Tag Archives: vacation

Prachaup Khiri Khan, Thailand

After spending three months in Southeast Asia, Prachaup Khiri Khan was one of my favorite places to visit. The small city, along a series of crescent shaped bays, is a perfect place for a solo traveler in Thailand. The laid-back feel, beautiful beaches, adorable monkeys (as well as some naughty monkeys) and a modest travel scene create an unparalleled atmosphere. It takes just a half day train ride from Bangkok to reach this paradise and it’s absolutely worth it!

I sort of stumbled on this location while researching hikes in preparation for visiting Thailand. I read about an amazing trek up Khao Lommuak that offers a magical view of the surrounding bays and islands. Unfortunately the grounds are only open to the public on special weekends and holidays, none of which occurred during the time I would visit Thailand. However, after reading a little about the adjacent town, Prauchaup Khiri Khan, I decided to visit anyway. The proximity to the sea, as well as multiple national parks was really attractive and it seemed less crowded than Hua Hin, the busy tourist town to the north which has similar features.

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Every night offered a watercolor sunset along the bay.

If you ever get to this part of Thailand, you must visit Kui Buri National Park! Seeing wild elephants was an experience I will remember forever. For about $30 (round trip taxi and entrance fee) myself and a few ladies from my hostel traveled to Kui Buri National Park. Once there, with guides in a truck, we played “hide and seek,” driving slowly with binoculars glued to our faces. The deal is that you pay to go into the habitat along a few dirt roads and if any elephants are spotted the trucks will pull over to let you observe (from a safe distance, for you them). If the animals can’t be spotted, that’s just bad luck. They are respected as natural beings and never forced out for visitors and you must keep a distance of at least 100 meters  (no elephant selfies). Patrons are allotted a few hours but many trucks will stop the tour after one or two sightings, thinking that guests have gotten their money’s worth. Fortunately, some of my companions were really outgoing and kind and somehow talked the staff into giving us our full three hours even though we saw a lot of elephants in the first hour. I’m glad she was so smooth because it was one of the best nature tours I’ve ever done and I didn’t want it to end. Also, after visiting a few national parks in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, this one was one of the most professionally run and the staff seemed to really like what they were doing and dealing with foreign visitors (that’s not always easy). No outside guide is needs to take you into the park in order to get a full experience, fees are upfront and simple, facilities clean and customer service is great.

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Elephant family in Kui Buri National Park.

Animals can also be found much closer to the city; adorable, natural monkeys live aside the gorgeous Kao Lom Muak. The Dusky Langur monkeys are small and shy but will show themselves to visitors. Their location provides some protection to them as their status is close toThey are found specifically in Wing Five of the Air Force Base where visitors are allowed in for free, one passport required per group. . This is adjacent to Ao Manao Bay, one of the cleanest beaches I saw in Asia. It is very much worth a visit to just run around in the sand and sea without worry of bottle caps or sharp trash. I was able to bike to the spot from my hostel in 20 minutes.

Now a bit of a warning: beware of the naughty monkeys in the northeast area of the city around “monkey mountain,” another hill with a temple on top, formally known as Khao Chong Krachok. The view of the islands and bays from “monkey mountain” is great but the monkeys living on it are a little creepy and aggressive. They are mostly known for stealing flip flops off feet and taking food – nothing horrible – but their waste litters the site and some are very obese and loaf in the center of stairways or sun shelters. They are known to some as the “bad” monkeys, while the Dusky Langurs are the “cute” monkeys. Maybe it’s not a fair label but it’s worth confirming which kind of monkey you will encounter while exploring the city. The “cute” monkeys will not steal your items or scratch you.

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A Dusky Langur

As with Kanchanaburi, Prauchaup Khiri Khan had a lot of solo travelers but this town attracted much more people in their 30’s – 50’s. This constantly shifting group of people were great to explore with and get to know. The city isn’t exactly out of the way or challenging to reach for foreigners but most of those visiting all had a lot of time devoted to seeing Thailand or the region. Some had awesome stories (one had biked there from the Netherlands!) and great advice about things to see and do throughout the country.

