Posts Tagged With: Thailand

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! 

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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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Rip Van Thailand

We’re back with another blockbuster video from the swaying palms of Southeast Asia. Sean has seamlessly spliced and sewn together snippets of our Khmer New Year holiday to Koh Kut, and we present them to you today. It’s a bit old, thus the title Rip Van Thailand, but a tale is just as great centuries later. Ask the Romans.

A quick refresher on where we went:
Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.28.52 PMWe drove from Phnom Penh to the Thai border, then took a boat to Koh Kood(Kut). I marked Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok’s general area to give you a scope of where we were.

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We had a leisurely trip to the border, with lots of rest and play along the way. Here we are kicking back at Nomad’s Land on Koh Totang. It was the peak of the hot season, so we moved very slowly and swam as often as possible.

 

Once we crossed the Thai border, we took a two hour boat ride to Koh Kut. IMG_1404Stepping onto the pier, I realized where the dried shrimp in our spring rolls come from.
IMG_1406I never dreamed there were so many shrimp hanging out where I snorkel!

 

Then, we had five days of bliss. I couldn’t get enough of Koh Kut. I daresay I liked it more than Koh Chang. But it’s tough when you’re comparing paradise with Shangri-La.

Here’s the video. Be sure to watch it in the highest resolution you can. We shot it in 1080p:

 

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Elephant Trekking & Time Travel In Thailand

 

Koh Chang is an island for all people. If you want to lose yourself in weeks of lying on the sand, book in hand, soaking up the beauty of pure relaxation, you’ve come to the right island. If you want to clamber up waterfalls, explore the rugged mountainsides, or, even, trek with elephants, you’ve DEFINITELY come to the right island.

There is so much to do on Koh Chang! After the snorkling, the waterfall, and the plentiful beaches, we decided it was time to get up close and personal with the “other” locals of Koh Chang: The elephants.

IMG_2043There are many elephant trekking groups on Koh Chang. You see elephant “pastures” all over the island. You can book a variety of trips; we spent a half-day with these spectacular mammals.

 

IMG_2010We set out from the paradise of our hotel early in the morning. We had an ocean to swim in and Thai food to eat before we visited the elephants.

 

IMG_0164I tried the Thai version of my favorite Cambodian dishes, bok lahong. Believe it or not, everything in the above picture goes into this salad dish. In Khmer, bok lahong means “pounded papaya”, as it is a salad of unripe papaya sliced with the veggies above, and tossed with the most delectable, savory peanut-lime dressing. In Thai it is som tam, which literally translates to “sour pounded”. Whatever you call it, it is DELICIOUS!  (Check out that woman’s upper-body strength; you can tell she is a “pounded papaya” professional!)

After lunch, we stumbled upon something I’d never seen through all my travels…

IMG_0166…a business for time travel information. (Now you should be asking yourself, “Where is Kim writing this from?” But that’s a story for another blog…)

 

And then it was time to visit the elephants.
IMG_0172Sean was on one, my sister and I on another, and my dad walked halfway and rode the way back.

 

IMG_0187He had fun being at leg-level with the elephants as much as he did riding them. Together we headed into the forest of Koh Chang.

 

IMG_0215Then they told us, “You can give the elephants a bath.” We didn’t know that meant actually swimming with the elephants.

 

IMG_0229But it did. Lots and lots of swimming and snout-spraying.

 

IMG_0245As I make a complete fool of myself in the above picture, my sister has the shot of the lifetime. We were just floundering around in the water with these things; sometimes the elephants would completely submerge themselves underwater. You just had to guess where they would come up.


IMG_2049The view of an elephant from the driver’s seat.

Then we headed out of the forest, the sun drying our swimsuits as we plodded to and fro on the giant beasts.

And what does one do after a full day of riding and swimming with elephants?

IMG_2015Why, get a back massage, of course.

IMG_0170We polished off our final day in Koh Chang with a final dip in the ocean. What a day it was.

 

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Toto, We’re Not In Cambodia Anymore

 

When my Dad and sister said they were coming to visit, Sean and I faced a dilemma. Where do we take them? It was our winter break, and we wanted to go far enough away given all the time we had, but we also wanted to show my family the parts of Southeast Asia we know and love.

So we decided on Koh Chang, Thailand. An island on the Cambodian border; close enough to home, but still exotically different.

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We drove through the beautiful forests of Southwestern Cambodia, and then crossed the border into Thailand.

Unfortunately, we had to leave our car at the border. The border guards would not accept one of our registration papers, which we feared would happen. It is a temporary document, the official one is still in processing. After a few minutes of frustration, we accepted the fact, and hopped in the back of a songthaew.

 

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My Dad and sister were gracefully flexible – they loved the adventure! We took the songthaew from the border to the ferry dock, which only took about an hour.  We had been lazy leaving Koh Kong (remember, it’s paradise!), so it was getting late by the time we took the ferry to Koh Chang.

 

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Which meant we got to enjoy an incredibly sunset as the island loomed in the foreground. As we got closer, I couldn’t believe how mountainous it seemed!

 

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The next morning we sat in awe of the incredible view from our hotel, Oasis. Can you spot the islands?

 

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The view of Oasis as you approach from the main road. It was set on a hill, which gave you incredible views and a sense of being in an incredible rainforest.
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Our bungalow. Their basic rooms are something like $9 a night. This place was heaven.
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Once we got our bearings and filled our bellies with pad thai and coffee, we headed to the beach. Lonely Beach, to be exact. When we got there, we were greeted with white sand, gin-clear waters, and beach front massages. Bliss.
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We spent the better part of our days savoring this view.

As much as Koh Chang is famous for its beaches, it also has a variety of adventure opportunities. The whole interior of the island is a national park. The only development exists around the island’s perimeter. Once you head inland, all you’ll see is monkeys, waterfalls, and vines.
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We visited Klong Plu waterfall, and swam in its emerald pools.

