Thailand

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I am currently sitting in the Bangkok airport in Thailand waiting to go home. I just finished a 10 day study abroad program in this beautiful country. And when I mean beautiful, I mean BREATHTAKING. There’s no way I’ll be able to describe the beauty of this place in words or pictures but I’ll try my best. You really just have to come here to see it for yourself. I’ll write about what we did day by day and although some of it is pretty touristy, I will definitely be coming back to do more backpacking. This trip was absolutely amazing and I am extremely grateful to be able to have gone. There were so many new experiences we tried and new things we saw. The Thai people are absolutely wonderful and their hospitality is outstanding to that of the US. If you’re looking for places to go, I highly recommend Thailand. 

I’m a planner and I’m a packer. Not an overpacker, but I like to be prepared. I pretty much packed a month in advance and was ready to go lol. 

Some things to consider packing:

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  • A portable charger (for airports and long days)

  • Sunscreen (the sun is pretty hot)

  • A hat

  • A converter 

  • A theft proof backpack 

  • A passport wallet and somewhere to put your cash

  • Multiple swim suits (things don’t dry well) 

  • Pair of long pants and a shirt with sleeves (for entering the temples) 

  • Imodium- just in case you happen to get sick (I didn’t get sick until we were at the airport to go home) 

December 26th 2018: We flew out of the Indianapolis airport to JFK to Seoul to Bangkok. In total, it was around a 24 hour plane ride. We arrived in Bangkok in the evening and went straight to our hotel. We stayed at Ibis Styles Bangkok and I would highly recommend. For the price we paid (cheap), we got top of the line service and breakfast included. Most things in Thailand are relatively cheap compared to that of the US so it was easy to budget. Meals per person were usually under $5 and the only large cost was the airfare. 

The jet lag wasn’t too bad the entire trip. We usually went to bed pretty early most nights and that made us good to go for the next day. 

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December 28th 2018: Our first day was spent touring the many temples of Bangkok. Fun fact: there are over 11,000 temples in Thailand alone. We got on a boat tour that showed us the main river in Thailand and led us to our first temple, Wat Arun. This beautiful white temple is adorned with hand painted ceramic tiles. It's amazing to me how people were able to build these magnificent places and have them still standing. You must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves to enter. Guards are very strict on the dress code. 

We also saw the Grand Palace. Interestingly enough the royal family does not live here, they upgraded to a larger palace. Professional pictures are not allowed instead and you can only use your phone. The long pant dress code is also required. The Emerald Buddha is located here and is the most sacred in Thailand. No pictures were allowed but it was really beautiful. I could not get over the beauty of these temples. We had our first Thai meal at Metlavalai Sornang and ordered family style dishes. Pad Thai is amazing! But there’s also plenty of other delicious dishes to choose from. And if you’re not a fan of spicy (like me), there’s also plenty to choose from. Just don’t make the mistake like I did and eat papaya salad if you don’t like spicy. I learned my lesson haha. 

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Our next temple was Wat Pho. I honestly wished we had had more time to visit the temples. If you have more free time, definitely spend it at the temples. They are beautiful works of art and it’s hard to absorb all of it in under a hour. Wat Pho has the largest gold Buddha in Thailand. 

We also visited Chinatown. This place was extremely busy and very overwhelming. I do not like crowds so I was not a fan of going here. The smells and sounds are overpowering. 

That was it for day 1, a lot to absorb and we were extremely tired. I think I fell asleep at 8pm that night haha. 

December 29th 2018: This day was amazing all in itself. We did so many different things that reflect the Thai culture. We drove two and a half hours to the oldest floating market in Thailand. This was one of things on my bucket list to do when in Thailand. We hopped on a boat to get to the markets and see the different shops. Now some are located on the river while others you can hop off your boat and walk around. Most of the goods were tourist items or food. Since tourism has started to boom in the country, Thai people have started catering to tourists. Now most of it was junky and I didn’t get anything, but it was really cool to see how packed the boats were and to experience all the sights and sounds. 

