Mission Impossible: Getting to the Mosaic Temple in Phetchabun(Wat Phra Sorn Kaew)

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew in Phetchabun(the is in my opinion the most beautiful temple in all of Thailand, rivaled only maybe by the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  There are a MILLION and a half temples in Thailand, so whenever you find one that stands out it’s pretty exciting.  Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is one of the few temples in Thailand that were created as an art form and not just a religious structure, similar to the White Temple.

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As soon as I came to Thailand and saw my friend’s pictures of it, this temple made it towards the top of my Thailand bucket list.  It’s pretty off-the-beaten path for anyone backpacking Thailand.  It’s really difficult to get to, and I don’t think I could’ve done it my first few months in Thailand.  Most foreign tourists who get to this temple do so by organized tour, at least from what I read online.  The only other foreigners I saw at the temple was a small Russian family, so I’m not sure how popular these tours are.

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Phetchabun is a semi-northern province kind of towards the middle of Thailand.  After spending 8-ish days in Pai, I decided to stop in and see this temple on my way back to Bangkok to meet my friends for a music festival.

The Mosaic Temple is located in the mountains of Phetchabun in a town called Khao Kho.  Khao Kho is Thai vacation paradise; there are tons of pretty views and a bunch of resorts.  I made a reservation at a cheap hotel in Khao Kho on Booking.com, but didn’t make it there because I got to neighboring Lom Sak too late.

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Travel hack – always try to book on Booking.com if you’re not sure if you’re going to make it somewhere.  Often you can make reservations with 0 deposit and no credit card information, so you avoid getting charged if you don’t make it somewhere.

Back to Lom Sak.  At the bus station in Chiang Mai I bought a bus ticket to Lom Sak, the biggest city outside Khao Kho, for about 380 baht.  You can also stay in Phetchabun city, which is what some of my friends have done in the past, but that’s an hour away from the temple, as opposed to 30 mintues from Lom Sak.  Also if you’re coming from the North you have to go through Lom Sak to get to Phetchabun city anyways.

Bus Breakdown

I’ve taken a million overnight busses in Thailand and never had an issue.  I’ve never had my stuff stolen, I’ve always felt safe, they’re comfortable and often come with food and an attendance, and they help you save on a night’s accommodation.

However, of course, this time when I’m already headed somewhere I’m completely unfamiliar with AND I’m alone, my bus decides to break down.

NO ONE on the bus spoke English.  So I had to figure out what was going on based on context clues.  After waiting outside the bus for an hour, everyone from our bus AND our stuff crowded onto a passing tour bus from the same company.  With people on it, which means we did it Thai-style – there’s always room for everyone!  I was squeezed into the front of the bus with a bunch of Thai girls about my age, 6 of us to 4 seats.  There were also people in the aisles.

Then we stopped in the middle of nowhere AGAIN and everyone who didn’t have a real seat(me) had to get off.  No one actually told me to get off – I had to guess by everyone staring at me and by copying the Thai girls’ every move.  I probably could’ve snagged a seat but I waited to get on because I was making sure my bag made it on to the bus with me.

Then we waited in the middle of nowheere(at night, mind you) before getting onto yet ANOTHER bus that brought us to a bus station.  Where we had to wait another hour for a bus to come get us at 12:30AM.

I finally got to Lom Sak at around 2:30.  Lom Sak is a small Thai town; very similar to Dan Chang from what I saw.  Therefore no one spoke Enlgish.  There was 1 tuk-tuk driver by the bus station who helped me out.  I mimed “HOTEL! Mai Paeng(not expensive!” and he whisked me off to some random hotel for 400 baht/night.

It was actually a pretty nice hotel, and it was nice having my own room after sleeping on a bamboo cot in a staff dorm at a hostel in Pai for a week.

Mission Impossible

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Then in the morning came actually getting to the temple.  No one at the hotel spoke English, so I went up to the desk to ask for a taxi and showed them a picture of the name of the temple in Thai.  They called a taxi for me, which cost a whopping 800 baht($24).  But I mean it was a private ride to a temple half an hour away and back, so it’s really not bad, I’m just salty because I’m on a budget.

If you go to this temple, definitely bring a friend for a) peace of mind and b) to share costs.

I was even saltier when my “taxi” showed up and it was a freaking songtaew complete with a rooster in the back.

Songtaew – Thai method of transportation consisting of a pick-up truck with benches in the back that’s covered on top.  AKA no air-conditioning.

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The temple was absolutely beautiful, located in the misty mountains of Phetchabun.  My driver even took me to this fancy coffee place with really nice views called Pino’s coffee.  He was really nice, which made me feel bad for yelling at him about showing up with a songtaew.

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Then he brought me to the bus station, and hopped on the bus to Bangkok.  No matter where you are in Thailand, you can ALWAYS find a bus back to Bangkok.

In the end, the whole fiasco was totally worth it, and if you have time to blow in Thailand it’s worth the trek.

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Khao Sok National Park – A Hop Off Thailand’s Beaten Path

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The South of Thailand is known mostly for Full Moon parties, rum buckets, and beautiful beaches.  Few people who come to Thailand know about Khao Sok National Park, the green jungle in between the Andaman Sea and Indian ocean.

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Khao Sok is a national park that’s been around since the 1980s.  It consists of your standard National Park type deal with waterfalls and hiking trails, and more importantly gorgeous limestoe-cliff-filled Cheow Lan Lake, which comes up in any google or Pinterest search of Khao Sok.  Tigers and elephants have even been spotted in the park from time to time.

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During a recent 3-day weekend, my friends & I decided to head down south to check it out.

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Getting There

From Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station (Sai Tai Mai in Thai), you can take an overnight bus to Surathani.  It’s about 10 hours, and the bus we took was only 500 baht(about $15), although they range from 500-1100-ish.  The overnight busses in Thailand are pretty nice, and usually come with water/snacks/food.  On the way back we took Krung Siam, which even included massage-chair seats and personal TVs.  High-so, am I right?

Once you get to the bus station in Surathani, you have to hop on another mini-van that goes to Khao Sok.  Staying in floating bungalows on Cheow Lan Lake an hour further is an option, but we’re peasants, so we opted to stay at Palm View Guest House, which cost 325/baht person for squeezing 4 people into a family-sized bungalow for 2 nights.  I’d highly recommend it; it’s walking distance from the town and park entrance, and the people who work there are super nice.

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The palm trees were freaking HUGEEEEEE. 
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The food at the guesthouse was also DANK.  Shout out to Mama Nu.

AirAsia also has cheap flights from Bangkok to Surathani, and you can get vans from the airport to Khao Sok.

The Park

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After rolling off at overnight bus around 7 AM and checking in to our guesthouse, we went for a 6 KM hike through the forest.  There are plenty of guides around here that offer treks, but again we’re poor, so we did it ourselves.  You can also tube, but it’s February and Thailand is heading towards dry season, so the water in the river was too low.

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The park has a steep entry fee of 300 baht, which is good for 24 hours.  You also can camp inside the park if you’re down with bugs.

Speaking of bugs – thank GOD we didn’t see any, but every other blog I’ve read about Khao Sok says that the leeches are vicious.  Apparently it’s worse during rainy season, so if you visit the park during September-December make sure you bring hella bug spray.  I drenched myself in the stuff regardless.

The hike was decent; there was a pretty nice river to swim in.  But it was rainy so we got lazy and didn’t hike all the way up to a waterfall, after another hiker informed us that it wasn’t that impressive anyways.

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Let’s all take a moment to laugh that we’re all so pale we’re LITERALLY GLOWING.  Vacation time is in order. 

