Celebrating Passover in Chiang Mai

Rabbis clad in the Orthodox suits stand upon chairs, clapping their hands with smiles on their faces as our makeshift congregation of travelers and expats clap along.

Celebrating Passover in Chiang Mai

 

“Day-day-enu, day-day-enu, day-day-enu, dayenu, dayenu, dayenu,” we all sing together, accents melting into the chorus of the Passover song.

It’s the first night of Passover, the first seder, and instead of being with family or friends or out reveling in Songkran, which takes place simultaneously this year, I am sitting in a ballroom of the Centara Hotel in Chiang Mai’s red light district. I’m surrounded largely by Israelis who have come together on this special night to bring in Passover together.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand Travel Tips

Tourists behaving badly: how to be PC in Thailand

Tourists behaving badly. It happens everywhere. I’m sure you’ve seen it: drunken bar fights with locals over a bill. Tagging an historic landmark. Taking smiling group photos in places which are disrespectful (like Auschwitz).

Living as an expat in Thailand, I am treated to this display of very non PC behavior/stuff to make Thais blush daily. It ranges from the minor no-nos (like ladies not covering your shoulders/knees at a temple) to the obscene (like men not taking “no” for an answer at a bar with bar girls). It really bothers me because a) visitors either don’t bother to read up on etiquette before visiting this amazing country and opt for a “head in the sand” or possess the “what works in my home country surely works here” assumption; or b) they know better but choose to disregard cultural norms, simply justifying their holiday as their holiday, which allows them to act however they deem fit (or unfit).

For those planning a trip to Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, here are some important things to keep in mind:

Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Travel Tips

10 things traveling solo taught me about life

Today is March 7 … exactly four years ago today I boarded a flight to London and embarked on a seven-month solo backpacking adventure through Europe and parts of Africa.

A London phone booth

First stop of the solo backpacking: London

For months before I booked the trip, I teetered … I dreamed of traveling, but was it the right time to quit my job, mid-career, to hop on a plane across the Atlantic?

As I grew more miserable in my job, my career, the answer became clear: GO.

So, around Christmas 2009, I got on the phone with United and arranged for my solo backpacking trip.

30 Life Crisis Blog Travel Tips

10 tips for visiting Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai's moat

A moat surrounds the Old City of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, is a far cry from the hustle, bustle and general chaos that is Bangkok. I’ve found that there are two types of people who come to the largest city in Northern Thailand — those who love the moat-surrounded city, and those who don’t.

If you’re looking for action, heaps of shopping and thrive on true urban life, then Chiang Mai isn’t for you (although we do have a total of five major shopping malls in the city). Chiang Mai is chill. It’s laden with coffee shops, adorable little restaurants with gorgeous patios, quaint guest houses, locals who will chat with you on a songthaew en route to your destination and a night life scene that isn’t truly a night life scene (but still heaps of fun). As someone who has lived here long-term, it is easy to see why travelers come through town and end up staying far longer than intended.

Travel Tips

Don’t hold yourself back from achieving your dreams

That man on the plane

I boarded my flight from LAX to JFK and saw that I had an aisle seat on the last row. Soon after my plane neighbor arrived and grabbed the window seat.

So, were you visiting LA, or do you live there?”.

Turned out his family was actually from Italy, but his parents moved to New York two years before he was born and he was now living in Santa Barbara with his (American) wife and kids.

Our conversation took off and we first got the typical questions out of the way: where did we live, what did we do for a living, did we have a partner, children, a house, a dog – no wait, I don’t think we asked anything about a dog.

Of course the man, let’s call him C., also wanted to know what I thought about Los Angeles.

I told him I’d absolutely loved it.

Guest Posts Travel Tips

Where to take photos in Puerto Rico

The US territory of Puerto Rico is a fascinating place to visit: It’s got folklore, bio-luminescent plankton, great diving spots and a unique cuisine. But whatever initially lures you to the island be sure to charge the battery on your camera. With scenic overlooks through winding mountains roads, rushing waterfalls and beaches in every direction Puerto Rico is one of the most photogenic islands in the Caribbean.

From the Plane

Even before landing in Puerto Rico the island shows its photogenic self. In fact, the entire plane ride from southern Florida to the San Juan airport lends itself nicely to stunning views. So be sure to request a window seat on the right side of the plane keeping in mind that the wing can get in your way of taking unobstructed photographs. From the perfect seat you can get great areal shots of Puerto Rican coastline.

Puerto Rico coast from the plane

Puerto Rico coast from the plane

Las Croabas

Just north of the city of Fajardo in northeast Puerto Rico lies the beach community of Las Croabas. This isn’t just any beach, however as it is surrounded by mangroves and a short kayak ride will take you to see the bio-luminescent plankton in the bay. It is also home to very delicious authentic mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rico dish. Due to much activity on the water, Las Croabas is the perfect place to get multi-layered pictures, with birds on the beach in the foreground, a small harbor with boats in the middle ground and the ocean and if you’re lucky even the moon in the background, creating the perfect postcard shot!

Sailboats at Las Croabas, Puerto Rico

Las Croabas, Puerto Rico

Ponce Beach

Located at the very south of the main island just off of Route 10, Ponce Beach looks out over the Caribbean Sea. In addition to its soft sand, the water is a beautiful shade of blue, very clear and sparkles in the sun. Sprinkled along the shore are small mangrove trees making Ponce Beach the perfect place to capture a serene beach scene. It may be hard to actual take pictures here though as you may find yourself compelled to put down the camera and just relax on the beach.

