America Monday: South Carolina’s Angel Oak

[ptcPhoto filename=”AngelOak800-1.jpg” title=”Angel Oak” caption=”The Angel Oak Tree – near Charleston, South Carolina” position=”center”]

This massive oak tree outside of Charleston produces enough shade to cover 17,200 square feet, and is one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi. According to local folklore, the ghosts of former slaves sometimes appear as angels around the tree…although its name really comes from the original estate owners, Justis and Martha Angel.

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Snapshot Sunday: The Dome of the Blue Mosque

[ptcPhoto filename=”BlueMosqueSS700-1.jpg” title=”Sultanahmet” caption=”The main dome of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.” position=”center”]

Sultan Ahmet initiated the construction of his Istanbul mosque in 1609 when he was only nineteen years old. Its beauty was meant to rival that of neighboring Hagia Sophia, which was originally built over a thousand years earlier. Most would agree that the 20,000 blue tiles which give the Blue Mosque its name accomplished that goal.

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Snapshot Sunday: Turkish Coffee and Baklava in Istanbul

[ptcPhoto filename=”IstanbulSS700-1.jpg” title=”Sweet treats” caption=”Turkish coffee and baklava in Istanbul, Turkey” position=”center”]

Offered up in tiny cups all around the city, Turkish coffee is known for its strong flavor and a half inch of “coffee sludge” at the bottom of each serving. The grounds left over are sometimes used for tasseography, a form of fortune telling that dates back to medieval Europe.

Turkey, Greece, Syria, and Lebanon all lay claim to the original baklava, but there’s no doubt that the Turks have a pretty outstanding version of it. Perfect for a rainy day in Istanbul.

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The PTC Koh Lanta Green Season Guide – Part Two

After a short delay, welcome to Part Two! Let’s check out some places to eat and sleep in Koh Lanta.

Unlike some Thai islands that have been overrun (some would say spoiled) by unchecked development, Lanta has a nice mix of locals, tropical forest, and solid tourist infrastructure. In the off-season you’ll find some great deals, too.

What (and Where) to Eat

I need to get something off my chest. Everyone who writes about Thai food seems to love it. For us Thai food is fine, but not something we love enough to eat every single day. We were in Thailand for six weeks and I swear the majority of the food there is fried or made from meat-like product like hotdog or fishcake. And good luck if you’re trying to cut back on meat, because there aren’t a ton of options outside of tofu pad thai. Sorry, I digress.

There are a few dining options on Koh Lanta in the green season. Not all restaurants are open that time of year, but we found a decent range of western and Thai options to get us through, combined with home-cooked meals when we had an apartment with a kitchen. Here were our best finds:

Thai Food Options

TaThaTa is a Thai place run by a super sweet lady who’s always smiling and happy to see you. Her red curry is the best we had in Thailand (tell her if you like it spicy!). Really, everything on her menu tastes fresh and the ambiance of the place is pretty nice too.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaTaThaTa.jpg” title=”TaThaTa” caption=”It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but make sure to try this one.” position=”center”]

You’ll find Phad Thai Rock & Roll near the southern beaches (across from the ever-popular Drunken Sailors). The man who runs this place is also in a rock band, hence the name. They only have three food items on the menu (pad thai, pad see ew and a curry), along with a wide selection of fresh fruit juices. We tried everything and you can’t go wrong here.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaPadThai.jpg” title=”Pad Thai” caption=”Rock & Roll pad thai with prawns, and a coconut to drink.” position=”center”]

Western Food Options

If you’ve been craving a decent burger, you’re in luck. Ling Uan (the Fat Monkey) serves up a respectable (if very pricey) bacon and bleu cheese burger that kept us coming back. They have a full menu of other dishes that looked really tasty, too.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaFatMonkey.jpg” title=”Fat Monkey” caption=”And unlike most every other restaurant in Thailand, they don’t play terrible Celine Dion covers.” position=”center”]

