2 Weeks in Thailand


Thailand, Koh Phagnan, beach

          We travelled to Thailand by China Southern Airlines, which offered the best price for flight, a puzzling online check-in website, and an accommodating staff with limited English speaking skills. Our flight from Vancouver International Airport to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok was approximately 17 hours. Surprisingly, there were a wide selection of Hollywood films, comfortable seats, and decent food and beverage services on this cheap flight. We reached Bangkok at 10PM and caught an overpriced cab to our hotel: Baan Dinso.

          I had found our hotel through Airbnb’s website, and our room was more than we had expected. Upon arrival, the hotel manager upgraded us to their Grand room with a view of the Democracy Monument. We were a five minute walk from Khao San Road and close to all of the other attractions that the Banglamphu district had to offer. During our time in Bangkok, we ate many varieties of fried rice, Pad Thai, fresh fruit, grilled meat, and vegetable from bargaining street vendors along any road we ventured. We bought trinkets and T-shirts on Khao San Road, perused the Chatuchak market, toured shops along the Chao Phraya river, climbed temple stairs, and experienced the best rooftop bars of the city.

          Moon Bar was by far the most incredible rooftop venue we visited in Bangkok. We were able to get a table almost immediately and enjoyed the 360° view of Bangkok from 61 floors above ground. Everything was overpriced, but worth it to experience the extravagant restaurant bar and all that it had to offer.

Bangkok, Moon Bar

          The most memorable temple we visited in Bangkok, Wat Arun, is known as The Temple of Dawn. If you are travelling on a budget, this is the Buddhist temple to see. It costs about two U.S. dollars to enter and climb to the highest balcony of this 250 foot seventeenth century tower. Despite the heat, we layered on long sleeved shirts and pants outside of the gates before heading in. Demons and monkeys adorned the walls of the temple. The climb up the stairs was steep, but there were railings to help us along.

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Temple of Dawn

          To get to the islands, we caught a one hour flight via Air Asia to Surat Thani Airport. As part of the Air Asia package, we were led to a bus and given a ride to the pier where we had lunch at a small restaurant connected to a waiting area. It wasn’t long before a huge and smoky ferry arrived to take us on our remaining 2 hour journey to Koh Samui.

          We stayed for two days on Koh Samui at BT Mansion,a fantastic hotel that we found on Hotels.com. Our corner room overlooked an empty lot inhabited by friendly stray dogs. These pups roamed the streets during the day and were fed by shop owners, tourists and locals. During the day, we ordered mixed cocktails from street vendors, tanned on the beach, shopped for sarongs at the small shops along Lamai Beach, and took advantage of the amazing massages offered for 300 Baht, or 9 USD.

          We had our best dinner experience on Koh Samui at a restaurant called Bali, serving Indonesian cuisine. The owner was welcoming and attentive, and the food was tasty. He suggested for us to stay for Trivia Night at 7:30PM, and we were not disappointed! Although we were the youngest team to compete, we managed to answer some questions about facts before our time and intimidate the other tables. Safe to presume we lost Trivia Night, but gained friends, wisdom and a belly full of delicious food, cocktails and dessert at a fair price.

           Another memorable experience was had at The Cabaret near Lamai Beach. We bought reasonably priced tickets to the ladyboy show, and it was worth every penny! The performers were awesome, interactive and fun. We were given front row seats and watched these dancers lip sing to popular songs, like “It’s Raining Men!”

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           We caught a boat from Koh Samui to Koh Phagnan for the Half Moon Jungle Party. The manager of The Blue Parrot Beach Resort greeted us upon arrival and helped us settle into our new accommodations. Our corner room had the best view of the beach, air conditioning and prime access to the outdoor bar and restaurant. A fifteen-minute walk from our resort led to the Night Market, open for those who want to experience the best street food on the island.

Night Market, Thailand, Ko Phagnan, Street Food

          During our time here, we took a 400 Baht tuk tuk ride to Haad Rin beach and spent a day touring the shops, lying on the beach and watching the sunset. We also signed up for an Orion Boat Tour recommended by our resort, called Marine Park Cruise. This tour was packed with activities, from snorkelling near Koh Wao to hiking Koh Wua Talap for some spectacular views of Ang Thong. We were given kayaks to paddle around the caves of Mae Koh. Fresh fruit and thai cuisine were served between each activity. This tour was worth every Baht.

orion tours, thailand, ko phagnan  20150213-P1020040

          In preparation for the Half Moon Party, we bought neon outfits at a nearby shop and ventured to The Beach Village next door to our resort for some pregaming and paint. The outdoor bar hosted a body painting party for all those attending the event. We caught a tuk tuk to the jungle party and got sloshed to a terribly monotonous techno-house beat 🙂 Not worth every Baht…but all the “same, same”, a good experience.

