The Big Trip- Month Five Round UpIt’s been a hectic month of travel involving a nine day stretch when I moved accommodation every day, was in four countries and took five flights!

Things have slowed down now as I ease into month six of travel by chilling out on the lazy beaches of Thailand’s south.

I started the month with five days in Sydney where I finished off my week of work at my old workplace then had a few days to sort out my life before I hit the road again. I was also back for Trav’s birthday and we celebrated with a big night of dinner, drinks and 2am rugby with friends. I finally starting to get used to being back in Sydney then it was time to fly to New Zealand.

View over Wanaka

After a night in Auckland, my Dad and I flew to the South Island for just over a week of road tripping around. One of my best friends also flew down and we did the three day Kepler Track – my first New Zealand Great Walk! I also hiked in Wanaka and Mount Cook, did a twilight tour in a Dark Sky Preserve, dropped by historic Arrowtown and Cardrona, admired the lupines around Lake Tekapo and had an awesome day in Queenstown lugeing and jet-boating.

Historic Cardrona

One night back in Auckland followed by a night back in Sydney then I was in South East Asia!

My budget Scoot flight had a 24 hour stop in Singapore so I had a day to explore one of my favourite food cities in the world on my third visit before finally arriving in Thailand, a country I have wanted to visit for years.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I had kind of steeled myself for being ripped off and for there to be a ridiculous amount of drunken young backpackers, but honestly I haven’t encountered either so far (well, apart from some drunken Irish douce bags in Pai).

I love Thailand. Really love it.

All the Thais I have met have been really awesome, the food is amazing and the places I have been so far have been so incredibly beautiful.

Enjoying a rice paddy in Pai

I met my friend Kerry who flew in for almost two weeks from South Africa and we spent a week in the north visiting the temples of Chiang Mai and the gorgeous countryside of Pai where I had one of the best birthdays I have ever had as well as doing a Thai Cooking Class, scootering around, tubing and soaking in natural hot springs.

Then we headed south, travelling by taxi, two planes, a shuttle, a speed boat and a long tail to finally reach Ko Lipe. Luckily the super long and expensive travel day was all worth it. We truly found paradise on Ko Lipe.

With some of the most incredible beaches I have ever seen, we made the most of them while we were on Ko Lipe and didn’t do much other than swim, sunbathe and wander along Walking Street. We did manage to escape our lazy holiday for a day of snorkelling and visiting other islands within Tarutao National Park. I also got to do something I have dreamt of doing since reading ‘The Beach’ a few years ago: swim with bioluminescent plankton!

Amazing Ko Lipe

It was hard to say goodbye to our island paradise but it was time to explore some more and I have been on the large island of Koh Lanta for the past two nights. I really like the vibe of this island and I am looking forward to exploring more over the next few days.

Now onto the Stats:

Countries visited: Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand

Places visited:

  • Australia: Sydney
  • New Zealand:Auckland, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Wanaka, Mt Aspiring National Park, Fjordland National Park, Te Anau, Mount Cook, Twizel, Tekapo
  • Singapore: Singapore
  • Thailand: Pai, Chiang Mai, Ko Lipe, Ko Lanta

Islands visited: Ko Lipe, Ko Lanta, Ko Yang, Ko Adang, Ko Hin Ngam

Best meal: I have had so many amazing meals this past month, back in New Zealand it was all about the delicious pizza and burgers but the food in Thailand has just blown me away. But my best meal of the month was actually a Chinese dish – wonton noodle soup – that I had at Hat Yai airport in Thailand while we were waiting for our bus. It was one of the best tasting soups I have ever had and I was really impressed – especially from an unassuming airport restaurant!

Pizza at Winnies in Queenstown

Worst meal: I don’t think I have had a truly bad meal this month. I did have overly fried and weird tasting crumbed prawns at a Chiang Mai Market. Luckily they didn’t make me sick because I was worried at the time.

Best craft beer: Now that I have left North America, the past month hasn’t been the best for craft beer. When I was in Sydney I had a Matso’s Mango beer which is one of my favourite Australian craft beers – not too sweet but you can definitely taste the mango. A perfect summer drink.

Hikes:

  • Rob Roy Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park 10km return
  • Rocky Mountain Track in Wanaka 7km return
  • Kepler Track in Fjordland National Park 50.5km one way over three days
  • Hooker Valley Track in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park 10km return

Interesting person of the month: I don’t know his name but I am going to go with the owner of the Home Bar on Ko Lipe. This guy is truly a character and his quirky bar looked awesome, it was just a shame that it was closed for refurbishment when we were on the island. He was happy to take some time out from the renovations to tell us in an extremely animated manner about how this part of the island was only jungle when he opened the bar and everyone that somehow found it complained about the warm beer (he didn’t have electricity), shit cocktails and horrible service (he couldn’t afford to hire anyone so once it started getting busy he couldn’t cope by himself and there were long waits). It is now the top rated bar on TripAdvisor for Ko Lipe. It’s a shame we couldn’t have a drink there but meeting the owner is something I will always remember.

