Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
It was a long drive from the city of Hua Hin to Krabi Town. In fact, if you do it yourself in a half-decent hire car without making a stop, they say it can be done in eight hours. Go by private minivan though, as I did, and you’re looking at over nine hours with all the farting around in various tumbleweed towns.
Anyone who’s ever done these journeys in Southeast Asia knows what I’m talking about. A stop here so that Mrs. Miggins can hitch a lift to the nearest city. A drop-off there so a restaurant owner can pick up a cage of chickens. It was tedious, but at least I had a bulging bag of snacks and drinks. In addition to the fourth season of Breaking Bad on my laptop.
By the time I arrived in Krabi Province and its bustling capital I was starting to feel a bit like one of those aforementioned chickens. It was late afternoon, hence I decided to write the day off with pizza and an early night at my hotel. I couldn’t tell you where I stayed. But I do remember it being small and relatively quiet in a city stuffed with party hostels and boisterous bars. Definitely an early victory.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
Krabi Town is a curious place. As a key transport hub for a glut of southern Thailand’s popular islands, it exists in a perpetual state of commotion. Nevertheless, all you have to do is branch off of Utarakit Road onto the Krabi River promenade and that chaos soon melts away. Gone are the buzzing bars, honking cars and revving motorbikes. In their place… smoking fishermen, beached boats and my first look at the region’s handsome limestone rocks.
I lapped up this gentle introduction to Krabi. The further I followed the river, away from town, the quieter everything became. Indeed there was very little of note as I progressed, other than the unmissable Mud Crabs Sculpture. Funnily enough the name Krabi has nothing to do with crabs. Rather, the word relates to a kind of sword used in the Thai martial art Krabi-Krabong. Krabi’s crabs actually stand as a symbol of kinship among friends and family. And that the nearby river and sea will always keep the local community nourished.
The sculptures reminded me how much I’d been looking forward to sampling the local cuisine. With this very much in mind, I paid a visit to Krabi Town’s famous Walking Street Market.
Here, I soon lost myself in a small but compact square of cafes, restaurants, food stalls and souvenir stores.
Krabi Walking Street.
It was great going from stall to stall trying out a bit of this, a bit of that. At one station I dispatched a couple of chunky spring rolls packed with chicken and bean sprouts. Then it was onto a fresh juice vendor for an icy cup of watermelon juice.
Heck, there was even a donut lady offering a tantalising and somewhat experimental array of home-baked creations. According to my trusty notes, I had a chocolate, custard and whipped cream donut topped with pink icing and a cherry. Because I could.
Very well-fed indeed, I felt it was time to get out of town for my first field trip. So I hailed a tuk-tuk for the twenty minute drive to another Krabi Province town, Ao Nang. But within seconds of arriving all my reservations about the south of Thailand came into full focus. Yup, Ao Nang was everything I feared it would be, an unabashed festival of inauthenticity designed to prise as much money from as many wallets as possible.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
The whole place reminded me of a mini Khao San Road in Bangkok. Which is never a good thing. I’m talking endless pizza joints, ATMs, poky Indian restaurants and tourist “information” offices. This was also the drag from which you could book a boat tour out to the islands. Tub Island… Poda Island… Bamboo Island… Hong Island… too many more to mention.
Instinctively, I put my head down and battled through the touts (“hello sir, you wanna boat cruise?!?”) onto the finely sculpted Ao Nang Beach. I really like the below shot of the beach, which I’m guessing the photographer caught on some blissful, off-season afternoon. In contrast, the scene that met me that day was so awful I didn’t even take a photo. Instead, I pushed on, picking a purposeful path through the crowds and litter towards the beach’s southern end.
In truth, one of my main goals for the day was to walk the Ao Nang Monkey Trail. Happily, I had no problems finding the ladder entrance to the elevated walkway. So up I went, leaving the beach madness behind. The trail isn’t very long, around one kilometre. But I’d read that there’s a fair bit of luck involved regarding how much monkey action you might get to see on any given day.
As it turned out, my luck was in. Within a few minutes I spotted several families of Dusky leaf monkeys frolicking in the trees. They were such gorgeous creatures with their fluffy grey fur and white patches around the eyes. A characteristic that sees them also referred to as the Spectacled Leaf Monkey.
