Tag Archives: Thailand

Take a moment to enjoy it

I turned 24 on Monday, and it inevitably made me think back on my 23rd year.

I’ve gone into detail and referenced in passing how much this last year has meant to me, how much I have grown in the process, and how many new experiences I have been blessed to have. More importantly, this year has shown me how to enjoy moments. There’s a reason why one of my favorite song titles is called “Elusive”, why I talk so much about fleeting moments being the most beautiful, sad, and inspiring all at the same time.

Yoga, open-mindedness, and travel have combined to create, maybe not a completely new perspective, but definitely a wider one that I find more beneficial to live with each day. I’ve been rewarded in return with new doors open before me, a whole new cast of friends, confidence, and a type of grace that has never been present before.

I’m a fan of simple aspects that happen every day, I call them daily doses of beauty. In my 23rd year, one of my favorite things was to watch the sunset and/or sunrise in every new place I traveled. Each one containing the same structure, but holding a unique awesomeness that never seemed to fade even with how many I witnessed last year.

Take a moment to enjoy it. That’s what I’ve come away with in the last year. I don’t want my life focused on making the most money, choosing a path based on other’s opinions, or how many material things I own. I want my life to be full of moments simply enjoying it. I want the memories.

Happiness isn’t a permanent state of being, it’s a choice. I think I’m starting to understand what that means now.

From my 23rd year, here are my favorite memories of sunsets and sunrises from around the world.

San Diego, USA

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SunsetOkay, technically this sunset was when I was still 22, but I had to include it because it was the last sunset I saw in San Diego before I left for Australia. I was grabbing dinner with one of my close friends in Ocean Beach, and it was one of those moments that made me second guess what exactly I thought I was doing by leaving such a beautiful place.

But I knew I had to leave in order to come back a stronger person someday, “with grace and flowers in my hair”.

Auckland, New Zealand

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Sunrise. After the longest flight I’ve experienced in my life, I had a layover in Auckland, New Zealand before heading to Melbourne, Australia. This view was from the airport waiting room. Whatever anxiety I had about jumping into the unknown, and to what this year would amount to, faded away when I saw the sun rising.

Melbourne, Australia

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Sunrise. The view I saw from my bed every weekend morning at my apartment in Melbourne, when I woke up for my cafe job. Melbourne had the most amazing sunrises and sunsets, usually littered with the many hot air balloons at sunrise.

The Great Ocean Road, Australia

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Sunset. A trip taken with one of my friends from San Diego, our epic two day road trip on The Great Ocean Road was one of the most scenic drives I’ve been on.

Bali, Indonesia

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Sunset. The deep yellow sunsets in Indonesia, one of my favorite aspects of the country.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Sunrise. On my bucket list for the year, seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. One of my favorite memories from Southeast Asia.

Koh Tao, Thailand

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Sunset. Thailand has the best pink and purple sunsets.

Sydney, Australia

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Sunset. The last time I walked the Bondi to Coogee walk, the place that first inspired me to move to Sydney.

Sydney, Australia

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Sunset. I have a fondness for stormy sunsets, Sydney is the queen of stormy sunsets. We got along.

Tropfest – Sydney, Australia

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Sunset. The biggest short film fest in the world. I went by myself and ended up making and meeting friends along the way. The sun setting over the festival before the show started.

Terrigal, Australia

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Sunset. Terrigal, in central New South Wales, is a small little town not many people have heard of outside of Australia, yet it has one of the most beautiful beaches I saw all year.

This day was pretty perfect, starting off with discovering Newcastle, and eventually making my way down to Terrigal to watch the sunset on the beach and spend the evening exploring the town with a boy I liked.

Byron Bay, Australia

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Sunrise. The first stop on my East Coast travels, I begrudgingly woke up to an early alarm to watch the sunrise on the beach my last day in Byron. It was well worth the effort.

Surfers Paradise, Australia

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Sunset. I may not have been a big fan of Surfers Paradise as a whole, but with the reflections and colors that lit up the sky my only night there, I’d have to say it was one of my favorite sunsets of the year.

