That one time I ate horseshoe crab eggs…

 

One of the true joys of travelling is getting the opportunity to try new foods. For most of my life I’ve been anything but an adventurous eater. If you sat me down in front of a plate of spaghetti or teriyaki chicken and I would be set. However, this year in particular I’ve made a concerted effort to get out there and test out new foods during my travels.

I few weeks ago in Iceland I tried fermented shark, puffin, and guillemot. And on my most recent trip to Thailand I added to horseshoe crab eggs (roe) to my lists of adventurous eats.

horseshoe crab eggs

Served at a popular seafood restaurant in Pattaya, the dish came in its very own horseshoe crab plate. You know, just in case you needed a reminder of where the roe came from.

Yes, yes, but what did it taste like?

Well, let’s just say horseshoe crab roe falls short of earning a ringing endorsement from me. It didn’t taste bad, but the problem was that it didn’t taste like anything at all. If I had to compare it to something, it would be undercooked pasta. Kind of hard, kind of dry, and kind of not that tasty.

So the horseshoe crab didn’t go down as a winner in my books, but it was certainly worth a try. It’s not everyday you get a chance to chow down on the eggs of a living fossil.

Plus, I was in Thailand, a country where you can never order just one dish. You need at least three or four different items to make up a proper sit down dinner here,  and that’s where a few seafood staples came to the rescue.

Fresh crab and fish are in abundance along this part of the Thai coastline, and the restaurant I visited near Pattaya proudly served up the day’s catch alongside a bevy of tantalising sauces and dips. Add to that a little steamed rice, a bubbling bowl of tom yum, and you’ve got yourself a feast!

I’m back in London now, which means I’m back to eating my regular, boring food. However I’ll be in Stockholm in the beginning of October and am keen to take my tastebuds out for a spin again. If you have any suggestions on what to try over there, let me know!

 

Thailand Through a Square Lens

 

Well my lovelies, it’s the festive season and that means I’m getting ready for a new travel adventure. I’ll be spending Christmas in Germany this year and will be separated from my beloved laptop. That means, unfortunately, that I won’t be able to post anything to the blog until the New Year.

You’ll be able to follow my adventures through the German winter wonderland on Twitter and Instagram.

In the mean time, here are some Instagram snaps from my latest trip to beautiful Bangkok.

Happy Holidays!

Folk Band at a Talad Nam (Floating Market) on the outskirts of Pattaya.

A photo posted by Girl in London (@girlinlondon_rtw) on

If you’ve been to Bangkok before then you’re probably familiar with the city’s distinctive above-street cross walks. Not only do they keep pedestrians away from the [insane] traffic, but they also offer up great views!

Who doesn’t love a good #strideby? This one comes courtesy of a local tuk tuk.

Bangkok is the unofficial capital of street food and it’s easy to see why. Street food stalls are quite literally on every corner!

Speaking of street food . . .

This is my favourite photo of the trip. It may not be the best from a technical perspective, but it just reminds me of the contrast between Bangkok and London.

 

A photo posted by Girl in London (@girlinlondon_rtw) on

The Chao Phraya River runs through the centre of Bangkok and if you visit I recommend taking a water taxi through the city. It’s a traffic-free way of seeing Bangkok and there are so many different little areas to explore.

Learning to Swim in the Andaman Sea

 

We all have our shortcomings. Some of us can’t dance. Other can’t drive a stick or ice skate. For me, it’s always been swimming (in addition to whistling and snapping . . . I just cannot get those two down!). You see, at the impressionable age of four I found myself happily drifting along in a community pool, comforted by the buoyancy of my kiddie inner tube. What should have been a magical summer childhood memory quickly turned to terror as my scrawny four-year-old self suddenly slipped through the safety of my inflatable tube straight down into the deep end of the pool.

In lieu of any sort of human instinct to flail and preserve my own life, I was motionless and remember watching bubbles rise to the surface as I headed in the opposite direction. It was right then and there, just four years into the campaign known as life, that I resigned and thought to myself, “I am going to die now”. Moments later I was rescued from being added to the pool drowning statistics for that year by my mother.

