You thought fireworks were cool? Just wait until you see how Thailand marks the start of the Buddhist New Year: with a nation-wide water fight. This is real life.
From April 13th-15th every year Thailand is consumed by the joy of celebrating Songkran, which comes from a Sanskrit word translating to ‘passing.’ Once a solemn, sacred event in which images of Buddha were bathed, young Thais sprinkled water on the hands of elders and traditional dancing symbolically washed away the misfortunes of the previous year and warmly welcomed the new one. Even prior to Buddhism’s introduction to the Kingdom of Thailand, throwing water was part of a ritualistic Spring Festival in which farmers hoped for rain for their crops.

Well… times have changed. These days, Songkran has morphed into a super-soaker fueled, wet and wild water fight. It’s a truly joyful day in which locals, expats and tourists come together to literally bring the party to the streets.Book Now JFK car Service Best New York transportation to or from JFK airport – My Destiny Limo offer jfk car service at affordable fares, our company is the most recommended New York Car Service on TripAdvisor for thousand of travelers – Our service cover New York – Connecticut – New Jersey – Massachusetts – Pennsylvania.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are among the most popular destinations to celebrate Songkran. In fact, Koh Tao isn’t even close to being one of the biggest draws , but we love our small island celebration and I can’t imagine spending the day elsewhere. While in many Thai destinations the party can rage from the 13th-15th, on Koh Tao, Songkran lasts just one day, April 13th. Conveniently, it’s one of the hottest, sweatiest days of the year.
Read more about Koh Tao’s annual holidays and events!
I’m lucky to be approaching my third Songkran here on Koh Tao. My first in 2011 was a blast, and the 2016 edition was even better. In preparation for 2017’s celebration, I’ve put together my top Songkran tips. While these are specifically written for those celebrating on Koh Tao, I’m willing to bet there are a few drops of wisdom for those ringing in the year further afield.
The Cardinal Sin of Songkran
This is literally the most important thing about Songkran: make sure you aren’t in transit during it! If you’re on the move, make sure to arrive on Koh Tao by April 12th at the latest (personally, I’d add in a buffer day in case of travel delays, and to leave a day to get prepped to party.)
And if you’re leaving the island right after the big day, be careful. The festivities may be over on Koh Tao, but Bangkok and Chiang Mai will still be popping off and you will not be granted mercy simply because you’re wheeling a suitcase.
If you absolutely must travel on one of these days (like I had to on April 14th last year), take a regional flight so you can pass through Bangkok without ever having to leave the airport. Bonus! You’ll get to see immigration officers celebrating at work in their cute Hawaiian shirts, a bizarrely charming part of the unofficial Songkran look (I’ve never been able to get an answer why!)
Also, Don’t Drive!
So you’ve made it safely to Koh Tao and are all settled in in time for the big party. Now, put away those bike rental keys for the day , seriously. I would never drive on Songkran!
Putting aside the fact that you’re most likely going to be boozing, and driving is the biggest safety hazard on Koh Tao on a good day, locals set up stations specifically to throw water and flour at passing bikes, which can cause a serious hazard for those not super experienced on two wheels. Accidents are crazy common. Stick to your own two feet to get where you need to go, and be extra careful on the road even when walking.
What To Wear To Songkran
You can’t just rock up to Songkran. No, you’ve got some serious prepping to do!
First, your outfit. Obviously, I’d start with the base of a bathing suit and wear fairly little on top of that , though I would wear something, because walking around in a bikini off the beach isn’t really cool in Thailand, and this day is no exception. Lots of Thai people wear the aforementioned Hawaiian shirts and lots of Western people wear ridiculous costumes. Last year I wore a surfing spring suit, a sparkly gold visor, and a donut pool floatie. So there’s that. You might also consider goggles or a ski mask, especially if you have sensitive eyes. Believe it or not, Koh Tao has a pretty well-stocked costume shop in Mae Haad next to in the Lomprayah building. Go wild!

A lot of people go barefoot on Koh Tao and especially on Songkran, when they’re worried about losing their flip flops. Personally I’m not about that barefoot life , get a cheap pair of knock-off Havianas, do your best to keep track of them, and you won’t weep if they get lost, but best case scenario you won’t step on a broken beer bottle either. Win-win!
Waterguns are fun to have, but not necessary, so don’t fret if you don’t grab one. They often get broken or bored of fairly quickly; if you don’t feel like spending money or contributing to a landfill a second-hand bucket will also do the the trick.

If you plan to drink throughout the day, bring along a sealed bottle or cup. Open-top cups are just asking to be contaminated with unfiltered water splashes, and I know you know you don’t want that.
Another thing to prepare for , many restaurants and shops close for the entire day. And you will want to line your stomach pre-Songkran. Last year, my friends and I did a big champagne brunch while we got ready , it was a blast! So ask around for somewhere that may be open or gather supplies for a snack-fest in your hotel before you go out. If you get stuck, 7-11 is always open.

Tip: Waterproof Everything
Aside from a water-tossing vessel and a beverage-drinking one, bring as little as possible. I usually have a small bag with my waterproof camera, some cash, and my house key. That’s it. As a contact-wearer who had way too many direct shots to the eye last year, I’ll also be throwing an extra pair into my dry-bag for this year’s festivities.

But basically , if you don’t want it wet, don’t bring it out of the house. If you do, you’ll spend the entire day getting agitated, and that’s no recipe for fun. Buy a proper diving dry bag (they are for sale all over Koh Tao and Khao San Road in Bangkok), grab one of those geeky phone pouches that goes around your neck or just simply seal things into ziplock bags.
But again, bring as little as possible. There’s a lot of spontaneous ocean swims and getting pushed in the pool, so you might want to tuck some cash into a pocket, put your room key on a string around your neck, and enjoy a day totally untethered.
Green Your Songkran
Koh Tao is a little tiny island with limited resources. Consider filling up your buckets, water guns and reserve tanks with sea water. The environment will thank you!

Pace Yourself
It’s easy to get carried away with day-drinking on such a debaucherous day. But remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint… or whatever it is people tell themselves to avoid blacking out early. Get a good night of sleep the night before, wear sunscreen, seriously drink a lot of water, remember to eat occasionally, and generally make a valiant attempt to pace yourself.

Make a Meet Up Plan
Because I don’t take my phone out on Songkran, I like to have a loose plan in place with my crew so we know where to find each other in we go off on solo adventures for a bit , intentionally or not. We usually kick things off at Banyan Bar before moving en masse down the beach, slowly making our way towards Fishbowl and Maya Bar with an obligatory stop at the DJL Pool. Last year we decided to retreat to a private villa party post-sunset, where I had a blast regrouping with anyone I’d lost throughout the day.
It doesn’t have to be that full-on, though. Just agree that if you get separated, you’ll meet at a certain bar at sunset.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Honestly, just don’t. Don’t put ice water in your water gun. Don’t put food coloring into the water you’re throwing on people. Don’t aim at people’s eyes, or ears, or drinks. (As if that needs further elaboration, you could ruin a contact wearer’s day, you could give a dive instructor an ear infection, or you could give someone a tummy bug. So just chill.) Yes, it’s a day of mayhem and no one should walk outside expecting special treatment, but it would be nice to just like, be kind of nice about the whole thing, no?
Also be aware that there’s kind of an unofficial cease-fire after sunset. After that is when most people head back home to dry off and change before heading back out again to continue their debauchery. Don’t be that one lone dude soaking people at midnight in the bar. You’ll deserve the dirty looks.
Make a Day After Plan
Chances are, April 14th is going to be a bit of a wash (how many water puns can I fit into one post?!) I strongly recommend a fresh coconut, a banana, and a breakfast with eggs in it , my go-to Thailand hangover cure , followed by as many massages as you can fit into the rest of the day.
Seriously though, the island will be pretty subdued, so you might not want to book any major tours or dive trips for that day. Last year my friends and I planned a hangover brunch at one of our houses, a tradition I hope will be annual.
Need one last peek at the fun cyclone headed Thailand’s way in just two weeks? Check out my silly Facebook video of behind-the-scenes footage from last year’s celebrations.

Happy Songkran soon, my friends!
Have you been lucky enough to celebrate this festival?
If so, leave your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Songkran photos in this post were taken with the Canon PowerShot G7X and its Canon Waterproof Housing or with a GoPro HERO3+ , both are perfect choices for photography on a wet day! See a full list of my photography gear here.

Pin It!
Spring Sale!

Right now is the perfect time to kick off or up your blogging game. Why? Travel Blog Success is on sale!
I rarely stop yacking about how Travel Blog Success helped me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today — a financially successful and creatively fulfilling travel blog that just celebrated its fifth anniversary. It’s the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice! Our secret member’s Facebook group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and hearty laughs. Yes, the warmest community in travel blogging is on sale now! And now’s definitely the time to buy, as this is the biggest discount of the year by far.
Bonus: Recently, Travel Blog Success launched an exciting new Brand Partnership Course, one of several new specialty courses also on sale. Another? Videography for Travel Bloggers, which I’ve also taken and reviewed. So if you’re already a member, now is the time to invest in continuing education. Purchase two or more products and get an additional 10% off your purchase!
Click here to receive 25% off all TBS memberships — no code needed! Sale ends Friday at 11:59 PM EST. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

As he strolls up to me in the park, I’m relieved , he looks just like his picture and he’s wearing a nice outfit. I admire the whimsical navy-on-pale-blue paisley shirt, the slim dark pants, the warm leather shoes. He leans in for a brief, gentle hug.
It’s the most innocuous of first dates in Manhattan , a walk in the park followed by a coffee. No mind-altering substances, no major financial investment, and easy to escape if it comes to that.
After a stroll on this gorgeous spring day, we sit down at a cafe. We’ve gone through the pleasantries and talked about where we grew up, our families, the train wreck that is the 2016 election. Nothing about jobs, or how we spend our time, but that’s about to change.
“It’s so cool that you’re a digital nomad!” he exclaims.

I pause. I don’t tell anyone what I do for a living until the third date at least , the best option when a quick Google search could lead you to MY ENTIRE LIFE SINCE 2010. “What makes you think I’m a digital nomad?”
“I searched for ‘digital nomad’ on the site and your profile popped up!”
And then it hits me , under the “What am I doing on a Friday night?” tab, I put a list of wacky, whimsical activities in New York. Cocktails with friends. Coming up with new, awful phrases for Cards Against Humanity. Karaoke in Koreatown. The odd warehouse party in Brooklyn. And yes, some quiet nights on the couch with Netflix.
(Let’s be honest, though , on Friday nights I’m far more likely to be cleaning my apartment while listening to podcasts.)
And then I remember that I had listed digital nomad networking events on there as well. Why had I even written that in the first place? Most of my work-ish events revolve around entrepreneurship more than remote work. (Okay, let’s be honest again , most of my work-ish events are getting together with other travel bloggers, drinking copious amounts of wine, and gossiping.)
So that’s how he found me.
“I think it would be amazing to live in Thailand for a year,” he says.

