Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

SOTM Tour: Month Seven of Twelve

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Kate Hello Kitty Phone

After six months of dashing like mad from place to place, Month Seven was the first month that Mario and I spent entirely in one country: Thailand, thanks to the two-month visas we picked up in Cambodia.

It was also the month that we slowed down — way down. And it was so needed. I had been exhausted and craving a break since July.

We had always planned on staying in one place for a few weeks around Christmas, and Koh Lanta was the ideal place to do it. As soon as we settled down, a constant buzzing of stress left me — suddenly, the pressure to leave and move on was gone.

We spent our days either relaxing on the beach with coconuts or working in cafes. We got into a groove and had a list of our usual restaurants.

Bangkok Traffic

Destinations Visited

Pai, Bangkok, Ranong, Koh Phayam, Khao Sok National Park, and Koh Lanta, Thailand

Pra Ae, Koh Lanta

Favorite Destinations

Koh Lanta. I am so pleased that three years later, the island is still home to fantastic, clean beaches and kind, welcoming people. It’s so relaxed and chilled out here.

Khao Sok. I can’t believe this national park isn’t more well known. It’s an incredible setting, with limestone karsts jutting out of the land and the lake, and it’s a short drive from the beaches of the southern Gulf coast or the Andaman coast.

Khao Sok in Black and White

Highlights

Just being on Koh Lanta is enough of a highlight! In addition to our beach and cafe time, we also explored the island by motorbike, played with cats and dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare, met really interesting people, celebrated Mario’s birthday with lobster on the beach, celebrated Christmas with coconuts on the beach, celebrated New Year’s with fireworks on the beach, and just relaxed.

In Khao Sok, the biggest highlight, believe it or not, was hiking through a water-filled cave for more than a kilometer. At first, I hated it (along with the jungle trekking), but by the time we started swimming through the pitch-black cave and climbing flimsy wooden ladders over rapids, I was hooked! I also enjoyed the scenery of the lake trip and exploring the Sok River by canoe.

And in Bangkok, my biggest highlight was going to see Catching Fire in the luxury theater at Central World. This is my new favorite thing to do in Bangkok! For 700 baht ($21), you get a pre-movie buffet, movie seating in huge cushy recliners with blankets, your choice of popcorn (caramel, cheese, barbecue or salt?) and soft drinks, and waitress service. To have that luxury experience with such a good movie as Catching Fire made it all the better.

Kevin's SOTM

Memorable SOTM Pic

In Melbourne, we met up with Mario’s friend Kevin and his Kiwi wife Danielle. Mario and Kevin worked together in England more than 20 years ago, lost touch, and reconnected on Facebook. Kevin met his wife in London, and they moved to Melbourne, got married, and now have two little boys, two dogs, and a beautiful house. As soon as Kevin found out that we were coming to Melbourne, he and Danielle invited us over for some delicious homemade pizza.

Kevin and Danielle just celebrated their 10 year anniversary. This was the phrase that initially brought them together in a pub on a cold night in Brixton. Read more about the story here.

Red Snapper Koh Lanta

Best Thing I Ate

Red Snapper on Koh Lanta is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, and my favorite dish from last time remained my favorite dish from this time: chorizo fried in garlic and brandy. The dish is served with soft pieces of garlic that fall apart when you spread them on  the meat. Outstanding.

If you’re heading to Koh Lanta, I highly recommend having at least one splurge meal at Red Snapper. (And by splurge, I mean we spent about 1500 baht, or $45, for the two of us, including a glass of wine each.) The menu changes periodically, but in addition to the chorizo fried with garlic and brandy, I recommend the roasted duck, Ethiopian lentils with roti, cold strawberry soup with ginger ice cream, and a simple yet astounding salad with goat cheese, shaved almonds, figs, and lemon vinaigrette.

Khao Sok Paradise

Best Place I Stayed

I really loved Khao Sok Paradise in Khao Sok National Park. We ended up spending more than usual (1300 baht, or $39) because I had no idea how isolated we would be and whether we would have phone signal in the national park. If there were no signal, we would need a place with reliable wifi, since Mario was going to be working while I did outdoorsy things.

It turns out that our worries were for naught — while there was no phone signal in the national park itself, there was signal at our guesthouse, and while the wifi was decent, there were a few nearby restaurants that had faster wifi.

That said, Khao Sok Paradise was a wonderful place to stay. We had a very comfortable round room that looked like it was in a giant tree stump — it was like a home for elves! The guesthouse has a great restaurant serving both Thai and Mediterranean food, and their pasta could past muster in Italy. Seriously.