Ao Nang Monkey Trail.
Much to my delight, the monkeys were very inquisitive about me and proved to be model posers. Staying stock still, they held my gaze until I was done with my photos and had walked out of sight. With few other people on the trail, this was a fantastic experience that made having to deal with the town and beach well worth it.
At the end of the trail my descent brought fine views over Pai Plong Bay and the altogether quieter Pai Plong Beach. Once again, for the umpteenth time during my global travels, I marvelled at how transformed my experience could be by just walking twenty minutes away from the drooling masses.
There was just me and another walker on Pai Plong Beach. Consequently, I made sure to sit for a while just to listen to the tide rolling in.
The peacefulness was especially surprising when I realised that Pai Plong Beach serves as the back garden of the swanky Grand Centara Beach Resort & Villas. I hadn’t even noticed upon first entering, but sure enough there was a line of deckchairs behind me with a few napping guests.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
Their website describes the bay and beach as “private”. This was confusing to me as clearly the beach was available to anyone who came out the other side of the monkey trail. Wondering if it was at all possible that I was trespassing, I drank in some more of the karst-studded vista before making my way towards the end of the beach. Where, all of a sudden, a flurry of bodies had begun streaming towards the pontoon pier.
Joining the line of people heading down the pier, I got chatting to a South African guy who told me a boat was about to leave for Railay, a small peninsula situated between Ao Nang and Krabi. “Just give the captain a hundred Baht” he winked, “I’m sure he’ll let you hop on”.
And that’s exactly how it played out. Onto the boat I went with a bunch of Grand Centara Resort guests. When the driver figured out I didn’t have a hotel wristband, he wordlessly accepted my monetary gift and we were off. The journey took fifteen minutes and was only necessary, Mr. South Africa told me, because Railay’s soaring limestone cliffs cut off access from the mainland.
The boat docked at Phra Nang Beach and… oh…. boy was it busy. Unfortunately, it is very rare indeed that someone is able to come to Railay and have the place to themselves. Described by numerous blogs as having “the most beautiful views in Krabi”, Phra Nang Beach and its surrounds hum with activity. Pretty much from dusk to dawn three hundred and sixty five days a year.
Phra Nang Beach.
While I didn’t like how busy the place was, I found it impossible to deny what an exceptionally picturesque location Railay peninsula enjoys. Forcing all the noise to the back of my head, I absorbed the scenery with a smile. The glittering turquoise waters… the stunning skyscraper rocks… the lush green outlines of Koh Rang Nok and Koh Nang, a pair of nearby islands.
Eventually, my eyes drifted to the far end of the beach where I spied a giant cave. People were streaming in and out, so I thought I better take a look. According to my map, I was heading for Phra Nang Cave, though locals also call it Princess Cave in tribute to a string of ancient legends.
One of these stories talks of a princess called Phra Nang who lost her life in a local shipwreck. Another says she was a fisherman’s wife who spent her final years living in the cave waiting for her husband’s return from sea following a vicious storm.
Amusingly, nothing in these legends could have prepared me for what I saw when I entered the cave. Yes, that’s right, an eyebrow-raising collection of penises! Some were small, others were massive, a few were even golden.
Apparently, the cave represents different things to different people. For fishermen, it is a place to leave offerings in order to ensure safe passage while out at sea. For pregnant women and hopeful couples, it’s all about obtaining a blessing for a healthy and happy child. Moreover, Hindu visitors see the statues as lingas, a representation of Shiva.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
Leaving the cock collection behind, I embarked on a long, leisurely stroll to Railay Beach. With great delight, I realised I was starting to lose the crowds again. So I pushed on… and on… until I ended up at an almost deserted patch of sand with breathtaking views all around. As fate would have it there was one other person there. So I asked her to capture the moment for me with a photo. I have often looked at this shot and asked myself what the heck was I doing with my right foot!?!
Finally, after managing to walk back to Phra Nang Beach, I had to admit how tired I was. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before a boat appeared and I was able to catch a ride all the way back to Krabi Town.
The next day I figured I should really try to get out to one of the islands. Despite the fact that I was feeling less than enthused about returning to Ao Nang and booking a boat tour through one of the shady travel agencies. But hey, when in the South of Thailand, one really has to make an effort to see an island or two.
