Going Vegan in Japan

Going vegan seems to be the hottest new trend in health and diets out there. Recently, my husband and I watched the Netflix documentary, “What The Health.” While I do feel that some of the documentary was a little dramatized, there were definitely some great takeaway points and facts that I didn’t know prior to watching. I won’t go into detail, but you should check it out yourself, whether you decide to take the vegan plunge or not!

After watching, we were a little disturbed with some of the foods we consumed. There are definitely some vivid, lasting images in my mind that I can never unsee. As a physical therapist, promoting health and wellness is part of my role in life, so this all seemed like something I should definitely listen to and try. Seeing how dairy and eggs alone can lead to a higher risk of disease was enough to make me want to try switching to a vegan diet.

Over the last few years, I have come to realize firsthand the part that nutrition plays in my health. Two years ago, for about 3-4 months, I kept a food diary and completed an “elimination diet.” To break this down – I eliminated all major allergens and food intolerances that would be questionable (dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, etc.) and then reintroduced one thing (dairy), ate a lot of it one day, and then tracked how my body reacted the next 3 days. Then I would introduce the next thing. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and it definitely requires self-discipline. It was very much worth it though. Now I can “pick my battles” when it comes to food based on if I want to feel bloated that day, or if I want my allergies to act up, etc. It’s pretty interesting. Shoot me a message if you’re interested even more 😉

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With this history of eliminating many of these foods from my diet, I felt like I already had an upper hand on the whole “vegan” thing. I knew there were decent dairy and egg-free pizzas, cheeses, milks, yogurts, etc. I just had never gone without meat before – Ah!

The even trickier part to starting this is how limited we are with groceries in Japan. Neither of us can read Japanese, we can hardly speak the bare minimum conversationally, so we don’t know much of what we can buy at the grocery store besides your fresh items. Of course, we have the grocery store on the naval base, but again, it is a limited selection since only certain things are shipped from the US.

Scott and I agreed that we would try, but we also agreed to not give up hope if we couldn’t make it work in Japan. We will be in San Diego, CA in just about 2 months and we know it will be much easier to adapt to a vegan lifestyle there.

Oh and did I mention – in Japan, they don’t have ovens in their homes!? Yeah, so we can only use the stovetop and our microwave. We could buy a toaster oven and/or a crockpot – BUT we’re also in a predicament here. You see, all of my 1 bedroom apartment belongings (food processor, crockpot, George Forman grill) are all back in MD… so we obviously don’t want to buy too much more and have duplicates of items that we already have (and will be reunited with soon).

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So to get started, we did a lot of searching online. From Pinterest to Instagram to random other websites. I have my basic recipes, but we wouldn’t to make sure we didn’t get bored. I’ll post a few links below that helped us out, specifically the ones that were easy and tasty 🙂

Our general grocery list looks like this:

  • Bananas
  • Fruit that is on sale (blueberries, pineapple..)
  • Baby spinach
  • Potatoes (regular or sweet depending on what is accessible)
  • Onions
  • Green and Red Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Baby Carrots
  • Mushrooms (I know there are different kinds but we’re not that smart yet)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, mangos..)
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Fortified Cereals (Cheerios)
  • Granola
  • Ground Flax seed
  • Frozen fruits and veggies (whatever is on sale)
  • Granola bars (whatever we can find that is Vegan and somewhat healthy)
  • Almond milk (usually unsweetened vanilla.. but chocolate is also delish)
  • Tofu and/or some other “meatless meat” in the frozen section (hoping to eventually only rely on the frozen ones every once in awhile)
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Avocados
  • Salsa
  • Black Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Hummus
  • Pretzel crisps (or other chips for dipping/snack)
  • Spaghetti Sauce (to at least have around, even if you don’t use it right away)
  • Seasonings (we already have a few, but basic sea salt, ground pepper, garlic salt, chili powder are helpful.. others too – but again, we are on a time constraint)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Nut butter (we already had almond butter and peanut butter)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Coconut Water
  • Vegan Protein Powder (because we like to work out a good bit)
  • Enjoy Life chocolate chips (very optional but we love chocolate so..)

Okay so that is a basic list for the two of us for about a week (maybe more, maybe less). Of course sometimes we have to run out and get something else, but that’s usually only one thing and it changes all the time!

So for breakfast, we generally eat cereal/granola and almond milk with some sort of fresh fruit. I will also make smoothies (fresh and frozen fruit with some flax seed, coconut water, and almond milk) occasionally, oatmeal, overnight oats, I’ve even made vegan pancakes pending what we have in the cupboard. And of course, I’ll have a cup of coffee usually. Right now we’ve been drinking ours black, but I know there are almond, soy, and coconut milk creamers back in the US.. just none available to us here!

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When you think about not eating meat, the first thing you probably think about is a protein deficiency. There are plenty of articles that go into depth with this – but what I didn’t think about were other deficiencies, the main one being Vitamin B12. Okay, so you could buy a supplement (I love gummy vitamins, not gonna lie). BUT you can actually get B12 in Fortified cereals (Cheerios, for example) and nutritional yeast! This was something I definitely didn’t know until I did some research.

Easy Lunch and/or Dinner meals:

Smoothie Bowls (AKA make a smoothie and sprinkle whatever toppings you want on top)

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– Usually my smoothies consist of banana, frozen fruit, flax, coconut water, almond milk. I’m kind of plain and stick to that often, but feel free to make your own and switch it up! I’ve made green smoothies plenty of times with kale, spinach, and/or avocado!
– Toppings may be: granola, sliced almonds, coconut flakes, flax seed, chia seed, other fresh fruit.

Salads

Be creative with salads because they can get old quick!

Usually our salads include some sort of darker leaf (spinach), sometimes we mix other types of lettuce in (romaine, arugula). Toppings include things like: dried fruit (craisins), almond slices, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fresh fruit (strawberries), avocado, cucumbers, zucchini, garbanzo beans, vegan cheese … really whatever you have and seems to go together!

Rice/Quinoa Bowls

Quinoa bowl – The one below is a Spinach Quinoa “Risotto” that was sooo good. See the recipe here!

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Poke Bowl – This is just your basic “sushi bowl” … kind of. Use white or brown rice – whatever you prefer – and throw some raw veggies on top! We cut up some carrots, avocado, cucumber, and then threw some soy sauce on there! You can definitely top it with tons of others, it was just what we had at the time! Super easy!

Rice and Veggies – Simple cook your rice (or make it in bulk so you can use it for other ones above too) and then sautéed vegetables.. throw them together and voila! If you want to add a salsa or vegan cheese.. hot sauce..liquid smoke.. the options are endless!

Mexican bowl – Again, plop whatever rice and/or quinoa in a bowl. Throw in some salsa, black beans, if you want any seitan or tofu that is seasoned to taste, avocado, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions.. literally whatever!!

Tacos/Wraps

Tacos – For our tacos, we used seitan ground “beef” that we bought in the frozen center. We grabbed a taco seasoning packet and then made the “meat” according to the packet – super easy! We grabbed some tortillas, cut up some tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, vegan cheese, and added some salsa.. yum! You can also just make black bean tacos.. And I’m sure you could substitute the black beans for the seitan even!? Not sure, but it’s worth a try!!

Veggie Wraps –

You know all those veggies that are about to go bad? Well, we used leftover tortillas and all our leftover veggies, put them in a wrap together and put some salsa and vegan cheese on it. Or you can add hummus. Again, the options are endless and really depends on what you have! Super simple and tasty!! And helps us get rid of veggies that are about to go bad…

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Vegan Sushi

— This may be tricky, but as long as you get the sticky white rice, you should be good. You will need a bamboo wrap thing too (not sure what the fancy name is, just being real here). I didn’t do this one, my husband did. I’m a little more impatient so I think it was better for him to do 😉 Haha. We used this video to help us out!

