5 Fun Things to Do in Koh Samui Thailand on the Weekend

The second largest island in Thailand, Koh Samui, is filled with tropical fun, great food and fantastic ways to relax on the weekends. Surrounded by forested mountains and stunning beaches, you can do as much or as little as you like. Take in the picturesque scenery and scents of exotic flowers, coconut groves and salty air while you decide what you want to do this weekend. Here are 5 suggestions to get you started:

1) Staying in

Stay in and submerge yourself in opulence with your own villa complete with a private pool. You can enjoy a dip in the refreshing waters before dinner, at midnight under the stars, or anytime you want too. Walls enclosing the area allow for optimal privacy, you know – just in case you and your love want some ‘alone time’ in the pool. Afterwards, you can lounge around on the plush bedding or relax in living room area. Two satellite TV’s, an ipod docking station and wireless internet will keep you in touch while still allowing you to be away from it all.

2) Soak up salty air

Soak up salty air, balmy breezes and fruity drinks from your oceanfront cabana at the beach club. Or, choose to lounge beside the pools, under the umbrellas or even in the water. There are plenty of cushioned loungers, sofas and beds for you and your friends to gather. Lather up with the suntan lotion, grab your glasses and stretch out to work on that tan. When you get too hot, just dip into the pristine pools (or the ocean) and repeat.

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3) Eat!

With so many great restaurants, especially fresh seafood, you should never go hungry. Do not miss the best Thailand has to offer- the Sunday brunch in Koh Samui. The Ultimate Sunday Brunch Club runs from 11:30 until 3:30. Enjoy the DJ and some great music while you dine on the finest oysters, Iberico ham, prime roast beef, sea bass, lobster and so much more. Local fresh fruits and vegetables, canapes, and luscious creme brulee will round off your meal. Take this opportunity to enjoy old favorites or to venture out and try everything new and flavorful. This is truly the best brunch on the island.

4) Spa and massage

Allow your chi to flow freely again in the spa. Here, masterful hands employ Chinese reflexology, traditional Thai massage, Japanese Reiki and Indian Ayuravedi to bring you back into balance. Enjoy being pampered alone or with your significant other during a couples massage. Flower petal-filled water, warm herb compresses, and strong hands will ease away your stress and restore your sense of well-being.

5) Adventure and scenery

2 days in Koh Samui will only wet your appetite for the things of this island. When this island is full of adventure and scenery. Get out of your resort and see the 12m- tall Golden Buddha at Wat Phra Yai Temple. Do some sea kayaking or snorkeling. Explore the night markets of Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. Here, the streets are blocked off and vendors sell everything from chicken satay and grilled meats to colorful elephants and silky wraps. Soak your feet in an aquarium filled with tiny fish waiting to exfoliate your feet by eating away the dead skin.

Thailand awaits with so many fun things to do in Koh Samui. Partake in the cultural delights, gorgeous mountain forests trails, warm sandy beaches, and culinary treats. You will never be bored. Come and explore Koh Samui soon.

 

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Koh Yao Noi, Phang Nga : Your Perfect Honeymoon Island Paradise in Thailand

Thailand is one of the most romantic countries in the world. The nation’s shimmering beaches, luscious jungle landscape, eclectic culture, and delicious cuisine make it a hotspot for vacationers around the globe. The romantic aura of the island also makes it one of the best island destinations for honeymoon.

Thailand offers a wealth of experiences and environments. The most populated beaches and locations can be found in the southern part of the country, but there are a few more private areas sprinkled throughout the nation. Koh Yao Noi is one of these hidden gems and is the perfect getaway location for honeymooners. This article will offer everything you need to know for your escape to paradise!

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Photo Courtesy of Pear Blossom via Wikimedia Commons

Getting There

Getting to Koh Yao Noi can be a bit tricky if you’re not prepared. The island is popular for its secluded and private nature, so visitors are only able to set foot on the island after taking a ferry or speedboat from Bang Rong Pier on the popular island of Phuket. Most tourists will fly into the local airport at Phuket. From here, they’ll be transported by private vehicle to the pier where they’ll load a speed boat or ferry to Koh Yao Noi. As you plan your visit you’ll want to consider departure times from the marina as they keep a pretty consistent schedule that varies by season.

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Photo Courtesy of Martin Bartosch via Flickr

Fun Things to Do for Couples

There are plenty of things to do in Koh Yao Noi. Since it is one of the best Thai islands for honeymoon, so there are lots of romantic couples activities. Here are a few of the most popular:

 

  1. Couples Massage – Massage has always been a Thai tradition and specialty. The island offers some of the world’s most luxurious spas and massage experiences. Consider booking a romantic couples massage at one of the many resorts on the island.

 

  1. Lagoon Kayaking – For the more adventurous couple, the island offers a large variety of kayak rentals and day tours. Lagoon kayaking is one of the more popular options for couples. It’s more laid back, but still allows you to see a large portion of some of the island’s most beautiful, private spaces.

 

  1. Snorkeling – Snorkeling is one of the most popular activities on the island. Koh Yao Noi’s crystal blue waters and elegant reefs make it a hot spot for snorkeling enthusiasts. There are a variety of companies on the island that offer full day or half day excursions to uncharted waters. These tours offer guests some of the best snorkeling in the world.

 

Best Time to Visit

The climate in Thailand varies greatly throughout the year. The months of November to May are considered the dry season while June-October experiences heavy rainfall. Generally, November-February offers the best weather and climate conditions for vacation and provides spells of dry weather perfect for all the outdoor adventures.

 

Amenities in the Area

There are many forms of accommodation in Koh Yao Noi. The island is romantic and secluded, but still offers all the amenities required for a comfortable stay. There is a 7-Eleven upon entry onto the island, but otherwise the amenities are local-based and lack the glitz and glam of flashier brand name stores. This gives visitors a more island-based vibe and provides a unique cultural experience.

