Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN ASIA

Floating Lake House Safari in Thailand

The floating lake house safari in Thailand was one of our top travel adventures of all time. We visited temples and a coconut plantation, rode elephants, kayaked to bat caves and explored the town of Songkhlaburi, all while staying on a floating lake house towed by a boat.

 

This tour we did on the floating lake house was the highlight of our entire two and a half week trip to Thailand. It was a unique experience, and got us off of the beaten path to some areas that many tourists don’t go to. The floating lake house itself was amazing. Evening swimming and sunsets, kayaking around the lake, and delicious home cooked Thai food.

Excerpt from our Thailand trip post. Read the full post of our trip around Thailand here

 

Floating Lake House Safari in Khao Laem National Park

Day 1:

We were picked up at our hotel in Bangkok in the morning by our Lake Safari shuttle, along with a Danish woman named Susanne who was traveling alone. I was excited to be able to practice my Danish.

The four day floating lake house safari tour we were headed on was a tour on a two story floating lake house towed by a boat down Lake Khao Laem in Khao Laem National Park. The house and tour were started by another Thai friend of mine who I was an exchange student with in Denmark, who now lives in Denmark running their website while her family members and hired tour guides do the tour in Thailand. Unfortuantely she wasn’t able to visit Thailand while we were on the tour, but the tour was the biggest highlight of our trip and we greatly recommend it. Our guide’s name was Puddi, and he gave us a great tour.

We began our tour with a two hour or so drive to the town of Kachanaburi to visit the Kachanaburi War Cememtery, Thailand’s resting place for over 7,000 World War II POWs who perished during the construction of the famous Death Railway. We also visited  the Thai-Burma Railway Centre Museum, which gives detailed accounts of the horrors of the POW railway camps run by the Japanese.

Kachanaburi War Cemetery Thailand
Kachanaburi War Cemetery
Kachanaburi War Cemetery Thailand
Kachanaburi War Cemetery

The cemetery and museum is funded by the Thai government. The majority of the soldiers laid to rest here are British, with a few Americans and Australians. It was a very informative museum, and a sombering experience.

We also witnessed possibly the most disrespectful tourist display we have ever seen: Young Japanese tourist girls taking selfies in the cemetery. It was appalling.

After the musuem, we moved on to the Bridge over the River Kwai, part of the 250 mile long Death Railway from Thailand to Burma.

We stopped for lunch at a little open air roadside restaurant with a buffet, it seemed to be a place that tour groups stop often. We continued our long drive, making one last stop at a little town for a tour of their market.

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Thai market
Ducks at the market

Thai market

Thai market

Thai market chilis

Thai market

We continued driving and at long last, arrived at the Lake House to begin our floating lake house safari. It was gorgeous.

floating lake house safari, Thailand
Floating lake house safari. Our home for the next three days

It had six bedrooms on the top floor, a kitchen and two bathrooms with flush toilets and showers on the main floor, and an open air dining area. The front had four lounge chairs on a sizeable deck.

The boat was parked in a floating fishing village of the native Mon people. They had lots of floating cabins and fishing traps set up on the lake.

Mon fishing village Thailand
Mon fishing village
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Mon fishing village

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Our driver got in the boat and we were moving. We grabbed some beers and enjoyed the view as we floated down the lake.

floating-lake-house-safari-Thailand
Floating lake house safari Thailand

After about an hour, we arrived in a little cove and tied up for the night. It was still afternoon, and our guide Puddi told us it was time to swim. It was hot, and the lake water was perfect. There were a couple of kayaks and one inner-tube that we could use.

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Floating lake house safari
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Floating lake house safari
floating-lake-house-safari-Thailand
Floating lake house safari
floating-lake-house-safari-Thailand
Floating lake house safari

For dinner we had Tom Kha soup and a chicken stir fry, made by the on-board cook, a sweet little old lady named Auntie Orr. It was fantastic.

Floating lake house safari Thailand
Dinner–Floating lake house safari
floating lake house safari Thailand
Dinner– Floating lake house safari

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and talking, and getting to know Susanne from Denmark.

floating lake house safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari
floating lake house safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari

That night it was hot. We kept our windows open and didn’t even use the blankets provided in our room. We eventually got to sleep but Heather and Stephen spent part of the night sleeping on the loungers on the deck.

Day 2:

The next morning we woke up and found ourselves moving. It was kind of nice to wake up and be going somewhere, without having to actually get out of bed.

floating lake house safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari

Breakfast was eggs, hot dogs, white toast, and orange juice. Instant coffee and tea were also available. Breakfast was pretty much the same each morning, and wasn’t super awesome. The delicious home cooked Thai dinners more than compensated, however.

floating lake house safari Thailand
Breakfast- Floating lake house safari

Soon after breakfast, we arrived at “Coconut Island.” This is an island in the lake with a very small coconut plantation which grows and harvests coconuts specifically for coconut ice cream.

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Trip to Coconut Island

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Thai chilis growing on the island

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Puddi gave us a tour of the coconut trees and showed us how the workers get the coconuts down from the trees–with a bamboo pole. Kind of a dangerous job, as you have to keep out of the way of coconuts falling on your head.

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metal sleeve around the coconut trees keeps animals from climbing up and eating the coconuts
Coconut Island, floating lake house safari Thailand
Puddi showing us how to get coconuts down with a bamboo pole. Dangerous job.

coconut island floating lake house safari Thailand

Sometimes the coconuts are too high up in the tree for the pole to reach. That’s where this guy comes in:

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Coconut picking monkey
coconut monkey floating lake house safari Thailand
Monkey trained to pick coconuts

This poor monkey is trained to get coconuts down from the trees. When he’s not working, he spends his day tied to this pole in the shade. Not such a great life. We were told to keep our distance, as he was a “very crazy monkey.”

Puddi gave us a tour of the rest of the farm, including the workers’ houses, the kitchen/eating area, coconut husking production, and a pet pig. The workers were very busy husking coconuts as fast as they could for the shipment going out that afternoon. We felt kind of bad gawking at them while they were trying to work, but they seemed used to it.

Puddi told us the workers here make $5.00 a day, and all food and board is included. He said they would make $15.00 a day in the city, but they would have to pay for food and rent so this job is actually a better deal. Except for that whole isolation thing.

Puddi explained that the coconut was a human-made hybrid of a regular coconut and a fruit called a macapuno coconut. About 80% of the coconuts on the trees are macapuno, and the farmers can tell by knocking on them. The more meat in the coconut, the more valuable it is. The meat is soft and juicy, not hard like regular coconut. Puddi scooped some out for us and we ate it with sugar sprinkled on it. It was really good.

macapuno coconut plantation Thailand

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Macapuno coconuts

Puddi also showed us cashews and giant limes that grow on the island. We had no idea that cashews were actually a fruit.

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Giant limes
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Cashews
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view of our lakehouse from the coconut island

We headed back to the boat and Auntie Orr cooked us lunch. We had chicken balls, fresh pineapple, and papaya salad. It was delicious.

floating lake safari Thailand

floating lake safari Thailand
Lunch

After lunch, we started moving again, and then spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and relaxing.

floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari
floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari
floating lake safari Thailand
Stephen kayaking near an old abandoned lake resort
floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari
floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari

We began moving one more time and finally tied up at another cove near some bat caves. Stephen, Susanne and I took the kayaks to the caves and they were creepy, but no bats.

Photo by Heather Smith

There were wild water buffalo on the banks of the lake. We kept our distance, but they were interesting to watch. Paddy and Heather saw one swim from one bank to the other while we were gone, he said they swim really fast.

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Water buffalo- Floating lake house safari
water buffalo floating lake safari Thailand
Water buffalo– Floating lake house safari
floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari. Puddi fishing. He didn’t catch anything

That evening for dinner, Heather had Puddi ask Auntie Orr if she would show her how to cook the meal that night. Auntie Orr didn’t speak any English, so Puddi translated from the kitchen window. Auntie Orr had a giant wood chopping block on the kitchen floor, and prepped the ingredients for cashew chicken. She showed Heather how to make a small batch.

floating lake safari Thailand

floating lake safari Thailand

floating lake safari Thailand
Auntie Orr chopping veggies

We had green curry, soup, and cashew chicken. It was the best cashew chicken I’ve ever had.

dinner, floating lake safari Thailand
Dinner

The sky was hazy, and the sun was a bright red orb in the sky. After the sun set, we realized what was causing the haze–there was a wildfire across the lake in the jungle. Puddi assured us that we were fine (we did have an entire lake between us and the fire). It was scary to watch.

