Travel

When in Koh Tao

Koh Tao has everything you desire - and more!

Although a small island (no longer than 3 miles from north to south), it has an abundance of adventures to enjoy. Beautiful beaches, epic views, hiking, snorkeling / diving, getting your PADI, peaceful spaces, delicious food, nightlife, yoga, massages for dirt cheap, and more. 

This was my personal favorite destination of ours in Thailand yet!

Allow me to explain why..

From the moment you step off the ferry, the tropical vibes brush your being. ~

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Koh Tao is said to be one of the places where it rains least so even though we were there during the "rainy season", we were pleased to enjoy mostly sunny days!

In fact, I believe we were fortunate to be there during the rainy season as it's also a slower time for tourism which means less people, and better prices. With it being such a small island, I imagine it to be crowded and hectic during the high season. Almost too hectic to truly enjoy it (unless that's what you're interested in of course). Which leads me to why you should come here in the first place.

Top Things to Do in Koh Tao:

The not to miss activities in my opinion are -

Snorkeling at Koh Nang Yuan -

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A nearby island just 15 minutes away, Koh Nang Yuan has mixed reviews, but we loved it!

Here’s what you should know: it’s a small connection of islands adjacent to Koh Tao. It's privately owned and therefore has some enforced “rules” that some may not appreciate.

1) The cost is 100 baht ($3 US) to get in

2) You're not allowed to bring in plastic water bottles or tupperware (for the environment they claim), and

3) You can not lay your towel on the sand.

The reasoning for these “rules” is said to be environmental which personally I support, however, I was very disappointed to see that there were plastic bottles thrown all around the island, along with many glass bottles from their bar with straws galore!

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Straws are one of the least environmentally friendly items and especially near the ocean they can be extremely harmful to marine life so quite frankly I didn't buy into their environmental friendly crap. This line of bottles shown above could've been there for who knows how long.

Now that we got that out of the way though - let me fill you in on the greatness of this place.

My best advice is to plan ahead and wake up early for this adventure! Make sure to hydrate well the night before and morning of since you cant bring your own water and it can be pricey there. Have a heavy breakfast to keep you full through the afternoon and hide some snacks in a bag (we brought protein bars).

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We planned a long-tail boat ride the day before and requested that we leave as early as possible. The island opens up to visitors at 10AM so we made sure we would be there just in time (I recommend being there a little earlier even - 9:45 if you can). After all, there’s an epic viewpoint that awaits! 

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By being one of the first ones there, we were able to climb up to the viewpoint and enjoy a few minutes of taking pictures before the crowds rolled in.

You see, every day there are tons of tour groups that visit here. When you book a group tour, you end up coming with ALL these other people simultaneously. That’s why we coordinated our own long tail which was easy and inexpensive! We roamed around the nearby hotels on Koh Tao to see who could help us arrange a personal long tail boat which is when we found Palm Leaf Resort who only charged $9/person - a great deal!!

Another bonus, I got to pay it with a credit card! May sound silly, but using a credit card for purchases is a huge convenience that helps me to travel. I get to save cash for other purchases and collect rewards through my card - overall a win win! More on that another time though..

Remember that epic viewpoint I've been talking about? Well, this is it..

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My tip is to enjoy the viewpoint FIRST and then make your way down for snorkeling! There are beach chairs for rental on the island but honestly Giancarlo and I just found a rock to hide our things behind and were in the water the rest of our time there. The water is beautiful hues of blue and I saw one of my favorite childhood fish - the rainbow fish! Who else remembers that book? Haha. It felt like a childhood memory coming to life.

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We scheduled our long tail boat back to Koh Tao for 2:30 which we followed up with lunch immediately after. 

Overall, Koh Nang Yuan has it’s up and downs, but I’d say it depends upon your perspective and level of preparedness. I hope the tips I shared help you to enjoy it as much as we did :) 


Hike up to the John Suwan Viewpoint

Are you tired of the idea of amazing views yet? Yeah, me either! 

The John Suwan Viewpoint is another top activity to enjoy in Koh Tao. Near the south end of the island, this is another place recommended to visit early or towards the end of the day to avoid extreme heat. There’s a small fee of 50 baht to enter, but it is totally worth it. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring water! The hike can be a little challenging but they've done a good job of placing ropes to help you along the way.  

