As mentioned in my previous post, I have been extremely lucky enough to have many visitors during my time here. The latest addition to my American companions was two of my wonderful friends, Kristen and Allison, my roommates from college.
Kristen and Allison deciding to visit gave me the opportunity to explore this country in a completely different way: the eyes of an American, vacationing, tourist. Gone were the days of unorganized travel, weary modes of transportation, and haggard hostels. We were going to do this and do it right! The three of us laid out the perfect visitors itinerary for their 2 week trip: Bangkok for a bit, Chiang Mai for some elephants, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi for paradise. The perfect taste of Thailand.
They arrived at midnight on St. Patrick’s Day ready to go after a wonderful flight with a middle school trip from Greenwich, CT. We stayed in Bangkok that night with the idea of walking early to do a tour of Bangkok. Get all the bases covered and over with so we could take our night train to Chiang Mai the next day. With the help of Tong’s Tours we able to explore all the temples and Grand Palace and give the girls a taste of Thailand’s extreme heat. I know I have said it countless times, but it has gotten even hotter than I ever thought possible. I would trade places with Hansel and Gretel any day because at least the oven is a dry heat. In Bangkok, the heat is oppressive (Mom and Dad, you’re just going to love it !) Heat exhaustion aside, we did the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, the Flower Market and Khao San all in a few hours time. It was a tough day but nice to know they had covered it all.
That evening we took an overnight train to Chiang Mai, one of my favorite places I have visited thus far. Chiang Mai is a quainter, cleaner, bikeable city in northern Thailand that is riddled with temples, tigers and elephants. We had first class sleepers in the overnight train and it was pretty enjoyable. Very Some Like It Hot, ladyboys included. Just kidding, no ladyboys. We left at 6PM on Monday night and were supposed to arrive 8:45AM Tuesday. We got in around 11AM, but considering what travel is like most of the time, I thought that was pretty good. We checked into the hostel I stayed in last time I was here, 60 Blue House, and rented bikes to give the girls a feel for the city. First we went to Dada Kafe though, one of my favorite places, for lunch. Smoothies, salads, sandwiches. The food is fresh and delicious. If you are ever in Chiang Mai you must go. They have avocado and peanut butter. If you have been in Thailand a long time you will appreciate it.
We biked to see the major temples after lunch and the girls decided almost immediately they liked CM better than crazy, crowded BKK. They even had it in them to do the trek up to Doi Suthep, the famous mountain outside of the city with the temple on top. It’s really gorgeous and you typically get a great view of the city from there, but unfortunately, apparently in the summer months they burn a lot of dried brush and leaves so there was a haze over the city.
That evening we went to Dash! restaurant and met the lovely owner, Noi, who lived in Seattle for 9 years. Having been to Seattle for the first time just a couple years ago, we enthusiastically struck up conversation. She was a sweetheart who really cared for her food and customers and everything was great. She even set us up with a good taxi driver that wouldn’t rip us off to the airport. Highly recommend
On our second day in Chiang Mai Kristen and Smalls decided to go to Patara Elephant Farm, which has excellent reviews and is supposed to be an amazing experience. Having already ridden elephants I decided not to go and after hearing their stories, kind of regret it. Patara is different than the normal elephant experiences. Where you get on a chair on their backs and a Thai person sits on their head and steers them around for about 30 minutes. Patara is all about elephant conservation and education. The girls were in a group of 6, each was assigned their elephant for the day. The elephants weren’t contained or chained. Before meeting the elephants they were told how to tell if an elephant is healthy and the issues with animal tourism in Thailand and the elephant issues in South East Asia. There was a lot of information but from what I gathered from the girls is an elephant is healthy if they sweat from their toes and you squeeze their poop and water comes out or something. They checked both things on their elephants. Then rode them bareback while giving their own verbal directions in Thai. Then bathed them. All in all sounded really cool.
I instead did the complete OPPOSITE and went to the Tiger Kingdom, a tiger petting zoo of sorts outside of the city. I had heard many different opinions on the place and had read many different reviews but decided I wanted to check it out myself. At the Tiger Kingdom you can choose what age tigers you want to hang out with and take pictures with for about 15 minutes. It’s pretty expensive for Thai standards and obviously geared to tourists but for some may be worth the experience. I opted to spend 15 minutes with baby tigers (age 3-4 months) and I had to pay for a photographer since I went alone. Now, full disclosure, I am no animal activitist. At all. I have a fur coat (it’s vintage so it’s not that bad, calm down PETA). But there was something strange about this experience that unnerved me. They say they don’t drug the tigers and they may not. They are around humans all day and raised that way and are generally sleepy animals. However they kept saying “they’re just like your average house cat, sleeping and being lazy and can’t be bothered!”. Come on, if I were to poke and prod my house cat and lay on it and pull it’s tail while it was sleeping, it would probably claw my face off. These tigers didn’t budge. There were a few that were up and I got some pictures with, but most of my photos were taken with eerily sleeping tigers as the Thai photographer told me to do things with it. Anyway, to each their own, but I wouldn’t tell anyone it was a must see attraction. I did get some cool pictures though.
