Bangkok (Apr 19-22): Chatuchak Market, Khao San Road, and a Long Wait through Customs

The trip to Bangkok was probably the longest leg of my entire trip, thanks to the longest wait at customs that I’ve ever had to endure. My bus left at 8:45am from Siem Reap, so I had to order a tuktuk to take me to the bus terminal. I booked my bus with Giant Ibis again (the only company that I trusted) for $32 USD/$46.33 AUD, and they supplied each of us with a coffee, water, and biscuit when we got on the bus. We arrived at the border just before noon, so they stopped at the casino for a bathroom break while they took our passports to the Cambodian border. By that point, I was getting hungry since it was lunchtime, and I assumed that we’d get some food soon. We had to walk about 10-15 minutes to the Thailand border, where it was absolute mayhem! After finally figuring out what line we had to stand in, we got arrival/departure forms to fill out, and we stood in the extremely long line.

img_4897

There wasn’t any air circulation, there were hundreds of people, and it was above 40 degrees with the humidity. There wasn’t a dry shirt in the room – everyone was drenched! After about 45 minutes, someone walked by selling bottles of water. He must have made a lot of money because we all jumped at the opportunity to buy some water (I had stupidly left my water bottle on the bus because I assumed that we’d just be in and out of customs). There were three separate lines, so every 20 minutes or so, we’d move up about 3 metres. Finally after an hour and a half downstairs, we were at the front of the line! However, this was only to move into the area upstairs. At this point, I was already deep in conversation with some of the people around me – two of which were a couple that I happened to meet over a month ago when we took the same boat tour from Cat Ba to Halong Bay – so crazy! We got to the top of the stairs, but there was a small door leading to the next room, so it was like a bottleneck effect, with everyone trying to push through the door. The closer you got to the door, the more you felt people push around you – it was the worst! I finally made it through the door after about 15-20 minutes but then, the couple that I was talking to was a few people ahead of me (and they were separated from each other as well). We could see the booths at the back of the room, but there was a line of hundreds of people zigzagging back and forth through the room. I didn’t really understand why there had been three separate lines downstairs (separating foreigners and locals) since we were all mixed together upstairs. We were stuck upstairs for about three hours, with no access to food, water, or toilets (unless someone in line saved your spot and allowed you to come back). People started getting really aggressive with other people trying to butt in line (including myself). I’d notice some people who JUST got into the room trying to sneak in line on one of the sides, and I’d just tell them that there was no way that they’d be getting into the line. So they gave up. During our time up there, two older men fell (one gashed his forehead on one of the posts), and I think everyone was dying of heat, hunger, and thirst. I didn’t understand how it could be legal to have so many people in a room with no access to anything. I was surrounded by a bunch of people from the Philippines, so we chatted quite a bit and they said that they were shocked how busy it was that day because normally it’s never that busy. I guess with the combination of it being the end of Songkran (Khmer New Year) AND Easter weekend on a Friday, I chose the worst possible day to cross the border. When we finally got to the front of the line (just before 5:30pm), we couldn’t contain our excitement – I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face! After I got through, my first task was to find a toilet, then water and food. Our tour guide was still in line so I knew I had some time. We found our bus and I was SO excited to see that they had “lunch” waiting for us (at nearly 6pm) – we were all starving! I grabbed some money so that I could use the toilet, and then came back to devour my meal. We finally got going again at about 6:30 and an hour later, we stopped at a gas station so we were all able to load up on more snacks (I don’t think the lunch was big enough after not eating for the entire day). We finally got to Bangkok at 10pm, so I walked to my hostel (which took about 15 minutes) and I checked in. This time, I was staying at Born Free Hostel for 200 baht per night ($9.27AUD) in a 12-bed dorm (I paid more to be in a room with air conditioning). It was one of the friendliest hostels that I’ve stayed in – I think because Bangkok is a starting point for so many people, so a lot of people were looking to make new friends at the beginning of their trips. I contemplated getting dinner but I was so exhausted, I decided to just get ready for bed. As I was getting my stuff ready to shower, the door of the room opened and in walked the British couple who I had been standing in line with before. We were shocked that once again, we were crossing paths! I had a shower and went to bed, and luckily many other people were already sleeping so I didn’t have to feel guilty about going to sleep earlier. However, I was woken up at about 1am because one girl decided to FACETIME HER BOYFRIEND (without headphones). As we all listened to their conversation, which escalated into a fight because the boyfriend was out with some girls, someone finally told her that we were all trying to sleep, so she said goodbye and hung up. However, after that, her friend came in and they proceeded to have a full conversation with someone else in the room. I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t dealt with this very often on my trip, so I was pretty upset about it and wondered if I had chosen the wrong hostel. I finally got back to sleep at about 4am and slept for the rest of the night.

On Saturday morning, I was planning to go to Chatuchak Market to buy a bunch of stuff (and fill up a suitcase to bring home with me). When I finished changing, I bumped into a guy named Connor who had just arrived from the United States the day before, and who would become one of my best friends in Bangkok. He said that him and another guy (from Greece) would be going to the market soon and said that I could join them. I said that I’d get breakfast first and then meet up with them, so I walked to a nearby bakery and got a coffee and some pastries.

img_4914-1.jpg

When I got back to the hostel, we met another girl (from Melbourne) and the four of us decided to go to the market together. I have to say that I was excited to come back to Bangkok because the last time I was there, it was 33 degrees (which seemed deathly to me) but since I had been in 39-degree weather during the past couple of weeks, I would welcome it with open arms. However, I was in for a surprise when the humidex actually brought the temperature up to 49 degrees that weekend! I don’t even know how I ended up surviving… I had gotten used to catching Grab (Uber) everywhere, so I was set on getting a car for the four of us, but everyone else wanted to do it the cheap way and take the bus. We ended up waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the bus to come and then made our way to the market. The market was huge! I didn’t know how we’d be able to find the same stall more than once. However, it was also quite touristy and the prices were a lot higher than what I was used to seeing. Therefore, I ended up holding back quite a bit on the spending, and still didn’t get as much shopping done as I had wanted (but this was also probably because I wasn’t shopping alone). We had lunch at a quite expensive (for the amount of food) outdoor food stall, and then continued exploring the markets until we couldn’t stand the heat any longer. We got on the bus and headed back to the hostel, but on the way, we passed a Dairy Queen and from that moment onward, I had a one-track mind. I wouldn’t keep quiet about Dairy Queen until I finally got some! When we got back to the hostel, we all showered and decided to go out for dinner. I saw a guy sitting in the lobby and asked if he wanted to come join, and he introduced himself as Max (also from the United States), who would end up being my other best friend in Bangkok (he obviously didn’t introduce himself as that). We all went out in search of food, but spent more time walking than eating. We finally decided to get some street food on the street next to Khao San Road, and I got some pad thai. After dinner, we went to the 7-11, where we were able to get beer until midnight. Mike and Simonne had to leave early because they both had planes to catch late that night/early that morning, so that left me, Connor, and Max. We walked back and forth down Khao San Road, which was full of people dancing and having a great time, so it wasn’t hard for us to join in. We didn’t get back until after 2am, and had such a good night!

On Sunday, we decided to do the exact same thing again. I went to get breakfast (with an iced coffee AND a smoothie), and then went back to the hostel, where the boys were waiting for me.

img_4927.jpg

We took the bus to the market again, and spent some more time walking around. We also checked out some of the other sections of the market. We went to a (very welcomed) air-conditioned plaza, where we all had lunch, and then we continued to a flea market in a mall, where there was a DAIRY QUEEN! The boys treated me to an ice cream cake since it would be my birthday the next week, and I was so happy that I’d have an ice cream cake for my birthday. However, there was one problem… Because it was so hot outside, we had no choice but to eat as much of the cake as we could in the market. And since Dairy Queen isn’t AS popular in Thailand, they only had two 2-person tables, which we stole as soon as they became available. I think the workers were confused, intrigued, AND impressed when we started digging into the cake right then and there. We asked for a knife, a few cups (they gave us their smallest ones), and a few spoons, and we each ate a quarter of the cake.

We saw two guys standing in line so Connor ran over to offer them the rest of the cake, and they ended up being from Canada and were very excited to have some ice cream cake. The market was closing soon, so we made our way through the pet part of the market, which was quite sad since most of the animals looked dead because it was the only way they could cool off. I questioned if any of them were ACTUALLY dead multiple times, but Connor assured me that they were just sleeping.

I didn’t do as much shopping that day but instead helped the boys buy some clothes to go out in that night. We went back to the hostel to shower and then I still had to pick up my drumsticks, so we all took a Grab to Hard Rock Cafe, I bought my drumsticks, and then we walked around for quite awhile, searching for food. It was already past 10pm by that point, we were all starving, and everything seemed closed so we took another Grab back to Khao San Road, got some kebabs, and had another night walking the streets.

img_4973.jpg

We ended up sitting ourselves down, where we met up with some more people until the place closed down. We then got ourselves in a weird situation, where one of the spa owners came up to us with two Canadian passports, so we found them on Facebook and wrote them. However, some other Thai people got involved and said they’d take the passports back (including a random tuktuk driver on the street), which seemed really sketchy. We said it was okay, that we’d take the passports back to our hostel, and that we had already messaged them about it. But then everyone else got super aggressive and started yelling at us for the passports, taking pictures of us, and saying they’d call the police on us. The passports ended up going to the local police department on the corner, so we just wrote the people telling them that they would be there. We then made our way back to the hostel.

My flight was on Monday at 3:15pm so I slept in a bit, packed up my stuff (which got considerably heavier!), and Connor and Max walked me to the bus stop.

img_4975

I was so sad to say goodbye to these guys, as we had gotten so close during the past couple of days. Their trips were just beginning and mine was finished, but it was the perfect end to my trip. I was going to miss my wolfpack!

img_4977

 

I got to the airport at 1:15 to check-in, and I had finally paid to check in a bag (which cost me $80!). Once I got through security, I decided to get some food since I hadn’t eaten yet and as I sat down to eat, I got an email saying my flight had been rescheduled for 4:35pm. Then about 45 minutes later, I got another email saying it had been rescheduled to 5:30pm. Then, the departure screen said that it would be leaving at 6pm. I started feeling nervous because that meant I wouldn’t arrive in Kuala Lumpur until 9pm and I had another flight at 10:30pm. Any later and I definitely wouldn’t make it. While I was waiting for my flight, I was going through my Facebook and noticed that Rebekka (a Canadian girl living in Melbourne, who I met briefly in Ho Chi Minh) was IN Kuala Lumpur for the day and would be going to Melbourne that night. I wrote her and asked what flight she’d be on, and she said the same one as me! Life is full of coincidences… So I finally boarded my flight and when I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I had to speed walk for about 15-20 minutes through security and to the other side of the airport. By the time I arrived at my gate, they had already started boarding so I ran to go to the bathroom, get some water, and stand in line. The 8-hour flight was long and I don’t think I got any sleep.

We arrived in Melbourne at 8:20am the next morning in Avalon airport, where they had customs officials who actually grilled us hard (the first time I came to Australia, I didn’t talk to a single person). I got my bag, got a ticket for the Skybus, and waited for the bus to leave. Rebekka showed up and sat next to me so we chatted for the hour-long ride into the city and then went for breakfast at Southern Cross because we were both starving. She went back home, but I was so exhausted so I sat and relaxed for a bit and then made my way to Jess and Vic’s house, because they graciously allowed me to stay with them for a few days until I found a place of my own. However, I’ll save that story for another post. Love always

The Slow Boat from Thailand to Laos (Mar 3-4)

On the morning of my trip into Laos, I got up at 4:45 (after having less than 5 hours of sleep), packed up my stuff, and went downstairs for breakfast. I only took two pancakes and two bananas, but as soon as I took the first bite of a pancake, I started heating up and felt like I was going to throw up again. I kept forcing myself to eat because I didn’t want to be rude, especially since the hostel owner had gotten up at 5am to prepare everything for me. It was definitely a struggle, and I had to keep taking bites with coffee just so that I could get it down. We left at about 5:50 and the hostel owner drove me to the bus station so that I could catch the first bus to the Laos border at 6am. She gave me a big hug and sent me on my way – she was so sweet! I got on the bus, which only had one empty seat left (it seemed like there was a big group of people travelling together), and paid 100 baht ($4.36) for my trip to the border (just outside the city of Chiang Khong). The process was actually a lot more straightforward than what I was expecting! The price of that bus is actually 65 baht per person, but then they normally drop us off at a tuk tuk station and we would have to pay for a tuk tuk to go the rest of the way to the border. Because there were so many of us in the bus, they just charged us 100 baht each and took us straight to the border, which saved us one step. When we got to the border, we had to use our departure cards to leave Thailand (which they give you with your arrival card when you get INTO Thailand, so it’s important to keep it safe). Lucky for me, most of the people had lost their departure cards and therefore had to fill out new ones, so I was able to go straight to custom control without a lineup. Then I had to pay to take a bus across Friendship Bridge, which would bring me to Laos customs. The ticket only cost 25 baht ($1.09) and then the stand also exchanged Thai baht into Lao kip. However, normally the ticket is 20 baht but because it was before 8:30 (and therefore outside of office hours), I had to pay 5 baht extra.

