Although actively trying to suppress my wanderlust, I bumped into a ThriftyTraveler.com deal to Thailand. I desperately tried not to click. It didn’t work. I clicked. And before I knew it, I had purchased tickets round trip flying into Bangkok, Thailand and departing from Jakarta, Indonesia for $476. Here’s my recent write up on how to score your own deal: https://chasingchickadeesblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/how-to-find-cheap-airfare/
Preparing for a month in Thailand
Although in the past, I’ve rented cars while traveling, Thailand is much more conducive to getting around by buses, motorbikes, ferries, and domestic flights. This meant packing LIGHT. One backpack kind of light. I grabbed an Osprey Sojourn 45, an amazing convertible backpack and wheeled carry on luggage. Although a bit heavier, it was a dream come true to roll my luggage most of time and have a backpack option. Using this and eBag’s packing cubes https://www.ebags.com/category/travel-accessories/packing-aids/packing-cubes/b/ebags, I felt I had truly mastered the art of traveling light and organized. A few shirts, pants, shorts, bathing suits, and handy scarf coupled with the necessary toiletries is all you need. Southeast Asia has your back for anything else you want to pick up. And, leave room to bring goodies back! Don’t forget your Hepatitis A vaccine so you can truly enjoy the street food.
Thailand in One Month
Day 1 – Bangkok
After a fitful half night’s sleep, Keith and I spent one day in Bangkok experiencing total sensory overload. From my first experience of mango sticky rice (my new favorite food group), to catching the boat taxi practically throwing people on and off the river, to a plethora of glitzy temples, to stray cats in every nook & cranny, to overwhelming smells of street food, and to motorbikes threatening to hit you at every street corner, I was exhausted. In a good way.
Day 2-8 – Chiang Mai
Chaing Mai is a perfect spot to call home while getting a taste of the aptly called “land of smiles.”
We hopped on the 14-hour sleeper train from Bangkok. An experience not to be missed. The clever bench seats that fold into an upper and lower bed, the expansive countryside greeting you in the morning, and of course, the feel of outside air rushing on your tush as you crouch over the train’s squat toilet.
We spent the first day following the tourist’s trail through the city gazing at glitzy temples. When in Thailand, the inexpensive (ten dollars or less) Thai massages are a must. A blind massage school caught my eye and soon we were in a room full of massage beds getting Thai massages. Some folks call them torture, some call them lazy man’s yoga as they contort you into inexplainable puzzle piece, and some call them heaven. The next stop was the Saturday Night Market, a buzzing mass of bodies squished together mosh-pit style attempting to shop. Don’t let me steer you astray though. It’s a vibrant, energetic scene of music, fun trinkets, and delicious street food. Aside from getting my daily dose of mango sticky rice, I discovered the perfectly spiced noodle dish of northern Thailand, Koi Soi.
Although the temples within the city were aesthetically gorgeous, the temples did not touch my soul until I found Wat Pha Lat a week later. A hidden jungle temple nestled at the top of an hour uphill hike called “The Monk’s Trail.” The trees on the trail were wrapped with orange cloth, the same that the monks wear, likely from the very ones that hike the steep trail in sandals every morning for worship. From the thickets of jungle emerged temples and streams delicately trickling over an expanse of rocks overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. Small bridges and footpaths led us into a maze of Buddhas, dragons, and stone carvings. A place that existed perfectly within nature and invited a true sense of peace.
Elephants. Endangered because of habitat loss and intentional slaughter for their husks. I wanted to get close to them for the same reason we all do. They’re majestic, amazing giants. The current trend of ecotourism has put a stop to much of the elephant riding and has embraced supporting the rescue of exploited elephants. There are hundreds of companies to choose from to visit them and we ended up choosing The Elephant Sanctuary. Having a mud bath with elephants in a river and getting blasted with their built-in super soakers is exhilarating. The experience leaves a bit lacking as the tour groups are enormous.
Day 9-10 – Local Village Trek with Mike (north of Chiang Mai)
After a nauseating ride into the mountains, we stepped out of the songthaew, a pickup truck with two benches in the back, and began our journey following Mike, our Thai guide, into the welcomed shade of the forest. His energy and passion united our mashup of folks from the UK to Canada to German and entertained us for hours as we hiked. Eventually, we descended into our final spot, a local Karen village. A serene community of thatched homes surrounded by lush jungle. Puppies and children roamed. After much absorption of the simplicity and complexity of their lives, and feeling such an outsider sense, we gathered for a feast of food. With bellies full, we sat around a fire and lit a traditional sky lantern and let it soar into the star-speckled sky.
