15 Days in Thailand - The Journal
Updated: Mar 16
Technically we will be travelling for 19 days, but we all know the actual travel part of it is not part of the vacation. After laying over in SF for 7 hours (thanks, Lydia for picking us up for Sushi dinner to help pass the time!), we boarded a 14 hour flight to Taipei. Marlin & Sugar
I've never taking EVA airways. In fact, I've never been to Asia proper. What I did know was how important getting some sleep on the flight would be, so I pulled my usual trick and booked an isle and a window for the two of us, in hopes that no one would choose the middle seat (spoiler alert: they didn't!). Now, the whole reason I thought to write about this portion of our journey was mainly to talk about the food. First off, you get two meals during the flight - 1 served 2 hours into the flight, and 1 served 2 hours before landing. I was able to choose a special meal when I booked, which ended up being a spectacular thing. Anyone who chooses a special meal gets to eat first, and they take great care in making sure your diary needs are met. I had the gluten free meals, which consisted of some sort of grilled meat and steamed veggies, with a side of fruit and rice biscuit. The food itself is not the best meal I've ever had, but I didn't complain since it WAS airplane food. My counterpart, Max, opted for the local cuisine each time (Chinese/Asia), which ended up being rice porridge with a side of fish floss. What is fish floss you ask?? Well, the two ingredients are dried Marlin flakes and yep...sugar!
You might also be interested to know that we took the infamous Hello Kitty flight from TPE to Chiang Mai. Complete with Hello Kitty barf bags.
We arrived in Chiang Mai just in time for lunch. After navigating our way out of the airport and through the taxi line (150 Bhat), we ventured on over to our Air Bnb. I decided to stay on the East side of the city, just outside old town. We have a little kitchenette and a king bed, complete with a shower head attached to the toilet (their version of a bidet).
Lunch was across the street from our place, a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant. I won't bother trying to give you the name, because well frankly... there was no name. Just the way I like it. I had the pork with garlic and Max had something similar to pork stir fry. The man laughed when I said 'Mai pet', which roughly translates to "I'm a white girl that can't handle spicy food". Max on the other hand, loves it, so he loaded on the chili oil. After lunch, we grabbed some coffee (coffee shops are packed in by the dozen around here) and took a Tuk Tuk around old city.
By this point, we were hungry again. We ended up at Mama's Thai Food where we ordered the Pad Thai, Penang Curry, and Yellow Curry. I definitely recommend if you are in a pinch and just need a destination to put into Google for food.
Custom Shorts & Mango Sashimi
After succumbing to a massive food coma, we walked towards the night bazar in efforts to revive our jet lagged bodies. I bought a pair of metal spiral earrings, along with some beautiful Thai inspired gold leafed cards. We walked through stalls full of local Thai food, speckled amongst the ancient city nightlife. We consumed a mango coconut smoothie and had a healthy debate about if Pad Thai or Khao Soi was better. Alas, no agreement was made and we maintained our convictions. Jules: Pad Thai. Max: Khao Soi.
Max was determined to get his training gear for his Muy Thai gym, so we spent some time looking for a tiny little shop that makes custom shorts and sells the premier brands for all things Muy Thai. We designed the pair together (I felt loved he let me help) and decided on blue & gold with both the Thai and American flag. Perhaps one of the best souvenirs you could possible buy.
Riding that retail therapy high, I went on the hunt for a souvenir of my own. I wanted something I had never seen and had to be locally made. I was about to give up when we stumbled on this local merchant whose husband makes lace out of Buffalo hide. I would usually apologize to the Vegans reading this, but it's a way of life here and both cow and buffalo are a huge source of lively hood in Thailand.
As we made our way back to our AirBnb, we had to make one last stop... dessert! No trip to Thailand would be complete without a daily dose of local fruit. So, mango sashimi was the perfect night cap.
First day in Thailand and the air just hits different. It's burning season in Northern Thailand so the air smells like being inside of a BBQ. A BBQ full of yummy spices and fresh herbs, but a smokey BBQ none-the-less. We knew this coming in and we didn't let it deter us. In fact, this is why we are able to get such a good deal on airfare, AirBnbs, and activities.
We headed to breakfast to fuel up for the day. Bella Goose cafe. Now, I would never lie to my fellow adventurers, BG cafe started in Wisconsin and they now have a couple locations throughout the world. There were 2 distinct reasons we chose this Americanized place for breakfast, though. 1) It has gluten free baked goods and 2) It's one of the only places open early enough for us to eat at before Max had to go train at his Muay Thai gym. Thailand is a late night country. Shops don't open until 7pm and people like to party... a lot. For each coffee shop, there is a bar close by.
