Our travel year hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Actually, very few of our plans have successfully played out.
The Tin Can, scheduling, weather and family affairs caused several detours during the past 10 months. I don’t regret anything and I’ve learned so much, but there are many things that I’d change if I could have a do-over.
One thing I wouldn’t change is Vietnam.
I’ve dreamed of coming to Vietnam for years so when it finally happened I was nervous that it would fall short of my high expectations. I was wrong. It is incredible and this country is quickly becoming a favorite, especially the central canal city of HoiAn.
The markets in southeast Asia are phenomenal and we stumbled upon one in HoiAn that seemed surreal. Asian food was everywhere. Produce splattered color on the streets like a Pollock painting. I finally bought a pair of baggy fishermen’s pants that I’ve been eyeing for a month and spent much of the day contemplating how to get the beautiful, hand-painted dishes home without breaking them.
The best part of this market, though, was the people. They’re lovely. They wear their labor like a badge of honor. It is evident in the wrinkles animating their faces, the muscles pulsing in their arms as they carry baskets of goods across the city on their shoulders and the handmade, bamboo boats that sail across the river with the slightest swipe of a paddle. The people are what makes this country so special. So, without further ado, the obligatory photo gallery.
Where are the most interesting people you’ve met while traveling? Comment below and thanks for reading.
Whenever we travel I have a few goals. One is to meet people and hear their stories – where they are from, what it was like growing up, what they do and what drives them. Sometimes the language barrier doesn’t make that convenient so the other goal is what can I learn about myself and the culture I am in.
These are five things I have learned while in Thailand.
1. Always check for toilet paper before going to the bathroom
It is not uncommon for the public restrooms not to have toilet paper, thus you should always check before just strolling in and conducting business. Needless to say – Thailand toilets 1, James soft sided sunglass case 0. (TMI???)
2. The Thai are super nice, except the taxi drivers
Everyone we have met in Thailand has been super nice. They bow and salute and try to be extremely helpful despite the language barrier. The only exception to this is taxi drivers. They are out to get you. This is something we were warned about before embarking on our trip and man is it true. Many of the drivers will refuse to run the meter and you should not ride with them or negotiate with them. Every time we thought about negotiating, the price they said was always several hundred Baht greater than the metered rate.
3. I’m too short to be an American
During our time in Thailand I have been mistaken for an Australian, Scottish, Canadian and “European” but never American. In fact, one Thai did not believe we were American and fought us saying I was “too small” to be American. I’m telling myself this is more due to my lack of eating McDonald’s than my vertical challenge.
4. Thailand can be done really cheap
Thailand is one of the cheapest places we have visited. In fact, as I type this we are in a very cozy hotel that cost us roughly $20 per night. There have been days when we have spent less than $20 and that is living pretty comfortably. However, our thought has been – unless you are trying to live long term – why would you? If you are looking at a 2-3 week vacation you could live like a king. You can get five-star hotels for under $100 a night. You can’t book a Super 8 in some cities in the US for that. You can get an hour long massage for $3-5 dollars, T-Bone steaks for $6 and eat and drink all day for $20-$30. If you wanted, you could stay in five-star hotels, eat at amazing places and be pampered for much less than a European vacation, and that doesn’t even begin to mention the activities like cooking classes, playing with elephants and trekking around in the jungle. So, if you were on vacation why would you skimp when you could live in luxury for much less than you would anywhere else?
5. Crickets don’t taste like Chicken
I’ve seen on TV people like Bear Grylls telling me crickets or other bugs taste like chicken. Although, I can’t exactly describe the flavor, I can tell you the texture is NOTHING like chicken. Although the taste itself is not awful, it is hard to get out of your own head and enjoy a bug with legs and wings sliding down your throat.
*6. Cobra whiskey won’t kill you (bonus from Laos)
We took a day trip to the Golden Triangle of Thailand from Chiang Mai. This is the area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) all come together. We were greeted in Laos with a “welcome drink.” You chose from a drink that had been fermented with one of the following – cobra, turtle and scorpion, gecko, tiger penis (yes you read that correctly) and ginseng. I’m not usually one to shy away from new foods and drinks (see eating a cricket above), but this one had me worried. When our tour guide offered up a small sample of the cobra whiskey I kept thinking to myself, “why do I always have to say I will try anything once (food wise that is)?” So I took a swig thinking the whole time “aren’t these things poisonous?” Well, needless to say I am still here and alive and well. The people of Laos believe each of these fermented drinks offer up different powers. The cobra gives you super strength, the turtle/scorpion gives you long life and you can use your imagination on the tiger penis, but you probably wouldn’t be wrong.
Have you done anything that stretched your comfort zone lately?
We spent our last day in Chiang Mai feeding, walking, bathing and playing with six elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.