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Floating lake house safari
floating lake safari Thailand
Floating lake house safari Thailand
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Jungle fire. It was really hard to get a good picture.

We spent the evening drinking, talking, and watching the fire across the lake. The bamboo burning exploded and sounded like gunshots.

Day 3:

Songkhlaburi

The next day was adventure day. We took the boat across the lake to the town of Songkhlaburi and visited a Buddhist temple of the Mon people.

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Songkhlaburi
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Temple in Songkhlaburi

After Puddi gave us a tour of the temple, we walked down the road and up a hill to the town, passing the monks’ living quarters.

Buddhist monks in Songkhlaburi Thailand

Buddhist monks in Songkhlaburi Thailand

Buddhist monk house in Songkhlaburi Thailand

Buddhist monk house in Songkhlaburi Thailand

Buddhist monk house in Songkhlaburi Thailand

We arrived at another temple

Temple in Songkhlaburi Thailand

Temple in Songkhlaburi Thailand
Thai baht donations to the temple

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Puddi lead the way through the town quite a ways through the blazing afternoon heat. We stopped at a small store for some water and were told we had 100 to 300 meters more to go.

upper class Thai house in Songkhlaburi Thailand
Upper class Thai house
traditional Thai house in Songkhlaburi Thailand
Traditional Thai house

We made our way to the Mon Bridge, which was missing a big chunk and out of commission. We crossed on a makeshift floating bamboo foot bridge. It crunched as we walked, I was wary of punching my foot through the bamboo.

Bamboo foot bridge next to the crumbling Mon Bridge
Bamboo foot bridge next to the crumbling Mon Bridge
Crossing the bamboo bridge Songkhlaburi Thailand
Crossing the bamboo bridge
Mon village from top of the hill Songkhlaburi Thailand
Mon village from top of the hill

Finally, we made it to the other side where a man with a converted pick up truck was waiting to take us to the elephant camp. The ride was bumpy, and I spent it craning my neck at an uncomfortable angle to see through the back window to the road so I wouldn’t get carsick.

We passed many farms and farm workers’ homes.

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People doing laundry in the river at the elephant camp
People doing laundry in the river at the elephant camp

 Elephants

Everyone wants to ride an elephant in Thailand. It was on my bucket list, and we did it. However, before you go riding elephants in Thailand, there are some things you need to know.

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First of all, there are many abusive and bad elephant camps. Most elephants in Thailand were rescued from working in the logging industry. Rescued probably isn’t the right word for many of them. They are trained in abusive and torturous ways, and taught to associate disobeying humans with pain. Beatings, starvation, and overwork are common. Baby elephants are taken from their mothers, who agonize and mourn the loss of their children.

Many elephant camps in touristy areas force the elephants to carry tourists non stop all day with no breaks, wearing metal seats that dig into their backs and cause blisters. Elephants need a lot of rest, food, and water. The mahouts (elephant trainers) beat the elephants with bull hooks when they don’t obey their orders.

There are some humane elephant camps out there, however. Some people say that riding elephants should be boycotted. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t black and white. Elephants need care–food, water, and veterinary services are all expensive for such large animals. And people will never stop wanting to see and ride elephants in Thailand. So, tourism dollars are needed and in abundant supply to sustain their care. Also, people having interaction with such amazing creatures helps people care about them and want to protect them. I believe that supporting reputable elephant camps and rescues is important.

Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about the elephant camp we visited. Here is what I know and observed:

* The elephants had an expansive property for their habitat, including forests, a river, and acres and acres of land.

* The tour was booked by a friend of mine who owns the Lake Safari Tour, who I trust to choose an ethical company

* We were the only tourists there going on rides that I saw. It was not in a high tourist-traffic area

* There were many elephants resting and eating grass and plants throughout the expansive property

* The mahouts shouted things at the elephants, but we didn’t see any bull hooks or abuse. The elephants often stopped and bent down or lifted their legs to let the mahouts on them

* The elephants appeared healthy, well-fed, and seemed happy (almost bashful)

* The seats we were in were made of bamboo, with big heavy burlap/fiber pads underneath for the elephant’s comfort

I have no idea how the elephants are trained or what their life is like. I can only hope that all the positive things I saw means that they are well cared for and not abused. I’m not an expert in elephant care though, and I really can’t say for sure.

Here is an article on how to choose an ethical elephant encounter when you visit Thailand: http://takingtotheopenroad.com/choosing-an-ethical-elephant-encounter/ It has recommendations on certain parks and camps. I strongly encourage you to do the research and make sure that you support a company that treats the elephants humanely.

We arrived at the elephant camp and were given a fried rice lunch served in a plastic bag. While we were finishing our lunch, three elephants arrived to where we were sitting. They flapped their ears and batted their eyelashes and looked a little bashful. It was endearing and intimidating.

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Immediately we were ushered over to the elephants, who laid down on their bellies and made a step with their legs for us to climb onto. It was intimidating to be near such large creatures. I wanted to ask the elephant’s name who we were riding, but the mahouts didn’t speak English. She was a sweetheart.

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When riding an elephant, you have to hang on. The seat sways from side to side, and when the elephant goes down or up a hill, you have to lean back or forward and really hold onto the seat. You don’t want to fall off. One of the men from the camp took our cameras and ran ahead the whole time to take photos. We were very thankful for such great photos and gave him a good tip.

We ventured into the property for about a 30 minute ride. It was incredible.

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Puddi and Susanne

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We arrived at a spot on the edge of the river and disembarked from the elephants. There is no graceful way to disembark from an elephant.

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Eeeek!

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A woman was at the river bank with chunks of raw sugar cane, which we bought from her and fed to the elephants. Heather and Stephen’s elephant kept poking Heather in the shoulder with her trunk for more.

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Eating sugar cane

The mahouts climbed back on the elephants and lead them back to wherever they needed to be. We continued on foot for a ways. The heat was intense, and I was losing steam. Finally, we arrived at another part of the river where some men were waiting with bamboo rafts. We were told to wear life jackets, which was kind of ridiculous considering that the river was between knee to ankle deep.

Stephen and Paddy got in front and helped guide and steer the raft down the river back to the camp.

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The rafting was fun, but it was really hot, and we’d just run out of water. Paddy thought he was going to die before we got back to the camp and got a drink.

We returned to Songkhlaburi in the same bumpy truck, and were met by a small boat to take us back to the lake house. It had been a long, hot, but fun day. We were ready for a beer and a dip in the lake.

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Floating lake house safari Thailand

Dinner that night was curry, a really wonderful soup, and a whole fried fish. It was the best meal yet.

The fire in the jungle across the lake raged on and glowed and flickered after sunset. It came closer to the lake and we could see larger flames.

 

Day 4:

The next morning, our floating lake house safari was over. We had breakfast and said goodbye to our drivers and Auntie Orr and the beautiful lake house. It was hard to leave.

We took the boat back over to Songkhlaburi where our van waited for us. We drove for a short while, and reached the Three Pagodas Pass on the Thailand/Myanmar border. They were having a Sunday Market, but the Sunday Market only happens on Fridays. Don’t ask for an explanation.

Three Pagodas Pass Thai/Myanmar border
Three Pagodas Pass Thai/Myanmar border
Three Pagodas Pass Thai/Myanmar border
Thai/Myanmar border
The Three Pagodas--Thai/Myanmar border
The Three Pagodas–Thai/Myanmar border
"Sunday" market, Thai/Myanmar border
“Sunday” market, Thai/Myanmar border
"Sunday" market, Thai/Myanmar border
“Sunday” market, Thai/Myanmar border
"Sunday" market, Thai/Myanmar border
“Sunday” market, Thai/Myanmar border
"Sunday" market, Thai/Myanmar border
“Sunday” market, Thai/Myanmar border

I don’t think this area gets many tourists, because people were gawking at us. The market was a mix between “farmers’ market” and flea market–there were a lot of different things for sale.

