While there are many things to love about autumn here in the northeast - apple picking, football, foliage - it is also the perfect time to travel abroad. Fall usually means fewer crowds, more comfortable temperatures and stellar weather for exploring outdoors in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Here are five of my favorite fall destinations:
I spent about three weeks in China last October and almost every day was perfection. Beijing, known for its relentless smog, is supposed to be clearest and cleanest in October and it did not disappoint. Autumn brings colorful foliage in the northern countryside resulting in spectacular views from the Great Wall. It is warmer farther south, but not oppressively hot. Shanghai's weather was incredibly comfortable requiring a tank top by day and light jacket at night. My favorite place in China - Yangshuo - offered 70 degree F days, perfect for biking through the karst mountains. While October is a great month to explore China, be sure to avoid the first week as it's a national holiday called "Golden Week", when prices and crowds skyrocket across the country. Read more about my adventures in China here.
While Paris is beautiful any time of year, I especially love autumn. The crowds are significantly reduced since all the students are back in school, and while the temperature can sometimes be a bit chilly, it's usually great for long walks around the city. We walked and biked all over Paris and Versailles and the cool air gave us plenty of motivation to continue moving! Autumn is also the perfect time to enjoy a warm drink at an outdoor cafe. Nothing goes better with a glass of Bordeaux than a cozy sweater. Read more about Paris here.
The high season for Koh Lanta - and the rest of the islands along the Andaman Sea in Thailand- is November through April. We were there in late October/early November which is technically "shoulder season" - the end of the low season and beginning of the high season. This meant great deals and fewer crowds. For example, we had no problem booking hotel rooms or scuba dives a day in advance. We only had one weather woe - a rain downpour that lasted about an hour. The rest of the week brought sunshine, warm breezes and spectacular sunsets. Interested in visiting Koh Lanta? Check out our guide to Koh Lanta.
While it's been almost ten years since we've been to Ireland, we still talk about that vacation. The weather was marvelous for hiking and pub crawls - two of Ireland's best pastimes. The cooler temps meant we could hike without getting too hot and also suited the cozy cavernous pubs scattered throughout the countryside. Like the northern US, mid-October is the height of colorful foliage which looks extra beautiful surrounding Ireland's castles, stone walls and green hills. Definitely check out Galway, the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula this time of year. If you like stunning views, friendly locals and pub food you will not be disappointed!
Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, their seasons mirror ours in the north. Therefore, Australia experiences spring during the months of late September, October and November. Queensland summers are hot & humid and monsoon season begins in late November through April. I think we visited during the best time of year - late September/early October. With the exception of a freak wind storm in Airlie Beach, the weather was beautiful and the water visibility was incredibly clear which made for phenomenal scuba diving. While the water in New South Wales required a wet suit, the crisp, sunny days were perfect for hiking and walking around Sydney. Considering a visit to Australia? Read our tips for driving up Australia's east coast and for more general Australia information see our Australia information page.
Globally Inspired Home
This spring, I'm making a few changes to my home and garden and I'd like to incorporate elements inspired by our recent trip around the world. Although I can't plant exotic tropical flowers in Boston, nor do I have the space for nest beds, I can look for a few pieces that remind me of some of my favorite places. So, in no particular order, here are a 15 things from around the world that would be fun to replicate at home.
1. Bangkok, Thailand: Nest Beds
Nesting has taken on a whole new meaning in Bangkok. The shape of these human sized sanctuaries will make the most boring of outdoor spaces intriguing. Add a light inside and create glowing garden sculptures at night!
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Chillin' Out In Bangkok
2. Hamburg, Germany: Modern Rococo
I'm typically not a fan of rococo and prefer balancing frills and flourishes with corners and crisp lines. However, I reveled in this little cafe in Hamburg, sipping my chai tea slowly while sinking into a cozy velvet couch. I have no idea if they intentionally distressed the walls or if they just spruced up a derelict space with vintage couches from Oma and Opa's house. Whatever they did, it worked.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Hamburg, Bremen & Bloemendaal
3. Cappadocia, Turkey: Canvas & Carpet Covered Terraces
While in Turkey, we spent two glorious mornings having breakfast here, overlooking the cave town of Goreme. I've been thinking about using canvas to provide shade on my deck during the hot summer since it's pretty easy to put up and take down. I also love the rug covered table for extra lounging.
Photo by Eva Barbier. To learn more about Turkey, visit our Turkey Destination Page.
4. Cambodia: Colored Wooden Blinds
These colorful blinds would add cheer to any space such as a nursery, kitchen or my home office.