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Just look at what awaits you…

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Hiking back down is equally as much of an adventure! We took more time to enjoy the views of the path and take pictures. Honestly I don't think the pictures truly do it’s beauty justice.

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Around the way is also Freedom Beach which is highly spoken of but personally we weren't all that impressed. Do look into though and form a judgement of your own if you’re going to be in that area.

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Stroll around Sairee Beach

Around Koh Tao there are 23 beaches but this is one of the main ones and the longest. Along it’s stretch are a variety of businesses such as restaurants and massage / wax spas for crazy cheap prices. My advice, take advantage!! Although traveling is said to be a vacation, it can still be strenuous on our body and mind - dedicate time to take care of you and treat-yo-self! 

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Sairee Beach is also a great place to enjoy the sunset. Find one of the several swings along the shore and fly!

Where to Stay

Arriving in Koh Tao can be a little overwhelming. There are taxi drivers and other businesses bombarding everyone fresh off the ferries at Mae Haad Pier, the main entrance and exit of the island. I stayed behind with our bags as Giancarlo ventured to find the pick up service from our hotel. 

Travel Tip: A lot of Thailand hotels will offer some form of free pick up - make sure to email them at least 24 hours before your arrival so it can be arranged. 

When Giancarlo returned, he directed us left from the pier over to a central meeting area where most of the car services seem to be. Along the path there were countless vendors of fruit, smoothies, other foods, tour companies, etc. This is basically one of the main areas of Koh Tao.

Once we were all together, the taxi brought us to our first hotel.

We mixed up our stay here with a “budget” location and later a luxury location. The budget hotel was Hillside Resort where we stayed in an ocean view bungalow for just $26 a night! (I’m still amazed by Thailand prices) 

Although the room was small with only a bed and a TV we never used, had no door to the bathroom, no curtain for the shower, no bath amenities, the view in itself was worth it!

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Now I should also mention, since this is literally a hillside resort (not only named one), it is an up and down hill journey to and from your room so I would really only recommend this hotel to people who are physically active and enjoy the outdoors. 

It felt like a workout at times but Giancarlo and I loved it nonetheless.

And wait, there’s more…

For the 2nd half of our time in Koh Tao, we merged over to View Point Resort. A divine mix of nature and luxury, View Point Resort set a strong example of what I one day envision as home goals! You can tell they put a lot of attention into the details and arranged each villa beautifully.

If you’re going to stay here - splurge on a pool villa! They provide ocean views and are each uniquely epic!

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Each morning we were served breakfast on the balcony which is free when you are in a pool villa. It was amazing to enjoy breakfast and the incredible view all at once.

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View Point Resort is very romantic but could also easily be enjoyed amongst a group of friends as well.

Getting Around

Taxis are expensive here and usually have a set price so there is no bargaining. 

This is probably one of the easier and safer places to ride a motorbike as long as you are being responsible and staying aware. In fact, Koh Tao is one of the few places I would even recommend renting a motorbike out of all the places we visited. (Also keep in mind that this recommendation stands for the slow season - busy season could be a different story). 

As you may know, Thailand is infamous for bike accidents, especially amongst tourists. We rode with precaution and always wore our helmets. The other component to be aware of is scams when renting a bike. NEVER give someone your passport as security! That is the ultimate pass to get screwed over by these companies. We were lucky to find a guy renting bikes for just 200 baht ($6 US) a day and only requiring our drivers license as a deposit. He was just north of the Hillside Resort on the east side. 

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On the other side of the island, it was a little different for some reason. While staying at View Point Resort, we were closer to Chalok Baan Bay, where renting a bike is a bit more expensive. We walked all up and down the Chalok Baan area inquiring about scooter rentals and felt best about a place called Buddha View Travel. Other places were asking for ridiculous amounts of money as a deposit or our passports so beware.

The owner told us straight up that if we were looking for cheap, this wasn't the place - but if we were interested in insurance and peace of mind - then it's the right place.

24 hour rental costs 300-350 baht, and he accepts a 2000 baht deposit which is much less than the 6-8000 that other places requested. You can read more reviews about it here.


Where to Eat

I’ve been holding out on you guys. I have yet to mention about the amazingly delicious food that is here on Koh Tao!!! I’m talking some of our favorite from all of Thailand!

Here are some of the top places I recommend:

Vegetabowl

Our absolute favorite! I mean, just look at this decadent smoothie and all of the vibrant life in these bowls!

