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

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

Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited

A trip that changed my life forever and a country that gave me a new perspective to successful living – Cambodia, in many ways defines extreme suffering and ultimate triumphs of an entire human population. A country that until recently was on the brink of total destruction, now has significant stories to tell, beautiful sights and sounds to share. Many would argue that the influx of huge numbers of tourists every year is a major cause behind some of the grave social issues within the country. While that is true to a certain extent, Cambodia is one country I personally believe that actually deserves and needs more tourists. When I say tourists, I mean ethical and responsible travelers. Here are four reasons why.

A couple of these four reasons might not be the usual “oh it’s a fairy-tale/paradise” ones, but are definitely worth exploring for pure humanitarian reasons.

Marvel and learn at the majestic Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm Ruins of Angkor

Touted as one of the most visited destinations in the world, the ruins of this ancient city is hugely popular owing to the magnanimous Angkor Wat and the mythical ruins of Ta Prohm temples. A paradise for architecture and history buffs, this huge ancient city complex is spread across the jungles in the outskirts of Siem Reap. Each and every stone of its structures signify the importance of these monuments to Cambodian society that relates back from the ancient bygone era of the Cambodian kingdom to the more recent turmoil of the Khmer Rouge. Mesmerizing at dawn and dusk, with the sheer audacity of the huge structures to its minutest intricate details, this place commands the awe and admiration like the Pyramids of Giza or Machu Picchu.

Soak in the beautiful landscapes

Otres Beach in Sihanoukville

Amid the most revered attraction of Angkor Wat the amazingly beautiful landscape of Cambodia stays very much underrated till today. Once I ventured out of Siem Reap I was greeted with the lush green countryside with a backdrop of the cloud-covered mountain ranges. Not until recently, the beach town of Sihanoukville (although it has a seedy vibe after sundown), the beautiful island of Koh Rong and the sleepy riverside settlement of Kampot were being visited by travelers. Jungles, mountains, islands, rivers and beaches – Cambodia has it all. Truly, one just needs to look beyond Angkor Wat to experience the rustic and laid-back atmosphere this country has in store.

Support the campaign against child prostitution

Child prostitution is the major issue in Cambodia right now

Cambodia is still very much an underdeveloped country with a majority of the silent population suffering from the aftermath of a devastating civil war. Poverty in this country stares at you in one of the ugliest forms – child prostitution. Children as young as 5-6 years are being traded as commodities and pushed into the sex trade and yes, the rise in tourism has a lot to do with it. That is where the need for ethical tourism and responsible travel comes in. There are organizations like Childsafe Cambodia that have various initiatives towards safeguarding the present and future of vulnerable children. An influx of more responsible travelers who are willing to learn, understand and help the situation of these kids, can go a long way in giving the wonderful Cambodian society the helping had they need and deserve.

The Scars of Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge regime claimed more than 3 million lives

A bloody, destructive regime that took almost 3 million Cambodian lives through mass executions, famine and disease, yet it remains among one of the least talked about civil wars. Considering it was not so long ago for human memory, every Cambodian above the age of 40 has lived through those times. The disastrous affect it had on this country are still evident from almost every facet of the Cambodian society. The faces and eyes of these people tell a million stories – one of which I heard from a survivor – which need to be heard. More and more travelers who visit the “Killing Fields” at Phnom Penh now get a brief knowledge on the Khmer Rouge and its atrocities. Like many other travelers, I became aware of this reality only after I visited Cambodia and that made me realize the need for people all over the world to learn and know about the difficult past.

There are some journeys that stay with us for a very long time. Some destinations have such an impact on our psyche that completely changes the way we look at the world. Cambodia has been THAT place for me. The six days of my stay in Cambodia were influential enough to change the course of my own notion of life. It is an absolutely beautiful country with a lot to offer. The iconic structures of Angkor, the beautiful beaches, rivers and mountains are a testimony to that. However, for a nation that is still trying to stand on its feet, the stoic resilience of its people with hope in their hearts is what makes this place so endearing.

Cambodia Pin

P.S. Here my every mention of being a traveler is meant to be for ethical and responsible travel only.

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Cambodia : A country that deserves to be visited