The Rayavadee

I have always loved travel and exploring new places and now with trip advisor and Pinterest and Buzzfeed posting travel articles constantly I am falling in love everyday with new places. I have seen pictures of the Rayavadee on Buzzfeed’s list of top hotels and places to stay out before you die (http://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/21-incredible-places-you-must-stay-in-before-you-die) and all over Pinterest and voted as a top hotel in Thailand. I guess you could say I became a little bit obsessed with this place.

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Matt and I had decided with our original plan that we would visit Krabi and stay on Railay beach, but the hotel selections were shitty compared to the Rayavadee. Long story short while in Koh Phangan we were able to snag a room at the lowest rate possible and I couldn’t be more excited.IMG_3491

From the second we stepped off the plane until the second we boarded our next plane, the Rayavadee treated us like Kings and Queens.  We had a private car take us to a private boat lined with white leather couches, air-conditioned and endless amounts of water to drive up to the hotel’s lobby. While checking in we were given a welcome drink, flowers, cool towels and a map of the hotel property.IMG_3156 We were taken by golf cart over to our room situated in a private cove close to the pool and Railay beach. The room was the largest room I have ever stayed in. It was two stories with a couch, chairs, desk, big screen TV, fruit, mini-bar and bathroom downstairs with the bedroom and second bathroom upstairs.

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We were given a complimentary bottle of Champaign upon arrival with an endless amount of fresh fruit and water. We quickly jumped into our bathing suits and explored the grounds of the hotel.IMG_3251The Rayavadee has property on three beaches, Railay beach, which can be reached only by boats but has other hotels on the property as well, Pranang beach (translates to Princess beach), which only the Rayavadee has property on and a third beach where the boats come to pick us up.
We felt like we were in a luxurious forest with tall trees, large ponds filled with catfish floating around and white traditional Thai flowers decorated the outsides. The tree trunks in the lobby and restaurant that served breakfast were carved with beautiful designs. Every detail of the hotel was beautiful.

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The best part of the property was the resident monkeys who made the Rayavadee their natural home and climbed throughout the trees above. IMG_3381One morning we woke up to a family of monkeys climbing all over our roof, windows, doors and trees surrounding our room. The gray monkeys surrounding our room were harmless but curious and loved coming up to our windows andIMG_3215looking in. The brown monkeys that lined the beaches were aggressive and we watched them open up peoples bag, find food and take it out.

Our first night at the Rayavadee we made a reservation to eat at the Thai restaurant perched on the beach next to the cliffs. We went to bed in the clean fluffy room and struggled for a little while to figure out how to turn off all the lights. We woke up hungry again and ready to indulge in the breakfast buffet that was complimentary as part of our reservation. The buffet was made for a queen filled with endless selections of bread, cheese, yogurts, fruits, cereals, Thai dishes and more. We were able to order any breakfast item we wanted or even Asian dishes to indulge in made fresh to order. When we felt like we couldn’t eat anymore we dove into the ocean. Railay beach was very unique as the ocean is a tinted green color filled with silky sand and tall towering cliffs on each side.

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We decided to join the complimentary activity of the day and ventured across the beach to climb through one of the cliffs in search of bats and viewpoints. After climbing ladders in the dark with flashlights on our heads we found a few bats sleeping above us and flying around. The cave was decorated with green, white and brown limestone ice cycles. It was an adventure to be had and the climbs were tough but the views over looking the beach were worth it.

That night we had a date night in the famous grotto restaurant. The restaurant is inside a cave with cascading limestone down on the beach over looking the sunset – it is one of the most incredible restaurants and views I have ever seen. IMG_3643The sunset was even more colorful than Koh Tao and spread across the sky with bright pink and orange hues. I could have sat there all day watching the sunset. Matt and I shared king prawns and a spicy seafood udon noodle dish that we requested they make as spicy as possible. The dish made Matt sweat but he couldn’t stop eating it. No amount of wine could cool him down but ill give it to him, he never stopped no matter how sweaty he got. Our waiter even brought over some extra cool towels for us.

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The next day we headed off on a boat tour with the hotel to check out the islands neighboring Railay Beach. We knew we wanted to see Phi Phi Island but most of the options we were given from the tourist stands on the beach had awful reviews on trip advisor and we were really concerned to give them a try. We decided to spend a little extra money and went on the tour that the Rayavadee offered and we were not disappointed. We had a private boat where we were able to sit on the boa outside and shared the experience with one other Belgium couple. On our way to Phi Phi Island we passed tons of small mounds climbing out of the water forming cliffs the views were incredible.

