Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thailand Trip 2014

When Doug and I started planning our honeymoon, we knew for sure that we wanted to go somewhere that neither of us had been to before. That left a large swath of Europe out since we've both taken a few trips there separately with not much overlap in countries. Spanish-speaking South America seemed a little too similar somehow to my Guatemala trip to visit Doug a few years ago so that was a no-go too. But a place unlike anywhere either of us had been before? Asia seemed like the answer and after some quick research, we decided Thailand would be the perfect intro.

I have to give Doug major props for planning the majority of our honeymoon. While I spent the months before our wedding thinking about bridesmaid shoes and table rentals, Doug developed our whole itinerary and booked all our lodging. Doug, you're the best!

Similar to the post I did about our Spain trip, here's our itinerary, some general observations about Thailand, and our favorite activities/excursions from the trip. I'll follow that up (I promise!) with posts about what we ate and drank in Thailand and during our short pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Bangkok
Day 2: Bangkok
Day 3: Bangkok
Day 4: Bangkok
Day 5: Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Day 6: Chiang Mai
Day 7: Chiang Mai
Day 8: Chiang Mai to Phuket (Karon)
Day 9: Phuket (Karon)
Day 10: Phuket (Karon)
Day 11: Phuket to Ko Lanta
Day 12: Ko Lanta
Day 13: Ko Lanta to Krabi
Day 14: Krabi to Kuala Lumpur
Day 15: Kuala Lumpur

What would we have changed? Our resort in Karon on Phuket was really nice, especially since they upgraded us to a poolside room. But while it was a good change of pace to have a few days of relaxation by the pool and I'm glad we got to experience Patong's nighttime craziness, Ko Lanta's laidback rural vibe was much more our speed than Karon's tacky Russian-filled seaside tourist paradise. Krabi was more of the same (minus the Russians), so looking back we would have swapped a night in Karon for another on Ko Lanta and nixed Krabi altogether for an extra night in Kuala Lumpur.

General Observations

1) Thailand is hot. Like really hot. Somehow when I looked up the weather report the week before we left and saw temps in the 90s, I was unconcerned. I packed 2 hoodies and a jacket plus black skinny jeans to wear on temple days. Wrong. So wrong. The only time I wore a jacket was on the plane and I ended up buying light-weight "genie pants" from a street vendor because the skinnys were not happening. We sweated a lot and drank a ton of bottled water and we made it work- but I think we were both looking forward to Portland's fall weather by the end of the trip.

2) Rick Steves needs to get to Asia ASAP because Lonely Planet sucks. Ok, maybe it doesn't completely suck (Kuala Lumpur's author seemed to have a way better handle on things than Thailand's) but we really missed Rick's walking tours, insights about tourist sights, and food recs. Luckily Doug came across a food blog that was super helpful with street food recommendations, but we did feel like we missed out on some of the significance of a lot of the wots (aka temples) and Buddhist sites that we visited with no Rick to tell us about them.

3) Prepare to be scammed. Doug and I like to think of ourselves as pretty savvy travelers but Thailand really put us to the test. From tuk tuk and shuttle drivers who dropped us off at suit designers and travel agencies before they would take us to our actual destination to what seemed like a city-wide conspiracy in Bangkok to get us to go to the "special one-day only sale" (we liked you, guy running the Leaning Buddha wot and you too, guy from Singapore who told us he used to work at HP), it seemed that no one's friendly or helpful advice or services were actually that. We probably took way too long to learn that anyone who deals with tourists is someone who should not be trusted, with the only exception being people working for excursions like our cooking class or elephant park visit. To be honest, it was a hard lesson to learn because we had been told that the Thai are such friendly people, but it was a lesson that was reinforced over and over again. A bummer for sure, but something that is super important for other travelers to know.

4) Bangkok is the best. A lot of the research we did suggested only spending a couple of days in the city, but Doug ignored that and planned 5 days- and we could have had more. Yes, all the wots and the grand palace did not take long to see, but Thailand's real draw for us was the street food and there was so much to be tasted! We also loved the city's varied public transportation options including the sky train and commuter boats which made it super easy to get around. All in all, we decided it was our second favorite foreign big city after Barcelona and hopefully we'll be back someday.

5) The food is amazing. You've probably already picked up on that, but I'll say it again. Portland has a surprising number of high-quality Thai spots (Pok Pok, Nong's, PaaDee) so we were expecting great things from the motherland and in Bangkok and Chiang Mai especially, she delivered. Stayed tuned for a post about all the most delicious things we ate.

Our Favorite Activities/Excursions:

1) Thai cooking class in Bangkok with Silom Cooking School:
We learned how to make tom yum soup, pad thai, fish cakes, and red curry. Our teacher was very nice and entertaining, the school was spotless, and the food was delicious. We loved it!

Happy Hour Honeys-  Tom Yum Soup from Silom Cooking School in Bangkok

2) Elephant encounter outside Chiang Mai with Elephant Nature Park:
Many places in Thailand focus on trekking aka letting tourist ride elephants through the jungle. While that may seem fun, most if not all of those places do not put the elephants' needs first. That's why we chose to visit Elephant Nature Park instead of going on a trek. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center that is currently home to 41 elephants. Most of those elephants have been saved from trekking camps, illegal logging, circuses, and forced breeding camps and many are blind or suffer from abuse-related injuries. At ENP, we helped to feed and bathe the elephants and got to hang out with them as they enjoyed their day roaming the park. So much fun.

3) Snorkeling around the islands:
There are a ton of companies that offer these 4-island snorkeling trips and they're all pretty much the same but we ended up choosing a long boat tour with Green Group. We had a great time snorkeling around Ko Chuek and Ko Maa , exploring the emerald cave on Ko Mook, and enjoying a Thai lunch on the beaches of Ko Ngai.