I nod with a smile. Here we go. The travel conversation. Where I must strike the balance between being knowledgeable and not a know-it-all, experienced but not emasculating. The struggles that every straight woman faces when out on a first date. “Thailand is great. One of my favorite countries.”
“I haven’t been, but I want to go so bad!”
“You’ll love it,” I reassure him.
“Just , all that food. I hear that Thai food is so much better in Thailand than here. It’s so different. And it’s so cheap!”
“True. You can get a great meal for two bucks. Or even less.”
“So when you were traveling for five years, did you ever live in Thailand?”
“No. There was one point when I wanted to.” Large swaths of 2011, mostly. “It’s good temporarily, but ultimately, the bad outweighs the good for me.”
“How could you not want to live there?” he asks. “Thailand has everything!”
“Well, nobody ever talks about the downsides.”

“Like being so far away? I could live with that.”
“Yeah, that’s one thing. And it’s annoying being in the opposite time zone all the time.” I pause. “Do you really want to know about the bad stuff?”
“Yeah. Tell me.”
“It’s hard living in a culture that’s not your own, particularly when you don’t speak the language and especially when you’re in an Asian culture. The expat communities are great, but people are always arriving and leaving, and it’s hard when you’re constantly saying goodbye to your friends.
“And most people end up in Chiang Mai,” I continue, “because it’s the cheapest spot in Thailand that also has Western amenities and decent internet. And it’s a great city, but a lot of people think they’ll be on the beach and it’s a long way from the beach. Two hours of flying if you’ve got the cash, much longer by train or bus. Great food in Chiang Mai, though. Oh, just know that Thai food is full of sugar. Fruit shakes, too.
“And there’s this idea that Chiang Mai is full of brilliant entrepreneurs, and there are a few of them, but for the most part it’s full of people who can’t afford to live anywhere else. So you think you’ll be doing this amazing networking, only most people haven’t figured out how to make much money yet.”
His face falls.

“I mean, you never know,” I say, quickly backtracking. “I never rule out anything. I could go live in Chiang Mai for a few months if I wanted to reduce my living expenses and funnel all of my money into the business. And I’d still get foot massages every day. Seven bucks an hour.”
“What if I lived by the beaches instead?”
“They’re good. The really beautiful ones are remote, though. And it’s much more expensive there.”
“Cheaper than here, though.”
“Yes. Much cheaper than here.”
“And just imagine the quality of life , you can run on the beach every morning, you can work on the sand and watch the sunset every night.”
“Careful with that!” I laugh. “That’s one of the biggest myths , no one actually works on the beach. You don’t want sand in your laptop.”
“And I hear Thai people are so nice! Just, you know, the kind of people that would give you the shirt off their back. It must be the Buddhist thing. People are calm and happy.”
I smile tightly. “Yeah. I like Thai people a lot.” Though the words of a Singaporean bartender in Koh Lanta echo in my head: “You nice to Thai people, they’re nice to you three times. You FUCK with Thai people, they FUCK you three times!”
My date shifts in his seat and sighs. “Well, I can’t go to Thailand yet, anyway. I need to stay in this time zone for my job.”
“Oh. So you’re a remote worker?”
“I can work from anywhere as long as I can be on their schedule.”

“Ah. That’s cool.”
“Have you been to Medellín? I hear it’s so great there.”
“No, not yet.” (Though I would a few months later.)
“I hear it’s the most beautiful place in Colombia,” he tells me. “Just , it’s supposed to be a beautiful city.”
“Mmhmm,” I reply, biting my tongue. When most men talk about the beauty of Medellín, it’s not the city they’re talking about.
“There’s just one thing,” he says. “Why do you live in New York when you could live somewhere so much cheaper?”
I’m ready for this question. “Why would I live anywhere else if I could live in New York?” I say, tilting my head with a smile.
“Yeah, but you get so much more for your money everywhere else!”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I think I get a lot more here. My friends. The culture. Networking. A major flight hub. I’m just a bus ride away from my parents. Everything happens here.”
“You have a bigger chance of being shot to death in New York.”
“That is true.”
“And the healthcare system is so bad.”
“Agreed, it’s awful. I couldn’t come back if it weren’t for Obamacare.”

“So what makes New York so much better?”
“New York is everything and everything is New York.” The words tumble out of me; I’m surprised at how much I like them. “I’m never going to be bored in this city. There’s always something new to discover. And lately I’ve been feeling an urge to work to make my country better.”
“I don’t know. I just think Thailand is a much better place to live.”
“Well, maybe for you,” I offer. “At any rate, I spent five years traveling the world and I chose to settle down here. Plus, there are crazy milkshakes in New York. And 90s parties. And tacos.”
He lights up. “A lot of people go to Mexico! I hear Playa del Carmen is the place to be. It’s so cheap and it has a great expat community. And so much good Mexican food.”
I smile.
“What’s wrong with Playa del Carmen?”
“Oh, nothing , I just have a ton of friends there.”
“Digital nomad friends?”
Why does this phrase always make me cringe? “Yeah. They work online.”

This guy is nice. A little mansplainey for my taste, but this first date is far from the worst.
Dating is weird in the world after long-term travel. Mention your travels in an online dating profile and you’ll attract a lot of people who would love to travel but haven’t yet and see you as the catalyst. Mention your desire to settle down and you’ll attract a lot of people who aren’t into travel at all. “I’ve traveled a lot but I’m content being more settled here” isn’t exactly a category.
I’m grateful to live in New York, though, home to many driven, entrepreneurial, creative people, even if they’re always searching for something better. If my suburban friends’ OkCupid matches are any indication, things are far worse in sparsely populated areas.
It just goes to show that sharing common interests isn’t enough , you also need to be on the same timeline. It’s not enough to enjoy travel to the same kinds of countries, or to be able to work from anywhere. One person wanting to live abroad and the other being content in New York is a fairly big dealbreaker.
“So.” He plays with his empty coffee cup. “I don’t know if you have somewhere to be, but do you want to get a drink?”
I’m certain that this guy isn’t a match. A drink won’t change that. We’ll loosen up, we’ll tell more stories, we’ll say goodbye for the evening, and if he wants to go out again, I’ll let him know kindly that I had fun hanging out but I don’t think we’re a romantic match.
But it’s not like I have anything to do. I’ve already cleaned my apartment and listened to my podcasts.
“Sure,” I say. “Let’s get a drink.”

Oh, my monthly roundups. They are so ridiculously out of sync with real time now (this post is basically one year late, ha ha) that I recently considered axing the series, but I decided to play catch up instead — so brace yourself for a couple of these coming up! However, now that I’m writing on multiple timelines they do serve as a nice roadmap of my archives for those who want to follow my travels chronologically.
Apologies for the delay, but I suppose better is late than never… right? 😛

Looking back (way way back, at this point!) this was just one of my favorite months ever. Frankly, none of these travels felt wildly exotic , I was exploring my own backyard, in a way, of my adopted part-time home in Thailand. But I got to travel with some of my favorite people, discover new corners of one of my favorite places, and mostly enjoy the fruits of seeds I planted here in Thailand years ago , a close-knit circle of friends, exciting professional opportunities, and an island I love to come home to.
Where I’ve Been
• Two nights on my Thailand Wine Tour
• Three nights in Bangkok
• Three nights in Hua Hin
• Two nights in Khao Sok
• Seventeen nights on Koh Tao

Highlights
• Hostel highs! We kicked off our wine trip with a night on Khao San Road, where I discovered an awesome new hostel. I’m so excited to have a great place to recommend in Bangkok’s backpacker epicenter! It’s called Nitan Hostel (we booked through Airbnb so we could use my $35 discount code) and we managed to fill a ten person dorm, essentially making it a private room.
• All the wine! My Thailand Wine Tour was an absolute victory. Huzzah. It was my favorite trip I’ve taken in a long time — a challenge and adventure to plan, and unbelievably rewarding to execute. I’m blessed with the most amazing group of friends and getting to explore a totally new destination together in a country we call home (at least part-time, in my case!) is a memory I’ll treasure. Especially a destination as beautiful and peaceful as this one. All three wineries were totally unique and lovable in their own ways. Granmonte was so special for the beautiful grounds, amazing restaurant, and the fact that it’s a family business helmed by a woman. PB Valley was a legend for letting us pick our own grapes! And Alcidini was a crazy cute family run vineyard with an emphasis on organic. And again, Airbnb killed it , we loved kicking back in our enormous rental house in the countryside.
• Our skyline suite! A few hectic days in Bangkok were made heavenly by the fact that we had a plush suite at the Amari Watergate to call home , considering we had fourteen friends (!) in Bangkok at the time, it provided the perfect ground zero for our group, especially when we learned that we’d accidentally planned a birthday bar crawl on the holiest Buddhist day of the year, when alcohol sales are banned , oops. Hotel suite party it is!
• Spa time! It’s no secret that I love me some spa sessions, and Bangkok was no exception. I treated Janine and I to a spa package at the Breeze Spa in Bangkok and I am now their most loyal fan ever. Mango sticky rice fans, treat yourself to the mango sticky rice scrub , I’m now hooked on the stuff from the spa’s gift shop and feel like I’m eating dessert every time I take a shower.
• Bangkok eats! As always, a combo of new discoveries and old classics. This time it was a big group dinner at Peppina, a chic pizza restaurant I’d long been dying to try, and a much-anticipated ice cream at Coldstone, a serious guilty please from the US with outposts in Bangkok.
• Beach bumming! Ian and I were the worst tourists ever in Hua Hin and I didn’t care , we had the most adorbs hotel ever to hang in. The beach there was unlike any other I’ve seen in Thailand, with wild waves and a strong salty smell that reminds me of the beaches of my childhood. This charming mainland beach city felt like a different country from the sultry tropical island we live on , and we loved it!
• ….and more win! Hua Hin Hills was the most scenic vineyard yet. Now that I’ve got four Thai wineries under my belt, I think I’ll have to just keep going until I hit them all.
• Khao Freakin’ Sok! This Thai National Park has been top-of-my list for a while now, and so I couldn’t jump out of my seat fast enough to accept when Elephant Hills, Thailand’s first luxury tented camp, reached out to invite me there. Janine and I played with elephants, wore matching ranger shirts, slept in a tent floating on a lake, learned the fascinating history of the park, and relished the rare joy of being out of cell service. It was an awesome little friend-cation too.
• Enjoying life back on Koh Tao! It’s easy to fall into a routine of working obsessively when I get back to Koh Tao after a trip, but if there’s one thing that can peel me away from my laptop it’s a yoga class. Over one fabulous weekend, I did back to back weekend workshops , an acro afternoon at Grounded followed by a day of inversions at Ocean Sound. Double score!
• Tackling a new hike! After one previous failed attempt, this was the month I finally conquered the Dusit Buncha route. Considering we had no directions and were basically feeling our way through the jungle, it was an enormous accomplishment! And this reminds me, I need to hit that trail again soon…
• Trapeze in the breeze! Another fun physical challenge this month? Getting back on the trapeze rig. I had so much fun swinging among the palm trees…
• Boozin’ on the beach! Always one of my favorite activities. Sadly, the amazing establishment that served actual craft cocktails (as opposed to crappy piña coladas) on the beach during the day was short-lived on Koh Tao , but we really enjoyed it while it lasted.
• St Paddy’s Day! It’s always a super-fun holiday on Koh Tao, and last year was no exception.
• House of Cards! Yes, the release of a new season of House of Cards was one of the highlights of my month. What is the purpose of renting a long-term apartment with a couch if not to binge-watch an entire Netflix series upon it?

