Wandering among the Wildflowers

This past weekend as we hiked through massive fields full of colorful wildflowers I couldn’t help but sing one of my favorite Tom Petty songs:

“You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free.”

We’ve hiked part of the Napali Coast in Kauai, explored the dense bamboo forest in Maui, and climbed up to the Emerald Lagoon in Thailand, and after every adventure I’ve continued to tell you that hiking is just not my forte’, however this weekend that changed.

This weekend, I found that hiking in my own backyard is pretty damn great! And incredibly beautiful, too.

Albion Basin

Albion Basin

How is this in my own backyard?

Albion Basin

Up Little Cottonwood Canyon high above the hustle and bustle of the capital city, you’ll find one of the prettiest destinations in the state: Albion Basin. This basin is located in the heart of the Wasatch mountains and is a recreational haven thanks to its many hiking trails, vast fields of brightly colored wildflowers, and diverse wildlife viewing opportunities. (Oh, and we can’t forget about those famous slopes filled with the “Best Snow on Earth” during the winter months). And after living in Utah for five years, I was completely surprised that it took us so long to explore this area.

For our first local hiking adventure, we decided to hike up to Cecret Lake because–let’s face it–this hike is rated as “Easy” and is less than one mile each way, so we knew it couldn’t be that bad. We also liked the idea of hiking to a lake because it felt like we were aiming for a nice “reward” at the end of the hike.

And that reward paid off. Big Time.

Nestled 9,750 feet above sea level, Cecret Lake is hidden just-out-of-sight at the top of a steep hill. This snow-fed lake has an emerald hue (which was reminiscent of the Emerald Lagoon in Thailand); and if you look close and you’ll see salamanders swimming around by the shore. Sugarloaf Mountain dominates the entire landscape from the West, while the views of the basin filled with tall pine trees and fields of wildflowers go on for miles in the opposite direction.

Albion BasinAlbion BasinAlbion BasinAlbion Basin Albion BasinAlbion Basin

Albion Basin is one of Salt Lake valley’s main watersheds which provides up to 15% of the valley’s drinking water, so swimming in Cecret Lake is strictly prohibited–leave your furry friend at home as well because dogs are not allowed in the basin, for the same reason.

We travel across the globe exploring beautiful places, exotic places, once-in-a-lifetime-kinds of places, and I’m humbled–and honored–to say that Utah is one of those “kinds” of places in its own right. And with so many beautiful hikes up the many canyons around the Valley, I have a feeling that exploring the mountains in our own backyard will become a weekly adventure this summer.

Albion Basin

Albion Basin

So, are you coming with us on the next hike? :) Do you like to hike?

Adventure Awaits

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

The more I travel, the more my eyes are opened… to the good, the bad, the ugly, the positive, the beautiful, and the inspiring. I see that at the end of the day we are all the same–we all want to love and be loved, to make those we love happy and proud, to feel like we have a purpose, and to connect with those around us.

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Traveling allows me to feel, breathe, experience, learn, understand, and to grow, and I always return home with a clearer sense of gratitude for our life and all of the people in it.

So tell me, what is your favorite part about traveling?

Koh Tao: The “Other” Greek Isle

As I began researching for a place to stay on Koh Tao, I knew that I wanted to stay somewhere romantic, somewhere beautiful, and of course, somewhere safe. I didn’t want to stay too far from town as we were planning on diving frequently throughout our stay, yet I wanted to avoid staying right in the middle of the action on Sairee Beach as it can be quite loud at night thanks to all of the popular beach bars scattered along the shoreline. Hell, I’m getting picky in my old age, and I’m not even that old… ;-)

Aminjirah

After months of thoughtful consideration, we decided to book a room at the Aminjirah Resort. An island-favorite, family run, cliff-side resort located about ten-minutes north of Sairee Beach, this resort boasts 23 unique rooms ranging from basic backpacker rooms to spacious villas with your very own private plunge pool. We specifically booked the Sunset Ocean Dream Room because it was spacious, had an incredible cliff-side balcony, and was adjacent to the resort pool. It also included A/C and hot water (these are not always standard amenities in Thailand), had a mini-fridge, a large flat-screen TV, and included daily breakfast.