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Our first stop was at a snorkel spot where we saw tons of bright colored friendly fish swimming about and huge coral reefs. We continued cruising along looking at the bright blue crystal clear water and were amazed at every tall mound we saw. We continued on until we approached an entire row of cliffs and mounds with the brightest crystal clear water I have ever seen. IMG_3477As we got closer I realized that we were at Maya Bay, where the movie the beach was filmed and said to be the most beautiful beach in the world. It was beautiful all right but it was also the most crowded place I have ever seen with boats lined up and the beach covered in people – we were told that it actually wasn’t that busy and it usually gets even busier. We grabbed a few pictures from the boat and made our way over to Phi Phi Islands. We were able to jump off the boat and snorkel except other boats packed with people like sardines surrounded us. At one island they scared a turtle into his cave but our guide was able to take Matt down with him and they got a pretty awesome view of the sleeping turtle that crawled inside the cave afraid. On our way back we were taken to a private section of bamboo island we were given a delicious homemade lunch with enough food to feed an army. IMG_3450We were able to swim in the crystal clear water alone without anyone around us, it was peaceful and we just listened to the waves crashing and watched the boats pass by. The Phi Phi Islands were beautiful and we had a perfect day on our trip but packed with people and so touristy that we were happy we had decided not to stay there.

It was our last night at the Rayavadee so we dressed up, ordered a bottle of wine and ate as much food as we could as we sat inside a cave overlooking the ocean. Every meal we ate here got better and better, even the bread was incredible.

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Leaving the Rayavadee I cried, it was such a special experience I knew I might never get to have again. The service was impeccable; they knew us by name and room number the entire time. We are young and they could have easily dismissed us and paid us no attention but they didn’t do that. We felt cared about by a resort in a way I have never experienced. They laid out our towels before we sat down in our chairs, placed slippers by our bed, made us a bath filled with flowers and even put cookies next to our bedside. We waved goodbye to our new friends standing on the beach as our boat sailed away and we were headed to our last new stop in Northern Thailand.

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Koh Tao

Getting off of Koh Phangan was a nightmare packed with hung over and exhausted backpackers looking to get off of the island. We had to put our bags on the top of the ferry because the regular compartment filled up and there was nowhere to place our luggage. We were over an hour late once we got off of the ferry and the entire trip was only supposed to take an hour. We sat in the bottom of the boat and fought to get off the ferry shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of irritated people and a screaming hot sun – not a good combination. Matt and I both felt terrible and needed to get to the hotel but when we got off the ferry our driver to our ferry was nowhere to be found so we had to negotiate with a regular taxi to take us up to our hotel. In Thailand everything is a negotiation and the first place they give you is always too much.

After all this we were highly stressed, but then a little French bulldog puppy came out from behind the reception desk at the Aminjirah and all of my frustration melted away as soon as the little puppy climbed into my lap.IMG_2896 The staff was wonderful and apologized right away saying that the guy couldn’t find us and offered to take the 300 baht off of our bill. To me that is great customer service and I have learned very quickly that is the greatest value of any hotel or restaurant to me is customer service.

We walked into our Thai style room and went straight out to the balcony overlooking the infinity pool, tall cliffs and ocean covered in big rocks below – it was breathtaking. The views in person shattered what we had seen on their website. Above our room was the dining area and a second pool that had views all the way past Sairee Beach to the south, and the tip of Koh Nang Yuan was visible to the north along the shoreline. We spent the remaining hours of sunlight capturing the views from both pools and relaxing in the lounge chairs. As the sun went down the sky was painted with bright red, orange and pink and the wispy thin clouds allowed all of the color to shine through. Once it was dark we ate dinner in the upstairs outdoor balcony restaurant with the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks down below us. Matt and I decided to try something new and ordered chicken with basil; ground chicken stir-fried with Thai basil and chilies giving a normal traditional dish a kick. We also can’t get enough noodle dishes so we ordered pad Thai that was served to us in a banana leaf giving it extra flavor.