The Drunken Sailor is one that shows up in the guidebooks, and it’s your staple backpacker place. The coffee is really quite good there, as is their glass noodle salad (featured in this article’s cover photo). Their western-style breakfasts are yummy, although the portion sizes are a little small.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaSailor.jpg” title=”Hammocks” caption=”Swing in a hammock and read from their huge (but outdated) collection of Lonely Planet books.” position=”center”]

The German Bakery is located across from the Fat Monkey. They have a delicious frankfurter with grilled onions and mustard. Another solid western food option.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaHotdog.jpg” title=”Bakery” caption=”A big frankfurter from the German Bakery.” position=”center”]

Meals at Home

Fresh fruit abounds in Thailand, and green season happens to coincide with mangosteen season. Yum, yumyumyumyumyum. Our apartment at Freedom Estates had a blender, meaning we had fresh mango pineapple smoothies every morning and watermelon juice in the afternoons. These were a good supplement to our backpacker’s diet of tuna mac and hard boiled eggs.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MangosteenSeason.jpg” title=”Mangosteen” caption=”It’s so, so sad that we don’t get good mangosteens in the States.” position=”center”]

Lanta Mart is the only full grocery store on the island. They carry basic supplies, tons of junk food, and some western luxuries like peanut butter and olives (but no fresh fruits or veggies). If this place is closed there are also dozens of privately owned mini marts on the island that sell your basics like water, eggs, shampoo and beer.

There’s also an outdoor rotating market where you can buy fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. The market floats to different places along main road (most commonly up north in Saladan) on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. One vendor there makes a mean fried chicken in giant vats of bubbling oil…follow your nose to find her. If you buy fresh meat at the market, make sure you cook it that day. They don’t keep anything on ice and we had two batches of chicken go bad before we had a chance to cook them.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaFishcakes.jpg” title=”Fishcakes” caption=”The ‘Angry Birds’ are a ploy to make you forget you’re eating fishcakes…again.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaCurry.jpg” title=”Curry” caption=”A huge bowl of Thai curry paste.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaChilies.jpg” title=”Chilies” caption=”Chilies for sale at the market.” position=”center”]

The Beer Situation

Beers on Lanta cost the same as elsewhere in Thailand – 50-60 baht ($1.50) for big bottle at shops, and 100-130 baht ($3) at restaurants and bars. There’s of course an Irish bar on the island (the Irish Embassy), which always has a small crowd of travelers and expats. They also have food, if you’ve a hankering for bangers and mash.

Where to Sleep

We stayed at a few different places in Lanta, all in the $20-30 range.

First was Lanta Escape Cabins, a small resort in Phra Ae. At $33 for a small cabin with a kitchenette, this property was the most expensive of the three, and also the nicest. Since it was off-season we practically had the place to ourselves.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaEscape.jpg” title=”Pool” caption=”The pool at Escape Cabins.” position=”center”]

A second option is Freedom Estate apartments. A studio with a full kitchen costs around $23 in green season, and there’s a huge patio out front where you can enjoy a drink and watch the sun set. After a couple weeks there it felt like home.

Our final room on Lanta was at the Lanta Miami resort, which is larger than the other two and costs around $28 in the off-season. There aren’t as many food options right around this hotel (and there’s no kitchen), making it our third choice.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaMiami.jpg” title=”Miami” caption=”Our cabin at the Lanta Miami Resort.” position=”center”]

We’ve been to somewhere around 150 cities over the last 20 months, and Koh Lanta is one of the only places where, if we had the means, we’d buy a little seaside apartment and come back every year. It’s just that pleasant. I can’t speak for high season, but in the summertime Lanta is a charming place to get away.

Snapshot Sunday: Camel Rides in Wadi Rum

[ptcPhoto filename=”CamelSS700.jpg” title=”Camels” caption=”Riding camels through Wadi Rum, Jordan” position=”center”]

Wadi Rum (The Valley of the Moon) is a scenic desert valley in southern Jordan, made famous as the filming location for Lawrence of Arabia. After a sunset camel ride and a dinner of traditional Bedouin dishes, we camped out under heavy blankets and a sea of stars.

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