Back to Vietnam: Life in Ho Chi Minh City

IMG_8521

Even though we didn’t enjoy our time in Hanoi, we decided to give Vietnam one more try. We had heard that Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon, as the locals call it) was much different than the North end of the country, so we booked a ticket and tried this whole teaching English thing one more time from March until this July. As of this post, we’re just getting ready to leave again after four awesome months here.

Saigon really is a lot different than Hanoi. Perhaps it’s just the fact that the South is much different than the North, but it seems that everything from the traffic, to the food, to the locals is much better. 

The traffic

The roads are better for riding a motorbike since they’re set up with bike lanes and one ways, creating a lot less congestion than Hanoi. The roads are wider, with many of the major arteries being 3 or 4 lanes in each direction, separated by medians. In Hanoi, it was often two cramped lanes only. The craziness level is (a bit) lower and it’s way easier to get around. It took us only about two weeks before we no longer needed Google Maps.

The food

While Hanoi was amazing for traditional pho and bun cha, Saigon has so many more options, and all for incredibly cheap. We eat for about $5-7 a day, and that’s eating out for every meal. For breakfast, we grab noodles with spring rolls anIMG_7957d pork for 75¢. For lunch, I usually get an omlette with pork on noodles for $1 and a bubble tea (my favorite) for $1. Then for dinner, we get a buffet style chicken, pork, or beef dish with rice and veggies for $1.50. Luke often gets a large meat and rice lunch for $1-2.

You can also get banh mi sandwiches at any street stall for 50¢-$1, and different kinds of soups and noodles are everywhere. I really love the ‘pho Hue’ in the alley near our house, which we get for $1.50. It’s a special pho with a red broth and rare beef. There are also juice ladies everywhere that will sell you a mango smoothie for $1, and/or a freshly juiced fruit or veggie drink.

I could go on and on about the food, but that’s for another post!

The people

The locals have a much different attitude towards foreigners here, and I’m not sure why exactly that is. We are greeted with warm smiles and people who chatter away at us in Vietnamese, always excited to meet us. When we’re eating, people are so helpful and really want to make sure we enjoy their food (which we do!). Even at the gas station when my bike got blocked in, a guy jumped off his bike to back mine out for me.

IMG_8124We have a tea lady in the front of our apartment and she’s always smiling and chatting away at us, even though we have no idea what she says. It’s nice to try charades-type conversation with her. She’s like having a watchdog grandmother always looking out for us. Another lady down our alley has the cheapest tra tac (a lemon oolong ice tea) for 25¢, and she loves asking me where Luke is when I’m alone. She makes sure to always smile and wave at us when we drive by. It’s very charming, and a refreshing change from the cold stares of the North.

It’s been nice to really settle in here. We have a lady who mends our clothes for us (and gets stains out of Luke’s clothes), usually for about 50¢ or so. We have friendly ladies who run a vegetarian restaurant, where they sell buffet style imitation meat and rice at $1 a box. We have mechanics that laugh at us every time we come in but never overcharge us, and we have a smiley doorman named Lin who watches over us. We also have three friendly neighbourhood ‘So dogs’ (alley dogs) that we love to pet and feed. The locals judge Luke a little for being so hands on, but he just washes his hands immediately after. It has really begun to feel like home.

The expat community in Saigon is also much different. Here, everyone hangs out and goes to the same few places. There’s more of a nightlife and community feel here. In Hanoi, everything shut down at around 11pm, whereas here, there’s no time limit. We’ve made friends easily, enjoyed the kind of music we liked, and we get to hit up events all the time.

Our life

We’ve been living in a small one-bedroom furnished apartment in Binh Thanh district, which is outside of the main District 1. We pay about $290 (not including electricity) for our place, which has washer/dryer, Internet, and cleaners who comes 3x a week (they do our sheets too!). It’s on a nice quiet alley and we have Lin, who provides 24-hour security and helps me take myIMG_8378 motorbike out in the morning. We never have to worry about our bikes being stolen, as they’re under lock and key, and there are about three locked doors and a doorman between our apartment and the city. It’s nice to not have to worry about break-ins or theft, which is a very real reality in Asia.

