Hey everyone, I'm Jessica, ESL teacher and traveler. Welcome to my site! I recently finished teaching English in Thailand and will be moving to Spain in the following year to continue my work and travel. To read more about me, click here
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Category Archives: Travel
Thailand you were great.
You were actually more than great.
But now it’s on to new territory.
“Wow, I cannot believe that I leave for Spain tomorrow! To say that I’m excited would be an understatement. Words cannot describe how stoked I am for this amazing adventure that awaits me. I cannot wait to get there!”
This quote is from an old blog I had when I did my study abroad in España in 2010. I found myself looking back on my old blog post appropriately titled “Anticipation” as I am here writing another “Spain Anticipation” post.
España clearly stole my heart since I’ve decided to make this great country my place of residence once again. My boyfriend and I are currently in the process of getting to Spain (flying standby) which I find funny and somewhat ironic as this is a very similar experience with my last time I was headed to Spain in 2010.
My 2010 experience trying to get to Spain went something like this…
- 5 days
- 5 different airports
- 3 challenging overnight stays in random cities
- 1 VERY lost suitcase
- 1 broken down bus
- 2 mental breakdowns (at least)
Although getting to Spain this time around hasn’t been quite as hellish we are still having some standby woes. We were originally supposed to leave for Spain 4 days ago but unfortunately flights have been terrible. Now (fingers crossed) we are scheduled to leave tomorrow. Which finds me saying old quotes like “Wow, I can’t believe I leave for Spain tomorrow!”
Guess I’ve truly come full circle.
Things I’m anticipating and excited for this time around…
- Working on my Spanish fluency (a life-long goal I’ve yet to achieve)
- My second time teaching English abroad
- Being back in a country that hosts one of my favorite cultures (siestas, tapas y vino..oh my)
- Living near the ocean again
- Did I already mention siestas?
- Getting to explore the Southern part of Spain
- Returning to Europe for the first time in almost 6 years
This list could definitely keep going but I’ll keep it to the basics to avoid boring you too much. I’ve officially been packed and ready to go for 4 days now, so all that’s left to do is get on the plane. EEEK.
Sorry I had to have a mini freak out moment.
Oh yeah and incase you are wondering where will we be living, here is a little preview.
See you soon España…
Also, please comment below if you’ve ever visited Spain. I would love to hear some suggestions of things I must see!
Now onto the second half of our adventure visiting Yellowstone National Park. If you missed our first half, check it out here: Grand Teton National Park.
Leaving Grand Teton and entering Yellowstone you immediately see immensely different terrain. All of the sudden you see steam popping up from multiple areas all around you. You start realizing you are essentially standing on a giant volcano. One that is overdue for an eruption. It is somewhat eery if you think about it too much. Eery yet wildly fascinating — that’s Yellowstone.
Apart from the amazing hydrothermal features, Yellowstone is well known for its vast wildlife and boy did we see some great wildlife. We saw grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, antelope, deer, a pine marten, pikas, a bald eagle, a great grey owl, ospreys, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons….just to name a few.
My 5 “must sees” from Yellowstone…
This made my favorites because it is the only hot spring in Yellowstone that you can swim in. It is literally a boiling river and it is rad. It is located at the North end of the park in the Mammoth area.
Lower Falls Trail and Uncle Tom’s Trail
These are two different hikes that both give you views of the Lower Falls and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We decided to do them both so we could see the falls from different angles (that’s really the only difference.) Both are fairly easy hikes with spectacular views and well worth it in my book.
Norris Geysers & West Thumb Geysers
These were my two favorite hot springs we visited. There are so many different ones to see and choose from, but these two definitely trumped for my two favorites.
Norris was one of the first ones we went to (which is maybe why I liked it so much) but beyond that I feel that this geyser basin had a good variety to offer. From fumaroles, erupting geysers, mud pots and the colored pots, Norris seemed to have it all. Also because all the pools at Norris are acidic it is a great place to go see pots with differentiating colors. If you go, be sure to do both Back Basin Loop and Porcelain Basin Loop as I think they are both well worth seeing.