Lowlights and Lessons
• Our wine trip driver. Seriously, he was hilariously bad. He missed every turn, ignored all our Google Maps traffic warnings, and put us hours behind schedule. But he was a pretty good sport about having a dozen rowdy farang in the van, so we gave him a big tip despite our dozens of internal eyerolls.
• Rooftop bar rules. Nothing annoys me more than Bangkok’s obsession with footwear. Our group was turned away from a rooftop bar because a few of the crew were wearing stylish dress Havaianas, while frumpy looking tourists wearing Crocs were ushered right in because their toes were covered. Hello, is this the fashion police? I’d like to report a crime against HUMANITY!
• Janine’s birthday disaster (turned not-at-all-disaster). Yes, we were bummed when we discovered we’d planned a massive birthday bar crawl for Thailand’s one single day of no alcohol sales. Ha ha. But it turned out beautifully , we stocked up on booze the day before and had a tipsy night of cake and champagne in our hotel suite instead. More quality time together, less overpriced cocktails in bars, and more hours in our sweet suite? It ended up a massive win in my book. Oops , I guess that’s not really a lowlight.
• Getting my Brazilian visa. O. M. G. You guys. That was a mission! I’ve always had empathy for those who have to fight through red tape to nab a visa for every country they want to travel to before, but now I have SERIOUS RESPECT for those people. I couldn’t believe the amount of paperwork (and, um, money) that I had to compile and confusion I had to work through in order to prepare my application. And I was shocked by the interrogation I received at the embassy in Bangkok when I went to submit it! When I realized I had forgotten to copy my passport and politely asked for a copy, I seriously thought my application might be denied based on the vitriolic response I received. Obrigada, Brazil, for letting me in!
• Getting to Hua Hin. Ha ha, yeah we messed up , we just rocked up to the train station expecting to waltz into a second class train seat and found that the only remaining tickets were for third class wooden benches. The next five hours were a hazy hell of profuse sweat, sore bums and jostling our belongings around to make room for an ever-increasing crush of humans. I’ve enjoyed the third class train ticket in Thailand before, but it’s a strict no-go for me from here forward for rides of more than two hours.
• Missing the wine bus in Hua Hin. Then leaving my wine in Hua Hin. Ha ha, we had some vino-related snafus in Hua Hin. First, we missed the shuttle to Hua Hin Hills vineyard, forcing us to pay for a more expensive private taxi (not the biggest deal ever). Then I left my three new bottles of wine at our hotel before heading to the train station, forcing me to pay to have them shipped to Koh Tao (that hurt a little.) Frankly, I think I was starting to get stressed about my work backlog at this point in the trip and so I was letting little things get to me. Ah well, all’s well that ends… soaked in wine.
• Leaving Khao Sok. Oh, how I wish we’d had one more night at Rainforest Camp! Then, that trip truly would have been perfect.

LOLs
“Because France.” Oh, how we still laugh about this! At Granmonte Winery, our adorable young guide was making an impressive effort to give the vineyard tour in two languages.
However, as one point, she became exasperated trying to explain why their sparkling wine product could not be called champagne, and after stammering a bit finally gave up and spat out, “…because France.” Everyone onboard, including the guide herself, doubled over with laugher and “because France” has become our crew’s catchphrase for “ugh, well, you know and I know you know, so why bother explaining it” ever since.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: I’m pretty torn , our chic beachside design hotel in Hua Hin or our barefoot luxury floating tent in Khao Sok? Both basically blew my mind.
Worst: Didn’t have a bad one , what a blessing!
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: Vincotto. Can’t beat a three-course meal at a winery topped off with grape cheesecake. You just can’t. (Although the next day’s lunch at a castle in Khao Yai definitely made an effort to.) Come to think of it, homemade dinner prepared by friends in our Airbnb didn’t suck either. Basically, we ate well that weekend.
Worst: Again, I can’t remember anything that stands out as unpleasant. Dang, it was a great month!
What Was Next
A low-key final month on Koh Tao and Koh Samui… and then off to Brazil!

Thanks for looking (way!) back over my shoulder with me.

Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.

“Estava aqui!”
I blinked awake, trying to determine if my eyes had properly opened or not. Yup, lids lifted. Confirmed. It was just pitch black both in and outside the bus I’d been on for the last six hours. I checked my phone, it was just after midnight. No service. I scanned the darkness outside my window. I guess this is Jijoca, I thought.
Sleepily, I gathered my things and headed for the exit. Sitting on my backpack in my dream-like state, I didn’t blink when the bus , the bus that had deposited us on the side of a dirt road in remote Northern Brazil , pulled away and headed back towards civilization.
My fellow travelers also seemed unconcerned, though to be fair I didn’t actually understand a word they were saying. A Brazilian family joked in still-mysterious Portuguese, two young blonde girls whispered in French, and a rowdy group of Israelis debated in Hebrew. I sat quietly, wondering what my final chapter in Brazil had in store for me.
Eventually, I heard a surprised laughter and the crunch of wheels, and I looked up to see the source of the commotion: an ex-military dune buggy worthy of a Transformer movie credit, a monster-sized open-air vehicle designed to carry us the final stretch through unforgiving sand dunes to our final destination: Jericoacoara.
Known simply as “Jeri” to its loyal fanbase of bohemian wanderers, adrenaline-addicted adventurers and end-of-the-earth seekers, Jericoacoara is still a well-kept secret. Or perhaps, at least, a well-hidden one. Tucked amongst unpaved sand dunes in a remote National Park in the far reaches of Northern Brazil, it’s not the kind of place you simply stumble upon.
The next two hours felt like another surreal dream as we bounced through the endless desert, lit only by the full moon and our truck’s headlights, passing only the occasional cow or a glimpse of the dark ocean in the distance. The Israelis attempted to play guitar but the vehicle’s constant jerking back and forth was uncooperative, so they sang , loudly , instead. I thought of all the times I’d fretted that a seatmate might be disturbed by the sound of wayward audio from my headphones, and shook my head with a smile while secretly admiring their unapologetic gusto. Little did I know, in that moment, that they’d become my constant companions for the week.
It was after 2am when we crawled down off the monster truck and I took my bags and dragged them through the sand until I found Villa Chic. As I drifted off to sleep, again, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a dream.
The next day, I awoke to a reality that left me pinching myself. A cute pousada with a pool, a breakfast room filled with travelers swapping tales, and a charming town awaiting beyond the gate. I spent most of the first day hanging around the pousada catching up on work, wandering around town trying to set wheels in motion for a trip to the Lençóis Maranhenses, and just marveling at the fact that this tiny hidden town was already everything I had hoped for an more.
At sunset, I closed my laptop and walked down the unpaved, sandy path toward the beach. I was joined, it appeared, by the entire population of Jericoacoara, who gather nightly to watch the sunset with the same gravity that some might attend the opera. Arrive early for a good seat, get a drink, marvel at the show, and clap when it’s over.
Scanning the crowds with a fresh caipirinha from a clever local with a drink cart in hand, I saw a group from my hostel and gave myself the standard solo-traveler-pep-talk before forcing myself over for an introduction.
I almost cried with happiness when I realized they were real, live, native-english-speaking Brits. Be still my heart! After five weeks of body-language olympics trying to communicate in Portuguese, my brain did a happy dance at going into auto-pilot. Later, I texted Heather. The backpackers of Brazil, I hath found them! They are in Jericoacoara! After weeks of traveling we’d yet to find a core of travelers on the so-called Gringo Trail. Now I knew where they’d been hiding. We joined a crowd gathered around a circle of capoeira dancers complete with live musicians, like a scene from a tightly edited music video. But this was no work of fiction , it was the nightly ritual of Jeri.
Saying goodbye to my new friends, I bought an acai bowl from a street vendor and wandered back towards the hotel, planning for a wild night of reading in my hammock under the stars. I smiled and waved when I saw the French girls from my bus, who I’d later learn were in fact French Canadians. “We’ve been looking for you,” they told me in broken English. “So have the Isrealis!” I tilted my head at them. “Tomorrow, we go on ATV tour.” Confused but intrigued, I agree to meet them back at the same spot the next morning.
The next morning, I obediently arrived in the agreed upon location to find a fleet of ATVs and the warm greetings of long long friends. By the time we arrived back from the dunes that night , a trip you’ll read all about in an upcoming post , I’d invited myself to Shabbat dinner the next evening. You know Shabbat? They’d marveled, amazed, when I overheard them discussing cooking plans. Of course, I replied. I’m from New York.
That night, I went for dinner at the town’s lone Thai restaurant, and remembered how much I enjoy eating alone. When I thanked the restaurant owner with a kap kun ka, her eyes lit up and she pulled me down to chat, bringing over souvenirs from her last trip back home to Bangkok, which I oohed and ahhed dutifully over. You come again, she insisted. Next time I cook you real Thai food. My heart soared.
The next day, I blogged away happily by the pool again, closing up shop just before sunset. Eliko, the ringleader of our new travel tribe, texted me to look for them on horses. On horses?
Down by the water’s edge, I caught them out of the corner of my eye. Five horses, cantering down the wide end of a dune. Who owns these horses?, I asked, when I caught up and realized the group was without guides. Yahel looked at me like I had asked why the earth was flat. We borrowed them. Very cheap.
And so went the week, rushing by in a blur of sunsets and unsupervised horseback rides and acai on the beach and long caipirinha-fueled conversations about Brazil and Israel and travel and life.
We spent hours on the sand, spread out on cangas, planning my future trip to Tel Aviv, recounting the routes we’d taken to get to Jericoacoara, discussing the challenges of traveling while keeping kosher (at least one in the group was traveling with a full set of pans and utensils in order to strictly adhere) and observing the sabath (on Saturday, we rested), and trading stories of life on the road. One more ATV adventure into the dunes aside, it was just about all we did.
In a way, Jeri was lacking in quite a few of my favorite things. There were no cheap and charming spas, no yoga classes, no scenic jogging paths, very few trendy cafes, and little infrastructure for travelers. (Fellow fitness fiends, fear not , there was a rusty gym that I never bothered going into, and I did stumble onto an outdoor zumba class one night in a dimly-lit courtyard).
But, there was a fairly epic show every night on the beach as the sun made it’s final farewell beneath the sea.
And while I had certainly cemented my status as an honorary Israeli for the week , the whole crew even moved over to my hostel, lest we have to walk the six minutes between ours too many times , I made more friends in that one week than I had my previous five in Brazil. I went to the beach with a programmer from Belo Horizonte, a government worker from Brasilia, a Canadian border agent, and even one unfortunate American post-grad who left us all cringing. I instantly clicked with a British girl named Gwen who was in the midst of a kitesurfing course and made an excellent wine-drinking companion, and whom I adored so much I visited a few months later when in England. I was spoiled for company.
And what of visiting the Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses, the primary factor that motivated me to travel to Jericoacoara? It simply didn’t happen, though not for lack of passion or trying. From the first day I arrived in Jeri, I made daily rounds to the town’s travel agencies and hotels, hoping to find a tour to join. I quickly learned that I’d have to form my own group in order to take the multi-day trip across the desert. To my shock, I couldn’t find a single person who was also planing to go. As someone who’d dreamed of visiting this surreal and magical place for years, I couldn’t fathom that every single person in Jeri wasn’t also headed in that direction, even deeper into these wild dunes.

