Archive for December, 2011

December 31, 2011

Sapa

by Johnny

After we left Ha Long Bay, we took a four hour minibus back to Hanoi, an overnight train to Lao Cai and finally an hour minibus to Sapa, an ex-French hill station in northwest Vietnam near the Chinese border known for its gorgeous terraced rice fields and colorful hill tribes.  Don’t worry, our overnight train this time around was much nicer, and we both managed to get some solid sleep (thanks, Ambien!).

Our first reaction to Sapa was…where is Sapa?  When we arrived at 7:00 am it was so chilly and foggy that we could barely see 10 feet in front us (which we later learned is often the case in Sapa in December).  Unfortunately, we couldn’t check into our guesthouse until 11:30 am, so we grabbed some coffee to kill some time in hopes that the weather would clear.  Slowly but surely the fog began to thin out, and we found that Sapa was a pretty cool little town.  Perched high up in the Hoang Lien Mountains, which include Fanispan, Vietnam’s highest peak, Sapa feels more like a European ski town than a dusty, Southeast Asian village.  After checking into our hotel, taking an icy cold shower (that was fun) and resting our eyeballs for an hour, we explored nearby Cat Cat village in some beautiful and welcomed afternoon sunlight.

The sun finally came out in Cat Cat village
Piggies in Cat Cat village
Some Hmong men carrying home a hide… …with baby in tow
Sapa is cute kids central
Bamboo Hand woven blankets in Cat Cat village
Some kids enjoying the afternoon sunlight in Cat Cat village

Sapa lies in the Lao Cai province, which is home to some eight different ethnic groups, most notably Black Hmong and Red Dao, and on our second day Anna and I joined a one-day trek to learn more about these people.  Our trek was led by a Hmong woman named Bam, who was five feet tall, full of energy and spoke by far the best English out of anybody we’ve met thus far in Southeast Asia.  We were amazed to learn that she can’t even read or write, and that all the English she knows she’s learned from speaking with travelers such as ourselves.  We met Bam and began the 4 kilometer walk to Lao Chai village, when it soon became apparent that we were being followed by about 10 other Hmong women.  Bam explained that these woman bring goods to the Sapa market in the morning and then follow tourists back to their villages in hopes of selling them some souvenirs.  A little tacky, we thought, but we ended up talking to and learning a ton from each of them during the three hour walk…well worth the $5 we spent on a handmade scarf and bracelet afterwards.  Throughout the day, Bam explained all about the different hill tribes in the area, each distinguishable by their own language and elaborate costumes, and it was touching to see the simple way these people live.  As a bonus, we were blessed with some sunshine, and the surrounding scenery was some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen.

Heading down the hill with some Black Hmong
Locals sifting through some cinnamon Cutest pup ever?
Black Hmong Hmong woman heading back to her village
Weaving some scarves Bam’s handmade clothing for her daughter
Kids playing in Lao Chai village
Red Dao Red Dao
Anna and Bam shootin’ the breeze Anna and La
We thought it was cool all the kids were playing marbles
Johnny, Bam and Anna

We really enjoyed Sapa, but it’s definitely one of those places you wish you could’ve seen 20 years ago, as it seems to be on the precipice of becoming Disneyland-esque.  There was a ton of new construction when we were there and no shortage of hawkers.  But it’s not all a tourist attraction.  For each Hmong woman stopping you in the street to sell you trinkets, you see one heading over the hills with a basket full of vegetables to feed her family.  We met some women who still burn their foreheads with the end of fire-heated buffalo horns to cure headaches.  I guess I’m trying to say that there are plenty of authentic experiences to be had in Sapa, but go now before it’s too late.

December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Anna!

by Johnny

I’m so blessed to be sharing this adventure with the love of my life.  I can’t wait for many more adventures to come.  Happy birthday!  I love you!

December 27, 2011

Ha Long Bay

by Anna

Hanoi was fun, fast-paced and crazy! After almost a week of dodging motorbikes and listening to a constant cacophony of horns, we were ready for some fresh air and peace and quiet. Ha Long Bay was the perfect overnight escape, and a destination that we’d both been looking forward to for a long time. Recently named one of the “New 7 Natural Wonders of the World” and already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay was one of those places that we’d read about and seen magnificent photos of and couldn’t wait to experience in person. With nearly 2,000 limestone islands steeply rising from tranquil green waters, the scenery did not disappoint.

