On my way home to...

1. Thailand / 2. Turkey / 3. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan / 4. Los Angeles, Scotland and Ireland /
5. India / 6. Thailand (Chiang Mai) / 7. Cambodia / 8. Vietnam / 9. China /
10. And finally, HOME!

To: Thailand
Fun in Thailand
There were many opportunities for me to travel during my Peace Corps service. Thailand was always a popular location for all PCVs - only $170 round trip, and no visa requirements. Cheap travels, warm weather, and good food were all draws, and I took full advantage of all three. The first vacation was in March 2004: I decided to meet my parents in Bangkok, and then spend a week with them on Phuket island in the south. Dad planned the whole thing, of course, and we had a good time seeing the sights, scuba diving, boating to beautiful islands and snorkeling almost every day. Of course it was good to see them and tell them things that I couldn't write in any e-mails or letters about how things really were in T-stan.  I also got to meet up with my good friend, Riss, from elementary school who was doing short-term missions in Thailand.  

Thailand Bliss

I couldn't resist not having a Big Mac during my first trip out of the country (six months after leaving the US). My parents were of course very gracious to accommodate my cravings.

To: Turkey
My next vacation was to Turkey, my favorite trip during my service. For two weeks, I traveled around with my parents, and two other close family friends - Uncle Dick and Auntie Eva. We had a blast touring Istanbul, celebrating Ramadan with the locals, being swept up by all the activity in the Grand Bazaar, the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia. We then flew to Cappadoccia in the western-central part of the country to hike around the interesting land formations, take a hot air balloon ride, and explore the cave churches built by persecuted Christians shortly after Christ's death.

Lift offSunrise
Library of CelsusPamukkale

Here we're standing in front of the Library of Celsus in the ancient city of Ephes. We also saw the hot springs at Pamukkale, a natural wonder negatively affected by a burgeoning tourist industry that is diverting the springs into luxury spas and Turkish baths.

To: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
I was also lucky enough to travel through Central Asia with some fellow PCVs and my cousin, Peter, whose friend from college happened to be the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Turkmenistan. We went to Almaty in Kazakhstan, and then traveled to Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara in Uzbekistan after bypassing Kyrgyzstan (where a very inconvenient revolution had just started). The picture above is of the madrasa in Samarkand. The Muslim tile work and architecture was breathtaking, in more ways than one...

tilesPeter and I
Peter came back to the states with more than just crazy stories about crossing the Uzbek/Turkmen border with my limited Turkmen language skills. He also took some great pictures of the highly advanced geometric tile patterns found on the many Muslim buildings we saw; with some follow-up research and visual analysis, he concluded that Muslim mathematicians and architects applied these complex geometric patterns hundreds of years before Western scholars re-discovered and understood them.

To: Los Angeles, Scotland and Ireland
Josh and StefFamily
I had the wonderful opportunity to surprise my cousin at his wedding in Los Angeles, CA, during the summer of 2005. On my way back east to Turkmenistan, I stopped in Scotland and Ireland where I toured the countries with family and friends from home. Both places are two of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, and I could not have had enjoyed it more than with the present company.

Fun in Scotland and Ireland

To: India
Golden Temple Finally, after my official COS (Close of Service), I skipped across southern and southeastern Asia on my way home. First stop: Amritsar in Northern India. My friend, Elynn, and I tried to carry as little as possible to go to as many places possible. This picture (on left) is of the Golden Temple, a sacred pilgrimage site for Sikhs; here, all travelers can stay within the temple walls for a nominal fee (we slept on rough wooden beds in an airy courtyard). There, the rich served the poor by cleaning the temple and operating a 24-hour canteen where natives and foreigners alike could eat their fill of rice and lentils.
After a trip up to McLeod Ganj in Northern India where the Dali Lama is in exile, Elynn and I took a harrowing bus and train ride to one of the wonders of the world - the Taj Mahal (on right). Too bad we got there when it was sunset and none of our pictures turned out very well, but it was certainly an awe-inspiring site that no words or pictures can describe sufficiently (I've promised myself that I will return). the Taj
Photos by Sarah Francis

To: Thailand (Chiang Mai)
Elynn and I on the Trail
Next stop: Thailand (again), this time, the northern city of Chiang Mai where we went on a 3-day hike, rode elephants, ate ourselves silly, toured a Buddhist temple in the clouds, and got an invigorating Thai message. I highly recommend Thailand for anybody who wants an easy and cheap vacation to some place beautiful, relaxing, and fun!

