Tag Archives: Spontaneous Travel

MALAYSIA: Will Ferrell, Climbing, Hitchhiking, & Oil Rig Diving

7 Dec


1. Climbing Mt. Kinabalu with Will Ferrell’s Doppelganger and No Pants

After spending a week hanging out in Hong Kong during monsoon season, I thought it was time to get out of the muggy city rain and off to somewhere…else.  I took the extremely silent train to the Hong Kong international airport and boarded the first plane leaving to a South East destination – KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA!

When stepping down from the airplane I was hit in the face with the apocalyptic heat and humidity SE Asia is so well-known for – I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to sleep that night. No worries.

In the immigration line I realized I forgot to fill out a landing card – I kindly asked the man behind me to hold my spot in line while I grabbed a landing card. When I returned, the man asked me if I was an American – I took one look at him and I thought to myself, Oh my god, Will Ferrell’s doppelganger is hitting on me in the immigration line.

“Excuse me, are you from America?”
“Yup, I’m from California. You?”
“Oh, that’s awesome! I’m from Florida…what are you doing here?”
“Dude, I have noooo idea. What about you guys?” I looked at the small, sickly man standing next to him.“Well, if you’re looking for something to do – my friend Scott here got really bad food poisoning and can’t go mountain climbing tomorrow, so  I have an extra spot if you want to go.”
“Wait…there’s a mountain here?! OKAY, I’ll go!”

I was really lucky to meet Will Ferrell. Apparently you need reservations months in advance to climb this 13,435 ft. mountain during peak season.  Will and I exchanged emails and promised to meet at the “North Bus Station” at 7AM the next morning.

Well, as luck would have it – the “North Bus Station” doesn’t exist and it was actually called some other complicated Malaysian name. Spending too much time haggling and miscommunicating with cab drivers, I ended up missing the 7AM bus. When I finally arrived to the bus station my cab was SWARMED & SURROUNDED by touters –  I had to bat away the little brown hands that were grabbing at my backpack  and forcing me out of the cab – their weird aggressive way of showing hospitality. As a solo female traveler it was kind of an overwhelming experience and I was ready to judo chop anyone that would try and jack me.

I finally found my way onto a bus for $15 to the base of Mt. Kinabalu. When I arrived, the ladies at the front desk asked me for my reservation.

“Uh….I’m with P. Ranger.”
“But P. Ranger has left already with his guide. And Scott S. has canceled.”
“But…I’m taking Scott’s place. I have to climb the mountain.”
“But do you have a package?”
“No…but P. Ranger said it was Okay for me to climb the mountain.”

Oh, the power of name-dropping. After 15 minutes of saavy Changsuasion, I convinced them that I was fast enough to catch up with Will Ferrell and start the mountain climb alone.

I climbed for about 2 hours completely alone and was sweating my ass off. Should have brought my iPod. On my way to the half-way point Laban Rata, I saw little Malaysian men carrying backpacks twice their size while smoking cigarettes. I also saw some old ladies with canes. How the hell? I’m like dying.

I finally caught up with Will Ferrell at the half-way point. The half-way camp was filled with what looked like hardcore mountaineers. I wasn’t feeling sociable and gorged myself in Malaysian food and passed out at 7PM – then we woke up at 3AM to begin our climb to the summit. I had to buy gloves and rent a headlamp. Mr. Ferrell let me borrow his beanie and long socks. Everyone made fun of me for wearing shorts. So KIND!

4 hours later in the bitter, cold darkness we made it to the top! The sunrise was beautiful but I was freezing my ass off too much to enjoy it. I felt like a badass wearing only shorts, as I looked around the hoards of people wearing snowboarding-like gear. They had their hardcore hiking shoes; I just had my Aasics running shoes. Pfff, I did this in my sleep. Take that, old cane lady!

The terrain was so interesting – long stretches of flat rock and weird rock shapes that reminded me of Salvador Dali’s abstract paintings. It was really different from the bottom half of the mountain – all jungle-y and wild. Will was cracking me up, he kept filming himself while we were climbing the mountain as if we were in a documentary film. Will post videos soon.

Will & I decided to take on the WORLD’S HIGHEST VIA FERRATA! A 5-hour technical climb alongside Mt. Kinabalu – basically hanging off the side of the mountain with only 2 cables and a harness attached to you. It was fun, grueling, and not that hard compared to climbing UP the mountain. Check out the rest of the Mt. Kinabalu photos set.