Aminjirah

Aminjirah

Aminjirah

The picture on the left is the view out of the bathroom window… so incredible.

Aminjirah

A quick peek at the budget-friendly rooms

Aminjirah

My communication with the resort staff was always prompt and helpful–from my first email to inquire about availability, to scheduling our pick-up at the Lomprayah pier–and during our stay, the staff continued to impress us as they were always happy to help, no matter the request. Stellar service and large pool-side rooms aside, this resort earns its island-wide reputation thanks to the incredible infinity pool:

Aminjirah

Aminjirah

Aminjirah

The vast panoramic views leave you pondering if you accidentally walked through a portal and magically teleported to Greece. Although this location is much quieter (and a lot less crowded) compared to that famous sunset view in Oia. The views from the infinity pool were postcard worthy and let’s face it, every instagrammer’s dream. :) Every afternoon as the sun inched closer to the horizon, we relaxed in the poolside loungers or on our private balcony, and watched the incredible sunset from one of the best viewpoints on Koh Tao.

Aminjirah

During our stay we ate at the on-site restaurant multiple times, and although pricey for Thailand, the dinners were delicious. The breakfast buffet ranged from yogurt, to fried noodles, to omelets, and was just okay (although if I were paying for it, I would have looked elsewhere).

The only criticism I have for this resort is a few small maintenance issues–minor improvements that would instantly give the resort a more polished feel–things like hammering down the few nail heads sticking out of the baseboards, addressing the dim lighting in the bathrooms, and touching up the chipped paint around the resort.

When we booked this resort I was hesitant about staying so “far” from town, but at the time, I reassured myself that a ten-minute walk to town was manageable. What we didn’t consider was the smoldering heat…that ten-minute walk into town was pretty brutal (and we were going down-hill). The bright-side is that the resort provides a shuttle to town at 11am and 3pm daily, and there is also a vendor next door renting motorbikes.

Aminjirah

The Aminjirah is not a five-star resort and does not pretend to be, however, if you like smaller, boutique, off-the-beaten-path kinds of resorts, you will also enjoy the charming Aminjirah. If you don’t feel like staying so far from town, visitors can enjoy the infinity pool and those instagram-worthy sunset views by spending 1,000baht ($30USD) at the on-site bar and restaurant.

When you travel do you like to stay in the middle of the action or off the beaten path?

Seeking out Adventure on Year Four

To celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary I wanted to do something special, something memorable. Cody and I sailed to St. John on our first wedding anniversary, cruised the fjords of Norway for our second, and dove with Manta Rays off of the Big Island in Hawaii to celebrate our third beautiful year of marriage. We both love spending our anniversaries traveling around the world, so of course finding something to do while staying on Koh Tao was a top priority.

Koh Tao

We had originally decided on a day-trip over to Koh Nang Yuan island, however after arriving on Koh Tao and talking to Westy (our new friend at the dive shop), we learned that the island is slightly over-hyped, and usually packed with people. While we wanted to visit, we didn’t feel like spending our entire anniversary with the crowds; so Westy recommended that we hire a private long-tail boat for the day. We could check out Koh Nang Yuan as originally planned, and then explore the remote eastern shores of Koh Tao as well.

Another anniversary adventure out on the high seas? I see a tradition forming. :)

After leaving the dive shop, we walked down to Sairee Beach where Thai women lined the beach bars advertising boat rentals starting at 2500baht. We were able to negotiate down to 2200baht, however, I’ve heard that you can rent them for as low as 2000baht, so when negotiating, start low.

As we drove away from Sairee Beach, my anxiety levels began to rise--we had jumped in a boat with a complete stranger who spoke very little English… What the hell were we thinking?? Would this stranger take us out and leave us as shark-bait? Would he leave us at one of the remote beaches, stranded with no way to get back to town? Why yes, at times I have a wild imagination…why do you ask?

