The backpackers haven known as Pai, Thailand

The whole time we were in Thailand we kept hearing, “Pai is amazing.”, “You have to go to Pai.”, “Pai is my favorite place in Thailand.”.

Pai, Pai, Pai.

So we went to Pai.

Which is a cute little town located up in the mountains at the end of a, you guessed it, vomit inducing bus ride. This one was definitely a lot windier than the bus ride to Mae Hong Son, but Aspen & I have travel days down to a science. We fast and we sleep and we pray we don’t puke. We haven’t yet so it seems to be working!

Pai was very cute and very western, with yoga studios, cute cafes and all the western food one can eat it’s no wonder backpackers seek it out. By this point we’d been traveling for a few weeks so we had already decided that we would do two nights in a hostel and two in a hotel.

Pai was all about chilling out and being lazy.

That being said… One morning we went to the hardest yoga class of my life. I don’t yoga but it said it was gentle flow for all levels so I thought why not. Plus it was in this open air studio out of town which was so pretty. It was not gentle and it was not for all levels. Aspen does yoga all the time and even she was struggling. This lady kicked our butts. At some points I thought my arms and legs were going to give out. My favorite part, as always, was laying in corpse pose at the end.

We also ran into a friend from high school named Ryan. Ryan has actually been my travel advice guru since I studied abroad in Spain. When I travel through Europe she gave me ideas of places to go as well as when I traveled through Central America. So funny and random that we ran into her!

THIS IS NOT BEGINNER

Pai also has their own version of “the Grand Canyon”. I put that in quotes because although they say that, it’s nothing like the Grand Canyon. It’s more like a weird rock path, that drops off on either side, and snakes across the landscape. It’s so fun to climb all over and we watched the sunset over the mountains and into Myanmar.

Two dirty feet and a sun setting over the mountains and into Mynamar

Aspen & I watched Ryan get a bamboo tattoo which was one of the weirdest experiences. Getting a tattoo via bamboo is interesting enough, but no one spoke English so most of the time we had no idea what was going on. At one point the guy, who we were assuming was the artist, left and then rolled up on a scooter 20 minutes later with her word drawn out. She got something in Thai and only Thai people will ever know what it really says😹.

After yoga, exploring the town, eating smoothie bowls and adventuring on the canyon we spent the next two days hanging out by the pool at our hotel. Our hotel that cost only $11 a night!

Pai was the place to run into travel buddies because we also ran into one of the girls from our girl gang in Bangkok, Maria. It was so fun to see her after weeks of traveling and catch up on what we had been up to. We went to this ramen house for dinner and ate the best ramen of our lives. It was raining off and on that night so this guy, Tino, sat at our table to get out of the rain. Maria and Tino both happen to be from Boston and are two of the very very few Americans we’ve met while traveling. I think we’ve met five… If that. Anyways, we all chatted while we waited for the rain to stop and ended up going to get massage together after. Pai must have some magic because it was also the best, and funniest massage I’ve had. Funniest because all of us couldn’t stop cracking up. To end the night we hung out at this bamboo bridge, under the full moon, and made a packed to all get smoothie bowls the next morning before Aspen & I headed out.

So, we meet Maria at the bamboo bridge at 10am and then realize that no one has any way to get ahold of Tino. We know that his bungalow is on the same side of the river as the bowl place so we decide to just start walking and hope we run into him. And the funny thing is that we do! We’re walking down this dirt road, the birds are chirping, cows are walking by, it’s already so hot, and I look up and see this guy laying in a hammock and reading. I joke that maybe it’s Tino so we start to loudly whisper his name. It was him!

Our gang was back together, we went to get smoothie bowls and lived happily ever after.

Until Aspen & I had to leave.

Of course when it was time to grab our stuff and head to the bus stop it was POURING DOWN RAIN. We show up completely soaked and confused at which bus is ours as there are two leaving at the same time. We find our driver, load our stuff and after getting a good look at the driver, a young dude, I turn to Aspen and say, “That guy looks like he is going to be a crazy driver. We’re screwed.”.

We now refer to that bus ride as “The Death Bus”. Aspen had her jacket over her head the whole time because she couldn’t watch the driving situation, which was terrifying to say the least. As I’ve said before, there are no rules when it comes to driving in SE Asia, so I’m sure you can imagine the kind of driving that went down on a windy country road.

But we made it safe and sound to Chiang Mai, our favorite city in Thailand, and where we would stay for one night before heading up to Chiang Rai to go trekking through the jungle.

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Quick update!

Helllooooo!! I liveeeee!!

Aspen & I are currently in Laos and, having only 10 days here, we are hitting it hard. Tours, workshops, volunteering every day. By 8pm I am dead on my feet. I have so much amazing stuff to share with you guys, I just haven’t had the time to write in my journal let alone write a blog post – which takes me hours because I have to type on my phone.

I’m learning and seeing so much but, man, I’m exhausted.

Favorite temple in Laos so far

Mae Hong Son: We risked Malaria for this!?

We didn’t throw up on the bus to Mae Hong Son!

Soooo. We’ve been following this route called the Banana Pancake Route. It’s the route that most backpackers take through SE Asia. Well, Aspen and I decided that we wanted to go off the beaten path for two days and headed up to a small town called Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son is almost at the border to Myanmar (Burma) and so the culture is supposed to be Thai mixed with Burmese. First things first, just getting there is an adventure. It’s a 6+ hour bus ride through the windiest road ever created. It’s so windy, it really makes no sense — you turn one way to immediately turn 180 degrees back the way you just came. The whole ride was like this. So naturally it, and the road to Pai, is notorious for making people sick – Thai and foreigns alike. Our Thai Grandma told us not to eat anything before we left, take medicine for motion sickness and bring a barf bag. Our bus driver actually handed out barf bags when we got onto the bus.

Thanks to my motion sickness medicine I spent most of the time sleeping. The turns were crazy, but our driver was pretty mellow compared to most so if I kept my eyes closed I could just sway along. One little kid did get sick though 😿.

