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Ubud: Monkeys, Cock Fights & The MOST INSANE VILLA EVER

We left our awesome villas down in seminyak and headed into the mountains. Not knowing what to expect I was about to be pleasantly surprised. We split into 3 vehicles for the approx 2hour ride up to the villa ‘compound’ in Ubud. We stop along the way at Indus, a beautifully situated mountain side restaurant. The view overlooked a deep valley and the mountains on the other side were striking. The food was excellent and we all proceeded on towards the villa.

When I pulled up to the villa and walked around the wall obstructing the view, my jaw dropped. I tried my hardest to get a good shot on my camera, but the angles just weren’t working out. I’ve included a shot from vrbo below. The places was SICK!!! 2 huge villas connected by a tremendous infinity pool all with a view out across to a mountain in the distance. The staff working at the compound was superb and they made us dinner 2 nights and breakfast both mornings. All the food was superb and the large 20 person table was well displayed/presented with food and table settings.

ubud bali whole crew from below

Dinner the first night was chicken satay, rice, veggies, fruit and some kind of curry. All excellent. Breakfast the next morning was american style with eggs, bacon, fruit, sausage, etc.

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Cambodia: Not For Human Consumption

Visa Schmeeza

So here we sit. We are in the airport in Cambodia (siem reap), where we’ve been stranded for a few hours. Poor planning on our part, but apparently you need a visa prior to arrival for vietnam. We thought we could grab one on arrival as we did in cambodia and as you can in many places. Once we were denied checkin, we jumped online to myvietnamvisa.com to try and get our visas arranged. they have an expedited option for 79.00 for two people. After 2 hours, and having not received our email yet with our visa letter, I asked one of the agents at the desk if they could recommend another site. They said to try govietnamvisa.com. I chatted with a support rep there and they assured me we could get a visa within the hour. I canceled the request with myvietnamvisa and paid the $140 for a guaranteed 1 hr turn around. We got our new visa and, having missed our flight, rebooked for a 20$ fee for the new flight. It was an adventure and a lesson learned for sure. Just one more thing in the list of things that cambodia kicked our asses on. More to follow.angkor wat temple in cambodia at sunrise from the front hdr

Back to the start

We had two flights to take to get from Bali to Cambodia. The first was a 4+ hour flight from bali to bangkok and then about 1+ hour flight from bangkok to cambodia. The flights were pretty standard although neither had any entertainment. Getting into cambodia we needed a headshot (again, didnt know this). I happened to have a copy of my passport so they used that. After, I realized I could have just paid a $1 and they would have made a copy of my passport photo.

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Bali Butt, Roosters, BBQ, Sushi and Submarines

Our first stop in Bali was over in Seminyak. Once I got through immigration I was greeted by the driver from our villa. We made a stop to pick up sim cards for my phone (unlocked iphone) and mifi unit (this one). It took about 30 minutes and cost about $40 for everything. There is just something very reassuring and comforting knowing that you have cell service wherever you are. Lots of the other people on the trip relied on wifi at restaurants or bars, but I prefer to have the constant connection. It gives me a bit of peace of mind to know that if I get separated or lost, I can just pull out my phone and make a call or pull up google maps.. It’s also important for me to have ‘reliable’ (this is said with a grain of salt in asia) wifi seeing as most hotels or in this case villas have TERRIBLE wifi connections and I would need to be doing some work during the trip.

Seminyak is pretty accessible although it is a complete free-for-all when it comes to driving on the road. Between the scooters and taxis, you really have to pay attention to whats going on. The area we stayed in was pretty well populated and our villa was located just a few short turns off the main strip. The beach was about a 10 minute walk and all the shops and restaurants we need were between us and there. If you are interested in getting a villa here in bali, you should check out Villa Zara in seminyak.

our villa and cabana in seminyak, bali indonesia

I arrived at the villa and was greeted by everyone with a big “happy birthday” (it was my 30th on the day of my arrival).We had secured two villas right next to each other which made making plans and partying super easy. We divided up the rooms and starting boozing. Each villa had 4 bedrooms surrounding a large pool area.

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Off To Asia, Again.

If you are connected to me at all on social media you know that I am currently in Asia (first stop Bali) for a month long excursion. The more I travel, the more I want to travel. I thought that a 7.5 week trip (last nov-dec) would help subdue my travel bug, but alas, it has not. This trip all came together when a buddy of mine invited me to join a group of his friends in Bali for 10 days. I looked up some flight options, checked my points balances over on AwardWallet.com and the next day made my commitment. Ill try to give a brief explanation here about the flights I took with the costs. There are a LOT of flights this month and a lot of moving parts.