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After a long relaxing sleep we woke up a beautiful sunny day hungry. Lucky for us the Aminjirah had a giant breakfast buffet including authentic Thai dishes and made to order eggs that helped us fill up.DCIM101GOPRODuring day 2 we planned on just relaxing by the pool and not leave the hotel, but we could see a sliver of the beach along Koh Nang Yuan from the upper pool, and had seen countless pictures of the small islands beforehand, so we decided to make a quick daytrip out there to snorkel and relax. It proved to be an excellent decision.

We arranged for a longboat, a traditional Thai wooden boat, IMG_3141 to take us out to the beach, and spent about three hours walking around the island and snorkeling in their coral reef section named the “Japanese Gardens”. There was a small hike/walkway that took you to the top of one of the islands, and gave you a view of the three tiny islands connected by a skinny narrow beach down below. We had seen pictures from this point many times before, but we were still amazed when we climbed up to the last rock and saw what lay below us.

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Once we got back to the island we were starving and craving my favorite Thai dish Pad See Ew so we decided to go on a hunt in search of this noodle dish.IMG_3139 We got off of the long boat on Sairee beach and walked along in the crystal clear water and soft velvety sand until we came upon a restaurant laying on the sands edge with cushions on the ground over looking the ocean. We grabbed a table in the front on the cushions and quickly ordered a plate of assorted appetizers including spring rolls, fish cakes, onion rings and chicken wings and big drinks and waited for the sun to start to go down. Once again the sunset was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, this time with more yellow and orange hints and our view with the longboats in front of us just made it sink in even more that we were in Thailand. That might sound silly but so much of the trip has gone so quickly that sometimes it doesn’t feel real.

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After the sun had set we paid our $8 check and walked along the beach in search of our noodles. The small island of Koh Tao has an authentic Thai town exploding with local stores, banana pancake stands and restaurants. We grabbed a seat atop of a bench sitting cross-legged on a cushion at a local spot called Big Sis and devoured the noodle dish after covering it in chilies. We continued to walk across the town with a banana pancake in hand checking out all the hand made souvenirs and clothes covered in elephants. We only had one more full day on the island but we knew we wanted to come back the next morning to buy more and that’s exactly what we did. From ray bans to handbags to shirts we shopped until we thought we had spent enough that was about $25, the exchange rate has been in our favor.

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Leaving the Aminjirah was hard, especially at 5 a.m. when we were exhausted. The hotel was a relaxing place of tranquility with all of the views and pools. This time our ferry experience was a lot more organized and faster since we paid about $10 more, I wish I knew that the whole trip how much better of an option that was. My heat rash was still acting up and I wasn’t my feeling was my best so I slept the entire time including sitting on Matt’s lap in the airport waiting lounge but once we got off the airport we were about to entire heaven.

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The Full Moon Party

The countdown had ended and the day had finally arrived, it was the Full Moon Party. We knew that the main festivities wouldn’t get going until after midnight, so we did our best to recover and relax all day and enjoy the calm before the storm. We made plans to meet a few of our new traveler friends at the hostel restaurant around 9:00 for some dinner and drinks, and then rolled right into the pregame for the beach party.

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We bought a few small bottles of fluorescent paint and did our best to copy some of the cool designs we saw other people painting on their arms and faces.

IMG_2796Troung was a really talented artist and had painted a beautiful dream catcher on Natalie’s leg so I had him draw some squiggles on my arm as well. Haad Rin beach would be covered in backlights and bright colors, so decorating yourselves in fluorescent paints is something everyone does along the beach.

Around 12 ish we decided to leave our hostel and begin the 20-minute walk down to Haad Rin beach, or “Sunrise beach”. While we felt relatively comfortable drinking the bucket style drinks at the smaller parties and pregames before tonight, we were skeptical of having an open bucket around the thousands of people we knew would be there tonight. My best friend Dani had a bad experience with it when she went to Thailand so we chose to be extra cautious.IMG_2761While most of our friends stuck with buckets, we bought a small bottle of vodka and a bottle of sprite and made our own mixed drinks for the night. It was a slight money saver, and made it much easier to navigate the big crowds.

As we got closer and closer to sunrise beach the crowds began to grow before our eyes. Just yesterday these streets had maybe a handful of people walking down them. Now, there were mobs of people shoulder to shoulder as far downhill as we could see. We were all being funneled towards one group of tables where we had to pay our 100 baht ($3) entrance fee. Once we had made it through the entrance the beach opened up before us.

