Tag Archives: Backpacking

Eight things you MUST do in Pai, Thailand

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We survived the 762 corners from Chiang Mai to Pai, though it didn’t come easily. Earbuds in, music on and managing to get yourself into a sort of trance-like state helped ease the corners and block the chucking-up happening in the row ahead from your senses as best you could.

I’m so glad I was finding my travel mojo again because Pai was truly something special. A quirky town in Northern Thailand, Pai is known for its hippie-centric and laid back vibe.

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We stayed in a modest hut at the chilled out and cheap KK Hut Guesthouse about 10 minutes walk from the town, right across a dirt road from the Circus School! Just the basics - a simple concrete bathroom (complete with resident frog), mattress on the floor, mosquito net and a fan we didn't even need to use. No need for air-conditioning in Pai - its fresh in the mornings, warm during the day and cool at night.

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Before we get started on your schedule of activities in Pai, first things first. In Pai, a scooter is essential. There is little to see in the town itself and, beyond generally chilling out, the whole reason for going to Pai is to get out into nature and explore the countryside! Your accommodation will be able to provide you with a map, so its hard to get lost.

Be careful if this is your first time on a scooter, as the roads are not always forgiving and in just our three days there saw a handful of people have minor accidents. That said, all the scooters up for rent in Pai are so beaten up that they will probably never know if you add a few more scrapes to the paint job…but still, take care!

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Okay, so you have your scooter, map in hand - now what? Here’s what I recommend you get up to in Pai!

1. The Land Split

Hands down my favourite attraction in Pai. To understand this place, you need to know the story behind it. Essentially, this used to be farming land when one day back in 2008, without warning a giant crack appeared in the land, essentially destroying its use for farming crops and the hope of future income. The entrepreneurial farmer then decided if he couldn’t continue to farm on his land, he would turn the giant crack into a tourist attraction.

We took a look at the split - and yeah, basically its just what you expect, a crack through some land, fairly impressive though not overly exciting. However, the crack is not what makes this place great!

What makes the Land Split the most wonderful place is that when you arrive there you are greeted with genuine smiles and ushered to a relaxed little seating area, where you are quickly served copious amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables grown right on this very land. They also grow roselle flowers (a type of Hibiscus) and you’ll be served a sweet roselle juice, followed by a small bottle of roselle wine!

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There is no entry fee, you simply donate what you like before you leave - they trust you will pay what you feel it is worth. After paying our gratitude to the friendly staff, we were sent on our way with a bag full of fresh passionfruit that we devoured over the next few days!

Nearby is the Pam Bok waterfall which is pretty, and worth a look while you’re in the vicinity. Some were brave enough to enter the freezing water, dipping my toes in was enough for me!

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2. Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon was ten times more awesome than I was expecting it to be, and had we not had just a couple of days to cram everything we wanted to do in, I would have loved to spend much longer wandering around.

There are some rather narrow ridges where you don’t really want to look down the 20+ metre drop either side of you as you cross - its not for the faint of heart! I’d recommend wearing some sturdy shoes for this one.

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3. Chinese Village (Ban Santichon) Viewpoint

Perhaps equally my favourite activity in Pai…I loved this one too. Drive through the Chinese Village and head right up to the top of the hill.

On arrival you pay a mere 20 baht and are served a gorgeous pot of chinese tea to sip as you enjoy the beautiful vista. Naturally, we bought a 10 baht mantou to nibble on with our tea, basically a donut served with condensed milk for dipping - yum! The perfect stop for morning tea with a sweeping view. So peaceful.

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4. Love Pai Strawberry Cafe

The strawberry cafe is extremely popular, so its not a place you visit for peace - BUT - it is super delicious, so go! They offer strawberry everything at this cafe, and its a place you can wander around for a while sampling goodies and exploring the gardens, then cool back down with a refreshing strawberry smoothie.

Fresh strawberries are few and far between in Southeast Asia, most areas are too hot to grow them other than highland regions - which is where you will find them in abundance (remember we ate tonnes of strawberries in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands?). So make the most of them while they are available!

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5. Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill)

Get your cultural fix by visiting the Temple on the Hill and the Big Buddha (still in construction!) that resides at the summit. Peaceful, picturesque and colourful, this is the perfect temple complex to stroll around for an hour or two and recharge your spirit.

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6. WWII Memorial Bridge

Originally built by the Japanese as part of the route from Burma through Thailand during World War II. There has since been a new bridge for traffic built directly parallel, however you can still park up your motorbike and take five minutes to walk across this steel bridge - which isn't particularly pretty but offers lovely views over the river along with some historical value.

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7. Walking Street at night

Back in Pai town itself, every evening the main road fills up with food vendors and artists selling their wares. Unlike so many of the mass produced souvenirs you find in tourist markets across Southeast Asia, as a community full of artists Pai offers a unique approach to keepsakes - many are handmade and sold by the very maker themselves at the night market. Its a great place to pick up a few treasures and gifts that are true handicrafts and represent Pai's quirky nature.

8. Eat Cake at The Witching Well

Initially I was only going to write seven must-dos in Pai - but then I looked back at my photos and was reminded of the most lip-smacking carrot cake I ate at The Witching Well on our final night in Pai. The food was tasty - I ordered a brown rice, cauliflower and chickpea dish, balanced out with a splurge on a glass of red wine, but the star of the show was definitely the cake. So good! And by that I mean just like a carrot cake you would buy from a cafe back home. THAT good.

I thought about buying another piece to eat the next morning, but reconsidered after I realised we had to lurch the 762 corners back to Chiang Mai - perhaps that mightn't be the best combo.

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These eight activities, amongst a fair amount of driving around, getting a little lost, and stopping for many a photo, is how we spent our two days and three nights in Pai. Enough time for me to realise I love Pai, but not nearly enough to honour that love. Yet another place I simply have to go back to! That's the problem with travel - its all just a delicate balance between going back to places you love, and falling in love with new ones.

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However, time was ticking - we had a chain of bus trips ahead of us to reach Sukhothai where I'd be reunited with my brother for a dose of temple exploring!