Photo by Eva Barbier from the blog post: Waterworld: The Floating Village of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
5. Yangshuo, China: Wagon Wheel Benches
Check out these benches at our Inn in Yangshuo. They are made by attaching local wood planks to an axle and wagon wheels. This set-up is a charming alternative to a traditional picnic table.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Days 167-170: Yangshuo, China - Hiking and Biking the Karst Mountains
6. Koh Lanta, Thailand: Bamboo Lounges & Pyramid Pillows
Koh Lanta is one of the places i miss most often because we found total relaxation here. Perhaps it's because bamboo lounges and beds are scattered along the beaches, waiting for a wanderer to plop down for a cold beer and a little shut eye. The colorful pyramid pillows are a nice touch, and help prop up one's head in order to enjoy the sea view. I don't think bamboo would last in the harsh Boston weather, but if i ever live somewhere milder I plan on creating my own little slice of Lanta.
Photo of The Indian bar in Koh Lanta by Eva Barbier from Our Guide to Koh Lanta, Thailand
7. Ubud, Bali: Stone & Wood Carvings
Bali is full of insanely talented artisans and artists that have been perfecting their craft for generations. We visited gardens, homes and temples full of intricately carved statues and furniture. Two of my favorite pieces were these Balinese women who seem full of happiness and peace. Generally, this is how I feel after a really good meal. They would look lovely in my garden and remind me of the warmth and hospitality we experienced in Bali.
Read more about Bali here: Ubud, Bali - The Barong Dance, Stone Carving & The Awe-Inspiring Contact Lens
8. Melbourne, Australia: Bold Tile
This tile covered the inside of a bench shelter in Melbourne. It was a pleasant surprise, since the structure was grey on the outside. I thought the pattern would make a nice outdoor table top.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: 3 Days In Melbourne
9. Kruger Park, South Africa: Drapery Over Doors
The decor at safari camps is fantastic, but much of what you'd expect from the African bush - typical wood furniture, local animal fur rugs, and lots of neutrals. One thing I really liked was the use of drapery, particularly over doors or entryways. I'm not sure if this has a practical use in the summer (ie keeping bugs out of rooms) but they really made our accommodation, a tent, very homey.
Photo by Eva Barbier in blog post: Tanda Tula Safari Camp
10. Paris, France: Black & White Tile
Black and white tile was everywhere in Paris so it always reminds me of my favorite city. I don't know if it's the the tile that contributes to the glamour of Paris or if it's Paris that makes the tile so chic. Let's just say it's a symbiotic relationship. If my bathroom wasn't so tiny, I'd tile it like the picture below.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Our Favorite Room in Paris: Six Cent Deux
11. Arrowtown, New Zealand: Recycled Container Garden
This is a neat idea for people who have a lot of outdoor space. Arrowtown is an old gold mining town in New Zealand. There was a lot of abandoned equipment from the mining days so local artists used them in their artwork and homes. Here is an old pipe transformed into a container garden.
Photo by Eva Barbier. To learn more about New Zealand visit our New Zealand Destination Page.
12. Winelands, South Africa: Chrome+Stone+Wood
The wineries in Franschhoek, South Africa are stunning both inside and out. I particularly enjoyed the modern decor of the tasting room at the Gran Provence. The chrome bar and fixtures gave it a sleek modern look which was nicely offset by the rest of the room, comprised of natural elements from the region - stone, clay and wood. While it's void of color inside, the view was bursting with color outside the glass doors.
Photo of the Gran Provence tasting room by Eva Barbier as featured in The Winelands Awards.
13. Seminyak, Bali: Colorful Shutters
These pretty shutters, spotted in Bali, would liven up a pool house or backyard shed.
Photo by Eva Barbier in blog post: Bali, Indonesia - Laid Back Seminyak
14. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Copper Light Fixtures
Giant copper lights were suspended from tall tree trunks in our hotel lobby in Chiang Mai. They were especially enchanting when twinkling at night. Perhaps they could be used on a much smaller scale in an entryway, over a dining room table or kitchen island.
Photo of VC@Suanpaak lobby by Eva Barbier from Chiang Mai, Thailand - Hits & Misses
15. Caye Caulker, Belize: Weathered Wooden Signs
The tiny Caribbean island is comprised of small wooden structures that have been weathered by the salt and sand in the air. Painted wooden signs were strewn about the island featuring island mantras (Go Slow) and store names. I think these would look great hanging in a bohemian urban garden.
Photo by Eva Barbier from Caye Caulker - You Better Belize It.
When the time came to leave Koh Samui (and Thailand for that matter), we were very sad to part ways with Thailand's lovely beaches, colorful reefs, tasty food, cheap massages, exceptional service and laid-back lifestyle. But alas, more adventures awaited us on the other side of the globe!
World's Nicest Airport
To make leaving Koh Samui even more difficult, its airport turned out to be the nicest one we've ever seen. And we've seen a lot of airports! Check out the outdoor Koh Samui airport terminal:
After a quick flight to Bangkok we checked in for our flight to Los Angeles. We chose Eva Air for a few reasons:
1) Cool name, obviously
2) Reports of decent leg room
3) Reasonable price & flight times
4) They have a plane painted in a Hello Kitty theme!
