Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:34:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Muay Thai Madness: A Night at Bangkok’s National Stadium http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/27/muay-thai-at-ratchadamnoen-stadium-bangkok/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/27/muay-thai-at-ratchadamnoen-stadium-bangkok/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33276

I’m not really the world’s biggest sports fan. And by that I mean I will generally do anything to avoid viewing, celebrating, or God forbid participating in, sports. There are some exceptions. Handmade coordinating t-shirts have been known to get me excited about a baseball game, and I recently got pretty swept up in watching my niece kicking butt at basketball. And there’s Muay Thai.

I don’t know what it is, but I am totally captivated by Thailand’s national sport. However, aside from one fight so fake I walked out of it in Chiang Mai, up until this trip I’d only ever been to Koh Tao’s small Island Muay Thai stadium. Which I truly do love — especially since the owner Pi Toon always ushers me into front row seats. Years of training at the gym has earned me some perks — and isn’t it a great looking little ring?

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai Koh Tao

But high on my Bangkok bucket list has always been seeing a fight at one of the city’s two national stadiums, Ratchadamnoen or Lumpini. However, I’m often in Bangkok solo and going to a Muay Thai match is definitely one of those things that’s more fun with a crew. So when I realized that Heather, myself, and six friends from Koh Tao were all going to be in Bangkok on the same night, I knew it was finally time to go see that fight.

Rather than try to coordinate cabs, tickets, and logistics for eight people, we went the easy route (hey, we were on vacation!) and booked Viator’s Muay Thai Kickboxing with Ringside Seats and Private Transfer package

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Our guide and driver showed up at around 6pm and seemed officially startled by how rowdy our group of expats was compared to what I assume are her more normally sedate tourist charges. But she recovered quickly and we spent the next hour in the van — Bangkok traffic is killer — alternating between our guide telling us interesting facts about Muay Thai in Thailand and us shocking our guide with increasingly ridiculous antics. Like when Chris decided he needed a cigarette and walked next to the van in five lane bumper to bumper traffic, leaping dramatically back into the car when a light changed, or when we offered her shots of Fireball because we didn’t want to be rude. She was an incredibly good sport, though I’m sure she was pretty pleased to unleash us once we arrived at the stadium.

Technically the event started at 6:30, but considering how long the nine fights dragged on (they wrapped up around 10pm) we were perfectly happy sliding into our seats about an hour late. And what seats they were! While not in the very front row, we certainly were ringside. My favorite detail? A sign not so much warning us, but begging us, not to go up in the ring. It’s like they knew we were coming.

BangkokBoxing_009

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Muay Thai Tour

While flipping through the program for the night’s fights, I was extremely dismayed to realized that I outweighed every single boxer who was going to grace the ring last night. Way to make me feel guilty about the previous night’s McDonald’s run, Ratchadamnoen!

The rules are the same at both national stadiums in Bangkok — boxers must be older than 15, they must weight 100lb, and they must be male. While there are several incredibly popular and successful female Muay Thai boxers in the public eye in Thailand, the wave of gender equality has yet to hit these two locations. And that’s a shame — the promoters at the stadium in Koh Tao have told me that attendance swells whenever there’s a female face on a fight night poster.

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

Beer, hot dogs, and little bags of popcorn in hand (our guide brought us all a free drink, an unexpected perk) we settled in to watch the fights. The beer was 150 baht — about $5 — pretty pricey for Thailand, but everything else on the limited menu, from sodas to the two aforementioned snacks, was the equivalent of $1-1.50. Can you imagine getting such a deal at a major sporting event in the US?

Great as our ringside digs were, I couldn’t help but pop out of my seat for a bit to check out some different views and photography angles. When we first walked into the stadium, I was shocked by how small it felt. A little research revealed Ratchadamnoen has a capacity of about 5,000 people whereas Lumpini has a capacity of 8-9,500 people depending on the source. The main differences between the two are size and age — Ratchadamnoen is the original stadium, having opened in 1945 after the conclusion of World War II (construction was delayed by the war’s material shortages.) Lumpini was constructed more than a decade later, and in 2014 was demolished and completely relocated to a different part of the city.

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tourspying on my peeps

While the ringside seats were a mix of foreigners and wealthy Thais, the sparsely populated middle section was mostly Thai and the upper level area behind “the cage” — literally, it’s a cage — was exclusively so. I’ve actually heard that the ticket booths will refuse to sell tickets in area to farangs. Anywhere above ringside, betting is legal and done via hand signals. Just like in the US the lottery goes to support public schools, in Thailand the proceeds from the national stadiums goes to support the army. During really high energy moments, you could hear the chain link rattling as the betters on the upper level roared. I have mixed feelings about caging humans (please note my sarcasm) but was utterly fascinated by the enthusiasm contained in this one.

Muay Thai Tour

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

Muay Thai Thailand

Bangkok Muay Thai Stadium

For me, the best part of the evening was getting swept up in the enthusiasm of the other spectators, placing cutthroat bets with my friends, and observing the more ritualistic and cultural aspects of the fights. But based on the cheers from the crowds, for many the highlight was when one fighter drew blood.

That’s when I got a little squeamish.

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Muay Thai Thailand

Luckily for my more nauseous side, the night was winding down. And soon, we’d discover my favorite perk of our ringside seating arrangement — getting to go behind the scenes with the evening’s champion! As soon as the last fight was called we were ushered into a staging area where we saw the very young victor (note to fight coordinators: we’d love to see the fighter’s ages and hometowns in the program!) doing interviews with local news outlets. And then we were able to jump in for a shot.

Muay Thai Thailand

Muay Thai Fight Bangkok

Rajdamnoen Stadium Bangkok

Muay Thai Tour Bangkok

For those trying to decide which stadium to attend, your schedule may make the decision for you. The stadiums alternate fight nights — Lumpini does fights on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays while Ratchadamnoen Stadium hosts Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. I absolutely loved Ratchadamnoen and am now eager to check out Lumpini on a future trip to Bangkok so I can compare and contrast.

While it is perfectly feasible to attend a fight on your own, I give two thumbs way up to Viator’s tour for large groups who want to travel together, for those new to the city, for those looking for a lux night out, and for those who would like a bit of background on the sport. Our time in transit wouldn’t have been nearly as fun had we not all been bunched into a big van, and I appreciated the tidbits our guide gave us en route — not to mention the free drink and the seamless ticketing, the victor photo op and the fact that they happily dropped us at our bar of choice afterwards rather than returning us to our hotel. The only issue we had was when the company first showed up at our hotel for pick up, there were actually two vans and two guides, and we had to somewhat firmly and uncomfortably insist we wanted to ride together (they were twelve person vans, after all!) So if you go with a large group be sure to specify you want to travel together.

I can’t more highly recommend this experience — to sports fans, to those looking for a high energy evening outing in Bangkok, and to those looking for an alternative peek into Thai culture.

Do you try to attend local sporting events when you travel?

. . . . . . . . .

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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Photo of the Week 189 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/26/photo-week-189/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/26/photo-week-189/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33489

Note to my email subscribers: I’ve received a few questions about how to leave comments since my redesign. If you are reading this post via email, simply click the post title above in green to be taken to this post directly to leave a comment. Or, click the logo above that to be taken to the home page. Let me know if you have any questions!

Greetings from Nicaragua! Sitting down to write this dispatch made me realize I’m in one of those weird zones where it feels like I’ve both been here forever and can barely believe I’ve even arrived. Miami was mayhem in the best way possible — I did and saw so much, spent time with so many great people, and barely found a moment to sneak away to my laptop in between.

In contrast, I’ve been in kind of a haze in my own head since I touched down in Nicaragua. I’ve been working hard on some freelancing opportunities that popped up and were too good to turn down and also just detoxing a bit from all the crazy holiday merry making now that I’m on my own again. So while I’m feeling a little guilty for how little I’ve done in Granada, I’m grateful for productivity and rest that has allowed me. I do feel the ocean calling, so I think I’m going to pack up and head for the coast soon, where I hope to intersperse my writing sessions with surf lessons and get all blissed out and sunkissed again.

Happy Monday!

Photo A

Miami GlamourMiami glam at my cousin’s downtown apartment building and a South Beach restaurant.

Photo B

The Broken Shaker MiamiCraft cocktails served fresh at The Broken Shaker.

Photo C

The Freehand MiamiOur Miami Beach hostel, The Freehand.

Photo D

Arriving in NicaraguaArriving in my 27th country.

Photo E

Granada CathedralCathedral de Granada, an image I waited days for the perfect light and clouds to capture.

Photo F

Iglesia La Merced GranadaObsessed with tile! Last night I sat in on a bit of a Sunday night service here, and it was beautiful.

Which photo is your favorite?

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Banking On My New Favorite Bangkok Hotel http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/25/travelpony-and-usukhumvit-hotel-bangkok/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/25/travelpony-and-usukhumvit-hotel-bangkok/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33275

If “checking out different hotels in Bangkok” qualifies as a hobby, I will totally list that pastime on my future online dating profiles. Because believe it or not, it really is one of my faves. I’ve now tested out upwards of a dozen different lodging options in the city, ranging from Khao San Road cheapies to swank suites on Sukhumvit. Bangkok has some of the best value luxury in the world, and I’m consistently impressed by what you can get for $100 or less in a hotel room here.

Previously, I probably would have listed my favorites as Rikka Inn for Khao San, Lub D for a proper boutique hostel experience, and the Aloft for a high end high rise. But U Sukhumvit was about to give the Aloft a run for its money.

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

Leaving our plush digs in Koh Samui, our pack thinned to three — Chris, Brian and I made our way to Bangkok in spite of what appeared to be our own self determination to miss both our ferry and flight. There, we’d meet up with Chief Travel Buddy Heather, who was in the process of relocating to Bali to set up a new chapter of her business. It had been, like, a whopping two months since our European adventures and so we were long overdue for a little debauchery.

I was well looking forward to four nights in one of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people. But where to stay?

Travelpony Booking Site

Long ago, TravelPony had offered me some booking credit in order to try out their new site. I already knew about them thanks to gushing recommendations from my fellow bloggers backed up by the prices I was seeing when I did a little poking around. I was recommending TravelPony to my family and friends before I even had the chance to use it! It took me a while to get around to actually using the credit — I frequently stay with friends, rent long term apartments, stay in hostels or travel to obscure locations not featured on booking sites. At one point I came close, booking and then cancelling a hotel room in Brussels when I decided to stay in a hostel instead (the refund process was swift and seamless, by the way).

But finally, in Thailand, I got the chance to check out TravelPony for myself. Browsing through Bangkok options, I was immediately intrigued when I came across U Sukhumvit. I was also kind of suspicious at first — no one has prices cheaper than Agoda, my normal go-to booking site for Southeast Asia. But to my surprise, TravelPony did — they had the cheapest prices for U Sukhumvit that I could find anywhere online.

It works like this — you must sign into TravelPony to see their prices, either through Facebook or Twitter or through a traditional login if you prefer not to link to those accounts. Because this qualifies it as a “members site,” they can show prices lower than other booking sites can get away with. And rather than spend money on traditional advertising, TravelPony functions on a word of mouth — or word of social media, rather — system. While booking, you’ll be prompted to share the deal via one of your social networks. If you prefer not to, you can opt out by checking “The Pony Pledge” — promising to tell a friend in person about what a great deal you scored. Cute, right? And they pass those savings onto users. The downside is that the inventory is quite limited. But if the hotel you want is on TravelPony, I’d be surprised if you can find a better deal for it anywhere else.

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

But back to Bangkok. We fell crazy in love with this hotel! Not only is it brand new with an ultra modern design style right up my alley, it had really innovative policies that I’ve never encountered before at any hotel. For example, a 24 hour check-in, check-out policy. If you check-in at 7pm, you don’t have to check out until 7pm on the day of your departure. How cool is that?! I loathe the standard check in and out times at most hotels and wanted to full on mouth kiss the concierge when he was telling me about this approach.

Also, no more sleeping through breakfast — if you miss the standard morning breakfast hours in Uzzie restaurant (more gushing on that below), you can order your complimentary breakfast anywhere, any time of day — if you wake up mid afternoon and want your eggs served poolside, why not? And your welcome drink is whatever you want from the minibar –they had me at Diet Coke upon check in. You also get to pick what pillows, soaps and teas are put in your room, which is kind of fun.

But mostly, have you seen this rooftop?

Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

Travelpony Booking Site

Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel

Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel

U Sukhumvit has all the standard amenities of a high-end Sukhumvit area hotel — rooftop pool, free wifi and water, gorgeous gym, bar, and restaurant, and a complimentary tuk tuk shuttle to the sky train. That complimentary shuttle is key, too, as the hotel is located quite far down Soi 15 from the main drag of Sukhumvit. While I was kind of dismayed at the distance at first, between the free bikes and the free shuttle, it quickly faded from my mind.

And while we spent most of our time rooftop, when we were in the rooms, those were pretty heavenly too.

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

Travelpony

Travelpony

We were also impressed with the food at the hotel. Breakfast buffets are one of my favorite things in the world about staying at hotels, and this one did not disappoint. I also give a thumbs up to the snacks and lunches we ordered poolside, and a double thumbs up to the buy-one-get-one-free happy hour at the rooftop bar from 4-10pm each night.

Travelpony Booking Site

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

And here’s the best part: the price! Standard room prices fluctuate but seem to settle around $75 a night. And this weekend, TravelPony is having a huge sale on all hotels. Using the promo codes “TPSAVINGS” and “WEEKEND,” you could book U Sukhumvit for a mere $60 a night, including all taxes and fees. And those codes can be used for all hotels of course, not just the one I’m currently obsessed with.

And even better? You can get $35 off your first booking of any hotel for $200 or more by clicking any of the TravelPony links in this post. So if you wanted to, say, stay at the U Sukhumvit for four nights, that would average out to $25 a night per person! Now that’s a deal worth doing a happy dance for. But don’t delay — the “WEEKEND” promo code expires Monday night at midnight (the $35 off deal, however, is good until the end of time.)

U Sukhumvit Bangkok

The takeaway? You should really stay at U Sukhumvit, whether you book it through TravelPony or some other site. And you should really try TravelPony, whether you use it to book U Sukhumvit or some other hotel.

