Angkor Wat, Cambodia | Part 1

Now that we’ve explored Siem Reap, it’s time to see what we really came here for… Angkor Wat! While Angkor Wat is the main temple that you think of when you think of Angkor, the area is filled with different ruins and the task of exploration takes two days.

You can buy a 1 day ticket for $20, or a 2 or 3 day ticket for $40. It’s best to explore the area by hiring a tuk tuk for the day which is exactly what we did. The drive is beautiful, lovely, and peaceful. Angkor Wat is well kept and impressive, but I particularly loved the more unruly temples and ruins that the earth appears to be claiming back, one tree root at a time. Trees devour the temples like an ancient stone meal and it looks as if Medusa’s hearty locks are in the form of roots. The decay is terrifyingly beautiful, and it’s apparent that earth’s mouth is hungry for man’s meal.

AngkorWat_1 AngkorWat_2 AngkorWat_3 AngkorWat_4 AngkorWat_5 AngkorWat_6 AngkorWat_7 AngkorWat_8 AngkorWat_9 AngkorWat_10 AngkorWat_11 AngkorWat_12 AngkorWat_13 AngkorWat_14 AngkorWat_15 AngkorWat_16 AngkorWat_17 AngkorWat_18 AngkorWat_19_1 AngkorWat_20 AngkorWat_21 AngkorWat_22 AngkorWat_23 AngkorWat_24 AngkorWat_25 AngkorWat_26 AngkorWat_27 AngkorWat_28 AngkorWat_29 AngkorWat_30 AngkorWat_31 AngkorWat_32 AngkorWat_33 AngkorWat_34 AngkorWat_35 Don’t these ruins look like such a delicious meal? Stay tuned for Part 2!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

After some New York pizza in Bangkok, we hopped an Air Asia flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia where we stayed at Angkor Orchid Central Hotel. It was a steal for around $15/night when we booked on Agoda.com. Airport tuk tuk pickup included!

While Siem Reap is the jumping off point for Angkor Wat, I found the central town to be both charming and photogenic.

Don’t you think?

SiemReap_1 SiemReap_2 SiemReap_3 SiemReap_4 SiemReap_5 SiemReap_6 SiemReap_7 SiemReap_8 SiemReap_9 SiemReap_10 SiemReap_11 SiemReap_12 SiemReap_13 SiemReap_14 SiemReap_15 SiemReap_16

 

Koh Tao to Bangkok | Thailand

After Phangan we hit Koh Tao and stayed in Sairee Beach. We stayed at Amonrada House which was simple and small but at least had A/C for under $30/night. It’s a short walk from the beach and close to several restaurants. We hit some rain here so I was weary to bring my camera out and only got a few shots of a nearby patch of palm sprawl.

KOH_TAO_1 KOH_TAO_2 koh tao This was our last island hop for Thailand and we made the treacherous  journey back to Bangkok which took around 10 hours. We took a ferry to Chumphon then caught a bus back to Bangkok. We made it back to Bangkok around 9pm. Another full day of transportation!

While we had stayed in the Khao San area of Bangkok last time, we opted to stay in Sukhumvit where we would have easy access to the sky train.

It has a more downtown, city feel, but we were missing the quaintness of the small Khao San streets.

While we love Thai food, I stumbled upon the perfect non Thai place for dinner one night. Ronny’s New York Pizza. Two things I was missing at the moment: Pizza and New York. Done. Let’s go. We finally find it among the fleshpot of Nana Plaza and go to town. It even feels and looks a bit New York-ish.

Big apple or Bangkok?

Ronnys_1 Ronnys_2

 So our Thailand adventure ended with New York spirit! Next up? Cambodia!

Koh Phangan | Thailand

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.06.54 PMWe were hesitant to visit the nearby island Koh Phangan due to their full moon party reputation. We are talking about a Phi Phi crowd times 10! Google “full moon party haad rin” and you will find this. It’s one part hoochie mamma and one part poser and together you get 100% debauchery. Our original dates we had planned landed right in the middle of full moon swing, so we delayed a day hoping the antics would be over. I also made a concerted effort to find us some lodging that was FAR from the scene of Haad Rin Beach.

My efforts proved to be a success! While Haad Rin is at the south end of the island, we stayed at Thongtapan Resort on the north east side located on Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach. The 45 min drive to get there was well worth the rough roads. It was cozy, remote, and there was no full moon mayhem in sight.

Our garden bungalow was a short distance from the water and the beach was surrounded by lush, mountainous terrain.

