Chiang Mai Food: My Favorite Northern Thai Dishes

When most foreigners think of Thailand’s cuisine, they imagine Pat Thai and red curry. Can’t blame them: Bangkok’s region, Central Thailand, is where the seat of power–and most Thai food we see in the West–originate from. I couldn’t find Chiang Mai food in Tampa for the life of me!

This is why very few people outside of Asia are familiar with the fact that there are three other distinctive regions in the country: each with its own geography, available ingredients, and culture.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to my favorite Northern Thai dishes, spotted while exploring Chiang Mai this summer.

Chiang Mai food guide

Chiang Mai Food: My Favorite Northern Thai Dishes

Northern Thailand incorporates Chiang Mai and the mountainous vicinity, including the jungle that borders Myanmar and Laos. Here, more plant-based, bitter ingredients dominate–including spices such as turmeric and ginger. Pork, freshwater fish, and sticky rice instead of steamed rice are also staples.

Note to vegetarians: don’t be afraid! Northern Thai dishes, rich in spices, can easily become meatless without compromising much of their taste (except for fish oil and shrimp paste).

Unlike popular belief, coconut is not as common in North Thailand. As such, most Northern Thai curries lack that thick coconut milk goodness.

Nothing to be alarmed about, though!

Soups are still a staple, along with boiled and steam ingredients. Again: all packed with flavorful herbs and spices.

Below, my favorite Northern Thai dishes where to eat them.

Chiang Mai pork, sai uah and moo tod


Sai uah is a spicy pork sausage filled with lemongrass–a strong herb that you will either love or hate. In my opinion, it’s the most delicious of all Asian herbs.

Moo tod, on the other hand, are sweet, almost nutty pork pieces that are fried until really crunchy. It is too good for words.

Where to eat it: my local guide, Rain from Chiangmai Food Tours, confirms top-notch sai uah and moo tod is found at Sai Uah by Auntie Pun. They prepare fresh batches every morning, at 4 AM! Outside sign is in Thai, so save this photo to ensure you get to the right place.

Northern Thailand cuisine, khao soi


Not only can you not talk about Chiang Mai food without mentioning khao soi, but the thick curry soup happens to be my favorite Thai dish of full-time!

Interestingly, this dish contains coconut milk–a rarity in Northern Thai cuisine, as I just explained. Yet, it’s easy to understand why Chiang Mai’s most popular soup is a bit out of the norm: it’s been influenced by several cultures.

Khao soi is closest to Burmese ohn no khao swe–a coconut milk curry soup made with a mix of both fried and boiled egg noodles. Likewise, khao soi is believed to have been influenced by the Muslim Chinese, as it is typically served with either chicken or beef– not pork.

A broth packed with coriander, turmeric, ginger, shallots, chilies, curry powder, and cilantro. It’s so simple, yet so zestful!

Where to eat it: I highly recommend trying Chiang Mai’s signature dish at Khao Soi Khun, located immediately on the left of Wat Mon Tien. Rain, my local tour guide, assured me this is the best khao soi travelers can get within the Old City’s city walls–and I attest to that!

ab moo, Northern Thailand dish


Another Northern Thai specialty is ab moo–pork, eggs, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, turmeric, garlic, pepper, shallots, and shrimp paste mixed and then wrapped in a banana leaf. It is first grilled, then baked.

Foreigners could be put off by its pasty look, but certainly not by its enticing aroma!

Where to eat it: toward the back gate of Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road you will find not only great ab moo, but a fantastic array of cheap street eats every night! Totally worth the 10-15 minute taxi or scooter ride from the Old City.

hang lay, Chiang Mai Curry


This Burmese influenced, tamarind-based curry soup has a fascinating history. Even though it is made with pork, it was still considered a holy food in neighboring Myanmar–where only monks were allowed to eat it.

Fortunately for us laymen, hang lay curry is now accessible to the masses. Its spice mix, however, was adapted in Northern Thailand. There, the recipe utilizes less oil, is thinner than green curry, contains no coconut cream, and has a peculiar taste due to its strong tamarind-shrimp paste combo as well.

May not be everyone’s favorite, but I encourage you to give it a try. You might fall in love with it like I did!

Where to eat it: nothing like sampling hang lay curry at the beautiful garden of Hinlay Curry House. Relaxing, affordable, authentic. On 8/1 Nha Wat Kate Road, Soi 1, Chiang Mai.

laab moo, Chiang Mai cuisine


Yes: yet another outstanding pork dish, mixed with an aromatic mix of herbs, including zesty shallots and kaffir lime leaves! My mouth waters remembering it and I’m not even that keen of pork (yes, really). Other ingredients include chilies, fish sauce, and cilantro.

You don’t have to try laab moo, though! Laab recipe is used with other type of meats as well, such as beef or even duck (ped).

In contrast, Isaan (Northeastern Thai) versions typically add rice for thickness as well.

