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Life’s a beach in Koh Tao

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Over the past few years, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to take a vacation. You might be thinking ‘Aren’t you always on vacation?’, but the truth is, that no matter where in the world I am, I always find myself working. Writing articles, answering emails, working on freelance projects, pitching ideas, being active on social media, dealing with the technical side of running an online business, and so on. I am always connected, always checking my emails, and a true vacation is rare.koh tao sunsetSo when I welcomed my first visitor to Thailand and her visit was 100% vacation time for her, I saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to get some R&R, too, instead of working on my laptop until I fall asleep with my head on the keyboard (happens more often than I’d like to admit). The plan was to take some time off together, to splurge on tasty food, take time to relax and to explore together, lay on the beach and enjoy sunset beers.koh tao sairee beachAnd Koh Tao turned out to be the perfect place to do exactly that. I’d long wanted to visit Koh Tao, the smallest of the three most popular islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It is less touristy than the other two (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan), known for great snorkeling and diving spots, pristine beaches and a clientele of independent and younger travelers. While Samui largely attracts a resort clientele and Phangan is the backpackers haven with now not only a full moon party but also a half moon party, black moon party and I’m sure several other moons to celebrate, Koh Tao attracts mainly divers as it is known to be home to some of the best diving sites in South East Asia.koh tao boatWhile I still don’t feel the slightest urge to try diving, good diving usually means good snorkeling, which is what I wanted to do. Other than that, I had no plans whatsoever. I was going to experience the island just like everyone else who gets off one of the four ferries that arrive in Koh Tao every day.
koh tao sunset palm treeAnd I couldn’t have chosen a better place for an island getaway. My days in Koh Tao are a blur of beaches, snorkeling, sunsets, good meals and, yes, occasionally typing away on my laptop in offices like this one:koh tao beach viewMy friend Alex had recommended we’d stay in Sairee Beach, the longest stretch of sand beach on Koh Tao (1.2 miles /1.7km) long, because there, you don’t need transportation to get around, unless you want to see other beaches on the island. For that, there are taxi boats conveniently waiting in the bay for you, and you have plenty of restaurants and bars lining the beach to pick a different one each day. It’s the perfect spot if you want to be right on a beach and have something going on all the time. The only other beach that is similarly busy, but smaller, is Freedom Beach in the south of the island.
koh tao beachIf you prefer a quieter place and don’t mind renting a scooter to get around, there are smaller beaches like Hin Wong Bay and June Juea Bay and plenty of hotels and bungalow resorts scattered across the island, most of them perched on the side of the steep hills that form Koh Tao.
serendipity bar koh taoAs I’ve already mentioned, most people come here to dive and to take dive master courses, and there are around 40 diving schools on the island now. I saw several packages for dive courses including accommodation for around 8,000 baht (around US$224) which is a great deal – and another reason why Koh Tao attracts so many divers, in addition to its many dive sites.
koh tao fishFor people like me who prefer to stay above water, there are plenty of snorkeling tours on offer – they usually last all day, circumnavigate the island and include 4 or 5 stops, one of which is the famous Koh Nangyuan, the sight that adorns most of Koh Tao’s postcards and is probably the most photographed spot on the island.
koh tao islandOn my snorkeling tour, we stopped at Shark Bay where I didn’t see any sharks but a sea turtle (which would’ve compensated for not seeing a shark had I not just snorkeled with turtles in Apo Island, hence I was a bit disappointed), followed by a stop in another bay in the southwest, Mango Bay in the north and finally Koh Nangyuan.
koh tao fishI knew that this tiny islet which is home to only one resort would be touristy, but seeing hundred of tourists lining the pier and the small stretch of beach in between the two rocks was still a shock, especially because Koh Tao just didn’t seem all that busy.
koh tao islandNonetheless, Koh Nangyan is a spectacular sight, and I am glad that I braved the heat and scrambled up the million steps and the rocks to the viewpoint overlooking it all before snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.
dani underwaterMy favorite beach for snorkeling turned out to be something completely different though, Tanote Beach, a little bay in the southwest of the island, which we stumbled upon when we explored the island with an ATV. Within the first five minutes of being in the water I had already seen more fish than on most of the stops during the snorkeling tour (okay, I might exaggerate slightly here). But it was glorious to snorkel on a fairly empty beach without any boats in the bay and Asian tour groups following their guides in the water on long leashes. There are a couple of beach bars like Poseidon or Mountain Reef where you get drinks and food and also rent snorkeling equipment, swing in a hammock or get a Thai message.
koh tao sunset chang thailandBe warned though, the drive down the steep hills to get here was not easy on the ATV, so I can only assume that tackling this road on a scooter is even more nerve-wracking, especially on the way up (I am talking about 90 degree inclines).
koh tao viewRenting a scooter or an ATV is something I’d definitely recommend to see Koh Tao – if you start early, you can even see the entire island in one day, beach stops and various viewpoints included.
dani atv koh taoOur favorite stops of the day were the ‘I love Koh Tao’ viewpoint (I am not sure if it is known by another name) and the Dusat Buncha beach resort viewpoint right across from Koh Nangyan. If you have snorkeling gear, make sure to bring it, as there is a small but fantastic snorkeling area to which non-resort guests have access. (If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent it there for 100THB).
koh tao daniIf you don’t want to rent a scooter, you can take a cab to most beaches, and taxi boats to the ones with limited road access. One day, we took a boat to Sai Nuan Beach where we snorkeled until the sun went down, followed by our daily ritual of sunset drinks, that night at Banana Rock Bar, one of the most scenic bars on the island, set on stilts above the water with perfect sunset vistas.sunset loversThe thing that surprised me the most was just how many restaurant there were on the island, especially in Sairee – and almost of them serving finger licking good food. From beach side restaurants that serve fresh fish straight from the BBQ every night to impressive Italian cuisine and fancy tapas dishes and authentic Indian food, there’s almost nothing you can’t get in Koh Tao.
Koh Tao FoodAs soon as the sun goes down, the fire dancers come out, entertaining the crowds in the beach bars with their jaw-dropping skills – I mean, just look at this:koh tao fire dancerSeveral bars like the Sunset Bar, Next2, Fizz or The Rock have DJs playing and it never takes long until people start dancing on the beach.koh tao fire dancersKoh Tao is the perfect place for an island getaway, no matter if you dive or not. Bring a book, swing in a hammock, laze at the beach and just enjoy this little bubble far off the craziness of Phuket or Phi Phi, and trust me – you’ll have a hard time leaving.
koh tao sairee beach