IMG_1993To get to Klong Plu, you hike through the jungle for twenty minutes or so, and pop out at the base of the falls. It was a popular spot. December is the start of the dry season, so when we saw the falls in January, they weren’t as full as they would be in October. I can only imagine how wild it must be in the rainy season! Looks like we’ll have to go back.

IMG_0030On our third day we booked a snorkeling cruise. The owners of our hotel recommended BB Divers, which is Belgian run. We had a few choices: the cheapest snorkel trip was with a different company, and you’d be on a boat with about 50 people. For a bit more money you’d be on a boat with thirty, and for something like $3 more, you’re on a boat with ten. We chose the boat with 10, which was run by BB Divers.
IMG_0040It was, hands down, the best snorkel trip of my life. Absolutely stunning water, excellent equipment, and fantastic staff. The reefs were beautiful, but all of the iridescent fish were what sticks in my memory the strongest. You swam through entire schools of fish!
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We docked near Koh Rang and snorkeled for a few hours, then had lunch on the boat. (Do I even need to add that the food was excellent, too? Or will you stop believing me at some point…)
IMG_0108My sister decided to jump from the roof of the boat. No one rushed to stop her… or jump themselves. Not even me.

 

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The afternoon swam by in a series of laughs, splashes, and smiles. Before we knew it, Koh Chang grew larger on the horizon, and it was time to head back to the hotel.
IMG_0130As we sat there drinking our bottles of Chang  and watching the sun set, we shared a moment that could have lasted forever.

But we knew that tomorrow was another day to have fun.

See you next time for more on Koh Chang!

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Cambodia’s Hidden Corner

When most people hear “Cambodia”, this is what comes to mind:

1. The Khmer Rouge

2. Laura Croft

3. Angkor Wat

4. Nobody really gets past #3… but if you did, “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio. (Even though that was in Thailand).

5. Backpackers

6. Asian Women

7. The Mekong River

8. Not Thailand.

9. The French

10. Sihanoukville 

A valid list, but definitely not accurate. Not in the purest sense of Cambodia. When most people book their tour du monde, their Cambodian stop over generally involves the Killing Fields, Angkor Wat, and some form of Khmer curry.

Hopefully you’ve gained a greater sense of Cambodian geography and culture through the past seven months here at alohakuwait. I’m here today to expand your knowledge a step further. It’s high time I paid homage to that great road trip—from Phnom Penh to the Thai border. Most people speed through on an afternoon bus, in transition from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. They see the stretch from Koh Kong to the Mekong river as a boring, bumpy ride that stands in the way of their Southeast Asian experience.

Well, Cambodia’s got a lot of secrets in her hidden Southwestern passage…

But, since I came from a family of pig farmers, let’s be honest with ourselves.

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The pigs. Stick ’em in barrels, stack ’em on trucks, slide ’em in trailors. There is no modest way to transport pigs anywhere in the world. Any country that tells you otherwise is lying to you.

As you wind your way along highway 4, the road begins to climb through heavily forested hills. The slopes become steeper, and the homes become sparser. It feels as if you have left the populated world behind. Just as you are ready to pull over to marvel at the beauty of it all, a turn off is provided for you.

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And what a turn off it is. I had driven past this specific stopping point numerous times on the way to the beach, and never noticed the troupe of monkeys that live in this stunning valley. Man, if you never pulled over, you would never SEE the stunning valley! There are myriad Buddhist shrines, and the monkeys are not seen as pests but rather positive additions to mother earth. Look at this killer playground they’ve got!

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Nothing says road trip like sipping on a cold soda and watching some monkeys.

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Or were the monkeys watching us? I wonder what they wrote about me in their blog…

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Like I said, this turn off was really pretty awesome. There were monks, chanting, shrines, monkeys, rituals, and of course, tubes of Pringles and fresh-cut pineapple for sale. What more could you want?

By the time we rolled onto the coast,  it was time for lunch. (Isn’t it always?)IMG_1939

So where else do you go but the Crab Chack. Home of the tastiest crab in Koh Kong.

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And while you wait for said crab, you can relax on their swing with your sister, dipping your toes in the water, sipping on a well-deserved Anchor or two. Paradise.

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I have previously blogged about the Rainbow Lodge in Koh Kong, but I have found yet another place of passion. Welcome to Thmorda Garden Riverside Resort. You can lounge on the shore of the river, and kayak in the mangroves all afternoon. The best part? You’ve got this entire place all to yourself.

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And their patio is fantastic.

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Morning in Koh Kong: Such a kaleidoscope of colors. Why rush through on the way to something better? You can’t find a superlative to this.

We did spend a few days in the luxury of Koh Kong and Southwestern Cambodia, and then we moseyed on to Thailand. On the road, my dad (who was visiting with my sister!!!) snapped a photo of something I have so long overlooked: the spirit houses. You see them everywhere, but I hadn’t really though twice about them until my dad brought it up.

IMG_1953Spirit houses are common in Southeast Asia, and are placed in a particular spot of your home, business, or natural area (often at the base of trees). They are a place for the spirits to be appeased—or to reside—depending on who you talk to. It is believed that so long as you keep the spirits happy, you will live a prosperous life. Sometimes spirits is synonymous with ghosts. I recently had a seventeen year old student tell me he was afraid of ghosts. I had to ask around to determine that he was talking about the spirits, which are very prevalent in Thai and Cambodian culture.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it: Take a road trip. Explore your home. Find something new. Stop at a place you’ve never stopped at before. Take a picture of something you’ve seen a million times. Maybe you’ll find monkeys. Maybe you’ll find spirits. Maybe you’ll find love.

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