Home Bar on Ko Lipe

Reading: Inferno by Dan Brown. I have read all Dan Brown’s books and find them exciting and an easy read – great books for a chilled out beach read. This one was heavier than most to me as it focused on overpopulation which is a topic that generally scares the crap out of me. A great and thought provoking read.

Highlights

Hiking to Rob Roy Glacier

This hike may have been a relatively easy 10km return but it took us to truly jaw-dropping scenery. The drive out to begin the hike was also incredibly beautiful, past beautiful mountain scenery, cute baby lambs (gotta love spring) and through numerous fords into Mount Aspiring National Park. What made it even better was that my Dad did it with me. He isn’t a hiker and has never done a 10km hike before but he breezed through it. It was special to be able to share one of my great passions with my Dad and for his first big hike to be to an amazing glacier. I think he’s started to get why I love it so much now.

Hiking in Mt Aspiring National Park

Visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook for the first time

I have travelled a lot in New Zealand over the years but had never made it to the tallest mountain in the country, Aoraki/Mount Cook, until this visit. Given my love for mountains it just seemed wrong that I hadn’t been there yet and after visiting, I have to say it is one of my new favourite places in New Zealand. Dad and I did the 10km return Hooker Valley Track and everywhere we looked there was gorgeous scenery, we even got to see Mount Cook Lilies – kind of like a large white buttercup that only grows in the vicinity of Mount Cook. We also visited the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre which had lots of information about Sir Ed, the history of climbers on Mount Cook and about the Hermitage hotel’s history. I loved my whole Mount Cook experience.

Hooker Valley Track

All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup

I may not have lived in New Zealand for almost 12 years but I am still a very proud Kiwi so seeing the All Blacks win the World Cup, their second in a row, was very special. Me and Dad set our alarms for the 5am start and watched it in our hotel room in Wanaka. It was more than worth the early wake up call and filled me with pride. These guys represent New Zealand so well on the world stage with their team work, humbleness and their down to earth attitudes. What an amazing achievement to be the first team ever to win three world cups and to win two of them back to back. I may have shed a couple of tears of joy. It’s not often I care much about sport but this was really special.

Spending time with the most important men in my life (minus Trav)

I don’t think I have ever got to spend time with all the important men in my life at one time: my Dad, my brother, my best friend and my fiancé, but I got three out of four for one fun-filled day in Queenstown. I knew I would have the day with Kurt and my Dad but as luck would have it, my brother Robbie’s tour was passing through Queenstown the day we were going to be there and he had a day off so it all came together very nicely. We went lugeing down the mountain side, something that me and Robbie had grown up doing in Rotorua but it was Kurt’s first time. We also went jet boating on Lake Wakatipu and down the Shotover and Kawarau rivers then ate lunch in the sun at World Bar. It was a great day.

Beautiful Queenstown

Seeing the stars and galaxies in a night sky reserve

I remember reading that the area around Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook was a night sky reserve, one of only nine in the world, so when Dad suggested we do a Twilight tour there I jumped at the chance. As our shuttle pulled up at the top of Mt St John at the Observatory, the last light of the day was fading over Lake Tekapo. We were shown the research telescope then were free to use a couple of telescopes to see star clusters and other galaxies. I had never looked through a high powered telescope before and it was insanely cool. We could see so many stars without the telescopes too and I haven’t seen stars like that since I was in the Australian Outback. What a cool experience.

Mt St John Observatory

Lupine spotting in Tekapo

One of the reasons I was so excited to be visiting Central Otago and MacKenzie Country in spring was for the lupines. Although they are not native to New Zealand (they are actually classed as an invasive species by the Department of Conservation) they sure are pretty. New Zealand native wildflowers are all yellow or white so the brightly coloured pink and purple lupins really stand out. I saw a few on our drive to Mount Cook but I really got a treat once we got to Tekapo. They were everywhere! I wouldn’t call myself a girly girl in pretty much any way except for my love of dresses and pretty flowers and you can’t get a much prettier flower than a lupine in my opinion. They really were a beautiful sight to behold.

Lupines in Tekapo

Finally getting to Thailand

Thailand is a country that I have wanted to visit for longer than I can remember. Thai food is my favourite food, I love islands, I love beaches – so why hadn’t I visited? I actually don’t know why it took me 32 years to finally get here but I am so glad that I am here now. It may have changed a lot from what it once was but as this is my first time, I have nothing to compare it to and I have tried to visit places that aren’t overrun with drunken backpackers and are a bit quieter. I have picked well so far as I love this country. It won’t be another 32 years until I return, that’s for sure.