Do it yourself

A shuttle between Chiang Mai and Pai costs 150 baht one-way. The journey takes about three hours with a 15 minute stop around the halfway point. If you get easily queasy, try and get the front seat in the shuttle bus if you can - it helps!

Have you visited Pai? Does it sound like the kind of place you would enjoy?


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How I Lost and Found My Travel Mojo in Chiang Mai

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In the name of being honest and open, and not over-glamourising this adventure of ours, I'm going to tell you exactly how I lost my travel mojo - and then found it again -  in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Alan and I had entered our fourth month on the road and I had begun to grow weary.

I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me! After all, I am living my dream of travelling the world and on the whole couldn’t really be happier than I am right now. But travel burnout can be ruthless, it hits you in a way that makes you want to hibernate in your dark room, consoling your tired mind with a pointless spiral of youtube videos and endless Facebook feeds, rather than explore your exotic new surroundings.

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Despite aiming to stay 5+ nights in most places we visit, sometimes it is still exceptionally tiring to be packing, moving, planning, travelling and generally living without a home base. Sadness from departing our perfect little lifestyle on Koh Samui, sickness on Koh Tao, and a now very indefinite amount of time ahead until we temporarily ‘settle’ somewhere again had all added up to me feeling a bit uneasy and blue.

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Combined with my stress-inducing personality of we-must-be-busy-all-the-time, I was mildly exhausted. I was tired of sightseeing on a daily basis. Don’t hate me - but there are only so many temples you can admire, history you can absorb and local specialty foods you must try until you need a break.

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After a night’s stop over in Surat Thani back on the Thai mainland (see the very end of this post for details!), we flew the next day to Chiang Mai. Arriving in the afternoon, we were quick to hop on the back of a songthaew and make our way to the cheerful Buddy’s Guesthouse. I spent most of the evening stalking Buddy the pug (yep, the guesthouse is named after him!) until he eventually gave in and let me shower him with snuggly pug cuddles.

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We already knew that the next day we were not going to have time to see or do anything in Chiang Mai. It took a gruelling nine hours straight to nail our upcoming three weeks in China down to a tee, as whilst in Chiang Mai we had to apply for our China visas which are notoriously specific about your travel plans. A tasty plate of mango and sticky rice gave me the energy to power through the planning, and before we knew it we were up with the sun the following morning to queue outside the Chinese Consulate with our visa applications. Forms filled out, passports handed over and a gazillion pages of flight, accommodation and train booking confirmations later, it was now just a waiting game.

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On applying, the visas were to take four working days to process, excluding the weekend in the middle. We had a whole week ahead of us in Chiang Mai, passport-less and feeling unenthused. The worst thing about not having a passport in Chiang Mai is that as far as I am aware, you need it as a deposit for hiring a scooter - so we were on our own two feet for the entire time - which probably did us some good physically, but didn't give us the sense of freedom we love about hiring a scooter, and meant we didn't escape the city for any of its outer sights during our stay.

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Turns out, all I needed to get my travel mojo back was a break from my own exceedingly overboard need to do and see everything.  Before we arrived in Chiang Mai I had a list a mile long of what we would be doing while we were there. But when we arrived, and after some serious convincing from both myself and Alan, I threw any plans out the window and chose to listen to my instincts.

My body was telling me to just chill out and go with the flow. Nope, there wouldn't be any overnight trekking, no temple-hopping just to tick them off the list (we did visit a handful but in a very relaxed, unplanned sort of way), and no schedule. Each day would come and go exactly as we felt. Activities would happen if we felt like it and not if we didn't feel like it.

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Basically, I did my very best to ignore the voice in my head telling me what I 'should' be doing, and instead did what I felt like doing.

Of course, I always feel like eating, so ate tonnes of non-thai food and enjoyed every bite. Lasagne! McFlurries! Bagels! Vegemite sandwiches! Ice Cream Sundaes! Porridge! Mexican!

Margaritas were essential at Miguel's Cafe

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Proper English tucker at The Cafe Soi 1

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Delicious bagels at The Hideout (run by an Aussie guy who also offers vegemite and cheese sammies!)

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Swensen's because...ice cream.

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Lemon soft-serve at Lemon Hub - refreshing!

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Tanita Coffee House, where you can relax the entire afternoon away

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The sights of Chiang Mai just 'happened' upon us as we wandered around, rather than being planned - which is kind of magic. A holiday from our holiday, if you will.

When we weren't chilling in our room enjoying doing absolutely nothing or devouring all of the food ever, here's what we got up to.

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I found a swing!

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Wat Phra Singh

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Three Kings Monument

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The Night Bazaar, Saturday Market and Sunday Market

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Walking a loop of the city's moat

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People-watching at Suan Buak Hat

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Travelling long-term is different to being a tourist. This is among the lessons I am learning and slowly coming to terms with along the way. I don't have to see and do everything, everywhere. Downtime is perfectly acceptable. There is more to travel than sightseeing. Simply being in a place, eating up its food, soaking in its culture, wandering its streets, sipping a coffee whilst watching the world go by - each are perfectly valuable activities to experience a destination beyond its sights.

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Though I didn't visit all the 'must-sees' in Chiang Mai, I felt a lot more relaxed and in the swing of things when I left than I did when I arrived, and surely thats a good thing - right? Just in time too, because it was time to collect our passports, board yet another bus and conquer the 762 corners to our next destination: the quirky highlands town of Pai!

Have you ever lost your travel mojo? How did you get over it?

I haven't written a post on Surat Thani as we didn't have time to see or do anything there, but I simply must mention the hotel we stayed in as it was truly fantastic and I would recommend it to everyone! For a mere NZD$23 per night, we stayed in what felt like luxury at My Place @ Surat Hotel. They had a welcome sign with our names in the reception area, a personalised welcome message in the room with a fresh flower and on departure the following day gave us a handwritten postcard when we left thanking us for staying there. Five-star service - not to mention impeccably clean, nicely decorated and spacious rooms. The room was nicer than our hotel in Singapore that we paid more than triple per night for. A must-stay, for sure!


