Thalandia (Part 1- Phuket)

Touch down after a 6 hour flight. As we were flying in, you could see all the little magnificent islands and instantly thoughts of blue lagooning the crap out of this trip came to mind. 

Going from Dubai to Phuket couldn't have been a more drastic contrast. It's crazy that 6 hours and two 3 time zones can transport you to a different world. From the second we stepped off the plane, this place had adventure written all over it. The very serious signs about disrespecting Buddha- much respect.  Signs about elephants rights-  we were not longer anywhere near Kansas.  The struggle to communicate is quite real, but everyone is so slowly and grateful it's easy to make it work. Hand gestures, pointing, using your calculator to barter on costs-- This trip is Going to make me even more of a hustler. 

Our first little hotel was a cute series of little bungalows up in the hills of Mai Khao. If someone would have explained how massive Phuket was, we probably wouldn't have stayed all the way up here, but we got to meet some really cool people, eat some amazing food, and definitely experienced that stick life. The manager, Pirait, was the sweetest guy ever. He couldn't have been more that 25. He told us that his uncle started the hotel with only two bungalows. Now they have 12 and are currently building out their lobby, pool, and more bungalows. He said if we come back in three years Mai  Khao  Will be unrecognizable. Huge hotel chains are buying up a ton of real estate and since the beaches are the most virgin left on Phuket, it's where everyone wants to construct.  If you are up that way, make sure you pay this little place a visit. Also, up that way is JW Marriott and Anantara Spa. Check them both out for food and massage. We had the most unreal Pad Thai and Coconut Sticky Rice on the beach at the Marriott. The property is insanely large- 12 minute walk from lobby to beach ( if you don't get lost like us).  I felt like I was dropped in Jurassic Park before the dinos destroyed it. It's quite magnificent, but would be better if Pratt Pratt Pratt came to save us from our navigational deficiencies.

On. our first day we definitely did the most touristy day we will probably have, but it was perfect. Tiger Kingdom was Stop 1. Played with small tiger and biggest tiger. I really wanted to hug them and cuddle their faces, but there is a strict stay to their rear ends policy. I guess if you come at them like your bros they will want to "play,,," aka bite your face off. From there, we had already made the hour long journey, so we decided to stay in the area for lunch etc. Stop 2- Joe's Downstairs. A Cliffside lunch at the top of patong.  Stunning views. Amazing food. From there we were feeling a bit froggy, so we hopped down to Bangla Rd to see a man about a tat. So there are like a billion tattoo shops that I wouldn't buy an churro in let alone let then stick me with a needle, but. Celebrity Ink is legit as hell and owned by a bunch of Aussies. More expensive, but safety first. Made our appointments for the end of the trip and made our  way back out to satans layer. It was fairly early, but the lady boys, ping pong show hustlers, and just anyone else trying to get a seady buck were in full swing. Real underbelly stuff, but interesting to see them out it all out there.  
Day 2 in Phuket and Still trying to work out the kinks of our jet lag, we managed to take a full day adventure tour that was unreal. We went with Phang Nga Exploration Co. But Simba  Sea Trips was also a solid choice.  Having two former "lady boys" as our guides definitely made it the most colorful and entertaining your I've ever been on. From 9 am - 6pm it was non stop. Pick up at hotel, drive to Phuket Royal Marina (which is gorgeous btw) then speed boat out to Kho Kai Island for snorkeling, Hong Island for cave kayaking, James Bond Island to tap into that tourist vibe for a minute, lunch at The Floating Village, then ended the day with a little nap on this perfect little island called Rang Yai
After realizing that these hour long drives out to the sticks wasn't worth it, we had a change of venue. A real aggressive play to a proper hotel, but it was right on the beach and only a block away from Surf House- my new favorite local joint. Kata Beach is definitely less aggressive and in your face than Patong, but it gives you that hint  of civilization. with a dash of western culture (aka a Starbucks and a Subway) that just makes you feel held. 
 Day 3 and 4 kept them fairly simple.  Exploring Kata Beach and its surroundings, frequenting Surf House, tending to my sick travel buddy.  Note to self- don’t go all in on the ethnic foods.  I thought that I could take it being a Mexican and all, but Thai spices and questionable seafood don’t f around.  They mean business.  Went to a Thai herbalist to get some pills for the ill and he was able to turn it around before our next departure.  Unfortunately, we lost out on some good surf, some elephant trekking and other stuff, but we will be back so no harm unless you are our bathroom toilet :o)
Night 4 we were able to prop the second half of this travel duo up long enough to go to one of the most amazing restaurants.  MAKE SURE you go to Mom Tri Kitcken in Kata Beach.  Go for sunset drinks, stay for the 5 star meal.  Wine list was impeccable.  Everything was just divine. 