His & Hers
I usually stray away from stereotypes, especially when it comes to male and female roles, but I have to laugh because I played right into this today. As Max departed for his Muay Thai training, I meandered down the road to go get my nails done. Don't get me wrong, I can get down and dirty in the mountains like the best of them, but when I can pamper myself, I take advantage. I'm talking $13 mani/pedis and $30 full body massages.
The thing about nail salons in Thailand... they are meticulous. Like 3 hours meticulous. I was so late to my lunch date with Max, I had to go source my own meal because he had trained, eaten, and returned home by the time I was done with just my manicure. Amidst the calming music, there was the occasional cat hisses coming from the back room, where two cute little tabbies played with eachother. Accompany that with the constant sound of the barker lounger leather creaking, and you have the perfect soundtrack for a nail salon in Thailand.
If you travel to Thailand, one of the things almost everyone tells you to do is to take a cooking class. They aren't wrong. Max and I love to cook, so this was a no brainer. In fact, it was the second thing I booked after our flights. We are doing a total of two classes. Today's was outside the city in the countryside. Grandma's Home Cooking School.
We were picked up at our Air Bnb and whisked away to lush greenery and welcomed by the pungent smell of Thai cooking. This place was super cool. 5 open air huts outfitted with 10 cooking stations each. After taking a leisurely stroll through the garden, where we were properly educated on the difference between a standard lime leaf and a kefir lime leaf, we began our cooking adventure.
Thai cooking is pretty easy. At least, for us it is. The hardest thing about it is trying to find the proper ingredients if we want to recreate our meals back in the States. So, if anyone has a line on kefir lime leaves, please let me know!
We start by making curry paste. A mix of kefir lime, galangal, garlic, salt, and other spices. Don't forget the red chillies! A.k.a 'the sexy' according to our chef, Brain. The nice thing about making curry paste from scratch?? You can control just how sexy you want to be. Jules: level 1 sexy. Max: level 12 sexy. Max definitely carried the team on the sexy scale for this one.
As we let the aroma blossom from the mortar bowl, we joked and laughed while hammering away to get the curry paste jussssst right. Humble brag, but I won. Apparently I had some agression to release and the curry ingredients didn't stand a chance.
The next few hours were spent chopping, stirring, and eating. Tom Kha, Pad Thai, Penang Curry, Khao Soi, and Mango Sticky Rice. 5 courses. Bellies at full capacity. Cue food coma in 3...2...1...
It's actually hitting me that we are in Thailand. Out of all the travels I have done in my life, this has to be one of my favorite places so far. The people, the culture, the food... it's all so mesmerizing. I woke up this morning excited for the day. It's one of our more relaxed days, not much on the schedule aside from watching Max train at his gym and get some more pampering in (I did warn you that I like to be a princess on occasion). Max has been the only one showing up for the AM training sessions, so he is basically getting 1:1 coaching, which I know makes him super happy and is stoked for. I join along and watch as I write my blog posts and confirm the next leg of our trip (days 9 & 10 are gonna be insane).
I had done A LOT of research for this trip. Mainly on things to do and places to stay. I didn't focus on food because I knew that the street food would be the way to go for most of our trip. I also knew massages were super easy to come by here, and very inexpensive compared to in the U.S.. But not all spas are created equal. I did my homework and found one of the best local spas in town...
Imagine if the Flinstones could be relaxing... laying inside a white stone cave with rounded windows and doors, flush with vegetation and calming nature sounds. Srimantra Spa was hands down the most unique spa I have ever visited. The service was not notch and the vibes were superb. I booked Max a restorative spa package, complete with a steam room session and traditional Thai stretching, while I opted for the more relaxing full body massage route. The best part? The head and shoulder massage was indeed a head and shoulder massage.... 45 glorious minutes of it in addition to my full body massage. Usually when they say a head massage it lasts like 10 minutes. But not this one! I was a very happy customer.
Note: Although I booked us two different spa packages, they put us in the same treatment room. I wasn't mad about it at all, we are indeed a couple, but it might not be for everyone traveling together if you book things at the same time.
When was the last time you had a day that you just knew would forever have it's own shelf on your memory trophy wall? Well, the last day that happened to me was....yep... you guessed it...today. I woke up refreshed and energized, knowing what was about to happen. I had literally been waiting years for this day, and it was finally here. I was about to meet my spirit animal. The Elephant.
