While flipping through summer vacation photos from our trip to Busan and Boseong, Dave pointed out a common theme in all of my pictures: wherever I go, I always come home with a significant amount of pictures of the intricate artwork I see at palaces and temples along the way. It’s surprising I hadn’t noticed this trend myself since I consciously take pictures of the details I like in hopes of using them for inspiration some day. Not sure what I will use them as inspiration for, but the colors and designs seem to speak to me.

Dave suggested I post some of my favorites, so here ya go! Below are pictures from temples and palaces in Korea, China and Tibet. Despite all my time in Thailand, I really didn’t manage to take very many temple pictures and the ones I did take don’t quite make the cut. I guess I’ll just have to go back! Read more

Tibet Revisited

Dave and I recently went to Richard Gere’s photo exhibit entitled Pilgrim which showcased pictures from his time in Tibet. Walking through the gallery made me want to dash back home and flip through my pictures from Tibet. I didn’t take nearly as many photos in Tibet as the other people I was traveling with did because I have problems snapping pictures. I feel like it takes away from the moment, so I’m always looking to strike a balance between taking enough to remember things, but not too many that I become removed from what’s happening. I love the pictures I did manage to get while in Tibet though.

I wish I hadn’t had to join a tour group to travel through Tibet. Everything is so tightly controlled there. I didn’t walk away with a strong feel for the country other than sadness for what has happened. My guide was Tibetan and I learned a lot from him, but he was also a bit of a creeper, so I tried to keep as much distance as I could. We weren’t allowed to wander freely around, so I wasn’t able to have those magical encounters you usually have while exploring. The encounters we did have were with frowning Chinese soldiers at various checkpoints or in front of the Potala Palace. I wish I could have visited Tibet before there were so many restrictions placed on it. It was a breathtaking place to travel and I can only imagine how much more magical it must have been many years ago.

Seeing Richard Gere’s exhibit made me want to post some more of my pictures from Tibet. Some of these I’ve already posted previously, others I haven’t. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! Read more

The Lone Traveler

My first five months in Thailand were spent working with a small organization. I didn’t leave home with anyone else, but I felt like I had security going to Thailand with a job already lined up. It was the perfect way to travel to another country without really having to do it alone or with my own money. Over my Christmas break, I traveled down to Koh Samui to visit a friend and on my bus journey I met a girl who was backpacking alone for a year. I was in complete awe of her. I asked her question after question trying to figure out how this girl was able to do it alone. Aren’t you scared? Do you get lonely? What does your family think? Is your mother okay with this?

Now that I think back on that conversation, it seems rather silly of me to be so in awe of her since I was technically traveling alone already, I just hadn’t realized it yet. A few months after talking to this lone backpacker, I would make the decision to backpack through Asia alone and it felt like such a huge deal. Making the decision to travel alone was probably more difficult than the actual act of backpacking alone.

I had originally intended to travel with a friend after my contract was finished because the idea of traveling solo as a very petite girl didn’t sound like a smart idea. But while we were planning where to go and what to see I realized that our travel styles were completely different. We were both agreeing to do things we didn’t want to do.

My travel style was a little more spontaneous and less about seeing the sights you are supposed to see. I am really uncomfortable in crowds with loads of other tourists, so I tend to stay away from the popular destinations. I like to show up somewhere, eat with the locals, and rely on the small tips I pick up from other backpackers along the way. Not only is this style of travel cheaper, but it also lets me peer into how the country really works. Compromising on something so personal and wonderful felt silly. So after a long hard think, I decided I had to just do it alone. If I wanted to travel my way, then there was no other way than to do it by myself.

Once I made the decision to travel alone, I got the same questions I had asked the girl I met on the bus. It was funny to find myself responding to the same inquiries I had had just a few months earlier. I told everyone not to worry, but was still secretly not entirely convinced that I was capable of pulling it off. I thought I could probably do it since I’d survived five months in Thailand already, but then again backpacking and living in an apartment abroad are two different animals.

Choosing to backpack all by my lonesome was not an easy choice, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It wasn’t dangerous or scary in the least bit. Now I tell everyone I know that they should travel alone at least once in their lifetime. Most travelers are not just in search of beautiful places, good food, and interesting cultures; they are also looking to learn. They want to educate themselves about the rest of the world and at the same time they are looking to learn about themselves. There is no better way to get to know yourself than putting on a backpack and sending yourself out into the world unaccompanied. When you are on your own, you have no one to listen to but your own thoughts. You see sides of yourself that are usually hiding below the surface, sides that you love and sides that you want to work on.