Practical information:

The fastest way to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok is Nok Air’s plane and ferry ticket (starting at BHT1,800 / US$50 for a return ticket). There is no airport on Koh Tao, the closest one is on Koh Samui or in Chumphon. From both places you’ll have to take a ferry, and from the airport on the mainland it takes about 90 minutes to reach the pier. Note: Nok Air leaves from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, not from Suvarnabhumi.

The other option would be taking the bus from Bangkok to the ferry, or the train. If you’re taking the bus, there are also ferry and bus combo tickets, especially around Kao San Road.
Koh Tao ThailandDiving

You can sign up for a dive course before you get there or just check out the various schools and their packages when you arrive on the island. To get an idea of just how many dive schools there are on Koh Tao, check out this comprehensive list on Wikitravel.

Snorkeling

The cheapest snorkeling day trip I found was at AC resort in Sairee – 600 Baht per person. Most other places charge 750. All trips include water, coffee, tea, fruit and lunch.
Koh Tao snorkeling fish turtle

Where to eat

If you love Thai food, you will have a hard time finding a place that serves bad food! Even the small cheapie road side stands make good Thai dishes, but most restaurants don’t charge more than 100 baht for a Thai meal. Fresh fish from the BBQ ranges from 150 to 450 baht.

Fancier restaurants with western dishes usually charge 150 – 300 baht per dish. Barracuda was a nice splurge with good non-Thai vegetarian options, and Zest was my favorite spot for breakfasts but they also make excellent salads and sandwiches.

And then there are of course all the banana roti vendors – which might have become a daily ritual during my stay on the island. To see what I mean, take a look at my Koh Tao video:

Serendipity is a great spot to watch the sunset with drinks and food (set high on a hilltop, with views over Sairee Beach), as is the Dusit Buncha restaurant (facing Koh Nangyuan). There are several other viewpoint restaurants on the road to Mae Haad.

I also liked the vibe at the InTouch restaurant at the southern end of Sairee Beach, but most of the bars along the beach are good.. Pick one and enjoy the views 🙂koh tao sunset

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Please don’t go to… Koh Poda, Thailand

koh Poda boat

Do you remember when I asked you not to go to Todos Santos, Guatemala? Or Samara in Costa Rica? Valladolid in Mexico? It has been a while since I found a place that I wanted to keep all to myself, but when I stumbled across Koh Poda, it took me only a few steps along the white soft sand to realize I had found another little gem that I didn’t want to share with anyone. But you guys belong to my inner circle, so how could I not share this with you:koh poda beachAnd you’ll keep this little secret to yourselves, right?   So how did I find this tiny paradise? Krabi is the one coastal region in Thailand that everybody is raving about. I’d been to Krabi before, but it was shortly after getting scammed in Bangkok, and my mindset was just not right at the time, I was prepared to dislike everything about Thailand, and being ripped off right upon arriving in Krabi didn’t help. Beyond Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, I didn’t see much of the area back then – and admittedly, I didn’t love any of the islands I visited. On the contrary: I found Koh Phi Phi smelly and crowded, Phuket seedy and dirty, and our trip to the famous Maya Bay extremely disappointing. I had always seen stunning photos of the imposing limestone cliffs around the beaches of Railay and Tonsai and heard good things about Ao Nang. I owed Krabi a second chance and this year, I made it part of my Thailand itinerary to return to the Andaman Sea. koh poda longtail boatsBut when me and my travel buddy arrived in Ao Nang, neither one of us was very impressed. The beach looked nice but smelled of sewage, and walking by a canal that I am sure holds all of Ao Nang’s wastewater caused me nausea every time we passed it. Right next to it, there was even some kind of landfill where garbage was left to rot in the sun. On the other side of the canal, there were several restaurants – we couldn’t even bare the thought of eating in any of them, so close to the horrendous smell.

ao nang garbage
The not-so-pretty side of Ao Nang

So the next day, we hopped straight onto a long tail boat to Railay, excited to finally hit a dream beach. And again, while it looked pretty nice, it didn’t wow us. We didn’t even feel like going into the water because the bay was filled with long tail boats that were blowing their fumes into the air and water, and it was so stony that walking into the water required zigzagging around rocks and pebbles.railay beach thailandWe decided to go for lunch and a drink instead, but the prices at the beachfront restaurants (which I believe all belong to resorts) were so outrageously steep, that this wasn’t much fun either. I was aware that Railay would be more expensive because it is only accessible by boat, but if a simple Pad Thai is more expensive than in New York City, something is off. In general, prices for accommodation, food and drinks were considerably higher than in Koh Tao for example – often twice as much. I don’t mind paying more if the quality is better but not a single dish I had in eight days around Ao Nang and Railay was memorable.   andaman sea islands near railayBefore giving up on Krabi, we decided to email a tour company that advertised private island tours, and whose contact form was titled ‘Tell us what your dream is‘. The dream was, we wrote, to spend a day on an island with no tourist crowds, no tour groups, simply a small secluded beach. The email that came back was disheartening: such a thing didn’t exist in this part of Thailand, they wrote. Were there really no secluded dream beaches anymore?