West Thumb is definitely a geyser basin not to be missed. It is very unique from all of the other hot springs because it overlooks Yellowstone Lake. Even if there weren’t any geothermal pools here it would still be a beautiful stroll. Not to mention it houses some seriously cool hot springs. One of my favorites was the Fishing Cone Geyser. This badass geyser looks like a mini volcano in the lake. It is said that mountain men used to fish standing on the side of the cone, then dip the fish straight from the hook into the boiling geyser pot to cook. Pretty rad right?
Have you ever visited Yellowstone National Park? What are some of your favorites?
I always love time spent exploring my own country. This past week I visited Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
I’m sure you’ve heard of these two places, unless you’ve been living under a rock. They are very well known and for very good reason. Between their awe-striking beauty, the abundant wildlife and the unique terrain, it’s no wonder why these National Parks are a bucket list item for most people.
We started our trip with Grand Teton National Park. I was with my boyfriend and two of my best friends that I taught in Thailand with. We had 10 glorious days making new memories and reminiscing on the old. We saw tons of wildlife, shared stories around campfires, and played an intense amount of hearts (I won mostly, obviously). Don’t ask my friends to verify the parenthesized item.
However we did have one disappointment. Since almost half of the Western United States is on fire at the moment, we dealt with some severe smokey air quality which hindered a lot of the breathtaking Teton views. But with all the amazing hikes, wildlife and great times spent with friends, it was our only gripe of the trip.
Some highlights from Grand Teton National Park
This was definitely my highlight of the trip and my favorite hike. Delta Lake is a real gem. It wasn’t a hike that was written in any of our guide books but rather a hike that a local friend had told us about. This is a hike that the National Park service does not maintain so there is no signage along the trail. Since there is no signage, it takes a bit of navigating to find, but totally worth it. You will have to navigate a couple obstacles (duck under trees, etc.) but nothing too outrageous. The hike was 8 miles out and back and I would rate it as moderate to strenuous (depending on your hiking abilities).
One highlight of this hike was seeing a grizzly bear. Yes, you heard me right, a grizzly bear ON OUR HIKE. We were only about 15 minutes into our hike when another hiker informed us of a grizzly bear up ahead. So we got out our bearspray and nervously/excitedly/hesitantly trekked on.
The thought of seeing a wild grizzly is one of those terrifying kinds of thrills. As long as you don’t startle the bear, find a hungry bear or run across a mama bear, you should be able to catch a glance of this beautiful creature unscathed. Sort of like bungee jumping or skydiving. It’s scary, nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time. It is something that has the potential to kill you in an instant, but you can’t help but want to experience it.
Our first indication of the bear was a couple of stopped hikers ahead and some tree branches moving. We noticed the movement going down the hill and away from the trail. At that point we found a high enough rock to climb and catch a glimpse of the bear walking away from us. It turned out to be a smaller sized bear, we think it must have been a juvenile since there was no mama around. Small or big it was still a really neat experience!
- How to get to the Delta Lake Trailhead: The trailhead begins at Lupine Meadows. From there you follow the signage for Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes. After about roughly 3 miles you will reach a series of switchbacks. Delta Lake is not signed but after a few switchbacks you will see a trail to your right. It isn’t too hard to miss if you are looking for it, but if you aren’t looking for it you could easily walk right by it. Be sure to keep an eye out for the trail.
Leigh Lake Trail to Bearpaw Lake
Leigh Lake was the hike we did on day 2. It was much less strenuous than Delta Lake, but still about an 8 mile hike. This is a very easy hike that is flat almost the entire way. The trail begins at the bottom of String Lake (which is the lake that connects Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake). From there you follow the lake the entire route until the lake ends, once the lake ends you can keep going to reach the smaller Bearpaw Lake. In my opinion, Bearpaw Lake was underwhelming compared to Leigh Lake and not really worth the extra hike time.
My suggestion would be to stroll along the lake until you find yourself a good beach spot. Then take your time and enjoy! Simply relax, swim and have a picnic by the lake. This isn’t a hike where you will have a lot of strenuous activity no matter how far you hike. Which is why I’d suggest just doing it on a down day when you are feeling less energetic.