Witnessing a buddhist ceremony in Chiang Mai

My main goal for the time I had in Chiang Mai was to visit temples and eat. We ended up excelling in both, particularly with the temples as our only full day in Chiang Mai coincided with a Buddhist holiday. A couple of lovely locals stopped us in the street to give us advice about which temples we should visit in Chiang Mai and they told us to save the most famous temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, for sunset as there would be a small buddhist ceremony shortly after. I am so happy that we listened to them because not only did we get to see the gold stupa shimmering against the night sky but we also got to see the monks lighting candles followed by chanting and praying inside the wat. What an incredible introduction to Thailand!

Buddhists praying in Chiang Mai

A perfect birthday in Pai

I have had some pretty awesome birthdays in my life and some pretty average ones. My 33rd in northern Thailand was definitely in the former. It may have been on Friday the 13th this year but I seriously couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. After starting my birthday reading all my lovely messages from friends and family over a leisurely breakfast, Kerry and I rented scooters and drove through the stunning Pai countryside, visiting waterfalls and natural hot springs to swim, watching the sunset from the giant Buddha up on the mountainside then wandering the night markets where I bought myself a few birthday presents and ate some of the best street food I have ever had. We topped this off with passionfruit mojitos at a cocktail bar in town where the bar tender also gave us a free birthday shot. BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! (Obviously the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris happened late on Friday 13th but it was already the 14th here in Thailand)

Natural hot springs in Pai

Beach days on the island paradise of Ko Lipe

After seeing pictures of Ko Lipe on a travel blog that I follow, I knew that I had to include it on my Thailand itinerary and I am so very, very happy that I did. The island is such a beautiful place and I loved that it was all so walkable. I couldn’t have picked a better place to recover from a period of fast travel and the beaches are definitely some of the best I have ever experienced. I hope it stays just the way it is.

Sunrise beach on Ko Lipe

Island hopping and swimming with bioluminescent plankton

Kerry and I went on one of the best day tours I have ever experienced when we were staying on Ko Lipe: a day island hopping and snorkelling in Tarutao National Park. The snorkelling was some of the best I have ever done, I loved swimming from the boat to a tiny beach on Ko Yang and watching the storm clouds slowly roll in when we were eating dinner on Ko Adang was really exciting. And then we got to swim with bioluminescent plankton. They are like little glow worms of the sea and the more you move your body, the more they light up so I was frantically waving around my arms in the water. It was a very memorable day.

Lowlights

Sick with a cold much of the time I was in NZ

Why do colds always happen at the worst possible times? I managed to pick one up on day three of my New Zealand trip, just in time to start a three day trek in icy temperatures. Then straight after that I was travelling continuously for nine days. Bad timing. I managed to ignore it the best I could and did everything I wanted to do despite feeling mildly sick and fatigued.

Rough day on the Kepler Track

It was so nice to finally be doing one of New Zealand’s iconic Great Walks, one of nine multi day hikes linked by huts, but the weather really didn’t come through for us. After four days of glorious spring sunshine, the day we started the hike threatened rain with ominous clouds although we made it up to the hut before it really started coming down so we counted ourselves lucky. But then there was day two. We were in alpine terrain, traversing ridges with no tree cover and after about a half hour of walking it started snowing. And then the wind came. We basically hiked for two hours in a blizzard with freezing cold temperatures and near blinding snow. Kurt’s eyebrows and my hair grew icicles and half my wooly hat froze solid. I couldn’t feel one side of my face and when I talked I sounded like a stroke victim. It was horrendous but quite the adventure, I guess. It definitely didn’t help my cold. I won’t say it wasn’t exciting looking back on it but it felt hellish at the time.

Blizzard on the Kepler Track

Having to leave Trav again

It was hard being away from Trav for the three and a half months that I was in North America then it was still hard when I got back and had to get used to being with him again after travelling alone for so long. I had only really just started truly enjoying my time back in Sydney when it was time to leave again. The thought of leaving Trav again felt almost unbearable. I didn’t sleep much my last night in Sydney, I felt sick to my stomach. Luckily this time around we won’t be spending too much time apart before we see each other again but it was still hard to leave.

Everything being much more expensive than I envisaged in Thailand

I really missed the bus on visiting Thailand when it was still dirt cheap. I should have come ten years ago because the $3 beach bungalow just doesn’t exist anymore. it is still a crap load cheaper than Australia (but really, which country isn’t?) but with expensive transport and day trips, I have been spending a lot more than I thought I would be. I am trying to not worry about money as I will be back in Sydney for a couple of months from February where I will hopefully get some temping work, but it’s hard not to.

