I swear this experience came straight out of a movie. First we were taken into the jungle. Then, a monkey was chained to a pole. Next, we were given ingredients and told to drink it. Hindsight, it probably wasn’t our best decision but it ended up being a funny story.
October 23 – 25, 2015
Our first night in Rome was super memorable. Not only did we get to see 1000s of years of history in one view, but our bus driver Rocco broke the rules, and we caught a private glimpse of Vatican City at night. Dinner was at a restaurant next to the Coliseum, and some of our bus caused a ruckus in the hotel lobby.
For some reason I’ve always thought that the Sistine Chapel was also the main church in Vatican City. My ideas and thoughts about Italy were a little warped because of the movie Eurotrip. I was happy to know that some of the facts that I learned from the movie were true, but I was also happy we had the most informative tour guide ever. Learning about Michaelangelo’s struggles to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, paired with an explanation of the paintings, made the experience that much better.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not supposed to be photographed, however, someone on my tour decided to break the rules a little bit. He was probably one of the few who didn’t get caught and yelled at.
By the time we were finished with our tour, the line for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel were SUPER long. A couple people on our tour witnessed a live mugging which made me realize that some people in this world just plain suck. Tourists come from all over the world to see such beautiful sites, and a couple of people ruin it by stealing all of their possessions.
The Coliseum was surprisingly not as busy as I thought it would be, but pretty spectacular to finally see in person. Visiting sights you’ve seen in movies and on tv is a really cool experience – like the fountain from Angels & Demons. It’s also interesting to see in person because you realize that movies most definitely skew reality – there were definitely people crowding the fountain, there’s no way nobody would’ve helped Tom Hanks.
The airport in Rome is super strange. Being Terminal 3, we said our goodbyes to our fellow bus-mates, headed to one of the tiniest terminals I’ve seen, took a shuttle bus, only to be reunited with our friends at the main terminal… I had my last caprese salad and it was already time to board the plane.
The end of a trip is always bittersweet. You’re sad because you have to leave, but you’re also happy to sleep in your own bed again. After a hectic and busy busy trip, I was a little excited to get back to my regular schedule again.
Thank you to all of the amazing people I met, stories I learned and even though I’ve already done so a million times, (I know they’re definitely reading this) thank you to my parents for the amazing experience.
October 13-14, 2015
The day started off on the plane. A 7-hour flight on October 12 meant we would arrive in London the next day, October 13. I’ve never visited family anywhere other than Canada or Malaysia so having family in the UK is mind-blowing to me.
My dad arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the airport and take us straight to King’s Cross Station. The taxi driver was a sweet man from Poland who had the funniest GPS ever. “Turn left and make fun of all of the pedestrians walking while you’re in the car!” Driving in London is crazy – it’s almost equivalent to driving in Bangkok. Once at King’s Cross Station we grabbed some delicious sandwiches for around £1.50, approximately $3.00 CDN – still cheaper than sandwiches in Canada.
Train stations in the UK are very different from what I’m used to at the GO Station.
Our train took us to Loughborough, pronounced “Loughborough” and we arrived at Platform 1. The station attendant told us the train to Nottingham was at Platform 2, all the way on the other side of the tracks. This meant we had to take an elevator up 1 flight, across the bridge above the tracks, and down 1 flight (because we had our suitcases). Turns out after all of that moving we missed the train and had to head back to Platform 1. Arriving in Nottingham soon we tried to contact my Uncle Richard, however, we didn’t know how to dial out to the United Kingdom from my phone so we figured we would find the only half Chinese man looking for family… it worked.
It’s really interesting to have family in the UK. All my life I’ve only known family in Canada or Malaysia. Having family with a British accent is pretty damn cool. As soon as I showed up at my Great Aunt’s house she brought out an old family photo from 1999 (that I very much ruined with my new Kiwi Green Game Boy Color…)
After a super tiring journey I napped on the couch while my parents caught up. For dinner we ate a Chinese restaurant, London-style, and I got to meet my cousins, Charlotte and Sam.