I decided to exchange a bit of baht into kip, just so that I’d have some money on the other side of the border. We had to wait for less than five minutes and then everyone boarded the bus, which took us across the bridge. Then, we had to fill out two forms to apply for the Laos Visa-on-Arrival. I was so happy that I got on the first bus across the bridge because the line kept getting longer and longer. I filled out both of the forms (one for a Visa application, and one was an arrival/departure card) and found a passport picture stored deep in my backpack (which I had actually forgotten about, but luckily I travel prepared!). I then stood in the first line to hand in my passport, forms, and picture, and then I had to go into the second line, where they would get us to pay for the visa in order to get our passports back. As a Canadian citizen, I had to pay $43 US ($58.86AUD) so I gave $103 and got three 20s back. I then took those 20s to the currency exchange so that I could get more kip, because I realised that I’d use all of the kip I had to buy my boat ticket. I stood in line, finally got to the front, and she said that she wouldn’t take my money because there was a stamp on it. I was so mad because I had already stood in line for awhile, plus I was tired and still feeling sick, and I tried to explain that I had gotten the bills from the visa booth. She told me to go back there and return when I had new 20’s. Livid, I walked back to the visa counter and cut in front of the extremely long line to explain, and the man easily exchanged my bills. I went back to the currency exchange, waited in line once again, and she REALLY examined the bills. She pointed out a crease down the middle of one of the bills and said that she’d only exchange two of the 20s. Whatever. I couldn’t be bothered anymore – I was too sick and too tired to care (Note: the currency exchange in Luang Prabang exchanged this bill easily.. this lady was just being difficult). I got my money and went to the ticket booth to buy my ticket for the slow boat. There are two options to get into Laos – the first is to take a bus and the second is to take a slow boat (which is two 7-8 hour days). I had been trying to book a ticket beforehand so that I’d have proof that I’d be leaving Thailand but when I asked a company about it (Mekong Smile Cruises), they quoted me $700USD because as of March 1st, it was “low season” so if 6 people joined, they’d lower the price down to $130 per person! I said absolutely not, and decided that I’d just play it by ear when I got there. I’m extremely glad I made that decision as well because I was able to do it A LOT cheaper on my own (about $28USD!). I had read that the boat left at either 10:30 or 11, but was surprised to see the sign that said it left at 11:30.

It was only 9am so I’d have a lot of time to kill! I walked to the booth to buy boat tickets, which would cost 210,000 kip ($34.57). However, even though the signs said 210,000, they charged me 270,000 kip ($43.47) to include the tuktuk. I knew that this was a legitimate charge because I read that you have to take a tuktuk to the Thailand border, a bus across the bridge to the Laos border, then a tuktuk to the slowboat. I paid and then they gave me a badge to wear around my neck, which I would later exchange for the boat ticket.

About 7 of us got in the back of a songthaew and they drove us to a shop, which would be our only opportunity to buy food and water for the day (luck was on my side!). They also said that we could book accommodation and buy SIM cards if we wanted. It almost seemed like a tour company because they were only selling rooms for one type of accommodation, so I went on my phone and found my own place. Before my trip, I was told not to book anything in advance and instead walk past all of the people when I arrive, tell them I have a reservation, and then just show up to a hotel because they would charge you a lot less. However, I still wasn’t feeling very well and just wanted a piece of mind that I’d have a room with a bed and bathroom when I arrived. I honestly wasn’t even sure if spending 7.5 hours on a boat that day was a smart idea, but I just wanted to get to Luang Prabang because I’d have four nights there and could find a clinic if I needed. I booked a room on Agoda at BKC Villa 2 with my own queen-sized bed, a river view, and my own bathroom for a whopping $17.90, which was cheaper than some of the dorm rooms I stayed at in Taiwan, and almost half the amount of staying in a dorm room in Australia! After booking my room, I found some water and soup crackers for 20,000 kip ($3.22), as well as a sandwich for 15,000 kip ($2.42) in hopes that I’d eventually want to eat it. Just before 10:30, they drove us to the slow boat, where we had to wait to get our tickets, and then could board the boat. They said that day, we only needed to SHOW our tickets to the driver because we’d need to keep the tickets for tomorrow or we wouldn’t be able to get onto that boat.

We were able to board the boat, which was set up the same way that an airplane might be set up, with a set of three seats on both sides. They were actually wooden benches (which looked like pews) with cushions on each spot, and papers with numbers on each cushion. We all had numbers on our tickets, and I was assigned to a middle seat but luckily a couple wanted to sit together, so I traded and got an aisle seat.

There were over 100 people on the boat (my seat number was 95), and it nearly filled up. We hadn’t even left yet and my butt was already hurting, so I wasn’t sure how I’d survive the 7.5-hour trip. Luckily when we left, one person on my bench went to one of the empty benches at the back of the boat, and about an hour later, her boyfriend followed suit. Therefore, I got an entire bench to myself for the rest of the trip, so I was able to shift as many times as I wanted! By that time, my appetite actually came back so I was able to eat my sandwich and didn’t even end up feeling sick afterwards! The trip was really relaxing and I spent the time going from blog-writing to doing crosswords to just listening to music and taking pictures.

They said that we wouldn’t arrive until 7pm, but we ended up getting to Pakbeng right after 6. There was a huge crowd of people waiting, and many were trying to sell rooms to their establishments.

To get off, we had to balance along a metre-long board. Then, a bunch of kids crowded around and kept pointing to my bag. I wasn’t sure if they were asking for food, or offering to carry it for me, but I just kept saying no since it was the only water and food I had. I saw a sign for my accommodation held by a boy who wouldn’t have been older than 12, so he walked me to where the guesthouse was, which was only about three minutes up the hill and was likely the first hotel on the road, which was nice! They didn’t even ask for my passport or my name when I got there – they just gave me a key and pointed to my room.

I’ve never been more excited to shower and go to bed! However, I figured I should probably eat something, so I went across the street to Pakbeng Guesthouse, ordered fried rice with chicken for 25,000 kip ($4.03), and then went back to my room to shower and go to bed.

On Monday morning, I woke up after a long 9.5-hour snooze and packed up my stuff before going across the street to get some coffee and a sandwich for that day.

The boat was meant to leave at 9am and we wouldn’t arrive in Luang Prabang until about 4pm, so we were in for another long boat ride. I got to the boat at about 10 minutes to 9 and by that time, half of the boat was already full. The full part of the boat had tables, so all that was left in the back of the boat were seats that literally seemed to be taken out of multiple cars (and therefore reclined!), so they were set up two by two down the middle of the boat and along the sides. I grabbed one of the seats along the side right before the huge 10+ group of British people (who spent the entire boatride drinking the day before) came and took all of the remaining seats. Unlike the day before, there wasn’t any room to spread out so I was confined to my one seat and the girl beside me seemed to take not only her own part of the seat but also part of mine (for no reason other than not seeming to realise that there were two separate seats). Anyway, I just put my earphones in to tune everything out, and kept myself busy for the next seven hours.

Again, it went by quite fast and we arrived in Luang Prabang at about 4:30pm. They dropped us off quite far out of the city so we had to grab all of our stuff, go up a whole bunch of stairs to get to the road, and pay 20,000 kip ($3.22) per person to get a tuktuk to the city centre, which was about 10 kilometres away. Luckily, I got on one of the first ones (since the majority of the people who were on the boat seemed to be travelling with tour groups, so they had to get sorted out first) so I arrived in the city centre just after 5pm. However, I’ll save Luang Prabang for another post. Love always

Chiang Rai (Mar 1-3): A Peculiar Temple and Some Kind of Sickness

Chiang Rai was when I finally got sick with something… I’m still not exactly sure what it was, but may have been a combination of carsickness, food poisoning, and overheating. Once again, I booked my bus tickets on 12Go, and I had to go back through Chiang Mai in order to get to Chiang Rai. I had read reviews that some people’s first bus ended up arriving late so they missed their second bus. Therefore, I wanted to leave ample time between my two buses so that it wouldn’t end up happening to me. I booked my first bus for 8am, which was scheduled to arrive at noon, and cost 215 baht ($10.05). I booked my second bus for 2:15pm to arrive in Chiang Rai at 5:50pm for 289 baht ($12.61AUD). On Friday morning, I got up at 6:30, got ready, packed up, took a quick look at the sunrise, and started my walk to the bus station so that I could get there 30 minutes in advance.

On my walk, I saw the monks collecting alms, which I was contemplating waking up early for in Chiang Mai to watch. The monks go out every morning at dawn to collect food from the locals, and they were followed by all of the dogs. One of the dogs joined me on my walk and walked me all the way to the bus station, which was great to have the company! The dog was so excited and happy, but I felt bad for bringing him to the bus station because there were a bunch of bigger dogs that kept trying to run after him. Once I got to the station, I went into the 7-Eleven to buy some dog treats but the dog wasn’t interested in them – he must only eat human food! Anyway, I took the advice of some people and didn’t eat anything beforehand because apparently it makes you more sick on the car ride. Another girl had said that she bought motion sickness tablets halfway through her trip, and they ended up not working and just made her drowsy. I had bought motion sickness tablets, but I didn’t want to risk feeling drowsy all day so I decided not to take them. Maybe it was the wrong choice though… We started the journey back to Chiang Mai and once again, I was in the back seat, leaning all over the place. At one point, my bag of food came loose from under the seat so many people (including myself) just spent the next 20 minutes watching my bag roll from the left side of the vehicle to the right side of the vehicle and back. At the halfway point, I decided to get some coffee but still decided not to get food. I wasn’t feeling too great and was now understanding how people who get carsick feel. We got to Chiang Mai an hour earlier than scheduled (at 11), so I went to check in to my next bus and asked if it would be possible to get on an earlier bus, but the lady said that they were all full. Therefore, I had about three hours to kill. I found a restaurant called Black Coffee Smile, and decided I needed to force myself to eat something. I still wasn’t feeling well, but I hadn’t eaten all day and by that time, it was 11:30. I ordered a cashew chicken with rice and a coke.

I had the choice between a small or large coke (which I assumed was a can or a bottle) and since I knew that I would be there for awhile, I opted for a large coke. What I wasn’t expecting though, was for them to bring me a 1.25-litre bottle of coke! Anyway, eating still didn’t help my stomach feel great – I actually think that it ended up making my stomach feel a bit worse. I spent the next three hours waiting for my stomach to settle, but it never did. I went to where my next bus would be and was so relieved to see that it was an actual-sized bus and not a 14-passenger van. I knew that these buses wouldn’t be able to do twists and turns as fast, so it should end up being easier on my stomach. The bus arrived right at 2:15, we all got on, and we started our 3.5-hour journey to Chiang Rai. There had been a warning on the ticket about the air conditioning being extremely cold, and to be prepared when going on the bus. I noticed everyone around me was shivering and covering up, but I was wearing a tank top and shorts the entire time and never started feeling cold. I think it actually helped with making me feel better. We arrived in Chiang Rai and once again, my hostel was way out of the city centre. I had to order a Grab because otherwise it would be a 30-40 minute walk, and I didn’t feel like carrying my backpack for that long. The Grab was only 70 baht ($3.05 AUD), so it really wasn’t that bad. I was staying in Grace Hostel and paid 200 baht ($8.86) per night in a 16-bed female dorm. The hostel was run by a really sweet lady who drove everyone to the night market every night, and also got up at 5am each morning to make breakfast for everyone who’d be travelling to Laos. I also really liked the set-up of this hostel because there was a huge shared shower and toilet room (rather than having only 2 or 3 separate bathrooms), and even though the room was 16 beds, each bed got their own pod so you still got lots of privacy. The hostel owner asked if I wanted to go to the night market and said we’d leave at 6:50 (in a half hour). I said sure but as I was preparing my things, I started questioning whether it would be a good idea for me to go. I felt like I’d feel better if I threw up, but I really hate that feeling so I didn’t let it happen. I went to the night market with a girl from Finland and a guy from kind of all over the place. The hostel owner stopped at the clock tower, which does a light show for 7 minutes every night at 7pm.

Then she dropped us off at the night market, where we walked around and searched for food. The other two got dinner, but I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to eat so I just got a smoothie for 25 baht ($1.09) and we chatted while they ate. We decided to walk back to the hostel afterwards and then chatted for awhile before going to bed. Surprisingly, I still didn’t feel hungry before going to bed so I only ended up eating one meal that day.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8, got ready, and had breakfast in the hostel. This hostel breakfast actually had food other than toast, and provided pancakes, boiled eggs, cereal, and bananas. The girl from Finland (Paulina) joined me, and we decided to check out the White Temple together. The hostel owner told me that I should exchange my Thai baht into US dollars, and THEN exchange the dollars into Laos Kip when I got to Laos because I’d lose less money that way. This actually surprised me because I assumed I’d lose less money by changing baht into kip directly. Paulina and I walked about 15 minutes to a currency exchange place so I could change all of my money, and then we continued another 20 minutes to the bus station. We found a big sign that said ‘White Temple’ and saw that the bus was supposed to leave in 4 minutes (good timing!). We got on, paid 20 baht (88 cents), and arrived at the White Temple about 20 minutes later. We had to pay 50 baht ($2.18) for entry, and it was extremely crowded when we got there!! Online, there are so many pictures of people alone with no one around, and I have no idea how they would have managed to get a picture like that unless it was Photoshopped. The White Temple is extremely unique because the person who designed it added a bunch of random features, such as heads hanging from trees, or a bunch of hands coming out of the ground.

It was bizarre, but cool to see! We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, but I was glad that I was with Paulina because she had read that there were cartoons inside (and I totally wouldn’t have noticed them if I wasn’t with her). As soon as you walk in (almost behind the doors), there are random characters added into the painting such as Spiderman, Harry Potter, Angry Birds, Michael Jackson, Sailor Moon, etc. It was really entertaining trying to find them all! We walked around the grounds for awhile and then decided to go back into the city to get lunch.

We weren’t too sure where to find the bus (because there weren’t any written bus stops) so I quickly read a couple of blogs, and we found a police station with a wooden pergola beside it. As soon as we got there, a bus came so it was great timing again! When we got to the city, we walked around for a bit to find a restaurant. It’s very difficult for Paulina because she’s deathly allergic to peanuts (which is one of the main ingredients in Thai cooking), so it’s not as easy for her to walk into one of the cheaper establishments because she needs to be sure that there isn’t any cross-contamination. I think I would be so paranoid if I were her! Anyway, we found a restaurant and both got green curry with rice, and then we were planning to go to the Black House afterwards.

