Today I am blogging about something a little different to my usual blog posts BECAUSE Danny and I recently celebrated another wonderful year together and it was made extra special by a lovely photographer called, Kate Roberge.
Kate is a local love and lifestyle photographer who captures some of the most special moments between people. We loved her work as soon as we saw it and we were lucky enough to spend part of our anniversary running around in fields, throwing leaves at each other and enjoying the beautiful surrounding scenery that Queenstown offers.
I really wanted to dedicate a blog post to her because she honestly made our day so memorable and gave us some incredible images that we both actually like – It is very rare, believe me! But you cracked it, Kate – AND you were a dream to work with!
If you are in Queenstown and are a couple, family, planning an engagement or wedding, then I could not recommend Kate enough! She is not only extremely talented but makes you feel at ease and really captures the moment with each click!
Check out her website here: www.katerobergephotography.com
AND her great Instagram page @katerobergephotography
Sitting down and looking back at photo’s of Krabi has me daydreaming of travel an how much I absolutely LOVED every second of my trip to Thailand. Krabi was not only the last destination of our Asia trip, but it was one of my favourite! We were so incredibly sad to be leaving this place behind as we positively enjoyed every moment there.
Krabi is the capital of Southern Thailand’s Krabi Province and is a large town which hosts amazing foods, cookery classes, pristine beaches, phenomenal viewpoints and endless excursions. Some of the best views are seen at The Tiger Cave Temple which sadly we missed. I was hit with a dose of sunstroke and whatever else, so we had to cut that from our itinerary. Boohoo, I know!
Thousands of people visit here every year; some to stay and others as a quick stop off point to go on to other islands such as Koh Phi Phi, which is incredibly easy to get to via ferry.
Where did we stay?
Krabi is FULL of options for accomodation. Depending on the time of year you visit will determine the price you will pay for a room. The best time to visit is during the months November through to March as the weather is not as humid and the rainfall is much less. We were there during the beginning of March and it was just perfect!
Having done so well with our budget we were able to ‘splash out’ a little more and book ourselves a beautiful, modern room in Fahsai Bay Villa, 10 minutes from Ao Nang. This cost a total of 520 baht for five nights. It was a family run business with breakfast included.
The family could not do enough for you, and if that wasn’t enough they had two of the sweetest daughters that made our time there so special. They were adorable and LOVED to sit with us and play with our hair, do my makeup and make us laugh. It was also a two minute walk from the port, so extremely easy to catch a ferry to Railey Beach and other islands. A shuttle bus passed by every 15 minutes, stopping off at Ao Nang Beach for about 30 baht; if I remember correctly. You could also hire a scooter or a car to get around yourself.
Krabi town was also accessible via the shuttle bus, so really, we were not too far from anything. The food was surprisingly cheap too AND delicious! As usual, we found our favourite restaurant and ate there most nights for next to nothing! 7eleven and family mart were also a 2 minute walk away! So yes…clearly, I could not recommend this place more.
As for Ao Nang the cost of hotels are much steeper, so staying a little further out saved us alot!
What to do in Krabi?
With only five days left we were determined to see and experience everything we had set out to do. We had seen and read so many incredible things that we just could not wait to get going!
Oh Railey, Railey, Railey… So many friends and fellow travellers recommended this place to us along the way, so we expected great things!
Railey beach is only accessible via boat due to the hugely immense limestone mountains, making it impossible to get to in any other way. But not to worry, because most boats leave for every 30 minutes making it super easy! You can even book your tickets the morning you leave, we had no problem! 😀☀
The ONLY negative I will throw in about Railey Beach was that it was incredibly busy! I know, it is a touristy place AND it should be expected, but we felt that it took away from its charm. Particularly by Phra Nang beach and cave- visually, the surrounding are breathtaking, but it was difficult to relax and take it all in when we were having to watch where we stepped and where we swam all afternoon 🙈.
However, there is so much to do here so if you have time I would suggest you book a night here to make the most of what Railey has to offer! 🐒
Railey Beach – Well this is one of the sole reasons people come to visit year in, year out; to relax on the beautiful Railey beach.
Surrounded by imposing limestone mountains, the large sandy beach is perfect for setting up your beach towels, buying yourself a delicious coconut and basking in the glorious sunshine.
Phra Nang Beach – It is often debated which is the best beach, Phra Nang or Railey. If it wasnt for the crowds I would have chosen Phra Nang beach! Again, surrounded by limestone mountains, the ocean is much more pristine and is juxtaposed to Phra Nang Cave. From beautiful sands to rocky caves, it is such a great contrast and so much fun to explore. The beach also showcased what some people might find extremely strange; a collection of phalluses, penis calvings that are placed there by fisherman as an offering to the princess of the cave, who is then believed to bring them prosperity. Take a look, it took us a while to figure out why on earth these calving’s were there.
Monekys! – See if you can spot a monkey or ten hanging from the telephone lines and trees! 🐒 We did not see any until about 5pm on our way back to the boat; they were so tame! They will grab anything they can from you so be careful, but we loved watching them as they tried to balance along telephone wires and played with each other by the footpaths. This one was adorable!
What else is there to do at Railey Beach?
Magnificent viewpoints – We were unable to get to the viewpoint because I hurt my foot and the climb looked less than inviting. You literally have to climb steep rock face to get there, so be extremely cautious if you decide to give it a go. There are two viewpoints and they are said to be stunning!