Koh Tao

Koh Tao’s main stretch: Sairee Beach

Koh Nang Yuan was our first stop of the day and after paying the 100baht entry fee we were free to explore the three small islands connected by a large sandbar. I was looking forward to hiking up to the famous viewpoint, but with the temperature well over 100 degrees I wasn’t about to almost kill myself (again) with heat exhaustion. Instead, we opted to escape the heat and snorkel in the crystal-clear turquoise waters. Sadly, it wasn’t the large, colorful, reef fish that caught my attention, rather it was all of the tourists who were STANDING on the coral reef. Note to snorkelers: PLEASE do NOT stand on the reef! I know there’s that saying “Take only photos, leave only footprints” but I don’t think they meant leave your footprints on the coral…

Koh Nang Yuan

Ko Nang Yuan Lookout–Not my photo

After a couple of hours, I was ready to get away from the crowds and feeling thankful that this island was only one stop along our Koh Tao adventure–Westy’s advice was spot on.

Yet before we could continue our tour around Koh Tao, we had to first survive an obstacle course back at the dock. Our long-tail boat was tied up next to four other long-tail boats, which meant that we had to jump-wobble-hop-and-balance our way over each long-tail boat before safely tumbling into our own. The phrase, “Safety Seventh!” is heard repeatedly in Thailand. ;)

Koh Tao

Our journey along the remote northern and eastern sides of Koh Tao was truly incredible. We passed many beautiful coves, bays, and beaches, all backed by dense, jungle-covered mountains. Every once in a while a tiny road peeked through a break in the tree canopy, and the occasional resort would rise above a dense grove of coconut trees. The clear, calm, turquoise water beckoned and we stopped often to snorkel and cool off from the heat of the day.

Some of the most popular snorkel spots on the island include Mango Bay, Tanote Bay, and Aow Luek, and due to the steep slopes, lack of well-maintained roads, and distance from Sairee, these remote locations are nearly inaccessible. As we continued our journey it became apparent that the best way to access these sites is by a long-tail boat.

Koh Tao Hin Wong

Cody snorkeling at Hin Wong Bay

FourthAnniversary6-Hin Wong

Koh Tao Shark Bay

Koh Tao Tanote Bay

As we rounded the southwest corner of Koh Tao, Sairee Beach came into view and I realized that we were not going to end up as shark-bait after-all. For our fourth anniversary we went looking for adventure, and our change of plans gave us exactly what we wanted. Not only did we survive, but we explored two beautiful tropical islands, snorkeled with giant schools of fish, enjoyed a day out on the water, and now have a crazy-I-can’t-believe-we-did-that memory that will last a lifetime.

Koh Tao

Do you have an anniversary tradition? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Would you hire a private long-tail boat for the day?

Bucket Lists and Drinking Games

For some reason my last post, “Island Adventures and Hidden Lagoons” struggled when it went live. I’m not quite sure what happened, but if you didn’t get a chance to read about our adventure to Ang Thong National Marine Park head over and take a look.

Now on to your regularly scheduled Bucket List update:

When I added “travel to a remote island” to my bucket list early last year, I thought about what makes a “remote island” remote. The world is flat (according to Friedman) and is shrinking with each passing day, and realistically, depending on your location in the world, that remote island may not be so remote after all.

So, after considering different aspects of the word “remote,” I decided that a remote island this time around was somewhere far away from “home” to us; and in order to make it feel even more remote, I added an additional challenge in that the remote island could not have an airport. Flying into a location is easy, and I wanted something a little more challenging.

Who wants to play a drinking game with the word “remote.” ;-) That’s ten so far… Bottoms Up!

Remote Island

Koh Tao first peaked my interest when I began reading about all of the incredible diving around its shores–it’s a mecca for divers thanks to the calm waters and great visibility, and it just so happens to be one of the cheapest places in the world to learn how to scuba dive (if any of you are interested). :) I soon found out that the island is only eight square miles–Eight–think about how SMALL that is; I don’t know about you, but there’s something about tiny tropical islands surrounded by the sea that draw me in and make me feel like I Must.Visit.Now.