Ponce Beach, Puerto Rico

Ponce Beach, Puerto Rico

El Yunque Peak

What better place to get panoramic pictures than from the top of a mountain! El Yunque Mountain is located in El Yunque National Park about 50 minutes outside of the capital of San Juan. To reach the peak, park your car at the Palo Colorado Information Center and follow the trail marked Pico El Yunque. About two hours later you will be rewarded with watching fog roll over the mountains draped with lush green rain forest all set to the backdrop of the sea and Vieques Island in the distance.

View from the peak of El Yunque in Puerto Rico

View from the peak of El Yunque

Ruta Panoramica

A short 1 hour drive north of Ponce routes 128 and 129 are appropriately named Ruta Panoramica (Panoramic Route). These two roads will lead you on windy roads through the jungle filled mountains with scenic lookouts at almost every turn. Be sure to add more time to your trip to allow for pulling over and snapping shots of valleys and mountain ranges in every direction.

Gorgeous vista along Ruta Panoramica in Puerto Rico

Gorgeous vista along Ruta Panoramica

Viewpoint along Ruta Panoramica in Puerto Rico

Viewpoint along Ruta Panoramica

From the San Juan Fort

The San Juan Fort is strategically placed on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, making it an excellent vantage point for taking photographs of the vast ocean and the coastline. Although I’m sure the architects of this historic fort did not have picture taking in mind, the lookout points once used for military reasons, can easily be re-purposed for photographers.

View of the fort from San Juan, Puerto Rico

View of the fort from San Juan

Have you been to Puerto Rico or is it on your bucket list?

Guest Posts Travel Tips

Ditch the excuses … it’s time to travel

“Oh, I wish I could do what you did and just travel but [insert a myriad of reasons why Person X just can’t possibly travel,” says most people who comment on my travels.

Which, of course, makes my blood boil.

Why?

Because — you know what? You. Can.

So, I’m calling bullshit. Yup. Bull. Shit. The only person holding anyone back from chucking it to travel and follow their dreams (even if it is just a bucket list type of dream) is THAT PERSON.

If I can do it, you can, too.

Don't let this be the only airplane in your life. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons nostri-imago

Don’t let this be the only airplane in your life. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons nostri-imago

Here comes the slashing of the excuses

Money

Not having the money to travel is the biggest excuse I get. Yes, traveling costs money. But, so does going out to dinner, drinks, shopping, rent, etc. If you want to travel bad enough, you can make ends meet and do it.

When I decided I wanted to travel (before I actually became an expat) I did what I had to do. I worked a job, and then worked side jobs to save money. The money I made from those side jobs went directly into my savings account. I didn’t touch it. I stopped going out as much. I stopped buying shoes. And purses. And bottles of pricey wine. I went grocery shopping and (gasp!) cooked — and coming from me, who is a definite kitchen nightmare — I made ends meet.

Career

It’s the American Dream to have a successful career. To make enough money so you can retire comfortably. But, doing that means you sacrifice a little piece of you — that wanderlusty beautiful piece — for a future you may or may not have. I’m not bashing the career-focused people. Having a career is great if that is what you are after. Having goals, dreams, ambitions … they are all quality traits.

But, I can promise you this. If you go, your career will wait for you. Taking a trip — a month, six months, a year, longer — does not equate to career suicide. In fact, it makes you an even stronger candidate when you get back to your “normal” life.

I had a strong career in public relations when I decided to up and leave and travel long term. Just before I returned home, I started putting queries out to friends, former employers, scouring job searches, and more. Within a month of landing on US soil, I had interviews and then a job.

Travel actually makes you more marketable. Every company or person I interviewed with was bowled over by the fact that I decided to be unconventional and take a career break. That I decided to say “screw what is expected, I’m going to do what I want.”

And, it paid off.

The house/apartment

You own a home? OK. No problem. Work with a property management company to rent out your property while you travel.

You rent? Even easier. Chuck your stuff in a cheap storage unit or sublease.

When I was living in Atlanta, it broke my heart to give up my gorgeous 1920s apartment. I would sit there with my cats and stare at the gorgeous molding, my beautiful living room with sun filling the room with a gorgeous daylight glow and actually get sad about giving it up. But then, I remembered where I was going, what I was doing, and it didn’t sting so bad.

The pets

I am writing this assuming the people who read it aren’t married with children. If that’s the case, I don’t think this will help at all. But, pets are another story.

When I told my friends I was leaving, I got a lot of grief for leaving … my cats. I had two beautifully sweet cats I loved with all of my heart. But, the truth is, my sweet cats couldn’t keep me from living. I found someone to foster them and love them while I traveled. Sadly, this last trip which made me an expat, also made me give them to a loving home for a more long-term solution.

Bravery

“You’re so brave,” people used to say to me all of the time. “I could never do what you do … I’m not brave.”

Guess what? YOU ARE. I swear, it is deep down in there. You just need to trust yourself. To know that you are making the right choice by heading off to explore the beauty of the world. It won’t always be easy, but the world is full of people just like you. They stay at the same hostels. The same guest houses. They share train cars. They sit next to you on the long bus rides. There is an entire support system at the ready for those little moment when you doubt what you are doing.

And, if you need some additional reassurance, hi, my name is Diana. I will encourage the shit out of you.

Are there other reasons you need to get out and sorted so you can travel? Let me know.

30 Life Crisis Travel Tips