Enjoying Island Life in Koh Tao, Thailand

Every time I found myself stuck in on a bus in rush hour traffic in Buenos Aires, I would close my eyes and imagine myself diving into warm, aqua marine water on a tropical island far, far away.

This week, I found out that my happy place actually exists.

Koh Tao

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The runt of the Thai island litter, Koh Tao (aka Turtle Island) has amazing shallow and sandy bays and is famous for being one of the cheapest places in the world to go diving. The island is covered in plumeria, geckos and golden bearded dive-bums. This is the perfect place to RE-LAX, and go underwater to smile and wave at passing schools of fishes.

We got our fins wet by taking a full-day snorkel tour around the island, the highlight being swimming with black tipped sharks in Shark Bay. After that I decided it was time to dive.

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It had been 5 years since I completed my PADI Open Water course in Honduras, and therefore it was definitely time for a refresher course. My Argie Divemaster Pablo at Alvaro Diving Center was incredibly chill and patient, exactly what I needed after a few too many years above the sea.

While the whole concept of breathing underwater seems offensively unnatural to me, once I get there, I realize how insanely cool it is to watch fish just hang around and eat coral.

(So this is what you guys do all day, eh? Not too shabby.)

Total: Refresher course – 1500 Baht ($50) Fun Dive – 900 Baht ($30)

Where to Eat: Bizzaros. Javier, an Argentine who lived in Ibiza for 20 years, has opened an amazing tapas and BBQ place close to Chaluk Bay. Even if you are on a budget, splurge for the $6 BBQ squid and prawn plate.

Where to Drink: Babaloo. On the northern end of the bay, around a plank pier, make the pilgrimage to Babaloo. With candle light, hammocks and fire-dancers, you will never want to move again.

Where to Stay: We opted to stay in Chaluk Bay, away from the main pier, and spent our vast majority of the time here. JP Resort was our first home, with amazing views but more than enough stairs. Viewpoint Bungalows were definitely a better deal/locations.

Moral of the story: Go here. Although it was somewhat cloudy and rainy when we were here in mid-July, so if you are flying across the Pacific for a beach vacation, choose your season carefully.

5 Reasons Why I Love Luang Prabang, Laos

With a laid back, we-be-chillin’-monks style Luang Prabang, Laos is my favorite place we’ve visited so far. The locals greet you with a playful smiles and a simple welcome song of “Sabaidee!”

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The first thing you notice are the monks. Just a glimpse of their regal orange robes makes me giggle with joy. It’s akin to seeing a rock star teddy bear that does yoga. Every time I see one I clap my hands together like Oprah on her birthday and whisper to anyone that will listen,

“The monks are coming!”

(Play it cool Meg, play it cool.)

They are everywhere. Piling into tuk-tuks, lounging in wats or just calmly walking down the street with shaved heads and eyebrows.

The main attraction in Luang Prabang is watching the morning alms at an eye opening hour of 5:30am. Rain or shine, the locals prepare sticky rice and bananas as an offering to the monks. Orange centipedes of monks quietly walk through the streets barefoot to accept their daily meals.

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Other great things to do in Luang Prabang:

1. Koung Si Waterfall: Ice cream blue pools and grottoes that spill down from the main waterfall, creating perfect swimming holes and rocks to perch on while singing themes from the Little Mermaid. (See reliving childhood.)

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2. Visit Wats (aka Temples): Walking barefoot into a golden, red and emerald green temple fills you with inner peace. The silent gold Buddha with a right hand facing upwards asks you for a simple smile.

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3. Ride and Wash Elephants: Luang Prabang is one of the best places to visit elephants in Southeast Asia, right after Thailand. We did our research and paid a little more for the sustainable tour – Elephant Village.

My Mahout

My Mahout

It was amazing.

Elephants are hairy and huge. It’s mixture of joy, fear and deep respect (especially when they start running – apparently they do not like cars). All the elephants were being rented from logging camps as a way to spare them from hard labor and raise awareness about the fact that these pachyderms are going extinct. The elephants were all 30 – 40 years old and are extremely food oriented.

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Elephant seeking banana.

4. Night Market: Best place to buy hippie shorts/pants, cool jewelry as well as fresh fruit shakes and $1.50 dinner buffets.

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Yummy

5. Utopia Bar and Bowling: You will do this, I promise. Grab a drink at the somewhat hard to find Utopia bar. Sit on Thai triangle pillows, play volleyball and then grab a tuk-tuk to late night bowling at around midnight. It’s the only thing open and you get to bowl in bare feet.

Notes from Traveling in Vietnam

We absolutely loved Vietnam! In the 10 days we spent there we only scratched the surface of things to see in the north of the country.

Photo taken by hyperactive 5 year old Vietnamese child.

Photo taken by hyperactive 5 year old Vietnamese child outside of Sapa. It’s one of my favorites.

Where did we go?

1) Hanoi – A great place to start our trip. The busy streets scream “Welcome to Asia!” and waking up to delicious phở for breakfast makes the lengthy flight across the Pacific Ocean 100% worth it. Dodging the city’s 5 million motorbikes kept everything chaotic and interesting. You should eat all the street food you can get your hands on. Fresh mint, limes and green onions are included with everything. It’s delicious.

2) Halong Bay – TOURISTY but beautiful. Limestone islands rise out of aqua blue (& mildly polluted) water creating a peaceful zen feel. And you get to see it all from the deck of an old wooden boat.

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As much as I generally avoid organized tours like the plague, a package tour is probably your best option to organize the ferries, boats, kayaking and lodging. We did the 3 days/ 2 nights in Halong Bay, staying the second night at Monkey Island Beach Resort which was well worth it. If you go, DO NOT stay in Cat Bat City. It is gross.

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Aquamarine floating fishing villages keep the place from being a total tourist trap.

3) Sapa – My favorite place in Vietnam. The first thing you notices are the rows and rows of bright green rice paddy terraces.

Sapa-VietnamSapa is also famous the various indigenous groups that live in the area including H’mong, Black H’mong, Red Dao and others. Many of them make very intricate embroidery work which they shameless hawk in sweet high-pitched voices “You buy from meeee?!” (It’s more of a command than a question.)

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Trekking is the most common way to see the countryside, but we decided it was well worth it to get on a bike. Of course it poured rain the night before which made for slippy, muddy downhill trails. We were able to get a little further off the beat and paths, catching a small glimpse of daily life and startling bored children sitting on front porches.

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Since daily life generally involves water buffaloes and rice farming, three gringas on bikes always generated a sweet “HELLO!” while jumping up in the air.

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What did we spend? My Budget for Vietnam

So my initial hope of $30/day didn’t quite work out too well since Vietnam is more expensive than other countries on my itinerary and honestly, I was too excited to be watching my budget closely.

  • Daily Budget: $50 Day
  • 30 Day Visa for Vietnam, Multiple Entries: $95
  • 3 Day Halong Bay Tour: $102
  • 2 Days Mountain Biking in Sapa: $90
  • Round-trip Night Train between Hanoi & Sapa: $62

Next stop Laos!