Day 23 – Bangkok, Thailand

Back to Bangkok. The struggle to find reliable wifi has been real the past few days. After relaxing on the various beaches for the past week, it was time to head back to the big city to prepare for my flight out of Thailand. Having accomplished most of my bucket list the last time I was in the city, I spent my short time in Bangkok mostly recuperating from my most recent travels.

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Taxi Waiting Room, about a 20-25 minute wait

This time around, I landed at Bangkok’s other airport, Don Mueang International Airport [DMK], sitting north of the city. My first impressions of the airport were very positive. The facility is clean, well-lit and overall more comfortable than my experience in [BKK]. It call came to a screeching stop when I made it outside to the “Taxi Stand” and immediately noticed the Taxi Waiting Room. Unlike Suvarnabhumi Airport [BKK], there is no Airport Link railway that connects the airport to the city center. I took my number, 822, and looked at the Now Serving screen – 564. To my surprise, the queue moved pretty quickly, serving about 50 numbers every 10-15 minutes.

I decided to spend the day exploring another one of Bangkok’s infamous shopping malls. In case you didn’t know, shopping malls in Asia are on a different level. Literally, there are 8-10 levels in any given mall with various elevator routes that feel like they are constantly changing. s/o if you just got that HP reference. MBK Shopping Center is bright and chaotic and immediately in-your-face. It’s so easy to get lost wandering the corridors and seeing what everyone has to sell. If you are ever in the market for useless electronics or pirate DVDs, this is the place to go. Side note, I watched a movie at the hotel called Spare Parts (2015) starring George Lopez, which was actually a really good movie. I wasn’t expecting to get very emotional, but it had some really good messages within the film and I would highly recommend watching it. Of course, at the end of the film there is a “based on a true story” reel and all the emotions came flooding back.

Taking advantage of my business suite at Bandara Suites Silom Bangkok, I wanted to make a home-cooked meal. I bought my groceries from the nearby shopping mall (I told you they were on a different level) and made the spaghetti I had been craving for the past month. To be honest, it did not satisfy my craving nor did it feel like it was worth the price or hassle of buying groceries. Even with the same Prego sauce, all I had to season my ground beef was a shaker of Italian seasoning, no onions, no hotdogs. I’ll just wait until I get state-side again so I can have it the right way.

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My last night in Bangkok had to be spent exploring, so I took the train and walked around a new neighborhood. Browsed the numerous booths at the night market and by the time I came home it was already almost midnight. My flight was at 0835 so a very sleepy me managed to check-out of the hotel, get a taxi back to the airport and barely made it past baggage drop-off, immigration, and security with thirty minutes to spare at my gate. Onto my next dextination… Kuala Lumpur!

M Boutique & Kitchen Review

Jitapa’s place has the facilities of a hotel with all the perks of a great Airbnb! She felt more like a friend than a host. The other individuals that work at the hotel have been so accommodating and generous, including her adorable 4-year-old daughter! I cannot thank them enough for all their help, from the ease to checking-in to setting up my day tours, and of course all of the watermelon!

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Single room with balcony and air-con [$32/nt]
M Boutique & Kitchen is located along the main road in Ao Nang, Thailand. It is about a 15-20 minute walk to Ao Nang Beach, where you can catch a long-tail boat to Railay Beach, the hotel will even give you a ride to the ticketing office so you don’t have to walk. The road to the beach is filled with many restaurants, both Western and Thai, shops and travel agencies. You can get a massage at the salon next door or if you feel like spoiling yourself, Radarom Spa is right next to the hotel.

My room was spacious, on the corner of the building, with two views of the limestone cliffs and the busy street and a balcony. As with any prime location on the main road, there is constant traffic that you can hear from your room, however, sleeping at night was never an issue for me (due to exhaustion). The bathroom has both a rain-style shower, but I chose to take advantage of the huge jacuzzi tub just about every single night. There is a mini fridge with water and free coffee and tea downstairs also.

I loved staying at M Boutique & Kitchen. I have stayed in a fair share of hostels, apartments and hotels, but this is the first time that I have felt so “at home” in an accommodation. I highly recommend Jitapa’s place for your next trip to Ao Nang.

