Day Trip to Pltvice Lakes, Croatia

Part of our six-month trip included a 6-day stay in Zagreb, Croatia, which I sort of regretted after realizing that there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do there. We fell in love with Croatia after visiting the coastal city of Zadar. It was a beautiful town with hidden beaches and islands to explore near by. However, I decided to make the best of our stay in Zagreb and see if there was anywhere close by that we could do a day trip to. I found out that Rijeka was two hours away but it seemed just like any coastal city, so we decided to skip out on that trip. Then, I saw that Pltvice Lakes National Park was only a 2.5-hour ride away by bus. This park is known for its gorgeous waterfalls and crystal blue lakes.  The pictures on Google looked incredible and finding out that it was a UNESCO world heritage site just sealed the deal. We we arrived at about 10 a.m. and paid 110 kuna ($22 Canadian) per person to enter the park. I read online the price varies depending on the time of year and from July 1 to the end of August it goes up to 180 kuna. However, once you get inside the park you definitely get your money’s worth. There are four hiking paths you can take A, B, C or D, they varied by the amount of time they took to complete. These paths are not challenging at all, they are all on flat land and there are boats and a bus that can take you around the park. We chose to take path B, which was supposed to take 3-4 hours to complete, since we were worried about catching the bus back to Zagreb. This path doesn’t take very long (I guarantee that you’ll be stopping all the time to take breathtaking pictures). It took us about 5-6 hours in total but in that time we managed to eat our lunch, grab a beer at the pit stop and get lost for an hour after taking the wrong path (thanks to my boyfriend). In that time we also saw most of the waterfalls in the park, which were simply amazing. The lakes in the park were the most incredible shades of blue; everywhere you looked you would see an even more beautiful waterfall. You really felt like you were in heaven. We had seen waterfalls in Switzerland but they paled in comparison. The only reason we didn’t complete the path even faster (this is also the one down fall of the park) was that the paths were very narrow and more then once we got stuck behind a tour group who would block the lane to listen to their tour guide or to tourists who would stop to take pictures (I confess, I was one of those tourists). The best time to go would probably be in April/May because it’s cheaper and there are less tourists; however, its 100% worth seeing at any point in the year. If this place isn’t on your bucket list, you should add it!

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Travelling to Abandoned Ostrava, Czechia

We spent 3 uneventful days in the city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. Ostrava is definitely not on any tourists’ list of places to visit, and neither should it be since it is effectively a ghost town. However, we had already extended our trip in Prague to 10 days and did not want to extend it even further and while we knew Ostrava wouldn’t be the greatest it was close to Krakow, on the way to Prague and had cheap hotels. I was really surprised to find out this city was a virtual ghost town. There were abandoned buildings wherever you looked in the downtown core, out of the buildings that remained open it seemed that every second one was a casino, every third one a bar and every seventh one a strip club. It was very difficult to find a convenience store, and most stores seemed to shut down by 6 p.m. I immediately began to wonder how this city turned into a ghost town. I did a search on Google and found out that the city used to be relative wealthy due to a robust coal mining industry. This industry began to die out in Ostrava by the early 2000’s, which led to mass unemployment and forced people and businesses to leave the city. It is not illogical to conclude that this resulted in a reduced tax base, which led to a further deterioration of the living conditions in the city. This is evidenced by the smell of sewage on the streets, which could be caused by an ineffective sewage system. It is also evidenced by inflation. Prices in grocery stores and restaurants in Ostrava are way higher than in Prague and Brno but logically should have been cheaper since this city is not a major one, there are no major industries and tourism is very, very low. We did manage to do some touristy things. We visited the pub street a few times because there were several restaurants that we wanted to try located there. We also visited the two main churches and city hall; however, one of the churches was permanently closed down and the city hall had clearly seen better days. The restaurants although very expensive (two burgers and two beers will cost you $50), weren’t bad. At Bernie’s the service was absolutely outstanding and the food was pretty good. Comedor Mexican restaurant also had good service (not including one aggressive waiter who tried to force us to try some Czech goulash, which we did not come to a Mexican restaurant to try) and they were clearly trying to do something different with the food, which was appreciated, but it just wasn’t very good. Would I come back to Ostrava? No way. While, the city is trying to recreate itself into a tourist town the likes of Brno by having some of its buildings designated UNESCO world heritage sites, it is unlikely they will be able to do so in the near future. It was cool to see a different side to Czech Republic, but it wasn’t necessary to.

