Thailand

Thailand was everything I could have wished for, despite not knowing enough to even make a wish.  At the end of our time in Thailand, an amazing chef from the Akha tribe informed us that Thailand translates to “Free land”.  Everything we experienced prior to this moment of enlightenment made sense.  This is a place of traditional culture that displays a warmth humanity that often does not show anymore in places such as America.  The information I will give you below will allow you to successfully experience one of the most breathtaking and unique countries in the world.

We went during June, which the worst time of year weather wise.  I would plan your trip in the months of November- April.  If you are in the same situation as we were in with June being our only travel month, my number one piece of advice is to HYDRATE.  There are 7/11’s everywhere, so it’s easy to stock up on a few liters of water. We survived off of the app “Maps.me”. Once you’re connected to wifi, your phone downloads the map of whichever city you’re in. When you need to use it out and about, it guides you to your desired location without using data. I would also recommend bringing some Tums or acid indigestion medicine if you have a sensitive stomach like myself.  You don’t want to miss out on trying yummy Thai food! Lastly, enjoy this beautiful country!

We started our journey in Bangkok and we stayed at the D&D inn on Khao San Road.  Khao San Road is a lively street filled with backpackers, street vendors, and street food, along with restaurants and bars.  By the time we actually arrived at our hotel, it was close to three in the morning.  Not knowing what to expect, we learned very quickly that this is a place that doesn’t sleep.  The street smelled of a combination of alcohol and sewage, but in the coolest way possible.  Once nighttime hit, this street came even more alive.  One of my favorite things to do was to walk down Khao San Road and take in all of the sights.  It is the best place to sit at an outdoor bar and people watch. I loved practicing my bargaining skills with a street vendor over a souvenir item that I wanted to take home.  I didn’t think I was going to like Bangkok as much as I did, because I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  As much as I loved this city, you really only need about two days to see everything because there are other beautiful places to see in Thailand!

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Khaosan Road with D&D Inn in the background

Bangkok points of interest:

  • Grand Palace– Very extravagant and worth seeing but so much more crowded than I ever could have imagined.  I would recommend going first thing in the morning.  We went about an hour after it opened, and I felt like we were packed like sardines.  Its so huge and extravagant, we couldn’t even capture the beauty in pictures.
  • Wat Pho- This was my favorite temple in Bangkok.  It was not crowded at all, yet possessed as intricate of details as the Grand Palace, and gave off a real sense of calm.  It is known for the Reclining Buddha.
  • Wat Saket or The Golden Mount– To get to this temple, you have to climb 350+ stairs, but you are rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.
  • Wat Arun– You have to take a ferry across a not so clean river to get to this temple, but it is worth the ride.
  •  Floating Markets– We didn’t get a chance to make it and I deeply regret it.

This may be common sense, but when visiting temples, be sure to dress appropriately. Knees and shoulders must be covered at all times. Please follow the dress code and don’t be disrespectful.

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Outside of the Grand Palace

The best and most efficient way to get to Chiang Mai is by train. We took a 12 hour night train, so we didn’t have to waste a day of travel! My only and MOST IMPORTANT piece of advice for taking the train is to BRING WARM CLOTHES AND BLANKETS! They over air-conditioned the train, so it was nearly impossible to sleep comfortably. Once morning hit, we were able to see the countryside and it was absolutely breathtaking.

 

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Our sleeping quarters on the night train.  Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Chiang Mai- our favorite stop in our backpacking trip.

We stayed at the lovely Hostel by Bed , and I would highly recommend staying here!

Day one points of interest:

  • Wat Chedi Luang- My favorite temple in Chiang Mai. See picture below.19429828_10213017014730138_8018142305834730036_nThis temple grounds actually have three temples on it, including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin.  In Wat Sukmin, I got a blessing from a monk,  which was the coolest thing.  You can sign up to talk to monks so they can practice their English and you can learn more about Buddhism.  We didn’t have enough time to do it, but it looked like an amazing cultural experience.  Check out the link here: http://www.monkchat.net/about-us/ 
  • Night market- It was much cleaner than Bangkok’s and it even had a restaurant section that had a very hipster feel.

Chiang Mai Day 2:

Elephant Nature Park! This is an elephant sanctuary that rescues abused elephants from the entertainment industry, such as circuses and elephant tourism (Riding elephants). This place was a dream come true. We got picked up from our hostel in the morning, and during the hour drive, we watched an educational documentary about how corrupt elephant tourism is.  Elephants are abused due to entertainment acts such as the circus and elephant riding.  Helping feed and bathe the elephants on the sanctuary was heart-breaking, as we witnessed the sobering effects of the terrible lives these gentle giants once lived.  The sad reality we observed was juxtaposed by the inspiring volunteers dedicating their time to help these beautiful creatures.  One of my concerns going into the sanctuary was “What if we don’t get to feed the elephants, because they aren’t hungry at the time?”  That was quickly debunked, because elephants eat for 18 hours a day and sleep for one! What a life! My brother-in-law Chad once attempted this.

Despite seeing the effects of abuse on the elephants, you could see how incredibly happy they were living on the sanctuary where they were free to live in peace.  Did you know that elephants have a life expectancy similar to humans?  We were lucky enough to bathe the oldest elephant on the sanctuary and she was 93 years old!

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If you decide to go through another elephant sanctuary, make sure riding is NOT an option.  “Sanctuaries” that advertise riding the elephants are not sanctuaries at all.  It is their way of luring tourists in, so they can make money while convincing tourists that they aren’t contributing to abuse.  I highly recommend Elephant Nature Park! Here is the link below that gives you many different booking options! We did the single day visit, but I would have loved to stay there a whole week. https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/enp/visit-volunteer

Chiang Mai Day 3:

  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep– This is about a 40 minute taxi drive winding up a mountain, but you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Chiang Mai and a beautiful temple!
  • Thai Massage Conservation Club– This is a massage center for blind people.  I thought this was an awesome way to give blind people a place of employment, and it was the best massage I’ve ever had.  Everyone was extremely friendly and my hour massage was only 200 baht (About 10 dollars)!
  • Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners – This is an awesome opportunity for ex-prisoners to reenter professional society successfully.  Unfortunately I found out about this place too late, and we ran out of time.  Click the link to learn more about this awesome organization!
  • Thai AKHA Cooking School– I don’t even have words to summarize how amazing this experience was! We picked the even class, which runs from 5pm-9pm. The cooking class is run by people who were born and raised in AKHA tribes in the hills of Thailand.  We learned so much about AKHA culture and Thai culture. I highly recommend coming to the cooking class hungry!   There is SO much food to be eaten and you want to try all of it, because it is so delicious!

I tried centenarian eggs which are eggs that have been buried in the ground for 100 days, covered in horse urine.  It sounds gross, but it was surprisingly pretty tasty.  You have to at least TRY it! This cooking class was one of our favorite things we did.  I highly recommend it!

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We loved our time in Thailand, but after a week, it was time to head to our next stop: Vietnam!  I would LOVE to come back and further explore this beautiful country!  Here are some other cities in Thailand that people we met along the way spoke highly of:

  • Pai– A hippy town located in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
  • Chiang Rai– Located in Northern Thailand and home of Wat Rong Khun, otherwise known as the “White Temple”
  • Phuket– Beautiful island to soak up some rays.   We skipped the island parts of travel, because we live on a beautiful island and we wanted to experience something different.

Clink on these links from lonely planet to learn more about these wonderful places!

Happy travels,

S.J.

 

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