Airlie Beach, Australia

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Sunset. Oh Airlie, you are one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The Whitsundays, Australia 

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Sunset. Sleeping on a boat in The Whitsundays after a day spent diving for the first time in The Great Barrier Reef.

Wellington, New Zealand

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Sunset. A day trip to Days Bay and Eastbourne in the Wellington region, the first time I’ve seen the beach since arriving in New Zealand.

 

What are your daily doses of beauty? Where did you experience your favorite sunset?

A Year to Remember

After many technical difficulties, I’ve finally been successful in uploading my video celebrating my one year travelversary!!

In the last year, I visited 8 countries, moved to 3 new cities, volunteered at 3 music festivals, and went to an outdoor short film festival. I rode an elephant, learned how to cook Thai food, went to my first footy game, got my scuba certification, and kayaked in the beautiful Halong Bay. I tried more new flavors than my taste buds had ever known before, including the likes of kangaroo, snake blood, emu, and crocodile. I’ve had the most challenging and best time of my life. It’s hard to convey in words what this year has meant to me, so I thought instead I’d say it in pictures. Thank you to all of the people, places, and experiences that have had an impact on my year abroad. It has been one hell of a ride, may the journey continue… 😉

 

[vimeo 92379042 w=500 h=281]

 

Travel budgeting for Thailand

Thailand was full of surprises, one of the biggest being that it wasn’t my favorite country of my trip as I thought it would be. In fact, it was one of the places I enjoyed the least in my travels through Asia. I owe this to not having enough time to see the “real” Thailand, and only spending time in the more tourist-centered areas of Bangkok and the Southern Thai islands. Don’t get me wrong, it was a gorgeous place full of beautiful sandy beaches, delicious food, and an intricate culture, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from this year, it’s that you cannot force yourself to love a place just because you think you should.

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Again, probably due to the places we traveled, but I felt time and time again that we were met with a deep rooted hostility and unfriendliness towards travelers, which I think surprised me the most. I still want to go back for a longer period someday and give Thailand another chance, because there are so many places I would like to see within the country. However, from the amount of scams we found in Bangkok to having my money stolen on an overnight bus to the islands, I did not have the best of luck in Thailand.

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Anyway, without further ado, my fourth installation for Southeast Asia budgeting is Thailand! In Thailand I traveled to Bangkok (3 times!), Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Chiang Mai.

Note: All prices are in US dollars, and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy. 

The currency in Thailand is the Thai baht, and the conversion rate comes to about $1US = 33 baht

Time spent = 15 nights, 16 days

Accommodation = $67

Bangkok (round 1: 3 nights) = $6/night ($18 total) at Mom Guesthouse

Koh Tao (4 nights) =  $7/night ($28 total)

Bangkok (round 2: 1 day for sleeping) =$4.50 

Chiang Mai (5 nights) = $4.50 at Julie Guesthouse; $3/night ($12 total) at the guesthouse next door

We met an American woman on the bus ride to Bangkok from Siem Reap who was doing the Peace Core in the Phillipines, so we ended up all splitting a room between the three of us at a place called Mom Guesthouse since she was traveling by herself. Although cheap for Bangkok, I don’t think I would ever stay there again. It was right off Khao San Road, and you could literally feel the bass beats from the bar across the road vibrating your bed all night. Earplugs were of no use.

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We spent many a night “sleeping” (aka staring off into darkness listening to music for me as I can’t sleep on buses) on the sleeper buses. Almost every one we were on had a bus thief that stole everyone’s money while they were sleeping. I had my money stolen on my first sleeper bus in the country (and I was awake the whole time!), I caught a thief on my second bus and stopped him from stealing money from my neighbor. Note to anyone traveling on the buses in Thailand, never put your bags at your feet, even if you have blankets covering them. It is always wise to sleep with everything of value.

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In Koh Tao, we realized it was easiest to walk around from where the ferry lets you off, and try and find the cheapest place around. The taxi boats are expensive, and especially if you’re heading to the Full Moon Party from Koh Tao, it makes the most sense to stay near the docks. We opted to stay a little off the main road in a more hidden hotel, as we had heard that theft was quite common during the Full Moon Party when everyone was off the island for the night.

