Since I’ll be moving to Beijing for the next two years, I figured it would be fun to do monthly recap posts talking about the highlights and challenges of my time in China’s bustling capital (or wherever I may be that month.) I’ve noticed that the more I travel and the busier I become, the more impossible it becomes to keep up with my travels in real-time. Well, never fear monthly recap posts are here!
What I was up to this month
I spent almost the entire month in the Philippines! I was there for about two and a half weeks and came home just in time to…. move into a new apartment! Overall, it was a pretty amazing month. From scuba diving, paddle boarding, and motorbiking in the Philippines to wandering the alleyways of my new hutong neighborhood, I’m pretty much loving life right now.
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Where I Went
Right at the start of February I hopped on a flight to Manila. After a day or so there, I moved onto the island of Bohol, where I spent about a week. I stayed on the famous Alona Beach and a coconut farm for a night, and then moved inland to the Loboc river. I went paddle boarding, saw the fireflies at night, and even did a superman zip line! I woke up at 4am to see the chocolate hills at sunrise, and of course, I spied some cute tarsier monkeys as well.
After Bohol I took a ferry to Siquijor, an island famous for its witchcraft! Siquijor was my favorite part of the trip. I stayed at a hostel full of solo backpackers who quickly became my best friends. I motorbiked around the island, went cliff jumping, and even embarked on an extremely sketchy spelunking adventure in a cave.
Finally I took a ferry to Dumaguete where I spent a day scuba diving on Apo Island. It was some of the best scuba diving of my entire life, despite some mishaps with the equipment (?!) I really wasn’t ready to go back to China at all, but I’m never really ready to stop traveling am I?
In my last week and a half of February I moved from my fancy studio in Zhongguancun to a cool apartment house in the Andingmen hutongs. I’ve spent my evenings exploring the restaurants, shops, and bars hidden in the alleyways around my place.
Overall, this month was pretty incredible! It’s probably the best month I’ve had so far since I started these recaps. From my amazing trip to the Philippines to LOVING my new home, here’s the best of the best.
Paddle Boarding on the Loboc River
When you head to Bohol all the blogs and guidebooks tell you to stay on Alona Beach and visit the chocolate hills and tarsier monkeys; however I think the best place to stay is on the Loboc River. For me, Alona Beach was a bit too crowded. It was the Lunar New Year and high season, so not only was the place packed with backpackers and families, there were also tons of Chinese and Korean tourists.
Moving inland was a great decision! I stayed at a very rustic (squat toilet, bucket shower, and no internet) guest house right on the river. My favorite day involved paddle boarding upstream to a waterfall and back. The river was so incredibly beautiful, and from the waterfall I could see the superman zipline I ended up participating in the next day!
The only downside to paddle boarding was that I hit a submerged rock on my way back and fell in the water. The current pushed me into the extremely sharp rocks and I ended up destroying my foot. The guides came to my rescue and probably thought I was being a baby from all the “ow, ow, ow, oh my god, ow’s” they were hearing as I tried to fight the current and get back on my board. You should’ve seen the look on their faces when I pulled my foot out of the water and my board was instantly covered in a puddle of blood. Whoopsies!
My week on Siquijor
Like I said, my week on Siquijor was my favorite part of my Philippines trip. When I first arrived I was staying at a hostel that was a bit too “couple-y” for me. After feeling that way for pretty much all of Bohol, I needed to get out! I immediately moved to JJ’s on the main San Juan beach and it was the best decision I could’ve made.
I quickly became friends with a solid group of solo travelers from all over the world. We went cliff jumping into the sea, and spelunking in the world’s sketchiest cave. Not only did the cave have a river that went up to my waist at some points, I actually had to crawl on my hands and knees for a decent portion due to the low ceiling. Who doesn’t love an adventure?!
I rented a motorbike for my entire week in Siquijor, and I actually ended up driving three separate guys on the back! I felt like such a badass leading the pack with me as a driver and a guy behind me. Siquijor was the first time I’d ever driven a motorbike with anyone on the back, and I was really proud of myself for stepping up to the plate, rather than following the gender norms I was afraid to break in Siargao. I knew I needed to stop underselling myself, and it sure felt good!
