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Tag Archives: beach
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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?
POSTED IN: adventure, Asia, Backpacking, beach, Koh Samui, life, Muay Thai, Thailand, travel
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If it hadn't already, my heart almost skipped a beat when we arrived at Phra Nang beach. It was spectacular!
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!
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?
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.
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?
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)
Pasir Tenkorak beach
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.
We also visited Temurun and Durian Perangin waterfalls, both of which were also pretty magical.
Durian Perangin Waterfall
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Seriously though. Langkawi’s landscapes, I just can’t get enough!
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!
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.
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?
As part of the Booked.net - Top Destinations to Go There promotion, I've been invited to share five of my favourite destinations that I've been before and would love to revisit. I thought this was going to be easy, but as I reminisced over wonderful travel memories, narrowing down my favourites proved to be quite the challenge!
Don't stress guys, it sure was tough but I managed to reduce it down to my top 5...in no particular order - that would be way too hard to decide!
1. Palawan, the Philippines
Palawan, a province in the west of the Philippines, probably didn't know what had hit it when four of us on a girl's trip explored the region for three weeks a couple of years back. We spent our days island-hopping from one pristine beach to the next, and danced the nights away drinking copious amounts of pineapple juice with local coconut rum. Throw in a bit of music on the beach and a midnight swim or two, and you have the recipe for what might be the most perfect girls' trip ever. We need to plan a reunion, asap!
2. Langkawi, Malaysia
Even though I was on this beautiful island just a mere few weeks ago, I'm already thinking about when I will revisit Langkawi. To me, Langkawi was paradise! Perfect beaches, incredible waterfalls, easy roads for scootering around but rugged enough that you feel like you're truly discovering the island. We spent nine glorious nights there and I can't even begin to explain how sad I was to leave. Langkawi is the kind of place that you lose track of time in the best way possible, I've never felt so relaxed in my life as I was there.
3. Tortuguero, Costa Rica
It takes a long time to get to Tortuguero village, a tiny and remote township on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. This peaceful part of the world has no cars, let alone roads, so you get around by boat and foot. Tortuguero was a wonderful place to recharge, with serene landscapes, lush jungle and plenty of wildlife. As the name suggests, Tortuguero is known for the beach on one side of the village where thousands of sea turtles visit to lay their eggs every year. Unfortunately we were there at the wrong time of year to have much chance of seeing turtles, so I'd love to revisit Tortuguero to see the baby turtles waddling down the beach!
India had me captivated since I first ever visited when I was 14, spending a week in Mumbai with my family. I've already revisited as an adult when I backpacked through the country with some friends and my brother two years ago. Despite spending nearly two months there and loving it, I'm desperate to go back again (and I'm sure again and again after that!). India is such an enormous country that I still feel as though I've barely scratched the surface - I'm yet to visit Hampi, Darjeeling, Pondicherry, much of Goa, the list goes on! India is on our travel radar next year, and I can't wait!
5. Milford Sound, New Zealand
Before I visited earlier this year, I had never been to Milford Sound! As one of New Zealand's most popular tourist destinations I was more than excited to visit, and was certainly not disappointed - Milford Sound is stunning! We visited on a wet April day, though Milford Sound is one of those wonderful places where its better to visit when its raining, as the waterfalls become even more impressive. Mind you, its not hard to get to Milford on a rainy day as it is one of the rainiest places on earth! Such a spectacular and serene landscape, I need to get back to convince myself this place is real - its that beautiful.
I'm nominating the following five travel bloggers to share their top five destinations they would love to return to - can't wait to see where you pick! Petra & Shaun of The Global Couple, Leanne of Broke in the Big Smoke, Greg & Katy of Our Dream Adventure, Alissa of The Living Spree, Sara of Big World, Small Me.
Click here for more info on this promotion.
I'd love to know - where have you visited that you would love to return to?
