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.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

12 Mistakes You Still Make as a Veteran Traveler

Ok, so you’ve been on the road for a while. You can differentiate between a longan berry, a lychee, and a rambutan in a blind taste test. You can do currency conversions almost without thinking, sew patches on your clothes, and your bargaining skills have actually become quite impressive. Things are pretty-much cake now, yeah?

Well…maybe not. Even the most seasoned travelers get tripped up from time to time. Here’s the dirty dozen we’re willing to admit.

1. Taking Photos in Bad Light

Some of our best photos – images of the bathing ghats in Varanasi, thousands of scooters zipping to work in Taipei, pink skies over New Zealand’s Southern Alps – were taken around the “golden hours” for photography: Sunrise and sunset. Our worst photos are always taken during the middle of the day when the light is harshest. It doesn’t matter how many photos you take; if the light is bad, chances are the pictures will be too.

[ptcPhoto filename=”NZSunset-1.jpg” title=”Sunset” caption=”The boys enjoying some wine at sunset.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”BurjAlArab-1.jpg” title=”Dubai” caption=”And here’s a photo of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, taken midday. Pretty big difference.” position=”center”]

We know when to catch great light, but somehow we manage to be doing other things when we could be taking incredible photos. If only there was a camera that dispensed tiny cups of espresso…

2. Planning Too Far Ahead

There’s always the initial research that makes you decide to visit a country in the first place. But doing too much in advance can be a small mistake (in that you’ll forget everything before it actually becomes relevant), or a big one (in that something comes up and you have to cancel plans). Aside from when we had visitors we never booked things more than a month in advance for the entire trip. The one time we did, we had to go home for a family emergency. If you’re a major planner, just make sure everything is refundable!

3. Not Planning Ahead at All

On the flip side of this coin, there are times when a lax approach to planning can bite back. For instance, you have to book months in advance to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Another example: One time in Malaysia we tried to get a bus from the east coast to Kuala Lumpur, but it was full. Since we already had a hotel in KL that evening we had to take a completely roundabout way to reach the city that took an extra 6 hours, cost more, and caused a lot of headaches. Did it all work out? Sure. But had we just walked to the station and booked tickets a day in advance, we would have had another day in KL.

4. Not Backing Up Data

I’m really bad about this. We’ve taken something like 20,000 photos over the last couple of years, and to lose any of them would be devastating. But do you think I remember to run a backup when we get to a hotel with good internet? That darn YouTube and its cat videos! I always forget! Thankfully Eric is much better about these things.

In case you’re wondering, the best backup solutions we’ve found are Dropbox for documents and Crashplan for photos. After the Crash of 2013 when Eric’s hard drive got wet, we learned the hard way how important it is to have a reliable resource not only for backing things up, but for “pulling them back down” as well.

5. Not Tackling Bucket List Items Immediately

Those few days when you first arrive to a new city, when you’re still excited and motivated…that’s the time to tackle all the things that brought you there. Too often we leave the major sights for the end and either rush through them or miss them completely.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GrandMosqueDome-1.jpg” title=”” caption=”Muscat’s Grand Mosque is incredible. But we had to rush through it so we could catch a flight.” position=”center”]

6. Not Making Sure the Meter is On

Here’s a rookie mistake. In much of the world taxi drivers don’t like to use their meters, assuming they even have one. In such cases it’s essential you agree on a price before getting into the cab. Every so often we just forget to agree on a price beforehand or check that the taxi driver has turned on the meter. This always results in a heavily inflated fare. It happens to the best of us.

7. Not Taking Time to Rest

A big part of long-term (or short-term) travel is knowing your limits. Nothing’s going to be that much fun if you’re tired and grumpy. I have some photos from days when we should’ve stayed in (and probably gotten separate hotel rooms) and I just remember them as bad days. There will be times when you’re just not feeling it. Don’t feel bad if you need to order in and watch movies…travel is supposed to be enjoyable!