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I Need to Go Back to Koh Tao

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I was really, really excited to visit Koh Tao. I know a few people who have visited and I'd read a huge number of travel blogs raving about this perfect little island. We didn't have much time to spare before we headed up north but we had set aside three nights to relax and explore what I was sure would be paradise!

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See ya, Samui

Everything was perfect when we arrived and other than being a little sad about leaving our adoptive-home of Koh Samui, we were in good spirits about having a new island to explore right at our fingertips. By mid-afternoon, just a couple of hours after catching the boat from Samui, we had already hired a rather jazzy off-road scooter, navigated a very steep and unforgiving hill on a gravel road and checked into our gorgeous accommodation (Lungpae Resort) at the top of said hill, with a breathtaking panoramic vista.

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Things continued to go well as we hopped back onto the scooter, manoeuvred our way back down the hair-raising hill and ventured out for dinner that night. After a close call with a snake quietly slithering across the road, we found a quiet little beach and relaxed back into cushions, blissfully overlooking the sea as we contemplated what to order to eat.

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And that's when I made my fatal error. Let's just say I won't be ordering tofu noodle soup again any time soon!

I spent the entire next day feeling sorry for myself in bed, not out beach-hopping and exploring Koh Tao in our off-road scooter like I had anticipated. Probably fed up with my whining, Alan set out on his own adventure and kindly bought me back some gatorade, along with the photos like this to show me exactly what I was missing out on. So generous.

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Thankfully I had Kitty-kat to keep me company, the cat which seemed to be as much a part of our room as the curtains - he certainly seemed to think it was his domain. What a cutie.

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Still not feeling well enough to bump all the way back down that hill in the evening, we decided to simply wander up the few steps to the restaurant at our accommodation. Luckily, the restaurant is actually very popular in Koh Tao for its steak (which comes highly recommended by the Queen of Koh Tao herself, Alex in Wonderland!), so Alan indulged in the melt-in-your-mouth E4 steak which he still raves about to this day...while I wasn't even able to finish my sandwich. Damn that tofu soup!

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The next day I actually woke up feeling considerably better so we ventured to Tanote Bay, a beautiful, peaceful beach that Alan had come across on his solo escapades the day earlier. We hired snorkels from our resort and had a wonderful few hours relaxing on the beach and snorkelling around the rock which had zillions of colourful fish!

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By the evening I determined that I was on the road to recovery, hunger had finally set in, and that I could really demolish some pasta (if you've been reading a while you'll know how much I like pasta!). Referring to Alex in Wanderland's Where to Eat on Koh Tao we hightailed it directly to Porto Bello in Sairee for a hearty dose of Italian food. A few pesto doughboys and a bowl of spaghetti later, I was feeling like myself again.

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Unfortunately, the next day came far too quickly and before we knew it we were back on the ferry, headed towards the mainland for the next part of our Thai odyssey: the north!

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Food poisoning sucks. I knew it was bound to happen at some point on this indefinite Asia adventure of ours, but I really hadn't anticipated it happening in perhaps the place I was MOST looking forward to of all, and had very few days in anyway.

I simply have to go back to the paradise of Koh Tao and give it another shot - even if just to order an E4 steak for myself!

Have you ever had sickness ruin a holiday? Tell me I'm not the only one!


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10 of My Favourite Things To Do on Koh Samui

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I’ve blogged a lot about our time on Koh Samui from the Muay Thai training side of things, however of course we also spent plenty of time out exploring, eating and playing on this beautiful island.

Among some travellers Koh Samui has a poor reputation of being super-touristy and not worth the visit. Early on in our stay I asked one of the ladies in our Muay Thai class who lives on the island for some ideas of less-touristy things to see and do. This was much better than a guidebook, and she kindly gave me a long list of what to do on Koh Samui, which we spent the next four weeks trying to fulfil - many of her suggestions made it onto my favourites list!

After spending an entire month on this beautiful island, I can assure you that it is entirely possible to escape tourist-laden Chaweng Beach and discover many nooks and crannies that will have you feeling relaxed and happy in no time! You just have to know where to go and what to do.

Here's my top ten favourite things to do on Koh Samui!

1. Hire a scooter and drive around the island

Hiring a scooter is the easiest way to escape the chaos of Chaweng, and driving around the perimeter of the whole island only takes a couple of hours without stopping. While you’re at it, make sure you also drive through the middle of the island for a completely different aspect. The road Maenam Soi 1 will take you from Maenam right through to Lamai. You'll suddenly find yourself amongst lush, untouched greenery, complete with snakes crossing the road!

We rented from Ohm Cycles Samui and rented our Scoopy-i 125cc automatic for 30,000 baht/30 days - of course if you're renting shorter term you can expect to pay a higher daily rental rate. Please, always wear a helmet, drive carefully and be aware - we saw an awful fatal accident in the time we were there, and unfortunately this is a regular occurrence.

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2. Kalasea Cafe

Easily our favourite eating spot on the island, Kalasea is pretty much as far away as you can get from busy Chaweng, being halfway around the island. Fill up on mouth-watering food (salads! fresh spring rolls!) and delicious drinks (mint soda! oreo shake!) followed by a swing over the sea - Kalasea is the kind of places you can stay for hours. We did just that so many times!

From Chaweng, drive through Maenam and just before you reach Nathon there are a cluster of beachfront cafes on your right - Kalasea is the ones that is painted white with a thatched roof.

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3. Boat Temple

I'm letting you in on a bit of a secret here, shhh! Near Laem Sor Pagoda, which is also a beautiful spot, is a small temple that barely any tourists seem to know about. It is called the Boat Temple because it is in the shape of a boat, inside a man-made pond. You step onboard the boat to look inside the temple, which is rather unique!

Follow your map to Laem Sor Pagoda, once you get there hang a left and drive along for another minute or so, eventually you should see the temple up on the hill on your left. There is a smaller, model version of it in a building near the pagoda - don't get mixed up thinking that is it like we did the first time! We had to visit again in order to find the actual temple itself, oops. As always, be sure to dress respectfully when you visit a temple - that means covered shoulders and covered knees.

