Going Back To My Roots in Bangkok

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Probably one of the most random fun facts about me is that I spent most of my childhood living abroad in New Zealand and Thailand. It was a uniquely wonderful experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. Living in a place like Bangkok was very instrumental in fostering my love to other cultures and also opened my eyes really early in life to things like extreme poverty, different religions and crazy foods.

I’ve had a dream to go back and visit everywhere that I lived as a child, so I was beyond excited to finally be visiting Bangkok with J. He could finally see where I lived and what life was like for me as a 8-10 year old living somewhere so culturally different.

By the time we got to Bangkok, a city full of noise and energy and sophistication and gold, we were ready for the pace of city life with it’s amazing restaurants and classy rooftops bars. Unfortunately, our time in Bangkok was slowed by an infection in J’s leg that had been festering since Vietnam. Heat and sweat and saltwater had just made the infection worse and worse until he was in so much pain that we had no choice but to get it checked out. Thankfully we found a wonderful travel clinic that fit us in every day and took great care of J’s leg for a fraction of what it would have cost in the states. The bad news was that the treatment made J super achy so we spent more time resting and less time exploring Bangkok. We still found time to explore the city’s Grand Palace with all of it’s glittering gold (amazing!) as well as take the temple and klong tour that came with our hotel reservation. We spent more time than I’m proud to admit eating at and wandering through Bangkok’s huge shopping malls and even got to spend some time with a dear missionary friend my family first met when we lived in Thailand over 20 years ago — so special.

The best part of being in Bangkok for me was just taking it all in and remembering what my life was like when I lived there forever ago. We found my old school and even walked to my old apartment building which had strangely enough been turned into a hotel. The soi (street) that we lived on is now a bit of the “trendy” street full of popular restaurants and boutique hotels. It was strange — being there felt so familiar but at the same time totally different. But isn’t that how everything looks when you see childhood places through adult eyes? Especially when it’s a world away.

Our Bangkok visit wasn’t ideal — but then again, nowhere would have been ideal at that point in the trip with J’s leg being as bad as it was — but we are still thankful for our time there. I wish that we had more of a chance to enjoy it fully, to eat at some of the city’s most talked-about restaurants (it’s a foodie haven), to take in afternoon tea at a hotel lobby like I did as a kid, to feast on street food and wander the markets, but I suppose that will just have wait until next time because after 3 days in Bangkok we packed up and headed home. Another amazing adventure for the books.

{we started our visit with a tour of the klongs or canals of Bangkok followed by Wat Arun}

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 SEAsia14__0738SEAsia14__0746SEAsia14__0754{Magnum ice cream bars always make us happy}

After Wat Arun we headed over to the Grand Palace to explore. It was a bit crazy there since they were beginning celebrations for the King’s birthday.

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111714_Asia_1240sm 111714_Asia_1244sm{my old school! This used to be ISB but now it’s a United Nations School. Looks similar to how I remember it, though. We wanted to tour it but we needed IDs which were back in the hotel safe}

111714_Asia_1252sm 111714_Asia_1250sm{President Palace Hotel on Soi 11! This used to be called Ambassador Palace and was our apartment building! We lived on the 5th floor above the pool. There’s now even a Starbucks in the lobby! CRAZY!}

We stayed at: iCheck Inn Residences on Soi 18, Sukhimvit. I would call this more of an extended stay apartment more than a hotel mostly because each room has a small kitchenette and the hotel offered absolutely no amenities or customer service. There was no food at all available and half of the time there wasn’t even anyone at the front desk. That said, the location was great (quiet soi with plenty of food stands, hotels and non-sketchy massage shops), the room was bright and modern, the bed was super comfy and it was a short walk to the Skytrain and Terminal 21, a huge mall with a nice food court.

Need medical help? We loved the team at the Global Doctor Clinic in the Interchange Building across from Terminal 21.

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 Read more about our Southeast Asia trip!

Hanoi, Halong Bay Day 1, Halong Bay Day 2-3, Hoi An, Cambodia, Railay Beach

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Dreaming of Railay

111714_Asia_1075I was terribly afraid that Railay Beach in Thailand might not be all that impressive. After all, I’ve experienced some pretty awe-inspiring beaches in my travels already from Zanzibar in Tanzania to Roatan in Honduras. I spent three years of my childhood living in Thailand so I had already visited some of the country’s best beaches. I had also read lots of mixed reviews about Thailand’s beaches, about how they were crowded and full of partiers and other unpleasantries. I was fully prepared for a let down.

