Koh Samui – Chiang Mai – Thailand – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 19

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Flying Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai this morning. We woke up and had our final breakfast at the villa before they transported us back to the airport. It was an experience to be in Koh Samui but I don’t think I’ll come back. It’s #1 income is tourism and it’s so touristy that they just bring you in, you take a tour and then you’re done and on to the next. Sandalwood is beautiful and all but the fact that it is on top of a giant hill and the only way down is to either get shuttled down or taxi, it limited us to exploring on our own timeline. They offer free shuttles to either Lamai or Chaweng areas starting at 11AM and last returning at 5PM or you pay 400baht. I would recommend if anyone were to come here is to stay at maybe a nice luxurious villa that is beachside and close to the Central Festival mall because it’s close to everything including food and the night market experience and of course the beach.

We said our goodbyes to Sew and Mr. Chai (our driver) and got through check in at the kiosk no problem at the airport but it was a long walk outside to get to our gate. It looks like a outdoor mall in the airport before getting to the security portion then it’s just fans going off. Once again, Bangkok Airways offers free beverages and light snacks as you wait to board. 2 hours to fly to Chiang Mai from Koh Samui.

Landed and got a taxi from the airport for 10 minutes (160baht) to our hostel Green Tulip Hostel (Mueang Chiang Mai District). We didn’t know they only accept cash so we all had to go exchange more USD/CAD. We had to walk about 10 minutes to Siam TV – second floor and exchange there. But before we left the hostel, we booked a cooking class so we had to pay for that as well. The cooking class was 800 baht. And we divided up the cost of the hostel and paid 3300 baht for both cooking class and hostel. After putting aside cash for the elephant tour, I was running low of baht and money to convert. I packed roughly $900USD for the entire trip but didn’t expect all these tours to pop up (as we prepaid & booked ahead for a few).

The hostel is owned by a Singaporean man but Stella and her family have been running it since day 1. Stella is intense but in a good way. Very nice, aggressive and informative. She wants to make sure you are having a good time and getting the best deals. Since arriving in Thailand, you can notice the culture shift – Koh Samui – more skin showing, tattoos. Chiang Mai – the hipster look and those earlobe hole earrings. The way they dress feels kind of like home.

We got 2 rooms – 1 with a double bed and 1 with 2 single beds which were adjoining rooms so we asked them to unlock those doors. The group took a nap before our cooking class as I explored the hostel. When you enter the main entrance, it is an open cafe style area with computers, pamphlets and whatnot available. You enter the back area to the rooms – no elevator but only 4 floors with its multi-colour walls and doors. We were in 202 & 203. There is a rooftop but the view isn’t so great which I guess is a good thing for privacy sake. I stayed up there for a while to attempt one last dry out session for my camera. I came back in to test it out and the smallest glimpse of life but nothing more, nothing less. Devastating. Shooting with my phone does nothing in comparison to my DLSR.

We got picked up in a Thai tuktuk which looks safer than a cambodian one. We booked Siam Rice – cooking class (800 baht for evening session) with May/Melody? as our teacher. We were joined by a mother-daughter duo from Ohio – Jenny & Allie (celebrating her 25th this week) and 3 from San Francisco who were here for a wedding and one who just recently moved here – Collin. We got driven to a food market to get familiar with ingredients then driven off to Siam Rice kitchen for us to cook. We got to choose what dishes we were making – soup, noodles, curry dish and either a thai dessert or a starry vegetable. I chose hot and sour soup, pad siew, jungle curry and pumpkin in coconut milk.

We all had our own little stations with the ingredients that we needed to prep. Once completed, we moved over to our own individual stove tops and May would walk each of us through our dishes as we would cooked them in the woks simultaneously squirting coconut milk in for the dishes that required it. All the food we made was so delicious. After completing and devouring our food, we had the tuktuk drop us all off at the Sunday night walking market (Rachadamnoen Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District) that spans a few blocks and goes in a cross shape. It’s more established and more difficult to bargain here. So crowded but tons of things to purchase and eat if you’re looking. 