KOH_PHANGAN_1 KOH_PHANGAN_2 KOH_PHANGAN_3 KOH_PHANGAN_4 KOH_PHANGAN_5 KOH_PHANGAN_6 KOH_PHANGAN_7 KOH_PHANGAN_8Just south of Thong Nai Pan Noi is Thong Nai Pan Yai. I know. The verbiage gets confusing. It requires a decent walk and an uphill, sweaty battle around a hill to get there.

KOH_PHANGAN_9 KOH_PHANGAN_10 KOH_PHANGAN_11 KOH_PHANGAN_12 KOH_PHANGAN_13 When we finally reach the beach, we understand why it’s known as Thong Nai Pan Noi’s less attractive sister. It’s still quite beautiful but there is less wave action here which means the shore is dotted with anchored boats. It makes for glorious photos, but not so glorious swimming.

KOH_PHANGAN_14 KOH_PHANGAN_15 KOH_PHANGAN_16 KOH_PHANGAN_17 KOH_PHANGAN_18 KOH_PHANGAN_19 KOH_PHANGAN_20 KOH_PHANGAN_21 KOH_PHANGAN_22 So while we initially shied away from the famed full moon island, we found a nook that felt nothing like a howling rave.

STAY: Thongtapan Resort

WHERE: Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach | Koh Phangan

PRICE: $21 (fan double standard bungalow) booked on Agoda.com

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KOH SAMUI | Thailand

After Khao Lak, we took a really long and unnecessary mini van + bus + ferry trip to Koh Samui.

All tourist routes from Khao Lak had to go through Krabi which meant we were back tracking. The entire trip took 10+ hours.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 5.05.15 PMSo when we finally got to Koh Samui, we were hoping our accommodation choice, The Sundays Sanctuary, lived up to the name. While Chaweng Beach is the tourist hot spot in Samui, we opted to stay in Bophut which is known for Fisherman’s Village. I was hoping for a local fisherman community, but it’s actually a very manufactured area with higher end restaurants on the waterfront. The beach is lined with resorts and since we also hit some overcast weather and rain, we barely made it to the beach and instead enjoyed our lodging.

I don’t usually review our accommodations because a backpacker budget has limitations, but I was loving that minimalist chic on a budget can actually exist! We booked through Agoda and opted for the mountain view room which set us back around $30/night. There are more expensive deluxe cottages that overlook the pool, but we found the mountain view rooms which are set back a bit were quite peaceful.

What did I love about this place? The pool, the balcony, and the minimalist concrete & wood design.

The only downside? There is only internet in the lobby.

KOH SAMUI_1 KOH SAMUI_2 KOH SAMUI_3 KOH SAMUI_4 KOH SAMUI_5 KOH SAMUI_6 KOH SAMUI_7 KOH SAMUI_8 KOH SAMUI_9 KOH SAMUI_10 KOH SAMUI_11 The Sundays Sanctuary Resort & Spa

WHERE: Bophut Beach | Koh Samui, Thailand

PRICE: $30/night (inclusive of all taxes) | double mountain view room

BREAKFAST INCLUDED

*Prices reflect high season rates. Low season rates are considerably cheaper*

Khao Lak + Similan Islands | Thailand

After Phuket, we headed north to Khao Lak with the purpose of heading to the nearby Similan Islands. I didn’t have any expectations when it came to Khao Lak, but was surprised by how much I liked it.

Khao Lak was the hardest hit in Thailand in the 2004 tsunami with an unofficial death count of around 10,000. While it is quite mountainous, it devastated the coastline.

The beaches are relatively quiet with patches of resorts and shacks.

KHAO_LAK_1 KHAO_LAK_2 KHAO_LAK_3 KHAO_LAK_4 KHAO_LAK_5 KHAO_LAK_6 KHAO_LAK_7 We were most interested in the Similan Islands and booked a tour with Fantastic Similan Travel. The tour company is primarily employed by ladyboys and they really are fantastic. We made three stops and the water was clear and the views were amazing.

Similan_1.1 Similian_1 Similian_2 Similian_3 Similian_4 Similian_5 Similian_6 Similian_7 Similian_8 Similian_9 Similian_11 Similian_12 Similian_13 Similian_14 Similian_15 Similian_16 Similian_17 Similian_18 Similian_19 Similian_20 Similian_21 Similian_22 So the trip was ‘fantastic’ except that a jellyfish managed to attack both my legs and now I have the nasty scars to prove it.

Phuket, Thailand

We arrived in Phuket suffering from Koh Yao Yai blues after our very luxurious weekend. Back to reality.

Phuket is where the Phi Phi crowd goes when they retire. It’s well known that Phuket is overrun with tourists and the quiet beauty of the Yao Islands (though only 30 min away) seems like a world away.