I’m not going to front, we came back here multiple times! It was our go-to for feel good food and a nice atmosphere too.


Coconut Monkey

Maybe a little overrated, but I enjoyed a much needed green juice and fruit bowl here. Grabbed some of their scrumptious snack bars to go also. 

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Shalimar Indian Restaurant

Funny story, as we circled around town looking for a restaurant that we never found - we came across this joint. I was stoked to find they have a veg section in their menu!

The food was really good and flavorful! If you like indian food - definitely check this place out!

Also, bonus - on Sundays the veg dishes are discounted :) and that just so happened to be when we went.


SouthBeach Cafe

This was our go-to place for cold coconuts during the day. We also enjoyed vegan pizza there ;p 

It’s not the South Beach I’m used to as a south Floridian, but it definitely had a feel good vibe. This was on the south side so we only ate here when we were staying at Viewpoint Resort. Right next to it is I Love Salad, which we didn't experience but heard good things about so if you’re in that area, consider checking that out too.

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In Summary

Let me just say, if you’ve read all this way.. I love you beyond words!! 

Koh Tao is truly a special place. As you read, you can adventure around or just relax and soak in all the natural beauty.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or in general let me know what you think. Is this somewhere you’d like to visit?!

With love and gratitude… until next time.

We Reached the Highest Point in Thailand - Chiang Mai

The next part of our journey brings us to Chiang Mai - the largest city in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai was once ranked 24 of 25 Best Destinations in the World (According to Trip Advisor).

You may have also heard of it as a location for the famous Lantern Festival, Loi Krathong, that occurs yearly around November. (We hope to make it for this one day..)

The sky lanterns released are believed to help rid troubles and have attracted the attention of people worldwide for its overall beauty.

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Even if you're not here for the Lantern Festival, there's still plenty to do. About a 1 hour airplane ride from Bangkok, and you've arrived.

The main area is a square (literally) where you can find restaurants, local businesses, souvenir shops, hostels / hotels, massage centers, and more. Fairly easy to navigate, you have a wide selection of things you can do and see.

What To Do:

A trip to Chiang Mai wouldn't be complete without visiting at least one of the temples.

We're here during the rainy season and as a result it rained quite often while we were in Chiang Mai which made it difficult to visit multiple temples as planned. However we did visit one of the main ones, Wat Chedi Luang, and enjoyed its architecture, beauty, and energy.

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Around the corner we were able to have a conversation with a young monk. Monk chats are available here to the curious daily from 9am to 6pm. We asked him questions such as, "What do you do for fun?", "What inspired you to walk the path of a monk?", and will be posting a video with his answers soon.

He was a very nice gentleman who was happy to spend time answering our questions.

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We asked how he makes money and he mentioned that many monks live off donations from tourists and local businesses such as restaurants. We attempted to give him a donation ourselves but he declined stating he can only accept donations in the mornings from a temple.

Fun Fact we learned: There are City Monks and Forest Monks and they actually have their own forms of social media!

We found it quite interesting to see how they are a part of every day society but also dedicated to the many "rules" that are followed as a monk.


Grand Canyon

Story Time!

This was not an original part of our plans but one day as we were riding the Songthaew (bus taxi service of Chiang Mai), Giancarlo and I met two other young travelers. One of them - a wedding photographer based out of Mexico - told Giancarlo about a place called Grand Canyon.

We looked it up and Giancarlo was psyched. I however was nearly mortified (lol). Basically it is a man-made pool between mountainous canyons where people go to jump and swim.

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Having a fear of heights, I wasn't exactly thrilled, but Giancarlo lives for that type of stuff and I know that every time we push ourselves past our comfort zones – it leads to a good experience.

We checked the weather and were happy to see that a sunny day finally awaited us! We woke up early, hopped in an Uber and traveled over (Yep, they have Uber here - but more on that later). It was about a 30 minute ride and my heart was racing as we approached the area.

My mind kept replaying scenes of people jumping off cliffs and I questioned if I was ready.

With Giancarlo's encouragement, we went inside and my mind was eased to see that the Grand Canyon had been renovated to be much safer with railing along the canyons and lifeguards by the jumping site.

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The highest point had been closed off due to accidents (I suppose) and while this other point is still high, it at least seemed manageable to me, haha.

Giancarlo jumped first and screamed on the way down. Then it was my turn.

