Thailand: The Grand Finale

So, the last time we spoke you probably thought we had moved past Thailand as we had gone to Cambodia. Well, my dear readers you are quite mistaken. After our visit in Cambodia had concluded, it was time to return back to The Land of Smiles. Our next stop on the Thailand tour: Phuket.

Now here’s the thing, if you’re headed to Phuket during the New Years, take my advice and stay near Patong Beach or Karon Beach. The reason being is if you choose to stay in Phuket town, it will be very, I mean very deserted as it almost altogether shuts down for the holidays. That being said, just because you shouldn’t stay there does not mean you shouldn’t visit it. For those with children out there, this one is for you. The town is not only decorated in colourful buildings, unique graffiti art, but is also the home the Phuket Trickeye Museum, perfect for the kiddies. The museum is filled with optical illusions and is a perfect way to tire out rambunctious children. After the museum, its time for the adults to relax. Check out the China Inn Cafe for a cute garden oasis with delicious food at great prices. In short, Phuket Town is the perfect relaxing start to your stay in Phuket. After Phuket Town, head on over to the Phi Phi Islands for an island paradise before finishing off your stay near Karon or Patong beach.

Phi Phi Islands

And so, the next day, we headed towards the docks and boarded a boat to the Phi Phi Islands. This group of islands is truly a backpacker’s paradise. The small island is full of stalls selling scuba lessons and on the dock there are several boats to be rented to check out the famous Maya Bay (from the movie “The Beach), Monkey Beach, and Viking Caves (you pass by the caves, no cave exploration here ) and finish off the day with some snorkeling. And so, on the first day that is exactly what we did. After deep frying ourselves in the sun it was time to go on this boat tour to check out these sites. I’m going to be real honest, in that if you aren’t a fan of the movie The Beach, Maya Bay is going to look about as interesting as any other beach. Furthermore, please note going to Monkey Beach does not guarantee you will monkeys. Shocking, eh ? That said, if you are still determined to see the monkeys there are many people who have seen them. Unfortunately, myself as well as another unfortunate soul I met on my travels, were not so lucky. And so, my advice to you is this. If you are anything like myself, skip the Maya Bay and Monkey Beach tour and just enjoy the beach on the Phi Phi Don. Participate in some of the underwater activities such as the scuba diving and I assure you will not be disappointed. In addition to the multitude of water sports, the island is full of small stalls to buy cute trinkets and delicious food. Want to know a good place for drinks and appetizers ? Check out “The Beach Bar” , the bar is decked out is glow graffiti art and offers board games while you eat. Quesadillas and Jenga , together ?! Anyone who knows me, knows that place was practically made for me. Furthermore, a trip to Phi Phi would not be complete without checking out the viewpoint.

I should warn you that to reach this viewpoint, it requires quite a bit of physical fitness. As someone who works out casually, it was still an arduous trek but the view…. worth every moment of suffering.From the top, the whole island spreads out before you, pristine greenery enveloping the beautiful shimmering aqua waters. It was this moment I enjoyed the most during my visit to the islands and I was glad we had stayed the extra few hours to have time to do. Monkeys or no monkeys, Phi Phi was breathtaking.

Phi Phi viewpoint

Return to Phuket – Patong Beach

After enjoying the island paradise, it was time to return back to Phuket where we could spend the remainder of our trip. For those who are looking to party, Patong Beach is the place to a be. However, be forewarned that partying here is no joke and it is an all in event. Thus, for those with children I recommend staying near Karon Beach which not only is a much cleaner beach but a quieter one. Whatever lifestyle you live, Phuket has got you covered.