Just to give you a little industry information before I ramble away the day. Elephants were heavily used in the logging industry here and are still used in tourism, entertainment, and celebrations. When I say 'used' I do mean in the the literal sense of 'use for others gain'. Yes, you can come to Thailand and ride an elephant, but that selfie you take on the beautiful creature will earn you very harsh criticism. The only riding of Elephants that should be done, is riding the high of spending a day with them in this beautiful country. I was extremely careful when choosing what Elpehant Sanctuary I wanted to visit, as not all are created equal.
Elephant Nature Park is one of the best Elephant sanctuaries in Northern Thailand, so we opted to do the more adventurous option and go hike with them up in the Highlands. We did not get to visit the actual sanctuary, but we were alone in the mountains with three beautiful elephants and their caretakers. It was a day that will forever live on.
Note: The Highlands trek is the only option where you get to actually interact with the Elephants. If you visit the sanctuary, you get to learn and see the elephants, but not engage with them. The Elephants up in the highlands are more mature and are healthy enough to be in the mountains roaming outside (with their caretakers protection of course).
After grabbing a quick bite to eat at Bella Goose cafe (again, one of the only places open early enough), we joined 8 other happy travelers and started our trek up north. It was a 2 hour journey to get where we were going, one of those hours spent on super windy mountain roads. Worth the car sickness? Absolutely.
Perched on top of a hill was a small wood hut, just big enough for the 10 of us to stand shoulder to shoulder around the banister cutting up watermelon as we waited for the Elephants to grace us with their presence. Here they come... cue the tears. Flood gates open. Yep, it's actually happening. I am here. With Elephants. In Thailand.
As the three Elephants approach, we learn their names. Kham Phgang, 72 (the matriarch) - Mae Pon, 45 (the needy one) - and Nong Pop, 31 (the youngster). Each with their own personalities. We get to know them while feeding them a ridiculous amount of watermelon. They just can't seem to get enough! Elephants are vegetarian and consume thousands of pounds of food a day. They will eat anything from fruit to leaves to whole corn stalks.
We were given a bag, each filled with bananas. Treats for the Elephants during our hike. Mine didn't last long. I finally got to have my Oprah moment.... YOU get a banana... YOU get a banana... EVERY Elephant gets a banana! And similar to Oprah's audience memebers, these mammals know it's coming. You give them one banana and before you know it your bag is empty, all you are left with is elephant snot marks from where they were feeling you up for more.
We stop for lunch at the caretakers house. A beautiful spread of vegetarian curry, fruit, Khao Soi, and rice cakes are set out for us.
After lunch, we walk with them some more. We tell them stories and watch them guzzle down a few more pounds of food. I end up bonding with the youngest, Nong Pop. Max and I were both loving on her when I whispered into her extremely large ear "Did you know Elephants are my spirit animal?". Then, the most beautiful thing happened, she turned her head, leaned into me, and looked me right in the eye. The world stood still, those 5 seconds she was staring into my soul will forever be etched into my mind.
These three Elephants were rescued from the logging industry. The sanctuary spending anywhere from 500,000 - 700,000 Bhat ($14k - $20k) to 'buy' them. A.K.A. Save them. Mae Pon (the middle elephant) lost her baby before being rescued. But they seem happy and healthy. Spending their days soaking in the sun and being taken care of by a mix of fellow Elephant lovers from all over the world.
The afternoon is spent bathing and playing in the water with them (this was Max's favorite part, the big ass grin on his face totally gave him away). After which, they take the time to powder their noses as we make volleyball size rice treats for them. The dust powder they throw on themselves acts as a barrier from the harsh sun and pesky bug life that thrives up in the highlands of Northern Thailand. Max gets the final rice ball shaped and plops it into Kham Phgang's mouth.
Note: The website doesn't tell you tro bring a bathing suit to swim with them, so if you book this experience remember to throw on in your bag! Towels and flip flops are provided.
As we hop into the bed of a pickup truck to be taken down the mountain, we take one last longing look at these three beautiful Elephants. Goodbye for now, my beautiful ladies. You will forever have a place in my heart.
War & Peace
After a day spent with the elephants, we meet up with new friends and old to go watch the Muay Thai fights happening at Kalare Night Market. Max is training at Sereephap Muay Thai gym and they had two fighters entering competition tonight. I mentioned Max getting 1:1 training, that same coach was cornering for two of his other athletes, so we were team red corner all the way! Spoiler alert... both fighters won their fights by knockout! I think that says a lot about the quality of coaching and athletic ability at Max's gym. After the exciting night of fights, we said goodbye to our friends and hopped in a Tuk Tuk back home.