Most people don’t want to take the leap and travel alone because there is this nasty rumor going around that it’s dangerous. If you make stupid decisions, traveling can be dangerous whether you are alone or with a group of friends. Unless you have a buddy to watch your back, getting black out drunk while backpacking is just asking for trouble. A lot of problems arise from being unaware of what’s going on and there is no better way to dull your senses than a few too many drinks. Staying alert is a good way to stay safe and in possession of those important things like your passport and debit cards. Plus, I like to think that getting hammered is something we can easily do at home, so why travel to another country to do it? If you are truly interested in traveling, then you won’t want to be hungover the next day. A killer hangover is a great way to miss out on the happenings in the city where you’re staying.

One of the other most common worries regarding solo travel is that you will get lonely. This is an easily avoidable problem because you will inevitably meet other travelers along the way and will make friends if you want to. In fact, I have found that when you travel in a group you usually don’t meet as many new people as you do when you travel alone. Being alone makes you more approachable and people are more inclined to talk to you or invite you to join them.

I do have to admit one little downside to being a girl and traveling alone…you are going to have to fend off the men. I never felt sexually threatened, but I became very tired of being asked out and I even became wary of men asking for my hand in marriage! My guide in Tibet was convinced that I was his future wife and it made things a little awkward for me when he wouldn’t accept my refusals. I usually don’t sign up for guided tours, but China requires all foreigners to travel through Tibet with a guide, so I was stuck with him and his declarations of love until I left.

Western women have a somewhat slutty reputation abroad and the men in some of the countries you visit may try to cash in on that. From one girl to another, lets try to turn our reputation around. Tiny shorts, tank tops, and dresses that are a little too revealing are not always appropriate apparel. The first way to getting less unwanted male attention is to cover up. The second is to lie.

When I was single I found myself with an imaginary boyfriend who was always living in the place that I was on my way to. He was an English teacher, we were madly in love, and his name frequently changed to keep things interesting. This story was slightly more believable than when I said I had a boyfriend back home. I have met many girls who travel with a fake wedding ring, but guys who speak good enough English to hit on you have probably already seen that trick. Plus, if you are married and traveling alone, then they usually think something isn’t right in your marriage, giving them permission to continue flirting with you.

My last bit of advice for the lone female traveler is to trust your instinct. Women have incredible gut instincts and the best way to stay out of trouble is to listen to them. If deep down you feel like something or someone is sketchy, then go someplace else.

Taking a trip alone will change your perspective and your life. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. Don’t second guess yourself and go do it! You will thank yourself in the end, I promise!

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A Trip (or a Dream) to the Roof of the World

I’ve been in Laos for a day back from Tibet by way of China, and as I flip through my pictures from Mt. Everest I still can’t believe I was there! I can’t say that it’s been my lifelong dream to go to Mt. Everest because it only occurred to me a few months ago that I could and should go to Tibet — and that if I was going to be in Tibet I couldn’t miss visiting such an infamous mountain. Once I thought of it, I just had to see the massive giant that has lured so many climbers, taken so many lives, and inspired so many people.

It’s cheaper and reportedly easier to visit Mt. Everest from its Nepali side, but I don’t like to do things the easy way. The roads in the National Protection Area of Mt. Qomolangma (Mt. Everest’s real name) were reported to be terrible. I was expecting the worst and happily found the roads to be in better condition than many of the Nepali roads I’d been on two months ago. It also helped that Tibetan drivers are also a bit better. Because of the ease and popularity of visiting the gargantuous mountain from the Nepali side, there aren’t many tourists who venture to Mt. Qomolangma from the Tibetan side, which made me even happier with my choice of route.

We spent one night in Shigatse before making the long trip to Everest. We arrived at 5pm, which left our guide Samdup one hour to get our permits because the Everest permit office closed at 6pm. He returned from the office with our permits in hand, but apparently we were quite lucky to have them. It was a holiday, Buddha’s day of birth and death to be exact, so the office had closed very early that day. Fortunately, someone who worked in the office arrived at the same time as Samdup and he luckily convinced him to give us the permits.