However, we ended up staying at the restaurant for two or three hours just chatting and by the time we decided to leave, I think both of us were fine with just finding another cafe to relax in. We found another cafe, and stayed for another two hours there. This was another situation where we clicked so well, and talked about anything and everything – we had so many conversations that I’ve never had on my entire trip (many conversations tend to get quite repetitive). We decided to walk back to the hostel to reorganise so that we could come back for the Saturday night market, which was supposed to be much larger than the regular night market (it went for 2 kilometres!). The hostel owner drove us (me, Paulina, and a guy from the US) to the night market at 7pm. We walked along the length of the market, and then walked back to where the “food court” was. In the middle of the food court was a dance floor, where we were surprised to see so many people all doing the same dance moves. However, most people didn’t really look like they were enjoying themselves and were doing the moves robotically, so it was more comical to watch. We walked around looking for somewhere to eat, but I wanted to make sure I could get something that I could actually SEE being cooked. The problem with many of these food stalls is that most of the stuff is just sitting there – the sushi, the cooked sausages and skewers, the noodle dishes, and I can’t help but question how long it had been sitting there. Finally, we found a stand that was actually cooking their food, and their dish was oyster omelette. I’ve read great things about oyster omelette, so I decided that it was finally time to give it a try. However, this oyster omelette was definitely made with mussels, and I’m not sure if there were even any oysters in it. Paulina ordered first, and she got the more-cooked selection. Then I ordered and they gave me some of the less-brown selection. We all found a place to sit in an area where they had a bunch of mats and small coffee tables, so we took off our shoes to go on the mat and then sat around one of the tables. I tried one of the mussels but it was a bit too chewy for my liking (I’m very picky with my seafood and the way that it’s cooked), so I put them all aside. We sat there for quite awhile and enjoyed people-watching all of the dancers in the middle of the food court. Then at 9, Paulina and I decided to walk back to the hostel because I had to get up at 4:45. However, when we were walking back, I suddenly started overheating and I felt like I was going to throw up again. It was bizarre because I had eaten two meals that day and felt fine, and all of a sudden, that familiar feeling was back. Right before we got to the hostel, Paulina asked if I wanted to go into the grocery store to get some food for tomorrow (because I’d be on a 7.5-hour boat ride with no food) and we stepped in. After 30 seconds, I said I couldn’t stay and I needed to go back to the hostel. We went back so I could sit down, and I was feeling like crap for at least a half hour. I was so close to going to the bathroom so that I could throw up. It was nice that Paulina sat and chatted with me to keep my mind off of everything, and we actually ended up talking until nearly midnight. I felt much better by that point, so I got ready for bed and decided I’d deal with the lack of food the next day. Love always

Pai (Feb 27-Mar 1): An Elephant and an Unsolved Mystery

Going to Pai (pronounced Pie, mmmm) was a bit more of a bumpy ride (literally)… I had booked my return ticket online on 12Go because I heard that the buses filled up fast. My bus wasn’t leaving until 11:30am but I decided to leave the hostel at 9:45 in hopes of catching the bus to the bus station at 10am. The hostel owner in Chiang Mai told me to walk to the second bridge, which would take less than 10 minutes. I saw a bus cross the bridge before 10am, which ended up being the one I should have taken, but I didn’t know at the time. There were a set of seats with a Thai sign right in front of the bridge, so I stood there for awhile before questioning whether I was in the right place. I decided to cross the street of the bridge and then further down the street, I saw a sign that said “Bus Stop.” By that point, I realised that I had missed the 10am bus so I found a spot in the shade to wait for the 10:30 bus. At about 10:25, I saw the bus coming down the bridge so I ran to the stop and waved it down. The trip only cost me 20 baht (87 cents AUD) and took less than ten minutes to get to the station. I checked in because I wasn’t able to print out my ticket and therefore had to get one at the counter. All she did was just take a piece of paper, write my seat, bus number and time, and tell me to give it to the driver. I decided to find a cafe to get a coffee and then stopped at the 7-Eleven to grab some snacks/breakfast for my 3-hour busride. My bus cost me 215 baht ($10.05) each way, which was a bit more than the 200 baht offered around the city. I got on the bus (which was a 14-passenger van) and I was in the very back. After about 45 minutes, we got off of the main highway and started the twistiest turns I’ve ever experienced. I was warned about this on multiple blogs, but I was NOT expecting the driver to continue doing all of the turns at full speed! We’d lean left to right, back and forth, forward and backward until the driver finally stopped in a small town called Ban Mae Lao, where we got a 20-minute break (thank goodness!). I was trying to decide whether missing breakfast was a good or bad idea because once again, I started to feel a bit car sick. We all got back into the car and had one horrible hour to go. I swear I got nervous every time I heard a plastic bag crinkle because I knew that if someone ended up getting sick in the car, I’d probably be right there with them. I also noticed how the three of us in the back were leaning back and forth much more than the rest of the people in the vehicle, so I definitely wasn’t lucky when it came to my seating assignment. I arrived in Pai at 2:30 and headed towards my hostel, which was about a 15-20 minute walk outside of the city. Once again, I was questioning why I had chosen a hostel so far away from everything. However, once I arrived, I completely understood why. It was a treehouse-type hostel, with a beautiful common area overlooking the river and hills.

The place was called UP2U Guesthouse and it cost me 180 baht ($8) in a 10-bed mixed dorm. When I arrived, it was a bit hazy and I was told that it was because it’s the season so they burn the rice fields every morning. I sat down for a bit to enjoy the view but by 3:30, I was starving so I walked to a restaurant called Karsa Long Thai Food, where I got a Khao Soi and smoothie for 100 baht ($4.36). After lunch, I walked around the city and enjoyed Walking Street (which happens every night). Pai is another one of those places where you really need to have a motorbike because most of its attractions (hiking trails, canyons, waterfalls) are outside of the city. Pai is definitely catering towards a certain “type,” with vegan cafes, signs that say: “Say No to Plastic Bags” everywhere (yet they still continue serving their street food in plastic), and I even saw a sign for kombucha. And in Pai, you definitely notice a bit more hippie clothes and a bit more dreadlocks. Thailand definitely knows what they’re doing, so I give them props! I headed back to the hostel and met Marlot, who’s from the Netherlands and is new into her trip. We talked for quite awhile and seemed to click right away. She had just road a motorbike to Pai with a Canadian couple who ended up crashing, and it sounded pretty traumatising! Even though there are many places that I regret not being able to ride a motorbike (Pai included), I’m still glad that I didn’t start “learning” in Southeast Asia as I’m not sure how well it would have worked out. Marlot was going back into the city but I decided to stay back because I had already done a lot of walking. I ended up passing out by 10:30 that night and had one of the best sleeps!

On Thursday morning, I had a slow start to the day. I had breakfast with Marlot and a couple of other girls at the hostel, and we ended up chatting for an hour or two (one of my favourite things about having breakfast at a hostel – it’s definitely NOT about the free toast!). I had actually found a really good elephant program in Chiang Rai that I wanted to go to but when I asked about it, they were fully booked until the day I was leaving. Therefore, I decided to spend half of my day at a place called Conserve Natural Forests, which is a non-profit program (however, they ask you to donate a minimum of 1000 baht/$43.63 if you visit). I would be picked up at the market at 1pm, which was about a 30-minute walk from my hostel. I stopped at a restaurant for lunch called Easy Cafe, which was actually run by a British lady whose husband was Thai, so all of her British friends were there having lunch together at one table. Once I saw French Toast on the menu, I was sold! I got that with a fruit salad and yogurt with honey, as well as a smoothie for 140 baht ($6.11) and it was absolutely delicious!

I headed to the market, where there was a small seating area for people waiting to go to CNF. The lady reminded us that we’d have to pay a minimum of 1000 baht (I guess they’ve had problems with people not knowing this in the past) and then our ride showed up, which was a pick-up truck. Three people went into the actual truck and then six of us were crowded around the back – I definitely hadn’t sat in the back of a pick-up truck in ages! The trip to the farm was about 30 minutesand then we met up with four other people so our group was 13 people. We were started with an introduction by Wes, who was actually from the United States but had been working in Thailand for the past 2.5 years in reforestation management. He shared how Thailand’s logging industry ended up booming and within 100 years, they lost 70% of their forests. Then in the 80s, the country suffered a large amount of landslides because there weren’t enough trees holding everything into place. Therefore in 1989, the government banned logging and a whole bunch of loggers and elephants were left without jobs. That was when they moved elephants into the tourism industry, where many were/are mistreated and used for elephant rides (Note: Elephant backs are NOT made to carry the weight of humans, and elephant rides should never be taken, no matter how nice the picture might look on your Instagram!!). The work of the CNF is to fix what was broken, and one of the main things they do is plant trees. Wes is in charge of deciding where new trees should be planted in Thailand, what combination of trees should be planted together, and making sure the different layers of the forest grow properly (starting with the canopy layer) so that it will be able to sustain itself after a few years. The good thing is that the trees they plant won’t be cut down again since it’s illegal, so their work won’t be for nothing. Their goal is to plant 250,000 trees this year and they hope to reach 1 million trees within the next few years. They also have one elephant that they rescued from the tourism industry, and their goal with any elephants (and tortoises) they have (they usually only have one or two elephants at a time because they’re very expensive to buy) is to eventually release them back into the wild. Apparently there are only 6000 elephants left in Thailand, and 4500 are still in captivity, so they are trying to reintroduce them into the wild one at a time. In order to do this, they have to go through a long process of teaching the elephants how to fend for themselves – how to wash themselves, clean out their eyes, find food, practice self-care, etc. We first went to the tortoise area, where they have two types of endangered species. The turtles were pretty hard to find, as they usually find a shady spot to relax in.

Right now, they have one elephant named Kamee who is 33 years old. One thing was very special about her when she was purchased, which they didn’t know and the seller didn’t know either (otherwise she would have cost a lot more money). Kamee was pregnant when she was purchased, and is now somewhere between 21 and 23 months pregnant (so ready to pop at any moment!). They went through the rules about how to handle Kamee – if she wanted to stay with us, we would let her and if she didn’t, we’d leave her alone. Only two people should be around her at one time (and in our case, we only went one at a time). He said that she was quite hormonal, so we wanted to respect what she wanted and she was only allowed to spend a maximum of 90 minutes with people each day. He also had to remind us that elephants don’t express affection the same way that we do so petting, hugging, kissing, etc. was unnecessary. We would all get a chance to feed her, and then we could watch from a distance. We had to walk through a stream/river to get to where she was and within 30 seconds, she was right there!

It was so magnificent to see such a beautiful creature, and she actually had quite a bit of sass to her, and made everyone laugh quite often. We each took a big bunch of bananas (about 10 bananas) and took turns feeding her one by one.

Many times, we were too slow with peeling the bananas so she lost patience and left to cross the river. There, she played in the water for awhile before crossing to the other side, where there was more food. None of us were allowed to cross the river until she was out of the water again, so we headed back over when it was time to go. We continued taking turns feeding her and when she got bored of bananas, she’d reach into the bag of pumpkins. It was amazing watching her put a pumpkin in her mouth and hear a huge crunch, where she’d crush it into smaller pieces and then work on each piece one at a time.

When she got bored of the pumpkins, she walked over to the “bar area” (where they were serving passionfruit gin and tonics) and helped herself to the entire basket of passionfruit. It was quite entertaining to watch – she definitely has a personality! You could see her left side bulging out and sometimes, you could even see it move, which was so cool! Wes said that she normally would eat 200kg of food per day but now that she was pregnant, she was eating about 40kg more. They said that it’ll take three years to ween the baby off of the mother’s milk, and then they can reintroduce them back into the wild (so the process was prolonged a bit due to Kamee being pregnant). Kamee also has two mahouts that are with her 24/7, and who help her learn how to live in the wild.

Such an amazing experience! After our elephant time, we were taken to the tree nursery, where we’re usually asked to plant a tree. However, since it was dry season, the trees likely wouldn’t survive and Wes didn’t want to waste any trees, so we were asked to plant seeds instead. That day, we planted tamarind seeds and were asked to do three pots of three seeds each.

They actually use Kamee’s poo as a fertiliser for all of the plants as well! Our day finished at 5pm, when we signed their guestbook and paid our donations. The great thing about these donations is that it’s only a one-time donation (unless we want to donate again), so if I end up in Pai again at any time in my life, I can go back as many times as I want! I felt so inspired after my day, and it got me seriously considering other careers because I feel like I would really enjoy being a part of a project similar to this anywhere else in the word. It made me realise that I can use my biology degree in other ways! So I might have to look at that in the future… They dropped us off at the market again and I decided to walk to the White Buddha, which can be seen from all around the city since it’s up in the hills and is supposed to have a great view of the sunset. The walk was about 45-50 minutes but after about a half hour, I was starting the incline up the hill (which I’d have to do for the next 15 minutes) and less than two minutes later, a man stopped beside me on his motorbike, asked if I was going to see the sunset, and told me to hop on. Normally, I’d say no and continue on my way but I really wasn’t looking forward to walking uphill for 15 minutes and THEN having to do a whole bunch of stairs, so I hopped on. Less than 2 minutes later, we were there! I took out my sarong and light cardigan to cover up, and started the stairs up to the Buddha. I’m so glad I accepted the ride because even though my phone said that sunset was at 6:30pm, it definitely started shortly after 6pm so I would have ended up missing it. It was really pretty, especially seeing the entire city below us, and I ended up talking to a couple of girls afterwards for awhile.

