Earlier this year my friend and colleague, Bryan, and I applied for this really big and amazing grant opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Singapore) and were beyond blessed to be selected! A post will come about that experience, but I had to share that note since this is why I was able to visit the neighboring country of Thailand.
I have always dreamed of going to Thailand and thought it would be a great honeymoon destination one day. The allure of the beautiful ocean, islands, and nature experiences have always had a hold on me. However, I am a single gal with no honeymoon in sight…but I am also a single gal that waits for no man. 🙂 So, since we were going to be in that area of the world, the Thailand trip was added to the beginning of our month-ish long adventure. Bryan used to teach and live in Bangkok, so he was definitely the brain child behind this idea and my friend and best travel gal pal, Casey, joined us for this journey.
Casey and I were going to be a day or two behind Bryan and his friend and travel buddy Jessica, but, we followed their trail through three cities until we all finally were stationed together in Phuket. Casey and I left Chicago on separate flights on July 5th headed for Bangkok. I flew Emirates and flew east, which is very different than most routes because the majority are westward. Having become a nervous flyer as an adult, particularly over oceans, I sought out some medicinal help from my doctor before my trip and boy oh boy was I glad. I slept most of the way to Dubai and then again most of the way to Bangkok! Hooray for sleep! And hooray for an exit row! Tip…get to the airport extra early and ask for that exit row, people. Let me break down our travels…
Bangkok (July 7th – July 10th) Casey and I perused I don’t know how many websites for tips regarding where to stay. Since neither of us wanted to break the bank and also because it was our first time visiting Thailand, we did want to get some of that feeling that we may have missed out on if we had gone in our early 20s. So, yes, we did stay near Khao San Road, but in a hotel (Chillax Resort). Our room was super big, the staff was BEYOND friendly, and we were in walking distance of not just Khao San Road, but also by the BESSSSTTTT food and fruit stalls. Some highlights of Bangkok:
- The Grand Palace
- Reclining Buddha (we didn’t get to see the Emerald Buddha because it was a holiday and they were changing Buddha’s dress for the rainy season)
- Chatuchak Weekend Market (HUGE and AMAZING). I got some great gifts at this super busy market.
- Chinatown. Even though I live in Chiago with its own Chinatown, I have not spent a lot of time there. We heard that Bangkok’s Chinatown was one to see, so see it we did. It was visual stimulation galore. Stalls and stalls of vegetables, fruit, seafood, tea, and meat were only separated by the ever popular electronic and jewelry stores. The hustle and bustle left me breathless!
- The FOOD! Neither Casey or I are scared of street food. She told me that her mom’s tip is just to make sure whatever it is we are eating is heated. But, I don’t even know if we stuck to that rule. The fried goodies, the vegetable cakes, the meat, and the FRUIT were some of the most amazing things I have ever had.
My favorite food experience was actually the fruit. And, it wasn’t only because it was so fresh, but also because I got to try fruit I had never seen nor heard of before. For example, the SANTOL was my go to. It was this tart, white flesh, soft fruit that kind of looked like an Asian pear on the outside. The street vendor would peel it and section it off (and it only cost 20 baht…less than one dollar). So tasty. I also drank fresh passion fruit juice whenever I came across it. I grew up eating passion fruit at home and it is just so expensive these days, so having access to even the fresh juice was such a treat.
Now, for complete transparency…I did not really love Bangkok. It is a HUGE city and was a tad too much visual stimulation for my taste. I was pretty much over the buzz of the city in one day (I know, I know…I sound awful), and when we left for Chiang Mai on Monday I was so ready!
Chiang Mai (July 10th – July 13th). When we got to Chiang Mai, it was evening time and it was so rainy! We hitched a taxi to our hotel near the night market called Nap in Chiang Mai. I love how both of our hotels had these fun, relaxing names so far! In Chiang Mai, my slipped disc started to act up and I could barely walk, so I went to bed really early with a ton of medicine and my tens unit strapped to my back. I took our days there very slowly because of the back, but that did not stop us from having fun! My highlights for Chiang Mai:
- The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Please do NOT go to places that allow you to ride elephants, people! Like under any circumstances. I know it seems “cool,” but if you are human and have a heart, you won’t. Here is a great (albeit tough) read to know why. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary provided us an unforgettable experience with bathing and feeding the elephants. My only tip is to not leave your cell phones like we did! They have a photographer, but I so regret not having my camera to take my own snapshots.
- The Night Market. The night market spans blocks and also opens up to large plazas on both sides of the streets. It was easy to get lost for hours perusing the stalls and bargaining.
- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. We took a red cab to the zoo and from there we took another taxi up to the temple. This is something that we were advised to do to save money, but our red cab driver totally knew what we were up to. However, he ended up being super cool and eventually took us to a friend who had a taxi. This is the temple related to the White Elephant legend and it was truly a marvelous experience to see it on the misty day that we had. Stunning.
Phuket (July 13th – July 16th). Casey and I met up with Bryan and Jessica in Phuket at the Kata Beach Resort. The resort was perfectly fine, but since it was the off season, the hotel was doing so much noisy construction! Phuket was everything I could have dreamed of and more. Highlights of Phuket were Ao Phang Nga National Park and all the water activities. We saw James Bond Island, but truly, the boat around the park was what I will remember most. The scenery is like something out of a movie! We also got to take a kayak around the bay and then Bryan and I went for a short swim afterwards. We jumped right off the boat into some of the choppiest waters I’ve ever been in!
Also, since it was the off season, Casey and I never had to wait in line for a massage. Heck, I got so many massages when we were overseas that I’d go back for that alone. The ladies were so nice everywhere and yes, they are dirt cheap (so tip big, people).
Tips for Thailand (especially for a quick trip)
- SEE THE MAJOR CITIES. If we had more time, we would have gone off the beaten path. Both Casey and I are not afraid of trying out new things or seeing things that are not as touristy. But, when you only have ten days, it is worthwhile to only hit the hot spots because they are hot for a reason!
- USE SMALL BILLS! Everything in this developing nation is very, very affordable, if not shockingly cheap. It was difficult to get around with bigger bills and I often had to hit a 7-11 to break large bills. Try and break your money into smaller bills whenever you can to ease your travels.
- TRY NEW THINGS. Even though I love food, I often have a sensitive stomach. But, cest la vie whenever you go abroad. Food is the best way to understand a culture! Come prepared with pepto and an antibiotic from the doctor so you can safely try all the amazing food!
- STAY COOL. I am a self-proclaimed sun goddess, but boy did I get hot. Reapply sunscreen, stay hydrated, and stay in the shade whenever possibly to ensure a great time.
- SAY NO. It can be challenging when walking through vendor stalls or markets to say no to others trying to sell you goods. It’s okay to say no! Say it with a smile and maybe a thank you tacked onto the end to avoid any uncomfortable situations.
- PACK APPROPRIATE CLOTHES. The dress code for many places are quite strict. Arms, legs, and shoulders must be covered when visiting temples and shoes must be removed. Be sure you select light colored clothing and easy to remove, comfy shoes to stay cool and ease coming and going from the sites!
I hope that I have another opportunity to spend more time in this amazing country. The people are so proud of their history, their culture, religion, and traditions. My view of the Thai people is one of extreme fondness and warmth. Thank you, Thailand!