Sawasdee Ka and Happy New Year!
They say nothing can prepare you for Bangkok, but what those naysayers don’t have by their side is a (practically) fluent Thai speaking, itinerary binding, third-wheeling, survival ninja – I’m talking to you, Matt! For our eighth country, we decided five months was enough of a honeymoon, so we invited along our friend Matt – who shockingly accepted said invite, thus creating the unstoppable ’throuple.’
Unstoppable as long as you don’t need to hail a cab, barter at a market, or try to meet up at a given time and place.
Although our ultra prepared third-wheel offered us much help throughout our Thailand travels, we found him to be a little rough around the edges before even arriving to the land of the smiles…
As Patrick and I were boarding our plane to Thailand from Borneo, this text conversation ensued:
Patrick: Haha you were right. We do wish we had used a travel agent! This outta be fun. See you tonight.
Matt: Wait. You know I don’t arrive till the 5th right?
Patrick: S*^t. You told me the 4th! When is the Airbnb?
Matt: Not until tomorrow. Damn international date line.
As per ushe, Patrick and I were not new to travel blunders like these, so we carried on our merry way to Bangkok, and decided to take this extra day to ourselves to prepare for the weeks ahead. The following day, before Matt’s arrival, we went ahead and checked into our Airbnb. While waiting for our Airbnb host’s baby-sitter to drop off the key (weird, I know), we were welcomed by three ginormous signs in the apartment complex lobby with the text: “ATTENTION TRAVELERS: DAILY AND WEEKLY RENTALS ARE ILLEGAL. VIOLATORS WILL BE PUNISHED AND THEIR IMAGES WILL BE SENT TO IMMIGRATION.” Promptly after reading the sign, the front desk of the complex asked for our passports and took pictures of them using their cellphones. Bangkok was off to a great start!
When putting together our plans for Bangkok, we knew there were three things we had to do while in the most visited city in the world: visit the King’s Palace, get suits tailored, and visit a go-go bar. Sound’s easy enough, right? On Matt’s first day in Thailand, we wanted to make the best of it, so we ventured on out to be the tourists we always knew we were capable of being. After a short twenty minutes of hailing cabs, we finally convinced one guy to take us over to the King’s Palace. There was a brief language-barrier-filled conversation on the way, but we figured it was probably just small talk. Upon arrival, there were a lot less tourists than we thought would be there – that’s great, right?! Turns out the reason there were so few tourists was because the King’s Palace was closed for the late king’s birthday… sooo that’s what the cab driver was trying to tell us!
Fear not! We were still able to get some quality temple time in, minus the King’s Palace:
One of the temples was accessible primarily by ferry, which cost a mere 4 Baht (12 cents). From that moment on, everything we did was measured in ferry ride costs. Pitcher of beer: 55 ferry rides; Cab ride to downtown: 32 ferry rides; Massages at an ex-inmate massage parlor: 120 ferry rides.
Now that we had unsuccessfully visited the King’s Palace, it was time to move onto the next item of our agenda: get some custom tailored suits for the boys! Other than their incompetencies with bargaining (each paying 2,413 ferry rides for their suits), this venture went pretty smoothly, so I’m just going to put up some pictures to cover this topic:
Onto the next item on the agenda: Go to a go-go bar and dance the night away! So for those of you who don’t know, a go-go bar is typically a dance club… or so I thought. Turns out that’s not the case in Bangkok – Go-go clubs, and Karaoke clubs for that matter, are code for strip clubs/brothels. Speaking of strip clubs and brothels in Bangkok, the city is full of them! Walking on the streets, eating in the restaurants, shopping in the malls, you see tons of nasty old white men with barely legal (if that) scantily clad Thai women. Don’t worry guys – I made sure to give my most judgmental disgusted stink eye to all of the nasty old men – I couldn’t help it!
With our three items ‘checked off’ the bucket list for Bangkok, it was time for some sunshine and sand! After a short flight and a few grasshoppers eaten later, we made it to the beach party island of Koh Lanta. Usually Patrick and I skip the partying side of traveling, but with our energized and eager travel mate, we found ourselves at a classic beachside “half-moon” party… yes it was seriously a party for the half-moon. We even stayed up till 2 am!
