Songkran, Day 3 by Marleigh Monique

Today was more of the same of the past 2 days.

9:30 AM

I take the long way around the city wall to drop off the bicycle from yesterday.

11:00 AM

The brunch place I wanted is closed for Songkran. Instead, I found this amazing oasis called Fern Forest Cafe in the middle of the Chiang Mai’s old city. The food was way overpriced and the coffee looked better in the picture, but I enjoyed my visit.

Breakfast @ Fern Forest Cafe

Breakfast @ Fern Forest Cafe

12:30 PM

I muster up the courage to walk around. I decide to focus on the North side of the wall where endless parties are happening.

water4.JPG

2:30 PM

I’ve had my fill of Songkran.  I’m soaked, my phone is rapidly running out of battery, and a blister is developing on my left foot. I retreat to the hostel for some R&R.

4:30 PM

No R&R is to be had. The hostel across the street is blaring American pop remixes. My bed is vibrating from the noise.

Loud music is coming from that hostel

Loud music is coming from that hostel

I spend the afternoon watching youtube videos.

8:00 PM

Dinner @ Cat House. It’s not my favorite spot, but I can get there without getting soaked plus they have tofu.

This is a fancy KFC I spotted today

This is a fancy KFC I spotted today

NOTE: I am writing this at 9:39 PM at night. The music is still going. NO BREAK. 

Songkran, Day 2 by Marleigh Monique

11:30 AM

Tofu, Egg, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion

Tofu, Egg, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion

I received a text from my friend asking if I wanted to join for brunch. If so, I should be there in 20 minutes.

This is what the Grab Taxi app looks like

This is what the Grab Taxi app looks like

The brunch destination was far. A tuk tuk driver quoted me 200 bhat ($5.82 USD) for maybe a 5-minute drive. I told him too much and used the Grab Taxi app on my phone, which is similar to Uber for Southeast Asia. Grab Taxi came in at 50 bhat ($1.46 USD).

Smoothie Blues

Smoothie Blues

We had brunch at Smoothie Blues in the Nimman area, which is known as the cool, hipster part of Chiang Mai because of all the coffee bars and cute shops.

3:00 PM

My bicycle

My bicycle

We finished brunch and my friend got me a bicycle from his hostel so the 4 of us could ride around the city together.

4:00 PM

Songkran foam party

Songkran foam party

Weaving in and out of cars, we barely managed to get inside the city wall. Traffic was insane and made worse by street parties. Everywhere we went, people threw water at us. 

Wat Phra Sing

Wat Phra Sing

We stopped at a Buddhist temple with street food outside. My friends had noodles while I walked around the temple. It’s strange to have been in Chiang Mai for the past few weeks and realize I still have not seen everything.

6:00 PM

At this point, it was raining. Actually, it had been pouring since early afternoon. I bid adieu to my friends and rode the bicycle to my hostel.

7:30 PM

Tofu and rice burrito with lentil curry

Tofu and rice burrito with lentil curry

Back to Cat House for dinner.

Look at those happy faces!

Look at those happy faces!

Overall, I had a great day with my friends and got to experience much more of Songkran.

4 Days in Puerto Rico by Marleigh Monique

“Why the heck would you want to go to Puerto Rico?” my colleague asked me. “It’s not very nice. There’s nothing to do over there.” She had been 4 times and vowed never to return. Despite her repeated attempts to dissuade me from visiting, I booked a round trip flight anyway into San Juan, Puerto Rico. The following is how I made the best of my solo getaway.

Day 1  

$5 gains admission into this fort and El Morro for 1 week!

$5 gains admission into this fort and El Morro for 1 week!

Castillo de San Cristóbal. Less known than its older counterpart El Morro, Fort San Cristóbal was constructed to protect Old San Juan from attacks on land. As a huge history nerd, I was stuck by the sheer size of this little known fort, dating back 225 years!

