Thursday, December 8th, 2016

SOTM Tour: Month Six of Twelve

33

Kate in Pai

As of December 6, Mario and I have been on the road for six full months! The sixth month was filled with mostly joy, a few challenges, and a very special visitor as we traveled through Cambodia and Thailand.

On to the round up!

Reclining Buddha, Bangkok

Destinations Visited

Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kep and Siem Reap, Cambodia

Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai, Thailand

Little Girls at Doi Suthep

Favorite Destinations

Pai — What a turnaround! Three years ago, I thought Pai was beautiful but unfriendly and overrated; this time I loved the funky mountain vibe and the nightly market.

Chiang Mai — What a beautiful, comfortable, and easy place. And the food here? Amazing. Living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad makes so much sense, and I wonder if I’ll ever take the plunge and join everyone else.

Kampot — Still my favorite place in Cambodia. I got to see a bit more of it this time around, including some surrounding villages. The people here are amazing.

Kate, Mario, and Isaac at Muay Thai

Highlights

The biggest highlight of this month was having the “nephew trip” — Mario’s nephew Isaac came to visit us for two weeks! Isaac is 20 years old, lives in a small town in England, and had never been out of Europe — so we aimed to both shock and delight him as much as possible.

It was such a nice time. In Bangkok we took him to temples, Chinatown, and, um, Soi Cowboy. We went to see Muay Thai at Lumphini Stadium and introduced him to cheap massages, street food, the electronics floor at MBK, markets, and stores that sell burn pirated DVDs for you. Oh, and we ended up in a protest.

In Chiang Mai, we caught up with a lot of friends old and new, both the bloggers that so often live there and people completely outside the blogging industry. Mario and Isaac went to Elephant Nature Park and the three of us spent an hour chatting with a monk and made a trip to Doi Suthep, the temple above the city. Oh, and the street food — I miss the pork on rice, khao soi, and strawberry dragonfruit shakes.

Chiang Mai Friends

Pai was enormously fun. We rented motorbikes and rode all over the countryside, took in some live music (sometimes played by Isaac himself!), and enjoyed the night market and cafe scene. We finished with another meetup in Chiang Mai and an overnight train ride back to Bangkok.

The trip went really well, and Mario and I are thrilled that we got to show Thaisaac (as we’re now calling him) a very different part of the world.

Prior to the nephew trip was Cambodia, and I enjoyed taking Mario to Angkor (his first time!) and getting much better photos this time around.

Naked People Will Never Be Defeated

Memorable SOTM Pic

So one night in Istanbul we met militant French Canadian anarchist nudists.

Nothing unusual about that at all.

This guy, an affable chap named Thierry, posed with the words that meant the most to him: “Naked people will NEVER be defeated.” Find out the full story here.

Okonomiyaki

Best Thing I Ate

It sounds sacrilegious not to pick a quintessential Thai dish this month, as Thai cuisine is so outstanding – but for me, the best dish was street okonomiyaki in Pai.

Okonomiyaki, a dish originating from Osaka, Japan, is a cabbage-based pancake that can be filled with a variety of meat, seafood, and vegetables and topped with sauces. This one was so good that we went back for more two nights later — and at just 40 baht ($1.25) each, it was a perfect component to our nightly street food feasts.

The Magic Sponge

Best Place I Stayed

Every now and then you come across a guesthouse that goes above and beyond. This time it was The Magic Sponge in Kampot, Cambodia. The whole guesthouse has recently been renovated, including both private rooms and a $3/night “luxury dorm,” and the results are stunning.

We had a huge, spacious room with two double beds, air conditioning, a bathroom with hot water, and in-room wifi. The price? $12 per night.

Additionally, this guesthouse has delicious food, including an Indian menu, and enormous portions. There’s a pool table and a mini-golf course outside, and a selection of movies is always playing indoors. William, the Alaskan owner, is very friendly and always up for a chat.

We had actually spent the first night at my old Kampot guesthouse, Blissful Guesthouse, with a $5 ensuite room that was basically disgusting and falling apart, and we ended up crawling here the next day. Upgrading to $12 a night made a huge difference.

Angkor

Challenges

Well, if you read my recent Cambodia post, you know about some of it already. This month Cambodia went from one of my favorite countries to a place where I have zero desire to return.