After the market, we got back in the van for a long, winding, nauseating drive. After a couple hours, we arrived at a waterfall–a lot like the one we visited in Chanthaburi but smaller. There were lots of families picnicking with kids playing in the water, and a restored train monument to the Death Railroad.

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We continued towards Bangkok for about another half hour, and stopped for lunch at the same place we ate at on the way to the lake. There was a pretty embarrassing tour group leaving when we got there, I think they were German. One of them was a man with no shirt on, tiny little shorts that weren’t buttoned up all the way due to his enormous gut, and black socks with sandals. I’m kind of kicking myself for not sneaking a photo of him.

After lunch we continued the home stretch to Bangkok for about two more hours. It was a long day. We arrived in Bangkok at around 5:00 PM and thanked Puddi  for an amazing tour. We all agreed that the Lake Safari had been the highlight of our entire trip to Thailand.

As of this year (2016), the floating lake house safari has changed their itinerary a bit. They replaced the elephant trek and bamboo rafting with a jungle trek. They were receiving a lot of concern from people about the elephant rides and decided to forgo the elephant camp altogether. They also removed the trip to coconut island, spreading the activities out in the mornings to free up more afternoon time for swimming and relaxing at the lake house. Removing the elephant trek helped them lower their prices a bit, and they have an easier online booking system on their website now as well.

If you are going to Thailand, I would recommend working the floating lake house safari into your itinerary. It goes weekly from Tuesday through Friday and transportation to and from Bangkok is included. Where else do you get to have an adventure out of a two-story floating lake house towed by a boat? If you do know of somewhere else that has a tour like this, please let us know!

Chanthaburi, Thailand

Chanthaburi, Thailand: getting off of the beaten Western tourist path and enjoying a Thai vacation spot. Fantastic food, a great beach, and a cute little town with a lot of history.

 

We traveled to Chanthaburi and Chao Lao Beach in Thailand in March 2014 to visit Saisuporn, a friend of mine from my exchange student days in Denmark during my junior year of high school. She is Thai, and was an exchange student from Thailand to Denmark on the same program with AFS. I’d last seen her in Denmark in 1998, when we were 17.

Chanthaburi is definitely off the beaten path for western tourists. It is very popular with Thai tourists, however–especially Chao Lao Beach. If you are looking for a more authentic Thai experience and still want to visit a nice beach, Chanthaburi and Chao Lao Beach is a great option. It is easy to take a bus there from Bangkok, and you won’t find the inflated prices of the touristy beach areas of Thailand. You also won’t find luxury hotels, so set your expectations accordingly.

 

Excerpt from original post THAILAND 2014: PHI PHI ISLANDS, BANGKOK, CHANTHABURI, AND KAO LAEM NATIONAL PARK

Day 1:

We took the 8:30 bus to Chanthaburi from the Ekkamai Eastern Bus Station In Bangkok. The bus was nice, air conditioned, and had a toilet. I think the tickets were $3.00 each and included a bottled water and a small snack of crackers.

Bus to Chanthaburi
bus to Chanthaburi

 

When we arrived in Chanthaburi (a 3 hour bus ride that was actually a 4 hour bus ride), the driver thought we were getting off at the wrong stop. That’s how few westerners travel here, apparently. We collected our bags, and I successfully used a Thai pay phone and a squat toilet.

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Squat toilet

Saisuporn and her husband picked us up and took us to lunch at one of their favorite local restaurants. Lunch was outstanding, including fish stew, fish salad, Chanthaburi style pork curry, coconut tapioca custard, and a sweet tea drink made from a flower that changes from blue to purple when lime is added. It was all delicious.

After lunch we walked around Chanthaburi with Saisuporn. Chanthaburi is known for its gem markets–particularly sapphires. We walked past a gem market where people were sitting with special magnifying glasses and purchasing gems.

After that we walked past the old town with 100 year old buildings dating back to a brief French colonial period from 1895 to 1905.

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Chanthaburi Thailand
Chanthaburi Thailand
Chanthaburi town
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Chanthaburi town

We visited an historical museum, and then walked to the Catholic church in town where Saisuporn and her husband Golf were married. They actually had two weddings–a Buddhist ceremony with her family and a Catholic ceremony with Golf’s family.

Saisuporn took us back to her house where we met the rest of her family and her two children. They have a very nice house.

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Golf and Saisuporn at their house in Chanthaburi
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The street in front of Saisuporn’s house

Saisuporn had to feed her baby, so Golf took us to a local market to do some shopping. He introduced us to durian chips, which were quite tasty. They don’t smell like the fruit. When we told him we liked them, he drove us to the house of some people who make them and we bought a couple bags of their homemade chips to take home. The durian chips made by the local durian farmer were especially delicious.

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tiny dried fish at the market
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dried squid at the market

It was getting late in the afternoon and Saisuporn drove us to her family’s resort on Chao Lao Beach, Baan Imm Sook Resort. Her mother-in-law built the resort five years ago, and you can see the love that went into it. The guests are usually Thai tourists–Saisuporn said that we were the first Americans to ever visit their resort. We felt honored.

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Baan Imm Sook Resort Chanthaburi Thailand

The resort has a series of small and large bungalows for families and couples. We had a very cute and modest bungalow with AC, a fridge, bathroom, and full size bed. There was a computer for guest internet use in the lobby, but we were able to get a wifi signal on our phones in the lobby area.

Once we were settled, we said goodnight to Saisuporn and went looking for dinner. There was another resort next door on the beach that had a rooftop restaurant. It was busy, and we decided to check it out. We had a very spicy papaya salad with salted eggs, and some fried curry soft shell crabs. Both were amazing. The papaya salad reminded us to remember tell the server to make it mild, it was really spicy.

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Soft shell crab

Day 2:

The next morning we got up and went to breakfast at the breakfast area near the beach. Breakfast was included in the rate and had a bunch of options. The eggs in the shape of hearts and stars were especially cute. There were also Thai breakfast options like jok (a savory rice porridge), stir fry, and coconut doughnuts. Everything was great.

Saisuporn picked us up late morning and we made a stop back at her house to pick up her mother who was visiting from Bangkok, Golf, her daughter Imm, and her nephew. We set out on a drive out of town a ways to an estuary where we got in a small boat that ferried people to a restaurant. We passed many shellfish farms and fishing shacks along the way.

We arrived at the restaurant, which was full of Thai tourists eating delicious-looking seafood. The name of the restaurant was in Thai, but Saisuporn told us it translates to “Soft Shell Crab Farm” in English.

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Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant, Chanthaburi

We were seated and we told Saisuporn and her family to order whatever they thought was good. We eat all things seafood. While food was on order, I took a little walk to the bathroom and snuck a peak behind the scenes. The kitchen looked like no restaurant kitchen I’d ever seen. Don’t let the disorganization freak you out, the food coming out of that kitchen was nothing short of fresh and amazing.

So many dishes were served. We had fried soft shell crab, curried soft shell crab, raw oysters, shrimp and squid, fish stew, squid fried rice and a whole fried fish with garlic. It was the best meal on our whole trip to Thailand.

After lunch Saisuporn took us to the nearby Namtok Phliu National Park to see the Phliu Waterfall. On arrival, there were many vendors selling drinks, snacks, and the longest green beans I’d ever seen. Saisuporn bought some, she said they were for feeding the fish.

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Giant green beans for feeding fish

The park was busy with families. We visited another waterfall park later in our trip, and it appears that these parks are very popular with Thai families as kids can swim in the shallow water, and picnic facilities are available. There were lots of people feeding the fish the giant green beans. I’m not so sure the fish needed that much food, but Saisuporn said it’s not always this busy. One can only hope that the fish wouldn’t overeat themselves to death on all the green beans.

The waterfall hike wasn’t very far at all, but the heat and humidity were intense. We headed back to Chanthaburi and then Golf drove us back to the resort.

