Author Archives: wiscowanderlust

About wiscowanderlust

With a passion for traveling, exploring, and the natural world, we are twenty-somethings living in Phuket. This blog is a collection of anecdotes, stories, photos, and experiences from our time teaching overseas in Kuwait, Cambodia, and now Thailand. Hopefully it keeps us close to our roots while we spread our wings...

Khao Lak & Khao Sok

As beautiful as Phuket may be, there are hundreds of great destinations sprinkled around mainland Thailand just on the other side of the Sarasin bridge. Last month Sean’s parents visited and we took them on a long weekend up to Khao Lak and Khao Sok National Park. The former is a beautiful beachfront area on the mainland and the latter is a stunning national park around 2 hours north. 

We left Phuket around 3pm and got to Khao Lak just in time for sunset. My favorite place is called “Thai Life Homestay” and is actually 30 minutes north of the main tourist area. Living in Phuket which is super touristy, we find that our vacations involve trying to escape crowds as much as possible. 

The beach in front of Thai Life homestay. Absolutely empty and perfect!
Our hotel was in the main tourist area and called “Gerd and Noi”. Strange name, great place! But we’re partial to anywhere that’s dog friendly. Summit and Sean watched me do some handstands in the pool after breakfast. 

We explored near the hotel and found Sai Rung waterfall. It was pretty small but was right next to the parking lot so makes for a nice 20 minute side trip. 

The surprise of the day was finding Pak Weep beach. Literally directly across from the waterfall on the other side of the highway, it was beautiful white sand and turquoise waters. The best part? Peace and quiet!

Spent the evening playing cards and enjoying happy hour on the beach. 

The next morning we set off for Khao Sok National Park. It used to be a river valley but was dammed to generate electricity in the eighties. Now it’s a protected area and you can rent boats for day trips.

The karst limestone is beautiful!

We hired a boat for four hours and went to a raft house for lunch. The food was awesome; both Sean and his mom said it was the best fish they’d eaten!

Then we rented kayaks and paddled around for a while. Summit fell off at least twice which was… exciting. Luckily her noble owner jumped in after her and swam to shore with her. (Sean watched from the boat.)

The area around Khao Sok is equally beautiful; I recommend Art’s Riverview lodge if you want good river access.
I definitely recommend a trip to khao Lak and khao Sok for anyone visiting southern Thailand. We’ll be back for sure!

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Long weekend in Phuket

Monday is a national holiday, so Sean and I have been enjoying a three-day weekend together. Contrary to what we expected, we actually spend very little time at the beach here on the island! Take a look at a few snapshots from this weekend to see how we generally relax. (Hint: It largely revolves around food and the dog!)

It hasn’t quite felt like Christmas season even though it’s only three weeks away. That changed when our friend Amanda threw a lovely Christmas party on Friday night. We put on our red shirts, brought some egg nog, and had fun dancing the night away!

Saturday marked a recent trend in Sean’s hobbies which is attending our local ukulele group. It’s held at Anthem Wakepark and a few teachers along with other friends get together and play music. I’m working on learning the cajón but end up playing with the dogs! They’re doing Christmas music next week so I think I’ll be a vocalist.

While it’s not going to win any photography contests, this picture from out the car window as we drove home Saturday night was too good not to post. Half of Phuket feels like a tourist hub, but the backroads, oh the glorious backroads! Just a few water buffalos, storks, and palm trees….

Dinner on Saturday night was at Kruvit Raft House. We’d driven past hundreds of times but never thought to try it out. The restaurant is situated around a small lake and half of it is floating on the lake itself. We chose a bamboo hut and ordered fried rice with crab and mango salad. There were massive chunks of crab which was really surprising. I’d definitely go back!

Sunday morning was pretty rainy, so we didn’t leave the house until noon. We found a noodle shop on our way to the park that was absolutely packed with people. The dry noodle dish in the foreground was my favorite; while I couldn’t identify everything in the bowl, that didn’t stop me from slurping it down!

After filling our bellies, we headed to King Rama IX park. It’s a pretty large park in the center of the island with plenty of paths for walking. Summit liked the dinosaurs. 