After 6+ hours we get to Mae Hong Son and SURPRISE! Everything is outside of the town and we can’t do anything without a scooter. As I’ve said before, the whole scooter thing is really very annoying. So the low down on the scooters is, a lot of people ride them. Really most backpackers rent a scooter for the day and head off to see different sights. I’m sure you’re thinking “wow! That’s so crazy that everyone knows how to ride a scooter!”. They don’t. They crash a lot, we’ve seen lots of backpacker covered in bandages, but they rent them (and tell everyone to rent them, they’re easy) anyways. Apart from not knowing how to drive a scooter, Thailand driving on the other side of the road, and people driving like maniacs, it’s technically illegal for a foreigner to drive a scooter without a international license which again, no one has. So they get pulled over and tickets, but the real issue is, it being illegal, if there is an accident it’s not covered by insurance. YIKES. So yeah, Aspen and I are stirring clear. It really is annoying, but mostly do able.

EXCEPT NOT IN MAE HONG SON.

Seriously could go nowhere. So we spent two days trying to learn how to just do nothing. We learned a lot of card games, planned some of our trip, hung out in a cafe, ate 7/11 dinners (sounds gross but 7/11 is the best) and watched really bad Thai tv. There was also a point where our electricity kept going out because of a storm.

Omg the Thai tv was so bad and hysterical. Everything was green-screened and the acting was atrocious. Their mouths didn’t even line up with the words.

Eating ice cream because we didn’t have anything else to do

We also visited temples (there are two in Mae Hong Son) and hiked to the temple on the hill to watch the sunset. One great thing about being in a small town, in the middle of nowhere, is that no one is at the temples!

After two days we were so very ready to go to Pai.

Chiang Mai: Home to our Thai Grandma

I’ve now been to four cities/towns in Thailand (yes, I’m behind on my blog. Who would I be if I wasn’t!?) and Chiang Mai is by far my favorite. It’s the second largest city in Thailand but has the pace and vibes of a small town, which is my favorite. Everything is walkable which THANK YOU LORD JESUS, because it’s getting really frustrating how you have to rent a scooter (I refuse) to get anywhere, and there is so much to do. Aspen and I spent 6 nights & days there and it didn’t feel like long enough, I could stay for a month. Plus, our Thai Grandma lives there which made the whole experience so wonderful and homey!

D A Y 1

Aspen and I arrive at our hostel and it is the cutest hostel I’ve ever seen. It looks like a boutique hotel (for $8 a night), the staff is incredibly friendly and the beds are HUGE.

After we got settled and dressed for temples we went out exploring. We usually spend our first day just walking around and scoping things out, especially if we arrive into town later in the day. We ended up only visiting one temple and I can’t remember the name of it! We didn’t go inside, because we didn’t have small enough bills, so we just walked around the grounds which were really beautiful. There was the grove of trees that had different sayings nailed to them. It was really cool.

We got lost trying to find the next temple and ended up spending the rest of the day at this really cute cat cafe! There were cat ceramics everywhere, cat pillows, cat artwork. AND KITTENS. Well, big kittens. Like most cafes, shops and food places this one was the front of the people’s house and they had at least six different cats that were running around and playing while we hung out.

That evening we got dinner at the Night Bazaar. It was sort of like a night market, but they mostly sold food and after coming from the markets in Bangkok it was very touristy. It reminded me of going to the Saturday market in Portland, but at night.

D A Y 2

Today we went on an adventure to Doi Inthanon National Park. We took a tour because, once again, no scooters and it was so awesome. It was really small, there were maybe 6 of us, and our guide was really nice. It felt like hanging out with a local friend. Our first stop was a little waterfall where we were able to hike around and take pictures.

Look, Mom! We brought hats!

After about 30 minutes we climbed back into the van and headed to the summit of Doi Inthanon, which is actually the tallest mountain in Thailand. There was no lookout, but there was a shrine to the last king of Chiang Mai.

Our third activity was definitely my favorite. We went on a 2 hour trek trough the jungle. Usually we would have had to hire a local guide once we got there, but all the local people were working on the trails in preparation for the rainy season so we got to stick with our guide, Steve. As we hiked he pointed out bugs and branches to swing from, told us about different ways Thai people do agriculture and the growing seasons for different things like fruits, rice, flowers. We trekked to some waterfalls and a swimming hole. Everyone was a little apprehensive about swimming in the swimming hole, because the water was brown, but Steve said it had been blue the day before so it must just be raining up the mountain. I hope Steve was right, but even if he wasn’t that water was refreshing!! I didn’t feel overheated for the rest of the hike.

The husk of a cicada. People eats cicadas.
My sunscreen had already spilled all over my backpack and then the logo from the water bottle somehow rubbed off on my skin.
Flowers for the temples
Steve helping out the locals by carrying this log do

At the end of our hike we walked through some strawberry field that, with the rains, will soon be turning into rice fields. Steve taught us about different kinds of mangos and then we stepped out of the jungle and into a village, where we got to try some homegrown and roasted coffee. I hate coffee I general but Aspen said it was good *shrugs*.

The face of someone who hates coffee.
Lunch was served family style

Bought some dried mangos at the market

Lastly, we went to the King and Queen’s pagodas. These pagodas were built in honor of the late King and the Queen, and they seriously looked like something built by aliens. They are so trippy looking. Of course the queen’s pagoda is five feet shorter than the King’s *insert eye roll* but it was definitely the more beautiful of the two. My favorite part were the gardens outside of the Queen’s pagoda and the bridge that crossed the coy pond. While the King’s pagoda didn’t have a garden it did have four stories of how Buddha became which was really interesting. Being in Thailand there are a lot of temples to Buddha, but there are also a lot of alters and sculptures to what look like gods and goddess. I was really confused by this as I thought that Buddha was God, so reading about how Buddha became and the different gods and goddesses was really interesting.

Queen’s pagoda

Flowers at Queen’s pagoda

Queen (purple) & King’s Pagoda

Buddha inside King’s pagoda

We finished our day by eating bugs and meeting our Thai Grandma. There was a girl, who we met in Bangkok, named Valerie who also happened to be staying at our hostel. Somehow we got on the subject of eating bugs and she just happened to have bought a bag to try some. So upstairs we headed to try our first bugs. I ate a grasshopper which really wasn’t bad. It kind of tasted like seaweed and now really like bug. It was kind of crispy though a little juice did squish out. Then I tried what looked like a silk worm. It was absolutely disgusting, and tasted like how you would think a worm would taste.

