March 2018: Travel Summary and Statistics


Beach on Koh Wai

Travel is a rollercoaster, so after a wonderful January and a not-so-wonderful February, I was delighted when March brought me back to the dizzying highs from the start of 2018. I can’t believe how much I managed to pack into one glorious month!

When I left you last, I had just arrived in Koh Chang and was itching to start exploring.

Koh Chang was the first island I ever visited in Thailand, way back in 2012, and at that time, I was fully immersed in backpacker culture. I spent my days lazing on Lonely Beach and my evenings downing buckets as I hopped from bar to bar with Bob Marley and Jack Johnson ringing in my ears.

This time around, I opted for a quieter experience by basing myself on beautiful Klong Prao Beach. It’s one of the prettiest parts of the island, and I spent every day sunning myself on the soft sand, swimming in the ocean, and snacking on street food.

Klong Prao Beach in Koh Chang
Klong Prao Beach is so pretty!

I spent a full five days on Koh Chang, and I loved the ease with which I slipped into a routine. It was one where I jumped on a scooter to explore the island in the mornings, hit the beach for reading my Kindle in the afternoon, and sat in front of my laptop every evening. Splitting my day into thirds and hitting my quota for travel, work, and relaxation had me feeling as though I was both attaining a sense of balance and living the dream.

I paid a return visit to my beloved Lonely Beach and was shocked to not even recognise it.

Literally.

I saw it, spun around, and walked in another direction because I was so convinced it was a different beach! Lonely Beach in 2018 was calm and quiet, and pleasantly uncrowded. There were fewer palm trees than I remembered, but I was relieved to discover the beach itself hadn’t been overdeveloped. It was still beautiful, but not quite as lovely as Klong Prao.

Beach on Koh Wai
The calm, clear waters on Koh Wai had me swooning for hours on end

My aim for this trip to Thailand was to visit some of the lesser-known islands in the country to boost my coverage on the site and introduce you guys to some of the best spots that aren’t yet overrun with tourists.

First was Koh Wai, a tiny island off the coast of Koh Chang that doesn’t even have electricity. There are just three budget guesthouses on the island — all of which have been around for 20-odd years — and you can walk from one end of the island to the other in half an hour. There are no roads, no stores, no ATMs, and no bars. This isn’t an island that’s suffering from the overdevelopment that much of Thailand battles, but that’s exactly what makes it so appealing.

I opted for one night on Koh Wai and that precious afternoon I spent on the beach outside my bungalow was one of the highlights of my trip to Thailand. The water was so calm. For hours, there was barely even a ripple, let alone a wave. The sea was warm, pristine, and shallow, like taking a bath. I spent five straight hours alternating between sunbathing on the sand and kneeling in the water, thinking about how incredible this island is.

And while the night was pretty sweaty without even a fan to cool me down, it was totally worth it for that afternoon. I would have even extended my stay for a second night to spend some more time on Koh Wai, which isn’t something I thought I’d say when I first arrived.

An island like this is worth suffering for.

Viewpoint on Koh Mak
Koh Mak is ridiculous and you should go there

I jumped on a ferry to Koh Mak next, which turned out to be just as incredible, if not more so.

We were staying in the kickass Bamboo Hideaway, which came complete with air conditioning, swimming pool, and a surprisingly authentic Mexican restaurant. As tempting as it was to indulge in all of these things for days on end, Dave and I dragged ourselves away from the pool and hired a scooter to help us explore the island.

Our treacherous ride to Turtle Beach brought back memories of a similar journey I once made on Koh Yao Noi, and just like back then, we were rewarded with an pristine beach with nobody else on it. The outdoor erotic sculpture museum was fun to wander around, and the viewpoint in the photo above was the perfect spot to take a break for lunch. The small island in that photo was actually once voted as having one of the top 10 beaches in the world, although the swarm of sandflies that permanently smother it immediately disqualify it from any list I might’ve put together.

Beach in Koh Kut-1
It gets better: Koh Kut was the most beautiful island of them all!

I went to Koh Kut because it tops pretty much every expert’s list of the most beautiful islands in Thailand. I knew I had to check it out.

My verdict? It really is that beautiful! The beaches on Koh Kut are gorgeous, and I’m convinced they’re the best in the entire country.

I spent five fantastic days blissing out in the south of the island, hanging in one of the most chilled guesthouses I’ve ever spent time in. Gumm Lonely Club was made for relaxing, and I couldn’t get enough of this beautiful spot on the river. We were staying in a little cabin with a hammock to lay out in above the water, a smooth jazz soundtrack on the speakers, and some fantastic Thai food to go with it.

If I hadn’t had two days remaining on my Thai visa, I would have stayed for weeks.

Mosque in Brunei
Brunei’s Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. I was so happy to see it during a rare blue-sky day!

