Ladakh, India

Just beyond the hill-stations of Himachal and Srinagar and just before the inhabitable upper Himalayas lies the sparsely populated region of Ladakh, the ‘Land of the High Passes’. A pocket of Tibetan culture carved into Indian borders, Ladakh is an oasis of valleys thriving amongst a harsh Himalayan ranges that slice through the land. Excursions from Leh, the sleepy, monastery-filled capital, are recommended to the Nubra Valley, a major stop in the ancient Silk Road, and Pangong Lake, a massive clear-blue lake that straddles India and China.

Ladakh India

Ladakh India

Start the morning drive early and rise out of Leh through one of the highest mountain passes in the world, the Khardung-La Pass, which peaks at a staggering 5602 meters (18,379 feet). There’s a cheeky chai station at the top reminding you that you’re on top of the world.

Ladakh India

After conquering Khardung-La, your view opens to the sanctuary that is the Nubra Valley. A small pocket of monasteries, homes, and camel farms remain of what once used to be a large trading post between China and India on the Silk Road. In the distance, the Siachen Glacier can be glimpsed where both India and Pakistan maintain forward army posts at inhumane elevations.

Ladakh India

Ladakh, India

Backtrack to Leh and cross the mighty Chang-La pass and be greeted by the colossal, shimmering-blue Lake Pangong: a saline lake that sits at 4350 meters (14,270 ft), covers 604 square kilometers, and is 134km (83 miles) long.

Ladakh India

The barren, immense moonscapes of Ladakh have an incredible way of making you feel small.

Ladakh India

When to Visit Ladakh:

The tourist season is short, from June to September with peak tourism combining with flower blooms in the valleys in late-July, early-August—a truly remarkable sight. We went in late April and combatted avalanches, blizzards, and sub-zero evening temperatures, which surely instructs you to the power of the region but is not recommended.

Ladakh India

What to Wear/What to Bring to Ladakh:

Layers are a must. After a hike to a monastery you want to rip every off, but after sitting in the car passing over 18,000 feet you’re reaching for the earmuffs. We would sleep in multiple sweaters and hibernate in winter coats. Great boots are essential. Gloves, a camera, and a penchant for adventure are all else that you need.

Ladakh India

How to get around Ladakh:

Purists would advocate renting a motorcycle and driving the entire long, unpredictable route on Royal Enfield like a Bollywood movie star. However, it’s safer and faster to fly from Delhi to Leh and hire a local driver who will skillfully transport you around the region. Of note, all foreign nationals are required to purchase the Protected Area Permit (600 INR) to enter the Nubra Valley and the Pangong Lake regions. Each town outside of Leh sports a few comfortable and affordable accommodations for you to rest after conquering each successful mountain pass.

Ladakh India

What not to miss in Ladakh:

Do not forget to give yourself time to acclimatize! The day we arrived we felt as if someone had wrung us through a clothes-dryer; we spent a full day lying in bed trying not to move a muscle. Drink water aggressively and use Diamox if you have a history of altitude sickness—acute cerebral or pulmonary edema is serious. In lighter advise, ask your driver to take you to the roads overlooking the Indus River as it runs through Ladakh. It’s a humbling experience to see the pure water make it’s way towards the coast and contemplate its role in the creation of a civilization.

Thanks to Nitish, a doctor, traveler, and writer based in New York City for his travel tips on Ladakh!
Thanks to Nitish, a doctor, traveler, and writer based in New York City for his travel tips on Ladakh!

El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

El Nido is a major access point to unlocking the beauty of Palawan’s Bacuit Archipelago, which is known to have some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world. There are remote, uninhabited islands across the entire stretch of northern Palawan, and travelers will have no trouble finding stunning beaches, private coves and untouched lagoons . The town of El Nido has hospitable residents that will cook you hearty meals (either on land or during your boat rides across the islands) and welcome you graciously to their humble town.

El nido private beach

Palawan was my first destination in The Philippines and it set the bar very high for my future trips – the hues of the water against the karst backdrop, the people, the hidden lagoons, and the amazing diving experiences for scuba lovers. I joined a Filipino family of twelve to see Palawan’s Underground River on my way to El Nido, and took a seven-hour ferry ride from El Nido to Coron. It was a blissful meditation experience to converse with a Filipino navy officer on the deck of the ferry while taking in beautiful views.

El Nido Limestone cliff

When to Visit El Nido:

Always check for typhoons, as the country is unfortunately prone to them. For the best experience, I recommended going anytime in June-August, which is off-peak season. You are taking a risk with the weather, but you can island hop without excessive crowds. Even off peak, expect at least seven to ten other tourist boats while island hopping. If you like to go off the beaten track, look up TAO Adventures and sign up for their island hopping tours that range from three to five days. They operate closer to the peak season, and take travelers to private islands.

El Nido View of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands from the boat just before my night dive near Cudlao Island

What you need in El Nido:

Bring cash! El Nido is a small town and credit cards are not accepted everywhere. Bring your bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, clothes to keep you cool, and a book. Snorkeling and scuba gear can be rented but the quality is inconsistent. If you have dietary restrictions, keep those on your list of packing priorities. There aren’t too many healthy or eclectic packaged goods available at the tiny shacks here.  Remember to hydrate and do not drink tap water.

