Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never.
Ah, Southeast Asia. Month 53 was my “getting settled month” back in Thailand — I found an apartment, bought a bike, reunited with my friends — but a crazy one as I battled jetlag, went on a work campaign, and spoke at a conference. In contrast, Month 54 was incredibly chill, with the majority of it spent blissfully uninterrupted in Koh Tao. Of course, I couldn’t let a month pass by without any travel — Ian and I capped it off with a visa extension trip turned romantic getaway to Koh Samui followed by a villa vacation with our island crew on Koh Phangan.
Where I’ve Been
• Three nights in Bangkok
• Four nights in Phuket
• Thirteen nights on Koh Tao
• Six nights in Bangkok
• One night in Trang
• One night in Satun
• One night in overnight transit
• Twenty-five nights on Koh Tao
• Three nights on Koh Samui
• Two nights on Koh Phangan
• Landing back in Thailand. It’s one of my favorite feelings. We spent three days in Bangkok mostly just recovering from jetlag, but I managed to squeeze in multiple massages, lunch with a flight attendant friend, a comedy show at nearby Bangkok Comedy Club (a first for us!), and a fun dinner at Soul Food (another first.) We might have been half asleep through all of it, but it felt so good to be back in my home away from home.
• Completing a paid work campaign in Thailand. Typically, Southeast Asia isn’t the bustling epicenter of paid travel influencer campaigns — North America and Europe pretty much dominate the market there. So while rare, it’s nice to know they do exist, and I had a lot of fun working with Club Carlson to highlight their two Radisson Blu properties in Thailand.
• Checking out Phuket. I never had a burning desire to go, but I’m so glad my first experience was in the island’s charming Cape Panwa corner. While the weather was extremely uncooperative, highlights included a luxurious spa day, lots of great food and some fun cocktails (despite the absolute bizarrity of our experience trying to book a table at Nest), learning to make kratongs on Phang Nga Bay, and quality time with Ian, who I had barely had a moment alone with in months.
• Having somewhere to land. I was so grateful to Thalassa Hotel and then to my friend Janine for hosting me while I house hunted on Koh Tao. Anxious as I was to be settled in my own place, it was awesome to finally check out one of the island hotels I’ve been intrigued by and also get some high quality girl time in — even if I am terrified to drive up the hill Janine lives on. It also saved me three weeks of rent, since I didn’t have to start my lease until I got back from my conference.
• Two lively weeks back on the island. Between getting settled and getting back on track with my work life — and catching up with all my favorite people and eating all my favorite foods, duh — two weeks flew by. The craziness was punctuated by some nights of fun — Ian’s birthday, Oktoberfest (a surprisingly big deal on Koh Tao!), and a community fundraiser at Flying Trapeze Adventures. It was so good to be back.
• Playing hooky. While I was flooded with work and obligations when I got back, when my girl Paivi asked me to join for what might be the last Jumping into Jaws tour of the season at Good Time Adventures, how could I say no? It was an old favorite hike with an old favorite friend, topped off with a totally new experience for me — cliff jumping on Koh Tao! Add in some puppy-assisted snorkeling and you have a recipe for the perfect day.
• Workshop fever. The day before I left for TBEX, Ian and I went to a Thai Massage Workshop at Ocean Sound Yoga, one of their weekly workshop series. I loved it, and it kicked off a regular habit of blocking off my Sunday afternoons for a few hours of intensive study on the mat.
• Speaking at a conference I once attended as a wide-eyed newbie to the world of travel blogging. It was an amazing challenge to face my public speaking anxiety again, and it was quite validating to look back and reflect on how far I’ve come in this industry that I so often feel like I’m flailing in. Bonus? It was great to reconnect with some of my blogging buddies!
• Staying at Sofitel So. No kidding, this might just be my new favorite hotel in Bangkok (though U Sukhumvit is still the best value and Bangkok Tree House is still the most unique.) Talk about gorgeous! The amazing breakfast buffet, the creative concept of the rooms, the pool view to die for — I hope this won’t be my last stay at Sofitel So.
• Extracurriculars. While conferencing ate the vast majority of my week (I definitely don’t feel like I took full advantage of spending a full week in Bangkok, something I’m always jonesing to do) I did sneak away for a few non-TBEX activities, namely a shopping trip to Chatuchak Market for my new apartment, a Sunday run in Lumphini Park, and a low-key night out with a huge contingent of my Koh Tao crew who just so happened to be in Bangkok all on the same weekend.
