Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Wed, 04 Mar 2015 16:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 A Tale of Two NGOs: Hope and Healing for Cambodia http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/04/visiting-ngos-in-cambodia/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/04/visiting-ngos-in-cambodia/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33726

My recent week in Cambodia was all too short. However, I did manage to sneak a lot in. In addition to playing house in Phnom Penh, I was lucky enough to get a truly behind-the-scenes look at two organizations making a big difference in the lives of the Cambodian people.

Kampong Trach Middle School

Building a School in Rural Cambodia

Betsy is one of a small group of adults that was just always around when I was growing up — at every birthday party, graduation, holiday, and many a random Wednesday. Technically, she’s my older sister Margaret’s godmother, but she just feels like family.

Years ago, Betsy learned of an organization called World Assistance for Cambodia and their Rural Schools Program, which, you might guess, builds schools in rural areas and aims to lift the country out of poverty through education. Betsy and a friend raised enough money to start a school in Kampong Trach, and in 2010, ever the world traveler, she journeyed there to attend the opening.

When I told Betsy I was returning to Southeast Asia once again, she asked if I’d be interested in taking a trip out to the school to give her a first-hand report of how things were going, and to gather stories and photos for future fundraising efforts. I jumped at the chance.

Kampong Trach Middle School

Building a School in Rural Cambodia

I was picked up in the morning by Sok, a well-spoken Khmer man who remembered Betsy instantly. “very elegant lady,” he recalled, and I nodded and smiled in agreement. We had almost a three hour drive out to Kampong Trach, so we had plenty of time to chat. He was proud when I told him how much I loved Cambodia, but shared his grave concerns of what visitors to Cambodia must think of all the dust. I tried to reassure him that I think there are other things of far greater importance to travelers, but he remained uneasy. “What must they think when they see these dusty roads outside the airport?,” he asked. “I want my country clean.” I liked him immensely.

When we turned onto the actual dirt road that the school was set down, I could see how far we’d come from the urban sprawl of Phnom Penh. These were the homes of children who attend the school — simple one room stilted bungalows with the laundry strung up, often with a cow or hog sleeping in the shade beneath.

Kampong Trach Middle Schoolan unconventional school bell; left

Kampong Trach Middle School

When we pulled up at the school, a teacher named Reaksmey was waiting to greet us. She was only nineteen but was extremely enthusiastic about her position as the school’s English and computer teacher. When we walked into the classroom I was greeted with a blast of hospitality as the 40+ students jumped up to shout out a big welcome greeting in English. Their English was limited and they shyly struggled to introduce themselves and give their ages. I was absolutely gobsmacked to find these students were between the ages of thirteen and fifteen — I would have guessed they were around the age of nine. They were so small.

The school has over 200 students and just one computer. Still, Sok assured me, this would be invaluable. In some rural areas, students have never seen a computer before and refer to it as a TV. Just learning how to put their hands on the keyboard and use programs in the most basic sense will give them a huge leg up in continuing education or the job market.

Kampong Trach Middle School

Kampong Trach Middle School

I think I was quite the distraction to both the teachers and students. The students were too shy to speak to me but stared wide-eyed. Even kids who didn’t go to the school were pressing against the metal bars of the windows, just staring, confirming my suspicion that blondes are few and far between in this area.

I enjoyed speaking with the teachers, though, whom I regaled with stories of snow days and of learning instruments in school. They were all eager to do well in their positions and some had fascinating backgrounds — one was a part time musician and lyricist and the others confirmed they heard his lyrics on the radio often! The teachers were shocked to hear that back in New York, we were taught things like art and music in public school.

Building a School in Rural Cambodia

Kampong Trach Middle School

Kampong Trach Middle School

Kampong Trach Middle School

I asked what these students could aspire to, and the answer was that the girls were most likely headed to factories — there was a big news story the week I was in Cambodia that the factory minimum wage was raising from $90-95 per month to $140-170 per month, for six days per week of work. Girls that were studious might become teachers. Boys could hope to find office jobs in Phnom Penh. Those that took to English could aspire to work in tourism.

Building a School in Rural Cambodia

Kampong Trach Temple

Kampong Trach Templethe temple in the school complex

It was an eye-opening visit. In this extremely rural part of Cambodia, children seem happy and grateful to be in school — many of them are there for only a half day as the rest of the time they are helping their parents farm the rice fields or care for younger siblings.

Before this school was built, the students in attendance either didn’t go to school at all or had to travel more than ten kilometers away to the nearest one. It is without question that their lives are improved by the existence of this school.

Betsy tells me her next fundraising project will be for Girls Be Ambitious, another program run by World Assistance for Cambodia, which gives stipends to families for every month their daughters have perfect school attendance.

Kampong Trach Middle School

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

I spent years confused over what exactly my friend Wes did for a living. I knew it was an intense, important kind of job that involved lots of travel to places where it’s hard to get a visa, and it maybe had something to do with public health on the global scale. Then he did an Earning Abroad interview, and things started to click. Then, I went to Phnom Penh to visit him, and we stopped by a rehabilitation centre that he has been involved with since university. It all started to make sense.

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

Veran's International Cambodia

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic lies just outside Phnom Penh, a short tuk tuk drive away from the city. Open for 23 years, the goal of the clinic is to assist disabled Khmer — disabled not just by landmines, a cause that brings a lot of money but neglects a lot of the population — but also by genetics, by disease and by accidents like motorbike crashes.

As Wes wrote in his interview, “I know I am doing my job well when my colleagues feel confident and skilled to take over. ” Today, Kien Khleang is run by an all-Cambodian staff — and they were, notably, the first organization in Cambodia to hire workers with disabilities.

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

Veran's International Cambodia

The day we dropped in on the center was a quiet one. The wheelchair basketball court sat silent and the exam rooms were empty. Most of the employees were attending a conference, and there were just a few patients around — a group of Australian physical therapy students were working with infants born with genetic diseases, and one young girl, a double landmine amputee from a rural village, was learning how to walk again.

But, an artist as heart, I was fascinated just to wander through the workshops and see the process through which these life-changing prostheses are created. Wheelchairs, walkers, and custom-fitted prosthetic body parts are lovingly constructed here using simple yet innovative and effective methods.