Neither of us are Hello Kitty fans but we liked the idea of getting the Hello Kitty themed plane, envisioning pink seats and kitty themed snacks. When you travel as much as we do, these types of gimmicks actually work. One of us was a lot more excited than the other. Let's just say that the first question Chris asked upon check in was if we got the Hello Kitty plane:) Sadly, we did not. But the flight was fantastic. We got a row to ourselves, watched lots of movies and even got to check out the Taipei airport during our connection (more Hello Kitty). Also, incredibly, the food on the plane was delicious - what kind of airline is this?
We had to have one more mango sticky rice before we left Thailand!
We spent five days in LA, adjusting to being back in the western hemisphere. Luckily we got to see some good friends and family while in LA, making it a very memorable stop on our journey! Hopefully we weren't too out of it due to the jet lag.
Scenes from LA
Since we were either snoozing, catching up with friends, or avoiding the rain, we didn't spend a lot of time outdoors. This was disappointing since I love taking pictures in California. To me, it offers the same dramatic landscapes that I've found in South Africa, New Zealand and Peru. Here are a few random shots, all taken with my phone.
After five days in LA we were re-energized and ready for our next destination - Belize!
Loi Krathong is the annual Thai light festival that usually occurs in November (but always on during the full moon of the 12th lunar month) of every year, so we had to stick around to see it. The absolute best place to witness this celebration is in Chiang Mai, which we learned while we were there two weeks earlier. Had we known this ahead of time, we'd have planned to be in Chiang Mai for its observance. In Chiang Mai, you'd partake in a magical scene like this:
Since we'd already done the whole Chiang Mai thing, we decided to see how Samui celebrated this time honored tradition. We'd heard the best place to see the show was at Chaweng Lake, so we made our way over around nightfall.
Here's a quick explanation of the holiday. It's celebrated throughout Thailand and in certain parts of Laos and Myanmar. Loi Krathong literally translates to floating crown and is signified by floating decorations that are lit with a candle and released en masse into a body of water. It symbolizes all the bad things floating out of your life, and the light is supposed to honor Buddha. The floating concept can also applies to a similar holiday called Yi Peng. This particular celebration hails from Laos, but today is most famously celebrated in Chiang Mai, where large numbers of floating lanterns are released into the sky. Though these are actually two totally different holidays, Chiang Mai today celebrates them together on the date of Loi Krathong. These floating lanterns can be seen throughout Thailand as well (we had previously launched one from the beach in Koh Lanta).
This is where most of the Koh Samui locals go to celebrate Loi Krathong and launch their decorative floating crowns. As you approach the lake, the streets are lined with people selling hand-made Krathongs. We picked our our favorite so we'd have one to launch!
The festival is packed with vendors selling all types (and I mean ALL) of interesting foods.
Not knowing what to expect, we anticipated everyone waiting around for some predetermined hour and all simultaneously unleashing their Krathongs upon the lake. This was not the case however. It turns out that people haphazardly release their Krathongs whenever it strikes their fancy. People were also lighting floating lanterns so the lake was peppered with floating Krathongs and the sky above twinkled with lanterns floating into space.
With the help of one of the locals, we lit our Krathong's candle and incense and then launched it into the lake, making a wish for continued happiness in our lives.
The festival also includes a beauty pageant and live music later on at night. We considered sticking around for it, but it began to rain and we had plans to check out the full moon party on Koh Phangon later that night so we departed after launching our Krathong.
The Full Moon Party that Wasn't
You may have heard of the legendary Full Moon parties at Koh Phangon, and island located right next to Koh Samui. It is supposedly the biggest all-night beach party in the world and a must for backpackers. Typically I avoid massive crowds of drunk 20-somethings, especially those drinking rum or whisky out of children's plastic beach pales. However, since this was a famous party we decided to take a boat over to the island to check it out for a couple of hours and see if it lived up to it's reputation.
Our hotel advertised a transfer that would pick us up and bring us to a speedboat which would take us to and from the party beach. Then we'd have to pay a 100 baht entrance fee for the party, which mainly goes toward clean-up the next morning (this includes scraping drunk kids off the beach so they don't drown when the tide rolls in). It was a rainy night with occasional thunderstorms, so we were a little bit on the fence about going but decided to have them pick us up at 10pm. By 11pm we were still at our hotel, waiting for the transfer. The hotel had no idea where they were. At 11:30pm we decided to call it a night and fell asleep. We still don't know if they ever came by to pick us up. Oh well.
It was an anti-climatic night and we regret not getting to go... a little. I have a feeling we would have been entertained for a little while by the crowd, but would have soon started to worry about so many people doing stupid things - swimming in the ocean during a lightning storm (someone did this in Koh Lanta), drowning, cutting their feet on glass hidden in the sand and who knows what else.
