Published in Paradise

 

In November of 2014, the two of us took part in the Tropical Writers’ Workshop in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Although we were initially hesitant to change our travel plans and budget to accommodate the course, this 2 week workshop was better than we could have possibly imagined and through it we learned an incredible amount about travel writing, website design and social media and made some amazing new friends. One of the highlights of enrollment in the course was the chance to contribute an article to a feature on the island of Koh Phangan for South East Asia Backpacker Magazine.

Both of us were given a topic to research and write about and we are incredibly proud to announce that the issue of the magazine is now available!

Check out the free download of issue 34 (Jan-Feb) at SouthEastAsiaBackpacker.com and take a look at pages 12-21 for the Koh Phangan feature by us and our fellow attendees.  You can find Macrae’s article Top 5 Places For Sunset Drinks on pages 14-15 and Carolann’s article Homesick For Hamburgers on page 17.

 

You Can Do It Too!!

Sometimes taking a step outside your comfort zone or deviating from your schedule will afford you some incredible experiences and opportunities. We decided to listen to the old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and enrolled in the workshop – and what we gained was invaluable knowledge, great friends and opportunities we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps enrolling in something like the Tropical Writers’ Workshop isn’t what you are looking for to broaden your own horizons and take that next step, but if it is, a new workshop is starting on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand in March and we would be remiss if we failed to mention this great opportunity to those who may benefit from it!

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A Guide to Pai, How We Slice It – Part Three: What To Do

What To Do In Pai

The thing we noticed about Pai is that it is all about doing, or not doing, whatever you want. Whether it’s going on a paid tour, exploring around Pai on your own, or just staying close for the day, it all works. Pai’s casual vibe was a welcome respite from the faster-paced Chiang Mai where we stayed for the majority of our time in the north of Thailand. Aside from finding great food in Pai, there are several other attractions we think are worth seeing while in Pai.

Pai Mountain View THailand

Since we had driven our scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai we already had transportation covered. If you took a bus, or another method for getting to Pai, not to worry, there are scooter rentals, bicycle rentals, taxis and tour options available. Just be conscious of the going rate and competitive pricing and bargain if possible.

 

Natural Attractions in Pai

Oftentimes, when travelling the tourist traps and attractions overshadow the natural beauty of a place. Sometimes, natural attractions are all but eliminated in order to make way for tourism. Pai, while being a popular and well-travelled tourist destination, amazingly still retains much of its natural state. Bright green rice fields, waterfalls, hot springs, picturesque mountain-scapes and even a canyon, Pai is a perfect place to escape and enjoy some of the most incredible natural attractions Northern Thailand has to offer.

 

Pai Canyon

Pai Canyon Thailand

While we were unable to spend a great deal of time at the canyon due to a fast-approaching thunderstorm, we managed to take a brief walk along the canyon’s treacherous looking paths after climbing the cement stairs to the top. Although it didn’t look like what one would think a typical canyon should look like, it was just as much of a heart-stopping view. Narrow paths winding through the tree tops with thousands of years of erosion causing some fairly dangerous looking areas with 100 ft drops on either side. With no rails or handholds at all, this is definitely not for the faint of heart and most certainly should only be attempted by the most sure-footed. We ended up taking a short walk along a less dangerous looking path with several feet of space between us and the edges. Carolann’s innate sense of survival (which she adamantly denies as being fear) prevented any attempt at the narrow paths, especially with the incoming storm.

things to do in Pai thailand canyon

It is definitely worth a visit, to take in the view from the canyon and even to check out the paths that are clearly still utilized. It’s only a short scooter drive from the walking street and the drive takes you through some beautiful scenery. With no admission fee, and only a short staircase to the top, it’s an interesting attraction and another one of the amazing natural views of Pai.

Drive Amongst the Rice Paddy Fields and Mountains
Pai Rice paddy fields Thailand

With scooter and bicycle rentals readily available, and at a decent price, one of the best things to do in Pai is simply explore the natural beauty surrounding the town. A bike ride will take you past rice paddy fields where you can see people working the fields of lush green vegetation. The mountainous backdrop adds to the beauty of the view and we enjoyed taking drives amongst the rice fields and through the mountainous roads around the center of Pai.

Waterfalls

things to do in pai waterfall

On one drive we decided to make our way to one of the waterfalls known to be in the area. We drove Northwest and found our way to Mor Peang Waterfall. The drive was a bit rocky and winding but we passed through several small village areas with locals as well as some beautiful natural scenery. It was mid-afternoon and pretty busy but it was still an interesting place to walk and visit. Though we didn’t go in the water, there were many people swimming and climbing the rocks of the waterfall. Additionally, there is Hua Chang Waterfall just east of Mor Peang, Pam Bok Waterfall near the canyon and the Pai Hot Springs to the Southeast of the town. For those looking for more of an adventure, Mae Yen Waterfall, located within the forested jungles of Pai, can be accessed only by foot. About 2km outside the centre of Pai (by scooter), the trek takes approximately 3 ½ hours and takes you to a rarely visited, pristine looking waterfall.

Viewpoints

pai lookour thailand

There are various marked trails to viewpoints accessible via motorbike. Some, like the viewpoint near the Chinese Village, require an entry fee around 20Baht. Others, also well-marked, are free. We decided to go on one of our adventures and find our own viewpoint. We climbed a rather steep hill a short ways away from the Mor Peang Waterfall and looked out. The over 180 degree view was stunning. A panorama of mountains, fields, vegetation and skyline. We highly suggest making your way to a viewpoint, marked or unmarked.

Other Attractions in Pai

Wat Phra That Mae Yen

Although we didnt’ get a chance to visit Wat Phra That Mae Yen, the temple on the mountain, it was difficult not to see the giant Buddha statue marking it’s location. From nearly any place in Pai the Buddha is visible on the distant mountain and we were fortunate to be able to learn more about it and see photos through our friends, the Wagoner’s blog post “Perfectly Pai Photo Essay”.