ao nang sunset thailand
The pretty side of Ao Nang

Our last try would be a boat trip out to the islands we could see scattered across the Andaman Sea on the horizon and for which day trips were offered in the small travel agencies and along the beaches of Ao Nang. After a quick Google search about the various islands, we opted for a combined snorkeling trip of Chicken Island and Poda Island, just for the two of us.

chicken island
Any guesses why this is called Chicken Island? :)

And finally, when I least expected it, there it was. The Thai island paradise I had dreamed of. Crystal clear water and wide, white deserted sand beaches.koh poda beach coconutTo be honest, I didn’t think this would happen when we first approached Koh Poda and around 20 long tail boats and speed boats lined the shores of the tiny island. Hordes of tourists were swimming in the shallow water around the boats, taking selfies, the beach filled with beach towels in bright colors.koh poda touristsWe walked down the beach, away from the boats and the crowds, and the unthinkable happened: suddenly, we weren’t surrounded by people anymore. No more boats. Just crystal clear turquoise water, an empty beach, and the occasional sun seeker hidden between trees or tree trunks. It felt glorious.koh poda beach thailandI couldn’t believe that the island didn’t have hotels or resorts on it, because the grassy space behind the beach would be perfect for it, and you could get here easily in twenty minutes from Ao Nang.

koh poda palm trees
The perfect place for some beach side bungalows. However, I hope the island will remain uninhabited.

Other than a tiny hut selling cold drinks and snacks near the boat landing, there was no restaurant. And the further you walked away from the boats, the more the island felt like a completely deserted Robinson Crusoe island. koh poda shellI wished we could have spent the night but we were not prepared and didn’t bring any food or even a change of clothes. I am not sure if camping is officially allowed there, but when we followed the path through the woods, we saw several extinguished campfires and other signs of overnight camping.koh poda longtail boatsI was so thrilled to have finally found the paradise island I’d been looking for all over Thailand, that I didn’t want the day to end.D & J in Koh PodaI think the photos show why I don’t want to share the island with anyone, but there are some other reasons why I’d like to keep Koh Poda to myself: While I thought Koh Poda was stunningly beautiful, I found the amount of garbage on the tiny island disturbing, especially considering that it is such a popular day trip destination (most boats seem to anchor for 30 minutes to an hour and then move on to the next place, as part of an island hopping trip). And I don’t want this little paradise to turn into another Ao Nang.koh poda boat thailandWhen people spend the night in such a paradise, why can’t they take their garbage home with them? Why would they not want the island to stay in a gorgeous state so that other people can enjoy it too? I simply cannot understand how tourists can just pile up garbage in such a pristine place and leave, but the overnight campers seemed to think differently.

koh poda trash
Even paradise comes with a downside..

Also: Koh Poda is a designated National Park, so why does nobody clear the garbage on the island? Wouldn’t the people who are in charge here want it to stay as jaw-dropping as it is, for the hundreds of people that come and visit it every day? We were charged an admission fee of THB200 (about US$5.88) each when we came on a private boat and THB50 (US$1.47) when we came back on a shared long tail boat the next day, so one would think enough money is collected every day to be able to employ someone who cleans the entire beach, and not just the tiny part where the boats arrive and the majority of people stay during their visit (I assume that this part is cleaned every day, but I don’t know for sure).koh poda thailandIn addition to the garbage, the damages of the 2004 Tsunami are still visible everywhere. There’s not a single palm tree left on the beach, dozens of massive tree trunks line the beach, making it even impossible to walk the entire length of the beach during high tide (there is a forest path though, and you can climb over most of the tree trunks). It gave me shivers to see how much damage the tsunami caused, still so prevalent on this tiny rock, more than a decade after it happened. I found myself wondering about the lack of clean-up here too, not sure why the tour operators wouldn’t get rid of these nuisances along the otherwise picture-perfect beach.koh poda tree trunks and beachDespite the garbage and the tsunami damage, Koh Poda was such a dream destination for us that we decided to return the next day. One day was just not enough.
koh poda daniAnd so the next day, we hopped onto another long-tail boat and set off again to spend another day in paradise. koh poda water thailandI don’t know what will happen to Koh Poda – seeing how developed the Krabi area is, I would be surprised if it stayed resort or hotel-free forever. And that’s why I ask you: Please don’t go to Koh Poda. (But if you do, don’t forget to take your garbage back with you.)Koh Poda Island FunHave you found a dream beach in Thailand? If so, feel free to share it with me in the comments below…

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Paws, whiskers and cappuccinos: Scenes from Bangkok’s Cat Cafe