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Chili

So for this, I ended up boiling some regular potatoes first. I put them in the Tupperware containers and then poured the chili over top so that it gave a little “meal.” I based everything off of this recipe – but I’ll be honest, I really changed it and kind of just “winged it” (how I cook most of the time, let’s be real). I also really want to try making pumpkin chili one time… I had it once in the past from a co-worker and it was amazing!

Pastas

Basic Spaghetti – Okay, this is for real the most simple. Grab a vegan spaghetti sauce and some noodles of your choice. What I ended up doing to add a little extra – I sautéed some spinach, onions, and green peppers together and then added them to the sauce and let it simmer a little. I threw in some chick peas then for a little extra protein! You can get creative with this, though! And if you want to make your own sauce – by all means, go for it!

Another easy pasta dish we tried (recipe below)…

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Creamy Vegan One Pot Pasta

Snacks

Hummus and pretzel crisps/veggies. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been doing this foreverrrr anyways, haha.

Banana “Nice Cream” – There are so many varieties of this you can look up. There’s even a whole Instagram account dedicated to it! I do recommend a food processor, my blender had some issues with grinding up the frozen bananas and it was a little frustrating.

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Oat balls – Amazing. I’m obsessed with both kinds. Peanut butter chocolate chip and almond butter with raisins. Note: I’ve had to change these both a little bit – I’m not sure if my proportions were off or what, but I usually end up with more dry ingredients…? Just as a heads up 😉

Complete Cookies (okay, we buy these). They aren’t too bad for you and they definitely help a sweet tooth! You may be able to find limited flavors some places, or you can order in bulk here.

I hope this gives you a good idea on how to eat vegan even with limited resources. Will it take time to learn – yes, definitely. But if you’re committed, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you!! You can do it! 🙂

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Oh and if you’re in Kamakura, Japan, I highly recommend checking out Vegetus – an all vegan restaurant that we visited for a night out. It was delicious whether you’re vegan or not!! We found it on Happycow.net — which is an amazing restaurant that can help you find Vegan restaurants (or options) near you!

Good luck if you want to try it out! If not, you can still try the recipes 😉 You might be surprised!

– Jen

(Follow me on Instagram – @jennstrack19 if you want to check my vegan progress!)

 

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Travel on a Budget: 2 Days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

After my few days in Singapore, I headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

I took the bus from Singapore to KL which ended up being about 6-7 hours total, with 2 stops at customs/immigration, and a rest stop in the middle. Many people recommend flying as it is not much more expensive (maybe $60 compared to the $20 I spent), but truthfully, I was happy for a relaxing day where I could just look out the window and admire the Malaysian countryside.

I came to realize quickly that there are SO many places to go in Malaysia (Malacca, Penang, the islands, etc), but due to my short timeframe and budget, I only spent about 2 days in KL before heading back to Japan.

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Upon arrival at KL Sentral (where my bus happened to take me), I stopped at the ATM and took out 200 Ringgits. This is equivalent to about $48 USD. I truly wasn’t sure how much I would need, so I figured I’d better be safe than sorry!

When I went outside of the mall area, there were taxis galore. I had read somewhere that taxis and Uber are very common here. The train system is also, and is likely cheaper; however, it isn’t quite as common as, say, Japan.

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I was super thankful my hostel host sent me a list of directions and estimated taxi fares to get to the place. This is something I HIGHLY recommend, especially here. In many Asian countries, as I may have said before, if you are blonde, people stare. And people obviously know you are a foreigner and they WILL take advantage of you. Haggling is common here, and I am also very thankful that I learned a bit during my previous trip to Bali – AKA how to say no and make sure you are very confident in what you are asking/saying. You can be nice, but be careful because, again, they may try to take advantage of you.

My taxi fare was supposed to be approximately 5 Ringgits to my hostel. Example number one of why this was beneficial to know. I walked outside and the taxi drivers were waving me down. I showed them where I needed to go on my screenshotted map. They looked at it for a minute, conversed a little, and then said “25 Ringgits!” I initially felt a little confused, and said, “My host said 5.” No joke, they laughed at me. They kept saying “25, 25.” To which I said, “let me check.” So of course, I reread everything and realized I needed to find another way to get there. One taxi driver then approached me and said, “How about 15 Ringgits?” To which I again said no thank you and walked away.

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I’m not going to lie, I felt a little frustrated. I decided to just wait a little and see if I could get some more Wifi and try to get an Uber (luckily this mall had Wifi). I also realized maybe I should try to see if someone could fix my SIM card, since it had stopped once I made it across the Malaysian border…and well, it was supposed to roam (AH!). This would be super helpful for catching an Uber.

I decided to ask some people at a local SIM card place. What I noticed, and maybe it was because I was a foreigner, or maybe people just had a bad day, I’m not sure. But when I asked about the SIM card, one lady was very short with me and said “no we can’t help you” while the lady next to her smiled and said, “maybe the information desk can help you.” It truly seemed like there were two types of Malaysian people – the ones who stared/talked rude to me and the ones who were SUPER friendly and nice. I know this happens everywhere, but I’m just letting everyone know about my trip without sugarcoating anything. Even though I was a little upset about rude people (what did I do to them!?), I had to remember that I needed to respect their country, their people, and their culture. This is their home, after all.

Once I went inside and was directed to the IT area for my SIM card, EVERYONE was yelling at me to help me – again, nice – but a little overwhelming and made me feel a bit uneasy. And of course, they only wanted to sell me something, so once I asked if they could give me advice, they said no. So, again, frustrated, I decided I better go try to get to my hostel.

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I found an Uber for 8 Ringgits (that’s more like it) and decided to go with that one. My Uber driver was super nice and said how much he LOVED his job. He even gave me his business card, such a sweet man. Once I got to the hostel, I had to wait a little – because this was a “check in by appointment only.” It was legit the fanciest hostel I had ever been to. Mainly because it was surrounded by a lot of really nice hotels and apartments, with a fancy restaurant on top. Luckily, I was able to check in right away despite a little confusion.

My hostel room cost about $30 USD a night. So a total of $60 for two nights. It was steep, for a hostel, but I decided I wanted to splurge a little bit.. Mainly because when will I ever get to stay somewhere with a rooftop infinity pool ever again!?

So far: 8 Ringgits ~$2, hostel was $60. So $62 USD

The first night I ended up just chilling and relaxing there, went up to check out the infinity pool for a little before I came back downstairs to shower and get ready for bed. They had a few snacks at the hostel (Weetabix, animal crackers..) that I ended up eating throughout the evening (in addition to a granola bar and some chips I brought from Singapore). Was it the healthiest? Nope. But hey, it’s what I had. I could’ve went downstairs to the convenience store but I was just that lazy. Sacrifice.

I woke up the next morning with the plan on going to the Batu Caves for breakfast! I called an Uber using the Wifi, hopped in and headed on my way! My hostel owner told me to make sure to get a coconut here because they are “the best,” and so is the breakfast.

The drive was only about 20 minutes or so, and the Uber was only $2 when it was converted back to USD (again, I made sure to ask the hostel guy how much it should be…super helpful). Once you get to the caves, it is all free (unless you pay for parking). I was also told to go in the morning before it got too hot because, yes, you will likely be sweating after climbing all of those stairs.

