Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Once we took off to Kuta, we started to see a new face to Bali. Kuta has a rawness that we didn't see in Ubud, but I was definitely into it. At some points Ubud felt almost "too clean" and polished up for tourists (probably due to the mounds of people that started pouring in after EAT, PRAY, LOVE.) There's a crazy nightlife scene and scooters and motorcycles buzzing around all over the place in Kuta. The surfer community is also very present in the shops, restaurants, and on the beach! So much so, we decided to go for a surf and made some really good friends with a local crew of surfer guys! 

Our last night in Kuta meant our last night in Asia. It was Thanksgiving, and I could not be more grateful for all of the amazing experiences we've had on this trip and for all the amazing people we met along the way. I was also especially thankful for having known one particular person.. who passed away around this time two years back.. He had a house in Bali, and I vividly remember his eyes glimmering whenever he mentioned how much he loved it. With a salty tear joining its brothers on the shore, we had one last surf session before heading to the airport. The sun was setting into the ocean with a bright orange glare and I couldn't believe it. It's time to return to the US, and soon it'll be time to start the new chapter in this book of life.

Ko Phangan, Thailand

This was our last stop in Thailand because sadly, we couldn't make it to Ko Tao (next time!) but saying goodbye to Thailand in Ko Phangan meant we'd be leaving with a Half-Moon-Party-bang!

They take kids' plastic buckets, slap on an Absolut Vodka logo on it, and call it a cup. This is the kind of madness I was expecting in Ko Phangan. Although there was a lot of that, and some more 40-people-piling-into-the-back-of a tuk-truck nonsense, the people here were surprisingly chill and awesome! It was a much bigger island than Ko Phi Phi and it seemed like there was a lot more to see than what we were able to grasp in a short time, you also have to drive to get anywhere so it made it a bit more difficult to get around. Nonetheless, here are some highlights:

  1. Beaches
    Our hostel hosts told us we didn't even go to the most beautiful beaches on the island, but even the sub-par beaches were gorgeous! One of the lazy hangover days in Phangan was pleasantly spent paddle boarding by a beautiful sunset in Baan Tai beach. The paddleboard guys even let us sneak in some extra time on the board since business was slow that day :)
     
  2. Half Moon Party
    Instead of going for the more famous "full moon party" takes place on the beach, we opted for the half moon party instead, which takes place in the jungle inland from Ban Tai and is the "perfect amount of crowded" as opposed to the full moon debauchery. Before the party, everyone has pre-drinks at the hostels while getting covered in glow-in-the-dark paint for the event! I of course, was a glow-in-the-dark partycat.
     
  3. Sunset at AmstArdam Bar
    We kept hearing about this "AmstArdam Bar" wherever we went so we felt like we had to go to see what all the hype was about. Turns out, it's a really cool relaxed terrace bar with an incredible view of the silky blue waters that surround this little piece of paradise. You're encouraged to order smoothies and watch the sunset softly envelop you in its colorful arms. We entered with a few friends and left as a family. So many great stories were told and many laughs were had. I remember wishing I could capture the moment in my memory forever.
     
  4. Guy's Bar adventure
    Friday night kicked off with buckets of drinks in Haad Rin beach. We had heard about a mysterious Guy's Bar and we heard it was only open on Fridays so we were eager to find where it was. Upon asking around, we were pointed towards a the water.. "We have to ride a boat to get there?".. So we hop on a boat and zip off into the night. When I say "into the night" I mean pitch black darkness. We all looked up to gaze at the most amazing sky I've ever seen. The constellations got lost in all the mss of stars we saw on that boat. Then, with a thump, we were dropped off at a dark jungle-y shore. Not knowing where to go from there (there seemed to be no defined path or signs), we peered into the jungle and saw a few lights in the distance. As we headed toward the lights through the branches and mud, we started to hear the faint beat of some hippy-electro-dance music growing louder and louder until, there it was. We found it. Guy's Bar. We danced off into the night until the sun started peering through the branches and the boat came back to take us home. Staring off into the sunrise we knew it was another goodbye (to Thailand) but we're not done yet! next up: Bali!