Dinner-time and then time for bed. My mom booked us at the P&J Hotel, the most quaint hotel you could ever imagine. Clean but freezing at night – I felt like I was camping.
Today was our first real adventure day. The public transit in Nottingham is £3.50 for a day-pass and super-easy to take (take notes Mississauga Transit and TTC…). After eating breakfast at the mall we headed back to the hotel to check out and then back to town to explore. We found a Poundland, aka Dollarama! We also visited Nottingham Castle and saw the statue of Robin Hood.
Nottingham is the cutest little university town. It reminds me a lot of Waterloo – not too busy, not too quiet, juuuuuuuust right. I’ll definitely have to go back and visit and now that I know I have family there, I’ll have more excuses to. I wish we had more time in Nottingham. Although it’s a small city there was so much to do and explore. It also would’ve been nice to spend more time with my family.
Uncle Richard drove us to his house for some tea (because England) and then the Nottingham Station so we could head back to London where our adventure continued…
On the eight day we woke up semi-early and decided right away that we wanted to go to Koh Lanta. We booked a ferry ride to Koh Lanta through a tour agent right outside of our hostel and grabbed a fast meal at 7/11 – which are as common as a Tim Horton’s on every corner in Canada. I think I’ve packed the fastest I’ve ever packed in my entire life.
We took the 2.5 hour ferry ride and decided to sit on the front of the boat – thankfully we wore our bikinis because it was time to tan (aka burn).
You know how people joke about spreading sunscreen so that you don’t get handprints on your body? That’s not a thing for me in Canada, so I’m honestly not used to spreading sunscreen properly. Boy did I learn my lesson in Thailand. I had THE MOST ridiculous burn where you could literally see handprints on my belly. (I know this is probably pretty normal for other people but this was a whole new experience to me. The Thai sun is something else.)
The views from the ferry ride were gorgeous. Absolute paradise.
The cool thing about backpacking is that you don’t really have to have a plan, and that’s exactly what we did – got on a boat and hoped to find a hostel when we got to our destination. I think not knowing what I was doing was one of my favourite parts about this vacation. Every vacation I’ve been on typically has a plan, with a goal, destination and time and place I have to be at. Not knowing where I was going to end up was scary, but also exhilarating at the same time.
Immediately after getting off the ferry we were swarmed with men holding signs, advertising their tuk tuk and hostel services, and we ended up next to two British girls named Alex and Felicity. A tuk tuk man standing next to us overheard the girls talking about bungalows and somehow convinced the five of us to hop on his tuk tuk and go to his family’s bungalow (again, sounds sketchy, but the norm in Thailand).
Turns out we picked the best random guy to stand next to. Our room ended up being 1000 baht split between the three of us – making the room $13 CDN per night. Where on earth can you find a room with both a beach and pool view, a double and twin bed, and air-conditioning for $13 a night?!? (We got so excited we forgot to bargain…) The hostel was super nice in some parts (the rooms and surrounding areas) but super run down in others. The hostel also had roosters, chicks and naked children running around. All part of the Thai experience I guess.
Our bungalow was right on the beach, and all the way down the beach were other bungalows and restaurants. We roamed the beach and found a beach-side restaurant to eat at. Obviously being in Thailand, I got watermelon juice and spaghetti.
After lunch we hung out by the pool and did beach yoga at sunset (which was probably one of the highlights of my trip). There’s nothing like being on vacation and doing yoga while staring at one of the most gorgeous views ever. Felicity essentially walked us through a yoga class because in 2 weeks she was travelling to India to train to become a yoga teacher. Felicity was only supposed to be gone for 5 months, but dropped everything and decided to continue travelling. Alex, his sister, came to visit her and travel a bit.
For dinner we headed back to the beach and found a different restaurant to eat at. After the amazing Hawaiian pizza I had in Ao Nang I was craving another – no dice this time, worst pizza I’ve ever had. But nothing beats a candlelit dinner on the beach with 2 of your favourite people.