After a chilly night, I sleepily awoke to the smell of banana spring rolls and pancakes. A solid choice before our short and steep hike that brought us to the Mei Tang river. We piled on to our water chariot, 15 pieces of bamboo-thatched together and 2 bamboo oars. Our chariot survived several hours on the river, including a few rapids, and we concluded our two-day adventure with homemade Pad Thai.
Day 11-13 – Koh Samui
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We flew direct from Chiang Mai to the island of Koh Samui. Although groomed and beautiful, like a Hollywood actress, Koh Samui felt a bit devoid of the culture I craved from the north. It is an ideal place to learn to ride a motorbike if that’s on your list of to-dos.
Day 14-23 – Koh Tao
Koh Tao was our real goal island to get to, so we took the ferry north to the smaller island, well known as a scuba diving mecca. We anchored ourselves at the low key Simple Life hotel that boasted a wonderful free breakfast and even made us “to-go” sandwiches for our early dive mornings. Choosing a dive school to get your scuba certification is overwhelming but we decided on Roctopus, an upbeat tight-knit school that hosted smaller class sizes for a more personalized experience. It was the right decision as we loved it so much that we added on the advanced explorer class after finishing the open water class. From taking our first breaths underwater in their pool to exhilarating night dives among the bioluminescence, we were infatuated with diving.
After a whirlwind week of diving, we relocated farther south of the vibrant beach hub to the quiet hills at Bamboo Huts overlooking the dreamy Gulf of Thailand. The ocean was our front yard. We leapt off rocks straight into the most sublime snorkeling. Rays darted beneath rocks, parrotfish munched noisily on coral, sea turtles sauntered by, and occasionally triggerfish charged. The surrealness of floating above this dreamlike world totally weightless rivals flying. I assume the fish are just as happy as the birds. Yes, the ocean had officially seduced my soul.
Day 24-26 – Khao Sok National Park
We took a ferry and then a bus from the hard-to-depart Koh Tao. Fortunately, we were in for more earthly pleasures. A world unfolded before me, one I could not compare or contrast to any other world. Khao Sok.
The longtail roared us deeper into canyons of misty, jagged limestone cozily wrapped in verdant jungle. Emerald waters cradled the colorful boat on its journey west towards our floating bamboo bungalows for the next three days. With speechless smirks in the midst of such beauty, we hopped off the boat. Our basic thatched huts serenely bobbing with the water greeted us.
The background of this wondrous place. The lake was formed by the Ratchapeapha Dam established in the late 80s for hydroelectric power. Like a giant Noah’s ark, animals and families were relocated. It took one year to flood the entire basin. Back, back, back in the day, the area was a coral reef FIVE times bigger than the Great Barrier Reef. Uplifting raised the limestone formations into their powerful craggy poses. The treetops poke up from the water showing a glimpse of the forests that once existed.
On our second day with Lek, our down to earth guide, we watched the prehistoric-looking hornbills. Their giant bills seemed to weigh them down as their wings laboriously flapped to move them through the treetops. Whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. Later on, we trekked a slow ascending hill into the ancient forests that rivals the Amazon in diversity. We perched precariously on a rock looking into a view that emulates the intricate depths of the dizzying depths of the Grand Canyon. Bamboo covered islands pierced the deep blue surfaces. Mountains layered themselves delicately on the horizon. It was beautiful. The day ended with a glimpse of the rare sun bear climbing a tree.
Day 27-29 – Krabi
We departed the jaw-dropping beauty of Khao Sok and entered another equal beauty. We stationed ourselves at The Bananas hostel, northwest of the town of Krabi. The Bananas hostel has hit my top five rank board of amazing hostels. Shall I count the ways? Cozy bugalows. A massage hut. Communal dinner for $5. An honor system for payment. Kingfishers and long-tailed macaques in my yard. A mangrove. A crew of puppies. Adorable cats. Low tides that hosted a vastness of beach. Thousands of crabs that you can hear pitter-pattering along the sand. Starfish slowly moving. A giant swing. Limestone islands jutting through the horizon. And, my absolute favorite, bioluminescent plankton. When swimming at night, the plankton light up the water like tiny fireflies under the new moon skies. An acid trip without the acid. These underwater stars are an experience so surreal, I was sure I was dreaming.
On the day of love, Valentine’s, we took a longtail boat to island hop around the Andaman sea. Our boat driver took us to secluded beaches and islands not even locatable on Google Maps. We spent the day on quiet paradises and snorkeling.
Day 30 – to Indonesia for a houseboat tour with orangutans, Blog Coming Soon!