Where to eat it: while many street carts in Chiang Mai can dish out decent pork laab (moo), I highly recommend the duck version at Weera Laab Ped in the Old City (33 Soi 7 Sirimankalajarn, Nimman).

Chiang Mai spicy dips, nam prik ong


Tongue-burning foods might not be that common in Chiang Mai, but they still got a few! Case in point? Their most popular, unique chili dips.

Nam prik ong, a Northern Thai red chili dip that looks like Bolognese sauce, is my personal favorite. It’s made with dried chilli leaves, galangal, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, and tomato pound into a mortar–then fried in oil along with minced pork and even more tomatoes. It’s also milder, thanks to its sweet tomato base. So flavorful though, still packing enough kick!

Nam prik nume, on the other hand, will bring you to tears–either of joy or pain. I couldn’t handle the burn, but any lover of fiery food sure will. The roasted green chilli spur dip will kick your taste buds right on the first bite, too.

Where to eat it: built over stilts in the jungle, Huan Huay Kaew Restaurant not only serves some of the best nam prik ong in town, but its architectural design will leave you thinking it is an attraction in itself. Speaking of which: it happens to be conveniently located on the road to famous Doi Suthep at 31/2 M.2. T.Suthep, Huay Kaew Rt., Chiang Mai.

longan juice, Chiang Mai sweets


After so much spice, you need a sweet drink to cool of those taste buds. Even though I’m quite picky about fruit juices, I love longan.

The fruit, while part of the lychee family, is delicately sweet–no tart, sour bite at all. It also happens to be an immune booster!

Logan juice is best served on the rocks after a hot, humid day exploring Chiang Mai.

Where to eat it: between Lane 8 and 9, Old City of Chiang Mai.

khanom sodsai, Chiang Mai desserts


Another wonderful sweet, found virtually anywhere in Thailand, is khanom sodsai. Again we have coconut making a special appearance, even though it is absent from many traditional dishes in Chiang Mai.

In fact, khanom sodsai packs lots of it.

Coconut cream, coupled with a stuffing of shredded coconut soaked in palm sugar and rice powder–all wrapped in a banana leaf. Then, it is dipped in a sesame-sugar pixie powder. Oh joy.

Where to eat it: my favorite place in China mine not only to eat khanom sodsai, but to also have an unforgettable afternoon tea experience is the quiet library of the Makka Hotel. It’s one of the quietest, most beautiful rooms I’ve ever been to anywhere in the world.

Chiang Mai Makka Hotel

What are your favorite Northern Thai dishes? Share them below!

Many thanks to Rain and the team at Chiangmai Food Tours for an unforgettable, complimentary introduction to Northern Thai Cuisine. I was not paid for positive reviews, however. All comments and recommendations put forth on this article are my honest opinion. Moreover, historical facts and descriptions have been cross-checked.

How I Blacked Out (Literally) Amid a Chiang Mai Photography Workshop

Within seconds of turning around, I was feeling queasy. I can’t remember exactly when I blacked out during that Chiang Mai photography workshop: all I remember is how I suddenly started seeing double…

Then, black.

Chiang Mai photography workshop, tuk tuk

As I’m told by Kevin Landwer-Johan, director and tutor at Chiang Mai Photo Workshops, I was only gone for about 10 seconds. Yet, as I slowly opened my eyes, I briefly lost consciousness.

I started to freak out, borderline screaming, wondering why there were two men above me.

Seriously: for a few seconds, I thought I was being attacked.

Seeing the panicked look on my face, Kevin reacted quickly: “you are back! Are you okay?” Upon seeing his beautiful camera, I quickly calmed down and realized where I was.

“Chiang Mai. Thailand. Photography workshop.”

These “men” were teaching me before I knocked myself out with a camera lens.

Chiang Mai photography workshop

Yes, really.

Still a bit shaken, I asked: “how long was I gone?!”

“Just a few seconds. How are you feeling?” Kevin responded.

“Eh…okay, I guess…”

Suddenly, I started to bleed profusely through my nose.

Honestly though, I couldn’t tell you whether that happened before or after I blacked out…

Man oh man, am I clumsy or what?!

I went from learning how to play with light at night, highlighting beautiful reflections and even ‘ghosting out’ tuk tuks, to passing out on top of a dirty bridge by a local market.

Chiang Mai photography workshop, local market

I was taking part of my very first photography workshop, one of many unique things to do in Chiang Mai. I had just bought a Canon EOS 1200 D in Indonesia–and couldn’t wait to get out of auto.

Kevin and Pu taught me a lot about the nuances of night photography. We I learned how to play with aperture and even how to use and external flash in order to convert moving objects into “ghosts.”

I was new to manual, but another participant was advanced & also catered for

Being one of only two participants meant each of us got to enjoy a beautifully customized experience. Both Kevin and Pu switched between us every couple of shots–each providing tips from unique perspectives.

