WILDTHG TRAVEL

SPLITwise – Why Croatia Should be at the Top of your Bucket List

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Sep 14, 2018

My second time to the beautiful land of Croatia did not disappoint – my last visit was in 2014 – four years ago! Not a whole lot has changed; locals are still browner than ever, spending their days sprawled on rocky beaches, swimming in crystal clear waters and munching on crispy calamari – in fact, I would bet that if I compared my photos of this trip to those of the last one, the very same fishing boats will be parked in the main harbor! (Perhaps I should give that a try.) 

 

The main purpose behind my 2014 visit to Croatia was ULTRA music festival, occurring in Europe for the second time – it is hosted at the Stadion Poljud in Split every summer, usually in July. It was one hell of a party, and continued onto Hvar island several days later. Hvar is an equally stunning destination, complete with beaches, lovely ocean walks, delicious sea-to-table cuisine and the one and only Hula Hula Hvar beach bar – lots of great memories there.

This time, I was able to revisit Split on a bit of a last minute, spontaneous trip, and it was wonderful as expected! A few of my very favorite highlights revolve around my favorite things in life: sunshine and FOOD. So here they are! 

In Croatia, Life’s a Beach

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort for this visit in Split, which is perched on a hill; my room had a stunning view overlooking the ocean and a beach. You can’t imagine how much I wish this were my view waking up every. single. morninggg.

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Morning view from Radisson Blu Resort Split

After an epic breakfast buffet each morning, I would pack my bag with some sunscreen and a book and head off for some much needed vitamin SEA. The first day, I spent most of the morning and afternoon doing it “like the locals do,” lounging on the pebbly beach just a short walk from the hotel.

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Small beach – mostly locals – a short walk from the Radisson Blue Resort

The Croatian coastline (also of Split itself) is lined by multiple little inlets, bays and harbors and around each corner can be found a whole new little secret paradise – just on the walk from Radisson to the main harbor (where the Aci Marina and the major ferry terminals are), there are at least SIX separate inlets – some of which are small, private and calm and others, like Bacvice Beach, that are significantly more wild and touristy. IMG_4117

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Many beaches offer the option to rent lounge chairs and/or umbrellas, or just lay your own towel down anywhere!

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Small harbor on the walk from Radisson to downtown

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View of downtown Split from up the train tracks

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Aci Marina – downtown Split

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I loved walking this path every day, as close to the ocean as possible – from the hotel to the main harbor, it took about 30 minutes easy walking. The first evening, we walked into town for dinner. The main harbor at dusk is a truly beautiful sight – the boats swaying gently and fisherman and tour groups wrap up their workday and the sun reflecting off the sparkling water, throwing a golden glow over the beautiful old buildings.

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Walking into the main harbor, shortly before sunset

My second full day in Split was a bit more adventurous; I took the same ocean path all the way into the main harbor, soaked everything in and took an obnoxious amount of photos… and then continued on in the same direction beyond Aci Marina and past where the big yachts are docked, right alongside the path – (interesting story, one very friendly Uber driver told us that Split is a beloved getaway for several extremely wealthy Sheikhs and many celebrities like Beyoncé, who usually arrive via yacht, why not). I swear you could get totally lost aboard some of these things – they are legitimately the size of several houses, and I was surprised not to see a bowling alley and golf course on top; they have just about everything else!

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A “small” yacht docked in Split

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The destination of my daytime adventure was a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists alike: a swimming hole/cliff jumping spot called Uvala Ježinac (Jezinac Bay). This is a place that my friends and I walked to every single day that we spent in Split in 2014 – it was the ultimate ULTRA pregame: take a cold Karlovacko, some sunscreen and hit the beach for a glorious sunshine-filled morning before heading out to party. This time, it was just as good, even sans EDM-filled nights.

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Arriving at my favorite swimming “hole” – believe it or not, in this exact spot (over the blue graffiti), local boys and brave tourists jump from the wall on the right hand side of the photo, clear the path and railing, and into the water on the other side! (Don’t try this at home)

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Artwork by the ocean

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A slice of paradise in Croatia

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As happy as a clam in the Croatian sun – I spread my towel right down on these large rocks out in the middle of the water – my own personal mermaid rock! bikini from: Khassani Swimwear

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Eat All The Things

Now on to the really important topic – food and where to find it in Split. The first evening in Split, we ate at a lovely, eclectic little restaurant unassumingly tucked away into a literal hole in the wall, called Artičok. With funky, hipster decor and unexpected jazz music that strangely didn’t clash with the ambiance but in fact added to it, this place is an excellent spot for a date night or nice-casual dinner in downtown. The local wine (we tried one from the island of Brac) is a must – in all restaurants really.

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Exploring the beautiful downtown of Splitska

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Jet-lagged, but pretty excited to try the unique seafood & cheese appetizer at Articok – and some delicious local red blend! 

