Country #30: Thailand

Thailand often tops people’s Southeast Asia bucket lists. Here’s the travel reflection I wrote to my parents about my two-week trip to the country at 22.

Originally written July 2019 (lightly edited for clarity):

Outside of leaving with the flu—we’ll get to that—Thailand was a great country to travel in. Caroline and I spent a full two weeks here. We arrived in Phuket on June 30 and our Airbnb host picked us up from the airport. Phuket is bigger than people realize, and we stayed in Kamala Beach for 4 days. This area is smaller, cleaner, and nicer (much more our speed). Most people our age will go to Phuket and stay in Phuket Town, which is a bit higher energy and sketchier. We mostly just went to the beach, ate at local restaurants, and explored the area.

On July 3rd, we went to Krabi via ferry. We hired a local company to come to pick us up from our Airbnb, taxi us across Phuket to the ferry terminal, take us across to Krabi, and then take us to our new accommodation. It was a nice change of pace from constantly flying. 

We were originally supposed to go diving at Aonang Bay on July 4th, but the conditions weren’t good enough. Because that got moved to July 5th, we decided that we would go to a local attraction on the 4th called Tiger Cave Temple. It’s kind of like a floating temple in the sky. It was supposed to have a good view with a giant golden Buddha at the top. To get there, you must walk up 1260 steps (more on that later).

Yet, we when looked at ticket prices to have a local taxi or tour take you to Tiger Cave, it was roughly 1200 baht, which is $40. I don’t really pay $40 for anything lightly, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay $40 to walk up some stairs. However, I found a Trip Advisor thread from about 5 years ago that discussed getting to Tiger Cave on a budget. A girl named Natalia from Chicago (who looked similar to me and Caroline based on her profile picture) commented saying she got there and back with only 200 baht by taking the local transportation. 

The local transportation in Thailand are called songthaews – you can Google to see a picture. They have public ones that operate for 50 baht or so between towns. She said if we took a white songthaew to Krabi Town from Ao Nang (where we stayed) and then a red songthaew from Krabi Town to Tiger Cave then we’d get there for around 100 baht one way. She also included rough landmarks on where the songthaews picked up. 

We had no idea whether this information would still be relevant 5 years later, but we thought we’d at least try because the first set of instructions was nearby. And sure enough, step by step by step we made it to (and from) Tiger Cave via local transport. 

To be honest, taking Thailand’s local transportation was the most fun part of the whole experience for me. The 1260 steps part was actually hell on Earth in the heat, and I’m not sure I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. I actually threw out the shirt I wore that day when we got back. People would walk up a flight of steps and then sit down because they were so steep. There were warnings at the bottom about not doing it alone and not having enough water. The view was nice, but I’ve been blessed with better views and wouldn’t do it again. 

The next day, we went diving, and it was probably the most disappointing diving experience I’ve had to date. Nothing went wrong, but I had my first male dive master, and he just didn’t really do much to help with learning or exploring. The bright side was that the water was SO warm. I tend to have trouble conserving oxygen if I’m cold at all, and this was the first time I’ve been diving without being cold. 

On the 6th, we flew to te capital of Thailand, Bangkok, where we watched the US women win the FIFA World Cup, went to the floating market, and saw some other cool city sights. Honestly, Bangkok was a lot of malls. We would duck into them relatively frequently when we needed an AC break. What surprised me most about Bangkok was that not that many people spoke English. My original impression of it was that many people would as it’s a large city, but far more did in the more touristy tiny towns. It was tough to navigate local food stalls where only a random guest may be able to translate for you. 

After Bangkok, we spent four days in Chiang Mai. We saw a lot of wats and spent even more time at the spa. I got a foot scrub and a body scrub/oil massage. We went to see the elephants on our second to last day. It was still touristy in the sense that it wasn’t inexpensive, but we participated in what is called eco-tourism. This is tourism that’s specifically designed towards helping conserve wildlife or environments that are being threatened. There used to be hundreds of thousands of elephants in Thailand and now there are less than 400. There were around 8-10 elephants at the sanctuary we visited. The center uses the money we paid to not only care for the elephants they have but to also buy other ones out of captivity. There was a mother and a baby there that they had just bought from the circus.

They also catered to tourists/visitors by selling beer, smoothies, etc. to go with the provided dinner items after we fed and bathed the elephants, and all the proceeds go back to aiding and protecting them. 

I also found a woman who could cut my hair in Chiang Mai because most Asian hair stylists won’t touch foreign hair. I’m now 6 inches lighter which is glorious in the heat. I would send pictures, but I have taken absolutely none since cutting it on the last day because of the flu. I’ll get some in Cambodia, so you can see. 

On the morning of our flight to Phnom Penh, I woke up feeling sick but not awful. A sore throat I attributed to a possible oncoming cold, a headache I attributed to possible dehydration/typical migraine symptoms, and body aches that I thought could be from yoga or my massage the day before. By the end of the day, I felt like I did the time I had the flu in the 6th grade, and I lost my record for not having missed a day of school in 5.5 years.

The flu typically lasts 5-7 days, and tomorrow will be day 5, so I think I’m rounding out into the last day or so of it. This afternoon was a lot better, and I lost track of when I last took medication which is always a good sign.