Bangkok & Beaches, Thailand

Matt and I have both been aching for Thailand since we left in June 2013. Since leaving, we’ve dreamed of the next time we would be back. We’ve imagined what it would be like to visit our favorite beaches, favorite restaurants, and favorite street vendors (and sincerely hoped they would still be there)!

I wasn’t at all surprised that arriving in Bangkok felt like coming home. Kind of like when we were kids and we would spend a week, or even a weekend, away from home. As we drove past Plainville School my heart would be pounding, anticipating the view of Rice Lake, the long windy hill into the village, our gravel drive-way leading up to Lilac Lodge and all the changes Nana and Grandpa had made in the house. Pulling onto Sukhumvit in stop-and-go traffic felt remarkably similar.

Our two week itinerary was extremely slow paced and gave use plenty of time to do all of the things we love without rushing or having to wake up early (sleep is very important for teachers on vacation!). We wandered Bangkok in search of craft beer (which doesn’t exist in Doha), visited some of our favorite shops and Chatuchak Market, ran some errands (things that are more affordable in Thailand compared to Qatar – like glasses, contact lenses and gluten-free cooking supplies), shopped for art, relaxed on the beach, got massages (sometimes more than one a day), went to yoga, logged a few dives, rented a motorbike and ate so much delicious food.

Our Itinerary:

Bangkok (3 nights): 

We spent our first night in BKK with a friend from ISB having dinner, drinks and catching up on Soi 8. The next morning she headed home to Canada for the holidays, but kindly offered her apartment as our home-base. It was perfect and filled with Mexican art because she used to live in Monterrey! It was so cozy, central and exactly what we needed to kick start our slow-paced vacation.

We went to Cabbages and Condoms for lunch (which is always yummy and entertaining), rode the BTS, spent an afternoon at Chatachuk  weekend market shopping for spices, essential oils and art, ate an amazing Indian dinner at Charcoal Tandoor Grill on Soi 11 (highly recommended) and discovered CRAFT on Soi 23. It was a bit pricey, but considering Matt’s love for beer, we parked our butts here all night long.

Koh Lipe (4 nights): 

A bit off the beaten path compared to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches, Koh Lipe is by far the most beautiful island I’ve been to in Thailand and definitely worth the trek to get there. The entire island is walkable, the beaches are incredible, the food was amazing, drinks from Happy Vibe Bar and Cast Away Resort went down smoothly everyday and I found an adorable yoga studio called Kierita’s Yoga next to our hotel with Ashtanga Yoga classes every morning. We only stayed for 4 nights, but could have easily parked ourselves on Sunset Beach for weeks.

Koh Lanta (5 nights): 

I don’t know how I never made it to Koh Lanta when I was living in Thailand. Do I ever regret it! It was wonderful. Much larger and more developed than some of the other islands, which means it was completely different than Koh Lipe, but it had so much to offer.

We stayed at a lovely guest house called Cozy Guesthouse, which is run by a friendly Swedish couple and their Thai staff. The room was comfortable and spacious, the service was great and the breakfast and lunch options were delicious. Within walking distance we found Pra Ae Beach, Dive and Relax (one of the top rate dive shops on the island), and a variety of restaurant options. On the days we weren’t diving, we rented a motorbike and used it to tour around the island. I used the bike to drive myself to morning yoga classes at Oasis Yoga.  We visited with old friends from Thailand, spent Christmas Day and had dinner with colleagues from Doha, and soaked up some sunshine before heading back to the city.


Bangkok
(3 nights): 

Back in Bangkok and our friend had other guests at her place so we stayed at a hotel on Soi 21 (next to Terminal 21). While I can’t recommend the hotel, the location was great – close to the BTS, CRAFT  (yes, we went back), and lots of street food options. We visited China Town and Pak Klong Talad (wholesale flower market) then walked to Koh San road for people watching, shopping fisherman style pants and cheap drinks. One evening we met up with some friends from Doha for dinner. They recommended a place called El Mercado, which was unreal. It was hands-down one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. I’m still dreaming about the cheese platter, sausage spread and red wine. Matt got a suit made for our upcoming vow-renewal ceremony at Jesse & Son and I went to Villa Market to stock up on gluten-free baking and cooking supplies. On our last evening, we went to H&M to buy something to wear, freshened up in the mall bathroom and headed up to the Red Sky Rooftop Bar.

