Leaving Bangkok

 And we are back in Norway. A few weeks ago we soared through the clouds above Thailand and said goodbye to food on a stick, inexpensive food, delicious Thai food, markets, oh and did I mention food?? While I do miss the food, culture, and people it is nice to be back in a country that really cares about their natural surroundings. Honestly, it has been quite a reverse culture shock to see the way people take care of the environment. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Thailand.

Open sewage canals, trash, smog, traffic and pollution where all things I knew where in existence going into Thailand, Bangkok especially. However, after really living in these conditions they lost their novelty and I realized the grand scope of the problem. We walked the streets of Bangkok a considerable distance, and by the end of our month there we had to seek refuge in malls with air quality filters. Both of my parents ended up with bad coughs from the pollution in the city.

We only lived in Bangkok for a month, others live there their whole lives. The pollution is a result of a growing urban industrial nation, car emission, and rural forest fires and burning. Recent studies have shown that elevated levels of pollutants in the air have directly caused an increase of respiratory disease and related hospital visits.

Causes of Bangkok pollution, heavy traffic

Traffic along a turnabout in Bangkok

 

One day, we were led by google maps to a “river ferry”.  In reality this was a sewage canal being used for transportation purposes. Honestly, I will never forget the sight of this canal. The water.. if that word can even be used in this situation, was completely black. Bubbling at the surface. The smell that came out of this canal was the most rancid sewage smell you can imagine. Even after that sensory experience were still determined to make it from point A to point B. Then, the “river ferry” pulls up. The thin boat is completely packed with Thai’s. The boat is covered in plastic to protect travelers from the splash of the sewage (how considerate). Keep in mind this is not the “river cruise” decorated boat you see in tourism brochures. No tourist were in sight, except us of course. The paint had peeled of the boat long ago, and hanging from the sides were a decent amount of used car tires to protect the boat from the impact against the cement loading platform. No life jackets were in sight. Within 25 seconds, a bare foot attended threw a rope over to the loading platform and ten or so people jumped a foot over the canal waters arriving at their destination, meanwhile another ten jumped in.

Homes along a polluted canal in Bangkok

Homes along a canal

Another boat passed by while we considered how to navigate this situation. After it rushed by, bouncing over waves of sewage, I was convinced we were going to die. Thankfully, I convinced my family of this and we left the area, seeking safer modes of transportation.

While I’m writing this in a light tone, it is a very serious problem. I’ve heard that Bangkok calls itself the “Venice of the East”,  but hearing this makes me cringe. 9.6 million people live in Bangkok, and only 40 percent of homes are connected to the city sewage system. 2.5 tons of liquid waste are produced every day, and out of that large number only 60 percent is able to be treated. Added on top of the liquid waste is the trash, vegetable waste, and other assorted substances thrown into the rivers.

For all of Thailand, the statistic is even scarier. 21 percent of 68 million people have access to the sewage system. 14 million cubic meters a day of waste is produced, and only 3 million are treated.

Children swim naked in these canals, people take baths in them, and they are even used for tourism as “river cruises” . Some how no one seems to realize that this is an actual and growing problem, it is often brushed aside as a unique trait of the third world.

Bangkok Pollution, A ferry crossing the Chaco-Phraya River

A ferry crossing the Chaco-Phraya River, the largest river in Thailand and a dumping ground for agricultural and industrial waste.

 

I don’t want to leave Bangkok on a bad note, however travel bloggers never seem to write about the reality because no one really wants to read that. Everyone wants to paint a pretty picture of a place, my self included (see my earlier article “Wandering Through Bangkok” ). Sometimes we also need to talk about what’s not so pleasant.

I love Thailand and living there immensely. We had a ton of wonderful experiences and adventures, and met a ton of amazing people. Thailand is a beautiful country, but the way the environment has been neglected to the point that very little can be done to solve this problem really made me think about what some countries are doing differently than others, and what needs to be done to solve this growing global issue. 