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To our left and right were an endless amount of stages and bar’s spilling into the beaches and down towards the ocean. The crowd was thick towards the middle where there were people shoulder to shoulder from the beachside bars all the way down to the water. We craned our necks and could see that these crowds thinned out towards the two ends of the beach.

There were around 10-15 distinct bars or performance areas, and each one was playing a different style of music. We slowly worked our way down the beach, making sure to stop and soak in everything we could from each place before moving to the next. There were dance floors, two story slides down to the beach, food stands, fire shows, and Matt’s personal favorite: the fire jump.

The largest crowd around one specific act was probably the fire jump. There were two platforms that a few guys were swinging a huge gasoline soaked jump rope set on fire, and a giant group of people around taking turns jumping in and seeing how long they could jump the rope before someone got hit. IMG_2844Usually two to four people would jump in at once and make it around 5-10 jumps before someone got hit in the ankle or shoulder, which would send the other jumpers running back into the crowd. I begged Matt not to try it since the only way the rope stopped was when someone got hit, but of course he insisted and jumped in when I turned my back to talk to someone else. I have to say he was very impressive. He was jumping high with his knees tucked up to his chin and although he had his go pro in his hand he did a great job of focusing and luckily not getting hit. Once the guy next to him got hit the rope stopped and Matt came back over I was able to breathe again and I think my heart started working again. He ended up doing this a second time where they lasted around 15 seconds before someone else got hit by the rope, and Matt came jumping back into the crowd.

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We continued venturing down to the beach and made it to the very end to a restaurant/bar called The Rocks, where we had eaten dinner our first night on the island. It is high up above the beach and has the perfect view looking down the entire length of the beach. Matt, Natalie, Truong and I went up to cash in our free drink tickets and loved the view. IMG_2854You could see the entire beach lit up with bright lights and a sea of people all down below us. We grabbed a couple of really awesome pictures before climbing back down to the beach to dance with the rest of group. We quickly checked our phones to see it was around 4:45 in the morning… where had the time gone?

We grabbed a snack on the beach and found some benches where we could all sit for a few minutes before going back into the crowd. I barely had noticed how crazy some of the people around us were. Girls were half naked dancing on tables or stumbling everywhere, people were puking in the ocean or just passed out in the sand and some people were just making out – it was a great seat to people watch.

We found a seat in the smooth sand far enough back that we didn’t get wet from the ocean or the pukers, but close enough that nobody obstructed our view. We were ready for the sunrise and around 6:30 the sky was painted with cotton candy colors and opened up to give us a beautiful view. IMG_2881
The sunrises here are like nothing I have ever seen before. The red, pink, orange and bright blue colors expand across the entire sky and blend so perfectly together. Once we watched the full sunrise and realized our heads were ringing and competing with which music to listen to we got up and walked back to our jail cell accommodations. We were ready to head to our next island – Koh Tao!

Same Same But Different

After a long boat ride filled with young kids backpacking like ourselves we had arrived in Koh Phangan. Immediately hopping off the boat we were given half a dozen drink special flyers and could see the vibrant bar scene all along the beach. We piled onto the back of a pick-up truck with about 10 other travelers and took off for the hostel we were staying at. Coral Bungalows… oh what a place.IMG_2698The room was a jail cell with thick black metal bars barricading the windows, two thin sheets as a blanket and one little pillow. The bathroom consisted of a dirty toilet, sink and shower head over the toilet. The pools and restaurant were lined with drunken college kids and it felt like Spring Break all over again except we were missing all of our friends.

We quickly dropped our bags off, grabbed a drink and headed downtown for dinner. We made our way to a restaurant called The Rocks up on the hills over looking the ocean and sunrise beach. We ordered spring rolls, pad Thai, chicken with cashew nuts and each got a drink for a total of $8 American bucks and the food was actually pretty good, talk about a steal!

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Once we arrived back at our hotel it was time for the famous Coral Bungalows pool party. We didn’t know what to expect so in college fashion we just wanted to drink – fast. The popular drinks here were called buckets.

IMG_0768You would chose your chaser and alcohol and they would mix it all together with a red bull and give you a few straws in a bright colorful bucket, like you would use to build sand castles as a kid. These buckets cost us about $3 and were enough for us to drink for most of the night. The party didn’t start until about midnight but it quickly became packed with people and the pool was full. We made friends with a guy in a Yankee cap (who was actually from Brooklyn) and spent most of our night hanging out with his new group of international friends.IMG_2761 All travelers are exceptionally nice because they all want to make friends and we truly enjoyed making friends from around the world, and a few from home as well.