 

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

We heard a lot of mixed reviews about Ko Phi Phi from people we met during our travels but the slight chance that we wouldn't think it was amazing didn't stop us from going to check it out! One big motivational factor was that we wanted to go explore the famous beach featured in the movie "The Beach" (based on the 1996 novel by Alex Garland).

Ko Phi Phi was definitely an "adult playground" in a sense, filled with tourists and tours, but that didn't mean the playground wasn't fun, nor the tours filled with breathtaking landscapes and fun activities. Seriously. I'm not a "tour person" and most of the time I completely avoid them, but this time, it was worth it.

Our tour took us to Monkey Beach, where we got to play with adorable monkeys for a bit, then to Maya Beach AKA: The beach from the film "The Beach", then we went snorkeling in two other spots before returning to the mainland. It was a fun-filled day and we got to see some incredibly beautiful beaches, rock formations, colorful fish and monkeys! :)

That night we were surprised with a rooftop viewing of, believe it or not, "The Beach" – quite the cherry on top of a great day! We stumbled into some of the friends we met back in Pai and we all went out for drinks on the beach with a view of the stars and fire performers.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is often referred to as the unavoidable, dirty, over-crowded capital city of Thailand. And it sort of is. It’s loud and crazy and colourful and polluted; but it’s a sight worth seeing to get a well-rounded perception of what Thailand is all about. 


Night Bus to Bangkok

The double decker night bus from Chaing Mai to Bangkok may seem like a great deal. The flyer says it has AC, free snacks included, comfortable reclining chairs, and free WiFi –and it’s cheaper than the night train! Sounds amazing right? Except it’s a total scam. The Wifi was non-existent, the seats were not comfortable, the tiny bit of cookies they gave us were terrible, and the driver makes you think you’re going to crash and die every 3 minutes with the way he drives down the poorly-pavemented Thai streets. There we were stuck for the next 10 hours… 


Insects for Dinner

We arrived in Bangkok around 5:30am and checked into Born Free Hostel, an adorable, clean hostel we found near the infamous Kahosan Road, We met some other backpackers and hung out with them all day exploring and shopping in the loud streets of Bangkok. At night, we stumbled into a big local party on the street (Ban Phan Thom*). People had costumes and lights and instruments. Suddenly, a few guys went around telling people to move out of the way and before we knew it, we were front and centre to an incredible show. Two large poles were raised and fireworks were shot in the air to designate the beginning of the performance. Loud drums signal the start of the show and a huge Chinese dragon appears dancing up and down the street. A group of men climb up one of the poles and hook themselves onto it. Then they wrap the Chinese dragon around the pole with them all the way to the top, dangling it along with their own bodies. Another man climbs all the way up to the very top of the other pole and also swings back and forth with a shining light stick like he’s battling with the dragon. All of the sudden ACTUAL FIREWORKS start shooting from the dragon’s mouth for the grand finale. Little bits of ash and firework sparks fall on top of the heads of the cheering g audience leaving us tourists in complete awe. What an incredible welcoming to a crazy city. 

We walked over to Max’s Magical Thai Food in Rambuttri Alley first to grab some dinner and a free magic show. Then for dessert, we thought it would be a great idea to try yummy fried insects. The place we walked up to was actually filled with locals buying entire bags of maggots and crickets. This surprised me because I expected it to be more of a tourist trap. So we got a bagful, and tried them. Specifically, we tried grasshoppers, crickets, and maggots. They weren’t my favorite, but I guess it was an interesting experience to give them a try. 

After a few coughs and dry heaves, we decided we needed alcohol to wash down those little creepy crawlers, so we headed to Kahosan Road. On our walk over there, we stopped at a couple of nice jazz bars with live music, but the truth is, we didn’t come to Bangkok for chill jazz.. we wanted to experience the craziness that everyone talks about. The nightlife in Kahosan is pretty much purely for tourists but it is insane. Every bar is blasting a different kind of music and people can barely walk through the busy street. Neon signs at the bars read “cocktails very strong” and “we do not check ID card” and the giant buckets of mixed alcohol cost about $5. It was a fun sweaty night of bar hopping and dancing but I was happy to leave it all behind the next day and head south to the beaches!

