Doi Inthanon National Park: The Roof of Thailand

The highest point in Thailand, a gift fit for the King and Queen and waterfalls!

Those colorful, glossy brochures that fill hotel lobbies and street corners are enticing. They’re full of exciting excursions led by knowledgable tour guides. Great right? Yes, if your wallet is stacked and you don’t mind spending a little extra (a lot extra) for convenience.

Even when I have the cash, I never really like excursions. I don’t enjoy being told where to go, when to leave and how long to spend there. So when I read a few travelers’ blog posts about how to do Doi Inthanon National Park on a budget and on your own, I was sold. All I needed was a few willing friends.

After becoming chummy with the boys I asked if they’d be interested. Doi Inthanon is a 2 hour drive from our hostel and there are hikes to take, waterfalls to play in and temples to see. I explained to them that it would cost about 1500฿ a person to do this on a tour and it would probably be a get on, get off bus type thing. This wasn’t that type of group.

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They agreed and we decided to flag down a “taxi” driver and ask for a day trip fare to split between us, as the blogs had recommended. We ended up lucking out and met Danielle and Sara the morning we were planning on leaving. This is really how easy it is to make friends. Danielle was sitting there and I was talking to Joel and literally looked at her and said, “Hey, do you want to come to Doi Inthanon with us today?”  And BOOM! we had a little 7 person tour group.

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In front of the grounds at the Queen’s Chedis

Our taxi driver quoted us 2300฿ for 3 waterfalls (that were meticulously picked because we could swim in them), Phra Maha Dhatu Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri Pagoda (the King and Queen’s Chedis) and a hike to the tallest spot in Thailand. Not a bad way to spend 330฿ each. Remember that’s like a 1200฿ savings. We also learned there is a 300฿ fee for the park that we’d have to pay on top of the tour price, so a big win! Plus, we thought we’d grab some Changs and bask in the sun all day, really making this a laid back trip.

Phra Maha Dhatu Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri Pagoda

The King and Queen’s Chedis and surrounding gardens were insanely beautiful. Meticulous tiling that detail stories that I am sure I don’t understand. These gifts were dedicated to the King and Queen for their 60th birthday anniversaries in 1987. Between the Buddha’s on the inside to the flowers and shrubs and statues, and the rolling clouds that you were literally standing in, it was really breathtaking.

The Tallest Point in Thailand 

Located 2,565 meters above sea level, this point is not a hike. It’s not even really a walk. It’s a sign and a trick. We felt silly as we climbed the few stairs to the sign and then followed a wooden pathway through the jungle and then a few meters later popped out at the gift shop and bathrooms. They do a good job of making this feel like a stopping point, and saying you made it to the top of Thailand is cool, but seriously…

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Waterfalls and (not) Swimming 

You know what they say about best laid plans? Well, that’s true in Thailand too when you can’t speak the language and have no actual idea what your “guide” has in store. After discussing and showing the driver the waterfalls we wanted to see AND telling him we wanted to swim, he had other ideas. The first waterfall, Wachirathan Waterfall, was very, very cool but there was a balcony to take pictures and no swimming allowed. It was not on our list but it was cool and huge, and it had started to rain.

 

The second waterfall I believe was the Sirithan Waterfall. There were definitely pools to swim in and multiple falls. It was drizzling at this point and the grounds were slick. We still managed to climb around the rocks and feel the water. The taxi driver was now at our sides, he had very different ideas for getting this show moving than we had in mind. “No swim” was spoken often. He did not want us chillin, at all. He even told us the ones we wanted were dry. Dry? So water/rain chooses which falls to visit? Interesting.

The final stop, and last waterfall on our tour was the Mae Klang Waterfall. It was now pouring. We didn’t need to swim, water pooled around us. Drenched, and glad to be wearing bathing suits we ran around but didn’t stay at the last stop very long. Took a few pics, saw how grand it was and got back into the taxi.

To complete the journey we asked the driver to stop at 7-11 for Changs for the wet 2-hour ride home. He did. At one with gas, where they don’t sell booze. We’d lost control of our little personalized tour, but still happily rode home after a day of discovery and adventure. But no swimming.

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After a long, wet day of sightseeing 

Next stop, Elephant Nature Park. But that’s for another post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halfway Around the World: Part 1

Week 1 – Old City, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Man, it’s been a weird week. It’s almost too hard to start this blog post so I’ve been putting it off- which is stupid. There are so many wonderful things to share. Which is why I separated this post into 2 parts. It’s a lot. So, let’s get right into it.

