During spring break, my friends and I decided to venture to the heat and spend about 11 days in Thailand.
One week prior to our departure, 2 friends came to Kanayama for a week’s visit–we hiked Mt. Mitsumine, ate lovely dinners with 2 different families, had a traditional green tea (まっちゃ）ceremony, visited the megaliths, and introduced them to delicious HIDA cuisine. It was great having them in Japan and showing them my town, but we were definitely ready to push aside the cold and head to sunshine and warmth. We were greeted by my lovely friend, Gaew, and her father. When we arrived at their house, we met the other 2 members of our group and the 6 of us were finally together in Thailand after months of planning (…mostly on Gaew’s part).
Warm would definitely be an understatement for the heat we experienced in Thailand. We spent our spring break in Thailand during the hottest months imaginable! Everyday was in the mid 90s to low 100s Fahrenheit (around 35-40 degrees Celsius). But that sure didn’t stop us from going everywhere and trying to see everything.
Although we only spent barely 3 full days in Bangkok they were quite busy. Our first night we stayed at my friend’s house and we were treated to amazing hospitality and breakfast. We were fortunate enough to stay at my friend’s condo the other days we were in Bangkok and took the subway to most of the places we wanted to go. We rode tuk tuks and a long boat our first official day in Thailand and Bangkok. It was a busy day as we were boarding the night train to Chiang Rai that evening. We visited the Temple of Dawn and the Grand Palace, which was a lot to take in the first day.
After we dropped our bags at the station, I helped bargain down the price for 2 tuk tuks to carry the 6 of us to our first adventure in the city. We ended up going to a long boat pier, bargained a free water bottle for the ride, and set off on our water ride journey. It definitely wasn’t as fast as we expected, but it was a nice break from the heat and the sun. After some time, we made it to our first sight-seeing destination: Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)
Deriving its name from the Hindu god Aruna, this Buddhist temple stands as one of the best known landmarks of Thailand. It has some very interesting architecture, and steps so steep you HAVE to hold the handrails just to get up and down (definitely not for all those who are afraid of heights…).
Then we took the long boat and headed just in time to make it inside the Grand Palace. Adorned with jewels, mirrors, glass, sculptures, statues, and everything in between, it was likeinto an enchanted kingdom. The buildings were extravagant, the artistry was divine, and my camera shutter was getting its work cut out for itself. The culture, history, and religion embodied at the Grand Palace makes you feel a little more “worldy” and I was just in awe of all the work and imagination that went into designing every little detail. This is definitely a sight not to miss if you venture to Thailand!
On our very last 2 days of out 10 day extravaganza we took time to make our own Magnum ice cream bar, eat some more yummy breakfast foods, and buy lots of souvenirs at Chatuchak Weekend Market. There was so much to see, smell, taste, eat, hear, touch, and buy. If you really wanted to be able to go through the entire market, you’d need the entire weekend to do so.
CHIANG MAI & CHIANG RAI
After taking a night train from Bangkok, we arrived in Chiang Mai, a city in the northern part of Thailand. It was a nice break from the city scene into the country side. Although it is definitely still city, it didn’t seem nearly as crowded or hectic as Bangkok. During our short visit to Chiang Mai, we spent the first day exploring the National Forest, visiting 2 waterfalls, and even taking a dip into the cool waters. We even drove and stood on the highest elevation point of all of Thailand. Later that evening, we attend dinner at the Cultural Center where we ate great food and had wonderful Thai cultural dances performed. The outfits and music were great, plus the audience was able to participate at the end. Needless to say, Gaew, Molly, and I had no shame and jumped up on stage with the other visitors. Later that evening we watched another set of performances outside and then strolled around the night market. I was in desperate need of long, flowy pants because my legs were getting bit pretty bad. Let’s just say my legs and mosquitoes are to big families and buffets…In addition to exploring the forests, we also went to some really amazing sights. Here’s a quick break down of each place we visited:
The Royal Twin Pagodas–Known as Doi Inthanon National Park, this sight is were two gorgeous pagodas stand in commemoration of the Thai King and Queen’s birthdays.The full names of these pagodas were Phra Maha Dhatu Nabha Metaneedon and Phra Maha Dhatu Nabhapol Bhumisiri. You can get to these pagodas by climbing the stairs or taking escalators. There are hundreds of beautiful flowers surrounding both pagodas and even a small bridge and pond when you visit the queen’s pagoda.Although it is very high up, we weren’t able to see much of a view.The area is well kept and the murals and stories within each pagodais very interesting and very detailed.