I probably spent about an hour walking up and down the stairs, mingling with monkeys, hanging out inside the cave. I’m sure you could take longer if you wanted, but I was getting a little hungry and thirsty. I headed back down the stairs and saw a coconut stand close to the entrance. 5 Ringgits! AKA just over $1 USD, woohooo! I watched the guy cut it right in front of me and sipped on that beaut for a solid few minutes. I’ve only had fresh coconut in Bali and I can’t quite remember enough to compare, but regardless, it was an awesome coconut.

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From there, I decided to wander a little to find somewhere to eat breakfast. There were a few shops with some local candies and treats, but other than that, nothing really caught my eye. I finally walked by a place and was waved in. At first, the guy was trying to explain things to me – it was Indian food. I decided to ask for a menu. The STRANGEST thing happened – he motioned like pushing me away instead of a “come here” motion. He walked away and kept pushing the air away. I thought maybe I offended him, I was so confused. 30 seconds later, he grabbed the menu and brought it back out to me. My heart had stopped because I wasn’t sure what I did. Turns out, I guess it just meant to wait there? I’m not sure – but if this happens to you, don’t be afraid! haha

I ordered some sort of crepe thing on the menu as well as an iced coffee. Guess how much this cost me? 5 Ringgits! Another $1 USD, woo woo! And let me tell you, this was hands down the best iced coffee I’ve ever had.

The toughest part of going to the Batu caves without a SIM card was that – ahh, I didn’t have WIFI!? How could I call an Uber?! I had asked my hostel guy (he knows everything, I swear) and he said the restaurant people would likely let you connect just to get an Uber.. but honestly, I wasn’t sure. Again, being a foreigner sometimes scares me, honestly. It can be tough, but you just have to be confident in yourself (or pretend). I ended up wandering a little to see if I could get a free Wifi connection. Magically, after walking closer to the caves, I hooked onto some. I was able to call an Uber quickly, and then walk to the entrance to wait for him (even after I lost the WiFi). Amazing, right? Also kind of lucky, but hey, it worked. Once again, this Uber was about $2.Geckos Latest Offers Gaiam Restore Products Banner

I headed back to shower and chill out (the beds were super comfy, so why not just lay there for a little and let everything recharge?) My breakfast was kind of late so I didn’t really plan on eating until 4 PM – like an early dinner. And since I still had a crap ton of cash, I decided I would let myself splurge a little bit.

Around 4, I headed out to a mall close to the Petronas Towers. It didn’t have wifi like I had hoped, but it had a few restaurants that I could pick from. My Uber here ended up being about $1USD.

I was told to try Laksa while I was here, so I found a place inside the mall to eat this. I wasn’t sure which kind to try, so I just got the basic. Now… I’m not the spicy food kind of person (you might ask then why the heck I was in Southeast Asia?!) and I didn’t know this was going to be spicy.. but I guess I should have assumed that (duh).

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So, I ate it. Well, I sipped it. And then I took large gulps of my iced tea. It was spicy (to me), but delicious! I kept eating as much as I could but eventually had to buy another iced tea (I’m that lame). My meal in total cost me about $5 USD.

Running total: $74 USD.

I still had some time to kill before it got too dark out. I wanted to make sure I saw the Petronas Towers in the light, but then wanted to be at the light show at night – around 8 PM. So, I decided to wander the mall and treat myself to some dessert. I couldn’t help it! The food was too good!

I ended up with this crepe/cake kind of thing. I think it was French inspired, but my tummy loved it regardless. It cost me around $6 USD with the coffee and cake (there was a special I took advantage of- obvi).

After I relaxed for a little, I took my short walk across the street to see the infamous Petronas Towers. One thing I want to warn people of – is if you’re on the first floor and need to go to the bathroom, they will charge you. On a budget, I could definitely head up to the next floor to go 😉 haha.

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I headed out back and relaxed for a bit in the park. There were tons of people around and it was definitely a cool vibe. I ended up sitting across the pond area so the towers were in the background during the light show. It was definitely neat, but to be honest, I thought the Gardens By the Bay one was better for sure. I would still recommend you go see this light show, though!

Exhausted and without wifi after the show, I decided to head back to the mall because I knew there was a Starbucks there. I grabbed a bag of chips (about $1 USD) and hooked onto their wifi. Yes, you had to actually buy something to hook into their wifi. From here, I ordered an Uber to head home, once again, about $1.

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It was about 9:30 or so when I finally returned. Being the grandma that I am, I decided to pack my things and head to bed. I would have to get up early to head to the airport tomorrow. I planned on calling an Uber again, but, of course, the cheaper option would be to take the train (not sure how long that would take or how much).

My Uber to the airport ended up costing me about $20, bringing the total to $95. Again, I’m sure if you used the train, it would have been much cheaper. They also warn you about Kuala Lumpur traffic. I didn’t hit any (I left around 9), but beware. I wanted to make sure I left super early even though it should only take about an hour to get to the airport. Once I got there, of course I ended up eating breakfast and heading to my gate, normal airport things.

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My last breakfast was Teh Tarik and more kaya toast with soft boiled eggs (similar to what I had in Singapore). I still thought it was too sweet for me, but delicious and I definitely recommend you try it. It cost me about $3.

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So total including all of my transportation during my 2 days, I spent about $99 USD!

Again, without the taxi back, that could have easily been $79+ the train fee. And of course, if you wanted to spend more or had more time – go for it! Just letting you know what I spent 😉

Hopefully this helps in your KL journey… and if you need advice on any flights or other tips to save money here and there – check out my blogs on those 🙂 Or check out my most recent blog on a short trip to Palawan in the Philippines.

Happy travels!

Jen

Travel on a Budget: 3 Days in Singapore

While Singapore was not my first solo traveling trip, I was surprisingly nervous to go. That being said, I also googled a few things and learned that it is a very safe country to travel in. I didn’t have a ton of money to spend here – as I am only working part time at the moment and my student loans show no mercy towards me. So, I stuck to a budget with a goal of spending around $100 USD once in the country (flights not included).

This goal was a little more difficult in Singapore (as compared to my 2 days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), and I did end up going a little over. But I now also see places where I could have not splurged as much – or even places I could have a little more.

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My flight from Tokyo was, of course, the cheapest and most direct one I could find. I really didn’t want any layovers for this trip since I knew the two major cities I would be going to are also huge airports that host a lot of layovers. I flew Delta on the way there (will update my flight blog soon!) and it was great. They actually let you have free messaging on longer flights now!? So I could keep in touch with people on the ground via Facebook Messenger, iMessage, or WhatsApp. It was a nice surprise, for sure.

I landed in Changi Airport (named the best airport for many years – apparently it has a slide, which I sadly didn’t get to see) around 12:30 AM, just after midnight. When I booked this flight, I decided to forego a hostel for that first night, especially knowing that there could have been a flight delay, essentially paying for a bed I wouldn’t be sleeping in. Not to mention, the train system (MRT) doesn’t run all night long – so I would have to take a taxi to my place. Still not super expensive, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I had slept a little on the flight, but I knew I would need to find somewhere in the airport to nap for a few hours. I left the arrivals area, grabbed a SIM card (it was the StarHub Happy Prepaid card – worked great in Singapore, but it wouldn’t let me roam once I left the country – which I had bought it for that reason, AND customer service couldn’t help me out… just as a heads up). I walked around a little and found a carpeted area where a lot of people were sleeping, so I joined in.