 

Day Trip to Veveri Castle in Brno

Today, we visited Veveri Castle in Brno, Czech Republic. Before going I had tried to look up some blogs in order to get a better idea on how to get there, admission costs and what to expect. I was surprised to not find much information in English on this castle, so I decided to write a blog about it. You can get to the castle by taking the 3 or 11 tram from Veveri St in downtown Brno, then you take the 303 bus. The bus drives through a forest, so the route is very scenic. It took us about an hour to get there and when we arrived I was surprised at how quiet it was and how little tourists were there (a bonus, after visiting Versailles a few weeks earlier). It said at the entrance that it costs 30 korunas to enter the castle grounds, but because there was no one there to take the money we went in for free. We had a picnic of salami and cheese sandwiches and some strawberries, near the castle wall overlooking the forest and then proceeded to explore the castle grounds. The castle was built in the 1600’s, but had been restored several times and not much of the old structure remained. Sometimes you travel to explore castles and all you get to see is ruins, so I did appreciate that the building was restored. However, a lot of the castle rooms were empty, which I think is something that could be improved upon by adding more exhibits. I really do think this trip was worthwhile, What really made this castle stand out to me was its location overlooking the river and surrounded by forest. It’s the perfect place for a picnic. If you leave the castle grounds there is a pretty church, surrounded by field of wheat, on the street towards the main road. Down the path and into the forest, there are numerous cycling and hiking trails, if that is more your scene. I really think you should visit Veveri castle while in Brno. 

Fun Fact: Winston Churchill visited this castle in 1908. 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia in Six Days

We spent six days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (March 3 – 9, 2017). I was told before we went that six days was too long to spend in this city and was warned that it was sketchy and quite dirty. However, when we travel we really want to get a feel of the place so we didn’t mind seeing things at a slower pace. We flew to Phnom Penh from Krabi with a layover in Bangkok. When we arrived we found a taxi quite easily and began our journey into the city. I was first struck by the style of the buildings, of which most were three storeys tall and had huge balconies (maybe the colonial influence of the French?). The streets were very busy and the driving erratic (due to a lack of traffic lights and a general disregard for them), some streets were especially hard to drive on because it was wedding season and there were huge tents on the street that would block a side of the road. Since I had heard so much negative feedback about Phnom Penh, I decided it was best we stay at a nicer hotel. I chose the King Grand Boutique Hotel because there was free breakfast and a pool.The hotel mostly lived up to my expectations, the view from the rooftop bar/pool was beautiful and the breakfast was pretty good, but our room was very tiny. The first night we wanted to grab dinner close by so we went across the street to an Indian restaurant called the Sher-e Punjab. The beer was only 75 cents and the cheese naan was delicious, but the rest of the food was pretty horrible. My boyfriend and I ordered very different dishes but for some reason they tasted the exact same and were extremely bland, which is a crime if you’re eating Indian food. I won’t go into what we did everyday in Phnom Penh since my boyfriend got sick one day and another day we did not do much but I’ll talk about the top sights and mention some restaurants to try and not try.  
Important Note: When travelling around Cambodia you have to be very mindful of its recent history and remember that it is a country still coming to terms with the genocide that occurred there in the 1970’s. Many of the victims and perpetrators of the genocide are still alive. While the country is developing at a rapid pace, it is still very poor – there are tiny children, elderly and disabled (by the genocide or by the land mines) begging everywhere, the streets can be extremely dirty, the food sketchy and the sewage systems dodgy. Even some tourist sights are not up to “Western standards” with many artifacts not labelled and barely any descriptions of what you are looking at. However, Phnom Penh is a place that is young, vibrant, and culturally and historically rich with lots of amazingly kind people.

Places to Visit

Tour the Killing Fields

Very somber but important place to visit. Definitely get the audio guide and listen to every single pointer, since it teaches you a lot about the history of the genocide. It is a living museum, so you are walking around the grounds where the genocide actually took place. We were told that every year after the rainy season, new bodies continue to be discovered. 


Visit the S-21 Prison 

I found this place extremely depressing but very powerful. It was a school that was converted into a prison when the Khmer came into power, inmates here were tortured to death for a variety of reasons including being educated and having glasses. The most horrifying and powerful part of the museum, for me, were the rooms of victims headshots, since it made them very real. This experience should be paired with the killing fields tour in order to fully understand what you are looking at.

Walk Around the Parks and Riverside

The architecture of the downtown core of Phnom Penh was strongly influenced by the French, so you will see wide boulevards and pretty fountains. Every night of the week, you can witness locals doing dance classes, kids running around and young and old people hanging out both at Wat Botum Park and on the Riverside. The street food at is a tad sketchy though, so I would not recommend trying it. We felt perfectly safe walking around, but obviously use your common sense and avoid flashing money or valuables.