I knew if I was going to make the jump - I'd have to just go for it. No looking down or around. So I walked away from the ledge and got ready to run. Without actually seeing how high I'd be jumping from, I ran towards the water and once I met the edge of the canyon, my eyes opened so wide you could probably see them from down below. I belt out an, "Oh shittt" as I fell towards the water and thought, what did I just get myself into?!

Of course that feeling subsides once you hit the water and realize you survived. The biggest hurdle - getting over the fears in your mind.

One girl waited at the top going back and forth about jumping for nearly 20 minutes and I didn't blame her.

For the adrenaline junkies, don't miss this place! And even for the fearful, come overcome the limits of your mind. More than likely, you'll be glad you took the leap.

Overall we ended up spending nearly half the day here having a blast, talking with others from all around the world, and enjoying a day in the midst of nature under the warm sun.

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The Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai is truly quite the gem!


How To Get Around

While in Bangkok, you could depend on the low prices of a meter taxi, but things are a little different here in Chiang Mai.

The local taxis are called Songthaews and they are actually flat bed trucks with a covered sitting area that turns it into a mini bus / taxi. They travel along the main roads and can be flagged down, dropping people off usually in the order that they hopped on.

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As a tourist, you can show them your destination on Google maps or have them look it up on theirs. Prices for this bus taxi service vary with the lowest being about 30 baht per person. You can try to negotiate a price, but if it's a certain distance and you're not willing to pay the price - they won't be shy to kindly tell you no and drive away.

Our hotel was a bit out of the way from the main area so after having to hop on a motorbike with an employee two times to then get to the main road where we could catch a taxi, we looked into Uber. Viola! Uber is actually the best way we found to get around Chiang Mai as it picks you up right at your hotel and brings you to your destination without making other stops along the way. Also it provides the luxury of  A/C which Songthaews do not and can simply be charged to your credit card for a ridiculously low price!

They do have surge times during rush hours (Uber's doing) so make sure to check the estimated cost first.

There is A LOT of traffic in Chiang Mai, especially along the main roads. For this reason and others, we wouldn't recommend renting a motorbike here. Although it can seem like the cheap and convenient option, Chiang Mai is one of the more dangerous places to ride a motorbike. We saw several people with "Thailand Tattoos" aka scars from accidents and also heard stories of people in the hospital so beware.

Uber is definitely our recommended form of transportation here. Another bonus is that many of the drivers actually speak English (somewhat rare in regards to locals here - few and far between) so you can interact with them along the way which makes for an even more enjoyable ride.

Doi Inthanon National Park

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This park is not exactly in Chiang Mai, however it is worthy of the trip while you’re in the area. To go here we rented a car for the day through Sixt for just $16 (although we ended up paying $30 for gas so be aware, it adds up).

What you get to see in return are lush green landscapes such as this and more.

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Another intriguing aspect of Doi Inthanon is that it is base to the highest point in all of Thailand.

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We walked through clouds at different points throughout the park which was an amazing feeling.

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It’s at least a day full of adventure as you can hike, see waterfalls, and their King and Queen pagodas. We were bummed to have missed seeing the pagodas first hand since they closed at 5PM. We did our hike first and then planned on seeing the Pagodas on our way out of the park so be sure to go early. Also keep in mind that the last time for the hike is 3/4PM.

 (Not my picture but to give you an idea of what can be seen at the pagoda area..)

(Not my picture but to give you an idea of what can be seen at the pagoda area..)

During the busy season, they also have a Karen Village Market open, but again, being here during the rainy season – we ended up being one of the very few people in the entire park and as a result the market wasn’t open.

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Nonetheless we loved all the natural beauty and opportunity to escape the busy city life of Chiang Mai. I felt like this was the first place I breathed truly clean air which was glorious.


Where To Eat

Chiang Mai is FULL of great places to eat!

My favorite restaurant there was Imm Aim which means happiness – and that is exactly what it brought us.

Imm Aim is committed to eco-friendliness and had the freshest tasting food I’ve tried in all of Thailand. No straws are given (yay), he sources from local organic farmers, and has a free purified water refill station to help promote the use of reusable bottles.

I would like to note though that this may not be a good restaurant for people who are used to eating processed foods. Because it is a healthier type of restaurant, they do not use oil to cook and therefore the food can taste a little "bland" to some.

Personally, I don't enjoy many fried foods or dishes cooked in oil so to me it was perfect. If you go, enjoy a smoothie with coco milk and try any dish with their homemade hummus!