8 hours later I found myself at the base of the mountain, saying farewell to Will Ferrell as he sped off to complete the next phase of the package deal: hot springs. I later found out that the hot springs sucked and wasn’t worth the money.

I was sitting by the side of the road with crystalized sweat drying on my forehead. Most people stay at the hotel after climbing the mountain – but me, I didn’t have a reservation. The area was desolate save a trucker-stop type of restaurant across the highway. I went in and asked if there was a way to get back to the city. Apparently they sell bus tickets but I could also buy it when I get on. I felt lazy so I just sat around waiting for the bus. But it never came.

2. So I hitchhiked.

As I loitered on the side of the road, these two Malaysian-born Chinese guys rolled up in a black SUV and asked me where I was going in broken English. I noticed that one of the guys was drinking a Guiness and had a tooth missing. I told them I needed to get back to the city, Kota Kinabalu. They were headed that way too……..So I hopped in their car. We got to talking and I learned that Mr. Gap-tooth was Andy, the #1 supermarket store-owner in his town – his competitive advantage? He’s the only guy in town that sells ice! The driver, who spoke better English – he wore a cheap plastic watch on his left hand with Tom & Jerry cartoon characters on it. You guessed it, his name was Tom. How could these two Malay guys have such Americanized names? Apparently that’s a common trend in Malaysia – they’ve all got American names. I soon realized this when the two random kids sleeping in the back popped out of nowhere and scared the crap out of me. These two little random Asian kids were named Amanda and Gregory. Normal panicked thoughts were going through my head: Okay, so should I save these kids…or…what the heck is going on? How tall are these guys? Can I take them? I can take them. I just climbed a mountain, will I be able to run? OMG.

Turns out, these people were the nicest ever! When we got back to the city, Andy picked up his wife Sandra and they took me out to dinner – Chinese style! They really appreciated that I was an American-born Chinese person, and they felt like they could relate to me – they couldn’t speak Chinese either. It was nice to eat Chinese food because in my opinion, the Malaysian cuisine wasn’t very good – kind of like vegetarian slop that’s been sitting out for awhile. I wish I had photos, but they were on my old iPhone which got stolen in HK. We’re totally Facebook friends now, though. So after I sid good-bye to my new pseudo family…

2.5. I Rode a Moped w/ Tamas &realized there was nothing to do in Kota Kinabalu. Except creepy Karaoke.

‘Nuff said. I peaced out shortly thereafter.

3. Scuba Diving Off an Old Oil Rig – Mabul & Sipidan Island

I booked a flight out of Kota Kinabalu and flew to Tawau Airport, the southeast side of Borneo/Sabah part of Malaysia. I hitched a ride with this Australian family and rode 2 hours to a dirty-ass town called Semporna, the rancid pit-stop that ALL people must stay overnight in, before heading out to Sipadan/Mabul Island for world-class scuba diving. Semporna is a tiny, heavily polluted town filled with dive shops and a couple of eateries and shops. Worst place ever, it totally sucks.

Next morning I hopped on a speedboat, and for about 40 RM (hefty price, I know) I was able to get a ride to Mabul Island, where I couchsurfed for the night. WORD OF ADVICE: If you want to dive at Sipadan, you should most definitely book a package deal including airport, transfer, overnight stay in Semporna/Mabul Island, dives, and back. It was the worst logistical nightmare to do it the way I did and the dive shops are very inflexible when it comes to letting stragglers like me mess up their system. I’m not a package-deal fan, but in this case it would have been easier.

Mabul is a micro-tiny island – you can walk around the entire island in 40 minutes, at a leisurely pace. One half of the island is occupied by a beautiful resort, the other half is scattered with poor rickety long houses made out of plank woods on stilts. Naked kids running around, the occasional stench of septic tank (at least there was one), and plastic trash along the beach. For an island that caters to the scuba diving community, it was shocking and surprising to see that the island and water around it was so filthy. Still, it was cool to see professional scuba divers and local islanders co-exist on such a small plot of land. I even got to watch a soccer match between the island-folk and was eaten alive by mosquitos. The best thing I saw on Mabul island were these two girls that caught a swordfish:

The next day I got a boat ride to Seaventure’s Oil Rig – man, this was like the Hilton of dive resorts in Malaysia. For about 500RM ($150) per day, you get unlimited house reef dives, 3 Sipidan dives, DELICIOUS FOOD all day long, A/C, towels, locker, scuba diving equipment rental and an awesome staff that plays a cover band. It was heaven to have life be so easy on this oil rig. I stayed here for about 6 days and didn’t want to leave! I got to see the blue-ringed octopus, one of the most venomous creatures in the world – as well as turtles, flamboyant cuttlefish, school of bumperhead parrotfish, and white-tip sharks. Check out my Sipadan scuba diving underwater photos – I used the Canon G11 Powershot with the Canon underwater housing. I also got to meet three lovely Norwegian boys, who I ended up visiting later on in my travels.

So that pretty much sums up one of my most spontaneous traveling experiences. If you have any other questions and if you would like more information on the places I stayed at, post a comment and I’d be happy to help you.

10 Tips on How to Make Pseudo Traveling Friends While Traveling Solo

1 Dec

Besides money, one of the biggest reasons why people are afraid to travel is fear of loneliness. Many refuse to travel unless they find “the ideal traveling partner” and as such are doomed to eternal pining and an unsatisfied soul. I know this because I used to be one of those people. Well, NO MORE! I’ve visited over 15 countries solo and have made tons of pseudo traveling friends all over the world – thus, I’m pretty much pro at this and have never felt lonely traveling. Below are some of my general tips on how you can find pseudo traveling friends everywhere you go.

General Tips:

  1. Be observant. Look for any signs that may create common ground between you and the people around you. Look for people that are alone. If you really want to take the easy road, try to look for Americans. They’re generally the friendliest and most ignorant, I’ve found. It’s easy to spot them by the way they dress: sports T-shirts, baseball caps, and the rambunctious way they are laughing & taking shots at the bar are obvious red flags.
  2. Eye contact. All you have to do is maintain eye contact for at least 3 seconds and smile. This is best in a bar setting,  but can also be applied in other public settings – like a coffee shop with free WI-FI (This is important! Fellow travelers are ALWAYS on the free WI-FI hunt, so you will definitely find a gang of them at WI-FI hotspots).
  3. Ask for help. The best way to strike up a conversation with a stranger is to ask them advice questions such as: “Yo, do you know if that jungle tour is totally awesome?” or “Do you know where the nearest pickle store is?” and more importantly, “Do you know where’s the best and cheapest place to rage tonight?” Actually, my favorite time is when we picked up a British guy in Times Square that just got off the airplane. All he had to ask was “Do you know where the bars are?” And he was immediately invited to join us girls on an awesome bar adventure.
  4. Be confident. Or as my friend Dan Gilroy once put it, “Walk into the room as if you have a 12-inch cock.” Sounds crazy, but it’s such a confidence booster. And people are drawn to confidence like Irish men are to whiskey. Scientific fact. And remember, don’t slouch.
  5. Memorize foreign phrases. Build up a data bank so that you can spew out random foreign phrases when you meet people from these countries. My random knowledge of German, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese phrases has gotten me very far in life.
  6. Be memorable & dare to be different. Wear something unique and brightly colored as a conversation-starter. I wear this owl necklace that people can’t help but caress and touch. Also, avoid being the first person to ask basic intro questions such as:  “Where are you from and why are you traveling?” Instead, talk about random, obscure topics like the scientific origin of eggplants or that one time you were hanging out in Inner Mongolia. Make yourself an interesting and compelling person and more importantly, make the other person ask YOU the basic intro questions.  As an interesting person they’ll want to get to know you and thus it will be harder for them to say ‘No’ when you invite them on a random adventure.
  7. Think of an awesome event, place, or activity to do in advance. Try to bring it up in conversation and BAM! Pseudo traveling friend can’t resist your awesome adventure idea. For example, “Hey, did you know that the world music festival is being held in that rain forest 4 hours away? Wanna split a tuk-tuk?”
  8. Don’t be afraid to spend some quality time with a stranger. Pretend that you’ve known this person for 10 years and it’s been awhile since you last saw each other. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward, you freakin’ platypus.
  9. At first, always be gentle in your approach. Don’t surprise them or come off too aggressive by being SUPER energetic and eager when you walk up to them. Try to be quaint, respectful and non-prodding. If you’re at a loud bar, disregard this tip. Being loud and energetic in conversation is okay when you’re drunk and there’s a big crowd around.
  10. DON’T BE CLINGY. This is a rule you should always follow in life. People, especially travelers, tend to flee at any sign of clinginess. I know I do. Be appreciative and revel in the adventure you’re having with this pseudo friend – but definitely don’t expect them to be around forever. If there’s chemistry and some type of cosmic force bringing you two together, then you’ll happily discover that you’re both coincidentally headed towards the same direction on your journey.