Pai, Thailand

Pai is a tiny town in the northeastern mountains of Thailand, surrounded by rice fields, canyons, hot springs, and forests. It’s a hub for the hippies that are too chill for even Chiang Mai and want to live tucked away, off the grid, with other like-minded hippies, and drink mushroom shakes every now and then. It’s a great place… one of my favourites of the entire trip. The people we met up with here, truly made Thailand an unforgettable experience. 


The Winding Road to Pai

We had of course disregarded our friends’ suggestions of having a calm night in before our trip to Pai, and we very quickly regretted it. It’s a long bumpy ride, with no pit stops and LOTS of curves… needless to say, it’s not very hangover friendly. It was 8am and we were the four loud girls sitting in the back of minibus shuttle laughing about the events that took place the night before – everyone there hated us. But we didn’t care, we were in a blissful wonderland oblivious to other humans that were not part of our newly found friendship bubble. 

We finally arrived in the small town Pai and went in search of a guesthouse a friend of the Spanish girls had recommended. It really is a pretty small town with just 2 or 3 main streets and a couple of traffic lights. All the locals are well used to the backpackers and know exactly where all the guesthouses and hostels are –not that they can all communicate that in English, although they try! We walked about 15 minutes away from the centre of the town (considered a long distance for Pai standards) and found our little hippie paradise: Up2U Guesthouse. Ignore the silly name, and please stay in this hostel if you ever find yourself in Pai. It’s amazing. The whole place feels like a treehouse with hammocks and guitars lying around everywhere (free to use) and the bunk beds are all made of bamboo stacked all the way to the tall ceilings.

The Spanish girls’ friend Frankie was staying in that same guesthouse, and was hanging out with this awesome local girl named Ruki, who knew the all the best spots and took us out for lunch. We invited everyone in the hostel to join us and we quickly all became friends. We decided that since Cristi and I had been baptized with hippy names, everyone should also have a new nickname. Frankie became Mufasa, and then we had Moto, Coconut, Menta, Wolf, and a few others that slip my mind. It was a great crew, but the only name that really stuck was Mufasa. Lunch was amazing. Ruki taught us some Thai words and ordered us a delicious local dish that wasn’t even on the menu: seafood suki (a spicy seafood and rice noodle soup dish). In the front of the restaurant we noticed a woman boiling what looked like tiny balls of colorful play dough, which we found out was a delicious taro and coconut dessert called boualoy. Kin yuh yuh kah! (that means dig in!). 

After lunch, we all hopped on a Thai taxi and went to catch the sunset in Pai’s Grand Canyon with a bottle of wine. What an amazing view. The canyon is incredible aaand also a bit terrifying. With no kind of protection or railing or anything, anyone could easily slip and fall a long and hard way down –but that’s also what makes it so beautiful. 

After settling back into the guesthouse and taking a shower with a beautiful view of the stars (yes, the showers are pretty open to nature), we decided to walk around and find some dinner and drinks. The centre of town is filled with street food carts that offer any kind of Thai food you can imagine, and all for incredibly cheap. The spicy noodle salad was one of my favorites, made for you right there when you order it, by a lovely old woman. Other things we tried included some strange coconut dumplings, savoury rotees, tiny quail eggs, and some unique sushi.

