Saturday, July 27, 2013

Quick and Nerdy - Pak Chong (Khao Yai)


Pak Chong (Khao Yai):
Thank you Meanwhile in Thailand for another Quick and Nerdy!

·       The gateway to Khao Yai, Thailand’s largest National Park, Pak Chong is a small, quaint tourist town.
·       There are numerous hotels, many of them boutique and reasonably priced since this area caters as much to Thais as to foreigners.
·       Khao Yai offers a number of adventure related options: cave tours, trekking and exploring.
·       The city itself is small and spread out, so don’t plan on walking anywhere.

Sights:

·       Khao Yai – the main attraction here offers jungle tours, treks, animals, cave exploration, waterfalls and springs; most people don’t come here for much else.
·       Animal tours – elephants are the real main attraction here, but there are also smaller tours that focus on bats and bugs, but I can’t promise they will interest most people.
·       Chok Chai Farms – Again, this is mostly for Thai people, but you can tour their farms for 300 baht and sample the ‘best burger in Thailand’. Most Westerners probably won’t find it interesting, though, so you’ve been warned.
·       Replica Spanish Village – Sort of an odd stand out, it’s about ten minutes away from the main city and not much else.

Get Around:

·       A taxi, motorbike or tour is a necessity here, though you can probably arrange one for cheaper than say, Phuket.

Tips:

·       Unless you plan on a three day jungle trek, don’t plan on staying long. It’s small and Khao Yai isn’t the most spectacular sight in Thailand.
·       If you aren’t Thai, you’ll probably want to go on the full day tour to see elephants, as the half day tour can focus almost exclusively on bats and bugs. Do see the bats exiting the caves at dusk, you will be amazed at how many there are, but don’t make it an all-day adventure to see them.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hometown Adventures - Dublin's Chicago


I started a fun project for myself that involves alcohol and getting to know my neighborhood better. Since I walk home from work every day, I decided to stop in all the bars I can find between my work and apartment. My purpose is to grab one drink, then write a mini review on the place. I want to see how these bars/restaurants are for a woman just stopping in for a drink by herself.

In some ways it’s a bit out of my comfort zone. Even though I’ve traveled and dined out a lot on my own, it’s a little different stopping in places alone in my own neighborhood. I find in Chicago people are always in groups or coupled off, and sometimes I want to grab a drink alone and not feel uncomfortable doing so. To stay safe during this process, here are two few rules I will always follow:

-I will never leave my drink or belongings unattended.
-1-2 drinks maximum.

My first stop was Dublin’s Bar and Grill. I walked in around 4:30pm and found an empty seat at the bar next to two older men. I ordered a Hoegaarden beer for some reason and paid cash. It was so hot outside I welcomed the air conditioning and texted with a coworker who was meeting me in about an hour.

I was surrounded my drunk people and there were several people yelling at each other across the bar. As I was near to finishing my drink I was getting ready to head out, but the bartender refilled my glass and I decided to stay. The men next to me started talking to each other about Detroit, and other than a quick chat with the bartender, I kept to myself.

As I was about halfway through the second beer, the bartender offered me a shot, which I declined. Around this time, my coworkers arrived and I was given another free beer (I wasn’t alone by this time, so beer number 3 wasn’t breaking any rules!). Overall, Dublin’s is a great place to drink alone, but it could have easily gotten out of hand had I not stuck to my rules.

Find me:
1050 N State St  Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 266-6340

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hometown Adventures - InterContinental Chicago


I think 4th of July weekend in Chicago is one of the worst weekends to review a hotel. However, I found myself staying at the InterContinental Chicago on July 6th for my brother’s wedding. My family members stayed for several more nights, but with the $150+ a night price tag (even with the blocked room discount) I decided one night was enough.


The location of the InterContinental is clearly its top selling point. Located on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, the hotel is just steps from shopping, restaurants, the river, and other tourist attractions. However, this also makes the entrance the most congested area imaginable. The number of tourists in Chicago 4th of July weekend was astronomical, and I found myself dodging shopping bags and maneuvering myself around strollers just to get inside the hotel.

