I have a tendency of not thinking things through.
On the day of my twelve-hour journey via car, plane, and ferry from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, I agreed to trek Mount Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. The summit juts 12,224 feet above sea level and the climb takes three days, two freezing nights, and a good degree of physical fitness.
For the previous four years, I spent my days trapped in a cubicle hunched over a computer. I lived a relatively active life for a New Yorker and worked out on a regular basis, but nothing that prepared me for the next few days.
When I first started traveling, I only planned on doing one volunteer project. And that was really so I could chill with elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.
But after my recent trip to the Juara Turtle Project on Tioman Island, I have really fallen in love with volunteering and I am already looking for another project to join.
The Reasons I Love Volunteering:
Upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I quickly realized that I had done absolutely no research on Malaysia. (This was actually not surprising, since I never do research on anywhere I go. I’m a true procrastinator.)
I knew, though, that I had been feeling a bit aimless during the previous couple of weeks. I was feeling a bit out of sorts. I needed a routine. I needed a project. After a bit of research, I decided to volunteer at the Juara Turtle Project, a sea turtle hatchery on Tioman. (More to come on my volunteering experience later.)
The project was located away from all of the popular tourist spots, a 30-minute ride away in the back of a truck through steep hills covered in jungle. The trip was worth it though. When I finally reached the project and walked out onto the beach, I felt like I was in a scene from a movie. I mean, no way could a place this beautiful be real.
Looks about right.
Okay, Mom. Don’t freak out. I was not mugged.
But my super awesome travel buddy of 6 weeks was. On the day before we were set to fly to Kuala Lumpur. Actually, it was about 12 hours until we had to fly out.
We were walking home from dinner when a motorbike drove up behind us with two men on it. They barely even slowed down as they grabbed my friend’s purse, cut the thick leather strap and drove away with the entire thing.
Getting to Chi-Phat for my homestay was quite the adventure.
From Kampot, it took a total of almost seven hours and four modes of transportation (minivan, bus, boat, and bike) to get to the little town southwest of Phnom Penh.
Chi-Phat is a community-based ecotourism village located in the beautiful Cardamon Mountains. There are several guesthouses in the village, but I chose to stay with a Khmer family to get the chance to experience daily life of the people who live and work there.
The house I stayed in had no electricity and no running water, and the family I stayed with (my host mom is pictured above) spoke absolutely no English. However, they did make me a delicious dinner and were full of smiles.
“Free beer, just for you!”
When I crossed the border from Laos into Cambodia, I instantly felt better.
I had not fallen in love with Laos–the food was subpar and the people I met were not as kind as the ones in Thailand. The people in Cambodia, though, (from my limited experience) are amazing.
I had heard a lot of people get stuck on Don Det. Sometimes, taking the tiny ferry from the mainland to the island and not leaving again for months.
I quickly discovered why upon my arrival. I had planned on being on the island in southern Laos for only a few days before heading on to Don Khon and then farther south to Cambodia.
But it my little hut on Mekong ($5 a night!) was too irresistible. After six weeks of bouncing from city to city, it felt good to finally settle down for a while. My days were filled up with….well, doing pretty much nothing at all. For the most part, I only left my hammock to go get food or to swim in the river.
There are dozens of elephant-themed adventures to choose from in Chiang Mai. Some advertise that you can become a mahout—an elephant caretaker—for a day, some that allow you to ride the elephants, some that are retirement homes for older elephants. It is overwhelming how many different options there were. I did my research before I arrived in Thailand and I learned quickly that not all ele’ adventures should be treated equally.
It seems like everyone takes a cooking class in Chiang Mai. It was one of those things I was told that I must do while staying in the city. When I began to explore my options, I was overwhelmed. There are so many different cooking schools in Chiang Mai. Most of them offering similar programs.
I didn’t run once in Bangkok. Partly because I was majorly jet lagged, but also because the streets were crazy. I’ll admit, I did not go out of the way to look for a good park to jog in. If I go back for an extended period of time, I will have to seek out running options in the city.