It's Tuesday. Normally at home I would be waking up and heading to the gym before starting a 9-11 hour work day. But this Tuesday I'm not at home. I've finally adjusted to the time and had a good nights sleep. I take the morning to write about the previous day. I'm still on cloud nine from our time with the Elephants. Before I knew it, it was 9am! Max headed to his Muay Thai gym so I was on my own for breakfast. I've been told "Grab" works really well here, a Thai version of Uber/Uber eats, so I download the app and perused the options. I was stoked to see Acai bowls as an option! I tried my luck with a meltable breakfast, and I was very impressed. It took less than 10 minutes and the delivery fee was only 7 bhat ($.20). If you find yourself in Chiang Mai and don't want to leave your room, or get those late night munchies (weed is legal here as of June 2022), Grab has your back! They also offer cars, so you can take to/from the airport. The taxis here are so cheap (<$2 to go anywhere in the city) so don't bother doing Grab or Bolt while you are here unless you need to go far or have a lot of luggage.
A couple days ago we did a cooking class, but one just is not enough for us. We really do love to cook so we chose another cooking class that offered a slightly different menu. This time we made Pad See Ew, Tom Kha (same), Fresh Spring Rolls, Red Curry, and Mango Sticky Rice (same).
We started off in the market this time. We learned more about the standard fruits and vegetables the Thai people eat and how food culture looks in homes. They eat stirfry for breakfast here, which I was stoked for because I'm not a huge breakfast food person. Lunch is usually soup, fruit smoothies, spring rolls, or a snack of some kind. They eat the heaviest food for dinner... curry, khao soi, etc.
The highlight of our cooking class was definitely learning to make peanut sauce! In the middle of mashing up ingredients, I realized that's what we were doing and got way too excited haha. Max and I love peanut sauce so it was great to make it fresh (it's more chunky and not as sweet when you make it from scratch). We also learned the proper spring roll wrapping technique. It's like a mini burrito and you 'bop bop bop' the sides to get all the air out after the first roll before you fold in the sides and continue rolling. One must make sure the spring roll actually rolls as well, otherwise it's a spring square. And no one likes their food to have pointy edges. Well, unless it's chips. With guacamole. But that's besides the point.
Unlike our previous cooking class, we made a communal curry paste, so I didn't get to control how spicy it was. Which meant that I couldn't use a lot (I don't do spicy food very well - but I'm working on it!). The teacher teased me that I was making white curry because I only put a pinky size of the curry paste in. But I promise you it was more pink than white.
We learned some good tricks today, the main one being they dilute their coconut milk with water (1:1 roughly) when they make curry. You also never cook your lime. Ever. Turn off the heat before squeezing the lime in. Overall it was a great addition to our Chiang Mai itinerary.
Which Cooking Class Was Better?
Cooking classes are offered by the dozen here and I don't think you can necessarily go wrong with the one you choose, but if you only have time to do 1, I would recommend Grandma's Home Cooking. You really get to personalize your cooking, and they have a very nice setup with professional chefs as the teachers. It's roughly the same time commitment and cost so why not choose the best?
A monk walks into a 7-eleven...
I know I know, it sounds like the start of a really bad joke, but I had to laugh because it actually happens here. Every Thai man must become a Monk at least once in their lives, ranging from a day to a month to even years, so this town is thriving with them. If you see a Monk, a temple is almost guaranteed to be close by. Actually, if you see a coffee shop, a temple is probably close by. Meaning they are everywhere. They are ornate and beautiful. Rich brown wood supplies the canvas for the gold paint purposely put in ornamental shapes to celebrate their idol, the Buddha.
Buddhism is a huge part of Thai culture and you will see small offerings on almost every property. Locals bow as they pass by, devout follows visit one of the many temples freely accessible throughout the city on an as needed basis to get their spiritual fill.
We visited Wat Phra Singh. One of the larger temples located in Chiang Mai proper, it's quite the tourist destination. And for good reason. It's stunning. We walked around, taking our time as we listened to the brass bells being played. Stone tables are speckled throughout the property, every other one with a chess board inlaying the top. Dorm rooms are close by, coloring the air with bright speckles of yellow and orange as they air dry their robes. Orange represents fire, and fire burns impurities, therefore resulting in a purity of all being. It's pretty powerful if you really think about it.
On any night of the week, walk down the street and you are bound to run into a night market of some kind. We were staying on the East side of the city so we made a routine appearance at Kalare & Ploen Rudee Night Bazaar. 50 Bhat for BBQ chicken on a stick?? Yes please! Along with the copious amounts of food you can stuff your face with here, there are just as many, if not more, local street vendors selling merchandise.