My dessert consisted of coconut milk and banana. Sounds weird, absolutely delicious.
Still not fully adjusted to the time change and super sun-burned, we went to bed. Overall we had a pretty relaxing day.
It’s pretty fitting that on our seventh day we toured seven islands.
The entire trip our sleep schedules were pretty messed up. Still used to Canadian time, we went to bed before midnight and woke-up before 8am every morning. By the seventh day we ended up waking up semi-later than usual, woo! After eating breakfast at an air-conditioned cafe with the worst iced lemon tea ever, we decided today was the day for an excursion.
After bargaining our way for the cheapest rate, we ended up paying 550 baht each for 7 islands (that’s approximately $2.92 CAD per island). If you’re ever going on the tour don’t accept the first price they give you, I’m pretty sure the original price was 700 baht each. Because we woke up so late we had to wait for an afternoon trip so shopped for dresses for a while and ate at another restaurant. Only Deanna could see a dress the night before and manage to find it the next morning. I got French Onion Soup which turned out to be cream of onion #translationproblems.
*update* The Ao Nang strip is a little bit like Clifton Hills, Niagara Falls (the Canada side), but on crack – every single store sells basically the same thing and there are hundreds of stores. Jenn and Deanna were also celebrities again as an international student decided to interview them for a school project on “Why Foreigners Visit Thailand” and were disappointed to find out that I too, the Asian girl, was a foreigner.
They interviewed me, because I was a foreigner, whether they used the footage or not was another question. **
The tour consisted of:
- MaeUrai Island
- Railay Beach
- Snorkelling at an island
- Chicken Island
- Rock climbing at an island
- More snorkelling
- Tup Island
- BBQ Dinner at Poda Island
- Swimming with phytoplankton
The tour system is pretty established in Ao Nang. We purchased our tickets down the road but were able to sit in our hostel lobby and wait for a van/tuk tuk to take us to our longtail boat.
Our tour guide, Brian, was from Massachusetts and had the weirdest Asian/American/British accent. He was also a contractor and architecture. I love hearing about people’s lives on vacation, they always seem so much more interesting than mine.
The first stop was MaeUrai Island/Railay Beach.
The beach had a sandbar that led to the island, where we took some photos and played some frisbee. Next up, snorkelling! This was my first time and I was scared at first – partly because they told us the place was full of sea urchins. Whenever I go to the Caribbean I hate the idea of fish swimming around my legs. We had lifejackets so floating on the water put my mind at ease as I observed the coral and fish. The water was a bit cloudy due to boats and lots of tourists, but we saw Dory’s and Nemo’s (yes, those are the scientific terms I chose to use).
Our next “island” was actually a stop-by at Chicken Island (because there was nothing to do there but look).
The next stop on the tour was rock-climbing. And by rock-climbing I mean, “hey here’s the side of a limestone cliff. Climb it. Without any gear.” Again, I know my strength and limitations so I opted to be photographer for the girls. There was a 100% chance that even if I had made it up the rickety ladder I would’ve slipped and fell back into the water.
Our tour guide ended up taking us to another snorkelling spot because it was slow season in Thailand. We met the nicest girl named Mandy on our trip and it turns out she’s from Mississauga! It never ceases to amaze me just how small the world is. She worked at the Fairmont Lake Louise (except of course when I actually went to Lake Louise and tried to find her) but regardless, so glad we met her.
The next island was our prime opportunity for tourist photos, Tup Island. I’m not even ashamed because everyone was jealous and tried to copy us. I am however, ashamed by my cartwheel skills…
*the photo also won me a $100 gift card at North By NorthWest*
We also had extra time on the Island because our longtail boat was being used to ferry other tourists. After Tup Island we headed for a sunset BBQ dinner on Poda Island. It was grilled barracuda, pineapple, curry and vegetables (they were okay). The BBQ dinner I could’ve lived without, the sunset, not a chance.