We called it quits relatively early and headed to bed. I woke up pretty sick with a rash all over my arms; I was terrified that it was bed bugs. We spoke with reception, and as expected they didn’t help. They moved our room and that was the end of it. Luckily after a few days and a visit to a local nurse we found out that I had a heat rash and some sun poisoning.

Although my mom thinks I am a princess, Coral Bungalows wasn’t up to anyone’s standards and I couldn’t wait until we left. It was a nice relief on our second day that we were scheduled on a day tour of An Thong National Marine Park with Orion tours. Our boat was three levels, and had around 30 people on board. We were able to sun bathe on the top deck in between each stop and made some more friends from Spain, Egypt, England and Israel. I tried hard to speak in Spanish with the guys from Valencia but I think their English was a lot better than my Spanish.

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The marine park consisted of around forty islands clustered together. Our boat took us through them and stopped for breaks to snorkel, hike to lagoons, kayak around the cliff edges, and climb small mountains to hidden viewpoints.DCIM100GOPRO Our kayaking tour led us through small caves to a tiny secluded beach. From here we hiked up steep staircases in our bare feet to reach the top where we overlooked a huge emerald green lagoon. The lagoon was beautiful and we climbed down vertical staircases slowly to get a better look at the pristine lake. You are not allowed to swim in the lagoon, which I’m sure is the reason why they are able to maintain its green glow.

Towards of the end of the trip the sky started to darken, telling us that our beautiful sunshine was soon going to be replaced. I had seen pictures and it looked beautiful looking over all the tiny islands in one big cluster, but I severely under estimated the hike up. We were not hiking, we were rock climbing. I was on all fours lifting my self up the rocks and pulling against the rope for about 30 minutes to get to the top. The climb was steep and everyone was dripping with sweat at the top.IMG_2723Unfortunately about 5 minutes before we reached the top the rain started coming down hard. We were allowed to continue our hike to see the cloudy viewpoint (so disappointing) but I wished I had turned around earlier because the muddy, slippery hike down was extremely difficult and took us almost an hour. We were slipping and sliding everywhere but laughing because we were having a good time. Once we reached the bottom we were drenched in sweat and rain and covered in mud so we decided to run into the ocean. The ocean water was warmer than the air and it felt great, it was hard to get out to get back on the boat and go home.

That night we got home, showered, ate some average (but free) pad Thai from our hostel, and got ready for the jungle party. We had no idea what to expect but had heard that it was the party everyone goes to. We ordered some more buckets and quickly made friends with three Germans, three English and an Irish girl who became our group for the rest of our time in Koh Phangan.IMG_2762Natalie and Truong were a German couple traveling with their roommate Tobias. They met Claire, a light hearted English girl, on an over night train while she was traveling with a friend Manassh. They made friends with two English guys and an Irish girl named Orla. They became our group and we stayed together until we left the island watching each other’s backs and having fun dancing together.

We played a game or two of beer pong, drank a few buckets and headed off to the Jungle Party. We were literally driven into the jungle and dropped off to find hundreds of people there.IMG_2769The jungle was massive with multiple stands to buy buckets, food, and a DJ on a giant stage inside of a gold embroidered tiger head. We felt like we were at a rave with all of the bright lights and music so loud it was still ringing in our ears in the morning. We watched a show with a fearless guy spinning fire sticks in the air and even putting them out in his mouth. We drank some more, danced, paid to use the bathroom and explored the venue until about 4:30 a.m. when we all decided to head back.

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles … & Ferries

We woke up in beautiful sunny New Zealand on September 23, sad to leave but excited for the next stop. We had a quick flight into Sydney and landed around 3 p.m. but didn’t arrive in our hotel until closer to 5:30 because of customs and baggage claim. I still don’t understand how I can be so tired after just sitting for hours, but the stress and lines continue to add to the exhaustion.

We looked into taking the train or bus into the city, but after some confusion we ended up settling on a taxi. With only a few hours left in Australia, it was worth the step up in price to save time.

This was our third time in Sydney now (6th night), so we felt like we were back home as we navigated from the hotel down into the city center. We found our way IMG_2575to the harbor bridge entrance and walked across.

