Established in 2008, Airbnb has been around for a fair amount of time. However, it wasn’t until mid-2015 that I first used it.
It was a brilliant choice!
To anyone that doesn’t know what Airbnb is, it is a service that allows people to list and rent a huge range of properties all over the world. Accommodation can range from a tent on a rooftop to a Buddhist temple, slick apartments to high-end villas. The Airbnb website and app are easy to use and make searching simple. You can filter dates, prices, location and guest quantity. It also allows you to connect to Facebook, which saves the hassle of registering and can potentially get you discounts.
My first Airbnb experience was during the summer of 2015. I stayed with a Japanese man called Yuki in Osaka, Japan. His house was stereotypically Japanese and located in a residential area away from the swarms of tourists. He was a great host—he picked us up from the train station, provided us with food and beverages and offered loads of help. This experience made a great trip even better. It enabled me to have a more authentic experience by living like a local, with a local.
Apart from a different style of accommodation, Airbnb can also be the cheapest way to sleep while you travel. Many Airbnb prices even beat the travellers’ all-time favorite—the hostel.
Since my first Airbnb experience only a few months ago, I always open my Airbnb app before the Hostelworld one when booking accommodation. That said, I can see that overusing Airbnb would make me crave the social atmosphere of hostels.
But for now, I love it, why didn’t I do it sooner?
Chiang Mai is a city brimming with adventure. On the outskirts of town you can ride elephants, pet tigers, or go zip lining, while in the city you can take in historical landmarks deeply sewn with Buddhist culture, sample the cuisine, or even get a Thai massage from a prison inmate (how many of your friends can say they’ve done that?).
The most discernable aspect of Chiang Mai is clear on any tourist map—a giant square moat that previously encompassed the entire city. The moat and the city wall were originally built as defense against possible Burmese invasions, but have since become a serene aspect of the cityscape and an easy touchstone for navigation while exploring the old city.
If you’re looking for living history, Wat Doi Suthep is by far the best recommendation I can give. Located a few miles outside the city, the temple is atop a mountain and visitors must climb 309 steps to reach the top (no worries, they sell icecream on the landing!). On the path up you’ll pass through a makeshift market of some of the best street food available—believe me, the climb is much more pleasant with a baggie of fried bananas. The temple itself is a fairly massive complex of glistening gold, with monks going about their duties while tourists and worshippers alike take in the breathtaking views of the city below.
If pressed for time, there are well over 100 temples within city limits as well, the best known of which is Wat Chedi Luang. Located near the center of the city and partially destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago, the temple grounds also house the city pillar and the most overwhelming sermon hall I’ve seen.
So now you’ve spent your day wandering the moat and taking in temples, when evening rolls around. You’re in Southeast Asia, my friend, there’s only one thing to do—hit up the biggest night market around at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. With a massive array of handicrafts and every food imaginable conveniently served on skewers, the streets are so crowded you’ll feel as if you’re floating in a sea of people. Of course, even when you’re done shopping it doesn’t mean the night is over…
One thing you’ll learn quickly in Thailand is that when someone invites you to the “disco”, don’t expect bellbottoms and the Bee Gees—turns out nightclubs are still called discotheques by the locals. Nightlife in Chiang Mai is definitely for the younger crowd, with more than a handful of clubs catering to different tastes. The biggest expat magnet by far is Zoe In Yellow, which combines a jam-packed club, low-key garden bar, and great food all at cheap prices. They hold epic parties with live music, frequent fire shows, plus they celebrate most western holidays in their own unique way.
Of course, if you’re looking for straight-up all night dancing in an all-out rave atmosphere, Bubbles should be your destination of choice. It can be a bit seedy and definitely attracts more tourists than backpackers, but still makes for a great night out.
If you plan to spend an extended amount of time in Thailand, it’s good to know that Western style places are never out of reach. John’s Place is still my favorite haunt in the city—a sports bar that perpetually plays soccer and football games while offering a variety of comfort foods and a soundtrack of classic rock. If it’s Mexican food you’re craving, Loco Elvis is the best spot to hit, directly next to Fat Elvis which serves up amazing American-style burgers with bottomless lemonade.
Chiang Mai possesses the mystical ability to provide amusement for every mood and personality—a city not to be missed!
If you’re heading to Thailand, don’t forget your travel guide –
A visit to Kyoto has been on my to-do list for well over a decade now, so when I finally had the opportunity to go in 2015, I was absolutely thrilled. Admittedly, my first impression of Kyoto was far from ideal: my hostel was located along a six-lane highway with a marvelous view of concrete overpasses in either direction. However, it didn’t take long to discover that hidden amongst the high-rises and expressways were areas simply brimming with Kyoto’s earliest history and culture.
Far from the neon streets of Tokyo, the neighborhoods of Kyoto emerged from a settlement dating back thousands of years, and as such each winding road crackles with a deep sense of character. Hiding behind offices and storefronts are countless shrines and temples, often in small clusters that offer a serene escape from city life.
The sector known as Higashiyama—nestled in the mountains and running alongside the Kamo River—houses some of the most famous and most visited temples in the country. Chief among them is Kiyomizu-dera, a massive Buddhist temple known for its large veranda overlooking the treetops, supported by massive pillars and built without the use of a single nail. The temple itself diverts a small natural waterfall known as Otowa-no-taki into three small streams that pitch over a narrow balcony into a pond below. Visitors shuffle through ever-growing lines to reach out long tin cups under the stream of their choice in hopes that drinking the water will grant them wisdom, health, or longevity.
