By , April 29, 2013 12:36 pm

We had too many beautiful pictures from Koh Lanta and the Four Island Tour we took there to leave it at their brief mention in our last Thai beaches post.  With the perma-winter that is just finally starting to give way to spring here in Saskatchewan, we already find ourselves reminiscing about our time at the beach.  So here’s some hot, beachy eye candy for you…

Sunset on one of Koh Lanta’s beaches

Snorkeling stop on the 4 Island Tour

The other side of Lanta… Lanta Old Town

4 Island Tour scenery

Swimming through the dark at Emerald Cove

The light at the end of the tunnel

In the secret lagoon of Emerald Cave

Looking up in the lagoon

Playing with water effects


Looking up in the lagoon

Island lunch on Koh Ngai


Koh Lanta beach

Koh Lanta tidal pools

Lanta sunset

Good night Lanta!

Infobox:  We booked a 4 Islands tour from Koh Lanta.  It included two snorkeling stops, a trip to the Emerald Cave lagoon and lunch on beautiful Koh Ngai.  The snorkelling was meh, but the boat ride and islands were gorgeous.  It can be booked at any of the dozens of travel agents in Lanta.  Cost:  700 baht (~$23 CAD) per person, vegetarian-friendly lunch included.

By , April 25, 2013 3:53 pm

Something happened to us when we got to Thailand. Maybe it was the rough time we had in Egypt just before or the fact we hadn’t been to a beach in 9 months. Maybe it was the somewhat inconvenient timing of our arrival 12 days before my mom’s arrival in Bangkok which required us to double back (more on this later). Maybe it was the fact that we knew we had a plane ticket booked home and we wanted to squeeze everything we could in before it happened. Or it could have been the heat or something we caught from all the other SE Asia backpackers. It was probably a little of each of these things.

Whatever it was, we threw our tried and tested travel style out the window and got it in our minds that we needed to see “everything” in the short time we had left. Big mistake! We found ourselves beach hopping, trying to see every place anyone had recommended to us. It didn’t take long before we wore ourselves out. Or before we realized that, in the end, a beach is a beach is a beach.

Thailand’s beaches are all same same but different.

Our first month of beaching it in Thailand was poorly planned and poorly executed. We felt like we spent way too much time on trains and buses, packing and unpacking our bags, and searching for hotels and vegetarian-friendly eateries. This is why we’ve never liked the “3 days and move” rule that so many travellers seem to live by. We usually consider three days to be an absolute minimum. It’s not until after three days that you start to get a real feel for a place.

Here’s what our itinerary looked like:

Jan. 9 – Arrive in Bangkok at about midnight, check into an airport hotel

Jan. 10 – Go to train station at about noon, book ticket for night train to Surat Thani, spend afternoon exploring (with all our luggage) and waiting in train station

Jan. 11 – Arrive in Surat Thani in the morning, take shuttle to (tourist) bus station, wait for bus to Krabi, wait for ferry to Koh Lanta (which turns out to be a minibus that takes the car ferries). Arrive in Koh Lanta at about 4 pm to discover all the cheap guesthouses are fully booked. Should have booked ahead. Book a budget-busting (800 baht/$26 CAD) bungalow on beach.  We do the math – it took us 59 hours to get here from Cairo.

Jan. 12 – Relax on beach. Ahhhh!!! We could get used to this.

Koh Lanta sunset

Jan. 13 – Move guesthouses to cheaper one in town. This one only has room available for 2 nights. We want to stay three. Doh!

Jan. 14 – 4 Islands Tour – Koh Waen, Koh Cheuak, Koh Mook (Emerald Cave), Koh Ngai

Entering Emerald Cave, an 85 m water tunnel (the only entrance to the lagoon in the centre of the island)

The lagoon emerges… the light at the end of the tunnel!

Snorkelling at one of the islands.  They feed the fish, so there are lots to see.

Jan. 15 – Move guesthouses to another cheap one in town since ours is full tonight. Again, knock head against wall for not booking ahead.

Jan. 16 – Catch ferry to Ao Nang. Nearly toss our cookies. Ticket includes free transport to hostel which is not, as advertised, in Ao Nang. Arrive in the middle of nowhere (aka the jungle just outside of Ao Nammao).

At our Ao Nammao guesthouse

Jan. 17 – Catch longtail boat to Railay Beach (only about 30 minutes, after walking 45 minutes into town from guesthouse). Monkeys steal our bananas. Discover the roped off swimming area is infested with hundreds, if not thousands, of jellyfish, but the rest of the water is surprisingly not. Return the same way to find something amiss in our room (didn’t think too much of it, but later put the puzzle pieces together to discover 100 Euros had been stolen from our locked luggage that was inside our locked bungalow). Really not liking this guesthouse much.