With the end of the rainy season finally here I think we’ll be spending more time at the beach. But honestly, I really love the side of Phuket we’ve explored so far!

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Scenery of Phuket 

Living on a tropical island is pretty beautiful. Most of my blog posts are centered around a specific event or location, but I’ve been accumulating so many random photos of daily life that it’s time I post them all at once. I hope you enjoy!

This is one of the banana trees growing in our yard. We snapped this picture right as sun set; you can see the small bananas growing each with an individual flower. You can actually cut off the large red blossom and make really delicious banana flower salad, but I think we’ll keep it on the branch for aesthetic appeal.
The view out of bedroom window, looking across one of the many valleys of Kathu. I used to think I wanted to live near the beach, but now I prefer the cool temperatures of the clouds as they build up around the hills!

We had some friends over for lunch today, so I ran to the market to pick up lettuce and tomatos. Of course there are hundreds of grocery stores where I can get Kraft macaroni and cheese and Reese’s peanut butter cups, but I prefer the atmosphere of the local market for my fresh produce. Not to mention you can buy cloves of garlic that have already been peeled!

Seemingly part of an elegant and vibrant market, this is actually a deserted tourist destination near my house. It’s called the floating market and has little shops selling trinkets and t-shirts. 

Oh boy, this was a surprise. We went to Patong beach on Wednesday hoping for a quiet patch of sand to watch the sun go down. Little did we know that November marks the beginning of high season. Our once sparse beach was totally packed, and it’s not even Christmas.

…and we saw our first cruise ship. 

The road I drive to school every morning. (Yes, it took a while to get used to left-hand driving. I still hit the windshield wipers when I’m trying to signal…)

And finally, one of my favorite photos from this month. Sean and Summit (our dog) on Laem Ka beach. Even though tab been a long rainy season we’ve still found our afternoons of sunshine! 

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to get a Thai driving license if you’re American

If you’re an American living in Thailand and would like to get a Thai driving license, I’ve got a few quick and dirty tips for you.

A Thai driving license is important in the following scenarios:

  • You want to fly domestically without your passport
  • You get in a car accident
  • You’re stopped by the police
  • You need proof of identification
  • You want to pay the ‘local’ price at tourist attractions

Since we just got a new car, it was only natural to go through the process to get a Thai driving license. The biggest tip I can possibly give you is this:

Get an international driving license from AAA in the United States.

If you get an international license, it’s just a 45-minute visit at the department of land transport to “convert” it into a Thai license. We live in Phuket, so I’m not sure how busy it is in Bangkok or Chiang Mai,  but this morning we arrived at 8:15 and left with a Thai license in hand at 8:59. If you show up in Thailand WITHOUT an international license, you’re looking at a 2-3 day process and the stuff nightmares of made of.

Okay, that was an exaggeration. But you will have to do the following if you do NOT have an international driving license:

  • Vision test
  • Color blind test
  • Reflex test
  • Depth perception test
  • Watch a four-hour video
  • Take a 30 question test
  • Undergo the “technical” driving course, complete with parallel parking and laser sensors that beep if you cross a line, Mission Impossible style.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay $20 to AAA to get it done in 45 minutes.

Either way, if you have an international license or not, you’ll still need the following things:

  • copy of passport
  • copy of visa
  • medical certificate from past 30 days (any clinic can do this for 200-300 baht)
  • copy of work permit
  • copy of residency permit if you’re not working (ask your landlord for help with this)
  • copy of international driving license
  • Around 400 baht for the whole process

I recommend that you show up the day before you aim to go and show the nice lady at the front your documents. She can clarify which pages were incorrectly photocopied, of which you will most likely have a couple. You can then go home and make new copies that suit her request and come back the next morning at 8am feeling confident and ready to hit the gas.

Honestly? Good luck, and happy driving!

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Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Trigger warning: This post contains graphic images of body piercing and mutilation. Proceed with caution.

Did I get your attention? I thought I should come back to the blogging world with a bang. 

