The islands of Thailand

After a trip around Asia, I decided to punctuate the trip with a relaxation visit to the south islands of Thailand. After hearing from various other travelers about how great Ko Tao is, I decided to book a flight down to Ko Samui and head over to Ko Tao. Shani, the Israeli girl l met in Pai had already come down to Ko Phangnan, so since it was on the way to Ko Tao, I figured I would stop at this island as well.

After a long journey from Luang Prabang with an emotional ride with young Sean’s story about volunteering in Laos for a couple of weeks and his trip being interrupted by the unexpected death of his father, followed by trouble in immigration when leaving, I transited through Bangkok to the little plane to go to Ko Samui,

Once in Ko Samui, I met Japanese couple that were living in Bangkok for a couple of years, who were speaking Thai. It through me for a loop! I then got onto a ferry that took me to Ko Phangan, then onward to the beach Shani was staying on, Haad Yuan.

This was definitely not my scene by any means. It was a hippie beach where people were hula hoping, and probably coming down from last night’s high. The vibe of the beach gave me the creeps, and there was no ATM, so I was literally at the whim of what was in my wallet, which was not much. The accommodation was disgusting, where ants were crawling all over the bathroom, the smell, and the cleanliness was just really awful. No AC, and no escape from the wretched stagnant air, made this less of another stop, and more of a layover before my escape to Ko Tao.


The next morning, I was out of there and headed for the nicer, cleaner environment of Ko Tao.

I found a hostel on the main street up from the ferry and decided to call it home for the week. From there, I was able to rent a scooter and have various adventures around the island, beach hopping and deciding which ones were great, and which ones were worth a skip. Throughout my time there, I met people and actually started to feel like an islander where I’d see the same people over and over and be able to greet them here and there.

My favorite beach ended up being Ao Leek, which was the beach I went to on my first day. Funny how that happens. I feel like I started at the top, only trying to find something that at least rivaled its beauty. Ao Leek is tucked away on the eastern side of the island, and faces Shark Island, a small protruding rock. There is a coral nursery here, so the sealife is incredible. I saw a stingray, 2 sharks (one black tipped!), a family of squid, and tons of tropical fish all swimming around caring the least bit about my presence. Under the water, is a nonstop clicking like rain falling on a tin roof, only sharper. I wonder what they’re all saying, or if it’s just their chewing on all sorts of particles in the water that becomes their food.


After snorkeling, jumping off a 30ft rock, scaling said rock with a simple rope to the top, swimming with the sharks, schools of fish, tanning and feeling the sun, I started to notice how damaged my feet were becoming. Standing on a rock with barnacles or corals will just slice your skin without even feeling anything, until the saltwater seeps in and you really notice it. Now, both feet are covered with scratches and battle wounds of experiencing life under the sea.

During my last couple of days, I had a traumatic and tragic event happen. A friend back from Austin was visiting the same island, and literally we bumped into each other at the coffee shop I frequented during my stay. It was quite serendipitous, however, not as shocking as some of my other random meetups around the globe. Carrie joined my day which included scootering to the elusive Mango Bay, located at the top of the island requiring traversing the mountain. Despite a local saying it was paved the whole way and dangerous just because of the steepness of the hills, I warned Carrie that it might be a dangerous ride, especially for an inexperienced scooter driver. Luckily, my scooter riding years have provided me with some pretty good stability, even when driving on the other side of the road!

Long story short, Carrie had quite an upsetting accident that broke her wrist after driving off the road into a ditch. It was a horrifying sequence of events, that amazingly, Carrie had such a positive spirit about the entire thing, she wasn’t going to let a little broken wrist (or even a multi broken/fracture wrist requiring surgery and a metal plate) get in her way of her planned 5 months journey throughout the word. Unfortunately, this was the last taste of Ko Tao for me, as after seeing the vulnerability of having an accident, I put my tail in between my legs and turned in my scooter the next morning :)


All in all, the island was a nice relaxation point, and I even moved my ticket to Jordan up a few days because one can have only so much of beautiful sandy beaches, turquoise blue waters, beautiful pink, orange and red sunsets, right? My mind needs new stimulation, and I’m confident Jordan will have a very unique story simply waiting to unfold.

Life of Pai

After a few days of Chiang Mai, I felt I wanted to explore somewhere else, and my two options from here were Chiang Rai or Pai. After doing research, both seemed like an interesting option, so I went to see how I could do both because they were both in the north.

