It can be difficult sometimes, to truly grasp how wonderful Thailand is, simply through words or pictures. We've all read amazing things about Thailand, and seen spectacular images. None of that is new, and I hope that you find these images and stories equally as fun and entertaining. But the bottom line is, regardless of how much you read and see about this beautiful country, absolutely nothing is like experiencing it first hand. Seeing it's sights with your own eyes...tasting it's exotic cuisine...being a part of the energetic nightlife. Let this letter to you, the readers, be a request urging you to get out and experience this place. Thailand will most likely have something that you enjoy...from urban city life, to rural farm life and rolling hills, and even some of the most pristine beaches and water you will ever see in your life! Thailand has it all. We did so much, that if I talked about everything in detail, you'd be here for a week trying to read it all. So I'll touch on some things but at the bottom of this article, you'll find some clever videos I put together, to help showcase more of our trip. So make sure to check out the videos at the bottom! My partner in crime...my Tiny Ninja, was there every fun and exhausting step of the way. Now, I say "exhausting" simply because we booked so many excursions (because we wanted to do EVERYTHING) that some times we had to rally to do things, we were so wiped. Still, we'd do it again in a heart beat.
Our first stop, is the bustling city of Bangkok.
Day 1 started off with a city tour, and a visit to the Temple of the Golden Buddha. We were being primed for what was to come. TOURISTS! Hey, when you do a touristy tour, you get funneled like a tourist, amongst thousands of other tourists. Some of these touristy spots are "must do's", even when you don't want to brave the crowds. Some of these places are spectacular. The Grand Palace was amazing. The history alone, written all over the walls in ancient decorative art and architecture. Definitely worth braving crowds. The food and markets in Bangkok are spectacular as well. Coming from the west, seeing these street markets can be pretty, daunting. I say that because it feels like you're jaw is on the ground, looking at all the crazy things going on all around you. Amazing and interesting food at every vendor...some things looked and smelled amazing...some things you had no idea what it was. We may not have been AS brave as we hoped we would've been, but we certainly indulged in quite a variety of things. The "Pad See Ew" (a common Thai dish with noodles, veggies, and usually your choice of protein) really grabbed my heart. And the spice level on some of these dishes...WHEW!!! Hot hot! We absolutely loved it. Bangkok was such a wonderful experience, but there was one thing that REALLY bothered us. I am an avid animal lover, so the chance to get to interact with elephants was a very attractive one. Little did we know how much that experience would impact us. It was heartbreaking. These animals do NOT belong in chains, with riding harnesses on their backs, and ropes going up under their tails. (See one of my pictures from the experience below. It is the only photo from this experience that I will allow to see the light of day).
If you would like to interact with these magnificent creatures, there are plenty of "NO RIDE" sanctuaries, where there are no chains, and the elephants are treated how they should be...with the utmost respect. If you would like info on that, please contact me and I will be happy to provide a few links. Just please, do not support places that encourage the riding and chaining of Elephants. We do not belong on the backs of elephants. They do not belong in chains. At one point, we walked passed baby elephants who were chained by the ankles, to a pole, with a chain that was no longer than about 3 Feet. This place was simply heartbreaking. The second that I saw these little ones chained to poles, unable to even MOVE, I had to look away. I couldn't even look in their direction. It was killing me. So, as an animal lover, I couldn't write this article without bringing this up. Avoid the elephant camps in which you ride them. There are many sanctuaries in which the animals are treated much better....they're treated with respect and love.
Next on the agenda...floating down the River Kwai on a bamboo raft (yes, the same one from the classic book/movie. We actually ate lunch right next to "The Bridge on the River Kwai"). Our group made its way to the bamboo rafts, and we all enjoyed a beautiful, relaxing time floating down the river, being paddled by one of our local guides. He didn't speak much English at all, but he DID sing "I love you" to us a few times. It was clear that even though communication was a barrier, he wanted to show the few words he knew, and was proud of. At least he had great words to learn!
Bangkok Photo Gallery
After Bangkok, we flew north to Chiang Mai, which is the 2nd largest city in Thailand, although it doesn't seem very big. It's up in the "high country", where, on the outskirts, there are many rice terraces and beautiful rolling hills. This is a more rural area of Thailand. Absolutely beautiful, and maybe even a little better food (in my opinion), because of the spice! It's really hard to pick favorites, because any time I think of Thailand, so many things stand out. In Chiang Mai, I got to play with a lion cub for the first time in my life. The big cats (especially tigers) are very near and dear to my heart. So that was a huge highlight. (In the videos below, you'll see "Episode II: Chiang Mai", where you can see a clip of my interaction with Nala the lioness cub)
Right after that excursion, we went to visit the hill tribes, the Akha and the Karen (Longneck) tribes. This was one of those moments you only see about on tv, or read about. We were actually there...talking to these wonderful ladies, in person. It was like being in the pages of history, but in real life. It was just wonderful. Just like human beings anywhere in the world, some of them were very approachable, fun, and engaging. Some of them just wanted you to buy something and didn't care to interact. Some even speak better English than you would imagine. Now, if I were to be totally honest, then I would have to mention that, it just seemed like every 10 steps you took, each woman was selling the same thing. And I don't mean similar...I mean the exact same thing. It felt very, staged. Like it was all coming from some factory, out of a bunch of boxes. Seemed very fake, after you walk past a few of them. Now, even with that being the case, this was certainly still one of the many highlights of the trip for me. To experience this beautiful culture was just a magnificent treat for us.