Getting ready to see some glow in the dark fish 

Getting ready to see some glow in the dark fish 

Next up was a kayak tour of bioluminescent bay. This was the first of two group activities I booked via a hotel concierge and by far the priciest excursion. At $107, it felt very overpriced. Yes, it was amazing and included pick up / drop off, however, had I rented a car, I could have cut the price in half. As a budget traveler, I still feel guilty at how much I paid to see fish light up underwater.

Day 2

A tour of the Bacardi Factory! Along with a tasting of 5 different rums, the tour featured a history of Bacardi. While I am not the biggest rum person, I was fascinated to learn the beginnings of the factory and how the famous concoction is made. The buildings reminded me of old Hollywood movie sets.

Hollywood Set or Rum Factory?

Hollywood Set or Rum Factory?

El Morro on another perfect weather day

El Morro on another perfect weather day

When I got back into Old San Juan, I headed straight for El Morro. In its heyday (circa late 1500s-1800s), the fort shielded Old San Juan from attacks by sea. I walked the grounds for hours imagining what life would have been like at that time, before the United States was the United States.

Exploring El Morro

Exploring El Morro

Day 3  

Group Tour of El Yunque National Forest

Group Tour of El Yunque National Forest

You can tell Puerto Rico takes great pride in its tropical rainforest. My guide was excellent, offering a detailed description of the different plants and animals one can expect to find when visiting. So why did I leave dissatisfied? Because I needed more time in the rainforest without feeling rushed. I had maybe 2 hours total in the forest during the group tour.

La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls

Capitol Building, Old San Juan

Capitol Building, Old San Juan

On the plus side, the guide gave awesome suggestions around Old San Juan, bringing me to my next destination, walking with Presidents behind the capital building. There are 9 life size statues of every sitting U.S. President to visit Puerto Rico, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and our current president Barack Obama.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President from 1933-1945

Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President from 1933-1945

Our tour guide also informed us the piña colada was invented at a restaurant called Barrachina. Naturally, I had to see what the fuss was about.

Delish!

Delish!

Streets of Old San Juan 

Streets of Old San Juan 

Day 4

Best Breakfast!

Best Breakfast!

Breakfast at Mallorca! Bread, sugar, and cheese! Genius! This tiny diner steps away from my hostel in Old San Juan was packed nearly every day.

What visit to the Caribbean would be complete without a trip to the beach? To keep my costs down, I took public transit to Isla Verde beach and stowed my luggage at a nearby hotel. I spent the next 45 minutes swimming and relaxing before my flight back to NYC.

Isla Verde, just over 1 mile from the airport!

Isla Verde, just over 1 mile from the airport!

Overall impression:  

 I spy a huge cruise ship on the left!

 I spy a huge cruise ship on the left!

It was great to see the big cruise ships dock from my hostel’s balcony and to be able to walk the entire length of Old San Juan in under 30 minutes. I felt very safe traveling alone, as there were many tourists.

Rich in history, Puerto Rico was way more expensive then I imagined. It could have been done cheaper if I rented a car. As below, I paid full cost for my flight because I thought I found a great deal (wrong). Had I used miles, it would have brought the cost of my trip down to $527.95, or $131.99/ day.

Window into Puerto Rico's soul

Window into Puerto Rico's soul

Logistics:

Transit (flight @ $266 + bus, taxi, ferry): $303.10

Accommodations: $95.37

Food: $166.14

Activities: $229.34

Total Spent: $793.95 or $198.49/ day

 

A Lesson in Faith from Dubai by Marleigh Monique

Replica of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa / Dubai

Replica of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa / Dubai

In my unending quest to see it all, I hastily booked a trip to Dubai to join a friend on a weeklong excursion to the United Arab Emirates. 4 days in Dubai plus 1 day in Abu Dhabi was bound to leave me awestruck and exhausted. However, I felt ill equipped to handle the challenges abroad.

Sunset over the Dubai desert / Dubai

Sunset over the Dubai desert / Dubai

It started the first night when I couldn’t find the hostel. It took me well over an hour to locate because the street signs were too confusing, despite a printed map and directions.

