Tamarindo Travel Guide

A not-so-sleepy beach town, Tamarindo is located in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica. The 1994 documentary The Endless Summer II put this small town on the map for surfers, and now both tourists and wave-seekers alike flock to the now nicknamed “Tamagringo” for their own taste of Pura Vida.

I am no exception. It was easy to fall for the charm of Tamarindo immediately. Early mornings surfing followed by lazy, sticky afternoons in a hammock with a book, sunset surf, and a few drinks in the evening. That is a lifestyle anybody could quickly get used to.

 

Getting There

Getting to Tamarindo was easy and fuss-free. I flew into Liberia Airport (LIR) and scheduled a shuttle with Tamarindo Transfers and Tours. It starts at $20 per person one way, but if you are the only person on the shuttle it can be as much as $60. The drive was roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes.

 

Where to Stay

I prefer to stay in hostels for several reasons – the first being that it is extremely cost-effective. Hostels can also be nice if you travel alone, as they often provide a more social atmosphere with like-minded people. I stayed in Blue Trailz Surf Hostel for only $10 a night. Blue Trailz was great, and renting boards from them was super easy. I could just sign one out before 7pm and just grab it off the rack first thing in the morning. Everything else in town was very close by and never more than a ten minute walk. Tamarindo itself is very small and easy to navigate so almost anywhere you stay would offer the benefit of location. Most importantly, the beach was right across the street.

If you don’t necessarily enjoy sharing space or want a bit more than the bare-bones that hostels usually have to offer, check out Hotel Pasatiempo! You’ll have typical hotel amenities and they still offer rooms for under $100 a night.

If you want to get just a little bit fancier, try Casa Luna or Hotel Diria.

 

Comida

Food! Is it just me or are most travelers inherently foodies, too? I mean half the fun of experiencing new places is eating in them, in my humble opinion. Tamarindo is full of options. There are your typical beach-front tourist-centered restaurants (nothing wrong with that, by the way) with plenty to choose from on the main drag, as well as a few places off some dusty side roads worth exploring.

For breakfast you will find any number of smoothie shops serving up fresh fruit and usually a “pick-what-you-want” style menu. I really enjoyed Mandarina which was located right next to my hostel. But my number one recommendation is La Princesa Cafe. Everything is fresh, organic, and handmade. My favorite choice para el desayuno.

La Princesa Cafe

 

For lunch or dinner you should absolutely stop by The Green Papaya which serves an original taco menu, and you can eat them from swinging chairs that hang around the porch if you want to. I can eat tacos on swings? Say no more. Nogui’s restaurant is also an excellent option for a meal right on the beach.

 

What would a trip abroad be without a little street food? There is a woman (more commonly known as “the trunk lady”) that sells a plethora of food including fish, chicken stew, rice, and pico de gallo right out of pots in the trunk of her car. She is usually located across from the Diria Hotel in the early afternoons. You can buy a whole plate of food right there from her on the sidewalk.

 

What To Do

  • Okay. Lets cut to the chase, here. Surfing. The numero uno activity in Tamarindo is surfing. Playa Tamarindo itself is great for beginners, and if you are just learning there are any number of surf shops lining the street offering lessons and board rentals. I primarily rented with Iguana Surf Shop, and if you take a lesson with them they will rent boards for $5 per hour. I also loved their staff. They were very friendly and one of them even went above and beyond by looking around the beach for my GoPro which a stranger dropped in the ocean hours prior (we won’t talk about it). Thanks, David!
  • Beach hopping. Playa Tamarindo is great but it is not the only beach worth visiting. Hop on a shuttle in front of Neptuno surf shop and check out Playa Conchal (very pretty), Playa Avellanas, or Playa Grande.
  • Mangrove tours. There are tours through the mangroves in Tamarindo where you can view wildlife (lots of crocs and monkeys!) Seriously though, keep an eye out for those crocs.
  • Literally any amount of tours is available with several companies located along the beach. Just walk in and have a look. They have ziplining, atv’s, tours to Arenal, trips to Nicaragua, etc. A lot of these are very doable on your own, but if you want to set up something more organized as a day trip from Tamarindo – all of these are available!