For dinner that night, we walked up the road to a little local restaurant. There were several little stores and restaurants in walking distance from the resort.

We picked a place that was busy but not too busy, and to our relief they had a menu in English as well as Thai. We had a fried papaya salad (the papaya is deep fried before tossed with the salad) and a squid dish. It was nice and light after a such a huge lunch.

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Fried papaya salad

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There were geckos everywhere. Don’t fear the geckos. They eat mosquitos and other bugs. And they’re cute and they chirp.

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Geckos

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That night it began pouring rain with thunder and lightning. We enjoyed listening to the storm while reading in bed. At around midnight we were woken up to a thunder clap so loud it shook the bungalow. It must have been directly above us.

Day 3:

The next morning we went and waited for breakfast to open as we had an early bus to catch back to Bangkok. While waiting on the beach, some monks walked by on a morning beach stroll.

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Baan Imm Sook Resort Beach
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Baan Imm Sook Resort Beach
Monks on a morning beach walk Thailand
Monks on a morning beach walk

We had planned on going back to the bus station we arrived in on, but Saisuporn took us to a different bus station that she said her mother recommends as she travels from Bangkok often. She said it was safer because the drivers go slower. The cost was the same, and the bus station was a little nicer. Our bus arrived and we thanked Saisuporn for a great tour of Chanthaburi.

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Then we got on the bus. While the bus station was nice, the bus was another story. The bus looked about 20 years older than the one we came in on. This wasn’t really a big deal as the seats were still comfortable. However, 10 minutes into our journey the bus started bouncing up and down. The driver pulled over, did a looksee around the bus and tires, and continued on. The bus bounced along. The driver got on his cell phone, which we knew wasn’t a good sign. Finally, he pulled over at a tire store and went over and talked to the guys that worked there. They gave him a newspaper, and he took off his shirt and scooted under the bus. A few minutes later, he came back and talked to the guys again, who gave him a piece of wire. He climbed back under the bus for a few minutes, and then we were back on our way. The bouncing was lessened, but there was now something rattling around under the bus the whole way back to Bangkok.

Miraculously, we made it to the outskirts of Bangkok in record time (I think the driver was going as fast as possible because he figured the wire would give out at any moment). He pulled over on the freeway where some shuttles were parked and directed everyone into the shuttles. Some enterprising taxi cabs began swooping in like vultures to pick off the passengers of the dying bus carcass, and we opted to get in one of those instead.

 

Sketchy bus rides aside, we had a great time in Chanthaburi, and we wished we had a little bit more time to enjoy Chao Lao beach and get to know the town better. It was so great to see Saisuporn again after all those years and meet her lovely family. We would definitely go back and visit again.

The Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

The Phi Phi Islands, Thailand: Tonsai Village, Long Beach, Maya Bay, Bamboo Island, and a lot of drunk European college kids.

 

We went to the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced “pee-pee”) while on a two and a half week trip around Thailand in March 2014. The Phi Phi Islands are beautiful, albeit heavily visited by hoards of tourists hoping to visit the infamous Maya Bay from the movie The Beach. I think we were there during European college spring break, and there were drunk twentysomething European tourists everywhere whooping it up in Tonsai Village and Loh Dalum Bay. February might be a better time to visit, but I couldn’t say for sure. We do highly recommend an accommodation a good distance away from Loh Dalum Bay for some peace and quiet at night. Our hotel fortunately fit the bill.

 

(Excerpt from original post http://childfreelifeadventures.com/thailand-2014-phi-phi-islands-bangkok-chanthaburi-kao-laem-national-park/)

Day 1:

We caught the early 7:30 AM flight from Bangkok to Krabi, packed in like sardines onto a small Air Asia commuter plane, which was about an hour and a half plane ride.

Once in Krabi, we got a taxi to the Klong Jilard Pier on the outskirts of Krabi town, and had a little time to grab some sandwiches at a food stall before the 10:30 AM ferry. When you walk in to the terminal, you are greeted by a tourist guide selling tickets, who we purchased tickets from. When we went to get on the boat, we passed a ticket window around the corner where some locals were buying tickets from and realized that was the real ticket window. Our tickets were valid, but more expensive. I think we overpaid about $10.00 total. Oh well, live and learn.

We boarded the boat and were instructed to put our large backpacks in a pile on the boat deck. The boat was air conditioned, and there is a deck where you can sit in the sun if you want to. The sun was too hot even in the breeze, so we sat down below.

ferry to Phi Phi Don Thailand
ferry photo by Heather Smith
Phi Phi ferry ride Thailand
Phi Phi ferry

**Note: I read that in the spring and summer the southern Islands have rougher weather and sea, so the best time to visit the islands in the Southern part of Thailand is November through March.

We arrived Phi Phi Don at noon, and a man from our hotel was waiting at the ferry to show us the way there. He grabbed a big metal hand cart off the side of the road and instructed us to put our bags in it, and we followed him through a maze of little streets in Tonsai Village to the JJ Bungalow, which we booked through Booking.com.

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Tonsai Village

JJ Bungalow had decent enough reviews, and was about $75.00 a night. The attraction here was that it had AC, a pool, and was reported to be far away from the party scene on Phi Phi, so a quiet night could be expected.

The downside to JJ Bungalow, was the three flights of stairs up the hillside to the bungalows and pool. In the stifling afternoon heat, this wasn’t so pleasant. Fortunately, our super in-shape and used-to-the-heat bag carrier carried my backpack up for me. I was super thankful.

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JJ Bungalow

There was a fridge with bottled waters in it, and a little convenience store in the office downstairs that sold more beverages until late at night, which was very convenient. We cranked up the AC in our rooms and waited to cool down.

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JJ Bungalow
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JJ Bungalow

After a little while, I went and took a dip in the pool near our rooms, which had some nice shady areas and no one in it.

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JJ Bungalow pool

After a rest and a cool-down, we were getting hungry. We walked a short ways down the road from our hotel, and took a right down a beach road to Loh Dalum Bay beach. We were starving, and the beach was nice and quiet this late in the afternoon, so we just sat down at the first place we saw, Woody’s. There was barely anyone there, and after ordering some food we realized that we were in a popular nighttime party spot. There was a giant wood penis sticking out of the sand in front of the place, and next to it was another bar called the Slinky Bar, which also had a giant penis sticking out of the sand, although theirs was more….realistic. The food wasn’t bad, my pad see ew was actually really tasty. It’s always a little dicey eating somewhere that isn’t known for its food, though.

Below: Loh Dalum Bay

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Loh Dalum Bay
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Loh Dalum Bay
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Loh Dalum Bay

After some food, we did a little walking around, and then went back to rest a little more. The jet lag was catching up with us.

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Interesting graffiti on the street near our hotel

Below: a typical Thai clusterfuck of low-hanging power lines.

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Later that evening, Heather was tired, but Stephen, Paddy, and I were curious about the nightlife. We decided to walk back to the beach and check it out. On the way we grabbed some snacks from a stand selling all kinds of barbequed meats on skewers. Paddy got a chicken skewer and Stephen and I ordered squid. It was tasty.

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When we got to the beach, Woody’s and the Slinky Bar were having competing fire shows with equally competing loud techno music. It was entertaining for about 15 minutes. At Woody’s, one of the fire jugglers seemed to be an 8 year old boy. I wonder how his mother feels about his profession.

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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Woody’s fire show Phi Phi
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Slinky Bar fire show Phi Phi
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Slinky Bar Phi Phi

The crowd was growing on the beach and in the streets of the village. Mostly Europeans and Australians wearing next to nothing and looking to party. Street stands were selling “buckets” which were comprised of some sort of do-it-yourself cocktail. It was all a little obnoxious. Maybe we’re just old.

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We wanted to get another snack before we ended our evening, and I’d read great things about Papaya Restaurant in Tonsai Village. We found it, a little place at the end of a short alley next to a Middle Eastern restaurant, with a few tables inside and outside.

We decided not to let the pregnant cat lounging on the counter of the restaurant next door discourage us, and ordered up some noodles. Stephen ordered their signature papaya salad. He said it was one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Our noodles were mediocre. Definitely come here for the papaya salad. It tends to be served nuclear spicy, so ask for not spicy if you want it milder.

