You can’t be crabby in Krabi!

After a few weeks of waiting, Val and I were finally able to head back to our favorite road, Khao San, and we brought my family with us. Yes, my parents and sister came to visit me in Thailand! Drinking from buckets and eating burritos made us happy, but the street was not as packed on a Wednesday night as it was the last time we went there on a Friday night—a bit of a bummer.

IMG_7516Val and I living it up on Khao San Road!

After classes the next day, I took the bus back into Bangkok where my family and I got on a plane to Krabi, a beach town in southern Thailand. White sand beaches, here we come! Krabi is best known for its wonderful island hopping. On Friday, we went on a speed boat island tour around the Phi Phi islands. The boat was awesome—too bad we weren’t tubing from the back of it—and held about 30 people. We saw several limestone mountains with cliffs, caves, and long white sandy beaches.

At the first island, we went swimming in the Straight of Malacca. At the second island, we went snorkeling, where we saw many, many different types of colorful fish. At the third island, we ate a great lunch of rice and chicken and watermelon, and then walked around and took photos. At the fourth island—Monkey Island—guess what we saw?! Monkeys! We stopped to snorkel again on the way home.

IMG_7537The tour of the Phi Phi Islands was amazing.

Despite putting sunscreen all over me, my shoulders got a little burned. I truly thought I would be much tanner since I have been living in the sun for over three months, but I was wrong! When the tour ended, we headed back to our hotel and then grabbed some Thai food, and I got a head and shoulder massage. (I’m going to miss the all the great food and pampering massages when I leave!)

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On Saturday, my family left bright and early to head back to Bangkok and homeward, while Val and I slept in late. When we finally woke up, we decided to take a long boat ride to Prah Nang Cave island, where we spent the afternoon. The boat ride was short, and we were happy to see that when we got to the island, there were not a lot of people and the water and scenery looked pristine.

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We swam in the surprisingly warm water, ate grilled corn and roti, explored caves—and of course, I made Val take lots of pictures of me.

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By the time the sun was setting, we were beat, so we took the boat back to the main land and then took a tuk tuk to our new hotel. The hotel had lost of cats and was right on the water; however, we had no air conditioning! Ahhhh!!! If you understand how HOT it is here, you’ll know how miserable it is to be without AC! That night, we watched the waves roll in as we ate fried rice on the beach (because when is it not a good idea to eat fried rice?!).

IMG_7659Watching the sun set from the beach—life doesn’t get any better than this!

After falling asleep super early and sleeping for 10 hours, on Sunday, we went on another island-hopping tour. This tour consisted of seven islands, a beautiful sunset, delicious dinner, and a swim in bioluminescent plankton. The tour was sadly not on a speed boat, but instead a large ferry. The ferry took us to a turquoise blue area where I then jumped into the water to snorkel with lots and lots of fish. We then went to a National Park—while it was no United States National Park, it was still beautiful.

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We went at low tide, so when Val and I went swimming, we were surprised how far we could go out while still touching the bottom. We snorkeled again at another island. This area had fish that looked like Dory from Finding Nemo! I would have been happy snorkeling all day, but I was forced to get out and watch the sunset on an island while eating some great Thai food and fried chicken! (You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, so it was all good.)

DCIM100GOPROStill smiling despite finding a large crab stuck in my hair.

After the sun went down, I was surprised how completely dark it was. Most of the islands don’t have houses on them, so looking out from the boat, all we saw was pitch blackness—and the occasional lightning strikes in the distance. The boat then stopped in the middle water, and the crew told us to jump in the water. When we were in the water, they turned the lights off on the boat, and the water lit up with bioluminescent plankton! It looked like little twinkle lights floating in the water. When you moved your hands underwater, they would light up brightly! While in the water, we looked up and the sky was covered with stars as lightening from the storm came closer. It was an incredible experience, and I didn’t want to get out of the water (no surprise!). As I was swimming back to the boat, the crew kept yelling to watch out for sharks because sharks here love to eat pretty women. So flattering! It was no surprise that when we got back to Krabi, I passed out pretty quick. What a fun day!

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It was hard to leave Monday morning and go back to Bangkok because the sun and the beach were just what I needed. However, the fried bananas and pineapple at the airport helped ease the pain of leaving.)

