Paradise in Phuket

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First term has come and gone.  I can hardly believe it.

Back in Turkey, we spent most of our fall breaks in cold European cities, trying to find traces of autumn that would remind us of home.  This year, we took a different approach, instead opting for summery island paradise.  While I still long for colorful leaves and pumpkin spice everything, I can’t say I minded spending a week on the beach.

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In the end, I had pumpkin spice anyway. 

Adjusting to a new job and a new country is exhausting; often, so is traveling.  We didn’t want to put too many expectations on our first vacation after a couple of stressful months, so we kept it low key:  1) Hotel by the beach 2) No plans.

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Days went by with nothing but swimming, lounging on the beach, drinking out of coconuts, sipping on a few beers, and eating delicious Thai food.  In other words, paradise.

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After several joyful lazy days, we decided it was worth our while to book a tour and explore more of the island.  We joined a half-day Phuket city tour and were the only ones who booked it, so we ended up getting a private tour for the same price as the group tour.  Score!

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Our first stop was Big Buddha, a monument dedicated to Buddha that overlooks the whole island and can be seen from most of it.  As if the statue itself wasn’t enough of an attraction, the views from its platform were stunning.

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Also, monkeys!

Stop #2 was Chalong Temple, which was also gorgeous.

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Last but not least, we had a couple of hours to explore Old Phuket Town, which is a delightful neighborhood full of beautiful pastel buildings, cool cafes, and interesting shops.

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This rainbow building was my fave.

In the end, I may have had one too many Singha beers, bought more souvenirs than I really needed, and definitely left with a sunburn, but I can’t recommend Phuket enough.  Is it touristy?  Very.  Is it fun? Absolutely.  The Thai people are wonderful, kind, and friendly and English is widely spoken.  The food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious.  There is literally something for every kind of traveler, whether you want to be a beach bum, hike, or party until you drop.  We chose to stay in Kata Beach, which is a quieter part of the island more suited to couples and families to avoid some of the more obnoxious crowds.

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I left feeling refreshed, relieved at having survived my first couple of months in China, and excited to explore more of Thailand in the future.

 

Flying Solo in Sarıgerme

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To say that the end of this school year has been stressful would be an understatement.  The mountains of grading seemed to stretch much higher than any term before, all of my end-of-year duties seemed to be piled on at the same time, so many of our friends are leaving this year, and on top of all of that, we had the end-of-the-year play to prepare.  Basically, this all resulted in almost 3 weeks straight of working with no days off and I could definitely feel it.

Because of all that, I was overjoyed when I got the email that the school decided to give us a couple of extra days off while students were on field trips…until I saw that my husband was on duty.  I wanted to scream.  I needed to get out of the tiny campus bubble after almost a month of having my nose at the grindstone.

That’s when he calmly pointed out that just because he was on duty didn’t mean I had to stay.

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That’s when the light bulb flickered on.  We’ve been together for nearly 10 years now and because of that, it can be really easy to forget that we don’t have to do everything together.  Especially since we have moved to Turkey, we have been each other’s main support systems and rely on each other much more than we did in the States.  Now that I am much more comfortable here in Turkey, I relished in the idea of going somewhere on my own for some much-needed self-reflection and relaxation.

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I decided to go to Sarıgerme, a cute little coastal village near Fethiye.  I knew I wanted to go to a beach for some swimming and seaside reading, but I wanted to avoid large crowds and party scenes.  For me, this was all about relaxation.  I did my research and found that this nice little beach was only 20 minutes from Dalaman airport and much less frequented than Fethiye, Antalya, or Bodrum.  I arrived Sunday evening, so I didn’t do much, but I did manage to take in some sunset views while listening to my latest podcast series.

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I stayed at Lady Rose Pension and it was by far the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Turkey.  The couple who own the place are so incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful.  They helped me make the most of my few days there and I had a really nice chat with them over coffee.  Also, the breakfast there was top notch and the beach was only a 10-minute walk away.  I highly recommend it if you plan to visit the area.

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While there are a ton of interesting and affordable tours in the area, I wasn’t really up for a lot of running around after such a hectic few weeks, so I just decided to visit a few places on my own at my own pace.  I took a couple of minibuses over to the nearby Iztuzu Beach, which is famous for its sea turtles.

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Iztuzu is a beautiful beach, surrounded by mountains and pink flowers.  I was amazed by how big the beach is…it took nearly an hour to walk end to end!  The sea also connects to a river delta, so I explored that area a bit as well.

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After a lot of walking around and swimming, I stopped by the sea turtle hospital before heading home.  One of the volunteers gave me a tour of all of the tanks and explained how they rescue and protect the sea turtles in the area, who are endangered.

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I headed back to Sarıgerme once it started getting dark for some dinner and a glass of wine and then curled up with a book in my hotel.

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On my last day there, all I wanted to do was lounge at the local beach and that’s exactly what I did.  I slept in, ate breakfast, walked to the beach, rented a sunbed and simply chilled out.

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There weren’t very many people on the beach, so it was easy to have a huge chunk of it to myself!  I loved alternating between walking along the water, swimming, and laying in my sunbed listening to my podcast.  I spent about five hours there and it was paradise. When it was getting close to time for me to get ready to head to the airport, I enjoyed one last 10 TL beer on the beach while drying off.

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It was so hard to leave! Having a little time to myself to relax, escape, and detox a little from the crazy year was exactly what I needed.  I definitely see a little more solo travel in my future.  Now I just need to figure out when I can go back!

