Thailand (Apr 2016)
It’s no secret to people who know us well that we can’t get enough of Thailand. What started as a shared love of the food (it’s one of several things that Christine will happily take credit for introducing Kevin to) turned into a seven day trip to Bangkok over New Years 2015. It was Christine’s first trip to Asia, and she was a little nervous! We ended up having an awesome time eating our way through Bangkok, venturing out to Ayutthaya for a day, and ending many nights out on Khao San Road with Kevin’s friends. We loved the people, the culture, the sights, and the food. We knew that we wanted more of Thailand, and when our round the world trip became a reality, there was no question that we would end up there for as long as they’d allow us to stay…which was 30 days with the free tourist visa. After a lot of research on where we could feasibly go in that time, we set our sights on three main areas: Southern Thailand for the beaches, Chiang Mai for the elephants, temples, and old world charm, and back to Bangkok for the city experience.
Southern Thailand is full of beaches, and forming an itinerary wasn’t easy. We decided to forego the well known Phuket in favor of its slightly lesser-known neighbor, Krabi. Of all the options in Krabi, we split our time between three areas: Ao Nang, Railay Beach, and Ko Lanta. All three locations were different from one another, so while there was always a beach for lounging and cooling off, we had three very different experiences. Ao Nang had the most infrastructure. It was like being at the shore…but with much, much prettier beaches and Thai food. There were tons of shops to buy cheesy beach souvenirs, and lots of bars and restaurants. Railay Beach was secluded; it felt like an island. Cut off from the mainland, the only way to get there was by boat. There were no cars and no roads, just dirt paths. Everything was just a walk away, including two picturesque beaches. It was perfect. Ko Lanta, the only island we stayed on, was our favorite. We stayed in a bungalow right on the water. We’d love to tell you more about the island, but it’s quite large, and aside from water runs to 711 and walking the dogs at the Ko Lanta Animal Welfare Center, we barely left the beach. From what we saw out the back of a few pickup truck taxis, we would go back, rent a motorbike and go exploring. Then there were our day trips to the secluded islands out in the Andaman Sea…which were surreal. We never thought we’d get to be out on a boat in these picture perfect places, right off of a postcard.
We were sad to leave the beaches, but we had to move on to bigger…much bigger, like elephant size bigger, things. We arrived in Chiang Mai on day two of Songkran, Thailand’s New Year festival. We realized that we weren’t going to get any sightseeing done, because we couldn’t walk 10 feet without getting sprayed with water. We accepted our fate and went with it…and we’re so glad we did. We bought a water gun and hit the streets to take part in this massive water fight. For two days, we walked around Chiang Mai, soaked to the bone, water fighting with locals and tourists alike. Smiling and laughing while taking part in their tradition. It was awesome to see the Thai people, who are normally reserved, let loose. When Songkran ended, we did manage to see a number of temples in the Chiang Mai area. We got to help a young monk practice his English, and received a blessing by an older monk. We even got to see the curious Karen tribe, although we regret doing so.
We noticed that around this point in our trip, we were starting to slow down. Most likely because of the heat. April is Thailand’s hottest month, and it’s unbearable. Thailand is best enjoyed between November and February. We were originally aiming to visit at the end of February, but the volunteer slots at the Elephant Nature Park were full until April. So February became April, when the temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees. Slowing down wasn’t an option at the Elephant Nature Park. There was plenty of work to be done and no air conditioning to relax in. So we made the best of it and got to work. Volunteering there was one of the top moments on our trip. However, if you asked us that on day four, after sweating for the previous 96 hours, we may have had a different response. Interacting with the elephants in a more natural environment was fascinating, while learning about their plight and the atrocities they face was heartbreaking. It strengthened our desire to help all animals who do not have a voice.
We ended our time in Thailand with five days in Bangkok, at a lovely Doubletree paid for with Kevin’s hotel points. Hello air conditioning, pool, and breakfast buffet! We kept with the slow pace here, taking a cooking class with Poo and friends, but otherwise relaxing, refreshing, and planning out future legs of our trip. We had already seen many of the popular sights of Bangkok on our first visit, so this time we branched out a little further. We found two excellent, authentic Spanish tapas restaurants, which has Christine very excited for a possible return to Spain this summer.
Thailand was the first destination on our trip that was a place where one of us had been before. Incidentally, we’d both been there before together, and we both wanted to go back for an entire month over exploring a new place. And we’d both come back again. There are some culture-rich areas in the far north that are difficult to get to, and who could resist more of those gorgeous beaches in the south? Thailand is still a very cheap, very tourist-friendly country with awesome people, culture, and food. And we’re really going to miss the ripe mangos. We’ve been indulging in mango shakes and mango sticky rice on a regular basis. We’ve watched many a mango shakes be made so we can duplicate it at home. And we even learned how to make mango sticky rice! Now we just need a source for ripe mangos at home.
We leave you with some pictures from our time in Thailand. Pictures from the Elephant Nature Park are on their own page. Enjoy!
Chiang Mai Area