What’s your favorite Bangkok hotel? And what’s your go-to booking site?

. . . . . . .

Many thanks to TravelPony for extending me a booking credit so I could try out their site. Please note that links in this post are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you make a booking through them at no extra cost to you — in fact, you’ll receive a discount!

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Villa Vacationing in Koh Samui http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/22/baan-ling-noi-villa-rental-koh-samui/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/22/baan-ling-noi-villa-rental-koh-samui/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33274

You know what I love almost as much as being on Koh Tao? Using it as a base to jump off and explore other parts of Thailand. Part of my three months back in Southeast Asia towards the end of 2014 was a little mini tour around some of my favorite parts of the country — Bangkok, Pai, and Chiang Mai. But when it came time to leave Koh Tao for my first stop on the tour, Koh Samui, I was struggling with separation anxiety. So I brought my Koh Tao crew with me.

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

For this merry band of expats, Koh Samui — the largest of the three island archipelago made up by Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui — is a semi-regular stop for either administrative business (customs and immigration are on the island, as is an airport) or McDonald’s runs. What? Sometimes a girl wants a McFlurry.

And by sometimes I obviously mean all the times ever.

But this was a trip of another kind — a vacation among friends, pure and simple.

Koh Samui Ferry

Villa rentals are not a rare occurrence in our circles. While Koh Tao is an island paradise, we all live and work there, and so it feels like home rather than the reality-obscuring bliss of a vacation. Renting a villa is a fantastic — and often surprisingly affordable — way for a bunch of expats to truly check into holiday mode without going very far.

But Baan Ling Noi was about to take it to another level.

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

Luxury Apartment Rental Koh Samui

All six sets of our jaws dropped as we hopped out of our taxi in the hills of Bophut and started exploring the grounds of this gorgeous compound. We all agreed, with the infinity pool, the four private bedrooms, the ocean-facing great room, the views over Koh Pha Ngan and the lush garden surroundings, it was one of the most beautiful properties we’d seen in Thailand.

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

Luxury Apartment Rental Koh Samui

Luxury Apartment Rental Koh Samui

We quickly concluded that it would be a crime to leave Baan Ling Noi for a moment more than necessary, and made tactical plans to get our errands done as soon as possible. Brian and I went off to the west of the island to deal with admin at immigration and customs and to hit up Banyan‘s wholesale liquor store, while the rest of the crew went east to Costco. We laughed that for us, it felt like the greatest vacation luxury to stay home and cook every meal for ourselves. I’m pretty sure that for most people, going out to eat is one of the perks of a vacation.

But I mean did I mention the kitchen had a juicer? It was seriously well stocked.

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

Luxury Apartment Rental Koh Samui

Baan Ling Noi Koh Samui

So off we went to do our chores. Brian and I ended up racking up quite the liquor bill, much to the amusement of the Thai girls on staff. So much so that when I tried to add a can of Pringles to the bill, they waved me away — free gift with purchase! And with Brian being one of my oldest friends in Thailand (we actually met way back in my Cayman Islands days — we go way back!) I almost died when I heard him deadpanning to the giggling cashier, “It’s our honeymoon.”

What a romantic honeymoon that would be.

Liquor Store Koh Samui

Back at the house, it was time to binge on lovely cheese, decent wine (this is Thailand, after all), and fabulous company.

Wine in Koh Samui

The lazy afternoon morphed into a laid back night of singing and silliness. Who needs TV when you’ve got good friends and a guitar? Forgive me for so many of them, but these photos makes my heart swell. So many smiles!

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

The next morning, we woke up to a fair amount of cloud coverage — it was the rainy season, after all — and continued our quest for extreme relaxation. The day kicked off with the most indulgent breakfast spread I’ve been treated to in a long time, complete with mimosas.

Villa Rental Koh Samui

Villa Rental Koh Samui

And anytime a sliver of sunshine emerged, we fled down to the pool to soak up the view. It was paradise. And here’s the crazy part — in low season, like this was, Baan Ling Noi goes for $450 a night. That’s $45 per person if you fill it to capacity! Seriously, where else could you get a deal like that.

And can I tell you how much I miss these girls right now?

Thailand Villa Rental

Thailand Villa Rental

Thailand Villa Rental

Thailand Villa Rental

And our parade of indulgent meals only continued with lunch, a homemade chili that I’ve since made elected group chef Ian cook for me twice.

Thailand Villa Rental

Homemade Chili

After food — and you may see a pattern emerging here — it was time for more pool.

Infinity Pool Thailand

And finally, our crowning achievement (and I say that as if I had anything to do with it other than eating) — a group dinner for eleven, with two friends who live on Koh Samui as well as a few more friends from Koh Tao staying with them joining us. Aside from the never-ending parade of delicious plates that kept appearing in front of me, it might have been some of the best company I’ve ever sat down to break bread with.

Villa Rental Thailand

Villa Rental Thailand

The weekend was pure bliss. We didn’t do much of anything other than drink, eat, and be together — but that was the point.

I highly recommend Baan Ling Noi for its stunning property, great location (while technically we didn’t leave the house on this particular trip, Bophut is my favorite part of Koh Samui) and fantastic value. The only drawback we noted — which might actually be a plus, for some — is that the staff lives on property. While some might find this a huge perk we would have preferred more privacy. At one point I was startled to see three random staff I had not been introduced to saunter into the kitchen, and another time I opened the door to my room to check the weather in the very early morning and came face to face with another staff — while I was in my underwear! But different strokes for different folks — while we felt uncomfortable having some else do our dishes and so felt pressured to sprint up and do them immediately lest the maid leap in, another guest might love not having to get their hands dirty. It’s a good lesson for someone renting a place anywhere, really — ask if a property manager will be on location and if so how much privacy you can expect to have.

Villa Rental Thailand

This weekend reminded me that down time with friends is just as valuable as all the other more adrenaline-filled adventures. And I’m making time for a lot more of it, moving forward.

Have you and your friends ever rented a place together?
Did you love this kind of getaway as much as I did?

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Baan Ling Noi for hosting us on Koh Samui. As always, you receive my honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Photo of the Week 188: Florida http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/21/photo-week-188-florida/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/21/photo-week-188-florida/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 13:58:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33071

Let’s just pretend it’s Sunday, shall we? That way I won’t have to open this post with an excuse for why it’s going up two to three days off my normal posting schedule. I won’t have to really go into the fact that I’ve been spoiled by the number of friends and family I’ve been surrounded with for the past few weeks, and I won’t have to dig into how hopping between guest and host has left little time for blogging. I won’t have to promise I plan to get back to normal quite soon. I’ll just be able to breeze right past that without any mention at all. So, Sunday, right?

I think Central Florida outside Orlando is a mystery to most people, even the travel-obsessed crowd I tend to run with. But the more time I spend there the more gems I uncover, and good thing — with two beloved aunts based around Tampa, I’ll be returning here over and over again for a long time to come. After recharging on family time in Tampa, my friend Michelle flew in and we hit the road through the Everglades to finally touch down in Miami. I’ll have a lot more from the Magic City in my next Photo of the Week edition, but for now — a little teaser of the teaser. And our Everglades adventure? Pure Americana. I can’t wait to write a full feature on it in the future.