Other great restaurants we tried in the area were Amrita’s Garden, Salad Concept, and Taste from Heaven (Giancarlo's favorite - see dish below ;p ).

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Where To Stay

We stayed at Get Zleep while they had a great promotion running on Hotels.com for just $11/night. However, this may not be the place for everyone. If you want to be in the center of the city and action, I’d recommend looking into other options. But if you’re interested in a cozy space for a great price – this is your place! It was right next to a University which was neat as we were in the mix with students and received an authentic glimpse into their life and culture.


Places we Didn't Get to See That you May be Interested in:

Temples: Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

Cooking Classes

Wat Rong Khun - The White Temple

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Wat Maha That - (Where you can find the famous Buddha Head in Tree)

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Chiang Mai was a great way to see northern Thailand. If you go, I'd also recommend looking into the city of Pai which is nearby. Although we didn't go ourselves, fellow travelers had a lot of positive feedback to share, making it a location we hope to visit someday.

Until next time friends! Thanks for reading <3

The Trip that Changed my Life

CostaRica

Sometimes your intuition directs you to a place you've never been, and although it can be intimidating to find yourself in a completely new environment.. Deep within, you can feel that this journey is a part of your divine destiny. 

At least that is how it has felt for me. 

When I went on my first solo trip as a 21 year old female, my head was filled by friends and family with, "What - ifs" and, "Do you know how dangerous that can be?" 

Despite the concerns, my heart had been called on a mission: and I was going to answer it! 

Where to?

Costa Rica to experience La Pura Vida ~ 

playa_esterillos

I had been working as an Administrative Assistant to the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program of my local Children's Hospital when I realized, I too needed to heal. 

My father passed away from cancer when I was 10 years old which was quite traumatic. Watching him undergo surgeries and chemotherapies only to deteriorate in front of our eyes was the most painful time of my life that I had not yet dedicated time towards truly transcending.

So my intuition led me to research how I could do some soul searching.

I came across a learning vacation at School of the World where I signed up initially for spanish classes.. But little did I know, that something much larger awaited me. 


Along with spanish classes, I decided to sign up for daily Yoga as well since I had heard so many great things about it.

The intention had been solidified. I respectfully resigned from my job. I was set! 

A month in Costa Rica learning spanish and Yoga! I thought, I can immerse myself in the culture and return with new insight, plus being able to finally make my family proud by speaking spanish more fluently. 


Ha, well.. Let's just say that I still struggle with my spanish :x. 

BUT, I received the greatest gift that saved and changed my life forever.. and that gift is.. 

Yoga. 

The beginning of my journey with Yoga is an expansive post for another time and space. I'll keep you posted ;)

As far as the travel experience, School of the World has an amazing team of teachers and the facility is so comforting, I felt right at home. Offering not only spanish and Yoga classes, but surf lessons and photography as well, the school attracts people of diverse backgrounds from all around the globe. 

My desire for culture and global awareness was easily exceeded.

I made friends with locals as well and have remained in close contact with the people I met along this journey years since. 

It's a deep connection that is shared when you meet people through travel. Such unique experiences that although the relationships may be short in time, are heart-warmingly fulfilling in spirit. 

Traveling alone, you learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine. You realize the strength and courage you possess, and it grows through each experience.

During my time there, I volunteered at a local preschool teaching english, helped a missionary feed the homeless, climbed mountains and watched the sunset, made life-long friendships, cried, laughed until it hurt, wandered aimlessly, donated clothes, and fell in love..

With life and with myself.

A feeling I had long lost. 

If you are considering traveling, my advice would be to research your ideal locations, keep an open mind and open heart, and if your intuition is truly calling you to this place.. Follow it! There is probably a life changing gift waiting for you there too :)

 

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PS: School of the World did not ask me to write about them, but I am personally so grateful for the experience I enjoyed there, that I feel inclined to share it with as many people as I can. If you're interested in a vacation that involves more than simply laying along the shores of a beautiful beach (although there's nothing wrong with that), I would highly recommend SOTW

It's a great way to meet and connect with new people while visiting another country. The classes are worth every penny. Plus, big bonus as a solo female traveler, I always felt safe and even at home during my time there. (I actually flew back 2 weeks later because I felt homesick once I got "home"). 

Have you been on a learning vacation before? I'd love to hear about your experience! 

Thanks for reading! Lots of Love.. Namaste <3