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          We checked out of The Blue Parrot and headed up North after spending a day recovering on coconut water at the beach. Our next stop was Haad Yao Bayview Resort. This hotel was clean, comfortable, and offered a complimentary breakfast. On this part of the island, we did a jungle trek into Bottle Beach, and took a boat from here to Coconut Beach. We spent a day at Mae Hat Beach, had some amazing food at one of the beach eateries, and watched another beautiful sunset.

Sunset, Thailand, Ko Phagnan, Mae Hat

          Our last stop, Koh Tao, was my favorite island of the three. We booked our stay at Asia Divers Resortand spent a day touring the shops on this highly populated island. We had our best meal at The Gallery Restaurant, rated #1 in Koh Tao by TripAdvisor. The photographer of the gallery owns the establishment with his wife, who manages the restaurant.

          This island is the most lively at night, where there are endless parties on the coast. We spent the next day at Koh Nang Yuan and hiked up a busy path for this view:

Nang Yuan, Koh Tao, Thailand, Islands

          The next day, we headed to Chumphon by ferry and stayed for one night at an excellent hotel which we booked through Agoda.com, Talay Sai Hotel, for 30USD. We were located across the street from Tung Wua Laen, the best rated beach in Chumphon. This area of the city was quiet and pristine. There were tons of tiny hermit crabs along this expansive beach. We had the whole place to ourselves! The restaurants along the beach served delicious food at a steal, and we spent the day settling in without the hassle of aggressive salespeople, a luxury that you could only relate to if you have spent time in the more touristy parts of Thailand. Our hotel scheduled a taxi to take us to the airport at 6AM the next morning. Chumphon, beach, Tung Wua Laen, Thailand

          We had one night in Bangkok left on the itinerary! A visit to Lumphini Park to feed handfuls of pellets to schools of fish from our swan paddle boats made for a fun activity. This was the place to see Komodo dragons, which skirted the lake, the trees and grass searching for small game. We capped our evening with a phenomenal three layered chocolate cake and homemade ice cream at Moon Bar.

If you are interested in seeing the two minute video I made of our trip, click on the YouTube link below. Sawatdee ka!

Youtube Link: Thailand – Bangkok to the East Coast Islands

monkey, Chumphon, Thailand

A Weekend in Seattle


Of all the great theatrical performances that I have had the opportunity to attend, the most extraordinary show etched in my memory will forever be Hail Caesar! Forbidden Oasis by Teatro Zinzanni. The talented company of actors, comedians, musicians, acrobats, dancers and magicians perform within an elaborate venue, recognized as the setting for the 2001 Film, Moulin Rouge, starring Nicole Kidman. Dinner courses are included and served betweens acts, sometimes by members of the cast who maintain their characters deliberately off stage to enhance the entire experience.

Teatro Zinzanni, Acrobats
Photo taken from http://bit.ly/1A7KdNL

Seattle also has the most interactive and entertaining museum, which showcases music, science-fiction and popular culture. Emp Museum, located at Seattle Center, is rich with classic props, costumes and instruments to bring back nostalgia and admiration for countless legendary artists in entertainment.

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Below is a photo of the famous 35 foot guitar sculpture, labeled IF VI WAS IX: Roots and Branches, by Trimpin. It actually plays music!

Guitars, Seattle, Roots and Branches, Emp

In Seattle, we checked out the Space Needle, ate food at Pike Place Market, took an overpriced Ferris wheel ride on the Seattle Great Wheel, viewed the city from the historical 35th floor of the Smith Tower, and ferried to Bainbridge Island for dinner and a stroll.

Below is the view from the Smith Tower:

View from the Smith Tower, The Great Wheel, Seattle

We had a fantastic time in Seattle, despite the limited sunshine and inevitable rain. Thank you for following, and I hope this post inspires you to plan your next trip to Seattle, The Emerald City!

Seattle, Space Needle

The Monarchs of Santa Cruz


Monarch Butterfly, Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges, Pacific Grove

People travel to Santa Cruz from all over the world to see the Beach Boardwalk, The Mystery Spot, the University, the hiking trails and the surrounding beaches. If you plan your trip between October and February, you may be lucky enough to catch a view of the monarch butterflies, which migrate from the Rocky Mountains of Canada to the shaded eucalyptus trees of Santa Cruz, California every year. These butterflies travel to the Pacific Grove of Natural Bridges for shelter, food and rest. Caterpillars feed on milkweed, which sprout in sufficient supply among the trees. It is estimated that one-hundred thousand monarchs migrate to this lively surfer town every year, though their population size has dropped dramatically due to herbicide use within the area. In an effort to restore their abundance, locals plant new patches of milkweed before their arrival.