May 24 – May 26

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My trip started at 1pm on Tuesday. I landed in JFK and had a wonderful layover dinner with my friends. It was a very special meet-up in a random sports bar in Queens, especially because a buddy I haven’t seen in ages showed up and my brother Patrick was able to meet my friends. I was also able to give him a birthday present in person–something I haven’t been able to do in about 10 years. At 2am Wednesday morning my China Eastern plane shot into the air for a 15-hour flight to Shanghai.

After a sleeping pill, several bathroom breaks, 2 microwaved plane meals and countless annoying neck pillow adjustments, I awoke to find it was Thursday. It’s weird to skip an entire day. I’m still catching up. I don’t have jet leg, but something worse, my body somehow refuses to believe it’s 12-hours ahead of my real life.

So anyways, Shanghai to Chiang Mai was seamless and before I knew it I was checking into 99 The Gallery Hotel. I felt great, it was some time in the afternoon, the sun was high and hot, and I’d made a friend on my flight. Scott. We taxi’d to our respective hotels together and exchanged phone numbers on Whatsapp.

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Old City, CM. Top green box – Great Chaingmai Hostel. More central green box, 99 Gallery Hotel

 

99hotelbedThe hotel was beautiful and located in an amazing location. I didn’t wander around right off the bat. Scott and I had plans to meet up for dinner and explore together so I showered, sat in my room and just digested everything. It was like walking around in a dream. I wanted to lie down but the bed was rock hard. For example, when you lay down on your yoga mat at the start of class… that hard.Apparently this is just the Thai way, and I’ll have to get used to it. I decided I needed a walk.

 

The moment I realized I was in Thailand was the first turn I took out of my hotel. There, in front of me, was a big, beautiful temple. Wat Pha Bong, constucted around 1345, stood there in the crowds of workers, amongst pharmacies and buses and students in uniforms. Gold and shimmering and absolutely stunning. I couldn’t read any signage around it and I suddenly became unbelievably aware that I had no idea how to navigate this journey.

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Sight-seeing, Friend-making

Scott is a 28-year-old on vacation from Los Angeles, California, in town for an Egress gaming convention (no I’ve never heard of it either. It’s like the Amazing Race I think). We walked around town and went to the big street food market for dinner on our first night and tried our hands at Chang and Pad Se Ew. It helped that we were both so confused and new. It made it easier to assimilate into the new culture.Scott

For the next few days Scott and I did pretty much everything together. We explored Old City, ate meals, tried to learn Thai pleasantries and with the help of Scott’s rented motorbike we scouted hostels. Motorbikes are scary AF. Driving in Old City is scary AF. Crossing the street safely is a Hail Mary. All my years in Manhattan traffic paid off. There are pretty much no rules when it comes to driving in CM. For a 2,000 Baht (฿) deposit (we’ll get to money later), any idiot can rent a motorbike and scoot around the world.

Anyways, in our travels we discovered a pristine park with the world’s most complicated bathrooms, a back-alley bar that I’m pretty sure is just someone’s garage and a rad blues club, Boy Blues Bar, on top of the Sunday Night Bazaar next door to Ladyboy central. It’s because of his friendship I assimilated so quickly and easily into traveling solo. But then he had to go play with his other friends…

Things To Do

After moving into my new home at Great ChiangMai Hostel  and sort of understanding the layout of the city better, I started a bit of a routine. Still unable to figure out what

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Bed and Locker. Pretty nice and has privacy curtain!

day or time it was, I’d get up at like 7am and just go do stuff. There are things no blogs tell you about Chiang Mai and hopefully Thailand in general; the iced coffee is a drink from the Gods and smoothies (made with just fruit and ice) are A-MAZ-ING. Like indescribable. For 60฿ and 30฿ respectively you can enjoy the freshest most flavorful drink combo in the world. The fruit here is outstanding. It’s rich and filling and I’d be skinny if it tasted like this in the states.

 

 

 

Next, I figure out where to take my beverages. One of my favorite things to do so far was a self-guided walking tour of the Wats around Old City. I followed this awesome, downloadable map from Big Boy Travel. I put in my earbuds, turned on some happy jams and let Google tell me where to turn, what to look for. Technology is amazing. Old City is small enough to walk around, so stopping into shops, or getting a bite to eat is super easy.

