So I am pretty used to getting looks, stares, pointed at, and asked for pictures in almost every country in SE Asia because of my hair and skin color, but Myanmar (Burma as the English call it) surely takes the cake as the most intriguing people. Myanmar has been shut off from tourism for so long, I mean just as early as 2010 was it safe for people to freely engage with Myanmar. So it’s not really their fault that they do not know what’s going on outside of their country. I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar the second to the last day of their water festival called Thingyan. Now I had previously been in Thailand during Songkran, and I got drenched everyday all day, but Thai people have NOTHING on the Burmese people when it comes to the water festival activities. In Thailand it seemed more commercialized and gimmicky, but in Myanmar it was definitely more about the rituals and people just having fun and anticipating a great new year!
Thingyan usually lasts about three to five days, and guess what…this year it lasted five just so that I could spend a few extra days getting drenched! LOL! It is customary to throw water on everybody that walks past, because it is seen as a cleansing ritual to prepare you for the next year. Only the elderly and monks are safe from this practice…although there were plenty of old folks who threw water on me *side eye* but it’s all in good fun!
I remember as soon as I hit the street early on the last day of Thingyan, which was my first full day in Yangon and people stopped dead in their tracks and just pointed. Now I mentioned before that I have seen this before, but the Burmese people were not shy! There were truckloads of people yelling for me, and I didn’t even realize it until a group of tourists I was walking around with shouted at me to pay attention to the locals LOL! I had so many Burmese women try and give me betel nut (an addictive stimulant much like tobacco or caffeine) to chew and clay powder to put on my face, but I firmly had to tell them no each time. I even had one woman come up behind me, pull me back and try to forcibly put betel nut in my mouth…I mean the Burmese people were not shy when it came to wanting pictures or just the obvious stares. I took a video of ONE man taking pictures of me with THREE different phones, now that just blew my mind!
By the time I got to Myanmar I gave up on trying to tame my fro, so it was flying high and mighty! One woman told me that they would have to pay a lot of money for something that I have naturally. I spent four days at a Buddhist monastery called The Bar Wa Centre and the buzz surrounding my fro just kept going! It had been my dream to stay at a Buddhist monastery and learn more about Buddhism and meditation, and these monks and nuns were asking about ME!?! Like all this ruckus because of me and my fro? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was diving into a deeper level of self-love!
I can’t tell you how much I love my skin AND hair after my experiences in Myanmar! I believe this is the country, along with its people, that helped me appreciate my natural beauty; and realize that I can love the way I look and not conform to what society’s idea of what beautiful is! I love me, my black skin, and big afro! Afros and passport stamps forever!
Bless my heart I didn’t know what I was getting into when I went to Singapore…it’s the most expensive SE Asian country that I’ve encountered so far. The Singaporean dollar was on par with the Australian dollar which for a backpacker’s wallet isn’t the nicest. I used Singapore as a long layover and spent three and a half days there, but got to see almost everything I wanted to. Singapore actually isn’t that very big, less than 5.7 million people live on this tiny island which happens to be one of the world’s richest countries…who knew?
Fun fact…I actually learned how to use my camera correctly in Singapore. I was there in late March so it took me being three months on the road until I figured it out, but watch out now! You would’ve thought I was a professional, so I will take you on a picture display of why you should go to Singapore. I hope you enjoy!
So many people have been asking me how and why I travel, but I think it’s best to start with the why…many people have different reasons why they travel. I think one of my main reasons is that it is a humbling experience for me. In America everything is given to us, no matter how poor you may think you are, go to a favela in Rio, Brazil, or to a remote village in Yangon, Myanmar and then talk to me about being poor. At least our government will step in and provide assistance, these countries don’t necessarily have that help. Also, I use travel as therapy. Ever since my Dad went to go home with his Heavenly Father, I’ve been lost. Going in every direction for everybody else but myself, one day my Mom just looked at me and told me to go after my passion and find my purpose…just GO she said! I’m so thankful for her support and her pushing me to take this gap year. Nothing worse than that feeling of not knowing which way is up or down, and going abroad makes you fend for yourself and helps you grow. I wanted to come to the most uncomfortable side of the world, where I did not know the language, the culture was so much different than mine, and where I could have a humbling experience…so I chose SE Asia!