8. Not Documenting Things

A photo, an email home to a friend, a journal, a memento, a blog post – these are all ways to document your experiences, big and small. Try to take note of things you find interesting before they become commonplace or you never see them again. Strangely, we also find that it’s worthwhile to document situations that have gone wrong, since they make for some of the funniest memories. In that moment when you’re completely lost or your meal is inedible you might be really pissed off. But in a few months when you’re telling the story, photos will just add to the hilarity.

[ptcPhoto filename=”PortugalDetail-1.jpg” title=”Details” caption=”Colorful street art in Lisbon: A reminder of that day when we explored the city.” position=”center”]

The combination of all of these things – the good and bad experiences, interactions with people, tastes, smells, costs, tiny details – make up your impressions of a place, and documenting them in some way will help you go back there in your memory any time you want.

(On the other hand, at times we tend to over-document things, thus missing out on the experience. There’s something to be said for putting the camera down and just taking in the moment.)

9. Being a Bad Judge of Character

In the developing world especially, it takes a little time to assess the locals. Are they just super friendly people who want to talk to you and invite you in for tea? Or are they only being nice because they want you to stay at their guest house/buy their carpets/take you on a tour that, unbeknownst to you, you’ve already begun? Sometimes you take the bait and end up paying someone just to leave you alone, and sometimes you end up brushing off someone who really was just a sweet old man trying to practice his English. It can be difficult to sort these things out on the spot when you’re in a new place.

10. Not Allowing Yourself to Buy or Do Something…

…because it’s not a “Good Deal”. If something looks like fun, go do it. If you’ve fallen in love with a unique piece of artwork or jewelry that will always take you back to that moment, buy it. There will be times that you know you can find a better price if you keep looking, and those of us on a tight budget will normally take on the challenge. But at the end of the day, saving that $5 might not be worth the hassle and time it took to do so – time that you could have spent making memories instead of making deals.

[ptcPhoto filename=”DubaiLanterns-1.jpg” title=”Lanterns” caption=”Having always wanted some of these Turkish-style lanterns, I’ve finally started a collection.” position=”center”]

11. Leaving Things Behind

Oooh, here’s one that drives us completely insane. You go to charge your laptop and find that nope, the power converter’s still plugged into the wall of your hotel room in Hong Kong. You’d just skip on over and pick it up, but there’s that little problem of already being in Taipei.

A running list of all the things we’ve lost in 20 months of traveling includes (but is not limited to): 1 shirt, an ATM card, 2 pack towels, chopsticks, spoons, sunglasses, an awesome pair of Pac-Man earrings, underwear, at least 4 converters, the first aid kit, an iPod, a Kindle, a jacket, a water bottle, Eric’s wallet, Sam’s knitting needles, and a goat hair bracelet.

Some tips to not be so bad at life? Try to avoid early flights, and go through a “pre-checkout check” that includes looking through every drawer and under the bed at least twice. Most everything can be easily replaced on the road, so we just try to roll with it and remind ourselves that when you pack up and move every three days, these things happen.

12. Doing Something Because it’s “The Thing to Do”

This one is pretty hard to avoid. After all, you aren’t going to visit northern India without seeing the Taj Mahal, and few people would go to Jordan without swinging down to Petra for a day or two. Most of these places become tourist traps for a reason, but sometimes you show up and say, “Yep, that’s it. Looks like the photos.” Occasionally, though, the main sights really do live up to the hype – Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon is a good example. You just never know unless you cough up the entry fee and stand in line with a million other tourists. Life is hard, I know.

Ok, what did we miss? Fellow travelers, do you have any confessions to make?

Snapshot Sunday: Burning up in the Arabian Desert

[ptcPhoto filename=”WahibaSS-1.jpg” title=”Desert” caption=”The Wahiba Sands desert – Al Sharqiya Province, Oman ” position=”center”]

Formed by blowing monsoons and winds, the Wahiba Sands is a desert region that stretches out along 5,000 square miles of eastern Oman. They may look barren, but the sands are home to thousands of invertebrate species – along with many Bedouin tribes like the Wahiba, from whom the desert gets its name.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.