When in the U.A.E., you henna / Dubai

When in the U.A.E., you henna / Dubai

The following day, 2 different ATM machines rejected my debit cards from different banks. It’s amazing how humbled and weak I felt without access to cash.

Stunning Kite Beach with the Burj Al Arab in the distance on the left / Dubai

Stunning Kite Beach with the Burj Al Arab in the distance on the left / Dubai

On day 3, feeling broken and irritated at not bringing more money, I took a local bus to Kite Beach with my friend. It was here that I had one of the most memorable experiences on the trip. As soon as I looked up, I realized magic was happening around me. The call to prayer sounded from a nearby mosque while I listened from the ocean. Here was a culture in the throws of change that still incorporated faith into daily life. How lucky was I to witness!

Lunch @ The Irish Village / Dubai

Lunch @ The Irish Village / Dubai

Snowboarding @ Ski Dubai / Dubai

Snowboarding @ Ski Dubai / Dubai

After this experience, I noticed that everywhere I went I was greeted with a warm smile and friendly hello. I felt safer in this glitzy city across the world than at home in NYC.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque / Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque / Abu Dhabi

With construction booming all over town (2 more palm islands in development, the building of a new indoor ski resort, plus the opening of art museums and a Hunger Games theme park), I will likely return in the next few years. When I do, I hope to leave as refreshed and inspired as the first time.

Beaching it up @ Yas Beach / Abu Dhabi

Beaching it up @ Yas Beach / Abu Dhabi

48 Hours in Seattle by Marleigh Monique

Chihuly @ Seattle Center

Chihuly @ Seattle Center

A friend convinced me a stop in Seattle was necessary following my birthday week stay in LA.

Following a 4-hour plane ride from LAX, I hit the ground running.

Gum Wall @ Pike Place Market

Gum Wall @ Pike Place Market

Original Starbucks. 1st & Pike. 

Original Starbucks. 1st & Pike. 

Day 1 focused on learning the layout. I walked from Pike Place Market to the EMP Museum in Seattle Center. EMP, or Experience Music Project, felt like someone put together everything he/she was obsessed with, and made a museum out of it….think sci-fi, horror, fantasy, video games, cartoons, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. It was a neat museum that I’m happy to have visited.

Mount Rainier. I'm told clear days are rare. 

Mount Rainier. I'm told clear days are rare. 

EMP Museum

EMP Museum

Ground is sinking. Look how high the door frame is!

Ground is sinking. Look how high the door frame is!

Heading back downtown, I went on an underground tour. In 1889, a fire destroyed most of the city. When Seattle rebuilt, streets were raised to help level the land. The tour focused on life before and during the rebuilding.

Classic holdout

Classic holdout

Day 2 started with the a detour to the famous holdout that inspired the movie Up. For sale since owner Edith Macefield passed, I was grateful to have the opportunity to view the home before it is sold.

Watching a plane land at Boeing Museum of Flight

Watching a plane land at Boeing Museum of Flight

Next up was the Boeing Museum of Flight. I learned the history of flight from a FREE tour by a war veteran, thereby enriching the experience greatly.

Last on the agenda was Ballard Locks Fish Ladder, built for salmon to pass between fresh and salt water. I spent a good hour watching fish navigate Hiram M. Chittenden Locks while various boats passed through. It reminded me of the film Young Adam, with Ewan McGregor’s character working on a barge.  

Fish Ladder

Fish Ladder

Chihuly Glass @ Seattle Center

Chihuly Glass @ Seattle Center

LOGISTICS:

Mode of transit (Lyft, Bus, Subway, Monorail): $28

Hostel Accommodation: $101.94

Food: $156.42

Activities: $87.65

TOTAL: $374.01 or $187/day for total of 2 days

Poco…no go? A Weekend in the Poconos by Marleigh Monique

Apparently the key to happiness was to go back the way we came. 