I then started the walk back into the city and at 7, I met up with Marlot so that we could get dinner on Walking Street. I had noticed a taco stand the day before and decided I needed to try it. We each got taco bowls for 60 baht ($2.62) but the weird thing about them was that our sauce options were sweet chili, mayonnaise, or spicy ketchup. Marlot was going to a festival at 9pm, so we were walking towards the end of Walking Street when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and it was Abbey, the girl who took the night train with me to Chiang Mai! The three of us checked out a few shops together before Marlot had to leave, and then Abbey and I found a restaurant to get smoothies and catch up on the past few days. It’s nice how seeing a familiar face is such a good feeling, even though we had been strangers less than a week ago! Travelling does that to you though, and I love it! The restaurant ended up closing so we said our goodbyes (and possibly our see you laters – you never know!) and I headed back to my hostel. I had an early morning to catch the 8am bus, so I had to call it an early night. When I got back to the hostel, I went to grab my towel and then noticed that the EXACT towel was two towels down from what I thought was mine. I then spent a bunch of time questioning which one was mine, and even asked everyone who I could find if they had the same towel (no one did). One of the tags said KMart Australia while one just said KMart, so I took the Australia one and hoped I made the right choice! Hopefully I can wash it soon but until then, I’m backpacking so my expectations are never too high 😛 Love always

Chiang Mai (Feb 24-27): Dragon Stairwells and a Thai Cooking Class

It actually felt a bit cold when we got off the train in Chiang Mai (pronounced Chung My) at 7:15 Sunday morning. I had looked up a Grab and it said that it would cost 60 baht to get to my hostel. However, as soon as we stepped outside of the station, there were SO many people trying to get us to take a taxi with them (they must prepare for this moment everyday). Abbey had heard about red taxis being cheap and when approached by one, we asked how much it would be and they said 50 baht per person ($2.18AUD). I decided to come along, and she led us to the red taxi (which was a songthaew), which already had about 8 people in it. We squished in with our bags and they dropped me off first. They missed the turn though, so I still ended up having to walk a bit to get to my hostel. I was staying at Mapping Hostel for 99 baht/night ($4.41) in a 6-bed mixed dorm! The price was so low, but it was also located about a 30-minute walk away from the city centre. However, it was extremely quiet and was on the edge of the river, so it had a really relaxing vibe to it. It even had some tents set up next to the river! I obviously wasn’t able to check in because it was before 8am, so I paid 20 baht (89 cents) for a coffee, and found a place to sit next to the river.

I sat for an hour and read some of the brochures about things to do in Chiang Mai. The amount of elephant companies around Chiang Mai is so overwhelming, and now the big selling feature is that no elephant rides are given. However, many of them still take their elephants on daily mud baths, swims, hikes, and expose them to multiple people each day. It’s very difficult to know which companies are ethical, and whether you want to support any of them, especially when most of them are minimum 2400 baht ($106.90). I decided to take a couple of days to ponder, and looked up other things to do in Chiang Mai. I found a self-guided walking tour, so I wrote Abbey and we made plans to meet at the front gate at 10:30. We decided to first go for an early lunch since I still hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Many places still weren’t open, but we ended up going to a restaurant called Cooking Love, which was rated really high when I looked up “Cheap Eats Near Me” on Google. We decided to try the Khao Soi, which is a northern Thailand specialty. It’s a yellow curry noodle soup that’s topped with dry (crunchy) noodles, and it was absolutely delicious!

Honestly, it’s the best Khao Soi that I’ve had so far (and I’ve had it every day for three days after that). When I chatted with Abbey a few days later, she said exactly the same thing. Actually, by the time we got our food (at about 11:30), the restaurant was completely full and they were telling people to come back in a half hour, or in an hour. So they must know what they’re doing! I got a dragonfruit smoothie to go with my Khao Soi and everything cost me 140 baht ($6.11). After lunch, Abbey and I started our walking tour! There are over 120 temples in Chiang Mai, so the one that I found online (see here) was helpful in limiting it down. There were two main things that we noticed about the temples here that we’ve never seen at many temples before: 1) In pretty much all of the temples, they had dragon arm rails going up the steps, which were pretty cool! And 2) The zodiac signs were really popular here, and they often had all of the animals on the temple grounds. All of the temples were spectacularly shiny, and I couldn’t capture it at all in the pictures, so everyone might just have to go and see them for themselves! We started at the Three King’s Monument, which shows the three men who built Chiang Mai in the late 1200’s. We then headed to Wat Hua Kuang, which was beautifully adorned with gold.

We walked to the White Elephant Gate and Wat Kun Kha Ma (Golden Horse Temple). Then headed to Wat Rajamontean (Dragon Temple), which was another really beautiful and shiny temple.

Wat Lok Molee was more unique in that it was entirely built with wood and it had surrounding gardens, which was extremely beautiful!

We sat in the shade for awhile because the heat started getting to us, and then we continued on our way to House of Success, a hotel that was built in 1993 but was vacant for 20 years because it had bad feng shui. It was just opened in 2017 so it is a relatively new building in the city.

The walk to the next set of temples was about 20 minutes so we stopped at a roadside stand on the way and got some cold drinks. The next few temples that we visited were a lot more busy since they were closer to the centre of the city, but I didn’t think that they were nearly as nice as the other ones that we had seen.

By the time we finished our tour, it was 4pm, which was when the Sunday Night Market was supposed to begin. We decided to get another cold drink (they’re vital in this kind of heat!) while we waited for everyone to finish setting up for the market. By this time, both of us were starting to lose energy from our lack of sleep on the overnight train (and likely because we had also been up walking around for over four hours) so I got an iced coffee in hopes that it would wake me up. At 5pm, we decided to check out the Sunday Night Market. It only happens in Chiang Mai once a week and the stalls go down the street for over a kilometre, so there’s lots to see! A lot of it is handmade and local, unlike many of the tacky stalls that you see in many other markets. I quickly started feeling lightheaded so I got steak on a stick for 50 baht ($2.18) and then just enjoyed looking at all of the unique things to buy.

At about 6:30, Abbey and I decided to call it a night – I think both of us were looking forward to going back to our hostels to relax. I stopped at a restaurant called Bamboo on the way back to my hostel for dinner, and then went back to the hostel.

On Monday, I did a cooking class! I woke up and had a coffee, and then waited for the company to pick me up at 8:20. The company that I chose to do the course with was called Asia Scenic Cooking School and they offered a half-day course (to make 5 dishes) and a full-day course (to make 7 dishes). They also offered to do the class in town, or on their farm. I opted for the full-day course in town, which cost me 1000 baht ($43.63). After we all registered, our teacher (Nune) needed to find out what each of us wanted to make. For each course, there were at least three options so we each got to make what we wanted. She took us into the back garden and gave us different plants to smell and taste.

We walked to the nearby market (Sompet Market) to see some of the spices that we would be using. Nune gave us 20 minutes to look around on our own, and then we headed back to the school. Our first dish that we could make was a noodle dish and I decided to go with the classic Pad Thai (because you can’t NOT make Pad Thai while at a cooking school in Thailand!). This was probably the most difficult dish to make because you had to work quickly so that your noodles and eggs wouldn’t get mushy. We started at the cutting boards, where she would tell the Pad Thai people what to cut up, and do the same for the other two dishes. Then we all went to our own wok and stove, where she first did a demonstration, and then told us what to do step by step.

It was actually delicious, although I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate it at home! We then got to make our own spring roll, which is an art in itself. I mangled mine when I cut it in half, but at least it still tasted good.

Our third course was a soup, and of course I chose Tom Yum. This was the only dish that I didn’t love, which is weird because Tom Yum is my favourite. Maybe I didn’t season it correctly because it seemed to be lacking something.

The last two things we had to make were 1) the curry paste, which would then be used to make 2) the curry. I was going to make a Massaman curry until I tried the Khao Soi the day before, so I decided to make Khao Soi instead. To make Khao Soi, we had to make a red curry paste, so we first had to cut all of the ingredients into tiny pieces and then use a mortar and pestle to mash everything up.

We then made our respective curries, and mine ended up being five-star! Definitely the second best of all the Khao Soi’s I’ve had.

It was 1pm so the half-day people were done, and our group went from 12 people to 4. Actually, one of the couples were French and didn’t speak a lot of English so I ended up having to translate some stuff for them. Words were easily coming out of my brain that I didn’t even know were still in there! It was reassuring because I had so much difficulty remembering French before, but I think it was because I was always under pressure or felt judged. This way took all of the pressure off, so it was a lot easier. We were given a half hour break so I walked around for a bit. Then we only had two dishes left to make: salad and dessert. We started by making dessert and I chose mango sticky rice. Then we made the salad, which for me was papaya salad. Again, we had to use a mortar and pestle to mash up all of the ingredients. We got to eat the two dishes at the end, but I was so full!

I decided to have the mango sticky rice because it was so good, but I couldn’t finish the papaya salad. At the end of the course, they gave us recipe books with everything that we had made, so now I can try to make everything at home! However, finding all of the ingredients might be a different story… I got dropped off at the hostel, did my laundry, and relaxed for a couple hours before walking to a different night market. I went to a restaurant called Kat’s Kitchen, which was completely full and already had a line-up out the front. I only had to wait about ten minutes, and luckily was seated because the line kept getting longer and longer. I ordered a Massaman curry with rice, and a melon smoothie for 115 baht ($5.02). The food was a bit of a wait because all dishes were individually made by Kat, but it was definitely worth the wait! The only thing that I didn’t like about this restaurant was the locals knew how busy it was, so people kept coming to the tables trying to sell things, or giving out flyers.

On Tuesday, I got up and had a coffee beside the river while doing some major relaxing. My plan that day was to go towards the Doi Suthep temple, where there was supposed to be lots of hiking trails. I wanted to grab lunch first so I stopped at a restaurant nearby and got basil rice with an iced coffee.

Then I started walking. The thing that I love about Grab is that it gives you a price and that’s what you pay. The problem with the red taxis is they give you whatever price they want and oftentimes, you end up getting ripped off. I was determined to walk as much as I could to avoid having to pay for any taxis, so I headed towards the main gate in hopes that there would be some taxis going to Doi Suthep (which is about 30 minutes outside of the city). Luckily, I ran into a tourist information centre on the way and they told me I could get a taxi from either Sompet Market or from North Gate and it should cost 50 baht. I walked towards Sompet Market (which was likely about a 40-minute walk total) and when I got there, the guy said that I’d have to wait for other people to join because he wouldn’t take just me. He said that I’d probably have better luck at North Gate, and his friend offered to take me there for 50 baht. Nope, I’m good! “But it’s 2 kilometres, you’re going to walk that whole way?” Yup, I was planning on it! It was actually only 1 kilometre (15 minutes) away but as usual, they were trying to use scare tactics to try to persuade me to buy. After about five minutes, another red taxi pulled over beside me and I asked for Doi Suthep. She replied 500 baht.. What?! Absolutely not! But then she started saying 50 baht and then 40, and I don’t know how I logically thought that she meant she’d charge that to go to Doi Suthep. It’s probably because she kept saying “Doi Suthep – 40 baht.” So I got in and she ended up dropping me off pretty much across the street, where the North Gate was (I could have easily walked there in less than 10 minutes). I took out 40 baht and she said, “No, 50 baht. Doi Suthep – 40 baht” (even though there’s a sign there that clearly says Doi Suthep – 60 baht). By that point, I was just angry so I took out 50 baht, gave it to her, and went to the sign. There were five people already waiting but they wouldn’t leave until we had 10 people. They were charging 60 baht each way, so 120 baht total ($5.24). (By the way, I know I sound like a Scrooge when I keep saying that I had to pay extra, when it’s really only 50 cents more, but that’s the mentality that you get into while you’re here. Anything more than 100 baht seems too expensive!). After about 10-15 minutes, we had nine people so they said that we could go. We got in the back of the songthaew (with everyone sitting on the side benches) and got on our way. This was the first time in my life where I actually started to feel car sick. There were twists and turns the entire way to the temple, and they didn’t slow down so we were leaning back and forth the whole way up. Looking at everyone’s faces, I think everyone was feeling pretty sick. We got there at 3:30 and the lady said “Come back at 5, and you pay when we get back.” I was still in a bad mood from getting ripped off twice and only getting an hour and a half to explore, which wouldn’t give me enough time to try any of the hiking trails. The devil in me was contemplating not showing up at 5 and likely saving money because I’d only have to pay for the way back. However, I just couldn’t do it (good thing I have a conscience) and I decided I’d just go back at 5. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with Doi Suthep at all. Maybe it was my already bad mood, but I think it was because I had already seen much nicer temples. I had to pay 30 baht ($1.31) to enter, but it was so loaded with tourists, so I didn’t spend much time there.