Rock Climbing – We did not do this either, but if you fancy a bit of action then rock climbing is brilliant for the more adventurous. In fact, we saw one elderly man rock climbing at Phra Nang Beach completely on his own! No equipment in site – I definitely would not recommend this AT ALL! But he gave a great show and had been doing it for years! 🌟
Kayaking – explore the waters with an hour or two of kayaking. Again, we did not have time to do this, however, we do love a trip out in the kayak and it is a great way of splitting the day up of relaxation and activity.
Four Island Tour..
The famous four island tour…where do I begin? I know that different companies offered varying prices and companies can visit slightly different areas, but the main reason we went on this trip was to see Hong Island and its breathtaking lagoon.
It is hard for the south of Thailand to not be pretty and each place we visited during this tour was unforgettable…
I cannot for the life of me remember what this island was called! I have searched everywhere! BUT wherever it was, was a great place to start our day! 😃 We got here via longtail boat and we’re able to spend an hour here, snorkeling, relaxing and monkey spotting! Two islands meet by a long stretch of sandy beach, just breathtaking. We did meet one rather large male money but he wasn’t in the best of moods so we spent our hour in the warm sea!
We could not believe our eyes when we arrived at Koh Lao La Ding. How lucky are we! Possibly one of the most picturesque places we had been we took up every opportunity to get ‘snappy happy’ to create some beautiful image memories! They also have a swing here! It fits two people! We were in our element!
We stayed here for about 2 hours, plenty of time to relax, swim in the stunning ocean and have a look around the small island. Here we also stopped for lunch. Not a bad backdrop for lunch, hey?
Now for what we had been waiting for! HONG ISLAND! After seeing pictures from here in travel leaflets we could not wait to jump in that emerald colour ocean and splash about. We saw hundreds of bright colourful schools of fish and jellyfish, it was a great snorkeling spot! The beach was also outstanding with limestone mountains and huge trees to hide you from the sun if you wished.
There she is, Hong Island Lagoon, the one and only! I could have spent much longer here but we had one more special place to visit.
The next place we visited was a lagoon, surrounded by tall limestone cliffs. The water was so shallow that people were walking through it; the water so clear! But we were honestly disappointed by our time at this Lagoon because they did not let us off the boat! So with one quick 5 minute loop of the lagoon on the boat we left! 🙁 ah well, it didn’t ruin the day by any means, we were still in awe of what we had seen at Hong Island. 🌴
Ao Nang Beach
Only staying ten minutes away from here we wanted to spend a day exploring this popular beach. The town itself has a great number of markets, restaurants, ice cream shops and beach bars. It is no surprise that staying here is more pricey!
The beach bars looked lovely and don’t be alarmed by the large number of women who approach you asking if you would like a massage. There is a section of the beach that is solely for Thai masseuses AND at such good rates! 🌸
Now, if you stay or visit Ao Nang Beach then make sure to venture over to the ‘other side’ of the beach. Continue walking East along the beach front until you can not walk anymore. You will be stopped by mounds of rock. However, on your left you will see a wooden stairway and bridge that, when you follow, will take you up and down and over the rocks to a more beautiful, more pristine area of Ao Nang Beach. We were so happy we stumbled across this.
Ao Thalane Kayaking
As I mentioned earlier, Danny’s and I love taking out a kayak at any opportunity! Here at Ao Thalane you are able to do just that-but even better! Here’s why…
Kayaking in a small group, staying close to the lush green limestones you enter lagoons, caves, canyons and tangled forestry until you meet the most friendly monkeys. Amongst the mangrove trees are monkeys waiting for your arrival. If you get close enough the monkeys jump on board your kayak in hope to find something tasty in your bag! Keep everything closed and we were told not to touch them under any circumstances. But just watching them they were so tame and cute! They seemed to like our kayak, perhaps of our hordes of water bottles, but I managed to quickly snap a picture on our GoPro of this mother and her baby perched on the end of our Kayak. It was such an unforgettable experience!
Such a beautiful day to Kayak!
We ended our four hour Kayak trip with an hour swimming in the Crystal Pools not far from Ao Thalane.
Like swimming in bath water, you are able to walk along the windy pool, tube or swim. There are also a number of tarzy swings to jump into the water from; it was so much fun! If only I could have captured a true likeness of what we saw through my photograph. It is a must visit!!
Believe me, there is so much more to see and do in Krabi. The Krabi Town Markets, hiking to see some beautiful lookout points and endless islands, you will be spoilt for choice and will wish you had all the time in the world to spend here. But, like us, I am sure you will return.
We left Asia with the fondest memories and huge love for the countries we visited. But onwards we go to…
Koh Tao is a small island positioned on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand and wow, is it beautiful! Its neighbouring islands are Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, which we are shortly going to visit! I am super excited to explore Thailand’s stunning islands, but to start off we arrived in Koh Tao!
I visited Koh Tao about 5 years ago and absolutely loved it, so I already knew we were in for an amazing three days! This island offers something for everyone with a mix off cheap to luxurious accomodations, long stretches of white sandy beaches and hidden coves, sensational coral reefs for snorkelling and scuba diving, unbelievable lookout points and funky beach bars to watch the sun set with a cocktail in hand, it is easy to believe why people enjoy this island so much and return year after year!
In this blog I am going to splurge all about our three jam packed days in Koh Tao and of those things we did, you must do when you visit! We had a BLAST and for sure three days is not enough, but with only 3.5 weeks to spare, we have a lot to see!
The best way around the island is by motobike/scotter, which cost anything from 150-250 baht/day. The island is small but to see everything we did in such a short time, it was a perfect option! There are taxi’s on the island but they charge A LOT!
