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If you ever find yourself on Koh Lanta, you’ll see and hear plenty about a ‘four islands’ tour. You should probably book yourself a spot on one. Trust me.
We set out on a sunny Saturday, packed onto a longtail boat with a quiet French couple and two families – one with three young boys, one with two. While we didn’t quite follow the order set out in the brochure, here’s what I think happened:
- A spot of snorkelling at Koh Ma
- A swim at Koh Mook
- More snorkelling at Koh Chuak
- Lunch and a dip at Koh Ngai
Except for Koh Ngai, which is a large, resorty, sandy type spot, these little islands consist of towering rock formations sprinkled with lashings of tropical greenery. After checking out the marine life – blue fish, striped fish, earthy fish, luminous, almost glowing fish – I was content to just lie back and float, staring up at the formidable rock faces.
The absolute highlight? Island number two.
As we approached, we noticed that the other boats moored there were devoid of people, which was sort of creepy. What next?
Our guides spoke a little English, but on the whole, our communication was halting. We did manage to gather that we should don lifejackets and flippers, and that we’d be swimming through a little cave in the rocks. Awesome. Two of my worst fears combined: small dark spaces and deep water. It took me a few moments of sitting on the edge of the boat breathing deeply to take the plunge.
There really are no words to describe paddling through the ‘emerald cave‘. As soon as you enter, you’ll notice it. The water glistens green, almost glowing, in an other-worldly manner. Make your way through, marvelling at the sights, to a thunderous soundtrack of crashing waves and gasps from your fellow swimmers. Swim backwards for a little bit for a different perspective, then flip over before it narrows to just two or three abreast and turns pitch black. Try to follow the pinpoint of light from your guide’s torch. Do this without bumping into the long line of Asian tourists to the left, who seem to be making a collective noise that could either signal excitement or an attempt to spook us all with ghostly cries – all moored to a single rope, making their way out of the blackness as you plunge further in.
Eventually the pitch dark eases, and the cave opens out onto a tiny, pristine beach. It’s a picture-perfect scene that could have come straight out of The Beach. It’s fully enclosed with rocky cliffs encircling the majority of the inlet, reaching up almost as far as the eye can see, and inland, forest lurking beyond the shore. According to a sign on the beach, pirates used to hide treasures in the cave. Today, the area is part of a national park, being preserved for future generations.
My one piece of advice would be to bring a waterproof camera, or a camera in a waterproof bag – because you’ll want to take pictures, and lots of them. Or if you have a GoPro, this would be a prime time to make use of it. Not that I think anything could truly capture the essence of this untouched spot – but no harm trying.
What’s one thing you’ve done lately that’s scared you?
Tags: asia, thailand, travel
Some cheery apartments in Phra Ae Beach
When it started to drizzle one afternoon in Lanta, we welcomed the rain. It cooled the air a little, and made walking outside more bearable, since we’d just returned our tuktuk to the rental place.
Then it got serious. The sky turned ashen, it began pelting down in earnest, and we took shelter where we could find it. The roads ran orange with clay dirt. Thunder and lightning joined the party. And by the time we made it back home, it was almost dark. There we were stumbling our way through to our hut, only to find the power completely out when we got there.
Rainstorm + electricity outage = our first slightly unnerving experience.
Luckily, the power came on maybe an hour later (partway through the movie we started watching on the laptop). Cue an almost-warm shower and a much more comfortable sleep.
The view from inside our tuktuk. We ran out of gas at one point (the gauge, unsurprisingly, wasn’t working) but fortunately, we puttered to a stop right outside a petrol station. Here, you pay the attendants at the pump!
Out and about at Palm Beach resort – the second place we stayed (a bit of a downgrade from the Nakara Longbeach resort, but still nice).
Over on the east side of the island is Old Lanta town. Check out the low lying fog.
Next stop, Bangkok. Trying to organise this myself online was thoroughly flustering, but Lanta is packed with travel agents who make the whole process pretty painless. And while this might not be the case elsewhere in Thailand, they don’t seem to be out to gouge you – the prices were on par with what I’d seen on the web.
Tags: asia, thailand, travel
How did we end up at a luxury beachfront resort on Koh Lanta?
Well, we winged it basically all the way from Malaysia. We booked our sleeper train tickets on the same day, and arrived the next morning in Hat Yai, but T wasn’t feeling up to any more journeying that day.