That night we hit up Jumanji, 1 of 3 bars in town, complete with a bunch of hammocks and absolute garbage rasta remixes of pop songs.  Also 1 of 3 rasta bars in town; Khao Sok isn’t much for nightlife, and the town itself is kind of dead.  Because we’re American and obnoxious we even brought our own stuff to make s’mores to the bar, as they had a fire pit.  It was a Thai interpretation with 7/11 crackers instead of graham crackers & kit kats instead of Hershey’, but we did our best.  Festive, am I right?

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Cheow Lan Lake

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Day 2 we woke up chipper bright & early to head to the lake.  We hired a van to take us to that lake that cost 1500 baht, and it took about an hour to get there.  There was yet another steep friggin entrance fee, this time 250 baht.

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Baby in a hammock at the park entrance.

There’s a million different things you can do on the lake – picnic, kayak, tube, etc.; but we decided to just hire a longtail to take us around for the day.  We had to bargain a little, but for 2000 baht we had our own chauffeur longtail driver for the day.

Homie first took us around to a nice little bay to take pics (Khao Sok is GREAT for pictures), brought us to some floating restaurant for lunch, and brought us out to some other bay to swim.

I loved the lake because it wasn’t very crowded- it was almost like we had our own private little bay to drink & swim around in for the day.  Just 8 of us, a couple bottles of Hong Thong whiskey, and an obnoxiously loud set of speakers.  And the scenery was absolutely GORGEOUS, it legit looked like something out of pirates of the Caribbean, complete with monkeys and all.  Did you know monkeys can swim?

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Our chauffeur for the day.

The sunset over the lake was by far one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in my entire life.  I also loved the lake because it was FRESHWATER, and I could swim without burning out my eyeballs.  Maybe I’m a brat because I grew up swimming on freshwater Lake Michigan beaches, but swimming in saltwater with my eyes open drives me nuts.

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Floating bungalows where we stopped for lunch.

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Group shot – with the people who worked at the restaurant who wanted pics with the weird foreigners.

I haven’t been yet, but my friends said that it compares to Halong Bay in Vietnam, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  Obviously we’re biased because we love Thailand, but they also said it’s more beautiful than Halong Bay.  Their reasoning was that a) it’s way less crowded and b) you can see more of the limestone cliffs.  Something to consider if you’re thinking about either of the two.

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To get back it cost us 1500 to hire a van.  Our driver was DOPE and even had an AUXILIARY CHORD (a rare find in taxis/vans these days) AND lights, so we bumped all the way back to our guesthouse.

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Getting Back

You can get a big bus from the Khao Sok bus station to the Surathani bus station that leaves every hour until 4PM and costs 100 baht/person.  You also can get a van that costs 150 baht/person.  If you’re going during a holiday weekend, I’d recommend booking the van ahead, as we didn’t and we almost didn’t make it back to our overnight bus back to Bangkok.

If I did Khao Sok again, I’d definitely make sure there was some extra time for kayaking on Cheow Lan Lake, and for tubing down the river.  I’d also want to stay in one of the floating bungalows on the lake for at least a night.  They cost around 1500 baht/person/night; but they only include the bare necessities.  And by bare necessities I mean mats on  the floor and electricity that only lasts until 6PM.

All in all, Khao Sok was absolutely beautiful, and is definitely off the beaten path for most people that come to Thailand.  If you’re planning a trip, it’s a nice stop for green in between island-hopping.

OUTTAKES

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Clearly getting along well with the humidity.  Nice hair idiot.

14 Tips for Visiting Bangkok

Bangkok definitely gets mixed reviews from a lot of travelers.  I’ve heard many backpackers say they didn’t really love the city, and that other places like the Southern islands and Chiang Mai are much better.  But personally I really freaking love Bangkok.  It’s a city of contrasts, and it’s full of surprises.  But in order to appreciate the city for yourself, you should definitely check out these tips first.

1) Don’t spend all of your time in the Old City.

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The standard things “to see” in Bangkok for tourists are the Grand Palace, Temple of the Reclining, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Jim Thompson House, etc. etc. etc.  These are almost all located in the old city, far from the Skytrain and the metropolis that is growing up around it.

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There are a million different neighborhoods in Bangkok. My personal favorites are Thong Lo and Asok, off the Sukhumvit line of the BTS(Skytrain).  These are where trendy bars, restaurants, and shopping malls can be found.  The charm of Bangkok is that it’s where old meets new, poverty meets, wealth, and modern meets ancient.  You best get the feel for that in this neighborhood, where you can get amazing Khao Men Gai(chicken with rice and ginger sauce) from a woman on one corner, and shop at Louis Vuitton on the next.dsc_0237.jpg

Many backpackers that I’ve met don’t really love Bangkok.  That’s because you can’t really learn to love the city if all you’re seeing are temples and Khao San Road.  Bangkok isn’t a walking city because of the heat, so the best way to get the closest to walking around and getting the lay of the land is by Skytrain.dsc_0242.jpg

2) Don’t try pad thai on Khao San Road and decide that Thai food isn’t as good as you thought it was going to be.

This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised.  The street food on Khao San is going to be both more expensive and of lower quality than anywhere else in the city.  Khao San Pad Thai serves its purpose well – when you’re drunk and starving, it hits the spot because you can’t taste the difference.  For better street food, I’d recommend checking out Patpoong Night Market in the Sala Daeng neighborhood.editedfirstweekbkk.jpg

Also – there’s SO much more to Thai food that Pad Thai.  Pad Thai is so boring when you put it next to things like Pad Kra Pow Gai(basil chicken) and Som Tam(spicy papaya salad).  Branch out a bit.

 

 

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Pad Kee Mao, or drunken noodles.

3) Go shopping on the street.

I’m a big shopper.  Cute clothes are my weakness – even when I was broke studying in Italy I couldn’t resist a stop at Zara or H&M on my walk home from class.  Dangerous.  And I can honestly say that the shopping in Bangkok is the best that I’ve seen in the world.

Why is it the best?  It’s cute, it’s trendy, it’s CHEAP.  I’d say a standard on-trend off-the-shoulder blouse costs about 200 baht, or $6.  Of course, this is at street vendors, not at places like Zara, H&M, and Forever21, which are actually kind of expensive here.  They’re the same prices as in the states plus import tax, which is a LOT in baht.

Before New Year’s Eve, I was backpacking in Cambodia for a week, so I didn’t really have NYE-style clothes with me.  So I went to Chatuchak and picked up a dress for 200 baht, no sweat.

For quality street shopping I’d recommend:

  • Chatuchak weekend market – Note: either go early or late, it gets hot here. Best place to find foreigner-friendly sizes.
  • Victory Monument shopping center
  • Patpong Night Market
  • Ratchada Train Night Market (Roht Fai)
    • Also good for a beer & live music
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Cute vintage dress at Chatuchak.  Bonus – they have great food.

4) Live like royalty and get a million cheap spa treatments.

Standard 1-hour massages in Bangkok cost 200 baht, and I’ve seen facials ranging from 400 baht to 1000 baht.  Get your nails done, get your ears cleaned on the side of Khao San road, treat yoself.

5) For transportation, try to avoid taking cabs during rush-hour.

Try to avoid rush-hour period if at all possible.  My hell is going to be getting stuck in traffic on a Friday at 7PM for years on end.  Due to the fact that Bangkok’s public transit is still developing, you unfortunately can’t get the MRT(subway) or BTS to most parts of the city.  That being said…

6) If it’s not rush hour and you’re with a friend, take a cab.

They’re so cheap if you’re splitting that they end up costing the same at the BTS or MRT anyways.  Just make sure they use a meter and clarify this BEFORE you get in the taxi(which can sometimes a challenge late at night when they know you’re desperate).

HACK – you also can split a motorbike taxi with a friend.  If a driver tries to charge you double instead of letting you split the fare, he’s ripping you off.  I’ve mostly had this problem when trying to leave Mochit bus station and in Pattaya.

7) If you need help with anything, POLITELY ask a Thai person.

Thai people are beyond extremely super ridiculously helpful, so if you look lost chances are someone is going to try to help you.  This doesn’t always hold true in touristy areas, where people tend to get a little jaded by rude foreigners, but most of the time it is.  I’ve accepted rides from random Thai people when I was by myself multiple times without blinking, something I would never even consider in the U.S.

And please do it politely.  Nothing makes me cringe more than watching a rude foreigner yell at a Thai person for not speaking English, even though we’re in THEIR country.  I hate humans sometimes.

8) If you hear the Thai National Anthem, stop moving.

This holds true for all of Thailand.  Whenever the National Anthem comes on, everyone stops.  Even cars and motorbikes.  If you’re not sure if you’re hearing the national anthem, you can probably tell by everyone around you freezing up.

9) Don’t touch the little spirit houses that are everywhere, and don’t talk about the government or king.

The fact that I even have to put this in here is absurd.  All over Thailand, there are little Buddhist spirit-houses at every building where people leave offerings for the spirits of the house, including random soft drinks, sticky rice, incense, etc.

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While in Hua Hin, not only did I see a guy touch the offerings, he SIPPED ONE OF THE SODAS.  EW.  Would you drink a pop off the street?  No?  Okay good, I’m glad we’re all aware of things like germs and disease here.  It was a) disrespectful b) disgusting and c) embarrassing because my friends & I all watched him no it.  Gross.

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Don’t talk about the government or king because it’s a) rude and b) illegal.

 

10) Eat street food!

I’m biased because I’ve been here for so long, but it still surprises me when people are scared to eat street food.  That’s where you find the best food at the lowest prices.  Especially in Thailand.  What I’ve learned since getting to Asia is that you’re just as likely to get sick on the street as you are in a restaurant.  My own personal round with food poisoning happened from a restaurant in Bali.

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Some of the best Khao Men Gai(chicken with rice and ginger sauce) in all of Thailand, at a little stall right by Victory Monument.

It is intimidating if you don’t know the ropes.  My advice would be to go somewhere that looks busy and point at what someone else is eating.  If you don’t know the price, street food usually costs around 30-50 baht, so handing the vendor a 100 and letting them give you change should be fine.  Again, Thai people don’t usually rip people off unless they’re sick of tourists.  This pricing doesn’t hold true for streets that foreigners frequent like Soi 11 in Sukhumvit.

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Som tam(spicy papaya salad), gai yaeng(grilled chicken), and khao niao(sticky rice).

11) Don’t let a tuk-tuk driver bamboozle you.

dsc_0162.jpgThis hasn’t happened to me since my first attempt to go to Khao San Road back in June.  While Thailand definitely does not try to scam you as much as other countries I’ve been to, there are some of the standard tourist traps.  Like tuk-tuk drivers that try to take you to a hotel or tailor for a fee.dsc_0160

If you’re feeling festive & decide you want to get a tuk- make sure you bargain for the price BEFORE you get in, and don’t let them bring you to any extra stops.

 

 

 

12) If you’re leaving a major bus terminal and looking for a cab, walk the extra 200 meters out to the street to find one yourself.

This is only relevant if you’re a peasant like me, but most cab stands charge an extra 50 baht fee.  If you’re solo that adds up, and it’s not that difficult to walk out to the street.  Plus you don’t have to wait in line.

13) If you’re in a rush or solo, ALWAYS take a motorbike taxi.

Like I said, Bangkok traffic SUCKS.  But motorbike can easily and quickly weave through cars.  Just negotiate the price ahead of time.  You’re welcome.

14) If you’re trying to get anywhere else in Thailand, the cheapest way will be by government van.

This is how I get around.  This is how Thai people get around.  There’s these great little Toyota vans that used to all go to Victory Monument.  Now they go to Mochit(Northern), Sai Tai Mai(Southern), Ekkamai(Eastern), and Sai Tai Gow(old Southern).  You can’t find vans listed online, but they usually leave about every half hour-hour until from 5AM around 7 at night(unless it’s a holiday weekend).

You can’t find the info on these online, so you can try to guess and check by region, or ask a Thai person to call the bus station for you.  When I say by region I mean North, South, and East(there’s not much west of Bangkok) like I mentioned above.  They’re DIRT cheap, like a few hundred to less than a hundred baht to get around Thailand.

14) Give Bangkok a little love & it’ll love you back

If you expect to spend 24 hours poking around Bangkok in between flights you’re probably not going to love it.  But if you give yourself a couple days to get to know the city, you might have a chance.

HOSTEL RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fun Wan – Asok neighborhood, by the Nana BTS stop
    • Great location(Soi 11, a lot of bars/clubs) & cheap, around 180 baht/night depending what site you book on.  Close to nightlife & Terminal 21 mall.  The owner is weird and a stickler for bringing in outside alcohol (I actually gave them a salty review or 3 on hostel world oops) but the comfy beds make up for it.  Far from Khao San road and the Old City.
  • Saphaipae – Silom neighborhood, closest to Surasak BTS stop
    • Great location for nightlife(close to Maggie Choo’s & Whiteline), far from Khao San and the Old City.  Around 350 baht/night with the best free breakfast spread I’ve seen in all of Asia.
  • Bodega – Asok neighborhood, closest to Asok BTS stop
    • Another great location for nightlife and also a very social hostel, this one’s definitely a Bangkok staple.  There’s a nice bar here, the staff is really friendly, and it’s one of the only hostels I’ve stayed at where there are a lot of Americans(the owner is American).  I’d recommend staying here if you’re solo & not staying near Khao San Road. Runs around 300 baht/night.
  • Flying Cow – The Old City, far from public transit
    • This one is on the list just because I feel the need to recommend something by Khao San.  Runs around 250/night, it’s clean, there’s a cute cafe downstairs, and the beds are comfy.  Other than that it’s nothing super special.

So there you have it.  My amateur tips for visiting Bangkok.  Enjoy!

 

Koh Phagnan & Full Moon Without Music, RIP King Bhumibol

Happy US Election Day!  I know election day is technically over, but in Thailand I was watching it all this morning(I’m 13 hours ahead of Chicago).  Which was nice, because I don’t have to stay up all night to know the results.  One time a student here at Banhan3 told me he was really interested in American politics.  He thought it was interesting because we all vote, and we all have a say in what happens in our country.  So I really hope you took advantage of that freedom and went to the polls.

What a historical week in history.  The Cubs won the World Series last week (bummed that I missed the opportunity to burn Wrigleyville to the ground) and our next president is either a woman or a reality TV star.  Well I should say historical month for the entire world, explained further in the next few paragraphs.

Koh Phagnan.  Full Moon Party. Did you even backpack through Thailand if you didn’t go to Full Moon?  Of course, when I found out that I had a month off, I scheduled my arrival back into Thailand just in time for the Full Moon Party on Monday, October 17 in Koh Phagnan.

Then, I was sitting in my hostel in Penang, Malaysia when I received the news that the King of Thailand had died.  Not only did this mean the death of my school wardrobe, as I now have to wear black for a year, but it meant that the country was going into mourning for a month.  This meant no live music, most bars and clubs were closed for anywhere from a week to a month, and most importantly to me, the governor of the Surathani Province had decided to cancel the impending Full Moon party.

Yes this is very selfish of me, being upset over a Full Moon Party being cancelled when the king has died.  But come on, I’m only human, and my time in Thailand is limited.

The King dying is a REALLY huge deal in Thailand.  The Thai people love him; he did a lot for the country.  He spent a lot of time with his people, traveling all throughout Thailand and really getting to know them.  He even came to little Dan Chang where I live for the opening of Krasiao dam, and paid a visit to the school I work at.  I discussed this in an earlier post but my boss/Thai mom P’nga was the student selected to give him flowers.  He spoke to her, and the school made his words into the school song that they play every morning.  There’s pictures of this all over Banhan3.  He also engineered some kind of water system to put oxygen into the rivers and such in Thailand.

There are pictures of the King EVERYWHERE.  In front of every major building, in every classroom, in every shop I’ve gone into, EVERYWHERE.  And this is before he even passed away.  My students wear necklaces with his picture on them.  Every Tuesday (until he passed) we had to wear yellow to go to school, because he was born on a Tuesday, and in Thailand if you are born on a Tuesday your color is yellow.  That varies by day of the week, for example the queen was born on a Thursday and her color is blue.  Father’s Day is also on his birthday, December 5th.  So in case that isn’t enough evidence, I swear, the Thai people love their king.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej came into power in May of 1950, after his brother was assassinated.  He was only 18 years old, and he’s been king ever since.  So, after sitting on the throne for 80 years, until he passed he was the world’s longest reigning monarch.  He’s to be succeeded by his son this month, and his funeral is set to take place in about a year.

Now that I’ve given a bit of background, I hope you grasp the gravity of this situation.  As soon as I landed in Krabi after leaving Singapore, I noticed that everyone was wearing black.  EVERYONE.  A lot of the King’s pictures had been replaced or were within the process of being replaced with black & white versions(Thai mourning colors) and decorated with black & white bunting.  And this was just a couple days after it happened, in a country that is always running late by Western standards.

Then began my trip to Koh Phagnan.  Even though the Full Moon Party had been cancelled, a couple of my friend were still going, and I intended to do so as well.  So, after rolling back into Thailand around 4PM and missing the last 6PM ferry to Koh Phagnan, I caught the infamous night sleeper-ferry from Surathani Ban Rai pier to Koh Phagnan.

The day ferries to Koh Phagnan go from Don Sak pier to the island; and apparently if you go at night from Don Sak you can hire a speedboat to take you to the island.  Being that I was alone at this point(meeting my friends at the island), I had been planning on finding other backpackers looking to get to the island and tagging along with them.  However, after landing in Surathani an hour away from the pier, I decided that going to closer Ban Rai pier and taking an overnight boat.

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I had read many horror stories about this sleeper boat online.  However, to be honest, it wasn’t horrible.  The sleeper boat was exactly that; a little ferry with a small indoor deck covered in mats and pillows that served as beds.  And by small I mean I couldn’t stand up all the way because the ceiling was too low.  There was no air-conditioning, the beds were maybe 3 feet wide maximum, probably a little less, and there were no blankets provided.  Not that I would’ve wanted a blanket anyways, something tells me this boat doesn’t put much value on hygiene.  It was filled with other backpackers and a few young Thai people.  I slept on my belongings to ensure that no one would touch them, popped on a podcast and an eye mask, and slept for the entire 6-hour trip from Ban Rai to Koh Phagnan.  And I’d do it again; it cost me 400 baht(a little overpriced considering it was 6 hours) and I saved money on a hostel.  WIN.

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Then I hopped on a songtaew to Haad Rin beach(where you have to stay if you’re going to Full Moon) and wandered around until I found my hostel – and by hostel I mean Fellini Dorm.  As in an Italian restaurant that shoved some plywood bunk beds and mattresses into their attic and called it a dorm.  And by plywood bunk beds I mean two extremely long sheets of plywood serving as massive beds with mattresses separated by curtains.  But it was comfy, there was air-conditioning, and it only cost us 400 baht, which is cheap for Haad Rin.

So what was Haad Rin like during Full Moon?  It was still crawling with tourists and backpacker-types.  There were still vendors selling buckets(drinks served in little sandbuckets that are common in backpacker areas in Thailand).  However, I was told that it’s normally even busier during Full Moon, a lot of people changed their plans.

My friends & I still did body paint and wore neon clothes for the day of the actual Full Moon.  We were the only ones, but if I’m going to still try to Full-Moon without the actual Full Moon, I’m not half-assing it.  I regret nothing.

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The only real bummer of Full Moon being “cancelled”?  There was NO MUSIC.  NONE.  ZERO.  ZIP.  ZILCH.  I think if Koh Phagnan was a little less popular, there might have been, but they were probably watched more closely because of the originally-planned Full Moon party.

People still brought their own personal speakers to the beach, people still drank, and the usual fire-shows still happened.  But there was no bass-bumping music to be found.  But of course, we still danced, music or not.

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Other than the partying that the island is known for, Koh Phagnan is actually a really pretty island.  My friends & I rented motorbikes and drove all around the island to different beaches.  Unfortunately, Haad Rin is pretty far from a lot of the nicer areas of the island, but we made it work.  Definitely still worth the trip.

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Overall, 9.5/10 still had a great time, even though Full Moon was “cancelled.”  Subtract .5 for the lack of music.  10/10 would do again.

It’s Raining But Phuket – 2 Days in Phuket Town During Monsoon Season

Ahhh the world renowned Phuket island.  PS it’s pronounced Poo-ket, not Fuk-it, and definitely not Foo-ket.  After popping onto Railay beach and Ton Sai to stay hello, Sam(@sawatdeesam on wordpress) and I decided to head back to her place in Phuket to finish our week of island hopping.  No complaints on my part, Phuket is expensive, and having someone to stay with is a wallet saver.

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We took a government van from the bus station in Krabi.  The trip took about 3 hours and cost us 180 baht.  The government vans in Thailand are how Thai people get from city to city, and they are much cheaper than the big double-decker busses you book with a travel agent.  Our trip cost us about 180 baht, quite a relief after dropping 400 baht on every single ferry ride.

Phuket is a massive freaking island.  There are many resorts, cities, and different neighborhoods.  Sam lives in Phuket Town, right by charming Old Town Phuket, so that’s where we spent our time.  To be honest we were pretty lame on this part of the trip as we were exhausted from running from island to island, plus it was monsooning almost the entire time that we were there, so we spent our time doing normal Sam & Tina things like catching up on the Bachelorette and getting our nails done.  We found this fabulous nail salon called “Get Nailed,” the language barrier never fails to entertain.

 

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Old Town Phuket

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Honestly this was my favorite part of Phuket.  We spent some time in Old Town, walking around, shopping, and checking out a couple of coffee shops(always).  Old Town almost felt like Charleston, it had Portuguese architecture, the first hint of any European influence that I’ve seen in all of Thailand (outside of Portuguese influence in food).  It was really pretty and had a charming antique vibe to it, with colorful buildings and pretty architecture.

Old Town also had some really pretty graffiti and street art, mixed in with the pastel buildings.

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I love this one personally.  If you look you can see different logos peeking through, like Dunkin’ Donuts and Glico(Japenese candy company, I highly recommend their Pocky).

Mac Chiato House

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Seeing as this was rated as one of the top coffee shops in Phuket, Sam and I of course had to pop in.  The coffee shop was super trendy and my cappuccino was decent, and it gave off warm, coffee shop vibes that I miss from the Western Hemisphere.  Their macarons were pretty good, a rare find in Thailand, I’d recommend the wasabi flavor.  I also had a solid croissant, another ~rare~ find.  All around a nice place to hang on a rainy day.

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Screwed up my latte art before snapping a pic, ooooooops.
Café 66 Coffee

Just in case you thought we only hit up ONE coffee shop while in Phuket…this one isn’t particularly well-known like Mac Chiato House, but it gets honorable mention due to the excessive Teddy Bear theme going on and the interesting plating.  Rubber duck amuse-bouche?

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Monkey Hill

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One touristy-esque thing that Sam & I did in Phuket was take a trip up Monkey Hill.  When I say touristy, that’s just comparatively speaking.  There were surprisingly few people on the hill itself, and Sam said that there actually isn’t a lot of tourists that make it up to Monkey Hill.  My theory on this is that Phuket Town is about a 15-20 minute drive on the beach, not really making it an ideal location to stay for tourists when compared to glitzy beachside resorts.

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The exercise equipment in question.  On the sign – note the difference between the two monkeys LOL.

The hill itself was just that, a hill.  Complete with public exercise equipment that I’ve seen across Thailand (get on it USA).  But I’ve never seen more monkeys in one place in my entire life.  They were literally everywhere, sometimes way too close for comfort, reaching for any object they could, be it cell phone or selfie stick.

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Sam said that it’s advised not to go to Monkey Hill at night, as the monkeys fight with the stray dogs over territory.  I’d pay to see that kind of ish go down.

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Outside of the monkeys, the hill offered a nice view of the city.  Other than that it was just pretty.

So there you have it.  My exciting and riveting 3 rainy days in Phuket.  Other than what I listed we just hit up a couple of markets, but nothing unique enough that they’re worth mentioning.  No complaints, I had coffee, the Bachelorette, monkeys, and Sam; I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I’ve heard a lot of backpackers complain and say that Phuket is overrated.  I don’t think that’s true, I just think that it’s a large island and you need to move around a lot to see the different beaches, or stay at a nice all-inclusive resort.  I think that coming back to Phuket when I’m an established real human being who has money to ball at a nice resort will provide a completely different experience.

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The view from the top of Sam’s apartment building.

A Taste of Home – Hua Hin Hills Vineyard

Despite the bombings and the chaos of Mother’s Day weekend, my friends and I decided to stick it out in Hua Hin.  And I’m glad we did, after the initial two bombings Hua Hin fell back into being a sleepy little beach city.

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One of the few things I dislike about Thailand is the serious lack of wine.  Not that it’s really anybodies fault, wine just isn’t part of Thai culture.  I guess hot and humid isn’t good for growing grapes, but the only thing you can grab to drink around here that’s local is either beer or rice rum, AKA cheap Hong Tong and Singsom, AKA death and destruction.  Recently I’ve discovered this SUPER Thai rice whiskey that doesn’t have any writing on it in English & smells like rubbing alcohol, but this is about wine not whiskey, I’ll save that for later.  So when one of my friends let it slip that there’s a winery in Hua Hin and that we go, I immediately started foaming at the mouth.  Wine tastings were one of my favorite things about studying abroad in Italy, and are still one of my favorite things to do at home, ex. my going away party winery hopping in Michigan.

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Throwback to enjoying the finer things in life, in Michigan, with the squad.

Seeing as Hua Hin tends to attract a wealthier class of traveler, it makes sense that they have something western and posh like a winery.  I also saw an excessive amount of cheese in Hua Hin compared to other areas in Thailand.  We decided that is probably due to the fact that people can actually profit from selling cheese despite heavy import costs because people who visit here can actually afford to buy it.  And I don’t mean crappy processed American style “cheese” that you can find at 7/11 either – I mean the good stuff; like Brie, Gouda, Gruyere, and everything else your heart could possibly desire.

So we made a reservation, and on Saturday around 4 we hired another van to drive us about 45 minutes to Hua Hin Hills.  The winery was absolutely gorgeous; it had the rolling hills filled with grapes of western wineries coupled with the lush Jurassic-Park-esque hills of Thailand in the background.  I was excited to see that there were in fact grapes, as I have heard rumors that cheap rice wine is consumed in Thailand on occasion.

As a reminder to the fact that were still in Thailand, after sitting at our table we saw elephants in the distance.  Hua Hin Hills offers a tour of the winery on the back of elephants.  Personally I wouldn’t do this because they use a bench contraption that isn’t humane, and they allow multiple people on an elephant at once which is also not fun for the elephant, plus I’m too poor to spring for an elephant ride through a winery, but it was still cool to see elephants walking through a vineyard.  But if you’re into that stuff and you’re not a peasant(like me) seeing a vineyard on the back of an elephant would be pretty cool.

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I was expecting to do a tasting with a sommelier and eat crackers and be told to sniff for the “essence of pear” and all that jazz, but of course, once again my western expectations were not met.  You only really see the winery and do a legitimate tasting if you do the elephant tour.  The “tasting” I decided to buy was just 3 glasses of wine at my table, so it was more like a “with dinner” kind of thing.  Of course, they had to pour one at a time, wait 15 minutes, and come back because alcohol gets warmed up in about 30 seconds without ice here.  Have you ever had ice in your beer?  After coming to Thailand I have.  Every single time we order it at dinner.  But no complaints, I’ve come to accept that when places in Thailand try to masquerade as something Western, the quality isn’t usually the same.  It was enough to make me happy.

 

The wine itself was okay.  In their defense I’m a bit snobby about my wine sometimes, and it’s not really fair to critique a country whose climate can’t really do wine, but just because I’m going to anyways.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as wine that I’ve had at tastings in the US and Europe.  The wine tasted a little bit watered down, and didn’t really have as much flavor as I was expecting.  But it was good enough for what it was.  They poured a white, a red, and a rosé, so it was pretty standared.  I bought the cheapest tasting available, which was 280 baht, coming to about 380 baht after splitting tax/service charges with the other people sitting at my table.

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While I didn’t splurge on it because I’m saving up for Bali and Vietnam right now, some of my friends ordered a cheese plate, and it actually looked pretty legit.  It had olives, brie, gouda, and some other cheese that made the winery feel a little more like home.

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Photo credit Julie Von Forrester.

All in all the winery was absolutely gorgeous, we spent a lot of time taking pictures.  The dining area is on a pretty balcony that overlooks the vineyard as well, so the whole experience was really pretty.  I’d definitely recommend stopping in if you’re in the Hua Hin area and feel like a splurge, or just if you’re in Thailand and you miss real wine.  Check out their Facebook page here. 

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Muay Thai – In The Ring with Sam & Tina

When Sam & I visited Koh Phi Phi (an island in the South) a couple weeks ago, upon recommendation we headed to Reggae Bar, a bar whose main feature is live Muay Thai boxing.  There’s a ring in the middle of the bar, and if you sign up to box you get a medal and a free bucket after, win or lose.DSC_0515.jpg

Being ourselves, after pre-gaming at our hostel Sam & I decided that it was a great idea to hop in the ring for free buckets.  In our defense, our wallets were painfully thin at the moment, as it was the week before pay day and Phi Phi was wringing us dry.  It’s a beautiful little island, but the western amenities it offers also come with western prices.  Not that we actually needed a free bucket, we just started foaming at the mouth upon hearing the word “free.”

After a few minutes of being at the bar, we realized that people were actually taking the Muay Thai fighting seriously.  The spectators were getting really into the fights, and I don’t think I saw a single other boxer that had been drinking.

 

Discussing our strategy before hopping in the ring, clearly before we realized what a mess it was going to be.  Note Sam’s stylin’ Muay Thai shorts.

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We didn’t want to actually hit each other, so we had been planning on faking it.  To be honest I was totally fine with boxing Sam, but she wasn’t cool with boxing me, since she’s actually a nice person, so I went with it.  Considering the fact that we had had a few at this point, I’d say our acting skills were slightly less than sub-par.  We were about to back out when the ref came over, handed us our clothes, and told us we had 2 minutes to get dressed and in the ring.

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Then we hopped in the ring, her in one corner with her assistant(proper boxing terminology?) and I with my own personal Mr. Miyagi in mine, and we went for it.  The bell rang, and our conversation went something like this(all done in a very loud whisper):

Me: PSSSSSST Sam just hit me!

Sam: I DON’T WANT TO HIT YOU I can’t!!!

Me: SAM just do it!

(Sam fake hits me, but judging by the boos in the audience beginning to become audible the didn’t believe her)

Me: GOOOOD!(always encouraging) Now hit me for real again, I can take it it’s totally fine!

Sam: OKAY OKAY okay okay okay (hits me a lil bit harder)

At this point I dramatically fall to the ground and roll over, before Sam fake hits me again and I pretend to be down for the count.  The bell rings, and Sam is pronounced winner.  At this point we’re both all like WOOOOO YESSS it’s over, because we just wanted to GTFO and get our free buckets, but to our disappointment, we were informed that there would be another round.

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At this point the boos in the audience were getting a little louder, so the bell rings and I begin my own coaching once again.

Me: SAM hit me it’s fine!

(Sam throws a light punch)

(I fake punch Sam back)

(Sam hits me with the one-two)

(I fake high-kick Sam, before again dramatically falling over)

At this point whoever was running this pony show realized that we weren’t going to improve our fighting, and for the sake of his business(people were REALLLLLY booing at his point) and the sake of our last few shreds of dignity, the fight was called.  Sam & I happily pranced on out of the ring and went to enjoy our free buckets.

Why anyone would get pissed about not seeing legit Muay Thai at a bar is beyond me?  But whatever, no regrets.  Oh, and our new British/Dutch roommates from the hostel got pictures of the entire fiasco.

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Sam with our bucket, me with my medal and our British hostel mate Pete, who photographed this fiasco.

So if you’re ever in Koh Phi Phi, make sure you head out to Reggae Bar to check out the Muay Thai fighting.  And if you’re in the mood to have both your ribs AND you ego kicked in, pop into the ring for a few rounds.

 

Thai Food: My Top Picks(So Far)

Shockingly I’ve been in Thailand for almost 3 months now, and I’ve had some time to sample different fare.  In the US Thai food is super trendy and sought after, especially things like Pad Thai and Tom Yum Kung.  Most of the Thai food I’ve had since landing in Bangkok has been absolutely amazing.  But some of it has been just plain weird, and some of it I haven’t really been able to decide my opinion on.  So here’s a list of some of my favorites so far. .

1.Blood Soup

The first time I had blood soup, I thought I was being super adventurous and brave.  And then I tasted it and realized that I had eaten it unknowingly 2 weeks earlier at a night market, and it was actually my second time having blood soup.  While it sounds gross, this soup made of pig’s blood is actually pretty good, with a slight perfumey flavor and pieces of pork meat.

Amusingly, originally I was going for something spicy on the menu, when the stall owner started waving his hands and going “SPICY! SPICY!”  As soon as Thai people see that you’re foreign they try to protect you from spice, it’s adorable.  I actually enjoy really spicy food and my spice tolerance has gone up greatly since arriving, but I let him point me in the direction of another option since I asked for his recommendation.  Little does he know that most foreigners would be appalled at unknowingly being served blood soup, as opposed to something with a little extra kick.

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2) Fish Balls

This dish is literally just what the name sounds like.  It’s just ground up fish put into a ball-shaped form and served with a sauce.  At first when I tried them at a random restaurant at Victory Monument, I thought they were repulsive.  The texture was weird, they were almost flavorless aside from a rancid fishy taste, and they were this heinous grey color that just added to their lack of appeal.  Then I tried them again at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, and I fell in love.

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Fish balls(when they’re done right) are fried up right in front of you upon order and put in a little bag with a stick to eat them with, like a lot of street food in Thailand.  In Thailand food is always cut up to be bite-sized ahead of time, so you rarely need a knife.  Then they put a little sweet sauce on the fish balls, along with some kind of green spicy substance that resembled salsa verde.  Throw it all together and it’s heaven in a bag.  I’ve also seen them done in this style in Chinatown, Bangkok; and I’m sure you can find them on the street anywhere.  Currently on a mission to find them in Dan Chang, but it’s probably better for my waistline that I don’t.

2) Khao Men Gai

“Khao Men Gai” literally means “chicken with rice.”  I know, it sounds boring.  But in Thailand, everything is served with some kind of a sauce, which is what really makes this one stand out.  It always comes with a ginger sauce, which vary greatly depending on which vendor you buy it from.  The rice also varies from vendor to vendor, along with the quality of the cut of chicken that you are served.  Sometimes the rice is ginger rice, sometimes it’s cooked with chicken broth, and I’ve heard that sometimes chicken fat is added for flavor.  It also comes with a broth, which varies from vendor to vendor, and sliced up cucumbers to cut the spiciness.  Depending on your vendor it also might come with a couple nice slices of dark brown coagulated blood.  I enjoy blood soup but I do draw the line somewhere.

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The stuff on top in the picture on top is a chili sauce that I add to it.  So spicy, SO good.

My personal favorite Khao Men Gai in Thailand is right at work, served in the canteen at Banhanjamsaiwittaya3 school.  It’s only 20 baht for 15 minutes of happiness every day.  And I mean every day, I eat it almost every day.  It’s like Thai comfort food.  I really should work on being more adventurous in my school cafeteria, but the Khao Men Gai is sooooo good, and a lot of the other options are fried or unidentifiable.  The canteen at Banhan really kicks the hell out of US cafeterias health-wise; I can see my chicken getting chopped up in the back of my Khao Men Gai lady’s stall right before she gives it to me.  Real organic pesticide free cage-free additive free hormone free steroid free non-vegan chicken.  What a luxury.

You can order Khao Men Gai with pork or duck as well.  I mostly order chicken in Thailand, but it’s worth it to note that the pork is REALLY good, along with the duck.  Pictured below is the duck version of Khao Men Gai.

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The pink stuff is picked ginger.

4) Fried Bananas

These are my WEAKNESS.  In the US my healthy-eating Kryptonite is peanut butter.  In Thailand it’s fried bananas.  However, the quality of the banana you get again greatly depends on the vendor you buy it from.  There are 3 in town.  My favorite fried banana woman doesn’t open her stall until around 11, and is always sold out whenever I attempt to pop in after school.  Which is probably a good thing, because I can really only buy them during lunch.

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She also sells an absolutely amazingggg peanut sauce that goes with them.  I haven’t had it with the fried bananas, but one of my co-teachers brought in some with a bag of friend potatoes one day, and it was life-changing.  Apparently she also sells fried taro and fried sweet potatoes, but I have yet to try them.

5) Pad Kra Pow Gai

“Pad Kra Pow Gai” is Thai basil chicken.  Again, the quality varies highly from vendor to vendor(starting to see a pattern here)?  The best Pad Kra Pow Gai lady in town, AKA mullet lady, serves it with extra leafy green veggies and adds banana peppers.  It really makes a difference in the quality, otherwise the rice-not rice ratio gets completely off.  I usually order mine with a “Kai Dow” or a fried egg.

 

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I know this picture is like SUPER appetizing.  Most street food isn’t exactly Instagram-worthy, but the taste makes up for it.  Note the abundance of banana peppers.

6) Som Tam

Som Tam is spicy papaya salad.  If you’ve looked at any post about street food in Thailand and this didn’t pop up, you probably need glasses.  Som tam is sliced up green mango with chili peppers, palm sugar, tomatoes, raw green beans, sometimes anchovies or dried prawns, tamarind juice, and a pile of peanuts on top.  All of this(sans peanuts) is ground up with a giant mortar and pestle right before your very eyes.

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Also pictured – sticky rice and barbecued chicken.  The chicken on a stick(gai yaeng) in Thailand is also REALLY good.  Personally I’m not a big sticky rice fan, but a lot of people love it.  These are usually also found frequently at Som Tam vendors.
Also ALSO pictured – my long lost keys that now reside in the sands of Koh Phi Phi.  RIP

Vendors that sell som tam often sell sticky rice and Gai Yaeng, or barbecued chicken.  It’s all super cheap too, around 25 baht for the som tam, 20 baht for that huge piece of chicken, and 10 baht for the sticky rice.

7) Gai Pad Khing

Gai Pad Khing is ginger chicken.  It’s the same concept as Pad Kra Pow Gai, just sub ginger for basil.  The woman that was recommended by the other American teachers stopped selling us ginger chicken for some unidentifiable reason, so I’ve been on the hunt for a better one.

8) Tom Yum Kung

This is another one that DEFINITELY came up if you did a Google Search of good Thai food. “Tom Yum” is the soup base, “Kung” means “with shrimp” or “seafood.”  You can also order it with “gai” or chicken, and not that I’ve seen it but you can probably get it with pork as well.

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Tom Yum is a spicy red brothy soup, usually served in large bowls that you share in a sit-down dinner type situation.  It’s my favorite part of staff dinners, as it’s always there.  Sometimes it comes with coconut milk in it, but I’ve been told by my coordinator P’nga that this isn’t real Tom Yum, and the good stuff doesn’t have coconut milk in it.  Thank god, because coconut milk is what really packs in the calories in a lot of Thai food, ex. Massaman curry.

My one complaint about Tom Yum is that the seafood in it is always served with the shells still on them.  Thai people eat the whole shrimp with the shell, not just the meat, as gross as that is.  So it’s always a delicate act, trying not to make a fool of myself in a restaurant while also trying to pick the shells out of my Tom Yum.  Apparently the shells of fish add flavor, kind of like bones, so they actually do serve a purpose.  They also serve the soup with large pieces of sliced ginger in it, which I could do without, as much as I love ginger.

9) Pad See Ew

I’m really surprised this one hasn’t become more popular in the US.  It’s essentially the same concept as Pad Thai, fried noodles with bean sprouts and other noms in it, but with a heartier, thicker rice noodle.  Sometimes it’s served with soy sauce.  I usually eat mine with a little bit of chili oil and chili powder.  You’ll also see in the picture below that it’s served with sugar to add as well, as is included in most Thai street food condiment bars.  Thai people even add sugar to their soup.  I haven’t personally tried it yet as I don’t see a point in adding empty calories for no reason, but to each their own.

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10) Whole fish served with everything(I don’t know the Thai names but there are a million different versions of this)

Another reason I look forward to staff dinners: there’s always really good whole-cooked fish, and someone else can order it for the table so I don’t have to figure it out.  You can also buy whole-cooked fishes at the open market, but they don’t come with all the trappings so I have yet to try them.  What I mean by whole-cooked fish it that in Thailand(at sit-down restaurants not stalls) they serve you an entire cooked fish, usually with sauce and peanuts and vegetables and other stuff coming out of it.

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There’s a fish in there I swear.  Forgive my picture quality, using an iPhone in the fluorescent lighting on our porch is very unforgiving.

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A snake fish with some spicy stuff at a restaurant in Bangkok during orientation.  Specific, I know.

The best that I’ve had so far is something that P’nga carries out from a restaurant in town whenever we’ve had dinners at the house.  It’s a specialty of that restaurant, the Thai name means “broken-bellied fish.”  It’s a whole fish in some kind of sweet & sour sauce that has peanuts, onions, sliced hot dogs(not the best part) and some other stuff.  It’s SOOOO good.  I think it’s the sauce that makes the fish.  It’s my mission to figure out which restaurant she gets it from in Dan Chang.

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Pano of dinner that P’nga ordered when Nicole’s mom came to visit.  The two plates next to the soups are the broken-bellied fish.  Note everyone in the background also taking pictures of the spread.

11) Khao Soi

Khao Soi is an Isaan curry dish, meaning it’s part of Northern Thai cuisine.  It’s one of the few street food entrees that is served sans rice.  Instead, it’s a brothy soup kind of a deal, usually with chicken on the bone in it, along with some crunchy pork rind type stuff, lime juice, onions, and other goods.  Sometimes it’s served with coconut milk in it, sometimes not.  Personally I prefer my curry without coconut milk, as curry can get pretty heavy with coconut milk, especially Massaman curry.  Luckily there is at least one stall in Dan Chang to my knowledge that also serves it.

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The Khao Soi pictured is from a stall in Dan Chang, and the one in the cover photo for this blog post is from the Sunday evening market in Chiang Mai.  Note how different the two are, illustrating my point about how different street vendors do things very differently for the same dish.

12) Coconut Ice Cream

In the US, I’m really not an ice cream kind of gal.  I much prefer fro-yo, and when I do eat ice cream I’m a huge snob about it.  So yes, I’ll pay $5 to try the whiskey-bourbon-almond vegan crunch artisanal ice cream from a shop that I find in downtown Chicago, but I wouldn’t touch a pint of Breyer’s with a 9 foot pole.  However, the coconut ice cream here is DANKKKK.  It’s made from coconut milk, and sometimes comes with toppings like peanuts(my fav) and other varieties of unidentifiable colorful gelatin-like crap.  Plus the fact that it’s non-dairy and made from coconut milk just makes you feel better about your life decisions.

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The best I’ve had so far is at Chatuchak Weekend Market.  It’s totally done up for tourists there but no complaints.  For around 40 baht you can get half a coconut shell with a generous couple scoops of coconut ice cream in it, and you can top it with all the toppings your little heart desires.  If you look at the Chatuchak location on Instagram you’ll definitely stumble onto at least 50 pictures of it within the past 2 weekends, it’s super trendy and makes for a good pic.

So there you have it.  10 of my favorite foods in Thailand.  If I were to mention the other million, I might as well write a short book series instead of a blog post.

Elephriends in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is known for servicing as an access point for half day and full day trips to hang out with elephants.  There are companies that allow you to feed them, ride them, play with them, and even shovel their poop.  Yes, you have to pay a hefty fee to be privileged with the honor of shoveling elephant poop.  And people do actually pay it.

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So naturally, after we decided to go to Chiang Mai, the first thing we did was book our own play date with elephants.  Many of the parks blatantly give no regards for the well-being of the animals, some claim for be humane, and a few actually are humane(or at least they’ve tricked me into thinking they are).  Lonely Planet Guidebook in hand, after much debating we selected a full day of “Elephant Day Care” at Baanchang Elephant Park.

If you are planning to book a day with elephants, I would recommend doing so very far in advance, as we booked a month in advance and many places were already full.  Although we really liked our park, so it ended up working out for the best.

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Baby elephant!

So what exactly is “Elephant Day Care” you may ask?  Did I pay to shovel elephant poop?  Absofreakingloutely not.  I’ve had a dog since I was 9 and still have yet to pick up a single piece of dog crap.  S/o to Mama & Papa O for blessing me with two brothers who have to do the dirty work around the house.  So there’s no way I would pay to break my princess feces-free streak.

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Elephant Day Care was just hanging out with the elephants.  When we first arrived to the park(after getting picked up from our hostel by van and driving an hour outside of the city), we sat with our guide for about an hour while he imparted wisdom about our pachyderm friends.

ElephFUN Facts(hehe see what I did there?)

  • There are around 10,000 elephants in Thaland. 8,000 of them are in captivity.
  • Elephants can live without their eyes, but they can’t live without their trunks.
  • It costs 1 million Baht to rescue one elephant (around $350,000 USD)
  • It hurts an elephant if you ride on it’s back with a contraption, but they can be safely and comfortably ridden bareback.
  • Elephants don’t like cars and are scared of people in the wild due to poaching etc.
  • In Thailand, most rescue elephants come from illegal logging activities and tourist attractions, ex. elephant riding and shows in Ayutthaya.
  • Only one person can train an elephant, the elephant may be aggressive or dangerous for other trainers.
  • When elephants are happy, they flap their ears and wag their tails, kind of like a dog.

So after getting #educated on elephants and how they live in Thailand, we were introduced to some of the elephants and got to feed them sugarcane.  TBH I don’t remember the names of the elephants because they were all in Thai, but they each had a name and a trainer.  The elephants were very smart, they’d reach out to us with their trunks for food constantly.  They’d even hold several pieces of sugarcane in their trunks while they were chewing another piece.  That was how I found my favorite elephant, the one who stocked up the most sugarcane and was most thirstily begging for food.

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My favorite elephant.  Couldn’t tell you the name because they told us their names in Thai, in one ear and out the other.

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Said elephant swooping in to steal sugarcane I was trying to feed to another elephant.

Then we grabbed 3 elephants (and their Burmese trainers) and headed out into the jungle.  Did I mention we were all wearing matching little karate outfit things the people had given us?

First we stopped in some kind of a meadow, for the elephants to eat even more grass.  This was adorable until we got to find out first hand that two of the elephants didn’t like each other, after they started fighting and almost charged each other.

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Then we went to some kind of a hut structure in the woods, where we cut even more sugarcane for them.  We also made them sticky rice balls, with taro, bananas, sticky rice, and coconut milk.  These were kind of gross and slimy, since the elephants can’t hold them in their trunk you have to place them directly in the elephants’ mouths, after yelling commands at them in Thai.  We spent most of our time here, feeding the elephants and eating our own Pad Thai lunch.

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Then we headed even FURTHER into the jungle so the elephants could roll in mud and chill with each other.  We had been given more sugarcane at this point, and, you guessed it, the elephants kept eating (this is starting to sound like a children’s book).

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We then began the long walk back to the elephant camp.  On the way there the elephants kept either spraying water or peeing, so there were several times that it is highly possible that I got peed on by an elephant.  Thailand truly has dropped my sanitation standards to an all-time low.  Although in the elephant’s defense, I would totally pee on tourists paying to see me every day for laughs.

The final part of our play date was bathing the elephants.  This I wasn’t too pumped about, as the water was murky and the elephants were clearly pooping in it while we were standing right there, but I didn’t want to be the prissy blonde who only came to take selfies with the elephants so I sucked it up.  Besides, at that point in the day I was fully coated with a vile sludge anyways.  The selfies were worth it all.

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So there you have it.  We made food for the elephants, watched them roll in the mud, and fed them.  So basically we paid to feed elephants all day.  They ate and they ate and they ate.  And I think they peed on me.  We did not ride them once.  But you know what?  It was awesome, and I would definitely do it again.  I’d highly recommend Baanchang, they seemed to actually care for the elephants.

Longtail Ride of Death: Snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi

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In addition to fiery jump ropes and Muay Thai bars, Koh Phi Phi also offers beautiful snorkeling, scuba diving, and other aquatic adventures.  Originally, Sam and I had planned to sign up for a booze cruise around the island on our second day there.  Our hostel offered one that had an open bar for 1600 baht, but my roommates said they had found one for 600 baht that was BYOB when they visited, so we were on the hunt for a bargain.  That is, until we split about 3 buckets and danced on the beach until 2:30 AM.  Deciding that we were physically in no condition to even see alcohol for at least 24 hours, we decided to spend a relaxing day snorkeling around Koh Phi Phi Leh.

After a life-saving overpriced western breakfast, we went down to the pier to see what kind of day trips we could find.  Thinking that we were getting onto a nice, large, SAFE boat, we were excited when we successfully bargained with a boat captain to get a snorkel trip around the island for 600 baht per person.

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Subsequently, we were a little confused when our boat captain turned out to be a mere water taxi driver and our water chariot turned out to be a tiny little long tail boat.  As if purposefully trying to add dramatic effect, the driver then tossed two unsanitary-looking pieces of “snorkel equipment” that had been promised onto the murky boat floor.  Longtail boats are the boats that you see on Pinterest when you look up beaches in Thailand.  They’re boats with literally a longtail end, and they’re pretty freaking small when you consider that you’re taking them on the Andaman Sea.  However, we were really too hungover to do anything about it, so we said Mai Pen Rai and hopped aboard.

Disclaimer:  According to our British hostelmate there actually is a snorkeling cruise on a real ship that you can find in the harbor, we just messed up and took the wrong bargain.

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Did I say longtail boats are small?  They’re even smaller when you realize that it’s Monsoon Season, you’re 4 kilometers from shore, and massive waves and ugly rain clouds start rolling by.  I wasn’t so much concerned for my safety as I was for the safety of my cell phone and camera, but I think Sam may have found religion about 6x on that trip.

Safety concerns aside, it really was a nice ride.  First the driver took us to Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh, the bay from the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio.  However, we were too cheap to drop 400 Baht to step foot on the beach, and it was wayyyy too wavy to snorkel, so we opted to skip it.  So not worth the Instagram.

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After that the driver took us to another bay, which was much calmer, and we hopped out to snorkel.  Unfortunately, as it was really rough out, snorkeling wasn’t too great, but it was nice to swim, and we did see a few little tiny fish.  Classic Thailand, the driver didn’t even have a ladder for us to get back in the boat, so when it was time to go this little 80 lb Thai man physically pulled us back in the boat.  The size and strength of Thai people never ceases to amaze me.

Our final stop was Monkey Beach around the other side of Koh Phi Phi Leh.  This beach was exactly that, a beach with monkeys.  Although there really wasn’t much of a beach, maybe because the tide was in?  Regardless, tourists from other groups were hopping in the water to swim and take pictures with the monkeys.  Sadly, we even saw a monkey grab a can of beer from one of the booze crusies.  While people laughed and took pictures, I’m sure that poor 15-lb monkey was well on the way to being drunk, confused, and miserable.

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After all of that rocking and bobbing around Koh Phi Phi Leh we returned to shore.  The whole trip was around 3 hours, and we basically hired our own private longtail to take us island hopping.  With a bigger group it would probably be much cheaper, and in nicer weather it would be great.  I’d definitely recommend trying it, but preferably not after a night out on the town.

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