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So – as I will later explain in my blog from Kuala Lumpur – I had only one carry-on bag and it had to weigh <7kg. Delta did not restrict me, but my flight back on AirAsia would. And the time of my return back to Tokyo will make it difficult for me to check a bag, as I likely would not make the train home in time. So, again, I have one book bag filled with a few outfits, some granola bars, a few of my favorite complete cookies, my neck pillow, and some toiletries. I will go further into the packing specifics on another post. 😉

So I slept a few hours, probably like 2.5 before I got up and found a charger. I knew the MRT would start running around 5 AM or so, and I wanted to get out of the airport and start exploring! I started following the signs to the MRT, got a little lost, asked one security guard (who kind of gave me a snide “it’s not open yet”) -like yes, I know, but it will be in 20 minutes and I still need to get there so — duh. The other one was very kind and laughed and tried to explain it to me. As I headed back the way I came, a man in front of me stopped and – yes- took a picture of me. There was nobody behind me at this point in time, and if you didn’t know, cell phones produced in Asia for some reason cannot have their pictures muted. So yeah – I heard it. It was strange. BUT – this is my warning for any blondes traveling in Asian countries. It happens a lot more than you think. It’s usually friendly, but sometimes it just creeps ya out. Like in this instance, when I just walked incredibly fast past this man then.

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I found the MRT finally – it wasn’t tough really, just had to follow the signs. I bought an MRT card from the main desk area – again, very simple and there are signs. You can buy a ticket if you think you’re not going to take the MRT often, but it’s definitely a cheaper option than a taxi, and very easy to navigate in my opinion (even easier than Japan for me, because it’s in English!!) If you buy the MRT card, you can also use this on the buses, which I did often.

So.. Current price total: SIM card $32, MRT card: $12 — $44.

With my fancy new card, I hopped on the MRT out of the airport towards Merlion Park – one destination I wanted to see. I ended up hopping out at the River Walk area (can’t remember the stop) and did that while walking to Merlion Park. The sun was just beginning to rise – it was such a beautiful time to see everything! Mostly everything was quiet besides the few runners and bikers that I saw.

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The best thing about all of this beauty — it’s totally FREE 🙂

 

 

After hanging out at the park and wandering around a little bit, I had an appointment of my own across the city. Something you could do while in this area is check out Chinatown as it’s fairly close.

My little trip consisted of meeting with a Singapore physical therapist. Before I met with him, I had a late breakfast/brunch – “Singapore style” – of Kopi with Kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. It was definitely good – but phew – it was kind of sweet for me! They really like their butter. That being said, it also kept me full for awhile. Something I didn’t know is that many people put soy sauce in their soft-boiled eggs (I eventually tried this in Malaysia and it was really good!).

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My breakfast? $4. That brings the total to $48 (Singapore dollars)

After my few hours visiting the local university, I finally headed back to check-in at my hostel – and walked quite a ways. My hostel total was about $15 x 3 nights — $45 (different websites give different deals – so be sure to check that out!). Another money saver to check when booking is – do they give free breakfast?? Mine did. Although it was only bread/toast with jelly or Nutella and coffee/tea – you better believe I ate SANDWICHES before I left each morning 😉

Running total: $93

Since I was pretty exhausted that night, I decided to just shower and relax and walk around the area a little bit. I ended up finding a 7-11 where I grabbed some water and a few snacks (about $7 for 2 bottles and chips) and a hawker center that looked decent?! People were staring, so I just acted confident, as always, and ordered a rice and steamed chicken meal – which I heard you should do. So, rice, steamed chicken, and miso soup. How much? $3.50 !! WINNING!

Total: $103.50

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I went back to the hostel that night and planned what I was going to do the next day. I decided to go to Little India and then see Gardens By the Bay – one of the highly rated attractions. Best part about it? You can go see most of the Gardens for FREEEEEE (such a great word, am I right?)

The morning started out rainy. Again, I had a lovely breakfast of Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches (hehe). I stocked up with my carbs before I hit the road. With the SIM card, it was super easy to navigate everywhere. One thing I did learn though – is to make sure you make it OBVIOUS that you want a bus. They will not stop. I had one pass me twice. I also don’t even think it was trying to come over, but hey, whatever. It happened to another guy too – so it wasn’t just me. They don’t wait for anyone here!

Anywho, so Little India was a cute little area. I just walked along and window shopped – knowing I had no room for expansion in my backpack. There are a lot of cheap things in this area – so if you want to spend a little, go for it.

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I ate lunch at an Indian place. Azmati and chicken curry. It was really good! The other thing about Asia though, is that there are NEVER napkins out freely – I swear. Many people bring their own napkins. So here I am, napkin-less, being stared at, half-dying from the heat of the curry (I can’t handle a lot of spice), trying to make sure it’s not on my face or in my hair yet still feeling like it’s everywhere…yeah, you get the point. It was all very delicious and.. $5 ! woo woo!

Total: $108.50

I then headed out and went to the Gardens by the Bay. I wanted to time this right, because I knew there was a light show at night, but I still wanted to explore the Gardens during the day. To me, there is PLENTY to do in the free area that can entertain you for hours. It wasn’t hard, and I didn’t even get to see everything. I ended up buying the access to the others ($22 on a discount website for Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome) and splurged a little. But, truthfully, I regretted it. It was great, and if I had been there longer, I think I could’ve enjoyed it more. But for one day to do everything, it was a little overwhelming and kind of redundant. Stick to the free things if you only have a day, for sure.

 

 

As you can see, the trees were beautiful, and the gardens, again, were amazing. It was a very relaxing time just wandering and looking around. Not to mention the light show was awesome! Hands down the best light show I have ever seen. Again – all free!

Total: $130.50

After the light show, everyone booked it out to the MRT. I ended up staying back a little and just hung out. Oh, by the way, the port-a-potty they had also had a plant in it!? Crazy, right? Made me laugh.

I still hadn’t had dinner by this time, and I was hungry. Just because of time – I ended up stopping at the 7-11 on the way home. I grabbed a sandwich and, yes, some more snacks. Probably ended up totaling $7.

Total $137.50.

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The next morning, I woke up and wasn’t too sure what to do – but I knew I wanted to enjoy the sun (and heat) a little bit. Of course, I ate my free breakfast 😉 and then decided to head to East Coast Park around 11 AM or so. I wasn’t in any rush, so it wasn’t a huge deal when I left. I used my google maps and took the bus to the park. It was definitely a hot day — I wish I had wore my bathing suit instead, haha.

I chilled out by the beach for a bit. This park is less of a swimming place and much more of an activities kind of place. Many people rented bicycles and there was even a fitness park! I ended up doing a little workout before I left. After about an hour, I decided to go for a little stroll to find some water or something cold.

 

 

My lunch ended up being some frozen yogurt. Not the healthiest – but I’m an adult, right 😉 haha. It was filled with fruit and just hit the spot! And it was $5!

Total $142.50

After I was done relaxing in the heat, it was already 2-3 PM, so I headed back to the hostel. I decided to shower once I got back and take a little nap (because I love naps, and that heat drained me!)

Now this is where I ended up splurging. I went to find Chili Crabs (which I knew would be a little expensive).. I ended up spending $30 on the crabs and $2 on my smoothie. Being from Maryland, I felt like I had to at least compare these Singapore crabs (they’re actually from Sri Lanka) to the crabs I’m used to. They were good, but they were sweeter than I am used to. And of course, they didn’t have any old bay seasoning. The way they are cooked, they ended up being extremely easy to break apart and eat.

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This puts my total at $174.50 Singapore dollars. I ended up stopping at 7-11 again after to grab another bottle of water and a Milo drink for the morning (just to try it). Totaling $3. So, $177.50.

Of course, I had to be up early for check out in the morning to head to my bus. I snagged a few sandwiches and headed to the bus station (which I had chosen to be nearby). It was a little confusing to get there – but I gave myself extra time to find it, luckily.

