It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…really this could be the opener to all vacations because something will always go wrong. In all seriousness, I absolutely made memories here that will last me a lifetime and tragedy did strike me here…well…maybe tragedy is a strong word, lets go with bad fortune brought down on me by the travel gods. Nevertheless it was definitely a learning experience and something that I had to go through in order to grow as a person but we will get to that later in the story.
For now I will give you a quick breakdown of what I mean by Southeast Asia (SEA). SEA is a subregion of Asia which is south of China, east of India (aka Indochina) and lying right above Australia, and it’s composed of 11 countries. For my trip I only visited 4, which were Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Even though these countries are close to one another each one has their own individual culture, history, religion, and ethnic composition, all of which gives each country their own unique charm. So come join me as we explore the vast multicultural region of SEA.
Thailand was the first place where I stepped my feet onto Asia soil and boy, was I about to start an adventure of a lifetime. First up, Bangkok. My first introduction to Thailand was met by being purposefully over charged for a taxi ride to my hostel, ugh. I stayed at the backpackers mega-center Khao San Road where travelers from all over the world come to gather and experience Bangkok life. The first day there I went out to explore the city and a nice Thai lady stopped to talk with me and welcome me to Thailand. She even flagged down a government ran tuk tuk for me. These government drivers are for hire for the day, they take you around to all the temples and sites that you wish to see and for a cheap price of 20-30 baht. It is here that the tuk tuk became both the bane of my existence and my saving grace. For those of you who are not familiar with the tuk tuk, it’s a cheap mode of transportation that is used throughout SEA. Are they hard to find?? NO! They are everywhere and the drivers will harass you about getting in the tuk tuk, even when you don’t want one, they will continue to ask and follow you with their none stop pestering. It’s enough to drive you mad and it’s been said enough to have the phrase printed on t-shirts.
The dominate religion in SEA is Buddhism and there are temples everywhere filled with big Buddhas, little Buddhas, happy Buddhas, sitting Buddhas, standing Buddhas, reclining Buddhas…you name it and they got it. Remember when you are visiting the temples, you must remove your shoes to go inside. There is a saying in SEA “same same but different” which can mean different things, my two favorite definitions are: 1. The temples are pretty much all the same but different. 2. You meet people from all over the world when traveling and we are all the same but different. Some of the best temples and sites to visit while visiting Bangkok are Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaeow, Wat Mahan Pharam, and Wat Saket. But don’t limit yourself to these because there are plenty of sites and temples to visit.
During the night time I would head out with a group of people from my hostel and we would party and dance at the bars and clubs on Khao San Road. The party scene is filled with hot sweaty people, large crowds, drunks, drugs, fighting, scorpions and tarantulas being eating and these are just a few things to expect. It is here I would experience my first and my last Ping Pong show with my new group of mates. Now for those unfamiliar with a Ping Pong show I will just say this, it’s something that you MUST do if you are in Thailand and it’s something that only needs to be done once in your life.
One of the things I fell in love with in Thailand besides the great vegan food and islands, were the elephant pants. They are lightweight, easy to put on and take off, and are cheap (if you are good at bargaining). This is the one thing I really wanted to bring back to friends and family… and you get a pair of elephant pants. And you get a pair of elephant pants. Everyone here gets a pair of elephant pants (said in my best Oprah impersonation)! Well from the temples to the nightlife it’s no wonder Bangkok is said to be a crazy bitch because you can go from one extreme to another but that’s what gives Bangkok it’s lure and mystery.
Onto the breathtaking islands. I visited several different Thai islands: Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket. Each one has its own unique appeal and island life. Head to Koh Samui if you would like to trek through some of the most beautiful mountainous rainforests you have ever led eyes on. Koh Tao is known for it’s magnificent snorkeling spots and scuba diving; you can also get your scuba diving license here. I stayed at a lovely hotel while on the island because let’s face it sometimes you just want to be by yourself and not around a bunch of strangers (I’m talking about the hostels). Plus, the hotel rooms per night are really reasonable.