Day 21 – Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

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Maya Bay @ Koh Phi Phi Leh

Officially three weeks into my trip, so I had to do it big. After dancing all night at the Pub Crawl, I woke up at 8am to catch the shuttle from my hotel to the pier to begin my tour of Koh Phi Phi. Jitapa organized the tour through Worwiwat Tourist Groups.

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The speedboat was full with approximately thirty passengers, mostly couples and families traveling on vacation. Our first stop was snorkeling at Runtee Bay. Jumping off the boat, I landed in the middle of a school of fish. The “coral” in the area was pretty barren with only a few patches and colorless. The next stop was Monkey Beach. I have heard many stories of unfriendly monkeys throughout my trip in Thailand. I watched from afar as a small group of monkeys rummaged through somebody’s kayak and one even bit some guy’s arm. One of the guys I met last night got scratched by a monkey at his hotel and had to get immunoglobulin and a series of rabies vaccines.

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The third stop on our tour was on the island of Phi Phi Don, where we enjoyed a buffet-style lunch at one of the restaurants near the beach. I laughed while I watched other tour groups spoon Tom Yum soup over their rice instead of into a bowl. They probably thought it was an entree. (Thanks Garnet!) After lunch, I sat on the beach and just admired the scenery. The Andaman Coast is full of dramatic limestone cliffs that emerge from the water. It looks like a scene from Avatar.

Our tour guide was very talkative and strategic when planning the itinerary for the day. Instead of going to the famous Maya Bay as the first stop, as advertised on the brochure, he waited until after lunch so the tides would be low and there were less boats and tourists compared to the morning. Maya Bay is where they filmed the movie, “The Beach” starring Leonardo Dicaprio. It is known world-wide as a pristine beach, surrounded by limestone cliffs on three sides and a jungle. Due to its popularity, Maya Bay was still packed with tourists and boats constantly dropping off and picking up their passengers. There is constant noise in the background of various tour guides shouting for their groups to return, sometimes using a loudspeaker. Aside from the chaos, you can swim a few meters out and still enjoy the beauty with less people littering your pictures.

After Maya Bay, we made two short stops at Pileh Bay aka Phi Phi Leh Lagoon and the Viking Cave. The boat doesn’t actually stop in either site, only to slow down so that you can take pictures. Pileh Bay was beautiful and reminds me of Big Lagoon in El Nido Island Tour A. (Definitely worth renting a kayak if you do Tour A) The Viking Cave is home to thousands of swallow birds and their nests. People harvest the nests for bird’s nest soup, supposedly an elixir for beauty and sexual performance. Our guide said that a single kilogram of the raw bird’s nest can sell for up to $10,000 USD.

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The last stop on our tour was at Bamboo Island, with white sand and clear water to go snorkeling. By this time, I was already exhausted and after snorkeling for a bit, decided to relax on the beach with the remaining time. Overall, the Phi Phi Islands tour was definitely a highlight, however, I wish I had actually spent more time on Phi Phi Don rather than taking a day trip. I have heard many great things about Koh Phi Phi and definitely want to stay on the island to explore next time.

Tips for Worwiwat Tourist Groups, Phi Phi Islands Tour:

  • Not the best atmosphere for solo travelers. Mostly couples and families on holiday, consider staying on the island for a better experience.
  • Leave your best flip flops at home, everyone’s shoes are collected and stored in a net bag on the boat
  • Food is good. No need to really bring snacks if you have breakfast before you leave. Water is provided on the boat and included with the tour price.
  • Maya Bay is a National Park, therefore a 400 THB fee is required prior to getting on board. Definitely worth the price though, despite the large crowds of tourists.

Day 20 – Railay Beach, Thailand

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Ao Nang Beach in Krabi, Thailand

Dare I say, the Andaman Coast of Thailand may actually be more beautiful than the islands in the East? This morning I left my hotel, dropped off my laundry, and walked down the main street towards Ao Nang Beach. I passed by numerous massage shops and travel booths down the road until I finally reached the beach. Along the beach, there were a bunch of long-tail boats, ready to take tourists across the waters to the nearby Railay Beach.