So instead of hopping on a van to Krabi, as originally planned, we spent the night at the first guesthouse we found. The next day we made the 4-hour trip to Krabi, followed by another 2 hours to Lanta … and found ourselves a little lost. Initially, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to make it to Lanta on the same day, and thought we might have to stay overnight in Krabi. But since my international data sim card wasn’t working, once we DID know we’d be reaching the island that afternoon, there was no easy way to book a place.
The ride to Lanta was a confusing one, but a fun one, as we were seated next to a gregarious American, which helped pass the time. It ended rather abruptly, though. The driver (who spoke very little English and seemed to be laughing at us half the time, which amused us and our new bud Catalina to no end) basically booted us out at one point. This turned out to be in the middle of Phra Ae (Long Beach), which was actually a pretty good part of Lanta to be in.
May marks the start of the quietest season of the year, so finding a place wasn’t difficult. The first one we encountered – the Nakara Longbeach resort – was a little pricey, but T’s eyes lit up as we walked in. At a mere 1200 baht (about $50), much lower than the printed rate of 1900, I didn’t have the heart to say no. So for one night, we basked in luxury.
The resort was absolutely deserted, and aside from one other couple that we briefly saw, we had the entire place to ourselves. Our little villa was just steps away from the two enormous pools, and a minute away from the beach. You could step straight off the deck onto the beach, which was itself practically a private beach at that time.
The sea itself? Like stepping into a warm bath. The two pools were just as comfortable, and you can bet we jumped in immediately after unpacking and blissed out.
Set down a long, wide, private driveway, the Nakara really is a prime piece of property. As I understand, it was recently refurbished, and the villas are absolutely luxurious. Spotless wooden floors, bathrobe and lockable safe, a luxurious bathroom with pebbled floor and both a wall and rooftop shower head … there really is nothing more you could ask for. It also seems to be staffed by perpetually smiley workers – the girl who came out to help us figure out how to work the air con was literally skipping and singing to herself.
A good start to our Koh Lanta adventures, all around.
Tags: asia, thailand, travel
I’d hoped to be spending a lot less per day right now (like $50 or under a day). But a couple of things are making this difficult:
I’m loving the fact that I can breathe freely in the Asian heat. Clear airways are a wonderful thing. (My skin doesn’t like the temperatures quite as much, though.) On the other hand, the heat here is making my poor husband a bit of a sad sack. I’d be fine in a fan room (and we stayed in a fan room on our first night in Thailand) but for his sake we’re seeking out rooms with air conditioning – which basically doubles the price.
Again, I’m in my element here. Him? Not so much. He’s not used to the food (we eat a lot of Asian at home, but not for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and is wary of street stalls (sigh). He misses steak and burgers and dairy products. And while at home he swings between eating hardly anything at all (most days) or eating everything in sight, while in Asia it’s been a case of the latter constantly. Nothing keeps him full. That said, I’m glad he’s getting into some sort of regular eating routine.
Everything is still crazy cheap by Western standards, but we’re on a tight budget.
Tags: money, travel
I definitely knew we weren’t in
Kansas/Auckland any more when I was woken by the early morning Muslim prayer call.
A heady mix of the familiar and the new would be the best way to sum up KL. Sights and sounds long forgotten, but instantly recalled. Navigating the footpaths, cracked tiles, grates over open drains, and all. The underlying scent of sewage. Solid retro fire hydrants. The curious juxtaposition of all this against the high tech digital billboards, endless shopping (malls after malls after malls!) and other trappings of a cosmopolitan city on a whole different scale than what we’re used to. I veered between feeling like a total hick (e.g. attempting to figure out the monorail) and marvelling at the lack of certain basics (no GPS in taxis? Whaaaat?).
It’s been more of a shock for T, bless, who’s soldiering on despite:
- The heat. Our first order upon arrival was to seek refuge inside an air-conditioned mall, but as we learned, things don’t open till 10 or later, and finding your way out of the currently-being-refurbished Sungei Wang plaza is a hell of a lot harder than it might seem.
- The unfamiliar food. He’s reasonably used to Malaysian, but not for 3 meals a day. I would happily wander around at length, eating only street food, but comfort/hygiene concerns on his part are curtailing me a little bit. Where he sees a disease-ridden hawker stall, I see good, real, cheap food. Having been here before, that kind of thing is not that jarring for me.