It was a faster and cheaper way to explore the harbor bridge views instead of the famous bridge climb that would set you back a few hundred bucks. After the walk we went back to a recommended pub called the Gilmore and had a great view of the harbor and opera house while indulging in some flaky fish and chips.

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From here we went back into the harbor for an even better view, and had a few drinks at the Sydney Opera House bar. We soaked in the scenery for an hour or two, until the rain finally caught up to us. Luckily we were under an umbrella so we weren’t too affected but we took that as our sign to call it a night. We took two trains and walked about 10 minutes to get back to our beds and fall asleep ready for a new form of transportation tomorrow.

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Waking up at 5 a.m. is tough; the sky is still dark and your eyes keep asking to close and go back to sleep. Since we had already flown internationally from the Sydney airport we knew to expect a lot of crowds and a lot of lines so we made sure to get there extra early. After an hour long shuttle and about 2 hours between check in and customs we were finally at our gate ready for the 10-hour flight to Bangkok.

Our flight was delayed and took extra time to board and extra time to take off. I was very stressed the entire flight and couldn’t sleep because once we landed in Bangkok we had about 3 hours to get out of the airport and on to an over night train taking us to Koh Samui. I tried hard to close my eyes and rest but every time I did my heart pounded. What if we missed the train? How do we even get to the train? I had a million questions running through my head, none of them would be answered until we were on the train.

As soon as the plane landed we rushed off and pretty much ran to customs. We waited for our baggage that was one of the last to be dispensed and asked a local for advice, but we still couldn’t totally figure out his directions so we decided taking a cab was best. Our cab driver didn’t speak a word of English and nobody around us did either, which was very frustrating for everyone involved. We couldn’t say the name of the train station correctly and were in such a rush that we were panicked. Thankfully I bought a plan for my phone to work internationally and Google saved the day.

We were off and had less than 2 hours until the last train left and we still didn’t have a ticket. We knew the ride to the train station would be at least an hour long at this time of day, but were paranoid that one bad accident or closed road could be all it took to kill our plan. It was one of the most nerve-racking rides ever. We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and me being a control freak didn’t handle it well. Language barriers and directions are tough and frustrating, but that is something that I can find a solution for and figure out – traffic isn’t.

An hour had come and gone and we were still moving at a snails pace. We couldn’t get out and walk because we had no idea how far we had to go, we could only sit in the cab and wait. My heart was pounding out of my chest and I felt like I was going to puke. We didn’t really have much of a plan B since we hadn’t even totally figured out plan A.IMG_2584

Thankfully, we are VERY lucky and we made it to the train station with 40 minutes to spare, ran up to the booth that said tourist information and ran as fast as we could until we made it onto that over night train. It felt like a dream but we made it into our seats/beds. What a relief, the two of us with sweat dripping down our faces and our hearts still pounding let out a huge sigh of relief. The train was a very cool experience, but not something I could do again. We were on thin top bunks of seats with bright lights and noise echoing all night. IMG_2586Matt and I were across from each other but each had curtains to try to give each passenger some form of privacy. You either ate in your bed or you went to the front of the train to grab something quickly.

Those 12 hours were somewhat of a daze and pure luck but we have a few steps down and a few steps to go! We knew that our journey and stress wasn’t totally over since we still had to get off the train to get on a bus to take us to a ferry that would finally get us to Koh Samui.

The rest of the journey seemed to be a lot easier. We got off the train and quickly boarded the bus waiting at the station. About 2 hours later we were on the ferry taking us to our first island in Thailand – Koh Samui.

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We were staying at the Peace resort on Bo Phut beach. The resort had a small, sheltered entrance but the bamboo lined walkway near the check in desk guided you to a beautiful beachside restaurant and pool.

IMG_2606From the moment we walked in we were handed a drink and cold towels, we knew were in the right place.IMG_2608We felt great and were so happy we were finally on our own two feet. Our room was just as great with our own private bungalow, a fluffy bed, candles and lots of useful items like beach bags and sandals.

We quickly dropped our bags and ran for the restaurant over looking the water. We were starving and only had one good meal in a few days. They had Pad See Ew on the menu and I jumped for joy (actually). I probably order this from my local thai restaurant at least once a week so I had high expectations, and the dish surpassed them.

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After a relaxing day lying by the pool and beach we decided to head into town for dinner.