Visit the Grande Palace 
It’s no Bangkok Grande Palace by any means (if you’re interested in the Grande Palace or want to know more about touring Bangkok, check on my earlier blog), but the grounds are quite nice and worth strolling around. The only downfall is nothing except the plants and trees is labelled, so you’re never quite sure what you are looking at and why. 


Wat Phnom 

A very nice park for a stroll in the evening and a very pretty temple from the outside. Since it is only $1, I would definitely suggest visiting it.

The National Museum

Probably, my favourite place that we visited in Phnom Penh. The garden is absolutely lovely with its beautiful Buddha statue and blooming lotus flowers in the small ponds. This museum is important for understanding the pre-genocide history of Cambodia. However, while there are some explanations for what you are looking at, there are a lot of items that are left unlabelled.

Places to Eat 

The culinary scene in Phnom Penh is evolving and you can find pretty much any type of food of any quality from vegan to German to Khmer. As mentioned earlier, use common sense when finding places to eat. We stayed away from Khmer street food because of the way it looked but also because it mainly consisted of hot dogs, faux crab, chicken’s feet, fish balls, squid balls. Here are a couple of places we tried.

Munich Beer Restaurant: we came here because of the sweet deal on beer (buy 1 litre, get a free pint). However, we found out that the beer was very light with barely any alcohol whatsoever in it, which was disappointing. I ordered the tom yum soup and my boyfriend had frog legs, the food was good but the portions were unreasonably large. You basically ate 1/4 of your dish and were done. So, if you go here just buy one dish and share. 

Special Pho: both times we went they had run out of their most popular dishes but we had no problem finding other things we wanted to eat. I went for the vegetarian pho, since I was a little bit of a chicken about trying the meat pho but my boyfriend had the raw beef and loved it. With your order of pho you get a plate of sprouts, basil, lime, chilli’s and a liquorice flavoured plant. You can also add as much hot sauce or chilli as you want. I really appreciated the opportunity to customize my soup (nothing ever comes spicy enough for me 😦 ). I really loved this place, it was cheap and delicious. 

Backyard Cafe: this is a very trendy cafe that offers a variety of organic and vegetarian/vegan friendly bowls, sandwiches and salads. The first time we went I had the “Power Door Stop Sandwich” with roasted herbed chicken, pesto, tzatziki, tomato, sprouts, seeded bread, pickles and salad; salt and pepper are on the side so you can season it how you’d like. The second time we went I had the “Arabic Bowl”, which consisted of hummus, roasted pepper and other veggies. It was also really good. Overall, I really liked this place, a little more expensive but perfect for when you had too many beers the night before and are craving something healthy.

If you have any questions about visiting Phnom Penh, please ask.

Bob Marley’s Thailand – Exploring Ao Nam Mao and Railay

We stayed at the Dawn of Happiness Resort in Ao Nam Mao, Krabi for 6 days (February 26 – March 3, 2017). We took the ferry to Ao Nang from Koh Lanta, which took about 3 hours and cost us 950 baht, which wasn’t bad since it it also included a transfer to our resort. Calling it a resort is probably misleading in the Western sense since there were twelve huts and no pool or amenities. We knew beforehand when we were looking for places that this wasn’t going to beo the Shangri-la, but it was cheap and looked pretty in a rustic way. Our views were confirmed when we arrived, the vibe of the place was very Rastafarian, the management and employees would just hang out around the kitchen and dinning area and there was always Bob Marley playing on loop in the background. The bright side of this place for me (other than it having hot water) was that there was a litter of kittens about a month old who lived in the kitchen/dining area and the beautiful views from the beach, which was about 10 feet from our hut. The water wasn’t swimmable about half the day because the tide would go out but you’d be able to walk out pretty far, which was very cool (and made for great pictures). The downside for me was the management, the owner was rarely ever around and his Swedish girlfriend tried to manage the place but did not seem to enjoyed it very much and would talk down to the staff. Most evenings we ate dinner at the resort, which consisted of chicken or fish, rice, collard greens and a banana for dessert. At first it was pretty good but then the quality went down and the price was raised from 120 to 150 baht per person so we started going into town for dinner.The town was only a fifteen minute walk from our resort and the food was absolutely phenomenal. There are barely any tourists in Ao Nam Mao so everything is cheap and you get some authentic Thai food. There’s a place near the family market, past the chicken satay stand (no name but there are about five wooden tables at the front and plastic tables in the back) where they serve some of the best food I have ever had, the laab Kai (minced chicken salad) had me coming back three days in a row. Grab some sticky rice for 10 baht and laab for 100 baht and you and your travel buddy will be so full you might not even want dinner. There is also a place across the street called Thai Food Start, where you could get a delicious twist on a traditional green curry.
We really didn’t do much in Ao Nam Mao since we came there mostly for the sun and beach but we did spend our last day in Railay, which was one of the best decisions we ever made. Railay hands down is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. It cost us 200 baht each from Ao Nam Mao pier to go there and back. We went expecting just a beach but quickly realized it was so much more. When we arrived we looked at a map and saw that there were several view points across the island. In my opinion, visiting view points is always a good idea. When we got there, there were no signs saying that we were at a view point or indicating where to go. We just saw a steep clay hill with a rope and some vines. Luckily there were people climbing down this hill who told us that we would have to use the rope and vines to climb this very steep hill and this would take us about twenty minutes. We didn’t want to back out so we climbed up the hill and headed to the viewpoint, which was amazing and 100 % worth the climb. Then, we saw a sign leading to a lagoon and we decided that since we climbed up this far we had to also see it. The lagoon was a slippery downhill climb and three sets of bamboo ladders attached (somewhat reliably) with a rope to some rocks away. I’ll be honest climbing down those ladders was terrifying. However, again it proved to be absolutely worth it, the lagoon was breathtaking and it was refreshing to jump into some water and go for a swim after all that climbing. The climb back down the hill was fairly easy (but be ready to have your clothes ruined from being stained by clay), and so we headed through some more caves to the equally beautiful beach at West Railay. The water here was chilly but crystal clear and with the caves and palm trees in the background it was magical. We were pretty hungry by this point and were pretty excited to see some food boats. For 200 baht we were able to buy ourselves two delicious smoothies, some fried spring rolls and chicken fried rice. After our yummy lunch, we just laid down and relaxed with our books until it was time to head back to Ao Nam Mao.
Overall, I really loved Ao Nam Mao. Ao Nam Mao is for the traveller who is looking for a quieter, more laid back and authentic experience. I think 6 days is the perfect amount of time to spend there because you have lot’s of time to read, eat amazing food and visit Railay once (or twice).