El Nido Dusk view of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands

How to get to El Nido:

Your options depend on your time and budget. Direct flights from Manila (MNL) to El Nido (ENI) are few and expensive for SE Asia standards (approx: $250-300). But if you are short on time, take a flight. If you have a relaxed schedule, then you have a few cool options:

1) Take a flight from Manila (MNL) to Puerto Princesa (PPS), a city at the center of Palawan. Not a whole lot to do here, but you can definitely spend a night and have a nice meal in the country’s cleanest city. You can then take a direct eight-hour road trip by minivan or bus all available at the city center or through your accommodation.

2) Travel 50 miles north of Puerto Princesa to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Explore the Underground River for a few days before you make your way up to El Nido.

3) Travel to El Nido by ferry from Manila. Ferries in The Philippines are quite comfortable (air conditioning, entertainment and food) but the rides are long and often delayed, so this is an option for the traveler with plenty of time.

Best things to see in El Nido:

Island hopping around El Nido is the number one attraction here. Rent a private boat through your hotel or private companies in town. Explore the 7 Commandos Island for snorkeling, the Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Talisay Island, Matinloc Shrine and Helicopter Island. El Nido itself also has some beautiful beaches accessible by foot or tricycle (their version of a tuk-tuk). These are Marimegmeg Beach/Las Cabanas Beach, 7 Commandos Beach (accessible by boat and part of one of the island hopping tours), and Corong Corong Beach. Matinloc Island now has a resort with facilities to ferry you to El Nido and back, about a 15 minute ride. This is a great stay option if you want to avoid crowds. More adventurous travelers can rent kayaks to go from El Nido to Matinloc. Scuba enthusiasts can use the company Palawan Divers to set up a dive. During my night dive, I saw a blue-spotted stingray, an egg cowry, three types of seahorses, and several nudibranchs – all quite rare. Coron is also a very popular dive spot with actual WWII wrecks to explore.

The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island
The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island

Getting around El Nido:

Transportation is easy, as El Nido is small and you can walk to most places. Additionally, most people speak English here. If you’re staying a bit further away from shore, there are tricycles (small tuk-tuks) everywhere always looking for your business. Also, this tiny town was hit badly by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, so a lot part of their economy still depends on you. Haggling with the tricycle driver is not needed, as unlike in Manila, they will quote you a fair price and will go out of their way to ensure you’re at the right destination.

El Nido Shuchi karst at Shimizu island
Thanks to Shuchi Vyas, a New York-based travel expert, entrepreneur, and nonprofit consultant. Shuchi spent all of 2015 globetrotting – combining her love of travel with engaging with local communities. She assisted several organizations ranging from a small organic farm in Vang Vieng, Laos, to a large Southeast Asian nonprofit based in Manila. Her favorite experiences include diving with sharks in Malapascua, zip-lining in the northern jungle of Laos, hitchhiking in Sulawesi, and biking through villages near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Follow her on instagram @shuch_a_wanderer


Amer Fort, Jaipur, India

Just outside the pink city of Jaipur is the old seat of the Rajput Empire in Amer. Here, travelers will find the breathtaking Amer (also called Amber) Fort, which was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2013. The fort, also called the Amer Palace, is a four level complex, which includes a Diwan-e-Aam(Hall of Public Audience), Diwan-e-Khas(Hall of Private Audience), the Sheesh Mahal(mirrored palace), and the Zanana Dyodi(women’s chambers). Visitors enter through the Ganesh Pol (Gate) or Suraj Pol, for just 100 rupees (just under 2 USD). This magnificent structure overlooks the Maotha Lake, and travelers can ride an elephant up the hill to the main gates of the grand palace.  

Amber Fort, Jaipur
Amber Fort, Jaipur

The Meenas people originally held the Fort. According to legend, in a cowardly act by the Rajput conspirers, the Meenas were massacred while they were performing religious ceremonies during the festival of Diwali.  To this day this shameful act is acknowledged with the Rajput men wearing black on Diwali. This is the point in history when the Kachwaha Rajputs took the seat of a new empire in Amer, and eventually moved it 6.8 miles away to Jaipur. But for the 150 years that followed, the small Amer Fort that was started by the Meenas was built upon, and we are left with this stunning souvenir of Rajasthan’s history.  

Amer Fort Amber Fort Jaipur

The architecture of the fort incorporates Indian Hindu motifs along with Persian Muslim designs. The story of Jodha and Akbar, which began in Jaipur, has inspired artists throughout history. Jodha, the daughter of a maharaja at the Amer Fort, was married to the Emperor Akbar. It was commonplace for Hindu women to commit johar (suicide by jumping into a fire) when faced with the possibility of marrying or being raped by non-Hindu men. Jodha, faced with the possibility of marrying the Muslim Emperor, did not commit johar, and their union is said to have helped Akbar grow his empire. Akbar allowed Jodha to maintain her Hindu religion and this helped create religious tolerance in his empire. If only our world today could take notes from one of the great leaders of the 16th century. 