Our boat, or “Junk,” also exceeded our expectations, and we only wished we had booked longer than two days/one night on the Dragon’s Pearl. Our cabin was beautiful with a million-dollar view, every meal, which had around 10 courses, was delicious and the crew was super friendly. We even lucked out with sunny weather – a welcomed site after perpetual gray skies in Hanoi .

Our Junk, The Dragon’s Pearl
Our cozy cabin for the night Lunch on the deck
Loving the sunshine, view and peace and quiet!

After a yummy lunch packed full of fresh seafood our boat docked near one of the islands in the bay where we climbed up to see some views and explore a couple of caves. Many of the islands are hollowed with caves, rivers and lakes, and local fisherman used to live in them. Unfortunately many of the stalagmites and stalactites had been stolen or sold off before the bay became a protected area, but the caves were still magnificent and beautiful. We also had the chance to take out kayaks and paddled through and around dozens of islands. This was one of our favorite parts of the trip, as the sun was starting to sink and we were surrounded by towering silhouetted peaks in every direction. Once back on the beach we laid on the sand and watched the sunset, a truly relaxing and mesmerizing experience.

After a lovely evening on the boat with another delicious meal and the company of new friends, we awoke early the next morning to more blue skies and a visit in small bamboo boats to a local floating fishing village called Vong Vieng. The woman rowing our boat was nice enough to offer us some traditional hats, soon followed by some neon orange life vests, so we looked pretty ridiculous cruising the bay (we noticed that no one else in other boats had on hats OR vests…hmmmm). The fishing village was amazing…like a land lost in time. Colorful little houses stacked in a row with beautiful boats tied up at their front doors…the 50 or so families had been living there for generations. We stopped off at the local school to see the cute children hard at work and then headed back through the maze of islands to our boat.

We were sad to say goodbye to Ha Long Bay and wished we could have had more time just lying on the Dragon’s Pearl deck, taking in the natural wonders around us. But travel called, and we were soon off to our next destination – which proved to be just as naturally and culturally amazing – Sapa.

December 27, 2011

Hanoi Is Bananas

by Johnny

Stand on any street corner in Hanoi and observe the surroundings for a few minutes and you’re bound to have your mind blown.  You’ll see a woman steaming some crabs on a sidewalk full of tiny plastic chairs, a man selling $0.30 glasses of bia hoi out of what appears to be his bedroom, women in conical hats selling exotic fruits you’ve never seen before, a beautiful French villa juxtaposed with modern office buildings, and a seemingly endless flow of scooters, one of which is carrying three butchered pigs and another of which is somehow carrying a family of five.  Welcome to Hanoi, the craziest city Anna and I have ever visited.  Nothing comes easy in Hanoi, including crossing the street.  With no gaps in the never-ending blur of scooters anywhere in sight, you basically just have to go for it and trust the scooters will swerve around you.  It was actually pretty scary at first, but after I channeled some wise words from one my heroes, Bhodi from Point Break, (“Fear causes hesitation, and hesitation will cause all your worst fears to come true”), I was OK.

Trying to make our way to the Dong Xuan market Walking down one of Hanoi’s quieter streets
Steaming some crabs on the sidewalk Cooking some bun cha on the sidewalk
This is pretty much the scene on every sidewalk in Hanoi
Bird cages and scooters everywhere
Hanoi’s night market
Ready…GO! Playing Frogger

When we weren’t dodging scooters, we managed to see some of Hanoi’s historic sights.  We based ourselves in the city’s Old Quarter, which is pretty much a tourist attraction in itself with its ancient architecture and maze of narrow streets.  We really liked walking around Hoan Kiem Lake and found it to be an oasis of peace in this otherwise maddening city.  We also visited the Temple of Literature, which was built in 1070 and functioned as Vietnam’s first university.  But our favorite attraction had to be a water puppetry show at the famous Thang Long Theater.