I’ve been away for a long time, and much has happened since my last post. Two major events mark the return of Angkor Away:

1. We moved to Phuket, Thailand.

2. I got an iPhone. 

The former was an incredibly busy time of packing up our home, visiting the embassy to make our visas, and transitioning our jobs. The latter just means that I now can blog anywhere, anytime. It’s infinitely easier to take pictures and post them to WordPress now, as opposed to uploading the images from a camera and typing up a formal post on my laptop. I’ll miss my standard Nokia brick phone with its black and white screen and games of Snake, but at least I’ve joined the 21st century. 

So my first post back is about the vegetarian festival of Phuket. A couple hundred years ago, a Chinese opera group came to Phuket and fell sick with malaria.  They prayed to the Chinese gods, ate a strict vegetarian diet for one week, and miraculously overcame the fatal disease. Today, Phuket still celebrates this moment in history as an invocation to the 9 Chinese gods for protection from evil. 

How do they invoke the gods? Gnarly body piercings.

I got up at 6am yesterday and went to my loca shrine to see the morning ritual. Thai people were there in droves. Incense was burning, drums were pounding, it was surreal. I’ll let my pictures explain the rest.

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Day Trip to Koh Sire 

There aren’t many places you can get off the beathen path in Phuket. The infrastructure, the beaches, the McDonald’s, the massages, the 7-11’s. I’ve heard Phuket referred to as “Disney world” and “Thailand light”.

All of which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I miss that unpolished side of Southeast Asia; that place of upturned soil and hodgepodge of motorbikes nestled alongside unadulterated natural beauty. Koh Sire straddles the divide of polished Phuket and quietly, stunningly beautiful Thailand. 


Just a few miles east of Phuket town, it’s hard to know you’re on another island. Koh Sire is often overlooked due to the lack of tourist facilities, but that’s exactly why we sought it out. If you find yourself in Phuket, set aside a few hours to check it out – but you’ll need a motorbike or a car. And the trip to the temple is a must. Enjoy the photos. 

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Building Goat Sheds In Arusha

Six things I learned about Tanzania:

  1. Swahili sounds amazing. It’s one of the happiest sounding languages I’ve ever heard. Here’s a sneak peek:
    Karibu – Welcome
    Habari gani – How are you?
    Jambo – Hello
    Kwaheri – Goodbye
    Sarafi njema – Have a good trip!
    Asante sana – Thank you very much
  2. Speaking of Swahili, the Lion King names are actually Swahili words! Remember Pumba, the warthog? Pumba means slow-witted/thoughtless in Swahili! Simba means lion. Rafiki means friend. Cool, huh?
  3. Beads are everywhere. Everything is beaded. Bracelets, earrings, bags, shoes, everything.
  4. Tsetse flies actually exist, and they’re the devil incarnate. They’re worse than horseflies, leaving giant welts that itch for days. They even carry a terrifying disease called Sleeping Sickness; if you’re bitten by an infected fly you slowly become more and more drowsy, drifting off into sleep, and then remain in a coma for the rest of your life. Thankfully it’s very rare and a nonissue for anyone considering a trip.
  5. The name “Tanzania” exists because it’s the land between Lake Tanganyika and Zanzibar island. (Put it together, Tan + Zan = Tanzania!)
  6. They take the phrase “rice and beans” to a whole new level.

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One of the great things about going with a school group was that I was able to learn about Tanzania from a more educational perspective. Normally my vacations consist of pure adventure seeking, a bit of relaxation, and a cultural day thrown in here and there. With a school group you’re always assessing the educational merit of your activities. Enter the most impacting activity we participated in: The goat shed.

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Service projects comprised much of what we did in Tanzania. The students fundraised beforehand in order to pay for the materials to build a goat shed for a local villager. The activity was facilitated by the non-profit Seeway Tanzania.

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The students had a blast and learned how to manually build a wooden structure using only a set of directions and a hammer and nails. Another important fact: The fundraising didn’t just pay for the shed itself, but for the goat that would live there. It’s a great long-term service project because the goat continues to provide for the villager’s livelihood.