Pai Walking street

We mentioned the walking street when we discussed where to stay in Pai. Set up daily around 6pm, vendors line the man street in Pai with stands of food, souvenirs and goods. The smells of the food cooking wafts through the streets enticing those passing through and although the same vendors appear to pop up night after night, there seems to always be something new to see. While this is the main highlight of the night, you’ll definitely be far from bored exploring the stands each night and popping into different restaurants, cafes and bars as you go.

WWII Memorial Bridge

WWII Memorial bridge Pai thailand

We decided to visit the memorial bridge on our way out of Pai. Located off Highway 1095, the route into and out of Pai from Chiang Mai, the memorial bridge serves as a reminder of the Japanese occupation in World War II where it was used by soldiers to transport goods across the border to Burma/Myanmar. The iron and wood bridge is now only for foot traffic for tourists visiting and provides an interesting historical landmark worth a quick visit while in Pai.

Enjoy & Relax

Like we mentioned, Pai makes you feel as though you should be doing, or not doing, whatever you want. On one of the days we were in Pai, we found ourselves relaxing. We strolled along the streets in the day time, stopping into a coffee shop for a quick break, continuing on for meals and exploring the centre of town. We relaxed on an outdoor patio for dinner and then headed to the walking street for another leisurely stroll amidst the vendors. It isn’t fast paced in Pai, despite the growing tourist economy there, and one of the benefits of this is the ability to just enjoy your surroundings and relax.

After reading our three part series on where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Pai, would this be a place you’d consider visiting? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Check out Part One of “How We Slice It” to read about where to stay in Pai and Part Two about where to eat in Pai.

If you are planning to make the trip to Pai, be sure to check out our past posts including our Tips on Getting to Pai, our drive from Chiang Mai to Pai.

 

 

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What’s Beneath the Surface in Koh Tao

Scuba Diving in Koh Tao through Photos

It was one of the most amazing experiences and it was a totally unexpected and unplanned adventure. Although we knew Koh Tao was considered one of the places to get certified for scuba diving, we hadn’t seriously considered doing so. As we mentioned, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate our anniversary, and also learn some new skills we could use while travelling to different places.

scuba diving in koh tao

Learning to dive up to 18m in depth, we are now certified open water scuba divers and hope to take our training to various places around the world. While we started out wanting to see as much of the world as possible, we’ve discovered a whole other universe under the water just waiting for us to explore.

scuba diving in koh tao one modern couple

 

We shared our 8 tips for beginners when learning to scuba dive when we discussed our open water scuba certification training in Koh Tao with Scuba Shack and we even added some amazing photos and an underwater scuba diving video taken by Fat Fish Movies. What we didn’t do was share the remainder of the photos and point out some of the amazing underwater life to be found when diving in Koh Tao. The dive sites there are veritable playgrounds for those looking to spot beautiful and different underwater creatures and habitats.

Running, Or Diving Rather, Into Dangerous Creatures

coral scuba diving in koh tao

Since we had an underwater photographer (another shout out to Charlie!!) from Fat Fish Movies taking photos and videos, we were able to relax and enjoy the dive and the sights around us. On the first dive with Charlie, he was equipped with his video gear and was the first to notice we happened to be swimming with a handful of box jelly fish. Those of us learning to dive were completely oblivious to the fact that box jelly fish are considered one of the deadliest creatures in the world. Some of us attempted to get a closer look! With Charlie’s and our dive instructor, James’, sharp eyes, we descended out of range and made our way down. If you are interested in seeing just how close we were, take a look at the video footage of that day and the box jelly fish taken by Charlie and see if you can spot us amongst the divers. It should be noted that there was a strong current that day that had brought the jelly fish to the dive site and that, while box jelly fish are sighted off the islands of Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan, they are not overly common.

What You’ll Find Underwater in Koh Tao

twins koh tao thailand scuba diving

Charlie managed to capture some pretty incredible shots of our dive, enabling us to take you on a brief photo tour of the amazing sights to be seen underwater in Koh Tao, Thailand and bring you along on one of the most memorable moments of our journey thus far.

Angelfish

angel fish koh tao scuba diving

Banner Fish

Banner Fish Koh Tao Scuba diving

Giant Clam

giant clam koh tao scuba diving

Butterflyfish

butterfly fish koh tao scuba diving

butterfly fish koh tao scuba diving

Blue Spotted Sting Ray and Squirrel Fish

blue spotted sting ray koh tao scuba diving

blue spotted sting ray koh tao scuba diving

Nudibranch

nudibranch koh tao scuba diving

Grouper

grouper koh tao scuba diving

grouper koh tao scuba diving

Wrasse

wrasse koh tao scuba diving

Trevally

trevally koh tao scuba diving

 What’s at the bottom

coral koh tao scuba diving

coral reef koh tao thailand scuba diving

scuba diving koh tao thailand coral

 

 

koh tao scuba diving

Do you know what this fish is above? We’ve been searching and can’t seem to identify it! If you know, comment below and help us end the mystery!

In addition to those that were captured on camera, Koh Tao hosts a variety of other species – some we managed to see, and some we didn’t – including barracuda, triggerfish, sea turtles, whale sharks, moray eels, seahorses, sea snakes, snapper, batfish, and parrotfish.

We can’t wait to continue our scuba diving adventures and explore more of the hidden world underwater. Where will our next dive site be? You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out!

 

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Leaving Us Wanting More – Scuba Diving in Koh Tao

Our First Scuba Experience with 8 Tips We Gathered For Beginners

Banner Fish Koh Tao

18m deep. Colder than the rest. The only sounds are your steady breath in and out through the regulator and a tapping sound from a nearby fish pecking at coral. Visibility is much less now but you can still see large schools of fish circling above and many others swimming calmly around you. The anemones, coral, and Christmas tree worms present a beautiful, waving display on the ocean floor below even though some of the colour is lost at this depth. Finding a clearing of sand, you finally stop and kneel at the bottom of the ocean.