• Ticking off two new provinces. The pace was way too fast and the weather horrific, but I don’t regret my post-BEX trip to Trang and then to Satun, if only for the fact that my province count was pathetically low — it’s still pretty paltry, but I’m up to fourteen out of seventy six in the Kingdom of Thailand.
• Being alone in my apartment. After so many whirlwind months of travel, conferences, festivals, crashing with friends, crashing with family, it felt so. damn. good. to sit completely alone in an apartment that was only mine. Once I had my place, the pace of life slowed way down. Breakfast in bed, nights having friends over to watch Nashville on the couch, and lots and lots and lots of hours at my desk… all add up to bliss.
• Kickstarting my health crunch, which I’ll write more about soon. For now, see the health category below!
• …and balancing things out with a little hedonism. Halloween, my birthday, and a night on the Koh Tao Pubcrawl when some of Ian’s friends came to visit were all stand out good times, though some of favorite nights on Koh Tao are still the ones that sneak up on you, and suddenly it’s 3AM and you’re in the back room of a bar doing laughing gas balloons.
• Ian and I’s romantic getaway to Koh Samui! Island fever was just creeping in when we set sail for our neighboring island, and after an easy breezy visit to immigration to extend our visas and marvel at how two months had flown by, we really just relaxed. We read by the pool, we checked out new restaurants, we went to a new yoga studio I’d been itching to try, we watched a gorgeous sunset, we got massages and we drank lots of fancy cocktails.
• Boozing it up. Our Koh Samui drinking tour was good enough to deserve its own bullet point. It was literally the most fun thing I’ve ever done on Koh Samui! If you love eating and drinking local, getting off the beaten path and ending the day with a tipsy glow, this is your big moment.
• Koh Phangan. Our two days here with our closest friends from Koh Tao was one of the highlights not just of my month but of my year. Hilarious humans, a mind boggling beautiful setting, elaborate meals, marathon poolside gossip sessions, and back to back nights of Cards Against Humanity charades. Weekends like this remind me how good I have it, and leave me overwhelmed with gratitude.
Lowlights and Lessons
• Missing Angie’s wedding. This was the first wedding of a close friend that I’ve missed, and it really stung not to be there for her. Worse, the whole event turned into a destination wedding disaster, leaving me feeling even more guilty I wasn’t there to lend a hand. I’m sure it won’t be the last big moment in a loved one’s life that I miss, but I doubt it will get easier.
• The weather in Phuket was downright awful — this would be a theme of the month. In four nights, our first glance of sun was as we headed to the airport! Man, it was brutal. On the upside, we were still pretty jetlagged and so napping through rainstorms on our porch and curling up in bed early to watch movies felt pretty nice. On the downside, I was, ya know, supposed to be taking gorgeous blue sky photos of the resort the whole time! Overall, the hotel was somewhat dated compared to its sleek Bangkok cousin, and so interior shots didn’t have the same oomph as the ones showing off its best asset — a private beachfront location. Also, we had been really excited to check out Phuket Town, which we skipped due to the downpour. Being paid to be somewhere and sell its fabulousness means that bad weather comes with both personal and professional stress and disappointment.
• Apartment hunting. I can hem and haw all day over which yoga class to take at night, so suffice it to say choosing a place to live for six months was nerve wracking. I found three places, each with pros and cons, pretty quickly, but I almost made myself sick choosing between them.
• The weather on my post-BEX trip to Trang and Satun? You guessed it — it was awful. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few moments I asked myself “why am I even here?” as I stared as white fog-covered nothing through my camera lens.
• Overnight journey drama alert! After eight nights of conference craziness, I was so darn excited to get on the night boat to Koh Tao and wake up at home. Except after nearly twelve hours of travel in a minibus and then a train and then a taxi, I arrived at the port to… no boat. Various bored looking people gave me various answers on the reason for the boat’s non-existence, ranging from “leave early” to “accident,” and I burst into tears at the thought of dragging myself and my stuff into a crappy Surat Thani hotel and then spending all day the next day at sea.
