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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 42 – The Lawyers, The Sitch and The Walk-in Wardrobe

Bring on the tunes
Bring on the tunes

It’s been a week since I’ve written. It’s not because I’m lazy, I promise. So much to say, and this three-hour plane ride from Houston to Newark is the perfect time to get it all down. Especially since Captain Hilarity, the funniest flight attendant in the skies comically inspires me. He started with something about those in the exit rows who just don’t give a function and ended with calling attention to a woman standing holding up 145 other passengers. Ah, the little laughs get me every time.

This guy gives a function
This guy gives a function

TUESDAY: OK let’s start from the beginning. Got on a plane in Newark and headed to Austin, Texas, for my final interviewing stage. The agency I have been speaking with for almost two months booked me a hotel, got me a car and I believed were ready to SHOW ME THE MONEY! But first, I did what all people do in a new city. I went on a date 🙂

His name is tree hugging, Earth-loving, environmental lawyer and I met him in an airport in New York a couple months ago. I really love airports apparently. Really nice, Austin-born gentleman found me on LinkedIn and we’ve exchanged a few emails. Basically, if you ever make it to Austin, let’s grab a drink. So, he picked me up at my hotel and in the warm dusk of night we had a drink (outside!) and some wonderful dinner and then we shared a gigantic piece of red velvet cake. I’m in love. Seriously. It was the best cake I’ve ever had (and you thought I was going to say something else). With early agency meetings, it was an early night and with a quick kiss on the cheek I bid my cowboy adieu.

Cake and Champagne
Cake and Champagne

WEDNESDAY: The agency lies in the Hill Country part of town and as I drove (like a grandma) up the multi-lane highway I saw monstrous mansions aligning the tops of the cliffs overlooking the city of Austin. Maybe one day I’ll get to see the view from up there. I bet it is stunning, you know being God’s country and all.

Walking into a new potential job is a little like walking into high school for the first time. You’re the no-named new guy. I did feel like that. Until I actually made it down the hall and immediately saw the chalk board wall full of song requests, a couple of turn tables, a shelving unit full or DJ equipment and records and music festival and band posters lining every inch of space. As a music lover, nothing makes me feel more at ease than a real life soundtrack. From there, it just got better.

After a couple of meetings with directors, CMOs, fellow writers and persons of all advertising walks of life, I was done. Part 2 of my day consisted of meeting with my agency-appointed broker, Steve. Steve is awesome and his apartment locating services are free. Remember, I don’t have an offer, so telling Steve my budget is a little like a guessing game. I have ZERO idea what a salary offer would be, so I gave him a range.

Me: $850 – $1300.

Steve: Are you serious? That’s everything in Austin. I have 11,000 listings.

Me: I’m leaving Thursday, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Steve: OK, what are you looking for? What’s a deal breaker.

Me: Washer, Dryer, Pool, Gym, Updated kitchen, Dishwasher, Hardwood Floors, Carpeted Bedroom, Walk-in-Closet, Hot Single Neighbors.

Steve: Oh, dear Lord.

Believe it or not, this man found me an apartment with EVERYTHING I asked for in all ranges of budget. A 1980s gem for $850, a brand spanking new resort NEXT DOOR to “my office” for $1050 and the well-known, cosmopolitan apartments known as The Domain for $1225. Every single one of them could have fit my full-sized bed I kept in my tiny one-room apartment in the wardrobe. I’m in renter’s heaven—700-800 square foot bachelorette pads just waiting for me.

Even the pools are shaped like Texas
Even the pools are shaped like Texas

Oh, and did I mention the security deposits in Austin are around $150. I’m not kidding. You don’t need first and last month + 1 month security. I had to fork over almost 4 grand for my UES joint. I can get one of these for a $45 application fee and a smile. Alas, no job, no apartment. I left Steve. Feeling confused, longing for an offer and went back to the hotel.