I spent one night in Trat, one in Bangkok, then jetted off to a brand new country in Southeast Asia.

I went to Brunei because everyone said it was boring.

I know that’s a weird reason to go somewhere, but I love to be different. If someone tells me a place isn’t worth visiting, I immediately add it to the top of my list and set off in search of some redeeming features.

When it came to Brunei, I struggled to find a single positive blog post about the sultanate. Everything I found declared the country boring. Everyone told me it was only worth visiting for a day, and that I should only go if I’m into counting countries.

I immediately gave myself four days to explore. I was determined to dig deep and find a ton of interesting things to do in the country.

Proboscis monkey in Brunei
My first sighting of a proboscis monkey! These strange-looking animals are only found on the island of Borneo

Well.

BRUNEI IS REALLY BORING, GUYS.

It turned out that once again, I should have listened to everyone else.

It wasn’t like our trip was terrible.

We chose to stay in a guesthouse run by a lovely woman. Maya drove us into and out of the city, took us to the Gadong Night Market for chicken anus on a stick, and even treated us to lunch one day, when she introduced us to the national dish, ambuyat. We spent a day wandering through Bandar Seri Begawan, and spent another morning on a tiny boat, exploring the waterways of a floating village and spotting proboscis monkeys in the nearby jungle.

And then we ran out of things to do.

There were things we could have done — the canopy walk at Ulu Temburong National Park for starters — but everyone we spoke to told us that we’d see more impressive rainforest in Malaysian Borneo, and that the attractions in Brunei weren’t worth the high amounts they charge.

So we hung out in our guesthouse for a while, with our internet barely working, slowly losing our minds and counting down the hours until we could board a bus out of there.

Food court in Kota Kinabalu

Our journey from Bandar Seri Begawan to Kota Kinabalu took us across seven borders and filled my passport with eight new stamps. It sounds like hell, but I enjoyed watching the pretty scenery racing by my window.

And Kota Kinabalu? It immediately became my new favourite city in Southeast Asia. From the moment my first meal touched my tongue — roti cobra, of course — I was in love. I extended my stay from one week to three.

Much of my time in the city was spent eating. I tried new restaurants every day, and dozens of brand new dishes — all of them amazing. I worked from hipster coffee shops and hiked Signal Hill to burn off my daily intake of roti. I took a tour on the Kawa Kawa River to see proboscis monkeys, and in the evening I caught fireflies in my hands.

Kota Kinabalu: you’re underrated as hell.

March 2018 travel map

Countries Visited: 3

Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Places Visited: 10

Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Koh Chang, Koh Kut, Koh Mak, Koh Wai, Kota Belud, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, and Trat.

Distance travelled: 2,274 miles

Number of flights: 2
Number of buses: 2
Number of ferries: 4

Gumm Lonely Club hammock
Our adorable private deck at Gumm Lonely Club — it reminded me of Don Det, in Laos!

Highlights of the Month

Island-hopping in Thailand: Can I just repeat those two weeks on the Thai islands over and over until I die? This was one of those trips where every time I rocked up to a new destination, I declared it the best, only to have it blown out the water by my next stop. Koh Chang was beautiful, Koh Wai was beautiful, Koh Mak was beautiful, Koh Kut was beautiful. Let’s just say there’s been no shortage of discussions on returning to Thailand for a second go-around over these past few weeks.

Border crossing fun and games: Right? It’s not that often (or, well, ever) that crossing an overland border makes my list of travel highlights, but our bus ride from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu was so quirky I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Our six hour bus journey saw us cross an incredible seven borders over that time, and filled our passports with eight new stamps. Getting off and on the bus every hour was a little annoying, but the border crossings were efficient and the ride comfortable. It was totally worth it for the story, and it’s one I can’t wait to start writing.

Playing with fireflies was magical: I had never seen fireflies until I ventured into the Borneo jungle and was engulfed in a beautiful swarm of them. Reaching up and catching one in my hand was surprisingly easy, although I was content to simply sit back and let them encircle me as we drifted down the river. It was the definition of magical.

Street food market in Kota Kinabalu
Buying a bag full of chicken anus for dinner at a market in Kota Kinabalu. Yes, you did read that correctly.

Lowlights of the Month

Did I mention Brunei was boring? I wanted to stand out from the crowd and be the lone voice announcing that travel in Brunei is worth it, but nope.

It turns out Brunei really is that boring. Four days was far too long to spend in this tiny country.

I struggled with the food in Malaysia: It’s funny — I decided to spend three weeks in Kota Kinabalu based on the delicious meals I had during my first few days in the city. One week later, that way of eating was making me sick.

