I’ve had several people ask me to post a recap about my recent vacation to Thailand. Every time I think about it, I become overwhelmed. It’s hard to describe Thailand other than just amazing. There’s an Anthony Bourdain episode where he talks about Vietnam and how he felt that his world had been changed forever the first time that he visited, well that’s how I felt about Thailand. The people, the food, the colors, the chaos and the serenity all engulfed me at one time. While I cannot do this country justice in a blog post, I hope that I can encourage you to visit. It’s worth every second of the long flight to get there.
We departed DFW airport at 6:40 p.m. Sunday and arrived in Bangkok at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. The first thing I noticed leaving the Bangkok airport were the huge billboards. There was Ronaldo doing an ad for Herbalife and I swear the sign was 8 stories tall and probably 10 stories long. Bangkok traffic is no joke. There are 6 million people crammed into Bangkok but I soon noticed that everyone is polite when driving. You don’t hear horns honking or people yelling at each other. Everyone has the same goal of making it to their destination and they do it politely. Our taxi driver took us to our hotel Anantara Riverside to check in. Our room wasn’t ready since we had arrived so early; however, the hotel gave us a complimentary wifi password and told us where to find breakfast within the hotel. Letting us know that our room would be available quickly. After enjoying our breakfast, we walked around the hotel a little. Once our room was ready, we crashed and crashed hard. Upon waking up we decided to go explore Bangkok. There was a boat at our hotel that took us over to the ferry terminal. We arrived at the ferry terminal and decided that it was way too confusing for us so off to find a tuk tuk. We found one and had him take us to the night flower market. That night we toured a night market, the night flower market, waked around a Wat and China Town.
On Wednesday we were off to tour Bangkok with Ms. Petch from BKK Tours. I cannot say enough good things about Petch or this company. She was an excellent tour guide and they cater the tour to your interests. We visited the Royal Palace, Wat Po, flower market, ate a huge lunch and then did a longboat tour of the canals in Bangkok. As it happened, it was one of the hottest days in Bangkok at 103 and humid. Although we took our time the heat is no joke and was exhausting. We came back to the hotel, napped and then ate dinner at the hotel in the air conditioning!
Thursday we were up early and flew Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai. We stayed at Akyra Manor in Chiang Mai. This is a boutique style hotel and the service we received there was great. Also the food at their restaurant was amazing. Some of the best meals we had on our trip were eaten here. Because we had arrived in Chiang Mai early, Rob decided he wanted to go and do something so we went to Bua Tong sticky waterfalls outside of the city. Basically it’s a waterfall that minerals are deposited onto the side of the mountain and you can climb the waterfalls without worrying about falling down too much. There are some slippery areas but overall you are able to negotiate the waterfalls just fine. Our hotel had called a taxi for us to take us there. In Chiang Mai there are no meters on the taxis. You negotiate the price prior to going to the destination. Our taxi driver, Dang, took us to the waterfalls where it was basically us and the locals. He told us that it’s a great spot for families to go and escape the heat. That most families will bring picnics and spend the day there. It was certainly fun and a refreshing place to get out of the heat. Leaving the waterfalls we noticed a temple on the left and asked Dang if he would take us there. He agreed and there we found an elderly couple restoring the nagas at the end of approximately 250 steps that lead to a cave with a Buddha. Dang helped translate our questions for us and it turns out that the couple had been restoring the nagas for about three months. They were doing it for free in order to receive more blessings from Buddha. After leaving the cave Dang asked us if we wanted to see a temple and we agreed. What Ban Den did not disappoint. It is an amazing temple in the countryside. The only people we saw there were monks. It had been a long day so Dang took us back to our hotel. We walked to a local restaurant for dinner and then went to bed early.
Friday was cooking class day in Chiang Mai. We had booked our cooking class with A Lot of Thai. Transportation was provided by the cooking class to the home of Yui and her family. Yui is an amazing woman who with the help of her family runs A Lot of Thai. Our class, although small, had people from all over the world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people bond over food. It is the one common denominator in our world. With Yui we cooked four Thai recipes and all were delicious. Rob complaining that nothing had been hot enough for him in Thailand added 5 Thai chilis to his papaya salad. I think even Yui thought he was crazy. You can take a boy out of Texas but you can’t take Texas out of the boy! After completing our final dish we enjoyed a tour of a local food market where Yui showed us fresh local ingredients. Then it was back to the cooking class so that our driver could take us to the hotel. Later that afternoon I waked around our neighborhood in Chiang Mai visiting the local shops. Then that evening we went to one of the famous Chiang Mai night markets. The best one is on Sunday nights supposedly but this one was incredible. You can truly buy anything you want at these markets.
The next day was the day I had been anticipating since we started planning the trip. I had spent a great deal of time researching where we could go and see the elephants. I did not want to participate in a park or tour that abused the elephants at all. Did you know that just by riding an elephant you are hurting it’s back. By the time you had the iron saddle and the people that’s 1/2 a ton on an elephant’s back. During my research I found Elephant Nature Park. This park takes in elephants that have been injured, abused or turned in by their owners. The elephants here form new families and are able to live happier lives. Currently they have 3 baby elephants but most of the elephants are older with the oldest being in her 80’s. During our time at Elephant Nature Park we were able to feed the elephants, walk with them, give them a bath in the river and just enjoy watching them interact with each other. You are not allowed to touch the babies. It’s for your own safety as they weigh close to 300 pounds and the herd is very protective. It’s as if the baby knows that you aren’t supposed to play with them because they always try to get near the humans. There were also rescued dogs and water buffalo at the park as well. Initially Rob was reluctant to go the park and wasn’t interested in the elephants at all. Once there though he warmed up to the idea and the elephants completely won him over when at one point he was hanging out waist deep with an elephant in a river by himself. I sat back and watched this moment and can tell you it was a highlight of the trip for both of us. They also feed you during this tour and although the food is all vegetarian it is absolutely delicious and you won’t go hungry! After returning from the tour, we napped, cleaned up and went for one of the best Japanese meals we have ever eaten. Sushi Umai did not disappoint.