Kevin is such a character, by the way. ‘Funny’ fact: my blacking out episode ensued after I got distracted during one of our wonderful conversations as my shutter went off.

Chiang Mai photography workshop portrait

young longneck tribe girl by Chiang Mai Photo Workshops

We were exchanging Couchsurfing stories, Kevin telling me how he photographed every person he’s ever hosted.

The portraits were so beautiful I almost wanted to book a portrait workshop right then!

It was during one of the moments I was waiting for my shutter to go off that Kevin said something that cracked me up. I twirled and hunched, unexpectedly swinging to my left without looking…


I hit myself square in the face with Pu’s giant camera lens as she passed by.

I started giggling, as the impact was so hard and blunt I couldn’t even feel my nose for several seconds. Then, my nose started to burn. Then, I announced I was feeling dizzy. Then…

Chiang Mai photography workshop, ghosting truck

I slowly melted on my back. Blacked out.

Oh boy. As if the truck had hit me in the head.

While I was in pain for about half of the workshop, I still retained all the wonderful tips and advice Kevin and Pu instilled. Furthermore, my photography improved greatly throughout my epic Southeast Asia travels this summer–most of my shots requiring minimal to no editing prior publication.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this Chiang Mai photography workshop!

Can’t wait to go back to Thailand’s North and photograph the beautiful Mae Sa:

Chiang Mai photography workshop in Mae Sa

Have you ever been to a photography workshop? What did you learn?

Special thanks to Kevin and Pu from Chiang Mai Photo Workshops for allowing me to take part of one of their unique photography workshops free of charge. All opinions (and incidents!) told in this article are real–very real. So watch out for camera lenses as you crack up to one of Kevin’s great stories…

Koh Tao Attractions: My Top 15 [PHOTOS]

Have you been to a place you only planned to visit for a couple of days, but somehow stayed longer, waaaay longer, than planned? That was Koh Tao to me. This magical island on the Gulf of Thailand captured my heart and soul in ways I can barely describe. Today I relive my experiences fondly, sharing with you my top 15 sites, eats, and other unique Koh Tao attractions.

viewpoint, Koh Tao attractions

UV night dive with Big Blue

Corals re-transmit light in differing wavelengths or colors, which causes them to glow beautifully under black light. A florescence UV night dive is one of the most unique Koh Tao attractions and I highly recommend one! It’s super trippy and fun 😉 I booked through Big Blue Diving and despite the big boat, I was still part of a small group and had an outstanding experience. Try it!

Snorkeling and hiking at Koh Nangyuang

Rent a cheap traditional tailboat to spend an afternoon at Koh Nangyuang, a stone’s throw from Big Blue Dive Resort. There, you have the option to snorkel the world-renowned Japanese Gardens or hike to one of Koh Tao’s most spectacular viewpoints.

Koh Nangyuang, things to do in Koh Tao

Seafood with a side of cabaret at Sairee Beach

While staying on Sairee Beach, make sure you check out the nightlife and Koh Tao’s best foodie spot. Barracuda Restaurant and Bar is renowned for its unique, delectable seafood creations and unbelievable value. After a pleasant dinner, head next-door to Queen’s Cabaret for a fun drag queen show.

Barracuda, Koh Tao restaurants

Breakfast or brunch at Cappuccino

Speaking of food, there are several contenders when it comes to proper western breakfast or brunch in Koh Tao. Out of them, Cappuccino in Mae Haad stood out to me due to its superior homemade croissants and competitive prices. I dropped by several times before a full day of diving.

best croissant, Koh Tao restaurants

Diving Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock

The reason Turtle Island first made an appearance on the backpacking trail? Cheap, yet outstanding scuba diving courses and day trips. Make sure you don’t miss one of Koh Tao’s top dive sites Chumphon Pinnacle and a day trip to Sail Rock.

top Koh Tao dive site, Chumphon school of fish

That’s ME! Diving Chumphon Pinnacle

Ride dirt bike to Mango viewpoint

This one is not for the faint of heart: Mango viewpoint is only reached after going up several precarious dirt roads and inclines. You must rent a proper dirtbike, 250 cc minimum, to make it! Once on top though, you can have drinks from the bar or even food from the restaurant on-site to complement THAT view.

Mango viewpoint, best of Koh Tao

Snickers shake and burger at Safety Stop Pub

Did you know you can burn up to 600 calories per hour while scuba diving?! Multiply that by 2 or 3 times a day–yah, plenty of room for naughty food! I stumbled upon this local gem by the Mae Haad pier and it offers comfort food at its finest. I mean seriously, their Snickers chocolate shake is said to have 6 FULL bars in it! I tried it and confirm: it is liquid peanut butter caramel chocolate. AHHHH.

safety stop pub, best Koh Tao spots

Swim with sharks and turtles at Shark Bay

If you are not a diver or simply wish to take a break from the regulator, a great Koh Tao day trip option is to rent a scooter and go beach hopping. Particularly, snorkeling Shark Bay close to sunset (between 4 and 6 PM) increases your chances of seeing feeding reef sharks and turtles.