We bought second hand motorbikes for very cheap. My Honda Wave was $150 off some backpacker with a flight the next day, and Luke got his Yamaha Nouvo for $230. Gas is about $2.50 a week for me, and $5 a week for Luke (he pays extra for a little horsepower).

It took us both about a week to find good jobs. We work down the street from one another at Korean language schools in District 7. We’ve been very happy with both places, and I have a second job at night that I love as well.

All in all, I’m really happy we gave Vietnam another chance. The country is a little rough around the edges, but has such a soft side to it. We’re working a ton to save up for the next leg of our journey but for the last four months, this has been our happy home.

IMG_8008

48 hours in Singapore

PANO_20150306_221147

For my birthday, we decided to spend two days in Singapore. Since it’s such an expensive city, we couldn’t quite stay as long as we wanted on our budget but getting to see Singapore at all was a treat.

We took a public bus from Jahor Bahru, Malaysia for about $3. It takes you to the border, and then picks you up on the other side before dropping you off downtown. Singapore has another amazing transit system, so we bought a tourist pass ($10) and enjoyed it as much as we could.

Finding affordable accommodation was a huge struggle, so we finally settled on 5footway.inn, which is a cool art hotel with a few locations. Ours was right by Chinatown and after making a note on our reservation that it was my birthday, they upgraded our room for us a surprise. It was perfect.

Since we only had two days, I figured it would be best to sum up everything we did in a list:

Day 1:

PANO_20150306_191818

Gardens By The Bay

We got to Singapore in the late afternoon on our first day, so we grabbed the subway to the Gardens By The Bay. It’s a large park/artistic garden, and it’s mostly free to enjoy and explore. At dusk, they have a light show in the middle of the park. We really enjoyed hanging out under the Avatar-like trees that pulsed and glowed with lights – it honestly felt like we were on another planet.

Walking around the city (and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) 

After dinner, we spent the night walking around the city and enjoying all of the architecture and art around the city. The Marina Bay Sands was all lit up and we took some selfies on the helix bridge. We also passed a hotel playing Breakfast at Tiffany’s outside, which is my favorite movie. The waiters let us sit and enjoy the movie, even though we didn’t order one of the $40 cocktails.

Clubbing at Zouk

Around midnight, we decided we wanted to celebrate my birthday in style. I checked the biggest clubs in Singapore and Zouk came up, so I went on Twitter to see who was playing. We saw that a DJ we enjoy, Mat Zo, was playing at 1am. We threw on some clothes and ran to a cab.

The club was already packed and our $30 entry got us a free drink each. We cozied up to some locals who were also celebrating, and they were kind enough to share their massive bottle of vodka for the occasion. Everyone was so awesome and I even met another girl at midnight that shared the same birthday as me!

Partying in Singapore was interesting and the club scene was fun to be apart of. It’s a different way of partying for sure, but the people were friendly and we had the time of our lives.

Day 2:

PANO_20150307_140615

Cloud Forest and Flower Dome

We got up nice and early to enjoy breakfast on the terrace of our hotel before heading back to Marina Bay Sands. We wanted to see the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

Both structures are separate from and you can pay an entrance fee to do just one or both of them. We opted for both and headed into the Cloud Forest first. It was a giant glass dome with a living mountain built inside. You took an elevator to the top, then climbed walkways and bridges back down. It was really cool to see and there was a beautiful waterfall that fell from the top – it felt like you were inside a jungle rain forest. Although it was smaller than it looked outside, it was still a lot of fun to walk around and see all of the plants.

The Flower Dome was a bit of a let down for us. It was another huge glass dome filled with tons of flowers and plants from all over the world. For a flower lover, I’m sure it would be pretty cool… but we zipped through it and felt pretty bored. Also, the AC was blasting in there so much that I had goosebumps the whole time.

Cat café 

Since it was my birthday IMG_20150307_175459weekend, Luke decided to treat me to a cat café experience. Since he’s allergic, he hung out outside, but for an hour I was in cat heaven at Café Neko no Niwa. They have 13 cats, all of which are rescues. Some cats are deemed “lap cats” and one of the workers will go around and place them in your lap. Kai Kai, an orange tabby, decided to sleep in my lap for the full hour, which was fine by me.

