Review of the Intercontinental Koh Samui

View from the lobby of the Intercontinental Samui

View from the lobby of the Intercontinental Samui

After ten thousand miles of flying and thirty plus hours of travel, we reached our final destination, the Intercontinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort.  As our van arrived at the resort, the seemingly endless amount of travel to reach Koh Samui suddenly seemed all worth it.  We strolled into the open air lobby of the hotel which is set on top of a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.

View of hotel from the beach

View of hotel from the beach

We were warmly greeted by the hotel staff and the check in process was seamless.  If the views from the lobby were any indication, we were in for a relaxing, amazing week in an idyllic location.  The first amazing aspect of the Intercontinental Samui, besides the location, was the price.

Another view from the lobby

Another view from the lobby

For a luxury resort, the cost was extremely reasonable compared to other resorts on the island.  Given the location of the resort on the side of mountain, we opted for a room toward the top of the hotel with views overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.  This happened to be the cheapest and best option in our opinion.  The other options included bungalows located on the beach or villas scattered along the mountainside.

One of the infinity pools

One of the infinity pools

As we entered our room, sweeping views of the Gulf of Thailand awaited us.  The room was beautifully furnished with a luxurious bathroom, a very comfortable bed, and a spacious balcony.  An added bonus of the room was the excellent air conditioning.

Room at the Intercontinental Samui

Room at the Intercontinental Samui

The heat and humidity in Thailand was unlike anything we had ever experienced.  Within minutes of being outside, the sauna-like heat would hit us.

Stretch of beach near the resort

Stretch of beach near the resort

Luckily, the hotel provided complimentary bottles of water every day.  Although any vacation is a break from daily routines, we developed our own routines at the hotel.    Our day would usually begin with buffet breakfast which was set at the top of hotel overlooking the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

The buffet was wonderfully appointed with western and eastern options which included exotic fruits, an omelet station, and just about anything anybody could want for breakfast.  After such a hearty breakfast, I would usually try to work out by either climbing the stairs around the resort or using the workout facility.  It was 225 steps from the beach to our room. However, if you didn’t want to take the steps, there were always plenty of buggies to take you wherever you wanted to go.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Factoring in the humidity and heat (temperatures were in the mid 90′s throughout our stay), climbing over twenty flights of stairs a couple of times per morning was a great workout.  The air conditioned workout facility was located right on the beach with panoramic windows that overlooked the water.

One of the draw bridges located in lush vegetation

One of the draw bridges located in lush vegetation

After a morning workout, it was usually time to relax by one of the many pools situated throughout the resort.  My wife and I both preferred the infinity pool located just adjacent to the lobby which had amazing views of the Gulf of Thailand.  A mid-afternoon lunch by the beach was capped off with a leisurely stroll along the empty stretch of sand under the intense Thailand sun.

Beach side restaurant for lunch

Beach side restaurant for lunch

The service was impeccable throughout the resort.  Hotel staff were friendly and conscientious.  The food was amazing including our nightly dish of pad thai.  The only bad part of the vacation was that it went too fast.

Delicious pad thai for dinner

Delicious pad thai for dinner

The days were so enjoyable and the setting so beautiful that we really didn’t want it to end.    On the afternoon of our last day, the impending post-trip melancholy started to set in.

Another infinity pool

Another infinity pool

As we departed from the Intercontinental Samui, we started dreaming of a day when we would return to this wonderful place.

Air Bar at the Intercontinental Samui at sunset - featured in "1000 places to see before you die"

Air Bar at the Intercontinental Samui at sunset – featured in “1000 places to see before you die”

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World’s Largest Water Fight

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World's Largest Water Fight

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World’s Largest Water Fight

Sometimes when you travel you happen to get a little bit lucky.  This past April, we arrived in Thailand on April 13th which happened to coincide with the start of Songkran Festival which is celebrated in Thailand as New Year’s.  We boarded our Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui and the pilot wished everybody a happy Songkran day.  This came as a surprise to us as we had no clue it was New Year’s in this part of the world.  The airline also handed out a waterproof pouch for everyone on board the flight that day to use once they arrived in Koh Samui.

Truck full of people with water guns

Truck full of people with water guns

Songkran is often called the world’s largest water fight and this moniker is certainly appropriate.  Once we arrived in Koh Samui, we had about an hour drive from the airport to our hotel on the other side of the island.  Almost as soon as we left the airport, you could see it was not a typical day.  In the course of an hour drive from the airport to our hotel, our van was probably pelted with buckets of water at least hundred times.

People were lined up on the side of the street with buckets of water or water guns, spraying water at anything that passed by, whether it was cars, trucks, or people on motorbikes.  The whole scene was extremely festive.  You could see extreme joy that the locals and expats took in celebrating Songkran.  After an interesting hour long drive, we finally arrived at our hotel where the celebration continued.  Needless to say, after almost twenty plus hours on a plane, it was a welcome sight to experience such a unique holiday.

Roads were completely wet even though it wasn't raining

Roads were completely wet even though it wasn’t raining

Here are some other pictures from Songkran:

 

Anything goes during Songkran

Anything goes during Songkran

People also throw chalk in addition to water

People also throw powder/chalk in addition to water

 

 

Windshield pelted with chalk and water

Windshield pelted with chalk and water

 

Our Journey To Thailand

Thai Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

My wife’s spring break from school this year came in the middle of April, just in time for us to avoid a serious case of cabin fever.  After the hellacious winter that we experienced in Wisconsin, we were determined to go somewhere really warm.  For many years we contemplated making the journey to Thailand but for whatever reason had not.  Given the long flight to Thailand from the United States, I had always wanted to spend two weeks there but I didn’t foresee a time in the near future where this would be possible.  I looked up the projected weather in Thailand in April and it happened to be dry season.  Temperatures were generally in the high eighties or nineties during this part of the year which sounded pretty good to us.  Sunshine, warm weather, beaches, and new destination for us made for an easy decision to go to Thailand.

