The many uses for flowers: Bali and Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

There is a point, after you’ve been traveling for a while, when your flip flops are worn through, and you’re bag is full to the top and spilling over into other bags, and you’ve gone from carrying everything from home to carrying home with everything, and you’re tired and you’re eyes close. Every other sense heightens. The dewy humidity against your skin, the rhythmic waves lapping the beach, the taste of a hot slice of air, and the tangy scent of the tropics all tell you you’ve arrived in Bali, without even opening your eyes.
Landing in Bali is like falling into a pair of soft hands, that cradle you when you’re travel tired. Everyone is all smiles and “How are you?” and “Where are you going?” We arrive in Kuta, Bali at the end of June, and spend a few days checking out the beaches and the busy surf spots: Uluwatu and Dreamland where the ocean throws fistfuls of surfers against the rocks, over and over again, and they get up, laugh as though someone is tickling them and paddle back out. It’s impossible to be any less than relaxed in a place where the population seems immortal. We are joined by Lindsey, one of our favorite LA ladies and we head to Gili Trawangan with it’s crystal waters that fade from clear to navy through every gradation of blue. There are no cars or motorbikes so the only traffic we hear are bike bells and horse cart horns while we lounge, drinking Papaya juice on the beach and watching sunset after sunset.
It’s almost impossible to leave, but we have to meet Nathalie, so we tear ourselves away, and go from the blue hues of Gili to the lush greens of Ubud, Bali. The green is overwhelming. It reflects off our hotel room walls and creeps in with the morning sun. Everything smells of chlorophyll and hibiscus. The locals are Hindu and make daily offerings of flowers and incense to ward off evil spirits. They wear flowers behind there ears, place them in front of statues and on all the doorsteps, and let the perfume seep into their baths. Everything smells of hibiscus here down to the scents that roll in off the rice paddies as we practice yoga in the open air studio. Ganesh watches with some pedals tucked behind his ear, and I can’t help but feel lucky.

I am loathe to leave Ubud, so I say good bye to the girls and fall into a steady routine of yoga, tea drinking and book reading. This is too good to last, so after a few days, I head back to Kuta to meet up with a few friends and repeat the circuit all over again, fall back into the open palms of Bali, and stay until it’s time to go to Australia and reenter the real world. I really can’t think of a better place to take a rest.

Love,
Perri

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High on Chiang Mai and Pai in the Sky

Chiang Mai is smart. Chiang Mai sparkles. Chiang Mai is sharp. Chiang Mai knows what’s up. Chiang Mai is a University town. Even the breeze knows it, rustling in the leaves like a thousand pages turning at once. Everything seems a little crisper than in the South, where the Islands lay, cooking in the sea, and the people lay on the Islands soaking in the hazy simmering air. Chiang Mai could easily be mistaken for U Mass if you ignore the profusion of dragons and snakes eyening you with their ruby, emerald and sapphire pupils from every roof. It’s a haven for ex-pats and health nuts who want to read and relax in a tangle of jungle. It’s temperate climate is forgiving, offering up rain and sun in equal amounts, at least for the week that I hang around.

I feel like I’m back in school. I lounge with new friends from the dorm in vegetarian cafes where we argue about books. I wander in and out of bookshops perfumed by the leafy scent of new and old volumes soft from a billions of caresses of millions of fingers. Stuffed with cracked spines and dog eared, beloved, editions with notes in the margins passing from one ghost with good handwriting to the next until the text is hemmed in with thoughts from everywhere and everyone and the original volume is unimaginable on its own. In the temples murals and frescoes tile the walls and tell stories, enhanced by tour guides and tourists, they morph like the monsters on the eaves, to carry meaning for anyone watching them watching.

Everywhere there is color, shining jewel toned color, separated like cloisonee. There is no melting, no mixing, everything is separated and sharp, but somehow harmonious like traffic lights: red, yellow, green, shining one at a time with a purpose. Everything has a purpose here. There are cooking classes, massage classes, meditation classes at the temple on the hill. Everyone comes here to learn and share what they have learned, which figures in to the Buddhist culture of teacher, student, teacher, student, teacher…
I’m so caught up it’s hard to leave, but I’ve met an amazing group who are headed to Pai, about 3 hours outside of Chiang Mai, so we all pile into a minivan and wind our way up into the hills. If Chiang Mai is a University town, Pai is it’s hippie commune cousin. We chill by the riverside in bungalows and eat Pad Thai, 2 dishes at a time, swim in pools framed by green hills and wind our way up into them, around them, over them, wind whipping up the clouds like whipped cream for Pai in the sky. We stand on a hilltop in the center of a ring of hills and watch the fading sun, fading ourselves, from long, lazy days. We watch fireflies in the evening around a campfire, burning spring rolls in the embers and drinking Chang, and talking about where we’ll go and what we’ll do, but not today… maybe tomorrow, or maybe the next day…
All too soon I roll down from the mountains. I have a date with Bali, but something tells me I’m spoken for. I’ve always been one for the bookish type. I’ll be back soon Chiang Mai.