Our first full day was fairly relaxed, we took a long boat to Nang Yuan island, which is a short 10 minutes away and a must see! The long boat cost 350 baht per person and to access the island you are to pay a further 100 baht per person. Getting there nice and early means you can grab yourself a nice spot on the beach and spend the day there, as the last boat back to Koh Tao is around 5pm. This island is basically two islands, joined together by a bay of sand, with turquoise sea either side; it really is breathtaking. Bring your snorkels along too because this is one of the most visited sites for divers, with plenty of coral close by. There is also a beautiful lookout point on one side, which is definitely worth the visit.
By night there are so many tasty restaurants to indulge in anything from fish, Western food and Thai delicacies. There is also a small street stall close to Sairee Beach, here does some AMAZING Thai food, the lady who cooks is called MAMA P! Cooked fresh as you order, cheap and always busy!
You are not short of beach bars to relax in either (with many happy hour deals). The sun sets perfectly along the western side of the island so get there early and set yourself up in the best spot to watch the sun go down. Lotus bar is a popular one and you cannot miss it with its iconic ‘bendy’ palm tree. Every night Thai fire dancers set on stage for a show with booming music and happy travellers dancing away. Be careful of the fire skipping rope though, people get burnt! Fizz bar is another popular bar to watch sunset and although one of the most pricey bars on the island it has such a good vibe there and the food is something else!
Our second day was filled up by scuba diving! Danny and I went on a ‘fun dive’ to Nang Yuan. The scuba company we used was ‘Davey Jones’ Locker’ and they were brilliant. We asked a few places for prices and got a feel for the instructors but here everyone was so warm and welcoming. Koh Tao is renowned for its scuba diving and is the cheapest place to do it and become a certified diver. I already have my PADI and Danny would have loved to get his but unfortunately we did not have enough time! Next time Dan – because we will definitely be back! The only thing I wished was that we had been taken somewhere else on the island as we had visited Nang Yuan the day before; we really wanted to see some reef sharks or even push our luck and swim with whale sharks!!
Our last day was our favourite. We got up bright and early, jumped on our scooter and spent the whole day exploring the island, discovering the best beaches, snorkelling and relaxing on rocks overlooking the whole island!
Parts of the island are hard to get to on bike or by car, so many people opt for a day trip by long boat to hard – to – reach beaches and coves. However, the cost was approximately 100GBP and we do not have that amount of money per day (budget problems hey..).
Danny and I were desperate to see some black tip reef sharks, so of course, our first stop was to be Shark Bay, although we took a wrong turn (surprise, surprise) and ended up on the other side of the bay at a stunning beach called Sai Daeng beach resort. This was not a bad mistake to make because the beach was pristine and FREE, yes, some beaches, including Shark Bay charge a fee to enter! We spent so long here in the water looking for sharks, and funnily enough we did not see any! We were told to swim out about 200 meters, but no luck! We did, however, see some of the most beautiful coral and SO MANY fish, it was AMAZING!
We could have spent all day there but off we went to venture to our next destination, which was Freedom Beach. You are to pay 50 baht per person to get to this beach but, come on, thats nothing and it is sensational! Fairly busy on the beach itself we dumped our bags and headed back for the water to do some more snorkelling; this place was better than the last; so many hypnotic schools of fish, we were in awe! I feel like the whole day was based around snorkelling because we got so lost in time enjoying ourselves we did not manage to visit another beach!
After leaving Freedom Beach it was the perfect time to hike up to John- Suwan Viewpoint, which is literally next to Freedom beach. This was told to be the best viewpoint on the island and who even said this was not wrong; we were blown away, it was magnificent. We were able to see the whole island, both Easy and West of Koh Tao, so green and pretty. We spent about two hours here watching the world go by before heading to Sairee Beach for sunset and a few drinks to say goodbye to this phenomenal place.
There are so many beaches, coves and lookout points to discover here and we wished we had longer, but I guess we will say that in each island we visit! The guidebooks are brilliant here to gather together a few places you would like to visit and speaking with the locals is also a great way of learning of hidden places. What we managed to see made our stay there better than I could imagine, so get yourself there and visit these wonderful places!!
Next Stop Koh Phangan!…
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and please share with me your thoughts and if you have visited Koh Tao, where did you love? I would love to know for our next visit!
We decided to stop off in Da Nang for a couple of days as our flight to Phu Quoc was departing from here.
For three days we did absolutely sweet nothing! It was complete bliss, and why not start early? Because soon we will land on the glorious white sands of Phu Quoc – I’m super excited!
We stayed in a motel for three nights called ‘scorpion motel’, which was standard and only $9 per night! Other than being bitten alive by mosquitos, *Danny can lie there naked and get one bite & I lie there covered head to toe and still wake up with 5 fresh bites – how is this?!* it’s pretty clean, the staff are friendly AND it is a two minute walk from the beach! Oh, I’d missed the beach!
Spending three days here was also a great way of saving some money 💰 as Vietnam has certainly set us back ALOT. Let’s put it this way … the New Year meant to get from Ninh Binh to Hoi An, it would cost $100AUD for a night bus, which we paid. In Hoi An all trains and buses were fully booked up until the 16th of February – our visa runs out on the 22nd. Danny and I reluctantly had to pay $400 for a flight out of Hoi An, even after waiting there for an extra 5 days for prices to go down. Absolute killer, right?
With our budget we have been shot so are unable to do some of the things we really wanted to do here in Vietnam; such a shame and it’s fairly irritating that prices can go up so much!
However, we have managed to spend as little as 300,000dong a day (approximately $17) between two of us! Thank goodness for the beach! We also found a super cheap place to eat and the food wasn’t too shabby!