What I found is Chiang Rai had just suffered an earthquake and had damaged roads, along with the main white temple being damaged as well. They were also experiencing aftershocks, so I figured it was best I stay away. Pai sounded just perfect. A village in the north of Thailand’s mountainous region where I could reset, relax, and just be for a bit.

So I paid my $5 and booked my seat on a minivan that would drive me for almost 4 hours and 762 curves through the mountainous terrain to get to my new adventure, Pai, Thailand.

The curves in the minivan just about made me sick, and I was sitting at the window, and unfortunately was seeing a great amount of sun come in which was giving me that heated feeling while having the cool feeling of the AC on me as well. Luckily, I didn’t get to nauseated, but I was definitely glad the ride was over.

We were let off at the bus station in the middle of town, and it was really quaint. There were two main roads and I headed to find the place I had found out about called the Baan Tawan Bungalows, located near the river. It took me through the town which was filled with restaurants and street food, along with all sorts of Pai souvenir shops.

That evening I had a nice quiet dinner and watched the sunset as the village lights started to dim down like a candle. When walking home, it started to rain, and I got to sleep in the little bungalow with the sound of rain falling on the rooftop.

The next day, I went to rent a scooter to go see the local sights. When checking out the prices of two different scooter shops, I met a girl named Shania, from Israel. She and I hit it off and decided to scoot together and find the places like the Waterfalls, canyon and big Buddha. We used the map to head out and get gas to start our scooter journey.

And a journey it was. Super fun, but with the lack of English speaking natives, and inability to read I guess English letters of specific places, we were pointed in one direction to a waterfall until we finally saw a sign for a waterfall. Winding through the tiny paths through the countryside, we soon saw after about an hour that we were not getting nearer to our sought for destination. We decided to turn around and on our way back, we found shelter from the scorching sun in a little thatched roof hut. Here we had water, snacks, and talked about our backgrounds.

We then headed back to town feeling a little defeated from not being able to find what we had been looking for, but enjoyed the adventure together anyway.

The next day was a better success with a better map that did not have North pointing to the left of the page :( We made our round to see the canyon, then on to the hot spring, elephant park, up to the Buddha which we skipped as we were coming back for sunset that night.

We then headed for the waterfalls, and when we arrived, we saw a lot of people enjoying the water and sliding down the rocks to the pools below. It was fun to meet everyone, and we ended up spending the entire afternoon there. We were finally hungry and went back into town for a late lunch. After lunch we got ready for sunset at the Buddha temple on the hillside.

At the hillside we saw our friends from the afternoon and shared a beautiful sunset over the Pai valley. Suddenly after the sunset, this beautiful orange glow came out from behind the Buddha, which surprised us because the sun was in front of us.

In the evening, we hung out with our new friends and enjoyed another dinner–my type of eating schedule :)

Overall Paid was a great little excursion with beautiful scenery, nice people, nice food, and a cool spot to recharge for a few days.

Chiang Mai Cooking Class

Today, we met up early with the girls and started our full day of cooking with ScenicAsia Cooking School. The van took us to meet up with some other students, and we then split up for the people who were doing the full day farm class, and a half day class on the spot near the markets.

After a quick introduction, we were provided menus to select what foods we wanted to prepare and I was glad we were able to choose individually. That gave us a range of things to try and see each other cook. As most cuisines go, it seems as though you can simply have the foundation, and then change some last minute ingredients and you have another meal.

We then went to the markets to look at special ingredients that we would be using for the day, and learned about how each grow, and what we can use for substitutes if we cannot find the same ingredients back home. Our guide, A, was about 5′ tall, and had a very sarcastic dry sense of humor which was a little confusing at first, because of the accent and lack of emotion. But as we got to know him and his humor, he was witty, funny, clever and definitely cheeky.

We had a quick juice, and headed back to the cooking area where we boarded the bus with Yinyue, a girl from China who was joining the class with her father. We all watched out the windows as we drove through the pathways out of town, and soon found ourselves surrounded by nature and vegetables in a little oasis of a garden, complete with vegetables that we would be cooking with for the day.


We sat down for an introduction again and saw an appetizer that was so refreshing and delicious. It was a beetle nut leaf that we would take, and put a small amount of peanut, lime, ginger, and palm sugar syrup on top and eat it as a one bite serving. It was so delicious.