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Confession: I am a crazy cat lady. Even though I’ve grown to love dogs over the past few years and am now at the point where can’t see myself not having a dog once I put my backpack down and settle somewhere, I still adore cats. No matter how bitchy and grumpy and diva-ish they are, I love their distinctive cat personalities and they make me happy.bangkok cat cafe dani crazy cat ladyAnyone who has ever traveled with me will confirm that I can’t walk by a cat without petting it (I go through a lot of hand sanitizer 😉 ) and I don’t even want to know how many out of the over 100,000 photos I’ve taken in the past five years of travel feature cats. Places like Malaysia, Turkey, Italy or Buenos Aires, where there are a lot of cats around, make me happy. All I wanted for my birthday in Argentina a few years back was spending time in the Botanical Gardens in Buenos Aires, which is home to dozens of stray cats.bangkok cat cafeAnd for years I have been wanting to visit a cat café. These cafes, in which you basically hang out with a bunch of cats while having coffee, originated in Taiwan where the first cat café opened in 1998, and has since grown across Asia – especially in Japan, where there are more than 150 cat cafes, and South Korea, since in both countries most landlords don’t allow pets in their buildings. So if you want to cuddle with a cat, a cat café is the easiest way to get your cat fix.bangkok cat cafeJust before I arrived in Bangkok, I stumbled upon a blog post that mentioned a cat café in Bangkok – and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was in dire need of some cat love at the time, and so I headed straight to the neighborhood where the cat café was located. After a disappointing experience at a ‘cat café’ in Berlin last year (there were only two cats that were hiding the whole time, and the coffee maker didn’t work. So much for cats & coffee!) I tried to keep my expectations low, but I didn’t have anything to worry about.bangkok cat cafepurr cat cafeThe Purr Cat Café is exactly what you picture when you think ‘Cat Café’: a cozy place filled with gorgeous cats, some more interested in guests than others, but all fun to watch.

bangkok purr cat cafepurr cat cafeUpon arriving I had to remove my shoes and put on slippers that are provided and wash my hands in the reception area before I was allowed to enter the café. I didn’t know what caught my attention more – the delicious-looking cat-themed cakes or all the fluffy Main Coon cats. I was in cat heaven.bangkok cat cafebangkok purr cat cafeI chose one of the low tables and sat down on the carpet, and took in the cat action around me. The café comes with rules – guests are not allowed to pick cats up for example, or wake them up when they’re sleeping – but there are enough cats that are willing to share your coffee with you (just kidding, feeding them is not allowed) and to entertain you.bangkok cat cafeAnd that’s exactly what I did: I sat, watched, played, cuddled, photographed.. and by the time I left the cafe, my bad mood was completely gone. But how could these beautiful creatures not cheer one up, right?bangkok cat cafeWhat surprised me was that the clientele of the café was not at all female-dominated – there were several men who were just as much into the cats as the girls were.bangkok cat cafeFor true cat lovers there is a small shop next to the cafe where you can buy cat-themed gifts and souvenirs – but luckily my cat craziness hasn’t reached that stage yet. I know, however, that I’ll be back at Purr Cat Cafe Club the next time I am in Bangkok – and that I will also visit the cats at Caturday Cafe, Bangkok’s other cat cafe.bangkok cat cafebangkok cat cafe beautiesbangkok cat cafe

Practical Information

Address: 63 Soi Sukhumvit 53, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok (a 10 minute walk from Thong Lo BTS Station)

Cost: Admission is free, drinks and food are a little pricier than in other cafes (starting at around THB100) but it is money well spent.

If you are not planning a trip to Bangkok any time soon but would still like to get your cat fix, fear not: you can find Purr Cat Café Club on Facebook and Instagram.purr cat cafeCats at Purr Cat Cafe Bangkokbangkok cat cafeHave you visited a cat or dog cafe? Would you include one in your travel itinerary, or does cat hair with a slice of cake not sound very appealing to you?

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Polaroid Of The Week: Bangkok’s Concrete Jungle

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polaroid of the week Thailand Bangkok Skyline

I noticed that despite having spent several weeks in Bangkok over the past few months (when I add up the days of my various stays, including the involuntarily longer one), it has never been featured as a Polaroid Of The Week! I’ve also noticed the city’s slogan City Of Life for the first time on my last visit, and thought that while it wasn’t very creative, it’s definitely true… Bangkok just feels incredibly alive and buzzing with life at any time of day. And since it’s my last stop in Thailand before my return to Hong Kong, I figured I should give Bangkok a shout-out – I’ve been having a great time every time I visited this year (excluded are visits to the German Embassy) and have grown to like the city much more than I used to.

It’s still not my favorite city in the world, but every time I came here, I enjoyed creature comforts like watching a movie in one of the many brand new cinemas, having excellent coffee (something I don’t take for granted anymore, after being served instant coffee even in 4* hotels!), paying too much money to satisfy cravings for my favorite Western food (or Garrett’s Popcorn!), joining the hipster crowd for a Sunday afternoon market stroll or going for a morning run (admittedly though more often in an air-conditioned hotel gym instead the 100°F / 38°C outdoor temperatures). I also started a quest to find the city’s rooftop bar with the best views and the best boutique hotel for a splurge – and I’ll be writing about all these things shortly.

Apologies for the silence on the blog this week; I’ll be back with articles from three different countries next week!

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Polaroid of the week: Koh Poda, my island paradise in Thailand

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polaroid of the week thailand koh podaI finally returned to the Krabi area, a region of Thailand famous for the limestone cliffs which dramatically raise behind most of the beaches along the coast of the Andaman Sea.

I visited Krabi in 2012, when I found the islands a little too touristy (with the exception of Koh Lanta). This time around, I wanted to see some of the beaches that people rave about that I never made it to, like Tonsai and Railay. While I wasn’t too impressed with these two beaches to be honest, I loved the dreamy island of Koh Poda, where a long stretch of powdery sand won me over and I couldn’t get enough of the warm, shallow and crystal clear water. I could have spent an entire week on this tiny island, completely off the grid, and even though I read somewhere that there was one resort on the island, I never saw it. Other than a litte kiosk there was nothing on the island – just this glorious beach and some island hoppers.

