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!

 

 

81 replies
  1. Heidi Wagoner
    Heidi Wagoner says:

    Ha! Looks like we missed out on some of those too. We ate loads of Pad Thai, but mainly cashew chicken. We tooks the kids out on tuk tuks a few times, but with 4 of us it meant 2 of them, so not often. Of course we visited many Wats and loved them on the inside and out as well.

    You both are so adventurous and did far more than just drive to Pai on a scooter, you explored all of northern Thailand on that scooter. I am sure that was far more exciting than any tuk tuk would ever be!
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted…Segway Malaga Experience – City & GibralfaroMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We did put a lot of miles on that scooter!! (and on the ones we rented in the south). Our experiences ventured outside the typical but we wouldn’t change a minute! You all saw and did a whole lot more than the “must-sees” as well – and with an interesting perspective as a family!

      Reply
  2. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    We were in Thailand almost 2 years and I actually haven’t done most of these things either! I have done the movies, however, and the anthem really threw me off the first time. I had no idea why everyone started to stand and I just sat there for a minute looking around wondering what was happening! Definitely go and experience the theaters though. I think they are so much nicer than any I’ve been to in the US.

    Also, funny you mentioned the pad thai too. I used to always order that before I moved to Thailand but once I arrived there it just never sounded good anymore. I can probably count on one hand how many times I ordered it over the course of 2 years! Anyways, great list and have fun on your next visit!
    Brittany recently posted…Cost of Traveling Europe For a MonthMy Profile

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  3. Sean Spanton
    Sean Spanton says:

    Hi Carolann,

    We have never met but I’m Steve Spanton’s not so little brother (Hayden’s uncle). I have been following your adventures & saw your last post.

    My family & I are planning our trip to Thialand as we speak. All we have is our flights booked (nov 15-30). From everything that I have read from your blog we like to travel in similar fashion. Less touristy, more local authentic experiences.

    Since I will be traveling with my wife, son 10, & daughter 8. I was wondering if you have any recommendations & tips for traveling in that region?

    Thanks & I look forward to hearing back. Please say hi to McCray for me!

    Sean

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      So nice to hear from you!! We’ll definitely help give suggestions and ideas! Macrae says he has you on Facebook and will be messaging soon – we’ll answer any questions we can and hopefully can offer some good recommendations and tips!

      Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      There were several contenders that we decided from. One that Carolann had been dreaming of visiting for years but it’s booked months upon months in advance. We chose one that was new and felt it was good to offer support to new endeavours to save elephants :) It’s an amazing experience to interact with these majestic creatures!

      Reply
  4. anna
    anna says:

    Wow! I’m impressed you never made it to a tuktuk! Although we walk to things if we can, occasionally, a tuktuk ride makes things easier (especially when lugging a heavy backpack)

    Reply
  5. Orana
    Orana says:

    No pad thai?? No Tuktuk? ;) tuktuks are great everywhere except bangkok where its expensive and you are basically breathing smog! Pad Thai is best eaten at Thip Samai, go eat there on the same day that you do wat pho and the palace. Phi Phi and Maya bay are BEST done at dawn. As in take a longtail boat from Krabi as the sun is rising and you will be the only ones (almost ) on the famouse The Beach bay. Same goes for James Bond Island! NO riding elephants, I agree. Have fun going back to Thailand!!!!

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Excellent advice!! We’ll try and ride a tuk tuk outside of Bangkok and take in some pad Thai at Thip Samai!! The suggestion for Phi Phi at dawn is brilliant and we’ll be looking to do just that!! Thanks!

      Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Glad you enjoyed this post! and glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who didn’t check all these off! It’s very different when you are immersing yourself in the culture and lifestyle then when you are just visiting. I expect our next trip will lead me to have quite a few of these crossed off in a short time!

      Reply
  6. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline says:

    I am an expat living in Taiwan, and I visit Thailand as often as possible. My best trips to the country involve staying in one place, renting a scooter and getting away from the tourist centers. We’ve seen so much of the country, and I can honestly say it’s my favorite place on earth. My one Thai guilty pleasure? I once spent three whole weeks on Railay, which is nothing more than strip of sand in Krabi, swimming, reading and drinking banana shakes. I would totally do it again!
    Jacqueline recently posted…typhoon soudelorMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We LOVED exploring Thailand on a scooter – so much to see outside the main tourist areas! We haven’t hit Railay but perhaps we’ll get there this next time around – it sounds like an amazing place to relax!!