This capped off our Thai adventure and two days later we headed back across the Pacific for our next few stops...stay tuned!
On our seventh day in Koh Lanta we decided to leave, in order to break out of the all-too comfortable routine we'd eased ourselves into. We had to check out of our hotel by 11am and at 10:55 we booked a flight for that afternoon to the island of Koh Samui.
Initially we had decided to pass on Samui, as November is the height of the rainy season for the eastern Thai islands (which generally have opposite wet and dry seasons from their western counterparts). Ultimately, after consulting the weather forecast which was prognosticating a 50-50 shot of a wet week, we decided to roll the dice. We ended up spending a week in Samui, and the weather gods smiled upon us for the majority of our time there.
On the way there, we saw this ad for a restaurant in Samui which resulted in fits of laughter. We interpreted it as a sign that we made the right decision to visit Koh Samui.
Knowing little about the layout of the island or which of its many beaches would be most to our liking, we booked one night at the Bophut Resort, on Bo Phut Beach, in the northeastern corner of the island. We thought we'd spend one night there to get the lay of the land, then figure out our next move. However, after the first night there, we decided to spend two more, and then the whole week!
Bo Phut and Bophut Resort
Koh Samui is an island roughly in the shape of a square, which takes about an hour to circumnavigate via car. The most touristy areas are concentrated along the east coast, although beaches can be found along the entire perimeter. Bo Phut is a town on the eastern portion Samui's northern coast. It's not as populous as the more well-known tourist areas of Chaweng and Lamai, but still has plenty to keep busy including a beautiful beach and Fisherman's Village - a collection of bars and restaurants along the oceanfront.
We ended up staying at Bophut Resort, which was right on Bo Phut beach. We really liked this place, and thought it had the best service of just about any place we've ever stayed. They upgraded our room to a top floor room with a hot tub on the balcony and the free breakfast was phenomenal! Here are some photos.
A Chance Encounter
On our second night in Samui, we took a stroll down the beach to find a place to eat in Fisherman's Village. While passing though one of the beachfront restaurants, we heard a couple calling out to us. Turns out it was a couple of Australians - Adrian and Emma - who we had met a few weeks earlier in Cambodia! Amazingly, they were staying at the hotel right next door to us. They are also traveling the world for eight months, so we had a lot to talk about! We ended up having dinner together and closing down one of the local bars.
On our third day we rented a car to check out the rest of the island. Our plan was to see a few other areas we had considered staying in and potentially spend the rest of our week in a different area. Ultimately, we decided that Bo Phut was the perfect spot for us. Chaweng and Lamai had beautiful beaches, but were very crowded and party-central. Most other areas of the coastline were too remote for us. Bo Phut presented a perfect mix of the two. We decided to book the remainder of the week at the Bo Phut Resort. Here are some pics from a couple of the more remote areas and Chaweng, where we stopped for a spot of lunch and a dip.
Waterfall #1 and Waterfall #2
Samui boasts two waterfalls, cleverly named Waterfall 1 and Waterfall 2. We stopped off at one of them on our drive around the island (I think it was Waterfall 2). You have to park a little ways from the falls, and then you have three options of how to reach them - by foot, by off-road truck, or by elephant. We ended up hoofing it, which was a good choice because I think taking the elephant would have eaten up the rest of the day, judging by the pace they were making up the hill. I did get to feed one of the pachyderms a bunch of bananas, however.
We spent the first part of our week in Samui checking out the island and the beach. We had a few other things planned for the rest of our time there, such as another dive or two at the famous Koh Tao, but old man weather had other ideas and threw a monkey wrench in the works with the promised November rain. In the end, we didn't totally mind, as we got to catch up on email, blog posts and plan our next few moves.
We planned to stay in Samui long enough to check out the most famous of all Thai festivals...stay tuned!
On our flight from Bangkok to Krabi we met a girl named Karin from Germany. She was heading to Phi Phi to meet some friends but would be in Koh Lanta later in the week so we decided to meet up when she arrived. On our last night, we met Karin and her two friends on Long Beach for dinner at the Funky Fish.
We were having a great time getting to know each other. Eventually we noticed that were the last people left at the restaurant, but kept chatting since it wasn't that late. Suddenly a crazy storm approached from the sea and we were in the midst of thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour. We stayed at our covered table hoping it would be over quickly, but after an hour it didn't let up and the wait staff was getting antsy.
Unfortunately, Chris and I didn't have our truck so the bar called a taxi and Karin and her friends waited with us until it came. They were staying at the hotel next to the restaurant so they didn't have far to go. When our taxi arrived we said our goodbyes and all five of us ran outside into the cold sheets of rain. Once Chris and I arrived at our taxi (we sat in the back of a covered pick-up truck) we were thoroughly soaked. We rode back to our hotel on the flooded main street where people were trying to drive their motor bikes in knee-deep flowing water. It was insane! While it only took us about 10 minutes to get back to our hotel, we were slightly terrified, yet we laughed the entire way.