Amer Fort Amber Fort Jaipur

 Amer Fort Amber Fort Jaipur


Non stop flights to Delhi leave from New York (15 hours), Zurich, Amsterdam, London and several other cities. From Delhi, visitors can hire a car, take a 4 hour train journey or take a domestic flight to Jaipur (Airport Code: JAI). Given that hiring a car is very affordable, the best bet would be to link up with a local travel agent to have a car and a driver to take you around during your time in Jaipur. Your hotel may also be able to arrange this for you.


I was here in February and it was starting to get warm and desert sun is very hot. Usually this part of India is best visited between November and February. I would spend 2 to 3 days here, as Jaipur and Amer have a lot to offer. Most of the buildings open at 0900 and close at 1630. There are light shows at the Hawa Mahal and Amer Fort in the evenings. The one at the fort is regarded as the better one.


When in India, it is prudent to dress conservatively, especially because a lot of the places you visit are temples or house temples and shrines. Bringing filtered water, some easy to carry snacks ( trail mix, nuts), sunscreen, a hat to block out the intense sun, and an open mind are a good idea. 


Jaipur is India’s pink city, and the name does not lie. In 1876 when the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria were coming to Jaipur, the city painted its walls pink. Pink was the color of hospitality. The color, along with the sentiment of hospitality remain. Jaipur has a plethora of places to visit and explore. Visitors can take in the City Palace, walk across the street to Jantar Mantar, a collection of 19 astronomical instruments (which still work with accuracy), and check out the Hawa Mahal. The Hawa Mahal connected to the ladies zenana in the palace and gave them a vantage point to look out over the city’s happenings from behind 953 famous Jharokhas(windows). Also, make time to take in the vistas from the Nahargarh and Jaigarh Forts, stop to take in the palace in the water Jal Mahal, visit the Birla Mandir to hang out with some monkeys, say a prayer at the Govind Dev Ji Temple, shop in Johari and Babpu bazaar and eat traditional foods. And of course, anytime you are in India, take a break from being a tourist to indulge in a hot cup of chai.

Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal
Thanks to Jasmit, a physician living in NYC, for her travel tips on Jaipur!
Thanks to Jasmit, a physician living in NYC, for her travel tips on Jaipur!

Kawasan Falls, Cebu, Philippines

The aquamarine waters of Kawasan Falls can be found in Badian, a municipality on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Badian is 60 miles south from Cebu City and is a stark contrast to the commotion of urban life seen in the city of Cebu. A visit to Kawasan Falls, the crown jewel of Badian, starts with a hike flanked by rich, jungle canopy on one side, and a clear blue lagoon on the other. The structures that lead up to the falls are reminiscent of an ancient civilization’s lost temples-perfect for those seeking an Indiana Jones type adventure.

Kawasan Falls, Philippines


When To Visit Cebu

May and the first half of June are both great months to visit Cebu. While travelers should expect rainfall during every month in Cebu, the heavy rains tend to be from late June to December. The month of May will still have some rain but it avoids visiting during the stifling heat of the dry season (April is the driest month in Cebu). Traveling during the start of the rainy season is also a plus because school sessions usually begin in the first week of June in the Philippines. Thus, it is less crowded, as locals are back at home. During my stay, my family and I had the waterfalls to ourselves!

What you need at Kawasan Falls

Humidity and heat prevail in the Philippines, so make sure to wear clothes that keep you cool. Mosquito repellent is also a necessity, just incase you encounter the critters. Wearing swimwear underneath ur clothing is always a good idea, since swimming in the falls is allowed. Bring plenty of cash, no credit or debit, if you want to use any of the services available (souvenirs, food, cottage rentals, room rental located next to the falls). There is also grills if having a barbecue next to the falls is something you wish to take part in. From the entrance, it is a 1.5 km hike to the first waterfall, so make sure to bring shoes with good traction. It is best to visit during the day, but if visiting in the evening, bring a flashlight for the hike as the path can be dark.

The hike

How to Get to Kawasan Falls

One hour direct flights to Cebu from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (airport code: MNL) to Mactan Cebu International Airport are available year round. Once on the island of Cebu, you must travel to Badian. From Cebu city, travelers can take a bus to Badian-ideal for comfort and air-conditioning. Visitors also have the option of taking a jeepney or taxi as well. The travel time is close to 3 hours from Cebu City, depending on traffic. The hike to the falls begins at Matutinao Church in Badian. It is about a 20 to 30 minute hike on foot from the church. The easiest option for out of town travelers is to get assistance from a tour agency either at Mactan Cebu International Airport or in Cebu City (which is a one hour drive from Cebu International Airport).

Best things to see in Cebu

During your visit, make sure to stop by Cebu City, indulge in the local street food, visit Fort San Pedro and experience the local culture. Visitors can also travel to the seaside province of Cordova, which is ideal for island hopping on a traditional banca boat. Tumalog Falls is also a great option-not just for viewing the beautiful waterfalls, but also for swimming with whale sharks. Visiting Aguinid Falls is also popular, as well as taking a trip out to Pescador Island.

Author: Veronica Holganza

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Originally built as a Hindu Temple by the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. The complex measures a massive 401 acres (1,626,000,000 square meters) and was built to honor the Hindu deity Vishnu. Construction of some of the monuments here is thought to have begun as early as 900 AD and majority of the temple complex was built by Khmer King Suryavarman II between 1113–1150 AD. It was designed to resemble Mount Meru, which, in Hindu mythology, is the home to the Hindu deities.

