Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

Traveling to Koh Samui for the first time? Here’s what you can expect…

The view from my ferry's bow while traveling to Koh Samui from Don Sak pier // photo: James Shannon

The view from my ferry’s bow while traveling to Koh Samui from Don Sak pier // photo: James Shannon

Thanks to my super-long break from blogging, the pictures that I have taken from my Asian and Latin American travels have been collecting dust on my hard drive.

However, now that I have gotten the hang of running the day-to-day aspects of my business, I am finally making a commitment to get back to documenting my never-ending pursuit of excitement!

Although the trip in this post occurred over three years ago, it makes sense to go back in time given how long I have been ignoring this site.

After flying to Thailand on a whim and securing the first client for my nascent business, I was already running out of time on my 30-day visa exemption. While I had to leave the country to secure a proper visa, I decided to see a part that I had not seen on prior backpacking trips.

Many have derided this island as being the Gulf of Thailand’s version of Phuket. As much as I had loathed Patong Beach when I was there, traveling to Koh Samui was necessary in order to know this place for myself.

Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

As it turned out, Chaweng Beach (the most popular resort area on the island) was quite the busy hub, but it wasn’t the in-your-face circus that Patong had been.

If you are looking for a place with all the restaurants, bars, and services you could ever want, paired together with a decent beach, you’ll want to base yourself here.

Chaweng Beach by day, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon
A spot like this wouldn’t be my first choice for some R&R (for me, that’s Koh Chang), but for many folks, it works well as a home base to enjoy one of Thailand’s finest islands.

While I stuck around this area more than I wanted to (bloody cold … I had bad luck that year with tropical islands and being ill!), I did eventually get around the island on a guided tour.

Koh Samui // photo: James Shannon
While many tours on Koh Samui are worth the cost, be sure that they leave out the monkey show.

This exploitative attraction nearly ruined the entire day, as its cruelty overshadowed the other worthwhile sights that the guide had shown us.
Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

However, there was one cultural highlight that had me walking away impressed: Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha Temple).

Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

Boasting several gigantic Buddha idols and other icons of Buddhism, it was a refreshingly Thai corner on one of Thailand’s most hyped islands.

Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

Have any questions about Koh Samui? Been there yourself lately? Share your queries/perspective in the comments below.

Photo: buying pork products in a majority Muslim country

In many parts of Malaysia, pork and other goods deemed as haram (forbidden) by Islam can be hard to come by, as many places outside of the cities are majority Muslim regions.

In deference to those that are Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or agnostic/atheist though, stores in these parts of the country often have a dusty shelf towards the back where devilishly delicious pork products and other forbidden goodies can be bought.

Another random fact: these stores have to have at least one person on staff at all times who is not a Muslim to handle these purchases when they are brought to the checkout, as the ones that are are not permitted to even handle these products, much less consume them. Malaysia is a very interesting country to say the least!

My First Full Year As A Digital Nomad: 2014 In Pictures

photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr image credit: photo by CC user 70626035@N00 on Flickr

Well, we’re halfway through January, but with all the freelance work I’ve been bashing my way through, this year in review had to wait for awhile.  In many ways, 2014 was defined by the growth of my mobile business, which caused this blog to be neglected at times ( Mama’s been busy, but I still love you all … sorry!).

In true digital nomad fashion though, I managed to get in tons of travel between the ever frequent 12 hour work days (the less glamorous aspect of the trade), starting in Chiang Mai, Thailand on New Year’s Day and progressing through Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico and Belize.

I’m currently writing this from Guatemala, which is where I traveled to on New Year’s Day, and looking back over the past year, it was another tumultuous ride. Let’s dive right into yet another 2014 in pictures post, shall we?

January

I began my year in Chiang Mai with one final month on my apartment lease, so I took the opportunity to get out and see parts of the city I hadn’t seen. One of those spots included Warorot Market, a multi-level traditional trading house with everything from hill tribe clothes to weird Thai-Chinese food.

It was at the outer stalls where I picked up the giant blanket and pillow for my bed back in November 2013 … paid 500 baht total (bedding in Thailand is expensive for some reason).

