Pai, Thailand

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Pai: a lazy, dreadlock-packed mountain oasis of deliciously cheap health food, psychedelically decorated bars and a zen energy you can feel through a stranger’s smile. A typical day in town begins with the buzzing of locals puttering to and fro on motorbikes with their daily fresh market pick-up, brunching tourists, and wheatgrass sipping hippies.  Come midday, it becomes a ghost town as everyone siestas to escape the heat, only to arise with the moon later in the evening for the nightly markets. A brief walk from the town’s small centre will bring you through local farms with grazing oxen, past countless bungalows filled with fellow backpackers and up to a beautiful White Buddha that watches over the small population below.

To call our time in Pai lackadaisical would be an understatement. Having stayed a full week, we’d like to say we did a bit more sight seeing; however, after over two months of essentially non-stop travel, our bodies and minds were thankful to simply relax and vacation for a bit.

Pai Chan Cottage & Cuisine was our home for 4 nights

Pai Chan Cottage & Cuisine was our home for 4 nights

Our bungalow.

Our bungalow.

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The White Buddha.

The White Buddha.

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Fine Rice Thai Cooking School with the head chef  and owner, Korn.

Fine Rice Thai Cooking School with the head chef and owner, Korn.

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts.

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts.

Making fresh green curry paste.

Making fresh green curry paste.

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Nightly markets run through Pai's centre.

Nightly markets on Pai’s walking street.

Bug treats.

Bug treats.

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Overlooking Pai at dusk.

Overlooking Pai at dusk.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

IMG_3888 Wandering through the motorbike trafficked, cafe riddled lane-ways of Chiang Mai’s Old City, one inevitably becomes blasé to the area’s many intricacies: orange-robed monks quietly strolling to dragon embellished Wats; the old, mangled brick wall and moat separating the Old City from the new; even the countless local textile-covered market stalls become common sights.

Despite being the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a culturally rich and surprisingly sleepy sanctuary. Post-Bangkok rush, our pace immediately slowed as we acclimated to the hippie-strewn and health food inspired lane-ways that surrounded our comfortable guest-house. The energy of the place is tangible.

Exploring Doi Inthanon National Park and the King and Queen’s Twin Pagodas at the highest peak in Thailand, spending lazy, sunny afternoons with cups of home-roasted coffee and books, learning how to be an elephant mahout at Patara Elephant Farm, and enjoying the many amazing markets around Chiang Mai scrape the surface of our amazing week spent in this charming place. IMG_6810 IMG_6757

Karin tribeswoman

Karen tribeswoman

Puppy nap disturbances

Puppy nap disturbances

Karin tribeswomen weaving traditional clothing and bedding

Karen tribeswomen weaving traditional clothing and bedding

Domestic rooster used to attract wild chickens during a hunt.

Domestic rooster used to attract wild chickens during a hunt.

Shrine at the highest peak in Thailand

Shrine at the highest peak in Thailand

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Visiting the King and Queen's Pagodas at the peak

Visiting the King and Queen’s Pagodas at the peak

Giving offerings

Offerings for Buddha for good luck

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The King's Pagoda & monks

The King’s Pagoda & monks

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Local offerings

Local offerings

One of the many Wats of Chiang Mai

One of the many Wats of Chiang Mai

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Ginger lime honey tea

Ginger lime honey tea

3 month old elephant

3 month old elephant

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Al with Ning, "her" elephant for the day

Al with Ning, “her” elephant for the day

Monsai

Monsai

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Panak, Monsai's 1 year old baby

Panak, Monsai’s 1 year old baby

Sweeping off the dirt and dust from a healthy night's sleep before heading into the river

Sweeping off the dirt and dust from a healthy night’s sleep before heading into the river

Bathtime in the river

Bathtime in the river

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Our group and our elephants

Our group and our elephants

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Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

Bangkok, Thailand

Gridlock traffic and dirty streets are beautifully juxtaposed by countless solemn temples dotting our tourist map, Bangkok truly is a unique dichotomy.

As with most first time visitors, our experience of Thailand’s capitol city was an overwhelming one. However, by day three, we found an appreciation for the city’s strange spell. Our brief yet sufficient tour brought us to a snake farm, the bustling markets of Chinatown and down the Chao Phraya River to Wat Pho – The Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

"Medusa"

“Medusa”

Siamese Cobras, Thailand's most deadly snake, and their charmer

Siamese Cobras, Thailand’s most deadly snake, and their charmer

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Worshippers at the Erawan Shrine

Worshippers at the Erawan Shrine

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Seafood stand at the crazy Chinatown Markets

Seafood stand at the crazy Chinatown Markets

The 4 Great Stupas - Wat Pho

The 4 Great Stupas – Wat Pho

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The famous, massive Reclining Buddha of Wat Phi

The famous, massive Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho

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Dropping donation coins into the 108 bronze bowls, which symbolize the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha

Dropping donation coins into the 108 bronze bowls, which symbolize the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha

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Lotus & fly, stupas & Buddhas

Lotus & fly, stupas & Buddhas

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The Phi Phi Islands & Koh Tao, Thailand

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It’s hard to prepare for the never-ending bustle of Bangkok after being on island time for the past 9 days. The Phi Phi Islands and Koh Tao were great to us – both visits were filled with beauty, adventure, and relaxation in incredibly different ways.