Night Life

Sun setting over Playa Tamarindo

Okay so maybe you’ve lazed around all day and maybe you broke it up with intermittent surf sessions but either way you’re ready to let loose with a drink or two. Tamarindo has a small but very much alive bar scene at night. There is Pacifico Bar located on the beach, and it is usually popular on Thursdays with its Reggae Night. It’s kind of clubby, so if that’s not your thing I’d avoid it. Monkey Bar is your Friday night spot, and Sharky’s sports bar is another option which has some kind of drink special going on pretty much every night of the week.

 

Best Time to Visit

Another sunset over Playa Tamarindo

Well if you ask me this question (which you kind of did, by browsing my blog) I’d tell you that you can find the greatness in a place during any time of the year. But I know what you really want to know. When is the rainy season? When are there more crowds, etc? The dry season for Costa Rica is from mid December to April. While it’s a great time to visit, this is also when crowds and prices are higher. Costa Rica can still be enjoyable in the rainy season if you plan accordingly. It rains every day but not necessarily all day, so if you want fewer crowds and lower prices then journey to Tamarindo in “the green season”. I visited in early December. There was very little (almost no) rain and very few crowds. Shoulder season (aka right between seasons) is always my favorite time to go anywhere.

 

 

So that sums up all the little tips and suggestions I gathered from just three days in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. For me, this trip wasn’t as much about knocking a destination off my “bucket list” as it was about having a few days of peace and clarity. It was one of those cliche “run away from your problems and unwind” trips, and hey it actually worked. Sometimes you need those solo moments where it’s just you, the ocean, and the sun peaking over the horizon. Tamarindo was everything I needed it to be and I hope that if you visit, for whatever reason of your own, you get as much out of it as I did!

8 Hours in Amsterdam

Long layovers can occasionally be a total drag – but they certainly don’t have to be! While en route to Kenya, I purposefully booked a flight that left me eight hours in Amsterdam so that I could get a glimpse of the city between flights. It’s not uncommon to have layovers like this at Schiphol Airport, so if you find yourself “stuck” in Amsterdam here’s how to joyfully kill eight hours!

Leaving The Airport

First order of business when arriving in Schiphol is to find a locker to store your bags that you don’t want to lug around the city. I found some located before security at Arrivals 1 and 3. You will see signs for baggage lockers – just follow those. It was very easy and inexpensive. After I stowed my larger bag I hopped on the railway line that connects the airport directly to Amsterdam Central Station. You’ll find the railway in the main airport arrival plaza, and it takes you right to the center of Amsterdam. Once you exit the train terminal, you are free to roam the streets.

 

Navigating the City

Speaking of roaming the streets, its wise to download a map of the city beforehand. Maps.me is a great app that lets you download maps and then use them when you are offline. You likely will not have cell service unless you have an international plan so this can be a really useful tool. I downloaded a map beforehand so I could have a general lay of the land, though I will say it didn’t help me much. There are many streets, canals, and side streets to navigate. I got lost a few times, but maybe your sense of direction is better than mine. I still use GPS in my home city.

Anne Frank House

My first priority was to visit the Anne Frank House. Even though I was actively looking for it, I only finally stumbled upon it by accident. Like I said – I’m directionally challenged. I expected long lines out the door but because of the time of year (it was winter and freezing cold) there weren’t as many tourists lined up around the block. It’s a smart idea to purchase tickets on the website ahead of time if you know when you will be there.I waited maybe ten minutes before I could enter and buy my ticket to the former home and hiding place of Anne Frank and her family, now a museum and memorial to the holocaust.

It is a heavy subject matter and a powerful experience for many to visit. Because I was surrounded by people, and was very obviously in a museum environment, the experience was lost on me a bit. It was hard to grasp that I was standing in the actual house that had been written about so long ago. That being said, every room, artifact, and diary page out for display was worth a second look. Once you cycle through the whole house you end in a room where a video is played about the Holocaust. Again, a moving experience. This is the one “tourist” thing I really wanted to do in Amsterdam and I highly recommend you check out this piece of history for yourself if you get the chance.