Railay Beach West

Jan. 18 – Check out, leave luggage at front desk, and head back to Railay Beach. No longtail boats are heading back and we have a bus booked to Bangkok, so we have to charter one. They give us a good deal considering. Return to jungle bungalows, take minivan to Surat Thani and get on night bus.

Docks at Ao Nammao

Jan. 19 – Arrive in Bangkok at the ungodly hour of 5 am. Taxi to hotel rips us off, but we’re too tired to care too much. Hotel lets us check in early (as in immediately) and we take a long, long nap. Wake up and explore a little of Bangkok.

Jan. 20 – Bangkok sightseeing.

Jan. 21 – Move hotels. Meet up with Mom!

Jan. 22 – Bangkok sightseeing with Mom & Terry

Jan. 23 – Catch a bus to Hua Hin with Mom & Terry

Jan. 24 – Explore Hua Hin with Mom & Terry

Jan. 25 – Beaching & visiting at Hua Hin

Kitesurfing at Hua Hin beach

Jan. 26 – Beaching & visiting at Hua Hin. Catch a night bus to Chumphon. Arrive at 3:30 am. Have to wait until 7 am to catch ferry.

Jan. 27 – Take ferry to Koh Tao. Spend our day wandering the town searching for a good dive shop.

Beach on Koh Tao

Jan. 28 – After nearly a year, we’re finally back in the water. Two dives (and a little seasickness for Ashley).


Jan. 29 – Diving at Koh Tao.

Jan. 30 – Diving at Koh Tao.

Jan. 31 – Diving at Koh Tao in the morning. Catch ferry to Koh Phangan in the afternoon.

Feb. 1 – Walk the very very hilly southeastern road to the Full Moon Party beach (not for the party which wasn’t happening today, just for the beach). Rest up for the walk back.

Feb. 2– Take it easy in the morning instead of beaching it (Ashley wasn’t feeling so hot) and then catch a ferry to Koh Samui. Meet our old travel pal Talon and his son Tigger from 1Dad1Kid. Couchsurf with them.

Feb. 3 – Hang out with Talon and Tigger for the day. Catch up on some blogging and photos.

Feb. 4 – Hang out with Talon and Tigger and walk to the mummifed monk on the island.

Feb. 5 – Go admire the Grandmother & Grandfather rocks on Samui. Catch a boat and then a bus to Bangkok. Have to leave at around noon… won’t arrive until 5 am the next morning.

Beach on Koh Samui, Grandfather Rock

Feb. 6 – Arrive in Bangkok at 5 am. Check into hotel and sleep. Run errands around town in preparation for tomorrow’s trip to Cambodia (need passport photos, train tickets, and camera cleaning supplies).

Feb. 7 – Catch an EARLY morning train to Aranyaprathet, cross border into Cambodia

Exhausting, right? If you’re keeping track, that’s 4 night buses/trains and 5 other travel days in our first 30 days in Thailand. Not to mention 3 extra hotel moves within the same location. 6 different islands/beaches (plus the 4 islands from the tour).  And 6 days spent in Bangkok over 3 separate trips. What were we thinking?

Now, we did see some amazing sights and we’re glad went everywhere we did. We just wish we hadn’t tried to cram it all into 30 days. We would have been a lot happier picking just one or two of these amazing beaches and relaxing there for a while.

Our favourite beach? It might surprise you. While we really loved the laid back vibe of Koh Lanta and Railay Beach’s scenery was worth the crowds, I might just have to pick Koh Ngai. And I only spent an hour or two there.  It’s a tiny island we stopped at for lunch during our four island tour. While a little crowded at lunch time (a lot of longtail boat tours stop here), it would be total paradise the rest of the day – no roads, no noise, just 2 km by 4 km of white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and dense green jungle.

Koh Ngui… talk about paradise!

By , April 7, 2013 10:59 am

Oh, Egypt! How I wanted to fall in love with you! And how I really, really didn’t!

I’m guessing you figured out by now that Egypt wasn’t one of our favourite countries. In fact, when attempting to rank the countries we’ve traveled, we’d start by throwing it on the bottom.  So far on the bottom that you’d need a good pair of binoculars to find it.

Despite this fact, however, I don’t regret our time there for a second.  If I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I probably would (though I’d strongly consider a guided tour).  When travelling, you’re going to get some great experiences and some not so great experiences. Egypt just had a disproportionate amount of the not so great ones. But the sights were amazing, we met some great people, and we learned a thing or two about dealing with touts and negotiating for, well, everything.

