Traveling back "Home"

Home: a vital sensitive core


Table of Content:

  1. What is “Home”?

  2. Quick recaps of time in Indonesia, Vietnam, Tokyo, Honolulu, Houston, and New Orleans

  3. Finally settled back in Wyoming (for now)

Jakarta, Indonesia with President Jokowi

Quick Recap in Indonesia:

  • Departed for my Fulbright grant in Indonesia
    Sept 2017-Sept 2018

  • Research site:

    Wakatobi National Park

  • Moved 7 times.

  • Lived in 4 cities: Jakarta, Semarang, Salatiga, &

  • Scuba Diving Heaven &
    Logged more than 40 dives

  • Certified Rescue Diver & Science of Diving Certification

  • Certified low-intermediate in reading, writing, and speaking Indonesian

  • Forever friends, who taught me Indonesian slang & ways of life

  • Gained like 10 pounds thanks to all the delicious deep fried foods and ice cream

Vũng Tàu, Vietnam

me & my kindred spirited grandma

Quick recap in Vietnam

  • Sept 2018 - Dec 2018 (3 months)

  • Lived in Saigon (HCMC) & Vũng Tàu

  • Spent time getting to know my dad’s side of the family in his home town of Vũng Tàu

    Discovered my grandma and I are kindred spirits

  • Scuba Diving in Phú Quốc

  • Logged 7 dives

  • Surprisingly a lot of coral

  • Saw my first ever cuttlefish (they’re huge!)

  • Wyoming family came to visit

  • Completed Vietnamese language classes

  • Learned to drive a scooter in crazy Vietnam traffic

  • Met up with friends from Denver

  • Gained 5 pounds thanks to all the delicious, non-stop eating and napping.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

Official flight back home:


  • Durian binge before flight = stomach ache on the plane & puke right before landing.

  • 13 hour layover in Tokyo

  • Spent 3 hours sleeping in the airport first

  • I felt so sick & tired. I almost didn’t go out of the airport because of thought induced anxiety about my baggage, getting lost, not knowing the language, etc.

  • Took me almost 1 hour to convince myself to JUST GO!

  • Japan is known for their planners, so I set out to an IG recommended stationary store: Tokyo Hands

  • Quickly found a place to exchange money, luggage storage, and the train ticket and station I needed to go to. (loved this part about travel) Kinda like
    problem solving with no idea how to do it except intuition & confidence guiding me.

  • Re-ignited my love for travel

  • The sights, sounds, smells, and inherent excitement for new experiences

  • Spent 3 hours walking around Shinjuku and bought the most perfect planner.

  • Spent 2 hours traveling on the train and loved every minute of it.

  • Thank You Japan for the new experiences. Now, please re-join the International Whaling Commission IWC and stop killing whales and dolphins. Thanks.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu for Christmas Eve

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Quick Recap in Honolulu

  • 13 hour layover

  • Easily found the bus to Waikiki

  • Spent the day soaking up the sun

  • Reunion with college friends

  • Drove to lookout point in pic above

  • Ate local poke from the local grocery store

  • Inspired by my friend that Hawaii is totally
    an achievable dream

  • Found my new goal/ HOME

Houston, Texas, USA

Houston, Texas, USA

Houston for Christmas


Quick Recap in Houston

  • One month in Houston

  • Upon landing, skin immediately flaked and shriveled up because of change in latitude. (I am genetically made for equatorial climate)

    Quality time with Mom’s side of the family

  • Grocery stores in the U.S. are excessive

  • ALL US big box stores are excessive.

  • Forgot basic driving rules of the U.S.

  • Watched Ralph break the internet and it rocked my world because the main character struggled with finding her place of belonging and her home & being away from family #SOML

  • Ate all the delicious food: matcha soft serve, grilled oysters, crawfish, food truck tacos, macaroon ice cream, wedge salad, potato chips, banana foster soufflé, Whole Food’s famous TTLA (tempeh, tomato, lettuce, avocado) vegansandwich, sushi burrito, etc.

  • Quick 2 days solo road trip to Austin & ate the infamous Impossible burger (VEGAN burger)

Louisiana New Orleans crawfish.jpg

Quick Recap in New Orleans

  • Wedding of a dear big brother of mines

  • Visited more of my dad’s side of the family

    Spent time with my
    day 1 cousins

  • Ate at my favorite sushi place in the whole wide world: Mikimoto

  • Forgot that places in New Orleans like Target can sell liquor, beer, and wine!