Instead of feeling nervous and then relieved as Samdup relayed the story to us, I was overcome by the feeling and thought that there was not a chance in the world that I would not have gotten my permit. Somewhere during the course of my recent journeys I’ve acquired a bizarre sense of confidence and optimism. I knew that I would get to base camp and I knew that it would be stunning when I arrived. There was not a single doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t happen.

Our next obstacle occurred at the army checkpoint where we had to present our permits and passports to enter the area. One of Samdup’s documents — permit, tour guide license or something else important — had expired, which meant he couldn’t go any further. Muni, one of the other three people in my tour group, had a Lonely Planet China which warned that foreigners can’t go past that point without a guide. This caused some worrying among us as we waited for the verdict, but my confidence or absurd optimism kicked in and I knew we would be able to go through. Like I said before, I was going to make it Everest Base Camp and it was going to be beautiful when I arrived. After much talking the soldiers let our driver take us into the area, leaving Samdup to find his way back to the closest town.

We had originally planned to stop at Rongbu Monastery before settling in at the Everest tent camp, but because it was so late in the day we decided to skip it and pop in for a visit on our way back the next morning. After many hours of driving we finally arrived at the tent camp. We put our bags in a tent, quickly added more clothing layers, and set off for the original base camp. The current tent camp is three kilometers below the original base camp because there were problems with human waste disposal that forced them to move the camp to a lower elevation. Other than some Chinese soldiers, nobody stays at the original Tibetan E.B.C. these days.

The other three members of my tour group –Muni, Marco, Ed — and I were joined by a Swede named Henrick whose guide decided not to hike to base camp to see the sunset with us. We were told that the three kilometer walk would only take 30 minutes, and that they would let us in upon arrival even though our guide wasn’t with us. Both of these statements were wrong.

Henrick and I took the lead and after many shortcuts we reached E.B.C. an hour and fifteen minutes later. There was a red gate like you find at the entrance to a parking structure next to an army tent where we figured we had to show our permits, passports and visas. I was starting to get sick of handing over all of my documents at this point. It was just becoming silly. I can’t believe that the Chinese government actually thinks there’s a chance that I snuck into China without a visa, made it into Tibet and had the nerve to go confidently traveling around and crossing checkpoints without the proper travel documents. But I digress.

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that Muni was carrying all of the permits until we reached the soldiers guarding the entrance. I asked the soldiers if we could come inside their tent since my hands were frozen, it was windy and I didn’t know how far the rest of our group was behind us. Surprisingly they agreed and as I explained that we needed to wait for my friends he made it very clear that if our guide was not with them then we wouldn’t be able to stay at the base camp to watch the sunset. We were already at base camp, 15 meters away from the sign that says “base camp”, but we weren’t allowed to go any further based on the fact that there wasn’t a guide to watch over us! It’s not like we were going to steal the mountain for god’s sake!

The view as we approached E.B.C. that evening.

Since I had nothing to lose, I pleaded with the guard while making up lies about our poor sick guide who stayed at the tents. After a while, he excitedly told us his great idea: He would kick us out of the tent and allow us to wait outside for 10 minutes after which we would have to leave. He kept proudly repeating that this was his idea. I couldn’t figure out why he thought it was so genius since it didn’t actually help us, until the fifth time I made him explain it, which is when he added that his general was in the next tent watching TV with the door open and everyone would be in big trouble if he saw us wandering around without a guide. So Henrick and I exited the tent, where we found the others arriving. We told them we couldn’t go in and that we would have to come back for sunrise with Henrick’s guide to hopefully get in.

When we got back, Henrick had altitude sickness and went to bed. And I started seeing things. The altitude was affecting us more than I thought it would. Every time I moved something, I could see a trail behind it. When I woke up I was still feeling this side effect, but by the time I got to base camp I was fine. I had no idea that that would be my reaction to the altitude. After all, we were only 500 meters higher than the elevation I had no problem trekking at in Nepal.

When we arrived at the military tent in the morning, Henrick’s guide Nyima took care of everything and we successfully ventured past the red gate. We took a few hundred pictures, and after 20 minutes the one cloud that was obscuring our nearly perfect view of the mountain disappeared and it was beautiful! It was exactly what I knew it would be like. This time of year you have to be very lucky to get a view like that, but for some reason there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Everest would show herself to me. The sunset had been crystal clear as well, so why wouldn’t the sunrise be as beautiful, if not more so? According to the locals though, many people make the same trip as us only to have the mountain view completely obstructed by clouds.