After our bug taste testing Aspen and I headed out (Valerie and this other girl whose name I can’t remember we’re heading to the Night market) to get food. One too of our hostel being lovely, it’s right next to a good street which is so nice and easy, except everything was closed! Eating is kind of stressful because we cannot seem to get on the eating schedule. We can’t even figure out if there is a schedule. Things seems to be open whenever: the mornings and afternoons, just the morning, just the afternoon, every third Thursday, closed on Mondays, click your heels together and maybe we’ll open. We turn around and head back to the hostel, hoping we can ask about places to eat, and run into Valerie and Girl-from-Madagascar-but-lives-in-paris who are also trying to decide where to eat. Thai Grandma is sitting downstairs (where she hangs out almost every night because her family owns the hostel) and asks what kind of food we’re looking for, and then says she will drive us to the market and a place to get really good Pad Thai. We climb into her car and off we go to eat at the restaurant of one of her former students. It was called Aroy Dee and the owner as so delighted to have us. He kept coming out to practice his English and tell us about his restaurant. It was really wonderful and the food was delicious – best mango sticky rice I’ve had.

D A Y 3

Aspen & I had the brilliant idea to do to the Saturday Walking street, walking streets at markets but they shut the road down, and we walked all over town looking for it. It was hot and we were getting kind of annoyed because we followed the map to the street and there was nothing. Turns out walking streets are only at night! Ha! So we spent the day at the cat cafe planning how we were going to get from Thailand to Laos, which sounds like an adventure. That night we went to a Muay Thai fight. Can you believe! I, someone who hates violence, paid money to go see people fight each other. It was definitely way out of my comfort zone, which is why I did it, but it’s also a huge cultural thing in Thailand so I really wanted to do it. Aspen and I were so nervous before we went, we both thought it was going to be a Mike-Tyson-nite-your-ear-off-blood-everywhere brawl and even almost canceled. It was nothing like we excepted it to be. I mean, they still fought each other but there was no blood and when anything looked like it might get a little too intense the referee would separate them and they would start over. There was so much respect (they would bow before each fight and hug after) and comrade — it really looked like they were just having fun. I feel like going really did give me a different perspective on Thai culture. It was really cool and interesting to see how they would bow before each fight, go to each corner and… do something. I didn’t know what they were doing but it was obviously part of a ritual because every single one of them did the same preparations before their fight began. The best part though, was that during the breaks (when they were getting rinsed and drinking water and stuff) this pump up electronic mucus would be playing, but as soon as the fight started it would switch to this traditional Thai instrument that sounded like something a snake charmer would play. The contrast was so hilarious, I couldn’t help but laugh. Every time.

Also, the announcer kept letting out these high pitched giggles that were so funny but also kind of frightening.

There was another night when Thai grandma drove us to get food and I think it was this one…

D A Y 4

Aspen’s birthday! This was a pretty busy day, we visited Doi Suthep (a temple up the mountain), went to the spa and then a traditional Thai/Lanna dinner. The temple was so big and beautiful. Getting there was a little scary as our driver, like most people driving in Thailand, ignored the dividing line, sped all over the road and flew around corners. Almost everyone was hanging on for dear life and even the Thai land was clutching the handrail and nervously giggling. After our wild ride we climbed what had to be hundreds of stairs to the temple at the top, where we walked around and soaked everything in.

Then it was time for our first Thai massage. Most people you asked will say that Thai massages are… intense. When advertising for them a lot of massage places have this picture of people on their stomach, arched up like a scorpion, while they arms are behind them and being pulled by the message therapist. BUT they are smiling. Sounds really right? Not at all. I was prepared for it to be intense and a little nervous but once again, when in Thailand. Before going in I pictured it was going to be like that scene from Charlie’s Angels, when Lucy-Liu jumps on the guy’s back and is stepping all over him. It was. It was like that. We picked a package that was an hour facial and an hour Thai Massage. So while Aspen is blissed out, getting creams rubbed on her face and sleeping, my girl is literally on my table, knees on my back, kneading me with her elbows, stretching and folding me into a pretzel. It was not relaxing, but it was interesting. At one point, and this is after the hands behind my back scorpion stretch, she places my hands so they are locked behind my head, puts a pillow on my back and the bends me in a backbend over her knees. Like when my dad used to super man me when I was a kid but upside down back bend style. Um, it didn’t feel good and when it was my turn for a facial I was ready. I know I’m not selling the Thai Massage, but my body really did feel better once it was all over but yeah. I did lots of deep breathing. The hour long facial was amazing, I fell asleep and snored three times.

For dinner we headed to a traditional Lanna dinner & show. Honestly.. it wasn’t that great. The food was okay, and it was fun sitting on the floor and watching the traditional Thai dances but.. they were kind of boring. AH! That’s really all I have to say about that.

D A Y 5

The best day. Elephant day. Aspen and I didn’t plan much when it came to this trip, just a little rough planning, but one thing we knew we wanted to do was see elephants. Anything having to do with elephants is really tricky because a lot of places aren’t humane. Even though they call themselves sanctuaries they still abuse the animals and break their spirits in order to tame them. We chose a tour with Elephant Nature Park and I’m so happy with it. Elephant Nature Park uses a positive reinforcement (all the bananas) when it comes to bonding and caring for their elephants. All the elephants in this sanctuary have been rescued from different situations in which they were abused by humans: elephant trekking, logging, circus, begging with elephants on the street, etc., and therefore many of them have psychological and physical injuries (Broken backs, blinded, missing ears, broken feet). And while these animals can never return to the while, ENP rehabilitates them and then tries to gives them a retirement as close to being wild as possible. We spent the day at a project, outside of the park, where three elephants are living the most natural life they can in their retirement. I think two of the elephants came from logging camps and one from trekking. I know that one a hole in its ear that the Mahout (elephant rider/ owner) used to use to control the elephant. We were told that Mahout is kind of a negative word now when it comes to elephants, they are usually drunks who secretly abuse there animals, and so ENP (Elephant Nature Park) call the people who care for the elephants their “best friend”. There is no riding or poking or leading on chains. The best friends persuade them with food and kind of let the elephants move at their own pace. Now that you know a little bit more about how ENP works, and why we picked it, onto our day!