      Reply
  7. Jen Seligmann
    Jen Seligmann says:

    Hey Carolann,

    What a good idea for a post. It is nice to read something from a different angle from time to time.

    I’ve only been to Bangkok for a few days and must admit I wasn’t much of a fan. I had plans to take a tuk tuk before visiting but once I got there and saw they flying around at reckless speeds I opted for public transport and getting around on foot.

    I hope you get a chance to do some of these that you still want to do like seeing the temples. I ones that I did see in Bangkok were a definite highlight for me.
    Jen Seligmann recently posted…South America from AboveMy Profile

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  8. Duke Stewart
    Duke Stewart says:

    I’ve missed quite a few typical Thai travel experiences myself and am happy that I’m not alone. When my wife and I visited Koh Chang, we were always the first ones to bed so we could get out early and find something to do the next day. Call us boring but honestly, I prefer that way of traveling. No reason to be hungover in another country because I can do that at home.

    I think you’re getting at something really important about travel and I love that about this post. What I take away is that you don’t HAVE to go do everything that’s on the bucket list, and I commend you for sticking yourself out there Carol Ann. Even though you might change a few things on your “done” list after another visit, you probably already know that there’s no pressure to do so.

    Take care and thanks again for the great post!
    Duke Stewart recently posted…Korea, Namhae – Rice TerracesMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Thank you! We’ve definitely moved on from trying to explain WHY we didn’t see some of the major attractions to just accepting that we travel how we like and focusing on the amazing things we did do that can’t be found in a guide book or “must-see” travel list (although we love those too!)

      Reply
  9. Meg Jerrard
    Meg Jerrard says:

    Thanks for writing this post, I really appreciate how you made the point re the Elephant rides, and how finding a Sanctuary is a fantastic alternative to actually taking one of the horrendous elephant rides. I think it’s something every tourist fantasises about honestly, though I’m so glad that there are ethical alternatives available, and if we keep spreading awareness of the horrible treatment in other parts of the country we can potentially stamp this practice out once and for all.

    Sounds like you’ve got a fab itinerary already planned for October though – happy travels! Can’t wait to read about your next trip!
    Meg Jerrard recently posted…The Best Luxury Villas in Maui, HawaiiMy Profile

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  10. Jenne
    Jenne says:

    THANK YOU for taking the humane, conscientious choice where elephants are concerned. (Thank you also for not visiting a “tiger temple” to pose for photos with drugged tigers!) These are wild animals who belong in their natural habitats, not “broken in” to give rides like a farm animal. And tiger temples and elephant rides just encourages poachers to continue to take animals– esp baby animals– from their habitat for profit. Having just been on a safari in a wildlife reserve in Sri Lanka, I can assure you that elephants are meant to be wandering around grazing out in the wild and not providing rides to people all day long. Thank you for making a good choice about this issue!
    Jenne recently posted…How I Did ThailandMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We made a very conscious choice to avoid the riding of elephants and the tiger temple. We’ve seen such poor treatment of animals in the name of tourism and it’s really saddening. Can’t wait to be able to see them in their natural habitat while on safari it sounds incredible!

      Reply
  11. Ryan Biddulph
    Ryan Biddulph says:

    Hi Guys,

    Very neat, bucking the trend ;) Awesome move on the elephants. As for #8 I have seen probably 30 movies in Thailand over the year we’ve spent there, so I’ve stood for the King about 30 times and each experience is neat.

    Even cooler? Last week when in Bangkok we had to stand still when the prince drove by, with a cavalry including about 25 bright red, brand new Mercedes. Impressive site.

    Ryan
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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We did end up outside the white temple, though not inside, and that was the longest we stayed outside any “temple”. We didn’t actually spend a lot of time outside an actual religious Wat for some reason!

      Reply
  12. Chris
    Chris says:

    We deliberately skipped a few of them as well!

    No way would we support a Tiger or Elephant affair (unless it was a definite charity), somehow we missed a Tuk Tuk ride (we walk a lot) as well… and a full moon party?