Aerial view of the massive Angkor Wat temple complex
Aerial view of the massive Angkor Wat temple complex

Later in the 12th century, the temple gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple and Buddhist monks still visit Angkor Wat today. The Angkorian period lasted from 802 AD until the 14th century. The population in the city of Angkor was significant- it accounted for 0.1% of the world’s population in the 12th century. The massive abandonment of Angkor city which housed Angkor Wat, occurred when the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya took Angkor in 1431. This led to a massive migration south and marked the end of the Khmer empire.

The entrance to the temple complex and the surrounding moat
The entrance to the temple complex and the surrounding moat
The main temple and reflecting pool at Angkor Wat
The main temple and reflecting pool at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat at sunrise
The reflection of Angkor Wat’s main temple in the pool in front at sunrise
The detailed carvings inside Angkor Wat
The detailed carvings inside Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat was not discovered because it was never lost. The location and temples of Angkor have been described in history on several accounts following the fall of Angkor in the 1400s. However it was Henri Mouhot who popularized this world wonder. In 1858, Mouhot arrived in southeast Asia and spent the next three years exploring, until his death in Laos at the age of 35 from malaria. Little did he know that two years after his death, in 1863, the publication of his travel journal would immortalize him. In his journal, he described the massive lost city complex of Angkor and all its grand temples that had been consumed by the jungle. It is thought that Angkor Wat was largely preserved from this due to the large moat that surrounds the temple complex. The nearby Ta Prohm temple (the site of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie filming) has trees that have grown into and out of the temple structures.


Direct flights to Siem Reap (Siem Reap airport code: REP) can be found on local asian carries from several cities including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shangai, and Guangzhou. From Siem Reap, Angkor Wat is a short drive away. Much of Siem Reap’s hotels cater towards travelers planning to visit the temples, so once you book a hotel in Siem Reap, you can arrange a tour through them as well. Flights are also available from Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh and the beach town of Sihanoukville, if you plan to visit Otres Beach after temple touring. Buses are also available to take in Cambodia, but flights are the fastest and most reliable option.


Although Cambodia’s weather can be very hot and humid, remember to cover knees and shoulders when visiting the temples. Given the thousands of visitors each day, you are unlikely to be stopped, but out of respect to the local monks, cover up appropriately. Make sure to bring a camera, bottled water, and buy your ticket ahead of time. If hiring a tour guide (highly recommended), they should be able to handle this for you. Bring cash to pay for food and souvenirs near the temple. Don’t forget to use insect repellant with deet while visiting Cambodia.

A young group of Buddhists at sunrise at Angkor Wat
A young group of Buddhists at sunrise at Angkor Wat


Cambodia’s monsoon season runs from late May to November. To avoid rain, plan travel around those months. For budget travelers, room rates (which are already low in Siem Reap) can be a real bargain during the rainy season. The most expensive time to travel to Cambodia is around the Christmas and New  Year holiday when hotel prices can be double and sometimes triple the normal rate. Plan in advance if traveling during the holiday as hotel rooms tend to fill up quickly. Leave early in the morning (at least one hour before sunrise) to get a good spot to view the sunrise.  Crowds around the holiday season are massive.


Both sunrise and sunset are beautiful at Angkor Wat. In the mornings, the sun will rise behind the temple causing a stunning reflection of the temple and clouds in the pool in front of Angkor Wat. For sunset, tethered hot air balloon rides cost only 20 USD and can give you an aerial view of the massive temple complex. In addition to Angkor Wat, be sure to visit the nearby Ta Prohm and Bayon temples. Ta Prohm is famous for massive tree roots that have grown into and around the temple structures. For a break from temple touring, take a direct flight from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (airport code: KOS) to visit the peaceful Otres beach on Cambodia’s southwest shore.

angkor wat pillars

I couldn't resist this photo op...
I couldn’t resist this photo op…
Me on the hot air ballon before sunset. You can never have too many cameras!
Me on the hot air ballon before sunset. You can never have too many cameras!

Otres Beach, Cambodia

On Cambodia’s southwest coast lies serene Otres Beach- a hidden paradise that most people have never heard of, much less visited. With gentle waves, sandy beaches and lazy cafes, Otres is your typical countryside beach. It is tucked away from the busier party area surrounding Serendipity beach, which is closer to the town center of Sihanoukville. With its backpacker and hippie vibe, this beach is certainly on the road less traveled. This part of Cambodia is still relatively unknown. Travelers who are able to spend time exploring Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat will be happy they made the trip to Otres Beach. Dabbled with western tourists, it is not crowded-yet. The hot Cambodian climate lends itself to beach lounging, yoga, drinking cheap Angkor beer and perhaps a little paddle boarding- if you are up for it. The sunsets on Otres are particularly amazing, so be sure to have your camera ready.

Otres Beach at Sunset

A laid back cafe on Otres Beach
A laid back cafe on Otres Beach
The good thing is, for most western travelers, Cambodia is very budget friendly. On Otres beach, travelers can treat themselves to inexpensive pedicures, manicures and massages for a few dollars. To feast at a fraction of western prices, buy grilled calamari or fresh mango from a Khmer woman selling food on the beach. Luckily, the local vendors are respectful, keeping the atmosphere calm. This region of the ocean is also scattered with small beautiful islands that are an hour’s boat ride away from the mainland. In fact, you can see two of biggest islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from the shore. Travelers can explore these islands by reserving an island “cruise” from one of the beach travel vendors.
View of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from Otres Beach
View of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from Otres Beach
Koh Rong
Koh Rong… but so right.
Stay in a Treehouse on Koh Rong
Stay in a treehouse on Koh Rong!

How to get to Otres Beach:

The nearest town is Sihanoukville, which has an airport. If visiting Angkor Wat (a must!) during your time in Cambodia, the easiest way is to take a flight from Siem Reap. The cheapest way to get to Otres Beach is by bus. Buses run from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Taking about 4 hours from Phnom Penh and 10 hours from Siem Reap, the bus will drop you off at the town center. From there, take a 15 minute, 5 USD tuk tuk ride to get to Otres Beach.

What to bring to Cambodia:

Bring beach wear for Otres beach, sunscreen, and insect repellant. Luckily, if you can’t carry it with you due to airline liquid regulations, insect repellant can be cheaply purchased in Cambodia.

Best time of the year to visit Cambodia:

Because Cambodia has a warm to hot climate year around, Otres Beach is always a good place to relax. However, the monsoon season runs from late May to November. To avoid rain, plan travel around those months. For budget travelers, room rates (which are already low for western travelers) can be a real bargain during the rainy season.

What not to miss in Cambodia:

Leave Otres for a day to explore one of the islands. They are great for snorkeling, swimming and hiking. The island cruises are usually day trips leaving from the port in the town center. Those to really wish to get away from it all may choose to stay overnight at Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem. Of course, while in Cambodia, no visit is complete with a visit to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The temples in and around Angkor Wat are not to be missed when visiting this fantastic country. Cheap flights to Siem Reap can be found on local Asian carriers. Be sure to get to Otres Beach before everyone else does!
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!
Thanks to Archana, our totally fabulous globe trotter/writer/photographer/travel expert for sharing her experience at Otres Beach. She is currently exploring Africa!

Krabi, Thailand

For breathtaking views, blue-green seas, white sand and G rated massages, be happy and head to Krabi. The province of Krabi is located along the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. This area is famous for its stunning landscapes with limestone peaks jutting from both the land and sea. The beach town of Ao Nang is a good place to stay while exploring this area. From Ao Nang, visitors can take a long tail boat to visit Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach, Phra Nang Cave, and several small picturesque islands on the Andaman Sea. The famous Phi Phi islands (where the movie “The Beach” was filmed) and Maya Bay can also be visited as a day trip from Ao Nang. This area is also famous amongst rock climbers who come from around the world to climb at both Railay Beach and Ton Sai Beach.  To the north of Krabi lies Phang Nga Bay (known for its James Bond filming location) and to the west is Phuket. The beach landscapes in Krabi, with stunning limestone mountains in the backdrop, make this scenic area of Thailand unforgettable.

A long tail boat docked at Phra Nang Beach
A long tail boat docked at Phra Nang Beach
Krabi Long Tail Saya
Holding on as my long tail boat leaves Phra Nang Beach

Where to stay in krabi, Thailand:

Ao nang has plenty of hotel and restaurant options which are all walking distance to Ao Nang beach (where you can get a long tail boat). Ao Nang pier (where the ferry to Phi Phi leaves from) is a short tuk tuk ride from the main strip of hotels in Ao Nang. There are limited hotel options on Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach, but remember that these beaches are only accessible by boat, which will limit your options for finding food at night, but gives you first access to the beach in the morning.

How to get to Krabi, thailand:

Krabi has a airport (airport code: KBV) that is located 30 minutes from the beach town of Ao Nang. From Phuket airport (code HKT), Ao Nang is a 2 hour drive. From the airport, take a taxi or pre-arranged transport to your Ao Nang hotel.

HOw to get to the phi phi islands and other islands:

Travelers should consider staying in the town of Ao Nang as it has many hotel options, food options, and is a good base for further travel. This small Krabi beach town has a pier where speedboats can be rented, and it is from the Ao Nang pier that the ferry leaves for the Phi Phi Islands. At Ao Nang beach, a long tail boat can be arranged to visit Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach, and Phra Nang Cave. The easiest way to get to Phi Phi Islands is by speedboat.  The cheapest way to get to the Phi Phi Islands is by the ferry.  If traveling by ferry, plan to stay overnight at Phi Phi. This way you will have ample time to rent a long tail boat to visit the islands and it’s many beautiful locations, including Maya Bay and Phi Ley Bay. Aside from visiting the Phi Phi Islands (about 90 minutes by ferry from Ao Nang Pier and 1 hour by speedboat), there are several other islands closer to Krabi that can be explored. Koh Hong, Chicken Island, Koh Poda, Koh La Ding, and Koh Phak Bia (just to name a few) are stunning islands that are far less crowded than the Phi Phi Islands (Koh = Island).  They are also closer to Ao Nang (20 minutes by speedboat, or 40 minutes by long tail).
The peaceful beach at Hong Island
The peaceful beach at Hong Island


Busy but beautiful Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands
Busy but beautiful Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands
Longtails docked at a sandbar on Koh Phak Bia
Longtails docked at a sandbar on Koh Phak Bia
Krabi TukTuk
Tuk Tuk in Ao Nang headed to Ao Nang Pier

what to know before visiting thailand:

This part of Thailand is very hot. The high temperature is between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (25-30 degrees Celsius) year round. Wear a bathing suit and bring a change of clothes so you can easily get in and out of the water. Bring plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant while island hopping in Thailand. Re-apply often and generously. Bring plenty of cash to pay for tuk tuks, long tail boats, food, and park fees. Certain protected places (like Hong Island and Maya Bay) are national parks and have small fees that are collected on arrival. When spending time on these small islands, remember that if you didn’t bring it, it is unlikely to be there. So bring a towel, a sun umbrella, and snacks. Maya Bay has a small and limited snack bar, but Hong Island does not. Get up early to make the most of your day as the sun will set around 6 pm.

How to get to krabi:

While Thailand’s beaches are all very beautiful, there is nothing quite like the landscapes and backdrops in and around Krabi. Cheap flights to Bangkok can be found through local Asian carriers, and then you can fly to Krabi (airport code: KBV) from Bangkok (airport codes: BKK and DMK). If you are flying into Phuket (airport code: HKT) or staying in Phuket, Ao Nang is a 2 to 3 hour drive depending on traffic. It is best to arrange a driver ahead of time if you are planning to drive between Phuket and Krabi. To get to the Phi Phi Islands, you can take a ferry from the Ao Nang Pier or a speedboat. Speedboats are the fastest and most convenient way to get to Phi Phi and allow you the most freedom to explore the hidden parts of these islands. If taking the ferry, plan to spend at least one night in the Phi Phi Islands as the journey is longer. Some travelers may choose to travel from Phuket to Krabi via the Phi Phi Islands, as a ferry runs between these destinations.

what not to miss in thailand:

When visiting this area of southern Thailand, be sure to see Railay Beach, Phra Nang Cave, Maya Bay, and one of the many beautiful isolated islands (Koh Hong, Koh Lao La Ding, Koh Poda to name a few) in the Andaman Sea.  Rent a long tail or speedboat for the day from Krabi, and explore the tiny islands off the Krabi Coast. Phang Nga Bay is also famous for its gorgeous scenery and is about half way between Phuket and Krabi. Thrill seekers should book a rock climbing excursion ahead of time.

Rock climber in Krabi
Rock climber in Krabi

Snorkeling is also a nice way to pass the time in this unique part of the world. Finally, end a long day of swimming with an affordable (5 to 10 USD for 60 minutes) Thai massage (the G rated kind). No need to book this ahead of time as there are several places on each street. Party-goers can find nightlife in nearby Phuket. While Krabi and Ao Nang have less of a party scene, the landscapes of Krabi are unbeatable.

Feeling tiny amidst the cliffs on Koh Hong
Feeling tiny amidst the cliffs on Koh Hong

Sapa, Vietnam

Tucked away in Northwest Vietnam, lies one of the most spectacular and lesser known regions of the world. Sapa is a township in Vietnam that is surrounded by 17 villages, some much smaller (300-3000 people) than others. Though occupied for thousands of years before the French, who first arrived in the 1800s, it was during colonial French rule that Sapa became famous as a stunning “hill station.”  The true beauty of this area lies in the picturesque villages just outside the town of Sapa. I stayed in Lao Chai village. In the villages surrounding Sapa, travelers will find farms for water buffalos and rice paddy fields.  When visiting Sapa, you will have spectacular views of terraced rice paddies built along the magnificent hills and mountains.

Sapa, Vietnam

sapa vietnam aerial

Several hill tribes live in the region of Sapa. These include not just the Kinh people, or ethnic Vietnamese, but also eight different ethnic tribes.  Experiencing the culture here is just as rewarding as taking in the magnificent scenery.

Sapa Vietnam Child

The Hoàng Liên Son mountain range is found in this area and is actually the eastern end of the famous Himalaya mountain range.  Fansipan, also called “the Roof of Indochina” is a mountain in Vietnam that is just 9 km from Sapa.  It is 10,312 feet high (3,143 metres) and is the highest in Indochina (made up of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia).  Trekking to the top can be arranged from local tour companies and takes 2 to 3 days. This region of Vietnam is very close to the border of China, with the train station at Lao Cai being just a 40 minute walk to the border crossing to Hekou in China.

What To Wear in Sapa, Vietnam:

Sapa has a cold climate compared to the rest of Vietnam, so bring a jacket. In January, the low can be near 50 degrees Farheinheit (10 degrees Celsius). In June, the temperature rises to the 70s (20-21 Celsius), but still not very hot at any time of year.