We had such a great time with Karin and her friends. Hopefully we'll meet again in Boston or, one of our favorite places, Deutschland. Let's hope the weather is better next time!
Our Guide to Koh Lanta, Thailand
We fell in love with Koh Lanta. Its sunsets, beaches and easy going atmosphere were perfection. We originally planned to stay in Koh Lanta for three nights and ended up staying a full week. And at the end of the week, we forced ourselves to leave because we feared if we remained one day longer, we'd stay forever.
Koh Lanta is located on the western coast of Southern Thailand - across the bay from the more famous Phuket and Phi Phi islands (pronounced Pee Pee!). We originally planned to go to Phi Phi, but after reading about the island and talking to several travelers, we learned that it was mainly a party island, which we would have appreciated more about ten years ago! On Phi Phi, if you don't stay at one of the more upscale resorts, you'd be stuck in close proximity with lots of hard partying college kids. We were looking for something a little more laid back.
Koh Lanta was the answer. It's a long, thin island with one main road and beautiful beaches along the west coast. Most of the accommodations are locally-owned, usually situated right on the beach or across the street from the beach. One nice thing about the island is that you can simply walk down the beach to find restaurants, bars, massages and little shops, right there nestled in the sand. The crowd is a mixed bag of friendly people - young families, backpackers, couples, singles, retirees, expats and locals.
Koh Lanta is just off the mainland and can be reached via car ferry (about an hour and a half drive from Krabi Airport) or by taking a boat over from Phuket/Phi Phi. We rented a truck from the Krabi Airport and drove about 2 hours to the island. It's an easy drive, but you have to take two very short car ferries to get to the southern island of Koh Lanta.
Koh Lanta Beaches
Here is our breakdown of the major areas on Koh Lanta:
Klong Dao Beach
This is the first beach you reach after heading across on the ferry, and the most developed part of the island (which is relative, as the whole island is very low-key). There are lots of couples and young families scattered about this area - particularly Swedish people - but the beach never felt crowded. Of all the beaches in Koh Lanta, this one probably has the most bars and restaurants right along the beachfront. The water is great for swimming but not quite as clear as it is farther south, owing to the fact that the tides and waves are slightly stronger, which stirs up the sand. We preferred staying on this beach because it offered more selection in terms of activities and restaurants. We could walk to the yoga studio, convenience store and our favorite bar and restaurant without having to leave the beach. Plus, there are more people on this beach which is nice for making friends & people watching.
This is the next beach south of Klong Dao and it's probably the prettiest beach by day. The water is clear and the sand is white, which makes it great for swimming. It's far less populated than Klong Dao so at times, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. At night there are a few areas that are happening but it's pretty quiet overall. Plus Klong Dao is a short drive/walk away so you can always head up there if you want a little more nightlife.
Klong Khong & Klong Non
We didn't spent a lot of time at these beaches but we heard good things from fellow travelers who stayed here. From what we saw, these beaches are long and thin - a little smaller than Long Beach and Klong Dao. While some restaurants/bars are located right in the sand, many are up a slight hill because the beach is too thin. Our dive guide lives in Klong Khong and said it's her favorite spot because it caters to more backpackers and locals.
Located on the south west part of the island this beach is really secluded. There are a couple of resorts but not much else around. If you want to go to bars and restaurants you'll have to drive or take a tuk-tuk. The beach is pretty, but parts are pretty rocky so take care if you visit. Our friends stayed here for 2 nights and said it was way too secluded for them. They much preferred staying on Long Beach or Klong Dao as there was simply more to do.
Since we were visiting in November, during the shoulder season, hotels were not completely sold out. Therefore we tried three different hotels - 1 budget accommodation and 2 mid-range accomodations.
Banana Garden Inn (Budget)
This was our budget accommodation at $35 USD/ night for a cabin with A/C and private bathroom. However, we met several backpackers who felt this was expensive (or even luxurious) as they were staying at places that were more like $10-15 USD/night.
The Banana had it's pros and cons.
The crowd at the Banana was a mix, but there seemed to be a lot of young families from Sweden. Kids ranged in age from babies to 4-5 years old, all very well behaved. Typically we avoid places that cater to kids since we don't have any, but we really didn't mind it here. It was fun to watch the kids playing on the beach, off in their own little worlds. The staff loves kids and would often play with them, giving mom and dad a little time to themselves, which they probably appreciated. Also, the older kids made friends with each other and would run along the beach and play. So parents take note - this is a good spot for little ones - assuming you can deal with the really basic accomodations!