February

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February saw me take to the road again after four months of working to get my business plane off the runway, with the end goal being Bali.  Along the way though, I spent time in Krabi (the awesomeness of Railay Beach cannot be understated) and Koh Lanta before heading to Kuala Lumpur to catch a one-way flight to Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.

In the days before my flight though, I had the chance to have a long-awaited reunion with Paul Phillip, a native Malaysian who I went to college with back in Canada from 1998 to 2003. Tiger beers were had, bowls of Hokkien Mee were greedily consumed, and stories exchanged. Can’t wait to hang out with my old buddy again (next winter maybe?)!

March

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Much of March was spent in Indonesia, but not in Bali.  The second half of February was when I explored that island paradise, leaving most of this month for me to make my way across the densely populated, volcano-studded island of Java.

This place sees a trickle of the foreign tourists that visit Bali, and in cities like Surabaya (pictured above), one can experience the real Indonesia, a place that is rough around the edges, but is still a profoundly rewarding place in which to travel.

April

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Arriving back in Canada in late March via British Columbia, I kicked off my time at home by exploring a corner of this gorgeous province that I had never explored before.  Vancouver Island turned out to be all that and more when it came to sublime beauty, with no place exemplifying this principle more than Tonquin Beach in Tofino.

May

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The rest of April was spent in Alberta catching up with friends and family, and skiing/hiking the slopes of Jasper before returning to the Greater Vancouver Area to take up my first housesit acquired through TrustedHouseSitters.

I spent three weeks caring for Cleo the Cat and Emma the Black Lab in the suburb of Surrey while cheering on my Habs through to the Eastern Conference Final. The arrangement had its challenges at times, but I find myself missing my furry roommates even as I type this.  When I get back to Canada, I will definitely be doing this again!

June

After completing my housesitting assignment ended, I began my eastward journey by checking out Whistler, then after another pet sitting date in Calgary finished up, I set out on an epic 54 hour bus ride to Toronto. You don’t want to know how smelly my feet were after that! 😛

Once I got rested up and showered, it just so happened that Toronto was hosting World Pride … camera in hand and ready for a fabulous time, I snagged an awesome spot on Yonge and watched the festivities unfold…

July

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July saw me finally get home after over two years away from Nova Scotia, and it was for a joyous occasion, as I attended the wedding of my little sister Meghan and her vertically endowed partner, Malcolm. Thanks again for two fun-filled days Meg, and congrats!

August

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Once the wedding was over, I spent a full month reconnecting with family back in the Scotia before I set out to continue my world adventures in Latin America.  On August the 21st, I landed in Mexico City, and had my intense fears surrounding the place shattered in a matter of hours.

Anybody with a modicum of street smarts and common sense will be fine here, and with a wealth of museums, fine architecture and modern attractions, nobody on a extended Mexican trip can afford to skip this place.  Set aside at least four days.

September

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While most of September was spent in balmy Puerto Vallarta, the photographic highlight of September occurred early in the month, as the mountainous colonial gem of Guanajuato stole my heart.  This was the first in a series of oustanding historic towns that I’ve seen on my Latin American journey that you all need to see with your own eyes … stay tuned for posts in the new year on these places!

October

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October was defined by a highly controversial story in Mexico where 43 student protesters (or normalistas) were rounded up my police in one of the poorer parts of the country and disappeared.

It came out later that they had been turned over to the cartels and subsequently murdered, touching off mass demonstrations across the nation, with this wall in San Cristobal de la Casas showing the signs of the public’s anger and discontent.

November

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I settled into Playa Del Carmen for most of November and into early December for both work and pleasure, with my parents joining me in one of Mexico’s best resort towns later in this month for some shared vacation time.

The highlight of our time together was our swim and trek through Rio Secreto, which was an enclosed cenote with some of the purest, most effervescent water I’ve ever seen. For those scared of organized tours, go ahead and give this one a go!

December

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The final month of 2014 had me blissing out in Belize, with my time split between Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and San Ignacio.  The above pic comes from a breakfast cafe in CC, where the silky breezes of the Caribbean combined with the eye candy to give me a moment of solace in a year where there have been precious few.