I also loved the atmosphere of the hostel. We sat on the beach watching the sunset next to a bonfire every night. We’d play drinking games with local rum mixed with giant bottles of coke. My last night we were invited to the weekly Friday night party, when the whole island comes out for a night of crazy revelry. There were locals and travelers of all ages drinking and dancing to live music. It was such a great night out, and an amazing way to end an incredible week in Siquijor.
Scuba Diving on Apo Island
As much as I didn’t want to leave Siquijor, I knew I needed to do some diving on Apo Island before I headed back home. I was staying with Harold’s Mansion, which is the go-to hostel in Dumaguete, and I decided to dive with them as well. They took us out to Apo Island where I did three dives.
The diving was absolutely incredible! Not only did I see multiple sea turtles, a jelly fish, nudibranches, and giant clams, I also saw volcanic bubbles and grass eels coming out of the sand!
The thing I loved most about this dive wasn’t the special creatures I saw, but the life on the reef. I’ve never seen coral so alive before! There were so many different types, and some looked so soft I wanted to run my hands through it like a shag rug (Don’t worry, I didn’t). I swam through schools of fish and practiced my buoyancy, getting as close to the reef as a dared.
Apo Island is a dive photographer’s dream! With shallow coral and bright sunlight, the colors are incredible! Unfortunately my GoPro was acting up and I wasn’t able to use it. However, I think it actually helped me enjoy the moment a bit more without worrying about pictures.
That said, if you go to Apo Island I would not recommend diving with Harold’s. While I loved the dive, the company was somewhat sketchy. Not only did our Dive Master give us zero instruction, even when we asked for it, we also had equipment issues! My tank actually fell off mid-dive and my friend had to grab it and strap it back in. That same friend had an air leak while we were diving, and ran out of air so quickly that he had to share air with our divemaster until it was safe to send him up. Seriously?!
Moving to Andingmen
When I first got back to Beijing, I really didn’t want to leave my nice studio apartment and I was so incredibly stressed about my move. However, once the stress of moving wore off, I immediately fell in love!
I have four roommates, but I’m 99% sure one of them doesn’t exist. I’ve never seen her, and she apparently “lives with her boyfriend” but I’m pretty sure she’s just not a real person. As for the rest of my roommates, I have a British guy and two French guys I actually share the apartment with. I kind of feel like Zooey Deschanel in the show New Girl.
We’ve got the British guy who is literally always working. He leaves about the same time I do, but comes back between 11pm-1am. Then there are the two French guys, one of which is married. The married one is always cooking, and has planned trips to the Great Wall these last two weekends. Unfortunately I couldn’t go this weekend because I have to work on Saturdays…. womp womp.
Aside from my apartment, my neighborhood is amazing! I live on a hutong (alleyway) street filled with cheap restaurants, bars, and little shops. I can buy vegetables right outside my apartment, dinner for $2, and hit up one of the amazing bars near me. For example, there’s a bar called 8 Bit that is filled with video games you can play!
Awesome Dinner with Friends
While I was on Siquijor, one of my friends mentioned he was heading to Beijing and Shanghai for a week before heading onto Japan. Of course I got super excited and offered to show him around. I invited him, a coworker, my Chinese friends, and Justine from the Travel Lush (who just moved to Beijing!!!) and her boyfriend for an amazing dinner of Sichuan food.
To get to the restaurant we walked all the way through the Nanluoguxiang touristy hutong, which is packed with cute shops, restaurants, bubble tea stalls, street food, and tourists. I’ve been living in China for years, and I could’ve wandered around there for hours if we didn’t already have a reservation!
The dinner was great, and afterwards we headed out to the bars. We ended up visiting Hoihai, an area packed with bars and restaurants around a lake. We stumbled on Raggae bar, which had musicians playing music from Xinjiang, China’s Muslim Uigher province. As we decided to move onto the second bar it started snowing!