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Then our tour guide took us to a local cobra show. I do not recommend going to these. I would not have gone had we not been on a large tour and didn’t know where we were going next. These animals were in small and confined cages without proper environments. The alligator could not move in his small cage. The cobra show was horrifying and proved the point that their animals are abused for tourist entertainment.

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Then we went to the train market. This is a large tourist spot and extremely busy. Our tour guide said that even the locals don’t shop here. The train literally goes through the middle of the market! Shops move their covers and wait for the train to pass to reopen. They have to do this 4 times a day! It was really cool to see and see how close the train got to everyone. 

The last place we went to was the fisherman’s village. This is where there are over 50,000 monkeys in the jungle to feed. We took a boat out to a secluded area of the river and monkeys started showing up everywhere. We had bananas to feed them and once they saw those, they started swimming for the boat. Everyone was screaming and it was so much fun seeing the monkeys up close! They were adorable and we just wanted to keep giving them bananas. But we gave all of them away too quickly haha. 

Dinner consisted of KFC chicken nuggets (they love KFC). Once we were back to the hotel, we had our first Thai massage. We got the full body one and boy did it feel good! It was slightly painful, but ya felt good after the entire thing. 

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December 30th 2018: Today was another market day. This time to Chatuchak Market, one of the largest land markets in Thailand. There are over 17,000 shops crammed into a square selling anything and everything from clothes, food, and animals. We were able to walk around freely and see most of the shops before it got too busy. A lot of it is touristy gifts, but there were also a lot of unique gifts. Tip: it is okay and suggested that you bargain at these markets. Usually the store owners make a high price and you’re able to bring it down. There were unfortunately pets being sold here, mainly from puppy mills. It was sad seeing them in crammed cages without the proper care they needed. It made us wonder if people know where these animals come from or if they choose to ignore it. 

I tried some delicious coconut icecream and highly recommend everyone else to do the same. It’s even put into a coconut bowl! 

The rest of the day was spent at the hotel pool and having dinner at an amazing Thai place. It was outdoors and the temperature was perfect with the breeze. We ended our night with a foot massage and our friend Mitchell could not contain his laughter. 

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December 31st 2018: This day we were treated like royalty. Just kidding, but we did see the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya and have lunch on a floating cruise boat. Ayutthaya was the original capital of Bangkok and features beautiful ruins of old temples and houses. They were burned down in a war and the Buddha statue heads had been severed. Our tour guide for the day was Uncle Wes. He was very informative about Thailand and I’m glad he tagged along with us. 

We first saw Bang Pa In and toured the grounds. It was a cool and breezy morning and absolutely beautiful. It reminded me of a French garden with the European influences. 

Then our van took us to Wat Magathat. It was extremely busy with tourists but it was really cool to see the ruins and what remains of each temple. I still cannot get over the fact of how old these ruins are and how they were built so many years ago. 

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Way Chaiwattanaram was the next temple. This one included three symmetrical temples all stunning in their own way. The tourists here were much more rude and started pushing to get a picture. We also saw people riding elephants for fun. DO NOT RIDE THE ELEPHANTS. They are mistreated and starved for the amusement of tourists. These poor animals are not meant to be ridden. 

There was a Chinese market nearby and we were able to try a cotton candy crepe treat and an all natural rice cake with a sugar glaze. SO GOOD!!! 

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The architecture on the temple was stunning, but it was too crowded with tourists to enjoy. Before lunch we stopped at the reclining Buddha for a photo op. 

Lunch was spent on the Royal Pearl. It was a delicious buffet served aboard a river boat. It was a three hour boat ride down the river taking us back to Bangkok. I ate a lot of dragon fruit and also had my first piece of chocolate in five days haha. 

Once we were back to Bangkok we went to our hotel and had free time for the rest of the night since it was New Year’s Eve. We did our best to stay up to see the night life, but unfortunately we fell asleep until 10:30pm and we went for some dinner. We had a quick bite, watched the fireworks explode on the streets and then headed back to bed hahaha. 

