Then I Went Back to Malaysia

Some of my worldly insight:

It’s funny because when you live somewhere, it often loses its luster. You’re not as intrigued by the buildings you pass or the people you meet, but when you travel everything is new. Everything is beautiful and mind boggling. I invite you to admire the simple things where you live because to others, your home is mesmerizing, unique and incredible. No matter how far you travel, people are the same but insanely different at the same time. We grieve, love, seek out delicious food, laugh over a meal and are curious about the unfamiliar. While cultures, traditions, languages and locations make us seem vastly different, it is only because. We go about things in different thing I admire is that we’re always able to laugh together and share a meal.

Alright. I am currently people watching in Bangkok and sucking down a Thai iced tea. It’s a cool 90 degrees (32° C) today (no really, it feels cool) and the breeze feels nice.

After my week in Yogyakarta I returned to Malaysia. I spent the first view days in Kuala Lumpur to relax and plan my next move. The decision…Penang.

Penang is an island off the northeast coast of peninsular Malaysia. I was drawn to Penang because of it’s capital, George Town.

To begin my journey in Penang, I hopped on a high speed train in KL and rode for 4 hours through the Malaysian countryside, palm oil plantations and towns. When I arrived I fought off pushy taxi drivers and made my way to a guesthouse via Grab (S.E. Asia’s Uber). I stayed at a guesthouse with a lovely Japanese family a mere 100 feet from the beach. I was invited to a traditional ramen breakfast where I slurped noodles like a pro. They were quite impressed with my dexterity and ability to use chopsticks.

I spent those days walking to find little local restaurants, hunting down an ATM at the local Tesco and making friends with a beach cat who followed me around. I named her Daisy.

When I left, I was bid farewell by my hosts, who stood outside and waved goodbye until I turned the corner and invited me back any time. I was reminded of my family.

Next stop: George Town.

George Town is another gem in the crown of the world. Not only is there history that can keep you busy for months, but there is street art hidden in shops, alleys and on the sides of buildings. The city has been influenced by so many cultures and wears each one proudly. There is a Chinatown that was preparing for Chinese New Year, which is happening now. There is a Little India that has busted at the seams and has expanded beyond it’s original location. The food…incredible. The people…unforgettable.

I was lucky enough to be in George Town during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, which falls on the day of a full moon. I went to a ginormous festival with the girls I met in my hostel and we took in the sites, ceremonies and food. The festival is a time of repentance and many pierce their bodies or drag sleds by hooks, which pierce their backs. It was a truly intriguing and amazing experience.

So I am a bit over Chinatowns. I lived in China for 8 months and have visited them in multiple cities and countries. I needed a break but… it’s me were talking about. I ended up lost and in Chinatown multiple times. It would seem all roads lead to Chinatown. That being said, the Chinatown in George Town is unique because it is adorned with street art, diversity and eclectic shops and people. While it looks like China, it feels different. The highlight: Khoo Kongsi.

Khoo Kongsi was on my mom’s list of places for me to visit. Thanks ma! It is a massive clanhouse surrounded by shophouses and sits in the middle of Chinatown. In fact, scenes from Anna and the King were filmed here. The impressive and elaborate temple and clanhouse demonstrate just how prominate the Chinese have been in Penang. Strangely enough, the clan is from Xiamen in Fujian Province; where I lived in China. Alright universe, what are you trying to tell me? 🤔😊

If you’re ever in Malaysia, I can’t recommend Penang enough. Check out some of the awesome street art I found! The artists use the buildings and surrounding items to make their art come to life.

What does the cat below see in the top corner?!?!

To leave Penang, I hopped on another train to cross the border into Thailand with a friend I met at a hostel. This trip was 18 hours but despite the length, it was enjoyable. I felt like Rick Steves; mingling with locals, sharing snacks and sleeping on a top bunk and trying not to roll off.

That concludes my time in Malaysia and I was lucky enough to hang out with penpal three times and have her show me some sites and yummy food.

Stay tuned because my next post will be about my time on three Thai islands in the north of Thailand. I’m also working on a post about what it’s like traveling as a woman of color and the racism that we face while traveling abroad.

Is there anything else you’d like to hear about?

