Dining out at the beach in Koh Samui

One of the great things about Thailand is the abundance of wonderful food. Whether you’re looking for western fare or local dishes there are so many inexpensive options! Many are just outside your door. Koh Samui had less of the street stalls but had an abundance of fairly inexpensive restaurants to make up for it.

My favorite restaurant while we stayed in Koh Samui was a BBQ place called Eldorado that was located two blocks from our hotel. It was very inexpensive by Western standards and I thought that the food was top notch. Very authentic. I remember liking their pork chops especially, but everything that I got there was good. Also, once a week they have an all you can eat BBQ with ribs, steak, chicken etc. Being able to try all the BBQ on the menu was a great experience, and most of it was delicious! There was even a tasty salad that Eric and I went back for second helpings twice!

Eric’s favorite place was a thin crust pizza place called Pizza Del Sol. It was a short scooter ride up the coast and had this amazingly crispy crust. There were quite a variety of different toppings and they were never too busy. There’s something quite different about the pizzas that we ate in Thailand. I did wonder if perhaps they’re a little more authentic to the original Italian style than what we find in the States, and if that’s what makes them so good.

When we wanted a quick dinner with a variety of options we went to the Lamai Central Plaza. This is a plaza in the middle of town that features a selection of food stalls, small restaurants and open air seating. I remember getting a decent Pad Thai here, and it’s great when you and your friend want to have different dishes. There are bars with dancer women here however, so it might be something to skip if that’s not something that sits well with you.

When we were feeling really lazy there was Live India, an Indian restaurant that would deliver to our hotel! Since it was just a short walk away they didn’t even charge us. I always order the chicken tikka marsala. The sauce was really rich and the chicken was nice and tender. If you eat in the restaurant that is a nice deal that includes a beer, rice, and naan which we took advantage of several times.

We didn’t celebrate Christmas while we were in Lamai, but we did go to the Swing Bar for New Years Eve. Every hour or so leading up to NYE they had fire dancing show! It was actually on a platform a few feet out in the surf. The waves crashing at the dancer’s feet and the streaks of fire in the dark were really cool. The beach was packed with all sorts of dancing and partying people, but we managed to find a quieter section and sit on the sand for a bit. I got an outrageously priced gin and tonic to ring in the new year because that’s what you do! At midnight many people set off the fireworks they’d picked up downtown. Overall it was a nice way to end the year.

Of course we ate at quite a few other places but these are the ones that stand out the most for me. We did start eating at Western places more at this time, I think because we were both starting to get really homesick. And being in a touristy area probably had something to do with it too!

Next time I’ll talk about some of the other things that you can see or do in Lamai.

 

 

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!

 

 

Taking the sleeper train to Bangkok and traveling to Siem Reap

Rather than take a plane to Bangkok we decided to try the overnight sleeper train. You can choose to travel in first class, which includes a private berth with air conditioning, or you have the option to go second class with or without air conditioning. Second class is more like a dorm room with an open plan and beds along the walls of the train. You leave in the evening and arrive very early in the morning.

Because first class was sold out we decided to get second class tickets with air conditioning. Second Class was comfortable and it was a fun trip. During the day you sit at a table with two cushioned seats and at night these are converted into two bunk beds that come out of the wall. If you’re interested there are pictures on seat61, a site dedicated to the various forms of rail travel all over the world. We were on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.

Some of the food left something to be desired but there was plenty of it. It still amazes me how many meals are included when I am using public transportation in Southeast Asia. We didn’t even need to go to the dining car for snacks. Here is a picture of our dinner:

The berths were pretty comfortable and with the curtains drawn fairly private. I’m fairly picky and I even managed to sleep some. I wish that I had gotten a picture of them but I guess I was too sleepy! Here is a picture of us rolling along.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and though not quite refreshed, in good shape.

In Bangkok we stayed at the Good Day hostel for a few days. We rented a private room with access to a communal bathroom. Our room had a bunk which was kind of fun. It reminded me a lot of being a kid. I got the bottom bunk. The rooms are very clean and had outlets accessible everywhere which I thought was great. There was one bathroom for the floor and it was also very clean and nicely decorated. The toilets and showers are in stalls so it’s a little more private than a locker room. All and all I had a good stay here and was very comfortable.

Then we were off to Siem Reap to check out Angkor Wat! The plane ride was uneventful. Siem Reap has a tiny airport and thankfully a very short visa check in process.