I chose Pad Thai (how original), Tom Yum Soup, Spring Rolls, a traditional northern Thai curry (Mok Soi? check) and Coconut Bananas for dessert. As we started to learn about the ingredients for the first dish of stir fry, we all got behind our woks after an initial demonstration, and were stressed as this little 5′ commander yelled out the instructions, always following it with faster, don’t burn your dish! Oh your dish look so ugly! Faster!

While trying to keep up, we all laughed at our dishes as we tried to keep up and fortunately there were no accidents. We then got to sit down and eat our dishes and try each other’s to see how we did. I was pretty happy with mine, yet it could have used a little more fish sauce :)


We then started our prep for our main dish of the curries, which was pretty physical. After grinding up ingredients and creating our curry paste, we were able to relax a little bit and start prepping our desserts. I chose the coconut Banana which was really interesting. After boiling bananas, and then creating the coconut milk soup that the bananas would soak in, we let it boil and steep for a bit before pouring in this beautiful purple liquid called Butterfly Pea Flower.


We then went and started our soups, and continued on to our curry. Finally it was time to enjoy our feast and it was incredibly delicious. I couldn’t believe the dishes had come from something I created (with hand holding, but still).

At night, we relaxed and walked through the night market with the girls and then headed for some drinks before bed.

Bangkok Round 2

My flight to Bangkok was easy, however, I was pretty annoyed at the lounge because usually they will tell you info about your flight. I sat in the lounge to eat, which was a really great airline lounge (as it was Cathay Pacific’s Lounge at their main hub, Hong Kong), so when it was about 30 minutes before the flight, I headed out only to see I was at gate 1, and my gate was gate 70.

When seeing this, I started to hustle, and found I had to take a train to the next terminal for gates. After getting off the gate, it dropped me at gate 60, and I looked up, and ‘FINAL BOARDING’ was flashing. Not a great thing I want to see when I have all my backpacks on making me have to huff and puff it to the gate. I made it, and it was a relief to be able to be on board and relax.

When I arrived in Bangkok, I didn’t really recognize the airport. I took a taxi to the hotel, and was immediately impressed with the accommodations. (again, they were free from my credit card signups) :)

After checking in, I went to get some lunch, and decided to head to shop for a bathing suit so I could enjoy the pool some. I found a nearby spot called Above 11 from a friend’s recommendation, and headed there for dinner. I had sushi, but it was a fusion style that I didn’t really enjoy–the fish was fine, but the flavoring coupled with the heat of the air didn’t quite make me interested in eating. Lesson learned, no sushi in the heat :)

The next day, I headed out to the Chatacheuk markets which were only going on in the weekend. I met a guy from Brazil who was living in Sydney, traveling in Bangkok, as you do, and we went around the markets together and experienced the market’s many alleyways, ice creams, snacks, paella, fried fish, icees etc. Luciano was willing to try anything and everything from the street. Again, after my terrible Colombian adventure, I felt a bit more reserved to protect my stomach at all costs.

That evening, my friend David from Boston arrived. Amazingly after a flight from Boston to NYC to Hong Kong to Bangkok, he was able to quickly shower and head out for dinner with us. We had a fun filled night exploring Bangkok’s nightlife and went back to the hotel for a great sleep.

We then spent some time the next morning to plan out the next few days of the trip until David leaves because my original plan had taken me to Vietnam after Cambodia, however from various feedback from people, I’ve opted to pass on Vietnam on this time, and explore more of Thailand and pass over to Laos as well before coming back to island hop in the South of Thailand before heading over to Jordan.

The next day, we did some exploration around the town and headed to see the grand palace. We were lucky because not only was it a rare free day, it was also not so crowded. I was surprised that in most of my pictures, it was pretty empty and there were plenty of photo ops where people didn’t enter the scene.

After our afternoon at the palace, we headed to the pier to check out a boat tour of the canals of Bangkok. Here we boarded a long boat for just the two of us and went around Bangkok’s main canal system to see basically the stilted houses that lined the narrow canals. Our boat driver was a chubby boy who kept opening the motor door to do something to the motor. I kept trying to figure out what I would do if the boat started to take on water and how to salvage my camera–which basically I came up with the plan to have someone throw it to me on land, or simply me throw it into the bushes on land somewhere. Thankfully I never had to employ this contingency plan.

After a really great hour tour of the canals, we went to find a place for dinner. We happened upon a café that sat along the banks of the river looking out at Wat Arun. As we watched the sunset, we enjoyed a great meal.