Now before we conclude this journey, it would be an injustice to not mention my trip aboard Simba Sea Trips. This was an all day boat adventure in which we visited coves, allowed for snorkeling, canoeing, cave exploration, a visit to Phang Na Bay (James Bond island), and lastly a visit to Koh Panyi ( a fishing village built on the water). Out of all my adventures in Thailand, this and my time at the elephant sanctuary were in a close tie with one another. Whereas cities like Phuket have lost alot of authenticity due to becoming a large tourist hub, especially the area around Patong beach, Koh Panyi was there to bring an authentic experience back. A village isolated from everyone else, it thrives on its on ingenuity and fishing and what struck me as fascinating was whereas many parts of Thailand practice Buddhism, Koh Panyi was majority Muslim.The biggest sign of their ingenuity is the village itself built on water and a floating soccer stadium (you heard that right). After being immersed in a tourist hub for a few days, Koh Panyi was the perfect experience to get back to basics. In addition to this, the tour included a canoeing trip which allowed us to be immersed with nature, the only noise around us, the sound of paddles wading through the water. This day trip away from Phuket was the perfect way to end our trip and a day I will never forget.The people in charge of the tour exceeded all expectations and left me with nothing but fond memories.

Final Thoughts

My final day with Simba Sea Trips was the perfect way to end my long arduous journey through Asia. During my time in this great continent, I learned so much not only about its inhabitants but myself as well. China taught me to appreciate the incredible differences between cultures and taught me to do my part to help eliminate these barriers even at the expense of being uncomfortable with speaking my second language. It taught me to be open to new things and foods, and allowed me to experience the joy in rising early and enjoying time just being present. In Thailand, I learned to fall in love with life again and immerse myself in another culture’s celebrations and religious beliefs. Thailand also taught me to take a moment to appreciate everything in life and the beauty around you and I fell in love with its landscapes. And lastly, Cambodia. Being in a country that less than half a century ago was torn apart by massacres and seeing their resilience, taught me to evaluate my own problems in my life and recognize the things I have the power to change and the things I cannot and to keep a positive outlook even in the face of adversity . It was a life-changing experience and a trip I will cherish forever.

Thailand: Part Three

Bangkok Day 2

After visiting places of worship the day before and admiring Thailand’s architecture, the next day was dedicated to celebrating the Thai New Year. In Thailand, this celebration consisted of city wide water fights, dancing, and music. Any attempts of remaining dry were futile, and so we decided to join the fun. As the sun ascended high into the sky signaling the start of the day, vendors slowly began to open up shop in preparation for the big day. Their merchandise; a colourful assortment of plastic water guns, waterproof phone cases, goggles, and anything else we could possibly need. After examining the different weapons of choice, we settled on two brightly coloured water guns: one the colour of bubblegum and the other as blue as the sky above us. With affordability in mind, the cartoon baby roosters and penguin decals on my water gun were but a small price to pay for affordability.

With water guns in our hand, we ventured out into the war zone where I was immediately caught off guard and sprayed with water by two Aussies on vacation. “If you’re holding, you’re getting wet,” they playfully stated and sauntered off to find their next victim. If this was the way the day was going to shape up to be, I was all for it! The day would end up proving to be full of similar instances, as locals and foreigners came together to engage in the city wide water fight and dancing. It was day full of joy and laughter, and one in which cultural divides were momentarily erased. Despite coming from a multicultural city, it was unlike anything I had experienced in my own city. The fault being that I live in a city that is always “too busy.” We are too busy to make time to see loved ones, too busy to make time for our passions, too busy to work out, too busy to sleep, too busy to listen, too busy to live. Our lives like a broken record, stuck on the same part day after day after day. It was time for a change, and with Songkran the record had been switched and a whole new tune began to play.

As we traversed down the streets, water splashed us from every angle. From large buckets of water, hoses, and water guns the festival was in full swing. Drenched to the bone, everyone danced along to both popular American hits and Thai music. The highlight of it all; seeing the smiles on everyone’s face and the giggles of little kids as they attempted to soak you with their small kid friendly water guns. I had a remarkable time during Songkran and I encourage anyone visiting Thailand to visit during their New Year. It is a time of people coming together, and as I danced on the streets of Thailand with our faces covered in talc, all I could feel was pure bliss. With all life’s worries and troubles dissolving away. Regardless of what tomorrow would bring, this moment would always be mine and nobody would ever take that away from me. During times of struggle, it is this moment I come back to. It is this moment I cherish. If you are reading this and facing a moment of darkness, please note that there is light and don’t ever give up. I have been in your shoes many times, and there is always a way out. So engrave those moments of happiness in your mind, and on your rainiest days remind yourself that there is light and you will find it again.