Island Livin’ in Koh Lanta, Thailand 

We spent 10 days on the island of Koh Lanta (February 17 – 26, 2017) and we really enjoyed it. To get there we took a ferry from Phuket (which, cost us around 650 baht) and included a transfer from our Airbnb in Phuket to the ferry terminal where there is a shake and crepe place at the terminal, that you should definitely grab breakfast at. We had to take two ferries to get to Koh Lanta. The first ferry stopped on the island of Phi Phi where we transferred to another ferry that took us to Koh Lanta. We arrived at our destination an hour late and took a prearranged taxi to our airbnb, which was located at the bottom of the island in Old Town. The taxi prices to get to Old Town are exorbitant (700-800 baht) and every driver tells you its really far away, although it is only half an hour. To compare, in Bangkok, we drove in a taxi for over two hours and it only cost us 400 baht. We chose our airbnb because it had a deck with amazing views of the sea and the nearby islands. It was a lovely wooden shack made out of all recycled materials, it had a kitchen and some hammocks on the deck and one in our room (which, was on the second floor). Our room had no glass windows just metal shutters that we would close if it was raining or windy but we mostly kept everything open because it was scorching hot during the day. The openness was cool but did allow for gecko’s, cockroaches and a stray cat to come and go from our room as they pleased. Old Town Koh Lanta used to be a Muslim fisherman’s village but the fishing industry has pretty much been killed by tourism. While, there are still locals living there most are either selling their homes to make room for guest houses or working for the tourism industry. The restaurants in Old Town all serve pretty much the same food at the same prices, none of them stood out to us although the views from their decks were breathtaking (we ate at Banana House and Rareview).The problem for us was their prices (especially when comparing them to the food quality and prices in Bangkok and Phuket). We also had beers and dinner at Caoutchou Restaurant one night, which has amazing views and a great vibe. The owner of the restaurant is French and cooks a couple of dishes every evening and you pay him 180 baht and grab as much food as you’d like. The food is nothing special but definitely do splurge one evening and grab a beer. The only place we found to be inexpensive and slightly more authentic was Sunee’s Place Restaurant/Cafe, the decor was less fancy and the mango rice was delicious. Left of Sunee’s place there is a lady making the best shakes you will ever have, I don’t know how she makes them or what she puts in them but they taste like you’re drinking fruit. She got me absolutely hooked on her watermelon shakes.