The Trip

If you’ve read any of this blog you know I am a miles and points junky and never pass up a good opportunity for a big win. So, now I am in Bali. How did I get here, you might ask. How much did it cost? Did I fly with miles or pay out of pocket?

The plan is to stay with my buddy and his friends here in Bali (Seminyak, Ubud, Sanur) for about 9-10 nights and then travel on with my new friend, Marina (who I met through this trips facebook group), to Cambodia for 3 days then Vietnam for about 8 nights and then spend 6 nights in Thailand. When I threw it out to the group to see if anyone wanted to continue traveling beyond the bali portion, Marina jumped right on board. She is traveling for more than 6 months after quitting her job and getting rid of her house. I was more than happy to have a travel buddy as I tend to travel alone a lot and was looking forward to having someone to share my experiences with. We met when I moved to san diego and realized very quickly that we would mesh well as travel companions.

The round trip flight cost me exactly…. wait for it…. $45. Total Freaking Score. I was able to book the flight with the help of Trav over at extrapackofpeanuts.com. I would normally book this myself, but it was a complicated routing (explained below) so I thought I would secure the help of a real award flight booking pro.

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$10,000++ in honey moon savings. not bad

I was talking to a friend thats got some big purchases coming up this year. I told him we should try to figure out a way to make the most out of them. It took about 20 minutes but we figured out a way to put him at a $500+/night hotel in maui with roundtrip airfare for 2 weeks. his cost… $0.

It’s a savings of more than $10,000 just for making the purchases he would already have been making. There’s an example spreadsheet below that details (a bit) how one might make this all happen. This is a lot of spending and a bunch of cards. So don’t just jump into this without putting some serious thought into and and preferably discussing it with me first.

test

First Few Weeks In SD

So I’m on a flight back to NY for about 10 days for some weddings and to be with my dad for a surgery. My first 2.5 weeks in San Diego have been GREAT! It has been exactly what I wanted/needed and I feel like I am on a good path to success out here. My days have been filled with activities (and tacos) and I’ve been meeting some great people.

 My roommates are pretty cool and we have a couple of dogs wandering around the place which is cool. The weather has been mostly excellent and I’ve been getting into the cali lifestyle. The only time I’ve worn sneakers has been to go to the gym (otherwise im wearing sandals) and I think I’ve worn jeans twice. I’ve been doing my best to get acclimated to the lifestyle and think its going ok. There has been a couple of times at restaurants where I had to stop my self from the typical NY’er reaction when things where taking to long. But I’m working on my patience.

One of the best things I had the pleasure of doing since I got to SD was learning to Scuba. I signed up for a NAUI course (similar to PADI) and have done my coursework and 2 pool dives. It has gone great and I am looking forward to doing my ocean dives when I get back to SD in late April. The timing should work out great as I am going to Asia again in May-June.

[below, the Flower Fields, in Carlsbad, Ca]

Carlsbad, California - Flower Fields

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Cross Country Roundtrip

I left nearly a month ago to move myself cross country from NY to San Diego, California. It was a big move obviously and just another move in an ongoing mission to keep my life interesting. I am looking for adventure and experiences and felt that, besides overseas travel, a cross country move would be a good way to achieve that.

I just leased a new 2014 Chrysler 200, packed my entire life (or as much of it as I could fit) into it, and got on the road. After chatting with people who had made the drive I decided to take the southern route. The “straight across” route was very boring and the northern route would mean contending with weather and also adding several days onto the trip. Furthermore, I had a bunch of places to stay along the southern route. Family in Maryland and friends in Charleston, Alabama and Phoenix would put me up and save me some cash for my hotel stays.

house-on-the-way-to-charleston-1-2

The drive to Marlyand was short and sweet. I left NY around 430am to avoid traffic and arrived at my cousins around 8. I had a great time hanging with their kids and had some tapas with friends who live in town for dinner. The next day I left bright and early for my 8.5 hour drive down to my buddies in Charleston. The drive was pretty boring but somewhat salvaged by a detour in the southern part of north carolina. I forced myself to take some detours throughout the trip because I quickly realized that interstates are a complete bore.

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Free Travel & Lodging for your Honeymoon

The following is from an email I sent to two friends getting married this year. This will work for just about any couple with good (720ish) or better credit. Everyone’s situation is different, but I am happy to chat with you if you have questions.

