Travel stories, tips and suggestions from Thailand

10 Tips For Travel To Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand. Tucked away in the mountain valleys of Thailand’s northern countryside. A place where tranquil views of rice paddy fields and waterfalls attract tourists looking for a peaceful retreat, and perhaps some meditation, from more hectic cities. After we decided to travel to Pai ourselves, we understand the appeal it has for tourists and expats in the country: lazy morning walks, motorbike rides through lush jungle and stunning landscapes, afternoon indulgences in good coffee and food and evenings spent browsing the nightly walking street.

What To Know When You Travel To Pai, Thailand

The desire to visit Pai while in Thailand has been steadily growing, but there are a few things to know before you venture all the way to this more secluded area. We’ve made our way on our own by scooter from Chiang Mai to Pai, we’ve scoured for the best accommodations to suit our needs, we’ve explored Pai and the surrounding area for things to do and we’ve dined at some amazing restaurants while there… and through all of it we’ve come away with some tips we think are important for anyone who wants to travel to Pai.

1. Choose Your Method of Transportation Wisely

drive to pai, road to pai, chiang mai to pai, how to get to pai, thailand mountain roads

The majority of people who visit this mountain valley town, head from Chiang Mai to Pai and there are several ways to do so. If you’re looking to visit Pai, you’ll want to take a look at your options and judge which makes the most sense to you.

The most popular method of transportation is by minibus or larger air-conditioned bus. The minibus is the quickest way to get there but with 762 turns to navigate, motion sickness is incredibly common and driving on a tight schedule, you’ll not be making many stops. Though it’s only around a 3 hour drive, we recommend taking this only if you’ve got a pretty strong stomach and need to get there in a hurry! At approximately 150-200 THB each way, it is also one of the cheaper options for getting yourself to Pai

If motion sickness is sure to be a problem, the air conditioned bus offers a bit less sway, though those 762 turns will still be felt. This method will take longer but will be more comfortable and will ring in a slightly cheaper tab at 100-150 THB. If you can afford to take more time to get there, we’d recommend this as it offers some more comforts.

If you’re looking for adventure, you can always rent a motorbike and drive the exhilarating route from Chiang Mai to Pai. Be forewarned: This is not a method to be taken lightly and should only be attempted by those who have experience riding motorbikes and who are comfortable with long drives on uneasy terrain. It is a route known to be prone to motorbike accidents as drivers take corners at unsafe speeds not anticipating the difficulty of the road.

Having said that, we drove from Chiang Mai to Pai and back again on motorbike and had one of the most amazing times! We took it at a comfortable pace, made sure to gas up when we could and kept hydrated. If this is something you’re looking to do, we have even more tips on getting from Chiang Mai to Pai by motorbike, including where we rented our motorbike. This method will also cost you about 200THB minimum per day but will give you the freedom to come and go as you please and eliminate having to pay for transportation once in Pai.

You can also rent a car to travel to Pai and make the ride more comfortable all around but it will increase your expenses, so price this out beforehand and explore your options!

The last main method of getting to Pai is by plane and it is also the most expensive. You’ll save time on the actual trip (only about 30 mins from Chiang Mai) but will add on time getting to and from the airport as well as time spent in the airports themselves.

Whichever method you choose, think wisely whether it is the right one for you. There are pros and cons to all options and as Pai is not the most easily accessible of places, you’ll want to be sure you’ve picked a method of transportation that offers you the safest and most comfortable option that fits within your budget.

2. Rent A Motorbike In Pai If You Didn’t Drive Up On One… But Don’t Learn There!

If riding a motorbike to Pai is not your idea of a good time, you’ll be getting to Pai with only your own two feet to get you around. For the most part, this is all you need, but if you have an urge to explore, you’ll need to either hop on a tour, hire someone to take you around or rent a motorbike once you get there. Bike rentals will be a little more expensive here than in the larger city of Chiang Mai, but they’ll still be decently priced. There are however, some key details to consider before, and while, renting a scooter in Pai.

  1. The same rule applies here as anywhere else when renting a bike: do a full check of the bike before hopping on, you may want to take photo and/or video documentation of any scratches or dents before you leave the rental place with images of it in the background
  2. Ensure you have insurance or are insured by the rental company, and
  3. Make sure you have a proper and fitted helmet

Most importantly, when talking about Pai, is do not use this opportunity to actually learn how to drive a motorbike. We can’t tell you how many patched and bandaged people we saw walking around Pai when we were there. It is a popular place for people to rent their first motorbike and the combination of new drivers, small streets, hilly terrain and many, many people can create a less-than-optimal place to ride, especially if you’ve never done so before.

3. Book Your Accommodations Strategically

While this mainly applies to those who are driving a scooter or car to Pai, or those who plan to rent a scooter once there, it is a good idea for anyone heading to Pai. Though there is a main stretch of road with accommodations throughout, there are also outlying hotels and hostels. If you’re planning on having a motorbike with you, you’ll want to make sure the place you book has parking available as it is not always simple or easy to park along the walking street overnight. Since you will have a bike, you are obviously able to make your way to and from the main areas and have a bit more room to negotiate where you’ll be staying. If you have a car, you’ll definitely need to find an accommodation in Pai that has the space available.

If you’re not looking to rent and are relying on your own two feet or hiring transportation once in Pai, you’ll probably want to make sure you are located somewhat centrally to the walking street or the activities you are looking to do once there. We’ve put together some of the best accommodations in Pai and have also reviewed one of our favourites, right on the walking street, Soi One Bedrooms.

4. Explore Outside The Main Strip

Pai Mountain View THailand

Though it’s tempting to keep things easy and stay within the main area of Pai, you’ll be missing out on a ton of beautiful scenery and great things to do.

Head out and visit Pai Canyon, drive through rice paddy fields and beautiful mountain landscapes, explore the various waterfalls nearby and find marked, and unmarked, viewpoints that will leave you speechless.

There are various things to do and see like the War Memorial Bridge on the outskirts of Pai, Wat Phra That Mae Yen – the temple on the mountain, Pai Piranha Fishing Park, The Chinese Village and yoga classes or retreats.

Pai can be as eventful or as relaxing as you make it but getting out of the main area and walking street will give you a wide range of things to do in Pai, no matter your purpose for your trip there!

5. Visit Mae Hong Son

This is one thing we didn’t get to do on our visit to Pai, but really wish we did. Heading even further north, you’ll reach Mae Hong Son and if all the talk in Thailand was true, it’s a beautiful area not to be missed. If you can add this stop to your trip, you might want to do so! Though growing in popularity, it is still less tourist-packed as many other areas in Thailand and offers some of that classic Northern Thailand scenery and tranquility.

Mae Hong Son also borders Myanmar, so depending on the current Thai tourism laws (please check these before you travel to Thailand) you may be able to do a border run if needed or use this as an entry way on to visit another country! It’s only 2-3 hours drive from Pai and you can drive your rental car or scooter or take a bus straight from Pai. If you do go, let us know what you think and show us photos – we’re anxious to get back to northern Thailand and find out for ourselves!

6. Visit The Walking Street More Than Oncegrandmas pancakes pai vendor on walking street

If you can, depending on how long you are there and what your itinerary entails, heading to the walking street more than once is a definite must. Now, you may get there and think that you’ve seen all you can see with one walk up and down it… but you’d be wrong. We found that we saw new things, paid attention to different vendors and watched new stands pop up each night we ventured out.

Taking another walk along the street also allows you to try new food vendors that you may not have had a chance to try previously – whether you were just too full from the other food you bought, or you missed seeing them altogether! In fact, it wasn’t until our second night strolling the walking street that we stopped and bought something from, what is now, our favourite Pai Walking Street vendor – Grandma’s Pancakes! We liked it so much, we went back the next day to try a different flavour (because you just can’t resist some Nutella on your pancakes!)

7. Meet People

Whether you’re sitting in a coffee shop, in a common area of your accommodations, dining at a restaurant or walking the walking street, be open to talking to others – you’ll find locals and tourists alike are extra friendly and open to meeting new people! Of course, you’ll want to take regular stranger-danger precautions like you would anywhere (be smart!) but you’ll also learn quickly that the people who live and visit Pai are by large a pretty friendly and talkative bunch.

We met some travellers in a coffee shop looking for help with WiFi who we passed by several times while in Pai and said ‘hello’. We met a couple on the walking street one night who gave some amazing restaurant recommendations and we met two backpackers at our hostel with whom we became fast friends and still stay in touch with!

Pai is really no different than anywhere else – if you put yourself out there, you’re bound to meet good people and make friends – but because of the close proximity to, well, everything and the small space most people are occupying, it’s easier to keep bumping into the same people and getting to know the familiar faces!

8. Find Time to Relax!

This is a place for relaxation, meditation, yoga, etc and even if you’re not into that it’s not a bad idea to take some time to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. Chances are you’re visiting Pai from Chiang Mai or Bangkok, or are headed to one of the busier cities at some point. Though we love the activity of the large cities and can often be found in them, it is nice to take some time away from it all.

