#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

#TRAVEL – Vietnam: Habitable Hoi An

If you only have the chance to visit one place in Vietnam, make it Hoi An!

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Hoi An is an ancient town, located on the coast in central Vietnam.

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It’s one of those places where you stay longer than initially intended. I think I ended up staying 3 days longer than planned. If it wasn’t for a flight booked to Singapore, I could have easily made it 30.

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Hoi An is a well-known hotspot on the Vietnam backpacker’s route that doesn’t shove the tourism down your throat like so many other places. However, it does have the perks of a popular place; a lot of things to do!

You can a bike (push or motor, depending on how lazy you feel) and ride around for hours absorbing the European style architecture and picturesque sights.

Bursting with nice restaurants and quirky bars, the streets are alive night and day!

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If you want a fun night and good music, don’t miss Why Not? bar

It also possesses a beach, which is a pretty nice place to lay with Mrs.Sunshine and drink a few beers in between cooling off in the blue ocean.

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Hoi An would be considered the ‘whole package’ to many backpackers. It has a lot of history, many activities to do and things to see, good nightlife and a beach!

It’s a winner!

Discover more of Vietnam, with this …

#TRAVEL – Cambodia: Angkor What?

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The majority of people who travel to Cambodia take the time to visit the worlds largest religious monument: Angkor Wat.

Nursing a colossal hangover, I did just that.

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Angkor Wat is located close to the town of Siem Reap (the infamous ‘Pub Street’ is also situated there, hence the hangover) and can be entered for a variety of prices depending on the type of tour you choose. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century, using the famous Khmer style architecture. Over the years, Angkor Wat has had its fair share of historic moments, but since 1953 it has been controlled by Cambodia. Now, it draws tourists like a moth to a flame and is overrun with cheeky little monkeys.

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Many choose to make the trip at sunrise, which is highly recommended. Unsurprisingly to anyone that knows me, I didn’t make it.

However, visiting in the afternoon was nothing less than breathtaking.

I’ve seen a vast range of temples and monuments travelling throughout Asia, but I can safely say that nothing has trumped Angkor Wat. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It’s gigantic and you can’t help but feel a bit like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider whilst you’re strolling around its neverending architecturally brilliant superstructure.

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I think I paid around 30 US Dollars for the day pass, but I would suggest the 2-day option if you have the time.

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I’d love to go back sometime.

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If you’re heading to Cambodia ,don’t forget your travel guide –

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

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Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

How Much Do You Need To Start Teaching In Thailand?

Written June, 2016. Needs to be updated.

So, you’re thinking of teaching in Thailand, but not sure how much money you need to get started? Let me help you out.

A TEFL Certification

A lot of schools prefer you to have a TEFL qualification. There are many options on how to go about this. The more you pay, the more you get. Ideally, you would pay around £300 ($440) to do your in-class TEFL. This allows you to get some real class experience before you start teaching. However, not everyone can afford this.

I paid £120 for a 120-hour online course and it has served me well many countries and online. I used i-TO-i. I highly recommend them.

VISA

To legally teach in Thailand, you’ll need to get yourself a non-immigrant Visa “B” from your nearest Thai embassy. This costs £50 ($80 USD for Americans; $80 CAD for Canadians; $90 AUD for Australians).

Click Here

Flights

Unlike South Korea, and some other countries, you will have to pay for yourself to get to Thailand. Depending on how far you book in advance, the time of year and what airline you fly with, prices vary. But, on average, you should be able to purchase a one-way flight to Thailand from the UK for about £250 – £400, or about $650-$750 from North America.

Click Here

Accommodation

Most recruiters will help you find accommodation close to your school and/or near public transport routes. Like most rentals, this will require a month’s rent in advance plus a deposit. This is more expensive in Bangkok and other cities but still not as much as you’d expect, or at least not as much as you’re used to paying in Britain. So, depending on where you chose to live, expect roughly £150 – £250 ($250-360/mo).

Month’s Living Costs

You will need money to survive up until your first payday. The chances are that this will be just over a month from when you land. You’ll definitely need to bring some cash with you.

Living costs in Thailand are very low. The amount you spend really depends on the type of spender you are. I would suggest that if you’re good with budgeting, then you could get by on about £250 (~$350) (just eat street food and don’t go out too much), or if you’re like me and not very good at watching the pennies, you’ll probably need somewhere around £350 (~$500). That extra £100 goes a long way.