I did not really snap any photos because I wasn’t really inspired. The beach is packed with umbrellas and people with crispy sunburns. We stayed in Patong which is also known for Bangla Road (the sex industry strip). We went out one night to see what it was all about and found it all to be pretty depressing.

Phuket_1Phuket feels a bit theme park-ish, so we did what any good tourist would do.

We went to the bowling alley and arcade.

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We did take one day trip to the famed James Bond rock and unfortunately this was our worst day trip yet. It was labeled as a kayak trip, but what they fail to tell you is you don’t actually get to kayak. Someone else takes you in the kayak and promptly asks for a tip. We went into caves and other areas that are visually quite impressive, however I would’ve liked to linger on the landscape instead of being rushed from one locale to the next.

Phuket_2 Phuket_3 Phuket_4 Phuket_5 Phuket_6 Phuket_7 Phuket_8 So while the dramatic landscape just outside of Phuket is worth seeing, we were ready to leave.

 

THOUGHTS ON TURNING THIRTY

30I’ve entered a new decade.

Does it feel decadent? Time to reflect.

REFLECTIONSomehow as the number 2 grows an extra curve and morphs into a 3, I start to feel bottom heavy, like I’m sagging. Oh no, what else is starting to sag? What is this extra extension growing off my 2? Get off!

Reality sets in. My 2 is elongated. Can I just say I’m in my elongated twenties? Extended twenties? Oh forget it.

I’m in my thirties.

I don’t like the way that sounds and I also don’t know why a word or number should feel so daunting. Perhaps it’s because I, like many I presume, suffer from the ‘By The Time I’m 30’ syndrome. Ailments include the following expectations:

 - success (What does that even mean?)

- a solid career

- marriage to presumably the perfect person

- kids

- owning a home

- unbridled happiness

- peace of mind

- white picket fence

You get where I’m going. For some reason, in my twenties, I assumed that once I hit 30, all of these expectations would have already neatly shown up on my doorstep (to the house or apartment I don’t own). The irony is, some of these possibilities did show up, and I promptly walked away from them. I had somehow created all these ideals that for me, weren’t actually ideal.

Was I suffering from expecting expectations that I, in the end, didn’t even really want? Just striving for social constructs because it’s ‘what you are supposed to do?’

Oh I get it now. It was just my twenties. The decade of figuring yourself out. I was trying to swim upstream with everyone else, only to realize there are all these other side streams to explore. For me, the forks in the river proved to feed my appetite, a meal of my own making. Curiosity tastes good.

Now that I’m in my thirties and have none of those things on that list of mine, I can free myself from all those ambivalent wants that I didn’t seem to really want in my twenties. Phew. Suddenly that 3 doesn’t feel so heavy. Here’s to unburdening myself! Now that’s a birthday gift.

And besides, I am seeing the world, living life, and choosing my own destiny. Sounds pretty fantastic to me! I am elongating my 2 on a remote island in Thailand and cannot think of a better way to send my twenties out to sea.

 

 

Koh Yao Yai | Thailand

KOH_YAO_YAI_1 So Koh Yao Noi was a little slice of heaven and we didn’t really want to leave except for the fact that we had a booking at Yao Yai Village on neighboring island Koh Yao Yai to celebrate my 30th birthday in style. Koh Yao Yai is bigger than Koh Yao Noi and most of it looks untouched. We took the short (few minutes) speedboat ride over to Yao Yai and our welcome drink at Yao Yai Village was waiting for us. Yao Yai Village is comprised of several private bungalows set among the jungle and hillside where cicadas and other insects hum into the night. Each bungalow is unique but each has an impressive balcony or terrace. KOH_YAO_YAI_2 Our bungalow was nestled among the trees with perfect privacy. We even had our own private driveway! (For when you want a lift from the hotel golf cart.) Goodbye backpacker life for the weekend! Hello luxury. KOH_YAO_YAI_3 Our terrace is bigger than most apartments I’ve lived in and boasts some amazing decor… KOH_YAO_YAI_4 KOH_YAO_YAI_5 This is probably the most comfortable bed since the trip began and the bathroom with outdoor shower (amazing!) is larger than many rooms we’ve stayed in. I could literally move into the bathroom and be happy. KOH_YAO_YAI_6 On my actually birthday (March 2nd), housekeeping had left a present on the bed… KOH_YAO_YAI_7.1 Did I mention they have an infinity pool? Or that there are two of them? We were loving life. KOH_YAO_YAI_7 KOH_YAO_YAI_8 The beach is not so much a swimming beach and the tide recedes quite a bit which makes for some dramatic landscape. KOH_YAO_YAI_9 KOH_YAO_YAI_10 KOH_YAO_YAI_11 KOH_YAO_YAI_12 KOH_YAO_YAI_13 KOH_YAO_YAI_14 KOH_YAO_YAI_15 KOH_YAO_YAI_16 KOH_YAO_YAI_17 KOH_YAO_YAI_18 KOH_YAO_YAI_19 KOH_YAO_YAI_20 We didn’t really leave the premises for 3 nights. We enjoyed all of the amenities and wished we could move into our bungalow. On my birthday Rick treated me to some spa services where I received a sixty minute massage and sixty minute facial. Thirty doesn’t feel so bad. We were sad to part and return to the realities of backpacking. The good news was there was one last surprise! We arranged for a speedboat transfer to Phuket and on that particular day, no one else had booked a transfer so we had our own private boat! The ride was not long enough (30 minutes) but it was the perfect ending to an epic birthday weekend. KOH_YAO_YAI_21 KOH_YAO_YAI_22 KOH_YAO_YAI_23 KOH_YAO_YAI_24 KOH_YAO_YAI_25 We arrived in Phuket to our room that was much smaller than our previous bathroom, reeked of cigarettes, and was pitch dark. We were suffering from post Yao Yai Village blues.