POSTED IN: adventure, Asia, Backpacking, beach, Costa Rica, dreams, India, inspiration, life, Malaysia, New Zealand, Palawan, The Philippines, travel
I didn’t love the Perhentian Islands.
Ohmygosh I can’t believe I just divulged that to the internet!
Don’t hate me?
Seriously, what am I on about?
I mean, how could I not love this?
I certainly didn't hate the Perhentian Islands, I liked them enough. I guess what I’m getting at is I went there expecting paradise and left a little underwhelmed. But before you close your browser in horror, allow me to explain!
The Perhentian Islands are a popular destination among divers, keen snorkelers and beach-dwellers. Located off the north-eastern coast of Malaysia, the Perhentian Islands are in fact two islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil (small island) and Pulau Perhentian Besar (big island). The big island has more resort-style accommodation and is known to be more expensive and family-orientated, whereas the small island has a reputation of being cheaper and is more popular among budget travellers and backpackers. Naturally, we decided to save a few dollars and stay on Kecil.
Pulau Perhentian Kecil has two main beaches, Long Beach and Coral Bay, connected by a jungly 10 minute walk over the hill between them. We hadn’t booked any accommodation before we arrived there, as it is impossible to book nearly any of the budget bungalows over the internet (many even by phone!). We had read you just need to turn up as early as you can and cross your fingers there will be availability.
Our boat dropped us off at Coral Bay where we had initially planned to scour for a cheap room, however upon chatting to a fellow backpacker on the beach we were informed that the accommodation was cheaper over on the other side of the island on Long Beach, so we trudged with our packs up and over the rugged path in the scorching midday sun. Oh, the joys of backpacking…
The Perhentian Islands are known for being one of the cheapest places in the world for diving, with very affordable rates on PADI Open Water courses, etc. However, when it comes to accommodation, its safe to say the Perhentian Islands are not cheap.
Despite the monsoon season looming thus the island being quieter than usual, we still walked between quite a few accommodation options before finding one with availability that suited our budget, though perhaps a little more rustic than we would have liked.
For our basic double room with fan, mosquito net, cold shower, dim lighting and a rather rusty toilet we paid a rather astronomical 55 ringgit a night ($21 NZD). With electricity only available in the evenings and nights, it was stifling hot so we quickly dumped our bags and walked the couple of minutes back down the, er, litter-ridden and stagnant-water odoured path to the beach.
We spent a couple of hours lazing on the beach, indispersed with dips into the warm water.
(Thanks Cleo for the journal and awesome pen!)
Later we headed back to our room and while chilling out on our little porch, creeping out from underneath the next-door balcony appears an enormous monitor lizard! Enormous as in almost the size of a crocodile, I'm not kidding! We were sure to take a headlamp with us when we headed out for dinner that night, as tripping over a giant monitor lizard in the dark would have been less than ideal.
By day two, after a night of very little sleep due to a certain next-door neighbour's all-night drinking session, I was struggling to connect with the allure of this island that I had expected so much.
We had already spent hours at the beach, and we could only drink so many mango smoothies (which were really expensive on the Perhentian Islands!) to pass the time. I'm the first to admit I suck at doing nothing, lying on a beach included, so to put it bluntly, after a few hours of beach time I was bored. I can't just sit and dwell in my own thoughts, I need things to see and do! Not to mention with the monsoon season looming we were often greeted with unwelcome rain, forcing us indoors.
On our second day we bumped into a friendly German couple we had met a few days ago in Kota Bahru (where we flew from Singapore). We joined them for lunch and mentioned we were feeling a bit blah about Perhentian Kecil. They raved about where they were staying on Perhentian Besar, and said it was much nicer than Kecil. We were all keen to do some snorkelling so decided the following day Alan and I would check out of our current accommodation, get a taxi boat over to Besar, join them on a snorkelling trip and then hunt for some new accommodation on that island instead.
We woke up the next morning to one of the most perfect days we had seen yet, and happily boarded a taxi boat for the 15 minute ride over to Perhentian Besar.
