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Weekend In Koh Mak

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

 

Koh Mak is a small island off Southeast Thailand, a 35-minute speedboat ride from Trat. Koh Mak has a unique history in that five families own the island. These families inhabit 80% of the land. Mainland locals and foreigners run the other 20%. Koh Mak wasn’t open to tourism until 1974 but really started targeting tourists in the late 1980’s. Unlike other islands like Phuket, the families have agreed not to allow tourism to grow too big. There are only 25 resorts on the island, allowing only 600 people, which keeps the tourist numbers low. The family’s primary goal is to keep work, life balance while also sharing their beautiful island to others.

Koh Mak is a green island, which they brand as low-carbon. Starting the movement in 2007, all the streetlights are run by solar power along with many of the resorts and restaurants. You will see many bikes for rent on the street as the island is only 16 square kilometers (6 square miles) and is best seen by bicycle with its accessible roads.

Surrounded by 27 Km (16 miles) of beautiful coastal beaches, you’ll have your pick of a private oasis to hang out and swim. The island also has a coconut and rubber tree plantation. Drinking coconut water is a daily staple of the locals and tourists alike. There’s nothing like sipping a coconut, cut fresh from the tree.

While I was there, I took a tour with Royal Silk Holiday and got a feel for how the locals live and how they stay green.

KOH MAK MUSEUM

The first place we stopped was the Koh Mak Museum, which is run by one of the five families. The owner gave a history of Koh Mak and showed us the family tree. He also explained how important it is to him and the other four families to not bring in too much tourism to keep a healthy balance. Koh Mak being champions of the low-carbon movement, are continually looking for ways to make their island green.

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

 

KOH MAK SEAFOOD

Next to the museum is a seafood restaurant that runs solely on solar power. They get all their seafood from local fisherman and serve only fresh fish that was caught on the day. The fish are kept in nets and containers in the water to stay in their natural environment, instead of tanks.

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

 

CASTAWAY

The second day we did an activity called ‘Castaway.’ It started off taking a 2-hour solar powered boat ride to the island of Koh Kradad. Here we learned how to open a coconut by hand just using the edge of a tree to open. We then learned how to make a fire using magnesium sticks, then cooked bamboo rice over the fire. This was such a fun activity, and I will totally be showing off my coconut opening skills to friends and family in the future!

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

 

COOKING COMPETITION

After our day on the island, we went over to the island’s organic farm which produces 70% of the vegetables for the island. Here is where we had a friendly food competition where we made Som Tom (Papaya Salad), a green salad, and spring rolls. After getting a tour of the farm, we went through and picked all the ingredients we needed for our dishes. We then created them to be judged by our three tour guides. In the end, each tour guide chose a separate dish they liked so in the end, we all won!

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

 

KAYAKING

On our last day, we went kayaking to the private island of Koh Rayang Nok. The island was purchased 30 years ago for $50,000 and is now on the market for a mere $6 Million. Any takers?

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

I really enjoyed all the activities on tour. The island is great if you’re looking to get away from the party islands and just want a quiet weekend to enjoy the beach.

 

Koh Mak Island, Thailand - Robyn Around the World

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I’d like to thank Royal Silk Holidays and DASTA for sponsoring me on their low carbon tour of Koh Mak. As always all opinions are my own.




What Does One Year In Southeast Asia Cost?

What Does It Cost To Travel In Southeast Asia? Robyn Around the World

One question that always gets asked is how much does it cost to travel the world? In this post, I’m going to break down my second year of travel expenses.

I separated out flights, and scuba costs then broke the rest down into three categories: Meals, Accommodation, and Miscellaneous.

Miscellaneous includes shopping, entertainment, postcards, gifts, SIM cards, etc. I didn’t want to get too detailed for here and besides the most important is food and accommodation anyway, right? 😉 I also rented motorbikes in almost all countries which averaged ~$3/day.

Year 2 Total Travel Cost

I visited nine countries during my second year: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, with the last 6 being new countries for me. I spent a total of $22,165 of which $5,671 was dedicated to getting Scuba Gear and my Divemaster and Instructor Certifications. Not bad for adding over 100 dives to my belt and now I can teach others my passion.


VIETNAM


I spent most of my year here and was by far the cheapest place to live and play. I also had three months of free accommodation while working at the dive shop, so that accounts for a good chunk of it, but the food is very cheap too, with my morning Bahn Mi costing only $0.50!  I also took a 3-day cruise and did a 7-day motorcycle tour through the mountains, which was another expense, which I added on separately.