Hawker Street 

In Singapore, there are many hawker streets to choose from. Basically, a bunch of stalls open up and serve you any food from all over the world. Satay is Singapore’s specialty, and it’s a must try. Satay is meat seasoned and marinated on a kebab stick and done on a coal grill. It’s really delicious.

We opted for some Indian food and got a whole tray of stuff we couldn’t even finish for $5 a person. Considering Singapore is far from cheap, hitting up hawker streets are one of the few ways to stay within budget.

Marina Bay Sands 

We wanted to go to the top of the Marina Bay Sands for a drink, but we got there a little too late. After 9pm, the bar charges a $30 cover charge. So instead, we just decided to take our $30 and head into the casino to try our luck. Let’s just say, our luck lasted about two rounds of roulette… oops.

Singapore has so much to do and it’s such a nice, well put-together city. Most major buildings have some sort of fascinating and unique art installation, so it’s a picture taking Mecca. We absolutely loved our time there and we were both so happy we got to experience it. There’s really nothing else like it. While it’s a bit tough on the wallet, a short time is all you need to experience what Singapore has to offer.

IMG_7755

Koh Phangan: The island that never sleeps

After a far-too-short visit to Koh Phangan in February for the Full Moon Party, it was finally time for us to come back and really explore the island for everything it had to offer. This time however, we’d be alongside our friends Brad and Karalee.

For the first part of the week, we stayed on Bottle Beach. It was a more secluded part of the island, which let us relax and take in some peace and quiet. We had a beautiful beach on our front steps, and a small bay without too many neighbours. We had a lot planned for the week ahead, and this was a great little place to charge our batteries.

Our first stop was Guy’s Bar. Located on the far side of a mountain, you have two options for getting there: long tail boats through the ocean, or a near-death 4×4 truck ride up one side of the mountain and back down the other. Since it was windy and the waves were choppy, we only had one option: mountain climbing in the box of a pickup.IMG_6494

To say the drive was scary would be an understatement. In pitch black, all we could see was uphill on this narrow cracked dirt road with massive rocks and potholes. We were holding on for dear life and wondering how we were supposed to get back out of here. We were thick in the jungle and just hoping that the brakes weren’t going to give out. At one point, all you could see was the road and the sky — it was that steep.

Once at Guy’s Bar, the pounding techno and serene layout calmed us down. We settled in for a long night of dancing and we made a few friends. The exclusivity of Guy’s Bar was a bit of a treat in and of itself. The trek there kept away the casual tourists, and left you with a club of pure enthusiasts. All in all, the trip to Guy’s Bar is worth it if you’re hoping to really experience the magic of Koh Phangan.

The next few days we took rather easy, spending time walking through the night market, enjoying good food and taking in the sunsets. Koh Phagnan is beautiful and has so much to offer. It’s an island both small enough to get around but big enough it offers a bit of everything. We hiked to waterfalls and relaxed on the beaches to offset the partying, don’t worry!

Our next big event was ‘The Jungle Experience’. This party was taking place near Haad Rin beach, so we switched bungalows to one closer to the party. In the heart of the jungle with only black lights to light everything up, we found another oasis of techno. Karalee and I danced until our feet hurt, but managed to leave before Luke and Brad could get us into any trouble.

IMG_6403The next day, the four of us headed to Amsterdam Bar to catch the sunset. Amsterdam Bar is a pool and bar set on a hill in the perfect position to watch the sun setting over the island. With loungers and chill music, we were happy to sit in silence and take in the view. It was a really incredible moment to spend all together.

Later, Luke and I stopped by a free psytrance party called Baan Sabai. Tucked away by the water, this little gem of a club was filled with psychedelic posters, black lights, palm trees, and pounding psytrance. We snagged a hammock and got our fill, watching people around us feel the music and dance to the trippy beat.

On our last day, we met Brad and Karalee for some swimming on Haad Rin beach. Haad Rin is best known for its parties, but I have to say it has some of the most stunning water and an incredible view of the island. The water was crystal clear and the beach had so many food options. We sat and smoked a hookah as the sun set before finally saying goodbye to our friends.

Getting to spend a week with Brad and Karalee on Koh Phangan was the highlight of our trip. Having them around showed us that a journey is only as good as the people you get to share it with. We made unforgettable memories and it’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.

