November 20, 2014

Top 10 Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand


1.    Elephant Nature Park

I was beyond excited to visit the Elephant Nature Park, since it's rumored to be one of the coolest things to see in Chiang Mai. However, this photo was actually taken at the night safari, because YOU HAVE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO GO TO THE ELEPHANT NATURE PARK!  Like, weeks in advance. Which I did not know. We arrived in Thailand on November 4th, and they were booked until the 14th, which was the day we were leaving. So bummed.

I did learn that the park isn't just something you visit and leave. It's an all day event. It costs 2500 Baht ($76 USD), and they pick you up at your hotel at 8am and you don't return until about 5pm. You'll feed the elephants, watch them bathe and have lunch there. You also need to bring sunscreen, bug spray, towels, walking shoes, sandals, and a change of clothing.

(So, if you want to visit the ENP, remember to book it in advance!)


2.    Loy Krathong Lantern Festival 

The Loy Krathong festival of light is a 3-night festival that takes place every year on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. This year, it took place on Nov 5-7, which is a great time to visit Thailand since the rain season ends in October.

The festival takes place on Thapae Road, which is the main strip in the center of Chiang Mai, full of restaurants, shops and spas. You can buy the lanterns from street vendors - most of them are lit in front of the temples on Thapae.

Each night, there are also parades, beauty contests, fireworks and large rafts that float along the Chao Phraya river. It's definitely a once in a lifetime experience you can't find anywhere else.





3.    Khum Khantoke Dinner 

Khum Khantoke takes place at Old Chiang Mai cultural center (185/3 Wualai Road). It costs $500 (appr. $15 USD), which includes a buffet style dinner for each table (served on a wooden tray known as a Khantoke, hence the name) that consists of pork curry, chicken wings, fried pork rinds, fried pumpkin strips, soup and salad, and fruit and rice crispy treats for dessert. They serve alcohol as well.

For the dinner, you're seated on triangular seat cushions on the floor and entertained by a cultural dance show that includes candle dancing, drum dancing, and sword dancing. Another very cool, unique experience.







4.    Doi Sutrep Temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthrep is a gorgeous temple located at the top of the Doi Suthrep mountain. It's a popular destination for tourists because of the beautiful holy shrines and the views of Chiang Mai.

Be warned - the drive to Doi Suthrep is very long (I think it took us about 45 minutes), and the only cabs available at the top are the little red shuttle cabs that seat about 6 people sideways and drop you off in the center of town. So it's good to have your own transportation for the trip.

(Another piece of advice - bring toilet paper. The bathrooms there didn't have any.)

On a positive note, it was gorgeous. And I made a wish at the sacred white elephant, so that was pretty damn cool.





5.    Night Safari

The night safari was awesome. The safari cars take you through two shows, the first with giraffes, kangaroos, zebras, deer, etc. and the second show is a night predator show with vultures, bears, tigers, etc. Some of the animals come right up to the car and you can feed them (warning: giraffes drool... a lot!)

The cost is $800 baht ($24 USD), and after the safari there's a dance show with lots of lots of lady boys.



6.    Tiger Kingdom

This was probably one of the coolest things I did. It's a bit controversial because some people think the tigers are drugged, but I talked to a lot of other travelers who have been there, and they said they're not, they've just been around people since a young age. They also mentioned that the enclosures are big and clean, and the tigers are all in good health.

To me, they definitely seemed happy, especially the baby tigers, who were running all over the room, growling and wrestling with each other (you can watch in my vlog here.) It was adorable. I also learned that tigers are nocturnal, so they primarily sleep during the day.

You can pay per tiger size (baby, small and large.) I opted for the babies and the large, which totaled about $1000 baht ($30 USD.)

(Piece of advice: don't wear white.  You get pretty dirty.)





7.    Night Bazaar

The Night Bazaar is a shopaholic's dream. Blocks and blocks of shopping tents and stores - clothes, purses, makeup, sunglasses, souvenirs, you name it. All at kick-ass prices.