MALAYSIA 


The second place I spent my most time in. A lot of my ‘other’ expenses went towards swimming suits and electronics. My iPhone died on me for a second time. It was cheaper to buy a new Samsung rather than fix it again, so I’m now part of the Android family (and I miss my iPhone desperately!) I also bought a new external drive as the 1TB I brought with me is full!


THAILAND


Thailand is generally pretty cheap.  My main ‘other’ expenses went to renewing my passport, gifts for family and private swim lessons to prepare for the Divemaster swim tests. I know how to do a front crawl properly! ☺  I also went a little crazy on eating western here. I found a salad place and ate there almost every day. I really craved green salads, which are not easy to come by in Southeast Asia.


INDONESIA 


I love Indonesia; it’s cheap to eat and get around. Having the villa in Ubud, I made good use of the kitchen and cooked every day. More expensive than eating out, but I love cooking and made use of all my cooking classes I’ve taken.


PHILIPPINES


Surprisingly, Phillippines was not as cheap as I was expecting. The accommodation was cheap, I averaged $7/night for a place, but I did splurge on a beautiful Airbnb condo over the water for my birthday, which accounted for more than ½ of my total accommodation cost. Transportation was really expensive. I took the bus for half the time and the other I used taxis where I was able to negotiate 3-5 hour rides for $30-40.


SRI LANKA


My daily rate was high here at ~$62/day, but I spent three nights in a 4-star hotel after my incident at the guesthouse I was staying. I also couldn’t get enough of their famous pepper crab in Colombo and ate there twice!


MALDIVES 


My cheapest country only because my mom met me there and footed the bill (Thanks, Mom!) But my flight from Kuala Lumpur direct to Male was only $75! Super cheap to get there, expensive while you’re there. We averaged ~$200/day each for room and food.


CAMBODIA 


The most expensive country I visited! I traveled with a friend and ate at mainly restaurants for this trip, which brought my meal average up. If you stick to street food, you can eat for less than $10 a day. The temples are also not cheap to enter, but worth every penny.


MYANMAR 


I spent the shortest amount of time here and really wish I could have spent a month here. I absolutely fell in love with this country. Accommodation and food are cheap. The biggest expenses I had were the entrance fees to see the temples and the visa.


SCUBA DIVING


A quarter of my expenses from the year was on Scuba Diving this year getting gear and my PRO certifications. This is an investment I was happy to make. I also got in over 100 dives in 6 countries! A small price to pay, I think!


FLIGHTS


I got my first free flight! I accumulated enough airline points through AirAsia to get a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. I love AirAsia and their cheap flights! All my flights were under $100, with most being under $50. I should buy stock in AirAisa 😉

 




Renewing Your Passport In Thailand




Renew your passport in Thailand

I thought of everything before I left for my adventure around the world. Everything except for adding extra pages to my passport. I had the standard 26 pages, and I only had two pages that were stamped before I left. You’d think that would be plenty, well with many of the Southeast Asia countries requiring a full page (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand if you plan to stay longer than 30 days) my passport filled up fast. I procrastinated getting pages added to the last minute, then when they announced they would no longer be adding pages to passports after November 2015, I missed my chance of adding (all appointments were full). I didn’t need them right away but after my trip to Myanmar, I was down to my last two pages and figured it was best to get a new one in Thailand before I headed off for Indonesia.


U.S. EMBASSY IN BANGKOK VS. U.S. CONSULATE IN CHIANG MAI


Originally I was going to go to the embassy in Bangkok, but I really wanted to spend my time in Chiang Mai. I found there is a consulate there and made the decision to get it done there instead. The process is the same for both so it’s up to you if you’d rather spend a couple of weeks in Chiang Mai or Bangkok. I chose Chiang Mai and had a fast, smooth experience with the U.S. Consulate. Immigration, on the other hand, was a hassle!

Passport Renewal in Chiang Mai, Thailand


APPLYING FOR A NEW PASSPORT AT U.S. CONSULATE CHIANG MAI


1) Make an appointment on-line. Note they are only open Tuesday’s and Thursday’s

2) Fill out the application online and print it out to bring with you

3) Make a photocopy of your current passport and appointment

4) Bring one 2×2 passport photo with you

5) Show up at your appointment with payment $110 in cash (THB) or by credit card

I showed up a couple of minutes early gave my appointment letter and passport to the front desk, went through security (you can not bring any electronics in with you and must turn your phone off and leave both with security). I went to counter 1, gave my paperwork and current passport, went to counter 2 to pay, then 15 minutes later counter 3 called me up to give me my passport back and let me know the new one would be ready in 2 weeks. So easy! The best part? My new passport came back in 6 days!

