We left for Bangkok from out hostel in Seoul around 5am to catch a 8:30 flight.
It was pretty smooth sailing getting to Bangkok, no problems with out layover in Guangzhou, China. We got off the plane, collected out bags, and took the subway to our hostel, which was an above ground railway, giving us a clear view of the city.
I don´t think I´ll ever forget the view on that subway ride. The lush, vibrant green of the palm trees and cocoa colored canals flowing in and around the city made it seem as though nature and city were in a constant battle. Granted, I´d been to the Phillipines for Christmas, so it was not the first time I´d seen this type of landscape, but it didn´t take away from the initial shock and excitement of arriving in Thailand. It certainly didn´t prepare me for the humidity that hit me when I stepped off the train. Dripping with sweat (this will be a running theme throughout the trip), we found out hostel and began scheming for the next few days.
That evening, we got some street food near us. It was so good (glass noodles in some amazing sauce) that we decided to find more. We went to Khao San Road which, despite being very touristy, is tons of fun. It is packed with cute, low-lit bars with live music and tons of shopping and street food.
Next day, we went to explore a market while we waited for Neige to arrive. It was fun snooping around the stalls, though we stood out like sore thumbs as this was very much a market for locals, not tourists. After the market, we grabbed a tuk tuk and went to Lumpini park.
The park was quite pretty and a relaxing oasis amidst a sea of noise and pollution.
Later we got Neige and went out for dinner. I had found a good-looking restaurant on tripadvisor I wanted to try. The foodie in me wanted to have one, well-chosen, sit-down meal before leaving Bangkok. But, I lead us astray. I didn´t realize just how FAR AWAY this place was, or how bad traffic would be in Bangkok in the early evening. Over an hour later, after lots of confusion (the taxi driver had no clue) we arrived at this cute outdoor restaurant next to a garden. The food was awesome, maybe my favorite meal in Thailand, but it did not really make up for the distance travelled (poor Neige was SO tired and hungry).
We had fried fish
Tom Ka Gai (Coconut lemon grass soup) SO GOOD. Best I´ve had in my life.
Spicy green mango salad (A common menu choice throughout this trip)
The next day, we went palace viewing. First up, The Grand Palace. My, was it grand. It was SOOOO hot that day —-we thought we´d be okay with pants and our shoulders covered by scarves. We were sad to find out we needed sleeves to enter, so Rachel and I rented these linen a-sexual fitting shirts. We looked amazing! 😉
The Grand Palace was hard to capture in pictures because it was so massive. It was a small city of highly intricate, gold-plated temples—ornate and breath taking. The heat was pretty intense but I just had to submit to perfuse sweating.
That night we got dinner at the top story of tall hotel, buffet-style. I wasn´t feeling great and the food was meh, but the view was pretty spectacular. Bangkok is a busy, smelly, noisy hot mess, but an exciting one. There was so much we just didn´t have time to do.
We took an early morning flight to Chiang Rai and got to our hostel around 10am. The hostel (called FUN D) was great! Nice, clean rooms, big showers, and a big open common area with cheap beer. We spent most of our time in Chiang Rai relaxing and drinking cheap beer on rainy evenings, which was fantastic. We made sure to go see The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun), which was very interesting. It was designed in 1997 by visual artists Chalermchai Kositpipat, and is essentially a very unconventional Buddhist Temple. The inside of the temple has pictures of contemporary celebrities like Michael Jackson staring at the center of a celestial painting, and the outside mixes traditional Thai temple architecture with modern embellishments.
(A tasty last meal in Chiang Rai)
We took a bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai and the scenery was breath-taking. Big, dinosaur sized plants with leaves as big as people with a backdrop of lush green hills sides. Chiang Mai was one of my favorite places we went on this trip. It´s a beautiful little town, with tree-lined streets and cute shops and restaurants. Its touristy, but not so touristy as to lose it´s charm. Chiang Mai acts as a starting point for elephant trekking and outdoorsy adventures and is renown for it´s spas. We stayed at a hostel called Garden Aoi which was a bit ¨rustic¨ (The rooms were fairly basic, shared shower between 10 people) but the garden patio was really pretty and the breakfast and coffee rocked. Plus, it was a super cheap at around 6 bucks a night.
Our first day in Chiang Mai, we rented bike sand rode around the city which was a blast. Chiang Mai has over 300 wats (temples) , so pretty much one on every corner. I had an awesome lunch of green curry pasta with grilled pork cutlet. Nom.
Rachel and I signed up to do elephant trekking and see tigers the next day and we were both very excited.
We had to ride in the back of a truck for about an hour to get to the elephant camp. Once there, we changed into these light blue linens, so that ¨the elephants will know you are safe¨. We learned different commands in Thai for the elephants and how to mount them and get off, etc. We also got to feed them sugar cane which was fun. Finally, we got to ride them around the camp, and even give them a bath in the lake. The whole experience was very cool. The baby elephant was so cute ! Interacting with elephants like that is something I´ll never forget.
I should definitely note, however, that there is quite a bit of controversy with both the elephant trekking and the tiger petting parks. In both cases, there has been reports of animal abuse. The elephants are frequently abused when in training, using a steel hook, and also chained up most of the time. The tigers are drugged, without a doubt, or petting hem would certainly be impossible. On the whole, I found the tiger petting more upsetting because they were so clearly drugged and the whole operation felt very forced–go inside, sit like this, don´t touch the head, take a picture, get out. It was hard to see such beautiful, strong animals in cages. But, it was a memorable experience–I just suggest anybody interested do their research before signing up.
Our last night in town, we got drinks at a cute retro bar with a patio overlooking the river.
KO PHI PHI
To get to Ko Phi Phi we had to take a flight to Phuket, stay a night there, then take a ferry to the island.
It was a rainy, long journey but well worth the wait. Ko Phi Phi was gorgeous and our cabin was really nice with air con and a private bathroom for the three of us. We also met up with Hannah and Tom, a couple Rachel and I met in Seoul. Spending five nights on the beach was perfection. We mostly just sipped cocktails, tanned in the sun, and ate delicious food. Ko Phi Phi is the ¨party beach¨so we made sure to check out the night life which involved loud bars along the beaches serving buckets of alcohol and lots of fire themed spectacles. We also signed up for a half day tour to go see the Maya Bay where The Beach was filmed which included snorkeling and a stop by ¨monkey beach¨. I got a massage and a pedicure for 6 dollars…hard to complain.
Our half day excursion..
The last day on Ko Phi Phi, Neige and I got food poisoning (see the meal pictured above…good looking poison right there!) . It was BRUTAL. Plus, we had to check out of the hotel that day and take a two hour, rocky ferry ride back to Phuket. That was one of the most challenging days I´ve experience in my life, but we both survived and recovered just in time to fly to Siem Reap.