***
Bangkok Day Three

After pocketing my moment of happiness the day before, our time in Bangkok was drawing to a close. With a refreshed mind and body, our itinerary for the final day included shopping malls, local parks, paddle boating, and supporting local causes through our love of food. Our first stop, MBK Center. Now I thought the malls were Canada were big but nothing could prepare me for the MBK Center. The place has around 2000 shops, restaurants and services outlets including both higher end and stall like setups. It was like ” a city within a city,” and for those who enjoy shopping, it could be described as their personal heaven. For me, however, it was far from my personal heaven. My advice than is if you are like me, steer clear and opt for smaller outdoor markets instead. Your mind and body will thank you. However, for all my shop-a-holics out there, the race has begun and with so much too see, you better start running!

And so, after tackling the Behemoth also known as the MBK Center and rewarding ourselves with delicious Pad Thai, our journey continued. Next stop: Lumphini Park. After being surrounded by chaos in the MBK center, it was here we rested and took a moment to enjoy nature. The sounds of nature filling our ears and warming our hearts. It was here that we rested, we selfied, and even managed to paddle boat on the lake as the sun began to set. It was a great way to finish off the day, but before we could do so, we had one more very important stop, Cabbages & Condoms.

Cabbages & Condoms is a local restaurant with a cause. Upon entering the restaurant from the outside street, you notice a shift in ambience. With exposed wooden beams, warm lighting, and tropical greenery throughout the restaurant, feelings of content wash over you. Pair this with all their profits supporting programs in “primary health, education, HIV/AIDS, rural development, environment and water and it is easy to see why this place has become such a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. As we were escorted to our seats, the mission to support reproductive health was evident everywhere. From sculptures made of condoms decorating the restaurant, information regarding their mission plastered on the walls, and free condoms being provided to customers the place meant business. With sexual health often being a taboo topic in many societies, Cabbages & Condoms had arrived and was ready to start a dialogue.

***

Final Thoughts

My time in Bangkok is something I will never forget. With its incredible architecture and places of worship, water fights and dancing in the streets, strolls through city parks, and visiting places supporting local causes it was a city which evoked so much happiness. It served as a reminder to be present and make time for the important things in life. While, I understand that I have been fortunate enough to have the means to travel and experience so many wonderful things, I am here to tell you that happiness does not only exist outside of the borders of your own city. Thus, I urge you to recognize the small joys in your own life and to make time for things you love and the people you love. We all experience darkness, some of us having a better relationship with it than others but I want to remind you all reading this that there is light and asking for help to find it is not weakness but strength. I wish all you reading this, a wonderful week ahead and that you find your own pockets of sunshine as I have. Until next time!

Thailand: Part 1

After a week in Wenzhou, it was time to pack our bags and head to our next destination: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Whereas Wenzhou was all about trying new foods, learning new phrases, appreciating nature, and being immersed in a culture so different than my own, Thailand offered this and so much more. Whereas, I often experienced feelings of isolation in Wenzhou due to the language barrier it was in Thailand that I was once again felt whole and connected to those around me. This is not to say that one country is better than the other. But rather, with language no longer being an issue I was once again able to be an active participant and engage with both locals and foreigners alike. Despite the official language of Thailand being Thai, many of the market sellers, hotel staff, and tour guides often spoke a basic level of English which made communication a breeze. You see, Chiang Mai is an incredibly popular hub for “digital nomads” from across the globe and with it comes a need to understand English to communicate with the English speaking foreign born working there. The result of this, is something that extends beyond language. Stepping onto the streets, I immediately fell in love with Chiang Mai for what it had become: a beautiful cultural mosaic of locals and foreigners alike. And so, I set out with great determination to do as much as possible and experience as much as I could in the little time we were there. When it came time to explore the city, I adopted the mantra “Treat Yo Self” (see hyperlink), and oh did we ever! With massages, shopping, sanctuary excursions, zip lining, and so much more, Chiang Mai treated me better than any man ever could.
Massages

During our time in Thailand, my friend and I indulged in several Thai massages. In comparison to Canada where a massage can range from 70-200 dollars, Thai massages here range from 200- 600 baht (8-24 dollars). My only advice to you is before checking out massage places, do your research. As prostitution laws are flexible, some massage parlours offer a more “sensual” massage than you were looking for. Despite these drawbacks, that is not to say that all massage parlours are like this. In fact, the city is full of reputable massage parlours and it would be shame to miss out on the experience. As a result, I have provided the two following massage establishments to check out: : Lila Thai Massage and Fah Lanna Spa.