Here are some of our favourite pictures from the trip. Remember, you can click on any picture in any post to see the full size image 🙂

IMG_7911

IMG_6553

IMG_20150222_133426

IMG_20150221_184729

IMG_20150221_180645

Snorkelling on Koh Tao

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 5.07.53 PM

Koh Tao is a little island off of Thailand that’s known for its scuba diving schools and picturesque snorkelling. We were very excited to meet up with our two friends from Toronto, Brad and Karalee, who were taking a week-long PADI diving course on the island.

IMG_20150219_112539

How does it get much better than this?

Getting to Koh Tao from Phuket was a bit of a trek. We decided to take a bus from Phuket to Surat Thani and then the night boat from Surat to Koh Tao. You can do packaged travel options but this one allowed us to enjoy the night market in Surat Thani, relax, and then save on a night of accommodation while sleeping on the boat (rather than a 12-hour day drip via bus and boat to arrive at 8pm).

The night boat is about 500 baht ($15.50 USD) and left at 11pm and arrived at 6am the next morning. You sleep on these mats in rows next to strangers but there’s a bathroom and it’s all other backpackers so it was quite comfy.

We arrived groggy and walked to Koh Tao Garden Resort where we’d be staying. It was 7am now and the little old couple running the place let us in, turned on the TV, and sat us down and got us juice as they cleaned our room. Luckily, someone checked out early and they let us check in right away. We highly, highly recommend this place. We got our own bungalow for about $15 a night and it was just like a cottage. It was perfect.

IMG_6342

Luke surrounded by his new friends.

Since Koh Tao is known for snorkelling and scuba diving, we opted for getting ourselves our very own snorkelling sets, renting a bike, and checking out all the recommended snorkelling points.

The snorkelling on Koh Tao is incredible. There are many spots where you can snorkel within ten or fifteen feet of the shore and already see hundreds of brightly coloured fish, sea urchins, and coral. At the northern tip of Koh Tao is the Sunset View Restaurant, with public access to an excellent dive site. As there is food from the restaurant hitting the water, there are schools of fish waiting in the shallow water where you jump in. It doesn’t get any easier to snorkel! This was also the site where Luke managed to spot a large blue triggerfish.

For those considering snorkelling, I think it’s well worth it to beach hop and see what each location has to offer. Some spots we visited were relatively empty one day, only to be filled with fish the next. All in all, it was great swimming and snorkelling pretty much wherever we went.

Here’s a beach guide: http://www.travelfish.org/feature/163

We also spent some time with Karalee on a secluded little beach called Freedom beach. A cute little beach that’s a bit off the beaten trail, it’s a perfect haven for getting in some snorkelling or taking a nap. Seashells hang in the streets and there’s an awesome lookout on the way there.

Overall, Koh Tao is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the other islands and it still has everything you need: beautiful beaches, nightlife, and just enough charm.

IMG_6323

Koh Phi Phi and The Beach (Maya Bay)

PANO_20150212_173357

Luke and I watched The Beach before embarking on our trip to South East Asia, so getting to see Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay was on the top of my list while we were island hopping through the south of Thailand.

We kept our stay on Koh Phi Phi short because finding affordable accommodation proved to be a bit difficult. Originally, our budget only permitted a one-night stay at $25/night; after falling in love with the island however, we decided to stay an extra night.

Koh Phi Phi is absolutely stunning. It’s hands down one of my favorite islands. It’s nice and small, but big enough to do some exploring. There’s tons to do there and you can enjoy the bar life, shop, hike to the viewpoints, go snorkelling, or take a day trip to the many little islands and beaches nearby.

IMG_5814

We loved the catching the sunset.

On day one, we got in and grabbed some food before heading to the viewpoint. It was incredibly hot and steep, but it was well worth it. We got to watch the sunset dip into the ocean while we were overlooking the entire island. The view is priceless up there.

Later that evening we explored the nightlife. There are tons of backpackers and all sorts of crazy bars offering everything from beer pong to Muay Thai. The latter bar will give you a free drink if you fight in the ring with another traveler. We happened to drop in just in time to see a couple of guys all suited up in Muay Thai gear fighting it out for their alcoholic prize. It was pretty funny to see.

