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Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Songkran, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel

Songkran Water Festival

From Bali, I made my way to the Philippines with a short stopover in Phuket for Songkran. Now, Phuket really isn’t much to write home about. Although a popular destination for tourists visiting Thailand, it lacks any real character and what might have been charming at one time has now become overshadowed by huge resorts and a burgeoning sex industry. Luckily though, it was Songkran, Thailand’s annual water festival, so it was a little easier to just turn a blind eye to the surrounding environment and celebrate a truly authentic Thai holiday.

I made my way to Phuket via KL, and while boarding my flight, I got chatting to two Malaysian girls who were headed to Songkran as well. They told me to find them when we landed, so we could split a taxi to Patong Beach. I did just that, and on the way to the hotel, they told me what to expect.

Songkran is a water festival. Originally, it was a celebration of a new solar year and Thais used to sprinkle water on Buddha for good luck, but slowly this has evolved to spraying, or should I say dousing each other with water, in a loosely arranged street parade.

The girls told me to go with them to their hotel, drop my bags, and then we would purchase our water guns and head out on the street prepared to fight back. Thankfully, I had some warning because the walk from the taxi to the hotel alone left me drenched, but all the more excited to get out there and join in. The rest of the day was spent fighting Thais and other tourists with water guns, water balloons and buckets of water….a great New Year’s celebration – better than a balldrop if you ask me!

Around the world travel, Ayutthaya, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Ko Tao-Bangkok-Ayutthaya

From Ko Tao, we had a bit of a hike back to Bangkok. The journey began with a 2-hour boat ride back to Chumphon. Here, we were dropped at a wait station with absolutely nothing around it, and we were told to wait. So we drank some beers in an attempt to make us tired before the overnight train back to Bangkok. We then took a bus to the train station, where we had another 2 hour wait. We found a street vendor, had some dinner, and drank some more beers. We practiced our Thai with the restaurant owners’ children. They laughed at our attempts… at least we could provide some humor.

We boarded our train around 9:30. Unfortunately, there were no sleepers left when we booked our tickets, so we were in seats. I assumed with a couple of beers, an ambien and a reclined seat, I would be able to get a couple of hours of sleep before we arrived in Bangkok at 5am. But considering the fact that the lights were kept on all night and every window on the train was rolled down, it made for a loud and restless journey.

We arrived in Bangkok before sunrise, zombie-like and longing for a bed. Fortunately we got a taxi, got to a hotel immediately, and crawled into bed. Needless to say that day was rather unproductive, and I swore I would never travel on a Thai train again, unless I could book a sleeper.

Bangkok was really just serving as a stopping over point this time around, and it was nice to chill out and not feel like I had to see sites. The guesthouse we were booked in had a pool, so we made good use of that. And despite my attempts to not do anything, I ended up making a day trip to Ayutthaya on my second day there.

My timing was poor. It was hotter than hot, and I found myself melting on a hard train seat, but luckily, this was only a 45-minute journey.

The journey was made a little more interesting by the 60-year-old Englishman who boarded the train just before we left the station in Bangkok. Keeping him company were his two young Thai girlfriends, who, he proceeded to tell me, were “so much fun.” Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him where he met them, duh, it was in a bar of course. He was taking them on a day trip to Ayutthaya, and invited me to join them. I declined politely and walked the other way as we left the train station. This is where I coined the phrase DOM- “Dirty Old Man.” There are plenty of them in Thailand, unfortunately.

Ayutthaya is Thailand’s former capital, and it is filled with impressive ruins. I had heard the best way to see the city was either by tuk tuk or by bike. I decided to go it alone and hired a bike. After getting my bearings, and getting used to being back on a bike (ow!), I began my 4 hour tour of ruined temples.

I was happy to arrive back at the hotel, and proceeded to sit under a cold shower for the next 30 minutes just to try and feel human again (yes, you do learn to appreicate cold showers.) The day was topped off with an Indian meal and an early night so we could make our 6 am flight the following morning to Hanoi.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Ko Tao, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel

Ko Tao – I could spend some time here…

Ko Tao is one of the smaller islands, but it’s packed with everything I hoped an island would offer. Given that it is smaller, it hasn’t been as “McDonald-ized” as the other islands. So you have to swap out your Starbucks coffee for a banana mango-shake instead, and for me, that is a damn good thing. Ok- you still have two 7-eleven stores, but it wouldn’t be Thailand if you didn’t.