The InterContinental has two towers – the historic tower and the new tower. After spending time in both, I think the historic tower should be renamed the old tower. My room was in the new tower and was a good $50 cheaper and much more clean and modern. The historic tower has more suites, but the carpeting and fixtures were clearly more dated. The annoying thing about the two towers was the separate elevator bank. To go from my room in the new tower, to see my parents in the historic tower, it took at least 15 minutes and I had to cut through the lobby. The wait time for an elevator ranged from 5-15 minutes due to the overcrowding of the hotel with 2 weddings at the hotel each night.


Weddings at the InterContinental are classic and conservative. The ballrooms are elegantly decorated with crystal chandeliers and I can see why it’s such a popular location for weddings. I was worried the food was going to boring hotel fare, but I was pleasantly surprised. My dinner consisted of a mushroom consomm√©, beet salad, and bone marrow crusted filet served with multiple glasses of champagne. There was nothing bland about that!

The rooms at the InterContinental are nothing over the top. I was lucky to have a Michigan Avenue view and two Queen beds for my friends to sit on as the after party moved into my room later that evening. Most guests at the InterContinental won’t be spending much time in the room since there’s so much to do in this amazing city. If I had one suggestion for the InterContinental it would be to increase the level of accessibility for guests using wheelchairs and walkers. It was extremely difficult for one of our family members to get back to his room and enter the restaurant.

If you’re looking for a hotel in the best possible location that’s family-friendly and you don’t mind navigating a crowd, then look no further than Chicago’s InterContinental.

Find me:
Address: 505 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Phone:(312) 944-4100 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Random Memory


My roommate my first week in Thailand messed up her knee while receiving a Thai massage. I guess the masseuse applied too much pressure to her kneecap or something like that. That night we were all dancing and something tore in her knee and she went to the hospital. When she came back to our hotel room she had about six baggies worth of pain killers and was instructed to go to bed. While waiting for the muscle relaxers to kick in, I read The Teachings of Buddha to her out loud until she fell asleep (there was a free copy in the room). I love when memories like this come back to me. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dream Destination - Karolyi Ranch

I am a huge gymnastics fan. Gymnastics in the 90’s is still an obsession of mine. While I still keep up with today’s gymnasts, there was something so unique about the 1990’s gymnastics scene. It was the decade of the pixie gymnast, an 80-pound dynamo flying through the air or turning gracefully on the balance beam.
The 1996 Atlanta Games was the first time the women had ever won team gold and I remember staying up late to watch Kerri Strug’s heroic final vault.


 In the 90’s there was one coach that coached all the gymnastics superstars we still remember today – Bela Karolyi. His ranch, located outside of Houston, was where his gymnasts lived and trained together. Karolyi produced gymnastics legends like Betty Okino, Kerri Strug, Dominique Moceanu and Kim Zmeskal. Today, his wife Marta has taken over the gymnastics program and Team USA still meets at the Karolyi Ranch once a month to train together. There are summer camps held at the ranch ever summer, but I’m afraid I’m a wee bit too old and I don’t do gymnastics anymore. My dream is just to tour the ranch, to see where my gymnastics idols lived and trained during my favorite era of gymnastics. 


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Planning my next Adventure...


Quick and Nerdy - Ayutthaya


 Thank you Meanwhile in Thailand for another great Quick & Nerdy! 
Ayutthaya:
·       Famous for being the center of a thirteenth (through seventeenth) century kingdom, Ayutthaya holds numerous ruins and ancient temples in its archaeological park.
·       Located only two hours from Bangkok by bus or four by train, it’s a popular destination to explore some of Thailand’s history.
·       It’s also home to the Chang Beer Brewery, if that means anything to you.
·       Hot, dusty and surrounded by dirty civilization, Ayutthaya isn’t easy to love as a tourist destination.