Passport Renewal in Chiang Mai, Thailand


TRANSFERRING THE THAI VISA TO YOUR NEW PASSPORT


This was the most painful part of the whole process. The U.S. Consulate gave me a letter stating the need to transfer the visa to my new passport. The immigration office is close, right next to the airport. I went later in the day and showed up a couple of hours before they closed, it was still packed with people. I went to the front to make sure I was in the right place as the building was labeled Visa Extensions. The front desk gave me a form to fill out and said to come back the next morning at 6:00 am and would only take 30 minutes.

The next morning, I showed up right at 6:00 am and there was already a pile of people easily 40-50 waiting for them to open. I quickly realized there were three lines. One for student visas, one for spouse/business and the other for visa transfers. My line only had four people in it, score! Well at 6:10 am four officers come out and start working on the other two lines while the six of us in the transfer line waited for them to be done. 30 minutes later they get to us. They look at my paperwork quickly, give me a number and tell me to come back at 9:30 am. What?! Oh and I need to make a photocopy of ALL the pages in my current passport, departure card, and my new passport.

Passport Renewal in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Passport Renewal in Chiang Mai, Thailand


WAITING FOR THE VISA TRANSFER


Across the street is 7-11 and Amazon Café (which opens at 6:00 am). I walked over to get a tea and hung out a bit. I went back over about 8:30 am and next to the office is a copy place. I had all my copies made for 20 baht, then went back to the office to sit and wait, and wait.

I’m glad I got there early as they started calling numbers at 9:15 am, the number before me didn’t show up, so at 9:35 am they called my name, took my paper and passports and told me to sit. Twenty minutes later they called me back and gave me my newly minted visa in my new passport, breaking in a whole page, which went right into my PacSafe wallet along with old passport and off I went.

Getting the passport was easy, but getting the visa transferred was worse than being at the DMV! I was there for 3.5 hours! But it’s done, and now I have a new 54 page passport, which means I don’t need to come back to the states anytime soon 😉

Passport Renewal in Chiang Mai, Thailand


Chiang Khan Street Food – 8 Must Eats!



Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

When you think of Thai food what comes to mind? Pad Thai? Red Curry? Chili Basil Rice? Chiang Khan has none of these, but what they do have is their own flavors and dishes I haven’t seen anywhere else in Thailand. This small town that’s right on the Mekong River a stone’s throw from Laos in Northeast Thailand has a lot of flavors similar to Lao cuisine, but with a Thai influence. Here’s a guide to Chiang Khan street food and the eight dishes you must try when you’re in Chiang Khan!


MIANG KUM


These little packets of fun put a new spin on the ‘meat on a stick’. They are leaves stuffed with tamarind, shallots, peanuts, and ginger then folded together into bite-sized portions, then 3-4 are skewed on a wooden stick ready to pop in your mouth. The sweet and sour taste is a party in your mouth!

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


JUM NUA


This noodle soup only found in Chiang Khan, and only one family makes it their restaurant on Soi 10. The dish made with pork, fermented colored tofu, morning glory, noodles of choice, family spices. Looking something right out of Dr.Seuss the tofu is what gives this dish it’s pink color.

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


NAEM KHAO TOD


The best Nam Kluk is made by Mae Haew. She starts by deep frying rice balls then crushing them into a bowl and mixing it with fermented pork, chilis, and herbs to create a rice salad. An assortment of leafy greens is served on the side to wrap up the rice mixture. This dish was by far my favorite! The flavor of the pork mixed with the rice just melts in your mouth.

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


KOONG PAEN / KOONG PING


These tiny river prawns are deep fried whole and eaten either right off a stick or made into a crispy pancake. If you can get past looking at a whole shrimp and take a bite, they are quite sweet and delicious.


Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


KHAO LAM (KHAO NIEOW)


These banana leaf packets are stuffed with sticky rice and taro then grilled over a charcoal fire. Biting into one you first get the taste of plain rice, but then quickly turns sweet from the taro and coconut milk.

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


MA PRAEW KAEW


A local favorite is strips of coconut meat that are wok fried with sugar syrup until the syrup is completely absorbed by the coconut. The taste and consistency are like gummy worms coated with sugar crystals.

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


NAEM MOO


Raw pork is mixed with spices and rolled into banana leaf packets to ferment for 24 hours. I know what you’re thinking, raw pork? Is it safe? I ate it and didn’t get sick. The spices they put in the fresh raw pork cures it and kills all the harmful bacteria. The meat is a little sour and has a unique taste to it.

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


PA TONG KOH YUDI SAI


Here’s a fun twist on doughnuts! These long sticks of sugary goodness are curved into a shape of a boomerang and stuffed with your pick of pork, pandan, red bean or banana. I had the banana that they cut up then topped with condensed milk, yum!

