Koh Samui and the beginning of my island vacation

At this point in the trip Eric and I were really exhausted. I needed to recharge so I spent the next two weeks sleeping late, swimming in the pool, checking out new restaurants, walking along the beach and basically not doing anything touristy or strenuous. It was a relaxing beach holiday! We did go out for New Years but just to a local bar. This part of our trip was slower paced and I think it gave us a better look at what it’s like to live in Thailand like a local.

When you’re traveling for a long time I think it’s important to take breaks. You can get pretty homesick. Travel can be very stressful and you want to make sure that you’re treating yourself and the people around you with some courtesy and kindness.

The next few posts are going to feature less activities and more reviews on our hotel and local restaurants. I’ll start by talking about our hotel, some of the things I liked about it and the beach.

We lucked out on our accommodation. The whole town was sold out for Christmas and New Years Eve but we found a place a few blocks from the beach called the Holiday Park. I believe that it was newly opened and that was part of the reason that we were able to get a room. Funny enough we found it through contacting a property manager through airbnb. The place that I messaged him about was booked (allegedly), but he met us near the McDonald’s and showed us around. I think this was the first place he showed us and we just took it.

Now a little about our hotel. Our room was newly remodeled and was very spacious and modern. It had a few quirks, like the water being a weird color for a few days and the shower head being attached to the side of the bath, but was otherwise very comfortable. The bed was even decently soft!

Early on I bought us some cheap bowls and silverware. We often would have cereal (there was a fridge in the room where we could keep milk) or sometimes eat left overs. If there had been a microwave we would have been set but we had to rely on 7-11 to heat up things for us. There was a free breakfast of toast, jam, margarine, sometimes fresh fruit, and tea in the common area that I often took advantage of. And there are tons of restaurants within a five minutes walk around the place.

Our hotel had a nice pool with an elaborate fountain. I thought this was funny when we first arrived. The ocean was only 5-10 minutes away!  But with all of the high tide warnings it was nice to be able to swim everyday. Actually we didn’t know it at the time but the red flags in the water mean you should not swim. There were a few people that drowned when they got pulled out to sea only a few miles from the beach we stayed near. We found out halfway through our trip. Don’t make our mistake and try to investigate these sorts of things more.

The local beach was very nice. I particularly loved taking walks along the water. There were also a number of bars along the beach where you could relax and listen to the waves while enjoying a gin and tonic. Or even get a massage! Listening to the waves and feeling the gentle ocean breezes was so relaxing, I sincerely enjoyed it. I think Eric fell asleep during his!

Next time I will talk about some of our favorite restaurants.

Back in Thailand and traveling south through Khao Sok

It was nice to be back in Thailand! People are so friendly and laid back, there’s nowhere else in the world like it. It was only a week that we were in Cambodia but I really missed it.

I don’t actually remember much of the trip down south other than we were on a 2nd class train for a long time. Guess I was tired, lol.

We had absolutely no idea where we were going to stay the night but ran into another backpacker and ended up going with her to the Khao Sok Green Mountain View resort.

We definitely lucked out. These jungle bungalows were just what we needed after a long trip. They were actually in the jungle, very comfortable (though somewhat spartan), and had their own private bathrooms. My only disappointment was that we didn’t have any hot water which was actually an issue as it was chilly early in the morning! I would suggest showering the night before while it’s still warm.

Onsite there is a small restaurant run by the owner and his family. We got a chance to talk with him at dinner. He is a super nice guy! Full of fun stories about the area and different people he’d met. There were several guidebooks for things to do at the lake and we booked an excursion that included sleeping on the water in a floating cabin. Sometimes I look back and am amazed by all the exciting things I was doing during this time period!

After a good night’s sleep we left for our river trip. First we stopped in town to buy some supplies for the hikes included in the tour. The guide told us that we would need some type of water proof shoes (not sandals) and a headlamp to see in the cave. All the options were very expensive and I wasn’t able to find anything but a very ill fitting pair of croc knock offs. It was the only thing we found that even remotely fit me. Which is kind of strange as I thought there would be a lot more options in Thailand since my feet are a bit small. We met back at the sangthaew and left for the dock where we got into a large power boat.

It was actually an hour or two boat ride to the place we were staying, but quite scenic!

Sadly I didn’t get a picture of the place we stayed, but here are some cabins that look similar. There are a few options in the area and we stayed at the Ton Toey Raft House. While it was very picturesque and I enjoyed my time there we had several major issues that I’ll get into.

Our stay included two separate hikes through the local cave system and a late night wildlife viewing boat ride. I decided on the easier hike and the wild life viewing.

Even though I decided on the easier hike it was really a challenge. To be honest it was fairly dangerous. At one point we had to descend a 6-7 foot waterfall and our guide abandoned us! Luckily one of the other guests was very outdoorsy and was able to guide our group down.

When we exited the cave we found out that it had started to rain while we were inside. That was part of the reason the waterfall was so difficult to cross. This is the exact scenario that had killed several hikers in years past, a flash flood due to rain filled the cave and they were unable to escape. In fact the trail is only open part of the year after the end of the rainy season, and had only been open a few days before we arrived. Pretty scary. I’m glad that things turned out okay for us!