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

Veran's International Cambodia

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

In a country with virtually no social services, programs like this one are essential. Patients are housed and fed onsite at a free dormitory, and travel stipends are provided. Patients who hear about the center are able to come, receive a diagnoses, be fitted for custom prosthesis if necessary, attend physical therapy, and live on site for the duration of that treatment. All services are free, and it is the most comprehensive physical rehabilitation program in Cambodia.

The goal, as Wes explained, is simply to allow people to live with dignity.

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

The Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic

It was a privilege to visit both these organizations and be inspired by the work they are doing. While neither accepts visitors or volunteers on a regular basis, donations are graciously accepted and put to wonderful use.

Many thanks to Kampong Trach Middle School and Kien Khleang Rehabilitation Clinic for the fabulous work their do, and for allowing me to share their stories of hope and healing.

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Photo of the Week 194: El Salvador http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/02/photo-week-194-el-salvador/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/02/photo-week-194-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34039

Leaving El Cuco, I made a beeline for yet another popular stretch of El Salvador sand — the colorful surf town of El Tunco. Here, I encountered a string of ridiculous bad travel luck, including losing my bank card, breaking my favorite pair of flip flops (kind of tragic when you wear them every single day), and possibly the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. On top of the stress of trying to catch up on work after being offline for so long, it was a bit much.

Yet I leave El Salvador with nothing but smiles. This underrated little country made quite the impression on me, and overall I adored my two weeks in the sunshine here.

Next stop… a month in Guatemala! Let me know if there’s anything I can’t miss. And now, onto Photo of the Week.

Photo A

El Tunco Beach

Photo B

Colorful Street Scene in El Tunco

Photo C

Painted Truck in El Tunco

Photo D

Pupuseria in El Tunco

Photo E

Street Art in El Tunco

Which photo is your favorite?

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In Defense of Cambodia: A Love Letter to Phnom Penh http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/01/a-love-letter-to-phnom-penh/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/03/01/a-love-letter-to-phnom-penh/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33725

“What’s your favorite country?” Every long-term traveler dreads the question. How could one possibly pick definitively? Yet I must admit, whenever someone asks, Cambodia does bubble to the front of my brain. So I’ve been disheartened that lately I’ve been hearing the opposite when both online peers and real life friends make the journey there. My Brooklyn friends reported Phnom Penh was their least favorite destination on their Southeast Asian honeymoon. A colleague at a travel conference confided that she and her husband couldn’t wait to for their ten days in the country to be up. Fellow bloggers expressed mixed emotions and downright disappointment.

Thus far, I’d made two trips to Cambodia and fallen deeply in love both times — I even briefly considered applying for a graphic design position that popped up in Siem Reap a few years ago. Had the country changed so much since my last visit? When I realized that my dear friend and constant-traveler-for-work Wes was actually going to be home in his base of Phnom Penh for my final week in Southeast Asia, I immediately invited myself over to find out.

Flying to Phnom PenhI’m not here to tell you how to run your life but if you aren’t bringing mango sticky rice onboard as one of your carry-ons you are doing Southeast Asia air travel wrong. Don’t blow this, people.

We had pretty grand plans — a biking trip through the outskirts of the city, a weekend in the riverside town of Kampot, and absolute oodles of really Cool Travel Stuff. In reality we never left Phnom Penh and spent like, 80% of our waking hours drooling in front of our computer screens. But even still, when the time came a week later to start my journey back to the US, I wasn’t quite ready to go.

I was just as enamored as always.

I Love Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Riverfront ApartmentWes’s apartment categorically did not suck.

It made me more determined than ever to share all the moments that have made Cambodia — and on this trip specifically, Phnom Penh — so magical for me. Running along the riverfront at sunrise. Stocking up on cheap bootleg DVDs and pricey imported snacks for an impromptu movie night. Watching old people Zumba in the park. Painfully trendy restaurants. Bring-your-own-bottle-of-wine $5 sunset cruises. Colorful yoga studios. Laughing the night away at an expat stand up comedy show. Sharing a wink with a tuk tuk driver who gets your joke.

Damn, I love this city.

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

I love the charming Street 240, filled with cute cafes and elegant spas and boutiques that make me temporarily suspend my impatience for shopping.

Some notable favorites include The Shop, which served up passionfruit iced tea and delicious sandwiches; Bliss Spa, where I splurged on a three hour package for less than $50, and Le Lezard Bleu, a gorgeous gallery where I bought myself a rare souvenir.

Phnom Penh Street 240

Phnom Penh Street 240

Phnom Penh Street 240

Phnom Penh Street 240

Phnom Penh Street 240

Phnom Penh Bliss Spa

I love expat adventures like my afternoon out to Yoga Phnom Penh, a gorgeous studio tucked on a residential street in the south of the city. After class, I walked to the modern Grab n’ Go cafe for wifi and a sandwich, and fantasized about it being a regular part of my routine.

All over Phnom Penh, tuk tuk drivers are seemingly crouching around every corning, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to whisk you out of the mid-day heat. Wes lives on the third floor of an apartment with an open staircase down the back, and without fail I could hear desperate cries of “Lady! Lady!” by the time I hit the second landing. The vast majority of the time, we broke their hearts with a simple one word explanation: “Walking!”

When I exited the yoga studio this day, the driver seemed overjoyed at his luck, being the only one vying for my business. I gave him a sympathetic smile and shook my head. He looked momentarily surprised, and then a look of understanding came over his face as he raised his eyebrows at me. “Walking,” he nodded, with a self satisfied tone that said, “I’m onto what you white people are into!”

We shared a laugh as I strolled off down the side street.

Yoga Phnom Penh

Yoga Phnom Penh

Yoga Phnom Penh

Grab and Go Phnom Penh

Grab and Go Phnom Penh

Grab and Go Phnom Penh

I love the raw, unpolished activities on offer, like the sunset river cruises offered all over the city. Sounds glamorous, and it can be. Or, it can be a $5, plastic-folding-chair on the roof variety, in which you are strongly encouraged to bring as much booze as you can carry.

What you might want to add to your packing list, however, is a bottle opener — we found this out the hard way and ended up removing our corks with the pocket knife of a helpful member of the crew. In a classic incident of Southeast Asia overlap, my girl Janine, one of the Koh Tao besties, was passing through Phnom Penh while I was there as well. It made for a crackin’ night on the roof of the river barge.