Following the Hill Tribe visit, our guide asked us if we wanted visit the Monkey Kingdom, for the Monkey Show. Well, that sent up immediate red flags, but as we were with a small group, it wasn't just our decision to go. Needless to say, we went. Once again, absolutely heartbreaking. I started to snap a few shots towards the beginning, but quickly became sickened with this so called "show". Most of us were. Basically, a poor man's circus, with monkeys riding bikes, lifting weights, and doing other things that they most likely do not want to do. Not only were some of them in cages, but they were also CHAINED by their feet, INSIDE their tiny cages. Seems a bit of an overkill to me. We couldn't get out of that place fast enough. I feel so bad for those animals. I'm sure there are sanctuaries for monkeys, in which they are treated how they should be. I would recommend seeking that out. If anyone asks you if you want to see a "Monkey Show", just say no.
The next day, we found ourselves on a bus ride to "The Golden Triangle" (the intersection of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar). Now, that particular part of the trip didn't really "blow our skirts up", but on the way there, we stopped off at the infamous "White Temple", in the city of Chiang Rai. Now THIS was a pretty cool sight to see! It's not an actual religious temple, but a piece of art. Anywhere you turned your head, you'd see another amazing piece of art. Absolutely stunning place to visit. Be prepared though...this is one of those places that comes with an insane amount of tourists. I'm happy to have seen it, and would have liked to spend more time there (without the crowd of course), but this was merely a quick pitstop. I did manage to snag a few shots of this place (like the one below), but it was very difficult trying to find an angle where the shot wasn't ruined by a mass of inconsiderate tourists that don't seem to know any better. But let me tell ya....that temple was stunning!
Chiang Mai Photo Album
Chiang Mai has a special kind of charm to it. I'm not the biggest city type of person, and neither is the Tiny Ninja...so I think this place really grabbed us. (with the exception of the monkeys of course). Just keep in mind that, there are injustices everywhere...but that doesn't mean that places can't be beautiful or magical. Chiang Mai is certainly both of those. Following Chiang Mai, we visited the absolutely stunning beaches of Phuket!
This type of environment was much needed after all of our adventures with hill tribes, lions and tigers, and elephants. Here, we get drinks on the beach, snorkeling in pristine waters around coral reefs, and much needed relaxation with some of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. The more "well known" places were definitely filled with way too many tourists though. James Bond Island, to name one. It was absolutely gorgeous, but the sheer amount of tourists all running into each other, was a bit of a turn off. Although extremely gorgeous, I can't imagine us ever wanting to go back and brave the madness of James Bond Island again.
One of the most popular things to do in Phuket, is to get out on the water! I think most of our time in Phuket was spent in water. The day after visiting James Bond Island, we chartered a boat with a nice sized group of strangers, and went out to visit "The Beach". You know, the one that was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio's movie in the '90s. (the background image of this blog post is actually one of my shots from our trip to "The Beach"). On the way there, our guide asked if we'd like to see the "Monkey Temple". A natural cave that is now a Buddhist monastery. I had the opportunity to be blessed by one of the Buddhist monks, which was an amazing experience (you can see a clip of it in the video below, "Episode III: Phuket). One of the coolest things about this place was the sheer amount of wild monkeys all over the place. With vendors lined up outside, selling bananas, corn cobs, and other monkey treats, it was easy to get close enough to hand feed them. Don't worry, they're totally used to it. Just make sure all lose articles are securely put away, otherwise they will belong to the curious macaques...like the one below!
We had a blast with the monkeys, but it was time for some beach time, snorkeling, and cocktails! We headed out on our boat, and made it to our beautiful destination. Absolutely magnificent. Words don't even do this place justice. Though crowded, we didn't seem to mind it so much here. We found a perfect spot of the beach, in the shade, all to ourselves. (a few clips you can see in the Phuket video below) As I write this, I'm longing to go back to this place. After snorkeling, a wonderful lunch and cocktails on a private island, it was time for our boat ride back. Our time in Thailand was quickly coming to a close. We had 2 more totally free days. Half of which was spent on our hotel's private beach, floating in the water, riding jet skis, and enjoying our last relaxing moments. We did manage to sneak in a set of awesome Muay Thai Kickboxing fights. Now that was pretty insane as well. We didn't know quite what to expect, but we were thankful we went. We got an amazing set of matches, and even had front row seats! Over all, Phuket was absolutely wonderful. I almost lean towards this place, as my favorite in Thailand.
Now, we had about a half of a day left, before having to head to the airport. We had just enough time to catch one last sunset. Our wonderful guide, "Nop" (pronounced "Nope") suggested we head to Rawai. There's a sunset view point that is to die for. So, we grabbed a cab to head down there for one more beautiful experience. That's exactly what it was. Perfect clouds and sky, perfect view, my Tiny Ninja by my side, and the golden hour staring us in the face. Couldn't have been more perfect.
Phuket Photo Gallery
There's just so much to experience there, as well as the entire country, that even 13 days there, isn't even close to enough time to experience all the amazing, exotic, and wonderful things to do! At some point, we will go back. It's a must. I hope these words have inspired you to at least take a look at some airfare and what it would take to experience this amazing culture. I swear, it's cheaper than you think it is. Get out and do it. You'll thank me.
Below, you'll find some fun little videos I put together with some videos and photos from our wonderful Thailand trip.
The Adventures of Jinx and the Tiny Ninja, Episodes I, II, and III.
Episode I: Bangkok
Episode II: Chiang Mai
Episode III: Phuket