Iceland

Looking to head to Iceland – to see what the hype is all about? Here are some things you should keep in mind!

  • Almost everyone speaks English (but you should get the Google Translate App just in case to read signs, packaging, instructions, etc)
  • They take American Express! Random fact, but it can be difficult to find an Amex accept-er outside the US. And here they take it! (Check your credit cards and debit cards to see who has the best/lowest international transaction fees)
  • Their gas stations only take debit card or cash – or a credit card with a pin! Many gas stations are unmanned, but the system is pretty much self explanatory. Keep in mind, it works exactly like the US – it verifies you have enough to cover a FULL tank (or you can pick a smaller set amount) and then you only actually pay what you use.
  • Many gas stations have a grocery store or restaurant in the parking lot or very near. Utilize them! Food is very expensive here – your best bet is to stock up on snacks and food that you can cook at your Airbnb or Hostel.
  • Bringing your own reusable bags will come in handy as well. Iceland is actually very green (reusable energy, recycling, minimal waste, etc) Lauren recommends these. They are silicon, water resistant (think phone in wet situations), and perfect for holding sandwiches, oatmeal (bowl on the run), cut veggies, etc. They also take up like no room in your luggage to get here!
  • The weather really can change every 5 minutes. It may sound crazy, but the weather there can be unpredictable and random. From snow to sleet to rain to sun – expect it all and expect it all in an hour.
  • Bring gloves in the winter – the amount of times your hands spend out them taking pictures is almost equal to the amount of time your hands are in them – but your little fingers will thank you for the warmth.
  • Get out of Reykjavik. In most cases its actually cheaper to rent a car than to take the day tours out of the city. There is so much more to see outside of the city (like the rest of the entire island) so get out and explore the hidden gems of this beautiful country.
  • If you rent the car, get at least the gravel protection – they offer a million different plans, but the gravel protection is the most useful. This is especially true if you go North in the country.
  • Make a list of the things you want to see and on your way to see them you will end up seeing even more than you planned. Be prepared to have your plans altered due to weather.
  • Many of the attractions here are free – unless you do a tour – so take advantage of that and see all you can!
  • Unless you do tours, I would recommend about $75-100 a day for budgeting purposes once you are on your trip. You will probably come home with money (unless you drink a lot or do tours) but this would cover food, gas and souvenirs.
  • I would budget about $50-100/night for housing. Using Airbnb gives you options – but if you are traveling solo you are looking at $100-150/night for Airbnbs. In that case I would use hostels (they have many) to save some cash. If you can really splurge on your trip stay at FossHotels – primo properties with modern flare!
  • You can really only find true more, American style hotels in Reykjavik – otherwise they are more like guest houses. They may call themselves hotels – but they may only be 6-8 room quarters, some you even have communal WC.
  • Stores close pretty early here, usually between 6-7pm. Restaurants are open later usually until about 10pm. If you want groceries or to shop, get out early!
  • No need to tip! Another nice benefit of leaving the US is not needing to tip – there is a service charge in your price, so just swipe, sign and walk!

Chiang Mai Adventure

My, hotel is amazing. I slept super well, even though I woke up at 4am  I lounged around until about 830 then got ready for the day. I get a buffet breakfast here and it was huge. Both Asian and western breakfast was served  I can’t fathom eating stir fry for breakfast again so I went with the western breakfast of mini pancakes and corn flakes. Their orange juice almost tastes like tang and orange juice mixed together but it’s just their yummy oranges!!

I looked up the Doi Suthep trek and from my hotel it was about 8.5 km. I started walking with the intention of hiking up and riding a cab down, but about 2km into my walk through town I was so hot. I decided to attempt one of the red truck rides. It’s a low riding truck that has a cover and benches in the back. Usually its about 30 baht ($1) for a ride. I was going to call for one on the Grab (uber) app and while it was loading one pulled up honked it’s horn and asked where I was going. I told him and he said ok. I got in back and there were two girls already in there. They were from Slovenia. We were going to somewhat the same place. Katarina and Ania were awesome.

We decided to venture together and threw both our original plans out the window for the random fact we were now doing it together. We road another red truck to the top of Doi Suthep to the temple. We followed the group of tourists up a couple stairs, turned right and saw a WHOLE LOT MORE STAIRS. The only way to see anything was up, so up we went. Tourists have to pay 30 baht to get in so we paid and headed in, after catching our breathe first.

Temple was usual for most I’ve been to now, but it’s about 1100 meters above Chiang Mai so the view could be good. One of the girls at the elephant park told me it was a hazy view though. And she was right  we got to the lookout point and couldn’t see the actual city, disappointing for sure. We did this thing where there are sticks in a cup and you shake it around until just a single stick falls out. What that stick means is your fortune. I got a great one.

We hung around for a bit longer, Katarina did a handstand in the middle of this wooden awning thing. We decided to go find the waterfalls. I read I needed to download an app called maps.me to help with the trail. Great idea because in the end it was a savior. Where the app told us to go, there was a Do Not Enter sign with “contact park staff” below.  So we went to find the information booth. Told them where we wanted to go and they sent us back to where we came from,  clearly that was a waste of time sign.

The hike was 95% down hill and jungleous!! Exactly what I was looking for. The map showed 2 water falls, for about a 4km total trip down. We had to climb over fallen trees, under some branches, it was great.

And it was all in the shade, protecting us from the extra heat of the sun. We found this random awesome tree and made a picture stop. As we were leaving a lady approached me and asked if we were going to the water falls and if she and her son could follow, so they did.

We made it to the first set of falls and ran into another two guys (Tamas and Danny) who were also heading the same way we were. We chatted for a bit, took some pictures and then it started to rain.

