Koh Phi Phi - An Island Paradise in Thailand by Jessica Lee

Of all of the lives I've led so far, currently, this is the strangest one.

Three weeks ago, I landed in Bangkok to backpack around South East Asia and to see first-hand what it's like to be here. After travelling around the island of Koh Chang, then Tonsai, and Ao Nang; I took a ferry to where I am now: the island of Koh Phi Phi. Originally, I was led here based on the good things I've heard about this island; it being on many of the "most beautiful island" lists of travel publications around the world and also being mentioned in glowing terms in casual conversations with other travellers. Yet initially, the charm of this island escaped me as I had seen so many stunning beaches in the last couple of days that one more picturesque beach didn't quite knock me over the way I see it affects some of the tourists who freshly disembark from the daily ferry boat to this island. But that was all about to change. Something else would grab me.

Three nights ago, I went out to the bars with a bunch of other travellers and I ended up chatting with the expat owner of one the bars on the island and he offered me a job at the bar, which I happily accepted because: why not? I've always wanted to be a bartender.

Now, my days consist of waking up to a beach view, going for tea and breakfast, doing some reading, writing and photography, taking lunch and dinner; then getting ready for work.

The work is not overwhelmingly good or bad, just vastly different. I went from doing public relations for the government to bar relations with my customers.

The secret of a good bartender, as I have learned, not only involves creating tasty and presentable drinks, but also involves making it look effortless while creating said drinks and chatting with the bar patrons. To get to "exceptional level", one must make creating drinks look fun and entertaining; and also innovate new drinks at the bar.

It's a good and fun life here on Koh Phi Phi. My biggest problem here so far was when my favourite breakfast place ran out of ripe bananas so I couldn't eat the Thai Nutella Banana pancake I usually ordered. I spend the day tanning at the beach while reading or going scuba diving. And because the island is fairly small, I've started bumping into friends and acquaintances when I make my way around town. It's nice to be able to say hi to familiar faces, even if I barely know them. I've also started "visiting" friends. This is a new habit for me because when I was in Toronto, I lived so far from everyone I know, that a visit can take up to half an hour to drive. And most times, friends are out. Here, everyone more or less has a predictable schedule and I can drop by in a ten minute walk for a quick chat or a long sunset watching session.

It's very easy to get swept up into the lifestyle and never leave. Most of the bar staff I work with, initially started off as travellers like me. Now, some of them have been living on this island for two years, tanning away their days. In a way, Koh Phi Phi is a small town paradise. Almost everything you need for a happy existence can be found here. There is a good community, plenty of sunshine, a good work/life balance, cheap living, and love, if you look for it. The challenge is giving yourself the push to drop out of this easy comfort and eventually adventure off the island. Because there is so much more out there in the world.

Byron Bay: more evidence Australia has way too many beautiful shorelines by Jessica Lee

I've concluded that Byron Bay is for lovers. With a sandy beach, a horizon that stretches for miles and a romantic lighthouse; how can you not fall in love with this town?

It was a little rainy the day we drove in, but I was able to imagine it in sunnier weather.

I spent the morning trying to surf, then the afternoon was spent walking around town looking at the different shops.

The place is a little "tourist-geared", but I didn't mind.

I love learning about a place based on what they sell in their shops. For example, the shoes below would rarely be sold in Toronto, where I'm from. Though we have the same brands, there are no shoes like these in shoe stores in Toronto.

That's because the shoes below are lightweight, with foam soles and geared for walking on sand, they would disintegrate so quickly on the pavement/ seasonal snow/ ice we have. They are nice beach shoes though. I would definitely have bought myself a pair had there been a pair my size.

I also noticed when I was in Sydney that there are a lot more singlets (in bright colours) for guys sold in stores. Singlets just aren't very fashionable in Toronto I guess, neither are bright colours. Personally if I had to choose between the fashion in Australia or Canada, I would choose Australia. I will explain why in a later post, but for now...

We hiked up to see the light house as it was getting dark. My housemate Tara lives near Byron Bay, so she knew all of the neat places and told us to come here.

It was absolutely breath-taking. If I ever had to fill a film clip with pretty places, Byron Bay would be a top destination for sure.

What made the place more magical was the fact that we were the only ones at the lighthouse at one point. It was like the lighthouse was here just for us so we could look into the horizon and dream...