Sunday was spent doing a Chiang Mai Highlights tour through Green Tours. Our guide Bae showed us the Old City of Chiang Mai and the tour included four different temples and a local market where his mom, who is in her 80’s, still shops at daily. The temples were all very different including Lanna style, Wat Chedi Luang which contains the biggest pagoda in northern Thailand and more. The highlight of the trip though was going to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This Wat is at the top of a mountain from which you can see over Chiang Mai. While there my husband, who had brought his drone, tried to fly it but forgot his iPhone so he wasn’t able to record any video. The local children; however, were mesmerized by the drone so he flew it for them. The kids chased the drone and then pretended to shoot at it with their ring pops. The smiles and laughter made forgetting the phone okay. Not one to give up though, my husband decided to call Dang when we returned to the hotel to see if he would take us back to Doi Suthep so he could get the drone shot. After all when you’ve flown across the world you might as well take all of the pictures that you can. So after a small break we were back in the car with Dang and off to Doi Suthep. This time was a success. After this, we asked Dang to take us to Wat Gate Khar Rnam. We had visited this Wat earlier in the day and the curator of the museum had informed us that there would be a local festival that evening. Dang had not heard of this festival but off we went. All three of us were treated to free food, music, dancing and singing. Rob and I were the only non Thai people there and it was amazing. Dang seemed to be having a good time as well.
Unfortunately on Monday it was time to leave Chiang Mai. Rob and I had fallen in love with this city. Dang picked us up and took us to the airport where we said our goodbyes. We felt very lucky to have met a man who was so interested and kind to us. He went out of his way on more than one occasion to make our trip special. But we were off to Khoa Lak for 3 days of SCUBA diving. We booked our dive trip through Khoa Lak Explorer and dove on the Manta Queen II. The staff on this boat were incredible from the dive masters, to the captain, the chef and the crew. The chef was an artist. He maybe had a 5 x 5 kitchen and whipped out the most incredible meals. We had 11 dives in those 3 days. Diving is exhausting and we did not do all 11 but if you weren’t diving there were incredible views. I found it peaceful to just sit on the boat while everyone else was diving. I forgot to mention that we got Thai massages in Khoa Lak prior to our dive trip. Not a good idea. Those ladies are strong and my body was sore for 2 days after my massage.
After 3 days on a boat it was time to touch some dry land and we had decided to stay in Khoa Lak at the Haven. I can’t say that I would put Khoa Lak or the Haven high on my list. We don’t enjoy very touristy beaches and resorts. Of all the places that we stayed this was very much that way and the food prices were extremely high compared to the rest of our trip. However, that being said we did manage 2 nights at a pool villa. On Sunday I pretty much did not move away from our private jacuzzi and pool. I even called for room service which I never do. It was nice to have a few days to just unwind.
Saturday had us back in Bangkok where we stayed at Hotel Novotel which is extremely close to the airport. We arrived early afternoon and grabbed some food at the hotel and then decided to go people watch at a local mall, Siam Paragon. We took the train there and were so proud of ourselves for figuring out the train system with a little bit of assistance from some locals. Y’all this mall was insane! It was 6 floors and included a wax museum, an aquarium, every kind of store you can think of, a huge food court, and car dealerships within the mall. I’m not talking about Honda dealers here but McLaren, Bentley and Rolls to name a few. Rob and I were both overwhelmed with this place but entranced all at the same time. We managed to negotiate the train system back to our hotel and may have high-fived each other a few times.
Sunday was our last day in Thailand and we had booked a tour with BKK Tours to see Ayutthaya. This place is about an hour or so outside of Bangkok and we had worked it out with our tour guide, M, that we would be at the final temple area during sunset. Founded in 1350 this was the second capital of Siam and is now a UNESCO site. For us it was nice to get a comparison to what we had seen at the present day Royal Palace and Wats versus the ruins of Ayutthaya. Besides seeing Ayutthaya, we took a long boat tour and saw a temple that was built to resemble a church. Seeing stained glass windows inside a temple was kind of mind blowing and beautiful all at the same time. M took us to a local restaurant for lunch where we ordered to our heart’s content. The morning glory with crispy pork was my favorite. At sunset we were right where we needed to be looking at the sun come down across from one of the queen’s palaces at Wat Chaiwatthanaram.
Our trip had come to an end on Monday. We were on a plane at 2:00 a.m. Bangkok time and arrived back at DFW around 5:30 p.m. Monday. It was over 26 hours of travel. My words and pictures won’t ever do Thailand justice. I’ve been asked what it was that made Thailand so special and the reply is always the people. Thailand is known as the land of the smiles and it’s true. I like to say that they are the southerners of Southeast Asia. Charming, witty and hospitable. They make you fall in love with their country.
Rob has made a wonderful video of our trip. Please check it out here: Thailand April 2016 Also check out additional photos from the trip on his Instagram @rreconnu. I’ve also posted a few.
Links to hotels, tours, etc:
Photos: by RReconnu Photography. IG @rreconnu