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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!