40,000dong – about $1.50 got us this beautiful dish of spring rolls and noodles. It blew our caps off with spice but it’s so tasty! We have even been saving money by buying cereal from the MiniMarts for breakfast! 😂💰🙈
The beach is really pretty too with golden sand and an alignment of palm trees to set up next to for the day. The beach is surrounded by mountains in the distance and you can spot the ‘Lady Buddha’ sat in the mountains – bold and white.
You can arrange visiting the Marble Mountains and My Son etc here too, but I see most people rent a motorcycle and drive there themselves, rather than with a tour – guess this would save a lot of money too.
‘Find me by the palm trees’ 🌴👙
It has been a perfect few days here and we are now ready to see some real paradise! Helloooo Phu Quoc and we will see you very soon!
The next destination on our list was Ninh Binh, and getting there from Cat Ba was not much of a hassle either! We were picked up bright and early from our hotel and arrived in Ninh Binh five hours later – all for 200,000 dong each!
I know a lot of people stay in Ninh Binh, but we were done with large cities for a while and opted for a quieter stay in Trang An; about 25 minutes out of the city. Ninh Binh itself was what you expect from a large city, crazy and busy, so we were glad to have chosen to stay further out. You can definitely arrange for tours to take you into Trang An and the national park from the city, but we wanted to be amongst the jungle and stay somewhere a bit different.
We chose to stay at ‘Ninh Binh Family Homestay’ for two nights, which is the most expensive place we have stayed so far, but the cheapest deal on booking.com. Also, we did not realise that we had come to Vietnam at possibly the most expensive time – Chinese New Year! So prices for EVERYTHING rocketed. ** DO NOT go to Vietnam at this time if you can help it – I really wish we knew ** . The homestay itself was lovely and the owner was really helpful and told us where to go and the best things to see.
Unfortunately we did not have long to spend there, and now we wish we had longer, but here is what we did…
The main reason we went to Trang An was to visit Tam Coc but the owner of our guesthouse told us that it was the wrong time to visit for that as the rice fields are muddy and dull (the best time being June/July), so we spent practically all of our time there riding around on our bicycles and enjoying the views.
See! Beautiful! Shame it was the wrong time to go but we made up for it elsewhere.
Only having one full day here we wanted to make the most of it. So for 50,000 dong each we rented a bicycle from the guesthouse and cycled around 45 minutes, with many stoppages to take pictures and enjoy our surroundings, to a place called ‘Mua Caves’. Here we jumped onto a bamboo boat and rowed down the beautiful river, through tiny caves and were shown some of the famous temples and stunning viewpoints, hidden amongst the mountains. For an adult the entry cost is 200,000 dong and for children, 100,000 dong and the trip lasted 3 hours (see xe.com for exchange rates).
When we approaches the first cave I thought to myself, ‘there is NO WAY we are going to get through there!’ – It was tiny! Then I saw the second cave and it was even smaller! We had to duck our heads most of the time, which was actually very amusing to see Danny do this as he is so big! There was a group of Indian men in the boats ahead and they were playing real Indian music, singing and dancing, taking pictures and loving every second of it. It was honestly so much fun, and something I had never experienced before.
Even on a dull, cloudy day, the place looks so peaceful and stunning.
That was all from our short stay in Trang An. Be sure to spend a day or two longer here than we did and research the better times to go. Non-the-less it was a lovely stay, with so much more to do.
Next stop Hoi An
We were super excited to visit here because we had heard so much about this quaint little city. Two days before we booked ourselves onto a night bus from Ninh Binh to Hoi An and it was a nightmare to say the least! As I mentioned before, it was Chinese New Year so the prices for everything has increased, therefore, we had to pay around 100AUD for this 13 hour journey. Once on the bus we found there was only one bed left, so Danny and I had to squeeze into a tiny space for hours on end. The 13 hour trip soon turned into 18 hours and we had to change buses twice to get there. Just be careful and perhaps organise and book it a little further in advance. We laugh about it now – joys of travelling ey!
*I would try to avoid going to Vietnam during this holiday, unless you plan to stay in one place for the duration of your time. Otherwise you will end up paying a hell of a lot more for travel and hotels and when you are on a budget it is not kind to your wallet. Flights, trains and buses are either fully booked or the prices are extremely expensive*.
Arriving in Hoi An right in Vietnamese holiday time meant we had to change our plans to save money in the long run. We booked 6 nights here, instead of the 4 nights we originally planned, so by the time we moved onto our next destination the holiday would be over and we would not have to pay an extortionate amount for a bus again.
We couldn’t complain though, because Hoi An is so magical! We loved it here!
We spent a lot of our time here wandering around the Ancient City, which was so vibrant and full of colour. Hundreds of lanterns decorate the city walls and shops making it feel so welcoming and attractive. The people here are so friendly, too. By day we walked through the city and admired all of the beautiful hand crafted jewellery, souvenirs and the Japanese covered bridge. We have even contemplated on having dresses and suits made for us as they are meant to be amazing here! By night we ate at one of the many restaurants with delicious food menu’s and enjoyed the cocktail happy hours. The lanterns all light up at night and it looks so pretty!
It was so nice to come to Hoi An and relax after three weeks of lugging our bags around every other day. For our first 3 days the sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and there were no clouds in sight! It was absolute bliss! So we cycled to two different beaches to relax for a couple of days. Cycling on the roads is interesting, you definitely freak out a little by how close the taxi’s and buses get to you but I am getting better each time – just keep your whits about you at all times!
Where to stay?