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Hulhumale – my kind of layover

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We had about 24 hours back in the Maldives before having to catch our flight back to Turkey (and back to reality!)  We wanted to make the most of our time there, but we also needed to catch up on sleep after spending all night in the Colombo airport.

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There really couldn’t be a better place to spend a long layover, considering the whole country is full of beautiful beaches.  The main conundrum people run into is the ferry schedules.  Not all of the ferries  run at convenient times, and if you have an early morning flight, you don’t want to risk going very far.

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After asking around, we determined that the best choice was the island of Hulhumale, which is right across the bridge from the airport.  Buses run every 30 minutes from the airport and are very cheap and comfortable.  We did not book in advance, but were lucky to find a reasonable hotel with a room available.  Our only agenda was to soak up the sun one last time and enjoy the beach (and our last day of vacation!)

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While I certainly hope anyone traveling to the Maldives goes for more than just a layover, there are certainly worse places to be stuck for 24 hours!

Maafushi Island: A Few Days in Paradise

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Can we all just agree that this winter has been absolute shit? Cold, miserable, and full of vomit-worthy headlines.  I knew early on that I needed to feel far away from everything on this vacation.

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The Maldives had been on my radar for a few years, having seen a slew of impossibly beautiful photos from all over the internet.  When I did my usual Skyscanner search for flights, I decided to turn a blind eye to Europe and really seek out Asia for the first time. As fate would have it, the cheapest flights into Asia from Istanbul were to Male.  A few days on the beach with my love, sans stress and schedules (and with an extra dose of sunshine) sounded perfect to me.

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We landed in Male early in the morning, greeted by the sight of sparkling turquoise waters that were somehow ten different shades of blue at the same time.  We decided to head to one of the closest islands – Maafushi- to make the most of our limited time there.  It was only a 30 minute journey by speedboat and we enjoyed every second of the warm weather and sea breeze.

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An employee from our hotel was waiting by the docks to greet us and then walk us over to where we would be staying for the next few days.  As soon as we set down our bags, he rushed to the kitchen and came back clutching two glasses of fresh mango juice.  We knew right then that we’d made the right choice.  We spent our first day getting to know the island (you can walk from end to end in about 10 minutes), playing in the sand, and consuming papaya milkshakes.

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Day two was beach day (actually, every day was beach day…but especially day two).  After a fabulous breakfast of pineapple juice next to the Indian Ocean, we walked over to the bikini beach for a morning of swimming in the most beautiful water I have ever seen in my life.  This was also the day that I got the most epic sunburn I have ever had in my life, despite liberally applying sunscreen all over my entire body three times.  That equatorial sun is no joke.  After a few hours, we headed back to our hotel so I could nurse my wounds and only reemerged after the sun had set to spy on baby sharks and sting rays by torchlight.

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Day three was the indisputable highlight:  the snorkeling tour.  Keep in mind that my husband and I are certified land creatures, born and raised in the landlocked Land of Oz…this was a big deal!  Neither of us had ever been on a proper water tour and we were super stoked to see the coral reefs and some tropical creatures.

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Photo c/o Naabe @ KSAEYS

The tour did not disappoint in the slightest.  After a breezy ride on a speedboat to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we jumped into the mouthwash-colored water (I’m not kidding) to see what we could see.  At the first point, we saw several large mantas.  I wanted so badly to swim down and touch one, but I couldn’t hold my breath long enough; I guess I need to take some diving lessons.  At the second point, we saw turtles, eels, more sting rays, and all kinds of incredible tropical fish…it was hard to breathe, and not because I was underwater.  Point number three was the fish feeding and my personal favorite.  It was so fun to toss the crumbs into the water and see all the fish suddenly swarming around me!

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Photo c/o Naabe @ KSAEYS

After the snorkeling, they took us out to a sand bank for a picnic lunch of tuna fried rice and oranges.  The views were truly surreal.

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When it was time for us to go on day four, we packed our bags with heavy hearts.  We were excited for our next destination, but also sad to leave the beautiful island behind.

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In his natural state

Some things to know about the Maldives:

  1. It is a conservative Muslim country.  Most of the islands do not allow alcohol (outside of the super expensive private resorts) and many of the beaches do not allow men or women to enter without at least a t-shirt and shorts.  If you want to go to the beach to party, this is not the place.  Personally, I kind of appreciated being able to enjoy the beach without a bunch of obnoxious drunk people around.  It was not terribly crowded and very relaxing.
  2. Despite its reputation for being super expensive, it can be done on a budget.  If you stay away from the pricey luxury resorts, you can find good accommodation (even right on the beach!) for $30-40 a night.  Food is not very expensive and some of the tours are as low as $10 and are well worth what they cost.
  3. It is extremely safe and friendly.  It seemed like everyone was ready to greet us with a smile!  One of the most eye-opening moments of the trip was when we were on the ferry to head back to the airport and the captain noticed a stray swimmer struggling in a current  well past the swimming area.  He turned the boat around and saved her and then took her back to shore.  Needless to say, my faith in humanity was temporarily restored.

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I can fully recommend the Maldives as a fantastic beach destination.  Despite its recent notoriety, it is much less touristy than I was expecting (even in high season) and comes with a much different flavor than a lot of other islands.  Both of us fell head over heels with this tiny island nation and have already daydreamed about going back someday.  At least now I have some photos of that beautiful blue water to help me escape on difficult days.

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