Back to backpacking.

Sigh.

Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

Koh_Yao_Noi_1 I was tipped off about Koh Yao Noi by fellow travel blogger Leslie aka Chic Adventurer and I’m so glad we built it into our plans. The Yao Islands (Koh Yao Noi & Koh Yao Yai) are situated between Phuket and Krabi. It’s about 30 minutes via speedboat from either location. We caught the speedboat from Ao Nang, Krabi and planned on a few nights in Yao Noi and then in Yao Yai. They islands are accessible yet feel very remote.

We stayed at Tabeak View Point and were pleased to find budget lodging done right! The bungalows are perched on a hill with a fantastic view and each has a large balcony to take it in. It’s simple and rustic but more importantly, it’s clean and it was so hot that we didn’t mind the cold showers. For a double with fan it will set you back 700 baht/night ($21-22).

Koh_Yao_Noi_2 Koh_Yao_Noi_3 As we walked around we found rubber tree plantations and peace and quiet!!! The roads were empty and we were loving the lush landscape.

Koh_Yao_Noi_4 Koh_Yao_Noi_5 Beware falling cashews! I never knew that cashews were actually part of a fruit, the cashew apple! Moreover I didn’t realize that they aren’t technically nuts, but instead a seed, and at this raw stage the seed shell is filled with anacardic acid and can create a skin rash on contact. Cashews become edible upon roasting to neutralize the acid. (Cashew apples below) Koh_Yao_Noi_6 We eventually spilled out onto a beach in serious low tide. It was like a beautiful ocean desert.

Koh_Yao_Noi_7 Koh_Yao_Noi_8 Koh_Yao_Noi_9 Koh_Yao_Noi_10 Koh_Yao_Noi_11 Koh_Yao_Noi_12 The tide was so low that it was a long walk out until you could properly dunk. What a view!

Most people explore Yao Noi via scooter, but we were aching for some exercise and decided to explore on bikes. It’s a hilly island so parts were quite rigorous but 20+ kilometers later, we had pretty much seen the perimeter of the island and tired out our muscles. The east side of the island has most of the accommodations and the west side was really quiet and we enjoyed riding through the local villages. (Biking photos taken with my small digital camera)

Koh_Yao_Noi_13 Koh_Yao_Noi_14 Koh_Yao_Noi_15 Koh_Yao_Noi_16 Koh_Yao_Noi_17 So we’ve finally found an idyllic Thai Island. It is beautiful. The beaches are not fantastic for laying out and swimming which is maybe how it has escaped mass tourism, but it is the place for fantastic views and peace and quiet. (Photos below taken with an iphone)

Koh_Yao_Noi_18 Koh_Yao_Noi_19 Koh_Yao_Noi_20 Koh_Yao_Noi_21 Yao Noi is fantastic but it was time to head to Yao Yai where we we celebrated my 30th birthday in style.

KRABI, THAILAND

We didn’t have Krabi on our list at all, but our next island destination only had ferries running from Phuket or Krabi. We figured since we already had plans to visit Phuket later, we’d stay a few nights in Krabi before catching the ferry to the Yao Islands. So in our attempt to escape Phi Phi, we hopped over to Ao Nang, Krabi.

Thailand routeThe map to the right shows the ground (and water) we’ve been covering since Bangkok.

So we took the short ferry over to Ao Nang and since we had learned our lesson twice over about showing up without accommodation booked, we had booked something in advance and were pleased to spend 4 nights in a big room with hot water.