xo,
P

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What I did during my 5 days in Laos…

Sa Bai Dee mes amis, 

Laos is a mush of colors. Greens, blues and browns fade into one another in the foreground, and as your eyes wander up from the river, the background blues fade away into clouds and light blue sky. It has rained on and off for the past few days. There are always clouds. They hang out around the mountains, guarding secrets for the valleys, and the river that winds through them. If you’re lucky, you can catch a bit of bright red and yellow, here and there, in the Plumeria trees, but mostly it’s foggy, hazy, cool, dripping tones that cling to the sides of the rocks, giving everything a wet shine.
We have traveled one day through Vientiane, to spend 4 days in Vang Vieng, so my taste of this country is limited to what I see out the windows of a bus, or lazing down the river. The close up scenery contrasts with the plush, far away views. The foreground is full up with partiers, traveling down river, between one bar and the next. The town sleeps until about 1 o’clock. People get up, have a lazy breakfast, while watching Friends, Family Guy or the Simpsons, and head out in bunches for the river. It starts to pop around 2 or 3, with the splashes of people jumping off ziplines and platforms. A wooden warning sign is posted by the first, and tallest zipline: “Do not do this unless you are drinking” (and who are we to correct their English in their own country) so we grab a Beer Laos. (We leave the tallest ziplines to those who are drunker, and therefore more qualified.) Even the injuries are colorful: black and blue bruises, bloody scrapes that turn a sickly green if you aren’t careful and the oh so popular pink eye. Half of the population are hobbling around on crutches like peg-leg pirates in training.
The river quiets down around 6 pm when people go home for some street food and a nap, and everything starts up again around 10 pm for the evening session at the spots in town. Day 1 is new and exciting, day 2 seems like day 3, day 3 seems like day 1, day 4 seems like your last. So we hop a mini van to a bus to a tuk tuk to another tuk tuk to local bus through the border to a pick up truck to a sleeper bus to Chiang Mai. That’s what I did in my 5 days in Laos.
Love you mom!

Safely in Northern Thailand,
Perri

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Vietnam, I’m Diggin’ On Your Energy

Riding from the Cambodian countryside into Saigon, Vietnam is like passing through the Lincoln tunnel from Jersey to NYC: loud and bustling. Motorbikes pour around one another like water over rocks. Everywhere there are odd passengers like bales of herbs, dead animals, babies hanging out under their mothers arms or on high chairs at the front of scooters, and the occasional brave, sleeper whose dead weight helps the driver corner and race, race and corner. The Catholic church on the way in advertises “Ave Maria” in blinking neon blue above the Virgin’s grotto. The whole church glows in yellow, matching the neon lights that blink from every other building like Vegas at night. Everything and everyone glows like the lights of Saigon. We get to celebrate Ho Chi Mihn’s birthday and get a taste of traditional dancing and lively night markets. Our room overlooks a park ringed with free exercise equipment, where little old men and women work on their muscles and flexibility. The parade of pajama outfits continues, and they are actually beginning to look quite stylish.

The pajama outfits are practical for the night buses. Our first night bus is from Saigon to Nha Trang. We plan on staying here for 2 or 3 days, maybe through the weekend, but somehow 6 days later, we’re still here. We’ve met up with some amazing friends: “Thank you Red Apple Backpackers Hostile bar!” :) Our days are all scuba and snorkel and our night are all buckets, fresh beer and dancing in the sand. I feel really bad waking up our security guard from his picnic table tent, but he never seems angry. Everyone is mellow and chilled out with that beach vibe that makes us feel at home no matter what the country. Wei, our new friend from Singapore, and I take an Easy Rider tour around the city and the countryside. At the end I have to be pried away, because I love the feeling of the windy, winding roads at high speeds. (Sorry mom, I’m a speed addict) ;) We board the night bus to Hoi An. Looking out at the road zig zagging up ahead, and feeling the road uncoiling underneath us, I’m sad to leave our friends, but I know that our paths will eventually double back and we’ll all see each other again.