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We had to come back to Bangkok from the islands, as there wasn’t a direct bus to Chiang Mai in the North. We had a 12 hour layover, and we had both already had about enough of Bangkok, and were incredibly tired from not sleeping on the long journey from the Southern islands. We opted to splurge on a room, so we could get some sleep during the day before another sleeper bus that night. I would say it was the sketchiest place we’ve stayed as of yet, even in the daytime. Basically those places where only prostitutes go and people get murdered. Rooms just big enough to fit a creaky bed, no windows, and weird stains all over the creepy child cartoon sheets. But hey, it was cheap and a place to sleep, so we each took our own room and had a glorious nap.

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In Chiang Mai, we kept being recommended a place called Julie Guesthouse. It was the perfect backpacker hangout, with a cheap kitchen menu, day trips from the hostel, and decently sized and colorful rooms. However, since everyone recommends it, it is incredibly overcrowded and has some of the most unfriendly staff I’ve met in all of Asia. We only stayed there for a night, and opted to move to the quieter and cheaper place next door for our remaining time in Chiang Mai.

Transport = $144

Most of our transportation costs consisted of sleeper buses, ferries in the Southern islands, and a few taxis and tuk tuk rides around the town.

Food = $137

Free breakfast wasn’t included in any of the accommodations, and food ended up being pretty expensive in Thailand. Chiang Mai was the most affordable, but Khao San Road in Bangkok is so Westernized that it was hard to find authentic budget friendly food until we went over to Chinatown, and the islands were a bit pricey because most food is imported.

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Smoothies/juices = $29

I still kept my smoothie fiend reputation going in Thailand, although maybe a bit less so since they were more expensive and I spent far too much money on alcohol instead.

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Water (1500ml) = Around $0.50 each/$12.50 total for 25 bottles

Alcohol = $20? This amount could’ve been higher, but it was hard to keep track of expenses after your first bucket. Also, probably about half of my alcohol intake was bought for me, the plus side of going to as social a country as Thailand with so many fellow backpackers.

Thailand is the place to party, I will definitely give it that. From The Full Moon Party to endless buckets in Bangkok, it was a good time all around no matter where we traveled, and a very easy place to meet fellow travelers.

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Misc = $137.75

Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases:

  • Cooking class = $30
  • Postcard and stamps = $3
  • Tiger Kingdom = $19
  • Elephant Sanctuary = $15
  • Toiletries = $0.25
  • Temples = $3
  • Insects to eat on Khao San Road = $1.50
  • Full Moon Party attire = $6
  • Money stolen = $60

Including everything, I spent about $34 a day, or $547 total

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Overall, Thailand turned out to be one of the more expensive countries, as to be expected with the increase of tourism. I splurged on a few things such as the Full Moon Party, Tiger Kingdom, a cooking class, and the Elephant Sanctuary, but I also saved money where I could. I would’ve loved to have gone diving while I was in Koh Tao, but with a few more weeks of my travels to go, I thought it would be best to save my money and go diving when I went up the coast of Australia. Especially after my money was stolen halfway through my Thailand travels, I was conscious of tracking my expenses and saving where I could, and my budgeting turned out better than expected.

Learning how to cook in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Growing up, I’ve always loved cooking, and besides that one time I accidentally used the garlic olive oil to make box brownies, I’ve been a fairly decent cook in the past. Making pies and holiday treats with my mom is one of my favorite parts of the holidays, I used to be that girl in school who would bring bags of homemade cookies for her friends every Friday, and I’m that girlfriend who goes all out for anniversary dinners and birthdays. Taking culinary classes and learning about food culture at Apicius Culinary School in Florence, Italy for a month a couple summers ago amplified my curiosity about cooking even more, and is one of my most cherished life experiences.

