I have been fortunate enough to spend the past two and a half weeks backpacking through beautiful Thailand. This trip took a year to plan, hours of research, and a lot of saved vacation time but was just so worth it. It was nice to unplug for a few weeks, but I’ve been looking forward to writing about everything we experienced, felt, and saw in our travels.
A Little About Thailand
The main language spoken in Thailand is Thai, but the majority of people we encountered spoke English. With a tropical climate year round the best time to visit is between November – March in their “Winter”. The currency is Thai Baht, and you will be surprised with how inexpensive things are. A meal is between $3-6 USD, and you can get a pair of the popular elephant print pants for $3-5 USD. The majority of Thailand’s residents are Buddhist, making them a happy, gentle people as their religion focuses on being present and being a good person. The clothing style is more conservative to the north, but pretty beachy and laid back once you get down to the islands. Some temples will require you to wear full coverage clothes, so we made sure to pack a few options for those days.
The flights from Boston to Chiang Mai took a solid 23 hours and a total of 3 flights. We were fortunate enough to sit in Business Class for the longest leg of the flight, meaning we were able to sleep for a few hours en route. We flew China Southern Airlines, a no-frills airline with a fine in flight experience but has the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced (long story) but we made it there and back.
I took melatonin which helped a bit, but I mostly relied on a good old fashion glass of wine with a book to bring on sleep. Best advice I can give your for a flight that long is to bring seat cushion; by the last couple hours your sit bones will be screaming. Also, buy sealed snacks before getting to the airport (way cheaper) and don’t feel obligated to accept all 3 of the airplane meals they serve; the food is what you’d expect and they ask you what was wrong with it if you don’t finish.
Otherwise, a good book and pair of headphones should do you just fine!
Chiang Mai was hands down the most amazing place I’ve ever visited. With 94% of the population Buddhist, the people were warm, welcoming, and friendly. It’s instinctive not to trust people when traveling, but we quickly learned how genuinely kind the locals were. We learned that it’s part of their religion to be a good person and they take this very seriously.
Apart from visiting temples, the Sunday Market, and getting Sak Yant tattoos, we coordinated our trip to be in Chiang Mai for the 3-day Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festival, where you float Krathongs down the river and let off paper lanterns before witnessing an extravagant parade. This was extremely crowded but a breathtaking, bucket list experience.
We chose Thailand when planning our next volunteer tourism project and came across Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary located in Mae Chaem. The wonderful Australian-Thai pair picked us up in Chiang Mai and brought us back to their sanctuary where we worked with their two retired elephants doing tasks like preparing meals, maintaining their areas, and observing them in the wild. We worked beside the locals and Mahouts (elephant “masters”) and had fun playing Uno, teaching English at the local school, and floating down the river on inner tubes. We wished we could’ve stayed longer and will definitely be back.
We arrived in Bangkok by overnight train from Chiang Mai to a very different vibe. The people here aren’t as trustworthy and look at tourists with dollar signs in their eyes. People will be yelling at you from every angle and selling “Tuk Tuk rides” or “tailored suits”, and my god they are relentless. Word to the wise- don’t go on any of the tours that aren’t professionally organized; you’ll end up being forced to visit suit shops, “fashion shows” and scammed for all the Baht you have.
Despite this, we enjoyed taking the ferry down the river (cheap) to take in the sites and hop on and off. Along the route we visited the lounging Buddha, temple of the dawn, and a few markets. Our favorite part of our stay in Bangkok was the ring side seats at a Muay Thai fight (roughly $60 each) and the rooftop bar we came across in our quest for food. For us, two nights in Bangkok was just enough.
With its tropical environment and beautiful beaches, Phuket is a top destination in Thailand. We wrapped up our trip with 5 nights in Patong Beach, hoping to use this time to relax and unwind as well as explore. The people are friendly but fairly aggressive with their sales style; be ready to be accosted when walking down the street, stopping to look at something in a shop, and even laying on the beach.
Two of our days were spent bouncing back and forth between the beach and our resort pool, making friends with the loveliest English couple who became our double date buddies for a few nights on the town. The other two days we spent doing a James Bond Island tour / sea kayaking and Diving. While both activities were enjoyable and they picked you up from the hotel, the days were long as we had to drive to the east side of the island before even getting on the boat, about 50 minutes.
Patong Beach is also known for its night life, and the scene turns pretty riskay around 10pm. If you’re going to wonder down there do so being open minded, and if the street makes you uncomfortable it’s probably wise to decline their offers to see a “ping pong show”.
While we were sad to leave, 2 weeks felt like the perfect amount of time to explore Thailand. We fell in love with the people, the culture, the landscapes, and of course the food.
Stay tuned for future posts about our volunteer tourism experience at Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, the Loy Krathong Festival, Sak Yant tattoos, and more!
Have you been to Thailand before? What was your favorite place? Share in the comments below!