 
Thap Rua (The Turtle Tower) on Hoan Kiem Lake
 
Temple of Literature Temple of Literature
Temple of Literature Temple of Literature
Waiting for the water puppets…where’s Waldo? Water puppets
The Huc Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Getting into the Christmas spirit at Quan An Ngon restaurant

The highlight of our stay in Hanoi was definitely a street food tour with Tu.  Tu was born in Nha Trang in central Vietnam, but has lived in Hanoi for the past 10 years writing the popular Sticky Rice food blog.  We really wanted to eat as much of Hanoi’s world famous street food as we could, and we figured having a local show us the ropes would be better than us running around the city pointing at menus we couldn’t understand.  The tour was fantastic.  It felt more like going out to eat with a friend than an organized tour.  Tu picked us up at our hotel and basically told us, “I’ll just keep taking you to my favorite places until you tell me you can’t eat anything else.”  For the rest of the night, Tu took us across the entire city and down all sorts of back alleys to his favorite food spots, and we were definitely the only Westerners to be found at each of them.  We must have tried at least 10 different dishes.  Although our tour was supposed to finish at 8:00 pm, it was nearly 11:00 pm by the time Tu dropped us back off at our hotel, where Anna and I immediately changed into our elastic pants for rest of the week.

Tu and Johnny Tu and Anna
Fish porridge at Doan Xom Bun cha
The polarizing durian fruit Vietnamese tea and fried bananas in coconut rice pudding
Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) A sampling of sweets in the Old Quarter
Banh cuon (rice pancake with pork, mushroom and shallots) Sweet drink with wild rice and yogurt
mmmmm…fish cakes! mmmmm…pho ga!
mmmmm…frozen yogurt with Vietnamese coffee! mmmmm…Vietnamese sweet tea!
Capping off the night with a young sticky rice cake
December 18, 2011

Top 5 Reasons We Did Not Enjoy the Overnight Train in Vietnam

by Anna

5. The train looked like it rolled out of 1955, and I’m pretty sure that was the last time it had been cleaned.

4. The ride felt like Thunder Mountain Railroad…sounds fun, but not for 16 hours or when trying to balance over the metal hole in the bathroom.

3. The entire train car reeked of rancid, stinky feet as everyone on it removed their shoes about an hour into the journey.

2. The shady man across the aisle from my seat chain smoked with his two-thumbed hand in our non-smoking car and stared at Johnny and me for most of the trip.

…and the #1 reason we did not enjoy the overnight train from Da Nang to Ninh Binh…

1. Cockroaches! The fearless little pests crawled on the walls, the backs of the seats and even on to us a few times.

The train from Ninh Binh to Hanoi wasn’t much better, but at least it was only a couple of hours. This time, the only seats available were the top bunks in a four-person sleeper, and the woman beneath Johnny’s bunk hacked up a lung the entire trip. The best part was that she would hock up her loogies into a plastic tupperware sitting on her lap. She had quite a collection going by the time we got to Hanoi. Oh…the joys of travel!

December 17, 2011

Ninh Binh Stopover

by Johnny

We were really enjoying our introduction to Vietnam in Hoi An, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t doing us any favors.  With rain, rain and more rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, we decided to leave central Vietnam and head north a couple days early.  After an, ummm, interesting overnight train ride (more on this soon), we arrived in Ninh Binh.  Ninh Binh itself is a bit of a hole, but the stunning karst landscape on the outskirts of town, often called “Ha Long Bay in the rice paddies,” makes it worth a stop.  With only one full day, our guesthouse suggested we borrow their scooter and ride to nearby Trang An to check out some of the famous caves and grottoes.  When we pulled up to Trang An, we found a handful of Vietnamese women offering to row us around in their tiny boats for a couple hours for a few bucks.  Although we were skeptical that a four foot tall, 70-year-old woman could get us very far (I nearly passed out while rowing our boat on Lake Bled), we decided to go for it.  We’re glad we did.  The scenery was incredible, and the accompanying peace and quiet (Vietnam is crazy!) was just what we needed.  Also, much to our surprise and delight, rather than row around these giant limestone cliffs, we were able to row right through them, as centuries of erosion has produced numerous caves and underground waterways.  For the next couple of hours we explored this beautiful landscape, passing only  hidden pagodas and a handful of Vietnamese locals (who somehow row with their feet).  Super cool.  So, how will “Ha Long Bay in the rice paddies” stack up to the actual Ha Long Bay?  We’ll find out soon.

December 16, 2011

Hoi An, What a Charmer!

by Anna

We had read that Hoi An was one of the prettiest little towns in SE Asia…a bold statement! After spending a couple of days there, I can vouch that this is true – at least from what I’ve seen of SE Asia so far.

