Koh Lanta, Bali

My last day in Hanoi was fairly uneventful. I caught up on some emails and photo editing and spent the remainder of the day and evening with a Dutch couple from my Halong Bay trip and one of the Canadian siblings from my Sapa trip. The next day we all took the same flight to Bangkok so we were able to split a cab on both the Hanoi side and the Bangkok side. I checked in to the hostel where I was meeting up with my old highschool friend Corina later than night, relaxed a bit, and then met back up with them for dinner.

After dinner the four of us played card games for a couple hours and then I began to get incredibly nauseous. After a vomiting episode in the restaurant bathroom (sorry if that’s too much information), I immediately took a cab back to my hostel where I was hit with full on food poisoning. It ended up being some of the most miserable 24 hours that I can remember (the only worse food poisoning I’ve had was back on my study abroad program in Ecuador). Unfortunately during that time, Corina also arrived and then had to spend her first day in Bangkok alone as I couldn’t even keep a half sip of water down and was too sore and weak to move out of bed. Thankfully I felt somewhat better the next day as we had to catch a flight down to Koh Lanta. After checking in to our hostel there we walked across the street to an amazing beach, aptly named Long Beach (as its 3 km long).

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We spent the remainder of the day napping and swimming at the beach and returned to our hostel in the evening for a light dinner and early bedtime.

Day 2 in Koh Lanta began with another trip across the street to Long Beach where the water was even calmer than the previous day.

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After lunch we got a cab all the way to the south of the island where there is a small national park. The 45 minute drive was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve done as we went along the cliffs looking through jungle at beautiful beaches below.

We spent the remainder of the day at the national park. There are two beaches there, one is rocky but has reefs (if you bring your own snorkel gear) while the other is sandy and calm. Separating the two beaches is a little jut of land with a lighthouse on it, so we climbed up to the top to get lovely views in all directions.

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Then we hiked down in the sweltering heat and spent an hour and a half lounging and swimming at the sandy beach (as we didn’t have the snorkel gear to explore the other one).

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The whole national park area is swarming with monkeys that kept trying to get into our backpacks when we weren’t paying attention so after 1.5 hrs of fending them off we decided to explore some more of the national park. They had a 2 km nature hike that we were excited about at first but after the entire first 25 minutes were pretty much vertical stairs with no end in sight, we decided to turn around and head back towards the beach. Once we were there we wandered around the flat part of the jungle where we ran into a gazillion more monkeys and 3 gigantic monitor lizards. The monitor lizards were so cool! I didn’t even know that they were in Thailand.

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Then we went back to the beach for a tiny bit more relaxation before heading back to our hostel.

Our last full day in Koh Lanta we got picked up early and transferred to a speed boat. We took this about 1.5 hours to a small pair of islands, Koh Rok and Koh Rok Noi. First we went to this calm little bay and snorkeled for about at hour. The coral and fish were so lovely and we even saw a sea snake! They’re very venomous but thankfully it wasn’t interested in us and we were able to watch it peacefully. It was only Corina’s second time snorkeling ever and her first time she had no instruction so I helped teach her how to do it and how to relax and enjoy it. At first she seemed tense but I think by the end of the day she was enjoying it more!

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Next we boated over to a channel between the two islands for our second round of snorkeling. It was quite beautiful as you could see beaches on both sides.

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Unfortunately though, the channel seemed to have some currents so although the coral formations were truly stunning at the second site, it was really hard to swim around much so it was nowhere near as relaxing as the first site.

After this we went ashore at the beach on Koh Rok for some tasty tasty lunch. We then got an hour and a half to relax on the beach, and wow was it a beautiful beach. The sand was perfect and buttery soft and the water was soooo blue. However there were a decent number of people so it wasn’t as relaxing as our other beaches but that didn’t stop us from fully enjoying the sand and water (and unfortunately getting a bit sunburned while we were at it).