You actually use US dollars in Cambodia, which would have been more convenient if I had known about it before, lol. You also want to make sure that all your bills are in decent condition as most places will not accept bills that are overly dirty or in any way ripped.

Here is our plane! We arrived safely and were ready to check into our hotel. Next time I will talk about the city of Siem Reap.

From Mae Chaem and back to Chiang Mai

I didn’t actually take great notes during this period and I’m writing months later, so I’m just going to summarize what I remember about the rest of the trip.

When my back was manageable we left for Mae Chaem on the scooter. I thought this was the best option as while I could have taken a bus, they’re honestly super crammed and not very comfortable. Plus, you are stuck! No stops. With this arrangement I was able to take breaks  when I needed them to stretch or walk around for a bit. I don’t remember much about the journey but I do recall a little about Mae Chaem.

Mae Chaem is small town and unlike most everywhere else in Thailand there wasn’t the plethora of ready restaurants to greet us. We ended up staying at the Mae Chaem Hotel and eating both dinner and breakfast at the restaurant there. The hotel itself was a little bit run down. They have both a main hotel with rooms, and some private cabins in the back. The room they showed us in the hotel was horrible. It was moldy smelling and visibly dirty. We were both horrified and unsure about staying here, but the cabins in the back were much cleaner and nicer looking. Eric decided he’d had enough of looking and just took it.

I remember that I actually ordered something called “fried pork” something or other, only to get a big plate of pork rinds! The server had a good laugh at my expense, lol. Now is probably a good time to mention you should be careful of English translations as they can be pretty fast and loose.

While the cabin was reasonably comfortable it was super cold at night. In addition the pillows were really weird. Twice the size of normal pillows and desperately hard. In the morning I was ready to move on.

I remember looking around on review sights and taking a walk through the downtown, but we just weren’t able to find anything open for breakfast. We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant again to keep things simple.  I was ready to be back in Chiang Mai!

Oh Chiang Mai, how I missed thee. Actually it was pretty stressful getting back. We came back on the exact day that our rented scooters were due and had to pick up some luggage we had left behind at our long term rental place. My back was still hurting a lot too and I couldn’t help out much.

I think we made the rentals by the skin of our teeth and managed to find some Khao Soi Gai. Unfortunately this was probably the worst Khao Soi of the trip! I remember the spices weren’t quite right and they had bits of dry chicken breast instead of the traditional leg. Pretty disappointing for our last time. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant and I don’t feel like it’s really worth looking up.

Next we found an inexpensive hotel called Viraporn’s Place. Why we stayed there is kind of a funny story. Like all of Thailand there was a 1 inch step once you get out of the stairway which I did not see. I totally ate it and busted up my ankle!

The owner was pretty apologetic, but he also made a joke that we had to stay there now, lol! I actually have sort of a dark sense of humor so I thought it was pretty funny. Also true! I didn’t want to walk around looking for another place after that.

Viraporn’s Place was a nice break and I was very comfortable there. Other than that I don’t really remember much about this period. I vaguely recall walking around the downtown backpacker market, and going to eat at this restaurant where I took this picture:

I remember walking down a kind of sketchy alleyway, only to find the restaurant at the end of it.  There was a sign above the door with a weird name. It specialized it a certain type of Thai food but I don’t remember what was special about it (Isaan? Northern Thai?).

After some googling I’m pretty sure that it was at Lert Ros. Even the tabletops look similar to some of the other pictures on tripadvisor. It specializes in Northeastern Thai cuisine and is recommended on the Lonely Planet website.

I remember that we were seated right away and the food was amazing. We ordered the grilled fish, a curry in banana leaf dish, and a clay pot soup. The fish was my favorite and it was especially delicious with the red dipping sauce. Ask for seconds because you will need a lot!

After a few days of relaxation in Chiang Mai we took the sleeper train to Bangkok in order to catch our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia! On to our next adventure!

Disaster! Pulled a muscle in my back at the falls

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Last Sunday started out fine, we got a chilly breakfast in Ban Rak Thai, walked around a little then left for Mae Hong Son. We decided to stop at the Pha Sua waterfall, which while it was beautiful I now kind of wish we skipped as I ended up pulling a muscle in my back while walking down the stairs. They were quite uneven and I think that walking downstairs first probably was worse than the other way around. Downhill is more stress on your body and we usually have to walk uphill first which I think warms up your muscles. My boyfriend actually twisted his ankle too, but he was able to walk on it. Downhill first is definitely not for us!

