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.

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Chiang Mai & Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Our first day in Chiang Mai, we got a tasty Thai lunch at our guesthouse, booked a cooking class for the following day, and then set out on a walking tour of the historic part of the city.
We started out visiting Wat Chedi Luang.
It contained a very ancient and large pagoda (although now much of the pagoda has slowly worn away with earthquakes). The pagoda was very distinct from the other Wats in Thailand that we had visited. Interestingly there was also a small temple there that was for men only, due to menstruation making women unholy and thus apparently ruining the sanctity of the temple. Not sure how I feel about this… Luke chose not to enter as well, in a stand of solidarity. I don’t really see much feminism in Thailand, although they seem to show women so much respect in other regards that I didn’t really even think about Thai feminism up to that point. Besides that, it was quite a lovely Wat.

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Before our next stop we found a little stand that was serving up mango sticky rice for unbelievably cheap. So of course we had to buy one (and a passion fruit shake) and it was one of the tastiest mango-sticky rices that I’ve had.

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The next temple we visited, Wat Phan Tao, was very distinct as it was made out of wood and was decorated in gold flags rather than the usually gilded temples that we were used to seeing. It also had a little bamboo walkway along a pond decorated in Chinese New Year flags that was quite pretty and peaceful.

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After this we strolled along a street that was lined in little crafts shops. In general, there was quite the abundance of crafty gift shops in Chiang Mai. This street led us to our final wat, Wat Phra Singh. This was the primary royal wat in Chiang Mai. It was quite the fancy temple complex and much of the gilding and architecture reminded me of the royal temple accompanying the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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For dinner we decided to head to a little market area to eat some street food. We got Khao Soi, a Northern Thai specialty that is chicken and egg noodles in a yellow curry broth. Half of the egg noodles are regular noodles and the other half are deep fried so that they’re crunchy. It was so so delicious.

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We followed that up with some roti with chocolate sauce which are kind of like bubbly fried crepes with toppings on them. That was delicious as well. After that we wandered outside of the old town to find the night market. It turns out that the night market is a whole street lined with thousands of handicraft-selling booths paired with multiple giant bazaars containing even more handicraft booths. It was overwhelming but fun and colorful. Eventually we found a little night bazaar that reminded us a lot of Portland. The square was lined in hip ethnic-fusion food trucks, the handicrafts that they were selling there were slightly more unique, there was an abundance of cafe lights and rustic furniture (so very portland-esque), and there was a stage in the middle of it all. We found ourselves a little upcycled pallet table to sit at and watched a very pleasant singer-songwriter for a bit while he covered familiar acoustic songs. It was a very charming way to end the evening.

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we started off my lazing around the hostel and catching up on Internet-things. Then it was time for our traditional Thai cooking class! We started off with a market visit where our chef-teacher explained to us all of the vegetables and ingredients that you see at a Thai market and what to make with each one.

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Then we drove out to the organic farm where our cooking class was located. The whole place was quite serene.

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Then school was in session. First we learned how to make curry paste. We followed that by making Tom Kha Soup. It was shockingly easy to make and tasted so delicious, even made by us amateurs!

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Next we learned how to make sticky rice with mango and green papaya salad. After eating those up, we moved on to curries. I made panang curry and Luke made green curry so that we would both learn how to make different curries. Then it was on to Pad Thai, which was also way easier than I was expecting. Luke somehow managed to make his Pad Thai inside of a fried egg (like an omelet), but when I tried to do this it came out looking like a complete mess.. I seem to lack the artful part of cooking. Finally we made holy basil stir fry and cashew chicken stir fry. During this part our teacher taught us how to make the pan shoot up in flames, which Luke attempted but I was too intimidated by. In the end, it all tasted delicious but it was sooo much food and we were stuffed by the time we left the cooking school.

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Our last full day in Chiang Mai, we wandered around the city and got more delicious Khao Soi at a cute little cafe.

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I followed that up with a Thai massage while Luke found a fun little coffee shop to hang out in. It was quite an interesting massage, very different from western massage but it felt phenomenal and was less than $6. They also gave me complimentary Thai iced tea for hydration afterwards. After some post-massage lazy time, we headed out for our final Thai dinner and then returned to the night market to pick up a few souvenirs and a couple clothing items to add to my sparse wardrobe. By this point in the trip I became acutely aware of my terrible packing, as I fully under-packed. Thankfully picking up a few clothing essentials did not break the bank.