We meet up with Wei at a rest stop on the way to Hoi An, and I already feel better. When we arrive, we’re ready to start getting fitted for shoes and tailor made clothes, because that is what you do in Hoi An. Every street is lined with tailors and cobblers. The girls and I treat ourselves to a little luxury at the Ha An hotel. It has the best breakfast spread we’ve seen yet in South East Asia. The room is all white and scattered with flowers and we have our own computer. It’s the full moon again. We send Chinese lanterns down the river in a rush of wishes for the next month with Wei and our newest friend Jason. We drink fresh beer which tastes like fresh mud, and look at the moon, and her twin, lit up by all the lanterns in the river. After a few days of tailoring and exploring the rice paddies and pottery and vegetable villages we’re missing the big city so we decide to fly up to Hanoi to spend a day or two before our Halong Bay trip.

After two months of packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking and packing again, you can image that the three of us are on pretty short fuses, so we decide to diffuse the situation by booking our trip through the Backpackers Hostile in Hanoi. Best plan of the whole trip! The Bay is a collection of jagged rocks jutting out of a blue sea covering an ancient river bed. (Thanks Nick!) We kayak, and go caving and swimming and jumping off the top of the boat, and we never, ever stop moving. We stay our first night on the boat and our second we stay in low huts on Castaway beach and drink rice wine and jump into a bay of glittering plankton from a shadowy pontoon. Our group is made up of the most colo(u)rful, adventurous, silly, fantastic travelers we have met yet on this trip, from all over the place! (Canada, England, Germany, Australia, Ireland we miss you guys!)

We can’t pull ourselves away from Hanoi and our new friends so we spend 3 days lounging in the Hostel and face painting at night: little kitty cats and superheros and hearts and kisses for all our new friends! We watch movie after movie. I’ve never been so content lying in one place. The vibe is chill and constant, and their is always someone around. When we leave the room for the last time, I want to turn around. When we get in the cab, I want to turn around. When we get to the airport, I want to turn around. When we put our bags on the belt, I want to turn around, but I know I can’t because I wouldn’t have any clothes, so I give up on turning around, and face West to Laos, where there will be more friends and more ridiculous fun, but it never be Hanoi.

The roads in Vietnam are lined with bunches of electrical cables that end in Gordian knots at every corner. They tie the neighborhoods together from Saigon, out to the country side and all the way up the coast to Hanoi. Blackouts make the country sparkle from space, one province winking at another, like its people who love a good joke. We were a little worried about going in to Vietnam as Americans, but the golden rule here, like everywhere is: “You get back what you give.” So thanks Vietnam :)

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“It’s complicated” with Cambodia

Since I tend to define everything in terms of Facebook, this is my relationship status with Cambodia. I would have classified Thailand as “In an open relationship,” since we would flirt with one island for a few days, then we would move on to the next. It’s been very difficult to choose anywhere that I like best, because I’m always rolling over and waking up to a new Revely and turning over to go to sleep with a sweet, new form of Taps. (I mean really! Would you choose a boyfriend who sounds like a bullfrog every night? Probably not.) I am sure that I’ll come home feeling committed to returning to at least one of these countries, but with Cambodia it is most definitely complicated. We’ve traveled from Phnom Penh, to Siem Reap and the temples at Angor Wat, and now back to Phnom Penh and our moment to moment encounters flip my opinion like a french crepe (they’re all over Cambodia so they’re on my mind! – YUM!)
Phnom Penh is a city you sip like a glass of bubbly champagne. You take little nips, venturing out for an hour, and then 2 hours, and then all the sudden you’re out all day shooting M-4 rifles and visiting killing fields, but somehow it’s impossible to feel sad when you’re hanging out with an impossibly happy Khmer driver, and you look back and say “How did I fall in love with this place so quickly?” You’re dizzy from turning your head to watch the motor bikes fly by carrying anything that doesn’t make them tip over: 5 people, window boxes full of bamboo, panes of glass, 3 mattresses, 6 tanks of gasoline, monks sitting side saddle, giant feather dusters, women sitting 7 feet in the air on mystery boxes, TV’s and computers in their boxes, or a random wood saw.
In Phnom Penh the boulevards are wide, and filled with tuk tuk drivers and little children whose grasp of English is a little unnerving. Every child is selling books, and when they find out where you’re from they rattle off: country capital, president, president’s wife and children, state capital and they will go on and on until you buy a book, which is all they sell here. Sometimes they’ll come up to you, and pretend they’re in a spelling bee: “book, B-O-O-K, book.” They’re really cute… until you don’t buy a book. Then they’re voices, which already sound like an auctioneer in slow motion, can become as whiny and irritating as a lawn mower or a chain saw on Sunday morning at 7 am. The whine only gets worse depending on gender and age, so we find ourselves crossing the street when we see a bevvy of old women peddlers – just to preserve our hearing.
Locals tend to hiccup in between consonants on words like “spa-ite” (sprite) or “an-mory” (armorie), so sentences and whole conversations are drawn out and often involve multi-media like pictures, hand signals and the odd blackberry. (I hadn’t seen one of those for awhile!) My favorite part of a conversation with a Khmer is saying goodbye. It involves, not only the word “good,” but is often followed by “peace,” “happiness,” “long life,” and a stream of well wishes that follow you around the corner, out of sight, to the border and I still feel some tickling my cheek if I think really hard! Khmers string out their closing salutations like a fishing line that pulls your chin back over your shoulder, once, twice, three times, and sometimes you just can’t leave. When you finally do extract yourself they always leave you with a big smile and a warm ebullient feeling.
By the end of day number 3 in Phnom Penh, despite the difficult topic we faced at the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek, and our colorful encounters with the street kids, we have a hard time leaving. We’re drunk on all their is to see here, where a person can spend the whole day on a corner just watching what drives by on a motor bike, but we know it’s time to move on to Siem Reap where the ancient temples of Angor Wat are being slowly digested by the forest.
The air in Siem Reap is a little stickier than Phnom Penh. The town is surrounded by jungle. The first day we decide on a few of the smaller temples: Preah Khan and Ta Prahm just for a warm up. We’re forewarned about their condition, but it makes it so much more beautiful. Cambodia’s belly full of foliage is slowly eating away at these two temples, but we can still climb over the rocks and through the archways like Laura Croft. We stick our heads into giant tree trunks and rid ourselves of bad karma in the echo chambers that surround the crux of Preah Khan. It’s a giant playground of stone, spung trees and strangler vines. We have a guide who explains the history behind Preah Khan (sacred sword) which has been all of the following: a fusion Hindu/Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, Buddhist University, an “an-mory” (armory) and now it’s a jungle gym and a source of national pride.

There are really no words for Angor Wat – except for awesomely beautiful, but my favorite temple by far is Bayon. Bayon has many stone faces (and when I say faces, I mean visages 6-8 feet tall,) all facing different directions and looking at things from different perspectives, like an artist examining his subject, frozen from moment to moment – a sort of reverse cubism. Every time you turn around the light hits it differently and the faces change. Bayon reminds me of the people here in Cambodia, because they have lived through so much just a short time ago, but they seem to view every moment like a sweet life of it’s own and so they smile and laugh, and if they frown it’s only for a second. Walking around Bayon, every stone face has a new emotion every second, depending on the light and the viewer and… well… it’s complicated. It’s complicated, but beautiful and I’ll be coming back here again to get to know it better.

Love from the East, West, North, South, Down and Up,
Perri

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Sizzle and Spice

Sawadika!

The Thai islands are a frying pan. People are dripped on rocks, across swings and hammocks, over one another, like pancake batter. Everyone is sticky with heat and bubbling with persperation. Cicadas sizzle in the trees. Some Farang (foreigners) are a little more well done than others. The locals laugh at how we grill ourselves in the sun: “20 minutes, flip, baste, 20 minutes, flip, baste, dip.” The three of us have been stickng to the shade. The whole place spits and sizzles and shifts in the heat. The shallow water is a silvery mirror of the sky so that you can tumble over and over from the sand into the water, and let vertigo take you flying into the sky or under the water like a crane, hungry for fish, thirsty for air, hungry for fish and so on.
That seems to be the backpacker life: food, beach, food, drink, sleep, rinse and repeat. We’ve been sucked in to the rinse cycle of these islands, first on the West coast in Ko Phi Phi, and now the East Coast on Ko Tao. Kim spent 4 days getting our open water scuba certification. I was not planning on this originally. I didn’t really think I had any business 46 feet under water as an Earth sign (Taurus – shameless plug: it’s my birthday in 2 days!), but after rock climbing up a few sheet rock walls in Railay, and doing the limbo under a flaming bar, I figured what the hell. As if that wasn’t enough, Lisa found trapeze classes on this island so I’ve found myself swinging around like a monkey, and of course enjoying some sweet, sweet Thai massage relief.
We’ve met so many amazing people so far, and we’re so in the groove now, we’re finding it impossible to leave the islands. Sadly our visas up in a week so we’re going to have to at least do a border run.

