Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

Once we took off to Kuta, we started to see a new face to Bali. Kuta has a rawness that we didn't see in Ubud, but I was definitely into it. At some points Ubud felt almost "too clean" and polished up for tourists (probably due to the mounds of people that started pouring in after EAT, PRAY, LOVE.) There's a crazy nightlife scene and scooters and motorcycles buzzing around all over the place in Kuta. The surfer community is also very present in the shops, restaurants, and on the beach! So much so, we decided to go for a surf and made some really good friends with a local crew of surfer guys! 

Our last night in Kuta meant our last night in Asia. It was Thanksgiving, and I could not be more grateful for all of the amazing experiences we've had on this trip and for all the amazing people we met along the way. I was also especially thankful for having known one particular person.. who passed away around this time two years back.. He had a house in Bali, and I vividly remember his eyes glimmering whenever he mentioned how much he loved it. With a salty tear joining its brothers on the shore, we had one last surf session before heading to the airport. The sun was setting into the ocean with a bright orange glare and I couldn't believe it. It's time to return to the US, and soon it'll be time to start the new chapter in this book of life.

Ko Phangan, Thailand

This was our last stop in Thailand because sadly, we couldn't make it to Ko Tao (next time!) but saying goodbye to Thailand in Ko Phangan meant we'd be leaving with a Half-Moon-Party-bang!

They take kids' plastic buckets, slap on an Absolut Vodka logo on it, and call it a cup. This is the kind of madness I was expecting in Ko Phangan. Although there was a lot of that, and some more 40-people-piling-into-the-back-of a tuk-truck nonsense, the people here were surprisingly chill and awesome! It was a much bigger island than Ko Phi Phi and it seemed like there was a lot more to see than what we were able to grasp in a short time, you also have to drive to get anywhere so it made it a bit more difficult to get around. Nonetheless, here are some highlights:

  1. Beaches
    Our hostel hosts told us we didn't even go to the most beautiful beaches on the island, but even the sub-par beaches were gorgeous! One of the lazy hangover days in Phangan was pleasantly spent paddle boarding by a beautiful sunset in Baan Tai beach. The paddleboard guys even let us sneak in some extra time on the board since business was slow that day :)
     
  2. Half Moon Party
    Instead of going for the more famous "full moon party" takes place on the beach, we opted for the half moon party instead, which takes place in the jungle inland from Ban Tai and is the "perfect amount of crowded" as opposed to the full moon debauchery. Before the party, everyone has pre-drinks at the hostels while getting covered in glow-in-the-dark paint for the event! I of course, was a glow-in-the-dark partycat.
     
  3. Sunset at AmstArdam Bar
    We kept hearing about this "AmstArdam Bar" wherever we went so we felt like we had to go to see what all the hype was about. Turns out, it's a really cool relaxed terrace bar with an incredible view of the silky blue waters that surround this little piece of paradise. You're encouraged to order smoothies and watch the sunset softly envelop you in its colorful arms. We entered with a few friends and left as a family. So many great stories were told and many laughs were had. I remember wishing I could capture the moment in my memory forever.
     
  4. Guy's Bar adventure
    Friday night kicked off with buckets of drinks in Haad Rin beach. We had heard about a mysterious Guy's Bar and we heard it was only open on Fridays so we were eager to find where it was. Upon asking around, we were pointed towards a the water.. "We have to ride a boat to get there?".. So we hop on a boat and zip off into the night. When I say "into the night" I mean pitch black darkness. We all looked up to gaze at the most amazing sky I've ever seen. The constellations got lost in all the mss of stars we saw on that boat. Then, with a thump, we were dropped off at a dark jungle-y shore. Not knowing where to go from there (there seemed to be no defined path or signs), we peered into the jungle and saw a few lights in the distance. As we headed toward the lights through the branches and mud, we started to hear the faint beat of some hippy-electro-dance music growing louder and louder until, there it was. We found it. Guy's Bar. We danced off into the night until the sun started peering through the branches and the boat came back to take us home. Staring off into the sunrise we knew it was another goodbye (to Thailand) but we're not done yet! next up: Bali!

 

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

We heard a lot of mixed reviews about Ko Phi Phi from people we met during our travels but the slight chance that we wouldn't think it was amazing didn't stop us from going to check it out! One big motivational factor was that we wanted to go explore the famous beach featured in the movie "The Beach" (based on the 1996 novel by Alex Garland).

Ko Phi Phi was definitely an "adult playground" in a sense, filled with tourists and tours, but that didn't mean the playground wasn't fun, nor the tours filled with breathtaking landscapes and fun activities. Seriously. I'm not a "tour person" and most of the time I completely avoid them, but this time, it was worth it.