You look down at your depth gauge and then up towards the surface and realize just how deep you are; the surface seemingly further in reality than any number on a gauge could ever suggest. At that moment it’s as if your mind has decided to depart from your body and head up to the surface, but you swiftly catch it and bring it back. 

Moving through the water now, concentrating on your breathing and the amazing marine life around you, you start worrying that your air pressure is lowering and you’ll have to end your dive and surface soon. You don’t want to. You never knew how awe-inspiring it was, never knew what was truly under the sea. But now you do. Now you see. Now you want more.

Scuba Diving in Koh Tao Wasn’t Part of Our Itinerary

learning to scuba dive

While scuba diving isn’t for everyone, we found it to be an absolutely incredible experience. It was a chance to explore a world unseen by most and we relished having that opportunity.  Until we made our first dive, we had no idea what we were missing.  Of course we had heard what people would say about scuba diving: “It’s amazing!” “ You have to try it!” “It’s so addictive!”. We heard what they were saying, but we never believed the hype. Now we realize that these people, crazy about scuba diving, were right. We’ve become one of those people.

Believe us when we say it is an unforgettable and truly amazing experience and one we hadn’t planned. While visiting Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, we ended up walking past Scuba Shack and a sign advertising their options for scuba diving and certification. We hadn’t given it much thought and weren’t sure if we wanted to dive, but we opted to get some information anyways. After all, we were told that Koh Tao is the place for diving and diving certification and since our anniversary was coming up we thought it may be a great way to celebrate even though the voters had not chosen Koh Tao as our anniversary island in our poll. So changing our plans a little, we decided on Koh Tao and diving for our second anniversary celebration

Finding The Right Dive Shop For The Job

scuba-shack-logo

Walking up to the large, wrap-around patio of the small dive shop just metres from the beach, we noticed people were milling about, sitting and chatting, most with smiles on their faces. We found the people at Scuba Shack to be very informative and helpful and discovered that a portion of those on the porch were students who were invited to stay and drink water, or tea and relax after their dives.

scuba diving equipment check

After a thorough rundown of their dive packages and courses, followed by a couple of hours to explore our options and soak it all in, we decided to take the open water diving certification course and since we felt most at ease with Scuba Shack, we headed back to book our course. We felt this was a great option to take should we want to go diving in the future as the certification would allow us to go on our own and dive as deep as 18 meters.

While this is the first and most basic course available, there are many others that we can upgrade to in the future, like wreck diving, night diving, navigation and deep dives of 30m.

Scuba Diving: An Experience Like No Other

scuba diving gear

We were incredibly lucky. Not only were we impressed with Scuba Shack itself but our instructor, James, was awesome. Friendly, funny, professional and incredibly knowledgeable, he eased any qualms we had and was just generally a great guy to be learning from and leading our team.

Our ‘in-class’ training was conducted with another soon-to-be diver from Holland and covered everything from safety to equipment to techniques while under the water. Once that was completed we moved to a contained dive where we practiced the essentials of diving but in shallow water.

learning to scuba dive koh tao

Learning to empty our goggles of water once we were submerged was probably the most difficult. It’s a weird feeling once you start breathing with a regulator underwater to then remove your mask. It’s like your mind says “since your breathing you might as well do it with your nose!” Meanwhile your instincts are screaming for you to hold your breath and your brain is reminding you that the worst thing you can do is stop breathing through that regulator.

scuba dive team

The contained dive was where we built a bit of confidence and worked on our skills in preparation for the real dives the following day  It was during the dives that we were especially thankful for James’ experience, knowledge and even humour as all of us were a little bit nervous, and a little bit unsure, of what to expect and how we would react.

Taking That First Dive

learning how to scuba dive

Our dive team was joined by an American who had completed the written portion back home and was looking to finish his certification. With two pairs of dive buddies and James leading the way, our first descent was filled with anxiety (at least for some of us) and anticipation.

scuba diving team

There really is no way to describe those first few metres. we descended that first time with the assistance of a rope. The frayed, moss-encrusted hovering piece of entwined rope strands were the only visible thing, besides our fellow divers, as we slowly dropped down through the water. During this portion of the descent was where we discovered a slight disorientation may occur.  With no visibility to what’s below, it becomes an eerie float downward, several moments of uncertainty and relative internal disquiet.

scuba diving certification

On that first dive, when James told us to let go of the rope and follow him, we’re pretty sure we all hesitated but once we gave ourselves over to the moment and the water around us, we instantly fell into a trance, a kind of meditation. The constant worry about breathing washed away, our sense of sight overwhelmed the rest, and the ocean had us so relaxed the only thing we could do was enjoy what it had to offer.

scuba diving in koh tao thailand

That first dive was without any tests or practice of techniques and allowed us to get comfortable with swimming at such depths, maneuvering among the coral, fish and other underwater creatures (such as the nudibranch) and working with our buddies. In the end, that first dive also allowed us to fall in love with scuba diving itself.

We were fortunate to have someone from Fat Fish Movies (hey Charlie!) videotape one of our dives! Watch ours below:

 

We’ve put together a photo tour of our second dive with Charlie from Fat Fish Movies who documented it all in photos this time!! You can also check out some more amazing videos from Charlie and the team at Fat Fish Movies’ YouTube page. The box jelly fish one is particularly interesting to us since we were on the dive in which that was shot!! Yup, we swam with some box jelly fish unbeknownst to us the possible danger and the fact that we were swimming with one of the world’s deadliest creatures!