My total cost of my Singapore trip was $177.50 Singapore dollars, which converts to about $130 USD. Things I would recommend to anyone for next time: Don’t book the extra things at Gardens By the Bay. That alone will save you $20 or so. Also, if you don’t want to splurge on the crabs – Don’t! Again, that will save you $30 right there. So maybe instead you would eat a $5 dinner. If I hadn’t spent money on those 2 things, I would have saved about $45 on my trip, which would mean I would have spent $132.50 Singapore dollars AKA $97 USD! You can also save money by not purchasing the SIM card (take another $30ish dollars away). Wifi isn’t always accessible, but everything is in English and you can usually ask someone or find a coffee shop with access!

And of course, you can DEFINITELY splurge if you have the money! I just chose not to 🙂 This is just a guide from what I recommend.

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Another note, I ended up taking a bus to Kuala Lumpur. It cost me about $20 Singapore dollars when I booked in advance. If you book there, I believe it cost people $30. Many people fly as it is quicker, but it can cost $50 or more. Again, not a bad price – but I enjoyed seeing some of the countryside as I traveled between countries. I think I left around 9:30 AM and arrived in Kuala Lumpur around 4 PM.

Stay tuned for my Kuala Lumpur on a budget blog! I spent even less in Malaysia than I did in Singapore. So awesome!

Until next time,

Jen

Japan: To Yokosuka and Beyond

While I’ve traveled many places this past year, there’s one place I now call home – Yokosuka, Japan! Whether you are stationed here for the military, living abroad here (or nearby in Yokohama or Tokyo), or just traveling temporarily, I’m sure you will be looking for things to do!

I have been to a few places now in the local area, all at a relatively cheap price. One of the places we traveled to recently was Arasaki Park.

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Arasaki park is about an hour via public transportation from Yokosuka, even quicker by car, according to Google maps. It’s great for families and a great place to spend your whole day if you desire. When we arrived, there were tons of families with tents and picnic blankets camped out for the day, just enjoying the weather.

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You can either sit on the beach, at a picnic bench, in the grass, or go explore the beautiful cliffs!

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The trails weren’t difficult, except maybe one where there were chains provided. However, you don’t need to conquer these difficult paths to see the beauty!

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Another thing we recently did, available on the Yokosuka naval base, was rent paddleboards for a few hours. On base it was super cheap, my husband was even free. You just have to go to the Green Bay Marina to check it out.

Not in the military? Paddleboarding and kayaking are available at many harbors – google your town to see what’s available near you!

Another trip we took, just a short 45 minutes from Shioiri station in Yokosuka (possibly quicker from Yokosuka-Chuo as long as you’re on the limited express), was to Kawasaki. We have headed here twice now and plan to return again. Similar to Yokohama, Kawasaki is just a little smaller, but very modern and filled with tons of restaurants and shops.

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In the summer, the More’s Beer Garden is open. For 3800 yen each, we enjoyed a BBQ and all-you-can-drink! We easily got our money’s worth, not to mention it’s on the rooftop of More’s so it was a nice view. It wasn’t crowded at all around 4PM when we arrived, but once we started leaving around 6PM, people started to gather.

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Another place we ate at was J.S. Pancake Cafe in LAZONA. These pancakes were beautiful and delicious – seriously the maple butter ones might have been the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

Finally, a place we explore often… Yokohama! Yokohama is a 30-40 minute train ride from Yokosuka and has TONS of things to do. One thing you can do in the fall is go to Oktoberfest.

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Like many other Oktoberfest celebrations, there are tons of beer options, both local and from Germany, and lots of vendor food. It was a nice day to kick back and relax and enjoy some good beer (in some really big glasses…or not, whatever you decide).

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Another place we checked out in Yokohama is the Kirin Brewery. You can take a free tour of the brewery, taste hops and malt, and then you get 3 FREE samples at the end. And I mean legitimate samples — like FULL glasses. The catch is, you only have 20 minutes to drink them. Challenge accepted? 😉

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Just want to go for a walk in Yokosuka? Be sure to check out Verny Park, the park that runs right next to the JR Yokosuka station, very close to Shioiri station and AEON mall. It’s a beautiful little park along the water with tons of benches, plants, and space to do whatever you want! Yoga included 😉

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Looking for other things to do in Japan? I previously wrote two different blogs on places I have been in Japan, one on some general areas and another on our adventure up Mt. Fuji.

Be sure to check those out as well- and check out my blog on Simple Ways To Save Money (because we all know traveling isn’t cheap) to help you budget for your upcoming trip!

Until next time,

Jen

Foodstirs, Inc

Simple Ways to Save Money

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**Blog updated on 9/20/17**

Attention Californians (and a few other states/cities)!! Ever since moving to San Diego, Scott and I signed up for OhmConnect. You make simple money for simply turning your lights off for a few hours — crazy and EASY. We use the time to sit outside, go to the gym, go to the grocery store..NAP! Since joining approximately 6 months ago, we have made $130 and are on a streak. You simply connect your electricity account with it and then you’re good from there. I’m planning on cashing it out during our next vacation 😉 Check it out!! Use my code through this link and get $10 just for joining and then $10 once you are fully enrolled with your electricity account! Happy Saving!!

**Blog updated on 7/20/17**

Hello again!

As many of you know, I recently took a 2 month hiatus from work to do some traveling and just kind of “live” in Japan. With an overwhelming amount of student loans plus the regular amount of bills to pay (yay adulthood), my ability to save and budget money needed to be top-notch to be able to do this. Luckily, I have always been pretty good at saving money my whole life, but finding these few extra little things has definitely helped me save a few extra bucks here and there!

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First off, GROCERIES! I love using coupons, but I find it hard sometimes to be able to readily access them whether it’s in the newspaper or I have to print it. I’m not exactly one to go out of my way just to get these, but if it’s convenient, I will definitely do it! What I have absolutely loved is two coupon apps that I have on my phone:

  • Ibotta: This one is my favorite and I think it works the best to be honest. You simply go through the app, find the store you are shopping at, and click each coupon you want to add. To me, the best part is that you can do this AFTER you are done shopping (at most places – I think Food Lion you have to do it before). But this way I’m not necessarily tempted to buy 3 things I won’t use. I can just get home, sit down, and scroll through what I bought! Sometimes you can save 25 cents, sometimes it’s 2 dollars! They even have challenges to win extra cash! You can do these with “teammates” and other people you know that have Ibotta. Finally, you can even earn percentages back on items you purchase through the app. You really can’t go wrong!! ANNNND if you click HERE to download it now, you will get an automatic 10 bucks added to your account for your first qualifying purchase!! You can literally buy bananas..and get 10 dollars.. crazy.
  • Checkout 51: This one doesn’t have quite as many options as Ibotta, but I still like to use it also! I definitely haven’t saved as much, but it’s cool because sometimes you get the same coupon for both apps, and it ends up basically being free! This one also has the option of entering into a sweepstakes every time you spend more than 60 dollars on your grocery bill! Which is pretty easy to do, unfortunately, haha.

The thing to remember about both of these is that you must reach $20 before you can transfer it over to Paypal, Venmo, or the giftcards of your choice! Just as a heads up 😉

The second big thing I use is Honey. It’s basically an app you can download to your browser that searches for coupon codes that have been used by other people. I’ve saved probably about 60 dollars so far using this with different coupon codes I had no idea even existed!! It literally does all of the work for you and it just pops up to let you know – heeyyy you can save money here, duhhhh! It’s pretty awesome! AND if no coupon codes work, you still have the option of getting some sort of % of cash back into your account, which you can later turn into an Amazon Gift Card 🙂 You can’t beat it!! You can download it HERE!

