filled with cheap and tasty eats.
My friend had never stayed in a hostel so I figured Lub d was a gentle segue into the backpacker scene. And Lub d was everything I had bargained for; clean, beautifully designed and staffed with incredibly sweet and helpful employees.
And across the street from Lub d Silom is a stall serving one of the meals of my life. There’s only one menu item- duck soup- and it will blow your mind. Have you ever see anything so beautiful?
Coup or no coup, I loved Bangkok. And I honestly think I’d fly back just for that soup- though I’ll pass on the government overthrow next time.
Would you have flown to Thailand in the middle of a military coup? Am I crazy?
Lub d generously hosted our stay for two nights. As always, all opinions are completely my own.
(Note- buy MAC makeup before you get to Bangkok because it was crazy marked up.)
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India was, for lack of a better word, the most hard-core trip of my life. At various points in my six weeks I was struggling to breathe from the stench of cow shit, vomiting from (many) bouts of food poisoning, violently shivering in a wind-whipped tent, nearly passing out from sunstroke in the Himalayas and doing vinyasa in 110-degree heat.
Travel writers wax poetic on how India is a Technicolor, multi-sensory travel experience- and yes, it is that. But for me, India was much a spiritual overhaul as it was a descent into chaos.
For better or worse, shit went down.
A human-powered ferris wheel. No biggie.
Here are the craziest things that happened to me in India:
I left my wallet on the plane in Delhi.
This one is kind of embarrassing. I’ve only been to, oh, 38 countries, and boarded countless international flights. But after passing customs in Delhi, I realized I was sans wallet.
After two hours of frantic waiting, an airport employee returned the wallet to me with all the credit cards intact, my confirmation number written in blue pen on the leather (a funny story to tell when I pull it out nowadays).
I will forever be grateful to the kind employees of Indira Gandhi International Airport.
I was attacked by monkeys on an early morning run.
Per our Indian wellness pledge, McCall and I woke up at 6 a.m. every day to run. One morning, we passed a trash heap and a pack of macaques leapt out and corralled McCall. Hissing and baring their teeth, McCall kicked at them and yelled, “HEY!”
Seconds later, she shouted “RUN!” and we started sprinting back towards the yoga school.
Later, when I regaled the tale to my uncle, instead of being shocked that I was attacked by monkeys, he said, “Wait. You went running at 6 a.m.?” Ha.
And just in case you’re ever attacked; leading primatologists suggest you “Form an “O” with your mouth, lean toward them with your body and head, and raise your eyebrows.
Also, apparently monkeys are more afraid of men than women. That’s not even fair.
I saw a corpse floating in the Ganges
We were standing at the edge of the Ganges in Rishikesh when I saw a white shape floating quickly down the river. As it came closer, I saw it was a blue-tinged, water-logged corpse.
While my yoga school classmates claimed it was a cow, sorry guys, it wasn’t- it was a human corpse with a head full of black hair.
A week after the corpse incident, my classmates wanted to take a dip in the Ganges, which up until that point I was all for. But considering the corpse we had just seen, I opted out. Everyone called me a square.
I went white-water rafting with an infant.
Every day at yoga school, I would watch as white-water rafters drifted down the Ganges in bright blue rafts. “I want to do that,” I sighed.
So one day, to my delight, we headed down to the Ganges to white-water raft.
Soon into our rafting trip two Indian families boarded the raft, the men in blue jeans and loafers, the women in saris. And to our dismay, one woman was holding her ten-month old daughter.
The child was terrified, sobbing hysterically as huge waves rained down upon us. “Pani, pani!” said the mom, pointing to the water.
Also, as an aside, most Indians can’t swim.
Anyway, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t understand the logic in bringing a baby white-water rafting.
I nearly died in the Himalayas.
Okay, okay. Maybe I’m being dramatic. But I could’ve at least broken a leg.
One morning we were hiking down a snowy hill, and I fell and slipped. After sliding down about 15 feet, heading for the edge of the mountain, I managed to grab hold of a rhododendron bush.
And thank god, as there wasn’t much past it.
I was circled by men at night in Delhi.
In India men have a curious habit of forming a circle around you, as if they were corralling you. It’s rather terrifying.
After dinner in Delhi, my friends (one girl, one guy) and I stopped at the India Gate. We were just walking around the park and stopped to do a few yoga poses. Within seconds, a group of about 15-20 men formed a circle around us. My guy friend grabbed us both by the arms and pushed his way out of the crowd.
My guy friend was genuinely shocked. “Is this what you girls go through all the time?”
(Note- my female friend I had would never have gone to a park at night alone, and only went because we had a guy with us. Unfortunately, we still live in world where two women alone in a park at night in India is a very bad idea.)
I had a guru.
How could I talk about India without mentioning my guru and meditation teacher, Swami Ji?
Swami Ji, who referred to me as “sluggish baby”, is one of the funniest and good-hearted people I’ve ever met in my life.
A lover of selfies, Swami Ji would have us pose as a class while he took a selfie with his 13.1 megapixel smartphone.
He liked to meditate anywhere and everywhere. I can still picture his voice perfectly; whenever we asked a question, he would reply, “Yessssssss… baby…”
He introduced us to many forms of meditation, including moon meditation, in which we laid on our backs, stared at the moon and then closed our eyes and tried to remember the moon. And laughing meditation, in which we laughed hysterically for an hour straight.
Thank you, India. It was real. And crazy.
So what about you? What’s the “craziest” country you’ve ever been to?
As a note, this post is just a summary of my anecdotal experiences. It in no way speaks for all of India, just what happened to me.