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Best papaya salad on Phi Phi

Day 2:

The next day we were anxious to check out the beach. We weren’t so keen on the party beach (Loh Dalum Bay), and our guidebook recommended a beach just a 10 minute long tail boat ride away called Long Beach. We packed up our gear and headed into the village for breakfast at Anna’s Restaurant, as also recommended by our guidebook. It was a European owned place and the breakfast was probably the best one we had in Thailand. It tends to open late for the hangover crowd, and the next two days we tried going there and it wasn’t open yet.

After breakfast, we easily located a longtail driver waiting to be hired. For 100 Baht each ($3.00) he drove us over to Long Beach.

Long Beach has several accommodations, and would be a good choice for people wanting to stay far away from the party scene in Tonsai. There is one resort restaurant and bar there on the beach, and one ATM. The beach itself was gorgeous, and offered great views of Phi Phi Leh, the neighboring national park island where where the movie The Beach was filmed.

My guidebook told us there was great snorkeling just off the beach, but there wasn’t a ton of coral (good for swimming, however).  I saw a few fish and a big squishy sea cucumber. Not the best snorkeling, but there is a little to see. Maybe I wasn’t in the right spot.

Long Beach Phi Phi Don Thailand

sea cucumber Long Beach Phi Phi Don Thailand
Sea cucumber

Heather and Stephen had lunch at the Phi Phi Paradise Pearl Resort restaurant on the beach. Paddy and I weren’t hungry, so we enjoyed the beach and read for awhile. When we were all ready to go, we easily located a longtail driver again to take us back to town.

We went back to our bungalows to shower and clean up. The stairs and the midday heat got to me when we reached our bungalow, I was overheated and trying to get my wet bathing suit top over my head so I could jump in the cold shower and cool down. I got stuck and had a small over-heated freakout moment that resulted in a bathing suit top being violently flung across the room. The AC kicked on, and eventually all was well again.

After we’d cooled down and got dressed, Paddy and I went into the village by ourselves to get a light lunch and do a little souvenir shopping. We went back to Papaya and had the papaya salad and some spring rolls. We then walked around a little bit and haggled with a few vendors over some souvenirs. Paddy bought a pair of sunglasses that didn’t disintegrate like the ones he bought off of a street vendor in Bangkok.

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Above: Fruit stands in Tonsai Village

We ended the afternoon with hour long foot massages at a little place near Loh Dahlum beach for $8.00 each. They were nice. They also included some stretching and bending of the neck at weird angles at the end. I’m not sure if that was good for me or not…but “buy the ticket take the ride,” right? Our feet sure did feel better though.

Below: Loh Dalum Bay at sunset

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Loh Dalum Beach sunset Phi Ph Thailand 458

Loh Dalum Beach sunset Phi Phi Thailand 457

We split up from Heather and Stephen and did our own thing for dinner that night. Our guidebook raved about Tonsai Seafood down on the beach near the ferry, so we decided to check it out. I don’t know what the guidebook was talking about. I recently looked it up on Tripadvisor and it sounds like we were lucky not to get food poisoning.

it is on the beach, and the seafood looks really fresh, on ice right near the sidewalk and you can see the cooks working in the open air kitchen.

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Tonsai Seafood

While the location was nice, the plastic tables and chairs were dirty, the cocktails mediocre and expensive, and the service was terrible. Paddy ordered a steak, which he said was alright. I ordered a seafood salad-not too spicy. I got a tasty seafood salad but it was nuclear and I couldn’t finish it. My whole fried fish was chosen out of the fresh fish on ice, and it was okay. Not great. We made it out without food poisoning (it sounds like some others weren’t so lucky) but not the best dining experience. Skip this place.

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Tonsai Seafood
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Tonsai Seafood

Day 3:

We wanted to see the famous Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the beach made famous by the 2000 movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. We were also well aware that every other tourist in the Andaman Sea island area has the same agenda. Therefore, we wanted to get up early and try and get there before the crowds.

We got up and headed into Tonsai Village around 7:30, and found some breakfast at a European style cafe called Capu Latte, which serves espresso, baked goods to go, and a full breakfast menu.

Our plan was to go negotiate a day tour with a longtail driver down on the beach, but we ended up going with a tour operator who booked us a full day with a driver including a fried rice and fresh pineapple lunch for $100 total. We might have gotten a better deal without lunch on our own, but $100 for a personal boat driver for the day with lunch was a reasonable price so we went with it. We were able to rent snorkel fins for $2.00 from a man around the corner from the tour desk.

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Longtail boats waiting for hire in the morning

We found our driver and boat and set off to our first stop on Phi Phi Leh.

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I had taken a Dramamine, but the channel between the two islands was pretty rough and when we arrived I was beginning to doubt my ability to make it to the other locations on our agenda. I doubled up with another motion sickness medication called Bonine when we got to the beach, hoping that would work.

Phi Phi Leh is a national park protected island with no inhabitants or accommodations. We arrived at around 9:30 AM and the beach was already busy. The amount of tourism the island receives each day hasn’t had a great impact on the environment, and it’s unfortunate. Blame Hollywood.

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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh
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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh

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All that being said, Maya Bay really is a spectacular site to see.

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The crowds were growing, so after an hour we got back in the boat and moved on north towards Phi Phi Don. The sea wasn’t so rough after we got past the channel to the west side of Phi Phi Don.

Our next stop was Monkey Beach. We had read some disturbing things about Monkey Beach: Monkeys being fed potato chips, candy, and soda by tourists, monkeys chasing and attacking tourists, tourists being bit by monkeys and having to get rabies shots. So we were all a bit wary of visiting this beach.

We arrived at monkey beach and there were several other tour groups there….but not one monkey in site. It was kind of a let down.

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Monkey Beach, Koh Phi Phi

Also a let down was the disgusting amount of garbage left on the beach by tourists. I can’t believe people. Why would anyone think that it is okay to leave your trash on a beach? Tourism really saddens me sometimes.

Trash piles and rabid monkeys in hiding aside, it was a really beautiful beach. If you go here, don’t get close to monkeys, (maybe they’re around in the afternoon only?) don’t feed them, and keep all of your belongings on your person. They steal stuff, and you don’t want to try to get your camera back from a monkey. Also, pack it in, pack it out. Littering is a seriously shitty thing to do.

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Monkey Beach
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Monkey Beach
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Monkey Beach, Koh Phi Phi

After monkey beach, Heather and Stephen decided they had enough for the day and we dropped them off at nearby Loh Dalum Bay.

We were stoked on snorkeling and seeing our final destination, Bamboo Island, so we continued on with our driver.

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After a few minutes, our driver pulled into a small cove with a few other boats and told us that this was the best snorkeling spot. He was right–the water was deep and clear and like swimming in an aquarium. The fish were beautiful and we were having a great time for about 10 minutes.

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Then I saw a huge white jellyfish the size of a trashcan lid. I quickly paddled back towards the boat, hoping that was the only one. We snorkeled for a minute in the other direction, and then I saw another jellyfish the size of a basketball. There were a lot of other people snorkeling and no one seemed to be getting stung by anything, but we weren’t going to chance it. We got out of the water and ate our packed veggie fried rice and fresh pineapple in the boat with our guide. It was kind of a bummer, because the snorkeling was really amazing.

Moving on, we headed north to Bamboo Island, a small national park island off the north coast of Phi Phi Don. There were tour groups here as well, but the island was large and the tourists were fewer. It was beautiful, and definitely worth the trip.

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Bamboo Island
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Bamboo Island

There was a little stand selling beers so we had a couple cold Singhas on the beach and then went for a swim. It was nice.

Finally, we headed back to Tonsai Bay and went back to the hotel to cool down and relax for a few.

For dinner we had read great things about Le Grand Bleu, a French-Thai fusion restaurant in Tonsai near the ferry pier, so we checked it out. The atmosphere and food were outstanding, as well as the service. It was a little more expensive than many other restaurants on Phi Phi, but worth the splurge. Don’t miss this place.