Siem Reap – Cambodia – Koh Samui – Thailand – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 15

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We slept in today as it was such a long gruelling day in the sun. We finished packing and went for breakfast – the poached eggs were on point this morning. After breakfast, we checked out and Mr Dany drove us to the airport at 11AM. The check in was speedy and because we are flying Bangkok Airways, we get complimentary food and drink similar to Porter service. I also didn’t know that both our 1 hour flights, we receive meals/snacks which in the end became really filling. We had a stopover at Bangkok airport and just pretty much walked from one end to the other to get to our next gate. We are actually the minorities on this plane. When we touched down in Koh Samui, the landscape is very LA/West Coast/Hawaii-esque. The #1 source of income here is tourism and then #2 is coconuts. We exchanged money in Koh Samui as the rate was 35 instead of 33 in Bangkok. 100 baht = $3USD.

Different from the rest of the trip as they drive on the left side of the road here. We are staying up in the middle of the island at Sandalwood Villa  (211/7 Moo 4, Tumbon Maret, Amphoe Koh Samui) and holy hell the street leading up to the villa is on a 60-70 degree angle and winds. Sandalwood offers free shuttle service from the airport and so they picked us up in a SUV and now I understand why they would need such a beast of a vehicle. The streets here are quite narrow (single lane) and there are some road rules here and there but if you want to over pass someone you can do it then drive right back into your lane but also trying to avoid hitting stray dogs, people and motorbikes and other on coming vehicles or stopped vehicles. We were greeted by R at the villa and the lobby smells like heaven. The view is spectacular because we are higher up and right beside the main lobby is the public infinite pool and lounge area.

Our villa is the Amarin Villa which seems like a trek to get to. We go down the driveway then see where the stairs connect then walk through an area where you need to brush the tree vines to get through then you see the spa and make a left down those stairs then turn right and back up a pair of stairs. Our villa is massive. There is a kitchenette then the main room has a giant queen bed with such a high ceiling. The joining room has a double bed but both have sliding doors and just windows everywhere to enjoy the view. We have a jacuzzi o our balcony along with some lounge chairs and a egg swinging chair. There is a washroom and the main bathroom is massive with a stand up shower and a tub but just so much room. There is also a fridge and they give you free water everyday but also they provide free fruit and other drinks if you purchase. Unfortunately, there was thunderstorm previous to arriving which actually knocked out the wifi so Amy and Adam complained and somehow convinced them to give us a ride to Chewang – Central Festival and back for free which would be $20USD RT in a taxi. Central is their main mall are and they have a night market setup outside and continues down to the river front. We saw a basketball court and volleyball court but its further away from the mall and we only had 3 hours before we would get picked up. You need a Thai license to drive a motorbike out here. To enter the mall parking, you need a valid thai passport or license to get through in your vehicle.

There was a night market going on where they were selling the souvenirs plus cheap food. We eventually went inside the somewhat open concept mall to my favourite store – Uniqlo. I ended up purchasing 2 pairs of pants and Adam and Andrew also bought a bunch of stuff which resulted in qualifying for a VAT refund when we depart. We stayed in this area and also crossed the street to the extended part of the night market then walked back to get picked up back at the mall. And that was our first night.

Turns out November is not a good month for Koh Samui because its monsoon season here. March/April is the perfect time to come here. Since the weather conditions are bad, Ang Thong (the national park which also houses the beach that inspired the movie “The Beach” with Leo DiCaprio) is closed until December.

Pakse – Laos – Siem Reap – Cambodia – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 12

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We stopped by Delta – (Road 13, Corner of Road 38 | Opposite Athena Hotel) for brunch before leaving for Siem Reap. I was able to grab coffee beans that they grow and roast at their plantation. You can also purchase beans that haven’t been roasted for those of you who want to roast your own beans. The dessert case looked really good. They give you a pencil and paper to write down your orders.  I ordered the Skinny Minnies drink – lemon, orange, cantaloupe, basil seed and got baked eggs served in a little pan with ground beef, ham and cilantro on top with a fresh baguette and butter on the side (the baguette was so fresh!). It was a good meal and I wish I had more room to eat one of their cakes. Went to a convenient store and grabbed a few snacks and off we went.