Business is hard and can consume your life occasionally, but it beats not having control of your time, and better you get at running your own affairs, the more it becomes possible to do things that just aren’t possible in a 9-5 career.

Tentative plans for 2015

As far as my business is concerned, I have more freelance work than I can handle at times, so the emphasis will be on improving the quality of work that I accept going forward, and freeing time so that I can work on personal business projects that have been on the back burner in my brain for far too long.

I got an idea journal full of potential websites, products, and so forth just waiting to be acted on … I just have to clear enough slots on my dance card to give them the attention they need to take root and grow.

On the travel side of the coin, the goal is Ushuaia, Argentina.  The bottom of the world.  How or when I get there in 2015 is immaterial. If I can gaze towards Antarctica (the trip to the frozen continent will have to wait, as I don’t have $5,000 laying around at the moment) from the rocky shores of the bottom of the civilized world, standing astride with some penguin friends, my journey will be a complete success.

What are you up to in 2015? Tell us all about it below! 

Malaysian Food in Borneo: Delicious Eats On Gaya Street

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Everywhere you go in Malaysia, one life-changing meal after another can be found in the numerous cafes, food courts and restaurants can be found on the main streets and back alleys of its cities, towns and villages.

While the home of Malaysian society can be found on the Malay Penninsula south of Thailand, the lip-smacking cuisine (such as the claypot chicken and mushrooms with rice dish above) can also be found throughout its holdings on the northern third of Borneo.

Malaysian food in Borneo is taken very seriously, so any foreign tourists that come here expecting a good meal are in for a serious treat!

Being one of its largest cities here, Kota Kinabalu is a natural home to the best of Borneoan cuisine, which is a mix of Indian, Malay, Chinese, and indigenous styles of cooking.

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No matter your preference though, coming in one of these homely places and merely ordering a random dish will likely end with a pleasurable result.

With most meals costing less than $3 USD with drink included, it’s hard to go wrong (especially when you’ve got pork slices slathered in gravy, chicken noodle soup, and a refreshing mug of freshly squeezed pineapple juice sitting before, as it was for me above!)

Photo: A Fine Day At The Floating Mosque, Penang Malaysia

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Penang Malaysia is often a curious blend of the old and the new, with soaring condo developments overshadowing Chinese shophouses, food carts and establishments that crank out time-tested recipes, and ornately designed temples and mosques that testify to the faith of those that live on this lively and industrious island in the tropics.

Of the latter, the mosque with the most inspired architecture on Penang is none other than the Floating Mosque.  Located around the northeast corner of the island, it stretches out into a shallow bay, blending in with the surrounding landscape, yet standing out in its own special way.

If you do visit this landmark and wish to venture inside, don’t be like me and throw on a pair of shorts, which bars you entry. Instead,  don a pair of pants and a shirt with sleeves, which properly respects the cultural mores of the devout, and see this fabulous place from the inside and the view from its incredible deck out back.  I was not able to access it due to my dress that day, which limited me to just a single photo of its exterior.

Photo: Tropical Dream Sequence in Malaysian Borneo

View from islands off Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

While most people travel to Kota Kinabalu only to continue on to climb one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia (Mount Kinabalu), lovers of tropical beach paradises take note: there are some idyllic hideaways lying just offshore of this frontier city in Malaysian Borneo.

Head to Jesselton Pier and purchase a ticket to one of the islands that comprise Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which is a chain of coral islands that lie mere kilometres away from the core of downtown KK.

The one pictured above is Palau Manukan, but there are four other isles to choose from, with Manukan being the most popular, Sulug being completely undeveloped, and Gaya having resorts where you can stay overnight.

The water is unreal, and the SCUBA diving is supposedly quite good for being so close to a big city, so be sure to spend a day here if you’re traveling to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

Photo: Fruit Market in Penang, Malaysia

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When traveling through Southeast Asia, access to food is rarely a concern.  Convenience stores, food carts, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants abound everywhere you go, leading to an unexpected conundrum: instead wondering if you’ll be able to find good food, you’ll be debating just where you’re going to have one of an endless variety of meals to satisfy your hunger.