It took two grueling days to build the goat shed, but I can’t wait to return again this February and see how big Hillda has grown!

Check back soon for the final installment on Tanzania, the safari!

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Jambo From Tanzania, Africa!

So, back in March Sean and I were paid to go to Africa.

Yes, it was as unexpected as it sounds.

Arusha, Tanzania to be exact. At the foot of Mount Meru, within spitting distance of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti.

The purpose of our trip was a school expedition. As the community and service coordinator for our school it is my responsibility to organize service projects for our students. Normally these projects occur around Phnom Penh, but things started to change once our school was purchased by a British organization that owns around forty different schools worldwide.  They have a property in Tanzania where students from this group of forty schools can go for a week to participate in adventure and service-learning activities.

So who better to chaperone the trip than the service coordinator and her husband?

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We flew into the town of Arusha, only an hour from the Kenyan border. The air was fresh and dry once we got off the plane; at an elevation of 4,500 feet it was drastically different than the tropical rice paddies of Phnom Penh! The first thing I noticed in Arusha were the mountains.

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Mount Meru absolutely dominated the skyline. It was impossible to lose sight of it. I talked to a few of the guides and they said that Mount Meru is actually more desirable of a climb than Kilimanjaro. For one, it’s cheaper. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro you need at least $1,000 and at least 6 days. For Mount Meru it’s only around $350 and 3 or 4 days. Secondly, Mount Meru is less crowded and you don’t need a guided tour. Lastly, you get to gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro the entire way up your hike to Mount Meru as they’re only 70 kilometers apart. Looks like I have another thing to add to my bucket list!

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While driving around Arusha I found that Cambodia isn’t the only country to disregard traffic lanes. I absolutely loved the passenger vans in Tanzania; they were emblazoned with fantastic glittering adhesive images and words. The sides were painted multiple colors in giant patterns and blocks. Some even had accent lights and high school mascot-like material covering the dashboard and inside walls.

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Another view of Mount Meru. As we were on a school trip our itinerary was completely scripted. This was nice in some regards because I could just relax and let someone else lead the show for once! Further, Sean and I only brought four students—who were complete angels—and it felt just as much a vacation as a chaperone responsibility.

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One of the days we visited Ng’iresi village which operates cultural tourism programs. Students got to learn about the lives of the Maasai tribe people.  Traditionally semi-nomadic, the Maasai have settled down in villages due to changes in land rights. You can tell this is a Maasai home because there are two round huts; one for each wife. A polygynous society, men in Maasai tribes are allowed to have more than one wife. However, a bit of research taught me that some tribes are also polyandrous, which means that a woman can have more than one husband at the same time.

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Have you ever been at your local coffee shop and seen Tanzanian peaberry brewing? Tanzania is famous for its coffee, and rightfully so. It’s delicious. These are raw beans straight from the plant.

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One thing that blew our students’ minds was the local school in the village. Coming from the elite private schools they’re used to in Cambodia, seeing three students crammed to a single desk was quite the opposite. However, our Cambodian students did notice a similarity between the government schools in Cambodia and the government schools in Tanzania. It was a great opportunity for them to unpack their privilege—even though they see poverty in Cambodia, it became more overt to them once they saw it from the perspective of another culture they weren’t accustomed to.

Thus concludes our first few days in Tanzania! Next up, we will build a goat shed, eat amazing beans and rice, and eventually make our way to Tarangire National Park… home of the elephants. Stay tuned!    

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Camping in Cambodia: A Trip to Kirirom

In America, June signals the start of camping season. People get out their coolers, tank tops, and bug spray. Living in Cambodia, it’s camping season all year round. The weather remains at a balmy ninety degrees, there are always mosquitos, and there’s always use for a cooler. So, back in March, we loaded up our cars and took to the hills for a weekend of camping in Cambodia. (Note: Many photos are compliments of the lovely Anna Sudra.)

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I know, it’s the last place you expected to see pine trees, right? Normally Southeast Asia brings to mind palm trees and white sand beaches.