IMG_7732Anything fried is usually pretty good!

Now it’s my last week of classes and I have to deal with finals. Just take me back to the beach, please!

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A Cambodian Style Birthday

The most important holiday was upon us this week: my birthday! Since it was my birth-week, I made my friends celebrate a little bit each day. We went out to dinners, indulged in desserts (they were all so good that I was okay with the fact that they were probably 5,000 calories each!), and travelled to Cambodia (south of Thailand, west of Vietnam).

1My friends wouldn’t light me 20 candles, so I guess this was okay.

For my birthday celebration on Thursday, I got a honey toast and a brownie sundae and went on a shopping extravaganza at the market. On Friday, I got up way too early (3:30 a.m. should never be an alarm set on my phone again!) to catch an early morning flight to Siem Reap, widely renowned as the gateway to Angkor Wat, the millennium-old temple ruins of the Khmer Empire, in northwestern Cambodia. The flight was only about 30 minutes long, so I was a little bummed that I didn’t get more than a 15-minute nap. Audrey and I arrived in Cambodia without any hassle, unlike Val and Paige who came via bus. Birthday miracle! I explored a temple, went shopping, and drank a milkshake before having a pampering afternoon.

2.jpgAs a Wisconsin girl, I needed my picture next to the cow statues at the temple.

I got a foot massage for an hour and then a pedicure, which together cost me only $4! It was so relaxing that I was ready to get another one that night after dinner. When Val and Paige arrived, we went to Pub Street and I got free birthday drinks—always a treat!

3Pub Street is the apparently the Khao San of Cambodia. We liked Khao San better.

Saturday was another early day… 3:30 a.m. wake up time again… why?! We rented a tuk tuk for the day to explore the ruins of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Ngoc, Baphuon, Victory Gate, and Ta Prohm.

4.jpgA tuk tuk is a little cart attached to a motorcycle.

We saw the sunrise at Angkor Wat, an iconic site. Then we spent the rest of the day climbing ruins and sweating in the beating sun. I was thankful I brought my fan—as it was being waved constantly. The ruins were incredible! It was hard to believe that something so massive and intricate was in the middle of Cambodia.

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I was exhausted after we visited eight temples. I thought it would be later, but we were all drained by 1 p.m.! The tuk tuk took us back to the hotel. Our driver was so sweet and luckily drove fast so the breeze was glorious as we went from temple to temple. After a quick power nap and half a burger, we all went to get massages and our nails done. While Paige and I got foot massages, Val and Audrey got pedicures. After the second massage, I knew that on Sunday, I was going to go back for a foot massage and a back massage! While feeling relaxed, Val and I got Henna tattoos on our feet. I could wear my shoes without rubbing the ink off, but Val wasn’t as lucky. She had to walk around and eat dinner without shoes.

6I tricked my mom into thinking it was a real tattoo!!!

We got margaritas and pizza for dinner (very Cambodian, ha ha!), then went for fried ice cream and drinks at a bar that had a live band. The band was very entertaining and played everything from The Rolling Stones to Taylor Swift.

Finally, I got to sleep in on Sunday (I guess 8 a.m. is now sleeping in for me), then went for breakfast and got another massage. Getting all my massages and pedicures this weekend only cost me $15! My hour-long back and head massage was so relaxing that I fell asleep. I was ready to spend an extra dollar to get another half hour, but unfortunately, we had to head to the airport to return to Bangkok. Without our knowledge, our flight was delayed, so I would have had time for that massage! Good thing the airport lounge had free popcorn—so it was all good.

Cambodia was a very interesting place—very different from Thailand and Laos—and I loved it. Ruins, massages, and pizza. What more could one need? I enjoyed dropping that it was my birthday to see what types of discounts I could get, and I also loved talking with the natives here. They all spoke excellent English and were funny.

7.jpgMy legs look long in this pose—which never happens!

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, but I think Cambodia may give them a run for their money. Everywhere I went, someone was smiling at me. Shop owners loved talking, and little girls at the restaurant were in awe as Val and I sang Taylor Swift lyrics. It is great that a smile is the same in every language.

8.jpgWe got matching bracelets from these monks and they chanted something that I’m pretty sure was a curse.