Our view from the original E.B.C. where everyone hangs their prayer flags.

I wrote the initials of everyone in my family on a set of prayer flags and hung them on a hill in front of Everest for good luck (writing full names was too difficult with the pen I had). Then Henrick and I built a little rock pile like the Tibetans do for good luck.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trip to see Mt. Everest, but lucky for me it got even better on our way out when we decided to stop and visit the Rongbu Monastery.

On Buddha’s birthday the monks at certain monasteries in Tibet wear masks and dance for the public to watch. The tradition goes back hundreds of years when a Tibetan king needed to raise money to build a bridge, so he danced around in a mask and costume. I’m not sure if this is exactly the story, but it’s what I understood from Nyima.

A few spectators at the Rongbu Monastery.

The celebration was supposed to happen the day we arrived at Everest, but the Rongbu Monastery celebrates and dances on the last day of the 15-day Saga Dawa holiday, which happened to be the day we visited the monastery. So at the highest monastery in the world we arrived five minutes before this beautiful, once-a-year dance began without us planning it. Like I said before, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Mt. Everest.

I can hardly believe that this was a part of my life. Luckily, I have plenty of pictures to keep reminding me that it wasn’t all a dream.

A 4,064-Kilometer Chinese-Style Train Ride From Beijing To Lhasa-

I first read about the Beijing-Lhasa train — officially the Qinghai Tibet Train — about five months ago, and have dreamed about it since.

On Saturday May 30th I anxiously waited for day to become night so I could finally go to the station and catch the 9:30pm train to Lhasa. I left for the station much too early according to everyone I had dinner with, but I couldn’t stand the wait any longer. I didn’t want to chance it that I’d run out of time if I hit traffic or the taxi driver miraculously got lost.

Once I arrived at the train terminal I felt the excitement really start to kick in. I was so close to starting my 48-hour train ride to Lhasa!!

The instant boarding began I became engulfed in a sea of running and pushing Chinese people, making me wonder if there would be other foreigners aboard. I didn’t quite understand why everyone ran because there were assigned seats. I saw no reason to rush, especially as I was weighed down by my backpack and bags of goodies: apples, mangosteens, dragonfruit, bread, peanut butter, jelly, toilet paper, and water.

Walking through the train the next morning uncovered the reason why everyone ran: they wanted to be the first in their train-cars so they could put their luggage in the storage areas before they filled up. The last to get seated got stuck with their luggage under their feet or on their laps.

I was lucky to be in a soft-sleeper car with cabins that sleep four people and have front doors. The cabins in the hard-sleeper cars sleep six people and don’t have doors. And the cheapest cars have just chairs. I can’t imagine sitting for 48 hours straight with luggage on my lap. Some people get around this by laying beds of newspapers on the spaces between train cars. Only two people fit in these nooks, so you have to be either very lucky or quick to get a spot.

My first impression of my cabin was that it was way too small for four people and their luggage, but then we found the overhead storage bins which solved the space problem. The two lower beds were occupied by two Germans, Georg and Chris, with whom I chatted with for the entire ride. Among other things, I learned important German phrases like “Kiss my ass” and “The machine is broken”, which became indispensable later when things started getting a bit  rough. The fourth bed — eye level with me — was taken by a Chinese man who, after 20 hours, we realized was a policeman. He was rather odd, sleeping in his tidy whities, and staring at us and in particular at me.

The Georg and the Chinese policeman who slept in his tiddy whities and stared at me whenever he was in our cabin.

The train spent the first part of Day One mostly driving through cities, and the second part driving through countryside and farms. For most of the day our car was quite warmer than the others, reaching about 80 deg F. We complained to a train officer, who promptly suggested that I go to a different car, an infuriating idea because there wasn’t anywhere to sit in the other cars.

This was right along the general service on the train. Everyone was genuinely pained if they had to deal with you. God forbid one of the 20 train employees sitting around chatting actually had to do any work. The trash-pickup service was timely, though, as was the bathroom cleanup for the first day. This said, I don’t recommend using the squatter toilets at any time because the floors are perpetually covered in a centimeter of urine. That being said, I also don’t recommend wearing pants that drag on the floor.