Our favorite street food was the Khao Soi, Butter Chicken (big Indian influence in the food here), and BBQd chicken with sesame sauce! We usually ended with a mango+coconut+pineapple smoothie. Delish!
As we meander down the road, we have a list of things to get that we've been wanting throughout our week. Thai silk is a thing here, so Max gets a vibrant purple/blue button down and for myself, gold wrap pants. We are hoping to have a romantic date night in Railay and these threads will do perfectly for such occasion!
I won't give away the other things we bought, as much of it is for our dear family & friends back home 🤍
It’s our final day in Chiang Mai. Max is off to his training again, while I take some me time and read. We have massages scheduled for later today, but other than that, nothing planned. Since I spent the majority of the day in the apartment (the smoke was starting to get to me), I took the opportunity to write down all the things I’ve learned since being here. If you are planning a trip to Thailand, here’s a quick rundown of the more nuanced side of traveling to this magnificent country.
I did some research ahead of time about E-Sim cards. I wanted to be able to have unlimited access to search while out and about. I went back and forth between Airalo and Holafly. I ended up going with Holafly.
It truly is unlimited data. I’ve been able to stream shows and not have to worry about a daily or weekly maximum allotment of GB.
I wanted to keep my personal # so I could use things like WhatsApp without needing to forward a new number. I talk to my family on WhatsApp and have conversations going with our dive company, etc.
Relatively easy to install. I got a little confused and thought I started my 15 day package early when I downloaded the E-Sim card at home but it knew when I landed and started when it connected to the Thai cell network.
It’s more expensive. I spent $45 for 15 days. I believe Airalo is a little cheaper but only gave a certain amount of data (despite saying unlimited).
I can’t make calls or use my normal texting program. I can call through WhatsApp and IG/FB Messenger though, so it’s not a huge deal for me.
I will say to do your research about your current phone before purchasing an E-Sim. None of the E-Sims will work on a locked phone, or on an iPhone 14+. The one time is pays to have a slightly older phone model!
The majority of Thai people speak English. Some better than others, but it’s pretty easy to communicate the basics everywhere we have gone. A couple times we have had to show the Tuk Tuk driver a Google Map of where we want to go, but other than that it’s been totally okay.
I will point out, the Thai people are extremely kind and respectful. They put their hands together like in prayer (called wai) and bow quick when saying 'hello' or ‘thank you’. Foreigners are usually expected to return the gesture so just a heads up. Don't wai unless someone gives you a wai first.
The most fascinating thing about the Thai language (to me anyways) is that they conjugate their verbs based on the gender of the person speaking, not based on the person they are speaking to.
Female: sawatdee kah
Male: sawatdee khrap
Female: khawp khun kah
Male: khawp khun khrap
Cash Is King
Cash reigns supreme in Thailand. Things are so cheap that you wouldn’t want to use a credit card for a $.25 bottle of water anyways, but almost every single place will charge a 2%-6% service fee for using it so I recommend having cash on hand at all times.
If you can order foreign money from your bank before you travel, I highly suggest doing so. Once there, you can get cash out the ATMs if needed. Note: ATM fees are very high in Thailand ($6) so get a lot out at one time (or have a debit card like USAA that will reimburse your ATM fees).
Don't worry about tipping. It's not customary to tip, unless someone went above and beyond. You will see the tip line at hotel restaurants and such, but you shouldn't feel pressure to give anything. A couple places I could tell they might expect it but after they saw they wern't getting a tip they were still very nice.
The power outlets in Thailand are a combination North America/European so your cell phone chargers will work here. The main thing to note is the higher voltage. You will need a converter if you plan to plug in a laptop charger or similar if there is no internal converter. Pro Tip: IPhone chargers (from apple) have built in converters so you can just plug in and use!
Thai people do not use toilet paper. They use a shower hose that's attached to the toilet. Personally, I don't understand it because you would still need TP to wipe the water off your bum right?? Anyways, I suggest bringing toilet paper with you everywhere you go. Your hotel/Air Bnb will likely have TP but out and about good luck (Krabi airport had no TP so I was grateful I had a travel packs with me).
I suggest downloading the Grab App if you are in Chiang Mai. It's like the U.S. version of Uber & Uber Eats. You can order food delivery, grab a car to the airport, etc.
Apps to Download
Grab app (but wait until you are there to sign up)
I hope this helps!
*I will continue to update this section as I learn more!
It’s a travel day today! We are headed south for some R&R.
We hop on a plane to Krabi and are immediately greeted with humidity. Yep, we’ve definitely made it to the islands. After a short van ride followed by an even shorter long tail boat ride, we make to our home for the next 4 days. Railay Beach! We are staying at Bhu Nga Thani Resort. Quality accommodation with some bangin room service.