As we walked the streets I realized that Ao Nang should really be called Little Finland.  I have never seen or heard so many Finns in one place outside of Finland. I was feeling at home and missing the motherland. Restaurant menus were in Finnish, Finnish flags were strewn about and I no longer felt like I was in Thailand.

While the beach itself was not that impressive (we didn’t even go in the water) we were happy to roam around and sleep in a comfy bed.

We’ve been averaging one day trip per island and this was no different. On this day trip we visited Tup Island, Poda Island, Chicken Island, and Railay Beach. The rock formations are fantastic in every locale and Railay Beach proved to be most impressive. Here you can’t miss Phra Nang Cave where people leave quite phallic offerings for a princess of the past. Read more about it here.

Please enjoy the pics from my digital underwater camera.

AoNang_1 AoNang_2 AoNang_3 AoNang_4 AoNang_5 AoNang_6 AoNang_7 AoNang_8 AoNang_9 AoNang_10 AoNang_11 AoNang_12 AoNang_13 AoNang_14 AoNang_15 AoNang_16 AoNang_17 So there you have it. Another day trip under our belt. Next we head to the Yao Islands where we celebrated my 30th birthday and the fact that we found some quiet, undeveloped land.

Phi Phi, Thailand | Part 2

So now that you’ve seen how Phi Phi has been destroyed by spring break behavior, let’s see what is around the island. We took a day trip that brought us to other nearby islands. The first stop felt more like a Universal Studios tour. We were off to Maya Bay which is famous for being the backdrop for the movie The Beach staring Leonardo DiCaprio. This apparent secret beach is now an obvious tourist trap. (All photos on this post are from my digital underwater camera)

PhiPhi_19 PhiPhi_21 We anchor and swim to the ladder as seen in the below picture to access the beach. As you will see, the secluded beach is now engulfed by tourists and boats. For shame!

PhiPhi_20 PhiPhi_23 PhiPhi_24 PhiPhi_22 PhiPhi_25 PhiPhi_26 Next stop? Monkey beach!

PhiPhi_27 PhiPhi_28 We head to another island and swim to shore. It is also FULL of tourists but we quickly round the island to find some quiet.

PhiPhi_29 PhiPhi_30 PhiPhi_31 PhiPhi_32 PhiPhi_33 PhiPhi_34 PhiPhi_35 PhiPhi_36 PhiPhi_37 PhiPhi_38 PhiPhi_39 Lastly, we head to an area called shark point.

By this time the sun was going down and we decided to skip getting back into the water.

PhiPhi_40 PhiPhi_41 PhiPhi_42 The sun goes down and we are back to the amusement park of Phi Phi Don. Time to get out of here! We leave Phi Phi and head to Ao Nang, Krabi!

Oribe

I was thrilled when Oribe contacted me to do an interview. Oribe has some amazing hair products to tame your mane and they’ve just launched some great travel size products that my fried island hair is lusting for.

What local hair products have I found while traveling? Find out in the interview

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THANK YOU ORIBE !

Phi Phi, Thailand | Part 1

I am sad to say that the island of Phi Phi Don is the love child of college spring break and Disneyland. While the landscape is seductive, the tourists have turned the island into one big frat party. The island has dramatic mountains and cliffs which place it on all ‘must see in Thailand’ lists, but what they fail to mention is the island is also packed with ill-fitted booty shorts and men who refuse to walk around with a shirt on. For a Muslim island, I can only imagine the horror when tourists started showing up with their culturally insensitive swagger, going topless at the beach and showing off their thongs.

We also tried to wing it here and showed up without booking anything in advance and once again our wings were clipped. Everything was booked or overpriced. We eventually found a place for one night and then had to move the following day to another which did not have water for the last two days. We were used to gross water or brown water, but hadn’t encountered no water thus far. The good news was since we didn’t book anything in advance, we ended up leaving earlier than planned.

PhiPhi_1 PhiPhi_2 PhiPhi_3 Once night rolls around, the streets fill up with twenty-somethings all ready to get wasted. Buckets of alcohol mixers are sold on the street and the classy kids are all over it. PhiPhi_4 PhiPhi_5 PhiPhi_6 PhiPhi_7 Take for example exhibit A below, what is this chick wearing? Or not wearing for that matter? I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that she thinks neon orange booty shorts are a good idea, or that her butt is hanging out of them. You can’t see the outfit from the front, but by the looks of the Thai woman on the right, it must be just as appealing.

PhiPhi_8 We decided that one night we had to experience the fire shows on the beach, which actually did prove to be somewhat entertaining and also made for some interesting shots with colored strobes lighting up the beach.

PhiPhi_9 PhiPhi_10 PhiPhi_11 PhiPhi_12 PhiPhi_13 PhiPhi_14 PhiPhi_15 PhiPhi_16 PhiPhi_17 PhiPhi_18 So overall, Phi Phi is in a word, gross.

