Maya Bay Birthday

I try to spend my birthday out of town (and if I’m lucky, out of the country). Organizing a party brings more pain than pleasure and I prefer to avoid the stress of it all. I spent my 28th birthday in China/India and my 30th in Peru, but turning 33 in Thailand will be almost impossible to top.

After a few days in Singapore (see Singapore and More Singapore posts), we flew out to Phuket to spend my birthday island hopping with our friend, Sara.

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PATONG BEACH, PHUKET

Phuket did not impress me, mostly because the area we stayed in, Patong Beach, was a dirty, tourist-crazed, party town. Since we only had one night in Phuket, I can only speak to the small strip of beach and nightlife we experienced.

Having been away from the ocean for longer than I’m accustomed to, my first order of business was to get barefoot on the beach and test the waters. The ocean is my sacred soul place where I feel the most content and at peace. Despite the crowded beach overtaken by parasailing tourists and European bros in banana hammocks, I closed my eyes and allowed the warm seawater to reestablish my connection to nature.

Revitalized and ravished by hunger, we strolled through town in search of my favorite fare, SEAFOOD! It took a little searching, but eventually we found the alley with a bunch of restaurants (all the same same but different). Each place had at least one staff member who’s job was to lure customers in with the same catchline, “hey bro, eat here!”. We chose the place with the least presumptuous pusher.  The food was fittingly underwhelming, especially in comparison to what we ate in Chiang Mai and Singapore.

With only one night in Patong, we fought the fatigue and got pumped to party. The main street leading straight to Patong Beach was reminiscent of a Bangkok Redlight District. Bar after bar serving nothing but booze and featuring shows that were “all about the pus$$y” – don’t ask, I did and was left with only more questions. We took down some shots, drank a bunch of beer, listened to live music, danced a bit, took photos with ladyboys, and topped the night off with some greasy Micky D’s. The weekend was off to a great start.

KOH PHI PHI

After one night of partying in Patong Beach, we hopped on a ferry to Koh Phi Phi, one of the major party islands of Thailand. There are no cars on the island, only hoards of young tourists drinking at all hours of the day. The beautiful beaches are littered with beer bottles and different colored straws – battle scars from endless days and nights of raging. Nonetheless, the sand is soft, the water warm, and the western food choices are plentiful.

We stayed at a hostel up in the hills, further away from the beach and the ruckus. It was a bit of a trek, there was a blood stain on the wall, and a cesspool of mosquitos in the empty reservoir outside our door, but it was worth the peaceful night of sleep.

Our day was spent on the beach, laying out, drinking beer, and eating. It was looking to be a successful relaxation day, until I made the one of the worst decisions of our entire trip – tuna pizza. I didn’t actually order the tuna pizza but I also didn’t complain when it wasn’t pepperoni. I ate the entire thing and regret it still to this day. From that point on, I was ruined. We were playing pool at an empty rock and roll bar when one of the owners opened a can of tuna for dinner. One whiff was all it took. I ran as fast as I could to the toilet and lost it. Nothing compares to the upchuck of tuna, nothing.

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I easily could have crawled back to our hostel but instead attempted to rally and headed to the beach to check out the party scene. It was still early, but we managed to catch a fire show, listen to some EDM, and watch drunk guys trying to hang from a pull-up bar for as long as they could.

MAYA BAY SLEEP ABOARD

So, here is where the weekend turned around and shit got real. Maya Bay is a short boat trip away from Phi Phi. It became a popular tourist destination after the film, The Beach (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), was released in 2000. Boatloads of tourists make the day trip for the perfect photo in paradise. Its beauty is undeniable but it is easily tarnished by the heaps of boats and people overtaking the bay. Since the island is a National Park, there are no houses, stores, or hotels and tourists must depart by sundown. Thanks to Maya Bay Sleep Aboard, we were able to experience the island in the most memorable way.

We met at the pier in the afternoon and happily departed Phi Phi. The first stop was the Phi Ley Bay for snorkeling, kayaking, and jumping off the top of the boat. The water was cool, clear and immediately healed all traces of my tuna pizza hangover.

Eventually we arrived at Maya Bay where we took a dip in the water, did a little trekking, and waited for all of the day-trippers to leave. By sundown, our group of 17-20 people were the only ones left on the island. We enjoyed a BBQ dinner on the beach accompanied by buckets of alcohol. The Sleep Aboard staff were the lives of the party – real professional party animals. Coco Loco and Jumbo, the two main guides, initiated a game Kings Cup and forced the timid tourists out of their shells. Free shots were passed out to everyone in the group after Sean mentioned it was my birthday. We sang, drank, ate, and drank some more.