I finally found a true beach paradise in Thailand – I couldn’t have asked for a better place to end my beach hopping tour around South East Asia! After months of island hopping in the Philippines, beach sunsets, lazy beach days in Thailand and Cambodia, I’ve got only a couple of more stops before I am leaving this part of the world… I have to admit that I am not ready at all, but if everything goes according to plan, I will be back later this year. Expect a full post on Koh Poda soon.

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Polaroid of the week: Sunset in Koh Chang, Thailand

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polaroid of the week thailand koh chang sunsetI had originally planned to travel straight from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Bangkok, but decided on a whim to break up the trip and spend a few days in Koh Chang, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand just north of the border with Cambodia (there are actually two Koh Changs in Thailand, the other one located in the Andaman Sea, close to the border with Myanmar). Not only would I get to check out another Thai island, but I’d also squeeze in a few more beach days before returning to loud and congested Bangkok.

I didn’t have any expectations for Koh Chang, and to be honest, didn’t know all too much about the island, so I was curious to see how Koh Chang compared to the islands in the Andaman Sea and the other islands I’d visited in the Gulf (Koh Tao and Koh Phangan). And I didn’t regret my decision to make the detour to Koh Chang – on the contrary, it was love at first sight! From the moment I stepped off the ferry just in time to see the first of several breathtaking sunsets to the early morning I waved goodbye to Koh Chang as the car ferry moved further and further away from the shore, I was walking on sunshine (quite literally).

I didn’t get to see as much of the island as I would’ve liked, but the beaches I saw made me long for more – I will definitely be back. I stayed in Lonely Beach in the south west of Koh Chang, a beach whose lonely days are long gone, but nonetheless I enjoyed the chilled vibe there as it was never crowded or busy. Apparently, Lonely Beach is the party central of the island. However, I didn’t notice any parties while I was there – maybe my bungalow was too far away from it all. I didn’t come to Koh Chang to party anyway, but to soak up some sun and dig my toes into the sand, knowing that this would be one of the last few islands I’d visit on my Asia stint, as my time here is (already!) coming to an end this month.

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Life lately and upcoming travels: March 2015 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, what’s new with Globetrottergirls.com, what’s next for me and the most popular posts of the last month.

Where I’ve been

This month didn’t go as planned – I wasn’t allowed to travel to Indonesia, spent more time in Thailand than I had originally planned, and unexpectedly found myself in Cambodia! Let’s start with the good, before we get to the bad and the ugly.

I started the month traveling with someone and am finishing the month traveling with someone – and was supposed to travel with another friend in between, but that didn’t happen. More on that whole fiasco in a bit. The best part of the month was playing tour guide and showing off some of my favorite places in Thailand. I love showing people how easy and inexpensive independent travel can be and this trip was no different. Almost everything was smooth sailing, except for a horrible case of food poisoning in Bangkok that knocked me out for more than one entire day.

March 2015 Travels
Clockwise, starting u.l.: Siem Reap & Shokha Beach, Cambodia, Koh Chang and Bangkok, Thailand

I started the month in Chiang Mai, moved on to Bangkok where I ended up being stuck for over a week, followed by a whirlwind tour of my favorite places in Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot, Otres Beach), and returned to Bangkok via Koh Chang, an island that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. I stayed in Lonely Beach in Koh Chang (which turned out to be anything but lonely!) and loved my days on the island, making me wish I would’ve had more time there, but my friend was waiting to be picked up at the airport in Bangkok. I’ll be back to explore more of Koh Chang for sure. Returning to Cambodia was such a treat – I had been skeptical if I would still love it as much as I did the first time around, but I had nothing to worry about. My deep love for Cambodia was the same, and I might even have fallen more in love with the country during this visit, if that’s possible at all.March 2015 Cambodia and Thailand

What went well

Work & travel balance
Even though I traveled A LOT this month, I got a huge amount of work done. Whenever I was in transit, I used the time to write, no matter if I was on a bus, ferry, plane, or minivan.

Digital nomad offices March 2015
Some of the offices I had the pleasure to work in this month

Making time to relax
I’ve had the hardest time over the past few months allowing myself to relax. I kept going, going, going or working till late into the night – this month I actually managed to read book and allowed myself some beach time. It felt glorious.sunset reading koh chang

Revisiting Cambodia
As I already said – I loved being back in Cambodia, despite not having any plans to go there in the first place. I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better place to get over the debacle that kept me from going to Indonesia. And after spending a couple of weeks in Cambodia, I can only say that it still is one of my favorite countries in the world and I found myself walking around with a big smile on my face every single day there. I didn’t do much except for wandering the towns I stopped at, had good food, cycled through the countryside and visited the PHARE Circus in Siem Reap (pictured below), a wonderful non-profit organization that helps local artists to develop successful circus careers. I’ll be writing more about Phare shortly.cambodia 2015

What went wrong

Not visiting Indonesia
My biggest travel fail in years. And I was supposed to meet a good friend there to celebrate her birthday together (she’d flown all the way from Germany to spend her vacation with me) – I still feel horrible for standing her up.

Why did I not go?