It was a bit like a dream. I kept looking at the elephants, especially the larger ones, in awe half expecting to wake up or find the fence that was separating us. But I wasn’t sleeping and there was no fence. I was placing cucumbers and bananas in their trunks, petting the spiky hair on their heads and walking next to their enormous feet.
Our herd included six elephants, two mamas, two younger elephants including a 5-year-old “nanny” who was adopted by one of the families when her mother died and two babies, a 1-year-old and a 9-month-old. The 5-year-old was hilarious and protective of the babies. She was probably my favorite.
The main park was booked up by the time we got around to reserving our spot so we booked their newest program called Elephant Freedom. The organization took over this camp where the elephants were previously being abused and broken in order to provide shows and rides to tourists. Now, the camp is rehabilitating the elephants here and educating the locals about why they shouldn’t be treating the elephants so poorly. We even saw a nearby camp riding elephants, which our guide said the park is hoping to purchase as well. From what I saw, this organization is doing a great thing and I had so much fun with these amazing creatures.
James and I tend to spend more time talking to our guides than most and it paid off big time at the park. Goy took us to see the site’s 2-week-old elephant, Play, who is secluded with her mother until she’s big enough to join the herd. She’s precious. I wanted to stick her in my suitcase and bring her home. At the main park there are too many people to do things like this and we had her all to ourselves for about 10-15 minutes.
There were about 20 other tourists with us that day, which felt a bit crowded at first. I only fed the animals a couple of times that morning but because of that I took the time to step back and take some of my favorite photos of the day, which I probably would have missed if I had stayed at the feeding.
The highlight of the day was a 15 minute stint when the elephants were just roaming in the jungle and the other tourists were sort of over it, sitting on a hillside nearby talking to one another. I stood alone and then with James watching them in peace and taking photos. It was magical. Patience does pay off, as it turns out.
This is absolutely one of my favorite days in Thailand and possibly of our trip so far.
Thailand has gone nothing like we thought it would, yet exactly how we should have expected – completely different than we imagined it would be. That seems to be the never ending, repeating theme of our year so far.
Our first 7 days in Koh Samui we weren’t able to do as much exploring as we would have liked due to poor weather, however, between dodging rain storms we were still able to visit several markets, enjoy the beach for an afternoon and explore a few of the temples the island had to offer.
Afterwards we made our way further north to Koh Phangan. This was exactly what we were wanting when we decided to visit Thailand and go to the islands – pristine beaches, clear blue water and most importantly sunshine. We had plans to hike, kayak, snorkel and possibly even scuba dive…then Whitney got sick and plans got thwarted again. Although once again didn’t get to follow through with plans as anticipated, the trip was not a bust by any means as Whit spent several days laying on the beach and I enjoyed some time swimming, reading and laying around as well.
On the most recent portion of our trip we headed further north inland to Chiang Mai. This city has come highly recommended by multiple people. Coincidentally our first weekend here couldn’t have been at a better time as we arrived to discover their annual Flower Festival was kicking off. As Chiang Mai is called the Rose of the North, they hold a flower festival every year. This one appeared to be more special as Thailand is currently in a state of mourning for their recently deceased King and the floats were almost entirely dedicated to his memory. We had grand plans to take a cooking class, go hiking, visit an Elephant Sanctuary and that was just for starters. Then wouldn’t you know it, I got sick the morning we were on our way to the cooking class. Whitney was able to continue as I caught an Uber back to our apartment. Her pictures and description of the class made me jealous not to have gone, but I was out of commission for the next two and a half days.
Finally, we are both feeling well and ready to enjoy our remaining 8 days in Thailand. We have scheduled the day at the Elephant Sanctuary and are hoping to hire a driver for a day to explore Chiang Rai and the surrounding area before we head to Bangkok for our last few days.
Even though things haven’t gone as anticipated, Thailand has still been quite the adventure.
I like Thai dishes. I like pad thai, fried rice, curry, coconut milk soup, mango sticky rice, banana fritters, thai ice cream and bananas in coconut milk just to name a few. I like them all, but what I love is watching locals prep, cook and stage these dishes.
I love meandering street markets and watching the locals slave meticulously over each dish as if it were a piece of art — and often it is. I’ve been memorized by markets and vendors for weeks and Monday I got a hands on lesson in the culture behind this incredible food.
At an all-day cooking class on a farm outside of Chiang Mai, a kind, passionate, joyous, energetic and hilarious Thai woman taught me about the art behind these scrumptious dishes. (Shout out to Garnet at Thai Farm Cooking School. I paid full price for my class today so this is a truly honest and unbias commentary.)
I felt connected to my food, to the food I’ve been eating in Asia and to the lovely people making it. It was refreshing to smash fresh garlic chive in my hands before smelling and tasting an incredible herb I’d just picked out of the ground. I can’t wait to get home and attempt to recreate some of my favorite recipes for friends and family. But as a little teaser I’ll leave a few delectable photos likely to leave you drooling for your own Thai cooking experience.