With a decent buzz in tact, we were taken back to the main boat in the middle of the bay where we strapped on our life vests in preparation for the plankton light show. Bobbing in the middle of the pitch black ocean with a bunch of strangers brought on flashbacks of Jack and Rose after the Titanic sunk. Despite the eeriness, there was also something otherworldly about floating in the deep, dark, sea. I dunked my head underwater, swaying my arms as legs as quickly as I could, watching as the lights from the glowing plankton followed the path of my limbs. At this point, a new believer of magic, I was convinced that this birthday was as good as it gets.

I’d be lying if I said the night was all rainbows and butterflies. Our ignorant asses thought it would be a good idea to sleep on the top of the boat. Staring up at the stars as the boat rocked side to side – what could go wrong? RAIN. We got drenched and our bags with all of our clothes were out of reach, tucked in a corner surrounded by sleeping bodies. All of the geniuses that wanted to sleep under the stars huddled at the bottom of the boat while the rain poured down. Our miserable mood began to shift when a member of the boat crew pulled out an acoustic guitar and started to play. Minutes later everyone was singing in unison and passing around a bucket of alcohol. The rain eventually stopped and we headed back to our sleeping spots on the top of the boat – staring up at the stars as the boat rocked back and forth. I laid there and reflected on how lucky I was to experience such amazing adventures. It might have been the worst night of sleep EVER, but it was also a night I will always remember.

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KOH LANTA

Party islands are great if you are single and in your twenties but they will make you feel like an old fart if you are 33 and married. After 3 nights of partying on the beach and on the boat, we were all ready for some much needed R&R and Koh Lanta was exactly that.

We took a rough and rainy ferry ride from Phi Phi and stumbled to a restaurant to hydrate and search for a place to stay.  We decided to shell out more money (than usual) to stay at a nice resort with clean, comfortable beds, warm water, and air conditioning.

Sara was afflicted with a stiff neck as a result of sleeping without a pillow the night before and unfortunately remained bedridden with the exception of the occasional massage. Thankfully the resort provided the comfort to recover.

Sean and I spent our last two days motorbiking up and down the coast, scoping out different beaches, sunbathing on the sand, drinking, watching the sunset, and getting massages. It was, by far, the most relaxing two days of our trip thus far. With at least two months left on our trip, we were convinced that this would not be our only visit to the island of Lanta.

 

 

Singapore

The land of luxury, city of the future, and home to the Merlion (my new favorite animal hybrid) – Singapore. We spent more money here in 3 days (being frugal) than two full weeks in Thailand, but it was totally worth it.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Fortunately, we were able to save quite a bit by staying with our friend, Tamy, in her posh high-rise apartment. Without free lodging, our trip expenses would have doubled. She also served as our personal expert and ‘Trip Advisor’ to everything Singapore.

Special thanks to Tamy for letting us crash at her pad, taking us out, and showing us a fabulous time. We miss you already!!!

GETTING AROUND

I loved the Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)! It was so easy to get anywhere in the city riding their clean (and air-conditioned trains). Rideshare apps, Uber and Grab, were super cheap and easy to use when we didn’t feel like walking to the MRT station in the humid, midday heat. Taxis are also an option if you don’t mind paying a little more. Apparently it is extremely expensive to buy and own a car in Singapore. This forces most people to take public transportation and leaves the roads traffic free.

FOOD

Hainanese chicken rice is the Singaporean specialty. We had seen the dish served throughout Thailand but never were tempted enough to order it. It seemed necessary to finally try the boiled chicken and broth rice in the place where it was invented and made  famous.

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The chicken rice at Boon Tong Kee tasted like it looked – bleh. Everyone around us had ordered the same dish and seemed to enjoy it immensely. We didn’t really get the appeal. The chicken was served cold and the rice wasn’t anything special. I’d be willing (but not enthusiastic) to try it again. On the other hand, the crispy beancurd and all of their in-house sauces were incredible.

Singapore is home to many high-end restaurants. Famous celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck all have high class eateries at the Marina Bay Sands. Since we were traveling on a budget, we opted for cheap eats instead.

The mall food-courts became our goto for most every meal and they did not disappoint. There was a wide selection of cuisines from around the world at reasonable prices.

My most notable meal was the chili crab and Satay by the Bay. Spicy, messy goodness.

DRINKS

Getting drunk in Singapore was impossible. While there were bars everywhere around the city, the drinks were extremely expensive (especially when coming from Chiang Mai where you can get a beer for $1-2USD or a gin and tonic for $2-3USD). On our first night out we spent about $75USD on THREE drinks. Granted I had an insanely good Bloody Mary topped with tiny pickles and baked beans, it was definitely not worth the price.

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When we tried to be thrifty by purchasing a “pre-party” bottle of wine at the gas station, we were turned down because their liquor law prohibits shops from selling booze after 10:30pm.

On the upside,  the bars were swanky and we were in good company so a buzz was not necessary to have a delightful evening.