  • Celebrated New Years 2019 in NOLA with family and friends

NOLA family

Casper, Wyoming

Casper, Wyoming

Finally settled in Wyoming in February 2019

wyHOMEing: Live and Let Live


The state’s motto: Live and let live. Eight years in Wyoming and it always feels cozy to come back to the frozen, tundra like state. Winters here are tough and it has definitely made me a stronger person because of it. Without this beautiful place and space, I wouldn’t have had all the travel adventures in the books. I find myself complaining less and less about the snow and 60+ mph winds. I truly love this state and the people I’ve met while living here. It’s been a place that keeps me balanced and grounded.

Back home and taking care of business

  • Being a good Vietnamese daughter doing first generation tasks like: finding care insurance for the family, dealing with medical bills, cleaning up health insurance mix ups, picking up lil brother from school, calling up Verizon for bill related issues, learning to set up about investments and IRAs, YA KNOW….

  • Applying for ANY & ALL environmental & conservation positions

  • Getting back to fitness, health, and well-being

  • Braces

  • Marie Kondo-ing all of my belongings

  • Hustling and saving for my next adventure

Being settled into my own space and having my own car are the two biggest joys in my life. The feeling of independence and control over my life are things I do not take for granted. Honestly, now that I’m back I realized I needed to come back. Wyoming still has a lot to teach me in terms of emotional, spiritual, and mental growth. (that’s for the next blog post)

Wyoming will blow you away


As you can see, I have many places I call “home”. It’s a feeling rather than a specific physical boundary of space. The various cities in Indonesia, Vietnam, Houston, New Orleans, Laramie, Casper….all places I’ve called home. Each home has had a profound impact on my life. I also lived in Singapore for about 5 months. (it was the highlight of my life/best decision I’ve ever made). No matter where I am, life has been so full of excitement and energy. It ebbs and flows. Right now, being back in Wyoming is a time to take a breath and focus on myself in a settled place. Decision making for things such as place to live or how I am going to get where I need to go, has been a huge weight off my shoulders. I am more grounded to focus on manifesting the next adventure.

Although I am not traveling at the moment,

Life has been the
greatest adventure yet!

Where are you from?

Where are you from?

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Teton County, Wyoming, USA

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Teton County, Wyoming, USA

Home is a complicated word for me. There’s that quote: “Home is where the heart is” “Home is where your family is” blah blah blah….. New Orleans, Houston, Wyoming, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia - all have comforts, nostalgic memories, and an ever lasting impression on the person I am today. I’ve relocated so many times, no wonder I thrive in instability. Moving and traveling so often has significantly developed my abilities to be imaginative and do the best I can with what I have.

My ancestral roots are in Vietnam. I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA, but I don’t know much about the tourist perception/experience about New Orleans. I started high school in 9th ward New Orleans, but (if you know anything about NOLA public schools) I didn’t do too well…..Then mom moved us to Gulfport, MS for high school. After Hurricane Katrina, mom moved us to Houston. I started college in Texas, but fell into the life of vanity, brand names, clothes, clubs, and alcohol. I quit college because I was disillusioned with the idea that working 3 jobs and making money was more fun and important than sitting in a college class. After 3 years in Houston and some traumatic mess, the universe drew me into Wyoming. The University of Wyoming is the only university in the entire state. Coming from below sea level to 7220ft was a disturbing cultural and physical shock. The universe blessed me with the most incredible academic advisor who I visited weekly to complain about all things Wyoming. I am genetically made for heat and humidity. She brought up the opportunity to study abroad in Asia, so I did. Singapore was my home. The perfect country to get my feet wet into Southeast Asia and experience life where I am not the token Asian. Singapore was literally the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. [next to: moving to Wyoming because without Wyoming, I wouldn’t have known about Singapore]. Lastly, during grad school….I fell in love with the idea of studying local perception of marine conservation. Thus, falling in love with all things Indonesia because it was the heart of the Coral Triangle. I spent the last 3 years studying, reading, talking, learning, all things Indonesia. I’ve made at least 5 separate trips to #wonderfulIndonesia.