Dr. Brain

Plus, they have a freaky fish who looks like he’s trying to kill you.

Mario loved him and tried to name him Colin. Turns out his name is actually Dr. Brain. He’ll let you stroke his swollen forehead if you do it nicely.

Long Beach, Koh Phayam

Challenges

If you read about my worst travel moments of 2013, you heard about the illness on Koh Phayam. I had the flu or something else entirely and was so sick I couldn’t even sit upright. Thankfully it didn’t last for long.

Beyond that, the month was pretty easy. Once a cockroach climbed into my suitcase and I chased him out and thought he had disappeared until I found him hiding in my bra.

Oh, and there was the time a Swedish woman came up to me and asked about the baby while patting my stomach. First time that’s ever happened. In her defense, I was sitting in a massage chair with my hands resting on my non-bump, so I don’t blame her, but still — that’s something that you never want to happen to you.

Lake Houses Khao Sok

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Khao Sok is famous for its lake houses — floating houses where you can stay overnight if you’d like. I didn’t stay overnight, but I did spend an afternoon swimming by some of the lake houses.

This photo garnered 209 likes, making it my fourth most liked Instagram photo of all time.

Koh Lanta

What I Read This Month

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah — I loved this book, a light memoir about a woman living and eating her way through Paris after her husband is suddenly sent to work in Iraq for a year. Each chapter gives an introduction to a famous French dish with a trip to the region where it originates, and the story of learning to live alone in Paris ties it all together.

A Time to Be Born by Dawn Powell — This book was on sale and recommended to me on Amazon, so I gave it a whirl. Published in 1942, this novel takes place after the start of World War II but before the US enters the war. It is basically how a Seinfeld cast would act during World War II, along with constant catty gossip — yeah, Hitler’s supposedly a bad guy and all, but did you hear that Amanda Keeler’s father is common enough to own a haberdashery?

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain — God, I love Uncle Tony. He is one of the people I’d like to spend a day hanging out with the most. This book is a collection of delightfully badass essays about food, travel, and the food media. If you’re going to read Anthony Bourdain for the first time, don’t start with this one — start with Kitchen Confidential, the hilarious, engrossing and shocking memoir of his life as a chef, which provided the basis for this book.

Interestingly, both Mastering the Art of French Eating and Medium Raw both mentioned a French delicacy I’ve never heard of: ortolan, or tiny birds that are drenched with Armagnac, torched, and eaten whole.

Ann Mah mentions eating ortolan almost in passing, with no details beyond the physical appearance of the birds. Anthony Bourdain, by contrast, writes a detailed, dreamlike, fantastical account of the pleasure of eating these birds, from the crunch of the bones to the sizzling abdominal fat. Oh, and ortolan are a protected species — making eating them ranging from frowned upon to downright illegal, depending on the region.

And, frankly…that’s the difference between the authors and the books, right there. Anthony Bourdain is an expert on French cuisine; Ann Mah is an enthusiast looking to learn more. Neither is better than the other; they simply cater to different audiences, and their books reflect that.

Close up of Batad terraces

Coming Up in Month Eight

Yesterday Mario and I finally left Koh Lanta and arrived in Ao Nang, a place where I spent a lot of time on my first trip to Asia. It’s nice to be back, but being here is also dredging up some of the less-nice memories I have from my time here.

This month we head to Brunei for several days, followed by the Philippines. As much as I’d like to visit the beaches of the Philippines, it looks like our trip is going to be spent entirely on the main island of Luzon — but the good thing is that Luzon is brimming with amazing sights (and I hope to add three new UNESCO World Heritage Sites to my roster).

Month Eight will finish the day we fly to Hong Kong — our final destination in Asia.

Any Suggestions for Month Eight? Let me know!

photo by: Madeleine_H

Comments

27 Responses to “SOTM Tour: Month Seven of Twelve”
  1. Anna says:

    Wow, did you play along or set the Canadian woman straight? Was she mortified?

    I am very impressed by the hotel and generally how cheap SE Asia seems to be after you spend $$$ getting there. I probably wouldnt do anything more low-key than the place where you stayed (unless it guaranteed against cockroach penetration bc I might have died), but $40 a night is super-awesome.

  2. Selma says:

    Awesome highlights from Thailand … I haven’t been to Khao Sok, but it’s on my list now! I’ve been to the Philippines, and even though it’s not on Luzon, Puerto Galera, which is on Mindoro, is within 4 hours of Manila, and it’s a great tropical island getaway!