I absolutely never felt alone and met a lot of people at Safehouse Hostel. We went on bike rides along the bay (all day rentals are everywhere for about $2), ate delicious and spicey dinners ($1 – $3) or out for Thai Whiskey and music.  No matter where you stay everything in the city is in walking distance. The experience in Prachaup Khiri Khann was the perfect balance of fun and relaxation. Although I was not able to visit them during my visit,  both Khao Sam Roi National Park and Namtok Huai Yang National Park are realistic day trips from the area and provide even more opportunities for nature and exploring.

All these wonderful things made staying in Prachaup Khiri Khan of the best experiencesI had in Southeast Asia.  Originally, I planned to stay just two nights but extended my time into four. I wish I could have stayed longer! If I visit Thailand again I will have go back.

Thank you for reading!

Ruby

 

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Bangkok, Thailand!

My five-week visit to Thailand and Vietnam has just begun. This trip is my first to Asia and likely the last multi-week adventure abroad for a while* so I’m really excited for the experience to play out. The itinerary is scattered but includes, Bangkok, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, Hanoi and Cao Bang. Each day I hear about something new to see, eat or do so plans are sure to change.

I wasn’t sure how to prepare for this trip since it would be so different from anything I’ve done before and especially Bangkok, home to more than 8 million people and thus the largest city I’ve visited. I’m happy to say I found that Bangkok isn’t intimidating, public transportation is easy to figure out, I generally feel safe (drivers are very scary though) and it feels like a fusion of other metropoles I’ve visited giving it a comfortable somewhat-familiar vibe for me. I like seeing the way space is used here and I’m very excited to slowly explore various areas of town and become acquainted.

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The first few nights I’m staying in a hostel in the Phaya Thai district. Not necessarily near the main sights but a refreshing location. Through past travel experience I’ve come to understand that sometimes I don’t enjoy staying in areas reliant on foreign visitors or tourism as they tend to be more expensive, have plenty of trendy restaurants but few food shops, and can be a bit “fast” or full of people lacking respect for the neighborhood. I’ve had some great stays while in areas that are built for daily life of the local population. Bangkok is the second most visited city in the world so everything is going to be geared towards the experience of the tourist, for better or worse, for some of us. Bangkok has a lot of sex tourism and many travelers come to party but I’m not interested so I’ll keep a bit outside the main tourist zones where this is facilitated and encouraged and likely not the most comfortable place for a woman to be on her own.

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The little alley leading to the hostel. Closer to the main road food stalls line the alleyway and a man with a fruit cart makes his way down, bells ringing, twice a day.

I’m pleased with the hostel I found- $10 a night which is actually a middle price point for the city. It’s quiet, has a coffee shop on the first floor and a very friendly French Bulldog loafing around. The shared bedroom is an interesting little space – a large room is portioned off into four smaller areas for each person, kind of like an office cubical space but way more attractive and cozy. I haven’t seen any other Americans staying here yet but it’s only been two days, and I was able to get some trip tips from a fellow guest already! Happy about that! Language barriers haven’t caused any issues yet but little bumps are sure to come up once more complicated interactions are needed for daily activities.

I feel like I’ve already done so much even though things are just getting started. This afternoon was spent in Chatuchak Park admiring the flora and being frightened by the fauna, specifically big monitor lizards! When it started raining I ducked into J. J Mall and browsed around for a while and tried some spicy lemon candy (it was good) and had a coffee. Yesterday I got a foot massage, ate some great food and checked out two beautiful temples. Tonight I plan to read (thank God the hostel has a book exchange) and rest up.

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From Queen Sirikit Park, which was so empty it felt like my own place.

The 30 hour journey to BKK from MSP wasn’t as brutal as I feared; I was able to get at least some sleep and the airline, although considered budget, fed me plenty, had good movies and was on time. In Bangkok I feel that I’m mostly adjusted to the time change but the heat, 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) greater than the temperature in Minneapolis when I left, is tiring and I probably won’t acclimate. I do know that soon in Chiang Mai and Vietnam it will feel a little more comfortable and I just try to think about that every time I start to sweat.

That’s all for now after 48 hours in Bangkok.

Thank you for reading!

*I’ve begun the visa process for a job located in Harbin, China! More details to come on that.

Central Europe: Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia 

After four weeks traveling around Central Europe I finally found time to share what I’ve been seeing and doing. My plans have undergone numerous changes, most notably skipping the Tatras, but I have been having a great time with most days spent hiking or wandering cities. Either way, a lot of time spent outside!