Off to Siem Reap we went with Lao Airlines. Visa on arrival – $30USD not $20USD. Once you fill out the customs forms on the plane ride over, you fill out visa form on arrival then head to a line where you hand over the money, forms and passport then go to another line where you will get your passport returned to you. Then you continue to the security desk where you need to write in the visa number you just got and also scan your fingerprints on the pad. The airport is much more modernized and looks higher quality than the smaller ones of Luang Prabang and Siem Reap. So basically, the exchange is $1USD=4000 Riel. USD and/or Riel is used but most prices are in USD. Not much of a need to change USD to Riel but also they don’t use coins here. The lowest bill is 500 riel. We stayed at Secret Pavilion Boutique Hotel (120 Angkor Night Market St, Krong Siem Reap 17252, Cambodia) and they offer free airport transfer and we got Mr Dany who picked us up in his tuktuk with a carriage in the back different from the ones in Laos. Our hotel is located just a street away from the night market and within hidden streets with locals but we need to walk out and around to get anywhere but it’s still a nice facility. A little bumpy ride though as the street isn’t a normal paved street. The hotel is really nice and we were greeted by Surien, one of the ladies at front desk as they got us to sit down and she gave us information about the area and they gave us complimentary drinks as they got our room ready. Nate also works here who went to school in California so his accent is different. They helped us carry our bags in the stairs. We booked a 4 single bed room and ended up on the inside corner in room 53 that overlooks the inner courtyard and pool. They beds are memory foam and the bathroom is the asian style where the shower isn’t separate from the rest. It’s so hot outside that if you hang something, it will be dry in no time. Humid.

Our main goal once we settled in was to do laundry which we sent it off just next door where its 1KG=$1USD and we will receive it back tomorrow evening. We then went off to look for a pharmacy or optics store to purchase contact solution. My contact solution (Clear Care) does not exist over here! Amy at some point lost her glasses in the jungle as the bottom portion of her bag opened and it fell out so she needed to purchase a new pair. The prices were so cheap compared to prices back home that Adam and myself also grabbed ourselves a new pair each. We went to Royal Optic just outside the laneway that enters into the street that leads to our hotel. Amy is the bargainer in this group and got the guy to take off at least $10USD off. Her frames were $36USD + lenses $18USD or something ridiculous like that. I was trying them on for fun not intending to purchase but when I tried it on, I realize the market is geared towards asians and well I can smile and the glasses don’t touch my cheeks like the average ones back home do and I don’t even need to customize with added nose pieces! You have no idea how happy I was for this! I purchased a pair that fade off at the bottom and are thin on the side which make me look more hipster/nerdy. The frames were $21 + $18USD for the lenses and I got them for $38USD! That is a definite steal for sure! In the end, for 3 pairs total, we got it for $147USD and the turnaround service was only 30 minutes (minus Adam’s who’s style isn’t in stock until tomorrow). We decided to hop into Nice Cool (Tepvong St | Taphul, Siem Reap) nearby because there was wifi and cold drinks which after looking at the menu, we saw food that looked delicious so we decided to eat dinner around 530PM. I ordered a giant green tea with milk $.75USD and Beef Lok Lak with rice and a fried egg on top. The sauce on the beef was a little salty but It came with a citrus-pepper dipping that when the sauces mixed tasted amazing and it was only $3USD. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals. One of the employees or owner here is originally from Seattle. I absolutely love the kids here in Asia; they are so cute and big eyed and I got to play with a few today.

After we went back to the shop to pick up our glasses, we continued onward to the night market street. We went into the first little area where there were neon signs than looked like a small pavilion of little shops where we bargained and I purchased coffee beans ($5USD), a little ceramic buddha faces statue ($3) and elephant capris ($2USD). I ended up getting asked if I spoke Khmer by one lady who thought I was Cambodian and another asking if I was Japanese because of my eyes. They are little too aggressive already approaching and asking you “you want to buy something lady? souvenir? I give you good deal” but we will be back. There are also supermarkets here! Amy and Adam bought some Off! bug spray and a few other items. On our way back to the hotel, we bought a nutella crepe from a cart and also a shop that sold shakes for $0.75USD – I got the apple shake and also got to play with this little girl and interact with her two older brothers – they were all so adorable and the oldest served us. You can get 60 minute massages here for $1USD which to me is insane. Back to the hotel and went for a night swim and then settled back into the room and stayed awake until 1130PM as Andrew was flying in to join us for the remainder of this trip.