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Then it was time to head to our final snorkeling spot. This spot was a very large bay and we had enough time to explore almost all of it. The fish there were definitely the most colorful and diverse, and I even saw a gigantic eel (still haven’t identified the species though). The water around the boat however was a bit filled with jellyfish, I spied them both on the surface and I could feel the microscopic kind stinging my arms, so that was annoying but I just tried to avoid snorkeling near the boat. I also saw the most amazing sea anemones. They were gigantic and bright blue and when I dove down to swim next to them, I noticed that each one was occupied by a little clown-type fish. It was lovely. It made me really wish that I had an underwater camera.

Then it was back onto the boat for a nice long ride back to the beach where our hostel was. It was a thoroughly exhausting day but also so spectacular.

We woke up very early the next day and got on a ferry to Phuket. It was a fairly long ferry ride and then the taxi to our hostel was long as well. By the time we arrived, it was during the hours that they were closed for lunch and cleaning so we went to the beach nearby to relax. There we read our books, swam a bit, and treated ourselves to mango smoothies and chicken sandwiches (not very Thai, but my stomach was still feeling hyper-sensitive).

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Then we checked into our airport hostel, repacked our bags and enjoyed the room’s air conditioning as even at night the heat and humidity was brutal.

The next we woke up at 5 to get to the airport. We flew from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur where we had to exit immigration and customs and get a boarding pass for our next flight on the other side. This was a bit of a hassle but allowed me to get a Malaysia stamp on my passport…although it felt a bit like cheating. We had a 6.5 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur so we decided to wander outside of the airport for food so at least I had breathed Malaysian air and stepped on their soil (trying to deserve that fresh passport stamp here…). Then we checked back in, hung out at our gate, and flew to Bali in the evening. With the time change and long flight, we didn’t arrive in Bali until late and it was an hour and a half in a taxi until we arrived in Ubud, where our first guesthouse was (we arrived there at almost 10 PM..) Once we got to our guesthouse we were informed that they actually were full (kind of frustrating as we booked it 2 months ago…) but the lady brought us about 20 feet away to her sister’s guesthouse where we stayed in a very beautiful and spacious room. However, it was very open to the elements and the temperature didn’t drop whatsoever, even at night so it was a very sticky couple nights of sleeping.

I woke up pretty early the next day. I really wanted to sleep in because the beds were so comfortable and the room was so pretty and serene but the heat was already out in full force and I couldn’t keep my eyes closed against the sweat anymore. After a truly lovely breakfast, we headed out to explore Ubud. Our first stop was a big marketplace where Corina picked up a few souvenirs. Then we found a shaded little temple and rested from the sun.

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Ubud is a very spiritual city so there are temples everywhere. It’s quite pretty. Also, they put offerings and incense out in front of every building every day so the streets are littered in these beautiful little banana leaf offerings.

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Our next stop was the Grand Palace. It wasn’t exactly a Palace or that grand but it was a nice temple space and had enough shade to keep us in ok spirits.

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By this point we were covered in sweat so we found a gelato shop with a fan and took a short break. Then we wandered a bit further down to another temple that had a beautiful lotus pond in front. After meandering through the small temple grounds we are at a cafe in front of the lotus pond and had some delicious cured salmon, avocado, and ginger tea. It really helped out my stomach.

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Then it was back onto the streets where we wandered into various shops. As lovely as Ubud is, it is very gentrified. There are so many “hip” and yuppie boutiques that are pleasant enough to browse but kind of lack that traditional flare. Eventually we decided to walk back towards our guesthouse. We only made it 20 minutes before we realized that we needed air conditioning right that second. The heat was so brutal and we literally felt like it was suffocating us, so we ducked into the nearest air conditioned coffee shop, ordered some juice and sat there in the cool air for almost an hour. Finally it was time to brave the heat again so we went to the sacred monkey forest. It is a beautiful (and very shady) forest with lots of old temples that is filled with monkeys. We wandered through the forest and watched the monkey families for a little while.