After dinner, we were all tired except Paddy, who really wanted to go see some live rock music advertised at the Rolling Stoned bar in Tonsai Village. He went out and had a crazy evening involving a hilarious massage parlor experience, partying with some guys from Spain, and getting up on stage singing AC/DC songs with the Thai cover band at the Rolling Stoned Bar. His story is best told by him over a few beers. Maybe if you have some beers with us sometime, he’ll tell it to you.

Day 4:

We had one last day on Phi Phi, and in retrospect I think we would have had a better time going back to Krabi instead of staying our fourth night in Phi Phi. Three nights of European spring break was plenty. Paddy was having some stomach issues so he decided that he was fine spending a day in the room reading in the air conditioning. Heather and Stephen were doing some shopping, and I felt like I should go to the beach at least one more time.

I went down to Loh Dalum Bay with a book, and paid $5.00 for a beach chair in front of Woody’s with an umbrella. The sun was scorching hot, and when I tried to walk on the sand without sandals, it burned my feet. The tide was out really far, so to cool off I had to walk way out there (in sandals) to get to knee deep water where I could try to dunk myself.

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Loh Dalum Bay Phi Phi Don Thailand 066

I went back to my beach chair to read a book in the shade. Two British girls in their early 20’s sat down in the chairs behind me, and were so hungover that one of them was vomiting bile into a puddle in the sand next to her chair. Then she got on Skype on her tablet and began chatting with some dude in London about all the partying they were doing. And that was enough beach for me.

That evening, Paddy wasn’t feeling so great, so Heather, Stephen and I went out without him. We went to Banana Sombrero, a Mexican restaurant in Tonsai Village. We ordered some ceviche, which wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t ceviche. I think it had a little mayonnaise in it. After we ate we climbed the precarious spiral staircase to the Banana Bar on the roof, which was a laid back little hippie bar with lots of lounge seating and wafting marijuana smoke in the air.

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Banana Sombrero

Another climb up a ladder to a higher platform gets you to a viewing deck and more seating. The view isn’t great, but it’s worth a peak.

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View from Banana Sombrero bar
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View from Banana Sombrero bar

We sat at the bar and had some drinks. I had a very tasty mango daiquiri.

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Banana Bar

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They were clearly setting up for a party that night, and we decided to move on. We went down to the waterfront near the ferry and sat in an open air bar and restaurant for another drink. The service was terrible, and 20 minutes after ordering our drinks and not receiving them we were getting up to leave, but a waiter rushed over and told us our drinks were on the way and told us to sit back down. We eventually got our drinks.

**Tip: Don’t order a bloody mary in Thailand. Just don’t.

Overall, I’d recommend avoiding all open-air tourist restaurants on the beach on Phi Phi. The food and service is much better in the village.

 

The next day we took the ferry back to Krabi for a night before heading back to Bangkok and continuing our travels around Thailand. I think if we went back to Phi Phi Island, we’d like to see some of the rest of the island, but most of it involves being shuttled to and from Tonsai Bay in a longtail boat when you stay at the more remote locations and resorts. The islands are gorgeous and well worth the trip, but we could do without the drunk spring breakers.

I think our hotel was a good option for being away from the action but still in walking distance to everything in Tonsai Village, which is what we wanted. If we were to go back to Phi Phi a second time, we might try one of the more remote places I was looking at such as Vikings Nature Resort near Long Beach, or Zeavola Resort (super swanky) up near the northern tip of the island.

Our Top Food Experiences From Our Adventures

Our top food experiences from our adventures 2008-2015: Our most memorable meals from our travels around the world (so far).

10. The Winding Stair in Dublin, Ireland

Given that everything in Ireland is expensive, we couldn’t eat out at many upscale restaurants on our two-week trip. The Winding Stair was our one big splurge in Ireland, and it was worth it. It is located above an affiliated book store (one of the oldest independent book stores in Dublin) overlooking the River Liffey. It was cute, quiet, and romantic. The food is fresh, organic, and locally sourced.  If you’re in Dublin looking for a fantastic Irish meal with ambiance, this is a great little spot. Definitely one of our top food experiences in Ireland.

River Liffey, Dublin
River Liffey, Dublin
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Duck breast with fingerling potatoes at The Winding Stair
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Pork loin at the winding stair

9. Kèköldi Indigenous family farm, Costa Rica

Our friends Sarah and Julio took us to a farm owned by the indigenous Kèköldi people near Cahuita, Costa Rica. Our host gave us a tour through the rain forest surrounding his home and told us about all the medicinal plants and foods found in the area that are used by his family. Afterward, we were served a typical lunch of chicken, plantains breadfruit, and sweet potatoes served in banana leaves, which are used as plates and bowls. The chicken was some of the best we’d ever had and it was a very interesting and educational day. If you are interested in taking this tour, you can book it through Sarah and Julio’s tour company, www.boyerotours.com.

Kekoldi indigenous tour costa rica top food experiences
Lunch at the Kèköldi farm: Chicken, breadfruit, plantains, and sweet potato
Kekoldi village costa rica top food experiences
Julio and our host at the Kèköldi farm, Costa Rica

8. Argentinian cooking at Tierras Del Sol, Tulum, Mexico

When we were in Tulum, Mexico in 2009, we stayed at a little place on the beach called Tierras Del Sol (unfortunately, it looks like it is now closed). The beach was the best we’ve ever seen in our travels to the tropics, and because it was the low season we usually had it all to ourselves.

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Tulum Beach

It was located at the very end of the Boca Paila Rd, about 12 miles from the center of town and we had no car. They served dinner and breakfast, and the manager/cook was from Argentina and cooked amazing food every night. It was pretty much the same menu: three salads, grilled vegetables, and then grilled meat or fish with an Argentinian marinade. We stayed for four nights, and ate three dinners there it was so good. Each night the grilled meat or fish was whatever looked fresh at the market that day. One night we ventured further down the road to a neighboring bungalow resort and ate at their restaurant, but the food was small, pretentious, and not nearly as good.

Simple and delicious, served with a side of peace and quiet, the warm sea air, and plenty of beer and margaritas. It was one of our top food experiences for sure.

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Top food experiences –Tierras Del Sol restaurant/lounge area

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tulum-mexico top food experiences

7. Kuma’s Corner, Chicago

Paddy maintains that one of the best burgers he has ever had (perhaps THE best burger he has ever had) was at Kuma’s Corner while we were visiting a friend in Chicago in 2008. Located in the Avondale neighborhood, Kuma’s Corner is all about two things: amazing burgers and heavy metal. And burgers named after heavy metal. What more could you want?

It sounds gimmicky, but the real rock star here is the food. Most of the burgers are served on pretzel buns, and really are in a league of their own. If you go to Chicago, don’t miss Kuma’s.

Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
At Kuma’s Corner, Chicago
Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
The “Slayer” burger at Kuma’s Corner. Served with ANGER!

 

6. The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C. Canada

We spent a holiday weekend in Victoria BC in 2014, and we were surprised to find so much great food! It was tough to choose which one of our meals that weekend would wind up on our top food experiences list, but we decided it must be the Jam Cafe. We had pulled pork pancakes (large enough to feed a family of four) and the fried chicken benedict and shared. The bloody marys were also fabulous and are served with a piece of candied bacon and a seasoned salt rim. It was one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, and worth the 20 minute wait in line.

A close second of our top food experiences in Victoria: Red Fish Blue Fish. It was almost a coin toss.

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The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C.
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Bloody Mary at the Jam Cafe with candied bacon
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Pulled Pork pancakes with jalepeno sour cream and pickled cabbage
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Fried chicken benedict with roasted corn salsa

5. Atchafalaya, New Orleans

Atchafalaya New Orleans
Atchafalaya restaurant–brunch highly recommended!

We spent Halloween 2015 in New Orleans, which I’m sure you know is home to some pretty spectacular cuisine. The winner from this trip was definitely brunch at Atchafalaya in the Garden District. They had a delicious-looking breakfast cocktail list, but we couldn’t pass up the bloody mary bar where you can build your own bloody mary from two different types of mixes, and an array of hot sauces and house pickled veggies to go with it. The bartender gives you a glass with your choice of vodka and you make it however you want it.

Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar-green tomato bloody marys!