“Is that a prison?” he asked of the first big building we passed. “Erm, that’s a school,” I said. True story.
Our four days passed in a bit of a whirlwind, meeting up with an old friend, a fellow blogger (again, thank you for showing us Putrajaya – see above – it was fantastic), some family, and my godmother/former neighbour. The latter was probably the most emotional. Physically, somehow the terraced row of houses looked smaller than I remembered; the entire street itself felt somewhat cramped. While some of the roads were familiar (I sometimes dream about those streets) the area, like any other, keeps getting built up further and expanding.
One common thread that comes through very strongly is the importance of politics. Elections were held just a week before we arrived, and is still the topic on everyone’s lips. Friends and family all brought up the fact that my parents emigrated to give us a “better life”, but speak of hope for the future, a more equal, democratic, peaceful one.
Aside from a couple of monorail trips, we mainly got around on foot, with rides from others (in particular from my friend, who deftly navigated the cavernous carparks and chaotic traffic like a pro – driving on these roads would probably send me into a catatonic state in no time) and via taxi. Oh, the taxis. Cabbies in KL are meant to be among the worst in the world. While I still have a tiny bit of Malay, my knowledge extends to, say, counting to 10, or simple words like hot/cold (panas/sejuk), which, combined with my NZ accent, made us prime targets for taxi rip-offs. As long as you get either a) prepaid taxi coupons or b) a taxi that uses its meter, you’ll be okay.
Next stop: Thailand. We haven’t been vigilant about avoiding ice while in KL, but we will from now. (I seriously hate paying for bottled water, but it’s a necessary evil.)
One other thing we haven’t been vigilant about? Tracking money. It’s been a little wacky as we’ve bought a couple of things and what with the meeting up with so many people (I feel sorry for T, being dragged around to meet all of them, which isn’t the most relaxing) but from now it’ll be about sticking to a budget (this is where blogging should help!) and taking things a bit slower as we (hopefully) settle into a little bit of a routine.
Tags: asia, malaysia, travel
Why hello there!
Things have been a little nuts over the past few days. We’re in Kuala Lumpur and will be until at least tomorrow.
Consider this a wee check-in to assure we’re alive, that we haven’t killed each other yet, and that a meatier post will be forthcoming.
Gosh, time flies. At this rate, six months will be over in a flash. As T just pointed out, we’ve been married a week today. Speaking of which, I’m finally able to share a couple of photos. Here you go.
I honestly don’t think this is going to feel real for some time yet.
I guess that’s what happens when you embark on something you’ve never done before, and thus simply can’t fathom.
A new chapter
I’ve always admired and envied the likes of Teacher Finance and Newlyweds on a Budget for their ability to stick to personal finance topics so tightly (I read almost every post on those blogs and shake my fist in disappointment that I didn’t write it first)
But that’s never been me.
This wee blog is evolving and it’s going to chronicle this new chapter, because writing isn’t just a hobby, it’s an essential part of my life.
I’m talking everything from narratives to practical advice and tips to posts where I’ll evaluate and share travel resources. Shoot me questions and ideas! Anything you’d like to hear about, I’ll try to cover. And I’m hoping to also do a few more interviews/features here on the blog – maybe with other long-term travellers, digital nomads, or Kiwis living overseas (as my posts on the differences in life in NZ always garner so much interest).
What kinds would you like to read?
Tags: blogging, reflections, travel
Imagine pretty photos here. I’m restricted to mobile devices at the moment, so typing is tough enough, and doing anything with pictures nigh on impossible…
I want to talk honestly about the journey to this point. Specifically, I want to talk about expectations, disappointment, reality.
The whole dialogue around engagements, weddings, and marriage is imbued with notions of magic and happiness. Life, however, is far more complex and sometimes uglier. As humans, our dreams often don’t quite match up. Relationships are messy. When money and other people and popular culture and expectations become involved, there are bound to be moments far less than ecstatic. And that’s normal.
For one, I didn’t love my engagement ring. I didn’t even particularly LIKE it at first. It’s a family ring that has untold emotional value, very old-fashioned, and for a long time it looked as if I wouldn’t even be able to wear it, as we couldn’t find anyone who could resize it to the extent I needed. As I was about to give up, though, I found a boutique jeweller who took on the task with aplomb, and started wearing it.