There was a huge lightning storm and I was pretty sure my life was about to end (but hey, at least I got to cross snorkelling off the bucket list right?). We were in the tiniest, unsafe, longtail boat on the water – and the thunder and lightning just seemed to get closer and closer.
Just as we thought we were heading back to the safety of shore, we forgot we had one last stop on the tour – swimming with phytoplankton. Essentially any movement makes these tiny little fish around you light up and it looks amazing. It’s really hard to describe how incredible it looked, and even harder to capture on film but here’s a video I found online that’s pretty damn close.
After seeing it for a couple minutes I was pretty ready to head back to the dry and safe shore. We grabbed a drink with our new friend Mandy, obviously got more Hawaiian pizza and ended up calling it a early night because we were all exhausted (but we made it past midnight!!!!).
What a great end to a great day.
I didn’t sleep the greatest the night before, nevertheless, it was time for the next adventure. Our plan for the day was to visit the Tiger Temple, the Hot Springs and the Emerald Pool.
For breakfast we headed around Krabi Town and found a cute little roti coffee shop that reminded me of being home in Malaysia. Krabi Town was inhabited by a lot more Muslims than Bangkok which made it seem even more like being in Malaysia.
After breakfast we rode our very first tuk tuk to the Tiger Temple for 50 baht ($1.83 CDN). It’s crazy how different and how cheap transportation is in Thailand. Getting around in Thailand is a whole other ballgame. In Thailand it’s socially acceptable to get in a random man’s van and head back to town (but more on that later).
When we got to the Tiger Temple and at first we thought it was closed. It looked like it was under construction until we walked a little further.
Again, the architecture was amazing. Nothing like we have here in Canada.
Another part of the Tiger Temple includes the 1,237 steps to the top of the mountain. I know my limits. I know I’m not the most fit human being in the world. I forgot my puffer, it was noon and the hottest time of the day. The steps were extremely steep and unsturdy. I climbed approximately 300 steps and decided I would enjoy my day much more if I walked back down and waited for De and Jenn to come back down. Sometimes it’s best to know your limits.
It took De and Jenn about 1.5 hours to climb up and back down again and the view was gorgeous. I had my own fun at the bottom of the mountain. I got a tan, people watched, ate coconut ice cream, helped a little boy clean his face after eating ice cream, and roamed around taking in the sights.
I got to literally see a monkey eat a banana.
After the climb we were starving and we once again, decided to eat Pad Thai (when in Rome right…?). We learned that the Hot Springs and Emerald Pool closed at 5pm and we weren’t going to make it there on time so we took our time eating lunch and decided to head to Ao Nang for the night. After eating the worst Pad Thai of the trip the restaurant owner found out we wanted to head back to Krabi Town and she summoned a strange man (probably her husband) in a van to take us back – it sounds super sketchy, but apparently it’s super normal. Another backpacker got in the van with us so we figured it was legit.
Before heading to Ao Nang we went to another temple – which I wish I could remember the name of but it didn’t nearly have the same amount of steps.
The night market in Krabi Town was still in the process of opening, so we grabbed our backpacks, hopped on a tuk tuk for 50 baht and headed for our next stop. Our next hostel was called iDeal and because it was on the main strip, our tuk tuk took us straight there.
When we got to the room we were hoping it was just us 3 (because we had 2 double bunk beds) but I’m glad we had a roommate because we met Anthony. This is basically how our first conversation went…
Anthony “How long have you been travelling for?”
Us “Oh about 4 or 5 days, it’s hard to keep track.”
Anthony “Oh I know what you mean, travelling does that to you.”
Us “How long have you been travelling?”
Anthony “15 years.”
15 years. Anthony’s originally from Belgium and studied International Studies at McGill in Montreal. He doesn’t have a home. He travels for life. He gets jobs in random cities to make his way around the world and occasionally visits his family in Belgium. He said his most interesting job was selling bananas in Bangladesh. He’s also taught Creativity at an International School in Malaysia.