 

Sources:

Chaco Phraya River Basin, Thailand a case study by: The Working Group of the Office of Natural Water Resources Committee (ONWRC) of Thailand.(http://webworld.unesco.org/water/wwap/case_studies/chao_phraya/chao_phraya.pdf)

Vichit-Vadakan, Nuntavarn, and Nitaya Vajanapoom. “EHP – Health Impact from Air Pollution in Thailand: Current and Future Challenges.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

 

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Foraging in Norway

Foraging in Norway, mushrooms in the forest

Foraging in Norway, Grass covered roofs of mountain cabins

On a warm Saturday morning, I woke up in one of the most magical places you can imagine. The sun rose slowly over the mountains, illuminating a thick blanket of fog and bringing light to our cozy Norwegian cabin.

The cabin had all the elements of a fairy tale cottage. From the wooden roof covered in grassy moss outside, and inside wool blankets and sheep skin draped on chairs for added warmth during cold norwegian winters.

After a lazy morning involving hot drinks, home cooked breakfast, and the warm glow of the fireplace we went outside to explore.

Foraging in Norway, A cozy wooden cabin in the fall

One of the most amazing parts of Norway is the appreciation Norwegians have for nature. Everyone and anyone is always out hiking, biking, walking, running, or even cross-country skiing on roller skates. Norwegians preserve their nature, and teach their children about its importance.

After only a few minutes of walking we came across a hilly slope, a creek, and a heap of blue berries to forage. What seems like such a simple thing was an amazing experience. Nowadays, even berry picking has been taken under the control of agriculture. You arrive at the farm and pick the berries. It’s ok, but there is something about the search that is so exciting. Being alone surrounded by trees and wildlife, stepping carefully over creeks, eating the berries right out of nature, and coming home with fingers and lips stained purple from the juices.

Foraging in Norway, wild blueberries in the mountains

After a while it is easy to get absorbed into the whole process. We spent hours collecting and eating as many berries as possible. At the end, I could barely feel my fingertips. It is the way our ancestors ate thousands of years ago; before agriculture, GMO’s, and supermarkets. 

Foraging in Norway, we made blueberry jam

We made jam

A week later we were lucky enough to be invited by our professional forager friends to go mushroom picking. They were very surprised when we told them that people don’t do this in the US. And it’s true, either everyone is too afraid to pick something and accidentally die, don’t know how, or don’t see the need to when there are mushrooms at the grocery store. Maybe a combination of the few. Occasionally my mom would pick mushrooms on hikes – but we were always afraid to actually eat them.

Foraging in Norway, mushrooms in the forest

The mushrooms we picked were no supermarket mushrooms. They tasted amazing, far better than any supermarket mushroom I’ve ever eaten. Again, we foraged for hours under the shade of giant green pines searching through leaves for a prize mushroom. Fall weather here has really been surprising us. It was very warm, with beams of sun peaking in between the branches of the trees. A perfect day for foraging. We learned a few tips and tricks as we went along, and had quite a few mushrooms between the eight of us in the end.

Foraging in Norway, girl stares at tall pine trees

I’ll finish this post with a quote about foraging from a book I recently finished and would definitely recommend to anyone who eats food or wants to learn about food, called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

“I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again—something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature.”

 

as always happy travels xx -Izzy

 

PS: Here is a link to a cool video by Jessie Hoff of www.jessehoff.com also about foraging in Norway. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-Ujr6e97mY.

 

A Guide to Navigating A Thai Open Air Market

We are back in Thailand for a final week before flying out via Bangkok to Oslo on the 18th this month. Its been a pretty awesome almost five months on this side of the world, and while I’m sad to say goodbye to this beautiful country I’m even more excited for new adventures in Norway and Europe.

One of the things I’m going to miss the most about Thailand are the colorful markets I’ve grown very accustomed too. Our first month of being in Thailand we rarely purchased much from them,  because we didn’t know how or what to buy. If you have found yourself in a similar situation have no fear – I wrote an article for www.wanderingeducators.com about this! Click here… or after the excerpt below to read the full article.

A Guide to Navigating A Thai Open Air Market

In Asia, grocery stores are hard to find and always overpriced. For this reason, locals rarely frequent them and instead run to open air markets.

Open air markets are vibrant, fabulous places full of aromatic food, colorful clothing, fruits and vegetables, and anything else you can think of. The goods are cheap, and these markets can be found in every city across Thailand. 

While they are exciting, they can also be a bit intimidating to the first timer. But don’t worry – I’ve got some tips that will make your trip to the market a piece of cake. 

