10 Days in Thailand- A Traveler’s Guide
In Thailand, you have no other choice but to let it go. Succumbing to the playful and outgoing personalities of the Thai people and embracing a pace of life that is, ‘Sabai, Sabai.’ After over two years of navigating pandemic related travel bans and quarantines, Southeast Asia is opening up to visitors. If you are in the privileged position to be able travel, many of these nations rely heavily on tourists and would gladly welcome being your host to an amazing experience. We were fortunate enough to leave Korea for our Spring Break and over a 10 day span combined island time with the jungle and hills of the North.
Since our time in Thailand they have removed the majority of the travel regulations, but check the Thai Embassy Site for the most recent updates. At our time of travel at the beginning of April, we followed their ‘Test and Go’ policy. They seemed to have the process pretty dialed as we landed at around 1130pm, were picked up by the hotel shuttle, checked in at the lobby, and then received a PCR test right on the spot. Once in our room, we were able to have food and drinks delivered and shortly after waking up we had our negative results. There was the risk is that if we tested positive for COVID we would have been staying in the hotel for 7 days, so, it was a huge relief when we were turned free.
Our good friends from Bend, the Krauthoefers, moved to Bangkok the previous summer to work at an international school. Even though they have only lived in Thailand for 6 months, they have done plenty of exploring and shared with us some of their top spots. When we arrived at their house the family of four had their van packed up and were rearing to venture to the island of Ko Samet. Andy masterfully weaved through the Thai traffic for 2.5 hours to the Ban Pae Pier (Google Maps). Note: I was told that from Bangkok it is about $40 USD to hire a private car to transport you to the pier. From there, we elected to pay the small difference for a motorboat ride rather than pack onto a larger ferry for the 30 min water taxi to Ko Samet.
Thailand is renowned for their tropical islands that speckle the waters surrounding the peninsula. When picturing Thailand, I had always imagined hoards of tourists piled up like beached sea lions barking out drink orders. Maybe it was that we were traveling there in April or that Thailand was just revealing itself to foreigners, but we kept landing in secluded spots with pristine beaches on Ko Samet. They all boasted white powdery sand sprawling in between the teal covered bath water of the bay and the lush forest chirping in the background.
Samed Villa Resort (Google Maps)- For around $40/night we had a fantastic bungalow that was nestled back in the vegetation just above the beach. Our room included a scrumptious breakfast that featured both American and Thai style cuisine with boatloads of fresh fruit.
Reef Bar and Restaurant (Google Maps)- A5 min walk from the resort and for all intents and purposes one could post up there for a week and slip into a space void of time or worry.
Audi’s Bar (Google Maps)- In the evening, fire dancers come out in a whirling display of pyro eruptions on the beach and Audi’s offers the opportunity to dance in the waves with bioluminescent plankton.
Even though you could easily just walk around the resort area and relax into sublimity, we rented scooters for about $5/day and toured the entirety of the island. The roads that wrap around the island were not busy which made for a stress free driving experience.
Prao Beach (Google Maps)- One of my favorites as this crescent moon shaped beach had fantastic snorkeling along the reefs.
Ao Char (Google Maps)- Has a pier that you can launch off and a Rasta bar (Google Maps) that will blend up fresh fruit smoothies ($2) and margaritas to compliment a plate of grilled fish and Thai noodles ($3-5). Don’t expect anything to happen fast here is that would defeat the purpose of the island way, but it is the ideal setting to leave behind what is not directly in front of you.
Laem Toei (Google Maps)-With the thrill of humming along the jungle roads, cruising to the southern tip of the island is a no brainer.
Sai Kaew Beach (Google Maps)- If you are in the mood to catch a sunrise you will be granted a spectacular view of the sun cresting over the hills.
As tempting as it would have been to stay tucked away in the island way, we were lured by tales about the Rose of the North and took the hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Once the capitol of Thailand, Chiang Mai provides the perfect launching point to tour the cultural relics of century old temples, explore the mountainous jungle by foot, mountain bike, or bamboo raft, and connect with the traditional life of local tribes. The area offers the rare combination of wondering through the maze of cafes and restaurants while being able to leave the buzz of the city behind to stay with elephants and breathe in the waterfall laced air.
Phra Singh Village (Google Maps)- We had a gorgeous room for about $45/night which included a fantastic breakfast and a nice pool where creative cocktails are delivered to your lounge chair. Our stay was an ideal point to explore the cultural center of Thailand while still maintaining a quiet setting.
