Looking back… Thailand lived up to every expectation we had about it. Perhaps a bold statement, but it was truly a postcard at every turn!
Steph, Jinny, Monique and Michael took off on the 22nd of December with nine days of pure chilling in mind. We landed in Bangkok and headed to a hotel we booked at the airport. After unpacking and bit of organizing the four of us snuggly fit into a tiny room that had two single beds. At first we took a cab to a travel agent to sort out some domestic travel plans, and then were recommended to walk up the ‘main’ road to find something to eat and eventually ended up at Khao San Road.
This worked out particularly well, for we found a really good family restaurant. Within two minutes of sitting a lovely woman who owned the restaurant came out and gave us a warm welcoming. She began to explain the menu in her broken English while showing so much passion for her culture. Upon ordering she had Thai cook books and travel brochures on our table to look through, and was behind the counter rummaging through a cardboard box of cassettes to play for us. If the ambience wasn’t enough, the food arrived with perfect presentation and outstanding favour! Upon finishing our meal and drinks and paying a whopping five dollars per person, we continued down towards Khao San Road.
This is a single road infested with foreigners, a multitude of clothing shops, bars and authentic Thai artifacts. Seeing as we only had the afternoon we decided to spend our time here and save sight seeing until the following day. Michael started to dig into this road very quickly; because he wanted to have some clothing tailored and couldn’t afford any time. After walking up and down this stretch and finding a tailor we were ready for some night life. The problem was that Thailand was having an election, which resulted in an alcohol ban for the Saturday and Sunday night until midnight! This resulted in us wondering around for a little longer, until Jinny decided that she wanted to have her braided and extended. As she began this what would becoming an extensive experience, Steph, Monique and Michael set out to find a bar that would sell some contraband drinks! We were successful, but not before we stumbled across a Thai massage parlor. The three of us opted for one, and went upstairs. We were brought into an open room, however a curtain was pulled around the three of us. This was unusual because we were then asked to undress. This process began; however shortly after two Thai masseuses drew the curtain open exposing Steph and Monique in very venerable positions. However it was all worth it, the $5.00 hour long massage made you feel like a new person after.
Upon this we returned to the bar and then periodically visited Jinny to check her progress with her hair. In the end we eventually closed down the bar, but were remarkably amazed to come back to Jinny who now had been sitting for 3 hours and had an entire family of younger kids braiding her hair. Once this was done we returned to the hotel and called it a night.
Jinny already 3 hours into getting her hair done and not even half way done.
The following morning we were up and determined to see some sights. Well, after eating and going to the tailor for a fitting for an oriental dress that Steph was going to have made. We then headed off to the Grand Palace which was very different to the one we had visited in China. Primarily, although they used a similar lay out for buildings of hierarchal relevance, they were spaced much more closely. The decorating of the buildings were much more elaborate as well, including vibrant colours. This also included many gold statues and buildings covered in coloured glass and mirrors. Upon spending a fair amount of time touring the grounds, we ended up at a restaurant within the temple. And to our luck, they didn’t adhere to the alcohol ban, and it was happy hour in Thailand!
Monique, Jinny and Stephanie
Monique being scary.
Michael being........ Michael!
Monique and Michael
Jinny, Stephanie, Monique and Michael with their contraband beer.
After this we toured around some other beautiful sights around Bangkok including a modern dignitary’s palace and its gardens. This led us to hear about Chinatown which was a short ride from where we were. We hailed down a Tuck-tuck which is a retrofitted motorcycle with a bench on the back. After negotiating a price, and stating our concern with not wanting to go to their ‘friends store’ (most of these drivers will try to bring you to a store to have to buy things) we were off.
Our Tuck Tuck ride.
Chinatown was another side of Bangkok that we needed to see. With crowed streets and a serious automotive pollution issue we saw what we needed to see in a short amount of time. That night Jinny took off to the train station, she was heading to our next destination a day early, to meet up with the three of us who were taking to plane the next day. We took it easy this night and headed to a market area where we got to see some of the night markets. The rest of the evening was less desirable, as we were pulled into a “lady dancing” show and then accosted into paying a ridiculous amount of money for the drinks we ordered. That night things turned for Michael as he woke up in the middle of the night and realized that the water he had drank out of a public water fountain was causing him to have a fever and being really ill.
The following morning was not much better. Going to the airport was difficult because Michael had picked up a water borne bacterium and literally had a cab reject taking us because he threw up in the bushes as the driver was going to pick up Steph’s backpack. We all finally made it not only to the airport but to Ko Samui where we met up with Ashley.