IMG_20150213_105351

The next day, we were up early for our Maya Bay tour. There are tons of tour companies offering basic tours of the surrounding islands, including Maya Bay. We grabbed one for $12 USD that included Monkey Island (a little beach with monkeys crawling all over it), the Viking Cave (just a drive by – it’s a large but unimpressive hole in the side of a rock wall), swimming in Phi Leh Bay, and finally some snorkelling and lounging at Maya Bay for an hour.

Most of these cheaper tours are pretty basic, and the “tour guides” are just locals with long tail boats. It’s hit or miss if you’ll get a good guide, but on the plus side you get some rice and fruit on the boat. Our guide was pretty cranky but luckily the view on the trip was worth it.

IMG_5921

We managed to snag one picture away from the crowds!

Getting to Maya Bay (aka The Beach) was a bit disappointing but we were still happy to be there. The beach is RAMMED with tourists. The bay is filled with boats, including long tail and huge cruise ships. There are people crawling everywhere. It’s hard to take a picture or relax. It’s a shame, since that’s what the entire movie was about – how tourists spoil the natural beauty of places. It seems like the fame from the movie has done just that to this beautiful bay.

Luckily, the beaches on Koh Phi Phi itself are quite incredible. One half of the island faces onto a large bay, all of which is waist
deep and bathtub warm. I loved floating in it – it was warm, crystal clear, and the sand was that dreamy soft white. We spent a lot of our time just swimming and enjoying the view of the bay.

On night two we caught an epic two-hour fire show before heading down to the beach where they had a bunch of bars playing music. Of course, we found one playing our type of chill music and we relaxed while meeting some other travellers (and even a made a dog friend).

We’re so happy we opted to visit Koh Phi Phi. It’s something not to be missed. Here are some pictures from our stay!

IMG_5868

IMG_6084

IMG_20150212_151029

PANO_20150213_094935

Phuket? Meh.

IMG_6246

Oh, Phuket.

Obviously, Phuket was on our travel itinerary since we’re in the South of Thailand and everyone and their drunk best friend has a travel story from Phuket. I guess it’s safe to say the place is more infamous than famous, and we quickly found out why.

I don’t want to completely rule out Phuket, because I’m sure there are lots of sides to it, but we really didn’t enjoy it. After seeing much of the South already, Phuket was a big let down. It had a grimier feel than Bangkok with much more in your face sex (ping pong shows, girls dancing on poles, and Asian girls teetering on platform heels galore) on the main drag and the beaches we checked out were sorta…meh.

Mind you, we stayed closer to the Patong Beach area (which is the main tourist area) and maybe that was our issue. I’m sure there’s lots to explore in Phuket but if you’re coming to Thailand, please just hop to the islands sooner rather than later and enjoy what the South really has to offer.

IMG_6165Our trip was generally uneventful. We had a hotel mishap and had to endure the blaring sounds of construction every morning, but we got a free meal out of it at least. We made a trip to the mall to replace our broken Mac charger, bought a second-hand GoPro Hero 3 (yay!), and explored the more local eateries.

One highlight was No. 9 2nd Restaurant which we only noticed due to the massive line out front. Intrigued, we lined up and we were glad we did. About a 10 minute wait (as we were salivating over all the food being brought out), we finally got to sit down and enjoy some of the tastiest Thai food we’ve had this trip. Trust us, it’s worth every minute of standing.

I’m sad to say we don’t have much else to say about Phuket. We enjoyed walking the main strip, popping into some clubs and checking out the crowd, and we liked watching the sunset on the beach.

Overall, I’d say that it’s worth checking out but only for a night or two. If you’re into partying and not knowing what happened last night (or, which ladyboy happened…) then it’s definitely the place for you. For us? Back to the islands!

Taking in the beauty of Krabi

IMG_5720

After several days of island hopping, it was time for all the natural mainland beauty that Krabi had to offer. We were looking forward to Railay Beach, as well as the mountain scenery everywhere.

 We arrived in the evening and were welcomed by the night market where we snagged $1 crab cakes and delicious smoothies. Every evening, the night market comes alive with so many different kinds of foods all for super cheap.

We woke up early the next morning to ride our motorbike to the Emerald Pool and the hot springs waterfall. Many tours offer a package to the pool, the hot springs, and the tiger temple but we opted to go on our own time to avoid the crowds and schedule.IMG_5575

The Emerald Pool (Sa Morokat, Crystal Pool) is a natural pool of water filled with clean, pure, glistening water. It’s at an absolutely perfect temperature for lounging all day, surrounded by forest. We got there around noon and it wasn’t too busy. The water was so clear; you could see the ground and everything through it. It was a perfect crystal blue.