You know what? It grew on me. It’s gold, and old, but has a lovely silver filigree, and the three-stone bridge is super cool and has an awesome side profile. I love that it’s unique, and that it has so much history and meaning.
You might remember how I agonised over whether to have a bridal party at all, and if so, who should be in it.
I’m glad I did ask my girlfriends to be part of it (even if only one ended up being able to come), and I’m glad I also asked two of my guy friends to be bridesmen. Friday was girls’ night (my first mani/pedi ever) and Saturday boys’ night (food, food, and more food), and instead of doing my own makeup I was powdered, lined, and curled by friends in the morning. It was a ton more than I would have worn on my own, but it looked good in pictures, I think…!
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but I have no regrets.
Sweating the small stuff
Despite being very certain about the kinds of things I did and didn’t want at this wedding (e.g. not to be ‘given away’, because I’m a person, not chattel; or no decor, because I’m missing the gene that enables me to fuss over frippery) as the day got closer, every little thing started to weigh on my mind. Would I be judged for having cheap table covers/no centrepieces/no fancy vehicle/a kickass shabby-chic rustic reception nook that is about as far from a typical pristine wedding venue as possible? OH, THE DOUBTS.
Do you want to know what nearly broke the camel’s back? Flowers. Yes, fucking flowers. Everyone was on my case about flowers; apparently not having flowers is un-wedding like and absolutely unthinkable. I do not like hewing to tradition for tradition’s sake, but it got to the point that I asked a coworker – who edits a bridal magazine – for ideas. She had some great ideas for alternatives, but assured me I didn’t have to carry anything if I didn’t want to.
In the end, I did the flower thing, though ended up ditching my bouquet over a bridge toward the end of our couples photos. Speaking of which, I’m hoping there were a handful of good ones. This face was not made to smile. I reserve the right to exercise bitchface for the rest of the month to make up for it.
Our proposal story isn’t anything incredible. There is no grand gesture here – no tale of an elaborate operation designed to broadcast a proposal upon descent from a skydive. Just us, doing something we love (travelling for a music festival), in the privacy of the bathroom of a Wellington B&B. It’s a story we are both more than happy with, but there was definitely a slight twinge flavoured with a hint of envy whenever I heard about other people’s epic proposals, despite knowing how embarrassed I would be in such a situation.
And despite being one of the first couples we know to get engaged, we were beaten to the altar by a few others. I wanted a long engagement, but yeah, I felt a little usurped at times. On one hand, I was glad to NOT be the first to actually tie the knot. On the other, I worried that those other weddings set a standard that we wouldn’t measure up to.
The most heart-stopping part of all came less than two months before the big day.
There’s nothing harder than hearing someone you love voice soul-shattering doubts about the way forward. It cuts to the bone.
It’s doubly hard when that person has always been the one who loved more, the one who pursued you, the one who pushed for marriage, the one who patiently waited for you to catch up. When, after several years, you’ve finally reached the stage where you feel ready to take the leap, to hear that person retreating. To watch the tissues pile up in the middle of the bed, to put aside your own feelings, to try to determine whether that fear is simply cold feet or stemming from a much deeper problem that you didn’t realise existed. To envision a million alternate paths for your life in the silent spaces between words.
No matter how busy you are and how happy you think you might be, pre-marital counselling is probably a damn good idea.
With all that said …
I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a cracking time overall on Sunday.
I mean, I did not have high hopes to start with. Saturday dawned bright and clear, then dissolved into some serious rainstorms by mid-morning, with forecasts for more of the same until Monday. Things looked amazing on Sunday morning – I was overheating on the way to the venue – but by the time we arrived, a sullen grey drizzle set in. Yet, unbelievably, it more or less cleared by the time we started, stayed sunny throughout photos, and didn’t return to hardcore rain until later on (it hailed at one point after we left).
Nothing went too badly wrong: everyone managed to find the place; I got to see a few people I hadn’t seen in months; friends mended a rift in the course of the afternoon; nobody got out of control; I didn’t cry or suffer dire hayfever symptoms; I only caught my feet in my dress a handful of times (another one of those things I gave in on – having a little bit of a tail on it).
It was by no means perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be. As everyone told me: “Enjoy it while you can – it goes so fast.”
Most of all, I’ve been so surprised – and so touched – by the support and generosity of others. I’m so grateful to everyone I know, from those who helped pull things together to those who sent messages from afar and yes, even you, internet friends, who liked my Instagram pics/favourited my tweets/sent good wishes.
