We ventured around Northern Thailand for 4 days, and it was great! One day we explored beyond the city limits of Chiang Mai by going on a nice bike ride to the mountains and then a hike. Another day we went to an elephant sanctuary where we got to feed elephants, give them a bath, and then play with them in the mud.
For the other two days we ventured to Pai, a town about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. Once there, we rented a scooter for a day and drove up and down the hills and mountains, stopping in some small villages. We saw a lot of the Thai agriculture, many locals just livin’ life, and some great views. These pictures of our time in Northern Thailand will tell you more than I can describe in words :)
As we travel from the south to the north of Thailand, we swung through Bangkok for another day of exploring. It’s a great break between the 12 hour ferry/bus ride from Koh Tao, and the 14 hour train ride we are about to embark on to Chiang Mai. We slept in, got breakfast, then went for a jog through the city to the train station to get our tickets for later that evening. Then Eric & I walked around and grabbed a water taxi back to our hostel.
The water taxi was quite the experience! I just kept laughing as the boat workers were yelling in Thai, jam-packing people onto the boat. They’d be shouting in Thai, and shaking this metal tube filled with change. This went on for a little while, then with the use of universally understood hand motions we (and the other few non-Thai tourists) realized they were trying to get us to go even further into the boat, which seemed like an impossible task. Let’s just say you quickly get to know all your neighbors, and whether or not they’ve showered recently… hahaha. And it was like that at every stop along the river! So by the time you reach your stop, of course you’re way at the front of the boat, problem is the boats are loaded and unloaded from the back, so now it’s time to wiggle and weave back through the people in order to get off the taxi boat. It was an awesome, authentic Thai experience as we were jammed next to Thai kids, adults going to work and monks, all of us going down the river together.
After the awesome taxi boat, we grabbed some snacks for our journey ahead and some street food for dinner. We then took a regular taxi (which are all bright pink in Bangkok) and just barely caught our train.
By the way, I’ve always thought the traffic in the Bay Area was the absolute worst, but that was before experiencing the traffic in Bangkok… It took us twice as long in the taxi than it took us when we ran to the train station earlier that morning. Thus the reason we nearly missed our train. I’m convinced that some intersections don’t have traffic lights, I think the drivers just have this pact to wait behind a crosswalk until one risky motorbike decides to make a go for it across the intersection, then everyone else follows suit!
But good news is, we didn’t miss our train, and we had an awesome taxi driver who laughed at everything he said (must have been a funny guy, but we couldn’t understand him so we just laughed along anyways).
We’ll get one more stop in Bangkok right before we leave Thailand to come home, but for now – off to Chiang Mai!!
The time has come for us to leave Koh Tao, nooo! This is the first place that I was really sad to leave, its no wonder why a big chunk of the island population is 30 year old ex-pats that travelled there, found a job and never left…the island sucks you in!
What will we miss? Daily beach visits, jungle hikes, delicious food, friendly Thai locals, awesome other backpackers, amazing scuba diving, and many cool cafes and bars right on the beach.
Plus, we both treated our 3 1/2 week on Koh Tao as a “mini fitness retreat” haha. No doubt we’ve been active nearly everyday while traveling, but it’s just not the same as getting tough workouts in. So we both joined gyms and whipped our own butts into shape, successfully! Eric did a lot of Muy Thai (sometimes two training sessions in one day!) and lifted at the gym. I joined a crossfit gym and ran. We also did several steep hikes. Plus, it’s soo humid here, we were just constantly sweating haha. It was fun and we both reached our goals, yipee!
We’ve got the chill island, laid back vibe going on and it’s not bad :) I highly recommend Koh Tao if you’re planning a trip to Thailand anytime in the future. Next up? A quick day in Bangkok, then a night train up to Chaing Mai, in northern Thailand. We’ll keep you posted!