I always love putting together this post and seeing what photographic themes emerge from my favorite images of the week. This time, it appears, it’s all about wildlife and shades of blue. Not a bad round!

Photo A

Weeki Wachi Mermaid ShowWatching real live mermaids at the springs in Weeki Wachi, a slice of classic Florida

Photo B

Tampa Bay AquariumYup, that’s taken from inside the glass — diving with sharks at the Tampa Bay Aquarium

Photo C

Shark Diving at the Tampa Bay AquariumMore from the other side of the glass

Photo D

Airboat Ride in Everglades CityGoing through the backwater — and back in time — in Everglades City

Photo E

Miami BeachFinally reaching my final Florida destination: Miami

Which photo is your favorite?

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Koh Tao Dive Site Spotlight: Chumphon http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/16/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-chumphon/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/16/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-chumphon/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33061

I may not have dove much in my three months back in Southeast Asia this fall, but I did dive well. For my final scuba day of the season, I set off for a morning at Chumphon Pinnacle.

One of Koh Tao’s most beloved dive sites, Chumphon is a deep ocean site about forty minutes from the dock. It’s worth the journey — in addition to the usual myriad of tropical sealife, massive schools of barracuda and batfish congregate here, the pinnacles are covered in thick carpets of colorful anemones and whale sharks occasionally pass through.

Diving with Roctopusobligatory, awkward gear-assembly photo

Diving with Roctopus

Though for most, Chumphon is all about the big stuff, I love peeking under ledges, peering around corners and getting up close and personal with some of the more diminutive residents of the reef.

Stingray at Chumphon

Giant Clam at Chumphon

Clown Fish at Chumphon

Clown Fish at Chumphon

One of my favorite tricks to show new divers? How a colorful garden of Christmas Tree Worms can vanish — just temporarily! — with the wave of a hand. Even better? Sticking around to watch them slowly unfurl again. Everything is alive!

Christmas Tree Worm at Chumphon

Christmas Tree Worm at Chumphon

Anemone at Chumphon

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

Diving on Koh Tao

And it’s just not a Roctopus dive trip if you don’t make time for a little bit of underwater fun.

Diving on Koh Tao

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

Swimming out into deeper open waters, we began lost ourselves in all the big beautiful schools swarming the pinnacle. My favorites, the batfish, weren’t out to play this day, but the hundreds of long, skinny barracudas that swam by were a pretty spectacular consolation prize.

Diving on Koh Tao

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

Barracuda at Chumphon

Barracuda at Chumphon

Diving on Koh Tao

I love the feeling of getting lost in a school of fish, but I think I might love even more peering into one from the outside — especially when it’s formed a ball as defined and perfectly outlined as this one. Can you even fathom this many fish? I was there, and yet I still don’t know if I can.

For all my fellow aspiring underwater photographers out there — in a dive site as deep as Chumphon, a lot of color gets lost and the resulting images can be very distorted. This is a great time to flex your editing skills — I use the Adobe CS5 Creative Suite — and possibly convert to black and white.

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

Diving with Roctopus

Diving on Koh Tao

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

Diving on Koh Tao

Diving Chumphon Dive Site

As always, it was a delight to spend the day out on the water, especially with such a great group. I’m pining for the ocean already, and am already looking forward to my next dive.

Diving with Roctopus

Diving with Roctopus

Happy Friday!

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Many thanks to my longtime friends at Roctopus for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. Tell them I sent ya and give them a big hug from me if you go!

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Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.

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The Great Escape: Month 39 and 40 Roundup http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/14/the-great-escape-month-38-and-39-roundup/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/14/the-great-escape-month-38-and-39-roundup/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 20:33:07 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33421

My hectic summer reached a fever pitch in Month 39. Two whirlwind final weeks in Greece capped off Europe, which had followed an action packed few months of traipsing the USA — and as amazing as that whole period of travel chaos was, upon reflection it  pushed me right to the brink of burnout. I’d had my heel on the accelerator for quite some time, and amid all the sunkissed Instagrams and adrenaline-fueled adventures, this is where it caught up to me.

Thankfully, I had somewhere quite blissful to recover. The second half of the month ushered in my long-anticipated return to Thailand. Frankly, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve returned back to this beloved little island — but of all my various times calling Koh Tao home, this jaunt might just have been my favorite.

Mykonos TravelMykonos

Where I’ve Been

• Two days in Athens / Greece

• Three days in Mykonos / Greece

• Three days in Santorini / Greece

• Three days in Ios / Greece

• Two day in Athens / Greece

• Two days in Delphi and Meteora / Greece

• One day in Bahrain / Bahrain

• Three days in Bangkok / Thailand

• Forty days on Koh Tao (and counting!) / Thailand

Santorini TravelSantorini

Highlights

• My Contiki crew. You know when you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to hate something but you do it anyway and you end up having the literal best time ever? That was me on a group tour in Greece. While the logistics were seamless and the locations divine, what really sold me on the whole experience were the fantastic people I met, from my fellow Contikiers to the tour guides leading our way. What an unexpected highlight!

• Flee to the sea. I’ve already done the downtown Athens thing twice now, and while I think it’s a must for first time visitors to the city, I loved staying seaside in Paleo Faliro for a few nights and checking out another perspective on Athens. Rooftop pool overlooking the beach? Yes and yes.

• When I Met You in the Summer. Contiki was all about checking out the Greek island nightlife — and daylife! Mykonos and Ios really do deserve their reputations as international party isles. While I loved them both, Ios was more my scene with a distinctly backpacker vibe and prices slightly less likely to cause cardiac arrest. I had such a freewheeling good time on both islands — and I’ll never hear Calvin Harris’s Summer the same way again.

• New discoveries on Santorini. I can’t believe it took me three trips to this tiny little island before I got lost in the streets of Pyrgos — possibly the island’s most charming town — and sunk my toes into a black sand beach. These two highlights made me realize how much more I have to discover on one of my favorite islands in the world. Santorini is magical!

• Finding love for Fira. While Imerovigli had been the perfect place to decompress for five days post-Tomorrowland, staying right in the heart of Fira was an unexpected delight for this more action-packed round on Santorini. I really enjoyed having the freedom to walk any and everywhere, to check out Santorini’s nightlife (it does exist!), to grab cheap mid-day gyros and overpriced late night gelato, and to just soak up the lively energy of the town square. Like Paleo Faliro, I loved that my Contiki tour showed me new sides to places I already knew and loved.

Ios TravelIos

• Beach bumming. I really don’t get sick of the sea. And Ios, I had it in spades. From our oceanfront digs at Far Out Beach Club — probably one of my favorite accommodations ever — we went Stand Up Paddling, got dragged behind a speedboat in a ridiculous blow up couch, and even hopped a pirate boat for the day. Some of my favorite moments of the month involved immersing myself in salty waters.

• Time travel. My two day trip to Delphi and Meteora was way too short, but it fit the time I had. I was in awe of these two ancient marvels, and so grateful to see another slice of mainland Greece. Meteora truly is a bucket list destination. I still can’t believe I got go!