Check out Rick’s video he took of our walk home…

His description is spot on…

“I’m certain that Koh Phi Phi island in Thailand was once a beautiful domain. But witness it as it is now. Follow the wreckage of the migratory hordes of cheesy/gaudy Euro-trash tourists as they lay waste to the tiny walking street(s). Make a game of it — spot the Thai if you can…!!”

the PHI PHI theme park from Rick Onorato on Vimeo.

We did however end up taking a day trip around the island which was decent enough. That post is coming up next!

Koh Lanta, Thailand

photo-3After departing the clear waters of Koh Lipe, we decided to head to Koh Lanta. We could’ve taken a 3 hour express boat there, but we decided to save a few bucks and take the local 6 hour ferry instead. Poor judgement. We were all piled into a claustrophobic boat along with our luggage. We made several stops before getting to Koh Lanta, which meant at every stop, people had to rummage through this maddening pile of luggage to find theirs before disembarking. Genius. I would’ve gladly paid the extra ten bucks we saved by taking the local to avoid such a headache. Lesson learned.

We were both tired of taking drip/bucket showers of cold to lukewarm brown water so I booked a proper hotel for Valentine’s Day with all the amenities we had been missing—air conditioning & hot water. Hallelujah. We spent 2 nights in a lofty king bed and then moved to another budget hotel. The beaches in this area aren’t nearly as pristine as Koh Lipe, but there are tons of cute restaurants on stilts by the water. We also found a really cute coffee shop, Not A Toy, which we visited every day for legit espresso coffee.

KOH_LANTA_1 KOH_LANTA_3 KOH_LANTA_2 KOH_LANTA_4 KOH_LANTA_5 KOH_LANTA_6 KOH_LANTA_7 KOH_LANTA_8 KOH_LANTA_9 KOH_LANTA_10 KOH_LANTA_11 KOH_LANTA_12 KOH_LANTA_13 KOH_LANTA_14 KOH_LANTA_15 KOH_LANTA_16 KOH_LANTA_17 KOH_LANTA_18 KOH_LANTA_19 We took a day trip to visit 4 neighboring islands where we learned there are just too many tourists in Thailand. I’m not sure while snorkeling if there were more fish or more tourists in the water. The following photos are all taken with my dinky underwater camera so the quality is not so great.

KOH_LANTA_20 KOH_LANTA_21 KOH_LANTA_22 KOH_LANTA_23 KOH_LANTA_24 KOH_LANTA_25 KOH_LANTA_26 KOH_LANTA_27 KOH_LANTA_28 KOH_LANTA_29 KOH_LANTA_30 KOH_LANTA_31 KOH_LANTA_32 KOH_LANTA_33 KOH_LANTA_34 KOH_LANTA_35 KOH_LANTA_37 The highlight of the trip was visiting Emerald Cave or known locally as Morakot Cave on Koh Mook. It is a cave that leads to a secret beach within the island that can only be accessed during low tide, and apparently can only be traversed while a ton of tourists in life jackets are holding each other in a line and being pulled by a young Thai boy through the cave. The orange line of life jackets is almost comical. I feel like I am on a Disneyland ride. There is however light at the end of the tunnel, literally. Once pulled through the dark cave, the other end boasts an amazing secret beach where Pirates used to stash treasure. The beach is completely surrounded by soaring cliffs so they only entry is through the cave. What a treat. It would be even more impressive if it wasn’t engulfed by a parade of tourists.

Here we are going through the cave…

KOH_LANTA_38 KOH_LANTA_39 KOH_LANTA_40 KOH_LANTA_41 Here is what is only the other end…

KOH_LANTA_42 KOH_LANTA_43 KOH_LANTA_44 KOH_LANTA_45 KOH_LANTA_46 KOH_LANTA_47 The Emerald Cave was absolutely worth the entire tour and the last island we visited we just sat around enjoying the view…

KOH_LANTA_48 KOH_LANTA_49

 

SNORKELING | Koh Lipe, Thailand

So now you’ve seen that Koh Lipe is ridiculously beautiful. But what is it like just below the surface? While in Bangkok, I bought a cheap waterproof camera that could afford to get tossed around in the waves. We went on a snorkeling day trip to neighboring islands where I got to test out the camera.

Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_1 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_2 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_3 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_4 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_5 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_6 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_7 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_8 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_9 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_10 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_11 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_12 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_13 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_14 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_15 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_16 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_17 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_18 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_19 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_20 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_22 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_23 Snorkeling_Koh_Lipe_24 Snorkeling was fun, but the highlight in Koh Lipe was my first scuba dive! Rick is certified and he took me on a discover dive where I got a taste for sea life. Unfortunately, my camera does not work in such depths but Rick took this shot of me as we were suiting up! Once underwater my inner Pisces took hold and I felt like I was in my element. It won’t be my last dive.