For someone who had never had a Thai massage, Lila Thai Massage was the perfect segway into this world of massage technique. Not only did they start off gentle and slowly increase pressure constantly inquiring whether I was okay, what struck me about this establishment was the professionalism and humility of the masseuses. In addition to their service, what drew me to this establishment was the cause it supported and the history behind it. The establishment was created as an ex-inmate employment center. What this means is that this establishment provides former inmates with the opportunity to receive a massage training course, and are then employed by the establishment. In doing so, the place offers a second chance at life to ex-convicts by providing them with valuable skills and financial means to support themselves. I will be honest in that I felt hesitant. However, after getting over my initial hesitation, I was glad I did. At no time during my visit did I feel unsafe and rather the place was well maintained and the masseuses very cordial. What this experience taught me was to be more open minded. If as a society we deny employment to those who may have once made mistakes in their lives, how do we expect them to choose a different path in life? With the soft hum of music, a foot massage, a warm cup of tea, and my muscles stretched out I came out of there feeling like a million bucks. The experience was not only a great introduction to Thai massage, but knowing we were contributing to a good cause made it all the better (Cost 200 baht).

Next on the recommended massage places is Fah Lanna Spa. This Spa is located in the old town of Chiang Mai and falls on the higher end price range. While Lila was a great introduction to the practice and supported a great cause, Fah Lanna Spa was very tailored to an individual’s need. After being picked up from our hotel, we were dropped off at the door of the spa to begin our descent into total bliss. Upon arrival we were given a form to fill out in which we could specify our needs, circling the parts of our body we wanted special attention on. As a result, our massage was customized to our specific needs and special care was given to sensitive areas of our body. As a result, the massage was phenomenal. From having the kinks in lower back released and my muscles pulled and compressed, to having special attention given to my head as a result of suffering from migraines, I could not ask for a better massage. With the tranquil setting and the sounds of water trickling outside and dim lighting it was an image of serenity. To finish it off, we were escorted to the spa’s cafe where we were given complimentary tea and biscuits to conclude our visit.(Cost 600 baht)

Elephant Pants and Markets

Aside from treating ourselves to massages, shopping at the local markets was a must in the city of Chiang Mai. Starting around the late afternoon, stalls would begin to set up on the streets for the night of shopping ahead. It was here I bought many pairs of the infamous “elephant pants” that you see in all your friends vacation pictures in Thailand. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Thai people don’t typically wear these and this is more of a tourist attire. That being said, these pants were lifesavers in the brutal Thai heat as they provided coverage from the scorching sun while being both airy and breathable. It was like being able to wear pyjamas in public and I was all for it! Aside from the pants, the markets were where you could find a variety of different knick knacks or souvenirs for your family back home. From hand crafted candles, wooden figurines, souvenir t-shirts, handbags, these markets had it. It was here we learned the art of bargaining and in the process managed to get some great pieces to take back home with us. If you want the full market experience, check out the Sunday night market. A whole section of the city becomes closed off for the market and it is here you can find a few other pieces not typically found during the week. Please note that if you have plans to be anywhere on Sunday, than this market is not for you as the crowds are massive. So clear your schedule, join the swarm, settle in, and experience the slow crawl of walking through the Sunday market. If you are lucky, performances can be seen during this market before it starts.