Now that we’re certified we are constantly keeping our eyes and ears open for great diving spots. We’ve already made a trip to Key West, but we hope to go back and add one more – scuba diving at the reef! With so many places to visit, we’re excited to be able to expand our adventures to the incredible unseen world underwater.

8 Tips For Those Considering Scuba Diving For The First Time

Learning to scuba dive in koh tao certification

We’ve put together a list of 8 tips for those who are considering scuba diving for the first time. If you’re looking for a spot like Scuba Shack to learn to dive, or if you haven’t gone diving for a while, we think these tips will help put your mind at ease and help you get the most out of your diving experience:

 scuba shack koh tao thailand

1. Do research to choose a good diving school. Make sure the group is small and that they are PADI or SIS certified. Even though they were the first dive shop we talked to, we were so comfortable and at ease with Scuba Shack that, although we looked around and did our research, there was really no better option for us. They were professional, had good quality equipment, knowledgeable instructors who were actually pretty fun to spend time with and came with a recommendation. Ask around and do your research.

2. Do not dive past your certification. It’s dangerous to dive without the right training, so if you want to dive in that cave or through a ship wreck to try and find some treasure, get certified first. Along with this, do not dive without certification or without going through a well-researched (see tip #1) dive shop for a fun dive (A dive with an introduction to the equipment, techniques and safety but with no certification)

scuba diving buddy teams

3. Value the Buddy System. We are fortunate in that we were able to learn together and thus develop our “buddy skills” together. It became another type of partnership as the responsibility for your partner and their safety is ever-present 18 meters below the surface. Always dive with a buddy, make sure they are doing okay throughout the dive and remember to ask where their air supply is at, once every 5-10 minutes. (Carolann obsessively asked Macrae this question about 30 times in a 45 min dive). With deeper dives and as air gets lower, ask them a little more often.

4. It’s normal to feel nervous before your first dive. In fact, several of us on the boat  were nervous for all of our open water certification dives. It can be helpful to know you are not alone in those worries and fortunately with an instructor like James, our minds were put at ease fairly easily.

learning to scuba dive

5. Some things don’t come naturally or easily. Clearing your goggles of water when submerged or equalizing your ear pressure is not always easy but that’s why there are contained dives to practice and drills throughout the regular dives. It may feel repetitious but it definitely helps in making them feel more natural. It’s a good idea to practice or brush-up on things like clearing your goggles and switching from regulator to snorkel to breath at the surface if you’ve been away from diving for some time.

6. It’s okay to take your time, to equalize, calm down.  Your instructor will wait, no one will mind, and in fact chances are someone else is thankful for a bit of a break. Don’t feel compelled to keep up as you have a buddy to stick with you and an instructor who should be patient. The pace is so much slower then you would think so taking your time is generally not an issue.

Scuba shack boat

7. Hiring a photographer/videographer is worth it! If you don’t mind the extra cost, and are able, hiring someone to take video footage and photos with you on your dive leaves you with an incredible documentation of your time under the water. We were fortunate to have someone from Fat Fish Movies dive with us and take some incredible photos of one of our dives. The video found earlier in this post was also taken by them on the previous dive.

8. Remember to have fun!! This is perhaps the most important point but one that is hard not to do once you are amidst the aquatic life below. The time goes by faster than you expect so enjoy!!

Comment below and let us know what locations are your favourite for scuba diving. Or, if you’ve never been, where would you want to start?

one modern couple email sign up ad

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The Day I Paid For Torture in Thailand

My Thai Massage: A Lesson In Pain

By Carolann

It started with pain. With each cracking sound of my back I grew more concerned and within 5 minutes of the hour long torture session which, for some reason, I was paying for, I questioned exactly what I had said that brought me to this point and to the discomfort I wasn’t positive was going to end.

I’m sure I pointed to, and asked for, the neck, back and shoulder massage with coconut oil NOT the traditional Thai massage which was advertised with terrifying photos of women being held in ridiculously uncomfortable looking positions. But maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t clear.

Crack, crack-crack-crack. I hear the masseuse giggle at the constant noises coming from what I assume is the joints of my ribs and spine. “It’s a good pain, yes?” she asks after noticing the grimace on my sideways-turned face. I attempt a smile and close my eyes praying this is just the prelude to a relaxing back rub. It wasn’t.

I thought back to the naive me of 10 minutes prior, walking through the curtains separating the front area from the four massage tables clustered to one side. That ‘me of the past’ was excited to be getting a back massage after months of riding on the back of a scooter, curling up in airplane seats and stiffening up during long bus rides.

Added to the body punishing travel, each place we stayed had a different version of what a comfortable bed should feel like, with very few matching my own. So it was only natural that I would be eager to get some of the knots worked out and for $13 per hour I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

As the masseuse climbed on the table and hovered above me I was brought back to the present. The smell of the menthol oil, the thin sheets above and below me, the silence from my friend receiving a massage on the table beside me. Wait! Surely she should be experiencing a similarly painful massage? But there were no noises that would indicate any torturous activity was occurring and certainly no giggles from her masseuse in response.

Positioned over top, leaning all her weight onto her hands as they pressed down on my back, the masseuse pushed harder forcing my rib cage walls together, leaving my breath to escape in a whoosh-like sound.

A few more cracks of my back with the whole of her weight pressing down and she steps down from the table and starts a more gentle exploration of the numerous knots around my upper back. It was in that moment that I found some hope that the massage was turning tide and would morph into the relaxing event I had in mind when I stepped into this den of pain.




Unfortunately, that was just before I felt her elbow dig its way underneath my shoulder blade.

Started From the Bottom… Cracking the Joints
ckassical thai massage

Photo credit/model: Sophie Oliver

Needless to say, the remainder of the back massage was as painful as it started and when she asked me to flip over I no longer held on to any false hope of gentleness to come. This time every crack was intentional as she endeavoured to workout each joint in my body from my little toe to my neck, the latter being the most horrifying and unexpected part of the entire procedure.