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The part of town we visited was called fisherman’s village and was lined with restaurants and bars on the beach.Our first stop was called Coco Tans.IMG_2637 They had swings at the bar so I was exciting to swing and play while drinking and listening to the waves crashing. We ventured down to the beach and were able to sit together on soft beanbag seats on the sand with candles – it was beautiful.

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We headed off to find the Happy Elephant since our taxi driver and the concierge at the hotel both recommended it but we were disappointed to find it as a tourist hot spot with unauthentic thai food. We should have known once we saw half of the menu offering Italian food and American food and the other half offering Thai food with pictures. I can’t complain since we were sitting on the beach and we had fun together, but the food wasn’t that great.

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The next morning we woke up early to get a big breakfast and spend as much time as possible in the pool and beach before we had to leave to head off to our second island in Thailand, Koh Phangan. We knew there would be no time to relax at this party destination.

Almost an end to #HillandPooTravel2

Below Matt reflects on a very special day in New Zealand!

With a full day of offroading already under out belts, I can’t say that we were completely without adventure during our time in Queenstown, but this town is known as the adventure capital of the world. With that in mind we had an exciting day ahead of us. We had reservations for a lunch at the Skytop restaurant, located high above Queenstown looking down over the entire city and lake. The only way up is by a gondola ride that takes about 15 minutes at an almost vertical climb.

We checked in for our 12:30 reservation around 11:00, as we had a good tip from our travel booking company that the seats are given out in priority of when you arrive, not based on when your reservation permits you access to the buffet. Now that we had secured ourselves one of the better seats, but had an hour and a half to entertain ourselves on top of the mountain. It was the perfect amount of time to fit in 3 runs on the luge track located right above the restaurant.

The luges/ go karts themselves were small plastic things more similar to toys than go karts, but they were awesome to ride around in. There was no gas pedal; you only have brakes to work with as you zip around turns and hills working you way to the bottom of the track, with your seat only a few inches above the ground. When I didn’t have anyone in front of me I could gain some serious speed on the straight-aways, but I tried to keep it in control to avoid taking out a small family or skidding off the side of the cliff (you’re welcome, mom). Our GoPro continues to pay dividends, as I was able to strap it to my head to capture each of our three runs on video.

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Right as we finished our third run it was time to be seated. We made our way back to the restaurant to find that we were being seated directly in the corner of the restaurant with a perfect panoramic view of the entire town, lake, valley, and mountains. Our waitress noticed our not-so-subtle PSU shirts (it was game day, after all) and told us she was from Maryland. Small world.

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From our corner we had the luge track uphill our left, paragliders and skydivers flying around the restaurant waving into the windows while spinning downwards into town, and a bungy jump platform directly below us. It never felt more like the adventure capital then at this moment.

I was originally booked to bungy from this site here, known as The Ledge. AJ Hackett Bungy operates the three locations around Queenstown, and each site is very different and unique. The ledge jump is from 400 meters above town, but you only fall around 47 meters on your jump. This one probably offers the most scenic views. The Bridge jump is from the original location where AJ Hackett opened up the very first commercial bungy location, and offers the chance to dive into the Kawarau river about 45 meters below, before being sprung back up for fresh air. After talking with many friends and people we met while walking around town, I changed my booking and opted for the final option, the Nevis jump.

The Nevis jump location is about 45 minutes outside Queenstown, and is the largest bungy jump in New Zealand. After the bus ride out to the location, you are taken by cable car to the central jumping station, where you gear up for a 134-meter freefall. Where the first two jumps offer about a 2-3 second freefall, the Nevis jump is about 8 seconds of free fall.

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In our group we had three people jumping and two spectators, Hillary being one of them. I was so focused on the second pair of harnesses being put around my ankles that I hardly noticed the first guy had already jumped off. The guys operating the jump didn’t attempt to keep you in this area any longer than you needed to be. They suited you up, locked you into the rope, and almost immediately were walking you to the edge. I imagine they do not like to deal with anyone freezing up or getting doubts before jumping, so they keep it moving as fast as possible.

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I think I did a pretty good job of turning my brain off to any sense of fear or danger before jumping, because I truly did not feel any nervousness while tip toeing my way to the edge. They threw the slack of the rope over the edge, counted down from three, and it was time to jump.

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I did my best to extend out as far from the ledge as I could, but the weight of the rope limits you from really getting very far without a running start. The company has cameras set up to capture arial and side shots as you jump, as well as far away shots to capture the free fall. Along with these photos is a video of the entire thing to accompany the pictures. Well worth the $75 NZ dollars to purchase.

