Phuket, Phi Phi, Railay

Phuket: Glen, Nick, Mar and I spent two days in Phuket doing nothing. We set foot on Patong beach for about ten minutes and spent time walking around this oddly modern city filled with home favorites like Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks, and Ben and Jerry’s. In the evening we discovered a bar that like to blast classics from Bon Jovi to Joan Jett. I wasn’t complaining.

We said goodbye to Glen who was off to Singapore and eventually Tokyo. We didn’t want to see him go because the four off us were having such a good time together. I feel like I’ve known Glen and Nick for a long time.

After another lazy day in Phuket, the remaining three amigos went to Koh Phi Phi, the infamous island where the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” was filmed.

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Nick and I-First day on Phi Phi. Safe to say the tide was out.

And then it rained for two days. And by rain I mean it was the wrath of Titan raining down on Phi Phi. The streets were filled with water up to my shins in some areas! Thankfully we had a covered porch where we all read and relaxed. I kind of loved it 🙂

We also discovered that our room came with a cat, who Nick named Bernie Cat. I kicked him out several times but for some reason he stilled loved me. I guess I did pet him the most.

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Kitty Kitty

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Nick, Mar and I at “The Beach”

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DCIM101GOPROIt turns out that the actual scene from the movie was a longtail boat ride away. We finally got a nice day to make our way over there. Along the way we stopped to see monkeys on a different beach and went snorkeling in another location.

I didn’t expect to have to climb through a wet rock tunnel and into a patch of palm trees in order to see The Beach. That made it feel so adventurous like the movie, since they had to find the beach as well!

The next day we unexpectedly said goodbye to Nick because he realized he needed to be in Bangkok sooner than he thought to fix his visa for India. He is filming in India for the next few months but his visa wasn’t long enough. He got it all sorted out thankfully. After a month of being with the same interchanging group, Nick was our last friend to leave. Mar and I were on our own for the first time in a month! AH!

We went to the viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi. This view is certainly in my top five favorite views I’ve ever seen! The colors of the water and surrounding hills were vibrant and serene.

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Our last Thai Island was Railay, a very small and underdeveloped island a short skip away from Phi Phi.

Upon arriving via long tail boat, we were surprised to be dropped off in knee deep water. I barely made it out of the boat without falling over because my backpack was so heavy! Then as we walked toward shore this random lady said to me in a puzzled tone “Why don’t you walk on the sidewalk?”

Oh, of course there’s an under water sidewalk, why didn’t I think of that? **fist to head. Because that’s normal…

There isn’t much to do in Railay unless you’re going deep sea rock climbing (it wasn’t the right season for it apparently). We stayed one night in a very interesting hut that literally just had a mattress on the floor. I think it was maybe $5 for the night…

We walked to the beach on the other side of the island where you could see a pretty rock karst in the ocean. We were a bit puzzled by the view point because we didn’t understand where the path to it was. Well that’s because it’s just a rope hanging from a cliff. We didn’t notice it on the way there but found it on the way back. I had to coax Mar into going because she was afraid we would run into snakes. Once I convinced her she would still be alive at the end of the journey we climbed up and up until we found a beautiful view!

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Railay

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This way to the view point? You got it.

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That’s all for Thailand! We made so many unforgettable memories in the islands. We also met some really incredible people that I feel so thankful to have met. See https://easternendeavors.wordpress.com/category/martha/ for more on our friends and recent places:)

Later Thailand

Next up: MALAYSIA!

 

Full Moon & Koh Tao Lovin

Koh Phangan

First stop in the islands: Koh Phangan, the birthplace of the full moon party. After 30 hours of non-stop travel from Siem Reap to Koh Phangan we were ready to partaaaayy!

A huge group of us, (including Sara, Naomi, Christine, Nick, and Brett who we met in Cambodia) met to pre-game at one hostel. We got buckets (the sand castle building type, except filled with alcohol), and painted each other’s bodies in neon. Art was made. Art was later destroyed. I met so many cool new people at the pre-game (ehm, Glen!). I wish we could paint our bodies for every party.