Basic Startup

Like with any other move, you’ll need to buy some basics, like bedding, cooking utensils, a fan etc. As I’ve mentioned, things are a lot cheaper than in the UK, so give yourself a budget of about £60 for these things.

Insurance

Many people choose not to take out travel insurance. I think it is a must! It’s better to be safe than sorry. There are many companies that offer competitive rates. Check out –

Travel Supermarket

You can get a basic package that lasts a year for about £100.

Conclusion…

I would say you could move to Thailand, with everything you need for about £1000 (~$1500) as the bare minimum. However, if you’re not on a budget then I would suggest 1500 – £2000, just to be more comfortable and prepared.

It is also worth noting that some jobs may require you to rent and ride a motorcycle to work (around £40 a month), so look into that before accepting any job.

It is rare, but some schools actually provide their teachers with free accommodation and/or airfare!

I hope this helped those of you looking for answers! If there is anything I missed, or you think some of my pricing is inaccurate then feel free to comment below!

Getting the MOST out of Angkor

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I’ve seen a lot of Angkor Guides out there that insist on providing you with an in-depth history of each temple. The thing is, you’ll see and learn as you go so there’s no need to have encyclopedic knowledge of the whole park before you get there. It can be a pain sifting through the vast amount information for the tidbits you need, so I’ve compiled a bare-bones guide on how to get the most out of the Angkor Archeological Park:

COST

1 Day Pass: $20

3 Day Pass: $40 (any 3 days within one week)

7 Day Pass: $60 (any 7 days within one month)

WHAT TO BRING

I’ve seen some extensive packing lists for exploring the Angkor complex—flashlights, compasses, maps, you name it. Honestly though, my own advice (especially for those going in the summer months) is to pack as light as possible.

-> Wear light, loose-fitting clothes in bright colors to deflect sunlight.

-> Comfortable shoes are a must—you’ll be going up and down hundreds of steep, uneven steps as you explore and you’ll be walking on rocky terrain.

-> Summer temperatures hover in the mid-90’s at best, so start each day with at least 2 large bottles of water. You can always leave one (or more) in the Tuk Tuk while you explore.

-> Sunscreen: If you tend to burn, make sure to layer it on.

DRIVER

The best way to fit in the most sights in the least time is to hire a Tuk Tuk for the day. There are countless available on the street and most hostels are more than happy to arrange one for you. Typically costing $10-$12 a day, the drive can act as your tour guide.

Believe me, they do way more than just drive—they help you with obtaining your tickets and if youget a multi-day pass they will pick you up at your hostel each morning. Many have guide books with them and will try to teach you a bit about the temples as you go and wait patiently while you explore.

-> An important side note is to LISTEN CAREFULLY. They will often tell you what entrance to meet them at and where you can find them.

FOOD

Again, this is where your driver will be a great resource. While there are plenty of carts selling drinks near the temples, food is harder to come by. Your driver will know nearby areas full of restaurants or street food, depending on your preference, and will wait while you have a lunch break (or take the opportunity to grab some food himself).

SCHEDULE

For those who are budget-conscious but still want to see the majority of temples, I’d best recommend the 3-day pass. Most drivers will have suggestions on how to spend that time, but in general:

Day 1: Use this day to do the minor outlying temples—they take longer to drive between and are harder to cram in at the end if you haven’t gotten to them yet. This is a great way to get acclimated so you can be better prepared for a more strenuous Day 2 & 3, while also seeing some more remote temples many tourists tend to miss.

Day 2: Now that you’re into the swing of things, make this your most adventurous day by getting through the largest complex, Angkor Thom, and its surrounding structures. Angkor Thom covers more than 5 square miles, at the center of which is the Bayon, recognized by its 216 stone faces.

This will also keep you close to Phnom Bakheng, the famed sunset point. It’s a must-see, but remember that it is best to get in line quickly, as it fills up long before sunset commences. Also, keep in mind that while you’ll be climbing up in the daylight, you will be descending in the dark which will indeed be more difficult.

Day 3: Angkor Wat—saving the most famous/recognizable for last is a great way to make sure you stay motivated, because by day three you may be sunburned, achey, and a little worn-out. At the same time, Angkor Wat itself is smaller compared to all you may have seen on Day 2, so you can either get a later start or an early finish to get in some much-needed relaxation.

