Similan Islands – Tranquil Hidden Gems in Thailand

There are many reasons why I love Phuket and keep going back there. Be it the relaxed pace of life there or the cohort amalgamation of people from all over the world looking to have a time of their lives. This “Pearl of Andaman” is an excellent take-off point or a gateway to several beautiful islands scattered across the Andaman sea.The Similan Islands is one such place that is often overlooked by visitors who mostly head to the much publicized Phi-Phi islands instead.

Islands in Thailand
View from the top of Similan Island

About the Similan Islands

The Similan Islands is a cluster of eleven islands that are actually part of the Mu Ko Similan National Park, located off the coast of Phang Nga bay. The waters around these islands are home to a plethora of diverse marine ecosystem which provides some excellent diving and snorkeling spots. However, three of the eleven islands are off-limits to tourists as they are entirely functional for the marine life protection and preservation initiative of the national park. These islands were the first Thai territories to get hit during the disastrous 2004 Tsunami resulting in extensive damage to the underwater life which left the place with damaged corals and displaced species. Dedicated efforts are being made now to conserve and protect the reefs which shelter thousands of sea turtles, manta rays and the occasional sharks.

Similan Islands
Pristine blue waters around Similan Islands

It was my love for beaches, islands, the sea and the urge to go places that are not the most popular that led me to visit these islands. A 90 minute boat ride from Khao Lak took us to a cove that was brimming with nature at its most honest and serene best – under the sea and on the land. Snorkeling in the clear waters alongside the stunning variety of marine species, some amazingly beautiful coral reefs and a couple of curious sea turtles, I did not want to stop.

Similan Island
Coast of Similan Island 9

These islands are absolutely devoid of the usual rapid development activities and have hardly any modern amenities to mention. Filled with forests and surrounded with turquoise waters all around, the beaches here are probably the most pristine I have seen in Thailand till now. Beautiful pieces of sea stones and corals wash ashore with every wave that hits the beach. Inland, the forests are thick, green and humid with a few harmless monkeys jumping around. I had a friendly encounter with one of the thousands of hairy-legged crabs that crawl all over the island.

Beaches of Thailand
White sand beaches of Similan Islands


On the island, there is a “Hill” which is actually a formation of huge rock boulders piled up on one another. The summit of this hill is an excellent viewpoint that provides stunning views of the island and miles across the surrounding ocean. However, the climb to the top can be quite rough and physically exhausting as one would need to go through several steep narrow passages between the rocks. There were quite a few people who took that climb as I realized it was worth all the effort once I reached to the top.

Islands of Thailand
Beautiful view of the island cove from the summit of the hill
Islands of Thailand
View of the ocean from the summit of the hill at Similan Island

These islands are entirely managed by the national park authorities with the sole purpose of sustaining and protecting the marine ecosystem. Visitors to these islands are always provided with special guidelines on responsible tourism before setting foot on the shores or venturing under water. There is a constant effort to keep these islands safe, clean and away from the commercialization that has happened to Phi Phi over the years. This is visible from the availability of accommodation which are limited to camping tents and basic bungalows by the sea which are also provided by the national park management.

Similan camping

How to get there and back

Tour agencies from Khao Lak operate fast boats to these islands everyday. You can choose for the day trip that departs at 9 AM and returns by 5 PM or the overnight camping trip which departs at 9 AM and returns the next morning. Camping on this quiet island can be fun and peaceful at the same time. The Fantastic Similan Travel group are well-known for their outstanding service with responsible and efficient staff. Visit for more info on their available trips.


I found the below two websites providing the best information on the Similan Islands. Various aspects of the place like the history, wildlife and accommodation process are available on these sites.

Similan Islands



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Similan Islands – Tranquil Hidden Gems in Thailand

Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

Indonesia – a country I keep going back to. Yes I have only been to Bali and the Gili Islands before but still there is something about this country that pulls me every time. Now that I have the luxury of time by my side, I spent almost the entire month of April as a volunteer in Balebo village, South Sulawesi. Thanks to the wonderful folks of “I am from here”, I got to live and experience the place like a local. There is something about spending days in a rural setting as it brings back memories of my own childhood and my native home in India.

Living a life entirely different from what I was used to over the last eight years has taught me a few lessons. Funny, tough, soothing, realistic and pleasing at the same time, these few things that I have learnt after living for almost a month in Indonesia.