If you travel to Pai you’ll also get a good glimpse into life in the northern, and remote, areas of Thailand. That includes a more tranquil landscape and it’s nice to be able to tap into that and appreciate the beauty of the country.

9. Try The Coffee

Coffee Hill Rest on drive to pai

Northern Thailand does coffee good! So good, we’ve even listed 5 top cafes in Northern Thailand to find good coffee while you’re there. One of them just happens to be on the way to Pai, but even if you’re not navigating your own way there, there’s plenty of good coffee once you get there. We tried different cafes and coffees while in Pai and you’ll probably be hard pressed to find a bad cup of joe!

If you’re a coffee lover, this will be a paradise for you and if you’re not, there are plenty of fresh fruit juices and teas to satisfy whatever beverage craving you have!

10. Do Your Research Before You Take A Tour!

While walking the streets of Pai, you’ll probably see signs or be approached by someone for a tour to the outlying areas, particularly tours that include a visit to the “Longneck” people of the Karen Hill Tribe. Before you make a decision to go, we’d recommend doing some research into this industry. Much of the “tribe life” you’ll see, including the neck rings, are maintained for tourism reasons only and many people feel it is exploitation and harmful to the people of the tribe. Whatever you decide, it would be beneficial to look into the issue and decide whether it’s something you’re still interested in, and comfortable, doing or not.

 

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elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

A Day At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Thailand

With bunches of bananas in hand, we walked slowly up the hill through the trees and into a clearing. It was there I encountered my first elephant, up close and personal. There were three of them actually, happily chomping away at the sugar cane that littered the ground around them. The group we came with jumped in without hesitation joining in with the mahouts to feed the three large creatures now turning their attention to the bananas offered. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched for a moment. I wanted to take it all in, this incredibly odd and surreal experience. It was somehow nothing like I’d expected and at the same time, more. Perhaps I expected a larger than life, life-altering experience when what I actually got was a calm and peaceful sense of being, in that moment, complete. I had finally found my elephants.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

We spent the night before our trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at Baan Kuhn hostel, also run by Mamma Noi and where we had to go to purchase tickets to the sanctuary. As we had mentioned in our last post on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it was through the efforts of Mamma Noi and the Karen Hill Tribe, with whom she is working, that the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was established and we thought it fitting that we stay, at least the one night, at the hostel.

The group of us heading to the elephant sanctuary were all guests of the hostel which meant we left straight from the accommodation with no detours to pick anyone up. With a final goodbye, and a bottle of water for each of us from Mama Noi, we set off in the “minibus”. If you’ve ever ridden in a minibus in Thailand you’ll know that it is really more of a pickup with a few seats in the cab and a covered trailer lined with rows of benches on either side. It can make for a bumpy ride if you are going over unpaved roads…and we were definitely were! Fortunately for us, we somehow got put into the cab and had a little less of a rocky ride – less being the operative word.

The ride was not bad until we hit the mountains. It was here that the road turned to a narrow, rut-covered, dirt road – it would be futile to pave the road, our driver told us, as the monsoon season brings large rains that flood and cause landslides that wash out the roads each year. Lucky for us, the road was dry and our driver was experienced. We made our way to the hill tribe village and were greeted by several people, including Robert, one of the instrumental people in organizing and creating this sanctuary.



Hopping out of the truck, we all grabbed our backpacks as the bunches of bananas and cases of water were distributed among us to carry. The excitement was building. We could feel it vibrating, see it clearly on each others’ faces as we started out, on foot, through the rice fields and forest.

Meeting With Elephants of Thailand

visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary

We chose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because we had wanted to visit elephants in a more natural setting, knowing they were not being abused, forced to take riders, chained, or mistreated. We wanted to see the elephants roaming free. And roaming free these elephants certainly were!

After a hike through rice paddy fields and some hilly paths, we found our way to a clearing where we were able to put down our bags and take a moment to don the traditionally mahout garb before heading to find the elephants. That was the beauty of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants weren’t just brought to you… you had to go find them, in the forest, where they roamed with the mahouts (their keepers) in as natural a setting as was manageable.

We took the bunches of bananas and were led up a hill to a forested area where we were told we would most likely find the elephants. After a short climb up a gentle hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing. It was here that we had our first glimpse of them. Three elephants stood chewing happily on sugarcane under the shade of the tall trees. A bursting energy seemed to erupt from the entire group – a silent excitement that bubbled up in uncontrollable smiles and quickened steps. THIS was why we wanted to visit Thailand. This experience of coming face to face with a creature so magnificent and incredible, of looking into its intelligent eyes with depths we’ll never fully understand, and for one moment sharing a connection.

visiting elephants at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Taking turns, we handed bananas over to the two adult females and one baby elephant, taking time to stroke their trunks and sides. The baby was incredibly playful. Head butting the mahouts and some of the group, reaching its trunk around bodies and attempting to sneak in some extra bananas. He was cheeky and he was happy. Having been born and raised in a sanctuary, he was unaware of any other way of life. Unfortunately, for the two older females, life had been harder for them until they were taken in by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

mahout at elephant jungle sanctuary

One of the men of the village explained to us the circumstances in which the older two were found. He went through the techniques used to break them, to train them and to keep them in line. It was devastating but also heartwarming to know that they would no longer be subjected to this treatment again, especially as the younger of the two females was pregnant.

It didn’t take long for the elephants to demolish the banana offering we brought and decide that it was time to leave. Since this was about them, no effort was made to stop them. Instead, they were followed by the mahouts and we made our way back down to where we had left our bags to enjoy some lunch.

lunch at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Food in Thailand is amazing and is one of our favourite cuisines. The food that they cooked and served for lunch could compete for one of the best meals we’ve had while in Thailand, and even abroad. Freshly prepared chicken, veggies and noodle dishes, rice and fresh fruits were laid out for the entire group to enjoy. It was a wonderful time to reflect on our first meeting with the elephants as well and to get to know the rest of the group.

After lunch we were told we could change into clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty or wet. For the majority of us, that meant bathing suits. This time, the elephants were led to us for what appeared to be one of their favourite activities of the day – a mud bath.

With everyone joining in, we helped the elephants play in the mud. And when we say play, we mean play. They rolled around, they threw it on their backs, they threw it at each other… and they threw it at us! If it wasn’t enjoyment, we don’t know what it was!

elephant mud bath at elephant jungle sanctuary

Following the incredibly fun (and messy) mud spa, we headed to the nearby stream to meet back up with the elephants and help them bathe. This was another incredible up-close experience. Standing close to them and cleaning off the mud, we had yet another chance to really appreciate these animals. Large and powerful, yet gentle and timid. We knew a lot of their calm had to do with their upbringing and treatment, but seeing the playfulness of the baby and looking into all their eyes again, we could tell it’s also a part of their basic nature.

After the elephants were finished bathing and we’d all had a swim of our own in the stream, we headed back to dry off. The rest of the group would be returning to the hostel, while we had booked an overnight stay with the hill tribe. Knowing we’d be seeing the elephants again, we happily went on our way to learn more about the people who opened their lands to us and the elephants.

A Night With The Karen Hill Tribe

As we had mentioned in our last post, it is through the help and efforts of the Karen Hill Tribe Village and Mamma Noi that the sanctuary was created. Bringing in tourists to visit the elephants for the day became only one part of the experience. Staying within the village for a night, or two, was another part and we decided to stay a night to better understand the program and the people of the village.

staying at the elephant jungle sanctuary with the karen hill tribe

After the rest of the group left, we were brought back to the main part of the village by Robert who, as mentioned, was one of the integral members of the sanctuary’s creation and a cornerstone of the program itself. We sat for a while, chatting with him about the village and its history, the sanctuary and its origins and the hopes his people have for the future.

We learned of the struggles to keep the land. The struggles to acclimate to a changing cultural landscape where development and advancement occurs around them and without them. The government, he said, provided them with a handful of solar power panels… years ago. Most of them are now no longer working so they are stuck with even more limited power options and little by way of means to improve their way of life.

It’s become a controversial topic. We discussed it and he acknowledged it. Greater society would prefer to keep these more isolated and primitive cultures untouched, “untainted” by the hands of tourism and technology. But Robert told us, that’s not what he and his family want. The people of his village believe they deserve a chance to advance as well. Why shouldn’t they be able to better themselves and their situation, he asked us. We couldn’t argue his point.

With this in mind, and the connection to Mamma Noi with her desire to help elephants, the sanctuary and the stay in his village was born. Hoping to provide more for the village and the elephants of the country, it was established and open up to tourists. Hopefully, we were told, the worries of poor rice harvests and the necessity to partake in backbreaking work simply to produce and collect food, would lessen.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with Robert and members of his family. We took a tour of the area, helped feed the livestock, prepared a meal on an open fire and made our way to our room in one of Robert’s siblings’ houses who was visiting in-laws in a another village. We spent the day and evening without electricity, cut off from the world and, in the process, deepened our understanding of a culture struggling to retain their identity while at the same time, attempting to advance and integrate with the rest of society.

baby elephant at the elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

The next day brought a new group of visitors to the sanctuary and we were able to participate as we had the day before. We woke up for breakfast with Robert and headed to meet the new arrivals. Walking behind them, we watched their faces as they approached the elephants for the first time and saw the same awe-filled expressions we knew were wore the previous day. To our surprise, the awe of seeing the elephants up close was still as strong for us.