Close by was the Blue Pool, which is spring water that has this almost fake-looking aqua blue color. It was really pretty to look at. There’s no swimming allowed at the Blue Pool, since it’s surrounded by quick sand! When you clap your hands the sand bubbles up underneath the water, which was pretty cool to see.

IMG_20150210_153041Next we were off to the hot springs, which was home to a small series of waterfalls. It was basically a naturally made jacuzzi. Getting in at the top, the water is pretty hot but as you go from the top level down to the other levels of the waterfall, it slowly cools down. The waterfall has tons of areas to sit and relax or find some gushing water to play under. When you get to the bottom, you can jump into the pond to cool off before heading back to the top again. Words don’t do this place justice… it was as beautiful and refreshing as any spa could ever hope to be.

On our way home, we got to enjoy the beautiful limestone scenery, as well as rubber tree plantations and jackfruit farms. It was one of the most incredibly beautiful motorbike rides of our trip. We pulled down a side dirt road as we pulled into town to watch the sunset, and were greeted by a few local boys and an elephant. The locals who owned her let us take pictures and enjoy the view of the sun setting over their property.

Thailand is filled with so much beauty, and Krabi especially gives you chances to see nature at its very best. It was refreshing to feel somewhat off the usual tourist path and being able to take in the sights Thailand has to offer.

IMG_20150210_153540

The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan

IMG_5231

The Full Moon Party in Thailand is one of the most famous all night beach parties in South East Asia, if not the world. Koh Phangan is not only famous thanks to the movie The Beach, but also for the monthly party hosted on Haad Rin beach. Nearly 30,000 people come to enjoy music, fire shows, neon everything, and of course buckets of booze.

When we realized we’d be arriving on the islands the day of the Full Moon Party, we decided we had to go. We looked into accommodations on Koh Phangan, but everything was either booked up, price hiked, or demanding a minimum five-day stay (which wasn’t in our plans). We did some quick research and asked a travel agent and quickly learned a really cool hack: you can stay on Koh Samui and take a $25 USD round-trip speed boat there and back. Perfect.

This catch was amazing for a number of reasons. Our bungalow on Koh Samui cost only $15 a night and we had it all to ourselves. The island wasn’t rammed with drunken partiers, but still had an exceptional music and club scene. The beaches were less packed, the food was amazing, and we could keep our distance from the craziness if we wanted to. It was an all-around way better option for us.

IMG_20150203_235238Our travel agent on Koh Samui got us a round trip speedboat trip for 800 baht, which was significantly cheaper than what was offered right at the dock. If you buy at the dock, they’re asking 1100 baht. So, try to shop around. This price included a bus from our hotel as well as the boat there, boat back, and the final bus home (note: in the early morning hours this bus ride can get pretty overloaded, so don’t rely on the ride home being straightforward). The speedboat takes about 15 minutes and everyone is cheering and stoked on life so it’s a fun trip. Oh, and skip any VIP tickets – they’re useless. Regardless of which route you pick, your ticket is good from 10pm till 7am the next day to get you home.

We had read a lot of horror stories about the Full Moon Party online. So many people say it’s not safe, it’s gross, it’s just a bunch of drunken backpackers, etc. etc. We weren’t sure what to expect and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. Conversely, we had met two other couples that went to the Full Moon Party on a whim and loved it, so we were also hoping to be pleasantly surprised. We both grabbed some potent Thai Redbulls (Google it, they’re insane) and headed over around midnight.

We got to Haad Rin beach around midnight when everything was already in full swing. It was 100 baht entrance ($3 USD) and they weren’t checking any IDs (duh, it’s Thailand). We scored some free body paint that other partiers were sharing and Luke IMG_20150204_023617was the artist of the evening. We grabbed a flower headband, a bucket (200 baht, $6 USD for a pint of Thai rum, a Coke, and a classy plastic drinking bucket), and began to explore.