Chaw Ka Cher Tropicana Lanta Resort
This mid-range hotel (considered luxury in Koh Lanta) was located across the main road near Long Beach. It was a big step up from the Banana in terms of room/resort quality. However it's location was a bit inconvenient.
Sorry, but I don't have any pictures of this resort so check out their website or TripAdvisor page to see more.
Royal Lanta Resort
We spent our last three nights at this upscale resort on Klong Dao beach, as we found a great last-minute rate online.
Had the service been a little better, I would highly recommend this place. If I had to go back and choose from one of the three hotels we stayed at, I'd choose this one.
What to Do (Besides Sit on the Beach):
Explore the Island
Since we had a car, we spent a lot of time exploring the island and beaches. Our favorite beaches were Long Beach (clear water) and Klong Dao (more to do on the beach). The beaches further south were also beautiful, but we wouldn't stay here because they are so secluded. However if seclusion is what you are seeking, then look no further than the southern beaches of Koh Lanta! If you don't rent a car, you can rent a motor bike for about 250 Baht ($8) a day. Just be careful - we saw a lot of moto accidents along the side of the road and felt pretty thankful we were in a truck.
Explore the surrounding islands with a boat trip. We went on 3 excursions - speed boat to Phi Phi, 4 Island Tour and Scuba Diving at Koh Haa. Read our full review of these excursions here.
Sundowners at The Indian
This became our go-to spot for sunset drinks on Koh Lanta. It's run by a gregarious local guy named Pas who is enamored with Native American culture and used this as the theme for his beach bar. Before long, the staff knew our order when they saw us walking up the beach. That's when we knew we needed to head on from Koh Lanta!
Most of the music at The Indian was relaxing & ambient. However after sunset, Pas would often throw on Phil Collins' greatest hits. I swear, Phil Collins fans are always the ones you'd least expect. This was our cue to head out for dinner, so w'ed head next door to the Banana for glass noodle shrimp and beef larb salad.
There is a great little yoga studio on Klong Dao called Oasis Yoga, run by a woman named Farra from Oklahoma. She was a great instructor that caters to all levels. the studio is open air with sessions in the morning and at sunset. I highly recommend it as it's a great way to start your day in Thailand!
Volunteer at the Animal Shelter
While in Lanta, we heard about this fantastic animal shelter called Lanta Animal Welfare where you can volunteer to walk dogs or play with the animals. Similar to our experience in Bali, we found that the locals view dogs as dirty pests and often abuse or neglect them. This shelter helps mistreated, neglected and malnourished dogs & cats on Koh Lanta. After the animals are healthy, they ensure they are fixed and then put them up for adoption. We stopped by and took a tour of the facility, played with some of the kittens, and offered to walk some dogs. However, it was feeding time for the pups so we didn't get a chance to walk them. We visited on our last day in Lanta, otherwise we would have come back daily to play with the dogs!
One day we went to Old Town, just to see what it was all about. It's located on the southeast corner of Lanta, where there is no beach. This is where the long tail boat tours depart. The town looked like an old western town in the US. Lots of restaurants and little shops. Honestly, it was nothing special and totally skippable.
There were a couple of activities we didn't get to:
-Visit the national park on the southern tip of the island
- Elephant ride to the waterfall
Overall I highly recommend visiting Koh Lanta! It can be as relaxing or as active as you want it to be. It's not a crazy party island and it's very affordable. We hope to visit again someday!
We spent time in two of Thailand's many beach destinations - Koh Lanta and Koh Samui. While we had a great time in Koh Samui (which we'll cover in a future post) we fell in love with the island of Koh Lanta. To us, it offered the perfect combination of beautiful unspoiled beaches, loads of fun excursions to keep you active and just the right amount of laid-back night life (most of which is beach-front) to have a great night out without the crazy party scene of Phuket or Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Lanta also makes a great home base for exploring the broader region. We'll talk more about the ins and outs of Koh Lanta itself soon, but first, we thought we'd highlight a few of the excursions upon which we embarked while there.
Four Islands Long-Tail Boat Tour
One of the more popular trips from Koh Lanta involves heading out on a boat to visit four small neighboring islands to the southeast. Two of these are beautiful snorkeling destinations, the third is home to the famous Emerald Cave, and the fourth, Ko Ngai, boasts a beautiful stretch of perfectly white sand kissed by crystal clear waters. This trip is offered on either a speed boat or on one of Thailand's famous long-tail boats. The speed boat is faster, but is also more expensive and carries more people. We opted for the long-tail boat since we had spent the previous day on a speedboat to Phi Phi. As far as we were concerned, the long-tail ended up being the right move for this trip. We were joined by eight other people, all about our age. We were out for about eight hours in total and had a really great time.
This is the entrance to the Emerald Cave. The Emerald Cave is a cavern heading into an uninhabited island that can only be traversed by swimming through it. You must jump off your boat and swim through this pitch-black cavern in the side of a rock face for about ten minutes. Even if you are a strong swimmer, a life vest is highly recommended.