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh River Cruise

Phnom Penh Sunset

Phnom Penh Sunset

I love the restaurant and bar scene. Sure, you can — and should — eat several of your meals from a plastic stool on the side of the road. But if you can spare the riel, (just kidding everyone uses dollars, hey there George Washingtons the middle of Southeast Asia) there is an amazingly diverse and impressive roster of cuisines and cocktails from around the world.

Some favorites from this round? The cocktails and rooftop views from Le Moon (those afraid of heights should be able to handle this one — Phnom Penh is a phenomenally squat city), the haute Khmer cuisine at Malis (make a reservation), and most of all, the hidden collection of micro-bars and and restaurants tucked into Bassac Lane, off Street 240 ½ .

One night, we tucked into dinner off the superb and selective Meat and Drink menu, while on another we sipped daquiries at the book-lined Library. Other members of the mini empire include bar.sito, Public House, Seibur, Cicada — each one about the size of a New York City hotelroom. That is to say, microscopic.

Le Moon Phnom Penh

Le Moon Phnom Penh

Malis Phnom Penh

Malis Phnom Penh

Seibur Phnom Penh

The Library Phnom Penh

The Library Phnom Penh

And most bizarre honorable mention goes to Doors, a tapas restaurant and live music venue where our cocktails came garnished with an eggshell and a slice of wonderbread dabbed in boisenberry. Yup.

The Doors Phnom Penh

I love the offbeat evening entertainment options. The Flicks, which I fell hard for on my second trip to Phnom Penh, has expanded to include two more theaters, one of which we strolled to on a sticky evening to soak up the air conditioning and a documentary.

The Flicks 2 Phnom Penh

Another night we went for some laugh therapy, and caught a stand up comedy show in the backbacker hotspot of Street 278. The expat-oriented jokes had us in stitches and we kept the giggles going after with a round of laughing gas balloons (or three) across the street at the rooftop Top Banana bar.

Laughing Gas Balloon Phnom Penh

I love the riverfront, where life bustles at every hour of the day. Restaurants on the Mekong range from Mexican to Indian to Thai, and we indulged in them all, each accompanied by a heavy side dish of people watching. I often went for a post-dinner foot massage at one of the cheap spas lining Sisowath Quay, a routine that became so regular in the short course of a week that I started to greet my masseuse by name.

One night, as I blissfully floated towards the cashier to pay, she cracked open an Angkor beer and invited me to join her. I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with the Khmer employee of a large NGO about what made travelers love Cambodia so much — I’d told him it was the people, so sincere and unjaded compared to their more economically developed neighbors. He’d agreed. “It is from the heart, here,” he concurred.

I Love Phnom Penh

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

I don’t discount the negative experiences that others have had here. I can understand the root of them, I think — I’m not blind to the dark side of Cambodia or the difficulties of traveling there. But man, I love that Cambodia makes me feel things. Some of them are warm and fuzzy and sepia-toned. And some of them hurt my head and some of them hurt my stomach and some of them hurt my heart — it’s true. But what a gift to be in a place that makes me feel so undeniably alive.

Thanks for having me, Phnom Penh.*

* And, you know Wes as well, though he refused to pose for a single photo with me.

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The Best of Bangkok: A Viator Tour of the City’s Highlights http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/27/best-bangkok-viator-tour-citys-highlights/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/27/best-bangkok-viator-tour-citys-highlights/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33285

As a Bangkok veteran who has made almost twenty trips to the city, I love that I never seem to run out of new things to do. This round, though, I was showing around a first timer — and I felt very responsible for making sure he saw the traditional highlights of the city in addition to our offbeat nightlife discoveries.

How to cram it all in on our final morning? We settled on a Viator Exclusive showcasing three special sides of Bangkok — the Morning Buddhist Almsgiving, Grand Palace and Flower Market Tour.

Viator Bangkok Exclusive

In spite of the 5:45am pickup time, I was pumped. My only other experience observing an alms ceremony was in Luang Prabang, and while stunning it was frankly a bit of a circus. I’d never heard of observing one as a tourist-oriented activity in Bangkok before, which gave me high hopes that we’d have a very authentic morning.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Wat Benchamabophit

Wat Benchamabophit

We arrived at local monastery Wat Benchamabophit just as the orange orb of sunrise lifted over the dark city. Our guide, Niran, led us inside for a quick tour of the temple, where groundskeepers were just starting to sweep up for the day.

Wat Benchamabophit

Wat Benchamabophit

Interesting as the information was, I was distracted by the wisps of saffron that continued to flash by the corner of my eye. We made our way back to the entrance, where rows of monks were beginning to greet alms-givers. A bag of food was pressed into our hands and with a quick explanation of proper protocol we were pushed ahead to participate. I was a bit flustered by this, having not realized that we’d be doing anything more than observing.

I was somewhat relieved when I was able to sulk back into the corners and quietly soak up the scene. I’ve never been so grateful to have my Canon 70-300mm zoom lens — I felt like I was able to really capture the experience while keeping a respectful distance and without being intrusive.

Wat Benchamabophit

Morning Alms Giving Bangkok

Morning Alms Giving Bangkok

We watched transfixed as car after car and motorbike after motorbike pulled up to the temple. Policemen, students, office workers, a dude with dreadlocks to his knees — they all came, popped their trunks, slipped off their shoes, and doled out offerings to the monks with a respectful wai for each. This, Niran had explained, was a daily ritual much like the Western tradition of attending church each Sunday. Most prepared their offerings the night before, and dropped them off on their way to work or school.

I was fascinated.

Morning Alms Giving Bangkok

Morning Alms Giving Bangkok

Niran appeared, two fresh coconuts in hand, and continued to quietly explain more about the practice of almsgiving. For those who give, it is a way of “making merit” in their Buddhist beliefs. For the monks who receive them, it is a way of receiving sustenance that allows them to focus on their studies and meditation. Most male Thais become monks at some point in their lives, for at least a short period — Niran had done it it twice; once before getting married and once after his father died.