Our snorkelling trip was absolutely incredible, and I'm kicking myself for not having an underwater camera!
Those of you who know me well, will know that I'm perhaps not the biggest fan of fish being all up in my grill. I'm happy to observe from afar but if they are swishing all around my face its not my favourite place to be. Also, uh, minor shark-phobia.
But this snorkelling experience was different! Somehow I didn't mind the fish all flapping around me, because we SWAM WITH TURTLES.
We dove down deep and swam beside the turtles, as they slowly glided to the surface for some air, before descending back down into the depths below. It was one of the most incredible experiences, I still get a rush of excitement whenever I think about it (like right now). Despite not loving the Perhentian Islands, this remains one of my favourite life experiences to date.
We also saw lots of different kinds of tropical fish, including clownfish (Nemo!) that bounced continually into Alan's mask defending their space, and a couple of enormous humphead parrotfish that are almost the size of a person! Seriously - look!
A few hours later our snorkelling trip was over and as we sped back to Perhentian Besar the beautiful day disintegrated and the rain started bucketing down. After a very wet wander up and down the beach, it became obvious to Alan and I that we could not justify the cost of any of the accommodation there, so in our completely drenched state we said goodbye to our new friends and jumped into a taxi boat, boosting it back to Perhentian Kecil.
In our brief search for accommodation the day earlier, we had come across Senja Bay Resort in Coral Bay, where a more spacious and relatively clean room was available for only 50 ringgit (5 ringgit less than the place we'd stayed earlier). Despite a lingering odour of stagnant water seeping up from beneath the floorboards, it served us well enough for another three nights.
We spent our remaining days demolishing books on the kindle, wandering up and down the island's beaches, and eating more than we needed because - let's be honest - we all know eating is an excellent way to pass time.
There is no mistake that the Perhentian Islands are beautiful, but they are not the postcard-perfect paradise I had imagined. It felt quite dirty and unkempt, with plenty of trash on the paths (which we found quite unusual for Malaysia) and abandoned building sites, Combined with poor value accommodation, Alan and I agree that our overall perception of the Perhentian Islands was average - we neither loved them or hated them.
The Perhentian Islands may be the perfect destination for you if your primary goals are disconnecting, relaxation and book-reading. Or if you're into diving and snorkelling, however unless you're doing a course you're probably not going to want to fork out $$ for a trip every single day. I would certainly not negate the fact that these islands boast some fantastic diving if thats your thing, and I can vouch for the snorkelling being rather impressive (did I mention we swam with TURTLES!?).
In my opinion - as a non-diver, occasional snorkeller, and one of those annoying people who loves lying on the beach for all of half an hour before moving onto the next activity - five nights on the Perhentian Islands was more than enough, though I probably could have easily got away with just three.
The Perhentian Islands may be paradise for some, but not for me. And I’m okay with that.
Have you ever built your expectations up and been underwhelmed by a destination?
Pangandaran was originally on our Java itinerary as a mere night’s stopover on the way to Batu Karas, but after staying a night and realising that Pangandaran had everything we were looking for, we decided to extend our stay and enjoy the three nights we had up our sleeve in one spot.
“Everything’ I was looking for was simply a beach with surfing lessons, suitable for beginners, and thats more or less what I got.
I’d been hanging out to learn how to surf since the beginning of the year, when we started planning for our trip to Costa Rica in May. Unfortunately, while we were there my back was injured in a particular tandem waterslide incident and I was unable to fulfil my dreams of becoming a pro surfer. When my back improved and we made our plans to visit Bali my surfing dreams re-emerged, only to be quashed again after arriving in Kuta and watching approximately a million people leaning how to surf right in front of me, constantly falling off their boards.
There was no way I was making a fool of myself learning to surf in front of this many people. Nuh-uh. A quick consult in my trusty Lonely Planet pointed me to Java’s southern beaches for more secluded surf and also significantly cheaper lessons, and thus Pangandaran became part of our route.