WHAT PERSONAL BUBBLE?
Now if you know me, I like my personal space and in Asia you don’t get any! I don’t know what it is, but everybody in SE Asia is in a hurry to get somewhere. I usually call it in a hurry to go nowhere. Don’t get me started on the countless times that someone has climbed over me when we land at the airport to get their bags and WAIT to get off the plane. As I sit in my seat and give them the side eye. This is definitely a learning experience for me, as I normally don’t like people touching me or getting into my personal space.
Actually learning about world history in whatever country you happen to be visiting is so special. After going to countries like Cambodia and Vietnam where war had devastated them and still continues to linger, its always interesting to see how a country can rise above. I go to museums and I’m just astonished as to why this devastation was not in my history books growing up, but as a friend pointed out to me other countries rarely learn about slavery in America.
Did I mention that I live like a Queen over here!?! Another reason why I chose SE Asia was the fact of finance, you can be a multimillionaire in Vietnam or Indonesia, because of the currency exchange rate is CRAZY! I can spend anywhere from $1-3 per meal, maybe $4-5 if I want to “splurge” which is way cheaper than America! The nightlife is so fun and affordable as well, a good night out can cost a max of about $10 in most SE Asian countries.
PEACE AND MEDITATION REIGNS!
So the basis of this whole “world purpose trip” is to find my purpose in life, and just gain some peace after feeling so much turmoil within my body and mind. Grief is one hell of a ride! I have been on the roller coaster of grief, and I have wanted to enter the land of Peace and Joy for so long. Traveling always gives me clarity, so I decided it was going to be a perfect outlet for me. In SE Asia many meditation centers and Buddhist monasteries are at your finger tips. I couldn’t wait to check this off of my bucket list…this high anxiety and hyper girl was actually going to sit still for 30 minutes to one hour and meditate? That’s a joke, right?
Well I did it! It was the best thing that I could’ve done for me at that time. I was raised in a Christian household, so it was cool to be able to use what I learned about meditation from the monks and talk to God. See I’ve been mad at him for awhile now, but in my short four days at that mediation center I felt like I could loosen my grip on that anger. Holding onto anger is not healthy, physically and mentally. It was so awesome to talk people from all over the world who had their own stories to tell, and to know that we all came to this particular Buddhist monastery in Myanmar for peace.
Everybody has their reasons to why they travel and these are mine, I love discovering God’s beauty in our vast world! I hope you get out there and chase your dreams, no matter what they may be!
Malaysia oh Malaysia…The most slept on country in SE Asia! I believe that Malaysia rocks! Malaysia has something for everybody; whether you want big city country, or beach lifestyle, Malaysia has it! I’m so glad that I went and not only stayed in Kuala Lumpur but also flew up to Penang. Like I mentioned in my Top 5 Reasons to Visit Perth, I went against what people told me about Malaysia and decided to go and find out for myself! I love going to cities and/or countries that people tell me not to or that I won’t like it, just to prove them wrong. So I’ll provide a short recap on this fascinating country.
First of all coming from Bali I wasn’t expecting much from Kuala Lumpur, but when I saw the city center my mind was blown! It almost reminded me of a smaller version of a big city back home. Skyscrapers, flashing lights, cute cafes, and night clubs, with an Asian flair to it! Here are a few highlights of my time in Malaysia…
CLOTHING or lack thereof 😒
So I learned the hard way that you should cover up in Malaysia. I completely forgot that Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and even after passing all these beautiful ladies with their bodies completely covered, it didn’t click until I went to a local grocery store and had a couple men follow me. Now I wasn’t scared or anything but it made me realize oh shoot Ashley…you have SHORTS and a SPAGHETTI STRAP shirt on! I was dressed out of comfort, and instead I should’ve dressed more to culture. Whoops! I think the men were very intrigued by so much skin because that’s not the norm. Nonetheless, I started wearing longer pants and shirts while I was staying in the Putrajaya area. Being in the city of KL was totally different, like night and day! I got to bring the shorts back out lol. This experience is what I needed to remember to humble thyself and be respectful.