 

Canal Tour

They say the best way to see the city is by water. After seeing the Anne Frank House I truly had no agenda, and while wandering the streets I passed a shop pitching canal tours. There are many, so it shouldn’t take you long to track one down. It may be a good idea for you to do this first so that you can get a general understanding of the city before walking around. You may feel like a total tourist but check your pride at the door and learn some cool things while getting a lay of the land!

Museums

Can you believe I went to Amsterdam and didn’t get the typical “I AMSTERDAM” photo? Me neither. That being said, the iconic I AMSTERDAM sign is located right in front of the Rijksmuseum. Nearby you will also find the Van Gogh Museum. There are several museums to see in the city but these two, along with the Anne Frank House, should be at the top of your list. You will not have time to see everything but any of these would be a great choice on its own.

 

Eats

While strolling the sidewalks I happened upon a place called The Pancake Bakery. It is exactly what it sounds like. They serve pancakes, crepes, and deserts. It isn’t all sweets, as they serve savory foods and beer as well. This was the only spot I could find nearby so I took up an entire four-person table for myself probably causing distress to those queued out the door. A great place, but while you’re in the city make sure you look out for the dutch must-haves including patat – which is essentially dutch french fries, and stroopwaffel (seriously, DO IT).

Honorable Mentions

Maybe you don’t like the idea of museums or a canal tour, in which case you can supplement those activities with a visit to the Red Light District, the sex museum, or one of the city’s famous coffee shops. You can also rent a bike to get around but just use caution because bikes are the main transportation of the locals and you won’t want to get run over by people on their morning commute. It won’t be hard to kill time on a layover here. Enjoy walking the streets, learning some history, viewing the architecture, and taking photos. It takes about 15 minutes to get from Amsterdam Central back to Schiphol airport so make sure to leave time to get back, get through security, and collect your bags. Enjoy your layover!

Guide to Swimming with Pigs in the Bahamas

Soft sandy beaches, clear blue waters with skies to match, tiny little pigs pedaling through the waves…wait, what? Pigs at the beach? Yes that’s right! All the swine-y cuteness you could ever want is located at Pig Beach on the islands of The Exumas in the Bahamas. If you’re anything like me, the surprising site of pigs trudging between salt water and sand rather than their usual farm habitat will put this unusual place immediately on your travel list. Keep reading to learn how you can visit the pigs, swim with the sharks, and get the most out of your trip to the Bahamas while doing it.

 

How To Get There…

This is the tricky question. It takes a little bit more work than a single round trip ticket for this one. The more remote the place, the better as far as I’m concerned. I quickly discovered that the more remote the destination the more expensive it is as well. Islands are always more expensive to visit. I am usually a budget traveler, and so I chose to fly to Nassau (NAS) from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and use that as my base as it is the least expensive place to stay. I paid roughly $30 to take a taxi to my AirBnb/Downtown Nassau from the airport. My trip to The Exumas wasn’t until the next day.

From Nassau’s airport you can take a little plane with Flamingo Air to Staniel Cay (TYM). There are roughly two flights a day between Nassau and Staniel Cay. I did this as a day trip and left Nassau around 8am and returned on the 2:30 from Staniel Cay. The flight is only about 20-30 minutes so you won’t find yourself too worn out from the travel.

Flamingo Air

Exuma

Tours & Visiting the Pigs…

Usually I like to skip tours whenever possible and do my own thing. However, once you get to Staniel Cay your best option is to have purchased a tour before arrival. Unless you have your own boat (in which case, invite me next time) then you’ll need transportation between the nearby islands. All of these tours include roughly the same itinerary…

  • Pig Beach
  • Compass Cay (to see the Nurse sharks)
  • Snorkeling at one of the beautiful grottoes, or the “aquarium”
  • Sand Bar
Sand Bar in the Bahamas

A sand bar in the Exumas

I booked a tour with Wheels and Waves and though it was a whirlwind of a trip it was an amazing experience. Most tours will run somewhere between $200-$400 dollars per person. You can choose a regular tour or a private tour. I shelled out $300 for a private tour with a friend for this one. Keep in mind you will have to pay an additional $10 landing fee once you get to Compass Cay to see the nurse sharks. By the way, you can swim with them.