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4. Wat Plai Laem Temple

Visit on a sunny day and you will be taken aback by the colour and vibrancy of the 18-armed Guanyin statue and a very happy giant Buddha. This is a stunning complex to wander around for an hour or so and take in the ornate details of the temples in a peaceful setting.

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5. Go to the movies

For those of you on holiday trying to escape normality, perhaps this isn't the suggestion for you, but after a few months on the road we loved being able to go to the movies in English! We really enjoy going to the movies at home, so it was a treat to be able to go a few times while we were on Koh Samui.

The Major Cineplex Lotus Samui is in the big Tescos shopping centre in Chaweng. It is just like going to the movies at home except for two things: 1. It is way cheaper (180 baht for a ticket, about NZ$7), and 2. Before the movie starts you have to stand in honour of the King for a couple of minutes while a musical clip plays. Its a unique experience!

6. Visit the dog shelter

We spent an afternoon visiting the animals at Samui Dog and Cat Rescue Centre. Based in Ban Taling Ngam in the southwest of the island, this foundation was set up by a German and Dutch team in 1999 to provide medical treatment, food, shelter and sterilisation for street dogs and cats, along with providing education for Koh Samui people on how to care for their animals. It is a great foundation and keeps going by way of donations and the help of volunteers.

I am dog-obsessed so spending an afternoon there giving the animals some love, along with a bit of dirty work like scooping up some poop, is much appreciated by the dogs and humans alike! My only regret is that I didn't make it back more often. They love helpful visitors, be sure to check out their website here for more information and to donate.

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7. Chill out at Silver Beach

Escape busy Chaweng beach by visiting some of the other beaches dotted around the island. Our pick of the bunch that we visited time and time again is Silver Beach. Located between Chaweng and Lamai, its a small beach that you enter through a restaurant (marked Silver Beach Resort). Grab a bite to eat and a smoothie at the restaurant before laxing out on the beach for the rest of the day. Every time we went there it was never very busy and there was always plenty of space to relax in the sunshine.

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8. Take a Muay Thai class

You're in Thailand, and what better place to learn the eight-limbed martial art of Muay Thai than in the heat and humidity of the Thai islands, right? Seriously though, Muay Thai is an integral part of Thai culture, and just a couple of hours of training will not only give you an amazing workout, but also a greater understanding of Thailands #1 sport!

We loved training at Superpro Samui, you can stay onsite and training is included as part of your accommodation, however you can also visit for a one-off class. Check out their website for more details. Read my post about the gear and essentials you'll need to be prepared for your training session!

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9. Lamai Boxing

Now that you have completed your Muay Thai class and have a better understanding of the sport, hop on your scooter and head to Lamai on a Saturday night to see some fighters in action! The kickboxing at Lamai is in a boxing ring surrounded by bars, so unlike the two stadiums in Chaweng that are extortionately expensive (more than 1,000 baht!), watching the Muay Thai in Lamai will only set you back the cost of an overpriced drink (100 baht or so), and provide hours of entertainment. It starts around 9.30pm and goes through until about midnight, depending on how many rounds the fights last for!

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10. Secret Buddha Garden

Hidden high up in the hills behind Baan Saket, the Secret Buddha Garden is a jungly oasis built by a local durian fruit farmer after he retired back in the 1970's. Its essentially a lush, green garden with waterfalls, statues and figures of Buddhist folklore that make you feel as though you have entered some kind of mythical land! We visited on a drizzly day and were the only ones there at the time - it felt quite eerie and magical. The two of us drove up on one scooter, and while this is certianly manageable be aware that there are quite a few steep sections of road where the person on the back might have to quickly jump off so the scooter has enough power to reach the top!

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Bonus Activity: Cheeseburger Cheeseburger!

I feel almost guilty admitting this one, but while we were on Koh Samui a new eatery opened up, and as we are travelling long-term we have no qualms about indulging in some delicious western food! And Cheeseburger Cheeseburger, at the entrance to the Bophut Fisherman's Village, hits the spot BIG TIME. It's what I ate for lunch on my 25th birthday and it was soooo good. In fact, the vanilla milkshake was the best I've had in my life - I'd go all the way back to Koh Samui even if just for a Cheeseburger Cheeseburger milkshake - its THAT good! On the pricey side (as in, similar to what you would pay at home) but you are promised the #1 cheeseburger on Samui, so totally worth the splurge.

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There you have it, my favourite activities in Koh Samui. Enjoy your trip!

Have you visited Koh Samui or any of the Thai Islands? What was your favourite thing you did there?


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Thai Cooking Class in Ao Nang

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After a few days in Krabi town and visiting Railay, we decided to shift accommodation to the nearby town of Ao Nang. A mere 20 minute songthaew ride from Krabi town, Ao Nang is a beach town that despite being very touristic was just what we needed for our last couple of days of sleeping in, relaxing and eating-all-the-food before we started our hardcore month of Muay Thai training.

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Best of all, we were there for Alan’s birthday so we ‘splurged’ on a $40 a night room at the cute Ben’s House. We were all about the swimming pool!

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We had a couple of nights in Ao Nang and after spending much of our time there rotating between getting a massage, sipping fresh fruit smoothies and relaxing on the beach, we were off to spend the evening of Alan’s birthday doing something we both love to do: cook!

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We booked a cooking class with Thai Charm Cooking School, run by a husband and wife duo, and were picked up in the evening from our hotel to be taken to the countryside outdoor kitchen where the class was located. Welcomed with a cup of tea we were invited to choose from the many options of what we would like to learn to cook.

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It was an extensive menu - we would each be cooking a soup, a salad, a stir-fry and a curry (including the paste from scratch), followed by a melt-in-your-mouth dessert of both bananas in coconut milk and mango sticky rice. Naturally, Alan and I selected different things to cook each so that we could taste as many dishes as possible. Let’s just say, I’m glad we arrived on empty stomachs!