My next top of list recommendation for restaurants while in Split is Bokeria – again, all of my favorite things – snazzy vibes, classy yet funky atmosphere and decor, unique and delicious menu – check check check! We tried the lamb, it was delicious, and this meat and cheese appetizer platter (with cantaloupe accents, fresh jam spread made from local figs and olives) was to die for.

 

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Meat & Cheese appetizer platter and local Croatian wine at Bokeria

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The last day of our visit to Split was a Friday, and luckily we were able to squeeze in one last ocean swim and a lovely lunch (and gelato!) before departing. The last lunch that we had was along the main harbor walkway, where there are many open-air restaurants lining the entire oceanside stretch. We chose The Olive Tree Vintage Caffe. Complete with real olive trees in planters and whimsical decor, this open air cafe is a bit of an experience in itself. I love finding unique, eclectic and out of the ordinary places to eat when I travel; something that connects me with the local cuisine and culture, but also brings some personality and creativity.

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This hummus like spread with bread came as an appetite starter before everything else – compliments of the Olive Tree

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Again with the meat, cheese and olives app – couldn’t get enough of this! (Apparently these olives were also local to the area) 

I feel the same as I did following my 2014 visit to Split: Croatia is a lovely place and high up on my list of places I would happily revisit time and again. There is certainly something to be said for living in a place that has a ridiculous amount of sunny days per year (something like 320+!!!) and a stunning natural landscape. In case you have any trouble identifying locals from tourists, just look for the extremely tan, fit and beautiful people who clearly live on permanent island time – Croatians all seem to have this very chill, easy going vibe about them, which I love. It is a lifestyle I could get used to!

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There is still so much to be seen in the beautiful country of Croatia, and even in the surroundings of Split – this is my Croatia bucket list for future visits:

  • Krka Waterfalls
  • Plitvice National Park & Lakes
  • Dubrovnik
  • Boat back to Hvar and other nearby islands, like Brac
  • YACHT WEEK!!!

See you next time, Croatia!

Escape to a Secret Paradise – Koh Lipe, Thailand

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Jun 10, 2017

I was looking for a weekend getaway from KL’s clouds that would include sand, sunshine and beach; I had to look no further than Thailand, of course, and a friend had recently told me about a certain Koh Lipe, which was supposed to be amazing, tranquil and gorgeous – it did not disappoint. Here is my weekend tale to an absolutely dreamy and delicious tropical paradise, an easy ferry ride away from Langkawi, Malaysia!

 

My weekend started with a short hop with Air Asia from KL to Langkawi island; let me just tell you, they went ALL out for the domestic terminal at KLIA2 (not). If and when you fly domestically in Malaysia… indeed just take all escalators down until it feels as though you’re underground and just keep walking through that hallway… you will actually find your gate eventually, assumptions aside. After properly stocking up on chocolate, I was ready for my flight with all but my earphones, so unfortunately forgotten at home. Luckily enough, I ended up next to AND in front of an entire troupe of kicking, crying and screaming children, which as everyone knows is my absolute favorite. I’m not quite as bitter as I sound, but it was late Friday night and I’m JUST tryna get to the beach, people. Arriving at Langkawi airport was seamless enough; it is a relatively compact arrival hall with just a few convenience shops near baggage claim. I saw a few cars available on my GRAB app, so I went ahead and booked a driver (LOVE GRAB – it’s always my go to, especially if you can swing it from Airports as outbound airport taxi prices are ridiculously hiked up). As is now the routine, I was greeted as always with “only yourself/one person?” Since my most recent arrival in Malaysia (only 2 weeks ago) I have been greeted with a variation of this (“only you?” “You brave girl to be traveling alone”), or even questions as to whether I am scared by being alone. Fortunately I can say thanks to a spotless history of security while traveling to many places in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as a few others in SEA, I do feel perfectly fine, but as all the ladies out here know, it’s a completely different (and highly relevant) conversation; perhaps we can tackle that in a separate post! I arrived to my hotel for the night not quite sure where to go and figuring it was most likely closed for the night, but eventually found a reception that was open to check in. Never having traveled to Langkawi, I had no idea which part of the island was “best” to stay at, or what type of place to look for. Only staying for a few hours overnight I obviously did not want to spend much and ideally would have found a hostel, but by location, the de Baron seemed conveniently close to Kuah Jetty, where I needed to be the next morning at 8am for my ferry to Thailand!! 