It's open from dusk until midnight and is located at Thanon Chang Khlan (around the corner from Thapae Road). We stumbled across this completely by accident while we were leaving the lantern festival, since it's only a block over.  I scored a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that I'm certain are not real based on the fact that they only cost 400 Baht, ($12 USD), but regardless, they fit like a dream.


8.    Get a Massage

I got a massage every single day that I was in Thailand. This is because A) I am a massageaholic, and B) massages are only 200 Baht ($6 USD) for an hour. $6 for an hour! If I lived in Thailand, I'd take up permanent residency in a massage parlor.

Let me tell you, a massage in Thailand is nothing like a massage in the US. The Thai masseuses are incredible. They crack you, stretch you, dig their feet into your back, you name it. And they have massages for everything.  I went all out and got a manicure and pedicure (also $6), as well as a body scrub and a facial. They even have an aloe vera massage for sunburns (I partook in that too.)

Thapae Road was full of spas, but my favorite was Amethyst Massage. They charged 250 baht for a Thai massage, which is about $7/hr. We splurged. Totally worth it. I think it might've been the best massage of my life.



9.    Mae Sa Waterfall

Confession, these last 2 items I did not get a chance to do, but they're 2 of most highly recommended events for tourists. I just couldn't fit it all in to 5 small days.This was probably my biggest regret of the trip, as there were so many signs for the Mae Sa waterfall, and the pictures look unreal. And you can swim there! Next time...


(photo creds: sidewalkthailand.com)

10.    Khum Lanna Cooking Retreat

 I didn't find out about this until our last night in Chiang Mai. Our guest house had a whole brochure on it, and it looks incredible. Basically, you stay on a farm anywhere from 1-3 nights, get your own food from the farm and the farmer's market, and they teach you how to cook your own Thai food.

http://www.asian-oasis.com/product/khum-lanna-a-country-retreat-thailand/



Thailand Travel Vlog Part 1 - Chiang Mai!



Hey all - here's a travel vlog I put together of the trip to Chiang Mai Thailand. 

I included the Loy Krathong Lantern Festival, Tiger Kingdom, Night Safari, Khum Khantoke dinner, and our hotels, Ban Sabai Village Resort and Liam's Suan Dok Mai Guest House.


Part 2 - Phuket - Coming soon!


October 31, 2014

Never Fly Spirit Airlines

If I only knew then what I know now...

Several weeks ago, I was searching for a one-way place ticket home from Dallas, TX. The majority of tickets were in the $135 range, but there was one ticket for only $90 through Spirit Airlines.

A $45 difference? Sold!

At least this was what I thought.

I had never flown Spirit Airlines before, but after having the single worst flight experience of my life, I have since found out the following:

- Spirit does not allow a free carry-on bag. If you pay for your carry-on online (prior to 24 hours before your flight), you will be charged $35. If you pay when you arrive at the airport, you will be charged $50. If you try to sneak your bag on and are forced to check it at the gate, you will be charged $100.

- If you do not print your boarding pass at home, you will be charged $10 to print it at the airport.

- If you would like to select your seat, you will also be charged $10.

- In addition, you are not served any complimentary beverages or snacks on the flight, and the seats do not recline.

So, in hindsight, the supposed $45 I saved could've actually cost me an extra $60 and upwards.

I've since done my homework and read all the horrible Spirit reviews. I only wish I had read them before I bought my ticket, but hopefully, I can save one of you from making the same mistake.

Moral of the story: Don't fly Spirit Airlines. Just don't. Whatever money you think you're saving will equal the price of the other airlines. And you'll get a free beverage and a reclining seat.


10 Things I Learned in Dallas

I spent my birthday weekend in Dallas, Texas this year. Being my first time to Dallas, here are a few things I learned:

1. The Omni Hotel has a rooftop pool, jacuzzi, and TV's built into the bathroom mirrors.


2. Everyone should stay at the Omni Hotel.

3. The Cedar's Social has a fireplace, a 70's themed book nook, and Sunday brunch bottomless mimosas for $10. (They're supposed to cut you off at 3pm. I'm pretty sure they cut us off at 6pm.)