We said good bye to Bangkok with a glass of wine and beautiful sunset over the city. What a perfect way to end our vacation! Until next time, Thailand! See you soon!

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My Favourite City in Thailand: Chiang Mai

For my last weekend in Thailand, Matt and I ventured to Chiang Mai. It was his first time, my fourth, and I still couldn’t get enough. This is one of my most favourite places in Thailand. The air is fresh, the people are kind and there is always something new to see or do.

My favourite guest house is called Yindee Stylish Guest House, which is located in the Old City. The location is great and the owner Jazz is such a kind, helpful man. Here is the contact information: http://yindee-guesthouse-chiangmai.com/.

We spent our first day roaming around Old City (failing to follow a map and feeling lost the entire time). We wandered around the markets and used book stores, had one too many fruit smoothies, admired many of the golden temples and stopped for a few refreshing Chang beers.

Since we were tight for time, we decided to hire a driver on the second day to take us to several places outside of the city center. We went bamboo rafting, to a Long Neck village (which I strongly suggest avoiding), to Tiger Kingdom and shopping for Thai silk.

Throughout the year I traveled to Chiang Mai several times without visiting the Karen villages, in fears of it feeling like a ‘human zoo.’ With great hesitation, we were convinced to stop briefly at a village (or should I say tourist trap?) just outside of Tiger Kingdom. It was exactly as I had imagined and we immediately regretted the decision. The children were begging (and very clearly encouraged to do so) and the women were only interested in conversing with us to sell their crafts.I would say it was the farthest thing from an authentic cultural experience and would strongly encourage travelers in Thailand to skip these types of villages (especially if you aren’t informed about it).

Next we went to the Tiger Kingdom, which I was also hesitant about at first. Friends from school had been before, loved it and assured me that the tigers weren’t sedated. We read reviews on tripadvisor.com and decided to check it out. We were pleasantly surprised at how incredible the experience was! The tigers seemed to be happy, healthy, fully awake and treated well. Check it out: http://www.tigerkingdom.com/Home.htm.

Then we went shopping for silk! Who knew there would be so many choices. I think Lee liked her birthday gift from Matt!

Another incredible trip to Chiang Mai.. and I can’t wait to go back again!

Winter Break in the Sunshine

It’s hard to believe that it is already February.. where has the time gone? February means that winter break has come and gone.. I was so lucky to have 3 weeks off and I got to spend two of them with Matt!

We spent our first day in Bangkok getting a suit fitted at Raja Fashions between Soi 6 and Soi 8. One suit turned into two suits, two dress shirts and two ties (all of which turned out stunning). We had so much fun picking out fabrics, enjoying complimentary beverages (and the occasional spring roll, or 10) and picking out the styles. An hour and a half later, we were ready to hit Soi 11 for lunch and make our way to the airport, en route to the beach!

We spent two days in Ao Nang, Krabi where we ate Massaman Curry, Tom Yam Soup, Green Curries, Red Curries, Som Tam (Thai style papya salad), Pad Thai and so much pineapple. Our best meal was at hole in the wall restaurant close to the beach (called Jamai Restaurant), where we watched a Muslim-Thai woman cook  right in front of us. We spent the entire day on the beach checking out the monkeys, people watching, snapping beautiful pictures and catching up. It’s so nice to be together and I often have moments when it hits me that we are in THAILAND and TOGETHER!

On day 3, we took a long tail boat for 100 THB each to Railay. Our hotel was on East Beach and the boat dropped us off at West. Fortunately a sister hotel to ours took us and all of our luggage in a golf cart to the other side (by this point I’ve realized that I definitely packed far too much.. I think I was prepared for an entire month on the road.. woops). Railay is such a cool place! It turns out that to walk from East to West Beach is only about 10 minutes. The vibe is very chill, with many backpackers and climbers hanging out. West Beach has lots of fancy hotels with restaurants along the beach. We quickly discovered that the food and drinks were overpriced and definitely not as tasty as the smaller local Thai places. East Beach has more of the backpacker vibe, with Bob Marley and Jack Johnson beats pumping from every bar. We found a really yummy Thai food spot on East Beach where we sat on Thai style cushions at a low table looking over the ocean.