Ciao for now. 🐝


Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Hello everyone! I hope adventure has captured your lives like it has mine. I am currently in Thailand on the island of Koh Mak! It is splendid. Due to the splendiferous adventures I have been on, I’m still catching up on posts.

After spending two weeks in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Borneo) I flew to Yogyakarta, Indonesia during the second week of January and it was a cultural treat.

Indonesia consists of over 70,000 islands and is considering a developing country. The people are friendly, compassionate and welcoming. I hope to return in the future.

My time was spent in Yogyakarta, which is located on Java, the largest Indonesian island. Yogya, as it is commonly known, is the heart of Indonesia’s culture. There are temples, museums, Dutch colonial buildings and a slew of original thought-provoking graffiti.

The history and overload of culture was what drew me to Yogyakarta. Also, I read an article about the food in an in-flight magazine on my flight to Kuala Lumpur. The food was phenomenal. I stayed at a hostel (Laura’s Backpackers Hostel) for $5 a night that provided free breakfast and dinner! If you love spicy food, you’ll love sambal. Sambal is a chili paste that sends your taste buds on a spicy journey through the many flavors of Indonesian food. I also got to try my first snake fruit!

I spent most of my time getting lost in alleys, gawking at cultural relics and eating my weight in food. For a spontaneous trip, it was wonderful. One day I hope to explore the other 70,000 plus island of Indonesia; maybe even Sumatra (also being destroyed for palm oil plantations).

I visited the world’s largest Buddhist temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Borobudur and soaked in the history. The temple has withstood volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and countless tourists from around the globe. It is situtated dangerously close to Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi. I was amazed by how something thrived in such a perilous location. On the temple’s grounds there was a “graveyard” for stones and statues that met their demise. Many people have worked to restore and preserve Borobudur and it is amazing.

Fun fact! Yogyakarta is home to amazing batik!

Batik is a very unique and tedious art which involves using was on fabric to make intricate patterns. Batik can be seen on clothing, masks, wall hangings and various others textiles. I went to Yogya’s most famous batik outlet, Hamzah Batik on Malioboro Street.

Now, Malioboro Street is a tourist haven but worth the visit. There are hawkers galore, the presidential palace, museums and alleys to explore. I ate a great deal of bakpia, which is an Indonesian type cookie with fillings like mung bean, durian and chocolate. They’re delicious, however, you know my opinion regarding durian and I avoid it at all costs. 😁

Thailand is my last stop on this journey and I still have some amazing photos and posts up my sleeves.

Ciao for now! 🐝

Malaysian Borneo

Today’s Quote:

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

And now the post you’ve all been waiting for!

PSA: Please consider being more conscious of products you buy and limit your consumption (here’s how) and use of those with palm oil (commonly disguised as vegetable oil) . These plantations are annihilating the oldest rainforest and it’s creatures. Don’t take pictures with wild animals when traveling and NEVER buy a wild animal for a pet.

Moving on.

Borneo is one island divided into two parts; half of the island is Indonesia, the other half is Malaysia. I spent a week on the Malaysian half. The island is filled with wildlife that is as diverse Malaysia’s people but it is threatened every day by palm oil plantations.

These plantations are destroying the animals’ habitats and pushing them closer to the Kinabatagan River. This was the river I stayed on the banks of. Where monitor lizards, resembling million year old dinosaurs and over 4 ft. in length saunter outside your hut. Where crocodiles float, almost unnoticed, beside your boat. Where you’re enjoying the sun and seconds later, torrential downpour has you ducking under a stranger’s restaurant. This, my friends, is Borneo and I experienced all this and more.

It’s currently rainy season in Malaysia and the Kinabatagan River is murky and high. Because of the destruction of the rainforest, I was able to see a menagerie of animals near the river. Enter Red Leaf Monkeys.

The first monkeys I’ve ever seen in the wild and the first sign of wildlife after we arrived in Borneo were the Red Leaf Monkeys. Their fuzzy, red coats are stunning and their quirky personalities make them a hoot to watch. They share the jungle trees with the crazy and excessively active long-tailed macaques. They could be seen swinging from trees, phone lines and just about every place you can think of.

I went on three Kinabatagan River rides; one morning, afternoon and night. Each trip, I was introduced to a new and exciting species. Many of which are endemic to Borneo. The biggest (yet smallest) and most exciting was seen during the afternoon boat. The Borneo pygmy elephant!!