The passport fiasco
I was at the AirAsia check-in desk at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, ready to check in for my flight to Denpasar, Bali. I didn’t even realize at first that the clerk had cancelled my ticket after saying ‘Indonesia might not let you in. Passport damaged’. But when he handed me a receipt which stated my flight details and had ‘cancelled’ handwritten in large letters on it, it began to dawn on me that he was for real. ‘No!’, I yelled at him, ‘I have to get on this plane! Someone’s waiting for me in Indonesia!’ All I got from him was a stern look and the request to move out of the way so that the next customer could proceed. Long story short- after a frustrating talk with the supervisor, Thai immigration inspecting the state of my passport and some shed tears, I was on my way to the German embassy to have my passport replaced, which means in my case a temporary passport that makes it incredibly difficult to travel around, since it is not biometric. I have to apply for a visa for pretty much any place I’d like to travel to. Even if my friend would have been in Bali longer I wouldn’t have made it there in time to see her, and so my Indonesia plans are put on hold for now.

Let’s talk about my passport for a minute: yes, it is probably more used than after passports, after nearly five years of traveling full-time with me, but I also want to point out that I’d taken 13 flights this year already, including in Europe, and was never told that my passport might be an issue to enter a country. As soon as I get my new passport though I will buy a passport holder, that’s for sure. (You’d do the same after being yelled at by a German government official for being careless with an official travel document, trust me.)

passport
Please note that the corners were cut off by the embassy to mark it invalid, that wasn’t me. If you still think that my old passport was in a horrible state, feel free to yell at me in the comments.

Food poisoning
This was the third time on my travels that I didn’t get food poisoning from a dodgy street food cart but from a fancy establishment! This time it happened at the Grand Central VIP movie theater, where 700 baht buy you not only a movie ticket for a smaller, more intimate movie theater with reclining seats, blankets and waiting service throughout the movie (unlimited refills on popcorn and soft drinks), but also access to a fancy lounge with a buffet 1 hour before the movie starts. In theory, the perfect way to spoil yourself after touring Thailand and before a day of exploring Ayutthaya – in reality though, for me the day ended over the toilet, throwing up all the food I had at the buffet, and with a seriously upset stomach. Cycling around the ruins of Ayutthaya the next day? Unthinkable.

kampot food
Pictured is not the food that caused me to nearly die, but a delicious vegetarian Cambodian amok. Enjoyed without any uncomfortable side effects.

Power-less in Cambodia
Picture this: you are in a sweltering heat of 100F /38C, and the only reason you survive is thanks to the air conditioned cafes around town. The power goes out. No air conditioning, no fans, nothing. That’s what happened to me in Siem Reap, just as I was about to eat dinner. It turned out to be the sweatiest meal of my life – my clothes were soaking wet by the time I finished my meal. Luckily I found a restaurant with a generator so that they could run their fans but once they closed, I had to return to my hotel which was still without power. So were my laptop, iPod and iPhone. The room was like a sauna. The entire street was pitch black. Just as I was about to die (no, I am not being overly dramatic here at all), the power came back on. ‘Welcome to the third world’, read the text my friend Carla sent me in reply to me outlining the misery I had gone through the previous night.

siem reap market
I took this photo on said day in Siem Reap’s market. Meat eaters: can you explain to me how fresh meat doesn’t go bad in over 100F/38C temperatures without being cooled?

Drama in Bangkok
After an embarrassing breakdown in Bangkok at the beginning of the month (we’re talking about a full-on drama scene in front of hotel staff, other guests and my temporary globetrottergirl) because of another WiFi incident and a consequently nearly missed deadline for a freelance article I was ready to give up this nomadic life. I couldn’t understand how I ended up in a hotel where the WiFi didn’t work again (the same happened last month!) – in no less than three different rooms, and in Bangkok of all places. Clearly, some higher power was telling me that this whole digital nomad life wasn’t for me?

Bangkok 2015
Other than the WiFi incident, my stay in Bangkok was rather pleasant and involved local markets, cats and penises. No worries – I’ll tell you more about it soon.

Lessons learned

From the aforementioned incident I can only say: my own fault for waiting until the very last minute to submit my article. Don’t wait until the very end to deliver on work commitments. You might think I would have learned that by now, but clearly, I always need some sort of drama in my life.

From the passport fiasco: take better care of my passport, obviously. While I might not care about what condition it is in, the immigration officials in this world do.

Don’t travel on a tourist shuttle
I don’t even know why I booked a direct transfer from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Koh Chang, Thailand. I’ve not used a single tourist shuttle since I got to Asia, always traveling independently from place to place, using public transportation. I ended up taking twice as long and paid nearly double of what it would have cost me to organize my own transportation, and ended up still changing from a bus at the border into a minivan into a shared pickup truck onto a ferry into a taxi – exactly what I would’ve done independently, but as I said, for half the money and without hour-long waits for the vans to fill up.

koh chang monkeys
Monkeys on Koh Chang. I am fairly sure they didn’t arrive by tourist shuttle.

Lessons taught

I thought I should include this category this month because traveling with other people has had me teach them a few lessons actually, including:

  • How not to get ripped off by Bangkok cab drivers
  • How to find the best deals for hotels
  • How to find out if a hotel is really as decent as it looks in the pictures
  • How to find out what’s the right fare for tuktuks, cabs and other transportation that is not clearly stated on official fare signs
  • How to find cheap flights around south east Asia

If you’d like to know more about any of these things, leave a comment and I will turn it into a full post.

bangkok royal palace
The Royal Palace in Bangkok – visited without being scammed by tuktuk drivers or taxi drivers.