• Blown away by Bahrain. Sweet digs, a world class mosque and museum, camels galore, and an excuse to wear my bitchin’ flamingo dress? I don’t think I could have asked for more out of my twenty-four hour layover in the Kingdom of Bahrain, my first trip to the Middle East. My posts about the super quick stopover are some of my favorite I’ve written in a while, usually a good meter of how inspired I was by a destination.

• Back in Bangkok. There’s this rush I get every time my plane lands at BKK. I love arriving in this city. I love knowing every curve of its airport, I love taking that first breath of humid air, I love sitting in the back of a pink cab, I love having my travel-addled muscles unfurled with a Thai massage, I love wandering jetlagged through the pulsing chaos of Khao San road in the middle of the night. While my three days here were spent doing nothing more than solitude, running errands, and readjusting to a new timezone, they were filled with joy.

• My Koh Tao family. I seriously feel blessed by to have these people in my life, and with a lifestyle as impermanent as mine, to have had them in my life for so many years. And along with my usual crew of hooligans, I made a handful of fantastic new friends who snuck their way into my heart so fast it almost felt like a setup. These are the people that make Koh Tao feel like home!

• Every meal time on Koh Tao ever. Not going to lie, one of the things I was most looking forward to about being back was hitting up all my favorite old restaurants. I was also delighted to find an impressive array of new ones that I’m now kicking myself for not writing about (see below). But from simple dinners with one old friend at a soup stall to homemade Swedish meatballs made by my girl Päivi to pancake brunch with a group of girls I met an hour before at yoga class to big, raucous group dinners at some of the island’s most elaborate restaurants, rarely did a meal slip by me unappreciated.

• Sand seeking. On previous periods in Koh Tao, I think I’ve sometimes taken the sand surrounding me on all sides for granted. Not so now. I took every opportunity to simply pop down to Sairee, or to make a journey out to my favorite far flung beaches like Aow Leuk and my old standby, Sai Nuan.

• Loving low season. From negotiating a great deal on my apartment to taking advantage of slow season expat deals at my favorite restaurants, I loved the relative peace and quiet of the low season. While I don’t love rain, it rarely lasted too long and there was plenty to keep me busy (read: the spa) when it was relentless.

• Stand Up for fun. The island change I was most excited about? The opening of SUP Koh Tao. I’m not saying the guys who opened it are heroes for bringing the sport of Stand Up Paddling to Koh Tao… but I’m not saying they’re not either.

• Spa ahhhh. It’s no secret that I’m slightly addicted to the spa when I’m Southeast Asia-side. And let’s just say this time I really went wild. I went to my favorite spa so much I almost got embarrassed, and had to start rotating in a few others to keep things fresh.

Meteora TravelDelphi and Meteora

• Rocking out with Roctopus. Though I went diving far less than planned, the three trips I did head out on were nothing short of fantastic. A local’s trip to Sail Rock was the perfect welcome back to the island, an easy day at Japanese Gardens and White Rock was a pleasant surprise, and old favorite Chumphon (blog post coming this week!) worked its usual magic. I was super bummed about not getting out to Shark Island when I was on Koh Tao, but looking back at the amazing dives I did take soothes that bruise.

• Literal highs. I can’t believe it took me so long to catch the hiking bug on Koh Tao! I can’t wait to write about more routes upon return.

• My own season of The Office. Not long after renting my amazing apartment, it became somewhat of a routine for my friends Anna and Katy to come work at my place Monday through Fridays. We’d all diligently plug away on our laptops — diligently, that is, until it was time for a nap or snack break — and it was just so nice to have a routine and my own version of coworkers again. We loved joking about “The Office,” and anytime the three of us were hanging away from our desks, it was designated Office Party time.

• Serious Sundaying. Along with regular office hours come regular weekend — and did I ever love the Sunday routine that quickly developed. Upon realizing our shared affinity for spa time, my new friend Janine and I started a Sunday Spaday tradition that involved foot massages, gossip, and girl time. After, I’d join what felt like the entire rest of the expat population of the island for Sunday Fundays at Maya Bar, where I’d splurge on an imported cider, look out at the ocean, and toast to a week well done. My mind wanders here every Sunday since my departure.

• Speaking of weekends…. Okay, so on Koh Tao technically any day could be a weekend. And I so deeply enjoy the debauchery on this hedonistic little island, why constrain it to a calendar? Whether it was an accidental daytime session at Banyan, sundowners at Maya, bar hops down the beach, or my very first attendance of Koh Tao’s official gap-year filled Pubcrawl, I had a great time going out.

• Apartment therapy. It was the best impulse purchase I ever made — renting a gorgeous apartment for my seven weeks back on Koh Tao. It became base camp for me and my crew — home to girly giggles (our bedside rehash routine after a big night out), many movie nights, pizza parties, group sleepovers, Goldfish-cracker-and-midnight-American-football nights, office hours, and surprise visits from my favorite puppies and people. I truly adored this place and am already dreaming of finding a place just as perfect for my next Koh Tao session.

• Muay Thai madness. While I love me some gym time and yoga, there is no workout I love more than Muay Thai. I even made my way to one of the island’s fight nights, too, and I was so glad I did — the owner of the stadium ushered us to a front row seat inside the guardrails and cracked open free beers for us. Island Muay Thai makes me feel like one of the family — I love it.

• Xoxo. I just had this feeling I would meet someone once I got back to Koh Tao. And I did. More later, maybe.

• Welcome to Wanderland! Blogging highlight of my career — my new site went live! Talk about stressful — and still unfinished, since I haven’t had the time to import hundreds of new post thumbnails, whoops — but worth every drop of sweat. I still smile every time I open my homepage.

Bahrain TravelBahrain

Lowlights and Lessons

• Still sick. By the time I left Greece, my sinus infection had been raging for weeks and I’d been to stubborn and stupid and stingy to pony up for a private doctor and prescription. Within an hour of landing in Thailand I had a handful of antibiotics in hand, but in retrospect I probably should have just paid up when the infection first surfaced.

• Blogger burnout. Koh Tao brought me back to life, but my work stress and burnout brink really reached hectic levels first. I was having more email server issues that were delaying my site redesign, I was trying to juggle a million commitments, and I basically almost had a mental breakdown.

• Drunken sailor spending. I was in Europe for so long that I seriously lost perspective on what things should cost. I am generally one of the most frugal people that I know — and I spent 25 on a tshirt in Santorini! I just got swept away. I cringed thinking about that purchase though as soon as I got back to Thailand.

• Am I seriously writing this? There was a photobooth in Fira where you could dress up in ridiculous Hercules-like costumes and get your photo taken ridiculous-style for super cheap. I discovered this ten minutes before I had to leave the island. I. Was. Beyond. Crushed.

• Antsy in Ancient Greece. I knew I would, but I felt really rushed in Delphi and Meteora. It was one of those give and pulls, though — I wanted to spend more time there but I simultaneously wanted to be in Thailand yesterday. Still, in a perfect world I would have given Meteora itself a few days.

• Cooling it at Customs in Bahrain. Just a little tip for those of you heading to the Middle East — don’t put writing on your immigration forms. Just don’t. (Duh, I hear you all sighing.)

