May 30, 2023-June 5, 2023
Day 1: Siem Reap, Cambodia to Bangkok, Thailand
May 30, 2023
Much like our travels from Vietnam to Cambodia our voyage to Thailand included a long bus ride and border crossing. The hospitality of Thailand was immediately more noticeable as our bubbly guide informed us on every detail of the border crossing. Thank goodness because it was more complicated than to enter Cambodia. The bus was also a lot nicer than the offerings in Vietnam. The accommodation, guide, and complimentary meal made our trip extremely bearable.
Lawrence’s stomach was misbehaving so once we made it into the city we rested in our hostel. We watched The Hangover 2, an absolutely terrible film, but it was set mostly in Bangkok, so we had to check it out. Can confirm: The Hangover 2 is not an accurate representation of the city, so if you’ve seen the film don’t worry—it’s not THAT sketchy.
Day 2: Bangkok, Thailand
May 31, 2023
Our main attraction of the day was walking through the Red-Light district of Bangkok. The two most popular locations in the Red-Light District are Nana’s Plaza and Soi Cowboy Road. First we visited Nana’s Plaza, a highly secured complex set up kind of like a shopping mall, but where every store is a different Go-Go bar. This area is set up differently than the more famous Red-Light district in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It seemed to be the more professional and safe location for sex workers. Women must show their passports on entry as to make sure they do not solicit themselves without license, bags were checked, drinks had to be consumed before entry, and no photos were permitted.
Once inside we picked a random club to sit and have a drink. I was a little disappointed because I thought I was going to see something akin to J-Lo in the movie Hustlers. I thought the workers would do an impressive dance or performance of some sort. Instead, they just kind of stood in place dancing around or talking to the worker next to them. Each girl wore a number and could be “purchased” for the night by asking your server.
A couple blocks away is Soi Cowboy Road, the second location we visited. It is an actual street similar to how Amsterdam or the Las Vegas strip appear. Its shops had a similar set up to Nana’s Plaza, but along the road instead of inside a multi-level complex. They appeared to be independently owned and operated with few security measures put in place. You were allowed to take photos here, but if you look, you’ll notice the girls cover their faces or turn away when they see a camera.
Again, we went into a random club and purchased some (ridiculously) expensive drinks. And again, I hoped to see a dance or performance of some kind but the girls just kind of shuffled around. This was actually the more awkward experience because there were hardly any patrons in the shop. We finished our drinks and slunk out.
Along the road from Nana’s Plaza to Soi Cowboy and back there are more solicitors and sex workers lining the streets. The closer you get to one or the other you’ll see stands pop up selling sex toys, Viagra, souvenirs, etc.
It was pretty awkward and uncomfortable and not that much fun. Plus, the guys that were in the shops oozed with creepy vibes. I am glad we went, though. It was interesting if nothing else, and now my curiosity is satisfied.
Day 3: Bangkok, Thailand
June 1, 2023
Craving an American-sized ice coffee we broke down and went to Starbucks. Hey, I’m only human. Sometimes all you need in life is a venti iced coffee.
Afterwards we went in search of a good and cheap place to get Thai massages. When in Rome, right? There are tons of options for dirt cheap hour-long Thai massages, especially near the markets in the more touristy areas. We asked our hostel for a recommendation since they all seemed about the same quality, and all costed about 250 baht (or a little over $7.00 USD) for an hour.
I thoroughly enjoyed my massage! Thai massages are kind of a combination of traditional massage, yoga, and chiropractic therapy. The massage technique is very tough as they are trying to work out all the knots in your body and realign you. Some of the assisted yoga positions hurt a bit, but it sure did feel good afterwards. A good back-crack is always enjoyable, so I was very satisfied with our $7.00-hour.
A relaxing day well spent.
Day 4: Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand
June 2, 2023
Our longest bus ride yet! It took us nearly 13 hours to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the northernmost part of Thailand. It really did take the whole day. By the time we got to our hostel in was well after dark. We got dinner at a nearby vegan café that we liked so much we returned the next day but didn’t have time for much else.
Day 5: Chiang Mai, Thailand
June 3, 2023
At this point we had been in Southeastern Asia for over two months, and I think I speak for both of us when I say, we were over the heat. It’s like Florida, but hotter, and without air-conditioning in most places. It was getting harder and harder to make ourselves go out into the blistering day to explore.
But, alas, we persevered. We joined a midday walking tour that took us around the very small town of Chiang Mai. The name Chiang Mai means “new city” and is formed in a perfect squared, outlined by a man-made moat, and guarded by four gates. Our guide told us a lot about the Lana people and how they were once their own kingdom now taken over by Thailand. The Lana heritage is still strong, however, as natives speak the original language when at home or with friends.
On our tour we tried some fruits from the markets, passed the Three Kings Memorial, and saw many different temples, some up to 700 years old!
The most interesting part was learning the origin story of Buddha which was depicted in beautiful paintings on the inside of one of the temple walls. Our guide told the story of how he was born by his mother standing beneath a tree and holding its vines for support. Buddha was prophesied to be a monk, even though his parents hoped he would be a king.
He left the palace gates one day where he saw the elderly perishing by disease and old age. Buddha saw the process of burning the dead once they had passed and wondered why death was to be and how it could be stopped. He asked a local monk who told him there was no answer to death. This inspired Buddha to try and seek enlightenment himself.
He sat beneath a fig tree where he finally found enlightenment. The shape of the leaves from this tree is an important symbol as it is always shown as the same shape as the aura or crown that surrounds Buddha and sits atop his head in sculptures or paintings. Because of this fig trees are now known as “Bodhi” trees, as Bodhi is the Sanskrit word for “enlightenment.”
Later that evening we went to a Muay Thai fight. This is an extreme martial arts style known for its intensity. Often Muay Thai fighters go on to become successful MMA fighters. The fighters are extremely thin, but very lean and densely filled with muscle. Their composition can mistakenly make the fighting look simple and hardly painful at all, but once the men are knocked out you can see the extreme power every hit and kick packs.
We watched six rounds, including one for a world championship between Thailand and Canada. The Canadian fighter would go on to win, but the Thai fighter gave it his all! Honestly, he had no chance because even though in the same weight category, the Canadian fighter stood about a foot taller over the Thai fighter.
I was surprisingly invested! After a brutal first fight where the red corner was knocked out cold during the first round, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it. But they must’ve picked those two to open with a bang because it calmed down a bit after that.
Day 6: Chiang Mai, Thailand
June 4, 2023
Our longest day in Thailand by far, we joined a tour that took us up into the Chiang Mai mountains.
Our first stop and favorite part of the day, and favorite activity overall in Thailand, was visiting the elephant sanctuary. Asian elephants are a big part of Thailand and have been used for century for battles, transportation, and now a days: tourism! While no longer common to find sanctuaries that allow riding of elephants, you can still get up close and personal with them. We had a fantastic time feeding them bananas and sugar cane. We even got to give them a bath in the nearby stream. The elephants are very well cared for and trained. If you go to Thailand, make sure you see some elephants!
After some homemade Pad Thai at the Elephant Sanctuary, we were off to our next stop for a hike through Doi Inthanon National Park. It was a lovely two-hour walk winding up and down the mountain sides of the small village. To walk through the terrain, it is required to be accompanied by a local guide. Ours guided us through waterfalls, rice paddies, and farmlands where we saw a huge banana spider, green pit viper, and water buffalo. At the end of the hike laid a village coffee house where we were treated to some locally grown and brewed coffee and tea.
We rested at the coffee house until it was time for our next stop: Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon Temple. This huge temple is a 2-for-1 deal. On the left sits the pagoda in honor of Thailand’s king, and on the right a pagoda in honor of the queen. Behind the queen’s temple is a lovely garden filled with winding paths, fresh flowers, and a scenic bridge. Both temples offer quality views of the surrounding Thailand countryside.
Our last stop on our day tour was to the highest point in Thailand. It’s ironic knowing that this mountain is considered the highest point in the country. In Vietnam, New Zealand, or Nepal it would probably be considered a hill. Nonetheless, it was an easy walk to 2,563 meters above sea level as we were already high in the mountains. This mountain is also home to a memorial shrine for King Inthawichayanon, a Thai king who died in 1897 and is now buried at the top of the country.
We concluded our day back in downtown Chiang Mai where we explored the Sunday Night Market, one of the largest night markets in Thailand. The scope of this market was unbelievable. Spanning blocks and blocks, down countless streets, as far as the eye could see. Here we had some famous Thai street food for dinner, I found a ring for my collection, and Lawrence an interesting pocket-sized sewing machine made from what looked like a stapler.
Day 7, Chiang Mai to Bangkok, Thailand
June 5, 2023
Today we had the longest, and by far most grueling, travel so far. We booked a twelve-hour train ride from Chiang Mai back to Bangkok. In an effort to save money we booked the lowest class on the train. This meant we were sans air conditioning, proper bathroom facilities, or food options other than what we brought with us. The worst part though, was the fact that to stay a little cool we had to open the windows and all the sand, dirt, dust, and bugs that came with the Thailand countryside also found its way inside the train car. The breeze from the window didn’t quite do enough to keep the hot 95-degree heat from soaking us with sweat. That mixed with the outside dirt, and twelve hours of cooking in the tin can that was our 3rd class train car, left us completely disgusting.
Once we arrived at our hostel for the night, we only had time to get some dinner, industrial showers, and to prepare for our next day flight to Nepal.
Thailand is very spread out. Since Bangkok, the typical entry point, is in the middle of the country you have to pick between the north and the south unless you’ve got a couple months to spare while traveling. Since Lawrence has been to Thailand before we didn’t want to spend too much time there. He had previously been to south Thailand which prompted our northern journey to Chiang Mai. Even though three out of five of our days were spent in day-long travel, the few precious days we got in Thailand were full of moments we will never forget.
Next up: Nepal!