We arrived pretty early and spent a few minutes drinking tea on a deck, and watching one of the elephants meander in the field below. Then we went to the food peeping station and started cutting up watermelon. I’m not even joking, 30 seconds after the guide warns us about cutting ourselves I cut my finger! The baby (yes, there was a baby. Not a smart choice) next to me made a noise and it distracted me. So I spent the next 10 minutes trying to hide and pretend like I didn’t cut my thing while I cleaned it and tried to stop the bleeding. I think I got away with it. Then up the elephants came, followed by their best friends, and we got to start feeding them.

Okay, elephants are really huge. I knew they were big, but knowing they are big and then feeding and petting them are completely different things. I was definitely so freaked out at first — I had this irrational fear that they were going to wrap me in their trunks and crush me. All three were really gentle and sweet but one of definitely very greedy. She wouldn’t eat unless you put, at least, three bananas in her trunk and even then she would hold it out waiting for you to try to stack more. She was less gentle with her trunk, would kind of pull on your hand, and she got fed all the leftovers and peels. And then still wanted more.

Our awesome guide trying to help me not get swallowed.

After we fed them a morning snack we got to walk beside them down to the river. Which was even more terrifying because there was nothing between us and the elephants, and they really wanted the bananas in our bags. I must have looked like I was going to bolt because at one point the guide told me, “don’t run, if you run they’ll run”. The “best friends” were right there though, talking to them and redirecting them if they got too up in our business. That baby that was in our group ended up being terrified of the elephants, not surprised, so him and his mom headed back at this point.

Best friend & Elephant

While we walked to the river our guide told us more about the efforts Elephant Nature Park is making to save elephants, and more facts about elephants in general. Did you know they are the third smartest animal? Behind Chimps and Dolphins. Knowing this mad it even sadder to witness all the hurt people have put them through.

At the river we got help them cool off by splashing them while buckets of water.

Our guide took the most awesome pictures

The river divided this project from the main park and we could look across and see other herds of elephants. One even had two babies!

Once water play was over we headed through the rehabilitation center on our way to lunch. The rehabilitation center was really sad. We just walked through, but we passed some elephants who were still recovering after being rescued. One had been blinded, one was missing an ear, one had a broken back and one was limping because it’s leg had been broken and then healed weird. We didn’t spend any time with them, as they were new.

Lunch overlooking where the elephants hung out

After stuffing our faces on vegetarian Thai food, I was so hungry, we headed back over to prepare banana rice balls with vitamin for the elephants. They came back up and we fed them again. I got a lot closer this time because I had gotten used to how big they were and they were just so sweet.

Elephant and best friend take 2

This was such a magical day and it still feels so unreal to me that I got to have this experience. I got to hang out with elephants and feed them all day! What! Feels surreal. The best part though was that the elephants seemed so genuinely happy, and how obvious it was that the people really cared for them. There were no “uh, this is weird” moments. All the people were so kind and gentle with them and the elephants were so amazing and sweet. Everything was wonderful. I don’t think anything can beat this day.

D A Y 6

We just chilled hard this day. Aspen napped and I tried to catch up in my journal and blog (the blog didn’t work out so well). In the evening Thai Grandma dropped off us at this fancy mall we just “had to see” before we left. We got dinner there. She also dropped us off to dinner another night but I can’t remember which it was…

I really loved Chiang Mai and even after spending almost a week there I was sad to leave. Everything has been so lovely. Our hostel was the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at, the staff made us feel like we were hanging out with family friends, our Thai Grandma was such a delight, and we went on so many great excursions!

Thai Grandma!

Oh, and the rainy season has officially begun.

Spoiler alert: I’m actually finishing this blog post in the hostel in Chiang Mai. I’m days behind, remember!

Night Train: This one did not have bed bugs

As many of you know, I have taken one night train before and it was awful. Austin and I’s seats were INFESTED with bed bugs and while my mom sleep soundly, (ear plugs, face masks and all) Austin and I rotated between pacing the cars (until we were told to sit down) and sitting rim-rod straight in our chairs.

I’m scarred.

I was definitely nervous when we decided to take the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai because I had no idea what to aspect, though uncomfortable seats and bed bugs were what I envisioned. I worried for nothing, the night train was amazing!

We boarded around 6:10pm and spent the first hour sitting in seats facing each other (Aspen was across the way) and around 7:30pm we were “put to bed” (our beds were pulled down and set up). Up aspen and I climbed and then proceeded to spend the next hour laughing and whispering across the aisle because, bed time at 7:30pm!?

My bed is that red thing above my head.

After about an hour it really was time for us to start twiddling our thumbs. Because we were second class we didn’t have a window, everyone else had drawn their curtains and so we passed time doing anything we could think of – our goal was to make it to 9pm. I wrote in my journal, Aspen did yoga (yes, in her top bunk lol), we ate our dinner of champion which consisted of a croissant, dread guava and cashews, walked to the dining car, walked back to our bed because we couldn’t sit there without ordering food, I watched people walk by and peeked around the side of my bunk at any commotion. 9pm rolled around, we took a Benadryl, Aspen put on Harry Potter and I put on my Harry Potter Audible, we pulled our curtains and passed out. I swear, I went into a coma. I only woke up once, around 3:30am with a fear that I would roll out of my bed the train was so bouncy, but I quickly fell back asleep.

Around 6:30am they woke us up, back down we climbed and we finished the last hour sitting back in our seats.

It was super easy and awesome, transportation and accommodation in one is awesome for our budgets!

And not a bed bug in sight.

Currently in Chiang Mai. Blog post should be coming relatively shortly…

One night in Bangkok and the world’s our oyster!

Except it’s not because everything was closed for the King’s Coronation. It’s weird being in a country that has a king. His face is everywhere. One the money, on TV, on giant shrines all over the cities. Everywhere. It might have just been because he was being coronated but yeah, lots of shrines to him.

Even though a lot of stuff was closed, we were leaves on the wind and made the best of it! A lot of people talk mad smack about Bangkok saying that it’s just a gross big city, which it is, but we had a great time! Alright, here’s the break down:

B A N G K O K

D A Y 1

After our delightful flight with Korean Air we headed to our hostel which was surprisingly easy to get to, we just took the BTS which is Bangkok’s public transportation train, and it was so great. Aspen & I are a little concerned that we got spoiled with our first hostel and nothing else will compare awesome wise/ cleanliness wise (I forgot to take pictures but it’s called Bed Station. It’s the one at Ratchathewi). After we claimed our beds and got settled we went downstairs to get a map and decided to walk to Chinatown to get food. So we are wandering around the streets of Bangkok, exhausted and hungry. We had to cross our first street which was TERRIFYING. Trying to cross the street in Bangkok is like when the grandma in Mulan covers her eyes and steps into traffic to see if her cricket is lucky.