After the pre-game we spent the rest of the night and into the morning partying on the beach, Haad Rin. This beach contained the largest amount of people I’ve ever seen partying in one spot. Bars lined the beach playing music and selling beer and buckets while we danced and sang. We have a disposable camera full of pictures I can’t wait to develop when I get home. I had a blast dancing with Sara and Christine who are two of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met. I’m so glad we made it to the full moon party and I highly recommend going if you’re ever in Thailand:)

Brett, Mar and I rented motor bikes on our last day on Koh Phangan. I loved driving once I got the hang of it! Driving is something I love to do in general so it felt good to be on a motor bike cruising the coast of the island. It was so hilly and curvy! We drove to the northern point of the island, about 40 minutes away- Koh Ma. Here we spent time hanging on the beach then getting great views from a viewpoint. I simply loved this day.

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Brett, Mar and I at Full Moon Party- more neon paint to come!

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photo1-2 Koh Ma view point

Koh Tao

“We never should have left Koh Tao” became a saying once we left this amazing island. I think Mar and I can easily agree this was our favorite Thai island. The vibes were so good and the people and memories made it hard to leave.

Koh Tao is the scuba diving capital of the world. You can get certified to dive for $300 and there are so many scuba schools to choose from. Mar and I chose Ban’s, which is literally the biggest dive school in the world because it certifies the most people per year.

We did four open water dives around Koh Tao, each lasting 40 minutes. I love diving and I’m so glad we got to do it! We REALLY wanted to do the advanced course which certifies you to 30 meters instead of 18 and teaches you to navigate so you don’t need a guide. But we couldn’t justify it this time around.

We loved Koh Tao because of the diving atmosphere, nightlife, and people we were with. I actually never left Sairee beach in our six nights. Mar and I had booked a night boat to Phuket but two hours before it left we decided to switch it to the next night. We just didn’t want to leave Koh Tao. We ended up hanging out with Nick, Glen, Stuart, and Joel for another awesome night out at Lotus! Lotus has fire shows and fire jump ropes. Yup, we jumped over said fire rope (oh and fire limbo). We unfortunately said goodbye to Brett the night before–so so sad! We felt a little weird for the next few days not having him around. Koh Tao is where everyone in our group started leaving one by one to go home.

Mar and I got to really get to know Nick and Glen more once it was just the four of us. Nick is from Chicago and goes to school in LA with Glen, who is from LA. Glen loves his ‘rich white guy’ sports while Nick is into films! Haha. It was a blast hanging out with these two because they have fun personalities and are genuinely awesome people!

We met two Canadians and asked them how long they’d been on Koh Tao. They replied “We came here a month ago for four days.”

Mar and I keep joking that we are going to open up a dog grooming and motor bike accident clinic some day so we can go back and never leave Koh Tao.

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Glen!

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Nick!

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Monalize, Mar, Alex and I with our dive instructor (middle) Alex! Great Crew!

After six nights on this incredible island, Nick, Glen, Mar and I took a night boat to Phuket the following evening.

The Gulf of Thailand was spectacular all the way from Koh Rong to Koh Tao! Now off to the Andaman Sea.

Learning as we go

Two years ago I studied abroad in Stirling, Scotland. My pals and I did weekend trips and some longer stretches at the end of the semester. I also traveled for a bit around Europe with my parents before heading back to the states, so I like to think that I wasn’t a total amateur traveler before this trip. I’ve slept in some sketchy dorms and used some nasty showers.

With that said, things have been quite different traveling in Southeast Asia, and I am learning everyday.

Backpack fully loaded!

Backpack fully loaded!

 

Realizations:

  1. Two long sleeve shirts are not necessary.
    Right before I left Wisconsin I had a conversation with my cousins, Kelly and Ellen. They have both spent time in Costa Rica and warned me that I might get use to the heat. ‘It would be 80 degrees and I would have a hoodie on,’ Ellen said. But man. The heat in Asia is not a heat you ‘get use to.’ I would definitely ditch my heavier shirt at home and stick with the light, hiking material for long shirts and pants.Also, I made the strange decision to purchase two pairs of pants over here. Why? No one knows. Thiapants have a hold on my heart and they won’t let go.