The next day Luke headed back to the US. Thankfully I didn’t have to check out of the hostel until 5, so I spent the remainder of the day packing and planning my next steps in Vietnam. After dinner, I got a tuktuk to the airport and proceeded to have a fairly miserable remainder of the night. I spent ~5 hours in the Chiang Mai airport and then ~5 hours in the Bangkok airport. This was followed by a terribly messy situation with immigration that was solved by an airline representative taking me through the back route of the airport, bypassing immigration. It was very confusing. Finally I arrived in Ho Chi Minh yesterday at 7 am having gotten a total of 45 minutes of sleep. Thankfully it is so organized here and I got on a bus that took me straight to the hostel in no time. By the time I was able to check in to my room I was so exhausted that I ended up spending the remainder of the day sleeping, waking only for dinner at a nearby Pho stand (so so tasty and cheap!) with a British journalist staying in the same dorm as me. After a bite to eat, I got my two complimentary beers from the hostel and spent a few hours chatting with other travelers in the common room. Almost everyone here is a solo traveller which is super nice for social purposes and everyone has such different backgrounds so it was fun to spend a while chatting with people.

Today I woke for an amazing complimentary breakfast (between the 2 free beers, decadent complimentary breakfast, and really incredible amenities at dirt cheap prices I don’t see how this hostel makes any profit). After a post breakfast rest I headed out to discover some of Ho Chi Minh, or as everyone prefers to say, Saigon. I wandered all over, through various markets and down all sorts of streets.

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At one point I actually stumbled upon a catholic cathedral. It wasn’t particularly magnificent but it was so oddly out of place amongst all of the temples of SE Asia that it was interesting. Then I ate an incredible Banh Mi for lunch before wandering (a bit lost) back towards the hostel.

Angkor Wat & Islands

I woke up the next day to find a picture of a princess folded up in my shoe. It was from one of the daughters of the hostel owner. So I drew her a little picture and left it with the guy at the front desk.

For our last day at Angkor Wat we went to a small group of temples a little further out called the Roluos Group. These temples were similar to our earliest temples that we visited with red sandstone and intricate stone carvings.

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After this group of temples we went back to Siem Reap for another tasty lunch. I followed that up by finally indulging myself in a massage. It was such a phenomenal massage, including foot reflexology and what felt like scalp reflexology, and only cost $6 so that was a very nice treat. My masseuse was also frustrated by the unkempt state of my hair, so she threw in a complimentary brushing and fancy-braiding of it so that I would look presentable. It was very sweet.

After reaching complete relaxation, I met back up with Luke to get fresh fruit smoothies and sticky rice with mango. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the various markets around Siem Reap.

In the evening before dinner we played with the baby daughter of the hostel owner. She was really the cutest little thing. She played for a while with our mancala stones and became pretty attached, wanting me to hold her and then not set her down. When we finally had to leave for dinner she burst into tears: bittersweet…

After dinner we explored some of the Siem Reap nightclubs which were quite unique. It was fun.

For our final day in Cambodia, we hung around the hostel the whole morning. The owners older daughter had left me another drawing so I drew her another butterfly in return. Then we just relaxed and ate and enjoyed the last bit of Khmer culture. By the time our same tuktuk driver came to take us to the airport, the family seemed very sad to see us go and walked us all the way out to the street and waved until we’d left. They were really such a wonderful family and Cambodia was just such a special place, with some of the friendliest people I’ve met.

We arrived in Krabi (a small Thai town on the Andaman Sea) late that night and pretty much crashed by the time we reached our very raucous hostel.

The next morning we got on a long tail boat to Tonsai beach.

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We dropped our stuff off at our very cute, and rustic, bungalow and headed immediately to the beach to wash all of our sweat off.

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Later on we ate some delicious curry and Tom Kha soup and ventured across the rocks to nearby Railey beach.

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Unfortunately the moment we arrived it started pouring rain so we sheltered under the rocks for a little bit until it let up. We swam at Railey for about 10 minutes before a real thunderstorm hit and then we scampered up under the trees. This was a serious storm though so we decided to hike back the overland route to our bungalow at tonsai. We were soaked by the time we got back so we rinsed off, played some cribbage, and watched the thunderstorm from the shelter of our bungalow. It was quite exciting to watch such a wild little tropical storm pass.