Crossing the street in Thailand

Not only are there cars but there are scooters. The scooters are what you need to look out for. There are so many, they move like a school of fish and there are absolutely no rules. None. So we defy death and cross the street, we can’t find Chinatown ANYWHERE and we are getting annoyed. After wondering around in the “78% humidity, feels like 104” heat for who knows how long we decide to call it quits and get food by our hostel. We got this really delicious Pad Thai for .56! And the day ends there.

D A Y 2

Here comes the full circle when it comes to Chinatown, on day 2 we find out from the hostel staff that Chinatown is absolutely WAY too far to walk. Did you know that Bangkok has 8 million people? I didn’t. That’s a giant city. That’s an unwalkable city. No wonder we couldn’t find Chinatown! We ended up having to take two BTS trains to get there! But I’m getting ahead of myself. On day two we decided to head to Lumpini park and Chinatown. To say we were feeling a little overwhelmed by Bangkok is an understatement, so we were excited to get to a park and just chill. Lumpini Park was very beautiful and relaxing. It was cool because we were surrounded by ponds, trees and grass but could still the sky scrapers of Bangkok. People were riding bikes, working out in the outdoor gym, doing Tai Chi. We walked around for a little bit and then just chilled on a bench. And sweated. We are ALWAYS sweating.

After spending the morning at Lumpini Park we decided to head to Chinatown, which was the exact opposite of relaxing. First we got on a boat that took us a few stops up the river. People speak just enough English for us to kind of get by but also not… We mostly have to point and smile and nod, and they usually look confused so then there is more miming and smiling and nodding. So we get on the boat and off we go up the river. If you’re wondering, yes the boats drive just as crazy.

When we got to Chinatown I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I would take a picture of my compass and then we would follow the compass back to the same point, that way we don’t get lost. Does this sound like a smart idea? I don’t know because I have no idea how compasses work and WE GOT SO LOST. Very, very so very lost.

Chinatown swallowed us whole and we wandered the crooked, narrow alleys (that’s really the only way to describe them, they really weren’t streets), eating stem buns, looking at all the things for sale and dodging scooters. Because, even though we mostly had to shuffle through, had to move out of the way for carts, and couldn’t walk side-by-side OF COURSE scooter were still driving through. After I don’t even know how long of wandering we decided to bust out the compass and head back to the boat. Except jokes on us and the compass didn’t work at all. We had wandered so insanely far. Most of the time we couldn’t see any other tourists and at one point there were barely people on the street (we assumed the market had spit us back out at this time). Our hands started to hover over the panic button, but before we pushed it we decided to step into 7/11. Through traveling I’ve realized that every country seems to have a different convenient store that is a godsend and has everything needed. In Thailand it’s 7/11, which so happens to be run by teenagers? I’ve never seen an adult working there or supervising. It’s all teenagers and they are all super helpful and sweet even though sometimes they just smile and stare because they have no idea what we are saying. After minutes of charades they pointed us in the right direction and we were off. When we finally made it back to the river we realized we had somehow made it to the Grand Palace. I still have no idea how!

As we were walking to the river, people kept coming up to us and telling us that the river boats had stopped running for the coronation. I thought they were trying to scam us so I just smiled and kept walking. Turns out it was true! SO! Now we are stranded with little money and don’t know how to get back. We pool our money together and go to see if we can get a tuktuk. Here’s how the conversation went:

Tuktuk: 370 TBH (Thai Baht)

Us: we only have 280

Tuktuk: 350

Us: we only have 280

Tuktuk: 300

Us: we only have 280

Tuktuk: Okay, get in

I’m really not sure if we got ripped off, but the tuktuk was fun and really our only option. We stayed close to the hostel for the rest of the night, got yummy noodles for $1! Though we did wander down to get the best foot massages ever for only 200 TBH ($6). It said a foot massage, but after about 45 minutes of massaging and stretching our feet and legs, they sat us up and then massaged our heads, necks, arms and hands. It was mostly relaxing, though at some points I felt folded into a pretzel. They also cracked our backs which I hated. After we got a cup of tea. It was awesome. After dinner we met this girl in our room named Xuan (Swan) and she invited us to go to the weekend market the next day with her and some other girls from our hostel. BOOM like that, we had a plan.

D A Y 3

We started off the morning by going to the weekend market with our new Girl Gang.

Girl Gang:

• Xuan (Swan) – Toronto

• Maria – Boston

• Paula – Barcelona

• Yung – South Korea

Picture any market you’ve been to, then times that by 1000, squish everything into a tiny space and add some bad smells here and there, and heat. That’s the weekend market. We mostly just walked around looking at everything and eating. When we got back to the hostel Maria headed off to get a foot massage (from the same place) and Xuan headed to the gym so Aspen, Paula, Yung and I played Idiot (dad, look here!). It was so fun. To end the day we headed to the Night Market which we soon discovered was a mistake. Two markets in one day is way too much. As soon as we got to the Night Market I wanted to go back. It was packed with so many people we could barely move and were standing in line to walk through — to buy all the same foods and look at all the same things we had seen that morning! We all quickly realized how tired we were and how much we were not enjoying being exhausted and smashed up against tons of sweaty people, so we quickly got food and then left.

It was so much fun meeting new friends, and is exactly why I love staying in hostels. Some of the girls had already been through Thailand, were ending their travels, and so they had a lot of cool suggestions of where to go, what to do. It was fun to have a little bit of a tribe, even if just for a few days!

D A Y 4

This was by far my favorite day in Bangkok. Aspen decided to head to this really fancy gym with Xuan and I asked Yung to go biking with me on this artificial island called Bang Krachao (or Bang Kachao? It’s seems to be spelled different ways) which is also known as “The Green Lungs of Bangkok”. Wow, it was so much fun and I couldn’t believe we were still in Bangkok. To get there we had to take the BTS and then a scooter taxi from the station to the pier. This was my first scooter taxi and it was so much fun. I was nervous because, as I said above, the scooter drive like crazy people but this driver was really slow and smooth. Yung and I squeezed on and I held on tight, which I then realized no one does. No one actually holds onto the drivers, WOOPS!