I found a coffee shop and ordered an apple soda while I waited for 5pm to hit. Surprisingly, everyone except one person came back at 5pm (which our driver seemed pretty upset about) but then they found two MORE people so we were even more squished in the back this time. I was towards the front so it wasn’t as bad as sitting in the back, but I still couldn’t believe how they did those turns! I started walking back towards the hostel and found a restaurant called Lucky Too, where I ordered a Khao Soi and banana smoothie for 100 baht ($4.36). This one was alright, but I think the one I made was better. I then spent quite a bit of time checking out the night market and then went back to my hostel to order my bus to Pai for the next day. There were signs that said 200 baht all over town, including in my hostel, but then when I asked the hostel owner, he said that they don’t do trips anymore. I didn’t really understand why but it sounded like the company that they worked with hadn’t been reliable. He said that I could book it on my own – I’d just have to get to the bus station, so he told me what I’d have to do the next morning. And that’s exactly what I did on Wednesday! Love always

Ayutthaya (Feb 23): Multiple Temples and a Night Train

My train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya left on Saturday at 12:55pm, and it only cost me 15 baht (65 cents AUD)! I went to the platform and found a seat in an already hot car. The train ride was only an hour and a half long, but it didn’t have any air-conditioning and we were heading to a city where the “feels like” temperature was 39 degrees. Needless to say, I was sweating like a pig and I was actually scared to get off of my seat because I knew it would be wet. I tried to open the window beside me and couldn’t, then two other people tried to help me and they couldn’t either. Now I know why I was able to find an empty seat so easily… I got to Ayutthaya at 2:30 and was planning to spend the day exploring the temples until my train to Chiang Mai at 7:45pm. I started questioning whether I had left too late when I started talking to another girl who said all of the temples closed at 6pm. Honestly though, I don’t think I could have went any longer with the temperature outside! I found a luggage storage at the station, which was open 24 hours and only cost 10 baht per bag (44 cents). Ayutthaya was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam, was founded in 1350, and the city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The railway station is quite far from the city centre so I went to the information booth to ask how to get to the temples. The lady said that I could rent a bike, so I asked how long it would take and she said 30 minutes. There was no way I was going to bike 30 minutes in 39-degree weather. I asked how much the tuk-tuks would be and she said at least 200 baht ($8.93). I asked if there was a bus and she said no. She didn’t seem too keen on helping me out so I left. I went on the Grab app and I could get a car for 87 baht ($3.80) and since I didn’t have lunch yet, I asked it to take me to Malakor Cafe & Restaurant. While I was waiting for my Grab driver to come, a songthaew pulled up (a Thai type of bus) so I guess I could have tried one of those if the information booth told me about them. I have a sneaking suspicion that Grab is actually illegal in Ayutthaya because there weren’t many drivers (so I had to wait 10-15 minutes for my ride), and then he sped right by me and parked about 100 metres away. The thing with Grab is it automatically translates for you, so if I write my driver in English, it’ll translate to Thai and if he writes me in Thai, it’ll translate to English. He wrote me and said, “Can you come to me? I’m afraid of 3 wheels,” which I took to mean that he’d get in trouble from the tuk-tuk drivers if they saw me going into his car. Anyway, he dropped me off at the restaurant at about 3:15 so by that point, I was starving. I ordered a shrimp pad Thai with a coke, which cost me 125 baht ($5.45), and it was so good!

After lunch, I crossed the street to the first temple I wanted to go to, called Wat Ratchaburana. For every temple, I had to pay an entrance fee of 50 baht ($2.18) so I only went to three. I had read online that the temples in Ayutthaya weren’t strict about dress code, so I wore one of my tank tops with my longer shorts. However, I was stopped and asked to cover up, and thank goodness I actually put my sarong and a t-shirt in my bag because there weren’t any places to buy anything (as there are in Bangkok). This temple was the quietest as well as the smallest of the three I went to, so I got through it pretty quick.

I also noticed some ladies (likely late-30s/early-40s) were wearing shorts that were the exact same length as mine. I decided that for the next temple, I’d just wear my sarong around my shoulders because I was so hot. I went next door to the next temple, Wat Phra Mahathat, but once again, the man pointed to my legs and told me to cover up. While I was putting everything on, ladies were walking out wearing dresses and shorts that didn’t go down to their knees so I was confused as to why I was being picked on. Another girl my age said she had the same problem- maybe cause we’re younger 🙂 This temple was famous for having a Buddha head that got caught in the roots of a tree, and was now within the tree. It was pretty cool to see, but was only about a metre high so they had signs saying we shouldn’t be higher than the Buddha and therefore should be squatting down as a sign of respect. I walked around the rest of the temple grounds, which were quite nice.

The last temple that I wanted to go to (Wat Phra Si Sanphet) was about a 20-30 minute walk away, so I slowly walked through the park, which had a lot of random temples within it. I finally got to the temple at about 5:30 and spent about an hour there watching the sunset and just enjoying the tranquility of it all.

I was one of the last people to leave when they closed at 6:30, and the guard was waiting to lock the gate. I started walking back towards where I had started, but at about 6:50, I thought I should be on the safe side and order a Grab to take me back to the train station.

However, when I requested one, it said that all of the Grab drivers were busy! I kept trying but nothing was available. I searched how long it would take to walk to the train station and it said 40 minutes, but it included a ferry ride and I wasn’t sure how reliable that would be. After about ten minutes, I tried again and thankfully, something came up! However, I still had to wait about 15 minutes for him to arrive. I got him to drop me off at the 7-Eleven across from the station so that I could pick up some snacks and water since I didn’t know what would be available on my 12-hour train ride. I went back to the station, got my bag, and waited for the train to arrive. My train ticket was a bit more expensive and cost me 1266 baht ($52.69), but I guess it was a pretty long trip and got me out of having to pay accommodation for a night. As I was about to get on the train, I met my second Australian of the entire trip: Abbey, from outside of Sydney. She ended up getting the bunk on top of mine. We were in a female berth and everyone else had their curtains closed, so we seemed to be the only ones talking. The set-up of the train was pretty cool though!

A lady came around with a menu and when we tried to order the cheapest thing, she said that they didn’t have anymore. Therefore, we ordered the next cheapest thing, which was a meal with questionable soup, rice, juice, and a muffin for 140 baht ($6.11). The lady set up a little table in the middle of my bed and then Abbey and I had dinner together. After dinner, we talked for awhile and then I got ready for bed. The bed was actually really comfy, however I was constantly rolling back and forth because of the motion of the train. We were to arrive at 7:15, so I set an alarm for 6:45. I’m pretty sure I woke up at least once every hour because of the jerks of the train whenever it would stop and start back up again. At about 6:15am, they made an announcement saying that they needed to flip the beds back into seats, so they asked us all to get out of our beds. I guess I didn’t need an alarm after all! I changed and then went to the bathroom to wash my face and when I came back, my bed was back into two seats.

I actually felt pretty energised that morning, but it faded as the day went on. Abbey and I chatted until 7:15 and then we arrived in Chiang Mai, which I’ll write about on the next post! Love always

From Taipei to Bangkok (Feb 21-23): Two Flights and an Odd Coincidence

Well since the last time I wrote, I’ve already went to two counties! I got to the Taipei airport three hours before my flight to Kuala Lumpur (at 1:20pm). Surprisingly when I checked in, they didn’t ask for proof of onward travel. They DID, however, ask me to put my bag on the scale. Uh oh… it was the first time that I’ve been asked to weigh my bag and I knew that I’d definitely be over 7kg – I just didn’t know by how much. I hesitantly placed my big bag on the scale (hiding my handbag behind the counter, which had all of my heavy electronics). 8.5kg…. I was expecting the worst, like having to pay $100 per kilogram and waited to hear how much I’d have to pay. “Okay,” she said, and placed my passport and boarding pass on the counter. What? Really? Okay, I’ll take it! I didn’t have to talk to anyone at custom control (so no new stamp on my passport) – all I had to do was scan my fingerprints before being let through the little gate. Security was also pretty smooth so I got through a lot fast than expected. The first thing I did was convert all of my Taiwanese dollars (except 300 for lunch) into US dollars because I’ve been told that you can’t convert them outside of Taiwan. I then went to find some food, but found out that there were only two restaurants on the other side. How were there no restaurants in an airport? One of the restaurants was high-class (with dishes costing way over 300THB), and the other one was middle-priced (with dishes starting from 180THB). I found a cafe and just got a salad and caramel macchiato for 280THB ($12.45), which was a lot more than I was used to spending on a meal.

I thought that setting aside 300THB would be more than enough, but I guess not! I FaceTimed my sister while eating my meal and waited to check in. The flight was just over 4 hours so I arrived after 5:30pm. I had to take the bus back into Kuala Lumpur, so I followed the signs to the bus. However when I arrived, there were a whole bunch of bus companies selling tickets around Malaysia. I definitely didn’t recognise this area! I walked around for a bit and finally saw a stand that said KL Sentral, so I bought a ticket for 12 ringgit ($3.92AUD) and waited for the bus. The bus ride was an hour long, and then I had to take the metro to where my hostel was. This time, I was staying at Marquee Guest Houzz (which has now changed its name to ZigZag Travellers Home), and I had to pay 23 ringgit ($7.90) for the night in a 6-bed female dorm. I was pretty hungry since it was after 8pm and I was actually really looking forward to having an Indian meal. Conveniently, my hostel was located in the Central Market so there was an Indian restaurant called Yusoof Dan Zakhir right next door. I ordered butter chicken with garlic naan and a tea tarik (milk tea) for 13.50 ringgit ($4.41), and it was delicious!

I love my Asian food, no matter what the cuisine!

On Friday morning, I got up and had breakfast at the hostel before walking around for a bit. My hostel was right beside Chinatown so I walked around the Central Market and Chinatown until about noon. Then, I made my way back to the hostel to pick up my stuff, took the metro back to KL Sentral, and got a bus back to the airport to catch my flight at 4pm. I was taking my time since I had ended up going through so quickly the day before. I wasn’t in a huge rush to get there three hours early since I had already checked in online – I only needed to get my boarding pass printed out. The first thing that I should tell you is that Kuala Lumpur airport (KLIA) has two terminals that are about 1.5km away from each other. I was trying to find out what terminal I had to get to, but I couldn’t find an actual answer (even my email and ticket didn’t say). I decided to go to KLIA2 since it would be the 4th time that I’d arrive or depart from there. I arrived at the airport at around 1:30 and checked the departure list to make sure I was in the right terminal. 4pm flight to Bangkok? Check. So I walked the 5-minute walk through all of the shops and up all of the escalators to the check-in desks. I searched for where the 4pm flight was located and walked to that section, but I could only find signs for Air Asia and I was flying with Malindo Air. Confused, I circled back to the departure board and checked it again. 4pm… Bangkok.. and then I looked at the flight number and compared it to my phone. Wrong one… Learn from my mistakes, people! Just because it’s the same time with same destination doesn’t mean it’s the same flight! I went to the information booth to double-check and he said that I’d have to take the shuttle bus to KLIA1. I ran back down the escalators, bought a ticket for 2 ringgit (65 cents) and saw that the next shuttle wasn’t for another 25 minutes, at 2:27. They come every half hour, so I must have JUST missed one. I tried to remain calm, and convinced myself that I’d still have 45 minutes to get my boarding pass, go through custom control, go through security, and hopefully get something to eat before the 3:15 boarding time. The other thing that I should mention about flying to Thailand is that in most cases, they will always ask for proof of onward travel because the airline doesn’t want to be stuck having to pay for your return ticket to leave the country. I’ve researched so much about this – I’ve read blogs, and it sounded like I’d have no choice but to find a ticket to prove that I’m leaving the country in less than 30 days (I was planning to leave by boat into Laos, so I couldn’t really provide a ticket). I’ve heard that there are rent-a-ticket sites, where you can pay 20 euro and they’ll print out a fake ticket for you. I’ve also heard of people buying cheap tickets to Singapore for 30 dollars that they won’t use. I even read that if you book on expedia, you can cancel your ticket within 24 hours and get all of your money back (which is what I was planning to do if I was forced to buy a ticket). I decided not to plan ahead this time so I could cross that bridge when I got to it. And thank goodness I did because when I finally got to the check-in counter, no questions were asked. And I probably would have been pretty mad if I went through all of the trouble of getting a ticket and didn’t even have to show it. Anyway, I went over to custom control and the line was so long. At least 15-20 minutes… I waited my turn, went to my officer who said something to the officer beside him. Then the officer beside him said, “Miss, he says you’re very beautiful.” “What? I didn’t say that, he’s lying!” “Yes, he said that. He’s just shy.” It was definitely nice that it wasn’t so serious for a change. He then flipped through my passport and laughed at the notes that I had written saying not to stamp any of the empty pages, then handed me my passport and let me through. I saw a sign that said flights to any gates that start with C have to take the Aerotrain. I looked down and guess which gate number I had to go through? One with a C, of course. By that point, it was 2:55pm so I still had 20 minutes until boarding time, and luckily the wait for the next train and the time to get to the gates was less than 5 minutes. We then had to go through security, but it wasn’t “official” security – there were signs saying that we could still carry our water bottles through. Finally, I was through! I was starving and had less than 15 minutes left, so I went to Boost to get a mango-lychee smoothie (which are way cheaper than the Boost smoothies in Australia!), and then I ran over to Burger King to get a burger. However, the person working there was so slow and she’d do everything with the least effort possible, while eating fries in between. It almost got to the point where I was going to walk away because I had been waiting in line for ten minutes and there were only two people in front of me when I got there. FINALLY, I got to the front of the line, ordered a double cheeseburger, and ran to my gate. However, I completely forgot that I still hadn’t went through ACTUAL security, which was right at my gate. I ate my burger as fast as I could, and then drank my smoothie even faster (while taking breaks in between brain freezes), and when I was the last person on the other side of security, I went through. I got to the other side and sat down while we all watched the suitcases being loaded onto the plane. They put on the last bag, closed it, but for some reason we still weren’t boarding. And then 4pm hit and we still weren’t boarding. Finally at about ten minutes after 4, an announcement came on saying that they had some technical difficulties and they’d let us know of our new boarding time. So those last two hours of stress were all for nothing… great! The worst part about being on that side of security was even though we weren’t allowed to bring any liquids through, they didn’t have any vending machines or water refill stations. By about 5pm, I really started getting thirsty so I did something frowned upon in the world of flying.. I left my bag sitting there and left. I had to set my boarding pass on the counter, go out, and walk about 5-10 minutes until I finally found a water refill station, which seemed to be the only one in the entire area. I went back, had to re-go through security, and grabbed my boarding pass from the counter (although I easily could have grabbed anyone else’s, or they mine, as no one was manning the counter), and sat back down. Finally after just over an hour and a half, we were asked to board the plane (apparently they were having lavatory issues, so we had to wait for them to fix it). It was then that they handed out water but they ran out of straws, so the water was inaccessible because the plastic would just rip anytime you tried to open it. I sat down and ended up getting the entire row to myself, which was great! I decided to finish watching the movie that I had started on my last Malindo flight nearly 7 weeks ago (Aloha). They soon handed out toasted sandwiches with a muffin.