Koh Tao TravelKoh Tao

• Blogger on strike. As noted above, my time in Koh Tao was kind of a decompression from the ridiculous self-inflicted pressure I’ve been under for the past few years to produce metric tons of high quality content at all times. While my mini-holiday was sorely needed and much appreciated, I’m cringing now at how I kind of screwed myself. Example: I desperately want to write a nightlife guide to Koh Tao and an update to my dining guide, and I can’t do either because I didn’t do the mere hour or two of research and photography that would have required on-island. And by writing two or three posts a week instead of my usual four, I got myself tragically behind chronological time. Um, I promise we’ll catch up? Someday?

• Breaking news! The internet in Thailand is not razor fast. Sometimes the power goes out. Sometimes you can’t get work done, all day. The end.

• Apartment anxiety. I was determined to find an apartment in Koh Tao as soon as possible — and as someone who gets  a lot of energy from their surroundings I was pretty anxious to find the perfect place. There was a place with an ocean view that I was super interested in, but the owner didn’t want to rent to someone for just seven weeks and kept knocking me back. Finally, seconds after paying upfront for my little garden studio, a friend called to tell me the owner reconsidered. My heart sunk and I agonized over it for a few days. In retrospect I’m so happy with where I ended up — I was in the middle of all my island besties, there were no hills to navigate and I fell truly madly deeply in love with my apartment. But it reminded me that it doesn’t matter that I left New York City — real estate drama knows no international borders!

• The murders. This is so dark that I’ve struggled to find a way to write about it despite weeks — months? — of trying, but the double murder on Koh Tao rocked this little island and everyone on it, myself included, to the core. To this day I still receive emails from travelers wondering if the island is safe, if it’s still the same. I never know how to respond. Yes, Koh Tao is safe. Yes, you should come. But no, it will never be the same. How could it? That day and the weeks that followed changed my relationship with Thailand, a country I consider my second home, forever. I never thought I’d say this about two people I didn’t know, but I mourned — for those two young travelers, for their families, and for Koh Tao.

Budget

Because my destinations in this roundup are so price varied (basically the most expensive country I’ve been to and one of the least), I’m not going to do my traditional price breakdown. But I know how much you all love reading hard numbers, so I do have a few to throw at ya.

I had some huge business expenses this month — the redesign of my beautiful new website, and also taking on an assistant to do some behind the scenes work. Both were fantastic investments. I saw a loss in month 38 despite hitting my income goal, since Europe was such a blowout,  but in Month 39 I held steady (even made a teeny tiny profit!) — despite not even hitting my income goal.

Contiki Tour

I shuddered to calculate what I spent on my Contiki tour out of pocket — while accommodation, transportation and some meals are included, I felt like euros were flying out of my hands for other meals, drinks, and miscellaneous costs. But I know a lot of travelers agonize over how much spending money to bring on a tour like this, so I crunched the numbers. In total, over a twelve day tour, I spent $984 out of pocket (not including my ME Time optionals, which Contiki covered, and not including the $160 I spent repairing my iPhone screen, because I’m going to assume y’all are less clumsy than I.) That broke down to $380 in food, $336 in alcohol or club admissions, $218 in miscellaneous things like laundry, toiletries, a mani pedi, bus fares and shopping, and $98 in entertainment like sun bed rentals, water sports, and a tip for the guides. Splurge alert!

In comparison, I spent $70 on my two day Viator tour, including two lunches, a guide tip, a taxi to get there, and snacks.

Koh Tao

I promise to do a breakdown similar to the one I did for Gili Trawangan someday, but for now I can tell you I paid $600 a month for my apartment, including utilities,and $100 a month for my motorbike. In seven weeks, I spent $20 total on petrol and bike repairs, which equals $11.40 a month. But to balance that out that bargain, I spent about $95 a month at the spa, which bought me two treatments a week. Have I mentioned I’m addicted to Thai massages?

Koh Tao TravelKoh Tao

Work

Alex in Wanderland’s traffic went up and up in these two months — and my traditional streams of advertising income went down and down. But that was fine with me. I had mentally adjusted to the changing face of blog advertising over the summer, and was thrilled when two major campaigns came my way over this period, with Trover and with Yonderbound. This is how I aspire to work in the future — cut out all the unfulfilling link sales and other garbage income streams and just focus on one campaign a month with a brand I believe in.

Other than that, I kept busy with some freelance writing, design work, and reviews for my travel sponsors.

LOLs

• I’m not exaggerating when I say almost everyone on our Contiki got sick. Nat, who was a trooper in spite of an endless set of symptoms, summed it up well when she strolled up to a pharmacy counter in Ios, sighed, and declared quite seriously, “I’ll take one of everything.

• Our Contiki tour guide Paola had me in stitches more times than I could count, but never more than while briefing us for a night on the town in Mykonos. She didn’t want the ladies in the group to get mixed signals about the men we would encounter that night. “They aren’t gay… they’re Italian,” she warned gravely. Despite her warnings, I was shocked when a man I’d sworn arrived with his boyfriend tried to lay one on me. As I pushed him away, I swear I saw Paola cackling in the corner. In my defense, he was wearing a cutoff jean jacket.

Koh Tao TravelKoh Tao

• When I arrived back on Koh Tao, I was thrilled to find one of my best girlfriends from my year on the island back for a short vacation. As she was just in Thailand for a week, she didn’t have a local phone, which hadn’t proved a problem so far. But one day, when we finally connected, she was exasperated. “I looked everywhere for you! I went to your house, to Banyan, and to Majestic! I couldn’t find you anywhere!” My house, my local bar, and the spa — where else would I be?! (But really. I don’t go anywhere else.)

• The love of Chipotle knows no bounds. While telling one of my (very few) fellow Americans, who had just returned from a trip to Greece, about the fact that there is now a location in London, he responded with shock and regret. “You’re kidding. I was JUST in Europe!” Bummer. Could have been a great side trip.

• What is the definitive sign that you’re ordering too much take-away? I think I realized I’d crossed the line with my standard lunch order at Zanzibar (chicken avocado mango pesto salad with a mango smoothie, if you must know) when the delivery guy started waving goodbye with a friendly, “See you tomorrow!”

Health and Fitness

After over six weeks in Europe topped off by two weeks hard partying on the Greek isles, I arrived in Bangkok a broken and bloated woman. Over the counter antibiotics took care of the sinus infection (I love you and your free flow of prescription drugs, Thailand!), but the extra few pounds I picked up as a souvenir took a little more work to get rid of. But Koh Tao quickly rid me of that thanks to an every-other-day workout routine and plenty of fresh healthy food.

The only foil to my general healthy routine was my equally frequent partying habit, and the occasional hangover pizzas.

What’s Next

More Koh Tao, as well as Koh Samui, Bangkok, Pai, and Chiang Mai!

Koh Tao Travel

Thanks for coming along for the ride. It wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t share it with you!

Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.

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Photo of the Week 187: Orlando http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/12/photo-of-the-week-187-orlando/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/12/photo-of-the-week-187-orlando/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:59:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33070

Greetings from Florida! In the past week I’ve made my way from Orlando to Jacksonville and down to Tampa. My time in Orlando was super fun — my girl Angie came to meet me and we hung out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, took a spin around Universal Studios, and just soaked up being back in the sun. And good thing we did, because as soon as we hit Jacksonville, Angie’s hometown, a coldfront blew in — it even snowed! So sadly, I won’t have much to report from J-ville, though I did see enough to know I’ll be back for more Angie ‘n Alex time next time I hit Florida.