As it happened, we had to swim through the cave amidst a group of about 50 Thai tourists all chained together like pre-schoolers walking to the park. The Thai people thought it was hilarious, and kept grabbing us as we swam past them. At one point 3 people were holding one of my arms and another few were clinging to Chris. I thought they'd drown us! Thankfully we were wearing life vests. We were laughing but terrified at the same time.
Koh Phi Phi Speedboat Trip
Another day, we took a boat over to the Phi Phi Islands. We decided not to stay on Koh Phi Phi, so we thought we should at least check it out. Taking a long-tail boat to Phi Phi is not an option from Koh Lanta because it's too far, so we had to take a speed-boat there. It takes about 45 minutes there and back.
Fortunately, we were at Maya Bay first thing in the morning. The word is that by 10am, you can't even see the sand because there are so many people! After Maya, we headed to a spot just off Koh Phi Phi for some snorking (what the locals call snorkling). The snorking was good, but unfortunately this particular spot was infested with Sea Bees, microscopic organisms that sting your skin when you swim into a school of them. The stinging lasts for 4-5 minutes and then you pretty much go back to normal. They are more of a nuisance than a serious threat!
After lunch, we stopped off to check out Koh Phi Phi Don (the main island) for a bit. It was extremely crowded and a bit chaotic for our liking. Apparently this place is a backpacker's party heaven. Chris' face sums up how we felt about it. We didn't get to the other side of the island, which supposedly boasts more upscale, laid back resorts.
Long-tail vs. Speedboat
The two boat trips were very different, both in terms of their itineraries and the whole dynamic of the trip. The long-tail boat moved more slowly, but had a smaller group, lots of room to move around on the boat, and we got to know the other people on the trip with us. The speed boat was able to cover more ground, but held about 30 people, was fairly tight on-board, and was twice the price. While we enjoyed both, if we could have only done one, it would have been the Four Islands trip with the long-tail boat. Strolling through the crazy downtown Phi Phi also made us grateful to return to our laid back island of Koh Lanta!
Diving at Koh Haa
Another day, we booked a couple of dives with Dive and Relax, whom we would highly recommend. They were a really professional company with incredibly friendly people. The great thing about this dive company is that the groups are very small, and we ended up with just three people in our dive group - me, Chris and our dive master, Beth. A bit expensive for Thailand, but we thought it was worth it.
We ended up heading out to Koh Haa - which actually means six islands - for our dives. Koh Haa, is the name indicates, is a collection of six small islands located southwest of Koh Lanta, surrounded by a beautiful collection of reefs and caves.
The dives were amazing, with by far the greatest visibility of any water we've been diving in so far. The reefs and fish life were beautiful. We saw many varieties of tropical fish, a huge school of barracuda, and several massive moray eels up close. We also dove through a dark cave under one of the islands, which was really fun. We had a great time and will definitely remember this day fondly.
We still haven't shelled out for a GoPro, so these pictures from the dive boat will have to do:
Stay tuned for our next post, where I'll talk more about Koh Lanta itself - one of our new favorite places!
After our visit to Chiang Mai we headed for the beach. Our next stop was Koh Lanta - a long, thin island located on the western side of southern Thailand. I'll write a lot more about Koh Lanta soon, but first I wanted to share some pictures of the spectacular sunsets we watched every night at either Klong Dao Beach or neighboring Long Beach. Typically, we'd head to our favorite beach bar - The Indian - and watch nature's prettiest show with a couple of brews. It was the most relaxed I've ever been. I LOVE this place!
Chiang Mai, Thailand seemed to be the crown jewel on many backpackers' lists of world destinations. Travel bloggers typically give it rave reviews, young travelers we encountered during our journey swore it was "the best place ever", and many digital nomads have made it their home base. Therefore our expectations for Chiang Mai were lofty.
But after spending 4 days there, I didn't really get it.
Don't get me wrong - we had fun in Chiang Mai and do no regret visiting - but I wouldn't describe it as the best place in Thailand, let alone the best place ever. This is probably partly due to the fact that we aren't hard partying 20-somethings, and we didnt' try everything Chiang Mai had to offer.
To be specific, here is a list of what we did & didn't do in Chiang Mai, starting with what we did:
Siam Rice Thai Cookery School
This was the highlight of our visit to Chiang Mai and I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you are like me and hate to cook. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote an entire blog post about it! It's a great way to meet new people, learn a new skill and enjoy a delicious meal.
Siam Rice Thai Cookery School - our favorite activity in Chiang Mai! Read more about our lesson by clicking HERE!