I arrived in Bangkok two hours later but had lost an hour, so it was only 7pm. However, there was another plane still in our loading bay (of course) so we had to wait about 15 minutes until we could get off of the plane. The airline also didn’t hand out arrival cards, so everyone was frantically looking for them when we got to border control (so thumbs down for Malindo this time.. if it weren’t for the food and entertainment making up for everything). I finally got through, bought a 7-day SIM card for 180 baht ($7.85), and then needed to find out how to get to my hostel, which was by the railway station. I asked one information booth where to go and they directed me to the other side of the airport and told me to go to the second floor and then when I got there, they directed me to the side that I was just on and told me to go to the second floor. I was wasting more time than anything, so I just decided to catch the A1 bus to Mo Chit terminal for 30THB ($1.31) and then take the metro to Hua Lamphong station. I finally got to my hostel just after 9pm. I was staying at Loftel Station Hostel for 250 baht ($11.16) for the night in a 10-bed mixed dorm. At about 9:30pm, I decided to go for dinner back at Supa, where I had my Christmas Eve dinner the last time I was in Bangkok. Most of the restaurants (including this one) closed at 10pm so I wanted to go somewhere close. I decided to get a green curry dish with rice for 130baht ($5.67).

I headed back to the hostel at around 10:30pm and the weirdest thing happened. There was only one person sitting in the lobby, who happened to be a Canadian guy who I had met at my hostel in Skopje, Macedonia nearly two years ago(!). What are the odds that we would choose the same hostel on the same night in two different continents?! I think he was just as shocked as I was! After talking for a bit, we found out that we had both booked the same night train to Chiang Mai the following day (a ticket that I had booked months ago, before I even started my trip). So crazy!! Anyway, we said goodnight and went to bed, as I had a doctor appointment the next morning at 9:30.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8:30, got ready for the day, and went to go for my doctor’s appointment at the Thai Travel Clinic. Back when I was there on Christmas Eve, I got bloodwork done to find out if I was immune to the chicken pox (because I only had a few pox as a child). I didn’t realise that I’d have to come BACK to the travel clinic to get the results… so here I was nearly two months later, ready to find out if I was immune to chicken pox or not. I decided to take a Grab Bike because 1) it would only take 12 minutes to drive and likely over an hour to take public transport, 2) a Grab bike was over half the price of a regular Grab, and 3) it was actually the same price, if not cheaper than public transport (at 56 baht/$2.44 for the trip). I requested my Grab bike, he showed up with a helmet, I got on and we were on our way. He started the trip by going down the wrong lane on a main road, which didn’t help put me at ease but I realised that I made a great decision when we started weaving in and out of traffic. He dropped me off, I went upstairs and I actually finished my appointment before my appointment was supposed to start. They got me to take my blood pressure and weigh myself (I’ve definitely gained weight since the last appointment, with the amount of food I’ve eaten) and then I was called into the room. The doctor was really nice and showed me the piece of paper that came up as positive, so I didn’t have to worry about getting chicken pox. Unfortunately, just getting this information ended up costing 450baht ($19.53). I requested another Grab bike to take me to the 12Go office, where I had my reserved train ticket for that evening. The driver dropped me off right after 10am, which was right when they opened! I got my ticket to go from Ayutthaya at 19:45 and arrive in Chiang Mai the next day at 7:15am. I then walked back to the hostel and ordered coffee and breakfast (which was toast slices with a soft-boiled egg).

I headed to the train station at about 11:30 and asked for a ticket to Ayutthaya, but the next train wasn’t until 12:55 so I had about an hour to kill. I found a coffee shop, ordered an iced tea, and waited. But I’ll save my trip to Ayutthaya for another post! Love always

Koh Lipe (Jan 14-20): Heaven on Earth

My six days in Koh Lipe went by way too fast – I was nearly in tears when I had to leave, and that hardly ever happens! The taxi driver (who must work for the hostel) picked me up at my hostel in Langkawi and we made the 20-30 minute drive to the pier. He said that I was lucky because he was about to wash his car so if the hostel owner had called him ten minutes later, he wouldn’t have been able to drive me. We got to the pier and as we walked into the building, the taxi driver said that Koh Lipe was more expensive than Langkawi, which scared me since Langkawi was already expensive as it is. We walked up to a dark office, where there were a bunch of people filling out forms and waiting. The driver asked me for my passport and told me to sit down, then came back with a number for me to wait in the queue. My number was 75, the most recent number was 53, and the ferry was to depart in about an hour. I FaceTimed with my parents while waiting and surprisingly, I was called after two numbers. The man asked if I was coming back to Langkawi and then asked why I didn’t buy my return ticket. I didn’t know how long to stay and because it was 40 dollars each way, I didn’t want to just stay for 2 or 3 nights. I said I’d stay for a week and got a return ticket for the 20th, which cost 118 ringgit ($38.52AUD). He said to be in the waiting room a half hour early (2pm), so I went downstairs and called my parents back. When I told my mom about cutting my foot, she told me to go buy antiseptic because I still hadn’t properly cleaned it, especially since everywhere in Thailand and Malaysia (even in many convenience or clothing stores) we have to walk barefoot when inside and leave our shoes outside. Just as I hung up with my parents, they made an announcement to line up for the ferry so we could go through customs. I quickly ran to the pharmacy to find antiseptic, came back, and the door was already closed with a gate set up across it! I panicked, walked up to the door (which thankfully opened), and snuck around the belted gate to go to customs (so no one actually took my ticket). After going through customs, there was a man standing there and he asked for my passport before getting onto the ferry. “Why?” I asked, hesitantly. “You’ll get it back when you’re in Koh Lipe.” I reluctantly gave him my passport, which he added to the big stack. I then walked onto the ferry, which was quite dungeon-like – very dark with glazed windows. I found a seat and relaxed for the next 90 minutes until we arrived to the transfer terminal. I had gained an hour so it was only just after 3pm when I arrived. We all got off the ferry and then had to walk across the floating dock, go down a ladder (with all of our luggage), and get into a long-tail boat, which would take us to the Koh Lipe beach (the ferry was too big and would destroy the coral if it got too close). The longtail boatride was less than five minutes and before we knew it, we were on Pattaya Beach.

Koh Lipe is known as the Maldives of Thailand… I’ve never been to the Maldives before but if it’s anything like Koh Lipe, then it’ll be one of the next places on my list. I almost don’t want to share how much I loved Koh Lipe because I don’t want it to lose its charm and become a huge tourist destination, like many of the other Thai Islands are. Its beauty is captivating, with clear waters and corals all around. There aren’t any vehicles (occasionally you’ll see a pick-up truck), but there are many motorbikes with sidecars.

They don’t allow tourists to rent the motorbikes, but you can get one as a taxi for 50 baht per person (which I never did). The island is completely walkable, and you can probably walk from one end to the other in about 45 minutes. It has three main beaches: Pattaya Beach is the most popular so I only went to it a couple of times, and it has bars and restaurants along it. Sunset Beach is a smaller beach which I never actually went to. And Sunrise Beach was the closest one to my hostel, and was much less busy so I spent most of my time there. Anyway, we had to wait in line to go through border control. Luckily, there weren’t many of us so I didn’t have to wait long but I’ve heard that people have had to wait for over an hour. Then, they checked my bag and made me pay the Tarutao National Park fee for 200 baht ($8.73), which protects the coral reef so assuming you’re on the water (which you would have had to in order to get there), you have to have a national park permit with you. I walked less than ten minutes to my hostel, Shanti Backpackers, which is run by a friendly, quiet pregnant lady who often has her 8-year-old daughter (Shanti) with her. Shanti warmed up to me quite quickly and would come give me big hugs when she saw me, and ask me questions. She doesn’t go to school, but her English is so good! The hostel was basically one big room that fit about 16 people, so we had to get used to being one big, happy family. I paid 250 baht per night ($10.91). Outside the hostel, an old man stands on the street corner all day everyday (he closes at midnight) and sells coconut pancakes. He sings the same song over and over again: “Coconut donut, 10 baht, 10 baht, Coco!” and I’m pretty sure all of us could sing it in our sleep just within one hour of being at the hostel. I got changed and made my way to the northern part of Sunrise Beach so I could get one swim in before sunset.

After sunset, I went back to the hostel and there were a bunch of people about to go for dinner, so I joined them. We went to NOT Wangcha-aon, where I got tomyum rice with a coke for 130 baht ($5.67). The food was average but definitely didn’t stand out. After dinner, I went with some of the group (a couple from Chile and a guy from Germany) to get some beer from 7-11 and sit on the beach. At about 11pm, we walked into the water and as we kicked the sand, we were able to see the plankton light up – it was pretty cool!

On Tuesday, I got up to go for breakfast and went to a restaurant that was suggested to me by the hostel owner called Coffee House Lipe. I decided to get a set breakfast for 125 baht ($5.45), which came with eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, toast, and coffee. However, it came out within two minutes of me ordering it and I knew it was because most of the items had just been sitting there, waiting for someone to eat them. The toast even came untoasted. I ate the bacon but left the sausage and ham behind, as I couldn’t bring myself to eat them. I decided to walk to the viewpoint of Koh Lipe, which only took about ten minutes. The view was really nice!

I took a different trail back down, which led to Pattaya Beach, but it was really steep and covered with leaves. There was a rope ‘fence’ along the trail, but it was falling apart so as I made my way down and started slipping on the leaves, the stakes came out of the ground when I held onto the rope. As I kicked a pile of leaves, a huge swarm of mosquitoes came out and I got eaten alive. I started to panic because I couldn’t go down fast enough and I didn’t want to climb back up, and it was really steep so I couldn’t even try to get my mosquito repellent out of my bag. I’ve never seen so many mosquitoes at one time, and I felt like I was in the Hunger Games. I finally decided to turn around and head back up to try to outrun the mosquitoes, and it worked! I got to Sunrise Beach, found a nice spot, and came up with my daily routine: lie for 15 minutes on each side, go for a swim, lie for 20 minutes on each side, go for a snack (usually a chocolate-banana pancake with fruit shake) and work on blog post, repeat steps 1-3, watch sunset, shower, go for dinner with people in the hostel. It was the perfect routine!

That evening, one of the girls suggested an Indian restaurant called Bombay Restaurant, which was a bit more expensive than usual. However, it was really good food! I got Vegetable Korma with naan and a coke for 250 baht ($10.91). We were able to watch one of the ladies make the naan right in front of us, which was neat to see.

On Wednesday morning, I went to a restaurant called Nee Papaya for breakfast. This time, I decided to stick with having Asian breakfast, as I no longer trusted English breakfasts. I had rice with chicken and vegetables, and a coffee for 120 baht ($5.24).

After that, I made my way to the southern part of Sunrise beach, where it seemed like there were private beaches for the resorts so there weren’t as many people around. The hostel owner had lent me her snorkelling gear, so I checked out some of the coral next to the beach and spent the rest of the time on the sand.

That evening, a group of us went out for dinner at Sunrise Beach Restaurant, where I got cashew chicken with rice and an iced tea for 155 baht ($6.76). After dinner, a group of us got some beer from 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers, which was cool to see. I was so itchy from all of the mosquito bites that I had gotten (by the way, Koh Lipe = mosquitos galore!), so I went to buy some Tiger Balm from the pharmacy. Tiger Balm is made for sore muscles and can also help people clear their sinuses if they have a cold, but I’ve met lots of tourists who use it for mosquito bites, and it works!! The heat sensation takes away the itchiness so I’d put it on all of my bites before bed.

On Thursday, I decided I should finally go do something, as I had been lazing around the past few days. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I got mango sticky rice, a coffee, and a shake for 180 baht ($7.85).

I wanted to go to the larger island next to Koh Lipe so I walked to Sunrise Beach, saw a sign that said “Taxi 100 baht” and I told them I wanted to go to Koh Adang. I got on the boat and the driver asked me what time I was planning to come back. “Oh, I don’t know! How long do you think I’ll need?” But he didn’t understand what I was asking. The ride was only about ten minutes long but was very wavy and I wasn’t too dry by the time I got there.

I got off the boat and the driver went back to Koh Lipe. I found signs directing me to Chado Cliff and made my way up. The hike had three viewpoints, with the last one obviously being the best. However, this hike was one of those hikes where I kept thinking to myself, “Why did I decide to do this? Why do I do this to myself? Is it REALLY going to be worth it?” Most of the hike was in direct sunlight, in ‘feels-like’ 38 degree weather, and usually had a steep ascent. I definitely took a lot of breaks because I was nervous that I was going to get heat stroke if I pushed myself too hard. I think I made it up to the top in about 45 minutes and even though I was sweating through every pore in my body, the view made it totally worth it! I had the perfect view of Koh Lipe, along with all of the surrounding water with different shades of blue.

I sat there for quite awhile, had the place to myself for a bit, and then visited with a couple who joined me at the top before heading back down. The beaches there were pretty much empty, as I only saw about five people on the entire beach. Therefore, most people treated it as a nude beach because if the closest person to you is 300 metres away, then why not? I stayed there until the clouds covered the sky at about 4pm and then walked back towards where I was dropped off. On my way there, I noticed some of the shells moving in front of me but when I got closer, they’d stop. I don’t even know how I noticed them because they were so tiny, and difficult to see if you weren’t looking for them. I sat and watched them for quite awhile, and then continued to the dock.

I was expecting to see some boats waiting to take people back but there weren’t any. Finally, a boat came with two tourists and when I asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe, they said no and told me to keep waiting. Then, another boat came with two locals who were bringing stuff over to the island. As they were unloading the boat, I went and asked if they were going back to Koh Lipe. He asked if I was one person or if there were two people and I said one. He shook his head no. I had 100 baht in my hand and the woman said something to him, so he told me to get in the boat (thank goodness!). He took me back to Koh Lipe and then left again, so I’m not sure if he was actually a taxi but at least I got a ride back. I went to go have my pancake and shake and once I got there, it started pouring rain! I thought it would only last for awhile, but it just kept going and going – everyone outside was absolutely soaked. We went out for dinner to Madame YooHoo, where this old lady stands outside the restaurant yelling “Yoo hoo!” to try to get everyone’s attention. We had a pretty late dinner so I decided to go to bed afterwards – I think I tired myself out after the hike!