 
After exploring Old Town for two days we were bored so we rented a scooter for the rest of our time there, which cost us around $8/per day. The scooter we rented was not very efficient on has so we would spent around $3 gassing up every day. Gas in Koh Lanta costs around 35-40 baht per bottle. Every single day we would go to the beach. We tried a couple of places for brunch on our way to the beach, but all of them made us sick. So, we resorted to googling where to eat and that is how we found our go to spot, Nang Sabai, which is a German bakery/restaurant. After eating there once, we went back every single day and every single day it was packed with customers. The tuna sandwich was my favourite but the Vienna schnitzel was also very tasty and the one cake we tried was absolutely amazing. You could also get a proper coffee there, which was a huge deal for me. The owners of the restaurant were regular visitors to Koh Lanta and 8 years a go they decided to move there and open up a bakery. They are always at the bakery, helping to cook or interacting with customers, which we thought was very cool. However, enough about food and onto the beaches. The first day we wound up at Klong Tob beach, which is tiny, rocky, laid back and only has a handful of bars. The water isn’t great for swimming because it is very shallow but there are minimal jelly fish and lot’s of crabs to watch (if you’re into that kind of thing, like my boyfriend). In our 8 days we visited Long Beach and Klong Kong – where there was no shade and nowhere to sit unless you are staying at a resort there; Klong Jak – which was super isolated; and Klong Nin, which was perfect. We kept coming back to Klong Nin because there were many bars where you could grab a drink and then lounge on their beach chairs for free the rest of the day, the beach was long enough for us to go on walks, the water was deeper and therefore more suited for swimming (although many jelly fishes) and there was a great and inexpensive Thai place to eat right around the corner (called Chysee 4, please try their Laab Kai). Overall, I really did love Koh Lanta because of its natural beauty and it’s laid back vibe. It’s a lovely island with many beautiful beaches. However, there are drawbacks. It is pretty dirty and there is garbage everywhere (they are trying to address this problem by making tourists pay 10 baht upon arriving on the island), the food is not great nor is it reasonably priced (we love to try new places but after getting sick at more expensive places we just stuck to the places I mentioned) and the tours are outrageously expensive for budget travellers like us (a cooking class will cost you upwards of $50 as will the boat tours to other islands). I would go back maybe when I am older and have a larger budget, otherwise I’d rather go back to Bangkok or Krabi. 

* I totally forgot, shoutout to Sole Mare Pizzeria, which is a newer joint owned by an Italian man who makes an amazing wood fire oven pizza by anyone’s standards not only by Thai standards. 



7 Days in Phuket, Thailand 

We travelled to Phuket, Thailand on February 10 from Bangkok. Getting there was a bit of an adventure because we started off the trip by going to the wrong airport – instead of going Suvarnbhumi Airport we went to Don Mueng. So, when we got there after an hour and a half of waiting in traffic we only had about an hour and a half until our flight and no time to get to the other airport. So, we had to buy tickets for another flight to Phuket; which, was annoying but we had no other choice. When we got to Phuket we went up to the “Meter Taxi” stand and they tried to tell us that it was 900 baht to get to Kathu. I had read that it was not that expensive so my boyfriend went back into the airport to one of the stands there and we found a company that would take us to our airbnb for 700 baht, which was better. Our airbnb was a really nice condo in Kathu. The drawback with it was that it was near zero attractions, so we knew we had to rent a scooter. We wound up grabbing the scooter the same evening we arrived from Pure Car Rental in Phuket Town. My boyfriend drives a car back home but he had never driven a scooter before and did not have a motorcycle license but I mean no one asked to see any documents except a passport and some cash (200 baht a day, which is pretty reasonable). I was really worried riding the scooter at first because I knew we weren’t doing it legally and all the blogs I had read talked about how dangerous and reckless drivers were and how Phuket was the number one scooter accident capital of the world. In reality though it really isn’t that bad, especially if you drive slowly and follow the local drivers. Gas is also easy to get and if you have a good scooter 100 baht of gas will last you 3-4 days. The only people I saw driving recklessly were other tourists. In this blog I won’t go over every single day since some of our days were quiet boring. However, I will go over food and some popular tourist attractions we visited. Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of Phuket because it is way too American (McDonald’s and KFC were on every corner and there were lot’s of mega malls and huge supermarkets) and lacked the authenticity and charm of other islands.

Food 

The food in Phuket can get pretty expensive if you’re eating at Western style places in Phuket Town or at Kata or Patong beaches. You know it’s not Thai if there is air conditioning, if the chairs and tables are not plastic, if you are eating indoors and if your food is bland. On the way to Phuket Town, if you take Vichit Songkram Road, you will find some local places on the left side of the road that are great and that offer food at very reasonable prices. The spicy papaya salad, the laabkai (spicy minced chicken salad with chives and lime) and the fried rice are must tries. However, on that same street there is a Thai street restaurant that serves American comfort food, and while it is always packed it is not tasty at all and you should probably skip it. The only place we ate at in Phuket Town was One Chun, we had a sea bass in tamarind sauce, green curry and a noodle stir fry, everything was good but expensive by Thai standards and not particularly yummy. Nothing at Central Festival mall is really worth trying either since it is expensive and very Western.