This time though, we got to take in the experience with an eye to all that they were looking to achieve at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and this time, when we looked into the eyes of the elephants, we also saw a glimmer of recognition.

An Unforgettable Experience At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

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One Day In Bangkok Exploring The Old Farang Quarter

Bangkok isn’t everyone’s favourite place to visit, though we’re really not too sure why it seems to have become, for many, the antithesis of a top travel destination in Southeast Asia. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been told Bangkok is a city better passed through or visited for only a brief time and yet, each time we go we’re struck anew with the energy of the city which seems to take on a life of its own. Contrasts abound in a city balancing a remarkable culture, deeply rooted in their own history yet influenced largely by the ever-changing dynamics of the government, the tourism industry and the advancements of the modern world. After our first visit together, we couldn’t help but note these contrasts which greatly influenced our first impressions of Bangkok. For us, the city is a never-ending treasure trove of adventure, a kaleidoscopic of experience changing, with each turn, into something new and incredible. Those who say one day in Bangkok is enough, may not have delved into the depths of the city.

Take One Day in Bangkok to Explore

european quarter bangkok

So what is one to do when visiting such a large and action-packed place? What exactly should top the list of things to see in Bangkok? Our style of travel has always been to roll with the punches, go with the flow, see what happens as we stroll through each new place, but on our second trip to Bangkok as a couple, we decided we wanted to make the most of the short time we had. After an incredible day exploring Phuket by motorbike using the “Perfect Route” we found in our Marco Polo Guide of the island, we realized we had an incredible resource in our possession.

When we cracked open our Marco Polo guide of Bangkok we flipped to find the “Perfect Route” section, as we were impressed by the suggestions we were given for Phuket and wanted to see what insider tips and ideas they had for Bangkok. While flipping however, we stumbled upon their section on walking tours. Our attention was immediately caught – we LOVE walking around while travelling and really delving into the culture and communities.

marco polo guide walking tour one day in bangkok

Deciding our schedule only allowed for one day of some immersive exploration of Bangkok, we pulled out the map that is included with the guide and checked out the walking tour routes that were marked off. While there are three amazing tours detailed, ranging from one hour to three, we chose only one, knowing that the time would inevitably be greatly extended due to our penchant for taking a ridiculous amount of time while sightseeing to wander, take photos and video and just experience.

If you are looking at filling one day in Bangkok, exploring the old farang (foreigner) quarter, the area where the first Europeans in Thailand lived, is an amazing and unique experience of sightseeing in Bangkok. Whether you explore on your own, choose some of our highlights of the tour, or decide to follow the well-guided route in the Marco Polo Guide book yourself, you’ll not be disappointed to find yourself at a few of the best places to visit in Bangkok.

A Walking Tour of Bangkok’s Old Farang Quarter

one day in bangkok in old farang quarter

The focus of the route we chose was an area of Bangkok we had neither visited before nor heard very much about. While many tourists talk about Khao San Road and the tourist-heavy attractions such as the Grand Palace, the old farang quarter, or the area around the Chao Phraya river where the first Europeans lived in Thailand, seems to be frequently overlooked when discussion occurs or recommendations are given.

 

This area was of large focus for Western foreigners in the country in the 19th century and is where many European nations set up embassies and trading houses. Because of the diversity of countries represented, the colonial architecture is of the European Imperial styles of those various countries and, in a country full of history and historically significant buildings, offers an altogether different glimpse into how the past and present combine in Bangkok. It is a look into the more recent part of Thai history that is quickly passed over on the way to a temple or a Thai massage.

thai food stall bangkok

We hadn’t even made our way to the first destination on the walking tour when we decided to make our first spontaneous detour – one of the reasons we prefer self-guided tours such as these. As we walked we noticed a food cart on the side of the road, not an uncommon sight in Thailand, and decided we just couldn’t resist the wonderful smells that were tempting us. Some papaya salad, grilled chicken and rice later, our stomachs were full and we were back on our way.

Luxury Accommodations and Shopping in Bangkok

OP Place bangkok european quarter

Our first stop was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the first hotel in Thailand and a building with over 140 years of history. Standing along the bank of the Chao Phraya river and still tucked away from the road with its surrounding vegetation, we approached the hotel with a sense of awe. If the walls of this building could talk, the stories it must be able to tell – from sailors and businessman, to tourists and celebrities, the rooms have been a haven from the streets of Bangkok for so many throughout the years. Notable figures such as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Kissinger, and Mick Jagger were among the people said to have stayed at the hotel. It was an amazing start to the tour as it was likely the first stop for many who came along the Chao Phraya river to stop in Bangkok over a century ago.

Nearby, we found OP Place, our next stop. While the exterior looks fairly unremarkable, the interior is one of luxury with many stores brimming with artwork and antiques and a gallery. We made our way through, looking at the beautiful antiques and collectibles and stopping for some refreshments at the cafe.

One tip we would offer is to check the days and hours the stores are open. For instance, while you can enter OP Place itself on Sundays, only a few shops are actually open.

Check out more information on the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and it’s room rates

Buildings of Faith & Significance

Assumption cathedral bangkok

The next leg of our walking tour of the Old farang quarter of Bangkok took us to a few locations of religious and historical significance for those European travellers to Thailand.

Assumption Cathedral unfortunately was under some construction, and we were unable to enter, but this primary cathedral of Thailand, with almost 200 years of history, is of importance to the Catholic community in Bangkok, both in the 19th century and present day, and it was great to be able to see it.

old farang quarter buildings

While we walked to the next stop on the tour, we were able to take in the vibe of the district, observe some of the oldest European buildings in Bangkok and take a walk through a part of Thai history that doesn’t usually come immediately to mind to those who visit.

As we strolled along the streets, listening to the sounds of life in Bangkok and enjoying the warm sun, we continued to pass crumbling and deteriorating century-old buildings, interspersed with those that have been restored and renovated. Some abandoned, some still in use, the buildings of the European quarter of the city were an incredible glimpse into the past. Of those buildings, we passed by the French Embassy, Ambassador’s residence and the old customs house, which was once a gateway into Thailand.

We would suggest making sure you have a fully charged camera, and perhaps an extra battery. If you like photography, strolling the streets of this area will present endless photographic opportunities.

A Unique District in the City

muslim district bangkok

Our final stop on the walking tour has also become one of our favourite areas to visit in Bangkok. We weren’t aware of the Thai-Muslim community in this area or the uniqueness of what was waiting there. We took our time walking the narrow streets and alleys twisted around faded buildings. Curtains blowing in the breeze, the sound of children playing and a whole community of friendly cats welcomed us and followed us as we went (yes, cats included!)

haroon mosque bangkok

We made our way through looking for the Haroon Mosque but with the smells of meals being prepared wafting through the open windows, we lost ourselves in the interesting complex through which we were walking and found ourselves talking to a few people as we went and stopping to pet some of the cats that had gathered to escort us through.

By the time we made our way back out of the dense residential area, we were left in such a great mood we knew nothing could top the experience. We continued the path of the walking tour from the map but took it at a leisurely pace knowing this was exactly how we wanted to end the amazing day spent discovering this incredible part of Bangkok.

Take Your Time While Exploring Bangkok, If You Can

colonial style buildings bandkok

While the guide gave the suggestion of only 1 hour of exploring, our style of taking photos and videos and generally taking our time had us spending an entire afternoon in the old European Quarter.

If you’re heading to Thailand and are looking to fill one day in Bangkok with some unique exploration and sightseeing, this walking tour really offers a unique glimpse into part of Bangkok’s history. Take our route or the full thing via the guide, with some of their amazing tips and suggestions along the way, it’s really up to you!

If you can, taking time to explore more of what Bangkok has to offer outside of the popular, and much talked about, main attractions will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for this complex city full of contrasts.

 

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exploring phuket by motorbike

Exploring Phuket by Motorbike

Finding the ‘Perfect Route’ for Things To Do And See in Phuket

We’ve always said we don’t really use guide books. Sure, Lonely Planet travel guide to China was the reason we spent our first week of full-time travels in Beijing, navigating our own way to The Great Wall, but typically we opt to go with the flow, seek out local advice or ‘Google’ our way as we travel. Very rarely do we bank on published guides or books to direct our travels… until we opened up a Marco Polo guide book. We weren’t really sure what to expect when we were sent the three books for Thailand but when we received them, we were incredibly impressed, particularly by some of the unique features that we’ve yet to come across anywhere else. One of those features inspired an entire day excursion exploring Phuket by motorbike. Marco Polo guide books call it “The Perfect Route” and we couldn’t agree more!