Once and for all, I was able to settle a question that had burned at me for years: Do monks pay for cab rides in Thailand? Typically, they do, was the laughing reply — though they pay only half price for the BTS and MRT, two of Bangkok’s public transportation systems.

Coconuts for Sale Bangkok

Morning Alms Giving Bangkok

I left the alms ceremony totally satisfied — we couldn’t have asked for a more authentic or education experience. Our next stop was one I’d been to before, the Pak Khlong Talat flower market, Bangkok’s largest wholesale and retail flower bazaar. However, I’d only ever been late at night — I was eager to see the twenty-four hour market in the daylight.

Bangkok Flower Market

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market

Bangkok Flower Market

Unsurprisingly, I spent most of my time with my camera glued to my face, unable to stop snapping off shots of the colorful blooms all around us. Along the way Niran pointed out fruits we might be unfamiliar with, and continued to answer our ever-bubbling up questions about life in Bangkok and — as I’m obsessed with other people’s professions — life as a tour guide.

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market

Bangkok Flower Market

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market

Bangkok Flower Market

As we rounded the corner to where we’d once again meet our driver, we realized we were actually running early (very much a first for this perpetually late traveler). I paused to shuffle through my bag and when I looked up I was being handed a bouquet of white roses from Ian in one hand and a glass of cha yen — a milky Thai iced tea — from Niran in the other. What a lucky girl, I thought.

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market

Eventually we made our way to The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The gates had yet to open and a crowd was forming around them. While we waited, I tried to determine how many times I’d been inside — this would be only my third, but somehow it felt very familiar. Yet, notably, this was my first with a guide — and I was looking forward to hearing his insights.

Already conservatively dressed from the alms ceremony, we were able to bypass the line for modesty sarongs and be among the first to enter the grounds when the opening hour struck.

Visiting Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew Tour

Those first moments were precious. Not long after, a swarm of fellow camera-toting tourists would buzz around us, but right then, we had the breathing room to truly be awed by one of Southeast Asia’s most impressive palace complexes.

Wat Phra Kaew Tour

Wat Phra Kaew Tour

One of my favorite moments of the tour was Niran’s earnest explanation of the Thai people’s love for the precious Emerald Buddha, to which he attributed Thailand’s safety from colonialism, communism, and other societal ills. While I might not share his reverence for any religion or religious icon, I found his devotion both fascinating and touching.

The Emerald Buddha in question, one of the holiest religious figures in all of Thailand, is carved from just one piece of jade, and is dressed in various ceremonial outfits based on the season. The outfits can be changed only by a member of the royal family, a change that is done to great fanfare and pageantry.

Wat Phra Kaew Tour

Monk at Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew

We were actually astounded when we made it back to our hotel by 10:30am — early enough to nab hotel breakfast! While waking up before sunrise is admittedly somewhat painful, I loved being back at our hotel so early and realizing how much we’d already accomplished, even with the whole day ahead of us still — I also mused that this would be the perfect tour for jetlagged travelers who just rolled up in Thailand and are wide awake at that hour anyway!

Overall I’m not sure who enjoyed this morning more — Ian, the Bangkok first timer, or me, the long-time Bangkok fan. I do know that I’m adding it to my roster of must-do recommendations for friends and family who make their way to Thailand. As as a Viator Exclusive, there’s only one place they’ll be able to find it.

Wat Phra Kaew

It was, as always, with a heavy heart that I packed up my things and made my way to the airport that very afternoon. Earlier, Niran, ever the good Thai nationalist, had attempted to reassure us during a discussion about the military coup. “Peace is coming to Thailand!,” he said with confidence and a smile. “The tourists will return. You will return.”

Will I ever.

With lots of love for now, Thailand.

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A Farewell Weekend: Saying Goodbye in the Big Mango http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/26/a-farewell-weekend-in-bangkok/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/26/a-farewell-weekend-in-bangkok/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:45:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33286

Time was up. My visa was running out and my departure from Thailand was fast approaching. As usual, there was only one way to say goodbye — a blowout weekend in Bangkok. As are all great trips to the Big Mango, the weekend was a blend of favorite old haunts, and exciting new discoveries. And I had two perfect co-pilots, Heather and Ian, to join me.

D and D Inn Bangkok

I love playing tour guide, and so when I realized Ian had never spent time in Bangkok (he’d been entering and exiting the country through Phuket), I was over the moon about showing off one of my favorite cities. Because the overnight ferry and bus combo from Koh Tao drops you off at Khao San Road in Bangkok, we decided to spend our first night there for convenience. And, you know, shopping and street food and weirdo watching and all the other great things about Khao San.

Unfortunately my usual go-to Rikka Inn had no vacancy, so I booked us in at Khao San classic D&D Inn, intrigued to give it a try.

D and D Inn Bangkok

While the rooms were tasteful and the pool was lively, I still prefer laid back little Rikka. It probably didn’t help that D&D was under renovation at the time and the hallway was literally a construction site. At least now I can say I’ve seen it!

Plus, we didn’t spend too much time in the room anyway. We were too busy buying really amazing t-shirts and gorging on the aforementioned street snacks.

Shopping on Khao San Road

And of course, sampling the bizzarity that is Khao San Road nightlife. But as tempting as the pop-music pulsing bucket bars lining the street are, we were about to discover an absolute hidden gem of the area on a tip from a friend back on Koh Tao. Following his vague directions, we cheered when we found Adhere the 13th Blues Bar, just a short stroll from Khao San.

Oh, and did I mention Heather and I were twinning? She had arrived earlier by plane in order to squeeze in some doctor’s appointments and was staying at a different hotel, so we squealed when we reunited and realized we were both wearing the matching shirts we’d bought weeks earlier.

Blues Bar, Khao San, Bangkok

Blues Bar, Khao San, Bangkok

But back to Blues Bar. This place was everything you’d want out of a tiny live music hotspot tucked around the corner from a street you’ve spent cumulative weeks of your life on. The crowd was impressively diverse — Thais, tourists, and expats of all ages were packed in shoulder to shoulder, you had to scoot around the drum set to get a drink, and the bar was covered in drawings and love letters from regulars.

We (and by we I obviously mean Ian) may have even added a contribution of our own.