15 years. It’s crazy and amazing to think that people have quite literally quit everything in their lives and opted for adventure. It’s super tempting.
For dinner we went to an Indian-Thai restaurant and had the most delicious Hawaiian pizza (I’m doing great with this exploring new foods things…). We did some shopping at the stalls and headed to bed.
Jenn and Deanna had to exchange money so we headed to a local Thai bank. After spending what seemed like hours there, we hopped back on the handy-dandy and free public bus and headed towards The Grand Palace.
Grand Palace, take two.
It was actually open! Surprise surprise, it was already packed with Chinese tourists. When we first got there we entered through to the Emerald Buddha entrance. We saw all of the sights we did the day before and we thought we paid an unnecessary 500 baht (approximately $18.29 CAD). Once we followed the sheep we found a new section of the palace we hadn’t discovered before.
Well, The Grand Palace was most definitely grand. I also can’t describe the amount of tourists that went to see it.
After touring The Grand Palace grounds and posing for photos with all of Jenn and Deanna’s fans (one of them pictured left) we decided to head to the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (also in the palace grounds). I tried to enter the “Chinese tour group” line for fun and got through (Jenn and De didn’t – muahaha). When I went back through the foreigner line I got denied until I opened my mouth.
To be honest, this was one of the museums I found a little boring. The whole museum was dedicated to showcasing the Queen’s dresses. Don’t get me wrong, the handiwork was incredible, but it was nicer to be in the air-conditioning (as Jenn and De would say “bless”).
After cooling off in the museum we grabbed iced lemon teas at the museum’s cafe and sat in the shade to people watch. It’s interesting to see the kinds of things people wear in 35+ degree weather. We saw everything from denim on denim to velvet dresses. My personal favourite were the amount of high heel shoes we saw. To each their own – but how on earth is that comfortable for touring in large crowds!?
We headed towards the Chao Phraya for a 1-hour boat cruise. Last time I was in Thailand (9 years ago?), I saw a dead dog floating in the river and was instantly scarred – no dead dogs this time. I’m always amazed at the way other people in the world live.
The houses are literally held up by wooden posts. Some of the houses have even collapsed due to erosion. Seeing other places in the world remind me how lucky I am back in Canada (thank you mom and dad for moving there).
After the cruise we went back to our hostel area and got Thai massages for 300 baht and it was probably one of the funniest things i’ve experienced in my life. We entered a dark room that had 3 mattresses on the floor, 1 wall A/C unit and a TV. I thought were were in a Saw movie. My masseuse said a total of 7 words but Deanna’s and Jenn’s talked to each other the whole time and even answered their cell phones. They were obsessed with Jenn’s hair and skin and insisted I was from Japan and couldn’t possibly be Canadian. After the massage they also insisted on tips.
We headed back to Udee to grab our bags and cup noodles (yummmm) and headed by taxi to the airport. We were headed to Krabi, in Southern Thailand. Getting taxis are usually pretty easy – but mostly when we don’t need them to get to the airport. The airport process was so fast and we decided to cave 5 days in and eat McDonald’s (instant regret). I fell asleep instantly and woke up in Krabi.
When we got to Krabi we struggled to find our hostel because of translation problems and lack of actual addresses – a huge difference from the streets of Bangkok. The place was called Climb Krabi Inn but our sheet of paper said BRAND NEW DORM and the Thai couldn’t seem to get past that. We had the most difficult time finding the place because the sign was written on a chalkboard and street lights aren’t really a thing in Krabi town. Amy, the hostel owner, was from New Zealand. She moved to Krabi to rock climb, opened a hostel with her Thai boyfriend Zack and was heading back to New Zealand to visit for a couple of months. The people we met in Thailand live the most interesting lives. We went to the “lobby” where our new friend Billy Beach Blues drunkenly sang us Yellow by Coldplay.