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After, we walked back to our guesthouse where we filled the bathtub with cold water and sat in our bathing suits in it as if it were a pool. The heat was so intolerable that it was the only way to get our body temperatures down. Then we relaxed and napped until it was time for a late dinner. I tried to post this on my blog then but the wifi connection was way too slow for any of the photos to upload. After dinner nearby we went to bed early, thoroughly exhausted from the hot climate.

The next day we had an early breakfast and then packed and lounged in our room until we had to check out at 11. Then we ate lunch and found ourselves a cab to Uluwatu, where our next guesthouse was. Our drive was excruciatingly long but our taxi driver was so friendly which helped pass the time. In general, Balinese people are some of the most social and smiley people that I’ve met. They’re so open and want to tell you all about themselves and learn about you. We arrived at our guesthouse, and were greeted by lovely staff and the most blue and pristine swimming pool. After the excruciating heat of Ubud, we immediately jumped in the pool where we spent almost the entire remainder of the day.

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In the evening we walked 15 minutes to a beach north of us. It was very scenic although the beach itself wasn’t terribly inviting as it was rocky, with big waves, and was covered in seaweed.

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We ate dinner there while the sun began to set and then we hiked back up the cliffs and returned to our guesthouse to spend the remainder of the evening swimming.

Our first full day in Uluwatu, we began by sleeping in. Our bungalow was nicely air conditioned and the refreshing air was too irresistible. Then we had a light breakfast and swam in the pool before walking to the beach on the other side of us. This beach was a bit nicer as the sand was quite soft but it was also quite crowded as it is a beach featured in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

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Thankfully we found ourselves a nice shady patch of sand under a rocky protrusion. It was nice because the rock was covered in seaweed and there were baby crabs picking away at the moss and kelp, which kept me thoroughly entertained.

We spent a few hours there, swimming, lounging, watching baby crabs, and snacking on grilled corn before we decided to trek back up the cliffs to find some real food. At our late lunch/early dinner spot there was this really loud noise that I had heard the previous night at our guesthouse. I tracked it down and discovered a massive gecko. It was so massive that I couldn’t really believe it was a gecko. I ended up googling “giant gecko Bali” and discovered that it was a Tokay Gecko which are apparently quite common. I was fascinated.

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We spent the remainder of the day and evening drinking mango juice and lounging around the pool while I attempted to write an essay for a scholarship opportunity on my phone as neither us nor our hosts had a usable computer. Unfortunately in the evening the electricity completely died so I was unable to submit my essay, as it took the wifi with it.

Today we slept in again, waking to the sound of our electricity returning. After some more morning swimming (I’ve been swimming laps in the pool! Not just lazily swimming!) we began the trek to Uluwatu Temple. The sun was beating down on us though so after our first major incline we decided to grab a taxi the remainder of the way. The temple in Uluwatu isn’t the most exciting but the location is what makes it so special. It is perched on cliffs above amazing turquoise water and crashing waves.

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We walked along the cliffs, admiring the scenery but there was very little shade the whole way. Corina had not been staying hydrated enough and the sun and heat eventually got the best of her and she got dizzy and started throwing up so it put a bit of a damper on the day and we had to rush a bit through the remainder of the visit to the temple to get her back into the shade and cooler temperatures.

Once we got back to the room she took a recovery nap while I finished up my essay, submitted it, and finished writing this post.

Then we headed to a nearby neighborhood where we got a really lovely dinner and watched our last Balinese sunset.

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The next few days are days in transit so my next post (which will be my last post for this trip) will be from back in the states.

Bangkok & Siem Reap

We made it to Thailand! It’s so hot and humid here but thankfully not too mosquito-y. Getting here took a bit of effort due to both Luke and my flights getting canceled due to weather. My flight was rescheduled for earlier while his was rescheduled for later, so I got to Bangkok about 12 hours before him and headed over to our hostel to pass out.

My first morning in Bangkok I slept off a bit of jetlag and then wandered down a canal near the hostel.

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I ended up at a temple complex called Loha Prasat. It was a 5 story building and each floor was laid out a bit like a labyrinth with Buddhas throughout.