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January 1st 2019: We hopped on a plane to Phuket in the early morning for our next exploration. It was only an hour flight to Phuket and we arrived in even more tropical and warmer weather. It was much more tropical with palm trees, twisting roads, mountains, and crystal clear blue water. It had a Hawaii vibe going on. We stayed at the Best Western Pataong Beach. And even though it was a good hotel, I would not stay in the area we were in. It was too touristy with not a lot of Thailand influences. Phuket definitely lives up to its name of being a party city. The beach was beautiful and I would definitely stay on a more quiet and secluded area of the island. 

To end the day we went to see Fantsea. It was like a miniature Disney World, but also a large tourist trap. The dinner reminded me of a large Golden Corral because of the limited Thai dishes offered. The show itself was good minus the fact that they were riding elephants and using other animals in the show with fireworks and very loud sounds. The show could have been just as amazing without the animals. 

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January 2nd 2019: The trip had flown by at this point. It hadn’t felt like we had just been in Bangkok or feeding monkeys from a boat. Our day began later than usual so we had some free time in the morning that we spent at the pool. The rooftop pool was amazing, but the water was too cold for me haha. Our tour guide met us in the lobby at 10am to board the van. Our group was small the entire trip so we were able to fit into a ten person van. It was an absolutely beautiful day and also breezy so it made our first stop at Cape Karola. Breath Taking! We were only given a few minutes to walk around, but it was plenty to be able to see the island and get some pictures. 

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We continued up the mountainside to see the Big Buddha. Built in 1998, the Buddha is still under construction and relies on donations to be built. The outside is made of marble and the inside is concrete which is rare in Buddhist temples. It overlooks the island and the eyes look down as a sign of being humble. In Bangkok, we were always enforced to wear shirts and pants that covered our knees and shoulders and we did, but in Phuket, other tourists did not. I found this disrespectful because there were signs everywhere and if you’re in a foreign country, you should respect the country’s customs and traditions. 

Next we had lunch at Kanneang 2. It was at a beautiful location overlooking the ocean and was away from all the tourists. It was quiet and the staff were amazing. We tried some local dishes including fish, octopus, fruit, rice, and pad Thai. It was all absolutely delicious. 

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After lunch we went to Wat Chai Tharanam. This was one of the most beautiful temples I saw on the entire trip. The architecture was gorgeous inside and out. This was one of the only wats that was made of pink marble. This was a place of worship for the Thai people and you could see how important their religion is to them. There was also a market going on and we were able to try an amazing rice cake with a coconut sugar glaze and this was by far by favorite snack of the trip!

We then made our way to Phuket City to see the European influence on Thailand. The area was colorful and had beautiful European architecture. Within the architecture, the Thai people had included their own important symbols into the work such as the dragon and bat. This street also had more handmade gifts than tourist gifts which I appreciated and highly recommend buying from, even if it may cost a little more.

We finished our day by visiting Cape Phromtehep. It is the southernmost point of Phuket and where everyone goes to see the sunset. It was extremely hot so we didn’t stay too long. Back at the hotel, we went and got a fish massage done, and enjoyed more Roti, a Muslim dessert. 

January 3rd 2019: This day was my favorite of the entire trip. We started the day early at 6:30am to drive to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. To get there we took multiple twists in the road and very steep hills. I’m not sure how all the cars do it or how the roads were paved. The sanctuary was tucked away in the jungle passing small villages and metal shack homes along the way. We were greeted by wonderful staff and of course the elephants. This place is doing a great thing by rescuing these elephants from shows and abuse. They are gentle giants who should be treated with respect and made happy. The staff ensure this by feeding them till they are full three times a day, bathing them, and swimming with them. The elephants also sleep in the jungle just like wild elephants would. 

We were able to feed, bathe, and swim with the elephants. It is an experience that I will never forget. Never in the US could someone get so close to these giants and not have issues. Tourists were respectful and the staff quietly stayed by to monitor. I enjoyed every single second and so did everyone else. It makes you happy knowing that these elephants are safe and that others will hopefully join them soon. 