    Thai pants for days

    Thai pants for days

  2. Clothes need to be durable.
    With packing my clothes I was only thinking about light clothing that I could mix in match. I had planned on throwing away a lot of the tanks I brought over before returning home because I imagined I would be sick of them. But I didn’t account for the wear and tear that would happen when I wear the same tank top every other day. The cheap tops I picked up at Forever 21 before I took off from home are already running thin and are significantly stretched out. Anna and I may have to do some shopping before too long! Bummer, right? 😉
    Shoes also need to be durable.
    Back home I NEVER wear flip flops. I have my Birks and my Chacos and that all I need in life (little dramatic but I love my Birks). I almost forgot to bring a pair but my doc stressed that shower shoes are a must for SE Asia. The morning of my trip I frantically recovered a pair of pink Victoria’s Secret flops from the back of my closet (high quality, right?).
       Anyways, it was week two and Anna and I were a bit turned around in Chiang Mai, and when I say ‘turned around’ I mean we forgot the name/location of our hostel so we just followed the AC around town. Well, this scorching hot day was about to get even better and my flip flop blew out in the middle of an intersection. I continued to wander aimlessly around town with one shoe dragging until a random Thai man — my saving grace — jumped out of a passing by car, showed me a piece of wire in his hand, and fixed my shoe for me! Whoever you are Thai man, I owe you my life! Or a hug!

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Moral of the story: Don’t bring crappy quality anything with you when you will be living out of a backpack for a few months. Now I’m sporting some super fashionable Abercrombie and Finch flops from a super legit street corner vender. What up!

  3. Plan for accidents.
    Our pals Maddy and Desirée are traveling with what they refer to as a pharmacy. Before they left they stocked up on motion sickness meds, Benadryl, creams and pills for swelling, bug bites and allergic reactions. I brought or took in advance the stuff my doctor recommended (like prescribed pills for typhoid fever, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea) and I brought Tums, Advil and some Band-Aids and Neosporin. But it was definitely not enough. Being the accident-prone klutz that I am I have a handful of bruises cuts. In Laos I slipped in a waterfall and bashed my leg against a SHARP rock. In Laos we got locked out our hostel and had to jump the front gate. Trust me. The spikes are effective.

    Beware

    Beware

 

Differences/Hints

 

  1. While traveling in Europe, aside from a few exceptions, we mostly stayed in hostels with dorm-style rooms. Sometimes the rooms would be as many as 16 people to a room. Here in Southeast Asia, Anna and I had intended on the dorm life, but with private sweets charging only a buck or two more than the dorms, we are high rolling a little bit.
  2. Another difference is towels and bedding! Most places required you to pay a few dollars for a towel … sometimes even for sheets! We definitely don’t need to be toting towels around.
  3. Another thing we are dragging around … TENNIS SHOES! We brought Chacos, light, water-proof hiking sandals that fight great and stay on in water or on land. So far I haven’t even considered touching my runners. I was thinking I would be working out a lot in SE Asia, but with this heat I would have to be getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the sun. No thank you!

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

4. It was also very unnecessary to bring a water bottle with. I was hoping I could use it to live a little eco-friendly on this trip but the only water you can drink comes from a vendor (sorry Mother Earth!). My water bottle has sat in the hood of my bag and it isn’t going anywhere fast. Do I leave it behind? But I love my water bottle. It’s been a month and I haven’t ditched it yet … but we will see.

5. Oh and for anyone out there thinking they will be writing and blogging while traveling, invest in a tablet. This beat-up, slow, janky MacBook Pro is driving me nuts.

6. The last tid-bit of information I’m going to share is the beauty of a neck pillow. Most people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Well, duh Martha. Everyone knows neck pillows are quite nice for airplane travel.’ But you don’t understand the love I have for my neck pillow. I would choose it over my computer as a travel necessity. Anna and I bought neck pillows in LA as a last second decision prior to our 14-hour flight. I use it constantly and people stare on with envy as we whip them out on overnight trains and buses.

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Maybe I’ll update when I realize more mistakes I’ve made. Until then, Anna and I are doing well!

xx

White Temple

There are quite a few combinations of ways to cross the boarder into Laos. We ended up booking a five hour van and then a two day slow boat ride to Luang Prabang. Martha and I really wanted to see the White Temple (Wat Rong Khung) but heard it was no longer worth it due to earthquake damage. The van we booked happened to include a stop in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple. I am soooooooo glad it did because that thing is SICK. The damages are hardly noticeable. Here are some photos of this beauty!

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Northern Thailand — Chiang Mai and jungle trekking

It has been a very busy few weeks for Anna and me! We have been traveling for two weeks from yesterday but it feels like significantly longer. We are currently in Luang Prabang, Laos but I am going to back track to last week.

We took a night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand. The 14-hour ride — which you would assume would be hell — was a pleasant trip with actually comfortable beds. I slept great … Anna not so much. (I think she is starting to resent me for my ability to sleep anywhere, anytime.)