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The cooking class was small which was excellent - the maximum amount of people they ever have at once is 10, though being low season our class was just Alan and I plus another couple. Our teacher, Yok (I’m not sure of the spelling but she said her name was like an egg yolk!), was very passionate about her business and that shined through in the recipes she taught us - they were utterly delicious.

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We left with a plethora of new recipes (all contained in one little cookbook), a certificate (woohoo!) and a much better understanding of Thai food - not to mention, extremely full tummies!

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Perhaps the only downside to the cooking class - if you can even call it that - is that for the rest of our time in Thailand when I ordered any of the dishes we had cooked at a restaurant, I was often dissapointed because they weren’t nearly as delicious as Yok’s recipes!

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Taking a Thai cooking class was one of my favourite things we did in Thailand. I love to cook, and of course eat. Despite being slightly on the pricey side, it’s an activity I would highly recommend to any visitors to Thailand. In fact, its something I would love to do in more countries I visit - there’s no better way to learnt about a new culture than through it’s food, right!

The details: We booked a cooking class with Thai Charm Cooking School after reading rave reviews about it on TripAdvisor - and we were definitely impressed. I would absolutely recommend Yok’s classes to everyone, her enthusiam and passion for what she does shines through. For more information visit their website here. Just one tip: make sure you go with an empty stomach!

Have you taken a cooking class in a foreign country?


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Kicking Back in Krabi

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Although I was really sad to leave my beloved paradise of Langkawi, we had spent a good five weeks travelling through Malaysia and it was time for us to move onwards and upwards through Southeast Asia. I’d travelled a bit of Thailand a few years back for four weeks, so was excited to have even longer this time and be able to explore even more of the country.

We had a few days to kill before we were due to start training Muay Thai at Superpro Samui, so we decided to make our first destination in Thailand Krabi, home to the popular Railay. Railay lives up to the hype, thats for sure! But we’ll get to that.

As we cruised from Langkawi to Thailand's mainland, made our way through immigration and boarded a shuttle bus to Krabi, there was only one thing on my mind. I was hanging out to demolish a giant plate of pad thai and washing it down with a Chang beer...

I managed to sort that one out pretty quickly!

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We had chosen to base ourselves in Krabi town, and spent our first day there mostly just wandering around, gorging on delicious Thai food and having a bit of an explore of the local markets. To be honest - Krabi town itself didn’t have much to do, it seemed to be more of just a transit town for those staying in Railay or Ao Nang.

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The next day we made an day trip to Railay - a 45 minute journey in a long tail boat took us to for a day of beaching and exploring!

Railay is on Thailand's mainland, however there are no roads to get there - it feels like an island because you have to arrive by boat. Sometimes the sea can be rough, and given the design of these boats you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a bit wet!

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There are two sides to Railay, the east and the west, with about a 10 minute walk in between. The side you arrive into, the East, is beautiful when the tide is in - and we were lucky to approach on a high tide as the views were spectacular! However in low tide, this side of Railay is just a giant mudflat…we had to walk about 5 minutes though knee-deep, crab-infested mud (i.e my worst nightmare) to reach our boat on the way back. Womp womp.

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Railay is a popular destination for not only beach-lovers, but also rock climbers. From beginner to crazy-advanced, there is something to suit every skill level in these natural rock formations. We watched some people climbing for a while but didn’t fork out the cash to give it a shot ourselves.

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We made our way to the West beach for a spot of sunbathing and swimming action. This beach did not disappoint! We have some pretty incredible beaches at home, but these cliff faces were really spectacular! Now this was the kind of beach I was looking for.

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My enthusiasm with Railay only grew as we wandered in the direction of Phra Nang beach. I was mesmerised by monkeys lazily dozing high up in the trees, playful cats, uncanny limestone rock formations and jungly tracks to explore.

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We had heard about Railay's Secret Lagoon, but after seeing the rather steep terrain to get there and the fact that we were only armed with jandals (that's flip-flops for those not from New Zealand!), we hastily decided we weren't in the mood for risking our lives and continued onwards towards the beach.

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If it hadn't already, my heart almost skipped a beat when we arrived at Phra Nang beach. It was spectacular!

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Home to the infamous ‘phallous shrine’… essentially an open cave filled with, er, memorabilia…there were queues of people wanting the perfect photo. It was hilarious, but I couldn’t help myself! One couple in particular were taking it very seriously and doing all sorts of poses - it was hilarious!

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We were lucky to have a beautiful day but later in the afternoon the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched as we made our way back to our guesthouse in Krabi town. So much so that we sheltered under an awning out the front of a hairdressers for a few minutes while we waited for the rain to subside. Of course, the rain continued to thunder down so the kind ladies in the salon invited us inside to wait the rain out - they even generously offered us a ride home! Our guesthouse was’t far so we politely declined and made dash for it in the pouring rain. At least it was warm rain, not like that bone-chilling stuff that comes out of the sky back home!

While we both loved Railay and its mind-blowing scenery, we both felt Krabi town itself was a little bit lacklustre. If I were to go again, I'd skip Krabi town altogether and hightail it straight to Railay and Ao Nang - more on that little gem next time!

Where in the world is the most beautiful beach you've visited?


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Off to China – and a Happy New Year!

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After two incredible months in Thailand its time to say good bye to South East Asia...just for a few weeks!

At the crack of dawn tomorrow we will be jet-setting off to China for three weeks of adventure - The Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Shao-Lin Temple await. Not to mention the #1 reason we are braving the bone-chilling temperatures of China's winter: to attend a great friend's wedding, I can't wait!

This will be the first time I have visited China, so I am full of nervous excitement. There is no doubt it will be a challenge, but will be very worth it I am sure!

I'll be offline while in China, so I wanted to get in before the new year rings through and wish you all the best for the remainder of 2014, and pass on a huge thank you for following along with my blog these last few months. I appreciate all of your views and comments so much!

Of course, Alan and I are nowhere near done with Southeast Asia yet! After cooling down in China we will be headed to Vietnam to top up our tans in just a few weeks time. I'll be back in 2015 (whaaaat!) with lots of stories all about our two months in Thailand plus our Chinese adventures.