SITES

Singapore is unlike anyplace we’ve ever been. Stand almost anywhere, take a look around, and you will be transported to a place of futuristic beauty – clean streets featuring hip restaurants and bars, unique skyscrapers garnished here and there with abundant gardens, and water shows displaying light projections and floating bubbles.

Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Cloud Dome, Flower Dome, Merlion, and Art Science Museum – we covered quite a bit in 3 days. I’ll be writing another post on our adventures in the Lion City.

 

 

10 Things I’ve learned in Thailand (so far…)

  1. Wearing make-up is a waste of time. It will sweat off the moment you step outside. I have a tinted moisturizer and have only been using it for its SPF30 properties. Beyond that, waterproof mascara is the only thing that will stay on your face. Basically, forget trying to look presentable – it’s not going to happen.
  2. My hair hates Thailand and Thailand hates my hair. “You have amazing hair” – a compliment that has never been bestowed upon me. There are girls that can let their hair air dry in humidity and still look like they just stepped out of a salon. I am not one of those girls. Without a hair dryer, flat iron, and cool, dry weather, I am the Lion King reincarnate. Thank God for hair clips, hats, and bandanas!!!crazy-hair
  3. Just because it looks delicious, doesn’t mean it taste delicious (see our satay eating experience in my Chinatown Letdown post).shit-on-a-stick
  4. Adversely, food that looks disgusting can be some of the more delicious fare. Sausages fall far down on my list of favorite foods but there is something about the spices and herbs in the wursts here that give me nightly cravings. They may look green and brown with black spots but damn, they taste divine.p1030138
  5. The best meals are served from a cart. Not only are they fractions of the price but they have been the tastiest meals I have had. The pad thai dishes ordered on the street have surpassed the same dish eaten from a restaurant, cafe, or bar.img_0208
  6. It doesn’t have to be cold outside to enjoy a hot bowl of soup — but it does help to have a fan pointed in your direction. If there is one thing I have fallen hard for in Chiang Mai, it is a hot bowl of khao soi (My new love). I could eat it all day every day for the rest of my life – no joke.img_2690
  7. Beer is best served over ice. Unless you like warm beer…
  8. Thai people don’t sweat. I’m over here in a tank top sweating bullets while bro is bundled up in a jacket, eating a hot bowl of soup, dry as a bone. WTF?!
  9. Thailand is cover crazy. The coffee shops and bars play a lot of popular music but they are all cover songs – many times with a slower, jazzy vibe. One bar/coffee spot in Nimmanhaemin area of Chiang Mai, Dude, Coffee!, had an entire Maroon 5 mix playing. Sean surprisingly tolerated the tunes because Adam Levine wasn’t the one singing.
  10. Keep Wet Ones/toilet paper on you at ALL times. I already knew this, but I continue to remind myself because it is the most important lesson of all. You never know when the bubble guts will strike – and the last place you want to be is standing over a squat toilet without  wipes.

The Rose of the North

Chiang Mai is everything we were hoped for, and then some. It didn’t take very long for us to become smitten with our new home (for the next couple months). Friendly locals, bustling night markets, delectable eats, cheap massages, and temples galore – what’s not to love?

The Smith Residence

Our apartment is just outside the old city, south of Chiang Mai Gate. We have decent sized room with a microwave, TV, fridge, spacious bed, and a well working air conditioner. Sean has to get on his knees to take a shower (guess it doesn’t always suck to be short) but besides that, we are pleased with our accommodations. The complex also has a rooftop gym and pool that is open from 6am-9pm.

Transportation

Tuk tuks wait on every street corner and while there are a few standard taxis, most people  get around using red trucks with oversized campers (songthaews) that serve as mini busses which can take multiple riders at a time. They are not metered but are a bargain when compared to tuk tuks.

Food, food, and more food

We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to Northern Thai cuisine. Khao soi is my obvious go to (My new love) but there is so much more to be discovered.

Of course we had to hit up the notorious “lady with the cowgirl hat” for her khao kha moo (slow stewed pork leg). It was some of the juiciest, tastiest, most tender pork I’ve ever eaten!

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the woman, the myth, the legend – number 1!!!

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khao kha moo from Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak

Here are some other noteworthy dishes we’ve had so far:

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Chicken Noodle Soup from Buathip

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gai yang from SP Chicken

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Thai rotee with banana and chocolate

Smoothies are a typical refreshment here in Thailand. Our favorite so far has been the mango mania smoothie from Mango Mania in the MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center. It was thick and sweet and could cure any heat stroke in three sips.

Italian, Mexican, Irish, fast food – they have a decent variety to choose from. Aside from the occasional American breakfast, we’ve only eaten Thai. At some point I’m sure we will crave a burrito or some tacos but I predict a disappointing experience. Stay tuned for that…