Our tour took us to Monkey Beach, where we got to play with adorable monkeys for a bit, then to Maya Beach AKA: The beach from the film "The Beach", then we went snorkeling in two other spots before returning to the mainland. It was a fun-filled day and we got to see some incredibly beautiful beaches, rock formations, colorful fish and monkeys! :)

That night we were surprised with a rooftop viewing of, believe it or not, "The Beach" – quite the cherry on top of a great day! We stumbled into some of the friends we met back in Pai and we all went out for drinks on the beach with a view of the stars and fire performers.

Pai, Thailand

Pai is a tiny town in the northeastern mountains of Thailand, surrounded by rice fields, canyons, hot springs, and forests. It’s a hub for the hippies that are too chill for even Chiang Mai and want to live tucked away, off the grid, with other like-minded hippies, and drink mushroom shakes every now and then. It’s a great place… one of my favourites of the entire trip. The people we met up with here, truly made Thailand an unforgettable experience. 


The Winding Road to Pai

We had of course disregarded our friends’ suggestions of having a calm night in before our trip to Pai, and we very quickly regretted it. It’s a long bumpy ride, with no pit stops and LOTS of curves… needless to say, it’s not very hangover friendly. It was 8am and we were the four loud girls sitting in the back of minibus shuttle laughing about the events that took place the night before – everyone there hated us. But we didn’t care, we were in a blissful wonderland oblivious to other humans that were not part of our newly found friendship bubble. 

We finally arrived in the small town Pai and went in search of a guesthouse a friend of the Spanish girls had recommended. It really is a pretty small town with just 2 or 3 main streets and a couple of traffic lights. All the locals are well used to the backpackers and know exactly where all the guesthouses and hostels are –not that they can all communicate that in English, although they try! We walked about 15 minutes away from the centre of the town (considered a long distance for Pai standards) and found our little hippie paradise: Up2U Guesthouse. Ignore the silly name, and please stay in this hostel if you ever find yourself in Pai. It’s amazing. The whole place feels like a treehouse with hammocks and guitars lying around everywhere (free to use) and the bunk beds are all made of bamboo stacked all the way to the tall ceilings.

The Spanish girls’ friend Frankie was staying in that same guesthouse, and was hanging out with this awesome local girl named Ruki, who knew the all the best spots and took us out for lunch. We invited everyone in the hostel to join us and we quickly all became friends. We decided that since Cristi and I had been baptized with hippy names, everyone should also have a new nickname. Frankie became Mufasa, and then we had Moto, Coconut, Menta, Wolf, and a few others that slip my mind. It was a great crew, but the only name that really stuck was Mufasa. Lunch was amazing. Ruki taught us some Thai words and ordered us a delicious local dish that wasn’t even on the menu: seafood suki (a spicy seafood and rice noodle soup dish). In the front of the restaurant we noticed a woman boiling what looked like tiny balls of colorful play dough, which we found out was a delicious taro and coconut dessert called boualoy. Kin yuh yuh kah! (that means dig in!). 

After lunch, we all hopped on a Thai taxi and went to catch the sunset in Pai’s Grand Canyon with a bottle of wine. What an amazing view. The canyon is incredible aaand also a bit terrifying. With no kind of protection or railing or anything, anyone could easily slip and fall a long and hard way down –but that’s also what makes it so beautiful. 

After settling back into the guesthouse and taking a shower with a beautiful view of the stars (yes, the showers are pretty open to nature), we decided to walk around and find some dinner and drinks. The centre of town is filled with street food carts that offer any kind of Thai food you can imagine, and all for incredibly cheap. The spicy noodle salad was one of my favorites, made for you right there when you order it, by a lovely old woman. Other things we tried included some strange coconut dumplings, savoury rotees, tiny quail eggs, and some unique sushi.

As the night progressed, we hopped around little bars exploring and playing fun bar games and sharing laughs with our new friends. All the bars had a very relaxed, reggae-like atmosphere which we all loved. All of Pai was filled with this good, happy, energy. Throughout the night we continually ran into people we had already met and this made Thailand feel like a really small bubble. We were with the Spanish crew and we ran into people from our current guesthouse, but we also saw the French guys and part of the German crew, even some Belgian boys we had only met for a minute in the Sunday Market in Chaing Mai. Everyone was in great attitudes, ready to be best friends in an instant. We ended the night dancing around a bonfire in a well known late-night bar called Don’t Cry