Thailand, its been a blast.

See you next year!


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Travel Budget & Summary: Malaysia

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Oh hey there! Its time to talk money again! Specifically, what we spent in Malaysia during our five weeks there.

Before we get into the dollars again (here's the first budget post I wrote on our month in Indonesia), the best way to describe our travel style is not uber-cheap - we are travellers on a budget, that like good value and comfort, and I'm sure our spending reflects that.

The reason I am sharing this information is because, like I mentioned in my last budget post, if this can inspire just one reader to realise that living your travel dream is financially possible - and not as scary as it looks - then this will all be worth it!

Right, let's get started.

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Malaysia: Our Itinerary

…interlude as we hopped over to Singapore for 5 nights, before returning to Malaysia…

As New Zealand citizens we received a 90-day visa on arrival into Malaysia (we flew from Jakarta, Indonesia to Kuala Lumpur). We stayed in Malaysia for 34 nights.

In the beauty of hindsight, had we factored Singapore into our itinerary earlier on, we could have saved a chunk of money by flying from Jakarta into Singapore and then working our way up the island, instead of flying from Singapore to Kota Bahru (the jumping off point for the Perhentian Islands). However we had booked the Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur flight back in New Zealand before we left and it was a budget-conscious decision at the time. You live and you learn, right!

Especially in the second half of our time in Malaysia, we relished in moving more slowly and staying in places for at least a week. I loved travelling a bit slower, as it gave us time to unpack a little, settle in, get our bearings, find and frequent some of our favourite restaurants etc.

We considered travelling to Borneo, however after splurging in Singapore and in favour of travelling more slowly throughout Peninsular Malaysia, we decided we will visit Borneo on another occasion when we have more time and money!

Malaysia: Travel Budget Breakdown

Please note these costs are in New Zealand dollars (NZD), unless otherwise stated.

Total we spent over 34 days for two people: $2,916 ($1,458 per person)

Daily average per person: $42.90 (our daily budget is $50 each)

We came in 19% under our maximum budget.

Category Breakdown (Note these costs are for two people and I have rounded to the nearest dollar):
  • Accommodation: $918
  • Food and drink: $968
  • Transport: $679 (this includes a rather expensive last minute Air Asia flight from Singapore to Kota Bahru)
  • Entertainment/attractions: $189
  • Visas: VOA is free!
  • Shopping: $145 (seemingly lots of little things like some multi-vitamins, sunblock, paracetamol, toiletries, sunglasses & too many snacks!)
  • Laundry: $17

Summary

Accommodation

On average we spent $27 per night on accommodation ($13.50 each). Though we probably could have stayed in places a bit cheaper sometimes, Malaysia budget accommodation on-the-whole is definitely priced slightly on the higher side, with less value for money. We continued to use Agoda for most of our bookings because not only do we love a good deal, we love to pay in New Zealand dollars (no conversion fees, hooray!). We still tried to book rooms with breakfast included, however do read my comment on food further below…these breakfasts were typically nothing special! We continued to stay in private double rooms, though often had shared bathrooms - these are pretty common throughout Malaysia - with varying levels of luxury and cleanliness.

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Food

We spent about $28 a day on food and drink for both of us - again slightly on the higher side, however we stayed in quite a few places where breakfast was not included which pushed that price up. Also, food on more remote places like the Perhentian Islands tended to be more expensive.

I loved the variety of food on offer in Malaysia! Indian, Malay, Chinese, Western, and sometimes a combination of them all. Coming from Indonesia where the food was ‘just okay’ to me, Malaysia literally blew my mind with diversity and food options! In Penang, known as a foodie’s heaven, there is a pamphlet you can pickup from most guesthouses with all of the local specialties (and there are a lot!), we had fun trying many of these and ticking them off the list. Some we liked, some we didn’t like so much - but thats the exciting part!

Unfortunately “included” guesthouse breakfasts typically lacked variety, usually consisting of just toast and jam…boring! Though I must make special mention to our accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, Matahari Lodge, where they had quite possibly the most delicious peanut butter in the world. A thick lather of that was enough to get you through to lunchtime!

I may have kicked my cornetto habit, unfortunately in favour of the odd oreo mcflurry…I had far too many of these in Malaysia! I justified it by saying I would simply burn it off come our month of Muay Thai training in Thailand…but I’m not sure that justified the cost. Oh well, we can’t all be perfect, can we!

Alcohol took a backseat in Malaysia, as it is very expensive (i.e. on par with what you would pay for a beer back home in New Zealand, $6-8 a pop). We had just a handful of beers throughout our time there, until we reached duty-free Langkawi and beer was once again a bargain. One or two enjoyed on our little porch most evenings became the norm, though Langkawi certainly isn’t a party island at all (which is fine by me!).

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Transport

Scooter rental was more expensive in Malaysia than in Indonesia, so we only rented a scooter in Langkawi, and even then we didn’t hire one for our entire stay. Our scooter rental there cost us almost $10 a day, which was on the higher side but also super convenient as we rented directly through our accommodation so returning it was a breeze.

We had hoped to use trains in Malaysia, however unfortunately our route was not very harmonious with the railway system! So busses it was, most of the way. Malaysia’s roads are amazing, and their busses very efficient and affordable, so travelling by bus wasn’t a problem at all. We bussed from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca, then onwards to Singapore - both which were very comfortable and spacious. We then flew from Singapore to Kota Bahru (a 1.5 hour flight versus a 2-day bus/train journey…um yeah), and shared a taxi with some fellow travellers to Kuala Besut pier before catching a boat to the Perhentian Islands. After the Perhentian Islands we took a tourist minivan to the Cameron Highlands (local busses on that route are either non-existent or few and far between), and again took a tourist minivan onwards to the island of Penang. Finally, it was just a couple of hours on a ferry from Penang through to our final stop, the paradise of Langkawi!