Warnings about immense amounts of tourism on the Phi Phi Islands made us weary, but we were pleasantly surprised to arrive in Phi Phi Village – a short long-tail boat ride from Tonsai Bay, where the real crowds reside – with greetings from mostly locals. Evidence of the 2004 tsunami is visible throughout Phi Phi Don: flowered memorials are visited daily and sandy-floored outdoor restaurants and bars are embellished with scrap-wood from the aftermath of the big wave.

We spent our time on Phi Phi relaxing on beaches, puttering around in long-tailed boats, kayaking and snorkeling (resulting in the overnight loss of the GoPro in Loh Lana Bay, which we were fortunate enough to find!) and, best of all, diving around Phi Phi Leh with some amazing local dive-masters, a hawksbill sea turtle, black-tipped reef shark, and vibrantly alive coral.

After 4 days on Phi Phi, a short transfer by bus and ferry landed us on Koh Tao. We stayed near the main pier and within walking distance of the iconic dive-haven, Sairee Beach. We thoroughly explored the island by foot, boat, and ATV, both on land and underwater. Mango smoothies at amazing view points and swimming amongst schools of smiling parrot fish; off-roading on bumpy dirt trails and drinking Changs while being hypnotized by fire twirlers… it’s safe to say we loved the Thai Islands.

Phi Phi Islands:

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Underwater meditation.

Underwater meditation.

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Loh Lana Bay Viewpoint.

Loh Lana Bay Viewpoint.

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Painting on barstools at a local beach bar.

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Tonsai Bay.

Tonsai Bay.

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Dive break lunch in Maya Bay.

Dive break lunch in Maya Bay.

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Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Our crew during two incredible dives off the west short of Phi Phi Leh.

Our crew during two incredible dives off the western shore of Phi Phi Leh with Phi Phi Dive Club.

Koh Tao:

Sairee Beach snorkeling.

Sairee Beach snorkeling.

Exploring Koh Tao's soft white-sand beaches.

Exploring Koh Tao’s soft white-sand beaches.

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Mango smoothies at Mango Viewpoint Bar mid ATV trek.

Mango smoothies at Mango Viewpoint Bar mid-ATV trek.

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Koh Nangyuan viewpoint – natural sandbar bridges.

 

Water spout funnel cloud above Japanese Garden dive spot.

Water spout funnel cloud above Japanese Garden dive spot.

Garra Rufa Fish "spa."

Garra Rufa Fish “spa.”

Beachside fire twirlers.

Beachside fire twirlers.

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Penang, Malaysia

A cultural whirlwind of bold flavors, diverse religions and authentic smiles, Penang is a must for those traveling Southeast Asia.

The central yet quiet location of Thirty Three Stewart Houze, on the Northeast corner of George Town, was perfect for us to fully absorb the culture and diversity of the area. Within half a mile from our guest house we regularly strolled past a Buddhist temple, Hindu temples and idols, a mosque, and an Anglican Church, all with a constant flow of daily worshippers. Worshipping here is not a once-a-week practice but interwoven into everyday life – the Call to Prayer echoing amongst honking cars, Hindu offerings to street corner idols, and Buddhist monks strolling with a smile.

And the food. It’s no wonder that Penang was voted best street food in all of Asia. Indian curry for breakfast and grazing on hawker meals throughout the day is a surefire way to test the strength of your stomach while also thoroughly enjoying some of the most incredible flavors your tastebuds will ever experience. Anthony Bourdain said it best: “This place ruined me.”

Our Penang home.

Our Penang home.

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Trishaws touring visitors down Stewart Lane.

Trishaws touring visitors down Stewart Lane.

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Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or the "Blue Mansion"

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or the “Blue Mansion”

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Kapitan Keling Mosque.

Kapitan Keling Mosque.

Temple restoration.

Temple restoration.

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Little India.

Little India.

Local vendors in Little India.

Local vendors in Little India.

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"My people."

“My people.”

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Henna hand.

Henna hand & “place-holder ring”

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China Town street art next to amazing egg pastry bakery.

China Town street art next to an amazing egg tart bakery.

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"Little Children on a Bicycle" - Penang Street Art

“Little Children on a Bicycle” – Penang Street Art

Snake charmer doing his thing in China Town.

Snake charmer doing his thing in China Town.

Kissing a King Cobra - "The Kiss of Death"

Kissing a King Cobra – “The Kiss of Death”

Local fundraiser.

