Thursday, April 16, 2015

Travel :: Ko Lanta, Thailand

Next up on our trip was the relaxed island of Ko Lanta. I had heard from many that this was their favorite island in Thailand, and I can certainly understand why. Much of the island is a natural marine park, meaning in many areas it is still completely untouched. The island has what the Thai people call a "sabai sabai" vibe - reminding me in many ways of the laid-back island of Kauai. 

The resort we stayed at - Pimalai Resort & Spa - was absolutely wonderful. The entire check in process was efficient and thoughtful, from the comfortable van waiting for us at the Krabi airport to the perfectly designed jetty on the mainland {giving you a taste of what was in store}, to the speed boat, to the lei and welcome drink that were given to us when we arrived on the island. Our room itself - while not as spectacular as our villa in Koh Phangan - was spacious, comfortable, and featured a terrace that overlooked the sea. However why waste time in the room when you're on one most beautiful stretches of land in the world?

The property itself was absolutely breathtaking. It was lush yet perfectly maintained. It wasn't unusual as you were exploring the property to come across a large lizard, unusual bird, or a monkey. The resort was built up into the jungle - nearly 100 acres of tropical vegetation - and featured a lower pool just steps from the beach and upper pool with views for days. We would spend a morning at one pool, grab a bite for lunch, then take the resort's buggy to the other pool. It was perfect.

There were several dining options on the property - my favorite being the Rak Talay Beach Bar and Restaurant which we would dine by candlelight with our toes in the sand to the music of the waves crashing against the shore. I also loved our dinner at Seven Seas, an elegant restaurant perched high above the resort offering views to die for. 

A ten minute walk up the beach would bring you to an adorable little village with the coolest backbacker bar EVER, the Why Not Bar...while a ten minute walk down the beach in the other direction would bring you to an adorable restaurant on the beach, Same Same But Different. At some resorts I feel like because you're a captive audience and because you have virtually no other options than the restaurants on property you might not always get as authentic of an experience. I loved that at the Pimalai and Santhiya we had the option to eat anything from innovative European cuisine at the resort to cheap {and DELICIOUS!} traditional Thai food in town.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the spa. I have truly never experienced anything like it. My best description is The Garden of Eden. It consisted of a series of straw-thatched huts winding through the jungle. Laying in your treatment room you were lulled to sleep by the sound of birds chirping, water trickling and palm trees blowing in the breeze. Our first trip to the spa we both got massages, which were so fantastic Ryan immediately booked us two more for the following day! It was pure nirvana.

The resort was located on the most beautiful and pristine crescent-shaped beach I have ever laid eyes on. Some mornings I would be the only person on the mile-long stretch of powdery white sand. If we wanted to spend the day under an umbrella drinking coconuts and reading a book we could. Or, if we wanted something more adventurous the resort had an activity center with complementary water sports rentals like kayaks {so fun!}, snorkels, sail boats and paddle boards. As you can see from the photos below the paddle boards were more challenging than Ryan had initially expected :)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Travel :: Koh Phangan, Thailand

Today I wanted to share with you photos from my happy place - Koh Phangan. This idyllic island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and can only be accessed by ferry or speedboat. Upon arrival into Koh Samui we were were greeted by our resort and after being given fresh water and lemongrass infused cold towels we were driven to the pier. A quick speedboat ride later we arrived to the beautiful Santhiya Koh Phangan.

While we were excited about every leg of our trip, we were definitely most looking forward to our stay at the Santhiya. Partly because the island looked so amazing. Partly because we were going to be within a five minute walk from our friends Scott and Sara who were traveling with us and staying at a resort just steps down the beach. And partly because of the private infinity pool villa that we looked really nice! The second we stepped foot onto Koh Phangan we knew that our {very high} expectations were going to be exceeded.

The Santhiya itself is a gorgeous resort. It is built up a cliff so nearly everywhere you are - from breakfast to pool to the spa - has phenomenal views. Because the hotel is so steep there are the most adorable little wooden tuktuks that are waiting to drive you up to your room or down to the beach at a moment's notice. As we rode the tuktuk up to our room our ears actually popped because we were that high up on the mountain. But, our villa...oh my goodness! We were completely speechless the moment we stepped foot into it. The villa itself consisted of a large open living room and bedroom, with three of the four walls being completely covered in windows allowing us to truly soak in the views. The decor was traditional Thai with hand-carved teak wood from floor to ceiling and lovely details like fresh flowers everywhere and small camphor salt burners strategically placed throughout the villa. The bathroom was outdoor and featured an open-air shower, one of my favorite things on earth! But...the best part? The pool!

We had our own private infinity pool and as beautiful as it had looked in the website photos, it was even more amazing in person! It was big enough to do laps in and we spent hours upon hours floating in the pool high above the bay. The views were absolutely unbelievable and it's safe to say I have never experienced a more beautiful sunrise than laying in our canopy bed and watching the sun come up over the sea, reflecting it's golden rays onto our infinity pool. I happily woke up every morning at dawn just to soak it all in.

One of the most amazing parts about the Santhiya was that it was incredibly secluded, but at the same time it was a two minute walk to one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen and a 10 minute walk into an adorable little town. The town was home to several restaurants ranging from dirt floor shacks to upscale, but all with amazing food and insanely good prices! We went to the nicest restaurant in town and ordered nearly a dozen different dishes and several drinks, and it ended up being about $35 per couple. There were tiny shops, tiki bars, even a place to do laundry. It was great in the fact that we were able to save money and experience much more authentic cuisine and culture than we would have if we were at an isolated resort.

Another amazing perk was being able to spend time with our good friends Scott and Sara who stayed at the equally beautiful Anantara Rasananda down the beach. While their beach villa didn't offer the views that ours did it was located on the stunning Thong Nai Pan Noi beach and literally a fifteen foot walk into the ocean. We were able to spend the morning swimming together in our infinity pool and the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear bay and lounging at their villa. Their hotel had a wonderful restaurant on the beach where we ate some of the best dinners of our trips and released floating lanterns on two separate occasions. It was pure magic.

Most of our time was spent basking in the sun, but we did take a day trip through H20 Scuba to Koh Tao for some fabulous scuba diving - highly recommended! The first day I was a bit under the weather but Scott, Sara and Ryan went diving at Sail Rock and saw a whale shark! Two days later we dove at Koh Tao and were able to explore the most beautiful coral garden I had ever seen. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Santhiya's amazing spa - I got a body scrub, body wrap and a 90 minute massage, it was pure bliss.

But, the best part of our time on Koh Phangan? We got engaged there! But more on that later :)