Shark Bay, best of Koh Tao snorkeling

Rappelling and rock climbing around the island

Other great day trips and relatively-unknown Koh Tao attractions include rappelling and rock climbing around the island. I thoroughly enjoyed a half-day trip with Goodtime Adventures! Their guides are great instructors and heaps of fun. The chosen spots double as stunning viewpoints as well.

rappelling, unique things to do in Koh Tao

Discover how delicious vegan cuisine can be at La Carotte Qui Rit

Vegan cuisine is not only vegetarian, but also does not use any animal products whatsoever. This means popular ingredients such as cheese and honey are out. Loving the latter, it was hard for me to imagine vegan dishes could be that good–until I was invited for lunch at La Carotte Qui Rit. Their creative menu, particularly the Thai dishes, are outstanding. The use of spices is so brilliant, I forgot I was having a vegan lunch.

vegan restaurant, unique Koh Tao spots

Become a student or spectator at Flying Trapeze Adventures

If you’re looking for something special, drop by Flying Trapeze Adventures on Sairee’s Main Road, opposite to Prik Thai. Training or watching students fly about with Gemma and her graceful team is, hands-down, the most unique thing to do in Koh Tao. Too bad they were not doing a full-blown show during my stay! I encourage you to check their schedule upon arrival to the island and see if you’re luckier than I was.

trapeze, unique Koh Tao attractions

photo by Maike Crosscastle

Poi fire show on the beach

A popular attraction throughout Southeast Asia beaches are fire dance shows–and Koh Tao isn’t an exception. You can enjoy them nightly at several cafés, bars, and restaurants on the beach. Make sure you pick a seat further away, as the fearless dancers like to get a little too close for comfort!

fire show, top Koh Tao shows

Homemade gnocchi at Koh Tao Regal Resort

Orgasmic is the only fitting adjective for the quattro formaggi gnocchi at Koh Tao Regal Resort’s beachfront restaurant. Its new Chef worked at some of the best restaurants in Bangkok–and you can taste it. The hand-rolled dumplings, along with the strong four-cheese blend, melted in my mouth in a way that moved me to tears. Of joy. Better yet? It is nearly half the price than similar dishes at other Italian restaurants on the island.

Italian food, best Koh Tao hotels

Trash Hero and Jack, the artist

Jack is a peculiar artist who turns garbage into art. You would have to ask around for his specific location, as I couldn’t find any info besides a promotional video on Koh Tao TV! First people to ask would be the Koh Tao chapter of Trash Hero: an organization whose goal is to create sustainable communities by removing and/or transforming waste. Spend a day volunteering on a beach or coral reef cleanup if you can!

trash hero, Koh Tao eco-friendly attractions

Sunday Roast at The Hacienda

English food has a pretty bad reputation worldwide, doesn’t it? The Sunday Roast at The Hacienda completely flipped my perspective, though! Their impossibly-juicy beef & gravy, cheesy cauliflower, and flaky-yet-chewy Yorkshire pudding in particular left me speechless. Needless to say, Koh Tao was the last place I expected to find the best English dishes I’ve ever had!

Sunday Roast, best food in Koh Tao

I received complimentary dives and accommodation at Big Blue Dive Resort; a half-day rappelling trip with Goodtime Adventures; and dinners at Barracuda Restaurant. I was not paid for positive reviews, however, so all views expressed on this post are my honest opinion. I LOVED these experiences! I can’t wait to go back and relive them.

Which are your favorite Koh Tao attractions? Share them below!

Top Koh Tao Dive Site: VIDEO from Chumphon Pinnacle!

On a sunny day in mid-June, the top Koh Tao dive site Chumphon Pinnacle was pristine: 30-meter visibility, 30-degree C water temperature. Wavy, but manageable. It was my last day diving in the island with Crystal Dive.

As we deflated our BCDs and started our descent, a school of yellow-tail trevallies graced us with their presence. Things escalated quickly: Jack Fish, HUGE tunas, Queen Fish and Bat Fish surrounded us.

top Koh Tao dive site, Chumphon trevally tunnel

Trevally tunnel. WOW! Photo by Crystal Images Koh Tao

What a show they put on!

Just when we thought our beautiful dive couldn’t get any better, a giant Barracuda tornado descended from our right — simultaneously colliding with a big school of Yellow-Tail Trevallies on our left

Within seconds, I was engulfed by both schools. I started to giggle like a little girl visiting Disneyland for the first time.

top Koh Tao dive site, Chumphon school of fish

That’s ME! Incredible schools of fish engulfed us

Momentarily, I looked down. Hiding in a rock, I saw what seemed to be a juvenile Yellow Boxfish.