The village has a variety of locally owned restaurants, a hospital, a post office, and a few ATM locations. You’ll find that most of the action and amenities are sprinkled along the southern border of the island where most of the island’s beautiful resorts are housed.

For transportation around the island, guests can catch a ride into town on one of the local tuk-tuk pick-up trucks. For the remainder of the stay, scooters are the most popular method. You can hire a driver, or rent them from one of the many local agencies. It’s a fun and unique way to cruise around beautiful Koh Yao Noi.

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Photo Courtesy of Vyacheslav Argenberg via Flickr

Places to Stay

Lodging is a big deal in Koh Yao Noi. There are a variety of housing options suitable for any budget. Here are a few of the more popular accommodations for your romantic getaways:

  1. Six Senses -This unique resort focuses on sustainability and uses natural materials for all of their resort architecture. The resort offers private, elevated villas right off the beautiful bay. This accommodation is relaxing, romantic, and luxurious and is definitely a bit more pricey.

 

  1. Coastal Escape – This new island resort offers stunning views of Phang Nga Bay and also boasts some of the best in-house island cuisine. Guests will enjoy a delightful view, a free one-hour massage at the resort spa, and access to the resort’s activities like mountain biking and kayak rental.

 

  1. Koyao Bay Villas – This local accommodation offers visitors the opportunity to experience their trip like a native. The bungalows are equipped with dark wooden architecture and a local flavor that can’t be beat!

Overall, Koh Yao Noi is one of the best Thai islands for the honeymoon experience. The island offers the perfect balance of seclusion, romance, and activity. If you’re looking for a sweet escape after you say “I do” consider this tropical paradise!

Make Malaysia Your Next Holiday Destination

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(image: wikimedia)

There are many beautiful countries to visit across the globe, and one of the biggest reasons people visit new places is to integrate into a new culture while taking in the splendid sights around them. For these reasons, amongst many others, Malaysia could be the next holiday destination of choice. Located in Southeast Asia, the country is well known for its fabulous culture, colonial buildings, incredible rainforests and magnificent beaches.

While global travelers should invest in a plaza premium lounge klia credit card for lower interest costs on their travels, Malaysia is a relatively affordable place to visit.

When visiting the country, here are three places you may find particularly interesting.


Redang Island

There are many beautiful beaches in Malaysia, perfect for anybody wanting to spend time under the sun. If you want somewhere quiet to relax you should head for the beaches of Redang, a small slice of paradise with crystal clear blue waters and soft white sand.

One of the quieter islands in Malaysia, this is the perfect place for anybody wanting to get away from other tourists. When not resting or playing sports games on the beach, you should go snorkeling at the appropriately named Turtle Island with the local sea turtles, which are part of Redang’s conservation area.

For those who enjoy walking, taking a trek around the island is a must, with its rare plants, and wild animals including the long-tailed macaque monkeys and large monitor lizards.

Redang Island doesn’t have much of a nightlife, but there are bars and resorts available for those who like to stay up late and watch the sun go down. Karaoke is very popular amongst Chinese tourists, perfect for those who have the courage to sing in public! There are great eating places too, so you should savor some of the local delicacies including fish head curry, best served with banana leaves, and the gorgeous ice desert, Ais Kacang, which can be topped with syrup, fruit, and peanuts.

Gunung Mulu National Park

One of the most thrilling areas to visit in Southeast Asia, this world heritage site located in the middle of Borneo features so many natural marvels; you are spoiled for choice. With huge caves, tropical rainforests, and fabulous rivers, this is the perfect place for anybody wanting to soak in the country’s beauty. Cave tours and guided treks are a must for anybody wanting to explore further, whether you prefer to travel at ground level or one of the skywalks across the treetops.


Kota Bharu

Many travelers visit here as a stopover point while on their way to the wonderful Perhentian Islands, and with good reason. For those who enjoy shopping, there are many marketplaces teeming with local women selling tropical fruit, fresh vegetables, and craft goods. There are also plenty of museums to visit, including the Handicraft Village and Craft Museum for those interested in Malaysian culture, and a War Museum for anybody interested in its history. Night visitors should also visit the Fireflies Garden for an incredible display of color from these miniature marvels.

Victoria (Canada) in December

VICTORIA, BC, CANADA: I have heard so much about this island in British Columbia, Canada for the past many years. Most of my friends in Portland have already been here at least once and I’ve seen some really wonderful pictures from their visits. It was time for us to go and check it out ourselves.

Victoria Island in December B.C., Canada

Victoria Island in December B.C., Canada

Victoria is a perfect place to visit any time of the year..summer or winter. Though most people probably enjoy the summer there, we were in winter to see the holiday lighting and avoid the crowd at the same time. It’s also a place which kids enjoy as much as adults do. There are plenty of things to do and to see for kids, like Bug Zoo, Butterfly Garden, Miniature World, boat rides, horse rides, and etc. I want to go back to Victoria one summer just to get a feel of its hustles and bustles.

Victoria, Canada...kind of reminded me of old towns of Europe

Victoria, Canada…kind of reminded me of old towns of Europe

TIME of TRAVEL: We drove to Victoria during the winter break of 2014 when my uncle-in-law from Chicago was visiting us in Portland. We first drove to Port Angeles, Washington, stayed there one night, and took an hour and half ferry the next day to Victoria. Having the water all around, Victoria can be very cold in December. We didn’t get any snow or rain (lucky us), but it’s not very unusual to get bad weathers during this time of the year.

OUR HOTEL: Huntington Manor, only couple minutes of walk from Victoria Harbor and ferry terminal, was our hotel. It was a grand place to stay in for our vacation here and we got a good deal for being there during the off-peak season. The customer service was superb and the rooms were excellent. We had Wi-Fi, continental breakfast, and car parking free of charge. This is no doubt one of the best hotels in Victoria. It was only 5 minutes of walk to the Parliament or BC Royal Museum or the main harbor attractions.