The quick snap of my head to one side had me letting out a yelp of surprise and fear. Laughing at me again, the masseuse told me to relax and not to tense – as if having one’s head rapidly snapped to one side is a commonplace occurrence not warranting the extreme fear that was now coursing through my body. Slowly twisting my head to the other side, she patted my shoulder and I tried to relax for what was to come, knowing that it could not be good to be braced tight. With one final motion she had cracked the other side of my neck leaving me wondering if paralysis was instant or if I could expect it to kick in at any moment.

I didn’t have too long to contemplate as what followed was a series of stretches even more uncomfortable and awkward than the aforementioned photos of the advertised Thai massage had portrayed. Legs, back, arms – no joint was left un-cracked, no muscle un-stretched, and all the while my tormentor was obviously enjoying the gasps of surprise and grunts of pain as she went.

An hour after it began, cracked, twisted and stretched, I was informed that the massage was over and I was allowed to dress in relative privacy as I attempted to regain my composure and keep my mind off of the unpleasant sensations now distributed, fairly equally, throughout my body.

As I left the curtained-off area, I was offered a seat, given some hot tea and told that since I had so many knots in my back, and she had to work them out so much, that I would most certainly feel pain the next day and concluded that I would benefit from one more session before I left the island. Luckily I was leaving the next day so that wasn’t even an option.

Leaving the spa with my friend, who looked far more relaxed and comfortable than I did, I debated whether it was the massage itself that was painful or my obviously knotted and apparently decrepit body that was the real source of the pain. Never in my life had a massage given me so much discomfort or so much fear and I reminded myself that I had paid for it. Sure, only $13, but perhaps that was the going rate for a session of torture?

As this was my first massage in Thailand, I’m certain it isn’t representative as the vast majority of people with whom I spoke, claim only good things. Perhaps the massage was beneficial, perhaps the pain served purpose but for the next few days I definitely felt the pain she spoke of and unfortunately was left to try and ease the discomfort on a 3 hour ferry ride, followed by a 2 hour bus ride, a 5 hour wait at a train station, the 11 hour train ride to Malaysia and the hour or so it took by ferry and foot to get to our hotel where I could finally lie down straight.

If there is a next time, I’ll make sure it’s not before a long day of travel and should I smell menthol oil wafting my way, I’ll probably decide to make a mad dash out the door.

 

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Visiting the Faroe Islands with MappingMegan

 

This photo is of a traditional wooden church in the small village of Giljanes on the island of Vagar in the Faroe Islands and was graciously provided, along with the below, by Megan from MappingMegan.com as our first guest blogger post.

The Faroe Islands are easily the most beautiful in the world. Between inspiring scenery, untamed nature, and dramatic landscapes, the islands are unspoiled, unexplored and absolutely unbelievable. Every scene is spectacular, and every view takes your breath away.

Faroe Islands is a small archipelago of Islands in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and halfway between Iceland and Norway. The islands are some of the most remote in the world, and as such, have remained largely unchanged by time, and uninfluenced by modern societies.

The islands are made up of small villages with beautiful traditional buildings, some of which date back to the Viking age. Traditional wooden churches are constructed across the islands, with each more beautiful than the next. One other particularly noticeable feature of Faroese architecture is the prevalence of houses with grass roofs. Look very closely at the picture above and you will realize many of the homes have green roofs. These are made from grass for insulation during the winter months. 

This is one of just many photos which will make you want to jump on a plane to the Faroe Islands

 

mappingmegan

 

About The Author: Adventure traveller and blogger Megan, is travelling, writing, photographing and experiencing the world with her husband Mike whom she met while in Africa. Together they showcase the best of adventure travel from around the globe. For more about their adventures, check out MappingMegan.com

 

 

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Bangkok: More than Khao San Road

 

 

At the Tropical Writer’s Workshop in Koh Phangan, Thailand, we were fortunate to be able to work with an amazing and talented group of writers. Together, we wrote the following article which we are pleased to be able to share here on OMC.

4 Amazing Bangkok Neighbourhoods to Explore

by Chris Fox, Leann McKeown, Nazia Tariq, Carolann Hughes & Macrae Sutton. Edited with Kaila Krayewski.

Bangkok buildings, city of bangkok, bangkok tourism, bangkok,

As a tourist, Bangkok can be overwhelming and intimidating. The vast city promises something for everyone – if you know where to go. Tuk tuk and taxi drivers will offer you direction, but you may end up somewhere far from anticipated, with a lighter wallet and a heavier spirit.

Most tourists have heard of Khao San Road which was described as “the centre of the backpacking universe” in the popular novel ‘The Beach’. This small road is packed with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, food stalls, shops, hostels and guesthouses and is a common place for tourists and young locals alike.

But if you’re looking to see more than the typical tourist areas – explore more of what the city has to offer – there are several other great neighbourhoods to explore.

One Night In Bangkok – Sukhumvit Soi 11  

busy streets of bangkok, bangkok streets, city of bangkok, driving in bangkok, traffic in bangkok,

Sukhumvit Soi 11 is a fantastic place to hang out if you are looking for a good party. From Apoteka – a jazz bar with phenomenal live bands, affordably priced drinks, interesting food and good service; a great place to spend your evening or start at before hitting the clubs – to Oskar Bistro – with its delicious fusion food, strong drinks, and amazing house music, making it great for the pre-party – and everything in between, you’re sure to find something to suit your party needs.

Also recommended are Levels, where the entrance is usually free and the music commercial making it a great spot for meeting people, and the after-hours Wax, which gets crowded at 2:00 am when regular clubs have just closed. The drinks are alright and the music can be very good depending on which DJ is playing.