Finally home: Toronto and changes by Jessica Lee

Toronto is quite different from the state I left it in.

After my seven month jaunt around Australia and Asia- and briefly Montreal, I am finally back home.

I feel like I cheated the system. I left Toronto when it was at its coldest, enjoyed the warm weather in Sydney, and came back when summer was swinging.

It's been an incredible journey.

People always say when you come back to your own city after seeing the world, the way you see your city changes. And it's true. Four years ago I thought Toronto was the greatest city in the world. I was set on saving up a down payment to buy a condo on the Harbourfront where by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I'd have moved in, gotten a professional job and be enjoying the many cafes and breakfast/brunch places on my weekends and dining on patios for afterwork cocktails with friends. I thought Toronto was a great city because of its importance in the world- meaning that if a popular band was touring North America, they would definitely stop in Toronto. There are also many opportunities in this city. Businesses come to the city to make deals all the time, international film festivals are held here, the city is booming with arts and culture, and there is always something exciting going on.

But now that I've lived in Sydney and enjoyed the flexibility of the weather which allows for sailing all year long and soaked up some sun on a few of their many marvellous beaches, I'm having second thoughts about settling in Toronto. Surfing the waves at Bali, Indonesia, made me realize Toronto doesn't have a good surfing scene, and I miss the elegance of Montreal streets.

It's been strange coming back to Toronto. The city is the same, but different in many ways. I visited the movie rental place I used to work at and it is no longer a movie rental place. They only sell cell phones now. Lots of huge holes downtown have now been built into several story condos, and I live in a new condo myself now.

While I was in Australia, my mom sold our home and bought a new place uptown. It's a slick, new fancy apartment that looks like an upscale hotel. It is a sharp contrast from the sometimes dirty huts I was living in while in Indonesia. It's also quite a relief to be able to leave your stuff around and not worry about having to pack it up the next day.

While some things are the same in a comforting way; like the lazy pace I move during my weekends, or the familiar Canadian accents I hear in coffee shops, other things are completely different.

I picked up a new job as a waitress at a lounge/restaurant. It's something I've always wanted to do just to see what it's like. I've never worked in the food and hospitality industry so it's been a lot of learning. There is a restaurant lingo that I'm starting to pick up and its quite fascinating. I now know what chaffing dishes and heat lamps are. I also know how to properly set-up a table with salad forks and dessert forks and coffee cups at 90 degrees from the plate, etc etc.

The other night, I was working an event for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The DJ put on a song which was on the mixtape we found in the rental car of our Australian road trip and I was reminded of my wonderful adventures which happened a mere two months ago. While listening to the song, I was suddenly feeling quite smug because here I was serving ridiculous people who were blowing their money on $250 bottles of vodka and paying even more than that for "private booths" which really were just couches with a "reserved" sign on them.

With a budget of $250 a week, I got to see Indonesia! Yes. That amount covered hotels and food as well as surfboard rentals and some modest shopping. That amount has also given me incredible experiences, street smarts and a confidence where I can say I navigated a foreign country all by myself at 21.

Different people have different priorities, but personally, I think it's much more enriching to spend your money on experiences which will make you grow rather than one vague drunken memory.

FYI: Cocktails in Indonesia average about $2.50/drink, a fraction of the price of alcohol in Toronto.

But though I am back in my hometown, this isn't the end of my journey here.

I will be updating constantly with missed blog entries and photos I haven't published. I wrote a couple of entries on the road but sometimes didn't put them up because I felt they were missing something.

I will keep posting moments from my trip and saving up for my next big trek around the world. Europe? Africa? South America? Asia again? Who knows...

A bike tour of Montreal by Jessica Lee

Marc and I took an expedition on our bicyclettes yesterday to explore the rest of downtown Montreal.

Biking along the St. Lawrence river had an old romantic feel to it, and it felt incredibly French. All we were missing was the picnic basket filled with gourmet cheeses and a baguette.

Going everywhere by bike was also very efficient as well. We saw three times as much as we would have had we walked on foot.

Here is Marc next to some pretty cool buildings.

There are actually lots of architecturally interesting buildings in downtown Montreal.

I loved how old architecture is mixed with modern styles.

We stopped by the Old Port, which reminded me of Toronto's Distillery District in the way that the floors were cobblestone and the buildings were older.