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It got progressively worse during the day to the point that I had to sit out Su Tong Pae, the longest Bamboo bridge in Thailand. There’s a cool temple on the other side and some buildings to check out.

The next two days I spent laid up in bed at the Piya Guesthouse. It was a nice place though I definitely didn’t enjoy being stuck there for two days. It might have been better to go to the hospital but we weren’t sure about the sort of medical care we would receive in Mae Hong Son, plus I was pretty sure that it was just a pulled muscle and I needed to rest it.

The guys were able to rent some mountain bikes and go on a ride through some of the trails near town. They said it was fun but exhausting! They were also able to try the Banpleg restaurant, which according to the Lonely Planet has the best Nam Prik Orng in Thailand. My boyfriend brought me back some and it was so good, especially with the pork rinds. Spicy though!

After two days I was able to get on the scooter and we left for Mae Chaem.

Coffin Caves and Ban Rak Thai

Last Saturday we woke up late and went to the Seven Elephants cafe. The cafe is located at the Soppong River Inn. The dishes that we got were the oop gai, shan meatballs and the nam prik om. The shan meatballs were especially good and the nam prik om was probably the best version of the dish that I’ve had in Thailand so far. My dish was pretty good too, but I feel like it was very similar to other dishes that I have had recently. Afterward I had mango a sticky rice. The mango was not completely ripe but it was still very good. The rice really stood out. Instead of the normal white sticky rice it was black. A little bit chewy and very tasty.

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After lunch we drove a few minutes out of town to the Coffin Caves. The Coffin Caves, also called Tham Pi Maen or “Spirit caves,” are about 30 or so wooden coffins with artifacts from 3000 years ago. The walk up to the Coffin caves is quite steep most of the way is up uneven stairs. My boyfriend and I saw caves 1 and 3. There is a sketchy bridge that the path from Coffin 1 to 2 takes you across. However because the path is a loop you can actually see coffins 2 and 3 without going over it.

After the coffin caves we drove up the winding road to Ban Rak Thai. The road is steep and twisted but in good condition and there was not much traffic. The guys really enjoyed the ride.

Ban Rak Thai was not at all what I thought it would be. It seems to be a total tourist attraction. There are many overpriced resorts and tons of shops selling tea.

After finding some reasonable rooms we went to a nameless restaurant for dinner. It was really weird. We got fried chicken, egg rolls, honey spare ribs and some stir fried vegetables. I did not recognize the veggies, the egg roll was basically a sausage with egg roll coating, which also came with some breaded and fried pork fat, the fried chicken was tasty but actually had black bones and skin. Very weird.

The hotel was ridiculously cold that night and we only had one small blanket. Definitely not enough to keep warm.

Soppong and Cave Lodge

This morning we packed up and left for Soppomg. We actually only had an hour drive ahead of us but we decided to take it slow today. We stopped at this roadside shop for some beverages and to stretch our legs. It had an amazing view!

We also stopped at this market and viewing point. It had a four person human powered Ferris wheel. Eric and Greg tried to get it working with this Norwegian couple. Seemed pretty dangerous so after a few near misses we decided to quit while we were ahead. I took a video of it but I’m tethered to my phone at the train station right now so I will have to upload it later when I get to a wifi spot.

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I thought the Cave Lodge was amazing when we first got there. It’s really up in the trees and has a spectacular view. We got a room with two beds because it was roomier and had a better view. Ate some tasty thai food though they have farang stuff as well. Did some laundry. Communal area with ping pong (guys played after lunch), books (though not a lot of English titles), hammocks and a smoking area. Really looks like a jungle bungalow.

Unfortunately I had a bad time on the only kayaking trip that we booked, the one hour trip through the Tham Lod. The guide pushed a leaky kayak on me and I ended up spending the whole trip in a pool of water unlike the other people in the group that were able to sit on the seats in the kayak. I should have asked for a working kayak but I just didn’t know enough about it to know that something was wrong until I heard air leaking out of it. Also the guide was very evasive when I asked questions about why there was so much water in the bottom of the kayak (unlike the others) or why I couldn’t sit like everyone else. I really felt taken advantage of and I can no longer recommend Cave Lodge as a place to stay or book trips.

We did end up staying the night there and eating dinner at their restaurant. Because it was raining we didn’t feel comfortable riding the scooters but I didn’t feel right about staying there after what happened. We left the next day.

Leaving Chiang Mai and heading to Pai

On Tuesday we said good bye to our apartment and left for Pai. I was sad to go but excited about our trip. I’ve heard a lot about Pai from other travelers things like its so amazing you end up staying longer than you planned and there’s so many incredible things to do there.