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After a bit of walking meditation I wandered through an old historic neighborhood and found another temple called the Golden Mount. It has a huge constructed mountain in the middle with Buddhas relics enshrined at the top. It was a bit of a trek to the top but once I made it I was rewarded with this gorgeous view.

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After the climb up the golden mount the heat was really getting to me so I headed back to the hostel where Luke arrived soon after. We lazed around for a little while before heading out to explore. We walked along the main canal and then cut through The Grand Palace. The nationally adored king Bhumibol passed recently, and there was some sort of mourning service happening as we walked thorough. Then we headed to Khaosan Road and Soi Rambuttri to check out the tourist scene there (those are the main tourist streets in Bangkok) and grabbed our first Pad Thai dinner.

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We were both too jetlagged and exhausted to do much in the way of night life so we got a couple of Thai beers to drink on the roof of our hostel before heading to sleep.

Day 2 in Bangkok, we woke up early and walked back to the grand palace. After a bit of confusion we finally made it to the temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Pra Kraeow). The temple grounds there were so magnificent. All of the tile work and gilding on the temples and statues was so intricate and colorful.

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Next we walked to Wat Pho, another gigantic temple. We spent a couple hours meandering through the many different temple structures, each containing unique Buddhas telling different chapters of the iconic Buddha life story. The reclining Buddha was also truly amazing. It’s scale cannot be captured by photograph.

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During our touring of Wat Pho we stumbled upon this market that was serving up a free Thai lunch. Of course we had no idea what we were eating (although we definitely spotted some chicken feet in what otherwise looked like tom kha soup) but it was nice getting a tasty free meal as long as we didn’t end up with food poisoning from it.

After Wat Pho, we took a ferry across the canal to Wat Arun. Much of this temple was closed due to restoration efforts but we still took a brief stroll and lots of photos before hopping on a canal express boat to Chinatown.

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Visiting a Thai Chinatown fascinated us both, with a blend of cultures that seemed surprisingly at home together. There were little shops selling made-in-China goods everywhere and the abundance of street food made the sidewalks almost impassable yet so vibrant and colorful.

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Eventually the heat and crowdedness got a bit overwhelming so we headed back to the canal ferry and took it for a while up the river. It’s nice because it’s less than 50 cents and essentially a boat tour for however far along the canal you want to go. Each ‘stop’ was more like a ‘float-by’ as there was very little time to get on and off. Seeing the city from the water was cooler in every way.

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We got off near our hostel, hung out there for a bit and then set off across town to find a little restaurant that was supposed to have some of the best pad Thai in Bangkok. It was quite delicious and very unique as it was wrapped in fried egg, almost like an omelette of pad Thai.

The next day we woke up quite early and got on a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The flight was quite quick, the Siem Reap airport was very unique, and the Cambodian visa on arrival process was a piece of cake. In no time we were carted off by the tuktuk driver sent by our guesthouse. Immediate impressions of Siem Reap were so great! It’s got a ton of character and in a lot of ways reminds me more of Nicaragua than Thailand. Our guesthouse is great and we were greeted by delicious Khmer curry and 50 cent beers. We lazed around the guesthouse for a bit and then went out to a very fun little restaurant with delicious tropical cocktails that were so good and not overly sweet whatsoever (something that usually turns me off of tropical cocktails) and amazingly delicious and cheap food. Then we walked all through the Night Market and Pub Street and got some more 50 cent beers while watching geckos hunt.

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Yesterday was the first day in Angkor Wat. Our same TukTuk driver from the previous day came and picked us up early in the morning and whisked us off to our first temple. We arranged for him to spend the whole day driving us around (which sounds expensive but was actually ridiculously cheap). Our first stop was Pre Rup, a Hindu temple-mountain in the “Big Loop”.
It was quite a trek up some giant and steep stairs up to the top but it was a great way to start off our temple-ing. Also we were there at ~7:30 am so we beat the crowds which was quite nice.

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Next we went 23 km north to Banteay Srei, the Citadel of the Woman, named so (according to lonely planet) because the stone carving there is so intricate that there is no way a man could have done it. It was astounding, the carving was beautiful and the stone was in so many different colors, but it was unfortunately totally swarmed with tour groups.

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After this we backtracked to the Banteay Butterfly Center where we saw all of the species of butterflies in the area and got a very ecologically informed tour (although despite our tour guide’s knowledge of butterflies, his accent made it a bit difficult to understand). We saw all of the butterflies at various forms of life including gold flecked pupae and outrageous looking caterpillars. Also the tour guide told us about the center’s initiatives to teach locals (especially local children) how to farm butterflies so they can sell the pupae/chrysalises back to the center to be distributed to global butterfly centers. All and all it was a very pleasant and beautiful little stop.

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East Mebon was next, another Hindu temple in the big circuit. This one is known for having an abundance of elephant sculptures. Again it was quite breathtaking with its sculptures, architecture, and stone carvings.

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Next was Neak Pean, a Buddhist water temple. The hike out to this temple was so beautiful, on a boardwalk across a bog/flooded forest. The temple itself was very different than the others with its structures all surrounded by ponds.

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Here we stopped for some fairly lame and overpriced lunch. It’s quite the scheme because no one thinks about bringing lunch with them and then everyone’s forced to eat at these eateries. But it wasn’t terrible and it was still cheaper than the US. Also the waitress was very cute and seemed to have a crush on our tuktuk driver and their little flirtation was fun to watch.
After lunch we headed to our last temple of the day, Preah Khan. This temple was the highlight of the day for me. It’s a giant temple that is primarily Buddhist but has some satellite Hindu structures. A lot of it was overgrown with jungle vegetation and unlike the other sites, there were so few tourists. There were also little butterflies flying all over the overgrown temple with made for an incredibly peaceful experience.

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Thankfully after this we were headed back to the guesthouse because the afternoon sun was brutal and the breeze not quite strong enough. We made it back to the hostel, rested, did some laundry, and then wandered down the block to another incredibly cheap restaurant for delicious dinner and cocktails.

Today we woke up at 4 am to get to the main temple, Angkor Wat, for sunrise.There were absurd numbers of tourists, but it really was stunning watching the sun rise over this gigantic temple. Then we explored the temple in the early morning light.

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Today was our tour of the main circuit of temples so we next headed to Bayon, in Angkor Thom. I actually studied Bayon in a Buddhist Art class in college so seeing it in person was quite exciting. There are 216 faces on the 54 towers in Bayon. There are supposedly the faces of Avalokitesvara but also closely resemble the king who commissioned the creation of this structure. We got a fresh coconut and wandered around, eventually stumbling upon a group of monkeys. A couple of the monkeys had sweet little babies climbing on them as well.

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From there we walked past a couple elephant temples to find our tuktuk driver and drive to the next stop, Ta Keo. Ta Keo is only partially finished but was still very impressive. It reminded me of the first temple we visited, Pre Rup, as it was quite the mountain and we had to scramble up multiple sets of ridiculously steep stairs to get to the top. It was worth it though for the view and the breeze. Coming back down those shallow and steep steps was really the tough part though, but we made it and ate some pineapple fried rice at the base.

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We completed our “small tour” with a visit to Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple that was once a monastery and university for the whole temple complex. This is another temple that has been left to the jungle in a sense. There are huge trees growing over many of the ruins which makes for quite the viewing experience. The movie Tomb Raider was actually filmed here, which you could recognize immediately if you’ve seen that movie. Although there were lots of tourists here, there were so many pathways and hallways that you could easily escape all of the hustle and bustle. We actually got lost in the maze of ruins while trying to find our way out which was kind of fun.

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That concluded our day at the main temples and we headed back to catch up on sleep after waking up at 4 am.

We returned to the restaurant from last night for dinner and filled up on more delicious Cambodian specialties and amazing cocktails while our wonderful waiter August taught us snippets of Cambodian.

One and a half more days left in Siem Reap and then its back to Thailand for the beach.