Hey babes! I've had quite a few of you ask me for tips and tricks that I picked up in Thailand and I am finally getting around to writing about our trip. I will say that a lot of the general advice I picked up are the same as the tips I gathered from Vietnam (read that post here). We had a friggin' BLAST in Thailand so I am excited to share my experiences with all of you.
Similar to Vietnam, I had some expectations about Thailand that proved inaccurate. If you've read any of my other blogs, you probably know that I am 100% a beach person and that my husband is 100% a mountain person (or maybe we're both 70/30 to be more fair) so I thought for sure Phuket was going to be my jam jam and I honestly wasn't super crazed about going to Chiang Mai (spoiler alert: I was supes wrong).
I'll give you a brief breakdown of each city we visited along with advice, must-see places, and must-do activities!
Places visited : Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Phi Phi islands, Ao Phang Nga National Park
Everyone I talked to about Thailand told me to stay in Bangkok for as little time as possible deeming it "way too busy and dirty with not much to offer". I thoroughly disagree. As much as I wouldn't suggest staying in Bangkok for your whole trip, there are plenty of things to do in this GIANT city.
After our week alone in Vietnam, James and I met up with the rest of our crew in Bangkok. We stayed at the Centre Point Hotel Chidlom and the rest of the group stayed at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong. Both were pretty boujee, but were within walking distance to quite a few cute restaurants and markets.
We were in Bangkok at a very interesting time, given the fact that the Thai King that had ruled for decades had recently passed. The whole country was in a state of mourning and was required to visit the Grand Palace to pay their respects. Millions of people gushed into the city to properly mourn their beloved King.
Things to do:
- Floating Markets - Be sure to check out the floating markets all around Bangkok - they are a very cool piece of history. Please beware, the taxis and boats have agreements and the taxis will often take you to where they have made deals with the market. We got the runaround twice before we asked to simply be taken back to our hotel. Be firm and have an exact address of which market you want to go to - otherwise they will try to swindle you into going with their guide. The taxi mafia is real.
- The Grand Palace - The King's Palace - it is more grand than anything you'll see. Get ready for a wait for the next couple of months as the country is still in a state of mourning and the residents are required to visit the Grand Palace within a year of the King's death.
- Wat Pho - "Reclining Buddha". Wat Pho is directly next to the Grand Palace so you can check both off the list in a day. It is a truly beautiful temple and is known as one of six of the grandest temples in Thailand. The level of detail in the ornamentation is truly amazing. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing and take off your shoes before entering.
- Chinatown - There are some seriously good restaurants in the bustling Chinatown that isn't far from of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. A good rule of thumb is to judge a restaurant by if it is busy and full of locals during peak times (read: for the love of God please ignore Trip Advisor). Stroll around, take in the sites and smells: I loved seeing the barefoot monks walking around the modern day neighborhood.
- Khao San Road - Khao San Road is within walking distance from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Picture it as a Thai Bourbon street: it is super touristy and caters heavily to American tourists. Buy all the cheap elephant pants you want and get a "fish pedicure" at one of the massage salons. Note : be sure to pay the salons BEFORE you take part in any of their services. We got in trouble for not paying before (obviously we don't pay for goods and services until after the service has been provided in America) and they keep a close watch on tourists on this street. There are plenty of bars and loud music if you're into the night life. Although I really wouldn't suggest staying very long, we did get a fish pedicure and a couple of drinks with our crew since this was the first day we all got together!
As I mentioned above, Chiang Mai TOTALLY took me off guard. I really wasn't expecting to love this city as much as I did. The culture, the people, and the activities made it difficult to leave. I would have gladly stayed another few days. James and I took a sleeper train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. It was much like the sleeper trains in Vietnam, but with super beautiful view of the jungle in the morning. I highly suggest taking at least one sleeper train during your stay in Thailand.
Our crew stayed at the Rachamankha Hotel, which is definitely the nicest hotel in Chiang Mai. James and I booked our place late so we stayed about a block away at a smaller and more understated hotel. We often grabbed breakfast/drinks at the Rachamankha with our group before heading out for the day.
Things to do:
- Thai Massage - DUH. We got as many Thai massages as our schedule allowed but the best one I had during the trip was at Makkha Health + Spa in Chiang Mai.
- Cooking class - All 8 of us decided to take an authentic Thai cooking class and had heard great things about Thai Orchid cooking school. We were not disappointed! Our instructor was nicknamed "A" and knew English exceedingly well. She joked and made the experience so fun and authentic by taking us to the local markets to pick up the necessary ingredients for our day of cooking. We grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and cooked pad thai, stir fry, spring rolls, banana/pumpkin cakes, green curry soup, etc. The food was by far some of the best we had on our trip! "A" even sent us home with our own little cook books so we could attempt cooking it ourselves back in the states.
- Jungle Hike/Coffee tour - I stumbled across the Essence of Chiang Mai tour online and it was a highlight for me. We were picked up from our hotel in an A/C bus and hiked with a local indigeneous "sherpa" through the jungle and mountains for 2 hours. We quickly realized he was there to keep us safe, as he would point out various dangers along our walk (snakes, poisonous plants, steep terrain, etc.). Our English speaking guide, "Beer" was the perfect translator to help us understand what we were seeing. We got to see multiple -waterfalls, rice fields, strawberry fields, jungle topography, animals, and ended our tour at a coffee plantation where we saw the coffee making process first-hand. The coffee was some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life. Of course, I brought my Wander Life Creamer in order to enjoy the coffee fully :). Beer walked us along the road and pointed out all of the different fruit trees as we passed them : bananas, jack fruit trees, fig trees, blackberries, duran, etc. We were told that a common saying in Thailand is that "no one goes hungry in Thailand" because of all the rich and abundant food sources that grow naturally all over the place.