We did lots of exploring in Railay.. spent an entire afternoon at Phra Nang Beach (and Phra Nang Cave), which is the most beautiful place we have seen yet. There are so many long tail boats, even ones that are set up as restaurants with two or three people working inside cooking everything from BBQ corn on the cob to hamburgers and Thai dishes. We had some tasty treats and ice cold beers while lazing on the white sand. Such a magical place! Late afternoon we hiked to the lookout point.. it was quite a trek, especially in flip flops (we agreed that it was enough climbing for one trip so we will skip out on rock climbing this time!).

After two wonderful nights in Railay, we packed up and moved again to Koh Phi Phi. Looking back, I am wishing that we set up home base in Ao Nang and did all of our exploring from there. It has been a drag to pack up and move every couple of days.. but every time we arrive in a new place I’ve felt good about it. To get to Koh Phi Phi we took a taxi (which I was imagining to be a regular taxi.. but it turned out to be a boat) to Krabi Town, where we transferred to a van which drove us to the pier. We took a big ferry for about two hours from Krabi to Koh Phi Phi. When we got to the pier here, we took another long tail boat to the hotel.

Unfortunately Matt got a bad case of food poisoning in Koh Phi Phi which knocked him out for a full 24 hours. The worst part is that we were staying in a bamboo style beach hut with no AC and only 1 fan (which wasn’t even working that night because the power was out). Not a pleasant experience. When he got feeling better, we went on a boat tour around the island. It was a lot of fun, with beers, rum, Thai style rice, snorkeling, kayaking and stops at ‘Viking Cave’ and the famous Maya Bay. When the sun went down, Matt and some of the others went snorkeling with glowing phytoplankton! He said it was a highlight of his trip (I was of course too cold to join in the fun, so I’ve added it to my ‘to-do before I leave Thailand’ list.

The next day we ventured into Koh Phi Phi  town where we walked around for a few hours before heading back to Ao Nang for New Years Eve. We were so glad to spend the last two days of our trip in Ao Nang. What a wonderful place to spend New Years Eve. We bought Thai lanterns, made wishes and watched them float over the ocean. There were many Thais and foreigners mingled together on the beach watching the fireworks, cheering, drinking and floating lanterns into the sky. I couldn’t have asked for a better night.. and would go back to Ao Nang for New Years in a heartbeat.

We spent the last few days of Matt’s trip in Nichada (I gave him a tour of the school and the community) and downtown Bangkok. We ate mangostien on the side of the road, rode together on the back of a motorcycle (Thai style) to the mall and had a McDonald’s cheeseburger “just to see if they taste the same.” We took a river taxi to the Grand Palace, ate fried rice at a street stall, drank freshly squeeze pomegranate juice, went to see ‘The Hobbit’ first class (with a 15 minute massage, glass of wine, and reclining chairs with pillows and blankets) and ventured to Khao San Road for one last Thai meal. Looking back, we did so much in such a short period of time. I couldn’t have asked for a better two weeks together!

Chiang Mai

I had an absolutely wonderful long weekend in Chiang Mai with the Samakee crew. We headed up Thursday night (flew Air Asia which was 30 minutes late, as I’ve heard is always the case) and had free airport transportation to the hotel when we arrived. We booked our hotel online through bookings.com and it was a steal! The hotel was called Chiang Thai House and was about 10 minutes walking distance from the night bazaar and walls of the Old City. I would highly recommend it… the rooms were clean, cute and comfortable, breakfast was good and the shower head was perfect!


Chiang Thai House

Immediately, I fell in love with this city. The pace of life is so much slower than in Bangkok. Everyone was friendly and the city felt much less congested. It had quiet streets lined with used book stores, fruit smoothie stands, markets, markets, more markets, art shops, yoga studios and incredible Wats. For those of you reading from home, I would compare Chiang Mai to downtown Kingston as Bangkok is to downtown Toronto. Much more low key and easier to breathe!

Chiang Mai Streets

On Friday we spent some time wandering the Old City, walking barefoot in the sacred Wats and checking out the neat shops. We took a pickup taxi to the Thai Silk Factory where we all did a little Christmas shopping.


Thai Silk Factory

From 3:30 – 8:00 we went to a Thai cooking class by a company called Basil. Check out their website: http://www.basilcookery.com/home/! First our instructor Tom took us to the local market and taught us all about the different herbs, vegetables and spices. I wish I did this the day I moved to Thailand.. I learned so much!