So when people ask where are you from?….I assess the situation. Ask “what do you mean by that?” because people want to put me into a box or more like know what kinda Asian I am….I usually start with “MY PARENTS are from Vietnam, and I was born in New Orleans”. Then, end the conversation by walking away. Other times, I love playing a guessing game, so people understand how silly they are for asking such an impersonal question.

2019 Sustainable travel, marine conservation, and cultural immersion

In 2019, I will focus on publishing more about marine conservation, sustainable travel tips, and cultural experiences I’ve had traveling. These are topics that excite me and easy for me to write about. As I settle into this next chapter, I want to share more about my passion for the ocean, sustainable traveling, and connecting with people.

Blue Starfish Wakatobi

Yall should know by now, I LOVE SCUBA DIVING.

Most of my travels has been specifically to go scuba diving. The entire process is electrifying for me. From waking up at 6am, gearing up, log rolling into the water, swimming through the schools of fish, and everything in between….right up until I lay my head down to sleep because of pure exhaustion. All of it excites my soul.

Countries I’ve scuba dived:

  • Malaysia (PADI - Open Water Certification)

  • Philippines

  • Indonesia (PADI - Advanced Open Water Certification & SSI - Rescue Diver Certification)

  • Thailand

  • Belize

  • Vietnam

With the exception of Belize & scuba diving in the pool tank at Epcot DisneyWorld…. majority of my hours underwater has been in Southeast Asia. *disclaimer I am biased* BUT…. they don’t call it the Coral Triangle for nothing. Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia, has some of the most pristine, untouched coral reefs in the world. From endless swaying field of soft coral to the multiple giant manta rays feeding in strong currents. The Coral Triangle has it all.

Coral Wakatobi

The Coral Triangle has been on my radar, since I started watching National Geographic and BBC’s Blue Planet as a kid. (shoutout to my dad for mixing in animal documentaries in between Rugrats & Disney movie). Extensive research has been done about the coral triangle, yet we know more about the moon than we do about our oceans. Despite the billions (USD) in charity, NGOs, and conservation programs, the ocean still needs more attention and care. Covering more than 70% of our planet, our ocean is the most important ecosystem. It regulates our climate, the air we breathe, and the food in your fridge.

World Wildlife Fund For Nature: Coral Triangle

World Wildlife Fund For Nature: Coral Triangle

For my master’s thesis, I looked for topics I truly cared about because the next 2 years would have been painful if I didn’t. So much thanks to my advisor for reminding me how much I love scuba diving. I found research articles and countless authors who wrote about marine conservation, marine protected areas, and sustainability, BUT something was missing….the perspective of fishers! As a social scientist, I wondered why wasn’t there more research done with fishers as the main voice of these marine protected areas?

Fast forward to finishing my thesis…I was awarded a Fulbright grant to continue my research in my dream location: Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia

2018 I spent the year in Indonesia doing research about marine protected areas from a social scientist lens. Given my ancestral background, many asked why I didn’t choose Vietnam. Well, I have a love for scuba diving and research. Indonesia is arguably in the heart of the coral triangle. So, WHY NOT combine my love for scuba and research in the heart of the Coral Triangle?!

WWF: Coral Triangle

WWF: Coral Triangle

There are endless reasons why the Coral Triangle is significantly important. Personally, I want to scuba dive with whales and sharks. Morally, because it’s the right thing to do and balancing nature and people for future generations to enjoy beyond watching BBC and National Geographic documentaries.

18 Countries and Counting...

People always ask if I am traveling alone? aren’t you scared? What if something goes wrong?

My response: “Yes, I’m alone. What should I be scared of? What if nothing goes wrong?”

My first travel experience was in 2012. Singapore. It was the perfect place to get my feet wet. Very Asian, yet modern and western enough to not totally put me into an uncomfortable shock. Since then, I’ve been bitten my the travel bug and found soulful comfort in traveling.

I thrive in being in new places. The sights, the sounds, the people all awaken my senses that is inexplicable. There is a laser like focus and oneness with the universe when I travel. The unknown does not scare me. Similar to the vast ocean when I scuba dive, there is a magnetic energy that draws me into the depths of the sea, rhythms of life, and new experiences.


List of countries I’ve visited:

  • Vietnam

  • Singapore

  • Malaysia

  • Indonesia

  • Thailand

  • Philippines

  • Hong Kong

  • Macau

  • Canada

  • Mexico

  • Belize

  • Costa Rica

  • Spain (Canary Islands)

  • England

  • Wales

  • Scotland

  • Netherlands

  • Japan

*Disclaimer - I am no expert on any of the above countries. No travel blogger is unless they’re born and raised in said country.