- Elephant Sanctuary - LIFE MADE! This elephant jungle sanctuary wasn't easy to get to (a 2 hour ride in the back of a truck up a windy mountain with no A/C - bring dramamine or a reliefband if you have one) but was SO worth the wait. I have always dreamed of feeding and caring for elephants in a safe elephant sanctuary. Most of these elephants were saved from "riding camps" or other various tourist attractions that are unethical to elephants. If you are visiting Thailand (or any country for that matter that showcases "animal attractions") I urge you to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do your research before supporting a company that may actually hurt the animals that you're engaging with. Tigers are drugged to take photos, elephants are beaten and forced to carry sometimes hundreds of people per day (which they are NOT meant to do), etc. I simply ask that you make sure the company that you are financially supporting is a true "rescue" organization that doesn't promote hurting the animals. Rant Over. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a great choice in Chiang Mai. You will spend the day feeding the elephants bananas and sugar cane, putting mud on the elephants to help protect them from the sun, and then bathing the elephants in a nearby river. It is truly a breathtaking experience! Please keep in mind, these are very large animals and as much as they are "trained" with their keepers, they can still act out if you upset them. One of the baby elephants charged and "bumped" a lady in our group because she was being loud and bothering the baby elephant. Be sure to heed the keeper's warnings about how to interact with these gentle giants. The day ended with a Thai dinner while watching the sunset over the jungle - what could be better?
I was SUPER excited about Phuket. as tropical beaches are my first love. We stayed in a gorgeous villa on the west side of the island - which is a much quieter area with a pristine and less crowded beach. There were plenty of beach bars and clubs to frequent and a volleyball court to keep us entertained. The beach itself was literally across the street from our gated neighborhood. We enjoyed some much needed R&R since this was the last leg on our adventure.
We relaxed for a day or so at our villa (and hired the villa chef to cook for us to make it easy - great choice) and at the beach since we had such a full schedule in Chiang Mai. After our day of sun bathing/day drinking, we set out on a couple more tours:
Things to do:
- Tour Ao San National Park + James Bond island - This was by FAR the coolest tour we did while in Phuket. A van picked us up from our villa and escorted us about 45 minutes to the east side of the island where the boat dock was located. We stocked up on some beers/wine at the little shop and made our way onto the boat. One amazingly wonderful thing about Thailand is the fact that they cater heavily to American tourists, so they are very familiar with terms like "gluten free, vegan, and dairy free" and would happily accommodate accordingly. The large passenger boats created a couple of specialty dishes for those with dietary restrictions and they were delicious! The only hiccup we encountered on this tour was when the first boat we hopped on had engine trouble. We then had to jump on board with another boat, making it a bit more crowded than it would have been otherwise. It really didn't effect much, though. We traveled to James Bond Island and took in the views along the way. Each couple was assigned a "kayak guide" to navigate us through the caves and lagoons (thankfully). The views were exceptional as the guides took us through narrow oyster caves that opened up to beautiful blue lagoons filled with swimming monkeys. So cool! The tour guides served us lunch, snacks, and dinner aboard the ship (it's byob if you are so inclined), providing for a very cool day trip experience. At the end of the evening, we created "Thai offerings" made of flowers and fruits. They are supposed to bring good luck to you and your significant other as you wish upon them and send them floating in the water at night (picture below). The kayak guides took us back out after it was dark to light our Thai offerings and to show up the bio-luminescent plankton in the water. This tour was seriously, pretty bomb.
- Ko Phi Phi Islands - If I were to do it again, I would stay in the Ko Phi Phi islands for a night or two. We decided to day trip it because we had already booked the villa for 4 nights. We took a 45 minute cab ride to the west side of the island to hop on a speed boat that took another hour to get to the islands. We had to be back by about 2:30pm in order to get on the last speed boat out. It was a rushed trip but I am glad I got to see it. (note : definitely bring dramamine on the speed boat or ferry as the waves are much choppier to get to Phi Phis.) The Phi Phi islands are where you will find the traditional long tail boats lined up and ready to take you to different islands in the area. Had we had more time, we would have gladly done this - but instead we simply wandered around Ko Phi Phi, had lunch, hung out on the beach, and enjoyed the view.
- Beach - The beach by our villa was exactly what we needed : a quiet place to relax with some fun beach drinks and bar food. We played sand volleyball, bumped to the music from the Dream Beach Club, and just generally chilled.
- Patong - Patong was the party area of Phuket. It is SUPER touristy (complete with Irish bars and Starbucks on every corner). It was super crowded and honestly wasn't really my thing, so I'll stop there.
That was a TON of information so I'll stop there! I could write for hours about our exact travel plans and how we got here/there but I tried to keep it to the most relevant information and the highlights of the trip! Overall, Thailand was truly magical and the people were so wonderful. The food was spectacular and everything is so cheap! I highly suggest traveling to SE Asia to experience everything this region has to offer. Comment below with any questions or if you have any suggestions for next time we trek to that side of the world!
Kat - Wander Life