Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never.
Home sweet Thailand! These months have a special place in my heart because while the were filled with holiday cheer and chaos, aside from a week-long extended visa run, I was on Koh Tao the entire time. What a blessing that felt like! I spent a lot of it working hard and enjoying a routine with my friends and my fitness regimen, and that felt like the most exotic thing in the world to a perpetually on-the-go girl like me.
Where I’ve Been
• Twenty-four nights on Koh Tao, Thailand
• Three nights in Bangkok, Thailand
• Three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia
• One night in Bangkok, Thailand
• One night in overnight transit
• Thirty nights in Koh Tao, Thailand
• Celebrating my second Loy Kratong on Koh Tao. While it doesn’t quite compare to the Chiang Mai version in scale, I love the laid back sweetness on Koh Tao. We went down to Mae Haad for street food and festivities, set off our own floating kratongs from the shore, and sat on the beach watching people set off lanterns into the night sky. I love watching the island light up on this special night in Thai culture.
• Thanksgiving under a banyan tree. Banyan Bar, my home base on the island, does a big celebratory dinner, and I loved sitting with my friends from around the world, sharing memories of my favorite holiday with them, and counting all the things I have to be thankful for.
• Getting back in the water. Admittedly, my first dive back on the island was a disaster — it was raining, the dive sites were overcrowded and we didn’t see much of anything. But I was grateful to break my too-long streak on land, and it was fun spending time with the friends-of-friends from my hometown who I joined.
• Two fabulous medical experiences right on Koh Tao — not a statement you often get to make about a tiny island with limited facilities! But in this period I had two big wins — first, I was able to get a cracked filling replaced for a mere 1,400B ($40USD) in thirty minutes with only a topical anesthetic (seriously can you imagine a US dentist letting you get a filling without novocaine?), and next, with a little work, I was able to get my third HPV vaccine shot sent over to Koh Tao from Koh Samui for 4,500B ($130), saving me the hassle of leaving the island to get it. Victory is mine!
• Finding the best route to Bangkok ever. Traveling can be a logistical pain living on Koh Tao, as just getting to and from Bangkok can add anywhere from five to twelve hours onto any trip in both directions. So imagine my joy at finding my new favorite route: an overnight ferry from Bangkok to Chumphon, a private taxi to Chumpon Airport, and the first Nok Air flight of the day to Bangkok. You can leave Koh Tao at 11pm, get a decent night of sleep, and land in Bangkok around 9am — and it’s cheap too! This will definitely be my new go-to from here forward.
• Waking up at Bangkok Treehouse. Seriously, I’m obsessed with this funky and offbeat accommodation choice along the Chao Phraya River. After pining after it for years, I’m THRILLED to have finally fit it into a trip — it’s really a destination onto itself.
• Riding bikes through Bang Krachao: having a cool old temple to ourselves, feeling the genuine warmth from the residents who waved and smiled at us, marveling at life off the grid, coming face to feet with a massive water monitor, and really just stepping back in time. It won’t be my last time to the green lung of Bangko
• Finally experiencing Blue Ribbon Theater — it was a Bangkok trip of many firsts! This ultra luxurious movie theater is the ultimate in fanciness. Think fully reclining seats for two with blankets and pillows, a choice of wine, Starbucks coffee or Häagen-Dazs ice cream, and a fifteen minute neck massage at the in-theater spa to get out any kinks afterwards. Yes please! The funniest part? You can never escape Koh Tao — we ran into two island friends when we were taking our seats.
• Our four days at Navutu Dreams. Spending the holidays away from family and the familiarity of tradition can be tough, but it definitely eases the pain to get to go on a tropical getaway! Our visa run-turned vacation was idyllic. A gorgeous resort, great food and drinks, some fun onsite activities, and little pressure to get out and see and do it all. We just felt so spoiled to be in such a beautiful place, be together, and be at peace. What more could a girl ask for?
• Indulging so well in Siem Reap. We had the most fun cocktail crawl ever! Yup, this was definitely less a trip about seeing and doing and more a trip about eating and drinking — and that was just what we needed.
• Christmas on the beach! This was my third Christmas away from home, and the first that I truly enjoyed. It probably helped that my last Christmas at home was so fraught with drama and surgical blues, which made me a little less nostalgic for the traditional. We got back to the island on December 23rd and I spent the entire day shopping for wrapping and baking supplies (sadly in a land without Target making one recipe means going to every darn minimart on the island), and the evening with my friend Janine drinking wine, listing to Alvin and the Chipmunks Holiday and reminiscing about Christmas past.