Satisfy Any Spending Urge – Asok

terminal 21 bangkok mall

Asok is one of the many popular Bangkok shopping destinations, having selections from high-end boutiques to tiny stands where you can buy the latest must-have items. Terminal 21 is a great place to start. Linked to Asok station, this world-class mall has many different shops with every level of the mall hosting a different theme from around the world. In a matter of minutes you can go from London to Tokyo.

If you’re looking for the real Thai shopping experience, look no further: just outside Asok station, lining Sukhumvit road, right through to Nana station, you can find stalls that host the well-known Thai goods and you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

Ever-Changing Culinary Delights – Silom

Soi in Bangkok Chinatown

The Silom area has always been a popular lunch spot for office workers in Bangkok’s Central Business District. It has become trendier and more diverse with entertainment venues, like Ku De Ta, springing up. Additionally, popular New York gourmet cafe Dean and Deluca draws huge crowds on Ploenchit Road in Central Embassy.

The Deco Bar & Restaurant next to the Pullman Hotel is highly recommended for a stimulating conversation over a glass of wine. In addition to these hotspots, some of the best burgers in the city can be found at Bangkok Burger Company on Silom Road. Nearby Soi Phipat 2’s Eat Me Restaurant offers modern international cuisine; or you can always leave the noise behind and head into the tiny sois verdant with foliage to discover your own taste of Bangkok from the small stalls that line these narrow streets.

When Culture is Your Tour – Thonburi

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As you pedal through the neighborhood of Thonburi you’ll pass grandmothers sitting on the steps of their wooden houses, vendors whisking a profusion of sizzling tasty morsels in their steaming woks and children playing in the streets, their laughter filling the air. Getting away from the glitzy shopping malls and fast pace of Bangkok proper, Thonburi’s elaborate web of khlongs weave you past locals going about their daily lives. In fact, many homes still have their addresses on khlongs rather than roads. You will be drawn to the embrace of this charming neighborhood, instantly feeling at ease here.

 

Whether you are enjoying the nightlife in Sukhumvit Soi 11, dining in Silom area, shopping in Asok or absorbing Thai culture in Thonburi you’re sure to find what you are looking for in one of these diverse Bangkok neighbourhoods.

 

When exploring a new city, which type of area do you look for first: shopping, dining, partying or cultural experiences? Comment below and let us know!

 

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From Toast to Thai Food: Our Anniversary Do-Over

 A Hidden Gem in Koh Samui’s Backyard

Koh Madsum Beach

For our anniversary on Koh Tao, we chose to celebrate in two ways. The first, was to get our scuba certification and the second was to have a nice romantic dinner. Unfortunately, the first got in the way of the second in the form of a killer migraine. Carolann was struck by a severe migraine shortly after our first two dives and our romantic dinner turned into a very quick meal where all she could stomach was toast. It wasn’t until we got to Koh Samui that we had the opportunity to make up for it and have a romantic outing together.

Our romantic outing came by way of Island Gem Picnic Tours and a day excursion snorkeling followed by a picnic lunch on a secluded area of a small gorgeous island nearby. As soon as the booking was finalized we were rife with anticipation for the tour and for finally having a romantic day together.

A romantic day on our own piece of paradise

Island Gem Picnic OneModernCouple

We weren’t too sure what to expect. We knew that we would be picked up by Gavin, the owner and operator of the tour, at 10am and that we would be going snorkeling followed by a picnic. Gavin was early and so we had time to sit with him, have a coffee and chat. It had been a while since we had an opportunity to really relax and since we weren’t being rushed for the day’s activities we were both able to start doing so.

ISland Gem Picnic Koh Samui Driver

We were driven to the other side of the island to where a long tail boat was waiting for us. Although Island Gem Picnic has the option of either a long tail boat or a speed boat, we definitely wanted to ride in the more traditional means of transportation. Long tail boats, as we’ve brought up before, are popular wooden boats in Southern Thailand powered by automobile engines attached to a long drive shaft with a propeller at the end. Our tour boat was called the Island Hopper and had an Isuzu engine and a captain named Chud. Friendly and efficient, Chud helped Gavin load the picnic baskets quickly before we all hopped on board and set off.

One of the best spots for snorkeling in Thailand

Island Gem Picnic Snorkeling

Although it was a slightly overcast morning (Chud assured us it wasn’t going to rain) the water was calm and we were at our snorkeling location off the small island of Koh Tan in about 10 minutes. Although there was another boat nearby, we anchored far enough away so as not to be interrupted by their relatively large group.

While talking to Gavin on the boat ride we found out that he was a certified diving instructor so we asked him to join in on the snorkeling and the three of us jumped in the warm, calm water. Having Gavin with us was great as he found and pointed out creatures we would have missed had we been on our own. He found two blue-spotted stingrays, one of our favourites to see, a black and white nudibranch and he was able to name the other fish we saw for us. The water is very shallow so at many points you are incredibly close to the coral and able to see so much up close and in the full colour, that would not typically be seen in deeper waters. The area is pretty large and very much alive with fish and sea creatures and is now one of our favourite places to snorkel. If you aren’t able, or don’t want to, scuba dive in Thailand, this spot will allow you to see a vast array of underwater life.

Island Gem Picnic Gavin

After about an hour of snorkeling we headed back to the boat. We had noticed that another tour group had anchored after we had gotten in the water and had already left before we climbed aboard and asked Gavin how long the snorkeling usually lasts on his tours. We found out that he completely tailors his tour so that the guests basically decide the ratio of time split between the snorkeling and the picnic. If you only want to spend a half hour snorkeling, you can do so and spend the rest at the picnic. There is no rush and no pressure and we were extremely grateful for that.

Once aboard, the anchor was lifted and we were on our way to the small island of Madsum for our picnic.