Another option to add to the list: the fruit market.  The tropics offers a cornucopia of fruits (many of which look exotic and intriguing) to choose from, and even if you’re aren’t jonesing for a snack like I wasn’t at the time I took this photo, it makes for a colourful shot to add to your trip photo album!

Launching Lanterns On New Year’s Eve In Chiang Mai

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New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai is a holiday that is treated by the locals in the manner that we regard Christmas.  It’s a joyous occasion where people get to get with their families, celebrate, and make wishes for a prosperous and happy year ahead.  One of these traditions involves lighting a lantern and releasing it into the sky.  On the day of/in the days leading up to the big day, vendors will be selling these collapsed paper bags with a wick that is shaped like a doughnut.  This is what you and thousands of people will be sending into the sky en masse on New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai …

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To send your lantern into the ether, unfurl it, then light the wick, which has been pre-primed with an accelerant that will keep it lit for a good long while.  Next, it won’t fly away until the air within the lantern is hot enough to provide the upward thrust to keep it rising.  Many people get impatient and let theirs go way too early, leading to it hovering near the ground, and sadly, due to the moat present in the main area of Chiang Mai, splashing down in the water, possibly leading to a year of bad luck 😛

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Eventually though, the heat will have built up to a point where you can let it blast off (3-5 minutes is usually enough time).  Off into the sky it will go, along with thousands of others … before the law of gravity takes over and begins raining fire and extinguished lanterns on the surrounding neighbourhoods! 😛

Have you ever launched paper lanterns into the sky, be it in Thailand or elsewhere in the world?  Tell us about it below!

Photo: Chiang Mai From Above

Chiang Mai, Thailand as viewed from Doi Suthep

Sweeping views of Thailand’s second city are hard to come by, as much of the place is kept low-rise by the fact that most business headquarters are located in Bangkok, and due to the presence of an international airport well within city limits.

Fortunately for those that love these lofty vantage points, there is a mountain that abuts the western part of the metropolis.  Doi Suthep towers above this part of Chiang Mai, with views from Wat Phra That being suspended thousands of feet above the streets and buildings below.

When you head up to get that marvelous shot, be sure to dress conservatively (long pants/no exposed shoulders), as you will be on sacred ground.

How to get here: Take a red songthaew to the Chiang Mai Zoo.  A short way up the street from here are the gates of Doi Suthep National Park, where there will be more songthaews that will take you up and down the mountain for 50-80 baht, depending how many attractions (Phuping Palace and a a hilltribe village also can be visited up here) you want to see (Wat Phra That is the closest one, so it should be no more than 50 baht).

Head up the stairs past countless trinket vendors to the Wat, then head towards the ridge once on the grounds of the temple.  Enjoy! 

Choice Views From Thailand’s Hill Country

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As my time in Northern Thailand is winding its way to a close, I’d figure I’d share more pics to show you what the mountains up in this part of the country are like.  The highlands up here are (believe it or not) the furthest of the foothills that radiate out hundreds of kilometres from the main ranges of the Himalayas.  They don’t reach up high enough to get snow in the winter time, but they do provide a bit of novelty for the Thai population nonetheless, as the coldest nighttime lows in December/January get nippy enough to cause frost to form!

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Despite the fact that I described them as foothills, these mountains aren’t small exactly … you see that squiggley line in the side of the hill ahead?  That’s just two of over 1,800+ curves on the Mae Hong Son loop, a popular motorbiking route that includes the mountain valley paradise of Pai. This road is not so great if you’re stuck in a bus or minivan, but a pure joy to ride on a bike (word to the wise #1: don’t rent a Honda Click, as you will struggle to get up steep inclines … word to the wise #2: check your fuel often … it’s actually remote in this part of Thailand!)

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Just in case you think North Americans have the market on tacky tourist stuff cornered, think again!  In addition to all the Coffee In Love attractions in nearby Pai, at the mountaintop viewpoint between Pai and Sappong, you can pretend to be a Karen tribesperson! Not my cup of tea, but I did find it amusing on this day in Thailand’s hill country!

Have you done the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand?  What did you think about it?