Where We Camped
- Gros Ventre
- Gros Ventre is a huge campsite with over 300 spots. We ended up staying here simply because we arrived to the Tetons later in the afternoon and most of the campsites were full at this point. Gros Ventre is right after the south entrance outside of Jackson Hole and almost rarely fills all the way. This is a good option if you are arriving later in the afternoon when campsites are harder to come by.
- Signal Mountain
- This is where we stayed the remainder of our trip in the Tetons because we enjoyed it so much. It is a small, beautiful campsite right on Jackson Lake (the largest lake in the park). We would walk over to the lake after a day of hiking and watch the sunset over the breathtaking ridge line of the Tetons.
Have you ever visited Grand Teton National Park? What was your favorite part?
When I first heard about the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, I was very hesitant to go. Tranquilized, abused tigers? No thanks.
However, I am so glad that I took those opinions with a grain of salt and still decided to go. Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai was one of the coolest experiences in my life. If you are questioning whether to go or not, i’d say go. I did not feel that these tigers were tranquilized or mistreated. Many of the tigers were up playing and roaming and all of the keepers seemed to care for the animals.
For those of you who don’t know what Tiger Kingdom is here is a little preview:
Want to go inside an encounter with 10-12 fully grown tigers and pet them, chill with them and just hang out with them? That’s what you get at Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai. Terrifying, I know, but when you get to see these magnificent animals up close it will all be worth it.
When I first arrived, I was rather hesitant. I saw many of the tigers sleeping and I was worried that they were drugged and that I wasn’t going to like what I saw. However, when we went in the cage I got an entirely different vibe. We decided to start with the medium sized tigers (2-3 months old) first rather than jumping right into the big guys. This little guy here was REALLY playful. It was a little bit unnerving. The caretaker that took us into the encounter told us that it may be difficult to get a picture with this little guy because he was in a playful mood. The keeper said that he cannot control him when he is this playful. Hence, this is the best picture we got.
The ones that were asleep were a little easier to get your picture taken with.
Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai was a wonderful, unique experience for me. I can only vouch for Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, I cannot vouch for any other place. I know there are not so great tiger “sanctuaries” out there.
Either way I know many have a hard time with animals being kept in captivity just so tourists can get a photo with them. I completely get that.
Alli from The Vintage Postcard hit the nail on the head with this quote from her post ROAR! Why I Give Tiger Kingdom a Thumbs Up:
“Is being swarmed by hundreds of humans the ideal life for a tiger? No, it isn’t. Tigers are still able to live in captivity for protection without being a tourist attraction. But without the added layer of the tourists, there would be nothing funding the food, shelter, medications, and vigorous upkeep for these animals.”
“At the end of the day Tiger Kingdom is a tourist destination, but if they are genuinely breeding and protecting these magnificent creatures, then I am okay with supporting that.”
Have you ever been to Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai? What were your thoughts on the experience?
This weekend I discovered a new gem in Utah. Seriously, this state never ceases to amaze me with its beauty. I mean look at this place? Pretty stunning right? This beautiful lake is called Grassy Lake, located near Joe’s Valley Reservoir, UT. This was my first time seeing Joe’s Valley and man is it awesome.
We camped at Grassy Lake for the weekend celebrating our friends birthday, probably having a little too much fun. The weekend was filled with a lot of great company, food, booze, stand up paddle boarding, cornhole, campfires, and bocce ball. I already want to be back.
Not going to lie, I’m pretty stoked about my SUP headstand (see me in the front?)
I can’t wait to go back to Joe’s Valley again. Also, I have to thank my boyfriend and his new drone for these awesome photos! Aren’t they great?
Where are some of your favorite places to camp? I am always on the hunt for great new camp spots!
Luang Prabang was our first stop when visiting Laos. Luang Prabang is a charming little town in Northern Laos running alongside the Mekong river. This little town’s charm is active daily from the picturesque morning march of the Buddhist Monks (over 100 monks all in bright orange robes) to the vibrant nightly street market.