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand

Chiang Khan Street Food - Thailand


Weekend Exploring Chiang Khan

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Chiang Khan is a gorgeous little town on the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand. Little known by foreigners but super popular with the locals, this place, is a gem of a find. I jumped on the opportunity to see another part of Thailand as everyplace I’ve been so far have been the popular tourist spots of Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Tao, Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. I was excited to see a different side of Thailand and have a cultural experience with the locals.

We flew into Loei and took a mini-van to Chiang Khan. The first thing I noticed when driving in was all the gorgeous wooden houses! After checking into my room, I opened my balcony door to have a perfect view of the Mekong River, which was just steps away from the hotel. Since we got in late, we grabbed dinner and walked around the night market.


BICYCLE TOUR OF CHIANG KHAN


The next morning is when the fun began! We did a bike tour of the town stopping along the way to meet local artisans and learn about the history. First stop was Grandpa the paper cutter!

Grandpa The Paper Cutter

Grandpa won an award for the best paper cutter in Chiang Khan. He takes two pieces of tissue paper and makes what looks like a hanging bell. He intricately and precisely cuts into the paper to make these beautiful creations. We even tried our hand at them, but they weren’t as good as his.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Wooden Houses

We learned that the main draw to Chiang Khan by the locals are the gorgeous wooden houses which are made of teak wood and stretch 1.5 km through town and along the Mekong River. These beautiful homes are over 100 years old and were built on movable wooden planks so that the owners could move the whole house if they needed to. All the homes that are constructed today must follow the town’s rule of keeping with the style of the century-old homes.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Wooden Houses

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Wooden Houses

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Wooden Houses

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Wooden Houses

Getting Music Lessons

We stopped by a music studio where we watched a performance by the teachers and tried our hand on the various instruments. The teachers are so talented and play all the instruments in the studio, which is over ten different instruments including xylophones, flutes, different string instruments, and a mouth organ. I tried my hand on one of the flutes. They’re not as easy as they look!

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Old Cinemas

One of my favorite stops on the tour was visiting the old cinemas. There are no working theaters in Chiang Khan now, they’ve all been turned into cafes, and one is now a tennis court. All of them have kept the elements and charm from the old cinemas with movie posters and relics still in each of the shops. There was also a movie made after the town “Chiang Khan Story” that was released recently in 2014.  It is a Thai romantic comedy about an orphan boy and a beautiful rich girl who have known each other since they were kids then reunite when they are older. You can find it on YouTube.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Wat Si Khun Mueang

This temple is the second oldest temple in Chiang Kahn. Only men are allowed inside the temple. So that the women could be involved too, they painted murals on the outside of the temple walls. The two statues in front are Yakshas who guard the temple door.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Eating Local Food

Of course, our bike tour wouldn’t be complete without eating the local food! We stopped by a few different places to see how they make Naem Moo (fermented pork wrapped in banana leaf) then went across the street to try Mae Haew’s version where she makes an amazing deep fried rice salad with it where you wrap the mixture in leaves and eat. This was by far my favorite dish! The next stop was to try Jum Nua. This glass noodle soup is only made in Chiang Khan and only at one restaurant. The unique ingredients are pork, fermented tofu (which gives it the pink color), morning glory and family spices. It looks a little out of a Dr.Suess book given the color of the fermented tofu, but it’s delicious, and a must try if you find yourself in Chiang Khan! This was just our snacks! For lunch, we were treated to Koong Paen which is deep fried tiny river shrimp mixed into a crispy pancake. Read my post on Chiang Khan’s Street Food – 8 Must Eats!

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Walking The Night Market

Later in the evening after we finished with our bike tour, we walked the main street which turns into a night market after 7pm. Here you can get hand crafted items and many vendors selling street food treats.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food


CHIANG KHAN’S LOCAL TRADITIONS


Making Pa Sad Loy Kroh (Banana Castle Floats)

After our bike tour, we were treated to making our own Pad Sad Loi’s to release into the water. The locals make these and release them into the river to get rid of the bad. We made our own from scratch and put a clipping of our hair and fingernail into the float to represent us then our floats were blessed by a Shaman before we boarded the boat to release them into the Mekong River. Before we released them, we said a little prayer then placed them in the water. Right after you look away symbolizing not looking back at all the bad and looking into the future of good. (The picture below is a picture of someone else’s float – I didn’t look back)