We went to see these butterflies in November. The monarchs hibernate in clusters along eucalyptus branches and ivy blooms.

Monarch Butterflies, cluster, Santa Cruz, Natural Bridges, Pacific Grove

Santa Cruz is one of my favorite cities to visit in California. This was my second home, where I attended courses at the University of California Santa Cruz, studied on Seabright Beach, worked as a waitress at Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant, and ran every trail of upper and lower campus with fellow cross-country runners.

Capitola, a neighboring village Santa Cruz, is equally beautiful with small boutiques and gift shops, fine dining, surfer beaches and historical sites. If you find yourself in this town, grab an ice cream at Village Grill & Creamery and check out the incredible mass of pelicans feeding along the wharf.

Pelicans, Capitola Village Pelicans, Capitola Village Wharf

10 Days in Puerto Vallarta


View from Vista Grill, Puerto Vallarta

Saturday, February 8, 2014:

We planned to stay at Rosita Hotel. I caught a taxi from PVR airport and arrived at our hotel within fifteen minutes. Our corner room overlooked the Malecón Boardwalk and the Bahía de Banderas. The building was spacious, clean and traditionally decorated. Noah and I ordered some piña coladas at the restaurant bar and toured the facility. The pool overlooks the beach, and their were people of all ages laying out in the sun.

In the evening, we went to Pepe’s Tacos with some friends for dinner. We were served MASSIVE margaritas, and guacamole was prepared fresh alongside our table. All of the food that we ordered was delicious, and accompanied by a mariachi band, who played several songs requested by us for pesos. After dinner, we went to Mandala nightclub to dance and have a few drinks. The bar was busy, but we were seated immediately at a table and offered our first round of drinks for free. All of the bars along the Malecón were lined with young tourists and locals.  Many stay open until six in the morning! Fortunately, Rosita Hotel is stumbling distance from the nightlife scene so we were back in our rooms before the vodka sodas took affect.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Today, we explored the city around us. We woke up late, walked along the boardwalk, perused many shops, and wandered down alleys. It was a hot 81 degrees in Fahrenheit. We ordered tacos from Marisma’s Fish Taco Stand and sat along the road with our paper plates. Later, we changed into swimwear and spent most of the day at the beach eating ice cream and watching fisherman feed brown pelicans.

Brown Pelicans, Puerto Vallarta

Monday, February 10, 2014

We woke up early the next day to catch a taxi to Opequimar in Marina Vallarta for our “Dolphins in the Wild” experience. This tour, offered by Wildlife Connection, supports natural encounters with dolphins. Many other tour companies established in Mexico confine dolphins and other large mammals to small pools. Wildlife Connection offers humane treatment, though does not guarantee wild dolphin interactions. However, they do offer your money back if the guide cannot locate dolphins to view during the tour.

After coffee and a PowerPoint presentation about whales and dolphins, our guide escorted our group of twelve to a small boat. We were given fins and a scuba mask in anticipation of a dolphin encounter. In the early morning air, the boat ride was chilly despite the sun glaring overhead. Our guide accelerated at full speed until she spotted a spout of water, indicating a whale.  Our boat slowed, we prepared our cameras, and stared in awe at the three huge whales swimming before us.

Our knowledgeable guide enlightened us on humpback whales while we snapped photographs of their surfacing humps and fins. She let us listen in on sounds picked up from a hydrophone, which she dropped into the ocean through a deck door. The whales before us were an adult female mother and baby, escorted by a male.

Next, we looked for signs of dolphins. Our guide steered the boat in a number of directions before coming across a pod. She announced for us to jump off the boat, and all of us dived into the freezing ocean amongst the dolphin frenzy without a second of delay. We were surrounded by about fifteen wild dolphins, leaping around and swimming beneath us. Noah captured this image with his underwater camera.

Dolphins in the Wild, tour, Wildlife Connection, Puerto Vallarta

The dolphins swam around us for about ten minutes before they moved on. We then climbed back onto the boat for sandwiches and fruit. The remaining day was spent relaxing, visiting friends and appreciating the tourist driven entertainment and art along the Malecón Boardwalk.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In the morning, we boarded two buses to get to Sayulita, a small fishing village north of downtown Puerto Vallarta. With its beautiful beach, delicious eateries, modern shops, galleries and street art, we were entertained for hours. We spent the day drinking margaritas on reclined beach chairs, swimming in the ocean, selecting woven bracelets from shop display tables, and eating street style tacos from The Real Fish Taco Restaurant & Tequila Bar until sunset.