To the surprise of some divers, I slowly drifted away from the Chevron Barracudas tornado and Yellow-tail Trevally school to investigate. I confirmed it was, in fact, one of my favorite species.

yellow boxfish, trevally tunnel at the top Koh Tao dive site Chumpon Pinnacle

baby yellow boxfish photo by Bernard DUPONT, Flickr

Juvenile Yellow Boxfishes, with their black spots and tiny trumpet-like mouths, are SO. STINKING. CUTE.

I had another giggle attack — at almost 30 meters deep, my dive buddy must have thought I momentarily experienced narcosis. You know, the Martini Effect diving?


Other usual suspects found at top Koh Tao dive sites such as giant Groupers, Parrot Fishes, Bat Fishes, Titan Trigger Fishes, and angel fishes surrounded us as well. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that I was leaving this paradise the very next day.

fish tunnel, top Koh Tao dive site

School of fish tunnel photo by Crystal Dive Resort

Oh, but not to worry. I know I’ll be coming back to beautiful Turtle Island soon enough. Who knows, I might even get my Divemaster at Crystal Dive Resort, as you get free diving FOR LIFE once you do it with them. Why? In their own words:

“Once you dive and do a course with us, you’re part of our family. We want our family to keep coming back.”

I can’t wait to see my family in Koh Tao again <3

Koh Tao viewpoint

Until next time, my beautiful Turtle Island

I was provided complimentary dives and accommodation at Koh Tao Regal Resort and Crystal Dive Resort. I was not paid for positive reviews, however, so all views expressed on this article are my honest opinion. Koh Tao is truly MAGICAL. I can’t wait to go back.

Bangkok Foodie Guide: 10 Must-try Dishes and Spots

As an avid foodie, I realized I must spend a minimum of one week scouting Thailand’s capital. The astounding variety of spices and flavors that make up Thai cuisine is such that I had to put together a brief Bangkok foodie guide—including 10 dishes a first-time Thailand visitor cannot miss.

Bangkok Foodie Guide: Must-Try Dishes

Bangkok foodie guide, Massaman curry

Massaman curry by Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons

Massaman Gaen

May Kaidee, near Khao San Road

I’ll explore beyond the typical red, green, and yellow curries on a spot nearby Khao San Road and some of Bangkok’s cheapest hotels. I’ll start with a non-spicy peanut kind, massaman gaen. Interestingly, it is the Thai interpretation of a Persian dish. As such, it contains some ingredients not typically found in Thai curries (i.e. cardamom, star anise, cumin, nutmeg) mixed with other local flavors (galangal, lemongrass, coriander seeds, coconut milk).

Khao Rad Gaeng,  Kanom Jeen, Khao Soi

Khao Gaeng Ruttana, Nang Loeng Market
Buffet Chao Din, 5th Floor Maboonkrong Mall

Other curries I wish to try include khao rad gaeng (rice covered with curry and other ingredients); kanom jeen curry noodles (lightly fermented, soft noodles topped with thick, spicy coconut milk curry and a towering side of fresh vegetables); and khao soi (Burmese-influenced curry soup with deep-fried egg noodles).

Tom Yum Goong

P’Aor, Petchaburi Soi 5

Thick and creamy, sweet-and-sour, full of rice noodles and prawns—what IS that and where can I get it?! Goong is a mouth-watering variation of better-known tom yum. Common ingredients include fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.

Kao Niew Moo Ping

Soi Convent stall, BTS Sala Daeng

A popular breakfast Thai food, but offered 24/7 by several food carts throughout Bangkok. As travel writer Mark Wiens puts it, khao neow moo ping is to Thais what the sausage biscuit is to Americans. The grilled pork skewers are brushed with coconut milk before being cooked, resulting in perfectly moist, caramelized pieces.

Moo Dat Diew

Ta Bun Tum at Pin Ngen Market, Block R28-R29

Another must-try Thai pork dish reminds me of jamon Serrano. Process begins with pieces of pork hanged to salt and dry in the sun. The last step sets it apart from its Spanish cousin though, as pieces are deep-fried after drying. The result? Crunchy pieces on the outside, yet soft on the inside. Sweet, yet salty. I WANT.

Kuay Teow Reua

BTS Victory Monument, Exit 3 or 4

As the dish was historically sold by vendors from boats, it was coined “boat noodles.” Nowadays though, Bangkok has an entire alley of stalls serving this pig-blood noodle soup, right by Victory Monument.

Phat Thai

Wat Ratchaburana Temple stall, Chakkraphet Road
Sukhumvit 38, off BTS Thong Lo, Exit 4

How could I leave Bangkok without trying the quintessential Thai dish? What’s fascinating is that not only is it a twist on a Vietnamese dish, but also that it is commonly misspelled by Westerners. Yes, it is PHAT Thai not PAD Thai!