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-Ashley

3 Ways to Keep in Touch With Your Parents While Backpacking

3 Ways to Keep in Touch With Your Parents While Backpacking

Traveling the world during our younger years is liberating, to say the least. It helps us expand our psyche and learn about our surrounding environment more thoroughly – although, it often comes at a price. We’ve previously written about  how difficult it can be telling your parents about moving abroad and the same goes for backpacking.So, what are the main things we should consider when we are traveling abroad to help ease the pain of being away from our loved ones?

#1 Constant communication

Operating on a different time zone shouldn’t be an excuse for not keeping in touch with your parents or family, in general. With innovations such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Viber it opens up endless opportunities to keep lines of communication open between both parties. The best part is that you don’t even need to take a laptop with you while traveling, many travelers run these apps through their mobile devices. The only thing you’ll need to rely on is a solid WiFi connection, which most hostels, hotels, coffee shops and restaurants will readily provide you as long as you purchase something from their establishment.

#2 Play online games with them

The beauty of mobile is that is provides a lot of mediums where people can connect. A fun way to engage with your parents is to play mobile games with them, while chatting with them along the way. Having fun with them while playing something that you’re both interested in can be very heartwarming and help both parties get over the fact that you aren’t seeing each other on a regular basis.

Although, this is a wonderful way to keep in contact with your family members it probably won’t be as unbelievable as a pair of sisters who were reunited after being separated at birth. The sisters were reunited after 60-years of being apart, after their 9-year love affair with an online bingo game helped them discover they were actually long lost sisters. This goes to show that playing games online can in fact bridge the gap between you and your family, even with the most incredible results.

#3 Update your social media accounts regularly

Updating your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly will give your parents the ability to see what you are experiencing on a daily basis. This will help them see what a life-changing experience you are having, and put their minds to rest. Giving them a first-hand account of the places you are visiting will also give them a medium to reply to and engage in conversations with you regarding the many wonderful landmarks you have experienced along your journey across the world.

If you have any tips for our readership of the best ways to keep in touch with your parents while traveling, please leave your comments below.

-Ashley

That Time I Think I Snuck Into Cambodia

That Time I Think I Snuck Into Cambodia

When traveling through South East Asia you’ll quickly find that there is a more or less established backpacker’s route—while you and your fellow travelers may be hitting the same spots, it’s likely you’ll be going in various directions and orders. Usually this makes it fairly simple to learn how to get from place to place—wherever you’re going next, chances are someone in your hostel just came from there. This is why I was so surprised to find it insanely difficult to get information on the best way to get into Cambodia from Laos by land.

Basically the only piece of advice I could get was “Take the best deal you can,” which was always inevitably followed by some horror story of scams, theft, and abandonment. Nevertheless, I figured if they survived I could certainly do better…right?

After having spent a good deal of time in Laos, I’d decided that Angkor Wat was next on my list, so early one morning my traveling buddies and I headed to the bus station in Vientiane to book tickets to Siem Reap, a journey that takes roughly 24 hours if all goes smoothly. Getting the right tickets was simple enough, but information on the visa process was both scarce and confusing. Luckily, a friendly stranger at a picnic table said he could get us through process cheaply and painlessly. All we had to do was drop our passports in his duffel bag, give him $22, and fill out the visa application which he had run out of. Not to worry, my new pal assured us, he’d have more soon. He then left us, saying he’d meet up with us again at the border.

Yeah, I know, handing over your documents to a sketchy stranger who is clearly conning you probably isn’t the best decision, but we’d definitely all heard worse beginnings that ended alright, so I figured there’s a chance it would be worth the risk.

As we boarded our bus, the driver exchanged our tickets for those we’d need at the next stop. While we knew we needed to switch buses at the border, we were told our next set of tickets weren’t actually for Siem Reap, but for a town I’d never heard of with a train to Siem Reap. At any rate I knew that if it turned out to be a lie, at least I’d be stranded with an entire bus worth of people and not alone.

Thirteen uncomfortable hours later, the driver ordered us off the bus and told us to walk across the border, and when we got to the border patrol & customs check not to stop at the window, just walk around them and take the ladder or ramp up a wall. Leery about leaving my luggage behind but seeing no other option, I followed the small crowd into no-man’s land when everyone suddenly stopped dead. An officer had come out yelling “HEALTH CHECK” in English, while about 30 feet ahead of us stood a man roughly 3 feet tall with a hump and a googly eye, waiting.