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Overall, despite coming under budget our spending in Malaysia was quite high. We could have probably done it a bit cheaper, but at the end of the day this is our lifestyle for the time being and we don’t mind spending extra on a few comforts! Malaysia has the reputation of being one of South East Asia’a more expensive destinations, so I’m perfectly happy that we came out under budget.

Have you travelled to Malaysia? Is it a country you would be interested in visiting?


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10 Reasons To Love Langkawi, Malaysia

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After not loving the Perhentian Islands, I was unsure what to expect as we cruised into Kuah, Langkawi.

It was our last stop in Malaysia and we were here for 10 days, before we passed through customs once more and ferried over to our next port-of-call: Thailand. Langkawi was another place of which I had heard very mixed opinions, so I wasn't sure whether I'd like it or not.

After ten days on this tropical island, let me put it bluntly: people who say they do not like Langkawi are either, a) CRAZY or b) LYING.

Langkawi is P-E-R-F-E-C-T.

I may have repeated over and over to Alan that Langkawi was paradise. Perhaps I shed a tear or two as we boarded our ferry to depart 10 days later…yep, I loved Langkawi so much that I was SAD to go to Thailand. Seriously!

So why did I love Langkawi so much? Here are ten things that makes this perfect island special...

1. Roving Night Market

Langkawi has a night market that is in a different location every evening of the week. Given the island’s relatively small size (you can easily drive around it in a couple of hours), we often came across the night market after a day’s escapades.

We ate from the Roving Night Market three times, and enjoyed the variety of noodles, rice dishes, items on sticks and other snacky foods (spring rolls! donuts!) on offer. Tasty and cheap.

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2. Pantai Cenang

Langkawi’s liveliest beach, Pantai Cenang, is popular for perfectly good reason. It is absolutely stunning. Do I need to say more or can I just let these photos do the talking?

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Other beaches of honourable mention include Black Sand beach for a sunset stroll and the secluded Pasir Tenkorak beach for a tranquil escape.

Black Sand Beach (Pantai Pasir Hitam)

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Pasir Tenkorak beach

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3. Waterfalls

Langkawi taught Alan and I that we are both waterfall people. Is there such a thing? We love beaches, sure, but after a couple of hours are ready to move on and do something else. At waterfalls, however, we can unknowingly spend hours.

Seven Wells Waterfall (Telaga Tujuh) was our favourite, so much so that we went back twice. You can swim at the bottom of the waterfall which is lovely (though rather busy), however it seems that not many people realise you can walk to the top of the waterfall, and literally stand at the top looking down over the waterfall below. There are different pools you can relax in, natural water slides you can coast down and a rock you can jump off.

Best of all, the cool water is a refreshing break from the island’s intense heat.

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We also visited Temurun and Durian Perangin waterfalls, both of which were also pretty magical.

Durian Perangin Waterfall

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Temerun Waterfall

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The number one rule of Langkawi’s waterfalls is: watch out for the monkeys! The cheeky devils will try and steal your things, and anything within a plastic bag they will think is food. Watch your stuff and don’t leave it close to the bush. Watch yourself too - I was minding my own business eating a biscuit from a plastic wrapper when Alan yelled at me to look out for the monkey, it was creeping up behind me and within centimetres of entering my bag for some goodies!

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Watch out for these cheeky things!

4. Rainbow Lodge

Rainbow Lodge in Cenang was perfect for us. This budget lodge is set back from the main road so is peaceful and quiet. Our room was spacious and clean, the hammock on the front frequently used to peacefully sip a beer as the sun went down.

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Turns out it’s mentioned in the Lonely Planet - we didn’t even realise it was a recommendation until we were skimming through the Langkawi section when we were already staying there!

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Uh so yeah, Rainbow Lodge had BUNNIES!

Just down the road is the best place to start your day where we ate breakfast for most of our stay. The friendly owner chit chats with you about life, business and rugby as he prepares your food, and it is always delicious. Perhaps my biggest stress on chilled out Langkawi was whether to have the scrambled eggs on toast or the muesli/fruit/yoghurt - because both were breakfast heaven to me! (Can't recall the name of the cafe for the life of me, but its the one with the umbrellas out on the left as you head towards the main road from Rainbow Lodge, if you're interested. Only open for breakfast!)

5. Skycab Cable Car

We ummed and ached over justifying a trip up the hill on the the pricey (for us!) Langkawi Cable Car. Eventually we decided to just do it and forked over the 35 ringgit each, though perhaps only because it was so close to the Seven Wells waterfall that it justified us a second visit.

Departing from the very touristy and slightly odd ‘Oriental Village’ complex, the process to actually get on the Skycab is not simple, made especially difficult in the 30+ degree heat. We showed up around 11am and were issued a ticket for the 12.15pm boarding time. Why one needs a boarding time for a cable car (what we would call a gondola in New Zealand) of which there is a new ‘car’ coming by every 10 seconds or so is confusing.

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You wait in the scorching sun for your boarding time to be called, then everyone scrambles and pushes into something resembling a queue. Slowly you weave your way through, up some stairs, wind around for another half hour or so until you reach the theatre. You’re then ushered into the theatre (which is part of your ticket) where you sit in these chairs that lean right back and watch a couple of different short 3D movies above you (I was skeptical of this but it was actually really awesome!). About 5 minutes later, thats over and you rejoin the queue for another 10 minutes or so until we finally we able to board our cable car! Let’s just say, I’m glad I took snacks.

Why you don’t just enter the queue as you buy your ticket, I don’t know…but hey, we got there in the end. And just look at what we we able to see!

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Our favourite Seven Wells Waterfall from the cable car

If you go on the Skycab my advice would be: 1) get there when they open, 2) expect it to be confusing and difficult, 3) it takes a long time so take snacks, 4) but expect the views from the top to be worth it!

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6. Exploring

There is so much to do on Langkawi! Perhaps thats why I loved it so much more than the Perhentian Islands?

Some days we would spend ambling around Cenang with the bliss-inducing recipe of sunbathing a little, swimming a little, eating a little, then repeat over.

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However, my favourite days of all were those where we hired a scooter and explored the island.