You won’t be short of options of places to stay – from cheap hostels where you can meet many other travellers, to homestay’s and fancy hotels. We have been booking each place before we arrive to save us the hassle of lumping our bags around trying to find somewhere on the day we arrive. But each to their own – I have heard it is cheaper to do it that way, but we have been booking rooms through Agoda.com and booking.com as its more convenient for us. Here, we stayed in a lovely homestay called ‘Coconut Hamlet’, which is approximately a 20-25 minute bike ride into the Ancient City and from one of two of the beaches. This cost us $44USD for four nights and included breakfast and free bikes. The family were so lovely and even went to the trouble of cooking us food one night when we were too tired to go out for food; how lovely!
What to do?
Other than the sandy beaches and beautiful city there is plenty to do in Hoi An and its surrounding area and if you are lucky enough to stay during a period of bright sunshine then you will really be able to make the most of it! For the remaining four days here it rained, and when I say rained I mean buckets and buckets of fat rain! But it was fine, we still managed to make the most of what we had.
Tailored Clothing: On those days where you do not have much planned, other than walking through the Ancient City, you can organise dresses, suits, shirts and anything else your heart desires to be made and fitted properly by one of the many many tailors in the City. It is so cheap too! So many people have raved about the quality of clothing made for them without burning a hole in their pockets.
Cooking Class: I heard that the best place to book a cooking class for Vietnamese food is here, and there are SO MANY places that offer it here at reasonable prices! I feel like we haven’t fully appreciated the Vietnamese foods yet so we were happy to give this a go!
Excursions: You can book many trips through your hotel, or through travel agencies in the city. About 30 minutes out of Hoi An is the ‘Marble Mountains’, where you can enjoy the area’s natural caves and mountain views, or ‘My Son’, which is an array of partially ruined Hindu temples which were built in the 4th and 14th century, both very popular and easy to get to.
The Food! Its so good! I think I preferred it over Danny, but through speaking with different travellers we have learnt about the better dishes to try and some great places to eat! ‘Morning Glory’ – our friend from Australia told us to visit. It has some deliciously weird but wonderful things on its menu, so you must try it 😀 !
Bánh Mì Phượng– This was just … wow… amazing! Randomly situated amongst one of the many little streets in Ancient City, it can be hard to find at first, but ask anyone and they will direct you. There is always a queue waiting outside and people are interested in finding out why! This place basically makes baguettes; pork, beef, chicken, tofu, vegetarian – you name it. But it is what they put in the baguette that makes it taste soooo good! I have no idea what it is they put in it, but it works, and for 20,000dong for one, you cannot go wrong with your budget!
There is also a special noodle dish made only here, in Hoi An – the Cau Lau noodle. Like spaghetti pasta but thicker? They mix this with whisky soy sauc, garlic and spices and add a choice of marinated fish, chicken, pork or vegetarian options with lettuce. So simple, yet beautiful!
There is such a diverse range of food choices here, you can work within your budget and try some of the amazing foods, as well as the markets. However, there are some reasonably priced restaurants too.
That is it for my stay here, I hope you get some valuable advice from this and enjoyed the read! 😀
Now time to move on toPhu Quoc!!!
***We have found Vietnam to be much more expensive than Thailand, perhaps because of the New Year***.
After a speedy two days in Hanoi we set off towards Cat Ba Island for a day around Ha Long Bay.
Vietnam First Impressions
As soon as we arrived in Hanoi it was crazy. Horns tooting, roads manic, people shouting and taxi men trying to collar us for an overpriced ride to our guesthouse. Luckily we met a Vietnamese girl in the airport who has been living in New Zealand for 8 years; she helped us get to where we needed to be without being ripped off. We quite liked Hanoi as first, the centre was fairly clean and the locals were friendly.
Hanoi city itself, from our experience, was just a place to stop off before moving on to somewhere we really wanted to be. We stayed two nights in a guesthouse called ‘North No.2’, it was down a dark alley way and was pretty decent inside and the staff were super helpful. We wanted to leave for Cat Ba the following day and decided to organise our own way to Ha Long Bay and do it as the locals would, and we also didn’t want to spend more and go through a tourist hub.
Up early after our two night stay in Hanoi, we made our way to the bus station – not sure it was the one we asked the taxi driver for but we made it non-the-less, costing 200,000 dong, way too much for the distance, but its so difficult to reason with them and barter to a reasonable price. At the station the ticket office refused to give us tickets to Cat Ba, but gladly gave out tickets to the locals. We sat there so frustrated and worried that we were going to miss the 07:20am bus. FINALLY we were pointed towards a bus, after numerous attempts to get a ticket, and were told to pay on there, so we did, after some distrust.
We have found it so hard with the language barrier since then, and feel as though the locals are constantly trying to rip us off. We soon started to think that maybe booking through a tour company or pre-booking our tickets online was maybe the better option. But, hey, you live and learn ALOT when travelling.
It cost us 200,000dong to get a bus, then fast boat, then second bus to Cat Ba Island centre. The drive was also crazy, with bikes, buses and cars all swerving in and out of each others way; gripping onto Danny the whole way, we finally made it to Cat Ba after about 4 hours.
Cat Ba was beautiful.
The largest island on Ha Long Bay, it prides itself in its sensational views and national park. We definitely could have stayed a day or two longer to really venture out around the island.
We decided to go to Cat Ba rather than Halong City because we wanted to 1) see the island, and 2) we wanted to get a nice quiet boat to see Halong Bay, rather than a party boat. It really just depends on what you want out of your day.
We booked our boat tour through our guesthouse for 350, 000 dong per person. This included our pick up from the hotel, visiting the monkey island, kayaking in and around the caves of Ha Long Bay, Vietnamese lunch, an afternoon swim and a visit to the old fishing villages. It was honestly such an awesome day, we loved every second of it and we met some lovely people on the boat. The sun turned out nice for us too, so it was perfect.