What’s next for me

Another month, another visitor! My friend was dying to spend her birthday on a beach, so why not come and see me in Thailand, right? ☺️

I am spending another ten days in Thailand before my Asia stint comes to full circle in Hong Kong mid-April. I am getting ready for my return to the U.S. which I’ve already hinted on in this article last month, but since I’m still in the planning stages of my exact whereabouts for the first few weeks (guess what – it’s NOT New York!), I’ll wait till next month to share the details with you. Now I only have to keep my fingers crossed for my new passport to be ready in time for me to catch my flight – I have about ten days in Germany at the end of April to apply for a new passport, have the details on my plane ticket changed (it was issued to my old passport number) and get a new ESTA visa waiver. Wish me luck that I’ll be sending my next update as I am on my way to the U.S.!

ao nang boats
Ao Nang, Thailand, where I am writing this. I still have a few more days in this beautiful part of the country.

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Polaroid of the week: Temple Hopping in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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polaroid of the week thailand chiang mai monthian templeWhen I left Chiang Mai earlier this week, all I could think was: This visit was far too short! And short it sure was, just a whirlwind tour around the city in which I spent most of my time during my last Thailand stint, and for which I had big plans – they pretty much all involved food, eating my way through all my favorite eateries and check out new ones. But instead, we spent most of our time temple hopping around the city (did you know that there are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai? And no two are alike!), shopping for gifts and souvenirs in the weekend markets, cycling around the city, watching lady boy cabarets, and we spent a whole day with the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park, which has been a highlight of my time in Thailand so far.

The temple pictured, Wat Monthiang, is located on the northern end the square that marks Chiang Mai’s old town, bordered by a 6.5kilometer long moat. While it is still in the Old Town, it somehow is not part of the tourist circuit, even though it has a giant golden Buddha statue right next to the temple, and the temple itself has an elaborate burgundy and golden color scheme which makes it one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Mai, at least in my opinion. If you check it out when you are in Chiang Mai, make sure to also visit Wat Lok Moli, just across the moat from Wat Monthiang, which is one of the older temples in the city and still has a large ancient brick chedi (stupa) behind the temple, dating back to the 14th century.

Other than being too short (and too hot, considering it was 38C / 100F every single day!), our time in Chiang Mai was perfect – great food, amazing coffee (much needed after mediocre island coffee shops!), heartwarming encounters with the elephants, a shopping spree and rediscovering what makes this northern Thai city so special.

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Polaroid of the week: Lazy beach days in Koh Tao, Thailand

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polaroid of the week thailand koh taoI’ve arrived in Thailand and it’s so good to be back here! I only interrupted my island hopping mission briefly for a quick visit to Bangkok before I moved on to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

I finally visited Koh Tao, an island that has been high on my ‘Thai islands I need to go to‘ list for years. I have to admit that during my last Asia stint, I was a bit lukewarm on Thai islands; I just didn’t happen to visit one that I truly loved, and other countries in South East Asia just happened to be more beautiful islands (at least in my opinion), plus I was spoiled having spent so much time in the Caribbean prior to my first trip to Asia.

However, I had high hopes for Koh Tao, the smallest one of the three famous islands in the Gulf of Thailand (the other two being Koh Phangan and Koh Samui), and it did not disappoint. Admittedly, I wasn’t wowed by any of the beaches but I could’ve guessed that, coming from the Philippines where I visited some of the best beaches I’ve ever been to (I mean.. Look at these photos!) and any beach in the world would’ve had a hard time to impress me after the jaw-droppingly gorgeous beaches of Boracay, El Nido or Siquijor.

That said, I still loved my time on Koh Tao and the island’s beaches certainly don’t suck, as you can see in the photo above or in this one here.

Koh Nuan Yang, pictured, is the most famous landmark of Koh Tao, and appears on most of the postcards of the island, even though it is actually not on Koh Tao itself, but a short boat ride from its shores. You can get there by taxi boat, which are probably the most common form of transportation in Koh Tao, bringing tourists to and from the small beaches and bays on the island that are easiest to get to by boat, and to Koh Nuan Yang, visited by almost everyone who goes to Koh Tao at least once because of its excellent snorkeling conditions.

Koh Tao was the perfect place to kick back for a few days, and I typed away in one of the many beach bars right on the beach until I would go for a dip in the ocean whenever I needed a break, and later finish my work day with a beer in hand while watching the sunset.

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Life lately and upcoming travels: February 2015 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, what’s new with Globetrottergirls.com, what’s next for me and the most popular posts of the last month.

Where I’ve been

I spent February in the Philippines and in Thailand, and with the exception of short city breaks in Manila, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I’ve been island hopping pretty much the entire time!

I promised myself that I’d slow down after my hectic six-countries-in-one-month January and that’s exactly what I did. Still, when I count all the places I visited this month, it seems I got around quite a bit: Boracay, Siquijor, Apo Island, Palawan, Manila, Bangkok, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, Chiang Mai.February Highlights 2015On one hand, I wasn’t ready to leave the Philippines at all, on the other hand I was so ready to leave. This trip to the Philippines was one of the occasions when working while traveling weighed on me (I’ll touch more on that in ‘What went wrong’), and I found myself wishing I could just travel without any work commitments several times during my time there, since sticking to work commitments turned out way more difficult than expected – due to the terrible internet connection on most of the islands I visited.

The responsible part of me was dying to get to a country with better WiFi, the other part of me was longing to see more of this beautiful island nation. The Philippines are an absolute paradise and I was dying to see more. When I boarded my plane to Bangkok, I didn’t say ‘Goodbye’ to the Philippines, I said ‘See you soon’, and I mean it. (Next time I make sure I don’t have any urgent deadlines though).