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The first thing I tell anyone who is asking me for credit card help and suggestions and planning is the key to ALL of this is paying your WHOLE BALANCE in FULL at the end of EVERY MONTH. NEVER carry a balance on an interest bearing credit card (unless you absolutely have to). If you start paying interest all these points you are earning become less valuable because you are now essentially “paying” for those points with the interest. The reason credit card companies give out these bonuses is to entice people to open cards in a hope they fall into debt. But that WON’T happen with you guys. You’re too smart for that!!

The key is, don’t live beyond your means. Just because you have a shinny new credit card doesn’t mean that you have to use it. I have more than 18 cards currently open and the only one that carries any balance month to month is a zero interest card [the slate card (discussed below)] at like $900. I’ll have that paid off shortly. I only carry a couple of cards in my wallet and the rest are sitting in a drawer.

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Japan: Food Poisoning & Saki Bombs

I apologize in advance for the lack of detail on this post. I really slacked and waited a month to write it… oops.

So I arrived in tokyo after a very long day of traveling between phuket and kuala lumpur and then on to Tokyo. We deplaned and went through immigration where they absolute TORE apart my bag. I really think these guys get a kick out of this. They rip your bag apart and leave it up to you to put everything back together. I understand WHY they look through the bag, just think they could be ‘nicer’ about. 

japan-shibuya-two-girls-walking

After getting through immigration I exchanged some money that I had brought with me from thailand. My hopes of getting a sim card (i knew the chances were low seeing as it was 1130pm) were squashed pretty quickly. There was really NOTHING open in the airport between leaving security and leaving the airport. 

I was nervous as I didn’t have any way of getting in touch with my airbnb host or knowing if the driver was going the right way without internet or phone service. I knew that taxis were EXTREMELY expensive (about $75 to drive less then 5 miles and less then a 15 minute trip) but at that point of the day I didn’t want to have to try and figure out the local subway. I made it to the airbnb without any troubles though and checked in with my hosts who were super nice and had a really sweet spot overlooking tokyo tower.

The plan for my 4 full days in Japan was to spend my first half day around tokyo and then head to kyoto on the bullet train for two nights. After a good nights sleep I ran around tokyo and got as much done as possible. I hit Harajuku (this crazy busy block with so many people walking down it that you could barely move). I got over to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park. I got more street/people photography done in a half a day then almost the entire rest of the trip. Tokyo was a cool place and was pretty easy to get around via the subway. I only had about 5 hours to roam around town before getting to the bullet train station to head to kyoto. 

So this was a pain in the ass. I bought my bullet train ticket (i thought) all through a website i found online. Essentially i only paid for the ticket but still had to go pick it up. One thing to note about Japan, they LOVE heat. They love it on the subways, they love it in restaurants, they love it in stores and shops. They blast the heat in some places at like 85 degrees. It was so hot in the bullet train ticket office that i literally gasped when I walked in. Spending an hour in there to get my ticket actually printed was no fun. Suggestion to anyone looking to take that train, I’m sure there is an easier way of getting your ticket… figure out what it is and do it. 

The bullet train itself was actually really nice. I don’t spend much time on trains here in the states other than back and forth to manhattan, but these trains were pretty upscale. They had power outlets at every seat, wifi, beverage and food service, etc. The seats were really spacious and the overall experience was great. It didn’t really feel like it was going any faster then a normal train, but it sure did look cool when it pulled into the station. 

Kyoto

I am going to talk about 2 things in regards to my trip to kyoto. First, I had one of the coolest experiences at dinner while at my airbnb. Second, that great experience was followed by one of the worst nights of being sick in my life. 

I got to my airbnb which was an old 2 story home which featured a “samurai” style japanese restaurant on the first floor and a small 3 bedroom apartment on the second floor.  It was by far the least modern place I had stayed at throughout the whole trip but did have a bit of ‘charm’ to it. The rooms were all small, the ceilings were low, and the bathroom was just barely big enough to were I could close the door while sitting on the toilet (this would be important later as I spent much of the night cramped in this little hole of a room). 

The host was nice, spoke english and showed me around. I figured the place would suffice as I didn’t plan on spending much time there other then to sleep. I had a lot of places to visit and sites to see. Kyoto features some of the oldest temples still standing in Japan after WWII so I was looking forward to getting some great shots.  It has features Geishas in certain neighborhoods and I was looking forward to trying to get some photography done for that as well. 