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Thanks Koh Lipe.

Koh Lipe | Thailand

Bangkok was bangin’ and I really enjoyed my intro to Thailand and after a week in Bangkok, it was time to go island hopping. First stop was Koh Lipe. We flew down to Hat Yai and spent a night there before catching the ferry the next day to Koh Lipe.

Koh Lipe is, or should I say was one of Thailand’s best kept secrets. Apparently the secret is out. For most of this trip we have booked accommodations ahead of time and we decided for the islands to just wing it. Rick was here 3 years ago and didn’t have any problems with just showing up and finding accommodations so we decided to throw caution to the wind.

Oops. Caution slapped us in the face. We arrived to find most places booked solid. We did end up getting lucky and found a room at Koh Lipe Backpackers Hostel, but we were back to no A/C and no hot water. Koh Lipe is quickly being developed into a luxury resort island so accommodations for a backpacker budget are slim.

The island was originally inhabited by sea gypsies (Chao Ley) and their small village is now encircled by resorts. By the looks of the village, it does not appear that the locals are gaining from the increased tourism.

KohLipe_1 KohLipe_2 KohLipe_3 KohLipe_4 KohLipe_5 KohLipe_6 The juxtaposition between the village and what is just steps away is incredible. I wouldn’t blame them if they wished tourists never set foot on their island as their beaches and view are breathtaking.

KohLipe_7 KohLipe_8 KohLipe_14 KohLipe_13 KohLipe_12 KohLipe_11 KohLipe_10 KohLipe_9 KohLipe_15 KohLipe_16 KohLipe_17 KohLipe_18 KohLipe_19 KohLipe_20 KohLipe_21 KohLipe_23 KohLipe_22 KohLipe_24 KohLipe_25 KohLipe_26 KohLipe_27 KohLipe_28 KohLipe_29 KohLipe_30 Next up? A snorkeling trip!

 

FISH SPA | Bangkok, Thailand

When I think of going to a spa, I usually think of getting a relaxing massage or calming treatment that has me lingering in a state of nirvana.

The fish spa is not my gateway to nirvana. Not at all. This coming from a Pisces.

The fish are supposed to eat your dead skin skills as to clean your feet, but I am not into being fish food. Read about the history of the fish spa here.

Rick goes first as he has done this before and I use the 15 minutes to work up the courage to stick my feet into an aquarium of hungry fish.

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Now these fish have a foot fetish.

It’s my turn and the evidence of discomfort is all over my face. Countless fish gnawing at my dead skin cells does not feel good. Beauty is pain? Has it been 15 minutes yet? Help! This is like tickle torture!

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The good news is I survived without peeing myself.

And now, enjoy 1 minute at a fish spa near Khao San Road in Bangkok…

FISH SPA from Nomadic-Habit on Vimeo.

Bangkok is hip(stamatic)

When we bought our tickets to Bangkok, we had no idea that the city would be in a state of emergency or that there would be mass protests leading up to the election. Leaving out of Colombo Airport was swift and painless (we were used to Indian airports that are painfully slow and inefficient) and my belly was eager to get to Bangkok.

Upon arriving, we found little disruption or signs of a city in turmoil, though we were staying in backpacker central near Khao San Road. We arrived at New Siam III Guest House to find consistent hot water, air conditioning, wifi that worked, and 1 double bed instead of my pet peeve of 2 twins pushed together. I can’t even remember when we had all these amenities in one place. So we started to feel a bit more civilized and hit the streets so we could promptly eat our faces off. Yum Yum Tom Yum.

You also know you’ve been backing for quite some time when two people who hate malls are not only excited to go to one, but spend all day there. By this time we needed to chuck some clothes that were starting to look like sad, discolored, tattered things and we went to the mall for a little wardrobe update. I sent everything I bought from India home, so clearly my backpack needed some replenishing.

Here is an introduction to Bangkok via our shots from the hipstamatic i-phone app.

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What’s to come? The Grand Palace, The Floating Market, and a fish foot massage?

Sri Lanka

So after the pigeon attack in our hotel room we were so eager to get out of India. The night before we left we had arranged with reception for a taxi to pick us up the following morning for the airport. When we got downstairs and saw no taxi, we inquired and were told, “It’s not coming.” What? We had arranged for this. “Yeah, it’s not coming.” They said this with little ambition to do anything and since they were useless, we were on our own. We ended up tuk-tuking it to the airport and saying good riddance to India.