What I do know

Each country brought me to a new level of thinking and being. Although being born and raised in the U.S., international travel exposes me to new cultures, senses, and rhythms of life. There’s excitement, thrills, and so much more to awaken that instinctive human nature: curiosity.

Here’s to endless travels and next level successes in 2019.

Never stop learning. Give into curiosity.


November 2018 Update

Vũng Tàu, Viet Nam

Officially done with my Fulbright grant in Indonesia & I made another big move.

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 7.43.21 PM.png

Officially a little over a month in Viet Nam. I spent nearly 3 weeks in Sai Gon, and that ish was expensive! So…I made another move/ settled in Vung Tau. The birthplace of my father and still home to many of my fambam. There's so much rich, personal history in this coastal city. 

Vung Tau is about 1 hour south of Ho Chi Minh City. Tourism is booming, oil is pumping, and a gigantic Jesus and Mary statues are said to be protecting the city. There's an interesting dynamic going on in Viet Nam…a distinctive migration of old,"western" men and the ever-entrepreneurial spirited Vietnamese citizenry. 


My family lives (in what we would call in the US) the not-so-glamorous ‘suburbs’. Twenty minutes from the beach/city area, it almost feels like a gentrification scheme. This city has developed into a full on tourist destination for locals and internationals alike. When I came here back in the early 2000s, It was not this developed and I definitely did not see any white folks. Now, it's a different story. I've seen handful of white women, but most white men lurking the bars and riding motorcycles. The Korean super store Lotte Mart even has signs in Russian.


Sometimes I think I could totally go back into the service industry and make a ton of money. There's so many hotels, bars, english learning centers, etc…. where I could totally thrive and make a decent living. 

But, I know I have higher calling. I'll just have to get creative and transfer those hospitality skills into the non-profit conservation field. 

Thanks for reading this & your patience with the delays. ♥️ allsmilesThao

3 lessons after one year in Indonesia

MACAN Museum


Indonesia has this societal normality of “Jam Karet” or "rubber time”. As a Vietnamese-American, punctuality and a sense of urgency has been engrained since birth. I spent a total of about 4 months of waiting around for bureaucracy red tape, gojek drivers, research counterparts, and everyone in between. I quickly got over this and adopted a “C'est la vie”. Otherwise, I would be one miserable human.

Also….I met a boy. 😊 He’s Javanese-Indonesian meaning: he’s super polite, passive aggressive, and has one of the kindest hearts I’ve ever met. He knows 7 different languages. His first language is Javanese, which has at least 3 hierarchical levels using different vocabulary given to social context, Indonesian, Japanese, Arabic, and English. English was his weakest, so we had a hard time communicating the first month we met. Luckily, Fulbright - Critical Language Enhancement Award granted me 3 months of language studies. One of the best ways to learn a language is to get a boyfriend/girlfriend. This took a lot of patience between us because language, norms, and personalities were coming from vastly different upbringings.

After the 10 month mark in Indonesia, he mentioned, “You are so much more patient than when I first met you”. *LIGHTBLUB* I am more patient because I’ve learned to let go of things I cannot control. I’ve become more aware of my energy and decided to focus it more inward rather than upon others.



Learning a new language means, asking questions that might make you feel embarrassed. I was so nervous when trying out my Indonesian for the first time. Here’s the lesson of patience with a dose of bravery.

For the first two weeks of my language course I ate at the same place every single day for nearly every meal.

My language program had a serious rule of no use of English after the introduction day. Since I couldn’t talk to anyone at the learning center, I went directly home without talking to anyone. However, that forced me out to meet others on my own. I ended up meeting with one of the janitors at the canteen on campus. He knew some English and his wife made the best mie ayam in the canteen. He noticed I was lost and just told me to eat noodles, so I hung out with him and his wife for lunch everyday for 2 weeks. As I get older, I feel like I am becoming more introverted. But when it comes to language, I learned to just try, even if I end up looking silly. Indonesians I’ve met chuckle, but in the most heart warming way that it didn’t feel ashamed for making a mistake.