On Friday morning, I went back to Thai Lady Pancake for breakfast, where I had Pad Thai, a coffee, and a shake for 150 baht ($6.54).

I had to get laundry done so I went to a place close to the hostel that charged 60 baht per kilo. The thing that I liked about this place was that they pulled out a scale and actually weighed it right in front of me so I knew what the price would be beforehand. Today was going to be my “spa day!” I knew that I still needed to get a Thai massage and I figured what better place to have one than on the beach? I was hesitant to get a massage, as I’ve only gotten one before, which was a foot massage in China. And it was one of the most painful, un-relaxing experiences I’ve ever had so I wasn’t in a rush to get another one. One of the girls at the hostel told me to get an oil massage because it’s less painful, so that’s what I did. I went to JK Blue Beach Massage on Sunrise Beach because it had high ratings, and I knew that the masseuses (weird word…) were all certified and had education in massage. I asked for an oil massage, which would be 400 baht and then I also tipped 40 baht, which cost $19.20 in total. There were about 8 massage beds all in close proximity to each other – I was less than a foot away from the person next to me. In order to have an oil massage, you have to be naked so that was a bit weird for me to undress on a beach with people all around. However, the ladies were really great with keeping you covered and making the process as easy as possible. I have to say that during the first part of the massage, it took quite awhile for me to get comfortable with the actual massage. At one point, the lady was kneeling on my legs and digging her hands in my shoulders – as in all of her body weight was on top of me. I couldn’t ever get my mind to fully relax (obviously, I’m an over thinker – this is why I can’t nap) and I was constantly thinking of what I had to do later that day, what was she doing, how does it feel like there are ten hands on me at once. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to last an hour. Eventually, I eased up and finally started to relax as every part of my body was massaged, head to toe (and all ten toes). The time then sped right by and all of a sudden, she said I was finished. I was so tempted to buy another hour, but decided against it. Best massage of my life (although I don’t have much to compare it to)!

After that, I decided to go for a manicure/pedicure. I was just going to do a pedicure, which costs 200 baht, but a mani/pedi costs 300 baht, so why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not in awhile… I found a place that looked nice (called Sabye Sabye) and walked in. The plus side was it’s the first place I had been to on Koh Lipe with air conditioning, so I got to enjoy that. Now, I have only had one pedicure before that I can compare this to, but this one definitely wasn’t the same. There was no soaking of the feet or hands, no scrubbing, no washing, etc. All it included was cutting the nails (which I had already done the day before) and painting the nails (which started coming off the day after). Regardless, I still tipped 30 baht so in total, it only cost me $14.40 so it wasn’t a huge amount of money wasted. I haven’t painted my fingernails in about five years because the last two times that I painted them, I woke up the next morning with huge, swollen eyes (almost swollen shut – I couldn’t even put my contacts in) and a rash all over my face and down my neck. I was hoping that since it’s been so long, maybe it won’t happen again. I woke up the next morning and I was fine! I was so happy because ever since I’ve come to Asia, I’ve had less skin problems and my skin hasn’t been as sensitive. I wasn’t even reacting to my sunscreen! (I had forgotten to knock on wood…) The day after that, my bottom lip felt a bit puffier when I was eating breakfast. I peeled off as much of the nail polish as I could that day, but I don’t have nail polish remover so there is still some that has stayed on. The next day, my eyes were a tad puffy (not as bad as usual, but if I looked up, I could feel my eyelids touch my eyebrow) my skin was soooo itchy, and I started to get spots all over my neck and chest. The problem was I kept scratching, but I’d obviously scratch with my fingernails, which would just add more chemicals to my skin, which would in turn make it even more itchy. I took a Claritin, which temporarily would make me less itchy. Today, I’m less puffy and less itchy, haven’t taken a Claritin, but the spots of my skin are starting to break into rash so it’ll probably take a few more days to clear my system (plus having a bit of nail polish still on my fingers probably doesn’t help but I couldn’t find nail polish remover so I might just have to sit through it). Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try fingernail polish again to see if I’d react, so now I know to stay away from it! After my mani/pedi, I went for my pancake and shake and then went back to visit with people at the hostel. We went for another late dinner at Thai Lady Pancake Shop, where I got Pad See-Ew and a shake for 130 baht ($5.67), and then we once again got drinks at 7-11 and sat on the beach to watch the fire dancers.

Saturday was my last full day on Koh Lipe. I had booked a full-day snorkel tour for 700 baht ($30.54) with Star Travel, and they would be picking me up at 9:15. I went to Thai Lady Pancake for a quick breakfast and coffee before going back to the hostel.

There were 8 of us in the group, but all of the tour groups went out together since we were in the middle of the ocean so if anything happened, one of the surrounding boats could help out. We rode the longtail boat for about an hour to go to the furthest point, stopped at Ko Hin Sorn to take a picture of the rocks, and went to Ko Bulo, where we got to go snorkelling for about 20 minutes.

I thought my snorkelling trip in Koh Lanta was nice but now that I’ve done this trip, it can’t even compare! There was so much coral everywhere with so many different types of fish, and the water was so clear. I kept seeing clownfish in the anemones, and the guide would pull me by the hand and dive down to point out other fish and animals. It was so cool! It really is like another world down there. We then went to another area, where we got to snorkel for another 30 minutes. Here, there were even more organisms – so many starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and many different types of fish. Then when I was about to get back into the boat, the guide took me away from the reef and pointed out a little stingray on top of the sand. I definitely wouldn’t have noticed it if he didn’t show it to me (along with many other fish)! We stopped at a beach called Ro Khloi Island, where we took some pictures and then we got to go for lunch.

They took us to another beach on Ko Butang and of course, this island had to have monkeys. I sat with a Dutch couple, and we enjoyed a pretty spicy curry chicken with rice meal while watching the monkeys steal other peoples’ food. After lunch, we went to a little inlet across from the beach to enjoy another 20 minutes of snorkelling.

We travelled to Ko Hin Ngam Gravel Beach, which was filled with perfectly polished rocks (meaning it was extremely slippery and dangerous walking from the boat to the island). As tempting as it were to stack the rocks, there were signs all around telling us not to, as well as a scary warning telling us about the Curse of Tarutao Island, and what would happen if we took a rock.

After our stop at the island, we had one last snorkel stop somewhat in the middle of the ocean. We just had to get out of the boat and pull ourselves along a rope to the other side and back, but the waves were so strong, it was a lot more difficult to see anything. We headed back to Koh Lipe, and the guide said that we could come to pick up our picture at 8pm (they took a picture of each of us underwater). I just stayed on the beach to enjoy the last of the sun and then watched the sunset before heading back to the hostel to shower.

I went to pick up my picture at 8 and they sent me a file which had about 100 pictures on it, which was a bonus! I’ve attached a few of them, but keep in mind that I didn’t take these pictures.

That night, we went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last dinner.

On Sunday morning, I had to catch my ferry at 11am and had to check in between 9 and 10am. I packed up my stuff, went to Thai Lady Pancake Shop for one last breakfast and one last shake, and then walked to the beach to check in at 9:45am. The walk was long (even though it was only 8 minutes), and I felt so sad to leave. It was nice to feel so at home on this beautiful island! I’ll definitely be back one day… Love always

Krabi Town (Jan 2-5): Monkey Attacks and Tropical Storms

My trip back to Krabi was pretty simple – my hostel owner booked a shared taxi for me, which cost 300 baht ($13AUD). Once I arrived, it was about 5:30pm. The hostel I stayed at was called Pak-Up hostel, and it used to be a primary school before it became a hostel so they stuck to the school theme, which was kind of neat.

I stayed in a 10-person female dorm for 300 baht per night ($13.58), and the hostel offered a free barbecue every night of your stay (which was just two skewers with chicken and vegetables, so I only took advantage of it once cause we ended up having to stand in line for over a half hour to get them). I showered and got all of my stuff organised, and then I was starving since I didn’t really eat a proper lunch. I went to a restaurant nearby called Chalita, which served both Thai and western food. My stomach still felt a bit off so I decided to just get a spicy chicken burger with fries. After dinner, I walked around one of the night markets before heading back to the hostel and going to bed.

In my last blog, I forgot to mention that when I went for lunch with Karin in Koh Lanta, she had found a news article about a tropical storm heading towards southern Thailand. She was worried that she should leave Koh Lanta because it was supposed to get worse by Friday and Saturday. On Thursday morning in Krabi, I got up earlier because I wanted to catch the ferry to Railay Beach, which is one of the really nice beaches in the Krabi area. The hostel said that as long as I show up a half hour early to book, I’d be okay. The ferry I wanted to catch would be at 10 so I went down at about 8:30, booked my ticket, and went to a cafe nearby for breakfast. I decided to just get chicken fried rice with a latte at a place called Coconuts Cafe, and then I went back to the hostel at 9:30 to catch my ferry.

However, once I got there, the hostel workers said that the government wasn’t letting any boats leave the pier so I wouldn’t be able to go to Railay Beach.

All of the other tours that I would have wanted to take would have already done their pick-ups between 9 and 9:20, so I couldn’t even choose one of those as another option. Krabi Town doesn’t really have much to do for tourists – most of the stuff to see is outside of the city so you either need to pay for public transportation, or rent a motorbike. I decided I might as well check out the Tiger Cave Temple, so I asked the hostel workers how I could get there. They said I’d have to take a taxi for 500 baht, which seemed a bit steep. After doing some research online, I realised I could just catch a songthaew, which is basically just a truck.

For me to get to Tiger Cave Temple, it would only cost 50 baht each way ($2.18)!! I don’t know why the hostel workers didn’t bother telling me this information because it was a much cheaper alternative, at 10% of the price. However, now I think it’s because they have a taxi that belongs to the hostel so they’re able to make more money this way. I walked about five minutes to where all of the songthaews were parked, found a red one that specifically said Tiger Cave on it, paid the driver 50 baht, and got in the back of the truck with two other locals. It was a pretty cool way of being able to see the city, as the entire back is open. I got to the entrance at about 10:30am and by that time, it was already so hot!

In order to get up to the temple, you had to climb 1260 stairs while passing multiple hungry and agressive monkeys. I had brought some snacks cause I figured I would get hungry, but I could fit them into my day bag, so my only other option was to tie the plastic bag of snacks onto the back of my backpack. I started the trek up to the temple and I’m not even kidding that after 100 steps, my legs were already hurting. These steps all had different sizes, so some would only be a few inches high, while others would be over a foot. It definitely tired me out a lot faster, and the heat didn’t help!

After about 250-300 steps, I finally ran into my first group of monkeys. There were plastic bottles and food wrappers everywhere, and I was trying to face the monkeys at all times in hopes that they wouldn’t notice the plastic bag on my back. I suddenly felt a tug on the water bottle under my arm, and pulled it back from the greedy monkey trying to take it. It was then that a smaller monkey noticed the plastic bag on my back so it jumped on my bag and was hanging off of it. Luckily, it couldn’t figure out how to open the bag so eventually it jumped off and I quickly ran up the stairs to escape the rest of the group.

I continued slowly making my way up the stairs while taking multiple breaks along the way. I kept getting “Good lucks” from the people coming back down, and they’d point to my bag of treats. I’d reply that I’ve already been jumped on and it was fine. However, I definitely wasn’t prepared for what was to come… I’ve found that on many stair climbs that I’ve done, the monkeys get more and more aggressive as you make your way to the top. And these ones got much larger. A few hundred steps later, I ran into my second group of monkeys. They noticed my plastic bag within a matter of seconds, and before I knew it, two large monkeys jumped on my back, ripped open the plastic bag and all of the snacks inside it, and had a feast of food at my feet. Everyone around me was shocked, including myself. I should have taken a picture but I think I was more stunned than anything, and wanted to get myself as far away from those monkeys as possible. I FINALLY made it to the top after about 45 minutes and I looked and felt like a hot, sweaty mess. When I did the CN Tower climb a few years ago, it was 500 steps higher, I did it almost ten minutes faster, and I felt like I was going to die THEN. However at least during that time, the steps were all the same height and I was in a cool stairwell. This time felt way worse! I sat down for quite awhile to try to cool myself down and then I finally got up to enjoy the views. It was a pretty overcast day, so I’m assuming it would have been even more spectacular with a blue sky, but at least it wasn’t foggy so I was still able to see everything around. At the top, I had to make sure my knees and shoulders were covered, so I covered up with a sarong and a cardigan (which was the last thing I wanted to do in the state that I was in). However, the climb was definitely worth it and the views were still pretty nice!

I stayed at the top for quite awhile and then made my way back down. The way back was obviously a lot easier, so I just kept it at a steady pace, but I also had to be careful with each step as it was still a pretty sharp decline. With about 100 steps to go, my shoe got untied so I stopped to lift up my foot and it suddenly started shaking uncontrollably – I couldn’t stop it! My calves were killing me and my thighs felt like jelly so when I got to the bottom, I got a cool taro drink and sat down for as long as I possibly could. My calves didn’t stop hurting for nearly three days! My shirt looked like I had went under a shower with it on, and my hair was also soaking wet. It was then that I realised how thankful I was that I decided to do the trek alone, as I’m sure I didn’t look like the most attractive person on the planet. Apparently the songthaews don’t pick people up from the temple gates so I decided to walk towards the main road in hopes that one would eventually pass me.