Tom at the Market

When we got back to the kitchen we made a 6 course meal! I chose: Spring Rolls, Pad Thai, Hot and Sour Prawn Soup, Red Curry with Bamboo Shoot, Stir Fried Minced Pork with Holy Basil and Deep Fried Banana. I told Matt that after this class he’ll fall more in love with me. We’ll see about that..


The Kitchen

Katie and I showing off our Spring Rolls!

The Group!

We ended up packing up our leftovers to take back to the hotel because it was just too much to handle! We definitely needed to walk it off before bed, so Tom to drop us off at the Saturday night market to do some exploring. I got a new pair of Thai style pants, a bottle of Chanel perfume (it’s probably fake, but I don’t know the difference) and a pair of rip off Ray Bans for under 30 USD. I love Thailand.

On Saturday we were up bright and early to go to Patara Elephant Farm. It was by far the most amazing thing I’ve done since landing in Thailand. This is the link to their website: http://www.pataraelephantfarm.com/. The farm promotes “ethical and meaningful tourism and happy elephants,” and from what I could see they held true to their motto. The idea is that each person becomes an elephant owner / caretaker for the day. We learned how to read elephants for physical and emotional health, how to care for them properly and some history about elephants in Thailand.

When we first arrived I had my eye on a male elephant who was swaying back and forth, back and forth.. looking totally unimpressed and impatient. The guide kept saying, “He hungry, hungry.” When the guide was pairing us up with our elephants, he first pointed to a timid female elephant for me. Apparently he could tell by my body language that I had my heart set on the swaying, impatient male. He laughed and then introduced me to Poo Jan. Poo Jan was majestic with such a bold personality. While we were trekking through the mountains, he was determined to get food kept holding up the line to grab leaves with his trunk.


Our First Meeting

They gave us traditional Thai elephant riding pants to protect our skin from their thick hair and taught us some basic commands (emphasizing the word “how,” a command that originated from India meaning ‘STOP’). My inner thighs are still aching from holding on so tight.


Trekking Through the Mountains

We made our way to a small waterfall where we washed our elephants from head to toe.


Elephant Bathing Station!

At the end of the day we met a baby elephant that was only 15 days old. She stepped on my foot, which made me laugh because I literally got stepped on by an elephant.


15 Days Old

On Sunday we decided to sleep in (until 8:00, it was amazing!), wake up slowly and practice yoga. We found a small studio inside the Old City and enjoyed some much needed stretching after a day of trekking.


Yoga Studio

The rest of the day we walked around Chiang Mai checking out the markets and taking it all in. The city had a welcoming, chill vibe and I’m already planning to go back! Overall, a fabulous weekend with a group of people that I LOVE traveling with. I’m looking forward to our many more adventures to come!

Erawan Falls, Kanchanaburi

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Erawan National Park

Apologies in advance for the lack of blogging. I’ve been getting busier and busier (for those of you who know me really well know that I NEED to keep busy to function)! I am absolutely loving teaching, I’m getting used to the heat, I am madly in love with Thai food (especially Tom Yum Soup), I start Thai language classes next week (which is a must considering how terrible my Thai is), I just discovered Pinterest (don’t know how that didn’t happen sooner), I’ve been exercising every day and I am finally starting to do some traveling!

My first day trip was to Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi, which is about 3 hours north of Bangkok. It took us closer to 4 hours to get there because our driver kept getting lost.. but the scenery was green, mountainous and beautiful so we didn’t mind. On the way we stopped at ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ where we had a delicious lunch buffet.

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Kari, Lari, Emma, James, David, Maureen, Katie, Kelsey and I!
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Built by Allied war prisoners in WWII for the Japanese to supply their army, this bridge became part of the ‘Death Railway’ form Thailand – Burma (this is not the original).

After spending so much time in the busy heart of Bangkok city and in our Nichada ‘bubble,’ it was so refreshing to hike and swim in the park. The falls have seven levels with paths along the side for hiking up. At some levels there are swimming holes with cool, blue water. There were so many fish swarming around us. They nibble on your fingers, toes and anywhere they can.. I was so surprised at how much I hated them. Apparently they use this kind of fish in spas to eat the dead skin off feet – totally gross.. I would never, ever pay money for that.

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Photo Credits: Emma Gedge
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Kelsey and I ready to jump in!
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Ew, spa fish. Yuck, yuck, yuck!

Yet another check off my list of things to do in Thailand! Looking forward to next weekend in Koh Samet!