Very Hot Springs

It was a slow-moving cloudy morning in Pai, perfect for sitting in a hammock with a beautiful view of the fields and getting some design work done. We had planned to go to the waterfalls, but with clouds and sprinkles of rain, the weather was perfect to check out the hot springs instead. On the way, we saw the Belgain boys we had seen the night before walking in the street barefoot, and we pretty much kidnapped them to come with us. The Pai hot springs are more well-organized and maintained for tourists than I expected; but thankfully there weren’t many tourists they day we went. The springs are split up into several little pools, each with a sign marking the temperature (like an outdoor spa of sorts). Some signs also read “No boli egg” although we definitely saw some people boiling eggs there (that’s how hot the water is in some of the pools). It was a very nice relaxing day out, but with our crew, too much relaxing was simply not allowed. It was raining, so we bought a few bottles of wine and some chips and decided to start our own little party in our hostel. Everyone joined in and the staff in the hostel even ordered pad thai to be delivered to us so that we didn’t have to go out in the rain for dinner. That night was when the Ultimate Thailand Backpackers Familia was formed: Blanca, Vero, and Mufasa from Spain, the Germans: Jesse, Antonia, Theresa, and Stephan, Steven and David from the US, Gaii and Palo (Palo was another nickname that stuck) from Holland, and a few others that came and went (like this girl we called Confetti who got far too drunk that night). 


Waterfalls

Most of the Familia decided to go to the waterfalls, but I stayed back and got some work done in the most beautiful office anyone could ever imagine. Its days like these that remind me that the perks of being a digital nomad by far surpass the small disadvantages. As the sun came down and the crew came back, we were escorted to the town center by the most adorable stray dogs that always seemed to be happy to be around us, for another night of reggae bars and good memories. We ended that night watching the sunrise as we walked back from another well known late-night bar called Sunset Bar where we made friends with the bartender who later gave us an entire bottle of Sangsom (a local Thai rum) for free. Thai people are just too friendly sometimes (right Palo?). 


We will never learn

The following morning, the whole crew went for a filling Thai breakfast (which is the same as a lunch or a dinner… food is just food there) and then we said our sad goodbyes. The minibus ride back to Chiang Mai may have been even worse than the ride coming in. I guess we’ll never learn… 


Chiang Mai, Thailand

We skipped the usual backpacker’s first day in Bangkok and directly hopped on a plane to Chiang Mai. Bags and all, we packed into a tiny tuk-tuk that took us all the way to our hostel for 110 Thai Baht… yet another currency to get used to. However, this conversion was very much in our favor – the US dollar takes you a long way in Thailand. 

Chiang Mai is super easy to navigate. In the center, you have the Old City which is surrounded by ancient walls and a square-shaped river-moat. Directions to everything are based on this square. 


Hippie Hostel Street

We stayed in Divas 2 Guesthouse in a small backpacker’s street in the North East of the Old City. This area is super hippie and chilled-out with many hostels, guesthouses, coffee shops, and restaurants… but not many locals. “Authentic” or not, It was cool to feel like a part of a nomad culture here and meet up with so many like-minded world travelers. Chiang Mai in general seemed to invite travelers to coexist with locals in a very welcoming, peaceful, harmonious way.


A Delicious Welcome

After arriving and checking in, we were starved. Marcos, a German fellow traveler who was there in the front desk, invited us to join him for a quick street food dinner. Chiang Mai has an amazing strip of street food carts North of the Old City walls. That’s where we tried our first real Pad Thai, and the Thai cowgirl’s famous pork and rice. After a delicious meal, worth well over the 60 Baht it cost us (around $1.50 for BOTH plates), we spent the rest of the night chatting with other friendly travelers on the hostel rooftop. 


Temples & Jazz

We woke up energized and ready for some sight-seeing. It was so. fucking. hot. But the blazing sun couldn’t keep us from wandering. There are amazing temples everywhere. They’re all so much more colorful than the temples and shrines we saw in Japan. Bright colored shimmering mosaics fill the white exterior walls and doors, while gold takes over most of the rooftops. On the outside of all these Wats you see a bunch of little garden-gnome-looking sculptures and mini shrines. Buddhist proverbs are also often displayed around the temple grounds. Behind or on the side of each temple, you can usually find either a huge Buddha sculpture or a large and impressive chedi (stupa). 

That night we stumbled onto a bar that had people pouring out all the way to the street. It was Tuesday at the North Gate Jazz bar. Apparently, this place has live music every night, but the best night to go is on a Tuesday because musicians come from all over Thailand to jump in line for their chance to perform in a live jazz jam session. I felt like I was in a Thai version of New Orleans. We danced the night away with a group of hispanic girls who had just got back from their yoga-meditation retreat and a group of cool guys from Melbourne. What a great night. 


More Temples, Kao Soi, and Zoe’s

We started our day, again with a mixture of coffee shop work time, and temple sight-seeing. Then, later on, we tried one of the most popular dishes from Northern Thailand: Kao Soi. Oh my. This dish. I could easily live off of JUST this dish for the rest of my days and be the happiest person. It’s a spicy creamy coconut curry that is nothing but heaven to your taste buds. I highly recommend trying it if you ever have the chance. That night we ended up in the popular night club dance strip right by our hostel. We made some new friends, Lukas and Dennis, who were both travelling alone and had just met. Soon we had surrounded ourselves with a fully international group of people (from Switzerland, Israel, England, France, Egypt, USA, and Spain) and together we partied around Zoe in Yellow (playing Backstreet Boys songs… what?), and Reggae Rock bar with live music. We ended the night in Club Spicy, one of the only few places that stays open after everything shuts down at midnight. It’s so easy to make new friends here. 