Although we didn’t luck out with the best weather, the rain didn’t deter us from exploring the lush, colorful streets of the Old Town which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoi An was a major trading port back in the day (15th-19th century), drawing many foreign influences to the area, resulting in the eclectic architecture of the city. The narrow streets lined with oversized palms and ochre-hued buildings gave us the strange sensation of being transported back to France or Spain, while Chinese-style carved wooden shop fronts with mossy tiled roofs and an intricate Japanese covered bridge give the area a distinct Asian flare. The lanterns hung from the trees and zig zagging across the streets and tiny women in conical straw hats grilling Bun Cha on the sidewalk snapped us back to the fact that we were in Vietnam. The combined aesthetics of Europe and Asia made for a unique and fascinating setting. The food followed suit, with stacks of fresh baked baguettes alongside piles of dragon fruit, rice noodles and all types of green leafy herbs at the market along the river.

The market was chaotic and sensory overload. We couldn’t wait to try the new flavors that awaited us in Vietnam. We read on the menu of one of our favorite restaurants in Hoi An, Morning Glory, which “brought street food to the table,” that Vietnamese get homesick without fresh herbs and that dishes strive to achieve a balance between yin and yang. I’m all for this philosophy because all the food that we ate in Hoi An was amazing and has left me with a crispy pancake addiction and Johnny with a Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) addiction. We are also both most likely to OD on Vietnamese coffee before we leave the country, because it is so freaking delicious! It is served in a glass topped with a small metal French drip filter, only adding to the anticipation for the first sip as it drips slowly in front of you, the rich scent wafting up into your nostrils. We would switch back and forth between black coffee and white coffee (a sweet delight with condensed milk) depending on our mood.

The market
Vietnamese food philosophy 101 Chicken rice packed with fresh herbs
Banh Mi Pre-stirred “white coffee”
I love you, crispy pancakes De-boning fish steamed in banana leaves

We spent our two days in Hoi An just wandering around enjoying the narrow streets, peeking into the many historic pagodas and temples and pretty craft shops, watching the action taking place in the tailor shops (Hoi An is known as the best spot to have clothes and shoes made-to-order, and the town has more than 200 tailors to choose from!) and of course, eating. Although Hoi An has become a pretty touristy spot, we still really enjoyed our time there and couldn’t think of a more charming introduction to Vietnam!

December 15, 2011

Siem Reap

by Anna

Last week we made the infamous crossing over the Poipet Thai-Cambodia border. We had heard all sorts of horror stories of swindlers and scammers at the border, so we made arrangements with our guesthouse in Siem Reap to have a “greeter” and taxi waiting for us on the other side. As soon as we stepped foot onto Cambodian soil, the first thing we saw was a giant black and white poster of Johnny’s face! With his beard it looked like an America’s Most Wanted sign, but luckily it was our friendly greeter who walked us through the remaining border lines and finally to our taxi. Phew! We made it, hassle-free, into Cambodia.

Our first impression of Cambodia (other than hysterics at seeing the huge image of Johnny’s face at the border) was how genuinely warm and friendly the people were. We also couldn’t believe how lovely Siem Reap was as we pulled into town along a wide tree-lined boulevard, past the Royal Gardens (and several regal hotels), over the slow moving Siem Reap river and down a red dirt road to our guesthouse. You would have thought we had checked in at the Ritz Carlton with the level of hospitality that met us at this place. We couldn’t get over how polite and sweet the staff were. Every time we returned back to the guesthouse they were all there to greet us and hand us ice cold Tiger Balm towels. We had a huge breakfast every morning that was included with our stay, free wifi, free tea, coffee and water all day and a huge, charming and immaculately clean room, all for $20/night! You can’t beat that!

The Royal Gardens
Siem Reap River
Our guesthouse was decked out for the holidays!

When we weren’t cruising around in a tuk tuk marveling at the temples of Angkor, we were wandering the fun, lively streets of Siem Reap, enjoying the plethora of delicious food options and bargaining our hearts out at the markets. We could see how Siem Reap was a hot spot in the 50s and 60s when stars like Jackie Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin were lured by the temples and silk markets. Unfortunately the hey day in Siem Reap was abruptly halted due to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror beginning in the 70s. Cut off from the world and put through traumatizing genocide, it wasn’t till the mid 90s that Cambodia and Siem Reap began to reemerge as a tourist destination. Slowly but surely the country has been  building steam ever since, and Siem Reap is once again the place to be.