Pangandaran is an interesting place. Its a town on a small peninsular, with ocean on either side and a national park at one end.
On one side the ocean laps a nice beach. I say ‘nice’ because thats what it is. Look, its really nothing special compared to Bali’s spectacular beaches. But its nice enough and certainly adequate for what a beach should provide.
On the other side the ocean meets a rocky wall, infested with rats, fish guts and rubbish. This is the working side of the beach, where the fishermen come into harbour and fish are laid out to be sold or to dry. It certainly smells like it, thats for sure!
There were some activities on this side of the peninsular, like banana boating, but, uh, that didn’t appeal to us too much given the fishy odour and amount of rotting litter everywhere. There were seafood restaurants on this side of town, but unfortunately these too didn’t appeal.
I don’t paint the most beautiful picture of Pangandaran, but its actually a very pleasant destination for a relaxing few days. Pangandaran is quite a touristy beach but interestingly much more so with local tourists rather than foreigners. It is a popular place for apartment-dwellers from Jakarta or other nearby big cities for a weekend getaway.
Pangandaran was relatively quiet when we were there, yet at night the small town seemed to come alive. There were tandem bikes (I’m not sure our relationship could handle a tandem bike situation?) - not just doubles, but triples, quadruples and I’m sure I saw even longer ones coasting by. Surely not particularly safe to ride in the dark at night with no helmets and no lights but hey, it’s Indonesia, so we saw a lot of that. Even more spectacular were the quadracycles decorated entirely with neon lights - it was a common sight to see a big group of happy Indonesian tourists cycling around on their blindingly bright, family-sized bike, around singing songs at the top of their lungs.
But thats right, we were there for the surf, weren’t we! It cost a mere pittance compared to Kuta, we basically had the waves to ourselves, and our own personal instructor each. Shame my instructor couldn’t speak any English or I perhaps would have known what I was doing wrong and would have been able to stand up after what felt like a million failed attempts! Meanwhile, Alan was coasting into shore time and time again while I continuously stumbled and plunged into the sea. After a short break that included a few tears, a bottle of water and some encouragement, I bravely made my way back into the surf and managed to not only stand up but ride a few waves right into shore! Ending on a high, I momentously decided to give up on my dream of becoming a pro surfer then and there.
But I can always be cheered up by kittens! This kitten at our guesthouse became particularly fond of us and often wandered into our room unannounced or pounced and clawed for pats while we were trying to eat our breakfast.
We considered visiting the small national park and one lazy afternoon we did wander down to the entrance, but were put off entering by the terrifying monkeys outside, and knew that there would only be more monkeys inside! We didn't deem them unsafe until some local boys were walking past and a monkey jumped down and bounded towards them, the boys screamed and tore off in the opposite direction, and the scavenging monkey stole the kids' drinks. If even the locals were scared of them, surely I was allowed to be! We went and ate ice cream instead.
While I did truly enjoy our time in Pangandaran, it is one of those places that I’m not sure I’ll ever visit again. It was quite a detour off the path of our travels so meant at least 10 extra hours on a bus than if we hadn’t gone there (it took us about 8 hours squished on a minibus from Yogyakarta to Pangandaran with chickens pooping at our feet, then another 10 hours bus ride from Pangandaran to Jakarta). I tried to convince Alan I was considering we have a destination wedding there - I could totally see all of our family riding around singing at the top of their voices on neon-lit bikes! He knows me too well to fall for that one.
Pangandaran was nice - if you’re in the area and craving beach time it will serve you well! But if you're looking for an immaculate beach and that clear, 'I'm in a tropical paradise' kind of water, it might not be Pangandaran you’re after.
Have you visited Pangandaran? Ever ridden a tandem bike?
As you've probably figured, I'm travelling with my significant other/boyfriend/partner-in-crime, Alan. He feels compelled to share some of his stories and thoughts on the road on my humble blog - I didn't force him, promise! This may become a regular feature, if Alan retains the writing bug. His first post is about Kuta, Bali. You can read my post on our time in Kuta here.