Mom, before you flip a table, there was no helmet available or else I would have used one. SO THEN, we got on a little ferry and across the river we went. Once we got to the other side we rented these rust bucket bikes for 50 TBH each for the whole day ($1.58), also no helmets available, and were given a map. A really bad map. All the maps are really bad and unhelpful. Good thing Yung had data and could guide us around because I’ve learned I am very bad at directions. We spent the whole day riding around and around and around. What was really cool was that there were these paths that cut through the jungle (video below) and a lot of them were built on stilts. And yes, of course scooters also drove down these teeny, tiny paths.

We rode to a national park which was very pretty, lots of ponds and bridges. At this point we were really thirsty and just happened to ride up on these people’s house, in the middle of the park, who were making all kinds of smoothies. We each got a coconut one and asked if there was a bathroom/washroom. I think they got confused by Yung rubbing her hands together because they gave us a bowl of water to wash with, ha. Yung typed on her translation app that we were looking for a toilet, and once we all understand each other the lady kindly lead the way. Surprise! It was a squatty potty, that we had to get to by walking across these sticks laid above a muddy ditch. It really wasn’t that bad, it was really clean and the worst part was trying to brave the ditch.

Once we had finished our smoothies we decided to start heading back to the pier because we wanted to find this tree house, but along the way we found a market! This market was a lot more laidback than the weekend and night markets we had been to. It wasn’t quite a floating market, but it did have little canals to walk across. We got a traditional Thai snack (I forgot the name) and lunch! When we were walking through the market we both got startled because we felt water slap on our face, we looked up to see a monk who smiled, gave us a thumbs up and continued blessing people as they walked by.

Traditional Thai snack that I forgot the name of

Shortly after leaving the market we found the Bangkok tree house, which was cool but not exactly what I expected. It wasn’t really a treehouse at all, just a cool building in the jungle.

It was such a lovely day!

D A Y 5

Aspen & I started off our day by getting our Japanese encephalitis shot. Ouch! It was a stinker. Our travel nurse recommended that we get it in Thailand because it’s only $16 as opposed to the $650 it costs in the U.S. plus the dose is better/stronger here. The hospital was very clean and efficient. I was impressed. After we got delicious stem buns from the cutest old lady and headed to the temples.

I should really say temple because we only made it to one, Wat Arun. I’ve been to a few temples since and this one is my favorite. It was so beautiful and peaceful. The grounds were really pretty and it wasn’t crazy crowded so we were able to wander without feeling overwhelmed.

We bought jade bracelets and once we were done wandering the grounds we took off our shoes (when visiting a temple we have to wear long pants/skirts, cover our shoulders and take off our shoes before entering) and stepped inside.

It was so beautiful and peaceful, and there was a cat lounging in the middle of the temple wanting pets which made it even better. The best part was that we received a blessing from a monk, who chanted and sprinkled water on us with a broom, and then tied a sai sin bracelet around our right wrists. A sai sin bracelet is cotton thread that has been blessed by a monk and gives protection and good health to the wearer. You can read more about Sai sin bracelets here.

We were both feeling really good and peaceful when we left Wat Arun and hopped on the boat to cross the river over to Wat Pho. That lasted about until we walked up to the gate. Wat Pho is the second most famous temple, behind the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and therefore was not quiet and serene. After peeking through the gates we decided to call it. We were tired and hot and didn’t want to stand in line and smush up against sweaty people. So, instead we got homemade coconut ice cream!! Which was really the perfect way to end our day of training and boating all over the city. On our way back to our hostel we were Z O M B I E S we realized that all we had eaten since breakfast was coconut ice cream and could barely function. We got on the wrong train four times but couldn’t even be mad about it because we were so tired. We were supposed to go to Khao Son Road that night but were too tired so we called it and early night and went to bed.

D A Y 6

Last day in Bangkok! So, this day went 100% not according to plan and it was awesome. Our original plan was to go to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We train, we boat, we do all the things and show up at the Grand Palace to be told by some other tourists that my skirt, that almost goes to my ankles but not quite, isn’t long enough. We go to the shops and I barter for the first time on these really cute tie pants (pictured below) and we head back to the Grand Palace. We get to the Grand Palace and see multiple things:

1. THERE IS AN INSANE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE. A join-the-stream-or-get-run-over amount of people. We join the stream.

2. The Grand Palace closes at 12, it’s 10. Not great.

3. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is closed because of another ceremony for the King. Double not great.

Aspen and I try to fight our way up and out of the stream so that we can regroup. With the palace costing $15 to get in, Wat Arun cost $1.56, it only being open for 2 more hours and the temple being closed it doesn’t seem worth it and we decide to scrap that plan. Our new plan? Wat Saket (The Golden Mountain). And we’re off, again, looking for a scooter to take us to Wat Saket and we find one within five minutes. After negotiating price Aspen and I hop on and Zoom! Away we goooo! Except there is a ton of traffic so we are going really slow. Which ends up being a good thing because (parents look away) our driver accidentally gives a little love tap tap to the scooter in front of him. Oops. After some arguing between the drivers we get dropped off at Wat Saket and start climbing the 344 steps to the top. Once again this temple was way more our vibe. Really quiet, not a lot of people, lots of pretty sounds and flowers.

Bartered for these pants. Yay me!

We also saw little kids monks and they were so cute. A nice surprise about this temple was that it was really easy to get back to our hostel. There was a canal that had a boat taxi that ran right by our hostel. We had no idea!

And so needed our days in Bangkok. We spent our last couple hours hanging out at our hostel and at 6:10pm we boarded the night train to Chiang Mai.

Korean Air: Like a warm hug

Sà wàtdii ká! (female hello in Thai)

Currently lounging in a bean bag after going to the weekend market, eating mango ice cream with sticky rice and sweating more than I ever have in my life.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, all great adventures start with a beginning and the beginning of Aspen and I’s was our 28+ flight to Bangkok — and let me tell you, it was quite the adventure.

On our first flight!