There is no airport on this tiny rock in the sea, so if you want to visit you’ve got to catch a ferry. Our journey to Koh Tao only took one taxi ride, a two-hour flight, followed by a 13-hour flight, another three-hour flight, one quick 45 minute flight, a 20 minute bus ride, and finally, a two-hour boat ride…

As we stepped off the Lomprayah Pier and looked North towards Sairee Beach, we knew that we were ready for our next adventure…

Island Adventures and Hidden Lagoons

After spending our first couple of days relaxing at our new favorite resort, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from our poolside loungers to do some exploring. I mean we can’t go all the way to Thailand just to hang out at the pool all day, right…?

Located in the Gulf of Thailand, just west of Koh Samui, is a collection of 42 jagged, jungle-covered, uninhabited islands known as: Ang Thong National Marine Park. And thanks to Alex Garland’s famous backpacking novel, The Beach, this Marine Park is one of the most popular locations in all of Thailand. Sound familiar?

Angthong National Park

We decided to book our tour with Tours Koh Samui because of the favorable Trip Advisor reviews, the cost (1,800 baht–or about $53USD–per person), and we liked that they used a speedboat–which meant getting there faster and spending more time in the park.

Boating, island hopping, snorkeling, swimming, AND the chance to see one of the most famous Lagoons in all of Southeast Asia… sign me up!

Angthong National Park

Angthong National Park Angthong National Park

Not long after we began our journey across the sea, I could see the vertical limestone cliffs rising up from the cerulean colored sea, and within 45 minutes we stopped at our first snorkeling location: Koh Wao. Unfortunately the marine life was scarce and the visibility was limited, so I was delighted when it was time to head towards our next destination–which also happened to be the highlight of the day: Koh Mae Koh and Talay Nai.

Angthong National Park

Angthong National Park

Koh Mae Koh is most famously known for its “Emerald Lagoon;” a gem-colored, salt-water lake surrounded on all sides by tall, limestone cliffs and dense rain forest. A quick hike up to the lookout revealed the famous hidden Lagoon, as well as a lovely panoramic view of the Marine Park.

And by a “quick hike” I should clarify that I’m referring to a near-vertical, 500 meter hike, often times basically climbing a ladder to another platform almost out of reach. Did I mention the temperature was well over 100 degrees that day? This hike is definitely not for the faint of heart, or for small children, but the views were worth every bead of sweat that poured from our foreheads. (Let it be known that it’s not always glamorous here at Pictures and Plane Tickets). ;-)

Angthong National Park

The Emerald Lagoon

Stopping to catch our breath at the top, we salivated over the emerald-hued water. I think Cody would have given his first-born child for access to the Lagoon to cool off, however, sadly for visitors, entry into this lake is strictly prohibited–there may or may not have been a serious discussion of breaking the rules and jumping in anyways. ;-)

I could have spent a lot of time getting lost in the viewfinder of my camera, but there was that pesky threat called heat exhaustion basically smothering us. So after some quick photos we made a bee-line for the water to cool down and you know, not die.

Angthong National Park

The "other" James Bond Island

The “other” James Bond Island

After our death-defying hike I needed some food, and luckily for me it was time to head to lunch. Now I like to think of myself as an adventurous, low-key, not-super-high-maintenance, kind of traveler, but when we arrived at the Sea Gypsy village I was a little nervous. Our “restaurant” was surrounded by dilapidated buildings, questionable smells, and dark, murky, muddy water. Thoughts of food poisoning, parasites, staph, and hepatitis flashed through my mind… OKAY, okay, I’m exaggerating, slightly; however, the hesitation subsided when I saw our hosts standing at the dock smiling and waving. I felt instantly welcomed to this village, and secretly hoped that I wouldn’t regret it later.

Well, not only did we survive the meal, but would you believe that it was Cody’s favorite meal of the entire trip? You definitely couldn’t get more authentic food in Thailand.

Angthong National Park

Song Pee Nong Beach was our last stop of the day, and it was absolutely beautiful. A long stretch of soft, white sand was backed by a dense, bright-green jungle. Fellow visitors converged around the beach bar talking over cold cans of Chang Beer, while other sun-loving explorers competed in a lively game of beach volleyball. Kayaks were available to rent for an extra 300 baht, and although it sounded fun, Cody and I were completely content people watching and swimming around in the water.