At the hostel:

  1. When booking a hostel, make sure you choose to stay in the room with the most beds. Usually these are the cheapest beds, and it’s also a sure-fire way to meet other travelers like yourself.
  2. Stay at a hostel that has its own bar. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with a drunk foreigner. Almost too easy.

At the airport/bus station:

Follow general tip #1 (Be Observant) and find people that are reading books that look interesting. Nonchalantly sit next to them and say, “Oh man! I’ve always wanted to read that book! How is it…?” And let the conversation slide from there. Note: Don’t approach those that are listening to iPods, these folks generally don’t want to be bothered and aren’t leaving themselves open to conversation. Only approach if they’re really, really cute and you’ve got nothing to lose.

On the plane/bus:

If there’s open seating on the plane, sit next to someone that looks like they’re your age and traveling alone. Usually they’re also solo travelers or at least open to conversation. Don’t be too bothersome….people need their space. Break the conversation by doing your own thing – but make sure you find out if they’re doing anything fun at the destination you’re headed towards and see if you can join.

On the Interwebz:

This should be at the top of the list – in my experience, using the internet as a resource has been one of the best ways to connect with other travelers on-the-go. I mainly use Couchsurfing.org or Travbuddy.com. As a last-minute, spontaneous traveler, I often don’t take the time to strike up conversations and will just post in the CS Last Minute Couch Request group in whatever country I’m headed towards. I usually get a few responses back, immediately. Check out my tips on How to Couchsurf or check out my other blog posts about couchsurfing.

Just remember:

Most people are afraid to take the first step. If you overcome your fear of rejection, you can overcome your fear of loneliness and solo traveling! Just know that you’ve got nothing to lose and even though you won’t always be successful, those pseudo traveling friends you DO make are going to be the best people you’ll ever meet in your entire life!

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please post a comment! OR if you want a live response, you can ask me a question on vyou.com!

INNER MONGOLIA & My 1ST Couchsurfing Experience

6 Oct

 

BEIJING, May 2009. So I was sitting at the public computer at Leo Hostel, after having just said 在见(good-bye) to traveling buddies Dawei & Stuart. I had about 2 extra days to kill before heading back to Shanghai. I decided, yo – Imma gonna head to INNER MONGOLIA! I tried to check train times, but of course China’s unreliable websites said nothing to me. I hopped onto couchsurfing.org and created a profile so I could crash somewhere for free.

When I ran the query for couchsurfing hosts in Inner Mongolia, only 8 results appeared. I clicked on the profile at the top of the list – ‘Nuppu from Finland.’ Nice reviews, cool desert pictures – couldn’t see her face, but whatever – safer to stay with a girl, right? Cool, doing it. So I messaged her:

Hi Nuppu!~ I am Allison from Los Angeles, CA. I’m taking a SPONTANEOUS trip to Inner Mongolia and was wondering if I could crash with you? This will be my first time. You seem like a really cool girl, I’ve never met anyone from Finland! I’m sorry this is so last minute, but hey that’s the nature of these things right? Please let me know as soon as you can! Thanks, Allison

RE: Hi Allison, yea sure you can crash here, when are you coming? Give me a call. Nuppu.

I gave her a call and she had a really cool English-sounding accent and I pictured her to have dark skin like an Indian-Eskimo (At that time I had no clue what Finnish people looked like).

I went to the train station via $2 cab, begged for the last standing seat (got bumped up to a hard sleeper) to depart Beijing at 11:31 PM and arrive to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia at around noon. I. was. so. excitedly freaked out. Here I was traveling solo being all cool with my knock-off Northface backpack I got for like $10 bucks and nobody knew that I was going to Inner Mongolia except for Nuppu. I’m such a badass.