A secluded picnic under a banyan tree

Long Tail Boat THailand

Another couple minutes boat ride and we were anchoring again – this time on the shores of a small, secluded beach on Koh Madsum. While we could see several boats and sunbathers in the distance, anchored at another beach on the island, our area was left empty and unspoiled. The clouds were gone by this point and the sun had come out so we were left with a beautiful view on a private beach on a gorgeous day.

Koh Madsum Thailand

Gavin and Chud set up a wonderfully laid picnic under a large banyan tree complete with a mat, triangular pillows to lean and rest against, and two place settings for us. Offering us beer and wine, Gavin left us to relax comfortably and enjoy our drinks while he heated up the food (he had brought a table, an element and several cooking instruments in order to serve the food hot). The spot was perfect and the banyan tree provided shade and a little added privacy.

Koh Madsum Picnic

We were served Thai fare (although there were other options to choose from) and there was quite the spread. We were served papaya salad and a lettuce salad, fried chicken, pork skewers, rice with chicken and squid, and larb gai. The food was delicious and plentiful. After taking our time on the main course, Gavin then served us dessert – Watermelon, kiwi and pear slices and some coconut jellies and a dessert of sticky rice and taro. We learned that there was such a thing as yellow watermelon which tastes pretty much like the red kind. From start to finish, the entire meal was so filling and tasty and we took our time enjoying the food, the wine and the beer.

Koh Samui Picnic

Koh Madsum Picnic

Romantic Things to do in Thailand

While the dishes were being put away, we went for a quick swim in the water and a stroll along the beach before returning and getting in the boat. When Gavin dropped us back off at our hotel, we noticed that it was not too late in the afternoon which allowed us the rest of our evening to ourselves. It turned out to be a one-of-a-kind day and we were finally able to spend some relaxing, romantic time together.

If you’re in Koh Samui, don’t forget to check out Island Gem Picnic for groups, couples, families, wedding parties and even individuals looking to meet new people!

Have you ever been snorkeling? If so, comment below and let us know where your favourite place to snorkel is! If not, where would you want to start?

 

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How We Slice It – A Guide to Pai. Part Two: Where To Eat

Where To Eat In Pai

“Even the bad food in Thailand is still worth eating”. We made up this saying, to describe our culinary experience, after a meal in northern Thailand.

While driving in Chiang Mai, we decided to pull over one night for a bowl of soup from one of the typical street vendors one sees throughout the country. Although being deserted, which is usually our signal for “don’t risk it”, it was the first one we saw while particularly famished. About three spoonfuls into it, we noticed small flying ants, which we dubbed “flants”, floating around in our bowls. Turning the noodles over we confirmed that these were not recent casualties – there were several more underneath. Despite the unwanted guests, the soup was actually delicious and extremely flavourful but whether or not we continued to eat it is a story for another time.

Thailand has an overwhelming number of places to eat, there is no arguing that, and Pai is no exception.

Finding good restaurants and food is a large part of what we do when we are travelling and Pai had some great places worth mentioning. Whether you are looking for traditional Thai, other ethnic foods or a little taste of home, chances are you’ll be able to find something delicious while you’re there.

Here are our top picks for a variety of different types of meals and restaurants in Pai

Cheap Thai Food

Cheap Thai food in Pai

We often like to go out of the main tourist areas, or at least a little off the beaten path, and find some hidden gems on our own. We found a great little restaurant just off the walking street with some pretty good Thai food at amazing prices. While we couldn’t find a name, we have the directions so finding it may be a bit like a treasure hunt – but who doesn’t like those? If you are on the walking street, head east and turn right at the intersection before the Pai Mae Hong Son Bus Station. Take the second left and then the first right. On the southeast corner of that intersection you’ll find the restaurant, of no distinguishable name. If you just want some tasty and cheap Thai food without the search, Dang Thai Food also serves great dishes and, even though it’s on a busy strip, it maintains an authentic feel. At around 40THB a dish, it’s definitely a restaurant to visit.

 

For Burger Lovers

burger queen pai, thailand

It’s true we write a lot about burgers, but when you find a place that can make a great burger, it’s hard not to talk about it! We passed Burger Queen a few times while walking around Pai. We were talking to an expat who happened to mention the property in an offhand comment, and it stuck. Looking at TripAdvisor reviews had us thinking about it even more. We had just driven back from the outskirts of Pai in the pouring rain, had dried off as best we could and were getting pretty hungry when we decided we wouldn’t bother hunting down a restaurant, we’d see how good the burgers at Burger Queen were. They were amazing. Between us we had a classic burger and the Hawaiin burger and a side of homemade fries and ate pretty much in silence after the grunts of enjoyment with our first bites. This place definitely satisfied our burger craving and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of Western fare in between all the amazing Thai food you’ll find in Pai.

Breakfast, Coffee, and A Great Vibe

om garden pai food

While socializing on the walking street, Om Garden Café was recommended to us for a breakfast spot. We found it cozy and tranquil and quite unique with it’s tropical garden hideaway feel. The service was impeccable, the coffee was a perfect start to the day and there was a great selection of meals on the menu. Delicious food with reasonable prices, this is also a great place to do some work (they have free WiFi) or read a book and relax.

Want A Full Guide To Pai And How To Get There? 

Walking Street, Street Food

fried insects on walking street in pai

No, we’re not suggesting that fried insects are the best option in Pai – although we can’t say as we haven’t tried them – but you can definitely find a wide range of food on the walking street. We’ve already raved a bit about Grandma’s Pancakes, but we thought it was deserving of another mention. You’ll find many food vendors along the walking street with a wide variety of food. Meat skewers, pad Thai, fried insects – you’ll find it all but the one we thought was the most enticing and delicious was this little stand, with a little woman, serving little pancakes that were big in taste.

grandmas pancakes pai

You can get 10 regular pancakes with syrup for 30THB (around $1) or enjoy a variety of different flavours for slightly more. She’ll make chocolate, chocolate banana, Nutella pancakes and even savory ones like sausage and egg pancakes. We stopped several times during our time in Pai to grab an order of pancakes from the friendly, little woman serving them from behind a small stand.