Pub Street Lots of “Fish Massages” available on the streets
Some ladies brave enough to get the “Fish Massage” where tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your feet
Restaurants and shops along The Alley
Sampling the local brew Sampling Khmer cuisine

Although the city is brimming now with tourists, the devastation that the Khmer Rouge left in its wake and the poverty that affects the country are significant. Luckily many organizations in the city have set up “cause-dining” or shopping whereby you can eat at restaurants that train young, disadvantaged youth to become chefs, or shop at stores that support local craftsmen. There were many places with many worthy causes to support. Some of our favorite spots were Le Café, Butterflies Garden, Touich and the Singing Tree Café. Every place we went we continued to encounter sweet Cambodian people whose big beautiful smiles were truly heartwarming.

Last, but certainly not least, I couldn’t end this entry without talking about the markets! Johnny, who gets hives and breaks out in a cold sweat if I mention the word “shopping,” even got into the fun at the Old Market and Night Market. Our favorite market was  Psar Chaa (Old Market). You could buy everything from silk scarves to pigs’ heads to haircuts in the labyrinth of stalls and passageways. The vendors were all very good-natured and easy to barter with, which made negotiating (something I usually hate!) really fun. Johnny and I had to laugh because at the airport in Johannesburg leaving South Africa, we had 8 rand (approx. $1) left. We wanted to get rid of the rand before we left the country so we went on a mission through the airport to try and find something for $1… a pack of gum…a granola bar? Nope, nothing. We couldn’t find a single thing to buy with a dollar. In Siem Reap it was quite the opposite…the dollar was king. You could buy almost anything for $1 – a tuk tuk ride, 10 bracelets, 2 pineapples – we couldn’t help but load up on some souvenirs to send home and had a really fun time in the process.

Halls of scarves and jewelry in the Old Market Gearing up for some serious bartering
Around Psar Chaa/Old Market
The food sector of the Old Market
 All sorts of items on offer at the market from pigs’ heads… …to dragon fruit
Fruit stalls in the market
So many options causes serious indecision!
Outside the Night Market

We know we were in a bit of a bubble in Siem Reap, but we really loved the time we spent there, and maybe one day we will have the opportunity to return and see more of Cambodia. We hope that good things come to this country and its beautiful people as they continue to heal and rebuild.

Wheelie beasts in tow on our tuk tuk to the airport…next stop: Vietnam!
December 15, 2011

Temples of Angkor

by Johnny

When I was in 8th grade I bought a special photography issue of Life magazine titled, “100 Places to See in Your Lifetime” which showcased some of the most historic, beautiful and unique places on earth. I remember being blown away at how many treasures there were out in the world…and they all seemed to be begging me to visit. I must’ve thumbed through it a million times, and it’s still tucked safely away somewhere in our storage unit. It’s almost as if buying that magazine all those years ago planted the idea of our current round-the-world trip somewhere deep in my brain (sorry, I just watched Inception on the flight over). Out of all the places highlighted, however, two in particular captured my imagination: Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. I guess I’m just a sucker for ancient ruins from lost civilizations hidden deep in the jungle. While we’re determined to make it to Machu Picchu one day, we were lucky enough to spend the past few days exploring Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

A Cliffs Notes history lesson:  Angkor was the capital of the once-powerful Khmer Empire, which ruled the majority of Southeast Asia from AD 802 to 1431.  During this period, various Khmer rulers built hundreds of elaborate Hindu and Buddhist temples and monuments stretching across 400 square kilometers.  After the Khmer Empire was defeated by the Thais in 1431, the temples were left largely unoccupied at the mercy of the jungle until they were “discovered” by the French in 19th century (although many Buddhist monks had continued to us Angkor Wat as a pilgrimage site during this period).  After capturing the world’s imagination and becoming a popular tourist destination in the early 1900s, Angkor suffered a setback in the 1960s and 1970s due to the Vietnam war and Cambodia’s own tragic civil war.  However, Angkor is once again the pride and joy of Cambodia, if not all of Southeast Asia, having been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.  Anna and I armed ourselves with a couple three-day passes and headed out with our trusty tuk-tuk driver, Sol, to see as much of this amazing area as we could.