We didn’t know what to expect from Sri Lanka. Was it going to just be a smaller version of India? Was it just going to feel like India Part II? Will there be pigeons in the room?colombo_1

We got to Colombo and found immediately that things were a bit different. For one, we had hot(ish) water and fast internet (for about 2 days before it stopped working) but the streets were much cleaner and people were for the most part friendly. No ass grabs to count either which is more than I can say for Delhi. We found a proper supermarket (OMG!) and celebrated with wine and cheese. We had to stay in Colombo for just under a week to deal with our Thai visas and we spent the time recuperating.

We decided to take a weekend trip to Kandy to see the famed sacred tooth of Buddha. We took the 2.5-hour scenic train trip into the interior and stayed two nights. Kandy is in all the tourist books but we were both quite underwhelmed by it. I barely snapped any photos. And as for Buddha’s tooth, we found out it’s so sacred that you can’t even see it! We just paid to be in the presence of a fabled tooth? What?! It’s housed in a temple that you can go in and you are to have faith that it exists there. We even paid a visit to the museum to see if we could see a photo of this famous tooth, but not even that existed. This is bananas. We left Kandy with our tooth dreams decayed.

Kandy

Time to get back to the beach.

Train to Hikkaduwa Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 3.39.04 PMWe took the train down to Hikkaduwa where it’s all supposed to be “happening.”

Eh.

This area was ravaged by the Tsunami back in 2004 and erosion continues to be a problem. The beach disappears in sections depending on the tides. We liked their many cabanas they have set up on the beach and we did have some mighty good seafood here. We spent 5 nights here as we upped our calamari intake.

Hikkaduwa_1 Hikkaduwa_2 Hikkaduwa_3 Hikkaduwa_4 Hikkaduwa_5 Hikkaduwa_6 Hikkaduwa_7 Hikkaduwa_8 Hikkaduwa_9 Hikkaduwa_10 Hikkaduwa_11 Hikkaduwa_12 Hikkaduwa_13 Hikkaduwa_14 Hikkaduwa_15 Hikkaduwa_16 Hikkaduwa_17 Hikkaduwa_18 Hikkaduwa_19 Hikkaduwa_20Further south we went to Unawatuna, also a beach town, also hit by the Tsunami. Unawatuna feels slightly more intimate and cute and I prefer it to Hikkaduwa.

Unawatuna_1 Unawatuna_2 Unawatuna_3 Unawatuna_4 Unawatuna_5 Unawatuna_6 Unawatuna_7 Unawatuna_8_1 Unawatuna_9 Unawatuna_10 Unawatuna_11 Unawatuna_12Nearby in Mirissa, we went on a Blue Whale Watching tour. We got up at 5am and were hoping the whales were up too.

Unawatuna_13 Unawatuna_14 Unawatuna_15The Indian Ocean can be quite rough and there are numerous boats loaded with tourists all hoping for a glimpse. By the end, you either saw people throwing up, heard people throwing up, or you yourself were throwing up. All aboard!

First we saw several dolphins and eventually a few blue whales. They are magnificent. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of them because I was:

1. Too mesmerized to focus on composition

2. I too had succumbed to seasickness and was focused on not hurling everywhere.

So my apologies, no photos, just tales of tourists throwing up.

Unawatuna_16 Unawatuna_17We allotted just 2.5 weeks in Sri Lanka and we leave on Friday to Bangkok where a state of emergency has been declared. With our impeccable timing, we are flying right into the eye of the storm. Oh my. Until then.

INDIA STYLE

Remember back in Mongolia when I was feeling the fashion pains of backpacking? I was missing my closet, feeling as unglamorous as possible, and felt as frumpy as my clothes were fitting me. Luckily, India was our next destination and I was hopeful to revamp my nomadic closet. India has been a lot of things (amazing, exhausting, awful), and it’s also been a shopping gold mine. If you are like me and like bold prints, colorful textiles, chunky jewelry, and a good bargain, India is heaven. My backpack got heavier in every city and I was continually leaving behind old clothes to make way for new threads.

Want to know what gems I found? How much I paid? And where I found them?

Rick and I put together a look book of my favorite frocks and fashion finds in India.

* shot at our beloved Agonda Beach in Goa, India *

View the spreads below or download the pdf here.

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INDIA STYLE_2 INDIA STYLE_3 INDIA STYLE_4 INDIA STYLE_5 INDIA STYLE_6 INDIA STYLE_7 INDIA STYLE_8 INDIA STYLE_9 INDIA STYLE_10 INDIA STYLE_11 INDIA STYLE_12 INDIA STYLE_13 INDIA STYLE_14 Thank you India for the fashion revamp!