EATING and SHOPPING: Finding restaurants during Christmas Eve and the Christmas day was a bit worrisome job in Victoria. We had lots of fast-foods for lunch but or dinner, we had Thai, Chinese in Chinatown, and Indian cuisines. We also had dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. We tried lunch at Dog-Gone-It which was by the harbor where you can get variety of hotdogs with variety of sauces and toppings…the best hotdog place I’ve tried so far.

For shopping, we personally bought a wooden totem-pole and a box of Canadian maple Ceylon tea. I have been addicted to this tea since the day I’ve tried it for its sweet aroma and taste. There are plenty of souvenir shops around the harbor and you will find shops with most of the tourists’ attractions.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stayed 5 nights in Victoria and we weren’t in a rush to tick-off our must-see spots. We leisurely took time and slowly got around the island to explore its corners. It was nice that we had ample time to learn, enjoy, relax, and make memories. Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse is a historic landmark in Victoria where we drove the day before Christmas but couldn’t go in because it closed at 2pm…definitely a place to check out here.

The tallest totem-pole in the world is located in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada

The tallest totem-pole in the world is located in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada

If you are here in summer, try taking an adventurous whale-watching and eco-marine tour, or a spectacular harbor cruise. They leave from the harbor and with a very reasonable price tourists can enjoy a full or half day tours around the island for something different.

1) VICTORIA HARBOR: The first day, after we got off the ferry, we checked in at our hotel and we barely had some sunlight left to see this land. We quickly rushed out of the hotel to walk by the harbor and then to have dinner and come back to our rooms for some rest.

Victoria Harbor in Canada

Victoria Harbor in Canada

This busy harbor is the heart of this island and the most romantic place to hang out day or night. Watch float planes descend and taxing to their moorings, ferries, boat tours, charter motors through, and the occasional canoe or kayak bravely floating through the traffic. The liveliness of the harbor expands into the land…this is where you will find luxurious hotels like Empress Hotels, mouth-watering restaurants, main tourist attractions, good museums, shops, and strolling areas.

Victoria Harbor at night in British Columbia, Canada

Victoria Harbor at night in British Columbia, Canada

2) BRITISH COLUMBIA PROVINCIAL PARLIAMENT: The next day (Christmas Eve) we started walking towards the harbor again and stopped in front of the Parliament to enjoy its magnificent exterior. From the guard, we found out that we could actually go in that day and take a tour inside the building for free.

Situated in downtown Victoria, British Columbia’s grand buildings overlook the busy waters of the Inner Harbor. Its majestic architectural splendor offer a sense of rich tradition of this island. The Parliament buildings were designed in 1893. And finally it was open in 1898 in the heart of B.C.’s capital city, Victoria. It is this place where elected representatives, Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) meet to debate and to pass laws that govern British Columbia. Visitors are welcome in the public galleries of the Legislative Chamber whenever the House is sitting.

British Columbia Provincial Parliament in the heart of Victoria, Canada

British Columbia Provincial Parliament in the heart of Victoria, Canada

The halls of Parliament Buildings are lined by more than 100 beautiful leaded and stained glass windows, some of them dating back to 1898. These windows celebrate a variety of themes, like quotes from famous writers and philosophers, tribute to the arts and sciences, emblems of Canada’s earliest provinces, and many more. One of the largest and most beautiful windows is the Diamond Jubilee Window, which was created to celebrate the 60th year of the reign of British Queen Elizabeth.

Inside British Columbia Provincial Parliament in Victoria, Canada

Inside British Columbia Provincial Parliament in Victoria, Canada

During our visit the majestic main building of the Parliament was decorated with the biggest Christmas tree in Victoria. Exterior of the building looks even more festive at night with all the red, green, and yellow lights. Check out the grand ceilings, mosaic floors, and arch doors in each section. Visit upstairs room, especially Legislative Library.

Free tours of the parliament building are available Monday through Friday throughout the whole year, and seven days a week in the summer months. Self-guided tour, which we did, is also permitted.

3) MINIATURE WORLD: After some royal and historic time at the Parliament, we strolled along the harbor, passed gorgeous hotels, shops, and big streets, we arrived at the Miniature World. My girls were really excited about this place and it indeed fully satisfied their hunger to see some miniature version of the past and present of the real world.

A small scale of Trafalgar Square in the Miniature World in Victoria, Canada

A small scale of Trafalgar Square in the Miniature World in Victoria, Canada

Miniature World in Victoria is one of the greatest little shows in North America. Visit the smallest operational sawmill, view World of Dollhouses, the world’s longest model railroad, World of the Circus, enchanted Valley of Castles, Buckingham Palace, fantasy land, Fields of Glory, King Arthur’s Camelot, classic car rally, Great Canadian Railway, Gulliver’s Travel, old London town from 1670 plus many more tiny treasures and little pleasures.

A mini-castle inside Miniature World in Victoria, Canada

A mini-castle inside Miniature World in Victoria, Canada

4) IMAX at ROYAL BC MUSEUM: Opposite of the Miniature World is the Victoria Bug Zoo which was another exciting thing for my kids. But unfortunately it was closed for that day and we had to come back another time to visit. So what to do next? We slowly started walking back to the harbor and saw BC Royal Museum. We wanted to take a day and visit Royal BC Museum but we didn’t have enough time to cover the whole museum that day. While we were thinking about what to do next, IMAX and its feature presentations caught our eyes. We first took a breathtaking IMAX adventure thru “Journey to the South Pacific” on the Christmas Eve. Then we came back here the next day for another stunning tour of “Jerusalem”. FYI, this is the biggest IMAX screen in British Columbia.

5) BEACON HILL PARK: We started our third day (Christmas day) in Victoria with Beacon Hill Park. It was a gray winter morning when we arrived here. But this lush green park in the middle of the busy island is real good spot for the nature lovers. You can find small ponds, hiking trails, cage-free peacocks, and a harmonious atmosphere in this park. On the other side of the park is the oceanfront which is also a great place for strolling or enjoying a late afternoon with your loved ones. Look out for the totem-pole opposite of one side of waterfront…it’s the tallest one in the world with the size of 127 ft. and 7 inches.

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada

6) BUTCHART GARDEN: Butchart Garden is one of the most visited spots in Victoria and another National Historic Site of Canada. The garden had magical lighting and holiday decorations everywhere. There was also a venue for ice skating where skate rentals were available too.

Holiday lights in Butchart Garden in Victoria, Canada

Holiday lights in Butchart Garden in Victoria, Canada

“The Magic of Christmas” started at the beginning of December this year. Thousands of colored lights combine with magnificent decorations to celebrate the festive season. We reached there right before it started to get dark. It was a fantastic timing because we could enjoy the lighting, music, and holiday charms all around the garden. Butchart Garden truly came alive with the colors and scenes of Christmas and holidays.

Butchart Garden in winter, located in Victoria, Canada

Butchart Garden in winter, located in Victoria, Canada

We only saw the winter beauty of this garden, but Butchart Garden is open every day of the year with its 55 acres of vast landscape. I have to come back again here in summer or spring to see hundreds of thousands of lowering bulbs, shrubs, and trees. Even in winter this place was one of the most photogenic spots of this island. The garden celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004. This is the famous spot and attracts close to a million visitors each year.

You will find coffee shop, restaurants, and a gift shop inside the complex.

7) VICTORIA BUG ZOO: This was another place our girls loved. Opposite of the Miniature World, it’s an amazing world of insects and arachnids and they are all ALIVE. You can experience multi-legged creatures from different parts of the world in a safe and friendly atmosphere. Just to name some, we got up-close and personal with giant walking-sticks, beetle-fish, tarantulas, glow-in-the-dark scorpions, and many more. It has collections of over 60 fascinating species, including Canada’s largest ant farm. Our bug-guide entertained us with all the exotic secrets about creatures of this kingdom and provided lots of hands-on fun experience. It was an interactive and educational adventure for our whole family.

Some bugs we saw Victoria Bug Zoo in Victoria, Canada

Some bugs we saw Victoria Bug Zoo in Victoria, Canada

8) BUTTERFLY GARDEN: Butterfly Garden of Victoria is a little heaven for little kids and adults. Visitors can enjoy fluttering by butterflies in their natural habitat in this garden. We could see some beautiful blue morpho butterflies very closely along with many other kinds of butterflies and moths. Other than these you can also see some tropical birds, flamingos, and other small water animals. The garden is a very humid inside where tropical plants and bushes can grow without any hesitation too.

A blue-morpho butterfly in Butterfly Garden in Victoria, Canada

A blue-morpho butterfly in Butterfly Garden in Victoria, Canada

One thing I have to say about this place is that you may not be able to use your camera. I was so excited about capturing some beautiful shots of colorful butterflies and plants. But as soon as we entered the garden (which is very humid) my camera started to fog up. There is a blower to de-fog your camera but it look really LONG time to clear up, even then I couldn’t use it properly. I had to turn to my iPhone to take some pictures. So, yeh…just something to keep in mind while you are there.

9) SIDNEY: Sidney is a small town which was recommended to us by the staff of Butterfly Garden. Only 30 minutes north of Victoria, Sidney is another beautiful harbor town of in this island. Though I couldn’t get out of the car when we arrived Sidney (my little girl fell asleep after a long day), it seemed like a thriving little town with lots of restaurants, shopping venues, and cool local spots to hang out. There is an aquarium located in the Sidney Pier on the waterfront. And I got some good feedback from my family…dorn, missed it.

10) CRAIGDARROCH CASTLE: Victoria’s legendary landmark Craigdarroch Castle was our last place to explore during this tour. It was beautifully adorned for holidays when we visited. After visiting so many castles in Europe, we had to see something that North America had to offer. And it was indeed a place where we loved spending our time in.

One of the rooms of Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

One of the rooms of Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

Historically, the castle belonged to B.C.’s wealthiest man, coal Baron Robert Dunsmuir. But unfortunately he passed away before it was completed (in 1890), leaving the entire estate to his wife Joan. Mrs. Dunsmuir lived in the castle until 1908. Today, it’s a museum and a National Historic Site of Canada. The castle reflects their immense wealth and fortune in four floors of exquisite stained glass windows, ornate Victorian style furnishings, and intricate woodwork. Visitors can see and feel the lifestyle of the very rich from the end of the 19th century in British Columbia.

Victorian style intricate woodwork inside Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

Victorian style intricate woodwork inside Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

Some noticeable places in this 25,572 sq. ft. castle are the Main Hall, Library, Dining Room, Master Bedroom, Billiard Room, and 17 fireplaces. Experience breathtaking views of Victoria and the Olympic Mountains from high in the Castle’s Tower.

It took us about an hour and half to tour the castle. The ticket for each adult is 13.95 Canadian Dollars, and free for kids below 5 years of age.

Spell of Santorini

SANTORINI, GREECE: Santorini, official name Thira, was in my bucket list for a long…long time. It’s one of the most beautiful and photogenic islands in the world and a real romantic place for honeymooners. If its stunning geography doesn’t attract you, then many of its naturally fantastic beaches will, or its frightening history of volcanic lava and earthquake will, or its blue and white villages will, or may be its unique sunset will, or the way white-washed buildings look like they are stacked on top of each other on the cliffs will. I can name lots of things about this island that will attract everyone with different interests…but you have to visit to feel.

Santorini - one of the most beautiful islands in Greece
Santorini – one of the most beautiful islands in Greece
         

As for me, I loved hopping from one village to the other and be amazed with history. Santorini is a crescent-shaped skinny island.  The villages are very spread out depending on where you are going. But do get out of the tourist sections to enjoy true beauty. You will see fun-loving young Greeks, villagers, and fishermen…that’s what I cherish the most from this trip.

What makes Santorini different from other islands of the Cyclades is that it was built on thick lava of volcano which rose from the molten core of the earth. But the contrast of the deep blue sea with red, brown, and black colors of the land, the depth and clarity of the horizon sweeps away the nightmarish birth of this island. Overall, it’s wild and imposing natural beauty cannot be found anywhere else.

The rugged terrain of Santorini
The rugged terrain of Santorini
         

To get around the island, ATV is probably the best way, although I saw many people riding on rented cars. But be careful of crazy drivers and parking can be a problem if you rent cars, especially in Fira or Oia. I mainly rode on public buses to all my sites. But be careful, they look like tourist coach buses and don’t have a STOP button and sometimes don’t stop at all if no people are getting on. I told the ticket master on my 2nd morning that I wanted to get off at Firostefani but he forgot to tell the driver and I ended up in Fira along with another British lady who also wanted to get off at Firostefani. Also it’s a bit inconvenient but every public bus stops at Fira whenever you go to. It costs from 1.60 euros to 2.20 euros depending on where you are going to. From Oia to Fira there is a hiking trail that you can take to go parallel to the cliffs and the sea. I didn’t dare to take this trip since I knew I am not fit enough for this and I didn’t want to waste time just walking. I wanted to explore different traditional settlements. But to enjoy the island to the fullest, be ready to climb up and down lots of narrow stairs…otherwise you won’t feel the vibe.

ATV - the best way to get around the island
ATV – the best way to get around the island
          

I booked a boat excursion (see below) 2 days before the trip. It was 30 euros for a 5.30 hours of guided tour (lunch not included) and started at 10am. I was picked up from my hotel around 9:20 and was taken to Ammoudi Bay in a mini-bus. From Ammoudi Bay we were taken to Fira Old Port to pick up more people. Our first destination was to Nea Kameni, then to Palea Kameni, and then Thirassia before dropping us back to Ammoudi Bay. I am glad I took this trip to see the volcanic islands up-close and smell its sulfuric air. This is one trip that shouldn’t be missed to get a different perspective of the island.

Our boat that took us to the other islands
Our boat that took us to the other islands
        

TIME of TRAVEL: It was in mid-October 2013 when I flew to Santorini. The island definitely slows down after October. You won’t see crazy amount of tourists like during summer months. Water was still warm for those who are interested in going to beach and enjoy water. Unfortunately, I got rain on my last evening there, hence, missed a chance of watching sunset over dinner. Other than that the temperature was around early 80s during daytime. But I wouldn’t recommend to go there after October because then many shops and hotels close down for winter and the buses are not that frequent either.

MY HOTEL: I stayed at Laokasti Villas and Restaurant in Oia, Santorini. Although Fira is closer to the airport, it is touristier than Oia. I wanted to stay in Oia, not only because I can see the best sunset only from steps away from my hotel, but also it’s quieter and cozier than Fira.

This hotel had free breakfast, although I didn’t wake up a single morning to eat. I decided to catch up on my sleep after spending a whole sleepless night in Athens airport before catching a 5:30am flight to Santorini. It also had free Wi-Fi which was lousy but worked once in a while. The best part was that I had a partial ocean-view room with a little porch. The swimming pool was fantastic also and some of the rooms had the pool view. Also, you can order an in-room massage service here…very cool I thought. I booked my boat tour thru the hotel and also my airport pick-up/drop-off…they were very helpful and efficient every time.

Swimming pool in my hotel, Laokasti Villas, in Oia, Santorini
Swimming pool in my hotel, Laokasti Villas, in Oia, Santorini
              

I had a small kitchenette in my room with nice clean linens and a small red bathroom. The location was very nice for me because bus stand and Oia pedestrian zone were both right across the street. There were also couple small restaurants and supermarkets near this place…overall, I loved it and I would recommend it to anyone going to Santorini.

EATING and SHOPPING: Santorini has plenty of options when it comes to satisfying your taste and hunger. For any meals, snacks, or drinks Fira and Oia probably have more options, but not necessarily the best ones. Most of the villages and all the beaches have restaurants that will offer you view of the caldera, blue sea, and the islands nearby. Do expect higher prices from restaurants with sunset or caldera view…but it’s all worth it. If you are looking for the best sea-food restaurants, go down to Ammoudi Bay from Oia and there you will see many fish taverns. Beaches like Perissa or Kamari also has some great fish places. Tomato balls or croquettes are something unique of Santorini and should be tried even if you don’t like deep-fried stuff. I used to have them almost for all my meal as side…try it with taztziki sauce…yummy. Other than that most of the traditional Greek places have Greek salad, Greek style spaghetti (with capers and feta cheese), pizza, gyros, kebabs, moussaka, souvlaki, Greek omelet with feta cheese, olives, and kataifi…a sweet dessert with honey and nuts. Oh, and don’t forget to try local tomatoes…they are full with flavors, best ones I’ve tried so far.

My first lunch was at Demilmar in Perissa Beach. I must say I loved my relaxed meal with a memorable ocean view and its sweet sound. They had traditional Greek dishes like moussaka, souvlaki, fresh seafood, as well as burgers, pizza, and pasta. I had grilled calamari…fantabulous. 2nd day I had my lunch in Fira in a restaurant on the shopping district, can’t really remember the name. Really enjoyed my Greek spaghetti with capers and feta cheese while enjoying the fresh ocean breeze and looking at the volcanic island in front of me.

My lunch, grilled calamari in Perissa Beach
My lunch, grilled calamari in Perissa Beach
         

When I went for boat tour, we had lunch in Thirassia. Tomato croquettes with taztziki sauce and bread was awesome while looking at water glimmering as the sun was shining on it.

Lunch in Thirassia - fried tomato balls
Lunch in Thirassia – fried tomato balls
          

Last dinner I did was in Oia, called Floga, a restaurant that was recommended by my hotel (another recommendation was “Thalami”). They are both located on the main shopping district of Oia. It was raining badly on my last night of Santorini. Floga usually has a nice view of volcano and offers beautiful sunset view too, but for the rain we were inside the plastic shade and couldn’t see much of the surroundings. I was in the mood for some seafood that night, wish I could go down to Ammoudi Bay for that but the rain didn’t let me. Either way, Floga has some very good dishes along with some traditional Greek cuisine with some pricey tags.

Greek olives (especially Kalamata olives), stuffed donkeys, Greek pottery, olive oil, Greek delights, embroidered laces, decors or jewelry made from lava rocks, miniature Cyclades houses, and Santorini paintings just some of many things the island can offer you to take back from here as gifts or memoirs. If your pocket is really heavy then buying Greek gold can make sense. I got myself a lava rock man for 12 euros, a miniature house, and some jewelries. If I had some room in my luggage I would have put some packaged olives there too.

Beautiful Santorini doors in a souvenir shop in Fira
Beautiful Santorini doors in a souvenir shop in Fira
         

Most of the villages have many shops and unique stores. Fira and Oia have the most interesting places for shopping. Even if you don’t want to go for those expensive stuff, it’s nice to just walk pass these shops and entertain your eyes. Ohhhh, another thing I wanted to try for a long time and finally did was fish-pedicure. It was in Fira (there was also one in Oia). For 10 euros, you can soak your feet in a tank with 200 fishies. It was ticklish at first but those hungry fishes loved the dead skins from my toes 😉

Shopping district of Oia, Santorini
Shopping district of Oia, Santorini
          

PLACES I’VE VISITED: You don’t really need a walking-map in Santorini. Although the island is not marked very well, half the fun is getting lost in white-washed alleys and climbing up and down the stairs near the cliffs.

If I had one or two more days, maybe I would have gone to Akrotiri and Ancient Thira– where you can see a stunning collection of ruins from ancient settlements of Santorini, Kamari Beach, Red Beach, Village of Finikia, and Village of Emporio. Finikia and Emporio are, I think, more like Megalochori with traditional buildings and small settlements.

Oia at night
Oia at night
      

1) MEGALOCHORI: This is the first village I explored on this island and I instantly fell in love with it. About 20 minutes of bus ride from Fira, Megalochori (pronounced as Megalo-hori) is a small but stunning village of Santorini. Walking through the white-washed walls, gazing at Cycladic domed churches, peeking through those traditional blue and white houses, and the listening to the quietness of this typical Greek village made me feel really lucky that I decided to come here first. If you want to have some romantic time on this island, Megalochori has some nice cafes, restaurants, boutique stores, and picture perfect village neighborhoods that will stay in your heart forever.

A typical blue-white house in Megalochori, Santorini
A typical blue-white house in Megalochori, Santorini
             

I spent about 45 minutes here just strolling thru the small streets. Just follow the sign “Traditional Settlement” to start your tour after you get off the bus and you will be glad that you visited this place during your stay in Santorini.

Bell Tower of Church of Virgin Mary in Megalochori, Santorini
Bell Tower of Church of Virgin Mary in Megalochori, Santorini
      

2) PERISSA BEACH (BLACK SAND BEACH): From Megalochori, I took a bus to go to Perissa Beach which took about 45 minutes of driving thru barren lands and stretchy zigzag mountains. Look out the windows…you will get a different feeling of the island.

Perissa Beach - the best one in Santorini
Perissa Beach – the best one in Santorini
               

I was starving as soon as I got off the bus and had to satisfy my hunger first. After lunch, I spent plenty of time just walking by the beach and going to some nearby shops. As they say, Perissa is the most scenic and best beach in Santorini, that’s why I picked only this one among many others to spend my late afternoon time. This is the black sandy beach. Few people were swimming and sun-bathing in the perfect weather of October. Good thing it wasn’t that crowded. While you are enjoying the weather and the sea, don’t forget to look back at tall, dark, and handsome mountain, Mesa Vuono…the tallest one of Santorini. Overall, this was my ultimate place to relax under the sun and experience a nice islandic scene.

Perissa Beach, Santorini
Perissa Beach, Santorini
           

Perissa Beach is about an hour on bus if you are coming from Fira. During off-season, like in October, the bus runs only once an hour…so plan accordingly.

3) FIRA: Fira was my last stop of day 1 in Santorini and I ended up coming back to this town few times more in the next 2 days. It’s the capital of Santorini and the touristiest town of it. It is probably livelier than Oia but definitely louder and overcrowded too. If you are into night life, than Fira has more clubs and bars than any other places in the island.

Fira after dark
Fira after dark
     

The tourist part of Fira is smaller than you can think. There isn’t a lot to do here other than visiting some museums, churches, and of course enjoying some best cliff-perched town views. Strolling through its shopping district and gazing at overpriced jewelries, clothing, and art studios were fun for me. Walk on small streets, sit down in cafes with view of caldera and volcano islands or just go crazy in those unique shops. One of the best things to do here is watch sunset from any street or over a nice dinner. On the first day I kind of hurried to go near Hotel Atlantis from where you can experience sun going down behind the volcano islands…simply incredible.

Sunset in Fira, Santorini
Sunset in Fira, Santorini
        

I took a small street near Hotel Atlantis down the cliff and started walking without really knowing where I will end up at. But this was the best way to get some views of the caldera itself. Here you can walk along the cliff and parallel to the sea to see some colorful stunning hotels and resorts with blue serene swimming pools looking over their big brother – the Aegean Sea.

Fira with Cathedral Church of Candlemas of the Lord on the right side
Fira with Cathedral Church of Candlemas of the Lord on the right side
           

Although I didn’t do it, I saw many people lining up to catch a cable car to go down to Fira Old Port. If you have energy, maybe it’s best to walk some 600 steps or just take an unforgettable donkey ride either way. Walking to Old Port should be half the fun but have to be careful of donkey poo and its smell. There’s nothing much to do there unless enjoying the harbor and taking some pictures from sea-level. It does get really busy when passengers from cruise liners disembark from ships.

Fira Old Port and the stairs that goes up to Fira main town
Fira Old Port and the stairs that goes up to Fira main town
           

Cathedral Church of Candlemas of the Lord is a small but beautiful church in Fira, right beside Hotel Atlantis. Most of the churches I saw in Santorini were closed, but luckily this was open and I could get a taste of what a Greek church looks like. It has lots of frescoes on the wall, high ceiling, and a decorative altar.  It was free to enter but we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside. Another cathedral I visited was Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It was built in 1823 but was damaged by the 1956 earthquake. Then finally, it was open again for worship in 1975. Loved its gorgeous ceiling and alter. It’s small but worth climbing the stairs. Dominican Monastery is only few steps away from this church, but it was closed. It’s free to enter.

Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Fira, Santorini
Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Fira, Santorini
       

Fira has the main bus stand and wherever you go you have to go thru Fira. That’s why it may take some extra time when you are planning to go to far away villages and beaches.

4) OIA: Oia is definitely the most beautiful and vibrant village of Santorini. It’s famous for its reputed world-famous sunset. After it was hit by a hard earthquake in 1956, the village was left barren for many decades. Then slowly started to get back its face, I think, around 1990s. Now Oia is the newest part of the island overlooking the Aegean and attracts more tourists than any other villages here. It has the most beautiful cliff dwellings and luxurious hotels and resorts. The main pedestrian lane is paved with marble and has lines of art studios, Greek gold jewelry shops, bars, taverns, and souvenir shops.

Oia - the most beautiful village of Santorini
Oia – the most beautiful village of Santorini
        

I didn’t go to Oia Castle which is an old Byzantine castle at one end of the village. The best and famous sunset is to be enjoyed from there and you can see every tourist walking that direction right before the sunset to reserve the best spot in the ruins of this castle. During summer/peak season it’s better to be there at least one hour before the sunset so that you don’t have strangers’ heads blocking your view and your viewfinder. I stood at the beginning of pedestrian zone near the church (and right opposite of my hotel) and it was awesome watching the fiery sun slowly hiding under the water.

Sunset Oia - an HDR version
Sunset Oia – a HDR version
     

5) PYRGOS: Located on a hill, Pyrgos is the highest point on the island. This is one of the oldest villages here and once was the capital. Cycladic houses, prominent Byzantine churches (all were closed), and homes with blue doors and cute porches made my journey here really unforgettable.

Walking thru the white-washed walls of Pyrgos
Walking thru the white-washed walls of Pyrgos
       

I directly went towards the castle after getting off the bus. I hiked quite a bit here, climbed many stairs, and passed many small windy alleys to get to the castle (just follow the hand-written signs on floors and on walls). But once you are up on the castle, you’ll have an outstanding panoramic view of the whole island, mountains, and the deep blue water. The castle in itself has nothing really to offer other than its old bones and skeletons. Also there is no entrance fee or any information board for tourists.

Stunning view of caldera and Aegean from Pyrgos Castle
Stunning view of caldera and Aegean from Pyrgos Castle
           

It took me about 15 minutes to come to Pyrgos from Fira by bus. Pyrgos is relatively bigger than Megalochori and I spent about hour and half here.

6) FIRESTEFANI: Firestefani is another cliff-perched village where you can get the best panoramic view of the volcano. It’s smaller than Oia or Fira but definitely has the same view and charm. Many luxurious hotels and resorts are on the cliffs of Firestefani. Apart from those, the village maintained its traditional looks where you can see dominating blue and white colors everywhere and few Cyclades churches.

Beautiful village of Firestefani
Beautiful village of Firestefani
           

I didn’t go down the stairs here, just spent about an hour walking parallel to the Aegean. Then last few minutes I was just sitting on a bench on the cliff enjoying that great moment right before the sun set down, but didn’t really see the sunset. This was another place from where I wanted to experience a sunset but didn’t. You can avoid the sunset crowd of Oia and come to Firestefani for a serene atmosphere when the sun vanishes in the horizon.

Looking at Aegean from Firestefani, Santorini
Looking at Aegean from Firestefani, Santorini
           

7) IMEROVIGLI: Not too far from Firestefani, Imerovigli is another smaller resort village hanging from the cliff. It’s a short bus ride from either Fira or Oia and offers rewarding views of the caldera and volcanos.

I reached here late afternoon and loved its calm and peaceful life. I went down few steps on the cliff and decided to come back to a café for some ice-cream. As usual, view was marvelous. My original plan was to stay here until sunset but I really couldn’t find a nice spot to sit down or even just stand (like Firestefani had). So after spending about an hour here, I took the next bus to Oia and enjoyed the most famous Santorini sunset from Oia cliffs.

Looking at Island of Nea Kamini from Imerovigli
Looking at Island of Nea Kamini from Imerovigli
     

8) AMMOUDI BAY: My original plan was to go down to Ammoudi Bay in early morning to see fisherman getting ready to start their days and go out to the sea. But of course I couldn’t do it and went there a bit later around 9:30am on the day I took boat trip to see other islands.

Ammoudi Bay is a petit fishing village at the foothill of Oia where you can find some best fish taverns near the bay. It doesn’t have a beach but has a nice swimming area for public. It’s a small but a must visit place in Santorini to get a different feeling of this island. Look up the red cliffs of Ammoudi Bay and you can see the whole village of Oia in one glimpse. If you are taking a boat trip, don’t forget to look back at Ammoudi Bay and Oia…it’s a fabulous view and shouldn’t be missed. The pebble beach here is nice for swimming and sun-bathing.

Ammoudi Bay at the foothill of Oia in Santorini, Greece
Ammoudi Bay at the foothill of Oia in Santorini, Greece
          

There are 3 ways to go down to Ammoudi Bay. The easiest way is to take taxi from Oia which costs about 10 euros. Second option is to take some 250 steps which starts at one end of the pedestrian zone of Oia and ends at the foothill of the cliff close to the bay. The final and adventurous option would be taking a donkey ride either way only for 5 euros per adult. Be careful when walking down the steps to go to the bay, there are lots of donkey poops all around the stairs. It can get even worse and slippery if it rains. Make sure to have good shoes if you are planning to climb the stairs.

I actually climbed 250 steps from Ammoudi Bay up to Oia center. It can be hard but this is the best way to enjoy the view all around and take some great shots. To be honest, I had to stop and catch breathes every few minutes.

Climbing some 250 steps from Ammoudi Bay to Oia
Climbing some 250 steps from Ammoudi Bay to Oia
            

9) BOAT EXCURSION to NEA KAMENI, PALIA KAMENI, and THIRASSIA: A shuttle bus picked all the passengers for this boat excursion from our individual hotels and took us to Ammoudi Bay around 9:30 am where we started our tour from. From here we went to Fira, picked up more people, and headed towards our first stop Nea Kameni.

From our boat, leaving Oia behind
From our boat, leaving Oia behind
           

This boat trip is a must-see when in Santorini, you get to walk on lava rocks and experience an active volcano land from up close. The tantalizing dark islands in the middle of caldera are Palea Kameni (Old Burnt Island) and Nea Kameni (New Brunt Island). Both are major scientific interests and protected national monuments of Greece. The sites offer an exceptional natural beauty in and all around the island. Its oldest rock formations date back 430 years and its most recent a mere 50 years. The islet was born and gradually formed through volcanic eruptions spanning since 1575, in six different volcanic events. Sluggish magma at regular intervals added layer upon layer to form Nea and Palia Kameni. Both islands are the youngest landforms in the eastern Mediterranean. Authorities do keep their eyes open for seismic activity and other matters in these areas where they can predict in a period of a few months to a year prior to the eruption. While no one actually lives in Nea Kameni, Palia Kameni has only 1 residence, and Thirassia has about 200 inhabitants.

Volcanic rocks of Nea Kamini and ... of course the gorgeous view from here
Volcanic rocks of Nea Kamini and … of course the gorgeous view from here
          

After the last eruption of Nea Kameni in 1950, the Santorini volcano remains dormant till today. We hiked about 1.5 km one way (total little more than 3km) to get all the way up to go near the big craters where you can still see hot fumes at some points and smell sulfuric gas with it. While hiking on this rugged with various colored rock terrain, look around and you will see Fira on the roof of caldera in distance. It can get a little windy at the top but the view from there worth the long hike and heavy sweat. There is a 2 euros fee to enter the preserved landscape.

Hiking on active volcanic island, Nea Kamini...beautifully barren and rugged landscape
Hiking on active volcanic island, Nea Kamini…beautifully barren and rugged landscape
            

Next we headed towards the hot springs of Palia Kameni. This is smaller than Nea Kameni and looked much greener. First eruption on Palia Kameni was in 197 B.C and the last one was in 725 A.D. but right now this is an inactive volcanic island. The boats really don’t dock here, it stood in the water close to land while people just dived in the sea, swam for half an hour in the hot springs underneath the sea, and got back on the vessel. We spent about half an hour here. Remember that the sulfur rich water here may not be suitable for many people. If you are like me, who doesn’t know how to swim L, enjoy the massive rock walls of the island, greenish water, and Church of St. Nicolas on the edge of water.

People swimming in the hot springs of Palea Kamini in Santorini
People swimming in the hot springs of Palea Kamini in Santorini
          

Thirassia was our last stop on the boat tour before heading back to Oia. This is a small island and a nice place to spend couple hours. There are few ferries that come here from other islands if you don’t want to take any guided tour. We had about 2 hours to spend here out of which I spent an hour enjoying my lunch and the view. Rest of the time I just walked by the water taking photos and enjoying every corner of it. But I didn’t go to the main village up on the cliff.

Harbor of Thirassia, you can see the white stairs going up the cliff
Harbor of Thirassia, you can see the white stairs going up the cliff
           

There are couple villages on the cliff top which can be reached by climbing 270 steps or taking a donkey ride for 5 euros. Those villages are supposed to be some typical Grecian villages that kept its old look and feel. The port of Thirassia is a great choice for walking, swimming, and eating. There are plenty restaurant here as well. Our guide recommended Captain John, but many of us on the group had lunch in the restaurant right beside it thinking it was Captain John, but good food either way. Enjoy the cliffs, view, and sound of the sea while here.

Island of Thirassia in Santorini, Greece
Island of Thirassia in Santorini, Greece
        

Overall, Santorini was a great experience for me. I do get excited when going to a new place where I can learn some history (not only by visiting churches and castles), enjoy natural beauty, do nice shopping, taste local cuisines, and where I don’t have to walk with a map or with an itinerary. Santorini was that perfect place for me that fully satisfied all my wishes. Love you Santorini, hope we see each other again.

 

 

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