Hence I did some research online and found myself tempted by a little island called Ko Kai. With the promise of “shady, secluded beaches” and “not as busy as other islands”, I booked a ticket on a sailboat with just a handful of other hopefuls. Later, as we approached, I saw why Ko Kai is better known to locals and tourists as Chicken Island. Yeah, cute rock formation.
But this mild amusement soon turned to horror when I realised that tiny Chicken Island was playing host to not one, or two, but three sizeable speedboats of Chinese tourists. In fact, I could hear them all shouting at each other long before we even docked. Cursing my luck, I paddled ashore and stood watching the mayhem unfold.
There must have been between fifty to sixty people on the main stretch of sand. Some were eating from instant noodle pots brought from home. A few of these, I saw, had already been discarded on the sand. Nearly everyone was wearing a bright orange lifejacket because they couldn’t swim.
Not sure where exactly to go, I headed down the beach as far as I could away from the crowds. Right at the end of the beach I found a section of raised rocks, which I proceeded to climb. On the other side of the rocks I arrived at an extremely narrow but perfectly secluded and deserted beach. Whoo-hoo!
But my joy was short-lived. I had been there for perhaps five minutes, not even enough time for a swim, when about a dozen of the Chinese tourists emerged from over the rocks. And they certainly didn’t waste any time settling in. Bewildered, I sat on my spot processing the situation and wondering how it was possible to make so much damn noise. Around ten minutes later I got up and left.
Adventures in Krabi, Thailand.
Chicken Island’s only saving grace that day was that it had a small restaurant. So I installed myself at a corner table and ordered a plate of horribly overpriced seafood fried rice. It was alright, but nothing to write home about. Just like the coconut milkshake that came with it.
That evening, back in Krabi Town, I spent some time looking around the Night Market. Here the food was much tastier and prices were back in the folder marked reasonable. It was early evening, way before the busy period kicked in, so I was able to saunter around at my leisure.
In the end I went for a piping hot bowl of Yellow Egg Noodles (Pad See Ew) with pork and mixed vegetables. Truly, it did a great job putting what had been a disappointing day behind me.
At my table, I struck up a conversation with an American guy from South Carolina. He listened with interest to my Chicken Island story before offering a few consolatory words. I told him that my next island choice had to be a resounding victory. That it needed to be something that would knock my socks off. “Dude!” he exclaimed, a grin breaking out across his face. “I know just the place, trust me, you’re gonna LOVE it”.
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The Chinese tourists made me chuckle. Noodles and life jackets, beach day essentials!
I remember wondering if it was possible for them to live up to the stereotype any more. Well, that’s how it goes sometimes. Thanks for stopping by, Helen.
It’s always nice to look at your ‘market’ photos – local at its best! And why does that ladder look a little wobbly … but how cute are the monkeys! Your views from Pai Plong Beach are stunning – so much beauty. Love the high rocks, while the cave is another story! But oh my, so many people – yet you have some really beautiful photos of your visit here. Ah, and just look how nicely Mr South Africa helped you with that boat ride 😉. Looking forward to the next island …
Thanks for reading about my Adventures in Krabi, Corna. It’s a ridiculously beautiful region in many ways, which is why the crowds flock there of course. A bit too chaotic and noisy for my taste, but as you’ve seen it’s definitely possible to enjoy peaceful moments.
Great lead-in photo. Really sets the mood. And that tease at the end. Can’t wait to find out more. You really have the disposition to make any visit successful. You strike up valuable conversations with total strangers and use the information to find great places. I would love to see the limestone formations us close. It’s fascinating how karst is so malleable to the forces of the sea.
Thanks Memo, some kind words there. It’s a gorgeous region and one that I would’ve liked to see in the off-season. I have been deliberately coy about what’s coming next which is a bit naughty. But hopefully it is worth the intrigue and wait. One of my most treasured travel experiences…
Looks like another great destination Leighton, with a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. Love the cute monkeys, the rock formations and the abundance of Thai street food. Hate the tourist hordes that think they are the only people around and make enough noise to wake the dead. Like you, we have had to move on from a peaceful setting once a large family barges in. Thanks for sharing. Allan
It’s the complete absence of self-awareness that infuriates/fascinates me. Yes, this trip did have a bit of everything from the good and bad sides of the spectrum. Appreciate you taking a look at my time in Krabi, Allan.