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Street Food

Mask Painting – Pri Khon Nam

The most popular time to go to Chiang Khan is during the Ghost Festival ‘Phi Khon Nam’. The festival is annually and occurs right before the farming season begins. The locals paint and wear masks in the festival and dance in a parade to ask the spirits to bring enough rain to grow their crops. The masks have antlers representing the Buffalo, which is their workhorse in the fields and the strings of ribbon hanging down from the antlers represent the rain. We had the local mask maker come to our hotel, and we painted our own masks to take home.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Almsgiving

On my last morning in Chiang Khan, I was up early to participate in Almsgiving. Being in Southeast Asia, I have witnessed Almsgiving many mornings, but this was special as I was able to partake in the daily ritual. My guide Patrichat dressed me in a traditional sarong and sash and gave me a basket of warm sticky rice to give out to the monks. Over the years Almsgiving has started to include food and drinks, but the traditional Almsgiving only includes rice. I lined up on the mat with others who lined the streets and waited for the monks to come. After each set of monks received their offerings, they stop to chant a prayer to us before heading off to the next group. Almsgiving is a way for the community to give.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand


COOKING CLASS


After Almsgiving we went to a market to pick up ingredients to make two local dishes with ‘Auntie Nang’. She taught us how to make a Lap – Spicy Banana Flower Salad and Taro and Pumpkin in Coconut Milk. Both were relatively simple recipes to make. All the locals that make these recipes use the same ingredients but the quantities that they use are to their liking. So there’s really no set measurement, it’s just what the Auntie feels that day when she’s cooking. I eye-balled the ingredients she used for the Banana Flower Salad. This was my favorite dish we made out of the two.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand


TAI DAM VILLAGE


On the way to the airport, we stopped at Tai Dam (Black Thai) village museum which was started by Dr.Phettabong Paisoon to create awareness and preserve and restore the Tai Dam culture. The Tai Dam people are scattered between Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and China. They come to Thailand’s cultural center every year for a reunion. We had a chance to hang out with the children who are there to learn their village dances and language. The Tai Dam’s are known as the Black Thai’s because their traditional clothing is black. We had such a great time visiting the center, dressing up and dancing with the kids.

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Tai Dam Village

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Tai Dam Village

Weekend In Chiang Khan, Thailand - Tai Dam Village


TEATA & DASTA


I went on this tour through TEATA (Thai Ecotourism & Adventure Travel Association) who focuses on low-carbon tourism. They are promoting Chiang Khan as a creative and sustainable tourism destination. All the markets and vendors only use local ingredients and cook without electric instead using charcoal. Their tours are via bicycle, not scooters. The hotels are also starting to use solar power for energy. DASTA (Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration) is also working with the government to work towards creative and sustainable tourism.

 

I’d like to thank TEATA for sponsoring me on this trip.

All opinions are my own.

 


Top 10 Things To Do In Phuket



Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

I spent a month in Phuket in Rawai, which is at the very south end. I wanted to be away from the crowds of Patong, but near a beach. I found a place on Airbnb for $180 for the month that had a private room and shower so I settled in for the month to explore and hang with the locals. Being a creature of habit, even when I’m traveling, I found myself eating at the same food stalls every day. By the end of the month they all knew what I wanted (Hot Basil Chili please!) and I started getting freebies like fruit at the end of my meal. I didn’t do a whole lot here besides hang at the beach and walk around my neighborhood, but I did venture out a few days a week to see other parts of Phuket. Here’s my top 10 list of spending a month there!

 


PHUKET AQUARIUM AND MARINE CENTER 


I’m not a huge fan of aquariums since becoming more aware of the ocean, but I will spend time if the primary purpose is to advocate for the ocean or is a rescue center. I found out about this aquarium and that it wasn’t really an aquarium, but a Marine Biological Center that has a turtle rescue center. The aquarium itself is small (2 rooms) with mostly local sea life, but it’s the turtle center and hatchery that are the main attractions here. The entrance fee was modest at $5 to get in, and you have to walk through the aquarium to get to the hatchery and turtle center. I spent over an hour at the turtle center. They rehabilitate turtles that have been caught in fishing lines and have eaten plastic. Many can be rehabilitated and released back into the water, but some are too damaged and won’t survive if they’re released so will remain at the center the rest of their lives. These are usually the turtles that are missing 1 or more of their limbs. It’s so sad to see, but it was great to learn they bring schools here to educate the children on the importance of not littering and show them first hand what littering does to the environment.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


CHALONG BAY DISTILLERY


Not one to pass up a local distillery or vineyard. I heard of this place, and it was close to my room, so I checked it out, twice! They only make one kind of rum, and they do it well, and it’s the only distillery in Phuket. I didn’t take the tour, but they do offer them for $9 and includes their Signature Mojito. I fell in love with the Spicyrinna, which was rum mixed with ginger, chili, and lime. So good!