Not even an hour into exploring the town and we are in love with the place already. With only footpaths to connect the East and West beach, everything is within walking distance. Railay is a place unique to its own. It’s a sleepy beach town lined with shops selling tank tops, bikinis, and beach mats. Alternating every other beach shop are restaurants and bars. A half mile of sights, smells, and music with no cars to lookout for as you cross the walkway from one place to the other.
If that’s not enough magic for you, how about you throw in some epic scenery just to make it over the top. I’m talking huge rocks with cliff sides most climbers would drool over, which they do, as that’s a huge part of the culture here. It’s a tropical hippie paradise.
There’s one thing in particular that makes this place equal to none. Mushrooms. Yes, I’m talking those cute but potent mushrooms that when eaten in a proper dose can cause magic. Out of all my travels, I’ve never been to a place where you can get a tattoo, massage, and magic mushroom shake all in one shop. If that’s not a vibe, I don’t know what is.
We find a place that looks good for dinner and take a breather while we scarf down some fresh spring rolls and green curry. Our nightcap of course has to be a fresh mango smoothie.
Note: None of the ATMs in the area worked for us, so I suggest having some Bhat on hand prior to arrival.
Yawwwwn. We had to be up early for our excursion today. Destination: the islands! Yes I know, I could be more specific, but there are hundreds of islands in Phang Nga Bay.
We are greeted by our friendly tour guide, Fahat, and promptly whisked away for a day of adventure. Fahat explains the reasoning behind the early call time… we are are headed to an island that we can only take advantage of during low tide. As we glide along the water, I can’t help but smile. I’m happy. Hair whipping me in the face because we are on a boat type of happy.
As we approach Rai island, it looks like something out of a movie. Small cove with a white sand beach, a natural archway in the rock for you to climb through strategically placed in the corner. And we have it all to ourselves. We hop off and start exploring. We pass through the archway into this beautiful mangrove field, carefully curated to exist exactly how they need it to be to live in harmony with the sea and land.
As we walk around, our guide tells us that by 2pm, this whole area will be filled with water. *eyes are wide as I check my watch* It’s only 8:15am. Okay phew, we have some time.
The next stop was perhaps the most touristy, but for a darn good reason. James Bond Island, or as the locals call it Khao Phing Kan.
Get ready to transport yourself back to the 70s because we are about to duel like James Bond and Scaramunga. Just kidding, no dueling, just fake poses like we wish we were spies trying to take down an off-the-rails assassin. It felt a little surreal to be standing on the same beach Roger Moore landed his plane on in the movie.
We walk around the island some more, checking out the natural cave formations and a very large tipping rock. It’s pretty cool to think Mother Nature was responsible for all the beauty happening in front of us at this very moment.
We snap another couples selfie and head on our way.
Onwards, my friends. We are now arriving at our next island destination: Panyee Village. This is technically an island, but it’s actually a fishing village built just off the island over the water. The only thing on land is the mosque and graveyard. We walked around and saw the ingenuity human kind is capable of when their lives depend on it. Complete with a school and floating soccer field!
Close by were paintings, said to be over 3,000 years old. What was fascinating is how clear the images were. A dolphin is very clearly a Dolphin! Although this Dolphin had stripes so not sure what that’s trying to tell us…? Ha.
A quick hop, skip, and jump from Panyee is Kian Bay. An idyllic beach inlet with a secret hiding behind the coconut & durian trees. Walk a couple hundred feet into the jungle and you are greeted by Thailand’s largest tree. We learn that settlers used to claim their lane by simply planting a palm tree on it. Could you imagine?? Tree planted. Land is now mine. Since then, developers from Bangkok and Mainland China have come to the beaches to build resorts and homes, displacing the local people.
A slight stab of privilege hits me and I make sure to give a gracious ‘thank you’ to the universe for the ability to be here and experiencing this.After sitting on the secluded beach of Kian Bay, we realized we were hungry. It’s finally lunchtime.
Okay, so I have to preface this moment… I have been to some pretty incredible beachside cafes for lunch (shoutout to mom for taking me to the Caribbean a lot as a teenager), but none were as perfect as this moment right here. We glide up to the beach one the boat and hop onto the softest, finest, white sand I have ever had the privilege to squish my toesies into. We are greeted by a smiling Italian man. Wait what?? Turns out some of the best Thai food comes from an Italian turned Expat.
We sit there with the turquoise blue water lapping the wall just beside us. We take our first bite, look at each other, and can’t help but chuckle. We are sitting in the most beautiful place, having the most amazing food, with our best friend. Life can’t get much better.