Chiang Mai Elephant Friends (Google Maps)- We only stayed one night here and I wish it would have been more. Although you can fit in all of the activities that the outfit offers in two days, simply staying in the hillside camp is a greater opportunity to connect with nature. Feeding a baby elephant, floating on a bamboo raft down a surging river, bathing an elephant, and hiking in the jungle bring pure joy to the heart. The lodging for a bungalow with A/C, private bath, and a porch opening up to the lush valley is about $50/night and there are a couple of restaurants on the property that offer great food options at a very reasonable price.
Norn Timman 13 Boutique Hotel (Google Maps)- Although the area of Nimman is definitely worth a visit, the room at this hotel are incredibly small at $45/night. It was fine for us as we hardly open any time in our room, but there would not be much space for kids. There is also a popular nightclub near by that produced some rather loud and well lubricated hotel guests late into the evening.
Eateries (Old Town)
Huen Phen (Google Maps)- Many say this place has the best Kao Soi Curry in Chiang Mai. We came here a couple times where we tried enough dishes to say this was one our top places to eat and you have to appreciate that the tables are hidden amongst antiques.
Akha Ama Prasigningh (Google Maps)- There are plenty of great coffee shops in the Old Town and we fell in love with this one. They source their beans from one of the local tribes in the area and roast on site.
Mug (Google Maps)- Incredible atmosphere with live music and a full bar. Sit outside and watch the people fade into the night. The owner is local artist in the area and there are frequent shows.
The House by Ginger (Google Maps)- More flavorful Northern Thai cuisine with an upscale flare. Cocktails get creative here and the bites are rich and savory!
Yellow Elephant (Google Maps)- Much safer and tastier than yellow snow. Homemade coconut ice cream with sea salted caramel, waffle cones, and ice cream sandwiches had us dubbed as repeat customers.
Tong Tem Toh (Google Maps)- They did not hold back on the heat for foreigners but I could not stop eating the Kao Soi as it was an explosion of flavors. We wound up having to get a second bowl of rice just to tame the spice but it was well worth the sweat.
Rock Me Burger (Google Maps)- No matter where I travel there normally comes a time when I crave a burger. Typically it falls after too many beers from the night before and the burger here did the trick.
The Salad Concept (Google Maps)- Just in case you are with someone who requires a constant supply of fresh leafy greenery there are plenty of options here at a reasonable price.
Mooh (Google Maps)- Just in case you are someone who enjoys cream and fruit filled pastries for breakfast this hole in the wall prescribes what is needed any time of day.
Roast8ry (Google Maps)- Award wining coffee on the global scale and cutting edge decorations in the foam!
Doi Suthep (Google Maps): While staying in Chiang Mai, viewing the temples is a surreal experience as the city has simply built up around them and it feels like you are slipping in and out of a time warp. Most of the temples you can simply access by foot in the Old Town where remnants of the castle wall and surrounding moat provide an ancient border. However, two of the regions most iconic temples require transport. Doi Suthep is about a 25-30min bus ride from Chiang Mai and then you have to climb the stairs up a dragon’s back to reach the shrine which was carved into the mountainside.
Grand Pagoda Nabhapolbhumisiri (Google Maps): Located in Doi Inthanon National Park this requires a guide and we turned it into a full day trip where we visited the southern most point of the Himalaya Range, the picturesque pagoda, and then hiked into the village of the Karen Hill Tribe. The Karen Tribe migrated from Burma and are often the people in the region who work with elephants. For a period of time the fields where covered in poppies as a main supplier of the Golden Triangle Opium trade. The king at the time convinced the people to surplant the poppies with coffee and rice by supplying them with the means and materials to transform their land. King Bhumibol the Great is still very well regarded throughout Thailand for his efforts to connect with the people and the village is breathtaking in beauty and culture.
Trailhead All Mountain Bike Tours (Google Maps): To cap our time of adventure in the hills around Chiang Mai we went on an incredible ride provided through this outfit. They have well trained and knowledgeable guides who showed us a fantastic time climbing through the jungle. There are several different options based on skill level and they were more than accommodating by providing trailside lunches, snacks, and ice cold water on a humid day. We were flying out on the same day as our ride and they even let us shower at their shop before driving us to the airport.
We were beyond grateful for our 10 days in Thailand and look forward to when we are able to return. Three weeks would seem like an optimal amount of time to travel here as there is so much to soak in! If you have the opportunity to make it to this part of the world or have been saving up for a trip, the Thai people will make sure you enjoy their country to the fullest potential. Sabai, sabai…