Then we wandered the hutongs trying to find Drum and Bell bar, but ended up getting completely lost (in the snow) until we stumbled on Ball House, a crazy hipster bar in a super random hutong house by the Bell Tower. Covered in random vintage furniture and art, it had two pool tables and a 50-year-old Chinese woman working on a needlepoint art project. I would venture to say that Ball House is probably the most hipster place I’ve ever been in my entire life, and all of the Chinese people there looked way too cool for me to associate with.
While this month has been great, there were definitely a few moments that weren’t so glamorous…
I Missed a Flight
Yep, I missed a flight for the first time ever. I was staying at a hostel near the airport in Manila, and I literally missed my flight because the traffic was that bad. It had only taken me 20 minutes to get to my hostel from terminal one the night before, so I figured 45 minutes would be completely fine to get to terminal 4.
No… I was so wrong. So wrong.
The traffic in Manila is insane, not to mention the airport is right in the middle of the city. I can’t tell you how awful it felt to sit there and watch the motorbikes whiz by as we moved inch by inch. I arrived at the airport about 25 minutes before my flight was about to take off and they had already closed the gate, of course.
My flight was originally from Manila to Bohol for about $70. I ended up finding a cheap flight from Manila to Cebu the next night at 3am for $40, where I could then continue onto Bohol via ferry. While it sucked to miss my flight, it’s not the end of the world, and at least I found a cheap alternative.
I also met some Chileans who missed their flight due to traffic (they had a two-hour layover to get from terminal 1 to terminal 4 and didn’t make it). We decided to take the 3am flight and ferry together and even traveled together for about four days!
So for all of you going to Manila for TBEX… don’t say I didn’t warn you.
While I was staying on the Loboc river (without internet), my Airbnb guests moved into my apartment and found water gushing out of my floorboards as they walked in the kitchen area. Yeah, this comes just three months after my sink exploded. Seriously?!
I had to send panicked texts to my company, and wait an hour to finally get a response. Then they called my agent, who called a repairman. The repairman offered to come that night, but of course, the girls in my apartment refused to pick up their phones.
The next day the girls abruptly moved out, which I completely understand. The problem is that they neglected to tell me they were leaving and refused to answer any calls or texts from the workers. We all thought they were still in the apartment, especially since they had told me they would leave a key for the workers while they went out sightseeing! The only way I knew they had moved out was because Airbnb emailed me asking about a refund.
Also, had they just left the spare key for the workers, the apartment would have been completely fine by the time they came back from sightseeing. I don’t really blame them for wanting to leave not knowing how bad the problem was going to be, but at least let the owner know what you’re doing!
Thankfully, the put the key back in its hiding spot so the workers were able to get in and fix the broken pipe. I had my office maid clean my place and got rave reviews from the next couple who stayed there. They even bought stuff for my apartment and left me a ton of food!
Overall, it was manageable, but dealing with this problem with no internet and no 3G (I don’t buy SIM cards when I travel), was so incredibly stressful. Also, the girls didn’t speak English so I had to deal with all of this in Chinese.
Getting Infested with Worms
Those of you who follow me on Snapchat already know, but I had a lovely worm infestation earlier this month…. thanks China. Apparently THAT’S what those stomach pains from last month were about.
The worms aren’t actually that big of a deal (pinworms, if you’re curious) and kids get them all the time. But judging from the pains in my stomach (and the number of worms I had to poop out) apparently I had a severe infestation. Thankfully in China I was able to get it taken care of for literally $2 USD (the medicine was 50 cents), but it still wasn’t fun.
I had to obsessively wash everything. My sheets and any clothing from the waist down had to be washed every day. I had to scrub under my nails with scalding hot water constantly. My family also hated me a little bit because they had to wash everything after I left (sorry guys).
I also literally pooped out thousands of tiny worms. I’m not even kidding.