We had an experience in Hobbiton, NZ in 2014, when our tour guide had to shout at one noisy group, whose Insta posing antics were drowning out the tour guide’s commentary. The group seemed hurt anyone would tell them to StFU. Oblivious. 😵😕😖
i understand your mixed feelings about krabi leighton. however, i feel that walk with the monkeys alone would justify going for just about anyone. amazing how they live there in the wild like that right in the middle of a very built up and welltrodden area. the natural beauty of the area is truly impressive, but like you i would have also “chickened” out of that beach experience.
Boom, boom. Thanks Stan, the monkeys were a highlight for sure. You would’ve thought after all those years in China I’d have accepted that island experience with a shrug of the shoulders. But these kinds of situations make my blood boil, even to this day. “People…” as the saying goes.
Looks pretty epic, glad for you, Leighton!
Thanks for reading and commenting!
We also found Krabi town a bit strange; small but with so much hustle and bustle. Railay though was a favourite. We did a lot of climbing on the karst pinnacles so didn’t hang out on the beach. At night when the tour boats have left it’s a quiet, chill little village. And of course we loved those funny looking monkeys!! Your description makes me think more of Phi Phi than our experience in Railay. Maggie
Climbing the pinnacles must have been cool. I saw one or two crazy rock climbers hauling themselves up the steepest of sharp inclines. It wasn’t for me. Thanks for checking in Maggie, I made it to a few islands but not Phi Phi.
You didn’t miss anything in Phi Phi.
Sounds like my feelings about Ko Tao.
Ah, Leighton- you’ve done it again. This post was fantastic and had me laughing on several occasions (‘you’re looking at over nine hours with all the farting around in various tumbleweed towns;’ ‘leaving the cock collection behind…’ 😆) and the photos are incredible- the skyscraper rocks are stunning! What an incredible area of the world this is. It excited me to know that I have yet to discover it all! 💖
Ha, thanks Laura, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. The photos were from my old Sony Cybershot before I switched to the iPhone. They needed a fair bit of editing to be honest, so glad they came out ok. Hope you enjoy the rest of this Thai series!
Really enjoyed this – love the photos – and as for those monkeys – cute or what!!
Thanks Marie, they were definitely the loveliest monkeys I’ve ever seen. Curious but introverted, which made for a refreshing change.
Would love to visit Krabi at some point and gaze at its limestone pinnacles. The monkey trail looks interesting with that rickety looking ladder to the trail head. Have so far only had a three night stopover in Bangkok.
Hey Marion, thanks for taking a look at my Adventures in Krabi. Thailand is just wonderful, though I think if I had to choose between the north and the south it’s the north that wins for me. The coast and islands are something to see, but you pay a price in terms of the crowds.
That’s really good to know Leighton, thanks for the advice.
Ha ha love the knob cave…no let me rephrase that, I didn’t love it, nor the thought of it, but it made me laugh! Our only experience of Krabi was passing through the airport, so didn’t get to see the dreadful commercialisation. But you know, Leighton, you have to see these things, and witness it for yourself, to really have your own opinions and home in on the things you do like. There is simply no substitute for experiencing it yourself, good or bad…..is there!?
Exactly. Plus, while Krabi, Ao Nang and Chicken Island were really not my thing, it wasn’t ‘that’ bad. Well, maybe Chicken Island… In any case, the good moments found here made suffering all the other stuff worth it. Moreover, Krabi was the springboard for the spectacular location in my next piece. So… no regrets as they say.
All the food at the market looks delicious, especially all the noodles! Generally the monkey freak me out, but those ones look pretty cute and non-threatening. Lastly, the color of the water, beaches, and rocks are all just stunning! I’d love to visit Asia one day.
I’m sure you guys would love Thailand, Lyssy. Like me, you’d just have to find that little corner where things are less hectic. That’s what I managed to do in my next post. Krabi was just the springboard really for figuring it all out. Thanks for reading!