I know what you’re thinking. Those things look huge! True. They’re still large animals and a stampede would not bode well for those involved. That being said, they’re the smallest species of elephant and ONLY live in Borneo.

Like many species in Borneo, these are endangered and have been pushed closer to the river due to habit destruction. Once again…palm oil. They are also hunted for their tusks. In fact, I saw flyers offering rewards for two male elephants recently killed for their tusks. Not a pretty picture.

We were able to see a herd of nearly 40 elephants, including babies, doing what elephants do best. Eating, playing and being too cute to handle.

While the elephants were the highlight of the afternoon trip, we also saw numerous venomous snakes and long-tailed macaques.

The morning trip was fabulous (and early). You know the monkeys with the huge noses? Proboscis monkeys. They’re loud, playful and entertaining and live in troops! They live high up in the trees so my phone camera couldn’t capture them in all their glory. The males have the unusually large schnozz, while the females’ noses resemble those little weird Vienna sausages. Hornbills also made quite a few appearances. Their vibrant, horn shaped beaks make them easy to identify.

The night cruise was eventful! A 14 foot python that was about 8 inches in width, slithering inconspicuously in the murky water. Wriggling it’s way through the brush under the pitch black sky. (Sidenote: I’ve never seen so many stars before in my life. There’s something magical about the jungle.)

We also saw three types of Kingfishers ranging significantly in size and spiders big enough to scare a tarantula. I apologize my phone’s camera is not awesome enough to capture everything.

I could go on forever about the river trips but I know you’re all busy so I’ll move on to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. This place is awesome for many reasons. They only have a few platforms where they provide the same snacks daily. This is to encourage the orangutans to find their own food. The whole center is open, allowing the fluffy nuggets to come and go and make new fluffy friends as they please.

What’s not to love about these crazy, red apes?! They only live in Borneo and Sumatra and are critically endangered. We share 97% of our DNA with these guys and it’s evident when you watch them. They’re hilarious, emotional and resilient. There’s a reason relationships between the mothers and babies resembles our own and the babies rely on their mothers for 5 to 6 years. This makes it hard for orangutans to bring their population back.

The biggest threat to orangutans? You guessed it. Humans. Palm oil plantation workers and loggers go in guns blazing and destroy rainforests; killing everything in their wake. In addition, poachers are killing the mothers in order to capture the babies and sell them as pets or for shows. The rehab center in Sepilok is working so hard to help the orphaned babies, rehabilitate the injured and emotionally scarred, stop poachers and raise awareness.

I absolutely fell in love with “the man of the forest” and vowed to do my best to raise awareness.

My time in Malaysian Borneo was short, informative, heartbreaking and incredible. It was an experience I’ll talk about for the rest of my life (sorry guys) and I recommend visiting while you have the chance.

Never forget: A change, no matter how small, can have an immense impact.

Comment or ask questions below and don’t forget to subscribe!

Ciao for now, 🐝

Ringing in 2018: Kuala Lumpur!

Hello everyone! I am currently in Indonesia! Where are you?!

Because I have been eating my way through Asia, I have fallen behind on posts. I am currently sitting eating gelato at and watching motorbikes whiz past in Yogyakarta.

We’ll get back to Indonesia later 😊

Because my visit to Malaysia was to two vastly different locations, I will write too separate posts beginning with Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia is a diverse country that is nearly 60% Muslim, so you will find many beautiful mosques but also Hindu and Buddhist temples and people from all over the world.

I rang in the new year in Kuala Lumpur with a new friend I met while teaching in China and an old friend that I just met. Confused?

Pull up a chair and I’ll explain.

When I was a teenager (exact age unknown), there was a website where you could find penpals and write said penpal using snail mail. Blasphemous, I know. I became penpals with a girl my age in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and we wrote letters and sent pictures via snail mail for a year or so.

Before moving to China in May, I found her on Facebook and we began chatting again after over a decade! She picked me and my friend up from the airport and it was like we had met 20 years ago. While our time was short, it was such an incredible experience.