As the night progressed, we hopped around little bars exploring and playing fun bar games and sharing laughs with our new friends. All the bars had a very relaxed, reggae-like atmosphere which we all loved. All of Pai was filled with this good, happy, energy. Throughout the night we continually ran into people we had already met and this made Thailand feel like a really small bubble. We were with the Spanish crew and we ran into people from our current guesthouse, but we also saw the French guys and part of the German crew, even some Belgian boys we had only met for a minute in the Sunday Market in Chaing Mai. Everyone was in great attitudes, ready to be best friends in an instant. We ended the night dancing around a bonfire in a well known late-night bar called Don’t Cry


Very Hot Springs

It was a slow-moving cloudy morning in Pai, perfect for sitting in a hammock with a beautiful view of the fields and getting some design work done. We had planned to go to the waterfalls, but with clouds and sprinkles of rain, the weather was perfect to check out the hot springs instead. On the way, we saw the Belgain boys we had seen the night before walking in the street barefoot, and we pretty much kidnapped them to come with us. The Pai hot springs are more well-organized and maintained for tourists than I expected; but thankfully there weren’t many tourists they day we went. The springs are split up into several little pools, each with a sign marking the temperature (like an outdoor spa of sorts). Some signs also read “No boli egg” although we definitely saw some people boiling eggs there (that’s how hot the water is in some of the pools). It was a very nice relaxing day out, but with our crew, too much relaxing was simply not allowed. It was raining, so we bought a few bottles of wine and some chips and decided to start our own little party in our hostel. Everyone joined in and the staff in the hostel even ordered pad thai to be delivered to us so that we didn’t have to go out in the rain for dinner. That night was when the Ultimate Thailand Backpackers Familia was formed: Blanca, Vero, and Mufasa from Spain, the Germans: Jesse, Antonia, Theresa, and Stephan, Steven and David from the US, Gaii and Palo (Palo was another nickname that stuck) from Holland, and a few others that came and went (like this girl we called Confetti who got far too drunk that night). 


Waterfalls

Most of the Familia decided to go to the waterfalls, but I stayed back and got some work done in the most beautiful office anyone could ever imagine. Its days like these that remind me that the perks of being a digital nomad by far surpass the small disadvantages. As the sun came down and the crew came back, we were escorted to the town center by the most adorable stray dogs that always seemed to be happy to be around us, for another night of reggae bars and good memories. We ended that night watching the sunrise as we walked back from another well known late-night bar called Sunset Bar where we made friends with the bartender who later gave us an entire bottle of Sangsom (a local Thai rum) for free. Thai people are just too friendly sometimes (right Palo?). 


We will never learn

The following morning, the whole crew went for a filling Thai breakfast (which is the same as a lunch or a dinner… food is just food there) and then we said our sad goodbyes. The minibus ride back to Chiang Mai may have been even worse than the ride coming in. I guess we’ll never learn… 


Tokyo, Japan

One of the biggest surprises of Tokyo and Japan in general is how "human scale" it is, compared to what I was expecting I guess. Although some of the buildings and intersections are big, the rest of the side streets, areas like the Tsukiji fish market and a lot of the hangout streets lined with cool bars and restaurants are all pretty tiny and adorable. It makes a place like Tokyo feel more homey and less daunting and grandiose than expected.

Here's a breakdown of Tokyo based on the neighborhoods we visited:

  1. Shimokitazawa
    We stayed there. Once again, we somehow found the "Brooklyn". It's artsy, hipster and young, hella cool and a lot of tourists miss out on it because it's a bit far from the center but 100% worth checking out.
     
  2. Shinjuku
    My favorite hangout area. Walking around in this neighborhood you really can't go wrong. There's so many cool things going on! One of my favorite spots is the "Golden Gaia small strip of izakaya-style bars, tucked away in these cute narrow alleys behind the tall Shinjuku buildings. 
     
  3. Shibuya & Roppongi
    If you picture tall buildings with neon lights and crazy amounts of people rushing past a busy intersection, you're picturing Shibuya. There's a cool nightlife scene but it's a bit too hectic for me (from what I saw). I bunched Roppongi up with Shibuya because I feel like it has a similar vibe. Clubby and fun if you feel like going hard one night (we had a great time there the night before Halloween!).
     
  4. Akihabara
    The weirdest of weird can be found in Akihabara. You name it, they went there, from 7-story porn shops to "maid cafés" where flirty teen waitresses act as servants to their gross middle-aged customers. It's your go-to place for anything video game-related, anime, manga, you get the picture.