We boarded our flight to LAX at 6:40pm, everything was fine and dandy and uneventful. We land in LAX AKA the worst airport ever (sales tax, no cups for water, lots of people, it’s ugly) and see that our flight is at “B”, which we assumed meant gate B (the gate right in front of us). So we’re waiting around, it’s 10:45pm and our flight boards at 11pm, and there are no people. WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE GOING TO KOREA!? It’s been nearly two hours at this point. I get up and ask, turns out we have been dinking around in the wrong terminal the whole time! We jet over to the international terminal, on the way we started going down the wrong escalator and had to run back up it which was pretty ridiculous looking, and make it just in time for our flight to board. Whew.

Now let me tell you, Korean Air is straight luxury. At least for two budget travelers. There were little white slippers and tooth brushes! Aspen and I had no idea what to do so we spent a lot of the flight, the parts we weren’t eating or sleeping, watching what people were doing. Do we where these slippers? Everyone is wearing them so yes. Do we where them to the bathroom? How do we eat this airplane food? What utensil do we use? Are the flight attendants tucking those babies into a cradle!? THEY ARE!

You read that right, they had little cradles that they set up and the flight attendants swaddled and tucked in these precious little babies, who didn’t cry the entire flight. I’ve never seen anything like it!!

After we finished gawking over the TLC the babies received we got towels to wash our hands, dinner (Korean Bibimbap) and then sleep for a few hours. I actually got pretty good sleep on the flight, which I was super surprised about. When we woke up they handed out hot towels to wipe our faces and breakfast. I got the rice porridge thinking it would be like oatmeal… it was not. It was really watery rice with seaweed flakes I could put on it. Sounds really gross, but it wasn’t too bad. Also, throughout the night and into the morning the flight attendants were coming around with tea, coffee, juice, water… A lot of times. It was awesome and a very nice ease into Asia.

We landed in Seoul, AKA the nicest most bougie airport ever, around 5am. We weren’t sure if we were going to get breakfast on our flight, it was only 5 hours, so we got these delicious noodles in this really cute cafe that looked like it was out of the future. At first the person working there wanted me to try to order my food on this computer screen, in Korean, but when he saw I had no idea what anything said he did it for me. I then accidentally knocked all these juice boxes over with my backpack. Woops! We spent the rest of our layover walking around and marveling at how nice their airport was (they had little paths with fake trees to walk through, this globe thing you could stand in) and looking for candy – which we couldn’t afford.

The fanciest airport

Our breakfast in South Korea!

I’ve decided that the cutest and best children live in Korea, they were all so well-behaved!

Once we boarded our flight and got settled they served us breakfast, so now we had had three breakfasts, but the best part was they served us ice cream too. I’m flying Korean Air forever. After 28+ hours we landed in Thailand with nothing but positive feels and we were off to our hostel!

Until next time!!

XX

Guess who’s back, back again

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

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On this season of “Hayley Stumbles Across the World” we will be going to SE Asia!! Hopefully there will be absolutely no bed bugs this time and no falling into puddles of lord only knows what.

About two years ago I asked Eli about going to SE Asia with me, to which he replied “NO THANK YOU” and so I asked my friend Aspen and she said, “HECK YES!”. Me being me, I thought we can’t possibly go for only a week or two so why no make it 3/4 months. Go big or go home! We then spent the next two years slowly gathering travel items, saving and occasionally texting each other, “You’re still down for Asia, right? You better be or else I’m going without you!” to which the other would reply “I’m going without YOU”. And now the time has finally come, we leave tomorrow!

At times I didn’t think there was any way I would save up enough money to not only travel, but to also pay all my bills while I was gone. But I feel like I really lived up to the family hustle. I took odd jobs and did hours and hours and hours of filing for my mom. I babysat after work, over the weekends and during breaks. I hoarded my birthday and Christmas money. And Volkswagen recalled my car, which was not so great for my mobility but awesome for my savings account.

As someone who has been a planner since the days when my mom would pick me up from preschool and I would say, “What’s the plan?”, you’ll be surprised to know that there is none! HA! Well, there is a rough plan. We leave tomorrow night around 6pm where we will fly to LAX, then to South Korea where we have a 5 hour layover. Aspen and I got a little excited as I guess there is quite a bit to do in the airport, apparently there is an ice skating rink, but then we realized our layover is from 4:50am to about 9 something — not ideal ice skating time. We will THEN fly to Bangkok. We have our hostel booked, it’s pretty fancy for a hostel, and will be spending about four days in the city exploring. What you might ask? We don’t know. But we are going to eat a lot of food. Maybe some bugs. I feel like I can’t go to SE Asia and not eat a bug. After a few days we are going to travel up to Chiang Mai where we have a day scheduled to visit with elephants in an elephant sanctuary (and feed them and swim with them?), and a dinner and show (that I really know nothing about) for Aspen’s birthday. The one thing we did plan was to volunteer but, sadly, it was insanely expensive and so we had to put pin in that. We still want to volunteer so we are putting it out into the universe and hoping that an amazing opportunity comes along, like it did for Eli and I in Nicaragua.

After that… we are going where the wind blow us. We have some ideas, we know we want to take the slow-boat (a two day boat ride down the Mekong river) to enter Laos and from Laos we will go to Vietnam, then Cambodia, then (possibly) the Thai Islands, and finishing up in Indonesia, taking yoga and cooking classes, hiking and other fun activities along the way. Also possibly melting along the way because at 8am it’s 88 degrees, with 78% humidity, feels like 104 degrees! The Oregonian is not ready.

Alas, we are leaves on the wind. I really hope there is wind so we don’t spontaneously combust.

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2011 Aspen and Hay
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High School Graduation

 

Travel Tips & Tricks: Hailing a Cab in Central America

Nervous to take a taxi in a Central America? I feel ya. Before leaving for Central America I read many blogs warning to stay away from taxis, that the drivers will lie and steal from you. Luckily this never happened to me and I found my taxi rides to be quiet informing and enjoyable. Bumping along in a car that looked like it’s motor was about to fall through the bottom, without a seatbelt I might add, was when I practiced my Spanish the most – I learned life stories, best places to eat, best beaches, where not to go, events going on, I’ve even had a driver pull over and point out a volcano eruption. Taking a taxi in Central America can be a little stressful so I’ve written down some tips I picked up through my experiences.

