Travel Tattoo Sam Kuok

​Travel Goal: A Tattoo in Every Country

Every year thousands of people travel to Thailand. Some travelers leave with a cheap “same, same but different” shirt. Others leave with a traditional bamboo tattoo.

Bamboo Tattoos

The art of bamboo tattoos originated in Southeast Asia and is said to go back over 3000 years. In Thailand, bamboo tattoos began with monks in Buddhist temples who received these tattoos as a religious text. The process of getting a bamboo tattoo begins with a bamboo rod. Very fine needles are attached to the end of the rod. Ink is applied, and the needles are tapped by hand into the skin. It is not as painful as it sounds.

Tattoo and Muay Thai

Last year, I traveled to Thailand with some friends. After four days of walking by what seemed like endless tattoo shops, I gave in. 

The fact that I jumped into a Muay Thai Ring fifteen minutes later was not an indication of my state of mind. Nor was the fact I had been drinking all day.

Muay Thai Fight
Getting ready for my fight.
Muay Thai Fight Thailand
I won a free bucket of booze!

Honestly, I had been thinking about getting a bamboo tattoo, and I do not regret it. I grabbed my friend Chris to come with me while my other friends held down our table at the bar. I walked into the tattoo shop and realized I had no idea what to get. I knew I wanted a word related to travel.

After throwing some words out, Chris said, “Journey.” Perfect. Sold. The guy translated journey into Thai, and another guy tattooed what I hoped was the correct translation on my foot. Worst case scenario, it said penis. Either way, it would be a good story.

Journey in Thai Language

And it begins…

Months later, I was heading to Spain. It was then that I set a goal to get ink in every country I visited. It needed to be in the native language and be related to travel. I decided I will place each tattoo in a line down my back.

These tattoos have become a representation of my travels. A souvenir that I do not throw in a drawer and forget. Each one has taught me something about an area of the world I have never previously been to.

Ready for Travel tattoo in Kuala Lumpur
Ready for my tattoo in Malaysia

Anar pel mon

Catalonia was once an autonomous province in the northeast corner of Spain. In 1714, Barcelona, along with the rest of Catalonia, fell to the Spanish and lost its autonomy. Its native language, Catalan, was almost lost along with it. There was an attempt at a revival in the early 1900s, but in 1939, the racist regime that had emerged imposed a harsh penalty for anyone who spoke it. Finally, in 1978, democracy was restored, and Catalan was revived once again. Even to the point of required schools in the region to only instruct in Catalan. 

I was introduced to the language when I was visiting Barcelona in 2017. I knew I wanted a tattoo representing Spain. I preferred not to get a tattoo in Spanish because that could represent many countries. Anar pel mon’ is a Catalan phrase that roughly translates to “Go for the World.” 

Catalonia Map BBC
Catalonia Region in Spain

Japanese Kanji

I was in Japan snowboarding. I dragged my friends and our snowboard bags through downtown Tokyo in the early morning. I only had a few hours to get a tattoo before my flight. 

The first kanji is “journey,” and the second is “to go.” Together they become a verb as in traveling or currently in motion on a treck.

Bunga Raya

I spent two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 1960, two years after receiving independence, ‘Bunga Raya’ was named Malaysia’s national flower. The hibiscus flower has vibrant colors that symbolize the courage and vitality of the people. Bunga Raya literally means “celebratory flower” and reflects the celebration of unity in the nation.

Bunga Raya Malaysia
New Tattoo in Malaysia Bunga Raya

Zamrud Khatulistwa

Zumrud Khatulistiwa is Bahasa Indonesian for “Emerald of the Equator.” Indonesia has this nickname due to its green and lush tropical rainforests and its geographic position along the equator. I need to thank my friend Firman from Tribe for this tattoo idea. Firman is the ‘night guy’ at the hostel I was staying at, and since I’m always up all night, we became fast friends. He loves history and would teach me all about Indonesia. Thanks, Firman!

Start Somewhere

The script on my back translates to “Start Somewhere.” I spent three months in Bali, Indonesia. Bahasa Bali or Balinese is a language specific to the island of Bali. Traditionally the language is written in script, natively known as Aksara Bali. Aksara Bali is a dying language. It can be seen on buildings and signs throughout the island, but very few people still read and write it. Through my tattoo, I am doing my part to help keep the language alive.

Travel Tattoo Catalan, Malay, Japanese, Behasa, Aksara Bali
Five down and many more to go.

And many more…

Someday I will be old and senile, living in a nursing home. A young, hot care tech will be giving me a bed bath. He will ask about my stretched and faded tattoos. I will be reminded of all the places I have traveled and all the people I have met. And that will make every painful tattoo worth it. 

(I did confirm that my Thailand tattoo does indeed say “Journey”… I am tempted to get “Don’t Stop Believing” on my other foot.)