Halloween
We managed to work "Halloween in Tokyo" into our plans which meant we had to come up with a cool costume. We thought about being the "konbini krew" which meant dressing up as the three main convenience stores (which pretty much equate to gods in Asia), this video pretty much sums it up. But after seeing so many WARNING! posters that showed the danger of selfie sticks, we couldn't resist. We went as "Selfie Stick Victims". I know people have actually been hurt and I don't mean to offend, but yeah, we had to.

Kyoto, Japan

Ahhhhhhhhhhh Kyoto. Feel your body relax just saying the name.
When you think of Japan, you probably think of something hi-tech or cutting edge, and sooo many people it stresses you out. Try to re-wire your brain, and just think of Kyoto. It's a large city, but a peaceful one, where everyone rides bikes everywhere (it's quite flat so it's super easy! And you can ride on the sidewalk so there's no fear of getting hit by a car), there's temples everywhere you look, and bookshops, cute cafe's and wine bars with fascinating stories to tell. Kyoto has an energy I didn't expect to find in Japan. It's mellow vibe is definitely something I could jive to. There was definitely a cool nightlife scene there too, but we didn't venture much beyond a cool jazzy wine bar, and a Beatles bar, which is fine by me!

Some highlights include:

  1. Riding our rented bikes down the Philosopher's Path, where we got to check out a bunch of cool temples, restaurants and shops along the way.
  2. Trying some delicious Ramen and Sushi and connecting with our awesome waitress that spoke perfect spanish!
  3. Zen-ing out with our amazing yoga instructor Mark Shvemia (who translated our entire class) at Studio Bindu.
  4. Discovering the most adorable coffee shops, such as Cafe Bibliotic Hello! 
  5. Asking for a restaurant recommendation and getting WALKED right up to the door to an amazing sushi conveyor belt restaurant.
  6. Making friends that don't speak english via Beatles songs in a cute Omiya Dori izakaya.
  7. From these friends' recommendation, visiting Lennon Bar.
  8. Meeting up with some lovely Bostonian Bros walking along the Fushimi Inari Shrine! (we met up with them again later in Tokyo!)

Osaka, Japan

Osaka was our first stop in Japan… the land of Murakami, Miyazaki, Pokemon, and Sailor Moon. As our plane landed in the Osaka airport, I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve already travelled; and how far from home we were. It’s still crazy to think that this is all really happening, and that we had just landed in that far away, mystical place I knew from books and movies, but never really thought I’d get a chance to visit –Japan. One of the things I was most excited about was the food! Bring on the fresh sushi and ramen! 

At the airport, we met up with an old high school friend who had posted on Facebook about wanting to go to Japan a few weeks before. We chatted about our plans and set coordinating dates. Amazing! A fellow Boricua joining us for Japan! He had even taken a few courses in Japanese, so he was a huge help for translating and getting around. 


Japanese ATMs & US Debit/Credit Card Struggles

The very first unexpected obstacle we ran into was this: Japan is terrible for US banks. Most ATMs simply won’t accept non-Japanese bank cards. We even tried the convenient store ATMs that bloggers online suggested, but nothing worked for us. We finally figured out that we had to find our way to a post office in order to take out cash. The other thing is, that almost no restaurant, tourist site, bar, store, coffee shop accepts any kind of credit cards. Convenient stores did take card, but for the most part, we had to get used to carrying a lot of cash on us.


The Teeny-Tiniest Airbnb in Namba

We stayed in the Namba area in an apartment we found through Airbnb. It was the tiniest little apartment ever, with just baaarely enough floor space to fit the double bed; and yet we managed to fit three young adults and all our luggage. The Namba area, however, made up for the small space: bright lights, arcade games, restaurants, and bars in every corner. At first sight when walking around Namba, all you see are large arcade game stores with tons of adults in suits inside playing like kids. It sounds pretty strange, but it’s very similar to casino culture… with a little less gambling and a lot more funny sounds coming from the machines. As cool as it was to experience, this was not really our scene; but as we kept walking around, we found some amazing back alleys with tiny bars that fit about 5 to 6 people max called izakayas. Namba is filled with them!  