We decided to travel to Pai using our scooters. Right now there is a lot of construction and the roads are slippery with lose gravel and wet from whatever work they’re doing.

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We stopped at the Royal Botanical Gardens along the way. Very big complex and lots of amazing green houses, plus a very cool canopy walk way.

We made it to Pai around 5 pm. We were all exhausted and booked the first rooms we found for 400 baht a night. Kind of a bad location but we fell asleep right away.

After our naps we woke up to a completely different downtown. The street was closed off and thick with shops. Clothes food, everything you could think of. We ate some dinner at place down the street from our hotel then got an hour long foot massage. Then we went to a bar where to guys played billiards against some Thai guys.

Next day we went to Pam bok waterfall. Beautiful but really cold. Had to cross rickety old bridge that looked like something out of Tomb Raider. Cliff jump that was mentioned in the article I read was not that impressive.

For lunch we went to this cool Treehouse restaurant and guesthouse. I really liked the ambience of the place. Food was okay.

Because we were in the area we stopped at the Noi elephant camp. Riding the elephant bareback really hurt my butt. I guess that I was sitting the wrong way. If you sit on the back of the elephant over it’s spine you need to sit on your legs. I wish that someone had told me! After 15 minutes I couldn’t take anymore and had to get off. Because we were far away from the normal place you mount the elephant they had her sit in water and then I jumped off. Then the guide had the elephant shake off the guys, like in a rodeo. At first we thought the elephant was just upset, but it turns out the guide was giving her a command to do that. Glad I wasn’t on it, lol. I went back on one of the guides motorbikes.

Afterward we went to the Pai hot springs . Amazing location, you really feel as though you are sitting in a hot spring river. If that’s not entertaining enough you can also buy eggs and cook them at the head of the stream where it’s 80 degrees celsius. We just stuck to relaxing in the warm water. The hottest pool you’d actually want to get into was 36 degree celsius. Little waterfalls separate each pool. We started in 33 degrees, then 32, and last 31 degrees.

Back in Pai we had dinner by picking up street food while strolling along Walking Street. I had a fresh coconut, an eggroll and a curry chicken bao almost as big as my face. Great way to enjoy downtown and have dinner.

Loy Krathong

For the past week I haven’t had a chance to charge my laptop because there were no three prong power outlets at the places that we were staying and I forgot my adaptor in some luggage we left behind. I am back in Chiang Mai and I have a ton of posts to make!

On Wednesday November 25th we were able to celebrate Loy Krathong. Loy Krathong is a holiday celebrated in Thailand and some of the neighboring Southeast Asian countries. It is general celebrated over the course of three days and includes many events such as a parade, many contests, a beauty pageant etc.

This is my Krathong
This is my Krathong

The name comes from the traditional practice of floating an offering, usually of flowers, candles and incense down the river. It is supposed to wash away any bad luck of the past and bring you new luck. While traditionally there were only the water kind of Krathongs now there are also the lantern type. These have some a small ring soaked in karosene that makes them float off into the night sky. We tried both.

To start the night off we walked along the parade route and took in the sights. There were some dancers and a number of floats. There were also vendors all along the route selling both the water and sky Krathongs. We bought a floating Krathong and a lantern type for 40 baht each. That’s a little more than a dollar each.

When we got to the bridge over the river we tried to set our lantern but were stopped by police. We found out that lanterns aren’t legal until 9 pm. We thought it would be prudent to wait until then to send off our lantern but it seemed like everyone else was doing it anyway.

Instead we went down to the edge of the river to release our krathongs. My boyfriend’s brother slipped and got all muddy unfortunately. It was very slippery and I almost fell a few times too. Someone standing in the river helped me get my Krathong in the water. I definitely would have fell in if I had tried to release it myself. Even standing near the edge got my sandals pretty muddy.

Through the night people we shooting off fireworks but around 9PM some bigger ones were let off. I’m not sure if it was official but it was nice to watch either way.

At nine o’clock we went onto a cool bamboo bridge stretched to the middle of the river to release the lantern. It was pretty crowded so I accidentally didn’t record us lighting the lantern, but at least I got the last part.

Afterward we went to a bar by the river whose name I can’t remember. I was Cana-something? It was a bit expensive at 200 baht a drink but we had a great view of the river. We spent the next hour or so sipping our drinks and watching the lanterns and fireworks. A very nice way to end our first Loy Krathong!