So I went for Plan F, hop on the next night boat, headed to nearby Koh Phangan. I immediately regretted it. Unlike the bunk bed and power outlet-lined fancy night boat I had intended to board, the version I found myself on was primarily a shipping vessel, with thin mats laid edge-to-edge across the floor of one of the decks. I was the only woman and the only western passenger, and I felt skittish at the attention I drew as I curled up on the floor, knowing sleep would never come. In retrospect I know I had nothing to fear, but in the darkness and in my exhaustion I was uneasy, for what is one of the only times I can ever remember feeling so in Thailand. When the boat docked in Koh Phangan at 5am I sat on the pier in the dark until day broke and I caught the 8am boat to Koh Tao. I’ve never been so happy to see a sunrise.
• My elaborate birthday plans were sidelined by… yup. Weather. Fall is a tricky time in Southern Thailand! Ian’s plan for a romantic night in our favorite bungalow were derailed by downpour, my plan for a morning hike with my girlfriends was ruined by rain, and it was pretty much monsooning when it was time to corral the crew together for dinner and drinks. Considering I’m still basking in the glow of last year’s big 2-5 bash, I didn’t mind having a quiet one this round… but let’s hope the sun comes out for the next!
• Computer drama. Man, this could have been a really different month — a different year? — if things hadn’t worked out with my darn computer. Not long after returning to Koh Tao, I opened my laptop to a black screen, which to my enormous relief only cost a day of work and a hefty repair bill to get operable again.
When the same issue struck again a week later, there was no quick fix. What would have been a simple screen swap out taking less than a day in New York turned into a six week saga in Koh Tao. When the local Mac expert on the island estimated it would be three weeks until my laptop would come back, I started pricing flights back to the US, where my Apple care would cover the drama for free… you know, other than the cost of a flight to Los Angeles. There’s literally no way I could even consider taking three weeks of work (and good thing I didn’t, since it turned out to be more than six.)
However, my dear friend Scottie saved me from that five figure nightmare and just overwhelming me with generosity by lending me his own Mac. I felt sick with guilt when what he thought was a three week loan turned into nearly two months. Meanwhile, because of differences in our operating systems and other technicalities I don’t understand, many of my programs didn’t work, which slowed my productivity to hair-pulling speeds. And on top of it all, I had to live with the possibility that my computer may come back with a Thai keyboard and an inferior specs to the top-of-the-line model I’d purchased (the local Mac guy told me there was a chance they might replace the computer altogether, which in this case would have been a disaster.) It was not a fun experience, but it is a reality of being a “digital nomad” abroad.
• Last minute changes. With all our weeks on Koh Tao, Ian and I had plenty of time to plan our little getaway to Samui, and so plan we did a very detailed itinerary based on the location of the hotel we’d arranged to stay at in exchange for a review. At the last minute, the hotel management told us they’d be moving us to their sister hotel on the other side of the island instead. Rather than scrap everything we’d gotten excited about, we decided to stick to our plan and just spend a lot more time and money on taxis and motorbike rides. You guys know I’ve been wrestling with the true value of accepting industry perks like comped hotels in exchange for reviews, and as amazing as a time as we had at the hotel I have to admit that one on of those very long rides back from a restaurant we’d made reservations at weeks before that I asked myself, why didn’t I just pay to stay at the first hotel, the one I actually wanted to stay at in the first place? It’s so tempting to take advantage of the many offers that come your way as a travel blogger; what’s harder is weighing up their true value and knowing when it’s time to just do your own thing.
• Ian’s arm. Oh, how Ian’s arm betrayed us. That bugger just slipped right out his shoulder socket, right when we got to Koh Phangan. Even worse? It stayed out for hours, just totally disregarding skeletal curfews. Okay, I’m making light of what was undoubtedly the lowest lowlight of the month, but that’s just because I’m still traumatized by the pickup truck ambulance ride followed by the afternoon we spent in the emergency room in Thongsala, Ian writhing in misery while I focused very hard on not passing out from the sight of doctors repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempting to shove my broken boyfriend’s body back together. Those hours of watching Ian in unbearable relentless pain and waiting to hear if surgery would be necessary were gut wrenching.
In the end I’m so thankful that if this had to happen, it did so on Koh Phangan where we had access to a hospital, and so grateful for the English-speaking liaison there who kept me in the loop of everything that was going on, helped me fill out insurance paperwork, and generously extended us an expatriate discount. Above all, of course, I’m just so happy he’s okay.