Not in Kirirom. Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 10.33.51 PM

Kirirom National Park is about two hours outside of the city along highway 4 and has an elevation of about 2,200 feet. Compared to the rest of the country which lies barely above sea level, Kirirom is home to a vast pine forest and cool evening temperatures. The perfect camping spot.

To get there, however—like the rest of the country—is quite a journey.

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Once we turned off highway 4, the road turned to dirt and potholes. Not to mention bridges on the brink of collapse. Cambodia is definitely more set up for motorcycles than cars.

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Climbing higher into the forest, families in wooden shacks selling porcupine needles, pinecones, and firewood dotted the roadway.

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Kirirom National Park is not exactly the stereotypical “National Park” that exists in many countries. In Cambodia, national parks are sometimes quite developed on the inside. This one has a hotel in the center, an active pagoda, and a few families selling things throughout. You can’t buy property in the park. Anyone who lives there I assume has been grandfathered in. However, even the national parks of Cambodia are for sale to the highest bidder, which is why there is a hotel now in the center of Kirirom. (Similar to the giant casino that rests atop Bokor Mountain National Park…)

Before the Khmer rouge, there were a few hotels and cottage-style homes on the mountain. There’s currently a small tea plantation and visitor center. It makes a great stopping point if you’re traveling to Sihanoukville.

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This plant naturally grows on trees all over the forests of Cambodia. (I’ve seen it before in Ratanakiri, Mondulkiri, and now Kirirom.) When I was hiking in Mondulkiri, the guide said it is good luck to see one of these plants for your wedding, but it is illegal to harvest and sell them. However, I saw them for sale all over Kirirom. I tried a number of Google searches and haven’t found an explanation. If you know about this cultural phenomenon, post in the comments below!

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The view from the lookout near the highest point in Kirirom.

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Once we got to our campsite we had lunch and set up the tents. Our campsite was not part of a regulated campground, but rather a clearing at the end of a deserted road. Because that’s how you make your own fun in Cambodia!

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As the sunk sank into the clouds and our campfire started up, we had our own little paradise.

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You couldn’t hear anything but bird calls and the wind.

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In the morning we drove to the visitor center.  Again I saw more local forested products for sale, which I recall reading were illegal. Looking back, I can’t find the articles that give me more information. I think the brown things are dried mushrooms, and the wood on the right is scented local wood. (It smelled delicious.) Unfortunately, I don’t think either of these things were sustainably harvested, but I hope I’m wrong…

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Having fun at the visitor center.

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Our last stop of the day was at a tiny waterfall off the main road.   10653673_10152670349147102_9136605122980195175_n

It felt great to rinse off the campfire smoke.

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Relaxing by the waterfall before heading back into the noisy city.

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Did I mention that it was my birthday? Chino and I are born a week apart, so we celebrated our birthday with a weekend filled of fun in the forest. Anna was sweet (as always) and baked us a cake. Nothing goes better with a waterfall swim than a chocolate brownie!

Add Kirirom to your agenda the next time you visit Cambodia! Just don’t forget to bring a flashlight.

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Summer Is Almost Here…

The month of May means different things to different people. For Cambodians, it marks the Royal Ploughing Ceremony and King Sihamoni‘s birthday.  In America, we think of flowers blooming and some mysterious dance around a Maypole, which I don’t think anyone really understands.

For teachers, and students, it only means on thing.

Summer vacation is around the corner.

To herald the summer of 2015, I bring you a video that Sean made of one of our favorite Wisconsin activities: playing in the water.

Last summer we spent a few days at our friend’s cabin in Eagle, Wisconsin.

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Eagle Spring Lake is a funky area. Kettle Moraine State Forest is next door, there’s an island with a house on it in the center of the lake, and there’s a gorgeous little channel of water that connects you to Lulu Lake, which is just beautiful. I’ve never seen so many lily pads.

If there’s one thing you’ve got to do in Wisconsin, it’s spend some time on our lakes in the summer. (Even if you’re from Minnesota. I won’t judge you.)

Watch Sean’s video below (in 1080p if you can), and just try not to get out your sunscreen and sunglasses.

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