Thankfully, Railay did not disappoint. After sweating and walking and touring and wandering the great temples of Cambodia we were eager to just relax on a beach for a few days. We flew Siem Reap to Krabi on Bangkok air (which honestly is one of the best airlines I’ve ever flown with — they make every part of the flight pleasant AND even the shortest flights included practically a full meal) and then caught a shuttle to the pier to take a boat to Railay.

Railay has a complete island feel but it is actually a peninsula that is only accessible by boat due to the towering limestone rocks that surround it. This means that you literally pull up to the shore on your long tail boat, take your shoes off and then wade through knee deep water with your luggage over your head all the way to shore. It might not be for everyone but for us, it was the perfect way to start our beach vacation.

SEAsia14__0717Our hotel was on the east side of Railay which is a bit less popular due to the fact that it doesn’t really have a beach but rather it’s edged by swampy mangroves. It didn’t really make a different to us as the entire area is pretty tiny and you can follow a 5-minute paved path from one side of the peninsula to the other. The west side of Railay is more popular due to it’s wide, white beaches and spectacular sunsets that you can watch while sipping your cocktails at one of the beach-front restaurants. The sunsets were completely SPECTACULAR! I’ve never seen God put on such an amazing show before! On one night the sunset probably lasted around 45 minutes, the sky changing from blues to pink to orange and red before fading to a deep purple. J just kept taking photos and saying, “It just keeps getting better!”

Railay is famous among rock climbers, it’s limestone peaks offering tons of options for climbers to explore. Everywhere you look you see people hanging off the sides of the rocks. It’s also known for it’s wild monkeys that would wander one side of the island, hoping to steal snacks off of unsuspecting tourists. I had never been that close to monkeys in the wild before and it was as unnerving  as it was incredible. I loved seeing the baby monkeys cling to their mommas and found it so fun to watch them all play on the fence lining the beach path.

Our time in Railay was mostly spent lounging on the beach or by the pool. The ocean water was sooooo warm — probably around 88 degrees — and there were no waves so we would just stand in the shallow waters drinking our tropical smoothies and chatting about how awesome it was. There are lots of nearby islands you can explore but we decided that since we had only two full days there, we preferred to spend it exploring all that Railay had to offer. I especially loved the food boats that would pull up to the beach during the day. They were literally floating kitchens were you could order everything from fried rice to burgers to smoothies and more. Why don’t we have that in SoCal?

I highly recommend Railay Beach if you want to relax in Thailand. It was beautiful, quiet and because it has no car access, still has that laid back island feel. There are no high rises here, no chain stores like 7-elevens that are all over Thailand and no noisy scooters. It’s just pure bliss.

SEAsia14__0692 SEAsia14__0715SEAsia14__0697Railay-j SEAsia14__0720 SEAsia14__0694{one of the awesome floating kitchens}

111714_Asia_0956 SEAsia14__0712{monkeys on the fence next to the beach path}

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Stayed at: Sunrise Tropical Resort on Railay East. We stayed in their basic hotel style rooms which were fine — nothing special. I felt like the whole place needed a paint job. Their villas looked pretty awesome, though. Next time I’d save up to stay there. They also offer a huge buffet breakfast that offered both Thai and Western options.

Ate at: beach boats! We especially loved the smoothies and mango sticky rice. Yummm.

If we could do it again we’d: Rent a boat and visit some of the nearby islands. The best prices for this are on the east side if you walk down by the restaurants — we discovered this the night before we left. Their prices were about half what we’d been told on the beach by the boat drivers as well as at a booth on the west side of Railay.

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More from our Southeast Asia trip: Hanoi, Halong Bay Day 1, Halong Bay Day 2-3, Hoi An, Cambodia

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Sweating Our Way Through Ancient Cambodia

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Friends! Sorry I’m dragging my feet on these Southeast Asia vacation posts. I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months since we’ve been back. Time is flying as always. Today I want to share with you our adventures in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

I’ll be honest, our first reaction to Cambodia was not a positive one.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap, we quickly found our tuk tuk driver sporting the hotel’s shirt and holding up our names and hopped on board for a very dirty ride through town. The city is one of the dirtiest I’ve ever been in with dust and dirt literally hitting us in the face and sticking to my eyes as we drove down the streets. Every time I saw a hospital I’d look at J and say, “We’re not allowed to get sick or hurt here.”

SEAsia14__0507We were shocked when we arrived at our hotel. The charming hotel and deluxe room was anything but. Dark, dirty and isolated with a moldy bathroom and trinkle of a cold shower (seriously, the shower was disgusting), we gave it one night and then promptly found a new hotel over breakfast the next morning. It was that bad.