Money Island was really beautiful, we had an hour here and the monkeys were not shy! They came out from the trees straight away to snoop around our bags *keep everything away! They took my sock!* haha. Also don’t get too close to them because they can get vicious if they think you are going to take something from them or they don’t get what they want. They were amazing to watch though, and there was a small climb up the hill to see an outstanding view of the surrounding islands.
Ha Long Bay
People tell me that Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit – and they are not wrong! I haven’t been everywhere, but it is definitely one of the most sensational things I have ever seen.
I didn’t even realise it was Ha Long Bay at first, until later when I asked, ‘when are we seeing Halong Bay’. But we stopped off there for an hour or so and jumped into a kayak to explore the stunning caves. We loved every second of this, the water is so still and at times, when no one else was around, we felt as though we were the only two people in the water; it was so peaceful and pretty. There are so many caves to explore but we went through two small caves, which led us to a gorgeous rock cove. We sat there in awe for about ten minutes just looking around us; we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to see and experience this natural beauty. An hour flew by and I know we could have stayed for so much longer but it was getting busier with more crowds of people, so we had lunch on the boat and sped off to another bay where you could jump off the boat and go for a swim to one of the small beachy islands.
We stayed on the boat for the rest of the afternoon, cruising around and admiring our surroundings. We were then taken to the fishing villages before being dropped back off at the port, which we nice to see, there were so many of them, like a tiny little community of fishermen and their dogs out for the day to catch dinner for everyone else.
It was such a lovely day and worth every penny! You can pay for so many different tours, such as an overnight stay on a boat and two day tour, or stay in one of the island beach huts, which looked incredible! It is so easy to book through your hostel or hotel or even a tourist information shop. Tick it off your bucket list 🙂
Located in Northern Thailand, Pai is definitely a place to make time for..
For 150Baht per person you can hop on a mini bus that takes you from Chiang Mai to Pai in three hours! Its not the best trip for a person prone to car or motion sickness, like me – but I pulled through it. Just pop an anti-sickness tablet before you go and you will be sorted! The roads are so winded with many sharp turns. I tried to sleep for most of the journey and before I knew it we had arrived!
It is by far my favourite place in Thailand, so far. We stayed in a beautiful guesthouse, just out of the main ‘walking street’ in town. The guesthouse was called ‘Churn Yuen Pai Gampanat Guesthouse’, we found through Agoda.com for a total of $65Aud for four nights! It was beautiful and clean and surrounded by stunning greenland and country. The lady who owned the guesthouse was so sweet, she could not do enough for us! Washed our clothes for free, took us to town on our last day to save us carrying our bags, gave us free water and food. She was amazing, I could not recommend her more! She was like second mum! 😀
Pai is such a small town that you could get anywhere by foot, but we did decided to spend a very small fortune and rent a scooter for the time we were there. We rented our scooter in the town through AyA services. For 100baht for the scooter and 80baht for insurance per day, we were spending nothing! The gas was super cheap too and there are so many places to fill it up yourself.
What I loved most about Pai, was how ‘chilled’ it was. You can do as much or as little as you want there. As we only had three full days there we wanted to do as much as possible, but could have easily stayed for a week and relaxed by the swimming pool, biked around the countryside or relaxed in the cool bars.
Slightly hungover from the night before, Danny dragged me out of bed and we walked into town to get our scooter. We decided today would be a perfect day for some natural hot springs to sort my head out. So with me on the back, helmets on, we biked up and down the hills to a place called ‘Sai Ngam Hot Springs’. The scenery surrounding the springs was something else, so peaceful and tranquil, with green mountains surrounding the whole area. The water itself was not too hot, it was the perfect temperature to relax in. We arrived at about 1pm and within half an hour it got really busy so I would suggest you pick your time wisely if you want to avoid crowds of people.
The cost to enter the National Park and to enter the springs was approximately 80baht per person. If you decide to ride up yourself, make sure you have a full tank of gas. There is a lady who sells gas at the springs, but charged double what you would from a usual pump.
You can decide to do these activities through a tour, however, you will end up paying so much more I assure you. I believe I saw a tour to the hot springs and then to Lod Cave was 500baht per person. We easily spent 300baht maximum between us for gas, food, the Cave and the hot springs. It just depends how confident you are on the scooter etc. We have definitely learnt to book everything on our own accord, just like the locals would. It has saved us so much money so far.
Anyway…after spending a couple of house at the springs we slowly made our way back to Pai town for the night markets. Each night at around 5pm, the locals gather their goods and push their food trolleys onto the ‘walking street’. Danny and I spent so much time each night trying to decide which stall to eat from; it is so much harder to choose that you would think, being such foodies, so we usually ended up eating from 3-4 different stalls! It is so cheap, you just would not believe!
Today we decided to drive over to ‘Lod Cave’ in Pangmapha. It took roughly 1.5-2 hours to get there, especially because we kept stopping to look at the amazing views. We set off early so that we could get there and return before it go dark, stopping off for breakfast on the way, 25baht for a Pad Tai breakfast, thankyou!
Now, the roads are quite scary, to me. I am a bit of a nervous backseat driver, and I was probably chewing my boyfriends lug off telling him to slow down when he was already only going 40km/hr. But going down those steep hills is freaky; I found that closing my eyes actually helped when going down hill, putting all of my trust in Danny! Haha
Half way to the cave in a beautiful ‘look out’ point, being the highest peak you can go to by car you literally feel as though you are on top of the world, looking down on the rolling green mountains. It is honestly breathtaking how unbelievable beautiful and natural this part of Thailand is. Danny and I spent most of our time shaking our heads in disbelief. It also felt so good to stretch our legs!
