Love, Pray, Eat… Or Something Like That: Thailand

Okay, so I was kind of going to claim Japan as my “Eat” category, but if I’m going to be honest, I ate so much EVERYWHERE. No shame, I couldn’t help it! I am going to classify Thailand as the “Love” because I 1) loved it here and 2) felt so much love from all of the locals.

So the day that my true solo travels began, I took the first train at 5 AM towards Tokyo. I did awesome with this, I was super proud of myself. BUT, I still only got to the train station about 90 minutes prior to my flight, so I had to book it around. Luckily, everything at Narita International Airport went pretty smoothly. I desperately wanted coffee because I had not made any that morning, but I had gotten to the gate with only a few people in line left to board..phew! No big deal, though. I am very blessed with the ability to sleep on airplanes, and everywhere, actually. Give me a concrete floor and I will gladly nap. I took AirAsia, which I was initially nervous about since it was a new airline name to me, but they ended up being awesome. You can read my snippet about them on my other post.

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My flight went straight from Tokyo to Bangkok, with a 3.5 hour layover until my flight to Phuket. I figured that would be great, I could get through customs, get some money out of the ATM, get some coffee, and relax.. Well, that was not exactly the case. I waited in line at immigration for 2.5 hours. I was so antsy the whole time, sweating and everything. Every other line seemed to be moving faster, but of course I didn’t want to jinx it and just stayed in my line. Finally I noticed I only had an hour and I politely asked these 3 men in front of me if I could go ahead of them (all while apologizing a million times). You see, I still didn’t have my boarding pass because of the way I booked my flight (the company does it that way so it’s cheaper, I believe). So once I got through, I literally ran from the international arrivals to the domestic terminal, up the stairs, asking questions frantically to 3 different people along the way. Everyone was so nice and helpful, I can’t thank them enough. I got my boarding pass with about 35 minutes until the flight left (they were already boarding). So I ran to get all my baggage checked again (only carry-ons, thank goodness!!) I once again made it to my gate while the last few people were getting on. I noticed there was an ATM nearby and decided to try to get money out here. I ended up ending the transaction, my card popped out with no money, and I was left confused thinking they took my money. It didn’t, I was just being frantic. I’m totally sure people were laughing at me. I ended up doing it again and got some money out for real this time (duh). If I remember correctly, the money pops out before your card – so be careful not to leave your card at an ATM in Thailand!!

Once I arrived in Phuket, I felt super relieved. I finally made it, yay!! So I decided to stay at Puding Guest Long in Chalong.  It had a little bit of a musky smell (I have a strang sense of smell), but otherwise, it was a cute little place and everyone was super friendly. There’s a coffee shop downstairs, also. I had no idea going into my Thailand trip where I wanted to stay or anything, but it seemed kind of central and it was only $15 USD a night. Chalong itself is about an hour taxi ride from the airport, which I paid around 800 baht to my hotel, 700 baht from my hotel to the airport when I left. Again, I didn’t do my research much, but Chalong is actually where all the Muay Thai trainers go! For me, I enjoyed this since I’m into fitness and all of that. It felt safe, there are bars and restaurants, but no clubs or anything quite as crazy as those in Patong. Almost all of the restaurants have healthy food – raw, vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc. Again, for me, I loved this. I was able to both try Thai food as well as mix it up with healthier options.

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The night I arrived in Phuket, I went straight to find food. I honestly don’t remember the name of the restaurant, I just know it was on the main street in Chalong. I decided I wanted Thai food, because duh, I’m in Thailand! I’m not a huge spicy food person, but I figured, hey, why not! So I ordered green curry. Well, I did not get any pictures, I’m sorry to say. But I did spend the entire dinner wondering if my food was still hot temperature-wise, or if my mouth was just constantly on fire. It was weird though, it seemed that every time I brought the spoon closer to my mouth, even without touching my lips, I could feel the heat radiating. I’m such a spicy food amateur, I’ll tell ya. So the whole dinner I basically did my best to finish my food while trying to casually drink my water and banana smoothie. Ya know, without people noticing I secretly wanted to dunk my entire head in ice. And cry. Classic first meal in Thailand.

In the morning, my first day of adventures included an Elephant Sanctuary Visit. I was so pumped about this and it turned out to be everything I dreamed of! I had heard of many different sanctuaries throughout Thailand, but not as many in the Phuket region. I booked my tour through Viator (a tour website that I actually booked all my trips through when I was in Thailand). The company itself is Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket. You can read more of their story on Facebook by searching for @ejsinphuket on Facebook or checking out their website at http://www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

Okay, but before I went to this tour, I needed to get coffee. I wanted it so bad the day before!!! The wait was so worth it. I checked out this place called “Latte Caffe” and it was amaaaaazing!! I got me a nice coconut milk latte and an oatmeal pancake topped with nutella and banana (seen below).

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My driver picked me up right at my hotel during the time frame they had said. It was cool because I got to ride in the back of a truck, true Thailand style. We picked up another solo traveler from France on the way, then got a little lost due to the driver going to the wrong hotel, but finally picked up our last couple from England before heading to the actual sanctuary. Unfortunately, since I was the first one picked up and furthest out of the way, I’d say I spent about 2-2.5 hours in the truck. Obviously, this is also because we got a little lost. We ended up being the last ones to the sanctuary, but they didn’t start without us! There were a bunch of different people that had been picked up from different trucks at different places on the island. They had already mashed up some bananas to feed the elephants and were prepping more food when we arrived.

The tour began with a little information about what they do at the elephant sanctuary. They basically rescue elephants from tourism and elephant rides because they can be very mistreated in these situations. From terrible weather conditions, inadequate nutrition due to long days of work, and disciplinary actions that may cause bleeding or other harm to the elephant, the tourism industry is a sad way for people to make money off the elephants. The elephants at the sanctuary were rescued and are now treated as family, which you can completely see during the interaction between the humans and the elephants now!