Night train

Night train

Hazy sunrise in Northern Thailand

Hazy sunrise in Northern Thailand

Hazy sunrise in Northern Thailand

Hazy sunrise in Northern Thailand

Anyways, in Chiang Mai we had a day spent in the city before we went on a two-day jungle trek into the mountains of Northern Thailand.

The trek was money well spent and a nice escape from the city, but what made were the people and our guide — Chet.

Our trek group

Our trek group

It was about an hour-hour and a half drive where we hooked up with the entire group and started our first leg of the excursion — a trek up a mountain. We were given no information about what the hike would be like, but picture almost a straight incline at some parts and even steeper on the decent. It was beautiful foliage! Everything was green and lush with bamboo and native flowers around us.

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After the hike (Side-note: Chet abandoned us halfway through the trek. “Go up and down and turn left,” he told us as he started back the way we came.) we were going to ride elephants. Now I was really hesitant to ride the elephants. You hear stories about the horrible treatment of the animals. And is it right to ride on their backs? With the group we discussed this and what someone said really struck with me. A gal’s mom works with large animals back home and she said to think of riding elephants like the commercial trail riding on horses done back home.

Also, two of our pals, Desirée and Maddy, went to Elephant Nature Park the next day, which is an elephant rescue center, where they learned a lot about the cultural and economic importance of elephant riding tourist attractions. Desirée and Maddy said they learned at the nature park that the elephants develop a close bond with their trainers and acting in a way that pleases their trainers in turn pleases the animals.

The process of turning a wild elephant into a ‘tame’ one is a horrible process (more can be learned here) but our elephants seemed happy and well treated.

We were also able to help bathe the elephants and ride them in the water, which was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.

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One of the trainers with his elephant McKay

Swimming with the elephants

Swimming with the elephants

That night we slept under mosquito nets in a grass-roof hut all right together.

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The next day we hiked to a waterfall that had a little slide and did some white-water rafting. Naturally I went down the waterfall. It was hilariously fun but I did wake up with a throbbing bruise on my hip. (Minor injuries are becoming a theme of this trip.) Lastly, white-water rafting was a great time. I was freaking out and screaming but trying to keep my mouth closed because I did not want to get water in my mouth. It was a tricky dilemma and the uncontrollable screaming won out in the end.

We also floated down the river on bamboo rafts.

We also floated down the river on bamboo rafts.

The trek was great and Chiang Mai was gorgeous, but another real highlight of the stop was meeting Maddy and Desirée. They are Canadian gals from Edmonton, Alberta Canada. We have been traveling with them for a week now. They are on a 5-week adventure around Southeast Asia so we are only sticking with them for a few more days before we have to split in our separate ways. #bestfriendbackpackattack

North America takes Southeast Asia

North America takes Southeast Asia. Maddy is front and Desirée is right.

We had one last day in Chiang Mai before heading to Laos. (This was the day Desirée and Maddy went to the Nature Park. Anna and I wanted to go but we couldn’t spent the money with our tight budget.) Anna and I spent the entire day window-shopping and temple hopping. Basically just living a dream … except for the sweat. I was sweating during every moment I’ve written about. Don’t forget. It’s important to the story. Maddy hashtags #meltinginasia on her Instagram and it is incredibly appropriate.

Oh! And I’m posting a few photos on Facebook but you can also look for shots on my Instragram or VSCO grid.

A post on Luang Prabang is coming soon!

Here are a few pictures of scenes around Chiang Mai.

A beautiful temple in Chiang Mai

A beautiful temple in Chiang Mai

Indoor shot of the temple

Indoor shot of the temple

Ruins in Chiang Mai

Ruins in Chiang Mai

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Another temple in Chiang Mai

Front shot of the golden temple in Chiang Mai

Front shot of the golden temple in Chiang Mai

Here are some final photos from Bangkok as well.

Sweat for days

Sweat for days

A historic carriage at the Thailand National Museum. They use to ride in sssttyyyyyyyle.

A historic carriage at the Thailand National Museum. They use to ride in sssttyyyyyyyle.

Casual chicken solider

Casual chicken solider

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Deuces all around the world

Deuces all around the world

 

Chiang Mai: Jungle Trek

We spent five days in Chiang Mai, which is the major city in Northern Thailand. On our first day we spent some time walking around the city, following the ancient moat only to find ourselves lost and very hot. There was a cute café a long the way so we stopped and indulged in some smoothies before continuing on. Eventually we found the hotel and sought refuge in the A/C. We are utilizing our time to see the sights and do activities, but we can’t constantly do activities or we’ll have to come home quite sooner! So some days, we do activities, then a day here and there we bum around. Three months is a long time so we have to have chill, normal people days ☺. We are reading a lot of books and trying to blog. We’ve spent much of our time in travel mode, like riding the 14 hour overnight train to get to Chiang Mai.It was actually quite a lovely ride, no complaints!