At times I struggled with the food in Malaysia because it has such a strong Indian influence, and for people that know me…I do NOT like Indian food. I don’t know if it’s the curry or the turmeric powder, but I just can’t hang. While in Malaysia, I continued to eat fried rice and fried noodle that I had grown to love in Indonesia. Malaysia’s fried chicken was amazing as well! I just don’t know how to describe it, it doesn’t sit on your tummy like fried chicken does back home (no nasties). If I did find myself at an Indian restaurant in Malaysia I would find some reprieve in the naan bread, I’d have naan every which way…buttered, with garlic, and if I was feeling extra fancy I would have it with cheese! Once again, you gotta do what you gotta do! And this girl loves to eat!
I’m telling you right now, if you go to Malaysia and skip Penang you are doing yourself a major disservice! It’s an absolute MUST! I’m talking about eating, beaching, drinking, and art every turn! I didn’t know anything about Penang until I got to Malaysia, as I just usually show up to a country and figure things out. I’m so glad I listened to many people’s suggestions and came to Georgetown with its cool and artsy atmosphere. I had no idea that Georgetown was known for street art and as I began to walk around and notice that not only can you take pictures of it, you can be a part of it! That part was especially cool!
I had the pleasure of meeting a girl who took me around Georgetown andshowed me how the locals live. The restaurants and bars she took me to were amazing! Street food so cheap and drinks so delicious…my mouth is just watering thinking about it! She showed me what to order so that I could actually enjoy my food and not have to rely on eating naan all the time lol. It was nice to connect with someone who has a similar background and knows where to go and what to do! One day I’ll come back to Penang and I’ll make sure I’m ready for some great diving!
Surprisingly, Malaysia has a lot of touristy things to do and see. There’s the Kek Lok Si temple, Penang Hill, Petronas Towers, KL tower, and Batu Caves complete with monkeys 🙄. The Batu Caves was a highlight for me as I was proud of myself for climbing all 272 stairs to the top. I mean I was sweating like a pig while going up and huffing and puffing but I made it! I actually got to see a Hindu prayer ceremony going on, it was so neat to be able to witness how they worship their deity. The huge statue that can be seen from the highway is called Lord Murugan and it isthe second tallest Hindu deity in the world.
Another impressive sight was the KL tower and Petronas Towers. I was able to first see them during he day when I went up to the top of the KL tower and took pics of of the Petronas Towers. The best time to see these towers is at night. The KL tower lights up and there’s a show to go with it. As well as the Petronas towers light up and if you are near to take pictures, it is breathtaking!
If I had to do it all again I would have spent more time in Penang, but I’m thankful for the time I did have there! Please don’t skip Malaysia if you do a SE Asia tour, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how eclectic the culture is and how nice the people are! I’m sure glad I went!
I’ve been thirsty for Bali quite some time, and I knew that was going to be the destination that I spent my “dirty thirty” in! When it came closer to the time to book flights, most of my friends just couldn’t make it for my birthday and I’m not going to lie it made me a bit sad at first. With solo travel you have to deal with being on your own for an uncertain amount of time. Family and friends may come visit or they may not, that’s the risk you take with solo travel. Since I was turning the big 3-0, I knew this portion was going to be a splurge part of my trip. Saying that you’ll splurge in Bali is quite funny seeing how the Rupiah and dollar exchange is quite in our favor! Every US dollar was about 13,200 Rupiah, basically I was living on Queen status! I mean Bali does mean “Isle of the Gods”! Bali, Indonesia was my first Asian country that I’ve ever been to, so I was not sure what to expect. Sure I did some research beforehand, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you actually go! So here are my top 4 reasons to go to Bali!