The following day we did a cooking class, Asia Scenic, which was a lot of fun and really cool. We each got to pick 3 things to make, an appetizer, stir fry and curry. I kind of wished I had done one of these when I first got here so I knew what I have been eating for the last few months! It all makes sense now! The spices, flavors, chills, it was really cool. Food was delicious as well. Highly recommend.
After Chiang Mai we headed south for some beach time! We went to probably the most popular places in Thailand after Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and has a huge tourist population and Koh Phi Phi is famous because that’s the area the movie The Beach was filmed and it is a gorgeous island. Pictures do not do it justice. I don’t want to bore you with the amazing beaches, food, cocktails, and coconuts. I will just tell you we had a great time and it was so nice to feel like I was on a real vacation. I understand what all of the hype is about and why these places are so popular- really, truly paradise on earth. Especially Phi Phi. In Phi Phi we stayed at Paradise Pearl Bungalows, a nice little resort on the quieter beach, Long Beach. Food was good and reasonable, rooms were fine. It’s a decent price for how touristy it is there. In Phuket we stayed in the area of Surin Beach, which is a little away from Pathong, where the craziness is and has some great beaches and restaurants and a cool beach club called, Catch. We stayed in a nice little place called Pen Villa. I would recommend either to anyone making the journey.
After being beach bums we flew back to Bangkok via Air Asia (one of the few seamless journeys to date!) and decided to treat ourselves (as if we hadn’t been all week) to a one night stay at lebua at State Tower, the hotel made famous for where Hangover II had been filmed, at the Sky Bar restaurant. It was a gorgeous hotel and we found a deal to stay in a suite and it was awesome. It was really reasonable for US standards. That same hotel in Manhattan would be like $500 a night. It was the perfect ending to our vacation.
On the last day we traveled around to get Allison and Kristen some last minute souvenirs and introduce them to the glorious mall culture of Bangkok. They were thoroughly impressed with Siam Center and all it has to offer, specifically, it’s air conditioning. In the evening we unfortunately had to say our goodbyes, I had to catch the last bus back to good old Chonburi. Each of my visitors has had a different trip, experience, and journey. From my brother and our college backpacking, to Dylon and our mix of Thai town and Thai tourism and travel, to the girls and our perfect little Thai vacation. However, the goodbyes never get easier. Each time I see someone I love leave and a part of me is silently screaming “Take me with you!”.
And here I am. My last night in my apartment in good old Chonburi. I have done 20 tons of smelly laundry from 12 days of travel and compartmentalized my extra belongings to pass on to the next Teacha fortunate enough to have this experience. Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, I will go to Bangkok to meet my friend Esther and her mother for an Easter Vigil in Bangkok and an early birthday celebration for Esther and bunk with them until I leave early Sunday morning for Cambodia. As Easter Sunday rises I will be flying across borders for my first visit outside of the country in 5 months, which is pretty crazy. I will be lucky enough to have a very special Easter watching the sunset over Angkor Wat and share the experience with my former boss and his lovely wife. It should make for a memorable holiday.
I can’t wait for Cambodia but I think I am even more excited for what comes after, MY PARENTS. This has probably been the longest I have gone in my life without seeing either of them. This time of transitioning and packing up and leaving is very surreal, strange and unnerving, and makes me quite homesick, but knowing I will see them oh-so-soon is helping get me through.
Then I think about finishing off the trip with my father in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, one of the craziest, most overwhelming places on earth and that little voice says “Take me with you!” all over again.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter weekend and has had a wonderfully unleavened Passover! Mazel!
P.S. After reading Dylon’s wonderful post about his journey here, Kristen and Allison have decided they want to contribute as well. They were fearful their writing styles would not be snuff or that they would not be as witty as me (I am very witty), so they decided to take a different approach, “Do’s and Don’ts of traveling in Thailand” or something along those lines. Stay tuned. Kristen and Smalls now that I have written this there is no backing out now, give the people what they want!