Blues Bar, Khao San, Bangkok

Blues Bar, Khao San, Bangkok

We were so bummed when just around midnight, the bar was closed down by the military police currently running the city — Thailand is indeed still under martial law. It did lead to one of the biggest laughs of the night, though, when the guitarist glanced outside and saw them approaching, and deadpan thanked us for “not buying enough drinks for us to afford any bribes.” Well, we’ll just stroll back to Rambuttri and Khao San, we decided, two unfailing all-night party streets.

Not so much. My jaw hit the floor when we arrived back to Soi Rambuttri and found it a ghost town. In my six years of traveling Thailand I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve arrived to this typically-pulsing area fresh off flights at every wild hour in the day and night and never have I seen it so quiet as this Friday evening in November at midnight. Prepping for a zombie apocalypse at any moment, we cautiously made our way over to Khao San, where the scene was similarly out-of-character. Two of the big bars remained open as usual — the ones that were indeed able to afford those bribes, I presume, while all others remained shuttered and military police lurked in the intersections. We did laugh when further down the street we encountered an impromptu street party — enterprising Thais with coolers and boom boxes had started renegade bars right in the middle of the road, complete with enthusiastic dancing from grateful tourists. Whenever an official walked by, the coolers would shut and the vendors would scatter. I guess you can take Khao San Road off the party circuit, but you can’t take the party circuit out of Khao San Road.

My mind drifted to my last trip to Bangkok, where we were shocked to be turned away from Sukhumvit nightclubs without our IDs, and devastated to find the combi van street bars vanished from Soi 11. Was my beloved Bangkok changing in a way that it wouldn’t be able to recover from? Would we look back someday and reminisce about the “good old days” in the wild west capital of Thailand, days that were long over after a thorough sanitation?

Overwhelmed by this series of events, we processed them the only way we knew how — a foot massage and a contraband bucket.

Khao San Road Foot Massages

As fun as Khao San can be for a night or two, I would never base an entire Bangkok trip there. So the next morning, we were off to Sukhumvit. As I’ve confessed, I’m a shameless Bangkok hotel hopper, and this round, I was extremely excited to try something really different from my usual pool-topped high rise — the small boutique property Luxx XL.

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

At first glance, we were in love. At $100 a night, this was a huge splurge for me, but for my last two nights in Thailand I was ready to splash out. The hotel is gorgeous, and our suite was spacious and beautifully designed. We loved the indoor/outdoor bathroom, the wood floors and the full kitchen. Other nice touches were guest bikes and a DVD and magazine library in the lobby.

It was a lovely little hideaway in the midst of the skyscrapers.

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

Luxx Bangkok

That said, despite all these beautiful photos, I can’t really recommend Luxx XL. First, the wifi was poor in the room and completely non-functional by the pool. I had been looking forward to working by the water and was frustrated I couldn’t get a signal on any of my devices. Second, the breakfast situation was bizarre — a completely empty dining room with just fruit, juice, and bread set out, and a sign indicating omelettes and coffee cost 250 baht extra. Not exactly the lavish spread that normally comes in this price range in Bangkok.

And finally, — and I realize this sounds like a ridiculously petty complaint — this weird room next to the pool. I believe it was perhaps originally intended as a cafe or poolside bar, but it is currently being used as some sort of open food prep area and storage space. Picky, yes, but when I’m paying that much to stay at a supposed design hotel, I don’t want to sit at the pool and be looking out at piles of wood, stacked cases of water bottles and plastic bags full of spare plumbing parts. That space should be better utilized or it should be hidden from the view of guests. I felt like I was at a construction site, not a design hotel.

So while we had an absolutely amazing time and I don’t regret giving Luxx XL a go, until they address those three issues I would not return — there are too many other fantastic options in the area.

Luxx Bangkok Pool

Luxx Bangkok Pool

But onto more gushing Sukhumvit area discoveries — namely, Charley Brown’s Mexican Cantina, where the three muskateers reunited for Heather’s final night. As a guacamole aficionado and a Soi 11 regular, I don’t know how I’d never stumbled upon this place before. With a perfect location, trendy interiors, a fabulous menu and sombreros available for photo ops, I will absolutely be back to this joint.

Charley Brown's Mexican Cantina Bangkok

Charley Brown's Mexican Cantina Bangkok

Charley Brown's Mexican Cantina Bangkok

Charley Brown's Mexican Cantina Bangkok

Post-dinner, we hopped on the skytrain to check out two bars that had long been on my Bangkok bucket list: WTF Bar and Iron Fairies. We arrived to find WTF tragically closed for the night, and hoped we’d have better luck at Iron Fairies. Did we ever. Walking through the doors we felt that we’d stumbled upon a fairy-dusted magical wonderland, an intricately designed set from a Harry Potter movie, 0r the coolest bar in Bangkok — or all three.

While pricey by Bangkok standards, our cocktails came in smoking potion bottles and adorned with crystal-covered handmade marshmallows — so I’d say overall worth the extra baht. It was open mic night and I even earned a free one by getting up onstage. Singing Amy Winehouse’s Valerie while accompanied by the beyond-fabulous live jazz band was a highlight of the trip.

Iron Fairies Bangkok

Iron Fairies Bangkok

Iron Fairies Bangkok

Ian and I’s final night in Bangkok was spent doing something really special and original and totally unique to Thailand — watching a movie. Actually I’m only half kidding — catching a flick at the luxury theaters at Siam Paragon Cineplex is one of my favorite things to do in Bangkok, and by this point my excitement levels over seeing Gone Girl had officially reached a fever pitch (I’d forced half of Koh Tao to read the book after seeing a trailer online). I love everything about the Bangkok movie experience — from the high-tech system of choosing your seat on an iPad to the very Thai tradition of starting every movie by standing hand over heart for the national anthem played over a montage of video clips of the King. (PS: Feel free to discuss your opinions on Gone Girl freely in the comments because I HAVE A LOT OF EMOTIONS.)

Walking back in the sticky night air, we decided to end the evening with one last nightcap — a drink at The Speakeasy Rooftop Bar of Hotel Muse, just around the corner from our own hotel. Wow! While again, the prices we steep for Thailand, they were worth every baht for the skyline views, the uber-cool atmosphere and the undeniable sense that were in a very special place for a very special moment in time. It was a fitting goodbye.