The worst part for me personally was getting extorted by a Cambodian man to get my own phone back — it fell out of my tuk-tuk (stupidly, yes, I know) and the man who picked it up wouldn’t give it back to me unless I paid him $200.

Cambodia is a mentally (and often physically) challenging destination — the heartbreaking poverty, trash, smells, lack of sidewalks, kids who work all night selling things to tourists, and signs warning about the child sex trade are all difficult to handle on your best day. Being in a positive mindset is vital, or else the negative aspects of Cambodia will swallow you up. On this trip, my positive mindset left rather quickly, and from that point, it didn’t recover.

Also, I got food poisoning for the first time in three years of full-time travel. I think the culprit was a few sips of water in Siem Reap that tasted grainy and weird.

Ta Prohm

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

This photo of Ta Prohm temple at Angkor is my third most popular photo ever with 216 likes. I am loving the new HDR Scape filter on Snapseed. I’m not crazy about the super-HDR look in general, but used in moderation, the filter adds JUST the right amount of dimension to scenic photos.

Chiang Mai Temple

What I Read This Month

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – Is there any writer more delightful than Elizabeth Gilbert? I adore her writing, and I adored this book. This is her first novel since before Eat, Pray, Love and Committed, and it’s a wonderful historical tale of the life of Alma Whittaker, a brilliant botanist born in Philadelphia in 1800.

Interestingly, prior to her incredibly successful memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert was best known for writing fiction about “manly men doing manly things,” she wrote in Committed. The parts of The Signature of All Things she wrote about Alma’s father, an intelligent but wily child grown into a sailor and enormously successful businessman, were some of the most joyful and colorful parts of the book.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinness – I’m split on this one, yet another young adult dystopian novel. I loved the premise – most of the world’s fresh water is gone and a teenage girl and her mother survive off their pond, shooting anyone who comes near it. It was like a milder, less bleak version of The Road. (And yes, considering that a book about shooting desperate people dying of thirst is the “less bleak” option, that tells you just how dark The Road gets.)

While the premise was good, I found the main character’s actions to be completely unrealistic. She has spent her whole life interacting with only one human — her fierce mother — and when she meets new people, she interacts with them not only normally but with wit and sarcasm. I found it unnatural, and it took me out of the book.

Koh Lanta National Park

Coming Up in Month Seven

Month Six ended in Pai, and we then headed back to Bangkok. I started writing this post on the island of Koh Phayam, Thailand, and I’m finishing it now in Khao Sok National Park. After this, we’re heading to my beloved Koh Lanta and staying there for awhile — hopefully two weeks or longer.

I plan to take off the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day – my first vacation in a year and a half! That will be so lovely. I’ve been craving a break since July and this is the first chance I’ve had to do it.

Any suggestions for Month Seven? Let me know!

Comments

33 Responses to “SOTM Tour: Month Six of Twelve”
  1. Anna says:

    Wow, $12 a night? I still cannot believe some quality vacation destinations can really be this cheap. This just might break me out of my fear or traveling in Asia. And that $1.25 street meet thing looks scrumptious – maybe good enough to seal the deal!

  2. I don’t know that I can argue with the naked logic. *I’m* not going to attempt to defeat him…

  3. Kristen says:

    Don’t know if you really need blog post ideas but I think it would be really interesting for you to do a post about your changed opinions on Pai and Chiang Mai (which I seem to recall you did not like last time you were in SEA). It’d be cool to read your reflections on if it is the change in the cities or the change in you as you’ve gotten older 🙂

    • That’s the problem — everyone thinks I hate Chiang Mai! I don’t! I really like it there! The reason why I wrote my post “Chiang Mai is Not for Everyone” is because at the time that I wrote it (years ago), tons of travel bloggers were writing about how amazing it was with ZERO of the downsides, and as a result, the message was getting warped to “this is the most amazing place in the world” and people I knew were planning on moving there long-term, sight unseen, without even checking it out first! Chiang Mai is great, and I like it a lot, but I felt that it was necessary to paint a broader picture of the city than just “It’s perfect” so that people could make a better decision.

  4. Stefania says:

    Wonderful pictures. In spite of the inconveniences you mentioned about Cambodia, it’s still one of the places I’d like to visit more in Asia!