I avoided coming to this part of Europe before because the language is really different from what I know and have studied. However, like most languages, you start to notice patterns quickly and it’s not impossible and depending on what you’re up to, your vocabulary might work across a few borders in the region (Vodopad is used in multiple languages in central Europe for the noun waterfall, pivo/piwo for beer,  and good sounds similar, so greetings like good morning, good day etc will sound similar). I would advise against relying on a general translation app, like Google for more than individual words because it’s incapable of changing grammar structures so a full sentence will come out a little weird. Young people are always helpful as the younger a person is the more likely it is that they will have studied English or had some informal exposure to it. There seems to be very low expectations for travelers’ Polish, Czech, Slovak or Croatian language skills but per usual, a good rule is to learn how to say please, thank you, hello, goodbye, yes and no.  I noticed that culturally, the people in Central Europe appreciate a modest and polite traveler; if they interpret your behavior as condescending they will not do anything for you, even if they are someone who would generally helps strangers.

I haven’t run into any safety issues. I see less other women traveling alone in these areas than Western or Southern Europe but we cross paths from time to time. For the most part getting around is easy using public transportation apps. Actually, I’m really impressed with the public bus networks of Poland and Czech Republic! It’s possible to stay in one central location and take a bus, quite cheaply, to any number of national forests, national park or other nature areas. Sometimes it takes one to two hours but the time goes quickly with a book or at the end of the day, just recovering. This is a great service and you see all kinds of people out hiking or biking – because wonderful natural areas are so accessible! What a dream it would be if I could do this at home and hop on a bus in Minneapolis and end up 40 miles away at one of the Minnesota state or regional parks! 

August was a heavy hiking month with about 400 kilometers covered in three countries. Forest, wetlands, mountains and sandstone labyrinths were my playgrounds. All the hiking meant an excuse to try a new beer almost every night and a wide variety of traditional and contemporary fusion dishes. My favorite things included blueberry ice cream and roasted duck.

Adršpach-Teplice Rocks National Park in Czech Republic is full of gorgeous blue lakes and sandstone formations (I loved the polar bear rock). This was one of the most crowded natural areas I visited but it was definitely worth seeing. I visited on a day with on-and-off rain which made all the colors of moss and lichen throughout the park pop.

View from the top of Sněžka (1602 m) which is the highest mountain in the Czech Republic. Located in Krkonoše National Park which is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve it offers sweeping views over both Czech Republic and Poland. The mountain range and park offer numerous (and absolutely free) hiking opportunuties and I covered about 75 kilometers in three days on the lovely trails.

Enjoying the view after a 1,000 meter ascent. Turning 30 at the end of August meant an interest in abusing my knees and hips while they were still “young.”

A view of Cesky Krumlov, UNESCO Heritage Site and the number two tourist destination in Czech Republic. A very beautiful and charming city with a castle set on a winding river. This was the perfect setting for relaxing outside after a long day of hiking the nearby wood trails.

The castle tower in Cesky Krumlov with beautiful coloring and ornate reliefs. It apparently has the nickname “Birthday Cake.”

A picture from the Wawel Castle grounds in Krakow. I have avoided this city in the past do to its popularity; I feared it would feel very crowded. The old town is heavily trafficked but there is much to see, do and eat while still feeling like you’re getting a modern, authentic experience. The older parts of the city are nice for wandering and have a rich yet disturbing history.

A view of Bratislava Castle. I spent a long weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia and found it to be more enjoyable than some of the other major cities I’ve visited. Notably the smaller crowds, cleaner streets and very efficient public transportation. History blends perfectly with modern urban life here. Also the surrounding forests are a nice place to spend a day getting lost on foot or cycling.

Right now I’m in Croatia waiting out a long rain spell and recovering from 19 hour travel marathon to arrive at Plitvice Lakes National Park. I’m beyond excited to visit this park and share the experience.

Thanks for reading!

Spain:Gaztelugatxe (Road Trip Part 1)

One of the first stops on the tour of Spain’s coast: Gaztelugatxe, an islet in Basque country. The Basque name translates to castle rock and fits the location perfectly. It is a beautiful combination of man and nature with a man-made bridge connecting the island with its hermitage (Gaztelugatxeko Doniene/ San Juan de Gaztelugatxe), dating from around one thousand years ago. Only used as a convent for two hundred years, it has a very rich history, including use as a defense outpost and possible use during the Spanish Inquisition.

