Category Archives: Malaysia

Penang – Pretty Much The Best Visa Run Destination Ever

Penang is probably the best visa run destination for those coming from Thailand

Penang’ is the best visa run destination for nomads and travelers in Southern Thailand, as it has no shortage of attractions to discover while your passport is getting stamped.

After spending a week exploring Koh Samui, it was time to leave Thailand, as my 30-day exemption had run out. If you are in the south and you are looking for a great place to go on a visa run, Penang is an easy choice, as its combination of culture, drool-worthy cuisine, and historic attractions make the island the best visa run destination for those hanging out in Southern Thailand.

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

Char kway teow, Penang, Malaysia

Succulent Pork Chop, Penang, Malaysia

As one of Southeast Asia’s best food destinations, you can bounce from Indian to Chinese to Malay and Western food – and all of it for just a few dollars.

Door in Penang, Malaysia

As much as your meals here will be a star attraction, the sheer joy of walking around Georgetown surpasses it.

Door in Penang, Malaysia

As common as these entryways appear to its lifelong residents, their weathered appearance gives them a presence that the impersonal, unspectacular doors back home could never muster up on their own.

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Meng Eng Soo Temple in Penang Malaysia

The buildings here are not only gorgeous, but they are also custom-built to protect you against the elements. They feature overhangs that shield you from the intense equatorial sun, as well as monsoonal downpours that would otherwise soak you to the bone.

Chinese Temple in Penang Malaysia

And that doesn’t even cover this UNESCO-recognized town’s main attractions, as there are Chinese temples like the one shown, in addition to the Clan Jetties, which are so detailed that they will get their own post (stay tuned, it’s coming up very soon).

Love Lane in Penang, Malaysia

Iron street art, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Penang Malaysia

If you only have time to see one thing of note on the streets of Georgetown, make a sport of hunting down the stunning twisted iron sculptures that tell the story of this port on the Straits of Malacca. With 30 or so scattered through its Jalans, you’ll be spending some serious time outside – don’t forget to put on some sunscreen before heading out.

As mentioned earlier in this post, there’s more to come from Penang – have a question about this popular destination in Malaysia? Ask away in the comments below, as I’ve visited the island twice over the past six years.

Photo: buying pork products in a majority Muslim country

In many parts of Malaysia, pork and other goods deemed as haram (forbidden) by Islam can be hard to come by, as many places outside of the cities are majority Muslim regions.

In deference to those that are Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or agnostic/atheist though, stores in these parts of the country often have a dusty shelf towards the back where devilishly delicious pork products and other forbidden goodies can be bought.

Another random fact: these stores have to have at least one person on staff at all times who is not a Muslim to handle these purchases when they are brought to the checkout, as the ones that are are not permitted to even handle these products, much less consume them. Malaysia is a very interesting country to say the least!

My First Full Year As A Digital Nomad: 2014 In Pictures

photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr image credit: photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr

Well, we’re halfway through January, but with all the freelance work I’ve been bashing my way through, this year in review had to wait for awhile.  In many ways, 2014 was defined by the growth of my mobile business, which caused this blog to be neglected at times ( Mama’s been busy, but I still love you all … sorry!).

In true digital nomad fashion though, I managed to get in tons of travel between the ever frequent 12 hour work days (the less glamorous aspect of the trade), starting in Chiang Mai, Thailand on New Year’s Day and progressing through Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico and Belize.

I’m currently writing this from Guatemala, which is where I traveled to on New Year’s Day, and looking back over the past year, it was another tumultuous ride. Let’s dive right into yet another 2014 in pictures post, shall we?

January

I began my year in Chiang Mai with one final month on my apartment lease, so I took the opportunity to get out and see parts of the city I hadn’t seen. One of those spots included Warorot Market, a multi-level traditional trading house with everything from hill tribe clothes to weird Thai-Chinese food.

It was at the outer stalls where I picked up the giant blanket and pillow for my bed back in November 2013 … paid 500 baht total (bedding in Thailand is expensive for some reason).

February

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February saw me take to the road again after four months of working to get my business plane off the runway, with the end goal being Bali.  Along the way though, I spent time in Krabi (the awesomeness of Railay Beach cannot be understated) and Koh Lanta before heading to Kuala Lumpur to catch a one-way flight to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.

In the days before my flight though, I had the chance to have a long-awaited reunion with Paul Phillip, a native Malaysian who I went to college with back in Canada from 1998 to 2003. Tiger beers were had, bowls of Hokkien Mee were greedily consumed, and stories exchanged. Can’t wait to hang out with my old buddy again (next winter maybe?)!