Remember remember, the 5th of November…

During the day, we walked around, got some work done, and saw some markets with amazing fresh fruits and interesting Thai snacks. As we were sipping on some fresh fruit smoothies, we were baptized by a group of hippies we met on the street: “Ceci is now Luna, and Cristi is now Papaya” they said, welcome to Thailand. 

Then, we met up with our new friend Lukas at the THC Rooftop Bar for drinks and dinner. Not really knowing where to go, we ended up back at the North Gate Jazz bar where we randomly met a group of mostly-Germans who would become one of our closest new friend groups of our trip. How it happened, I don’t know, but we ended up with about 20 people in a Thai taxi who drove us to a ladyboy bar because everything else was already closed. Then, when even that closed down, the night magically continued with beer we got from a hostel owner we met, and cards that I always keep in my purse (hey, you never know when you’ll need an extra deck for an improvised game of Kings right?!). 


Tigers

After a few moments of going back and forth on the idea… we were persuaded by Lukas to go visit the tigers in the nearby tiger sanctuary. We rented some motor bikes and carefully made our way over to Mae Rim. It’s tricky to know exactly how these people treat these beautiful but dangerous animals. They claim that they don’t sedate them, but it’s hard to be 100% sure. 

When we arrived, a friendly tiger caretaker explained how to properly interact with the big cats, as they are kept with no chains and could accidentally hurt visitors by wanting to play. The caretaker explained that the tigers on average live three times as long in captivity as they would in the wild. They are domesticated and trained to be kind and gentle to humans from the moment they are born by being held often and pampered by the staff. Once he knew we were interested in learning a bit more about their training process, he introduced each tiger with his or her name and told little stories about their personalities and about them growing up. It made me happy to see that he really did have a close connection to these animals and that he really did seem to care about their wellbeing. He explained that they use small bamboo sticks and different sounds to help train them, and that they have some relatively large areas with pools of water to play in, even though he wishes they were even bigger. They also only allow tourists to interact with tigers that are 3 years or younger in age. Older tigers are too dangerous to keep so close to non-professional care-takers so they are taken to Meeting Conservation Center (80,000 Sq.M) where they can roam around in much larger spaces and they won’t be bothered by tourists. I left the sanctuary knowing a bit more about tigers, but still with a bit of doubt on whether or not keeping them in a place like this is really in their benefit. 

That night we had our first ever Thai massages! For about $5 you can get an incredible 1 hour full-body massage, and after a long day of exploring, there’s nothing better!


Elephants

I was researching where to see elephants ever since I knew I would be visiting Thailand way back in May, to try to find the most ethical place to meet these gentle giants. I know there are many places out there that mistreat elephants and abuse them in order to make some quick money, and I would never want to support that business. I also know that elephants that are completely free in the wild, have an extremely low life rate as they are often hunted down for ivory or killed by angry farmers after they’ve stomped over or eaten their crops. I’m happy to say I left Elephant Jungle Sanctuary without a single doubt that they do the best they can to take good care of these elephants and make sure they have long and happy lives. 

We spent all day taking care of elephants. Feeding them, playing with them in the mud, and bathing them in a nearby stream. They are incredibly intelligent creatures who respond to their own names just like dogs. It was like a dream to spend those hours so close to these majestic dinosaur-like animals. 

That night we went out “just for one drink” again with our new friends from the elephant tour, Ales and Tjasa. We went out to the Saturday Night Market and then to another Jazz bar called Mojo. Later that night we met a friendly local Thai girl, Natalie, who also has an identical twin sister. We also met some Spanish ladies, Blanca and Veronica, and French boys Lucas and Benji, who we would then travel to Pai with. 


An Extra Night in Chiang Mai

We couldn’t help it… we had already been in Chiang Mai for a week, and it was time to see something new… but we stayed an extra day anyway because we loved it so much. We ended up in a new guesthouse that was a repurposed old wooden Thai house in a beautiful tucked away street. During the day, we met up with the Spanish girls, French guys, and a local guy named Bai and we up the mountains to the famous Wat Phrahat Doi Suthep in scooters.

That night, we went to check out the famous Sunday Night Market and got Thai foot massages on the street – ah the luxury! Later, we were re-united with the same crew of mostly-Germans from before who had been away trekking for 3 days and found a way to have yet another crazy night in Chiang Mai ending with drinks and toasties in front of a 7-Eleven….and I thought the North was supposed to be the relaxed and calm part of Thailand…?