Muse Rooftop Speakeasy Bangkok

Muse Rooftop Speakeasy Bangkok

Muse Rooftop Speakeasy Bangkok

The Speakeasy, along with Blues Bar, Charley Brown’s Cantina, and Iron Fairies, have all been enthusiastically added to my roster of favorite Bangkok bistros and bars and I can’t wait to revisit them on future trips. I’ve also definitely added Muse to my list of fantasy hotels.

But we didn’t linger too long at The Speakeasy, this time — we had one last adventure early in the morning, the last one I’d wake up to in Thailand for quite some time.

What are your favorite Bangkok restaurants and bars? Which of these would you head to?

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Photo of the Week 193: El Salvador http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/24/photo-week-193-el-salvador/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/24/photo-week-193-el-salvador/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 01:20:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33981

Greetings from El Salvador! After nine days in El Cuco where I was lucky to get nine minutes a day of wifi, it feels almost overwhelming to be back on the grid here in El Tunco. (Overwhelming in a bad way when it comes to my inbox, overwhelming in a crazy fabulous way when it comes to how many new episodes of Parks and Recreation I just downloaded.)

I’m buzzing over the Equilibrio, the event this trip to Central America was built around — a first time festival created by several of my dear friends from Brooklyn. It was a beautiful balance of days filled with workshops on movement, art, and dreaming big, and nights spent dancing under the stars with our feet in the sand.

I left Equilibrio brimming with inspiration and covered with sun. I can’t wait to share more. But for now, I have some emails to answer… and some Leslie Knope bonding to do. Here’s a little peek of what’s to come.

Photo A

Yoga at La Tortuga VerdeYoga workshops

Photo B

Equilibrio Festival by Future ClearInspiring spaces

Photo C

Figure Drawing at EquilibrioCreative faces

Photo D

La Tortuga Verde El SalvadorA beautiful base camp

Photo E

El Cuco El SalvadorEquilibrio energy!

Photo F

Equilibrio Festival El SalvadorA closing burn

Which photo is your favorite?

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Turning Twenty Five with a Bang http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/19/25th-birthday-on-koh-tao/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/19/25th-birthday-on-koh-tao/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33079

So last week I confessed that yes — at twenty-five, I’m still totally obsessed with my birthday. In my defense, I’m equally obsessed with the birthdays of those around me on a scrapbook-making, banner-hanging, cake-baking, Leslie Knope level, so I actually feel totally okay about it.

But anyway — I came back to Koh Tao to ring in a quarter century surrounded by some of my favorite people. I had a very specific vision: spending the day surrounded by friends and a body of water — pool or ocean would do, but a bathtub would probably be a bit tight — and spending the night at one of my favorite Koh Tao restaurants.

Sweet and simple. But my amazing friends had something even more epic in mind.

Koh Tao Birthday

Banyan Bar Koh Tao

On the eve of my birthday I was, as usual, hanging in Banyan Bar. I was saying my goodbyes around midnight when suddenly the lights dimmed, flaming shots appeared (shown being elegantly consumed, above left), I was gifted several high-demand out-of-print Banyan t-shirts, and a special rendition of the birthday song was melodically butchered. I Skyped my mama — she was at the library and thrilled, I’m sure, to receive a midnight call from a rowdy bar crowd — but then called it a night to conserve my energy for the following day’s festivities. What I didn’t count on was that the party would come home with me — not long after I crawled into bed I heard a knock on my door and opened it to find four friends holding Cards Against Humanity under one arm and several bottles of booze under the other. We took turns out-offending each other on the porch until I finally kicked everyone out as it neared sunrise.

Not many hours later I heard a knock at the door again — it  was Heather again, bright eyed and bearing gifts of my all time favorite breakfast burrito from Zanzibar. She told me to eat quick — I had a massage to get to!

Majestic Spa Koh Tao

Majestic Spa Koh Tao

Magestic Spa Koh Tao

I was blown away — how sweet of my fellow spa addict to arrange an early morning treatment for me! But that was just the beginning — when I walked out of my massage feeling all kinds of blissed out, Heather, Janine and Katy were waiting, champagne in hand, to meet me for another hour of foot massages, girly gossip, and birthday toasts. I wasn’t even twelve hours into twenty-five yet, and my girls were already making me weepy.

Next stop? Back to the Aminjirah pool, where I donned a third-hand bikini top Katy had gifted me, wrapped elegantly in a roll of toilet paper. Wracked with laughter, we explained to a very confused Heather that another friend had given the bikini to Katy as a hand-me-down a few months ago, and I was consumed with jealousy and basically begged her for it. She wouldn’t relent — until now, that is.

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Private Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Private Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

It was the perfect low-key afternoon, with friends dropping by left and right to soak up the sun and the views. It had been rainy and overcast all week — November is traditionally monsoon month in Koh Tao — but this day was perfect.

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

Aminjirah Pool Koh Tao

Around sunset we broke off to make ourselves presentable, and reconvened for the evening down in Mae Haad at The Whitening, my favorite restaurant on the island. It was like any big group meal on Koh Tao — hectic, loud, indulgent, and delicious.

The Whitening Koh Tao

Koh Tao Birthday

Koh Tao Birthday

As we were getting ready to go, I heard a commotion and turned around to find a big, red, sparkler-topped cake heading towards me. I’d never seen a red velvet cake on Koh Tao before, and asked thought big bites  where it came from — turned out my dear friend Scottie had remembered me mentioning it as one of my favorites months before, and commissioned a local bakery to make it, even bringing in special ingredients from Koh Samui!

I was truly overwhelmed (the man also gave me a gift card to one of my favorite boutiques on the island — ladies, let me know if you need to be set up on a blind date with the most thoughtful human on the planet). I remember thinking one thing while I blew that candle out — I was completely spoiled. Spoiled with love.

Birthday Koh Tao

Koh Tao Birthday

Koh Tao Birthday

Koh Tao Birthday

The day had turned out to be an amazing vortex of awesome that would not end. Coincidentally, my birthday this year fell on Loy Krathong, another special Thai holiday associated with Yi Peng. Mae Haad was taken over by jubilant festivities, and the beach was filled with revelers releasing lanterns into the sky and floating offerings into the sea.

Though the local festival was a little overwhelming, we made our way to a quiet corner of the shore to let off our own floats and lanterns with good wishes for the year ahead.

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Silliness aside, it was a really special moment, and I felt as filled up with love as those lanterns bobbing towards the sky.

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

Loy Krathong Koh Tao

From there, we made our way back to Sairee — and that’s where things really got wild. From clothes-switch surprises to laughing gas balloon bonanzas to dance floor shenanigans, we shut the beach bars right down. And then, in a routine that was quickly coming familiar, we continued back to my porch for even more laughter filled toasts, deep life talks, and Cards Against Humanity showdowns.

Birthday Koh TaoDon’t you love next day iPhone discoveries?

Koh Tao Nightlife

Koh Tao Nightlife

Between my pre-birthday beach getaway, the most perfect November 6th a girl could ask for, and the belated surprise party that I didn’t even know was awaiting me yet in New York, I’ve never welcomed in a new year feeling as lucky and as loved as I did twenty five. I can’t thank my nearest and dearest enough for making it happen — y’all rock my world!

How does one girl get so lucky? I don’t have much stability, or much financial security, or many material things. But man, I’ve got good people in spades. And as I wrote in a post published right around this very birthday of mine, when I look around at the people riding shotgun through life with me — I mean that metaphorically, you know, because otherwise it would be a pretty darn crowded car — I feel like I must be doing something right in this world to deserve them.

Here’s to an entire year as epic as the day that kicked it off.

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Koh Tao Hotel Spotlight: Aminjirah Resort http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/17/koh-tao-hotel-revew-aminjirah-resort/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/17/koh-tao-hotel-revew-aminjirah-resort/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33078

One of the most frequent requests to land in my inbox is for recommendation on where to stay in Koh Tao. (Which, by the way, along with most questions I get asked, is answered on my FAQ page! Did you know I have an FAQ page? If not, check it out!) Unfortunately, until now, I had little advice to offer — I always rent long term accommodation on the island and have little, if any, pulse on the hostel or hotel scene.

Which is why I’ve made it a goal to stay a few nights at a hotel or hostel every time I’m on the island, from here forward — so I can start putting together some recommendations for you guys.

First up? Aminjirah Resort in North Sairee.

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Because Aminjirah is off my usual Koh Tao circuit, I’d actually never even laid eyes on it before staying there. But it seems I was one of the few — my expat friends named it as their new favorite day-off pool to crash and raved about the Mexican food and sunset views. Soon, I’d see why.

Rooms

One thing I liked about Aminjirah right off the bat is that they have rooms at a wide price range. From small, garden facing budget villas to ocean view suites with private plunge pools, they really cater to a wide range of travelers. Rooms start at $45 and go up to around $160, with up to 15% off early bird specials available if you book far enough ahead.

Because it was low season, I was lucky enough to be upgraded to the Moon Ocean Pool Villa. In addition to the usual high end amenities — air conditioning, a fabulous shower, a tv and mini fridge and good free wifi — it had a really luxurious private outdoor space to boot.

I mean, I think we can all agree that any room that involves a private plunge pool with ocean views is a thing of beauty to be celebrated.

Room at Aminjirah Koh Tao

Room at Aminjirah Koh Tao

Bathroom at Aminjirah Koh Tao

Bathroom at Aminjirah Koh TaoLiterally the view out the bathroom window.

Private Pool at Aminjirah Koh Tao

There were even carefully placed bamboo walls around to make sure that the various rooms with balconies and plunge pools had privacy — a very thoughtful touch. Heather stayed in a separate slightly more budget room, and while it lacked a pool it was insanely spacious and decorated with the same attention to detail.

Grounds

Aminjirah is a hillside resort, meaning everything is connected by winding paths of stairs — this is definitely not a place for the mobility impaired. But it means that Instagram-worthy views are literally around every corner, most notably at what I think might by the island’s most enviable infinity pool.

Aminjirah Resort

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Not bad, eh? The onsite restaurant, located right beyond the pool in the above picture, serves up an eclectic mix that includes highly recommend Mexican food and one of my favorite salads on the island. While certainly not the cheapest on the island, the prices aren’t that bad, considering the location — as I said, plenty of expats come here to eat on a regular basis. The one thing I felt was really overpriced were the shakes, but maybe I’m just too used to the cheap roadside version. The were delicious though, when I guiltily ordered one.

The only menu item that we universally concluded needed work? The pizza. Everything else was thumbs up.

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Favorite Features

Clearly, the pools and the views at Aminjirah won me over, as did being able to order a really delicious poolside salad (not true everywhere on the island, in my pool crashing experience.)

Another thing I loved? That Aminjirah offers a Mystery Room option for $65 a night — you might end up in the Garden Bungalow, sure, but you also might end up in a suite for the steal of a lifetime! For those that like to gamble it’s a fun option.

I also really appreciated Aminjirah’s location — it was just a four or five minute drive from downtown Sairee, but with none of the noise pollution you’d deal with if you were staying on the beach. And while the road is clearly uphill and I am a very cautious driver, I felt totally comfortable driving it even at night. For those that don’t want to rent a motorbike, there are shuttles in and out of town — and either way, free pickup and dropoff at the pier is included.

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Room For Improvement

I’d love to see Aminjirah put in an onsite spa someday — I’d love to get a massage with those ocean views! Also, while Heather and I were staying at the resort, breakfast was not included, which I found odd at that price level. However, looking now it appears that breakfast is showing as included with bookings, so I’m glad to see they changed that.

Really, the only person to whom I would not recommend Aminjirah is a person who absolutely does not want to rent a motorbike. In that case you’d be restricted to the daily shuttle in and out of town, very expensive taxis, or long fifteen to twenty minute walks into town.

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Final Word

I give Aminjirah a thumbs up. It hit that perfect note of barefoot luxury — all the comforts of a high end resort (with rooms at budget prices!), but nothing so polished or posh that it felt out of place on laid back Koh Tao. For mid-range to high-end travelers, it hits all the right notes — and for two backpackers looking for a splurge, the budget rooms are a pretty amazing deal too.

Aminjirah Koh Tao

Is there anywhere you’ve stayed on Koh Tao
that I should add to my list of places to check out?

. . . . . . . . . . .

Many thanks to Aminjirah for hosting me so I could write this review (my friend Heather paid for her own room and we paid for all our own food and drinks.) As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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Vacation in Paradise: A Getaway to Sai Nuan Beach http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/16/vacation-paradise-getaway-sai-nuan-beach/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/16/vacation-paradise-getaway-sai-nuan-beach/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33077

Sai Nuan has long been my favorite beach on Koh Tao. Tucked into the southwest corner of the island and more or less unreachable by road — I’d certainly never drive that treacherous dirt path some might call a road — you have to either take a longtail or hike a pleasant twenty minutes through a palm tree filled jungle to get here.

When I want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Sairee Beach (that sound you hear is big city dwellers cackling at the idea of me calling that hustle and bustle), this is where I go.

Sai Nuan Getaway Koh Tao

Some of you have picked up on my hints here and there that I was seeing someone again while I was back on Koh Tao — a few of you even took guesses of who in my usual cast of characters it might be! (Love it.) I don’t know why I was keeping mum, exactly, as it is quite out of character for me. But the secret’s out now — because there’s no way I couldn’t blog about the amazing birthday present Bearded Bartender — as my nickname-loving friends back home liked to call him — treated me to.

Not too many are up for making the effort to get to Sai Nuan, and so I was lucky enough to get to be the first one to show Bearded Bartender — or I mean, we could just call him Ian — my favorite beach not long after we met. That day I mentioned how I’d always dreamed of going off the grid and spending a night in one of the little beach huts dotting the bay — shown in the photo above — but for some reason I’d never made it happen.

So, for my birthday, he did.

Sai Nuan Beach

Sai Nuan Beach

Sai Nuan Beach

Saithong Resort is the one and only accommodation option at Sai Nuan. Supposedly you can book online but Ian didn’t really trust the system, so he ended up making two round trip visits to the resort to make our reservation. Even then, things were a little off — he’d specifically requested Bungalow #2, which we arrived to find another couple very much settled into. Actually, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise — Bungalow #1 had better views and more privacy.

But I mean, ocean front with balconies bigger than the rooms themselves? You can’t go wrong.

Saithong Resort

Saithong Sai Nuan Koh Tao

Saithong Resort

The rooms were extremely simple — wooden bed with mosquito net, fan, curtain for a bathroom door, clear ocean views from the holes in the wall of the cold water shower. We loved it.

And did I mention the balcony?

Saithong Resort

Saithong Resort

In spite of what these photos show, our first day at Sai Nuan was actually super rainy and overcast. That was fine with us. We’d brought in both lunch and dinner takeaway from I Love Salad in Mae Haad (yes, that is the actual name of the establishment and they have my full and unwavering support in that decision) as well as several bottles of the most mediocre wine Koh Tao has to offer, and we were perfectly content to sit on our porch and watch the storm pass by.

With no internet and barely any phone reception, we were truly off the grid. It might have been just for one night, but wow, did it feel good.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of water and thought, oh no! It’s rained all night and we’ll never be able to get out of here. Then I realized it was just the waves crashing on the rocks right below us. A peek through the slats of the wall revealed a perfect blue sky day.

Koh Tao Beach Dog

Sai Nuan Beach Koh Tao

After breakfast at the onsite restaurant with free entertainment provided by the little ragamuffin above, it was all about beach time.

Saithong Sai Nuan Koh Tao

Sai Nuan Beach Koh Tao

I believe paper-book-loving Ian may have uttered the words, “Burn that photo of me reading a Kindle and never let it see the light of day,” but I’m pretty sure by that he meant please post it on the internets for literally any human on planet earth to see. Right? Right.

Sai Nuan Koh Tao

Sai Nuan Koh Tao

In the little bay right next to Sai Nuan — technically I think they are one and the same — lies one of the most scenic and rasta-tastic bars on Koh Tao, Banana Rock. It’s an absolute must to toast to the end of a castaway getaway somewhere as epic as this.

Banana Rock Koh Tao

Sai Nuan Koh Tao

I can’t tell you what a special little getaway this was or how idyllic and dreamlike it felt. As the constant planner for myself, for my friends and for my family when we travel, it was indulgent and sweet to have someone plan something so thoughtful and sentimental all for me.

We still talk about it all the time.

Sai Nuan Koh Tao

Best part? The guy knows me well — he knew this social butterfly could never go off grid on her actual birthday! So this was more of a warm up, planned a few days before the actual date. And wow, were my friends about to pick up where he left off in the spoiling department. Stay tuned.

Would you rather splurge on a sleek resort or a rustic getaway like this one? I love a bit of both, but I can’t imagine a better two days than the ones we had here…

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Photo of the Week 192: Nicaragua http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/15/photo-of-the-week-192-nicaragua/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/02/15/photo-of-the-week-192-nicaragua/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 23:06:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33723

Yesterday I said goodbye to Nicaragua. I wasn’t expecting to be so attached to this country in under a month, and I felt quite sad to leave! If it weren’t for some of my favorite humans in the world waiting just over the border in El Salvador, I don’t think I would have. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be back sooner than originally planned.

My final week in Nicaragua was spent bidding adios to San Juan del Sur, followed by four days in the big city of León. Though it was a strange adjustment to be back in an urban environment after weeks on the ocean, I enjoyed León and wish I’d had a few more days there. That said, it felt amazing to arrive on the beach in El Salvador and into the arms of my nearest and dearest from Brooklyn! We’re here for the inaugural Equilibrio festival, where I’ll be surfing, yoga-ing, midnight beach dancing, and leading a writing workshop. If you’re in the area and you’re interested in joining, you better snap up a ticket quick — there are only twenty left.

This week I’ll be mostly offline enjoying the festival, but I have lots of lovely posts heading your way, including my final few from Koh Tao. Happy Sunday!

Photo A

Flor de Cana Sign, San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaA big goodbye to San Juan del Sur

Photo B

Week 192_02More brightly colored Nicaragua churches

Photo C

Leon, NicaraguaLoving Leon

Photo D

Leon, NicaraguaObsessed with hand painted signage

Photo E

Volcano Boarding, NicaraguaVolcano boarding outside the city

Photo F

White Cathedral, Leon, NicaraguaTransported to Greece on the white rooftop of Leon’s main cathedral

Which photo is your favorite?

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