Despite desperate attempts on the part of my parents to get me back in the pool so I could properly learn how to swim and prevent the traumatic event from occurring again, I steadfastly refused to do anything beyond wading waist deep in calm water for over 5 years. At 10, peer pressure from summer pool parties had me clinging desperately to the sides of swimming pools as I watched my friends splash carelessly in the deep end. By my teens I had managed to work my way up to a sad sort of doggy paddle, which involved me waving my limbs about until I could achieve about the speed of a snail; and by my early 20s I managed to learn how to tread water for a few minutes.

Satun, Thailand

Taking this story into the present day, I was very generously gifted a 3-day trip to Satun, Thailand recently, which included a full multi-island tour complete with swimming, beach and snorkeling excursions. Not wanting to miss out on exploring a new part of Thailand, I accepted the offering with a bit of trepidation.

Satun is located on Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia and includes dozens of postcard perfect islands strewn across the Andaman Sea. With most foreign tourists heading to nearby Phuket or Krabi (they have better transport links), Satun is left with a handful of Thai tourists and countless white sand beaches with crystal clear, calm waters.

Following a flight into Hat Yai, a shuttle ride, and a speed boat adventure; I arrived on the beautiful island of Koh Lipe. My vacation package included a 2-night stay at a resort located right on Pattaya Beach (not to be confused with Pattaya city). Immediately upon checking in, I dumped my gear in my room and struck out for a spirited round of hardcore wading.

Koh Lipe

As I made my way past several rows of sunbeds and a sprinkling of French tourists, I entered the water timidly. Parts of Pattaya Beach are extremely shallow and during low tide it’s possible to wander over 100 ft from shore before the ground drops offs. The first thing that struck me as I took my first steps into the water was how warm it was. Looking down, I also noticed that the crystal clear waters below me were barely moving. Indeed, Pattaya Beach is so calm that you might mistake it for the most beautiful swimming pool in the world.

Clear waters in Satun, Thailand

Encouraged by the gentle waters, I headed out farther and farther from the shore until my feet began to tiptoe over the sand. This would normally be the point where I would turn around and head for more solid ground, but for some reason I didn’t. Perhaps it was the water’s tender embrace or the buoyancy provided by the sea. Whatever the reason was, I decided to go for it. With one mighty bound I splashed my way around a sloppy freestyle stroke until the sand beneath me turned to into a series hard coral reefs, and I found myself in the company of tropical fish.

Fish in shallow water

I had realized as quickly as I made the decision to swim out beyond my comfort zone that I had finally shed my inherent fear of water. Acting as if a giant weight had been taken off my shoulders, I swam furiously for the next several hours in jubilant triumph.

With my fears conquered, I was looking forward to the following day. The itinerary was packed with island-hopping and snorkeling, and I wasn’t going to miss out on any of it. After a dismal “American-style” breakfast at the hotel, I slathered myself in sunscreen and stepped onto an awaiting speedboat.

Tarutao Island

The next 10 hours flew by in a blur of underwater adventures. Our boat toured Tarutao National Park, which is comprised of 51 pristine islands scattered across the calm azure waters of the Andaman Sea. Stopping first at Tarutao Island for lunch, I was greeted by feral cats and pigs. Hiking through the island’s shaded interior, Tarutao lays claim to a magnificent golden sand beach. Almost completely deserted, I had this shallow warm water paradise. Koh Kai (Egg Island) was the next port of call and is best known for its natural rocky archway. Before visitors began frequenting this isolated destination it was also a haven for nesting sea turtles, which is why the locals named it Egg Island.