I booked my full day excursion snorkeling tour through my hotel. The day of the tour was quite nice with the beautiful warm water, seeing different sides of the island, visiting another island, but bad fortune would befall me; first with the story of: The Jellyfish and Captain Assface. For this snorkeling tour there are 5-6 snorkeling spots the tour visits. At our first stop everyone gets into the water and I start swimming out looking at the exquisite ocean life. As I am enjoying my swim, all of a sudden I feel a sting to my skin and at first it didn’t register in my brain what that was. Then I felt another and another and finally I see these jellyfish so I start swimming faster and fighting them off which exhausted myself. I see that I’m able to stand on these rocks below me but the rocks are coral and I have to walk on them to get out of the water, cutting up my feet in the process. Crap…now I’m on land and boat is far off in the distance and I know I have to swim back through these demon spawn jellyfish. I say a little pray and hope I can make it all the way back to the boat. As I am swimming I see them floating around at the top of the surface and I go into Mortal Combat mode. I start pushing, punching, slapping, whatever I could do to keep these little beast from stinging me thereby exhausting myself once again. So lucky for me because tbh I was getting weak from swimming these nice people on a canoe helped me get back to the boat…my travel angels.
Now I will tell you how Captain Assface got his name. So once I was on the boat you would think the captain would show some concern by saying: are you okay, what happened out there, or do you need any help? Did he say these things…no, he said condescendingly “you need to wear a life vest.” Now I know I’m no Michael Phelps of swimming but I can swim and the only reason I needed help back to the boat was because I had exhausted myself in battle. Like when people go to battle they are tired afterwards, am I right?! I say to him that I don’t need a life vest, I was being stung by jellyfish and you never said anything about jellyfish being in the water. He ignores me. The tour goes on and we get to our next location and everyone starts getting in the water but I’m busy on the boat tending to my wounds on the bottom of my feet and plus I wasn’t getting in the water again until I knew it was safe from jellyfish. Then all of a sudden people in the water start yelling out that they were being stung by jellyfish and CaptainAssface yells at them to get back on the boat…mmmhmm (said in my black girl voice). What does Captain Assface do now…he goes to get everyone ointment to put on their wounds. Did he offer me ointment when I was stung?? No. I tell him: so now that everyone else is stung there’s a problem but when I was stung you didn’t have a care in the world ::rolling my eyes::. And thats’s how Captain Assface got his name. Onto my next story: Epic Fall. The last stop on the tour was Nang Yuan island which is a tiny island near Koh Tao and has a great lookout point on top of the mountain. A group of us that I met while on the tour went to hike up to the lookout point. Timeout. Let me say this, at no point before the snorkeling trip did anyone mention there would be a place to hike so naturally everyone has on sandals or flip-flops. Time-in. We get to the top of the mountain and it’s a lovely view of the island and the Gulf of Thailand. I took some nice pictures. On our way down these jagged rocks of death, I lose my footing because my flip-flops slip and I fall right onto a large unforgiving rock…fml. As I lift myself up and assess the damage, it’s pretty bad and I’m devastated because I can’t get in the water anymore. The other tourist there were really helpful and they handed me bandages, bandaids, creams…aww my travel angels. Luckily that was the last part of the snorkeling tour and when I got back to my hotel, I nursed my wounds, took some pain pills, and called it a night.
Even though I had misfortune with the jellyfish, Captain Assface, and ruining my beautiful legs, I still really loved Koh Tao and my experiences there allowed me to give you all a great story. Next I headed to Koh Phi Phi via a ferry. Koh Phi Phi is a very small island, so small that all you need to get around are your feet. Come to think of it, this place is tuk tuk free and a welcoming change. This island is where I spent the longest amount of time and after my fall and stepping on coral, my wounds needed time to heal. From the pier to my hostel was about a 10 minute walk which is not bad but when you are carrying a huge backpack, the tropical heat, and google maps isn’t helpful here, it’s brutal. It’s here that I met Fleur from The Netherlands and Robert from Australia who would become my new mates while on this island. My days here consisted of relaxing on the beach, hiking to the viewpoint to watch the sunrise, partying on the beach, watching amateur tourist kickboxing, eating mangos with sticky rice, drinking fresh fruit smoothies, and some much needed healing.