My Most Popular Post
This month my most popular post was definitely “American Millennials: Quit Whining and Move Abroad.” While the title was pretty sassy, the real point of the article was that as a young American, you have options. Just by being born in the US you’re one of the most privileged people on Earth.
While I agree we should fight for change, equality, affordable education, and reasonable healthcare costs, you don’t have to let America’s shortcomings ruin your twenties. If your life really sucks that much, hop on a plane and move to a place where you’ll have a better quality of life. Humans aren’t trees, you aren’t stuck.
This month’s most popular Instagram was Shanghai’s iconic skyline featuring the Pearl Tower and financial district!
People were also fans of this night shot I took in Guangzhou. I loved how all the parks lit up at night!
Song of the Month
I’m definitely inspired by Lady Gaga’s Till It Happens To You, which was equally powerful in this video as it was at the Oscars. It was co-written with Dianne Warren (yes, the politician!) for the documentary The Hunting Ground which discusses sexual assault on college campuses. The documentary is coming to Netflix on March 14th, which I’m really excited for!
What I’m Reading
I was reading a lot of business oriented books and blog posts in the past, but ever since I went on a brief digital detox in the Philippines, I decided I need to be a bit more well-rounded with my free time. I got back into reading the Game of Thrones Books (I’m on book three now!) which has been a great escape from reality on my new subway work commute. I’m so addicted I even read it while I’m walking to transfer trains. Reading fiction on the train really makes the ride go much faster, and I’m getting great use out of my Kindle!
What about blog posts?
Beijing, You’re Not So Scary After All – The Travel Lush
Justine from the Travel Lush moves to Beijing! I’m so excited to have another travel blogger her with me, and I was relieved to hear she’s enjoying China for the most part. I think I’d feel partly responsible if she didn’t like it, because apparently both Joella and I were very adamant in our Beijing praise trying to get Justine to move here.
How Travel Killed My Ambition– Heart My Backpack
Reading this, I felt like Silvia was in my head. I’ve always been equal parts determined and ambitious, and a planner. I studied hard to get into a good high school and then a good college, and then I even got my Master’s! I want to be successful, but the problem is I’m not exactly sure what success looks like for me anymore. How do I rationalize my desire for “success” as well as my passion for travel? How can I be successful when I don’t even know what kind of job I want to be successful at?! Looks like I’m not the only one that feels this way.
15 Ways To Leave the Country if Donald Trump Gets Elected– Adventurous Kate
Anyone whose friends with me on Facebook or knows me in real life will realize within five seconds that I absolutely abhor Donald Trump. Literally, the other day at a party I heard someone defending him and you should have seen the look on my face. He backtracked very quickly once I became a part of the conversation. Anyway, I thought this post was hilarious and well done. Like I mentioned in my “Quit Whining” post, it’s a lot easier to move abroad than you might think!
Coming Up in March 2016
I’m going to Vietnam for a week! I’ll be heading to Northern and Central Vietnam for a whirlwind trip to meet up with two of my best friends: my little and grandlittle from my sorority. My grandlittle, or my sorority little sister’s little sister, is volunteering in Vietnam and the two of us will be flying out to see her.
Not only am I really excited to see both of them (it’s been YEARS), I also can’t wait to see more of Vietnam! I’ll be heading to Hanoi, Cat Ba, Hui and Hoi An. While I know this is a bit fast for me (I mean, I spent a week on the tiny island of Siquijor alone!), traveling with others means you need to compromise on itineraries. Regardless, I’m super excited and ready for a busy trip, and I know I’ll be back to Vietnam someday where I hope to spend a month rather than a week.
In addition to Vietnam, I’ll also be spending plenty of time exploring my new neighborhood! I’m trying to make as many new friends as I can. In typical Richelle fashion I joined a tribal fusion belly dancing class, and I’ll definitely be going to salsa more now that I live closer to Sanlitun. I’ve been getting more active in the Beijing Women’s Network group, and I’m going to look into my university’s alumni chapter as well. Cheers for new friends!
Read Next: “Wandering Hanoi” – Get excited for my trip to Vietnam!