During the tour, we were able to first feed the elephants, then bathe them in the muddy water, and then help them rinse off. It was so much fun to see the different personalities that each elephant had! There was even one that was a few months old. He acted just like a child. They kept calling him “bad boy” because he would run away, or flop over in the mud, or just do other childish things. But hey, what else would you expect from a toddler?? It was adorable!

After all of the fun with the elephants, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal from the hosts. I, of course, made sure to try everything! It was all amazing, and not too spicy unless you added spices and sauces yourself (I didn’t). We then started packing up and heading home. I did the afternoon tour, which meant we hit Patong at rush hour. So if you are looking to get back without traffic, I may recommend taking the morning half-day tour! I did get to see a pretty sunset view on the way home, though!

The next morning, I was supposed to go on a sunrise snorkeling tour to Phi Phi island. Unfortunately, due to weather, the trip was canceled (boo!). I thought about going on an adventure by myself, but I decided that I am always on the go and maybe I should take a day to myself! So I did! I ended up getting an hour long foot massage, pedicure, and manicure for roughly 30 USD total! The ladies were so nice and accommodating. I ended up going right in Chalong just a short walk away from where I was staying, but there are a ton of places! I also decided to eat at a Vegan restaurant, “Pure Vegan Heaven” this day. Like the rest of the food, it was also amazing.

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My last full day in Thailand, I took a trip to Phang Nga Bay! I was really looking forward to getting out and doing something again after relaxing all day the day before. Again, I booked my tour through Viator; however, I was lucky enough to find John Gray’s Sea Canoe tour on there. From what I had heard (and according to locals), this was the best! It really was an amazing day. Everything went smoothly from pick-up to drop-off. My van ended up being filled with me and 3 other Americans from all parts of the country, but when we arrived, there were actually 3 boats they were taking out on the water! I’d say each boat had about 30+ people on it.

Once we were on the boat, the guides asked us if we had any allergies. This might not sound like something big to highlight, but I actually have a cashew allergy, so I had to be careful in Thailand. When they served our food later in the day, they actually made me a completely separate plate without cashews! It was amazing and so thoughtful! All of the food was so delicious! We had both lunch and dinner served to us, as well as coffee and a snack.

If I remember correctly, we ended up going out into the water 3 different times into 3 different areas. It’s all hard to explain, and the pictures don’t exactly do it justice, but it was all so beautiful. Seeing the stalactites and stalagmites (which I had to remember which was which at first), being able to drift through the caves in the dark, and just hearing the softness of the water rippling around you. It was like a dream. Since I was traveling alone, I ended up pairing up with one of the other Americans, who was also traveling alone. Our instructor “Nub” was great! He was so knowledgeable and was able to point out things that, honestly, I’m not even sure how he saw them, haha.

Once it got dark, we were able to release the Loy (or Loi) Krathong that we created with our guide into the water. There is a Loy Krathong festival that is held every year in Thailand and other surrounding countries. It consists of people releasing a Krathong (a floating lantern made out of the trunk of a banana tree) into the water to allow their misfortunes to float away in hopes of receiving good fortune in the upcoming year.

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The ride back on the boat was beautiful, the sky was mostly clear, and the moon was shining down as the warm air breezed past us. Of course, I would have loved to have spent this moment with my significant other, but alone with my thoughts and happiness is second best I guess 😉 I believe we ended up returning to our lodges/places of stay around 10 pm!

So my flight out the next day wasn’t until 10, so I had all day to explore. I ended up booking another tour (through Viator, of course) to see a few spots on the island for half a day. It was only about $9 USD for transport and all of the stops, and it actually lasted from about 8:30-2 pm. We stopped at two different overlooks, a cashew factory (they had more than just cashews!), Wat Chalong Temple, and the largest jewelry store in the world – Gems Gallery: Phuket! Of course, in the morning, I had to start off with some more amazing food..this time from a little place called “Greze” right in Chalong. I tried my first bulletproof coffee here and had it with a greek yogurt bowl with personally picked toppings! I loved it all!

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My tour guide was amazing, and the others in the group were from England (a couple) and Pakistan (a solo traveler). It was great to have this smaller group so we could interact a little more and get to know each other. For example, the man from Pakistan was going to travel with his wife to Thailand but she was just now pregnant with their second child, how sweet! We ended up being buddies throughout the trip, sharing dried mangos and other random dried fruits out of a can, taking pictures for each other, etc. It’s amazing what you learn about someone when you talk to them! 🙂 He was so happy to travel to Thailand, even got a tattoo in Bangkok. Such a nice guy.

After being dropped off back at my lodge, I packed up my things, grabbed a bite to eat (I can’t remember where to be honest), and then got a taxi. I was a little nervous because my guest lodge had organized my airport transfer before. I heard you could get ripped off potentially, so I was prepared. I went across the street to a restaurant called, “Tony’s,” which I had ate at one night (super cheap, huge selection, but not exactly the best quality). They organize tours here as well as taxis. My taxi driver who picked me up was the sweetest little old man I have ever seen!!! I was so happy. He spoke a little bit of English, so we talked a little bit of the way. At the end I made sure to tip him well, he smiled ear to ear and said, “See you later!” I had told him along the way how much I loved Thailand and wanted to come back! All in all, I definitely didn’t get ripped off and I felt safe the whole time.

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Thailand was such an adventure for me and I wholeheartedly mean it when I say I can’t wait to return. Next time I hope to stay in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and then head south for some island hopping! I also wanted to say I had no troubles at Phuket International Airport, which I had read elsewhere. It all went very smoothly! Until I left Thailand that is..but that can be for the next blog 😉

Up next…Bali!

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