Apparently the key to happiness was to go back the way we came. 

Thank you to the staff of Paradise Stream. Because of your refusal to accommodate boyfriend and I according to the terms on your website, we canceled our reservation, found a charming B&B, went on a nature hike, and visited an abandoned honeymoon resort.     

Heart-shaped tubs are what earned the Poconos the nickname "Honeymoon Capital" in the 1960s.

Heart-shaped tubs are what earned the Poconos the nickname "Honeymoon Capital" in the 1960s.

It started when I asked boyfriend to plan a weekend getaway for my birthday. He chose a retreat located in the Poconos, or the former “honeymoon capital of the world.” Looking back, I think the torrential downpour was trying to tell me something as we checked into our private villa overlooking a pond.

Look at that sky!

Look at that sky!

The main hall featured [paid] light refreshments before dinner. As we headed into the dining room, the host said we were not on the inclusive meal plan normally standard with the rooms. Because boyfriend had booked through another party, the management refused to comply with the wording listed on their website stating “as a guest of the resort, you will enjoy all inclusive breakfast and dinner.” As the wording was misleading and the management refused to comply, we chose to leave.

Brookview Manor Inn. The yellow inn is just off the road.

Brookview Manor Inn. The yellow inn is just off the road.

We soon found a cute bed and breakfast nearby that was honest. Dinner was one of the best meals I ever feasted upon and breakfast the next day was just as tasty. We spent Sunday hiking through stunning Bushkill Falls.

"Niagara of Pennsylvania" 

"Niagara of Pennsylvania" 

Inside Penn Hills

Inside Penn Hills

On our way home, we stopped at Penn Hills Resort, sadly abandoned since the owner passed in 2009. I couldn’t help but wonder if Paradise Stream is headed toward a similar fate. 

Unkempt grounds

Unkempt grounds

Santa has seen better days

Santa has seen better days

LOGISTICS:

Mode of transit (Car): $41 in gas

B&B Accommodation: $152

Food: $130

Activities: $27

TOTAL: $350 or $175/ day for total of 2 days

Bachelorette Weekend? (i.e. Nashville/ Memphis, TN) by Marleigh Monique

Although neither my friend nor I are engaged, we unknowingly chose to visit the bachelorette haven over Labor Day.  

Splitting image of him...

Splitting image of him...

A 2-hour flight from NYC placed us in #Nashvegas, where we made a beeline for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print, located in the same building.  Hatch is a historic, letterpress shop that prints up to 3 colors.

Hatch Show Print

Hatch Show Print

We then ventured to Tootsies, a famous 3-story Honky Tonk bar.  However, we knew there was better country music. Enter Robert’s Western World across Broadway. Boot store by day, this lively bar met our expectations of a legitimate, southern honky tonk.

Nashville Parthenon

Nashville Parthenon

Day 2 brought a visit to the Parthenon, a replica of the original constructed for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition to celebrate Nashville as the “Athens of the South.” 

We arrived in Memphis late evening, allowing time for dinner/ dancing on Beale Street, including the original B.B. King’s Blues Club.

Graceland Living Room

Graceland Living Room

The next day was dedicated to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. Shag carpets and mirrored walls covered every corner of his Graceland Mansion. I never understood his impact until I stepped inside. Elvis fused different music genres to create rock n’ roll, while breaking racial barriers and influencing a new era of cultural expression. He did this in his short 42 years. 

Basement

Basement

Jungle Room

Jungle Room

What I learned: Elvis continues to remain a cash cow, with guests hurried through Graceland. Beale Street has a strong New Orleans vibe. Nashville is rife with bachelorette parties and honky tonk music.


LOGISTICS:

Transit (Round Trip Flight to Nashville, Cabs, Uber/ Lyft, Nashville City Bus, RT Greyhound Bus to Memphis): $152.19

Accommodations: $72.31

Food: $191.86

Activities: $127.70

TOTAL: $544.06   or $136.02/ day for total of 4 days