• Readjusting to stillness. The biggest lesson of not just these months but all that I spent in Thailand was how to sit quietly again. As ready as my heart was to stop traveling for a bit, it took my brain some time to adjust to the idea that it wouldn’t be processing new people, places, languages, currencies and cultures every day. There were moments when I felt restless; when I asked myself, is this it? Recalibrating to the concept that adventures could be at home and a successful day didn’t have to involve moving more than a few hundred meters from the bed I’d woke up in and would be going to sleep in again that evening after five years on the road wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding.
I’m not sure if this story had crossed the threshold from tragic to funny just yet, though I’m sure it will someday. It’s a Koh Tao tradition that when one goes to Koh Samui, one indulges in McDonald’s. Sometimes people even bring it back over on the ferry to their friends back on Tao! It’s funny how we fetishize the things we don’t have access to. Anyway, one night in Samui Ian and I gleefully ordered a literal feast from the fast food chain (did I mention McDonald’s in Thailand delivers?), thrilled to roll around our room, watch Netflix, and skull McFlurries. Over an hour later, when no fries had appeared, we called McDonald’s back to figure out what the deal was. They told us they’d called the front desk to let us know the hotel was in fact out of the delivery zone, with both parties hanging up thinking the other was going to inform us, the hungry customers. When we figured out what happened we were bummed (okay, I was devastated and may have thrown myself dramatically on the bed), but Ian, ever the pragmatist, just shrugged it off and ordered room service over the phone.
No big deal, right? Wrong. The next day, by some game of Thai telephone, a story had evolved at the hotel that Ian was down at the front desk the night before screaming at the receptionist for bungling our McDonald’s order (in reality, he had never left our room). Anyone who knows Ian is probably in stitches reading that statement, because this is a man who is so chilled out you would be mistaken for thinking he’s occasionally slipped into a coma. What’s not hilarious is the shame of everyone not only (a) knowing a country filled with one of the most beautiful cuisines the world has ever had the pleasure of tasting, you ordered McDonald’s and (b) mistakenly thinking you threw a public tantrum when it wasn’t delivered. By the time the third person approached us to address this non-existent scandal, we were so mortified we couldn’t look at a McNugget for months. I literally still cringe just thinking about it.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: It’s a tight race between Thalassa on Koh Tao, Sofitel So in Bangkok and Bay Villas on Koh Phangan, but in the end I don’t think anyone can compete with the glamour and quirk of the Sofitel So!
Worst: The yoga mat I slept on in my night of transit from hell — see the lowlights category for more info.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: The meals we (and by we I mean Ian) made at the villa in Koh Phangan. There’s no table in the world as precious as one your friends are seated around.
Worst: See the LOLs category above. My worst meal of the month was one that didn’t happen!
Trang and Satun
After months and months of watching my bottom line do the limbo, things finally picked up when I got back to Thailand. I settled on an apartment with very reasonable rent, and hanging out mostly on Koh Tao kept my living expenses low. As for my travels, the first two were work related and thus most expenses were covered by the campaign hosts and the conference, respectively; and our final little getaway was made incredibly affordable by writing reviews in exchange for our accommodation and traveling just to our neighboring islands, which kept transportation costs at next to nothing.
Without even really trying, these were two of the cheapest months I’ve had in years just by default.
I almost can’t remember a time so busy with big campaigns as these two months. Remember my post about how I made money this past year? In addition to the usual income streams, the majority of the branded content piece of the pie happened right in this period — when it rains, it pours, as they say. I pulled more late nights than I can remember doing since college to juggle it all, but I was thrilled to have the work.
Between my low living expenses and my avalanche of work, my finances quickly changed course. And man, did I need it. It was such a thrill doing my accounting at the end of the month and realizing I was back in savings-building mode!
Health and Fitness
Things got off to a slow start — my run in Lumphini park and two workouts at the Sofitel So gym were my first workouts in weeks. But, those twenty-five nights back on Koh Tao post-conference were filled with hikes (to John Suwan Viewpoint and Two View), yoga and pilates (I bought a pass to Grounded and went to another workshop at Ocean Sound), a new gym membership at Gym and Fitness (where I kickstarted the BBG program), an attempt at a Gladiator bootcamp and one lone paddleboarding session. I’m tired — and inspired! — just thinking about it.
I also began tracking my food at this time, something that I occasionally do when I feel like my eating has gotten out of control and I want to be more conscious of what I’m consuming. I find it really effective in helping me pause to think about whether or not I really need that banana nutella pancake when I’m walking home at night.
Thailand, Thailand, and more Thailand (and a little bit of Cambodia, too.)
Thanks for coming along for the ride!
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.