Yup you guessed it! Food!!!!! I wasn’t sure what to expect other than rice and noodles, but I was surprised at how many fried chicken places there were in Bali! And I don’t mean that nasty KFC stuff, true “homemade” fried chicken! My mouth was always watering at the thought of tasting this deliciousness! And I could get this chicken mixed with veggies, and rice or fried noodles? Come on! I’m in Heaven! So in Bali, like most of Asia you go for the street food or local warungs, which means a small family restaurant. I found the food cheaper at these warungs and also healthier because the food was made right in front of you! There was no guessing where they got their ingredients or how long something was sitting there, but the main key is to go to the warung that has the longest queue! That means the locals are enjoying it, so it must be good! I try to do as the locals do!
I like to eat what the locals eat, so when I heard that a Balinese delicacy was suckling pig, I was all in! And it sure did not disappoint at all! It actually tasted like a roasted pig like back home when we had big pig roast parties! It was served with rice and some spicy veggies, it had my mouth on fire but it burned so good!
Not only was the food tasty, it was dirt cheap!!! Where in the United States can you get a huge plate full of freshly made meals for $3-4? It totally blew my mind how cheap it was, and I had been told it was cheap to eat in SE Asia but I didn’t expect THAT cheap! There was also a plethora of different cuisines to try in Bali, but of course I stuck to the traditional meals and usually that meant it was cheaper! There were definitely times when you could fine the comforts of home, like pizza and burgers but that also meant they were relatively expensive. Plus it’s more fun to have an authentic experience.
As mentioned before, this being my first Asian country I’ve ever been to I was nervous on what to expect. As soon as I landed at the airport I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore! All the comforts of New Zealand, Australia, and even Fiji went out the door! Nobody spoke my language nor did I speak theirs but you make it through! I took it as a challenge to get myself out of my comfort zone, because that’s the only way you grow!
Bali is about 90% Hindu and about 5% Muslim, so it was fascinating to see the men and women offer alms in the morning and evening. I also heard Hindu prayers over a loud speaker about four times a day! At first I thought to myself dang they pray a lot and it was annoying because I wanted to sleep! I had to check myself and my attitude because every faith has their own belief, and I should respect that.
The Balinese believe that animals and nature has significant power and are even seen as God. During my visit, I had the “pleasure” of going to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. These monkeys are quite mischievous and all of us were a bit nervous and didn’t know what to expect. The monkeys are EVERYWHERE! Mommas and their babies, old grandpa looking monkeys but they are all very frisky. I wouldn’t advise anybody to buy the bananas to feed the monkeys as I saw a guy get scratched by a monkey because he ran out of bananas! I tried staying away from them but they loved my camera and they even climbed on top of my friend, who then freaked out because she got peed on! The architecture that was around the Monkey Forest was telling of how much they respect these animals and nature in general.
During my friend, Farrin’s Bali Escape, we got to take part in celebrating their new year called Nyepi. It was cool to be there in Bali when it was going to be quiet, because Bali can be quite hectic and loud. Nyepi Day is their day of silence, where no one can be in the streets, household electricity should be shut off and even the airport is closed. The Balinese are very religious and we could see the pride they took in constructing their Ogoh-Ogoh’s, which are evil monsters or demons. We attended a parade the night before Nyepi Day where young children paraded large papier-mache demons around town with loud drums and chants. These large demons were very scary looking too, it blew my mind how creative these young boys were. Experiencing Nyepi Day was amazing because I got to see and appreciate Bali in a new light, because I had been used to the chaotic and loudness of Kuta and Seminyak! It was nice to sit back and reflect on this portion of my trip and have meaningful conversations with the other girls!
3. KRAZY KUTA VS. MELLOW UBUD
I loved Kuta/Seminyak areas with all their crazy madness, but being in the jungle, laid back scene of Ubud really captured you! It was nice to experience the bustling cities of Kuta & Seminyak but just a couple days to one week is sufficient. If you can arrange to spend 1-2 weeks in Ubud, I would do so. They have an awesome market that you can buy anything from Buddha statues, sarongs, tea, and other trinkets. I had to refrain from buying too much because I would have nowhere to put new items! Of course I did end up sending somethings back home with a friend (thanks Emma!).
My utmost favorite thing about these areas were the CHEAP massages! OMG! Can you say $5 massage? I had an amazing 7-hour spa day on my birthday and it only cost my wonderful boyfriend $70, back home that would’ve been well over $350+! I had an hour massage, a flower bath, an hour facial, mani/pedi, and hair cream treatment. I was literally the Queen for the day and no one could not tell me any different!
4. MY BIRTHDAY!
If you want to celebrate your birthday in an epic way, then go to Bali! I absolutely made the right choice in going to Bali for my 30th birthday and even though I wasn’t near family or friends on my “special” day, I was still treated like a Queen! After all my trip mishaps, my wonderful family and boyfriend wanted to treat me to something nice. They rented a villa for my birthday weekend, right in the heart of Seminyak. The villa I stayed at was called the Villa 888 Watermark where they made me feel like a true Queen, the wait staff listened to my every need and even gave me a birthday surprise! And let me tell you, if you do not have an Airbnb account, you need to get one! Here’s my Airbnb link for $35 off and if you use it, then I’ll receive $35 off as well!
I was real emotional during my birthday not because I turned 30, but the fact that my Dad couldn’t see how far I’ve come! I just wanted to hear him say that he was proud of me and my life decisions. I was also all in my feelings because it was the first time in my trip that I didn’t have to rely on my crutches 100%! I was able to be free of them and slowly move about! I appreciated all the love I received on my birthday, and I definitely felt it all the way over in Indonesia!
This country will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first time being in Asia! Do you have someplace that will always have a special part of your heart?
So I know I’m two or three countries behind, but I’m finally more on the move and able bodied! As I have talked about before, learning and reacting to life lessons can teach you about yourself. I have really had to rely on myself, but also learn to let people take care of me. I have been in the provider mode for four plus years, so it’s difficult to let someone else take control. I’m also quite hard-headed and want to prove people wrong when they say I’m going to fail at something or I’ll find something difficult.
This leads me to Perth, Australia, many people told me not to go there. Even some Australians, who had never been, asked me why would I go there? It’s so far from everything and there’s not too much to do! Oh how they were wrong! This should be a reminder to everyone, do not listen to someone who hasn’t been there about where you travel. Figure it out for yourself, you just may fall in love like I did! Since I love lists, here is my top 5 reasons to visit the lovely city of Perth!
Well of course I’d start off with my favorite thing! Ha! Although Melbourne is known as being the foodie center of Australia, there’s still magnificent eateries on the west coast! Some of the greatest wines from Australia come from Margaret’s River which is about a two hour drive from Perth city. Although I didn’t make the drive there, I still got to try several different wines and they were excellent!
I pride myself on getting out and trying the local cuisines, and I so desperately wanted to try kangaroo! It was just too expensive in the restaurants, so I bought some kangaroo meat in burger form and had my friend fry it up on the barbie…let me tell you, it was the most delicious and juicy burger I’ve ever had in my life! Now some of you may be cringing but don’t knock it till you try it!
I absolutely fell in love with this decadent sponge cake covered in chocolate and coconut called lamington! You can find it in the bakery area at the local market or they serve it in some restaurants. For someone who doesn’t even care for chocolate, I sure did have my fair share of those delicious lamington squares!
Another unique food I had to try is fairy bread! It’s literally buttered bread with “hundreds and thousands” which is the Australian term for sprinkles, but it’s so good and very festive! When I asked where this delicious treat originated from, I wasn’t given a straight answer but everyone told me they grew up with this as a birthday treat. I almost equate it to a funfetti cake that at age 30, I would still go crazy over. Apparently you never outgrow fairy bread, as well as you shouldn’t!