I had some maple taffy, which is really just maple syrup in thickened form thrown over ice and then rolled onto a stick. Like poutine, it is a very tasty tourist trap/one of the things you should try should you head to Quebec.

It starts out looking like this:

Then you roll it up...

And you put it in your mouth.

A magician's show was just setting up as I started my taffy so we stayed for a while and watched.

Then we headed into the artists corridor to look at some art.

The place was definitely touristy, but I loved the elegant buildings and the feeling one got when walking beside stone walls and on top of cobblestone- like you're in a classy European city.

If you popped into any of the stores you would see something like this: lovely small boutiques.

Or touristy t-shirts.

I loved the cafe scene as well. I was really tempted to stop for a cuppa or a creme de glace but we had a schedule and a lot of things to do.

Before that though, can I show you a few kitschy things that I adored?

Here ya go!

This sign:

And this fabulous t-shirt that was ridiculously priced.

Even though Old Port was incredibly consumerist and tourist-geared, I soaked up every minute of being there.

Soon it was time to head back on the bike trail.

There is this amazing trail that follows the river from Old Port to Atwater Market, which has lovely views of the city. In my mind, I was in a French movie and Le Denicheur was playing while I was biking down these gorgeous trails.

Please open that above link and listen by the way. It really sets the mood for the rest of this blog post and the photos.

We stopped over a bridge and saw these sets of buildings. I have no clue what they are but they look like apartments or dorm rooms. I wonder what the insides look like.

Here is a further away view so you can see the boats.

We took a few photos and then we were off again.

We made it to the Atwater Market, which is a farmer's market filled with yummy goods.

I bought a tin can of maple syrup for $6.50! What a deal considering fake maple syrup in grocery stores costs something like $4.50.

We wandered into a chocolate shop where I wanted to eat everything.

They had ice cream.

Lots of chocolate of course.

And truffles!

Here is a close-up of one of the truffles.

And this was the dessert I really wanted to try but it was really hot and I was thirsty and fleur de sel, which is salted caramel, would have been much too sweet.

We took the metro back downtown and walked into a student protest.

They had pots and pans and were banging away. It was quite loud.

Then a bit further down, we walked into the film festival where they were playing a silent film.

One of the things I love about Montreal is that like Toronto, there is always something happening in the city. Back when I lived in Sydney, we went to the library for entertainment.

I'm kidding obviously.

But most of the nightlife in Sydney revolved around clubs and if you didn't like clubbing, then have a nice life.

I'm not sure where this place is, but we discovered the area by biking near it then seeing it.

It was perfect. There was just the right amount of people in it so that the scene was lively but not too many so that we couldn't bike through.

Montreal is a pretty decent city to bike through.

If you have a free day, I definitely recommend exploring by bike.

First impression: yacht racing by Jessica Lee

Today was cold, rainy and practically windless: a perfect day for sailing.

Just kidding.

Ha ha. What a dry joke for such a wet day.

It was terrible conditions for sailing, but I ended up heading down to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) anyway to participate in the Winter Race Series.

It was my first time sailing on a yacht and I definitely was not ready for it in terms of being dressed for the weather. By the way, I am definitely buying a dry suit at some point after this.

I came to Australia on the false assumption that it would be warm and sunny year round and did not expect to need warm clothes. Since being here for four months, I have already purchased two hoodies and am considering getting another jacket.

The above photo is the only photo I have from today as it was raining the entire morning and afternoon when we were yacht racing. It was pretty cold. I snapped a photo from the dock and then hurried to get ready for the race. I didn't bring my camera aboard the yacht since it was raining. Thus for this post, I am going to try to describe the full experience of yacht racing through words.

I met the crew through mutual friends. What many people don't know is that you can sail for free if you show up to a race day and be accepted onto a boat if a boat is looking for crew. Sometimes you don't even need experience, just a good attitude and a solid work ethic. 

For our yacht, we were a group of six. This is a good size so that there isn't too much work for one person pulling ropes and throwing on sails. Also, there needs to be enough weight on the boat to keep the boat flat. There were really large boats out there with maybe twenty people in them. Ours was a medium-sized yacht. I don't even know how to describe what kind of yacht it was, but it was beautiful.