  5. Jessica Wray says:

    I can’t believe it’s already been six months. I remember reading the first round up, and that doesn’t seem like that long ago!

    Anyways, sounds like an amazing month, regardless of the rough patches! Hope month seven is even more memorable!

  6. Nadja says:

    Wow, 12 $ a night is awesome! I’ve been in Thailand last year- and I went to Ko Lanta aswell! You really need to meet Ina- the owner of the “German Bakery” on Ko Lanta! Best breakfast on the island 😉 And the bar “Same Same but different” is the perfect hippie beach bar, you need to go there!:)
    Greetings from Australia, Nadja

  7. sachi says:

    Dear kate, it was so nice to go through your website and read about all the experiences u had.I bet that u must be having a great time with your travels around the world.I too love travelling just like you.I would like to give a suggestion for your next visit.Come and visit my country SRI LANKA….its a splendid Is. you will not regret visiting.As I’m still young I cann’t afford my own travels.So one day when I earn I would like to be a solo traveller just like you. 🙂

    • I would love to visit Sri Lanka, Sachi. Mario and I are thinking of honeymooning there. He visited as a journalist after the tsunami and loved it and I’ve always dreamed of going.

      • sachi says:

        yeh Kate ; we warmly welcome you..Im waiting to travel just like u but still Im nt permited to…come and visit Sri Lanka..you want regret coming 🙂 hope to see you here

  8. Victoria says:

    Looks like you’re having an amazing time! Wonderful.

  9. Renuka says:

    I liked your style of writing this post. Very different! The guest house that you got to stay at sounds wonderful! So many facilities! 🙂 Hope the seventh month brings in more fun!

  10. Katie says:

    Thierry and his quote is hilarious! Rock on naked people!

    I also happen to be a huge Elizabeth Gilbert fan. Since Eat Pray Love became so successful, people sometimes like to dismiss her, but she is one of my favorite authors so thank you for not bending to the trend of ceasing to like someone once he/she becomes commercially successful!

    • Eat, Pray, Love in the hands of another writer would likely have been a disaster. People think it’s all about the story — but it’s really about how she TELLS the story. Wonderful, wonderful writer.

  11. Amanda says:

    Sounds like it was a great month! How fun that Mario’s nephew came out to travel with you guys for a while.

    And now you have me REALLY excited to head to SE Asia in about a month!

  12. Hi Kate,

    I love the Magic Sponge too! I’m writing this from the bar now and I just showed William (the ower) your write up 🙂 He is thanking his staff now.

    Kampot has really been the highlight of my Cambodia trip as I’ve been able to finally relax. Siem Reap, Battambang, Phnom Penn, and Snooky just rubbed me the wrong way.

    Safe Travels!

  13. Nick says:

    I’m dying to know more about your canoe trip on Khao Sak, that photo on Instagram was stunning.

    So what does a travel blogger do for a vacation… are you just going to turn off the internet and chill?

  14. Arianwen says:

    I cannot believe it’s been 6 months already!!! Have you started planning the next trip yet?! Once I’m more than half way through one, I start to panic and wonder what to do next! Loving the nudist SOTM. That’ll take some beating!

  15. OK, so I know where I’m staying if I make it to Kampot! Seriously, only $12 per night for all that? That sounds amazing!

    Also, militant French-Canadian anarchic nudists – did you tell me about this when we met in Istanbul? Because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that I’d forget too easily!

    Anyway, I hope you have a lovely week of vacation, and have lots of fun!

  16. Nice post Kate. Fair play to the nudists. and ‘winning the war’. I love your writing, very intriguing. Enjoy your next month. Pass my regards to Mario and compliments to some nice shots :)… just checked his site out. Happy travels 🙂

  17. Lindsay says:

    I am so glad I found your blog! What an amazing world of possibilities to be able to travel for a living! I am headed to Thailand tomorrow for my first time, only 2 weeks, but getting a lot in for that time frame. I’ll be in Koh Lanta for the last leg, Dec 26-28, maybe I’ll run into you 🙂

  18. Ivana says:

    The Magic Sponge will get crowded soon 🙂 Heading to Cambodia next year, so thanks for tips!
    Have safe trips, Kate and loads of adventures in the upcoming 2014!

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