Now I’m reporting from Tampa, where I’m excited to be spending a whole week with my much-adored aunts. From here, I’ll be taking a road trip down to Miami, stopping through the Everglades along the way. Any advice for me? I’d love to hear it! Meanwhile, I’ll still be sharing stories and photos from around Thailand here on the blog. Hope you guys aren’t getting sick of my Southeast Asia coverage anytime soon — because there’s a lot more coming at ya.

Happy Monday!

Photo A

Disney's Animal Kingdom LodgeDisney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Photo B

Disney's Animal Kingdom LodgeAfrica-inspired decor

Photo C

Disney's Animal Kingdom LodgeThe savannah as seen from my balcony

Photo D

Universal Studios FloridaA globe-trotter favorite

Photo E

Universal Studios FloridaOh, the places you’ll go! Hanging out at Seuss Landing

Which photo is your favorite?

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Koh Tao Dive Site Spotlight: Japanese Gardens and White Rock http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/09/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-white-rock-and-japanese-gardens/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/09/koh-tao-dive-site-spotlight-white-rock-and-japanese-gardens/#comments Fri, 09 Jan 2015 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33063

Confession: I’m kind of a scuba snob. What can I say? With hundreds of dives under my belt, I’m just not really interested in suiting up unless the visibility is perfect, the sun is shining just so, and the boat is headed to the area’s top dive site. But for my most recent return to Koh Tao, the weather wasn’t really cooperating, and neither were the tourists — it generally takes a full boat for the captains to head to the more spectacular, and far flung, dive sites. Eventually, I started to get the itch. The urge to submerge. (Zing!) So when my friend Jay from Roctopus invited me to join one sunny Saturday for a laid back day of diving, I didn’t even ask where we were headed before signing on.

Diving with Roctopus

Turns out our destinations were Japanese Gardens and White Rock, two of Koh Tao’s popular beginner dive sites. Shallow and protected, these spots hug the edge of the island and are ideal for teaching. Because I typically hold out for more advanced sites like Sail Rock or Shark Island, I hadn’t been to this corner of coral in years.

It doesn’t matter the destination — there’s nothing like being on a boat under blue skies with your buddies.

Koh Nang Yaun

Diving with Roctopus

Thai Flag

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there’s nothing I love more than fun diving with off-duty instructors. Good thing I’m friends with a few of them! As soon as we anchored up, off we went.

Diving with Roctopus

Diving at Japanese Gardens

Before we descended, Jay had asked if I was up for swimming off site for a bit to “look for some weird stuff.” Not overly invested in anything other than simply breathing underwater, I shrugged and said sure. We slowly worked our way into the blue. And there was nothing but blue.

After what felt like an eternity of swimming over sand, I was just moments from signaling I was over this expedition — and then we saw it.

Diving in Koh Tao

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

It was the biggest jellyfish I’ve ever seen — a rhizostomes jelly, I’m told by people who know this kind of thing — and I was obsessed with it. Suddenly, the swim through the blue was paying off big time. I was mesmerized — by the pulsing movements, the changing colors, and the little fish swimming within the jelly’s head.

I could have stayed and watched and drooled over and photographed that mysterious blob till our tanks ran out, but after a very patient waiting period Jay eventually nudged us onward. Have I mentioned I love this camera?

Diving at Japanese Gardens

Diving in Koh Tao

Diving at Japanese Gardens

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

After all, we had the Hin Deng Caves to explore.

Hin Deng Caves Koh Tao

Hin Deng Caves Koh Tao

And right as we were about to ascend again, we were sent off by a beautiful school of colorful fish flitting around the staghorn coral. Granted, my expectations had been low, but this dive blew them away.

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

Our next destination was nearby White Rock, one of the largest and most frequently-dived sites on Koh Tao. Unfortunately we descended to find a pretty lackluster showing of visibility, but went for a little fin around regardless.

White Rock Dive Site Koh Tao

Diving in Koh Tao

White Rock Dive Site Koh Tao

Luckily you can get pretty good macro shots even in mediocre visibility situations — like these coral close ups that remind me of a project I did way back in my printmaking prime.

Coral in Koh Tao

Coral in Koh Tao

Eventually, we decided to call it a dive. A few underwater air rings and we were out of there.

Diving in Koh Tao

Diving in Koh Tao

Back on the surface, it was playtime again.

While I wouldn’t put Japanese Gardens or White Rock on a must-dive list for my super advanced scuba friends out there, they are lovely sites and the perfect places for beginners to get their sea legs — not to mention, a great way to spend an afternoon out on the water with my Roctopus crew.

Diving with Roctopus

Diving with Roctopus

Happy Friday!

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Many thanks to my longtime friends at Roctopus for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. Tell them I sent ya and give them a big hug from me if you go!

. . . . . . . .

Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.

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Where to Work Out on Koh Tao http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/06/fitness-and-working-out-on-koh-tao/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/01/06/fitness-and-working-out-on-koh-tao/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:07:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33073

There are so many ways to indulge on Koh Tao — delicious restaurants and a party scene that tempts me out more nights than not. Yet lately when I’m there I feel physically better than ever, thanks to an endless array of ways to stay fit and active. For a small island, Koh Tao has a truly impressive number of offerings for those looking to get back in shape or stay there. It’s even become somewhat of a destination for those putting together their own mini health retreats.

When I arrived back for a recent eight week stint on the island, I was feeling sluggish after two months of carb-overload and exercise fasting in Europe. But I didn’t panic — I knew my time on the island would be well spent bopping between various workouts. And indeed it was. With an apartment well-placed between my favorite gym, muay thai training center, and yoga studio, I was all set. Though I worked out more than every other day I was on the island, I never once got bored. I’ve written before about how to stay fit on Koh Tao, changes come quickly on this little island and so it’s high time for an update. Here’s how I stayed sweaty this time.

Muay Thai Koh Tao

Island Muay Thai

I think I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Muay Thai because it was one of the first work outs I really truly whole-heartedly loved, and it kind of introduced me to the idea that working out didn’t have to be just slaving away on a treadmill. The boxing-like sport uses the entire body and a training session will incorporate a cardio warm up, a one-on-one session of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and an ab workout and cool down. It’s so high paced that time totally escapes me while I’m there — I can’t believe how intense a workout I can get in just forty five minutes!

Not only is Muay Thai a great cardio workout, but also a fun way to immerse yourself in Thai culture. After all, it’s the national sport! And unlike many other fitness classes on the island, it is led by locals rather than Westerners. The Muay Thai scene on Koh Tao has exploded recently and there are now several full time training centers on the island.

In future trips I plan to check out some of the new Muay Thai gym on the island for research purposes, but I’ll always love Island Muay Thai. No matter how long I’m away, the trainers still greet me by name, and I love seeing years-old photos of myself in the old group training photos up on the wall. I bought a twelve class package when I arrived back on the island, which was a little ambitious considering everything I was trying to fit in, and I only ended up using ten. But you simply can’t find a better deal for one-on-one fitness — nor a better excuse to indulge in a massage later.