On our first day, we explored the temples in and around Angkor Thom, a fortified city built in the 1100s and considered the largest pre-industrial city in the world. At its peak, Angkor Thom boasted a population of nearly one million (at a time when London had a mere population of around 50,000).  As soon as Anna and I approached the south gate of Angkor Thom and got our first glimpse of the temples, I swear we simultaneously started humming the Indiana Jones theme song.  Seeing these ruins in the middle of the jungle made us feel like were were in some sort of dream world.  We half expected to be greeted by Mowgli from The Jungle Book.  It was just incredible.  The highlights from our first day were Bayon (with its towers of stone faces), Thommanom (where we had the entire temple to ourselves) and Ta Prohm (where the ruins have been overtaken by the jungle).  OK, enough jibber-jabber…here are some pics:

Our tuk-tuk driver Sol approaching the south gate of Angkor Thom
The towers of stone faces at Bayon
The bas-reliefs at Bayon Carvings at the Terrace of the Leper King
The three-tiered temple mountain of Baphuon
Chau Say Thevoda Thommanom
My buns were a little sore after climbing the steps at Ta Keo
The jungle overgrowth at Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm Ta Prohm

On our second day we headed out with Sol to see some of Angkor’s more remote temples.  Again we felt like treasure hunters as we explored the ins and outs of each temple.  Our favorites from day two were Pre Rup (surrounded by jungle as far as the eye can see), Banteay Srei (with its intricate carvings) and East Mebon (with its stone elephants).  It was also super cool riding our tuk-tuk through the Cambodian countryside and waving at the smiling villagers as we passed by.

At the top of Pre Rup
Pre Rup Pre Rup
Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei Carvings at Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei
Anna making friends at East Mebon
Approaching Preah Khan
More jungle overgrowth at Preah Khan

We saved the grandaddy of them all for our final day.  Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of Cambodia.  It’s the country’s source of national pride.  It’s on its flag and on its beer.  It’s the largest religious structure in the world.  And it’s amazing.  We got to Angkor Wat around 5:00am to get a good spot for its famous sun rise.  Good thing, too, because before we knew it we turned around and there was a sea of people flooding in.  Despite the crowd, it was so worth it to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, as these pictures can attest:

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat Angkor Wat
Novice monks at Angkor Wat
Sun’s out at Angkor Wat
The humungous moat at Angkor Wat
Heading back for a nap in the tuk-tuk

I had been building up a visit to the temples of Angkor in my mind ever since I bought that Life magazine many years ago, but seeing them in person blew away whatever lofty expectations I may have had. It’s an inspiring place where your imagination truly runs wild.

December 8, 2011

Lazy Days On Koh Chang

by Johnny

Anna and I weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the laid back vibe of Koh Chang just yet. After a fantastic week-long stay at Little Eden on Lonely beach, we moved about 15 minutes up the road to the village of Klong Prao, and unless you want to hear stories of us drinking fruit smoothies, laying on the beach, reading books and watching sunsets, there really isn’t much to blog about.

I do, however, have to mention our accommodation, Baan Rim Nam. It was definitely one of our favorite spots so far. First of all, the helpful owner Ian (who has an awesome Golden Retriever named Santa) has the type of back story I daydream about after a few Chang beers on the beach. After growing tired of life as a banker in the U.K., he moved to Israel for a year.  After that, he made his way to India and rode his bike for another year throughout India and Burma before finally reaching Thailand. With a flight home and only $100 in his pocket, he opted to stay in Thailand and has been here ever since.

Baan Rim Nam (“house on the water”) isn’t just a clever name; the three bedrooms and two communal decks are built on stilts over the Klong Prao river estuary leading out to the beach. It’s a little off the beaten path (about a 20 minute walk from the main road plus a final crossing of wooden planks above a mangrove), but its setting is worth the extra effort. To get to the beach, we would either have to walk a couple minutes down a dirt path through a grove of palm trees (not-so-fun fact; falling coconuts kill 150 people worldwide per year) or paddle down the estuary in one of Ian’s kayaks. Our typical day at Baan Rim Nam would be: wake up, kayak across the estuary for some coffee, walk to the beach, swim, get some lunch, read on the deck, kayak across the estuary for a cheap massage, walk to the beach to see the sunset, walk to town for some dinner and finally relax on the deck watching the local villagers row by. Not bad, eh?

View from the deck at dusk
View back up the estuary from from the deck
Tying up the kayak after a serious paddle Hanging out on the deck’s comfy hammock
Ian and Santa action photo Santa fetching some coconuts
Local villagers passing by Old fishing boats in the estuary
Our evening commute home from the beach
Mandatory scooter ride Might have to join Coconut Shake-aholics Anonymous soon
One of many beautiful sunsets on Koh Chang
Taking in the view