4. Everyone should go to the Cedar's Social.

5. Katy Trail Ice House has a back patio filled with christmas lights, picnic tables, fire pits, and Rona-Ritas.



6. You see where I'm going with this, right?

7. The Owner's Box gives you a free brownie sundae on your birthday. It quite possibly might have been the best thing I've ever eaten.


8. Just because it's your birthday does not give you the right to get into a hummer with two strange men you just met.


9. An Uber from the airport will cost you $76. A Lyft will cost you $28. Go with Lyft.

10. Cowboy hats do not make you look like a tourist. Everyone really does wear them.

Yee-haw.


October 27, 2014

Why Martha's Vineyard is the Best Place on Earth

 1. It's full of gingerbread houses. It's like the land of make believe.


2. Their bike paths are awesome. You can rent bikes and bike the entire island. 


3. Or you can rent mopeds and scooter yourself around the island...


4. You can go shopping at the cute little hippie strip in Oak Bluffs (and get yo'self a Mad Martha's ice cream).

(photo creds: Pinterest)

5. Or creepily take not-so-discreet photos of Meg Ryan at the Edgartown Parade (the hat and glasses aren't fooling anyone Meg)...


6. You can grab a rooftop frozen cocktail at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs (Seafood Shanty in Edgartown is another roof deck fave.)

(photo creds: mvtimes.com)

7. Or ride the flying horses in Oak Bluffs...

(photo creds: seniorcitizen.travel)

8. Or just cruise the quaint little centers of town.

(photo creds: vineyardsquarehotel.com)

It's my favorite place in the world.



October 21, 2014

How To Travel on a Budget


This is how I travel for free... and how you can too.

1. Subletting on Airbnb  

 This lovely photo is of my apartment in Santa Monica, CA. It's cozy, affordable, and twelve blocks from the beach.

It also allows me the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world and spend practically nothing.

How?

By renting it on the life-saving website, Airbnb.com while I'm away. 

Now before I get into this, I want to warn you that this concept is not for everyone. If you have a roommate, valuables, don't live in a preferred destination for travelers, etc. this may not be for you.

I live alone. I live near the Santa Monica Pier, Venice, Hollywood - all of which are prime travel destinations. I also don't own anything of value, other than my television (I bring my laptop and nice jewelry/clothes with me when I travel.) Thus, I can charge the same amount as most hotels ($100+ a night), which pays for the majority of my travel expenses.

Case in point:
- I paid $1800 for a 2-week trip to Thailand next month.
- I rented my apartment on Airbnb and charged guests $125/night.
- I made $1800 renting my apartment for 2 weeks.
- Thus, my 2-week trip to Thailand was free.

That, my friends, is how you travel for free.

I also want to point out that Airbnb has a five million dollar insurance policy. So if anything was ever stolen from your home, they'd reimburse you immediately. This only happened to me once, when the guest accidentally took my visitor parking pass and spare key. Airbnb reimbursed me for the parking pass via Paypal (the same day I sent them the receipt), and they offered to pay to have my locks changed since the guest had taken my extra key.

In a nutshell, they're pretty awesome.

If you're hesitant (which I most definitely was at first), you can choose to only rent to guests who have reviews from other Airbnb hosts that they've stayed with previously, to verify their credibility. You can have a phone conversation with them, Skype with them, meet them when they get into town, whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

On the flipside of that, you can also rent homes and apartments on Airbnb when you travel, which are usually three times the size of a hotel room and half the cost.

2. House sitting on TrustedHousesitters

The second website that changed my life is Trustedhousesitters.com. It's the most popular house sitting website, and has house and pet sitting jobs all over the world.

To sign up, you pay an $89 annual fee, and then you can build a profile and apply for any house or pet sitting job on the site. You can also have external references contribute to the reference section of your profile (if you've house or pet sat in the past, employer or character references, anything to build your credibility.)

Most of the jobs you don't get paid for, but in exchange, you get to travel anywhere in the world and stay in a home for free, as opposed to paying for a hotel.