 

Exploring Phuket by Motorbike

exploring phuket by motorbike

We started the day a little later than we had originally planned. It was our intention to wake up early and follow the “perfect route” step by step with all its suggestions for things to do and see in Phuket, which included a recommendation for a great breakfast spot, but as we woke up to a sunny Thailand sky and leisurely went through our morning routine, we decided the most perfect thing about using the guide is the fact that we are on our own time and able to customize it as we please. So, we got ourselves ready, hopped on our motorbike and headed off to one of our favourite restaurants near our hotel where we took another look at the map and the detailed guide over some cashew nut chicken and crispy pork with kale.

Around the Bay of Chalong Phuket: Big Buddha & Wat Chalong

Ao CHalong Phuket by motorbike

With our plans for exploring Phuket by motorbike already modified slightly, we set off to the first stop of the route, The Bay of Chalong.  This natural harbour brings in sailors from all over the world and when we got there, there were many yachts and boats docked. We strolled down the 700m long pier to get a good view of the bay and the boats and take in the fresh air off the water. We’d definitely recommend a stop here, especially if you can make it for breakfast at the lighthouse!

light house phuket

From there, our Marco Polo route took us up to the Big Buddha, a 45m (150ft) tall Buddha statue. There are two things of importance should you head this way. The first being that proper clothing is required, even though you are not entering a temple, and that means the ladies need to cover shoulders and legs. Not to worry though, they do provide shawls to those who don’t have and unfortunately, we weren’t prepared! Feeling like rookies, we walked up to the stand so Carolann could cover herself and shook our heads at our mistake. Since we weren’t planning on visiting a temple, we didn’t even think to bring a wrap!

Big Buddha Phuket Thailand

The second thing to note is that as of October 2015, the grounds are still undergoing some construction (tail end of a larger restoration project). Be sure to check whether the site is  open before heading out there. Though the construction didn’t ruin the experience, we imagine that a visit after completion would be much more pleasant. Construction aside, the view is absolutely incredible. The Big Buddha looks towards the Bay of Chalong and it is one heck of a view!

wat chalong phuket things to see

After making our way back down the mountain from the Big Buddha, we headed a short distance to Wat Chalong, the island’s biggest monastery. Here, we walked through the fairly large and beautiful grounds, taking in the elaborate detail on the buildings, the statues and ornamentation around the property and the peacefulness of the entire space. We even got a bit of a sound show as crackers were being set off in a large clay pot every so often.  It was a great example of the beauty of Thai religious architecture.

wat chalong golden temple thailand

Phuket Town was the next destination on the perfect route. We easily found a parking spot and hopped off to stroll along the streets. Thalang Road and the historic quarter offered quite a few shops and restaurants with a Sino-Portugeuse style. We loved the feel of the area and thought it was almost reminiscent of some parts of Penang, Malaysia – Colonial buildings and remnants of a European settlement.  We definitely feel this is one of the top things to do and see in Phuket for it’s uniqueness and history and with so many restaurants and stores, you’re guaranteed to find something to satisfy both the foodie and the shopper!

Our one tip would be to try and make it in both the day and night. We heard a night time visit means some incredible shots of the streets and buildings without all the parked cars and bikes along the curbs.

phuket town streets exploring phuket by motorbike

Since we were exploring Phuket by motorbike, more time needed to be tacked on for getting around and as we had already had a late start to the day, we decided to customize the route further – something we absolutely love about this route as we’re very much sporadic travellers so if we have some key spots to hit up and the freedom to do as we choose, we’re pretty much in exploration heaven. We skipped the northern parts which took us to some fantastic looking historical and natural sites and headed straight to the next leg of the route along the west coast.

Finding A Surprise Along the Way

thailand exploring phuket by motorbike

One of the reasons we love exploring by motorbike is the freedom to come and go as we please. Every time we’ve been in Thailand, we’ve made some incredible finds absolutely at random as we drove along the roads. Driving in Phuket was no different. As we cut across from east to west, we started noticing stands along the road with colourful somethings hanging on display. After the second stand we decided to stop at the next one we saw.

The warm smile that greeted us was typical of the locals we’ve met before in Thailand and after greeting her, we used hand gestures to ask whether the strings of colour in the plastic bags were something we could eat. With a nod of her head she pulled out a packaged of what looked (and ended up being) crepes and proceeded to put some of the stringy coloured bits into the centre before rolling the crepe around them. Offering it to us, we each took a bite. Delicious candy floss-like filling surrounded by semi-sweet thin crepes met our taste buds and created an explosion of flavour. We hadn’t even swallowed that first bite before we were pointing to the bag and indicating we wanted to buy some to take with us. Purchase made, we set the bag on our bike hook and waved goodbye before setting back out again.

The West Coast Beaches of Phuket

amazing sunset in phuket Thailand

We stopped at Nai Yang beach where we watched a moving sunset on a strip we had virtually to ourselves. A few groups of people tossing a Frisbee, some couples walking along the shore and a few families enjoying the last rays of sunlight were the only others present with us to enjoy the light and colour display as it slowly faded below the horizon. Quietly and reflectively, we continued down the coast to an equally quiet Nai Thon beach. Here we saw food stalls and stands and grabbed some fresh fruit juice.

nai yang beach phuket things to do in phuket

By the time we got to the next stop, Surin Beach, we were pretty hungry. With all the open-air restaurants overlooking the beach, we would have had a hard time deciding which one to eat at, especially since our mutual indecisiveness tends to peak when we’re hungry. Fortunately, Marco Polo guides provide lots of insider tips and suggestions.

best sushi in thailand

We chose to go with the one already listed on the perfect route and try the Catch Beach Club for dinner. After talking about not being able to find many good sushi restaurants in Thailand (though we did find one amazing Japanese restaurant in Koh Samui), we found the Catch Beach Club had absolutely delicious sushi! Added to that, the restaurant had a great, chic atmosphere, a wonderful view of the beach and some nighttime fire entertainment.

Patong – Should You Stay or Should You Go?

patong thailand

Finally, incredibly satisfied and with our bellies full, we made it to the last stop along the route – Patong Beach. Though Patong is often a divisive location, with some people who love it and others who would never return, we found it one of the top things to do in Phuket, pretty much for that very reason. We wanted to see for ourselves what it was like and what we found was an experience outside of the rest of our travels in Thailand and a great evening overall.

 

We walked down the pedestrian street in Patong and discovered why some people would choose to never come back: crowds of people, busy bars and clubs, handouts for ping pong shows frequently flashed in front of you and all the vice one thinks of travel to Thailand. For us, it was not the Thailand we’ve come to know and love but it is definitely part of the Thailand that draws many people there each year. It was something we were glad to have seen but equally glad to have left behind. Walking away from the pedestrian street was calmer and we found a quaint and friendly cafe to rest for a while and enjoy some milk tea and coffee. Patong may not be for everyone but was a great stop while exploring Phuket by motorbike.

Take Your Time While Exploring Phuket by Motorbike

While the guide gave the suggestion of 2.5 hours driving time and 1 day of exploring, our style of taking photos and videos and generally taking our time would probably make this route best broken up over two days. We were also on motorbike which we knew would slow us down a bit!

If you’re heading to Thailand and looking for some great things to do and see in Phuket or are thinking of exploring Phuket by motorbike, the “Perfect Route” really offers a great taste of all the island has to offer with some amazing tips and suggestions along the way. Take our revised route or the full thing via the guide, it’s really up to you!

 

top things to do in thailand

Our Top Things To Do In Thailand

Thailand: Popular backpacker destination. Exotic island beaches. A land steeped in ancient history and tradition. A culinary playground. A country mired in controversy, political conflict and, at times, civil unrest. It’s also one of our next destinations.

Yes, it’s true, we were JUST there. At least, it feels like we were just there as it was only last October that we landed in Chiang Mai and began our 2 months of travel across the country. So why then are we returning a year later, in October of this year, to Thailand? There are several reasons for this.

1. We have arranged to go to a Travel Blogger Retreat and TBEX, a travel blogger convention

2. There were several things we didn’t do when we were last in Thailand and would like to check out at least some of them

and

3. We absolutely LOVE the country. We had such an amazing time when we were last there, it just made sense to seize the opportunity to go again!

What We Did in Thailand

If you read Carolann’s post on 8 things she didn’t do in Thailand, you may be asking what exactly we did do the last time around. Take a look at the video and read below as we shed some light on some of our major, and most memorable, experiences during our last trip to Thailand and what we think are the top things to do while there!

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Hill Tribe

chiang mai elephant jungle sanctuary elephant interaction

We’ve mentioned that one of our reasons for choosing Thailand as one of our first destinations when we started full-time travel was to fulfill Carolann’s dream of seeing elephants. We ended up with much more than we could have expected with two full days interacting with, feeding and bathing three elephants, including a baby, and spending a night in a Karen Hill Tribe village, learning about their history and culture, eating some amazing food and experiencing a few days without electricity or internet. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai provided one of our most memorable experiences in Thailand and put a smile on Carolann’s face that stayed for days!