On the 24th I woke up, Skyped with my family, went to a Christmas-music vinyasa flow, and came home to find Ian had left a (fake, obviously) tree on my doorstep! I spent all day listening to more Christmas music, baking and wrapping, and just soaking up the festive spirit. That night, I went to a friend’s house for a festive dinner followed by a few rainy drinks at Banyan. Christmas Day the rain stopped and after Skyping more family and friends I spent the day on the beach in a bikini and santa hat gleefully handing out the candy canes I’d bought in Bangkok. Later, Janine and I took to-go mojitos to get foot massages and then headed to yet another Christmas feast — with the most perfect sunset! — followed by a massive bar hop with friends. I was basking in the glow of it for days. Not the most traditional Christmas but a really happy one.
• New Year’s Eve. Barefoot, on the beach, surrounded by friends and lanterns floating into the air. Just the way I like it.
• Showing my friends Kelley and Dave around Koh Tao! They are the second couple I’ve helped plan their honeymoon in Thailand, and I was thrilled to get to spend a few days playing tour guide to them on Koh Tao (which, not to brag, but they named as their favorite stop in the country!) We went to dinners, went hiking, went to yoga, and went to a wild ladyboy show! I adored showing them around.
• My love affair with deepening my yoga study. In addition to my regular classes at both Grounded and Ocean Sound studios, I also continued to take extended workshops at both. In this two month period I was lucky enough to attend four: a Vinyasa workshop that really explained the Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara B postures to me for the first time, a home practice workshop where I learned so much about sequencing, an alignment workshop where I let go of the idea that there is a perfect shape that every asana needs to be, and an acro workshop where I laughed and played!
• Fun times: I was named one of Playboy’s Top 15 Instagrammers of 2015! Made it into Playboy, no censor bars necessary 😉
• Back to the Muay Thai ring. Despite the fact that I live so close I can hear the music from my apartment, Ian and I had been trying and failing for months to get to one of the twice-monthly Muay Thai fights on Koh Tao. Finally we managed to wrangle a few friends and go, and it was a blast to show Ian around my old training gym and introduce him to my old crew there.
• Four great hikes in these two month. One to the Burmese Temple, one to Fraggle Rock, one to Mango Viewpoint, and one ambitious double to both Fraggle and Mango. Not quite the once-a-week I aim for, but a pretty good record nonetheless!
• Being a spa regular. There’s a strong possibility this might end up in the highlight category for each and every month I spent in Thailand, but whatever: I love getting regular massages when I live in Southeast Asia! Sometimes, twice a week isn’t even enough.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Travel tip: Don’t lose your ticket to Angkor Wat like Ian and I did halfway through our visit — insert eyeroll here. While an expensive and annoying hassle in the moment since we had to go all the way back to the entrance and repurchase a new one, it moved into “laugh about it” territory within a day, so all is well. Though it wasn’t our only challenge of the day — a cloudy sunrise and blown out skies made for poor photography conditions, though on the upside it prompted me to write a post on Photography Tips for Angkor Wat.
• Our trip to Cambodia was basically perfect so it’s hard to find fault, but I must admit I was heartbroken when I found out about apsara dance classes on our last night. Have you seen how beautiful this dance is?! I’d love to learn how to do it myself! Maybe it’s for the best since if I had known about it earlier I would have basically just booked a four day apsara dance workshop for us and Ian would have broken up with me. Next time!
• Ian got really sick our last day in Siem Reap, which made our travel back to Bangkok a bit of a nightmare. Considering he dislocated his shoulder on our last trip together, it has no become our running joke that it’s not a vacation unless Ian is ill or injured in some way.
• Finding out I wasn’t a candidate for the Lasik I’d been saving and planning for was a big blow and it took me a while to get over it. But the great news? You guys gave me so much reassurance, support and great advice in the post I wrote about it. I’m now doubling down and rededicated to getting PRK sometime in the next year. Woo hoo!
• Lesson: always keep a backup laptop charger! Mine fried out towards the end of Month 56, and I lost a day of work running around trying to figure out if anyone on the island had a new one. Thankfully, there was one in stock (at double the price you’d pay in New York!) at one of the island electronic shops, otherwise I would have had to get on a ferry to Koh Samui. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, either. From here forward, I’m always traveling with a backup.
• When will I learn to listen to my intuition? I had a feeling that I would regret being pressured into a documentary about the murders on Koh Tao, and I did. The terrible stress of the trial and the media attention directed to the island at that time was crushing, and the holidays were certainly heavy with the weight of the verdict (the Thai courts scheduled the verdict in the murder trial to be delivered on December 24th). I ended up writing a post about Koh Tao’s safety in response to the documentary going live.
• Our horrific night at Sleep Withinn on our way back from Siem Reap. You can read my full TripAdvisor review here, but suffice it to say that we were absolutely shocked by the horrible treatment we received here. I’ll be sticking to my old favorite Rikka Inn from now on whenever I need to be on Khao San Road!
