Sawasdee Kah! I’m very eager to share my two weeks travelling through my first ever Asian country: Thailand.
After 21 hours of flying, we landed in Bangkok on Sunday night and had a Chang, one of Thailand’s local beer. Learn the name, you’ll be ordering it for every meal!
We woke up very early on Monday and headed out to explore the Grand Palace and famous temples Bangkok has to offer. The Grand Palace is just what the name suggests: majestic and grandiose. The architecture was like nothing I’ve ever seen before- it was overwhelming taking everything in all at once. I’ll save myself the words and will let the pictures do the talking.
In case you weren’t aware, Thailand’s former king passed away a couple of months ago. They have been in mourning since and will continue to do so for the next year. There were many locals dressed in black that Monday morning waiting in front of the Grand Palace to pay their respects.
After, we grabbed a Tuk Tuk to go to the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha temples. We then set sail on a long-tail boat along Thailand’s canal that dropped us off at other temples across town.
On our second day, we headed to a floating market an hour outside of Bangkok city. Though they are now mostly used for tourism, floating markets were a big way to do commerce in Thailand back in the day. Many houses were built right on the canal, making it easy for vendors to swing by and sell whatever goods they had. You can find everything and anything in a floating market. What’s better than being on a boat while simultaneously shopping til you drop? Answer: Nothing.
We took the afternoon to relax and get Thai massages; a wise decision given we woke up the next morning and spent the day walking. We roamed for a few hours through the Chinatown in Bangkok and made our way to the Wat Traimit temple. Then, we strolled through the Lumphini Park, took the skytrain to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, and finished our day at the Jim Thompson Museum. My legs hurt incredibly when we got back to the hotel. It was a tiring day for sure, but we sure did see a lot!
On our final day in Bangkok, we took a day trip to Ayutthaya. We started off by visiting the Bang Pa-in Royal Palace a.k.a Summer Palace. This was one of my favorite places in all of Thailand. How can I put it into words? Living in this palace IS living in heaven on earth. The architecture, the landscape, the elegance of it all… heavenly!
We then headed to the Wat Mahathat ruins, a result of a battle Thailand had with Myanmar. The tour proceeded to take us to a temple afterwards (seriously, a tour in Thailand didn’t happen if you didn’t go to a temple). But unlike the other temples I’d been so far, this particular visit turned out to be significant given the guide taught us more about Buddhism. The tour finalized with a late lunch cruise along the wider Thai canals where we got to appreciate the rural and urban architecture along the way.
We were off early the next morning to our next city on the list: Chiang Mai. We visited a local tribe known for their coffee before going to, you’ve guessed it, another temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
The next day was the longest day we had in the two weeks. The tour picked us up at 7:00 a.m. and headed to the city of Chiang Rai. We stopped to look at a hot spring before heading to the White Temple.
The adventures continued at the Mhong and Palong Tribe Village. This last tribe mentioned is known as the “Long Neck Tribe”. Girls start to wear, at an early age, heavy golden rings around their neck in order to lengthen it; the longer, the more beautiful she is considered to be. It’s always interesting to learn how beauty is defined in other cultures; as the saying goes: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
After, we visited the border between Myanmar and Thailand. The day ended with a boat trip to Laos (unfortunately, the tour was in Chinese, so we couldn’t understand any of it). I do have to mention that if you are planning to do a Chiang Rai visit from Chiang Mai, just go to the White Temple. Nothing else was truly worthwhile as most places, like Laos and the hot springs, were shopping bazaars.
A week into our trip, we visited an elephant sanctuary where we got to adopt an elephant and feed, bathe, play, and love it for the day. As you may or may have not heard, there is a lot of elephant abuse in Thailand, which is why it’s of utter importance one does their research regarding safe elephant sanctuaries/farms before blindly going to one. Patara was recommended to me by two colleagues who were keen in choosing a sanctuary, prior to their visit, where elephants came first. They were delighted in the service Patara offered .
The Patara Elephant Farm started 13 years ago when their founder decided there was something to be done regarding elephant abuse. Since then, they have welcomed elephants mistreated from circuses, tourist places, and abandoned caregivers. The organization follows a four step philosophy: Recovery, Rehabilitation, Reproduction, and Reintroduction. With the money received from visitors, they have recovered elephants from the places mentioned above and have helped them rehabilitate into their safe and natural habitat. Patara is also Thailand’s only breeding farm and, since their beginning, they have breed 24 elephants. Moreover, their goal is to reintroduce the elephants they recover back into the wild. It’s also important to note that the animals live in free-range in a pretty large terrain.
When we first arrived to Patara, we were greeted by a family of elephants and bonded with them for 10-15 minutes in order to have them get comfortable with us. Each of the visitors was assigned an elephant, which we then took on a walk while we fed them sugar canes. My elephant’s name was Cahm- fortunately, she loved to eat as much as I do.
After their bellies were satisfied (at least momentarily), we bathed them on the river for a bit before going on a brief ride to some waterfalls. On the falls, we bathed them some more (elephants can get dirty) and took them for a last ride before having to get on the bus and bid them farewell.