Thank you for having experienced this part of Thailand, apart from the monkeys, everything else looks too much like what we are trying to avoid
I would say that’s a ‘bit’ harsh ha ha. I think I remember from my first batch of Thailand articles that you kind of hate travel in this country right? It was definitely too crowded and Chicken Island was a nightmare. But there were some splendorous moments along the way in terms of views and food. And yes, those incredible monkeys. At the end of the day Krabi is one of those hub towns that you just have to deal with to get out to the islands. My next piece (out on Wednesday) served up the kind of experience that made everything worth it.
You have a good memory and it’s true that I tend to be consistent in my lack of interest in Thailand, as there is so much better to see around, I would prefer to go to more authentic places. Let’s see if Wednesday changes my mind 😉
I’m not sure what you mean by “more authentic”. Every country has its authenticity right? Thailand’s moat authentic places are every bit as authentic as that in say Nepal, Laos, Bhutan etc. Moreover, within each country you’re going to get your hotspots where things are “less authentic”. But even within those less authentic spots, there will still be authentic moments and experiences to seek out. If one knows where to look. I’m not holding out much hope for Wednesday. If I failed to convince you of Thailand’s authenticity when I wrote about Kanchanaburi, Sangkhlaburi, Ayutthaya, Phetchaburi etc than I would imagine it might be a case of Mission Impossible 😉
This area of Thailand is so lovely! I loved exploring the rock formations by boat. So many cool little caves and bays!
Hey Anna! Glad you also enjoyed your time in Krabi. What would you say was the highlight?
It’s been so long I can’t remember the names, but I really just loved the karst scenery, and how the cliffs jut out of the sea. I vaguely remember visiting a school on the water, the school had a view of so many limestone formations, it was amazing!
Krabi looks like a mix of exasperating over-tourism and hidden pockets of beauty, the latter especially if you know where to look: braving the all-day trip over from Hua Hin sounds exhausting, but the luck of having a quiet hotel away from the loud partying is a relief! Although I’m Chinese myself, I still cringe at the rudeness of Chinese tourists wherever I travel– Krabi included; I’m sorry you crossed paths with them– having tourists in a large group is one thing, but when they have absolutely no idea (or even deliberately) that they’re causing a scene is another. Thankfully, it appears you still enjoyed your time in Krabi, and with some delicious night market food to boot!
Hey Rebecca. Well, I have also had moments when I’ve been embarrassed by the behaviour of people from my home country. A few incidents of Brits behaving badly in Spain and Greece spring to mind. Unlike my fellow countrymen, I mostly find that such Chinese tourists are clueless rather than malicious. Chicken Island was just too small too deal with those kinds of numbers and the associated noise. Reckon I was just unlucky with my timing. Still, I’m happy that you’ve enjoyed this look at Krabi, it would be an absolutely stupendous place to visit if it weren’t for the hordes. I’m trying to imagine living there during the heart of the COVID crisis, must have been eerie.
Yet again your signature humour comes to fore, Leighton, to describe so vividly the commercialisation you encountered in Krabi. The monkeys are adorable, what a face!. Your food photos made me miss Asia all over again.
Cheers Anoush, I also miss Asia! It’s been two and a half years since we left Cambodia and from time to time the region calls to me. Especially on days during this tough winter period in Georgia and Greece. One day we might go back and cross off a few more countries. Thanks for reading!
The monkeys are absolutely darling, and very considerate to pose for you. 😉 The ladder to the trail looks quite precarious though. I’m glad you included people in the photo of the rock at Phra Nang Beach, to get an idea of its size – it’s massive! Although, it sounds like it would have been impossible to get a photo without people in it. Very entertaining post, Leighton, but the items in the cave? No comment. 😂
I can still remember my surprise as I entered that cave. “Oh… right!?” Visually Krabi is an incredible place. It’s such a pity that most of the time it feels like you’re sharing it with half the country. Thanks for reading, Tricia!
Sounds like it was quite the adventure to go from Hua Hin to Krabi Town, but at least you came prepared with snacks and entertainment. Glad to hear that you had good luck with the Ao Nang Monkey Trail and got to see some monkeys!!! They are super adorable! That’s funny that you were able to bribe your way onto the boat! It’s too bad how busy it was but the views are gorgeous. That’s hilarious about the penis cave.
Krabi certainly threw up a lot of experiences, good and bad. When all is said and done, I would’ve probably taken an hour sitting alone in the penis cave over an hour on that beach with that group. Thanks for reading about my time in Krabi!