However, DON’T GO TO LAOS IN APRIL. We made this foolish mistake. Unfortunately, April is the season when all the Lao People burn their crops to get them ready for the new season. Meaning the sky is filled with smog and smoke. You could be standing on a gorgeous cliffside and see about 3 feet in front of you, not pretty. Not to mention the random fires that you see all over the place burning the beautiful landscape. At one point we were driving along a winding road and directly to the left of us, the mountain was on fire. Not kidding. There were orange thrashing, violent flames inches from our van. You could feel the heat of the fire through the van—it was a tad bit unnerving to say the least.
Anyway, moral of the story…
DO go to Laos—DON’T go in April.
Feel like visiting now? You should. These would be the stunning Kuang Si Falls just outside of Luang Prabang. These beauties are a definite must see if visiting Laos.
These are some of the most interesting, beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. We visited Kuang Si Falls our first day in Luang Prabang. Of course we opted for renting motorbikes and driving to the the falls ourselves (much better than taking a tour in my opinion.) This way you can spend as much time or as little time as you’d like at the falls.
Have you ever visited Luang Prabang? What was your favorite part?
After I made the decision to teach abroad, there was so much to decide and so much to do. I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Lucky for you I’ve made this ultimate teaching abroad checklist. Which includes everything, from where to start to all the things you need to think of/do before making the transition abroad. It includes my personal tips and advice (all of which are things I did myself that helped me transition smoothly.)
Still apprehensive about moving abroad? Check out my post “Nervous About Moving Abroad.”
1. Choose the country you would like to teach in
You may have already done this, however if you haven’t, take the time to think of your priorities. Is money the top priority? Living by a beach? Living in a city or remote location? Learning a certain language? These sort of questions will help you narrow your options. Obviously this is completely a personal decision but here are a few of my recommendations:
- Go somewhere in Asia. The demand for English teachers is very high and it is easier than other places to land a job. Plus cost of living/traveling is very inexpensive. Win, win.
- If money is a top priority, a great option is South Korea. It is one of the best paying countries in Asia.
- If living by a beach or lifestyle is more important, I’d recommend Thailand. Obviously I’m biased since I taught in Thailand, but I loved it. I loved being able to go watch the sunset on the beach after work. In my opinion, it made up for the lack of money.
2. Choose the TEFL course you’d like to take
Even if you are going to a country that doesn’t require you have a TEFL certificate, I highly suggest getting one anyway. I was brand new to teaching and didn’t have the slightest clue about how to prepare or teach a lesson. My TEFL course was so incredibly helpful. I would have hated to stand in front of a classroom with no prior training.
3. Buy a one way ticket
This is such an exciting step! You can officially say “I booked my one way ticket!”
The sites I use most when searching for airfare are Kayak and Momondo. Be sure to play with different dates if your dates are flexible. Flying out just one day later/earlier can make a big difference in price. Kayak has a +-/2days which searches fares for 2 days prior and 2 days after the date you select. Momondo has a lot of cheaper airlines that sometimes aren’t included in searches on bigger sites. It’s a great resource to find inexpensive flights.
4. Apply for your visa (if the country you go to requires it)
Be sure to check the visa requirements for the country you are visiting. You can go to the U.S. Embassy website and from there you can click on the region of the world you are going to and read the visa requirements/find out how to apply for the appropriate visa. I recommend going over on a tourist visa, as many jobs that you get will give you a working visa once you start, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that now.
**Note: Some immigrations offices may tell you in order to get the visa you require a return ticket home (which is conflicting with your one way ticket.) I had friends that booked a return flight home just to get the visa—don’t do this. Ok, maybe that is a bold claim, however I was able to get my visa with only a one way ticket so why shouldn’t you be able to as well? Honestly, as bad as this sounds, I think it just depends on who works your case. Try calling again and getting a different person before you jump on buying a return ticket that you may not end up using. Worth a try right?
5. Get your immunizations
It is important to do this 2-3 months prior to travel. I made the mistake of doing this right before I left and some shots had to be pre-ordered, as my health department didn’t have them on hand, so I had to go without them. Obviously I’m still alive, but hey, still probably not the smartest to skip out on certain immunizations.