I’m glad I was able to spend my birthday in Cambodia. Now my friends and family will have to step up their birthday game because simply eating some cake isn’t going to cut it anymore after getting to celebrate here!

9.jpgShocker… I’m eating more ice cream.

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For the love of elephants

When I decided to study abroad in Thailand, one thing I had my heart set on was was seeing and playing with elephants. On a mission to make this happen, I learned that inhumane treatment of elephants and riding them is sadly very common in Thailand, mostly to please tourists. I did not want to partake in such activities, so made sure to find a place that was a no-riding facility.

In Kanchanaburi, about three hours north of Bangkok, is a camp that focuses on loving elephants and letting them live their life without chains. I was very excited to find a place like this! So this weekend, my friends Val and Audrey and I went to Kanchanaburi.

Due to heavy Bangkok traffic, we arrived 30 minutes late to the bus stop and thought we’d missed our departure time. Luckily, “Thai time” is more relaxed and the bus had not left without us. We hopped onboard and made it to Kanchanaburi. Again, not quite according to plan, we struggled to find our hotel, a little bungalow outside of the city, but eventually, we made it.

On Saturday morning, we headed to Elephant Haven to see elephants. When we arrived, we were greeted by seven elephants! We fed them sugar canes. Some of them were very greedy and would take the canes from another elephant’s mouth. It was funny! But they were all very gentle and sweet. Next, we cut up A LOT of watermelons and made banana rice balls.

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The elephants loved the watermelon, and it was fun to see how they would use their trunks to pick up all the food. When they were done eating, we walked with them through the jungle. They kept eating all the plants—even though we’d just fed them. Elephants eat about 16 hours a day—which is crazy! During the jungle walk, the elephants began playing in the mud to cool off.

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They were constantly spraying us with mud—messy but a lot of fun! After the elephants were thoroughly covered in mud, we headed to the river where we washed and swam with them. We even got into a competitive splash battle with one of the workers. The water was moving quite swiftly, but the elephants used their trunks to hang onto us and stop us from flowing downstream. The sweetness of the elephants made my heart melt. I loved spending the day with elephants in a place where there were no trail rides, chains, or hooks to force them to do what people wanted them to do. The elephants were safe and free—even though this sometimes meant they would wander away to find good leaves to eat—and you could tell they were happy.

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The workers at Elephant Haven were very kind to the elephants and loved to tell us “No Danger,” which we thought was funny. We would literally be standing in an empty field and they would just say, “No Danger”.

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When we were done with our day with the elephants, we headed back to our hotel. Our host was so kind. He took us to his favorite restaurant where I ate fried bananas and pineapple. He then took us to the Bridge over the River Kwai and to a night market. Val and I bought about 20 bananas for a dollar, and then ate some amazing roti (flatbread). I can’t stop thinking about the roti—I probably could have eaten 10 pieces, they were so good.

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The next morning, our host said he wanted to take us to a Chinese temple, breakfast, a floating market, and a dam. Breakfast was delicious. Val and I split a raspberry cream cheese crepe and cashew chicken. (Thais don’t really have specific breakfast foods, so you can get rice and chicken at 9 a.m. with no judgement!) The Chinese temple was cool—different than the other temples we’ve seen in Thailand. Already in the early morning, it was 90 degrees and we were dying from the heat. The floating market was cool, too. It was located in an old film studio. There was also another great market where I could not resist buying an adorable shirt. After the market, our host took us on a 45-minute ride into the mountains to see the Srinagarind Dam. It was very interesting and reminded me of the Hoover Dam.

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It was fun that our host took us to places where there were no other tourists. In the afternoon, we hopped on a train back to Bangkok. We thought it would be fun because Kanchanaburi is known for its railways. When we got on, we discovered that there were only wooden seats and open windows. No air conditioning! As we pulled out of the station, we knew we’d made a mistake. Everyone had on masks because of the amount of dust swirling into the train. My phone was covered in a nice layer of dust within four minutes. We were miserable in the heat—and it was an extremely hot day (over 100 degrees). I was happy when that three-hour “train ride from hell” was over! Covered in a thick film of dirt, I was excited to go home and shower and sit in a nice air conditioned room. Kanchanaburi was great, but a bus ride home would have been a great end to the trip.

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