While in Chiang Mai, we went on a two-day jungle trek where we hiked into the village to stay in a hut, play with elephants, explore a waterfall, meet new people, and hang out with locals. It was such a great experience because we had an awesome group of people! Maddy and Desiree, our Canadian friends, spent some time at an elephant sanctuary where they learned a lot about elephants in the tourism industry and in the wild. At first I was very hesitant to ride them because I never want to do things with animals if it’s an interaction that isn’t in their best interest. However, upon listening to Maddy and Desiree talk about their elephant sanctuary experience I am glad I got to interact with elephants on the trek and be with them in the water, which felt very natural! We hope to go to an elephant sanctuary while here, so after we do, I’ll write more about it. Overall, they learned that tourism is a positive thing for elephants in Thailand because it provides stimulation, care, and funding to support them.

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McKay and his trainer struck a cute pose for me:)

My favorite part of the trek was playing with the elephants in the water. They were so happy to be bathed and would roll over and dunk themselves in the water. McKay’s trainer was on him in the water and invited me up so I didn’t waste any time hopping on! We rode him back to the village then it was time to clean up and eat dinner.

This trek was an absolute blast! I’m glad we met Maddy and desiree because we have continued to hang out since the trek.

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On our last day in Chiang Mai, we visited a very beautiful temple, the most incredible one I’ve seen yet. The inside was insane. Wat Chedi Luang, an old temple built in the 1400’s was also an impressive site to see and I was awed by it’s structure!

For more photos (that I post almost daily) check out my Instagram

cheers:)

Bangkok, Thailand

 

I have never sweated this much in my entire life.

I have done long runs on endless country roads in blistering summer heat. I have spent nights in agony camping on river banks. I have lived an entire summer in a college house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin with no air conditioning. But the heat in Thailand is something I have never experience before.

I tip my hat to the people of Thailand. There were men in suits and women in sweatshirts unfazed by the humid heat beating down on my ill-prepared Midwest skin. With a high of 95 degrees 70 percent humidity, I was struggling. I won’t go into detail but think butt-sweat.

It took four days, three planes and a few long layovers, but our trip has finally begun!

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Anna Langer at the MSP airport

 

On the 25th we landed in Los Angeles. Our pal Morgan took us under her wing, and the three of us checked out Hollywood Boulevard the first night and Venice Beach the next day. It was beautiful in LA, but the pollution was very noticeable. In our light tanks and Chacos, it was evident we did not blend in well. No night scene for us!

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Venice Beach boardwalk

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Venice Beach

 

 

 

We hopped a 1 a.m. flight to Taiwan, an island off the coast of China. We slept for a majority of it (it was a 13 hour flight!), so the next day wasn’t an issue. We left the airport and explored Taipei and Tamsui. The costs were pretty similar to the costs in the U.S., so we struggled to stay as close to our budget as we wanted. Mostly we just jumped from one air conditioned building to the next!

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A glimpse of Tamsui, Taiwan

Finally after another late night/early morning flight last night, we found our way to Bangkok. We got to our hotel pretty early this morning and allowed ourselves to sleep until we woke up. We probably would have slept longer, but we didn’t realize there was an air conditioner in the room. It was so hot. So, so hot. (I’m sorry – hot will be a theme throughout this blog. Please assume that I was sweating during every activity.)

We spent today bobbing and weaving throughout busy city streets on a tuk tuk — a three-wheeled motorbike — with our incredibly kind driver JoJo. For a very small price (less than a dollar) he drove us to various stops around the city to beautiful temples and shops.

 

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For anyone concerned about our safety due to the military coup, you can breathe with ease. We saw a few soldiers today, but after talking with other travelers (for example a 60-ish couple from Hawaii who was leaving after a few weeks of traveling and two 20-something women from England) and some locals, it seems that peace is in order. From what I have read and learned from locals, most people are not in support of the coup, but they cannot deny that the presence has brought peace back to the country and the city.

Tomorrow we are taking a night bus to Chiang Mai. On Sunday we will leave for a three-day trek to spend time with some locals and see what the city has to offer!

xox