Driving from Chiang Mai to Pai

drive to pai, getting to pai, road to pai, best way to get to pai

Intense, exhilarating and butt-bruising. That’s right – our butts were hurting by the end of this drive! We decided to make the harrowing scooter ride from Chiang Mai to Pai, navigating 762 turns up and down mountains, avoiding potholes and passing traffic and, at one time, shimmying our bums with the scooter, and crossing our fingers, in an effort to keep it going up a particularly steep climb. With several stops and a few detours, we arrived in Pai seven hours after we first left Chiang Mai, drenched by the rain, weary from the ride and with a slightly stilted walk due to the literal pain in our arses.

It was an amazing drive that took us to one tranquil and unique area of Thailand. We enjoyed it so much, we wrote several posts on getting to and exploring Pai as well as a Guide to Pai E-book with extra tips and suggestions! We also had one luxurious stay at Soi One, after a few weeks of cold showers with no pressure and a couple nights in a low-budget hostel.

Learning to Scuba Dive in Koh Tao

scuba diving in koh tao

When people ask us what is our favourite experience in our almost one year of travel, we can’t really offer one answer. It’s all been so amazing. Definitely in the running though, is our experience getting our open water scuba certification in Koh Tao. We had no plans to dive when we first arrived on the island, known for its amazing dive sites and affordable dive costs, but as we saw more and more dive shops, our interest was sparked. What ended up being a spur-of-the-moment decisions turned into an adventure into a whole other world under the water.

We absolutely loved being under the surface, seeing the beautiful and unique creatures under the water and learning to work together as dive-buddies. While we’re not sure we’ll get a chance to dive in Thailand this time around, we’re hoping to dive again real soon!

Experiencing Paradise on Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan Thailand Best Western Phanganburi

Another spontaneous decision was to attend the Travel Writer’s Workshop on Koh Phangan. This meant spending two weeks at Phananburi Resort (now Buri Resort) on a gorgeous beach and attending daily workshops. We ended up meeting some truly amazing people, learning a heck of a lot, watching some of the most beautiful and unique sunsets each evening and each getting an article published in Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine – Carolann for burgers on the Koh Phangan and Macrae for places to watch the sunset while enjoying a drink on the island.

It seems as though we are coming full circle, not only ending up in Thailand a year later, but also attending a retreat, albeit a different one, on the island of Koh Phangan at, you guessed it, the same resort! Whether your visit is business, pleasure or a bit of both, this is one paradise island with some pristine beaches and spectacular sunsets!

Climbing Pu Chi Fa For The Sunrise

Thailand, Laos, Thai-Laos border, phu chi fa, thailand viewpoint

One thing we rarely travelled without in Thailand was a scooter. We used it to boot around the north and rented ones in the south on each island we visited. The only time we chose public transit over a scooter was in Bangkok, where it was quicker, cheaper and safer to ride trains and take cabs.

After our drive to Pai we knew we had to explore more of the north and decided to make our way to Pu Chi Fa from the city of Chiang Rai. Pu Chi Fa mountain lies on the eastern border where Thailand meets Laos and we were told that watching the sunrise from the top of the mountain is an experience not to be missed.

It took us another 7 hours of butt-numbing driving from Chiang Rai, through some amazing scenery before we reached a hotel at the base of the mountain. It probably would’ve taken half the time if we hadn’t gotten lost, er taken a detour, which had us stumbling on a waterfall, getting stuck in pouring rain and riding almost the entire way up the mountain in fog and drizzle before finally finding someone who suggested we head back down the mountain to one of the resorts. It. Was. Amazing.

Waking up the next morning at 3:30am, we headed back up the mountain barely able to see a foot in front of us. And if we thought the potholes on our way to Pai were big, boy did we get a surprise! We passed through clouds and found a parking spot before walking up the rest of the way to the top. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to watch the sunrise but it was still a beautiful place to visit. It was also an interesting experience seeing the Hmong people that live in the mountain and we are able to say we stood in Laos, even if it was only for a minute or two!

Dining at Rock Restaurant Bangkok

Rock Restaurant and Bar Whiskey, Rock Rstaurant and Bar bangkok, best restaurants in bangkok, best bars in bangkok, best cocktails in bangkok,

One of our favourite restaurants, anywhere, is Rock Restaurant in Bangkok. With an impressive menu of traditional Thai fusion, great original cocktails and a wonderful ambiance, we were hard pressed to forget our experience at Rock! We had some amazing pork buns and some delicious crab and cream cheese wafers. We’re really hoping we’ll have a chance to dine here again when we head back to Bangkok and try some of the new additions to their dinner and cocktail menus!

Having Ancient Ruins to Ourselves

Wat E-Kang, Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai Ancient Ruins

In all our research we never came across anything telling us about Wiang Kum Kam or its ruins located in Chiang Mai. In fact, we still had a hard time finding much information once we were told about the area. Our Airbnb host recommended we drive our scooter to Wiang Kum Kam and explore the various ruins. While there were a few people who were travelling around each of the ruins via horse-drawn carriage or tour, we were pretty much the only two people at most of the sites. It allowed us to take our time, see as many of the ruins as we wanted and really get a feel for it without crowds or conversation. We’re not sure why it’s not more popular but we’re thankful we had it to ourselves.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us when we head to Thailand in October. We know we’ll be eating lots of the food we’ve missed, visiting the friends we made the first time around and looking to make amazing new memories while exploring some new, and some of the same, places throughout the country!

Have you been to Thailand? What was your favourite memory? If not, is there a place that seems to keep drawing you back? Comment below and let us know!

 

8 Things I Didn’t Do In Thailand

By Carolann Hughes

Almost a year ago we quit our jobs and sold our stuff, started this blog and decided to start travelling full-time. We were looking for a starting destination that was practical, reasonably priced and would have tons of things for us to do and see and, ultimately, write about. Since we’ve never had a bucket list per se, we couldn’t really scan our list of countries to make a decision but there were certain things we talked about wanting to do, sooner rather than later, and I wanted to see elephants. Enter Thailand.

While we made a quick stop to Beijing for a week, to see The Great Wall, Thailand was really where we started our long-term, slow-travel experience. It was my first time to Thailand and Macrae’s second. We’d been together for almost 2 years at that point and I had heard many stories about his months in this southeast Asian travellers’ paradise, not to mention the hours I spent pouring over ‘must-do’s’ and ‘must-see’s’ of the country. With a two-month visa and a fresh outlook on full-time travel I thought we’d be seeing it all. Boy was I wrong.

How Could You Go There And Not…

Things I Didn’t Do In Thailand

Two months was a long time but we quickly started immersing ourselves in the local culture, meeting locals and expats alike, and finding less-travelled, less-tourist ridden places to eat, see and explore. We took a slower approach to travel, staying in one place for longer periods of time to really absorb the lifestyle and take time to appreciate the beauty of Thai culture and while we did, I seemed to have missed some very popular, very talked about Thai experiences.

Sure I hit up a lot of the ‘best of’ Thailand activities. We learned to scuba dive in Koh Tao, drove ourselves from Chiang Mai to Pai on a scooter, visited Bangkok, watched some incredible sunsets and, although I shudder to bring up one of the more painful experiences of my time there, I even accidentally got a Thai massage.

Now, planning to head back to Thailand in October, I’m reflecting on all the things I didn’t do that I often hear so much about. Here are 8 things I missed in Thailand and the things I usually hear at the end of the phrase “How could you go to Thailand and not…”




1. Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!

Tuk Tuk resting in Bangkok

Shocking! Incredulous! How is it even possible?! That’s right folks, despite the abundance of Tuk Tuks, not to mention all the Tuk Tuk drivers shouting at us wherever we went (if you’ve been there you don’t need much to recall the constant barrage of “Tuk Tuk! Tuk Tuk!” as you walked the streets), I did not, at any time, take a ride in a Tuk Tuk. This three-wheeled vehicle that is used as a taxi by many tourists, probably due to the fact that it is considered an authentic Thai experience, is a constant presence across the cities of Thailand.

Since we walk a lot of the time or take public transit, we rarely use taxis to begin with. Add in the fact that I’m not really big on putting myself into situations where I have to worry about scams or negotiating down ridiculously priced things just because I’m a tourist, it just didn’t seem like something I had to try. Now, I think I’ll probably take the chance and hop on one when we are in Bangkok just to say I did, though as jaded as it sounds, I’ll be sure to take it only a short distance and negotiate a price in advance.

2. What the Wat!?

The White Temple CHiang Rai Thailand

Perhaps even crazier than not riding in a Tuk Tuk is the fact that I didn’t, even once, step inside a temple (wat). To be fair, we passed the outside of various temples, though rarely on purpose, and several temple ruins, but I didn’t take that last step and make my way inside. This wasn’t a conscious choice but rather just how things came together as plan after plan got shifted, twisted and turned all around.