I went down to the restaurant to grab some dinner and figured I’d just pass out early and get an early start to the day. The whole restaurant seated maybe 20 people and I was put at a table next to a group of 10 japanese young adults. I don’t really remember how it happened but we engaged each other in conversation and started chatting. About an hour later we were all laughing and sharing drinks and talking about our respective cultures and ways of life. They were all extremely interested in what it was like to live in the US and what I wanted to do with my life and what I believed in, etc. It was kind of flattering that they took such an interest but I think it was a matter of respect for them as well. They had welcomed a new friend into their group and really made me feel like a part of their crowd.

We sat on the floor for 2 hours and shared stories. Ikumi , the 26yr old girl I was sitting next to, refilled my glass when I finished each drink. It is bad form to fill your own glass as I would learn so I was more than happy to oblige. They each shared their business cards with me and they presented them to me like a gift, with the utmost respect. It was just a very interesting experience. 

I brought my own “flare” to the exchange as well. I couldn’t believe it, but they had never heard of saki bombs (dropping a shot of saki into a beer and drinking it all at once). So that lead to about a dozen saki bombs which they really got a kick out of. They told me about their favorite comic, “One Piece”, and Nobu (one of the guys) shared his love of “Bushido” (the samurai way/lifestyle) and recommended a great book to read (which I am currently reading now). We all did some laughter yoga at the table (which is essentially just belting out some great big laughs.. its invigorating).

The whole dinner experience was just one of the most interesting and enlightening experiences during the whole entire 7 week trip. It was, unfortunately, followed by the worst experiences of the trip. As we neared the end of dinner I started feeling some stomach cramps. I didn’t think much of it though and we all said our goodbyes,  expressing our gratitudes and pleasures to meet each other and went on our way.  I retired back to the apartment upstairs and got some photo editing done. 

The next 7 hours was filled with the worst food poisoning I’ve ever experienced. I could not keep anything in my system. My body rejected anything that came in. Without getting to graphic, I don’t think that little 4 foot by 3 foot bathroom will ever recover. It got to the point, around 3:30am, that I decided I had to go to the hospital. I was completely dehydrated and had no nutrients in my system what-so-ever. I was cramping up and could barely move from exhaustion. 

I will have to give some major credit to my airbnb host who drove me to the hospital and translated for me for 2 hours. Thank god he was there because I don’t know how i would have gotten the medical attention I needed without him. The whole hospital visit including an IV drip and other medications cost me a grand total of …. wait for it…. $190. A trip like that would have cost easily several thousand dollars here in the states. By the time we left I was feeling a bit better and at least got some electrolytes in my system via the IV.

That was my whole kyoto experience. What was supposed to be a big highlight of my trip with views of old temples and geishas and the real “old japan” was summed up to a great meal in a restaurant and a hospital visit. I had no energy to do anything the next day and while I was supposed to stay another night, I really just wanted to get back to the much more comfortable airbnb in Tokyo. I got back on the bullet train and headed back where my hosts there was nice enough to open their place to me a day early.

The next day and a half I spent trying to keep some food down and doing a bit more touring around and grabbing some photos. 

I did not get to eat all the food I had planned on eating while in Japan and certainly am planning on going back and doing it right. Overall, thought, it was a great experience to add to the entire journey. The japanese 20 somethings that I met gave me some really cool perspective of japanese culture and left me wanting more for sure. 

japan-yoyogi-park-tree-on-top japan-minato-statue-and-pinwheel japan-minato-water-dripping japan-shibuya-girl-cryingjapan-shinjuku-women-with-statue

Phuket, Thailand

I had been looking forward to Phuket since the very start of my trip planning. I had seen pictures of islands like Koh Phi Phi and just couldn’t wait to get there for all the great photography potential. I was also looking forward to doing some fishing (I’ve been fishing my whole life and love to do it in foreign places).

So I left Chiang Mai and took the short flight down to Phuket. The airport was about an hour from the hotel and I had arranged a pickup through the hotel (Le Meridian Phuket). It was around 230 by the time I got there so I just hit the beach for an hour or two and grabbed some dinner at the hotel buffet. I was in Phuket for 3 nights and had excursions planned for both days. I had to be up bright and early for a fishing trip the next day so I had an early night.

Koh Phi Phi Island near Phuket (more details below)koh phi phi phuket thailand boats in the waterThe pick up for fishing was around 8:15 and we picked up the rest of the guests and arrived at the pier about an hour later. Two my ‘dismay’ none of my fellow fisherman (and women) spoke english. Instead I had been teamed up with 8 burley russians. I had been in touch with the company prior to the trip and was pretty clear that I was hoping for some english speaking guests and also a good day of catching BIG fish. While the trip was fun, neither of these things happened. I wanted to catch big marlin and tunas and instead we caught little 3-5lb blue fin tunas. Read the rest of this page »