The virtue of Patience

This is something I have not technically learnt on this trip because I already am a quite patient guy. But what these 20 days made me realize is that I need to be even more patient when I am at an entirely new place, surrounded by new people and different cultures. For obvious reasons, English is not widely spoken or understood in the local communities, homes, shops, travel agents etc. That is where the need arises to be more patient when interacting with the people. I used to go to the local shop near my accommodation and it did take me some time to get across my points on what I wanted to buy and asking for the prices. After a while, continuous calls of “Hello Mr” from the kids while I was buying stuff at the shop felt like sweet music. Every place in the world and the people of those places work at a different pace which we might not be used to. With patience and a friendly smile, communicating with people becomes easy. The turnaround time of getting things done might not change but having more patience does allow us to slow down ourselves for good and actually be a part of this different life.

Playing with the village kids in the river

The doorways are not built for tall people  

Well this so true in the rural areas as much as I have seen. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hit my head when entering/exiting some of the sheds and houses. By the end of this trip, the top of my head resembled the landscape of Bali with two big bumps the size of Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung.

Masamba - Indonesia
A hut made from recycled stuff in Masamba village
House made from recycled stuff

Landscapes can be simple yet perfect

Oh the natural beauty of South Sulawesi!! Perfect nature does not always have to be about snow-capped peaks or white sand beaches. Something as simple as an open ground dotted with palm trees, thick green forests and steady flowing rivers. For me it was more of the river and a couple of visits to the nearby waterfall that made me fall for the scenic beauty of this place. Lying down on the grass banks or on the huge boulders by the river and listening to Sam Garret’s “The River” (thank you Emmiina). I could not help but realize that perfection is defined by our own perception of it. Sometimes you can find perfection during a stroll on a windy cloudy evening and sometimes you find it on the beaches of Bali. For me, the beautiful landscape of South Sulawesi will make me explore other parts of rural Indonesia.



Community is family and vice versa

Understanding the people and the community of Balebo village was an real eye-opener for me. When I left my corporate job, I was searching for an environment where respect for somebody would not be determined by the amount of wealth he/she has. I was looking for a place where people would not discriminate each other based on one’s financial abilities. More importantly, I was looking for a place where there would be smiles in abundance rather than faces filled with arrogance and ego. I found that place in this village, to a large extent. Here, the concept of family is not limited to just blood relatives or confined within the four walls of a house. 

A close-knit community where people actually know each other and the doors of homes are open to all. This is a place where people do not hesitate to talk to strangers because there are virtually no strangers in this village. Even foreigners like me were no more strangers after a few hours on our first day. There were days when after I woke up in the morning I took a stroll along the small road just to hear chants of “Hello Mr.” from all the neighbors and the kids. Ironic, because during my 6 years of stay in Singapore, I never knew who my neighbors were.


Playing cards  

Yeah I know I am thirty years old and I never learnt to play cards. That changed when one fine day as we were taking a break after some work at the garden, Katharina said “Do you wanna play cards?”. I wasn’t embarrassed but it did feel weird to say that I don’t know any card games but I would want to learn though. That’s when she taught me a game – which later became quite popular among others during our stay – and it was funnily named “Shithead” (according to her)!!! And spending the evenings with the local guys there led to me learning a couple more of these card games. So now I can at least say that I know how to play cards – although I am still an infant in the world of cards.


You don’t just run an adventure marathon, you train for it and then run it!!

My mind still goes back to that moment when I decided to postpone my departure from Masamba by a couple of days after I heard there was an adventure marathon happening on the 23rd of April. I just knew I wanted to be a part of this marathon because of two reasons – 1. This would be my first ever marathon.  2. If not now then who knows when I would get a next opportunity. But I overestimated the strength in my legs when I decided to just run this marathon. After starting steadily for the first 90 minutes on flat terrain, over the next 3 hours, my legs went through and endured what seemed like an advanced version of an army training exercise. All we had to do was walk fast, climb up, descend down, cross the river and repeat. It was purely due to my excitement (of my first marathon and anticipation of the finish line), some willpower and Alex egging me on, that I could reach the finish line. That entire evening and the next morning, I was just thinking of that episode from How I met your mother when Barney runs a marathon. I realized, you don’t just run a marathon without training for it. Would I run that marathon again? Hell yeah!! Even though my legs hurt and the sun was brutal, I loved it.


The world is huge but people are closer than we assume

Yes, the world is a big big place and somehow I feel that had led us to believe that people are far away from each other too. But I have realized that people are or could be much closer than what we assume. People living in different places have more in common that we can even think of. During my stay, I watched an Indian TV serial(dubbed in Bahasa of course) for far more times than I have watched it when I was in India. I listened to and sang “Tum Hi ho” with the folks there countless times, far more than I did before. While teaching English to the kids, I understood the importance of communication, real communication and not the Facebook/Watsapp stuff.