Malay food, while delicious, isn’t exactly healthy. All day long, I was eating fried noodles, fried rice, buttery roti, fried meats, oily meats, fatty meats, and juices containing as much sugar as could be dissolved in the glass. In Kota Kinabalu, at least, the vast majority of Western restaurants offered Italian cuisine, which is just as problematic for my anxiety levels.

We managed to find a few hipster cafes offering breakfasts that weren’t oily, fried noodles, but they were still heavy on the honey, bread, and dairy. I’m hopeful I can regain control over my diet once I’ve left Borneo.

My anxiety returned: Unfortunately, four months into this trip, my anxiety finally reared its head. It’s no coincidence it happened during a month where I’ve had zero control over what I put in my body — a paleo diet is the only thing that can take my panic attacks from 10 to naught within a matter of days and in Kota Kinabalu, eating that way was next to impossible.

So now I have to figure out: Is this a sign that I should go find a home immediately or should I grit my teeth and stick out the next six weeks in the hopes I can get my brain under control? Either way, dealing with daily panic attacks while travelling doesn’t exactly meet my definition of fun, especially as I worked my ass off to kick them to the curb less than two years ago.

Woo Cafe in Kota Kinabalu
Woo! Cafe in Kota Kinabalu — one of my favourite offices of the month

Incidents of the Month

So many techastrophes: First, Dave’s beloved Pixel 2 phone bit the dust while we were scootering around Koh Kut. Two weeks later, my phone died a soggy death in a puddle on a table in Kota Kinabalu. On top of that, we both broke our earphones. What the hell, tech gods? I’m fully expecting my Kindle to die next.

I lost so many followers due to genitalia: I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I get the opportunity to see something unusual-yet-sexual on my travels, I’m all about it. I was therefore overjoyed to learn there’s an outdoor erotic sculpture museum in Koh Mak. Our guesthouse owner recommended it to us and I immediately placed it at the top of our itinerary for the island.

I posted a couple of photos on Twitter while I wandering around, thought nothing more of it, and then when I happened to click on my Twitter Analytics a couple of weeks later, I noticed a huge drop. It turned out I lost several hundred followers by tweeting out some photos of genitalia. Sculptures! Art! They were made of stone! They weren’t real! They’re just bodies! Stone bodies!

Weird.

You probably shouldn’t be following me on Twitter if that kind of thing upsets you, so it’s all good. And if you’re interested in seeing just how offensive those sculptures were, the photos I shared are here and here. HASHTAG NSFW!!!! CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!! 

Oh! And on top of that, I also lost a whole bunch of followers on Facebook when I shared a photo of my ferry captain’s penis-themed belt. I liked to refer to him as Captain Cock.

April 2018 travel map

My Next Steps

I’m leaving Kota Kinabalu in my wake as I head out to see what makes the rest of Malaysian Borneo so magical.

First up, Kinabalu Park, to spend several days climbing everything but the mountain. I don’t have appropriate gear to tackle Malaysia’s highest peak, so I’m giving it a miss and exploring its base instead. From there, I’ll be bussing it across to Sandakan to hang out with orangutans, sun bears, and proboscis monkeys, and likely squealing with joy if I spot a sun bear doing something like this. <— You should click that link, by the way.

We’ll be finishing off our Borneo trip with a bang, as I’ll be opting to homestay it up with a guy who helped the Planet Earth filming crew track animals in the jungle. Hopefully I’ll get to see some remarkable sights.

I originally hoped to spend two or three weeks in Bhutan after Borneo, but I can’t ignore the fact that I’m craving more control in my life. The wonderful thing about long-term travel is having the freedom to change up your plans when things aren’t working. As delicious(ly nauseating) as my time in Kota Kinabalu has been, I’ve learned that I can’t eat fried noodles for three meals a day for weeks on end. I’m craving all kinds of Paleo eating, both to lose my Travel Podge and to get me feeling happier, healthier, and less anxious.

After much research, I settled on Bali, and I’ll be heading to Canggu to eat well, live in a hipster neighbourhood, hang out with friends, and spend two weeks nursing myself back to health.

Towards the end of the month, I’ll be jumping on a plane and heading to the Philippines! First up: Legazipi Island, to swim with whale sharks in Donsol, check out the Mayon Volcano, and enjoy being back in one of my favourite countries.

And that was March! Have any tips for anywhere I’ll be going in April? Let me know in the comments below! :-)

Previous The Cost of Travel in Tonga: A Detailed Budget Breakdown
Next Hospitalised in Tonga

21 Comments

  1. scott
    April 4, 2018
    Reply

    Will you be visiting Kuching at all when you’re in Borneo? We made that our base city when we visited, and I have some recommendations for it. Also, the caves at Mulu (Gunung Mulu National Park) were fascinating to see, especially for all of the bats that fly out at dusk…

    • April 4, 2018
      Reply

      Nope! Just Sabah on this trip, sadly.