  3. Clare says:

    I spent a week in Hong Kong and Macau with my sister in 2009 – highly recommend heading up to the Peak. Despite hot weather, the foliage around the hilltop walk will provide much-needed respite. And if you head to Macau, you must go to Senado Square, the historic part of Macau.

  4. Kelli Anne says:

    I worked at a department store once, and had a woman gesture to her stomach and mouth congratulations to me while she was on the phone. Totally traumatizing. Definitely threw the skirt I was wearing out, immediately! Happens to the best of us…

  5. brie says:

    perfect timing – i am off to thailand for 18 days in 2 weeks! planning 3 nights in koh lanta – any suggestions on where to stay? thanks so much!

    • I stayed at Cha-Ba in Klong Dao. Bungalows are basic but get the job done. Mattresses aren’t the greatest, but they’re much nicer in the more expensive rooms. You want to stay on Klong Dao or Pra Ae — those are the beaches where stuff goes on, especially Pra Ae.

  6. Amanda says:

    Well you’ve certainly given me some ideas for Thailand in this post! Have a great last month in Asia.

  7. That road looks so busy, and that beach so empty. A big contrast.

  8. Wow, the situation with the Canadian woman is pretty bad… How did she react when you told her?

  9. Harry says:

    I started reading your blog back when I was in Georgetown and ultimately decided to stop in at Koh Lanta on your recommendations and I am so glad I did. Turns out we must have been there at the same time over Christmas, ha! I hope that if I give it three years like you have, it will remain the lovely laid back place I found it to be.

    I actually am more curious to ask you something about a different place: what in God’s name did you ever see in Ao Nang? I was there over New Year and hated hated HATED it. Everything I feared about Thailand’s lesser areas was there from the horrible bars to the sexpats… ugh. Fortunately I hopped over to Tonsai/Railey so that was a relief. Not sure if you ever made it there? Definitely recommended. Keep up the good work!!!

    • I’m so glad you loved Koh Lanta, Harry!

      As for Ao Nang, I met a lot of amazing people there — both Thais and expats. They welcomed me to their community and showed me the best of their city and I had a great time.

      But in all seriousness, I’ve never seen a single sexpat in Ao Nang, nor a single older-white-guy-young-Thai-woman couple. Which is VERY rare.

  10. Dogan Kutbay says:

    Amazing!!
    I’m writing this because my girlfriend just found out about your blog and she is damn jealous and wants to do the same what you do -_-‘

  11. I’m heading to Thailand next month and it will be my 5th visit. I’ve never been to Ko Lanta and it’s definitely on my list for this trip, thanks to your recommendations! I love my food too so will be sure to dine at Red Snapper.

  12. Renuka says:

    You hiked through a water-filled cave! That’s something really interesting. Phew! I mean, your experiences just seem like a roller-coaster! Great place to stay, great eats…a bit of adventure here and there…relaxation…

  13. Robin says:

    Awesome! We are actually heading to Khao Sok from BKK in a few days. I have been hoping it’ll be a good break from our time in the city. I can’t wait to take my little boys on their first overnight train!

  14. NZ Muse says:

    Oooh, swimming through a pitch black cave in Thailand was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done but one of the best memories I have 🙂

  15. I love these posts. Also, that last picture is gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

    Happy travels 🙂

  16. Tana B says:

    Sounds like a blast! It’s always nice to spend more time in one place, I find you experience more that way. You get more time to explore and meet the locals which usually ends up in getting to see some amazing things that most people that just come through miss out on

  17. Victoria says:

    Wow! Sounds like fun and so many happy memories.
    I really like the photo of the lake houses. I can quite imagine a few nights there!

  18. Nina says:

    I live in Krabi and just spent NYE on Koh Lanta. Awesome place. What happened in Ao Nang?! I’ll have to check our Khao Sok, haven’t been yet!

  19. I can’t believe the Swedish lady patting your non-existent bump! You definitely don’t look like you have a bump in your photos, just for the record.

    I used to get scared of offering pregnant ladies my seat on the tube in London because I didn’t want to accidently offend them if they weren’t actually pregnant – it sometimes can be hard to tell underneath layers of coats and winter jumpers if the bump is defined or just…big. Luckily TFL introduced little badges with the TFL sign and “Baby on Board” written on them, which were available to pregnant ladies to pin on their coats whilst travelling on the tube.

    I can see why the photo of the Thai lake houses was your most popular instragram photo – it’s a great shot.

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