Where we veered down side roads, got lost and found ourselves again...and again. Getting lost is the best way to explore, in my opinion!

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7. Scarborough Fish N' Chip Restaurant

Guys, I’m from New Zealand, where indulging in a greasy pile of fish and chips is integral to our culture! Surely it would be insensitive to my homeland if I weren’t to indulge in a giant plate of fish and chips that comes so highly recommended on TripAdvisor?

Though not remotely Malaysian in taste, these fish and chips were fantastic, on par with the incredible surrounds we were able to enjoy them in. Deliciously blissful.

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Scarborough Fish N' Chip Restaurant is located on Tanjung Rhu Beach.

8. Guning Raya

The highest peak on Langkawi, we commandeered the scooter up Guning Raya one moody, misty afternoon.

Its a long and windy drive, though despite reaching the top with a numb bum and having slightly underestimated our petrol situation (we had to drift most of the way back down, oops), it was worth every moment for these views.

You can pay 10 ringgit ($4 NZ) to go up the tower for what I’m sure are spectacular 360* panoramic views, but we chose to keep our wallets happy and take in what we could from just below.

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Seriously though. Langkawi’s landscapes, I just can’t get enough!

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9. Blues and Greens

Everywhere I looked in Langkawi there was intense colour. Bold blues and vibrant greens, every hue nature could have possibly created. Again, I just can't get enough!

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10. I felt relaxed in Langkawi.

Why yes, that’s a big deal for me!

In Langkawi I felt whole, happy, and present in the moment. I didn’t wear a watch for the first time since we started our trip. I didn’t worry about planning the day, about seeing/doing every single little thing, and about organising any future travel.

Langkawi made me feel free. Zipping around the island, wind sweeping through my hair. Sliding down waterfall rocks, not a care in the world. Easy afternoons spent writing, reading or dreaming as rain pattered down outside. In Langkawi, the days drifted by, simply.

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I’ve thought about Langkawi just about every day since we left. While I’ve loved many places we have visited on this trip and other travel I’ve done, there is something about Langkawi that stole my heart.

If I had to name paradise, Langkawi would be it.

Have you visited Langkawi? Did you love it as much as I did?


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Muay Thai Training in Thailand: Week 4

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In the two weeks since we left our beloved Superpro on Koh Samui, we have stayed in four different towns/cities, and five different guesthouses. After staying in a single place for one glorious month I had forgotten how much moving around and having just a couple of days somewhere makes you busy, busy, busy!

Not to mention some unfortunate food-poisoning-laced Tofu Noodle Soup, along with the fact we have been spending hours upon hours (upon HOURS) putting together our three-week itinerary to obtain our China visas (which we leave for on December 29th!), my stressed out little brain has had little time for my beloved little corner of the internet.

But I digress!

Though Week 4 of Muay Thai training in Thailand may have ended over two weeks ago... better late than never, right? Let's talk about our final week at Superpro Samui!

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Our final training session

Week 4 was a fun one. We knew we were coming to the end of our time there so were making the most of our last few days with our group of friends. We continued to train every day, except Saturday as our bus picked us up early in the morning, onwards to our next adventure!

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Despite the smiles, we were so sad to leave!

Classes were feeling easier (though by no means does that mean they were easy!), and I noticed how much fitness I'd gained in the past three weeks. It was still hard to make it to the top of the hill each morning on those killer runs, but it was certainly easier! Since I first made it up without stopping at the end of Week 1, I never once walked up the hill again - a physical and mental feat I am proud of.

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The rounds in the ring were also noticeably easier to get through. In Weeks 1 and 2, I was dying by the third round, but by Week 4 I could get through four three minute rounds with energy, even though I consistently sucked at the compulsory push-ups between rounds. I was still being corrected on my form, but was coming out of the ring with a touch of energy remaining, enough to get through to the end of class.

As I mentioned earlier, Week 4 definitely became more about our friends. Training was just a mere side-activity! We enjoyed plenty of dinners out, revisiting some of our favourite local haunts and some last-minute sightseeing before we left.

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The most epic night of all was our final night on Koh Samui. Everybody squeezed into our little studio apartment and we ruined the last four weeks of hard work by noshing down on copious amounts of chips, cheese and crackers. Later on we headed out for dinner to one of our favourites: Wine Connection at Central Festival (100 baht red wine, yes please!). Perhaps a few too many glasses of wine and Spy wine coolers later, my head was spinning adequately as I drifted off to sleep. A night of lots of fun and a million selfies, but also very sad to to say goodbye to some of my favourite people. Thank goodness for Facebook, right?

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Before we arrived to Superpro Samui, I had absolutely no idea what Muay Thai training in Thailand was going to be like. And I suppose for everybody, depending on your goals and reasons for being there, nobody will come away with the same experience.

However, it certainly came as a surprise to me (and Alan), that not only did I handle an entire month of this full on training schedule in a sport I had absolutely zero prior knowledge about, I really ENJOYED it!

Even when I was frustrated because I just couldn't get the technique right. Even when my alarm bleeped at 7.30 in the morning telling me it was time to wake up. Even when I arrived at the bottom of that damn hill, looked up, and knew that a hellish run was ahead of me. Even when I cried in the shower after my first ever training  wondering how on earth I would get through the whole month.

I'm so, so happy I pushed through the pain and did this.

I'm super proud of my month training Muay Thai in Thailand. Not only did I learn some new bad-ass self defence skills, discover a new sport that I enjoy (I don't mind watching the fighting, though can't see myself ever doing that thanks!), and exercise more often and with more intensity than I ever have before - there is one thing that I am proud of above all else:

I did something completely out of my comfort zone, something that scared the living daylights out of me, and I enjoyed it!

That's what makes me proudest of all.

I miss Superpro Samui every single day.

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See you next time, Samui

Read about the rest of my Muay Thai experiences here: Week 1, Week 2 & Week 3.

If you are a fellow newbie considering Muay Thai training in Thailand, or even if you have never considered it (like me!), but it intrigues you in some way - go for it! You won't regret it.


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