Swim with nurse sharks in the bahamas

Nurse sharks at Compass Cay

compass cay sharks

When you pull up to Pig Beach the pigs will most likely get in the water and move towards the boat. I estimate and fear that tourists are potentially the pigs’ main food source and so that is their primary concern while you’re there. They were not too hostile but you do have to keep your guard up, because they are looking for food. While I loved seeing the pigs, feeding them, and swimming with them, I think that roughly 30 minutes was more than enough for a visit.

Pigs Beach in the Bahamas

pig

Best I could do for a pig selfie!

I actually enjoyed swimming in the sea caves much more. At this point, we were getting close to our departure from Staniel Cay so I didn’t get to grab a lot of great footage but I had a lot of fun snorkeling into the cave and floating about.

 

pig beach

 

Where to Stay …

As already mentioned, I stayed in Nassau to cut costs. Lodging in The Exumas can cost up to $400+ PER NIGHT! If you can afford that by all means do it. It’s beautiful there. While staying in Nassau was considered the more budget-friendly option, lodging there is still not as wallet-friendly as your typical backpacking hostels. I opted for an AirBnb in the residential area of Nassau and loved the experience. Anytime I can get a taste of local culture, even on a resort island, I’m glad to do it. The downside to this was that there wasn’t much in the immediate area to do and transportation was not readily available. I may or may not have taken up a new hitchhiking hobby. Don’t tell my mom.

I spent my last night in Nassau at the cheapest downtown accommodation I could find – Grand Central Hotel. It wasn’t the most comfortable or most clean but the staff was awesome and so was the location.

boat gopro

What else to do while in Nassau…

Visiting The Exumas only took up one day so I had to find other things to do while in Nassau. I took a taxi over to Paradise Island to check out Atlantis because it’s the largest and most popular resort on the island. Resorts don’t typically peak my interest but I had to see what the fuss was about.The aquarium is free to visit after 6pm and you can roam the grounds to see the resort for yourself.

Atlantis was nice but, to be honest, I was more impressed and had so much more fun checking out Baha Mar! This resort is brand new and features several swimming pools and a private beach which I more than enjoyed for an afternoon. They had plenty of equipment such as kayaks and paddle boards for free use! It is still a resort, but it’s not as large as Atlantis and has a great relaxed atmosphere. This was the only place in Nassau where I felt I “got away” from the crowds a bit.

baha mar resort

Don’t forget to stroll the streets of Downtown Nassau for all the tourist-centered shopping and food joints that your heart desires. There’s also a Fish-Fry nearby that people couldn’t stop recommending. My best advice is to enjoy this resort town for what it is. Relax, swim, eat, and enjoy the weather!

unicorn float

Overall this was an expensive one to knock off my “bucket list”, but totally worth it! My favorite parts ended up being the nurse sharks and snorkeling in the caves. Though  I ended up liking everything else a little bit more than the actual pig beach, I’m so glad I finally got to see the swimming pigs of the Bahamas!

 

 

What to Expect in Petra

    I cancelled a trip to Costa Rica on a Monday, and decided to fly to Israel on Wednesday. With such little time to plan ahead I was essentially winging it, except for one thing that I knew I wanted to see: Petra. Located near Israel in the Jordanian desert, Petra is a city that was carved out of rock 2000+ years ago. It was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and has been used in several movies, including Indiana Jones, Transformers, and The Mummy Returns. It has attracted tourists from all over the world. I finally made the trek there myself, and it was worth every bit of effort. I spent my birthday sleeping under the stars followed by gazing upon the world wonder in an experience that I would recommend to everyone.

How to Get There

To get to Petra you can either fly directly into Jordan via Amman airport, or if you happen to be visiting Israel, like I was, you can cross the border by land. I crossed the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border which is nearby Jerusalem and Amman. It is approximately a 3 ½ hour drive from Allenby. Crossing the border is time consuming; you will be asked a lot of questions, especially if you are traveling alone. Don’t get too nervous if they keep asking several follow-up questions. Crossing into Jordan I was not questioned as much as when I crossed back into Israel, so it is possible you may have a similar experience.