Eventually we ventured out for some more delicious dinner and then drinks at the bar affiliated with our bungalows.

We woke up early the next day and took a longtail boat out to a ferry to get to Koh Phi Phi. After a pleasant, uneventful ferry ride we arrived to find someone from our hotel unexpectedly waiting to whisk our luggage up the hill for us which was a nice surprise. Our hotel there had a really nice view but was quite the hike up a hill to get to.

We left the hotel to get some food, find a bit of wifi, and book a snorkeling trip for the next day. Then we went to the main beach, Loh Dalum, but the tide was so low that swimming wasn’t exactly an option although I did wade way out, but the abundance of crabs around my feet eventually got the better of me and I decided that resting in the shade of the beach sounded a little better.

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We then wandered through town for a little bit before getting a cocktail ‘bucket’ and taking it to the beach with us. Later in the evening we got some pizza (I know… not very Thai but sometimes you need a change of pace) and returning to the beach to watch some fire spinners.

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For our full day in Ko Phi Phi, we took an early morning speedboat tour to see some more of the islands around there. We made friends with a Lithuanian couple on the boat and spent the remainder of the day with them. Our first stop was Maya Bay. It is truly a spectacular beach. Unfortunately it was the subject of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, so the number of tourists packed in taking photos there was astounding.

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We found a nice area to swim away from the crowds and frolicked around there for about an hour joined by our Lithuanian friends. Our next stop was across Maya Bay opposite the main beach where we jumped off the boat to snorkel. It was really beautiful snorkeling. It’s always fun to snorkel in such a new place because the fish we saw were so different from what I’ve seen in Hawaii. For example, we saw a whole school of cuttlefish and I saw a pair of beautiful squid, two things I’ve never seen before in real life. After snorkeling we continued our boat trip around the island stopping at a big cave and some beautiful little inlets, one of which we swam around at.

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Our final stop was Monkey Bay. Morally, I’m not sure where I stand on feeding monkeys but this is quite the spectacle. The cliffs and trees around this little bay are filled with monkeys. Tour companies toss the monkeys fruit and they come really close up to the boat, one of them even jumped on the boat and then impressively swam back to the cliff.

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After our boat trip we returned to the beach from the previous day, only this time it was high tide.

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We got lunch and mojitos with our new friends and then swam around with them a bit. Even at high tide it was crazy how shallow it was. We went way out and the water still was below our hips. After the swim we bade adieu to our friends and got some of this fancy roll-y ice cream. Basically they mix toppings in with milk and then spread it out on a frozen stone. Once the milk and toppings freezes, they scrape it up into these little ice cream rolls. It was very refreshing.

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By then, it was low tide so we went back to the hotel to swim in the pool there. We relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon and evening and I finally finished a book that I keep opening and then not reading. (Where’d You Go, Bernadette?)

Today we slept in a little, ate another incredible lunch, and relaxed in the shade by the beach for a few hours. We were kept company by some silly old taxi boat drivers who sang very cute songs and engaged in some idle conversation. Eventually we left them to get on a ferry back to Krabi, where we headed to the airport, headed to Chiang Mai.

Tomorrow will be our first day in Chiang Mai, where the food is supposed to be even more phenomenal!

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.

 

Sawasdee Thai Food

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So first, in regards to food carts, sad news… my favorite bagel cart (blogged below, Alice’s Bagels) has closed 😦

But, on a more happy note, this place, Sawasdee Thai Food at SW 9th and Alder (i think they have another location too) has the best pad thai.

And pad thai is pretty amazing already. But seriously, this is the best pad thai. I’ve only eaten their pad thai, but i’ve eaten a lot of pad thai and this is by far my favorite.

Its got a bunch of broccoli and carrots in it, so it makes you feel healthy. and then it just has theeee most amazing pad thai sauce of any thai food cart. The noodles are super fresh and perfect and theres a lot of sauce so its kinda liquid-y in such a good way, all of your noodles are just dripping in peanut-y garlick-y goodness. nomnomnom.

not to mention, all the people who work there are super sweet and friendly.

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Go eat their pad thai.