March

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Much of March was spent in Indonesia, but not in Bali.  The second half of February was when I explored that island paradise, leaving most of this month for me to make my way across the densely populated, volcano-studded island of Java.

This place sees a trickle of the foreign tourists that visit Bali, and in cities like Surabaya (pictured above), one can experience the real Indonesia, a place that is rough around the edges, but is still a profoundly rewarding place in which to travel.

April

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Arriving back in Canada in late March via British Columbia, I kicked off my time at home by exploring a corner of this gorgeous province that I had never explored before.  Vancouver Island turned out to be all that and more when it came to sublime beauty, with no place exemplifying this principle more than Tonquin Beach in Tofino.

May

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The rest of April was spent in Alberta catching up with friends and family, and skiing/hiking the slopes of Jasper before returning to the Greater Vancouver Area to take up my first housesit acquired through TrustedHouseSitters.

I spent three weeks caring for Cleo the Cat and Emma the Black Lab in the suburb of Surrey while cheering on my Habs through to the Eastern Conference Final. The arrangement had its challenges at times, but I find myself missing my furry roommates even as I type this.  When I get back to Canada, I will definitely be doing this again!

June

After completing my housesitting assignment ended, I began my eastward journey by checking out Whistler, then after another pet sitting date in Calgary finished up, I set out on an epic 54 hour bus ride to Toronto. You don’t want to know how smelly my feet were after that! 😛

Once I got rested up and showered, it just so happened that Toronto was hosting World Pride … camera in hand and ready for a fabulous time, I snagged an awesome spot on Yonge and watched the festivities unfold…

July

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July saw me finally get home after over two years away from Nova Scotia, and it was for a joyous occasion, as I attended the wedding of my little sister Meghan and her vertically endowed partner, Malcolm. Thanks again for two fun-filled days Meg, and congrats!

August

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Once the wedding was over, I spent a full month reconnecting with family back in the Scotia before I set out to continue my world adventures in Latin America.  On August the 21st, I landed in Mexico City, and had my intense fears surrounding the place shattered in a matter of hours.

Anybody with a modicum of street smarts and common sense will be fine here, and with a wealth of museums, fine architecture and modern attractions, nobody on a extended Mexican trip can afford to skip this place.  Set aside at least four days.

September

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While most of September was spent in balmy Puerto Vallarta, the photographic highlight of September occurred early in the month, as the mountainous colonial gem of Guanajuato stole my heart.  This was the first in a series of oustanding historic towns that I’ve seen on my Latin American journey that you all need to see with your own eyes … stay tuned for posts in the new year on these places!

October

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October was defined by a highly controversial story in Mexico where 43 student protesters (or normalistas) were rounded up my police in one of the poorer parts of the country and disappeared.

It came out later that they had been turned over to the cartels and subsequently murdered, touching off mass demonstrations across the nation, with this wall in San Cristobal de la Casas showing the signs of the public’s anger and discontent.

November

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I settled into Playa Del Carmen for most of November and into early December for both work and pleasure, with my parents joining me in one of Mexico’s best resort towns later in this month for some shared vacation time.

The highlight of our time together was our swim and trek through Rio Secreto, which was an enclosed cenote with some of the purest, most effervescent water I’ve ever seen. For those scared of organized tours, go ahead and give this one a go!

December

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The final month of 2014 had me blissing out in Belize, with my time split between Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio.  The above pic comes from a breakfast cafe in CC, where the silky breezes of the Caribbean combined with the eye candy to give me a moment of solace in a year where there have been precious few.

Business is hard and can consume your life occasionally, but it beats not having control of your time, and better you get at running your own affairs, the more it becomes possible to do things that just aren’t possible in a 9-5 career.

Tentative plans for 2015

As far as my business is concerned, I have more freelance work than I can handle at times, so the emphasis will be on improving the quality of work that I accept going forward, and freeing time so that I can work on personal business projects that have been on the back burner in my brain for far too long.

I got an idea journal full of potential websites, products, and so forth just waiting to be acted on … I just have to clear enough slots on my dance card to give them the attention they need to take root and grow.

On the travel side of the coin, the goal is Ushuaia, Argentina.  The bottom of the world.  How or when I get there in 2015 is immaterial. If I can gaze towards Antarctica (the trip to the frozen continent will have to wait, as I don’t have $5,000 laying around at the moment) from the rocky shores of the bottom of the civilized world, standing astride with some penguin friends, my journey will be a complete success.

What are you up to in 2015? Tell us all about it below! 

Malaysian Food in Borneo: Delicious Eats On Gaya Street

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Everywhere you go in Malaysia, one life-changing meal after another can be found in the numerous cafes, food courts and restaurants can be found on the main streets and back alleys of its cities, towns and villages.