Since I had the app, and we were all trying to go the same place, everyone stayed together and followed what the map said.

We ran into a small waterfall and Katarina decided to get in the water for a picture. By the time she got out it was raining significantly more so we continued on our way down. We started seeing placards with information on them and knew for sure we were going the right way. We made it to the “entrance” of the hike, but the way we came was from the “do not enter” sign. So we don’t know where the actual park trail takes you!!

The final water fall was great, and it was pouring at that point. We took a group selfie and continued down. The walk to the start of the park was another 4km away, but at least it was paved. We saw a red truck and asked if he’d take us down, at first he said no, but came back a minute later with 100 baht per person. We decided to walk  because we knew we were getting ripped off. As we were walking a truck approached us from behind and offered to let us sit in the bed for the ride to the end of the park. We were so happy!! We all jumped in. They let us out at the park entrance and I gave the guy 20 baht. He tried to give it back to me, but it was so nice to have that 3 minute ride down. He and his wife then said they were going into Chiang Mai and offered us another ride!!We had about a 10 minute ride in the back of a truck down to the red truck stop. We were all so grateful!! We thanked them and then all hopped into a red truck to head to our hotels.

We decided to meet up again for the night market. We met at 7 pm at the Hard Rock (I had no idea they had a Hard Rock). All of us may back up and had some dinner at the street market and then walked around the night market. They have some pretty good knock offs so Katarina was trying to haggle for me (she’s a pro she says). It didn’t work on the lady so we left, but Tamas and Danny went back and got her down to almost half!! I am now the proud owner of a knock off Supreme Louis V wallet, in red.

We hit up the Irish pub after and had drinks (even I did!!) and chatted for a long while. We were all looking pretty tired so I said let’s go get foot massages. We tried to haggle the price since there were 6 of us, but no one budged. We struggled to find 6 chairs together anyway so we went to two massage parlors next to each other and all got them at the same time. They all loved it!! We hit another bar across the street before it closed at midnight, parted ways (half went one way, half went the other), hit up 7-11 (Thailand is obsessed with them) and all went back to our hotels to crash. We are all going to be down in the Phuket/Phi Phi/Krabi area so we will attempt to meet up again.

Best day, by far, in a long long while. This, my friends, is why I travel, to meet people from all over the world, who like me, want to go all over the world.

Elephant Nature Park day 2

I got the best night sleep of the trip yet!! I honestly don’t know if it was because of the amazing fresh air flowing through the room or Boots snuggling with my legs like Cali does. I’m only getting about 6-7 hours of sleep, but at least last night it was good sleep.

I woke up around 3am to Boots talking, and realized she was talking to another cat!! I now had 2 cats in my room. The other cat was an orange tabby looking cat. When I turned my flashlight on it saw it’s shadow in the mirror and hissed and attacked. Shortly after I curled back up and heard one of the cats getting sick. I knew I had to turn on the light in the morning before I stepped out of the netting. Cats I tell ya, interesting creatures. Glad I heard the cat getting sick. (hairball) I realized it was the tabby that had gotten sick, right at the foot of the bed on the floor. Glad I checked for sure!!

I attempted to take a shower. It was warm for about 3 minutes. And while I shower fast, apparently I wasn’t fast enough. All of a sudden the water was cold and never got warm again. However, just like yesterday it was ok because I wasn’t dying when I get out of the shower.

We had breakfast at 7 then took another walk through the park. Each walk they take us to each elephant and tell us a little bit about their story. All the stories so sad, the elephants really are gentle Giants and it’s crushing to hear how their soul was decimated by their previous owners.

After the walk we packed up our rooms and had a bit of free time. I just hung out in the table area, you sit 3 feet from the elephants when they are in the area and it’s just a beautiful place to watch the world go by. It’s also full of dogs and cats which provide for entertainment as well.

They took us up the hill to another buffet like so we had an overview look of the park. It was actually very peaceful and felt like a whole other planet up there.

After lunch we got to go feed an elephant. Her name is Tilly and she was awesome. We went to the river and she was there waiting for us to feed her bananas. We had about 50 pounds of bananas for her and we all took time feeding her and touching her trunk. She loved the bananas and was just spectacular to admire up close. She attempted to eat my go pro, so I can’t wait to see what that looks like!! She went into the river and had a bath after she finished the bananas.

After we finished hanging out with Tilly we went to the elephant kitchen and helped prepare rice balls. Rice, oats, bananas (peeled byus), rice wheat (outside of the rice), and some corn we’re all smooshed (by us)  into tennis ball size servings for the elderly elephant. Elephants loose their teeth around age 60 and usually die within 10 years after loosing them, but in captivity since they can be fed soft food they can live to be over 90!!

That was our last activity at the Nature Park. They loaded us in our vans and took us back into Chiang Mai to drop us off at our hotels. I had booked at a different hotel and boy did I pick right. It’s like a resort. It apparently has 3 pools, spa, 3 restaurants, and a coffee shop. The room is nice, very American though. It even has a mini bar. But for $37/night I couldn’t pass up the nice amenities.

I gentured out into Chiang Mai to find some dinner. There are massage places everywhere so I ended up getting a massage first.

Thai massages are painful. But after you can literally feel your muscles. Not painful, but warm. My back didn’t hurt at all, if anything it helped because of the stretching. They do stand on you. And I don’t know how they keep their balance. But it was good. Glad I did it. A whole $10 with tip for the hour long massage!!

Found a quick little place for dinner on my way back to the hotel and had some pad Thai and spring rolls. Food here is more expensive than Bangkok but it’s still so cheap. I paid less than $10 for dinner as well!!

Tomorrow I’m going to explore the town. I heard there is a peak you can climb so I’ll check that out first.