Thaid down and loving it.

Love, love and more love,
Perri

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Love from Thailand

Hello all,

I wanted to write a blog, but my technical libido is too small for me to sit around and figure out how to use the thing, nor do my fellow travellers get off on that sort of thing. Anyhoo, I’ve decided to be old fashion, and write a facebook note. I know… how 2004, but as far as I’m concerned, the only technology that needs to work for me are the planes, trains, automobiles, and motorbikes. (Yes mom, I did get on the back of one, and yes I did wear a helmet.)

We arrived in Bangkok 2 weeks ago. Some people have tried to convince us that Red (Dang in Thai) is the people’s color. Others would have us believe that yellow is the way to go, all imperial and holier than thou, but the city says otherwise. Bangkok is dressed in pink, like skin. It’s hot breath rolls out of every gutter, and steams our faces. Hands reach through the steam, independent of their owners, offering Som Tom and Pad Thai. It has a quick pulse that rocks us down the street, en masse. The whole place moves and rolls. Rivers of people jostle each other down the street, while traffic stands in gridlock. Motorbikes and pedestrians weave through traffic, the only prayer of getting anywhere. If you take a boat down the river, you can see buildings in various states of collapse, ready to drip into the water, board by board. Large sparkly towers grow organically out of the rubble of their decaying neighbors. And through every color there is pink. Pink cabs, pink shirts, pink lights, pink, pink, pink. (Manoush it’s your kind of place!)

Golden, Red and Green temple roofs pierce the skyline. They hum like hives. We wake up to monks chanting and firecrackers popping in China town at 7 am on the dot. Ni, our hostess, tells us they are good luck. I’m not so sure setting off firecrackers at 7 am in the middle of a city is such good luck, but then again I only know how to count to 20 in Thai, so intellectually I’m like a 2 year old. My favorite number is Gow (9) because to get it right you have to sing it into the air with a smile on your face.

Our cab driver on our way to Cabbages and Condoms – the Thai version of Hard Rock cafe – taught us such intuitive words as Moo (pig) and Yip (smile). Unfortuantely he did not teach us how to ask in Thai if we could sit next to the condom statues so we were stuck upstairs next to the Vasectomy bar. Population: us, some 60 year old tourists and several lovely, young local women with their… sponsors? :) All was not lost – the food was delicious, and I got my picture taken next to the life size tiger woods statue made entirely out of condoms. In all seriousness 100% of the profits go to aids prevention and awareness, so we might have to swing by the one in Chang Mai.

We spent last weekend at Kantanaburi (Kaaahn-Taaaaahhh-Naaaahhh-Buli) Making fun of the Farang (Foreigners) accents seems to be a favorite Thai past time, so we always try to get it right.. It’s all in good fun, and Thai people have such lovely, wide smiles. We went and played with Tigers at a Tiger temple. It’s like a nature preserve, but where you get to go and pet them. In the short time we were there I got to spend time with one or two, and watch 2 adorable baby’s in puppy love. There were water buffallo and peacocks, and wild boar running around.

The town itself is very small, but of course it had a few bars where Kim and I had a colorful encounter with some British ex Pats. One women who looked like carrot top decided to commendere our glasses for her vodka. We politely declined her vodka offer, which got her all riled up, but in the end we were all “with mates” to use her phrasing, and so we toasted just before Sugar, the bar owner, showed them the door.

We went up to Erawan falls on Sunday, where the fish have a taste for blood. We had a full spa day in Bangkok including “fish massage,” but these little nibblers were a tiny bit bigger than our previous fishy friends. The locals fed them with cheetos and chips to keep them from their fingers and toes, but we were fish food, so we hiked up to the higher levels where there was more falls and less fish.

There is so much more to say, but at 1 Baht per minute this note is more expensive then fedex so I’ll leave you all for now! We’re in Ko Phi Phi for the next few days. I miss you and hope you are well.

Love, Perri

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