We drove to the hotel, and as we passed through the town we realized it was a huge resort town. With a new resort every 50 meters on the waterside of the road, and shops and bars on the other, we knew we were still in a tourist area. Upon arriving at our hotel we settled the four girls and Michael into a room. (Michael wants to add at this point, “yes”, it was “utter hell” traveling with four women to a paradise beach island… Great success!!!)
Our hotels beach...... so beautiful!
That day we chilled out on the beach and saved our energy for the upcoming night. That night being Christmas Eve, there was a mandatory ‘gala dinner’ that we attended at our resort. This was a nice event however, truth be told, it was also a full moon this particular evening. And rumor has it, that Thailand’s Ko Pha-Ngan Island has a ridiculous party these nights. So the girls minus Michael, who was still bedridden, were off to this neighbouring island for quite an evening.
Christmas Eve Diner Gala (We're not very happy looking because we were very hungry and just wanted to eat now!)
Jinny and Monique
On the way their they met some Canadians who mentioned that this time last year one of the taxi boats that they were on was at over capacity and ended up sinking, causing 12 people to drown that night. Clinging afterwards to lifejackets, they finally arrived where they had to jump into half meter water and walk the remainder of the way to the beach. The atmosphere was like no other! This beach on this particular night sees the sea level recede and expose more then 200 meters of extra beach. Local vendors set up tables with buckets of alcohol, and the five or six major clubs that face out onto the beach pump loud music to create many different ‘worlds’ as you walk along the beach. The entire night is a sporadic night of sensory overload with major contributing factors including alcohol, music, fire shows and multitudes of foreign backpackers who are there for all the right reasons. Highlights of this night include James who became a self proclaimed fire expert, until he severally burned himself with a torch, and a child whose parents left him to sleep in a hammock next to a raging speaker!
Ashley, Monique and Stephanie with our new Canadian friends on the boat to the Full Moon party
Flame throwers on the beach at the Full Moon party
James contemplating playing with the fire.
James playing with the fire!
A sad photo of a child sleeping in the "Special Shake" bar next to the loud speaker and surrounded by drunk and "happy" people.
The following day was Christmas, and we decided to treat ourselves to some on land adventure and exploration. We chartered a van, and decided to enroll in several activities. The first was an authentic Thai cooking class, where we were taken to a small farm and showed how to grind the spices to create many of the popular dishes. Afterwards we headed into the mountains to do some elephant riding. We enjoyed this experience a lot, as we were able to ride through the forest on the back of a massive elephant. Upon feeding several baby elephants and chilling out next to a 20 meter waterfall, we continued on. The next stop was a monkey exhibit where trained monkeys would climb trees and retrieve coconuts. They would then show us how to extract the juice and how to make coconut shavings for desert! That night we chilled out on the beach and drank next to the crashing waves.
Stephanie, Monique, Jinny, Ashley and Michael watching Curry being made for us from scratch.
Jinny and Ashley
Monique, Stephanie and Michael (riding on the elephant's neck)
An adult monkey who posed when he saw cameras.
Stephanie and the baby monkey.
Monique and the baby monkey.
Michael and the baby monkey.
The following morning we partook in another exploration adventure, however this time it was by water. We drove into town to the main port, and boarded a speed boat. It was beginning to rain and seriously made us reconsider the tour; however we took the guides recommendation that the rain would stop and we were off. Well shortly off. Most people were hiding under the canvas, and the main tour guide needed to have some people sit in the front of the boat. He ensured that everyone would get wet, and should just move now. Michael being courageous led the movement amongst the 35 other people on the boat and removed his shirt (revealing his massive muscles!) and went to sit in the rain at the front of the boat. This proved to be a profitable decision because Michael by doing this acquired one of his most cherished souvenirs; one of the marina employee shirts.
One of the first spots we stopped to go snorkeling.
Salt water lagoon
Stephanie and our tour guide Liam (who was awesome!)
By the time we reached the first stop, indeed everyone was soaked and the rain had also stopped. We were now in the National Park and were given an hour to do some snorkeling. This was very interesting due to the varieties of fish and coral available in this location. After this we went off to a private island where kayaks were waiting for us. We went for a fun hour long kayak ride and then came back to a warm lunch that was waiting for us on our private island. Our final destination was another island with a lagoon in the middle of it. We were able to hike to the top of the mountain and then back down to see the isolated lagoon. The day itself was another great way to see Thailand’s natural beauty!
Monique, Stephanie and Ashley
Monique and Michael
Ashley being a monkey because the tour guide claims the mountain behind her looks like a monkey's face.
