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!
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!?
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
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!
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
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!