Sights:

·       The Three Pagodas of the Archaeological Park are what you will see on the postcard, always illuminated at night. What you don’t see is that the gold was stripped away years ago and the remaining concrete chedhis are less than inspiring during daylight.
·       Wat Pra Ram – The remains of a more Khmer styled prang, the ancient bricks stands high above the rest of the rubble.
·       Wat Pra Sri Sanphet and Wat Manhat – two of the other more famous ruins, and Wat Manhat is where the semi famous ruined Buddha statue resides.

Getting Around:

·       Once again, you are in Thailand. There are no taxis and very few songtaos here, so tuk tuks tend to be your only regrettable option.
·       Bicycles and scooters are also available for rent but much of the city has sprung up and around the remains so getting around is far from a country stroll.
·       The last and most creative option is to ride an elephant, though it would hardly be the most comfortable.

Tips:

·       If you must go, a morning or afternoon is more than enough. If you plan on staying, stay at Tony’s Guesthouse. Affordable but it will book up, leaving you with one of the less palatable options.
·       The longer the stay, the less inspiring it becomes.

Friday, July 19, 2013

4 Top Snorkeling Spots in Thailand



A big thank you to Milda for her contribution this week!



Thailand can offer many great experiences, but has been known for its incredible snorkelling spots. With crystal clear waters, beautiful weather, and gorgeous fish, you are sure to have an unforgettable adventure. While there are plenty of different places you can go snorkeling, let's just go over 4 of the more popular places.


Similan Islands
These islands have some of the clearest and most beautiful waters in all of Thailand. The Similan National Park is where you will have access to the best dive sites and although some dive spots will be open all year long, the best ones will only be open from about November through April. There are plenty of different diving experiences that are offered for all levels of divers. 

Some areas of the islands are closed to the public due to conservation efforts and protection programs. Some of the most beautiful diving spots ended up being closed to the public due to rapid deterioration, so make sure to treat the environment with respect to keep these beautiful environments as preserved as possible. 



Surin Island
The Surin Islands consist of 5 separate islands and all can provide a great time, with the two main islands being Ko Surin Nuea as well as Ko Surin Tai. The Mu Ko Surin National Park is home to many different world famous dive sites that all divers wish to explore. There are also some of the most pristine reefs located here, making the whole diving experience even greater. 

Besides diving, there are also other attractions that could appeal to most adventure seekers. There is a broad selection of wildlife living on the islands, so hiking can provide some interesting sights. The national park offers some different tours and activities for visitors, while some of the locals provide boat tours for cheap prices. No matter what, you will always find something to keep you entertained and happy.

Koh Tao
Koh Tao is an island located by the Gulf of Thailand. The entire island's economic success is mostly due to the massive amount of tourist that visit each year and also provides incredible diving spots that can entertain anyone. Not only does this incredible island provide great diving spots, but you can also go on some hiking adventures, rock climbing, and plenty more. This island wasn't always a popular tourist destination, so it is considered to be underdeveloped, but is has seen more and more development as tourism continues to increase. You can check out a much more comprehensive breakdown of the island
here:
Phi Phi Islands
Located between Phuket and the western Andaman Sea coast, the Phi Phi Islands are a highly frequented place due to divers and tourists from all over the world. The islands have a tropical climate, making the hot season January through April and the rainy season from May to December. While the best times to dive at during the hot season, the Islands can still provide great experiences all year long. Most of the beautiful beaches and clear waters are protected by the National Park Status, but allow tourists access to certain areas. 




These islands have only recently started to become extremely popular to tourists and remains highly underdeveloped, partially due to the Tsunami disaster that took place in 2004. There are many things for visitors to do other than diving, including kayaking, hiking, visiting local entertainment centers, and plenty more. There are no hotel or other large accommodations on the smaller islands, so it is recommended that you find a place to stay prior to going to those islands, or make sure to be able to make it back to your hotel before everything closes. 


A lot of the more dangerous diving spots require a diving certification to be explored. Remember to always take caution when diving or adventuring in places that are unknown to you, the last thing you want is to cut your trip short because of something that could have easily been avoided.