The wats are outstanding. (I’m putting together a photo gallery, but it’s WIP) They’re meticulously taken care of and the respect shown around them is admirable. I found myself alone, wandering the grounds at times, removing my shoes, covering my shoulders and going in to stare in awe at the statues and Buddha. Although the wats all have similar qualities, they are each different. I’d kneel on the floor and just wait. I’m not necessarily a religious person, but it’s easy to feel moved and spiritual in a place of worship that has sheltered centuries of believers.

It’s possible to make donations and pray to the Buddha. But I don’t know how to pray or what to say. I’d just sit and wait. Sometimes I guess it’s ok to feel small and insignificant. It’s honestly a great representation of my current position in life-small and insignificant but knowing there’s more, a bigger plan is in motion. Whoa, heavy stuff!

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Less heavy stuff in Part 2, coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

How I decided to Take a Backpacking Trip

Like dieting, there’s no magic pill to finding your best life.

I didn’t wake up and book a ticket to Thailand. For months I was considering the possibility of taking a little “meternity leave” (omg, hello controversy!). At the end of the day, what made the dream become reality was preparation and timing.

I started thinking about and researching this journey well before certain things happened. I knew 2 things: Southeast Asia is a well documented and safer destination for budget travelers and I am a budget traveler looking for a safe destination. Unhappy in my job, I started planning to resign my current role as a contract copywriter at the end of summer. That would give me plenty of time to save and prep. But then two of my best friends announced their wedding reception would be held in mid-September [Congrats, Maq and Atara!]. I obviously can’t miss that. Time to look for a new plan.

This was just dumb luck, but the plan found me. I was given a 30-day notice that I would be out of a job April 22. The stars were starting to align. I hadn’t really started saving for this specific reason, however I had started putting money away for a downpayment on a house. I also have consistent freelance work and a great network of people to reach out to for side gigs.

At first it all seemed like a bad idea. I applied to jobs, went to networking events and submitted the appropriate paperwork to collect unemployment. I half-heartedly interviewed and sent the most basic cover letters known to man. It was embarrassing. Then I made the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

I hired a Life Coach, appropriately named Hope. It’s a bit hard to admit, it almost feels like something that shouldn’t be talked about, like mental health, but she helped clarify so many things in my life. I was feeling so lost. I woke up feeling defeated every day. It showed in my relationships, work and daily interactions. I stopped doing things I loved and didn’t feel like myself. I was on autopilot and hated it.

Hope asked me hard questions, ones I’ve avoided answering or even considering. She gave me homework that consisted of a lot of self-reflection and writing for clarification. She gave me good advice about toxic behaviors. She wasn’t judgmental or quick to tell me what’s right or wrong. She just acted as a guide, a coach. I realized I beat myself up for a lot of things that are completely out of my control.

Ever get depressed looking at Facebook? Yup, so does everyone else. it’s a part of our lives now and it has meaningful aspects. I like Facebook. But I couldn’t help seeing engagements, marriages, babies, new homes, promotions, etc, and thinking what am I doing wrong, why am I failing? These negative, comparative, counter-productive thoughts are so useless. I don’t even want a baby. I think they resemble anchors. And I haven’t seriously wanted to marry any man I’ve been with. And when it came down to it, why the hell would I buy a house? For my shoes? Hope gave me the courage that allowed me to be ok with not wanting those things right now. Accepting that it’s not right for my life… yet.

Finding my best life was going to have to start by admitting that I’ve been on a mechanical trajectory. What do I want? Who should go along for the ride? I started expelling toxic people that made me sad or didn’t lift me up. I considered alternative employment opportunities. I forgave people that hurt me but wanted to make it right again. I started feeling free and undocked myself from the thoughts that I had to settle down and climb a ladder to “fit in” or be happy.

OK, The Good Stuff.

I collected one unemployment check and then decided the trip was the best thing for me, not job hunting. I wanted to take advantage of this amazing opportunity and then look for a new job, probably in a new field, with fresh eyes and a revitalized outlook on life. I found a sublet for my apartment (saving thousands of dollars over 3 months). I paid off bills or auto paid anything that needed to be set before I left. I used my Delta Skymiles American Express miles (40,000 miles + $129 in taxes and fees) for my ticket to Chiang Mai. My miles will also cover my return ticket, but it is yet to be booked. I researched costs and asked those with more experience (Jordan Trigilio) to give me a basic rundown.

Based on an estimated $100 per week budget, things were looking good. I had enough cash to last me 12-budgeted weeks traveling, comfortably. (As an example, I’m staying at Mercy Hostel in Chiang Rai for $6/night) Next, I approached my freelance bosses and asked if they’d be cool with me taking my work on the road. They supported it and we changed our payments from physical checks to Paypal. Even more comfort!