Thai Rolled Ice Cream ( Found in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar)
Thailand: Unleash your inner foodie

I’m going to keep it real that during my time in Thailand, I did not unleash my inner foodie for the reason being that a lot of Thai food is spicy or utilizes strong curries which I don’t particularly enjoy. That aside if you are someone who loves spicy food and curry, than you will rejoice with joy upon arrival to Thailand. With a large selection of delicious food, you will never grow hungry and with incredibly affordable prices it will feel like an all you can eat all day everyday, as market stalls line the streets to feed you whenever you are feeling hungry. So for all you picky eaters, it is here I give you advice on the best meals to stick to during your visit to Thailand: Massaman Chicken Curry (relatively mild curry with potatoes, coconut milk and chicken), Chicken Pad Thai (stir fried noodles complete with tofu, chicken, and bean sprouts), Chicken Fried Rice and Pork Dumplings. Once you try these, you can begin to venture off into the more adventurous dishes that Thailand has to offer. If none of these call to you, there is quite a large selection of American food for purchase. However I urge you to try the local cuisine, as you will regret not having authentic Pad Thai while you’re here.
Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

My visit to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was hands down one of my favourite experiences while in Thailand. The Sanctuary lies a little outside of Chiang Mai and was started as a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill tribes and Chiang Mai locals concerned about the welfare of the elephants in Thailand. Unfortunately, in Thailand there is a huge issue with the ill treatment of elephants utilized for purposes such as circus performances as well as being kept in small enclosures and utilized for riding treks by tourists. The sanctuary aims to fix that by rescuing elephants from these conditions and nursing them back to health with the aim to release them into the wild. As a result, this sanctuary does not offer elephant rides but is a place which educates the public on elephants and offers a day of feeding the elephants, learning about conservation efforts, and giving the elephants a mud bath. While we were there, we donned traditional Thai attire. What we learned during the visit was how these elephants came to be here, how the Karen hill tribes helped grow the crops to feed the elephants at the sanctuary, and the differences between the Asian and African elephants. I cannot express my gratitude enough at the staff for being so informative and kind during our visit. They made us laugh and it was clear the people working there were passionate about their mission. Besides being incredibly informative, they also acted as our personal photographers during our time there. They were there to educate the public in a fun and dynamic way and being covered in mud from head to toe was definitely an experience I will not forget. It is one thing to see elephants on television, and an entirely different experience to interact with them in person. We were often brought to fits of laughter as they would badger us to feed them more and use their trunks to sneakily steal food from our pockets. It was a day full of joy and laughter, and it was an honour to be amongst such magnificent creatures and seeing them prosper in their new habitats.

Selfies with the workers at the sanctuary

Feeding the elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Jungle Flight Excursion

Our visit to Chiang Mai would not be complete without getting some serious hiking on and so prior to arriving we booked an excursion with Jungle Flight for some serious hiking and ziplining action. The course was complete with various ziplines of different altitudes and lengths as well as a rollercoaster type zipline to complete the journey. It was full of scenic opportunities and with a highly trained staff there was never a moment where I felt unsafe during our ziplining course. The longest zipline was 1000 meters and was a pure adrenaline rush with a fantastic panoramic view. Want to spend another entire day in nature while also satisfying the daredevil within you? Check out Jungle Flight Chiang Mai. It is a workout and adventure all in one.

Rocking those hairnets
Check out the bars in Chiang Mai

During our visit to Chiang Mai, my friend humoured me in going out to a bar during one of our nights in Chiang Mai. The city has a few rooftop bars that are worth checking out and I recommend that you at least visit one during your stay. Our choice during our trip: THC Rooftop Bar. Now I know what your thinking, the name suggests it is probably some kind of drug den. I assure you that while this is not the case, if you are looking for a swanky rooftop bar this is not the place for you. If you are, however, looking for a chill atmosphere with psychedelic paintings lining the room, you have come to the right place. After taking off your footwear and walking up a dodgy staircase, you reach the rooftop bar at the top. Upstairs, the walls are lined with psychedelic glow art with the whole look being pulled together with low tables and floor seating on cushions.

THC Rooftop Bar- Check out the glow art

Final Thoughts

Chiang Mai was the experience of a lifetime. With the elephant sanctuary, zip lining excursions, bargaining in markets, getting massages, and checking out psychedelic bars it was everything I could ask for and more. The people were kind and humble, and everything just felt right. Life had slowed down and with the large crowds, all you could do was move at a slow crawl and enjoy everything around you.