Moving too fast

As I mentioned earlier, I travelled between four countries over nine short days this past month and my first week in Thailand was also hectic so arriving on Ko Lipe where we had five days to mostly just relax felt amazing. I don’t like to travel super fast in general and my head felt all over the place, filled with different time zones and multiple new experiences. I am slowing down now and am staying at most places for about five nights which is a good pace for me, at least for a few months at a time.

Spending:

Total: USD$1007.50

I am SO happy that my costs are so low this month despite travelling in four different countries. This is in large part thanks to my very kind and generous father who insisted on paying all of our shared accommodation costs in New Zealand, my internal flights, a few activities and most of our food. This would be about $500-$700 higher if I was paying for everything myself. This amount also doesn’t include my international flights but does include internal transport once I entered each country. I pay for about 90% of my travel myself so I am extremely grateful when my Dad has helped me out in the past as I realise that everyone is not as lucky as me in that respect.

Accommodation $217

Not bad at all. I had a few nights left in Sydney where I am not currently paying rent then my Dad paid for our accommodation in New Zealand (except for the two nights in huts on the Kepler Track). Accommodation in Thailand has been reasonably cheap which is a nice change from North America. It will be even cheaper now that I will be staying in more hostels and cheaper bungalows since my friend has left.

Food and Drink $350

Finally my food and drink total has come down from previous months! It helped that my Dad paid for a lot of my meals on our New Zealand trip and the food in Thailand is really cheap (and so delicious). 

Clothing $42.50

  • $21.50 Underwear
  • $13 Dress
  • $5 Dress
  • $3 Singlet top

A couple of new items for my summer travel wardrobe and lots of new underwear for only $42.50. Pretty awesome if you ask me.

Transport $215.50

  • Ferry and train to Sydney airport $16.50
  • Public transport in Singapore $5
  • Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai $30.50
  • Taxis in Chiang Mai and Pai $10.50
  • Tuk Tuks in Chiang Mai $6.50
  • Shared transport to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai $5
  • Bus from Chiang Mai to Pai and back $10
  • Scooter hire and petrol for two days in Pai $9.50
  • Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok $30.50
  • Flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai $30
  • Bus and boat from Hat Yai to Ko Lipe $33.50
  • Long tail to resort in Ko Lipe $1.50
  • Taxi and long tail in Ko Lipe $2.50
  • Speedboat and shuttle from Ko Lipe to Ko Lanta $24

My Dad kindly paid for my internal flights, car hire and airport transfers in New Zealand which saved me quite a bit. Getting from Northern Thailand to near the southern border at Ko Lipe cost me a bomb but generally transport in Thailand is in no way comparable to Alaska which is still the most expensive place for transport that I have ever been to.

Activities $97

  • Lugeing in Queenstown $36
  • Chiang Mai Temple entrance fees $1
  • Thai Massage $6
  • Pai Hot Springs $1
  • Thai Cooking Class $19.50
  • Tubing in Pai $5.50
  • Tarutao National park Entry $5.50
  • Plankton snorkelling trip $22.50

Not bad at all, thanks to my Dad who paid for our Twilight Tour at the St John Observatory in Tekapo, Cinema Paradiso in Wanaka, Jet boating in Queenstown and entry into the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre at Mount Cook.

Other $85.50

  • $42 Toiletries
  • $2 Badges
  • $13 Journal
  • $4 Stubby holder for Trav
  • $7 Woodcut poster
  • $8 New bag
  • $0.75 New makeup bag
  • $5.50 Charge to get cash out
  • $3 Bracelet
  • $0.25 Needle and thread

Lots of little things that all add up but I am pretty happy with this total. Half of it is much needed toiletries as well as a new handbag, gifts and a couple of small souvenirs.

What’s in store for next month:

Half of next month will be spent still exploring Thailand before my Dad will be flying over to join me for two weeks in another country I am very excited to be visiting, especially after the positive outcome of their recent election: Myanmar!

We only have two weeks so will be hitting up the main tourist route including Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Kalaw as well as visiting Mawlamyine, where my Dad’s Uncle’s grave is. He was a Japanese prisoner of war during World War Two and was forced to build the Burmese Railway. Conditions were very harsh and like a lot of other prisoners, he died along the way. He is buried at a Military cemetery near Mawlamyine so we are going to visit his grave.

And then it’s back to Bangkok for a couple of nights before my next destination: Philippines!

Month five was an awesome month, filled with some incredible experiences including lots of firsts for me. I’m looking forward to my next month of travel, spent wholly in Asia.

To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here

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