While the home of Malaysian society can be found on the Malay Penninsula south of Thailand, the lip-smacking cuisine (such as the claypot chicken and mushrooms with rice dish above) can also be found throughout its holdings on the northern third of Borneo.

Malaysian food in Borneo is taken very seriously, so any foreign tourists that come here expecting a good meal are in for a serious treat!

Being one of its largest cities here, Kota Kinabalu is a natural home to the best of Borneoan cuisine, which is a mix of Indian, Malay, Chinese, and indigenous styles of cooking.

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No matter your preference though, coming in one of these homely places and merely ordering a random dish will likely end with a pleasurable result.

With most meals costing less than $3 USD with drink included, it’s hard to go wrong (especially when you’ve got pork slices slathered in gravy, chicken noodle soup, and a refreshing mug of freshly squeezed pineapple juice sitting before, as it was for me above!)

Photo: A Fine Day At The Floating Mosque, Penang Malaysia

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Penang Malaysia is often a curious blend of the old and the new, with soaring condo developments overshadowing Chinese shophouses, food carts and establishments that crank out time-tested recipes, and ornately designed temples and mosques that testify to the faith of those that live on this lively and industrious island in the tropics.

Of the latter, the mosque with the most inspired architecture on Penang is none other than the Floating Mosque.  Located around the northeast corner of the island, it stretches out into a shallow bay, blending in with the surrounding landscape, yet standing out in its own special way.

If you do visit this landmark and wish to venture inside, don’t be like me and throw on a pair of shorts, which bars you entry. Instead,  don a pair of pants and a shirt with sleeves, which properly respects the cultural mores of the devout, and see this fabulous place from the inside and the view from its incredible deck out back.  I was not able to access it due to my dress that day, which limited me to just a single photo of its exterior.

Photo: Tropical Dream Sequence in Malaysian Borneo

View from islands off Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

While most people travel to Kota Kinabalu only to continue on to climb one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia (Mount Kinabalu), lovers of tropical beach paradises take note: there are some idyllic hideaways lying just offshore of this frontier city in Malaysian Borneo.

Head to Jesselton Pier and purchase a ticket to one of the islands that comprise Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which is a chain of coral islands that lie mere kilometres away from the core of downtown KK.

The one pictured above is Palau Manukan, but there are four other isles to choose from, with Manukan being the most popular, Sulug being completely undeveloped, and Gaya having resorts where you can stay overnight.

The water is unreal, and the SCUBA diving is supposedly quite good for being so close to a big city, so be sure to spend a day here if you’re traveling to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

Photo: Fruit Market in Penang, Malaysia

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When traveling through Southeast Asia, access to food is rarely a concern.  Convenience stores, food carts, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants abound everywhere you go, leading to an unexpected conundrum: instead wondering if you’ll be able to find good food, you’ll be debating just where you’re going to have one of an endless variety of meals to satisfy your hunger.

Another option to add to the list: the fruit market.  The tropics offers a cornucopia of fruits (many of which look exotic and intriguing) to choose from, and even if you’re aren’t jonesing for a snack like I wasn’t at the time I took this photo, it makes for a colourful shot to add to your trip photo album!

My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days.  This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.

I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea.  I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.

Well, that’s cool.  But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway?  On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!

January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this.  Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.

As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead.  All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!

February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job?  Time To Go Skiing!

After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past.  While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.

Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do?  Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there!  Sick times.  Want to see more?  Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!

March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”.  While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.

During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico.  During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.

In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB!  I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul.  WHOO-HOO!

April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system.  As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”.  There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).

Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!

May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea

Rooftop view, Baebang, Korea

After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here.  The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.

For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).

Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend.  Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t.  So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>

Whew… I’m almost never like that.  Sorry guys.  Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine.  And go public, not private.  More on that in a second…!

June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s

Daecheon Beach, Korea

OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right?  I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world.  Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach!  Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.

If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs.  Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style!  I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!

Korean BBQ in Korea

Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ).  I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.

Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers.  When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!

July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.

My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city.  From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet).  As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂

August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…

Word of wisdom, Korea

I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August.  After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.

With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move.  After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand.  For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching.  Totally burnt out.  I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.

As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity.  A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it.  At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…

September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia.  I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die.  If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily.  It’s that good guys, for serious!

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From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next.  Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!

October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here.  Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!

November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious.  Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included.  Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month.  Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that!  On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all.  Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!

December 2013 – Catching Fire

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month.  Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that.  I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.

All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂

How did the past year treat you?  Regale us with your tales in the comments!