Honestly, I did manage to fall in love with the sights and history of Egypt… I just couldn’t get past all the hassle, harassment, and frustration of the relentless a-holes. Thus I can’t give the country as a whole a thumbs up.

Karnak Temple

Egypt Summary:

Length of Stay: 24 days
Average Cost per Day for Two People (excluding international transportation): $ 62.26 CAD  [without the 3 night White Desert Tour, this cost would drop to $39.76 CAD per day – but we’re glad we splurged!]
Cities Visited: 5
Distance Traveled: 4189 km in 9 automobiles, 5 trains and 5 boats
Days Sick: 0
Number of Items Lost: No items, just our patience and maybe our sanity
Biggest Tourist Traps: Egypt
Exchange Rate: $1 CAD = 6 Egyptian pounds

View from our Cairo hotel balcony

Our Route:

Map of Our Egypt Route

Our Egypt Route

Cairo – White Desert (Bahariya Oasis, Black Desert) – Cairo – Alexandria – Aswan (Abu Simbel, Elephantine Island) – Luxor [via the Nile] – Cairo


  • Hands down, the amazing FOOD!!!!
  • Riding camels by day, sleeping under the incredible starry sky by night in the White Desert
  • The people of Alexandria
  • Abu Simbel temples (especially the interior)
  • Gliding down the Nile on a felucca

The Nile, just outside Aswan


  • The scammers, hustlers, and pushy touts in the tourist areas
  • Dodging traffic
  • General lack of infrastructure makes identifying scams that much tougher
  • The overwhelming lack of hope about the future (most Egyptians we talked with believe the revolution was stolen, things are worse now than before, and they can’t foresee any positive change)
  • Constantly being treated as a walking ATM
  • Constantly being treated as a sexual object
  • See this previous post

Highway rest stop


  • The general apathy of the people towards the constitutional referendum that was taking place when we arrived
  • Just how overblown the media makes the situation look with their coverage of the protests
  • The scammers, hustlers, and pushy touts in the tourist areas (as in just how many and how pushy they can be)
  • How good, cheap, and healthy the food was and how easy it was to eat vegetarian
  • Having locals ask to have their picture taken with me (I would expect this in rural China, maybe, but not from a hotel maid in Alexandria)

Karnak Temple

Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes you should just pay the little bit extra to hire a driver/guide/horse because it will give you hours of peace you won’t otherwise find
  • Tourism is not always easy and locals don’t always appreciate foreigners

Lunch before White Desert Tour

Egypt Journal – Where/How Did We Spend Our Time?

Cairo (4 nights)
National Museum, Pyramids, Tahrir Square, Islamic Cairo, Coptic Christian Cairo

White Desert (3 nights)
Camel safari with jeep escort, camping under the stars

Cairo (1 night)
This was just a stopover on our way to Alexandria

Alexandria (3 nights)
This sidetrip was originally planned because we had to wait to take the night train from Cairo to Aswan, but it became our favourite Egyptian city

Aswan (3 nights + 1 on train en route to Aswan)
Day trips to Abu Simbel temples, Philae temple, Elephantine Island

Nile (2 nights)
Sleeping, eating, and cruising on a felucca

Luxor (4 nights)
Valley of the Kings, Karnak temple, Luxor temple

Cairo (3 nights + 1 in airport en route to Bangkok)
Tired of the hassles, we mostly caught up on blogging in our hostel while waiting for our flight out

Smoking at the gas pumps

By , March 24, 2013 9:45 am

During our Abu Simbel tour, we had the privilege of meeting a totally crazy (in a mostly good way) traveller from North Korea who spent most of the tour ensuring that we knew it would cost a mere pound to take a ferry to Elephantine Island from Aswan. He only knew a few words of English, but we had several in-depth “conversations” with him (is it actually a conversation when you can’t get a word in edgewise?) that inevitably included him curling his arms into an elephant “trunk”, swinging them around, and shouting “ELLY-FONT!!! ELLY-FONT!!!” loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to stop what they were doing and watch. He was the kind of guy that complete strangers either made an effort to keep a 20-foot distance from as they feared for their safety or, more commonly, crowded around to hear (and watch) his stories. The “elly-font” cry and dance also seemed to be his prime negotiation tactic with local vendors. And from what we saw, it worked.