During the whole visit, we had an elephant handler by our side to ensure the elephant was happy and comfortable with the activity we were doing. As for riding, the recommended form is bareback as mounted riding hurts their back. Moreover, if an elephant won’t stop eating whatever it can find and its cuticles are wet, it means the elephant is extra healthy. Make sure you watch out for these cues if you decide to go to a sanctuary and don’t ignore your gut feeling. If something feels wrong, don’t do it or promote it!#MakeElephantsHappyAgain
We parted to Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, the following day. Finally, some relaxing island time!!!
I’ll admit I didn’t do much exploring in Koh Samui, because I was pretty worn out from the prior week. However, I did get to meet one of my many cousins who has been teaching in a school in Thailand for the past months. It was awesome talking to her and her boyfriend and hearing about their experience living in a country with a very distinct culture. I’ll share some of her thoughts later on.
After having spent a peaceful Valentine’s day, the fun pointed to Krabi, located on the west coats of Southern Thailand. On our first day there, we visited Hong Island and sailed through the 4 Islands in a longtail boat.
At the end of the day, we stopped at a small bay to have a BBQ Thai dinner and watch the sunset.
We weren’t tired of snorkeling by the next day when we headed to the Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay. Our first stop was at Phi Phi Don before going to Monkey Beach.
We proceeded to do some snorkeling with this view…
And headed to Maya Bay right after!!
We booked these two tours with Andaman Camp and Cruise. If you ever go to Krabi, Thailand and want to spend the day at ease in the sea, I highly recommend you do it with them. They do private tours and include snacks, lunch/dinner, snorkeling, and transportation to and from your hotel!
With a nice tan on our skin and salt in our hair, we took a flight to Bangkok the next day to enjoy our last full day in Thailand!
WHAT A TRIP! Between its temples, architecture, culture, animals, and beaches, Thailand has everything you need to take a well-rounded trip; the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation!
Thailand was definitely one of the most different countries I’ve traveled to so far. This is why I want to share a few things I learned that will be resourceful to someone visiting for the first time.
- Thai people are very religious, and the king is highly esteem. You will see them constantly making gestures of respect and worship every time they pass along their king’s image or go to a temple. Make sure you show respect as the lack of doing so can be perceived as disrespectful.
- Don’t wear anything too revealing, and if you do, have a pashmina to cover you (this is especially true for temples as they won’t allow uncovered shoulders or knees). Thai people dress pretty conservatively. I would have thought the opposite since the climate is pretty warm, but you’ll see women wearing shirts that cover their shoulders most of the time along with pants or a long skirt. Keep this in mind during your travel.
- If they don’t understand what you’re saying, people will say yes to everything out of respect. Try to have your questions be open-ended. You’ll save yourself a loss or two.
- Men are more respected than women. Unfortunately but that’s what we picked up from our interactions. It’s not that they will ignore or disrespect women, but if a man is there, they will prefer to address him.
- People, especially Tuks Tuks and vendors, tend to be a bit deceitful. For example, we got on a Tuk Tuk that told us the temple we wanted to go to was closed for lunch time. He offered to take us somewhere else first. We told him to leave us at the temple anyway since he was, in fact, lying.
- This brings me to this next point: always tell taxis/Tuk Tuks to take you straight to wherever it is your’re going. If you fail to do so, they’ll take you to shops/markets before taking you to your destination.
- Every culture has a different definition of “clean”. If you’re used to the clean version of Western countries, you’ll have to adjust that when in Thailand. It’s not that things are dirty, but it’s not that things are sparkling clean either. Nothing too huge to worry about, but something you should keep in mind during your stay.
- During my first week, all I ate was Thai food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. By the end of the week, I was DONE with it. See, Thailand doesn’t have a whole lot of food variety. Luckily, we were able to find some Italian and German restaurants in Koh Samui and Krabi. Worst case scenario, it will be Thai food all the way!
- Also on food, don’t worry if you don’t like spicy. They are able to make it less/no spicy for you if you want.
- According to my cousin, the biggest crime someone can commit in Thailand is talking bad about the kind. They take it seriously, so watch your mouth.
- Everything can be bargained. Don’t accept the first price they give you. In the floating markets, we saw a wallet for 1800 baht, and the vendor went as low as 500 baht in order to get us to buy it. This applies for everything that is not food or taxi/Tuk Tuk.
- Women bring home the bacon! You will see women working 80% of the time, unless its in Tuk Tuks or taxis. My cousin told us that women make the money for their husbands. The men, on the other hand, waste it in drinks and (other) women. We also read somewhere that women generally earn less, so it’s important to tip them more.
- This might be the most important point of the all: DON’T OVERPACK YOUR SUIT CASE. DON’T ARRIVE WITH TOO MUCH CLOTHES. Clothes are dirty cheap in Thailand. I was glad I barely packed anything, because I came back with loads of new things to wear. Seriously, just pack underwear and toilettries and buy the clothes you’ll wear there. Trust me, you’ll thank me later!
I’m so happy Thailand was the first country in Asia I visited, and I can’t wait to explore more of the continent! In a few months, the travel diaries adventures will continue. Where to? I’ll have you guess it: A man, A plan, A canal… 😉