About the Author:
Milda is the Community Manager @ AsiaRooms.com. Born in Lithuania, studied in the UK, traveled around Asia and taught in Africa. Now residing in Singapore where, equipped with strong cup of coffee and surrounded by an amazing team she is running the Community blog and blogging about amazing destinations, adventures, events and best hotels in Asia. 
Overall, if you are a snorkelling fanatic or adventure seeker, then Thailand has an incredible selection of places for you to check out. While we only went over the four major destinations, you can be sure that there are plenty of others that are worth your time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Travel Photo of the Week - Fish Massage in Koh Samui


This was one of my worst ideas while traveling. I was a bit of a newbie on my first trip to Thailand and I got curious seeing all the fish massage stations set up down the streets. I overpaid (naturally) and dunked my feet and legs into a tank full of hungry fish. It was easily one of the more disgusting and unhygienic things I've done while traveling. The fish will nibble off your dead skin, leaving your soles soft and smooth- if you can tolerate a full 15 minutes in the tank. I'll take a pedicure any day. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dream Destination - Greenland


As I was sitting down this evening to think of my next dream destination, Greenland came to mind. Why Greenland? Mostly because I know absolutely nothing about Greenland, and that intrigues me. 

Take me off the beaten path, I don’t care if doesn’t end up being the most exciting place out there, but I would never know unless I did some exploring.

Here’s my tentative list of things to see:
-witnessing the midnight sun or polar night depending on what time of year I go
-eating whale meat (don’t judge)
-seeing wildlife
-hiking and looking at glaciers


I clearly need to do some more research, but the unknown always draws me in. Have any readers visited Greenland?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Quick and Nerdy - Koh Tao


 Thank you Meanwhile in Thailand for another Quick & Nerdy!
Ko Tao:
·       The smallest of three islands on the northern side of the Thai peninsula, up until recently it had been the least developed.
·       It’s known as a diver’s paradise, but at this point in its development, it’s only somewhat distinguishable from Ko Phangnan and Ko Samui, though the diving remains its hub.
·       Ko Tao means Turtle Island, though you probably won’t get a Thai person to understand unless they already have an idea where you are going since tones are quite difficult to say as a non-native speaker.


Sights:

·       Sairee Beach – the main tourist beach is quite pretty, though it is so rocky that won’t be able to swim at all during low tide. Instead, come for happy hour and the sunset.
·       Ko Nang Yuan – this small island lies just a short longtail boat ride away from the main Sairee Beach, but it offers a great beach between the sandbars connecting the two small islands, along with some snorkeling and a hilltop view.
·       Rock climbing – Other than Krabi, this is probably the second best place for it in Thailand
·       Diving – this isn’t a sight but there are dive schools everywhere and plenty of places to dive. They no longer remain cheap even for tourists.

Getting Around:

·       If you are on Sairee Beach, you can walk pretty much everywhere but the main ferry port. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a cab which typically costs a flat rate of 200 baht. Longtail boats can also be arranged for various prices, usually 200 to 1000 baht depending on how far and how many people.
·       You can also rent bikes and scooters pretty much everywhere in town.

Tips:

·       Book the Lompraya ferry in advance. It’s a catamaran and otherwise, you could be in for a rough, crowded ferry ride to the small island.
·       If you are travelling any time near a full-moon party, be aware that the ferries will get crowded and booked full of undesirables.
·       Try and explore some of the hillsides for beautiful views of palm trees out over the water, even if you aren’t up for rock climbing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Travel Photo of the Week - Pura Bratan


Visiting Bali involves much more than beaches and sitting by the pool. There are some serious temples in Bali, and Pura Bratan is a famous water temple on the shore of Lake Bratan. About a two-hour drive from Ubud, this day trip doesn’t involve a lot of walking and the gentle sound of water lapping up on the shore was one of my favorite parts of the trip. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hotel Review - The Porcelain Hotel, Singapore

While browsing hotel listings in Singapore, I was shocked to see the prices were similar, if not higher than U.S. prices. I was used to having the lowest price room be around $4 a night after spending several months in Thailand! The Porcelain Hotel in Singapore was around $100 a night, but was the best option we could find and the premier location in the heart of Chinatown made it well worth it.