Sairee Beach is the main tourist spot, dotted with bungalows, dive shops, beachside restaurants and shops. Sairee Beach faces west, so on clear days you’re perfectly positioned for the sunset. However, wet season seemed to be following me, or it had arrived early for Ko Tao. Fortunately, I had signed up to do my advanced diving course, so for the first few days I was going to be spending most of my time underwater anyway.

I signed up with Island Divers and got a good deal on a basic bungalow, which was literally a bed, a fan, and a cold shower. We also had some dwellers- one being a giant lizard, that I nicknamed “Iggy.” I would later find out what other animals were dwelling with us.

I had an early morning dive on the second day, so I grabbed my gear and headed over to the dive shop. Fortunately my swimsuit had dried out over night after I had hung it on the handle of the bathroom door. I suited up, got the brief on the dive site and listened to what skills we would be working on. Then we were off. As I jumped in, I felt something bite me under my right armpit. It stung like hell, but my dive instructor reassured me that it was most likely just sand mites that had got into the wetsuit over night.

I tried not to think about it for the rest of the dive, but was happy to get out of the water and out of the wetsuit. I went to the bathroom on the boat and had a look under my arm and saw a red mark where I had felt the bite, but what I saw next was far more disturbing. At first, it looked like a brown shadow in my bikini top, but at second glance, I saw that something had nestled in to the lining of my suit. I started to poke at it, and then started to pull, and I realized I was pulling a centipede out of my bikini top.

Then, it all made sense. I had hung the suit on the bathroom door handle so it would dry out, and this little guy had crawled up the drainpipe from outside and into my bikini. I didn’t know what freaked me out more, the fact that it had bitten me, or that I had just spent about 2 hours with this bug nestled in my bikini- eeewww.

Luckily, I found out these bites, while painful, weren’t anything serious. But, you better believe that every time I put my bikini on after that, there was a thorough examination to make sure nothing had crawled into the lining.

No other hiccups occurred during the rest of my course. I completed my first night dive during a thunderstorm. It was pretty neat to be underwater and still see lightning. I also saw some of the biggest chevron barracuda having their dinner- kind of scary. Rumor had it a whale shark was visiting Chumphon Pinnacle, so after completing my courses I signed up to do a morning dive with Scuba Junction, another dive shop on the island. I didn’t get to see the whale shark, but was glad to have dived this site, as it’s one of the deeper sites around Ko Tao, so I got to see some new marine life, including a moray eel, some huge grouper and beautiful corals.

And luckily, as the week came to an end, the weather improved, and I got to see just how beautiful Ko Tao is. I lounged on the beach from sun up to sundown, read a couple of books, tried my hand at kite surfing (which wasn’t as successful as the diving), and got quite adjusted to island life. If a ticket wasn’t already booked to Hanoi, I could’ve stayed, well, indefinitely.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, island life, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Ko Phi Phi… ahhhh bliss


The journey from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi is a two-hour boat ride, and fortunately we are blessed with calm seas and blue skies. We make one stop at a small island to pick up some more passengers en route, but we don’t even dock. We just pull up alongside two longtail boats filled to the brim with people and backpacks. We watch as workers haul the bags from one boat to the next, and I think to myself how happy I am that I carried my own bag from dock to boat. While the boatsmen have this practice down to a “T,” I can’t help but wait for a big splash.

We pull into Phi Phi harbor and it looks like paradise. Now, this is what I pictured when I dreamed of Thailand’s islands. Phi Phi became a top travel destination for westerners after The Beach was filmed here in the 90s. That will give you some visual reference. As we near land, we see little bungalows dotting the cliffs, overlooking the harbor, and giant limestone rock casts jut out from the sea.