    I could think of better uses of our time…

    But no Pad Thai?! That’s like not having any Banana Roti!!
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  13. Mary {The World Is A Book}
    Mary {The World Is A Book} says:

    I’ve only made it to the airport for a long layover but would love to visit Thailand for an extended trip one of these days. When we finally do, some of these activities will be high on our list like the tuk tuk and visiting the wats. Good for you for taking the stand against the elephants and visiting a sanctuary instead. I’ve known several people who have gone and didn’t try pad thai due to the number of food items available.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…Strolling the Historic Center of Bologna, ItalyMy Profile

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  14. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    Loving the Thailand posts. Dusty and I are headed there soon and love reading about all of your adventures there. Even the adventures you haven’t yet done :) We might have to pick your brain about learning to scuba dive there. One thing we still haven’t done but would LOVE to. Maybe we’ll actually have the time to do it then! How long are you guys going to be there?

    Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      We’d love to offer any suggestions we can! Scuba diving is still one of our favourite experiences thus far! We’re not sure when we’re leaving (something we’ll need to figure out ASAP!) but it would be great if our visits overlapped!

      Reply
  15. Kimberly Erin
    Kimberly Erin says:

    I am so guilty of wanting to attend a full moon party, I only hear good. And as an architecture nut, im going to have to go check the temples out on the inside. ahahah, some big ones of the trail ya missed!

    Reply
  16. The Educational Tourist
    The Educational Tourist says:

    wow! This is an interesting list and has me wanting to read the sister post….What I DID !! So many things to see in the wonderful land – everything so colorful. It is certainly on the list of things I want to see. Thanks for the great info.

    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

    Reply
  17. Valerie Perry
    Valerie Perry says:

    Thanks for standing up for the elephants!

    Fascinating about the start of movies. I guess it kind of makes sense. We play the national anthem before sporting events – why not movies? I, too, never go to the movies when I travel, but it would be fascinating to take an international tour of movie goer experiences. I may have just found my next assignment!

    Reply
  18. james @theglobewanderers
    james @theglobewanderers says:

    Loved this post. Brought back a lot of memories!
    I think you were not doing some of these things on purpose so you have an even bigger reason to return someday ;)
    The White Temple near Chiang Mai is pretty special although I believe it was damaged in an earthquake a few years back. Not sure what condition its in now.
    A Tuk Tuk and a Pad Thai is a must though. Just don’t order a Pad Thai at a ladyboy or ping pong show. God knows how they’d be served it up…. Ewww.
    james @theglobewanderers recently posted…7 Places to Enhance your Singapore ExperienceMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      That’s true – if we did everything on the list we’d have no reason to go back! They were repairing the inside of the temple when we were there – which is the reason we didn’t go in… though we’re not sure if that really counts as a temple since it’s more of a work of art/science fiction! :) and we’ll DEFINITELY listen to your last suggestion… not worth the risk!

      Reply
    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      I’ll be on the look out for some Pad Thai for sure!! Moving from slow travel to being on the move is always a shock for us but each time we fall into the routine quicker and quicker! :)

      Reply
  19. Stacey Valle
    Stacey Valle says:

    I love this! :)

    I went to Thailand last summer, and there are few things that I didn’t want to do or missed out on! Like you, I don’t want to ride on tuktuk to avoid scams – however, in Chiangmai, there was one time that my travel partner and I have to take a taxi, so we do negotiate. Another thing, which I’m happy you feel the same, I REFUSED to ride on an elephant. I did went to sanctuary in Chiangmai though; it was a great experience to feed and bathe them. I also didn’t get a chance to visit the islands! It was due to the monsoon weather though – the rain and the current were bad at the time.

    I did tried pad thai! I like it but not a huge fan of it – I love pad kee moo though :) omg, the Tom Yum soup is soon good there! I’ll just ramble on and on about Thailand haha, even though I only went for two weeks!
    Stacey Valle recently posted…Sisterhood of the World Bloggers AwardMy Profile

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    • onemoderncouple
      onemoderncouple says:

      Glad you didn’t ride as well! It seems to be a growing concern for travellers and it’s great to see. We completely understand about rambling on about Thailand – it’s too easy to do, especially when you start talking about the food!!

      Reply
  20. Place4Papers
    Place4Papers says:

    I have never been to Thailand yet, but I can totally understand your approach – sometimes it’s better to avoid going to the “must-see” sights and doing the “must-do” activities and do something different and more interesting. And I totally agreed with you on elephants.

    Reply

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