Bartering

Bartering is awesome and is encouraged in many aspects of life in Central America, including when hailing a taxi. In Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico discuss the price with your driver before getting into the cab, it’s very important to make sure everyone is on the same page price wise. If you’re in a city and you can’t agree on a price send the driver on their way and hail the next cab, there will be plenty. Took the same cab ride last week for less? Call them out! Though there are times, like traveling from one bus station to the next in Managua, where you have to agree on the higher price because it’s your only option. You’ll feel like you’re getting ripped off and it’s good to remember that these people are trying to make a living and paying an extra dollar really won’t kill you, because if you don’t you’ll just get angry and anger rarely helps a situation.

Costa Rica

This is the only country that I experienced the driver using a meter. MAKE THEM USE THE METER or they will take everything you have, you’re first born not excluded. When getting in a cab ask them if their meter works and for them to use it. If they say it doesn’t work or they don’t use it then get out. Without the meter they will tell you the price they want once you arrive at your destination and trust me, it will not be cheap. Don’t try and barter with them. Just stick to the meter. In general taxis are more expensive in Costa Rica than the other Central American countries but then again everything is.

Nicaragua

The taxis in Nicaragua are collectivo which means they will pick anyone up if there is room. This can be a little uncomfortable, I was super nervous, but you just have to remember that this is just the way life is. It’s not thieves jumping into your taxi to rob you, it’s grandmothers holding babies, kids coming home from school, or some weird guy who is so drunk he passes out on your shoulder (yeah, that happened). As I always say although there are opportunists, as with any country, sharing a taxi with people is just something you will have to get used to because that’s the way things are in Nicaragua. If you’re getting into a taxi already occupied greet the other passengers and the driver.

Find out the price before hand

If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel and know where you are going ask them the price before hand.  In Mexico we would ask our Air B&B hosts how much it cost to go where we wanted before we hopped in the taxi. When we arrived at our destination we would quickly give them the correct amount of pesos and hop out before they could ask for more.

Engage

This one is a little difficult if you don’t speak Spanish. We were told by many to keep our English to a minimum because the drivers will jack up the price if they hear you speaking English. Knowing Spanish my boyfriend and I always tried to chat while we sped along. We’d ask them what their favorite place in the city is, how long they’ve lived there, etc, you’d be surprised how quickly most drivers open up and what you learn. If you don’t feel like talking or don’t know much Spanish it’s polite to greet the driver. Chatting with your driver is a great way to practice your Spanish!

Don’t get overwhelmed

I’m not going to lie sometimes hailing a taxi can be stressful especially when there is more than one driver fighting for your attention. Sometimes people will hop on the buses  before arriving to the station and ask you where you are going or they will surround you once you get off screaming to take their taxi. Just keep take a deep breath, gather yourself and then when you’re ready negotiate. Don’t feel bad about pitting drivers against each other, when there are so many it’s hard to keep track of who you said you would ride with. We found that a lot of the drivers seemed to be working together.

There is power in numbers

This applies to everything, taxi rides, hotels, activities, the more people the better deal you will get! Heading to Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua? Try and find other backpackers heading that way and split a taxi.

Accept that you will get ripped off

You’re in a new country, culture, with a new language and there is no way not to stand out as a tourist. So, it’s important to accept that sometimes you will get ripped off and move on. As I said above getting angry won’t help anything and stewing about it won’t bring your money back. It’s good to acknowledge that getting ripped off, hopefully only occasionally, is an aspect that comes with traveling.

Always remember to keep your wits about you and never get into a cab if you’re having a bad feeling about it!

Have any tips for hailing a taxi in Central America?

xx Hayley

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Nicaragua: How Much Did We Spend?

Nicaragua is an absolutely amazing country, from the moment I stepped off our bus and into the hustle and bustle of Rivas I fell in love. Whether it be the the music, food, history, or people I couldn’t get enough. Nicaragua quickly took a piece of my soul, enveloping me in it’s beautiful culture and I’m counting down the days until I can return.

With it’s rich history, enticing culture and beautiful people Nicaragua is a place that you do not want to miss out on – or maybe do that way I can keep it all to myself.

Here is a break down of how much we spent during our time in Nicaragua. Keep in mind that this is a budget for two people.

Duration: 44 days

Budget: $30 dollars a day, $1320 total

Total Spent: $1519.62

Average Daily Spending:$34.53

Exchange rate at time of travel: 27 Cordoba to 1 USD

Food + Non-Alcoholic Drinks: $276.61

While traveling through Nicaragua we found that, unlike other countries, eating street food ended up being cheaper than groceries. Depending on what you are looking for most meals can be purchased for under $3 and drinks can be a little as .30!

Accommodation: $368.50

Though we did splurge on a few occasions, such as at La Selva Negra up in the Nicaraguan mountains, we mostly stuck to shared co-ed dorms in hostels. Most frequently you can find a (1)bed from $6-$8.

Transportation: $117.14

Transportation in Nicaragua is awesome (check out my post on checking the bus in Nicaragua here) and by far the easiest out of all the Central America countries. Although bus prices do range the most we spent was $4.33 for a six hour bus ride!

Activities: $58.54

We didn’t spend much on activities and mostly stuck to enjoying Mother Nature through hiking and beaching, but most activities throughout Nicaragua are beyond reasonable.  The most we paid for an activity was $12 for entrance into La Laguna de Apoyo.

Alcohol: $47.27

Alcohol is CHEAP in Nicaragua. A litter of Nicaraguan rum, Flor de Cana, costs from $2-$4.

Gifts/Survivors: $52.93

Okay, I spent A LOT on jewelry here. I can’t help myself I see shiny things and I have to have them! Jewelry aside we found really cool gifts for under $3.

Border Fees: $32

The border fees leaving Costa Rica and coming into Nicaragua are rough and some of the most expensive fees we’ve paid. If you’re looking for tips on crossing the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua check out my post on how we did it!

Homestay: $350

For about a week and a half in Granada we decided to do a homestay so we could get the experience of living with a Nicaragua family. Our homestay covered our meals and room.

Misc: $20.87

This category contains random things like new tooth brushes and calamine lotion for my absurd amount of bug bites!

Flight Change: $236

While in Nicaragua we officially decided that we would not be returning to Panama and instead we were going to travel all the way up to Mexico. Unfortunately we had to pay a flight change fee.