Saturday, Sunday & Night Markets
Markets are big in Chiang Mai, so if you enjoy handicrafts, street food and hippie clothes - this is your mecca. And it's cheap. Real cheap. We are not big shoppers but, nevertheless, we enjoyed strolling through the markets. Vendors were selling similar items, most of which were knick-knacks, but every now and then we'd spot something a little different.
Thailand boasts a plethora of tailors. Originally, Chris wanted to purchase a custom suit in Hong Kong, but passed on the opportunity because the prices were much higher than expected for the type of material he wanted. He decided to give it another go in Chiang Mai and we visited a tailor called Scandy Collection which received rave reviews online. Here we met Paul, who was very helpful and laid back (not pushy at all, which we appreciated). He had a nice variety of fabrics to choose from, offered us a good price and said he could get a suit done before we left so Chris decided to give it a try. We first visited Paul in the morning, where Chris chose his fabrics and got measured. By 7 o'clock that night, he had his first fitting where he tried out the nearly finished slacks and an initial shell of the jacket. By the next evening, the suit was almost done! It fit Chris so well that he decided to order another suit and have them both sent home.
Chiang Mai is known for it's large supply of delicious and inexpensive restaurants. Most of the restaurants serve delicious food, but they were very similar to each other in terms of taste and ambiance (note: we are not Thai food connoisseurs so many people might beg to differ).
Here are a couple of places that stood out among the crowd:
Toru Bar @ Mo Rooms - We stumbled upon this bar after eating at the restaurant next door. The people were very friendly and the interior was pretty cool. We later learned that it was part of an artsy hotel called Mo Rooms where each room is the artist's interpretation of a Chinese zodiac sign. The rooms are pretty wild! Chris and I are both born in the year of the monkey, and based on the pictures, that might be the coolest room in the hotel. We'd try staying at this this place if we ever come back to Chiang Mai.
Bamboo Bee Vegetarian Restaurant - There are tons of vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai. We are not vegetarians, but enjoy vegetarian meals and this place was no exception. It's a tiny hole in the wall - maybe 4 tables - with an outdoor kitchen in front. They serve delicious fresh juices which they blend right in front of you.
Other than the above activities, we wandered around the city. At night, most of the bars were full of older Western men with young Thai girls - or just young Thai girls waiting at the bar to meet older Western men. To each his own, but it was a little strange and definitely wasn't our scene.
We did enjoy our hotel - VC@Suanpaak. It's located a little further out of town - about a 10 minute/$3 tuk-tuk ride to the town center. The rooms and pool were really nice, and the included breakfast was delicious! They have three restaurants and grow all the produce next door.
Here is what we missed:
One of the most popular activities in Chiang Mai. Tourists either ride an elephant or take care of one for a day. While in South Africa, our jeep was chased by a wild elephant. Our guide, Scotch - a big, burly tough guy who spent his life in the African bush - was a little freaked out and drove us away at lightning speed. This left us a little leery of the animals. I know the elephants in Chiang Mai are "tame", but after reading a few tourist reviews about falling off runaway elephants, or elephants getting spooked by something and going nuts, we decided to pass. This may have been a mistake.
Here tourists can cuddle with or spoon tigers (which seem to be drugged). We love animals, but decided to pass on spooning a massive predator. Plus we felt bad that they were drugged all the time :(
Tiger Kingdom did spark a rather odd debate at a bar one night. Chris and I spent some time debating the merits of spooning a drugged, somewhat wild tiger vs a sober domesticated one. Chris was of the opinion that he'd rather spoon the sober tiger because he doesn't see the point in spooning a drugged animal. What's the fun in that? Also, he thought the sober tiger would make for a much more interesting photo. I prefer keeping my head in tact, and I think my chances of doing so would be greater if the tiger was a little groggy.
Either way, we have no regrets about passing on tiger spooning.
There are lots of beautiful temples or wats in Chiang Mai. However, after 4 days of visiting temples in Cambodia we were tapped out.
Loi Krathong Festival (Lantern Festival)
Missing this festival in Chiang Mai is one of my biggest regrets of the entire trip, second only to missing out on the Whitsundays in Australia because of inclement weather. This is the famous lantern festival where everyone gathers in close proximity and releases lanterns into the sky, a symbol for letting go of negative thoughts. We ended up celebrating it in Koh Samui, but it just wasn't the same because the people there focus more on releasing floating offerings into water vs. releasing lanterns into the sky. Had I planned better, I would have switched our visit to Chiang Mai with Samui so we'd be in Chiang Mai for the festival. It would have been a lot more expensive since people travel here from all over the world to participate, but I think it would have been worth the extra cost to see the sky lit up with floating lanterns.
If we are ever back in Thailand again, I'd give Chiang Mai another chance and try to time it during the Loi Krathong Festival. I'd also take some time to visit neighboring Chiang Rai, which received rave reviews from travelers we met in Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta.
Eva has been traveling for 15+ years, including an 8 month journey around the world.