What to Bring to Sapa, Vietnam:

You will definitely want to bring some good hiking shoes or sneakers to take advantage of all the trekking opportunities here.  A backpack, camera, and sunglasses are essentials as well.
Simi Sapa Vietnam

How to get to Sapa, Vietnam:

To get to Sapa, travelers should fly into Hanoi.  Cheap flights to Vietnam can be found on local Asian carriers from several cities. Direct flights to Vietnam (Hanoi airport code: HAN) can be found from London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and Guangzhou. Once in Hanoi, take the overnight train to Lao Cai train station (close proximity to the Chinese border).  An overnight train costs anywhere form $20 pp – $40 pp depending on how luxurious you want it to be.  Once you get to Lao Cai station, you have to take an hour-two hour car ride (depending on traffic) to Sapa.  From Sapa, you can take a taxi to the village you are staying in.  Travelers can just stay in Sapa, but I recommend getting out of the city life to be in the remote farmlands. A less popular option for traveling to Sapa is by an overnight sleeper bus from Hanoi.  While it is only $10 (at the time of this post), road travel to Sapa is more dangerous, and the train is recommended.

What not to miss in Sapa, Vietnam:

Trekking around Sapa is highly recommended – you can get a guide when you get there for $40 for the entire day.  The food here is also very famous.  Locals steam the rice inside a bamboo so you crack the bamboo open to eat the rice.  It was amazing!


Travel expert, world traveler, and doctor Simi in Sapa, Vietnam
Thanks to travel expert / global guru / doctor Simi for sharing her tips on Sapa, Vietnam!

Temples of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai’s best temples

Set amidst mountains, Chiang Mai is a city in Northern Thailand that is well known for its rich history dating back to the 1200s.  There are so many facets of Thai culture to experience here, and the magnificent temples in and around this city are amongst the most visited sites in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep:

Built in 1383 as a Buddhist Monastery on the holy hill Doi Suthep, this temple is still a working monastery. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, often called Doi Suthep, is home to a replica of the famous Emerald Buddha of Bangkok as well as one of the world’s largest gongs. The large gong, along with many of the bells hanging around the temple, are constantly rung by devotees as a mark of worship and wishing. The impressive golden pagoda stands at the center of the temple and is surrounded by a variety of shrines. Travelers can ascend 300 steps on the Naga Serpent staircase up to the temple or use a paid service lift to access the temple complex. It also has a large terrace with an expansive view of the entire city of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountain villages.

How to get to Doi suthep:

Located 15 km outside of Chiang Mai city limits, Doi Suthep can be accessed by tuk-tuks or songathaews for about 4 USD each way. One can also rent a scooter for about 6 USD (24 hour rental) and stop at viewpoints along the way to take in the stunning hillside landscape.

The Golden Pagoda at Doi Suthep
The Golden Pagoda at Doi Suthep
The Emerald Buddha replica at Doi Suthep
The Emerald Buddha replica at Doi Suthep
Buddhist monks at Doi Suthep
Buddhist monks at Doi Suthep
The temple bells at Doi Suthep
The temple bells at Doi Suthep

Wat Chedi Luang:

Originally planned for construction by a 14th century king in the honor of his deceased father, this temple took unusually long (up to the mid-15th century) to be completed. At the time of completion, it was the largest temple in all of Lanna or the Indianized State of Thailand. Chedi Luang was once one of original homes to the famous Emerald Buddha of Bangkok. Now, it houses a replica of it, made of black jade stone. The city pillar of Chiang Mai, named Sao Inthakin is located on the temple grounds. An elaborate 8 day Inthakin festival is held yearly in June to honor it.

How to get to Wat Chedi Luang:

This temple is located in the heart of the old walled Chiang Mai city. Once in Chiang Mai, travelers will be able to walk or take a short tuk tuk ride to the temple.
The main shrine at Wat Chedi Luang
The main shrine at Wat Chedi Luang

How to Get to Chiang Mai:

From New York, travelers will need to make a connection in Asia.  Cheap flights to Chiang Mai can be found from several cities in Asia on local carriers.  Direct flights to Chiang Mai can be found from the following cities: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

What to wear to the temples:

It is mandatory to cover up appropriately before entering the temples. Make sure to cover your shoulders (at least short sleeves) and opt for long pants or a long skirt. Trousers, shirts and sarongs are usually offered for rent or purchase outside the temple if need be, but I wouldn’t suggest relying on them as they can be quite hideous (think pictures). You can also carry a thin scarf to cover up before entering.

Best time of the year to visit: 

Fall and winter are the best times to visit South East Asia in general, as summers and monsoons can get pretty hot and unpleasant. That said, these temples are open all year around. They typically close at around 5pm every day and each may take at most an hour or so to explore. It is quite easy to visit both of these temples in half a day.

What not to miss while in Chiang Mai:

Chiang Mai Cabaret:

An entry fee of 250 THB (includes one drink) or around 7 USD gets you into this dark pub, located in the middle of the Anusarn Night Bazaar of Chiang Mai. As you walk in, find yourself a seat closer to the center of the brightly lit stage as you are about to witness one of the most colorful performances in all of Thailand. The lady boys walk onto the stage with exquisite costumes and start performing to upbeat radio hits. This is a very entertaining activity after an evening of shopping.
Cabaret show in Chiang Mai
Cabaret show in Chiang Mai

Sunday Night Market:

As the name suggests, if you find yourself in Chiang Mai on a Sunday evening, this market is a great showmanship of arts and crafts exclusive of the Northern Thai communities. It begins at the Tha Pae or the East gate and continues down to more than 1Km along the main streets which are converted into walking streets as they are closed for traffic during this weekly event. There is also a food market in the center of it all, where you can walk around sampling tasty Northern Thai street foods.
The bustling Chiang Mai Night Market
The bustling Chiang Mai Night Market
A street performer at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market
A street performer at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market

Tuang Thong Canyon:

More commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai, this dug out piece of earth is an old quarry that has now been filled with blue waters. It is a 40 minute drive outside of Chiang Mai on the way to the Hong Dong. Travelers can relax for an afternoon at the clifftop restaurant, go swimming or sunbathe on wooden rafts in the water. However, caution is advised if attempting to dive off of the cliffs, as the water depth varies at points.
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!