Technically I could have shouldered the burden of paying for the guide and driver and truck and other expenses alone, but it was wince-ingly expensive to do by myself, and it gave me great pause to consider going deep into the wilderness alone with what would surely be two men and little shared language between us. If I were to create a flow chart of my emotions as I struggled to get to and eventually ceded the idea of visiting the Lençóis Maranhenses, I would say it started strong and determined, quickly tipped downward into sadness and desperation, and slowly evened out to, who could be upset about anything, when there’s a sunset so gorgeous I have no choice but to applaud it?
Yes, it’s unfortunate. I was hours away from one of my dream destinations in peak season for visiting, and my circumstances prevented me from making the final journey. But it speaks to the magic of Jericoacoara that honestly, I’m not that broken up about it.
It was one of my favorite weeks of my travels, one I still look back on wistfully and with a smile. Turns out, I made the perfect decision on where to spend my final stretch in Brazil. Out there in the dunes, eight bumpy hours from civilization, people came together in a way that after five years of travel, I know is special. I say this about a lot of places, but I will be back to Jericoacoara. Perhaps to tackle the Lençóis Maranhenses, perhaps to take the kitesurfing course I’ve been lusting after for years…
or perhaps just to watch a few more sunsets.
Till next time, Jericoacoara…

Pin It!

This post is brought to you by PADI as part of the PADI AmbassaDiver initiative. Read my latest ramblings on the PADI blog!
I didn’t get to hit up many bucket list dive destinations in 2016. While I absolutely did some very cool dives , in Thailand, Brazil, Jamaica, and Hawaii! , I didn’t go on any dedicated dive trips and didn’t check off any dream dives. And so, as many of you know, I instead focused on keeping myself engaged and excited about diving by jumping headfirst into a trio of continuing education courses.
So, my fellow dive enthusiasts may know that there is kind of a catty term in the scuba community which refers to someone who is obsessed with racking up specialty certifications , “card collectors.” Well, I’m saying loud and I’m saying it proud , I am now officially a certified card collector. If I could take a PADI specialty in getting PADI specialities, I would probably enroll right now. I loved these courses!
I kicked things off with the Self Reliant Diver course at Master Divers, then made my way to Ban’s for an Enriched Air certification, and finally rounded it out with a Sidemount Diver speciality at Sairee Cottage.
So um, what the heck is sidemount? It’s basically a new gear configuration , it simply means that you carry two tanks at your sides instead of one on your back. I’ll get into why you’d want to do that in a bit! Sidemount originated with cave diving in Europe, where pioneers realized moving their tanks alongside their bodies allowed them to keep a lower profile, and to remove one or both cylinders as needed to squeeze through tight passageways. The modern sidemount configuration as we know it today mostly evolved in communities of cavern and cave diving enthusiasts in Florida and The Yucatan. And now it’s spreading around the world.
Including to Thailand. My friend Gordon is a long-time PADI Instructor who got super pumped about sidemount after traveling to Egypt to continue his advanced Tec dive training. He enthusiastically brought a set of the specialized gear back to Koh Tao and started singing the sidemount siren song! I’m so grateful that he did , I have to admit that not long ago, I wanted nothing to do with sidemount. Tec related courses are kind of intimidating to me, and I just didn’t get what the point was. But after a year or so of watching so many of my close diving friends take Gordon’s course and rave about it, I just had to join the club and see what all the fuss was about. And it turns out I really had nothing to be intimidated by , it was the simplest of the three courses I took in 2016 and required only an Open Water Certification and twenty logged dives to begin.
You have two choices when it comes to sidemount training , the PADI Sidemount Diver course introduces divers to sidemount techniques for recreational scuba diving, while the Tec Sidemount Diver course teaches technical divers how to mount at least four tanks for their technical diving adventures. I enrolled in the former.
One of the best things about my little continuing education experiment here on Koh Tao was finding a new dive shop that was the perfect fit for me. I get asked for advice on this constantly and I now have a much wider range of personalized recommendations to dole out. While I had excellent experiences at all three of the dive shops I studied at, it’s Sairee Cottage that has become my go-to for fun diving with friends ever since.
For me, it’s the perfect size , not so big that you get lost in the mix, but still buzzing enough that there’s always someone to grab a coconut with at the swim-up bar after a dive. What’s that? I should have just opened with the swim up bar? Tell me about it! Between the fabulous pool, the coolest classrooms on the island, and a great team of instructors and divemasters , many of whom are my close friends! , I know where I’d sign up to do my Open Water if I was doing it all over again.
The PADI Sidemount speciality consists of one confined and three open water dives. For Gordon and I, that translated to one pool session, one shore dive from the beach right in front of the dive shop, and two open water boat dives that we checked off on a super fun trip to Sail Rock! We spread that out over three days, but some people do it in two.
The speciality also consisted of coursework from the PADI Sidemount and Tec Sidemount Diver Manual , section one pertains to PADI Sidemount Diver, while two and three are for Tec Sidemount Diver. I carefully read section one of the manual, completing quizzes along the way, and wrapping up with a knowledge review to ensure I’d absorbed the information. Of my trio of courses it it was the least time in the classroom, as there isn’t really any complicated dive theory behind sidemount.
Instead, the primary focuses of the course were learning a new equipment setup, perfecting “trim” (your underwater body position and posture) and practicing “back-finning” (swimming backwards using just your feet and fins), learning gas management, and practicing emergency procedures. When I first jumped in that pool with this strange new gear setup I had a flashback to trying drysuit diving in Iceland. After being a certified diver for eight years a lot of my dive routine is on autopilot, but not on these days! My whole body was like, whoa, what is this crazy thing we are doing! If you need to be shaken out of a dive routine , this is one way to do it.
I actually found the trim and backfinning focus to be among the most challenging and the most interesting of the course takeaways, considering those are both important skills that can be used on any dive. Your trim underwater is as important as your posture on land, and though back-finning is primarily of interest to cave divers who need to be able to negotiate tight spaces, it is also a fabulous skill for underwater photographers and videographers who need to nail the perfect composition, too.
After a long day in the pool and digging into my manual and another day putting our skills into practice with a sixty minute shore dive, Gordon and I were joined by several of our friends for the final day of our course on Sairee Cottage’s popular weekly trip to Sail Rock, where I’d really get the chance to put the pieces of the course together and see how I felt about this whole sidemount situation once and for all.
I was absolutely thrilled to be out on the water and surrounded by so many of my favorite people. The Sail Rock trips typically consist of two dives at Sail Rock followed by a third back closer to Koh Tao. One of the biggest pros to diving sidemount is having double the air, which gives you a significantly longer dive time -of course you still need to follow your dive computer’s limits closely to avoid decompression time.
Our friend Brian joined Gordon and I on sidemount, and so while a big group of us all kicked off the dive together, when the single-tank crew surfaced the three of us on sidemount were able to stay down and complete one super-long dive instead of popping up, taking off gear, having a surface interval, putting gear back on and descending a second time. One point for sidemount!
We set a goal of a 100 minute dive time , crazy, right?! , and while I admit I was getting a tad chilly towards the end, it was a pretty fun milestone to cross. The average dive time, at least on Koh Tao, is around 45 minutes, so more than doubling that at the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand was a huge deal. Over and hour and a half kicking it with these amazing underwater critters? Who wouldn’t love that!
Eventually we remembered that we hadn’t grown gills, and returned to the surface.
After our amazing underwater marathon at Sail Rock we took it easy and did a typical 45-minute dive at the third site for the day, my beloved Shark Island. I was amazed by how quickly I’d taken to the sidemount procedure. While I did struggle with getting the gear on at time, once I was underwater it felt incredibly natural, and after just a few dives my muscle memory had already picked up the habit of switching between air sources every 50 bar or so , you don’t want to just let one tank empty all the way before switching to the other, as that would leave you lopsided , as the empty tank grew lighter , and without a backup tank.
It was a beautiful dive and the perfect note to end the course on.
Well, that and the swim up bar drinks we had when we were back on dry land!
So after three days and many, many hours underwater, I definitely got a feel for what all the fuss is about when it comes to sidemount. The benefits are significant , increased air supply (which increases dive time), accessibility of all stages and gauges (as they are under your arm instead of on your back), self reliance in out-of-air situation, a more streamlined underwater profile, easier equipment transport (with two small cylinders as opposed to one big), and versatility (it’s great for those with physical challenges that prevent them from diving a traditional configuration).
What are the drawbacks? Well, you do have to switch between tanks throughout the dive, which make it a more complex gas management system. Also, since sidemount is still fairly rare, you’re unlikely to find a buddy who’s familiar with the equipment unless you BYODB (Bring Your Own Dive Buddy, duh). But mostly, it’s just plain cost.
Want more underwater? Read more diving posts here!
I’d recommend this course to potential tec divers who want to get their feet and fins wet,those interested in cavern and cave diving, those who blow through air quickly and long for longer dive times, petite divers who struggle with a traditional configuration, and anyone who wants to shake themselves out of a diving rut.
There are only a few schools on Koh Tao currently offering the PADI Sidemount Diver speciality. The course generally lasts 2-3 days and costs 12,000B. I can’t recommend it , or Sairee Cottage , more highly.
portrait by my friend Paddy of Peach Snaps
Personally, I loved the sidemount configuration. While I have no problem with running out of air (I’m almost always the last person to hit a half tank!), I do have issues with the size of a traditional scuba cylinder compared to the size of my body.
As a 5’1″ woman, I often struggle with the traditional tank-on-the-back setup. Between the system of attaching weights to the tanks and getting the tanks off my back and under my arms, the lower back pain that normally plagues me after a day of diving was completely non-existant! And with slightly smaller cylinders, I’d have even more mobility both above and below the surface. I greatly look forward to sidemount configurations becoming more widely available as I personally would be thrilled to dive this way more often.
I had a blast with this course. Between our hundred minute dive record, the skills I learned, the amazing day I shared with my friends and the absolute badass I felt like underwater, it was not a course I’ll forgot anytime soon.
Divers, would you consider a PADI Sidemount speciality? What should I do next?

All underwater photos in this post were taken with the Canon PowerShot G7X and its Canon Waterproof Housing. See a full list of my photography gear here.

Pin It!
 
Spring Sale!

Right now is the perfect time to kick off or up your blogging game. Why? Travel Blog Success is on sale!
I rarely stop yacking about how Travel Blog Success helped me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today — a financially successful and creatively fulfilling travel blog that just celebrated its fifth anniversary. It’s the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice! Our secret member’s Facebook group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and hearty laughs. Yes, the warmest community in travel blogging is on sale now! And now’s definitely the time to buy, as this is the biggest discount of the year by far.
Bonus: Recently, Travel Blog Success launched an exciting new Brand Partnership Course, one of several new specialty courses also on sale. Another? Videography for Travel Bloggers, which I’ve also taken and reviewed. So if you’re already a member, now is the time to invest in continuing education. Purchase two or more products and get an additional 10% off your purchase!
Click here to receive 25% off all TBS memberships — no code needed! Sale ends tonight at 11:59 PM EST. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

The French Riviera is one of Europe’s best destinations for cultural heritage, art and design with several world-class museums and historic sites with beautiful collections. From museums filled with artistic curiosities to important exhibits of maritime heritage, enjoy our definitive guide to ten of the best French Riviera museums.