Once we arrived at ‘Lod Cave’ we were met by a trained local tour guide, which you HAVE to have for safety reasons. It cost a total of 150baht per person to enter with a guide. I had never set foot inside a cave before so it was all new to me and it did not disappoint one bit! I could not believe that this cave actually existed! The tour guide took us into the cave with his little lantern so we could see and taught us a little bit about the cave’s history and how different parts of it were formed. He taught us how columns were made by a stalagmite and a stalagmite that both grow enough that they eventually meet in the middle, taking thousands and thousands of years to create. There were still picture calving’s of deer that were drawn over 50 thousand years ago using bamboo! (Sorry, this stuff just fascinates me!)
The third cave we had to travel to by bamboo boat. We heard all of the bats above and when shining our torch to the sealing, saw them all scatter, hundreds of them. The cave opened up to a beautiful cove, where we parked our boat and looked around the last cave. It was so difficult to get pictures as it was so dark, but this cave is definitely worth the visit, trust me!
The last day was spend biking from place to place to made sure we did not miss anything we wanted to see. So we started off with Pam Bok Waterfall; another winded road and rough surface to get there, but not far from the town at all. The waterfall itself, isn’t very impressive, but it is tucked away behind a stream and some rock boulders. Once you make your way through the water you see a little waterfall surrounded by rock. Im not sure how deep it is beneath the waterfall, but I did see some guys jumping into it from a short height and no one was hurt – but I was not going to find that one out for myself 😀 ! We didn’t stay too long as it began to get a bit crowded.
We then made our way to ‘Pai Canyon’, about 10 minutes down the road. There are a couple of places to eat here and a few markets you can buy souvenirs from. Danny and I prepped ourselves with a ton of suncream as it was so hot this day, then revved ourselves up for what we thought would be a long hike up a mountain to get there, I have no idea why we thought this, because we soon found out that we were there within 3-4 minutes. The canyon itself was small and all the tourists were walking around the thin surfaces of the canyon; it wasn’t busy, so we admired the view for a little while and then moved on to the next destination.
We wanted to watch the sunset somewhere, and heard that the sunset at the ‘White Buddha’ was nice, although its hard to see the full sunset with the area being surrounded by mountains. You can bike all the way up the mountain and park yourself just below the Buddha. He’s huge and held up by bamboo sticks! haha! Once again, the view did not disappoint and we spent forever watching the sun go down behind the mountains. It is so beautiful, I cannot even describe, nor can pictures do it the justice it deserves!
There are some nice little restaurants on the road to the Buddha, where I got myself the nicest spag bol EVER! I was craving some western food! To be honest, the drive around that day was gorgeous. The roads there were a lot quieter, so we took our time driving from place to place. Oh and before I forget…day three cost us a total of NOTHING, everything we saw was free to enter! So more money for some well earned drinks after a tiresome day of hiking and biking 😉
Like I said, we could have spent so much more time here to relax and see more of the beautiful countryside. But as we had already booked our flights to Vietnam we couldn’t!
Put it on your ‘places to see’ in Thailand, there is something for everyone!
Chaing Mai is known in Thailand for its stunning‘Old City’, picturesque temples and exciting trekking experiences. However, the main reason Danny and I went was to spend a day with our favourite animals; the beautiful elephants.
I wanted to write a blog post solely on our day at the sanctuary because it was honestly one of the best days of my life! I could have cried with happiness all day!
We researched carefully into which elephant sanctuary to visit because we know that there are many con sanctuaries in Thailand. When I say this, I mean that many of the owners have realised that tourists are more ethical and educated about elephant cruelty these days and will advertise their camps as being a sanctuary, when really, the elephants are still treat badly, chained and neglected.
I don’t like to preach too much, as there is still so much I do not know myself. But I do know that elephants are not meant to be ridden, their spine is not designed for huge amounts of weight. All day every day elephants made to walk in circles with tourists on their backs, on wooden chairs. It breaks my hearts that they look so sad. Please, please, look into true sanctuaries and avoid riding elephants. I assure you, your day will be so much more fulfilling and animal-friendly if you see these animals happy, in a natural habitat, with NO cruelty.
We booked our trip through ‘Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’ online. You could book it in the office if you preferred, which is situated in Chiang Mai. The cost for two people for a whole day was 4,800BHT (www.xe.com). And it was worth every penny! The Karen tribe are responsible for rescuing the elephants we met from riding camps. Many others are rescued from circuses and cages. We met 7 elephants, however, over a few camps they have many more elephants.
We were collected from our hostel at 08:30am and in the back of a pick-up truck with 6 other people, off we went. I won’t lie .. the majority of the ride was fine, but the last 30 minutes were pretty scary! You cannot expect much from a country with limited health and safety, but we sped through the dirt tracks up and down a mountain and finally got to our destination. Wow, stunning! Green, open and mountainous.
After being given our tribal top, we spent a short amount of time learning about the elephants, how they were saved, how to feed them and what to expect from the day. We then spent a couple of hours getting to know the elephants; feeding them, cuddling them and playing! I had the hugest smile plastered all over my face the whole day. They are huge! Even the babies are ginormous, but so gentle and friendly.
After this we had a beautiful lunch of traditional Thai foods and reflected on how amazing our experience with the elephants was! I couldn’t stop watching them! After lunch we made an elephant ‘delicacy’ of rice, banana and twigs! Sounds odd, but a small amount of rice helps with their digestion and the banana gives it the sweet taste. We squished it all into tennis sized balls and walked down to feed them again. Then watched as they one by one walked into the mud pit, where we splashed and rubbed mud all over their trunks. They looked so happy!