Other than that hairy part the hike was amazing. Both the portion through the jungle and in the caves. I wish that I’d gotten more pictures but because the cave was flooded in some places I left my phone behind. I really need to get water proof GoPro.

That night we went on a relaxing wildlife watching tour. I didn’t see much other than a little eye shine in the trees and a bird, but it was a fun excursion. Being on the water and listening to the sounds of the jungle was magical.

Sadly the next day poor Eric got a terrible case of food poisoning. It was made worse due to the fact that they have very poor toilet facilities (and no sinks to wash your hands or any soap) and did not supply enough water. You could use the shower heads in the bathrooms and bring some soap with you, which we did, but I’m sure many people didn’t bother. The last two days of the trip I ended up stealing water off the supply shelves and asking for extra at meal times. I felt like a water hoarder.

We were so remote I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone all day so I stayed at the cabin. Plus I was pretty tired from the day before. Actually a lot of people skipped the hike scheduled for that day and just went swimming or borrowed the single kayak that was available. One of the women staying there gave me some hydration salts to help with Eric’s illness. Backpackers really do look out for each other, it’s such a nice part of traveling.

Later we found out the hike we missed was through a bunch of leech filled pools. Everyone who went was covered from toe to knee in leeches! Pretty disgusting.

My advice, if you decide to go make sure that you bring extra water. Skip the cave hike near the rainy season, and skip the second hike if you can’t handle the leeches. The boat tours are fun though you might not see many animals. It is beautiful and you can just enjoy the scenery and have a good swim. I’m glad that I went I just wish that I had a little more information about what the hikes were like. And the sanitation really was an issue. There really should be a place for people to wash their hands after using the bathroom, especially the cook.

I wish that I could give this a better review. It was a really polarizing experience. Both great and terrible.

We spent the next day going from one form of transportation to another until we arrived in Koh Samui, one of the islands in the southeast. I will pick up there in my next post!



Tonlé Sap Lake and the stilt village

South of Siem Reap is one of the largest bodies of water in the region, Tonlé Sap Lake. Famous for it’s stilt and floating villages, we decided to take one of the shorter trips to see a stilt village.

Our first view of some of the stilt buildings. Because it is the dry season the water level is low and the houses are quite tall!

In town. Here people use boats like we use cars.

Here is another group enjoying a tour.

On the outskirts of the village we had the chance to take a small raft through the flooded trees.

While I had a nice time and took some great pictures I think that if we were to do it again we would take more care to book with a reputable company. Especially at the end of the day they were trying to aggressively sell us soda, souvenirs, and some meal on the lake deal. We were both fed up with it by the end of the day. Should have listened to the guidebook, it did warn us!

Next we’re back to Thailand and traveling south to the islands.

Riding Quads, the outskirts of Siem Reap and alligator farms

Now that we’ve seen Angkor Wat what else is there to do in Siem Reap?

There are actually quite a few options. During out trip we rented some Quads and had an off road adventure! We booked with Quad Aventure Cambodia and did the Half Day tour. We did not make it all the way to the floating villages, but we saw so many small villages and beautiful terrain I did not miss it.

We started the day by taking a tuk tuk to their main office where we picked out helmets and were given a short driving test. I was a bit nervous. This was my first time driving a quad. Luckily it was no big deal. They’re very easy to drive.

One of the first stops of the day was at what I think was an abandoned funerary. I remember tracking down exactly where this was at one point, but I just can’t find it now. Anyone recognize it?

Our trip was actually rather open ended. Because I hadn’t been on a Quad before our guide stuck to an easier route. We passed through a lot of villages, saw an alligator farm, almost saw one of the filming locations for a film directed by Angelina Jolie, and were given the option to shoot a machine gun!

It was nice to get out of the city and see how people actually live. Some of the towns only had a large dirt road through the middle of town. We saw quite a few ancient ruins, although our guide told us we should not linger in these places because we were on the border of the Angkor Archeological Park.

The Alligator Park was disappointing. Smelly and crowded. I don’t know what I was expecting but there were basically a bunch of bare concrete pits filled with Alligators and shallow pools of brackish water. Not exactly like watching Steve Irwin work. I would recommend skipping this in the future.

Either shortly before or during our time in Cambodia Angelina Jolie was on location filming First They Killed My Father, a story about woman growing up during Khmer Rouge regime. Our guide tried to take us too see some of the filming locations but we were stopped by a guard. That would have been really cool to see. Alas!

We were also given the option to shoot a machine gun. However the bullets were $2 which seemed pretty expensive. I was worried about the safety of it and decided to decline. Since coming back home we found out that you can rent a machine gun here for the same price! So if you’re from the states you can skip this, but if you’re from a country with stricter gun control laws you can ask to shoot a machine gun on your quad adventure!

That’s about all I can remember from the trip. I wish that I got more pictures driving through town but honestly I was completely focused on driving and taking in the sights.

Next time I will talk about the stilt villages at Tonlé Sap Lake.

Have you ever had an amazing experience during your travels, but not really captured it on film?  What was it?