Check out this video of us getting scuba dive certified. The password to view the video is scuba. We’ve been 100 feet under the ocean… crazy! The diving out here in Koh Tao is unbelievable. The video is of us and 6 other people we got certified with… pretty fish and fun times
So 9 days later and we are still on the island of Koh Tao! We originally were planning on staying here for only 5 days, but the night before our ferry off the island (my birthday) we didn’t want to leave – this place is too amazing! So we decided to stay an extra three weeks here! :) Here’s what we’ve been up to and why we are loving Koh Tao…
The island life is so relaxing. This is the happiest and most relaxed I’ve felt all trip! (The same for Eric as well)
It is beautiful and hot here, I mean look at these pictures!
The hiking is great! Steep and very very sweaty
The snorkeling is amazing – best I’ve ever seen
…Which is what lead us to getting scuba diving certified! You’re looking at (reading about) two officially certified divers as of today!
Koh Tao is one of the best diving locations in the world, we can’t wait to get in a few more dives while we are here – there are SO many different dive sights all around the island!
The Thai culture is neat and the Thai people are so nice
The tourists here are also a great group of people. Koh Tao is a hard island to get to, so it really attracts what I would call “dedicated travelers and backpackers”, people who are here for the adventure. Almost all of the tourists here, or the ex-pats that are living or temporarily living here, are age 20-35, super adventurous, very chill & down to earth, and are up to join you for a hike, swim or dive followed by a few drinks on the beach.
You have to (GET TO!) take of your shoes before entering any store, restaurant, hostel, dive shop, or home as it is a sign of respect. It’s quite free-ing to be barefoot all the time :)
The Thai food is DELICIOUS!!! Our go to restaurant is Su Chili’s, we go there about every other night now because nothing else beats it. Best street food = pad thai, fried chicken over rice, or a fresh fruit and muesli bowl. We have amazing fruit smoothies every day, and sometimes grab a peanut butter banana Thai “pancake” for dessert. Yum!
Many, many beach bars to grab a drink at and watch the beautiful sunset
There are also many cool coffee shops and cafes for us to duck into midday to beat the heat and work a bit (I’m still working on my fitness certification & Eric still has some contracting he is doing)
IT IS CHEAP. Very Cheap. $8/hour Thai massage cheap. Less than $2 pad thai cheap. Really nice dinner for two = $12…
Hello from Thailand! We made it to Southeast Asia! We landed in Bangkok and had the whole day to explore before getting on a night bus to Southern Thailand. We will be back in Bangkok a few times because most of our buses and flights go via Bangkok, but here is what we did our first day in Thailand!…
We arrived and started walking from the train station at the edge of town to city center. Along the way we came across a mini party in front of a police station. We wandered into the courtyard to see several food stalls, a guy on a stage performing Thai children’s songs, and a bunch of kids and parents dancing! One of the local police officers came up to us and welcomed us with open arms! He was SO excited to see us there! They gave us free food and told us it was a Children’s Day festival. We also had a few older Thai ladies come up to us, welcome us to Thailand, and give us some travel tips. Plus, several people wanted to take pictures with us for some reason haha :) It was a really cool experience and everyone was incredibly nice.
After that, we headed more to the center of town via a tuktuk!
We then got some Thai iced tea and coffee at a little cafe, then explored! We wandered around and went to see the Grand Palace (although we didn’t pay to go inside because it was packed! And because they didn’t allow yoga pants, which I was wearing, oops!), the Reclined Buddha in Wat Pho, and of course have some more delicious street food!
After that we took a nap in a park because we didn’t sleep at all on our red-eye flight the night before, then grabbed a quick dinner and headed to our overnight bus – off to Southern Thailand and the island of Koh Tao!
We made it to and through the Middle East! It was awesome having a 24 hour layover on Emirates Air in Dubai. We did our 24 hours pretty big!
We did a super fun “desert safari” which included getting picked up from our slightly ghetto hotel in a Land Rover, driving 45 minutes into the dessert and then the fun began! We got to ride a camel! It was really tall and slightly terrifying when it stands up and down – like a living roller coaster.
Then, we went “dune bashing” which was 50x more fun than I expected. I’ve driven my old Jeep through sand dunes quite a bit, but this guy was a PRO. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Amanda giggle and scream more, it was a blast. We dipped, slid, and thankfully didn’t roll all over the dunes.