Wow, what a rollercoaster couple of days. It’s always good to know that it’s possible to walk a little and leave the chaos behind. Of course, it’s frustrating when people follow you there and ruin the solitude.
Thanks for checking in, Diana. I really thought I had escaped them by seeking out that quiet patch of beach away from the main stretch. Somehow, I managed to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
The monkey trail looks amazing! Also, the markets seem like a great area to try the local cuisines.
Thanks for taking a look at my post on Krabi, Allie!
this is a fantastic post all around- adorable monkey faces, beautiful beaches, a slightly risque shrine, and tourists with noodles 🙂 So glad you got past the long line of pizza and tourist information centers and found these pieces of the island.
Thanks Meg, Krabi was a place that, at first glance, might seem like somewhere to run away from. But truly those vistas are just too spectacular to ignore. So it was definitely a case of find try and find the best spots. I think in that respect I was only partially successful but hey, sometimes you can’t have it all. Say hi to everyone for me, I do hope 2023 is treating you well and things are starting to warm up a bit.
well ever since you helped win a kindergarten argument about mouse deer- Tessa refers to you as her friend Leighton. So hello to you and Sladja from your friend Tessa and the rest of us 🙂
Guess I was lucky to have passed though that area about forty
years ago. You are right though, in each country there are tourist hotdpots. It is natural for people to want to visit these wonderful places, and also natural that a thriving tourist Industry should develop as a result. However, in each country, not far away from these key places, life continues as normal. Perhaps the bggest problem is that the hotspots change their character to provide the very thing tourists also look for, not the understanding of a different country and people, but to have a “good time” and “party”.
Spot on, Geoff. I didn’t want to miss out on these amazing landscapes and a few of the islands. So you just take the rough with the smooth and try to get away from the worst of the commercialisation. 40 years ago it must have been a different world.
This was a great way to explore the peninsula (is it considered a peninsula?). The dusky leaf monkeys are so unique looking! I didn’t know about them. The tall rocks are so dramatic, but I would have skipped the cave. I guess you didn’t know in advance what to expect!
Yup, I think peninsula is exactly right. Those monkeys are probably my favourite and so unlike typical monkeys in terms of their shyness and slow movements. Ha, maybe they should consider some kind of warning sign on the approach to the cave.
I imagine the Thai natives think this is a natural aspect of their culture. Only the westerns would need the warning!
never been there, but thank you a lot for sharing about this place
Thanks for your comment!
Food and beaches look amazing. Loved the monkeys even though they reminded me of the Black and White Minstrel show from the TV, maybe someone is now going to ban them from looking like that.
Oh god Gary, you did make me laugh there I have to admit. These were definitely my favourite monkeys from across my travels. Soulful and not at all troublesome.
The monkeys are too cute 🙂 I love all the rocks rising out of the sea, it’s just so beautiful – I can see why it attracts so many tourists!
Thanks for dropping by Hannah!
Thailand would be a destination I would love to visit. However, like you, I am not one for crowds. In fact, the less people there are, the happier I am. With that said, the food looks wonderful: watermelon juice and donuts? Yes, please! The leaf monkeys are adorable and worth the effort to find them, and the scenery is gorgeous even if there are strangers in the shots. The penis cave would’ve been an absolute surprise, but I would’ve probably taken a lot of “you’re not going to believe this” shots to show people back home!
Yes, there are so many “wtf” moments in Thailand, but happily most of them made me smile. I suspect, like me, you would get more out of a tour across the north of Thailand compared to the south. Thanks for reading Kellye!
Oh those little monkeys are just so cute!! They kinda look like plushies ahah! Krabi seems like an interesting place and there’s no denying that the nature there is absolutely stunning. It is too bad when mass tourism makes it a less enjoyable experience, though it’s great that you managed to escape the crowds a few times. Now I can’t wait to discover the hidden gem promised by the American tourist!
Thanks Juliette, glad you enjoyed this look at Krabi and its mixed bag of charms. Nothing mixed about the next location though, sometimes you need to experience a place like Krabi because it paves the way for something really special.
Just beautiful 😍 stunning places and useful insights. Thank you for your shares
Thanks for reading and commenting Ioana! It’s much appreciated 🙂