Seeing as how my friends were clearly a bit freaked out (and rightfully so) I figured I may as well go first and see what they’d actually do—turns out the little dude just takes your temperature and sends you along. At least I was first to use the public thermometer.

After passing through we easily spotted the wall we’d been told about and over we climbed to find a handful of stalls with people hocking bus and van tickets of their own. It was here were learned that—big surprise—the train station we were headed for didn’t exist and our tickets were worthless from that point on.

So here’s the rundown: We’re stranded on the side of the road in the blistering heat of Cambodia with no luggage, no passports, and no transport.

Pooling what little cash we had (and paying in multiple currencies) we were able to secure van tickets to Siem Reap, with the promise that they’d be air-conditioned and wifi-capable.

After standing around for another lifetime, a motorbike eventually showed up and the driver dropped off a plastic shopping bag full of passports, which other passengers and I began reading out names from and passing around. We did indeed find new visa stickers inside, with our information hand-written on top, not looking anything close to legit, and signed by “Jeff”.

Eventually, a caravan of passenger vans showed up, some carrying our luggage and others waiting to take us to our next destination. Turns out “air conditioning & wifi” is often code for “overcrowded and full of live chickens”.

At my next hostel I met a guy who had done the visa process by the book on his own, and while he saved $2 on his visa, the trip also took him 12 hours longer.

I would be no means recommend taking the route I took, and I’m sure there are plenty of options out there. I’ve heard that while the visa prices have increased in recent years, so have transport options and the border itself has become more streamlined and less corrupt.

My advice?

Take the best deal you can.

– Ashley

#TRAVEL – THAILAND: KOH WOW!

During my 18 months in Thailand, I naturally explored most of the country, but there were still some stones I’d left unturned—so in December 2015 I decided to take a short vacation to the Thai island Koh Tao and check out somewhere I had not been before.

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Koh Tao is located a short ferry ride north of the famous Koh Pha Ngan and about an 8-hour drive south of the capital, Bangkok. Koh Tao, or ‘The Divers Island’, boasts everything you expect of an island in Thailand: breathtaking beaches, turquoise waters, panoramic viewpoints and picture-postcard nature. My time there was full of fun activities, laughs and great food. Sadly, my journey there wasn’t.

How to get there

Ok, as far as night buses go, this one wasn’t the worst, but it probably was the most poorly planned. Foreigners usually travel to Koh Tao by taking either a night bus or a night train from Bangkok to the ferry port in Chumphon where they then continue to the island by ferry.

Stocked up on water and full on Pad Thai, my friends and I waited for departure just off Khoa San. The bus was one hour late, but the frustration from waiting quickly left us once we saw the huge Captain Jack Sparrow picture along with the Honda and the Ferrari logos painted across the bright green double-decker we were about to spend the night on. It was hilarious and definitely not legal.

The first hour of the journey went smoothly, then BANG – popped tire.

In most places, this would cause an immediate stop—but in Thailand, no. The driver continued the remaining 7-hour journey trying to keep the bus on the road as it swerved between lanes like a drunken old man stumbling home from the pub. I admired his effort just as much as I judged his stupidity.

Finally, we arrived at Chumphon 3 hours early and so the most vexing part of the journey began. It turned out we weren’t actually early, most bus companies drop their passengers off 3 hours before the ferry departs. Being stranded at 4am on a dark pier thriving with mosquitoes isn’t fun. Why do they do this? I’ll never know. But if you’re reading this and making that journey anytime in the future, be warned.

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Things to do

Diving & Snorkeling
Most people reference Koh Tao for its diving. The island has no shortage of dive schools that offer competitive prices for those looking to obtain their PADI. For those not wanting or having the time to complete a diving course, snorkeling is the second best option. There are many great snorkeling spots around the island—the vibrant fish are spectacular and you may even be lucky enough to spot a few sharks (shy ones of course!).

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Viewpoints
The viewpoints in Koh Tao are phenomenal. Some are difficult to climb, but the view at the top is always worth it.  I really enjoyed the view from Freedom Beach viewpoint.

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Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is a beautiful small island very close to Koh Tao. Like Koh Tao it has great beaches, diving and snorkeling, and additionally boasts hiking and zip-lining.

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The average price of a meal, beer and accommodation on Koh Tao doesn’t vary much from the other Thai islands or the touristy areas in Bangkok.

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If you’re looking for more than just a ‘party’, go to Koh Tao.

-Liam

This Lonely Planet guide to the Thai islands & beaches has everything you need!