That evening we went into town and chilled at some local establishment and hashed out some plans to migrate to Ko Pan-Ngan Island. We also said good bye to Jinny who was now leaving us to head back to the United States.
Ashley, Stephanie and Monique
The next morning we caught a personal speed boat to the island and were now in the heart of Thailand. The island was smaller and the town which we previously did not see had a much quainter feeling as well. We stepped into one of the few internet cafes to ask about hotels. The lady called around and after a couple minutes had us paired up with a resort called ‘Tommy Resort’. Her son offered to take us one by one on his moped to the resort.
Stephanie and Ashley on the 12 minute speed boat ride from Koh Samui to Koh Pan Ngan
Monique and Michael
Koh Pan Ngan
This was the gem of the trip with a personal cabin that looked out onto the ocean, with a beautiful beach, bar, pool and restaurant. So there we were, in paradise on Monique’s birthday! So, we went straight to the beach and drank! The beach was full of young travelers and which created a wonderful social community in itself.
Relaxing at the resort
That night we started hanging out on our cabins porch, when all of a sudden our neighbouring cabin dwellers came out with drinks and a guitar. Calling out requests eventually led to us joining these six guys from Israel, who turned out to be good friends by the end of the trip. After many songs, even a wonderful Happy Birthday song for Monique as she opened up her presents and ate the ice cream cone cake Michael had purchased for her, drinks were made and we set out to the beach that resembled the night of the full moon party! We danced barefoot on the sand and laughed the night away.
Our new Israeli friends.
Monique's birthday song with our new friends.
Stephanie, Monique and Michael
The following morning we were either found at the fantastic restaurant, or on the beach soaking up drinks and sun! This is to say that we potentially soaked up too much of both, and ended up with some severe burns, which later resulted in Monique, Ashley and Michael chilling at the cabin while Steph took off for another night on the beach with the Israelis.
Monique and the after burn.
The next day we all made a conscious decision to stay out of the sun. We lingered around the pool sipping drinks and reading in the shade. With our sun burns fading and a good restful day behind us we headed for dinner and drinks. Than the night continued once again to the beach were we danced up a storm on our last night in Koh Phan-ngan.
The next day in the shade
The "Special Shake" bar
The following morning we were packing up and preparing to head back to Bangkok. It was hard to say good bye to Ko Phan-ngan but we knew that we would be returning in the future! In Bangkok we met up with James and some of his coworkers and headed to a hostel that he had found on the internet. Despite the fact that it was in the outskirts of Bangkok, it was another gem! This ultra modern hostel was created by two architects who wanted to create cool lounge and hostel world. “Refill Now” as it was called, would be another place to stay upon our return. The three story building had a cool white modern feeling with clean facilities and ultra cool details throughout the entire building. Including a very cool lounge on the first floor that opened up to the outside and encompassed many leather chairs, a bar with some of the most friendliest service, a library of lonely planets and a play list of music that could sooth even the most stressed individual.
Our hostel in Bangkok
The following day we all woke up and decided to follow some previous advice about using all of the public transit methods, and headed straight to the cannel. Here we waited for a speed boat that literally didn’t stop for us to barely jump on as it took off down the river into Bangkok. This was a very fun experience and was a very different way of seeing the city.
The boat taxi ride that cost 15 cents
Michael enjoying himself on the taxi!
As you can maybe tell the boat was not designed for tall people, even Monique had to stick her head out the side.
Upon arriving we split up, as we decided that some of us wanted to see the city, while some of us who had already seen most of the sights, wanted to focus on their tailored products and buying souvenirs. That night we chilled the entire night in out hostel and soaked up the vibe and the starry sky.
The following day was New Years Eve and we all decided to start the party early. We went to a market and bar hopping for a while, and then ended up in the main square of downtown Bangkok and were treated to a close up fireworks show at the strike of midnight. We met up with friends of Kate’s that night as well who took us to a Thai bar in who knows where. We paid a small cover to get in, but with this cover you were all given a bottle of whiskey, so in turn it paid off. The bar was interesting to say the least; we were surrounded by girls dancing on tables who clearly had too much to drink. Unfortunately most of the girls were surrounded by older not so good looking men who pretty much sat their and ogled them.
At the weekend market in Bangkok.
With little rest in our systems, we were off early the next morning back to Korea. With a short stop in Hong Kong and a cozy flight we finally made it home. It was sad to step out into the cold, but our warm memories and tans reminded us of the beauty of Thailand.
Saying goodbye to Thailand from the plane.
To leave this blog we leave you with the miscellaneous collection of photographs what we took, that truly represents its infinite beauty!!
Truly breath taking.
Merry Christmas everyone!