The last part of the “safari” was sand boarding down a huge dune standing or sitting on a snow board. It was pretty fun and fast! Amanda and I both ate it pretty good. We’re two feet athletes… not the best with our feet tied together.
World biggest _______
We walked through the world’s biggest mall and saw a cool water fountain show in front of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, which is an awe inspiring 828 meters tall.
Dubai does it big. They have lots of money it seems and they like to have the biggest of things. At one point on our safari tour, the driver pointed out a big hill with a flat top. They are making their own mountain so they can turn it into a wild animal park on a mountain… why not?
Architecture and Bling
The architecture in Dubai is absolutely fascinating and amazing. It’s certainly the place with the most unique and magnificent buildings we’ve ever been. It’s insane and definitely worth visiting just for this alone.
They also like bright lights, shiny things, fancy cars, etc. It’s like Las Vegas but not as depressing and gross (and probably literally 20 times bigger).
A few interesting notes:
Dubai is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates
Only about 15% of Dubai’s population are from the UAE. It’s something like 40% asian, 20% Indian, 20% Pakistani
Next up, we went to Budapest, Hungary which we both really enjoyed!! Our AirBnb was in an awesome location, which was the old jewish ghetto during WWII, and is now surrounded by hip bars and restaurants. Although still cold (23 – 30 degrees) we were able to brave the weather a bit more and explored our neighborhood, the big park nearby, a main square and old castle! We grabbed drinks at a local brewery, and explored one of the traditional ruin pubs. Budapest has many “ruin pubs” which are really old, kind of falling apart buildings that are full of chic, funky decor. They started popping up in the early 2000s when entrepreneurs took over abandoned buildings from their communist era (they were communist until 1989). The ruin pub we went to was Szimpla Kert – it was huge! Inside there were two floors and about 20 different rooms and themes bars plus a cafe, restaurant, coffee area, patisserie, and a big outdoor patio!!
We also went to a few places to grab a bite to eat that were trendy but in a little bit of a grungy way- think like the mission district in SF! We LOVED this soup place – Bors – and highly recommend it if you ever travel to Budapest. It was a tiny soup cafe, full of funny decor and happy guys who loved working there. After every order taken they chanted something in Hungarian and clapped or high fived. All of the soups we tried (we went there twice :)) were so delicious with a big punch of unique flavor. Yum!
Budapest is full of absolutely beautiful buildings! Everywhere you look, there are stunning old buildings. Castles, government buildings, Turkish baths (read more below!), churches, synagogues, and more! Even most of the ordinary offices and stores had epic old structure. “Wow look at that building! Oh ha, it’s just a pharmacy.” :)
One day we spent several hours at a Turkish bath, a traditional Hungarian past-time. We went to the Széchenyi Baths, the largest bath, & it was huge! There were about 20 different indoor hottubs and pools of various warm/hot temperatures, about 15 different saunas and steam rooms (some with aromas – like the chamomile steam room), and a few plunge pools for a quick cold dip after sweating in the saunas. There was also a gym, message area and nail salon. Plus, there are 4 outdoor heated pools, one of them with a huge whirlpool (so fun). We spent about half a day at the baths and it was a great experience!
Budapest was our last destination in Europe, goodbye Europe! We spent an evening talking about all our favorites, best and worsts of the trip. It was a fun way to wrap up being in there. Asking each other what the best meal was? Nicest people? Most “wow” moment? City that didn’t meet your expectations? City that exceeded your expectations? Worst travel experience? Best apartment? Etc.
After spending New Years in Prague, we headed to Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately we don’t have too much to report back because Austria was SO COLD!!! 17 degrees! We did not have the right gear, so even though we wore layers and layers of clothes, we could still only last a few blocks outside. One day we attempted to walk around and just popped into a store about every block or two to pretend to shop, haha. Another day we decided to “cafe hop” from small coffee shop to small coffee shop. I’ve heard Vienna is a beautiful place, but in the snow and biting cold wind we didn’t see much of it, oh well!
We decided while quickly walking from warm place to warm place that we aren’t cut out for living in cold weather. So, while in Vienna, we more or less cut Colorado from our list of places we’d enjoy living… great hot chocolate though :)