Skyline of Kuala Lumpur from Hell Lounge Bar

Exploring Kuala Lumpur: Capsule Rooms, Virgin Cocktails and a Special Guest

Traveling to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was a last-minute decision. I barely did any research before booking the ticket. I knew I needed to renew my visa, and flights to KL were cheap. Plus, I am always excited to explore a new country.

Surprise, I’m coming to visit!

My boyfriend, Cliff, booked a last-minute plane ticket to come to see me. It took him forty-forty hours of travel, but he made it to Kuala Lumpur. Five years ago, he didn’t even have a passport, and now he is traveling alone halfway across the world. I was excited to show him where I have been all summer. I was planning to stay in KL until August 7th, but I really wanted Cliff to see Bali. So we decided to fly back to Indonesia earlier than I planned. We did spend a few days exploring KL before we missed boarded our flight to Bali.

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Visiting the Batu Caves with Cliff in Kuala Lumpur

For those wondering, based on my last blog, flying back early will affect my original visa plan. I did have to pay for another Visa on Arrival (VOA), and I will have to go through the full renewal process. Both are completely worth it.

Capsule Hotels: Sleeping in a morgue?

Capsule hotels are starting to gain popularity worldwide, but they originated in Japan in 1979 as a solution to a growing number of businessmen needing low-cost accommodations in the city. A traditional capsule room is essentially a wide enough box for a twin mattress and tall enough to allow a person to sit upright. When these boxes are stacked on top of each other, they resemble… a morgue. I know it doesn’t sound very inviting, but please have an open mind. Although capsule hotels in the past were very basic, new hotels have high-end bedding and a long list of amenities, including gyms, restaurants, and pools. I encourage you to read this article before you make your decision regarding a capsule hotel.

Tokyo's First Capsule Hotel: Capsule In Osaka
Tokyo’s first capsule hotel: Capsule Inn Osaka

I decided to stay at Mingle @ Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur. A friend from Bali recommended it to me. I reserved a private twin capsule room. When I arrived, I discovered I had been upgraded to a queen capsule room. I am positive that the hostel is psychic and knew Cliff would be coming to visit.

City Hub Capsule Hotel Amsterdam
City Hub Capsule Hotel Amsterdam
Book and Bed Capsule Hotel Tokyo
Book and Bed Capsule Hotel in Tokyo

Mingle is not a dedicated capsule hotel, but as many other accommodations have discovered, a capsule provides more efficient space use. The capsule rooms at Mingle are designed to give people a private room with a small “living” area. Essentially, the design consists of bunk beds with opposite openings creating two separate private rooms. 

Queen Capsule Room Diagram
Diagram of a queen Capsule room.

My queen capsule room had a queen mattress-sized “bunk bed.” It did seem a little strange to have a huge bed, but only a 7 x 4-foot area to “live in.” It was perfect for me, but I do not recommend it for two people. Or at least Cliff does not recommend it for two people. 

Must See: Heli Lounge Bar

If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, you must go to the Heli Lounge Bar. Every evening a bar is set up on a helipad that is still used during the day. It has amazing views of the city, including the Petronas Towers. The bar is a popular place to watch the sunset over KL. We intended to get there at sunset. But… squirrel. Is that a craft beer bar? It took longer than expected, but we eventually made it to the lounge.

View of Petronas Towers from Heli Lounge Bar
View of the Petronas Twin Towers from the Heli Lounge Bar

I actually recommend arriving at the lounge after dark when all the buildings are already lit up. We were there on a Monday, and there wasn’t a crowd or a line to get in. Entry was free with the purchase of a beverage. Please do your research before you visit. I have been told that it can be really crowded and sometimes has a cover charge.

I don't have a short attention span. I just... Ok Look! A squirrel!

Are the Petronas Twin Towers a must see?

Even before Cliff actually booked his ticket, we had talked about what there was to do in KL. He was really excited about the Petronas Twin Towers.

Looking up at the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Petronas Twin Toweres

I have been to many beautiful places in my travels, and I’ve also regrettably paid to see the “best view” at the top of some tourist attractions. I refuse to take another crowded elevator ride to the top of a building just to take a photo. A photo that is inadvertently photobombed by some girl trying to get the perfect Instagram shot. 

Of course, when Cliff ended up in Kuala Lumpur, he wanted to visit the observation deck in the towers. So we did what all couples do… compromise. (Haha, I almost peed my pants from laughing.) Instead, I bribed Cliff with alcohol. For less than the admission price to the observation deck, we could have cocktails AND a view at Heli Lounge Bar. In the end, Cliff did decide to visit the less pricey Sky Deck at the KL Tower while I was working. So I guess we did compromise.