A vegetable vendor in northern Thailand sells an assortment of colorful greens, at an open air market

1.    Ask the place you are staying where the best local market is. Since nearly every hotel, homestay, or hostel is staffed by locals, there will definitely be someone who can point you in the right direction. We asked our airbnb host, and she took us along with her on her usual Saturday shopping trip.

 

Want to read the rest of the article?? https://www.wanderingeducators.com/best/traveling/guide-to-navigating-thai-open-air-market.html

Thanks for reading and happy travels xx  -Iz

5 Reasons Why Penang, Malaysia is a Foodies Paradise

1) A diverse palate: Penang island is a hub for diverse and exotic street food cuisine from all over the world. Whether you’re looking for Arabic, India, Malay, Chinese, Thai, or even Italian food you will not be disappointed here. While halal cusine dominates, because Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, plenty of non-halal restaurants and bars can be found in the area.

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A vendor cooks a Chinese noodle dish. This was taken right outside our hostel in the heart of Georgetown, Penang. 

2)  English Menus: In 1771 the British became involved in Malaysia for the first time when they tried to turn Penang island into a trading port. Malaysia remained a colony under British rule until their independence in 1946. Today the impact of colonization remains in some ways, including that all Malays speak English. Ordering food has never been easier. In China we would never have been able to ask a vendor what the best food on the menu is – unless of course we spoke Mandarin. Here in Penang you can eat delicious food without the hassle of struggling to communicate what you want.

A juice vendor and his cart in Penang.

A juice vendor and his cart in Penang.

3) Little India: Little India is hands down my favorite place in Malaysia. The streets are lined with vendors and the delicious smells of curry and spices. Pop music from 2008 blasts out of stores selling sarees or copy written movies. What’s even better is that Little India is even more popular with the locals than it is with foreigners. My recommendations would be to try the Indian tea, a sweet creamy tea with condensed milk, vegetable somosas, and to find a vendor who is cooking his bread on site.

Why Penang is a foodies paradise. Colorful Indian food.

Our Indian food which was devoured mere seconds later.

4) It’s Cheap: For one of the most tourist frequented destinations in Malaysia, Penang is incredibly inexpensive – that is if you eat street food like the locals. My family was able to eat a full meal of dhal, chicken curry, a ton of naan, rice, and indian tea for just 1 USD each. A bowl of chinese soup usually costs just 1 or 2 USD.

Why Penang is a foodies paradise. Hand pulled noodle soup.

Hand pulled noodle soup

5) Clean and Fresh: Overall the standards of cleanliness and freshness I saw in Penang were very good. Vendors seemed very clean in their practices. Some Chinese restaurants even provided boiling water to sterilize our cups and silverware. I ate very adventurously at places no tourists seemed to be eating at and never got sick. The food is very fresh and meat and vegetables come from the morning markets.

Why Penang is a food paradise. Street vendor cooks chinese food at night.

All the ingredients necessary for a delicious Chinese meal. Seen in Georgetown, Penang.

Malaysia First Impressions

The sun has just set on our 2nd week here in Malaysia so it seems like a good time to finally write about this awesome country. To be completely honest, upon leaving Thailand, all I knew about Malaysia is what I read in the inflight magazine… so in other words… nothing. Just two weeks here have left me speechless. Malaysia has surpassed my expectations for a multitude of reasons.

Malaysia first Impressions. Petronas twin towers

Yes, taking a selfie with the Petronas twin towers is as hard as it looks

The first one being the diversity. I expected Malaysia to be a lot like Thailand, they are neighbors after all. I was wrong, very wrong. Thailand, in general, is not all that diverse. The majority of people are both Thai and Buddhist. Malaysia on the other hand is home to a melting pot of different religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The main ones are Malay, of course, Chinese, and Indian.  From food to clothing to architecture, Chinese and Indian cultural influences are very visible in nearly every aspect of society.

 

Malaysia First Impressions. In Georgetown mandarin script dominates old British colonial building

Mandarin script dominates buildings from British colony days.

Little India in Georgetown, Penang has so far been my favorite place. The closest I’ve ever felt to actually being in India. Along its busy streets are shops full of gorgeous fabrics for sarees, traditional Indian dress. Blaring pop music from 2008 plays into the street next to shops full of copy written movies. As I aways imagined India to look, the streets are full of color. Colorful head coverings of muslim girls, and flowing, vibrant fabrics of traditional sarees flood the streets. Then, there is the food. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of Indian food. Everything from somosas to deserts are cooked by street vendors. The smell of curry and spices wafts into the street from every direction.