We make plans to come back to Koh Yao Noi and make a promise to ourselves to not forget this moment.
We had to work off all that Thai food, so we hop over to Koh Nok and Hong Island next. We hunt for seashells on Koh Nok while we take the opportunity to swim on a secluded beach over on Koh Hong. The afternoon was simply perfection. Just the two of us, enjoying being in the present moment together. I will cherish this day for years to come.
Back on solid ground after our island adventure, we quickly shower and head to West Railay for some body nourishment. We find a delicious Thai food restaurant and take a walk on the beach. Once our food digested, we claimed our usual nightcap of a mango smoothie and stopped for a coconut oil massage to soothe our sun kissed skin. Goodnight beautiful world, I can’t wait to explore you more tomorrow!
Note: We used Krabi VIP Tour services. They made everything so easy and took care of all the nature park fees and even lunch. I would recommend them if you want a tour of further away islands. If you just want Hong or 4 Islands then a long trail boat will do just fine!
Took our time getting up this morning, we literally had nowhere to be and that felt amazing. We wanted to explore Railay is a little bit more and really sink into the feeling of being on a tropical beach in Thailand.
We really like to try the local cuisine everywhere we go, but also get a taste for the culture. Well, here that’s magic mushrooms. So of course we had to try it. You can find happy shakes all over Railay, costing about 500 Bhat for 5g (fresh). They blend them in a mango smoothie, put them in a coffee cup with a straw, and away you go. We wanted to experience it during the day so we took our happy shakes to the beach and found a spot in the shade and drank up.
I’m super apprehensive about experimenting with any medicinal mind benders, but I had my partner and a safe hotel room to escape to if I needed it. The come up was aggressive and quick, giving me anxiety. I shed a tear but then slowly settled into the feeling. I laid on the sand on my belly, helping to ground me to the earth as the lines shifted all around me.
Suddenly I felt good, like really good. I was happy. Mother Nature was giving me a warm embrace and it was magical. I decided to take a walk down the beach, the water calling my name as I passed by. The water felt amazing, a soothing sensation on my skin that was hot from the sun. As I bobbed in the water, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the details on the cliff side close by. Faces, words, art, all rolled into the beautiful topography. At one point I thought I was in a Jurassic Park movie. I’ve actually never seen Jurassic Park, but it’s what I envision it would have been like had I been there. Ha
Max joined me in the water an hour later and we had fun splashing around feeling like little kids again. A core memory was definitely made today.
White sand beaches, warm turquoise water, and the most gorgeous coastline to stare at… I think that’s a damn good setting for our trip. Pun definitely intended.
It’s mid afternoon when we walk back to our room, dripping wet because we didn’t bother (well, we didn’t really care) to towel off. We stop for a mango smoothie and a chicken BBQ stick, leaving drops of salt water behind as we go.
The sun is setting by the time we come to our full senses. Perfect time for a romantic walk on the beach. We dip over to Phra Nang beach and lay on our recently purchased sand mat to watch the sun go down.
We spent dinner at a family run Indian restaurant, set perfectly on the main walkway so we could watch the all the action. Max and I always sit on the same side of the table when we go out, so it was the perfect setup for us to watch the world go by.
Two days in Railay just isn’t enough time. We had two incredible days and that will have to be enough, because we are headed to the other side of Thailand today. There are a couple different ways you can get from Railay to Koh Tao. We opted to take the boat/bus/ferry option. It was about $40 USD per person and that took us from Krabi to Donsak Pier by coach bus (2.5 hours) then from Donsak to Koh Tao via ferry (3 hours). When you check-in at the Lomprayah office for your transport, they give you a bright colored sticker to stick on yourself. Nothing says ‘TOURIST’ like a bright pink sticker telling everyone where you are going.
The bus ride was pretty smooth, I hustled to get the first spot so I didn’t get car sick.
Note: If you take Lomprayah from Phuket/Krabi to Koh Samui/Koh Tao, there’s no where for a real lunch, so pack some snacks.
The ferry ride was a different story. A storm was rolling in to the gulf so the waters were extremely choppy. We had to stop at Koh Samui first so it took even longer. Thank goodness for the Zofran I bought when I was in Mexico last time. I would have ended up like one of the movie characters in Triangle of Sadness.
Note: I didn't get any photos of the ferry because our transfer time was less than 10 minutes.
We finally arrive on Koh Tao and it’s a shit show. Two ferries arriving at the same time, everyone trying to find the person holding their accommodation sign up. Oh, and don’t forget the 20 Bhat fee just to enter the island. It was a cluster f*ck and I was grateful that Max is a relaxed traveler and was not overwhelmed by it all (unlike myself).