The Real Fish Taco, Puerto Vallarta

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

We took a taxi to the Zoologico de Vallarta because our friends recommended it as a must-see attraction. Noah and I purchased the Diamond Package, allowing interaction with monkeys, cubs, and an adolescent tiger along with a bag of mixed food to feed the different types of animals in the zoo. We shared this with our friends, who paid for regular admission at $10. Overall, our zoo experience was unforgettable. The animals are confined to small territories, and the barriers distancing visitor from animal are negligible.  Approach animals at your own risk! Noah tapped at the baboon’s cage and nearly lost a finger.

At the end of the zoo tour, there is a space set up for animal interactions under the supervision of a caretaker. In hindsight, I regret interacting with the adolescent tiger, who chased my dress around like bait. It was terrifying!

Puerto Vallarta Zoo, Tiger, Diamond Package

In the evening, Noah and I caught a taxi to Bucerias for a cooking class offered by My Mexican Kitchen. We were each given a packet of recipes, a cooking board, utensils, bowls and ingredients to create agua fresca, salsas, a scallop soup, battered cauliflower, ceviche and spiced fish. Noah was most interested in learning about the different types of chili used for making salsa. At the end of the cooking lesson, our instructors served each of us a plate of food accompanied by a steaming cup of authentic Mexican coffee, made with cinnamon, piloncillo and dark coffee beans.

My Mexican Kitchen Cooking Class

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today, we went for a walk around the city. We headed over to Viejo Vallarta, or Old Town, to spend time at the beach. Along the way, we found a number of small booths lined with artwork for sale. I bought a Huichol beaded giraffe from an artist. The beads are fixed to its wooden form with beeswax. Each piece displays a symbolic design. My giraffe portrays the symbol of a deer, representing the spirit guide, Kauyumari, who leads shamans on their visionary pathways to attain special knowledge.

Huichol Giraffe Puerto Vallarta

Another curious attraction we came across were fish tanks open for pedicures at Kai Doctor Spa. Noah volunteered his feet for exfoliation.

Kai Doctor Spa, Fish Pedicure, Puerto Vallarta

Friday, February 14, 2014

The next day, we continued to tour the community. We spent time at the beach for part of the day, then walked up a hill to Vista Grill restaurant. We took an elevator up to their top floor, and continued up the outdoor staircase to see their rooftop view. The restaurant was doing some renovations to their outdoor patios so the space was deserted. The view was secluded and spectacular!

View from Vista Grill, Puerto Vallarta

In the evening, we went for a Valentine’s dinner at La Palapa Restaurant and were seated along the beach. A band played nearby while we ate grilled fish, enjoyed a glass of wine and watched the sun descend below the horizon.

Sailboat, Sunset, Puerto Vallarta

Saturday, February 15, 2014

We woke up early the next morning, packed our swimwear and sunscreen, and set off along the coast to Old Town. Here we found a kiosk offering round trip boat rides to and from Yelapa. The boat picked up passengers from three locations in Puerto Vallarta before taking off in the direction of the village. Along the way, we saw humpback whales swimming along in the distance.

When we reached Yelapa, the boat driver suggested that we hike up to see the waterfalls before hitting the beach. We passed by a few shops before finding a trail leading to a waterfall. The water was icy, but we still ventured in!

Later, we walked down through the village to the beach, admiring the peaceful view. We ordered some Coronas, margaritas, and guacamole from Coco Bar Restaurant, and laid back on our beach chairs beneath the sun. I enjoyed this beach, with its warm waves and soft golden sand, far more than the one by our hotel.

Yelapa, Puerto Vallarta

Sunday, February 16, 2014

For our last full day in Puerto Vallarta, we planned a trip to Marietas Islands with Vallarta Adventures. Noah and I boarded a large boat to the famous “Hidden Beach” along with dozens of other visitors. We were given lifejackets, scuba masks, and guidelines on navigating the beach through the cave from the ocean. The lifejackets were a deterrent to swimming anywhere fast, so the lot of us splashed and floated onward toward the cave opening.

Vallarta Adventures, Marietas Islands, Puerto Vallarta

After exploring the the beach and its surrounding caves, we swam back to the boat and set off to another part of the island, which teemed with nesting birds. We donned our scuba masks and discovered beautiful fish just below the ocean surface.

Before noon, we boarded the boat for a buffet style lunch of fruit, sandwiches, cocktails and beer. Unlimited booze brought out more than a few tipsy tourists. We sailed back to Marina Vallarta and spent the rest of the day along the boardwalk. Fireworks were shot into the air above our hotel. We never discovered the occasion, but it was a spectacular display!

Fireworks, Puerto Vallarta

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pack up and check out! But before we did, we took one last walk up to Vista Grill restaurant to take a long look at our hotel from a view we would miss.

Rosita Hotel, Puerto Vallarta