While Kiyomizu itself is a fairly immense temple complex to explore, the journey to the front gate is an adventure all its own. The area leading up to the entranceway is on a steep slope, with the main road being a walking market filled with every souvenir one could hope to find. Rather than having shop after shop offer the same array of knick-knacks, this market also holds many specialty shops for those looking to browse handmade fans, wall scrolls, or bamboo goods. Interspersed with both high- and low-end shops are many cafes and ice cream stands. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this area under a blistering sun on a day temperatures reached a sweltering 102 degrees, and so an ice cream break quickly became a necessity. One could safely order basic chocolate or vanilla or delve into more adventurous flavors like red bean, sweet potato, or (my personal favorite) green tea.
Beyond Kiyomizu, there are plenty of other temples well worth a visit: >Tofuku-ji: A 24-temple complex known for stunning landscapes containing moss and rock Zen gardens >Kennin-ji: The city’s oldest Zen temple boasting intense murals of dragons on its ceiling >Yasaka: A massive shrine footed by cherry blossoms and filled with paper lanterns, Yasaka is known for its traditional New Year’s celebrations
After a day of exploring the living history of Japan it’s only natural to crave a little modern fun. Don’t think that Kyoto is a town forgotten in time—even in Higashiyama you’ll find an active nightlife. All along the Kamo River you’ll find quirky restaurants and bars catering to every type of crowd imaginable while sharing the same serene waterfront views. If you’re seeking a more authentic Japanese experience Higashiyama is also home to Gion, Kyoto’s famous Geisha district, where in addition to bars and nightclubs one will also find teahouses and traditional shows.
Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s smallest and least populous sectors and yet is teeming with adventure—there is clearly much more to this city than I’d ever anticipated.
In 2014, an old man selling books on the side of the road in Bangkok tried pitching me a tattered guide to Laos by telling me of his time spent working in Luang Prabang. Intrigued by the notion of a city reputed to have greater rustic appeal than much of the Asian countryside, I found myself booking a flight to Laos just a few weeks later.
After a nerve-racking flight in a prop plane, I arrived late morning as countless monks were retreating from collecting daily alms. I checked into my hostel and crashed, waking up just in time to get a taste of city’s nightlife.
Confession time: I’ve been to way more than my fair share of bars throughout Asia. Naturally, each creates its own distinct atmosphere, but Utopia in Luang Prabang has by far the most relaxing and chill vibes of any I’ve been to. Utopia is an open-air bar overlooking the Nam Khan River, filled with shin-high, candlelit tables surrounded by stacks of pillows. During the day they offer yoga and volleyball, while at night you can enjoy great food, drinks, music and shisha pipes, or startup a friendly board game tournament with fellow expats—believe me, Giant Jenga is harder than it looks!
Of course, Utopia closes at the town’s 11:30 PM curfew so you can always call it a night and get an early start in the AM. For those brave expats willing to break curfew there is one place open for another three hours—a 16-lane bowling alley. A parade of tuktuks begin carting off truckloads of travellers from every bar to a venue that in all honesty is a fairly run-down barebones bowling alley…not so much as a poster on the wall. However, when the crowds from different bars and hostels begin mixing it turns into a party every night, showing how it’s often the people and not the place that matters.
Naturally, there’s much more to Luang Prabang than bars and bowling. One of the biggest tourist draws are the Kuang Xi Waterfalls, and for good reason.
The falls themselves are breathtaking, with tier after tier of warm, deep pools perfect for swimming and vast enough as not to be crowded. The largest fall is over 60m high—the climb to the top is indeed difficult and the trails are extremely steep and slick, but once you’ve reached the top you won’t regret it. Standing at the edge of a 200ft drop as the water rushes round your ankles tugging you forward is just as terrifying as it is exhilarating, finding yourself transfixed by the turquoise expanse below you.
If you’re looking for a bit of Laos culture, the Night Market in Luang Prabang is a great place to start. Beginning around 5:00 each evening, the market consists of a huge, horseshoe-shaped setup of tented stalls on a kilometer-long stretch of road. Here, you can peruse literally thousands of handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs, sample whiskey and wine, and watch artists at work. One of their most famous products are paper lanterns filled with pressed flowers, adding a unique ambiance. The crowd and crafters themselves are much more mellow than many of the hectic, bustling markets one usually encounters, with no one hawking their goods or aggressively haggling and competing.
In a city brimming with temples, choosing where to start can be difficult, especially if pressed for time. However, some are not to be missed:
Wat Haw Pha Bang is located on the palace grounds, housing a 14th-century Buddha statue covered in gold leaf. Of course, the palace itself is beautiful—containing everything from the Crown Jewels of Laos to a piece of moon rock, it also functions as a haphazard museum.
Wat Chomphet is a small, tidy building that more resembles an old prairie house than a temple, yet it need not be flashy to be impressive. Most memorable is the experience of arriving via a 123-step staircase near the edge of town, a climb more than worth the view.
Wat Pa Phon Phae is a great stop for those feeling burnt out with the similarities between temples—its distinctive form is reminiscent of adobe-style architecture and it is filled with elaborate murals.
Luang Prabang can easily be overlooked on the backpacker route, yet its diverse historical, urban, and natural landscapes allow it to appeal to the most colorful of crowds.
23/11/2014- I left South East Asia after almost 18 months of teaching in Thailand, and travelling around its neighboring countries.
I did a lot; I saw a lot.
If you get the chance, just do it!
My main tip to people who are thinking about moving to Thailand and teaching is not to believe a lot of the negative experiences written online about it. Sure it isn’t perfect, but life isn’t, is it? The majority of people you meet have an avalanche of pros that outweigh their cons. And just remember, a lot depends on the type of person you are.
My experience inspired me to teach and travel my way around the world (hence this site and its title), which is what I have been doing since I left. It’s hard to believe that as I write this I have been in Korea for almost 6 months already.