When the altimeter hit 3,000 meters on the second evening, my Germans cabinmates and I shared some Budweisers and watched a lightning storm in the distance before going to bed. I was slowly waking up the next morning when I felt a slight tug on my blankets. I looked down to see Chris pointing out the window to gorgeous snow-capped hills. I flew out of the cabin, pulled back the left hallway’s curtains, and there they were: huge snowy mountains!! I was ecstatic!

And then back to Chinese reality. The first clogged toilet happened mid-morning on Day Two, which wasn’t much of a surprise after seeing the kitchen staff pour buckets of food remains down there. It started getting really bad a few hours later when they disabled the flush buttons on all toilets. We didn’t have any stations where to unload the waste, which probably was the reason for the problems. This quickly became very inconvenient because you are supposed to drink plenty of water after the train reaches an altitude of 5,000 meters to prevent altitude sickness and dehydration. But with the toilets nearly overflowing you don’t have much of an incentive to stay hydrated…

When the toilets were just about to overflow I began wandering the train hoping to find a decent bathroom. The train officers have emergency flush buttons, but didn’t use them until it looked like they might otherwise need to do some nasty clean-up. So I hoped that by walking the train I could either find a toilet that had been recently emergency-flushed or ask an officer to use his almighty flushing powers to help me out. I just couldn’t bear the idea of urine and puke from at least 15 other people splattering back at me or sloshing onto my shoes while I peed.

When I finally asked an officer about the bathroom problem, he grumpily instructed me to use it anyway. Like I said before, the service was certainly unpleasant — making my newly learned German phrases very handy.

So I started day-dreaming a public announcement that went something like this:

Dear passengers,

Thank you for traveling aboard the China-Tibet Train.

If you need anything please DO NOT ask us because frankly we don’t give a damn. We have decided that the dining car and the car with all the foreigners will not get air conditioning for the first half of the trip. If this makes your trip uncomfortable don’t bother telling us because we won’t fix the problem.

You will notice that at the front of your cabin there are volume, light, temperature, and service buttons. Only the light button will work for you. If you need something, do not press the service button. Your best bet in this situation is to take out the net that you should have brought with you and try trapping a train officer. If you forgot your net then you are out of luck.

As you know, we will be traveling to an elevation of 5,072 meters. To assist your acclimatization we will pump oxygen through the air conditioning systems, that is, if the air conditioning is working. You will also notice that each seat is equipped with a plug for an oxygen mask so you can have your own personal oxygen supply if need be. Should you require this source of oxygen, we regret to inform you that we don’t care and we don’t plan on passing out oxygen masks so go f*** yourselves if you want one. If you get really desperate, try sucking the oxygen straight out of the hole where you would otherwise plug in your mask.

During the last leg of our trip you will no longer have access to bathrooms that aren’t covered in urine, feces, and vomit. If this is a problem for you, we suggest you stop drinking all liquids immediately.

Thank you for choosing the Beijing-Lhasa Train. Please come back soon, but don’t misunderstand and think that we want you to travel with us again because we like you, we really just want your money.

Despite the Chinese-style travel amenities, I’m delighted I did it. The views were stunning and coming into Lhasa by plane wouldn’t have been nearly as thrilling!

Goodbye Beijing, Hello Lhasa

I’ve spent the past week in Beijing, and tonight I leave for Tibet.

I’m taking the train to Lhasa which, I have been dreaming about for the past five months. It’s the highest train in the world, reaching an elevation of 16,640 feet (5,072 meters). It takes 48 hours if you start in Beijing. Because it reaches such high elevations, oxygen is pumped into the train cars and each seat has its own oxygen supply. Check it out at

In Tibet I’ll go to Everest Base Camp along with many other wonderful places over a 10-day period.

Unfortunately, I’m starting this leg of the journey with a bit of a head cold, but hopefully by the time I get off the train on June 1st I’ll be better and ready to explore Tibet!

That’s all for now!

P.S. I’ve learned so far that my Thai nickname DeeDee means good good in Thai, older sister in Nepali and younger brother in Chinese!

P.P.S. Simon, Catherine and Daphne: Many thanks for your wonderful hospitality!