English Classes

Few friendships that were made during my stay, did not need months to grow. Exchanging cultural notes with Matewai, learning a few Spanish words from Marta, trying to pronounce German words from Katharina without choking myself or learning about an unknown place in India from Alex and Helen and finally calling the elderly couple – who’s family I was staying with – Mama and Papa, makes me believe that times have changed and people are open to us, now more than ever.


For all the memories, the work at the garden, carrying logs with the guys, sitting on top of a loaded truck holding onto a rope while the vehicles trudges through sharp curves on muddy roads with a steep fall into the river on one side, the caring smiles of Mama and Papa, my friends and my lovely students – everyone and everything has taught me something. Big or small – a lesson is always a lesson. Beautiful and near-perfect, Indonesia already feels like home to me.

Rural Indo Pin                   three-weeks-in


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Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

Singapore : Five Things Not to Miss About This City

Home, Bond, Learning, Growth and Realization – these five words hold a whole lot of importance in a traveler’s life. During my journey over the years, I have come across some places that made me understand the deeper meaning of these five words. Singapore, where I had spent six years of my life, is one such place that will always be special to me. Today, it has been five months since I quit my corporate job and left the shores of Singapore in pursuit of my travel dreams. And as a tribute to the connect I feel with this prosperous nation, I will dwell upon the five things that I miss the most about Singapore. 

The Taxi Rides

Taxi Singapore
Cab ride in Singapore @tamzexplores

Yes, I know this sounds like an odd and weird thing to miss about Singapore. Especially, to most people who live in Singapore, they would find it really strange and might ask,”What is so special about taxi rides in this city? “. Well, I have just two words,” The Stories “. I have taken numerous taxi rides during my stay in Singapore and on most occasions I chatted up with the driver. I must tell you, the taxi drivers in Singapore can be some of the most interesting folks to chat with. I used to listen to the life stories of those men and women, and some of those stories were actually quite memorable. Be it the stories about the transformation years of Singapore, complaints about some government policies or just the daily routine of a taxi driver’s life, listening to those stories is why I used to enjoy the taxi rides apart from the fact that the vehicles were really comfortable 🙂

The Landmarks of Singapore

Gardens By The Bay
Gardens By The Bay. Credit @ tamzexplores
Helix Bridge. Credit @ tamzexplores
Singapore Skyline
Marina Bay Waterfront. Credit @ tamzexplores

If you have ever visited Singapore or even read about this city, you would know that Singapore has some really amazing architectural landmarks. The world-renowned Marina Bay Sands Hotel, The Singapore Flyer – giant observation wheel and Gardens By The Bay are some of the most famous among them. I personally could not get enough of Gardens By The Bay and the Marina Bay Waterfront while I was in Singapore. Especially, the Marina Bay Waterfront was quite fascinating for me because of the unique changing skyline and structures that lit up all around the place. These iconic landmarks truly are a wonderful sight to behold once the sun goes down. These were the sights I never got tired of in Singapore.

Arab Street and Haji Lane

Arab Street, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores
Arab Street, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores

Make no mistake about the fact that Singapore, like any other major financial hubs, is quite fast-paced with mostly hectic work schedules. However, as you step out of the Bugis MRT station and head to the quarters of Arab Street, you are greeted with a relaxed atmosphere and laid-back vibes. The alleys of Haji Lane are dotted with some really cool cafes, restaurants and bars, some of which have live bands playing during the evenings. Located right behind the Sultan mosque, this quarter has a lot of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern restaurants that are worth a try. Touted as the ‘hipster district of Singapore’, this area has quite a few backpacker hostels and is very popular among travelers.  

The shores of East Coast Park

East Coast Park, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores
East Coast Park, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores

My favorite place in Singapore, East Coast Park is the most popular stretch of beach in this city. Although man-made, the beaches are a perfect getaway for friends and families especially during weekends. For me, this place was the perfect spot to relax after a long day at work. The concrete platforms that extend a distance into the sea is the best place to feel the cool ocean breeze and watch away as many folks try their hands at fishing.

The Food

Chicken Rice, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores
Chicken Rice, Singapore. Credit @ tamzexplores

I have traveled extensively in Thailand and Indonesia, the two countries known for their amazing cuisine. But there is something about the food scene of Singapore that is quite unique. The cultural diversity of this country reflects in the fusion that is visible in the wide range of culinary fare in Singapore. Today, Indonesian cuisine has become my favorite but I still miss the exciting variety of foods that is available in Singapore. Oh yes, I miss THE famous Chicken Rice!!