Best Time to Go

The temperatures are a bit milder in the Spring and Fall. March-May or September-November may be your best bet. I went in early May and though the weather was good for most of my visit, it was still in the 90’s the day I visited.

Where to Stay

I spent one night in Jordan before visiting Petra. I slept in the 7 Wonders Camp just 7 kilometers away. I couldn’t recommend enough that you stay in a Bedouin camp during your visit. After seeing both Amman and Jerash I arrived fairly late to the camp. They served a buffet dinner with all the typical middle eastern dishes I had become so familiar with since being in Israel. After dinner, I was shown to my tent which was small but charming. While it is a camp, it is in my opinion considered more “glamping” than camping. You will be comfortable with a normal bed, and showers and restrooms located steps away. There are small lights installed on the rock face of the mountain next to the camp that add to the dreamy aesthetic of sleeping in the middle of the desert, and I found myself wishing I could stay another night there.

The Siq

What to do in Petra

Explore. Once you pay the entrance fee of 50 JD, you enter the visitors center filled with shops selling all the usual souvenirs and trinkets. You walk down a short road filled with local residents of Wadi Musa or the nearby Bedouin camps asking if you’d like a horse or buggy ride, as Petra is roughly a 1km walk through the Siq (a beautiful, narrow gorge) from the visitor center. I chose to walk of course and it took no time at all. Once you enter, the first thing you will see is the treasury. From there you can go on to explore the various parts of the old city, including the Monastery, tombs, and the treasury. There are plenty of side trips and hiking trails.

The treasury up close

Getting the Best View

This part includes a story. Seeing the treasury from the ground was not satisfactory enough for me. I wanted a view from above, and who better to ask than the locals? I asked several men who were standing in the area with their mules and camels where I could find the best view of the treasury. I got several answers explaining a few different trails, most of which were not actual trails and I would have to sneak past the guards in order to get to them. Finally, I received direction that there was a trail near “the tombs” and if I hiked up that and across to the other side I would find the view I was looking for.

I hiked up several steps and – let’s be honest here – I did not do it with ease. The sun was hot and my water supply was foolishly low. A man followed me up the steps with his Mule in tow and kept asking me if I wanted a ride. I assured him that I wanted to hike up myself but he continued in the same direction as I did. This turned out to be extremely fortunate as I needed to be corrected a few times after taking a wrong turn or two. After reaching the top of the mountain, the route required me to hike back down and then across a sketchy makeshift bridge to the mountain on the other side.

“Old people do this,” he mentioned as I struggled down the rocky mountainside.

I continued with trepidation, not knowing if I was going the right way, or what obstacles were ahead. The steep climb would have been easier with hiking shoes, but of course I didn’t wear any that day. I did eventually reach the viewpoint where the photo above was taken, and I owe it all to my unofficial Jordanian guide! To be honest, this was the type of hospitality I was getting used to from the locals in Jordan. When I finally got there, there was a man sitting under some shade who kindly offered me tea. I drank the tea and took in the view that I worked to get to. After snapping several selfies that inspired strange looks from both men and the occasional “do you want me to take that for you?” comment, I decided to head back.

That’s tea.

The Jordanian man followed me on the way back after ensuring that he knew a short cut. When the short cut failed we had to back track and I finally gave in and rode the mule. I try to avoid riding animals especially in heavy tourism areas where I have no idea as to how the animal is treated, but I had a weak moment. We continued to cross the desert, past caves and small herds of goats, and trekked up and down mountains until finally we arrived at the canyon entrance to Petra. I paid the man and thanked him sincerely for his help. I have included instructions below for finding a perfect photo spot, so that you do not end up on a questionable journey like I did! Though I do have to say, that was half the fun.

In order to get a good view of the treasury…

Walk a little past the royal tombs. You will see a path with steps – follow this up. When you come to a fork where you can go slightly left or right…continue left. The trail isn’t really marked, but follow it to the top. Once you get to the top of the mountain you will then trek back down on the other side. Keep walking until you find yourself across the bridge and on the other side. Follow the path on your left until you reach a man sitting under shade making tea. Then you’ve made it! I suggest paying one of the locals to show you if you’re not comfortable. Bring plenty of water!