To find what immunizations you need, check out the Center for Disease Control website here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
6. If you have a car back home, figure out whether to sell it or keep it
I decided to keep my car since I had a place to keep it back home. However, if you sell your car it would give you extra cash for traveling. Either way would be fine, this is really more of a personal decision.
7. Figure out what to do with your current cell phone and decide what you will use to call while abroad
I put a hold on my cell phone for the time I would be gone. This allowed me to keep my same phone number when I returned home, but I didn’t have to pay a monthly cell phone bill while away. I highly recommend doing this. I have AT&T which allowed me to do this, but I can’t speak for other providers.
For calling while abroad, I purchased the cheapest brick phone I could find in Thailand for my “Thai phone” (my phone in which employers and friends living in Thailand could reach me at.) Then I just used the wifi from my Iphone to FaceTime and Imessage friends and family back home.
8. Cancel any monthly subscriptions or any automatic withdrawals out of your bank account
You don’t want to keep paying for your automatic withdrawals (i.e. gym memberships, Netflix, etc.) while abroad do you? Be sure to cancel any expenses like this that you pay for monthly. Also many services you use in the U.S like Netflix, Pandora, HBO go, etc. do not work outside of the U.S so probably best to cancel those too.
9. Notify your bank of where and how long you will be traveling so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see out of country transactions
*Also note: some ATMs abroad won’t give you the option of which account to withdraw from (i.e. checking, savings) Be sure to have funds in all of your accounts, so you don’t run into problems when withdrawing money.
10. Make 2 copies of any credit cards you will be taking with you (front and back) and leave one back home with someone trustworthy and take one with you
If your cards or lost or stolen, this saves you a lot of hassle.
11. Make 2 copies of your passport (one for back home and one to take with you)
You could also scan your passport and e-mail it to yourself in case your luggage gets stolen and you can’t reach anyone back home.
12. Get a criminal background check (important if you plan on teaching)
I didn’t do this before moving abroad, and it caused me a bit of grief when I was trying to find a job. Save yourself the hassle and get one done before you go. Many jobs require that you have it and trying to get one while abroad may pose more challenging than you think.
13. If you have a Bachelor’s Degree, take the original copy of your diploma with you (important if you plan on teaching)
You can always order another diploma online from your University if it gets damaged. It is important to have the real thing and not just a copy. Again, you will need this when applying for jobs.
14. Get copies of your University transcripts (important if you plan on teaching)
Some employers may ask for these when hiring you. It is better to be fully prepared and have them with you. They may hire one candidate over the other simply because they have transcripts, criminal background and their diploma all in order.
15. Check your passport expiration date
Assuming you already have your passport, be sure to check the expiration date as some countries require your passport to be valid at least 6 months beyond the departure date of your trip. Also, if you are buying a one way ticket you will want to be sure that your passport will last you the entire duration of your time abroad.
16. Get extra passport photos taken
You can get passport photos taken almost anywhere (Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.) It is important to do this as you will need passport photos for lots of things on your travels. (i.e. applying for your visa, renewing visas, job applications, loss of passport, etc.) Save yourself the hassle of doing this abroad and get it done beforehand.
17. Think ahead: Tax season
Who will file your taxes since you won’t be around to do so? Make sure your W2s and other tax forms go to the right people and set this up before leaving abroad.
18. Purchase travelers insurance
Be sure to check your current health insurance as many insurances won’t cover you while you are abroad. You never know what could happen while abroad and it’s important to be covered. I used World Nomads travelers insurance when I went abroad. Their site is very user friendly and they seem to have good coverage. I (knock on wood) never had an accident while living abroad and didn’t need to make any claims, so I can’t vouch for that aspect of the insurance company.
19. Insure any expensive items you will be traveling with (laptop, camera, etc.)
Some travelers insurance will cover both medical and expensive gear, some won’t. If you aren’t traveling with lots of expensive electronics then this probably won’t be necessary. However, if you are, it’s better to be on the safe side. I insured my laptop as it was the most expensive electronic I took with me. I just went to my local State Farm and got a personal article policy for my laptop. It cost me $40.00 for the year and it covered the cost of my laptop being stolen or damaged, definitely worth it in my book.
20. Fill your prescriptions
You never know what prescriptions the country you are going to will have. Do some research. I planned ahead and filled all my prescriptions for a year and took them with me.
I also had my doctor prescribe me a couple Zpacks. It’s good to take with you when traveling abroad, you never know what you will eat that will make you sick.
21. Enroll in the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (U.S citizens only)
This is a small, easy step and it is completely free. Basically enrolling in STEP allows the embassy to send you important information about safety conditions in your destination country. When I was living in Thailand it was during the Thai Coup and I would receive e-mail updates from STEP keeping me updated with where protests were happening and updated news about the coup.
To enroll in STEP, visit their website here: https://step.state.gov/step/
21. Get all your check-ups and exams in order
Before I left I made sure to go to the dentist, get my yearly pap smear, eye exam etc. I know friends who went to the dentist and things like this while abroad, however, I preferred to get everything done beforehand (I like to be prepared, if you haven’t gathered from my list.)
Make any appointments you would like to and be sure to clear all the bills before you leave.
22. Get a power of attorney
Basically this is a legal documentation that allows someone to act on your behalf (so make sure it is someone you would trust with your life.) I chose my mom to be my power of attorney which allowed her access to do anything for me that needed to be done back home (i.e. transfer funds in my bank accounts, write checks, sign documents for me etc.)
23. Decide what type of luggage to take (backpack vs. rolling luggage)
Ah the great backpack vs. luggage debate. I waffled back and forth on which to take for a while. Ultimately, I decided on taking a large rolling suitcase with me instead of a backpack. My reasoning for this was that I was going to be moving abroad not just traveling. I was going to be living in one place. Having a larger suitcase allowed me to bring more and I didn’t have to haul it around everywhere, it just got stored in my apartment.
However, later on I ended up purchasing a travel backpack as well. Because after I was done teaching I backpacked through Southeast Asia (which I would never recommend doing with a large rolling bag. No, just no.) It’s also a good idea to bring a small backpack for weekend trips and things.
24. Decide what to pack
Deciding what to pack can be overwhelming. Obviously what to pack depends on where in the world you will be going, how long you intend to be there for and of course your own personal style.
*One important thing to remember is that you will be teaching. Be sure to bring modest, professional clothes to teach in.
Still feeling overwhelmed with what to pack? I’m currently writing my favorite tactic to use while packing for a big move (IT IS AMAZING.) Be sure to come back and check it out!
25. Check your mindset and attitude
This is my last teaching abroad checklist item, yet one of the most important and essential ones. You can be the most prepared traveler in the world, but if you aren’t mentally prepared none of these previous preparations will matter. Making a big transition abroad you will run into problems/issues. I’m not saying this to scare you but rather to prepare you mentally. It’s okay to run into setbacks and issues—it’s part of traveling, it’s part of the process. It’s how you handle them that matters. Remember to always keep a positive outlook and mindset.
Like this teaching abroad checklist? Subscribe to my e-mail list below and receive a free printable PDF of the checklist and get more helpful tips/advice on teaching abroad.
It’s time for our final day in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, day 3 exploring Tu Lan Cave. As I mentioned this cave was my favorite day of exploring.
Tu Lan cave was discovered just a few of years ago by tourists visiting the National Park, awesome right? Can you imagine stumbling upon this?
We started our trek early in the morning. It is about an hour hike to get to Tu Lan Cave. When you first start the hike, you notice water buffalo basking themselves in mud to stay cool. This is a pretty good indicator that we are going to be hot on this hike.
We were also advised to wear long pants and long sleeves, even though we would be swimming for about 2 hours through the cave. My guess is that this is to protect you from the leeches in the cave’s lakes (I tried to push this from my mind when I was swimming.) Anyways, my point being, this was going to be a really hot hike.
Then at last, we see the mouth of Tu Lan.
We had reached the entrance and now it was time to descend down into the 1st cave. Tu Lan has multiple caves throughout its system. We did the one day exploration and explored 2 caves (Porcupine Cave and Kim Cave.)
In order to enter the 1st cave, you have to tie in and descend down a long ladder. When you get to the bottom, you look up and see the only remaining light high above you at the entrance.
Once everyone was down, we turned on our headlamps and ventured deeper into the dark cave, checking out the awesome formations. We were lucky to see some rare cave formations, like cave pearls (made when water drips into a cave pool and the calcite forms around a grain of sand or dirt) and soda straws (basically hollow stalactites, that look like straws.) Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the soda straws, but here are the awesome cave pearls.
Along with these unique formations we saw the more common, stalactites, stalagmites and columns. There was one section in the cave that had a bunch of columns (where stalactites and stalagmites meet together.) It felt like you were in a maze of columns, it was so neat and so much fun to explore.
Next up we had a bit of swimming to do to reach the exit of the 1st cave. We swam through the water and came to a small waterfall that emerged out of the cave and into a gorgeous area where we’d be having lunch.
After lunch, we headed for the 2nd cave. This is the cave where we did the majority of our swimming. Swimming through a cave with only your headlamp to guide you is an experience I will never forget.
At one point we all turned off our headlamps and we were in swimming in complete darkness. It was similar to the feeling I had at Dark Cave except this time we were submerged in water. Your eyes never seemed to adjust to the blackness. You relied on your other senses to guide you. All you could hear were the bats screeching in the cave and a waterfall in the distance. As the waterfall sound drew closer, I opted to turn my light back on. You know, simply because I didn’t want to plummet down a waterfall deep in a caving system…minor thing.
We made the long trek back through both caves and finally surfaced from the inside of the cave. After a full day of descending, swimming, trekking and exploring this amazing caving system, this is what we came out to…
It was one of the neatest experiences in my life and I will never forget it.
Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin
Where has 2014 gone? 2014 was one of the craziest years of my life. It was a whirlwind year with a lot of new adventures and a lot of firsts, including:
-7 new countries traveled
-Amazing new friends a.k.a. life-long partners in travel crime
-My first time ever traveling completely all alone
-Being robbed (which happened to be in the safe US of A, not a dangerous foreign country)
-My first time trying scuba diving
-Crashed my motorbike while driving in Thailand
-My first year never experiencing the 4 seasons
-Had my first ever real panic attack after teaching 50 screaming 8 year old children
-The first time I’ve ever missed a flight due to fault of my own (damn you Singapore airport movie theater for being so dark, comfy and cozy)
-My first time living alone without any roommates
-My first experience living on an island and being surrounded by tropical beaches
And this list is just naming a few, the list could go on and on. 2014 taught me more than any other year of my entire life and I’m so grateful to have had this neurotically fun, adventurous year.
Last year I was lucky enough to get to spend New Years Eve in one very cool city, Bangkok. Talk about bucket list check.
I spent the holiday with my sister, my boyfriend and one of my best friends that I had met in Thailand. Since it was the holiday we had some time off of teaching and decided to go up to Bangkok for a few days and spend New Years there. We took the night bus from Phuket to Bangkok (my favorite thing in the world….not.) This was my second time taking the glorious 12 hour night bus to Bangkok and lets just say it isn’t the most pleasant. However it is much cheaper than flying.
We stayed on Khao San Road in Bangkok, which I would typically never recommend to anyone. It is a pretty seedy place but the hotel we stayed at had a rooftop bar and pool which was incredibly fun on New Years Eve. It is also prime location, located just across from the Grand Palace, which made it a spectacular view of fireworks and lanterns being sent off at midnight.
Ok, ok bad joke. But hey, I think the dirty monkey mascots give you an idea of what I was talking about when I say “seedy Khao San Road.” Anyways we wandered the streets taking in Khao San in all of its seediness glory. We got some yummy street food because what is Bangkok without their delicious street food? This is completely serious, don’t be afraid to try street food. It will be some of the best Thai food you eat!
And of course we tried scorpions, because, well, 2014 baby. Ringing it in with a bang.
It was rather crunchy and had a bbq type flavor. Probably not my new favorite food, but hey, at least I tried it.
We proceeded the night with our “monkeying around” and had a blast, dancing the night away.
When it drew closer to the New Year we went and bought some fireworks and headed up to our hotel rooftop. Since we were only going to see the Grand Palace fireworks and loads of other firework shows all around the city, we thought we needed these too. Ringing it in with a bang right?
It was a spectacular night with a grand countdown, loads of fireworks, crazy shenanigans and paper lanterns filling the night’s sky.
You’ve been good to me 2014.
Bring on 2015…
Now it’s time to get dirty. Dirtier than darkness in the darkest cave of them all—the Dark Cave.
The Dark Cave is polar opposite from the cave we explored on day 1, Paradise Cave. As the name suggests Paradise Cave is well, a paradise, with its lit walkways and stunning golden stalagmites. Dark Cave is also as the name suggests, dark and dirty.
For the Dark Cave we decided to hire a local guide to take us through the cave as we needed headlamps, helmets and, oh yeah, someone to tell us which direction was up.
In order to reach the Dark Cave you have to go by water. We took kayaks through the pristine blue water. A short paddle later and you see it, the mouth of Dark Cave. As you enter the cave you get this eery, excited feeling of what is to come. When you look behind you, you see the opening of the cave which also happens to be the only remaining light source (minus your headlamps.)
You take in the last remaining bits of sunlight, turn on your headlamps and head for the darkness. As the sunlight becomes more distant you start to feel thick, squishy mud between your toes (we were advised to go barefoot and in bathing suits.) The cave is completely dark now, minus the lights on your headlamps, and the mud is about ankle deep. The mud feels foreign and cold on your feet. I tried my hardest to push aside the thought of what creatures live in the mud or anywhere in the cave for that matter. The cave has now narrowed and you can stretch your arms far enough to touch both sides of the cave wall. Every time I grab for the wall, I pray that I don’t find one of those horrifically large cave spiders. I take another step and fall knee deep into the slimy mud.
“Watch your head,” I hear the tour guide say.
I look up, shining my light in that direction and see stalactites hanging from the cave’s ceiling. As I’m ducking through the stalactites, trudging through mud and gripping the cave walls, I start to feel the adventure kick in. The cool, slimy mud starts to feel more familiar and I actually start enjoying the feeling on my legs and feet. We all start to become more comfortable and begin playing in the mud, enjoying the touch and feel. A few “mudballs” were thrown and everyone was enjoying themselves.
“Now, turn off your headlamps and remain completely still and quiet” the tour guide says to my friends and I.
We all turn off our headlamps and stand in complete darkness. It’s a very strange feeling. Typically when you turn off the lights your eyes slowly start to adjust to the darker room, but in the cave it is complete blackness. You keep waiting for your eyes to adjust, but they never do. You start to feel somewhat disoriented with your sight completely taken from you. You rely on the feeling of the mud beneath your toes, the texture of the cool cave walls against your hands and the sound of slow water drips from the cave’s ceiling.
Then suddenly there is a loud “smack” breaking the silence. I feel cool mud dripping from my stomach. Yes, I have been hit with a “mudball.” I reach down and grab a glob of mud throwing it into the air in retaliation. I hear more mud balls flying through the air and see headlamps turning back on. Next thing I know, we are all in a full blown mud war.
We were having so much fun! We were all throwing mud, rolling in it, laughing and having a blast! By the end of it we were all covered head to toe. As we were hiking back out of the cave we looked like complete mud monsters. It looked like something you’d see out of a horror film. I would look in front of me and see one of my friends in the distance through the slight shine of my headlamp. They were completely brown from the mud and had big chunks and globs falling from their body. We looked like some sort of mud creatures born in the cave.
In the Dark Cave you have to exit the same way that you entered. As we were on our way back we stopped off at the lake inside of the cave. We all jumped in and rinsed some of the mud from our bodies. My talented friend Kipp Martin was able to capture some good shots of us here. It was still dark as we were inside the cave but with our headlamps, and the right exposure he was able to capture these cool shots.
As you come back out of the cave you’re greeted with the shining sun, deep green lush hills and that pristine blue water. Talk about paradise. We all jumped in the water, rinsing the remaining mud from our bodies. We kayaked back, cracked some beers and spent some more time swimming and playing.
Another great day of exploring Phong Nha-Ke Bang in Vietnam. Man I love this place…
Images by: Jessica Chindgren, Ben Perkins, Kipp Martin