Sneaking into the beach at Koh Samet

After four weeks of intensive CELTA-ing, Taylor and I snagged a bus from Ekamai bus station to the pier that gets you to a tiny little island called Koh Samet. The bus ride was just 3.5 hours and for that and the ferry it cost us 251 Baht each. We were in need of some R&R before we head off to Chiang Mai to settle down. Koh Samet is not as hyped up as the southern islands such as Koh Samui and Phuket. It’s where locals and Bangkok expats go for holiday and is a good quick getaway from the city.

We got to the beach and stayed in a budget guest house called Runa Runa. It was right on the main strip between the beach and the pier. Yes, it’s a TINY island. 

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Some tips for Koh Samet: 

  • Everything you need is a walkable. But if you go off of the main beach area, you will want to rent a motorbike. Motorbikes are 300 Baht for a day and can you get you to some nicer and more secluded beaches. 
  • Watch the sunset at least once either at Sunset Point in the south or Ao Prao Resort. The resort is freaking expensive so don’t spend too much time there. 
  • Go to the fire show! There is an amazing fire show every night at 8:30 pm at Ploy Talay on the beach. We sat down and got tables close to the front at about 6pm to reserve our space. 
  • Other than that, we chilled at the beach, relaxed, and just enjoyed a bit of down time. It was really pretty and just what we needed.  

 

How to get on the Koh Samet Sai Kaew Beach for free. 

Not gonna lie, I don’t want to be that farang that takes advantage of the system, but I have heard loads of mixed reviews about the military running after people on the beach to charge them a fee. I have heard some foreigners get charged 40 Baht while others get charged 400 Baht. Apparently there is a fee to enter the beach which is 200 Baht. But it’s not really been verified and is REALLY easy to get around (haha PUN). We were there for five days and just walked around the guards and they didn’t say a word.

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If you are walking south along the main strip, you will come to a checkpoint with two pillars. The guards are standing there charging people to enter the beach. However, right before you get there, you just walk left past the 7-Eleven and then take a quick right behind the pillar and they won’t say a word. If you’re on a motorbike you can take a back road to sneak by. We actually just drove through once and they just sat and didn’t say a word. 

We loved Koh Samet. It was our little piece of paradise before our move up to Chiang Mai!

 

A layover in Taipei

I spent less than 10 hours in Taipei so I KNOW it doesn’t really count….. Anyways, my boyfriend Taylor and I had a long layover there in late 2016 so we decided to take a bus into the city and explore for a few hours. We went to the top of Taipei 101 which is the 8th tallest skyscraper (509 meters/1670 feet) in the world. We went to the lookout, got mango-beer floats, and learned about that big gold ball that keeps it from falling over. 

We then walked around, got lost, ate DELICIOUS street food by looking at other people’s dishes and pointing. There was no way we would have any idea what we were ordering, but it worked out. 

I love being able to be in a city I have never been to and just walk around with no goal in mind. It would be great to go back and I could definitely see myself living there one day. It really reminded me of where I lived in Korea. 

Thank you Taiwan for your layover! 

Two months in Vietnam

I wanted to eat A LOT of pho, banh mi sandwiches, and Vietnamese BBQ so knew I would need to stay in Vietnam for a while – and that’s what I did. 

Due to the fact that the Vietnamese really know how to cater to travelers (yes WIFI & bathrooms on the sleeper buses) I bought an open bus ticket and made the trek from the south to the north for two months in late 2014. As long as the bus company had a days notice of when you would be hopping on, you could travel at the pace that you wished. No need to stress about planning too much in advance. 

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Sleeper bus

My trip looked like this: Phu Quoc – Saigon – Mui Ne – Dalat – Nah Trang – Hoi An – Danang – Hue – Hanoi – Sapa – Cat Ba. 

Traveling with no time restrictions and in a place that is very affordable is the absolute best. Check the rest of my Vietnam stories to figure out details of the places I went. 

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Vietnam is 100% MY FAVORITE country I have ever visited.

Trekking in SaPa

Have you ever had to rely on a less than 100 pound elderly woman to guide you through the mountains and make sure that you wouldn’t fall flat on your face? Well, I have. 

Should I or should I not go to Sapa? That’s not even a question if you enjoy hiking, cooler weather, and a whole different experience from anything else that Vietnam has to offer. I spent a couple of days trekking through the hills in northern Vietnam toward the end of my two month trip. Although it was cloudy and rainy for the most part, it was still absolutely beautiful. It’s easy enough to do an overnight bus from Hanoi and be at the Sapa town center by morning. Be prepared for cooler temperatures. If you need any winter gear there are discounted North Face stores on every corner in the main parts of Sapa and Hanoi. I bought a jacket that I later forgot on the boat ride to Halong Bay – womp wommmmp.