Muse International de la Parfumerie
Located in Grasse, originally a town that specialised in tanning leather, this niche museum built around the town’s medieval remparts and an eighteenth century heritage-listed mansion focuses on the development, preservation and promotion of perfume.

Now considered the perfume capital of the world, Grasse’s journey of scent is told through interactive displays of textiles, bottles, videos, panels and artwork. The museum’s collections have been enriched by vintage perfume bottles from various civilisations, Marie Antoinette’s beauty travel case and engaging olfactory scent stations. The connection with floral fascination extends to annual flower festivals in the town and regular events that partner it with the Jardins Muse International de la Parfumerie (JMIP) in Mouans-Sartoux.
Muse Ocanographique
Set in a spectacular building perched on the cliffside of ‘Le Rocher’, the Muse Ocanographique in Monaco is a museum dedicated to maritime heritage and marine research.

Inaugurated in 1910 by Prince Albert I of Monaco and once overseen by Jacques Cousteau who acted as the Director for thirty years, the collections showcase over 6000 live marine species, a shark lagoon, thousands of specimens of natural history, models, ethnographic objects and items from underwater exploration. The building is part of the Oceanographic Institute and is one of the most important aquariums in the world for conservation in the marine world, including research used in the repopulation of coral reefs and preserving endangered species such as clown fish, the Banggai cardinalfish and seahorses.
The museum is designed to offer visitors the opportunity to learn about marine ecosystems by offering educational activities and workshops aimed at bringing children closer to ocean conservation and marine science. Special mention should be made to ensure you visit the panoramic terrace on the rooftop for spectacular views over Monaco, and that the museum is closed during Monaco Grand Prix.
Muse Matisse
Nice is home to several of the French Riviera’s most unique galleries and museums such as the Muse des Arts asiatique nearby to the Nice Cte d’Azur Airport and the Muse d’art moderne et d’art contemporain (MAMAC) in the heart of the city. However, a short trip out of the central city allows visitors to experience fine collections of art at the Muse Matisse in the hilltop area of Cimiez.

Housed in a rust-red Genoese mansion with a magnificent trompe l’oeil facade, the museum has one of the world’s largest collection of works from all chapters of Henri Matisse’s career. Alongside examples of his first paintings, you’ll find studies from his self-proclaimed masterpiece – his decoration of Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence and designs from his paper cut-outs in later life that he deemed “drawing with scissors”. Due to its location, a trip to Muse Matisse is splendid when combined with a visit to the adjacent archaeological museum and amphitheatre. Ardent Matisse fans can see his grave in the cemetery nearby.
Muse Picasso
The Muse Picasso (Picasso Museum) is one of the French Riviera’s best-known attractions, nestled in the light-filled Chteau Grimaldi in Old Town Antibes. Pablo Picasso took up a studio there in 1946 and it’s easy to see why the views of the salt-blasted remparts and Mediterranean light on the Cap d’Antibes inspired a flurry of artistic creation from him. Today, the collection of paintings, photographs, drawings and ceramics spreads over several floors including his Ulysse et les sirnes and iconic La Joie de Vivre hanging in his old studio space on the second floor.

Other artists are represented in the museum; Le Concert, the wall-sized painting by Nicolas de Stal was completed at Stal’s house on the remparts on Promenade Amiral de Grasse and the museum’s outdoor terrace highlights sculptures by Joan Mir, Bernard Pags and Germaine Richier. Get up early, wander along the superyacht quays as the light brightens the town remparts and browse the nearby March Provenal first which is a delight to visit.
Muse Renoir
French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir purchased a park, Domaine des Collettes, in the town of Cagnes-sur- Mer and spent the last twelve years of his life there in his house amidst the orange groves, olive trees and umbrella pines. After his death, parts of the land were sold off until the town purchased his remaining estate in 1959 with the intention of transforming it into a museum. It serves as a snapshot in time with an opportunity to explore areas of his daily life such as his ateliers with easels and wicker wheelchairs, drawing room, dining room and bedrooms.

Renovated in 2013, the museum features fourteen paintings and thirty sculptures by Renoir as well as family photographs, two original paintings and sculptures donated by the Guino and Renoir families. The museum deserves the attention of tourists visiting the region; don’t miss the lovely views across to the sea and Haut-de-Cagnes and the bronze Venus Victrix overlooking the expansive garden.
Muse d’Art Classique de Mougins
Founded in 2011, the Muse d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM) owes its existence to the astonishing collections of Christian Levett, a British hedge fund manager and art collector. Located in the charming village of Mougins which is a cultural hotspot for its art and gastronomy, the museum has an eclectic array of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Amedeo Modigliani and Damien Hirst displayed alongside beautiful objects from the ancient world.

Stroll the pretty village streets being stopping in to browse the collection of impressive antiquities, including Greek, Roman and Egyptian sculptures, decorative objects, coins, and jewelry, as well as the worlds largest private armour and helmets collection. If your zest for classical art isn’t sated, the museum is also the owner of bi-monthly magazine Minerva reviewing ancient art and archaeology.
Muse Massna
The neo-classical villa Muse Massna was originally built for Victor Massna who was the grandson of Napolon Bonaparte’s Niois Marshall, Andr Massna. The villa edges manicured gardens on the famous seafront Promenade des Anglais beside an equally famous neighbour, the Htel Negresco.

Opened in 1921, opulent objects of furniture, art and history are displayed across three floors. The exhibits feature rare and interesting objects – among which are antique furnishings from the Massena family, a gold cloak worn by Napolon’s wife Josephine and documents detailing the history of Nice. Rare furniture offers a glimpse into First Empire lavishness; a pedestal decorated with gilt bronze sphinges by Franois-Honore Jacob (1770-1841), chief cabinetmaker of the First Empire and a mantelpiece clock by Lefvre and Debelle. Ensure you check in advance on the Nice city website for upcoming events as the villa hosts regular temporary exhibitions and concerts, however be aware that the permanent exhibition signage is in French only.
Fondation Maeght
A wonderful contemporary art museum set close to the medieval village of Saint-Paul de Vence, the Fondation Maeght houses an important collection of twentieth century sculptures and paintings. Temporary exhibitions focus on art of the modern era, with a small proportion of the permanent collection on display.

The building’s layout provides an outdoor setting for many of the artworks creating continuity between art, architecture and nature. Artists were invited to contribute works to the exhibition rooms, sculpture garden, the courtyards, patios, the chapel, library and bookshop. Look for ceramics from Fernand Lger, Les Renforts by Alexander Calder in the sculpture garden, the labyrinth of Mir, Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures and the stained-glass windows by George Braque in the chapel.
Muse Jean Cocteau
No matter how short or long your stay on the French Riviera, the Muse Jean Cocteau on the seafront in Menton will ensure a memorable experience. Cocteau was a French Riviera heavyweight on the creative scene, transferring his artistic visions onto walls at the Chapelle Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer and Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap- Ferrat.

The architecturally-striking Muse Jean Cocteau was inaugurated in 2011, founded on a sizeable donation of works from Sverin Wunderman, an American collector. Visitors can enjoy almost a thousand items by Cocteau, works linked to Sarah Bernhardt (his first great star of the theatre) and hundreds of works created by artists close to the poet including Picasso, Modigliani and Christian Brard.
Muse National Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall’s projects of colour and light are enhanced in architect Andr Hermant’s building with understated walls and large picture windows illuminating the lithographs, sculptures and paintings. Many of the works were donated by Chagall himself; it’s recommended to take advantage of the free audioguides which bring Chagall’s biblical and spiritual inspiration to life in the largest public collection of works by the artist in the world. Best of all are Chagall’s flagship collection of seventeen canvases representing the Biblical Message and the blue stained glass walls in the auditorium.

The Muse Chagall is not one of Nice’s municipal museums, therefore it is not included in the local ‘Pass Muses de Nice’ (a combined museums pass); you must either purchase single entry or buy a Cte d’Azur Card which includes entry to most of the museums listed above.
Alexander Coles is Co-Founder at Bespoke Yacht Charter.
If you would like to be a guest blogger onA Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.
Related posts:
5 fun family activities you can all enjoy in Provence this Winter
Top 5 shock city secrets!
The Louvre or Muse dOrsay: which Parisian museum should you visit?
8 great reasons to visit Courchevel this Winter
10 best luxury shopping areas in Paris with kids for the Winter sales

Any destination can be a photographer’s paradise if you’re creative enough. But some places are massive overachievers! I’ve visited some countries, cities, and regions where beautiful shots lurk around every corner.
And it’s not always the places you think. I don’t always have the best luck shooting photos in Italy, for example. And as gorgeous as Savannah is, the shadows from the ubiquitous oak trees make it a challenge to photograph. And I was so upset when my first trip to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, was a near-disaster due to poor photography conditions.
But when a destination gets it right, I have treasures that will last me a lifetime.
Here are my picks for the 10 most photogenic places I’ve ever visited. Some of them are obvious, like Paris and New York , but I’m sure at least a few of them will surprise you.

Copenhagen
I couldn’t believe how many great photos I got in Copenhagen. I don’t say that to brag about my skills; I say that because I was flabbergasted at how every aspect of the city was begging to be photographed. I had to restrain myself from covering my whole apartment in framed Copenhagen photos!

So, what should you look for in Copenhagen? I take a lot of photos of bicycles ordinarily, and Copenhagen is bike-crazy metropolis.
The Nyhavn, the famous ship-filled wharf along a canal, is the most photographed site in the city. I also happened to be there for Sankt Hans, when bonfires are lit in the canal and led to some awesome colors.
The picture with the lines was taken at the Superkilen, which is a great spot for black and white photography. That shot hangs in my black-and-white bathroom today.
Oh, and also get photos of very tall, very attractive people clad in nothing but black and charcoal gray.

Japan
I’m putting the entire country on this list because literally every part of Japan is a photographer’s paradise. Whether you’re in cities, more traditional areas, or in the wilderness, you’ll get to enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful light.

I urge you to see as much of Japan as humanly possible. Some of my favorite places for photography were the Dotonbori neighborhood of Osaka at sunset, Kyoto for the temples and rare geisha-spotting, the tech-crazy Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo, and of course Shibuya Crossing.
One thing I’ve always said is that Japan turns you into a stereotypical Japanese tourist , suddenly you want to photograph everything because it’s so different! From vending machines to trash cans, everything is worthy of a photo. And Japanese people are lovely and a lot of fun; many of them turn into total hams when they see a tourist with a camera!
Cherry blossom season is, of course, a very popular and photogenic time to visit, but it can be tough timing it right. Personally, I’d love to visit in the fall when the leaves change.

Istanbul
I’ll spare you the Istanbul is where East meets West and old meets new drivel (god, I hate that so much) , Istanbul is on my list because nowhere else looks like it. I don’t know any other city that looks just as good up close (details in markets! Tulip-shaped tea glasses!) and far away (mosques and minarets dotting the skyline! Colorful seaside buildings!).