Up until this moment Christie has carefully drafted and completed all of the blogs on the Butterfly Editions. It was her goal to create and establish a blog that people would find insightful and entertaining whilst also providing some detailed information to our extended friends and family as to what we have been up to, and for our own memories.
Whilst I’m generally lying on the bed next to her reading her kindle and providing little to no help, after six weeks of travelling I have decided that it is time to give this blog thing a crack and maybe provide a slightly different point of view to our travelling adventures.
I'm writing this in my budget room on Coral Beach on the Perhentian Islands off the east coast of Malaysia. Pretty sweet huh? Except that it’s uncomfortably hot (30+deg) and due to the looming monsoon season and the lack of tourists the place we are staying in only runs power from 7pm to 7am, so I can’t even turn on the fan!
So what to write about? Christie writes about all the places we’ve been to and what we get up to so I’m not going to repeat that. I can’t specifically recall any funny stories, so I think I’ll write a series of blogs that give some insight to my specific highlights of my month in Indonesia, and hopefully throw in a few good tips!
Kuta - It’s Pretty Cool
I’d never been to Bali before and I guess in my mind I had this image of a tropical paradise, the pristine white sand, crystal clear blue water, palm trees swaying in the cool ocean breeze. Kuta is kind of that but not really. The beaches are ok, I mean they’re nice, there’s a little bit of trash but not too bad, but if you’re travelling on a budget you’ll probably see and experience a side of kuta that you weren’t quite expecting. Yes, there’s the luxury resorts with the fancy swimming pools and nice restaurants right on the oceanfront, but if you’re like me and only want to spend NZD$20 a night on accommodation, you’ll end up a few streets back having fun in the economy section.
Here’s where the fun begins. Now you have to negotiate the narrow one lane streets plagued with the never ending hoard of scooters that beep at you. Its kind if like playing a game of dodgeball except you’re dodging moving scooters. Not to mention that there is no footpath, so once you've managed to safely cross now you have to meander along the side of the road side stepping down a narrow path on the edge of danger not wanting to fall into the abyss that is oncoming traffic.
Once you’ve figured out crossing the street, you have to find your way around. You can stick to the ‘main’ streets which will add an extra 15 minutes and 1 litre of sweat to your journey, or you can cut through the narrow labyrinth of alley ways. Back in New Zealand these would be for pedestrians only as they can just fit two people walking side by side, but in Bali these are still considered roads. Now when a scooter comes your way you literally have to twist sideways and reverse hug the wall, not put your foot in the open drain and look out for squished rats (yes I saw two of them). You don’t want your jandalled foot going anywhere near that stuff.
Yay! Now you’ve made it to Legian St. This is the main drag in Kuta, this is where you can get your fake Oakleys and Ray Ban sunnies, don’t pay anymore than 50,000 rupiah though (NZD$5) even then your probably getting ripped off. Maybe you’ll find a sweet Rolex or some new Nikes, remember to bargain hard and be prepared to walk away if you aren't getting a good deal. Don’t worry about missing out, there will literally be a exact replica of that shop and merchandise probably right next door. Seriously it’s like deja vu all over Indonesia, they all sell the same crap!
Once you’ve wandered past the shops, said 'no thank you ' a dozen times to the pushy salesmen, had a squizz at the bars and restaurants and made a mental note to come back for happy hour, you going to want to find the beach. Just follow some dude with his surfboard perilously attached to his scooter and you’ll find it. You can’t really miss it.
You’ll have to agree that the beach is pretty nice, there’ll be a whole array of different sights wandering up and down the beach so don’t forget to bring your sunnies for a good discreet look. Make sure you head north up the beach (turn right when you’re looking at the water) and head up to Legian and Seminyak. There's some nice restaurants up that way where you can grab a bite, can definitely recommend a mango smoothie if its not Bintang o’clock yet.