There are a boatload of wats I do want to see. From Wat Pho and the giant reclining Buddha to Wat Tham Sua built into a cave, I’ve got my list of temples I’d like to visit, but somehow plans like that don’t always seem to come to fruition. We’ll see what happens this next time in Thailand, but I’m desperately hoping to find my way inside at least one of the many temples that pepper the landscape of Thailand.

3. Where’s The Pad Thai?

Okay, so this is a bit of a fib. I didn’t order Pad Thai at any point during our 2 months in Thailand, but Macrae did, and I may have tried a bite…or two. But other than that one taste of a night market Pad Thai meal in Pai, I didn’t taste or order it at all.

It may seem strange since this is considered the signature Thai dish anywhere else in the world, but with an incredible variety of absolutely amazing food, I was too busy trying everything else (particularly many, many plates of cashew nut chicken)! Added to that is the fact that I’m not huge on peanuts and it’s much easier to just avoid those dishes altogether then to try and customize my order.

I’m not too sure if i’ll be ordering pad Thai when we are back in the country. For one, there’s a whole host of other food I’m anxious to have again and some different ones I’ve yet to try. I also have been holding on to the probably futile hope that we’ll be able to make our way to Chiang Mai and stop at my all-time favourite restaurant, Suwee, and that means a whole lot more cashew nut chicken!

4. One Hell Of A Party

secret-beach-koh-phangan

Ah yes, the Full Moon Party – a wild event full of debauchery that overtakes the paradise island of Koh Phangan each month. While this party provides a lesson in excessive drunkenness, debased behaviour and unadulterated vice, it was a lesson I just didn’t feel like I needed to learn.

Just a boat ride away, on the island of Koh Samui, we decided instead, to enjoy the peace and quiet of the beaches nearby (since everyone had hauled out and headed to Koh Phangan) and take part in Loy Krathong, a festival that occurs on the first full moon of the 12th lunar month. That night we crouched down beside numerous other Thai locals and released our Krathong onto the water. We watched as it floated to join the abundance of other offerings, saw the hundreds of candle lights flickering through the darkness of the evening, and we knew we had made a good choice.

We did head to Koh Phangan after the Full Moon Party for a peaceful two weeks at a writer’s workshop on the beach. As our boat docked a few days after the Full Moon festivities, we noticed huge throngs of people gathered at the gate ready to board and leave the island. Walking passed them as we de-boarded, we took in their haggard looks, disheveled hair and smudges of leftover body paint, each of their stances portraying an utter lack of energy, and we smiled at each other. While there was no regret or desire to make our way to the island for the next full moon, we probably had missed one hell of a party!

5. Get Off My Back!

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai Elephant

This is the one item on the list that I passionately avoided and adamantly protested. There would be no way I would be riding an elephant. The thought of everything I had read and seen about the treatment of elephants, how they are “broken in” for the tourism industry, and just how much damage elephant riding causes on the bones and spine of these majestic creatures had me rearing back in disgust every time someone mentioned their “amazing excursion” trekking in the jungle on elephant back.

It was hard not to scream out my true feelings. Surely, by now, people would be less ignorant about how bad these animals are treated? Surely, people would care? But as I travel, I’ve realized that there’s many things I too have been ignorant about and I’ve learned not to pass judgement so easily – I know there are things I’ve done while travelling that would cause others to shake their heads at me!

Regardless, I was NOT going to ride an elephant but I was going to find a sanctuary. Somewhere I could go to interact with an elephant and fulfill a lifelong dream of getting up close and personal with these giant beautiful creatures and know that they were treated as best as they could be. It took a lot of research, and a lot of worry, but we finally settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai and my experience there was everything I could have imagined and more!

6. Lady Boy Show (Insert The Related Aerosmith Song Here)

(If you’re not sure what Aerosmith song I’m talking about I’ve probably a. revealed too much about my age and b. completely lost you at this point.)

Thailand sometimes seems synonymous with the term “lady boys” and we did see our fair share of lady boys while we were there. What we didn’t get to see was a lady boy show. While I may sound like a broken record, Macrae had been to a lady boy show on his previous visit but alas, my first trip to this colourful country, did not include this popular form of entertainment.

I’m hopeful that I will be able to attend one of the many shows when we are there next. On several of my many trips to Las Vegas, I went to a drag show and thought they were some of the most entertaining evenings. One thing is for certain – if we do go to one, you can be sure we’ll be dedicating a post all about it!

7. The Beach… As In THE Beach

Koh Phi Phi, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand islands, Thailand beaches, best beaches in the world, beast beaches in thailand, where the beach was filmed

This is the paradise island everyone mentions to me when they talk about their trip to Thailand. “No” I tell them, “I haven’t been to Koh Phi Phi” and “Yes, I do know that it is the beach from the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio”. I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for the movie “The Beach” itself but the images of the island caused my travel taste buds to salivate and when our plans changed and we were no longer able to travel to the southwestern islands, I was a little bit disappointed.

Since Macrae had already travelled to Koh Phi Phi on his first visit to Thailand, he wasn’t too upset to have a change of plans. For me however, missing the islands off that coast is probably the only thing I regret not seeing in all of our travels (Okay, okay, I also regretted missing the rabbit island in Japan…but we made up for it a bit with the bunnies in Central Park, South Korea).

This time around we plan to fly into Phuket and travel around the islands on that coast, including Koh Phi Phi. Sure, it’s a huge tourist magnet, sure it’s not the pristine, untouched island as in the movie, but I know it’ll make for one incredible experience!

8. An Evening With The King

Okay, it’s not really the King himself but there’s an interesting event that I heard takes place before every feature film in a movie theatre. Apparently, everyone stands while the national anthem plays and a video about the king is shown. I first heard about it from, you guessed it, Macrae, and have heard many people talk about it since. For some reason it strikes me as something incredibly interesting and unique and I just really want to experience it at least once!

We actually haven’t been to the movies in any of the countries we’ve travelled to, but I’m thinking a visit to see the latest flick may be in order when we head back to Thailand.

 

After putting this together it sure seems like Macrae had a bunch more of these typical Thai experiences his first time around! While I didn’t get to do what many consider essential for any first-time visitor to the country, the experiences we did have were rooted in local lifestyle and exploration and were some of the best memories we made. Still, I hope to cross off at least some of the 7 out of 8 things I missed when we head back to Thailand (still no elephant riding for me!) and like our last visit, I can’t wait to see what twists and turns this trip will take!

 

Have you been to Thailand? Have you missed anything you heard to be “authentic” Thai experiences? Any of these you’d recommend I make sure to see? Comment below and let me know!

 

 

best places to eat in Chiang Mai, where to eat in Chiang Mai

Our 5 Favourite Places to Eat in Chiang Mai

Everyone can cook amazing food in Northern Thailand, or at least that’s how it seems, meal after meal, enjoying pretty much every dish we order regardless of where we eat in Chiang Mai. Whether it was from a street vendor, a food court, or a nice sit-down restaurant on a busy tourist street we would always be served a meal worth noting, and because of that, trying to find the best places to eat in Chaing Mai is a tough task… so we are going to show you our favorite places to eat in Chiang Mai.

Even the time we rolled up to the seediest looking of street vendors, because we were absolutely starving, and found flying ants (flants) in our soup. We may have stopped eating after we found the 5th flant but it was still pretty darn good soup!

best places to eat in chiang mai

So what does one do, and where does one go ? when the options are absolutely endless and you are presented with a veritable smorgasbord of food choices?

We stayed in Chiang Mai for the better part of a month and while that doesn’t give us nearly enough time to visit even a fraction of the places to eat, we definitely managed to try quite a few. We’ve narrowed down five of our top places to eat in Chiang Mai, each offering a different dining experience or fare.

Places To Eat in Chaing Mai:

Best Thai Restaurant In Chiang Mai – Suwee

suwee restaurant chiang mai, cashew nut chicken, best restaurant in chiang mai

Suwee haunts our dreams. Not that we admit to dreaming about food that often, but when we do, it’s generally this restaurant that takes the stage. Not only is Suwee the best Thai restaurant in Chiang Mai but it’s safe to say it’s our favorite restaurant in the world, no other Thai restaurant can or will compare. South of the main city, located in Hang Dong, Suwee restaurant is a typical plastic chair, plastic table cloth, local restaurant. The food however, is anything but typical. Formerly a chef for a hotel in Chiang Mai, the owner decided to venture out on his own and open up Suwee restaurant with his wife – and boy are we glad he did!

We stayed the majority of the time at an Airbnb guesthouse around the corner from Suwee and as such, were able to frequent the restaurant to our hearts content. We should note that even when we stayed clear on the other side of the city, we still made the long and arduous drive for a meal when we could.

pork chiang mai, food in chiang mai

We ended up trying almost every Thai dish on their menu and were unable to find fault with a single one. Our favourites were the cashew nut chicken and the fried kale and crispy pork (for only about 50-90 baht per dish and each dish is easily shareable between two people!), but virtually any choice will leave you satisfied and thinking about when you’ll next be able to visit. We were hesitant to write about this secret gem as we were concerned about an influx of tourists but really, we can’t keep this one to ourselves – it’s too good not to share! It’s the best food in Chiang Mai!