There might even be a tear in my eye as I write this. What a sap.
Tags: marriage, reflections, relationships, wedding
When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine ever getting married. I was adamant I was going to be a spinster all my life – a word that didn’t yet have the connotations to me that it does now - because I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my life with one person, or (the horror!) kissing somebody in front of my parents.
You know what? I still can’t, but I guess a wedding is a good enough excuse.
My parents first officially met T when they took me out to dinner shortly after graduation. We’d been together over four years, and I was petrified. So was he. But it went as well as either of us could have expected.
(How do you get to be 21, and in a serious long term relationship, and not meet your girlfriend’s parents until then? Here’s one word: Asian. T is everything they’re not. He’s from a different world entirely in pretty much every aspect. Then again, I’m not quite the daughter they hoped for, although I think they’re happy enough with how I turned out. But despite all that, their opinion DOES matter to me, and I wanted them to like him. I was hoping that we could at least all get along, if nothing else.)
I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m with someone who’s not afraid of commitment. In fact, he wanted marriage sooner rather than later. I always found it frustrating that everything written about relationships on the internet features a woman who wants to get married and a reluctant male. Where were the women who weren’t so sure, with partners ready to commit? I had nobody to relate to.
As a chronically indecisive person, an over-thinker, a second-guesser, I’ve asked myself many times about this. We’re still really young. How do I know this is the right time? The right move? What if, what if, what if?
Nothing is guaranteed in life (except death and taxes, yadda yadda). The degree of risk may vary, but ultimately, everything is a gamble. In taking this leap, I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I think that I am as certain as I could possibly be.
When doubts start clouding over my sky, I remember one crucial point: I could never – no matter how hard I tried – picture a long-term future down the track in my last relationship. This time, I can.
Tags: reflections, relationships, wedding
I’m not going to have a final total for a few more days (heck, probably not until the day itself), but now is probably as good a time as any to check in.
Here’s what has been spent/is projected to be spent. As a refresher, this is for a casual 40-person BYO bash.
- Dress – $300 (made by T’s mother)
- Shoes – $30 (which I will probably get tomorrow)
- Makeup – $0 (used a gift card to buy new eyeliner + lippy)
- Flower girls’ dresses – $175 (this actually includes a few table covers, which were bought in the same transaction)
- Suits for groom and his entourage – $725
- Rings – $365 (though I didn’t actually end up liking mine, so will be just using my engagement ring)
- Marriage licence – $123
- Celebrant – $300
- Venue -$322
- Flowers – $135 (I’ve given in and ordered some bouquets online, so I have the option on the day. I think this is one of those battles where principle < hassle)
- Photography – $1000
- Catering (Malaysian food) – $775
- Catering (Euro side, homemade) – estimating about $300
- Cake (3x cheesecakes – sadly the Cheesecake Shop does not do giant cheesecakes) – $100
- Miscellany such as napkins, disposable plates, cups, juice, etc – $100? Not sure… T’s mother is, thankfully, overseeing operations for us
- Hotel – $185
So with any luck, we’ll squeak in at just under $5000.
Budget aside, I’m starting to freak out. While I really love all the choices made so far (except, maybe, the table covers we got, which are a bit rubbery and weird feeling – I wonder if I can find some nicer fabric coverings for cheap?) I’m starting to worry that I’m going to get judged for them.
I didn’t want a tall, elaborate cake – I wanted the kind of cake that I would fight you to the death over for the last piece.
I wanted to feel like myself on the day, so I’m literally doing my own makeup and not doing anything special with my hair.
I wanted a mix of cuisines, from my favourite dishes from my birth country to T’s mother’s potato salad, even if the end result may be a little wacky and incoherent.
I wanted a venue with character in spades, and I love the raw, grungy former wine cellar that’ll house our reception lunch (it even has GATES!) though I know most people probably won’t get it and may well think it’s less grotto, more grotty.
If I really dig into all this, I think what it comes down to is the fact that this event is ALL ME. That photo up top? It basically represents the polar opposite of this wedding. I’ve picked out things I like and eliminated things I don’t. In many ways, it’s going to be a a bit of an anti-wedding (a lazy girl wedding?) and I’m just not sure everyone is going to appreciate that. And if they don’t, well, then they’re basically passing judgement on me by default.
Tags: money, wedding