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


PROMTHEP CAPE: WATCH THE SUNSET


Right around the corner from my place in Rawai was Promthep Cape This is a must when visiting Phuket. I rode through it one of my first days there and walked around then decided to come back for sunset. Honestly, Thailand has been some of the best sunsets I’ve seen during my travels. I read reviews that it gets crowded so I got there about 45 minutes before sunset and found a spot on the wall that had a view of some trees to get a beautiful frame of the sunset. I went here twice and both times the sunset didn’t disappoint!

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


TRICK-EYE MUSEUM


Not one to do a generic museum that can be found all over the world. I was intrigued when I walked by The Trickeye Museum. It was $15 to get in, so I decided why not and so glad I did! What a crazy fun time I had! My private guide took so many fun pictures of me with the art. All of them totally facebook worthy. If you haven’t been, it’s a bunch of artists that create paintings with the illusion of you living in the painting. There were over 50 pictures to look at (I think I took pictures with 15 of them!). My favorite and most popular was the two-story waterfall.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


BIG BUDDHA


When I was there, the big Buddha was free to get in because they were doing construction. I took the bike out early morning to get up to the top of the hill where you’ll find 180-degree views of Rawai below. The Buddha is the only thing up there, and he is big. Might be a nice place to come to watch the sunset, the views are stunning.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


KARON VIEWPOINT


On the ride up the coast to Patong from Rawai, you will hug the coastline with a view for days of the water and beach. Along the way, there is a stop called Karon Viewpoint where you can park your bike and get great pictures of Kata and Karon Beach. There will also be a few vendors selling ice cream, water, and snacks.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


OLD PHUKET TOWN


I loved Old Phuket Town. It’s not that big only a couple of streets long, but it’s a fun area where you’ll find colorful shophouses and cute cafes. You can easily park your motorbike and walk the whole area by foot. I went in the morning and caught a glimpse of an engagement photo shoot happing. The architecture and colors of the old shop houses make it a prime place to take photographs.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


SUNDAY MARKET


The streets in Old Phuket Town turn into a market on Sunday’s. Not your typical Thailand market, here you can get street food from trying horseshoe crab to bbq ribs. There are street performers making balloon animals for children and caricature drawings, and you can also buy handmade items here.


Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


BANZAAN FRESH MARKET


Many people flock to Patong. I rode through it once, and that was enough for me. While I was there, I found a wet market right outside the strip. It was a great place for pictures and to grab some lunch. They sell everything from live seafood and meat to vegetables, fruit and flowers. I ate lunch at one of the many vendor stalls and grabbed a bunch of mangos to take back to my room!

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


WAT CHALONG


This beautiful temple is the largest in Phuket and is three stories high. Once inside you’ll find many Buddhas, but the paintings on the walls are the show stopper here. The murals tell a story of the life of Buddha. Very busy with tour buses in the afternoon, if you get there in the morning, you’ll get to witness monks doing their daily prayer.

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World

Top 10 things to do in Phuket - Robyn Around the World


Diving The Andaman Sea – Phuket & Koh Lanta

 Diving Andaman Sea

I had the opportunity to dive both the Gulf of Thailand in Koh Tao and also the Andaman Sea side when I was in Phuket and Koh Lanta. Both were great diving experiences. I started my diving journey on Koh Lanta where I did a Discover Scuba Dive experience with ScubaFish. Elaine was my instructor, and she was amazing! We had a half day session in the pool then the next morning we took a boat out to Koh Phi Phi to dive to a maximum of 12 meters. It was such a great experience that after I went directly to Koh Tao to get my Open Water Diver certification, then headed back to stay in Phuket for a month and did a few days of diving while I was there. I had the opportunity to explore eight different dive sites.

Diving Andaman Sea - Robyn Hartzell


Bida Nai – Koh Phi Phi


Diving Koh Phi Phi - Bida Nai

A small island off the south end of Koh Phi Phi is one of the best wall dives one can discover. With a depth of 32 meters, it is a great place for all levels of divers to explore. You’ll see plenty of fish swimming around the large, colorful sea fans and sponge barrels. It’s also home to Moray Eels so you should be able to spot one or two on your dive.

Diving Koh Phi Phi - Bida Nai


Loh Samah Bay – Koh Phi Phi


This site, located on the east side of Koh Phi Phi is popular with snorkelers and divers alike. This wall dive is perfect forthe open water diver as it descends to a maximum of 20 meters. Try to go in low season when the boats aren’t so abundant. During high season, you will find upwards of 20-30 boats and long tails all grabbing a spot to drop their snorkelers and divers in.