Koh Kai (Egg Island)

View from the boat

Each year, thousands of tourists flock to the Andaman Sea for its excellent diving and snorkeling spots. In the spring and summer, the water is calm enough to snorkel in the open sea. There are several known spots for less experienced swimmers and snorkelers known to all the boat drivers in the area. Most are marked by a line of buoys and all boats offer life jackets for both adults and children. After strapping on my gear, I lept into the sea and enthusiastically dunked my head under the waterline to reveal a thriving, colorful ecosystem comprised of hard corals, sea anemones and tropical fish.

Feral island kitten

The water was dense with clown fish, parrot fish and angelfish. Gazing down to the sea floor over 30 feet beneath me were clustered of hard coral and seaweed. The entire experience was a remarkable one and I could only imagine that it would be comparable to swimming in an enormous aquarium. Heated by the tropical sun, the salty water felt as warm as a bathtub and each spot the boat lead us too was filled with more and more sea life.

After a full day of exploring the Andaman I found myself practically cured of my irrational fear of water. Now that I am finally free of this burden, I am re-evaluating my travel bucket list to incorporate a whole new set of amazing island destinations.

The Ruins of Ayutthaya

 

As the only Southeast Asian nation to successfully withstand European colonization attempts, Thailand’s history as a unified kingdom stretches back into the Middle Ages. Today, Bangkok stands as the kingdom’s vibrant capital. 11,000,000+ inhabitants strong, the city is a powerhouse in this region of the world and attracts visitors from all corners of the globe. Visit Bangkok today and its size, density and centuries-old temples make it hard to believe that there was a ever a time when the country’s capital laid elsewhere.

150 years before Columbus set sail for India, Bangkok was merely a fishing village and Thailand’s King U-Thong made his way to the Valley of the Chao Praya River after fleeing an outbreak of smallpox. It was there that he founded the kingdom’s capital of Ayutthaya 80km north of modern-day Bangkok. Named after the birthplace of Rama in India, Ayutthaya rose to become one of the most powerful cities in Asia over the next 400 years.

Set amongst a lush valley with excellent waterway access, Ayutthaya flourished thanks in part to an open and friendly trade policy with the Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese. By the year 1600 there were an estimated 300,000 people living within its borders – 100,000 more than London at the time. Over the next 150 years the city thrived and its population ballooned to over 1,000,000 in the mid-1700s, asserting Ayutthaya as the strongest power within Southeast Asia. French ambassadors likened the city’s size and wealth to that of Paris and at the height of its influence it was poised to become a major contender in a rapidly globalizing world. Then, in 1767, after series of long battles with the Burmese, the walls of the city were breached and Ayutthaya was burned to the ground. With the city destroyed and the king murdered, Ayutthaya was abandoned and construction of a new capital to the south began.

Today, only a trace of once was remains, but the ruins of Ayutthaya still evoke a sense of grandeur and elegance. Distinctive prangs knocked out of alignment from fierce battles and centuries of rainfall jut out organically from the grassy lawns of the Ayutthaya Historical Park. With their protective sheaths eroded, their original brickwork is exposed, allowing you to peer into the very heart of each structure. Sculptures of Buddha dot the landscape and are carefully tended to by locals as many Thai nationals still come to Ayutthaya to pray.

On the ground you can feel the crunch of broken bricks beneath your feet, perhaps shattered in the bloody war that took place here 250 years ago. In the air dragonflies buzz in dense clusters and effortlessly navigate their way around ancient temple spires partially painted with the green of clinging plants. In the distance are several mighty Asian elephants. Though they’re carrying tourists, these magnificent beasts still add to the mystique of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ayutthaya may no longer be compared to Paris, but I would argue that its ruins are as fascinating as those of the Roman Empire. Left mostly unpreserved, the physical condition of the ancient city has become a spectacle in its own right. Partially reclaimed by nature, the ancient temples feel more organic than man made and are reminiscent of Incan or Mayan ruins.

Easily accessible from Bangkok via a cruise along the Chao Praya River or car, the ruins of Ayutthaya can be easily explored in a day with plenty of time leftover for elephant rides and viewing the city’s old Portuguese settlement. For those staying in Bangkok, this is a day trip that cannot be missed.