Malaysia first impressions. Indian food, colorful textiles, and street scene of Little India

Sight, smells, and colors of Little India in Georgetown.

Malaysia’s state religion is Islam so everyday, five times a day, we hear the call to prayer blaring out of the nearest Masjid (mosques). Contrary to some other Muslim countries, the law promises freedom of religion. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and various other Chinese religions are also widely followed.

Malaysia first impression. Chinese temple in penang

Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang

Contrary to popular belief, while Muslims practice modesty in clothing you don’t have to. As long as you are wearing clothing you should be good. T-shirts and shorts are perfectly fine- especially in cities like Georgetown or KL.  The only restrictions are your comfort zone, and (women) covering your knees and shoulders in Buddhist, Hindu, or Chinese temples. Mosques are a little trickier to visit because for women you must cover to the wrists, ankles, and hair. Men only need to wear slacks. Ug.

Evidence of Malaysia’s colonial past is also preset. The big giveaway is that everyone speaks English. Menus are in English, venders speak English, and you can easily ask for help- which people are usually more than happy to give. There’s nothing like being able to order food easily, and know what you are eating after a long day. The language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, but for many people this isn’t even their first language. Many people speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th language.

Malaysia first impressions. Fruit and English menu

Notice the English menu

Food. Like I said earlier Malaysia has some bangin’ Indian cuisine, but that’s not all. There are also outdoor covered food courts all over the place. I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Thailand. Dozens of vendors set up shop under this huge tarp. All you have to do is walk around, order food, and they vendors bring it to your table. It’s super cheap too, a meal running 3-6rm (.75 – 1.50 USD). No more expensive than Thailand! These food courts are hubs of Chinese food especially, and are very popular with the locals. In KL they feature more diverse food options like Arabic and western food.

Malaysia first impressions. Malay soup and street food

Food!!

Last but not least, the transportation system. Malaysia has invested quite a lot into their transportation system in the recent years and it is very visible. Even the lowest class on long distance trains are very nice. Super clean, Aircon, reclining seats, and pretty good food. We ate on the train to KL (something we avoided at all costs in Thailand) and the food was surprisingly good, comparable to airplane food. It was cheap aswell, just 3 USD each. Penang has an awesome bus system that can take you around the entire island (with aircon) and KL has an amazing light rail system that travels just about anywhere in the city.

Malaysia first impressions. On the train to Kuala Lumpur

Boarding the train to KL

All in all Malaysia is pretty great.  I havn’t found one thing to complain about yet. Can’t wait to explore even more in the next months!

Thanks for reading and happy travels! XX -Iz

 

 

Six Months of Full Time Travel!! – And Lessons Learned on The Road

Oh how the time flies. Six months ago today we left home and here we are now, 13,915 km away from where we started.

That’s 5 countries, 5 planes, 15 trains, 4 boats, a whole lot of buses, a moped, a few tuk-tuks, and 1,287 km on foot.  

Forever thankful for a world full of kind people who have welcomed us into their houses and communities and make everywhere feel like home. 💕🌏 You rock earth.

Six lessons learned in six months:

1.People are kind, and generous, and trustworthy.  Throw aside stereotypes and prejudices and make friends with anyone. If a stranger invites you inside their home for food – go for it.

2.  You can make friends while traveling. I get questions about friendships a lot, the same questions that I often ask myself. How can you possibly make friends while travelling? What about friends? How do you gain social skills if you don’t go to school? Luckily, there are kids all around the world. I get to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and countries. Travelers and locals. I can make friends with anyone despite language barriers, backgrounds, or ages. Travel friendships are short, but intense. You never know when you will meet again.

And social skills? I was a pretty introverted kid before traveling. I had my close group of friends who I felt comfortable being myself with and I didn’t make many other close friends outside that group. Now I have to be outgoing and independent. I’ve learned to talk to strangers, which was a huge challenge for me, in any language.

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Just a few of our friends so far 🙂

3. Keeping in touch is important. Contacts are so valuable and in todays world its only getting easier to keep in touch. I have amazing friends back home who I love to pieces. While it’s not ideal to talk through a screen you can still have a lot of laughs over skype.