Thats pretty much it for Kuta, you’ll probably spend the day people watching at the beach intertwined with a paddle in the surf. If you’re there for a for a party it won’t be hard to find.
Overall I thought Kuta was pretty cool but I guess it depends on what your intentions are.
Tips/Advice for Kuta, Bali
Large Bintang should cost around 30,000 Rupiah (about NZD$3), just ask for two glasses if you want to share. Cheaper than buying two small beers for 20,000 each.
You don’t need a scooter in Kuta unless you plan on traveling a fair distance, plus it’ll take a while to build up enough confidence to tackle driving in the crazy traffic. If you do get one, make sure you get a helmet (we saw one bad crash).
Sunscreen. I know you want to get a tan, but the number of red tomatoes I saw walking around was enough to convince me to lather myself in the stuff. Don’t ruin your trip by getting sunburnt on the first day. Trust me, the tan will come.
And a helpful tip regarding ATMs in Indonesia...
There a two types of ATMs in Indonesia:
- One will give 50,000 Rupiah notes with a max of 1,250,000
- One will give 100,000 Rupiah notes with a max of 2,500,000 (sometimes less)
We wanted to save on withdrawal fees, so we always used atms with the max limit. The Mandiri ones generally had the highest limit.
North Bali is a bit of an underdog in comparison to the popular areas in the South and East of Bali. It is a region sadly forgotten from many itineraries, overshadowed by the celebrity status of destinations like Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, Uluwatu, the Gili Islands, Nusa Lembongan and so on.
We didn’t spend anywhere near long enough in beautiful North Bali, squeezing in just a mere two nights in a quiet beach town called Lovina - but I’m so glad we did.
While our time in Kuta was fun and Ubud simply magical, Lovina was an escape from the densly-touristed areas of Bali to a place where westerners do not make up the majority of the population, and locals’ day-to-day lives go peacefully undisturbed by tourism.
Lovina is the kind of place where children smile and wave shyly, where foreigners are much less commonplace than they are in the South. We noticed a lot less English spoken around North Bali - its a good place to test out some of those new Balinese and Bahasa Indonesia words you have learnt!
In the name of honesty, it is fair to say that the beaches in Lovina are not quite as beautiful as Kuta or the islands, but their biggest drawcard is that they are gloriously empty. Look in either direction and you are unlikely to see more than a fisherman or two. Lovina’s beaches are perfectly adequate for anything you truly need from a beach: sunbathing, swimming and sunset strolls.
We arrived into Lovina on a minibus from Sanur. The drive took about 5 hours, winding through some stunning landscapes!
For our one full day there we hired a scooter and went exploring with two destinations in mind:
Banjar Hot Springs (Banjar Air Panas)
Banjar Hot Springs was well worth the trip. It cost a mere IDR 5,000 (that's like 50 NZ cents!) for a few hours relaxing in a series of three pools, each with water fountains to stand beneath. The green colour of the pools, while initially a bit strange to get used to, comes from the sulphur occurring naturally in the springs.
Brahmavihara-Arama Buddhist Temple
A beautiful Buddhist temple (in fact I believe the largest in Bali), Brahmavihara-Arama is a beautiful complex to wander and gather your thoughts. Entry is free, take a sarong to make sure your legs are covered. They run regular meditation retreats, which looked really interesting!
I would love to see more of North Bali, in our couple of days there we barely scratched the surface. There is so much to see and do in a region that feels like the tourist wave hasn’t quite caught on yet.
Still make sure you get to all of the popular destinations in the south - after all, they are popular for a reason! However, if you can squeeze a few days in North Bali into your itinerary it is well worth it to see a completely different perspective of this diverse island.
From Lovina, we caught an overnight bus towards Mount Bromo in Java - but thats a rather long story, so I'll save it for next time!
Have you visited North Bali?
POSTED IN: adventure, Backpacking, Bali, beach, Indonesia, life, Lovina, North Bali, travel