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Long-tail boat to Railay Beach
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Cue the Jurassic Park theme song

A short, 10-15 minute boat ride later, I stepped off onto the shores of Railay Beach. You immediately are welcomed by soft, powdery sand as you look up and realize you are surrounding by huge cliffs of limestone on either side. This side of Thailand really reminds me of El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines. It is such a beautiful sight, that never gets old to see.

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West Railay Beach

After swimming in the ocean, I decided to explore the area and find the “lagoon” that a guy on the boat had mentioned on the way to Railay. I followed the path to East Railay and got to the point where I was met by a huge, steep, cliffside. Really, it was practically vertical and there weren’t any steps, just edges of roots and eroded cliff to follow. I overheard one of the other visitors telling another couple that it was about fifteen minutes of climbing before you could find a flat path to follow. Naturally, the ER nurse inside of me decided against attempting to essentially rock climb up the side of the mountain with wet flip flops and instead continued the path to Phra Nang (Cave Beach).

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Phra Nang (Cave Beach) in Railay

It started to pour rain, so I hopped on another long-tail boat and headed back to Ao Nang Beach to my hotel. After I showered, I met the owner of the hotel, Jitapa, who gave me recommendations for island tours and even helped me set one up for tomorrow. I got a foot massage from the place next to my hotel and it was amazing, especially after the long week that I’ve had. I came back to the hotel, where one of the ladies working gave me a box of sliced watermelon for free. Seriously, the most accommodating places in the world. I finally had to try the coconut ice cream (delicious) and enjoyed them both on the patio in front of the hotel. I met two more Canadians (Eh?) from a nearby hostel and they invited me out to a Pub Crawl that night. The Slumber Party Hostel Pub Crawl is honestly one of the best things that I have done in Krabi, Thailand. I met a bunch of travelers from all over the world and we all had a great time. Totally worth it, even though I didn’t get much sleep before the Koh Phi Phi tour.

Day 19 – Ao Nang, Thailand

Another travel day. And a long one at that. Started this morning at 8:30am to check-in for my boat to get off Koh Tao. The first catamaran left at 9:30 and dropped us off at Koh Phangan where we waited an hour to catch the second catamaran to Surat Thani. After arriving on the pier, we were picked up by the coach bus and drove about 3 hours to the province of Krabi. Normally, I don’t get motion sickness on trains, however, buses and vans are a different story. Especially when the roads are narrow and winding. I took a ginger supplement and fell asleep for a good hour or so in the beginning, which helped, but woke again feeling nauseated. So I popped a Zofran ODT and thirty minutes later started chewing some peppermint Rolaids. Ha, I came prepared!

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Lomprayah high speed catamaran, lower deck, air-conditioned

Pro Tip: Lomprayah high speed catamarans are a great option for island-to-island transfers. The boats are fast and smooth. However, they seem to love keeping everyone in the dark about what is going on. They have a system of stickers, tickets, and baggage tags, which seems to work for them but nobody will tell you exactly what you should expect. For example, I had a 1 hour layover on Koh Phangan, which I only figured out by reading my wristband and catching the overhead announcement right as we reached the pier. Another example, nobody told me I needed to get off at Krabi and catch a separate van to Ao Nang. In fact, when I asked if there was one bus or two to Ao Nang, the lady at the desk gave me a crazy look, said there was only one bus and shooed me away. They will herd you around like cattle so you must be very aware when you are transferring from place to place.

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Pro Tip: Bring food on your journey! There is a snack bar open on the boat, but do yourself a favor and bring a sandwich or something to hold you over. You can walk off the pier in Koh Phangan to get food, but there is no time to stop in Surat Thani to buy something or even use the restroom.

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Long-tail boat selfie on the way to Railay Beach

Finally arrived in Krabi at 5:30pm, where we were dropped off at the Lomprayah office aka the middle of nowhere. Had to switch to a van to take us the rest of the way to Ao Nang. Luckily, I was dropped off at the second stop, check-in to my hotel was pretty effortless and enjoyed some local Thai food. M Boutique & Kitchen, which I had originally booked on Airbnb is quite nice. I have a corner room so it feels huge and there is a rain shower and a full-size jacuzzi bathtub. Tomorrow I am planning on catching a boat over to Railay Beach or possibly trying to get a tour of Koh Phi Phi. We shall see, but for now it is complete relaxation.