After the elephants (and a quick stop to the ocean), we attended a cooking class in the mountains. We met Chel at the market (which was full of fresh fruit and vegetables) and she showed us the local ingredients we would be using in our dishes. I love that Thailand has so many markets and fresh fruit and vegetable options. I was in paradise. We then drove up to her small restaurant on the hillside where we cooked four meals: Vegetable spring rolls, Pad Thai, stir fry noodles, and cashew chicken. She did an amazing job of telling us what to do and how to cook each dish. Even though it moved quickly, we were still able to absorb all the knowledge. The other staff was also amazing and helpful when my stove ran out of gas. Again, Thai hospitality is amazing and I wish the US would do the same. Each meal was made simple and we were given time between each dish to enjoy the meal. It was so peaceful being up in the mountains and seeing the sunset. 

Once back at the hotel, we ended the day by getting another massage and shopping.

January 4th 2019: The last two days spent in Thailand did not go as planned. The weather turned on us and we were going to be hit with a tropical storm. Fortunately it never hit us except for a few rain showers, however, other parts of the island were being hit hard so all boats had to stay ashore. This meant our trip to James Bond Island and the Phi Phi Islands was cancelled. This was what I was looking forward to the most. I know other people were also disappointed, but we didn’t want to risk being stuck on the islands like other groups. Instead we made the most of what we had and explored the area around us. 

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I went to the hotel gym and pool in the morning and then we headed to Patong Beach for lunch. We had a delicious meal right on the beach at this cute beach themed restaurant. They had authentic Thai dishes and I had jasmine curry rice with chicken and cashews in a pineapple. Made for an Insta worthy pic. Luckily it didn’t rain while we were eating and we got to the enjoy the view. Of course after lunch we wanted to try more street food so we got more Roti, smoothies, and corn on the cob (which is extremely good coming from a midwest girl who loves her corn).

To make up for the cancelled tours, we went to the Simon Cabernet Show. The Lady Boys. And let me tell ya, they know how to walk in heels and dance. The show was amazing and you never wanted to take your eyes off the amount of sparkles and glitter. Just a tip: if you want a picture with them afterwards, be prepared to pay a few Baht. Our friends didn’t know until the picture was already taken and they didn’t have any money. To end the night, Emily, Mitchell, Kip and I headed to one of the more quiet bars. 

January 5th 2019: The last day of our trip was uneventful. We spent time by the pool (and I got burnt even with the clouds) and I went to the gym (yes I like to workout haha). We went to a mall close by for lunch (our whole trip basically revolved around food) and we ate at a Japanese restaurant called Yaroi. We did a family style type of meal so that everyone could try someone else dish. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to sleep and sit by the pool when it wasn’t raining.

For dinner, Emily and I had the choice of picking where to eat. We were wanting something more fancy since it was our last night and we decided on WhiteBox. An upscale elegant dinner on the oceanside. We rolled up in our tuk tuk (since that’s all we had) and were greeted at the door. The service was AMAZING and the food was to die for. We could not have asked for a better last dinner night in Thailand. I ordered the Australian lamb and it was cooked to the perfect tenderness and the presentation was unique. And to top it off, the staff ordered us a van back to the hotel so we wouldn’t have to pay for another tuk tuk. I highly recommend stopping at this place if you’re near Patong Beach. 

January 6th 2019: Sadly, that was the end of our trip. We spent the next day flying back to Bangkok and waiting 9 hours in the airport to board our flight to Korea. We had our last dish of Pad Thai and started to head home. 

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Even though the last two days did not go as planned, I could not have asked for a better trip. The days flew by and it doesn’t even feel like I was just there. I will definitely be coming back to visit the islands and be welcomed again by Thai hospitality. The people are truly amazing and I wish the US would be just as hospitable. The Thai people are the ones who made the trip everything and more. Our tour guides were extremely knowledgable and kind and each and every person we met made an impact on me. The next time I travel here I won’t be going on as many tours, but instead backpacking to each new spot meeting more and more people along the way. Thank you Thailand for teaching me to be grateful for what I have in the US, to become better at cleaning up and recycling, and helping me decide on how I want the direction of my photography business to go. See you soon Thailand.

Shelbs