Khanom bueang, Bangkok foodie guide

Khanom bueang by Dan Woods via Flickr

Khanom Bueang

Award-winning stand, 10-minute walk from BTS Talat Phlu

I almost forget dessert! Another delicacy on my Bangkok foodie guide is khanom bueang: sweet Thai take on a taco. Crispy rice flour, coconut cream, and thinly-shredded egg strips boiled in sugar syrup sound heavenly after many spicy curries.

This post is part of the #HipmunkCityLove series

First-time Koh Samui: Must-Sees (and Off-The-Beaten-Path)

I’ve been busy planning my trip to Thailand. Unfortunately, I have to skip Koh Phi Phi and other beaches on the Andaman Sea due to the rainy season, already in swing in July. In turn, I’m heading to the Gulf of Thailand, which has the best weather then! Below, my first-time Koh Samui picks:

First-time Koh Samui: Where Should I Stay?

first-time Koh Samui, coral Cove Beach

Photo by Fabio Achilli, Flickr

Chaweng Beach

Being Koh Samui’s longest beach, this is where most tourists go. While not exactly my cup of tea, I’m told Chaweng is where I’ll find the best activities and nightlife. Namely, there are several zip lines over the jungle; water sports such as jet skiing, canoeing, and windsurfing; and even a monthly Full Moon Party that rivals Koh Phangan’s maybe not in size, but certainly in raucousness.

Lamai Beach

Albeit the second most popular beach, Koh Samui hotels on Lamai are more my style. They are close to several must-see sites, while still having a good selection of restaurants, clubs, and bars next door. Better yet? I won’t be bothered by troves of vendors as I would in Chaweng.

First-time Koh Samui: Must-Sees

first-time Koh Samui, big Buddha

Photo by Joy Sheehan via

Bophut’s Market

Every Friday night, this fisherman’s village turns into a pedestrian-only market. Anything from clothing, souvenirs, local artwork, and a variety of street food is on offer. It’s certainly the best venue to experience the island’s local flair.

Wat Plai Laem

Between Choeng Mon Beach and Bophut is an ornate complex, encompassing three one-of-a-kind temples. Guanyin statues, a smiling Buddha, and 18 Chinese-style armed Goddesses will sprinkle my beach break with history and culture.

Wat Khunaram

A well-preserved mummified monk, donning Ray Bans, is not something you see every day. Lovingly known as “The Eternal Monk,” rumor has it that no preservatives were used on his body. This temple is worth a visit as well since I can receive the blessing of a real monk.

Magic Garden

A jungle oasis on the northeast of the island, enclosing an impressive 12-meter golden Buddha. Also known as the Secret Buddha Garden, its walking trails, hidden statues, and waterfall make it a perfect half-day trip.

Koh Tao

Some of the most spectacular, cheapest diving in the world is a short one-hour ferry ride from Koh Samui. Koh Tao’s trails and awe-inspiring viewpoints are also a draw. Given that I can’t visit Koh Phi Phi, I’m happy to see this island is a superb (and likely less crowded) alternative. Heck, I’m debating whether to make it my trip’s base!

First-time Koh Samui: Off-The-Beaten-Path

Koh Tan, first-time Koh Samui

Photo via, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NL

Buddha’s Footprints

Nearby Butterfly Garden lies another relaxing spot: a hilltop shrine that features four layered, beautifully-detailed Buddha footprints. It’s a heart-pumping hike, due to the amount of stairs to climb, and a stunning lookout once on top.

Koh Taen

Net fishing and crowds pushed me away from well-known Angthong National Park. Instead, I’ll rent a traditional long-tail boat and spend a quiet day snorkeling at Koh Taen. Said to be the last unspoiled island near Koh Samui, I’ll enjoy its seclusion and teeming marine life.

This post is part of the #HipmunkCityLove series

First-time Bangkok: Must-Sees (and Some Quirks)

I have some exciting news: I’m going to Thailand this summer! I made the decision last week and couldn’t be any more excited about it. While I certainly want to check out the must-sees, I also want to see a quirky site or two, so I asked some friends for advice. Here’s the brief first-time Bangkok guide we came up with.

First-time Bangkok: Must-Sees in Old Town

Reclining Buddha, first-time Bangkok guide

Reclining Buddha photo by dborup via

Khao San Road

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it can be dirty at times. Yet, my friends say the road must be visited at least once in your life. Cocktail bars, street food, knickknacks, and some of the cheapest hotels in Bangkok can be found among a sea of foreigners and Thai hustlers.

Wat Pho and Grand Palace

If you only plan to visit one temple during your time in Bangkok, they said, it should be Wat Pho. Not only is it the city’s oldest and largest monastic complex, but is also home to the famous Reclining Buddha: a 49-ft. high and 141-ft. long masterpiece that will sure leave you speechless.