4. The best experiences are hidden away from where the tourists go. A secluded waterfall in Thailand, lunch on a rocky ocean cliff  in Norway, a quaint off-season town in Croatia, a hidden temple in the mountains of northern Thailand. What all these places have in common is that we only could have found out about them with the help of locals like our new friends or airbnb hosts.

 

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In Croatia

 

5. Experiences are 100 times better than possessions.  Cliche I know, but it’s true. I live out of a six kg backpack. After all the necessities are inside there is very little room for possessions. The few things that I do have, like my camera and notebooks, I take very good care of. Pictures and experiences are so much more valuable than a cheap t-shirt that says “I Heart Thailand”.

6. School is not the only education  you can have. For a while I worried that I was falling behind my peers by not going to school. And maybe I have in some ways. I’ve completely forgotten what an asymptote is and if someone asked me to find the distance between two points on a 3D plane… well I don’t like to think about that kind of situation. And don’t get me started on moles and stoichiometry. But… If you want to have an in depth conversation on the history of the world, culture, geography, or poverty I’m your girl. Lets be friends. World schooling gives me the freedom to learn whatever I am passionate about in the moment. I can stand up in front of a classroom of fifty kids and teach them what I know (by myself). I can go to the market, barter, and order a meal for myself without uttering a word of English. I try to stay informed to the best of my ability about what’s going in the world. I know how people live outside of the States and I appreciate the diversity of the real world – which my 98% all white high school would never have taught me. Is this education? Its debatable- but I think so.

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Thanks for reading and happy travels as always XX-Iz

Wandering Through Bangkok

Recently I wrote another article for Wanderingeducators.com about Bangkok, Thailand. It encompasses the sites, smells, and tastes that make the city one of a kind. Here is the beginning of the article.  (Read the full article here)

Wandering Through Bangkok, Thailand

To my left, tuk-tuks and moped drivers zoom by faster than I can say sawatdee ka (hello). To my right, the street is lined with hundreds of stalls of delicious smelling Thai food and handcrafted goods. Towering above my head are metal giants – skyscrapers. There is only one place I could be: Bangkok.

Nestled above the Bay of Thailand is Bangkok, the modern and vibrant, yet still traditional, capital city of Thailand. The city is a unique place where western influences and traditional Thai culture intertwine to create the tastes, sounds, smells, and sights that can only be found here.

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Read the rest here on wanderingeducators.com 

Thailand: Visiting a Buddist temple

Thailand Adventures – Bangkok

 Today we visited a beautiful Buddhist temple near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Since it was out of the tourist zone, the temple was very quiet. Upon entry we were happily greeted by smiling faces and iced tea drinks. The kindness and smiling is something I love about the culture in Thailand. Most people who we pass on the street look up and smile at us, which is very different from the custom in America to mind your own business. Thailand is known as the “land of smiles”.

Right as I entered the temple, a kind old woman motioned for me to come over. She invited me to walk inside and to explore the temple at will – which I took advantage of. Unique decorations, huge golden Buddhas, and monks where a common sight. I listened to a monk, dressed in flowery orange fabric, lead a chant along with many other people, surrounded by colorful flowers and decorations.

Taking part of the temple experience felt very spiritual, and very different from the western church experience.

The woman who I mentioned earlier was very eager to talk to my family as she knew a little English. She asked us where we were from and told us she was 83 years old. After, she wished us happiness forever. Her blessing was so kind and genuine, my favorite memory from Bangkok.

 

Croatia: Plitvice Lakes National Park

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While in Croatia about two weeks ago I visited what is now my favorite national park, Plitvice Lakes National park. I love the park so I choose to write about it for wanderingeducators.com . Here is a bit of the article I wrote.

Postcard from Plitvice Lakes National Park

As Croatian folk music blasts in the background, my family makes our way through windy mountain roads in our tiny rental car. We drive quickly by tiny villages and rolling green hills, dotted with trees, where happy sheep graze. The mountains are very beautiful, but only a preview of the spectacular place we are soon enter. Before long, the drive is over, the music turned off, the tickets bought, and we are entering the park…

Read the rest here on wanderingeducators.com. Thanks! -Iz