Long stretch of beach on Koh Samui

Thailand happens to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world with Bangkok being the epicenter of any traveler’s journey.  In my earlier travels, I would have never thought of not visiting Bangkok. With a solid week in Thailand, we wanted to focus on one area of the country with the possibility of returning to other areas in the future.  The idea of spending time in a crowded, hot, humid capital city with horrendous traffic after spending upwards of twenty hours on a plane held no appeal to us.  Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui all were possibilities to visit but we really wanted to be near the water so Chiang Mai would have to wait.  Ultimately, we decided to visit Koh Samui over Phuket although I have no doubt either place would have been great.   Thus, we transited through Bangkok on our way to Koh Samui without ever going into the city.  This would be considered heresy in the backpacker world but my wife and I are not backpackers and had no qualms about spending our week on the majestic island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.  In hindsight, we did not regret our decision.

Coast Line on Koh Samui

A Weekend In Florida’s Emerald Coast: Destin, FL

Florida's Emerald Coast

Florida’s Emerald Coast

I have to say that I seriously considered moving to Florida after spending this last winter in Wisconsin.  The extreme cold seemed to never end.  Day after day of below zero temperatures and snow banks that seemed to grow higher by the week, all made for a serious case of cabin fever.  In fact, in my three plus decades, this was easily the worst winter I can remember. Luckily, I have parents who are happily retired and like to spend a couple of months each winter in Destin, Florida.

View from my parent's condo

View from my parent’s condo

As a Christmas present, my wife and I received airplane tickets to visit my parents for a long weekend at the end of February.  This long weekend came at a great time as my tolerance for the cold had reached a breaking point.  Much is written about Florida from a tourism standpoint but you never hear that much about the Emerald Coast which is perplexing to me. In the whole state of Florida, I have yet visit anywhere as pretty as the Emerald Coast and have not found a beach that remotely compares to the beaches in Destin.

Long stretch of beach in Destin

Long stretch of beach in Destin

As we arrived in Destin, the weather was very nice for the end of February.  During our three day stay, the temperatures were in the high sixties and mostly sunny.  Given that Destin is in the northern part of the Florida, temperatures can be cooler during the winter but we had a very nice weekend.  My parent’s condo was located right on the beach and their patio had a great view of the Gulf.

Empty Florida beaches in February except for a couple of fishing poles

Empty Florida beaches in February except for a couple of fishing poles

Our three days there were spent relaxing, enjoying the good weather, walking the beach, and eating some fresh seafood.  I love Destin mainly because of the amazing beaches and beautiful water.  Each morning, we took a seven mile walk on the beach.  The sand is very soft along the beach in Destin that it almost feels like powder.  There are not many sea shells that wash up on the beach so walking is very comfortable.  Combine a great beach for walking with clear emerald water and it is truly a special place.

The Crab Shack restaurant right on the beach in Destin

The Crab Shack restaurant right on the beach in Destin

Because we were there in later February, the beach was relatively deserted.  If we had come back a few weeks later in March, the spring break crowds arrive which continues into the summer months.

Harbor Walk Marina in Destin filled with shops and restaurants

Harbor Walk Marina in Destin filled with shops and restaurants

In addition to the beaches and water, Destin has some great restaurants. Specifically, we enjoyed going to Dewey Destin’s.  The jumbo shrimp are always one of my favorites.  My wife ordered the trigger fish, which was the best individual piece of seafood I have ever tasted.

Nearby Rosemary Beach

Nearby Rosemary Beach

Besides Destin, the neighboring communities along the Emerald Coast are worth visiting.  We drove east from Destin to Rosemary Beach which was a very interesting beach community.

European feel to Rosemary Beach

European feel to Rosemary Beach

Take a village in the Swiss Alps and place it on the beach along Florida’s Emerald Coast and you have a very photogenic scene.  Overall, Destin continues to delight me every time I visit.  I can’t wait to go back next winter!

Entrance to one of the beach towns close to Destin

Entrance to one of the beach towns close to Destin

Final Thoughts On French Polynesia And Our Honeymoon

The sun setting over Moorea and our honeymoon

The sun setting over Moorea and our honeymoon

Although it’s been a couple of years since our honeymoon, both my wife and I look back very fondly at those magical couple of days spent in paradise.  French Polynesia lived up to everything a honeymoon should be and more.  It was beautiful, serene, quiet, relaxing and the overwater bungalows make this one of the most unique destinations in the world.  It was expensive but you can’t put a price on an experience such as staying in an overwater bungalow.  If there was ever a place to get away from it all, French Polynesia is it.  There are destinations that one visits that are enjoyable but you don’t necessarily feel a great urge to return right away.  One of my travel mantras is that I try never to return to a place I have previously traveled to because there are so many beautiful and exciting places to visit in the world.  However, my wife and I both knew that the moment our plane took off from Papeete, we wanted to return someday.  It was during our stay on Moorea, that you have time to reflect on your life and you realize how fortunate you are to visit one of the more beautiful places in the world.  Life was so exceedingly great during those five nights that we spent on Moorea that you forget about the stresses of work and the daily grind.  To anybody who actually reads my blog, I can highly recommend a trip to French Polynesia.  The price will be high but the reward and memories will last a lifetime.

Not many views like this in the world - the beauty of French Polynesia

Not many views like this in the world – the beauty of French Polynesia