Five reasons why I miss Singapore, apart from the fact that this is the place where I attained financial stability and lived the most secure six years of my life. As we travelers say,” Every place in the world is my home”, I will always consider Singapore as one of my homes. A home where I grew as a person and a home that made me realize my dreams. Thank You Singapore!!

Why I Miss

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Singapore : Five Things Not to Miss About This City

Indonesia: Have Fun in Gili Trawangan Island

What is it about island getaways that is so irresistible? Is it the feeling of a free laid back life while being surrounded with so many elements of nature that makes the beer/cocktail/milkshakes taste that extra smooth? Especially when on an island like Gili Trawangan – also known as Gili T – where shenanigans of the outside world take a backseat to a natural rustic charm. An island so small that it can be circled around in one hour riding a bicycle yet it is big enough that even four days of fun might seem less. Once having set foot on the shores of the island one does not need a second invitation to say “When in Gili T, be like how this place deserves us to be”.

Lazying at the beach and/or Exploring the reefs

Beach GiliT
Empty beaches like this are everywhere on the island
The beautiful marine life off the coast
The beautiful marine life off the coast

Well, this is the most obvious and easiest thing to do on Gili T. The beaches are pristine white and the waters are crystal clear. Majority of the shoreline is surrounded by a network of coral reefs hence the scattering of many corals along the beach. Getting a Bintang and lying down on that white warm sand is an easy temptation. Even better, head out to the sea for a swim/snorkel past the shallow water and dead coral reefs to catch a glimpse of famed sea-turtles and beautiful marine life. You don’t even need to go out on a boat for snorkeling. Just rent the equipment from the many shops/bars/restaurants along the beach and head out yourself.

Taking in the sunsets

A shot of the amazing sunset with the backdrop of Bali
A shot of the amazing sunset with the backdrop of Bali
People enjoying the view at the sunset bar
People enjoying the view at the sunset bar

Oh the magical sunsets on display from the west coast of this island!! Every evening there is a grand spectacle put on by the setting sun along with the clouds, sea and the island of Bali at a distance. At around 5:30 PM, people from all over the island throng to the several sunset bars and the beaches on the west cost of Gili T. With a cold Bintang (yes I can’t stop gushing about it!!) and a beanbag chair, I enjoyed watching the sky turning from blue to orange and even purple on some days. Admittedly, this was the first time I witnessed folks clapping at the sheer beauty of a sunset.

Walking up the hill

The machinegun bunker
The machinegun bunker
View from the top of the hill
View from the top of the hill

Not many know that this island was a small but important part of World War II. The hill at Gili T has remains of a huge machine-gun bunker which was used by Japanese forces during the war. The hill itself is not at all high and the walk up to the top takes not more than 20 minutes. Soak in a little piece of history as you have a look at the several small bunkers and the machine-gun post. For the believers in the supernatural, get up to the top to defy a local myth of the hill being haunted. Honestly, the place did feel a bit spooky as it bore a desolate look in the middle of the afternoon with nobody around. Read more about this place here.

Eating – at the night market or elsewhere

Fresh seafood at Gili Trawangan
Food in Gili Trawangan
Barbecue skewers on the grill at Gili Trawangan night market
Food in Gili Trawangan
Food in plentiful at Gili Trawangan

Being an island gives this place an advantage of being an obvious paradise for seafood lovers. However, the food here is beyond just seafood. Cuisines from almost all over the world are to be found here. Places serving Western, European, Chinese and even a restaurant with Indian food are dotted all around the island – especially near to the harbor. Dine it at these many restaurants or head to the famous night market if you want to experience Indonesian cuisine and delicious barbecue in an open communal setting. For as low as 2$, you can have a decent meal while being in the company of unknown friends.

Making new friends

Boat Trips in Gili Trawangan
Take the boat trips from Gili Trawangan

If you are traveling by yourself to this place, chances are that at the end of your trip you will have made at least 4-5 friends. The celebratory vibes of this island makes it so easy to say or respond with a “Hello” to a complete stranger. Be it meeting folks on a snorkeling trip or dancing with folks in to the New Year and even the bartender remembering you after one evening of drinks, making new friends is the way to go here.