My unofficial life-saving guide. Random guy in the background was the only other visitor at the time.

Is it worth it?

If you have been debating whether to visit, have had hesitations due to safety concerns, or simply have not heard of Petra before reading this post, my advice is this – GO! Not only was Petra beautiful and fascinating, but Jordan was an amazing country filled with people who were nothing but kind, helpful, and hospitable. I was only there a short time, but now I am inspired to return and visit more countries in the region.

10 Things to do in Thailand

It’s easy to see why Thailand has become one of the world’s most popular backpacking destinations. Whether you prefer the lively city of Bangkok, hiking mountains in Chiang Mai, or soaking up the sun in the Andaman Sea, there is something for every type of traveler. There are endless things to do in Thailand, and before visiting I found myself overwhelmed with potential things to see and do while I was there. This is my list of a few things that made my trip memorable!

1. Doi Suthep

I’d be thoroughly shocked if you visited Thailand and didn’t set foot inside at least one temple. Many travelers that I talked to would often say that they were “templed out”. I think that all of the temples are beautiful and unique in their own way but I narrowed my visit down to two in particular. The first was Wat Phra That located on top of Doi Suthep mountain. The second was Wat Rong Kuhn located in Chiang Rai (more on that later in this post!). If you are in Chiang Mai you must make the journey to the top of Doi Suthep and see the sunlight bounce off of the golden rooftops.

How to Get There: If you love hiking and are feeling ambitious you can hike up! Otherwise, flag down a red Songthaew taxi to take you up the winding road to the top of the mountain. This will cost you upwards of 200 baht, and is roughly 45 minutes each way from inside the city of Chiang Mai.

What to Keep in Mind: Because this is a temple you must respectfully keep your shoulders and knees covered. You will remove your shoes upon entering. Visit early in the morning before the crowds arrive. That early morning sun is so worth it!

2. Volunteer with Elephants

Visiting with the elephants in Thailand is a huge bucket list item for a lot of people, but it can also be a controversial one. All over Thailand you will see advertisements to ride elephants. First of all – do not do this. These elephants suffer a lot of abuse for the sake of being trained for tourists to ride them. The animals are mistreated for the sake of tourism, and they are not meant to carry humans on their back.

That being said, you can still interact with these majestic creatures in other ways. Elephant Nature Park (https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/) located in the lush jungles of northern Thailand near Chiang Mai, is a refuge for mistreated elephants. Their mission is to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries. You can volunteer your time here bathing, feeding, and cleaning up after these animals. This is one of the most popular and reputable elephant parks in Thailand and is an excellent option if you wish to interact with the elephants in a more sustainable way.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com/) is another park that boasts ethical and sustainable eco-tourism with locations in both Chiang Mai and Phuket.

How to Get There: You must book visits on the sanctuary website

What to Keep in Mind: Bring clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet. A change of clothes isn’t a bad idea! The drive to the sanctuary can be very rough and bumpy at times so if you get motion sickness make sure to pop that Dramamine ahead of time.

3. Sunset Cruise

Okay, so I say sunset cruise but what I really mean is GET OUT ON A BOAT. If you are in the Thai Gulf or the Andaman Sea you must get out on the open water. You can island hop, snorkel, and see the famously beautifully Thai sunsets (or sunrise, if you’re a morning person) from the water. I specifically booked with Krabi Sunset Cruises (http://www.krabisunsetcruises.com/) and it was one of the highlights of my trip. We sailed around on a Siamese Junk to five different islands. They provided food, we snorkeled, and after watching the sun go down we jumped back in the water to swim with the bio-luminescent plankton. Such an unreal experience.

How to Get There: Book on the website! They have pickup locations in Ao Nang and Railay.

What to Keep in Mind: Just bring sunscreen, swimming attire, and your camera.

4. Street Markets

Famous for its street food and busy labyrinth of both local and tourist-centered goods, the street markets in Thailand are can’t-miss. Bangkok has the famous floating market, but if you are in Chiang Mai check out the Saturday and Sunday walking streets, as well as the night markets.

How to get there: The Night Bazaar is located at the intersection of Tha Pae and Chang Klang Roads. The Saturday Night Market is located near Chiang Mai gate, and the Sunday Night Market is located near Tha Pae gate. There are a few different markets, so feel free to ask fellow travelers or locals for their locations and times!

What to keep in mind: Bring cash, and your best haggling skills

5. Railay Beach

This beach is touristy for a reason. It’s one of the best beaches in Krabi. If you like rock climbing, you can’t beat the views here. Railay fills the purpose of a beautiful place to float in the water and lay in the sand also. Krabi is a great place to get your salt and sand fix in Thailand, so if you find yourself wondering which of the many beaches to flock to check out Railay. Side note: If you do a little walking you can explore the penis cave. No that’s not a typo.

How to get there: I stayed in Ao Nang and took a long boat around the bay into the area were Railay Beach is located. The journey was as much fun as the destination in this case.

What to keep in mind: Bring a towel and normal beach items. I actually didn’t bring a towel to this beach but I recommend it. However, there is a resort and couple shops where you can buy any items you may forget.

 

5. Wat Rong Khun

While staying in Chiang Mai I strongly debated making the three hour journey to Chiang Rai to check out Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple. I finally decided it was something I had to see and I’m so glad that I did. This temple is just as unique as it is beautiful. At every corner there is a new strange feature. Predator? Check. Superhero figure heads hanging from a tree? Check. I won’t give away everything, walking around thinking “wtf” is half the fun of this place!

How to get there: I took the green bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. It was about a three hour travel time. Most people would probably recommend spending the night in Chiang Rai, but if you’re ambitious enough it can work as a long day trip.

What to keep in mind: Feel free to capture the unique beauty on the outside, but there are no photos allowed inside the temple.

7. Koh Phi Phi / Maya Bay

Made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, I realize that this is most likely the most popular tourist destination in maybe all of Thailand. It will be crowded. You probably won’t like it for that reason. But when I travel to the other side of the world, I like to see all of the things worth seeing whether everyone else has the same idea or not. Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful island in the Andaman Sea with all the photo worthy landscapes and seascapes you associate with visiting the Thai Islands. If you plan an off-hours or off-season visit you might be lucky enough to avoid some of the mid-day crowds.

How to get there: I took a speed boat from Ao Nang.

What to keep in mind: Crowds! There will inevitably be a lot of people.

8. Cooking Lessons

Khao Soi, a Thai noodle soup with chicken and spices

Cooking lessons are a unique option while traveling abroad. The experience starts with buying fresh ingredients at a local market and follows with a thorough lesson in cooking local dishes. You will be able to find a few different school options if you do a quick search, but check out Thai Farm Cooking School if you’re in the area of Chiang Mai and want to get out of the city for a bit.

How to get there: Most cooking schools or places that offer lessons also offer a pickup at your hostel or hotel.

What to keep in mind: Arrive hungry! And don’t make any dinner plans directly after. This may go without saying but you will leave feeling full. I also recommend leaving a full day open for this activity.

9. Diving Certification

Snorkeling at Poda

I am adding this to the list because it is the one thing I didn’t do in Thailand that I regret. If you want your diving certification, then this is one of the most cost effective and scenic destinations to get it. The island of Koh Tao, located in the Thai gulf, is one of the most popular in the world for diving. There are several choices on the island for PADI and SSI courses.

How to get there: You can take a ferry from Koh Samui for the quickest route.

What to keep in mind: You can decide to do this last minute. There are several schools on the island and there are almost always open spots. Most courses are 4 days long.

10. Local Festivals and Events

Sometimes it just so happens that when you arrive in a new city you happen to arrive during a certain festival or celebration that you had no idea was going on. I always do a trusty google search to look for a calendar of local events! When in Chiang Mai I was fortunate enough to have my visit overlap with the Flower Festival. They had plenty of events, concerts, and a parade. It was a great taste of local culture.

How to get there: Depends on the event!

What to keep in mind: As you always should while traveling, keep local culture and customs in mind while visiting and participating in events. Be mindful, respectful, and as educated as possible. Have fun!