Magical Food of Osaka

We found some incredible restaurants nearby and tried some of the local okonomiyaki in the well known restaurant, Mizuno. Here, we found out that as part of the Japanese culture, it’s very impolite to take photographs or video of the chefs as they prepare your meal in front of you. It was truly an impressive show tho. The classic okonomiyaki (originated in Osaka) is like a savoury Japanese pancake made with a variety of ingredients. Okonomi literally means "what you like" or "what you want", and believe me, YOU WANT IT. We had to try the classic, but we also tried the signature Mizuno version, a yam-based okonomiyaki with scallops and roast pork. YUM. 

We also tried the famous local street food takoyaki (fried octopus fritters). They’re made up of a wheat flour batter, diced octopus, pickled ginger, and onion; topped with a super yummy sauce. The really impressive part however, is seeing how the street vendors prepare these little balls. It’s amazing the grace and skill they have as they quickly whip the batter around with little sticks in what looks like round-shaped cupcake trays to perfectly crisp the outer layer of the balls. 

There was one more famous local dish, but this one we purposely stayed away from.. the deadly fugu (blowfish). Many restaurants specialise in preparing this dish, but the thrill of maybe dying after eating it didn’t sound very appealing to me. 


Crazy Shopping & Our Favorite Bar

Osaka is FILLED with large shopping street malls: Shinsaibashi, Horie Tachibana (Orange Street), Amerikamura, and more. If you enjoy shopping, you’ll definitely love Osaka… I’m not much of a shopping type myself. And as a world traveler, I can’t really afford to shop much anyway - especially after 11 other countries and their souvenirs… I’ve pretty much packed up my backpack to bursting point by now! Either way, walking around, window-shopping and people-watching is still fun. The shops in the area called “Amerikamura” or “American village” - not making this up - are particularly cool because you can also admire the impressively creative store designs (exterior and interior). This area has a bit of an indie-punk feeling kind of scene where we found our favorite bar, Little Sheep. Don’t be thrown off from the english name… it’s actually really cool. We crawled down a tiny flight of stairs after following a chalkboard sign with promise of cocktails and music. This place is like someone’s tiny dark basement. Everyone takes off their shoes and cuddles on the floor with pillows and blankets. It’s awesome. Great music, great lounge-y atmosphere, great cocktails, a projector showing hip Japanese music videos, and fun games like UNO and Jenga are passed around. The bartenders we’re all the friendliest of people too. 


Lights, more lights, and food!

Dotonbori is crazy. It’s just one street, not a big metropolitan business district or anything like I had somewhat expected, but it’s so filled with neon lights and 3D signs, you might not be able to tell the difference. It packs with people day and night, seven days a week. During the day, people flock there for the food. During the night, it’s club-and-bar-central.


Cute Design & Coffee Shops

Orange Street is the place to go during the day to find cute design stores, furniture boutiques, and coffee shops. Our favourite by far was Biopic - an adorable design furniture store with a café on the first floor and a rooftop bar / restaurant. We also travelled a bit further uptown to check out a cool co-working space we had found online: "Crossing" Come on up House. It was a great place to focus with other like-minded digital nomads, and get some work done with tea and snacks. 


Tourist Sites

There’s not very many tourist sites in Osaka… but we went to see the Hozen-ji temple and the Osaka castle. They were cool, but they were kind of out-shined by the amazing food in Osaka. They were cool, but visiting Osaka seems to be much more about experiencing the crazy arcade lifestyle and tasting the delicious Osaka cuisine.

Seoul, South Korea

I never thought I could see myself living in an Asian country until I came to Seoul. The language, alphabet, food, people, and culture may be different, a lot of the lifestyle is pretty close to what I’m used to. It struck me that in fact, it was actually very easy to adapt so quickly to this new, strange place. Doing some research during our layover in Tokyo, I noticed a lot of people saying how learning the alphabet is surprisingly easy. As language geek, I had to investigate. The result? Upon arriving in Seoul I could actually read pretty much everything! The only issue is that I need to work on the vocabulary in order to understand what I’m reading but to tell you the truth, I fell in love with this new language! From a designer perspective, I also think the written Hangul characters just look so beautiful!

One of the coolest things that is immediately apparent, is the incredibly well-connected and internet-based culture. As a millennial and a freelancer, internet is a pretty important part of my daily life, so the fact that we would have access to the fastest internet in the world 24/7 for the next few days was definitely exciting for us. When traveling in South Korea, apparently it’s super common to get a “pocket wifi” AKA a device that you carry around with you (kind of like a mini router) so you can always have internet. We were able to quickly grab one at the airport and head out to meet our good friend from uni, Ashley! 

Having Ashley to show us around was a godsend! If it wasn’t for her, I’m pretty sure we would have made fools of ourselves at Korean BBQ joints, not knowing the protocol, or we would’ve offended someone by pouring our own soju (you’re supposed to pour for others). Ash and her sister Elaine sowed us around all the best neighborhoods like Itaewon, an international hub with great restaurants and a fantastic nightlife, Meyongdong which is great shopping and street food (the best combination!), Gangam, a more "exclusive" "high-end" shopping and clubbing area, and the Jung district, the historical center of the city with it's royal palaces and gorgeous temples. Last but not least, our favorite Seoul neighborhood, Hongdae! It's a lower-key, student area that's bursting with creativity. We stayed there in an airbnb and we couldn't be happier with our choice.

To get out of the city for a bit, we decided to hike Dobongsan Peak. We expected a fun hike out in nature, but we were surprised to find so much more! It was a challenging mix of hiking and rock climbing, with beautiful temples sprinkled here and there along the path. When we reached the top, we could barely believe it! It was a tough hike! (It's honestly shocking to see how many elderly people were doing it).

Delhi, India

When looking at our flight options to get from Turkey to Seoul, we noticed one potential route was going through Delhi; and just like that, we got an e-visa and booked a few days in a hotel to at least have a small taste of India.

Walking around Delhi could be described as something like entering a dream. Its enormously vibrant history is all around you, in the chaotic streets, colorful saris, stunning sunsets and sizzling street food. Total sensory overload.

Come to think of it, if I had to choose one word to describe Delhi, it would be 'intense'. As much as that intensity comes from the awe-inspiring mosques, temples, and tombs, it can also be intensely terrifying and overwhelming at times. Like crossing the street for example. There are no rules. The cars just go and you literally just have to cross and hope you're not run-over by a car, motorcycle, rickshaw, or bus. Getting 'out of your comfort zone' is an understatement. Overall it was undeniably, a thrilling, terrifying and exhilarating experience. It was absolutely unlike anything we had seen or experienced in our trip so far. I'm  also very proud to say we successfully avoided getting the "Delhi Belly" AKA getting sick from the food/water so IT'S POSSIBLE. You just have to be super careful. 

Some of the first things you will notice in Delhi are:
#1: The crazy amount of people everywhere.
The population is about 16.3 million, making it the second most populous city and second most populous urban agglomeration in India. so yeah, lots of people.

#2: Dirt and dust in the air. 
The World Health Organization ranks Delhi as the world’s worst polluted city. On a twistedly dark bright side, I thought the polluted air made it look even more stunning and dreamlike. Especially at sunrise and sunset.

#3: Poverty is very real here.
It's heartbreaking to see so many people living in such bleak conditions, but here, it's a part of life. This hardworking culture however, doesn't let that get them down. Their determination propels them forward with a high chest and a beaming smile.


The Hotel

Our friends were able to convince us to stay near Hauz Khas Village rather than staying in Paharganj (apparently backpacker’s mecca according to online blogs?). We ended up staying in The Visaya, very close to Hauz Khas - It was lovely. How often do you read that? I must have read thousands of reviews of hotels in India that sounded like horror stories. But no, our experience was very different. The hotel is modern and clean, the beds are comfortable, the Internet works, the hosts and attendants are very responsive and helpful, there’s a delicious Indian breakfast buffet - overall great! At first, we were worried about the location, because it was so far from many things we wanted to see, but this ended up not being an issue at all. The hotel is located in a quiet neighborhood, with no loud street vendors nor crazy motorcyclists. However, it’s very well connected to sites and attractions through the Metro, which worked out great for us. 


Getting Around

Because of our short time there, we wanted to make our own plans and follow our own schedule in India. We avoided tours and instead did tons of research to be ready before arriving to Delhi. Honestly, it probably wasn’t the best way to go about doing it. As much as we tried to avoid it, the best way to see Delhi on a tight schedule might just be to hire a driver for a day and ask him to take you to all the sites you’d like to see. Then, you’ll have the rest of the time to go back and explore other areas on your own. You can hire drivers through your hotel, in tourist bureaus, or even by just taking to taxi drivers at the airport. They’re not tour guides, and many don’t speak English. They just take you where you need to go and wait patiently in the car while you check out the sites. It’s definitely not the way we’re used to travelling, but it did help to go with it in the end to see a lot of sites fairly quickly. 

Other than hired drivers, there’s Uber which has recently been implemented. The drivers are very polite and professional, the cars are spacious and clean, and its super cheap compared to even the local taxis - a great way to get around if you can manage to find Internet! 

The metro is also surprisingly modern and clean. It was very cheap as well (but cash only), and a great way to get around. Try to avoid rush hours… from what we saw, some stations can get pretty hectic at certain times.


Our Favorite Sites

There are soo many breathtaking monuments and landmarks in New Delhi & Agra. I would say my personal favorites were the Lodi Gardens, the Qutub Complex, and the Taj Mahal. Other sites we visited include the Red Fort (Lal Quila), Jama Masjid, Bahai (Lotus) Temple, the India Gate, Connaught Place, Chandni Chowk, Hauz Khas, and Khan Market.


The Markets

The hustle-and-bustle is REAL.I'm still mesmerized by the madness we experienced in Delhi. It can get pretty crazy. But it’s absolutely fantastic. If you’ve ever been, you’ll understand. There’s people EVERYWHERE (mostly men to be honest) and the tuk-tuks, rickshaws, motorcycles, and cars rush by with speed, honking their way through. The smell of the street food mixed with incense and sandy dust from the street creates an atmosphere unlike any other. There’s a constant chatter of people as they buy and sell goods. It’s an experience that can either be exhilarating or terrifying… or a bit of both. 

Either way, the streets fill with color everywhere. That was my favorite thing about India. The AMAZING COLORS everywhere. Women strolling around in beautiful orange and pink saris, spices and fried foods oozing with bright purples and greens I’ve never seen in food before, hand-done signage in bright yellow, red, and turquoise, it was magic. 


The Search for Wi-Fi

It’s impossible. There’s no internet anywhere. We were very lucky to have internet in our Hotel, but it seems to be extremely difficult to find any cafés or restaurants (not even McDonalds had WiFi) that allow you to use WiFi. Some places do, but they require an Indian phone number. However, getting a phone number registered (or SIM card) apparently takes about 3 days to work… so we we’re out of luck there! Lack of connection did make traveling around a little bit more difficult, but we managed. Most people we ran into were very kind and eager to help us out. Overall though, if you’re planning on making a living off an internet-based job, maybe plan India as your vacation days and enjoy freedom from the web focusing your time elsewhere. If you’re upset you can’t instantly post a selfie on Facebook… India is probably not for you to begin with.


The Non-Crazy Side of Delhi

There were so many parts of Delhi we missed out on by only staying for such a short amount of time. Two cool non-crazy-hectic areas that we got to see were Khan Market and Hauz Khas Village. These areas are filled with cute (western-style?) shops, cafés, and restaurants with adorable rooftop bars. Definitely worth checking out to see a totally 180 degree view of New Delhi when compared to Chandi Chowk and Paharganj. Another great getaway from the wild side of Delhi is to take a nice stroll along the peaceful Lodi Gardens (they’re so beautiful, really!).