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This is one of the few places that  when I saw in a photograph thought, “I want to experience this in person.” I was extremely excited to visit and absolutely loved it.  The rocky coast surrounding it is stunning with exposed layers jutting out of the ocean in bold stripe patterns. The partially submerged rocks provide habitat for some ocean creatures which, if you’re lucky, may make an appearance.

Jagged exposed layers along the coast

A very steep one kilometer walk from a parking lot followed by 241 stairs takes you up to the hermitage with views of both the coast and wide open ocean. Although I traveled here by personal vehicle, the area connects to coastal hiking trails. Navigation was a bit challenging with road signs in Basque. It’s located about 35 km east of Bilboa and the drive is rather scenic and pleasant. I was surprised that the site was both free to access and not crowded (on a weekday). According to legend, after climbing and reaching the church you should ring the church bell three times and make a wish. This was fun to do but hearing everyone else ring the bell was a bit much after a while trying to enjoy the view and appreciate the ancient place, so go with that in mind.

The stop is a gorgeous introduction to the dramatic Basque coast which eventually mellows further East. I absolutely recommend visiting if you can.

Thank you for reading and check back for more!

San Francisco (Part 1)

The Golden Gate Bridge from Chrissy Field East Beach.

Hello from San Francisco! I’m on day three of a long weekend and my first trip that is part work and part play. For two nights I’ve been staying downtown in the Financial District and making it out to eat some great dinners in the Jackson Square (such a variety of cuisine styles can be found here!) and Chinatown areas. I love diving into the very distinct neighborhoods, all offering their own version of San Francisco. On night one my boss took our work group to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (in a narrow Chinatown alley). We tried a few samples and see how the cookies are made. Interesting fact: The cookies get their shape from being folded over twice while still warm, not from a mold. It was a really fun thing to watch. “Naughty” fortune cookies were available to buy in bulk so I helped myself to what I thought would be a humorous gift to friends. However, upon opening one of these cookies I saw that the fortunes didn’t make a lot of sense and if I could get a meaning out them they were still PG – not the level of sassiness expected. Edit: The bag of cookies was obviously too large to survive the weekend without getting crushed in my luggage so most of them ended up being nice snacks at the hostel.

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Sticker art in Mission.

I’m super excited to have found a hostel (Green Tortoise) in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood,so for the first time ever I will stay in an American hostel. I’m wondering if it’s similar to the hostels I’ve used abroad and if I will pick up any friends for the weekend.Edit: I befriended South American and Australians also traveling alone and we had great fun visiting a neighborhood beer bar, taste-testing and comparing San Franciscan coffees and exchanging travel stories and dreams. I’m so glad I got to know them.

I’m trying to look big, like a redwood.

Today centered around a visit to the beautiful Muir Woods. The National Monument,, more than 100 years old, is just fifteen miles from the city,depending on where you start. I probably could have cycled here but chose to drive; conditions were a little wet and I have heard cell service isn’t so great in the park and many visitors end up trapped and unable to call for taxis and other rides. I suspect all this is true, as I saw TWO functioning pay phones near the Muir Woods parking lot. The park visit was a nice hike along the Lost Trail and really being in awe of the towering and aromatic redwoods. The light rain helped to give a colorful pop to all the plant life and may have scared some visitors away. The entire hiking route was very peaceful and empty. I only saw two other hikers.

Tomorrow’s plan is to march up Telegraph hill for the views, then down to Chrissy Field East Beach and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge and maybe beyond if my feet aren’t destroyed. The weather is gorgeous and this city feels very safe. I’m really excited to see what the weekend brings.

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Keeping warm and dry in the boat.

Edit: I also did some whale watching, leaving with a tour from Monterey Bay (above Monterey Canyon). This was one of those things that I though could either be really cool or maybe kind of lame. I’m glad I took the chance because it totally rocked. We saw a pair of whales and they came to “play” with the boat. It was beautiful! The chilly temps and drizzle did nothing to take away the shine of the whales. The drive out to Monterey was enjoyable and the ocean geography make this place a much better option than the tours leaving from San Francisco proper. Unfortunately I have no pictures to share because I was so happy with watching the whales in real time and didn’t want to miss anything fiddling with a camera. I have an extremely solid stomach and found the more powerful waves to be a little fun but I would not recommend this kind of trip for just anyone.

Thank you for reading!

Ruby