Training lasts for about an hour from either the 8am-10am session or the 4pm – 7pm. One session is 300 baht, four sessions per week is 1000 baht, seven sessions per week is 1,600 baht, twelve sessions per month is 2,500 baht, sixteen sessions per month is 3,600 baht, and 20 sessions per month is 4,500 baht. Custom packages can be arranged.

Island Muay Thai / Facebook Page / Haad Sairee, Road to Hin Wong Bay / Tel. 086 271 2212

Muay Thai Koh Tao

Muay Thai Koh Tao

Muay Thai Koh Tao

Fitter World & Koh Tao Gym and Fitness

As soon as I got back to the island I bee-lined to Koh Tao Gym and Fitness to pick up a small package of passes for days when I just needed to work out in air conditioning. Koh Tao is so hilly and hot I can’t stand to run outside there, so I do love hitting this gym for an ocassional dose of treadmill in the cardio room upstairs and a round of weight work on the machines downstairs. It’s a true Western style gym experience complete with a smiling gym attendant handing you towels and water as you walk in and a full range of supplements and protein shakes available.

Open Monday through Friday from 7:30am — 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 8am — 9pm. A one day pass is 200 baht, a five time pass is 800 baht, one week is 1000 baht, one month is 2,500 baht, three months is 6000 baht. Longer membership and monthly activations and payment plans are available.

Gym and Fitness / Haad Sairee, Road to Hin Wong Bay / Tel. 082 801 4014

Koh Tao Gym and Fitness

Gym and Fitness also hosts a rotating cast of personal trainers, one of whom I met on that first workout back in the gym. Ina and her partner Adam run Fitter World, which on Koh Tao involved personal training services as well as a full calendar of fun weekly classes from kickboxing to high intensity interval training to beach yoga. I started taking Ina’s classes and loved her no-nonsence workouts paired with her sweet and bubbly personality.

Fitter World Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Fitter World Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Koh Tao Beach YogaPhoto courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Though Ina and Adam have recently moved on to Australia, I still follow their food and fitness blog and am considering signing up for their Skype training services. Koh Tao misses them already!

Fitter World Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Grounded Yoga

When I first got to Koh Tao in 2009 the only studio I was aware of was Shambala. While the sala is stunning, the two hour classes were just way too long for this hyper-scattered mind. Lucky for me there are many more places to practice now. My most recent digs were right around the corner from Grounded, my favorite studio on the island. Grounded has both permanent and temporary instructors (Janine is my favorite!), which leads to a great mix of styles and offerings. Meditiation, acro yoga, Spanish-language classes and kids yoga are all options I’ve seen on the calender in addition to the standard yoga styles.

There are also daily classes at Ocean Sound Yoga in Chalok, at New Heaven in Chalok and at Baan Talay Resort in Aow Leuk — I’m hoping to give each a try when I return to the island.

One class is 250 baht, five class passes are 1,100 baht and ten class passes are 2,000 baht. Passes can be shared. Classes generally run 1.5 hours and weekly schedules can be found on Facebook.

Grounded Facebook Page / Haad Sairee, Road to Hin Wong Bay / Tel. 088 503 7055

Beach Yoga Koh Tao

Pole Fitness

Pole dancing classes might be all the rage in New York and Las Vegas, but I can confidently say I didn’t expect to find one on a tiny backpacker island in the Gulf of Thailand. While I was expecting my abs to be sore more from laughing than from exertion, I was shocked by what a good workout the class was. The instructor, a dance and pole fitness teacher back in Finland, absolutely amazed us with her demonstrations before leading us through a few basic moves. It’s harder than it looks — holding yourself up requires an insane amount of core strength!

Though the class I took was arranged through Fitter World, the instructor Jenni is a long term expat on the island and does offer classes sporadically. Ask around at the King’s Cabaret, where classes are held, for more details.

Pole Dancing Fitness Koh Tao

Pole Dancing Fitness Koh Tao

Pole Dancing Fitness Koh TaoCheck out that sweat! Photos courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Pole Dancing Fitness Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Ina at Fitter World

Stand Up Paddling

Regular readers of this blog know that Stand Up Paddling is one of my ultimate obsessions, and I couldn’t be happier that my friends at SUP Koh Tao brought it to my favorite island. (I mean, I could be a little happier… had I started this business myself, which I briefly considered doing at one point in time. But hey, if it couldn’t be me, I can’t think of a better group to do it!) Like hiking and trapezing, stand up paddling is one of those sneaky Koh Tao workouts where you’re having so much fun you don’t even have to think about the calories you’re burning. Whether it was a hardcore race or a silly paddle out at sunset, heading down to the beach for a SUP session always felt like a reward — and it was a regular part of my routine back on the island.

Alex in Wanderland reader special: Mention my blog name and receive the locals rate of 20% off! Board rentals cost 250 baht an hour, 750 baht for four hours, or 1,500 baht for a day. Occasionally, paddle safaris to Koh Nang Yuan are arranged.

SUP Koh Tao Facebook Page / Locations: Maya Beach Club, Bar Next 2, Koh Tao Divers / Tel. 084 443 9930

 

SUP Koh Tao

SUP Koh Tao

SUP Koh Tao

SUP Koh Tao

Eating Well

You know what they say… you can’t sweat away an unhealthy diet (though I try, I really do.) While I’m certainly not giving up my pizza nights or ice cream snarf sessions anytime soon, the majority of the time I do attempt to eat relatively clean, which I find pretty easy on Koh Tao thanks to an abundance of delicious salads and protein-filled Thai dishes. However, there are also now a few fabulous, fully health-centric options on Koh Tao where everything on the menu is a good choice.

One such option is Fitness Cafe, my go-to spot for wraps, salads, healthy breakfast options and yummy smoothies. Currently Fitness Cafe does not deliver but you can call ahead for pickup. Bonus — they use eco-friendly containers to package their food.

Fitness Cafe Facebook Page / Behind Gym and Fitness, Haad Sairee, Road to Hin Wong Bay  / Open 8:30am – 6:30pm / Tel. 092 338 3273

Fitness Cafe Koh Tao

Another popular spot on the island is Living Juices, complete with a cute outdoor seating area. Living Juices does a lot more than just liquids, though — they also offer health-centric snacks like fruit salads, homemade protein bars, and fresh-from-the-oven Quinoa and chia bread with homemade hummus and beetroot pâté. Living Juices does detox packages complete with home delivery, something I’m looking forward to treating myself to once I’m back on island.

Living Juices Facebook Page / Next to Banyan Bar, Haad Sairee / Open 7:30am – 4:00pm / Tel. 090 916 8967

Living Juices Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Living Juices

Living Juices Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Living Juices

Living Juices Koh TaoPhoto courtesy of Living Juices

Believe it or not, this isn’t even a comprehensive list of all the ways to stay fit on Koh Tao! When I return to the island in the fall I’m looking forward to checking out the high intensity “Gladiator Workouts” at Monsoon Gym as well as finally giving Crossfit a real go at Koh Tao Crossfit, where they even offer a restorative yoga class each evening.

What’s your favorite way to get back in shape after an era of indulgence?

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