A group of about 8 of us were going on the two day trek – I wish I had gone a little longer but that’s just more reason to go back. Each day we walked about 8-10 miles through little villages. After our first day of sightseeing we stayed in a village home-stay where they prepped us a fantastic meal. We were able to explore the village, get mulled wine, treat ourselves to massages, and enjoy these little lavender infused baths up in the mountains.

After the first night we continued our journey through the slippery terrain. The photos tell more than I can. But this was such a unique experience and I’m glad that I took advantage of seeing this part of the country. Don’t believe me or still a bit skeptical? Well good thing for Tripadvisor

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Saigon won’t rip me off

SAIGON. It’s the COOLEST city ever. Ok, I’m lying I say that any time I go to a new city. I met up with my friends Kyle and Meghan who were living there at the time. They had a FIVE story house and paid $450 a month. WHAT!? Take me back PLEASE. They were both working and living there at the time and were great hosts for just over a week. We went to the pools, rode motorbikes, and ate great food.

Be careful if you are in a taxi. At one point I was in one and I could see that the driver was clicking the meter and making the price go up way too fast. A few blocks down the road it was becoming ridiculous so I asked him to pull over and let us out. I paid him his fee and he gave me back a very small amount of change. I looked over and saw he had hidden my $$ under his leg and acted as if I hadn’t just give it to him. I took his wallet, took my proper change, and got out of there. I had already been in SE Asia for over two months and didn’t have the patience to get ripped off. I was on a BUDGET. 

The Vietnam War museum was a really hard place to see in person. It was sad to see how it had affected so many people, both American and Vietnamese, horribly. I was impressed by all of the Americans who were drafted and refused to go because of their morals. They would burn their papers. People today are still affected by agent orange which can easily be passed down generation to generation.

During my last few days I got horribly sick and went to the doctor – so happy for my travel insurance! I was diagnosed with tonsillitis and laid in bed for a few days – NOT FUN. Luckily I had such wonderful hosts and wasn’t stuck in a hostel somewhere.

Overall, I really DID love the city, despite the circumstances. It was busy, loud, crazy, and there were tons of expats. I need to go live there someday.

For more history on Ho Chi Minh city click here

**Unfortunately I have no idea where my pics of this city went, but I have a great memory of them in my mind….

I shaved my legs

I don’t do drugs which is unfortunate considering they are so easy to get in Cambodia. 

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In the fall of 2014 I spent about 10 days beach bummin’ near Sihanoukville and Koh Rong which is in the southwestern part of Cambodia. There are a lot of foreigners who work at the bars in these areas for free accommodation which is great way to extend your travel and save $$$$. Take a ferry to Koh Rong for a couple of days and make sure to get the Thai food off to the left of the ferry dock. It’s AMAZING. I also went zip-lining in the pouring rain and almost broke a finger.  If you like nice and quiet then DON’T GO.

Of the beaches, I really preferred staying on Otres. It was a quiet beach just about a four mile bike ride from Sihanoukville. I was happy to just read, kayak, relax, toss a frisbee, and watch the sunset. 

Fun Fact: Women walk around the beaches needing work and offer services such as pedicures, massages, and threading your legs and anything else that needs to be shaved. It was both painful and very ticklish. It was about time that someone pulled off all of that hair on my legs. 

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The Killing Fields

When I got to Cambodia I immediately read the book “First They Killed My Father”. I bought it from a man on the streets who had no arms or legs. That was the norm over there. A lot of people had run into landmines in the recent past that had destroyed their bodies. The book was about a girl who came from a well-to-do family and was forced out of her home in Phnom Penh. It goes on to explain the history of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79) and how their leader Pol Pot led a genocide that destroyed most of Cambodia and the lives of those who lived there at the time. During these years about a quarter (2 million) of the population was killed. 

Going to the killing fields was the saddest place I  had ever seen. Walking through a place where you have the chills the entire time and don’t want to say a word because anything you say will be wrong. I listened to an audio background while learning about what happened and how the people were killed. The part that hit me the hardest was that there was an alter of skulls, you could still see people’s teeth in the dirt, and they would kill babies by bashing them into trees. I had no idea that this had happened not even forty years earlier. I took no photos because I didn’t feel comfortable taking out a camera. 

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The hour ride from Phnom Penh to the killing fields

“I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it.” 

-Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father

To read more about the history of the Khmer Rouge and how it effected Cambodia click here.