Suwee Restaurant

As this is a local, plastic chair restaurant, their presence online is pretty much non-existent. Instead of a site, we’ve provided a dropped pin on Google maps, that will allow you to get right to the restaurant!

Best Coffee Shop In Chiang Mai with culinary masterpieces – Namton’s House Bar

Namtons House Bar Coffee

We’ve already written about Namton’s in our post on the top five places to find good coffee in northern Thailand, but it really is such a great place to eat that we couldn’t miss adding it to this list!

While staying at the Swiss Lanna Lodge in Chiang Mai, we found ourselves in another part of town and without any clue where to find the best places to eat in Chiang Mai. One of the staff members at Swiss Lanna recommended Namton’s, down the road and we decided to try it out one night for dinner.

The food was spectacular and the self-taught chef created some culinary masterpieces at incredibly reasonable prices. From their salmon sashimi salad to their roast teriyaki chicken and wedge potatoes, it’s a place you will not only remember, but will be looking to go back again, and to us it has the best coffee in Chiang Mai!

How To Get To Namton’s House Bar: Check out the map on this unofficial Namton’s House Bar Facebook page for location and directions.

 Bar And Food In Chiang Mai Old Town- Tiger Kingdom, In Town

Tiger Kingdom In Town Chiang Mai

When it comes to looking where to eat in Chiang Mai, we generally avoid tourist locations, especially restaurants, unless they come highly recommended. We prefer local atmosphere, food and, let’s be honest, prices and we enjoy immersing ourselves in a culture rather than finding the typical hangouts for foreigners.

We made the exception for Tiger Kingdom In Town. Not to be confused with the actual Tiger Kingdom filled where visitors can pet the large felines, In Town came recommended and we liked it so much we ended up going back for drinks later during our time in Chiang Mai.

thai food chiang mai restaurants tiger kingdom in town

The food is good Thai-style cuisine at relatively inexpensive prices, especially for a tourist locale. There is also a great selection of beer and drinks and with live music and a consistent crowd, it’s a great place to hangout with fellow expats and tourists, and since it’s in such a great location in the middle of Chiang Mai old city, it has some great Chiang Mai night life, with live entertainment almost every night.

How To Get To Tiger Kingdom In Town: Check out the map on this unofficial Tiger Kingdom In Town Facebook page for location and directions

A great change of pace – SP Chicken

sp chicken chiang mai

While it is tucked away from the main activity in Chiang Mai’s old city, SP chicken is definitely worth a visit. Serving some delicious rotisserie chicken which you can watch being cooked on a spit in the front of the restaurant, this was a welcome change to the typical fare we had been eating.

The meal came almost as soon as we had ordered and the chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, with some great Thai dishes for sides.

sp chicken best restaurant chiang mai

The prices are incredibly reasonable and it is a talked-about favourite among locals and tourists. Careful though, there are several different “SP Chickens”, or look-a-likes, and it’s the original you’ll want to try first!

How To Get To SP Chicken: Check out the map on SP Chicken’s TripAdvisor Page for location and directions.

A Thai cultural experience – Street vendors & markets

street food thailand chiang mai

Probably some of the best priced, tastiest food you’ll enjoy in Thailand will be found right on the streets. From meat skewers to soup, bugs to pancakes, you’ll find an assortment of different dishes served along the side of the city’s streets and, especially, at the night markets.

Markets will allow you to try a little bit of ‘this and that’, while vendors serving soups and other sit-down style dishes offer delicious local meals at incredibly low prices.

chiang mai best restaurants night market

You’ll be able to experience an interesting aspect of Thai culture and tourism in Thailand, walking the stalls of merchandise and watching the buskers in the street while eating or sitting down with locals at a street stand and dining on some of the best roadside food you’ll ever have.

Words of caution: look for stalls and vendors that seem busy and, particularly, where locals can be found. If you stick to this, you’ll most likely avoid any ‘flant-in-soup’ issues!

How To Find Street Vendors/Night Markets: Night markets are much everywhere in Chiang Mai!! Some great markets to check out would be the Warorot Market, the Sunday Night Market and, if you are in the area, Hang Dong’s Night Market (held once a week).

 

Have you been to Chiang Mai? Comment below and let us know where your favourite place to eat was!

If not, let us know how you usually find good restaurants to eat at while travelling to new places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Homesick for Hamburgers in Koh Phangan

While further edited for publishing on our site, this was originally submitted by Carolann and published in Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine, Issue 34: pg 17, under the title “Homesick for Hamburgers”

It’s something every backpacker experiences and while you don’t know when it will hit, you know it’s coming. In a place like the gorgeous island of Koh Phangan, you can get complacent, forget the impending attack. And when it strikes, you may not be prepared.

One common affliction of any traveller is the dreaded food craving. True, Thailand has some amazing food, but when those nostalgic “I just want a taste of home” urges overwhelm, you won’t be satisfied until those cravings are fulfilled and for many, a burger is the culprit.

Finding good Thai food is easy.  Whether it’s a street vendor, a little plastic chair restaurant, or a well-known dine-in restaurant, you’re sure to find the type of food that puts Thailand on the culinary map. Finding a good burger when the craving strikes however, can be tricky. Fortunately, Koh Phangan has tapped into international culinary styles offering several places that would satisfy any burger seeker.

Finding Good Hamburgers In Koh Phangan:

 

The Gourmet Burger – Crave Restaurant, Haad Yao

 For the ultimate burger experience with amazing service, head to Crave restaurant to find wonderfully blended gourmet flavours such as the deluxe burger with bacon, homemade mayo and brie. Don’t forget to switch your side of fries for a poutine as their Thai-version of the French-Canadian dish is a perfect complement. Happy hour is from 5-7pm, where their homemade sangria and marinated spirits are ‘buy one, get one free’. We also wrote a detailed review of Crave.

The Simple Burger– Yummy Restaurant, Haad Rin Nok

yummy burger koh phangan

Haad Rin Nok is the destination for backpackers looking to experience the Full Moon Party and fortunately, a great burger is waiting around the corner. Simple, yet well-seasoned, Yummy Restaurant offers quality burgers at great prices, served with a smile. Afterwards, satisfy your sweet tooth with their fruit shake and roti special – only 89THB!

The Veggie Burger – Vintage Burger Friends and Booze, Thongsala

If beef patties aren’t your thing, you’ll want to try Vintage Burger. While their beef burgers are worth a taste, their veggie burger, made of bean, coriander and carrot topped with cheese, onion, lettuce and homemade sweet chili sauce, is a must-try. Alongside crispy, delicious fries, this meal will satisfy any burger craving. Ask for it without cheese to make it a vegan option. A homemade mojito and chocolate mousse are wonderful ways to round-out the meal.

The Late-Night Burger – Handsome Sandwiches, Thong Nai Pan Noi 

A long-time staple, Handsome Sandwiches is located a distance from the Full Moon Party but offers to satisfy those burger cravings when nothing else is open. Thai-style, the restaurant consists of a small stall and several tables with a simple fare of burgers, fries and shakes. The exterior may leave something to be desired but the food impresses and the prices are reasonable.

The Chicken Schnitzel Burger – Mama’s Schnitzel, Haad Rin Nok

mamas schnitzel koh phangan

As the name suggests, Mama’s Schnitzel is well-known for their chicken schnitzel. Take those pieces of crispy, tender chicken and turn it into a burger and you’ve got one mouth-watering, hunger-satisfying meal. In the heart of Haad Rin, it’s a great place to eat after a day at the beach or while taking part in the Full Moon celebrations. After indulging in your meal, their chocolate bar shakes will quench your thirst and cool you down.

 

Whether you are craving an all-beef patty, crispy chicken or prefer to go vegetarian, Koh Phangan has something to satisfy all your burger cravings and in taking your first bite into that flavourful and well-crafted burger you may just find you are sinking your teeth into a little taste of home.

 

Where can you find these great restaurants?

 

Crave

Open 5pm – 11pm, CLOSED on Tuesdays

Please check their website as they close for approximately 2 months a year during low-season.

Yummy

Trickier to pinpoint due to its lack of website – you can find it easily if you’re headed to the “Full Moon Beach” or Haad Rin Nok. Near where the two main streets intersect, and across from the big 7-Eleven, is where you’ll find Yummy!

 

Vintage Burgers, Friends & Booze

A little tricky to find as the streets start to criss-cross and narrow in this area but we followed this map and found it easily. Check out their Facebook page or contact them to confirm hours of operation.

 

Handsome Sandwiches

Check out their TripAdvisor page for a map to locate them. Here you’ll not only find food, but also cold beer, a gas station, laundry service, and a decently priced taxi service!