I read that they would honk and then you could wave them down, but when I saw one just pass me without honking (and I didn’t notice that they were there until it was too late), I started to panic. Multiple taxis and motorbikes would stop and ask if I wanted a ride, but I didn’t want to risk it because I knew they’d end up charging me too much. All of a sudden, I heard a honk, looked over, and saw a songthaew heading in the opposite direction (back towards the temple). I somehow crossed the extremely busy freeway and hopped in the back. The songthaew dropped off some people at the temple and then he started driving even FURTHER away from Krabi town. He was determined to get as many passengers as he could so even when we thought we couldn’t fit any more people in the back of the truck, he still continued to honk. He then stopped at what seemed like a house, said he would be back in about five minutes, and walked away. Me and the other foreign passengers looked at each other, unsure of what was going on. The driver eventually came back and seemed to take as much time possible in getting us back to town. I went back to the hostel to have a cold shower and change and by that time, I was starving since it was 2:30. I walked around, got lost in a really cool street market, but eventually decided to eat at an Italian restaurant, as I think my stomach was still having difficulty with eating non-western food. I think the Italian restaurant (called Uno) was pretty authentic, as the owner definitely didn’t look like he was Thai. I decided on penne arrabbiata, which was so good! I got that with a coke for 175 baht ($7.64). After my late lunch/early dinner, I walked around for a bit and then went back to the hostel to decide what to do the next day. The rain had started from the storm and would be continuing for the next couple of days, so my options were pretty limited. The ferry to Railay beach still wouldn’t be working, so I decided that I should just take a tour to see the hot springs and the emerald pool. It was a half-day tour so I’d get back to the hostel by 2:30, and the hostel worker said that the storm wasn’t supposed to start until about 4. I went to the free bbq at about 8:30, visited with some of the other people for awhile, and then went to bed.

On Friday morning, I woke up to a bunch of rain. I double-checked to make sure my tour would still be happening and then I went back to Coconuts Cafe to have a quick breakfast. This time, I had a yogurt and fruit bowl, which was also very good. The presentation on their food and drinks are so nice!

I then went to 7-11 to pick up some snacks for the trip since I wasn’t sure I’d be able to buy a lunch anywhere. My tour was booked through Cattery Tours and they were very organised! It cost 800 baht for the tour ($34.90), which was a bit pricey but was still a good way to spend the day. They had 16 different groups going, so they gave each of us a coloured bracelet in order to keep track of our vehicles. We drove for about an hour to get to the hot springs and when we got there, they were absolutely packed! I’m glad that I was just one person cause it was easy for me to be able to squeeze in between random families, but it seemed to be more difficult for people who came in groups.

We were given just under an hour at the hot springs, but they say that you should only stay for a maximum of 15-20 minutes, as the temperatures get too high. It was pretty relaxing though, and I may have extended my time by at least 5-10 minutes 🙂 After the hot springs, we drove another 15 minutes to emerald pool and blue pool. There, we had the option to walk 800 metres through the wet path, or 1400 metres on a heightened path. I opted for the longer option, covering my backpack with my rain jacket, and trekked through the rain to the pools.

I saw emerald pool but decided to keep walking another 600 metres to blue pool, hoping to beat most of the people behind me. The path started heightened but about halfway there, it dropped back down to ground level, where there were puddles of mud everywhere – with a lot of it being unavoidable to walk through. I had to slow down quite a bit, being careful not to lose my footing and slip into the mud. I finally got to blue pool, which is exactly as its name suggests : a blue pool. You’re not allowed to swim in this pool, as it’s protected, so most people just got a picture in front of the pool and then left (including myself).

I made my way back to emerald pool and had about a half hour to enjoy myself before having to walk back to the van.

I took the 800 metre walk back and I was completely worn out. I think the hot springs actually made my already-sore calf muscles even more sore! However, I made it back with five minutes to spare and then we drove back to the hostel. I showered, changed, and went to Arun Restaurant for dinner, where I had some more Tom Yum soup (since it was cold, rainy, and my last dinner in Thailand) with a coconut shake (to go with the heat of the soup) for 140 baht ($6.11). After dinner, I asked my hostel the best way to get to the airport for my 7:30 flight the next morning and they said I should leave at 5:30 in a taxi for 400 baht ($17.45). However, considering they said the same thing for me to get to Tiger Cave Temple, I wasn’t convinced. I walked to where the songthaews were to ask, but the driver didn’t understand what I was asking and just kept telling me to “get in, get in!” Luckily, there was a travel stand next to me so I asked him when the songthaews started running and he said 6am. When I asked him how much a taxi would be and he said 400 baht, I realised it would be my only option so I went back to the hostel, booked the taxi, got my bags packed up, and called it an early night. To be perfectly honest, Krabi Town wasn’t my favourite place – it’s extremely touristy and there wasn’t a lot to do. However, the weather and constant rain probably contributed to my impressions of it. I think Krabi province would probably be more worthwhile to explore so maybe I’ll have to check it out next time! Love always

Ko(h) Lanta (Dec 30-Jan 2): Kitties, New Year’s Eve, and 4 Islands

Thankfully, I had asked the Smiley owner about taking the bus to Koh Lanta before I went to bed the night before. I assumed that I could just show up at the bus stop at 8:30am, but now I’m not too sure I would have gotten a spot had I done that. I had to go to the local travel agent next to a pharmacy in Khao Sok to buy a ticket ahead of time. She gave me three options to leave: 6:30am, 8:30am, or 9:30am. I went with 8:30am, she called to make sure that there was space available, and then wrote me a ticket. It cost me 650 baht total ($28.36AUD) – 250 back to Krabi and 400 with the ferry to Koh Lanta. This service was great in that it picked me up from my accommodation and also dropped me off at my hostel in Koh Lanta, so I didn’t have to worry about paying extra from the ferry. From the time I left Khao Sok until the time I arrived in Koh Lanta, it took about 7.5 hours. On Sunday morning, I got up and ready, picked up the best “breakfast” I could find at a nearby shop (a pack of donuts and some bananas), and waited for my taxi. The ticket said that the taxi would arrive between 8:30 and 8:50, and it came shortly after 9. We then started the 4-hour trip to Krabi. This time, the 13-passenger van was full for the majority of the trip, and the driver had to turn down some passengers on the way (so I’m very happy I ended up buying the ticket beforehand). I actually didn’t end up arriving at the bus station in Krabi until just after 1:30 pm, as the driver had to make some stops along the way. Then, I waited for about a half hour until the next taxi came. I thought it was going to be just me but then we stopped at the airport and filled up the van again. We arrived at the ferry terminal around 3:30 and were on the next ferry within a half hour. A little boat had to push the ferry in the right direction, as I guess the ferry couldn’t turn on it’s own.

The ride across only took 15 minutes and then it was about a 20 minute drive to my hostel, Wayla hostel, so I arrived just before 5pm. This hostel was such a great place to stay – the owner was so friendly and hospitable, and kept the place absolutely spotless. Breakfast was also included, which was toast and bananas, as well as unlimited coffee, tea, and water all day (the water is a plus, as you usually have to buy it everywhere you go). Plus, the hostel has a friendly cat!

I stayed in a 4-person mixed dorm for 300baht/night ($13.65), and my roommates were all solo travellers – a guy from Israel, a girl from Holland, and a guy from England but living in Mongolia. As soon as I got there, I was starving since I hadn’t eaten a proper breakfast or lunch, so I went for dinner with Joe, the guy living in Mongolia. We ate at a restaurant called Three Sisters, where I had green curry with rice, and a shake for 170 baht ($7.42). I was so hungry, I forgot to take a picture! We then walked to the beach to catch the last of the sunset, and then got some drinks at one of the bars on the beach, Freedom Bar.

Koh Lanta is a very chill island, where reggae music is playing in almost every bar, and you can order a mushroom shake at most places. The bar we were at also had a tattoo parlour in the back room so if anyone wanted to make some late-night drunken decisions, they could get a permanent tattoo. There was a guy getting a half-arm tattoo of a pineapple when we were there, and the girl that he was with didn’t look too happy about it. It was definitely a good place to do some people watching!

On Monday, I decided to have a beach day so I walked about 15 minutes to a nice, quiet beach, which also had two cows hanging around!

At about 1:30pm, I started getting hungry so I walked to a restaurant called Yawee Restaurant, where I had some amazing massaman curry and a passion fruit shake, for 187 baht ($8.16).

I then walked to the Lanta Animal Welfare centre, which takes in stray cats and dogs who are sick or injured, gets them back to good health, and tries to find a home for them. Some of the stories were quite sad, especially about one of the dogs (called Tomato) who had been shot so was very scared around humans. They got her better again and got her used to humans and found a new home for her at a local’s house. Unfortunately, Tomato was too slow to feel comfortable at her new home and the new owner lost patience so the owner tied the leash to the back of a motorbike and pulled Tomato behind. When Tomato came back to the Welfare centre, she was completely skinned 🙁 Now, they are working to get Tomato to feel comfortable around humans again.

The centre is over capacity – they have 55 dogs (with a maximum of 45) and 53 cats (with a maximum of 50), so they are desperately trying to find new homes for as many animals as they can. It’s neat cause they have pictures of all of the animals, and you can see if they’ve been adopted and where they’re going, so there were a few going to Denmark and Canada as well. The centre relies on volunteers (mainly tourists) to come and walk the dogs, in the morning or late afternoon – they don’t allow the dogs to be walked in the middle of the day. Every night, one of the workers (who is also a volunteer) has to sleep in the dog area to make sure they stay calm. They also have a cat cafe, so people can go and cuddle with the cats. After my tour, I stayed in the cat cafe and it started pouring rain, which meant that all of the cats were forced to sit around the edge since the middle part didn’t have a roof over it. Therefore, I had more cats to sit with!

Once the rain died down, I walked back to the hostel. That night was New Year’s Eve so I went to a nearby restaurant called Ohana with Joe and Karin (the girl from Holland). We each got a pizza, and we played dominos until around 10pm. The restaurant also had the cutest cat, so I got even more cat cuddles!

We then went back to the hostel to drop off our leftover pizzas, and got the hostel owner to join us for a drink. We went to a bar on the beach called Moonwalk Bar and waited for the countdown. Many people were releasing lanterns into the air, and then after the countdown, they lit a “Happy New Year” sign on fire, and fireworks went off along the beach (some too close for comfort). After we finished our drinks, we headed back to the hostel, as I had a tour the next morning.

On Tuesday morning, I was picked up from the hostel at 8:15 to go on the Four Islands tour. I read about this tour before coming to Koh Lanta, but I also read reviews about it being too crowded. Maybe going on New Year’s Day was a smart thing for me to do because there only ended up being 10 people on my longtail boat (I think normally, there’s about 25 people), and we ended up getting a lot of the areas to ourselves. There are tons of companies that do the Four Islands tour and the cheapest I could find online was for 1300 baht. Luckily, I asked my hostel owner and he booked my tour through a company called Lanta Longtail, and it only cost me 800 baht. I also gave a 100 baht tip so overall, it was $39.27.

We drove to the south of Koh Lanta, got on our boat and travelled for quite awhile to Koh Chueak, where we were given a half hour for snorkelling. I have had difficulties snorkelling when I was in Cuba because as soon as I put my face in the water, it started burning and I was forced to get out and pour my water bottle on my face. I was quite hesitant to try it again, but surprisingly, I didn’t have that problem here! The tour guide was great and pointed out where to go, and even dove down into the water to point out some clownfish for me to see. Apparently the boat belonged to the main guide, the driver was his dad, and his mom had cooked the lunch.

After that, we went to Koh Waen to snorkel for another 30 minutes. This place had quite a few more fish but I kept feeling slight stings on my legs so I’m pretty sure there were mini jellyfish around.

We then went to Ko Muk. There, we had to swim through Morakot Cave (where there were tons of bats!) to get to Emerald Lagoon. All of the tours have to arrive around the same time, as you can only swim through the cave at low tide. However, when we got to the lagoon we had the place to ourselves for a few minutes. It was such a nice area to go to, and seemed like a little piece of paradise.

Once all of the other tour groups showed up, we left and went to the last island called Ko Ngai. This was the biggest island and it had a long strip of sand, where we enjoyed our lunch. Afterwards, we had an hour to hang around before we headed back to Koh Lanta.

I arrived back to my hostel shortly after 4pm so I showered and relaxed for a bit – I was completely exhausted! It started pouring so we decided to skip watching the sunset. However, the rain stopped 6 minutes before sunset so Joe decided to run to the beach. Karin and I were just going to watch from our patio but we couldn’t get a good view, so we decided to hurry to the beach as well but on the way, it started to pour! Her and I were trapped at a bar on the beach, we missed the sun setting, and we didn’t have any money to buy anything.

We decided to run back to the hostel after our stomachs took over, and were completely soaked when we arrived. We got our money and met Joe back at Ohana, and all of us were completely worn out. After dinner and a quick game of dominos, we headed back to the hostel and went to bed.

On Wednesday, I took my time getting up, getting ready, having breakfast, and packing up my things. Karin and I were going to go to the beach but we stopped for lunch at a place called Nong Pheat kitchen. I got a glass noodle spicy salad with shrimp but by the time we got our food, I think the heat started getting to me and I felt too sick to eat.

We stayed there for so long that we didn’t have time to go to the beach so we headed to the hostel and I waited for my taxi, which was scheduled to pick me up at 2:20pm. I was seriously contemplating skipping my time in Krabi because I didn’t want to leave Koh Lanta, but I decided I should continue with my plans. I hope to make it back there again someday!

I’d probably recommend renting a motorbike, as there’s so much to see and I was quite limited with only being able to walk. My hostel owner rents out motorbikes for 200 baht/day ($8.93) so it’s extremely cheap but since I didn’t have an international drivers license (which isn’t a huge deal here unless you need to be covered by insurance), and I don’t have any past experiences riding a motorbike, I decided not to risk it. Maybe next time though!

*Please note that all dollar conversions are Australian dollars (AUD)