Desserts And Some Coffee

 

Pai Siam Bistro in Pai Thailand

We’ve also mentioned Pai Siam as it was one of our favourite places to stop for a coffee on the walking street and was also the place that led us to find our little oasis in Pai, Soi One Bedrooms. If you’re looking for some good café style beverages and some homemade desserts, Pai Siam Bistro is a great place in a good location with reasonable prices. Located in the middle of the walking street, beside a handmade lampshade business of the same name, Pai Siam, this bistro is tucked behind their gellati stand and is definitely worth the visit.

 

Stay tuned for our third, and last, part of “How We Slice It – A Guide To Pai” where we will provide information on some of the attractions in Pai.

Travelling to Pai? You can read part one of “How We Slice It – A Guide to Pai” and discover a few great accommodations in Pai for a variety of budgets and preferences.

You can also find our tips on how to get to Pai, and about our drive from Chiang Mai to Pai

Comment below and tell us if you would finish a delicious bowl of soup seasoned with “flants”!

 

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How We Slice It – A Guide to Pai. Part One: Where to Stay

 

We stayed in Pai for about 5 days. After the drive up (you can read about our drive to Pai here and our tips on getting to Pai here), we didn’t want to leave right away but we also didn’t want to stay too long as we had plans to meet, for the first time, our now friends the Wagoner’s, a travel blog family, and go on a Scorpion Tail River Cruise. Our time, while seemingly short, was pretty perfect. We hadn’t read too much about Pai and all we knew by way of others was that we had to go, so we kept our plans open.

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The centre of town is a pretty small area of grid-like roads with shops, restaurants and accommodations almost completely directed towards tourists. And there were lots of tourists. We didn’t notice them so much during the day. The center of town really picks up at night when the walking street begins and the bars and night-time restaurants open. During the day, we presume everyone was out exploring the various sites around Pai. When the walking street does open, which is nightly around 5:30-6pm, the main stretch of road and several offshoots are brimming with street vendors selling what any good walking street in Thailand sells: food, souvenirs, clothes, handmade products, and more food. We found that, while every night seemed to be the same vendors in the same spot, we always noticed and found something different.

 

While the walking street is probably one of the more well-known aspects of Pai, we found there were quite a few things that made Pai a fun and interesting place to visit. We’ve put together our list of what we enjoyed in Pai including where to stay, where to eat, and what to do and will be releasing our suggestions in a 3 part series. Our list is based on our visit of only 5 days and while we had some pretty great experiences, we’re sure there is much more about Pai that would have made it on our list had we had the time.

 

Where to Stay in Pai

In all honesty, we only stayed at two places ourselves and both were right on the walking street. But we also heard some great reviews of a few other places from friends we made. We’ve provided a different suggestion depending on budget, preference in location and preference in style of accommodation.

On a Budget

If you are a backpacking couple or travelling on a budget we would recommend Walking Street Guesthouse. If you’ve been backpacking, this place is pretty typical of what you’d find in a hostel or backpacker’s guesthouse. We were able to book one night in a private room with a king-size bed and private bathroom for 200THB ($7.40CDN/$6.67USD). Now we’re talking barebones here. It was a concrete room, with a fan, a king-sized bed and that’s it. But it was clean, a good price and right in the middle of the walking street. Reception was also incredibly friendly and helpful and they have a restaurant which we did not try but was later told was amazing but another traveler we met in Chiang Mai.

Click here for more information and the latest prices.

Want A Full Guide To Pai And How To Get There? 

Affordable Luxury

SOi One Bedrooms, Soi One Gold Room, Pai Boutique Hotel, Best Pai Accommodations

Click here for more information on Soi One and their latest prices.

We stayed our last night at Soi One Bedrooms. We would highly recommend this boutique hotel should you have the opportunity. As there are only 4 rooms, it books up fast, it is a little pricier than a budget hotel or accommodations off the walking street. However, if they have room available the walk-in price is half. Either way, they are located on the corner of one end of the walking street and one of the main stretches of bars, have gorgeous rooms and still comes at an affordable price for the comfort, cleanliness and luxury of the property. Check out our post on Soi One Bedrooms – Best Place To Stay In Pai, you’ll get a more in depth look at why this is one of the best accommodations in Pai.

 

Outside of the Centre of Pai

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We did not stay at the Pai Vintage Garden Resort, however our friend’s the Wagoners did (photo above courtesy of them). About a kilometer out of central Pai, Pai Vintage Garden Resort is a peaceful and quiet getaway. If you are looking for accommodations in Pai that is a little off the main area, quieter and with an amazing view, this might just be the place for you.

Click here for more information on Pai Vintage Garden Resort and the latest prices.

Private Bungalows, Close to the Walking Street

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We attempted to get a bungalow at Pai Chan but they were sold out by the time we found out about this place. Friends we made managed to snag the last room, for a discounted walk-in price, and were not disappointed. Private, traditional bungalows made of teak wood, a large swimming pool and a restaurant that overlooks the rice fields and mountains are what we were told were some of the amazing features of Pai Chan. Since they are not too far of a walk from the walking street, this gives a great alternative to being right in the middle of the action. It’s good to note that since these are traditional style, your stay will be a little more rustic, with concrete bathrooms, open windows (wood shutters when you want to close them), mosquito nets and no air conditioning.

Click here for more information about Pai Chan and their latest prices.

Stay tuned for part two of our How We Slice It – A Guide To Pai when we list some of our top picks for where to eat in Pai.

Have you been to Pai? If so, comment below and tell us where you would recommend as a great place to stay. If you haven’t, comment and let us know which of these you would choose.