My last island stop was Phuket and I didn’t like it for a few reasons. It didn’t have that island feel, it felt more like a big city like Bangkok. It rained all day. I know I went to SEA during the rainy season but most of the time it would rain hard for like an hour then stop. But on Phuket it rained and rained for the whole day I was there. The only good thing that I have to say was that my hostel bed was super soft like being on a fluffy cloud. Maybe if I would have stayed there longer I could have gotten a better appreciation of the island but I had no time and I needed to skedaddle off to my next city.
My last city for Thailand was Chiang Mai and I guess it really is true when they say save the best for last. I absolutely loved the city. It just had a certain je ne sais pas but whatever it had going for it, it was working it. The city had great food, a night market, one of the best lady-boy shows, many temples and sites to visit, and the Ping River flowing freely through this ancient city. The main reason I came to Chiang Mai was to visit the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). The ENP was established to provide sanctuary and be a rescue center for elephants. It was started by one woman named Lek and she has now rescued 69 elephants, 450 dogs, 200 cats, horses, pigs, water buffalo, and a monkey. There are many options for people who are interested in visiting this sanctuary. There is a half day visit, single day visit, overnight stay, and volunteer work. I chose to do the overnight stay which was 2 days and 1 night. Be mindful that this tour books up quickly like a few months in advance so plan accordingly. I was fortunate enough to book just a few weeks in advance because one person dropped out and I snatched it up; thank God I’m a solo traveler. FYI: all tour bookings are done online and not at the sanctuary. Once I arrived at the sanctuary it was heaven on earth. It is surrounded by the most magnificent rainforest mountains and a flowing river. There are dogs running around freely on the property, bungalows, bamboo huts, and of course elephants. The overnight stay only allows for 16 overnight guests to experience what it’s like living on the property. What I really loved about the ENP was they provided all the meals even for day guests and there is no meat served. Every dish is partially vegan and there are endless dishes to chose from, so go nuts. The area for dining is open concept so anywhere you sit there is a great view of the sanctuary. There are also pictures of all the elephants and their back story before they arrived to the ENP. If you get a chance please read about them because some of the elephants early life was to horrible to imagine.
The overnight stay agenda mostly consists of elephant feedings, bathings, preparing food, learning about each family, and learning about the mahout. The mahout are a group of guys that take care of the elephants and each mahout is assigned to one elephant for the rest of the elephants life. The reason each elephant has his/her own mahout is because the elephant likes to bond with one person and doesn’t like having multiple care givers coming in and out of the elephants life. Plus it’s important for the elephants recovery to keep consistency. There is a gift shop there where you can buy hand craved statues of the elephants living there and they are done by the mahout. Be sure to buy one because the money goes towards helping the mahout and his family.
Another favorite of mine while at the sanctuary was the superb accommodations. Since I was a solo traveler and there was just one other solo traveler we actually got placed in separate bamboo huts. For anyone that travels solo, you should know how great this was because normally if you are in a group that allows single occupancy they will room you with another single occupant. The bamboo hut was really adorable with a beautiful decor, mosquito netting over the bed, ample furniture, a cute bathroom, and a back porch that faced where the elephants slept at night. In the evening some of the dogs that roamed the property would sleep on the front porch and I named them just because it felt like home. Once night fell, I listened to the dogs barking, the elephants roaring, the cats meowing, and the crickets chirping and I was completely at peace.
The next day was the same as the first day but this time in the morning we got to tour most of the property and in the afternoon if we chose to, we could head to the dog kennel and walk the dogs that were up for adoption. When it came time to leave I did not want to go. Dogs and elephants roaming around together, being free, being taken care of, having a home, and not a care in the world was my utopia. This concludes my Thailand trip.
Stay tuned for part II of SEA because we are headed to Laos.