I was silent the entire free fall, mainly in shock that I really was plummeting to the ground with a stretchy rope as my only safety, but as soon as I felt myself begin to snap back up I found my voice again. After three drops they began to reel me back in to the station. All in all I was probably only out of the station for around a minute or so. The entire operation happened so fast I was thrilled with my choice to go with the biggest drop. Any of the smaller ones would have left me unsatisfied.

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NOTE: I, Hillary was terrified the entire time! Matt was very brave and happy ad excited from the second we boarded the bus until we were back in town. I on the other hand might have shed a few tears and screamed a lot. We were unable to upload any videos but will try to share one on facebook!

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The below is a very special guest blog post from Matt Pulos himself. I was finally able to convince him (with a kind push from his father) to write and since he was secretly a lord of the rings nerd.

Our tour Friday morning with Nomad Safaris covered two subjects. It was a great mix of the history of Queenstown and covering the areas surrounding town that were used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings films. LOTR was filmed entirely in New Zealand, and they covered just about every square inch of the two islands during the three years they were filming here. Many scenes were filmed just within a few minutes of Queenstown and our hotel.

We were picked up in a Land Rover, well equipped to handle the rugged terrain we were about to go through. Our guide referred to the vehicle as ½ tractor and ½ tank. It could handle any incline and could drive sideways at a 45-degree angle, which he was not shy to demonstrate at any moment.

Our first stop we were brought to a high above town and Lake Wakatipu. From here he pointed out the mountain range directly behind our hotel, and the most visible from town, known as The Remarkables. This range was used countless times throughout the filming of Lord of the Rings, most notably as the Misty Mountains. Peter Jackson had many uses for these mountains though, and frequently copied and inserted them around countless other areas of New Zealand during the films. This led to the film crew’s nicknaming them The Extendables.

The other prominent LOTR site notable from here was where Aragorn was dragged over a cliff and into the river below, presumed to be dead for some time. The hill where they filmed him disappearing over the edge was filmed just behind our hotel, where he was filmed falling into the river was just up the road from this point maybe 15 minutes. The area where he was filmed floating along the river was about another 30 minutes from this point. It should come as no surprise that there are hundreds of cuts and edits to weave together many areas of land and make them appear as one single location in a film, but it was entertaining nonetheless to look down and see where each area truly was, and how they were made to appear as one.

Our guide lived in Queenstown all throughout the filming process so he was full of insight to how the crew used each piece of land in the film, and many little stories about interactions of the film. His neighbors were used as extras running away from Uruk Hai, but he was never in any of the filming.

After this point we drove off the paved road to start testing out just how much this car could handle. We drove along Skippers Canyon, which was the first main access road used during the gold rush days of the 1860s. Only vehicles equipped like ours were permitted access here. The dirt road was so narrow and steep that if your seat was on the outside of the road you could look straight down a good hundred feet. It was not for the feint of heart.

We spent about 30 minutes winding through the dips and turns of this canyon before returning back and onto the main road. From here we made our way through Arrowtown and got a thorough view of the first gold mining town in the area, and remnants of many former dig sites. Miners still dig through these mountains and rivers with success today. We zigged and zagged our way through the river, often soaking our feet as we went, but the car never stalled or hesitated as it powered through water deep enough to reach our windows. This river was the richest river in the world at one point in terms of gold production, and was the site of another well known LOTR scene was well.

Exactly where we drove is where the elf woman carried Frodo away from the Naz Gul shouting, “If you want him, come and take him”. Our guide peppered in some behind the scenes info, like the fact that Peter Jackson had every rock removed from the river to film these shots. Part of this was for the visuals, but it was mainly so that the horses could ride full speed and not risk injury.

We panned for gold briefly while eating a quick lunch along the river. We each grabbed a shovel and threw a few heaps of black sand into pans and began sifting out the rocks with water. I was the lucky winner and found a nice flake of gold, about as big as a grain of rice but paper-thin. It was hardly worth anything, but still fun to see gold still around the banks of the river.

All in all we enjoyed the couple of hours of interactive Queenstown history and Lord of the Rings trivia. Having grown up a(n) embarrassingly huge small LOTR fan, I felt compelled to do at least one activity related to the films. After all who knows if we will ever have the chance to return to these small islands half way around the world.