On our ride boat ride over to Phi Phi, we made a reservation for a hostel. The lady on the boat gave us some brochures to flip through, and we found one that would work for us and fit within our budget. Note to all travelers- don’t ever do this. Most of the time when traveling you don’t really need a reservation unless you’re arriving somewhere quite late and you don’t want to schlep around looking for a place. If you have the time to find somewhere once you arrive, this always makes more sense, seeing as you can look at a room and then make a call. So, we made a bit of an amateur mistake!
We, unfortunately, booked a 2-night reservation at Parichat guesthouse, which we immediately renamed Parishit. The room had seen better days. It was musty, paint was peeling off the walls, the bathroom floor was stained an off-white color, and the air conditioning unit sounded like a lamb “baaahing” every time it oscillated. On a more positive note, we had air conditioning and were close to the beach.
We decide to rough if for two nights and ditch our bags and get out of the room. Just steps from the guesthouse, we see a signpost for the “viewpoint,” so we set out to explore. After about a 40-minute vertical hike in 100–degree heat, we start to wonder if we are possibly heading in the wrong direction. Things aren’t always signposted very clearly in Asia, and the answer you get when you ask anyone how far anything is, is “not far.” We decide to turn around, and pass a couple of hikers on our way down who point us in the right direction. After about another 30-minute hike through the woods, and literally rock climbing for the last 5 minutes, we arrive at the viewpoint. As hot, tired and frustrated as we are, the views are worth the hike and the accidental detour.
From atop, I get a sense of the size of the island. To walk from one side of the island to the other takes no more than 7 minutes. Given this, you can understand why the tsunami of 2004 was so destructive. Not one structure on Phi Phi island was left standing. It is devastating to hear this, while looking down at where all the destruction occurred. 
After taking in the views and resting for a few minutes, we fortunately find the steps back to town…yeah- we missed those before! We head over to the beach to laze for the afternoon and enjoy some cold beers after our long, hot hike.
Our second day on Phi Phi turns out to be gray and overcast, but we still manage to get some beach time in and befriend an American bartender, Nancy, and her Thai boyfriend Hank, and their 2 chihuahuas, Otis and Pappie, who keep us amused for the afternoon.
On our third day, the sun is shining and we are strolling through the little main town area. After walking by the same dive shop about 3 times, I decide to bite the bullet and see how much a half day of diving will set me back. Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s more expensive islands, so I was debating on waiting until Ko Tao to dive, but I can’t hold off. We book to go out that afternoon, and I get 2 dives in with no regrets. We see 5 black tip reef sharks and a hawksbill turtle on the last dive – just awesome. In addition to this, we have decided to step it up on the accommodation front and bid adieu to Parishit and move across the way to Phi Phi Casita. The beds actually have clean white sheets AND blankets! Luxury, I tell you!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Krabi, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel

Krabi Town

Krabi is our first stop on the tour of Thailand’s islands. Krabi is actually on the mainland, but the beaches are just as nice as those you will find on the surrounding islands, and it’s a direct flight from Bangkok. By now, my kidney infection is a distant nightmare, and I am thankfully feeling 100%.
Since it is the tail end of wet season, we have unfortunately endured some bad weather, but luckily, a lot of the rain is conveniently falling during the night, so we are still enjoying all Krabi has to offer. Given that it is still technically wet season, Krabi is pretty desolate, but this means the locals are fighting for our business, so we not only have our pick of things to do, we are also getting off-season bargains. Given the rock structures in Krabi, there are quite a few people here for climbing, but we are opting to stay on the ground this time. Well, sort of.
We want to see more elephants, so we sign up for a half day tour at our hotel head out to spend the morning riding and feeding the elephants at a local family farm. The first half of the morning is spent riding elephants through the bush. These animals are slow and somewhat tame, but every now and again, they decide they’re gonna do what they want, meaning they frequently choose to take down trees and chase after cows with no notice. Slightly unnerving when you’re 12 feet up and have no control whatsoever!
After being taken for a ride, literally, we return back to the farm, where we have the opportunity to feed the elephants. We grab handfuls of bananas and get to work. I think they know what’s in store, seeing as they have worked for it. Here, they do act like the gentle giants they seem, and we enjoy hand feeding them, and attempting to take pictures while dodging their big floppy ears, as they swing them back and forth.
We have fresh, farm-picked Thai food for lunch and then take a tour of the farm to see everything the family grows- papayas, bananas, mangoes, rubber trees, durian…you name it, they are growing it. We then make a quick jaunt to a local river, where we spend the early afternoon cooling off and playing on rope swing. Clouds are starting to form though, so we dry off and head back to Ao Nang Bungalows. We get freshened up and have plenty of time to make it to happy hour for some cold Singhas and another amazing sunset!! Tomorrow, we are headed to Ko Phi Phi. We hope for calm seas, clear skies and warm temps.
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bangkok, Bucket List, Southeast Asia, Temples, Thailand, Travel

Temples and Temples and Ping Pong, Oh My?!