Immediately next to Wat Pho is another must-see for any first-time Bangkok visitor: The Grand Palace complex. While visitors are only allowed inside the European-style reception room, Grand Palace Hall, and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the complex’s intricate architectural details are its main draws.

First-time Bangkok: Markets and Other Districts

Khanom bueang, first-time Bangkok guide

Khanom bueang by Ilya Plekhanov, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

The Riverside

Stilt houses, water taxis, and barges sprinkle Bangkok’s Riverside, giving us a glimpse of its past. In fact, some of the oldest neighborhoods of the city are found between Wat Arun (another must-see!) and Phra Sumeru Fortress.

Sukhumvit Soi 38

Rumor has it that this district has the best Thai street food in town. I can’t wait to stuff my face with thom kha soup, khanom bueang (sweet Thai take on a taco), and pat Thai (yes: we’ve been spelling it wrong all along!).

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Touristy but still authentic, this popular floating market is another place where I plan to get my foodie on. Local vendors stuff their boats to the brim with grills, kettles, and fresh ingredients. The result? Sumptuous boat noodles, seafood kebabs, and the like.

Soi Cowboy

This red light district is named after the cowboy-hat-donning African-American who opened the first bar here in the early 70s. There are also some trendy hotels nearby, namely the Citrus Sukhumvit 22 Bangkok. Colorful neon and questionable nightlife: I’m intrigued.

First-Time Bangkok: the Quirky

Cabbages and Condoms, first-time Bangkok guide

Cabbages and Condoms by Lauren via

Cabbages and Condoms

“Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy,” its official slogan reassures. How could I resist? Also known as C&C, the restaurant’s mission is to promote family planning. This is done not only through its educational decor, but also by donating some of its earnings to the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).

The Hell Temple (Wat Saen Suk)

While this somewhat-gruesome temple is actually not within Bangkok’s city limits, it’s an easy day trip from there or Pattaya. As its name suggests, the site depicts different scenes of what they believe happens in hell. Graphic, bloody “humans” are everywhere, so not recommended for the fainthearted.

Songkran Festival Tampa: VIDEO and photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram!

มีความสุขปีใหม่ – Happy New (Thai) Year! I just came back from celebrating Songkran Festival Tampa and got a short video plus photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram. BUT! Before I get to those, I would love for you to learn more about Songkran’s history, customs and traditions beyond the multi-day big fun water fight 😉 It is, after all, Cultural Tidbits Monday on LatinAbroad!

Songkran Festival Tampa, water fights

Songkran water fights escalating at Tampa’s Thai Temple

Songkran Festival Tampa sign

Songkran Festival in Tampa this past weekend

Thai New Year: Songkran Festival history

Songkran, which literally means “astrological passage” and comes from the Sanskrit word “saṃkrānti,” is the festival that marks Thai New Year (Wikipedia). Currently, it is celebrated annually between April 13 – 15 — but that wasn’t always the case.

Back in ancient times, a new year was marked by the first sign of waning of the moon in the first month of the lunar calendar (around late November). For this reason, dates were never fixed. Then, King Rama V made history by changing Thai New Year dates twice — sticking to April 1st in 1888 (

You thought they would be done switching the New Year date on the poor Thai people by then though, right…? But nope! In 1940, shortly after Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, New Year was to be celebrated at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar: January 1st.

Songkran Festival history, King Chulalongkorn the Great

King of Siam Rama V, also known as Chulalongkorn The Great, circa 1880

After the switch though, Songkran Festival became a National Holiday and, even today, it is still known as Thai New Year. Thus, one could say that Thais have about 2-3 different New Year dates and celebrations, depending on their background: January 1st, April 13-15, and late January – February (Chinese New Year).

Songkran Festival customs and traditions

Despite the different New Year dates throughout the centuries, most traditional celebrations are held in April. Why is that? As Songkran customs and traditions include the visitation and honoring of elders, sand pagoda building, gift exchanges, and the ubiquitous water splashing, it is better to celebrate during the hottest month of the year. Not only are the months of January and February are too cold, but they are also quite busy in rural areas, as it is harvest season.

Other customs and traditions we observed during this year’s Songkran Festival Tampa included a parade to lead a Buddha Statue, the subsequent clockwise circling of the Main Temple (3 times), and the Pundit leading chants as sprinkled perfumed water and flower petals to the Buddha statues, monks, and elders.

Songkran Festival Tampa, monk blessing

Monk blessings at Songkran Festival Tampa

Songkran Festival Tampa, water splashing

WATER SPLASHING! I mean blessing

After the traditional processions, everybody is encouraged to sprinkle each other with the perfumed water used to cleanse the Buddhas, as this is considered a blessing, good fortune and health for the New Year. As you will judge by the following Wat Mongkolratanaram photos and video, I shall have a quite prosperous 2014-2015! 😉

Songkran Festival Tampa VIDEO and photos!