Not being able to get his “elly-font” chant out of our heads and more than ready to escape the touts in Aswan, we took the ferry over to Elephantine Island and spent an afternoon there. Not being a crazy North Korean, we had to pay more than a pound for the ferry… but talked our way down to two pounds each. (According to our hotel owner, North Koreans are the only foreigners that get local pricing – mostly because they are so crazy that no one wants to deal with trying to rip them off.) As it turns out, the island certainly wasn’t a safe haven from scammers – we were quickly ushered into a house to “tour” a bunch of kitschy crap (all for sale, of course) occupying every nook and cranny. It ended with the owner opening up a metal drum with a poor, dead-looking crocodile crammed inside. It had no space to move and barely blinked when the man poked it with a stick. We had no interest in seeing it in the first place and felt really bad for the poor creature, but the man figured we owed him money for showing us. We quickly made our exit and made no further attempt to talk to anyone else on the island. It was quite scenic, however, and we did manage to snap quite a few photos that make it look like a lovely place to visit.

Despite what this guy thinks, there’s a lot more to see on the island than a brick wall

Elly-font!  Elly-font!

By , March 18, 2013 8:12 am

The White Desert was our favourite place in Egypt. And it’s not even because there were no vendors, touts, scammers, or hustlers about – although that fact certainly helped increase its status in our minds. It was the gorgeous landscape that we had all to ourselves. The only other travelers were met at common lunch stops. The peace and calm were inviting. And sleeping under the stars was unforgettable.

Mike wanted to do two things in Egypt. See the pyramids and ride camels. And not at the same time. He wanted to really ride camels… as in a camel safari across the desert. Although technically possible, we found the safaris that crossed the sand sea to be both time and cost prohibitive. So we toned it back a bit.

For us, the best tour we could find still came with a hefty price tag – $300 USD per person for 4 days and 3 nights. It was a lot of money, but it had camels and was a private tour (there are group tours available, but there were honestly no other tourists while we were there that were interested in more than a two day, single night tour so there was no one to group up with). Anxious to get away from the touristy bits of Cairo, we talked ourselves into it.

The first day of the tour started at our Cairo hotel. We were driven to the bus station and put on a local bus out to Bahariya Oasis. We drove through miles of desert, with a rest stop halfway, at what seemed to be an industrial work camp. When we arrived at the Oasis, we were relieved to find that someone was there to meet us (we had no ticket or receipt for the tour, so we had taken a huge leap of faith by paying up front in Cairo and hoping we would get all that was promised… we didn’t even know the safari company’s name!).

Rest stop in the desert

We were driven to the edge of the oasis where the safari company was based. They fed us lunch, introduced us to our driver and guide for the next three days, and squeezed a little extra money out of us by making us pay for our drinking water which was supposed to be included. We climbed in the jeep with Tamr and drove off to the Black Desert where we got to snap pictures until we were satisfied we’d seen enough. Then, we drove to Crystal Mountain for more photos, before driving on to the camel camp.

Tamr, our jeep, and another tour jeep

Black Desert

Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain


At the camel camp, we were informed that our camel guide was MIA. After a few phone calls, Tamr arranged for our guide to meet us later that night at our camp. We were supposed to spend about an hour riding the camels that night, but it wasn’t going to happen. Our consolation prize was some sugar-saturated Bedouin tea at the camel camp.

Camel camp

Preparing the tea

We then drove to our camp for the night (which was really just an inviting bit of desert… there aren’t actually defined campsites here). Tamr set up camp while we took sunset photos. He cooked us a delicious vegetarian supper (with chicken for himself… he couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t eat chicken. He was pretty sure it was a vegetable) and made a campfire for us to keep warm while the night chill started creeping in. When we were ready for bed, he turned our meal cushions into mattresses and made our bed – he even tucked us in!!!

Setting up camp

Sunset, Day #1

Ready for supper


In the morning, we went for a quick walk while Tamr prepared our breakfast. Our camel guide (Mohammed) showed up with two camels. He only spoke a few words of English, so he silently led us around for the next few days. I had kind of pictured us riding and maneouvering the camels ourselves, but it was more like him walking ahead and leading them on a rope. I tried to get introduced to my camel, but she had no name… so there weren’t really any introductions to be had.

Desert beetle

Scenery during our morning walk

Our camels!!!

Getting ready to go

Been to the desert on a camel with no name…

View from my camel

Camel riding “like an Egyptian”


We spent hours looking for different shapes in the strange rock formations

More cool rock formations

One of the few English words Mohammed knew: “chicken”

We spent about two hours on the camels before lunch and two hours on them afterwards. Lunch was a lengthy affair, which was welcome on Day 2 as a sandstorm blew in and we had to wait it out before we could leave our lunch tent. Let me just say… two hours on a camel is painful. The ride itself is actually fairly smooth, but camels are a lot wider than they look. It’s really hard on your hips and legs to straddle something that wide for that long. At the end of Day 3, I got off my camel and actually couldn’t walk. I just stood there, telling my legs to move… but nothing happened. If nothing else, it gave everyone besides me a good laugh.