• Leaving a restaurant in tears on Koh Tao. Here’s the short version of the story, since living on a teeny tiny island means I can never leave it somewhere like TripAdvisor! One night in low season, Ian and I didn’t feel like driving in the rain and thus we walked to an Italian restaurant a stone’s throw from my apartment. It was busy, which made us smile as so many business owners struggle through the monsoon. We happily seated ourselves, happily got our own menus, happily read through them and laughed at our ignorance in needing to Google most of them to figure out what they were. And eventually, I happily went up to the Italian owner and politely asked if, whenever he had a moment, we could ask a few questions about the menu and order drinks. So imagine my shock and absolute mortification when the man responded by screaming in my face that he was busy and he would come over when he was ready. I could feel everyone in the restaurant staring at me in shock as well as I retreated to where Ian was sitting and burst into tears. When I managed to get out what had happened, he got up to walk us out. At this point the owner I think realized he had had a total outburst and came over to attempt to smooth things over, but it was too late. I was still too paralyzed to speak but thankfully Ian had it together to calmly state that we understand that the restaurant was busy but there’s no excuse for yelling at your customers. And then we left. I was really shaken by the whole incident, though I did feel somewhat reassured that I hadn’t done anything wrong when I told a few friends about it and they told me they had heard similar stories over the years of the owner’s outbursts.
• More small island drama. Without going into too much detail, when I was still a baby blogger, I set up partnerships that as I’ve grown have been super beneficial to the businesses I struck them with. In one case, the business didn’t reciprocate by treating me very well, and friendships have been strained and broken over it. I’ve tried to keep my head high and just remember to live and learn, but it does still sting me sometimes when I think about it.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: Both destinations on our vacation week, Bangkok Treehouse and Navutu Dreams, were drool-worthy. But in the end I think we were most blown away by Bangkok Tree House, despite its many drawbacks. Waking up in our nest felt like a dream!
Worst: No question — our night at the terrible SleepWithinn.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: It’s a three-way tie between the elaborate Finnish Christmas dinner at my friend Païvi’s house, our dinner at socially-conscious restaurant Marum in Siem Reap, and our new favorite breakfast spot Rocket in Bangkok.
Worst: Sad to say, it was our dinner at Bangkok Treehouse — it was a very polarized experience staying there!
Once again, I managed to live relatively extravagantly while still saving money at the end of each month. While the holidays made Months 55 and 56 the most expensive I had in Thailand, it was still a fraction of what it would have been back in New York. Obviously, staying still with just one week out of eight on the road was a major factor.
My major expenses were business related (including computer repair, a new computer charger, holiday bonuses for my assistants), Christmas related (gifts sent to family and friends at home, gifts and baking supplies and more for friends on the island), and health related (seeing two different eye specialists, the aforementioned vaccine and dental work).
In a continuation of the months before, I focused heavily on the avalanche of branded content opportunities that came my way in this period, projects with Abbot, Capital One, Kayak, PADI, Vision Direct and Overnite. Things were so busy that towards the end of this period I went to the beach one afternoon with my friends and realized that it had been nearly a month since I’d been there — pretty wild when you live on a 13 square mile island! I got into this business and onto this island specifically so I could do things like spend afternoons at the beach, but I’ve learned enough to know to ride the waves of busy work periods when they come, because you never know when there’s going to be another drought.
I also made time for one little site improvement project, which was adding affiliate links to Agoda, my favorite accommodation booking site for Southeast Asia. This is an income stream I want to focus more on, so it felt great to take a concrete step towards that.
Combining my relatively low cost of living with my major earning power in these two months meant my bottom line continued to go up!
Health and Fitness
I was on fire with my fitness goals for these two months! I crammed in fourteen gym sessions, thirteen yoga classes and workshops, seven bootcamp-style classes, four hikes, two trapeze sessions, one paddleboard, one bike ride, and one aqua zumba class. That’s 43 workouts in 60 days. While I didn’t quite reach my goal of working out every day, I think it’s a pretty good record considering those two months involved multiple holidays and a vacation!
Speaking of that vacation, I was looking forward to having a very yoga-focused mini-retreat in Siem Reap, though between Ian’s dislocated shoulder and two of the resort’s primary yoga instructors getting in an accident right before we arrived, that didn’t really work out. Ah well, I managed to fit in a fair amount of fitness regardless.
I continued to sporadically track my food at this time, but also got incredibly focused on tracking how much water I was drinking. I think I live in a fairly constant state of dehydration, so trying to make sure I got in enough water every day was really challenging but rewarding, and very much helped curb my hunger. In fact, I might start working on this again!
A few more blissful months in the Kingdom of Thailand…
Thanks for virtually joining me, y’all!
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.