Angthong National Park

We explored four different islands in eight short hours, however, at times I couldn’t help but feel like we were being rushed around. Next time, I would consider visiting fewer islands and spending more time at each location, yet for our first visit, this tour was exactly what we were looking: an introduction to the marine park and its beautiful photo-worthy islands.

Angthong National Park

Angthong National Park

Would you visit Ang Thong National Marine Park? Are you up for a hike to the Emerald Lagoon?

Luxury on the Beach

After 30 hours of continuous travel–including four flights, three layovers, and two car rides–we arrived just after sunset at the Bo Phut Resort on the North shore of Koh Samui. (In Thailand, the letters “Ph” are pronounced with a hard “P” sound, so Phut is pronounced “Poot.” Interesting, right?)

The open air lobby of the Bo Phut Resort is stunning by day, and after the sun goes down the lobby takes on a magical feel thanks to the impressive lighting, dark-wood columns, and vaulted ceilings.

We were greeted with a traditional wai–a bowing of the head with palms placed together in prayer–and the friendly staff served ice-cold welcome drinks alongside cold, lemongrass-scented, hand towels to cool off from the sweltering heat. And after completing the check in process, they offered us two gorgeous orchid leis before whisking us away to our room where our bags were waiting.

BoPhut Resort BoPhut Resort

You guys, it would be an understatement to say that I was giddy when we walked into our room. (And it wasn’t just from a lack of sleep). The decor was a perfect mix of tropical paradise and authentic Thai style and I loved all of the finishing touches in the room like: fresh flowers, slippers next to the bed, a beach bag to borrow for the duration of our stay, the super soft bed linens, and our very own Mr. Bo Phut to take home. Exhausted from traveling half way around the world, I stepped out onto the balcony and looked up at the bright, almost-full, moon and listened to the cricket’s chirp their bedtime song before heading to bed myself.

BoPhut Collage

BoPhut Resort

The view out our front door. Welcome to the Jungle ;)

The view out our front door. Welcome to the Jungle ;)

The view from our balcony

The view off our balcony

The next morning as we walked to breakfast, Cody and I explored the immaculate grounds of the resort. A heavy scent of plumeria filled the air, and the perfectly placed plumeria trees and palm trees provided shade as we walked along the small pathway to the restaurant. A lotus pond filled with beautiful white, pink, and purple lotus flowers completed the courtyard landscaping, and within a couple of minutes we arrived at the highlight of the resort: the incredible pool.

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort

Not only does the resort have an amazing pool, two delicious restaurants, pristine grounds, and a beachfront location, but the staff and their service is out of this world. No matter what we needed–from transportation arrangements to room service–they took care of it all, always with a smile and the traditional wai.

And just when I thought that this resort was absolutely perfect, they told us about the free complimentary jet lag massages. I’m pretty sure that my jaw hit the floor and I almost reached out and gave the receptionist a great big hug; but to my surprise I did what any other normal person would do, and played it cool, like I was used to that sort of upscale treatment. ;-) That was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, the umbrella in my Mai Tai. When it comes to service and relaxation, they’ve really thought of everything.

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort8

Our stay included free breakfast from a delicious buffet, daily maid service, fresh fruit every afternoon, bottled water, nightly turn-down service, transportation to and from the airport, and they even offered to pack our bags on our day of departure. (I have finally experienced how the other half lives) ;)

If you’ve been a long time reader of Pictures and Plane Tickets, then you know that I usually pack a lot of activities into our trips–we go-go-go from sun up until sun down, however, on this vacation we slowed down and really got a chance to unwind. With such a relaxed and romantic atmosphere how could we not?

Daily massages, a palm tree-lined pool, lunch and drinks poolside, romantic sunset walks along the beach, and nightly cocktail parties, this resort was the epitome of luxury, and we indulged in every opportunity.

BoPhut Resort

BoPhut Resort

Would you stay at the Bo Phut Resort? Where is your favorite resort/hotel?