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-27 at 10.25.40 AM.jpeg

Setting boundaries & Respecting myself

After living with other people for the sake of trying to stretch my grant money, I realized that investing in my own space is vital to my mental health. If you ever decide to live abroad: be sure you have a space to recharge your energy. Not having a place where I didn’t control what I wore, what I ate, or how I acted created a lot of tension for everyone around me. I began to feel depressed and oppressed.

When your basic needs are not being taken care of, it was hard to focus on anything else and research was not as productive as it could have been. Thus, I set boundaries for myself in regards to how others operate. For example, if I know this particular person tends to not be focused on only one task and gets easily distracted, I bring a book because I know I’ll be waiting for that person to finish their task.

Being polite to you, meant disrespecting myself. I was so worried about other people’s feelings and cultural politeness that my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health drastically degraded. There’s a fine line between the two. I am constantly worried about being a proper guest in this country.

FINALLY, I found the win-win solution. Invest in a sanctuary space where I can recharge and be myself. Only then I realized once I stepped outside, I can be grounded with an appreciative awareness in how Indonesia moves and operates.

Small wins & planting seeds


A Proud Moment for Myself

I've been more active on IG and following a ton of new people. AsianAmerican creators, underwater photographers, WOC travel bloggers, POC outdoors, etc. WHY? Because I am curating a support system that reminds me that I my voice is needed and I'm not alone in this journey to change the mainstream.

One day I decided to message a fellow IG shark lover who's making a documentary about shark finning in Indonesia. We are on the same page. Shark Finning needs to stop. I am an environmentalist too. I love the ocean and all the scary cool creatures in it. 


May 25th After seeing a brown Asian girl next to a dead shark..... Here was my message to the storyteller: " I agree with your message. I'm an environmentalist, avid scuba diver, etc. This also happens to be one of my favorite sharks that I've never seen in the wild yet. On the other hand, can we talk about this photo? I feel like it shames low income brown skinned Asians, who as you imply do not have awareness about sharks.... I feel like low/middle income countires get a lot of blame/ shamed for doing the best they can with the resources they have."

Her response: " Hello I can understand why it maybe seem that way (even though you're the only person so far who got that impression from the photo) but it's clear to me you haven't seen any of my work or messages, or posts, because if you had you'd know I have more respect for the fishermen here than my own country. The awareness I'm referring to is for the first world people buying products from this trade...which is why I'm advertising tickets for a film in which that fishery is featured"

My response: " Sorry for seeming hostile or if it seems like I was attacking you. That was not my intention and was hoping to invite you into a conversation about southeast Asian countries an their citizens being misunderstood and blamed for the shark trade industry. Which we both agree started because of the demand from western countries. 

I am probably the only person to say this because eco-colonialism is still an underresearched topic and not mainstream.

If the message you want to convery is targeted at westerners who buy the product, then I think a picture of people who buy the products or people having the products in their house as decoration would suffice rather than the same/over used/ typical Asian child to illustrate your message"

FAST FOWARD to June 7th. SHE GOT THE MESSAGE and posted about how fishers here in Indonesia. It's their livelihood, food, their ancestors' work, etc. A light bulb went off. (FINALLY) She also posted Americans in Florida taking a HUGE shark out of the ocean for entertainment. 

She never replied to my last message, but she got the message.....that's all that matters.

THE POINT of all this:

I successfully planted a seed. 

Someone on IG with over 100k followers which includes literally all the people I admire for their shark and conservation work (Sea Shepherd, PADI, Coral Triangle Center, Subadiver Life) has FINALLY understands. She has now realized that social justice and true representation of the problem needs to be shifted.

It's all too easy & inadequate to blame/showcase Southeast Asians as the problem for shark finning industry. BUT let's be real. We need to target the ones who are making thousands of dollars off of the basically slave labor of fishers. 

People are now commenting and applauding her for her social justice attitude now. You're welcome my friend. You're welcome. 

I may not be the one making a profound documentary, but I made the shift from targeting low-income brown skinned Asians. 

And with that I am proud of my voice.


How the Scuba Life Chose Me?


The story begins with the typical childhood experience watching the Discovery Channel with my dad. We would snuggle on the couch while watching all the animal and nature shows. Our favorite is big cats: cheetahs, lions, leopards...

The not-so-typical child Thao also remembers talking to plants, eating flowers that tasted like pickles, and petting green waxy leaves from a plant while standing on a giant ant mound. My dad had to remind me about the hospital visit because I learned to blackout that memory (something I am fortunate/unfortunately really good at doing)

Then the 90s came about and my parents bought us a computer and one of those giant boxed TV that was taller 3ft. More time in doors meant that my melanin skin lost it's golden brown color and my legs were healed from all the Louisiana mosquito bites. 

Although life threw me for a whirl wind during my teenage years, high school still gave me a chance to take biology, aquatic science, and zoology. People are still shocked that I've never taken chemistry, physics, trigonometry, human anatomy, etc. My interest was anchored in environment and animal sciences. 

I started college as an English major because I loved writing. I've been journaling since 3rd grade. I still have some of the notes that were passed between my friends and I during middle school. S/O to all my Lake Castle homies. Learning grammar, sentence structure, and typing up my english notes to put into sheet protectors was my favorite past time. 

Then life took another sharp right turn and I moved to Wyoming to finish out the rest of my undergrad life. I changed my major to political science. I rather learn about the rules and institutions that dictate our lives than learning how to decipher poetry by dead white poets. 

Wyoming is a rough and tough western state. My first year in Wyoming included -50 degree F for 3 consecutive days, and I still had to walk to class. So, the following year I packed my bags and scraped enough scholarships and loans to go study abroad in Singapore for 5 months. 

In Singapore, I met an awesome Canadian who invited me to go scuba diving in Malaysia with a group of 10 other study abroad students. *When life presents opportunities like this, don't hesitate.* I instantly said YES. There was no prior thought that this would be the hobby that turns into my life's calling.

Scuba diving in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia made me fall in love with my Southeast Asian-ness even more. I finally felt like I belonged. Never felt like the outsider....until I had speak. Then, my very American accent and isms would expose my uniqueness. 

Finished college 2 years later and was craving to get back into the water. I worked as a server & bartender to get enough money to 1. pay off some student loans 2. visit my European friends I met in Singapore 3. my first solo trip to Belize. Two weeks in London, Amsterdam, Scotland, and Wales visiting friends made traveling alone not so scary. *i didnt even see it as being alone because I was just traveling alone until i met up with my friends* Separate blog post coming soon.

Back to work slinging dranks and steaks, I was still craving to get back underwater. Unfortunately, my friends from Texas and Colorado would rather go snow boarding because you don't need a certification to just rent a board and buy a lift ticket. I've always wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef, but AUS seemed too far away. I found the 2nd biggest coral reef and it was much closer to the US than I thought. You better BELIZE it. Belize has coral reefs, the Blue Hole atoll, and Whale Sharks! I joined because they have a feature to set price alerts for any destination. At midnight, I saw a sale for Belize and put that plane ticket on my Chase United credit card. I didn't even think about it being my first solo adventure until all my bar guest asked: Who are you going with? Do you know anyone there?..... I gave it no 2nd thought. Placencia was the only place that offered Whale Sharks and the Blue Hole trips. They arranged my domestic flights, airport transfers, and hotel stay. The perfect first time solo female adventurer trip ever.

After making my seemingly out of reach dream of scuba diving and seeing whale sharks in Belize, I felt like I could do anything. Scuba diving was my calling, my purpose, my love. 

As much as I love scuba, I also love school. I went back to the University of Wyoming to get a master's degree in political science and environment&natural resources. IOW, I wanted to know how government and policy shape human behavior and the marine environment. I chose Indonesia because it is a democracy with one of the world's most biodiverse marine ecosystems. Indonesia has 7 national marine parks. Karimunjawa National Park consist of 27 islands, but rarely ever makes it onto a map of Indonesia. I wanted to know the fisher's and local businesses perception of their cooperative-management. Turns out public participation isn't as high as most other documents would like you to believe. 

Fast forward to 2017, I graduated with my MA and a Fulbright US Student Researcher grant to go BACK to Indonesia. 

Currently still in Indonesia with only 3 months to go. Now, I am researching cooperative management in terms the President's tourism policy, choosing Wakatobi National Park as one of the new top ten Indonesian tourism destinations. While also gaining more confidence with practicing my scuba diving skills.

Wakatobi National Park, Souteast Sulawesi, Indonesia

PIRATES - they're real

Watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3 like a hundred times, is nothing compared to hearing about piracy stories from someone who's lived it. 

Today I met someone who speaks nearly 5 different languages, which includes English and Bahasa Bajo (the local sea gypsies language). He has so many shocking stories about Wakatobi's history, traditional beliefs, and locals who believe in animism. My jaw dropped several times listening to the his stories of piracy happening on this beautiful island only 10 years ago! 

Forget writing an international journal article, I rather write a short story book with stories of black magic, haunted scuba diving sites, and animism. 

Here's a 2018 article about piracy in Southeast Asia -

The sunsetting on a house in the infamous Bajo Mola Village in Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia

A dream come true... Wakatobi National Park

Finally settled into my research site.....Wakatobi National Park in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

After 5 years of reading about the pristine diving here in Wakatobi, I am surprised to find it quite under developed for tourism. Accessibility is quite limited because there's only 3 flights per day and a ferries take longer than 5 hours, sometimes 12 hours....

Unless, you're ultra rich and can afford $300 USD/night at the Wakatobi Dive Resort, which has it's own airport. Let's be clear.... I am not quite there yet, but I'm working on it.

immense pressure & deep unknowns of the sea bring a sense of calm to my soul

immense pressure & deep unknowns of the sea bring a sense of calm to my soul


7 months into the Fulbright research and I finally made it to the research site. For those who have done research, it's the typical Murphy's law situation: waiting 2 months for research permits, serious miscommunications with my research partner, flight delays, scheduling conflicts, etc. It's also taking me a lot longer than I realize to get settled into the place and figure out my life. 

This is my 4th move since I arrived in Indonesia and Wakatobi is drastically different than the previous places. There's no ride hailing apps, not a lot of good places to eat, and no coffee shops with wifi & ac. True paradise?

@akas_wakatobi from Wakatobi Dive Adventures

@akas_wakatobi from Wakatobi Dive Adventures

PARADISE INDEED. I am getting so much experience DIVING NEARLY EVERYDAY. Going to the same site never gets boring. I see something new everyday: snakes, two of my favorite fish, and hundreds of different types of coral. The coral reef's sheer size is always shocking because it makes me feel so small.

Photo credit to @akas_wakatobi at Wakatobi Dive Adventure

Photo credit to @akas_wakatobi at Wakatobi Dive Adventure

Once I figure out the WIFI situation, I will be posting more stories. I want to write about:

1. travel blogs that showcased Wakatobi and sponsored trips by #wonderfulindonesia that were distasteful. It was shocking to see sponsored trips and blog that did not even go into detail or just wrote about how grateful they are now that they've visited people who were poor and happy. *eye roll*

2. Tourism plans for Wakatobi

3. Tourist who are scuba divers, but not conservationalist. For example: trash in the ocean, touching coral, holding on to coral for pictures, etc. 

4. Meeting locals and listening to their stories/opinions about what they want their island to become.

Spending time and money on what you love is not a loss

It has officially been one week since Raja Ampat. I spent a stupid amount of hours for layover and delays, but well worth my dream trip. Although only 4 days of diving, it was soul satisfying to be back underwater. 

I spent nearly 2 days of travel and spent more than I would in a month on food in Indonesia and it was all worth it. When I spend time and money on scuba diving and traveling….I don’t see it as an expense. It’s self-care because this is EXACTLY what I want to do with my life. Until the day one of these nonprofits or NGOs finally hire me for marine conservation, I’ll be hustling to make this my everyday. Just like the friends I met in Raja Ampat, Indonesia!

Since moving to the direction of travel diaries, I wanna write about the conversations I had with a few of the people I met. I like traveling alone especially when scuba diving because I am in control of my schedule and activities. There are days when I want to dive and there are days I want to just lay on the beach. Also, when scuba diving, divers tend to be really friendly and always have a story about diving.

here’s my story from Raja Ampat:


I was inspired by an independent Indonesian woman with a successful scuba diving shop. She is a strong 40 year old woman living the life she intended. Diving everyday is a choice out of pure joy, not financial obligations. She saw Raja Ampat on TV, decided she wanted to go, and 9 years later still living there and running a successful business....the only thing she misses from home is her momma. She talked about how Raja Ampat in prior years had so many whales passing through, but she hasn't seen a whale this year yet. She's had to move her business a couple times, but she possess a non-attachment and ability to pick up and start over attitude that I have too. I felt a sigh of relief for my future when I met her. 

Her business partner has a similar story. He saw Raja Ampat on TV, decided to move from a landlocked city in Java to Bali to learn how to be a scuba diving instructor. He made his way to Raja Ampat and doing exactly what he wanted. 