Hello Dubai!

The city that appears out of nowhere.  A hazy cloud blurs out any crystal clear visuals of anything, but the monstrosity of the buildings in Dubai cannot be argued. Architecturally, even off the main drag of sheikh zayed rd, it's as if you have entered the city of Oz. This 43 year old old city looks brand new from head to toe and the massive amounts of construction show that we have yet to see the best from this amazing place. 

Traveling to Dubai could be intimidating, but I had the greatest welcome orientation ever given by my one and only egyptian love, Yasmeen Seif. Not only did I get to catch up with my little ex pat who has been out here for 9 years, in three days she showed me the best of the best Dubai has to offer. One of my most favorite things are the people. The kindness of every person I came across is like nothing I've ever seen stateside. I can see why it's so easy for people to end up staying here.  

Other favorites are obviously the architecture ( borj kahlifa, palm jumeirah, every single other stunning tower in the skyline) and the food. Definitely a culinary hub. Half the time I had no idea what I was eating, but all the time I didn't care. Tajine at the One and Only had some powdered sugar chicken pocket.  I'm still dreaming of it. 
Some must sees are Riva Beach Club-  Like a Nikki Beach but more of a laid back vibe. Borj Al Arab- Worlds only 7 star hotel.  I guess it gets the extra two stars for all the gold and over the top gaudiness, but it is worth experiencing.  You have to have a reservation to enter.  Make one for the Sky Lounge for a cocktail.  You must spend $100 per person, but its worth it to say that you went.  Lastly- The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel.  Go for the day.  Stay in the pool.  Lobby is out of this world.

Overall, the juxtaposition of this very new sexy city next to age old traditions is my favorite takeaway. Men taking their tea in traditional dress while 20 something's sit next to them in their harve leger and louboutins. Smoking shisha while snapchatting. It's all just a very cool marriage of the two worlds coming together. 

Not much more I can say to do this fine city justice, so pictures will have to do.  4 Days was the perfect amount of time in this 115 degree city.

And On The First Day, They Traveled...

Its crazy how you plan and plan.  Pack and repack.  Buy all the necessary items.  Travel to the airport.  Go through all the motions of prepping for a trip of this size and it still- even as I sit here 10 hours deep on this flight, doesn't seem real.  
Will reality set in when I am going through customs?  Or will it more likely be when I step foot into that 105 degree air with mosque speakers blaring in the streets, and taking visual stock as you scan the surroundings realizing that you, a blonde American chick are now very much the minority. ?  Who knows.
Most likely it will be when we pull up to Palm Jumeirah and take in the grandness of the almost impossible to fathom manmade archipelago I will be staying on for a week. Point being, any way you slice it, at this moment my reality is still but a dream.  I feel like I will awake any moment and I will be home in comfortable New Jersey going about my day.
I am now 12 hours deep into this trip. Etihad airway has proven to be impeccable.  Coolest stewardess outfits I have seen to date, free wifi, booze, 900 meals, coach seats that recline more than most.  Two very enthusiastic but sleepy thumbs up.
Before I go on too much on a tangent, I need to take a moment to thank all the people who where involved in the strategic planning of this multi faceted journey.  Yasmeen Seif- my Egytpian Goddess who has opened her home to us in our first stop, Dubai.  Max Osbon whose 6 month wordily travels served as the skeleton of which we built our trip. Karissa Leaver who's insite and recent Thailand adventures aided us build out this journey into something very magnificent.  At this moment, I would like to say Thank you.  I will forever be grateful and we will take you guys with us throughout this whole month long journey. 
it all, I am excited for everything we are about to experience.  The things I will learn from others and my surroundings.  The amazing venues we are about to discover.  This huge chunk of the world i am about to unlock and learn so much more about.  I am truly blessed and grateful.