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.”

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.
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.

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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

• 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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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?

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.
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“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…

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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.

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