The breakfast menu made for a tough decision. I eventually decided on the duck hash with blackberries, mangos, duck confit, potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and bacon vinigarette. Paddy had the shrimp and cream cheese grits with smoked tomatoes and andouille sausage. Our friends tried the fried chicken and biscuits and gravy, the bananas foster french toast, and the truffled eggs with spinach. It was all amazing. They also serve dinner, and we will definitely be back on our next visit to NOLA.

Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya New Orleans
Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya New Orleans
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya

4. Chiky Blu Restaurant in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

On our first night in the small beach town of Bayahibe, Dominican Republic, we ventured into a little unassuming open-air beach restaurant with reasonable prices and ordered up some dinner. I had no idea going in that I would have the best whole fried fish I’d ever had that I still think about to this day. It was simple, but full of flavor, and very crispy without any greasiness. It came with rosemary fried potatoes on a bed of lettuce with three tomato slices on top and a lime wedge.

Paddy had gnocchi which was also excellent. We went back for dinner again on our last night and had the pizza which was also good, but I still think about that fried fish. I haven’t had one live up to that one since.

Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Fried fish chiky blu bayahibe
Best fried fish I’ve ever had at Chiky Blu

3. Hotel La Pirogue, Taha’a, French Polynesia

We spent our honeymoon in French Polynesia, traveling to Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. On Taha’a we stayed on a remote motu island off the coast of the main island of Taha’a at a little resort called Hotel La Pirogue. It was completely remote, so we did the breakfast and dinner meal plan. Breakfast was standard European continental style, with muesli, yogurt, fruit, and baguettes with cheese and ham cold cuts.

hotel la pirogue tahaa
View from our bungalow porch at Hotel La Pirogue on the Taha’a motu

Dinner, however was unexpectedly some of the best food we’ve ever had. The little resort was owned by a French couple who were very welcoming. The husband was an outstanding chef and cooked dinner for the guests while his wife waited tables. We could choose a starter, main course and dessert for dinner each night.

The fusion of French cuisine with local Polynesian ingredients like vanilla, breadfruit, spices, and local fish, and shellfish was innovative and unique. It was some of the best food we’ve ever had.

We spent our days reading books, swimming in the beach in front of our bungalow, kayaking around the lagoon, and day touring the island of Taha’a. At night we would stuff ourselves silly at the restaurant and waddle back to our bungalow to sit on our porch and drink wine in the moonlight. It was a great four days.

Coconut curry shrimp
Coconut curry shrimp
Duck breast
Duck breast
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Seared Ahi tuna
Seared Ahi tuna
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue

 

 2. Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

While in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015, we had made reservations far in advance for Dill, which is arguably the best upscale dining restaurant in Iceland. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason takes Nordic cuisine to new and innovative levels, using local ingredients–much along the lines of the world-renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark.

Iceland-Dill
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland 107

Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

We may not ever be able to afford Noma ($300 per person for a seven course meal), but we were able to make room in our budget for Dill (much more reasonable at just under $100 per person for a seven course meal). Don’t get me wrong, it was really expensive, but worth it. In this culinary realm, food begins to cross from sustenance to art, bringing new flavors and textures and ideas to the dining experience that have not been done before.

Wine pairings with all seven courses were also offered at an additional $100 per person, but we stuck with one glass of champagne and one glass of red wine each. Our bill at the end was $250, which was slightly less than we had budgeted.

The meal came with four small amuse bouche starters and house-made sourdough rolls. It was a two-hour ordeal, and the most high-end culinary experience we’ve ever had. I hate rutabagas, and the rutabaga course with cream cheese foam, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet was so delicious I almost licked the plate.

Dill Menu
Dill Menu
salt cod course dill restaurant reykjavik
Salt cod course
scallop tartare dill restaurant reykjavik
Scallop tartare course
Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
Pork belly course with kale and black garlic
Dill-Restaurant
Rutabaga course with cream cheese, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet
Dill-Restaurant-2
Icelandic Skyr with celery sorbet and roasted oats

Nothing could really top that dining experience in Iceland, but I will give the lobster soup at Salthusid Restaurant in Grindavik a second prize.

 

1. Farm Pu Nim (Softshell Crab Farm) in Chanthaburi, Thailand

I don’t know where this is or how you get to it, but try to find out if you find yourself in the Chanthaburi province of Thailand. Farm Pu Nim (translates to “softshell crab farm”) was host to the number one of all our top food experiences in our travels to date.

We were visiting a Thai friend of mine and her family in Chanthaburi, Thailand, and they wanted to take us to lunch here. We drove a little ways outside of Chanthaburi town, and then parked and got in a small boat ferrying customers to the restaurant.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
top food experiences –Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

It was busy with Thai tourists and locals (no westerners that I saw), and our friend said it is somewhere that they take visitors or go to on special occasions. They ordered a bunch of dishes for us all to share.

The restaurant kitchen was visible from the path to the bathroom, and was totally chaotic. Piles of sea shells, plastic tubs, and tanks of fish and crabs were everywhere.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Our food arrived in courses, and it was a seafood feast. The food was amazing, and there was so much that we couldn’t finish it all. Oysters, shrimp, squid, a spicy fish soup, fried soft shell crab, soft shell crab in curry, and a whole fried fish with garlic. We’d never seen such a spread.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
fried soft shell crab

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand
Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Oysters

We squabbled over the bill at the end– we insisted on paying as they were taking us around Chanthaburi and being fabulous hosts, and after some arguing we were allowed to pay. For seven people (albeit two were small children), the total for all that food and a couple beers was $45.

A large part of what makes this number one of our top food experiences was the amazing food, but another part was being able to share in something uniquely Thai that our friends wanted to share with us. We would have never found that place on our own, and being able to share it with a long lost friend from my exchange student days and her family was very special.

 

Food is a huge part of our travels, and we hope to add many more meals to this list in the future. A meal doesn’t have to be expensive to be amazing, it just needs to be made with love and either talent or a good recipe. Stay tuned for more of our top food experiences in the future.

How To Use a Squat Toilet

If you travel to a small town in Southeast Asia or anywhere off the beaten western tourist path, you’ll eventually encounter a squat toilet.

(Travel tip excerpt from our Thailand trip post)

We encountered  several squat toilets throughout our Thailand travels. Ladies, I know it looks a little intimidating. In case you are super confused right now, I’m going to tell you what to do:

1. Face the back of the stall (don’t turn around like you would with a western toilet, I tried that and things got a little…splashy).

2. Put your feet on the flat sides of the squat toilet that look like maxipad wings

3. Gather up all your skirts into a wad (this is where long flowy hippy skirts can be a help or hinderance, depending on how you look at it), pull down your underwear and squat. Hold your underwear out of the way so it doesn’t get sprayed.

4. Do your business. Hopefully you brought your own toilet paper–don’t expect any in Thai public restrooms. Some restrooms have someone selling it for 5 baht outside the bathroom. Don’t flush the toilet paper, put it in the waste basket.

5. Flush the squat toilet manually by dipping the bucket into the water trough next to the toilet and pouring it into the toilet until it is clear.

6. Wash your hands…there might not be soap so a travel size hand sanitizer is also a recommendation for your purse.

It got easy after a few times. Just imagine peeing in the woods but aiming in a very specific spot. As for sanitation, not having to sit on a public toilet seat was kind of nice, and I’ll take the squat toilet over an outhouse or pit toilet any day.

 

How to use a squat toilet
Squat Toilet in Chanthaburi, Thailand

 

Our Tips for Getting Over Jet Lag

Our tips for getting over jet lag quickly and onto enjoying your trip

The two worst jet lag experiences we’ve had were our trips to Ireland (8 hour time difference) and Thailand (14 hour time difference). In Ireland, we couldn’t seem to sleep past 5:00 AM for the first four days, and my stomach was totally confused. Over the first week I’d be hungry but nauseous, feeling like I should eat something but nothing sounded good.

In Thailand, I felt like I adjusted to the schedule but would hit a wall and be dead tired at 6:00 PM every night the first week. Coming home was even worse, and I went through a week of fatigue and always wanted to go to bed at 7:00 PM.