For getting around Koh Lanta, there were two options: rent mopeds and drive ourselves or negotiate a tuk tuk to take us around the island. For two of the days we opted for the mopeds, buzzing around the island… Or more realistically, Matt constantly having to pull aside as he waits for Patrick and I on a shared moped to catch up. When we couldn’t moped somewhere, we relied on our well-crafted negotiation skills to get reasonable tuk-tuk rates.
Patrick: How much to go to Srilanta Hotel?
Driver: 300 baht
Patrick (exhasperated at being charged double the normal far): …..
Driver: [points to a sign indicating 300 baht]
Patrick: Oh fixed pricing? Can’t argue with that!
With transportation sorted out, we took advantage of all the island had to offer – Muay Thai Fights, empty beaches, island hopping, and most notably, exploring a cave some guy found in his backyard and now runs tours through. The cave itself could be explored end to end in thirty minutes, but our guide did it in a brisk two and a half hours! All that extra time was devoted to his very scientific explanation of how the cave came to be: the mermaids needed a house, and the various creatures that dwelled inside (dragons, dolphins, and some exasperated tourists) were there to protect her.
Koh Lanta is also an excellent base for getting out and exploring some of the famous karst islands that decorate Thailands tourism advertisements. Exhausted from all of our current beach time, we headed out to the beach for some more R&R.
Keeping pace with Matt’s jet-set lifestyle, we took a flight to the cultural and food hub of Thailand: Chiang Mai. Our mission? Elephants.
When traveling through Asia, you come across unlimited opportunities to interact with elephants: elephant riding, painting elephants (both painting them and the elephants doing the painting), circus elephants, the works. But what those places don’t tell you is the misery they cause the elephants day in and day out from the time the elephants are taken away from their mothers. Elephants in captivity go through a process known as “Breaking the Spirit”. It all starts with the baby elephant being torn away from its mother at a very young age. It is then sent to a Phajaan program in which the elephant is put in a small cage, tied by all four legs, beaten by bull hooks and other ‘tools’, and starved until its ‘spirit is broken’. Once the elephant seems to be broken, they are taken out to be used in the tourism industry, where they are forced to be ridden and do tricks all day with the hindering bull hook poking at the back of their ear.
In Chiang Mai, there are an unbelievable number of ‘sanctuaries’, which claim their elephants are free from the tortures of the tourism and logging industries, but not all ‘sanctuaries’ are created equal. The majority of these so called ‘sanctuaries’ still allow riding, bull hooks, and chains. Elephant Nature Park; however, is heaven on earth for the rescued 70+ elephants, 200+ dogs, and 50+ cats, not to exclude the rescued water buffalo that roam the property! Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert, an all around animal lover and activist with a passion for the environment. Since founding the park 20 years ago, Lek has been able to convince many of the trekking and tourist based elephant businesses in Chiang Mai to convert to sanctuaries for elephants without riding or the use of bull hooks.
Moral of the story: do your research before interacting with any animals used within the tourism industry – chances are you’ll rethink that elephant ride, drop-bear petting experience, or picture with baby tigers that’s been our bucket list for years.
Chiang Mai had more than elephants, so we also hit up a cooking class to learn – and immediately forget – how to make Tom Yum Soup! Temple time filled up the afternoons.
Once we saw off our friend Matt for his 45 hour plane ride home (seriously), we had ourselves an AMERICAN DAY. It’s kind of like Treat Yo’self day from Parks and Rec, but you just do all the things you would do if you were back home in the good ole’ US of A. We headed to the mall, chowed down on some Pizza Company (Thai for Pizza Hut), did some [window] shopping, drank copious amounts of Starbucks coffee, and saw the new Star Wars movie on IMAX. The only reason you’d know we were in Thailand was having to stand up at attention for two minutes before the movie started, while we watched a short trailer about the late King’s accomplishments. Patrick would like me to add that the new Star Wars movie is awesome and anyone who disagrees is just being petty.
Extending Our Honeymoon to Vietnam,
Samantha and Patrick
To see Patrick’s favorite shots from Thailand, including some not featured here, head over to his website! http://www.saltyshutterphotography.com/where-we-are/
Updated Travel Stats:
Days Abroad: 153
Flights Taken: 28 (includes connections)
Miles Traveled: 29,795
Bags Lost: 1
Flights Delayed: 0
Countries Visited: 8 (minimum stay of 48 hours)
Dives Logged on this Trip: 91
Elephants Ridden: 0