Local fundraiser.

Dragon dance.

Dragon dance.

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No caption needed.

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Beer shop guard dog.

Beer shop guard dog.

Cuttlefish cuisine.

Cuttlefish cuisine.

Hawker cooking our Wan Tan Mee on Chulia Street.

Hawker cooking our Wan Tan Mee on Chulia Street.

Wan Tan Mee.

Wan Tan Mee.

Indian Banana Leaf Lunch

Indian Banana Leaf Lunch

Famous Penang Laksa from street hawkers.

Famous Penang Laksa from street hawkers.

 

Malaysian fish farms.

Malaysian fish farms.

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Penang National Park

Penang National Park

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Monkey Beach.

Monkey Beach.

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Our long-tail boat captains.

Our long-tail boat captains.

Monitor lizards basking.

Monitor lizards basking.

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Singapore, Singapore

Singapore, our first taste of South East Asia and, oh how sweet.

We spent 4 days in the “Lion City” using my Aunt Penny’s house as a home base. Our explorations traveled us along the restaurant-lined Singapore River, immersed us in the seemingly endless China Town shops, led us through the bustling, colorful, pungent Little India, and carried us along a 10-mile, wildlife enriched rainforest hike around MacRitchie Reservoir.

The Lion City was a perfect toe-in-the-water introduction for our continued adventure ahead.

Walking along the Singapore River.

Walking along the Singapore River.

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel and

Marina Bay Sands Hotel and The Merlion

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Downtown at Fort Canning Park

Downtown at Fort Canning Park

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Chinatown.

Chinatown

Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown

Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown

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Enjoying some Popiah.

Enjoying some Popiah.

Chili Crab in Chinatown

Chili Crab in Chinatown

Flower Chains in Little India

Flower Chains in Little India

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Lucky sighting of a Flying Lemur.

Lucky sighting of a Flying Lemur.

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A Long-tailed Macaque guarding the Tree Top Walk bridge.

A Long-tailed Macaque guarding the Tree Top Walk bridge.

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Making monkey friends.

Making monkey friends.

Paradise Tree Snake just to the right of the trail.

Paradise Tree Snake just to the right of the trail.

Clouded Monitor lizard.

Clouded Monitor lizard.

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New Zealand Cruisin’

Gorgeous sunset as we departed from Wellington.

How lucky are we? Post-proposal and after saying goodbye, for now, to Coogee, we boarded the Voyager of the Seas in the Sydney Harbour and set sail across the Tasman Sea for New Zealand. Cruising allowed us to affordably travel to 5 amazing New Zealand ports – Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, and Picton – while also fully unplugging for the first time in a year. We arrived back in Sydney and now prepare for our adventure to continue in Southeast Asia.

Pre boarding the Voyager of the Seas in Sydney.

Pre boarding the Voyager of the Seas in Sydney.

Getting ready to set sail from Circular Quay.

Getting ready to set sail from Circular Quay.

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New Zealand's Christmas Tree or Pohutukawa tree.

New Zealand’s Christmas Tree or Pohutukawa tree.

WWI Memorial where we were fortunate enough to speak with the Navy veteran pictured about his years of service.

WWI memorial where we were fortunate enough to speak with the NZ Navy veteran pictured about his years of service.

Achilles Point, Auckland.

Achilles Point, Auckland with our Kiwi friend Kate.

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Auckland Rose Gardens.

Auckland Rose Gardens.

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Pohutu Geyser in Rotorua South of Tauranga.

Pohutu Geyser in Rotorua South of Tauranga.

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Boiling, bubbling mud pools.

Boiling, bubbling mud pools.

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Māori dances.

Māori dances.

Black pebble beach in Napier.

Black pebble beach in Napier.

Christmas trees and Palm trees.

Christmas trees and Palm trees.

Wellington Harbor.

Wellington Harbour.

A piano for everyone.

A piano for everyone.

Local taking a plunge from the harbor high dive.

Local taking a plunge from the harbour high dive.

Cable car leading to a scenic view of Wellington and the Botanic Gardens.

Cable car leading to a scenic view of Wellington and the Botanic Gardens.

Wellington's Botanical Gardens

Wellington’s Botanic Gardens

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Lunch.

Lunch.

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Departing Wellington.

Departing Wellington.

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Picton Harbor.

Picton Harbor.

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Hiking along the Queen Charlotte Sound in Picton.

Hiking along the Queen Charlotte Sound in Picton.

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Fresh Green-tipped mussels in Picton.

Fresh Green-tipped mussels in Picton.

Departing Picton through the Queen Charlotte Sound.

Departing Picton through the Queen Charlotte Sound.

View from our favorite happy hour spot on the ship

View from our favorite happy hour spot on the ship

Live music at The Pig & Whistle Pub onboard the ship.

Live music at The Pig & Whistle Pub onboard the ship.