The guides are brilliant. They are very clued-up on what they are doing, as I watched them. They are so gentle with the elephants and constantly watched what we were doing to make sure we did not stand behind them and ensured we were safe at all times. They knew the elephants well and could predict what they were going to do. They were not only clued-up, but so lovely to everyone all day and you could tell they loved being there and helping these animals.
The elephants had bells around their necks so that in the mornings, once the guides wake up, they wander the land and listen for the elephants bells so that can get them and bring them to the camp. It was so nice to hear that they are able to roam the land safely and freely. Each elephant had one guide, it seemed, so at all times we felt safe.
Another thing I liked to see was that once the elephants had had enough of being in the mud or the water, they just left. There was no order to make them stay in the water for our benefit, they were free to do as they pleased, and that was such a lovely thing to know.
Once the mud mess had finished, we walked over to the river and washed them down. They played games with us when we were not looking; spraying water all over our faces. It was such an incredible day. There was one baby elephants called Peta, who was apparently a little terror and hated leaving the water, so it was hilarious to watch as he fell about in the water having the time of his life as all the others left.
They all dried themselves with the dry dirt in the fields afterwards and made their way back to the hill top to laze in the sun.
We left the day by drinking some thai tea and relaxing in the sun, watching the elephants in the distance. I could have watched them all day, I did not want to leave!
I am totally aware of how cheesy this blog post is, but I couldn’t have written it any other way. It breaks my heart seeing these beautiful giants unhappy and to see what they can have makes it slightly harder to see those who are still in captivity. I hope you read this and I inspire you to take the non-cruelty route when seeing these lovely animals. I will 100% be visiting the Karen Tribe in Chiang Mai again!
We finally arrived in Bangkok after a 16 hour flight! Ahh it was so nice to stretch my legs and get my circulation flowing again; I did not enjoy the size of my ankles post-flight AT ALL! 😀
So, there we were, in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city! The last time I travelled here was in 2012 and I was surprised by how much it had developed – much more commercialised, yet equally as exciting!
We stayed for three nights and had a full three days there to explore. Personally, I think three days is plenty of time, infact, we could have done what we wanted in two days but it all depends on what you have planned! We stayed in a basic guesthouse called, ‘The Greenhouse Guesthouse’, on Rambutri Street – parallel to the famous backpacker spot, Khao San Road. For $56AUD in total we were pleasantly surprised!
So far, we have not really exceeded our budget, its fairly cheap if you do it right and watch what you spend. Budgeting around $70/day for two people (not including accommodation) has been a lot better than I expected! The expenses lie in the travel, excursions and alcohol.
A few ways of spending less would be to select the cheaper options for food. We ate each day from the street stalls instead of the restaurants. Pad Thai is 30baht (we use http://www.xe.com for any currency conversions), I would eat chicken/pork skewers 10baht, chicken wraps 30baht, fruit 30baht, rice with a selection of two sides 40baht etc. If you eat at any of the restaurants you will be looking at spending anything from 90baht to 350+baht (still pretty cheap – but if you are budgeting, then it is best to chose other options).
Make sure you do not get scammed! It is difficult, I know, and I have been subjected to it a fair few times myself. Alot of locals offer things such as, temple tours, garments to wear to temples at a cheap price – but there are no private tours – do not accept. The second day we were there we wanted to visit the palace and surrounding temples. A local tuctuc driver offered to take us to the harbour to take a boat to the temple for 1500baht, ‘this includes the journey there, two temples and the palace fee and return’, he says. *I should have thought it was strange when we got to the harbour and they told me it would be one hour? The language barrier can be difficult at times*. However, we handed over the money, jumped on the boat and spend one hour cruising around the river to the temple, where we were left on the side, had to pay another 20baht landing fee and our boat driver sped off! Not only did we have to pay for all temple admissions, we found that were only a 30 minute walk away from the palace in the first place! We were not happy to say the least. Just make sure you either go through a trusted tour company, or see if you can manage to get there yourself.
Another tip to save you money would be to find out what you can do by yourself, without having to book through an agency or tour company. For instance, trains…you do not need to book trains through a company. Simply make your way to the train station yourself and book your tickets there. It is not only cheaper, but you save yourself alot of time and hassle. We nearly missed our train to Chiang Mai because the agency we went through told us the wrong time. Luckily, we got there early and realised. phew!
And always get the taxi’s to start the meter otherwise they will charge you an extortionate amount for such a small distance.
Khao San Road and Rambutri Street.
I love the atmosphere on this little street, however I think I prefer Rambutri Street as it is a little bit more relaxed. The streets themselves are wall to wall restaurants and bars, there are small markets selling some really cool merchandise and clothing. You will be spoilt for choice for food, the smells are mostly mouth-watering! For pennies you can fill yourself at the street stalls with local cuisine and wander around whilst observing the hectic night life there.
Alcohol is one of the most expensive things to buy but depending on where you go, you could find yourself better rates. A Chang beer can cost 80baht to 120baht, depending on where you go. Spirits are much more expensive.
On a whole, the three days we spend there were amazing. Visiting the beautiful temples and learning about the Thai history is fascinating but its fair to say I am ‘templed out’ and ready for our next leg of travels! 😀
Here is the temple of the ‘sitting buddha’ – for 20 baht entry 20baht entry – visit the sitting Buddha temple 🇹🇭🕌 it is beautiful!
That is it for my three days in Bangkok! Hope you enjoyed the read and let me know if you know of any other little tricks to save money when travelling on a budget! I know I will let you know more as I go along 😀