Activities

Kata Beach

We liked Kata beach quiet a bit, there’s tons of space, so you won’t be fighting other tourists for a spot on the beach. It is only a short walk across the street to grab drinks or ice cream or whatever else you might need. The one downfall for me is the huge purple jellyfishes (you can probably stand on one and ride it like a hover board, they are THAT big) that hang out with you while you swim. I mean I love to swim but I really did not want to get bitten by one of those. However, at least you can see the big jellies because there are also transparent baby jellyfish that you cannot see but that can see you (and sting you).



Patong Beach

This beach is small and pretty crowded, but the rocks and the mountains in the background make it pretty enough that you almost forget the tourists. A lot less jellyfish spotted here so I felt a lot better swimming, definitely, go to the local bar on the right side of the beach on top of the rocks, the beer is cheap there and the spring rolls are awesome. Up the street there is also many bars and restaurants so it could be worth spending a whole day here.


B Cat Cafe 

If you like cats, you’ll love this cafe. When we went it was quiet and there wasn’t very many people there. We ordered drinks and a cake (that’s your entrance fee) and went inside the cat area to enjoy our food and play with the cats. The cats were all very friendly and none of them bit or scratched although some of them were more sleepy and did not want to play, which is fine with me (imagine someone trying to force you to play while you’re sleepy). There were at least 10-15 cats and their ages ranged from older to younger and some were so furry it should be illegal. Definitely, put this place on your list.

No cat was left unpetted as you can see in the pictures below.


Muay Thai Fights
We decided to fork over $60 each and head to the Boxing Stadium in the Patong Beach area to watch some fights on our last night in Phuket. While, some of them were cool to watch, many were disappointing; especially, the finale, which was a disappointment because it ended in a beat down since the two guys were poorly matched (one was very fit and athletic and the other one was heavier and looked like he had not been in a ring in years). It is a smart decision to purchase ringside tickets and not general tickets since the chairs in the general area are made of concrete. I think if you really like Muay Thai or if you’ve never been to any fights it could be worth it, but would I do it again, probably not.
If you have any questions about travelling to Phuket, feel free to leave a comment.

5 Days in Dizzying Bangkok

We arrived at Suvarnbhumi International Airport in Bangkok around 1 a.m., on February 5, since it was so late I was imagining a nice and quiet airport where we could just zip through customs and get to our hotel. Obviously, whenever you have such expectations they are usually proven wrong – the airport was packed and it took over an hour to get through customs. By the time we got to our hotel (The Phoenix Hotel – Suvarnbhumi Airport) it was 3 a.m.. The hotel wasn’t bad by any means but its only worth staying there for one night since it is in the middle of nowhere and the bed is pretty terrible. However, the lunch we had at the little cafe was great (pad Thai for me and a stir fry for my boyfriend). We had an apartment booked with Airbnb in Bangkok Noi so we grabbed a taxi and headed there. Taxi’s in Bangkok are very cheap, so if you are too lazy or its too far to walk you might as well take one. Automatically, we ran into communication issues with our driver and what was supposed to be a half an hour ride, turned into two hours of wandering around Bangkok, which sucked at that moment but is a part of the adventure. When we finally arrived we were pretty hungry and so went out in search for food. The street we stayed on was called Itsaharop Road and it was not touristy at all – barely anyone spoke English and there was a ton of markets and street food around. Most restaurants only served one dish – soup, rice or noodles. Since we spoke no Thai we had to order food by pointing to someone else’s dish that we thought looked good. I ate a lot of soup that week, since I love me some soup. If you are vegetarian in Bangkok, you’ll have a hard time eating the local dishes since there is almost never a vegetarian option and the cooks aren’t keen on leaving the meat out of your food. However, for snacks we tried to try some new things everyday. A delicious treat sold everywhere were rice balls with different fillings (like corn), they are gooey and soft on the inside but crunchy on the outside. They are very yummy. There are also skewers of chicken and beef, wings, spring rolls, sushi, etc. I promise, you will not go hungry in Bangkok. Smoothies and iced coffee are also huge in Bangkok, you can get them practically anywhere you go. I would definitely recommend staying in Bangkok Noi since it is significantly cheaper than the more touristy areas of Bangkok. For example, an average meal usually cost us 100 baht or cheaper for us both (which, is around $4 Canadian). While, at Khao San Road an average meal costs 100 baht per person. The one thing about Thailand is liquor is fairly expensive, so if you’re on a tight budget, you might not want to spend your money on it. Everyday we would cross the river at Wang Lang market by jumping on a ferry, which costs less than 50 cents to get to the main tourist areas. Instead of going over each day what we did, I’ll review some of the places we visited.