The train ride was a bit boring…I was surrounded by a bunch of old Chinese people that I didn’t feel like talking to. One took a liking to me and I had to swat him away. I slept on the top hard-sleeper bunk and cuddled with my backpack out of fear that I would get mugged in my sleep (a common paranoia us travelers have). After having spent the last 6 months jailed in my Chinese dormitory with 20 horny Americans, it was so nice to travel on my own. I finally felt like I could be the traveler I wanted to be. Granted, I was still in China – but I felt great to be independent, alone, and unsure of the future.

I woke up to a Chinese lady yelling out some crazy ass words that had to do with breakfast. I decided to buy a pork-filled bun, mmmmm. I dazed off into the landscape passing by, arrid grasslands, rickity houses, muggy blue sky..then after a couple of hours I realized…when the hell am I supposed to get off? It’s noon! And right at that moment, I heard on the P A: ‘huhhohaute’ and I was like (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?? ? ??? should I stay, should I jump off the train ? ? ? ? ????crapcrapcrap ??) over and over in my head. I decided to make a run. I leapt off the train and looked at the signs all around me. No signs. Crap. I hope I’m in the right place. I called the Fin.

Thank God, my instinct is always correct, I had gotten off at the right stop – I took a cab to the address Nuppu gave me. Ended up at Inner Mongolia Da Xue. I waited at the guard’s gate for about 30 minutes – shootin’ the shit in my broken Chinese, hiding under the umbrella as a storm just came in. Finally in the distance I see a dark figure – Nuppu. As she walked closer and closer, I saw that she had really long hair sweeping in the wind………….on just one side of her head. The other side was completely shaved.  OKAY. I don’t wanna be a hater, but this was my first time couchsurfing so I was being all sorts of judgey in my mind – I kept thinking: is she a psycho? Is she going to kill me? Rape me? Her skin was as pale as Michael Jackson’s (RIP) and had strikingly blue eyes. I decided to brush off my thoughts and try to feel her personality out. We did some small talk on the way to her DORMITORY (didn’t see that in the fine print of her profile).

“So uh…Nuppu. That’s a cool name. Where are you from?” (I knew full well where she was from)
“I’m from Finland with an interest in studying Mongolian.”
“..Ohhhhh cool!! …!!! So……………I’m finally here! Inner Mongolia!”
“Why’d you decide to come here?”
“Oh, you know just being spontaneous. I wanna check out the desert. Someone told me about it and I thought it was cool. Why are you here?”
“I’m supposed to be studying Mongolian…but I find that I’m just learning a lot of Chinese instead.”

As we entered the dark corridor leading up to her room (imagine dungeon-like features) we entered her musky room. It was filthy & disgusting. Strange black dirt marks on the walls, floors, toilet seat. There were cobwebs in every corner. LIVE MOTHS FLITTING ABOUT AND STUCK TO THE WALLS. It was a studio-sized dorm and as I went to plop down my backpack and take a seat in the only chair in the room – I realized there was a pile of books on it with cobwebs all over it too. (SHIT. WTF, WTF). I look around and I realize that there is only ONE.TWIN.BED. Where the hell is the couch? Isn’t that whole reason for couchsurfing?

“So Nuppu…..ehm…. have you ever hosted before? ”
“Nope, you’re my first.”
(OH SHIT. I’m definitely going to die here. I have no way out)……………………….. ……. … after minutes of silence and noticing Japanese anime posters pasted over the cobwebs on her walls. I finally said, “So what’s there to do here?”
“Oh I dunno, I don’t get out much, I might go to a classical music concert later tonight.”
“Oh, okay cool. Hey, can I borrow your laptop!??” *nervous laugh*
“Sure.”

I never typed so hard and fast in my entire life. I logged right back into Couchsurfing.org and saw a profile of a guy that looked like Chuck Norris who was from CA. Thank god. I messaged him frantically saying that I was in Inner Mongolia and that I needed to be saved, without leaving any details but my #. I got a phone call from him within 5 minutes and was off and left Nuppu behind.

This couchsurfing experience ended VERY VERY VERY happily and I met 2 of the most interesting and funniest people I’ve met on my world travels. We actually traveled to the Gobi Desert together and I went ATV riding and sandboarding. Below are the pictures from my awesome adventure.

Looking back now though…I’m sure Nuppu was a very nice girl. But I was very naive and narrow-minded and wanted my first couchsurfing experience to be a bit more normal. Oh well, life doesn’t roll that way.

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