There’s so much to see in Istanbul, you could be occupied for weeks. I would start by visiting the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, and every market that crosses your path. Bowls of olives, brightly colored spices, detailed lamps and hand-painted dishes make for amazing photos.
Istanbul has an amazing skyline and there are fabulous views from the Galata Tower. Istanbul also has some cool neighborhoods , I recommend checking out the hip zone of Kadikoy and the colorful Armenian neighborhood of Kumkapi.
One last thing to photograph , cats. Stray cats are all over Istanbul and they’re well cared for by the locals. Some of those cats are better-looking than most people!

Rural Australia
I’ve been to Australia twice, visiting four of its states, and while the cities are great, it’s the outdoors where Australia truly shines. In no other place in the world have I had as many “I can’t believe this place exists” feelings as I did in Australia. Some of the national parks make you feel like you’re at the beginning of time, a dinosaur lurking around the corner.

Some of my favorite photography spots are Uluru, Litchfield, and Kakadu National Parks in the Northern Territory and Hutt Lagoon (pink lake!), Shark Bay, the Pinnacles Desert, Rottnest Island, and Karijini National Park in Western Australia. I would love to explore the Kimberley, Queensland and Tasmania.
The challenge in rural Australia is getting around safely. WA in particular is very sparsely populated and there is very little public transit; most people either drive themselves or take an organized tour. Of course, driving leads to its own challenges, particularly when kangaroos like to jump in front of your car at night.
Pack your wide-angle for the landscapes and your zoom for the wildlife. And be prepared to take a million selfies with the quokkas!

Oia, Santorini
Ah, the island that launched a thousand calendars. Santorini might be a giant cliché at this point, but clichés exist for a reason. And Santorini’s crown jewel is Oia, the white village on the northern tip of the island.

Oia has been photographed a million different ways, so finding your own take on the village can be a challenge. My recommendation? Just make peace with that fact and take whatever kinds of shots make you happy.
If you want to get the key sunset picture, shot from the fort, I recommend heading there an hour or so before sunset. Bring a book to read; you’ll be glad you have something to do. And don’t leave as soon as the sun dips beneath the surface , stick around for Blue Hour!
Another tip can be photographing the sunset in the opposite direction. It can be surprisingly entertaining to get photos of hundreds of tourists lined up with their cameras.

New York City
It’s a city full of icons. How could New York not be on my list? My only crime is that living here, I treat it less like a travel destination and don’t have nearly as many photos as I should! (That will hopefully change this flower season. I need photos of New York in bloom!)

So, what should you photograph in New York? Definitely get the icons in: Times Square at night, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island ferry, Central Park. If you want views from above, head to Top of the Rock or One World Trade Center (the Empire State Building is popular, but isn’t the point to have the Empire State Building in the photo?).
But I think the best New York photography comes from neighborhood wandering and seeing what comes your way. Some of my favorite neighborhoods for photography are the West Village, Bushwick, Harlem, SoHo, and the Lower East Side. Spend the bulk of your time here , and don’t fall into the trap of spending most of your time in midtown. Midtown is boring.
Season-wise, you can’t beat spring when everything is in bloom!

Nicaragua
Of all the countries in Latin America, I feel like Nicaragua was the best for photography. (“Not Mexico?!” yells everyone. Sorry, that’s how I feel! Maybe I’ll change my mind when I visit Guanajuato and Oaxaca.) Not only was Nicaragua one of the most colorful countries I’ve visited, it also has the rare combination of extremely photogenic cities and extremely photogenic rural areas.

Nicaragua is a place to focus on details and colors. Think markets, street art, all the fruits you can find. And try to visit at least one volcano; they’re all over the country.
I found León to be the richest photography destination in the country, so many colors and markets, plus that incredible white roof on top of the cathedral. And while I didn’t have a great volcano boarding experience with Bigfoot Hostel, you can’t deny that their orange jumpsuits against the black volcano and blue sky make for some striking shots.
And a little tip: your Instagram followers will love tropical shots of Little Corn Island the most.

Paris
I don’t have to explain why. You already know.

Like New York, I find it best to knock the Paris icons off your list and then dig deep into the neighborhoods. Some of my Paris neighborhoods for photography are Montmartre, St. Germain-des-Pres, and the Marais. My new favorite street in Paris is Rue Montorgueil in the 2nd, which is covered with food shops and cafes so perfect that they look like they’re out of a movie.
But if you’re looking for the best views of Paris, I recommend the top of the Arc de Triomphe, the towers of Notre Dame (gargoyles!), the Montparnasse Tower (I hate that building so much, so when you’re up there you don’t see it!), and the top of the Printemps department store.
Do be prepared for less than ideal weather. One thing that doesn’t get said often enough is that Paris generally has gray weather with sprinklings of rain, not unlike London. Don’t fight it; lean into it and learn to love your gray photos.
Want more? I’ve got 100 travel tips for Paris.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
The Balkans are my favorite region in the world to travel, and Macedonia is a particular delight. The first place I visited in the country was Ohrid, the town on the banks of Lake Ohrid (which spans both Macedonia and Albania) and it astounded me with its understated beauty. I’ve never seen water meld into the sky more cleanly than on Lake Ohrid.

I’ve only visited the Macedonian side, so I can’t speak to Albanian shores, but the town of Ohrid is a great place to base yourself. Everyone gets photos of Sveti Jovan, that famous church overlooking a cliff on top of the lake, and make sure you go inside the churches, too , they’re just as interesting as the outside.
One of the best things I did was take a boat trip to Sveti Naum, a few towns away. It’s home to pretty shoreline, an abundance of wild peacocks, and young Macedonian men who don’t speak a word of English but cut you pieces of watermelon with an enormous knife.
Get photos of the lake from every angle , I especially love shots of swimmers from high above.
Also, Macedonia is one of the cheapest countries in Europe and they make surprisingly good wine. Use those facts to your advantage.
 

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a feast for the eyes. So many colors, so many interesting landscapes, an interesting blend of cultures, religions, and people. There is quite a lot packed into this small island, and I was deeply enamored with what I saw.
My favorite photography spot in the country was Galle, home to a Dutch colonial settlement, a fort, and clear cerulean waters. Galle also makes a good base for exploring the nearby beaches. Another must-photograph destination is Sigiriya, home to a giant rock in the middle of the countryside.
Two things that you shouldn’t miss photographing in Sri Lanka: women in their gorgeous dresses, and the tuk-tuks, which are somehow a million times nicer than the ones you’d see in Southeast Asia. And if you’re into mountains or temples, Sri Lanka has both in spades.
While I haven’t been to India, lots of my friends have said that Sri Lanka is so much cleaner and calmer than India. There’s something to be said for that.

Photography Notes: These days the camera I use is a Fuji X-T1, which has dropped in price now that the Fuji X-T2 has come out. I’ve tried the X-T2 and love it, but I don’t feel a pressing need to upgrade at this time.
I use two lenses: my main walking-around lens is the 18-135mm 3.5-5.6, which is versatile enough for most of the shots I take, and I also have a 16mm 1.4 wide-angle lens, which is FAST and FANTASTIC.
I’m also a big fan of the Pacsafe Camsafe V17 anti-theft bag, which is big enough for all my photography and tech gear yet small enough to put beneath the seat in front of me on a plane.
What are the most photogenic places you’ve ever visited?

Luxury vegan travel is getting easier. Hotels and resorts now understand that a plant based and vegan diet is not only a healthy option, but has multiple benefits for the environment. In South East Asia, one of the destinations that is fast becoming a favourite for vegan travel lovers is Vietnam, where the number of hotels and resorts that offer a vegan or vegetarian menu is growing. Here are 14 ‘tried and tested’ luxury hotels in Vietnam that cater for vegan guests. Each of them goes above and beyond to ensure that all guests are treated equally regardless of dietary requirements and receive the very best in customer service.
1. L’AyanaResort
First up and located in picturesque Ninh Van Bay, is therecently renamed L’AyanaResortwhich was known as An Lam Villas when we visited. It offers guests luxury and relaxation in a variety of accommodations; our Lagoon Villa, with an open plan design and indoor-outdoor feel was wonderful and we just loved the private pool and indoor swing seats.

Amongst other dishes, the chef prepared a vegan curry which was mild and sweet, spiced with lemongrass, turmeric and a subtle chilli warmth; we enjoyed this for breakfast served with rice.

2.Evason Ana Mandara
Evason Ana Mandarais the only beachfront resort in the seaside town of Nha Trang enabling beautiful ocean views from the pool, villas and public areas.

This ‘bun chay’ noodle salad was our favourite dish; rice noodles with peanuts, crunchy salad, crispy spring rolls and the most delicious lemongrass and chilli marinated tofu, all tossed together with a soy dressing offering all the flavours of Vietnam in one bowl.

3. Fusion Maia Danang
Fusion Maia Danangis a luxury spa-inclusive resort situated between Danang and Hoi An meaning guests have the ability to easily explore both locations. That is if they are able to bring themselves to leave this tranquil haven, tear themselves away from the top quality spa treatments and the sumptuous villas and suites!

Each day we enjoyed lunch at ‘Fresh’ where there was an extensive list of plant based and vegan creations including this soba noodle and mango dish which had the most amazing sesame aroma

4. Fusion Resort Nha Trang
Fusion Resort Nha Trangtakes modern, cool and stylish living to the next level, the uber luxury spa-inclusive resort located just outside Nha Trang towards Cam Ranh International Airport offers guests multiple spa treatments to choose from whilst enjoying the superb villas, beach and healthy living programmes.

One of the standout dishes we sampled was titled Local Vegetable Garden incorporatingflavours of avocado, mango, subtle chilli and caramelised ginger mixed together with pumpkin, jicama root, fresh coconut and purple basil.

5. InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Head to the capital city and book a room atInterContinental Asiana Saigonfor a slice of city centre luxury that you would expect to find at all InterContinental properties. Expect rooms and suites with all the ‘mod cons’ and for that extra special experience book a room with access to the Club InterContinental.

As well as our exceptional daily breakfast chosen from the buffet with plenty of vegan options, we also enjoyed tasty dishes such as this stir fried noodles with tofu and vegetables whilst staying at InterContinental Asiana Saigon.

6. Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort
The multi award winningIntercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resortis an incredible creation designed by ground breaking hotel architect, Bill Bensley; it truly is a resort like no other and offers surprises and ‘wow factor’ at every turn. The exceptional design is matched with high level customer service and facilities, making it an ideal stay for those wanting to be seriously impressed.

Lunch on the beach at ‘Barefoot’ was one of the many highlights when the Jordanian head chef prepared avegan feast including muhamammara, babaganoush, fatoush and moutabel served with freshly baked breads. There is also an award winning French restaurant headed by Pierre Gagnaire where vegans can be treated to a lavish gourmet experience.

7. Mia Resort Nha Trang
Set amongst beautifully manicured gardens, with far reaching sea views and a private beachMia Resort Nha Trangis another option situated away from the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang. Enjoy hours spent on the secluded private beach before heading to the restaurant to try some of the most creative food you’ll find in Nha Trang.

The chef was innovative and exciting and surprised us every day with fresh and healthy plant based dishes including these roasted artichokes with a sharp and tart dressing combined with basil pesto, warm peppery watercress flavours and the sweet essence of yellow bell peppers.

8. Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers
With 485 guest rooms and a prime central locationSheraton Saigon Hotel and Towersoffers guests a wide selection of rooms and suites alongside the ability to easily explore the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market, and Reunification Palace which are all a short distance away.
The best option for dinner was at the hotels Chinese Restaurant, Li Bai, who offer an extensive vegetarian menu including a varied vegan selection including our favourite which was thisdeep fried bean curd skin with sweet & sour sauce.

9. Six Senses Con Dao
A short flight from Saigon sees you arrive on the island of Con Dao where if you chooseSix Senses Con Daoas your ‘home’ you will be very pleased indeed. As expected with all Six Senses properties you will experience the best of service, accommodation, amenities, food and wellness which when combined deliver that unique ‘Six Senses vibe’ that never fails to disappoint.

There were multiple vegan options on the menu from super healthy salads and juices to fine-dining meals at the Chef’s Table where you can dine in a private room with a view into the kitchen. But we cannot forget how excited we were to enjoy this vegan burger platter which was absolutely delicious, we would travel back to Six Senses Con Dao just to eat this burger…!

10. Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
If you love the Six Senses brand then you will loveSix Senses Ninh Van Baywhich boasts vast and expansive ocean views from all of the villas and suites. Our out of this world ‘Rock Villa’ came complete with private pool carved from stone and our very own cave, yes you heard right, our incredible home during our stay had it’s very own cave!

Every vegan dining experience here was a good one, with the team of chefs going out of their way to prepare fresh and creative vegan dishes including this marinated tofu with courgette, asparagus and delicate micro greens.

11. Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai
Now known asFour Seasons Resort The Nam Haithis high end, luxury resort near Hoi An is rightly recognised as one of the leading resorts in the world; we can only imagine that the recent change in management will take what was simply known as The Nam Hai during our stay to the next level, although how it can be any better than it already was is hard to imagine!

Often, as vegans we are unable to enjoy local specialities but this wasn’t so at The Nam Hai where our traditional Vietnamese pho was prepared with vegetable stock and tofu making it not only suitable for vegans but absolutely delicious.

12. The Reverie Saigon
It is hard to find words to describeThe Reverie Saigonbut if we had to choose one it would be extravagant, it is one of those luxury hotels that you really have to see to believe as it takes things to levels rarely seen before. The design is opulent, the service is first class and everything aspect of this Saigon hotel aims for top drawer luxury (and achieves it).

Amazing, freshly prepared vegan breakfasts in ‘Cafe Cardinal’, a vegan Italian fine dining experience at ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and delicate plant based canaps served with chilled champagne in ‘The Reverie Lounge’ were all moments that we will never forget from our stay at The Reverie Saigon.

13. Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort
Victoria Hoi An Beach Resortisthe original beach resort in Hoi An and is situated just outside of the UNESCO heritage old town, bookone of the Ocean Front Deluxe rooms allowing you to wake up each morning to this ocean vista.

The chef team were happy to serve a variety of vegan options and had a good understanding of what is needed to create tasty and wholesome plant based food including this lightly breaded tofu served with steamed rice, morning glory and a trio of flavour packed sauces.

14. Villa Song
Last on our list, but by no means least, isVilla Songwhich despite being just a few miles from town seems a million miles away from the busy streets of Saigon. It is a perfect escape from the city, situated on the banks of the Saigon River and the 23 rooms and suites are beautifully appointed in this boutique hotel.

Dining is in ‘Bistro Song Vie’ which offers a separate vegan menu and other a la carte options which can be easily adapted for vegan guests, was a total breeze. All of the food we enjoyed was fresh, vibrant and packed with flavour, offering a chance to try local favourites as well as International cuisine.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our14 ‘tried and tested’ luxury hotels in Vietnam that cater for vegan guests. Be sure to let us know if you plan to visit any of them yourselves or indeed have any other suggestions for us to check out next time we visit this vegan friendly country!
Paul Eyers is Founder of Vegan Food Quest.
If you would like to be a guest blogger onA Luxury Travel Blogin order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.
Related posts:
2 resorts in Phuket that offer vegan luxury
Special feature: Aman-i-Khas, Ranthambore, Rajasthan, India
4 vegan friendly luxury hotels in the Philippines
2 luxury resorts in the Maldives that love vegan guests
Special feature: Elounda Peninsula All Suite Hotel, Elounda, Crete

Is it worth going into Paris for an eight-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport? A friend of mine recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d turn it into a post for all of you!
The short answer? Hell yes! Eight hours is enough time to get a brief taste of Paris before you catch your flight to your next destination. But you need to plan it carefully , this is not a time to just wing it.
Do You Have Enough Time?
I wouldn’t attempt going into Paris unless you had a minimum of a five-hour layover, and even then your time in Paris would be very brief. Don’t attempt a trip into Paris if you have less than that.
So, Kate, my layover is four and a half hours , would that be okay?
No! I meant what I said! I wouldn’t attempt it on less than five hours.
A five-hour layover doesn’t mean that you’ll have five hours to explore Paris , it means you have five hours minus the time it takes to go through immigration, possibly check your luggage into storage, wait for a train, take the train into Paris, take the train back to the airport, and go through security again for your next flight. And even then, it could mean you’d be spending less time in Paris than at the airport.

Things to Consider
1) What’s your luggage situation? If you booked a single flight that routed you through Paris (say, if you booked an Air France flight from Boston to Rome via Paris), you don’t have to retrieve your checked luggage. It will be checked all the way through to your final destination.
If you booked two flights separately, though , say, an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Paris and an EasyJet flight from Paris to Prague, and you booked them in two separate transactions, you will have to retrieve your luggage in between and check it in once again
Whatever luggage you are taking as carry-on, whether it’s just a small bag or all of your luggage, will stay with you for the duration of your layover in Paris.
However, there is luggage storage at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s located in Terminal 2, across from the RER station. It’s open from 6:00 AM until 9:30 PM. Each piece of luggage is six euros ($6.50) for up to six hours and 10 euros ($11) for up to 12 hours.
2) Where are you flying to and from? If you’re flying from outside Europe, it’s obviously an international flight, and if you’re flying on to Nice, it’s obviously a domestic flight , but some flights within Europe are treated like domestic flights due to the Schengen Area.
Most countries in Western Europe (Ireland and the UK excluded) are part of the Schengen Area, which has open borders. This means that flights from Paris to cities like Stockholm, Warsaw, Florence, Barcelona, and Munich are treated like domestic flights, not international flights. You will go through security, of course, but there is no immigration between Schengen countries.
The blue countries are part of the Schengen area:

Why do I mention this? Because it can save you a bit of time. You don’t need to allow time to get through immigration if you are flying from Paris to somewhere in Italy, for example. Security, yes, but not immigration. This could save you around 30 minutes or so.
3) Which terminals do your flights arrive to and leave from? There are three terminals at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Terminals 1 and 3 are close together and share an RER train station; Terminal 2 is further away and has its own RER train station.
Write down the terminals from which your first flight arrives and your second flight leaves , this will make your life so much easier.
4) Are you arriving on a red eye? If you don’t sleep well on planes, you may be exhausted when you arrive. My advice? Have some coffee and get out there! You’re in Paris, darling! (Ask for un café for an espresso, un café crème for a latte, or un café americain for a regular coffee.
5) Do you have euros? If not, no problem , just go to one of the many ATMs at the airport and make a withdrawal. Don’t exchange money at the airport, you’ll pay terrible rates compared to what the ATM will give you.
Just be sure that you call your bank before your trip and let them know where you’ll be traveling so they don’t flag your card for fraud. Also, double-check how much you’re charged for ATM transactions and whether you’re charged a foreign transaction fee for credit card purchases.
(If you’re American and travel often, I highly recommend banking with Charles Schwab. They refund all of your ATM fees at the end of the month, even foreign ATM fees (!), and they don’t charge foreign transaction fees.)
6) Finally, how much time do you really have? Add in the time expected to go through immigration (30 minutes is a good estimate but it could be longer or shorter), walk to the train, take the train, take the train back, and go through security and/or immigration again. This will help you plan your day.

How to Get Into Paris
The easiest way to get into Paris from Charles de Gaulle Airport is to take the RER B train, which goes straight into the heart of Paris.
There are both express and local trains on the RER B. I recommend taking the express; it doesn’t cost extra. It’s about 35 minutes to the Châtelet stop, which is close to the geographical center of Paris. One-way tickets cost 10 euros ($11) per adult and 7 euros ($7.50) per child.
Alternatively, you could take a taxi from the airport, which costs 50-60 euros ($54-65) and takes 35 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.
Personally, I recommend the RER B train. It takes roughly the same amount of time, it’s cheaper, and it’s more reliable.
(It’s very unusual to have a layover at Orly Airport, as most long-haul flights are via Charles de Gaulle, so I won’t be covering it here , but there are RER trains from Orly that will take you into the heart of Paris as well.)

What To Do on a Paris Layover
With only a few hours in Paris, you can’t do a lot , but if you concentrate on one small area with several attractions, you can feel like you’ve seen a lot of Paris.
My recommendation: take the RER B to the “St. Michel/Notre Dame” stop, which is right by Notre Dame and some of the prettiest neighborhoods in Paris. This journey will take roughly 40 minutes on the express train. Once you arrive in the station, follow the signs for Notre-Dame.
Visit the cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gothic cathedral is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris , and it’s a solemn, overwhelming place, even without the presence of Quasimodo.
The views from the towers are spectacular, with the gargoyles looking over the city and the Eiffel Tower, but the lines can be very long. Find out how long the line is before you commit to waiting. Notre-Dame is free to visit but going into the towers costs 10 euros ($11).
Check out the kiosks on the left bank of the Seine. These iconic green kiosks sell books, art, and souvenirs. It feels so Parisian to peruse them!
Walk over to Ile St-Louis and have ice cream at Berthillon. There are two small islands in the Seine: Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis. Notre-Dame is on Ile de la Cité and Ile St-Louis is directly to the east. I love Ile St-Louis because there are far fewer tourists and it feels like a village in the heart of the city. Rue St-Louis, the main street, is filled with lots of cool shops.
Berthillon is famous for having some of the best ice cream in Paris with many unusual flavors that you won’t find at home.
Browse books at Shakespeare and Company. It may seem strange to browse an English-language bookstore in Paris, but trust me , Shakespeare and Company is a legendary business and one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It has a rich history, writers still live in the shop, and there are some cute cats. Have them stamp your book at checkout.
Walk over to Rue de Buci in St. Germain-des-Pres. This is one of my favorite areas in Paris, with lots of cool shops and cafes. From here on, just wander the streets at your leisure. One of the true pleasures of Paris is strolling aimlessly and seeing what you find.
Spend time in at least one cafe. It’s the most Parisian thing to do at all. Cafes are perfect for whatever you’re in the mood for. A coffee? A glass of wine or champagne? Some French onion soup dripping with cheese? A crepe? A salad with roasted duck? (One very notable exception: working on a laptop. Not like I found out about that the hard way or anything.)
Sit outside if the weather is nice. Even in the winter, most cafes have heating lamps.