The White Temple, in Chiang Rai–Known as What Rong Khun, this marvelous spectacle was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat. Although construction of this temple began in 1996, he is always making additions and changes, and it’s expected to be completed around 60 to 90 years after his death. The artist’s vision is to bring a new life to contemporary Thai art. The graphic sculptures, designs, and artistry that went into this temple is
extraordinary. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. In addition to the artist, there are about 60 apprentices that work with him to bring his vision to life.
And another interesting thing about this temple is that it’s all privately funded; the reason is because he doesn’t want his vision to be tainted by pressure and ideals from government or other big companies. Not only i Kositpipat a designer, but he is a magnificent artist. Visitors can view his original art pieces in the museum located next to the temple. They range from wildlife and portraits, to images of Buddah, Nirvana, and Bush and Osama Bin Laden riding on a missile aimed for outer space—the title is called, “Love each other world peace.”
Long Neck Village–Situated next to a small village where artisan crafts, amazing beading and quilting are done, is a small area where long-necked women live. After paying a small fee to support these women and their crafts, visitors are allowed to walk in this small courtyard where long-necked women sit in their huts weaving scarves and spinning thread. I politely asked if I could take their picture.There were some small tour groups who had entered the village, so I tagged along to listen to what the guide had to say (luckily, in English). What I got out of their talk is that these women volunteer from surrounding villages to come and live here to help sell the scarves and to show the world a little insight into their world. The rings they place around their necks are fused together and after a couple years, a near stack is place on their neck. At the age of 12, they take part in this practice, but some even start earlier at ages of 8. They continue to place rings until they’re married. Although I didn’t stay to hear all of what the guide said, that’s most of what I was able to pick up.One woman showed me pictures of her daughters and the process of removing the rings and clamping on new, longer stacks.
The way the rings are placed are like cuffs that are open, placed around the neck region, and then fused together. There is a debate going on in communities whether or not this is a human rights issue, but I honestly can’t pick a side. Choice, culture, beauty, feminism; it’s all a mish-mosh. But I can say that I am very humbled for these women to share their story and show me a glimpse into their lives.
The Golden Temple–Also located in Chiang Rai, this temple is, as it is called, golden. There were many stairs to climb to get to the top, but once inside, you were surrounded by such magnificent paintings, statues, and golden items. I was kneeling inside one prayer area taking pictures, and all of a sudden the monk started praying and splashing some type of holy water on the crowd. Afterwards, we all were directed towards the monk and apprentice to receive blessings and a white yarn was wrapped around our wrists. It was a very unique and humbling experience.
Tiger Kingdom–Baby, small, medium and large tigers that have been trained since they were cubs. Tigers aren’t drugged. Pay a fee. Sign a waiver. Pray they don’t hurt you, eat you, and kill you. Take pictures. Enough said.
After taking the night train back to Bangkok, eating some breakfast, and taking showers, we flew from Bangkok to Phuket!
We stayed in a hotel 5 minutes away from the beach. After checking in and putting our bags down, we walked along the beach and took pictures of the beautiful scenery, especially the long boats. As we walked along further down the beach, we chose a cute restaurant, sat down, and enjoyed the sunset as we ate dinner.
The next day we split up into 2 groups; Molly, Sean, and I rented a long boat for the day and Gaew, Sean M., and Davien went on scooters and toured the southern part of the island. We went fishing 3 different times in the day , went snorkeling, and rested at a beach, sipping delicious coconut shakes. Our captain’s name was Yam Yam and he was easily amused at the ridiculous and humorous things we said. The best phrase said in the day? “We have deal.” At the end of our busy day, we definitely had 2 big categories of souvenirs from the day’s adventure: pictures and sun burns.
The last day, Gaew, Davien, Sean M., and I took a tour with a speed boat company to the Similan Islands. Because it is a national park, the money that goes toward the tours also help support the conservation efforts of the islands and the aquatic animals. We had a unique mix of people on our boat; 2 Americans, 4 Thai, 1 Chinese, and 33 Russians…To say it was interesting might be an understatement. We spend the day taking a 1.5 hour boat road there and back. We stopped at a couple locations to go snorkeling and I even got to jump off the boat into the water 😀 We had lunch and played in the water and beach at one island. And we got to see a sea turtle!!!
Although we only had 2 full days in Phuket, we celebrated the evening in our room, sharing stories of trip and drinking our last beers in Phuket. It was a fun time, and I would definitely go back to Phuket again someday.
Overall, I had an amazing time touring Thailand. I experienced a new culture, new foods, new places, and new sights. The best part was getting to share it all with some amazing friends, both new and old . I can’t wait to see all of their pictures and I can’t wait to go on my next adventure 🙂
Wishing on a Star