 
First of all, if you are staying in a standard room with someone-make sure you like the person. You will be like two peas in a pod in these tiny rooms. The only place to be in the room is the bed, so just make sure you can tolerate being right next to the other person if you choose to stay here! 
cozy space
I thoroughly enjoyed my cozy little room, and the location, free wi-fi, and service more than made up for the lack of a sitting area. We stayed in room 105, right on the ground level, and had no problem with noise from other guests. Your room will get a tad messy, but there is a shelf divider between the sink and bed that you can store clothes and other items on. A small closet is available by the sink, and I'm not sure why-- but there are teacups and tea available, but no hot water pot? Still trying to figure that one out.


The bathroom has a sprayer attachment or an overhead rain shower, but the bathroom will get soaked either way. The Porcelain isn't for everyone, but for two people that are ok sharing space it's ideal. We searched extensively for a non-dorm option close to the MRT and this was the most affordable option. If I return to Singapore I would absolutely stay here again.

Find me:
48 Mosque Street Singapore 059526 Tel (65) 6645 3131 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Quick and Nerdy: Chiang Mai


Thanks Meanwhile in Thailand for another great Quick and Nerdy! 
Chiang Mai:
·       The biggest city and biggest draw in the North of Thailand, where it’s slightly cooler and more mountainous.
·       Temples. Chiang Mai has a maze of temples.
·       Adventuring. Whether you want to zipline, bungee jump, pet a tiger or find more nightlife (prostitutes), Chiang Mai has it.
·       Chiang Mai is technically the fourth (or fifth) most populous city, but really it rivals Phuket as its second largest and most important due to its religious importance. Numerous festivals, especially Loi Krathong and New Years are celebrated here, even more than elsewhere in Thailand.

Sights:

·       Wat Doi Suhtep – at the top (or almost top) of a mountain, this golden Chedi rivals The Grand Palace for the premier temple in Thailand. The view down of Chiang Mai is nice as well, though the Songtao ride might take a little bit out of you.
·       Wat Pra Singh – In the middle of the city, this giant Wat is bigger and prettier than most.
·       Tiger Kingdom – You can pet a comatose tiger for several hundred baht.
·       The Ancient City Walls – littered throughout the city are the remains of the ancient city walls. You almost don’t need to seek them out, you’ll come upon them naturally.
·       The main area of Chiang Mai is so littered with temples, wandering at random will take you past a great deal of smaller ones. Temples are generally open to the public any day of the week.
·       Walking Street – an endlessly long market, selling everything you ever wanted and most of it you don’t.

Getting Around:

·       Again, Chiang Mai has no public transportation so taxis, tuk tuks and songtaos are your way to go. They tend to be more expensive here than Bangkok, since you won’t get a metered price but at least they are cheaper than Phuket.
·       If you go up to Doi Suhtep, you don’t need to rent a car but you can go to the Songtao station and ride for cheaper than you would renting a car on your own.

Tips:

·       The canal is dirty and rat infested. Stay away.
·       There are numerous outdoor activities around the city, enjoy some. Like Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai serves as a gateway to tigers, elephants, jungle trekking, bungee jumping and other outdoor exploring.
·       You can get a massage from the women’s prison, if you so choose.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Travel Photo of the Week - Kultfabrik


Kultfabrik is often described as Disneyland for clubbers. Located in Munich, Germany this string of bars and clubs is sure to leave any traveler with a story to take back home with them. I honestly have no clue how I ended up at Kultfabrik. I think a tour guide suggested we stop here after drinking at the Hofbrauhaus and one thing just led to another. There is every kind of bar possible at Kultfabrik and I have vague memories of a tiki bar, an Aussie themed bar and some kind of giant dance floor where I drank vodka sodas until the wee hours. Don’t even think about putting your purse down while you dance here because it will be gone in a heartbeat. I remember scurrying outside in the snow to find a cab with my group of new friends after a long, sweaty night of dancing. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Passing The Time