Saturday morning, I was up and around at 7:30, donning only my bikini and a perhaps ill-advised neon yellow-embroidered sundress (but my favorite BIYA). Armed with my trusty Patagonia Black Hole backpack, GoPro and Canon (and chocolate), I was out the door and ready for weekend adventures. Somehow, I had what seemed the only Grab car awake on the island to my door within 4 mins, and he easily took me to Kuah Jetty (note: type in “Kuah Jetty Point” to apps like this for best recognition. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this so called “Jetty”, but what greeted me was a full on ferry terminal complete with the works of retail shops and travel agents. After conceding to just drink Sbux today I began wandering (aimlessly, no – purposefully), in search of international departures. I had already booked my return ferry trip to Koh Lipe online and had my print out confirmations (probably not necessary to print btw) – so I was thinking to head straight for the ferry. I was directed to return to the entrance and go upstairs one floor to where “bowling” is (classic Malay directions…) lo and behold, this upstairs hallway (floor one, by entrance to ferry terminal) is indeed the office of Bundhaya Boat Co. (you can also ask for Tropical Cruises). At the office, I filled out my Thai arrival card and got all of the necessary paperwork and tickets squared away. Eventually, the time came to board our boat and off we went to Thailand!! The ferry trip went by quickly and comfortably enough – again, tip for quickness: if you just have a small bag, hang on to it and sit nearer to the front, which has more leg room and ensures that you’ll de board first as well, meaning you also arrive to said tropical destination sooner than later. The ride was about 1.45 hours long, which I passed with a mix of reading (What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School – highly recommended), ‘napping,’ and staring aimlessly at the passing waves through a tiny window at my side. Part of the way into the ride, a classically strange movie was turned on and I couldn’t help but pay attention at parts… it was one of those “so bizarre, weird and pointless” things that I just had to, you see. If anyone happens to know the name and/or origin of this film, they should be awarded with something – it was properly sporting computer imaging capabilities firmly set in the 80s and the plot revolved somewhere along the lines of a mortal living in Egypt who, after some tie-ins with the demigod Horus (among several others), was on the quest to rescue his (already dead) beloved from (death) walking through the nine gates of the underworld… even Anubis was involved – it got real. Sooooo, let’s just say that I was embarrassingly attached to this plot line and still never know what happened, as before I knew it, we had pulled up about 100 meters offshore from the most picture perfect tropical drop of an island I could imagine. 

Classic Thai longboats with colorful ties on the fronts docked alongside our ferry to charter small groups of passengers to the island, and once we arrived, we were charged with the task of picking up our passports from the ferry company, who keeps them in transit to hand over ashore, then obtaining an immigration stamp from the border check. Did I mention, it started POURING rain as soon as we hit ground, which only escalated into a truly Thai monsoon-style deluge. Let me just take this moment to say, those travelers hanging around with dry bags have either just done a lot of snorkeling and kayaking trips or are brilliant and well prepared. Either way, get involved with that. I got lucky, still traveling only with my Patagonia Black Hole backpack – a life saver. It zips, then folds down, then clasps… and I think it’s either waterproof or pretty damn close to it, but everything inside – including all clothing but also passport, book and camera – stayed dry! 

Somehow, a kind woman from Mountain Resort singled me out and asked if I was going there; indeed I was. I followed her to a waiting pickup truck, into the front seat of which I was invited. Upon researching (albeit barely) Koh Lipe prior to my trip, I read several reiterations of the recommendation to bring cash with you, as there are no ATMs on the island and basically no place that accepts credit card. I awkwardly kept assuming that there would be somewhere between KL and Koh Lipe, surely, where I could either withdraw or change money… false. Perhaps because I flew domestically from Langkawi and/or just wasn’t searching that hard, I never did find a place to actually get my hands on some Baht. This luckily turned out fine for me in the end, because it also turned out that the longboat trips to and from the island and our ferry were either complementary, or included in something I had already paid for, and I was able to eat all meals at my hotel, which I added onto my room bill (and they take card at reception!) Problem solved, though if you are wanting to eat at some fun local places or purchase any souvenirs or anything, really, from the shops, bars and locales along the Walking Street or at the harbor, it would indeed be helpful to have some cash. 