(Me, Kelly and Dona my penpal)

I like to consider myself a food connoisseur but that is mainly because I enjoy eating and I’m dang good at it. In Kuala Lumpur I binged on the foods I missed terribly while in China. Kuala Lumpur offers a lot in the way of food because it is such a diverse city. Nearly a quarter of Malaysia is Malaysian Chinese and there is no shortage of Chinese food (which may just be better than Chinese food I had in China). There is no short supply of Indian restaurants either. One thing is for sure, you will never run out of restaurants to try.

A trip to KL, as it’s affectionately known by locals, would not be complete without a visit to the Batu Caves and Hindu temples. Monkeys run the show here. They aren’t afraid to steal your 15 lb. bag from right under your nose and they know they’re cute. Trouble. Don’t let down your guard or your apple will be the macaque’s snack! 🐒

Meanwhile, back in the city, the Central Market with nightly performances and street vendors around every corner, make for an adventure.

The public transportation systems are cheap and easy to use so you can easily explore the city and surrounding areas. Another unique attribute I quite enjoyed was the presence of buskers, or street performers.

Prior to spending time in KL, I thought buskers were only prominent in Stars Hollow. In case you missed out immensely on 2000’s TV, that’s where the Gilmore Girls live. KL’s busker scene is lively and entertaining. From underground railway stations to street corners, buskers serenade the masses and have formed a movement. Stick around and listen to a song or two. You won’t regret it.

Finally, I rang in the New Year at the Petronas Twin Towers in downtown KL with my teacher friend. It was an experience, that’s for sure. KL gives NYC a run for its money. It was amazing to start a new year abroad and I know there is so much more in store for me in 2018.

My next post will be about my trip to Malaysian Borneo! Pygmy elephants, orangutans, a 15 foot python and so much more.

Ciao for now! 🐝

*Don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a new post *

Kinmen Island, Taiwan!!

I am one post behind due to a whirlwind trip to Taiwan and leaving my job in China. My next post will reflect on my time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. This post is about my December weekend in Kinmen, Taiwan.

Many people think that Taiwan is similar to China, or more incorrectly assume it is part of China; these are both far from the truth. China still attempts to claim Taiwan as their own but Taiwan is an independent nation and I could see the differences between the two nations in my short trip to Kinmen, Taiwan.

Kinmen Island is just a 20 minute ferry ride from Xiamen (the Chinese island I lived on) and sits between mainland Taiwan and Xiamen. As soon as the ferry approached the harbor, my VPN was no longer necessary. I could access Facebook, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp, Skype, Amazon and countless others websites and apps. As much as I enjoy fighting with my VPN in China and trying to get it to stay connected at least 20 times a day, I enjoyed my freedom. It should also be noted that China has now made it impossible to access Chinese website with the VPN connected.

Imagine this. You want to book a train ticket for somewhere in China but forgot your Gmail password. This requires you to turn the VPN off to access the Chinese website, turn it on to check your Gmail for a reset email, turn it off to reset your password and turn it back on to Google hotel options. I hope you’re patient.

This also meant that Kinmen had many more imported goods than China. HELLO TWIX!

More importantly, Taiwan has a unique history all it’s own because of it’s location and fight for independence from China. Kinmen served as a major military base to defend Taiwan against the Chinese through the end of the 1950’s and the battle scars are visible all over the island. In fact, Martial Law was not lifted in Kinmen until the mid 1990’s. From underground bunkers and tunnels to the people’s obsession with military uniforms and camo, Kinmen’s military history is ever present. While the island wasn’t bustling with nightlife, it offered so much for history nerds like myself.

Another major difference between these two countries is that more people speak English in Taiwan and understand my broken Chinese. This makes it far easier to communicate and I was able to give my charades skills a rest. There was also less staring in Kinmen. I was not pointed at or laughed at once! Well, with the exception of people laughing at my witty humor and charm.

Kinmen was definitely worth the trip and if you’re ever in Taiwan and love history, check it out!

I’m currently in Malaysian Borneo and am working on my next plans.

Ciao for now! 🐝

Quick Update

Hello all!

I hope you’re enjoying your holidays. I have made it safely to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Yesterday I met my penpal from high school and it was a surreal experience.

I have been very busy with saying goodbye to my students and friends in Xiamen, China so I have been MIA.