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I have a passion for creating things, cooking is no exception. Therefore, I knew when I was planning my trip to Thailand, a cooking class would be high on my list of things to do, and it also helps that Thai food is one of my favorite types of food. I heard that Chiang Mai was the best place to the learn the ways of Thai cooking, so I started researching different cooking schools that would be the most all encompassing and still within my price range. The cooking school I chose and would highly recommend is Basil Cookery School.

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I chose to attend the morning class, but there’s also an evening class offered if you’re short on time or it works better for your schedule. The morning class includes transportation from your accommodation, 7 dishes (curry paste is one of those), and costs approximately US$30 or 1000 baht. The class goes from about 9am to 3pm, including a 1 hour break between the starters and the main course, and at the end you take away your own cookbook of the dishes you made for the day.

The instructor spoke perfect English, and was the right amount of sass and professionalism. The class size was small, manageable and everyone was friendly. The actual school, located in her home, is clean and well set-up, and it was cool to walk around a local Chiang Mai neighborhood that was void of tourists during our break.

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I was picked up by a tuk tuk from my hostel around 8:30am, there was one other girl already in the back from Taiwan, and we preceded to pick up a couple more people, including an English girl and a German, and traded our respective back stories on the bumpy ride. We were all handed a sheet of paper with the possible dishes we could make for the day, and were asked to circle one from each of the categories: curry, soup, stir-fried, appetizers, and desserts.

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After we made our selections, our first stop was a local market near the school, to grab fresh ingredients for our dishes. And when I say local market, I mean one where no one speaks English and you can pick your own live fish from a tub to take home. Our instructor gave us a run down of the ingredients we would be using for the day, and explained the major differences between Thai vegetables and their well known western counterparts. And let me tell you, Thai baby eggplant, looks and tastes nothing like western eggplant. Mind blown.

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After some time spent at the market, we all jumped back in the tuk tuk and made our way to the cooking school and got to work, the smells from the kitchen were already incredible. Throughout the day I made drunken noodles, panang curry paste and curry, hot and sour prawn soup, stir-fried minced pork with holy basil, fried spring rolls, and sweet sticky rice with mango. Everything was delicious, especially the panang curry and drunken noodles, two of my recent obsessions while in Thailand.

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The school is very much geared towards beginner cooks so it’s not a problem if you have no experience in the kitchen. One of the aspects I didn’t like as much about Basil, was the fact that all of the ingredients were already pretty much measured out and chopped up for us at the start of each dish, meaning we just had to cook it, add the right amount of spice,and we were done. Although, I do understand why this was so with time constraints and the amount of dishes we made. The only “hard work” we had to do was making the curry paste with a mortar and pestle by hand, but even that was actually pretty fun.

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I haven’t had a chance to make any of the dishes since arriving back in Australia, but I hope to start cooking again soon once I have some more free time, and I’ll have to report back if the dishes are just as good when made at home. Regardless, taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai was definitely one of my favorite and most delicious experiences in Thailand, and my travel companion was happy about the leftovers I brought back to our hostel later that night, so really, it was a win-win day.

Have you ever taken a cooking class in a foreign country? Image

We are infinite: living it up at the Full Moon Party

I woke up with a mischievous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Today was the day of one of the best parties for a backpacker to attend, the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan island in Thailand. I had been looking forward to this hedonistic rite of passage since I first started planning my travels in Southeast Asia, and I couldn’t wait to experience it full on.

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We brought as little with us as possible and hopped on the ferry from Koh Tao that afternoon. Once we arrived at Koh Phangan about an hour later, we attempted to walk to Haad Rin Beach, the location of the party, until we realized just how big of an island Koh Phangan is. We split a taxi with a surfer/diver Swedish guy we came across on the path, and were dropped into party central before nightfall.

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There was neon everywhere, I was in heaven as I like shiny and brightly colored things. I like to claim that it’s due to my sunny California girl disposition. In fact, if you look inside my wardrobe it is a rainbow of every imaginable color…but I digress.

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Needless to say, the Full Moon Party was my kind of party. Hippie backpackers everywhere with paint splattered on their bodies, huge fire jump ropes and fire slides for partygoers to test their luck with, every imaginable greasy food lining the sidewalks, buckets of alcohol with your choice of mixer, neon clothing, a beautiful location.

