This is by far my favorite city in all of Europe. Except for the mandatory 2394857298792345981 tourists. The nice thing about travelling South-East Asia was the fact that it was still possible to find tourist-less areas to see. Southern Europe in the summer? Not so much.
Our first destination in Rome, was, of course, the Colosseum. We set off early in the morning with high hopes and expectations that we wouldn't have to wait in line for too long. Turned out all 2394857298792345981 tourists also had the same hopes and expectations,
so we decided that seeing the Colosseum from all outside angles was more than enough
We came back to the Colosseum at night to see it lit up. I waited for this guy to leave for a solid 30 minutes before giving up and taking an un-consented photo of him. Sue me.
It's pretty hard to be original with the itinerary when visiting a place like Rome
After reading many subpar reviews about the tourist overpopulation in Kuta, we decided to stay in a less popular, but highly recommended area of Bail - Kerobokan. We got very lucky with our host at Dana Guesthouse who took us on a very cheap, full day, private tour around Bali, along with one other couple.
It took us until the end of the trip to be fully convinced that the tour was in fact not a scam, considering how great it had originally sounded.
The first stop of this tour was at a coffee plantation. Where - believe it or not - we actually got to try coffee for free! Didn't even pay tourist/foreign/bathroom/entrance/exit tax.
Turns out the most famous coffee in Bali is actually Cat-Poop coffee. Essentially, the coffee beans get hand-picked by these cat-like animals called Luwaks. Once the beans have gone through the Luwaks' digestive system and come out the other end, the still-intact beans are collected and roasted just like regular coffee. I was half expecting the tourguide to say "gotcha!" during her explanation, but she was either really good at scamming tourists, or this coffee was no joke.
Our actually free samples included some really good coffee, including white, chocolate and vanilla coffee, as well as various flavours of tea.
Our second stop was for lunch, at a buffet on the top of a ridge overlooking Mount Batur. We also got to witness that it is, in fact, possible to haggle the flat price of a buffet by half, thanks to the Chinese couple we were with.
The third stop was Tourist Central - the famous Rice Fields.
This guy makes his whole living by posing with the rice baskets and accepting tips.
From Koh Phi Phi, we made our way to Krabi Town. Since we only had one day to spend in Krabi, we decided to try out the famous rock climbing place in Railay park. The guesthouse we stayed at - Gafiyah Guesthouse - helped us organize a climbing trip with King Climbers, and while we were doing that also kindly did our laundry and arrange our next transportation towards the Malaysian border.
The morning obviously started off with a torrential downpour, and us thinking that the rocks would be out of commission for climbing. After a whopping 30 minutes, all traces of rain were gone, the sun came out, the rocks dried up, and we headed towards the climbing spot.
Naturally, the climbing area came with a complementary monkey sanctuary.
On our second day in Koh Phi Phi we had a bit of rain in the morning. Good thing we had to check out of the most remote hostel ever and find another place to stay.
The rest of the day was actually pretty clear, and surprisingly the streets were completely dry by mid afternoon with absolutely no trace of floods from earlier that morning.
We took advantage of this beautiful weather and went on our first official scuba diving trip outside of Australia.
Saw our first turtle within the first 5 minutes of our first dive
And proceeded to stalk it for pretty much the rest of the dive
Diving in Phi Phi was very different from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The coral in Thailand was a huge let down after getting spoiled by the flawless and colourful coral reefs in the GBR. Most of the reefs here were destroyed a few years back by various natural disasters and copious amounts of careless tourists.
From Phuket we took a ferry to the famous Koh Phi Phi.
There are plenty of services that run ferries from Phuket <--> Koh Phi Phi <--> Krabi and conveniently sell open tickets for any time, any day. Going through an agent for this is useless - the public transport is perfectly fine and probably the cheapest option of them all.
Koh Phi Phi is a small pedestrian-only island, so everything is very close together. Expect for the hostel that we booked, which was at the top of the hill, 23452349879 km away from the port where we arrived.
Following a friend's recommendation we booked a fluorescent plankton tour. There was a choice between a sunset tour that would bring you back the same day, or a sleep aboard tour, where you sleep on the boat and return to the island after breakfast onboard the next morning. Considering our relationship with boats in the past month has been subpar at best, we decided to just book the sunset tour. The tour included a boat ride to Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed (with Leo Dicaprio), dinner, snacks, snorkelling, kayaks, and finally swimming with fluorescent plankton when the sun goes down.
Pirates' Cave on the way to Maya Bay
Small passage through the limestone rocks to get to Maya Bay. Great snorkelling location!
Two Canadians in Thailand.
The tour was pretty great, until of course, we had to perform an emergency evacuation and run to a shelter on the island to hide from the surprise hurricane. Our "sunset boat tour" quickly turned into the overnight live-aboard tour and since we were the only two people on this trip that were signed up for the sunset tour, we were forced to stay overnight with the rest of the group. I guess based on our visible discontent about having to sleep on a boat, we got assigned a personal caregiver who gave us clothes to change into, extra food, extra drinks and came around to us every few minutes to make sure we were ok. The surprise hurricane conveniently ended by night time, and we were free to go back into the water in the dark and swim with the fluorescent plankton, which we wouldn't have been able to see as well had we only done the sunset tour. It was an incredible experience!
We all slept on mattresses on the boat (which wasn't half bad actually), and the next morning after breakfast and a short snorkelling session we headed back to the main island. All in all it turned out to be a fantastic trip and probably one of my highlights from Thailand. Too bad we booked that really nice hostel 45234958798km away which we never got to use.
After a long overnight train from Bangkok to Surat Thani (~1200BHT, and about 12 hrs), where a vendor sang "Singha Beer, Singha Beer, Singa all the way!" to the tune of Jingle Bells .. all the way.. and a few more busses and scams, we finally ended up in Phuket. Which might as well be named Little Russia. All signs and menus were translated into Russian, and sometimes English.
We found a great hostel, minutes away from Kata Beach. A pretty touristy place, but not as bad as some of the places were managed to avoid in Phuket.
We immediately signed ourselves up for an elephant trek at Kok Chang Elephant Trekking. It seemed to be the least commercialized camp, and judging from some TripAdvisor reviews, they actually took care of the elephants fairly well.
What they casually forget to mention when you sign up, is the free included GIANT SPIDER SANCTUARY. Where spiders freestyle jump and appear inches from your face when you least expect it.
I came down with a pretty bad fever while in Phuket, so I don't have very positive memories from this place. We never bothered getting any of the anti-malarial or any anti-fever shots prior to our trip, so I was pretty concerned it was something serious. Luckily enough, there happened to be a Canadian doctor from UBC right around the corner from our guesthouse, who took me in for a free checkup and told me I'll live.