The third thing I use is Bing search engine which is connected to Microsoft Rewards. This has changed a little bit over the past year, but you still get to earn points by just searching the web! These points then add up to things you can buy on the Microsoft Rewards store such as movie rentals, subscriptions, or what I use it for — Skype credit (perfect for traveling)!! You can also redeem your points for donations to certain charities, it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

Besides the basic budgeting and not spending money on a ton of silly things, these are a few other ways I have been able to save a few bucks here and there!! I hope it helps some of you out whether you are budgeting for a house, a child, a wedding, travels, or just trying to pay off bills!

**UPDATES as of July 2017**

DScout: Something that was brought to my attention after I wrote this article was Dscout. It’s a mobile app for market research. In the 3-4 months I have been using it, I have probably spent a little over an hour recording things and I have been picked up for 3 surveys, which I have made about $50 each in! Of course, you have to be selected, but hey, being picked for 3 in 3-4 months isn’t half bad!

InboxDollars: If you read previously, I had tried Swagbucks. Maybe I just wasn’t patient enough, I’m not sure. But it was taking awhile and I was having little success. I’m not saying InboxDollars is going to be much different, but hey, I’m going to try it out. They send emails and have surveys as well as earning little bits of change through polls and search engines. You can check it out HERE. It’s definitely not a way to make a ton of money quick, but it’s something!

Something very similar to InboxDollars is Branded Surveys. They actually give you more money when you get denied surveys, so that’s pretty nice! And you only have to make $10 before cashing out!! Double win! (So far, I’m liking this one better than InboxDollars I think? But you can’t make money from watching TV on here…)

Booking.com: So since I have used booking.com multiple times, I am now able to “refer” you to receive $20 USD! Both you and I will receive this discount if you use my link to book. Then, after you book, you can invite others and receive more discounts!! See what I mean?! Click HERE if you’re planning on staying in a hotel anytime soon!! They have been a great service to Scott and I, we’ve actually booked through them a few times and they’ve been great!

If you’re really wanting to travel and want some “real life experience tips” – be sure to check out my Budget Travel blogs in Singapore and Malaysia 😉 AND/OR check out my page to see if there are any current deals of the week!

Until next time,

Jen 🙂

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Love, Pray, Eat… Or Something Like That: Bali

Ahh Bali, my final destination on this short journey! Well, except I did return to Japan after, but that’s another story. Bali was certainly the “pray” part of my trip.

My flight left Thailand around 10 PM, leaving me with a 5 hour layover in Singapore throughout the night. Upon arrival, I tried to find somewhere to charge my phone and ended up just closing my eyes and resting on a few chairs (like many others). Unfortunately, my phone wasn’t able to connect to their wifi in the airport, the kiosks couldn’t read my passport and I didn’t have any coverage to make a phone call like it said, I only had wifi capabilities. Luckily, they do have free internet computers located around the area, so I grabbed one of those to send out a few emails and messages to pass the time. As crazy as it was, I was on the computer and I turned around and saw a bunch of Singapore cops, guns and all, surrounding me! I was terrified, as you can imagine. They asked to see my passport, boarding pass, asked me a few questions and if I was traveling alone. I obviously cooperated and knew I didn’t do anything wrong (or at least I hoped not!) I’m not sure if it was just again, the timeframe that I was traveling (just after the inauguration 2017..) that put them on a higher alert. Or maybe because I was a blonde American female traveling alone? I’m not sure, but it was scary. Even the workers nearby said “That was scary” after they left. Ahh! But it’s okay, we all survived. I still enjoyed the airport, haha 🙂

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I finally arrived in Bali bright and early. Immigration went much quicker than in Thailand, that’s for sure. I stopped at an ATM to grab some cash. Of course, in the moment and in a rush to find my airport transfer, I didn’t fully understand how much money I was taking out and ended up taking out only about $100 USD, which I later realized (duh). I figured that probably wasn’t going to last me my whole week, so I had to make another ATM trip once I got to my place of stay.

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So while I was in Bali, I stayed at Serenity Eco Guesthouse. My stay included unlimited yoga for the week as well as a single backpackers room (there were a bunch of options, but this is what I chose). Being that it was eco-friendly, there were a few rules/suggestions such as: no toilet paper in the toilet (had to put it in the trash can), lights out when you leave, no sunscreen on before you get in the pool to decrease chemicals, recommended use of organic products, all raw/vegan food served at the restaurant. If you like to recycle and save the planet, I would definitely recommend a place like this. Otherwise, you may want to find a “fancier” hotel or resort! I loved all of the gardens and the atmosphere of the resort..so Bali! The pool wasn’t too bad either 😉

With my stay, I got free breakfast all week! The food was all so amazing and healthy, I loved it!! I drank straight from a coconut, had gluten free breads, nutella pancakes, vegan cheese spreads, rice porridge, fruit smoothies, I even snuck in a few pieces of chocolate here and there. Why not, ya know? This was all at the restaurant “Alkaline,” which was attached to the guesthouse I was at. They also bottled their own water that they had filtered and set at a certain pH level, it was pretty cool! The only food I didn’t like of the whole trip was here.. Gado Gado. You can find this many places, but for some reason I just couldn’t finish it. I think I just like stronger tasting foods. I would definitely still try it if I were you, we all have different taste buds!

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My first few days I mainly woke up and went right to the beach. I was staying in Canggu, which, upon booking, I didn’t realize that it was such a surfer’s beach! Pretty cool atmosphere though. There were a lot of people from all over the world who came to surf! The beach didn’t have that crystal blue water, but hey, I was at the beach in January..in Bali, who cares? I will have to say the one thing I didn’t enjoy about laying at the beach was constantly getting approached by the locals to buy bracelets, rings, massages, hair braids. I did buy a few bracelets, but that was only from one local, so the others wanted me to buy some too! I completely understand this is their way of life and how they make a living, and I respect that. It was a little difficult at times to completely relax on the beach, though. I tried to situate myself near others in hopes to not be approached. Let’s be honest, I’m not much of a jewelry girl anyways 😉

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I generally hung around the beach for a few hours, wearing sunscreen of course, and still getting sunburnt. Then I would head back for lunch and yoga! Somedays I went to the restaurant downstairs, but I found a few other cute restaurants that I would recommend here:

The Recovery Room: Amazing! I ate here twice and got their avocado coffee, an egg frittata avocado benedict (or something like that), a beautiful smoothie, and even a gourmet grilled cheese. The staff was super friendly, there are couches everywhere and it’s such a chill vibe, I loved it!!

Old Man’s: This is the “hip” spot at Canggu. There are tons of tourists here and it’s definitely a party atmosphere. I went one night for dinner because I was really craving a burger and a beer – something not organic, haha. It was delicious! They had an acoustic reggae band playing while I was there and there were not only younger folks but families as well. Plus I loved the lights that decorated the whole place, not to mention you’re right next to the ocean.

Eden Cafe: Okay so the day I tried this place, I had just walked to the post office from my place of stay which was about a 45 minute walk.. Except it turned into an hour+ because I had to stop in all of the cute shops! Needless to say, when I was heading back and found this place, it was the perfect place for me to cool off with a smoothie bowl..and let my sweat dry haha. It was so satisfying!! I also had some of their homemade lemonade, which was also good!

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Obviously while I was here, I did a bunch of different yoga classes. I actually had my first experience with Yin in Bali! And wow, let me tell you, it was amazing and crazy all at the same time. We were focusing on 4 different emotions throughout the class during each of the positions (that you hold for a few minutes, because that’s what you do in yin class). I am not kidding you, I cried! I couldn’t stop myself! We were told to think of different instances where we felt 1) safe 2) thankful 3) love and 4) happy. While I tried to think of other things, I could only think of my boyfriend (sappy, sorry). I won’t go on with the sap, but it was an amazing session, even if I was trying to hide my tears during it, haha.