Varkala resort town in Kerala, India

The sleepy town of Varkala is located in the state of Kerala in Southern India.  The town lies on India’s west coast and is about 50 km north of the city of Trivandrum.  The breathtaking cliffs lining the beach here makes for extraordinary sunsets.  The gorgeous beaches are some of the most sought after for surfing enthusiasts from all over the world.  The beach here is cleaner and less crowded in comparison to other beaches along the Arabian Sea coastline.  The resort area has two cliffs, north and south, overlooking the beach areas.  The main beach, called Papanasam, is between these two cliffs.  Folklore believes that this beach has holy waters which will wash away sins.  Another beach, named Black Beach is located further north.  There is a sidewalk along the cliff edge that allows travelers to access the different parts of this small resort town.

varkala, kerala, india cliff beach


Additionally, Varkala has lush greenery, coconut and banana farms in excess, beautiful backwaters, fishermen communities, great seafood and a sleepy vibe that the state of Kerala is known for.  Travelers can easily rent a scooter for about $5 a day and drive around the town as well as visit historical temples.  With yoga retreats and Ayurvedic massages galore, Varkala makes for a calming getaway (for all ages) from the maddening shroud that can sometimes be the rest of India.

Varkala, Kerala, India beach

Kerala is an extremely precious part of India with beautiful landscapes and backwaters in abundance. So, it is very important for us to be responsible tourists.  I believe in supporting the manual boats and canoes rather than the bigger houseboats as those are known to be encroaching on the delicate ecosystem.  The disposal of diesel into the water pollutes the marine life and the water that is used by the local fishing and farming communities.

kerala beach, india


The monsoon season runs between May and October, with the heaviest rainfall historically in June, July and August.  I, personally, love watching the thunderstorms over the sea, especially from up top of a cliff, so I don’t mind a visit during monsoon time.  However, for travelers short on time, it is probably best to avoid the rainy season.  Summer, from March to May, can be very humid and very hot.  The winter months from December to February offer warm and dry weather and are the most optimal time to visit.  December can be an expensive month to visit India ( in general) as it tends to be popular amongst tourists.  January is a good fit for those trying to catch dry weather, escape extremes of heat, and avoid expensive markups on hotels and flights.  The high temperature in January is still in the mid 80s (or around 30 degrees Celsius).


It is perfectly alright to wear bikinis/bathing suits/swim trunks while at the beach. However, I would strongly recommend covering up properly if moving away from the beach and/or climbing back up to the cliff area in order to be respectful of the local culture and also avoid uncomfortable stares. Wearing cotton shirts and comfortable trousers/skirts to go into town is a good idea to cover up appropriately while also remaining cool as the temperatures can get pretty high during the day.


The nearest airport is Trivandrum(TRV) and one can easily catch a taxi to Varkala for about $20. Alternatively, one can also take the train – Kanyakumari Express – to Varkala Sivagiri Station.  If you plan to fly into Kochi (COK), which is another city in the state of Kerala, the train ride south to Varkala is about 4 hours.  I would recommend the train, as the ride provides gorgeous views of the lush landscape.  At the time of this post, non-stop flights to TRV and COK are available from Mumbai, Delhi, and Abu Dhabi.  Cheap flights to India often involve at least one stop from the United States.  Non stop flights from New York and Newark are available to Delhi and Mumbai on Air India and United Airlines, which often save time, but are more expensive.


Although Varkala is one of the chillest and safest towns in the area, it is always a good idea to be cautious.  The town goes to sleep quite early, so use caution if walking around after dark.  In fact, past sunset, there is not much to do in the evening hours.  You can hang out at one of the restaurant bars on the cliff, listen to the waves crash, and watch the fishing boats return home after a long day’s work.


Travelers can opt to take a quick day trip to the nearby Ponnumthuruthu Island, also called the Golden Island.  While in the Golden Island you can take a relaxing manual boat rides along the water.  The Golden Island is just 12 km south of Varkala.  Varkala is also famous for the Janardana Swami Temple, a two thousand year old shrine, which is often referred to as Dakshin Kashi (Benares of the South).  The temple is in close proximity to Papanasam beach.  While Varkala is usually visited for the beach and yoga, you may also want to experience the famous Kerala Backwaters.  The three most well known regions of Kerala’s backwaters are Astamudi, Vembanad, and Kannur-Valiyaparambu Backwaters (in districts of Kannur and Kasargod).  The backwaters near Astamudi lake are the closest to Varkala.

Floating through the Kerala backwaters
Floating through Kerala’s backwaters

Thanks to Archana
Thanks to Archana (former engineer, turned filmmaker, turned traveler, photographer, writer and dabbler at large) for sharing her travel recommendations with us!