View from bottom of Petronas Twin Towers
Looking up at the Petronas Twin Towers

We still visited the towers, and they are actually pretty cool. The outside features these crazy multi-faceted walls of perfectly polished stainless steel and glass. Even at ground level, the stainless steel had not one fingerprint on it. I am convinced there are Oompa Loompa’s secretly polishing the steel when no one is looking. At the bottom of the towers is the Suria KLCC mall. The mall is enormous. It has six floors and over 35 acres of shopping, including two huge food courts. It was the biggest mall I had ever seen until…

Berjaya Times Square

I had an appointment with a tattoo artist to get a new tattoo. It happened to be inside Berjaya Times Square. I had never heard of Berjaya Times Square and didn’t realize it was one of the world’s largest malls. We walked through the entrance of the building into an atrium that was at least nine stories tall. Every time we turned a corner, there would be another wing of stores. The mall contains a bowling alley, an Imax theater, a paintball arena, archery, multiple grocery stores, a police beat, a hotel, and an entire section called Tiny Taipei with narrow streets and shops to look like a shopping street In Taipei.

If that wasn’t enough, I saved the best for last. The mall contains an entire amusement park. Not just a few rides. A full-size amusement park with every ride you would expect to see at Six Flags, including a full-size rollercoaster. The mall is insane. 

Amusement Park in Berjaya Times Square
Amusement park in Berjaya Times Square mall.

And, no, we did not ride the roller coaster even though Cliff turned into a little child at the sight of it. “Mom, Can we? Can we?” We soon discovered that we could not just purchase a ticket to the rollercoaster. We had to buy an admission ticket to the whole amusement park, which was really expensive. Especially for one ride. Who would pay the entrance fee for Disney World and just ride Pirates of the Caribbean?

No Alcohol!

I don’t think I have touched on this yet. In Bali and Malaysia, alcohol is expensive and hard to get due to religious reasons. Many restaurants only serve beer. And by beer, I mean one brand of beer. One positive is that you don’t have to agonize over what your beverage of choice will be. 

Be Warned! Restaurants will advertise “Happy Hour: 2 for 1 mojito.” These are VIRGIN mojitos. I repeat. These are VIRGIN mojitos. Don’t be fooled. And don’t be that person who says, “I’m wasted.” No, Ma’am, you are not. You were drinking a virgin, organic, vegan mango smoothie. There are plenty of places you can still imbibe. Just expect to pay close or even more than American prices. 

Taps Beer Bar Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
I highly recommend Taps Beer Bar

Ok. That’s fine. At least I can get free, unlimited alcohol at the airport lounge. NOPE. Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) has only one Priority Pass lounge airside that serves free alcohol. And only Carlsberg beer. That is it. For anyone headed to KUL, head to the Plaza Premium Lounge in the klia2 terminal. It is located airside on level 2 of international departures. The lounge is located next to Gate L8.  Be careful. There are five Plaza Premium Lounges at KUL. Choose Wisely.

Drinking at the airport meme.

I am sure at this point, someone reading this post is waving their finger at me. They are concerned for my well-being. Questioning why I am so concerned with the lack of alcohol in Kuala Lumpur. Questioning why drinking at the airport is so important…

Oops. I made us miss our flight.

Cliff and I missed our flight. It was completely my fault. I wasn’t ready in time, and we missed the bus to the airport. I am pretty sure this is the first time I actually missed my flight, which is pretty good considering the amount of traveling I do and the fact that I am always running late. It was destined to happen sooner or later. Thankfully my boyfriend is the most easy-going person in the world and wasn’t even fazed.

AirAsia Sucks

Even though it was my fault we were running late, I think we could have made the flight (or at least Cliff could have) if it wasn’t for the AirAsia employees at KUL. I have flown AirAsia before and have not had any issues, but I do not recommend flying with them out of KUL. If you do, plan to arrive at the airport at least five hours early.

Airport Meme

When we arrived at the airport, the check-in line for AirAsia was roped off. A large number of other travelers were standing around trying to figure out where to go, and the AirAsia employee was refusing to help anyone. She was just standing there blatantly ignoring people. It was like we didn’t even exist. She finally decided to speak and said that everyone had to use the check-in kiosk to obtain luggage tags and then drop their bags off at the drop-off only counter. Since we were running late, the kiosk would not let us check-in and said we needed to see an attendant. I tried to tell her that, but I did not get any form of a response. Anyone we tried to ask would point us in a different direction. Finally, a bunch of passengers, including me, ducked the rope and got in line. 

Enjoying Batu Bolong Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Beach day in Bali!

By the time we reached the check-in counter it was too late. The agent checked us in but said my bag would not make the flight. No problem, I thought. It can go on the next one… False. AirAsia requires you to fly with your bag. Cliff, who only had a carry on, tried to make the flight but the door closed as he arrived to the gate.

We both ended up having to purchase new tickets at full price. Finding the ticket counter went as well as trying to check-in. I am starting to think AirAsia intentionally slows down the check-in process. There seemed to be an abnormally large number of passengers that had missed their flights and were required to purchase a new ticket. Finally, after buying new tickets, we were on our way to Bali!