Day 18 – Koh Tao, Thailand

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“The Twins” from a distance

I am officially a PADI certified SCUBA diver! The past four days have been long and adventurous and so much fun! This morning we woke up bright and early and our boat left at 7am for our last two morning dives. Our first dive site was called The Twins, so named because it is located between two small islands off the coast of Koh Tao. We back rolled into the water, did a 5-point descent down and swam around looking at corals and so many different fish (including Nemo!). We practiced our last set of skills at the bottom and enjoyed swimming around the area.

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Dive #4 was at a site called White Rock, where we saw more various fish, including angelfish, grouper, and stingrays. Our final dive was planned solely by the three of us and spent the entire time swimming around the coral patch in awe. The underwater world is AMAZING. The colors fade the deeper you go so you actually lose a lot of red colors, but the different shades of blue are very vibrant.

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As somebody who has personally felt anxiety prior to their first diving experience, even in the pool, I will say that diving is definitely worth the experience. Do not give in to the fears or anxiety and you will be amazed at how beautiful the ocean is. Take an extra second close to the surface to take some good, deep breaths and continue slowly at your own pace. Constantly remind yourself to breathe in and out, slow and steady. Once you are at the bottom, you do not even realize if you’re at 5 meters or 15 meters. You’ll be busy watching all the fish swim by.

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PS, I wish I had pictures underwater to share but during your Open Water Certification, you are not allowed to bring cameras so that you can focus on safety and the equipment first and foremost.

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With Bruno & Kris with our instructor, Manuel

Day 17 – Koh Tao, Thailand

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Sometimes I still cannot believe that I am in this beautiful place! Koh Tao, Thailand

I’m alive! I have just returned from my first open water dives in the ocean. It was AMAZING! All my fears and anxiety vanished once I saw all the beautiful fish and wildlife that live beneath the surface. We started at 9am this morning, finishing up some book work and theory portion before taking a lunch break. We met again around noon and boarded the boat to take us out to our first dive in the ocean.

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All aboard and ready to go on our first dive in Koh Tao

Our first dive site was called the Japanese Garden. We planned out our dive on the boat and spent the first few minutes adjusting to the water at the surface. We each were holding onto a single rope that went about 12 meters down into the water. Initially, we could not see the bottom of the rope. I had been having anxiety all morning and last night, but I am so glad I didn’t quit. I kept descending very slowly and constantly reminded myself to take good, steady breaths. In and out.

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Checked and ready to go!

We let go of our safety rope and started swimming around, looking at coral and groups of angelfish and groupers. We practiced more skills that we had learned yesterday in the pool, like clearing our mask and finding our regulators. Before we knew it, we were at the surface again, high-fiving each other and ecstatic because our first dive was such an awesome experience.

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The boat took us to our second dive site, a place called The Junkyard, made by the locals with various pieces such as sunken gym equipment, a toilet, and even a car! We swam around and saw more fish, including two puffer fish, and of course practiced more skills. I finally became comfortable clearing my mask and would do so often to improve my visibility. Swimming underwater with all the gear seemed effortless and once you’re at the bottom you forget how deep you really are. We practiced our last scenario, which was with one person “out of air” and sharing a tank with their buddies alternate regulator while ascending to the surface. And just like that, our first two dives were complete! Tomorrow we have our final two dives in the morning then we are official PADI certified open water divers!

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“The boys” finished our first two dives with Bruno and Kris

Day 16 – Koh Tao, Thailand

I’ve been working on getting my PADI Open Water Dive certification! Officially finished halfway through the course. The first day was spent entirely in the classroom, going over safety and procedures that we would need to understand in order to successfully practice safe diving underwater. After watching five instructional videos and completing the quizzes, we left for the night to get some rest.