Soon I will post about my weekend in Taiwan and my time here in Kuala Lumpur.

On January 3rd I am headed to Malaysian Borneo!

Happy New Year!

Bumbles 🐝

A Dream World: Cebu, Philippines

Today’s Quote: “A very wise quote is a spectacular waterfall! When you see it, you feel its power!”

— Mehmet Murat Ildan

I apologize for the hiatus but I was experiencing technical difficulties.

I have been back in Xiamen, China now for a week and I have had ample time to reflect on my trip to the Philippines. I spent nine blissful days with my friend relaxing on the beach, eating delicious food, making new friends and snorkeling with sea turtles. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Quick Plan Update! I will be leaving my current teaching job at the end of December to travel! Destinations are still up for debate (I am debating with myself. The internal struggle is real.) but I believe my next country will be Thailand.

Alright, so Moalboal is a small town on the island of Cebu in the Philippines and boy is it beautiful. If it weren’t for the mountains and outlying islands on the horizon, you would swear the ocean and sky were one. The blues and greens of the ocean showcase nature at its finest.

I made so many incredible friends and talked to the cutest kids who were eager to know where I was from. Filipinos are very welcoming and I was always greeted with a smile or hug. If you plan to travel to the Philippines and speak English, it is a fairly easy adjustment because one of their official languages is English; this was quite different than adjusting to life in China (let’s just say my charades skills have improved exponentially).

The reefs in Moalboal are so close to the beach and for just a couple of dollars you can rent snorkels and explore for hours. Life under the sea is incredible and Cebu was perfect for because the reefs are so healthy and a multitude of fish species and other creatures call them home. I know you are all wondering…”Natalie, did you see huge sea turtles or not?!” Why yes, I did and there was proof, however, the camera did not save the photos. Take my word for it, they were incredible.

Imagine getting into the ocean; the warm salt water tickling your little toes. By the time you are about 15 feet from the beach, you adjust your snorkel, go under the water and realize you are just a couple feet away from the reef. You, perhaps hesitantly, glance around and realize you are in a whole new world (cue Aladdin music). Varieties of coral that are other wordly and fish darting about. After some time exploring the reef you swim out a bit further and everything is just…blue. You look around, possibly have an anxiety attack because you realize how miniscule you are in the grand scheme of things and…BAM!! A sea turtle! If you have not tried snorkeling, I highly recommend it.

One of my favorite things in life is watching sunsets and the sunsets in Cebu did not disappoint.

While lounging on the beach and taking in the sunsets or lovely sun rays, I was frequently approached by local dogs wandering along the ocean’s edge. They even approached me when I did not have food! I must have that doggy je ne sais quoi. One pup decided she would be our protector and she would growl at other dogs or people who came near.

While another kept making attempts to steal my sarong and take up residence as close to me as possible.

This cuddly guy was just too handsome not to share.

Don’t worry, I made it back without any new pets.

Another great adventure in Cebu was canyoneering. Nature is an amusement park and everyone is tall enough to ride. Canyoneering uses nature’s ups and downs and takes you on an unforgettable ride. We hiked through the beautiful mountains and then jumped into the stunningly blue, fresh water. That was just the beginning. During canyoneering, you slide down rocks that have been shaped over years by the natural flow of the river. You conquer your fears and jump from the top of a canyon, sometimes 30m (close to 100ft) into a deep pool of water and you swim under waterfalls. (Please try and disregard the annoying date/time stamp on these photos; I could not make it go away.)

I could have floated in the water forever. Well, if someone brought me snacks.

Even now I am questioning whether or not my time in the Philippines was in fact reality or a perfect, lucid dream. The intermingling of natural beauty, adventure, kind people and exploration left me in awe. The Philippines is still considered a developing country and despite their battle with poverty and struggles with infrastructure, it is a truly beautiful place. The all around beauty of the people, culture and nature is astounding. Leaving was tough because I knew I would be coming back to a culture and environment far different from that of the Filipinos’. Now that I am settled back into life in Xiamen, I am considering what I have left to experience and accomplish here before moving on. Before leaving China, a fellow teacher and I will be going to Gansu Province to explore the Rainbow Mountains, a more secluded section of the Great Wall of China and other cultural aspects of the region.

Ciao for now and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you in the United States!