The party sprawls across the entire beach. Every little bar is selling buckets, food, and playing their own music. You can hear anything from Top 40, to electro bangers, to crazy deep psytrance, to bone-shaking drum and bass. If a song comes on that you don’t like, just walk 15 feet further and enjoy the music there. We settled in for some deep house at one place, and then ventured on to some crazy fist-pumping electro the next.

There is also fire everywhere. Fire dancers, fire signs, fire limbo, even fire jump rope. Luke gave that a try – the flaming 50’ rope would start swinging, people would join in and start jumping, and eventually someone would screw it all up and cause a wipeout. Untangle, clear the jump-rope area, repeat.

There was a water slide, dance stages on the beach, black lights and lasers everywhere, and endless opportunities for exploring. We really enjoyed just walking around, people watching, dancing, and seeing all of the stuff offered by the island. Black lights kept the neon glowing, and stores stayed open all night (in case you forgot to bring your own neon swag).

IMG_20150204_020847Yes, the Full Moon Party is a bit crazy. We saw drunkenness that can only be explained in terms of frosh week debauchery (including one guy dancing atop a billboard), and we saw some telltale signs of drugs. The large number of people and the short supply of public washrooms meant that hordes of bros were using the surf as a urinal. That was a bit grimy, but then again, when is a festival’s washroom setup not grimy? We just kept our heads about us, kept each other close, and kept our shoes on.

Overall the Full Moon Party is a blast and the basic safety rules apply: Watch your drink, watch your bucket, don’t accept drinks or party favors from strangers, take a buddy (and WATCH your buddy … too many girls were on the solo on the hunt for their lost BFF), don’t sleep on the beach, watch your stuff for pickpockets, try not to get blackout drunk, and WEAR SOMETHING GOOD ON YOUR FEET. Broken glass in the sand leaves a lot of backpackers hobbling for the rest of their trip.

In the end, it was one of the most memorable nights of our trip. Before we knew it, it was 4AM and we were grabbing chicken shwarma in preparation for battling the long line to get back on our speedboat. If you’re ever in Thailand around a Full Moon Party date, I cannot urge you enough to leave all of your inhibitions behind, grab a neon tank top, and just GO.

Watch our video recap of our night at the Full Moon Party:

We left our hearts on Koh Samui

IMG_5468

Getting to the islands in the South of Thailand was probably one of the most exciting parts of our trip. We had heard such great things about the beautiful beaches, the laid back atmosphere, and of course, the parties.

In our last blog entry we mentioned that we’re huge fans of techno and house music, and getting to the islands where we could feed our hunger for the music we love was beyond exciting. We spotted a flyer in Bangkok saying that the legendary Sven Väth was playing on Koh Samui, so we made sure to time our travels accordingly.

IMG_5483

Luke even made a new elephant friend.

We decided to opt for a private bungalow to enjoy the island life for six nights. We found a gorgeous place just off the main drag of Chaweng Beach for $15 a night (Pattara House, we highly recommend it), which by Samui standards was excellently priced. Shortly after checking in, we met a kind local lady who became our travel agent, bike rental dealer, restaurant recommender, and currency exchange all in one. We were set for the island!

I can’t help but gush when I talk about Koh Samui. My heart actually aches missing the island. I don’t even know where to begin with all the incredible things we did and memories we made. While prices are a tad bit higher on the island, as it’s a vacation destination for a lot of Europeans (it has its own airport, too), there are still so many markets and cheap restaurants available with amazing food. The beaches are also unique and plentiful, from busy central beaches to more secluded options.

The club scene was far more than we expected. Since there’s heavy European traffic, the music scene is proper and everywhere. The clubs are upscale but also free entry, due to the heavy competition, and I’d say they cater to a more mature crowd (which is a nice change). We visited Sound Hotel, as they were hosting a free deep house night with James Trystan, and for a grand total of $15 we got to smoke hookah in a fancy club by a pool bar. Later on in the week we visited many of the beachfront clubs offering excellent music and fire shows.

During the days, we enjoyed motorbiking around the island, exploring coffee shops, tanning on the beaches, and hiking to findIMG_5348 the most beautiful waterfall we’ve seen this trip. Hin Lad waterfall is majestic and easy to find. It’s a must see if you’re on the island and a great spot for bringing a packed lunch and going for a swim. We also visited the Big Buddha and the Wat on the hill, as well as the Bophut Fisherman Village’s market on Friday night. The Fisherman’s Village was notable for having the most original wares of all the night markets we’ve visited. We got to try sautéed garlic oysters for a dollar!