Philippines
The Philippines

Arriving in Bangkok felt like coming home, and even though I still don’t love the city, I can appreciate it for the many good food options and some big city amenities. Hopping around islands for nearly a month was fabulous, but in my heart I am a city girl, and I couldn’t wait to indulge in some yummy Thai food (the Philippines are not very vegetarian-friendly) and good coffee (which is surprisingly hard to come by in most places in the Philippines, but then again I was hanging out on tropical islands most of the time where people don’t really care about their caffeine fix. Manila of course has great coffee), go see a movie and shop for some gadgets at MBK.

bangkok hotel u sukhumvit
This might have been the real reason why I was looking forward to Bangkok so much?

After a couple of days of getting my city fix I was ready for some beach time again and I already mentioned that I’d be showing several people around South East Asia this winter, so I was ecstatic to start in Thailand (the next visitor is already waiting for me in Bali), and combine island hopping with temple hopping.

I finally visited Koh Tao, an island that I’d been wanting to visit for years because everyone who visits this tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand seems to fall hard for it. And would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to just stay there for a couple of months and enjoy the laid-back island life instead of moving on to Koh Phangan and Chiang Mai.

Koh Tao
Koh Tao

What went well

Manila
I have to mention Manila here because I thought I’d hate the city, based on the stories I had heard from other people. I love it when a city surprises me and Manila did exactly that – I had a great time there!

The Philippines in general
I had seen the photos of the glorious islands in the Philippines, so I knew that I was in for a treat, but I just didn’t expect to like the country as much as I did. And I am saying this in spite of lack of good coffee, food and WiFi, the only three things I need to be fully content, so you know this must mean something! I am already planning my next trip to the Philippines.

The beautiful Philippines
Can you see why I fell for the Philippines?

Meeting new people
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you already know that my first solo trip went exceptionally well and that I never had the chance to feel lonely – in fact, I had to escape people sometimes because I am easily distractible, meaning if I’m hanging out with other travelers and they’re going out while I have to stay in to work, FOMO kicks in and I might neglect my work commitments in favor of a fun night out.

What went wrong

Lack of wifi
Like I said, the WiFi is something that is left to be desired in the Philippines – and while I knew that it would be slow, I just didn’t expect it to be that slow. I hard a hard time posting articles because I could barely upload photos, and it took forever for my emails to load every time I connected to the internet.

I ended up being unreliable towards clients, missing out on some opportunities because my inbox was overflowing and I consequently didn’t earn as much money as I would’ve liked. I had several meltdowns because of the WiFi in the Philippines, especially in my last week in El Nido where not even the 3G on my phone worked, and so I was almost completely offline during my stay there.

When I finally arrived in Bangkok and discovered that the WiFi in my hotel room wasn’t working, I burst into tears because I had been waiting for high speed internet for weeks. Luckily the WiFi situation improved considerably after that incident.

koh tao office
How a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand can have faster WiFi than the entire Philippines is beyond me.

Planning fail in the Philippines
I had many more destinations on my Places I Have To See list for the Philippines, but I learned the hard way that you actually have to plan in advance there. While I prefer getting to a place, see if I like it, and then decide when I’d like to move on to the next place, this is often not possible in the Philippines because you have to take flights between most of the islands. While I’m usually good at finding cheap flights, booking a flight a couple of days in advance will cost you, even in the Philippines where you have several budget airlines. Some flights ended up being just too pricey, forcing me to stay longer in some places and having to skip some destinations completely, but on the upside: I now have am excuse to return to the Philippines and I ended up making a detour to some places I might have skipped but ended up loving, like Apo Island (see pictures below).Apo Island PhilippinesInjuries
I severely burned myself on my first snorkeling trip in the Philippines. I thought I was being super careful applying sun protection over and over again, but apparently I missed some spots above and below my butt every time. 13-hour transportation days with a burned butt are no fun.

On another snorkeling trip I cut my foot on some coral which caused me to limp for several days. I was lucky both time that it wasn’t worse and I didn’t need to see a doctor (the day before my snorkeling trip a tourist on Apo Island had to be flown to a hospital because he stepped into a sea urchin), but traveling with injuries is something I can do without.

Breakdown at the ATM
In Siquijor, I had a great day touring the island with a local and asked him if we could stop at an ATM somewhere along the way. I had seen several ATMs but learned then that they don’t accept foreign cards – the only one that worked for foreigners was a one-hour detour away. When I finally got there, I let a British girl skip the line and get in front of me – that girl ended up being the last one to get money. After that, the ATM was out of service. A bank clerk told us to wait, and I had no other chance because I wanted to leave the island the next morning and needed money for my guesthouse and for the ferry. Two hours later, I was still in line. The bank had tried to reboot the machine several times, so far without success. It was then when I started to think that I might not get any cash out and felt absolutely helpless. I was just about to freak out when the ATM magically came back to life.siquijor atm

Side note: Reading through this, I just noticed that quite a few things went wrong this month. Despite these travel fails, this has been one of the best months in a while!

What’s new on Globetrottergirls

You might have noticed that I’ve started posting about my current trip beyond my weekly Polaroid, and I am going to continue to mix in new stories with my posts about previous trips. At this point, my backlog has gotten so large that if I post chronologically and wait to share my new travel adventures, you won’t get to read them until the summer (or even later than that), so I’ve decided to mix up the stories of my recent travels. That way, you’ll get to read some more diverse content as well.

Flight Voucher Giveaway!

Have you seen my latest giveaway? I partnered up with Norwegian Air who were generous enough to offer a $150 flight voucher to one lucky reader. You still have until 24 March to enter the giveaway. Click here to for your chance to win!flight voucher

What’s next for me

I still have another week of touring some of my favorite spots in Thailand with someone special before flying to Indonesia – another new country for me! chiang mai wat with buddha

Most popular posts of the month

February 2015

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