Grand Palace
It costs around 500 baht ($20, Canadian) per person to enter, which is pricy but worth it. The dress code is very strict, no shoulders or ankles or stomachs showing. It is definitely one of the grandest and most beautiful places I have ever seen. There are multiple gold plated stupas, gold columns and the walls are very colourful and ornate. The grounds are also immaculately kept. When we were there civil servants were being bussed in every day to pay their respects to the late king, I believe this is going to continue for a year. It affects your ability to tour the whole property, since the palace part is off limits to tourists.

Wat Pho
Wat means temple so any time you see the word Wat on a map, you now know it will be a temple. Wat Pho was extremely beautiful and in my opinion there is more to see there than at the Grand Palace, since it is bigger. While, there is less gold exterior architecture than at the Grand Palace this temple is home to the gigantic reclining Buddha, walls of smaller Buddhas from different time periods and colourful stupas decorated with mosaics. The dress code is also strict and entry is around 150 baht ($6 Canadian).

Khao San
This is the most touristy street in all of Bangkok, we really weren’t sure why anyone would want to stay here for very long since you really do not get to experience Thai culture. It’s all non-Thai hawkers selling various tourist items (clothes, coconuts, etc.), sketchy massage parlours and overly priced bars. The fact is except in tourist areas, massage places are nowhere to be found in Bangkok. The bright side was being able to bargain. The general rule is if the price isn’t listed, you can bargain for it. However, if it is listed and you try to bargain for it you might get some sass. I would skip out on Khao San.

Wang Lang Market
Just across the river from the Grand Palace this is a fairly large market, where anything and everything sold. When we were there lot’s of black clothes were being sold and bought since civil servants can only wear black to work all year because of the King’s death. There are also many great food and smoothie places that are very reasonably priced. This isn’t a fruit or vegetable market so do not expect a great variety of those. A fun fact is in Thailand most people buy their food at markets or street stalls since food is so cheap and delicious and very few people have stoves in their homes. Definitely worth a visit.

Flower Market (Pak Krong Talad)
Just a couple of stops after the Grand Palace ferry stop is this flower market. It was a lot smaller and less impressive than we expected it to be. There wasn’t a particularly large variety of flowers. It’s free so I guess it’s worth seeing.

General impressions: before going to Bangkok, a lot of people told me it was not worth staying there for long. Most people told me they did not like it because it was dirty, crowded and not particularly beautiful. And I mean yes Bangkok is a large and dizzying city, but I really loved it. The food is cheap, the temples are lovely, the markets are amazing, the food is delicious and the people are great. Everywhere we went, the locals tried to help us order food or guide us to the right places. One day, we were visiting a temple in the south end of the city and met a nun who asked to take a picture together and explained that she was becoming a nun that weekend and that she knew about Christianity because she was a Christian nun in her past life and gave me a blessing, which was very cool. Bangkok, you just have to love it for what it is, it might not be the most beautiful place you visit but it has soul.

If you guys have any questions or comments please leave them in the comment section.

A Day in the Las Vegas of the East (Macau)

We arrived in Macau from Shanghai on February 4 at 10:50 p.m., at night. We were exhausted and ready to just get to bed. We arrived at our hotel the Casa Royal around 1 a.m. On our ride to our hotel we realized how grande this city was, it was all huge skyscrapers and everything was lit up. At that moment we understood why this city was called the Vegas of China. We woke up the next morning and went searching for breakfast, we found a place near the Grand Lisboa hotel and I had a fruit salad (for some reason they also gave me mayonnaise on the side for dressing, which is pretty gross) and my boyfriend had some sweet and sour chicken. I was still hungry after so I wound up grabbing a mushroom and cheese pastry and a cup of coffee from Starbucks. We then began our walk around the city with the goal of seeing the old town. Macau is really interesting because it used to be a Portuguese colony, but is now a semi-autonomous region of China. You get an eccentric mix of Chinese and Portuguese language, food and architecture. You don’t need a visa to stay in Macau, like you do in China. The old town was all decorated when we arrived because they were also celebrating Chinese New Years. There were many jewellery shops selling golden ducks of different sizes in their windows, which was a Chinese legacy. However, it was clear that city had also retained its Portuguese Christian past as there were plenty of churches around. We walked through the streets all the way up to the fortress and were really impressed with the beautiful views of the city, but it was also kind of a sobering moment because while the city was really grand with all its extravagant casinos and skyscrapers, in between the casinos there were slums. After the fortress we walked down to the ruins of St. Paul’s. It was cool knowing that it was the first Western style university in the region, but they were literally ruins and nothing more. The main treats being sold on the streets were a sort of jerky (flavoured with garlic or sweet and spicy) and custard tarts, these treats were literally everywhere and each store was offering samples (which, we took advantage of). We stopped by for drinks at the Holiday Inn (I had an average mojito and daiquiri), which is not usually something we do, since it is shamelessly touristy, but it was Happy Hour and they were quiet cheap. Then we stopped by this local place and grabbed some noodles and sweet and sour chicken and then walked back to our room since we had a really late flight to Bangkok.