We were greeted by our awesome host, Guy, and immediately taken care of. “Give me your bags, you are on vacation!” he said. I you don't have to tell me twice, that's instruction I can get behind.
We are staying at The Place Luxury Boutique Villas. 5 super secluded private villas up on the hillside, all with their own plunge pools. Guy is insistent about privacy, there’s even a doorbell at the villa gate. Max and I just stared at each other, then back to the view, then back to each other, then back to the view. You get the idea.
And don’t even get me started with the bathroom! It’s like I’m in a real life Pinterest board.
The place is the perfect balance of Thai and luxury. Thatched roof with bamboo interior, but with modern conveniences like A/C and filtered drinking water. Only in Thailand is a private villa actually affordable. There’s plenty of places to stay on Koh Tao that are nice, but we wanted something a little more fancy so we could escape and be together with no noise or distractions. Except the pool, the pool with that view is the most welcomed distraction.
Let the skinny dipping commence…
Although we arrived on Koh Tao yesterday, we still don’t get to explore that much today. The reason? We are getting dive certified! It’s a full day of classroom and pool technique so there’s not much to write about. We decided to go with Big Blue Diving. Our instructor, Graem, is from the UK and has over 4,000 dives under his belt so we are feeling pretty confident.
After going through the SSI material, we hop in the pool and learn all the basics for Scuba diving. It’s thorough and intense, but fun. Two people didn’t show up, so it’s just 4 of us and our instructor.
We break for lunch and finally get to walk around the town a bit. It reminds me a lot of Tulum, without the massive price tag. It’s very Westernized here. A mix of European, American, Australian, and South American people mainly. We actually struggled to find some decent looking Thai food. But alas, we did!
After lunch we finish up with our Dive Course (day 1), grab some food to go, and head to the beach in time for sund climb the hill back to our villa to watch the sunset and get some pool time in together.
We wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. I am feeling apprehensive about actually diving in the ocean, but I am quickly distracted by a nice and cold Açaí bowl for breakfast.
After we pack our gear, we head down to the beach. We hop on a long tail boat that will then take us to the diving boat. A 3 story diving boat to be exact, complete with sun deck & jumping platform.
After we lay out our dive plan with Graem, we anchor in Mango Bay, a sheltered cover on the north side of Koh Tao. It’s stunning. Turquoise waters, big smooth boulders lining the coast, with jungle paradise rising above to create a lush and magnificent landscape. It’s like a dream.
Except in this dream, it’s not so idyllic and it turns into more of a nightmare for me. I’m not going to lie, writing this post is a little triggering and very hard for me right now, so bear with me.
I have an irrational fear of open water, specifically of what I can’t see beneath me. It’s called thalassophobia. I know what you might be thinking, I grew up at the beach and I love spending time on Lake Tahoe, so how can I be afraid of water?? While I don’t mind being ON the water, I’m not exactly one to go UNDER the water. The event two days ago in Railay was one of the first times I actually enjoyed myself in the ocean (I credit the mushrooms for this life changing experience). So why did I decide to try diving? Because I will try (almost) anything once. I love the idea of ocean life and getting to experience it, so the urge to push through my fear was there. Plus Max really wanted to do it, so I was hopeful it would be something we could do together.
It started off okay, I was nervous and could talk myself into staying calm for about 20 minutes, then all hell broke loose. I started having a panic attack at 11.5 meters under water (~38 feet). I don’t remember much about the dive since I was trying to talk myself off a ledge for the most of it, but I do remember a beautifully iridescent purple and blue fish! Apparently I did the right thing and signaled my instructor correctly so he was able to help me surface properly. What he probably couldn’t tell was that I was crying heavy tears and my breathe was hitching as I inhaled. Freaky right? I surface and Max is right there next to me, careful not to overwhelm me but brushing my arm to let me know he was close by. The instructor asked if he wanted to go to the boat with me, but I quickly shut down that option and mustered enough sincerity to say I was okay and he should keep going.
I spent the rest of the day on the boat, soaking in the sunshine and getting some pretty incredible views. After Mango Bay, we went to Japanese Gardens off Nong Yuan Island.
I am super proud of myself for facing my fear, but disappointed that I couldn’t push past it. They say mind over matter, but fuck that. Sometimes you really can’t push through something so paralyzing. I’m happy I did it, and I am super stoked for Max to get certified so he can explore this whole new world of adventure. I’ll just attach a GoPro on his head so I can join him virtually, ha!