Before processions began, we had a wonderful USD $5 lunch in the peaceful, riverfront grounds of Wat Mongkolratanaram. What’s really cool is that they have a massive amount of options: from 4-5 different types of curries to aromatic noodle soups and Thai desserts! A full review of the wonderful Sunday meals at this Thai Temple will follow on a future post, though. Now, onto the Songkran Festival Tampa video and more photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram grounds! 😀

^^ just a teaser! Longer one coming up soon 😉

Songkran Festival Tampa, offering carving

Songkran Festival fruit offering carving

Songkran Festival Tampa, Thai sign

Can someone translate for me? 🙂

Songkran Festival photos, outdoor altar

Songkran Festival outdoor altar – so beautiful

Songkran Festival photos, water-blurred altar

Water-blurred Songkran Festival altar

Songkran Festival photos, Tampa Thai Temple grounds

Altar at the beautiful grounds of Tampa’s Thai Temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram

Songkran Festival photos, inside the temple

Inside Tampa’s Buddhist Temple: beautiful altar

Songkran Festival Tampa, Thai temple façade

Façade of Wat Mongkolratanaram. Hard to believe we’re in the middle of Florida!

Have you ever celebrated the Songkran Festival? Where in the world? 🙂

Travel Bucket List of the Week: Holidays RTW!

To learn more about #TravelBL Wednesdays, click here

Happy #TravelBL Wednesday peeps! The items on this week’s travel bucket list are related to Christmas and the holidays. So grab a pen and keep expanding that travel bucket list of yours!

travel bucket list, Loi Krathong festival

Loi Krathong festival, Thailand (Photo: Robert Pollai)

Holiday travel bucket list item #1: Loi Krathong festival, Thailand/Laos/Burma

I had no idea of this Thai festival’s existence until I heard it was on one of my fellow tweeps’ travel bucket list yesterday at the #TravelBL chat. Happening on the full-moon night of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar (usually sometime in November), krathong rafts are released into the water as a way of “paying respects” to the spirits of this element. Fireworks and a huge party are typical of this celebration as well. Who wouldn’t want to go?!

travel bucket list, Vienna Christmas market

Christkindlmarkt in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Manfred Werner)

Holiday travel bucket list item #2: The European Christmas markets

I have heard so many things about the wonderful, magical Christmas markets in several cities across Europe. However, the one that has mostly resonated around me has been the one in Vienna! Although also Luxembourg…and Prague…but they are all close by so I’ll probably cross them all off my holiday travel bucket list at once! 😉

travel bucket list, Australia Day

Australia Day fireworks in Perth (Photo: Nachoman-au, Wikipedia)

Holiday travel bucket list item #3: Australia Day, AUS

We all know that Aussies really know how to party. Then, imagine how it would be to celebrate the first settlement in Port Jackson (nowadays, part of Sydney) with them?! A whole different story! I plan Australia Day celebrations to be top-ranked among the best parties ever experienced once I finally crossed this one off my travel bucket list. When will this happen? I was planning for 2012 or 2013, but it seems that Egypt & the Middle East are calling my name strongly once more. But behold my fellow Aussies, I shall join you soon enough!

Holiday travel bucket list item #4: Christmas in Bethlehem

Some call it West Bank; others Palestine. Tensions keep rising. Regardless of your political views, a vigil on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day celebrations in Bethlehem will definitely take your breath away. The aura and air simply smell differently; the surroundings charged with spiritual energy. I was really close to crossing this item off my travel bucket list 3 years ago, but I ended up spending Christmas in Puerto Rico instead. I, however, plan on joining the solemn vigil & celebration at the place most believe Jesus Christ was born in the future. Can’t wait for that day 🙂

Holiday travel bucket list item #5: The Chinese Lantern Festival

I have always been infatuated with this Chinese type of lanterns–they are romantic and add spice to any room’s decorations. Now, put thousands together and let them fly up into the sky, all during a traditional festival that has been celebrated for more than 2000 years — now that’s just something else! Oh btw, it is to scare the ghosts away, too 😀 it happens on the 15th lunar day of 7th lunar month, which will fall on February for the next 3 years. I wanna go in 2014, just because it falls on St Valentine’s Day — how romantic would that be?!

Want your travel bucket list items featured next week? It is simple: Post your travel bucket list items on your blog, post the blog post link in a comment below, tweet that post with the #TravelBL tag and then cc @latinAbroad (moi!) on it. Y listo! I’ll RT and feature the post on next week’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday. What if you guys take a vacay and I don’t have any new blog posts and lists to feature? I simply go around the Internet browsing and reposting the best of the best for our travel bucket list. Moreover, don’t forget to join us on Twitter #TravelBL chat every Wednesday at 12 & 6:15 pm (EST)! 😀

What’s on your holiday travel bucket list?