On the final morning, we helped Tamr clean up camp and climbed into the jeep to return to the Oasis. We stopped at some hot and cold springs on the way. As I described before, they were nothing like what I was imagining. Upon returning to the Oasis, we hopped on probably the most uncomfortable bus I’ve been on (the seat in front of me was broken, so the Korean guy in it was essentially using my knees to keep himself upright) and returned to Cairo. It was hard to leave the desert behind.

Lunch break

Sand storm is letting up

Rabbit rock

Sunset, Day #2

Enjoying the camel ride

Camp #2

Camp #2

Sunset, Day #2

Sunset, Day #2

Me and the camels. We may be in the desert, but as soon as the sun starts dropping it gets cold fast!

All tuckered out

Tamr’s friend, the fox… eyeing up Mike’s shoes for supper

Rhino rock

Camel teeth are sexy!

The “brakes”

Oasis lunch stop

After two days of walking without any food or water, one camel drank for about 5 seconds and the other wanted none of it

Harsh landscape… we felt bad for the camels’ feet


White desert

Goodbye camels with no names!

Making sand angels (this was a few days before Christmas)

Sunset, Day #3

Sunset, Day #3

Sunset, Day #3

By , March 11, 2013 11:40 am

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret. Ready for it? OK…. most travellers don’t like to travel. There, I said it.

“What?!?!?” you’re thinking, “how can that be so? How can a traveller hate travelling?

Now first of all, I didn’t say “hate,” I said “don’t like.” Don’t put words in my mouth. There’s a difference. Second of all, it’s the truth. Most travellers I know dread travel days.

Travel days mean early morning flights; figuring out the best deal out of a hundred possibilities to get from Point A to Point B; booking hostels online at the last minute; dealing with cancelled ATM cards; searching the streets for a hospedaje that doesn’t have a weird, musty smell; sleeping in airports; countless hours of waiting; getting ripped off by money exchangers at the border; worrying about pickpockets; watching your possessions like a hawk; checking to see if you still have your bus/train/plane ticket; getting dropped off on the highway in the middle of who-knows-where; 12 hour bus rides; overnight buses without seats or with crying babies; grumpy border guards and customs officials; checking to see if your passport is still in your pocket where you left it 10 minutes ago; endless compromises (for couples, anyways); all-around sleep deprivation; self-induced dehydration so you don’t have to pee before the next rest stop; border scams; filthy public toilets; trusting strangers; transfers and connections; body and bag searches; unwanted marriage proposals; drunk men threatening you on buses; pushy taxi drivers who won’t take no for an answer; sore butts and stiff necks; checking again to make sure your passport is still there; standing in the back of a chicken bus with someone’s hand on your butt and your head tilted at an unnatural angle to keep it from banging against the roof at each bump; hanging on for dear life in the back of a pickup; buying tickets in a foreign language; navigating 7 km of city streets by foot in 40°C weather because you’re too frugal to pay for a cab, loaded down with your backpack and a poorly chosen daybag design that leaves your neck raw and your shoulders aching – all without a map, a working or even a basic knowledge of the local language, nor the exact address of your hostel (OK, maybe that last bit’s just us).

The reality is travel is stressful. When everything you own is in a bag under a bus, you worry about it. Not so much because you’re attached to the stuff, but because you really don’t want to have to fork over the cash to replace it. When all the control of the situation is taken from you (such as when you leave, if the bus shows up, if you actually have seats, when the bathroom breaks are, how secure the baggage area is, etc.), you are bound to end up a little frazzled.

Travelling as a couple, Mike and I quickly realized that travel days would be the most challenging for our relationship. The stress and challenges we encounter pretty much guarantee a fight. Every decision on our RTW journey – from where to go, how long to stay, what to see, what hotel to stay at, where to eat, which type of cheese to buy – is a compromise. Add to that the stress of the actual travel day and we’re bickering left and right.

So why, then, do we travel?

Trust me – we didn’t quit our jobs and sell our belongings to ride buses around the world.  We did it for the magic of arriving in a new city or country; the fun of checking out the lay of the land and exploring the streets; to get inspired; to take in the sights, smells, sounds, and quirks of different cultures; to experience the kindness of strangers; to taste new flavours; to make amazing new friends; to discover more about who we are; to experience everything that life has to offer; to find the beautiful and the good in the world.

These things are why we travel.

And they make all the other stuff worth going through.

By , March 8, 2013 10:00 am

Not surprisingly, the graffiti we discovered in Cairo was some of the most powerful and political that we’ve ever seen.  Here are a few images: