Exploring Thailand - What kind of vacation are you looking for?

When planning any vacation, whether it be domestic or international, a big question in the planning process is typically, who am I going with?!

Everyone has certain things they want out of a trip so make sure you know what kind of experience everyone is looking for and what people are/are not willing to do. This can change or influence the people you chose to go with.

I planned a trip to Thailand with 3 other friends and to start off I must say, traveling in a group of 4 is a great number. It's easy to get everyone to a consensus and if you did want to split up, everyone has a buddy.

We had a very diverse group in terms of vacation styles. There were a few of us who loved to party, some who enjoyed relaxing by the beach, as well as adventure seekers.

With so much to do and see in Thailand it was easy to keep everyone happy. Here is how we got a little bit of everything all in one trip!

  • RELAX - Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi was my favorite part of Thailand. Since the island is so small you can only get there by boat. There is a 2 hour ferry ride from Phuket you can take, and the views along the way are stunning.

One great thing about Phi Phi is that it has two sides; a quiet and a rowdy side. For the relaxing portion of our stay we found a resort with gorgeous looking tree house/bungalows called the Viking Natures Resort. This could be considered a “glamping” experience. You really felt like you were in the middle of the jungle but you also had amenities like a full working bathroom.

Most of the popular beaches in Thailand are flooded with tourists but during this stay we had our own private beach which was very peaceful. Hours were spent sleeping and reading with nothing but the sound of rolling waves onto the sand. On the far side of the beach was a hut set up for massages. When getting a Thai massage it is important to be aware of the pressure. Woman will use their entire weight to press into your body. There is a lot of cracking and twisting so depending on your pain tolerance these massages will either create or relieve a lot of tension.

Personally, I love the ocean, so swimming and being in the water is always a big part of any vacation I take. Boat tours are very popular throughout the islands in all shapes and sizes. You can find speed boat tours as well as larger ferry style boats but long tail boats are the most popular around the islands. After looking at various tours I found Pirate Tours which was not only one of the most affordable for a full day but it was also a private tour. There is a pre set itinerary for the day but since it was a private tour we had flexibility with what areas we wanted to see and how long we wanted to stay at each location.

Some spots we visited were Viking Cave, Nui Beach, Pileh Lagoon and Maya Bay. Maya Bay is one of the more popular attractions because this is where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. Years of tourism has put a strain on the land so to preserve this beautiful beach, tourists are no longer allowed. Boats can still be parked close to the area where you can appreciate it from afar.

We saw a lot of wildlife during our boat day, some were much more welcome than others. While snorkeling through various parts of the island we saw a baby shark (not sure what kind) as well as a turtle and some jellyfish. At one point I was swimming back to the boat at a high speed and felt a pinch on my upper lip. When I popped my head back into the water I saw a transparent body floating in front of me and realized I was looking at a small jellyfish. In sheer panic I raced to the boat but our captain assured me that I was going to be fine (and no I did not need someone pee on the sting). It would have been a pretty terrible spot to be peed on. Luckily this was the most dangerous jellyfish we came in contact with.

We stopped at a few bay areas and also some different beach spots. Nui bay’s beach had glistening white sand and grand standing rock formations. As we were walking along the beach I was in awe of the view, but then I looked down I saw bottle caps, cans, plastic bags and other trash. It was really shocking to see that people could even think of littering in a place like this, somewhere that looks so untouched. I went back to the boat, grabbed a bag that carried our lunches and began picking up trash along the beach. No matter where you go whether It's across seas, different continents or just down the street, put your trash where it belongs!

I felt good being able to clean up and do my part to keep this beautiful place pristine. When we got to the next destination I physically saw how important it is to properly throw away your trash.

We had heard a lot about Monkey Beach while in Phi Phi and so we wanted to check it out as. When we got there I saw a monkey drinking out of a soda can. Our captain thought it was funny and said sometimes they drink beer. It may seem funny in the moment but what about when that monkey cuts itself or eats part of that metal? What seems like a joke can turn into something serious. If you love wildlife and want to see these animals flourish you need to make sure you respect their space.

  • PARTY - Phi Phi and Bangkok

The other side of Phi Phi is where you can find some great bars and nightlife. The craziest party we went to was definitely the Ibiza House; which is a Hostel that has daily pool parties. We had an amazing time there but I am very thankful we did not stay at the hostel because the opportunity to sleep seemed small. People were dancing around for hours swigging around small plastic buckets. Buckets of alcohol are extremely popular throughout Thailand. It is said that bars started using these small plastic buckets so that tourists could still drink even if they were carrying bags or luggage. Now, luggage or not, it is a blast sharing a bucket with friends.

We bought buckets upon buckets while at the Ibiza House. As the night grew later it was tough to be in the pool without getting pool water in your bucket but at that point you don't even care.

After the pool party we walked around the beach where people were running around, dancing, drinking and just having a great time.

When most people think Thailand, Bangkok quickly comes to mind. Bangkok is the epitome of hustle and bustle. There are so many people lining the streets, walking around and selling goods. You can also drink outside so everyone is walking around with drinks in hand.

Khaosan Road is one of the more popular places to be when going out in Bangkok. There are bars all along the road that are very open to the street. Since you can take beverages to go and drink on the street the bars don’t seem too worried about having walls or doors.

My favorite part about Bangkok are the Tuk Tuks. But beware of people trying to rip you off. If someone comes up to you on the street offering you advice of where to go for the day, do not believe them. We learned afterwards that it is a very common scam for people to tell you the temples are closed for an event and give you a list of other places to go. They will get a Tuk Tuk driver to take you around to spend money at their friends businesses instead of seeing the temples. They will then bring you to the temples when they are actually closed for the day.

Our second day in Bangkok we were able to see temples like Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. It is very important to remember when you are going to temples that you are wearing the proper clothing or they will not let you in. Since you have to be covered up I would recommend hitting as many temples as you want to see all in one day. Women are not allowed to show shoulders or knees (and of course mid drift) when going to the temples. There are some temples that make men cover their shoulders as well. If you are not wearing something modest enough many temples do have stands outside where you can rent a shall or skirt.

If you’re looking for an educational experience at the temples, do your research ahead of time, as there is not much literature about the history of the temples once you get there.

  • EXPLORE - Chiang Mai and Phuket

If you are going to be doing any shopping, Chiang Mai is the place to do it. There are huge night markets that stretch on for miles. Grab a Tuk Tuk to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and start walking. Pretty much every area you visit in Thailand will have night markets with similar, if not the same, merchandise but the best prices we found are in Chiang Mai. My favorite part about the night markets is haggling. It’s always exciting to get a good deal so it was fun negotiating and throwing out prices for the things you want to buy. Most of the shopping there is for clothes and trinkets but there are also a lot of food stands as well. A must try is the Durian fruit. This is very well known in Thailand, mainly for how much it stinks. I mean this literally, durian is banned in most forms on public transportation because of its potent aroma.

Chiang Mai is further north and so there is much more greenery. We had our most adventurous day swinging from tree top to tree top; if you don't mind heights I highly recommend ziplining. Our tour was booked through The Flight of the Gibbon and I would 100% do this again if I ever go back. The tour started with a 15 minute hike to the first platform. Connected by a rope and a small pulley, we would swing down from one platform to the next, sometimes going backwards, or if you were feeling extra adventurous, upside down. The highest platform was 50 meters or about 160 feet high. Zipping through the canopy of this beautiful forest was both thrilling and serene.

Chiang Mai also had many temples that we explored. A few must sees are Wat Chiang Man and Wat Chedi Luang. These Temples had a lot of smaller buildings and landscape surrounding the main temple so it was great to walk around and see different architecture.

Elephants are a must see when going to Thailand. With all the mistreatment of animals in our society today I wanted to make sure I was doing my due diligence to find the most ethical, well-run facility. After a lot of research I decided on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. They have a few locations in Thailand and we chose to do the one in Phuket. (I have heard the Chiang Mai location is also very nice)

Visiting this sanctuary was an amazing eye opening experience. Like our other, excursions we were picked up and transported to the location. When we first arrived our guide told us she was going to make us feel a little uncomfortable before we got started. This is when she shared the stories of the elephants they have recused and the horrible treatment most captive elephants endure. These elephants have been rescued from lodging and entertainment companies. Most of them were used especially for riding. Before researching for this trip I did not know much about elephant riding and how bad it can really be. Some of these companies will take babies from their mothers right after birth (elephants are pregnant for about 2 years) and immediately begin beating the babies until they know how to obey commands. Because tourism is so high these companies will make elephants ride for hours on end in back to back tours with no rest or food. This can lead them to being underweight and ill. Once these animals are too old or weak to work some places will even leave them tied to trees to starve to death. They think, why would we keep feeding an elephant who can't work?

These poor creatures are put through so much torment that is completely undeserved.

If you love animals and you want to see them and experience being with them, make sure you do your research and go to the right places.

After being with the elephants all day, I was confident that this was a quality sanctuary. Not only did we get to make food for the elephants but we also spent a lot of time feeding and petting older, retired elephants. Elephants can eat 200-600 pounds of food a day. After they had their snack, the elephants had a bit of a spa day. We went over to a mud pit and rubbed mud all over their bodies. After their mud bath we washed them off in another water pit nearby. Elephants bond through water and it was so nice feeling so close to such majestic creatures. They were spraying water out of their trunks and rolling around in the pool of water.

A lot goes into planning an international trip so know what you want and be prepared. The more prepared you are the less you will have to worry about once you are there. Soak up your surroundings and enjoy all that a new culture has to offer.

Finally, the most important part of any trip; take the time to appreciate where you are and the fact that you got yourself there.

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