On the other hand, I also did some aerial yoga and acro yoga!! Again, all of it was amazing and just being surrounded by others who loved yoga was so much fun! We were all definitely sweating after acro!

Besides the yoga and the beach, I felt that a trip to Bali would not be complete without a trip to Ubud, the “cultural center” of Bali. Those words could not have been more true. There was so much artwork and culture in Ubud, it was beautiful. I was able to see a Barong dance, see some beautiful wood carvings as well as watch jewelry being made. I booked a tour for the day which was basically my own personal taxi, costing around ~$50 total for the day, which included pick up around 9 AM and drop off around 6 PM. I ended up additionally having to pay for tickets and parking, so I might have gotten ripped off, but all in all, I still only paid about $70 for the day itself, plus my souvenirs. My tour guide was very kind and informative, even held out an umbrella for me when it was raining.

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One of our first stops of the day was the Barong Dance. The Barong dance is a tale of the triumph of good (Barong) over evil (Rangda). I learned from a woodcarver that the Barong is also symbolically said to be a “house protector.”

Our next stop was the holy water spring temple (Tirta Empul). This is a Hindu temple where people come from all over to cleanse themselves. It was packed with locals and people from all over. Just make sure to grab a sarong on the way in (I didn’t know!)

We stopped to eat lunch at a buffet where I could see Mt. Batur and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy and drizzling that day, so it wasn’t perfectly clear. It was beautiful nonetheless, very peaceful. The only thing I didn’t completely enjoy was the buffet style food. Because of the tour I chose, this was my option. It was definitely overpriced and I tried to get my money’s worth, but I doubt I did. This part of the trip I wouldn’t exactly recommend, but for the view, it may be worth it!

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After lunch, we stopped at a Luwak coffee plantation. Luwak coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world. The Luwak (a small mammal) eats the ripe coffee cherry and then, after it travels through the digestive system, the beans are cleaned, roasted, and ground up to make coffee!

After this, we journeyed over to the Tegallalang rice terraces where I ended up trekking through in just my sandals and a dress. I was slightly unprepared, but I didn’t fall so it’s okay! There were a lot of cute restaurants and cafes here. If I had more time, I definitely would have stopped. The view was amazing regardless!

Our final stop of the day was at the Ubud Monkey Forest! This was awesome, and although we could only stay for a little, I got to feed some of the monkeys and see some of the cutest little monkey families. There were literally monkeys everywhere!! I’m not sure I can say monkey one more time in this paragraph, haha.

My last day in Bali was spent mainly laying next to the pool, soaking up some rays before I headed back to Japan. It was peaceful and relaxing. I had the whole day to pack as my flight didn’t leave until midnight and was an overnight flight back to Tokyo. I took Garuda Indonesia, which may have been my favorite airline so far. You can read about my flights here!

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Now, just to advise some of you on a few things I didn’t really discuss but you should be aware of..  Many of the locals throughout my stay would come up to me and ask me to buy bracelets, massages, rings, etc. At times, I would need to use a stern voice to ask them to leave, just to have another person come up to me. Sometimes it was even children just asking for money. On the taxi ride to the airport, there was actually a young child that came up to my window in the middle of the highway and held out her hand saying “please.” It was sad, and I’d love to help, but at the same time it was a little frustrating. I completely get why they were all doing it, I really do. It was just hard at times to remember it after being approached and hassled so many times. I wasn’t personally prepared for it, and knowing myself, I probably was a good target for them because I’m much more of a soft-y. But, I think it’s something people should be aware of!

Anywho, I hope you enjoyed reading about my travels!! If you haven’t read my other blogs on Japan and Thailand, be sure to check them out 🙂 And don’t forget to check out my other blogs on my trips to Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

-Jen

Love, Pray, Eat… Or Something Like That: Thailand

Okay, so I was kind of going to claim Japan as my “Eat” category, but if I’m going to be honest, I ate so much EVERYWHERE. No shame, I couldn’t help it! I am going to classify Thailand as the “Love” because I 1) loved it here and 2) felt so much love from all of the locals.

So the day that my true solo travels began, I took the first train at 5 AM towards Tokyo. I did awesome with this, I was super proud of myself. BUT, I still only got to the train station about 90 minutes prior to my flight, so I had to book it around. Luckily, everything at Narita International Airport went pretty smoothly. I desperately wanted coffee because I had not made any that morning, but I had gotten to the gate with only a few people in line left to board..phew! No big deal, though. I am very blessed with the ability to sleep on airplanes, and everywhere, actually. Give me a concrete floor and I will gladly nap. I took AirAsia, which I was initially nervous about since it was a new airline name to me, but they ended up being awesome. You can read my snippet about them on my other post.

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My flight went straight from Tokyo to Bangkok, with a 3.5 hour layover until my flight to Phuket. I figured that would be great, I could get through customs, get some money out of the ATM, get some coffee, and relax.. Well, that was not exactly the case. I waited in line at immigration for 2.5 hours. I was so antsy the whole time, sweating and everything. Every other line seemed to be moving faster, but of course I didn’t want to jinx it and just stayed in my line. Finally I noticed I only had an hour and I politely asked these 3 men in front of me if I could go ahead of them (all while apologizing a million times). You see, I still didn’t have my boarding pass because of the way I booked my flight (the company does it that way so it’s cheaper, I believe). So once I got through, I literally ran from the international arrivals to the domestic terminal, up the stairs, asking questions frantically to 3 different people along the way. Everyone was so nice and helpful, I can’t thank them enough. I got my boarding pass with about 35 minutes until the flight left (they were already boarding). So I ran to get all my baggage checked again (only carry-ons, thank goodness!!) I once again made it to my gate while the last few people were getting on. I noticed there was an ATM nearby and decided to try to get money out here. I ended up ending the transaction, my card popped out with no money, and I was left confused thinking they took my money. It didn’t, I was just being frantic. I’m totally sure people were laughing at me. I ended up doing it again and got some money out for real this time (duh). If I remember correctly, the money pops out before your card – so be careful not to leave your card at an ATM in Thailand!!

Once I arrived in Phuket, I felt super relieved. I finally made it, yay!! So I decided to stay at Puding Guest Long in Chalong.  It had a little bit of a musky smell (I have a strang sense of smell), but otherwise, it was a cute little place and everyone was super friendly. There’s a coffee shop downstairs, also. I had no idea going into my Thailand trip where I wanted to stay or anything, but it seemed kind of central and it was only $15 USD a night. Chalong itself is about an hour taxi ride from the airport, which I paid around 800 baht to my hotel, 700 baht from my hotel to the airport when I left. Again, I didn’t do my research much, but Chalong is actually where all the Muay Thai trainers go! For me, I enjoyed this since I’m into fitness and all of that. It felt safe, there are bars and restaurants, but no clubs or anything quite as crazy as those in Patong. Almost all of the restaurants have healthy food – raw, vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc. Again, for me, I loved this. I was able to both try Thai food as well as mix it up with healthier options.

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The night I arrived in Phuket, I went straight to find food. I honestly don’t remember the name of the restaurant, I just know it was on the main street in Chalong. I decided I wanted Thai food, because duh, I’m in Thailand! I’m not a huge spicy food person, but I figured, hey, why not! So I ordered green curry. Well, I did not get any pictures, I’m sorry to say. But I did spend the entire dinner wondering if my food was still hot temperature-wise, or if my mouth was just constantly on fire. It was weird though, it seemed that every time I brought the spoon closer to my mouth, even without touching my lips, I could feel the heat radiating. I’m such a spicy food amateur, I’ll tell ya. So the whole dinner I basically did my best to finish my food while trying to casually drink my water and banana smoothie. Ya know, without people noticing I secretly wanted to dunk my entire head in ice. And cry. Classic first meal in Thailand.