Just being on the harbour surrounded by all the other yachts in their different coloured sails was lovely despite the grey weather. There were maybe a hundred boats out on the water? Possibly more. It was like being in a movie, you know that one cinematic clip where you see the main character flying in the air in a hot air balloon or a dragon and you see all the other hot air balloons or dragons- it was exactly like that but on water. Since it was grey and rainy, there was even a nice fog around the harbour bridge and the opera house.

Sailing on a yacht is pretty much just like sailing on a dingy (small boat) except less intense. Everything moves slower. Moving on a small boat from one side to the other requires speed but things are less affected if you take longer to run from one side of the boat to the other on a yacht. Also, in a yacht, the whole team works together to make turns or put up a spinnaker. It was pretty cool to watch everything happen and contribute as well.

The crew was pretty experienced and I got a kick out of them using sailing lingo such as "pressure", "bullet" and "zero". There's still so much I don't understand in sailing and it's great to be able to hang out with pros. Sailors are pretty laid back and easy going. The first beers were cracked open before noon on the boat and after the race, there's a nice camaraderie at the club where all the sailors talk about the race and meet people over food and more alcohol. Sailors take the "drunken" stereotype pretty seriously it seems.

Today wasn't all sunshine and rainbows (far from it) but honestly, I'd take this cold and rainy sailing experience any day over an overpriced touristy rehearsed sailing "adventure". It's just more genuine.

Things I miss about Toronto by Jessica Lee

Oftentimes I will think about the University of Sydney student who left this beautiful city at this time of year to go study on exchange at snowy and cold University of Toronto.

What the heck were you thinking?! Why would you want to do that!?

But alas, that is how the exchange program works. A number of people from Toronto go to Sydney and a similar (if not dead on exact) number of people from Sydney go and take their place in Toronto.

I wonder if the person who took my place in Toronto- is he or she miserable? Or perhaps enjoying life like I am here, except in snowier weather (that is now turning into Spring). Maybe this person has never seen snow in real life before and is excited by the prospect of building snowmen and igloos. Maybe this person wants to eat poutine, wear a toque, play some hockey, ride a moose to school and wrestle with beavers. Perhaps they are doing all that and are having the time of their life in Toronto. Who knows...


I wanted to share with you all a few things I miss about Canada, specifically Toronto.

Here goes:

I miss walking down Queen street at Spadina on a sunny day, seeing all the familiar shops: McDonalds, the hot dog stand, Horseshoe Tavern, Due West, H&M, Steve's. Sometimes when I'm walking towards the Eaton Centre, the door for Lush is open and I can smell all the soapy aromas as I pass by. There are usually vendors that sell jewelry and a tree stump that someone painted "hug me" on over and over again. I miss passing by French Connection, Lululemon, the fancy dress shops... The City TV building. It's not like I actually go in these shops every time I pass by, but I miss seeing things I'm used to.

I miss successful shopping trips at the Eaton Centre, carrying heavy shopping bags (usually from Indigo Books) at night, entering the subway from the H&M side of Dundas station, knowing I'll have to cross under and use the escalator to get the side that goes Northbound. I didn't appreciate it then, but I like the routine of finding a subway seat and pulling out reading material (usually NOW Magazine) to last me until when I have to change stations at Bloor/Yonge.

My family recently changed apartments (I live at home in Toronto). I will probably never take the same route I've taken my entire life back to the old apartment. When I get back home, the new apartment will be foreign to me, I'll have to get used to the new bus times and new subway stations. All those nights spent at Broadview subway station waiting for my bus- they will never happen again. I live uptown now.

I miss getting off the subway at Union station and walking down to Harbourfront. Seeing water always put me in a better mood. I miss chinatown and getting pho with friends, my favourite pasta place beside U of T where I reward myself after a great study session at Robarts library.

I miss Smoke's poutine. We would get a poutine, hide it in our bag, and sneak it to the theatre with us on winter days.

I miss my hot chocolate spots. All the places around Toronto where I would meet up with friends, chat with strangers and really connect. I miss walking through the expensive Yorkville area, walking through Holt's and in my head pretending I'm extremely rich. I miss the smell of an Anthropologie store- and feeling all the fabrics of the clothes they sell there.

I have had great memories in Toronto. I miss my friends back home.

But I don't want to leave Sydney!