Within the first week that I signed up, a local California resident contacted me to sit for her cats for ten days (she wanted someone nearby so she could meet them first.) Even though it was local, I accepted the job for three reasons:

A) Her apartment was twice the size of mine and had a pool, jacuzzi, gym, grill, and bar. Basically a mini-resort.

B) I rented my apartment on Airbnb while I stayed at her apartment and made an extra $1200. Score.

C) The more positive reviews you have, the more jobs you get.

The following week, I applied to a pet sitting job in Cape Cod, where my family lives, because I wanted to visit for Thanksgiving. After receiving a ton of applicants, the home owner picked me!

So now, I have a free home for 3 weeks while I visit my family for the holidays, and I made some extra money renting out my apartment while I'm away.

WIN.

3. Free Airport Parking with Flightcar

Flightcar.com is a website that allows you to park at their airport location for free, provides a car service that drops you off and picks you up at the airport, and rents your car while you're away (which you earn a percentage of.) Unfortunately, this only applies to the Los Angeles LAX airport, Boston Logan BOS airport and San Francisco SFO airport for the time being.

You earn .05 per mile, so it only totals about $3 per day. But they wash, vacuum and detail your car for you. And all you have to do when you land is check in on the app, and the driver is there within 10 minutes to pick you up. In a fancy town car. Ballin'.

They have a 1 million dollar insurance policy to cover you if anything ever happened to your car. So it's kind of like Airbnb, you have to pretty trustworthy to consider it.

I'm trustworthy. And my car isn't anything special. And I like free stuff. So it works for me.


October 2, 2014

Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center - Sedona, AZ


Okay, I'm about to get reallll hippie dippy on you guys...

Last month, my friends and I took a road trip to Sedona, AZ and stayed at the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center. It's a little center that's set back about two miles down a dirt road in the desert. My friend Kim had just received her yoga instructor certification, so we were going to take some professional photos of her, and this looked like just the place.

The center has nine little wooden cottages all lined next to each other (the only downside is that the bathroom is in a separate cottage next door, so it's kind of like luxury camping.) There are lots of little paths and creeks, and separate buildings where they serve meals, hold classes, and have a little gift shop. It was so damn peaceful and cute.


It's also a short drive to some of the major hiking attractions, like the Cathedral Rock trail.


After the photoshoot, we had dinner at the BEST restaurant, Timo, on Portal Lane: (http://www.timocentral.com/). It has a cozy atmosphere with a fireplace, good wine, and killer food. I got a fruit and cheese plate with brie, fig jam, crackers, walnut bread, grapes and apples. Then I topped it off with some caramel gelato. Do yourself a favor and if you ever end up in the Sedona area, go here. Please.

(photo creds: timocentral.com)

Anyways, back to Angel Valley. They have a labyrinth in the middle of the center (featured in this first photo), which is a trail lined with rocks that has 11 circuits, and the center is the 12th step. Now I don't really understand any of this, but the owners explained that the center of the labyrinth is an energy vortex and when you reach it, you're brought into a higher level of consciousness. So basically, you're supposed to go in with a question, walk the labyrinth, and by the time you reach the center, you have your answer.

They also told us they see UFO's there, so while part of me thought the whole energy thing sounded cool, another part me was a teeeenny bit skeptical.

Alas, we return from dinner, and there is a lightning storm, which was really effing awesome to run around in the desert in a lightning storm. And I'm being completely serious. So we grabbed some wine, headed over to the labyrinth, and I went in with my question, which I had absolutely no answer to and was totally over thinking during the first half of the walk.

And sure as shit, wouldn't you know. When I got to the center, I totally knew the answer.

The way I see it, it's sort of like things that we know deep down, but sometimes don't want to be honest with ourselves about. And to top it off, I felt like a million bucks when I reached the center. Very calm. Very unexpected.

(You can read more about the labyrinth here: http://www.angelvalleysedona.com/pages/aboutus/sacredsites/labyrinths.html)

And here's a cool little yoga video we filmed of Kim in our cottage: