Panda’s Paleo Bread

Breakfast, Recipes | April 24, 2015 | By

I love eating paleo…but I also love eating my bread!  Eating caveman doesn’t necessarily mean eating you can’t have that satisfying grainy fluffy dough.  I don’t remember the last time I had a slice of white processed Wonder Bread but I do remember that it doesn’t even taste good to me anymore.  I love the taste and the texture of this paleo bread.  You can toast a slice of it in the morning with some almond butter or even make a toasted paleo sandwich with it!

Panda’s Paleo Bread
Yields 1
Nutty...delicious...bread!
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
45 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 ¾ cups blanched almond flour
  2. ¼ cup coconut flour
  3. 1/3 cup flaxseed meal
  4. 1 tsp flaxseed seeds
  5. ½ tsp salt
  6. 1 tsp baking soda
  7. ½ cup arrowroot powder
  8. 6 tbsp coconut oil
  9. 4 eggs
  10. 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  11. 1 tbsp honey
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place almond flour, coconut flour, flaxseed meal, flaxseeds, salt, baking soda and arrowroot powder in a food processor and pulse the ingredients together.
  3. Add in coconut oil, eggs, apple cider vinegar and honey and continue to pulse.
  4. Pour mixture into a greased non-stick loaf pan (or line pan with parchment paper).
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
  6. Cool and enjoy!
The Paleo Panda http://www.thepaleopanda.com/

Panama City and Bocas del Toro

Panama, Travel | April 24, 2015 | By

Panama City is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Panama and the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America.  Its skyline screams urban chaos while cobblestones link boutique hotels with underground bars and crumbled ruins in the peninsula of Casco Viejo When visiting Panama City, I highly suggest taking an hour flight to Bocas del Toro.  It’s extremely rare in this world that you find an atmosphere so seductive, primitive and unforgettable…think Costa Rica 20 years ago.  The islands are surrounded by the beautiful Caribbean ocean, packed with lush and unique tropical vegetation and immersed in numerous cultures including the indigenous Westin Caribe people, latinos and extraneros. 

Water taxis pulling into Bocas del Toro

Water taxis pulling into Bocas del Toro

Best time to visit…

The best time to visit Panama is during the summer dry season from mid-December to mid-April but this also means that its high season and higher rates at hotels and resorts.  The Caribbean destinations such as Bocas del Toro has a shorter dry season, usually September/October and February/March.  Humidity is always high in Panama and some areas in the Caribbean receive almost twice the yearly rainfall of Panama City.

Getting there…

It is most common to fly into Tocumen International Airport (PTY) which is 22 miles from the downtown area unless you can find a flight into Albrook Airport (PAC).  The only airports in the United States that fly direct into PTY are Atlanta, Houston, Miami and Newark.  Bocas del Toro Airport (BOC) is an hour flight from Panama City. 

Where to stay…

Casca Viejo has become Panama City’s hottest night life sector with renaissance-restored hotels, restaurants, sweeping ocean and bay views.  Although a bit pricey, Las Clementinas is an extraordinary hotel with enormous rooms, beautiful terrace, sweeping views of both old and new Panama, and a spectacular restaurant.

Las Clementinas (Casco Viejo)
Las Clementinas Chambers, Avenida B, Panamá, Panama
1-877-889-0351

Bocas del Toro has tons of little hotels right near the water and nightlife.  Hotel Palma Royale is centrally located right across the street from the water taxis and restaurants.  Jimmy Buffett stayed here and the service is top notch.  We stayed at Hotel Olas because it is owned by a friend and the location is wonderful and the ocean patios are great.  It’s a good value if you’re looking to save some money!

Hotel Palma Royale (Bocas Town)
Calle 3, Isla Colon, Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro, Panama
507-757-9979

Hotel Olas (Bocas Town)
Avenida Sur, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama
507-757-9930

Our terrace at Hotel Olas

Our terrace at Hotel Olas

A weekend in…Panama City and Bocas del Toro, Panama

Friday

Take a city tour of Panama City and see the “three” Panama cities: the ruins of the 16th century original city Panama Viejo or “Old Panama”, the Spanish colonial city or Casco Viejo, and the modern city lined with skyscrapers.  Panama City was founded in 1519 and was the first city founded on the west coast of the Americas.  All of the loot stolen from the Inca empire went through Panama City, making it the target of English pirate Henry Morgan who destroyed it in 1671.  In 1673, a new colonial Panama City (Casco Viejo) was built which still stands as the historical center today.  Casca Viejo is now a vibrant neighborhood with renaissance-restored hotels, restaurants, sweeping ocean and bay views and is now Panama City’s hottest night life sector.  It was featured in the James Bond Quantum of Solace film!

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

Skyline from Casco Viejo

Skyline from Casco Viejo

A city with a fascinating history

A city with a fascinating history

Visit the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks.  10 minutes from downtown Panama City and a $10 admission fee, the center features a museum with interactive exhibits and a short film on the building of the Canal.  You can get close-up view of ships transiting through the locks on the outside terrace.

Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks

Ships passing through the canal

Ships passing through the canal

If you’re looking for fine dining at its best, make a dinner reservation at Madrigal in Casco Viejo.  The restaurant has two floors, each with its own intimate feel.  The owner and chef has Michelin Star and the food is both creative and upscale.  Try the tasting menu for the full experience!

Madrigal (Casco Viejo)
Avenida a Con Calle 5ta Oeste, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama
507-211-1956
$$$$

If you’re a little more on a budget but want the freshest and tastiest seafood and schmooze with the locals, check out The Fish Market.  This is a restaurant but the kitchen is a food truck and they have a different menu every night.  Come early or they might run out of your first choice!

The Fish Market (Casco Viejo)
Casco Viejo, al lado de Barlovento, Panama City, Panama
507-6151-1697

Get a taste of Panamanian nightlife which takes place in three sectors of the city: Casco Viejo, the business district and the Amador Causeway.  The bars, discos, pubs and casinos are packed all night until the early morning.  In Casco Viejo, check out the La Rana Dorada micro brewery, Tantalo Rooftop Bar and the Habana Panama salsa dance club.  The business district contains the Hard Rock Hotel that has 4 bars including the Float Pool Get Wet bar and stage for bands, The Wine Bar, and Sparkles Bar with sweeping view of the city and bay skyline.  The Amador Causeway connects a string of Panama Bay islands with ocean and city views both day and night and is home to Bamboo, a popular bar with an open-air area and indoor lounge and Pahya, a fairly new and popular dance club. 

Saturday

Take the 1 hour flight to the Bocas del Toro archipelago!  There’s so much to do and explore in Bocas and you truly feel like you’re in a different world here.  You can sail, horseback ride, dive, visit the Bastimentos caves and explore all the nearby beaches.  We hired a boat to take us to Red Frog Beach, one of the best beaches in Panama.  There wasn’t much of a restaurant or snack bar but apparently they were in the process of building one across the street when we were there!

Red Frog Beach

Red Frog Beach

Snack shack anyone?

Snack shack anyone?

Red frogs at Red Frog Beach...go figure!

Red frogs at Red Frog Beach…go figure!

Bocas also has some of the best waves in Panama and is also one of the best places to learn how to suf.  Check out www.BocasSurfSchool.com if you’re interested in learning.  We hired a water taxi to take us to Silverbacks break and wait for us while we (tried) to catch some waves.

Out to Silverbacks break

Out to Silverbacks break

Panama surf team

Panama surf team

After undoubtedly working up an appetite, have dinner at El Ultimo Refugio (the Ultimate Refuge) and enjoy fresh seafood and delicious cocktails with sunset views over the water.  The restaurant is 100 meters right after you pass the ferry dock and Casa Verde.  The food is delicious and the service is stellar!

El Ultimo Refugio (Bocas Town)
Avenida Sur, Isla Colon, Bocas Town, Panama
507-6726-9851
$$

Bocas del Toro is known for cheap drinks and music that plays all night!  Start at Bar La Iguana, a surf shop themed bar across from the popular sushi restaurant The Blowfish with great cocktails.  It typically opens around 7pm until midnight and it’s a great place to meet fellow travelers as well as locals. 

After you’ve had a few cocktails, head over to Barco Hundito (the Sunken Ship Bar), the most popular spot at night in Bocas.  It opens around 8pm and closes at midnight Sunday through Wednesday and at 3am Thursday through Saturday with a $2 cover charge for guys.  The bar lives up to its name and there is an actual shipwreck in the middle of the bar with a dock built around it.  Dance the night away on top of a sunken boat to anything from hip hop to reggae with both tourists and locals!

Sunday

Hire a boat and explore the surrounding islands.  We had a friend take us on his boat to Starfish Beach, where the stars shine in the sun.  You can also take a taxi from town which takes approximately 25 minutes or the Bocas del Drago bus that stops at the plaza in downton Bocas and takes you on a beautiful ride through the jungle to Bocas del Drago.  Once in Bocas del Drago, take a five minute boat ride to the beach or forge the 20 minute walk between the shore and the jungle. 

Starfish Beach!

Starfish Beach!

The crew at Starfish

The crew at Starfish

We were pleasantly surprised to find this magical beach relatively deserted.  We spent the afternoon swimming in the cystal clear water displaying hundreds of bright orange starfish and louning on the white sandy beaches.  The water is always calm and clear which makes it ideal for snorkeling (or spearfishing like we attempted…but I wouldn’t recommend it)!

A deserted paradise

A deserted paradise

Chilling with Wilson

Chilling with Wilson

Fun off the boat!

Fun off the boat!

Don’t leave Bocas without getting tacos from Tacos Surf Bocas.  Founded in 2014 by a San Diego couple, Taco Surf Brothers serves the freshest baja fish tacos, California burritos, specialty fries, homemade hot sauces and more.  You can get 3 tacos and a beer for only $10!

Tacos Surf Bocas (Bocas Town)
2nd Street behind the main park, Mono Loco Surf School, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro, Panama
507-6555-0852
$

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand, Travel | April 17, 2015 | By

The island of Phuket is surprisingly large, about 50 km long by 20 km wide.  It’s so huge that you rarely get the sense that you’re surrounded by water.  Phuket is an international magnet for beach lovers and divers who submerge themselves in the Andaman Sea and blue lagoons by day and revel in the salmon sunsets by night.  The island’s sin city of Patong is the biggest town and busiest beach with undoubtedly the liveliest (and sleaziest) nightlife in Phuket. 

Raiwai Beach on Phuket

Raiwai Beach on Phuket

Best time to visit…

The best time to visit Phuket is December through March, during the cool NE monsoon season when it isn’t to humid and a cool breeze lingers in the air.  Phuket is blessed with warm weather all year round but April to May and September to October are the hottest.  September to October is monsoon season.

Getting there…

You can get to Phuket by bus, car, train and air!  Flying from Bangkok into Phuket International is by far the most convenient with a mere one hour flight time.  Several domestic airlines such as Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Phuket Air and Thai Air Asia offer daily direct flights.  An intercity or public bus is the cheapest way to get to Phuket but the trip will take 12-14 hours.  Taking a train is also rather cheap but there are no direct trains to Phuket.  You would need to take the train to Surat Thani then take a bus to Phuket.  Driving is also an alternative option that includes being able to stop at several beautiful places along the way but the trip is still a good 12 hours.

Once you land at the Phuket Airport, the cheapest way to Phuket Town is to take the Airport Bus Phuket for a price of 85฿.  The bus leaves every hour from 6:30 am to 8:45 pm.  As you exit the arrivals hall, turn left and walk 20 meters to the end of the building and look for the vibrant orange bus.  You can also take a metered taxi but be aware that there is a flat charge of 100 Baht which is a legitimate fee.  State your destination and you will be issued a receipt and assigned a driver so it’s difficult to be overcharged.  A taxi to Karon Beach is approximately 450 Baht and 500 Baht to Patong Beach.

Where to stay…

Due to the size of Phuket, you have numerous lodging options in a variety of locations and beaches depending on your personal preferences!  Patong Beach is the main center of shopping and nightlife in Phuket, and where the majority of the hotels are located along with the traffic and party noise.  Bangla Road in inner Patong is the heart of Patong’s nightlife and is central to the main shopping areas and also leads right down to the islan’s main beach. The vast majority of hotels are located in outer Patong, just short taxi ride to Patong city center and located near the beach.  Kata and Karon Beaches are approximately a 30 minute drive from Patong and quieter than Patong with much nicer beaches.  They each also have their own areas with shopping, restaurants and bars.  Bang Tao Bay is an hour drive north of Phuket and hosts mainly secluded luxury hotels, notably the Laguna resorts that are built on a 1,000 acre area surrounding a network of small lakes and include the prestigious Banyan Tree and Sheraton Grande.  Kamala Beach is one of the larger towns on Phuket and while the town itself is not particularly impressive, it’s located near a beautiful beach and near several other nice ones.  Located approximately a 25 minute drive north of Patong, Kamala has a few quiet bars and some quality beach resorts with wonderful ocean views.  Rawai Beach is a nice little tourist village near the southern tip of Phuket.  While Rawai Beach is not suitable for swimming, the superb Nai Ham Beach is just a 10 minute trip over the hill with its small shops, bars and restaurants.  Rawai is the main departure point for island trips by the traditional long-tail boats.

Boathouse (4-star, Kata Beach
4233, Karon, Mueang Phuket District, Phuket 83100, Thailan
+66 76 330 015

Pool lounging at the Boathouse in Kata Beach

Pool lounging at the Boathouse in Kata Beach

Hammock lounging

Hammock lounging

A Weekend In…Phuket, Thailand

Friday

Start your trip by visiting Old Phuket Town which dates back to the 19th century.  Far from the beaches, the traditional Phuket and its unique culinary and historical story boasts several hip shops, cafes, restaurants and bars.  The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions, cultural museums and a nunnery.  Venture out with Phuket Heritage Trails which specializes in walking tours of the Old Town, one of the best ways to see the area.  Tours cost approximately 1,800 to 2,100 baht ($60-$70) per person and include hotel pick-up and drop-off, all museum entry fees and meal expenses. 

Old Phuket Town tour
Thalang Road, Phuket Town, Phuket Thailand
+66 851 589 788

Make a reservation at Kruvit Raft and eat the catch of the day on a raft floating in the middle of the island.  The raft is a floating mini-pier made of weathered wooden planks with tables that sit beneath quaint thatch roofs.  The menu changes according to the fresh seafood that they catch each day but consistent favorites include barbecued lobster, steamed tiger grouper and steamed yellow curry blue crab.  There are nets that hold the live fish and you can choose what you want and they will prepare it with perfection.  While this is not a 5-star restaurant, it’s an experience not to be missed with the most spectacular and unique atmosphere.  The 2 minute free long-tail boat ride will take you right to the restaurant.

Kruvit Raft (Phuket Town)
Moo 6 Front of Maphro Island, Ko Kaeo, Phuket Town, Phuket 83000, Thailand
+086 6870892

Panda scooter!

Panda scooter!

The best way to explore and see the island is renting a scooter.  Phuket has numerous breathtaking viewpoints.  Some of the best include Phromthep Cape, Big Buddha, Rang Hill and the Karon (Kata) viewpoint pictured below.  Located between Nai Harn and Kata Noi beaches, the Karon viewpoint is one of the most frequented viewpoints in Phuket.   From here, you can see Kata Noi, Kata Yai and Karon beaches.

Exploring the island

Exploring the island

Beautiful Karon viewpoint

Beautiful Karon viewpoint

The gang enjoying the viewpoint

The gang enjoying the viewpoint

Continuing on the road to the Big Buddha, you’ll pass Raiwaibeach. Once you hit the water, there is a little motorcycle street that veers right that is lined with local restaurants that serve you fresh seafood and Thai food right on the beach. Take a break with a nice cold Singha!

Rawai beach rest stop

Rawai beach rest stop

Rawai - starting point for long-tail boat journeys

Rawai – starting point for long-tail boat journeys

Continue on to see the Big Buddha, one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks.  The 45-meter statue is easily seen from far away, sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata.  Easily reachable by a six-kilometer road leading from Phuket’s main artery, the site offers the best sweeping 360-degree views of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon beaches, Chalong Bay and more.

Made it to the Big Buddha

Made it to the Big Buddha

Buddah big!

Buddah big!

Get the best pho in town at Pho House By Mama Phung.  The food here is one of the best authentic Vietnamese meals with exquisite spicy beef pho and famous pork chops.  Try all of the “Pho House Dishes”!

Pho House By Mama Phung (Patong)
Phrabarami Road, Patong, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand
+66 81 285 9626
$$

When the sun sets, Paton’s Bangla Road closes to vehicles and comes to life with 400 meters of neon lights, loud music, cheap beer and girls.  While for the most part, Bangla Road is fairly sleazy, there are a few quality nightclubs like Seduction Beach Club & Disco that keep the party going until the early morning.  The three-level Seduction Beach Club & Disco brings in top international DJs like Paul Oakenfold.  The first level beach bar plays R&B and hip-hop music while the top floor is the actual nightclub where the DJ spins.  For the VIPs, there’s an exclusive members only open air lounge called BLOW.

Seduction Beach Club & Disco (Patong)
70/1 Soi Bangla, Ratt U-Thit 200 Pee Road Patong Beach, Patong, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand

When we were in Patong, it was the new year celebration which involved all night water fights throughout the entire city.  Everyone is fair game and I lost track of the buckets of water dumped on me.  Game on!

Ready for war!

Ready for war!

Lady boys and super soakers...happy new year!

Lady boys and super soakers…happy new year!

Saturday

Take a day trip to Phang Nga Bay and its James Bond Island, a definite must while in Phuket.  The best way to enjoy Phang Nga Bay’s spectacular scenery of sheer limestone karats that jut out vertically of the emerald-green water is to take one of the boat trips from the northern end of Phuket.  Phang Nga Bay covers an area of 400 sqkm and is home to some 100 beautiful and unique islands.  James Bond Island has been a major attraction ever since it was featured in the 1974 Bond movie.  The two best ways to view the island are from boats or from the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan, a very high leaning rock with several small caves inside.  On its crowded eastern beach are small stands selling souvenirs made from shells and wood. 

James Bond Island

James Bond Island

The area is also a popular destination for sailing and kayaking.  Most of the organized tours of James Bond Island are combined with a visit to other popular islands and usually include a stop for a seafood lunch at the charming nearby Muslim fishing village on stilts, Koh Panyee.  Bring a snap-shut waterproof camera bag!

Sea kayaking through the caves of Phang Nga Bay - amazing!

Sea kayaking through the caves of Phang Nga Bay – amazing!

Baan Rim Pa literally means “house next to the cliff” and sits on the rocky headlands north of Patong Bay.  Dine with extraordinary views over the entire bay as you listen to the waves crash at this open-air two-story teak dining institution that has been open for more than 20 years.  The restaurant is right next door to the famous Joe’s Downstairs and Da Maurizio Bar Ristorante as well.

Baan Rim Pa (Kathu District)
Kathu District, Phuket, Thailand
+66 76 340 789

The Phuket Weekend Market (think Bangkok’s Jatujak market but on a smaller scale) is open Saturday and Sunday from 9 am until late at night.  Located along Chao Fa West Road just outside of Phuket Town and not far from Central Festival, the market has a covered section (secondhand items and clothes) and an open section (toys, accessories, electronics, etc.).  You’ll find food, clothing, jewelry, home décor, antiques, secondhand goods, plants and even pets.  Sample all of the tasty food to the right of the main entrance!

Phuket Town Weekend Night Market
Wai-Rat-Hong-Yuk Road, Kamala, Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand

Ka Jok See is one of the busiest restaurants/bars in town with its setting in a gorgeous old shophouse with beamed ceilings, aged photos on the wall and quirky Thai artwork.  At night the restaurant turns into quite the hot spot! 

Ka Jok See (Phuket Town)
26 Th Takua Pa, Takua Pa Thailand
+66 (0) 7621 7903

Sunday

Your #1 priority while in Phuket is to take a 90 minute ferry or 45 minute speedboat to Phi Phi Island, Thailand’s island superstar.  Phi Phi’s beauty with its beach-fronted jungle and sheer cliffs towering overhead is unbeatable. Phi Phi Le is completely free of human inhabitants while Phi Phi Don is without roads and packed with a busy nightlife scene.  I recommended spending a few nights in Phi Phi if you have the time. 

Koh Phi Phi paradise

Koh Phi Phi paradise

New friends on Phi Phi

New friends on Phi Phi

The ferry is the most popular method of reaching the islands. There are two ferries each day to/from Phuket town and Krabi town. The boats usually depart 8:30-10:00 am and 1:30-2:30 pm although times may vary. The ferry terminal is approximately a one-hour drive from Phuket Airport. Private speedboat transfer is the next most popular way of getting to Phi Phi. Obviously speedboats are more expensive than a ferry but if you have a larger group it may be worth the additional expense. In addition, departure and drop-off points are much more flexible and will save you time. Most of the year the ride is flat but avoid taking a speedboat in September and October as it can get rather bumpy.

There are also many tours you can take for $50 USD per person that will take you first to Maya Bay, the famous pristine beach from the movie “The Beach”, glimpses of Loh Samah Bay, Viking Cave, Pileh Cove, Monkey Beach, then to Phi Phi and Koh Nok with snorkeling in between.  

Pristine Maya Bay

Pristine Maya Bay

The monkeys at Monkey Beach

The monkeys at Monkey Beach

My monkey friend

My monkey friend

Snorkeling on the islands is like being in a fantasy planet.  The crystal clear water gives you full range to view exotic species of fish and one of the world’s most abundant coral reef systems.  Unbelievable!

Phi Phi snorkeling

Phi Phi snorkeling

Photo bombed!

Photo bombed!

 

 

 

The last stop on your tour, Koh Nok, is a breathtaking island tucked away in Phang Nga Bay approximately 30 minutes from the east coast of Phuket with crystal clear blue water, white sand and no electricity.  You’ll still be able to find souvenirs, bars serving ice cold cocktails in coconuts and vendors grilling fresh seafood that you pick yourself!  There are twelve types of exotic fish here that aren’t afraid of humans so bring your snorkels to see them up close.  

Piña Colada Coconuts on Koh Nok

Piña Colada Coconuts on Koh Nok

Cheers!

Cheers!

Pick 'em

Pick ’em

Grill 'em

Grill ’em

Eat 'em

Eat ’em

Panda’s Tips for Phuket:

  • Dealing with the local tuk-tuk and taxi drivers may be challenging. The TAT publishes a list of taxi fares that the drivers completely disregard.  Drivers in Kata, Patong and Karon are particularly ruthless and often ask triple this rate.
  • Karon Café in Karon Beach serves the best steaks on the island!
  • Wats, or temples, are sacred places for local people. Be careful not to stand over or position yourself higher than any Buddha image or wear clothes that reveal your shoulders, chest, belly or legs.  You may be asked to take your shoes off when entering some of the buildings.
  • The Phuket Weekend Market starts around 4:00 pm and closes after 9:00 pm.  Get there early to avoid the crowds and you most likely can’t find a parking spot after 4:30 pm.
  • Thailand issues 30-day tourist visas to U.S. citizens on arrival at Bangkok International Airport free of charge.
  • The THB700 (approximately $24) Thailand International Airport tax is included in the cost of international airfare so there is no need to pay cash at the airport.
  • Tipping of service personnel like tour guides and drivers in Southeast Asia is customary although there is no set standard for an appropriate amount. Drivers can be tipped $1-2 per person and guides anywhere from $3-5 to $10-15 per person for a full day tour, the larger the group the smaller the amount per person.

Krabi, Thailand

Beautiful Phra Nang Beach

Thailand, Travel | April 15, 2015 | By

Krabi is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination with miles and miles of spectacular coastline, towering limestone cliffs, lush interiors and beautiful white sand beaches on the Andaman Sea.  It still remains relatively untouched and retains its lovely charm.  Krabi province includes over 200 small islands with top destinations being Hat Noppharat Thara, Ao Nang, Koh Lanta, Ko Phi Phi and Railay.  We’ll concentrate our focus on Railay but a visit to Phi Phi is a must!

Railay, Krabi

Railay, Krabi

Best time to visit…

The ideal time to visit Krabi is November to May. You’ll find sunshine all day but because Krabi is sheltered by mountains it gets cool and breezy at night.  August and September tend to be the rainy months!

Getting there…

Krabi is located on the south-west coast of Thailand, approximately 800km from Bangkok and 170km from Phuket.  You can reach Krabi by plane, bus, car or boat!  Krabi Airport is small and convenient and you can currently fly into Krabi from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.  Many larger hotels offer transfers from the airport for a fee or there are efficient, regulated taxis available.  The standard prepaid fare to hotels in Krabi town are 350 baht per car; 600 baht to Ao Nang; and 900 baht to Klong Muang/Tubkaek.  There is also an airport bus service serving destinations in Ao Nang and Krabi town only for 90-150 baht per person.  Buses leave 5 times daily or when there are enough passengers to fill them.  Railay is only accessible via a short long-tail boat, you can hire one at the Ao Nang pier!

Buses for Krabi leave from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal on Boromratch Chonnani Road with a cost of 626-920 baht but the journey time is 10 hours.  If you’re planning on driving to Krabi, the road network in Thailand is excellent and the highways are easy to follow.  If you are traveling from Phuket, you can arrive at Ao Nang by a ferry operated by Ao Nang Travel or a faster speedboat operated by Green Planet.  The ferry leaves from Rassada pier and the speedboat leaves from Bang Rong pier.

Arriving at Railay

Arriving at Railay

Where to stay…

Lodging options in Krabi range from simple beach bungalows to opulent five-star mega-resorts.  You won’t be disappointed staying in Railay Beach, one of Thailand’s most sought after beach areas with no roads or cars, just longtail boats and footprints.  Just south of Ao Nang Beach and accessible only by boat, Railay’s gorgeous white sand beaches, soaring limestone cliffs, viewpoints, caves and a lagoon hidden inside the cliffs will astound you.  Railay is only accessible by boat due to the tall limestone cliffs casting it away from Krabi province mainland.  Railay West has a beautiful beach with amazing sunsets while Railay East has the nightlife (both are within minutes walking distance of each other).

Railay Village Resort and Spa (Railay West)
145 M.2 Ao-nang , Muang Distric, Krabi 81000, Thailand 
+66 (0) 75 819 401-3 

Breakfast from the hotel

Breakfast from the hotel

A weekend in…Krabi, Thailand

Friday

Relax and have a sunset drink while watching the sun go down at Flame Tree Restaurant, the first restaurant situated on the walking street in Railay West.  The sun sets in the west, making Railay West THE spot to watch the sunset.  They also have mats they put out on the sand so you can lounge outside while watching the fiery sunsets. Don’t expect. stellar service so get  your drink then go enjoy the atmosphere.  It’s an amazing experience to share the same moment with all the people in the world who also happened to end up at this same place as you.

Flame Tree Restaurant (West Railay Beach)
West Beach, Railay Beach, Krabi Town, Thailand
$$

Sunset cocktails at the Flame Tree

Sunset cocktails at the Flame Tree

Watching the sun go down

Watching the sun go down

Continue down the walking street until you reach Local Thai Food Restaurant, a bamboo and thatch restaurant located on the footpath leading to Diamond Cave between Railay West and Railay East and the best restaurant in all of Krabi in my opinion.  It’s wonderfully simple with a relaxed and laid back atmosphere, fair prices and excellent cuisine.  The menu consists of traditional Thai dishes and fresh seafood.  The barbecue prawns and Penang curry are to die for.  The Mangrove Restaurant next door received higher ratings but it does not live up to the hype…skip it!

Local Thai Food Restaurant (West Railay Beach)
625/2 Moo 2, Railay Beach, Krabi Town, Thailand
$$

Saturday

Check out Railay’s four incredible beaches situated between towering limestone cliffs (accessible only from the sea): Tonsai, Railay West, Railay East and Phra NangRailay West is one of the south of Thailand’s most impressive, atmospheric and beautiful beaches with casual beach restaurants and perfect soft sand.  The beach faces west so it’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the remarkable sunset.  A pathway straight across across the peninsula links Railay West with Railay East.

On the walk out of Railay

On the walk out of Railay

Railay East can appear slightly rough but is the center of nightlife in the area.  It’s a narrow beach (one where you wouldn’t want to sunbathe in) and home to mangroves, fishing boats, birds and the most convenient place to catch a long-tail taxi boat to Krabi town.  There are numerous restaurant bars like the Friendship Restaurant with padded seats and tables on the floor of wooden platforms so you can kick back and enjoy a beer or pad thai while you feel the ocean breeze on your bare feet.  I’m a huge fan of the chicken skewers that you can get at the stands in Railay East.  They go perfectly with a bag of delicious sticky rice and sweet chili sauce!

Sitting back and feeling the breeze

Sitting back and feeling the breeze

Skewers and sticky rice...my go-to!

Skewers and sticky rice…my go-to!

Phra Nang is the least developed of the four (except for the elaborate Rayavadee resort) and has silky soft white sand.  Most people arrive at Phra Nang by boat and are amazed by the beautiful cove but you can also walk there at low tide.  It’s about a 15-minute stroll from Railay.  You can walk along the beach at Railay East along the base of the cliffs bordered by caves and stalactites to Phra Nang beach.  Look out for the monkeys!  Check out the Princess Cave or Tham Phra Nang Nok at the bottom of the limestone cliffs, dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess that contains a strange amount of large phallic symbols and offerings in the hope of increased potency and prosperity.  Read my post on Phra Nang beach and the amazing boats that serve hot, fresh Thai food to you right on the sand here.

Beautiful Phra Nang Beach

Beautiful Phra Nang Beach

You can walk between all four beaches, even to Tonsai by walking through the jungle.  Don’t believe the crooked boatmen who tell you it’s not possible to reach Tonsai on foot!  Quieter than all the other beaches, Tonsai is the place to relax and unwind. 

If you are able to get a reservation, dine at The Grotto at the exclusive Rayavadee Resort, a stunning and unique restaurant set inside a spectacular limestone cave floored with fine-powdered sand and a magnificent opening to the beach.  The Grotto features fine Thai and international cuisine, an extensive cocktail and wine list and an irresistible romantic setting. The price is quite lavish but the experience is unforgettable.  You won’t be able to dine without a reservation.

The Grotto at Rayavadee Resort (Phra Nang)
Phra Nang Beach at Rayavadee Resort      
214 Moo 2, Tumbon Ao-Nang, Amphur Muang, 81000 Krabi, Thailand
+66 66 75 620 740-3
$$$$

For a night on the town, hit the Last Bar, named because it indeed used to be the last bar on the strip.  The multi-level tiki bar with a terrace overlooking mangroves is not only the perfect place have breakfast, lunch or dinner but you can also experience Muay Thai demonstrations and fire dancing shows when the night falls.  This is the place to be for full moon parties and their happy hour prices can’t be beat (cocktails for 100 baht)!

Last Bar (Railay Beach East)
Muang Krabi 81000, Railay Beach, Krabi Town 1125092509, Thailand
+87 468 9083
$$

Sunday

Krabi’s limestone cliffs are a rock climber’s paradise with plenty of climbing opportunities whether it be the challenge of an overhang or a vertical wall.  Over 650 routes have developed since the late 1980’s that follow limestone crags, steep pocketed walls, overhangs and hanging stalactites.  Some are accessible by boat while others can be reached via a jungle walk.   Check out the climbing schools located at the end of Railay East!

If you’re not a rock climber but would still like a challenging hike, tackle the hike to the viewpoint and the hidden lagoon.  You’ll find the start to the hike on the path from Railay East to Phra Nang beach across from a small shack with a few safety instructions.  Look for a set of ropes hanging down a set of steep rocks on your left hand side.  You’ll be using those ropes on the 20-minute or so strenuous climb to the viewpoint.  Wear good shoes and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty because you will be orange from sliding and climbing on the muddy rock.  The view from the top is worth it with Railay West on your left, Railay East on your right and a remarkable grove of coconut trees in between.

The start of the climb

The start of the rope climb

View from the top

View from the top

Greatly rewarded with this view after our hike

Greatly rewarded with this view after our hike

If you’re feeling up for a challenge, continue the climb to the lagoon.  The turn off for the lagoon is a sharp right just before the viewpoint and the climb consists of scaling four vertical walls.  At parts you must use the ropes provided to get down.  I was satisfied with just completing the hike to the viewpoint because several people that we met on their way down expressed that they had tried the hike to the lagoon but that the last leg of the climb was too steep so they turned around.  The lagoon is tidal so try and make sure that it’s high tide when you go or else you might just find a small muddy pool.  Once you reach the lagoon, you’ll find a pool surrounded by sheer cliffs and lush vegetation.

Alternatively, you could also hire a long-tail boat to take you island hopping to some of the 200 islands around the Krabi coastline.  For example, you can cruise Phra Nang cave beach, Chicken Island, the Tup Islets and Poda Island in a day for approximately $50 USD for a private long-tail boat.  The snorkeling and sunbathing on these beautiful islands with lovely white sand beaches can’t be beat.

Panda’s Tips for Krabi:

  • If you’re arriving at Railay Beach, be aware that there is no pier at Railay so dress accordingly to walk ashore from the boat through shallow water.
  • The tides are dramatic in Railay. You can walk from Railay West to Phra Nang at low tide and even to the picturesque limestone cliff that juts out from the beach without kayaking or swimming.
  • Many of the hotels like the Sand Sea are muslim so will not serve alcohol. Even better, you can buy your favorite bottle and enjoy it with your dinner and amazing view.
  • Try a traditional Thai pancake (roti).  You’ll pass several stands making the with all sorts of flavors.  The condensed milk is my favorite.
  • Bargain with the street vendors when purchasing goods. Start your offer at half of their asking price.

A glimpse of Phra Nang beach (Krabi, Thailand)

Thailand, Travel | April 11, 2015 | By

The beautiful Phra Nang beach in Krabi is absolutely breathtaking.  It’s the least developed of the four small beaches on Krabi (except for the elaborate Rayavadee resort which was selling for $600/night when I visited with tighter security than the White House) with its silky soft white sand against turquoise clear water and staggering limestone cliffs.  Note: no filters used below! 

Beautiful Phra Nang Beach

Beautiful Phra Nang Beach

Silky white sand

Silky white san

The beach is so underdeveloped that your only source of food and drinks are from long-tail boats cooking mouthwatering authentic (and dirt cheap) Thai food right on the water.  You can get an entire meal and Singha beer for $3 US dollars.  Not too shabby at all.

Time for lunch and an ice cold beer!

Time for lunch and an ice cold beer!

Spicy chicken with sticky rice, best yet!

Spicy chicken with sticky rice, best yet!

Most people arrive at Phra Nang by boat but you can also walk there at low tide from Railay Beach along the base of the cliffs bordered by caves and stalactites…and monkeys! Hold onto those glasses and bananas.

Hey, little guy!

Hey, little guy!

No, little guy!

No, little guy!

Check out the Princess Cave or Tham Phra Nang Nok at the bottom of the limestone cliffs, dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess that contains a strange amount of large phallic symbols and offerings in the hope of increased potency and prosperity.  

Phallic Princess Cave

Phallic Princess Cave

A national geographic-like photo in my eyes…

Muslims a Phra Nang

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Vietnam | April 9, 2015 | By

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is still known to many, is Vietnam’s center of commerce and biggest city. Perched on the banks of the Saigon River, it has transformed itself from a war-torn city to a thriving metropolis full of fine restaurants, luxury hotels, bars and nightclubs. However, amongst the remains of the modern-high rise buildings, French colonial architecture and ancient pagodas, you can still find reminders of a world less developed.

Lost in the streets of Ho Chi Minh city

Lost in the streets of Ho Chi Minh city

Best time to visit…

The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is during the dry season from December until April. Humidity is moderate in December then begins to decrease from January to April. Ho Chi Minh City experiences frequent tropical storms during May to November, the wet season, with the hottest months being March, April and May.

Getting there…

You will need to arrange for a Vietnamese tourist visa from your nearest Embassy or Consulate prior to departure from the United States. Many online services will offer you a visa upon arrival. This is not recommended unless you want to wait in potentially long and chaotic immigration lines at the airport. The visa process is quite painless. Contact your local embassy and you’ll be able to mail them an application form, copy of your passport, passport photos and check for the visa fee ($100/person when I applied) and they will mail your visa back to you. Your passports need to be valid for 6 months after your departure date.

Upon your arrival at Ho Chi Minh City airport, your best option is to hire a taxi into the center of town (set price of $9 USD or 180.000 VND each way). At the airport as well as in town, make sure you only take the Vinasun taxis (red and white color) because they actually have a meter and are the most reputable.

Where to stay…

Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 24 districts. You’ll want to stay in either District One or Three where all of the the bars, restaurants, museums and sights are. Districtu One is traditionally the French Quarter of the city and is still widely known as Saigon.

The best hotel by far is the sparkling Liberty Central Saigon Riverside hotel in District One. This clean and modern 4-star hotel is located right on the river at the end of the lively Dong Hui street with fantastic river views from the rooms and fitness center, an infinity swimming pool overlooking the city and a connected posh outdoor skybar. The hotel also offers the most magnificent complimentary breakfast buffet I have ever experienced complete with congee bar, omelet station, pho noodle bar, western and Vietnamese hot breakfast dishes, pastries, cheese board, yogurt and fresh fruit. Did I mention that this is included your hotel rate?! Mine was approximately $80/night!

Liberty Central Saigon Riverside Hotel (4-Star, District One)
17 Ton Duc Thang Street, District One, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
+(84) 8 38 27 17 17

Glass bathrooms (with optional shade) at the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside

Glass bathrooms (with optional shade)

Fitness center with a view

Fitness center with a view

Drinks by the infinity pool

Drinks by the infinity pool

Complementary breakfast buffet

Complementary breakfast buffet – A+!

A weekend in…Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Friday   

Settle in and make your way to the Ben Thanh Market and marvel local handicrafts, explore traditional food stalls or simply people watch at this thriving market. Both locals and tourists alike gather here to shop and eat. The day market is replaced by a bustling night market with numerous food vendors around 19:00 and lasts until 01:00 or 02:00. I prefer the night market in the evening when the vendors and crowds are less aggressive than at the day market. I had to try the fried noodles with chicken (with an amazing garlic and cilantro sauce) and my favorite sticky rice…or I should say a sample of 6 varieties of sticky rice with toppings!

Checking out Ben Tanh Day Market

Checking out Ben Tanh Day Market

Shopping and eating at Ben Tanh Night a Market. Night markets are my favorite!

Shopping and eating at Ben Tanh Night a Market. Night markets are my favorite!

If you still have room in your stomach after sampling the delicious food stalls, go to Dong Pho Restaurant for the #1 Pho in Saigon. Its lovely French villa setting in District 3 adds to its appeal and its unique Hue style dishes are amazing!

Dong Pho Restaurant (District 3, Saigon)
57 Ho Xuan Huong, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
+84 8 930 7665
$$

Put on your heels and head to Lam Son Square, one of the city’s most prestigious addresses. Have a drink at the Hotel Continental in the heart of the square (you can’t mis its high-maintenance glossy finish marks) where you can sip cocktails on the hotel terrace just like the French high society once did. If you’re interested in the theater, check out the nearby Municipal Theatre, a lavish 100-year old building that regularly hosts local and touring dance, opera and theatre companies, or see a show at the beautiful Saigon Opera House!

Visit the Reunification Palace, once known as the Presidential Palace, set in a beautiful sprawling park. It was towards this building that the first Communist tanks rolled into Saigon on the morning of April 30, 1975. After crashing through this gate, a soldier ran into the building and unfurled a VC flag from the fourth-floor balcony. The rest, as they say, is history.

Walk a few blocks to the War Remnants Museum which offers a different (and controversial) perspective on the Vietnam War aka “American War.” Military equipment including tanks and a plane as well as evidence supporting allegations of war atrocities committed by the enemies of Communism in the 1960’s and 1970’s are on display. I found the photography of the war journalists and the stories behind them to be absolutely fascinating. The entrance fee is $1.50.

Fascinating photo journalism by heroic journalists at War Remnants Museum

Fascinating photo journalism by heroic journalists at War Remnants Museum

War tanks at War Remnants Museum

War tanks at War Remnants Museum 

Visit the Jade Emperor Pagoda built in the 1900s by Taoists and Buddhists. It is simultaneously spiritual and awe-inspiring in scale and ambition with its ornate carved panels and intricate interior details. You can head out on the roof terrace where you’ll find a statue of Quan Am (the goddess of mercy) which overlooks a sacred Bodhi tree in the courtyard.

Hire a Cyclo (similar to a tuk-tuk vehicle) to take you to Dong Khoi Street, a lively street filled with restaurants and bars that stretches from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Saigon River. The price for short Cyclo ride runs 20,000d (less than a few US dollars) and it puts you in the middle of the energy created by the 7 million motorcycles in Saigon, an experience that shouldn’t be missed!

The famous Vespa bar in Saigon

The famous Vespa bar in Saigon

Vietnamese coffee...a must try!

Vietnamese coffee…a must try!

When the sun sets, book a Motorcycle Street Food Tour for a culinary tour of the city! Vietnam lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s tastiest street food nations. The 4-hour Back of the Bike tour is approximately $65/person and takes you to 6 different locations across town. They’ll even let you cook some of the food that you try (thanks for the tip Margaux Vega)!

Sticky rice heaven!

Sticky rice heaven!

Vietnamese fried noodles with chicken. Noodle heaven!

Vietnamese fried noodles with chicken. Noodle heaven!

Sunday

Hire a driver or a tour group and venture out of town to visit the extraordinary Cu Chi Tunnels. During the war for independence, “Viet Cong” guerrillas built this labyrinth of narrow tunnels virtually underneath U.S. military bases, using them to hide during bombing raids and to stage surprise attacks. Crawl through the tunnels and see how the Viet Cong hid out during the war. Imagine life as a VC soldier or a tunnel rat, absolutely unthinkable! There is a shooting range where you can purchase bullets to fire a variety of automatic weapons…I fired an AK-47 (or the AK-47 fired me, tip: don’t try bringing the empty shells back to the states). If you book a tour, a van will pick you up at your hotel and drive you the 1.75 hours to the tunnels then bring you back after the 1 hour tour.

Crawling out of the Cu Chi tunnels, incredible experience!

Crawling out of the Cu Chi tunnels, incredible experience!

Bomb crater!

Bomb crater!

Shooting AK-47s

Shooting AK-47s

 

 

Have lunch and get the pizza you will ever have at Pizza 4P’s. That’s right, you had to come to Vietnam to get the best pizza in the world. If you make a reservation, you can sit in front of the pizza oven, a true pizza oven with a wood burning fire. Each pizza is shaped and molded to perfection by the chef. Try the signature Burrata Prosciutto Pizza that is baked with olive oil, parmesan and garlic then topped with a gigantic ball of house made burrata cheese, prosciutto, rocket, fresh tomato, and more parmesan & olive oil. They slice the pizza at your table and cut the burrata so there’s just the right amount of heavenly burrata on every bite!

Is this not the best looking pizza ever?!  Pizza 4P's signature Burrata Prosciutto pizza.

Is this not the best looking pizza ever?! Pizza 4P’s signature Burrata Prosciutto pizza.

Pizza 4P’s (District 1, Ho Chi Minh City)
8/15 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
+84 120 789 4444
$$$

The closest beach to Ho Chi Minh city is Vung Tao (2 hours away by bus or you can take a ferry or express water taxi along the Saigon River). Mui Ne beach (approximately 4 hours) is more popular but farther. Nha Trang beach (447 km away) is a candidate for one of the best Vietnamese beaches but is a good distance away. Phu Quoc beach (390 km away) has the whitest sand. We were heading directly to Thailand from Ho Chi Minh City so we decided to opt out of traveling to the beaches and save our beach time for the beautiful beaches of Thailand instead.  Off to the beautiful Krabi in Thailand tomorrow, stay tuned!

Panda’s Tips for Ho Chi Minh City:

  • In small eateries, prices range from a low $3 for a typically large meal of meat, rice and vegetables but you can pay $50 or more at a four- or five-star restaurant. A service charge of 10% is usually included at the nicer restaurants.
  • For airport transfers, tip $1-$2 per person. For tours, tip $3-$5 for the driver and $10-$15 for the guide per person (lower amount for larger groups).
  • Vietnam is the biggest coffee exporter in the world and Vietnamese coffee is excellent – inexpensive and available nearly everywhere. Deep-roasted Trung Nguyen is the most popular local brand. Try it with a splash of condensed milk!
  • If the crowded Ben Tranh market is too overwhelming for you, the less well known Cho Lon market is a huge Chinese market with a huge variety of goods that is also worth visiting.
  • When visiting the Cu Chi Tunels, wear good walking shoes and bring sunscreen.
  • Skip the Mekong Delta river cruises…the scenery isn’t amazing for the cost.

Paleo Panda’s Sticky Spare Ribs

Pork, Recipes | April 1, 2015 | By

I used to love my mother’s finger licking, fall off the bone spare ribs. I’d devour rib after rib and savor every bite of tender meat complimented with the perfect asian spice! Here’s my version of her traditional recipe…enjoy!

Paleo Panda’s Sticky Spare Ribs
Serves 8
Sticky sensation spare ribs...paleo panda style.
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
2 hr
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
2 hr
Ingredients
  1. 2 ½ lb pork spareribs, cut into 1 ¼ inch pieces
  2. ¼ cup honey
  3. 2 tbsp liquid aminos
  4. 2 tbsp dry sherry (alternatively you can buy Pale Dry Sherry, it’s pretty cheap)
  5. 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  6. 1 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
  7. scallions and sesame seeds to garnish
Instructions
  1. Place the spareribs in a shallow dish.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the honey, liquid aminos, sherry, five-spice powder and Sichuan pepper.
  3. Add the mixture to the spareribs and mix until the ribs are well coated.
  4. Let stand for 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  6. Arrange the spareribs in a single layer on a nonstick baking shet.
  7. Place them in the oven and cook until tender for approximately 1 hour, turning them over halfway.
  8. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds and serve!
The Paleo Panda http://www.thepaleopanda.com/