We had a conversation about Indonesian's body structure and western body structures. Indonesian have a hard time floating, while my Dutch friend and I need 4kg weights to sink. I got a good laugh at Sandy's reenactment of trying to pass the floating test for his scuba license. 

And it's stories like these, which is the main reason for travel. Meeting Indonesians and listening to their stories breaks all the stereotypical images the media portrays.  

This is miniscubaThao. Once I get some super glue for all her pieces, She's going to go scuba diving with me too.

This is miniscubaThao. Once I get some super glue for all her pieces, She's going to go scuba diving with me too.

There's no limit to what you can achieve

When there's a pause or delay, use that time to chase one of the many other dreams you have. I am currently waiting on research permits and official letters to come around. Until then, I just booked the trip of my dreams. Going to where Nat Geo and other documentaries have filmed and I am going to experiences these places with my own eyes. Raja Ampat, here I come. 

rj di r4

beauty beyond measure

a friend who inspires me to chase my wildest dreams @raymondjakub

Travel Bloggin is so d*mn pretentious

Searching and reading a bunch of these "travel blogs" have been quite boring for me. I don't see anything different or new. Thus, I am moving away from the beautifully edited and cookie cutter blog post to a travel diary style. 

I'm going to write what I want, how I want, and in a more relaxed format because trying to emulate the other travel bloggers gives me too much anxiety to be perfect. I didn't feel like myself because I was trying to craft the perfect words for the perfect blog post. NAH! I am doing this blog for myself, therefore.....imma be myself.

I'm a lot funnier in person than the well crafted text I usually write for academic purposes or grants. 😂


Not afraid to be me

Why I'm in Indonesia?

Back in 2012, I did a study abroad in Singapore for one semester. Til this day, I still believe that was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. I took full advantage of Singapore's international airport to hop all around Southeast Asia. Unknowingly, I ended up making 3 separate trips to Indonesia.... Pulau BIntan because it was a short ferry ride away to chill on a beach with friends. Bali...because it's Bali and I got to scuba dive with manta rays. Pulau Weh in Sumatra to get my advanced open water certification.

If you haven't caught on my now.... I LOVE SCUBA DIVING. One of the greatest lesson's I learned in grad school is how to turn my passion and hobbies into research. Thanks to some incredible advisors, hours of re-writing my proposal, and a bit of luck....I'm back in Indonesia for the 5th time and this time... as a Fulbright Student Researcher. Researching the Indonesian perception about their marine protected areas. I get to do all the things I love: reading, writing, making connections and hearing people's stories, and scuba diving in some of the world's coveted underwater ecosystems. 






Phuket, Thailand 2017

The best way to spend the last day of 2017.

Thank Goodness Square Space was invented

Research does pay off.

Looking for something in between Blogger (not pretty, but easy to start) and Wordpress (gorgeous themes, but code by yourself). 

I FOUND SQUARE SPACE. Thanks to a couple friends like & Lisa Miles for telling me about it. 

I am in love with the customization, simple design, and almost intuitive design process. 

I finally feel ready to get moving on creating content and tell you some stories about traveling in Southeast Asia, scuba diving, and living in Indonesia.... all through the lens of a Vietnamese-American living the dream she's always wanted. #manifestthelifeyouwant

Let's get it

taken in Malaysia

The first of many

As a recovering perfectionist, I am finally writing my first travel blog post after 4 months of coming up with excuses of being too busy.

I love doing research and reading all about a topic before I start the project. Creating a travel blog, making Youtube videos, and taking fabulous pictures for the Insta.... was quite overwhelming. 

LIST of things I thought I needed to know before starting:

  • Coding

  • Web Design

  • iMovie

  • Wordpress

  • Plugins

  • AdSense for Youtube

  • Exposure, Aperture, Photography in general.....

After 3 months of a intensive language course.... I finally ran out of excuses. A friend asked me tell a crazy experience in Indonesia. Another friend asked me what's new.... I didn't know how to answer because living here has been so satisfyingly normal. 

Action plan: 

1. Create a reflection/backlog of the past 5 months which includes: volcanos, scuba diving, and being Vietnamese-American in Indonesia. 

2. Finish the last video and get it Youtube ready.....

All because the next 7 months will be full of travel, conferences, more scuba, and research. 

Let's get it!