Exhausted, I put myself to bed early… until my other lawyer friend called and told me if I came downtown around 9:30 to see a band called The Spazmatics I wouldn’t be disappointed. Hell, if this guy, Mr. All Business is making such promising claims I had to take his word for it. I got there before him and he showed up with two beautiful ladies. It sorta crossed my mind, who wouldn’t be disappointed tonight? It turned out to be a fun night and I’m glad to got to hang out outside, see the nerdy 80s cover band and Mr. All Business and I had at least 3 things we agreed on. RECORD! (I can get into our friendship later)

The Spazmatics nerd out on Wednesday's
The Spazmatics nerd out on Wednesday’s

Thursday: Lunch date with a couple of the folks over at the agency. We had a great time, talked, and got to know each other. But, what was it all for? Where was the offer? Would there be an offer? With a trip to LA approaching in less than 48 hours I was determined to know what was next.

I got my answers in the Austin airport an hour later. My contact and future boss called me to offer me the job! With a brief discussion about the logistics we both agreed that after two months we were happily committing to employee/employer.

Thumbs up to exciting news
Thumbs up to exciting news

So, here I am, 42 days after being let go from a special hell, solo celebrating with a G&T on my flight back to the northeast for the last time until TBD. Unemployed no longer starting TBD. I feel great. I feel more than great. I’m elated. I’m going to say goodbye to my spectacularly supportive parents and head out into the great (un)known. Maybe I’ll even stop in Tennessee, but that’s another story.

Day 6 – Unemployment Benefits

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I wrote a ‘Thank You’ note to an agency for their time today, and began it with a friendly opening. I said something to the effect of, it’s almost the weekend, but everyday is weekend day when you’re unemployed. This got me thinking…

Unemployment. Just the word brings different feelings to different people. Ex-President Ronald Reagan once said, “Unemployment is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.” I’m not gonna argue with Mr. Reagan, but I will politely say, define freeloader.

I don’t feel like a freeloader. For one thing, I haven’t received anything for “free.” I am still receiving my actual paycheck from the ad agency where I provided compelling headlines and gave up ideas like geo-targeting direct mail consumers (side note: I apologize to the readers who hate direct mail, just doing my job).

However, I did file a claim for unemployment today. Which means on January 22, I could collect that “free” payout. I’ll let you know on 1/22, but I still don’t think I will feel like a freeloader. While being paid via company, I worked my ass off. And as a resident of New York City, I paid for it. According to Mint.com (this is not a paid advertisement, but Mint.com is the shit), I gave up over $25,000 of my salary to taxes this year. 25?! That’s a Volkswagen—a nice one! And because I did that, I have earned the measly income this country allows while in-between jobs. It would also take me over 60 weeks to recoup that money, and I don’t think I will be collecting for that long (what’s the average time it takes to get a job these days?).

But I digress; Everyday does feel like a weekend day to me. I run errands while you run to meetings. I apply for jobs while you make mental notes to apply for that job you saw when you get home. I can work around other people’s busy schedules and, to be honest, it’s relieving. But, I’m still working.

I’m writing for one thing. This blog has given me a sense of purpose and the response has been amazing and surprising. People have in return shared with me their layoff and moving stories, they’ve given me suggestions and feedback, and for this I am grateful. I have had a couple people request more pictures—of my life as well as the people I am talking about. It’s in the works.

This has all been possible because I don’t have a job. The energy, imagination and desire to want to put myself out there has all been because as confident as I am that it will all be OK, I’m vulnerable at the same time. It’s new for me. NYC makes people hard, guarded and tough. It’s exhausting. For me, the benefits of unemployment don’t come in monetary form. They come in the comfort of knowing that opportunity is ahead; as long as I’m open to new things, new places, new experiences, I will benefit from this little severance project.

Speaking of all things new, I learned that I could apply for a Work/Holiday Visa in Australia for the low-low price of $420. This offer is only valid until I am 31—yes, apparently Australian’s are ageists. Does this mean the plane drops down in Sydney and I am just welcomed by a swarm of 18-31 year olds? Because I’d totally be down for that. But $420 just to apply? That’s quite the commitment.

What do you think? Is it worth trying my hand at a 1-year move to the land down under? Have you ever been? Let me know.

Continue reading “Day 6 – Unemployment Benefits”