King Cruiser


Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser

Just Northeast of Koh Phi Phi this passenger ferry found itself many miles off course and slammed into Anemone Reef in 1997. Some say it was done on purpose as the reef is shallow and the captain should have known to steer away from it. This dive site is now one of the most popular sites near Phuket. It has multiple decks and plenty of space for you to swim through without disturbing the sealife. It’s perfect for advanced divers as it sits between 12-30 meters.

Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser


Shark Point


Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser

Northeast of Koh Phi Phi is a dive site that is part of a marine sanctuary. The site got it’s name for the leopard sharks that often visit the site. There is a lot of beautiful coral and schools of fish to be seen at this site. The depth is 0-25 meters, perfect for both open water divers and advanced divers.

Diving Andaman Sea - King Cruiser


Koh Doc Mai


Diving Andaman Sea - Koh Doc Mai

Half way between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi is Koh Doc Mai, which means “Flower Island” The island is made of a big limestone rock that rises out of the water and is un-habited by humans. It is a sloping wall dive with both hard and soft coral that goes down to 25 meters. You can easily swim around half the island in one tank if you go slow to explore the sea life. There are also a few caves to explore. It’s suitable for both open water divers as the west side only goes to 18 meters where the east side drops down to 25 meters for the Advanced divers to explore.

Diving Andaman Sea - Koh Doc Mai


Banana Bay North and South– Racha Noi


Diving Andaman Sea - Banana Bay

The east side on Racha Noi is known as Banana Bay, getting it’s name from all the banana trees that grow on that side of the island. It’s a gently sloping hard coral reef down to 25 meters. Plenty of sea anemones live on the rocks, and you may even spot Nemo. You can explore the North and South end during two dives.

Diving Andaman Sea - Banana Bay


Lha Bay – Racha Yai


Diving Andaman Sea - LHA Bay

The other Racha Island ‘Yai’ is an hour boat ride from Racha Noi. You can do both islands in one day by taking the boat between during surface intervals. Lha Bay is on the east side of the island and gradually drops to 30 meters where you’ll find a sunken ship you can swim through with a proper guide.

Diving Andaman Sea - LHA Bay

3 Days In A Thailand Hospital

The last thing anyone wishes for on their vacation is to be hospitalized while abroad. Although a little nerve wrecking, the Thailand Hospital I was admitted to was nothing scary and some of the staff spoke perfect english. I had bought health insurance before I left, hoping I would never have to use it. While diving in Koh Tao, I stubbed my left pinky toe on the dive boat and cut it open. I didn’t think anything of it, and it didn’t hurt so kept diving on it. When I got to Koh Samui a week later, it started getting sore and turning red. I checked which hospital my insurance covered and went to get it checked out.

Thailand Hospital - Losing my toe in Thailand

Getting surgery in a Thailand hospital

I was admitted to the Thai international hospital, which was very clean, and the nurse who was handling me was from the UK. It put me at ease having an English speaking nurse as many of the other nurses only spoke Thai. They did an x-ray on my toe to make sure it wasn’t broken (it wasn’t), but in the x-ray room, they didn’t have me wear any protection vest, welcome to Thailand.
Thailand Hospital - Losing my toe in Thailand  Thailand Hospital - Losing my toe in Thailand

When the doctor came in he took a look at it and just said, infection, we need to drain. Instead of wheeling me into a room, the UK and Thai nurse prepped a table right where I was at, and the doctor proceeded to put a nerve block in my toe. It happened really fast and in the middle of the draining he turns around, looks at me and says, we need to remove toenail, infection under there. OK, I asked if it grows back, he said yes, in one month, ok, it’s just a toenail, go for it. Five minutes later I’m toenail-less and they have me bandaged up and almost ready to go.

Thailand Hospital - Losing my toe in Thailand

Antibiotics, they don’t mess around

After I’m all wrapped up, he tells me to stay off of it for three days and will take 2-3 weeks to heal. He prescribes antibiotics, but not just pills, I have to do three days of a 3 hour IV drip. A little over kill, but they didn’t want to mess around with it incase the infection already stared to spread, so right after I was bandaged, they started my first course of IV. I was bored for 3 hours playing on my phone and catching up on social media. The UK nurse was sweet and gave me her cup to use for tea. The next two days I brought my computer to work on while I got the IV.

Cost of being hospitalized in Thailand

The cost of surgery and three days of IV antibiotics? $565. Insurance covered all of the costs after taking out a $200 deductible and mailed me a check for the balance to my traveling mailbox. If this happened in the US, it would have easily been over a thousand dollars. Everything is cheaper here, even the prescriptions, The same brand that would cost us $100 at home only costs a few dollars here. I don’t get it!

Do you need insurance?