In the morning, my first day of adventures included an Elephant Sanctuary Visit. I was so pumped about this and it turned out to be everything I dreamed of! I had heard of many different sanctuaries throughout Thailand, but not as many in the Phuket region. I booked my tour through Viator (a tour website that I actually booked all my trips through when I was in Thailand). The company itself is Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket. You can read more of their story on Facebook by searching for @ejsinphuket on Facebook or checking out their website at http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

Okay, but before I went to this tour, I needed to get coffee. I wanted it so bad the day before!!! The wait was so worth it. I checked out this place called “Latte Caffe” and it was amaaaaazing!! I got me a nice coconut milk latte and an oatmeal pancake topped with nutella and banana (seen below).

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My driver picked me up right at my hotel during the time frame they had said. It was cool because I got to ride in the back of a truck, true Thailand style. We picked up another solo traveler from France on the way, then got a little lost due to the driver going to the wrong hotel, but finally picked up our last couple from England before heading to the actual sanctuary. Unfortunately, since I was the first one picked up and furthest out of the way, I’d say I spent about 2-2.5 hours in the truck. Obviously, this is also because we got a little lost. We ended up being the last ones to the sanctuary, but they didn’t start without us! There were a bunch of different people that had been picked up from different trucks at different places on the island. They had already mashed up some bananas to feed the elephants and were prepping more food when we arrived.

The tour began with a little information about what they do at the elephant sanctuary. They basically rescue elephants from tourism and elephant rides because they can be very mistreated in these situations. From terrible weather conditions, inadequate nutrition due to long days of work, and disciplinary actions that may cause bleeding or other harm to the elephant, the tourism industry is a sad way for people to make money off the elephants. The elephants at the sanctuary were rescued and are now treated as family, which you can completely see during the interaction between the humans and the elephants now!

During the tour, we were able to first feed the elephants, then bathe them in the muddy water, and then help them rinse off. It was so much fun to see the different personalities that each elephant had! There was even one that was a few months old. He acted just like a child. They kept calling him “bad boy” because he would run away, or flop over in the mud, or just do other childish things. But hey, what else would you expect from a toddler?? It was adorable!

After all of the fun with the elephants, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal from the hosts. I, of course, made sure to try everything! It was all amazing, and not too spicy unless you added spices and sauces yourself (I didn’t). We then started packing up and heading home. I did the afternoon tour, which meant we hit Patong at rush hour. So if you are looking to get back without traffic, I may recommend taking the morning half-day tour! I did get to see a pretty sunset view on the way home, though!

The next morning, I was supposed to go on a sunrise snorkeling tour to Phi Phi island. Unfortunately, due to weather, the trip was canceled (boo!). I thought about going on an adventure by myself, but I decided that I am always on the go and maybe I should take a day to myself! So I did! I ended up getting an hour long foot massage, pedicure, and manicure for roughly 30 USD total! The ladies were so nice and accommodating. I ended up going right in Chalong just a short walk away from where I was staying, but there are a ton of places! I also decided to eat at a Vegan restaurant, “Pure Vegan Heaven” this day. Like the rest of the food, it was also amazing.

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My last full day in Thailand, I took a trip to Phang Nga Bay! I was really looking forward to getting out and doing something again after relaxing all day the day before. Again, I booked my tour through Viator; however, I was lucky enough to find John Gray’s Sea Canoe tour on there. From what I had heard (and according to locals), this was the best! It really was an amazing day. Everything went smoothly from pick-up to drop-off. My van ended up being filled with me and 3 other Americans from all parts of the country, but when we arrived, there were actually 3 boats they were taking out on the water! I’d say each boat had about 30+ people on it.

Once we were on the boat, the guides asked us if we had any allergies. This might not sound like something big to highlight, but I actually have a cashew allergy, so I had to be careful in Thailand. When they served our food later in the day, they actually made me a completely separate plate without cashews! It was amazing and so thoughtful! All of the food was so delicious! We had both lunch and dinner served to us, as well as coffee and a snack.

If I remember correctly, we ended up going out into the water 3 different times into 3 different areas. It’s all hard to explain, and the pictures don’t exactly do it justice, but it was all so beautiful. Seeing the stalactites and stalagmites (which I had to remember which was which at first), being able to drift through the caves in the dark, and just hearing the softness of the water rippling around you. It was like a dream. Since I was traveling alone, I ended up pairing up with one of the other Americans, who was also traveling alone. Our instructor “Nub” was great! He was so knowledgeable and was able to point out things that, honestly, I’m not even sure how he saw them, haha.

Once it got dark, we were able to release the Loy (or Loi) Krathong that we created with our guide into the water. There is a Loy Krathong festival that is held every year in Thailand and other surrounding countries. It consists of people releasing a Krathong (a floating lantern made out of the trunk of a banana tree) into the water to allow their misfortunes to float away in hopes of receiving good fortune in the upcoming year.

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The ride back on the boat was beautiful, the sky was mostly clear, and the moon was shining down as the warm air breezed past us. Of course, I would have loved to have spent this moment with my significant other, but alone with my thoughts and happiness is second best I guess 😉 I believe we ended up returning to our lodges/places of stay around 10 pm!

So my flight out the next day wasn’t until 10, so I had all day to explore. I ended up booking another tour (through Viator, of course) to see a few spots on the island for half a day. It was only about $9 USD for transport and all of the stops, and it actually lasted from about 8:30-2 pm. We stopped at two different overlooks, a cashew factory (they had more than just cashews!), Wat Chalong Temple, and the largest jewelry store in the world – Gems Gallery: Phuket! Of course, in the morning, I had to start off with some more amazing food..this time from a little place called “Greze” right in Chalong. I tried my first bulletproof coffee here and had it with a greek yogurt bowl with personally picked toppings! I loved it all!

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My tour guide was amazing, and the others in the group were from England (a couple) and Pakistan (a solo traveler). It was great to have this smaller group so we could interact a little more and get to know each other. For example, the man from Pakistan was going to travel with his wife to Thailand but she was just now pregnant with their second child, how sweet! We ended up being buddies throughout the trip, sharing dried mangos and other random dried fruits out of a can, taking pictures for each other, etc. It’s amazing what you learn about someone when you talk to them! 🙂 He was so happy to travel to Thailand, even got a tattoo in Bangkok. Such a nice guy.

After being dropped off back at my lodge, I packed up my things, grabbed a bite to eat (I can’t remember where to be honest), and then got a taxi. I was a little nervous because my guest lodge had organized my airport transfer before. I heard you could get ripped off potentially, so I was prepared. I went across the street to a restaurant called, “Tony’s,” which I had ate at one night (super cheap, huge selection, but not exactly the best quality). They organize tours here as well as taxis. My taxi driver who picked me up was the sweetest little old man I have ever seen!!! I was so happy. He spoke a little bit of English, so we talked a little bit of the way. At the end I made sure to tip him well, he smiled ear to ear and said, “See you later!” I had told him along the way how much I loved Thailand and wanted to come back! All in all, I definitely didn’t get ripped off and I felt safe the whole time.

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Thailand was such an adventure for me and I wholeheartedly mean it when I say I can’t wait to return. Next time I hope to stay in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then head south for some island hopping! I also wanted to say I had no troubles at Phuket International Airport, which I had read elsewhere. It all went very smoothly! Until I left Thailand that is..but that can be for the next blog 😉

Up next…Bali!

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