  2. April 4, 2018
    Reply

    That sucks that the anxiety made a comeback! At least you know the key to getting it under control, and there’s zero harm in popping home for a bit if needed. I know exactly how it feels, too well!! Stay strong <3

    But on the bright side, what an amazing month you’ve had! Those Thai islands are firmly added to my travel list; they look and sound amazing! And I’m not remotely bothered by penis statues; bonus!

  3. April 4, 2018
    Reply

    Three things —

    1) I laughed so hard at “Captain Cock” that my dad wanted to know what was funny. I didn’t tell him.

    2) I’m relieved that you found Brunei boring, too. I would have felt like a bad traveler if I spent a full week there, had crazy and unusual experiences, and yet failed to see the appeal.

    3) I think heading to Bali is a wise choice for getting your anxiety under control. Good mix of food choices, ease of travel, and people. Though I’ve heard Canggu has become SUPER digital nomad-y in the last few years. It’s The New Chiang Mai (R)!

  4. April 4, 2018
    Reply

    Awesome. I love these round-up posts. How good are fireflies? As an FYI, the whale shark research at Donsol is run by an awesome Londoner, Emer McCoy. She’s tops. https://www.lamave.org/team-1/.

    • April 26, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks so much, Simon! And yes! Fireflies were so much better than I was expecting :-)

  5. April 6, 2018
    Reply

    Have fun on your trip to the Philippines! (my country)

  6. Francesca Beckett
    April 7, 2018
    Reply

    Canggu has SO many western/vegan/healthy food options and is super ‘white people Bali’. It was what made me not like it when I went but it sounds like that’s going to be perfect for you right now (I mean that in a nice way!).

    Would v.much recommend eating at the Betelnut cafe, I rolled my eyes at the idea of Mexican food in Indonesia but it was so good I ate there four days in a row! La Brisa is a crazy cool beachside club where you can feel like a millionaire for an afternoon. Get a treatment at Spring Spa too – it is a seriously gorgeous haven of calm and I spent WAY too much money on massages, using my anxiety at the erupting volcano as a very bad excuse.

    • April 7, 2018
      Reply

      Yeah, I’m fully expecting not to really like Canggu, but when it’s the choice between holing up somewhere douchey to get healthy or going home, it definitely feels like the right choice :-) Thanks for the recommendations! Will definitely check them out.

  7. April 7, 2018
    Reply

    Spending whole week at the same island and exploring it through the scooter fascinating me, the concept of going to the infamous islands also a good one, you have more new stories for a new place. Brunei is boring, its new for me, but you spent time did not skip it, that’s great.

  8. April 7, 2018
    Reply

    Sun bears are the funniest animals ever. Enjoy Borneo! I loved my time in Sarawak and got to see the orangutans. Go to the Cat Museum if you have time!

  9. April 14, 2018
    Reply

    As always, I enjoyed reading your month’s summary. Your food struggles are somewhat similar to mine – I have celiac and I get sick if I eat wheat and gluten. It’s surprisingly easy to avoid in Mexico, but I know that isn’t the case everywhere. Also, anxiety, but it’s different. During our last trip, our water heater started leaking. The trip before that, one dog bonked the other on the nose and it was bleeding. These kind of things have plagued my travels for most of my life and so I have a fear of what is going wrong at home!

    PS – I read your update on facebook. I’m sorry to hear that both of you got so sick!

  10. April 15, 2018
    Reply

    Ahhh I so want to go to Koh Mak and Koh Kut! I was really close recently – I spent a week on Koh Rong Samloem which I LOVED – but didn’t have the time to head into Thailand. I will definitely be island hopping there in the future though, looking forward to seeing if they top Koh Lipe which is my favorite Thai island. I know what you mean about the food in Malaysia, I just spent three weeks there and although I love roti, it gets a bit much after a while. I spent a few days in Canggu at the beginning of my trip and I loved the food there, in Ubud too. Big focus on healthy vegetarian food. Enjoy!

  11. Daniel
    April 16, 2018
    Reply

    Koh Mak is on the list now! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Kelly
    May 1, 2018
    Reply

    Are you still doing the cost breakdowns? I find them really useful! Love your blog :-)

    • May 2, 2018
      Reply

      Yes! I just do them as a separate blog post for every country I visit now, rather than a brief summary in these posts. It allows me to add more detail that way. Budget breakdowns for Japan, New Zealand, and Thailand are coming up next!

  13. Zoya Shaikh
    February 18, 2020
    Reply

    Hey Lauren, I follow your every blog post, the information provided by you always help me. I visited Koh mak a month before, the trip was really adventurous. Thanks for sharing the wonderful content.!

    • March 15, 2020
      Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that, Zoya! :-)

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.