Though my driver could barely see and had to continuously wipe down just one spot big enough to look out of on his windshield, we somehow made it to the other side of the island to the Mountain Resort. By the time we arrived the downpour had more or less calmed to a steady trickle, and I made my way soggily into reception to check in. I was given a lovely and typically Thai welcome drink, then ushered away to my room, which was one of the “Garden Suites,” aka small hut to myself with 2 twin beds and an open-air bathroom with shower and sink in the back. Once I had settled in, which didn’t take long considering my level of luggage, I decided that the best way to explore in good old Thai rain and humidity is in a swimsuit! On went the one piece, out came the GoPro, and out I went. First I had a quick walk around the grounds of the resort to see the different style of rooms and the swimming pool. I had a quick dip in the pool but let’s be real, the reason I came was for the beach. Down I went, to one of the most tranquil and lovely beaches I had ever visited. The hotel has a few hut rooms right on the beach, as well as several lounge chairs lined up for sunbathing. I kicked off my flip flops and decided to just have a walk and see where it could take me. I walked and walked, in and out of the beautiful clear water and happy to have my toes in the sand, stopping for the occasional photo with my ridiculously long extendo-selfie stick. My walk took me down the beach, eventually past more frequent beach huts, resorts, massage huts, bars and little snorkeling, diving and adventure outposts. I continued this walk as long as I could, but came to find that it couldn’t take me clear around the island, which I figured may even be possible at first. (Later realized I’m sure it would be possible at low tide!) By the time I returned to my beach at the north tip of the island, the sun had gradually started peeking through the clouds, and the day was getting hotter by the minute. I went to the upstairs restaurant for a lunch of Thai Green Curry and Vietnamese spring rolls, overlooking sunset beach. As the clouds cleared out overhead, the hot Thai sun illuminated the island’s beauty and everything just sparkled. Different hues of blue glittered in the channel between Koh Lipe and the mountainous Koh Adang, framing the sputtering longboats as they glided along – Locals and fishermen going about their daily lives. After finishing lunch I was headed for the beach. I lathered up with my good ol 50SPF (Southeast Asian sun is something else) and plopped down in my little claimed piece of beach a few meters from the crystal clear waters lapping at the shore. There were hardly any people at all on the island to begin with, and especially not towards the north end. It was magically relaxing to have a beach more or less all to myself and just not have to worry or care about sharing space or breathing room for once with hundreds of tourists. My afternoon didn’t evolve much from there, as I only took breaks from baking in the hot sun to take a swim. I read, napped, thought… all day until eventually, noticing more and more people joining me on this particular section of beach, I realized exactly why this tip is known as sunset beach. Travelers and locals alike straggled their way over to the beach to find their spot to watch a gorgeous sunset, some just sitting contentedly, some setting up their tripods for time lapse and breaking out the selfie sticks and even a drone – it was a fantastic sunset. After everyone has meandered back home and the sun had disappeared below cotton candy clouds, I picked up my beach things and headed back home. Considering Koh Lipe isn’t exactly party central, I was completely content with an (early!) night in, after having a quick shower spent dodging mosquitoes, moths and all of the bugs that had decided to make my bathroom their evening abode, I stretched out in bed for a bit of reading time before heading to sleep. 

I either slept really damn well or my body was just revolting against “too much” weekend sleep, because I was wide awake before 7am. Greeted by warm rays of sunshine, I dragged myself out of bed and back into my bikini. I went to the hotel breakfast at Mountain Resort, and once again ate a lovely meal overlooking a surreal and idyllic scene of sparkling blue water, luscious green islands and soft white sand. After breakfast, I was back on the beach to soak up a morning of sun, and by noon I was feeling pretty crispy (my favorite, I won’t lie). Knowing that I had to show up early for passport check at the isIand’s immigration center, I packed up and arranged to be dropped off at Pattaya Beach. Once I arrived, I was given my boat ticket and told to wait about 2.5 hours to get my passport stamped and then board the ferry back to Langkawi. The strip of perfectly soft white sand was imminently tempting, so sure enough I unrolled my beach towel, lathered up with another layer of sunscreen and claimed a spot right there in front of the ferry and immigration offices. After about ten minutes and after two boatloads of new tourists arrived, it became apparent that no amount of my nonchalant reading and actively “fuck off” attitude would deter random tourists from including me in their “arrival” selfies and kicking sand as they shuffled past in chattering hordes. Ok fine, time to move. Here I was anyway, at 3pm Sunday on the most picturesque, perfect sunbathing paradise imaginable and too crispy to even stay in the sun any longer. I claimed a small patch of sand in the shade and read until our ferry arrived, and a small disheveled group of us were ushered onto a Thai longboat. Sputtering slowly out across the crystal clear waters, we pulled away from beautiful little Koh Lipe, and it was difficult to even imagine I had actually been there, and I wished I didn’t have to leave yet!

The ferry ride back to Langkawi took a bit less than two hours and was relatively seamless, spent chatting with a cute pair of American ladies who had known each other since childhood and had vowed to take at least one fun trip together every year after their children had grown up. Upon arrival, I must have been a sight because I certainly had every security officer looking me up and down like something rather strange that had washed up on shore, and the nice Malaysian man in charge of the ferry tours gave me an incredulous look as I exited security still wearing only a sarong around my waist and bikini – after being quizzed only on Katy Perry songs after the guard discovered my home is California, rather than about the contents of my bags or purpose of my visit. Get used to it. After stopping off to get the utmost basic caramel macchiato (ugh), I jumped into a taxi with surprisingly no need to haggle, and headed for the airport. I’m sure you can guess the way the rest of my weekend proceeded – it included flight, taxi, shower, email, sleeeep. What a dreamy weekend!