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No judgements, no questions, everyone there for the sole purpose of having the best night possible, I call it “that festival feeling”. It was a night I’ll not soon forget, from the people we met along the way, to the variety of music, to that feeling of being infinite with the full moon looking down on us on that beautiful Thai island, with the sand between our toes and a bucket in each hand singing along to our favorite songs of twenty-something year olds.

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The following are my tips for having the best night possible under the Full Moon, and let me just say, it’s worth the slightly exploitive prices, copious amounts of DayGlo, and neon to experience this party firsthand at least once in your lifetime.

Getting There

I would recommend getting down to the islands at least a couple days before the party, especially if you go during high season and you’re staying on another island other than Koh Phangan, because accommodation and ferry tickets sell out fast. We came all the way from Bangkok on the night bus and it was a very long trip and extremely early ferry ride.

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Also, the night buses to and from the island are notorious for having thieves on them. Laura and I both had our money stolen on the way down, and on the way up, I caught a thief in action stealing from my neighboring bus mate. Watch your things like a hawk, and get down a system to keep everything of value very close to you while you’re trying to sleep.

Accommodation

We decided to stay on the neighboring island of Koh Tao, mainly because we heard that accommodation would be more expensive on the party island, there are usually more break-ins when people are at the party, and it’s nicer to have a quiet place to go back to and recover from the festivities.

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I actually wish that we had just stayed on Koh Phangan though, even just for the convenience. In terms of saving money, it would’ve been about the same anyway because of the jacked up ferry prices during the week of the full moon. And due to our lack of time, we had to pull a Cinderella and leave behind the Irish guys we were still partying with at 7am, and whom we had hung out with for most of the night, in order to catch our pre-booked ferry at the dock. Luckily, we were able to meet up with them again a week later in Chiang Mai before we left for Vietnam.

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With that said, I don’t regret staying on Koh Tao, because it was a lovely smaller island to explore that was gorgeous in its own right, and we probably wouldn’t have had time to see it if we had just gone straight to the party island.

What to Bring

Bring as little as possible. I almost didn’t bring my camera for fear of it getting lost or dropped, and although it still has DayGlo stains on it, I don’t regret for a second capturing the madness of the Full Moon Party. Other than that, everything I brought could all fit into my clothes: money, tissue for byo toilet paper, ferry ticket, two tiny jars of DayGlo paint, and that was it.

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Being Aware

The Full Moon Party gets a bad rap because it has been known as a place where girls easily get drugged, date raped, and taken advantage of. On top of that, there are always going to be drunk people doing stupid things at these types of events, and especially when you have fire batons and jump ropes around it can get out of hand quick, but I never once feared for my safety.

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To be fair, I don’t think I would’ve gone to the Full Moon Party by myself, but even with someone else with me, it just takes a bit of common sense, and my general rule when I’m abroad, or even when I’m at home, of not getting so drunk that I can’t take care of myself. It only leads to a bad time.

My general rules are the standard ones: to always keep an eye on your drink, use your good judgement if you’re going off somewhere with a stranger, and don’t get yourself into any situation that you can’t get yourself out of. Not only did I not have one bad experience at the Full Moon Party, but I also had the most fun out of all of my Asian nights.

Budget

There’s no way to get around it, the Full Moon Party is expensive. The islands and the people putting it on will extort as much money from you as possible because it is the biggest party in Southeast Asia. Between the ferry tickets to and from, the drinks, food, DayGlo paint, and Full Moon tank top, it came out to be one of the most expensive experiences I had in Asia. Budget accordingly and expect for everything to cost money, even using the toilet.

They’ve also started charging for “tickets” onto the beach after a certain time (generally after dark), but Laura and I were somehow able to find ways in that avoided the ticket takers.

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Lastly, don’t forget to have fun and to lose yourself in the festivities. It is one crazy neon glow ride that is worth experiencing, and it is one of those times in life that you’ll remember as the epitome of what it means to be young and free. Don’t lose that feeling.

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