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Setting up our SCUBA equipment for the first time

This morning we met at 8am and immediately learned how to set up our equipment. We practicing donning and doffing the BCD (buoyancy control device) again and again until we felt comfortable, then it was off to the pool! For the second day, we practiced various skills in a confined, shallow area. For example, how to clear your mask, what to do when you run out of air, etc. After five hours in the pool, we broke for lunch. In the afternoon, we continued to practice skills by doing different exercises and drills and finally ended with a 10-minute float test and a swim test.

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After 8 hours in the swimming pool, my hands are so wrinkled!

My first breaths underwater were simultaneously the coolest and most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. I think this tops iFly Indoor Skydiving! Breathing underwater is such an unnatural feeling, but so cool when you realize how easy it is with the regulator! The air from the tank is very dry so after awhile, my mouth began to feel very dry (like sleeping with your mouth open overnight) and my hands have never been so wrinkled before! Our class is small with only two other guys, and our instructor, Manuel from Mexico. He is very professional and informative and you can really tell he is an expert at diving (he’s been diving for 13 years, teaching for 7). I spoke to him at the end of class about my anxiety being underwater and he reassured me that it was normal, and I was performing well throughout the class, and that our safety was his top priority.

Tomorrow we will be heading out for our first two open water dives. I am both excited and a little nervous about going out into the ocean, but I hope as soon as I see the life underwater, I will be ecstatic.

Crystal Dive Resort Review

Crystal Dive Resort is one of the many dive schools on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand. If you book ahead, there will be a guy at the pier holding a sign, ready to pick you up and take you directly to the resort from the boat. I chose this particular school because of other reviews that I read online mentioning their professionalism and interest in eco-friendly diving. They even have an entire program dedicated towards protecting the environment.

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Single room with air-con [$45/nt]
Accommodation. The single air-con room is spacious and very comfortable. The room is very clean. However, the bathroom water smells like rotten eggs, not just at the beginning or at the end, but every single time. They do have laundry service for 50 THB/kg, similar to the other prices around the area. Although being a hotel/resort property, there is no daily room turnaround, which personally I don’t mind (less strangers entering my room), but I can see how it may be a problem for certain travelers.

Rates for “non-divers” is 1500 THB, if you are also getting certified by the dive school, rates are 1000 THB. Pro Tip: The discounted rate applies ONLY to the nights you have classes with the dive school. If you arrive early or stay an extra night, they will charge you the full rate even if you have completed your dive course through them. Personally, I don’t appreciate these terms and when I asked the lady about staying an extra night, she told me it would only cost 600 THB, so I decided to stay. Had I known they would charge more, I probably would’ve strongly considering leaving the island immediately after finishing my certification on the next boat to the mainland. Not sure if it is a lack of communication, but it feels like a scam.

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Dive School. The resort is located on the beach and only walking distance from the pier. Having just finished my PADI Open Water Dive certification, I can attest that Crystal Dive Resort is a great school to get your certification from! They are very professional and safe, work with you based on your independent needs and make sure you have a good time. The proximity to the pier is perfect for waking up getting on the boat for those morning dives. The beach and resort area are kept very clean and the staff is extremely nice and helpful to everyone. I would definitely recommend Crystal Dive Resort to get your PADI but consider staying elsewhere.

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Leaving the pier at 7am for our last two morning dives

Day 14 – Koh Tao, Thailand

Island Hopping! This morning I woke up, checked-out of the hostel on the beach and booked another catamaran to the next island, Koh Tao. Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is famous for one thing, DIVING! People from all over the world come to Koh Tao to get their PADI certification. The island hosts more than 50 dive shops.

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View from Crystal Dive Resort in Koh Tao

As soon as you step onto the pier, you are bombarded with men and women holding signs, trying to get you to book with their corresponding dive shop, hotel, or taxi. Luckily, I booked my accommodation yesterday before I left Koh Phangan, so all I had to do was find the man carrying a sign for Crystal Dive Resort and he dropped me off at my nearby hotel in a golf cart.

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This island is so beautiful

I checked-in to my hotel, dropped off some laundry (I’m down to almost nothing) and found a local taco restaurant for lunch. Koh Tao is beautiful and the food options are endless. I definitely think I will be enjoying the next four days.