Thankfully our last minute booking allowed us to stay at a gorgeous boutique hotel for a steal of a price. The Moon Boutique Hotel was everything that the Lotus Lodge wasn’t — clean, comfortable, fresh white bedding and cozy with a breakfast that rivaled the one in Hoi An and a pool that was as refreshing as it was inviting. In a word our new hotel was perfection.

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And suddenly Siem Reap wasn’t so bad any more.

We spent our first full day in Siem Reap exploring the ancient temples that lure people to Cambodia. Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdie and more captivated us was we walked, wandered, photographed and sweated our way through their ancient ruins. I was more wowed than I expected to be at the hugeness and beauty of it all. Angkor Wat alone is the largest temple in the world and easily takes several hours to explore. We followed that with 5 additional temples and were completely exhausted and literally dripping with sweat at the end of the day. Thankfully, Cambodia is full of affordable massages so we treated ourselves to a $6 foot massage at the end of the day (after a long shower, of course).

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   This little cutie let me draw some flowers on her hands.

 SEAsia14__0539SEAsia14__0569 SEAsia14__0546 SEAsia14__0509 111714_Asia_0782sm{where they filmed Tomb Raider}

We were so exhausted after our first day of touring temples that we debated doing it again the second day even though we had bought the 3 day temple ticket. The heat and humidity was so suffocating that it was hard to imagine spending another full day enduring it, but in the end we opted to visit one of the lesser seen temples called Banteay Srei at the advice of a friend. The temple was about an hour outside of town which made for a lovely and COOL tuk tuk ride through the Cambodian countryside. I loved seeing the kids riding their bikes home from school and watching the water buffalo in the rice fields. With a much slower pace, it was the perfect way to enjoy day two.

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Siem Reap surprised us with it’s amazing food options. Our first night we dined at Haven, “a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from very rural poor areas.” We loved their mission and the food was pretty amazing, too. Please eat there to support their awesome mission if you’re in Siem Reap! It was sooo good in a great atmosphere and the training servers were completely attentive and professional. We also enjoyed Momma Shop, an authentic Italian recipe where the pasta and everything else was made from scratch. We sat outside sipping on wine and inhaling our gnocchi and carbonara. Perfecto.

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What we didn’t love was Pub Street, Cambodia’s version of Beale Street or any other party street. It was chaotic, crowded and loud and not at all our style. I think that after the tranquility of Hoi An, Pub Street was a bit of a shock to our system. I did love the pancake street carts they had everywhere for our evening dessert (banana nutella was my pancake of choice) and found some great seasonings to bring home to friends, but that was about it. Our hotel was such a quiet retreat that at the end of the day we preferred to relax there.

In the end, Cambodia won us over with us beautiful, warm people, it’s amazing food and the awe-inspiring sites. We would totally recommend it.

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Stayed at: You can find dirt cheap lodging in Siem Reap but we paid a bit more for some comfort. Lotus Lodge — hated it! Then stayed at the Moon Boutique Hotel. Absolutely lovely — giant rooms with rain showers in the bathroom, huge breakfast, amazing pool and free tuk tuk rides into town with a cell phone so you can call when you’re ready for a pick up. If you can, try to book it last minute to get rooms for a fraction of their normal price. We also heard great things about the budget friendly Golden Temple Villa, however it must be popular because it was fully booked over a month before our trip.

Ate at: SO many great restaurants and cafes in Siem Reap exist to help those in need so please support them! Haven (training restaurant), Momma’s Shop and New Leaf Book Cafe were all excellent.

How to visit the temples: You’ll need to buy an Angkor Pass ticket to visit the temples and sites around Siem Reap. They cost $20 for a one day visit / $40 for 3 days / $60 for 7 days. The best way to get around is on a tuk tuk which you can hire thru your hotel for around $15-25 for the full day. Some people bike around the temples which we couldn’t imagine since we were already SO hot and sweaty and exhausted from walking around.

A Note on Dress Code: Women visiting Angkor Wat and the other temple sites are expected to have their knees and shoulders covered. They will turn you away from several of the temple areas if you’re wearing a short skirt or skimpy clothes. Please dress extra modestly and respectfully. Men must also have their shoulders covered (no tank tops). It is crazy hot so keep clothes lightweight. I wore lightweight cotton pants and a tshirt and was hot but fine.

More from our trip: Our visits to Hanoi, Halong Bay day 1, Halong Bay day 2-3, Hoi An

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