Absolutely! Being from the US, by law I legally have to prove I have insurance. I could have done ObamaCare, but it was expensive for the lowest coverage ($300/month), and it didn’t cover me overseas. I found IMG Global through a travel forum and couldn’t be happier with them. They cover me both in the US and Worldwide, but I can’t be in the US for longer than six months during the year. My deductible is $1000, and it only costs $110/month. There is another company World Nomads, which is suitable for the holiday traveler. I looked into it for long-term care, and it doesn’t have the same benefits as IMG. IMG Global is true medical insurance, where World Nomads is just travel insurance.

Bye-bye toenail…

It’s been a few months since the incident, and my toenail hasn’t grown back yet, I don’t think it will, but it’s ok, there are worse things that could have happened to me.

Thailand Hospital - Losing my toe in Thailand

Elephant Nature Park: Pampering Rescued Elephants In Chiang Mai

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Thailand is home to many elephant camps. The first time I came to Chiang Mai I went to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center with my workaway team. I was saddened by how the elephants were made to paint pictures as it didn’t seem like they were painting them on their own will. I had heard about Elephant Nature Park while I was there but didn’t have a chance to get there my first time around. I came back to Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, lantern festival, and made it my priority to get there. Such an amazing experience and day. Highly recommend anyone who goes to Chiang Mai to spend a day with them and see how they’re loved and free from abuse.

About Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

The Elephant Nature Park is run by Lek (which means little one). She’s a small Thai lady with a huge heart. She rescued her first elephant in 1992 (purchased for $2000) and opened the sanctuary in 1993. Lek opened the rescue center to save as many elephants as possible from logging camps and street performing. She advocates against animal riding and painting. The elephants go through a cruel breaking process, Phajaan, which only after the elephants are broken can humans ride them. Lek uses a reinforcement and reward program to help the elephants understand they no longer need to be afraid and are in a safe place. The park is run by 70 staff members and allows up to 300 visitors a day. With many volunteer programs to choose from, you can go from 1 day to 1 week and donate your time with them.

My Day With The Elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

I went for the single day visit that was 2500 Baht ($70). All the money received from the ticket goes back into the park. I was picked up from my guesthouse at 8:30AM in a minivan. There were 12 of us in our group lead by the awesome Goy. The ride over to the park is about an hour long and watched a movie on the elephants and safety tips that made the ride go by quick. Once at the park we were given a tour of the surroundings dropped out bags at our table and headed out to see the elephants.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

We walked over to feed them from a platform for about 15-20 minutes then went out to walk around the park the rest of the morning. The park is huge with a river running along side it. The elephants spend their days hanging out with their mahout, unchained, and just eat and play all day.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

We met most of the elephants and fed and loved on them. It was sad to see the damage done to some of them. I noticed a couple of elephants with purple streaks running down their face and asked Goy what it was. She said those elephants are blind, and sometimes they accidentally run into things, so the purple is wounds from that happening. There are three blind elephants at the camp. The one in the picture had her eyes shot out with pellets by her owner when she refused to work after losing her baby after delivery at the hands of the loggers.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

One had a chunk missing out of its foot, which was due to being caught in a land mine crossing the border from Myanmar into Thailand.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Another one’s leg was deformed from breaking it during logging and being forced to continue to work without allowing it to heal. The staff vets tried to fix it, but the damage was too severe and already healed in a way that the bone couldn’t be fixed without doing more damage.Even with all these horrible things that have happened to them you can tell the elephants are happy to be here now.

Watching Elephants Play In The River

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

After our morning, we were fed a huge vegetarian buffet lunch then we went back out for my favorite part of the day. Watching them play in the river. We watched two different families play in the river, and it was just so beautiful to see them rolling around in the water, climbing on each other and pushing each other underwater. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling the whole time. It was just so magical. Baby Bindi (male) was just so ridiculous climbing on his mother’s back and just popping his head up at random times and using his trunk as a snorkel. I could have watched them for hours. I took so many pictures of them playing!

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

The final part of the day was allowing us to bathe the elephants by throwing buckets of river water on them from a few feet away. After witnessing them playing in the river on their own, I just watched as some of my group participated. I was busy looking at the pictures I captured, and the elephants look like they cared less that they were throwing water on them, especially since they can bathe themselves.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

I had such an amazing time, and if I’m back in Chiang Mai again, I may sign up for the overnight package so I can be there and watch them at night when the day tourists aren’t around. Even with 300 people there, it didn’t feel too crowded as the groups all scattered to different parts of the grounds and with 30 elephants there were plenty to go around.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, Thailand: Spend a day pampering rescued elephants

See the rest of my pictures HERE 


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