Things were taking shape. I’ll admit getting to Thailand has been more expensive than I imagined. Buying travel goods for this type of trip, vaccines, extended Visa…upfront costs have been rough. [I’ll provide that info in a video to come this weekend once I can lay out an expense list.] But it’s all worth it.

So now you know WHY and HOW I’m taking this trip. Next step is actually packing and leaving. I can’t wait to experience all the world has to offer. Yes, I’m nervous and anxious and scared. But I’m starting to understand that’s actually my happy place. Taking on adventure and risk is my comfort zone. The unknown is my version of settling down. One day I’ll buy a house and throw a few people I love in it. But I’m ok being on my own right now and taking this journey solo.

Follow along with me as I make my way from Norther Thailand to Bali, Indonesia. I leave May 24! (Instgram: jennyfitz21 Twitter: JennyFitzCopy)

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It’s Been Awhile…

I haven’t posted in over a year. Before we break into all the fun the next 3 months will bring, let’s have a quick catch-up, shall we? Here’s what you missed:

  • Geoff moved in. Then Geoff moved out. I’m currently single. Dating continues to be hilarious.
  • I had a roommate that treated rent like a suggestion. He moved in in August. Then he moved out in February.
  • My newest roommate moved in. He has yet to move out. He pays rent. We just resigned a lease for another year.
  • I missed being creative and left managing creatives for an advertising agency downtown. I loved being downtown. However, the work wasn’t creative or busy. I was laid off at the end of April with a respectable 30-day notice.
  • Over the last 4 months I’ve traveled to
    • New York City to see my besties and attend Andrea and Colm’s wedding
    • Belize with my sister Ryan and two awesome girlfriends, Andrea and Stefie
    • Florida with my whole family! It had been over 8 years since we were all under one roof
    • Sacramento, California with my friend Bryon. I played the part of distraction to a family wedding

That pretty much sums my life up to this point. But it’s about to get a hell of a lot more interesting…

If you’d like to check out a visual representation of this post, It’s Been Awhile will bring you to my Vimeo page for 3 minute video. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Day 9 – Love and Family

Going on Year 3
Going on Year 3

A casual night out at a friendly Astoria bar, our MO if you will. That’s how we met and that’s how we’ll say our last goodbyes. Over the course of our courtship, Jameson has brought us together and torn us apart.

N has introduced me to The Saw Doctors (great music, check them out) and what it means to really love someone. This post is a little tribute to that relationship I guess. One thing I’ve certainly learned is that you can’t be with someone until you’re ok with being with yourself. That thought definitely transpires into this project.

I’m not running from anything. That’s not why I’m leaving. Technically, I’m looking for something… I’m not sure what but I’m pretty sure it’s not love. I have love. I used to think man met woman, they fell in love, argued over where to live, got married, had kids, hated kids, loved older-aged kids, died.

That’s not how we’ve been. We do it our own way, and it’s a little backward and it may not make sense to outsiders, but whether or not we “make it” isn’t measurable up to this point. It’s what happens after this. We’re not gonna play the long-distance game. No one wins in that game. The motions of the universe brought us together, and it will do what it wants between now and…forever. I don’t believe in fate though, I believe in coffee, kindness and keeping it simple.

N may have played an integral role in the last 3 years, but he has nothing to do with the next chapter in my life. Sorry, N, but at 35 years old, I think he’s still searching for what he wants to. This will be good for both of us.

Anyways, you know what’s great? Looking back on all the fun and fiascos you’ve shared with your friends, and tonight I plan on doing that with a couple girlfriends. A little Spanish tapas dinner action, followed by some rump shakin’ in some basement club. Girls’ nights out are always a blast. Shameless flirting, gossiping and those late nights are always followed by drinks for breakfast, known to New Yorker’s everywhere as brunch.

Nowadays, those late nights are also followed by the worst pain in my knees, lower back and feet. It’s funny that as you age the more money you have to spend to go out, but you just wanna couch it because even though 30 may be the new 20, your joints do not give a fuck.

And now, I’m going to meet my little brother (who is actually almost 24, not so little). We haven’t always been the best of friends, but we’re working on that. I’m attributing that openness to this project of redefining what I find most important in my life. Family is tops. It takes a lot to heal deep and painful wounds, but it’s worth it. This life is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, is it not?