Downtime is inevitable while traveling. Airport layovers, hours stuck on the tarmac and overnight bus rides are just a few examples when you’ll have to find some way to entertain yourself. While I was in Thailand, I had a ridiculous amount of free time. I didn’t work that many hours and lived alone in a tiny dorm room with no one to hang out with during the week. I discovered some new (and slightly bizarre) interests over the all the weeks I had alone. Here are some highlights:

·     Erotica. I should probably just call it smut. Not gonna lie, I’ve browsed some romance novels in my day prior to going abroad, but I downloaded entirely too many free filthy books on Amazon that I got mildly grossed out by myself.
·     Maya Angelou. I think reading 5+ Maya Angelou books while I was there kept my brain sharp and reminded me daily that I was (and am) a phenomenal woman.

·     Reddit. I never had an account on Reddit before and I got hooked fast. Even now, I’m a proud Redditor even though it can easily suck away hours of my time.

·     Queer as Folk. This show had me laughing out loud and in tears from one day to the next. I cried when I finished the series because I couldn’t mentally handle it ending. (I’m always this dramatic.)

·     Cooking with only a hot water pot. I made some disgusting dishes using ramen noodles, ketchup, powdered cheese and canned fish in my room. Everything I cooked usually made me bloated and attracted ants. At least I tried.
·     Eating candy. I have never eaten so unhealthily in my life prior to moving to Thailand. I would browse the shelves at 7-11 and just munch away. I was legitimately worried to go the dentist when I got back because I ate so much sugar. I came back about five pounds lighter in spite of my disgusting diet.

See what kind of exciting hobbies you can pick up when you have limited Internet access and plenty of free time? What odd hobbies have you picked up abroad? 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Quick & Nerdy - Surabaya

Thanks go out to Meanwhile to Thailand for this Quick & Nerdy! 

Mount Bromo (Surabaya):
·       Mount Bromo is only one of the three or four main draws here, but it serves as the gateway to Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, a spectacular sight where an ancient Hindu temple stands in the ashen wasteland of volcanic remains.
·       Mount Bromo is an active volcano - only the crater remains. You can climb up to the top and look down into the smoking caldera.
·       Beyond Bromo, the volcanic mountain range can appear so desolate as to seem almost as if it stands above the moon. 
·       Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park is about three hours’ drive away from the main city of Sarabaya, though there are various other ways to reach the park, this is probably the easiest.
·       Surabaya, the third largest city in Indonesia, is nothing spectacular, but it is home to the (alleged) largest red light district in the world, if that is your thing.

Sights:

·       The sun rise from Mt. Penanjakan – you have to get up early and walk up a mountain in the dark, but it’s what everyone comes here for. Arrange for a jeep to take you here and see the stars before the sun rises spectacularly over the smoky mountains.


·       Mt. Semeru – you can only climb if it you apply for a special visa, but just watch it in the distance and it may reward you with one of its frequent (almost daily) eruptions.
·       Mt. Bromo – after the sunrise, you can be taken down onto the Sea of Sand, to walk around the Hindu temple and up the steep sides of the ashy mountain.
·       The Poten – in front of Bromo and sitting on the wasted sea of sand, this Hindu temple is important in Hindu mythology in Indonesia.

Get Around:

·       To get here, you’ll probably need to hire a car (with driver) or take the bus if you are feeling up to that particular challenge. Once here, arrange for transport with one of the many jeep drivers at your hotel.

Tips:

·       The Bromo area can become something of a ghost town during the day as most guests come to stay late in the evening, wake up early to see the sunrise, explore the area and then leave again. This can make buying water or finding something to eat a little more difficult than you’d expect. So if you plan to stay more than a day, bring snacks and supplies.
a rugged JKS
·       It gets pretty cold on the mountain in the dark, and just as quickly gets hot again as soon as the sun comes up.
·       Be warned that whatever shoes and clothes you wear will be so dusty you will consider throwing them away.