 

Mama’s Schnitzel

You’ll find this busy eatery close to Haad Rin Nok, on the busy intersection of two major streets. It’s hard to miss with no walls and a constant flow of patrons.

 

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5 Places for a Sunset On Koh Phangan

While further edited for publishing on our site, this was originally submitted by Macrae and published in Southeast Asia Backpacker Magazine, Issue 34: pg 14-15, under the title “Top 5 Places For Sunset Drinks”

More Than The Full Moon Party To Discover

Sitting, watching the sunset while having a drink; as the sky starts to dim, the sun seems to be more saturated in colour, or it may be that now all your focus is on this gigantic body of fire, creating a glow through the clouds, turning them purple and pink.

You look above it all and notice something you’ve never seen before: a rainbow mimicking an oil spill in a crystal clear glacier lake upon a mountain. You realize nothing really matters, not your job, not your grades, not what is happening on social media… only what is in the here and now. The present. The moment.

The Full Moon Party is world-renowned for its neon body paint, glow sticks and bucket drinks. But when the crowds slowly dissipate and the tranquility is once again restored to the island, there are some astonishing things to be seen that may have been overlooked during full moon. The perfect spot to have a drink and catch one of the best sunsets, painting a picture in the sky beyond imagination is one such thing.

Here Are My Top 5 Places for a Sunset On Koh Phangan

  1. Haad Sarikantang (Leela Beach): Leela beach, with its soft sand, relaxing rope hammocks and mystical mangrove trees, is easily the best beach in Thailand to enjoy an unforgettable sunset. At one end of the beach, you can find a floating pier that, from land, seems to go on forever reaching into the ocean’s endless abyss. Sitting at the end of the pier with your favorite drink is the only way to end a day with perfection.hammocks-on-leela-beach

TIP: Go to the 7-eleven, pick up a couple bottles of your favorite beer, stick a lime in, head to Leela Beach to spend an inexpensive afternoon.leela-beach-floating-pier

 

  1. Haad Son (Secret beach): Secret Beach Bar is a little hidden paradise nestled in a cove, easily missed by the usual tourist trying to find the next party. With its pearl-white sand and stunning views of the sunset, it’s a place where you can grab a drink and easily let time drift away.secret-beach-koh-phangan

TIP: Don’t miss the strawberry daiquiris – simply amazing and, at just 120 Baht (like all the other cocktails on the menu), they’re a steal.

 

  1. Haad Rin Nai: The sister beach of Haad Rin Nok (where the full moon party is held) is a place that can satisfy any budget, with its new resorts and old rustic pubs. At Seaside Bar, you’ll find a couple triangle pillows upon a mat in the middle of the beach. Pick a spot, order a drink and treat yourself to a unique sunset that will never be forgotten.haad-rin-nai-sunset

TIP: Stay until dark when the sky becomes illuminated with a blanket of stars. You might be lucky enough to decipher the mysteries of the gods and watch the story of the universe unravel above you.

 

  1. Haad Yao: Another stunning beach, with pristine water, sprinkled with contrasting bars and restaurants; one place that stands out is Seaboard Bungalows. This is a perfect place to get your party on after watching the sunset, when its rays no longer dominate the sky and the beach is lit by the moon and tiki torches until the early morning.sunset-haad-yao-beach

Tip: On Wednesday nights, the local expat community gathers here for some great music (usually deep house) and some fantastic specialty drinks.

 

  1. Ao Playlearn: When you speak to anyone who has spent some substantial time on Koh Phangan, they’ll ask if you have been to Amsterdam Bar. If you haven’t, it’s a must go. While not located on a world class beach, it is strategically placed mountainside for the ultimate sunset experience.  With a sea of triangle pillows, mats and even a pool (with a view), this is a must-stop location for anyone visiting the island.amstardam-bar-koh-phangan

TIP: To insure an unobstructed view, make sure to get here early and grab “the perfect seat” especially in peak season as this spot gets very busy.

 

These top five sunset drink spots in Koh Phangan are amongst many, where a good cocktail and a sensational sunset can be found. There is more depth to Koh Phangan than its full moon celebrations; it’s a unique place that is truly magical.

 

 

thailand dogs chiang mai

The Kingdom of Forgotten Souls: Dogs of Thailand

Thailand. A dreamer’s paradise where anything can, and will, be handed to you on the metaphorical silver platter. Sometimes holding yourself back from letting loose is really one’s effort to try and tame this beast of manipulation and temptation. As you struggle to avoid the temptations, there is a problem that is easily seen but not readily heard: The dogs of Thailand.

The amount of stray dogs is astonishing. These wandering souls are often being neglected and deprived of proper love and care. Many have homes to head to at the end of the day and someone to look after them, but many others are orphaned children of the gutter.

stray dogs of thailand

Some friendly, and some not so much, constantly searching for the next meal, the amount of dogs roaming the streets depends on which city or town you’re discussing but their presence throughout the country is a constant. There are shelters for these lost animals, but usually only the injured or sick are accepted leaving the lonely and homeless without refuge.

During our short 2-month visit we came across some dogs we grew to know and love. Others we had to avoid because of their aggressive nature (especially, for some reason, when we were riding by on a moped).

Connecting With The Dogs of Thailand

cute puppies in thailand

On our visit to Thailand, our first stop was Northern Thailand to the second largest city in the country – Chiang Mai.

Before flying there we decided to check out accommodations on Airbnb and found Bob, an expat from Canada, who has called Thailand his home for the last 25 years. Bob built some beautiful teak guesthouses on his property and within the last year decided to rent them out to people looking for an alternative to hotel living.

On his profile he made sure to say “must be a dog lover” because Bob has 7 of his own dogs. Some, he told us, fail to read this part of his profile and end up being a bit hostile towards the dogs. We, on the other hand, were excited! He picked us up from the airport and on the way back to his house he told us a bit about himself and his dogs.

beautiful brown dog thailand

Unfortunately, one was missing, “Pepper hasn’t been home for days – it’s not like him”, Bob told us.

When we arrived we met the other 6 dogs: Blackie, Bug, Strawberry, Burt, Lucy and, our favorite, Geeky. We got to know and love these dogs during the 2 weeks we stayed with Bob.

puppies thailand stray dogs

Luckily, after 3 days, Pepper returned home. He must have been out looking for the ladies, as he was at that stage of his life, and it was the only reasonable excuse we could come up with.

We were sad when we finally parted and had to say goodbye to our Chiang Mai family and the dogs we had come to love. That was our first experience with the dogs of Thailand and in this case, they were well cared for even though they roamed free and never stepped a foot inside the house.

fat dog in pai thailand

As we made our way through the small cities of the north, and eventually down to Bangkok, each had a commonality: there were many dogs of all different breeds and sizes roaming the streets.

As we mentioned, Bob’s dogs were outdoor dogs but they had a home. Some others had homes, but the majority seemed like they had none. Nose low to the ground constantly searching for anything to eat, they appeared alone and without direction.

koh phangan dogs thailand

We didn’t have much of a relationship with any other dog after Chiang Mai until our last few weeks in Thailand.

We made our way down to Koh Phangan, a small island in the south known for its world-famous full moon parties.  Our visit here was strictly business, arriving on the boat as the “full-mooners” were leaving.  This visit was for a writing workshop and it so happened that this workshop was taking place at the Phanganburi Best Western (Now the Buri Beach Resort) the island.

After a few days of getting to know this resort and the area of the island we noticed a little four-legged guy, very straggly and appearing as though the only bath he had was in his beachfront bathtub (the ocean) – we realized quickly that he lived on the beach. He tended to come over to us when we were in the area and follow us around as we walked the beach.

thailand dogs koh phangan

We immediately dubbed him “Mr Scratchy” since he couldn’t seem to walk ten feet before he had to scratch some itch, somewhere. We found it amusing but after a while we became concerned. An itch like this would drive anyone truly insane – imagine having to live with it every day?

We enjoyed his company (from a distance) and we think he enjoyed ours.

Another funny character was the dog that lived at the 7-Eleven down the road from the Buri Beach Resort He hung out in the front waiting for people to feed him and when he was hot we would find him inside cooling off with the air conditioning. We thought this was amusing because seeing a stray dog relaxing in a convenience store is not something we would ever witness back home. He even followed us back to our bungalow one night and hung around long enough to drink the water we offered him before returning back to his spot at the 7-Eleven entrance.

stray dog thailand

The dogs that roam the streets of Thailand are numerous and sad to see for someone from a culture where stray dogs are considered creatures in need of rescue. What makes it harder is that these animals sometimes reach out… when your eyes lock with theirs you can almost read their thoughts and it can break your heart. Most are kept fed and treated with dignity, but there are some that need a bit more love and caring. Perhaps Thai culture isn’t ready to fully let these creatures into their homes and their hearts.

 

Have you ever travelled somewhere that had a very different approach to the treatment of animals or people than your own culture?? Comment below and let us know about it!