If You Have More Time…
I didn’t want to plan an overly ambitious itinerary because it’s easy to end up miserable if you rush your trip too much. But if you have some extra time, you could add a few of these (not all of these!) if they catch your interest.
Visit Sainte-Chappelle. This cathedral is home to some of the most intricate stained glass designs in Europe. It’s located close to Notre-Dame on Ile de la Cité.
Visit the Pont des Arts. This is the bridge that began the love locks trend around the world. These days the locks are removed regularly, but there are nice views from the bridge.
Visit St. Etienne du Mont. This is better known as the Midnight in Paris church! If you love the movie, it’s great for photos.
Have a coffee or meal at Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore. These two cafes, close to each other on Boulevard St. Germain, were the hangouts of Hemingway, Sartre, Fitzgerald, Picasso, and their eclectic circle of artists.
Visit the Luxembourg Gardens. Head further south into St. Germain-des-Pres and you’ll end up in these are some of the most beautiful and famous gardens in Paris. Stroll around, watch the kids with boats in the fountains, and pretend you’re in a movie.
Note: if you finish your visit here, you’ll be closer to the Luxembourg stop, which is also on the RER B line back to the airport.

What Not to Do
Please, please, please don’t try to pack too much in. I know how tempting it is to see everything , but you can’t see the best of Paris in just a few hours. Hell, you can’t see the best of Paris in two weeks.
I’m fairly certain that one of the secrets to travel happiness is making peace with the fact that you won’t see everything you want to see.
Don’t go to Disneyland Paris or Versailles. Both are outside the city , I’m sorry, but there’s just no time to visit on a brief layover.

Tips for a Paris Layover
Bring an umbrella. Paris doesn’t have great weather; it often rains. Or choose to risk it , you can always buy one in a shop.
Don’t dress like a slob. You may have flown overnight, but don’t schlep around Paris in yoga pants and a hoodie , you will stick out like a sore thumb in a city where locals look neat and put together. Trade your leggings for slim jeans, your sweatshirt for a nice sweater, jacket and scarf.
Wear comfortable flats. Sneakers immediately label you as a tourist. Literally all the shoes I own come from The Walking Company , their Abeo flats have FANTASTIC arch support, which I need for my bad feet, and they’re chic enough for Paris.
Download a Paris map app to your phone. It’s the easiest way to keep track of where you are, rather than using a paper map. If you plan on taking the metro, there are lots of free metro apps as well.
Be conscious of pickpockets. Pickpockets target tourists in Paris. To minimize your risk, I recommend using a crossbody purse that zips shut and you hold in front of you, or a backpack that locks like my Pacsafe backpack. Consider getting a Speakeasy Travel Scarf , they have a secret zippered pocket no pickpocket can get into.
Make sure you have travel insurance for your whole trip. If the worst happens , if you’re pickpocketed, or if you trip and break your ankle and need to visit a hospital, travel insurance will protect your finances and reimburse you. I never travel without it. I use and recommend World Nomads.

GET BACK IN TIME FOR YOUR FLIGHT!!!!
The most important tip of all. Everything here is meaningless if you end up missing your flight to your next destination!
I like to give myself a nice, comfy cushion of time so I won’t be stressed. (Ask anyone who has ever traveled with me and has seen me freak out when we’ve cut a deadline too close.)
Get back to Charles de Gaulle at least two hours before your onward flight departs. I like to give myself two and a half. It may seem a bit excessive, but when you consider the alternative , missing your flight, being stranded, possibly fucking up your return flight as well , this is one place where caution reigns supreme.
Save This Map For Your Trip
Here are all the locations mentioned. As you can see, they’re all close together!

Have a fabulous trip!

READ NEXT: 100 Travel Tips for Paris
Have you been to Paris? What would you recommend doing on a short layover?

One of my travel goals for 2017 was to visit more of my egregious oversights in the United States. Miami was definitely one of my top priorities. But I had no idea that I’d end up visiting the city twice within a three-week span!
First, Cailin and I finished our February Florida road trip with two nights and one full day in South Beach. In early March, Jeremy and I hung out in the artsy Wynwood neighborhood for one day and one night after our cruise.
Yes, I fell in love with Miami. Such an interesting cultural mix, a cool art scene, amazing music in every direction, and the best urban beaches that I’ve seen in the United States. (I would say in the world, but Sydney’s got you beat, Miami. Sorry about that.)

The first thing that struck me about Miami was how dominant the Spanish language was. Obviously, I knew that Miami has a huge Latin community, but I assumed it would have a similar feel to Latin neighborhoods like Washington Heights or Corona in New York , salsa music blasting from vegetable stands, tamale sellers on corners, quinceañera dresses in shop windows, loud games of dominoes on the sidewalk.
Miami had all of that , but it was even more Spanish. I was surprised how people frequently spoke to us in Spanish first, not English. (I’m ethnically ambiguous enough to maybe pass as Latina if I’m wearing sunglasses, but there’s no question that neither Cailin nor Jeremy are remotely Latin.) And it surprised me a bit how a few drivers, restaurant workers, and hotel workers I chatted with didn’t speak a word of English. In New York, most new arrivals speak a few English phrases; in Miami, I found some people to just stick to Spanish.
Is this a criticism of Miami or the immigrants who have made Miami their home? Not at all. It’s just something that I noticed. But I will say that knowing some Spanish will make your Miami experience more enjoyable.
The second thing I noticed was how ridiculously good-looking people are in Miami. People here are hot, dress well, and take care of their bodies. The level of grooming is right up there with Italy! So many women in crop tops with long hair flying, either perfectly curly or pin-straight. Men in tight t-shirts and perfectly cut jeans with haircuts that must have cost a fortune.

South Beach
I feel like everything I know about pop culture told me that South Beach was the place to be in Miami. It’s home to clubs, restaurants, shopping, pro athletes, and (sometimes) the Kardashians , that’s pretty much an indication that stuff happens here.
Miami Beach is actually a different city from Miami proper, and you have to travel over a bridge to get there. Miami proper doesn’t have much of a beach.
South Beach is home to numerous boutique hotels, many of them known for their unique design. I looked into up-and-coming boutiques and one that just opened and offered us a complimentary stay is the Meridian Hotel, an Urbanica property just south of 5th Street.

This is my favorite front desk I’ve ever seen , I love the vintage suitcases.

The rooms were very mid-century modern , since my home is practically a West Elm showroom, I felt very much at home here!

There’s a cafe across from the front desk with free coffee (always a huge plus with me), plus lattes and lots of food for purchase…

And I got a delicious açai bowl, minus the carbs, for a healthy breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed straight to the beach. The Meridian is only a five-minute walk from the beach and they give you free chairs at Esteban’s Place (though not an umbrella , those cost $12).

Just look at that sand and water! Miami Beach is incredible. I’ve never seen a beach this nice in an American city.
The water was a little too cold for me in February, but that didn’t stop a lot of people from swimming. Miami Beach is also the place to spot highly attractive people running along the beach, if you don’t mind being a bit of a voyeur.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the W South Beach for some time by the pool. I have some contacts at the W and I asked if we could spend the afternoon at the pool, and they kindly offered us pool passes.
And this, dear readers, is where I made the biggest mistake of my Florida trip. The W South Beach doesn’t offer pool passes to regular people; I only got one because I’m press. I make an effort to only write about activities that my readers can do themselves, so this wouldn’t fit the bill. I should have asked if pool passes were available for anyone to purchase; I am kicking myself for not thinking to do that. Where was my head?!
In short , if you want to use the pool at the W South Beach, you’ll need to stay at the hotel.
That said, this is an amazing pool, and one of the highlights of our time in South Beach. After so many days of driving, it was heavenly to kick back with a skinny margarita and veg out on a day bed, Kindle on my lap. If you’re going to South Beach, a fabulous pool makes the experience.

Cailin and I wanted to grab a Cuban sandwich while we were in Miami, so we asked some locals for suggestions. South Beach isn’t the ideal place , you should really go to Little Havana or Little Haiti , but we were urge to check out an adorable Cuban diner named Puerto Sagua.
That Cuban sandwich was the first time I had bread since going primarily paleo, and it was glorious.

When looking for restaurants that night, Cailin and I kept hearing the name CVI.CHE 105 pop up again and again. This Peruvian restaurant, located just across the bridge in downtown Miami, is famous for its varieties of ceviche. Jill from Jack and Jill Travel was also in Miami and joined us for dinner, the three of us splitting this platter of ceviches.
Worth it? Oh HELL yes. The ceviche is so delicate, it melts in your mouth. If I lived in Miami, I would eat there all the time , and I insisted on taking Jeremy a few weeks later.

Wynwood
Jeremy booked a place in Wynwood because it was supposed to be “the Brooklyn of Miami.” Brooklyn is a pretty diverse place, so I wondered which neighborhood it would resemble more. Once we got there, I realized it was undoubtedly the Bushwick of Miami! This is a neighborhood of artists, of brightly colored murals, of wacky shops and interesting nightlife.
The Wynwood Marketplace takes place Friday through Sunday , it’s a collection of local artists hawking their wares. If you’re looking for a unique piece of art of jewelry, this is a great place to visit.

Jeremy and I spent much of the day hanging out at Panther Coffee, one of the top-rated coffeeshops in Miami. We were there to work, but the people-watching was so damn good that we didn’t get much done!
I felt intoxicated by the atmosphere of Wynwood. So many cool people, good-looking people, artsy people, people of so many different ethnic backgrounds. It all fit together perfectly, and it was exciting, and I wanted to be part of it.
There are two other times that I felt like that. The first was the first time I went to Red Rooster and loved it so much that I decided to move to Harlem. The second was when I went to the Oakland Museum of California and watched families of all colors dance to hip hop with their kids.
While we were there on a Sunday night, it was hopping. There were lines around the block for clubs. One taco stand blasted 90s R&B jams, also known as my favorite music of all time, and I think I may have scared Jeremy with my enthusiasm for Jodeci and Ginuwine.

The Takeaway
I know this isn’t a remotely representative post about Miami , it’s just a brief look at two neighborhoods. I didn’t get to experience Little Haiti or Little Havana. I didn’t go on an art deco photography walk or take a day trip to the Everglades.
I will say, however, that these trips whet my appetite for the future. I am very interested in coming back to Miami for a longer duration to explore this fabulous city further.
Now , which major US travel oversight should I visit next? Nashville? Hawaii? Portland? Alaska? San Diego? Austin? The national parks of the southwest beyond the Grand Canyon? There are so many options!

Essential Info: Rates at the Meridian Hotel start at $133 per night, which I think is great value for the location and amenities. I loved it there. Check out more hotels in Miami Beach here.
In Wynwood I stayed at this Airbnb for $120 per night before Airbnb fees. This is a nice little studio in the heart of the action, but don’t plan on anyone sleeping on the futon , it’s horrible. So it says it can sleep four, but plan on no more than two. Personally, I wouldn’t have felt super comfortable in that neighborhood as a solo female traveler, but I felt okay staying with a male friend.
Miami has some public transit, but it’s very much a car city. My friends and I got around via Lyft, which is much cheaper than New York!
Don’t visit Miami without travel insurance. Even if you’re a conscientious traveler, you could still be robbed or injured and travel insurance will save you financially if you need it. I use World Nomads for travel insurance on every trip I take and I recommend them highly.
Have you been to Miami? What did you enjoy about it?