It turns out Friday was a national holiday in Thailand, and the government was promoting tourism, so we managed to get a tuk-tuk to take us around for 3 hours for about the price of $0.25. Imagine what you would pay for a 3-hour cab ride in NYC? We did have to stop off at a couple of tailor shops, as it seemed that’s who was providing the gas coupons to the tuk-tuk drivers. Who knows? That’s what we were told, but hey, we still got a $0.25 tuk tuk ride, whether it was truly a holiday or not. Doh, was our driver and he also rolled in a Thai language lesson into that bargain tuk-tuk drive. We now knew how to say “hello,” “thank you,” “goodbye,” and “good luck” by the end of the ride. Now, there are A LOT of temples in Bangkok, and after a couple, they do all start to look the same, but we wanted to make sure we saw the main ones. After about 3, we opted for a change of scenery. We grabbed some Thai food close to the hostel and began chatting with some people at the next table over (who we’d seen earlier on the temple circuit) who were making their way back to London via Tehran, after spending 8 days in Thailand. We decided to spend the afternoon on a long tail boat on the Chao Phraya River with them.


It was pretty eye-opening to hear their stories from the most recent election in Iran and the protests and violence that accompanied it. And again, it makes me realize that my travels will enable me to cross paths with people from all over the world from all different walks of life, which is what I love most about it all.

After our river cruise, we headed back to the hostel to gather ourselves and debate about the evening plans. For those of you who know Thailand, I can just say the words “ping-pong,” and you’ll know where this is going. For those of you who don’t, here’s some background. Bangkok is known for many things, one of them being sex tourism. Many people come here for this alone. There is one area specifically, Pat Pong Road, which is the equivalent of a “red light” district, where these “ping pong” shows are all the rage. Basically pair a strip show with a talent competition, the act being the most bizarre thing a woman can do with her “you know what”… To keep this PC, I won’t go into too much detail, but we did see ping pong balls being launched (yes, launched) from there, bottle caps being taken off of bottles, darts being launched at inflated balloons, and well, you get the picture. One of the last acts was a lady blowing out all of the candles on a birthday cake (No, I’m not kidding). We decided this was our cue that the party was over, and made a fast exit. And on the way home, I couldn’t help but think that I’ll never look at table tennis in quite the same way again.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bangkok, Cipro, ER Visit, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel

Welcome to Thailand, Where’s the closest hospital?

We wake up early on Thursday to head to Bangkok. I am in a world of pain. It now hurts to breathe. I feel like I have a stitch that is occupying every muscle and crevasse in my stomach. My chest feels tight and the more I think about it, the more worried I become, and the more my chest hurts. I now know this is not residuals from whatever I had picked up in India. Fortunately, I’m travelling with my friend Amanda, who is a nurse in Atlanta, so she is poking and prodding my stomach, making sure it’s not my appendix. God, please don’t let it be my appendix, but if it is, get that thing out of my body now so this pain will go away. Unfortunately, today is a travel day. We have a three hour flight to Bangkok. I try to eat, I try to go to the bathroom, I try to drink water. Anything to make this thing leave my system. Then the pain shift, The pain leaves the right side of my stomach and moves to the left. At this point I feel like something is literally gnawing at my insides. Somehow, I manage to get to the airport, get my bags checked in and get on the plane. I pray that I’m not that girl that needs “medical assistance” during the flight. 
I know I have to hang on until Bangkok, where I have heard hospitals are clean, numerous and the doctors speak English well. We board the plane, and the pilot announces the flying time is four hours. I curse the one-hour time difference. As we fly, with each breath I take, I feel a pinch. We land in Bangkok, and I tell Amanda I want to go straight to a hospital. We walk through the medical check, which is being recorded by video camera because of the H1N1 epidemic, and I try to look as healthy as possible (although it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I got sent back to Bali).
We decide to find accommodation first and then find a doctor. We get a room for about $6 per person just off of Koh San Road, and fortunately there is an international medical clinic just around the corner. We hightail it here, and I’m just relieved to be somewhere where someone might be able to help. I speak to a doctor and she diagnoses me with a kidney infection and a fever. She tells me I need a course of Cipro (antibiotics), and bless Dr. Saha in NY for sending me away with this as a “precautionary measure.” I am told to go back the next morning to get the results of the tests and make sure it is nothing more serious. In the meantime, I take the Cipro, Tylenol, and drink liters and liters of water. 
The following morning, I feel like a new woman. Well, I can breathe without pain and have a much better range of motion… I think of the other way this scenario could have played out… I thank the Cipro, the English-speaking doc, the clean clinic and my very patient travel partner. We venture out, slowly, to see some of Bangkok.