Finally, Saturday night rolled around and we left for Cha Cha Moon Beach Club to see Sven Väth. Nakadia opened with another perfectly deep set, and Sven Väth followed with an unbelievably rich four hours of sweet, sweet techno. We danced on the beach until our feet hurt, only taking a break to eat a Nutella-banana crepe that Luke snagged from a beach vendor. Being on this beautiful Thai island, dancing to some of the best techno I’ve heard in my life, with my feet half in the sand and half in the ocean… it was truly an evening we both will never forget.

With our time at Koh Samui coming to an end, we grudgingly packed up and made our way to the ferry. If you’re coming to Thailand and love beaches, music, and exploring, this island is absolutely perfect. Maybe we’ll even retire here one day…

IMG_6054

Phnom Penh to Bangkok in under $50

IMG_5053

On this trip, it’s been important for us to find the most cost-conscious ways of getting from point A to point B. In South East Asia,  it’s pretty easy to cut costs if you’re willing to put in the work. From walking from travel agent to travel agent, to researching extensively online and knowing every way possible, to taking the less direct route, you can always make your budget work.

Flights in South East Asia are usually cheap, but sometimes when booking last minute the prices will suddenly be unaffordable. We missed our chance to get a plane ticket from Phnom Penh to Bangkok as planned and we weren’t about to opt for the extremely badly reviewed bus company offering $30 overnight “VIP” buses. There were far too many stories of drivers falling asleep and landing their buses in a ditch.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed using one website called The Man In Seat 61 for cross-checking all of our transportation options before we make a final decision. The site is basically a hub for anything you need to know about train and bus travel in most countries. So, we decided to take a route we found on his site but added a few of our own preferences.

IMG_5069Here’s our step by step guide for how we got from Phnom Penh to Bankok for less than $50:

Step 1: We jumped on a 10:30 PM night bus with Giant Ibis (great bus company that you can book online, choose your seat seats, and it has wifi!) from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap for $15. It was a 6.5 hour overnight drive on a”hotel bus” where you get a full lie down bed, as opposed to traditional sleepers with recliners. The one half of the bus was double beds, so my boyfriend and I got to sleep side by side with plenty of room.

Step 2: After arriving safely in Siem Reap at 6AM, we hailed a $2 tuk tuk to take us to the bus station for a $9 bus (as suggested by Seat61). Our driver told us the buses get really full (who knows if this is the truth) and suggested a private taxi instead. We asked how much, and he said $30 to get us to Poipet where we would cross the boarder. So at $15 each, we were totally cool with that. He drove us to some guys he knew and they tried to get us for $35. A little haggling and the threat of walking away, and they caved for $30. It took two hours to get to the border in a nice car.

Step 3: At 8:30 AM we walked across the boarder into Thailand! No lines, just some quick passport stamping and then we walked into Aranyaprathet. Note that the visa rules have changed and you can now get a free 30 day visa when you arrive by land, instead of just two weeks as it was previously.

Step 4: We got food and hung out in a cafe before taking a $3 tuk tuk ride to the train station to grab the 1:55 PM train to Bangkok. We waited at the train station and bought our $1.50 train tickets from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok (6 hours). The only option is a 3rd class seat, which is bench seating. The 3rd class soft seats filled up quickly, so we were stuck with the leftover hard seats in 4th class. The windows come right down so the ride is really breezy and nice. The only issue we had was with the food, as we couldn’t tell what it was they were selling. My advice would be to take the time and get some snacks for the trip, or be ready to try some unusual Thai food.

And with that, we arrived safely in Bangkok. A little bit hungry but no worse for the wear. All in all, our trip cost us (per person):
$15 bus from Pnom Penh to Siem Reap
$2 Tuk tuk in Siem Reap to car
$30 Car from Siem Reap to Poipet
$1.55 Train from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok
Total cost: $48.55 (USD)

It’s a bit of a journey but if you’re mentally prepared for it, it’s really easy and not too bad since it’s all broken up into steps. All in all, it was really cool to figure it out for ourselves and we’d recommend the trip for the adventurous souls.