Here are a few things that have helped us get over jet lag quicker and onto enjoying our trip (and helped us recover coming home).

1. Forget what time it is back home.

Jet lag is 50% psychological. If you wear a watch, set it to the time in your destination right when you get on the plane. Quit thinking “But it’s 2:30 AM back home!” when you are heading out to lunch. The sooner you accept and mentally adjust to your new schedule, the sooner your body will too.

2. Do your best to get a regular sleep schedule going.

This can be difficult if you’re on vacation, traveling around and going out some nights. If it works for your itinerary, try to go to bed and get up around the same time each day. However, if you only have one night to party in Amsterdam before your 9:00 AM train the next morning—live a little and hope for some nap time the next day.

3. If you arrive in the mid to late afternoon dead tired, do your absolute best to stay up until at least 8:00 or 9:00 PM.

After a long flight with no sleep, the urge to head to the hotel and draw the blackout blinds is strong. Resist. Get some coffee, walk around, see some stuff. Hopefully the excitement of a new city will help pull you through. You may be exhausted and not have the most fun the first day, but getting a regular sleep schedule to enjoy the rest of your trip is imperative. Hang in there and wait it out until after dinner, so that you can wake up at the appropriate time the next day (not at 2:00 AM).

4. If you need to sleep and aren’t tired, try melatonin.

Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps you regulate your sleep cycle and sleep easier. It doesn’t leave you groggy like sleeping pills, and is easily found in the vitamin section of your local drugstore. I use it now and then when I feel restless and need to get to sleep. Melatonin is a good natural way to help regulate your sleeping cycle in a new time zone and get over jet lag faster.

5. Eat a well balanced diet.

New foods and digestive issues aside (see our tips on avoiding traveler’s diarrhea), try to eat lots of veggies and lean protein, and avoid lots of sugars. Sugar gives you short bursts of energy followed by energy crashes. Try and eat healthy whenever possible.

6. Schedule at least one day off between coming home and going back to work.

Unfortunately, jet lag is always worse coming home. One day isn’t going to help you get back to normal right away, but it will help you catch up on rest, unpack, do laundry, go grocery shopping, and feel less frazzled and stressed out when you head back to work. If you can manage it, one or two days to take a vacation from your vacation is super helpful.

Cheers!
Cheers!

 

Avoiding Traveler’s Diarrhea

Tips for avoiding traveler’s diarrhea while traveling in foreign countries: What to eat, what to avoid, what to watch out for

It seems that at least once a year I talk to someone who is about to go to Mexico for the first time and is worried about getting “Montezuma’s Revenge.” Getting sick on your vacation is a real bummer, but the good news is that most cases are pretty mild and can be avoided if you take the right precautions.


Traveler’s diarrhea happens to every adventurous traveler at some point. Traveling to foreign countries exposes people to bacteria that they are not used to, which can cause a mild case of the runs to full blown food poisoning. With a little common sense and a few precautions, you can most likely avoid anything really unpleasant. Here are a few tips on how to avoid it as best you can, and what to do if you get it:

1. Stick to bottled water

Only drink the tap water in a country if a reliable source (a very recently published guidebook for example) has explicitly stated that the water is safe to drink. If you’re not sure, don’t drink it.

If you have been told that the water is NOT safe for human consumption, this means don’t even brush your teeth with it. Don’t open your mouth in the shower, don’t allow it into your mouth at all. Keep a bottle of purified water in the bathroom for teeth brushing and bring bottled water with you on excursions.

In some countries, not all bottled water is safe. Be sure that there is an unbroken seal on the bottle of any bottled drink.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea

 

2. Eat only foods that are hot

Anything freshly cooked and served at a hot temperature is going to have less of a chance of having harmful bacteria in it. Hot food cooked to order is always your best bet.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea
We did eat some of these squids, reheated on a charcoal grill, and  they were really good. We rolled the dice on this one– food already cooked and sitting out is not a good idea. We didn’t get sick though.

3. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless they have a peel.

In a hot climate, nothing sounds better than a nice cold fresh salad. Unfortunately, many vegetables are washed in tap water that may be contaminated or full of bacteria that you aren’t used to. Hot veggies are the way to go. If you have a kitchen facility where you are staying, you can get around this by washing the vegetables and fruits in iodine or bleach treated water, and then rinsing in purified water. You can use bottled water or boiled water.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea
Market in Thailand

As for fresh fruits–if you can’t peel it, don’t eat it unless you know it’s been properly washed. Bananas for example, are usually a safe bet.

If you are staying at a resort or in a touristy area, the salads are often okay. Resorts and touristy areas don’t want their guests getting sick, so they usually take precautions and disinfect the vegetables properly. We’ve had some salads while traveling in Asia and Central America and they were okay. We knew we were rolling the dice a little though. If you’re really concerned, skip the raw veggies.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea

4. Follow the crowds.

Eat where the locals eat, and eat at places that are busy. Busy vendors go through food fast so their food has a better chance of being freshly cooked. Also, trust the locals. They go to the good places, and you’ll get more of an authentic experience.

Night market in Papeete, Tahiti
Night market in Papeete, Tahiti

5. Street vendors aren’t all bad, just use common sense.

Many guidebooks and websites tell you to avoid street vendors completely. While this may be prudent advice, we don’t think that this is necessarily true. Look at a street vendor’s set up: Do they seem popular? Do they have coolers and food on ice? Is there raw meat sitting out in the sun or is it kept cold before cooking? Are there flies around? Are they cooking food to order? Is already cooked food (such as soup) kept piping hot?

If a street vendor is busy with customers, and is cooking food to order, (and doesn’t have meat sitting out at room temperature), you’re probably going to be okay. A lot of flies are also a bad sign, as flies are attracted to decay. Chef and travel show host Anthony Bourdain has said that he gets sick more often eating hotel food than from eating street food when he travels. When we were in Thailand, it was a burger at an Irish pub that gave Paddy a bad case of the runs, not the street food we tried.

Avoiding street vendors altogether will have you missing out on some of the best local food. Just use common sense and observe how they operate, and (*hopefully*) everything will be fine.

night market chicken satay in Thailand
Paddy eating a chicken satay in Thailand

6. Ice is iffy.

In any country where the water is questionable, so is the ice. Avoid ice in drinks from street vendors, and any crushed ice. Some say to avoid ice altogether, but many countries use purified ice cubes in drinks. The purified ice cubes from the factory are often the tube kind (rounded cubes with a hole in the middle). Touristy areas usually have safe ice in drinks, but it is always good to ask. Learn how to say “purified ice” in the language of the country you are in and ask.

Enjoying a tasty margarita in Mexico
Enjoying a tasty margarita in Mexico

avoiding traveler's diarrhea

7. Avoid ice cream and milk

Milk in many countries is unpasteurized, so avoiding milk and ice cream is advised in the non-western world. That ice cream cone on a hot day in Mexico sounds amazing, but is probably not a good idea.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea

8. Buffets can be a bacterial circus.

Buffets can be iffy. Going right when the buffet opens or when it’s busiest is best to ensure that the food is freshest. Check to make sure that hot dishes are kept hot and cold dishes are on ice. Avoid hollandaise sauce and potato salad.

dessert buffet bora bora

Traveler’s Diarrhea is usually mild. If it’s not that bad and you will be near bathrooms for the day,  try to avoid using Immodium or other anti-diarrheal medicine as your body needs to clear the bad stuff out of your system. Use it if you are going to be traveling or on a tour where a bathroom stop is not always an option.

The most important thing to do if you get traveler’s diarrhea is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of purified/bottled water and an electrolyte-replenishing drink such as Gatorade.  If the diarrhea lasts longer than 72 hours and is accompanied by vomiting, or symptoms include bloody stool, chills, or acute abdominal pain, see a doctor ASAP.

Visiting your doctor before you travel is always a good idea as well. He or she can make sure you are up to date on any vaccinations you may need, as well as prescribe an antibiotic for treating severe traveler’s diarrhea to have on hand, such as ciprofloxacin.

 

Paddy’s advice: An extra tequila shot with your meal can’t hurt.

avoiding traveler's diarrhea