To: Cambodia
Angkor Wat
From Thailand, we made the fool-hardy decision to take the bus from Bangkok to Siem Riep, Cambodia, the tourist town nearest to Angkor Wat (pictured above). We had heard stories about the vastness of the temple complex, the beautiful intricate carvings, and the eerie atmosphere created by the deserted structures consumed by the jungle- all of which are larger than life. Angkor Tom, pictured below (right), is famous for the mysterious faces showing sublime peace and enlightenment common in the Khmer religion.

Angkor Wat Temple Complex

To: Vietnam
SaigonMekong DeltaHalong Bay
From Ankor Wat, we traveled to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where we had a day to explore the remains of the destructive regime of the Khmer Rouge. We would have liked to leave for Vietnam earlier, but it took an extra day for us to get our visas. Vietnam is an amazingly rich and diverse place where motor bikes and young lovers occupy the public spaces of Saigon, the tourist trade dominates the Mekong Delta, the beaches of Moi Nei rival those in Thailand, and Halong Bay near Hanoi inspires artists the world over (as well as all who can afford multi-day boat cruises.)

To: China
Lazy RiverThe BuntHuangShan
The last stop on my journey home was China. I met up with my dad and brother in Hong Kong where my dad showed us where he and my mom grew up, went to school, and attended church. We crossed into China by train to explore the rivers and land formations around Guilin and YangShuo. From there, we flew to Shanghai where we experienced China's exponential growth first hand. Shanghai was our jumping off point to SuZhou, HuangZhou and HuangShan. We felt like we fell into an old scroll painting, watching poetry form on the rocks and the water.

The time I spent with my dad and brother was the best form of decompression and distraction after ending my Peace Corps service. While submerging myself in the Chinese culture, I saw my heritage in a completely new way. Listening to my dad's poignant comments about the changing countryside and developing villages, his translations of Chinese poetry and stories from local tour guides, all while exploring beautiful land and city scapes with my closest sibling was absolutely priceless (nothing beats climbing up snowy Huang Shan mountain with our luggage after the tram stopped running). I will love going back and studying more of the language, history, and culture so I will be able to appreciate an ancient yet ever-changing land and people.

Dragon Screen
The best place to end our epic journey was with my cousin, Cynthia, and her husband, Ray, who live and work in Beijing. Though it was very cold, we shared many days exploring the city, eating good food, sharing stories, putting up their Christmas tree, visiting friends, laughing, and crying, sometimes at the same time. I spent a few days in San Francisco with some old friends and family, then finally arrived in West Chester on Friday, December 17, 2005. After being away for a little over 27 months, I was so glad to be home.

To: Home
VA BeachBaby Brandon
Our family vacation to Virginia Beach was the first in a long, long time. It was fun getting to know my nephew, Nathan, and spoiling him as a goo-goo (affectionate term for aunt). And now I can do it two times over! Oh the joy of seeing my second nephew, Brandon!

At Home

Since coming home, I have lived and worked in Washington, DC, taken many trips to Longwood Gardens and Disneyworld, a trip to Spain, the Pacific Northwest, and New York City (where I live and go to school presently). It goes without saying that I appreciate my life opportunities more now, especially with so many loving friends and family. God's been good to me and true to His promises, that I don't have to be afraid, He has plans for me, and He will be with me wherever I go.

Fun with space
School teachers
Abadan in the cotton Thailand water and sun

Click here to go back to the index page.

Click here for additional resources about Turkmenistan and my Peace Corps experience.