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The Streets of Old Macau
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The Ruins of St. Paul

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One Night in Shanghai -with dumplings

We arrived at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China on February 3rd, which was a day later than expected. The flight was pleasant and didn’t even feel like 13 hours. Before we left I had read about visas and was under the impression that if you arrived in one of the main cities in China you were given a 144 hour transit visa, after you showed your onward ticket. However, we quickly ran into a huge problem, our onward ticket had a one hour layover in a Chinese city called Shenzhen before we flew to Bangkok. So, they told us we had 15 minutes to buy a ticket out of China and if we couldn’t get it done we’d be deported back to Los Angeles. The official hot spotted us and we bought the cheapest tickets we could find to Bangkok but they came with a 24 hour layover in Macau (which, I learned later was a part of China but curiously did not require visas, more on that later). They said it was fine if we flew the next day since it was already 8 p.m., and would give us a 24 hour visa. So, that got solved but it was 8 p.m., we were in China and a day late for our hotel reservation. We went downstairs to grab a taxi, and I read online that we could approach a official at the taxi booth and they would help us find our hotel and direct the cab driver to where he had to go. However, the official was sleeping in the booth and had closed the window. So, we waited in a queue and jumped in the first available taxi. The taxi smelled like cigarettes and the driver spoke zero English, I wanted to get out of there and go to an information desk but I think the driver saw me pointing and started to drive off because he didn’t want to lose a customer. When we started driving he started calling different hotels to try to get in touch with the one we were staying at. The hotel we were staying at was called the Fish Inn and was near the Bund. I kept saying the hotel was at the Bund to the driver but there was very little understanding on either part. Finally, when we got to the Bund, I decided to just get out of the car since we had hit 400 yuan and we had no more Chinese money and just find the hotel ourselves. I was completely in awe of the beautiful skyline of Shanghai at night, it was breathtaking. I wanted to stay and look at it longer but we were carrying all our bags so we started walking. Luckily, we were able to find our hotel fairly easily since it was on a main road. When we arrived we went straight to bed since we were exhausted.

We woke up the next morning at 10 a.m. and were starving. We left the hotel and started looking for breakfast. We had heard that because it was Chinese New Years there would be dumplings everywhere. Adam (my boyfriend), he’s a lot more adventurous with food and prefers hole in the wall places while I would have preferred stopping at the mall. After walking for 20 minutes, we found a small restaurant that was very busy and had an old man frying dumplings in the window. We got ten dumplings and ate them all within 5 minutes. When we got to the mall we stopped by for some bubble tea and then made our way to Old China Town by metro withq the goal of seeing the Yu Yuan gardens. The metro in Shanghai is pretty easy to use and we had no trouble navigating. There was tons of people when we arrived and the streets were decorated beautifully with New Years decorations (lot’s of ducks and roosters). We found the gardens pretty easily and walked around for about an hour. They are definitely worth seeing if visiting Old China Town, they are a great way to learn about the history of Shanghai and are a nice contrast to the business and chaos of the streets. After the gardens, we decided to stop somewhere for lunch. There was a cafeteria serving all kinds of food in the centre of downtown. In my opinion it was slightly gaudy (too many mirrors and gold walls), but I was excited to eat some food. We ordered a soup, noodles, dumplings, a bowl of veggies and a beer each. Sadly, the soup was cold and icky and so were the noodles so we just ate the veggies and dumplings (which, weren’t as good as the ones we had that morning). Largely, a disappointing meal but we were full. At that point, it was time to go back so we quickly made a stop at the temple and took the subway back. We stopped again at the mall for dessert, the desserts in China are very different from what we were used to, it seemed the most popular treats were either strawberries dipped in syrup (kind of like a caramel candy apple) or cookie like treats. We found a place serving bowls, with different kinds of rice and fruits in milk and decided to try it. It was pretty tasty, so we were happy with our choice. We went down to the Bund to see the skyline again and then grabbed our bags from our hotel and headed for the airport for our 8 p.m., flight. We took the Maglev train, which is I believe the fastest train in the world and waited at the airport for our flight to Macau, a place neither of us have ever heard of nor dreamed of going to but were now destined to explore.