People keep saying that Gili T is too much commercialized and is overcrowded. Well, there is a reason why “crowds” of people come to this place and it is because they love this place. Yes, like every place there are a couple of drawbacks to this island. There is an underbelly of drug abuse (which is rampant across most tourist places in Indonesia) on this island due to the party atmosphere during the evenings and late nights. The “crowds” like all other tourist destinations will always have a few bad apples. It gets really really hot here – I mean this is probably the hottest place I’ve traveled to. The horse-driven carts – I did not use them just by looking at the state of those poor horses. I can’t imagine those creatures dragging tonnes of baggage around all day.

But inspite of the above drawbacks, I love Gili T. For me it is one of the best island getaways that can ever be. For its beaches, the friendly turtles, the amazing sunsets and for all the memories I’ve had with people, I will go back there someday soon.

How to reach

From Bali – Take the fast boat from any of the three ports Serangan, Padang Bai and Amed. Tickets cost around 45 USD one way to the island(s) and the journey takes from 60 – 100 minutes. You can book the tickets from any travel agent in Bali. You could also take the public ferry which is much cheaper but takes 5 hours to reach the islands.

From Lombok – Take the fast boat from Teluk Nara or Teluk Kodek located along the West Coast of Lombok. The journey takes roughly 30 minutes due to the close proximity of the islands to Lombok. You could also take the public boats from Bangsal harbor which takes longer but it much cheaper than the fast boats.

**If you are lucky, you can spot some dolphins on the way.



  • Gili Trawangan is the largest among the group of three Gili islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, Gili Meno. These three islands are located in the Lombok Strait between the islands of Bali and Lombok.
  • Renting a bicycle should actually be the first thing you should do after you check-in to your accommodation. The island of Gili T (also the other two Gili islands) does not have a single motorized vehicle which is one of the major reasons I love this place. Bicycles and horse-driven carts are the only two modes of commute here.
  • Stock up on water as this island does not have a water supply of its own. Water is being brought to this island everyday from other places.
  • Avoid taking luggage that have roller wheels. The fast boats will drop you right on the beach. You don’t want to be dragging around that luggage on the sand.
  • Luxury resorts, hostels and homestays are the three types of accommodation available here. For a more social experience, opt for a homestay.


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Indonesia: Have Fun in Gili Trawangan Island

Thailand: Best of Thai Food in Chiang Mai – A Photo Essay

A small city in Northern Thailand surrounded by hills and lush-green forests, Chiang Mai has turned into one of the most visited destinations in Southeast Asia. The beautiful temples dotted all over and in the outskirts of Chiang Mai draw visitors from all over the world. However it is the amazing array of Thai food that this city serves which makes for an authentic Thai experience. From the numerous hip cafes and the local restaurants to the bustling food markets, Chiang Mai has some of the most lip-smacking food when it comes to Thai cuisine.

During the eight days in Chiang Mai, I have been part of several misadventures including snakebites and an almost damaged iPhone. However, sampling the different foods in the night markets did make things better. Here are some of the best foods I have had in Chiang Mai.

Chicken and long beans in red curry paste
Chicken and long beans in red curry paste
Green Mango Salad
Green Mango Salad

The green Mango salad or Som Tam Mamuang was the first thing I ate after reaching Chiang Mai. This is one of my all time favorite dishes in Thai cuisine. The sweet, sour and spicy flavors of this dish along with the fruity raw Mango makes for a mouth watering combination.

Steamed Gyoza
Steamed Gyoza
Fried glass noodles
Fried glass noodles

The two food markets at the Chiang Mai night bazaar are a heaven for food lovers. Cheap and tasty, the range of foods vary from Thai, Seafood, Indian, Chinese, Steaks and a lot of fruit stuff. The prices range from as low as 20 Baht to 250 Baht. The two food markets are the best places to have local fare at affordable prices with a very social dining setting. The Pad Thai below was for just 20 Baht and it was one of the best we have had.

Pad Thai
Pad Thai at the night market


Khao Soi – A special mention about this this dish that is specific to Northern Thailand and Laos. Arguably the best food in Chiang Mai, this dis comprises of egg noodles and deep fried crispy noodles served with curry sauce containing coconut milk. This dish is not that easily found elsewhere apart from Northern Thailand.

Khao Soi
Khao Soi

Getting a taste of authentic Thai food and culture is what northern Thailand is about apart from the beautiful landscapes. The Thai food is so much more than the usual Tom Yum or Pineapple Fried Rice if one moves towards the north in places like Chiang Mai, Pai, Isaan. There is probably no better way than the local food markets if you want to taste the local fare at affordable prices and in a shorter timeline.



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Thailand: Best of Thai Food in Chiang Mai – A Photo Essay