For those that know me, one of my favorite cuisines of all time is Mexican, and guess who was able to find a tequila bar in Perth? Oh yeah! I found out about a new tequila bar, called El Grotto that just opened and it did not fail my expectations! The nightlife on a Sunday night astounded me! I kept wondering how these people were going to make it to work the next day! As my host told me, they were not worried about the next day, but just living right here in the moment! I know that philosophy is something I need to work on.
I mostly stayed in the Scarborough Beach area, so it was nice to see all the beach bars lined up. You could go for dinner and watch the sunset and then bar hop. You can expect 80s rock to 90s rap to modern day pop music. Nobody in these bars sit down for long as the DJ keeps the crowd going. I can see how you just focus on the present when you just saw a hot, perfect Perth sunset with a cold drink in your hand! What’s not to love?
3. BEACHES & SUNSETS
Just as I mentioned, Perth has some perfect sunsets! I lived for the sunsets in Perth, just so beautiful! Different shades of red, pink, purple, and yellows, just gorgeous! Looking at a perfect Perth sunset just reminded me that there is a God, who else could’ve created this? Where I stayed at in Scarborough Beach I had the option to walk 250 meters to the beach or just sit on the couch and look out the window to view the sunsets! I would just stare at them in awe.
I loved the beach in Scarborough! You could see to the bottom and there was no trash in the water. I felt safe enough to leave my beach bag behind so I could walk along the shore and into the ocean. Mullaloo beach is also another beautiful beach, but you have to visit early in the morning so you can avoid the high winds in the afternoon. City beach has a very cool atmosphere with a huge open amphitheater that you can sit in and watch the sunset over the beach, then walk on over to that tequila bar I talked about! 😉
I am one that loves the heat, so if you are like me you’d love all 100+ degree weather in Perth. I was there during their summer season, and everyday was at least 90+ degrees! The summers back home in Ohio can be a bit sweltering hot, but nothing like a Perth summer! Australia is so close to the equator and lacks a decent ozone layer, I used a whole bottle of sunscreen. Thankfully the heat was a dry heat, much like what you could find in Vegas or Phoenix. There was little to no humidity, which makes the heat somewhat tolerable. Thankfully I packed tons of dri-fit clothing for this trip, because I have been chasing the heat and summer since I left Ohio in December!
Last and certainly not least, the people are part of my top 5 favorite things about Perth! I was still relying on my crutches when I initially got to Perth, so I had to cancel my 10-hour bus trip that was going to take me to Coral Bay. I was deeply saddened that I had to do that, but it tuned out to be a blessing in disguise! People in Perth are very proud of where they’re from and live! Now I’m the kind of person that knows no stranger, but almost everybody I met had some knowledge to offer or would ask if I needed help.
My first week in Perth I met a Swedish couple who had recently moved to Perth on a holiday working visa. They saw my struggle and immediately came to my rescue! They offered to take me around Perth and grocery shopping, I was so overwhelmed with their kindness and generosity. I had to learn to put my pride to the side once again and accept their kind offerings. As they were learning their way around Perth, I also got to explore with them. Katarina was adamant that I walk properly on my crutches so I didn’t cause any further injuries, and prepared healthy home remedies to reduce inflammation in my foot. My sweet Swedish couple even drove me to the hospital, to double check my progress! Who does that?
I kept wondering how I could get so lucky to keep meeting wonderful people like Pontus and Katarina, and I realized it wasn’t luck but a blessing from God! I was able to see parts of Perth that I may not have been able to without them! They may not have been native to Perth, but it’s people like them that continue to restore my faith in humanity. The people of Perth make this city worthwhile in checking out! Don’t believe someone when they tell you a place is too far away or there’s nothing to do there, you just may be surprised at what you find! Me? I found a lifelong friendship that I will always treasure, and perfect Perth sunsets while drinking Margaret River wine!
Have you been to a destination that someone tried to discourage you from going?